Miyamoto ISN’T retiring

The big news last night was that Shigeru Miyamoto, the saviour of home consoles, was to retire from Nintendo. An announcement like that unsurprisingly sent shockwaves throughout the gaming community ranging from those saddened by such news and others (ignorantly) cheerful that Miyamoto would be leaving games. But as with so many things on the internet, the facts have become somewhat misunderstood. The original story was from Wired.com who stated that in an interview with Miyamoto (59), the legendary creator said he wanted to retire from his current position and take on a smaller role still within Nintendo, allowing younger designers to be in charge. His plan was not to ever really leave the company but focus on less demanding games and was excited to show off his first mini project next year.

Shortly after the news spread online, Nintendo was quick to clear up the potential PR nightmare by issuing a statement (via Reuters) saying this was not true and that what he has said all along is that he want to train the younger generation.

“He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned.”

And why should we be concerned? Firstly, it’s not ‘we’ as such but investors in Nintendo whose market stock has been rather turbulent ever since the launch of the 3DS which didn’t go exactly to plan. But in the last couple of months, after the price drop and release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, things have started really kicking off for Nintendo’s handheld. So when the man responsible and who has very direct links to all of the company’s main IPs – the games that people buy Nintendo hardware for – confidence will naturally begin to falter.

However it does indeed have an effect on the everyday gamer as Miyamoto’s influence is pretty much everywhere. Most if not all platform games look to the Mario franchise for inspiration and the Mario games themselves are nearly always superb in their execution. And even further a field, game designers are applying ideas from Miyamoto’s games in titles that you’d never expect. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic games was famously quoted in saying that Gear of War was like Mario without the jumping. And of course, there’s the Z-targeting. Pioneered in Ocarina of Time, Z-targeting has become such a staple of third-person action games that it’s hard to think of a time when it didn’t exist. Lastly, we have motion controls. Love them or hate them, they’re now a huge focus for all the main platform holders and if it wasn’t for Nintendo and Miyamoto’s desire to push the boundaries of video game interaction, we wouldn’t be where we are today in the industry. The neigh-sayers may argue that motion controls and casual games are ruining the hardcore but in reality, that’s not exactly true so their importance is very much valid.

The idea that a visionary like Miyamoto could be working on smaller games that may not feature any of the usual characters is quite an exciting one indeed. The 3DS has the space and delivery method for these smaller games to exist and the chance that new IPs may spring up with of the same quality of Mario and Zelda is reason itself for at least some of the original story of Miyamoto’s stepping down to be true. But whether it’s PR tidying or delaying the truth, the fact is that one day Miyamoto will have to retire and even sooner, younger designers should be allowed to take control of Nintendo’s top franchises though for now, I’m quite happy to see Miyamoto on stage at each E3 to reveal the next big thing from Nintendo. Apart from Wii Music.

David Cage gets heavy

David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and maker of Heavy Rain doesn’t want your money. That’s not why he got into video game development. He wants to build that brand that is ‘David Cage’ and create brand new IPs rather than revisiting existing ones. In an interview with Develop, Cage spoke of how there definitely won’t be a sequel to Heavy Rain, despite selling so well and being an unlikely poster boy for some of the first Move supported games. He said that he wasn’t in the business to make money and wrote Heavy Rain because he was excited about the idea and wanted to tell a that story. Now the story has been told, Cage sees no reason to go back to it and prefers instead to focus the energy of Quantic Dream into making ground-breaking concepts.

On release, Heavy Rain was a fantastic showcase for Sony and the PS3, with stunning graphics and a story that was truly mature, tackling subject matter that wouldn’t normally be found in a video game. The plan was to support the game with DLC furthering the story and the characters personalities but only one was actually made available as the studio was persuaded to develop Move functionality. Sony didn’t seem to bothered but the halt of Heavy Rain and nor does Cage who once famously said (and now claims he was mis-quoted) that you should only play Heavy Rain once and live the the story and consequences you chose the first time around. As tempted as I have been to go back to it, I’ve only ever played it though the one time and agree with Cage that there really is no reason other than a wallet-padding to go back to that world.

Cage added how he sees himself as more of an author and regardless of him celebrating his 42nd birthday this year, he hasn’t lost the spark or passion for game design and isn’t yet worried about concentrating on making money in order to fund his family. Maybe Cage should have a chat to his colleague Guillaume de Fondaumiere about the money making abilities of Heavy Rain. Just this month, Fondaumiere criticised the second-hand market for losing him and the studio upwards of €10 million in royalties because a rough estimation showed that 2 million people bought Heavy Rain whereas 3 million actually played it. The way I saw it, a further 1 million people were exposed to the work of Quantic Dream, potentially expanding the audience for whatever they make next.

Back in March, Cage’s talk at GDC caused quite a stir when he begged for the industry to make games for adults, not teenagers and forget the preconceived ideas of how to make a game – boss battles, levels, points, shooting, missions etc – and think of games in a totally different way. This latest chat with Develop echoes these sentiments but also adds even more pressure for the next Quantic Dream game to be as forward-thinking as Heavy Rain was. The fact that it’s not Heavy Rain 2 is a very good start.

Media Molecule sets sights on new ground

Media Molecule are a development team relatively small in number but considerably vast in originality. They’ve gone from being a fairly unknown studio to one of the most admired within the industry and created arguably Sony’s biggest new IP, LittelBigPlanet. It’s already graced the PS3, twice, as well as the PSP and will soon be available on the PSVita when that itself is released. In between these big titles are the numerous DLC packs with another added Move support to LBP2, the name Media Molecule could easily be a prefix for name LittleBigPlanet.

A gambling man could be tempted into betting the next game from the Guilford based studio would be another LBP but director Siobhan Reddy has been quoted by Edge saying “We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas,” at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona recently. Being a huge fan of the create-em-up, the idea that the minds behind such a creative franchise are broadening their portfolio is great news. Media Molecule took the idea of a sandbox experience, mixed it with platformer and then furthered that concept in LBP2 by adding pretty much every genre imaginable into the game. Some of the levels were steeped in traditional gameplay mechanics but felt fresh nonetheless so it’s clear they understand what makes a game good, regardless of genre.

Another reason why Media Molecule’s move away from LittleBigPlanet is a good one stems from one of the most problematic issues in gaming; over saturation. With Sony claiming the star of LBP, the Sackboy, as a part-time mascot for the company, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a multitude of spin-off games and needless titles dirtying up an awesome franchise. The get out clause of course is how LBP2 can be used to create any kind of game so even if MM were asked to make, say, a Sackboy kart racer, they kind of already have or at least given others the tools to do so themselves. Right now, Sony and MM are treating the franchise respectfully and allowing it some breathing space while they go off and spread the talent onto something new is pretty much just what this fan (both thumbs are pointing towards myself right now) wants to see.

Of course that’s not to say Media Molecule are abandoning LittleBigPlanet. There is still the aforementioned Move support DLC as well as some undoubtably more unannounced packs but it’s with great anticipation that I’ll await the reveal of the next Media Molecule game. I’m sure whenever they do it’ll be rightly or wrongly compared the LBP and even expected to live up to its genius but the jump from LBP1 to 2 was really quite substantial so who says the leap to their next game won’t be just as impressive?

Spencer kinects with Halo Anniversary

I have to admit, I loves me some Halo. Funnily enough, a game that puts a lot of emphasis on multiplayer is one that I happily play solo, buddying up for some fire fight action now and again but mostly I jump, shoot and squat all by myself. So you can imagine my excitement when Halo 4 was announced at E3. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t know it was coming so soon was wasn’t expecting it but was fully prepared for the remastered version of Master Chief’s first adventure, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

This November, Halo reaches its tenth birthday, hence the HD rerelease, and in that time the video game industry has changed dramatically thanks to the dominance of motion controls. The Wii arguably started it, Sony bettered it and Microsoft took away the controller all together, which is said to enhance certain games. You know, the whole ‘Better with Kinect’ tagline? With so many Kinect devices sold, it’s no wonder Microsoft are ramping up support and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is one of the first-party titles complete with Kinect integration. How? Right now, no-one really knows as the public only found out after Microsoft Games Studio head, Phil Spencer, gave an interview with Gamespot. Speaking about E3 as a whole, he said the companies aims this year was to talk of all the hardcore Kinect titles on the way. Games like Forza 4 and Ryse and “even games like Halo Anniversary.”

You can imagine the initial horror which springs to mind from the hardest of hardcore gamers. Controller-less Halo with hand-gestured shooting and Joy Ride-style Warthog driving. But in reality, it’s more probable that Kinect in Halo with be for things like grenade tossing or possibly melee attacks. And like Mass Effect 3 which also includes Kinect, you can guarantee the whole thing will be optional.

I’m all for developers finding interesting ways to introduce Kinect in traditional experiences. The way BioWare is doing it is exactly how motion-control should find their way into core games. But that’s still just the start. It’s when playing a game using both controller and Kinect feels seamless and not jarring, that’s what I want to see and fingers crossed, it’s what we will be seeing come next year’s E3 instead of the slightly awkward implementation in Ghost Recon this year. And does Halo, as a first person shooter, really need Kinect? Probably not. But I’m glad it’s being considered at least. Though if I find out waggling is being grotesquely forced into one of my favourite franchises, I’ll take it all back!

Wii U is pretty much Wii HD

The big reveal of Nintendo’s press conference at this year’s E3 was of course the Wii U, or rather, the Wii U’s controller leaving a lot of people wondering what exactly the hardware for the Wii U consists of. Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata spoke with the Evening Standard (via Eurogamer) about the announcement and how he regrets not focusing more on the Wii U itself. His reason for doing so wasn’t out of madness but common sense. To him and the rest of the company, the Wii U “is not drastically different and [its] about the controller. The console itself will be almost invisible.”

What we do know is that the Wii U will be able to produce the same kinds of graphics as the Xbox 360 and PS3 and is capable of 1080p video output. Whether it’s more powerful than the competition isn’t all that essential right now because for Nintendo, this isn’t about a new bit of hardware, it’s about technically catching up with those who are slowly chipping away at the lead they have in the market and be considered a serious piece of home entertainment.

The Wii U doesn’t need to be drastically different from the Wii either. How often have you found yourself thinking that a Wii game would look great in HD and that’ll you wished you could play it that way? Games like Super Mario Galaxy have that unique art style that makes us love Nintendo but imagine it in high definition. That, plus a better use of online (which we’ve already seen steps towards on the 3DS) would be enough for me.

But the real majesty of the Wii U is said to be in its controller – again, why Nintendo decided to put all the emphasis on it instead of the unit which would sit under your TV – and Iwata said people won’t truly appreciate how impactful it will be until they play with it. He believes the new way of traditional video game interaction it offers will once again allow Nintendo to dramatically influence the industry. Bold words but pretty much all I read regarding the controller is how brilliant it is so he may just be onto something with these claims.

However Sony has the opportunity to offer a very similar experience with the PS Vita if it linked seamlessly to the PS3. For all intense purposes, it comes with pretty much the same technology as the Wii U controller so like the PlayStation Move, we would see Nintendo’s idea replicated on a rival platform.

Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

Another PlayStation? Who’d a thunk it?

I don’t mean to alarm you but Sony are currently busy at work on the PlayStation 4. I know, shocking that a platform holder would be thinking of another console when the current gen is already half way through its predicted lifecycle… Okay, enough of my churlish sarcasm, Sony executive vice president and chief financial officer Masaru Kato was questioned at a recent earnings report on the increase in costs for research and development. His answer referenced prototyping and developing of video games and of course the NGP device which is still scheduled for a 2011 release. A new handheld with such power would naturally eat up a lot of R&I costs. Kato also said regardless of how long the PS3 has left, Sony are a platform holder who are looking towards a future platform with the work already under way (via Gamespot).

I can’t imagine any kind of announcement coming in this E3 other than maybe, just maybe a code name for the inevitably named PS4. But even then that feels too early. This is the generation of the ten year cycle with the PS2 actually reaching such a milestone just last year. It was never really thought a console released in 2000 would continue to sell as well as it has which is why expectation for the HD generation were scaled up, subsequently meaning the first real signs of a PS4 and next Xbox won’t be until 2012-13 at the earliest. Nintendo on the other hand are in a completely different situation with the Wii. On release, the hardware was already going out of date so a small step to at least support HD has been expected for some time. And now we’re getting just that with Project Cafe, officially unveiling in just over a weeks time.

There’s still so much untapped potential in the current HD consoles and a recent addition of motion controls too so I’d be surprised if anyone is clambering for a successor anytime soon. But above everything else, you’d hope that at the very least, backwards compatibility will come as standard to all models whenever they do show themselves. Wishing for HD remakes is never as good as having the option to play games from your existing collection.