Well, after missing all official Nintendo events of the last months and the opportunity to get my hands on Nintendo’s new handheld I got my chance today at the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover. I must admit that I was a bit sceptical about how well the 3D effect works but after playing around with the device for half an hour I am really impressed of the technology. As you might already know, the effect can be turned down to find the best individual setting, which is a great feature. Both games I played – Pilotwings and Kid Icarus – used the 3D effect for a better separation of the controllable objects and enemies from the level background, which seems to turn out well. A consequence of this approach is that the level design and background graphics look somehow ‘flat’ compared to the very prominent presentation of 3D objects in the foreground. The real benefit from the 3D presentation is the better estimation of depth for the controllable game characters or objects. In Pilotwings the depth of the presentation really helps the player to land his airplane at the right spot or maneuver through rings in the air. In contrast to Pilotwings, Kid Icarus left me unimpressed because of its plain and simple gameplay of a railshooter downgrading the 3D effects to pure eye candy with little impact on the gameplay. The next months will tell how well the games will make use of the potential of the 3D effects – until now the starting lineup is not that impressive but the nearby future (looking forward to E3) might be able to give us a better understanding of the potential of the 3DS.
Before this year`s E3 in Los Angeles I was really looking forward to the press briefings of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft because of the previously announced new interface hardware. I must admit I hyped myself a bit too much with all this Natal (aka Kinect) and PS Move stuff and perhaps that is one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed by the news I got from the media events.
I still like the idea to interact with a console like Tom Cruise was doing in Minority Report but in the end it comes down to the games which will be available for each new system. In case of Microsoft`s Kinect I was really surprised that it seems like they cloned Nintendo`s games line-up: A sports collection, a cart racer, a nintendogs-like game and some sports activity stuff. Even the Star Wars Kinect game looks lousy: Poor graphics for a next gen console, standard interaction patterns instead of realtime tracking of the laser sword and some sort of rail-shooter movement. Ok, everything will presumably work a bit more precise than on the Wii but I think Microsoft really could have done much better with their line-up. Where are the new ideas? The only highlight for me was the dancing game which is a game that would not work on the Wii. But I doubt that this will be a system seller.
What`s up with Sony? After showing some fancy bow and sword action with the Playstation Move controllers at last E3 I was waiting for some motion-tracking games for the core gaming crowd. But it turned out that Sony had the same idea as Microsoft: Both want to expand their market with the casual gamers. Sony`s vision therefore includes a cartoonish sorcerer (Hello Harry Potter!) and some casual clash of old school game heroes. Of course, some older and some forthcoming AAA-titles will be supported by Playstation Move but none of them was presented live. It always sounded like PS Move will be a type of add-on feature but nothing the games will focus on.
So it turns out that both Microsoft and Sony are trying to follow in Nintendo`s footsteps by developing their own motion-tracking interfaces. Even though both Microsoft and Sony might have done a good job with their hardware, they failed to convice me with their games line-up. There is still hope that they both do better in the future but I do not find any reason to buy one of these at their release dates this fall.
And that`s why in my opinion Nintendo made the best impression with their media event. As awaited they presented some strong Wii IPs (Zelda, Metroid) and their next iteration of the Nintendo DS, the 3DS. The new version is able to provide 3D effects without putting glasses on and has a very solid start line-up for a new mobile console: A new Metal Gear Solid title, Resident Evil, Kid Icarus, Dead or Alive, Kingdom Hearts, Ridge Racer, Assassin`s Creed, Professor Layton and some more. Of course, Nintendo is not the only one pushing 3d gaming – Sony presented their approach which includes a tv set for 2000$+ and wearing glasses. For now, it seems like Nintendo made again the right move in terms of hardware development.
The E3 is back – after a smaller show and lots of criticism in the last year, last week`s Electronic Entertainment Expo was an overwhelming success. Of course, there were tons of games but I am not going to repeat everything that you already heard on all the gaming news pages. As usual, my focus will be on the game interfaces and usability topics of E3. Here we go:
Microsoft`s “Project Natal”
Months before E3 a lot of rumors occured surrounding the news that Microsoft had a deal with 3DV, a small company located in Israel which works on 3D-cameras which will be featured in a new XBox360 addon. Well, these rumors turned out to be true as Microsoft presented the motion-sensing camera technology in their keynote last week. The system is capable of tracking not only the body movement but also the depth of the position of different body parts, enabling the software to use the whole body as an input device. I really like the idea but not being able to test it myself I am still a bit skeptical how precise the input will work and if there are any latencies due to the lack of a haptic input device. I have no doubt that all the sport and mini games will work properly BUT games with the need for very precise and direct inputs (e.g. the demoed racing game) will be a challenge for the technology in my opinion. From what I have seen I expect a similar precision the Wii controls have (what already will be a great success).
In the last months a lot of rumors evolved around the new Tony Hawk game possibly introducing a new piece of hardware: The skateboard controller. Today Activision released a teaser trailer for Tony Hawk Ride which features a short glimpse on a board-like controller without wheels but with some buttons along the side (see video). Presumably, this controller will feature a kind of motion control which is not officially confirmed yet.
The first pictures of the upcoming “DJ Hero” turntable controller arrived on twitpic (likely this is not the final controller but a similiar prototype design). Still I have problems to imagine how this controller is supposed to work with the game. Three buttons only + scrachting and speeding up and down the wheel? No sign of a mixer, yet. And can you use two turntables? Presumably we will hear more about the game and the controller at E3 and be able to buy it at the end of year.
After finishing my blog entry about ‘games in the clouds’ I found an interesting article / comment by David Perry via Twitter regarding the same topic and just wanted to add it. The article contains a lot of math about the OnLive service and is well worth reading. I attended his talk last year at Leipzig and I remember the visions about cloud computing very well.
As I said before: No matter if OnLive achieves its goals or not – cloud computing will be a part of the future of the game industry. And I really can`t wait to stop upgrading my computer or home console every 3 years or so.
Last week at GDC the company OnLive announced their upcoming game-streaming service via cloud computing. The idea is simple: You only need a low-end computer or a TV with a little OnLive box and a broadband internet connection. The computer or the OnLive box will track your input and send it to the OnLive servers where your game is running. The visual output is returned to your computer or TV set which requires a minimum connection of 1MBit.
Even more interesting than the tech stuff may be the implications for the whole game industry. If OnLive or a similar service will work as intended, the retail will get into serious trouble. We will likely see new subscription or fee models, perhaps a gaming flat? For the publishers the advantage of a system like OnLive is obvious: Without retail in between the profit margins will increase a lot and, in addition, a system like OnLive has the potential to solve some piracy issues. 11 publishers already have an agreement with OnLive including Activision Blizzard, EA, Ubisoft, Atari, THQ, Codemasters and Take 2.
Cloud computing could be a real threat to the next generation of consoles and gaming pcs. Why buy a Playstation 4 or a XBox720 when the cloud computing systems upgrade their hardware to offer you the best possible gaming experience? What will happen to Sony, MS, Nintendo, NVidia, Intel and AMD in the next 5 years? Is THIS the ‘one console future’ some people were talking about years ago? Of course, not everybody has a 1Mbit connection nowadays. But in five years a lot of people will.
But even when consoles and gaming computers leave our homes and we are playing via TV set we will still need some input devices. Gamepads, keyboards, steering wheels and – perhaps – wii-motes and nunchucks? Will the three big console manufacturers become peripheral device manufacturers or pure game developers like Sega did? Will they offer their own cloud computing services? Will we have to decide whether to subscribe to the Sony or Microsoft Cloud?
The next five years will tell a lot about our gaming future. Hopefully, the customers are the winners with lower-priced games and a low technical and monetary barrier to enter high-end gaming.
Today I saw a first trailer of Ubi`s upcoming RTS-game ‘R.U.S.E.’ - I must admit that yet another WW2 RTS-game doesn`t impress me that much BUT the video ad draw my attention because it features a kind of ‘multi-touch gaming table of the future’ where to guys face in battle (looks like the table is a CG product and not real…sadly). So, here is my request: Ubisoft, please create a AAA-title like this one with real multi-touch support.
As you may have recognized in previous blog entries, I am not a fanboy of DRM, especially when it comes to several activation instances and multiple online account creations – even if you want to play offline (already checked the current Dawn of War 2 beta?!).
Well, I really was surprised that there is a DRM mechanism out there, which is shutting down all PC-based versions of ‘Gears of War’ as Ars Technica reports. It seems like there is a built-in shutdown date in the game which was – unluckily – January the 28th. So all the gamers who bought the game cannot play unless they change the system clock. The real fun part: Guess who still can play the game? Software pirates. See the lesson? Good job, Epic.
(Thx for the picture: rebopper@Flickr)
Yesterday at CES Robbie Bach – president of the entertainment & devices division at Microsoft – presented a software named Kodu (formerly known as “Boku”) which will allow kids and adults to create their own games using their XBox360 and without learning a difficult programming language. They use visual abstractions to give people another perspective on programming and – with that – an easier access. For several years researches work on topics like end-user programming (perhaps you remember Squeak or Alice?) and in Spring 2009 we will see what Microsoft`s vision of this research area is. Besides the challenge of implementing visual programming logics, the user interface is what definetly excites me the most about these news, cause it shall all be controlled by a XBox pad.
Really impressive is the demo of a 12-year old girl at CES using Kodu (see video below, thx Youtube).