GTAV

Less than a week after the modern take on Grand Theft Auto turns 10, Rockstar Games has announced GTAV by no more than a simple Tweet containing the hashtag #GTAV. Right now, the only thing known about Grand Theft Auto V is the logo that adorns Rockstar’s website with the first trailer scheduled for next Wednesday. Don’t expect much footage however, the publisher tends to tease their products by artistically crafted snippets but it’ll be enough to get many major sites scanning it frame by frame to see what’s hiding within. The five in the logo is reminiscent of a that found on an American five dollar bill. Whether that is any indication of what to expect is anyone’s guess.

One of the many older rumours surrounding GTAV was that it could well be a launch title for Nintendo’s Wii U and the timing of this announcement may well support that rumour. Latest educated guesses is that the Wii U will launch next Summer of Holiday season which is around the time I’d expect to see another GTA since the fourth game came out in 2008. But who knows, this trail of thought could go on for ages so lets just see what next Wednesday has in store.

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How long is too long for a demo?

How long would you like your demos to last? Enough to get a good sense of the game? Enough to leave you wanting more? How about long enough to actually complete it? That’s what one PSP game is offering. According to Famitsu (via Kotaku), the PSP’s version of Ragnarok, an online strategy RPG, the demo released by GungHo Online Entertainment lasted around 16 hours allowing the publication to see on of the many endings. And that’s why this model works for Ragnarok, because if people want to see the other ones they’d have to purchase the full game. If you fancy giving it a go, the demo can be downloaded here.

Technically, this can be considered a freemium model which may not be big on consoles, but is something that’ll have to be considered in the long run. The PSP has already had a freemium game and again it’s an RPG. Bakumatsu Revolution could be downloaded from PSN and then distributed among PSPs via wireless connectivity. A genius way of virally spreading your game inside a tight community and then charging for additional quests and loot thereafter. Sony seem more keen to adopt the freemium model than other platform holders and are even changing PlayStation Home to incorporate free-to-play games.

Microsoft initially appear less than on board with the freemium model. When Dungeon Fighter Online comes to XBLA, the current plan is that it won’t be the free-to-play version seen on PCs but a fully paid-for game. However, in June, several sources claimed Microsoft was collecting data and discussing the possibility to bring free-to-play games to the 360 where gamers exchanged MS Points for in-game items. Maybe Dungeon Fighter Online will stay a freemium game after all.

Nintendo is adamant that free-to-play games will not be a feature of their consoles. Time and time again Satoru Iwata has scoffed at the idea of this model so don’t expect to see any on the 3DS or Wii U which could make them less relevant to gamers in the near future. On the nearest supposed contender to Nintendo, the App Store, in-app purchases and free-to-play games account for 72 per cent of its revenue. Like it or not (and I don’t), the freemium model is very big business and a better way for console publishers to combat piracy and pre-owned sales than DRM or pre-order bonuses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation of consoles focused on this type of gaming pushing us almost entirely into a digital distribution. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not

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?

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.

New Zelda not necessarily the new Zelda

Cast your minds back if you will to the close of one century and beginning of the next. The time when Nintendo announced the GameCube at Space World 2000 and with it, a few technical spec videos one of which showing a realistic (for the time) looking Link battling a detailed Ganondorf in what was then thought as the next Legend of Zelda game. A year later, Wind Waker was revealed to be the official heir and the video shown alongside the GameCube was purely for show. Some people were pissed at the new cel-shaded art style instead of a more mature-looking Zelda but personally, Wind Waker is one of the best looking titles in the franchise and I’m not alone in that train of thought. Train being an appropriate word since the art style continued from Wind Waker, through Phantom Hourglass and onto Spirit Tracks on the DS.

This year’s E3 shares similarities to Nintendo’s Space World in 2000. Both saw new consoles, the GameCube and now Wii U and both had new looking Zelda games that according to producer Eiji Aonuma, don’t necessarily reflect what the final game will look like. Speaking with Wired (via Kotaku) about the Wii U and its E3 announcement, Aonuma called for a level of calm when discussing the next Zelda: “So when we show a graphic demo, people think, ‘Oh, this is what the next Zelda will look like,’ but that’s not necessarily the case.” The words are by no means final but if the video seen at E3 did resemble the final version, I don’t think Aonuma would be dismissive of it in this way.

Is it really such a big deal? Companies do this all the time with the Wind Waker switcheroo possibly the most famous. And more recently, Techland gave the impression that Dead Island was to be a poignant emotionally destructive experience through its debut video but positive previews claim it’s more slapstick than touching. I think for the Wii U’s Zelda showing, it was the first time anyone had seen Link in full HD and since a lot of buzz around the console is its ability to play high definition graphics, so when seeing an HD battle between the green-clothed hero and one mega arachnid, thoughts would naturally be filled with “omg, a Zelda like that would be awesome!”And it would be but Aonuma’s comments suggesting we should not expect it to look anything like that new infamous Zelda video is probably to try and avoid any angry fist-waving when Zelda Wii U is officially unveiled.

The middle-aged Xbox

More often than not, platform holders develop and release a new system way before its predecessor has really come of age and it’s usually towards the end of this imposed life cycle that developers really understand the power and architecture of a console. So it came as a bit of a surprise when both Microsoft and Sony said enough’s enough, this generation is built to last at least ten years. Since the Xbox 360 just past its fifth year anniversary last November, that would suggest it’s about half way through its life. Chris Lewis, emea vp of Xbox reminded every one of that fact when talking with MCV (via Videogamer) and how the release of Kinect has will help the 360 go the distance.

“Xbox is defying the normal curve you might expect,” he said. “There’s no doubt that Kinect put a huge shot of adrenaline into the business.” This week’s all format chart can support Lewis’ statement as it sees 505 Games’ Zumba Fitness for Kinect stick firmly in the number one spot with a 33 per cent week-on-week sales spike. It’s amusing that health and fitness has become such a huge part of gaming considering gamers are usually depicted as lazy, unfit layabouts. But then realistically, the types who gobble up such games aren’t necessarily the traditional gamer and Microsoft know this: “What we are now seeing is massive swathes of families and younger audiences flocking to it. As you saw at the press conference, we are now in line with what we projected at E3 2010,” Lewis added.

It was feared, and still is by some, that these casual games will consume the industry leaving little or no meaningful experiences for the rest of us as publishers clamber to make the next Wii Fit – or in this case, Zumbe Fitness. However, it’s evident from this year’s E3 that the core gamer is still incredibly important. After all, casual consolers tend not to buy numerous games a year and even if they do, they’re more likely to be the budget party games. Nintendo’s development of the Wii U shows how they’re very keen to get the hardcore back on board with their system and in Microsoft’s case, there was a good number of titles either being enhanced by or exclusive to Kinect that didn’t involve a handful of mini-games. And before more neigh-sayers prophecies the destruction of traditional franchises, Lewis underlined a point which until now has been more common sense than fact :“What you will see is us using Kinect to enhance the experience and not detract from it. I don’t think our core gamers will tolerate anything else from us.”

Back to the point at hand, can the Xbox 360 last another five or six years? With such an emphasis on Kinect I believe it could well do so. It’s a bit alien for the games industry too that a peripheral has become so popular but since the Kinect is selling like hot, delicious cakes (or is that refreshingly cool ice cream what with today’s temperature…) and working incredibly well with this generation of Xbox, there isn’t a great need to upgrade any time soon. Contrasting this however is the widening gap between top end PC and even PS3 graphics and those on the Xbox 360 plus the use of DVDs rather than bigger media like Blu Rays. It wasn’t all that apparent for a good number of years but in the last few more games have come out looking ‘better’ on the PS3 and when a beautiful game like Crysis 2 is being criticised for not being as pretty as it could be, we could be nearing another imposed end of life cycle. What would you rather have? A new system in the next couple of years that is compatible with the current Kinect or a wait of around five to six solar cycles with said peripheral potentially being the driving force?

Reasons for not owning a 3DS – solved!

What I took from Nintendo’s E3 press conference was a feeling of excitement for the future of its hardware. The Wii U may have a silly name but the controller itself looks like it could be a lot of fun and full of potential for developers. The 3DS has a number of first party games heading its way which usually means gamers will be in for a treat since Nintendo titles are rarely a bad thing.

However Sony are nipping at their heels with the PSVita, the all powerful dual-analog PSP successor that’s set to launch later this year for exactly the same price as the 3DS, $249. Nintendo were wise to release their handheld so early, avoiding too much comparison to the PSVita because at the time, its details were sparse. But was it too early? Did Nintendo shoot themselves in the foot by launching the 3DS without all the glitz and glam we’ve come to expect from a new piece of hardware? Nintendo of America boss, Reggie Fils-Aime doesn’t think so. He told Kotaku that day one sales for the 3DS were very strong as they were for the first week. There was a lot of love for the device from the people who bought one. But it was the people who didn’t that interested Nintendo more and when asked why they hadn’t parted with their cash, the response summarised the two main issues with the 3DS that Reggie believes has now been addressed; no big first party title and a weakened online experience. The missing eShop was apparently a bigger deal than initially thought.

In terms of a big first party game, I think Nintendo may have overestimated the appeal of Nintendogs + Cats. That was their big-hitter for launch but unlike the original Nintendogs, didn’t get systems flying off shelves. But now The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is out, Reggie is confident it will scratch the itch of anyone hungry for a Nintendo classic. And the coming months only brings more of these potential hits. “We’re going to follow with a steady drumbeat of Star Fox and Kid Icarus and two Mario titles (Super Mario 3D and Super Mario Kart 3D) and the Luigi title (Luigi’s Mansion 2).” That’s all well and good but the downside of course is the 3DS could then become just another Nintendo player with all the buzz surrounding their games and not those of third parties. Part of the reason why the big N didn’t release a true triple A game at launch was so that said parties weren’t then competing with Nintendo for sales. Commendable yes but evidently not what the consumers wanted.

As for the online experience, Reggie was defiant that the lacklustre efforts of last generation tech was a thing of the past. “We’ve just done the first network update. We’ve got the eShop up and running. We’ve got the 3D movie service still on track for the summer. We’ve got Netflix still on track for the summer. So I think we’re well underway to having that addressed as well,” he said adding, “we’re going to be back with strong momentum on the 3DS.” The eShop is considerably impressive compared to what we were given on the DSi and Wii. It kicked off with some great games and hopefully will continue to do so plus a 3D movie trailer for the Green Lantern begins the motion picture content Reggie speaks of. There is still the Aardman Animations exclusive shorts supposedly coming to the store plus 3D TV streaming from Sky so more interesting stuff on the way. But it’s still quite out of reach at the moment so not a back-of-box bullet point just yet.

Now that the two main objections for buying a 3DS have been rectified, will it be plain sailing from here on? I hope so for our sake but what is always going to be challenging for Nintendo is getting the message across to non-gaming enthusiasts that the 3DS isn’t a slightly upgraded DS but a whole lot more. You can’t show stereoscopic 3D through traditional adverts and the online functionality needs to be experienced first hand really. Back to the main point, did the 3DS launch before it was ready? I guess the argument really is doesn’t every system?