Wednesday, June 08, 2011

E3 2011: Microsoft and Nintendo

I watched this year's E3 streamed by GameTrailers, so here are some impressions of the console presentations. I didn't catch much of Sony's, which is just as well since I have no experience with the PS3.


Microsoft reminded 360's core gamers why they like the console: deep, HD experiences and a wide variety of quality games. Skyrim, Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Bioshock: Infinite, Gears of War 3, Saints Row: The Third, Far Cry 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rage, Driver: San Francisco, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Kingdoms of Amalur, Prey 2, Assassin's Creed: Revelations... and on and on. The Xbox 360 delivers an impressive library of quality games.

There are a ton of Wii owners, but they don't buy nearly as many games as 360 owners. Nintendo's best console was the original NES, and that's because of the games. Back then, Mario and Zelda were popular, but Nintendo didn't rely so exclusively on 1st-party games and established IPs. There were plenty of good games on the NES. With each successive Nintendo console, the number of quality games has diminished... particular the number of games designed with American and European aesthetics. I would be surprised if the typical American Wii owner has more than five games.

THE WII U (such a terrible name)

Nintendo announced that they will be bringing many popular Western titles in HD to the Wii U. It's great to see Nintendo finally embracing Western developers, but it's too late for this console cycle. Core gamers interested in deep, HD games have had five years or more to buy a system which suits their tastes. On the other side, the many Wii owners who don't consider themselves gamers and only use the console for social gatherings a few times per year will not be interested in shelling out hundreds of dollars for an HD system with complex controls for core games.

Who is the Wii U's intended audience?

It seems like a well-designed, innovative system which certainly opens opportunities for exciting new gameplay. But I strongly doubt it will be nearly as popular as the Wii because it won't attract many non-gamers as the Wii did, it will cost more, and to attract the majority of core gamers it must demonstrate gameplay significantly different from the 360 and PS3. The cross-console games Nintendo advertised at E3 for the Wii U were designed for traditional controllers, so Wii U adaptations will not be fundamental changes. Nintendo's new console needs games designed from the ground up for the new interface. That means the Wii U won't really wow gamers until a year or two after the console's release.

And it sounds like the console won't be released until late 2012, anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft and Sony have announced new hardware by the time the Wii U really becomes significant competition.


Microsoft pushed Kinect hard this E3. The Rayman Rabbids game, Disneyland, Kinect Sports 2 and Dance Central 2 will appeal to the kids and women who form the heart of Kinect fans presently. But Microsoft also pushed to expand the Kinect audience with Fable: Journey, Ryse and Star Wars.

They have at least convinced core gamers that they are part of Kinect's intended audience. But developers have yet to prove that they can deliver great core Kinect games (which I'm sure they can). In Star Wars and Fable: Journey, it seems clear that combat has been dumbed down and the adventure has been put on rails. Challenge and freedom take a backseat to confined toybox scenarios.

Kinect has a ton of potential, but developers are still only beginning to figure it out.


That brings me back to the Wii U. Corvus made an excellent point the other day: Nintendo needs to open up to independent developers the way the way Microsoft has with Xbox Live.

The industry's big publishers need to open their doors so that small developers can demonstrate how to achieve more with less. Let the little guys lead the way in bringing production costs down and exploring new styles of entertainment.

Friday, June 03, 2011

design trumps technology

How long have I waited to hear these words from a game developer?

"'s all about graphical design, artistic design and direction; not only about high-resolution textures and bump-mapping." --Tomasz Gop, Senior Producer on The Witcher 2

I'm glad there are developers who push the limits of graphic technologies. It's thanks to them that we have the options presently available. But sometimes it seems too many developers fail to recognize that the tools and resources already commonly available enable greater results than are typically seen.

Limits do not always affect creativity adversely. Restraint can be a catalyst for invention.

It's like the evolution of console hardware. Every year, Xbox 360 developers make better use of the hardware than they did the year before. We need people to push the boundaries. But most are better served by exploring the untapped potential of what we already have.

I'm a musician. After thousands of years of use, we're still finding ways to arrange the same 12 notes into exciting new forms of music.

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Ode to Joy, Michaelangelo's David, Da Vinci's Mona Lisa — countless works by their contemporaries are far more complex, yet far less popular. Complexity of design is meaningless to most audiences. It's the refined effect that matters. Simple designs can be powerful. It's like the beauty of a child's love: simple, uncomplicated, but Earth-moving.

Art directors should focus on effect, not on tech. What can you achieve with last year's graphics capabilities?

If you want a concrete example, look at World of Warcraft.