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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Impatient Phoenix Strikes (itself) Again!

The Nintendo Wii really isn't so cheap. $250 might seem, at first thought, to be a bargain, but that only comes with one controller. Each additional controller is $40 for the remote itself, and $20 for the analog stick attachment. Plus you often have to pay more than market price to get the system, since they're still in short supply.

There were a few reasons I bought it. One was to play with my family, which has proven to be impossible. Then there were the downloadable games, the new ones yet to prove themselves and the old ones in absurdly limited supply. Then there was the remote.

You look at a little piece of plastic which translates your physical motions into gameplay, and you think: "Wow. Things could be done with that."

Nothing has been done with that.

Let us review the things Wii is capable of.

It can play normal games with normal controls, and there's an infinite number of great ideas just like that waiting to be made.

Then there's the ability to track movement in both hands, which has amazing potential for movement games.

Then there's the pointer, which works a lot like a computer mouse but where you can rotate the cursor in place and move forward and backward with it.

The remotes could theoretically be attached to any part of the body, meaning that full-body movement in games is possible.

Game Boy Advance systems can be connected to the Wii with cables, adding an extra screen for each player.

DS systems can be connected to the Wii wirelessly, adding two screens for each player, one of which is a pressure-sensitive touch screen, as well as a microphone.

Any sort of configuration of buttons can be attached to the bottom of the remote.

There is enough potential here, that if the Wii's lifespan were three hundred years, there would still be new experiences to be had at the end of it! The format is so flexible that the content can be anything.

Last year at E3, the biggest videogame exposition of the year, I watched the Nintendo press conference eagerly to learn what they would do with all this potential. As it turned out, the answer was: nothing. Nothing at all. Apparently they'd gotten bored with the formats they had already, because they made a new one: the Balance Board. It is a scale you stand on so the system can see the exact balance of your whole body. And there was exactly one game announced which would use this new controller: Wii Fit. It's an exercise collection of mini-games. That particular game didn't interest me (and I knew it wasn't worth my time trying to get my sisters interested), but that was okay. With this new controller, there were now even more possibilities on the Wii.

A whole year has passed, without Nintendo making any announcements at all except to gloat about how well the Wii is selling. And now it's E3 time again.

So I watched through their press conference again, waiting eagerly through all the usual rhetoric and spin for the Big Announcement. Some new game which would have me addicted and engaged and inspired and all that.

It never came.

Here is what Nintendo announced.

They announced a slightly-modified version of Animal Crossing, which I played for years -and beat- on Gamecube. They announced a music collection of mini-games for people who don't understand music, where you're not allowed to play notes but just wave your arms around aimlessly and see what happens. They announced a licensed game (Those are always bad.), and a realistic sports game. There was a brief hint that new Mario and Zelda games would be released at some point in the next ten years, and the implication that they would be as unambitious as possible.

And then there was the part where they spat in my face for expecting anything from them. An unambitious collection of mini-games doing what I thought Nintendo would be doing as soon as Wii was released: using motion controls. Except not as creatively as I thought they would. Stuff like turning the controller sideways and making big rotating motions to drive a waterskiing thing, and simple sword-fighting, and -get this- throwing a Frisbee for a dog. This was their big announcement. And why did this silly game exist in the first place? Why, it comes bundled with a new controller, of course! It attaches to one remote, to make the motion detection more precise or something like that. (As if the regular remotes weren't precise enough to find what to do with!)

And when this attachment is released, and I'm expected to buy one of them for each controller I have, what then? Do they think I'm stupid enough to believe, at this point, that they're going to do anything at all with the technology?!

The Wii has more potential than a hundred visionary designers could use up in their lifetimes. It's nothing but potential. Now use it, you fools, use it! The medium is half the message, yes. But only half! Nintendo is being so rewarded in the marketplace for reinventing themselves, they no longer want to do anything but reinvent themselves! Giving meaningful experiences isn't a priority anymore.

But if Nintendo aren't going to be visionaries anymore, who will? Who's even qualified?

All the other companies have had the same opportunity to use the Wii. They've had it for two years already. And there is no news of creative projects. They have all of gamism in front of them, and all they see is the opportunity to repeat. Critical consensus on the third-party Wii library is that there are around two creative games there- one from the pretentious action gamist Suda 51 and one from Steven Spielberg of all people. Where's the rest?

Who is willing and able to move forward?



Well I had a similar reaction to E3 this year except I have an xbox and follow Microsoft news more closely.

All the seemed to have announced was that they are simplifying the Dashboard to allow users to only scroll through one list at a time in an annoying 3d space and they have decided to copy the Wii by allowing users to create Miis... I mean "Avatars".

They did however announce the release of the sequel to my favorite game Geometry Wars, but I suspect they will have forgotten that it was the simple game design that made the game so much fun.

Also, one question, did you coin the term Gamism? The only other reference I could find to it was for studying paper and pen RPGs.

Yes, I did.


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