Nintendo @ TGS: Gut Reactions
Nintendo has revealed the controller and a few new details on its upcoming next-generation console, as well as its strategy for the near future. GameSpot editors sound off.
Count me among the many who were very surprised by what they saw of the Revolution's controller. I expected it to be unusual but also to resemble past Nintendo controllers' form and functionality to the extent that it will have to work with older games. It's both those things, but still, just seeing it was odd. It looks like a remote control, especially with that power button (which is a neat touch, actually). So at first I cynically wondered to myself where exactly I have room for yet another remote. Also, while the industrial design of the thing is attractive--we can all thank Apple for setting the standard for what modern electronics are supposed to look like--it kind of looked like a back massager to me. It's just weird. I kept staring at it. I didn't really get it.
Where was the right analog stick? The single-analog design of the Sony PSP has proven to be to that system's detriment, since so many of those games run into camera control issues. Where are all the buttons? Sure, it'll work like a Nintendo Entertainment System controller if you tilt it sideways, but what about six-button Super NES games? And what's with all those attachments?
Then I learned about how it's actually a pointing device--you just aim it at the screen. And then I got it. And then my curiosity became excitement. The dual-analog standard that exists today is merely a competent way of translating mouse-and-keyboard controls to video game consoles--which itself is really just a fluke. This setup may end up working much more fluidly and may allow for much more precision than what we're used to today. And it does seem like it could be quite intuitive.
The opportunity (and the risk) of this control system is that it's very different. I'm impressed that Nintendo didn't settle for convention, and I'm hopeful for the prospects. When the Nintendo DS was first announced, I was very skeptical, but today it's the game system I play the most. So these days I'm happy to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt.
The first time I saw the Revolution controller, I didn't know what to think. I'm guessing you had the same reaction: It looks like a TV remote control, with the D pad up near the top, and if you're holding it in one hand, how would you reach the face buttons? You can turn it on its side to approximate an old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System controller, but how would that affect the wireless controller's laser-pointer-like functionality? Also, the plug-in analog stick just seemed crazy.
Then again, Iwata has claimed that with the Revolution, Nintendo will try to focus on games and the experience of playing them, rather than on powerful hardware (like the PS3 and the Xbox 360). The slim Revolution controller--which has fewer buttons and sticks than the standard GameCube controller and will apparently come in a bunch of candy-colored varieties, much like the iPod Mini--may also help appeal to new players (like, let's say, women) unused to using the C stick to rotate a camera or pressing the Z button to pull up a map. If the design were nothing more than a ploy to make the controller look chic enough to appeal to more female players and simple enough to appeal to beginners, I'd say it was a step in the right direction.
Of course, there's more to the controller than its looks--the button layout and wireless input apparently allow for highly nuanced input, like twisting a shot on a video game hockey puck to put "English" on it or, with the analog attachment, using the controller in your right hand basically like a mouse in a first-person shooter. I'd have to see and hold the controller myself to judge, but the idea of using a floating cursor to give yourself precise control in a console shooter (and probably a severe case of tennis elbow) sounds very intriguing. The DS's touch pad, microphone, and dual screens seem to have opened up new opportunities for gameplay. Maybe the Revolution controller is an equally promising sign of things to come.
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I don't think I was expecting that. Even after months of fervent speculation--including rumors of a built-in gyroscope or DS-touch-pad functionality--the Nintendo Revolution controller still managed to surprise me. It's hard not to come right out of the gate talking about the awesome gaming potential of the controller, but before we talk function, I'd like to spend a moment on form. After the last two Nintendo console controllers--the N64's triple-pronged monstrosity and the GameCube's surprisingly nimble take on the dual analog stick configuration--the Revolution's controller is a serious throwback, one that eschews strange polygonal shapes for a simple rectangular look that's clean and attractive.
But is it, as Iwata claims in his TGS keynote address, a more approachable controller? Let's look at the numbers. Or rather, let's look at the number of buttons. The GameCube controllers had a total of eight buttons (including the center start/pause button), a directional pad, and two analog sticks. The Revolution controller, according to the photos, features seven buttons (including the select, home, and start buttons) and a directional pad. Toss in the "nunchaku" expansion, and you add two more shoulder buttons and, of course, an analog stick, for a total of nine buttons. One more button than the GC controller, and one less analog stick, though it could be argued that the very cool direct pointing capability makes up for the loss of the C stick. But of course, you're going to have quick access only to half of these buttons if you hold the remote in pointer/trigger mode.
Indeed, it seems that Nintendo is expecting players to hold the controller vertically in order to take advantage of the direct pointing feature, and why not? Just thinking about all the genres a control scheme like this could enhance--tennis, driving games, sword-fighting, and even drumming simulators--has me excited to see what's next. It's clear that Nintendo, in designing the Revolution controller, clearly had form at the front of its mind. Time (and play testing) will tell if the function part pans out, and if it does, fun is sure to follow.
I came into work on Thursday morning to find that we had a series of detailed images of the much-anticipated Nintendo Revolution controller. I was initially apprehensive when I saw the images. My first thought was that the little remote was far too simple to be practical. I mean, how could you possibly play any games with that small D pad and just a couple of buttons? Can you imagine playing Street Fighter II or Super Metroid on that thing? There's no way. Then there's the picture with the plug-in analog stick. I was wondering what it would feel like to have an entire controller rest in one hand, and if you could still manipulate the stick just as easily without the other hand to keep the controller stable. Just messing around, I grabbed a PlayStation 2 controller and turned it sideways to see how the stick worked. It actually felt fairly comfortable. Then, later on when I learned about the pointing capabilities of the Revolution controller, I tried the experiment again with one controller in each hand. I wasn't playing a game at the time, but the setup didn't feel nearly as awkward as I had thought it would.
After reading the hands-on preview, my apprehension was gradually replaced with excitement about the possibilities of the device. I told my cousin about it later that evening, and his response was, "Well, there's your next-gen right there." I'm inclined to agree with that, because this is the most excited I've been about any of the next-gen stuff I've seen. This is the only thing I've seen thus far that's actually different. I'll have time to be skeptical about practical issues, like third-party support, later, but for now Nintendo's new toy definitely has my attention.
What really caught my attention, over the movement detection and DVD remote size, were the possibilities created by the modular add-ons, such as the nunchaku-like analog stick that was shown. Modular add-ons usually leave a bitter taste in my mouth. They may give future expandability and functionality that no one-piece controller can offer, but the added costs involved tend to outweigh any possible benefits. If you need to purchase a random accessory to play a few games, and another, and another, it leaves your pockets empty and Nintendo's coffers full. Time will tell what the true implications of the modularity will be and what third-party support Nintendo will allow.
This obviously creates an additional quandary for developers and end users alike. The sleek, remotelike controller obviously aims to compensate for its lack of buttons with simplistic functionality. Either that, or Nintendo has been jumping on a few too many goombas lately. But the question remains: How will the motion-based control system compensate for the limitations of only four standard action buttons? Will it be simple and user-friendly or overly complicated, based on the need to constantly add additional controls?
You have to admire Nintendo's stance against the overwhelming tide of the technology race. The company is taking a stance, using simplicity, innovation, and modularity to compete against two technological behemoths. Nintendo has always been a technology innovator, and the new paradigm presented to us by the controller will at the least create a unique identity, one that forces game players to think about what they want out of a system. By not offering the standard dual-analog-stick setup, Nintendo's controller has potentially opened a new path in the world of gaming. It's obvious that for the good folks at Nintendo, the goal is to be different--to offer a unique, high-quality product that will stand out in the market. I have to say that my initial reaction is that it has done just that.
If Nintendo was hoping to push the envelope with its new controller, I definitely think it succeeded. No fancy-pants dual joysticks with countless buttons. The remote-control-like device seems to strive for simplicity. Move the thing in the air, and you move your character or perform a host of other actions, like fishing or swinging a sword. The basics of the new controller seem simple enough to grasp for beginners, and it might offer enough complexity for veterans.
Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all want to tap into the mainstream audience, but with this new controller, Nintendo seriously has the best chance. The average person isn't willing to sit down and fiddle around with the contraptions we call controllers today. Heck, even some of the older controllers are too complex for some people. Playing Super Mario Bros. with my mom, I always recall how she would wave the controller in the air, hoping to make Mario jump or move to the right. The movement is so natural; we wave our hands back and forth every day while talking, eating, hailing a taxicab, and, from time to time, waving to someone. Who knows, if this controller had been available with the original 8-bit Nintendo system, my mom might actually have gotten past the first level.
We might even have a gaming renaissance because of this controller. If Nintendo expands the gaming market, more people playing equates to more dollars in the system. Maybe companies won't have to hedge all their bets making only the usual kinds of games. Maybe they'll take greater chances in spite of limited acceptance.
I'll admit that my first reaction to the new Revolution controller wasn't very positive, but that's only because I saw the pictures before I had read our impressions from Japan. (It's difficult to think positive thoughts when the only thing you know about the controller is that it looks like a remote control.) However, after seeing Iwata's controller introduction and reading about Ricardo's experience with the controller in Japan, I'm pretty excited about what the new Revolution interface can do for gaming.
I'm primarily a PC first-person-shooter player, and to this day I still believe that console shooters are an abomination due to the limitations of gamepads. Do you know why Counter-Strike felt horrible on the Xbox? It wasn't the bare-bones nature of the port (fans could play hundreds of hours on the same three or four maps in the PC version without getting bored). It was that the levels were designed for fast-paced action that required an input device that let you react quickly to new threats. Playing a shooter with a gamepad forces you to play like that novice keyboard player who still uses the arrow keys to turn around. That was fine back in the days of Wolfenstein, but we've been in the mouse-look era for almost 10 years now.
The new Nintendo controller might actually bring new life to console shooters because it's the first console input device that could rival and possibly surpass the mouse as an input peripheral. I am extremely impressed with Nintendo's willingness to bring new input devices to the game console. The idea might not be totally new, but the application sure is. Without trying it out myself, I can't tell you how well the controller will let you spin around with a snap of the wrist or target anything on the screen in an instant, but I have my fingers crossed hoping that Nintendo can deliver.
When I first opened up the image of the Revolution, I thought it was the remote control for the Revolution's DVD playback function. Then, when I saw the thumbstick peripheral attached to it, I briefly channeled Moe Syzlak from The Simpsons and let out an involuntary "WHAAAAA?!"
Of all the crazy fan-made mock-ups we had seen over the months, only one or two actually showed a simplified controller. But there it was, with none of the crazy touch screens or motion-resistance features people had predicted. What it does appear to have is a variant of the "acceleration sensor" technology Nintendo patented in 2003, which lets players manipulate a three-dimensional in-game character through physical, real-world movement on a television screen. But will players actually go for it?
That depends. Anyone who has visited Kentia Hall at the Electronic Entertainment Expo knows that there have been all sorts of nutty, niche-market motion-sensor peripherals for years. However, most of those have been made by small companies, none of which have the experience, resources, or history of innovation that Nintendo does. Whether it succeeds with the Revolution will affect not only Nintendo, but the game industry itself. Just remember: People called the DS crazy too. Look how that turned out.
Sweet! I needed a new universal remote! In all seriousness, I can't help but be intrigued by the possibilities this new controller creates, despite a disturbing lack of buttons. We've all seen the video where people are using the remote as a drumstick, a fishing pole, and a baseball bat. But what excites me the most is the possibility of a control system for first-person shooters on consoles that doesn't suck like dual analog controllers do. I daresay it could be even better than a mouse and keyboard! How about real-time strategy games that control intuitively, like they do on the PC? And what other kinds of crazy input devices can we plug into the back of that remote? A microphone? A keypad? How about a chording keyboard?
And I wonder if anyone's considered the fatigue issue. Can you really see yourself flicking and swinging that wand around for hours on end? I know I can't. Maybe it's time for some of us to do military presses and triangle push-ups to increase arm stamina.
Of course, the proof is in the software, and I'm going to curb my enthusiasm until I see a nice stable of games that really leverages this technology. There's no doubt in my mind that the Revolution will have, over the course of its lifetime, many great first- and second-party titles. It's the third-party support that worries me. Why the skepticism? A year after the release of the DS, there still aren't many notable third-party games for that system, and I don't think a touch pad was as radical of an idea as this remote control. Oh, who am I kidding. Just give me a modified version of Duck Hunt where I can shoot the dog, and that might just be enough for me to buy this system, regardless of third-party support.
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