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Plotting the Revolution's Arc 488

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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