Rapid Fire 09.23.04

Welcome! Thanks for dropping by Inside Pulse for this edition of Rapid Fire. I’m Bryan Berg, and I’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s get started!!

Chuck Platt and I exchanged LJ comments on last week’s piece about gaming burnout. Chuck, as he is wont to do, blamed FF7, as well as some other “classics”, for the current state of gaming…

After FFVII, all the RPGs were uber long. Then came Gran Turismo, another game demanding extra long life altering game play to enjoy. Notice which series’ get new releases and which ones don’t: Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, the abominable Star Ocean, Suikoden, and Breath of Fire are all stroke series’, while Tomba, Skullmonkeys, Klonoa, Loaded, etc. get the axe for being to short and, in most cases, hard. I refuse to play any game that requires my life to be wasted in order to finish it and see the end of it’s nominal plot. Why won’t Nintendo give Sony and Microsoft the finger and release a wave of great, classic style games and avoid the FPS, Driving, and RPG dreck. I’ll take three Pikmins for every Halo, thank you very much.

We came to the conclusion that, for worse rather than for better, people now see long as a good quality in gaming. This is something that has been perpeutated by the games Chuck mentioned. And it’s totally true that it’s the long games that get all the sequels, while the “mindless short games” are left by themselves. That’s probably because these are the games that are capable of standing the test of time, so people are more willing to play through them more than once. Who really wants to play through a 70-hour epic more than once? Nobody, and that’s why there’s a sequel. The sequel, of course, sells because people want to play a similar, but not identical, game. Not saying it’s wrong, but it sure as hell isn’t right.

A.J. discusses the Nintendo Fusion Tour in his latest piece. This year’s Fusion tour is actually the second, but A.J. tells us why he thinks it’s a great idea, and he’s right on target. Remember when the Playstation first came out and it came with a CD full of emerging Sony artists? Nintendo takes that one step further and actually puts you right there in the music and right there with the games. You kind of wonder how the GameCube finishes #3 despite all of this good advertising.

Jason Mis hits me up with his burnout experiences…

My experience with game burnout has been the opposite of what you described. Two years ago there was a severe drought of games I wanted, so I decided to look at greatest hits I had passed on. I ended up with eight games at once. It was great. I had Max Payne, Hot Shots Golf 3, Ace Combat 4, etc. The key was that there was variety in the genre of games I got. It allowed me to cycle through them and not play the same game more than a couple times a week. Each was so different than the others that I never got bored. It’s key to have that one standby game with huge replay value, usually a fighting or sports title.

Now, this is where Jason and I differ. He’s able to go back to a game weeks later; I forget all about it or go back and forget where I was in the game. Kudos to Jason for being able to keep it all together. He’s also right about the standby game. Sports and fighting games are great in that they keep you occupied and don’t take up much of your time. Also, each game has a timed period, so you know you can play for an hour and get one game of Madden in. These are the things that keep sports games on the top of the sales lists – sure, they repeat themselves, but they’re a great diversion from the other games we play.

Alex Williams, who needs to tell us which NFL player is on the jersey he’s wearing in his picture, explains his stance on piracy. Here’s one for you, though – while we know that the companies know that piracy is a problem, do you think they have any idea who’s downloading what? By that, I mean, can a Nintendo track how many people use illegal ROMs of old classics to see which ones should be ported to the new systems? Kinda far-fetched, but would it really surprise you if they left these piraters out as a sort of “bait” to see what the demand for older games is?

Adam Matlock (I remember you!) submitted this for consideration…

Speaking of reads, that’s part of the reason I love ESPN so much. There are few things more rewarding than recognizing Cover 2 and exploiting the ever-living hell out of it. Thanks, Sega, for making me the Peyton Manning of virtual football.

One of the phenomenons in sports gaming that everyone seems to ignore is the fact that these games actually educate the players. I guarantee you that NONE of you knew the real difference between a 4-3 and 3-4 defense until you messed around with them in a video game. Now, games are so realistic that something like Cover 2 is becoming more and more noticeable. Being able to pick apart a video game defense like this is what translates into a more enriched football watching experience, which makes football gamers more knowledgable on Sundays. How is that a bad thing?

Maybe you think the upcoming Nintendo DS is a crock. Maybe you disagree with Nintendo’s utter lack of promotion so far. Maybe you’re just saving your money for a PSP. But you’ve got to admit one thing – Nintendo made it all right this week.

The company that made Mario gave us the scoop on the DS after keeping quiet on the machine’s future for most of the past few months, and the future for this system is looking quite promising. We’ll break down the different pieces one by one…

Release Date: November 21. This date is significant for three reasons. First, the timing is perfect to hit the Black Friday holiday crowd. Secondly, it’s a Sunday, which means that parents will be around to hit the stores on the release date. But most importantly, the system is being released in America BEFORE it heads to Japan on December 2.

Nintendo realizes that it is more important to prove the worth of the DS to the jaded US crowd than it is to sell it to the technologically-savvy Japanese, who are already very interested. By bringing the system to America first, it shows loyalty to the American game buyers, who should be impressed by this unprecedented maneuver. Furthermore, this prevents any potential negative word of mouth from Japanese gamers to reach Americans before they decide how they feel about the DS.

Pack-In Games: PictoChat/Metroid Prime: First Hunt 2. As you may have read here before, a system should always launch with those games that best show off the features of that system. PictoChat, a drawing/instant messaging program, does that well here. What better way to learn about the features of your new DS than by spending four hours screwing around with PictoChat?

Metroid Prime: First Hunt 2 is only a demo, but Nintendo did the smartest thing possible here. The game does not feature a first-player mode; instead, the game is multi-player through wireless hookup. In theory, it takes only one person in a given social circle to purchase the DS before everybody else wants one. The buyer has nobody to play with, so he shows off another game to his friends and tells them that they can play Metroid with him if they purchase a system. The others beg and beg their parents until they finally recieve DS systems at Christmas, and then the cycle repeats itself throughout 2005.

It’s awful ironic that Nintendo, the company that won’t make an online game for GameCube, is willing to package the DS with a game that can’t be played alone. If this goes well for Nintendo, there’s a chance we could see more interactive setups like this for the DS. And if not, we can at least be happy that a company is trying to give us the best package possible by actually including games in the launch package.

Price: $149.00. Gotta love that price tag. Maybe it’s a little more than you envisioned spending on your holiday handheld, but can you really argue it, given what comes in the package? A steal, especially when compared to the rumored price of the PSP.

Now, Nintendo’s problem comes from… well, Nintendo. Remember when I said Nintendo was crazy for dropping the price of the SP and everybody disagreed with me? Well, consider this – can Nintendo sell consumers on paying $70 extra for another screen and a Palm Pilot pen? Nintendo really put the screws to themselves here – like I said at the time, you can’t have your cake and eat it too if you’re Nintendo. It’s up to Nintendo to really distinguish the two and prove to the gaming world that the system is worth the extra cash. This is made easier if you have a…

$40 Million Advertising Budget. And that’s for the launch alone!

Since Nintendo waited so long to “launch” the promotion of the DS, expect to be inundated with ads for the system. It’ll be hard for Nintendo to piss $40 million away between now and the end of the year, but Nintendo will try its damndest to do so. While Nintendo plans on going the conventional route, the company also plans to implement over 12,000 interactive kiosks so that it can really show people what the DS is all about. That’s going to be real important for the strength of the DS’s launch.

Backwards Compatibility. This is something most people will welcome, and it’ll help sell units. But again, Nintendo finds that the strongest competitor of the DS is a system that plays many of the same games. It’s going to be hard for Nintendo to develop two separate identites when there are only 10 games that people can’t play on a system that’s half the price.

However, despite the drawbacks from a business perspective, this is a feature that the DS sorely needed. Just like you were more inclined to buy a PS2 once you saw that you could play all your original PlayStation games on it, you might be more receptive to the idea of plunking down $150 on a DS with the knowledge that it’s ready to go right out of the box. Take backwards compatibility away from the DS and all you have is a gimmicky system with no must-have titles. Now, you have instant credibility, which means instant sales to some people.

Wireless Communication. In Japan, some retailers set up locations where GBA owners could gather together and exchange in some communal gaming. Nintendo brings that notion overseas, whereby DS owners are able to play multiplayer games using just one DS Game Card.

Here’s a true win-win situation – gamers benefit because they can play games they don’t own, which will let them try before they buy. This is good for Nintendo because it lets people play games they might not ordinarily be interested in otherwise. Remember, you can’t rent handheld games at Blockbuster, so this is as close as Nintendo is going to get when it comes to pre-purchase playing.

Nintendo is hoping for 4 million units sold by the end of their fiscal year in March 2005. Nintendo can make this happen. However, that $40 million had better be well-spent. The company took its sweet time letting people know about the system, and it’s got some stiff competition in its own product. It’ll be tough, but 4 million worldwide units is definitely possible. It’s up to Nintendo to show us the differences between the GBA SP and the DS and SHOW us why this new system is worth trading up for.

Longtime gamers remember when their beloved PlayStation, which probably needed to be played upside down so the disc would read on the carpet, shrunk down and became the portable (and ridiculous-looking) PSOne. The system was cut in price and proceeded to sell like crazy. While many jumped on the PS2 bandwagon, there were still decent titles being put out for the PSOne – in fact, 989 Sports even put out a version of MLB 2005 this spring. Sony was determined to extract every cent from the goldmine that was the original PlayStation, and it’s done just that.

So we knew that the PS2 wasn’t far behind, right? And here we are, four years after its launch, and Sony has just announced its newest invention: a slimmed down PS2. The new PS2 will be released in the USA on November 1 and in Japan on November 3 (more on this later) and will be an insane 2.8 cm (or 1.1 inches) wide. The most significant difference appears in the disc drive, which now opens from the top (the big horizontal base) rather than the current “inside-the-system” approach. Sony, sensing that people won’t just buy a system because it’s suddenly smaller, decided to add a built-in Network Adapter free of charge. The unit will cost what a PS2 costs now: $149.

Of course, there’s something to be made of this, and it’s NOT a sign that the PS2 is on the way out. Instead, this is merely a way for Sony to keep the PS2 in the minds of consumers while they drool over the DS. Notice how Sony has stolen Nintendo’s thunder by releasing the new PS2 in America first, rather than going the convential route and initially putting it out in Japan. Notice how the two announcements occurred almost simultaneously. Notice how the new PS2 comes out just three weeks before the slated release date of the DS. That’s a lot of things to notice, but they’re all relevant, and they all lend credence to the theory that this is just a marketing stunt meant to cut into the sales of the DS. Unless Sony has decided to do something for the benefit of the gaming public, and we all know how often THAT happens…

Usually, when it comes time for me to write this part, something comes to mind over the week that I can expand on and relate to gaming. This week, it didn’t happen. That’s when I knew something was up.

Much to my dismay, the quality of this column has dropped a little over the past few weeks. You might not have noticed it, but I definitely have. I always said that if I could truly say that I wasn’t the best at what I did, then it’s time to hang it up. For me, that time has come.

I don’t want to be a writer who submits half-assed crap that they wrote in an hour because they had other stuff to do. I don’t want to be a writer who misses two weeks, then comes back the third with a garbage column because they lost their rhythm. I don’t want to be a writer who grasps at straws, trying to say anything to get a reaction. And I definitely don’t want to degrade the developing name of Inside Pulse by being anything less than the writer you’d expect.

I decided to leave Inside Pulse because, like I said, I couldn’t honestly say that I was the best at what I did anymore. Not because I minded Alex Williams surpassing me, but because I had a feeling it was time for me to depart. Furthermore, as I get older and adjust to a 8-4 lifestyle, it’s tougher to devote the time necessary to make this column the best it can be. So, rather than half-heartedly try to make it work, I figure I’ll go out near the top of my game and walk away now.

If I’m fortunate enough to have a legacy, I hope it’s along the lines of getting people to think for themselves. If you ever disagreed with anything I’ve ever said, then you already get it. For everyone else, I hope Thank God It’s Thursday and Rapid Fire have helped you to form your own opinions about the gaming industry. There’s a lot EGM and GameSpot don’t tell you, and it’s easy to be a sucker in this hype-laden business. The more you learn to read between the lines, the better off you’ll be, and that applies to a lot more than gaming. It’s always nice to think that what you’re doing is affecting others positively, so hopefully you’ve experienced some of that here.

I do have some regrets, though. I’m sad that Rapid Fire never got to be all that it could have been. After I broke the news to the Kliq, a lot of the guys told me it was their favorite column on the entire site. That’s subjective, of course, but this column has been a work in progress from Day 1. I like to think Rapid Fire took the good parts of Thank God It’s Thursday and left out the bad. I also apologize for ever putting non-gaming content into my columns, no matter how compelling it might have been. People come to a games site to read about gaming, not my Fantasy Football team. It took me a long time to get that, and I regret putting that ahead of gaming at times. (By the way, I’m 0-2.) I apologize for never deciding whether a company’s name should be pluralized or not, and subsequently flipping back and forth – sometimes even in the same sentence – because of this discrepancy. And lastly, I am sorry if I’ve ever given this column less than my best. I can’t recall a column where it hasn’t been as good as it could have been given the circumstances; however, I’m sure it’s happened at some point. So I apologize for that.

Will I be back? Things change in life, and someday I may decide to give it another go. Having said that, though, I doubt it. I always hated when writers would announce their big “comeback”, only to write one crappy column and never bother to return for a second, crappier column. So I doubt a return engagement is in the works, even if Inside Pulse would have me. But you never know.

Feel free to hit me up now and again to discuss gaming, sports, music, or whatever else. And I’ll probably get back to you more quickly now. E-mail me, visit my LiveJournal, or IM me at TheRhombus626 (if I’m ever on). It’s been a pleasure, and I hope some of you will want to keep in touch.

That wraps it up for Rapid Fire. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for reading. Take care, and keep it here at the Pulse!