It really doesn't seem like a fortnight since the last edition of Easy Mode, since we've still been fairly busy around the site, and still have a few reviews to finish before the Christmas period. Admittedly, I've taken much of this week off just to recover my sanity from the last few weeks, but should be able to complete my year's reviewing duties in the next week. Since I'm well rested, this week will be a complete edition of the column as promised, though since the next edition will be the last Easy Mode of 2005, I thought I'd break from the regular format once again to present my second lot of Easy Mode awards, though they'll be slightly different from what was seen all the way back in Easy Mode #1.
Matt's Somewhat Serious Bit
With the Xbox 360 out in the three main markets after tomorrow's Japanese launch, the next generation has officially started. Good luck getting a console though - not even Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer can get one. Well, that is unless you're Japanese, there's bound to be plenty of those left over; Japanese analysts have written Microsoft off once again. Feel sorry for Namco, who expected Ridge Racer 6 to sell 500,000 copies in Japan alone. The NPD has reported on November's US console sales, with the Xbox selling about 330,000 hardware units and 1.3 million units of software, suggesting that bundles and people who bought their software before they got their console (possibly missing out) drove the attachment rate up. It's interesting to note that NPD later pulled their sales, noting that several titles were overestimated. Activision's Call of Duty 2 appeared to be leading the software chart with 250,000 units sold in November.
"Pfft, like I'd pay for an Xbox 360. Though I will waste billion of shareholders' money producing it."
The Xbox 360 wasn't the talking point of this week though - that honour goes to the Nintendo Revolution. Basically, unnamed developers leaked some of the Revolution's technical specs to IGN. These developers stated that the Revolution will be not be about horsepower, alleging that the machine has 88MB of 1T-SRAM, 16MB of D-RAM, and that Hollywood and Broadway, the CPU and GPU of the console are in fact twice as powerful as Gekko and Flipper, featured in the GameCube. Some have dismissed the claims leaked to IGN - personally, I believe they fit in with what Perrin Kaplan revealed earlier in the year, and as such are likely to give us all a reasonable idea of what's in the console.
As you'd expect, this news story from IGN was met with the usual "Haha, Nintendo is doomed" fare from the detractors - some Nintendo fans were a little puzzled at why the Big N doesn't wish to compete against the HD graphics and multi-core processors of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Well, I can only think of one reason: Nintendo doesn't think they can go toe-to-toe with the PS3 and 360 and win. Winning in Nintendo terms of course is making a profit - Nintendo are driven by the bottom line; you don't see them losing $4 billion dollars on a console just to gain "mindshare" (which seems to be the marketing buzzword being misused by the Microsoft fans as of late). There's evidence all over the Internet that suggests Nintendo had every intention of producing a console that would go head-to-head with the PS3 and Xbox 360, and launch at $US299. It would appear that in the time between the naming of Project Revolution and E3 2005, Nintendo had a change of heart, and realised they needed a new interface. "What do you think drove this change?" I hear you ask.
Yes, the Nintendo DS, I believe, was an experiment by the Kyoto Giant to see if a device using new interfaces would be viable in the market. When the DS proved successful, the plans for a powerful console were put aside, and a new console was decided upon. When you think about it, the DS was designed purely around profit for Nintendo. The project really started at a time when margins on the GameCube were forced down into the red in order to stimulate sales (late 2003), and Nintendo reported its first quarterly loss in over 25 years. I'm under the belief, especially with the spec readout provided by developers this week, that Nintendo are also bent on making a profit on the Revolution hardware - especially while Microsoft and Sony have to loss-lead on the first months/years of their consoles (Microsoft are losing $US126 on each Xbox sold). Then you have the fact that developing on lesser hardware means that games can be made faster, with smaller development teams and smaller budgets - you don't have to dilly-dally for years while everyone gets used to the hardware (especially with this multi-core business) - everyone is already familiar with the GameCube architecture, and we've seen that they can get a lot out of it.
Yeah, Nintendo fans aren't going to get HD graphics - but here's a bit of food for thought. a) Do you own a HDTV? The answer is likely no - very few Australians do, although that figure is somewhat bigger in Europe. b) How many games are just going to be the same old crap in a high definition shell? Nintendo will be offering up new gameplay experiences, as well as new versions of their classic franchises, and complete backwards compatibility, free online play, yadda yadda yadda. Given the way Nintendo is positioning the Revolution, I don't feel it is actually a part of the "next generation" as such - they're going down a completely different path to Sony and MS, who are bent on pimping out HD graphics, central media and such. The Revolution seems like more of an extension of this generation with a new interface.
Is the Revolution the perfect companion to your PS3 or Xbox 360?
With low cost, and relatively low powered components in the Revolution, Nintendo would appear to be trying to make it accessible to the masses who feel that the $US399 price tag of the 360 is out of their league - for those of us that are established gamers, the machine is presented as more of a companion to owning a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Many developers in the IGN story felt that the machine would sell for somewhere between $US99 and $US149 - if Nintendo get the pricing right, especially on the software, the console could really present itself as an impulsive purchase option. They seem to be heading in the opposite direction of the competition - with gamers having to accept $US60 price tags on third party software, Nintendo could really clean up with its cheaper to produce product by positioning them at a more wallet friendly $US40 or less. Are you really going to pay the same for an Asian cooking sim as you are for the next Zelda? Offering the quirkier, more accessible titles at a cheaper price point could really go a long way into getting them into more homes.
The final interesting point I have is that given the technology that allegedly forms the basis of the Revolution, one could think that the machine could really have been pushed out of the door this year. IGN's developer sources say Thanksgiving 2006 for the US launch, while Nintendo themselves are indicating a Summer release in Japan, with a planned release in all territories within one quarter of the first release. That's a solid year or so for developers to come up with ideas for ways to use the controller, as well as time to ensure the launch title is of a high standard - Nintendo's internal teams would have had longer, obviously. Lump this in with the fact that everyone working on the hardware is likely to have had 5 years of GameCube programming experience, and you can basically guarentee we'll see some really good games on the Revolution from the get go. However, I don't think we're going to see too many, if any ports coming down from the PS3/360. In fact, I think you're likely to see developers porting UP - do you really think everyone is going to abandon the PS2 straight away, what with its 100 million install base? Just a bit of food for thought.
Quote(s) of the Fortnight
"We believe that premium titles command premium pricing," said EA spokesperson Tammy Schachter when asked why EA's first-run 360 titles were selling for $10 more than the company's first-run titles for Xbox, PS2 and GameCube. "These are deep, rich, complex games."
From Gamerankings (as at 6pm, 9/12/2005);
FIFA 06: Road to World Cup..........................65.8%..........79.5%
Madden NFL 06.............................................78.8%...........83.5%
NBA Live 06...................................................64.7%...........79.4%
Need for Speed Most Wanted.......................84.1%...........84.6%
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06..............................70.2%...........79.4%
Yeah, deep, rich and complex and complex games which in four out of five cases have LESS features than their Xbox predecessors, and has received poorer scores across the board. She should have said "Hey, at least we developed new versions of our games for the 360." Yes, we're talking about you, Activision.
"It's only a target, but we want to reach 1 million units [in Japan] by the summer of next year, and during the year-end shopping period, we hope to reach 1.5 to 2 million units." says Microsoft Japan boss Yoshihiro Maruyama on the Xbox 360.
It may only be a target, but you're saying you want to sell more than twice as many consoles in 6 months as the original Xbox has in 4 years? With a less Japanese-friendly launch lineup?
You know what really grinds my gears #3: Gamer Overreactions
Have you ever noticed that whenever a person attacks videogames, the gamers always react rather angrily, firing off hate-filled, barely legible e-mails describing why such-and-such person doesn't know anything and why this person sucks amongst other things?
Jack Thompson and Roger Ebert spring to mind immediately, and I'm going to focus on the latter. Roger Ebert is a highly respected film critic who has worked for the Chicago Sun-Times since before I was born, as well as co-hosting the popular movie show Siskel and Ebert (later Ebert and Roeper after Gene Siskel's unfortunate early passing). In his recent review of the movie Doom, he mentioned that he doesn't feel that he considers videogames to be an inherently inferior medium to film and literature (see third letter down), though he admitted a lack of familiarity with them. Of course, the lovely gaming folks launched torrents of hate mail at Mr. Ebert, rather than trying to calmly inform him of where they felt he was wrong. Being a reasonable individual, Ebert has posted up some of the more thought provoking letters he has received on the topic (Art of the Game One and Two - some of these are really quite good).
Next time you see something you disagree with, try surmising your feelings in a rational and balanced manner before hitting that send button - you're only embarassing gamers collectively.
From the bowels of the Internet #4: Gaming Podcasts
I'm sure that everyone is familiar with podcasts, but for the uninformed, podcast is an umbrella term for radio style programs on the MP3 format which are linked with RSS feeds for downloading directly to your MP3 player of choice (most famously, the iPod, hence the name) whenever a new show is released. Podcasts cover a large range of topics from politics to technology, so it was only a matter of time before a few gaming podcasts popped up. Over the last few weeks I've been paying close attention to the podcasts popping up on Australian gaming sites, and thought I might do a quick rundown.
Hosted by Matt and Yug, who are, obviously, responsible for the comics and reviews posted on the site, the Australian Gamer podcasts basically features the pair discussing the most important issues of the week, saying a few words about the games they're playing and inevitably paying each other out. It is, arguably, the best of the Australian podcasts at this point in time. Matt and Yug are fairly knowledgeable (of course, I pick up a few errors in their claims and opinions, but well, I'm something of a prodigy), they speak in a fairly calm manner, the flow of the podcast natural, rather than forced, and most importantly, it never seems like it's gone on any longer than it needed to. Just a word of advice: never let Yug do another podcast when he's drunk.
The Podcast Network's Gaming Show
My second favourite of the Australian run gaming podcasts, the Gaming Show is hosted by Michael and Aaron, who also happen to produce all of the reviews and video content on the site. They're fairly knowledgeable, maybe a little generous, but tend to be a little more vulgar and abusive than you'd expect. They are actually the most natural speakers you'll find on gaming podcasts, but you'll find that their podcast (at least the ones I've listened to) are actually too quiet - you have to crank the stereo up to hear anything.
It's all downhill from here, unfortunately. The hosts of GameCast haven't seen it fit to reveal their real names, instead referring to themselves as their Xbox Live tags. Speaking in what would appear to be forced, overly excited radio voices, discussing Microsoft friendly, PR-sanctioned news stories, with an overly optimistic outlook on everything. The duo come across as though their combined knowledge of gaming doesn't reach past the year 2000. Fortunately, the ordeal doesn't last more than 25 minutes.
Basically an extention of AussieXbox, MyGEN is another attempt at an Australian multi-console site, but they're not up and running yet. MyGENFM is their podcast, hosted by Hep(?) and Scotty, another pair of overly-enthusiastic, overly-optimistic individuals. The podcast...has ads. Yep, talk about bending over for the publishers - how can we expect to take you seriously with publishers pulling the strings? Once again, the guys who host MyGENFM don't seem to be particularly knowledgeable - MyGENFM actually comes across as being aimed towards a very casual audience, as the latter parts of the show go into sports and entertainment news. It goes on a bit too long at 45 minutes, and has this really annoying technosynth backing music throughout the entire show.
Aussie Nintendo Podcast
Die-hard Nintendo fans tend to be a bit irrational and defensive when it comes to discussion in forums and other videogame communities. Aussie Nintendo's podcast provides all of the fun of listening to Nintendo fans complain in a portable audio format. The hosts of the show seem to be constantly talking down to the listener, assuming that they know nothing. Combine this with dialogue that makes Steven Wright seem enthusiastic, and a running time of over 75 minutes, and you've got a good cure for insomnia. On the positive side, they seem to know their Nintendo history pretty well.
I've actually contemplated doing an audio version of Easy Mode with a few of the PALGN staff and some of my elitist gaming friends - I sort of would like to guage the interest in such a thing so if you're actually interested in a podcast from the PALGN misfits or have a comment about one of the other podcasts I've listed here, drop me a line in the comments thread.
The views expressed in the Easy Mode article are those of Matt Keller, and are not shared by PALGN, its affiliates or its advertisers.