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Revolution and the Next Generation of Gaming, or Popular Belief and the Gaming Industry
editorial
posted by: Chris Martin
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date posted: 12:22 AM Tue Sep 20th, 2005
last revision: 05:11 PM Wed Sep 21st, 2005


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Click to read.This article is, in part, a response to a recent editorial posted on GF!, Why Nintendo Gets It, or Why Sony Should Start Trying.

A Lengthy Introduction--Nintendo: A Portrait

While the media, no doubt, has valid opinions on the Next-Generation Revolution controller, it is the public that will eventually decide the fate of a company. I have heard positive feedback from gamers and I have heard concerned gamers voice their opinion on the matter. Consider this editorial this humble gamer voicing his opinion on Nintendo's view of the future. And the view of the future of video games in general.

When we saw Sega's demise under the pressure of Sony and Nintendo, we all said, though internally, "Wow, I can't believe they're not in the console business anymore." Sega unfortunately faced the firing squad of the public; now, years later, Nintendo may be facing a similar firing squad. The circumstances of this debate - the validity of the controller and functionality therein of the Revolution - and the situation regarding Nintendo's future are not as dire as they were for Sega. Still, it is true that Nintendo has done something against the mainstream, against convention and, therefore, they are facing a firing squad to some extent - they are facing public acceptance. I hold Nintendo as the most innovative company in all of gaming. They are a risk taking company. And with risk yields high reward - or so someone very old and famous once said.

The popular opinion is not something to take lightly. Nintendo must appeal to the public and, they know this. If they appeal to the masses - and if they pull off the intricacies of the system - it will be a revolutionary move. The Revolution will be revolutionary: it's like they chose the name for a reason, or something.

They need to persuade the public that their remote is the next thing for gaming.

Can they do it? Well, let's put it this way: I know people who own a GameCube merely for The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker. If Nintendo can survive on its first party games - which it, arguably, has been doing with its GameCube - they will survive, sell Revolutions, and advance the industry in new and bold ways.

If they fail to deliver the content, if they alienate their 3rd parties, and if they miss their core audience, things could get messy. It is a time of risks for Nintendo. And it is an exciting time for us gamers.

The De-Evolution of the Controller:

With Nintendo's announcement of the Revolution controller, many began speculating, guessing - hell, even praying - that the possibilities will be realized for the little white wand. Will this usher in a new realm of real-time control? Will this bring us closer to a truly realized virtual reality? More important, will Sony and Microsoft follow suit?

It can be the changing point of a generation, this device, and I love Nintendo for bringing new potential to the gaming arena. But what are we looking at for next generation games? Graphics? Sound? Story? Control? Will Nintendo's supporting 3rd parties be able to take advantage of a very non-traditional peripheral? These are all valid questions, but my concern isn't that Nintendo won't realize their system's potential; my concern is that other developers won't.

We are all aware of Nintendo's self-segregating business tactics. Let's just look at their wacky peripherals as visions of developer-insensitivity. The N64's "switch hand" proponent (sorry left handers) or the inane position of the Z, X, and Y buttons on the GameCube's controller are not innovations, they are de-evolutions, they are impractical additions to a controller. And though Nintendo has always taken the road less traveled, it is apparent that they might have very few people following them, if the public considers their choice in innovation to be de-evolution.

Take a look at any current generation controllers: four face buttons (at least), two shoulder buttons or more, two analog sticks, and at least one directional pad. I love the current setup but it's getting crowded on the traditional controller. I mean, do we absolutely need ten different things to press? It is true that many new gamers quit playing not because of the game content, but because they don't want to press that many buttons--it is quite off putting. So Nintendo has made simplicity their biggest draw. Their Revolution prototype has two buttons on the main remote and two more on the left handed joystick. Simple, though odd. I'm sure had he approved of videogames or anything industrialized to begin with, Henry D. Throreau would be backing Nintendo.

The fact of the matter is H. D. Thoreau never paid his taxes. And Nintendo is in the business of making money.

Still, what Nintendo is giving us is a more simplified, technologically enhanced version of the Colecovision controller, which consisted of a joystick, two side buttons, and a number-pad. The Colecovision controller is considered one of the worst eye-sores and innovations in gaming history. It is somewhat unfortunate that Nintendo has made it's controller so closely resemble that of the Colecovision's.

Don't misread me. I'm am not saying history is repeating itself; I disregard the thought. But the similarities are there.

Nintendo might be taking so dramatic a turn to radicalism that it may isolate fans, deter any 3rd party use of the system, and limit the launch lineup. I'm sure there will be plenty of fishing games, bowling games, sword-fighting games, drum simulators, and painting games when Nintendo launches the Revolution. These things all seem practical with the wand. First person shooters, fighting games, racing games, football games...not so much.

If fans are looking to wave a virtual lantern to see dynamic lighting work in real-time, you'll probably do it on the Revolution. If you're looking to play Ninja Gaiden or even God of War, you'll probably have to do it elsewhere.

Full Range Motion and It's Implications

Nintendo is showing off the controller as a link between the virtual avatar and the human user. It uses body movement to become the movement of the character on screen. What we need to realize now, right now, are the limitations this system imposes. Aaron Stanton, Assistant Editor of our own GF!, posed a question to me: "Wouldn't it be cool if I could actually 'shoot' Link's bow with two Revolution controllers by simulating a bow firing?" My answer to him was a simple yes. That would be amazing. The trouble Nintendo is going to run into - if they intend to do something like that - is of controlling a virtual-3D, planar world that is receiving input from a true 3 dimensional world. I immediately asked him: How would you aim? He said, by aiming the controller. I asked him, what if you wanted to turn around, how would the aiming function work then?

We all remember virtual reality games from the arcades, how they work, how they sometimes didn't work. We at GamesFirst! have seen enough virtual headsets in Kentia Hall at E3 to make us sick -not because of the excess, but because of their inability to calibrate and to function properly. I am concerned that Nintendo's controller will fail to do what it intends - simulate human movement on a virtual character. I am concerned that a full range motion controller will be a short-lived innovation, and that Nintendo will fall behind the mainstream Sony and Microsoft. I'm not saying it will happen, but it could.

Developing for Yourself

Nintendo's games have always been top-tier. That is, they've almost always sold well, been critically and commercially praised. And that isn't likely to change. But what happens when you develop a system that is made for the sole purpose of your own games, not those of your 3rd parties, your most important supporters. While Nintendo can survive off of 1st party games (think Zelda, Mario, Metroid), it isn't wise to make a system that 3rd parties will have difficulty developing for. Game lineups can thin and sales can drop and that would be the end of it. As our own George Holomshek pointed out in his article, How the Revolution will Change Zelda:

Swinging your sword might not be the only option. Nor is it good to assume that you'll only be using motion to control either the shield or the sword, and not both simultaneously. In the most basic form, imagine holding the controller in one hand, and raising it to your face to raise your shield in the game. But keep in mind that the system is obviously capable of tracking two controllers at a time; why not have a controller in one hand that tracks your sword, and an identical "player 2" controller in the other that lets you raise your shield. Combat may be a very different experience in just a little bit of time, exchanging blows with your enemies instead of just hitting buttons. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past gave Link a mirrored shield that he could use to reflect certain types of enemy fire. Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker had similar shields that you could use to direct light around the room and shield yourself from blows. The possibilities are really fairly large.

The possibilities are fairly large. But will it be able to happen? It is too early to say.

Nintendo might be building this system with Zelda in mind, or Samus, or Mario, but don't forget that the third parties sell systems as well. Though I despise EA's philosophy on game development (improve old, not improve new), EA's Madden franchise has consistently sold PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Likewise, there are thousands upon thousands of game franchises that I'd love to see in the next arena of consoles, but will not (most likely) on Revolution. Remember, Halo 2 didn't sell consoles because it innovated--it sold consoles because it did conventional exceptionally well.

Controller Add-Ons, Disappointment and Possibility

The other day here at GF! we thought up an add-on attachment for the Revolution controller. The attachment would look like a gun handle and work with first person shooters. And then Nintendo went and announced that add-on peripherals to the controller were a-go. And then one (pictured below) mock-up from IGN surfaced. While silly. I don't think it's too far from the truth. How many peripherals do we need in order to play a game? The Sega's 32X didn't sell because it was an add-on for the Genesis. Let us not forget the rumble pack and "memory upgrade" add-ons for the N64.

I hope that Nintendo isn't repeating past mistakes. These old tack-ons only deter gamers from playing a system, which is counterproductive to good business practices. I for one want the standard Revolution controller to play all the system's many games sin-appends. If they could do it, that would not be cool per say, but it would be a relief. If they don't, Nintendo's coup d'?tat of the home console business might be an assassination on way to an ambush.

But the controller is still in the prototype stage and all the functionality has yet to be revealed. I for one am comforted by this idea, that Nintendo's really good concept is left open for fixes and revisions. I believe that Nintendo is in this game to win: to get it right. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata stated at the Nintendo press conference: "The feeling is so natural and real, as soon as players use the controller, their minds will spin with the possibilities of how this will change gaming as we know it today."

He may be right. But we'll have to wait and see.

This is but one gamer's concern.

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