Friday, November 04, 2011

´The Nintendo Story´, as told by me

Again, I have been busy with another big project. I have just produced a thirty-minute television documentary on the history of Nintendo, featuring Shigeru Miyamoto, Michael Pachter, Steve Wiebe as well as many fans and experts. The documentary is trying to surprise even the most knowledgable fan of videogames with interesting facts. Did you know that Nintendo was founded in 1889? Did you know that in ´Donkey Kong´, Popeye was originally meant to jump over the barrels? Did you know that the Sony PlayStation started as commission work for Nintendo?

I have received great support from beforemario, Pix'n Love Publishing, EDGE magazine, EGMNOW, various artists participating in the iam8bit exhibition, as well as - of course - from Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment.

The documentary is in German. English and Japanese soundbytes are only subtitled, though. And we have taken great care to produce some pretty and pretty self-explanatory slides. The documentary is called ´The Nintendo Story´ and is scheduled to air in two weeks, namely on Friday, November 18th at 9:30pm on ZDFkultur. If you cannot receive the digital channel on your set, you can either watch it on Zattoo or through the ZDF network's streaming portal, the Mediathek.

Alternatively, the documentary is set to be repeated on 3sat the following Sunday, November 20th at 4:30pm. I hope you are able to watch it and I am most interested in your feedback.

EDIT And here is the direct link to the video stream in my tv network's streaming application, the ZDF Mediathek. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pachter: Nintendo should become third party

Market analyst Michael Pachter (Wedbush Securities) has suggested that Nintendo should consider licensing their intellectual property like ´Super Mario´ and ´The Legend of Zelda´ to rival console makers, as well as tablet and smartphone manufacturers and providers.

Pachter said this in an interview with me the day before yesterday and he reiterated his point during the market analysis panel at Gameplaces International in Frankfurt yesterday. Alongside Pachter, Jesse Divnich from EEDAR and Peter Warman from Newzoo took part in the 90-minute discussion, hosted by myself.

Paraphrasing him, he noted that there were no more blue oceans for Nintendo to discover. They got lucky with the Wii, he said. Now, though, the company would have to face direct competition in what he called a red ocean full of sharks and they were sure to lose such a battle. He also noted that he did not view the Wii U as a next generation console, but simply as an HD-capable Wii, which merely catches up with Xbox360 and PS3. As such, Pachter said, it will arrive two years late and likely suffer from a similar lack of software as the 3DS did - and still does. In what was a lively and often entertaining discussion, the charismatic Pachter also noted rather modestly that he was "often wrong, but never in doubt."

His colleague Peter Warman appeared to disagree on the issue of Nintendo. Slightly exaggerating his point, he noted that market analysts are the single reason why Nintendo is struggling at the moment. Investors rely solely on their market data and vision on the future of games. And on many points analysts views are exact the opposite from those of Nintendo, or at least Nintendo's CEO Satoru Iwata.

Warman believes the challenge of Nintendo is not as much battling the other console manufacturers but competing against the long list of companies and investors lining up to take the cloud, browser and app gaming experience to the TV screen. And casual games will go first, taking a stab directly at Nintendo's core business. And because of Nintendo's very early announcement, Nintendo has provided Apple the opportunity to announce their Apple TV on the same day the Wii U launches. After all, Apple launched the iPad 2 on the same day as the 3DS. That was no coincidence.

"Games are no longer products but a service," Warman added. "A service you take across the various screens you interact with and a service that keeps evolving ensuring never-ending engagement and entertainment. A service allowing you to pay an amount of money that suits your budget and suits the kick you get from playing it."

When the discussion moved on to Sony, Jesse Divnich said that the Xperia Play was, again paraphrasing here, dead in the water. He questioned why Sony Ericsson was in charge of the device and not SCE. There was no reason to even talk about it, he asserted. The Vita, however, received almost unanimous praise by the three analysts. They were getting enthused about the hardware and the relatively low price tag. Further entries in the home console arena, Michael Pachter asserted, would not launch before 2014, though.

EDIT I misrepresented Michael Pachter's opinion and I apologise for doing so. Michael clarified his stance thus:

I said that they must consider supporting other platforms with their software, but didn't mean to suggest that they must get out of the hardware business altogether. I merely believe that they can no longer command the prices and market share from their hardware that they have enjoyed in the past, as competition is eroding their advantage.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Life after gamescom

You may indeed have wondered why I was strangely absent of late, especially since the gamescom in Cologne would have been an ideal topic to discuss in recent weeks. Well, I have been extremely busy with an intriguing project. Remember last year's media blowout, featuring the 3sat Neues expert panel with Louis Castle and Matias Myllyrinne?

This year, I have been responsible for the first broadcast of an eSports tournament on a public sector television network. The three-hour long program was called FTW - For the Win, aired on August 20th on ZDFkultur and centered around the prestigious Pro Series, staged by the Electronic Sports League (ESL). Of course, we all hope that it will become a regular fit.

The brainchild of my former boss, I was solely responsible for actually getting his idea on air, suggesting presenters and a title for the show, finding guests and producing most of the items on various topics concerning eSports. Some you may find them interesting, even though they are all in German. The real treat is this year's expert panel from GDC Europe, featuring legendary developer Richard Garriott, which is all in English. Here are the links:

ZDFkultur expert panel featuring Richard Garriott (30 minutes, English)

FTW - For the Win, ESL Pro Series Winter Season kick-off at gamescom (3 hours, German, restricted access due to age rating)

Introduction to eSports, ZDF Sportreportage (5 minutes, German)

Bootcamp, Team Alternate (2 minutes, German)

Clan structures, n!faculty (2 minutes, German)

Artist Aram Bartholl, building the de_dust map in real life (2 minutes, German)

Hope you enjoy this year's media blowout. Please let me know what you think.

Monday, July 04, 2011

PS4 coming 2012, feature Kinect-like controls?

The PlayStation4 will hit markets in 2012 and feature a control mechanism based on body movements similar to Kinect, Digitimes has learnt.

Sony will have Taiwan-based partners begin production of PlayStation 4 (PS4) featuring body movement-based control like Kinect at the end of 2011 for launch in 2012, according to Taiwan-based component makers.

Foxconn and Pegatron Technology, assemblers of PS3, will undertake assembly of PS4 as well, the sources pointed out. The planned shipment volume of PS4 in 2012 is at least 20 million units, the sources indicated.

It seems likely that next year, all three next generation consoles will launch (or will at least be announced to launch in 2013). Remember that Microsoft also has a successor console sent out to select third-parties, according to rumours.

More than two years ago, I predicted that all three next generation consoles would be announced in 2011 and 2012 and that the ten year lifecycle Sony envisaged for the PS3 was an illusion.

With the PlayStation3, Sony may be committed to a ten year life cycle. But Microsoft will clearly pull a successor to its Xbox360 out of the hat before 2012 by the latest. The same goes for Nintendo. And if the PS3 isn't selling now, why should it be selling in three years time, when there will be two next-gen consoles out, which are both sure to surpass the PS3 in either hardware power or controller scheme or both.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ken Levine has no plans for Wii U, Valve does

With the Wii U's graphics horsepower revealed, developers have commented on the console.

In comments made exclusively to ZDF German television at E3, Ken Levine revealed that his studio Irrational Games had no concrete plans to develop for Wii U. His positive comments in a developer reaction video shown during Nintendo's E3 press conference were made solely as a gamer, not as a developer, Levine explained.

Gabe Newell, head of Valve Software (´Half-Life´, ´Left4Dead´), however, has plans for Wii U.

"Wii U seems to be a lot more powerful than the previous generation," he told Joystiq. "It sort of fits better into the scalability in terms of graphics performance and CPU performance, so I think it'll be a lot easier for us to fit it into our scalability model." Valve has yet to release any of its games on a Nintendo console, though Gabe told us, "We've always loved Nintendo." He also pointed out that Valve has been slowly transitioning from the PC to console counterparts, starting with Xbox 360 and more recently moving to the PlayStation 3 in a major way with Steam getting ported to Sony's console.

And it looks like Nintendo may be next, as Newell restated, "Now it's a lot easier to look at Wii U and have it fit within that framework."

Finally, Square Enix has committed itself to making the Wii title ´Dragon Quest X´ also compatible with Wii U.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

E3 reactions

After the big three press conferences at E3, various discussions have sprung up regarding the two new consoles, Sony's PSVita and Nintendo's Wii U. Here are some interesting tidbits.

For a start, PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai told Reuters Japan (via Andriasang) that PSVita will be profitable in three years. This suggests that Sony is selling the hardware at a significant loss.

Sony Computer Entertainment's Head of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida thinks that the PS3 and the Vita can replicate the Wii U setup and that certain games may be developed for both platforms, Develop Magazine writes.

Regarding Wii U, there is some discussion regarding the hardware power of the console. It is a given that Wii U will, by some, be perceived as a mere upgrade and not as the first eighth generation console. Yet in the above forum, a number of posters claim that what we know about the console's CPU already makes it a few times more powerful than the PlayStation3's Cell chip.

If you want to get technical, here is the info you need. The IBM press release regarding the Wii U's CPU is here, the AMD press release regarding the console's GPU is here.

Mark Rein, president of Epic Games (´Unreal´) twittered about potential Wii U support that there was no announcement to make today but that ´water was meeting fish.´ Also, Rein stated that he was at Nintendo's press conference, for the first time ever. Remember that ´Aliens: Colonial Marines´, due to come out for Wii U, is running Unreal 3 technology.

While industry insiders are all marvelling at the level of developer support Nintendo is getting, investors did not get to grips with the Wii U with Nintendo shares taking a 5,7 percent tumble in Tokyo, falling to the lowest level in many years. Some market analysts voice their confusion about the console.

Sony shares, on the other hand, gained a little. Bear in mind, though, that Sony is an electronics giant with a diverse product range. Also, the latest PlayStation Network outage made Sony shares tumble over the last few weeks. With PSN back up, the shares are also set to recover.

Lastly, Microsoft shares rose on Monday but have since returned to the level before their E3 press briefing. Microsoft, too, is a huge corporation and poor sales of Windows Phone 7 handsets may be to blame for a declining share price.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wii U unveiled, first hands-on experiences

Finally, Wii U has been unveiled and we have learned a number of things. Firstly, all those fakes were just that. The rumours regarding the touchscreen were true. My expectations regarding an unusual form factor were in vain. But the gameplay I predicted earlier today - using augmented reality and tracking - was spot-on.

As far as the name is concerned, Nintendo chose to stick with the Wii brand, which may be clever. But for the same reason, the console may also not be perceived as a new console generation, but rather as an upgrade to the existing Wii. In fact, it may simply be such an upgrade.

No sign of Rockstar being on board with ´GTA V´, but Irrational Games (´BioShock´) are. And it looks as if ´Battlefield 3´ will be on the system. ´Batman: Arkham City´, ´Darksiders II´, ´Tekken´, ´Assassin's Creed´, ´Ghost Recon Online´, ´Ninja Gaiden 3´, ´Aliens: Colonial Marines´ and ´Metro: Last Light´ are all confirmed. It appears as if Nintendo is ramping up third party support yet again. The mantra of uniting casual and core gamers may actually materialise.

The controller may be compared to tablets like Apple's iPad. But it has two features that make the device far better suited for games: physical buttons and a stylus. Strangely enough, the actual console has not been the focus of the presentation. In fact, it has been strangely absent. A more critical point we have not heard about tonight is pricing. The controller will have to be rather expensive. My guess is $100. But these details will be revealed at E3 2012, for sure.

For now, let us read what the lucky people wrote who already got to play with the Wii U.

The Guardian

Our first glimpse of anything running on the console was emphatically that: a lengthy fly-through in an immaculately constructed virtual Japanese garden, from the viewpoint of various birds, designed to show off Wii U's graphics-processing power.

Which was impressive if not jaw-dropping – on a par with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, running in full HD, with depth of focus and convincingly modelled water and weather effects. We had established that Wii U will be able to run the sort of third-party titles that currently only make it onto the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (...)

So will Wii U eclipse the Wii? Initial impressions would leave us answering that question with a resounding "Yes". In typical Nintendo fashion, Wii U is one of those objects that you have to get your hands on before you get what it is trying to achieve.

The new controller is such an odd, unlikely-looking thing that it will undoubtedly generate a wave of early cynicism. But the joyously unusual nature of the gameplay experiences that even a couple of hastily assembled tech-demos can engender bodes more than well.

And its sensible amount of under-the-bonnet grunt (an area in which the underpowered Wii suffered from its inception) gives it much more hardcore appeal than its predecessor. (...)

It will be the oddest console ever, and possibly the best, too. Or it may turn out to be a complete cul-de-sac. But one thing is for sure: it won't just be another generic games console.

Game Informer

The demo was not hyper-realistic, nor was it the greatest thing I’ve seen in the current generation of consoles, but it was definitely beautiful, crisp, and far above the visual quality possible on the original Wii. Also of note, the same visuals that appeared on the TV were being emulated on the controller’s screen. (...)

After this brief first hands-on experience with the new Nintendo system, I’m equally excited and anxious for the prospects of this unique controller. As they did previously with the Wii’s motion controls and the DS’s dual touch-screen innovation, Nintendo is introducing something wildly unique to the industry. If developers are able to wrap their head around this technology, it could lead to some incredibly interesting gameplay mechanics that simply won’t be possible on current competing consoles. With the DS, that put Nintendo ahead of the competition. With the Wii, it got them behind in third-party support because developers struggled to put the motion controls to good use. With the new system, it could go either way.

There are tons of questions left. With the amazing technology in the controller, how much will the system cost and (perhaps more importantly) how much will extra controllers cost? What about online? Will Nintendo finally become a major online player or will they remain stuck in the past? Where are the full games from Nintendo? Hopefully most of these issues will be cleared up one way or another on the march to the system’s current broad launch window of April 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.


What's the thing feel like? In an artificially extended word, awwwwkwaaaaard. It's designed so that the players holds sort of the top area of the controller, and my (admittedly small) hands were placed such that my thumbs fell naturally onto the analog sticks. But not the buttons. Though the Shield Pose demo didn't require buttons, I tried it, and I had to make a very conscious effort to actually hit the face buttons instead of unconsciously tapping the circle pads while I was going to do something.

The demo also didn't make use of the touchscreen, so I can't speak of its quality or ease of use at the moment. Other demos did use this feature, and I will get hands on as soon as the opportunity arises, along with more detailed impressions of the rest of the functions. I will say that while the display on the touchscreen looked really similar in quality to the Shield Pose demo, it didn't appear to be HD itself -- and the Shield Pose game was extremely graphically simple, in the style of first-party "Wii" series games.

What Nintendo may show today

Microsoft's and Sony's presentations are over, Nintendo's is yet to come. It is time to sum up the first two and speculate a little on what Nintendo may have in store for us in just a few hours.

Microsoft: Kinect

In their E3 press conferences, Microsoft greatly emphasized Kinect. Most titles like ´Kinect Sports´, ´Kinect Disneyland Adventures´ or ´Fun Labs´ appear all too reminiscent of dozens of titles already available on Wii. However, with ´Kinect Star Wars´ and especially ´Ghost Recon: Future Soldier´, ´Mass Effect 3´ and ´Ryse´, Microsoft is finally showing us more mature Kinect titles. Voice activation, to be integrated into Kinect, sounds intriguing too.

Sony: 3D

Sony's press conference, however, came across as more appealing. Their emphasis was clearly on 3D, showing ´Resistance 3´, ´God of War: Origins´ and ´Uncharted 3´, as well as introducing a PlayStation-branded 3D screen for $500. As far as software is concerned, attracting the ´BioShock´ license to both the PS3 and the PSVita is a coup in its own right.

The PSVita, the PSP's successor, impressed me less. The games look solid. But the price point of $250 for the WiFi-only model and $300 for the 3G version was to be expected. Anything above and Sony would have priced itself out of the market. Remember that I still believe the 3DS is too expensive.

Nintendo: Project Café

So what may Nintendo be up to? We will know in just a few hours. A large touchscreen as part of the controller is pretty much confirmed by now. But will the controller simply be a tablet? I expect Nintendo to surprise the world with a completely new form factor once again, just like they did with the Wii. I cannot imagine what such a controller may look like, though. Yesterday, someone suggested that the touchscreen may not be held across, but lengthwise. And what if the screen were not rectangular but a different shape? What if the six inch screen is composed of two halves that can be folded shut like a laptop? This seems anyone's guess, really.

What I am more certain about is that the new cosole will feature a strong emphasis on augmented reality and tracking, just like ´Face Raiders´ on the 3DS. Now, imagine this type of gameplay coupled with a traditional screen. Here is an example of what this may enable.

Check around one minute, when the ball pops out of the tv screen and lands on the floor. Also, the interaction with another person later on might give you an idea of what gameplay Nintendo may be wanting to leverage with the new console.

Of course, the tracking seems a little awkward here. Tracking can, however, be perfectly done. See the following technology demo by a company called Invensense.

It all boils down to cost. I cannot imagine a tablet-like controller with truly original features which enable ground-breaking gameplay for less than $200. And such a scenario would only be possible if this new controller would work with the Wii, which is already in 90 million homes or so. You cannot ask consumers to shell out $400 for two controllers and then buy a new console, too. And will such a touchscreen controller, which must double as a standalone portable console, not cannibalise the 3DS market?

We know quite a bit about the Wii successor Project Café already. But once you try to put the pieces together, you realise that we just do not see the big picture yet. I am very excited about the press conference. Microsoft and Sony had good presentations, but Nintendo has a chance of stealing the show this year.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Watch the big three press conferences at E3

Here are the details and webcast links for the big three press conferences at this year's E3 show in Los Angeles.

Monday, June 6, 10am PDT
Live webcast

Sony Computer Entertainment
Monday, June 6, 5pm PDT
Live webcast

Tuesday, June 7, 9am PDT
Live webcast

Nikkei confirms touchscreen controller for Wii successor

The Japanese newspaper Nikkei has confirmed that the Wii successor will feature a six inch touchscreen and a camera, in line with previous rumours. The article was translated by Andriasang.

Wii 2 will feature a new type of controller that includes a touch screen. The controller will give tablet-like controls to games, tapping the touch panel to control the characters on your television, for instance. The controller can also be used as a portable game machine.

The touch panel on the controller is six inches. The controller itself has a built in rechargeable battery and includes a camera. The camera can be used for a variety of play opportunities -- for instance, a player making an avatar of himself for use in a game.

Nikkei says that Wii 2 could be released as early as mid 2012.

Here is the original source (registration required) and here is a machine translation of the page.

Sony NGP to be called PSVita

Just ahead of Sony's E3 press conference, a patent filing reveals that the PSP successor, previously known by its codename Next Generation Portable or NGP, will be called PSVita. Here is the accompanying logo.

The website is not directly accessible. Visit the E.U.'s patents and trademark site and enter 010017903 under the first field Trade mark No.

This validates a previous rumour by a blogsite that went offline shortly after posting images of the NGP with the new logo and name on it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Project Café video fake, E3 invitation confirms ´Stream´?

A video clip allegedly showing a presentation of Nintendo's next home console has surfaced. A number of regular commentators here have argued about whether the clip should even be discussed. I am certain that it is fake, but believe that it is worth pointing out why. Here is the clip.


This clip was uploaded by YouTube user privateconnex and is entitled ´Nintendo Project Cafe leak "private developer conference"´. The clip itself, however, starts with a slate reading "Private Presentation of 'Project Cafe' by a Video Games Editor". Now, this is the most compelling reason to believe this is a complete fabrication: no videogames editor in the world would be giving a presentation of gaming hardware that is yet to be made public. I even believe that no videogames editor in the world has even seen the console. But even if so, it is hard to believe that Nintendo would trust media outside of Japan. The young woman seen in the clip is clearly not Japanese.

Another aspect is the location. The clip appears to be filmed inside a lecture theatre, commonly found in universities. These are practical, but no-frills places for any presentation. A company like Nintendo would on no account book a venue like this. Next up, the slides are reminiscent of previous fakes. I wrote about those images: "Any kind of presentation would use renders rather than simple outlines. Such basic images are only ever used in patent documents. This is surely a fake." If used in any kind of presentation to the outside world, it is even more important to keep up appearances.

Lastly, the person following the presentation appears to resemble Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. This might, at the surface, appear to validate the video as real. On second thought, it does the very opposite, though. If this presentation really did take place and someone in the audience would want to break the NDA they undoubtedly had to sign prior to entering and hence risk their job, how much more foolhardy would it be to film the event sitting right behind Reggie? This is just plain stupid.

Various points I made earlier with regard to the hardware are also applicable here. It might strike us as odd that previous fakes have all shown the same hardware design, both console and controller. But either they originate from the same person or subsequent fakers realised that their work would become more credible if they picked up on it. You can rest assured that all images and videos purporting to show the Wii successor so far are fake.

What we can do, legitimately, is speculate on the basis of facts. There is very little, but here is a little more. This is an invitation by Nintendo of Europe for a media reception at E3. Notice the design.

Note that the imagery used is a combination of the squares with beveled edges we know from the DS family with the blue circles that have appeared in connection with the Wii. Combining them is what appears to be a stream or a wave. This may suggest that the next console will bring home consoles and portables closer together. It also may corroborate that the console will be called Stream, as previous rumours suggested.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Project Café screenshots are obvious fakes

The first alleged Project Café screenshots are in circulation. A blogger on Gameolosophy has posted two images, apparently showing Pikmin 3 and Endless Ocean 3. There are various reasons why they must be fake. The blogger seems to believe they are real, though.

I do not claim these screenshots to be official.  But my sources gave me the scoop on a million things about the new Nintendo console before other sources caught wind of them (Pikmin, Rockstar, Retrostudios).  And through these sources, they have supplied me with some screenshots for two games.

I cannot verify whether said blogger really did post those rumours first. I certainly read them elsewhere. The images in question are, quite obviously, fake. They appear to be real-life photos with crude graphical elements and text from videogames pasted on top. What is more, there are a number of interesting comments below the article. User Watchdog points out that the Pikmin screenshot just pasted the HUD from Pikmin 2 onto a real photo. He then notes “that ´Final Floor´ makes no sense when you’re outside.”

The article, though careful to assert that these images are to be thought of as rumour, lacks any kind of journalistic approach. The author even admits this.

I post anything I receive on here for your amusement/entertainment and my amusement and entertainment.  You have the choice to believe or not to believe.  It doesn’t matter.  E3 will be here before you know it. 

I guess we have another rumourmonger here who is keen on artificially pushing up her click count.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nintendo E3 invite may hint at Wii successor

Nintendo has sent out invites for their E3 press conference. The invites contain an image of three warp pipes from Super Mario Bros. in black and white. Thanks to my good friend Michi-Hiro for the image.

Could this be a clue of sorts? The image could hint at a linear progression, perhaps to leap higher and higher with the possibility to be sucked deeper and deeper in to the tubes. Height and depth could be the ideas conveyed here. Also, the number three may play a role. Obviously, there are three dimensions. But the first two tubes could also stand for the Nintendo DS family and Wii console - the current consoles and cornerstones of Nintendo's success - with the promise of the next hardware surpassing them. I believe that the ideas of progression and extension are quite obviously evident here. What do you come up with?

EDIT Here is the image within the context of the mail invite.

EDIT Reader Kevin noted that this image was already part of last year's invite and has kindly uploaded an image. He also asserts that it was used before then. I have to admit that I did not remember. But now, I think we can safely assume that the image contains no hidden meaning with regard to Nintendo's next home console.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Xbox360 successor in EA's hands, source responds

Microsoft may also be announcing a new home console at the E3 expo in early June, Develop magazine has learnt. At the very least, one publisher is in possession of early hardware to work on launch titles.

The successor to the Xbox 360 console is on desks at an unnamed Electronic Arts studio, Develop understands. The new hardware, sent to EA last month, is a very early build with no casing – it is in fact being stored inside a PC shell. EA developers are getting to grips with the tech to create first-generation software, Develop has been told. (...) Develop’s source is not employed at either company.

The source believed, but did not have certain information, that the new Xbox would launch by the end of 2012. The individual expects an announcement will be made, at least in some form, at E3. (...) A seperate inside source has told Eurogamer that an E3 reveal for the new system is "highly unlikely".

There are a number of things I would like to point out. Firstly, furnishing any third party with early hardware is a move that every manufacturer will consider very carefully. The only reason to do so is to facilitate good enough launch titles. There is no reason to supply publishers before they need to start actual development. Add the fact that launch titles usually have a slightly shorter develoment cycle - I expect no more than two years and perhaps as little as one-and-a-half - and you can safely assume that Microsoft may be shooting for a late 2012 launch at the earliest and early 2013 at the latest. This corroborates the above rumour and, in turn, may suggest that Microsoft will indeed announce the Xbox360 successor this year and use E3 2012 to announce launch dates and pricing, as well as to offer hands-on sessions.

My guess is, though, that this June would be a little early for an initial announcement. Microsoft obviously want to steal Nintendo's thunder, which must be the only reason why they would churn out a new home console, anyway. But they still have plenty of time left to do so, if they do not mind handing this E3 to Nintendo. In fact, many companies are following Apple's lead of making hardware announcements at their own dedicated events, because then the news will focus exclusively on them.

As far as motivation for a new console is concerned, both Microsoft and Sony want to play out this generation for as long as possible. But hardware defects and extra costs of one billion dollar for extended warranties aside, Microsoft learnt the lesson that it can help your installed hardware base to be first to market. Admittedly, Sony's many problems did their part to facilitate Microsoft's early lead. But regardless of that, by the time the PS3 launched, the Xbox360 already had an impressive software portfolio. This time, Microsoft will not be able to beat Nintendo. But they certainly will not want to launch last. Then again, Sony will employ the same strategy. So expect them to announce a new home console soon, as well (though I expect they will wait until the NGP has been on the market for some months).

In an exclusive statement I can add to the story, an anonymous source (who may or may not be in the know about the details of Project Café), has responded to this rumour with these words: "Microsoft better be bringing more to the table than mere hardware power."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Nintendo to incorporate haptic feedback?

There are fresh rumours regarding the controller of Nintendo's new home console. The touchscreen will offer haptic feedback in a way that allows different surface structures to be distinguishable, Swedish gaming news site Loading has learnt from a "source close to Nintendo". Apparently, the console may be called Nintendo Feel. Thanks to Fook for this one.
The revolutionary aspect will once again be found in the controller itself. (...) Haptic technology is a form of tactile feedback used to simulate the experience of touching different objects shown on screen. The player can move their fingertips across a surface and clearly feel the difference between soft, smooth or rugged textures. Electronic companies across the world have been conducting research in this field for years. It’s been rumored that Apple is close to patenting a similar technology, and we’ve seen the Toshiba demonstration of ‘New Sensation UI Solution’, that applies a thin film over a screen in order to achieve a haptic effect. (...)

You have to try Nintendo Feel to really understand. But the idea itself is very easy to sell, no matter if you are aiming for hardcore players or the wider audience that was first introduced to games through DS, Wii or Kinect. (...) Remember Vitality Sensor? It will most likely make a comeback at this year’s E3, though not as a peripheral for Wii, but as a key feature of Nintendo Feel.

The author goes on to imagine stroking and feeling fur in ´Nintendogs´ or drawing patterns in the sand in ´Legend of Zelda´, feeling the cool river, hot lava or the structure of the bark of an old tree.

You may remember that an early haptic accessory, the Novint Falcon, has been mentioned a number of times before the Wii was fully unveiled.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wii successor confirmed for 2012 amidst first fakes

Nintendo has confirmed that a Wii successor will be unveiled at E3 in Los Angeles in early June and released in 2012, as expected. On the Japanese website's investor relations page, a brief notice was published today in the form of a PDF document entitled Wii's successor system:

Nintendo Co., Ltd. has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii, which the company has sold 86.01 million units on a consolidated shipment basis between its launch in 2006 and the end of March 2011.

We will show a playable model of the new system and announce more specifications at the E3 Expo, which will be held June 7-9, 2011, in Los Angeles.

Sales of this new system have not been included in the financial forecasts announced today for the fiscal term ending March 2012.

The last sentence implies that the launch date will be no earlier than April of next year.

Recapping on all rumours so far, the system appears to:

  • be called Stream and bear the codename Project Café
  • feature a tri-core PowerPC CPU by IBM, an R700 series GPU by AMD and at least 512MB RAM
  • be capable of outputting 1080p resolution
  • be capable of stereoscopic 3D (contested by another source)
  • feature motion controls
  • feature a controller with a 6.2 inch HD touchscreen, to which content is streamed from the console, also bearing two analogue sticks, a camera and eight buttons
  • be backwards compatible with Wii software as well as with Wii controllers
  • feature a Blu-ray drive (contested by another source)
  • be already be in the hands of various developers, including Ubisoft, Activision, EA and Rockstar
  • get ´Grand Theft Auto V´, developed by Rockstar, perhaps even for launch
  • get the successor to ´Donkey Kong Country Returns´, developed by Retro Studios 
  • cost between 350 and 400 US-Dollars

In the meantime, various images have popped up purporting to be internal Nintendo documents.The first one appeared on someone's TinyPic account.

Under the headline Innovation reinvented, the text reads:

Project Café is simply the most developer friendly SDK the industry has ever seen. Deliver unparalleled next generation performance at current generation costs. It doesn't get any easier than this.
  • Easy portability from PC, Xbox360
  • Anytime live update past release
  • Integrated M-Live framework

The image itself could, in theory, be genuine. The design of both the alleged presentation slide and the console appear professional enough. But I cannot imagine what kind of presentation such a slide might be from. I do not believe that Nintendo visits publishers with an interest in their top secret SDK to show them a PowerPoint presentation that is designed to convince them of the kit. They do cost money, obviously, but I do not believe that you need to convince a publisher with corny sales slogans like "It doesn't get any easier than this".

Also, if such presentations really were made, they would likely feature lots of technical details and not the general mumbo-jumbo you find in the first paragraph. Lastly, the second bullet point appears to be not too well worded. Okay, even the brief financial statement above contains a syntax error (it should read "of which the company has sold") but I would assume such slides to be compiled with more care. There is no real evidence to go by, but I believe the image to be fake.

On to the second piece. In the following collage of images being sent to TechnoBuffalo, we see the outline of the same console, along with more text.

Here, the text reads:

Screen stream takes the 1080p image and pushes each rendered quarter to the player's personal TV screen.

If the first image was slightly dubious, these ones are doubly so. Any kind of presentation would use renders rather than simple outlines. Such basic images are only ever used in patent documents. This is surely a fake.

Of course, we are free to speculate what the controller may look like and many mockups are circulating, from serious suggestions to plain humorous. In my mind, the idea that we will get a standard, pre-Wii controller with a touchscreen slapped onto it is obviously wrong.

Such a standard controller with an HD touchscreen would not only receive gaming content streamed from the home console, it would have to double as a handheld console to justify the high price. And if so, these sales would cannibalise sales of the DS line. The same is true of a standard tablet setup, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

For this reason alone, I cannot see the controller being a standard setup. Also, remember how we knew the basic elements of the Revolution controller in 2005 but noone actually thought of it mirroring a remote control. I am sure that Nintendo will surprise us in a similar manner this time. Either the 3DS is the Stream's controller or the controller will take a very different shape to whatever we can imagine.

EDIT The following images have surfaced via Wii HD Rumors. They show the same console design present in the other images above.

I continue to believe that they are fake. Firstly, this cannot be a development kit. Such units look more functional and have less of an emphasis on design. The Dolphin (the GameCube dev kit) looks like an ugly PC and the Wii's dev kit is a simple black box with open LEDs. So this can only be a design prototype for the final console, if real. But judging by the hardware specs the size is too small, while the Nintendo logo, from a design perspective, is far too big. Also, it is very early for a final design to be shown to anyone, even internally. Only very few people within Nintendo are privy to this and it is near impossible that one of these privileged people shares photos such as these.

EDIT Now, another photo of the alleged console has surfaced, courtesy of Wii 2 Blog. Here it is. Thanks to Spazer for the heads-up.

The image has apprently been sent to the blog accompanied by the following information. 

This is not the final design, this unit does not have a working drive or final parts. The unit powers on and is an internal test kit that is no longer being used because more complete units have now been distributed. The design is close to what we will see at E3. The colour scheme does not necessarily reflect that of the final model either.

 The blog author continues:

My source said that the photo was taken by a friend of his who sent the picture to him. His friend does not work directly for Nintendo, but she “has access to early kits.” Lastly, he told me that the final kit will probably be thinner and more detailed.

These words practically prove that these units are all fake. The claim is that the source does not even work for Nintendo. It is obvious that noone outside of Nintendo will have seen any of the final design prototypes. Not a single person. This is true of NCL in Japan and more so of Nintendo of America. Ask yourselves the simple question: would anyone at Nintendo of America even need to see such prototypes? Of course not. And it is way too early to show the design to accessory manufacturers.

The claim that it is an "early kit" is also misinformed. Early kits are development kits and bear no design whatsoever. These are purely functional units. Design prototypes are something different altogether and it is highly likely that even NOA president Reggie has not seen one of those yet.

EDIT Since there have been assertions that the unit shown here could actually be the dev kit, allow me to make this point very clear: dev kits are purely functional units. Have a look at the Wii dev kit right here. This is the GameCube's dev kit. Notice any design kinks? No? No, you wouldn't. Also, this thing is way too small for a first generation dev kit. Compare it to the first PlayStation3 dev kit. Even the PSP dev kit is bigger than this alleged unit. You can check out more images right here. To suggest that this could be a dev kit is just really misinformed and that is being polite.

I have also come across another image in the style of the very first one, this one bearing the logos of both IBM and AMD. It originates from an image sharing website and originally shows a collage of images.

The text is cut off, but there is mention of the terms Streamplay and StreamWare, as well as of N-Live middleware. The collage of three images with the outlined console and controller above, though, mentions Screen Stream instead, while the sister image to this new one almost definitely makes note of an M-Live framework. How many different technologies with similar names could be at work here? Clearly, there are way too many technical terms flung around. Also, most of these are trademarked within software development. This alone should unmask at least some images as fake.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wii successor details, to be announced within two weeks

A Wii successor will be announced within the next two weeks and properly unveiled at E3, according to rumours from various reliable sources. If all details are to be believed, the console will be capable of 1080p output, feature an all-new controller with a built-in screen and be backwards compatible. It is apparently slated for a late 2012 launch.

Here are all the sources. Game Informer started off the round of rumours.

The company will unveil it at E3 this summer if not sooner.We have confirmed with multiple sources that this new home system is capable of running games at HD resolutions. There are conflicting reports, however, as to whether its graphics will be comparable to those on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 – meaning it could surpass or fall short of those systems. (...)

Nintendo is already showing publishers the system in an effort to get them interested and allow them plenty of time to start developing titles in anticipation of the system's reported late 2012 launch. 

CVG added details about a new controller with a built-in screen. This may relate back to Nintendo recently revealing that they had toyed with the idea of a separate 3D screen for the GameCube.

What's most exciting about the Wii successor however is its all-new controller, which industry sources have indicated is not simply an upgraded Wii Remote, and will even feature a built-in HD screen.

Our sources did not specify whether or not the controller displays will feature any other functionality, such as that of the DS's touch screen, but it's easy to imagine the sort of innovation an extra screen could bring to Wii 2 games.

"Nintendo's plans sound unreal," one source said. "Publishers are already planning launch titles and it's all very exciting.

"The hardware is even more powerful than current HD consoles and backwards compatible with Wii. The controller will be all-new and has a HD screen on it."

We're told Nintendo plans to launch the Wii successor in late 2012

Kotaku and IGN then heard that, indeed, the system will be more powerful than the current competitors (which in  my mind is a given, anyway. Even the Wii is more powerful than PlayStation2 and the original Xbox by most standards). IGN also added more details.

Our sources have said the the console is significantly more powerful than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and that Nintendo's intent is to recapture the hardcore market. Another source said it is capable of 1080p resolutions.

Nintendo is reportedly showing the console to publishers to garner interest for a late 2012 launch.

Additional sources tell IGN that Nintendo will release a pre-announcement this month with a full reveal expected at E3 and that the console will be backwards compatible with current Wii software.  

Now, I believe that a separate screen integrated into the controller would be the biggest news here, if true. As mentioned above, Nintendo had this idea before and it is obvious that the company strongly believes in 3D technology while not believing in glasses. So the built-in screen might not be an extra screen, as CVG interpretes. It might be a proprietary solution for stereoscopic visuals. What such a controller might look like is another question. I am badly trying to get the image of the Nintendo On out of my mind...

EDIT Now, British gaming magazine EDGE has weighed in on the debate. These comments seem to undercut any speculation about stereoscopic 3D.

Ubisoft, Activision and Electronic Arts have had development units of the new hardware for months. They have also claimed that the system retains motion control, with capabilities that are “better than Move”, meaning that they boast higher fidelity. We do not yet have word on whether or not its motion-controlled solution introduces a camera.

EDIT According to even more rumours by, Nintendo will include a Blu-ray drive in the Wii successor.

Sources have revealed to that Nintendo are looking at including Blu-ray as the main optical drive. This would be a natural progression from the Wii which uses DVD, but it isn't clear if Nintendo would enable BD movie playback on the new console or whether they would just use it for data as they do with DVD on the Wii. This new device could be the internal successor to the Blu-ray enabled Wii that was rumored for release in 2010.

EDIT There is another crazy rumour relating to Nintendo's next home console. According to the French gaming news site who confirmed the above rumours and added the codename Project Café to it (this time translated by my good friend over at GoNintendo), Rockstar (´Grand Theft Auto´, ´Red Dead Redemption´) is already in possession of development kits. Also, they are said to be working on GTA V for the console, which may even make it for launch. The launch is still slated for late 2012 with June a possibility for Japan. At E3, we should expect tech demos and some games.

I have not yet reported about the details added by the French site, because I have not yet found the time to confirm whether they really did blow the lid off the hardware specs of Sony's Next Generation Portable (NGP), as it is claimed. They also added nothing new, apart from the codename Project Café, which sounds unusual for a Nintendo codename (compared to previous ones like Dolphin, Nitro, Revolution or Project Reality). I will look into it as soon as I can.

EDIT Whoa, this post just keeps growing, eh? Now, Kotaku is adding more detail, noting that they have heard that the Wii successor will be compatible with Wii remotes, as well as with that new touchscreen controller.

Nintendo intends for many games on its new console to be controlled with the same kind of arm-swinging and controller tilting made capable by the Wii Remote. Think of it this way, hypothetically speaking: a new Wii Sports could use the Remote; a new Zelda could use the screen-based twin-stick controller. (...)

The 6.2-inch screen will receive data wirelessly from the Nintendo console and presents an array of options, from putting the player's inventory or map on the controller screen, to allowing players to combine it with the controller's camera to snap photos that could be imported into a game or even turning it into some sort of glorified viewfinder (we're unclear about whether the camera on the controller points at the player or can be outward-facing; we've heard both — maybe it swivels?).
The controller screen could even run a separate app. Consider a bad co-op idea from us as an example, though not a recommendation: one player zips through mini-games that run on the screen-controller. Succeeding in each keeps the player using the Wii Remote alive — in a game running on the TV in the same room. (...)

In fact, you could think of the new Nintendo console as turning your living room into a glorified mega-DS.... your TV is the upper-screen; your controller is the lower touchscreen.

Also, I have been wrong above, noting that French site 01net added no more than the alleged codename Project Café. They also detailed system specs:

  • multi-core IBM PowerPC CPU
  • ATI R700 series GPU
  • at least 512MB RAM

And a recent Fudzilla article backs those claims up, as well as adding plenty more detail.
From the whispers we hear, we expect the new Wii2 to be powered by an IBM Tri-core PowerPC CPU that we expect to be clocked at the same speed or slightly higher than the CPU in the Xbox 360. The GPU will be again powered by AMD and sourced from the ATI R700 family, featuring a shader unit version 4.1 support; and we expect GPU to have access to 512MB of RAM. (...)

Depending on the exact clock speeds, we suspect that the Wii2 will have performance that is close to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 or maybe slightly better, but that is hard to say. We are expecting the use of 32nm and 40nm chips for Wii2. Despite a lot of talk about the possibility of the Wii2 using AMD’s Fusion technology, our sources tell us that it isn’t happening because it is simply just too expensive at this point.

The biggest question is storage, and that does not seem to be one that is going to be easy to answer. Sources say that Nintendo is at least resistant to adding a hard drive and we prefer to stick with flash memory. (...) Expect no change on the disc front. It will continue to use DVD-ROM drive and we are told there is no chance that the Wii2 will offer Blu-ray support. (...)

We are also told that it will arrive next year, but a release is more likely for April than March of 2012. From the latest that we are hearing, we don’t expect any new console from Microsoft or Sony before 2014; so Nintendo will be on their own with a console that is said to be not much more than equal to or better than the current generation offerings from Microsoft and Sony. Still, as one of our shadow dwellers said, it is still much better than what they have to work with today, which could lead to some very interesting releases from Nintendo for the platform.

Plus, another article by the same author claims that Retro Studios (´Metroid Prime Trilogy´) have a sequel to ´Donkey Kong Country Returns´ in the works for the Wii successor. With so many details out already, I cannot help but be reminded of the Xperia Play, the industry's worst kept secret. Perhaps the Sony Ericsson mobile will have to forfeit that title.

EDIT Right, this is getting ridiculous. IGN has added Stream as a potential final name for the system which may sell for up tp $400. They also confirm the system specs noted above and add further details regarding size and manufacturing. The first retail units will apparently leave the manufacturing plants in six months already. Nintendo may want to stock up on inventory before selling them, though, which will also affect the price.

Most intriguing is the assertion that the system will offer stereoscopic 3D at least as an option, although no details are given as to how this may be achieved technically. We all know that Nintendo does not believe in glasses. So the additional screen may be a proprietary 3D screen, after all.

According to sources with knowledge of the project, Nintendo's next console could have a retail price of anywhere between $350 and $400 based on manufacturing costs, and will ship from Taiwanese manufacturer, Foxconn, this October, putting the earliest possible retail release anywhere between mid-October and early November.

However, Nintendo could also opt to build up a sizable supply of the system and allocate more time for software and games development by launching in early 2012. Similarly, Nintendo could attempt to lower the retail price of the system with lower profit margins to make the price more alluring. Since the manufacturing is taking place in Taiwan, the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan last month will not impact the console hardware as previously expected. (...)

The system will support 1080p output with the potential for stereoscopic 3D as well, though it has not been determined whether that will be a staple feature. In terms of the design of the console itself, the overall size will be comparable to that of the original Xbox 360 and the system is likely to resemble a modernized version of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). (...)

Finally, Nintendo is considering naming the console Stream, though it is potentially one of several names currently being vetted by the company. 
The potential name Stream betrays what Nintendo sees as the central feature of the console, streaming content to the proprietary screen on the controllers. Alongside the option of 3D visuals, the controller in question may not be a controller as much as a central display unit which is simply detached from the console which does all the work. You may hide the console similarly to a subwoofer in a loudspeaker setup whereas the central display unit may become the focus point of the gaming experience. I am thinking of a similar setup to the imaginary technology shown in a 2007 Ubisoft trailer.

In this context, think back to Physical Optics Corporation being involved with a Videogame company for at least four years. The company has since updated its 3D display website with a portable solution.

What all these leaks prove, at least, is that dev kits have indeed been in the hands of various developers for some time and that the system is almost ready to be publically announced.

Friday, March 25, 2011

3DS hardware components cost $100

Analysts have estimated that the total costs of the Nintendo 3DS hardware components (a so-called ´bill of materials´ or B.O.M. estimate) comes to $100. The figure was made public by Eurogamer who have been given a preliminary estimate by David Carey, VP of technical intelligence for UBM TechInsights.

Bear in mind that the costs for assembly and distribution are not included and Nintendo will be keen on recouping their research and development investments, too. Still, the margin between the $100 B.O.M. and a $250 retail price appears unusually large, even given that Nintendo does not subsidise their consoles. After all, the positive reaction of journalists after the 3DS outing at E3 2010 was to blame that for the console to be marked up somewhat.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

3DS review

Since getting back from GDC in San Francisco, it's been a busy two weeks for me. But now, the GDC special of the weekly technology program I work for has aired and so have our video diaries on Facebook. Why not watch all of it and pick up some German?

Right in the midst of all this work, on Friday 11th, I got a parcel which certainly sweetened my weekend (and subsequent days). I got a 3DS and have been playing around with it pretty much every waking moment I could spare, playing ´Nintendogs + Cats´, ´Pilotwings Resort´ and ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´. It is a great console and it will take the market by storm, I am sure, but there are also indications of the device being rushed to market. Let me give you my impressions in detail.

The 3DS in comparison with the DSlite and the DSi XL

While I have always felt that the 3DS lacks the high-class finish of the DSi XL, the retail unit feels better than the various prototypes I handled. It still lacks the satinized surface of the XL and it oddly lacks the minimalistic design of most of its predecessors which was highly reminiscent of Apple products, but you will not be disappointed by the look and feel of the hardware. Particularly the gradient in both the cosmos black and aqua blue (which really is a green turquoise colour) looks nice.

In-built software

Nintendo Germany were quite clever. They sent out the units a few days ahead of the games. So we were forced to play around with the software that comes with the system, which we might not have done with a number of proper games to try out. None of them, it must be said, do the hardware power of the device any justice. Then again, the 3DS channels are not meant to wow you graphically. There are some nice tools in there, though. The augmented reality channel works a treat and is not what you might immediately expect from a system whose main feature is 3D vision. Similarly, Face Raiders is a wonderfully quirky idea and will keep you busy for some time.

The Mii Maker is a sobering experience, though. You will have seen that advert where a guy takes a snapshot of himself which is turned into a Mii with a great likeness. This simply does not work in my experience. You have to tell the system a surprising amount of detail first. And still, most Miis will look nothing like the person in the photo. Sure, there are some additional facial features and options for crafting Miis by hand, above and beyond the Wii's Mii Channel. But the promise of turning photos into Miis did not materialise.

The channel home screens rotate faster depending on microphone input

There is one tiny, almost insignificant feature which I would like to spend some time on, though. Watch the video above and see how you can manipulate the rotation speed for the 3DS channel home screens. You blow, cough or whistle and the Mii Plaza, for example, turns quicker. Sweet, I thought at first. But there is something akin to a bug in there. If you take the system with you onto a bus or train (which is what you would do with a portable console, right?) the constant background noise will make all objects rotate constantly at a very high speed. Watching this in 3D made me extremely dizzy - and I almost never suffer any adverse effects when perceiving 3D visuals. It would have been fairly easy to teach the system to tell short noise bursts and constant background noise apart, to prevent the latter from manipulating the rotation speed. The fact that Nintendo did not makes me believe that the system was, at least slightly, rushed to market. There are other little details that might suggest this.

The 3D effect

Okay, but let us focus on the main feature of the device. You will remember that the gaming press who tested the 3DS at E3 last year were unanimously euphoric. And my various hands-on sessions prior to me actually receiving the console mirrored that. It is a very pronounced 3D effect,while extremely easy on the eyes. And coupled with the increased hardware power, there is an amazing amount of detail to discover in the 3D images.

What has been baffling me is the seemingly large variation in the viewing angles. As you tilt the device sideways while playing, you will reach a point at which the two images are no longer exclusively seen by the eye they are meant for. You will see a double image, two layers which are slightly off, until you bring the device back into a middle position in front of you. This tolerance varies greatly from game to game. The built-in software seems to have a large tolerance, as does ´Nintendogs + Cats´. ´Pilotwings Resort´ seems to be somewhere in the middle, while ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is rather difficult to handle. And I believe the reason to be more than just the fact that you are more likely to tilt the console in a heated ´Street Fighter´ battle than you are when gently stroking a dog. It appears to also be related to the objects and depth portrayed on screen.

Do not get me wrong. In any game, you will find that sweet spot and be mesmerised by the visuals. But some games seem to be more suited to be actually played on the road than others.


Now, let us briefly talk about the software titles Nintendo has kindly supplied. My expectations of which game would be the best were surprisingly overturned. I expected ´Nintendogs + Cats´ to not really interest me a lot. I had played the first version silly, or rather various versions, to be honest. And I expected to be finished with virtual pets for life. But this title will become the top seller, I am sure. When you see those beautifully rendered puppies put their little feet up on the frame of the screen, your heart will melt. This is nothing like the original games, I tell you.

Similarly with ´Pilotwings Resort´, I expected to be turned off by the fact that we all know Wuhu island by now and the gameplay is not exactly what a hardcore gamer has in mind. But there are amazing moments in the game which really play out the whole 3D experience: closely brushing past a tower or plummeting towards the ground from great height just feel awesome.

´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is another matter, unfortunately. The game itself is absolutely great. The visuals clearly illustrate the hardware power of the device. But the implementation of almost all menus into the game is rubbish. When you finish a battle, a window may just pop up out of nowhere above the layers that you had adjusted to, which feels very uncomfortable. In fact, in some camera angles, the character will actually slice through a status window. Also, the story sequences are entirely in 2D and the animated sequences just before and after each match are barely 3D. I realise it is a port, but it shows. It is still a great game, but I am shaking my head in disbelief at the little blemishes. After all, this game is distributed by Nintendo. Again, I get the feeling that the title just had to ship regardless.

Kiss my shiny, metal console: The 3DS surface has a metallic touch to it


I think that you will see some evidence here and there that the system may have been rushed out the door. Luckily, none of these details matter all too much. The menu rotation aspect will surely be addressed in upcoming firmware updates. Little flaws in a ported game will be forgotten about once the exclusive titles like ´Resident Evil´ and ´Metal Gear Solid´ start rolling in. (On that note: do not expect MGS to come out this year) The 3DS is, for the most parts or certainly all the parts that really matter, a great system and sure to be the first 3D entertainment device the public will eat up. I certainly will.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wii successor will surprise, Konno confirms

Nintendo's Hideki Konno, in charge of the 3DS hardware since 2008, has repeated that the company's next home console will surprise people. He did not confirm that 3D was planned for home consoles, of course. Previously, though, various Nintendo executives and producers made similar statements.

In a 45-minute interview with me, Konno said that simply transferring the 3DS' visual experience to a home console would not be enough. He also expressed doubts about peripherals needed for viewing 3D visuals, referring to glasses and proprietary screens alike. You will remember that Nintendo toyed with the idea of offering a separate autostereoscopic screen for the Gamecube, but canned the idea.

Konno went on to state that the strength of the 3DS was in offering 3D visuals out of the box. Also, its portability allowed for others to experience the device easily. When pressed about cooperations with movie studios, he could not confirm whether full-length 3D movies will be available on the console. So far, only movie trailers have been announced.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

PS3 shipments confiscated in Europe, Mizuguchi to produce gaming documentary

While we landed in San Francisco for GDC, some big news are coming out Europe. A Dutch court has ruled in favour of an injunction by electronics giant LG against Sony, resulting in the confiscation all PlayStation3 console shipments destined for the European market for at least the next ten days, British newspaper The Guardian reports.

Tens of thousands of PS3s were seized by customs officers last week in the Netherlands, the Guardian has learnt, in a dispute that centres on Sony's allegedly infringing use of Blu-ray technology belonging to LG. Sony, which imports around 100,000 of the consoles a week, is frantically trying to get the ban lifted. The Japanese company has the right to appeal to the European patents office.

LG meanwhile, could apply to the same patents office to get the 10-day import ban extended. Alternatively, the Korean company could apply for a court order to get the consoles destroyed but it is highly unlikely the court would grant a request to eliminate the warehoused goods.

LG argues that Sony PS3s infringe a number of its patents relating to playback of Blu-ray Discs. LG called for an investigation into the PS3's Blu-ray use in a filing with the US international trade commission earlier this month, and said it sought a "permanent exclusion order ... excluding entry into the United States" of the games console.

If Sony is found to have infringed LG patents, it could be forced to compensate the South Korean manufacturer for each PS3 it has sold around the world, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

On a side note, I just chatted to star developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Space Channel 5) who is producing a 45 minute documentary about videogames for Japanese television network NHK. He swapped his GDC developer badge for a media one and has joined our ranks, at least temporarily. Great idea, I find. Unfortunately, he was unsure about the documentary being available online. It will air in Japan at the end of this month.

EDIT Regarding the temporary PS3 import ban is concerned, it has been lifted. The dispute, though, is not yet over:

"The latest ruling orders LG to pay substantial damages, however it does not mean Sony is off the hook. It will still have to defend the claims of patent infringement at a later date."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Off to GDC

On Monday, I will be flying out to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference, GDC. Unfortunately, I will not be iterviewing Nintendo president Satoru Iwata or Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai. I have got an interview slot with Hideki Konno confirmed, though, who is 3DS project manager. Other interviews are yet to be confirmed. If I have any time during the week, I will keep you updated.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Activision to buy Take-Two?

Activision Blizzard, the world's largest publisher, is rumoured to be interested in buying its rival Take-Two. Such a move would bring the various Rockstar studios and series like Grand Theft Auto under the same roof as the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises. Activision recently cancelling the most recent instalment of True Crime, a game that is similar to Grand Theft Auto, may be seen as cosying up to Take-Two and its portfolio.

"There are very strong rumours amongst people at a very senior level within the global business," a senior executive told MCV this week. (...) It could be that the killing off of True Crime: Hong Kong, a title that was believed to be almost entirely complete prior to cancellation, is being seen as a possible sacrificial lamb to benefit the fortunes of Grand Theft Auto and is simply fuelling the rumour. (...)

Earlier this week Take-Two reported a seven per cent year-on-year increase in net profit to $40.8m for the quarter ending December 31st 2010. Since Friday February 4th shares in the company have risen 11.6 per cent. Activision has a proven track record of big-money moves, with its 2008 merger with Blizzard proving a resolute success. It's also not afraid to shut under performing developers and, conversely, plough seemingly endless resources into projects in which it has confidence.

In 2008, Electronic Arts attempted such a buy-out which Take-Two successfully fended off. But new stakeholders are thought to be more open to the idea of selling the publisher. MCV points out, though, that the contracts for the key developers within the Rockstar studios will expire in 2012, unless they are renewed. This includes the Houser brothers, creators of the GTA franchise.