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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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  • etoychest interview (Score:5, Informative)

    by lotsofno ( 733224 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:53PM (#13578497)
    etoychest has an interesting interview [] with Nintendos Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, Perrin Kaplan, regarding the controller. Even if it doesn't have a wealth of new information, it's worth checking out:
    Q: Do you know off hand how, using the new controller, the Revolutions Super Smash Bros. will work?

    PK: Off hand, even if I did, I would rather just let players use their imaginations to think about how it could be played. The controller opens up a number of possibilities to control a game like Super Smash Bros. I know people want to know more, but now isnt the time. There really are just so many ways this controller could be used, and I think itd be just more fun to see how players might imagine a game like that be controlled.
  • by psocccer ( 105399 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:53PM (#13578498) Homepage
    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.

    Well since last quarter they were the only console company of the big 3 to post a profit, and large even if smaller than hoped at 33 million. But up 33 million is certainly better than in the hole 52 million (sony) or 179 million (xbox). Give me the patented Nintendo brand of failure any day.

    Source of the figures []

    Patiently awaits his -1 fanboy mod

  • by ElectroKiwiMonkey ( 628003 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:55PM (#13578522)
    "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." GunCon, anyone?
  • by Avacar ( 911548 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @02:57PM (#13578550) Homepage
    But only Nintendo could take what was an idea from 20 years ago, and bring it forward. Also, the power glove had so many limitations: bulky hardware, non-intuitive interface (using fingers for buttons?) and only a 2-D tracking system. The applications of the Powerglove were very limited, and it had difficulty applying to new situations. This new controller, on the other hand, with its ability to track depth as well as position (and allowing for multiple controllers to be tracked at once for multiplayer or more complicated games) has serious potential. Not limited in shape to the human hand, the new controller can be applied to many situations. Just looking at the video's Nintendo has released, we can see many great examples: FPS Fishing Games Swordfighting Instruments Strategy Games And that's just listing the gametypes that already exist. Who knows what new types of games might open up now? I won't deny that I've always trusted Nintendo over any other company to provide my video game entertainment, so call me biased, but I'm happy to see them taking the hard path. Most sites I go to have lists of what is needed to "save the game industry" from a repetitive, downward spiral of safe franchises and rigid gameplay. Sure each new console looks better, but I play a game now and think "this is generic jumping puzzle #5" or "There is definitely someone hiding behind that explosive barrel". Nintendo Revolution has the potential to change that. I can tell you now, I'll buy one, if only to support Nintendo and encourage a company that I feel is doing proper innovation.
  • by ben0207 ( 845105 ) <ben.burton@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:01PM (#13578591) Homepage
    No, they failed. They went from "Nintendo number 1 in the games market", to "Nintendo, beaten by a newcomer to the games market twice in a row"

    Considering their marketshare has halved every single generation, I would suggest all the profit in the world couldn't help them now, unless they start puting out games people want to play and marketing. Look at the top 5 games of last year? How many of them are playable on the GameCube?

    The only things they have left are the Game Boy and their ever decreasing fanbase.
  • by Phisbut ( 761268 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @03:22PM (#13578839)
    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.

    My first thought after looking at this new controller is that it's going to be an ergonomic nightmare.

    I don't think Nintendo expects people to play with their new controller for 8 hours a day every weekday...

    Very few tool or objects we grab and use in every day life is 100% ergonomic, but it doesn't hurt to grab or use it unless you do it all day long...

  • by CoffeeJedi ( 90936 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @04:07PM (#13579430)
    ummm... i think you missed the entire point of the comment.... that's exactly what he said
  • by dloose ( 900754 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:05PM (#13580125)
    "I haven't used the new nintendo controller, but will it actually be functional is a prime question here that I haven't seen addressed yet..." So what you're really saying is that you didn't bother to read any of the links in the article. 'cause, you know, they did address that.
  • by C0rinthian ( 770164 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:10PM (#13580153)
    Halo was going to be a Mac game first, not PC.
  • by C0rinthian ( 770164 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:16PM (#13580219)
    Except for the fact that Sega was facing bankruptcy, and Nintendo is posting consistent profits.

    Yeah, thats exactly the same situation.
  • by Optic7 ( 688717 ) on Friday September 16, 2005 @05:18PM (#13580240)
    If this anecdote is any indication of Nintendo's future, I think they are going to do well. I have never owned a regular Nintendo console before (I did buy a gameboy SP that I've barely ever used). When I heard about the Revolution allowing dowloads of their back library, it got my interest. I thought I would probably consider it. Now the announcement of the new controller with all its potential makes the Revolution a must buy for me. I just hope they really get the technology refined and perfected before releasing it.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"