So Nintendo's DS came out on Friday. 150 GAME stores and Five Virgin Megastores opened at Midnight to accommodate impatient gamers across the UK hoping to get their grubby fingers on the dual screen 'touch' technology Ninty have oh so heavily marketed over the last month.
Were you there? Were you one of the game nuts outside a shop at 11.45pm, freezing your nipples off on a cold winter's night just so you could play a Nintendo DS till sunrise? Had you booked Friday off because of it?
I've always wondered about people who do that. I never understood it - until I did it myself (GAME, Oxford Street, Halo 2) and saw first hand how devoted, insane and excited, to the point of twitching, these people are. It's always worse when it's Nintendo though. Those Fanboys...
Why wasn't I there? I was there when the GameCube came out; I dragged my father down to Dixons the day the N64 came out and convinced him to get me Mario with it too; I was even there when the SNES came out (although I was even earlier then - my parents got me a Japanese console with Streetfighter 2, boy was that a popular birthday party). Why am I not excited about this console?
I've always believed that for gamers to get excited about a launch for a console, the line up of games needs to be compelling. This, I believe, is even more important to gamers than any new fad functionality a console offers.
I'm afraid, mighty Ninty, that you haven't done it this time. Of all the games out with the console's UK launch, only one remotely piques my interest: Polarium, a game, as our excellent review states, 'simply wouldn't work on any other system'. Looking down the 16 game list - Super Mario 64 DS, WarioWare Touched!, Pokemon Dash, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, the Urbz: Sims in the City etc - nothing gets my touchy-feely gaming fingers twitching.
Don't get me wrong - there are some great things Nintendo has done with this launch that we European gamers are not used to. Firstly, a Nintendo console has come out before its rival - something not managed with the GameCube, N64 or SNES. And, instead of the usual scarce launch line-up of games, there are actually a few to choose from. But, sadly, for me it's not enough.
And this is such a crucial console for Nintendo. With the GameCube flagging, and pressure on the traditionally Nintendo dominated handheld market from Sony's upcoming PSP, the DS needs to do well. I'm sure it will - it's already sold 4 million in the US and Japan - and, eventually, when developers wrap their confuddled heads around it, it will start to deliver on providing interesting ways for gamers to play on the move. Right now though, the magic isn't there.
When the thing lets me do what that bloke's doing in the advert though - I'm there.
What a strange thing the Game Developers Conference really is. It's like a gaming appetizer, stimulating the palette in anticipation of the main E3 course and it is becoming more and more press oriented. This week, anyone with a computer, an Internet connection and the time to find out these things, will have noticed many of the keynote speeches transcribed for those of us unlucky enough not to be enjoying the San Franciscan sun with the entire gaming industry.
Surprised as I am that someone was sober enough to do it, you can find, if you look past the next-gen console announcements, upcoming handheld functions, apologies for disappointing games and 'direction philosophy' announcements you'll undoubtedly read somewhere else, a downloadable podcast of Nintendo's Satoru Iwata's excellent keynote speech 'The Heart of the Gamer' in which he reveals that the Revolution will be backwards compatible and include Wi-Fi features and Nintendo will soon be giving DS owners free Wi-Fi connectivity.
Finally, Nintendo's waking up to online - I remember speaking to David Gosen a couple of years ago, when he was head of Nintendo Europe, and he told me Nintendo would only start to think about online when it becomes financially viable. It appears that time has come.
You can even, if you were so inclined, watch Xbox's Corporate Vice President J G Allard's keynote 'The Future of Games: Unlocking the Opportunity'. Apart from witnessing the obviously blind enthusiasm the guy has for his company and his company's games, you'll leave knowing a bit more about what playing the next Xbox will be like, particularly the next system's version of Xbox Live.
I have to say, I'm liking how accessible the user interface appears to be. Making online gaming easy is one of the most important (in my opinion) concepts the game industry has to face in the near future. According to Allard, this interface will be consistent across all games on their console, with little effort on the part of the developer. Good stuff.
With all this stuff available online, why would anyone want to go all the way to California to sit and watch it? The sun, sea and sand? Pah - I never go outside anyway.
How do you feel about being a European gamer? Privileged? No. Cherished? No. Valued? Certainly not. The videogames industry is like a football agent who has Rooney, Beckham, Owen and... Luke Chadwick on his books, and we European gamers are always going to feel like poor old Luke rather than galactico Beckham.
Why? Because this week I was kindly informed we won't be seeing Sony's handheld masterpiece, the PSP - a console Japanese gamers have been enjoying for weeks now, and US thumb bandits can expect on March 24th - until June at the earliest. Bugger. Which gives Nintendo's DS, which launched this Friday, one hell of a head start over swing voters.
Not that I'm surprised. We European's have been ill treated by the games industry, not just in terms of release dates, but in shoddy PAL releases and poor localisation jobs, for twenty years now. Perhaps that's why importing is such big business in the UK - and why I demanded a Japanese SNES for my birthday just so I could play Streetfighter 2. Wake up guys. The European market is huge. Keep this up and soon you won't have one to neglect.
Sorry to keep on banging on about this game (I'm not sorry at all), but there was some interesting news for World of Warcraft players this week. Blizzard has finally finished their investigation into PvP action - something that seems to annoy players more than thrill, and have posted their thoughts here.
Anyone who likes killing scummy Horde (as I do) will be interested to note the upcoming honour system. I have, along with the other members of my guild - 'The Order of Chaos' (check us out on Shadow Moon) - been waiting for this from the moment we were first minced by a dirty Horde Tauren with skulls where his level should have been. Of note is the line 'At the moment, we don't want to penalize Dishonourable Kills because on normal (PvE) servers, the primary way to instigate PvP battles is through the attacking of NPCs.'
Now, frankly, this is crap. The biggest gripe I have with the game is the complete lack of accountability for those who wish to act like gits. Gits, for me, encompass a broad set of players, and include those who kill players twenty levels below them for the laugh, kill NPCs that give out quests to other players, kill griffin masters so players cannot travel across the map, and, especially gittish - those asshole rogues who incorporate all of these things by waiting at NPC quest givers for low level n00bs, a shiny backstabbing knife gleaming under their stealth.
Until some real punishment is given to these players, this kind of pointlessness will continue. Dock them experience points I say - that would stop it. Are you listening Blizzard???!!!!!!! Are you???!!!!!!
STOP THE PRESS - CITY OF HEROES LAWSUIT UPDATE
Aren't you all lucky. Just as I was about to send these beautiful words across the mind-boggling vastness of the Internet to the good people in charge of the best game website in the world, ever(!), this small piece of info flew in front of my face.
It appears that a level headed US district court judge, in oh so not level headed Los Angeles, has dismissed a number of key claims brought by Marvel's lawsuit against City of Heroes publisher NCsoft Corporation and developer Cryptic Studios for copyright infringements.
I'm no lawyer, but when a judge dismisses over half of the claims brought by Marvel, it's got to be good news for the defendant. Key is this one: Marvel's claims that City of Heroes directly infringes Marvel's registered trademarks. In other words, the court is satisfied that City of Heroes is primarily a massively multiplayer online role-playing game and not a copyright infringement tool (shamelessly stolen from a reporter who understands the nuances of legal terms better than this lazy writer).
Marvel can still appeal - and there are other claims that still remain, but, whatever side of the fence you sit on, this can only be a good thing for the games industry. I'm not going to sit on the fence though (do I ever). The lawsuit is ridiculous. You might as well take away any kind of player creation tool available. If my Night Elf in World of Warcraft looks like a Night Elf on some fantasy book cover, well, sorry mate, but my one's better.
I'll leave the last word to NCSoft themselves: 'if our character creation tools are deemed illegal, so should the pencil and other creative implements.'
This week's game releases
- FIFA Street (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
- Gallop Racer 2 (PS2)
- Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
- GTR: FIA Racing Game (PC)
- Legend of Kay (PS2)
- Project: Snowblind (Xbox)
- Robots (PS2, Xbox, PC, GBA)
- Shadow Hearts: Covenant (PS2)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: BattleNexus (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
- The Sims 2 University (PC)
- Winnie The Pooh: Rumbly Tumbly (PS2, Cube, GBA)
Nintendo DS launch games
- Asphalt Urban GT
- Mr. DRILLER: Drill Spirits
- Ping Pals
- Pokèmon Dash
- Project Rub
- Rayman DS
- Retro Atari Classics
- Spider-Man 2
- Super Mario 64 DS
- The Urbz: Sims in the City
- Tiger Woods PGA Tour
- Wario Ware Touched!
- Zoo Keeper