Nintendo eGames Keynote

The Nintendo keynote was far more enjoyable than the Sony one. The company spiel was short, sweet and concise. In fact they mentioned that it would be short (implying that the Sony was long and boring). Then a few demos, a run through the channel interface, and an in-depth look at Zelda. Rose Lappin talked about the concept of Wii and how it fits into Nintendo’s plans.

Essentially, Nintendo’s plan is to attract what they call, drift gamers, that is people who used to play games, but no longer play, e.g. 80s arcade players. To do this, they offer intuitive interfaces, starting with the DS and now with the Wii. They believe that the Wii interface is relevant for everyone; it ignores pas experience with games and puts everyone on an even level.

Rose also highlighted that the Nintendo WiFi connection makes is simple for people to quickly and freely play games online and that 2 million people have used the service on the DS that is now going to be used by the Wii.

It was also made clear that the word ‘Wii’ makes people giggle. Especially when used in sentences like “we want you to hold the Wii”.

Then they started the good stuff. The concept behind the Wii channels interface is that it is a logical extension of a normal TV. Therefore people who are picking up a console for the first time can use it easily and intuitively. Each channel is a box on the screen. You just point at the channel and press A to access the channel. And everything is on the opening screen.

Different Channels:

  • Mii – your personal avatar that can be used in some games and can be placed on your wiimote to take to a friend’s house.
  • Wii shop – shop for virtual console games. When a new game is purchased, it becomes its own channel, and it is always there. The purchase of a game is linked to the console and can be redownloaded if deleted.
  • Photo – photos can be viewed of an SD card and can be edited using simple editor Moving wiimote closer to screen makes paint brush bigger etc
  • Disc – any discs (Game cube and Wii) in console will be launched. This will also include DVDs when the functionality is added.
  • Weather/news -localised news/weather. The hope is that this function will draw the drift gamers and parents etc to the console and from this move on to games etc
  • Message board/calendar – again to draw in new users same as Weather/news. Can also send emails and messages to other Wiis with pictures.
  • Internet – opera browser built from the ground up. Will use the wiimote as mouse/keyboard but will also be used for zoom as resolution of wii output it low, same as picture move controller closer to zoom in etc

New functionality can and will be added all the time and will be added as channels. All weather/news/virtual console download/new functions will download when console is ‘off’ using connect24 because the console is never really off, just in a sort of standby. Therefore, when you turn the console ‘on’ the channels come up instantly as the console was never really off.

The audience was then treated to a demo of Wii Tennis and Boxing. Tennis is always ways fun. Interesting things to note are that swing with a proper swing and it will play much better, that sound effects of the racket hitting the ball come through the wiimote and that the players are your Mii avatars. Boxing use the nunchuck controller as your left hand and the right is the wiimote. The gloves move as your hands move.

Nintendo want to stress that the wii is not for little kids, nor a gimmick, and that their launch lineup is the biggest of all time, and the “launch game of all launch games” Zelda, which they describe as better than ocarina of time and hence the best game of all time is a testimate to this.

We were then all treated to a demo of Zelda, which was the E3 build, but with the new control system which I can say from experience is great. The wiimote creates the ability to control different gameplay situations intuitively and Zelda serves up a wide range of gameplay situation. One of these (apart from normal play) is fishing, which, while looks ridiculous doing, actually recreates the actions of fishing very accurately. Well, that is coming from someone who has fished maybe 15 times in his life. The speaker in the wiimote is also used very well. For example, when using the bow, the sounds of the bow being pulled back and letting the arrow go are player through the wiimote, and the sound of the arrow hitting a target comes from the TV. This really adds to immersion, an interactive surround sound if you will.

They ended the keynote by throwing limited edition lanyons and T-shirts with Wii written on them. The keynote was fun. There were jokes, they didn’t take it seriously, and just talked about the games as though it was a conversation between friends. It was informative, and instilled a degree of belief in what Nintendo is doing. Plus Wii makes people giggle.

17 November, 2006 at 10:19 pm 2 comments

Microsoft eGames Keynote

The Microsoft keynote was great. It was loaded with new news, walkthrough of live anywhere, walkthrough of the new TV/Music/Movies download marketplace. David McLean, the regional director of Microsoft Australia and New Zealand.

First there was a run through of the Xbox 360 and live in Australia. First 100k Xbox 360s have been sold in Australia, 30% more than the PS2 in the same time period. There is an attach rate of 4 games per console. There will be 160 games on the 360 (not including arcade) by Christmas and over 50% of Australian 360s are connected to live.

Then the keynote was broken down into 5 categories, the pillars of the 360 concept:

1. Connected

Live Anywhere was demoed and will be released early next year with 2 games enabled at launch, Shadowrun and Halo 2, which means that they will be playable cross platform as well as other applications which are tied to Live Anywhere. Previously Halo 2 was not going to be a Live Anywhere title, and it is news that it is now enabled.

Essentially, Live Anywhere is software layers over Vista and Windows Mobile phones. Vista allows you to access all the functionality of Xbox live from your PC, which includes friends list, gamer card messaging and cross platform gaming, as well as accessing any media you have downloaded via live on your 360. Developers can also develop applications that tie into Live Anywhere for their games. We were shown the car editor for Forza Motorsport 2 which allows to totally edit you car from parts, body kits and paint jobs, on your PC and transfer them to your Xbox 360 via Live Anywhere. From the mobile perspective, you can play arcade titles that have a mobile equivalent for free if you have purchase the Xbox version, access all the social features and again use applications developed for Windows Mobile. We were shown the Forza 2 app which allows a person to send you there care to view in 3D and edit the parts of the car and send it back.

The TV/Movie/Music download service was shown as well, and the interface is not that different from the current market place. Other details shared were that TV shows and movies can be streamed/watched while downloading. SD and HD are available and the service will start next year in Australia.

2. Broader

  • 70 million downloads on Xbox Live
  • 12 million arcade downloads
  • 1000 arcade games submitted to Microsoft for evaluation for release on XBLA
  • 9 million text/voice/video messages sent each week via Live

A video was then shown on a montage of XBLA title, then same one shown at Lipzing and on the Live Marketplace.

3. Immersive

Live Vision Camera and wireless accessories are key to emersion into games, as you can be placed into games and have freedom from console with wireless controllers.

A video of the Live Vision camera scanning a face for Rainbow Six Vegas was then shown, which drew some cheers from the audience.

4. Evolving

The Xbox 360 is constantly evolving, with new features and changes being made all the time as well as new accessories being added all the time. 14o were made in the last update.

Choice was stressed in this part of the keynote.

The other piece of news was the pricing for the HD-DVD drive in Australia, AU$249. This is actually cheaper than the US price when converting, a first in Australian gaming. It also has the same adds with it, the media centre remote and Kong on HD-DVD. It was highlighted that it will show all DVDs in 1080p with SD DVDs being upscaled.

The new Halo 3 news was spoken about which everybody should know about already, but confirmed some details. The Halo 3 beta will be free and downloadable from XBL by Gold subscribers. Both the beta and the new maps for Halo 2 will be released early next year and the 60 second add will be released on live early December.

5. HD

HD is not just about big screens, but enabling better graphics, because only so much can be done with the pixels on an SD set. Details won’t be able to be seen on an SD set, even if they exist in the game, that can be seen on a HD set.

Once again HD offers choice, where games allow for SD and HD and downloads (movies/TV/trailers) are also available in SD and HD.

They gave away an Xbox 360 and then showed the latest Gears of War trailer to finish off.

17 November, 2006 at 10:19 pm 5 comments

Sony eGames Keynote

To kick off my coverage of the eGames expo, I am going to cover the Sony keynote, the first of the big 3’s keynotes.

Now I have sat through some very boring game keynotes in my life, both in person and on video, but none have come close to how boring this keynote was. It essentially detailed nothing, except for an illogical explanation of the cell processor and its use, hence the title of the keynote, ‘The Cell Job’. There were 2 Sony HD sets with a real PS3 hooked up to them via HDMI cables. The input kept flickering on and off during the presentation, an issue many PS3 owners have complained of when using HDMI. The only thing the PS3 was used for was for viewing slides and the 3 trailers we saw.

The presenter was Micheal Ephraim of Sony Australian and New Zealand. First off he stated his disappointment with the delay in the Australian release of the PS3 due to the blu diode production problems, but like any good business man, managed to put a positive spin on it saying that it can be seen as a good thing as there will be more content available on launch.

Micheal then went on to list the buzz words associated with the PS3; cell, RSX, blu ray etc, but when on to say that specs aren’t important, it is the EXPERIENCE, the continuing theme of the keynote. He gave the example of cars, that even though there is a lot under the bonnet of a car, it is the end performance that most drivers car about. He said that Sony won’t be advertising the specs of the PS3, rather the user experience, “true next gen gaming”.

Micheal then gives a very brief history of the games industry, Sony’s version, which went Atari 2600, ps1, ps2, ps3. Each time he referred back to how the power of the cell offers more cars, more bots, bigger environments and how the developers of these consoles would have wanted this when making games. Revolutionary was how he described the games on the PS3.

We were then shown a trailer of Resistance, not a new one, but was surprisingly underwhelming, even in 1080p. It was visually good, but nothing spectacular. Micheal used Resistance of an example of the power of the cell in terms of physics, and went on to explain the basics of physics in games, as though it was something new and as if the audience had no understanding of games. Micheal explained that humans expect a certain reaction from a physical event, and it is when something unexpected happens that we notice, and then emersion is lost from a game. He said in this aspect that the PS3 simulates life.

AI was the next topic and supposed example of the power of the cell. To explain this we were shown a gameplay trailer of Motorstorm. Although it looked great (much better than Resistance), it had nothing on the supposed real-time trailer form E3. He explained the features of the AI in Motorstorm, but none were new to racing titles. He was ecstatic about revenge from AI, but this has been a feature in many last gen games, such as Forza Motorsport. He went on to explain his concept of game psychology, in that what you don’t see is most important.

Heavenly Sword was the next trailer shown, but it was a CGI trailer. It was used to explain that high quality visuals are not just for aesthetics, but also add emersion and emotion. He also stated that the PS3 offers great graphics, then corrected himself saying the best graphics.

Micheal ended with the company line “This is Living”.

Cutting away the carefully chosen misleading words of spin, you were left with 3 short old trailers and a very short glimpse of the PS3 interface. One would have though when a console has launched, they might have actual games, demos of the services and interface, mention of the SIXAXIS or even a demo of it or a blu ray movie demo. There are no PS3 demo units on the floor either, amongst the sea of 360s and Wiis. There were 2 PS2s and 8 PSPs. That was it.

17 November, 2006 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

My Wii Impressions

Today, I had my first time on the Wii. In fact, the first time I had seen in in the flesh so to speak. The first thing that came to mind was it’s size. Not just the unit, although it is small, about 3 DVD cases stacked on each other. Being on the stand also makes it look smaller, as it appears to angle in. What really surprised me was the size of the wiimote. It is tiny. Maybe 3 cm (little over an inch) wide and 15 cm long. It felt comfortable to hold, but my thumb kept on hitting the start button when I hit the A button, and I have large hands. I had to hold my thumb in an awkward position for it not to. The sensor bar was really tiny as well, and looked like they could break easily.
The first game I played was the duct hunt like game from Wiiplay. Wiiplay, for those that don’t know is a selection of 9 mini game like Wii sports, and comes with a wiimote. If you subtract the cost of wiimote from the package, the 9 games cost about AU$10 (US$5). The laser pointer appeared to be slightly laggy, but my friend said he didn’t notice anything so my wiimote might not have been set up properly. The game was fun, but lacked any instruction, so knowing what you should shoot and what you shouldn’t took a little time, but it possibly could have been explained before the game, I started as soon as the shooting started, and didn’t see the intro or menus. I also had to hold the wiimote awkwardly to point it at the screen, but that was due to the setup. I am sure if I was sitting on a couch with the TV at normal height, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

Wii Tennis off Wii Sports was also great. Although very simple (you only have to swing the racket) it was very fun and competitive. I saw people play Wii Tennis who had clearly never played a game in their life, but picked it up very easily. I am sure I could play a game with my parents. When playing multiplayer, the screen is split so both players get a view behind their player, but we were playing on a wide screen so I am no sure it would work well on 4:3 TV.

I then played Excite Truck. This is fun. You hold the controller on it’s side, use the 2 button to accelerate, D pad to boost and steer and tilt by moving the wiimote. Visually, it is what you would expect, apart from a few jaggys. You bounce around a bit and spend quite a bit of time in the air. There are quite a few little things you learn about the movement of the wiimote that give you a few extra seconds. For example, when landing, you tilt the front of the truck up to land more smoothly. The race is mayhem. The AI is erratic, going from extremely fast to extremely slow. You can go from 6th to 1st in 3 seconds, then back to 3rd 3 seconds later. There are a lot of bonuses, boosts, enhancements, and point scoring with flash across the screen very quickly. Apart from the little things you do with the wiimote and shortcuts, there is not much strategy to Excite Truck, just silly fun. When playing this game, you find that you need to be far more aware of you body when steering as relaxing with change the direction of you truck. This was a little awkward, as when I play using a normal controller, I automatically use the controls, and relax back in my seat. I found that I couldn’t do that, but I only played one 2 minute race and watched for 10 minutes so I might get used to it later.

Check back on the 17th November for more Wii coverage as well as full coverage of all the eGames expo press conferences, interviews and game previews and news.

8 November, 2006 at 8:45 pm Leave a comment

Episodic Content

Sorry I haven’t posted for a little while, I am in an exam period and free time is hard to come by. Anyway, today I will be talking about a topic that has recently been discussed in great depth, that being episodic content. The reason it is being discussed is because of the rising cost of game development and the risks that are associated with this increasing cost. I will explain exactly what makes a game episodic, how episodic games will change the development of games and the pros and cons for the publisher.

Episodic games are games where the content (campaign/story) is released periodically with each release categorized as an episode. This is very similar to how a TV series is constructed, with a preset time of each episode is set (normally an hour or half hour) and there period between releases is a week. The most famous game at this time being described as episodic is Half Life 2, but I disagree with it being labeled as episodic. Each ‘episode’ is essentially and expansion, not dissimilar to many other games that add extra story content to the original game. With the episodic model, each episode is considered equal, where as with Half Life 2, there is the main game Half Life 2, and then there are the expansions, episode 1, 2 and 3 which are cheaper and shorter. The period between the ‘episodes’ isn’t the same either.

Making an episodic game will change the entire process of making a age. Currently, the engine development, content creation (art) and much of the design work is done concurrently. With an episodic game, because each episode is much smaller than a total game, it will take less time to produce the content (art and design) and therefore, the engine (if developed in house) will have to will have to made much earlier than the first episode or an will need to be purchased (i.e. unreal 3). It will also mean that more designers and artists will be needed per programmer.

How will this effect the games themselves. Games will have to be very linear in story, so that the next episode is usable by all game players. Games stories will have to be more segmented, so that the end of an episode will entice the purchase of the next episode. Also, each episode will have to have a plot in each episode, as well as a continuing plot. This could be an emphasis on the continuing plot, or the individual episode plot. An example of this style is the game Alan Wake, where the gameplay and story is structured like a TV show. It might also lead to improved games and a greater emphasis on story in games as there is a need for consumers to continually purchase each episode.

This is also the risk for publishers, as people could go cold on a game 2 or 3 episodes in, leaving the publishers out of pocket. Where is a game could be crap, but because of marketing for the launch, it could sell well. There is no needed to continually create good games and continually market.  The advantage is that if a game goes cold, they will lose less money if the game is episodic because the entire game hasn’t made.

21 October, 2006 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Content Only = Games?

There is no denying it, what Microsoft has done with with Xbox Live is exceptional. It truly came into it’s own when it hit the 360, with the marketplace, great community features and arcade, it is a great place to enhance the gaming experience. This along side the wide range of PC integration (Window’s Media Connect and Media Center) and media functions, positions the Xbox 360 to be Microsoft’s ‘key’ to the living room. Sure, with Media Center, most functions that anyone could need in the living room are covered, except that Media Center relies on content to be provided by other parties whether it is DVDs, CDs, TV or online distributors.

The Xbox Live Marketplace is the perfect platform to deliver content directly to the consumer and as everyone says, the key to the console market is content (games). But content delivered shouldn’t have to be games. Movies and TV series could easily be deliver over the service, with Ads of course, and add another stream of revenue for publishes. It be easy to ensure that Ads can’t be skipped (not being on PC means few if any would work out a way to skip them), which is a leg up over TV delivered to a PC or TV (with a DVR or similar). More importantly, it would reduce people illegally downloading content as it is a more attractive option. It is better quality, easier to view on a TV (I find it more enjoyable to view it on a TV above a PC) and most importantly, it is free. Through ads, publishers make money, Microsoft makes money and the consumer gets content free. Content can be released world wide as well as region restricted, which means ads could also be region sensitive, meaning that even more money could be made.

Microsoft could also publish material themselves. If they picked content carefully, they could find a new angle for consoles. For example, recently the Sci Fi channel announced that Stargate SG1 would be canceled after the current season. If Microsoft began to publish SG1 exclusively on the Xbox Live Marketplace, I’m sure the large Stargate Hardcore contingent would sell quite a few consoles, this on top of the advertising revenue. This is one example that if Microsoft strategically picked content, they could draw many specific consumer groups that are by nature, high spenders.

Also, the marketplace could be used to sell music for both use on the Xbox 360, as well as Mp3 players, most importantly the Zune. Another content could also be existing Microsoft Services. Talking with people, it is clear that most people haven’t noticed the connection in the branding between Xbox Live, Live Anywhere and Live.com (the MSN services rebranding). Almost all of Microsoft’s online services now have a consistent branding, which shows their intention to integrate all of these services. This means we might see the ability to watch soapbox (Microsoft’s YouTube) videos on Xbox Live.

Essentially, when it comes to consoles, content it king. It was great exclusive content that made the PS2 such as success and in the ever increasingly competitive console market, content other than games needs to be considered, especially when there is money to be made by many parties.

5 October, 2006 at 12:49 pm 2 comments

Interface

For my first ‘article’, I felt it necessary to comment on a topic that is currently very relevant to the gaming community as we move into the next generation of consoles from all 3 manufactures. And that is interface.

For those that don’t know, interface is how a person interacts with computer hardware/software both through the input, e.g. keyboards, and output, e.g. monitors. When looking at consoles, the interface used is rather large. For input, controllers, cameras and microphones are all used in some games. For output, TVs/Monitors, rumble, speakers, lights, force feedback.

As a developer, interface is the most important feature of a console, above the graphics ability, above CPU speeds, above internet services, etc, because the interface dictates what games will be made and how they will be made. Using PC applications as an example, you are not going to build an application that requires a mouse if you only have a keyboard, nor are you going to build a voice recognition application without a microphone.

Cliff Bleszinski (commonly know as CliffyB) is a game designer who works for Epic Games and has worked on the unreal franchise for the PC. A few year ago though, he began work on a title for Xbox 36o called Gears of War. He said recently in an interview that the biggest challenge he had from moving from the PC platform to the console platform was learning to build a game that used a controller, as it requires a totally different process.

Currently,many changes are being made in the console world in relationship to interface. The big story is the Wii, where controller interface has changed from just buttons, joysticks and trigger, to also incorporate physical position and movement. The PS3 has added physical rotational movement to its controller, HD output and a rumoured motion sensing camera, similar to the eyetoy for the PS2. The Xbox 360 has added an emphasis on voice and video being used in games as well as Xbox Live Vision, a camera that has facial recognition, 3D modeling functions and 3D motion sensing and HD output.

It is clear that the uptake on newer interface in all 3 consoles will take time. Voice is heavily used in 360 games, yet the functions of the Xbox Live Vision camera are yet to be utilised in many games. Similarly the PS3, with the physical rotation sensing only recently added to the controller design, has very few games that using this function. All these interface technologies hold great potential to create many great games with new ideas that people haven’t seen before, but it will take time for developers to become familiar with the technology.

This is especially the case with the Wii. Although admittedly I am yet to play any games on the system, from my reading of how the new controller will be used in games, it seems that the majority of games were designed like they were for previous consoles and were made to fit the new controller, instead of creating games for the controller. Let me explain. To do something in a game, you would press a button that you knew would do that action. With most of the games currently being made for the Wii, instead of a button press, a predetermined movement of the controller will do that action. This is essentially the same thing, and doesn’t used the controller the way it could be used.

Hopefully with time, developers will start to develop new games for the Wii that is designed from the ground up with the controller in mind. This will mean games of the like that we have never seen before, which also means it is a risk for publishers to finance these games as there is no certainty that people will like them an hence they will sell. Here’s hoping that some quality developers manage to release some great games that suit the Wii, so that eventually the Wii will grow into it’s own.

1 October, 2006 at 5:09 am Leave a comment

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