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.

Nintendo, meet Gameloft

When the 3DS came out just a few months ago, it was a fairly unique bit of kit. It was the first mass market stereoscopic 3D device and the first handheld to adopt said technology. But with each day, new tech ages faster than a teen on a sun bed and within a short period of time, more portable devices in the form of mobile phones are getting the 3D treatment. LG’s Optimus 3D is shipping soon to encroach on Nintendo’s territory and what does every handheld have nowadays? A Gameloft game. Six of their existing titles like NOVA have already made the transition to 3D and according to Yahoo (via My Nintendo News), 17 more are coming soon. Like NOVA, the idea is to for the games to be full experiences but another similarity is that they’re likely to be heavily inspired by other people’s IPs.

Should Nintendo be worried? The rampant success of the DS market was somewhat interrupted by mobiles over a relatively short period but an even shorter amount of time has passed before the market for stereoscopic handhelds is splitting consumers’ choice. I guess it will all come down to the games. Unless we see something like the next Xperia Play equipped with a 3D screen, traditional genres will always suffer the limitations of being on a controller-less platform with the 3DS being better suited to the Zelda and Mario experiences. But when attitudes are continuously changing towards the types of games people want to play on the go, the desire for bite-sized gaming may outweigh the want for fuller titles and the often feared end of dedicated handhelds may arrive quicker than first thought.

But there’s still a decent bit of time before that and Nintendo have previously said how they’re currently researching the possibility of merging their handhelds with a phone and partnering up with mobile companies. So while smartphones are slowly eating away at Nintendo’s audience, we could see a future where Nintendo release a device that claws back some of those who are comfortable with mobile games and a system that comes free on a contract.

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 sequel to success

The business of video games is a sequel-driven industry. Just look at this year’s E3, we had a number of franchises well into their third iteration and the most commonly criticised annual series, Call of Duty, will be on its eighth release this holiday. Some refer to this trend as an unhealthy obsession from publishers to basically milk a name for all it’s worth but others have a more forgiving outlook like id Software ceo, Todd Hollenshead, currently working on Rage. He believes (via Eurogamer) not only that sequels are a good thing don’t deserve all the hate they so often receive: “Sequels are unfairly criticised. One regard is they’re not original. You can do a lot of original things in a sequel as long as you’re consistent and true to the universe that game comes up in.” You certainly can. Take Portal 2 for example. It added liquids to the puzzle-solving mechanics and felt as fresh as the first time you entered a testing chamber. But in all honesty, games like Portal 2 are somewhat outnumbered by the new-setting-same-old-experience types of games. However, that doesn’t mean the idea of a sequel is unoriginal, it’s the money-hungry developers and publishers who lack originality.

Hollenshead went on to say how beneficial sequels can be because it shows the developers are doing something right. If enough people are left wanting more at the end of a game – and not because they felt short-changed by the experience – then the devs have done a good job in creating a universe that gamers want to play in. How many times have you played a game and thought it was so close to being great and with a bit of tweaking it could be? That’s where sequel can play an important role in keeping a good idea alive. I would argue L.A. Noire falls into this category for me. The facial tech and attitude towards story and maturity is outstanding but the its average shooting and chase sequences weaken the game for me. Make a second game (not necessarily using Phelps as the protagonists) without all the ‘action’ and it could be amazing. As Hollenshead says: “Why throw it all away and have to start over every single time?” For as bewildering it seemed for Human Head Studios to be developing Prey 2 with barely any linkage to the first game, it makes sense when you think all the hard work of creating the initial fiction had been done for Prey 1.

Another way of looking at it, suggests Hollenshead, is to consider Mario games as sequels or at the very least off-shoots to the original Donkey Kong: Mario Kart, just because you’re not calling it Donkey Kong 17, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have Mario in it,” he said. “The reason why Nintendo has been to a great extent inoculated from criticism along those regards is they execute very well in the games they make.” Which brings me back to the point of Portal 2. Yes it’s a sequel, but a mighty fine one at that and I would hate to not be able to go back into that universe and story for the sake of not advocating sequels.

True enough, annualising a game to ride out its previous success and hype often ends in tears for us gamers who get an awful feeling of familiarity but like Hollenshead, I agree that sequels can be awesome and deep down if you love one game, chances are you won’t scoff at the idea of it becoming a franchise.

The Nintendo Stream

UPDATE: Nintendo have officially announced their next home console code named Project Cafe and said that it won’t be out before April 2012.

No sooner had Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed the existence of Project Cafe, gaming site IGN managed to get hold of yet more alleged details about the Wii successor including a name, release date and price. If Nintendo don’t officially unveil it soon they’ll have nothing left to say! According to IGN’s trusted source, Project Cafe is expected to launch at the end of this year, around October or November and retail for either $350 or $400. But they also say that Nintendo may decide to hold off until the beginning of 2012 allowing studios to have longer with dev kits and potentially boosting the launch game line up. In the past, the Japanese gaming giant have been very secretive with their tech which annoyed a number of developers who could have benefited from the knowledge. Like LucasArts. They found out about the Wii MotionPlus add-on the same time as consumers and by then, they had already developed a light sabre-based fighter that could have been a great deal more successful if it included Wii MotionPlus support. If Project Cafe is as feature rich as everyone says it is, I’m sure devs would want to know about it way in advance and be at the forefront of the launch window.

Project Cafe is also said to be a bit of a beast, with insides that are meant to out perform both Xbox 360 and PS3 and have the potential for stereoscopic 3D too. But I highly doubt such a thing would be a integral to games since it’s taken this long for Nintendo to make the jumo onto HD TVs so they’re not about to leap frog that for 3D TVs. So the guts of the system will be ultra high tech but the outer is said to look like an updated SNES and have similar proportions to the first Xbox 360. As for the frankly perplexing name of Project Cafe, IGN say Nintendo have plenty of official names in mind with Stream being one that stood out. Probably due to the rumour surrounding controller. Project Cafe, Stream or Wii 2, whatever it’s to be called, will supposedly stream games straight onto a HD touchscreen fixed to the controller not so unlike the Dreamcast’s VMU or indeed the GBA and GameCube. They could be seen as early concepts for what Project Cafe is to become but possibly on a grander scale.

But that got me thinking, if the controller can be a gaming device all by itself, where does that leave the 3DS? Nintendo are potentially creating their very own iPods and you’d have to imagine they hold some form of memory capabilities. If they’re able to play standalone games as well as being accompaniments to Project Cafe titles, the 3DS could become an even harder sell. I think Nintendo will be very careful with what they do with the controller and how they market it. They’re not stupid and wouldn’t create a competitor for one of their own devices but would they also pass up the opportunity to make even more money off a peripheral? Think about it, WiiWare, DSiWare or Virtual Console style games playable on something that would be designed to fit snuggly in your hand. Sell them for a couple of quid or more and they could become very popular.

Nintendo, quite expectedly, declined from commenting on rumours when quizzed by IGN but all eyes will be on their press conference at this year’s E3 when we’re likely to hear more about the system. Unless of course more sources leak information before then. Ooh, isn’t it exciting eh?!

Miyamoto’s numerous confirmations

We’ve seen the logo, we knew it was coming but so far all Nintendo have said about Super Mario 3DS is that we’ll find out more come this year’s E3. Satoru Iwata announced the game early in the year at GDC showing a handful of screenshots and saying how the move from a 2D platformer to a 3D one proved to be problematic for some gamers, specifically precision jumping. Today, Shigeru Miyamoto spoke to Edge about Super Mario 3DS revealing “It’s a combination of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario on N64. It won’t convey the message if I talk to you today, but if you play it at E3 that will give you more understanding of what I’m talking about.” I think from such a statement like that, we can get a good understanding of what he’s talking about. Both those titles are quite similar with Galaxy adding gravitational elements and ramping up the creativity of levels and suits. If Super Mario 3DS is a combination of the two, we can expect comparable gameplay and innovative gravity physics.

Because the game will be in stereoscopic 3D, Miyamoto believes the difficulties of pseudo 3D Mario games will be a thing of the past. Using floating platforms as an example, Miyamoto said: “In 2D it’s difficult to judge the distance, but in 3D it’s really easy.” He also said that the title is coming this year and echo earlier comments in an Iwata Asks feature about how it’ll be completely original. Adding to the promised originality will be the return of the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros 3 whose tail was seen in the logo shown at GDC. “The tail you mentioned on the logo – it’s what you think it is. You probably know what’s going to happen using that character,” said Miyamoto. Flying in Super Mario 3DS? Confirmed? Pretty much.

While he was at it, Miyamoto also confirmed the existence of a Wii successor but said even less about that, pleading for Edge not to ask anymore questions about it: “Don’t ask! Even when the Wii launched we were developing new hardware, work on 3DS had already started. It’s a matter of when we announce it. Please wait. Be patient until we decide.” No one ever thought for a minute that Nintendo wouldn’t be releasing another console but a lot of speculations were about simply a HD upgrade of existing hardware. From the latest rumours, the new system will be more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PS3, have the ability to play Wii games and a controller featuring a large HD touchscreen. Even if Nintendo weren’t planning on announcing anything about Project Cafe at E3, they may be forced to if more rumours keep surfacing. It could be another good year for Nintendo at E3 in June.

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.