Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 04.08.04

Hey all, and welcome to this week’s Thank God It’s Thursday news report! I’m Bryan Berg, and this report will keep you up to date on all the happenings in the video game world. Thanks for stopping by.

Last week’s column – evidently, I wasn’t privy to Widro’s “No fake news” edict. Whoops. In case you’re wondering, the winner of the contest was Parhaum Toofanian, who nailed one out of three. Thank lack of demand for that one, bro. And the complete list of fake news, along with their authors…

Tiger & Nintendo – Chuck Platt
SquareEnix – Misha
Jay Fiedler/Madden 2005 – Cory Laflin

There you have it. Done and done.

Unrelated to anything, I’d like to announce that yours truly, Bryan Berg, is the winner of the 411Mania 2004 Men’s NCAA Tournament pool! I had three of the Final Four (Kansas, the one I missed, bowed out in the Elite 8), and in the finals, I had Connecticut beating Kansas by 9. Connecticut ended up facing Georgia Tech, but won by 9! Not bad, eh? Finished with 127 points (Yahoo! scoring) out of a possible 192, which is the best I’ve ever done. By FAR.

This week – the usual news and plugs, followed by my projections for Nintendo’s next-generation system. This was, by leaps and bounds, the toughest one to write, as there’s very little to go by here. And the prognosis isn’t exactly complimentary towards Nintendo, either. Then, quickie first-round NHL playoff projections, and then you can get back to work.

News time!!! Too bad it’s a slow news week…

Was I Wrong?
The numbers are in regarding the X-Box price cut last week. In case you missed it, the system dropped $30 in price, going from $179 to $149. Last week, I argued that this move would provoke only those who were already thinking of purchasing an X-Box to actually buy the system, instead of enticing more casual fans to take the plunge. And this may prove to be true in time.

But for now, X-Boxes are selling like hotcakes!

Microsoft claims that X-Box sales have doubled over the past week, to the point where the company is having trouble keeping up with the sudden demand. The price cut is certainly having its desired effect in the short term – that is, to sell a lot of systems and build some steam going into E3.

But what about the long term? Just a few days after the price cut was announced, the long-awaited Halo bundle was launched, with this one costing $169. Yeah, it’s a limited edition, but when a game that’s two years old gets bundled with a system and people get THIS excited, it doesn’t do a whole lot for the system’s marketability.

If I’m in the market for an X-Box, I’m buying Halo anyway for $30 because it’s the best of what the system has to offer. But I’m also looking to see what this system can offer me now AND later. By packaging an old game with the system you’re trying to pass off as cutting-edge, you’re also admitting that you haven’t had a smash hit since then. Again, not the message you want to send.

And don’t forget, there’s still plenty of time for Sony to cut price, too. The only disadvantage for Sony is that pretty much everybody has a PS2 by now, so a price cut wouldn’t do much. But it’d still put a bit of panic into Microsoft.

Time will tell the final verdict of Microsoft’s price cutting tactic. Personally, I feel that the cut will achieve short-term goals, but may falter down the line. And the Halo bundle appeases fanboys and people who want to save $10, and nobody else. It shouldn’t be this big of a deal.

Nintendo’s Wish List
Nintendo has had the good fortune to stumble upon great apps in its recent consoles, which have contributed significantly to the success of these consoles. Now, Nintendo is banking on this trend continuing, and is taking great measures to ensure that it has exclusive access to the newest technologies.

Rumor has it that Nintendo is so serious about being first on board with the latest that it’s actually willing to BUY technology companies to be the only company privy to these secrets. No names have been named, and it’s too early to speculate who might be involved, but Nintendo’s case for a next-gen console just got a little more interesting.

This brings up a good question. The question is no longer what appliance Nintendo will come up with for its next system. The question becomes, how many will we see? If these plans go through, we could see quite a few devices that will become essential to the Nintendo gaming experience. And if these tools are only available on Nintendo’s system, all the better for Nintendo. That’s another competitive advantage they’ll have. The next question – will it be enough?

Quick Hits
New Rocky Game On The Way! Rocky buffs will be pleased to know that Rocky Legends is currently in development. Ubisoft, who created the first game, will be releasing the second Rocky game later this year. WHOO!!!

Surgeons Play Games. A recent report states that many surgeons are avid gamers; in fact, some surgeons even play video games to warm up for their medical procedures. I’m surprised it took people this long to make the fairly obvious connection. But at least it’s something relatively positive about gaming, rather than another study blaming video games for the world’s problems.

Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. AAAlex hits this week with a heck of a letter to start, and his response is quite interesting, actually. The lack of Kliq Reward Points hurts, but the promise that they’ll be back next week makes me happy!
Right now, most people are looking at the title, and going “What the blood clot?!?!?” Well, only Bebito is saying that. The rest are going “What the hell?”

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Cory mentions that there might be different versions of the PSP. How confusing is this handheld market getting? First, you’ve got Nintendo who SWEARS the DS isn’t a successor to the GBA SP, which is a better version (but NOT a replacement) of the original GBA. Now, Sony wants to put out multiple PSPs! How the hell is a parent supposed to know what to buy for their child?
Yeah, I could’ve coached at Notre Dame, but I didn’t meet the MUST-LIE-ON-MY-RESUME qualification.
BTW Cory – Civ’s an interesting choice. I actually have that album; I didn’t think anybody else had ever heard of them! As for the other group/album, I’m not familiar. But I hope I haven’t hurt you badly recently. Just wait until we (finally) get together on Live for Inside Drive!

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. 411’s official Brit, Misha comes back with another solid effort this week. This plug, by the way, marks the first time I’m using a Marvin quote – I think.
Just because I have a more finely-tuned BS detector than you, doesn’t mean you have to get nasty.

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamer’s Corner. Matt is the new Wednesday News guy, replacing the legendary Lee Baxley. This is a good first effort that’s actually loaded with content. And Matt worried about not having enough to fill a column! What’s more, Matt lets you inside with quotes like this…
I lined up in front of my local gamestore for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I liked FFVIII. When the Dreamcast came out I had enough money to get one but decided not to buy it.
BTW Matt – You’re out of the Kliq.
BTW Matt – Just kidding.

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. I think I’m going to stop thinking about LC as a writer on a long hot streak, and instead consider him a great writer whom we should expect awesome stuff from each week. His work seriously gets better each week, which is tough to do.
My initial response? “Those motherf*ckin’ suckers of dicks.”

Alex Lucard – Retrograding Mailbag. Alex’s Top 30 RPG feature has become a very popular one. This mailbag has a ton of mail in response to his countdown. It’s awesome that so many people have an appreciation for the games of the past. Maybe people aren’t just nostalgic – maybe the games from the previous generation ARE better than the ones of today.
I love first person RPG’s. Yet I hate First Person Shooters. Why?

Chuck Platt – A Thumb To The Eye. All’s well that ends well, and Chuck ends the Otakukin phase of his career on a mostly positive note. By positive, I mean that people really got something out of the article. If one person gets hurt, but others gain, then it’s not so bad, eh?
I suck. Let me rephrase that: I can suck. I have both the capacity for sucking and rocking.

Cory Laflin – MX Unleashed (X-Box). Final Score: 6.0
Bebito Jackson – Lowrider (Playstation 2). Final Score: 2.5
Bebito Jackson – Firefighter FD18 (Playstation 2). Final Score: 6.0

Commentary of the Week
Overall Profile
Despite a downturn in business for the past decade or so, Nintendo is still the most recognized name in gaming. Going back to the days of the NES, Nintendo has been synonymous with home gaming. Since the original Game Boy was released in 1989, Nintendo has also been the essence of handheld gaming. While the company still dominates when it comes to handhelds, the same can no longer be said for Nintendo’s console efforts. With each console failing a little more than the previous one, many are prepared to put a final nail in Nintendo’s console career. Nintendo, however, refuses to go quietly.

Nintendo’s console goals have certainly changed over the years. Ten years ago, Nintendo’s goal was to remain atop the console throne. Five years ago, it was to get back to the top. Now, Nintendo can only hope to supplant Microsoft as Sony’s biggest competitor.

Nintendo’s main strategy is to use the Game Boy Advance as the catalyst behind the entire company. With the handheld market dominated by the GBA, Nintendo is able to put a great deal of financial backing into its consoles and their marketing. Nintendo has recently stressed connectivity between the GBA and its GameCube, partially in an effort to give the GameCube the rub from the GBA.

Console History
1985 – Nintendo Entertainment System. The system that started it all. The NES was home to some of the greatest games ever created; while these weren’t the most developed games, they were outstanding for their time and appealed to just about everybody. Until Sega launched its Genesis in 1989, the NES was epicenter of the gaming world.
Important Features
– Diverse array of accessories (ROB, Light Gun, Power Pad)
– Game lineup consisted of mostly games exclusive to NES
– Battery back-up Game Paks
– Unique promotional ideas – TV shows, magazine, etc.

1991 – Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo’s follow-up to the NES was a worthy successor. With superior graphical and sound capabilities than the Genesis, Nintendo needed only to provide great games for its new system. What followed was perhaps the greatest collection of third-party titles to appear on one system in video game history. And the Nintendo first-party games were stellar as well. Some call the SNES the best system ever, and it may well be.
Important Features
– Six-button controller
– Launch line-up – three first-party titles
– NOT backwards compatible with NES
– Multitap allowed for four-player action

1996 – Nintendo 64. This begins Nintendo’s “odd era”, where conventional ideas were scrapped in favor of more unique ones. While many have bad memories of the N64, the system was actually quite influential. Analog-based controllers became the norm in large part to the N64, and Nintendo’s 1996 effort helped usher in the 3D era of gaming with launch title Mario 64. Unfortunately, numerous launch delays kept potential buyers subdued, and the system never really recovered after the system was finally released.
Important Features
– Unique, revolutionary controller
– Four controller inputs as standard
– Sold without pack-in title at launch
– Rumble Pak

2001 – Nintendo GameCube. Upon launch, the big selling point about the GameCube seemed to be its size. It certainly wasn’t the launch lineup, which lacked a Mario title. It wasn’t the ridiculously shaped controller, either. The same can be said for the notable lack of third-party support. Once the staple of Nintendo’s plan, when the SNES had the best versions of any non-sports game, companies couldn’t wait to get off the GameCube bandwagon. Price cuts have helped the Cube sell well, but again, the system was never able to get momentum after a failed launch.
Important Features
– Another new design; another new controller
– WaveBird controller
– Connectivity with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance
– Consistently maintained lower price than competition
– Compact design – easy to bring to a friend’s house

Other Important Appliances
Game Boy Advance. Many have argued that the GBA is keeping Nintendo in business. They’re not entirely wrong. The Game Boy Advance is the most successful video game system of all-time in terms of sales figures. Nintendo has kept it simple with the GBA, providing first-party hits and memorable ports from all developers. The newest incarnation of the GBA, the SP, has been a hot item since its release in March 2003, in spite of the abundance of the original GBA.

Pokemon. No, Pokemon is not an appliance. But it is a pop culture phenomenon that is ensuring that Nintendo laughs all the way to the bank, no matter what its consoles do. Pokemon began as a game, then became a cartoon show, then took over the world. Even after many have abandoned the Pokemon craze, it’s a significant enough source of income that new games and movies are made.

A Look Ahead – Nintendo’s Next System
The GameCube was dead and buried by many in record time, almost making the Sega Saturn’s run look good. Nintendo’s reputation has been sullied by the GameCube’s overall poor performance, and Nintendo needs its next system to be a hit after two less-than-stellar console cycles.

Nintendo should take this opportunity to think about what made the Super Nintendo so successful. Then, go back to basics and deliver a controller people can live with, a system worthy of excellent third-party support, and first-party titles attractive enough to bring in casual fans. These are areas where Nintendo has gotten lost since the heyday of the SNES, and they are the keys to a successful Nintendo revival.

However, don’t look for this to happen. Nintendo appears to be hell-bent on going wherever Samus and Link take the company. Online play still seems to be a distant idea for Nintendo, as do modern conveniences such as DVD playback. The only thing for certain is that nobody knows what to expect out of Nintendo’s next console – maybe not even Nintendo.

Important Features
A New Name/Shape/Controller. Nintendo’s past two consoles have changed drastically from their predecesors. Don’t look for this to change. Nintendo will try to create a new identity for itself with a totally new image next time around. They were on the right track with the GameCube’s portability, but it shouldn’t have been the system’s main source of appeal. And the Cube’s controller will be history as well. Nintendo has figured out that it’s not easy to get third-party support when GameCube ports are nearly unplayable because of the controller. What the name of this new system will be, nobody knows – but it sure won’t be GameCube 2.
Connectivity. This time, with the upcoming Nintendo DS. Nintendo has publicly expressed interest in wireless technology, and this is an area where people could cheaply explore system-to-system connectivity. The only problem is, people didn’t react well to the forced GC-GBA connectivity. Nintendo needs to come up with a way to make it work this time. Before that, though, Nintendo needs to make the DS a smash system that will be in enough households to justify the proposed connectivity.
Launch Lineup. Simply put, Luigi’s Mansion 2 should not be the flagship title of the new system at ANY point. Nintendo needs to drop this system with a new Mario title, one that showcases the best areas of the system, available at launch. Nothing less will be acceptable. Some third-party exclusives wouldn’t hurt either, just to show that they’ve got the support to make this system a viable competitor.
No Significant Online Play. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has made it clear that he doesn’t believe that online gaming is the future. As a result, the new system won’t focus on its online strategy much. This actually isn’t as big a deal as some will make it out to be. Most of Nintendo’s big first-party games are one-player games anyway. And if the system’s specs are good enough to make multi-platform games play the best on Nintendo’s system, the absence of online play can be overlooked.
Killer Apps. The N64 had the Rumble Pak. The GameCube had the WaveBird. Heaven knows what else is up Nintendo’s sleeve. But you can bet it’ll be something sweet. Nintendo has always had success in creating appliances that enhance gaming on their systems, and their newest will be no different in that area. And if the rumors about Nintendo buying out tech companies are true, we could be seeing a lot more in this department. Only question is, will people buy accessory after accessory after accessory?

Nintendo knows from experience how important a bad launch is to a system’s demise. Therefore, look for Nintendo to get their act together. It’s well-known that this might be Nintendo’s last chance to bring some prestige back to the company name.

Look for the new system to debut at E3 2005 along with X-Box Next. This will give critics a chance to see that Nintendo is for real with this system. There needs to be a Mario game playable at E3, and there will be. Nintendo will pull out all the stops with this one, especially if the DS is a hit upon its launch. If so, Nintendo will have the confidence to pump even more money into another product launch.

The system will finally hit stores between December 2005 and March 2006. This is a tough call for Nintendo. On one hand, Nintendo will want to release as early as possible so that people won’t suspect more delays. However, launching too early will cause a conflict with the release date of X-Box Next. The odds of people purchasing two video game systems around the holidays are very steep, and Nintendo would do well to avoid such a competition. The ideal circumstance would be for the system to launch in early 2006 in order to give the market space between the launch of these two systems. This would maximize Nintendo’s market potential, while cutting into Microsoft’s sales at the same time.

A launch lineup has already been discussed, but there’s going to have to be more than a Mario game to get people hooked. The Pilotwings series has always been a great graphical showcase, so a new version wouldn’t be the worst thing. It would be foolish for Nintendo to expose their entire hand and release more first-party titles than this, so the rest of the lineup should be filled with top-notch third-party games. These are games that will be available for the new Nintendo system and maybe X-Box Next, and they have to be good ones. People are going to look for any reason to dismiss this new system, and it’s up to Nintendo to provide enough evidence that this system is everything that the GameCube wasn’t.

Coming out of E3, Nintendo’s latest console will be the feel-good gaming story of the year. While many will rip it just because, a lot of people will try to get behind the system, realizing that it might be Nintendo’s last chance at a console. The new Mario game will get people’s hopes up as only a Mario title can, and the system will succeed – for a while.

However, once Sony unleashes its all-encompassing PS3, things will not be pretty for Nintendo. Price cuts won’t get the job done this time, and whatever technology Nintendo has in its system will be bettered by the more current PS3. Unless Nintendo can release a series of relevant accessories that the public eats up, the Sony juggernaut will slash years off of Nintendo’s console life. With the online market growing exponentially and no options for online play, it’s very possible that Nintendo’s system may be obsolete within two years of launch.

Ultimately, the past two console failures will weigh on consumers’ minds more than Nintendo’s previous successes. People will want to like the new system, but will be so preoccupied with the PS3’s features that Nintendo’s console may get lost in the shuffle. Competition with X-Box Next will be close, but with Microsoft getting the eventual edge due to its advanced online modes. Nintendo’s system will finish in last place once again, which will probably seal Nintendo’s casket as a console developer.

Quickie 1st Round NHL Playoff Picks
Eastern Conference
(1)Tampa Bay vs. (8)New York Islanders – Islanders in 6*
(2)Boston vs. (7)Montreal – Boston in 6
(3)Philadelphia vs. (6)New Jersey – New Jersey in 7
(4)Toronto vs. (5)Ottawa – Toronto in 7

Western Conference
(1)Detroit vs. (8)Nashville – Detroit in 5
(2)San Jose vs. (7)St. Louis – San Jose in 6
(3)Vancouver vs. (6)Calgary – Calgary in 7
(4)Colorado vs. (5)Dallas – Dallas in 6

You know, this has been a crazy season, and now we’re seeing why that’s a good thing. We’ve gotten AWESOME first-round matchups, the kind we don’t usually see until the second or third round. Philly and New Jersey should be a great series, as should Colorado and Dallas. I think the Toronto-Ottawa series will be good, but not as good as it could be because the teams are so different. I think they’ll end up trading games where either team dominates, with Toronto getting the win.

*This is a total hometown pick – sort of. If I didn’t live on Long Island and wasn’t a huge Islanders fan, I probably wouldn’t make this pick. But I am a Long Islander and a huge Islanders fan, so I feel differently than most hockey insiders. And you know what? Bias aside, the Isles have a REAL good chance here. Here’s why.

The recent trend in the playoff coverage I’ve read is to talk about how Tampa is an offensive juggernaut, how their goaltending is far superior to that of the Islanders, and how they’ll have the superior power play. Let me now counter these points with some nice “hometown coverage” of my own…

– Tampa Bay scored 245 goals this season. The Islanders scored 237. That’s only eight goals difference. And you can bet that if the Islanders had either Alexei Yashin or Mark Parrish for any part of the two months they both missed, the Isles could have scored a lot more than eight more goals.
– Tampa Bay lost a ridiculously low 38 games due to injury this year. Compare that to the over SIX HUNDRED the Los Angeles Kings lost. Point is, Tampa Bay has been fortunate enough to be healthy the entire season. When you’re healthy, you’re going to win games. Tampa hasn’t had to overcome any serious injuries this season. Can this team come back if a star goes down during the playoffs?
– The Isles have OWNED Tampa goalie Nikolai Khabibulin over the years. They’re inside his head. Same for backup John Grahame. Both have been susceptible to the more-than-occasional soft goal against the Islanders this year. And in the playoffs, sometimes one is all you need.
– Alexei Yashin has shed the “playoff choker” image, at least on the Island. He’s got 11 points in 12 playoff games with the Islanders. Get over it.
– Statistically, the Islanders have a better penalty kill AND a better power play than Tampa Bay. Yet, every playoff preview gives Tampa the edges in these categories.
– Tampa Bay is a skating team. The Islanders are as well, to an extent. But they can hurt you physically as well. Michael Peca is a force to be reckoned with. Dave Scatchard and Arron Asham can score, hit, and fight with the best of them. Eric Cairns is a feared fighter. And anybody who followed the Isles-Maple Leafs series two years ago can tell you how effective Steve Webb can be in the playoffs, hitting everybody in an opposing uniform, drawing penalties.
– The Islanders are firing on all cylinders now. They’ve won eight of their last twelve. They’ve killed off their last 39 penalties. The power play has been clicking. Yashin and Parrish are in mid-season form. Adrian Aucoin has nine goals in his past ten games. This team is HOT. Forget everything you’ve read about this team backing into the playoffs. It just so happens that Buffalo was equally as hot down the stretch, so the press jumped on the back-in bandwagon. Sure, the Isles lost a few bad games, but they came to play the next night and made the points up.
– Nassau Coliseum is an old, decrepit arena. But it ROCKS during the playoffs. I was there for Game 6 in 2002 vs. Toronto, and I’ll be there for Game 3 this year. This arena gets louder than any other Eastern playoff arena. And the Isles have the 2nd highest win total at home in the entire NHL. What does that mean? If the Isles can steal Game 1 or 2 at Tampa, and win all three at home… you have… Isles in 6.

This was an epic edition of TGIT! If it was a little long for your tastes, I apologize. Next week, hopefully more news, and a wrap-up to the console prognostication. Thanks for reading. See you next Thursday!