Posted by: Tha Square | July 16, 2008

Nintendo’s Press Conference and the Collective “WTF?” Heard ‘Round the World.

When thinking of Nintendo and E3 , one picture comes to mind. Several years back, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was soon to be announced at the 2004 E3 event. All fell silent, the lights dimmed, and smoke filled the crowded room of loyal fans. A video began playing on screen and quickly it was made clear that a new Legend of Zelda was on its way. Suddenly, Shigeru Miyamoto came striding to the stage, sword and shield in hand. The audience leapt to their feet beside themselves in joy and admiration, cheering on the juggernaut of modern gaming.

Becoming one of the most profound entrances ever made at an E3 event,  Miyamoto made a clear and present statement that day: Nintendo was in-touch with their fans and knew what they wanted. They were ready and willing to please, anxious fans were happy, and the competition were muttering curses under their breath. The new Zelda game looked darker and more mature than ever before and was taken in by the masses in the drop of a hat.

Fast forward to the event held yesterday and it’s an entirely different story. The somber crowd did not rise to their feet when Miyamoto took the stage. The fits of laughter and applause that so often couple Nintendo’s usual unveiling could not be heard over the loud music being played on stage. The patrons of the event and the millions watching from home were deafeningly silent in awe as Nintendo stabbed their dedicated fans in the back and twisted the shank.

Miyamoto didn’t arrive on stage portraying Link this time. He didn’t come wearing Mario’s cap, piloting Fox’s Arwing, or even holding Pit’s bow and arrow. When the smoke cleared and the lights once again lit the stage, we were greeted by someone we’ve never even seen before. It was just some dude with a mo hawk playing the air drums. Onlookers were immediately taken aback in confusion with crushed expectations. The whole dramatic approach created an atmosphere that was so close to home in the hearts of Nintendo fans that it almost felt like a joke. Why would they make such an entrance if something big wasn’t coming?

After a moment of sour notes and bated breath, the curtain finally rose on Nintendo’s poster boy. Remote in hand, he drew it to his lips and played the air saxophone, his Mii following the notes he played on the canvas draped behind. Miyamoto had finally made his E3 appearance but again the crowd marveled at the seemingly inside joke Nintendo had pulled. Looking around as if to confirm what they were seeing was in fact real, the attendees remained silent. Seconds later, reality finally sunk in and the hope that this was nothing more than a rouse quickly melted away. Nintendo revealed the game they had saved for the very end, the game thought by many to be the revival of a long lost franchise, the game that they were playing was the casual friendly, mediocre title they’ve had on the back burner for over two years, Wii Music.

The announcement was only the straw that broke the hardcore camel’s back as the hour Nintendo press conference was almost entirely dedicated to the casual market. Out of the 11 or so games featured on stage, only three titles featured could be considered appealing to the core audience. The rest were minigames or titles directed at children.

The world should have known something was up when Nintendo revealed their MotionPlus device the day before their main event was to take place.  As Nintendo is usually the most secretive gaming company on the market, one would think they’d keep this under wraps until they had the media’s full attention. Then, when their main event finally kicked off, everyone should have immediately figured out how the conference was going to end.

We were not greeted with the president at Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime or Satoru Iwata, the president of the entire Nintendo company. We were greeted with Cammy Dunaway, the executive vice president of sales & marketing under Fils-Aime. It’s definitely not the usual format and not one that could have been expected, to say the least. Having the quintessential figure of a casual gamer, a soccer mom, start off Nintendo’s conference was the foundation of failure. To our dismay, Satoru Iwata furthered the destruction by following close behind with a 10 minute long Nintendo sales figure briefing.

Sure, E3 is about showing off how well the companies are doing in the fiscal world, but it should, more importantly, be about gaming. Gamers, such as myself, may like to debate about sales from time to time, but never during E3. Nevertheless, the show did go on.

Fighting the urge nod off throughout the briefing, gamers geared up for some excitement when Iwata introduced Animal Crossing: City Folk. With Nintendo’s solution to the outcry for vocal communications on the Wii, they simultaneously revealed the WiiSpeak device. Gamers can finally talk to friends while playing their favorite games, and Animal Crossing will be the first game to debut it. The microphone has been a long awaited peripheral by many Wii owners. It was a pleasant unveiling and the two products were a  perfect pair to debut the new technology.

WiiSpeak sits on top of your TV, allowing the entire room to communicate with others. That’s great for the family of casual gamers, but they weren’t the ones asking for it and probably won’t even use the thing more than a few times. The core crowd brought this issue up to Nintendo, not our moms. Yes, many of us asked for a voice chat solution, but when were told we’ll be needing to basically yell across the room for it to work, it’s more of a solution with a problem rather than a solution to a problem.

Why not a headset? Hell, for that matter, why not both? I have a PC headset with a detachable mic that i bought for $10. If I wanted my brother to join the conversation I was having with a buddy across the Net, I could pop the mic off and plug it straight into my microphone port. Either way, it’s a shortsighted “you asked for it, take it or leave it” response to the needs of their core fans.

Of course, the show kept going, delivering games myself and many others found less and less appealing. Raving Rabbids TV Party, Call of Duty: World at War, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades, Spore Creature Creator, Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, and a short segment on the DS’s other uses followed, effectively boring the hell out the audience. This was not due to the fact that most didn’t spark interest in them, but that each was given hardly any time to be shown. They pretty much waved an old bone in front of our face and when we finally tried to bite, pulled it away.

I am excited for the Rabbids wacky antics in TV Party, but how many times are we going to see the same “ride a yak down a mountain” game or variation of it before we get something new? the Call of Duty game was hard to catch as the camera kept jumping from side to side and the only thing we saw of GTA DS was a slide with the game’s the title on it.

Fans breathed a sigh of relief though when they finally brought out the MotionPlus and loaded up Wii Sports Resort. The sequel of the original Wii Sports, obviously, Resort will be showing off the precision of the device just as the original did for the basic Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Showcasing a frisbee game, a jet ski simulator, and a sword dueling match, Resort looks like it will be able to hold up to the first’s reputation. The device certainly does look like it has an overwhelming amount of potential and is the biggest thing fans and gamers took away from the event. Well, other than the feeling of betrayal.

Think back to the Red Steel trailer shown several years ago. Remember how the player swung the sword with the animation seeming to follow his every move? The MotionPlus is finally going to bring this to reality. We can now experience what the Wii was intended to deliver: 1:1 controls. That means the sword fighting that was intended in Red Steel will come to fruition and the golf swings in Wii Sports will become more precise amongst many other possibilities in future titles. I have a lot of faith in this device as well as millions of other Wii owners should have as it truly will usher in a new era in gaming.

Instead of ending their show on the MotionPlus high note, they trudged forward. They set their next game up as if this was what we had been all waiting for. The lights began to dance across the auditorium, smoke rose as if from out of no where, and the crowd in the Kodak Theater, as well as the fans at home, clung to the edge of their seats. The screen lit up on stage and the only thing seen was Nintendo hammering the nail in the coffin of their own press conference.

Nintendo didn’t drop the megaton announcement most fans expected at their E3 event this year. The only thing they did drop was the ball that is their dedicated fans. The entire show was slated for the casual consumer and the lofty amount of money they frivolously throw away on piss poor games. Even with the WiiSpeak and MotionPlus, their show received an extremely sad reception by their fans. Rumors spread from top tiered sources claiming a revival of Punch-Out! and even Kid Icarus would be shown by Nintendo at this event. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Plus, with Nintendo’s seemingly unintentional raising and shattering of the core consumers’ dreams with the Wii Music segment, it was one of the biggest letdowns in recent Nintendo history.

With Sony and Microsoft showcasing some of their must have third party games along side their own, they put Nintendo’s showing to shame. Where was The Conduit, Mad World, Mushroom Men, or de Blob? Four of the best looking Wii games on the horizon were pushed aside to make room for the likes of Grand Theft Auto’s heading and a video of Raving Rabbids TV Party that seemed far too familiar.

Nintendo made it clear at this E3 that their main focus is no longer on their loyal fans who wait for days in lines for their products; who stir up hype for their games by word of mouth; who carried them on their backs to where they are now. This show was dedicated to those who aren’t even dedicated to them. Nintendo catered to people who probably didn’t even know E3 existed rather than those who stayed up for hours on end just to catch a glimpse at what they had in store.

I was one of the loyal fans who backed Nintendo’s attempt to plant some roots in the casual field. But now, more than ever, its seems as if Nintendo is not only planting more roots on the other side of the fence, they’re hiking up the ones firmly anchored in the core fields they planted long ago. It felt like Nintendo delt us a punch to the gut, turned us around and booted us from their home. And while furiously sitting in the pile of mud we landed in, told us to tell our moms they said hi.

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