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.

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So Cliff, is Gears coming to PS3?…

Full console specific exclusivities are fast becoming a thing of the past. Unless a platform holder funds a project in some way, the likelihood of one system only ever having a certain game for its lifespan just doesn’t make sense economically for the publisher and all a dev team really want is their game to be played by all. But questions are still always asked as to whether Game X will ever come to system Y and with all the hype surrounding Gears of War 3 what with its insanely popular multiplayer beta just a few months ago, Cliff Bleszinski is regularly fighting the rumour of a PS3 version.

The most recent dispelling of said rumour originates from IndustryGamers where he said: “I would say in the foreseeable future there’s zero chances of Gears of War being on the PlayStation 3. Can we bury that now? Seriously. It’s like, we have a great deal with Microsoft, they’re a great partner…” but before he could finish, IG mentioned Mike Capps’ previous comments saying he’d love to see Gears on PS3 and cater for the Killzone / Resistance loving audience. Cliff’s comeback was to joke about how a quote like Capps’ makes for a good news story and is little more than that. He did mention how the DualShock controller would need tweaking and quickly ended that part of the conversation.

It’s interesting that the PS3’s controller was brought up at all though. I have to admit, it’s one of the reason why I tend to prefer shooters on the Xbox 360 and know of others who feel the same but again, rumours and headlines are being created out of nothing so I won’t pursue that train of thought. If not anything else, the real reason why Epic Games and Microsoft are so pally over Gears of War is down to the amount of support it gets. A good marketing campaign can do wonders for a game and Microsoft pump a shed load of money in making sure gamers know when a new Gears title is out and why they would want to play it. And as one of those exclusives which could become multi-platform (seeing as Epic own the IP), Microsoft need to do all they can to keep hold of it. Not only does it look great on their system but is a powerful triple A title for the holiday season. When the first Gears of War came out, the PS3 was just launching and its shooter, Resistance, was (somewhat unfairly) pitted against it in the usual console war. Journalistically it was a little trite but from a consumer’s point of view, it was hard not to and I would imagine the same will happen this year too when Resistance 3 is released a few weeks before Gears 3.

So will Gears ever come to the PS3? Most probably not but I’m sure the rumour isn’t dead yet, no matter how many times the design director himself denies it.

Mass Effect Wii U. Confirmed?

As we all come to terms with the name of Nintendo’s new console, developers and publishers are expressing their interests in creating games for it and especially its tablet controller. Kojima Productions, Activision and THQ are all talking about the Wii U and now the head of EA, Frank Gibeau, hinted at the possibility of a Mass Effect game coming to the system. In a recent interview (via My Nintendo News), Gibeau was asked about bringing Mass Effect 3 to the Wii U and practically confirmed something was coming but not necessarily Shepard’s third outing.

“I can’t say we are going to do it on the Wii U, but you can imagine what we could do with that controller in the Mass Effect universe. It feels like a really nice fit, but we’ll announce that when the time is right.” See what I mean? The time may not be right for an official announcement but that sounds to me like something relating to Mass Effect is headed for the Wii U.

Since the second game, BioWare and EA have both spoken about delving deeper into the rich universe of Mass Effect, making new titles following other story lines, not just the troubles of Commander Shepard. But if it were to be Mass Effect 3, I’d be interested to see how the tablet controller is used after Microsoft revealed its version is to have Kinect support. In a similar train of thought, would that force Sony to add Move controls too? And in answer to Gibeau’s question, yes I can totally imagine what they’d do with the tablet. A touchscreen menu and inventory, safe-cracking mini-games, the 6 inch screen acting like an overhead map for strategic combat scenarios. That kind of thing.

Microsoft E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

The months leading up to E3 2011 had gamers jump from being ritualistically interested to overwhelmingly excited. What were Microsoft going to show? And what of Sony? Can they really ignore the month of PSN troubles and upset? Nintendo has a brand new console to show off plus games for their 3DS, or at least that’s what we hope.

So E3 has barely even begun and the highlights are already vast in number. Microsoft officially kicked things off with their Press Conference and did so with the wealthiest franchise, Call of Duty. Yes, Modern Warfare 3 was demoed live on an Xbox 360, a point made even clearer when the “please reconnect controller” error popped up on screen. Deliberate? Probably. But hell, Modern Warfare 3 did look really rather good and ran incredibly smooth on a five year old system. The gameplay shown still had that Call of Duty game style and execution which has become more of a criticism than complement but with the last two titles selling like crazy – both on release and the years after – it’s not a huge surprise that Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward, the co-development team, are sticking to a tried and tested formula.

After the shooting was over, Crystal Dynamics took to the stage to debut gameplay from next years Tomb Raider reboot and boy, does that look good. Graphically it’s more impressive than previous iterations as both the environment AND Lara have a realistic quality about them. Since Lara is on her own, she was constantly talking to herself, saying things like “I need to get out of here” referring to the cave she was imprisoned in by some scrappy-looking vagabonds. It added a great feeling of tension and fear without coming across as contrived but we only saw it for a limited time. Continuous chatter from a frightened teenage girl can go from dramatic to annoying very quickly I’d imagine. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a Tomb Raider game as I have been for the reboot and the demo just underlined that fact. The Tomb Raider reboot is said to be coming some time next year.

Next up for my personal highlights just so happened to be the next game in Microsoft’s line up. Mass Effect 3. Big boss Ray Muzyka spoke of ME3 being the beginning of something big and that it’s the perfect time to jump into the franchise. A little late if you ask me seeing as there’s been two awesome games before it. Nevertheless, ME3 adds something extra to all the sci-fi shooting and sexual tension. It adds Kinect. Inclusion of motion controls has been rumoured for a while after the game’s box art featured a Kinect logo on it and thankfully hands-free gaming won’t hinder what has so far been a brilliant controller-based series. Because strictly speaking, it isn’t the motion camera ME3 uses. It’s the microphone. Kinect will allow players to issue strategic commands to team members by telling them where to go and what to do on the battlefield. Not only that but conversations can be had by actually talking to the characters, saying the responses shown on ME‘s conversation wheel instead of selecting them with the right stick. I really like both those ideas, a lot, though am slightly sceptical as to whether it will feel a bit gimmicky. But I have faith in BioWare. For now.

The will they won’t they drama of a Halo 1 remake came to an end with an official announcement of Halo Anniversary doing exactly what you’d expect, remastering Halo. The original campaign has been spruced up considerably for the Xbox 360 with classic multiplayer maps and online co-op to boot. One thing I really appreciated about the recent Halo games is the omitance of the Flood. I hate that enemy type. I mean really hated them. Now they’ll be back in HD to annoy me all over again. Joy. But that aside, I’m quite looking forward to reliving my time as a 20 year old gamer playing Halo for the first time and thinking how a relatively unknown game can be so important to the industry.

E3 just wouldn’t be E3 without Peter Molyneux making an appearance in a Microsoft’s press conference telling us about the next big Fable game. This year won’t be any different with the announcement of Fable: The Journey which looks to be a prequel using Kinect to do things like control the reigns of a horse and carriage as well as the combat of the game. The demoer was raising his hands to ready magic, jolting them forward to release it onto the hobbes that needed eradicating. Varying hand movemens and gestured seemed to launch different kinds of spells so my initial fears of Fable: The Journey being no more than a Kinect shooting gallery maybe unnecessary. I can’t but wonder how the game will be received after Fable III ended with not so much a bang but an unhappy whimper from the audience. Can Kinect bring the series back to a happy place in our hearts?

Remember the announcement of Star Wars Kinect last year and how staged it looked? This year sees another dubious demo but at least there was more footage that represented what will be in game. Things like waving your hands to swish a lightsaber around or raising obstructions using the force by lifting your hands in that air. All this set in the prequel era of Star Wars which, admittedly, isn’t the best time for fans of the films but makes the most sense for games. That way there can be numerous Jedis and locations known by more than just the hardcore. Events like Pod Racing look to also make an appearance no doubt similar to Kinect Joy Ride in its controls. I really liked the Pod Racer game a few generations ago so welcomes another dip into that particular sport. I just hope it and the rest of Star Wars Kinect lives up the the hype.

I’ll end my first lengthy article about E3 with a game Microsoft closed their press conference with; Halo 4. Coming Christmas 2012 is the start of another trilogy of Halo games staring Master Chief and Cortana as they do battle with, well, I don’t actually know. The reveal was short but very sweet and looked to be set directly after Halo 3, when the Chief was frozen cryogenically on board a distant space ship. Something disturbed his slumber forcing him to burst out his pod, grab the holographic honey and see where all the noise was coming from. It didn’t look good. His ship was being destroyed by some unknown force that looked a little like Unicron from Transformers but obviously isn’t. Thought how awesome would it be if it were?! That was pretty much all Microsoft and 343 Industries showed but it was more than enough to arouse the audience and left me wondering what else E3 has in store after such an eventful beginning. I can’t wait to find out!

Double the E3, triple the fun for Kinect

Microsoft’s E3 press conference from 2010 was all about their Kinect. An elaborate production put on by Cirque Du Soleil to signify the ‘next evolutionary step in game controls’ kicked off a very hands-free conference. Hardly surprising when the device was launching later in the year. Most of the games for Kinect were released when it did in November last year and few new titles have appeared since. With the latest NPDs showing Microsoft’s continuing dominance in a number of areas, the company were quick to gloat via a press release which also happened to mention what to expect from Kinect going forward: “Microsoft announced the size of the Kinect games portfolio will triple by the end of the year.” According to Joystiq‘s findings, there are 26 current Kinect specific games and 26 still in development. The press release would suggest that a further 26 are waiting to be announced.

Microsoft product manager David Dennis spoke with Joystiq regarding the future of Kinect and its public perception. “We’ve seen some of the media start to ask the question, ‘When are we going to see more Kinect games coming?’,” he said. “As we sat there and looked at it we realised we’ve got a lot of games coming and we’re going to show a lot of them at E3.” I think a lot of media and consumers were asking for more Kinect games right from the beginning but there has always been an unspoken promise and fairly strong optimism from supporters that it’s more than just a kid’s toy. So many rumours have slipped about a number of hardcore Kinect titles coupled with incredibly strong sales would point to a greater variety of genres to be shown at E3.

What of non Kinect games? Like maybe a few more first-party titles other than the handful already known? Have Microsoft neglected their biggest audience for too many E3s? Dennis doesn’t think so and was adamant that core gamers were top priority: “We know that the core what took Xbox and made it the home for core games, whether they’re first-party games or third-party games. We would certainly never leave that audience behind. So for us and for Phil [Spencer] and the folks over at MGS, it’s not about deprioritising one or the other. It’s about how we go big on any and all: Go big on Kinect games; go big on core games.”

There you have it. Microsoft’s E3 in a nutshell; Lots of Kinect games and lots of core games too. If there’s a crossover between the two, things could be very interesting come June 6th. It’s safe to say Gears 3, Forza 4, Star Wars Kinect and some kind of Halo anniversary piece(possibly a remake) will be on show but we could also be seeing the Gears of War Kinect rumour become a reality and the hardcore Kinect shooter by newly created Microsoft Games Studio Vancouver too. Roll on June!

Alan Wakes up

Following yesterday’s rumours of an Alan Wake 2, developers Remedy have publicly announced that yes, there will be another game but no, it won’t be Alan Wake 2. Oskari Hakkinen, head of franchise development told Eurogamer: “Fans of the franchise will be excited to learn that yes, more Wake is coming! But to be absolutely certain to avoid confusion, this next Wake instalment will not be Alan Wake 2. And neither will it be DLC,”

He refrained from saying too much as he wanted to save the specifics for an official announcement where the game will be shown off for the first time. Hakkinen teased a few tit bits however revealing how the game will “definitely give more to the Wake fans out there” but also allows for players unfamiliar with the goings on of Bright Falls to “jump on board.” Remedy are viewing the two audiences with equal importance, possibly because Alan Wake sadly didn’t perform as well as they or Microsoft hoped. This was more to do with unfortunate timing because the game was brilliant and was one of my best of 2010.

Hakkinen said that “release dates, platforms and pricing” were yet to be confirmed but Fall 2011 is “probably a good guess.” If we are to be receiving a new Wake game in around four months, it’s almost a certainty that we’ll be seeing more at this year’s E3. And it may have been a bit of a red herring but suggesting a platform needed clarifying may be a clue as to what kind of game it will be. First thoughts are some kind of prequel, following Thomas Zane, the diving suit-wearing guide who also became trapped by the Dark Presence before Wake came onto the scene. Perhaps as a downloadable XBLA game. Another popular concept, probably due to Hakkinen’s reference to the unfamiliar audience, is a Kinect-enabled remake. It’s definitely plausible, this year E3 press conference from Microsoft is bound to be filled with Kinect software and they’ve always promised more hardcore titles for the device. Alan Wake would work quite well as a Kinect game because of the protagonist’s trusty torch. Moving your hand in real-time to illuminate areas on screen is a pretty cool idea and one that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories used to great effect.

But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself and, more to the point, Remedy who are keeping schtum until they’re good and ready to light the way. Geddit?!… Sorry.

Kinect’s triple A future

With only relatively small number of titles available and fewer still being announced for the future, Microsoft’s Kinect has no problems when it comes to selling. So far, somewhere in the region of 12 million units have been sold since its launch last November with eager modders, casual enthusiasts and tech-geeks making up a large percentage of that audience. Those known as the hardcore aren’t as embracing as the rest but that could be soon about to change thanks to Microsoft Games Studios Vancouver. One of their artists, Shawn Woods, posted on his personal blog (via NeoGAF) how the studio strategy has changed from social games filled with microtransactions to “developing a core AAA shooter experience using Kinect.”

If this is true, and considering it’s from a member in-house the likelihood is high, it would be the second core game said to be headed to Kinect. The first being whatever Epic is allegedly working on with the Gears of War engine. Kotaku was given a screenshot which supposedly showed Marcus Phoenix mimicking the actions of a human player filmed by Kinect. No one quite knows how much truth can be harvested from it and exactly what the game will eventually be but MGS Vancouver are very openly saying they’re making a shooter and their site claiming a devotion to making games for core gamers.

The big question is how a shooter will control via Kinect and if it’ll be a comfortable experience or one that gamers wish they had a controller for. One title that may be able to answer this is The Gunslinger. In it, you control a puppet on strings with one hand and shoot enemies using the other by shaping the hand like a gun. The trailer look as if it could be a lot of fun but the art style gives an impression that The Gunslinger is more quirky than core. Not a bad thing at all if that’s what you’re going for but from the sounds of it, MGS Vancouver are striving for something more in the realms of a military shooter. I could be way off and am only jumping to such conclusions because that’s the first thing people think of when you say “AAA core shooter” and their site shows two dubious looking chaps overlooking the Vancouver skyline. Just a nice image for the site maybe? Maybe.

Since E3 is just over a month away there’s a strong possibility we’ll see some more information and hopefully more on Kinect’s future developments in general. Like some real in-game footage of that Star Wars title and whether or not Infinity Blade will hobble onto Kinect as it did begin its life there.