Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 01.22.04

Welcome to the “freezing cold” edition of the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report! It’s a big news day, and I, Bryan Berg, will update you on what’s important in the video game community. As always, thanks for reading.

A little preview for what’s coming: NFL Street HAS been rented. Expect a review sometime next week, maybe early the week after that. The game’s due back on Sunday, so it’s got to be done sometime soon, eh? Anyway, the game’s pretty neat, quite addictive, but NBA Street it’s not. Want to know more? Wait till next week! HA!

Just finished watching ESPN.com’s GameCast of a simulated Super Bowl. Final Score: Panthers 17, Patriots 13. Surprised? Don’t be. Brady had a better game than Delhomme, but Carolina won this game on the ground. That’s what a #1 running back will do for you, and it’s the only thing New England is missing. Expect a LOT more on the Super Bowl next week.

Enough jibber-jabber. It’s news time!



TOP STORY: The Big Announcement From The Big N
In the pages of every 411 news report in recent weeks, there has been one constant – speculation in regard to the new device Nintendo would be debuting at E3. It’s been thought to be everything from a new system to a portable GameCube to God knows what. But now, Nintendo has made its announcement.

Those in attendance at E3 in May will get the first look at the Nintendo DS, the new Nintendo apparatus. What is the Nintendo DS? It’s a new device that features TWO 3-inch screens (DS=Double Screen) and actually has two processors. The idea here is that while playing a game on one screen, the second screen could focus on a different part of the game or – and this is just speculation – maybe even give hints or display pertinent game information. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata gave the example of a soccer game – one screen would display the game, while the other would focus on an individual player.

The next obvious question is, where will the games come from? That’s a tougher question. The Nintendo DS has a 1 Gigabit memory, which would presumably store the games (no word on a cartridge slot/CD slot yet), and third party developers have already been contacted to begin work on DS games, as the system will be released at the end of 2004.

Here’s my theory on one possible means for game distribution – the DS could somehow link to the GBA or GameCube and download the games from there. This would be similar to the way in which you hook your MP3 player up to your computer via USB port to download music to the player. There is one problem, however – a quick look at both the GBA and the Cube show that the two systems do not share a common port – that is, there’s not a wire whose end would fit into both systems. But think about it – you could link up to a GBA and get an entire game, or you could get a Nintendo-manufactured GC disc with five or so games that would be playable on the DS, whereby you could choose to take one or two on the road. However, Nintendo has already claimed that they will be marketing this device separately from their two existing systems.

The Nintendo DS will be a system that will either change the way we look at games, or it will die a quick and horrible death a la Virtual Boy. It’s got potential to succeed; one could argue that the DS will take the finer points of the Dreamcast VMU and place them on a full-screen in color aside the action. However, one could also argue that there’s no need for two small screens when people have enough trouble seeing what’s going on in ONE small screen. Of course, there will be a lot more said about this in future weeks, so keep checking back to 411 for all the latest on the Nintendo DS.

Ninja Gaiden – M For Mature
In news that won’t really surprise anybody, the upcoming Ninja Gaiden title for X-Box has been given a rating of M. This means two things – one, if you’re under 17, you can’t get this one on your own; and two, it’s going to be a very graphically violent game, which is what Ninja Gaiden fans have been expecting all along.

While this news might seem insignificant to most people, it makes quite the statement about how games have changed. First off, there’s a conclusion to be drawn about games today versus games yesterday. Think back to fifteen years ago, when the first Ninja Gaiden game was released for NES. It was a game where you used a number of weapons to kill a massive amount of people, animals, and other odd objects. Did it cause a stir among parents? Did it require kids to be over 17 to play it? No and no. It was as harmless as they come, and it was great.

Today, this game is being updated, with enhanced graphics and game play. And it’s been decided that people under 17 should not be exposed to this game. Of course, people under 17 might not remember the first Ninja Gaiden games for Nintendo, so it’s not as bad. But it’s just bizarre to think that this is part of a series that 15 years ago was considered to be nothing special in terms of censorable material.

The second piece to all of this is that I bet Tecmo is GLAD that Ninja Gaiden got the M. Let’s face it, people, the M says something about the game. You get a M-rated game, you know you’re in for a bloody treat. This is the game that the average gamer wants to play today. If this game was given a lower rating, it might lose some of its appeal. Before Terminator 3 was released, there was an outcry from hardcore Terminator fans that the movie should be rated R and not PG-13. This is a group of people who hadn’t seen T3 at the time and had no justification for pleading for an R, but did so anyway. Why? They were afraid that a PG-13 Terminator movie wouldn’t be quite as appealing. It’s my theory that game studios strive for the M rating to the point where they’ll do almost anything to achieve it. And the system hasn’t been fixed to the point where kids can’t get these games, so they’ll find a way to obtain them – after all, people always want what they “can’t have”.

Expect Ninja Gaiden to sell well. Very well, to be precise. But if it was rated “T for Teen”, it might not get the same sales numbers.

A New Future For Licensed Games?
Warner Bros. has announced that they’ll be throwing their hat into the gaming ring, creating a Warner Brothers game group called Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. WBIE has gotten Jason Hall (ex-CEO, Monolith Productions) to head this new venture. Hall, a hardcore gamer himself, vows an end to crappy licensed games and a return to form for these games. Similarly, Marvel has entered the gaming world as well, launching a game group to oversee the video games that their licensed characters appear in.

In the past, I’ve compared games to movies in terms of budget and relevance. The news that two big media players have begun to pay closer attention to games sheds major light on how important games are to today’s world. These licensed games are no longer a way to make a quick buck; they have become an art form that should add to the overall quality of the movie package, of which the game is now a very important part. Aside from the obviously positive manner in which this affects gamers, we should also be glad that video games have become a significant enough entity that two big companies have decided that it’s worth it to really monitor these games and make sure they come out excellently. That says a lot about the industry as a whole.

Quick Hits
There’s a method to writing TGIT, and I may as well share it with you all. Tuesday night, I’ll scour the ‘Net for news stories, and the good ones are saved and e-mailed to myself when it’s all done. Wednesday, I’ll go through them again, and the good ones are chosen. To me, a “good story” is one that I can really sink my teeth into, that I can attack, say something intelligent about, and voice an informed opinion about. And these are the stories you read each week. There might only be three of them, but they are very much thought-out and (I hope) informative.

However, there’s a whole other side to the news. There are stories where there’s nothing really to say, nothing to think about, or nothing to interpret. These have been left out in previous installments of TGIT because they don’t fit in with the existing model, where a five-paragraph response to a bit of news is no big deal. Enter the Quick Hit. The Quick Hit (which I’m almost certain I’m stealing from Lee) is a little blurb which contains important news, but can’t really be expanded on. I’ve found that Quick Hits SHOULD be included rather than discarded, because it’s a disservice to you, the reader, if I don’t write about something just because I don’t have something good to say about it.

And here is the first ever set of Quick Hits. Enjoy!
Final Fantasy X-2 has sold 1 million units in North America. Good news for Square-Enix. Could this mean that they’ll consider sequels to other FF games (like FF4? Please??), or will they just keep making FFX sequels? Here’s hoping for the former.

Nintendo has claimed the #2 spot away from Microsoft. Please. Nintendo’s greatest skill is at tooting its own horn, and a lot of the numbers they cite (they claim they’re the only company to increase sales from 2002 to 2003) are skewed because of the price cut. How do you know Nintendo isn’t being totally straight? Microsoft is claiming that THEY are still #2! Somebody get an actuary on this!

Nintendo has released a Famicom SP in Japan. This SP bears a resemblance to the Japanese version of the NES, and classic NES titles have been released in support of this new SP. If everybody did all the neat things they did in Japan over here in America, the US would be a much better gaming climate.

MVP Baseball 2004 will feature an in-depth minor league system. The game will have 2 real minor league clubs from each MLB team from which you can call up players. Player temperament will be heavily involved in decisions to send down/recall players. MVP Baseball 2004’s Franchise mode is sounding like the best one yet!



Plugs
News Reports
Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. Read Alex’s bit on the suddenly lawsuit-happy Haitians. Good stuff.
It could be GTA: 25 Million B.C., and you’ll still drive Mastodons, club people, steal drugs made out of dino poop, and pick up hookers wearing leopard skin tube tops. Yet the controls would still be the same.

Misha – The As-Yet Unrenamed European News Report. Misha’s going news on us, complete with commentary on his ideal Rugby game! EA’s Rugby title was pretty okay, but probably could have been better. How? Read Misha’s report for some ideas!
Apparently, even the game-text has been translated into Russian… Guess they won’t need a localisation patch *there*, then?

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Cory does Super Troopers (still haven’t seen it) and Democrats in his hungover report. And incase you couldn’t guess, he’s still pissed about the Chiefs.
So I’m backing Lieberman. Hey, if nothing else, him being President will make the Israeli/Palestinian situation a WHOLE lot more interesting.

Lee Baxley – Mid-Week Mid-Boss News Report. 411’s best-looking news report returns with full anime in tow and Lee’s own personal mission statement. And news about a new Actraiser game!
There’s the finale of the .hack game series, which I would have been more excited about, had it been ONE game on ONE disc, rather than ONE game on 4 discs costing $200.

Columns
Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. A very funny column on the more ridiculous characters in the Super Mario series. A must-read.
Yoshi. A dinosaur who eats his enemies, then shits out multicolored eggs. Even I couldn’t think up something that perverse.

Frederick Badlissi – The Gamer’s Conscience. Classic Fred here, as he examines a point that really should have been figured out a LONG time ago.
Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are in an incestuous relationship. There. I said it.

Chuck Platt – A Thumb to the Eye. A return to the old for Chuck, and it’s great to see. And I’m really glad that my commentary from last week was able to inspire him to write a response to it. That meant a lot. And, of course, he’s right.
Eventually, maybe not soon, but definitely one day, games will basically come in three varieties: Sports (including Tony Hawk), Pokemon Channel/ Sims/ Animal Crossing type time killers, and virtual movies. Seriously, the evil is coming and it is taking your joystick with it.

Reviews
Alex Williams – Space Channel 5: Special Edition (PS2). Our own rhythm game guru takes on one of the innovators in that genre… see what he thinks of this very Special Edition of Space Channel 5.
On the inside…is soul. Emotion. Wonder. An amazing package that must be experienced in order to appreciate.

Alex Lucard – Arx Fatalis (X-Box). Every time I read one of Alex’s reviews, I get the impression that I should be playing more RPG’s. It’s not that I hate RPG’s, it’s just that they’re very involved and my attention span is somewhat short… who else thinks this is a bad reason?
The game is fun and certainly worth the thirty bones I paid for it, but I found myself wanting to watch Fraser Season 2 more.

Bebito Jackson – Sonic Advance 2 (GBA). Everybody’s favorite Sonic lover returns with a review of Sonic Team’s latest GBA effort. Check it out!
All will love it and should flock to this game like Whitney Houston flocking to her crack dealer.

Michael O’Reilly – Star Wars Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike (GameCube). It seems like there are 8,000 different Star Wars games out there. Then I count them and realize there are only 6,000. My bad.
In the end, Rebel Strike is just a game from a series that went to the same well one too many times.



Commentary of the Week
Earlier this week, Lucard, Platt, myself, and a ton of others were playing this neat little LiveJournal game. Basically, Person #1 posts five answers to five questions that have been posited to him. Person #2 responds that they want in, and Person #1 asks Person #2 five questions which will ben answered in Person #2’s LJ. And so on and so forth. Anyway, Alex asked me one great question, and the answer will be this week’s Commentary. Not out of laziness, but because I’m proud of my response and I think it actually COULD work – with some luck and a lot of money.

Alex’s Question: If Turbo Grafx said ‘Bryan, we want to relaunch the brand as a next gen console and we’d like you to be the head of marketing’ how would you help Turbo Grafx/Turbo Duo/Etc compete in a FIVE way console war (Nintendo/Sony/M$/Phantom/TG)?

My Response: This wouldn’t be as hard as you think. My first step is to convince everybody in the company that we must behave as if we’re new at this, because we are. TurboGrafx is a name that holds NO weight among 99.5 percent of American gamers and the people working on the system (assuming it’s the same people; you said relaunch the BRAND, which does not necessarily mean any of the same people) have no experience working with next-gen technology. This will get us thinking in a way that forces us to seize the market and really make a splash, which is what’s going to be needed in a five-system environment.

Next, we break down the competition. See what each has done right, and what has done wrong. Immediately, competition with Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo is thrown out the window. These are the big experienced guns; we are the small new guys. Taking away ANY portion of the market share any of these three hold would have to be considered a success. So our focus is on Infinium Labs and their Phantom. The ways in which they’ve bungled their launch could fill a book, and I’d be the author. No teasing with the new TurboGrafx system – it’s ultra-important to build an immediate and significant relationship with gamers. Show them models, show them screenshots, show them the developers we’re working with. Hit all the major shows and all the small ones. Give people every chance to see exactly what they’re getting with this system. As a company who hasn’t really done much of anything over the past 10 or so years, it’s important to establish not only trust, but to do so in a manner that’s not conducive to pissing away massive amounts of promotional money.

We could take on the Phantom right now with this strategy, but that’s not enough. The goal here is to whoop the Phantom so badly that it becomes a story in itself. The first next-gen TurboGrafx would have to consider finishing #4 in a five-system market an excellent performance, so it’s got to be a SOLID #4, to the point where people are wondering if we can take it to the big boys next time around. This is where we’re on the cutting edge. Remember that relationship thing? Well, once the system’s been out for a while, we’ll be tuning into what these people have to say. They’ll not only speak in how they spend their money, but in how they persuade others. The model in this area is X-Box Live – the way they have built a sort of online community is remarkable. While online play is obviously a part of the new Turbo Grafx, the community we’re looking to build is one that’s loyal to Turbo Grafx, really believes in what we’re trying to do, and will help us succeed by giving us feedback on what we’re doing right and wrong, and making them a part of what we do. If they have an idea for what would make an awesome game, they send it in. If they feel they have what it takes to be a game composer, send in a CD. First-party development is going to be crucial to the success of the Turbo Grafx system. Not every developer is going to be lining up to work for an unproven system – it is our job to make them WANT to work with us, by creating games that showcase exactly what it is the TurboGrafx does best.

What does it do best? It will allow gamers to interact with others. The community-type atmosphere ceases to be a gimmick and becomes a rallying cry here. X-Box Live is the model for the starting point, and the goal is to create games that utilize the concept of team play and competition among others. No game is put out unless it finds a way to get gamers competing as a result of it. It’s the competitive games that people talk about the most, and word of mouth is going to end up being our #1 promotional tool. That’s where the community comes in, and by really inviting people inside (as in, what the Phantom’s NOT doing), we develop a cult-like audience that will grow and grow with us, to the point where we’re ready to take on Microsoft and Nintendo with next-gen Turbo Grafx 2.

Damn, I’m good.



We’re about done here with the TGIT for the week. I’d like to say thanks again for taking the time to read this and maybe even send in your thoughts – it’s all appreciated. You guys are the best! Have a great weekend, read AW tomorrow, and see you next week!