Wii 3DU?

We’re still yet to know the full force of Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U and what it’ll be able to do with all its fancy new insides but the general consensus from the big N to Sony and Microsoft is “anything you can do, we can do better… or at least similar.” One area Nintendo could choose to pursue is that of 3D TVs, a place Sony is claiming dominance in this generation but for Nintendo, it isn’t something they’re all that fussed about even though the Wii U is technically capable of supporting 3D.

President Satoru Iwata told the Mercury News (via My Nintendo News): “If you are going to connect Wii U with a home TV capable of displaying 3-D images, technologically, yes, it is going to be possible, but that’s not the area we are focusing on.” The immediate thought which springs to mind is why would they? They already have the 3DS which champions a future of glasses-free 3D media and use this fact in its marketing. Iwata touched on this when giving his full reasonings against the idea of a 3D TV experience: “When it comes to 3D, we already have the 3DS, and each owner of the Nintendo 3DS is capable of viewing 3D images. However, when it comes to the home console, it depends upon the availability of 3D TV sets at home, which, unfortunately, is not expanding enough.”

He summed up his point by saying it would be a waste of time and money to focus on making the Wii U 3D compatible out the box and instead prefers to dedicate their time to enable “each Wii U owner being able to have an equal opportunity to enjoy it.” A little ironic when a Wii U owner may not be one person but a whole family and that family will have to share the unique controller since only one comes with the machine and won’t be available to buy on their own. But still, Nintendo’s hesitance to follow a new trend in technology is why the Wii became so popular and also why the Wii U is desperately needed. Rather than developing a machine for HD TVs, Nintendo chose to stick with standard definition because five or so years ago, the penetration of high def televisions was significantly lower than SD. As time went by, Plasma and LCD screen became the norm and the Wii started looking less and less impressive. Now we’re at a similar split in the market with 3D TVs yet to really prove themselves.

However, I do think there is a little difference and Nintendo maybe right to not worry about 3D just yet. While there’s a number of TVs capable of showing 3D, there isn’t a massive incentive to upgrade if you already have an HD TV. The crossover from standard definition sets was driven by things like Blu-Ray discs and a growing number of HD televisions stations. But broadcasting in 3D takes a lot more bandwidth and what we have in place is already struggling, be it via something like Sky or the internet. So leaving this functionality out might not be as problematic for Nintendo as it was to hold off from HD graphics. Then again, for the sake of not repeating the past, it may be in beneficial for them to at least make it so the Wii U can be patched to include it at a later date if needed.


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!

iOS enters the third dimension

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Companies like Sony and Nintendo are defiant that in one way or another, 3D entertainment is the future. The former relies on fancy TVs, glasses and a PS3 whereas the latter is marketing their latest handheld, the 3DS, as a better alternative, doing away with the need for glasses and instead using a dual-layered screen to generate 3D images. But what if you didn’t need either or those solutions? A pair or developers from the University Joseph Fourier have created a tech demo for iOS devices that creates the illusion of 3D on existing 2D Apple hardware (via Slide to Play).

The App called i3D (available on the App Store now) was developed by Jeremie Francone and Laurence Nigay and uses the front-facing camera to track your face as move the device around. Since your head stays still (or at least should), i3D changes the on-screen image in real time according to its position relative to your head. Or, to put it another way, iPad 2 or iPhone 4 + i3D + head = 3D images. The video above shows just how impressive the demo is at the moment and the potential for this kind of technology rather than investing in expensive glasses or multi-layered screens. The downside – other than i3D currently only showing five proof of concepts, one of which being Mii heads so it’ll probably be pulled soon – is that no matter how cool this kind of thing is, it’s generally seen as a gimmick. Nintendo’s previous DS has a DSiWare title called Looksley’s Line Up or 3D Hidden Picture in Japan, that was pretty neat but puzzlingly not a concept adopted by other developers. Maybe now that i3D has been made for iOS devices, there’ll be more interest from smaller indie studios who regularly create iPhone games. I hope so because in the right hands this kind of thing could be awesome.

The UK’s most successful console launch hasn’t even launched yet

It’s not even out yet and the 3DS is set to be the most successful console launch in the UK. Why? Because of the rampant pre-orders that are nearing the 100,000 mark, a goal Nintendo set themselves and are likely to best come March 25th when the systems goes on sale. Little or no money may have passed between vendor and consumer but the promise of a sale via pre-order means Nintendo have beaten their personal best for a console launch, previously held by the Wii.

Speaking with MCV, UK head of sales Andy Yates said: “With three weeks to go we’re in a great position, as pre-orders are still building. The message to retail right now is that availability is strong and stores can plan with confidence to keep the accelerator on.” If availability is so strong, it should mean the drought of hardware which plagued the Wii’ launch won’t be an issue for the 3DS. But with so many adverts now appearing on TV showing the ‘average joe’ in amazement at the glasses-less 3D, the initial shipment of consoles may still sell out on day one. The ads may be a tad hokey but it’s hard if not impossible to show the full effect of something like the 3DS on the majority of TVs. To help, Nintendo held events across the country showcasing the system and allowing for gamers to pre-order it afterwards. Marketing director Dawn Paine said: “That has been our ambition all along – to get the UK into a ‘feeding frenzy’ situation.”

Nintendo are confident that the 3DS will be a landmark of technology in 2011 with little fear of potential sales being gobbled up by competing hardware like mobile phones. The reason for this is because of the 3D capabilities making it the first of its kind in a mass-market space. Ironically, the draw of glasses-less 3D isn’t why a lot of early adopters are recommending the handheld. They’re harping about the fact that it’s a new piece of Nintendo hardware with greater online integration, a better interface and control method and stronger processing power. And of course there are those who want to buy a 3DS just because it’s a sexy new piece of tech. For me, it’s a combination of everything!

Adding the third dimension to handhelds

This Saturday sees the launch of the 3DS in Japan and to celebrate the coming of a new Nintendo platform, Famistu has put together a sixty page feature (yep, six-zero) covering the ins and outs of the handheld. Hideki Konno, producer of Nintendogs + Cats was interviewed (via Andriasang) about his involvement in developing the 3DS revealing that at one point, it may have been called something very different.

After Mario Kart Wii was finished in 2008, Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata approached Konno and showed him an early prototype of the 3DS, keen to strengthen the relationship between hardware developers like themselves and a predominantly software programmer like Konno. They wanted his opinion on the new device which Nintendo began working on once the original DS was completed. Remember, we’ve had three more versions of the DS since then too. As with all the iterations, Nintendo’s focus was to keep the system backward compatible, having a cross over period where both DS and 3DS are on the market allowing for people to upgrade and not lose all their old games. So the prototypes had two screen, one of them touch enabled but the other wasn’t originally planned to be 3D, this was something Konno suggested around two years ago today.

Since Nintendo is still to this day suffering from the metaphorical and physical migraines left after their failed Virtual Boy, it’s hardly surprising that an outsider (so to speak) was the one who put the 3 in the 3DS. Konno’s experiments consisted of a 3D LCD TV and Mario Kart Wii where he discovered that playing games in 3D without the need for glasses was pleasant and impressive experience. Word spread and the DS2 became the 3DS with a whole new level of gameplay added thanks to the work of Hideki Konno.

But having a 3D screen wasn’t the only late development choice. The gyro sensor was another last minute decision and came about after last year’s E3. Seeing as the best way to experience the 3D is to hold the handheld still in the ‘sweet spot’, adding a function where you have to tilt and twist the device seems a little counter intuitive. But these are very different days for portable gaming with mobile phones increasing invading the space of traditional handheld consoles so in order to successfully compete on release and well into the future, Nintendo had to include existing motion tech alongside the brand new three-dimensional viewing. That and Miyamoto felt the 3DS was lacking in features saying “if there were a gyro sensor, the play could change greatly.”

I wonder what kind of system we would have ended up with if Nintendo chose not to include 3D. Presumable the graphics would have increased since the 3DS has to process two images at the same time in order to create the effect but would its appeal have lessened? Maybe by the tech-centric masses but this is a new Nintendo hardware and whether you play hardcore games or those of a casual persuasion, the company have always maintained healthy support from their fans.

Lock, stock and two smoking cameras

The best thing about portable gaming is the fact it can be done anywhere. Not just different parts of your home or town either but for a long old time, the portability of handheld consoles stretched across countries and seas without the restrictions of home console region locking. Until now it seems. An email was sent (via NeoGAF) from Nintendo’s Japanese support claiming that the upcoming 3DS will have region coding preventing games being played on a system that don’t belong to its territory. The humble GameBoy could play any game from any country and it was only recently that the latest DS iteration, the DSi, was locked out. And even then that was only specific DSi software.

Nintendo’s reasonings are likely to be similar to the ones used for adding a region lock to the DSi; the internet and parental control. Back in 2008, the company said because of the unique online experiences for each region, the system would have to be locked in order to provide it appropriately. And since parental controls differ from country to country, the assigning of regions was needed. But now it gets a little more complicated when you take into account the deals announced at last year’s E3 between Nintendo and various movie studios to show 3D films on the 3DS. Copyright and distribution laws change depending on territory so the only real way to control this is to sadly impose region locking.

It’s a great shame for anyone keen to import games and genres that don’t often make their way to certain areas. Take the Rune Factory and Etrian Odyssey franchises for example. Both have a relatively small fan base in the UK and the games take for ever to come out over here. The worst thing that could come out of a total locking is the desire for some to hack their way around the restrictions, opening up the world of piracy to them. And that’s a world neither platform holder or developers are keen for you to explore.

LittleBigPlanet 2-D

Sony’s efforts in pushing 3D TVs onto consumers has been vigorous to say the least and with the Move peripheral, was pretty much the focus of their E3 press conference this year. But today, the company revealed that LittleBigPlanet 2, part of Sony’s core franchises will not be supporting it. Nope, the game will only be playable in two humble dimensions. Now this is very interesting and the exact wording from Mark Valledor was “no 3D this time around” as he responded to a question on the US PlayStation Blog (it’s in the comments). No further comment was made regarding why such an important IP wasn’t utilising Sony’s latest hardware gamble but developers Media Molecule may just not want to sacrifice processing power in order to appease early adopters or indeed Sony themselves. As seen in Call of Duty: Black Ops, running games in 3D significantly reduces performance lowering the 60 frames per second of Blops to something resembling 20. Graphics are also adversely effected with a cap of 720p and not a progressive scan more. So from a playability standpoint and since graphics are a pretty big deal for consumers, the decision not to go all 3D on us is seemingly a wise one. But from a marketing perspective and to maintaining confidence in a yet unproven technology, I’m surprised Sony didn’t insist on the inclusion of 3D. Hey, that’s an internal debate that I’m sure was as heated as it was long!