Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: February 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Touching Down Under

Ahead of next month's European launch, Nintendo's DS has been launched onto the Australian retail market today, bundled with a Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt demo cartridge. Electronics Boutique outlets were very busy today with people picking up pre-orders, though the Sydney CBD store I visited gave the distinct visual impression that no games were available for it yet. Every DS game on the shelves was a dummy copy with a "Coming Soon" sticker and no price tag. I had to ask a salesperson which of the games displayed were actually available. Unfortunately, Sega's Project Rub (aka Feel The Magic) and Metroid: Hunters are not available yet.

Among the day one titles were Mario64 DS, Warioware: Touched, Asphalt: Urban GT, Tiger Woods: PGA Tour, Sprung, Ping Pals, Zoo Keeper and Spiderman 2. Ridge Racer DS was notably absent. Perhaps Nintendo know what's good for them. As a port of an N64 game that's over five years old that inevitably draws very unfavourable comparisons with the all-new (and gobsmackingly good) Ridge Racer title on PSP, Ridge Racer DS is a title best shelved and never spoken of again. The EB salesperson asked me if I had pre-ordered a DS. When I replied that I'd had a DS for three months she looked at me like I was mentally deranged. The nearby Games Wizards store didn't have any DS games on their shelves (dummy cases or otherwise) and had none available except pre-orders.

If you are interested in buying a DS in Australia, I'd recommend going to BigW. BigW are retailing the DS for $188 and games for $58.82, which makes them significantly cheaper than their competitors. True bargain hunters could even go to K-Mart and demand they price match BigW and take off a further ten percent of the difference.

Australian DS gamers can get together and chat about their new consoles and games on the unofficial DS Australia boards.

Monday, February 21, 2005

PSP seasonally adjusted

PSP's Australian launch date has slipped again. Until now, Sony's only official word on the launch date had been "first quarter 2005", with everyone expecting a late March debut. Today the official line on the Australian Playstation website changed to "Autumn 2005". That's somewhere in the range of March to May. Realistically, it suggests May.

No doubt the delay has a lot to do with how many PSPs Sony are capable of producing right now. They can't service all the world's markets at once yet. The impending US release will certainly provide demand for a large number of units. Sony are expected to have half a million of them ready to sell in the US on March 24. Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia will have to wait until Sony can produce sufficient stock to launch the PSP successfully in those regions. Despite huge demand, Sony have still sold just under a million PSPs in Japan, where the console has now been available for almost two and a half months.

The delay will probably lead many eager gamers to import a PSP. While there's been no official word on price, current estimates put the PSP's Australian RRP at around $400. If this turns out to be true, then importing a PSP from Canada would be a cheaper option.

All of this is good news for Nintendo, whose DS goes on sale in Australia for $199 this Thursday. Sony's delay should translate into better sales for the DS in the short term, allowing the DS to build a stronger user-base before the PSP hits the market.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rumble Roses

Konami, is that you?

Women in videogames tend to be significantly more buxom, pouty, and provocatively dressed than the majority of their real life counterparts. You don't need to be a genius to work out why that is. Most gamers are men. Most men enjoy looking at buxom, pouty, scantily clad women. You'd be hard pressed to find a woman character in a videogame who doesn't flaunt her sexuality to some degree. It's all a matter of degrees though. Some games can maintain a modicum of subtlety and class in this regard, even going so far as properly contextualising the character's behaviour and motivation within the plot (such as Silent Hill 2's Maria, or Metal Gear Solid 3's Eva).

On the other hand, there are games that seek to do none of this, offering shameless titillation without concern for plot, or even decent gameplay. In Japan, this kind of game is a genre unto itself. Japanese budget game publisher D3 has released a whole slew of games centred around women in bikinis doing stuff. Fighting, snowboarding, posing, playing mahjong, dismembering zombies, competing in wacky game-shows, growing to enormous size and crushing cities godzilla-style, etc. It's an established and accepted genre in Japan.

In the Western world, games like these have never really taken off. The notable exception is Tecmo's Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball (XBox) which was less of a volleyball game, and more of a boob-simulator. Tecmo's DOA fighting-game franchise was always better known for its cast of busty women and jiggle-dynamics than its core gameplay. Cashing in on this, Tecmo saw fit to release a game focussed on the girls of DOA bouncing around in swimsuits. It sold massive numbers all over the world, not because its target-market wanted to play volleyball, but because they wanted to see these virtual girls jiggling about in increasingly skimpy bikinis. Ironically, DOA:XBV is, in my opinion, one of the 'girliest' games ever made. Behind the eye-candy, the game is really all about shopping for outfits and accessorizing.

All this pre-amble brings me to the latest wrestling game from Konami. "The first and only all-women's wrestling game on any platform": Rumble Roses (PS2). Konami, the very same company that gave the world the Silent Hill and Metal Gear games, has shockingly released the new pinnacle in boob-powered videogames. Make no mistake - Rumble Roses hits the player over the head with overt T & A like no other game I've ever seen. It's all presented in a fairly light-hearted manner with no nudity whatsoever, and yet it seems more confronting than ever due to the lifelike animation. The fact is that in games that bother to animate breasts, they're typically more reminiscent of large globes of weightless jelly than any real body parts. Not so in Rumble Roses - its evident that a lot of time was spent perfecting the physics and motion of the Roses' bodies, such that they move, bounce and, dare I say it, sag in a very weighty and realistic fashion. And then there are the mud matches - that's right: women in bikins wrestling in mud. Another dubious first for videogames.

I asked myself how Konami could stoop so low as to produce one of these tacky pervert games that sacrifices gameplay and production values for the sake of cheap smut. Well, hang on a minute. It may look like a duck, but it doesn't necessarily quack like a duck. Konami developed this game in conjunction with Yukes, the undisputed masters of wrestling game design. Despite my view that (and I may be struck down for saying this) wrestling games don't rank too highly up the foodchain, I have to admit the gameplay mechanics of Rumble Roses are solid. It's slightly less complex than Yukes' Smackdown games but is just as well balanced and no doubt was simplified to make it more accessible and fun. Performing the usual wrestling moves fills meters, alowing each character to execute special killer, lethal and humiliation moves. Some of these are truly spectacular. The production values are actually very high; the graphics engine is impressive and the wrestling animation and motion capture work is top notch. There is actually a plot. A ridiculous one, to be sure, involving the use of a legendary dead wrestler's DNA in an evil scheme to produce cyborgs, but its better than nothing. Each character has a storyline, played out in cutscenes between matches. Each character also has an unlockable alter-ego, which is more than just a mere palette-swap or alternate costume. The alter-egos have their own distinct personalities and storylines. The voice acting is dire, but the soundtrack is very good, from the rocking cover of David Lee Roth's Yankee Rose, to new tracks from Konami's respected composer Akira Yamaoka. This game has Konami written all over it, from the character design, to the music and the billboards throughout the game promoting other Konami franchises.

Konami are not ashamed. Perhaps they shouldn't be. While they have produced an outrageously blatent T & A game, they have also made the first game of this type that actually plays well and is technically a quality production in almost every respect (attrocious voice acting aside).

Is it a great game? Certainly not.
Is it a good game? Yes, strangely enough it is.
Will it succeed? It has the potential to sell bucketloads.
Will it help change the popular perception of gamers as sexually frustrated geeks who need to get out more? No.

Rumble Roses will be released in Australia this Friday.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Hard Cell

Sony, IBM and Toshiba delivered an in-depth presentation at the ISSCC (International Solid State Circuits Conference) in San Francisco on Monday, revealing their Cell processor for the first time. The Cell is the culmination of their joint research and development work that began in March 2001 at a design lab based in Austin, Texas.

The Cell processor is a 90nm chip that incorporates 234 million transistors and features a breakthrough multi-core architecture and ultra-fast communications capabilities. Initial hardware testing indicates clock speeds well above four gigahertz and (incredibly) over 256 gigaflops. That's over 256 billion floating point operations per second. According to a list maintained by scientists at the University of Mannheim and the University of Tennessee as recently as June 2002, that level of performance would rank the 2 centimetre wide Cell chip among the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world. The Cell is operating-system independant, and is capable of running multiple operating systems simultaneously.

William Zeitler, senior VP and executive of the IBM Systems and Technology Group, said "Today we see the tangible results of our collaboration: an open, multi-core, microprocessor that portends a new era in graphics and multi-media performance." Ken Kutaragi, the "father of Playstation" and president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc, added "With Cell opening a doorway, a new chapter in computer science is about to begin." Masashi Muromachi, corporate VP of Toshiba Corporation and president & CEO of Toshiba's Semiconductor Company, said "We are proud that Cell, a revolutionary microprocessor with a brand new architecture that leapfrogs the performance of existing processors, has been created through a perfect synergy of IBM, Sony Group and Toshiba's capabilities and talented resources. We are confident that Cell will provide major momentum for the progress of digital convergence, as a core device sustaining a whole spectrum of advanced information-rich broadband applications, from consumer electronics, home entertainment through various industrial systems."

Bold statements and very impressive specs, but performance in real world application is all that matters to the public. This of course, is entirely dependent on how well any given software is written to exploit the hardware. IBM claims that the Cell supports a number of programming models that should make programming for the chip relatively easy. Heat is always an issue with super-fast processors, but Cell will apparently rely only on air-cooling and is capable of running at five different power states to reduce the heat it produces.

We'll have to wait a while before we see the Cell in real-world devices and can start to get an idea of its true potential. Sony's PlayStation 3, expected to launch in 2006, will likely be the flagship Cell device. XBox's successor will almost certainly beat the PS3 to the market, gaining some advantage in early sales. Whether Cell's sheer power will allow Sony to dominate in the next generation remains to be seen.