Nintendo conference reflections...

Written by Benke on the 6th of June 2012 at 06:34

Today has been a very busy day as you'd expect with E3 kicking off proper. The floor is louder, more crowded and less optimised for those of us who are trying to see as many games as possible than ever before. Yeah, I'm a bit whiny... I know... maybe it's the lack of food, water, or the constant deafening noise level of the EA booth (where I spent 3 hours) that is taking its toll.

Nintendo held their press conference today, and I was amazed at just how muted the audience response was. The crowd at the Nintendo conferences are usually a bit different from the crowds at Sony and Microsoft. There are more fanboys present - maybe a result of the many Nintendo fansites out there, and maybe a conscious effort from Nintendo to create atmosphere. I remember when their conference was held at Kodak Theater and tons of people who sit for hours on the floor as all the seats were taken. This year it felt as if Nintendo cater more towards the audience watching the conference at home on Spike TV or MTV2 and not the fans at Nokia Theater or the hardcore gamers watching the stream. We got brief glimpses of games like New Super Mario Bros. U, and New Super Mario Bros. 2, while the constant promise of more content on e3.nintendo.com made it feel like you were watching an infomercial and that you would be hit with some kind of trojan as soon as you typed in those letters in your browser.

There were stuff to be excited about - Pikmin 3 was expected and very welcome - Mario's many games looked interesting and different enough - and the news of dual game pads was positive. Mass Effect 3 will hopefully signal a much needed addition to the Nintendo library of games with western RPG's.

But... Nintendoland that Nintendo did their best to position as the Wii Sport of Wii U, felt a bit bland, at least from what we saw. I'm sure the gameplay is going to be there, but to say that it is as immediate as playing tennis with Wii Sports is p


E3 - very much alive and kicking

Written by Benke on the 31st of May 2012 at 22:10

A week or so there was a bit of a tremor in the force as an opinion piece over at Gamesindustry.biz argued that E3 had played out its role and use. It's not a surprising angle to play at - E3 has been struggling in the past - and from a distance there seems to be fewer and fewer revelations each year in Los Angeles.

Next week we will see a new Gears of War, Dead Space 3, the next Splinter Cell (in all likelihood), Quantic Dream's next (hopefully), and a whole host of new Wii U titles. But the middle class of gaming is not using E3 to make announcements anymore. Konami may have revealed the new Castlevania just in time for E3, but Sega and Capcom, along with companies like Warner and 2K Games are focusing on games already announced. They may have surprises at the conferences, but that's hard to know in advance.

More importantly though, there is no contender stepping up to try and challenge E3 as the main event on the gaming calendar. Sure, there are lots of great shows, Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, PAX, all serve their purpose and GDC is a wonderful event in its own right - but none of these demand the attention and mainstream focus that E3 in Los Angeles enjoys. This is the Premier League of video games, and the others struggling further down in the Championship.

Could E3 potentially be replaced with publisher organised events that are streamed live an expansion of the press conferences of today? Possibly. But let's not forget that the industry needs an event like E3 - it spurs interest and it's the only place where the entire industry is represented (more or less).

E3 2012 is going to be my 8th straight E3 reporting from LA. I've been through the highs (2005) and the lows (2007 in Santa Monica), and there is currently nothing to indicate any decline as far as this year goes. Our schedules are full of interesting appointments and interviews, and as usual I'm forced to turn down exciting appointments as there is simply not enough time.

That said, E3 is far from perfect. There used to be two full days of press conferences and pre-show events with the actual show running from Wednesday through Friday. It was a bit more relaxed, and more press conferences/events prior to the show is the best way of actually getting to see all the major games - the showfloor, and behind closed doors sessions - simply take up too much time for one journalist to cover all the essential games on display. Another alternative would be to have the show run an extra day, but I'm sure there are cost issues with doing that.

E3 is the most important event on my calendar, it may not be the most enjoyable one, but I don't see it going anymore anytime soon. The Santa Monica experiment still leaves a sour taste in ESA's mouth.

E3 - very much alive and kicking

My badges of honour from E3 2011.

Sonic killed Alex Kidd

Sonic killed Alex Kidd

Written by Benke on the 9th of May 2012 at 10:06

There was a time before Sonic. A time when Alex Kidd was the face of Sega (possibly with a little help from Wonderboy). Sega pre-Sonic was even more eclectic than the Sega we knew during the Saturn and Dreamcast eras. The Alex Kidd games are devoid of anything resembling commonality, and the hero looks very different in the various games he appeared in during his shortlived reign as Sega mascot.

He first appeared in the platformer Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986), and then starred in Alex Kidd Lost Stars, Alex Kidd BMX Trial (Japan only, Paddle Controller), Alex Kidd High-Tech World (only released in Western market as this was a completely different title in Japan). After these appearances on Master System, he made his lone appearance on Mega Drive with Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989). His final game was on the Master System, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (1990).

After that Sonic pretty much retired him, until he was seen this generation in Sega's All-Star tennis and racing titles.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle was one of the first game I owned on my Mega Drive. It's a strange platformer with very short levels and lots of paper, rock, scissors duels. Afterall, it's played out on Planet Paperock.

I recently picked up Sega Mega Drive Collection (PSP) for my PS Vita, and started playing it again. The higher tempo of the music and action (NTSC version) put me off a bit at first, and I would hardly put this in the classics category, but it's still a fun little game with lots of secrets to find and a healthy dose of quirky encounters. It's fairly unforgiving as most platformers at the time, and some of the vehicles are hard to control. Especially the classic pedicopter that requires you to tap a button to keep it in the air, but you can't keep it in the air for long anyway, the bike is far more useful in most levels.

Since Alex Kidd dies from touching any enemy (when not kicking or punching) them, there is a nice risk/reward system in place for trying to reach bonus items or things off the beaten path. When you're in the zone playing this game it's really enjoyable, but when you're not you're going to swear a lot. To the tune of "Jan Ken Poo".

Anyway, I'd love for Sega to resurrect Alex Kidd with a PSN/XBLA title. I think it's long overdue and there are lots of concepts found in his games that could be expanded upon if the right developer got their hands on it.

Call of Duty fading?

Call of Duty fading?

Written by Benke on the 18th of April 2012 at 12:06

There was a bit of commotion a few days ago as analysts pointed to slowing sales of Modern Warfare 3 compared to its predecessor Black Ops. While 4.2 per cent down doesn't seem like much, it was the fact that Modern Warfare 3 only sold half of what Black Ops did in its respective March that had people reacting.

The general consensus seems to be that casuals are abandoning the franchise for other means of entertainment and as a result the "legs" of the game suffer.

I think it's safe to say that many analysts have anticipated this moment for a while now, and perhaps they are a bit too early with judgements.

Modern Warfare 3 sold quicker than Black Ops, and broke its launch records. That seems to suggest that the franchise is still growing its core user base, and it's not impossible that Black Ops 2 will go on to break these records as well. Secondly the analysis seems to completely forget about the fact that Modern Warfare 3 was up against Battlefield 3 and even if it beat BF3 handily, BF3 still must have taken some of the potential customers.

Another angle to this is the dollar angle. With Call of Duty: Elite (1.5 million paying subscribers), and lots of DLC, it is still entirely plausible that even with a 4.2 per cent decline in retail sales, the franchise as a whole may be increasing in value.

All of that said, it may very well be that what we are experiencing now is the peak of Call of Duty, and that it will quickly or slowly decline from here. My money is on a slow decline, this situation cannot be compared to Guitar Hero even if fatigue may be a word that comes into play. And given the economy of Call of Duty it is reasonable to assume that it isn't as vulnerable as the cost heavy licensed structure of the Guitar Hero business.

In anticipation of the Vita

In anticipation of the Vita

Written by Benke on the 15th of February 2012 at 17:10

New hardware always excites me, and to be honest since I never really got on the 3DS I feel an urgent need to get my hands on a new handheld. Great timing then that PS Vita is just around the bend, but I must say I'm a bit worried about what I interpret as a lukewarm hype for the device. It has not done as well as expected in Japan (although it really needs a Monster Hunter type success story to truly break through over there), and well, judging from what I hear and read there aren't too many gamers out there who can't wait to buy one at launch.

In many ways the Vita is your dream handheld. Dual analogues, touchscreen and what appears to be a wholehearted and accessible digital strategy... and that brilliant screen that just oozes of quality. And with the line up that is available from day one it's hard to see how you could go wrong... still I have a creeping feeling that the mismanagement and failure of PSP over here is going to come back and haunt Sony. I hope not, but the risk seems great.

Well, business analysis aside I'm happy to say I'm getting a Vita at launch, and most likely I'm going to download Touch My Katamari straight away. I'm also intrigued by Escape Plan. And well, you can never go wrong with Wipeout. The only problem I see is the battery time, hopefully more planes will come equipped with power plugs in every seat in the future...