October 12th, 2006, 18:12 Posted By: wraggster
The launch of Nintendo's Wii console could be the most destructive videogame event for more than 20 years. More destructive than the launch of PlayStation, which in effect killed Sega as a console producer and relegated Nintendo to a humiliating court jester role. More destructive even than the 1983 collapse, when Atari released so many gut-bustingly awful games it almost killed the industry.
Wii is unprecedented and unpredictable. Eschewing the ruinously expensive hardware war, in which console manufacturers seek to out-muscle each other with ever more complex hardware, Nintendo has built its comparatively modest machine around a novelty controller: the Wii Remote, a wireless, motion-sensing device that can be used variously as a sword, tennis racket or fly swat, depending on the game.
This presents two huge problems. First, game publishers sell 90% of their products on the quality of the graphics. Boasts such as "intense next-gen visuals" and "awesome animation" are burned into the brains of marketers.
But Wii is challenging this approach. Screenshots of launch games like Call of Duty 3 and Excite Truck reveal jagged polygons and mediocre distance drawing.
Then there's the Wii Remote. On a practical level, this bizarre device requires developers to re-think the way games work, replacing button combinations with movements. But then there are the devastating psychosexual consequences.
The barbarians - and by this I mean women and older people - are at the gates, armed with Wii Remotes. My wife will figure out how to use this device as quickly as I do, because it does not rely on the spatially illogical mapping of actions on to small plastic buttons. For many men this is a terrifying, emasculating prospect.
If there's one thing western publishers are more scared of than women and old people, though, it's Nintendo. Companies are already grumbling about the decision to bundle the internally produced title Wii Sports with every console sold. The impact on sales of third-party launch games is likely to be significant.
Some, however, welcome the impeding chaos. Last week Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft's North American division, told Reuters that he believes Wii can help his company topple EA from its dominant position as king of publishers. This could be the first of several stalking horses.
An immense power vacuum is looming. Terror, catastrophe and motion-sensing gaming await.
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