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March 2009

Another New EarthBound Game In The Works?

BOING!Ever one to twist the knife, the EarthBound series (known as Mother in Japan, as you'll recall) is rumored to have a new addition in the works.  I'll just let EarthBound Central explain, as anything I try to summarize would just add fuel to the fire.

Apparently, a new type of game and entertainment service (playable on PC and mobile phone) called “Roid” is planned to be released in Japan. The latest issue of Weekly Famitsu talks briefly about it, and the screenshot it includes is certainly eye-popping.  The article doesn’t say anything about the screenshot in particular, except asking, “Could this be THAT RPG?!” and that really big-title names are scheduled to be released on it. It’s not clear if this screenshot is just concept art or what, though.

No.  Just... no.  We just spent several years watching Mother 3 dangled teasingly just out of reach of international audiences.  Nintendo of America declined to release the game in the United States across a variety of available formats as technology marched onward.  Dedicated fans of the series had to translate the game into English and hack the game data in all kinds of challenging and interesting ways to bring the adventure to the rest of us.  I'm not going through all of that waiting and hoping again so soon.  I love EarthBound, I really do, but if the rest of the world can't enjoy the next installment as well as Japan, then please just let it go.

Nintendo Reveals Game Boy Advance Predecessor, Game Boy Color Touchscreen

Game Boy Advance predecessor I love to play video games, but I also love to read about the video games we'll never get a chance to play.  Every successful game console has a trail of unreleased prototypes behind it, but it's rare that we actually get to see them.  While giving a presentation about the new Nintendo DSi at the Game Developers Conference this week, design director Masato Kuwahara showed off one of Nintendo's vaulted prototypes for the Game Boy Advance (in development as early as 1995) and a touchscreen adapter for the Game Boy Color (circa 1998)  and, later, repurposed for the Game Boy Advance SP.  MTV Multiplayer has the story.

The next prototype shown was a touch-screen adapter that Kuwahara designed to attach to the Game Boy Color. He said it was not “favorably received” by the software development team because the LCD screen didn’t have a backlight. He also revealed that Miyamoto liked the adapter when it was used on the GBA SP, but it was not brought to market. Kuwhara was disappointed but said, “I’d like to to think my prototype led to the appearance of the Nintendo DS.”

Development Hell stories and are my favorite kind of entertainment history. I'd eagerly buy a whole book full of photos of these protoypes and the tales behind them.  Proprietary-this and secret-that, I know, but is there still a confidentiality risk for discussing would-be products that are now obsolete?  Let's see some official high-quality photos of these kinds of prototypes and not just grainy scans and half-truths filled with speculation from old gaming magazines.

All Aboard! New Zelda For DS Announced: Spirit Tracks

Link Following in the footsteps of when The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was revealed at a previous Game Developers Conference, a new Zelda game has been announced/teased at this year's GDC.  Trading in his boat for a train, Link rides the rails in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.  That's about all we know at this point, but the game is supposed to be available later this year.  I've certainly criticized Nintendo's embrace of the casual game market at the expense of core gamer titles, so let me take this moment to give the company a little praise for bringing a new Zelda title to the Nintendo DS.  Phantom Hourglass turned out to be a fun little adventure, so even if Spirit Tracks ends up being more of the same, I think I'll be happy.  I'd like to see the gameplay improved and refined, of course, but a solid Zelda game is still a solid Zelda game, and all of the speech trainers and cooking simulators in the world cannot change that.

Nintendo Wii Storage Woes Coming To An End

SD card for WiiFor those of us with less and less free storage space available on our Nintendo Wii, help is coming at last.  Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had a lot to say at his Game Developers Conference keynote address today, particularly in regards to bulking up the Wii's built-in 512 MB of storage space.  The company is finally putting that SD card slot on the Wii to more efficient use by allowing high capacity SD cards to carry some of the load.  SD cards up to 32 GB in capacity can be used to store precious data which can then be launched directly from the card.  Shuffling items back and forth from comparably tiny SD cards is about to become a thing of the past, and frankly it's about time.  This update is part of the latest system software update for the Wii, and apparently it's available right now, so get cracking on that download and enjoy the overdue fruits of Nintendo's labor.

Shigeru Miyamoto Cranks Up The Creepy Factor

Miyamoto likes to watchNintendo's Satoru Iwata had a lot to say during his keynote address at the Game Developers Conference, and like any modern speech, this presentation came bundled with a slideshow.  Part of the presentation described producer Shigeru Miyamoto's habit of abducting random Nintendo employees to assist with development of new game ideas in that Miyamoto watches the hapless employee stumble through a new game without any assistance, and this unfortunate image (via Kotaku, natch) was displayed as part of the slideshow.  Is it just me, or is this slide increasingly creepy the more one looks at it?  Over the Shoulder, indeed.  The confidently slick smile on his face isn't helping matters either.  Go now, Internet.  Go now and create the many Photoshopped images and goofy captions that will rocket this image into hilarious infamy right up there with the giant enemy crabs

New Katamari Game Is PS3 Exclusive

Prince of All Cosmos One franchise that has been sorely missed on the Sony PlayStation 3 is Katamari Damacy, but after appearing with mixed results on the Microsoft Xbox 360 earlier this generation as Beautiful Katamari, now the PS3 is getting a new Katamari game of its own.  Entitled Katamari Damacy Tribute, players once again take control of the Prince of All Cosmos in order to roll up the world to create new stars.  More of the same?  Probably so.  Is that a problem?  Not so much.  Kombo has the scant details.

Due for a 2009 release in Japan, the new game is titled "Katamari Damacy Tribute", and is said to be running in full 1080p HD. You'll be back in control of The Prince once more to create stars and more by rolling around your ball and making it grow bigger and bigger.  The designers for Katamari Damacy Tribute have said they want to "aim for a new visual expression" with the newest in the Katamari franchise. Will we see some higher polygon counts? Or will we see more crazy stuff? Only time will tell.

The Katamari games were one of last generation's most pleasant surprises, so provided that the new game avoids the missteps of the X360 edition, I look forward to seeing what Namco Bandai comes up with.  More bizarre quirky fun is always welcome in my home. 

King Of Fighters XII Is Coming

King Of Fighters XII Playing Street Fighter IV has put me back in the mood for fighting games again, so when I found out that SNK Playmore and Ignition Entertainment are working on a new installment of King of Fighters for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, I took notice.  I can't say I've ever done much with the series, but the screenshots on display at the teaser site show the potential for punch-punch-kick-kick enjoyment.  The game is set for a July 7, 2009 release in North America, so I guess we'll see how this one shapes up as time goes on.

OnLive Aims To Change The Game, But At What Cost?

OnLive One of the bigger news items coming out of the Game Developers Conference this week is the reveal of OnLive, a new gaming service that wants to make our beloved consoles obsolete.  Basically, the idea is that all we need to play games such as Burnout Paradise is a broadband Internet connection and a television or a basic low-spec computer.  No actual traditional in-home console or powerful graphics card required, as all of the data crunching and game processing is handled at OnLive's server farm.  The service simply streams the video and audio of the game to your screen via the Internet.  Think of it as PlayStation Remote Play meets cloud computing.  Stephen Totilo over at MTV Multiplayer walks us through the basics of the OnLive concept and goes into more detail in an interview with the service's lead creator, Steve Pearlman.

A user downloads a 1MB application to their PC or Mac, using a computer that simply must connect to the Internet over broadband. No graphics card required. OR The user hooks up OnLive’s “MicroConsole” to their TV with an HDMI connection, negating the need for a PC. The MicroConsole is the size of a little larger than a Nintendo DS.

The games are booted up in a matter of seconds (single-digit seconds). Nothing is downloaded to the user. Nothing has to buffer. It all instantly streams visually to the user’s computer monitor or TV. Most of the processing is done back at the OnLive server farm. A small remainder of it is performed in the user’s computer or micro-console. There are no game program files to download, no hard drive memory required. The game just starts.

Users will be able to expect the OnLive servers that are spitting their games out at them to be upgraded regularly, in essence improving the specs of the service so that it can run more and more powerful games. No upgrade is needed on the users’ end, because all they are seeing and hearing is the video and audio signal of the games that are being run back at the OnLive servers. This is called cloud computing, where very little of the processing occurs on the users’ end. In essence, this frees the user from ever needing to buy a new console or upgrade their PC, because their viewing and playing device just serves as the window to experiences being powered elsewhere.

This is a very intriguing idea and could change how we enjoy our favorite games.  However, I do have my usual concerns.

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Nintendo Comments On Downloadable Game Boy Games For DSi

Nintendo DSi The news that classic Nintendo Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games would be available as downloadable titles for the new Nintendo DSi has sent little shockwaves around the Internet as various websites and forums picked up the story that I kick-started on Sunday here at PTB and on Monday at Kombo, and those shockwaves have been met with plenty of skepticism.  That's certainly understandable.  Now Nintendo of America has issued a comment regarding the information I was given by a regional Nintendo representative.  Here is that comment via Kombo:

Nintendo called Kombo up today and requested that it be known that some of the above information is not officially announced for North America and as a result, may not be completely accurate.

Specifically, they told us that you will not be able to play GB and GBA games directly from your SD memory card. Also, downloadable GB and GBA games have not officially been announced for North America (only Japan, so far).

Did the Nintendo representative at the DSi preview event jump the gun on this news?  It would seem irresponsible to announce this kind of thing at the preview event if it were not accurate, so I'm going to stand by the core of my original report.  The SD card restriction mentioned in Nintendo's comment is not so much of a surprise considering the company's iron-lock on similar capabilities for the Wii and it did come to a shock to all of us in the room at the event that Nintendo was loosening the chains on their classic content, but when a Nintendo representative at an official Nintendo event states information and even reiterates it when asked for a clarification, I tend to trust what I am told until better information comes along.

I would expect that we will hear about downloadable Game Boy games for the DSi in North America sooner rather than later, particularly with Nintendo's Satoru Iwata scheduled to give the keynote address at GDC this week.  I hate to step on Nintendo's toes and steal some of their thunder, but if the company doesn't want its representatives spilling the beans about this sort of thing, then perhaps they should take better care to explain to their employees which new information is supposed to remain secret.  Not that I'm complaining, of course.  Who doesn't like to hear new information about upcoming products?

Weekly Poll: What Will You And i Do?

Weekly Poll for 3-16-2009Wow, there's not a lot of love out there for Resident Evil 5.  I guess I'm in the same boat.  I'm a minor Resident Evil fan at best (the only games in the series I've spent any major time with are Resident Evil 2 and 4), and while I was interested in this new installment, the demo's stubborn controls killed what little enthusiasm I had.  I'll probably rent it eventually, but it's not high on my list.

Moving on, I had the opportunity to get some hands-on time with the new Nintendo DSi recently and came away impressed not so much with the cameras and music player, but with the larger screens and the Game Boy / Game Boy Advance download capabilities.  Several months ago I asked if you had an interest in buying a DSi, and now that more information has come up and the system is coming up on its North American release, I thought I would ask again.  Are you planning on buying a Nintendo DSi?  Let's hear your thoughts.