Nintendo made a lot of announcements yesterday at their E3 press conference. I’m not going to go into great detail as to what those announcements were, if you need that information there are many game sites who already have it covered. I suggest Planet GameCube as their coverage is the most complete. What I want to talk about is what my expectations where before the conference and what they are now. I want to talk about the good, the bad and the unknown of what Nintendo is doing. And as always I will blab about what I think they should do in the future.
First off, before we knew anything about the revolution I had some ideas about what I would like it to be and some predictions about what it actually would be. My idea was that it would be a wireless DS hub or a hub for the new GameBoy. My vision was that 16 people in one house with 16 DSes would be on a team playing a game against 16 other people in another house with 16 DSes. Or 4 houses with 4DSes each, you get the idea. That would be a revolution in gaming. Each player would have their own private screen with their personal gameplay, but the revolution hooked up to the television would provide information common to the entire team. Developers could concentrate more on the game itself and not on features like in game voice chat.
What I thought the revolution really would be was an Internet enabled game station with an incredibly new controller with all sorts of innovative interfaces. It is obvious if you go to any arcade that the big games all have special interfaces other than joystick and buttons. Games with racing wheels, dance pads and drum sets are the big money makers with all sorts of people other than gamers. Only super gamer freaks play Soul Caliber II in the arcade. Don’t get me wrong though, I love SC2. But Initial D version 3 and DDR are the most popular games in any arcade you go to. Besides air hockey, skee-ball and the crane game that is.
What Nintendo announced yesterday was something I have wanted for years. Whenever an emulation argument came up I would say “Those bastards, emulation should be OK because it’s abandonware. If they aren’t selling it anymore they shouldn’t be able to stop us from sharing it.” Nintendo responded recently by including all the old NES classics as bonuses in various games as well as on stand alone GBA cartridges. However, they were heinously overpriced and in some cases deficient. I wanted Nintendo to release every NES game ever for download at $1 or less each and release an official perfect emulator for all OSes. Now they have come through with something potentially better and potentially worse. The revolution will allow download of NES, SNES and N64 games into its 512MB of flash for perfect emulation. Presumably there will be a charge for this and some sort of DRM.
This will work, if Nintendo does the following. First, the game library has to be huge. If people can’t get all the big games by download it will fail. No FF6, forget it. If people can’t get rare games or forgotten hits it will fail. Real gamers still have their NESes or they have emulators. The only reason they will pay up is to get hard to find games. Nintendo also needs to provide some original content for download. We don’t just mean the shit that the XboX 360 is pushing either. MS thinks it is going to make money by selling unlockables in games. What used to be acquired simply by finding secrets or performing feats in a game will now be acquired by paying money. That will only fly with idiots. To make this work Nintendo can’t do that. They have to sell complete exclusive games over the Revolution download service. Example: They make a third quest to the original Legend of Zelda. I’ll buy that for a dollar, and so will many other people.
Next, Nintendo has to have the DRM not be stupid. Nobody likes DRM except DRM companies. If for any reason the DRM becomes a hindrance to gaming people will be pissed. The DRM, no matter what it is, will be broken in a matter of days anyway. The 512MB of flash, the USB ports and the SD card slot are going to be a hackers play land. this is good for Nintendo. Their systems were always a hackers nightmare with physical anti-piracy prevention like tiny GameCube discs and cartridges. Iwata spoke on how the revolution would be a revolution for developers. That it would be a system for people with big ideas not a big budget. If this holds true and just about anybody can develop for the revolution that will be huge. The blockbuster game companies like EA aren’t the ones who can take advantage of the possibilities of innovation that Nintendo is providing. Only by opening up to smaller more creative developers will we see software that takes full advantage of the hardware capabilities. This is why you don’t see a great quantity of DS software yet. The people with the resources to develop games don’t have the ideas and aren’t willing to take the risk. But the cost of entry for those who have ideas and risk is too high. If the price of entry is low there will be hordes of software. And if hackability is easy you will see articles on all the big blogs daily about the new cool thing that someone did with their revolution.
The last thing Nintendo has to do is fully maximize the potential of the wireless controller. The way I see it, wireless controllers means you can have as many players in one room as you have wireless channels. 16 is my prediction as that is how many DSes go at once and how many wavebirds go at once. But wireless also means you can have any kind of controller you want. I imagine a battle of the bands game including bongos microphones and more. If they release a wireless Duck Hunt zapper I will cry. They almost have to if they expect to sell that or Hogan’s Alley for download. And if they make a wireless power glove I’ll shit myself. It’s so bad. On the prototype revolution there are going to be GameCube controller ports and memory card slots. Whether those are only for cube compatibility or more remains to be seen. What would be extra awesome would be if the GameCube controller and wavebird were the standard revolution controllers. Maybe release a newly styled yet equivalent version for the revolution. Then have all kinds of revolutionary input devices for different games. It’s worked for DDR and Donkey Konga. Heck, entire industries pop up just to perfect a certain type of periopheral.
If Nintendo does all these things they will swim in money. But I don’t think this will be our reality. The reality I foresee is this. Nintendo will still be stingy with dev kits to protect IP, like the are now. Developing for revolution will be cheaper, but still not open to anyone and everyone so the number of games that take full advantage of the possibilities will be limited, like the DS. Lots of people will release games that are just normal video games with meager online support if any. Nobody will do anything cool like enabling online multiplayer support in the old school downloadable games or putting duck hunt high scores online. Somebody will release clones of the old NES, SNES and N64 controllers that are wireless and work with the revolution. It might even be Nintendo. The online library of games will not be as big as it could be, for licensing reasons. But it will contain all the Nintendo classics at the least. Most likely it will also have Namco, Midway and Atari games. All the things currently release as anthology discs will be available for download. I predict that the revolution will have a default wireless controller that has fancy features like a pressure sensitive grip, Wario ware twisted, microphone type interface. It might even have a touch screen in it. If it does, then unlike the Dreamcast VMU or the GBA->GCN connector every game will be forced to take advantage of that feature. And how they take advantage will determine which games are million sellers. As far as I’m concerned the only cube games to make reasonable use of the GBA were Pac-man vs. and 4 swords. FF:CC and Wind Waker just didn’t use it well enough.
I can see what is going through Nintendo’s minds right now. They see games like Katamari Damacy, DDR, Lumines, etc. They see cell phone games like Tetris going for $5. These games are cheap to make, yet sell as well as blockbuster titles that cost millions. That is where the huge profits lie. The revolution will be a platform where you can develop a game of any level and make it available to all the console owners. If you want to make a PS3 game it has to be a huge fancy graphics extravaganza. Theoretically if you get a big idea you can get a bunch of NES devs over and make a revolution game over the weekend. Not every revolution game will be another Katamari, but that’s what they’re shooting for. You can already see it happening with stuff like Nintendogs and Polarium on the DS. The question is whether there are enough creative minds to make enough content to get the ball rolling. All I can say is that if you are the type of person who prefers a Katamari to yet another Halo/Final Fantasy/GTA then Nintendo is the place to be.