Posts tagged #Wii

My History of Thoughts on Nintendo (A disclaimer for the upcoming "Nic vs. Josh" debate)

First off, I just want to say that I consider myself a Nintendo fan. Am I a fan of their hardware? I would say yes, but I’m more so a fan of their software. Growing up with franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Mario and Metroid kind of makes it hard to not eagerly anticipate the newest titles in their respective series.

Second, and most importantly, I think that Nintendo, in more recent years, has made some rather poor choices when it comes to hardware design and business in general. This doesn’t mean that my fandom has diminished or that I hate Nintendo, it just means that I’m sort of disappointed in their lack of willingness to compete with the rest of the video game world.

Here we go…

During the 8 and 16 bit eras, Nintendo ruled the entire planet. Sure, there was competition from Sega with the Master System and Genesis (maybe a little with the TurboGrafx 16), but Nintendo always seemed to 1-up (like that?) them in some fashion. Whether it was graphics, sound, or quality titles, Nintendo always seemed to have the bigger dog in the fight.

Around the 32/64 bit era, things started to change. Previously, CD-ROM based add-ons were met with mostly negative results. The Phillips CDi didn’t do well, the Sega CD was mostly horrible, and even Nintendo canceled a partnership with Sony during development of their own SNES CD add-on. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they created a monster that would prove to be much more competitive than Sega ever thought possible.

The Sony Playstation was released on American shores in 1995, but wasn’t exactly the most popular piece of hardware ever created. A year later, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 (previously known with the much cooler, Ultra 64 moniker), a much more powerful system. There was one problem, though: The system still used the cartridge format for games.

Now let’s step back and think for a second: Could Nintendo really be at fault for that? From Nintendo’s perspective, every CD-based add-on/console had failed up to that point. Why would Nintendo ever think to release a console with its primary form of media being the Compact Disc? Nintendo probably thought that they were doing the right thing, a thought with which I can mostly agree. The only thing one can really chalk it up to is timing. The time was just right for a CD-based console.

The one thing that really hurt Nintendo during that time was the announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be released for the Playstation rather than the Nintendo 64. By this point in history, RPGs were starting to become slightly more mainstream. Games for the SNES like Final Fantasy III (VI, as it would later be known) and Chrono Trigger were "must-have" games for 16 bit gamers. Because of the rise of RPGs and their ever expanding scope, Square decided to release FFVII on a console that could handle the larger demands of the game. There would be a hit taken when it came to visuals, but FFVII could be a much larger game with the CD format.

The quality (or lack thereof) of the game aside, FFVII was a monster title. The thing sold a ridiculous amount of copies and, (again) unfortunately for Nintendo, a LOT of Playstations. Because of the growing Sony console market and the ability to reach a much larger scope with the CD format, most of the previously "Nintendo loyal" third party developers jumped the Nintendo ship and began producing games on a near exclusive basis for the Playstation. While Nintendo was still successful during this period, due mainly to relying on their brand name and first party titles, the 128 bit era would start to see things change drastically.

Sony, still riding high as the dominant console when it came to software sales, released a more powerful console in March of 2000 dubbed, "Playstation 2." Sony would continue its dominance throughout this era as well, facing off against competition from Nintendo’s newly released "Gamecube" and newcomer to the console market, Microsoft and their "Xbox."

The Gamecube was a great system, don’t get me wrong. It was technically more powerful than the PS2 and more on equal footing with the more powerful Xbox. The problem was software sales and name recognition. The PS2 was not only the first out of the gate in the new generation of consoles, it also carried a more recognizable name this time around. Most third party developers were already on board with the Playstation brand previously, and with sold out preorders around the world, were more than willing to develop for the new system. The Gamecube was left out in the cold and the Xbox was just starting to gain steam.

Nintendo still had their first party titles which were, and still are, top-notch in terms of quality, but perhaps Nintendo’s shining decision was securing exclusive rights to Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise. This was a huge move for Nintendo, but the exclusivity of one franchise couldn’t make up for the ridiculous amount of third party franchises on the PS2. Also, Capcom’s exclusive contract must not have been a very long one. Shortly after the Gamecube release of Resident Evil 4, there was a port of that game (with huge additions), Resident Evil: Outbreak File 1&2, and Dead Aim all released for the PS2. Outbreak and Dead Aim being PS2 exclusive, I might add.

The only thing bad that can be said from a technical standpoint about the Gamecube is its choice of format: Mini-DVD. Other than wanting to preserve the small (size-wise) nature of the console, this is a decision that I honestly can’t understand to this day. Did this hurt the console? To be honest, I’m not really sure. It’s possible, because rather than have games cost roughly the same across all three consoles to produce physical copies, publishers perhaps had to pay a little extra for Mini DVD. I can’t really say for sure, simply because I don’t know how much it cost back in the day to produce that particular format.

In the current generation, things got even more hairy for Nintendo. Microsoft was the first company on the floor with their Xbox 360 in 2005. With more of a focus on multiplayer/networking and graphics that were a noticeable improvement over the previous consoles, it’s no wonder that the 360 gained popularity as quickly as it did.

A year later on November 11th, 2006, Sony released the Playstation 3. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft had mostly blanketed the market with the 360, so the PS3 was marketed as more of an entertainment "do-all" than a straight-up video game console. Sony also used the PS3 as more of a marketing tool to sell their new High Definition format: BluRay. While I commend Sony for wanting to integrate new features into home consoles, they were a bit ahead of their time. Video streaming services had not reached the popularity that they are in 2013 and neither had the advent of the "app." It was good to know the PS3 was capable of doing these things, but in 2006, people found it hard to care enough to drop $500 on the console.

Nearly a week later, Nintendo released the Wii. The problems that I had with the system are shared amongst most gamers, so I’ll break down some of those opinions:

Motion Controls -
When the Wii was first revealed, I remember seeing images of the controller and thinking, "What the crap is that thing?!" The design was so far removed from what gamers were used to that it was somewhat unrecognizable. There were a few familiar elements like a d-pad, a few face buttons, and an analog stick, but you were supposed to hold separate pieces in each hand and point it at the screen in order to interface with whatever game you were playing. On paper, the ideas for gameplay sound pretty cool, but in actuality, they become somewhat frustrating. First person games were tedious because movement was a lot more difficult; platformers mostly required you to turn the wii-mote portion on its side in a somewhat uncomfortable fashion; and having to point the controller at the screen constantly became quite tiring after extended periods of play.
I, like most gamers, like to "vedge out" while playing a video game. I don’t really care to wave my hands about just to make my in-game avatar turn around to look behind me, or have to point the controller constantly on screen to make sure my character moves in a particular direction. These actions are made much simpler by the use of dual analog sticks.
A "classic" controller was released with a more conventional design, but it was only compatible with a few regular Wii games and mostly used for downloadable (Virtual Console) titles.

Graphics -
High Definition graphics and imagery were becoming the standard before the Wii was released. I understand Nintendo’s focus on gameplay, but graphics immerse me in the experience as well as gameplay. When I’m having to deal with frustrating/tiring controls AND graphics that are nowhere near what they COULD be, the immersion is lost. Immersion is clearly what Nintendo was going for with the introduction of motion controls, but is it really that hard to have both graphics and gameplay? I don’t think that a game has to be pretty to be fun, I’m just saying that there’s no excuse for releasing a console that is underpowered when compared to its competition just for the sake of in-game controls.

Lack of Third Party Support -
This is the main problem with the Wii. I can’t blame anyone but Nintendo for this one. With the Gamecube, even though developers were attached to the PS2, they still knew that Nintendo could release a quality piece of hardware. Games COULD be ported, they just weren’t because of the popularity and large user install base of the PS2. I believe that had Nintendo released an equally powerful console like the Xbox 360 (and perhaps dropped the motion controls), they would have seen more third party developers gravitate towards them. Releasing a drastically, technically speaking, inferior console than what technology was capable of, made developers scoff at the Wii and mostly avoid it. Also, motion controls would HAVE to be integrated into the game since not everyone had the classic controller or "nunchuck" peripherals. These extra controller options, and added motion controls in general, take more time and therefore cost more money to implement. I honestly can’t blame third party companies for wanting to pass on the Wii. I don’t say that out of spite; I only say it because it’s the most realistic viewpoint.

Catering to the "Casual" market -
I’ve been talking about how I’ve been writing an article about this for a few weeks now, but I’ll go ahead and address part of the subject.
A casual market does, indeed, exist. The thing I get sick of hearing is the "core gamer" term. I think that the term is used in most cases to put a stamp on gamers who like games like Grand Theft Auto, etc. Most of the time, it’s used in some kind of derogatory manner, or to separate certain games from others that shouldn’t be separated in the first place.
I look at games in 2 different styles: Casual games… and EVERYTHING ELSE. There is no in-between. Grand Theft Auto is no more "core" than Super Mario Bros. A casual game is something like Angry Birds. Most of what you’ll find in an app store for your particular smartphone can be considered casual games. These games are defined by the fact that you can pick them up for 5 minutes and put them down. Basically, games you play when you’re bored or waiting in the doctor’s office.
Most gamers, just like we all did back in the 80s and 90s, take video games seriously. The video game market EXISTS because we take them so seriously. Not only do consumers take them seriously, but so do developers. Gone are the days when a game was developed over the course of a couple months with a team of 5-10 people. Nowadays, games usually have 40-100 people working on them and sometimes take up to 2 years to produce. With that kind of production, developers want to deliver the absolute best experience possible, which is something most of them didn’t feel was possible on the Wii. Just like developers want to deliver the best experience possible, gamers want to receive the best. Being a platform which caters predominantly to gamers who only want to pick a game up, play it for 5 minutes and then go to work, the Wii was not the platform to go to for most third party companies.

With the Wii, Nintendo based their marketing strategy around roping in the casual gamer… and they did it in spades. People who normally wouldn’t dare pick up the latest Nintendo console were actually making it a point to do so. One particular example that’s always used is that of someone’s grandma playing Wii Sports. Did this actually happen? Yes, it did. The problem is that a grandma is still a grandma. Because grandma enjoys bowling on Wii Sports, that doesn’t mean she’s going to be beating down the doors of her local Gamestop to preorder the next Mario or Zelda game. For grandma, it begins and ends with Wii Sports. My question is: What was the point in Nintendo doing this? The answer: To sell more systems. But system sales are only half the battle. If a company doesn’t have the software to back it up, then that company doesn’t get any back end off of titles sold and the console sits and collects dust. Such was the case with a great many Wiis that were sold in 2006 and onwards.

All that being said, the Wii DID have some solid titles, but those were few and far between. I realize that that’s subjective given to one’s tastes, but can’t that be said no matter what console is the subject of discussion? I believe the games that were the strongest were ones that were developed by Nintendo themselves… which were few and far between. Nintendo didn’t have the "next killer app" down the pipeline from month to month. Sometimes strong titles would release with 6 months to a year between them as opposed to the PS360 which had a new, large-scale title available nearly every month. But when you’ve only got one company releasing consistently, top-drawer games, what do you expect?

I’ve already made my recent opinions known about the Wii U, so I won’t go into that again. I’ll only say that Nintendo has a lot of catching up to do to win back all the gamers that they’ve lost to the other two big companies in recent years. I still love Nintendo and will probably continue to buy their hardware for as long as they continue to produce it. But when two other guys carry around bazookas and you’re still carrying around a pistol, it’s easy to see how the fight’s going to end.

Ok, I was done with the article and then I thought of this analogy to sum up the whole thing and expound upon that last line:

Nes = Pistol; Everything else at the time = BB-gun

Snes = Machine pistol; Everything else at the time = Pistol

N64 = Upgraded machine pistol; PSX = Regular machine pistol with more bullets

Gamecube = Assault rifle; Xbox = Assault rifle; PS2 = Slightly less powerful assault rifle with more bullets

Wii = 2 assault rifles duct taped together; Xbox 360 = Machine gun with buckets of bullets; PS3 = Machine gun you can play BluRays on, but has the same kind and amount of bullets as the Xbox 360, but sometimes misfire.

Wii U = Machine gun; Next Xbox = Bazooka of some sort; PS4 = Bazooka of some sort that will probably play BluRays.

Yeah, the analogy is a little bit ridiculous (and using the bazooka to represent the unknown was probably extreme), but it illustrates how Nintendo’s consoles are viewed by the majority of the gaming public (myself included) and that recently Nintendo has seemed to be behind in recent years. At times, being behind in a somewhat costly fashion.

With that, I release you!


WiiU Thoughts and Concerns

Now that I’ve had some time with the system and the initial excitement over the fact that it’s new has worn off, I feel like I can give an honest opinion. Away we go…

For the most part, my initial impressions remain true. Everything that I wrote and posted on the site after I unboxed the system still holds water. It’s the functionality of the system and some of its features that slightly concern me at this point.

1. Where are the games?
Ok, I realize that the WiiU has/had an extremely strong launch library. At least it seemed that way. Truth be told, its strongest titles that were available at launch, or shortly thereafter, were nothing more than ports of games that had already been released on other consoles. There were also games that were releasing at relatively the same time across all 3 consoles (Assassin's Creed III, Black Ops 2), but my question is: Where were the unique to WiiU third party titles? As far as I could tell, there was only 1 title that was both exclusive and would appeal to the “core gamer (man, I hate that term. I’m working on an article about how much I hate it):” Zombie U.
My initial impressions of Zombie U are not that great. I’ve played the demo and, quite frankly, I’m unimpressed. In fact, there were things about the game that I found atrocious, one of them being the controls. They’re extremely slippery most times and for some reason I found it very hard to aim my weapon, or even engage in melee combat properly. I don’t know what it is about the game, it just feels… off.

The thing about the game that is the most disappointing is that every game Zombie U is similar to is actually better than Zombie U itself. I know that sounds like a purely subjective statement, but I can’t help it. And this is going to sound like hyperbole, but I couldn’t help but think while playing the demo, “Man, this is like a crappy version of Dead Island. I’d rather just play that game.”

So, all that to say the only exclusive “core (3 rd party) game” for the WiiU is pretty underwhelming.
One thing that really concerns me is that Nintendo hasn’t really released any info regarding future titles. There have been small droplets of news such as that GTA-style Lego game… But, and I’m not trying to sound like a jerk here, not many people care about that game, myself included. I’m sure it will be a decent game, it’s just that if I want to play GTA, I’ll play GTA. In other words, GTA-Lego is not a “big” game. I’m sure that there will be bigger titles in the future, but right now, it’d probably work in Nintendo’s favor to at least start to let everybody in on some new, big game news. Third and first parties, alike.

2. The Gamepad
I’ll admit, I love the Gamepad… just not really for playing games. I’m not talking about the screen swapping features (that’s really cool), I mean having to use it during gameplay. For an example, I have to go again to Zombie U.

Your inventory in Zombie U is controlled by hitting a button and looking down at the Gamepad screen. Here, you can manage your items by using the touchscreen. The thing is, the game doesn’t pause, so you’re still vulnerable to attacks until you come back from looking in your bag. I understand that the purpose of this is to create a sense of realism like, “Oh no, son! You ain’t pausin’ this game! You better be quick with gettin’ stuff out yo’ bag,” but to me, it just makes gameplay frustrating. If I were in a real-life situation in which a zombie was coming after me and I needed something quickly from my bag, I’d be able to reach into the bag, feel around and pull out whatever it was I needed and keep running. Or heck, I could even feel through my bag WHILE running. Not so in Zombie U. If you press the inventory button, your character goes into a squat and starts rummaging through the bag. If you’re in a heavy spot with several zombies, forget it… you’re dead!

For something like ACIII which uses the touchscreen as simply a convenience, i.e. displaying your map, that’s fine. But actually making me have to play part of the game while looking down at my hands makes me feel like an amateur guitar player that can’t play without looking at the frets. I’m sure that at some point Nintendo and other companies will figure out new and unique ways to integrate the use of the controller, but for right now I’d rather use it to navigate menus and scroll through my Netflix que.

3. Technology
This is perhaps the biggest one. Graphics capabilities are something that constantly changes every single game in the tech world. Buy something awesome today, 2 weeks from now it’ll be outdated unless you buy the absolute top-of-the-line equipment. And even then, you never know. As it stands right now, the WiiU is on par with the PS3 and Xbox360 for the most part. I still believe that, just because it has the capability to run at 1080i (so does the PS3, oddly enough), it has the potential to best its competition in this department. The problem comes in when you try to figure out how long Nintendo will be able to hold its dominance if it ever obtains it.

It’s no secret that Microsoft and Sony are set to reveal their newest consoles at some point within the year. I figure we’ll at least see the new Xbox at E3 this year. How far advanced will they be? If the tech demos that have been shown are any indication, these things are going to be absolute monsters when it comes to graphical capability.

I own a gaming PC that is pretty much maxed out and is one of the best money can buy. I can run the 2 most graphically demanding games on the market (The Witcher 2 and Crysis 2 [And my rig far exceeds the recommended specs for Crysis 3]) with every video setting maxed out and still maintain a smooth, 60 frames per second. I don’t say this to brag, but to bring up a point: Again, if the tech demos for the next gen consoles are any indication, they will blow away my PC gaming rig. How will the WiiU stack up if that’s the case?

As we’ve seen happen in the past, 3 rd party developers tend to go where the tech is. Will third party developers stick by the WiiU, or will they quasi-abandon it as they’ve done with Nintendo’s last 3 home consoles?

In all fairness, the WiiU is only about 2 months old. The tides could turn on all fronts at any time during the rest of this year. Maybe those tech demos aren’t all they’re cracked up to be? Maybe the new Xbox and Playstation will only be on par with the high-end gaming PCs of today? Or maybe… just maybe… the WiiU has some kind of hidden power that Nintendo can unlock by simply releasing a downloadable patch. If this happened, it’d be the coolest thing in the history of gaming!
One way or the other, 2013 is going to be an interesting year for the future of video games!

Posted on January 18, 2013 .

Wii U Launch Thoughts

Given that the Wii U launch is just a hair over a month away, I figure it's past time that I, the resident Nintendo fanboy, weigh in on the September Wii U press conference and all the information that was revealed (and what information wasn't revealed). We're planning on doing a podcast about the Wii U launch in the coming weeks, so think of this as just a discussion of the major points.

Release Date
Most folks were thinking November. Nintendo had confirmed that it would come out before year's end, so anytime from September to December was technically possible. But several indicators pointed to November. Nintendo would certainly want to have the system on shelves for Christmas shopping. A December release would miss out on far too much of that shopping season. On the other hand, it seemed unlikely that Nintendo would have a press conference in September and release the system the same month, or even the one after it. And last but not least, Nintendo's two most recent consoles launched in November, so history was pointing to that month.

But when in that month? Answers to that question were a bit more varied. A lot of folks were betting on a Sunday (again, looking back to the launches of the Gamecube and Wii). But even banking on that (which turned out to be smart), which Sunday would be the one? The 25th would miss Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The 4th and the 11th were championed by some, but others thought those dates might be a bit early. Thus, a significant number of people, myself included, were guessing November 18th as the most probable date...if one were to guess. And they/we were right.

I'm fine with that date. It's coming out the week of Thanksgiving, allowing it to almost herald and usher in the 2012 Christmas shopping season.

The Price
Watch out folks, Nintendo is trying some modern approaches. Indeed, many were surprised to learn that Nintendo will be offering two different SKUs on launch day: the basic bundle (MSRP $299) and the deluxe bundle (MSRP $349). The basic bundle is what it sounds like: the system, one gamepad (both in white), a sensor bar, power cables, an HDMI cable, and 8GB of storage space. The deluxe bundle includes everything in the basic (except the hardware is black), 32GB of storage instead of 8, a cradle for the gamepad, a charging stand for the gamepad, stands for the console itself, and a pack-in game (Nintendo Land, which I'll talk about later).

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime explained in interviews that his company is always focused on maximizing purchase value for the consumer. The decision to offer two SKUs is a part of that. Why force people to pay for a game they aren't interested in? Why force people to pay for more storage space when they'd rather hold off and purchase the space (via SD cards or external hard drives) when they need it? This reasoning seems quite sound to me.

So what do I think of the prices? I think they're good. You don't want to go too cheap, because then the consumer will get the impression that the system isn't new/advanced enough to warrant a purchase. But you don't want to go too expensive, because then people won't buy it and you'll have to do price drops and play catch-up for the life of the console (I'm looking at you, PS3, which cost the same as a small country when it launched). $300 and $350 seem just about right.

The public seems to agree. Within a week or so of preorders opening, all major retailers were sold out. The deluxe bundles were the first to go (likely the stronger showing of Nintendo Land at this press conference over the one at E3 helped convince people that the game itself would be worth the extra fifty dollars, not to mention the extra storage space and charging cradle). And the basic bundles followed shortly after.

The Games
At last check, the Wii U will have 23 titles available for it...on launch day. Twenty-three titles is a fairly nice number for launch window (i.e., the first three or so months of a console's life). But for launch day, that's not bad at all. Here's a list of them, with the caveat that the list is subject to some change:

 Call of Duty: Black Ops II
 Skylanders Giants
 Transformers Prime
 Wipeout 3
 Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
 FIFA Soccer 13
 Tekken Tag Tournament 2
 New Super Mario Bros. U
 Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge
 Nintendo Land
 Sing Party
 Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
 Warrios Orochi 3 Hyper
 Darksiders II
 Assassin’s Creed III
 ESPN Sports Connection
 Just Dance 4
 Rabbids Land
 Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
 Scribblenauts Unlimited
 Game Party Champions
 Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition

I'd say that's a pretty good launch day line-up. There's a lot of variety and balance here, in several different ways. You have both first party and third party games (with third party titles actually outnumbering first party). You have 'core' games (Batman, Ninja Gaiden, Assassin's Creed, Darksiders, Call of Duty, ZombiU, Tekken), 'casual' games (Just Dance, Game Party Champions, Sing Party), and games somewhere in the middle. You have family friendly titles (Scribblenauts, NSMB U, ESPN Sports Connection), and more mature titles (Ninja Gaiden, ZombiU, etc.). You have platformers, first-person shooters, third-person action/adventures, sports titles, racing titles, music titles, and health titles. There really does appear to be something for everyone.

And I have to point out that for the first time since 1996, a Nintendo console is launching with a new Mario game ready to go. Some may argue that that isn't as big of a deal now as it used to be, but the fact is Mario titles still sell like crazy. So this should not be dismissed offhand. And on a personal level, a Mario title launching with a new Nintendo console brings up warm feelings of nostalgia for me.

The Controls
The centerpiece of the Wii U is, at least initially, the new gamepad. Reaction to it has been mixed. As usual, there are folks who almost seem to be looking for some negative spin to put on it (it's not an actual tablet like an iPad and that's stupid of Nintendo and confusing for the consumer, it's not a real advancement in game design as there's not much you can do with a second screen, etc.). Then there are those who attack it not on the conceptual level, but the technological level (it should have allowed for multi-touch, it's too light, some developers say it's laggy, etc.).

I'm going to reserve complete judgment until I get my hand on one. But I can analyze the conceptual criticisms right away. And I'm just not seeing them. Yes, it isn't a tablet, so you can't take it to Wal-Mart or the grandparents' house. But that's what you have a portable for (whether a tablet, a phone, or a real gaming device like a 3DS or Vita). And if you can't see possible innovative uses for a full-buttoned controller with a touch screen, motion sensors, front and rear facing cameras, NFC capability, and speakers, then all that demonstrates is you're not creative when it comes to game design.

As for the technical issues, while I like multi-touch, I don't think its absence is the end of the world. And, personal preference here, if the choice is between multi-touch capacitive or more precise stylus-friendly single-touch resistive, I'll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sundays. For gaming, I think resistive is the way to go. And also, everything in the world doesn't have to be like flipping Apple (a rant for another day). Things like weight are a matter of personal preference, and I've heard some people say they think the weight is just fine. Lastly, regarding latency, reliable sources (such as Ubisoft's Michael Ancel) have publicly stated that the latency on the tablet is nearly non-existent. To be more exact, Ancel says the delay is only 1/60th of a second. Barring serious fighting game gamers (Josh), such a small delay is of no consequence.

Nintendo TVii
Coming completely out of nowhere was Nintendo's new entertainment hub/index. Not a media service itself, rather it integrates existing services, and adds new levels of social interaction to them.
On the first part of that, in a nutshell Nintendo TVii takes all the media sources a particular user has (Netflix, Hulu, cable/satellite, etc.) and combines them into one searchable database. So, say you want to look up Castle. It will let you know all ways you can watch it (old episodes on Netflix, new episode next Monday on ABC, recorded episodes on your TiVo). For on-demand sources, you can immediately play the episode. This all happens from the gamepad, and appears quite user friendly.
As for the second part, during live programming the gamepad displays a live message board of sorts, where people can comment in real time on what's happening. Screenshots even appear from time to time. With sporting events, the gamepad displays a live, interactive recap of the game (think ESPN's game tracker).

This is a significant move for Nintendo, as they are expanding their focus from just games to other forms of entertainment. I for one am intrigued by it, and am looking forward to watching some University of Alabama football with live gamepad interaction.

The Remaining Questions
In typical Nintendo fashion, the September press conference left some questions unanswered. Perhaps the biggest ones deal with Miiverse, the new social network service that apparently is significantly integrated into the Wii U itself. A few tidbits of info and a few screenshots and video snippets are all we have. Some folks are up in arms about this. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to learn more about it when Nintendo is ready.

Well, I think that's it for now. Again, hopefully we'll have a podcast dedicated to the Wii U launch in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

 - Nic

Posted on October 17, 2012 .

My Videogame Life Pt. 3 (The Conclusion!)

-The Present & The Future-

So after reading the first 2 parts of this whole thing, we’re finally up to the present day of gaming, but let’s backtrack just a touch. I haven’t really covered handheld consoles, so let’s do that real quick…

I was never a handheld gamer until around the time of the Gameboy Advance. I had played an original Gameboy along the way, but the Advance was what really sold me on how awesome handhelds could be. Essentially, the GBA was a mini-SNES. Need I say more? How could you not love the fact that Nintendo was allowing ports of old 16-bit titles along with brand new IPs on a relatively cheap console? We were able to get Final Fantasy IV, V and VI (all with their correct Japanese numbering), new Metroid(s), Castlevania and a slew of other games which effectively ushered in “retro” gaming. The GBA allowed new gamers the opportunity to experience something that they may have missed out on (or not been alive for) the first time around. The GBA sported 2 different models: The original and a smaller, flip-top version with a MUCH brighter screen. There was also a ridiculously awesome attachment for the Gamecube called the Gameboy Advance Player that allowed GBA games to be played on a television through the GC itself.

Nintendo continued through to the Nintendo DS which introduced, in retrospect, a kind of useless second screen. It was a touch screen, so that was kind of cool, but other than being able to display stuff like maps and miscellaneous things like that, it was just a, “hey, that’s neat,” kind of thing. The important thing about the DS was the games for it. Phenomenal titles all around. Since the DS was significantly more powerful than the GBA, the system was capable of 3D graphics which lent themselves well to Square’s complete 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV. The only problem I had with the system was the amount of versions that were released over its lifespan. There were a total of 4 versions of the DS released over 6 years. The second version, the DSLite, was a smaller, lighter version of the handheld with brighter screens. The third, the DSi, was similar to the Lite, but dropped the GBA backwards compatibility in favor of features like a camera and several small applications. The fourth and final version, the DSi XL, was exactly the same as its previous version, only twice as large. I can understand maybe 2 versions of a system (upgrades and such), but 4?! Surely Nintendo could have cut out the middle 2 versions. What was the point in releasing the DSi and then a year and a half later releasing the DSi XL? Why not just wait for the larger, better one? But the DS, over its 6 years of existence, made a killing, so what do I know? I owned the original DS and the DSi, while Nic owned 3 of the 4 models.

It was at this time that Sony tried their hand at the handheld market, a market that Nintendo had completely dominated since the days of the original Gameboy. The result was the PlayStation Portable (PSP), a sleek black handheld that’s looks and interface definitely embodied Sony’s current gen system, the PlayStation 3. Was the PSP a good system? Did it topple Nintendo’s king-like reign in the handheld market? Kinda and no. Yes, the PSP was a good system, being nearly as powerful as the PS2, but no, it didn’t really effect Nintendo’s business at all and they still remain on the throne to this day. The whole UMD thing was kinda silly, as well.

So that brings us to the current generation. Right now, there are 3 consoles and 2 handhelds on the market: The Nintendo Wii and 3DS, Microsoft’s Xbox360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Vita. I own them all except for the 3DS, so I’ll give my thoughts on ‘em.

The Wii and 3DS –Quite honestly, this is my least favorite of the consoles I own. And I don’t just mean from this generation. I have a total of 6 games for the system. Thing is, those 6 games are all that have interested me from what the system has to offer. I have my own thoughts on Nintendo’s business decisions as of late, but I won’t go into them in very much detail so as not to sound like a hater. I will state this here so that it will be on the record for all time: I do not hate Nintendo. I think Nintendo, over the most recent years, has made some extremely poor choices that could have been easily remedied, but I’m not their business manager, so I can’t complain too heavily. The Wii is, in my personal opinion, the worst business decision they have made thus far.

Let me explain: Releasing a system to cater to non-gamers is not the way to sell a console. Not when you’re up against more recent heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Sony. Well, let me rephrase that –It’s not the way to sell software for your console. Nintendo currently holds the top spot as far as systems sold in this console generation. This is a good statistic, but if you look at their software sales, they aren’t nearly as high as Sony or Microsoft’s. One needs to look no further than a top-selling game like Call Of Duty. Which console do you think had more software sales for, say, Modern Warfare 3, a game that was available on all 3 major consoles? It wasn’t Nintendo, I can tell you that.
Xbox360 –Microsoft did absolutely no wrong this console generation… Except for that whole “red-ring-o-death” thing. Seriously, why not fix that? It took until about a year or so ago when Microsoft released a remodeled version of the console to finally fix a problem that completely breaks the thing. As far as software goes, this was the place to get your fill when it came to new and exciting titles. While most games were released for the big 2, the Xbox version usually outperformed the technically more powerful PS3.

PS3 and Vita –
For me, the PS3 is smack dab in the middle of the console war. While it’s more powerful than its competition, it is, by in large, not a videogame console. It’s a “do-all.” A “home entertainment system,” if you will. The PS3 plays nearly any kind of disc known to man except for HD-DVD (an unfortunately dead format. I think it was better than Blu-Ray). All the way from Compact Disc to Blu-Ray, the thing would play it all, including being backwards compatible with the previous 2 Sony systems. I heard at one point several years ago that the system was extremely hard to program for, which made developers a little apprehensive about making games exclusively for it. The system did have a few things going for it, though: Like the Wii, it had free online as opposed to Microsoft’s payment plans (although you get what you pay for. If you don’t pay, you run the risk of that big Sony hacking fiasco last year). It had some decent exclusives (God of War, Heavy Rain, Metal Gear Solid 4), and most importantly to me: It kept the exact same controller since the Dual Shock was released back in 1997.

The controller has obviously always been important in videogames. Each new console has released with a new controller that usually ends up adding something to the next generation’s design. Every single console owes its controller’s design to the original NES because they’ve all grown from there. The SNES added 4 face buttons and shoulder buttons on the top, the N64 added an analogue stick, all of which have been incorporated into all console’s controllers over the years. Sony just happened to find a design that works perfectly for all games and stuck with it. Not to sound like I’m trying to beat a dead horse here, but the Wii’s controls are something I just don’t see ever becoming the norm. At least not for a looooooooooong while. I like to relax while I play games, not wave a stick around like an idiot.

The Vita, on the other hand, needs to step it up quite a bit. I own one, but I own it for one simple reason: Mortal Kombat. Currently, it is the only handheld that has MK and for someone that likes to keep his MK chops up, the Vita version is where it’s at. The Vita needs stronger titles and hopefully it will get them once bigger titles like the portable Assassin’s Creed III spin-off are made available.
So what about the future? 2013’s E3 should be the big reveal for both Microsoft’s “Xbox720” and Sony’s PlayStation 4. Nintendo’s Wii successor, the Wii-U, was revealed at last year’s E3, effectively winning the conference. The 3DS is out there doing pretty decently, although it had a fairly rocky start from what I understand. Very little is known about the Wii-U and even less is known about the other two consoles. Nintendo has a lot to make up for with 3 rd party support on their new system, but with games like Ninja Gaiden, Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed III, it looks as though they’re making a step in the right direction. Microsoft only needs to keep doing what they’ve been doing and Sony needs to actually create a game console rather than a home entertainment system. 2013 should be an interesting year to say the least.

I hope this 3 part article has been at least somewhat interesting to you. I know that it became more of a “history of videogames” than about my personal experiences, but maybe it was interesting nonetheless. Through the new website, I hope to be able to update you guys on the progress that the videogame world continues to make with both reviews and opinions which might shape where you want to go when it comes to your games.


THE END *Doubleback by ZZ-Top should probably play right about now*
Posted on June 26, 2012 .

Nintendo and The Internets: The Story So Far (in a nutshell)

With E3 2012 beginning in less than a week, anticipation is building regarding The Video Game Big Three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) and their respective presentations. The video game industry is a little like college football, in that momentum is a big part of the game (and that mascots are important). And E3 gives the companies a chance to gain, or lose, that momentum. A great showing can generate hype and excitement. A poor showing can generate apathy and internet 'memes.'

Nintendo has a lot riding on this year's show. With the Wii U scheduled to launch sometime before Christmas, and the 3DS doing well but, as with any platform, in need of quality software just on the horizon, it's important that they 'bring the momentum.' One area where they are, perhaps surprisingly, poised to do just that is with on-line features.

I say "surprisingly" because for some time Nintendo has been known as the slow adopter when it comes to on-line. The reputation has some legitimacy, but in my experience is usually way overblown. It's true, when Microsoft gave the world XBox Live on the original XBox, Nintendo's on-line offering on the Gamecube was.....nothing. But, the PS2 had no on-line system either (though a few games had limited on-line features). When Sony got into the game on the PS3 with PSN (and Microsoft continued giving the world XBox Live on the XBox 360), Nintendo did as well with the Virtual Console and WiiWare services (united in the Wii Shop Channel) on the Wii. On the handheld side, the original DS had no unified on-line service (though some games had on-line functionality). Two years later the PSP got the PSN. Two years after that Nintendo released the DSi, which boasted, among other things, a downloadable service known as DSiWare. And most recently, Nintendo released the 3DS in March of 2011with it's downloadable service, the Nintendo eShop, rolling out three months later.

Of course, timing isn't everything. There's also the issue of quality. And it's here that the criticisms of Nintendo have a bit more teeth, as they say.

On the Wii, the story is mixed.

The Virtual Console service launched almost simultaneously with the system, offering software emulated (hence, "virtual") titles from consoles of the past (hence, "console"). The original selection was small, but grew over time. Perhaps one of the most mind blowing aspects of the service, especially for children of the 80's and 90's such as myself, was that the consoles of the past weren't limited to Nintendo consoles. Games from systems such as the Turbografx 16 (gasp) and SEGA Genesis (super gasp) would also be available. Oh to be able to travel back in time and tell the pre-teen version of myself that in the future I'd be able to, on a single Nintendo console, play Mario games, Bonk games, and Sonic games. Mind. Blown. As of this writing the Virtual Console service offers games from ten seperate systems (including arcade games), with new titles still being added. On the whole, aside from those disappointed that the selection isn't larger, the VC on the Wii has done well.

Then there's WiiWare. Announced June 2007, WiiWare was designed to fill a gap left by the VC. The Virtual Console was, as the name clearly indicated, a service exclusively for playing old games. WiiWare, on the other hand, would offer new downloadable titles in a wide range of genres from a wide range of developers. Excitement was in the air, and eleven months later the service launched. Now, don't let people mislead you through hyperbole. WiiWare has not been anywhere close to a disaster. Many quality titles have been released through it, and many gaming companies have made money off it. But two major problems prevented the service from reaching it's potential: 1) a 40mb file-size limitation (imposed presumably because of the Wii's small amount of internal storage, and download time concerns), and 2) a lack of promotion (this includes not only advertising, but promotion and ease of use within the WiiShop Channel itself).

A word should also be said about the lack of a unified on-line system outside of the various channels. Unlike XBox Live, on-line components of games are essentially self-contained within the games themselves. Each game had its own friending system and friends list (both using the much loved "friend codes"), as well as "who's on-line" monitoring system. So if I'm on my Wii playing Mario Kart, and Josh is on his playing Call of Duty, there's no way for me to know (aside from calling him up and saying, "Hey man, what are you doing?").

DSiWare is perhaps Nintendo's most disappointing chapter in the world of on-line. The idea was solid: inexpensive downloadable titles for a handheld. The problem has been in the execution, particularly with promotion/distribution. Much like WiiWare, the games themselves haven't been an issue. There are some lower quality titles, sure (as with any platform). But there are also some outstanding high-quality enjoyable ones also. The trick is learning about them, and then finding them in the DSi Shop. The limited memory of the DSi means the Shop Channel is a no-frills hurry-up-and-wait-for-the-next-screen-to-load affair. A splash page with icons for a few games is about all you get in terms of promoting titles. Nintendo has a website that tries to make up for this. And while the site is very useful, some DSi owner just won't be dedicated enough to find and use it.

But times they are a changin'. Enter the 3DS and its eShop channel. Launched three months after the 3DS itself, the eShop is, by most people's reckoning, a huge step in the right direction. No severe file size limitations like WiiWare, a mix of virtual console titles (from handheld consoles, of course) and new original games and applications, the availability of all DSiWare titles, and an excellent virtual store front. Titles are grouped together into different categories (games with Mario, applications, new releases, top sellers, etc.). After clicking on a title one can read more information about it, see what other players have rated the game, and in most cases see screenshots and videos. Purchasing titles is quick and painless, and the actual downloading can happen immediately or later when the system is in stand-by mode.

The 3DS also has a more robust on-line system. Friend codes still exist, but they are tied to the system itself now and not individual games. There's also the ability to see which friends are on-line and what they are playing.

But this is only the beginning. Recently Nintendo has announced that the majority of upcoming 3DS and Wii U retail games (as opposed to 'downloadable games') will be available both as physical cards/discs and downloads. The consumer will be able to choose the distribution method he/she prefers. Also of note, even the download option will be available at retail stores (like Wal-Mart, Target, etc.).

Word on the street is that the on-line aspect of the Wii U will be Nintendo's best (this word provided by people like EA CEO John Riccitello). Details aren't available yet, of course. So who knows what all this entails.

And that brings us to now, less than a week before Nintendo's E3 presentation. The Wii U has much to prove. Recapturing the 'core' after apparently losing it in the days of the N64 (it seems to me it was really the Gamecube era that saw this happen). Showing the new tablet controller isn't just a gimmick (I'm already convinced it isn't). Appeasing (or not) the folks who are anxious to see a Nintendo system with cutting edge graphics again. And generally, demonstrating that the Wii U is a system worth shelling out money for. On-line will be a part of that. And I'm very curious as to how that will play out.

 - Nic

Posted on May 29, 2012 .