When the master says there's a problem, there is a problem
This week, Shigeru Miyamoto, the most famous developer in the world, the brain behind game icons Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, said modern games are too long and too involving to attract the casual demographic everyone seems obsessed about right now. Well, Mr. Miyamoto, take a bow, because you're right on the money.
In an interview with CNN, Miyamoto said: "There's not a lot I want to play now. A lot of the games out there are just too long. Of course, there are games, such as Halo or Grand Theft Auto that are big and expansive. But if you're not interested in spending that time with them, you're not going to play."
You can imagine Square Enix's executive board collectively fitting at the comment, and Hideo Kojima might have fainted too. But Miyamoto wasn't calling for the end of the Final Fantasy style epic - he was calling for an expanded horizon. If the current game audience is saturated with the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Halo 2 and World of Warcraft, then those who might not have the time for ten-hour sessions will need different games to play. And, just because you have next-generation technology to make epics, it doesn't mean you have to.
Reading Miyamoto's comments, I was instantly reminded of a game I have for my GBA SP. WarioWare Inc is, I believe, one of the greatest games ever made. Why? Not because I play it for 10/15 minute bursts, but because my entire family does. We all compete for the highest score on the hardest mode - me, my 17-year-old brother and his twin sister, my 21-year-old sister and her fiancè - we all put in a couple of quid into a pot every week and the person with the highest score gets the money. (Currently I'm riding high with 81, beat that Jon!). But the point is that my two sisters who don't play games, at all, love WarioWare Inc, because it's easy to play, addictive, doesn't patronise the user and doesn't require ten hours to get past the tutorial.
This is pure gaming. This is the essence of Miyamoto's, and, you feel, Nintendo's point. The Revolution will have a controller that is accessible to all, not an explosion of buttons that guarantees arthritis before middle age. Games like Donkey Konga, Nintendogs and the WarioWare franchise appeal to this magical casual gamer. As Microsoft and Sony indulge in a pointless tech-war, Nintendo are making all the right noises. Yes, they will always satisfy the hardcore with hundreds of hours of dungeon exploration, platform jumping and alien shooting. But they are sneaking round the back door, leaving it open for the millions of gamers who have been afraid to indulge in this most enlightening of pastimes - the art of play.
But then, if you have the time, you may as well...
Fans of Fantasy of the Final persuasion were given a shot in the arm this week, when Square Enix revealed details of their upcoming games on the next-generation consoles. Speaking in a Japanese magazine, Final Fantasy X director Yoshinori Kitase confirmed he was working on a project for the PlayStation 3.
Kitase said that the PS3 Final Fantasy shown at E3 was the responsibility of much of the team that worked on FFX and its sequel, FFX-2, and wasn't, as many who saw the real-time demos running on Sony's next-generation console thought, a sequel to FFVII.
Like Marmite, FF fans will either love this news or hate it. FFX, famously priced at Â£44.99 when it was released, was traded in heavily as gamers failed to get to grips with its core mechanic sphere-grid system. The game's central character, Tidus, also annoyed many fans of the series with his youthful exuberance and Pokemon-esque determination. But there were some, this writer included, who soldiered through, and found over 100 hours of their life rapidly clocked on the game save screen. For many, it was the best FF since VII, for others, the worst yet.
The news that the next FF will be made by those lovely chaps who gave us Tidus and his huge sword, will tantalise some and soul destroy others. Personally, I'm going to book a few weeks off work, order some pizza and beer and crack the game wide open. But then, I always thought Tidus was misunderstood.
Free or not free? Well, not free, of course
Nintendo had us all going. There I was, thinking I'd be able to download the SNES version of Mario Kart on my spanking new Revolution for absolutely nothing, and my whole world was turned upside down. Pay?! You cannot be serious!
But of course they are. This week, Nintendo brought reality crashing home when President Satoru Iwata said at a conference "we have no plans to distribute [our back catalogue] without a fee." Booooo! But then, what did we expect - there's no such thing as a free lunch and, in the game industry, there's no such thing as a free pack of salted peanuts. It was too good to be true.
At the conference, Iwata wouldn't reveal their proposed pricing plan, but said that old games might be used as promotional bonuses, packaged with new games for example or as trial downloads. Gamers may be in uproar, but the move really would have been unprecedented. In the music industry for example, you might get an old CD half-price when you buy a bands latest album. In the film industry, you might get the first film on DVD with a few quid off when you buy the sequel.
Now all we need to know is how much they will charge. At the conference, Iwata said: ""We hope to create a system which allows both Nintendo and [third-party publishers] to make a profit by using [software titles] from the past." In your local Gamestation or Cash Converters, you can pick up old SNES games for a few quid each. If Nintendo charges more than that for a 15-year-old game, I'm afraid they might have a product bomb on their hands. Sell them for a pound each, and they'll fly off the virtual shelves. SNES Mario Kart for a pound? Forget your sophisticated Xbox Live shenanigans; a red shell, four mates and a few beers for me!
Right, you can make a Halo movie, but only if it's not rubbish!
When Microsoft decided they were going to play hardball with Hollywood, they couldn't have chosen a better messenger to deliver their conditions. Master Chief, like a phoenix rising, strode up to the intimidating offices of all the major studios on Monday, $1million dollar Alex Garland script in tow, demanding a $10million advance and full creative control back at Bungie HQ. If I were a non-gaming receptionist at New Line, for example, I would have just died. What do you say? "Yeah, thanks Mr Spaceman. I'll make sure it reaches the very top." I'm amazed anyone in Hollywood actually got to read the thing.
And what a thing it must be. For a million dollars, Garland, of The Beach and 28 Days Later fame, must have written the best videogame based movie script ever. But still, Bungie weren't satisfied. Mindful of the gutting brands like Super Mario, Mortal Kombat (although I quite liked that movie) and Street Fighter have taken at the hands of Hollywood's finest, Bungie have demanded full creative control over the film, to make sure, they will say, it stays true to the games. Really, they just want to make sure it's not pants.
Which is quite a refreshing position. Microsoft are willing to put off a lot of studios (and many have already pulled out of the running) with their demands in an effort to guarantee a cool movie. Hollywood, used to treating the game industry like waterboys, is shocked. The bullied are bullying back. Bungie would rather no movie at all than a Kylie Minogue Street Fighter. Which leads me to believe that Halo: The Movie could well be the best game inspired Hollywood blockbuster ever made. Now all we need to do is cast Master Chief. Arnie anyone?
A sphere? This isn't Star Trek
Miyamoto's under quite a bit of pressure at the moment, and this week it showed when he described the tortuous (fun) time he's having deciding on a final design for the highly anticipated Revolution controller. At a business strategy conference in Japan he said "we're at a stage where we're adding and removing various kinds of functions, which has been very fun."
Nintendo's maxim for their next-generation plans stresses courting the casual/non-gamer. And this controller is supposed to tie in with their 'All-access gaming philosophy' as well. So what might it look like? Well, if it's simplicity he's after, Miyamoto might well have a joystick with a button on top - you can't get more simplistic than that. But I'm guessing this controller will be like nothing we have ever seen - revolutionary in every sense of the word, but instantly usable. Perhaps a swirling sphere that reads your thoughts through the palm? Or maybe a headset that turns you into a vegetable for five minutes, letting your unconscious play the game. Or maybe, just maybe, it will have five hundred buttons, twenty analogue sticks, wireless capabilities, a GBA Micro built in and a partridge in a pear tree. Either way, I hope it fits the hand as well as the N64 controller, to me still the greatest game peripheral ever made.
If Konami haven't got Chelsea's team exactly right, I'm gonna explode!
This week, Pro Evolution fans will have been delirious. PES is coming to the PSP and will be online enabled for the PS2 version later this year (we assume, seeing as the Japanese release will be). I can't think of anything better than a few games of PES on the tube this winter. And if the PS2 version has a decent online service, (PES4 on Xbox Live is soul destroyingly woeful, and anyway PES on a Xbox controller is just wrong) it may finally be the game to get me to sign up (or whatever you have to do) to Sony's online service.
Even better, Chelsea FC and England's magnificent, talismanic, awe inspiring, loyal and courageous defender John Terry has been signed up by Konami to promote the game. He's quite obviously not doing it for the money (he's got plenty from Mr Abramovich's deep pockets), he's doing it because he knows, like me, that PES is the best football game ever, and only the best footballer in the world deserves to be on the front of the box. John, we salute you (unashamedly biased opinion ends here).
This week's releases
- Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django (GBA)
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC, Xbox)
- Mario Party Advance (GBA)
- Megaman Battle Network 5 (GBA)
There's really only one big release this week and that's GTA: San Andreas on PC and Xbox. While the PlayStation 2 version has been available since late last year and has sold truck loads of copies, we're sure a few people have been holding out for the improved versions. We have only played the Xbox version, and although it isn't a huge improvement, it certainly looks better; the improved frame rate being the most noticeable improvement. We'll bring you a full review covering all the improvements on Monday.
GBA owners have Boktai 2, Mario Party Advance and Megaman Battle Network 5. We haven't had a chance to play any of them, but fans of each of the previous games will probably find something to enjoy in the new releases.