E3 and me: Nintendo’s E3 Press Conference 2008

Warning – This blog post is long. Reading each of the paragraphs as an “episode” is recommended.

Many Nintendo fans were upset after E3 2008, James Rolfe was sure not the only Angry Nintendo Nerd that day. The press conference Nintendo held was disappointing for most viewers. I watched a live stream of it myself (provided on the Nintendo website), and I enjoyed it. While it was certainly not as magnificent as the previous E3s, I still found it likable. Except for one thing.

As a Nintendo nerd, I have been waiting for the press conference since not long after the previous E3, and I have been expecting it over a month in advance. I prepared for it several days before the conference was held (although I ended up not using most of the stuff I had prepared), and I was quite literally counting down to it. And then, finally, the press conference started.Focussing on the stream window and with an IM conversation with an online “friend” open to share opinions about individual announcements, I heard these damned words by the announcer: “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America – Cammie Dunaway”. Back then, I thought nothing of it, just some new face I thought, but then, she came on stage and introduced herself: “My name is not Reggie”… Yes, that is the problem. I do not know her as a person, but as representative of Nintendo at the press conference, at least in the context of it, she was the worst part. These words in the introduction still echo through my head, afer hearing them, I knew this would be a bad E3. Many may argue it was indeed, but personally, I found myself proven wrong.

After introducing herself, Mrs. Dunaway told various stories about herself, about how she, like many other people at Nintendo, can not stop smiling (they need to see a physician about that, seriously… If it affects that many people at a single company, it must be contagious. Luckily, she did a good job with not affecting the audience. Her son’s Mother’s Day card… what kid would write anything else in such a situation. This is a press conference, not The Cammie Dunaway Show. Then, the snowboarding accident… I have had enough of this talk. Luckily, I remembered E3 2007 – the Balance Board could be used for a snowboarding game. So I knew what was going to come, I knew she was just doing this to lead into the game, so I tolerated this talk. I had my hopes up for a good Balance Board game that is an entertainment device – but then…

Shaun White Snowboarding, and it is made by Ubisoft (which I only found out after researching about this game). Now, you must be interested in professional snowboarding to know Shaun White (at least I have never heard about him), so all that stopped them from just putting some random geek on stage was the chance of someone in the audience having heard about him. He certainly looked like some random geek, even with him being an athlete. The presentation itself was pretty boring, since it is hard to visually weight-shifting on a scale interestingly, and some center-of-weight-point would have been entirely meaningless. So it was, well, a snowboarding game. Nothing too exciting about it. But wait, how is it called? Shaun White Snowboarding… Well, the one thing I have learned about the use of well-known names (like movie titles, and, like here, athlete names) is that this is usually done to sell something which sell solely because of the name recognition. Ubisoft itself is pretty polarized on the Wii, producing some of the most awesome games, like Rayman Raving Rabbids and Red Steel, and some titles about which I can only say one thing: This SuckZ. And with the name of someone famous (at least in a certain interest group) on it, guess in which category I expect this game to fall. But well, there are still Iwata, Reggie and Miyamoto ahead.

Iwata-san takes the stage, Cammie Goaway is finally out of sight. Or was it Dunaway? Does not matter. Well anyway, a feeling of relief. Things can only go uphill from here. The business talk he is doing might not fascinate someone looking out for new game announcements only, but it sure was interesting for me. Iwata just managed to be spot-on, funny and still convey a message professionally. The paradigm shift he was talking about, breaking the psychological barrier… This is audience expansion, this is the business model of Nintendo, this is what E3 has been about for 2 years now. Nothing beats his bathroom scale sales remark. Why can they not just put Iwata, Reggie and Miyamoto/Trinen on stage for the whole E3? Some more remarks about sales and imitators, and now we get to another game, which looks more promising…

Animal Crossing is not a game which particularly excites me, but it is something I have always wanted to try, but I never became sufficiently interested in it. However, this game is somewhat intriguing to me. While I am not particularly interested in voice chat, and I would probably only use it with RL friends (of which I unfortunately have none with a Wii), the concept of the Wii Speak peripheral is interesting and fits the Wii philosophy. DS connectivity is also always a nice feature, as is a real-time town. AC is not what I would consider a must-buy, but certainly a game worthy of an E3 feature. People are upset no first party “core game” was shown at E3? I disagree. Animal Crossing has become one of Nintendo’s core franchises (like Advance/Battalion Wars and Pikmin, both introduced in the same generation), it might not be an action game, but it does support dedicated playing and losing yourself in it, so it qualifies for a core game. Now, after this very satisfactory moment at E3, it is time for the master of kicking ass and taking names to take the stage, if only to delay the next Cammie moment with more business talk…

And there he is again, showing off sales. He might not be announcing a game right now, but that does not mean he is just talking about some boring crap nobody cares about like some webcomic artists have said. As a Nintendo nerd, it always pleases me to see how well my favorite gaming company is doing. And another reassurance that the new strategy means covering all fields – including the core, and with the focus on innovation. This is Nintendo. After some trailers of games we knew about, Cammie is back. “Wii creativity is mushrooming” – and Cammie appearance is both creativity and mushroom withdrawal. Cammie uses the word “players” for the expanded audience, not “gamers”. First good thing that came out of her mouth this E3. And after Guitar Hero and Spore, which I both consider good games, she talks about a new Pokémon game. Platinum? No, it is just some Ranger game… I hate all those spinoffs… At least she compensates for this with a GTA announcement – A game of which we have heard nothing new since then, except that it has WiFi support. Then she talks about using the DS as a utility instead of a gaming device. An interesting idea, although hardly practical and it is predictable it will remain vastly underexploited. Finally Reggie is back, and we all know what is coming next thanks to a small bit of info released 2 days before…

Right, he is showing the Wii MotionPlus. And he is teasing the gamers in the audience with a new game to introduce with it. I cannot believe how many gamers had their hopes up for a new Zelda game. There are so many reasons why this is just short of impossible, and even considering it shows that you do not know Nintendo. First of all, are you familiar with the Zelda release schedule? Zelda is not a game that they can release every single year, especially with Miyamoto-sama somewhere in the chain of command. Second, if you are so excited about Zelda, you should at least know what it is about. Fights are an element of the game, not the core of it. Gesture-based controls are all that is needed for a good experience with it, as there will not be that many 1-on-1 sword battles where you fight like in Red Steel. Zelda is an epic adventure focussing on exploration. Third, remember which games they showed off the other controllers with (and no, Zapper and Wheel are useless plastic shells, not controllers)? Right, Wii Sports and Wii Play for the Wii Remote and Wii Fit for the Wii Balance Board. So it was only natural that the Wii MotionPlus was introduced with a new Wii Series game. And could they have chosen a better entry into the Wii Series than a successor to Wii Sports? I do not think so.

Why do they have to get Cammie on stage again? She makes Disc Dog so much less appealing. “Cute Puppy”… There is still some core gamer inside me, I want this little sucker whom she (or the developers/translators, I hope it was herself) called Peach to be eaten by some vile monster with Cammie forced to watch. That name makes the pervert inside me expect some Princess Toadstool petplay (if you do not know what I mean, it is better that way), but fortunately for the semi-sane part of me, this was just a reaction of disgust towards Cammie’s puppy love. Good thing Reggie is standing next to her. Reggie’s semi-bored “it’s kinda cute” with the two better games announced as part of Wii Sports Resort made that game awesome again. Especially the sword fighting got me hyped. Although turning it into a waggling event is definitely not the way to go if you want to show off a good swordfighting game. Reggie defeating Cammie in the first round – “That’s why they call me the Regginator” was far better than Cammie’s revenge, though. By the way, Cammie’s Revenge sounds like an awesome movie title. But what genre? Action, Horror or Comedy? Anyway, It is good for Cammie that the public vote for the final winner was not actually carried out. The announcement finished with the note that developers are already thinking about implementations for it. And I believe the WM+ will be awesome for games like Red Steel. And now the stage is getting ready for one final announcement. What is there to expect?

The stage becomes darker. Some guy of Asian descent is sitting on the right platfform playing some virtual drums. Everybody knew what to expect now, and many were disappointed, having expected Miyamoto to announce some new core game. Now, when was the last time he announced a core game? Right, 2004, the new Zelda. Since then, it has been expanded audience stuff. 2005 we had Nintendogs, 2006 was the year of both a Wii Music demo and Wii Sports (during the E3 press conference that had shown so many other core titles, like Mario, Zelda, Metroid Prime 3, to just name a few recognizable first party titles), 2007 he introduced to us Wii Fit. About time for some more core love, one might say. However, the “new” E3 made just this even more unlikely. Perhaps having been waiting for Wii Music since E3 06 and expecting it to be introduced this E3 helped me accept (and enjoy) the fact that it was Wii Music that was being shown, but I liked it. “Please welcome gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto!” What an appropriate title for him. And there he is playing some solo. And so began the part that disappointed many and pleased few. However, I was among those few.

Miyamoto, after playing some saxophone, is on stage now, saying he will introduce us to Wii Music. I have been waiting a long time for this, since before the console was even launched. Trinen is with him, so we can expect lots of talk that needs to be translated. And he quickly makes it clear that it will follow the other Wii Series games in being a game toy for everyone, and already suggests that it will be the most accessible Wii Series game. And that is what makes it different. Miyamoto says (translated by Trinen) that it is diferent from past music games. And this is what makes it awesome for some, but invokes the hate of those who call themselves core gamers. Now I do not consider myself a core gamer, but I have found Guitar Hero interesting, but not really worth the money going down on these guitar peripherals (you might see an article about that one day, as well). At in-store demos, the one thing that put me off was the challenge that came with it. The game was simply too hard for my taste. It is a game about playing a guitar, but it is not more accessible than a real guitar, just more dumb. It requires a similar amount of practise as playing an actual instrument, and that will not help you with actual guitars or feel real in any way. Wii Music is different. The core gamer criticizes it for not being a hard challenge to overcome. But that is the entire point of the game. Pick it up and play it. Just play, nothing else. When you just sing for fun, do you record it, listen to it and mark any mistake? I am sure I do not do so. It looked like it can be great fun. Fun that comes out of the enjoyment of actually playing it, not of the satisfaction of beating a portion of it. As Miyamoto later said at the developer roundtable, it is a toy, “And that’s why it’s more interesting than a video game.” And I agree. It is definitely the better approach for what they were trying to achieve, and for people put of by the difficulty of the “real games”, it is more interesting. I consider Wii Music the highlight of Nintendo’s E3 press conference, even though the Wii MotionPlus swordfighting in Wii Sports Resort was an interesting concept. Wii would like to play. Playing is believing. And touching is good

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