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Microsoft and Sony Press Conferences, E3 2015

Just like last year, I again had this Monday off to watch all the press conferences from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony, from 10:30am to 8:30pm MDT.  Also like last year, I was pretty pleased with much of what I saw today.  Unlike last year, however, I won’t be summarizing each presentation.  You should just watch them.  Instead, here are my impressions of what I found most important from the big dogs:

Microsoft

Halo 5: Guardians

I’ve never played through any of the Halo games, which I’ll admit is a glaring hole in my gaming experience.  As such, I really don’t have a lot to say about this one because I have no sense of the continuity.  In any case, it looks like it plays well and the graphics are on point.  But even though I’m ignorant of this franchise’s story, it doesn’t feel like a numbered Halo game without starring Master Chief.  Just saying.  (Fun aside, hearing Nathan Fillion’s voice for one of the characters was enough to merit an entry onto this blog.)

ReCore

This was out of left field for sure, to see a new Keiji Inafune (creator of Mega Man, Onimusha, Lost Planet, and Dead Rising) game debut at a non-Japanese conference, but this title looks wonderful to me.  I don’t yet own an Xbox One, but this would likely be one of my first purchases.  Even though details were light, I gleaned from the presentation that the protagonist’s artificially intelligent sidekick can be transferred from one robot to another, which I would guess needs to happen to traverse various areas of the game.  Here’s hoping this is far more engaging than Knack’s attempt to do something similar.  Looks great.

Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility

Despite some truly incredible games demonstrated throughout the day, this was perhaps the most significant announcement of them all.  While even Microsoft admitted that only 5% of gamers make use of backwards compatibility on new hardware a couple years back, this was a very clever move and a damaging blow to Sony’s PS Now service.  I do have a couple of quibbles, however.  First, I don’t care what was said, the Xbox One does not “natively” play Xbox 360 games — there is no hidden tri-core Power PC processor hiding in the Xbox One.  The term they were looking for is “locally”, as in it doesn’t require a remote piece of hardware to stream the game to you.  But this is still emulation.  I look forward to hearing how well this works (especially since backwards compatibility was quite uneven, performance-wise, for original Xbox games on Xbox 360), but the list of currently adapted games is light at 22, as of June 15, 2015.  Still, this is a very pro-consumer initiative, even if I don’t think it’s something that really matters to the average gamer.

Elite Wireless Controller

Microsoft demonstrated a highly customizable controller, which will undoubtedly excite certain hardcore players out there.  It’ll also lighten their wallets, as it is priced at a staggering $149.99.  I am curious about how the bumpers feel on this model, as the ones on the original Xbox One pad feel awkward to me.

EA Access

Yawn.  I’m sure there are people out there who love the idea of paying EA $5/month for access to last year’s games, but I have zero interest in this.  I already pay for Playstation Plus, and if I had an Xbox, I’d pay for Live as well.  I don’t need another subscription, especially to play last year’s Madden.  However, I should admit that seeing EA add Titanfall this week (and prepping to add Dragon Age: Inquisition later this year) is pretty cool.  This is only exclusive because Sony refused to allow it on the PS4.  Regrettably, this section of the conference slowed an otherwise breakneck pace.

Forza 6

The coolest part of this demonstration was when they actually lowered a real Ford GT from the ceiling.  Henry Ford III was also there.  I don’t play racing games, really, so that’s all I have to share.  But the spectacle of it was on point.  As always, Microsoft deserves a lot of style points.

Tacoma

While my understanding is that this game is actually cross-platform, it sounds like it is at least a timed exclusive for Microsoft.  From the creator of the critically acclaimed Gone Home, this is a must play for me.  I love story-centric games that have something important to say, so Fullbright has my attention.

Xbox Game Preview

Many are comparing this to Steam Early Access.  This sounds like a great initiative to permit players to become a part of the development process of their games; that said, this has the potential to backfire when (immature, spoiled) players encounter broken alpha code.  That will be a shame.  Even so, I hope to see Sony copy this one day.  The feedback from this sort of thing might steer a game from being mediocre to being good.

Ion

From the creator of DayZ comes this intriguing space survival game.  It is described as an emergent-narrative MMO, which is another way of saying that there is no narrative except that which comes from the players, a la many sandbox games.  Very curious about this one.  Amusingly, some on Twitter said that Bohemia Interactive should worry about finishing DayZ first before worrying about something new.  Fair point.  I’m also interested in that game.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Ugh, this one continues to upset me.  Even though it’s only a timed exclusive, I’ll be bitter about this until it’s finally released on PS4.  (My guess is that this will happen a year after its release on Xbox One.)  I’m still looking forward to it, however, as I really loved the previous entry in the series, so much so that I bought and played it again as a remastered rerelease on PS4.  The environments and acrobatic stunts look even more amazing this time around.  Some have noted that this entry looks like a return to gameplay more reminiscent of classic Tomb Raider, which makes longtime fans of the series happy.  Tomb Raider (2013) had amazing gameplay in both combat and platforming, so I hope that remains the case.

Rare 30th Anniversary Collection

Rare made some special games in its day.  I’m not sure how relevant Perfect Dark, Battletoads, or Banjo-Kazooie are now, but this should make for a hell of a deal since it includes 30 titles and will be priced at $30.  Here’s hoping the whippersnappers of today give it a shot.  But it’s worth noting that this studio is nothing like what it was back when it was a second party to Nintendo.

Sea of Thieves

Rare concludes its presentation with its latest title, described as its most ambitious — the buzz word every developer seems to use these days.  (Perhaps developers should focus their ambitions on making games that aren’t broken.)  In any case, Sea of Thieves looks like a shared multiplayer world of pirates.  Looks cartoony in a good, fun way and includes important things like naval battles and sharks.  Hope this is great for the sake of a long-irrelevant studio.

Fable Legends

A Fable game made by a studio not named Lionhead is either a good thing or a bad, depending on your point-of-view.  I have never found this franchise to be compelling, especially with all the broken promises of the first two games.  I always felt that the designers spent too much time with simulating a living world for the player to exist in rather than the gameplay itself.  Compare this to Bethesda, which also spends a lot of time on the simulation aspect but also finds a way to include engrossing gameplay.  Perhaps this one will be different, but it’s been designated as Free-to-Play, so count me out already on that alone.

Valve VR

Microsoft had already declared a partnership with Oculus Rift, but I guess the folks there wanted to cover all their bases and also sign a deal with Valve’s VR product.  (They’ve also committed to supporting HTC’s foray into this world as well.)  More importantly, Oculus Rift will also ship with an Xbox One controller bundled in, which is quite a coup.  I have some concerns about this technology in general (in any of its incarnations, including Sony’s Project Morpheus), but I’ll have more on that to say later.

HoloLens

While some prognosticated that Microsoft would take this time to declare exclusive Xbox and Windows content for Minecraft, the company took a different tact.  This section of the show was perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long while, with the demonstrator playing the game on his table, like it was a hologram.  While doing this, Lydia Winters of Mojang was running around the map in a normal first-person POV.  The demonstrator could see her tiny avatar moving across the zoomed out map on the table live.  He could even zoom in on an area or spin it around.  Simply incredible.  I don’t know if the finished product will actually work this well, but it sure as hell has a better shot at commercial success than VR or motion gaming.  (Which is to say, not likely anyway.  These peripherals will be expensive add-ons and receive limited developer support due to their lower market penetration.)

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

I actually love this trend of rereleasing games with improved graphics, performance, and features.  There are a number of smaller studios that exist purely to do these ports, which allows developers to hone their skills before moving up to original projects with other developers.  Moreover, this trend allows younger gamers to experience titles they may have missed the first time around.

Now with regard to Gears specifically, I wasn’t in love with this game, but I did have fun with all five hours of it back in 2006.  This franchise is so over-the-top with its machismo and gore that it’s actually funny.  I would play this rerelease again, I think.

Gears of War 4

Like Halo 5 and the lack of Master Chief, there’s something strange about seeing this title without Marcus Fenix headlining.  I have no idea how to take this, but similarly to how Bungie left Halo behind, so Epic Games has left Gears.  With that, change is inevitable.  What was shown was quite pretty, though.

Analysis

Excepting the section that EA filled, the Microsoft conference was tight, well paced, and filled with high production values.  Xbox One owners can look forward to a strong second half of the year, including Halo 5, Tomb Raider, and Forza 6.  I was surprised that Crackdown, Scalebound, and Quantum Break were all no-shows, but it sounds like Microsoft is holding some things back for Gamescom later this year.  But as great as all the games looked, the backwards compatibility announcement and the HoloLens demonstration both stole the show.  We’re only a year-and-a-half in on this generation, but I’m already ready to see an Xbox One Slim — perhaps that will convince me to finally buy one.

Sony

The Last Guardian

Rumors of its cancellation prior to last year’s E3 were greatly exaggerated.  After some eight years of development hell, this much anticipated game from the creators of the critically acclaimed titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is finally set to come out in 2016.  Think about this for a second, though: the entire seventh generation of consoles passed without a single release from Team Ico — those aforementioned titles were on PS2 in 2001 and 2005 respectively.  Since then, Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy was published to much critical and commercial success.  Same for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted trilogy, as well as The Last of Us.  Same for Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Skyrim.  Same for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV and V, as well as Red Dead Redemption.  Seriously, Team Ico, what have you been doing all this time?

Last Guardian looks very cool, in any case, though it still looks very much like a PS3 game to me.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if all the drama and delays didn’t result in improved graphics, this game sure as hell better deliver on gameplay and story.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Holy moly did this game blindside me.  I had heard rumors of Guerrilla Games’s new IP, but I had no idea it was this.  Everything shown in this trailer was amazing.  Simply amazing.  If you haven’t watched it, go look it up on YouTube.  Set it to 1080p.  Wait for it to buffer.  Watch it and bask.  Then come back.

A far, far distant future featuring a post-technological human society, Horizon features a badass heroine who hunts robot dinosaurs for resources to survive.  With a bow.  All of this transpires against the backdrop of long-abandoned and decayed cities, complete with waterfalls running through old office buildings, relics of “The Old Ones”, as the narrator describes us.

It will be mine.  Oh yes.  It will be mine.

Hitman

Despite the lack of a number or subtitle, this game is supposed to be a continuance of the franchises overarching story (whatever that is).  I’ve never played any of these, though I’ve heard that they do the stealth gameplay genre proud.

Street Fighter V

This is a game that wouldn’t exist except for investment by Sony, I’ve heard.  That’s why it’s a console exclusive for PS4.  Now, I haven’t played a true fighting game since the Super Nintendo days, so this doesn’t speak to me at all.  But I’ve also heard that this is the purist’s series, compared to something like Mortal Kombat.

No Man’s Sky

Now, if we’re going to throw around the buzzword “ambitious”, then this is the game to apply it to.  Once again, Hello Games shows us how impossibly vast the game is, boasting that there are many, many worlds that will never be discovered by gamers in this shared universe.  Rather than use a pre-recorded demo, Sean Murray (the founder of the studio) randomly chose a star to warp to, and in so doing, discovered a new world, which was dynamically and procedurally generated before our eyes.  The technology of this is stunning.  But I still don’t know what the “game” part of this is.  He showed the discovery of a beacon and how it could be used to upload data from what you’ve discovered (animals, etc.), and that there will sometimes being things hostile to this activity that you have to avoid or defeat, but what else is there?  Show me.

Dreams

Media Molecule, the studio behind LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, has lost its collective mind.  This game should be called Nightmares instead.  The idea here is that you create your own dream worlds with random, claymation style creepiness, and then share that with the rest of the world.  A player would then bounce from dream to dream surreally, just as it is in real life.  Except that everything shown here was kind of terrifying.  I really have no idea what to make of this.

Firewatch

A console exclusive from Camp Santo, this one looks really compelling.  My research informs me that this game is set in the aftermath of the Yellowstone fires of 1988.  You play a volunteer fire lookout who investigates strange occurrences at his lookout tower in the Shoshone National Forest.  All your communication has been mysteriously cut off save for a walkie-talkie that connects you like a lifeline to your supervisor, whom you connect with on a deeper and deeper way in your increasing sense of isolation.  Looks incredibly suspenseful and well voice acted.  Sign me up.

Destiny: The Taken King

A first-person shooter MMO does very little for me, even if it is from Bungie.  That being said, I’m glad to see a narrative-centric, free DLC for the game, which was roundly criticized for being vacant in the story category.  I might eventually poke my head into this game when the price is right.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I think I might be one of the only people in the world who actually highly enjoyed the first entry into this series back in 2007.  The novelty of the game spoke to me, even if it was quite uneven gameplay-wise.  Most people are stuck on Assassin’s Creed 2 as being so much better than its predecessor that there’s no comparison, and sure, the voice acting, story, and gameplay are far more refined in the second entrant, especially with regard to the side quests.  But what it also had was a ton of padding, and the overarching story about Desmond and the Animus goes further into nonsense-land.  The novelty of this series wore thin for me by the time I completed that game, and I was mortified that Ubisoft felt compelled to release two huge semi-sequels to it, making Assassin’s Creed 2 its own trilogy.  I had hoped that this franchise would only have three games total, not be gearing up to add its ninth main installment.  (That doesn’t count the thirteen other ones that are a part of the overall AC universe.)

I can’t stress how tired I am of even seeing these games.  Sure, AC4: Black Flag looked cool enough to tempt me to play, but I’m so done now.  I don’t even care what this one is about.  (It’s set the nineteenth-century London Underworld, if you’re curious.  At least the developers keep selecting interesting locations and times.)

But kudos to Ubisoft for figuring out how to “animate” a female assassin and stay under budget this time/sarcasm

World of Final Fantasy

I don’t even know what to make of this one.  Looks sickeningly cute.  But I’m interested because it’s presumably cross-buy with Vita, so there’s that.  Whatever.  I’m only mentioning this because it led into…

Final Fantasy VII: Remake

IT’S HAPPENING.  The sun has risen in the west and set in the east.  Hell has frozen over.  This game came out in 1997 for the original PlayStation, and by the time the PS2 came out in 2000, fans were begging for a remake.  AND IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!

(Quick admission: I’ve only played a small portion of this game, so my excitement is rooted more in the realm of wanting to finally play it rather than relive it.  That being said, I desperately want an Ocarina of Time remake, so I understand this feeling either way.  I would literally buy a Wii U for that.)

The trailer was brief but beautiful.  I actually got chills — seriously.  CHILLS.  This is huge.  My theory is that this one is a ways off, though.  I’m going to predict a holiday 2017 release to celebrate the 20-year anniversary.  I also predict that this game will sell more than any other release that year.

Shenmue III

I never played the first two Sega Dreamcast-era Shenmue games (though I now kind of want to now, judging by the fan reaction to this game’s Kickstarter announcement).  Brilliantly, Sony’s Adam Boyes went up on stage to countdown to the start of the crowd-funded campaign, and it successfully hit its $2-million goal in a mere nine hours.  It’s at 3 million as of the time of writing this blog.

This stunt actually took down the Kickstarter sight due to all the excitement.  Damn.  The last Shenmue game (which did not feel like a definitive end, according to fans) was released in 2001.  That’s a long time to wait.

Someone I follow on Twitter wrote that the trio of announcements for The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, and Shenmue III was like fan fiction for a game conference.

Batman: Arkham Knight

The Twitter-verse exploded in fury at the spoiler-heavy (for Arkham City’s ending) trailer that was shown at this conference.  In any case, it looks great, as it did a year ago.  Like a lot of people, I’m excited for this one to come out on June 23, but I’ll admit that I usually have to be in the right mood to dive into these games.  I think I had my copy of Arkham City in shrink wrap for a year before I finally got around to playing it.  Nevertheless, Rocksteady’s work on the previous titles has been stellar, and this one looks to closeout that studio’s involvement with the series in style.

PlayStation Vue

Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House came out and mentioned a bunch of things I didn’t care about, including stats on Spotify.  But what he did say that was very compelling is that Vue, Sony’s IPTV service, will offer individual television channel subscriptions, the first time this has happened in any form.  This news is kind of amazing.  We don’t know what the pricing will be, but I’m paying attention to this one, and I’m hoping it gets copied like crazy by competing companies, like Sling and Apple.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Last year, I remarked that new CoD games almost always open Microsoft conferences.  Not so this year.  In a radical shift, Activision has inked a deal with Sony to launch new multiplayer maps on PS4 before Xbox One (in an arrangement identical to what the company used to have with Microsoft).  That’s cool, I guess.  I wonder if this is in some way a reflection of CoD’s waning relevance, as in its sales have been leveling off in recent years.  This series isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I think it’s possible that Microsoft felt it had enough shooters from its own studios and didn’t need to incentivize Activision anymore.

Either way, this is quite a coup.  The times they are a changin’.

Disney Infinity 3.0

I’m only mentioning this because it was the lead-in for Battlefront.  But man is it strange to see Disney mix Star Wars with its Skylanders clone.

Star Wars Battlefront

This looks incredible.  Like, this game makes me feel the closest to being in the Star Wars universe as anything ever has.  Just go watch the video, if you haven’t already.  If you have, watch it again.  EA continues to impress with its Frostbite 3 engine, the likely foundation for all of its games for the next several years.  I’m pleased to see that there is a single-player mode for this game, but I’m even willing to give multiplayer a try because it looks so good.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Oh Naughty Dog, how I love thee.  This developer made four of the finest games of last generation, and I couldn’t be more hyped for this one.  Sadly, ND seems cursed with its live demos lately, as the DualShock 4 was evidently not paired with the PS4 when game director Bruce Straley tried to demonstrate.  Sony was forced reload the demo and use a pre-canned playthrough rather than a live one.  [I had my details wrong, here.  Kotaku has a short write-up on what actually happened.]

All that aside, who cares.  It looks amazing.  Shut up and take my money.  Seriously, this game looks like the full realization of everything I want Uncharted to be.  And while it wasn’t mentioned in any detail here, Naughty Dog has already announced that the PS3-era Uncharted trilogy will be released on PS4 later this year.  I look forward to replaying those before diving into UC4 next year.

Analysis

Much of the Sony conference was incredible — historically so.  But like all live conferences, there was a bit of unevenness sprinkled throughout.  (No off-script talk about the Powers show this year, at least.)  The biggest takeaway is that PS4 will be home to some incredible games in the future.  Unfortunately, that future is going to be a ways off for much of what was exciting tonight.  At the very least, we can look forward to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Until Dawn, and Persona 5.  These will be critically acclaimed, I predict, but not as commercially successful as Microsoft’s 2015 exclusives.

Conclusion

Like last year, both companies again did well.  And like last year, I remain unconvinced that I should buy an Xbox One just yet, but I feel myself being drawn closer.  ReCore, the Master Chief Collection, and so on are tantalizing.  But I’m going to hang in there and await a slim version of this behemoth.

Purely based on games, Sony had the stronger conference: titles like The Last Guardian, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Firewatch, No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy VII Remake, etc. bear this out.  But Team Xbox should be quite proud of the progress it has made since the flat feeling surrounding its launch in 2013, and the future should be bright for that platform.  An announcement like backwards compatibility is a huge boon for that fanbase as well, even if that list never grows to encompass most of the Xbox 360 library, or if it’s barely used by Xbox One owners.  There’s a perception victory in its existence, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s tied for biggest announcement with Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I’ll be very interested to see if Sony feels its feet held to the fire on this one, and how that might impact PlayStation Now.

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Written by Michael

18 June 2015 at 12:06 am

Posted in Games, News

Tagged with , , , , ,

The Way Forward for Nintendo

Despite what is now a relatively healthy library on Wii U (after a pretty bleak launch window), both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 have surpassed the Nintendo console’s install base with relative ease. VGChartz lists the Wii U as having sold 9.1M units, compared to the Xbox One with 11.3M and PS4 with 19.1M. Even more troubling is that the Wii U has been out longer a year longer than both Microsoft’s and Sony’s offerings.

I don’t think Nintendo is necessarily trying to sell the most units, as though that were its singular measure of success, but I also don’t think the company wants to be a far distant third at the end of the cycle, as Strategy Analytics now predicts. The firm expects that by 2018, Sony will have sold 80M units, Microsoft 57M units, and Wii U 17M units. That is a mere 11% share for the house of Mario and Zelda. The saving grace for Nintendo is its strong software sales and the seemingly unstoppable 3DS, to say nothing of its enormous war chest funded by huge Wii profits in the previous generation.

There are a lot of articles out there that dissect the mistakes Nintendo has made with Wii U and attempt to explain why the console seems destined to turn in an even poorer performance than the GameCube (which was a cult hit but only sold 21.7M units), but I would summarize my feelings thus:

Underpowered hardware

The Wii U features hardware that’s not too dissimilar from the Xbox 360 and PS3. It is certainly more powerful than those 8-to-9 year-old machines, but it’s nestled somewhere between last generation and its new contemporaries. This is reminiscent of the Sega Dreamcast, which similarly came to market too early. The net result of this is that the Wii U is positioned well to receive game ports from last-generation consoles, but porting a current-generation title would be daunting and require so much downscaling that the investment in man hours would be difficult to justify. As development dwindles for those last-gen consoles, so will third-party titles for Wii U, I fear. A similar fate befell the Wii ultimately, but the long legs of the PS2 (which saw its last game released in September 2013) helped sustain it, so by then, Nintendo had sold north of a hundred million units.

Wii U Gamepad

The Gamepad is certainly a unique idea in gaming: it essentially offers a second screen to allow for a level of multitasking never exploited in console gaming. (GameBoy Advance to GameCube interactivity was interesting but never fully realized.) Problematically, however, is the fact that only one Gamepad packs in with the console, and worse still, the console will never support more than two of those simultaneously — if ever at all. Shigeru Miyamoto admitted last year that adding dual-GamePad functionality wasn’t even a part of Nintendo’s near-term goals. Instead, Nintendo envisioned that one player would operate the GamePad while the others used Wii remotes, which are themselves 9-years old now, presenting developers with the challenges of designing to accommodate asymmetric gameplay. It doesn’t help that the GamePad itself feels more like a toy than high technology. It also does not feature multitouch, an unfortunate oversight in a smartphone and tablet world.

Poor online support

Nintendo’s online multiplayer efforts have always felt timid and begrudging to me. In truth, I think that Nintendo would rather see players interact face-to-face in couch co-op rather than through the Internet — which old-time gamers like me can appreciate, actually. The problem is that some of the biggest third-party titles are designed with online gameplay in mind, so this strategy really only works well for Nintendo as a software developer, not companies like Ubisoft, Activision, or Electronic Arts. The future doesn’t look particularly bright on this front either. After all, we’re talking about a company that has consistently resisted technological progress if it wasn’t invested by itself: optical media in the fifth generation of consoles, full-sized DVDs in the sixth generation, and HD in the seventh generation. Even with Wii U, Nintendo opted for proprietary discs that cannot hold as much data as Blu-ray, which both the PS4 and Xbox One employ.

Poor third-party developer support

All of these things have led to poor support from third-party developers. Nintendo has long alienated these companies through various strong-arm tactics anyway, but these uneasy relationships have really damaged its ability to stay relevant in any generation with actual competition from other hardware manufacturers. New, envelope-pushing games won’t run on the Wii U’s hardware without serious compromise, the GamePad is something that developers are completely ignoring (instead hoping you’ve purchased the Pro Controllers instead — even Nintendo has relented to start focusing on these), and without strong online support, even DLC opportunities are bleak for these developers.

A solution

My idea would probably anger long-time Nintendo stalwarts, especially those loyalists who early-adopted the Wii U, but I don’t see another solution otherwise — reasonably, anyway1. That starts with completely abandoning the Wii U; I know that would be seen a deep betrayal, but there has to come a time when you admit defeat rather than continuing to beat your head against the wall.

What I would do is abandon attempts to embrace unusual input methods or gimmicks of any sort. While the company deserves a lot of credit for hardware innovation over the years (the ability to save progress in a game, the basic layout of the modern controller, triggers, analog sticks, and rumble among them), they’ve whiffed on motion controls and this faux tablet. (Despite Wii’s incredible sales figures, motion gaming never garnered enough hardcore-gamer interest to matter in the long term. Microsoft and Sony’s attempts to answer the Wii, in the form of Kinect and Move, seem pointless in retrospect, don’t they?) Even the 3D technology found in Nintendo’s handheld is mostly superfluous.

I would recommend that Nintendo release a new home console that is largely based on the Xbox One’s specifications. I suggest this because chasing the PS4 would be likely too expensive. Instead, Nintendo could simply match the Xbox One’s hard drive space, processor, GPU, and RAM, and probably price this hypothetical console at $299. By embracing x86-64 based processor architecture and Open-GL graphics standards, developers could easily port current-generation titles to work on Nintendo’s new system. Further, the existing Pro Controller for the Wii U should serve as a model for the next generation’s, as it is largely held in good esteem. I also believe that this generation will last for more than five years, so there is still time to capitalize on it. Further still, omit the media functionality altogether: smart TVs and set-top boxes are obviating the need for this, anyway. This would be a gamer’s machine.

The complaint from Nintendo employees and fans alike will be, “Well, how would this console differentiate itself from the competition?” The answer, of course, is that Nintendo produces some of the best games in the world, and they’re only available on Nintendo hardware. That’s the hallmark. What I want Nintendo to realize is that its contributions to the world of gaming no longer lie in zany sensors or strange peripherals; Nintendo’s most important contribution is its software library. This company shepherds some of the greatest and most historic franchises in history, all of which ooze with clever ideas and fine craftsmanship. For all the problems AAA games have had in the last year or so, with so many broken at launch, Nintendo deserves credit for consistently releasing games that WORK. The few games Nintendo releases each year is the only thing sustaining the Wii U right now, but these titles are keeping the system alive. And let us not forget the incredible breadth the Virtual Console spans.

This hypothetical console (which I would love if Nintendo named something that harkens back to its history, like NES Ultra) would not be the best-selling one by a long shot, but it would appeal to gamers who love Nintendo games but still offer them access to third-party titles. Nintendo’s online efforts would never compare to Xbox Live or PSN, admittedly, but there are enough gamers for whom that wouldn’t be a deal breaker, so long as they could at least play those multi-platform games without having to own multiple consoles.

With some measure of longing, I admit that the last Nintendo console I loved was the GameCube, even with all of its shortcomings and poor sales. I want to love another one — a piece of hardware that is more concerned with fostering amazing game development rather than trying to define itself with gimmicks.


1. The most prominent idea I’ve heard involves focusing all hardware and software efforts on a new handheld that can stream its content to TV.  This would be like an inverse Wii U, where the GamePad holds all the console’s intelligence and streams its content to a TV-attached receiver.  This would be clever, but I feel that handheld consoles are destined to lose to smartphones, especially as time spent playing mobile games continues to increase.  Moreover, the kind of technological miniaturization required to stand toe-to-toe with iOS or Android devices would be challenging to do in terms of engineering as well as in manufacturing scale.

Alternatively, the other idea I’ve heard is that Nintendo should abandon hardware development altogether and create games for PS4 and Xbox One.  This is an intriguing notion to be sure, and one that I would selfishly enjoy given my current investment in console hardware, but I really believe that Nintendo should give one more crack at this.  The home console space was dead and buried after the Video Game Crash of 1983, but the NES single-handledly resurrected it.  Seriously, long live Nintendo — if for nothing else.

Written by Michael

24 February 2015 at 11:51 pm

Posted in Games, Musings

Tagged with , , , , , , ,