TIME Video Games

Nintendo’s Wii U Will Boot Even Faster This Summer

There's a system update in the offing that'll add a quick boot menu and faster application load times.

It’s not clear when exactly Nintendo plans to unleash this little speed-related Wii U boon — Joystiq says it’s heard this summer — but the video above indicates the benefits could be considerable: a system update that delivers a quick start menu that appears the moment you tap the Wii U GamePad’s power button.

Better still, the applications you can launch now load notably faster. Joystiq notes the original simulated demonstration showed New Super Mario Bros. U loading in about 19 seconds, whereas in the the demo above, it takes just 14 seconds.

[Joystiq]

TIME Nintendo

Nintendo Planning ‘Completely New’ Systems for Emerging Markets

The company's planning to dive into the figurine market dominated by Skylanders and Disney Infinity, too

On the heels of alarming fiscal figures and plummeting Wii U sales, Nintendo says it plans to design and market entirely new game systems which it hopes to sell in emerging markets, Bloomberg reports.

The idea, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed in a new interview, is to bring new gaming concepts to those markets instead of following competitors’ leads and selling less expensive versions of existing platforms.

“We want to make new things, with new thinking rather than a cheaper version of what we currently have,” said Iwata. “The product and price balance must be made from scratch.”

Iwata also indicated that Nintendo hopes to make headway in the highly popular figurine market, currently dominated by Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity series, by selling figures based on Nintendo’s stable of iconic characters, like Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong. The figurines would communicate with Nintendo’s devices using the near field communications (NFC) technology used by the company’s Wii U games console.Nintendo recently announced an NFC device for its portable 3DS system that allows gamers to scan objects with the device and transfer them to the Wii U.

Under pressure by analysts and pundits to engage the smart device market, Iwata also reiterated Nintendo’s position on smartphones. “We have had a console business for 30 years, and I don’t think we can just transfer that over onto a smartphone model,” he said. Iwata also expressed concern that trying to sell games designed for smartphones might harm other aspects of Nintendo’s business, adding that depending on revenue from smart devices “cannot be a pillar” for the company.

[Bloomberg]

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Nintendo Says No to Gay Weddings in Upcoming Game

General Nintendo Imagery As The Company Reports Earnings
A statue of Nintendo Co.'s video-game character Mario stands at the company's showroom in Tokyo on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Tomohiro Ohsumi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Nintendo delicately rebuffed requests from gay gamers and rights advocates to simulate same-sex weddings in its upcoming release, Tomodachi Life, saying that they "never intended to make any form of social commentary"

Dozens of countries across the globe now allow gay marriage, but it’s still verboten in some virtual worlds. Nintendo has resisted calls from gay rights advocates to allow avatars in same sex relationships to marry in its new life simulator game.

A Nintendo representative told the Associated Press that the company “never intended to make any form of social commentary” with its upcoming release, Tomodachi Life. In the game, an avatar called a “Mii” can go shopping, visit amusement parks and do just about anything other than marry another avatar of the same sex.

That design feature irked Tye Marini, a 23-year-old gamer who’s in the process of arranging his own real-life gay marriage. “I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé’s Mii,” he says.

Marini launched a social media campaign to pressure the company into creating a same-sex marriage option. Nintendo declined, saying, “The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation.”

 

[AP]

TIME Opinion

Nintendo Probably Can’t Save the Wii U

Nintendo

Let's hope it can save Nintendo

The headlines aren’t wrong: Nintendo’s had a very bad run of it lately. Wii U sales are down year-on-year, and its last year figures were already way down from its original projections. The fiscal 2013 figures Nintendo just released are kicking a company that was already on the curb, in other words. Even the 3DS, which enjoyed something of a sales renaissance after Nintendo slashed its price in August 2011, was off significantly in year-on-year sales. That’s culminated in the company taking a net loss for its fiscal year of $228 million—an improvement over last year’s negative $358 million pummeling, but a shiner just the same.

By comparison, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been selling at rates unheard of in console-dom, and you can boil that down to three reasons: specs, price and the PlayStation 2. No one disputes that the machine Mark Cerny helped architect is blisteringly powerful under its deceptively slender hood. And no one disputes that $400 is a steal for what’s in the box. Indeed, price comparisons involving homebrew PS4-like systems suggest Sony’s offering gamers considerably more for their money. And let’s talk about the PlayStation 2, because with that console Sony proved lighting could strike twice (and with twice the voltage). Sony’s base may have balked at the company’s initial price tag, its architectural missteps and its apparent apathy to Microsoft hoovering up all the major content deals during the PlayStation 3’s tenure, but I’m not sure it ever abandoned the company.

Nintendo’s Wii U, in contrast, lacks compelling specs, a sweetheart price or a historical PlayStation 2-equivalent to build on. It’s in the same ballpark as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, oomph-wise, but that’s not what gamers who’ve lived with Sony and Microsoft’s systems for the past six or seven years were looking for in November 2012, nor what seems to be moving them now. The Wii U’s price hasn’t helped matters: $350 at launch, for the only version you’d care to own, the sticker probably forced up by Nintendo’s pricey pseudo-tablet pack-in. The message Nintendo seemed to be sending was this: spend more than you would for an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3—each of those systems sporting massive libraries flush with acclaimed titles—on a backwards-looking system without a game-changing system-seller. The Wii U has yet to find its Super Mario 64 or Wii Sports.

Worse still, the company’s failed to ramp up software production or woo third-party developers, leaving the Wii U’s cupboards bare, or filled with I.O.U.’s for repeatedly delayed first-party games. Is it any wonder the sort of enthusiasts presently driving this Sony-Microsoft console sales renaissance aren’t biting?

While the original Wii outsold the Xbox 360 and PS3, it appealed most to that ficklest of fickle demographics: casual gamers. $250 was sufficiently low to fuel novelty sales at first, but once the bloom was off that rose, sales plummeted, and anecdotes about unplayed Wiis have become a games industry aphorism. The Wii U, by contrast, has little of the Wii’s novelty, and the Wii U GamePad feels increasingly like a creative miss—something that would have worked better as an optional peripheral, leaving Nintendo price headroom to amp up the specs and instead take a swing at the demographic Sony and Microsoft have been so successfully re-wooing.

But Nintendo thinks in holistic terms, and that’s arguably what people, casual or core, love most about the company’s products. Even the Nintendo 64, Nintendo’s most powerful console relative to its competition at the time, was as much about its funky three-pronged controller and middle thumbstick as its silicon graphics-hyped processor. It’s that stubborn reluctance to play it safe that’s occasionally led the company to headline games industry breakthroughs.

The flip side is that those relentless attempts to innovate—including ones that might involve rejiggering the very notion of “platform”—can break a company, however much they have in the bank. It’s survivable if you’re the Virtual Boy and your followup’s the Nintendo 64, but the Wii U’s probably going to be with us for a while, and while Nintendo’s tried repeatedly to make its case by claiming its next breakthrough game’s finally here (or just around the corner), it’s not at all clear the likes of upcoming games like Mario Kart 8 or Bayonetta 2 or Super Smash Bros. are going to be enough to arrest the Wii U’s tailspin—or the arrival of Tomodachi Life, however novel, the 3DS’ backwards sales motion.

I won’t waste your time armchair-CEO’ing Nintendo by suggesting what I think the company should do. Most of what you’ll hear about Nintendo taking its intellectual property mobile, or getting out of the hardware business entirely (like Sega) is just wishful thinking. Price cuts never hurt, unless they so sabotage the company’s profit margins that any sales boom becomes Pyrrhic. Selling a version of the system without the Wii U GamePad has the ring of wisdom to it, but wouldn’t be without its challenges, namely the reduction of the system’s already meager library by the number of titles that depend on (or simply benefit from) the controller.

Nintendo’s problem is that it’s in that deadliest of platform catch-22s, where you need a slew of standout, signature games to make your case, leveraged by third-party support for all of the triple-A multi-platform titles. The company has too few of the former and a shrinking dearth of the latter at this point. Third parties have either abandoned the system or failed to sign up for duty in the first place, their worries doubtless confirmed for the second cycle running with these latest fiscal results.

And that’s why people aren’t buying the Wii U. Enthusiasts view it as anemic, casual gamers see it as overpriced and there simply aren’t enough diehards loyal to the beloved Nintendo brand to make up those deficiencies. The proof is in those figures.

TIME Mobile Gaming

Candy Crush Maker Diversifies, but Profits Take a Dip

King Digital leans less on its biggest game, but profits drop from $159 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 to $127 million in the first three months of 2014

Candy Crush Saga maker King Digital has an answer for critics who’ve called the company a one-hit wonder.

In the first quarter of 2014, King’s revenue stream was more diverse than ever, with 67% of its earnings coming from Candy Crush. That’s down from 78% in the last quarter of 2013, as King pushes new games like Farm Heroes Saga. King now has three of the 10 top-grossing games in both the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store, with Pet Rescue Saga rounding out King’s list of hits.

King also notched record revenues of $607 million, for a year-over-year increase of 195%.

It wasn’t all good news though. Profits are down sequentially, from $159 million in the final quarter of 2013 to $127 million in the first three months of the year. King said the lower profits are due to an increased headcount and the launch of Farm Heroes Saga, according to Business Insider.

The number of “unique payers”–that is, people paying for in-app power-ups–dropped to 11.9 million last quarter, down from 12.2 million in Q4 2013, and down from a peak of 13 million in Q3 2013.

That may explain why King’s stock is taking a dive today. At the time of publication, it was currently trading at $16.61 per share, compared to its IPO pricing of $22.50 per share. The company’s March IPO flopped badly, with shares falling 16% on the day of release.

[WSJ]

TIME Nintendo

Here Are the Most Alarming Numbers From Nintendo’s Earnings

Not-so-super Nintendo

Nintendo had another rough fiscal year in 2013, with declining Wii U and 3DS sales making for the company’s third annual operating loss.

Here’s a quick rundown of Nintendo’s numbers for last fiscal year:

  • For the Wii U, Nintendo sold 2.72 million units worldwide, down from 3.45 million units last year. Nintendo had originally projected to sell 9 million Wii U units in 2013. Even Nintendo’s revised estimate of 2.8 million unit sales didn’t pan out.
  • Nintendo 3DS (and 2DS) sales look more impressive, at 12.26 million units combined. But those sales are also down from 13.95 million units in 2012.
  • On the bright side, Nintendo 3DS software sales are way up year-over-year, from 36 million in 2012 to 67.89 million in 2013. The launch of Pokemon X/Y last October was a huge factor, pulling in 12.26 million units worldwide.
  • Overall, Nintendo posted a net loss of 23.2 billion yen (about $228 million) last fiscal year. That’s better, at least, than 2012’s losses of 36.4 billion yen.

Nintendo expects profits of 40 billion yen this year, with help from games like Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, Tomodachi Life for the Nintendo 3DS and Super Smash Bros. for both platforms. Time will tell if Nintendo ends up revising those 2014 estimates sharply downward as it did last year.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Companies

Activision Is Reportedly Spending Half a Billion on a Single Game

Bungie

Activision is making a half-billion-dollar bet on a single video game. At a Los Angeles conference last week, CEO Bobby Kotick said that his company would pour $500 million into Destiny, an upcoming massively multiplayer online first-person shooter being developed for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game comes from Bungie, the makers of the Halo series, so it has a high pedigree and a mountain of hype. But the figure may still be unprecedented in the gaming industry, especially for a new IP. Activision did not respond to a request for comment.

Typically, lavish budgets are reserved for franchises with proven popularity. Last fall’s Grand Theft Auto 5 was estimated to cost $160 million to produce. The Destiny figure dwarfs that, but an Activision spokesperson clarified to Reuters that the budget includes marketing, packaging, infrastructure support, royalties and more. The spokesperson said that the game’s budget will be “roughly in line with other Triple-A titles.”

Still, the huge sum shows that Activision is hungry for a new massive franchise. The company’s annual Call of Duty games have been selling less and less in recent years, and Activision’s sales and profits were both down in 2013. In an industry increasingly dependent on blockbusters, Activision is trying to position Destiny as too big to fail.

TIME Video Games

Analogue Nt: Classic NES Reborn as a $500 Luxury Machine

Analogue

When was the last time you played the original Nintendo Entertainment System? Visiting your parents, perhaps? Huddled in front of an old CRT television, blowing on cartridges in pursuit of one tiny hit of nostalgia?

Now that you’re older, and have some disposable income, Analogue thinks you might pay for a better experience. The company is now taking pre-orders for the Analogue Nt, a $500, aluminum-clad gaming system that plays original NES and Famicom cartridges. The system will ship some time this summer.

You can already find NES remakes for much cheaper. (HyperKin, perhaps the most well-known purveyor, sells a 3-in-1 Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Genesis system for $60.) You can even snag the real thing on eBay for under $100. But Analogue has a few arguments in favor of its steep price tag, aside from just the slick aluminum chassis:

  • While most other NES-alikes rely on emulation, which can cause issues with video and audio fidelity, the Analogue Nt uses the same Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor and Ricoh 2c02 picture processor from the original NES. Analogue’s own Christopher Taber said these parts come from old Famicom systems that are surprisingly easy to get in large quantities; they’re too old and damaged to sell as complete systems, but the chips inside are in great condition. All the other components are newly manufactured in China, and the system is assembled in the United States.
  • Analogue has also added some perks that you won’t find on an original NES, including Famicom and Famicom Disk System compatibility, so you can check out all the games that never made it over from Japan. There’s also RGB, Component and S-Video outputs, an optional HDMI adapter with 1080p upscaling, four built-in controller ports and adjustable color palette settings.
  • Best of all, the Analogue Nt has no lockout chip, which contributed to original Nintendo’s blinking grey screen issues. You won’t have to blow on your cartridges–a method that arguably didn’t help at all–or employ any other fancy trickery to make the system work.

Like all other companies selling NES hardware today, Analogue isn’t affiliated with Nintendo, so I asked Taber how it’s legal to sell this kind of system. In an e-mail, Taber insisted that the system doesn’t infringe on any patents or copyrights, but he also said that the original NES and Famicom patents expired in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

If you’re interested in dropping $500 on the Analogue Nt, you’ll still have to provide your own games. The base system doesn’t include any controllers either, but you can bring your own or buy some from Analogue ($49 new, $29 refurbished). The optional HDMI adapter costs another $49.

Of course, all this extra expenditure won’t make your NES games look any better than they did in the 80s. The Analogue Nt will merely preserve their 8-bit glory while looking comfortable in a modern entertainment center, ensuring that no one will ever question your old-school gamer status.

TIME legal

Oculus Calls ZeniMax’s Allegations of Theft False, Disappointing and Not Surprising

Oculus VR just sent across an email outlining in seven points what it views as ZeniMax's specious claims about Doom-creator John Carmack and Oculus' virtual reality technology.

Last week, ZeniMax accused Oculus VR Chief Technology Officer (and former id Software Doom mastermind) John Carmack of taking “proprietary technology and know-how” with him when he departed the Rockville, Maryland-based Elder Scrolls and Dishonored publisher for a job with Oculus.

Oculus’ response at the time was terse and absolute: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Wall Street Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

Here’s a bit more of that defense, breaking this morning, with Oculus writing in an email to the media that it’s “disappointed but not surprised by Zenimax’s actions” and promising to “prove that all of its claims are false.”

The following list of points was also provided by Oculus in the email:

  • There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.
  • John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax.
  • Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.
  • A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.
  • Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
  • Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers.
  • Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), Zenimax has never identified any ‘stolen’ code or technology.

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

18 Things the Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Trailer Tells Us About the Game

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is just another way of saying "future tech military bonanza mashup."

Activision wasn’t supposed to unveil Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare until this Sunday. But the announcement trailer, starring the inestimable Kevin Spacey as the (apparent) bad guy, leaked early, and so we now have two minutes and 46 seconds of footage to mull over while we wait for May 2 to come and go and for further info to drop. I wouldn’t dangle from a tenterhook waiting for an info-avalanche, though. After all, that’s what E3’s for.

But there is a fair lot to observe and think about here. Let’s step through most of it, and you can make fun of me in the comments below for all the stuff I get wrong.

“The following was captured on Xbox One.”

This plays over black at the trailer’s start and signifies nothing more than full disclosure. People naturally want to know what they’re looking at, though it can’t matter until we’ve also seen the PC and PS4 versions (until then, I’ll leave the debate over resolutions and frame rates to my psychic readers).

Activision / YouTube

This fellow’s wearing an exoskeletal suit that gives you superhuman powers.

I first came across the powered exoskeleton concept doing research for a Computer Gaming World feature on Crysis in 2006. The military’s been working on bionic exo-suits for a long time, so it’s not really science fiction, though what happens a bit later in the trailer to some of the folks driving these things — where they’re timing crazy-big jumps between moving vehicles perfectly — is pure fantasy.

Activision / YouTube

“Restricted Area. Authorized Personnel Only.” Hi there, future-Guantanamo Bay!

Who did the whole round-em-up-in-a-pen thing first in gaming-dom? Half-Life 2? I can’t remember, I just know I keep seeing it pop up in copycat dystopias — the whole martial-law-for-our-own-good thing. But is this America (the sign’s in English)? Somewhere else? Destructoid, which broke the leaked video, says the game’s about a guy (Spacey) running a private military company that goes rogue, so perhaps said PMC’s taken over part or all of an American city, and that’s what we’re looking at here.

Activision / YouTube

I was wrong: Those aren’t drones. They’re twin-turbine helicopter-looking things.

But they look kind of like drones, too, though on closer inspection you can see windshields and side doors, and there’s that intercut shot of soldiers tooling around in an airborne one (the vest the soldier’s wearing sports a logo, “Atlas” — perhaps the name of the PMC, perhaps in turn a reference to Atlas Shrugged, the libertarian/conservative pseudo-philosophical fantasy novel by Ayn Rand). Someone with far superior military know-how than me will doubtless tell us what present-day flying vehicle(s) these are modeled after, or extrapolated from (I’d guess quadcopter, but what do I know).

Activision / YouTube

We’ve already seen Kevin Spacey play a zealot, but he’s also Kevin-freaking-Spacey.

You’ve probably heard the adage “So-and-so could read the phone book and I’d listen” employed to celebrate exalted elocutionists. Kevin Spacey could play Snidely Whiplash for all I care, or have to muddle through a sophomoric script — I’ll still watch. (I’m less impressed with the engine’s stilted facial rendering tech, however.)

Activision / YouTube

The sign on the wall behind the soldier reads “Sector 02: BioLab Data Terminal.”

Will threats of biological warfare — viral maladies with the potential to decimate huge swathes of the population — play a role in what you’ll be grappling with in the campaign?

Activision / YouTube

“Keep Lagos Clean.”

That’s what the scrolling sign on the side of the overpass reads. Lagos is a port city in Nigeria. So either I’m totally wrong about the America thing, or the game takes place in multiple locations. I’d presume the latter, possibly as part of the preamble that sets the stage for Kevin Spacey’s character’s ideological meltdown. (Also, check the flag protruding from right: the Nigerian national flag is green-white-green.)

Activision / YouTube

Nomad and Prophet (Crysis) have nothing on this guy.

That’s a big honkin’ jump. And wait just one second…is that the Golden Gate Bridge? (See the sequence from 1:16, too.)

Activision / YouTube

Hold on — jet-boots? Jetpacks?

Are these soldiers just super-jumping, or taking off, up-up-and-away-like? (After watching the sequence at 2:14, I’d probably stick with jet boots.)

Activision / YouTube

No, that’s not a misplaced screen from Halo.

Thought the way that gun’s sides appear to slope, and with the design lines on that futuristic drop-ship…squint just a little, and it almost could be.

Activision / YouTube

Hello, bat-cycle.

That’s the clearer head-on shot (in the video, you first see a soldier climbing onboard). Vehicles look to factor big and multifariously in this game. Is this the same thing as the hovering cycle we see later in the trailer, at 1:44 and 2:10? Looks like it.

Activision / YouTube

Soldiers (and vehicles) will have cloaking powers.

Another hat-tip to Crysis: these super-suits, assuming they’re of a piece, will give you Predator-style powers to vanish at will. We saw this earlier in the trailer (at 0:24) with vehicles, too.

Activision / YouTube

I have no idea what’s going on here.

LSD mode? Or how about just “peek through walls mode” — the followup shot shows the soldier identifying presumed targets through a solid wall, Batman Arkham-style.

Activision / YouTube

“I’ll have the powered exoskeletal suit, sized Venti, please.”

Taking a page from Marvel’s Iron Man films, these suits clap on with automatic servos, apparently, then turn your arms into gatling guns.

Activision / YouTube

Oh hi there, Black Ops II nano gloves.

Remember those things? They glowed green or orange to indicate whether they’d adhered to something (or not). I gather these are the new and improved (and faster climbing?) model.

Activision / YouTube

Weaponized military drones apparently weigh very little.

Is this the future of high-tech military drone launches? You just throw them out the side of something? (Okay, maybe it’s not weaponized, but that kind of looks like a gatling cannon on the nose.)

Activision / YouTube

Coolest thing in the trailer yet: roll-your-own cover.

Imagine unfurling something like a vertical projector screen, only sideways, then hunching behind it, only the screen’s effectively bulletproof. That’s what I’m gleaning from the little squibs going off in the video, anyway.

Activision / YouTube

This tank has legs like an insect and wheels like a car.

And with everything else we’ve seen, Call of Duty Kitchen Sink is what I’m thinking.

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