Gaming News Roundup and Opinion

Here's a round-up of some recent videogame news, with my take thrown in.

1. Wii U Specs
We'll start with what many consider to be a big one, as it relates to 'the console wars.' Eurogamer came out with a story the other day about the system specs of the Wii U. Nintendo has not released detailed information on the GPU of it's new console, leaving people to wonder and speculate. Some folks over on NeoGAF decided to do more than that, and so they collected money to have extremely-magnified pictures of the GPU taken, as this would allow people to actually gain some facts about how it works. The people at Eurogamer's Digital Foundry have analyzed the data, and have concluded that the Wii U is an incremental improvement over the PS3 and 360. They made some waves with the article when they said "...we can now, categorically, finally rule out any next-gen pretensions for the Wii U - the GCN hardware in Durango and Orbis is in a completely different league."

In other words, the Wii U isn't "next-gen." This has gotten a lot of attention because the term next-gen is often used not just in a descriptive manner, but also with connotations about value (i.e., saying something isn't next-gen is often a way of saying it's bad, or junk, or no good, etc.), and Digital Foundry as made a categorical statement that the Wii U is not next-gen.

My take:
First, I think the term "next-gen" is fraught with problems, given that it is so subjective. What constitutes a new generation? Is it some computing power benchmark? Is it an advance to the controls used with the system? Is it a certain level of increased functions and services provided through the system? Or is being a new system with any increased computing power that is released at roughly the same time as other new systems enough? Some people will think it's the first, others the second or third, and so on. But there is no definitive universal objective standard.

It's like with people. What differentiates one generation from the next, given that people are being born all the time? There is no natural and/or decisive cut-off.

And so some people will look at a system like the Wii U, with new features, new controllers, and some increased in computing power as certainly being next-gen, while others, who define it in their minds differently, will look at it and say it isn't.

No one is objectively right. So it's a silly thing to argue over.

Second, the case is not nearly as open and shut as some of The Digital Foundry's comments make it sound, for a number of reasons.

Incomplete scans: It's not as though the entire GPU has been photographed. Apparently only 18 of 40 logic blocks were used in DF's analysis. That means over half of the GPU's logic is unexplained. The folks at NeoGAF appreciate this, and their analysis is thus still ongoing.

Custom GPU: The folks at DF seem to be assuming it is a rather standard Radeon processor, and so the incomplete data isn't an issue. What they have looked at must be similar to what they haven't. But, there's no reason to assume that. As a lot of people are pointing out, if the GPU is custom (and it is), then its performance can be significantly different from a standard one.

And so, given these two facts, there just isn't enough data for The Digital Foundry to make "categorical" statements.

And on some level they know it, because they oddly qualify some of their statements. Case in point: "Chipworks' shot is still being analysed, but the core fundamentals are now seemingly beyond doubt." Analysis still on-going, but the fundamentals are beyond least seemingly. Huh?

I'm not suggesting the Wii U will prove to have magic in its unexplored parts and will be on the same footing at the new PS and XBox. What I am saying is that Eurogamer's conclusions are premature.

2. Nintendo is just learning about shaders

Here's a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto about Nintendo's work on Wii U software:

"Lighting is an inevitable factor to make use of high-definition images. We did not actively use technologies to render high-end graphics in real time for software development for Wii and previous consoles. Therefore, although the name "Wii" was handed down from Wii to Wii U, we needed to hold many workshops to learn about such technologies. We already went through this initial learning phase and are now tackling how to take full advantage of high-definition graphics. In this sense, retraining our developers used to be a great hurdle."

So, Nintendo developers are just now learning about shaders. On the one hand, a pessimist or critic could say, "See, they haven't even been trying. What losers." But on the other, let it sink in. The folks at Nintendo, game designers who many would say are brilliant in everything from character design to music to gameplay, have heretofore not focused their attention and considerable talents on creating graphics using 'modern' techniques. (And yet they've made visually appealing games like Skyward Sword and the Mario Galaxy games.) Imagine what they'll come up with now that they're starting to.

3. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge not to be exclusive for long.

At least in Japan, the "Wii U exclusive" updated, tweaked, and enhanced version of NG3 will be coming to the PS3 and 360. Of course off-tv play won't be avaiable in those versions. But otherwise it appears to be a straight back-port.

While this isn't catastrophic, it isn't the best news for Nintendo. Exclusives are designed to be system sellers, either by themselves or in concert (i.e., this system has three or four games I really want but an only play with on it). When an exclusive is revealed to be timed, it takes away the major point of exclusivity. Sure, some people will buy a system just to play a game earlier. But many folks will just wait it out and save the money they'd have spent buying the new system.

Of course, Nintendo, being a major software creator, isn't reliant completely on 3rd parties for their exclusive titles. They also make their own. So it's not a question of "if" the Wii U will have a good number of solid exclusives, but of "when."

4. Why Microsoft got into the console business.

IGN has a story up. Really it's more a tease for a longer article they'll be posting on Friday. In any event, in it they quote Joachim Kempin, a VP of sales at Microsoft from 1983 to 2003. He says that the main reason Microsoft got into the console business, "was to stop Sony. You see, Sony and Microsoft…they never had a very friendly relationship, okay? And this wasn’t because Microsoft didn’t want that." Apparently Microsoft believed it would be good for them to cooperate with Sony on a lot of things, but Sony wasn't interested. "...As soon as they came out with a video console, Microsoft just looked at that and said 'well, we have to beat them, so let’s do our own.'”

So it was a strategic decision, based on business rivalry.

Fair enough. Businesses are businesses. Competition is a part of it.

But at the same time, it seems kind of lame. 'Let's make this device, enter this market, in order to stick it to another company. ' To have your console gaming division begin with such an adversarial mindset...I don't know, is disappointing to me. And it's little wonder that the same competitive mindset permeates gaming culture these days...except that from gamers it's even more pointless.

5. New XBox rumored to require an Internet connection

Edge is reporting that, according to their sources, the new XBox will indeed require an internet connection to function, and that, among other things, this will preclude the use of second-hand (i.e., used) games.

I'm not sure how smart this is. I know that most of the people in the new XBox's potential market probably have an internet connection. But to require it for the system to function? I mean, I don't think it was overly smart of Nintendo to ship Wii U's that require a massive downloaded update upon first startup. But to require that any time you use the system you have a connection? The truth is, sometimes connections go down. And what better time to play a videogame than when your internet isn't working?

And the locking out of used games...I really hope there's a backlash in the gaming community over this. But we'll see.

Well, I think that's all I have for now. Stay tuned for our podcast on the current state of Nintendo and gaming in general, which should be up next week.

Until then, I remain,

 - Nic

Posted on February 6, 2013 .