The great porting dilemma

Lord of everything Street Fighter and all round funny chap Yoshinori Ono has told Joystiq.com what he thinks of direct console to handheld ports. In a nutshell, Ono thinks they’re dumb. He and his team at Capcom prefer to see the transition to a portable device include specific features to take advantage of that hardware. Cramming a console game onto a something smaller are meaningless to him.

“A lot of people, when they’re porting to new hardware, especially a handheld, they’ll talk about how it’s difficult because of memory restrictions or speed or things like that, and I haven’t found that to be the case,” Ono said. “We’ve been putting less energy into the porting process itself and more energy into adding additional features, because we don’t want to do a straight-up port – that’s silly and meaningless.”

Two of Ono’s games making their way to the PSVita are Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Both will feature additions that supposedly utilise the Vita’s many inputs much like Super Street Fight 4 3D did on the 3DS. Ono said how the 3DS game has helped with development as he’s already racked up some experience with a touch screen and making a game fun to play on it. But Vita’s multitouch capabilities offer even more cool opportunities for entertaining play although the rear touch panel is a bit trickier.

“The rear panel presents kind of a challenge for us, because when you’re playing a fighting game, given the button configuration you’re going to have your index fingers on the top and your thumbs on the front,” he said. “We don’t want a situation where you’re accidentally throwing shoryukens because you moved your ring finger in the middle of a bout.”

No, we certainly don’t and my thought is if it doesn’t work, don’t use it. The ethos of exploiting the new tech to its fullest is highly commendable of Ono but there’s a danger too that things may get a little silly with features shoehorned in for the sake of it. The great thing about Super Street Fighter 4 3D was how well it used all the best bits of the 3DS, the stereoscopic screen, boosted CPU, online mulitplayer, Street Pass and analog stick. Other than 3D, the Vita can do all those things for Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and more – but it doesn’t mean it has to. If the feature set stopped there, I can’t imagine there’d be too much concern over an unused rear touch screen.

That aside, it’s the tailoring of games that will help the PSVita win over dubious consumers who aren’t sold on the idea of a pocket console. And I don’t mean handheld gamers, but those burned by the PSP which had too many titles trying to emulate home console games. The experience wasn’t right and the hardware couldn’t compete with PS2/3 graphics and controls so more often than not, things felt a little underwhelming. Not every game fell into this category and if developers continue to think the same as Ono, that category will become smaller and smaller.

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Nothing is free, not unless you’re Nintendo

One thing Nintendo needs to focus on the most for this generation and beyond is rallying support from third party developers. They tried and arguably failed to do this right off the bat with the 3DS by withholding the best first party software to allow third party titles a bit of breathing space. A kind and possibly dangerous gesture that makes the recent news all the more odd. According to Nintendo World Report (via My Nintendo News) third party devs aren’t currently able to release free software through the 3DS’s eShop. And no freebies means no demo either or at least not unless you want to pay for them.

At this point in time, anything that appears on the eShop that isn’t by Nintendo must be at least 200 yen which is why Capcom’s demo for Nazo Waku Yakata recently went live on the Japanese store for said price. It was thought that Capcom were just trying to make a quick buck out of the consumer but evidently not.

It’s perplexing why Nintendo aren’t easily allowing demos on the store when they’ve become integral to a lot of smaller games’ success. What better exposure is there than the chance to play a small part of a game for free? It works well for most (i.e good) XBLA titles that must have a demo version and is a method that Nintendo really must accept instead of fighting against on their platforms. Restricting third party content isn’t going to win developers over especially on the 3DS.

The reason again most likely stems from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s fear of low budget and free-to-play games devaluing the software and even developers themselves which I tend to agree with. But demos don’t fit into either of these categories and should be viewed differently. Hopefully they will be too what with the eShop being so young and Nintendo showing they are willing to conform, albeit slowly, to current online video game practices.

Immoral kombat

As gamers are eagerly queuing in lines for, opening their parcels of, or awaiting the end of work to play the latest Mortal Kombat, series creator Ed Boon harkens back to the early nighties when the original game first appeared and became the centre of much controversy. The reason was simple, it was gory as hell for the time period with lashings of blood shooting from characters as they were struck and, of course, the now infamous Fatalities. After Mortal Kombat, many a fighting game matches were ended with some over the top death move but Ed Boon’s was the first to include them and without a rating system in place, Mortal Kombat felt the full force of angry politicians. Yep, they interfered just as much back then as they do now.

Nintendo, the family system, chose to censor all of the gore for the SNES release replacing blood with odd puffs of grey and neutering the Fatalities of certain characters. “People were objecting to the fact that a game that was as violent as it is, did not have a rating,” said Boon (via Eurogamer) adding “I agree with that idea. The rating system is great. The censorship with the SNES version was a response to that. Nintendo felt like they had an obligation to not offer something like this to a system that’s played by many young players.” Sega however seemingly felt differently opting not to exclude any content, resulting in my Mega Drive owning friends to gloat while I was stuck with seeing thing like Kano punch into the opponent’s chest but forgetting to pull out their heart. Thankfully, before the second game came out, a ratings board was in place so Nintendo felt happy with leaving in all the nasties because it was clear that it was designed for older gamers. This made Mortal Kombat II one of the games I became obsessed with back in my youth, buying any mag which included information on it and even proudly wearing a T-shirt sporting the MK logo.

At the start of the nighties, fighting games were huge and Capcom’s Street Fighter II was the impetus for Boon to develop Mortal Kombat: Street Fighter II was getting into its stride. We felt we wanted to do something that was an American-made fighting game with the latest technology, which was digitised graphics at the time. We felt we had something to contribute in that field.” Indeed they did. Not only were the aforementioned Fatalities picked up by nearly every publisher but the digitisation of real people instead of hand-drawn sprites was attempted by other teams too. Most if not all failed leaving the Mortal Kombat franchise to keep its unique look for two more games.

The popularity of Mortal Kombat was a pleasant surprise for Boon: “I don’t think anybody was expecting the level of success the game had. It would be arrogant of me to assume that something was going to perform this well. It was a big surprise to us. We hoped we would reach some level of success and pay for the development of the game. But I would have never have guessed that almost 20 years later we would still be making Mortal Kombat games.” The latest game is technically Mortal Kombat 9 but a few of the titles which preceded it are probably best forgotten as are the spin-offs and TV show. The 1995 film however is still awesome in my eyes. You know, so bad its good? Because the series deviated a little too much from tradition, Boon and the NetherRealm Studios team decided to call the gorgeous-looking new game Mortal Kombat, rebooting the franchise along side the so far brilliant webisode series. So does that mean if it gets a sequel we’ll have another Mortal Kombat II?

The next generation in portables

Big news! Sony have announced the PSP2 is in development! But then we already knew that since for months, information has leaked about its existence and features. Today, or last night in America, Sony held a press conference in Tokyo to officially reveal their successor to the ill-fated PSP and the rumours where right; Wifi and 3G connectivity, dual analog stick, OLED touchscreen, tilt controls, touch sensitive back, flash memory for games and two cameras – one on the front and the other on the back of a machine larger than its competition. For now, Sony are calling it the NGP or Next Generation Portable which fits amply with their marketing techniques of latter years. Remember when the PS3 was launching and they said the next generation doesn’t start until they say so? It’s a similar deal with the PSP2 whose specs are sounding like a considerable leap into the next generation. Sony are claiming it’s capable of producing PS3 quality games and before attendees at the conference could scoff at such claims, they showed it doing just that. Hideo Kojima proudly displayed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots which used direct art assets from the PS3 game and looked almost as good. Backwards compatibility is included so original PSP and PS1 games are via download (probably have to buy them again then) and a whole host of Sony franchises will also be headed to the portable. Such as:

Uncharted
LittleBigPlanet
Resistance
Killzone
WipeOut
Hustle Kings
Hot Shot Golf

With third party support from the likes of Konami, Activision and Capcom including:

Metal Gear Solid 4
Lost Planet
Yakuza 4
Call Of Duty

The next generation in portables? Where have we heard that before? The Nintendo 3DS. So who will win, who’ll be the next king of portables? Nintendo, Sony? From the type of games shown by both parties it looks like they’re again going after different audiences with some overlap to keep things interesting. Nintendo still have the family gamer in their sights with more hardcore titles backing up those aimed at a wider market. With the Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil there remains Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort. Deals with movie studios have so far been focused on family film though of course, other 3D-centric flicks will no doubt be coming.

From the list of games revealed by Sony, the PSP2 looks to be, like its predecessor, all about the traditional gamer with experiences potentially found on home consoles. That may not have worked too well for the original PSP but then the PSP2 has something gamers have been begging for; a second analog stick. With it, titles won’t only look like those on the PS3 but play like them too. I can’t see the touchscreen being used for a great deal of things when the way you hold the PSP2 seems designed for two hands either side of it but its inclusion means nothing gets left out of the second PSP and all options are open to developers.

What is a little troubling is the way games appear to be distributed. It sounds like they’ll be download only with Sony saying “NGP adopts a new game medium, a small flash memory based card, dedicated for NGP software titles. Taking advantage of the flash memory feature, this innovative card can store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card.” The concern is what kind of marketplace this would create. Less deals and no preowned games is good news for publishers but not so much for the consumer. Who knows, we could be surprised yet and nothing has been confirmed on that side so no need to worry. Early reports are suggesting a battery life of around five hours max (as they are with the 3DS) but no price or date has been mentioned other than Winter in Japan. It’s great to see a handheld like this with such promise and one that looks to offer something different and complimentary to the others. Colour me interested!

UPDATE: More reports are coming in about the ‘new memory card’ feature of the NGP which suggests it’ll be more like the DS with cards sold in stores. The PlayStation Store will of course be present but hopefully won’t be the only way to obtain titles.

$250? For glasses-free 3D? Bargain says Pachter

Infamous analyst Michael Pachter believes that $250 is too cheap for a system like the 3DS and Nintendo will regret setting it so low. He told IndustryGamers: “I thought the price point would be higher… but $249 is pretty good. I don’t think the uptake will be too quick on this.” Pachter added that Nintendo are well aware that the competition will be “converging devices” like the iPhone but the 3DS will have full game experiences whereas the others generally offer bite-sized gaming. Going back to the price, he said: “It’s going to sell out and they’re leaving money on the table. It’s not shareholder friendly, but consumers are going to love the $249 price point.” He added how the assumption was that the 3DS would cost at least $300 because of all the features it offers and for $249, consumers will think they’re getting a bargain. And because of this, Pachter thinks that a lot of consumers will “never see one in stores in 2011. It’ll be sold out forever. We’ll get like a million or 1.25 million, and so will Europe, and those will be gone in weeks.” It turns out that Europe are in for 900,000 units for launch so he could be right, at least about it selling out straight away.

Software prices are still up in the air at the moment and the only official price so far comes from Pachter’s (and my) favourite title; Super Street Fighter IV 3D. Capcom are selling the game for $39.99 in their store, potentially setting a precedent for all future pricing. Over here, retailers are fighting for our money setting their prices between £30-40.

Pachter clearly knows his stuff but this is quite a brave prediction – that people will love the price. I may have expressed my acceptance but I wouldn’t say I love it. Maybe because I’m in the UK and we’re not getting like-for-like pricing compared to the US and Japan. It’s doubtful people will be running to the shops because of the ‘cheap’ price, it’ll be more down to a new Nintendo system is on sale which, in recent years at least, appeals to all kinds of gamer and even those who aren’t traditional consumers of games. The DS won’t be ignored but the 3DS isn’t a slight progression, it’s a full tangible upgrade.

Will you be my friend (code)?

UPDATE: From the 3DS preview event happening live in Amsterdam at the moment, Nintendo have confirmed that you’ll need only one Friend Code for all your multiplayer gaming needs. Hooray!

ORIGINAL STORY from January 14th: Among the details fished from Famitsu about Super Street Fighter IV 3D – the one for the 3DS – is the possibility of friend codes appearing on the upcoming handheld. Famitsu’s coverage (reported by Andriasang) focused on the multiplayer online modes which feature a quick match, custom match or friends match which is where the concerns began. To play friends they must be on your friends list and in order for them to be there, you’ll have to trade codes first. The current DS and Wii’s friend codes are a string of 12 digits, unique to each game and one for your system too. The japanese mag didn’t state whether or not the 3DS would again require a different code for each game or if one would be sufficient for all your portable online needs but the hope is for the latter. Well, the hope was actually that friend codes were to be replaced with a gamertag approach like those seen on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Of course the other possibility is that the friend codes seen in Super Street Fighter IV 3D will eventually be replaced with tags once Nintendo have officially announced them, which may happen at their 3DS event happening next week in Japan. But with the market for the 3DS being one fuelled by the younger gamer, the concern for nuisance ‘griefers’ and worse, men with ill intent, will always outweigh the ease for online connectivity. A shame since the DS has sold nearly 50 million units to date which could have translated into a healthy online community, rivalling even the home consoles.

Speculating is one thing but writing off the 3DS’s potential online infrastructure before more is known about it is silly. Developers have gone on record stating their desire for a better service and one of Nintendo’s bullet points for the 3DS is the continuous connectivity of the system, exchanging data with other users and the internet even when in sleep mode. So it’s clear that Nintendo do want to take online gaming seriously, bringing us right back to the hope that if we are expected to use friend codes, it’ll be just the one.

Devil may slide. And tap.

I didn’t expect to see a game like Devil May Cry on the iPhone but here we are, the start of a new year and beginning of no doubt a few more shocking announcements. Franchise purists are probably less critical about Capcom’s choice of platform over their choice of game with Devil May Cry 4 Refrain being an adaptation of the series least favoured title. It sold well enough and played pretty cool but the first three DMCs are where the happiest gaming memories reside. Nevertheless, the 3D action game is coming later this month for an undetermined price (£3.99/$6.99 is rumoured) containing 10 levels for protagonist Nero to slash his way through with Dante being added at a later date via a patch.

It’s hard to imagine how a game with the mechanics of Devil May Cry would work successfully on the iPhone with its buttonless control scheme. Capcom did state that the handling has been simplified to account for the port but I always found the series to be quite mashy at the best of times so streamlining the combos could make it even more so. But this is a handheld game after all and Capcom are good at squeezing the most out of their franchises onto Apple platforms so it could instead work to their favour. Check out Slide To Play‘s hands-on video after the break and see what you make of all the action.

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