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)

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