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.

No lefty mode for Skyward Sword after all

For most things, I used my right hand but when the rise of shooters began on consoles around the late 90s, I became a southpaw gamer. The reason for such a turn of events was down to GoldenEye on the N64 and its control method. I chose to use the analog stick to aim while the C buttons controlled my movement and hence forth I was trapped in the world of the lefty. It was a weird place, not due to the company but rather the negativity that came with it. Like those who invert their controls, lefties who complained that a game had no southpaw support usually received an unhealthy amount of hate from the normos. And for a long old time, games that excluded left handed gamers from the control options were plentiful. Despite loving stealth action games, I never got into the Splinter Cell series for that very reason but I forced myself to relearn how to play games in order to play Gears of War and thankfully for my hobby, I’m no longer a lefty.

But southpaws had a leader, they had a character who kicked large amounts of butt all by slashing his sword with his left hand. He was Link and until his debut on the Wii, was a lefty. The percentage of Wii gamers however were not and since Twilight Princess had you waggling the Wii Remote to use the sword, it made more sense for Nintendo to make the new Link right handed. It didn’t matter too much because the precision was lacking in TP so gamers needed to do little more than shake their fists however, Link’s next adventure in Skyward Sword is different. It uses the Wii MotionPlus with added tracking for specific angled attacks. Originally, IGN reported that the game would have a lefty mode meaning not only would the player swap hands, so would Link but Kotaku has found out this isn’t the case.

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku and outed lefty didn’t feel the lack of a left handed mode made a huge difference to the game but if Nintendo want to go that little bit further in making players believed they’re assuming the role of Link, it wouldn’t have been much bother to simply swap hands depending on how your personally play Skyward Sword.

After all, it’s also been revealed that this new Zelda game was never meant to have motion controls, going back to using good old buttons instead (reports Siliconera). This I would have liked after not being a huge fan of waggle gaming (to clarify, I like the Wii and Nintendo games but don’t always appreciate shaking the remote or nunchuck when a button would be easier). After finishing Twilight Princess, producer Eiji Aonuma got to work on Skyward Sword with Hideomaro Fujibayashi directing. It was Fujibayashi who said to use Wii MotionPlus  but Aonuma wasn’t convinced until Wii Sports Resort was released and its mini games had similarities to some of Zelda‘s mechanics (like archery). Aonuma was satisfied but while this was going on, poor Ryuji Kobayashi was busy finishing Skyward Sword‘s combat using buttons. That was soon scrapped and replaced with what we have today, a full Wii MotionPlus experience. It’s a bit of a shame since I’ve been getting used to battling in Zelda with ease on the 3DS in Four Swords and Ocarina of Time and it would have been interesting to see if Skyward Sword would have played the same if it lacked motion support. Would you of had to fight enemies using specific strikes of the sword or was that added purely because of the added precision of Wii MotionPlus? And would removing that meant we’d get ‘just another’ Zelda game? Honestly, I don’t think I’d have minded if we did.

The return of the Wii

This year’s Gamescom, which is still in full swing, looks to be all about the shrinking of SKUs and their price tags. Sony announced a price drop on the PS3 to around £200 for the model with the smallest HDD (160GB) as well as the bizarre relaunched PSP which will have no Wifi connectivity, only UMDs and will cost £90. The move is a complete 180 to their last push for the PSP, the PSPgo that famously had no UMD support in an effort to create a market similar to that of Apple and Android where all games are bought digitally via PSN. That, for lack of a better word, failed leaving Sony to turn back to good old UMDs. After all, some companies didn’t even release their games onto PSN but did have disc-based versions. I can’t help but think Sony are flogging a dead horse by releasing yet another PSP when the PSVita is just around the corner but getting a device under £100 does strange things to people and seems to instigate fresh interest in old hardware. Good luck to them, the PSP was a great little handheld and deserved more support than it received.

Speaking of wanting to revitalise a disappearing platform, Nintendo too had a relaunch of their own, the new smaller Wii. It also looses something from the previous model, the ability to play GameCube games. That’s probably not a big deal what with some of the more popular titles having Wii ports and like Sony, Nintendo are hoping to do what they can to gain the most money out of the last few official months of a product’s lifecycle and streamlining features means less cost to produce and more profit to sell.

Along with the revealing of another Wii was the confirmation that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will be coming to stores on November 18th (20th in the US). Because of this, plus a price drop and the release of a new model, general manager of Nintendo Germany has told Reuters (via GoNintendo) that he believes the Wii will have a healthy and profitable Christmas:

“We have seen an enormous increase in sales since [the price cut] and this gives us another indication of what will happen in the Christmas season.”

It’s a definite possibility since many Wii owners have been clambering for the next home Zelda game ever since they finished Twilight Princess (I know I have) but most likely these people already own a Wii so won’t pick up a new console. That is unless they sold theirs after the lack of titles caused it to gain dust under the TV. A price drop and redesign could them see a lot of ex Wii owners pick up another console just to play Skyward Sword and then hopefully go on to play the other great games they’ve been missing, Like Donkey Kong Country Returns and GoldenEye 007 Wii. I am a little dubious as to whether consumers will buy a Wii just on the strength that it’s cheaper and smaller because the insane eBay bids and hysteria surrounding the system not too long ago would suggest anyone who really wanted a Wii already has one. But sales figures and the power of a brand often surprises me so who knows, this Christmas may be the right time for a lot of hesitant families to finally grab themselves a slice of Nintendo pie.

But that does bring up another question. If the new Wii does indeed sell exceptionally well would that impact the launch of the WiiU? There’s yet to be any firm date for the tablet-controlled console so Nintendo could still shuffle their early 2012 plans for hardware and unknown whether the sudden and severe price reduction on the 3DS has forced them to rethink the RRP for the WiiU. Nintendo may not have the luxury anymore to launch a device and make turn a profit straight away so if the GameCube-less Wii boosts sales they may want to coast on it until the very last minute. Then again, there’s pressure from Sony who are set to release the PSVita towards the end of the year in Japan and Q1 2012 for the rest of the world. The ability to link the PSVita to a PS3 would make it a potential competitor to the WiiU so Nintendo might not want to wait too long before unleashing their HD beast. So may questions, so many ‘what ifs’ but one thing’s for sure, the 3DS should enjoy a decent holiday. That at least is a little more certain.

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.

No 3D classics other than 3D Classics

Nintendo’s favourite game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, has been speaking with The Guardian about the future of the company and its games. One question arose regarding the adaptation of older Nintendo games to the 3DS since Ocarina of Time and Starfox 64 are receiving a three-dimensional lick of paint. His response was a little puzzling as it was a straight ‘no’: “Not really,” he said. “We would like to create more new titles. For example, this year we are making Super Mario 3D, but it’s not really a remake of [the Wii’s Super Mario] Galaxy. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past could be one of them. I think it would be good to see that world with a layered 3D effect.”

It’s great to see a company who are becoming famed for re-releasing experiences prefer to create something new rather than games we’ve all played before. I’m not knocking them it has to be said, I’ll jump on the next Mario Kart and Zelda game whenever they come out but Nintendo are very good at re-packaging older titles with new additions for a new market. What puzzles me slightly is how come the end of May when the eShop launches for the 3DS, a free, 3D updated version of ExciteBike will be included sparking the beginning of the 3D Classics Virtual Console? Maybe what Miyamoto is suggesting that Nintendo aren’t going to be completely remaking older games with the same level of polish as Ocarina of Time. That has had almost every asset re-made for the 3DS whereas ExciteBike and presumably the other 3D Classics are only having a layered 3D effect added. I say ‘only’ but am stoked at the chance to play a much-loved game of my youth in 3D.

Although Miyamoto’s comments sounded rather final, I would imagine if the audience demanded it, Nintendo could be persuaded to re-make a few of their hits from yesteryear. Miyamoto did mention The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past in his quote. One avid fan has gone so far as to create stereoscopic 3D images (via MyNintendoNews) using classic GameCube and Wii titles and the result ranges from good to stunning. Viewed via the 3DS (by downloading the images and copying them to an SD Card) games like F-Zero and Super Smash Bros Brawl show the potential for some truly great throwbacks without all the effort of re-doing every asset. But of course with E3 around the corner, who knows what Nintendo will show – other than Project Cafe. After skipping the Wii, F-Zero could very well make a comeback in the form of a brand new game on the young handheld. Well, here’s hoping 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.

Manually redundant

In recent years the video game manual, a once prized possession in any young gamer’s back pack has shrivelled into something barely reflecting its former self. Publishers have lost faith in the paper based medium and last year, Ubisoft decided to do away with the traditional manual in favour for an electronic version. EA have just recently announced (via Gamespot) their rejection of printed tree-pulp leaving few companies to either follow suit or maintain the status quo. Those who bought either Mass Effect 2 for the PS3 or Fight Night Champion may have noticed the lack of manual in the box and addition of a virtual one on the discs but if you didn’t notice, it really just proves the point that a paper version is no longer needed.

Younger gamers probably won’t be all too fussed about the loss of an instructional booklet but being a child of the 80s, I remember when manuals were cool, feature rich documents that let you immerse yourself into the game world even when your platform of choice was no where to be seen. The car trips or school lunch breaks would always be a good place to brush up on your knowledge, usually bypassing the very first few pages which showed button configuration and onto those which gave background info on characters and settings. They were for me, the prelude to a game.

But for a number of years the manual is but an afterthought with few publishers savouring the chance to use them as extended fiction for an IP and merely regurgitate information readily available on screen. Rockstar are a newer company who know how to make a good manual though and games like GTA or Red Dead Redemption contain what can easily be imagined as documents plucked from the game itself. Maps on the backs of posters or booklets made to look like tourist guides, these are the kind of manuals that get people looking and talking about your game harkening back to the classic gaming literature found in early Zelda or Mario titles.

EA want to be more green however and along with the removal of paper, they’ll soon be using DVD case that are easier to package games. But doesn’t that suggest that these games are disposable? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a hoarder – or collector – that I tend not to think of throwing out my old games but I’m sure there are enough people who treat their games differently, either trading them in or eventually chucking them out after a few years or even months. I can’t really blame EA for wanting to rid themselves of what has become a waste of time and money but I do blame the majority of publishers for letting them get that way. I’ll get over it, I mean I’ll have to when eventually we’re all downloading our games without even a disc let alone paper manual!