Wii U’s launch will better that of the 3DS

The launch of the 3DS may have started with promising sales but quickly became a bit of an issue for Nintendo. Accused of not having quality titles and lacking any real impetus for typical Nintendo fans to buy a system at launch, NoA president Reggis Fils-Aime recently admitted the faults saying the 3DS has now moved into a new phase. One with two superb first party Zelda titles and a fairly well stocked online store with more games in the coming weeks and months ahead. But Nintendo isn’t out of the woods just yet and are still having a little trouble persuading people to buy a 3DS. This is something president Satoru Iwata wants to avoid with the Wii U.

In a shareholder meeting, Iwata echoed Fils-Aime’s admittance (via Gamespot) of a less than stella list of launch games (though I didn’t think they were all that bad) and said how the company are carefully looking at ways to prevent it: “We also must reflect on the fact that we were not able to launch Nintendo 3DS at a time when a sufficient number of strong software titles were ready,” he said. “In order to avoid the same thing from happening to the Wii U, we are considering details, such as what software is suitable for the launch, more carefully than ever before.”

One of the more infamous reasons for Nintendo not releasing more first-party games for the 3DS launch was to allow third-party titles some breathing space since Nintendo consoles are often considered only good for Nintendo games. Once again the company fell victim to this but it didn’t help when publishers thought re-hashes of old games would be acceptable for day one of the device. Given that thought, you can imagine a greater urgency being put on a Wii U Mario, Zelda or Mario Kart being ready for its release next year. Nintendo may also be leaning on third parties to get Wii U versions of multiplatform games ready to land alongside the system what with the desire for the Wii U to be viable competitor to the Xbox 360 and PS3. If it could arrive with games that look and play like those found on the other HD consoles, that would be a positive turn. More often than not, systems launch with average experiences in a time when developers are new to the type of technology on offer. But the Wii U is meant to sit alongside platforms that have been out for years which maybe an advantage when trying to port games over.

Whatever happens in 2012 when the Wii U is supposed to come out, I would be more surprised if Nintendo didn’t keep their promise of a strong launch line up. They’ve learned an awful lot with the Wii and DS in terms of the kinds of gamers they can attract, the online experiences expected from consoles and how developers will work with them and with all these points I feel Nintendo are heading in the right direction. They promised a better online area and we have that in the eShop. They wanted to appeal to a wide variety of people and with the right game, even the most hardcore gamers can enjoy the Wii and with new Wii U controller offers an input less jarring than a Wii remote and nunchuck. So far so good, lets see where this new promise takes us eh?

The Wii’s second coming

Another year, another build up to E3 kick starting with rumours of a Wii successor featuring HD capabilities. This week saw magazine Game Informer reveal via their website how multiple, anonymous sources told them of a Wii 2 or Wii HD as it’s been affectionately called in previous rumours. The sources spouted conflicting details but the ability to display high definition visuals was apparently said by all with graphics comparable to the Xbox 360 and PS3. As soon as the Game Informer story broke, CVG had a similar one with yet more faceless industry personnel claiming a HD Wii is in development adding how the system will have an all new controller with a built-in HD screen to boot. They also said the new Wii will be backward compatible which is one of the few pieces of data you can be sure of in this whole story. Nintendo have made sure there is some form of backward compatibility to their consoles for quite some time so one thing that a second Wii would have is the ability to play Wii games.

Stepping up the CVG rumour is 01net.com, a French gaming stating the new controller is actually a tablet with buttons, like an iPad though hopefully not as big. The idea of using a tablet as a controller just seems backwards when there are tablet/touchscreen games that poorly try and mimic a traditional controller. If true it suggests Nintendo are going after yet another market, not content with those acquired by the Wii’s family-friendly games and hoping to win back those who left after buying iPads or iPhones. They do like playing with the pre-conceived notions of controllers however so a tablet isn’t an unordinary progression.

When I first saw the Wii remote I thought Nintendo had lost it but instead they changed the face of console gaming forever. But that was almost five years ago and things are a little different now. Every console has motion controls and two out of the three are already HD. 01net.com say the innards the console, code named Project Cafe, are similar to an Xbox 360 which would make for some very nice graphics and easier porting for developers though there would have to be more to it than that. Like I say, we have HD motion-controlled games and they’re doing very well. Kinect has sold over ten million units in a matter of months so what would be the draw of Project Cafe? Most likely its games, specifically Nintendo produced games which are some of the best in the industry. It’s no secret that Nintendo’s systems are beloved for their Marios and Zeldas but, according to the rumours, third parties are receiving a lot of support with the likes of EA and Activision already tinkering with dev kits for the system. The move to HD could also reduce the amount of shovelware titles that have plagued Nintendo platforms as it adds a higher development cost for games.

Lets hope the Aztecs did indeed make a few mathematical errors because Project Cafe, which is a ridiculous name by the way, is supposedly launching late 2012 and the anonymous sources are going wild for it : “Nintendo is doing this one right…[it’s] not a gimmick like the Wii,” was heard. Gimmick is a little harsh for something that may not have been revolutionary but certainly was pioneering. Nintendo have been adamant that a lack of HD isn’t a major concern for their audiences and would only include it if the time was right. Now it seems that time isn’t just right but desperately needed. I would be surprised is Nintendo didn’t announce a new piece of hardware at E3 and wonder if they can steal the show this year too. Only a couple of months to go until we find out and I’m sure they’ll be filled with more rumours of a HD Wii too.

Your definitive way to play

In an effort to boost their status within the gaming community, Apple have hired two key members from Nintendo and Activision to help promote the iOS as the definitive gaming platform. Robert Saunders, who is currently working for Nintendo UK, is leaving to join Apple at the end of April for a PR position specifically created to focus on Apps while Activision’s PR director Nick Grange will look after iPad hardware (via Appleinsider).

The creation of both positions and head-hunting of two traditional video game veterans shows Apple’s dedication to iOS and the devices it’s found on. But they’re going to have a hard time convincing the sternest of critics that iPads and iPhones have become the definitive way to play games. It’s true, iOS games are vast in quantity with more and more people using them for entertainment purposes however that doesn’t necessarily make them replacements for console and PCs just yet. If such a claim is to be based on the sheer number of players, Facebook would surely be on top with Farmville and Cityville leading the way. Regardless of semantics, we still have a clear divide between the casual and hardcore audiences because of the kinds of experiences that appeal to each demographic. An overwhelming majority of iOS games are of a shorter bite-sized nature and even the grander ones work better when split up this way. Controls have become a big issue too with mechanics and gameplay being scaled down to make up for a lack of precision.

I’m not against this type of game, far from it if you see some of the games covered in my review section but everything has its place within the industry. In a report from the end of last year, Smartphone gaming has risen 43.8 percent whereas those found on DS and PSP fell 13 percent. Great news for Apple and Android for that matter but being mobile phones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into hands than it is for systems that predominately focus on video games. They are a threat, no doubt about it just as is the iPad with a recent survey showing 84 percent of owners using the tablet for gaming. Whether or not those games are comparable to ones found on traditional platforms is still to be understood but the potential market is growing seemingly everyday. I’m yet to be convinced that the iOS can be considered definitive but I’m keen to see how Saunders and Grange try and prove that it is. Who knows, they may just win me over forcing me to eat my words good and proper. To be honest I’d rather that and have more quality gaming experiences than the alternative.

The DS is for kids. Who knew?

Jealousy is a horrible thing which makes people say things they don’t always mean. It’s an emotion that runs rampant throughout the video game industry with the latest victim being Jack Tretton, ceo of Sony. He’s launched an unexpected attack on Nintendo handhelds to Fortune where he belittled the system and its user base: “Our view of the ‘Game Boy experience’ is that it’s a great babysitting tool, something young kids do on airplanes, but no self-respecting twenty-something is going to be sitting on an airplane with one of those. He’s too old for that.”

There’s clearly some confusion here because the last I checked, Nintendo had sold more than 146 million units whereas the PSP is less than half at 67 million so Tretton isn’t in the best position to criticise. He does have the beginnings of a point because the DS is popular among younger gamers but if you just look at all the fuss and excitement over Twitter and other social networks, you’d see how games like Pokemon have adults enthralled. It doesn’t stop there either, the DS has a wealth of games not necessarily aimed at adults but definitely enjoyed by them. This has been the case ever since Nintendo started their domination of the handheld market with the very first GameBoy.

Another odd aspect is how Sony have admitted in the past how the PSP is something of a child-friendly console itself even releasing a special pink Hannah Montana version a few years ago. It may be fortuitous to bad mouth the DS and its audience in an effort to almost embarrass older gamers onto the PSP but at some point you just end up looking a little silly and hypocritical.

Tretton didn’t stop at Nintendo either knocking the Xbox 360 for a lack of storage space, an argument becoming increasingly redundant what with all Xboxes being sold with some form of internal memory. It’s not as much as the standard or competition but it’s there and gets units off shelves. The Xbox 360’s reliance on a DVD format was highlighted by Tretton too which has posed a problem for Microsoft forcing developers to split games over multiple discs. But some help is on the way with the recently announced testing of the system update to include the expansion of DVD data, removing the copy protection from the disc allowing for up to 1GB of extra information.

This whole thing thing feels a bit odd. Sure platform holders frequently slag off the competition but Tretton’s comments came out of nowhere as if he’s been waiting a long time to get it off his chest. While there will be those who agree with what’s been said, I’m betting there’ll be a lot more thinking “eh?”

3DYes

It may have had the best console launch in the UK for any Nintendo system but there are a number of concerns about the 3DS and its lasting appeal. So much so that Nintendo’s stock has dropped over four consecutive days (via Andriasang) and hasn’t been the same since they released the new handheld back in February in Japan. But not all of it can be attributed to the 3DS however as investment bank Barclays Capital reminds the doubters of the devastating earthquake which hit the country shortly after its release day with many entertainment industries suffering the same fate.

A knock on effect of the earthquake is how a number of games have been delayed so punters are left with a limited amount of titles to choose from. This lack in games is adding to Nintendo’s stock issues and the 3DS was beaten by Sony’s PSP last week in the hardware charts with its overall sales just over half of what Nintendo had predicted for March.

So is the system in trouble? I don’t think so and more to the point, from what? It’s true, the system isn’t selling quite as well as Nintendo had hoped after having a promising launch but with an earthquake to contend with, it’s not really the best time for any non-essential piece of entertainment. One thing that keeps being noted is how the 3DS isn’t selling out with plenty of stores comfortably fulfilling the customers’ demands. Nintendo have previously said that this will be the case and they’re making sure people who wish to buy one won’t have to wait too long if at all. The company has been through supply problems in the past with the Wii and although it may have spurred sales for short time, the low units became more of an annoyance than anything else so it’s unlikely Nintendo wish to replicate that.

As for the lack of launch titles, is anyone really that surprised? Out of the initial 13 (or 15 if you count the three Nintendogs + Cats separately) there is a good variation of genres with a few ‘must haves’ too and I’m not sure we could have realistically hoped for anything more. The original DS launched with around 15 games and a similar ratio between those you should buy and those that need ignoring. It’s worth pointing out though that that was six years ago and the proof of worth is so much more important now what with Smartphones muscling in on the handheld territory. April and May will no doubt be quiet for the 3DS but there is the eShop update coming late next month that brings with it a Virtual Console service consisting of GameBoy and GameBoy Colour games, some with enhanced features. I’ve previously said how buying a brand new system to play old games isn’t the smartest thing to do but it’s a neat addition and depending on what exactly these enhancements are, we could be in for a retro treat.

Worries of headaches and dizziness from the 3DS’s fancy upper-screen was brought back to our attentions by The Sun this week who alleged that thousands of weary eyed gamers were returning the 3DS after hours of uncomfortable play. Later in the week, Nintendo plus the retailers themselves said, surprise surprise, this simply isn’t true. There has been a few returns as there is with any system but I wonder how many of them are down to shops like HMV offering £200 trade-in value for e 3DS when you can pick one up from Morrisons new for £180. That’s twenty quid profit right there. I’ve personally found that if you have to constantly focus on the 3D screen because you’re not holding it steady, then yeah, my eyes felt weird but laying down or slouching in a chair with a good hold of the device is headache-free. That’s if you choose to play with 3D on at all.

Am I trying to justify to myself the purchase of my 3DS? A little bit but I do think it’s way too early to tell whether or not it’ll be a success. We’re yet to receive its unique killer app and for the industry to properly settle down after the earthquakes in Japan. If this time next year the 3DS is still under performing, Nintendo may have a problem but by then I’d like to think I’ll be too busy playing Super Mario 3D and Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D to care.

Safety comes first for Pokémon

Ever since Nintendo sheepishly embraced the world of online gaming they’ve had somewhat of a guarded approach. The convoluted Friend Code system of the Wii and DS has thankfully been replaced with a solitary code, linking friends similarly to that of Xbox Live and PSN. Online safety is paramount to Nintendo and even more so with their developers. Junichi Masuda, director of Game Freak, told MVC that he believes traditional boxed retail games offer a safer environment than predominantly online games. He was asked if there’s any pressure for him to change Pokémon because of the newfound popularity of social network games and those found on mobiles. Turns out he doesn’t feel any pressure at all. “What I consider to be most important when releasing a video game is to ensure it reaches everybody and to make sure it can be enjoyed by players safely and securely,” he said. “For example, Facebook and MSN are mainly for adults, but what’s very important is that everyone can enjoy a Pokémon game without feeling any fear. So that’s what I think about whenever I produce a new video game.”

Facebook in particular is notorious for having easily accessible games though their aims are more often than not about gaining more members and selling micro-transactions. This model can work for games with a varied age range but the constantly-connected nature and dubious privacy features of Facebook makes it easy for accounts to get hacked and information to leak. If you’re trying to maintain a position of the family entertainment system, security and a stricter control over the audience is key. Pokémon in all its forms is loved by almost every age of gamer. The trading card game, comics, anime and video games are just part of a massive franchise that continues to grow in strength with every new iteration.

In the past, Game Freak has expressed their reluctance and even refusal to make an MMO-like Pokémon game because the whole idea of trading and battling is to do it with friends in the same room, not separated by a telephone cable. It’s not always practical and to some seems dated but the newer games have all had online features yet Pokémon gatherings are still quite popular with Nintendo’s handhelds being perfect for the series. Masuda’s comments today echo those earlier statements and frankly, it hasn’t hindered the franchise in any way.

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.