Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Red Steel Review (minor spoilers)

Disclaimer: The last FPS games I loved were GoldenEye and TimeSplitters 2. I never had an XBox so I haven't played Halo 1 or 2. I also don't have an XBox 360 or gaming PC, so I tend to prefer joypad controls to keyboard and mouse. I find the countless World War II titles littering today's shelves to be somewhat boring. I also don't have my Wii hooked up to a "good" enough TV to care about HD or graphics resolutions (1080p, 780i, HDMI, component… yawn). I care more about good art direction than pixel-perfect photorealism.

Red Steel: a game I bought hoping it would match up to my expectations of GoldenEye, the best console FPS ever and a game whose deathmatch mode I literally played to death, until our N64 controllers' analogue sticks were practically falling out.

My impression of the game having got about halfway through the single-player mode is that it improves a lot once the action reaches Japan, both in terms of graphics and gameplay. The first few LA-set levels seem slightly shoddy compared to later ones, and are decidedly linear. Then you get to Tokyo and you having nice glowing signs, light streaming through windows and bullet holes, more complex levels to explore… It's almost as if the game was originally designed to start out in Japan and the USA levels were added on later without enough time to polish them up to the same standard.

(Either that or the developers focused their attention on the paper screens and neon-soaked streets of Tokyo because they knew that's what they'd be showing off to everyone at E3 and in previews…)

Speaking of neon, as a Japanese speaker I was initially impressed with the attention to detail in the signs and background elements, all in correct Japanese and many of them quite witty (joke company names on signs and the like). However this high standard wasn't maintained throughout as some streets feature signs that have been mirrored, or vertically oriented signs that have been rotated and placed horizontally on buildings. Given the high level of the rest of such parts of the game, one can only assume that this is the fault of a graphics programmer who didn't understand what they were working with. A pedantic point but for a game set in Japan and steeped in that kind of atmosphere, which got so much right, the mistakes stood out even more.

Anyway, getting back on topic: maybe my expectations were lowered by the mixed reviews the game received, but I'm really enjoying it. I think it deserves at least a 7 or 8 out of 10. The controls take a while to get used to but soon become second nature, and I can imagine it will be difficult to go back to dual-analogue.

The sword fight sequences, however, definitely feel tacked on and when they occur right after a checkpoint they can get very annoying to have to play through repeatedly just to get back to the point where you died.

The game was never completely consistent in recognising my slash motions and producing the right move on-screen. It's ironically fitting that the game should place such an emphasis on honour and respect – when a fight can be won at length by wiggling the controllers at random, only players who are honourable enough to "want" a proper fight will have the patience to use the proper moves and combos.

In any case, even given the kind of action movie logic that games of this kind usually subscribe to, it felt stupid to walk around blowing people away with guns, walk into a room where a man is waiting for you with a sword, and be forced to put away the heavy artillery in favour of a blade.

One could argue that you have to be honourable and fight them on their level, or accept their challenge, but even if you do you have the option of being dishonourable and killing them anyway. You should at least sometimes be able to just do an Indiana Jones and pull a gun on the katana-weilding Yakuza and plug them, perhaps at the price of losing some of your respect points. Otherwise it seems like you build up those points by being merciful, but never get to use them. Some kind of system of earning and "spending" respect would have fitted in well with the setting and given the player more freedom to choose their battles. If you built up points through the level by disarming enemies and letting them surrender, you should earn the right to skip the tedious slashfests.

Aside from the sword fighting, my biggest criticism is the lack of multiplayer options. Only having four stages is bizarre given the variety of locations in the main game. Even the four available are a mixed bag. Player characters are limited handful of nondescript bit players (it's as if GoldenEye only let you play as Russian soldiers!). This would not be as much of a sore point if the game didn't have some striking characters in its single player mode, like Mama San Sasori. There is no customisation of weapons or health settings – I would have liked to see a one-shot "Licence To Kill" mode. Speaking of modes, what happened there? Apart from standard and team deathmatch the only other option is not accessible with fewer than four players. Who was able to get their hands on enough remotes and nunchuks for a Killer match??

There was so much potential here to get a great deathmatch game out on the Wii from day one. With Call of Duty 3 lacking any multiplayer at all, it looks like we'll have to wait for Metroid Prime 3 or Virtual Console GoldenEye… wouldn't it be great if they included a Wii Remote/Nunchuk control option in that?

So in conclusion, Red Steel: better than you may have been led to believe but frustratingly short of brilliance. Here's to a much improved sequel!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

PS3 Day One Buzz

Now that I no longer live in Japan, I don't have access to Famitsu (except when other sites upload article scans, which I dutifully translate in situ). So I turn to 2channel (ni-channel) for my Japanese gaming info. This is an anonymous BBS system which is said to be the largest in the world. Rabid fanboys post on 2ch as soon as they hear rumours, buy games and systems etc. so there are already hundreds of posts about the PS3.

Here's a summary of what I've read about it so far (translated from posts so not my phrasing or opinions):

• It's HUGE. The size and shininess give it a big presence. It's heavy, too.
• The XMB menu seems to take a little while to load.
• The wave animation in the menu background is kind of tacky, although that's a matter of taste.
• The network setup is simple.
• The controller is light. L2 and R2 have a lot of give, which feels strange.
• No probs playing PS2 games. Load times are slower than PS2, as is memory card access.
• The browser is VERY slow. I couldn't view sites with movies or Flash.
• After being on for about 15 minutes the console gets hot enough to almost burn you.
• Lots of hot air coming out of the vents. Like the machine at a bowling alley for drying your fingers.
• You have to hold down the touch sensors on the console to power on and off or reset. Maybe to prevent accidents?

Some interesting comments. One poster even said that they couldn't comment on the games because they didn't get any yet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Itadaki Street DS preview

Click on the thumbnails to view full-sized, translated scans from the Famitsu feature on this game.

I've never played any of the Dragon Quest games, so if I have character or location names wrong feel free to let me know. I looked up Wikipedia for the English versions of Trodain and Angelo's name, but I couldn't find any references to Dragon King, Queen of Moonbulk, Volcano of Death or Magic God Statue. These literal names may not be what was used in the localised versions of the relevant games.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

DS Lite Rumble Pak

I ordered mine on the day they were announced and it arrived yesterday. As you can see from the pictures, its matt black finish doesn't look too bad with an Enamel Navy DS Lite. I'd imagine it would look more out of place in a white or blue unit, and blend in perfectly with the upcoming European black unit.

It's exactly the same size as the DS Lite GBA slot protector cartridge, right down to the extended plastic ridge that makes the slot look centred even though it's a little offset to the right.

The unit feels a little heavier than the DS Rumble Pak, but in use it (unfortunately) produces much the same amount of noise, although seemingly slightly higher pitched. The rumble effect is pretty much identical -- in other words, you'll either like it or hate it, and it works best in Metroid Prime Pinball. At 1200 yen (around US$10.70 or £5.70) it's not badly priced for what you get, but don't expect anything as effective as the GameCube or PS2 controller rumble effects. (Click for full-size pictures.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Zen of Wi-Fi

(Translation of article on Famitsu.com)

On 24th March 2006 (US Time) a session titled The Zen of Wi-Fi: A Postmortem of the Wireless Features of Nintendo DS was held at GDC 2006 by Mr Takao Ohara of Nintendo's Development Section. Mr Ohara led development on the "Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection" which kicked off in November 2005. He spoke about the initial development period and current state of the service, as well as things to come.

According to Ohara, in just four months the Wi-Fi Connection has registered over 2.9 million connections from over a million unique users. With the popularity of the service spreading like wildfire, Wi-Fi compatible software titles such as Animal Crossing: Wild World and Mario Kart DS have been huge hits.

Ohara: "Starting with the Famicom Net System in 1988, and continuing with the Super Famicom Satellaview in 1995, the LandNet DD in 1999 and the Mobile System GB in 2001, Nintendo has tried many times to develop an online service, but we did not attract as many users as we thought we would.

"So when we came to develop the Wi-Fi Connection, we used our experience to work towards a goal of being the most used network service in the world, and to have users who buy compatible games try the online component at least once. What is necessary to achieve this? We came to the conclusion that there were four barriers we needed to break down."

Those barriers are difficult setup procedures, the psychological barrier preventing newcomers from joining in games, the unpleasantness of receiving abuse from other players, and the cost barrier. In order to break down all these barriers Nintendo created the Wi-Fi Connection according to the concepts "Simple, Safe, Free".

In actuality, Nintendo has created a service that's easy for anyone to use by instituting such policies as a lack of User ID or password settings, placement of free access points in game stores, limiting online play of Animal Crossing: Wild World to users who have exchanged friend codes, and making the service completely free or charge. All of these concepts were explained in detail at the GDC session, and we will omit most of those details here as there was little new information. However, we would like to share something of interest from Mr Ohara's explanation of the "safe" part of the Wi-Fi concept.

"The original title of the project was "Project House Party". At a house party, you make new acquaintances by meeting friends of friends. We wanted people's networks to expand in this way. This idea developed from the "safe" concept.

Ohara: "Furthermore, we understood that until now a lot of people had been hesitant about playing online games. On the other hand, they weren't so resistant to playing games with people physically beside them, for example, using the wireless adapter in Pokémon Fire Red/Leaf Green to battle and trade monsters. So we thought it would be ideal if playing wireless games online with people far away could feel just the same as playing with them in the same room."

One game that represents the "safe" concept is Animal Crossing: Wild World. This game can only be played online between users who have registered each others' Friend Codes. But not all games are limited to this kind of play. Mario Kart DS also has a mode enabling users to play with anyone around the world. "We think it's important to change the setup to suit each game," Mr Ohara explained.

After explaining the concepts, Mr Ohara said with conviction, "We have broken down all the barriers. We firmly believe that this is the reason the service has become so popular so quickly."

He continued to talk about the initial development of the service.

"It was our plan from the beginning to develop the service globally, so beta testing, too, had to be carried out on a global scale. We tested the service with Mario Kart DS, but with the time differences there would be no-one in the game lobby. We at Nintendo of Japan would come into work early, and the people at Nintendo of America would do overtime (laughs). But we were able to play Mario Kart, so while it was a beta test and work, it was also a lot of fun. The company president, Mr Iwata, also took part in the beta test, but we didn't let him win just because he's the boss. Mr Iwata complained that we wouldn't take it easy on him... (laughs)."

It seems that the Wi-Fi Connection started to take a concrete shape from the beginning of 2005. With no time at all until the launch in November 2005, the project continued under the direct supervision of President Iwata, with meetings taking place twice a week. Mr Iwata attended most of these meetings. "Communication between management and the development team was very fast, so things went smoothly." Ohara continued with a wry smile, "To be honest, though, it made me really nervous to have the company president sitting next to me, so in a way I'm glad those meetings are over!"

And so with Mr Iwata enjoying the beta tests and giving the project his metaphorical seal of approval, the service finally got started on the 14th November 2005. "I think the Wi-Fi Connection probably helped push along the current incredible growth of the Nintendo DS," Ohara stated confidently.

Finally, Mr Ohara gave his perspective on the future of the service.

"By the beginning of 2007 there will be 40 Wi-Fi Connection compatible games in development, including Winning Eleven. In addition to the current player matching capability, we are currently working on expanding the service to include features like item downloads. Of course, we're also working to use this experience to create fun network play on the Revolution."

Mr Ohara revealed to us after the session that Nintendo plans to begin item downloads in April, and said we'd have to wait and see what kind of items will be available. With the success of the DS Wi-Fi Connection under Nintendo's belt, we can be sure the Revolution will have a fun network component. Nintendo is working to create a network service that will continue for many years.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

PSP Katamari preview

Click on the prince to see a full-size translated scan of Famitsu's preview of the game.

"Like Father, Like Son" refers, of course, to the PS2 and PSP versions.

The game's title is Boku no watashi no Katmari Damashii. Both boku no and watashi no mean my, but the former is used exclusively by boys, and the latter can be used by both sexes in some situations but informally is mostly used by girls.

This style of saying both together is similar to the form "his/her" in English, and is often used in schools. So the English translation is simply My Katamari Damacy, but you might like to be aware of the subtle nuance in the Japanese which makes it perhaps slightly cuter or childlike (in a good way).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Interview with Game Boy Micro developer Kenichi Sugino

UPDATE: This is the complete interview.

The Game Boy Micro is currently under frenzied development, with a view to an Autumn release, but there has been surprisingly little information made available. So, we interviewed the developer about the Micro's current stage of development, its original concept, and we got lots of previously unreleased information. Take a look!

Kenichi Sugino joined Nintendo the year the original Game Boy was released, and has been involved with the development of every portable console release by Nintendo since.

Famitsu: First of all, please tell us the idea behind the development of the Micro.
Sugino: The theme was "Can we make it smaller and lighter than the Game Boy Advance?" In making a GBA that was more portable than the SP and of a higher build quality, we wanted to have people who had stopped playing games, or had never played them in the first place, to enjoy games again. Of course, we are also aiming for customers who have already played on the GBA and SP. We want lots of people to think "This is something I want to touch", so we've taken care in many areas [with the design].

Famitsu: Can you tell us exactly what you mean by that?
Sugino: When you make the system smaller, it becomes more portable, right? But you can't just shrink the size. We wanted to think carefully about the feeling you get the moment you pick it up, so we used aluminium -- not just to make it smaller, but as a vital part of making different versions of the unit. Also, by changing the faceplates you get a very different look, even though the unit colour is the same, and I think that's a very important point.

Famitsu: It's certainly great to be able to change the faceplate to one's preferred design.
Sugino: Well, the faceplates also have another important function besides allowing the user to change the look of the unit.

Famitsu: What's that?
Sugino:Well, the SP closes shut and protects the screen, but (and this is a huge point) the Micro is not a clamshell design, so it will be easier to damage the screen. Of course, the faceplates are made to be scratch-resistant, but it isn't possible to keep them completely scratch-free. So you can change the plates [if they get scratched].

Not only that, but it's more fun to be able to change the pattern to something different than what it was when you bought the system.

Also, we're considering including a carrying case with the Micro in order to prevent damage to the unit as much as possible.

Famitsu: There must be many benefits in using aluminium.
Sugino: If we were justing making the Game Boy smaller and lighter, other metals would work just as well, for example magnesium. But aluminium was best suited to increasing the quality feeling of the product, and for producing colour variations and other improvements... as befits the original concept for the unit.

In the previous GBA generations we've been limited to painting the unit and the buttons different colours, which was disappointing for us, but in keeping with the idea of a high class unit, we've been able to make it easier tp produce different variations. This has increased the cost, but we can do many things we couldn't before.

Famitsu: So the concept is different from previous portable consoles.
That's right. We're attaching great importance to making people want to own this device. That will be reflected in the difference in cost compared to the Game Boy Advance series...

Famitsu: Can you mention any other differences between the Micro and the previous offerings in the GBA series? For example, the fact that the lettering on the A and B buttons is in small letters.
We decided to change to small letters for design considerations. We used rubber switch buttons. [n.b.: also used in the GBA.] Incidentally, the SP used tact switch buttons. We tried out both kinds, but at this size of unit the rubber switches were somewhat easier to use.

There are other differences apart from the buttons, such as the fact that there is no power light. When you switch on the Game Boy Micro, the Start and Select buttons light up blue momentarily, and when the battery is running low they will glow red continuously. So these buttons carry out the functions of a power light.

Famitsu: Is that so! Do they only turn blue when turning the unit on?
Yes. We had considered having them constantly lit up while the unit was on, but that would run the battery down.

Famitsu: Speaking of battery-related issues, will the power adapter be proprietary for the Micro? The socket has gotten smaller...
Yes, it's Micro-only. As with the SP, the battery is removable, which has a great effect on the environmental friendliness of the unit. Nintendo consoles are kind to the Earth (laugh).

Famitsu: I see (laugh). The built-in backlight is a great feature, and makes games very easy to see.
Thank you. The backlight has four brightness levels.

Famitsu: That's convenient. Is the LCD the same as the one in the GBA?
It's the same as previous GBA series LCDs, but smaller and more dense.

Famitsu: You can still read text on the smaller screen, and it's just so bright!
We spent a lot of time wondering how small we could make the screen as well as the whole unit. For one thing, the cartridge size is already set. We would have liked to make thinner cartridges, but we can't start making new ones that only work with the Micro. It was a lot of work to make it mini-sized while taking advantage of the fact that players already own many GBA games.

The details were difficult too, like folding the cartridge slot towards the inner side so as to avoid finger injuries [see note below]. It's important to consider safety issues like these when making the hardware so small.

Famitsu: We've been shown many variations on the hardware colours and faceplate designs. Have any of these been confirmed for release?
No, the ones shown were designed independently by members of my development staff. For instance, a young staff member made the hanafuda [see note below] faceplate without my knowledge.

Famitsu: Really?!
Yes, he brought it to a senior developer and said "I made this, what do you think?". The response was something like, "Hmm... cool!" (laugh).

The hardware variations you've seen were also designed by my team, and we're currently studying which of these and other, as yet unannounced variations to release.

Famitsu: The feel of the unit will differ from person to person, but it certainly looks set to divide opinion

Please give us a final message.
When you look at someone playing a game on a mobile phone, it always looks very fiddly and hard to play. I play these games myself and I feel that the interface is very troublesome. But the fact that people play games on mobile phones means that they do like games themselves. I think the Game Boy Micro is a console we can proudly show to people like this and ask them, "How about something like this to play on?". Development has come along very well so far, but all the staff are trying out best to make the finished product even better, so you can look forward to it.


Translator's Notes:

Hanafuda [lit. "flower cards"] are traditional Japanese playing cards. Nintendo was originally a hanafuda company. You can see the Game Boy Micro hanafuda faceplate prototypes at Engadget.

Without being able to see an actual Game Boy Micro up close, I can't be sure what Mr Sugino means by "folding the cartridge slot towards the inner side". When more details become clear, it may turn out that fold was not the right sense of the Japanese verb he used. If anyone has any ideas on what this might mean, please post a comment. His original Japanese statement was 内側に折り曲げる.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Band Brothers Expansion Cartridge

Nintendo has announced that a GBA cartridge containing extra songs for music game Band Brothers will be released some time this year, and that fans of the game can vote for their favourite songs to be included. The release date and price will be revealed on 11th August.

This is the first use so far of the GBA slot to provide expansion for DS titles, and shows the great potential the system has. As long as the original DS card is designed with expansion in mind, this could be used to offer new maps for first person shooters and strategy games such as Advance Wars, new puzzles for games like Polarium, and something like Meteos could even have new planets and characters.

Game Boy Advance cartridges are, of course, not very big in terms of storage, so I don't think anything as ambitious as PC game expansion packs would be possible. But this is a very interesting development, and it begs the question: will a similar scheme be implemented in the West? In fact, the original game has yet to be released outside Japan, so by the time it comes out Nintendo may have been able to include the expansion pack songs in the DS card.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

DS Download Service

Recently started here in Japan is this service allowing DS owners to get new data for their games or trial versions of upcoming titles, simply by standing in the right area of a shop!

Link to Japanese site

I recently went to Sofmap at Kyoto Station, and was able to download six new songs for Band Brothers (Jam With The Band), which included the theme tune from the recently released Catch! Touch! Yoshi! (Yoshi Touch & Go). Even better was the trial version of Meteos, a puzzle game from the creator of Lumines on the PSP. It was fun, although I wasn't 100% sure what I was supposed to be doing. But I'm definitely more interested in buying it now that I've had a go. There was also a trial version of Intuitive Stroke (Polarion), but I already own the game.

As you would expect, the trial versions only run until you turn off the system power, but with the hardware sleep function I could load the demo and close the system, put it in my bag and play it when I got home.

There doesn't seem to be a similar service for the PSP, although it's certainly perfectly feasible as both systems use the same wireless protocol. I hope to see more DS content available soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

New DS Colours

Nintendo will release four coloured editions of the Nintendo DS this spring. On th 24th March, the Graphite Black and Pure White editions are released, while 21st April sees the Candy Pink and Turquoise Blue versions. I don't intend to change to a new one just for the sake of it, but I would fancy a white or blue one...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Still Alive

...and reading Famitsu every week but there hasn't been anything really worth translating. With the release of the DS came several weeks of interviews and features, but things have been fairly quiet recently. Thanks to 4 Colour Rebellion for mentioning my site. I may get around to putting up a translation of the article from which they have posted a scan, about the simulation RPG coming to the DS. If anyone is directed here from 4 Colour Rebellion, please leave a comment and say what you think of the site!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

PSP Launch [17th December Issue]

Famitsu covers the PSP launch on the 12th December, reporting on the massive queues seen at Tokyo's major shopping areas. Night-time temperatures of below 5°C (41°F) didn't deter dedicated gamers from lining up to being among the first in the world to own the coveted handheld. Your humble reporter suggests that maybe it wasn't worth the effort to be able to play Everybody's Golf on the train, but each to his own.

The longest queue for each area are noted next to the place names, although the scenes described in the article aren't necessarily the places which had the longest queue figures. Text in square brackets and italics is my comments, the rest is translated from the article. Oh, and I rearranged them in ascending order of queue size, so 300 people is the smallest!

Shibuya (300 people)

[Tokyo's busiest shopping area, the place for young people to go in their free time. This is the area seen in Lost In Translation with the giant screens on the buildings, one of which was displaying a CG dinosaur in the movie.]

Unlike the electronics districts, long queues generally don't form at Shibuya. However, today was different. At 5:30am, there were a hundred people outside Tsutaya [major, country-wide chain of video/DVD/CD/game rental/sales outlets, with the Shibuya branch being one of the biggest], and by 6:50am, there were more than two hundred and fifty. Sony CEO Ken Kutaragi appeared for the countdown event.

Akihabara (660 people)

[Nicknamed Electric Town, you could (and I often did) spend days browsing its many new and second-hand shops, which have everything from the very latest cameras and music players, to rack after rack of old NES and SNES games, many in as-new condition, most selling for less than £5/$8, alhtough some rare/popular ones go for almost as much as games for current consoles.

The best thing about Akihabara is the scale of the place. Most electronics shops have one floor with different sections, or a building with each floor selling different things. Stores in Akihabara span multiple buildings. Yodobashi Camera has eight. Eight! You ask a shop assistant where the digital cameras are, and he directs you No. 6, the camera building. Because you're in No. 2, the TV/video building. Then he gives you a map so you can find it. It's really cool.]

Akihabara, lined with buildings filled with major stores.The first to open was Asobit City Building One. Almost three hundred people queued up, starting in the middle of the night. By 6am, the queue stretched about three hundred metres, reaching Akihabara station. There were many expert queuers among the people at Akihabara, who had brought sleeping bags and other things to keep warm, and various items to keep themselves amused.

Yurakucho (800 people)

[To be honest, I'd never heard of this district until I read this article...]

People started gathering at Bic Camera at 6pm on the 11th, and by 6:30am the next morning, there were more than five hundred in the queue. The numbers increased a lot from the time of the last train at 1am. There were many men in their twenties to forties, and women in their twenties to thirties, probably because of the shop's location in the business area of Yurakucho. [Note that women still in the business world are assumed not to have reached their forties, because most Japanese women marry well before their thirties, and stop working when they do.]

Ikebukuro (1200 people)

Bic Camera Ikebukuro, the Mecca of release-day queues! At 5am there were three hundred people, but by opening time this had increased to twelve hundred! The countdown started at 6:55am, and the store opened with a decorative ball full of streamers being popped. The wave of people seeking PSPs, which didn't thin out for a while after opening, was unforgettable.

And finally (you thought 1200 would be the most?)...

Shinjuku (1500 people)

[Shinjuku is Tokyo's busiest station, with more than two million people passing through it every day. Part of the Beastie Boys' Intergalactic video was filmed in Shinjuku Station and on a Japan Rail train.

Interestingly, if you watch the video you'll notice that no-one in the station or on the train reacts to three foreigners dressed like, and acting like, mental patients in front of a camera crew. But the Boys (as I like to call them) didn't ask permission to film or have the train filled with actors. People are just too polite to react to this kind of thing.]

When we arrived at Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku branch at 2:30am, therewere already more than eight hundred people waiting! Shortly before opening time at 6am, around fifteen hundred people had flooded the area. The manager told us "This is the biggest panic we've been in at this shop in years!"

The man at the front of the line had been there since 11am the previous day. Wearing only a light jacket, he shivered as he waited for the PSP to go on sale. Just before opening time, over a hundred reporters showed up, waiting to capture the moment.

Friday, December 17, 2004


This is a masterpiece I drew at work, barely bothering to try to look like I was doing something important. I like it and couldn't bear to see it vanish when I turned the DS off.

Malkovich Malkovich? Malkovich.

PS, yes I do use Pictochat on my own. Just drawing is fun!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I Would Die For You Interview

Interview with Yojiro Ogawa (producer) and Takumi Yoshinaga (director).

The title and graphical style of the game are very individualistic and unique, aren't they?

We wanted to make it so that you would know it was this game just by looking at one screenshot. We also endeavoured to make the music something that you don't usually hear in other games.
We had a lot of trouble deciding on the title. We considered many others, such as Electric Love, Love Touch, and Silhouette Love.

Was there anything you had to take special care with in making a game composed of many smaller games?

Yes, making it easy to get into the game and get used to the touch screen. Then, later, gradually making the games more difficult while keeping with what the player had learned how to do.
Ogawa At first we thought about pitching the game to diehard gamers and making it pretty difficult, but in the end we shifted to making it fun even for people who don't play games very often.

What are your favourite missions in the game?

The goldfish. It's the first one I thought up.
I like the final mission. I won't spoil it, but I hope everyone gets a chance to play it.

We imagine there must have been many difficulties developing for new hardware. Was this the case?

It was a tempest of trial and error. We had particular trouble setting the tempo and flow of the game, with the intro comic strips, break sections and everything.
With the dual screens and touch panel, everything was new and we couldn't use our old know-how.
But the staff were very energetic. Everyone was coming up with ideas, saying "We can do this, how about this"? We also had a lot of help from other sections [in the company], so we were somehow able to finish the game.

Please tell us the game's selling points.

The fun you have with the DS at the minute will be increased by four, no, eight times! It uses the touch screen really well, so go ahead and try it!
If you want to use the capabilities of the new console to the full, please try this game. It's really enjoyable and couples can have a lot of fun playing it in their moments of spare time!

Mr Miyamoto's Smile [10th December Issue]

Article by Hirokazu Hamamura. He writes a column every week in Famitsu; this is No. 147. It is not noted when the article was written, but since it was published shortly after the DS was released, it can be assumed to have been written within the past month or so. There are references to preorders but not sales figures, and some "revelations" that are fairly well known by now, such as the instant sleep mode. It's a good read nonetheless.

I went to Nintendo to meet with Shigeru Miyamoto. He seemed to be in high spirits, and his smiling face left a lasting impression on me.

The Nintendo DS is doing very well. Nintendo first planned to sell one million units by the end of the year, in a period of about a month. But preorders for the machine have reached two million units already! That's a great start for a new console. But Mr Miyamoto wasn't smiling because of numbers like these. Rather, as a creator, he was experiencing the joy of knowing that a new idea of his has been realised.

"Most games these days get six or eight out of ten, don't they?", Mr Miyamoto says, lamenting the state of the industry. This is the so-called typical score. Games that are fully formed and well made, with few bad points, but nothing that stands out either. Players try them, play them for a while, but are soon finished with them.

There weren't many games like this in the heyday of the Famicom [NES] and Super Famicom [SNES]. At one time there was a wide range of quality in games, from three points up to ten out of ten. There were badly made games that would result in angry comments like "This isn't even finished!", and there were superb games that surprised you and made you feel like your eyes had been opened to something new. Good and bad alike, most games had lots of ideas and surprises.

"I want to make games that surprise you from the moment you touch them." Mr Miyamoto's eyes light up as he says this.

The DS puts a new face on game control. By choosing to dispose of the "D-Pad/A/B" gaming language that it made, Nintendo is trying to create a new gaming world. Dual screens, touch panel, voice control, wireless communication: with these, Nintendo aims to return both developers' ideas and gamers' skills to zero. By resetting everything, a new landscape unfolds before us. Hearing this, Mr Miyamoto says that he feels as if he can see innumerable blank canvases spread in front of him. What kind of masterpieces will he draw on them? This itself is a worry to him.

"With every console until now, players had their own predictions of the way things would be, and our job was mostly to meet their expectations," says Mr Miyamoto. "But now we have many things they couldn't have possibly predicted in store, and when I think about which one to make first, I get a big grin on my face!"

Band Brothers [Jam With The Band]. Nintendogs. Pictochat. We have already seen some of the games from Mr Miyamoto's new "store", but his creations don't stop with games. For example, the strap attached to the DS is a Miyamoto creation.

On first glance, it appears to be an ordinary carrying strap, but look closer and there's a rounded piece of plastic on the end. Slip your thumb into the loop and the plastic is held tightly against it. "This is actually a stylus," Mr Miyamoto explains. Touching the screen, I was able to control the action very smoothly. It's less hassle than taking out the pen stylus, and the screen doesn't get dirty [like when you use a finger].

"Handy, isn't it? It's another of my inventions." You make this kind of thing by yourself?

"Ah, there's something else I'd like you to see before you go," Miyamoto says, producing a unit running Super Mario 64 DS. Yes, I know about this game already. "Try closing the lid on the DS." What? You don't want me to play it?

I close the lid and straight away a voice says "Bye bye!". It's Mario. Open it again and he says "It's-a me, Mario!". Wow! What is this?

"When you close the lid, it automatically goes into sleep mode. Leave it like that and the battery lasts for two whole weeks." Hey, that's amazing! "There's something more amazing," he replies.

"It's called 'pass-by communication'. If you're walking down the street and you pass by someone else with a DS [in sleep mode], the two machines communicate with each other. The data in the game you're playing changes, and fun things happen." Wow! I had no idea this was possible!

"Ah, but there's something even better. You see, …"

My conversation with Mr Miyamoto, who seems to be enjoying himself, goes on like this for quite some time.

Nintendo's Famicom brought video games into the world. What spread games across the globe and created a now huge industry, was Mario, and other Miyamoto games since then. You could say that Shigeru Miyamoto is the father of games. In fact, it wouldn't be an over-statement to say that he is the God of Games. We haven't yet grasped what kind of new pleasures await us in this new world he has created from scratch.

You see, the God of Games is happy. And the Earth that is created from that happiness will surely be a world filled with wonder and joy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Intuitive Stroke Checkmate Puzzles

Remember the days when battery back-up was not very common, and most games instead used a password system to let you record your progress? (If I recall correctly, The Legend Of Zelda was the first NES/Famicom game to include real back-up.)

These passwords were often four-line, alphanumberic pictograph monstrosities, and I'm sure many a veteran gamer remembers the pain of losing their progress to badly transcribed passwords and the fact that the low-resolution graphics on the NES often made it difficult to distinguish between some letters and numbers. Some games had other weird symbols, making it a nightmare to have a friend read out the password for you to copy down... "capital A, seven, three, heart, smiley face..."

Ah, but memory gets the better of me. My point was that Intuitive Stroke has a create-a-puzzle mode that, of course, allows you to send and recieve original puzzles wirelessly. But it also has a decidedly retro password system, which I find interesting as it means you don't have to be anywhere near the other person to get puzzles from them. The passwords are three lines of ten digits each, which may sound long, but entering them on the touch-screen number pad is a breeze.

It would be cool to send your fiendish creations to friends by e-mail or text message. But even cooler are these puzzles that Famitsu created and published the passwords for!


This feature is, of course, nothing that couldn't be implemented on other systems. But the key point here is that it doesn't take more than twenty seconds to enter a password. On any other system (funny how consoles can now be divided into those with touch screens and those without) this would entail D-Padding around an on-screen number pad and entering each one.

(For that matter, the game itself would of course be possible on any other system, even the old Game Boy technically speaking, but the ease of play afforded by sweeping the pen quickly and accurately around the play area in one stroke is unique to the DS.)

All this made me realise something about the possibilites the DS allows, something that I didn't even think about until I tried it for myself. That is, the ability of developers to simulate almost any input device using the touchscreen!

There are racing games, both on sale and in the works, that have a steering wheel that you can control with the pen or your hand. Pictochat, the built-in chat software, has an on-screen keyboard that you can use to type out messages, and it's almost faster than writing them if you can touch-type. There are card-based mini-games in Super Mario 64 DS that involve choosing matching pairs, and being able to select cards directly makes the game go much faster.

Probably the best example of this is the forthcoming Retro Atari Classics compilation, which faithfully reproduces the trackball of Missile Command, the strange aircraft-like controls of Lunar Lander, amongst others.

Exciting, don't you think? Now I'm off to try and create a few decent puzzles of my own. I'll put up the passwords if/when I succeed.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Intuitive Stroke Interview

An interview with two of the minds behind this excellent Japanese launch title: Hiroshi Sato (Nintendo Project Development Department, Acting Section Chief) and Satoshi Yoshinaga (a member of the same department, so I suppose Sato is his boss).

Please tell us how you came to make this game.

The game Intuitive Stroke was thought up by a company called Mitchell.
They mostly make puzzle games for the service industry.
When we first asked them if they would consider making a game for a portable console, they said that puzzle games can't be made until you come up with a good concept They said they would try but they didn't know how long it would take. But they thought that they might have some ideas that they had rejected making themselves, but that might be suitable for a console like ours. However, when we looked at those, we turned all of them down! (laughs) We first saw Intuitive Stroke in its original form about six months after asking Mitchell for an idea.

There was a lot of impact in having the screen purely made up of black and white.

We felt it worked with black and white, and made that our objective. We thought if we had added Nintendo characters or created new ones, the game kind of lost its impact.

When you come to play it, it's very addictive, and you could just keep on going continuously, don't you think?

I think the thing people find most interesting at first is the Checkmate Mode, don't you think? [Note: This mode has static puzzles with no time limit, that you must solve in one stroke. The main game is "live" like Tetris, with pieces falling down the screen, and the game is over if the upper screen fills up to the top.] There are a hundred puzzles to solve, and you can make your own very easily too.

What else about the game do you think is appealing?

You can send a trial version of the game [using the DS Wireless functionality] to people who don't have it. It contains the tutorial mode in full and ten Checkmate puzzles, so you can play it for quite a while.

People who own it will become like salesmen for the game, won't they?

Yes, we want them to spread the game gradually [throughout the community].

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Super Mario 64 DS Interview

Super Mario 64 DS Director Shinichi Ikematsu, who also has credits on games like Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Pikmin 2 is interviewed by Famitsu about this "special game that's stuffed with new features!".

Did you make sure the game would be ready for release alongside the hardware?

Yes, we always intended to keep that deadline. The game is based on Super Mario 64, but in order that not only newcomers but people who already know SM64 well be able enjoy the game, we kept adding more and more new elements.

Specifically: the player controls not just Mario, but Yoshi, Luigi and Wario as well, and since they each have different abilities, the player must use them appropriately to advance. There are new courses, and new stars and bosses added to old ones. There are so many new things, I couldn't possibly go into detail about all of them! Even people who played the original will be able to have a new experience with this game, with the changes and additions to the old courses.

Also, because there aren't many things to do with touch control in the main game, we compensated by adding minigames which use the touch screen in many fun ways. We also used the Wireless Play capability to allow four people to play using only one cartridge. We wanted to show off the many things the DS can do, so we dwere certain we wanted to meet the hardware launch deadline.

The Nintendo DS is a new way of playing games, so we wanted to use Super Mario 64 DS to let many people experience it.

That's quite a lot [of things to do in the game].

There is a lot in the game, but another of its selling points is that you can pick it up and play any time. This is similar to what I said before, but we have added vastly to the original version of Super Mario 64, including lots of minigames where you use the touch pen to draw, pull, and many other actions. You can have plenty of fun just with the minigames. I think it's a good game for people who have bought a Nintendo DS and want to pick it up and have a quick go of something, but also sometimes want to play something deeper for longer.

Just playing the main game with the touch screen is a new experience in and of itself, isn't it?

You can play it with the D-Pad, but please do try using the touch screen. It's a new kind of experience, so I recommend it. With Super Mario 64 DDS in particular, we recommend using the Touch Strap.

You recommend the Touch Strap?

The Touch Strap took a lot of trial and error [to develop], but Miyamoto really kept at it, and after many experimental versions, we finally produced the finished product.

Oh, so it was Mr Miyamoto's idea?

Yes. Not only that, but he followed it through until completion. Even just the pointer part [on the end of the pen] went through several designs, and after trying them out he settled on the design [seen in the finished product].

There's a lot behind this item than many will think is simply an accessory! It seems we've just heard a valuable inside story
I'd like a lot of people to try out controlling Super Mario 64 DS with the Touch Strap. It's something you have to try for yourself!

Sawaru Made In Wario Interview

Lots of interviews this week with the launch of the DS! This time it's the three head honchos responsible for overseeing the development of Sawaru Made In Wario. They are Yoshio Sakamato (Manager of Project Development at Nintendo, creator of the Metroid series), Nakata Yuichi (Main Director on Sawaru), and Abe Goro (Made In Wario Series Director, his name is not pronounced to rhyme with Babe, but ah-bay).

About how big is this game?

There are more than 180 micro-games, divided into nine genres. There are also about 30 toy items, similar to the capsules in Mawaru Made In Wario.

Were there any difficulties using the touch panel?

It had to be made so that players would know what to do [in each game], whether they were used to playing games or not. That was the most difficult part, and the first thing we thought about.
Yes, because there are a lot of ways of controlling [the games]. Some you just touch the screen, some you draw something, others you slide a little, scratch, turn... there are quite a few.
We've made it so that at first, you can tell what you have to do as soon as you look at each game. But later, you have to think about and use all the different things you've done so far.

This applies to the whole series, but the artwork has a special "flavour" to it, doesn't it?

We tried within a certain limit to draw it that way. There are some pictures in the game done by a certain former designer who can't draw well at all... me! (laughs)

Finally, could you tell our readers the selling points of the game?

I like to think that Sawaru Made In Wario is the best of the launch titles for learning how to use the touch screen in different ways. That's what I felt the purpose was when making it. Please have fun with this new kind of "touch control."
I think that if you play this game, you will think that the Nintendo DS is a great machine. But this is not all the DS has to offer. It's like we're saying, "This is what we're showing you for now…". We certainly think there are many more great things ahead.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Twelve Stars of the DS (3rd December issue)

This special feature has information on all twelve launch titles, interviews with the creators of the titles and the DS itself, and other snippets. I intend to translate the interviews if they prove suitably interesting, but for this post I'll be translating and commenting on "Check! DS". This part of the feature is spread across the bottoms of the pages, with short sections emphasising the DS's most notable features: Double Screen, Touch Pen, Double Slot, System Settings, Pictochat, Touch Strap, Battery Pack, Sleep Mode, DS Wireless Play, DS Download Play, Power Lights and Microphone (phew!). Some of the more interesting points made:

Double Slot: "With some DS games, you can receive special items if you have certain GBA games plugged into the GBA slot while you play."

I can confirm that if you play Sawaru Made In Wario while the GBA's Mawaru Made In Wario is plugged in, you get a new "toy" in your collection (you usually get them by achieving certain goals in the DS game). When selected, the info text for this toy says "A special present to you for buying Mawaru Made In Wario!". It's a watchable music video featuring the song from the Mona level in Mawaru MIW.

Touch Strap: "Of course, you can use it like a normal strap [as well as a controller], killing two birds with one stone."

The adage used is exactly the same in Japanese!

Sleep Mode: "The DS can be put to sleep simply by closing the unit. Opening it again resumes the game from where you left it. If you're playing on the train, you don't need to fiddle with buttons to reach sleep mode, so there's no need to hurry when it gets near your stop."

This is actually the first thing I thought of when I learned of the Sleep Mode as well, as I often get "in the zone" when playing games on the train. When I realise the train has stopped and I have about 10 seconds to gather my stuff and get out, I often just about make it through the doors before they close on me. They're very strict here with timing, as the trains are famously punctual. If the timetable says 10.59, you'd better believe it and don't think about turning up at 11.00. On the rare occasions when the trains are delayed by as little as a minute, knocking the entire schedule off a bit, they apologise on the P.A. at every single stop!

Anyway, I've used my DS on the train quite a few times and can attest to Sleep Mode's usefulness. The fact that it's built in to the hardware is great, as only some GBA games had this feature (Metroid: Zero Mission comes to mind), and it often required digging down into a few menus to activate.

DS Wireless Play: "You shouldn't use it in hospitals or on public transport."

What?! Hospitals is fine, but I was looking forward to spotting another DS owner on a train and striking up a game of something or a chat!

You see, they make announcements all the time on trains telling you to keep your mobile phone in Manner mode (silent/vibration). But they have priority seats that you're supposed to let the elderly sit in, and you aren't even allowed to have your mobile switched on when standing near those seats, as it might interfere with some people's pacemakers.

I don't really think anyone actually turns their phone off in those areas, but someone once told me he got a call while standing next to an old man, and when he answered it the man starting beating him with his cane and clutching at his (presumbaly) failing heart. This story may have been a lie, though.

Microphone: "The first time a portable game machine has come with a built-in microphone. It's possible to play a game using your voice or handclaps. Also, in games like Sawaru MIW and I Would Die For You, you can blow into the microphone to control parts of the game. It looks like there will also be more and more games using voice recognition, like the upcoming Nintendogs [working title]."

The blow-recognition, as it were, is suprisingly sensitive. There's a game in Sawaru MIW (that title is pretty cumbersome, even when abbreviated, but I refuse to call it WarioWare: Touched!) where a woman falls from the top of the upper screen, and there's a man on the bottom screen facing upwards (if you catch my drift), and you have to blow to keep her up. I had thought it would probably be on/off and not very intelligent, so as long as you blow or make a loud noise it would activate the man blowing in the game. But only blowing makes it work! Furthermore, it's very analogue. There's a toy in the same game that simulates a ball-in-the-cup type toy, and if you blow very gently the ball just about hovers out of the cup. A big blast of air sends it flying to the top screen.

This will sound like a Nintendo press release, but it really is a totally new experience to control something in a game in such a natural way. There's no abstraction of actions to buttons. Blow harder, and the wind chimes (to use another Sawaru MIW toy example) make more noise. Poke a balloon with the pen and it pops. It's quite a magical experience, even for a wizened old gaming veteran like your reporter. More importantly, it makes perfect sense, and things in the games behave as you would expect them to -- like real objects. (Of course, realistic behaviour will depend to some extent on how well-programmed each game is, but the hardware capabilities are certainly there.)

You can see what Shigeru Miyamoto is on about when he says he wants to make games "something for everyone again." No longer will you give a game to your granny or someone to try, and watch them fumble as you explain "Press B to shoot. No, B! The other button! But you have to move or the other man will get you!" Is it any wonder that the last game I remember my parents really playing was Super Mario Brothers on the NES, back when games had the D-Pad and two other action buttons?

There's a Japanese lady who's probably in her fifties, who sits at the desk next to me in the staffroom of the school I'm visiting at the time of writing. She saw me playing the DS at lunchtime the day after I got it, and I gave her a go. Now when she sees me she asks "Have you got your game with you today?" and has a go. She likes drawing a picture and then moving it around and playing with it, which you can do on the title screen of Super Mario 64 DS. She also had a good laugh with Sawaru Made In Wario, scratching Wario's back and making a big nose sneeze.

If only Mr Miyamoto could see her, eh? (sniff)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Miyamoto Interview

I've left the previous link in place to make the interview easy to download, but here it is in full. (It took a while to reformat it so that all the bold and italics would look right on the web. That's HTML.) ---------------

From the announcement of the DS until now, there have been more than 2 million units pre-ordered. This is more than can possibly be shipped before the end of the year. What are your thoughts on that?

First, we announced the DS in January. Then at E3 in May, when users were able to experience it themselves for the first time, I felt there was a huge response.

It was incredible, wasn't it? There were waiting times of an hour and a half to play on a DS.

There were, weren't there? (laughs) But when I came home to Japan and asked my kids, they said "What's the DS?". So at that time the name had not yet become well known because the DS was originally designed to broaden the user base for games and it was entering into a new market that wasn't there before. In that way, people were not ready for the information [about the DS]. So I think that we are really fortunate to have this many pre-orders and such a sense of anticipation.

[Nintendo President] Mr Iwata said that until now, games have been using the "D-Pad and A & B buttons" system, and with the DS has introduced a dramatically new and completely different control method with the touchscreen and the microphone.

Well, the DS has a D-Pad too, but we thought about removing it many times during its development. But we realised that our customers already own many old games, and it's surprisingly not well known that the DS can also play GameBoy Advance software.

The DS seems to reflect the strong feeling gamers have that the the game industry is in a crisis in its current state.

If you look at the world, it's divided into those who play games and those who don't. There is a feeling of a crisis because back in the Famicom [NES] days, everyone was playing games.

Because it was still new to everyone.

Yes, yes! (laughs) At that time simply saying "I've made a Super Mario game got a huge reaction and people were very interested. It was like they said "Aaah!". But now, when I say I've made a Mario game, it's more like "Ah." (smiles wryly)

Because I still have a desire to express myself [through creating games], I wanted to use the DS to make games something that's for everybody again, if just for a time.

Didn't that require a lot of courage? The "D-Pad and A & B buttons" system is a culture that Nintendo originally created. To turn away from that and create something new...

Perhaps I, personally, was tired of that play style. I thought that games using that system have a limit to what you can do with them. To think that and then just increase the number of buttons makes things more complicated. Having felt this way since back in the N64 era, I've been creating games like Donkey Konga: Jungle Beat, Mario Party 6 [GC game that comes with a microphone accessory and uses players' voices and other sounds to control the minigames], and Yoshi's Universal Gravitation [GBA game using rotation sensor similar to Mawaru Made In Wario].

The DS has two screens, one of which is a touchscreen. We can try things we've never tried before. From a game design perspective, there are many games where we've started making it, and then realised that just using the stylus to control the game is enough.


We've come round to a great situation. There are games like Super Mario 64 DS, which take an old style and make it easier to play on a powerful, portable machine, but these are not the kind of games we are using to sell the machine.

The crucial point of the DS is that it is completely different to what has come before it. This means that we are not stopping GameBoy Advance development. I see the prospect that both systems can exist side by side.

So you're saying that the DS is not a successor to the GameBoy Advance?

No, not in our minds.

Oh, really?

Yes. Since it is the next step for portable game machines, it's not wrong to call it a high-powered GameBoy Advance, but it's not a successor. We want to do things with the DS that we can't do with either the GameCube or the Game Boy Advance.

Everyone who tries
Pictochat, which is built into the DS, has said they really like it.
Yes, they certainly have. I want to promote it more.

The act of drawing a picture and sending it is very fresh and fun.

Yes. When someone says "Draw such-and-such" it suddenly gets very interesting (laughs). For example, "Draw Mario!" or something, and so-and-so's picture is good, or you add things on to someone's drawying... the ways of playing it can expand a lot.

Nintendogs [working title] is being talked about a lot amongst the editorial staff here. The concept is different than the kind of games we've seen until now, isn't it?
I was worried that it wasn't really a game, but then I realised that it doesn't have to be. People just want something fun. It's just that if a game is fun, they want to play more games. So at [the event where the public could try out the DS and games], Nintendogs was very popular with women and also with players in a very broad age range.

Yeah, yeah...

Playing music in Band Brothers is also a lot of fun, because it really uses the microphone capabilities by allowing you to create music by humming, and you can send the music you make to friends. [note: it doesn't record you humming, but uses the hum to set the pitch and puts that on screen in musical notation form. The music is played by your choice of instrument, so the humming is a way of skipping the mobile-phone-like tedium of composing melodies on the buttons.] [one or two lines skipped because they were vague and meaningless and impossible to translate]

So will there be many games like this?

On ordinary game consoles, there is a lot of work to be done making games that respond to customers' expectations, but now we have many games in store that no-one will even able to predict. We're really laughing a lot when we try to decide which one to make first! (laughs)

Those are powerful words.

This is why we've been saying since last year to people who are struggling with game design, come to the DS! Don't you think that "communication without talking" sounds interesting? Put your DS in your bag, and it will communicate on its own with others in a 30 metre radius, and different things will happen in the software.

That's revolutionary! The DS is a machine that will offer previously unseen new control methods and ideas, isn't it?

Yes! (laughs)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Issue 834 (26th November 2004)

Famitsu this week presents a four-page interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, probably the world's most famous game designer. Click here to read a translation of the part of the interview discussing the new Nintendo DS (other sections involved the GC and GBA, the new Zelda, and Nintendo's next-generation console codenamed Revolution.

Sega has two double-page spreads of adverts for Kimi No Tame Nara Shineru, which translated as I Would Die For You, but has been given the abysmal English title Feel The Magic: XY/XX. What the Christ were they thinking? Anyway, the adverts are very striking and make good use of the game's unique graphical style.

Launch Lineup Reviews

Here are the scores for the most interesting of the Japanese launch games (some others were reviewed).

Trainee Doctor Tendo Dokuta
7/8/7/9, total 31
I Would Die For You
8/9/7/9, total 33
Sawaru Made In Wario
9/9/8/10, total 36
Super Mario 64 DS
9/7/7/7, total 30
Big Concert! Band Brothers
8/8/8/8, total 32
Intuitive Stroke
8/7/8/8, total 31
Pokémon Dash
8/7/8/8, total 31

Some interesting scores: Super Mario 64 DS gets one point less than Pokémon Dash, which looks like a pile of pump based on the footage on the Famitsu DVD.

The reasons the three '7' reviewers give for marking Mario down are all the same: difficult to control using the touchscreen. Perhaps conversions of old games aren't such a good idea -- they hardly seem necessary given the possibilities afforded to developers who create new games utilising the richness of control the DS offers.

In any case, I've already preordered a copy of this with my system, along with Sawaru Made In Wario, which is the highest-scoring of the launch games.

A few of the games that aren't yet out in the US have working English titles: Sawaru Made In Wario is WarioWare Touched!, which isn't too bad. Big Concert! Band Brothers will probably become Jam With The Band, and Intuitive Stroke (trust me, it's not as funny in Japanese) is looking likely to be known as One-Line Puzzle, which is just about the most sensible title translation I've seen in a while.


I've moved the reports to blogger.com because it looks nicer and it's easier to manage. I'm going to put the last few on and change their dates to the days the relevant issues came out, so this will not be the first post in the list.

If you can bookmark this page it will make it easier to check for new reports. I can't promise it'll be every week, and I have to read the textbook and do the homework for the Linguistics & Pedagogy (teaching to children) correspondence course I'm taking by next Friday. I also have a conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, and of course the Nintendo DS is finally released here on Friday, so not much chance of getting the next post up before next weekend.

But on weeks where I haven't got many classes I'll try to get something up. I won't always have access to a scanner, so the pictures will vary in quality (the I Would Die For You adverts look great because they were scanned).

Let me know what you think by adding comments to the relevant reports. You can do this by clicking on the number of comments, which is listed next to my username at the end of each post. (Those who know my address can e-mail me. I'd rather not put the address on here as I don't want any spam. I don't really expect anyone else to visit, but if you do, let me know how you found this page.)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Mawaru Made In Wario Hints

A complete list of numbers that can be dialled on the black phone in Mawaru Made In Wario was published in the 20th November issue of Famitsu. You can find the phone (if you've gotten it from the toy machine that appears when you beat a boss) in the "Other" section of the toys list, marked by a "?" icon.

0099 0222 0881 0883
1111 1153 1203 1212 1234
2525 2569 3999
3341 3939
4111 4122 4123 4141 4182 4906 4949
5071 5963
6741 6967
7171 7456 7946
8324 8472 8888
9467 9646

In case you're thinking that they had some poor lackey slaving over a GameBoy Advance, dialling a thousand numbers and noting which ones worked... it seems that the toy machine will occasionally give you a phone number to ring. But they aren't stored in the toy section, so you have to make a note of them.

Of course, when you ring the number it shows what the person on the other end is saying. In Japanese. One of them is the weather forecast, so it starts raining out of the earpiece on the phone. Another has someone reciting the first few characters in the Japanese syllabary while laughing.

Friday, October 15, 2004

15th October 2004

Main News: More Nintendo DS Console & Game Details

"At a conference held by Nintendo on the 7th October for videogame companies and the press, called "Nintendo DS Preview!", details of the launch software line-up were announced. There will be twelve titles in total on sale alongside the DS hardware, with another two titles due for release by the end of the year.

The prices of the games are all more or less 5000 yen (£25/$45), in the same price range as Game Boy Advance games."

Hardware Details

Set containing Nintendo DS console, two touch pens, touch strap, AC Adaptor.

It's nice that they include two pens, as I'm sure many people will be worried about losing them. The touch strap (see picture below) is an interesting accessory: it is attached to the carry-strap hole on the DS, and you loop it over your thumb and use the little nubbin on the strap to touch the screen. This method may be easier for left-handed people to use. Even if it goes unused, it's good that it's included in the box, rather than requiring a separate purchase.

The touch strap accessory.Super Mario 64 DS card and box.Nintendo DS console box.

Famitsu also note that the DS AC adaptor can be used with the SP, but it's not clear if the reverse is true. The DS has a separate headphone jack (no adaptor widgets necessary this time), so perhaps its AC adapter has a slightly different shape.

Utada is her surname

In the above picture, Japanese pop tart Utada enjoys the DS in one of several teaser adverts currently running on Japanese TV. Nintendo claim there were no rehearsals, and that she was put in a room with a Nintendo DS sitting on a table and her reactions were filmed.

Future Games

Nintendogs(working title)

A game where you raise a dog, with potentially infinite petting possibilities provided by the pen. Just don't poke your pen too hard at little Rover's, er, sensitive areas.

Sawaru Made In Wario

Translates as Touch Made In Wario. The fact that the titles of the GBA's Spin variation and this DS game sound similar in Japanese (Mawaru/Sawaru respectively), might be on purpose, although there's not much else they could have called them I suppose. The minigames use both the touch pen and the microphone. I eagerly await the US translation, WarioWare Inc: Mega Tou¢h'n'Feel Xtreme*.

*May be a lie

Trainee Doctor, Tendo Dokuta

This title, however, is quite funny. Tendo Dokuta (in Japanese family/first name order) is the name of the main character. The surname shares the same characters as the Tendo of Nintendo. His first name is made up, but using the character "ta" which is common in boys' names. The joke being, of course, that in Japanese "Dokuta" sounds like... Doctor. Well I laughed.

The game is one of those that will almost certainly never see the light of day outside Japan, being as it is a trainee doctor simulation. In the above picture, on the top screen the nurse asks you "Is there anything unusual in the X-ray?", and the on-screen instructions tell you to circle the appropriate place on the X-ray image, appearing on bottom (touch) screen. Top marks for imaginative use of the hardware, anyway.

I Would Die For You

Another great, great title. In fact, Naka Yuuji, Sega R&D Creative Officer, was interviewed briefly on this matter by Famitsu.

Where did this audacious title come from?

When making new software for a new hardware platform, we wanted a game name that was different than any that had come before, one that expresses the nature of the story of the game, a dramatic title.

There you have it. The game is as unique as the title. in order to get a lovely girl to notice you, you use the DS's built in microphone along with the touch pen to impress her and protect her from various incidents. The screenshots show you using the touch pen to gently wipe the mud off the girl, blowing into the mike to blow out a candle, and protecting her from a herd of rampaging bulls.

Amusingly, all characters (including the lovely girl) are depicted as black silhouettes with coloured clothes and hair, but no facial features, leaving you, I suppose, to imagine her beauty yourself.

For some reason, Famitsu listed Trainee Doctor's genre as "Hospital", but I Would Die For You is listed as "Other". There must be more hospital games than I thought, for them to warrant their own genre.

Friday, October 10, 2003

10th October 2003

First of all, Famitsu is short for Famicom Tsushin. Famicom is, of course, the Japanese name for the NES, but it now means games in general. If someone says they like to play Famicom it doesn't necessarily mean they're an insane retro nut (although most game shops still carry NES games.) Tsushin means communication or publication. So basically it's the highly catchy "Weekly Games Magazine", with the abbreviation Famitsu being sort of like "GameMag".

(Hmm, the spell-checker suggests "Foamiest" for Famitsu.)

GameCube release dates...

Mario Kart DD (perspire) 7th Nov. (shall be buying)
Pokémon Colosseum 21st Nov. (shan't be buying)
Mario Party 5 28th Nov.
Donkey Conga 12th Dec.

(all except Donkey Conga priced 5800 yen (£31/$52)

Donkey Conga is a Parappa-type game, costs 6800 yen (£36/$61) and comes with a special Conga controller.

The Gamecube’s price has been cut to 14000 yen (£75/$126) (not sure what it was before), and the Enjoy Plus Pack, which at 19800 yen (£106/$178) previously contained the GC and Game Boy Player, now comes with a Memory Card 251.

Details of Final Fantasy 12, including the logo and new characters, will be revealed on the 19th Novemeber in Roppongi Hills shopping complex, Tokyo. See the homepage for more details (in Japanese...).

The next pair of Pokémon games, Pokémon Fire Red & Pokémon Leaf Green, will be sold with wireless communication adaptors to enable easier battling & trading between friends.

Kingdom Hearts II (PS2) and Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories (GBA) announced by Square/Enix, the newly merged company.

GTA3 (the original) was released here on the 25th September, and has caused quite a stir from my extensive research (reading magazines in shops). This week's Famitsu contains an article entitled Western Games cause sensation in Japan?.

"A few years ago, games from foreign countries rarely became hits in Japan. The graphical style and game content [of those games] are different, and many people had a negative image when they heard the phrase "Western game"... the North American monster hit Grand Theft Auto III sold over 120,000 copies in its first week on sale in Japan. Have gamers started to recognise Western games [as enjoyable]?"

The article also reports that at the 2003 Tokyo Game Show, where the Japanese version of GTA3 made its debut, even with under-18s not allowed to play there was a one-hour wait for the playable demos on display.

Strangely, the PS2 EyeToy camera accesory was released in Europe before anywhere else in the world, and Famitsu includes it in a section on upcoming Western games to watch for, titled Not Yet Landed: Pay attention to these titles!. The other games mentioned are The Getaway (PS2), FIFA Total Football(PS2) and Tao Feng: Fist Of The Lotus (XBox).

The article compares the best-selling games to date on all three major systems in Japan and America. First, they comment that the most popular genres are Sports, Action & RPG in Japan, and Racing, Action and Sports in the US. Then, on to the numbers.

Super Mario Sunshine is the No.1 GC seller in America, with 992,703 copies sold, while Mario Party 4 is No. 1 in Japan with 677,890 copies. (Remember, this is all sales to date.) But Sunshine came 2nd in Japan with 677,440 copies, and Mario Party was 5th in America, with 502,058. Just to compare the numbers, the highest selling PS2 games (see table) sold 4,446,677 (US) and 1,115,707 (Japan).

I couldn't care less about the XBox so I'm not going to write all the numbers up, but the Japanese sales numbers are pitiful -- the top 5 to-date sales go from a "high" of 178,258 for the first placed game, Dead Or Alive 3, to 38,627 for Project Gotham at No.5. By comparison, the lowest of the other No.5s was US XBox Ghost Recon, which sold 377,349 copies -- twice as much as Japan's best-selling XBox game.

Top GC Sellers To Date

1. Super Mario Sunshine
2. Metroid Prime
3. Smash Bros DX
4. Sonic Adventure 2
5. Mario Party 4

1. Mario Party 4
2. Super Mario Sunshine
3. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker*
4. Smash Bros DX
5. Animal Forest Plus**

* Zelda's Japanese subtitle is "The Wind Conductor". Zelda III was "Triforce Of The Gods".
**= Animal Crossing. Animal Forest was a Japan-only N64 title.

Top PS2 Sellers To Date

1. GTA: Vice City
2. GTA3
3. Madden NFL Superbowl 2003
4. Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec
5. Medal Of Honour: Something or other*

1. World Soccer Winning Eleven 6**
2. Onimusha 2
3. Kingdom Hearts
4. Shin Sangoku Muso 2: Moshoden***
5. Tales Of Destiny 2

*Possibly Underground, but I don't know if there are any others since that, so can't be sure. The Japanese subtitle doesn't seem to match any of the English ones I can recall.
**Known in the west as ISS, but they don't linearly convert each Winning Eleven to an ISS.
***I'm sure you've heard of it. It's a wargame.

Next up is the Top 30 All-Formats chart. No. 1 is the aforementioned Shin Sangoku Muso 2: Moshoden. Just rolls off the tongue. No. 2 is Grand Theft Auto 3. The highest placed GC game is at No. 6 (you wouldn't know it, neither do I in fact, so I'll refrain from bothering to mention the title), and the highest GBA game is at No. 8 (ditto). The XBox is a no-show, but there's a Dreamcast game in at No. 13! A system that was pronounced dead a long time ago is currently more popular than XBox. That'll teach MicroShaft (see also: Micro$oft, Satan) to try and take over yet another market. (I'm now officially, as Digitiser might put it, a Mac zealot.)

Top 30 Breakdown: 17 PS2 games, 7 GBA, 5 GC and 1 Dreamcast.

Next is the Top 30 Most Wanted Games.

1. Dragon Quest VIII (PS2): after running almost parallel to Final Fantasy in sequel numbers for years, they seem to have fallen badly behind.
2. Biohazard 4 (GC): aka Resident Evil. Must be the only case where the Western name is more interesting and evocative than the Japanese one. Wario Ware Inc.: Mega MicroGame$, anyone?
3. Metal Gear Solid 3: The Snake Eater (PS2) Hmm. What eats snakes? Anyway, "Iii am Psycho Maaantiissss" etc.
4. Mother 3 (GC). Mother 2 was released in the West as Earthbound on the SNES. Mother 1+2, a compilation cart, was released on the GBA a while ago.
5. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GC): I hope they keep the double exclamation marks in the English version.

And so forth. Notable titles include Pikmin 2 (GC), Biohazard: Outbreak (PS2), Mario Tennis GC (working title).

How often have you seen an article online or in a magazine noting what score Famitsu gave a game? Like when they give games surprisingly low marks, and when they gave their first ever perfect score to a game (Wind Waker, wasn't it?). Now you can see what the reviews look like courtesy of this blurry shot.

Cross Review Page

As you can see, each reviewer has a bit of space for comments on each game and their score is watermarked into the background of their paragraph. Although Western news sources tend to refer to the scores as being out of 40, it's actually four reviewers giving marks out of ten, and nowhere do they "officially" make these scores into an overall total. Also, there's one group of four reviewers for home consoles (literally "game machines that you leave where they are") and one for portables (GBA & WonderSwan).

There's also each person's pick of the week, some retrospectives (this issue has Pilotwings 64), and some reader ("user") reviews. Interestingly, the reader reviews seem to be a massive thing, as they give the average score out of ten, the total number of people who reviewed the game. They only actually print a summary of the general opinion of the game, and around 5 positive and 5 negative comments, not a whole review from someone. So it's more like Reader Ratings, I suppose.

For example, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GC) was rated by 493 people, with an average score of 8.2. They break this down further into how many gave it 0-4, 5-7 and 8-10 points.

More interestingly, the real reviewers review Collect!! Made In Wario (GC). It's a multiplayer version of WarioWare, but it gets a lukewarm 7-7-7-6 (total 28/40). According to "Kamikaze Nagata", "The minigames are exactly the same as those on the GBA version, so experienced players [of that game] will be really disappointed."