Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shadow of Nintendo

A few weeks ago Sony has unveiled the PS3, or majority of what it is supposed to be, coupled with their online service offerings that a few months ago they had downplayed as unnecessary. At the Game Development Conference (GDC), Sony once again echoed the same news that Ken Kutaragi trumpeted in the Playstation Business Conference, this time under the guise of Phil Harrison coupled with a couple of more tech demos (hard to tell what they are anymore if its coming from Sony).

Of course with the style of Sony Marketing, the sizzle always sells much more than the steak…and it works! Microsoft and Nintendo were also present at the GDC but compared to Sony’s sizzle these two guys are once again left out in the blue.


Ken Kutaragi's motto: "Sell the Sizzle and not the Steak!"

To its credit, Microsoft didn’t really want to create too much buzz around the XBOX 360, perhaps they want to save all the news they have for E3 2006. Instead they went to the GDC to peddle their new gaming development tool XNA, which promises to help developers make games easily between the XBOX 360 and the PC. (Although rumor has it that XNA is also being worked on for operability for the PS3 and Nintendo Revolution platforms). Other than that Microsoft had a small place wherein people can check out the latest builds of the XBOX 360 games. in contrast with Sony’s “sizzle marketing”, Microsoft seems to be taking the ‘play the game yourself and you be the judge’ steak approach.

Nintendo was also present at the GDC but it was overshadowed by the presence and the promise of the PS3 gaming. Apart from the usual Nintendo circles, nobody seemed to have batted an eyelash at Satoru Iwata’s keynote speech. Nintendo has stated several times that they out to compete with the XBOX 360 or the PS3, instead they are trying a more different approach in their console where the focus will be in the gameplay experience compared to a the raw hardware power of the machine.

But is Nintendo really out of the ballgame?

The Final Boss: Satoru Iwata

Come E3 2006, Microsoft will not really have any further unveilings for its hardware perhaps with the exception of some new peripherals and improvements on their XBOX Live service. Microsoft will once again focus on what they believe matters…games. Chances are they will be showing actual games running on the XBOX 360 and announce more games in development for the XBOX 360. Microsoft’s wildcard in the games forefront will be the XBOX Live Arcade and Marketplace, the laughing stock of E3 2005 which apparently worked against all criticism and ‘Velocity Girl’ jokes.

Come E3 2006, Sony will have a repeat presentation of what they did at the Playstation Conference in Japan and at the GDC. Hopefully this time around they will have something more concrete than the usual tech demo and take a page out of Microsoft’s play book and start showing playable games. Sony should be able to do so considering majority of their games have been in development far longer than the XBOX 360 titles shown in E3 2005. Sony has announced so much in the past few weeks that I wonder if there is anything left to announce at all for E3 2006. And I honestly don’t think they will be unveiling the price of the PS3 anytime soon.

Most people are betting that the star of E3 2006, will be Sony…just as they had always been for the past couple of years…

And everybody forgets about Nintendo.

Can this bring about a revolution in the console industry?

Nintendo has been quiet about the Revolution for several months. But if they play their cards right at E3 2006 and Tokyo Game Show 2006 they have a very good chance to blow away their competition and generate more interest in their console apart from just marketing their handhelds.

Compared to the XBOX 360, Nintendo now has a very good chance of reclaiming their home market, Japan from the clutches of Sony who has dominated the Japanese market for the past 10 years.

The Nintendo Revolution will be perfect for Japanese gamers who seek a different kind of variety in their gameplay and don’t really care much about graphics or raw hardware power. The size of the Nintendo Revolution compared to the XBOX 360 and the PS3 is actually a big advantage for Japanese gamers who actually like their consoles small. And the price point of the Nintendo Revolution will definitely be more affordable compared to the powerhouse ‘reality synthesizer’ known as the PS3. Japan has certainly warmed up to Nintendo’s handhelds and looking at the Nintendo Revolution concept, chances are the Japanese will like the new console as well.

The quintessential icon of gameplay...Mario!

If Nintendo wins in Japan it will be a big blow for Sony since the gaming media always puts the Japan market sales on a pedestal. But for many gamers around the world, Nintendo will have to play their cards right.

By playing their card’s right it means having to show games actually running on the Nintendo Revolution and proving that the ‘remote control’ controller concept is one that actually offers unique gameplay going beyond novelty gaming. It also means having to make push their games and create new interesting properties for the Nintendo Revolution other than the usual Nintendo suspects.

Nintendo isn’t out of the console wars! And right now they are in the best position to surprise us all.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

IGN, Gamespy and the Playstation 3

The media is indeed very powerful in controlling public perception. I know i've posted this earlier, but later on I will provide something that's worth thinking about.

Note in the following comparisons how differently two media avenues cover the PS3.

WARHAWK

IGN says...
In the demo, the game was shown with a full HUD of the new futuristic Warhawk ship. Across a massive battlefield, [b]you could see ambient warfare everywhere, with background battles raging far away from you. Our editors report great lighting, volumetric cloud effects, and incredibly fast motion. One of the coolest events involved burning pieces of capital ships raining down and falling into the gorgeous ocean below.

Gaming Age says...
Warhawk, while looking great, was essentially a barren section of ocean with a lot of fighter ships (they were aiming for a hundred for the final game) going around destroying larger vessels and some nice looking water (wave simulation with procedural animation) and clouds (volumetric raytracing). Overall it was a great demo but a far cry of what was shown last year and gave a nice sobering introduction to the rest of the demos which was shown towards the end. Fortunately it will be playable at E3.

MOTORSTORM

IGN says...
Compared to the E3 presentation, the game is close in presentation and functionality and look to its promise, with detail not reaching the level of the astounding E3 demo but still running with some very cool technology to provide a new way of playing in the mud. Developed by Evolution Studios, the game's presentation featured buggies and motorcycles running through a rugged desert. The game's advanced new mud physics were incredible, leaving ruts behind in the mud using real physics. For example, a motorcycle was seen cutting a deep groove in the mud while kicking up muck at a white truck following it, the trailing vehicle buckily wildly as it battled off the streaming mud while also trying to find a line to drive in the groove-etched bog. The particle effects, however, were not nearly at that level of quality, looking a little temporary at this stage of early development. Hopefully, the unfinished details will be sweetened up as the game goes on, and the gameplay already showed signs of achieving the frantic nature of the E3 2005 teaser video.

Gaming Age says...
Next up was Motorstorm and just like Warhawk was no where near the E3 target render. The car models and physics were decent although the texturing and the environment was PS2 level of quality. The real star of the demonstration was the deformable terrain which worked quite well with the physics of the cars. The demo also had HDR, post processing effects, and occlusion.

RESISTANCE/I-8

IGN says...
In development at Insomniac Games (the makers of early Spyros and all the Ratchet and Clanks), the new real-time demo showed the game in much more complete form than the simple FPS that was shown at E3 in 2005. In the demonstration (which may still an alternate version of historic warfare, although the latest trailer showed more of a post-apocalyptic, alien-invader look), the gameplay was shown with new weapons very much like Ratchet and Clank, only now with a more realistic slant. How real did the game demo get? There were body parts tossed about that rolled around on the ground... with realistic physics, of course. The demo also showed off effects such as smoke trails on grenades, tactical troop movements, and enemies that came from the ceilings as the lead character ran down a devastated corridor.

Gaming Age says...
The next game was Resistance, the title formally known as I-8. Out of all the games this one was the farthest along but unfortunately the least interesting. It was your standard FPS affair with highly linear levels, decent A.I. and moderately interesting weapons. The lighting/texturing/modeling was all decent but nothing groundbreaking.

Why are there differences between what IGN says and what Gaming Age says? I propose the following reason:

IGN and Gamespy will be helping Sony in building their version of Xbox Live. They stand to profit in the BILLIONS if Sony becomes successful. This is clearly shown in this slide from the Playstation Business Conference:



Another interesting article related to this story.

IGN Entertainment's GameSpy Division, the supplier of multiplayer technology used in more than 300 PC and "PlayStation 2" game titles, has ported its technology to the "PLAYSTATION 3" and has received approval to join Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s (SCEI) Tools & Middleware License Program for the "PLAYSTATION 3." GameSpy technology lets game developers add sophisticated online game features to their game titles for "PLAYSTATION 3" just as they have with the PC, "PlayStation 2" and "PSP" (PlayStation Portable) platforms and with the same confidence. GameSpy technology significantly extends the capabilities of online game titles by enabling competitive team play - even across platforms - with worldwide matchmaking and advanced awards systems. GameSpy is also now able to bring customized server processing to "PLAYSTATION 3" game titles, a feature game developers call "persistence." An example of this can be seen in the Majesco Entertainment Company's Infected title, launched for "PSP" in November 2005, where the game continues to move forward even when a player is offline. "We are proud to continue to be a valued SCEI's tools and middleware licensee and look forward to accelerating the 'PLAYSTATION 3' market success by speeding creation of terrific online titles," said Jamie Berger, Vice President and General Manager of IGN Publisher Services. "Since developers are already familiar with our technology and interfaces, including it in their titles should be quick, giving them more time to refine gameplay and take the best possible advantage of the 'PLAYSTATION 3' platform." In addition to the "PLAYSTATION 3," GameSpy technology is available for the PC, "PlayStation 2," "PSP," Xbox, Nintendo DS, Linux and Macintosh platforms. Game publishers and developers interested in learning more about GameSpy SDK services should contact devrelations@gamespy.com or visit www.gamespy.net.

So in the end, all the positive IGN media coverage on the Playstation 3 boils down to this:


UPDATE:

April 24, 2006---

My theory isn't as far fetched as some people think.....

Further Evidence of the IGN Conspiracy vs the Xbox 360, PART I

Further Evidence of the IGN Conspiracy vs the Xbox 360, PART II

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Japan == Success???

I'll be honest. For the longest time I have stuck around the XBOX forums hoping that more fans will accept a more diverse XBOX game lineup, even if they may not be the epitome of amazing graphical wonder. I have defended, Japanese games primarily, from the default assault that come from the XBOX graphic whores.

But as of late, I have come to realize one thing. That even if the XBOX 360 will produce the best games in Japan, the Japanese will never buy it. Even if Hironobu Sakaguchi will make the best RPG that we have ever seen, the Japanese will never buy the XBOX 360. Why? Because the XBOX 360 will never have the sheer quantity of Japan centric games when compared to Sony or Nintendo. The XBOX 360 will not have 50 default mediocre RPGs but instead will just have a handful really good ones. To the Japanese, its quite simple and practical...quantity is greater than quality and the top 100 Famitsu game list proves that.

And that's the sad part. I saw the top 100 game list of the Japanese and I realize that me believing that the XBOX 360 can dominate in Japan is nothing more but a deluded fantasy that can never happen. Looking at how the Japanese lined up to buy a gadget they already own, albeit its smaller version, the Nintendo DS makes the launch of the XBOX 360 very unflattering.

But I also began to realize another thing.

That despite everything else, the XBOX 360 is a very good console. While the Japanese may shun it because it may not coddle them as much as Sony and Nintendo with Japan centric games, the whole world wont. The audience of the XBOX brand has always been about the worldwide market and not the Japanese. Sony and Nintendo only care about the Japanese but for Microsoft it's the whole world.

And Microsoft has started to ‘pull-out’ of Japan for the meantime, considering there are no new games, news or even updates for the Japan XBOX 360 market. Is it wrong for Microsoft to do this? I feel sad for the Japanese XBOX 360 gamers but from a business standpoint its certainly cutting back on their losses.

While I care about Japanese gamers considering the XBOX 360 has a pretty good but small Japanese community, news such as the one above is rather depressing.

I have come to accept that the casual Japanese crowd are just 'different' and their tastes in gaming are different. The games they want to play may not exactly be what the world normally does. Considering how fashion-centric Japan's culture currently is, a chunk of those people lining up are probably just there to pick up the newest coolest little thing in town.

The news about the Korea and Mexico launches redeems the XBOX 360 in a strange way but it also shows one thing about the Japanese gaming culture...that whatever the XBOX 360 dishes out it will not be as well received as other platforms simply because it will not have more games that they like...and I'm not just talking about RPGs here.

If the XBOX 360 gets worldwide acclaim, Japanese developers have little choice but to support the console considering that the true growth of the videogame industry is going further and further from Japan. Well...at this point let us all hope for the best.

I also am beginning to realize that perhaps its only right for “Microsoft” to lower their support for Japan, for the meantime. The Japanese will not bother with the XBOX 360 until they can actually see that the home country favorites, PS3 and Nintendo Revolution can offer. And chances are they will prefer those platforms more since it is tailored more to their tastes. Microsoft should shift its focus to regions where there is actually a demand for their console. They should shift their focus in solving the shortages in the United States rather than hosting parties in Japan.

I feel bad for the Japan XBOX community, most of which are great and challenging gamers, if Microsoft does decrease their support in Japan. But hopefully when Microsoft does come back in Japan, they will carry with them the support of the whole world, a market that no Japanese developer can turn down.

Now I will campaign for one thing. It's about damn time that people wake up and realize that Japan is no longer the same market that it has been in the eighties. This time around a platform does not need to form massive lines in Japan in order to be recognized as a good one. This time around, I believe that the diversity of games that I am talking about can be extended to western developers and publishers who are bold enough to try new ideas and no longer just the Japanese.

Hironobu Sakaguchi, and the rest of those Japanese devs who are strong enough to face the challenge of the XBOX 360, no longer has Japan as its sole market for the true market of the XBOX 360 is the whole world.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

First Really Real-Time Playstation 3 Screens!!!

After many months of waiting and anticipation for the PS3, finally, today some real PS3 in-game screenshots were UNLEASHED upon the World Wide Web. Behold, the screenshots which shall signal the opening salvo of the REAL next generation! I give you....

UNTOLD LEGENDS: DARK KINGDOM
By Sony Online Entertainment (SOE)
(Real Time, IN GAME PS3 SCREENSHOTS!)

Look upon this game and cry TEARS OF JOY...









...what the.


*******************

Oddly enough, today I was in Greenhills at EYO's new shop in Virra Mall. I was with a friend and we were commenting on the accessories for the 360 that were on display.

As I was speaking with my friend, there was this guy behind me, talking REALLY loud about the Playstation 3. Essentially he said something to this effect (not exact words)

"Lalampasuhin ng Playstation3 yung 360 na yan." ("The Playstation 3 will destroy the Xbox 360") He was talking with some other person.

It was really annoying. From the tone of his voice it was obvious that he was trying to attract our attention.

Anyway, the blind devotion of some Playstation fans is really ridiculous. I just wanted to vent that out. I personally feel that the 360 == PS3 in terms of game quality. The true battle will be for exclusive titles, and right now, as of this moment, the PS3 wins that fight. But as for the question on 'which console is more powerful'....I believe that they're about equal. What's sad is that some people will easily buy into Sony's marketing hype. Whenever Microsoft markets anything, it gets bashed to bits in the media, and it does influence the way they are viewed by the general public. Whenever Sony does the same thing, their fans and the media barely question it (They did question whether their videos were real time, but notice how it is never given as much negative spin as the Xbox 360's actual ready-to-play games). The fans and the media make excuses on Sony's behalf:

"...Those are early concept shots..."

"...not indicative of the actual gameplay..."

"...this developer is known to not deliver triple A quality titles, therefore this level of quality is expected...."


Note that the third comment is a one made for SOE, Sony Online Entertainment, the developer of Untold Legends. A first-party software developer. So essentially, according to their logic, first party developers should never be criticized for any of their work. Furthermore, if a game developer has historically made terrible games, that automatically alleviates them from any possible criticism on the quality of their work.

I wonder why Rare never qualified for these standards....from my perspective:
1. They're a first party developer for Microsoft.
2. None of their games for the Xbox1 were really big hits for Microsoft (like Halo/Halo2)---so relatively speaking, Rare is a historical failure, and therefore, by Playstation Fan/Gaming Media logic, they should have been alleviated from any possible criticism on the quality of their work.

It's pretty unfair in my opinion, but I guess that's the way it is.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is Region Free!

Just a heads up to any gamers with a Japanese console but would want to play this awesome game: The US version is region free! Go get a copy today!

Check this thread for more info.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Updated the JAPANESE XBOX360 Info Blog Post

Recently I heard that FULL AUTO is region free and works for the Japanese 360. Also, I added a list of the ASIAN XBOX 360 games that will be out on March 16.

Check out the post here:

Japanese Xbox 360 Games with English Text/Voice/Menus, and Compatible Xbox1 Titles