Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 02.19.04

Hello, and welcome to another week of Thank God It’s Thursday! I’m Bryan Berg, and I’d like to thank you for coming to 411 Games for your gaming needs and, particularly, for reading this column. After last week’s celebration of sorts, it’s back to business.

On that topic, a warm thank-you is sent out to all of the people who wished me well after last week’s column or were able to connect to what I was saying on some level. A lot of you agreed with me in that we’d all like to see a game that is capable of reminding us of our initial “spark” that got us into gaming. That was a pretty personal part of the column that was filled with things just like that, and I’m really glad that people got so much out of it. Not sure if emotional pleas will become the norm around here (ask the Kliq, I was a nervous wreck after it got posted), but it was very nice to share a bond with so many great people.

Hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day. As you may know, I took my girlfriend to Atlantic City for the weekend. The normally three-hour trip took about five with stops for dinner on the Garden State Parkway and, what else, traffic. Who knew that AC would be such a big attraction on V-Day? On the way to the casino, I was informed of the Yankees’ acquisition of Alex Rodriguez, and I nearly swerved off the road. I think I would have rather done that than have to see every New York paper cover the story in such intricate detail and, of course, talk about how great the $200 million Yankees are. Anyway, the casino was great. Only won $10, but hey, at least I didn’t lose anything. As for Cory… well, she somehow lost $70. She was riding high at one point. She must have been up about $70 in the early going. I have no idea how it happened, but she lost it all and then some.

Leaving the casino, I noticed my right front tire was low. This wouldn’t be a problem, but I had just put air in the tire earlier in the day since it was low the day before. That and it’s a two-month old tire. I, of course, ignored it. On the Belt Parkway on the way home, some dude told me it was “getting flat”. I’m like “I know”. When we got back to Long Island, we pulled into a gas station to find out that, yes, it was totally flat. Turns out that the rim itself was bent. Makes perfect sense. Luckily, I’ve got a good mechanic who hammered it back into place for $10, rather than pay upwards of $100 for a new rim.

Aside from all of these things (and the fact that I think the hotel charged me twice), it was a great trip. The batteries are (somewhat) refreshed and as great as it was to get away, it’s good to be back. And I hope everyone else had a great day as well.

There’s more talk later. For now, gaming news is the ticket. Unfortunately, not a whole lot, but there’s some good stuff here. Let’s go!



TOP STORY: Iwata Speaks
If 411mania.com ever had unlimited funds and each of the staff writers were able to use financial resources to improve their news reports, Thank God It’s Thursday would be transformed into Nintendo Corporate Doublespeak News Report. The entire report would consist of interviews with Satoru Iwata and George Harrison, and my only job would be to report on what they’re REALLY saying. Who wouldn’t want to read that? Of course, this will never happen, but it’s nice to dream.

Fortunately for all of us, Iwata has been in the news a great deal recently, granting revealing interviews on a weekly basis. As a result, TGIT is full of the latest Nintendo doublespeak and the translations thereof. This week’s Iwata sit-down comes from ign.com, who stole this from Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

Iwata on the GameCube price cut: Strong sales in North America and Europe have proven that there’s still life in the GameCube, but according to Iwata, Nintendo is “having a hard time reading the Japanese market.”

What a demeaning commentary on North American and European gamers!! To look at this one way, Iwata’s basically saying that all anybody cares about in North America and Europe is price, and that’s why it’s selling well. When have you ever heard Iwata give the credit for the GC’s showing here to any factor besides the price cut? Exactly.

As for the Japanese market… that’s an entirely different story. That’d be like Microsoft saying “Gee, we really don’t know the American buyer all that well.” How does a company BASED in Japan have difficulty understanding the consumers that keep the company in business? That’s insane! And it does a lot to explain why Nintendo has found itself in relatively dire straits in recent years.

Iwata on the Internet: Nintendo has begun using the Internet to get to know its customers better.

Can’t argue with this one. Market research classes urge students not to rely on the Internet for any all-encompassing information of people, because not everybody has Internet access. Well, most people who own a game system can afford Internet access, so this is one area where Nintendo is definitely on the right track. Of course, the king of this kind of consumer tracking is Microsoft, one of Nintendo’s main competitors, so it pretty much kills that potential advantage.

Iwata on online play: “I don’t think the current online games have adopted the right business model, and people will not pay money for them.” Iwata also questions how much money Sony and Microsoft are making through their online games.

This doesn’t stop Nintendo from charging $30 for a Network Adapter that’s barely used, does it? Maybe online play is the flavor of the month. Maybe it’s not. But when you’re Nintendo, and your biggest hits are one-player platformers and action-adventure games, online play – and even a second controller – isn’t all that necessary. When you’ve got that going for you, it’s easy to dismiss online play as a gimmick.

But when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released with two controllers and a two-player Super Mario Bros. game, wasn’t the interactivity a big selling point? Online play is 2004’s version of interactivity. Obviously, Nintendo has moved away from this somewhat. Maybe that’s why they’ve had so many problems. You can’t play Mario Sunshine with a buddy, but you can play Project Gotham Racing 2 with people you’ve never met. That means something in this Internet-connected world where people create meaningful relationships thousands of miles from each other. This Internet research Nintendo is conducting should clue them into this.

Iwata on technology: “I do not believe releasing a higher performance machine is the solution.”

This sort of explains where the DS is coming from. Iwata has gone on record stating that gaming may have reached its technological peak, and he may be right. What the DS has done is use current technology in a unique way. It may work and it may not, but credit Nintendo for thinking outside the box and trying something new. The new console might be slightly “gimmicky” in that it will take a new approach to gaming, and time will tell how that comes out.

Still, you’ve got to be concerned when a major player in the industry questions its future. Games have improved so much in the past 20 years, not only in terms of technology, but in innovation as well. We’ve seen the two grow simultaneously. Now, it might be a point in time where one of them cannot expand much further. Or this is what Iwata would have you believe. Sony is said to be working on Playstation FOUR. If that’s true, then technology cannot truly be maxed out. Maybe what Iwata’s trying to say is that NINTENDO can’t do anything more with technology because their past two attempts to do so on a console level haven’t succeeded as much as their first two. In that case, they face a future as a “novelty” company with hardware like the DS on the horizon. Is Iwata satisfied with that? We shall see.

My question is this – does Satoru Iwata even know how he himself sees the gaming industry? He doesn’t sound like someone who knows where he wants to go in terms of a next-gen system, and that’s going to be a problem in a year or so. Very shortly, Iwata’s going to have to decide if he feels that there’s room for a next-gen Nintendo product. He’ll have to determine if the technology is going to support this, and he has to see about the possibility of online connectivity. That’s a lot of things to decide, and a whole lot more to actually implement. Until solid, concrete plans are made and announced, there will be a question mark over the head of Nintendo. Only thing is, it can’t be turned into a Fire Flower with the push of the A button.

The Box Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story
According to a study performed by the Harvard School of Public Health, current indicators of questionable content aren’t giving a precise indication of what a game contains. The study took 81 games that were rated T (for Teen) out of the 396 T-Rated games that have been released in the past three years.

Here is what the study discovered:

– 48 percent of games contained some kind of sexual content, violence, substance abuse, gambling, and/or profanity that was not indicated on the box.
– 15 percent of games included the use of alcohol and/or tobacco products, with only 1 percent actually advertising this on the box.

The intention of the study was to show that the current system isn’t working. Judging from this evidence, it has certainly accomplished this task. In response to this, the ESRB performed its own research on its own ratings system. This study consisted of 400 parents seeing footage from 80 video games. According to ESRB data, 75 percent of these parents would have given the game the same rating as the ESRB, if not a less restrictive one.

Of course, “showing footage” isn’t exactly a great substitute for playing the game. Odds are good that the ESRB picked and chose certain areas of the game to get people to think along their lines. In that case, can 75 percent really be considered a great outcome? Furthermore, when your rating system only has five categories, not only is it not hard to guess where it might fall, but it’s not exactly an all-encompassing system, which is what the content identifiers are supposed to rectify. Obviously, those aren’t doing the job, either.

Both parties did agree on one important fact: rating system or not, good parenting needs to be in place. Whether it is or it isn’t is pretty irrelevant in this case, as it concerns ratings and content, not reactions to said content. The main question raised here is, can parents really trust this rating system anymore?

Quick Hits
New GoldenEye Game? That’s what the rumor coming out of Gamespot.com is saying. EA is said to be working on a “remake” of the classic N64 title, which was one of the flagship titles of the system and the entire FPS genre. Of course, no comment from either side, but couldn’t they just put a similar engine into the latest Bond game rather than a tired remake?

Ninja Gaiden Delayed – Again. EBgames.com has changed the release date from February 23rd to March 2nd. Like I said in my New Year’s column, wait till the game’s ready, THEN announce a release date. One week’s not going to change the game all that much. Then again, at this point, quite a few casual gamers have stopped caring about the game because of the delays, so whatever changes can be made in a week might not be worth it. Ninja Gaiden has been delayed in Japan as well.

X-Box Live Giveaway… In Europe. Microsoft to give away 3,000 Euros in prizes ranging from cash to controllers to games. Remember, X-Box Live is relatively new in Europe, so this could be a good way for Microsoft to promote the service and reward gamers who jumped on board early.



Plugs
News Reports
Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. Everybody’s favorite Norwegian Athlete shows off his mug in this special edition of 411MAX and drops some really interesting demographic information to boot. Who would have guessed that middle-aged women play the most computer games?
Well, Sega has announced they are going to waste some of their money. Well, technically they said they were going to develop two new N-Gage games. However, that basically means the same thing, now doesn’t it?
BTW Alex – I think I’m on pace to set the Kliq record for Fastest to 1000 Kliq Reward Points. I’ll be seriously pissed if I don’t get this. I’m not even kidding.

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Cory talks diet this week, and I’m listening. I’m a big fan of nutrition, and I’d like to offer my code of conduct – maintain a high protein-to-carb ratio. High protein = increased muscle gains. Low carb = weight loss. You kinda meet in the middle by doing this. Highly recommended in this venture – Zero Carb Isopure. 40 grams of whey protein, (obviously) zero carbs. Tastes great, and it’s NOT a shake. Check it out.
He ended up beating a Mr. Nat Barrick of Pennsylvania in a game of NBA Inside Drive 2004 to win the title. He should be counting his lucky stars that me and Berg didn’t enter in the first place.

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. I think this is Misha’s finest effort so far, and it’s got a lot of great stuff in here. Well done, Misha. And his very philosophical conversation with Badlissi is not to be missed. My take – ration, honesty, and truth are all tied together. You must have some level of rational thought in order to be honest with yourself, and you need to be truthful to that honesty in dealings with others. Makes no sense unless you read their conversation – so read it.
Emotions are, by their nature, chaotic, after all… They sit badly in the ordered, logical world. In a sense, they’re a form of mild madness or insantiy, since we’ve defined madness as being “outside” of some percieved ‘normalcy’

Lee Baxley – Mid-Week Mid-Boss News Report. As Lee correctly notes, his one-year anniversary will be coming up shortly. I can only hope that he will receive the same warm reception that I have when the moment finally comes. This week’s a good one – what else have you come to expect from Lee?
Can you believe it? Seriously, can you even believe this? No, you aren’t in some bizarro world. Yes, the games section ended up being longer than the anime section this week.

Columns
Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. This week, LC rightly calls out modern RPG developers (well, Square) for focusing too much on flashy FMV graphics over a solid story. He makes a strong argument, as usual, and he’s right (as usual).
FFVII could easily have been done in 2D, since all the characters and movement was carried out in a 2D fashion anyways. Yeah, I said. Quit your bitching…if you actually think about it for a few minutes instead of sucking Square’s dick, you know I’m right.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. Alex’s RPG countdown continues with three games I’ve actually heard of, including one (Disgaea) that the entire staff swears by. A great read, as always!
If video game titles were akin to profanity by how good/bad they were, than Hydlide would surely be the word CUNT.

Chuck Platt – A Thumb To The Eye. Another great column of zany observations, hilarious viewpoints, and puns by Chuck himself. But I want to talk about the man himself. Such a great guy. Chuck is one of the people whose opinions really matter to me, and he was very instrumental in assuring me after I sent off last week’s column. Thanks to Chuck for that, and I’m always around to return the favor.
It would so suck for Mario to finally get some from Peach and all she does is spray some spores on him, roll over, and go to sleep. He’ll be right back to spanking the old Donkey Kong before his honeymoon’s over.

Reviews
Matt Yeager – SOCOM 2 (PS2). Yeager’s earning his stripes around here, which is an awesome thing to see. The Osama jokes are sweet, too!
I’ve even heard someone actually say “LOL” on SOCOM 2. I swear to you I’ve never been more embarrassed to be playing a game in my life as I did at that moment when someone actually said the acronym for laughing out loud instead of actually laughing.

Etc
Hints. Again, AW’s done some awesome stuff with this area, and it deserves your attention.

Aaron Cameron – Friday News Bootleg. Aaron and I haven’t talked at all aside from fantasy football trash talk, but the man deserves some credit. First, last Friday was HIS one-year anniversary as well, and if I’m going to get praised for being 411’s “Iron Man”, so should Aaron. Second, he’s now a proud father, and that’s just too awesome for words. Congrats!



Commentary of the Week
Just want to touch on the A-Rod trade for a minute before I get on with the Commentary. You know my tastes (Mets, Red Sox) and distastes (YANKEES) in terms of baseball teams, so you know how I feel about the trade already. My question is, how does this affect the order of fantasy baseball?

One one hand, A-Rod is no longer the only threat in his lineup, so he should get more pitches to hit. Being surrounded with guys like Posada, Giambi, and Jeter increase his chances of driving in runners and getting on base. However, the same reasons might cause his home run total to decrease. No longer having to do it all on his own, A-Rod could have more of a focus on extra-base hits rather than home run hitting. My girlfriend’s dad remarked on Sunday that A-Rod is giving up his chance to pass Hank Aaron, and he may be right.

In any event, the 2004 baseball season just got a LOT more interesting.

For this week’s Commentary, it’s a mailbag… sort of. I’d like to turn this space over to two letters I got in response to last week’s column. I’m not even going to interject or anything – these two letters can stand alone and hopefully generate enough of a response that next week, I can close this out with my fears and final thoughts.

First up is longtime fave and fantasy football guru, Adam Matlock.

I have to totally agree with you on your plea to game developers. Back in the day, a game was either fun or crappy. You decided which games were which, and played accordingly. Now, you have “Well, this aspect of the game is good, but this can hurt the quality when event X happens, etc.” It’d be great to just have another side-scrolling game where I blow shit up for the fun of it.

Next, we have a long, but awesome letter from another Adam – Adam Capwell.

Hello Bryan,
Let me start my saying that I enjoy reading your TGIT News Report at 411mania.com. You may remember that I wrote to you once before about the state of wrestling. Anyway, I have to say that I agree whole heartedly with your desire to see video games return to the “ways and days of yesteryears” (if I can coin a phrase). I recently went out and purchased both a used SNES and NES. I remember playing these systems and greatly enjoyed them because they were simpler. Not that they were easier or lesser quality (they are both by today’s standards of course), but I missed being able to enjoy a game for a half hour and then put it down. I greatly enjoy playing the highly evolved and detailed stories presented in most games today (MGS and Star Wars KOTR for example) but I missed being able to play and beat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in one sitting and then going on to something else. As a college study, my time for enjoying video games is often short and far between. This makes it rather difficult to play and get the full enjoyment out of these enthralling games, because often times I may not get back to playing a game for a week or two and by that point I cant recall what I was doing in the game anyway. I think back to having a half hour after school before my mother made me do my homework, and running to the SNES and playing a game and enjoying it. The other thing that I think made the enjoyment level of games in the past seem so high, was because the games where largely 2 dimensional. I don’t mean this in regard to their graphics, but in regards to their playability and story. Game reviewers today are very hard on simple platforming games. I wonder what a current reviewer would say about the original Mario Brothers game today. They would of course state the impact it had on the industry and blah blah blah, but I would bet that they would say how the gameplay and story are archaic. This is true by today’s standards, but I seem to enjoy games less when I have to think about them more that what I had for lunch today. Games are supposed to be fun, and that of course means different things to different people. You have people who like simulations, RPGs, FPSs, etc, etc, etc, but the overall point that all the different genres have is one simple thing: THEY ARE GAMES!!!! THEY ARE NOT REAL!!!! THEY ARE TO BE ENJOYED!! Look at games like Everquest or The Sims for example, I knew guys that where so into these games that it changed their lives. I am sorry but when playing a video game is more important then working or eating or school then it is not fun anymore. People want games to look, feel and act life real life, this is fine, but give us some brainless games too. I wish that for every Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid game that comes out, there would be a game that I could throw in my console, pick up a controller and just zone out and enjoy. Like I said, I am a full time college student with a job, so when I finally get the time to sit and enjoy playing a video game, I don’t want to have to concentrate about the best way to open a door without killing a hostage. I want the biggest decision I make to be equal to What turtle do I want play on this board, or what level should I skip to on Mario Bros. I miss being able to relax my mind and play a game, hell even DR. Mario or Tetris was a fairly brainless game once you got the concept down.

Bring back the glory days.

Adam Capwell

Again, this is an extension of what I talked about last week. That column can be found from the drop-down menu at the bottom of this column. If you’ve got any thoughts, send ’em in, and next week, hopefully a conclusion can be drawn from all of this.



Another Thursday, another TGIT complete. Thanks for reading! Definitely check back tomorrow for AW’s 411MAX, as well as the rest of our work throughout the week. See you next Thursday!