Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 05.13.04

Hello, and happy Thursday! Welcome to the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report! Thanks for stopping by.

There’s one thing on the agenda this week, and one thing only: E3. If you’ve never been to 411 Games, I bid you welcome, and I invite you to enjoy some of the greatest coverage of this event on the Internet. And if you’re a loyal reader, then you’ll get the quality you’ve come to expect to this site. Either way, you can count on 411 Games for round-the-clock updates to keep you up to speed on the latest to come out of the year’s biggest event.

With that in mind, let’s see what we’ve got so far. Note that this is not done in the traditional TGIT format, because there’s no real need for it. Odds are good that you’ve read this information already, but not with the usual TGIT spin (i.e. excessive bashing/praising). And it’s all designed to take you to the areas of 411’s on-site E3 coverage that will get you screenshots and even more info! So let’s get the ball rolling…

There’s been a lot of speculation in the months prior to E3 about the Nintendo DS. With Nintendo keeping everyone pretty much in the dark, there’s been a lot of rumors and imagination regarding this system, ranging from the system’s appearance to its final name. At E3, Nintendo has set out to quell the rumors and give us the official, Nintendo-speak word on the DS.

So here it is. Nintendo has come out with guns ablaze and given gamers everywhere a ton of legitimate reasons to give this system a serious chance.

First, the system’s appearance. In my opinion, it’s not as bad as Yeager thought. The similarity to the SNES controller is uncanny, and I’m certain it’s not coincidence. The SNES was Nintendo’s most successful system in a competitive market and this system represents a back-to-basics approach on the control side by Nintendo. This same approach, incidentally, has made the GBA the biggest-selling system ever. The two screens are vertically aligned, as promised by Nintendo. Some thought that only the top screen would fold over; instead, there are covers on either side that, when closed, protect the entire system. That’s a good idea, although Nintendo is losing money on a first-party carrying case this way. The main selling point here is that the system is pretty much the size of the original GBA. This was a concern of many going in, and it’s good to see that it won’t be a problem.

Next, there’s the price. Nintendo is claiming $149 for the system, which would be a great area for any other system to be in. Unfortunately, Nintendo is trying to market its two current systems (GameCube and GBA SP) for $99 apiece. Now, this new system is going to exceed the cost of either of those two by 50 percent! It’s not as bad as it sounds, though – Most people will be able to see that the addition of a second screen, plus the additional hardware capabilities, are more than worth the extra $50. At this price, Nintendo might find that its toughest competition is its own product. Not a bad problem to have, eh?

Now, the one you’ve been waiting for. The games. And if you’re a gamer’s gamer, you’re going to love this lineup.

Animal Crossing. Wario Ware. Metroid Prime. And this is just the beginning.

Nintendo has made it clear that this system will get first-party support fit for a king. Mario will be well-represented, as he should be with a new Nintendo system, with two titles off the bat. The first, Super Mario 64×4, is a multi-player spinoff of the original N64 classic. A second title, New Super Mario Bros., appears to be a souped-up version of the original NES game. And the third-party support won’t be lacking, either – the press release for the DS announced – in the third paragraph, no less – that over 100 companies had received development kits. In other words, Nintendo has the backing of virtually the entire gaming world with this venture.

You’ve read it in this column a million times – when you introduce a new system, you want to bring the games that will show off the best features of that system. Nintendo has done the smart thing and made sure that almost all of its first-party titles are multiplayer. Games like Wario Ware and Super Mario 64×4 will feature extensive use of the touch screen. When you SHOW someone why they need a new feature, it goes over much better. Nintendo’s definitely on the right track here.

It’s not yet clear which titles will launch with the DS or when the system itself will launch. But you’ve got to like where Nintendo is going with all of this. It’s safe to say that Nintendo has silenced many of the critics who wondered what the hell they were thinking when this system was announced. Now, Nintendo’s got the ball in their court, and they should take this one straight to the hole.

You’ve got to wonder what the GameCube could have been like if it launched like this.

The other big story going into E3 was the PSP. Heading into E3, people knew that Sony was going to be releasing a handheld. It’s going to be more than just a video game system, and it’s going to be coming out next spring. That’s all we knew. What do we know now?

A press conference shed some light on the system’s specs. With the PSP, we’re looking at a system that’s got some power. There’s 32 MB of RAM, a wireless port, USB compatibility, and a 10-hour rechargeable battery. The specs Sony gave would definitely lend some credence to the belief that this system will be more than your average game system.

However, Sony failed to follow up with any outside uses of the PSP, choosing to give us some titles instead. The PSP will be home to many great games that we’ve enjoyed on home systems, including NBA Street, NFL Street, Wipeout, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Twisted Metal, and Need For Speed: Underground. With a listing like this that reads like a PS2 Greatest Hits collection, and new titles like Metal Gear: Acid (which has graphics next-gen systems would clamor for), you don’t really need to worry too much about what else the system can do. Games should always be the selling point for a system, and Sony seems to get this.

Unfortunately, one thing Sony didn’t get is that most gamers are broke. For example, they can’t very well afford to purchase a PS3 in 2006 for $300 when they’re dropping $300 on the PSP in 2005, right? Despite this, Sony is predicting a $299 price for the PSP. That’s quite a bit. We’d better hope that these extra features Sony keeps mentioning will create a system that’s twice as good as the competition. If not, they should consider knocking that price down to at least $249.

On the subject of price, Sony finally lowered the price of the PS2 down to $149. Yeager already ripped Sony for claiming that “The health of the console market depends on us”. That’s not going to stop me from ripping them as well. Give me a break! Every other console dropped in price months ago. They’re all doing fine. Last I heard, GameCubes were out of stock across the country and X-Boxes were flying out of stores. The console market seems healthier than ever! No one company makes a market, and this is no different. It’s obvious that Sony considers itself a cut above, but this is just ridiculous. This kind of arrogance gets you into trouble more often than not, and we’ll see how the Doctor of Console Health handles the handheld market.

Microsoft has been pretty quiet so far, but two major announcements have come out of E3 that concern the X-Box. First, Halo 2 finally has a release date – November 9. That’s just six days after the birthday of your favorite news reporter. And it provides for plenty of promotional time, as well as the potential for Halo 2 to be a hot holiday item.

The second big item, which has been rumored forever – EA and Microsoft have come to an agreement concerning X-Box Live. Starting with NCAA Football 2005, all EA Sports games will feature X-Box Live capabilities, as will other EA titles such as GoldenEye:Rogue Agent, Burnout 3, and Timesplitters 3. It’s already been said that this is a win-win situation for all parties involved, and that hasn’t changed. Madden and NBA Live are always up there in the top-selling games each year, with NCAA Football, NHL Hockey, Tiger Woods Golf, and NASCAR consistently outselling the competition. With X-Box Live being the preferred online medium for most gamers, this ensures that many will now opt for the X-Box version of EA Sports titles over PS2 versions. This is much-needed ammunition in the face of Sony’s recent PS2 price cut, and should make the upcoming football wars very interesting, especially with both EA and Sega’s games going Live.

Above all else, give credit to the bang-up job our guys are doing on E3 coverage. Check out our news page for the latest developments to come out of California this week. A great job done by all!

News Reports
Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. This week, Cory compares the Phantom to “The Producers” in a very funny (and quite possibly true) analogy. He also does some free-association plugs. I’m cool with mine, especially the Evolution bit (my all-time fave wrestler is Ric Flair) and the old-school punk reference. Although I’d probably want Bad Religion and T.S.O.L. co-headlining.
Third… ah, screw it. There is no third.
There’s no reason for this quote being quoted, other than that I’ve always had a theory that when you’re complaining, you need at least three reasons to be pissed. If you don’t have three good reasons, fake the third. Cory tried that here, and it worked. Sort of.

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. Misha’s a BRIT. And he mentions the phenomenon that’s known as Blogging. I’ll say that Misha’s LiveJournal is always an entertaining read, even when it’s filled with like 8 memes in a row. My LJ strives to be like Misha’s. And if you want access to my LJ, hit me up – it’s Friends Only at the moment.
That’s quite a Press Machine… To have the denial out there before most people have even heard the original rumour is no mean feat, especially given that gossip can travel faster than light…

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamers Corner. This might be Matt’s finest news report yet, and I’m very impressed with this one. Proving that I’m not the only one that can see through BS, Matt offers this zinger on Sony’s infamous “Health of the console market” line…
That’s like me saying I’m worried about the Porn industry in light of the recent HIV fiasco and going out and buying a lot of porn.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. This game sounds AWESOME. Futuristic society corrupted by large corporations. Looks like this one won’t be too far off, eh?
It’s a darker world. One where flesh and bone are replaced by steel and sharp things that make soft things scream and bleed. One where your life is worth only as much as your company wants it to be. And that’s usually a pittance.

Commentary of the Week
Let’s face it – the big story coming out of E3 is the battle between Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS. When people think of this E3 in five years, they won’t remember Halo 2 getting a release date, and they won’t remember EA jumping on board with X-Box Live. But they will remember the first impression they got as to which handheld was better – PSP or DS.

So we have Round 1 – Nintendo DS vs. Sony PSP.

Nintendo DS
There were many questions about the DS before E3, and some still remain. But the overall message is that this system is not one to be taken lightly. Despite what Nintendo says about the DS not replacing the GBA, the DS definitely isn’t a novelty system. This is a system to be taken legitimately in its own right.

You heard all about the games already, and the Bluetooth compatibility, and all the features that are going to make this system a good one. But the question is – how much is enough? This will be the third handheld released by Nintendo in a four-year period. How often can Nintendo count on parents to purchase the latest hardware for their children? Most parents are going to be confused as hell when the DS drops, especially those who waited to buy their kid a red SP.

Fortunately, the DS is far more different from the SP than the SP was from the GBA. And the (assumed) holiday release should offset any concerns about the price, which actually serves to differentiate the DS from the SP even more. The questions remain, though – will the people who have bought every Nintendo handheld continue to support the company? Will Nintendo release ANOTHER handheld in two years? How can people buy this system with confidence given Nintendo’s track record for releasing handhelds at a furious clip?

Nintendo has to address these questions soon. A brochure would be a great idea. Leveling with people always works, and a written document of how the DS differs from the SP would clear up an awful lot of confusion. It seems like Nintendo is really pulling out all the stops with this one, so they’d do well not to blow it on what should be a minor point.

Sony PSP
We still don’t know a lot about the PSP after Day 1 of E3, which is fine. But it’s been Nintendo’s show so far, and Sony needs to do something to stop this.

All we’ve seen so far is that Metal Gear: Acid has awesome graphics. System specifications only go so far. We need to see exactly what this system is capable of. If it’s the iPod-killer that some have claimed, then show us the PSP’s MP3 playing capabilities. If the PSP can show videos, then show us some high-quality videos. Sony COULD have plans to show these – but timing is everything, and the DS already has some serious momentum.

The PSP’s appearance remsembles the PS2 somewhat. Cold and soulless are two words that come to mind. When contrasted with the old-but-new feel of the DS, this is a weak point for the PSP. Of course, if the output is as stellar as it’s made out to be, this won’t matter. But at this point, you take what you can get, and the DS has given more of a friendly feel than the PSP.

One area where the PSP could pick up major points is in multi-handheld games. The DS seems to have the graphical capabilities of a N64. The PSP’s graphics are more on point with PS2 than PS1. That’s a big difference, and this is something that Sony needs to exploit. Nintendo will be getting big-time third-party support with the DS, but if the same games are better on the PSP, people will want to play them on the PSP instead. There’s a chance that games on the DS will be different with the double screen, but casual gamers will be suckered in by graphics rather than what can be done with a second screen, giving the PSP the advantage no matter what.

Sony will have to do some hardcore selling if the PSP hits stores at a $299 price next spring. That’s twice the cost of the DS, and at a worse market time to boot. This is where that Sony arrogance kicks in. Despite what Sony might think, people are NOT just going to buy the PSP because it’s got the PlayStation logo on it. There’s some stiff competition out there, and Sony needs to be cognizant of this. That is, show why this system is worth the $299. What can the PSP do that you can’t with a DS AND an iPod? There needs to be a positive answer to this question, or else Sony might be in some trouble.

Round 1 Analysis
You could compare this to the first round of the first Rocky-Apollo fight in Rocky 1. Apollo (Sony) toys with Rocky (Nintendo), until Rocky comes out of nowhere with a blow that knocks down Apollo. We’ve just seen that blow in the form of the flurry of titles and features we’ll see on the DS. However, you’ve got to think that Sony has a trick up its sleeve, and we should see that by the end of E3.

In Rocky, Apollo gains his composure after being knocked down and takes it to Rocky good for the rest of the round. From there, it’s an even bout. The months ahead will show how the battle between the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP will turn out. Odds are good that this, too, will end up a neck-and-neck competition. And whether you’re a Nintendophile or a Sony fanboy, you’re going to be very pleased with the next handheld you purchase.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and see you next Thursday!