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CURRENTS
Issue #100
February 18, 2009
Centennial
Front Page

Usually in reaching the milestone of any achievement, a big hoopla is made. A country at civil war reaches its apex, and thus a president gives a monumental speech. Racism is finally defused after hundreds of years, and a speech is recorded. A certain female protagonist falls on the pointy end of Sephiroth's blade, and millions of players weep in unison...

This is not one of those milestones yet.

We've reached issue #100 with Currents—truly an achievement when put in the context of how many projects that people attempt usually die out quickly. However, unlike the Civil War, Racism, or Disk One of Final Fantasy VII, we're not reaching an end, we're only continuing, and thus, it means back to work.

That all being said, The Currents Column has (yet) a new writer who will be taking over. However, to ensure the regularity of the article, I've been asked to focus primarily on this section, not multitasking with other categories. Since I'm now officially 'the new guy' around here, I ask that you be kind with me for the first few articles until I hit my groove... but for the most part, I think I get a good idea what you, the reader, are looking for when you visit the Currents Column. So I will do my best to keep it interesting, relevant, and to spellcheck and use important-sounding words in my reviews. (Or so I told the hiring staff at RPGamer.com)

And so, this is what happened in the world of games this week...

DS Sales Account for 51% of Japanese Market
Also, 51% of Americans still don't know what DS stands for...

I kid about the subtitle to the article.... but seriously. 51% of an entire gaming market is an amazing accomplishment for one console—especially a handheld one. Sayeth GamesIndustry.biz:

Famitsu has released data on the top 100 best-selling games in Japan for 2008, with DS sales making up 51 per cent of the region's market. ... Home console sales paled in comparison to those of the Nintendo DS, which saw 47 titles occupy the chart, accounting for 51.6 per cent of the market - an increase of 8.8 per cent from 2007. The platform's top title, Pokemon Platinum, took second place overall at 2,187,337 units.

So, is this good news or bad news? What about a handheld console system makes it so awesome to a demographic? The following are a list of opinions given by average computer surfers to a polled question about the Pros of the Nintendo DS.

- "good sized 3 inch screen, long 10 hour battery life, nice cool touch screen, plays gameboy advance games to, fun to play!"

- "It's like laptop computers without the lap."

- "it has two screens. and a very good line of games. it also has a microphone, preinstalled pictochat software that lets you chat and draw pictures to other ds's within a certain range, very nice sound, backward compatible with the Gameboy Advance games. Nintendo DS system and the games are both lower priced than the Sony PSP."

- "Pretty Light for its size. color matched my room."

- (Poll produced by brighthand.com)

Keep in mind that these comments were the ones that made the most sense—evidently, the poll in question wasn't geared toward Harvard Students. All the same, we get a good idea of what makes the Nintendo DS such a success, and therefore why it took home the blue ribbon in the Japanese gaming market. Innovation with the touch screen. Reverse compatibility to play games from previous generations. (I'm looking at you PS3.) Entertaining library of games with versitility of styles and genres. The... ahem... colors are aesthetically pleasing. All in all, it seems Nintendo did well with this generation of hand-held goodness. A present search on Nintendo.com produced over 500 titles for the DS library, comparing to just over 400 games for the PSP. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and both handheld systems have their own individual merits; however, it would seem the proof is in the figurative pudding as far as 2008 is concerned.

How did the other systems fare for 2008? The same article at GamesIndustry.biz listed a brief description of the outcome of the home console systems in comparison to the same game market. The Wii market fell slightly from 2007, but still capped out at a nice, comfortable 15.4%. The Playstation 2 was still Sony's top payroll listing with a still growing share in the market. Sony's initial proclamation was that the PS2 took home 17.5 percent of the market, but those figures were subject to slight adjustment based on the information obtained in the article. The PS3 comprised 4% of the market, while the PSP gathered just under 9%.

The information discussed in this article is of particular interest based on a trend noticed by some market analysts. For instance, DailyTech.com mentioned that the Japanese-based market for console video games was at an all-time low of 20% in Western buyers markets.

Japanese market share of the Western game market has been reduced to 20 percent according to an analysis of the Japanese gaming industry by the CESA. The decline is significant as Japanese game development used to maintain a dominant position in the industry especially for home and portable console game development.

The article (found here) highlighted a number of reasons that could link this trend—one of which was particularly interesting to me.

He suggests RPG games which Japanese developers tend to focus are not as popular in the west...Potentially lucrative areas such as sports or popular movie franchises is tightly controlled.

Evidently, this trend in marketing fallout is based on the fact that the Western market has turned toward genres more convenient to the western culture. Not that there's anything wrong with this trend in itself, but the first part of the statement certainly brings out an interesting point that ties back in with the thrust of this article—RPGs sell.

Notice that the market in question at the top of this article is the Japanese market. In Japan, 51% of the market shares have fallen toward Nintendo via the DS. Also of interest was the fact that the PS2 is currently ranking second in that same comparison. I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I know for a fact that those are the first two systems I think of when RPGs cross my mind. I just thought I would bring out this point as an interesting argument with those who like to take sides in a 'best genre' argument.

What does the future hold, then, for the market king, Nintendo DS? Will we see more RPGs for the DS (and perhaps the Wii as well)? Will Japan strive to capture more of the Western Market by focusing more on "Sports and Movies?" I guess we will have to wait to see what the numbers hold for 2009 and compare them to the titles released, won't we?

Sources: Gamesindustry | DailyTech |
Why We May Not See Earthbound on Wii's Virtual Console
Mother... 2. (That's what it's called in Japan)

It's a humble following. There were articles I personally remember in both Nintedo Power and GamePro magazines that made fun of it time and again. (One recurring article, I remember, had a Scratch-n-Sniff of a really putrid smell, comparing it to Earthbound.) The game has been called childish, stupid, dorky... and a few things that probably are unmentionable for a family-based website.

Still, there are gamers like me that have gone through it a number of times and will always want more. Gamers who cheered when Ness made it to the Smash Brothers series of games and who reveled in the possibilitiy that Mother 3 could possibly get an American translation. Gamers who make a loud "SMAAAAAASSSSHHHHHHH!" sound whenever they hit something with a baseball bat.

You know, gamers who would like to see the SNES game re-released on Wii's Virtual Console.

Unfortunately, we may never get that chance...and the reason will blow your mind. According to Kotaku.com (in referencing Starmen.net):

A rumour popped up today on Starmen.net claiming that Earthbound would never, ever be released on Nintendo's Virtual Console. Made vague mention of potential lawsuits. But lawsuits from whom?

Earthbound Central last week threw up a post outlining how many of the game's tunes are catchy little homages to actual, real-world tracks by artists like The Who, Chuck Berry & The Beatles. Not exactly news, since Mother fans will already know of the existence of most, if not all of the midi tributes, but in light of Starmen's rumours it's worth pointing them out.

And remember, those are just the tip of the iceberg; there are renditions of TV show theme songs and even the US national anthem hidden in the game. But it gives you a good idea of why Nintendo may be hesitant over the whole thing. From their point of view, satiating a few thousand Mother fans with a re-release isn't worth the potential broadside of lawsuits from overbearing law firms such a release would invite.

Let me start with this comment: There are a few running gags online involving screenshots or pictures of celebrities holding their head in their hand, as if to say, "This is pathetic." This general image has taken the name 'facepalming.' Reading this article for the first time (and really each time I reread it) causes me to do this.

Obviously there is legitimate reasoning in the article as to why Nintendo would be afraid to promote something that would get them sued. My complaint is the absolute idiocy of the grounds of these, and like, charges that are all-too-common today. As if The Who or The Beatles (who we know are absolutely clean in a litigation sense) would feel as if their sales would be threatened by a 1995 Super Nintendo Re-release of a game not many people liked at the time anyhow! Frustrating things more is the fact that a rumor had started over a year ago that this event actually WOULD take place—the event seeing Earthbound making it.

Now, obviously rumors are not substantial enough in themselves to expect something to come from it. However, it would appear that all hopes have been recinded by Nintendo, who has stated that it would be taking no steps in either working toward a legal workaround or in making necessary changes to the soundtrack to make it less attackable. According to Starmen.net:

For reasons we can only guess, the head honchos back in Japan were refusing to let NoA modify the game prior to release. Was it too expensive? Did they disagree with the NoA lawyers' assessment? Were they just being stubborn? Was Itoi involved somehow? None of our sources were able to tell us what transpired.

The article concluded by stating that Nintendo's law team had convinced development of the danger of going toward the Virtual Console release, and thus it would appear that the release would not be made.

However, where this article ends starts a new story for the future with both Virtual Console and future new game releases. Where does the wondering of legal action end? Will we not see a release of other NES or SNES games because of fear of litigation? Will we not see the Breath of Fire series because Street Fighter also has a character named Ryu? (Yes, yes, I know... BoF II has already been released, but you get my point.) My aggrevation seems to stem from the fact that nobody seems to want to talk this out—it's the mere fear of being sued that keeps Nintendo from moving forward with this decision. Maybe they should just ask Paul McCartney if he minds....

Sources: Kotaku | Starmen.net |
Is the 'Red Ring of Death' on Its Own Deathbed?
...and when can we expect the next inevitable hardware problem?

For years, PC users feared only one thing more than the term 'upgrade:' The Blue Screen of Death, abbreviated as the BSoD. (Coincedentally, both of which became associated with Microsoft quite frequently.) This blue screen would inform you, the user, that your computer had done something that could only be reversed by restarting the system completely. More often than not, even a restart wouldn't fix it—leaving you up the proverbial creek with no paddle, life preserver, or flare gun.

Probably because of the headaches and dropped jaws that this screen has induced over the years, Xbox users have given a similar nickname to the hardware problems faced with the 360—The 'Red Ring of Death' (or RRoD).

The most important question, though, is: "Is it all over?"

The Answer? "We certainly hope so..."

Can we say definitively? Well, not yet. But interviews with Microsoft executives certainly sound hopeful. Take this article by Edge-Online:

[Microsoft] claims such problems should soon be a thing of the past. "We're seeing great performance of the current systems, so we're really happy with the way they've been performing. ... From friends that have had [repairs] done as of late, I can tell you from our own internal staff that we're seeing very strong performance from a quality standpoint.

"What it comes down to is isolating and figuring out the issue, fixing the issue, and the more that we can fix the issue, and know it's fixed, then we're good going forward. We've put the worst behind us on this, but we know there are a few lagging systems, and so we want to take those and make it right."

Interestingly, the article makes it known that it took a little arm-twisting before Microsoft would come clean about the issue being a hardware problem to begin with. (Gee, where have I heard that before?) However, once the fessing-up began, Microsoft stated that they would be responsible for providing Warranty-holders repairs in the total amount of some $1.1 Billion (including systems sold that would eventually come in for repairs, as well).

Personally, I'm sure that Microsoft means entirely well and has capable hands to fix this issue. However, reading the comments given by the Microsoft representative sounds like the usual rigamarole that I've gotten from computer support over the years... For instance:

"...What we do in general, the way that it works, is that they will fix it with the latest [hardware] improvements that we've applied [to current Xbox 360s]. Obviously we're continuously improving the technology inside the box, not to get too technical. So they'll apply that when they make the increments to your system."

Not to sound like a griper, but that statement told me absolutely nothing and would not instill any lasting confidence in me, were I an owner of an Xbox 360 that was suffering from RRoD. No specifics were given in the article (i.e. faulty processor, incompatible video chip, etc.) as to what caused the RRoD, nor were there any mentions of the type of hardware being upgraded or replaced. Simply that "It's all good."

I'm not here to say that Microsoft isn't being truthful. I'm merely stating what I've read and making the additional, "I'll have to wait and see..." I have every bit of trust that this thing will be over soon, but whether or not 'this fix' will be the final fix, I couldn't be certain. I'll just rather leave you with more of the fun rhetoric that Microsoft is so known for (also taken from the article):

"What it comes down to is isolating and figuring out the issue, fixing the issue, and the more that we can fix the issue, and know it's fixed, then we're good going forward."

Sources: Edge-Online |
QUICKIES: Just one this time, but it's a little longer...
Fun and quick to read!
  • Brett Favre almost dropped from Madden 09 Cover
    Rest of nation wonders what took so long...

    Naturally, I kid. I believe Brett Favre is a great player. I also believe he's getting into the 'living out the glory days' epoch of his life.* Whatever your personal stand is on Mr. Favre, keeping an eye on his activities and performance during the final games of the 2008-2009 football season, this article certainly isn't coming as much of a shock as you would imagine otherwise:

    (*As a rabid Dolphins fan, I considered his playing in the 08' season a personal affront to Dan Marino's records. That's just my opinion, of course.)

    "The recent class action lawsuit in which retired NFL players won a $28 million judgment from the National Football League Players Association continues to yield a treasure trove of information concerning the inner workings of EA's best-selling Madden franchise.

    For example, transcripts of court testimony which were unsealed this week by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco show that NFL star Brett Favre's decision to retire from the Green Bay Packers in early 2008 almost got him dropped from the cover of Madden 2009.

    EA exec Joel Linzner, who was called as a witness at the NFLPA trial, testfied about the dilemma which Favre's on again-off again retirement caused for EA...

    The article continued with a transcrpipt that, honestly, did not paint a picture of a legally strong Electronics Arts' representative. While, in the defense of EA, there was no way for them to know early in the season the issues with allowing the image of a quaterback that was contemplating retirement, the prosecuting team continued to bring out relevant points to question how EA made the decisions on who made it to the front label of its Madden games.

    (As another interesting piece of argument, the Michael Vick story was brought into play, as Mr. Vick graced his prescence on the Madden '04 cartridge box.)

    What does this mean for the future of the Madden series vis-a-vis the box's image? Well, it will for one certainly cause EA to contemplate using potential retirees (As Favre was at the time of his signing) on the boxes for its games. Perhaps it could also consider investing in a time machine to verify that its choices will be good five months past its release. I understand we're just six years away from flying cars, and one 1985 DeLorean in particular should interest Mr. Linzner down at EA.
Sources: GamePolitics

Well, I was told by the crew at RPGamer that this was kind of a trial run, so feel free to let me, or them, know whether or not this was a good job and, if not, the sorts of things I need to work on. I had fun doing this, but I do have quite an opinion to myself, and I can get kind of one-sided on some discussions—so if you feel like supporting or arguing against a point, I'll look forward to that as well.

Daniel Burnham
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