Offsping of the Magic Wii

  on April 10th, 2007

Nintendo DS LiteI couldn’t help myself. The urge was too strong. I could hold out no longer and splashed out on a Nintendo DS.

My white Wii has impressed so many that I decided to match it and buy a white DS. Except I couldn’t. For about a week I looked around the town centre and online, searching for the best deals. £99.99 is the RRP and everyone appears to be sticking to it. Even the likes of and aren’t discounting the unit (well, Amazon have it for £99.98!) Reports had it, that over the Christmas period, shops had sold out of both the Wii and DS. Even now, four months after launch, I have yet to actually see a Wii on a shop shelf anywhere (and I do keep an eye out, out of interest). Fortunately the DS isn’t quite so rare now but I still had some trouble. The best place I could find was GameStation in town. £154.99 for a DS Lite (the newer remodelled DS, much sleeker and less Fisher Price looking) plus any three games. I went in there and of the three colour options (black, white and pink) they only had pink left. Not really my style, so I left grumpilly wondering if I’d find one anywhere else. Then I remembered – the local Blockbuster rental store had a GameStation franchise inside. I rushed off to another part of town, asked the same question I had opened with at the other shop (“Can I include pre-owned games in the 3 game DS bundle?”) and this time I had the reply ‘Yes, we only have black and pink DSes in stock, though’ – much better than ‘Yes, we only have pink DSes in stock, though’! I’d really wanted a white (for one thing the black really shows up the finger marks – as I knew from two colleagues who also have black DSes). Nonetheless, black would do! Little wonder nowhere is discounting the DS – why would they when it sells so easily at full price?

Now I am one more to add to those statistics. A fews days or so before I bought my DS I saw the incredible news story that Nintendo had sold over 3 million DSes in the UK alone. Many news sites also gave the DS as having 68% of the UK handheld market, with the remaining 32% split in some way between the Nintendo Gameboy Advance (still going strong despite the DS’s appearance) and the Sony PSP. This makes me wonder about the PlayStation3’s future in the UK, too – according to the BBC when the PSP was launched it sold almost twice as many as the DS at launch and becoming the ‘fastest selling games console of all time’ in the UK until the PS3 beat it. Now look at the situation with the PSP – less than a million units sold compared to over three million.  I don’t think either the PSP or the PS3 are going to disappear (at least not until their natural product life cycles come to an end in five years or so) but it is a testament to Nintendo’s concentration on the devices as games machines and putting the enjoyment factor before the cool gadget features. The odd thing is I am normally the type of person who would go for the gadgets – I’m a natural PSP user. Nintendo really must be doing something right to get me onboard.  In fact it is a direct result of how impressed I am about the Wii that I bought a DS.  No doubt it will work the other way for DS owners who haven’t yet got a Wii.

The only problem I’ve been having is finding the cream of the crop of games. Two games I wanted to buy with my DS were ‘Advance Wars: Dual Strike’ (note the clever pun on DS!) and ‘Another Code’. Both are slightly older games and universally appeared to have gained ‘top game’ honours at various websites and games magazines. Naturally they were impossible to buy new, their initial publishing run in this country long since having sold out. DS games seem to come in at basically two price points. £29.99 for the top games and £19.99 for the older games and more budget audience aimed games. I’m sure both of these games I was after would have come out at £29.99 and stayed there until sold out. Fortunately both GameStations had one of each game in their pre-owned section. I think one was £24.99 and the other £26.99! More expensive than most new games!! That’s why I made sure pre-owned were included in the 3 game bundle! Advance Wars is Turn Based Strategy game (similar to Civilisation), Another Code is a graphical adventure game (similar in concept to Myst) and the third game I bought was a new game (in the £19.99 section!) called Age of Empires – another strategy game (that many PC gamers will already know – and no, no Microsoft involvement in this port!). All three make fantastic use of the dual screens and touch screen functionality.

Since then I’ve gone on the buy Big Brain Academy and Wario Ware: Touched. The DS is a great little device – all the fun of playing with my wii but in public!



They can’t get enough of my Wii

  on December 15th, 2006

Nintendo Wii Last Friday, the 8th of December (aka European Day of the Wii) I found myself standing outside the local Game computer games shop. It was a wet Friday. It was also a dark Friday at 06:30 when I arrived. I was, initially, a queue of one.

A few shops, in a few areas, had a midnight opening, some six and a half hours earlier, to celebrate the launch of the new Nintendo Wii games console. I too would have turned up at a midnight opening but here we had a 7AM opening instead which, I think, is preferable. For one thing I didn’t need to wake up any earlier than usual to be there for 06:30 (though I did defer my morning shower to save a bit of time – I didn’t think poor personal hygiene would mark me out from the others queuing up!). Another plus point being I had a full day to play with my new Wii before collapsing of exhaustion.

So, there I was, huddled in the doorway of the shop to avoid the rain. Sadly there was nobody around the town centre that time in the morning to mistake me for a homeless person and throw money my way. I was surprised how late the queue was added to, 06:48 – I would have had time for that shower after all! The shop manager and an assistant arrived some ten minutes or so before that, I don’t know what they were expecting but I wonder if they weren’t regretting getting out of bed to open early for one person! Those last ten minutes saw the queue really form, by 07:00 there was no doubt the early opening was a success. I didn’t count the people (I was too focused on staying in the front as it wasn’t a queue so much as a huddle around the front doors) but it must have been 20 or so. That may not sound like much but for such an early start (and on a work day) it looked quite impressive. They weren’t kids, either, they mostly appeared 20 or 30 somethings. I expect the children and their families turned up later, trusting their preorders would be honoured.

Eventually the doors opened (pretty much spot on 7, I think). We all charged. I was at the front and that’s where I was determined to stay. Victory! Bypassing the usual queuing mechanism I went straight to the end till. Preorder 1004. Wii console, Wii Play game (with second Wii Remote controller), The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game, second Nunchuk controller. Check. No Component cable – they’ve been held up in customs. Customs? Dangerous things those TV connection cables, they could be used by trained assassins to throttle innocent members of the public. Anyway, the most important parts of my preorder were there and waiting. I’m not sure if they would have held back the accessories and games for me or not but the Wii itself had a 1004 note stuck on the box, I’m glad I played it safe.

So, what’s the Wii actually like? It is as good as everyone has been saying. Back before they gave it the slightly ridiculous name of ‘Wii’ it was known by the codename ‘Revolution’. It’s only been around a few weeks worldwide (just one here, in the UK, of course) so it is hard to judge what impact it will have long term but it really does feel like a revolution in gaming. The motion sensitive ‘Wiimote’ controller adds an extra level of fun and does away with those increasingly complicated and obscure button covered controllers of old. I really think it is the dawn of a new age of gaming interaction (and maybe wider machine interaction). Time will tell on that but certainly using the wireless controller like a tennis racket, a rounders bat, a golf club, a sword, a snooker cue, a bowling ball, etc., is extremely good fun and that’s what it is all about. The Wii also appears to be trying to make a return to the old days of multiplayer games, friends or families gathered around a screen sharing the experience. This is a console designed for the living room rather than a child’s bedroom. Internet multiplayer is coming for the Wii (we are just waiting on the games that use it) but that just isn’t the same as playing together in the same room.

In truth I haven’t had nearly as much time to use my Wii as I’d like, the Christmas Staggering Stories update (for one thing) is taking up most of my spare time now. Nonetheless I did take Wii Day off work to give it a good test. Wii Sports, the pack-in game, was certainly the immediate highlight, particularly the tennis game. Wii Play is quite good too, particularly the clay-pigeon shooting and the billiards. Rayman: Raving Rabbids is certainly amusing though can be a little frustrating, I need to do more of the single player game to open up the multiplayer aspects (an unfortunate design decision). The ‘triple A’ launch title, Zelda, is taking longer to warm to, for me. For one thing it looks quite bad scaled up on my TV (hopefully the component cable will help with that when they finally arrive) and, well, it looks like a big game (it’s an RPG type game) that will require more time to fully appreciate. So, apart from Zelda, all my games are really collections of mini-games. Those are particularly well suited to multiplayer, which is good as I was rather hoping to use the Wii as a party machine as much as anything else.

A good few people have now had some of my Wii and all appear eager for more. That, more than anything else, is a testament for just how good the machine is. Since my Atari Jaguar, over a decade ago, I have had no interest in games consoles. The Wii has changed that. I still have little or no interest in the likes of the XBox and Playstation – they’ve just lost that sense of fun, instead concentrating on improving graphics and letting the gameplay stagnate. How many more Doom clones do we need? I’ve never owned a Nintendo machine before, never had any interest in owning one before, but their (new?) emphasis on fun, engaging gameplay for everyone has changed that. I’d recommend everyone takes a Wii.



Time and Tellies

  on October 3rd, 2006

Seven years today. Where did all that time go? On this day in 1999 the moon didn’t fly out of its orbit. In fact nothing of global note appeared to have happened at all. Nothing at all according to the BBC On This Day page. Even Wikipedia says the only thing that happened was the death of a Japanese businessman named Akio Morita, a co-founder of the Sony Corporation.

So, what’s so special about the 3rd of October 1999, then? It was the day I moved into my own place, a full month after taking ownership of it. Yes, it really did take me an entire month to decorate the place, no room was untouched. The first two weeks I had off work and the rest of that Original Decor 2Original Decor 1month I spent every, non-working, waking moment there stripping off the two or three layers of (almost universally dreadful) wallpaper and painting. It was a long and tough month but at least I had the luxury of going back to my parent’s place each night. I also didn’t have to work around the furniture as that was all either in my ‘old’ room or my parent’s garage waiting to be transported to the house once I’d finished decorating. I think it was three transit vans full of furniture and assorted junk when the time came. It’s amazing how much furniture I had in my old room, even now it is spread over my new bedroom, computer room, TV room and spare bedroom. Only the living room, kitchen, bathroom and downstairs toilet have escaped its influence and they are full of items bought especially and stored in the garage.

Since then nothing much has changed. I’ve added a couple of bookcases to the living room, a new cooker and sink. No real changes. Time has stood still. That’s about to change, at least for the TV room.

HDTV is here. Almost. If you know where to look. And if you are willing to pay. For two years now, around this time of year, I’ve looked at the state of flat panel TVs. Two years ago almost all panels (certainly those less than about £3k) were not high def. They were 852×480, those 480 lines were somewhat less than PAL with its 576 (480 lines being the old American NTSC standard). That was no good. So I came back a year later to find the HD ReadyHD Ready‘ logo appearing on TVs. At last, I thought, flat panels that are really HD. Well, yes and no. The logo meant they would be compatible with High Def images, with support for the hateful HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) DRM, and the panel must have at least 720 physical lines. I should probably explain for a second here. In simple terms there are two different HD resolutions, 720 lines and 1080 lines. There is also the question of progressive scan or interlaced but I won’t complicate matters with that just now. Last year there were no panels (certainly below £10k) that could show 1080 HD without scaling the picture down to a smaller number of lines. Well, as you can guess, that meant I returned to my TV buying slumber.

So here we are now, rapidly approaching the end of 2006. Christmas is sneaking up on us again and my eye turns back to flat panel TVs. My existing TV, an excellent 28″ Panasonic 4×3 (non-widescreen) CRT screen (though it does support widescreen with the press of a button, giving the unavoidable letterbox black lines at the top and bottom). It’s a good TV. A great TV, even. It’s also at least 10 years old. I almost certainly bought it in 1995, during my sandwich year at university (it was a big sandwich!) This was before widescreen TVs really took off, though it was (thankfully) future proof enough to support that. The biggest selling point, besides its sheer size compared to my old 15″ portable, was its Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound! That was a neat scheme where the TV would infer the Front Left, Front Right, Front Centre and Rear Mono speakers from nothing more than a standard two channel (stereo) audio source. It wasn’t what we think of as true surround sound now (as in 5.1, 7.1, etc) but it was quite a step up from standard NICAM stereo. That almost cinema experience in my own bedroom! Of course nowadays those speakers are set to zero volume and I use a proper 5.1 amp with Dolby Digital and DTS. Still, it was the best you could get at the time and the TV cost a cool £1200. In todays money that is apparently worth about £1550. Not too much short of what I’m looking to pay for its replacement. That’s why I’m being so careful, ideally the replacement should itself last at least ten years.

Are we there yet? Maybe. With the Wii set to burst forth, as mentioned in my last blog post, I now have even more incentive to upgrade. Okay, so the Wii doesn’t do HD but it does do 480p, which my TV can’t handle, and, more crucially, I’ll need more space in front of my TV to wave my Wiimote around! My current TV is deep. Very deep. Far too deep to be able to stand in front of it and have a decent distance so I can both look down at the screen and flail about. I could be wrong but I suspect the Wii will, at least a good portion of the time, encourage me to stand up to play.

Down at both Comet and Currys at the local retail park they have at least one Plasma screen that says it can do 1080 (only 1080i from what I can tell, not 1080p). That may be enough. There are, allegedly, a few more ‘Full HD’ sets on the way in the next month or so. This may, at last, be the time. The only problem is the one set I have seen had particularly bad handling of non-HD (SD, or Standard Definition) video. SD is, well, all I have right now. The new VHS/Betamax war between the two new competing High Def DVD standards (Blu-ray and HD-DVD) mean I’m not going near either for the time being. Back in the early 1980s we had a Betamax, it was a better (and more expensive) system but we were on the losing side that time. I’m not repeating that mistake if I can help it. Then there’s TV broadcasts. No HD worth talking about there either. Some movie channels and sports. Big whoop. The BBC are starting to talk about it, I believe this new Robin Hood series will be available in HD, for a price. A price? Yes, unless you are one of the lucky 450 homes around the Crystal Palace transmitter that have been brought into the Freeview HD trial, you will have to pay for either a Satellite or Cable subscription to get at HD broadcasts. Despite swearing not to go back to a TV subscription package again I must admit I find myself considering the Telewest TVDrive. This will (almost) replace my aging TiVo, that can’t do HD, and also upscales SD to HD where HD versions of a programme don’t exist. The upscaling won’t make SD look anywhere near as good as real HD but it may do a better job than that Plasma TV I looked at. That leaves the problem of the old SD DVDs. Simple: get a DVD player that upscales to HD too. Indeed, get a DVD player that can also record and I’ve effectively replaced my ability to grab programmes off my TiVo to the computer and, finally, do away with any need for a VHS video recorder (which I’ve only used in recent years to record stuff off for other people anyway).

So, there we go. A Wii. A Plasma TV. A DVD Recorder. A Telewest TVDrive. New, more cinema style, seating for the TV room. Expensive. It won’t all happen this year, that’s for sure. But it’s a dream. Extravagant? Yes, I suppose so. Still, my last extravagantly expensive TV (back when I was earning less than half what I am now) has more than paid for itself. So long as the chairs and TV, the most expensive parts of that, last about the same I’ll be happy. The TVDrive will hopefully one day, in a few years time, be replaced by a 3rd or 4th generation TiVo and Freeview HD. The DVD Recorder will be replaced by a Blu-ray/HD DVD drive or, maybe, something else completely that uses the Internet, perhaps.

I do wonder how the average Jo(e) Bloggs can get a handle on the complexities of it all. I’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of time investigating all this, both the technologies themselves and the relative merits of various bits of kit. And I haven’t even mentioned complications that are the connector standards, such as SCART (aka Euroconnector), HDMI, DVI, Composite, Component, S-Video, etc. It’s a mess. I also suspect a lot of people who have spent thousands of pounds on a ‘HD Ready’ screen will protest very loudly when the ‘Full HD’ logo starts to appear and makes their purchases obsolete. I know people are already complaining that they’ve bought expensive kit and there are virtually no HD broadcasts yet, despite ‘HD Ready’ TVs being around for over a year.

Me? I’ve already cleared my TV room of all those old VHS tapes and various other bits of junk, ready for the change. I think I’m going in with all the facts I need. Time will tell if that’s true.



Can I have a Wii please, Bob?

  on September 26th, 2006

It must have been just over a decade since I bought the only Games Console I’ve ever owned – the ill fated Atari Jaguar. It is about time a new one arrived that grabbed my attention. PlayStations, XBoxes, GameCubes, Dreamcasts and others have all come (and most gone) in the intervening time. None tempted me. Now one has and I’m not absolutely sure why. It is the Nintendo Wii.

Yes, that’s a very silly name. I joked about it for a good couple of weeks after the announcement that the final name for this new console wasn’t to be the, rather good, development name of Revolution but instead Wii. I would still be joking about it now if it weren’t quite so, er, stale a joke. I don’t think the Japanese realised the urinary connotations, perhaps it’s a more British than American thing so was a little more obscure to them. Who knows. Reports of embarrassment on the part of the tiny UK Nintendo office added to the amusement factor, that’s for sure!

So, besides the memorably silly name, what takes the Wii (okay, I’m not past the wee jokes!) beyond those others? The graphics? The processor speed(s)? The media (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD) playback? No. If I want HiDef graphics I can get that on my PC. If I want incredible processor speeds I can get that on my PC. If I want media playback I can get that on my PC or, more usually, on a dedicated player. I’ve got a huge stack of PC games. Quite a few of which have had little or, in some cases, no play time at all. PC games are usually involved, designed for you to be sitting no more than 2 foot from a computer screen and have complex interfaces that rely on keyboards and mice. They’re great but installing the game, learning how to play it, finding the time for a proper gaming session and then not finding another need for the precious hard disk space is all tough. It can be done and the rewards are there, for the most part, but it’s not the only type of gaming out there.

Wii in Action!So, the Wii hasn’t got the graphics of an XBox 360, a PlayStation 3 or a modern PC. It doesn’t have the sheer processing power of those either. So, back to my question, what is it that attracts me to the Wii? Certainly not the odour! No, it’s the sense of fun that is lingering around it. Nintendo haven’t even tried to compete with the 360 or the PS3 in terms of computing power. Perhaps they simply couldn’t afford to compete and have tried to make a virtue out of holding the specs back? Worldwide their last console, the GameCube, certainly came third in the market, although if you believe the sales figures on Wikipedia, it wasn’t that far behind the original XBox, certainly not as much as my UK perception would have it. Whatever the reason, design or necessity, the Wii simply cannot compete in the visual ‘wow’ stakes, unlike the other two it doesn’t even support HD. It is smaller, cheaper to run and, perhaps crucially, cheaper to buy. The initial UK price is £179, a bit pricier than initially expected but still a lot cheaper than the 360 (about £299 for the full console, £199 for the starter version but you’ll almost certainly need to buy hardware add-ons to effectively use it) and the PS3 is expected somewhere in the £450 range!

Okay, so it’s the cheapest of the new consoles. Why do I care? Well, I don’t care about the price, other than the hope it will give the console a good userbase, creating a virtuous circle of console owners bringing more games titles bringing more console owners, etc. Given I’ve not shown any interest in consoles for over a decade the price obviously isn’t directly a factor. Price doesn’t make the Wii fun. No. The fun starts with the controller. It’s like a wand. A wand you can wave around to play with your Wii. It’s wireless but that’s not unusual with this new generation of consoles. It’s the waving about part that is the revolution. It has full motion sensing. You can slice through the air with it as if it were a sword and watch your onscreen character do the same. You can use it like a bat to play virtual tennis or rounders. You can point it at on screen enemies and use it like a Star Trek style phaser. You can hold it sideways and use it like an untethered steering wheel. You can even conduct a virtual orchestra with it. What’s more you can plug other devices into it, or it into other devices. With the console you get what they call a Nunchuk, a bulbous controller that you hold in your other hand and connects to the ‘WiiMote’ (as they call it, looking a bit like long thin remote control) by a wire. This nunchuk also has movement sensors (although not as sophisticated) so you can use it to block attacks by bringing your (in my case) left hand up. You can use it to move your character around, keeping your other hand free to interact with the environment. Another WiiMote attachment that is proposed is the zapper adapter. This is probably going to be little more than a plastic gun shell where you slot the WiiMote into the dangerous end and use it like a glorified light gun of old. There’s also a traditional PlayStation-like controller available that connects to the WiiMote but that is intended mainly for playing the back catalogue of GameCube games (the Wii is fully backwards compatible).

WiiMote and NunchukSo that’s it. The controller. That’s where is all starts. The WiiMote and Nunchuk are the only controllers that come prepackaged with the Wii, so that’s all the game creators can be sure the customer has. This is a paradigm shift in game playing. The other two consoles, the XBox 360 and Sony PS3, are just slightly faster and flasher versions of the same old gaming we’ve had for a decade, further back I’m sure. What gameplay advance does either of these give me that I didn’t have on the Jaguar. Online gaming but even that was available on the Jaguar if you knew where to look, primitive but then so were the graphics by todays standards. The Wii is something new. Maybe it will be a gimmick. I really don’t think so but you can never know for sure. The buzz is there. Will it win this next generation console war? Almost certainly not but that doesn’t matter, no to me anyway. Assuming my preorder is honoured, I’ll be there on the 8th of December to take a Wii and see if I can interest anyone in head to head (or, rather, side to side!) virtual tennis! If it’s as much fun as I hope then it should be a good Christmas break!

WiiMote Controller Attacks!