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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The force unleashed on Star Wars Kinect

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Praise be! After pondering for many a minute whether what Microsoft showed for Star Wars Kinect was real or another concept demo (my polite way of saying fake), CVG captured real people really playing the game. For real.

The footage shows two people playing through the live demo from Microsoft’s press conference on Monday proving the competence of the game, even if it is a little laggy in places. But that’s to be expected from a game still in development that uses motion controls. The bigger question is not how well it will work as it’s bound to be tighter before it ships this Christmas but who the game is aimed at. It was pegged as one of the hardcore experiences for Kinect yet from the graphics and what we can understand from the gameplay, it’s quite a casual kind of game. That’s not bad and I even think someone referred to Star Wars Kinect as the peripheral’s Infinity Blade which may not be a bad thing either. Taking away the running around and leaving just lightsabre battling and force powers as if some kind of semi on-rails brawler sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Microsoft kinect with developers

When Microsoft launched their Kinect, they optimistically set a sales figure at the five million mark, hoping to make a dent in the competitors’ market. Come January the platform holder announced the peripheral had sold in excess of eight million units within its first 60 days showing that regardless of price, the consumers were willing to adopt a new playing style. Some of the sales can and should be accredited to the legion of modders who have made all kinds of weird and wonderful experiments with Kinect but as I found over the weekend after buying one myself, the more casual audience love it.

Because of the Kinect’s proven popularity, Microsoft told CVG that developer interest has spiked with them now believing it can be a profitable venutre: “Interest has absolutely spiked [since Christmas]. We were excited about Kinect going into the holidays when we released it but I think we even exceeded our own expectations. It’s great to see developers coming back and saying ‘wow, this is a serious platform’ – the numbers speak for themselves. We’re selling consoles faster than we ever have. We’re selling Kinect in massive numbers… So it creates an opportunity for [developers].”

The absence of developer names is a little concerning but not unexpected. They’ll announce projects when the time is right for them to do so. But it would have been reassuring if a few first party titles were named, however. All sorts of rumours are swirling around the net about a Gears of War Kinect game with Kotaku allegedly bagging themselves photographic evidence and that was enough to get people talking. Some more hints to that effect would suffice.

There are a couple of things on the horizon for Kinect which have piqued gamers’ interest in varying ways. Double Fine recently revealed their Once Upon a Monster, a game aimed at kids in the world of Sesame Street. A company like Double Fine is sure to add a few hooks for the older player though or at least I’m hoping they are to give me an excuse to try it out! Twisted Pixel will releasing Gunstringer sometime this year and from early footage, it’s being dubbed as the first hardcore game for the peripheral. Its success will be eagerly monitored as to whether traditionally controller-based experiences can be achieved just by waving your hands. I think they just may be able to crack it you know…

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.

Kinect just got Epic

One of the reasons why Microsoft’s Kinect has been so very popular is because of the family focused games but as if to counter that, it’s also been the reason why the core audience has shied away from the device. Rumours have been circling the web about the possibility of Microsoft’s hardest of hardcore titles getting a Kinect game but as of yet, a hands-free Gears of War is still steeped in speculations. Today, they’re getting one step closer to reality with a trusted source telling Kotaku that a Gears game is coming to Kinect and it will be an on-rails shooter. An image has even been sourced of an early concept using Gears of War 2 assets.

Trusted sources can always be taken with a pinch of salt but Kotaku aren’t the kind of site to follow up empty leads and there has been a few anomalies regarding Gears in the last few months. At last year’s VGAs, a surprising Gears of War reveal was planned but pulled at the last minute because the timing wasn’t right. When the rumours about a Kinect game first came about, Cliff Bleszinski tweeted there would be “No Kinect in Gears of War 3,” though didn’t rule out the existence of another Gears specifically for Kinect. As of last month, Epic own the trademark for something called Gears of War: Exile but haven’t announced anything or even confirmed such a thing.

But is Gears of War suited for a controller-less experience? If it is on-rails chances are the game will be a shooting gallery of sorts though the famous cover mechanic would be an interesting implementation. Physically ducking in and out of cover may work like it has done for certain arcade shooters and if done correctly, chainsawing Locusts could be very satisfying. Though to be honest, I’d prefer if it were something different altogether, something new to gaming like Kinect, or rather its success at being a hands-free controller. Classic on-rails shooters are great but this device has the potential to treat the genre in brand new ways. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

What do the 3DS and Kinect have in common?

With the development of Conduit 2 coming to an end for its March 25th release date, what a team like High Voltage Software to do with their time? Port the admirably ambitious first game over to the 3DS of course! Eric Nofsinger of High Voltage spoke with Eurogamer revealing how a lot of resources are now focused on making this happen but the development is in very early stages. The lower resolution of the 3DS compared to Wii is masked by having a smaller screen and even in such an early phase, Nofsinger said how well it runs both 2D and full 3D. Nothing will be shown until this year’s GDC but the initial stages are sounding very good. The Conduit wasn’t the best Wii shooter but certainly a promising start, offering the chance to play a solid multiplayer FPS on a system lacking in said genre. The passion that High Voltage has for treating the Wii and its gamers like a legitimate receptor for these types of games is indeed praiseworthy. A publisher is still needed before The Conduit 3DS will become a reality but when Sega are handling both Wii games, it’s likely they’ll take on the 3DS one too. And hopefully it won’t be a long wait since there hasn’t been any real FPS games announced for Nintendo’s next handheld. Without any competition in the genre, Sega and High Voltage could be sitting on a must-have for those picking up a system wanting to satisfy their itch for on and offline shooting. Especially with the new and improved Friend Code implementation and connectivity options on the 3DS.

The studio didn’t stop with the mini-announcements and today leaked their involvement in a new, unnamed Kinect-enabled game for publisher 2K Games. Nofsinger said that it’s a licensed game and won’t purely be controlled by Kinect, so you don’t need one to play. Norsinger was quick to play down the idea that it could be that ‘killer-app’ for Kinect with all the potentially damaging hype that comes with such a claim. It’s probably best to not even think of it as a Kinect game and more like a Xbox 360 title with possible Kinect features: “This game works well with or without the Kinect. It’s supported as a device, so if you have the device it works very well, but I don’t think it’s this brilliant, genius idea,” he said. But he shouldn’t be too hard on whatever it could be just yet. Having a hands-free peripheral with the games it has is fine and a good laugh though a title that uses the device in more opportune moments, leaving traditional gameplay to be handled by a traditional controller would be a perfect balance of styles. These are purely my thoughts or wishes if you will and no further details were given at this time by Nofsinger. Again, GDC is when we’re likely to hear anymore. Intriguing though isn’t it?

Riccitiello’s moving comments

I do like John Riccitiello. Mainly because he’s willing to share his views regarding the video game industry with anyone who’ll listen and his comments spark a lot of interesting debates. The latest musings from the boss of EA are his feelings towards motion controls and whether he believes they’ll ever replace the standard controller. The short answer is no but Riccitiello does see that type of gameplay carving out its own market and taking with it a few existing genres. Speaking with IndustryGamers, Riccitiello spoke of his cautious optimism towards both Move and Kinect with their gesture-based controls actually being a superior way to play certain genres like music, dance and exercise games, “It’s really hard to imagine an exercise game with your thumbs,” he said though the pedantic would point out that true exercise and dance games are a result of motion-based peripherals, superseding those that use plastic floor mats which are arguably just controllers played with your feet.

He added that the idea of solely using motion controls for games like first person shooters isn’t something he’d like to see: “It’s really hard to imagine that I’m going to play a future edition of Medal of Honor, or Call of Duty, or Battlefield, hiding behind my couch, making a gun out of my finger. I’ve tried driving with gesture-based controls; I don’t really like it.” A great example of this is GoldenEye for the Wii. A brilliant shooter that does a good job of using the Wii remote and nunchuck but is still ultimately best played using the classic controller. Riccitiello hypothesised that in the future we could see a merging of hands-free and controller-based gameplay with certain genres combining both mechanics while others only using one of the other. Again, Nintendo have shown that this concept can work remarkably well with their inspiring Super Mario Galaxy franchise. A perfect blend of traditional gaming methods with the waggle added for positive effect instead of shoehorning it in.

The concern Riccitiello has is just how long can gesture-based games last and whether gamers will buy enough of them to make it a worthwhile investment for developers. He uses his family as an example saying that games that primarily use motion controls aren’t ones that are revisited often with only one or two one the go at any one time. Compare that to traditional controlled games and how he could be playing through three or four at once, swapping between them all without viewing them as a novelty experience. Though that could just be down to a volume of quality titles. Take the Christmas season for Wii games. It was full of great titles and in fact is the system I play the most at the moment as I try and work through all of them. In the next few months however I’ll no doubt be going back to my Xbox 360 and PS3 as a wave of triple A releases are on the way.

But Riccitiello is right, motion controls simply won’t replace traditional methods for a number or reasons and I don’t think any of the three platform holders plan to either. Microsoft has always said that Kinect is an addition to the Xbox 360 rather than a successor to the game pad and while their focus on marketing is towards the new peripheral, none of their top franchises are being forced to use gesture-based controls. Sony may have been reported to emphasise the Move over their Dualshock 3 for certain games but again have only really used it where it seems a natural fit. Like LittleBigPlanet 2 for example. Riccitiello is more interested in what happens by the end of the year and if Kinect and Move will receive that killer app to make believers out of the cynics, “what’s going to trigger the hot game? What’s going to use Kinect in just that way?” Something like Infinity Blade maybe…