Archive for September, 2007

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

So I finally beat Metroid Prime 3: Corruption today. I’m still decompressing the experience in my head, but I was really impressed with the game. Much like the other Prime games, each aspect of the game design (sound, controls, graphics) really plays off of the others to create a cohesive, engrossing world. And RETRO Studios has added a number of gameplay elements to the mix to keep things feeling fresh.

Metroid Prime 3

The controls (most notably the aiming with the Wii remote) have improved the experience the most. While I loved Metroid Prime on Gamecube, I’ve always thought that the game was good in spite of the control scheme, not because of it. I don’t blame RETRO, as the C-Stick on the Cube controllers wasn’t up to the task of dual analog control. Still, the new freedom of movement allowed by this new control scheme feels excellent (dare I say, better than any other console FPS game). The other motion controls are also well done (the nunchuk is used for throwing the lasso, and the remote is used for manipulating switches).

Regarding the graphics, this is the first Wii game that has impressed me graphically. The extra RAM, clock cycles, and texture passes that Wii offers (compared to Gamecube) are put to good work – not only are the environments bigger, but the textures are sharper and bloom lighting is used to enhance the particle effects. And wow have the particle effects been improved. But as usual, it’s the art that really sets this game apart. RETRO’s art team is arguably the best in the industry, and Prime 3 is another notch on their belts – the environments are unique, the colors are vibrant, and general environmental composition is inspired. I literally said “wow” out loud on more than one occasion.

It’ll be interesting to see how this game performs sales-wise. Core games like Resident Evil 4 and Zelda: Twilight Princess have sold well on Wii – I’m hoping Metroid will find similar success. It really deserves it.

Next on my list: Halo 3.

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Film Industry is to Game Industry as …

I’m really enjoying the film class that I’m taking this semester. Not only am I seeing a lot of movies that I wouldn’t (but should) have watched otherwise (Rashoman, The Philadelphia Story, and The Gold Rush among others), but I’m learning a lot about the history of film as it matured throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Naturally, I can’t help but make parallels between the movie industry and the gaming industry. In fact, the similarities are pretty striking:

The Golden Age of Hollywood refers to the period between the late 1920s to the late 1950s where a small number of major studios individually controlled all things related to film – from the talent, to the production facilities, to even the theaters themselves. Independent film companies (such as Charlie Chaplin and Co’s United Artists) released their films on screens owned by the Major Studios. Sound familiar?

Denis Dyack, founder of Silicon Knights, has repeatedly gone on record with his belief that the maturation of the video game industry will mirror that of the film industry. More specifically, he uses this comparison to argue that we are nearing the point where hardware improvements will be negligible to the general public.

Denis is right – the gaming industry is similar to the film industry in many ways, from general maturation trends to target audience. But his conclusions and predictions based on these similarities are shortsighted and unlikely. If the film industry is any indication, technology will continue to play a large role in video games for years to come.

In reality, technology has never ceased to be a driving force in cinema. The list of industry-driving technologies ranges from the advent of color, to the introduction of animation, to the melding of animation and live action, to the refinement of the film projector, to the transition to computer aided animation, to the evolution of cinematography, to the increased reliance on computer created visual effects. Even movie cameras themselves have changed and improved constantly over the years.

Of course, video games and movies are different because games are inherently interactive. But they are both a means, ultimately, of entertainment. And ‘entertainment’ is really just the umbrella term for anything that consistently or purposefully stimulates, interests, amuses, or moves people. Technology, because of its constant forward momentum (the ‘wow’ effect), will always be a source of entertainment (and thus of game industry growth).

Beware, though – the game industry’s direction of growth is contingent on the rate of adoption by the general public. As Nintendo has shown with the DS and Wii, technological advancement does not only apply to GPU and CPU design, but to input device design as well. These factors, along with price, will continue to change the industry in new and interesting ways.

NPD August 2007

NPD data for August is in.  Hardware unit sales:

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Nothing too surprising here – Wii again sold through all available stock, DS maintained its excellent performance, and PSP dropped sharply amidst widespread sellout in July.  The Xbox 360 saw a healthy sales increase following a 30-50 dollar price cut (depending on SKU) at the start of the reporting period.

PS3 failed to maintain any momentum from its early July price cut, and while late-August-launching games Lair and Warhawk performed solidly (46.5K and 58.6K respectively), there are few software releases between now and Spring ‘08 (when Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy XIII could first potentially see release) that will help Sony gain any sort of traction with consumers.  With the likes of Halo 3 and Super Mario Galaxy releasing on 360 and Wii before Christmas, the PS3 has very little hope of maintaining enough mindshare to remain competitive throughout the winter into the spring – even with the aforementioned AAA releases waiting in the wings.

To maintain any hope of redemption next year, Sony has to drop the price again before the holiday season (or introduce a new, lower priced SKU, as has been recently rumored).  If August has shown anything, it’s that price really is the key to mass market hardware sales.

Get this:  In July, PS3 saw a 61.4% increase over June after its 100 dollar price cut – pretty good, all things considered (slow summer months, unappealing software library, etc).  But in August, Xbox 360 sales increased 62.7% over July – and with only a 30-50 dollar cut!  While some of this can of course be attributed to the undeniably strong software library of the 360, there is no doubt that a mass market price is crucial for long term success.

Bottom line:  A PS3 SKU at $399 by November could potentially allow Sony to keep its head above water long enough for Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy XIII and Grand Tourismo 4 to bring the system back to relevancy.  Unfortunately, even this drastic move (a $200 price cut over 6 months would be unprecedented) might prove ineffective in light of Wii’s continuing momentum and 360’s upcoming Halo 3 onslaught.

Thanks to NPD and sonycowboy at NeoGAF for the numbers.