Nintendo's 2008 E3 Promise

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by Kyle Ackerman

Nintendo took the stage this year for its E3 press conference with a quiet and calm confidence. But this was not the vibe of a company that feels it has led the gaming industry into a new segment of gaming that brought millions of new gamers into the fold. This was the quiet confidence of a company with mysterious plans for the future. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's Global President, said that "a true paradigm shift has taken place in the global gaming market." Everyone agrees that Nintendo has opened up a new market and helped popularize casual gaming on consoles. Yet, Nintendo's focus during its press conference was how it plans to change gaming in the future.

Iwata declared that Nintendo strives to continually surprise gamers by "pioneering new paradigms." Iwata and Nintendo's leadership did their best to create the impression that they have plenty of new surprises in store for Wii and DS gamers, but at today's event they unveiled just a few touches, including new games, a microphone for the Wii, Wii Music, the Wii MotionPlus, and new applications for the DS.

Nintendo stuck to its message – that the company has innovated and changed the landscape of gaming. As others copy their innovations, those advances become commonplace. Thus, Nintendo plans to keep innovating. Nothing that Nintendo introduced today will transform the way we play, but there were plenty of tidbits to keep Nintendo gamers excited.

Reggie Fils-Aime Riding the WavesReggie Fils-Aime, President and Chief Operating Officer of Nintendo of America, did his usual "we're outselling everyone" shtick, touting Nintendo's worldwide sales. But no amount of chest-puffery will win over the fans. No console can really use numbers at this point, no matter how well massaged, to claim victory in the latest console generation, particularly when the Wii is so different from the competition.

Even so, Iwata and Fils-Aime made several good points. Fils-Aime pointed out that when Nintendo started running DS ads featuring celebrity women, sales of certain DS games (like Nintendogs and Brain Age doubled. Iwata emphasized the sea-change in gaming that has resulted from some of Nintendo's games (again, Nintendogs and Brain Age, as well as games like New Super Mario Bros.) now having shelf lives of two or three years (whereas games typically have had a shelf life of weeks or months). Iwata even claimed that the Wii version of Guitar Hero III is outselling all the other versions of Guitar Hero III.

A Day at the Beach

The Wii MotionPlusWhatever may be going on with sales, Nintendo is excited for a few new products. First up is the Wii MotionPlus, briefly announced yesterday. The MotionPlus doesn't look like much – it's a chunk of plastic around the length of the last joint of my thumb that plugs into the end of the Wii Remote. Nintendo plans to release it in a package with a longer, rubber remote grip and software that will show off the capabilities of the MotionPlus – Wii Sports Resort.

Wii Sports Resort will be released in the first half of 2009 and will include fun activities drawn directly from a beach vacation to take advantage of the MotionPlus. The MotionPlus is designed to track motions in great detail, so Nintendo executives showed off tossing a Frisbee to an eager puppy (wrist position and motion determine how the Frisbee flies), riding the waves using the MotionPlus to control the throttle, and even knocking each other off a floating platform with wooden swords. Presumably, more games will follow that use the accessory.

Hearing Friends and Making Music

Nintendo introduced a new Animal Crossing game – Animal Crossing: City Folk – that will certainly excite Animal Crossing fans, but will also be compatible with the WiiSpeak microphone. The WiiSpeak is designed to sit on the Wii Sensor Bar, and for $30, will allow everyone sitting in the room to communicate with other Wii owners, online. It's not really different from any other microphone except that Nintendo wants to focus on the group experience, rather than the individual headsets other consoles provide.

Shigeru Miyamoto Rocks OutNintendo is also finally prepared to deliver Wii Music. So much more than the current mega-hit, Rock Band, Wii Music began as a promise two years ago when Shigeru Miyamoto appeared conducting an orchestra with the Wii Remote. That promise will be fulfilled before the holiday season this year. Wii Music focuses on actually playing and performing music, not reproducing complex patterns for a pre-set score. The game will include around 50 instruments (yes... there is cowbell), that can be played by waving around the Wii Remote and other Wii accessories. The software will figure out the sounds that go with a particular song and play appropriate notes based on your actions. So Miyamoto appeared wielding the Wii remote like a saxophone, while a compatriot played the drums using the Wii Balance Board for pedals and the Remote and Nunchuk as sticks.

The game has been in the works since the early days of the Wii design cycle, and is designed to be a social experience where up to four players can make music together, even if they have no musical talent whatsoever. There will also be music-matching mini-games and the ability to direct a full orchestra or even a hand bell choir. And while Wii Music won't evaluate or score your performance, it can record individual performances for replay.

There Will Be Games, Too

So, Nintendo has a few innovations up its sleeve. The company also has plans for the DS. There are games, certainly. There will be a second Guitar Hero game coming to the DS late this year (Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decade), Spore Creatures, Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Alma and even a Grand Theft Auto game custom built for the DS (Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars). But Cammie Dunaway, Executive Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Nintendo of America, wanted to talk about other applications – like the already in-place ability of Seattle Mariners fans to order food and check statistics on their DS while in the ballpark. Or the (theoretical) possibility of checking flight information on a DS while wandering through an airport. Dunaway's specific example was less thrilling, but equally practical. She reminded us that the cookbook software already available in Japan will be coming to North America in time for the holiday season.

I'm excited for many of Nintendo's upcoming devices and games, but much more excited to see if Nintendo can deliver on its promise of further, true innovation and paradigm shifts. Nintendo promised to constantly challenge itself to change the way games are played. I hope that Nintendo can rise to that challenge. In the meantime, there will be some fun toys in the coming year.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 15, 2008 12:02 PM.

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