3DS – Price and Release Date, Thoughts and Predictions

I’ve been fairly positive about the 3DS up until now, and I still am to a point, but I just have this sinking feeling that Nintendo are going to fool us all into thinking that they’re really giving us a powerful system that will remain thought of as such for years to come. When in fact they’ll simply make it another DS where it comes out and is already behind the technology of the moment.

That’s not to say the DS is a bad system. Good games are what really counts over graphics and such. However, that doesn’t make it ok to not push the envelope as far as online functionality, graphics and storage space are concerned. Graphics probably won’t be an issue at all, especially with 3D the main focus of the system, but even so, the online features have to be so much better than the Wii to win me over, and the same goes for storage. To give around a gigabyte in today’s market when you can get a 32gb iPod Touch just doesn’t really cut it considering how the industry is moving more and more towards digital downloads as an alternative to physical media.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m slating a system I’ve never played and that isn’t released yet, but I just really want to be blown away by it and I have my reservations. I hope they prove me wrong and address all of my concerns before the 3DS comes out.

Speaking of the release date, it was announced last week that the system will be in stores in Japan on February 26th and in Europe sometime in March. The Japanse price will be 25000 yen (about $300) but I would be surprised if they released it for $50 more than the original cost of the Wii in the US. I think it would be risky enough to launch at the same price as there is likely to be a feeling that handhelds should always cost less than their console counterparts, even if they are more technologically advanced.

My guess is that the system will launch at the same price point as the Wii did in both the US and here in the UK at $250 and £190 respectively. It’s still a lot to ask, but since they’re focusing on the hardcore audience at launch, I’m sure they won’t have too much trouble in convincing fans to part with their cash.

Also of note is that the system comes with a 2gb SD card rather than built in storage. In a way this may be a smarter option, as SD cards are cheap and high capacity and therefore may be perfect for storing games and data on. It’s also good because it makes the system more modular. Casual players will never know that the SD card is even removable, while hardcore users who download a lot of games and who require far more space have the ability to upgrade easily.

The confirmation of multi-tasking is also good to hear. What I’d love to have confirmed next would ideally be a new Nintendo Wi-Fi username based service akin to the other two main gaming hardware company’s networks.

Then again, even if the hardware turns out to not be as great as we are all hoping it will be, when Mario Kart comes out, I’ll end up buying it regardless. That’s the power Nintendo has over me and many other gamers and it’s why they’re still not particularly worried about Apple’s rapidly growing gaming business.


Video Game Comics

Resistance (comics)
Image via Wikipedia

The worlds of games and comics are increasingly converging. Whether it be the digital distribution of comics through devices such as the PSP or iDevices, or actual comics based on games. I want to focus on the comics themselves in this post however.

Recently we’ve seen the likes of Halo, Resistance, WoW, God of War and Ratchet & Clank among many others all get turned into comics. The issue I have is that most games don’t tend to have stories which are particularly interesting, unique or long. Games have traditionally been sold mainly on gameplay and not on story.

In that last few years, that has changed and more games include complex and engaging story lines. Therefore, you would hope that the future of game based comics is looking considerably brighter since up to this point, the reviews for those types of books are generally not favourable.

You would think that games from the likes of bioware, such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age would be ideal for comic adaptations. God of War, less so. It’s also strange that the World of Warcraft comics haven’t been better as they have a huge back-story of lore to pull from.

Perhaps it’s just taking comic book writers and game makers time to adjust to each other’s mediums. Game creators need to provide comic writers with better source material and characters, and comic book creators may need to further get to grips with the gaming medium and how they can best portray a game story in comic pages.

If these things happen, then we may see some truly great game comics in the next few years. Right now it seems that it’s more of a cash cow for both parties and that has to change. Just like in the games industry, quality is what sells in the end so it makes sense to only pick games which have enough story to translate successfully. It also helps to get great talent working on these books. If a great game is combined with a great writer and artist, perhaps we could see some of the most critically acclaimed comics originate from games in the foreseeable future.

For people like me who like to see new ideas in comics rather than rehashing the same characters and stories for decades, it’s good for us too. Just as long as the quality is where it should be. Let’s just hope that this breed of comic becomes much more than just a collector’s item for fans who buy the special edition of a hit game.


E3 Impressions

E3 this year has been exciting, predictable and uninteresting in equal measure. Nintendo have seemingly fully learned their lesson from the casual-fests of the past and this year really came out strongly with a surprise lineup of hardcore titles we didn’t know about. Nintendo seem keen on continuing their foray into the 2D platforming revival with Kirby and Donkey Kong games for Wii, and surprised everyone with a Kid Icarus game. The surprise was not the fact that it was Kid Icarus, but the fact that it was a title for the newly announced and shown off 3DS and not the Wii, as was previously rumoured.

Last years Nintendo conference was actually very strong for the hardcore crowd, following the disaster of the year before, but they went even further this year to entertain the core gamers who generally attend E3. There were some casual titles this year but they kept coverage of them to a minimum which I thought was a smart move.

Microsoft’s conference was in my opinion the weakest of the 3 main companies. While Nintendo have seemingly learned from the past and decided to focus less on casual games and more on the traditional market and Sony have included a good mix of both, Microsoft have gone in the opposite direction which I think is a bad move. Kinect is the new name for Natal. It’s not a terrible name but I’m sceptical of how well it will work for more in-depth types of games. Can the controller free concept deliver on its promise?

I’m also not a fan of the voice control aspect of the device either. Voice control is hardly new and Sony could probably do it with their eye camera if they wanted to, but so far they haven’t shown anything like that. I just think that talking to a machine is always going to make you look silly and feel awkward.

The most important aspect of this whole thing is that even if the device is great and has good support software wise, will the price be low enough to sell units and more importantly get casual players on board. It will likely cost around £100 when combined with £200 for the system itself. £300 seems a bit steep for a casual gaming family. The Wii is considerably cheaper and while it doesn’t offer the same level of technical power and also requires multiple expensive controllers and add-ons to use multiplayer, the initial outlay will put quite a lot of people off I imagine.

Then there’s the problem of Xbox 360 just not being a very appealing name for anyone other than core gamers. They will have to work very hard with casual game advertising in order to really sell this to the wide audience that Nintendo currently enjoys.

Sony I think had just the right mix of traditional hardcore games like Killzone 3 and Infamous 2 along with Twisted Metal, innovative titles like LittleBigPlanet 2 and their foray into full motion gaming with Move. SIXAXIS was their first, unsuccessful attempt but I think they have the right formula this time around. Move is the perfect motion controller, or at least so far. You combine the accuracy of camera tracking with the buttons and accelerometers of the Wii Remote.

Move seems like the perfect fit for sports games such as Tiger Woods and Grand Slam Tennis, both of which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s far from limited to that one category though. Unlike Kinect, which I feel at this point is somewhat limited in what types of games it can be used in, I think Move has much more potential to fit into many different types of games seamlessly.

I think there are two barriers for the Move to overcome. The first is the cost of buying multiple controllers for friends and family groups, but Nintendo haven’t been set back by this problem so far so I don’t see Sony struggling too badly. Of course, Nintendo supply the Wii Remote as their default controller so that does help them but even so. The other issue could be the complexity of the setup. You need the eye camera somewhere in front of your TV as well as the controllers and possibly a subcontroller (nunchuk or duelshock 3) which is similar to the sensor bar but it could get confusing for some.

Moving away from the motion control aspect, I felt the rest of the press conference from Sony was strong. While there weren’t really any surprises, and Playstation Plus doesn’t really offer much that I would be interested in, I think they showed good demos of great upcoming games, and we now have a release date for Gran Turismo 5 which is very exciting for me.

To point out two negative sections of the show, I would say that firstly Sony put too much emphasis on 3D. The technology is still in its infancy and the TVs and glasses are very expensive. Hardly anyone will actually be buying it and I think they should be keeping it low key for the first 6 months to a year of availability because they’re spending considerable amounts of time talking to only a very small percentage of their customers at this time. At the moment Nintendo are the pioneers of 3D because they’re making it available to everyone for presumably a reasonable price.

They also introduced a new PSP advertising campaign. However, they didn’t lower the price and while they did show God Of War: Ghost of Sparta and announced Patapon 3, they only showed it briefly in a video of upcoming games. To me they are sending mixed messages. On one hand, they want us to consider the PSP still alive and kicking, but at the same time, with no price cut and hardly any talk of new games, you wonder if they even believe it themselves.

I think the lack of a PSP2 could hurt Sony badly in their battle with Nintendo and Apple for the next generation of handheld gaming. Nintendo have already stated that they will release the 3DS before the end of March next year. Will Sony have even announced PSP2 by then? If not then it will be likely at least 6 months or maybe even more between the launches of the two systems, and I don’t think they can afford to give Nintendo a head start. Especially because of all the hype and positive press that the 3DS has had surrounding it at E3 and beyond.

E3 was a massive show with so many games announced and shown off. I can’t really go into everything in this post, but overall I think this E3 was a great show with a lot of interesting announcements. 3DS was the big winner and Sony did a solid job. I think Microsoft have something to prove now especially with their motion control. They did announce the slim system with wi-fi but that’s only good to a point. It should have been done years ago.

I’ll have more thoughts soon, and will be back to more regular posts on F1 and all other topics. Thanks for reading.


The Evolution of Steam: Mac Version and More

I’ve been a big fan of Steam, the game download and community service from Valve for a long time now. Not only do they have a great selection of games and a great online infrastructure, but they prove that you don’t have to rip people off and be an “evil corporation” in order to be successful in the games industry.

Valve show that you can give people legitimately great deals, be nice and make money at the same time, all the while increasing brand loyalty with their customers. Valve show that downloadable games can make sense, and that they can be lower priced than their retail counterparts where Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have yet to grasp this notion.

As far as recent events, Valve have just launched Steam for Mac, and I have to say I’m very impressed with it. As far as the application itself is concerned, it is essentially exactly the same as the PC version we all know and love, but that’s probably the best thing they could have done. The integration of Mac software into the existing storefront shows a huge amount of care was taken in trying to make Mac users feel welcome and not confused by not distinguishing between Mac and PC games.

Not only can you sort by operating system, but you can also Play Mac games with PC players of the same title online using SteamWorks. On top of this, and perhaps coolest of all, for certain titles marked with the Steam Play logo, you are eligible to download these particular games to both your Mac and PC for no additional charge. Shockingly, PopCap games are included in this, so I could download BookWorm, Peggle Deluxe and Peggle Nights to my MacBook for free, when on PopCap’s own site they charge separately for Mac and PC versions, so this is a fantastic offer for Steam gamers.

Not only this, but Valve are offering one of their well known and popular games, Portal, which is one part of the hugely successful Orange Box for free for a limited time. This is yet another piece of evidence of Valve’s commitment to customer satisfaction and increasing brand loyalty.

So what have we learned? Steam on Mac is fantastic and a must-download for Mac whatever kind of gamer you are. We’ve also learned that it is possible to be a successful game developer and publisher and make a lot of money, while also treating your fans well and giving away content, as opposed to charging for every single thing you release after the launch of a game.

Activision and EA among others, take note.