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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Chronicling success

Currently taking two-thirds of the world by storm at the moment is JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii. I say two-thirds because for some reason, despite claiming they’re still all about the hardcore, Nintendo have been reluctant to release the game in the US. WIth internet campaigns and petitions doing the rounds, American Wii gamers received a slither of hope when region president Reggie Fils-Aime said the company are looking closely at the European sales of Xenoblade Chronicles to gauge whether or not they will listen to the thousands of voices all shouting for it to be released stateside.

Last Friday saw the debut of Xenoblade Chronicles and online retailer ShopTo.net revealed that demand was so high, they were unable to fulfil all the orders straight away with stock supplies running low. That certainly bodes well for the US. Now, after the first weekend of sales, the all format chart for the week ending 20th August shows the massive RPG came in at a respectable number seven (via GamePro). It may not have been as high as Nintendo would’ve preferred to see but five out of the six games above it all appear on multiple platforms so their numbers were likely to be higher. Strip away that variable leaving the individual formate chart and Xenoblade Chronicles looks a damn sight better at number three.

I tried to pick up a copy over the weekend with little luck as everywhere I tried appeared to have sold out. It’s still available via some online retailers and with such rave reviews hopefully Xenoblade Chronicles won’t only stay in the charts for a while but will also be ported over to NSTC discs relatively soon. I find it odd that Nintendo of America wouldn’t want to at least give the game a shot in the US, especially when the types of people who are attracted to the kind of experience it offers are also the hardcore fan base loyal to Nintendo systems. But then again, Nintendo isn’t really in the position to just test things at the moment and in pure business terms, the money raised by selling the game isn’t guaranteed to cover the cost of bringing it to the US. I always find it weird when you read posts about how gamers are almost duty bound to support a game but in the case of Xenoblade Chronicles, I myself do feel some kind of necessity to buy it in order for other to enjoy. What’s the worst that can happen? I end up with one of the most highly praised JRPGs to come out in this generation. I can live with that.

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.

Nintendo E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Before Nintendo’s press event began, I readied my 3DS for the long-awaited firmware update and eShop scheduled for today. I hoped that during the conference, Nintendo would reveal some special download available as an E3 treat of sorts and they did just that. Kind of…

The show started with an orchestra playing a medley of music from The Legend of Zelda series. It was great to hear such classic tunes in such a classical way and as Shigeru Miyamoto pointed out when he came on stage, music is an important part of any Zelda game. But onto the eShop treat and as of today, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening will be available to download. Yes, okay, we knew that was coming but another reason to check out the eShop nonetheless.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata teased information regarding their new system all through the conference but hesitated to mention anything until the last third. Until then, he and his colleagues focused on the 3DS showing a reel of games coming to the handheld such as Mario Kart 3D, Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario 3D, Kid Icarus and the surprise announcement, Luigi’s Mansion 2. An actual sequel to the critically acclaimed GameCube game with brand new locations and multiple mansions to explore. I never got round to playing the first game but it’s one of those titles that Nintendo fans always wished would get a sequel. And now it has. Mario Kart 3D looked a lot like the Wii version mixing old and new tracks but this time all in 3D. I’ll definitely buy it, probably get royally peed off by the blue shells and enemy AI but still love it to bits. Super Mario 3D once again treads within familiar Mario territory and is a cross between New Super Mario Bros and Galaxy if the gameplay video was anything to go by. And the inclusion of the Tanooki suit is now official. Joy! Another game that had fans pandering for a sequel was Kid Icarus and the latest footage of that looked really very slick. Quick, fast past action akin to Sin and Punishment. Sounds good huh? It’ll also feature a multiplayer mode for three-n-three matches as well as AR card battles.

That was the first party line up but what of third parties? Nintendo were quick to plaster publisher names everywhere at last E3 so this time we expect some actual footage. And we got a bit. A montage of games spooled across the big screen showing things like Resident Evil Revelations, Tekken 3D, Ace Combat 3D (Woo!!), and Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D. What’s more is that part of Nintendo’s eShop will house demos of both 3DS downloadable games and store bought titles. Hooray! Nintendo have finally learnt the importance of having demos readily available.

But the big announcement of the night was of course the new system. The successor to the Wii. The brand new way to interact with games. The future of both casual and hardcore experiences. The Wii U…. The wha? Yep, Nintendo went for a name more like a child’s impression of a fire engine than legitimate console but, like we learned at Sony’s press conference, there really is no good way to name your device anymore. More importantly, the way you control the Wii U is its real asset. It’s basically a tablet with buttons. For months, it’s been rumoured such a controller exists but no one really quite believed it. A touchscreen in the middle of a controller surrounded by buttons, a d-pad and analog sticks? Are you mad? I guess so because that’s just what we’re getting. The device isn’t a replacement for the 3DS, that would be ludicrous, it needs the Wii U unit, which looks like a smaller, rounded Wii, to stream information to it lag free (or so Nintendo promises) so you can either play games on the controller instead of your HD TV or together with it. There’s an immediate gimmicky quality about that but really, the potential for this new piece of hardware is through the roof. If the right developer can get hold of it, we could see some very interesting ideas.

Graphically, the Wii U will be comparable to the Xbox 360 and PS3 but Nintendo didn’t give any specifics on its power. They did show a video supposedly representative of what it can do which looked like something you’d see on today’s HD systems but it’s hard to really say since it was a show reel not in-game footage. But to show that Nintendo weren’t kidding when they said about appealing to every gamer not just the casual, they finished off the initial announcement videos of Wii Sports-like titles and went on to show a load of third party, hardcore releases that can also be found on the other HD systems like Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham city, Ghost Recon online, Assassins Creed, Dirt, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Metro Last Light, Tekken and Ninja Gaiden 3. Most if not all those games were gory in one way or another but the fact they’re coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3 means whatever fancy way of utilising the new controller can’t be too obscure otherwise Nintendo would be right back where they are with the Wii forcing devs to make alternative version of their games rather than straight ports.

All in all, Nintendo once again had the best press conference of all three major platform holders because of the first party titles and interesting new console. But from now on we can confidently mention third party games in that list of exiting reveals at a Nintendo conference. The Wii U should not only rid Nintendo of the gap between their hardware and everyone else’s but add a whole new and intriguing way experience its games. Well, that’s my hope for it anyway…

Another PlayStation? Who’d a thunk it?

I don’t mean to alarm you but Sony are currently busy at work on the PlayStation 4. I know, shocking that a platform holder would be thinking of another console when the current gen is already half way through its predicted lifecycle… Okay, enough of my churlish sarcasm, Sony executive vice president and chief financial officer Masaru Kato was questioned at a recent earnings report on the increase in costs for research and development. His answer referenced prototyping and developing of video games and of course the NGP device which is still scheduled for a 2011 release. A new handheld with such power would naturally eat up a lot of R&I costs. Kato also said regardless of how long the PS3 has left, Sony are a platform holder who are looking towards a future platform with the work already under way (via Gamespot).

I can’t imagine any kind of announcement coming in this E3 other than maybe, just maybe a code name for the inevitably named PS4. But even then that feels too early. This is the generation of the ten year cycle with the PS2 actually reaching such a milestone just last year. It was never really thought a console released in 2000 would continue to sell as well as it has which is why expectation for the HD generation were scaled up, subsequently meaning the first real signs of a PS4 and next Xbox won’t be until 2012-13 at the earliest. Nintendo on the other hand are in a completely different situation with the Wii. On release, the hardware was already going out of date so a small step to at least support HD has been expected for some time. And now we’re getting just that with Project Cafe, officially unveiling in just over a weeks time.

There’s still so much untapped potential in the current HD consoles and a recent addition of motion controls too so I’d be surprised if anyone is clambering for a successor anytime soon. But above everything else, you’d hope that at the very least, backwards compatibility will come as standard to all models whenever they do show themselves. Wishing for HD remakes is never as good as having the option to play games from your existing collection.

New details trickle out for top 3DS games

The launch of Nintendo’s 3DS may not have been as game-packed as some would have liked but there are at least one or two games that are worth picking up. As the months roll on and the surprising April sunshine gradually becomes a rain-soaked December, the 3DS will have had a good number of first party titles, the life blood of any Nintendo system. Speaking at a French press event (via VG247), Shirgeru Miyamoto revealed that the next Mario Kart will be arriving by the end of the year. Choosing not to say any more regarding Mario Kart 3D, Miyamoto turned his attentions to Star Fox 64 3D which he says is finished and has gyro support giving “a new dimension to the game.” The same was said about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D whom also includes gyro capabilities for such weapons as the bow and runs at 30 frames per second instead of the original 20 which will make the game appear a lot smoother.

Miyamoto spoke about Super Mario 3D saying it will be fully unveled at E3 and is currently heavily in development. As before, he explained how the game will be a cross between Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy and added New Super Mario Bros too saying that the camera will be fixed allowing Mario to run into the screen or towards it giving the illusion of depth.

Along with Mario Kart 3D, Star Fox 64, Ocarina of Time 3D, and not forgetting Kid Icarus, Super Mario 3D has been promised by the end of 2011. Five top franchises all making their way to the 3DS in its first year and that doesn’t include all the third party game which are said to be coming too. The 3DS should have a rich and diverse twelve months ahead of it. But what lies beyond that? Third party developers will no doubt still create titles and as the system grows in popularity so will the number of games but Nintendo are doing something similar to the launch of the Wii. Throughout 2007 and 2008 (the Wii hit stores in December 2006) Nintendo released at least eight triple A titles (Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Paper Mario, Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Animal Crossing) and for a company whose platforms survive on first party games, you’d expect to high number of them. But compare that to now where there’s little if any games coming to the Wii and it seems support is drying up. Could it be the quiet before the storm of Project Cafe or Wii 2? Probably though there are those who believe the Wii may have piqued too early leaving only a handful of games to be excited about.

On the other hand, Nintendo lead the way with games, making sure our waggle machines were more than just, well, waggle machines and giving us the franchises that hold a dear place in our hearts early on and expanded on them. Nintendo could be doing the same with the 3DS only this time they’ve said particularly with launch games that they want third party devs to take centre stage and not have to feel as if they’re fighting with their games for attention. A gallant move and one that will hopefully pay off.

If anything can be said about the 3DS launch it’s that developers needn’t shy away from the system or think their games won’t work. Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV 3D is often praised for utilising all the features of the 3DS while looking and playing great too. One friend tells me this on an almost daily basis (You know who you are!). So the fact we’re getting five top Nintendo releases in year one of the 3DS is definitely a good thing as I’m hoping come 2012-13 enough third party devs will be on churning out quality games so that the system is no longer reliant on its parent company to provide us the entertainment we’ve paid so much for.