If you're British and of certain age, you may remember Teletext's gaming channel, Digitiser. It's long since gone after numerous problems and internal politics, but those of you familiar will probably remember the popular character, the Fat Sow. In short, a talking female pig who would rant wildly on the gaming industry and, well, things in general. A pseudonym of rage against -sometimes literally- the machine.
That's how I'm feeling right now.
As I sit here typing this, I'm suffering from a number of illnesses and pains, which make me somewhat irritable and occasionally Grinch-like. Christmas spirit tends to leaves me rather quickly when a combination of wisdom tooth and sinus pain force my face into an aching mass. My Wii, sitting over on my needlessly untidy games desk, provides some temporary reprieve, offering a warming blue light smile of comfort. Like any good piece of entertainment it's a welcome and effective distraction, and to a jaded long-time gamer such as myself, that means a lot.
So it's always a tad grating when I hear constant ignorance still being spouted by those who feel the need the bad mouth your enjoyment of one machine because, well, they just want to. Spite. Wii is indeed an easy target for such things, given its rapid and rather unexpected popularity, coupled with Nintendo's fairly consistent thrusts of competence littered with stupid little errors that are pretty much a case of two steps forward, one step back. The company is far from perfect.
Any consumer will know that, let alone anyone who's had to deal with it first hand. But this incessant sniping from insecure fanboys who demand the company fail and declare anyone having fun with its consoles are like my current tooth ache; a constant nagging pain that you just wish would go away.
Resistance to change is inevitable across life in general. We're creatures of habit, struggling and clinging to the familiar because anything different is outside our comfort zone. I've a good friend who's been fairly sceptical of Wii for a long while, despite not being alleged to any particular company (like me, he's owned Segas, Sonys, Nintendos, Commodores, Sinclairs, Ataris and so on). He already decided against the "gimmicky" Wii for months, despite me trying to convince him otherwise. When I told him a new Resident Evil game is on its way for the format, he quite innocently asked how it would work with the motion controller. Which was a surprising question once I realised his knowledge of the machine was clearly not as wide as I'd led to believe (my answer was something along the deadpan lines of "erm, the same as Zelda Ė nunchuck to move, remote to aim and perform context actions"). I'm not sure he was totally placated by my explanation, but when he started playing Wii Sports, his doubts on a whole noticeably evaporated.
"What button do I press?" he said, starting up Tennis.
I shook my head. "There isnít any. Just swing the remote like a racquet."
And that was that. He and his girlfriend played and found themselves totally claimed by the game's simplistic yet totally intuitive charms. Same with Boxing, which he took a particular shine to, extremely impressed by the way the game picks up your whole body movement. A few blasts of Wii Play frustrated him as his girlfriend gloated at winning Laser Hockey (quickly returned once he mastered Shooting), but by the end of the night this hardcore gamer with 23 years of the medium under his belt was taken in by the little machine that could. "Gimmick gaming" won.
His preconceived notions told me a few things. One, that Nintendo was 100% right in that to convince people with Wii, they really have to play it to truly understand. Which meant, two, there's a large dose of irony regarding our preconceptions of the console. My friend was clearly expecting a more complex control method of button pressing despite the selling point of Wii (Sports in particular) being to pair-down gaming's complexities. Nor, do I expect, did my friend want to have to be active for his fix. An industry friend and editor of a very large games site told me last year that he didnít fancy wanting to have to get up and move to play. This opinion is reflected by the numerous complaints from the older and hardcore demographic grousing that they "donít want to look stupid" when playing. Which is where the irony lies. The mainstream, with its Dance Dance mats and SingStar falsettos doesn't care what they look like when playing, as long as they're having fun and donít look like us; the faithful hardcore. Harsh? Maybe. But true. While the hardcore doesnít want to deviate from a tried and tested joypad-plus-couch stance with minimal movements and less scope for embarrassment.
Which is pretty funny. Because if you take a step back, you realise exactly what the average player looks like when playing: back usually hunched over like Quasimodo, hands clumped together, clinging to the bare connection that keeps us in our gaming world. The Wii detractors on that side of the argument are saying that's less humiliating than pretending to play a visual representation of a sport -something many more people do than gaming- in your own home? Or actively moving more than our thumbs and twitching fizzogs? Please. Why are we so damn self conscious? Penny Arcade summed it up perfectly. You COULD play games like Wii Sports on the sofa, barely twitching your wrist, but it looks far weirder than if you just get up and actually get into the game. And in truth, it's far more fun to play when you submit yourself to its realities. It's all role-playing, after all. Why limit ourselves?
Here's another thing currently stuck in my craw: stock issues. As previously noted many a time, I'm British. And as such have often received the short end of a very nasty stick when it comes to gaming. We pretty much always get things horribly late, and the red headed stepchild routine got old back in the 90s, let alone now in the 21st century. But as a nation we keep creeping up to our 'masters' like an errant Oliver, asking for more. We bring it on ourselves all the time because we tolerate this treatment, despite moans and groans in the months before. We say it's too expensive, too little, too late and yet all is forgiven when the shops turn over that 'open' sign and the machine is on sale. Internet petitions and such donít really do much - money speaks to companies much louder.
However, in this case, I think Nintendo actually did okay. There's not enough units to go around the whole of Europe, let alone other territories, but hello McFly? Of course there isnít enough. It's holiday period during Ėand this is the critical part of the argument- a worldwide launch. A machine released across several continents in the space of a month is bound to cause shortages. We Europeans are used to getting shafted, true, but ask yourself the last time a Nintendo console came out over here in the same year as Japan or US. Or when the last time a Nintendo machine (a Japanese company and machine no less) launched in the States before the Far East. Answer? NEVER. Things arenít perfect, but hell, they're a massive step forward compared to what they used to be. I scoffed long and hard at Nintendo's announcement that it would launch around the world within a month's period, because I remember the Nintendo 64, GameCube and DS debacles. No way would the company pull it off as it's far too much hassle - Microsoft admitted as much last year via its admirably ambitious simultaneous launch last year. Yet amazingly Nintendo did it even better than the big MS. And look how quickly the cries of happiness were replaced by whines that we're now not getting enough units. Sigh. Just in case the memory has slipped, let me remind you how things have been going a majority of the past 20 years when it comes to Japanese created gaming products:
Japan gets the machine first.
Half a year later, the USA gets it.
Nearly a six months after that (if we're lucky), Europe gets it. With half the games line-up either missing, crippled by shoddy PAL conversions or an eventual combination of both.
Methinks we soft Westerners got off pretty lightly this time. Not to say we shouldnít complain, but more that we should be a teensy bit more careful which battles we choose to fight, because frankly, for Wii to be released outside Japan before 2007 (especially in Europe) is nothing short of a miracle. I'm upset for the parents who couldnít get a unit in time for their kids -that's always galling- but when you consider it was either this situation or delay Wii's launch in the West until March 2007 earliest, I honestly think we got the better deal.
In the similar crosshairs of my ire, complains regarding PAL conversions have been widespread yet dangerously laced with misinformation. First there was a scare that
60Hz GC games werenít compatible with Wii. No, they are. Then there was the scarier, if slightly more predictable outcry that all the Virtual Console games were unoptimised for PAL conversions. Now, this one took a little more investigation. It's a pretty broad statement to say ALL PAL titles will be cursed with giant black borders and running 17% slower than their NTSC (US/Japan) counterparts. As it turns out, this is only a half truth. There are some games that are terrible, old school PAL conversions with the aforementioned limitations. These are mostly Nintendo's own games (for shame, Nintendo - please sort it out) and nearly all of the Mega Drive titles. However, some are clearly optimised or altered. Super Mario 64, for example has been blessed in this area, on top of Wii's ability to clean up the texture resolution, which makes it a far better looking game than the Nintendo 64 original. Not bad and bodes well for future N64 software across the service. It also appears that all TurboGrafx titles are full screen and 60Hz compatible too, which is fantastic. The actual emulation perhaps isnít as great as it should be, but for many PAL gamers we won't even notice because the machine never enjoyed a general release in this territory.
So by my count, certainly not all VC titles are sluggish, bordered messes. It's not an ideal situation as I'd personally prefer a majority if not every game to be given proper treatment, but again, the problem isnít as catastrophic as we were originally led to believe. Needless to say, all eyes will be on the weekly updates to see just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.
Amusingly, it's also been declared that games not originally released in a certain country won't see VC versions any time soon. Which again, caused mass panic that we poor PAL gamers will not be graced with classics like Chrono Trigger, Sin and Punishment, Earthbound and Final Fantasy III. But I refer to this situation as "amusing" because in one way, this 'fact' has already been disproved by the presence of TurboGrafx games already available here. If you remember a few months back, there was concern over the lack of TG presence on the UK version of the official Wii site, which was rectified weeks back. Last month Hudson Soft representative personally told me the company had plans to release its TG games over in Europe, which it's clearly followed through. So that would appear we're getting games that havenít been released over here before. Hmm. My take on the matter is that VC titles are, for most of the part, publisher dependant rather than system dependant. After all, we're supposedly getting several MSX and Commodore 64 games on Wii's VC sometime in the near future as well, which tells us limitations on the format are very much in the hands of publishers rather than the hardware (but donít go expecting Sega Dreamcast or Saturn software yet - far too difficult, sadly). With that in mind, getting titles not originally released in Europe is only constrained by a publisher's desire. While certain Nintendo games are little shaky in their conversion chances given the company's inconsistent attitude -it obviously not only hates freedom, but money too- Square Enix games (for example) are possible if the company finds a publisher willing to take its wares. Or it can try to distribute the games itself, although this is very unlikely given its lack of willingness to explore outside NTSC territories first hand. Either way, the mantra that we're not going to see titles originally released in other territories isnít a hard and fast rule by any means. Especially when you consider the constraints that formerly hampered such software (usually costs and erroneous audience perception) are now relatively inconsequential. The main barrier is language translation across all of Europe's many borders, but as noted, if the modest yet enterprising Hudson Soft can get around it, others can as well if they want to. As usual, it's best to wait and see what floats, because if we've learned anything the past year it's that the industry can change far quicker than previously realised. And heck, if you ARE going to protest, protest with your wallet before the letters and petitions; only then will companies truly listen to us, because it threatens their livelihood not to.
And with that, the painkillers have nearly worn off and I've exhausted my current targets. Hopefully next week I'll be in more of a Christmas spirit. Or alternatively, my barely developed wisdom teeth will be forcibly carved from my bleeding gums and my sinuses will be blown away from my face, leaving me looking like DarkMan on a bad day. Looks like I'll have to prescribe a couple doses of Zelda and Wii Sports to help cure the blues. I hope you can too.
Have a great week, all.
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