Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 06.03.04

Hey. Welcome to Thank God It’s Thursday!

Openers can be tedious for both reader and writer, so I say we dive right in. Some good stuff today, so let’s get it on!



LCD Screen Shortage = Handheld Trouble
When people envision the war between Sony and Nintendo for the handheld market, they think of the classic “innovation vs. technology” debate personified. And maybe they think of the juggernaut vs. the old favorite. But they never figured this war would be over LCD screens.

There’s a shortage of LCD screens going on right now – with cell phones and handhelds using so many screens, it’s gotten tough for manufacturers to keep up with demand. Understandable, but kinda hard to believe, this shortage will continue well into 2005, cutting into both Sony and Nintendo’s handheld plans.

It’s tough to say who this will affect more. Nintendo needs two LCD screens for every DS it produces, but Sony’s screen is bigger. At this juncture, it’s safe to say that each is at a disadvantage, since each will be forced to pay more for screens and sell the finished product at the prices already promised to the public. However, Sony seems to have the upper hand in this case. Sony has far more financial resources than Nintendo, which will enable them to use buying power to get the necessary materials. On the other hand, Nintendo has been in the handheld game for much longer than Sony and may have long-term relationships with screen manufacturers that will help defray the costs a bit.

Still, having two get two different screens (one touch, one not) will be tough for Nintendo if the situation is dire as it sounds right now. This will be a very interesting subplot in the upcoming handheld war, so stay tuned for more details as they arrive.

Introducing… The HDLoader
Tired of waiting around for Sony to actually do something with its HDD rather than allow you to play Final Fantasy XI? You might want to take a look at the HDLoader.

What is the HDLoader? It’s a device that allows you to copy entire games onto the HDD (or other select hard drives). This will eliminate virtually all loading time, which is a HUGE convenience for gamers everywhere. It’s said that 95 percent of the PS2 library is compatible with the HDLoader; however, online play is not possible directly from the device (here, the original game disc is necessary).

Whether this contraption will take off with the gaming public remains to be seen. It’s got a good chance to gain popularity, though. Aside from the obvious load-time aversion, gamers could relive their console days where they could save onto the very media that contains the game, rather than keep track of separate memory cards. The only question is the piracy issue (namely, people renting games and then storing them on a hard drive and playing the game for months off the hard drive), which will be debated back and forth in the future, but probably to no resolution.

The HDLoader should be available in the next week or so for a suggested price of $24.99-$29.99. There’s a site set up for the device at www.hdloader.com, which sheds some light on the HDLoader, but doesn’t actually sell it. This could prove to be a very important device, one that may force the console developers to reconsider their hard drive allocations for their respective next-gen systems.

Microsoft Admits Failure… Sort Of
As we all know, Microsoft has found great success in America with its X-Box, but hasn’t had as great a run overseas. In particular, the system has been hosed in Japan, the world’s hotbed of gaming. Finally, some higher-ups at Microsoft have shed some light on what was done incorrectly in this very important market.

Cited were the following issues:
– “Lack of resources”. OK, don’t quite understand that one. Microsoft runs the whole entire world! If the Japan division needed help from Mr. Gates, they probably could have gotten it pretty easily. Now, if Microsoft’s Japanese operations are run independently of the United States, that’s a different story.
– Lack of focus on Japanese market. Meaning, Microsoft didn’t tailor the individual games enough to the tastes of Japanese gamers. Furthermore, they didn’t get enough support from Japanese publishers. Microsoft admits that it has to focus on this market, even if that means a game that won’t sell elsewhere.
– Closing the gap. Microsoft now feels the need to release their games in similar time frames both in America and Japan. This is as close to a global release as we’ll ever get. Microsoft would like for games like Halo 2 to be released close to each other in both markets. This is a good idea for games with universal appeal – unfortunately, Microsoft needs to be sure that a game can be a hit in both areas before it could implement such a plan.

Through this report, we see that Microsoft is definitely concerned with how the system fares in Japan. Many have accused Microsoft of viewing Japan as simply an afterthought; the icing on the cake that is American success. Thankfully, the opposite has been proven. Microsoft recognizes what Japan means, and is trying to take the correct steps to please this market. The upcoming X-Box Next is said to lack “excess functionality”, which is a more rootsy approach that Japan will likely appreciate.

The question is, is all of this enough to offset the failure that was the original X-Box in Japan? That’s what we’ll find out in 2005 – that is, if Microsoft can “close the gap” as it desires to.

Quick Hits
PSP To Be Black Only. Don’t be fooled by the multi-color units you saw at E3 – Sony plans to create the PSP in black only. This may change down the line, but the initial run will be black, with no other options for color. This calls to mind the PS2, which is what Sony seems to be going for.

Nintendo’s Goal: 3.5 Million DS’s by 3.31.05. Nintendo is planning to sell 3.5 million DS systems between the launch of the handheld and March 31, 2005. An ambitious goal to be sure, but an attainable one given Nintendo’s popularity in Japan and its handheld reputation in America. And imagine the uphill climb for Sony if Nintendo has already sold 3.5 million DS’s before the PSP is even released! That’d be REAL interesting…

Mario’s The Man. The Super Mario Bros. series has sold 174 million games – read that again. This kills the Pokemon series, which comes in second in the Nintendo pantheon with 91 million units sold. Donkey Kong finishes third with 43 million; Zelda takes fourth with 42 million. Crazy how many games these characters have sold – say what you want about Nintendo living off of older characters, but people are still buying, eh?



Plugs
Lazy plugs this week…. sorry ’bout that…

News Reports
Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamers News Report

Columns
Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer (5.27)

Alex Lucard – Retrograding

Chuck Platt – A Thumb To The Eye

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer (6.03)

Reviews
Michael Donahoe – Hitman: Contracts (X-Box). Final Score: 8.0

Nick Ranger – James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (GameCube). Final Score: 7.5

Matt Yeager – Van Helsing (X-Box). Final Score: 6.0

Michael Donahoe – Red Dead Revolver (X-Box). Final Score: 7.0



Commentary of the Week
The Commentary takes a week off for the first time in a long time. Why?
1. It’s in reponse to Alex Lucard’s review of the River City Ransom GBA remake, which hasn’t been posted to 411 yet.
2. It’s somewhat ambitious material that needs to be developed in a time greater than I have had to work with this week.

This one should be ready to go for next Thursday. You may even see it earlier, but don’t count on it. Should be worth the wait, though, especially if you were a fan of the original River City Ransom and/or completely hate the dearth of original ideas in today’s society.



That’s all for today, folks. Apologies all around for the lack of Commentary and in-depth plugging, but sometimes things don’t work out the way you’d like. Next week, back to normal. Thanks for reading today. Have a great weekend, and see you next Thursday!