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Plotting the Revolution's Arc 488

Posted by Zonk
from the breaking-gravity's-pull-or-spiralling-in dept.
Very few things surprise me about videogames anymore. I won't claim to be all-knowing by any means, but there are very few genuine surprises these days. Release dates are known well in advance, endless features and interviews are conducted with developers during the course of a game's creation, and what few elements that publishers try to keep under wraps get leaked to the media by individuals wanting their moment in the sun. Even the big gaming news stories of this past year (Hot Coffee, the PS3 PreRendered Movie Debate) were more frustrating than surprising. Happily, Nintendo managed to pull a rabbit out of their hat. Today's announcement of exactly what the revolution behind the Revolution will be is nothing short of a showstopper. Read on for my reaction to Nintendo's new bid for the brass ring.
I know it's already been discussed, but I'll go ahead and say it here for the record. The GameCube failed as a console. Despite the excellent first party games that have been released for it, and the occasional exclusive (Resident Evil 4), Nintendo has definitely stumbled it's way through this generation of consoles. The failure of the GameCube makes this the second generation of console systems where Nintendo has been left essentially sitting on the sidelines. Every time I post a story about someone editorializing Nintendo's death, or how Nintendo will never die, it saddens me a great deal. Nintendo is the company that brought a lot of the people of my generation into gaming in the first place. The Christmas morning I sat down for the first time with a NES controller in my hand was a life-changing moment. If not for smashing evil mushroom people and searching for Triforce pieces in my youth, my life would be very different today. Every flashy Xbox commercial, PS2 exclusive, or can of crap with Mario's mug stamped on it has made the little kid inside me become more and more jaded about the possibilities this industry can offer.

Today, that little kid is beaming. The company that introduced me to gaming so long ago has picked itself up off the mat and looks ready to come out swinging this time around. We've already linked to 1up's coverage of the announcement, but if you haven't read it yet there are plenty of other places to get the specifics. Gamespot, Gamespy, IGN, and Game Informer all have photo spreads, video, and first hand impressions from their experiences with Nintendo's next venture. Commentary is available from CNN Money, Wonderland, Jeremy Parish, The Game Chair, Joystiq, and Next Generation. An interview with Nintendo's Senior EU Marketing director is available on Eurogamer, and if you want to see the announcement firsthand a webcast of the presentation is available.

All of these pieces spend at least a paragraph or two wondering about the future, and with good reason. Within half an hour of the story being posted to the internet there were already lamentations about "the end of an era" and blistering condemnations of the controller as a lark that will fail as badly as the Virtual Boy. Specifically, both the professional media and fan commentaries seemed to center around the reaction that third party developers may or may not have to this extremely intriguing idea. The combination of this new controller style and the mentality that "Nintendo is for kids" may cause the company some problems down the line. They're almost certainly right.

That said, if you've read the description of the Metroid Prime demo you can't help but pause. The mental gymnastics required to use a mouse and keyboard in a First Person Shooter have confounded non-gamers since the genre began. As anyone who's played an FPS on a console can tell you, the two joystick approach gets the job done but is far from intuitive. Attempting such a title on the console is basically out of the question unless you can work at the interface, something a non-gamer is rarely willing to do. Nintendo deftly sidesteps this with an interface that has ties directly into what we do in our everyday lives. Turning your head to observe your environment is already an instinct we posses, so not only will it be easy to explain it will be trivial to do. The natural flow of such an interface opens up many horizons. Shooters are well and good, but the immediacy of the first person perspective is a tempting way to just tell a story. Divorced of its more violent aspects and with an interface that doesn't require years of practice to use, who is to say that our mothers won't be playing something built in the Unreal Engine a year from now?

The FPS is just one example of a genre that we traditionally think of as "hardcore" which could be opened up to non-gamers by an interface that allows the user to interact with a gameworld in a less artificial manner . Real Time Strategy games would be a snap, as you wave your hand and the map moves effortlessly along beneath your outstretched hand. Driving games where you could actually apply your real life driving reflexes. Puzzle games where manipulating pieces is second nature. Sports games that require you to actually swing the bat or catch the football. Fighting games where you can feel a guy get punched in the face. At the end of the day, games are about having fun. Say what you will about their business acumen, Nintendo has always understood that. With the Revolution interface, the company is reaching out to the millions of people who have yet to pick up a controller. Why should those of us who have been playing since that first grey box reached our shores be the only ones who have access to the fun?

This is a risky venture, no doubt about it. If third party developers don't catch on to the possibilities here, if the EAs of the world don't take a chance with the new interface, then Nintendo will be looking at a big problem. This may be the last console larger than the DS we see out of the company for quite a while. If that's the way it's going to be, then I say so be it. Finally, at least, Nintendo isn't just going to sit there and try to imitate the other consoles poorly. Sony and Microsoft are very, very good at what they do. Instead of keeping up with the Jonses, Nintendo is striking out on its own. For better or worse, they've taken steps to expand the field of game players and change the nature of game playing.

The number of games at launch, third party commitment to the console, and the commercial reaction to this departure from the norm will be the only way to determine if Nintendo has made the right call. Either way we can look forward to a generation of consoles that will not only be graphically more impressive, but fundamentally different from the gaming systems we've played in the past. For me, at least, when I pick up the remote for the first time it will be like sitting down again on Christmas morning. I can't wait.

I've had my say ... what do you think? The controller announcement was put up early this morning. Now that you've had the chance to look at it more carefully, is your opinion any different? Most importantly, are you planning on buying one?
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Plotting the Revolution's Arc

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  • by tont0r (868535) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:50PM (#13578479)
    they are constantly trying to change the market, which very few companies ever do. they tried the virtual boy (which didnt do so hot) but the DS is doing very well, and i think that with their new control, there is a HUGE amount of potential. just think of sports games alone. you are going to be swinging a 'bat'. throwing a 'ball'. playing golf, etc etc etc. of course it will probably take some getting used to, but i hope this definitely takes off as much as nintendo wants it to.
    fencing games can now be fun :P
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:54PM (#13578507)
    The day of Revolution will be the day it ships. Until then, this is all a big tease. I gather it is still shipping rather well after XBox and PS3.
  • by t0qer (230538) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:56PM (#13578540) Homepage Journal
    Graphically and gameplay wise, there is no line between home and arcade systems anymore. They've more than caught up to each other.

    Arcades still have a huge lead when it comes to input devices. A few examples.

    Dance Dance Revolution and it's varients.
    Just about any cockpit driving game.
    Spy Scope (Konami light gun game with a scope)

    I can't really remember all the names off hand, but in the arcade intuitive controls is the game. You got games with replica harley davidsons, jet ski's, hang gliders and even futuristic battle pods from which you do mech battle.

    I don't think nintendo is taking any kind of a gamble with the revolution controller. They know intuitive control is what has kept the arcade alive for so long and they're following suit.

  • by blonde rser (253047) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:56PM (#13578543) Homepage
    I am of course being rhetorical. This story is really nothing more than a comment on another slashdot story. If only slashdot had the ability to such a thing with out creating a whole new story on the front page. Wait! That's what the comment system is.

    Unlike a lot of readers I usually have no issue with zonk's stories and often find them interesting. I have no intention of blocking his stories from my front page (however I should note that a lot of others do not share this interest and have already blocked him). But this is silly. Please, fellow slashdot reader/commenter, if you have a comment to make about the revolution consider posting it in the original revolution story. If you want to complain about Zonk then comment on that on this story. For those of you who share my irritation this can be our form of protest.
  • by msmercenary (837876) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:58PM (#13578557)
    From the GameInformer article:

    Not only is the D-pad used for movement, but the Revolution controller can control movement by raising and lowering, but also by twisting, turning, and moving the controller left, right, up, down or forward and backwards

    Thanks to 20 years of computer programming and gaming (both PC and many of the consoles that made Nintendo a gaming powerhouse), I get to use a trackball and ergonomic keyboard at work, per doctor's orders.

    I try to imagine what I would do with a one-handed controller that required me to twist, turn, and roll my wrist in convoluted ways to play the game, and my wrist starts to hurt just thinking of it.

    My first thought after looking at this new controller is that it's going to be an ergonomic nightmare.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:59PM (#13578573) Homepage Journal
    Why?
    If Nintendo was a Sega then we would probably would have never seen some of the great games that have come out and are coming out on the DS because they would have had to develop for other people's(Sony)'s platform. The only reason Sega did what they did was because that was the only other choice besides going bankrupt. Sega was losing tons of money and could no longer afford to design and manufacture new devices, so they were forced pretty much against their will to become a software only company.
    Nintendo isn't exactly losing tons and tons of money likeRemember, Nintendo has only had 1 unprofitable quarter, and a big reason for that was Nintendo did not accurately predict the large downward swing in the dollar(hurt a company that measures profits in Yen). However, they have since taken corrective measures that shield them a bit from currency fluctuations....
  • by foldgate (888451) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:59PM (#13578576)
    Right on. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this is the biggest thing Nintendo has done for the industry since the NES.

    I see the Revolution controller as the culmination of a process that began with awkward, lampooned devices such as the Power Glove and Virtual Boy, finally shaping up considerably with the DS. Nintendo's efforts have been focused on bridging the gap between physical and virtual space for a decade and a half, and, at long last, it looks like they've hit the nail on the head. Four (or is it a whole six?) axes controlled without a single finger. Genius.

  • by op12 (830015) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:03PM (#13578610) Homepage
    Actually, it's a comfortable shape...just think of any major tools and how they're shaped. Also, the wrist problems are caused by repetitive movements which cause strain. If anything, with this kind of controller you have less repetitive movement than even a traditional game controller, and your wrist has flexibility of motion.
  • by Zonk (12082) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:08PM (#13578651) Homepage Journal
    I can dig it.

    As you can imagine, I consume a lot of coverage from different places about games. I read most sites, I watch X-Play ... for me, the sign that the Cube just doesn't have the kind of mindshare that the Xbox and the PS2 does is the distinct lack of enthusiasm that most places have for GC games. I mean, obviously not every game can be Twilight Princess, but every time a Cube game comes up for review I get this sense of "ho hum another one of these" from the reviewer.

    I like the Cube a lot, it has some awesome games on it. RE4 is still one of the best games I've played this year. I just look at it and wish there'd been more. :(
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:09PM (#13578667)
    It's only a failure if your goal is to be #1 in the games market--for instance, if you are a console fanboy. However, if your goal is consistant profit--say, if you happen to be a for-profit corporation--constant profit when your industry competitors do not have constant profit is a success.

    Your statement of "all the profit in the world couldn't help them now" implies that they need help. Rather, all the profit in the world is the goal of a corporation! Your statement like this shows that you are still thinking from the fanboy perspective and not the company's.
  • by 6OOOOO (600000) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:09PM (#13578668) Homepage
    Nintendo has become the Apple of the gaming industry. Consider:

    1. They have market dominance in a market for small, stylish portable devices that lack the raw power of some other devices, but compete on "the complete package."

    2. They are more or less a niche competitor in the console market, but maintain the edge in innovation and generally exhort their customers to "Think Different," though not quite so explicitly as Apple. Yet.

    Nintendo would do well to emulate Apple's strategies. Increase perceived "style." Appeal to those who consider themselves too "cool" for video games. Nintendo already turns a profit doing what they do, but they can't compete with MS or Sony in volume. This is the only way.
  • Re:PA said it best (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phisbut (761268) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:29PM (#13578926)
    The Revolution would have to sell on unprecedented levels to convince publishers and developers to create a game that has no chance of being portable for a console.

    Not quite *that* much though. Games on the Revolution will be based on gameplay, not graphics. Since the biggest slice of budget in making a game is in the ultra-realistic graphics that use every available feature of the hardware acceleration, games developed for the the Revolution will probably require a much smaller budget, making the risk that much lower, and the sales number required to become profitable also lower.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:31PM (#13578950)
    they are constantly trying to change the market, which very few companies ever do. they tried the virtual boy (which didnt do so hot) but the DS is doing very well, and i think that with their new control, there is a HUGE amount of potential.

    There's also a lot of potential risk. My question is, how does that risk affect the decision of game companies to make games for this system? Are game companies going to want to invest resources for a platform that may not sell? And might that create a vicious circle- even if the system is good, if the game companies hold off developing games, then there's a great likelihood of the system failing to sell.

    Great interface just might not be enough. For a long time, Apple had a big advantage in terms of interface, but the machines cost more than PCs, and there was never as much software.

  • by Jerf (17166) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:32PM (#13578962) Journal
    If this controller is a big hit it won't be too hard for Sony and MS to add one to their systems. Nintendo then loses what might be their main selling point. So in the end, it's still all about the games.

    Your message contains the reason why this is not a serious problem for Nintendo. History shows through every generation that controller add-ons extremely rarely do well if they require game support. (In fact, "our system will have tons of add-ons" has become one of those things they just say every generation and most of us have learned to ignore.) How many games are there for the dance mat? The light gun? etc. Obviously, the answer is not zero, but it is extremely rare for a totally new controller to ever achieve significant penetration. As a chicken-and-egg consequence, nobody makes the games for the controller.

    I don't think Sony and Microsoft can match this in the current generation. Whether they try in the next depends on what happens with the Revolution, and whether this represents a new two-part gaming industry, 18-34 males and everybody else. Even if they try, they'll probably end up with an inferior copy that nobody will code games for.

    MS and Sony can't "answer" this, certainly not now (it'd just give legitimacy to the idea, and their strategy is almost certainly going to be to mock it as openly as possible), and not later (when it'll be an "add-on" to an established system that nobody will buy, and if there is pressure to "answer", that basically means everybody already has a Revolution). Their next chance will be ~2010 in the next generation.

    That's why this is such a daring play for Nintendo. If this works, they will own this space for 5-7 years, in almost exactly the same way they own (currently) the portable space. Doesn't mean it's the whole of gaming, doesn't mean it'll "kill" MS or Sony, but the big N doesn't have to to make the big bucks.
  • by Falrick (528) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:32PM (#13578967) Homepage
    Very off subject, but I have always wondered, why on earth do people use wasd? It makes no sense. The natural position for your left hand on the keyboard centers your fingers on esdf. Also, there are more usable keys surounding esdf than wasd and esdf easier to find in-the-blind thanks to the nice home key bump on the f key. Am I missing something, or did this become the defactor standard because some game shipped with this as the default key mapping?
  • by frikazoyd (845667) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:51PM (#13579198)
    This got me thinking about how any fighting game would be controlled. I mean really. Button combinations for the Mortal Kombat-esque will be hard to transfer. What would you do? Hand gestures? Seems like there's a lot of possibilities, but that can be good or bad. I mean, imagine memorizing hundreds of gestures just to master a few characters.

    And suppose they go the Punch-Out route. Fighting games would get downright tiring.

    For all other types of games though, I see the potential. But fighting games with this controller? I remain cautiously skeptical...
  • by C0rinthian (770164) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:02PM (#13579373)
    The underside of the controller looks rounded, so it would appear to fit in one hand pretty well.

    It doesn't look uncomfortable to me at all, but we don't know how much those A and B buttons will be used.
  • by Erioll (229536) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:12PM (#13579488)
    Well the reason Microshit is considered a success is because they went from zero market (they didn't have a console) to out-doing Nintendo in the US (though less in Japan, and I have no idea in Europe).

    But people are forgetting: WHY did people by an Xbox? What was the killer app?

    Halo.

    Obvious, but WHY was Halo a launch title for the Xbox?

    Because the Monopoly of Bill bought out Bungie.

    That game was going to be a PC game (first). And as for consoles, I never heard any words about it. But honestly, if Halo hadn't been there, how many people REALLY would have bought an Xbox? I would argue FAR less. Sure they've had more things since then that have been good and quality, but the "initial push" is purely Halo. Without that, the Xbox would have been a "semi-obscure" console. All that would have propelled it would be Microshit's anti-competitive pricing, as they'd have made sure to sell them by taking an even GREATER loss.

    And then there's Nintendo. With little 3rd-party support (some, but not LOTS) they made a PROFITABLE console, some truely awesome games (If you haven't played Metroid Prime, you are seriously missing out), and did just as well or better than Xbox in a hostile review environment (I noticed the same thing from reviewers).

    I may buy multiple consoles in the next-gen, but assuredly one of the is NOT going to be XBox360, and one of them will almost certainly be the Revolution. PS3 is quite tempting too, but we'll have to see there. But whatever you can say about Nintendo's mis-steps, I don't think this controller is one of them by a long shot.
  • by cbreeze34 (713379) <sean.the-corbetts@org> on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:13PM (#13579509) Homepage
    Fortunately, in the real world, you can make some good money without completely dominating your industry.

    hell, look at apple.

    even the most basic marketing class tells you there's typically room in every market for 3 leaders: the best, the cheapest, and the different.

    i happen to like the different.
  • by sabernet (751826) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:34PM (#13579752) Homepage
    That's entirely untrue. You have a better chance acquiring RSD or CTS by using a regular controller then this. Regular controllers require repetitive movement with very little variation.

    Like a trackball mouse, this forces the movements to vary greatly during the gameplay, repetitive stress disorders won't apply at all.

    I'm not a dorctor, but I worked for a year helping in the design of iternet and computer kiosks for the physically challenged so I'm familiar with ergonomics.

  • Re:Revolutionary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adavidw (31941) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:46PM (#13579884)
    Those in-flight and hotel ones are motion detecting?
  • by c0d3h4x0r (604141) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:02PM (#13580084) Homepage Journal
    Nintendo is wasting its time with this controller nonsense.

    The most important thing for a console to succeed is to have a plethora of truly outstanding games available for it.

    Whether a game is good or not has relatively little to do with the capabilities of the hardware or the uniqueness of the controls. It has to do with the artistry of the game designers and the ethic of the developers. Developers should not try to push hardware beyond its comfort zone (no slow frame rates or laggy scenes, please), and the designers should focus on fun gameplay and appropriate difficulty.

    Nintendo's own games are nearly always outstanding, but Nintendo seems completely clueless about how to get other companies to make great games for its systems anymore.

    Produce a console with over 200 games at launch and a quality-to-crap ratio of over 70% within that library, and you'll have a winner, period.

  • by syle (638903) <syle@wayga t e .org> on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:05PM (#13580127) Homepage
    No, you've got it exactly backwards. Ergonomics problems happen when you use your hands and wrists for things they weren't made to do, like type at awkward angles on a keyboard.

    Gripping onto a stick is exactly what your hand is made for.

  • by mrbooze (49713) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:10PM (#13580161)
    I'm sure this young buck was very emotionally affected by his NES under the christmas tree, but what about those of us who came to the party with the family Pong console, even before we were blessed with our Atari 2600?

    This Nintendo worship just seems inappropriate to me. They've done good stuff, lots of companies have done good stuff, but they didn't put the first game systems into homes. They didn't start the wave, they just rode it.

    I'm sure someone will say "But Nintendo did it BETTER!" but I say whatever. My message to you youth of today is: People my age got over the death of Atari (and the Atari of old is most certainly dead no matter how much publishing happens under the brand name), someday you'll get over the death of Nintendo too. It may or may not happen now, and it won't necessarily be because of a fancy controller, but all things must pass, even the things you obsessed about in your youth.
  • There's a difference between a game/console/website/magazine/etc being "pitched to" children and "appropriate for" children. Ever see something touted as a "family" game? That means (or should mean) it is appropriate for children, but adults will like it too. Some examples of this include: Pikmin, DDR, Katamari Damacy...

    Games like this have the parents saying to their kids "Just let me play for a few more minutes, then it will be your turn." That's exactly why these games are so popular. Since when did a game have to be "mature" to be good?
  • by gozu (541069) on Friday September 16, 2005 @06:17PM (#13580797) Journal
    Nah, your analogy is a bad one. Nintendo isn't the apple of whatever.
  • by lousyd (459028) on Friday September 16, 2005 @09:33PM (#13581918)
    The fundamentals are exactly as I proposed, even if the physical form is quite different. Should have patented that idea I guess :)

    No, you shouldn't have. Because if you had, we wouldn't be seeing it used by a mainstream company today.

  • Immersion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples@nOSpAM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 17, 2005 @12:01AM (#13582541) Homepage Journal

    Because patenting kept Sony from adding analog sticks and rumble to the PS1's controller after Nintendo revealed the N64 controller, right?

    Yes. Read this article on the beeb [bbc.co.uk] to see how Immersion, in which Nintendo has invested a lot of money, used a patent on controller vibration against Sony Computer Entertainment.

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