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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 Godeke (32895) * on Friday September 16, 2005 @01:46PM (#13578433)
    I found this interesting because it looks like an idea I threw out there long ago: a light gun with a built in joystick for the thumb of your left hand where it supports the gun. This would have allowed the light gun to be used for natural aim while navigating environments with the thumb in an intuitive manner.

    This takes the idea and makes it more flexible (and more palatable to the anti-toy-gun parents out there). The fundamentals are exactly as I proposed, even if the physical form is quite different. Should have patented that idea I guess :)

    The fact it looks like a "remote control" actually may make it less threatening to non gamers, especially if coupled with games that don't require twitch reflexes. Considering this is the company that came out with Animal Crossings, I can see similar games opening up an interesting market. The idea that it spins ninety degrees and becomes a "classic gaming controller" opens another market. The obvious use in first person style games maintains an opening for the classic market.

    If done correctly, Nintendo may bring a larger audience to the table and really tap into those markets that are not well served by the other big consoles. The big concern is how well it will work in more conventional gaming situations. From the descriptions it works quite well and frankly doesn't sound *that* different from an input viewpoint for portability of games *to* the system: it is a fancy analog stick. If it works better than the dual stick inputs for first person games it might even quell the "hard core and insecure about themselves" group that has traditionally slammed Nintendo for being for kids and rejected the system even when games like RE4 came out. Frankly, nearly anything works better than the dual stick inputs on the consoles (yeah, I have learned to cope, but it sucks compared to mouse and WASD) so there is some hope there.

    I like the big N... it is a company that produces games that are fun for parties and families. They still understand that a game should be fun first and then comes the chrome, but the developers have really left them by the wayside this go around. Hopefully they will couple this kind of innovation with a more aggressive use of third parties to round out the library.

    As an aside, I should point out that I own the Cube, two PS2s and an X-Box, along with my PC game collection: I'm aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and library. Nintendo is a company that I have the most *fondness* for (and anyone who complains about games reaching the point of sameness needs to at least recognize that they are doing there best to avoid that fate), Sony the company I have the most games from and the X-Box is my "co-op gaming Saturday" system. Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike is ready and waiting. My PC is for RTS and other games that elude the console input scheme.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 16, 2005 @01:52PM (#13578494)
    To be honest, nothing about the next generation up until now has 'excited' me, because I see it as more of an evolution than something new. With this radically different controller, Nintendo has managed to get me actually excited about a game system. From talking to my coworkers today, I don't think I'm alone in my excitement. Everybody I talk to wants to see how this thing works, because from the 'first impression' articles alone it sounds like it opens up whole new dimensions to how games are played, and furthermore those dimensions are surprisingly intuitive. What is going to make or break this system, I think, is whether or not it can execute -- whether the implementation is as good as our imagination of it.

    And at the very least, making their huge library of older games available for the system will drag a large number of people along even if they are skeptical -- because there's a HUGE market, I think, for nostaligia games, things that link us back to the fun we had as children.

    Good luck, Nintendo. You've got at least one person onboard with your vision (me!).
  • sidelines? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kisrael (134664) on Friday September 16, 2005 @01:53PM (#13578502) Homepage
    I wouldn't say N64/GC was Nintendo "sitting on the sidelines". Yes, they were clearly in second place, but based on the huge number of great games and the amount of gamers talking about them, they are still a major damn player. Yes, they had 1/3 to 1/2 the shelfspace as Sony did this generation, but for multiplayer/party gaming, they were untouchable, with franchise power the other companies would drool over.

    I'm still skeptical about these controllers. A LOT will be riding on how well they work...if they're only as reliable as Samba de Amigo maracas, for get it. If they're as exact as a lightgun, maybe they have a shot. But even then, its not clear if Revolution will still be a player w/ mainstream genres, or if it's just the next Eye Toy or Donkey Konga; some sales, but not enough to base a gaming life on.

    If Nintendo would embrace the homebrew community, or at least throw them some bones, I would cut them a TON of slack than I will otherwise.
  • My Take (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Friday September 16, 2005 @01:56PM (#13578539) Homepage
    I have to say, I was TOTALLY surprised when I saw it this morning. At first I thought Slashdot pointed to a joke, then I thought it was the remote for the system (to play DVDs, etc) and looked all over the page for the REAL thing.

    But reading the description and seeing the video, I am "stoked". In many ways, it's like EyeToy taken to the next level. I can't wait to try it.

    I agree that the GC failed (even though I played it more than anything else this generation), but it Nintendo is still here. They took a gamble with the DS and I believe that it payed off. It took a little while to get the first great games, but they are out now with more coming. Nintendo keeps its commitments, and I can't wait to see what they do with this. Even if 3rd parties aren't big on it (sad), I know I can count on Nintendo for hours of fun. If Nintendo consoles turn into what the Atari 2600 was before Activision (only games were made by Atari), that's OK with me.

    But this has a chance of doing two things. First, it could cause big problems for Sony and MS. The other option, is it could split the field into the "Nintendoites" (Have a Nintendo, fun, innovative games) and the "Gamerz" (Great graphics, more of the same, not unlike the PC is becoming, with the occasional great game).

    I've wanted a Revolution the most of the next generation even knowing almost nothing based on Nintendo's reputation. The XBox 360 and PS3 announcements (especially price) have pushed me further. This threw me off the cliff BIG TIME.

    I want my Revolution!

    PS: I LOVED the virtual boy. I think it was mismarketed. It had its problems, and it failed, but I still loved it. Mario Crash, Wario Land, Mario Tennis, and more. Some great games on that platform.

  • by BitwizeGHC (145393) on Friday September 16, 2005 @01:58PM (#13578556) Homepage
    Here's four reasons why:

    Mario Sunshine
    Zelda Wind Waker
    Metroid Prime
    Sonic Heroes

    I know that picking these games apart is the thing to do if you are a video game reviewer, especially WW and Heroes, but *I* enjoyed them. And I know that Heroes was a multiplatform release but the PS2 version sucked and the Xbox version was awkward to control because Heroes was designed to be played with the Cube's nonstandard button configuration.

    If Nintendo produces games that people enjoy playing, and they're making money, how is that failing?

    This, of course, only gets me more excited about the Rev. Especially when you consider the possibilities for Katamari Damacy with that movable, tiltable controller. (Hey, it could happen... they're doing a DS port...)
  • Gamecube (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:04PM (#13578619) Homepage
    The gamecube was/is not a failure. Despite the fact that it didn't get as much media attention and the fact that nobody seems to like it, it still outsold the XBox on the worldwide level. Also, it was the only console that consistently made money on the hardware. It also has many titles that you can't get on other systems. Games that are truly innovation. There is no other game like animal crossing for any other system. Also, they are still making games for gamecube, and still selling units, so I would say the gamecube was anything but a failure.
  • by cowscows (103644) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:11PM (#13578688) Journal
    Seriously. The only way the Gamecube is a failure is if you compare one set of numbers, total consoles sold. If the only way for a company to be successful is to sell the most of whatever it is they make, then the global economy is going to be in trouble. Fortunately, in the real world, you can make some good money without completely dominating your industry.

    How about we judge the consoles by other means? Owning all three consoles, the GameCube gets the most playtime easily, followed by the Xbox. Actually, the PS2 was at a friend's house, and is now under water courtesy of hurricane Katrina, but I'm not shedding any tears for it.

    Granted, that's just my personal opinion, but I know of a good number of my other friends who feel that way. We're all in our early twenties, we've got some disposable income, I'd say we represent a pretty desirable market segment for a video game company.

    I don't see Nintendo ever dominating the industry like they did back in the NES days. I don't see anyone gaining that kind of control over it. In terms of making Nintendo money, and allowing it to continue to exist as a business, the Gamecube did just fine. In terms of providing a platform on which some fun games could be built, I think it did pretty good too. Oh, and it's even managed to be cheaper to buy than the PS2, which is a year older.

    Go Nintendo, Go!
  • Controller (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thesandtiger (819476) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:15PM (#13578734)
    I've always looked at Nintendo as the Apple of gaming companies.

    They come out with neat stuff and sometimes it's just fan-fucking-tastic: Look at your current controller and think for a second about what company brought those out first. Look at your current handheld game: If it isn't a DS or GameBoy variant, it is likely inspired by the GB.

    They come out with neat stuff and sometimes it just tanks: Virtual Boy, power glove, power mat and the like.

    If I'm interested in consoles that take chances and try to do new things, I'll go with a Nintendo. If I just want a console that is just more of the same, but faster then I'll go with a PS or XBox.

    I like Nintendo because I think that, despite not having the most impressive specs, they do more to push *gaming* forward - gaming as an experience - than anyone else. Sony and MSFT might have faster stuff or prettier pictures, but there's nothing really different about their systems.

    Personally, I hope the Revolution lives up to its name. I, for one, will be getting one upon release, while I will almost certainly be waiting at least a year for an XBox 360 or PS3.
  • by DannyKumamoto (4636) <dnk@pris[ ]t.com ['mne' in gap]> on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:15PM (#13578744)
    What excited me the most (as I've commented before [slashdot.org]) is, if news.com report is accurate, the chance for joe blow to start a small team and create a new game on a console with a new interface. If Nintendo provides support and enough push for these small guys, then the chance for out-of-the-box thinking and games would be possible (hard to do with PS and Xbox franchise today).

    If Nintendo would open source their tools and get game developers involved, they may have a unique opportunity which Sony and Microsoft might miss.

    And if they provide tools for their GB and DS franchise, then synergistic products (handhelds tied to Revolution somehow) might be realized that big name game companies have failed to imagine so far....
  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:24PM (#13578860)
    In the off chance it matters, I am a game developer.

    As long as it works without being overly glitchy, they at least clinch 2nd place.

    They are promising to deliver the back library of the NES and SNES already. And you have clean backwards compatibility with the Gamecube, and this will keep the owners of gamecubes happy. And while the installed base of the Gamecube may not be as impressive as the Playstation 2, it is not inconsiderable either.

    So you can get the nostalga buyers. And unlike the DS, I can easily imagine games that would use this tech that I would want to play. This has real possibilities.

    Simply looking around in 3d space is now a resolved issue. Its blindingly intuitive to that purpose, and that alone will make many games much more playable.

    Put a cursor on the screen, and you have a very viable mouse replacement. RTS games become much easier to do. You could probably make HomeWorld playable on a consle. Can you imagine doing that on existing consoles?

    And while the video of people playing games with the controller shoes no shots of the actual gameplay, it does serve one important purpose. The fishing, 'conducting music', and other types of gameplay do demonstrate one thing. This controller will permit gameplay types that simply are not possible right now. And even if conducting an orchestra is not likely to appeal to the 16 year old, counterstrike demographic, it will appeal to some people. It will pull in entirely new sorts of gamers.

    Between Nintendo loyalists and the new players, it can probably clinch 2nd place. And if the 3rd party publishers are intrigued enough to make a serious effort to port their games to exploit this controller, it can likely unseat Sony in the number 1 position.

    END COMMUNICATION

  • by 0biter (915407) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:26PM (#13578879) Homepage
    that "story" was a really boring piece of analysis that used a lot of words to say nothing. so allow me to throw down some analytical building blocks that show how the Revo could be the ultimate 3rd party system.

    fact is that the Revo is going to be cheap compared to the 360 and PS3, and that physics-based gameplay with a natural, "3D" input system is going to be fun as hell to play. not only will canonical genres like sports, FPS and racing games be freed from the abstract stupidity of the "2D" standard controller, but a whole new market for whimsical and amusing physics-based mini-games and puzzlers will be instantly created. we're already seeing this market emerge on the mouse-and-keyboard interface of the PC, so just imagine what could happen if a standardized "3D" controller were at the center of it all. because there is no question that such games are loved by casual gamers and a wider, as yet untapped gaming audience, the only concern is whether or not nintendo will allow this market to flourish by releasing (or allowing downloads) of such $10-25 gems.

    in that regard, the "home" button on the Revo controller is the real story here; if it takes me to a one-time fee per game, download-on-demand dashboard, i'll be sharing a gaming heaven with a lot of other people.

    i think the Revo controller is what companies like EA have been looking for too. their own executives have been noting that their sports games at least are becoming repetative and derivative, and that this is starting to hurt year-over-year sales. merely slapping even fancier graphics on an old product is only going to improve sales so much, if at all, while also increasing development costs. the Revo controller frees companies like EA to innovate gamplay in a way we havn't known since the dawn of 3D graphics in general. you don't think they are going to want to take advantage of that kind of novelty while simultaneously avoiding the graphics arms race defining PS3 and 360 competition? LOLERSKATES.

    finally, let us not forget that the Revo console includes ports for standard gamecube controllers. not only does this ensure backwards compatability, it ensures forwards compatability for ports that use a more "traditional" controller input system.

    frankly, i'm pumped. the Revo has got me excited about the next-gen consoles in a way that PS3 and 360 didnt at all.
  • by ILikeRed (141848) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:10PM (#13579466) Journal
    Quoting [technocrat.net]
    With a Magic Wand like that, all you need to do is add a microphone in addition to the accelerometers; and you've got the perfect game controller for a speech-and-swish controled spellcasting game.

    There is a lot of really neat roleplaying that comes to mind with a microphone attachment, and it would also be a really cool karaoke machine - especially with the download ability. I can't wait!
  • by RickHunter (103108) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:13PM (#13579501)

    And that just marks the Gamecube as a commercial failure. We moved a month ago. So far, the Gamecube's the only console that we've bothered to unpack. Why? Because it's a load of fun to play in a way that the others just aren't. So the Gamecube was a massive success as a console. It was, really, the perfection of the last generation. Now Nintendo's introduced the next generation, and Sony and Microsoft are caught flat-footed, with massive amounts of cash sunk into minor improvements on last-generation consoles.

  • by sabernet (751826) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:28PM (#13579676) Homepage
    I have a powerglove.

    It most certainly did not.

    The powerglove only had digital values for movement: up, down, left, right and center. No analogue movement. It also tracked forward and backwords in a way that it would tie these to existing controller inputs(punch forward as the "a" button in punch out).

    As such, even the general settling of your arm would cause mario to jump off the cliff and force you to re-"center" the PG by hitting a button every 2 seconds. Above that, twiddling your finger to make a button happen was far from intuitive.

    Every demo produced at TGS showed that this interface is smooth, responsive and intuitive to use. Not to mention it looks lke a helluva lot of fun.
  • by dimfeld (247690) <dimfeld@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:28PM (#13579677) Homepage
    The Power Glove actually did have 3D position tracking (and roll too IIRC) when used in its raw data mode, but there was only a single game that used it. This game, Super Glove Ball [atarihq.com], was closer to a fancy tech demo than a full-fledged game. So even the potential that the Power Glove had was barely exploited at all. I'm sure they'll do a better job with the Revolution; at least, I hope so. Incidentally, the Power Glove did gain some popularity in homebrew VR applications due to its low price (compared to about $10,000 for professional VR data gloves at the time).
  • by pkhuong (686673) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:12PM (#13580179) Homepage
    I'm a dental students. RSI and other such problems are an important concern for us, since we /will/ often work 6-10h/day (unlike gaming), and our profs are very careful to teach us good, ergonomic, techniques. We are consistently told to work with our wrist and forearms, and not our fingers. The revolution's controller seems much better suited to avoiding movements of the fingers than traditional controllers (oh, the pain of the analog stick) can ever hope to be.

    OT: my captcha is functor. How many other websites could use such a word in their words bank? ;)
  • by CreatureComfort (741652) * on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:33PM (#13580393)

    I just wish there was a snowball's chance this would get re-engineered as a general input device for PC/PS?/XBox, etc.

    I'm just sitting here imagining having a light sabre shaped one, and using it to play SW Galaxies.... OMG I need a tissue.

  • by YukiKotetsu (765119) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:41PM (#13580478)
    Does anyone find the raised/lined thumbstick of the Gamecube just annoying? Barely any better than the PS2 either. Xbox has one thing right - the thumbsticks have an indentation on them to secure where you thumb is going instead of having it slip off. Has anyone thought of the ergonomics or strain of having to hold these things in front of you, one handed controllers, continually moving things in little motions... I see a lot of carpel tunnel victims emerging. I like the idea of innovation, I do, but some things just look wrong. Also, the controller is blocky near the bottom corner, which will put an indentation into your hand instead of being more rounded and comfortable. Imagine the palm sweat on this thing. It looks interesting though. How will you button mash things though? My arms, wrists, and fingers hurt just looking at this thing. I will say one thing... does this mean that the mainstream games of the XBox and PS2/3/or 87 won't be playable, or even made, for the revolution? How will I play soul calibur on this?
  • by monstercoo (915447) on Friday September 16, 2005 @06:02PM (#13581157)
    What I find interesting about this new controller is that in it's normal or nunchaku form, it seems incompatible with many of the snes and n64 games the Revolution is able to emulate. When turned 90 degrees, only the d-pad and maybe 3 buttons seem accessible. Thats great for NES games, but, for snes games that use 4 buttons and the shoulder pads or many n64 games (goldeneye anyone?)... it seems this controller won't work. Its neat that the controller can be expanded, but I don't see how any peripheral device could provide proper input. So, I guess we'll have to buy seperate controllers in order to play many of the games we love?
  • Appeal to those who consider themselves too "cool" for video games.

    I've always considered myself to "cheap" for consoles since I'm going to own a couple of PCs anyway, but for the first time in my life I'm considering buying one after reading this article.
  • by arose (644256) on Sunday September 18, 2005 @02:28AM (#13588490)
    If you mean the 'a' and 'b' buttons then it's perfactly clear--just imagine the controller rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise.

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