Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Here's the Just Dance 2 Cover

Joy.  I really like the style of this cover.  Of course, I'm partial to any design involving black backgrounds, as you can guess from reading this blog.  The design of this cover is just as stylish as the first, yet is immediately distinct.  It's also more colorful, reflecting the more colorful nature of the game.

I also love the use of angles and the lines of action.  The Just Dance 2 logo is tilted just slightly, contrasted with an abstract assortment of song titles.  It's very dynamic, full of movement and excitement.

It's been my contention all along that Just Dance marks the beginning of a new evolution in video games.  Dance Dance Revolution established the paradigm of all rhythm games, including the Guitar Hero/Rock Band phenomenon, which finally peaked last year.  Guitar Hero's time in the spotlight is over.  Just Dance begins the new paradigm of freeform dancing games, the first truly new genre in the motion-control era.  I think that's a significant achievement, and it continues to frustrate me that videogame journalists and critics continue to stick their noses in contempt.  The "hardcore" clique seems only interested in steroid freaks with guns.  Dancing games and girl games are icky and scary.

It's my hope that Just Dance 2 will become the standard by which all future motion-control dance games are judged.  This will become a landmark in the era of social games.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just Dance 2 - A Social Gaming Milestone

Is there any question that Just Dance 2 will become a smash success? The first title has sold over 3 million copies, and is currently the top-selling game of 2010 in the UK. And here comes the sequel, with is improved in every way. This is going to be big. This video comes from Comic Con, and features four teenagers dancing along to indie-pop band Vampire Weekend in the game's new Duet Mode.

Parents used to write off video games as a fad. The truth is, they were right. The catch is that a new fad emerges once the old one has faded. Guitar Hero/Rock Band was the last fad, and its time has now passed. Just Dance announced itself as the Next Big Thing, and Just Dance 2 should secure it. Social Gaming is the new paradigm today, and the dancing game is the new fad.

Muliplayer GoldenEye Goodness at Comic Con

Activision was on hand to show off GoldenEye Wii's multiplayer action at Comic Con yesterday.  As I've written before, this game will live or die on its four-player mode.  It's the reason the Nintendo 64 GoldenEye was so beloved by teenagers and college students all those years ago, and they'll want to see if the remake captures that same magic.

I'm actually quite impressed with the footage seen here.  Eurocom, the UK developers, are making all the right moves, to bring back the old fans.  Visually, the game looks quite excellent, and the action is very fast.  This is very important; arcade-style games have always been very fast paced, with an easy pick-up-and-play quality that encourages the kids to drop in another quarter.  It's a value that has been lost over the years, as Playstation and Xbox came to define home video games.

GoldenEye is perfectly positioned to become a great hit on the Wii.  It fits into a perfect niche, without any real competition.  Wii Party and Just Dance 2 for the Expanded Audience, NBA Jam, Kirby and Donkey Kong Country 4 for the traditional gamer.  Maybe Epic Mickey could become a hardcore-gamer crossover hit.  Maybe that new Batman & Robin game will bring in all the old Streets of Rage and Final Fight fans.

Anyway, nothing is guaranteed in the video game business, but that's why it's such an interesting business to cover.  Everything now lies within the developers' hands.  If they create solid, well-constructed games with strong content, the public will reward them.

"Animated feature and graphic novel to expand Dead Space"

This pretty much summarizes everything that is currently wrong with the video game industry.  This endless push to turn games into movies, this push to recognize games as "art," is all about one thing: validation.

Video game designers and producers need to get over their paralyzing sense of guilt.  You're a toymaker.  If you feel uncomfortable about being a toymaker, then find something else to do with your life.  Good Lord, tt's not like you're building bombs.

In fact, I think video games stopped being fun right around the time this industry started pushing this "games as the new cinema" meme.

Friday, July 23, 2010

GoldenEye Wii Goes to the Russian Dam

Now here's some GoldenEye Wii footage that longtime fans will dig their teeth into.  This is a re-enactment of the Russian Dam level from the original Nintendo 64 game, with a number of very notable changes and improvements.  Personally, I think this new version has struck the perfect balance between old and new.

GoldenEye 64 fans are notoriously impossible to please, and I'm sure they'll find any minor reason to bash on this new version.  A hair will be out of place somewhere, and that will be that.  I'm hoping there are enough ganmers out there who are a little more willing to give it a fair chance.  The Nintendo Wii has been sorely lacking in quality shooters, and I still don't understand that.  I'm still keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Activison and Eurocom knocks this one out of the park.

The Collapse of Tiger Woods PGA Tour '11 on Wii Has Nothing to Do with Scandal

Scandal or no scandal, this is particularly surprising:

In an environment of general software declines, Electronic Arts faces particular challenges with its Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise. First-month sales across all formats have plummeted 68 percent compared to the launch of last year's installment, and one analyst thinks the athlete's extracurricular activities might be causing harm to the games.

The golf game, which lends itself well to Wii's motion controls, has been one of the most successful third-party franchises yet on Nintendo's console. But since its June 8 launch, the multiplatform Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 saw an 86 percent decline on Wii that Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz called "particularly catastrophic."

I think the game industry is missing a crucial lesson about tiger Woods '11. The Nintendo Wii audience - the Expanded Audience - operates under a different set of values than traditional, "hardcore" gamers. They are a far more skeptical crowd, particularly when it comes to yearly sequels. Hardcore gamers have been conditioned over many years to accept sequels and franchise titles, even when this year's game is 95% identical to last year's version. This is most pronounced in EA's sports games.

Simply put, the Wii audience is very hostile to sequels and franchise games. This is doubly so for sequels that are seemingly identical to the original. Consider EA's Boom Blox, or Ubisoft's Shawn White Snowboarding, or Namco's We Cheer. Each was a hit game at retail. The publishers responded quickly with sequels that were nearly identical...and these sequels failed miserably. They tanked.

One critical question to ask with any sequel on store shelves: How is this different from the earlier game? Is this distinction immediately clear? Can I tell the difference?

More questions to ask: Is this sequel justified? Just because a title becomes a hit, you are not guaranteed an audience. The audience must demand a sequel. The market dictates the product; but the video game industry often works in the opposite direction. This may be successful with the core fans, but not the Expanded Audience. These are not the ones who will be camping outside Best Buy at midnight to buy your latest game.

One final question: What is the price? This is critical. I see Tiger Woods '11 on the shelves for $50. Last year's game, Tiger Woods '10, is now being sold for $20-$30. Why, exactly, should I buy the newer version? Am I really getting double the content in the newer game? I look at the game boxes and, honestly, cannot tell the difference. I think this year's Tiger Woods has mini golf. But was this feature demanded by the audience? Does the market demand this feature? Or is this merely an extra...Malibu Stacey with a new hat?

There are more areas to explore, but I'll keep this brief for now. The main selling point on the Nintendo Wii are the motion controls. That's what the Expanded Audience demands. Wii Sports and Wii Play promised a new world of motion control games. New experiences were promised, new ideas, and new games that would be accessible in the way the classic '80s arcade games were.

Tiger Woods '10 was a hit because of its Wii Motion Plus controls, which promised to deliver what Wii Sports hinted at. The precision and depth of the controls, and the ability to translate real-world skills into the game, produced a truly great experience and was rewarded by the market. And these values are also being played out in Ubisoft's Just Dance, which has become the first third-party Wii title to truly challenge Nintendo's supremacy.

In wrapping this up, these are the challenge that EA and all publishers on Wii must address. Tiger Woods '11 fails to address these issues. This is why the game has failed.

Photos - Wii Party

Nobody knows how to make video games for the masses like Nintendo.  It's almost embarrassing how completely they dominate at this point, and how clueless the rest of the games business remains.  Sony and Microsoft haven't got a clue how to appeal to families or lapsed gamers.  The Expanded Audience was something they ignored and derided for years; and now they are stumbling out the gate with half-hearted motion-control machines that no one will want to buy.

I hope I'm not being too partisan in my thinking, but I'm willing to predict that Wii Party single-handedly defeats Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move.  This will be especially true if Nintendo of America wisely includes a pink Wii Remote in the package, as is being done in Japan.  Here is a game that appeals to everyone, regardless of age or skill, encourages multiplayer mayhem and cooperation, and continues to find new and novel use for the motion controllers.

How and why the game industry lost touch with families and chose to exclusively pursue 35-year-old males will remain a mystery for the ages.  It was an astonishing blunder.  The industry will continue to decline and companies will continue to lose money.

Bringing Gamers Back Into the Fold

There's an excellent discussion going on at Gamasutra over an article discussing Eurocom's upcoming GoldenEye remake on the Nintendo Wii.  As often happens, the comments quickly veered away from the game, and into the swirling debate among "hardcore" gamers over what to do about Nintendo.  It's not just bickering between fans of game machine X versus fans of game machine Y; it's much deeper than that.  And for a variety of reasons, this remains a hot topic among people in the video game industry.

For the past five years, Nintendo has pursued a business strategy based on economic theories from the Harvard School of Business.  These theories, called Blue Ocean Strategy and Disruption, arose from Nintendo's need to combat declining revenues in the gaming market.  The video game industry, wrapped around the needs of "hardcore" adult males, many well into their thirties (!!), has fallen into a state of stagnation, and then decline, as hardware became more and more powerful and game productions' budgets would swell into the tens of millions of dollars.  Needless to say, this situation cannot be sustained, so Nintendo pursued a strategy of expanding the market by appealing to non-gamers who would like to play video games, but are turned off by the gritty, violent content and confusing controls.

Nintendo has achieved enormous success with the Wii, far more than anyone's expectations, and the result has been to severely disrupt the "hardcore" market controlled by Microsoft and Sony.  And this is why nearly every discussion about Nintendo on gaming websites quickly devolves into a frustrated shouting match.

Anyway, that's the back story in a nutshell.  The short-short version, at least.  Which brings us to GoldenEye and Nintendo in the year 2010, and my attempts to persuade the hardcore-minded Gamasutra community.  Here's the short essay I wrote earlier today on the website:


Getting back to GoldenEye a bit (well, sorta), I think this does address the rift between "hardcore" gamers and Nintendo. I don't believe this is merely partisan cheering for one console over another - Atari Lynx is way better than Gameboy, btw - I do believe there is an honest frustration. Go back to the 2006 E3 and the unveiling of the Wii. Core gamers were thrilled, there were crowds and endless lines at the show, and the gaming press was enthusiastic. Meanwhile, Playstation 3's show was mercilessly mocked - "for massive damage!"

Yes, we all know Wii Sports and Wii Play, which were clearly Expanded Audience games that followed Nintendo's strategy of Disruption and the Blue Ocean. But remember there was also Zelda, Excite Truck, Mario Galaxy, and the trailer for Smash Bros Brawl. The gaming press went bonkers for the Brawl trailer, especially all the surprise characters.

Still, despite Mario Galaxy and Mario Kart and Zelda and Metroid, there is this sense that the core gamers were abandoned, or overlooked, while Nintendo pursued the Expanded Audience with the Wii Series. Third party developers certainly didn't help. First, they were caught flat-footed when the Wii continually sold out, then they tried to capture Wii Sports' fame with a barrage of cheap, third-string party- and mini-games. Shovelware became a real problem.

I think we need to remember just how long it takes to create a modern game. Productions run as long as two years, and when we realize this, the behavior begins to make sense. First, the industry ignored Nintendo's console. Then, after schedules were freed up from PS360 productions, they misunderstood the Wii market, attributing this success to "casual gamers." The difficulty in reading this market, and learning how to build brand loyalty, coupled with Nintendo's stunning dominance, only frustrated developers further.

Now it's the year 2010, and I think we're seeing a newer strategy emerge. It's the rise of the neo-retro game, or what was considered the "hardcore" games during the 16-bit era. We've seen this begin to rise last year, with the explosion in 2D titles like Muramasa, A Boy and His Blob, Klonoa, and the rise of WiiWare games like Lost Winds.

The capstone, of course, is Super Mario Bros 5, which exploded out of the gates and continues to ride the sales charts many months later. Heck, NSMB DS is still riding near the top of the sales charts. Four years after its release! Isn't that just stunning? It really shouldn't be, since this is what 2D Mario has always done in the past. It's the ultimate killer app, and it opens the door for more games of its kind - modern games with classic game values. And this is where I think we are headed in 2010.

Now here's what I took away from Nintendo's showing at this year's E3: They want to heal the rift between themselves and the core gamers. "Hardcore" gamers were once very loyal to Nintendo, and now they're being welcomed back into the fold. We can see this with the 3DS - notice how aggressive Nintendo is courting all the major developers - and we can see this with the Wii.

Donkey Kong Country Returns. NBA Jam. Kirby's Epic Yarn. GoldenEye. Epic Mickey. The Wii has quietly morphed into the second coming of the Super NES. I've used that phrase before - memorize it. These aren't simple "retro" games, and they can't offer us anything beyond nostalgia, then they deserve to fail. These are new games, modern games, but wrapped in the values of the classic arcade era. This seems to be the agenda at play, and I think we can see the same thing in many Wii games over the past year.

I know it's a cliche for game designers, but you must always create to the strengths of the platform. What works on PS360 won't work on Wii, just as what works on consoles won't work on handhelds, or mobile, or Facebook. You need to find the right groove. I think we've finally discovered that proper groove for the Wii.

Wii Party - Board Game Island

Here is a look at what is probably the main game mode from Nintendo's new party game anthology Wii Party.  Board Game Island will be easily understood by fans of the Mario Party series, and the easygoing pace should attract just about everyone in the family.

Players take turns moving along a game board, which marches up a tropical mountain.  Mini-games are played to determine the pecking order, and nothing else, which is an interesting choice.  It enables that less-skilled players (your parents, for example) won't feel frustrated or left out.  Fortunately for gamers, other competitions in Wii Party rely on winning the mini-games, so it's okay to relax here.  Besides, this island is very compelling and very fun.

The thing I really love about Board Game Island is its sense of humor.  This is a really funny game, and you can't help but chuckle at all the silly slapstick gags.  Am I really being chased by a dinosaur?  Did that statue just sneeze me back four spaces?  Was I just kidnapped by a UFO?  Extra style points for the appearance of Miis as a cheering audience, which adds to the cheerful atmosphere.

As soon as I saw this game in action, I knew it would be a hit at family get-togethers, and especially during the holiday season.  Usually, that honor is bestowed upon Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort (cough, bowling).  This year, we'll have to pull this out and see what happens next..

I really do hope Nintendo packs in a free Wiimote with Wii Party.  I think Wii Play is finally winding down after all these years, which means somebody else has to pick up the torch.

Wii Party - Two Player Balance Boat

I had a blast watching all the Wii Party gameplay videos on Youtube.  A few gamers played nearly all of the many game modes in this party game anthology....and there is a lot of content.  Much like Wii Sports Resort, I suspect everyone will have their one or two favorites

Balance Boat is a two-player cooperative game.  In this mode, you must balance Miis on the masts of a boat, trying to keep the boat from tumbling over.  The goal is to survive ten turns.  Each turn begins with a mini-game, where both players work together towards a common goal.  If you win the game, then your Miis will be the same size; if you lose, the pair of Miis will be mismatched, making balancing the boat more difficult.

I really love these cooperative mini-games.  There is one where you must run through a haunted house, shining flashlights on the ghosts.  There is another where you and your friend share a bicycle copter and must stay airborne.  In another, you must work together to assemble robots.  One especially inspired one involves working through a 2D platform-style obstacle course.

Microsoft is touting whitewater rafting as the star of Kinect Adventures, yet here is Nintendo with a rafting game of their own, and it seems to be more fun.  The Wii Party version is far more dependent on teamwork, and I can see it becoming wildly funny.  The joyous chaos of multiplayer in Super Mario Bros 5 is evident on these co-op mini-games.

I can foresee Balance Boat becoming a favorite of Wii Party fans.  There used to be co-op video games all the time back in the NES days - Bubble Bobble, Contra, Double Dragon 2, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber.  Heck, what about the original Mario Bros?  Those were the days when kids and families would gather together to play and watch.  Those were good days.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Donkey Kong Country Wil Rock Your World (But You Already Knew That)

Nothing much to say.  Donkey Kong Country 4 is destined to become the hottest Nintendo Wii game of the 2010 holiday season, and every gamer young and old who rushed out to buy Super Mario Bros 5 will be rushing   I only ask three things of Nintendo and Retro Studios: 1) Make Donkey Kong challenging; 2) Make the game at least as long as Mario 5, and 3) package the game in a banana-colored case.

Classic video game values sell.  2D arcade-style games sell.  2D Mario games are sensational sellers.  At what point does the game industry get its act together and follow suit?

More NBA Jam Goodness

When talking about the Nintendo Wii's lineup this holiday season, I keep forgetting about NBA Jam.  I'm not sure why that is, because the videos coming from E3 were fantastic.  Perhaps it's my overall disappointment with EA Sports on the Wii - aside from Tiger Woods, it's shamefully abysmal.  And perhaps it's the news that Jam has been rated for PS3 and Xbox 360.  I can't help but think that will depress sales.

So perhaps I'm just feeling a bit edgy without cause.  Jam looks spectacular so far, and it's set to fill a very large void in the Wii's library.  Can you believe that there are practically no quality sports games on the Wii platform?  What madness is this?!

EA should be aggressive with promoting NBA Jam.  This is an all-time classic with enormous love and devotion.  Give us the tournaments at the Mall of America rotunda like they do for the yearly Madden updates, and you'll pack the place solid.  Please treat the Wii with some respect for once.

Microsoft CEO Ballmer Could Face Mutiny in Nine Months

This is huge.  The shakedown is coming to Microsoft.

No Hardcore Games on Kinect For 18 Months

This is not going to go down well with Microsoft's core base.  If anything, this will only add fuel to the fire:

"Microsoft says Gears of War, Halo, and Fable fans can rest assured the company isn't abandoning them for the Wii demographic with its initially casual-focused Kinect.

"But for the rest of 2010, don't look for more than "broad" appeal Kinect games, according to Microsoft EMEA vice president Chris Lewis.

" 'Certainly over the launch phase and this Christmas in particular I think you'll see very much pure Kinect for 360 experiences that will appeal to the broad young/older/female/family audiences I described earlier,' said Lewis, speaking to Gameindustry.biz.

"How long do GearsofWarHaloFable gamers have to wait then?

"18 months, says Lewis, during which time 'more of these hybrid experiences...where you can complement what might ostensibly be a controller-based experience with gestures, voice and physical movement' will probably make an appearance."

According to Harvard Business School's disruption literature, if a company has not secured its base (and earned the right to innovate), the push into a new market will start a fire that threatens to burn out of control.  In that event, the company is forced to abandon its innovative push and secure its base, shrinking smaller in the process.

It will be interesting to see how this theory plays out for Microsoft.  If their hardcore gamers retaliate against Kinect by simply not buying the high-profile Xbox 360 sequels (like Halo), things could get very ugly.  Add in the disgruntled investors who want to kill the company's consumer division entirely, and a collapsing stock price under Steve Ballmer's reign as CEO, well.....pass the popcorn, kids.  We are in for some fireworks.

Please Let the New GoldenEye Be Good

Why have First Person Shooters struggled on the Nintendo Wii? I'll choose to apply Occam's Razor - most of the FPS games aren't very good. Good games find an audience. And the Wii market will not settle for leftovers and shovelware by the third-string development teams. They demand quality and they're entitled to it.

Last year's Modern Warfare: Reflex Edition seems to have done fairly well (I still haven't played it myself, but I've respected Treyarch ever since their Tony Hawk Pro Skater ports on the Dreamcast). But notice that this was the previous Call of Duty. Meanwhile, the HD Twins got the brand-new Modern Warfare 2, one of the year's hottest games. Where was the Wii version? Why was the most successful console ignored?

This only reinforces the belief that third-party developers do not respect the Wii and its audience. Rightly or wrongly, that audience will become more skeptical over time, and less willing to shell out money for future games. We see this unfold many times. Cartoonish, dumbed-down EA Sports games (notice how Tiger Woods '10, the one "serious" title, is the biggest hit). Dead Space Extraction and Resident Evil Darkside, first-person and third-person adventure games reduced to lightgun shooters, for a console over-saturated with lightgun shooters. PS2 ports like Need for Speed. Yadda yadda...you get the idea.

The bottom line is that developers must respect the platform. This is a motto for all developers, whether it's console, handheld, standard, hi-def, online, or cell phones. Respect the Platform - and respect the audience. Understand what they want, and understand what voids need to be filled. You can't just dump anything on the market and expect a hit.

Are there any great FPS titles on Wii that include 4-player splitscreen? I can't think of one. That's something I've wanted on the Wii ever since the beginning - a fast, intense, multiplayer deathmatch game. I want arcade games. I want Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament. And this void has yet to be filled.

GoldenEye was a shocking surprise to me at E3. I never would have expected it, even though it's precisely what I've been craving. This fits perfectly with the neo-retro vibe of the times, with Donkey Kong Country and Kirby and NBA Jam and Super Mario Bros 5. The Wii has quietly evolved into the second coming of the Super NES, and I think it's long due. Finally, here is an angle for frustrated third-party developers.

The issue of lapsed gamers has never been fully addressed. It's assumed that people always jump to the next generation console, but this hasn't happened. Many classic gamers, fans of 2D games, were left at the side of the road since the Playstation generation. I personally lost most of my interest after Dreamcast died. The arcade game values were discarded, in favor of cinematic games. I think the rise of the new media (internet, mobile, Wii) and social gaming has helped to bring these values back.

I don't know if GoldenEye Wii will become a great game or become a hit. Like many gamers, I remain skeptical but hopeful. I want this game to succeed. I think most of us want that. It does manages to fill a niche in what will be a very crowded holiday season, with Donkey Kong Country, Wii Party, and Just Dance 2 getting all the attention (to say nothing of Mario 5, Wii Fit, and Mario Kart). But the video game scene has always been highly competitive. The arcades were always densely packed with machines, and if classic games could survive and thrive in that highly competitive environment, they can do so here.

I'm terrible at predictions, but count me as cautiously optimistic. I'm crossing my fingers.

"Analyst" Michael Pachter Predicts 2-4 Million Kinect Sales (Standalone) by March 2011

What?!  Hah hah!  This is the sort of cartoon fantasy one typically blames on the three-martini lunch (my bold for emphasis):

Wedbush analysts Michael Pachter and Edward Woo expect most existing Xbox 360 owners to wait until Kinect's price drops before picking one up, but estimate that early adopters could still drive sales of two to four million units by March 2011.

That range would account for 5 to 10 percent of existing Xbox 360 owners, and specifically refers to the standalone motion control solution that was recently priced at $150. Microsoft will also be selling a $300 Xbox 360 Kinect bundle packaged with a 4GB console.
Comedy gold, my friends. Consider what is being claimed.  Four million Xbox 360 owners are going to buy Kinect, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the hostility and backlash seen on websites and forums like NeoGAF. The hardcore gamers are NOT flocking to the Kinect. Their response so far has been critical, if not hostile, ever since Microsoft's disastrous E3 spectacle. They view Kinect as an accessory aimed solely at "casual" gamers, not for them.

We are not talking about total sales for Kinect, including the deluxe package aimed at new customers.  We are talking specifically about the accessory itself, which would be purchased by existing Xbox 360 owners.  These are the "hardcore" gamers in our little "hardcore vs casual" drama being played out in the video game business today.  Think of it like West Side Story, only without the dance numbers.  The hardcore gang hates the casual gang, and after four years of fighting, they are not about to suddenly walk over and embrace their rivals, just because there's a "Microsoft" label on the box.  This is a cartoon fantasy.

Consider the following event just this month (courtesy of Gamerzine):

Microsoft's Director of Policy and Enforcement for Xbox LIVE Stephen Toulouse has hit out at the hardcore gamers who have raised concerns about Microsoft's upcoming motion control interface Kinect, saying that they have "kinda been wrong a lot for the past ten years".

"I have one thing to say to the hardcore gamer who says Kinect has nothing for them," said Toulouse while discussing concerns about Kinect on Major Nelson's latest podcast. "Those games will have achievements, so don't tell me you're not going to play at least some of them, you hardcore gamers out there. I know you will."

But Toulouse later suggested that the hardcore audience, who largely expect Kinect to underperform and under deliver when it launches in November, had been "wrong a lot" about market trends and successes "for the past ten years",

"Let's go back and look at the track record of the hardcore gamer," he continued.

"Shipping a console with an Ethernet port? Oh, it'll never succeed. Paying for multiplayer? Oh no, that's not good. I don't like avatars; I won't buy anything that goes to my avatar. The Wii... I mean no offence hardcore gamers, you've kinda been wrong a lot for the past ten years.

This sniping and increasing hostility has been building since the E3 trade show, when the Kinect was formally unveiled.  The "hardcore" came away upset and unhappy, and they let their feelings known on the internet - websites, blogs, and social media.  Word-of-mouth is extremely powerful, more so than ever, thanks to modern technology.

This week, Microsoft addressed their hardcore backlash in an interview in GameIndustry.biz, attempting to strike a more conciliatory tone:
I’ll say again, at the risk of sounding like a cracked record, that [Kinect initially being “casual”] doesn’t in any way, shape or form represent us stepping away from the core – which is why, during the press conference at E3 for example, we spent a good solid chunk of time around Halo Reach, Gears of War and Fable. And there will be more coming from us, and our third party partners.

These are not the actions of a company that is confident of selling 2-4 million Kinects to its core base. This is a company engaged in spin and damage control. And this is perfectly in keeping with Disruption literature. A company must secure its core base and earn the right to innovate. If this does not happen, there is a risk of a backlash that erupts into a fire...exactly what we are seeing right now.

As for these game industry "analysts" (and I put the word in quotation because it's far closer to public-relations spin than independent financial analyis), these prophesies about Kinect are absurd, without merit, and completely defy the actecdotal evidence on the street.  There is no empirical evidence for Pachter to make such claims. Sadly, he has a long history of making similar predictions that fail to pass. There are many examples of this, as the oracle Google will reveal. I'll close with my personal favorite prophecy, one that Pachter insisted upon for many months without evidence:

"A Wii HD would really position Nintendo well, which is why I'm absolutely convinced there is a Wii HD coming,”

I rest my case.  Gamers and investors are being sold a bill of goods - Caveat Emptor.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Headlines That Make Me Feel Better

"Gulf Water Explodes in Lab Test."

Oh, this is going to be good.  The water is so covered in oil and gas and chemical dispersants that it's now explosive.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Videogame Classics Featured on Gamasutra

This week, my Videogame Classics essay on Samurai Showdown 2 was selected as a "Feature Article" on Gamasutra.  I've begun posting my reviews on the site, in hopes of generating attention for my work, and I'm very humbled and thankful to be included on the site's main page.

My plan is to post one of the Videogame Classics reviews on Gamasutra every couple days or so, depending on how much attention I'm receiving.  I still can't decide which games to choose yet.  It's always impossible to guess which posts will draw attention.

Oh, and I really need to get cracking on the books.  Both Videogame Classics and Virtual Console Review were meant to be published eventually.  We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wii Party Arrives in Japan

I think it's a safe bet that Wii Party will become Nintendo's next 10 million seller.

Wii Party is the latest installment in Nintendo's flagship Wii series title, and from the in-game footage I've seen on Youtube, I can tell this is going to quickly become a blockbuster hit.  It looks like the king of all party games, featuring 80 mini-games spread across a dozen different game modes.  There is a stunning amount of variety in these competitions, enough so that it may be months before we've thoroughly played them all.

As you can see, Wii Party comes packaged with an extra Wiimote in Japan, and a pink one, at that.  I think this is an absolute must in the States, and I could see this title finally replacing Wii Play as the de-facto must-buy game for Wii owners.  I can also see this becoming a big hit at the family gatherings during the holidays, and I remark to myself that Nintendo has a virtual lock on this demographic.

I'm almost beginning to feel sorry for Sony and Microsoft for bringing out motion controllers.  Almost.  They're going to get eaten alive.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sony PS-X800 Linear Tracking Turntable

Here are some photos of Sony's PS-X800 turntable, a masterful linear-drive turntable from 1981-84.  Hailing from the final golden days of Japanese Direct Drive, before CD and digital arrived on the scene.  This may even be Sony's masterpiece; it's certainly among the giants, like the PS-X9 and the PS-X75 Biotracer.

All of the features that make Sony's turntables brilliant are on display, including the gel-filled adjustable feet, the SBMC (Sony Bulk Mold Compound, a composite of polyester and fiberglass) frame with piano gloss finish, BSL (brushless, slotless) motor, Xtal Lock and Magnedisk, and the latest version of the Biotracer tonearm.  This is a spectacular feat of computer engineering.

The Biotracer was Sony's unique design, and was their solution to the challenge of dealing with tonearm resonances.  Japan's engineers at the rival companies tried different solutions and made remarkable progress.  But the Biotracer was unique in that it sought to solve the frequency resonance issues between tonearm and phono cartridge.  In theory, Sony's arm could accept any cartridge, of any weight and compliance.  This is an amazing feat.

Biotracer first appeared on Sony's PS-B70 in 1978, and then was refined on the great PS-X75.  I do believe the PS-X800 was the third-generation model.  The PS-X700 was the final refinement of the X75, and the X600 and X500 continued the smaller, sleeker design.  The expensive tonearm was finally retired after that point, which is where Sony's decline began to accelerate.

The PS-X800 is considered one of the finest, if not the finest, linear tracking turntables ever built.  The idea is that linear tracking would eliminate tracking errors and inner-groove distortion that is common with traditional tonearms.  This approach more closely follows the cutting arms in record pressing plants, and promises the highest quality sound.

These tables do appear on eBay every once in a while, but it's becoming harder to find.  Sony remains a hidden gem among turntable fans, as Technics and Denon and JVC get all the attention.  Perhaps Sony's reputation simply isn't what it was a generation ago.  But I think the word is getting out.  Finding a mint table is going to become more and more expensive.

I think the PS-X800 is Sony's last truly great turntable.  This is the peak of the design, before the arrival of compact disc took all the best engineers, and by the end of the 1980s, Japan was churning out cheap, plastic junk.  It's almost as though they deliberately sabotaged vinyl records by making crummy tables.  This remains a mystery to me.  Another mystery is why Sony can't seem to dust off their classic designs in the wake of the vinyl revival.  True, the prices would be enormous - the Biotracer tables are $2,000 quality tables, easily - but there is a market out there, and you must begin somewhere.

Every time I see those cheap, plastic USB turntables at Best Buy, I want to cry.  Sony should know better.  Then again, these are the same guys responsible for a $600 Playstation 3.

Separated at Birth?

Am I wrong to think this cover of National Lampoon from 1975 looks exactly like Straight Outta Compton?  Or am I just thinking too much?  The placement of the surgeon's knife is the thing that stood out, as well as the overall composition.  It would be very interesting if this was, in fact, an influence on the NWA cover; the album is as much a work of gonzo journalism as anything.  Its depictions of America's decaying streets are fueled by surrealism as much as documentary realism.

I've really got to get some more hip hop LPs.  The only one I have right now is The Roots' The Rising.

2010 Already the Hottest Year on Record, According to NASA

These graphs come from NASA, and were posted on the always-wonderful Climate Progress site.  The temperature record for 2010 has already been broken over a month ago, but it bears repeating as the summer heats up.  This year is already the hottest on record, and it follows the hottest decade on record...which follows the hottest decade before that...and so on and so on.

I believe climate change is the moral issue of our time.  This is the question of what world we will leave for our children and grandchildren.  We've known about the ill effects of pollution and fossil fuels for generations.  The time to act was yesterday, last month, last year, thirty years ago.  Denial and inaction is cowardly and criminal; even worse, a mistake.  The fate of the human civilization hangs in the balance.

Glacier Loses Ice Chunk Equal to One-Eighth of Manhattan

Oh, joy. A glacier on Greenland lost a 2.7 square mile chunk of ice - in a single day.  I especially like that final paragraph in the article (my emphasis in bold):

This is part of a recent trend which scientists say started around the beginning of this decade. Between 1850 and 1964, the glacier's ice front had retreated at about 0.3 kilometers a year. It then stayed that way until 2001 when the decrease began to accelerate at about 3 km/yr. (For more on the Jakobshavn Glacier Calving Front, click here.)

Thomas Wagner, cryospheric program scientist at NASA noted that while there have been ice breakouts of this magnitude from Jakonbshavn and other glaciers before, he described this event as "unusual because it occurs on the heels of a warm winter that saw no sea ice form in the surrounding bay." "While the exact relationship between these events is being determined, it lends credence to the theory that warming of the oceans is responsible for the ice loss observed throughout Greenland and Antarctica," he said.

In February, NASA scientists reported that west Greenland's glaciers were melting 100 times faster at their end points beneath the ocean than at their surfaces. The likely explanation behind the undersea melting: warmer ocean waters.

Remember back in January, when it was cold and snowing for a week, and everybody decided that proved that global warming was a big hoax?  Sigh...good times.  Sadly, denial continues to be the rule of the day, and people can't even be bothered to acknowledge the problem exists.  Your grandchild will not have this luxury.