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Archive for January, 2008

Disney Magic Connection

In a handy followup to my last post, Disney just began testing the DS Lite as an interactive guide to the Magic Kingdom.¬† Dubbed the “Disney Magic Connection,” the custom application, built into a DS retrofitted with a GPS unit, features an interactive map with ride wait times, directions to restrooms and ATM’s, even trivia and games.

This looks like an ideal scenario to show how useful the DS can be as a virtual tour guide.¬† Hopefully you’ll be able to use your own DS once the program’s finally out of beta.

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You don’t need me to tell you 2007 was a banner year for Nintendo. More than a year after its release, the Wii’s still not sticking to shelves. While the delay on Smash Brothers Brawl was a big disappointment to more hardcore gamers, this year’s new entries in the Zelda, Mario and Metroid franchises kept everyone satisfied, provided they could get their hands on a Wii.

Perhaps the big N’s most impressive feat in ’07 was almost single-handedly saving game and hardware sales in Japan, where they’ve been on a rough slide the last few years. Once the epicenter of the industry, rabid use of cell phones as an all-in-one entertainment device, a heavily mobile population and rising popularity of US-developed titles (think Halo, Guitar Hero, and pretty much any big hit on the Xbox 360) all led to the decline of console gaming in the land of the rising sun.

Japan Wii launchJust like the rest of the world, the Wii got a warm reception in Japan, and Wii titles were consistently top 10 sellers in Japan all year long. But everyone’s favorite little white box is only part of the story here.

What’s particularly interesting about the resurgence of gaming in Japan is that it’s due in large part to obscenely brisk sales of Nintendo DS hardware and software. For those scoring at home, the DS debuted way back in 2004, and is widely considered underpowered in comparison to Sony’s PSP. The almost always spot-on analyst Michael Pachter even called it a “kid’s toy “ recently, even after the sexy hardware refresh that is the DS Lite.

Just like the Wii, the DS’ unique hardware means developers have a lot more to work with than raw power. We’ve seen some plenty of neat in-game applications in DS games, from use of the touch screen in Trauma Center to “blowing out” candles via the built-in microphone in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. But it’s the innovative “non-games,” like foreign language instructional cartridges (using the microphone to check pronunciation), brain trainers, and interactive cookbook titles that have really caught fire in Japan.

There’s lots of room to grow in the “non-game” arena, and I’m certainly intrigued to see what else developers can come up with. Which is why I was particularly heartened to see Nintendo Pres Saturo Iwata say, “We don’t need to stick to a narrow definition of games.” With the explosion in public wi-fi in recent years, it would be especially worthwhile to develop light, location-specific content that could be downloaded to the DS.

marinersWe’ve seen minor demos of location programming at The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and a really cool interactive menu/instant replay/trivia system at Safeco Field in Seattle. Here’s hoping that Nintendo’s ownership the Mariners organization makes Safeco the testing ground for a larger rollout in every MLB park. But why stop there?

Every public library in the country could make an interactive card catalog, with a book location assistant, available via wi-fi on the DS. And every museum could stream interactive maps to the DS’ touch screen for self-guided tours with detailed info on each exhibit. The low-fi graphics of the DS would keep everything accessible for a wide range of audiences, the battery life on the DS Lite is long enough for at least 3 back-to-back museum visits (even in the labyrinthine Met), and just imagine the additional revenue stream for institutions to rent out loaner DS Lites to unprepared patrons.

At the very least, will someone please, PLEASE develop a wireless, DS-compatible wedding registry program? The current handheld systems at your finer Williamson-and-Barrel Wedding-Barn places are heavy, monochrome bastards with no graphics (just text!) and Atari-era sounds, that are just designed to ensure you make every mistake possible. If they streamed pictures of your registry items to your DS as you touch-screened in your selections, you could at least tell if you are, in fact, registering for the okra or green tea towels. C’mon guys, this isn’t rocket science!

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