Malik  (6/11/04)

Well, I've got some further thoughts on some of the news I brought all of you this week.  I can't help but add my own thoughts to the vagueness of Nintendo's Revolution and the complete lack of anything beyond questions that Sega brought us with Phantasy Star Universe.  Plus, to round things out this week, I have some further thoughts on Nintendo's big game of the week.  Last of all, the RIAA cannot shut the hell up, so neither can I.

I'm Malik, and I'll be your pilot on this journey into the stupidity of our world.

Viva Revolution? 

Why is it whenever Nintendo promises to bring us something "revolution"-ary, I feel that familiar cold chill run up my spine that the only other time I feel is when Square Enix promises a new Final Fantasy title? Maybe it's because Nintendo has a serious problem with learning their lessons from past mistakes...really, Nintendo has made a few mistakes in the past. I'm as surprised as you. 

Nintendo seems to always have the concept in mind that doing something new is better than doing something half assed. For example, if Nintendo would have just made another upgrade for the Gameboy (how many versions are there now? A Dozen? If you could the color options, maybe 1000? Sounds right to me), which seems to do quite well for them, we would have been spared one of the top three worst systems of all time; the Virtual Boy. How about the Gamecube? I love my GCN, but the idea of using ultra small DVDs instead of full sized ones still pisses me off. It's easier to lose these damned thing, and worst of all, it leads to a smaller DVD player. Nintendo could have done the smart thing and just gave a full sized DVD player, even with their teh gay sized discs, but instead we have a player that, besides playing GCN titles, is worthless. Ever watch a movie on DVD on a real GCN (not the Panasonic version of the system) or listen to a music CD? I don't think so. I like the versatility of using my game consoles as CD players (my real CD player is not hooked up to my surround sound, so my XBox is required when I want my music to kick some major ass). 

So, Nintendo, once again going with innovation, decided on a game system that not only can have a retarded name (DS), a stupid project name (Nitro), and some really lame concepts (two screens and a touch screen), but is now going to be bigger than the SP. This in particular gets me pissed off since portability is the most important feature of my portable systems, and the SP handled that hurdle like a pro. I won't even touch the fact that two to three letter names for systems are really pissing me off about now (DS, SP, QD, PSP)...sorry, I like the thought of creativity going into every aspect of my creative outlet (gaming). 

Anyway, for those who wonder why I'm pissed about the touch screen without ever even playing the DS yet, I'll just say this; if you're playing an action game (let's say the Metroid for DS that was so well publicized from E3) and it uses the touch screen (like Metroid), and your hand is required to use the touch screen, and your hand is not invisible, you will be blocking out the screen. This means you will, at least until you move your hand (which is controlling the game, so you better not remove your hand), you cannot see who is about to blow your freakin' head off. This is a serious design flaw to someone like me who has larger than child-sized hands (since Nintendo is claiming to now be looking for a target audience of a more mature age group) since it limits my enjoyment of this system. Plus, the touch screen is not going to make the handheld cheaper or more sturdy. Like with the Virtual Boy, it will end up serving as a limitation. The VB had a single color display to keep the cost down, and this still kept the price somewhat high and was a pain in the ass (or should I say "eyes"). Plus with the innovations of the VB design, such as the tripod, it broke down like a Pinto. If the system itself didn't short out, then the tripod would fall apart. 

So, the reason I'm going off about this is because Nintendo is getting ready to slowly tempt us all with the "Revolution". That is their new secret console that's under development that will incorporate some new technology so secretive that they will not reveal any of the details. Supposedly, Nintendo is afraid of their competition stealing their ideas. 

Solution 

Nintendo, if you're going to try something new, please make sure it is fun and doesn't interfere with the actual enjoyment one should get from playing the games. At least Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata, has said that they are more concerned with substance rather than flair... 

He said the gaming industry is reaching a dead end as its past formula for success dazzling consumers with more sophisticated imagery no longer works.

At least Nintendo seems to hold enjoying their games in a higher light than their competition, who often times will focus more of the flair, or technical achievements of their consoles (XBox Live Chat, XBox Live itself, PS2 Broadband, PS2 Hard Drive, etc). Yet, in the end, Nintendo still has that habit of making a few minor flaws in their design that just seem to pull everything down with it. So, I can't help but feel a cold chill running down my spine as I think of; 

"What we need is not a next-generation machine but a next-generation way of playing games," Iwata told reporters at a Tokyo hotel. "We need to propose a new idea so that the game industry can overcome its current crisis."

New idea...like two screens, on a tripod, with no portability (yet it's a portable console...), and an all red display! Sorry, Nintendo has still not done something smart enough to live the VB down...yet...please Nintendo, redeem yourself...please.

Too Little of a Good Thing 

I'm all for having less information available on a game before it's launched than the average developer and publisher gives out. In fact, I'm usually more excited about a game I know next to nothing about, like GTA:SA, than most games that I know far too much about, like Fable. I'm not saying I'm not excited about Fable, but lets consider something; 

When Fable was first announced, every idea and every innovation was quickly detailed by Lionhead, and especially by Mr. Molyneaux. We knew of the way that every character would age (NPC and PC) and thus what is done when you first start the game would affect the world greatly by the time you neared the end. We also knew of how you could customize your character almost 100%, including picking your gender. Well, as time passed, we learned that a lot of character wouldn't directly age. Although the details are a little sketchy, it sounds like the NPCs in town will instead just be replaced with similar looking ones that only differ by being a little older looking, instead of being the same character with an "aged" personality and appearance. We also learned that being female is completely out of the question. These are only a couple of the many features that were publicized last fall (or earlier) that are no longer going to be in the final release. 

Meanwhile, GTA:SA, or any previous GTA for that matter, is developed without the gamers knowing hardly anything except inconsequential things, like the main character's name, or what decade the game will take place in. So, if Rockstar decided to add a feature, like giving you the option of climbing walls, and then removed it while developing the game, this would not make one feel greatly disappointed. I'm not saying this is supposed to be in GTA:SA, so don't even think of me having some details of the game that aren't available or making shit up. I'm being hypothetical. 

So, my point is that while we don't know enough about a new GTA game to already formulate strategies and plans ahead of time, we do know enough to get hyped on the game. Meanwhile, with Fable we know enough to know that so many cool things have been cut out of what will be the final release...so many things that a good deal of the geeks originally hyped about Fable are losing their interest. 

Plus, with GTA games, we know nothing about the release date until they have a final figure. Meanwhile, Lionhead gave us promises that have failed several times now. This, once again, has led to us, the general geek population, losing more interest as we dub the game "vaporware". 

However, my main point that I was slowing approaching is this; Phantasy Star Universe. While Fable has taught us, along with Doom 3 and quite a few other games that have been over-publicized, that too much info can only kill out hype, what happens when we get too little info? I don't mean no info, since a lack of any information would still leave us in surprise when the game is announced. Too little information, is the most teh gay way one can publicize a project. 

With Phantasy Star Universe, we are told to expect a revolutionary game, with a new world, and a completely new experience, but we aren't even told what genre to expect. I mean it will be some sort of a "RPG", but Phantasy Star Online, Disgaea, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Secret of Mana, and Suikoden are all RPGs and a fan of one of these games could very easily hate all the others. Sega is only letting one piece of info escape on what type of game we can expect...something related to Phantasy Star. Nothing else is known. The movie shown at the web site even asks, "Phantasy Star Online 2?" and "Phantasy Star V?". With very little info, we can still get hyped, like when we all saw the title of the next GTA. I mean, we knew what was coming, and after seeing the "San Andreas" we could start getting hyped about a California GTA. However, Sega just went from telling us almost nothing to telling us even less than nothing...those two questions can only serve to confuse and harm the potential image of PSU. How about Sega stops jerking us around and tell us something we can get hyped about...I mean a fan of PSO and PS1-4 is few and far between. I have met far too few people who actually liked both styles of PS, while I know a good deal of people who liked one OR the other. I for one would give $50 for PSV, but only about $20 (on a day when I feel hella generous) for a PSO2. 

So, why am I going off about this? Simple; we have gotten the first scent of information from Sega and Team Sonic about this future title, and this will leave a large number of geeks drooling and excited. However, before Sega actually releases any real information, we geeks are going to start getting bored with the little info we have. Then Sega will have to make one of two choices; they can either continue telling us far too little to keep us interested or they could tell us too many empty promises that cannot be fulfilled (Fable-style). 

On one hand it leads to the game being under-rated and under hyped, so that when it is released, if it is good, it will not get quite the following that it deserves. This will make it less likely to come to the US, since Japanese developers usually are more hesitant on releasing a RPG state-side than any other style of game. If it makes it to the US, assuming also that it will be fun, and it's a classic PS title (something like a "PSV"), the chance of a sequel making it stateside is lower. This will just piss me off, since I need my RPG fix, and I need it often. 

On the other hand, if they start with the empty promises, we're going to be facing the same bullshit that Fable gave us, but with one of my favorite series. That is something none of us needs to face...most importantly, myself. Once a company makes the empty promises, like Fable did so many times, it will only make the game that much less enjoyable when it finally comes out. I mean who out there is going to play Fable, if it actually ever comes out, and not think something like, "I wish I could see that damned village kid grow up with all the mental scars I should have left on him", or a geek of the female persuasion (geeks actually come in more than one variety...just ask Velveeta) may think "So, I can make this character to be just like me...then why does he have a penis?", or "Shouldn't I have been playing this game a year ago...not quite as cutting edge anymore...". I don't want this type of feeling to be associated with Phantasy Star...that's the equivalent of crushing a good deal of my fond memories as a child (PS got me into RPGs...no one better mess with my personal image of PS!). 

Solution 

The smartest solution would have been for Sega to wait a while before releasing any information at all. Especially since this game is not supposed to come out until sometime almost a year from now or later. Rockstar waited until there were only about 6-7 months left before releasing hints about what we can expect in October. Unfortunately, it's too late for that now. So, on to plan B; Sega can tell us two simple things that they have already brought people to ask; "Phantasy Star Online 2?", "Phantasy Star V?". After that, they could shut the hell up. It's better to keep an audience in suspense than to over hype something and watch as they get disappointed before the game even hits to shelves. 

Another part of this solution; "Phantasy Star Online 2?", NO. "Phantasy Star V?", YES. PSO is nothing besides a Diablo clone with less refinement. Let's let Blizzard do what they do best, and Sega do what Sega/Team Sonic does best (and that's not Sonic in 3D); the games that made them famous...in other words, go back to their roots. 'Nuff said. 

While We're On The Subject... 

....of Nintendo, and since it's a big week for one of their "innovations", I feel the urge to bitch again. 

Nintendo has brought us another fun multiplayer experience that just can't be fully enjoyed due to the dreaded Nintendo buzz-word; Connectivity. This time we are given The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, a four player Zelda experience on the GCN, that can, like FF:CC, be enjoyed single player with no problems, but to play multiplayer, you will need one GBA and one GBA-GCN link cable per player. For some people this will mean nothing, but for the majority of us, it means having financial problems stand in the way of enjoying a four player adventure. 

I can easily drag out a friend or two (plus Velveeta) to get into the action of a four player game, but it is not as simple of a matter to find four GBAs and four link cables on the budget that I'm faced with and the budget of my mostly college aged friends. The thing Nintendo seems to have forgotten is that the college aged audience usually does not have the money to throw around on having excessive numbers of GBAs lying around. 

This, in some ways, ties in to the issue that Nintendo has been trying to overcome in the recent past, of trying to aim for a more mature audience and, in general, a larger audience. If you're trying to get a bunch of people to buy into your product line, you should not force excessive money issues upon them. In this case, if Nintendo wants to make people interested in your key product, the GCN, they should not have the most appealing games require additional purchases to enjoy; in this case, extra GBAs (which have some use out of the connectivity issue) and extra link cables (which are almost useless when it comes to anything besides FF:CC and Four Swords, yet cost an unappealing $20 each). 

Solution 

To get a larger share of the geek market, Nintendo needs to stop having it so that the most anticipated games have the most unusual requirements. A good multiplayer game should only require one system (with standard controls) and one copy of the game. Then, when the owner of the game starts playing with friends, they can see if the console is cool and then purchase one from their own experiences. With connectivity based games, it becomes rather difficult to experience the title to it's fullest before a leap of faith is required in purchasing the game (or not). 

Video games are one of those products that the best way to attract an audience is to make it easy to try out and experience. While other forms of media may require between $5 and $20 to enjoy (like movies, CDs, or whatever), a game requires a much heftier financial contribution. I mean, I have no problem laying down $8 to see a movie in the theater, or $12 to buy a music CD, but when it comes to $50 for a game or $100-$150 for a console, I want to make sure I'm not going to end up being bitten in the ass by a bad purchase before I jump into it. Of course the easiest way to tell if a game is worth it, is to rely on a friend who has already purchased it. However, this all goes to crap when the requirements for a game increase, ala connectivity, and it becomes much harder to try out the game in the first place. 

On top of that, if one doesn't have a GBA by now, they are most likely not interested and nothing in the world could change that. So, if I don't have a GBA (of course I do, but we're being hypothetical) and I do have a GCN and I want to play Four Swords with some friends, I'm left with a couple of problems; Firstly, why would I want to lay down about $100 for a controller when a normal console's controller only costs $30 for the XBox and it has four player games a-plenty and I could use the XBox control for more than just two games? Secondly, how do I convince my friends, who I would want to play Four Swords with, to purchase about $100 worth of controller just to play one game with me (two games if I actually thought FF:CC was fun...yes I name FF:CC, even though it's not a Nintendo game since they dropped mad money in Square's lap to make it with connectivity...which I sure as hell didn't think was fun...com'on Square fanboys, flame me!)? I don't think there are any answers for that. Simply put, if you don't have a GBA by now, Four Swords will not change your mind. 

Nintendo must realize that if they want a larger audience (which I know they do since a large audience equals more money...and who doesn't like more money coming their way?) that uncalled for requirements in potentially amazing games is not the answer. Connectivity was a nifty little idea when it added inconsequential bonuses to a game; like Tinkle's Radar in Zelda:WW, or the island in Animal Crossing. Those added to the game (actually, Tinkle's Radar didn't add anything for me, but in theory it could be fun for some Zelda fans); games which could still be fully enjoyed without the GBA link. 

So, to put it in a few less words; Nintendo can only reach for a larger audience and solve their problems of the disappearing fan base by making their products more accessible. This means cutting any connectivity requirements, and limiting anything as gimmicky as connectivity to an add-on, not a requirement...'nuff said.

Maybe The Answer Is To Ban People From Listening 

Ok, it seems RIAA cannot help themselves from pressuring people to avoid the product they are trying to sell. For those who haven't paid any attention to...well, to anything...in the last few years, RIAA, The Recording Industry Assesociation of America, or something like that, have decided that any copying of music is wrong. That's all well and good...for the most part. This does affect the artists who actually have supported MP3s in stopping them from being able to share their albums and music, which in turns can lower sales since many of the more underground artists find the most fanfare by giving their music away to entice the potential audience and then counting on sales to follow. 

Anyway, RIAA has done everything from shutting down Napster, who started the mainstream popularity of P2P file exchange services, to suing thousands of people. It was bad enough when they'd sue the owner of a PC for something that was downloaded by a child (they have sued some people who didn't download songs because they owned the PC on a given IP address that had downloaded songs...songs downloaded by children in several cases); that's like me allowing a friend to barrow my car and then being sued when my friend crashes into something instead of the driver being sued. Then they resorted to the tactic of suing individuals who they cannot immediately recognize. These "John Doe" lawsuits are, 99% of the time, nothing but a farce that will further clog our legal systems that are already overloaded with frivolous lawsuits as it was before RIAA got some big arse bug up their asses. 

Now, in the latest turn, RIAA has started to look into the "threat" of digital radio. In theory, people can copy songs off of digital radio and then copy them onto a PC in MP3 format. However, given how a good deal of MP3s on the Internet sound already (most of them I've heard have sounded like shit), one could just copy songs off the standard issue radio, and rip them to MP3...AWWWW SHIT! Now RIAA is going to try to take away my right to listen to the radio since I could illegally copy music and distribute it. What next? Maybe the RIAA could stop sales of CDs since CDs are the primary source of creating MP3s. True, the artists under the giant umbrella of the RIAA would all stop making any money from sales, but it could...ummm...make even less sense than the other actions of the RIAA. How about this; I could copy songs off my old 8-track or vinyl collections (I collect shit...what can I say), and make MP3s of this (RIAA: I did not say I was doing this; I said I "could"), so maybe RIAA should destroy all media players before we have a chance to enjoy music. Sometimes I wish they would just shut the hell up... 

Solution 

Well, they could shut the hell up, but that's too easy. So, instead they could look towards the methods used in some other countries. For example, in many parts of Europe, an additional cost is added to CD-R's and other blank media to bring back some of the lost revenue of copied songs and videos. This money goes to the European equivalent of the RIAA to distribute as required. But, if that makes too much sense, there are other possibilities; 

Like, the RIAA could just ban artists from making music. I mean that would prevent those damned commoners from copying music. With no music, then there could be no illegal distribution. Or, maybe music could be restricted so that only the economically elite could have access to music, since we lowly common people cannot be trusted with something as simple as the radio. 

Of course the RIAA could realize that music sales are not slumping from the illegal distribution of music as much as the fact that most music is no longer on par with what was available just a few years ago. To add to that, the price of CDs don't reflect the actual cost to produce a CD, and thus the average person is faced with a conflict; should I waste $15-$20 on a CD that will probably suck or should I just hold on to my money and get something more enjoyable? Usually, with the economy being so poor lately, that more enjoyable thing would be applied to food and shelter. Maybe the RIAA needs to realize that during an economic recession, less money is going to be spent on frivolous things like music, and more money will be saved towards staying alive and meeting basic needs...but that's too simple of a solution. 

Ok, I guess it either comes down to the highly logical (and improbable) option of the RIAA shutting the hell up and realizing the situation that America is under (in terms of income and quality of music/movies), to banning all entertainment produced in America from all but the elite upper class (or maybe to just those who work for the RIAA), or just tacking on some extra fee to blank media and cutting their losses there. Either way it is looked at, the RIAA needs to take a step back into reality and stop treating all people throughout the world as criminals.

Conclusion

Well, I for one am sick of bitching about some of the same subjects over and over again, but until the RIAA gets some semblance of reality into their minds and until Nintendo stops trying to force the most popular game system (the GBA) down our throats, I guess I'll just have to keep bitching.  Plus, it doesn't help having so much crap come out of the no longer imaginative minds of Square...Square derived product lines at Square Enix will keep getting worse, yet the number of fans will increase...makes me lose all hope for the future of geeks...sigh...

Malik