Tuesday, October 31, 2006

720p rumour fake

The rumours that the latest issue of EDGE magazine breaks the news on the Wii being able to output a 720p (high definition) signal are fake. I just called the newsroom in Bath, England and they confirmed that the latest issue only ever mentions 480p output (enhanced definition).

Well, this doesn´t seem to be the last big secret. Guess we have to keep guessing.

EDIT Now some people claim that the UK´s Official Nintendo Magazine ran the story. That magazine (also published by Future, plc) just told me they have never written anything about Wii outputting HD resolutions either. It just takes a phone call to debunk a fake story like this one. I don´t know who is making these stories up.

Thanks to: Codename Revolution

Japanese PS3 launch shipment downsized

Sony have downsized the launch shipment of PS3 consoles for the Japanese launch from 100.000 to 80.000, the Nikkei Keizai Shimbun reports according to Joystiq.

That's a 20% cut. First the European launch gets delayed because of production issues, now the Japanese launch availability is crippled even more than it previously was.

No word yet if the shortage will effect North American units but, if proportional, they could be cut to 320,000 available systems.

The bad news just keep rolling in for Sony. First, SCEA co-chairman Jack Tretton told Bloomberg not two weeks ago that the US launch shipment is no longer fixed:

The honest answer is it's more of a target. Clearly we've had production issues.

Only a day beforehand, SCEA president Kaz Hirai had told Gamespot that they were not facing any more production problems:

All the issues have been ironed out; now it's just a matter of being able to replicate the process to as many lines as possible--which is going to help you, obviously, get as many units as possible. We're in the process of getting as many lines as possible up and running for all the components that go into the PlayStation 3.

And now Sony appears unable to produce even a measly 100.000 units for the Japanese launch. If true, this really seems to be rock bottom for Sony.

EDIT I corrected the context of Tretton´s quote. He was, of course, talking about the US launch shipment being a mere target, not the launch date. Thanks to Drew for pointing this out.

Source: Joystiq

Monday, October 30, 2006

Last Wii secret to be "big", says Reggie

There is one secret to the Wii to be revealed around launch and it is going to be "big", according to Nintendo of America´s president Reginald Fils-Aime.

GamePro confirmed that Reggie said that at a recent GameStop event, where store managers learned more about the new Nintendo console.

I can confirm that there was a GameStop retreat and Reggie did in fact say there will be another big Wii revelation around launch time.

Only recently, Perrin Kaplan promised "a couple of other surprises, (...) more details on a couple of different things" that would particularly please the hardcore gamers.

"Bigger than the controller"

It feels good to be back in the Wii speculation saddle. Let me remind you that this author was given some indication late last year that there is another secret that is bigger than the controller unveiling. Naturally, I cannot name the source. I can say, however, that this source is as reliable as it gets.

But let us examine the context in which this quote should be interpreted, going back to the earliest rumours about the console that was codenamed Revolution.

The honeymoon

Since this blog´s inception, there was a steady flux of hints as to what the last secret might be. Long-time readers will remember that this blog started with the assumption that the angled Wii stand was a hint at some technology that required the console´s front to face up to the player.

We talked about Augmented Reality, found out that it could be sold at a mass-market price and even came across some proof that a Japanese gaming company had invested in cutting edge 3D technology.

Sobering up

More recently, though, there were no longer any indications that we really should be expecting something big. Publishers like EA have hinted at more humble secrets like touch sensitivity. And particularly my interviews with Nintendo executives were sobering.

Shigeru Miyamoto told me in March of this year:

Whenever we are talking about secrets, the secrets created in order to let people feel like I can touch it, I want to play with it. That’s all regardless of their past gaming experiences. The secrets are always there for them to feel that this is a machine; I really want to play with it.

Satoru Iwata told me at E3 that the speaker in the controller and Wiiconnect24 were the last secrets:

That - and Wiiconnect24, which we recently announced. We have not yet announced details about this. Well, maybe you are underestimating the power or potential of Wiiconnect24 now. After all, Wii is a console that can be connected to the internet 24 hours a day with minimal consumption of power. In the near future we can reveal what it can do an then you can understand many secrets behind the Wii machine.

That and Kaplan´s recent comments about some ´details´ all seemed to downplay a last secret. This made me believe that my own source may have been exaggerating.

Back to believing

Now I feel that the information I was given may indeed have been correct all along (or more correct, at any rate). After all, the source is very, very reliable. And Reggie may be a marketing buff. But he knows, more than anyone else, that you cannot build up hype and not deliver on it.

We may argue about whether that last secret is, indeed, bigger than the controller. It may very well not be. Note that Reggie did not use this comparison, so we should not really expect this. But if Reggie says ´big´, it will be big.

A ´big´... what?

So what could it be? Having lost faith in the "bigger than the controller" comment, I have gone on record believing it to be something to do with the online experience. And GamePro agrees:

"I'd think it would most likely be specs related (since Nintendo is still hush-hush about what the Wii actually incorporates). My second theory is that the revelation will be about Wii's online capabilities," editor RiceBurner writes.

But what could possibly be big about online? And how can Wiiconnect24 please hardcore gamers? We know that the Wii is likely to mirror the friend codes system the DS uses. Though popular with non-gamers, this does not please the hardcore crowd one single bit. The service could be free of charge, of course, but that is hardly what we have in mind when we think ´big´. While there are still details to be divulged about Wiiconnect24, I do not think that Reggie is hinting at mere online capabilities.

Small can be ´big´

I have gone over the wealth of comments we have mulled over since June 2005 and what struck me the most is a comment by Square Enix president Yoichi Wada

We would like to strongly support Nintendo’s next-generation networking plans. The Revolution may embody a new platform beyond a portable or console, which makes possible a new structure in the network gaming system, changing the ways communities are built and supported. This is the kind of direction we’ve envisioned, and we will challenge ourselves to provide immersive interactive content in response to what Nintendo offers.

I believe that we have taken the Wii´s size for granted, not realising just how small the console really is. It is only as big as 3 DVD cases stacked. It is tiny. Its size almost breaks down the distinction between a portable and a home console - and Wada´s comments put some significance in the Wii being so strikingly small.

Interestingly enough, Wada mentions the portability aspect alongside the online functions. This may be hinting at the console doubling as some kind of portable messenger or even some kind of make-shift cellphone. But I strongly believe that Nintendo is firmly focussed on the Wii becoming a gaming machine. While I cannot offer you any concrete answers, of course, I will go on record that I believe Reggie to be hinting at something that relates to the console´s size, which makes Wii a semi-portable gaming device.

EDIT I have come across an aspect of the Wii system menu that may, in fact, support my hypothesis that the console may be semi-portable. IGN Weekly Episode 30 starts with a run-through of the menu. Eight minutes into the clip, Matt opens the ´Internet´ and ´Connection Settings´ tabs. The menu offers you a choice between three different connections, as pictured below.

Now, why would you want to store various connections in a console unless it was meant for the road? In fact, the menu looks eerily reminiscent of the DS´ connection menu. This may indeed hint at my theory as to what the big secret may turn out to be.

EDIT Though perhaps unrelated to Reggie´s comments, Engadget reports about an upgraded Wii to be released next year:

According to UK mag EDGE, the big N's preparing to release a premium Wii console in Japan next year featuring, you guessed it, DVD playback. Of course, it's not totally out of the question (at least the discs are the right size), and it wouldn't be the first time Nintendo's released a console only to surprise us with a new and improved version a little down the line.

EDIT The above has been confirmed. Nintendo told Games Industry:

There are currently plans to release a version of Wii in Japan featuring DVD playback. There are currently no plans to bring this model to Europe or the US.

Source: GamePro
Thanks to: Kamen24

´Metal Gear Solid 4´ no longer PS3 exclusive?

Konami is considering making ´Metal Gear Solid 4´ a multiplatform title, according to Electronic Gaming Monthly. On their latest magazine cover, they tease us with the headline ´Metal Gear Solid 4 on Xbox 360?´. What evidence the editors have for such an assertion will remain a mystery until the magazine is released. However, on the NeoGAF forums, former EGM editor Che Chou seeks to squash the rumours.

It's simply a rumor that Konami higher-ups are pressuring Kojima Productions to consider making MGS4 a multiplatform game because production costs on the game are unsurprisingly high and only getting higher. With PS3 install base numbers not looking all that rosy due to console cost and manufacturing problems, Konami is scared they can't recoup their investment on only 1 platform alone.

It's also a nice way to maybe blackmail Sony into giving Konami an incentive to keeping the game a PS3 exclusive, imo.

Whatever the case, I highly doubt it's going to happen so quit building yourself a disappointing kiloton bomb.

Of course, we have to be cautious about rumours that, at least until we read the article, are entirely unsubstantiated. If true, though, the consequences would be nothing short of devastating for Sony. The PS3 has already lost one of their three big guns with the ´Grand Theft Auto´ series and a number of smaller exclusives like ´Assassin´s Creed´.

Never mind ´Final Fantasy´. It´s MGS that is the gateway to both the Japanese and the US market (actually, us Europeans do not mind playing Snake, either). Losing MGS4 exclusivity could very well mean... well, losing. Other news outlets agree:

"Could this be the final blow to the major exclusives PS3 has over the Xbox?", Xboxic asks.

"Konami very well may be having cocktails with Ubisoft (Assassin's Creed) and getting whispers that exclusivity isn't as important as making money," Joystiq adds.

"It's fun to see the PS3 fanboys sweat over losing their most prized exclusive," Xbox360Fanboy asserts.

Source: EGM
Thanks to: Joystiq, Xboxic

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wii game impressions

Ever wondered what titles like ´Monster Truck 4x4´, ´GT Pro´, ´Red Steel´, ´Rayman: Raving Rabbids´ or ´Splinter Cell: Double Agent´ are like? Game|Life have taken them all for a brief test drive. Here are some snippets from their respective articles:

Red Steel is ultimately for the hardcore gamers. Sure, I can see a lot of non-gamers trying it out for the novelty value, and some of them might be so taken with the unique control that they stick with it. But this is still directed at longtime gamers. It's not an easy thing to play. But by the end of the first hour, I was hooked.

The question still remains, however, as it remains for Rayman: is this a novelty, and if so, what happens when it wears off? Will there be enough substance to the game design such that Red Steel lasts past the point at which aiming with a pointer is old hat? From what I played today, I submit that it very well might.


Although I was only able to play about 10 of the game's 70 minigames during my play test, I am happy to say that it managed to surpass my expectations. (...)

All in all, the controls were great -- I can't remember a single moment where I struggled with them. I was a bit apprehensive about Rayman going in -- would it live up to the videos? -- but after about 45 minutes of play time, I am really impressed. Does it hold up in the long run? Who can say? But this might be the best non-Zelda game of the launch, and easily a great showpiece for the controller's abilities.


Slapping the controller inside their steering wheel shell -- which comes free with each game -- lets you make smaller movements more easily, and just... well, it just makes it feel more like driving. The fact that it's not a cheap piece of junk helps, too; it's very solidly constructed and has a nice rubbery textured grip. (...)

Ultimately I can't vouch for these two games as I did with Rayman and Red Steel. Those are developed from the ground up for Wii, and will be looked back on as games that truly shaped the console's image from the get-go. But Monster 4x4 and GT Pro are just old games with Wii controls shoehorned in, and how do you really get excited about that? I'll take a deeper look at both when final versions are available, though.


It would have be nice to see for the Wii what Xbox 360 got -- a version of Double Agent developed from the ground up. I think with the proper attention, Splinter Cell could be a great fit for Wii -- Sam Fisher could get a host of new spy gadgets that rely on pointing and motion activation.

Instead, those who want tactical espionage action on Wii will, for now, have to work with a control scheme that -- again, based on my short gameplay experience -- is going to be much more difficult to master. Will the increased accuracy of the Wii pointer make it worth the while for gamers to really put the effort in? We'll see how the Splinter Cell faithful respond when the game hits shelves on Wii launch day.

In mid-November, Nintendo will be holding Wii events in a number of big German cities, where journalists like myself will get a chance to play various titles pretty much for hours on end. So stick around for some in-depth hands-on impressions right here in about two weeks or so.

Also, check out the most recent Wii games trailer and the Red Steel multiplayer trailer, courtesy of GoNintendo and IGN, respectively.

Source: Game|Life
Thanks to: Joystiq

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sony profits down 94 percent, Nintendo profits up and away

Exactly a week after Sony Corp. cut their profit forecast for the current fiscal year by 62 percent, the company announced today that profits for the quarter from July until September took a staggering plunge of 94 percent.

The main reasons are bigger losses within Sony Computer Entertainment (mainly due to a reduced price for the 20 GB version of the PlayStation3 in Japan), the console´s delay in Europe (in turn due to manufacturing difficulties) and the recall of faulty laptop batteries, as Associated Press reports (highlights added):

The battery recall has shaken consumer confidence in Sony's technological competitiveness and cast a shadow over its brand image as a top class manufacturer, which has in the past enabled it to charge a premium for its products.

Compounding difficulties at Sony, the maker of Bravia brand liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs and Cyber-shot digital cameras, is a bloating loss at its video game division.

Sony said last week that losses at its game unit will likely balloon to 200 billion yen in the year to next March 31 because of sluggish sales of PlayStation Portable handheld players and a price cut for a model of the PlayStation 3 game console in Japan. (...) The stock lost 5 percent in the July-September quarter, while the sub-index rose 3 percent.

After seemingly bottoming out at the beginning of the month, shares in Sony Corp. (as traded in Frankfurt over the last six months) continue their downward trend.

Source: Kreissparkasse Cologne

Notice how the 200-day average (red graph) has now turned negative.

Also today, Nintendo reported that its profits more than tripled in the first half of the fiscal year. The company is continuing to expect a 60 percent growth in profits, as Reuters reports (highlights added):

The Kyoto-based game maker earlier this month revised up its earnings forecasts for both the April-September first half and full year to March 2007. It also raised its DS sales forecast for the year to March by 3 million units to 20 million.

In contrast, Sony last week cut its shipment target for rival PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld game machine by 3 million units to 9 million.

Nintendo now hopes it can repeat the success of the DS with its new game console, the Wii, which like the DS has been developed to appeal to non-gamers with simple yet innovative games rather than please hard-core gamers with sophisticated graphics. (...) The stock gained 38 percent in the six months to September, while the Nikkei fell 5.5 percent.

While the meteoric rise of Nintendo shares (as traded in Frankfurt over the last six months) seemed to have temporarily halted at the beginning of October (just when Sony shares were up), the 200-day average (red graph) shows an unusually solid upward trend.

Source: Kreissparkasse Cologne

Comparing those two graphs, it is important to point out that they are not the mirror image of one another. While Sony shares have a large and often irratic fluctuation, Nintendo stock has avoided any major upsets. Its 200-day average is almost a straight line going up.

The analysts´ favourite

Undoubtedly, Nintendo has the confidence of the business community - and justifiably so. Taking home consoles and handhelds together, the company is the undisputed market leader. And even when isolating the home console market, Nintendo, albeit a close third in a race of three, is the only company that will be raking in profits from day one of selling its next-generation console.

Sony, on the other hand, really has had extremely bad luck with its PlayStation3. Grave management errors and surprisingly bad PR added to that. And as far as profits are concerned, the company may reap the rewards of the significant investments into the console no earlier than 2008, if at all.

Should you care?

Of course, gamers do not care about company shares and profits. Share value is an important factor (remember that the overheating issue cost Sony around a billion Dollars in value). This, in turn, is able to influence aspects like marketing and even hardware production.

But what matters far more to the success of a console are games. And the commitment of third party partners, as well as the resources for Sony´s own studios, are unlikely to be influenced by even such a significant loss in share value. The reason is that the production process of games, like that of movies, is measured in years rather than months.

Consequences with a lag

While a publisher like Electronic Arts may be tempted to change its next-generation console priorities in the face of such news (and they undoubtedly are, I believe), such a change in strategy would only become visible to consumers and analysts alike in a year´s time, at the earliest.

And this, ultimately, is why I am so keen on keeping an eye on the stock market. Because while the console´s launch may be largely unaffected by Sony Corp.´s stock market woes, the subsequent reactions by its partners will materialize in late 2007 or early 2008. Only then will we learn just how the big players like EA or Ubisoft reacted to today´s news.

Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, Kreissparkasse Cologne, Kreissparkasse Cologne, Reuters
Image source: CHIP Hospitality
Thanks to: Joystiq

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lik-Sang closes down, blames Sony - British court rulings may contravene E.U. law

Online videogame retailer Lik-Sang has shut down its operation, citing lawsuits by Sony Computer Entertainment as the reason. The console manufacturer had strongly objected to the company importing its PlayStation Portable console from Asia and selling it in Europe and North America. This practise is sometimes referred to as parallel trade, parallel import or grey import.

A company statement quotes Pascal Clarysse, Lik-Sang´s marketing manager, as saying:

Today is Sony Europe victory about PSP, tomorrow is Sony Europe’s ongoing pressure about PlayStation 3. With this precedent set, next week could already be the stage for complaints from Sony America about the same thing, or from other console manufacturers about other consoles to other regions, or even from any publisher about any specific software title to any country they don’t see fit. It’s the beginning of the end... of the World as we know it. (...)

Blame it on Sony. That's the latest dark spot in their shameful track record as gaming industry leader. The Empire finally 'won', few dominating retailers from the UK probably will rejoice the news, but everybody else in the gaming world lost something today.

Sony, on the other hand, deny any involvement in the closure of the online retailer, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz:

Lik-Sang did not contest this case. We have been awarded substantial costs against Lik-Sang which have not been paid. We would therefore strongly deny that our actions have had anything to do with this website closing (we assume the legal entity is still trading), and would suggest that this release is sour grapes on behalf of Lik-Sang which is aimed to belittle Sony Computer Entertainment and the British judicial system that found against them.

My own research suggests, though, that the ruling of the High Court in London may, in fact, contravene European Union law. The E.U. Commission has made it quite clear that it welcomes parallel trade in the games industry:

Restrictions of parallel trade represent an infringement of Article 81 of the EU treaty. Experience has proven that parallel trade leads to efficiency gains and lower prices in the EU and is, thus, beneficial for consumers.

Further, Mario Monti, the former Commissioner in charge of competition, noted as part of a similar ruling against Nintendo:

The European Commission is here to protect the public from business practices designed to keep prices artificially high. European families spend millions every year on video games and we want to make sure that they are not being swindled.

This may be a case for the European Court of Justice.

Sources: Lik-Sang, GamesIndustry.biz, Europa server, Europa server
Thanks to: Codename Revolution

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wii hands-on, marketing campaign emerging

About six weeks before the local Wii launch, Nintendo has started its marketing campaign in Germany with a bang. Wii was one of four sponsors of a big television event, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country´s most successful youth magazine Bravo, which I attended.

Among the international stars performing were British boy group Take That (minus Robbie Williams, of course), Swedish pop duo Roxette, British eighties legend Kim Wilde, as well as her German counterpart Nena and other local stars. As might have been expected, the sponsor was not Nintendo at large but specifically the Wii brand.

Here is a two-minute clip that was aired on German channel Pro Sieben as part of the near-live broadcast (in German, obviously). It features the show´s secondary presenter talking to my good friend Arnd who is explaining the basics. The presenter then moves on to a hands-on session with a young actor and Peter Maffay, one of Germany´s most famous, albeit slightly dated musicians.

Back at work today, I checked the viewing figures for the clip (courtesy of GfK). It was seen by 1,94 million people in total, which approximates to a market share of 6,3%. Within the relevant target demographic of 14 to 49 year-olds, it scored 1,49 million viewers, which makes for 12% market share. The entire show (almost three hours long) was slightly above that, often showing the Wii logo in the background, as well as in trailers.

Just to put those viewing figures into perspective for you: it´s not a great result but pretty solid nonetheless. You also have to account for subsequent airings of the footage. The event was one of the biggest television events this year and parts of it will be featured on pretty much every German television station, including some international ones. Particularly the exclusive comeback performances of Take That and Roxette generated a lot of publicity. All in all, the event will undoubtedly introduce the Wii brand to millions of viewers across Europe.

Nintendo´s sponsorship deal hints at their focus of the marketing campaign at large, which seems to aim for a much broader audience than previous campaigns. I would very much expect this to be a sign of things to come for the USA, UK and Japan. Here in the commentary, though, I want to focus on a more personal aspect of yesterday´s show.

The Wii was playable at the exclusive after-show party. This was my fifth hands-on experience with the console so far (after the exclusive Red Steel session, E3, Games Convention and NOE´s London event). It was the first time, though, I was without a camera team and the pressures of work. Hence, I was able to experience the console in a completely different way.

The one Wii kiosk at the party was loaded with ´Wii: Sports´ and pretty much attracted a constant stream of guests, some of them local celebrities. I was able to play tennis and, for the first time, bowling at some length.

The graphics of the game really are quite sobering, particularly on the huge television set they had hooked up to the console. Of course, ´Wii: Sports´ was never intended to take full advantage of the Wii hardware, yet I couldn´t help but notice this aspect.

At the same time, it was very heartening to see some of the other guests´ responses. Pretty much none had any experience with videogames, so they could not possibly have picked up on the graphics issue. Instead, everyone who tried it out was smiling instantly, as were all by-standers. In fact, I myself had great fun getting the bowling action just right.

The intuitiveness of the control mechanism cannot be stressed enough. It really is as close to tennis, golf or bowling as it can possibly get in your living room (bar a holo-deck, perhaps). I have no doubt whatsoever that playing this game will actually improve your skills out there in the real world, so to speak. But above all, it was just a fun experience, which made me - and everyone else who played - smile, laugh and cringe.

And this, I believe, is the Wii´s major selling point: it is the only videogame console that will cast a smile on everyone´s face. It is pure, unbridled fun in a box. I am not the first person to pick up on this, of course. But I also will not be the last, either. So while I was left with an uneasy feeling about this particular game´s graphics, the Wii really managed to impress me and a whole lot of people on gameplay merit alone. And thinking what games like ´Super Mario Galaxy´, ´Metroid Prime 3´ or ´Red Steel´ - that offer more advanced controls, as well as combine great gameplay with stunning graphics - will do to people who have become interested in Wii, I felt satisfied that Nintendo really is onto a winner here.

EDIT In keeping with my predictions about an unusually broad advertising campaign, the main ´Toys "R" Us´ store in New York City has put up a gigantic Wii advertisement all over its storefront.

The store is located on 44th and Broadway, which is right on Times Square. And, since some people were wondering, I am pretty sure the advertisement is permanent. I just tried to call the store about it, but they were unavailable. I do not think that the individual elements flip over to reveal a different advertisement. The whole thing is just too big, in my opinion.

Sources: Pro Sieben, GfK, YouTube
Thanks to: OehrGmbH, Raphael, Stabby

Friday, October 20, 2006

Doom for ´Halo´ movie?

Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox have pulled out of the ´Halo´ movie, leaving the project in jeopardy. Variety reports, citing Ken Kamins, a representative of executive producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

"What happened was this: Universal, on behalf of both studios, asked for a meeting with the filmmakers just prior to the due date of a significant payment. Basically, they said that in order to move forward with the film, the filmmakers had to significantly reduce their deals. They waited until the last minute to have this conversation. Peter and Fran, after speaking with their producing partners and with Microsoft and Bungee (the studio that designed the original game), respectfully declined."

While the exit of two studios would seem to imperil "Halo," Kamins said Microsoft is already in talks with other distribution partners. Prep work on the film continues, he said. One advantage is having Jackson and Walsh as exec producers: Most of the pre-production is being done at their visual effects studios in New Zealand, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, so there will be no stoppage.

The article goes on to speculate that the inexperience of director Neill Blomkamp also contributed to the studios´ decision. Blomkamp would celebrate his directing debut with ´Halo´.

Having met Peter Jackson at X06 and having asked him about his upcoming ´Halo´ media hybrids, I got the feeling that Jackson´s focus was firmly on those projects. There was no talk of the movie - although, to be fair, Jackson is only executive producer and doesn´t direct it. Still, I do believe that the two studios pulling out spells doom for the ´Halo´ movie.

Source: Variety
Thanks to: Joystiq

Monday, October 16, 2006

HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray... vs. VMD

While many users were hoping for a winner to have emerged out of the high definition DVD format war by now, contender number three has entered the arena. UK-based New Medium Enterprises, Inc. are currently generating some publicity with their Versatile MultiLayer Disc (VMD). Originally, it appears, the format was developed by two companies called MultiDisc and TriGm.

The big surprise is that the first players will be launched in January already and cost a pittance compared to rival formats HD-DVD and Blu-Ray at less than $180 (£95). On top of that, the VMD discs have a significantly larger storage capacity:

Without making a drastic shift from Red laser technology, researchers at NME, have found a means of exploiting the unused or wasted space between the existing layers of a standard DVD through its unique multilayer technology. This brilliantly innovative technology is evident in Versatile Multilayer Discs or VMD, starting with a minimum storage capacity of 20GB today, 40 GB in the 3rd quarter of 2005 and expandable further in the future.

Looking ahead to 2007, if and when the blue laser becomes more reliable, for greater capacities such as VIDEO ON DEMAND (100-200GB), Blue laser Multi layer Discs using VMD technology can be developed along traditional lines. VMD has the capability to enhance Blue Laser through its Multi Layering technology, increasing capacity of its currently proposed 50GB maximal possible capacity to 100GB and 200GB.

The secret is that a VMD has far more layers than can be fitted onto either rival format, as a Reuters article explains.

The current generation of DVD players can read up to two layers. NME has created DVD disks with up to 10 different layers that were still readable. It has created its own player, but it is willing to license the technology to mainstream consumer electronics companies, Levich said.

Movies on a DVD are stored at different depths depending on the technology. Blu-ray discs store information only 0.1 millimetre from the surface while HD-DVD discs store it at 0.6 millimetres. Movies longer than two hours would need to be stored on two layers of the same format very close to each other.

While the format certainly boasts attractive specs, it seems that the company does not have the same muscle as the likes of Toshiba or Sony. They may have Warner Home Video´s ex-president on board, but they seem to lack the support of any of the big studios so far - and are unlikely to get it.

Even a competitive price cannot tip the balance in your favour if you have no content to provide. And no such format can flourish solely as a recording medium. What the VMD will do, though, is become an embarrassment for its two big rivals. When companies like Toshiba and Sony seem unable to develop a multi-layer format for a competitive price and small European companies do just that... people lose faith in those big companies altogether. For sure, knowing that there would be cheaper alternatives will put people off the purchase, even if that alternative is no viable choice at the moment.

Alternatively, one of the big boys may decide to take the VMD technology on board and give their format the necessary boost to win the war. If the technology could be merged with one of the existing formats, that is.

Sources: New Medium Enterprises, Inc., Reuters
Image source: SciFi
Thanks to: The Inquirer

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nintendo announces ´LiveMove´ development tool

Nintendo has announced the release of a development tool called ´LiveMove´ that they describe as "a groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence product, that enables the Wii Remote™ to learn."

The tool was developed in conjunction with California-based Artificial Intelligence specialist AiLive and will allow developers to define specific controller moves without any coding or scripting, according to Nintendo´s press release:

Instead of complicated programming, developers need only take a few minutes to train the Wii Remote by examples. LiveMove lets developers focus directly on creative work without the burden of onerous coding requirements, helping them quickly unleash the potential of Wii™. The only limitation is the game creator's imagination.

The tool is available to developers working on Wii projects only and bears a relatively cheap license fee of $2.500.

Just how will it work? Well, here is an interesting video which illustrates just that (as well as the demonstrator´s crazy bird moves fetish).

Below are some interesting examples that further help to illustrate how ´LiveMove´ can help developers. See if you can answer these two little puzzlers. The answers are left as a comment to this post.

Which graphs correspond to the action of a lasso being thrown? Which show whip actions?

Which numbers from 0 to 4 are being drawn in each of these graphs?

This is going to be a very helpful development tool, no doubt about it. When I visited Ubisoft Paris in April for the ´Red Steel´ first-look session, I vividly remember the developer starting his lengthy talk about the development process by saying that they initially had to organize their 3D space.

With that complicated part out of the way, developers can now spend much more time on actually designing a game - like the great mini-game in the instructional video above. This tool could easily prove as important to Wii as XNA is to Xbox360 - and will undoubtedly attract more independent studios to the platform.

Sources: Nintendo press server, Google Video, AiLive white paper
Thanks to: Joystiq

News round-up

This is a brief news and rumour round-up to cope with the tide of tidbits that popped up in the last fewe days. I was busy interviewing comedy star Sacha Baron Cohen in his role as Borat Sagdiyef. Go see the movie, it´s the most hilarious comedy in years.

1.) Nintendo World 2006

Nintendo Co. Ltd. will hold a showcase event in early November to demonstrate both the DS and Wii to the public, as GameSpot reports:

The event will take place November 3 and 12 in Nagoya and Osaka, respectively. The event will also visit the Makuhari Messe, the very site of last month's Tokyo Game Show and a previous Space World site, for two days on November 25 and 26. There is no admission charge. Visitors will be treated to hands-on Wii demonstrations and sneak peeks of the newest DS titles.

Nintendo World may, in fact, become a regular event, much like the former Space World events, which were held every year until 2001.

Source: GameSpot
Thanks to: Joystiq

2.) Japanese Wii launch titles

Wii will launch in Japan with 16 launch titles and another 7 before the end of the year, German news site GameFront reports, not citing a source.
Launch titles on 2nd of December 2006:
- Wii Sports (Nintendo)
- Odoru Made in Wario (Nintendo)
- Zelda no Densetsu: Twilight Princess (Nintendo)
- Hajimete no Wii: Your First Step To Wii (Nintendo)
- Wing Island (Hudson)
- SD Gundam Revolution (Bandai Namco)
- Elebits (Konami)
- Ennichi no Tatsujin (Bandai Namco)
- Caduceus Z: 2-tsu no Chou Shittou [Trauma Center] (Atlus)
- Red Steel (Ubisoft)
- Necro-Nesia (Spike)
- Tamagotchi no Pika Pika Daito-ryo-! (Bandai Namco)
- Crayon Shin-Chan: Saikyou Kazoku Kasukabe King Wii (Banpresto)
- Kororinpa (Hudson)
- Swing Golf Pangya (Tecmo)
- Super Monkey Ball: Uki Uki Party Daishuugou (Sega)

14th of December 2006:
- Bleach: Wii Shiraha Kirameku Rinbukyoku (Sega)
- Rayman Raving Rabbids (Ubisoft)

21st of December 2006:
- Need For Speed Carbon (EA)

December 2006:
- Cooking Mama: Cooking with International Friends (Taito)
- Sengoku Musou Wave (Koei)
- Mahjong Taikai Wii (Koei)
- Furi Furi (Taito)

Source: GameFront (German)
Thanks to: GoNintendo

3.) Sony credit rating downgraded

Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings (registration required) has downgraded several types of Sony Corp. debt to ´BBB+´, the fourth out of eight categories. Joystiq has published the company´s justification for the move.

Reasons for the downgrade include:

* Sony's "game segment will likely incur large losses over the next three to five years"
* "Sony can no longer price its products at a material premium to its competition"
* Delay of the PS3 in Europe
* The big Sony battery recall
* The "PS3 is likely to face more severe competition than [the PS2 did]"
* "Sony has also been showing weaker financial results and credit metrics compared to its rivals in recent years"

Why does this downgrade matter? Lower-rated bonds make it more expensive for Sony to borrow money, increasing the cost for the company to finance operations. Higher borrowing costs also make it tougher for the company to drop prices on the expensive PS3 to a more palatable level in line with the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. It's also, like, totally embarrassing to have your bonds downgraded.

Disney were downgraded by Fitch to the same rating four years ago; a status that was unaffected by the merger with Pixar. The official ratings definition reads:

Good credit quality. 'BBB' ratings indicate that there is currently a low expectation of credit risk. The capacity for timely payment of financial commitments is considered adequate, but adverse changes in circumstances and in economic conditions are more likely to impair this capacity.

BBB is the lowest category in the ´investment grade´. Below that, all categories are seen as speculative. The plus symbol denotes a tendency towards the upper limit of that particular bracket.

Source: Fitch Ratings (registration required, through Joystiq)

4.) Clover Studio dissolved

Capcom has decided to close its subsidiary Clover Studio, responsible for acclaimed titles like ´Viewtiful Joe´ and ´Okami´. In a note to investors, they give the reasons for the dissolution thus:

Clover Studio Co., Ltd. has met the goal of developing unique and creative original home video game software, however, in view of promoting a business strategy that concentrates management resources on a selected business to enhance the efficiency of the development power of the entire Capcom group, the dissolution of Clover Studio Co., Ltd. has been raised and passed at a Board of Directors' meeting.

Source: Capcom
Thanks to: 1UP, GoNintendo

5.) Amazon temporarily reduces PS3

Online retailer Amazon has reduced both PS3 models by $100, before returning back to the original price.

While there was initial speculation that Amazon may have preempted a Sony statement confirming a price reduction, it is now believed to have been an error.

Source: GameFront (German)
Thanks to: DaProfessor

6.) Red Steel multiplayer details divulged

German news site Console Wars is reporting new details about Red Steel multiplayer modes, linking to a CVG page as their source that, however, returns a 404 error. The info is nevertheless most interesting, though the brief article is badly written. Here is a literal translation:
Next to the common Deathmatch and Team-Deathmatch modes, there will be a new one called ´Mission mode´. (...) As soon as the game begins in Mission mode, the Wii remote rings like a telephone. Pressing the ´1´ button, you answer the call and are given the mission objective. You have to accomplish it before your opponents can do so.

These objectives contain one of the three or four Deathmatches, in which an unknown player needs to be hunted and eliminated. How do you recognize this player? Simple: the closer you get to the target objective, the faster the Wii remote will beep. The further away you get from him, the slower it will beep. The unknown player himself has to try and survive the given time limit.

Source: CVG (offline, through Console Wars (German))

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Nintendo confirms more Wii secrets, PS3 gets own rumours

Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America´s Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, has confirmed that there are more secrets about Wii. She gave IGN an interview (most likely at the New York Wii event three weeks ago), which only went live recently, as part of their Weekly Episode 28:

IGN: "Do we have any more surprises on the way before launch?"

Kaplan: "We do have a couple of other surprises. You know probably not as big as what you got today, but more details on a couple of different things that I think people... I think your folks will be very pleased about."

So we can still have fun speculating about Wii.

We can, however, also speculate about PlayStation3. On PS3Forums, a user called ps3insider claims to have access to a prototype and has posted the following:

I said before that you could use the ps3 not only by controller. but as you see now also with remote.

however the question you should ask yourself is. does the remote controller has actually sixaxis compatibility

Already before TGS, another user called Scrivener posted some rumours on the General [M]ayhem forums, basically predicting the following:

* ´Killzone 2´ will be Sony´s secret weapon since, apparently, it looks exactly like the E3 2005 video. He predicts an announcement around launch.

* There will be 200 new PSP titles shipped between now and Christmas.

* Sony has not given up on UMD movies and is starting an initiative to revive the format by reducing the recommended retail price to $15.

About Kaplan´s comments, it seems as if she wants to downplay the proportions of what´s still to come, referring to those secrets only as ´details´. She did make clear, once again, that they will please the hardcore gamer crowd, however.

I am almost absolutely certain that those details have to do with the online service Nintendo has planned for Wii. Remember what Iwata told me at E3 this year:

Maybe you are underestimating the power or potential of Wiiconnect24 now. After all, Wii is a console that can be connected to the internet 24 hours a day with minimal consumption of power. In the near future we can reveal what it can do an then you can understand many secrets behind the Wii machine.

As far as the PS3 rumours are concerned, I believe they are entirely bogus. I don´t think Sony would be able to include motion sensors in the remote control if it came as part of the bundles. If it was an extra, only some users would buy it and developers could not rely on users owning one. Also, the button layout is that of a typical remote which doesn´t lend itself to hitting buttons while moving it around.

As far as the older PS3 rumours are concerned, I don´t believe them either. If Sony had such a killer app with ´Killzone 2´, they would not idly stand by and watch their share value dwindle. If they had one, they would have shown us their secret weapon by now, I believe.

One thing is for certain, though. While Nintendo´s strategy of releasing information only bit by bit seems to have succeeded in generating hype (media coverage, for sure), this has not worked for Sony. News sites like PS3Land are highly critical of the lack of information about Sony´s online plans.

Sources: IGN, PS3Forums, General [M]ayhem
Thanks to: DaProfessor

Thursday, October 05, 2006

PS3 North American launch delayed?

The PlayStation3 may not meet its scheduled November 17th launch, Codename Revolution claims to have heard from a distributor. The cause is, allegedly, the overheating issue.

It appears that the November 17 date is no longer fixed. According to the representative, due to the overheating and technical problems they had earlier this week (which had seen a drop in stocks), Sony may have to delay the Playstation 3 console itself in North America.

In other news, GamesRadar has commented on the PlayStation Portable, saying that the handheld has failed. They heard developers at this year´s Toky Game Show noting that the device was either failing, or had failed already.

Would Sony really delay the North American PS3 launch again? Take this rumour not just with a pinch of salt, bring a whole barrel and don´t skimp on the pepper, sage, rosemary and thyme. I will tell you flat out: I don´t believe a word of it. Why not? Because the consequences would be fatal.

If indeed Sony postponed their launch again, PS3 would be finished. Even before its launch, publishers would cancel projects and move them over to other consoles. Most have invested millions of US Dollars into the platform. They would not wait even longer until the already measly 400.000 units roll out and translate into installed hardware base and, hence, potential buyers. PlayStation3 would go the way of the Gizmondo, the console that never was.

Also, Sony would be finished. Investors and analysts would tear apart the company´s share value in mid-air. Tuesday already saw hundreds of millions of value gone. Another delay would cost Sony stock at least a billion. SCEI is Sony´s last cash cow. Its failure would bring down the entire Sony Corp. behemoth.

Those would undoubtedly be the consequences and that is precisely why I don´t believe a word of it. Sony knows the consequences would be fatal. They would rather churn out a higher degree of defective units than risk the wrath of the publishers and analysts.

Source: Codename Revolution
Thanks to: AtownKED, PSP Updates

Miyamoto quote old and wrongly translated

There has been some discussion about an alleged Shigeru Miyamoto interview by GameBrink. In it, Miyamoto apparently says about Wii:

The hardware is basically a GC. We’ve upgraded our development tools to new versions but, you can still use GC programs as they are.

The interview is over a month old. And, according to Joystiq, Miyamoto really said:

The machine is based on GC. We'll be upgrading the development tools, but GameCube code can be used for the most part as is.

Funny how a small syntactical error can make such a big difference semantically.

Sources: GameBrink, Joystiq