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Posts Tagged ‘WiiWare’

One element of appeal I completely missed in my Mega Man 9 post was the cost factor.  As I said before, I applaud the aesthetic direction Capcom’s taking this one.  But I hadn’t really considered what that lo-fi design choice could mean for the bottom line, until I read Chris Kohler’s great piece on Koji Igarashi and the latest installment in the Castlevania franchise.

There’s already quite a bit of negative press surrounding Castlevania Judgement, and with very good reason.  How the hell does a head-to-head fighter fit in the Castlevania universe?  Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood were terrific recent entries in the series, so it’s not like Konami forgot how to make a good vampire-slaying game starring the Belmont clan.

The fighting game approach it just feels like Konami’s blatantly going back to the well to take advantage of die-hard Castlevania fans, and sullying their sturdiest franchise in the process.  And it gets so much sadder when you realize Igarashi couldn’t get the budget for a true followup, so the Konami braintrust’s next move is “toe-to-toe brawler.”

And that’s why Capcom’s decision to go 8-bit is so brilliant.  Mega Man 9 will feel like a true followup in the series, probably even more so than Mega Man 7 and 8.  It can be cranked out by a tiny staff (compared to most current-gen development teams), and delivered via Wiiware for what EA probably spent on snacks on bottled water for the Madden ’09 build cycle.  And, they can bench test a bunch of new, fresh-out-of-school designers before dropping them into more heavy-duty design teams for the next Resident Evil or Lost Planet games.

I hope Konami thinks about taking Castlevania back to its roots in similar fashion.  Of course, a new  Zombies ate my Neighbors wouldn’t hurt while they’re at it.

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It’s a real rarity to see insider games industry coverage from our dailies here in NYC, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the all the attention that local think tank the Center for an Urban Future generated for their study, “Getting in the Game.”

You can grab the .PDF at their site (and it’s certainly worth a read), but the Cliffs Notes of the report boil down to a very logical conclusion – and a somewhat obvious one, if you follow the industry closely: “The fast-growing video game industry represents a promising opportunity for New York City’s economy, but the sector faces significant challenges and still lags well behind established gaming hubs like Seattle, Los Angeles and Montreal.” The coverage wound up in every reputable game blog (naturally), but more importantly, it made the cover of at least one of the dailies, and Sewell Chan posted on it in the excellent NY Times City Room blog.

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the lack of a big game development scene in NYC, indie or otherwise. The creativity and talent is here, and the post-bust Silicon Alley community is keeping up with the west coast Joneses when it comes to attracting VC funding. We even have a few superb full-time games journalists residing in the 5 boroughs.

As the report shows, the handful of publishers that have set up some sort of base in the city (Take 2, Atari, and a few small developers) are mostly staffing marketing and C-level operations out of New York, and leaving the development to guys out west/across the pond/anywhere but here.

The fastest-growing entertainment industry can’t stay confined to the west coast forever, but a mass migration to NYC is no inevitability either. The same day that the Center for an Urban Future study went public, the office of Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue announced his state’s new incentives package for entertainment industry investment, with a ton of language specific to the games industry. Not to be outdone, Boston kicked off their inaugural conference focused on wooing more developers to the city last year, with a similar event in the works for 2008.

It’s great to see individual cities pushing for more developers in their locale, but what’s getting lost in the mix here is just how much the industry, as a whole, would benefit from moving a few creative eggs outside of the Bay Area basket. Just as Austin, TX filmmakers developed their own look and feel and the Atlanta Atlanta hip-hop artists pioneered their own sound.  What would their games play like?hip-hop scene became a powerful force in music, the infusion of local developers from all over the map could lead to the discovery of some hot, undiscovered talent.

Services like Steam, Xbox Live, WiiWare and PSN now eliminate the most expensive parts of distribution, so as long as the ideas are good enough (and the developers are savvy about interacting with passionate gamers), the sky’s the limit.

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Earlier this week, Nintendo’s long-awaited WiiWare indie game download service launched in the US, to surprisingly little mainstream media coverage. Perhaps it’s GTA4 hangover, or editors planning to cover WiiFit next week didn’t want to run two Wii-centric features in consecutive weeks, or maybe it just didn’t seem like big news in light of PSN and Xbox Live’s beating Nintendo to the punch by more than a year. Either way, it’s pretty big news for a number of reasons:

  • WiiWare is a decidedly “new Nintendo” move. Bite-sized, casual games from garage band developers are the very embodiment of the “blue ocean” strategy that Reggie Fils-Aime and the rest of the current Nintendo higher-ups operate under. The old guard at Nintendo (the ones that insisted on cartridges for N64 games over CD’s, and limiting the number of NES games they would allow any one publisher to make in a year) would have rather died than put games from indie microdevelopers on their precious system
  • While Nintendo already had the Virtual Console in operation, WiiWare’s debut means all three of this generation’s consoles (and both of the portable systems) have dedicated channels for instant delivery of retro games AND original downloadable content. Nintendo was the last holdout (and a significant one, considering how quickly their installed base is swelling). This could have serious ramifications for retailers, especially the ones that draw heavily from used game sales. How long before the new DLC reality spooks GameStop investors?
  • Thus far, a weak library of third party titles has been the most legitimate gripe consistently lobbed at the Wii – and rightfully so. The Little White Wonder’s seen way too many shoddy ports of last-gen games and minigame collections for its own good. WiiWare has the potential to reverse the trend. With quality titles available for a fraction of typical retail prices, how long can the market last for shovelware at retail prices?

As I write this, the questionable Summer Sports is $40 at GameStop, while $10 on WiiWare will get you Lost Winds, a gem of a game whose novel platforming and gentle, innocent storytelling reminded yours truly of the hauntingly beautiful Ico. Seriously. I rest my case.

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