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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 14, 2013 9:39 AM

CES: Finding console clues - a PlayStation 4K?

Posted by Brier Dudley

With all the hoopla at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, you'd never guess it was missing a few hugely important products that are about to be released by two of the industry's biggest players.

I'm talking about new versions of Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation that are expected to debut later this year. They're potentially the hottest consumer-electronics products of 2013, but there wasn't a peep about them at the annual gadget mecca.

Bill Gates unveiled the first Xbox at the 2001 CES, but this year Microsoft declined to participate. It's planning to make a splash at the E3 game conference in June, when it will presumably will reveal the third generation of its console.

Sony had its usual huge presence at CES, but said nothing about its new PlayStation, showing only the PS3 that first appeared in 2006.

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This cone of silence -- and the variety of other new products on display that bring digital entertainment to TV sets -- raises questions about how much demand there is for expensive new game hardware.

Will people pay $300 to $400 to upgrade their consoles, or put that money toward a higher-definition TV with a quad-core processor that streams online movies and connects directly to cloud gaming services?

People are still buying lots of consoles, and Nintendo's Wii U is off to a pretty good start. But overall game-hardware sales in the U.S. declined 27 percent last year, to $4 billion, down from $5.6 billion in 2011, according to NPD research.

We're either at the low point of a hardware cycle, or interest is waning because there are other ways to expand the capability your TV.

I'm betting that it's mostly just a low tide. Especially after seeing clues at CES about the direction console-makers, particularly Sony, are taking. They made me think that the new consoles could be exciting and useful enough to extend their run for another five years or more.

Sony employees went silent whenever I asked about the PlayStation 4, but they showed a lot of technology that seems likely to be in the console, or at least complement the new hardware.

One of them accidentally mentioned to me a 4K video player that will be revealed later this year. My guess is that the PS4 will have this capability, similar to the way the PS3 arrived at the dawn of the Blu-ray era with a Blu-ray drive inside.

IMG_4255.JPG
Sony lucked out in the naming department, with the PS4 arriving with a wave of 4K TVs coming out this year. The number refers to the roughly 4,000 lines of resolution the new displays have, nearly four times higher than 1080p high-definition sets. These TVs are called "ultra high definition" but Sony emphasizes the numeral 4.

Getting the most out of a 4K set today is tricky. There aren't 4K videodiscs or other media yet.

Online video services such as Netflix are gearing up to stream 4K content, which will be compressed to minimize the burden on your broadband service. The new 4K TVs can also digitally upscale 1080p content coming out of Blu-ray players.

But for uncompressed, unscaled 4K video, you stream the content from a hard drive containing the big video files. Sony began selling 4K sets last fall and loans buyers a server -- basically a PC -- that comes loaded with movies. (It's the least they can do when you pay $25,000 for an 84-inch set.)

Sony showed a prototype of a new version of this server last week. It was a round, metal box similar to the hat-box-shaped Sony Vaio Media Center PCs that Sony discontinued a few years ago. (It's pictured above and below, in a side view).

A representative wouldn't tell me anything about the capacity of this device, but I overheard a Sony executive showing it off to a group of VIPs. I'm pretty sure he said it will ship with 50 terabytes of storage capacity, preloaded with 90 movies to start, and can store up to 400 movies.

IMG_4374.JPG
Sony can do this in part because it owns a major movie studio. It has been distributing 4K films for a while, delivering them on hard drives that are plugged in to digital projectors at the theater.

My guess is that Sony is working on some sort of memory device for storing and distributing 4K movies -- perhaps a solid-state memory cartridge? -- and the PS4 will be one of the first players. Either that, or Sony will to extend the technology developed for its 4K media server to the console.

Sony spokesman Philip Jones wouldn't talk about this with me when he showed me around the booth.

IMG_4292.JPG
But Jones did point out some interesting things that you can do with a 4K TV and the current PlayStation. For instance, you can display photos on the screen with 8.3 megapixels of resolution, compared with about 2 megapixels of resolution you'll see on a current high-def TV.

That may not sound like much, but it tracks with the trend that Apple, Samsung and others are driving toward higher-resolution displays on phones and tablets. It all coincides with the broad enthusiasm for digital photography.

You don't need a PlayStation to display photos on a TV, but the console does have pretty nice photo-handling software.

Sony also has been dabbling in ways to let PlayStation owners play games side-by-side and see different action on the same set, when wearing 3-D glasses. Last year, it introduced this capability on a PlayStation-branded TV. At CES last week it was showing this feature on a wall-sized display.

IMG_4269.JPG
Also highlighted in Sony's booth this year were various ways to use tablets and laptops to navigate and control a TV. The company also showed the Web tablets that it bundles with its 84-inch 4K sets, to browse and control the TV and server.

Combine some of these capabilities with even more vivid games enabled by the next generation of game consoles, and there may be hope yet for the traditional video game business.

I wasn't the only one snooping around Sony's booth and the rest of CES for clues about this technology, by the way.

On the plane ride home, I sat near a Microsoft employee who works on planning new Xbox products. When I floated my idea about the PS4 piggybacking on the move toward 4K TVs, he said he wasn't that enthused about 4K TVs.

The Xbox guy was more excited about video-streaming hardware components shown by Broadcom and others. Using the new 802.11ac flavor of Wi-Fi, Broadcom's new chips can stream content at up to 867 megabits per second. Broadcom refers to this fast wireless as "5G" technology.

I didn't make it to Broadcom's booth, but the company was showing how this hardware can connect four tablets to a TV set.

All four could simultaneously stream content, enabling them to be used for multiplayer gaming.

I'll let you do your own speculation about what that means for the next Xbox.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Digital TV , E3 , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Sony , Tablets , Video games , Wii U , Xbox |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 19, 2012 9:53 AM

Nintendo Wii U finally gets TV features Dec. 20 (noonish)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally finished one of the key features of its new Wii U console, just in time for Christmas.

The company today said that it will release the TVii feature of the Wii U on Dec. 20, a month after the system's U.S. launch on Nov. 18.

More than 400,000 Wii U consoles were sold in its first week on the market in the U.S. Each required a lengthy system update and additional updates to add services that have trickled out since the launch.

System updates are common with game hardware but Nintendo's lengthy downloads prompted the company's president, Satoru Iwata, to say in November that he was "very sorry" for the inconvenience.

Thumbnail image for NintendoU_mh179199.JPG
Adding TV features was key for Nintendo as it competes with other game consoles that have evolved into entertainment hubs, connecting TV sets to a variety of online video services.

The Wii U's advantage over Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 is the Wii U's GamePad controller, which has a 6-inch touchscreen display that can be used for video playback or as an advanced remote control for cable and video services. (An early version of TVii is shown above in a picture by Mark Harrison, Times staff photographer)

Shortly after the Wii U's launch, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon.com's streaming video services became available on the console. The GamePad could be used to change channels and volume on TVs right out of the box.

TVii adds a program guide so the GamePad can be used to peruse and select content from cable and satellite providers. It also includes social features that let users chat about shows with friends connected via Nintendo's network. Users can also post comments about shows to Facebook and Twitter while watching via the Wii U.

"After Dec. 20, you'll never look at your TV the same way again," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in the release. "Wii U owners have already experienced the transformative effect that the GamePad has on game play and social interaction. Nintendo TVii shows how the integrated second screen of the GamePad can also transform and enhance the TV viewing experience. Welcome to the new world of TVii."

Still delayed is the ability to sync TVii with a TiVo and further integration with Netflix. Those capabilities are now expected in early 2013 in the U.S. Later, Nintendo may add the ability to control other DVRs using the GamePad and TVii program guide.

UPDATE: The TVii update wasn't ready this morning but a Nintendo spokeswoman told me it should go live around noon.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , Nintendo , PlayStation , Video games , Wii U , hulu |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 26, 2012 11:02 AM

Nintendo sold 1.2 million systems last week, 400k Wii U consoles

Posted by Brier Dudley

Launch week sales of Nintendo's Wii U console did not match launch sales of the original Wii, apparently.

Nintendo sold 400,000 Wii U consoles last week, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told CNET today.

For comparison, the original Wii sold 600,000 units in its first week on the market in 2006. Of that 475,000 were sold in the U.S. Nintendo went on to sell about 96 million of the consoles, which initially cost $250.

Comparisons are difficult in part because the Wii U has a staggered launch globally. It's going on sale Friday in Europe and early next month in Japan.

In the U.S. last week, the $299 Wii U faced particularly tough competition from the original Wii, which was available for under $100 in some sales.

CNET's report said 300,000 units of the original console were sold last week. Combining the old and new models, the Wii platform sold more than 700,000 units, the report said.

Overall sales of Nintendo systems -- including handhelds -- were more than 1.2 million units last week, according to the report.

Supply limits are also affecting Wii U sales. Fils-Aime told Cnet units are selling as soon as they hit the shelves:

"Wii U is essentially sold out of retail and we are doing our best to continually replenish stock," Fils-Aime said. "Retailers are also doing their best to get the product to store shelves. But as soon as product hits retail, they're selling out immediately."

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November 19, 2012 9:55 AM

Review: Nintendo's Wii U delivers double-screen fun

Posted by Brier Dudley

With Sunday's launch of the Wii U, Nintendo is once again disrupting the rec room with an unusual new machine designed to advance the notion of video entertainment.

Exploring its capabilities will keep buyers and game developers engaged for years.

The Wii U's signature feature is its GamePad controller, a wireless tablet with a 6.2-inch touch screen flanked by buttons and joysticks.

wiiumetroid.jpg
Having this second screen can add a fun new dimension to games.

But after trying the console with a stack of launch titles over the past week, I think it will take time for some developers to figure out the right mix of what to display on the TV and the auxiliary screen.

In the meantime, the Wii U is still a nice option for people looking for a high-definition game console that will appeal to a broad range of players. Nintendo gave the system enough horsepower to run most premier games, whether or not they take full advantage of the GamePad.

The Wii U starts at $300 for a white model with 8 gigabyte of storage. A $350 deluxe version has 32 gigabytes of storage and comes with "Nintendo Land," a collection of a dozen starter games.

All versions of the Wii U support 1080p video, which finally gives Nintendo parity with Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. There are 29 packaged Wii U games available at launch, including top-tier action titles such as "Assassin's Creed III" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II."

The Wii U is the first in a new generation of consoles that will arrive over the next year, including new models of the Xbox and PlayStation. All are likely to use multiple screens, and the next wave of games will be designed with this in mind.

On the Wii U, some games keep you focused on the GamePad screen, and others are mostly played on the TV. Most have you glance back and forth, using the tablet to navigate, aim or select weapons, for instance.

This new approach reflects the way people tend to have a phone or tablet at hand while watching TV nowadays. At work, in the car, everywhere you turn there are multiple displays to navigate and monitor the flow of information in our lives.

Including a tablet with the console may help Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft stem the loss of players who are turning toward inexpensive games on mobile devices and social networks.

The addition of touch screens will help consoles continue their evolution from game machines to hubs of entertainment and communication in the living room. A tablet with an on-screen keyboard works better than a game controller or TV remote if you want to send a text message or choose a movie from an online video store.

For Nintendo, this may be a more radical interface than the motion-controllers that debuted with the original Wii in 2006. They were quirky, but generally tracked familiar motions like swinging a bowling ball, a bat or a sword.

I found the Wii U to have a notable learning curve because it doesn't feel as natural to divide your attention between the GamePad display and the TV. This might be because I was trying multiple games with different screen mixes.

As a guy who juggles the remote, a tablet and a phone while watching TV, I thought I was pretty good at multitasking.

wiiuzombie.jpg


But Wii U action games such as "Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge" and "Madden NFL 2013" put my advanced couch-potato skills to the test as I tried to focus on the TV and the GamePad while madly pushing buttons and tapping the display. My technique -- or a software bug -- caused "Madden" to completely freeze the Wii U at one point.

Among the action games I tried, Ubisoft's "ZombieU" and Warner Bros. "Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition" made especially good use of the small screen to display maps and sonar for locating enemies and manage collections of tools and weapons.

Nintendo, with its own games for the Wii U, has done the best job so far of figuring out how to have fun with multiple screens.

On its "New Super Mario Bros. U," the player using the GamePad can help other players get through the game. Tapping the pad can add bridges or bump aside enemies, for instance.

This is a great way to even things out between players with different skill levels, as long as they don't fight over who gets to use the GamePad. For now the system only works with a single GamePad; other players use standard Wii remotes.

wiiu mario.jpg
"Nintendo Land" introduces a variety of GamePad controls. You blow on the microphone to activate an elevator in "Donkey Kong's Crash Course," you flick the screen to shoot throwing stars at targets on the TV in "Takamaru's Ninja Castle," and you simply rotate the tablet to steer a car in "Captain Falcon's Twister Race."

In "Luigi's Ghost Mansion," one player uses the GamePad to guide a ghost through a haunted house. Other players use Wii remotes to navigate through the house displayed on the TV set.

Multiplayer games require a combination of the GamePad and Wii remotes. Remotes have to be paired with the GamePad, which can be a little tricky, and I never could get a remote to work properly on "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest" game in the "Nintendo Land" suite.

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A big promise of the Wii U is its ability to play some games and watch streaming video on the GamePad, separate from the TV.

Unfortunately, the Wii U's wireless system wasn't strong enough to let me roam with the GamePad beyond the room with the console. It lost signal in the adjacent room, so I couldn't continue a game in the kitchen or bedroom. Maybe that's just as well.

The GamePad has the potential to be a truly great TV remote control, especially for navigating online video services. Apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon.com are preloaded on the system.

But Nintendo wasn't able to finish these features in time for the console's debut, and it will activate them through software updates over the next month. (UPDATE: The Netflix app was activated over the weekend and works very well, with full search of the catalog via the GamePad and smooth 1080p output from the console.)

I wish Nintendo had gone a bit further and enabled the Wii U to also play DVD movie discs, so the device could replace the DVD player. Instead the Wii U uses proprietary discs with a thick, durable-seeming coating.

Another cornerstone of the platform is a new social network called Miiverse, which connects players online. It will be used to set up multiplayer games, share hints and tips on games and chat while watching TV shows and other video content.

Miiverse was not activated in time for my review, but Nintendo said it will be running at launch.

Assuming the video and networking features work as promised, Nintendo has produced an exciting successor to its groundbreaking Wii that should thrill buyers and inspire game developers to explore the GamePad's potential.

UPDATE: Miiverse, the web browser and other connected features went live as promised over the weekend.

It takes a little time to set up Miiverse accounts for users of the system, which are linked to Nintendo accounts, each of which require handles and passwords. Then you can participate in online forums where games are being discussed and send messages or doodles drawn on the GamePad to others.

During activation there's a lengthy advisory message encouraging people to be respectful and not post inappropriate material. We'll have to see whether the Miiverse maintains the positive, family friendly vibe that Nintendo has cultivated with its brand, and how aggressively the company moderates the network.

It's also an opportunity to activate parental controls, which are simple to manage though there aren't many options to tailor controls. You can set access to games based on their ratings, but access to video services and the browser is either on or off.

The Mii U's browser is fast and easy to use and is a handy way to display web pages on the TV. You control the browser on the GamePad and outputs the page on the TV in full screen, without any browser controls visible.

Both the basic and deluxe versions of the Wii U come with an HDMI cable. They can also use the original Wii's sensor bar - that receives remote signals - which is a nice touch and means Wii owners upgrading to the Wii U don't have to peel the old one off their TVs.

Here's a look at a few of the parental control screens:

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Here's the TV remote control capability that's launched with a "TV" button on the pad. Still to come are interactive TV features and the ability to control a DVR; the Wii U will initially work with TiVo boxes but Nintendo's hoping to get other set-top box companies on board:

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Here are the system specs, as listed by Nintendo:

Price: $299.99 for Basic Set, $349.99 for Deluxe Set.

Size: Approximately 1.8 inches high, 10.6 inches deep and 6.75 inches long.

Weight: Approximately 3.5 pounds.

Wii U GamePad: The GamePad incorporates a 6.2-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio LCD touch screen, as well as traditional button controls and two analog sticks. Inputs include a +Control Pad, L/R sticks, L/R stick buttons, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons, ZL/ZR buttons, Power button, HOME button, -/SELECT button, +/START button, and TV CONTROL button. The GamePad also includes motion control (powered by an accelerometer and gyroscope), a front-facing camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, rumble features, a sensor bar, an included stylus and support for Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality. It is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and weighs approximately 1.1 pounds (500 g).

Other Controllers: The Wii U console supports one Wii U GamePad controller, up to four Wii Remote (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers or Wii U Pro Controllers, and Wii accessories such as the Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board. In the future, the Wii U console will support, depending on the software, two Wii U GamePad controllers.

CPU: IBM Power-based multi-core processor.

GPU: AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU.

Storage: Wii U uses an internal flash memory (8 GB with the Basic Set; 32 GB with the Deluxe Set) for data storage. It also supports external USB storage.

Media: Wii U and Wii optical discs.

Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, Wii Component Video, Wii S-Video Stereo AV and Wii AV.

Audio Output: Uses six-channel PCM linear output via HDMI connector, or analog output via the AV Multi Out connector.

Networking: Wii U can be connected to the Internet via a wireless (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) connection. The console features four USB 2.0 connectors - two in the front and two in the rear - that support Wii LAN Adapters for a wired Internet connection.

Wii Compatibility: Nearly all Wii software and accessories can be used with Wii U.

Energy Efficiency: Wii U utilizes specially designed power-saving features to lower its energy consumption.

Wii U Retail Set Options:

Basic - $299.99
8 GB internal memory for storage
Wii U™ console (white)
Wii U GamePad (white)
Wii U AC adapter
Wii U GamePad AC adapter
High-speed HDMI cable
Sensor bar

Deluxe - $349.99
Nintendo Land game
32 GB internal memory for storage
Wii U console (black)
Wii U GamePad (black)
Wii U AC adapter
Wii U GamePad AC adapter
High-speed HDMI cable
Sensor bar
Wii U GamePad cradle
Wii U GamePad stand
Wii U console stand

Here's a close-up image of the GamePad provided by Nintendo. We'll have to see if it ships the TVii capability shown in the rendering before football season ends:

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November 16, 2012 11:10 AM

Nintendo Wii U video features delayed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Key features of Nintendo's new Wii U console are delayed and won't be ready when the system goes on sale Sunday.

Nintendo said today that it's not ready to ship software enabling its new console to play video from companies such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com. Icons for the services are on early versions of the console's GamePad but aren't activated yet.

Those services will be made available "in the coming weeks." The system will notify users as each service is activated, Nintendo said in a release.

The Wii also has a video application called TVii that adds a program guide, remote control and social networking linked to TV content. That's delayed until December, when it will be added through a software update.

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The Wii U GamePad controller has a 6.2-inch color display that's used to control games and a TV set attached to the Wii U. It is also supposed to stream video from services such as Netflix, but that's not going to work until the software is complete.

Game consoles -- like PCs, tablets and smartphones -- are continually updated with software patches delivered via the Internet or with applications.

But it's unusual to launch a new hardware platform before one of its cornerstone features is complete.

Still, Nintendo may have challenges meeting demand for the Wii U this holiday season.

GameStop, a major game retailer, said earlier this week that it has 500,000 people on a waiting list for the Wii U and more than 1.2 million Wii U games reserved.

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November 15, 2012 3:00 AM

Mariners adding huge display at Safeco Field, largest in MLB

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unable to wait for the Thanksgiving sales, the Mariners went ahead and bought a huge new TV for Safeco Field.

Huge is actually an understatement.

Last week the team began work on what will be the biggest video display in Major
League Baseball and one of the largest in professional sports. It's the centerpiece of the biggest upgrade to the ballpark since it opened in 1999 and a technical marvel that could become a tourist attraction on its own.

At 201.5 feet by 56.7 feet, the display is nearly a block long and wider than the record-holding jumbo display at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. It's ten times the size of the ballpark's current video screen and has a viewing area of roughly 2,182 42-inch TVs.

And yes, it will still display hydro races - but the boats will now be rendered in full 1080p high-resolution.

Here's a simulated image provided by the Mariners:

Scoreboard Rendering 2.jpg

Work has already begun to dismantle the ballpark's original scoreboard. The new display should be operational in March, in time for the April 8 home opener versus the Houston Astros.

It's replacing a cluster of displays and signs, including a 26 by 46 foot standard-definition video display, billboards and a matrix board displaying stats.

Instead of simply upgrading the old panels, the Mariners opted to install a single large display. The Panasonic HD LED system can be reconfigured digitally to have the look of a traditional scoreboard, with riveted panels that reflect the ballpark's architectural style (shown in another rendering, below).

Scoreboard Rendering 1 (2).jpg
Or it can switch in a blink to a vivid, fullscreen display for replays.

Kevin Martinez, vice president of marketing, provided an example of how the display may be used.

"So Felix Hernandez just strikes out a batter in the top of the eighth inning," he said. "We're going to go live to Felix, who tends to be an animated, excited guy. We'll cut to shots of the crowd and then a replay of that moment."

The display is the biggest portion of $15 million that the team is spending on maintenance and improvements to the field for the 2013 season. That includes the relocation of the outfield fence and other amenities that will be announced later, but it's mostly the big display.

Under the team's agreement with taxpayers who funded the ballpark, the Mariners are responsible for keeping Safeco Field a "first class facility" and the old displays weren't up to snuff. The matrix board was on its last legs and failed during a few games in the 2011 season.

Like any sports fan remodeling their home, the Mariners saw that they had a huge expanse of space and opted to install the biggest possible TV.

"We have this big structure that has a smaller video screen, a scoreboard and signage," explained Dave Curry, the team's vice president of technology. "The idea first was to go all LED so we had a flexible palate, if you will, to be able to change and move things around and just be much more dynamic."

Then they decided to really go for it.

"As we were looking at the size of the structure we started thinking, 'if we could get this thing to be native 1080p that would be the ultimate resolution,'" Curry said.

The display will have 1080p by 3840p resolution and 4,147,200 pixels. It's actually made up of mutiple panels, about nine inches square, that are assembled like tiles. It will have a total viewing area of 11,425 square feet. The Cowboys' 160 by 72 foot display covers 11,520 square feet.

Plastic panels will protect the display from impact, though hittters have yet to reach the scoreboard at Safeco Field.

Dropping perhaps $10 million on a TV isn't an attempt to one-up the neighbors, Martinez insisted, although the Seahawks and Sounders did upgrade the displays at CenturyLink Field in March. The football stadium received Mitsubishi LED displays - a 44 by 50 footer in the north end, and an 84 by 24 footer in the south end.

Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale noted that the upgrades are covered by a different budget than team operations, so they won't affect plans to boost the team payroll and make it more competive.

The challenge will be keeping players' eyes on the field.

Here's a picture from the Mariners, of the old scoreboard being dismantled:

BigScreenBreakdown02.png

Here are more technical details of the display, provided by the Mariners:

Dimensions: 56.7 feet high by 201.5 feet wide

Total viewing area: 11,425 square feet

Resolution: 1080 pixels high by 3840 pixels wide

Display technology: Panasonic 16 millimeter LED surface mount. Light emitting diodes are mounted directly onto printed circuit boards.

Operating system: Vendor ANC Sports' VisionSoft. The 64-bit OS also powers Safeco Field's out-of-town scoreboard and LED fascia displays. The system allows for 32 gigabytes of memory per thread per video board, enabling 100 percent real-time speed through all of the venue's displays.

The previous scoreboard included a 26 by 46 foot ProStar video display and 34 by 76 foot incandescent matrix board, plus fixed billboards. It had total dimensions of 56 by 200 feet.

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October 8, 2012 10:39 AM

Q&A: Nintendo boss on Wii U vs. AppleTV, Google, Xbox 720 ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are edited excerpts of my interview with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. (Photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times staff photographer)

The conversation in his Redmond aerie led to today's column on the upcoming Wii U and its potential as a new TV interface.

Among the topics we covered was competition with Apple, Google, Microsoft and others developing new entertainment hubs.

Q: Could Nintendo TV be the killer app in the Wii U -- even more than its gaming capabilities?

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A: The way that I would say it is Nintendo TV is certainly going to be something that every member of the family picks up and engages in at least once a day. If that helps them get more comfortable with the GamePad and in the end adds to more games being played, then that's great. But fundamentally it's part of the overall proposition of games, TV plus social.

Q: Do you think you've designed a superior TV interface for a family?

A: We think we have. In terms of a way to find what you want, to actually watch it on the big screen or on the small screen and then to be socially engaged on it, yeah, we do think we've created a better mousetrap.

Q: Will that broaden the appeal of the Wii U beyond gamers?

A: We believe so.

Q: Will people buy the system just for home entertainment, similar to the way many early buyers of Sony's PlayStation 3 were looking mostly for a great Blu-ray player?

A: You know it could be, but I do think in the end the consumers we're talking to are those consumers who want a game console in their home. So they want the best Nintendo entertainment, they want the best of the third-party entertainment.

So I think it's going to be that larger community of gamers which now is like two-thirds of all households today. But once they get it in the house we think that Nintendo TV is certainly going to be a great value add.

Q: Lots of people are looking to "digify" their TVs with devices that connect them to the Web. Are you looking to fill that niche with a device that makes it easy to get Hulu and Netflix on their TVs?

A: Certainly. But I think more than that. If the consumer just wants to add VOD [video on demand] to their TV, there are a lot of different ways to do that. I think the value we bring is by providing the consumer a better way to find all of that content.

And here's the example: if you have Amazon video services ... for you to find what's on there, what's hot, what's trending, is pretty tough. Now say you've got Amazon plus Netflix plus Hulu Plus and you're trying to figure out what it is you're trying to watch -- that's what Nintendo TV really solves.

Based on the way you watch TV -- which is based on shows, based on the actors, based on the genres, based on what your friends are watching -- we solve that equation by letting you search that way across all of your entertainment. For us, we think that's the big idea.

Q: Google's also trying to build a new TV interface with search and social capabilities ...

A: There are a lot of people who've been trying to do this and I think the challenge has been how do you build the economics, how do you drive the installed base, and how do you drive the relationships.

Our approach was, because it's on the back of the gaming platform, that's what's going to drive the installed base. Because we're clearly a games and entertainment company, Netflix and us have a fantastic relationship. We've got a fantastic relationship with the Amazon video people, a fantastic relationship with Hulu Plus, a growing relationship with the cable companies and dish companies.

Essentially we were the perfect vehicle to drive this type of innovation into the home. Whereas all of the other competitors have maybe an issue from a partnership standpoint that is tough to solve.

Q: You don't have a video store that's competing directly (like Sony and Microsoft ...)?

A: Exactly.

Q: But are you still getting commissions on the video rentals through the Wii U?

A: We're not going to talk about the business relationships that we have, but suffice it to say we've got very mutually beneficial relationships with all of the entities that participate in Nintendo TV.

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Q: Will you make as much money on the platform from services such as video as you will from video?

A: As a first-party publisher, there's a large part of the value chain that we make on the game side ... so I doubt we will make the same profitability on the services side as what we do on the games. But it's still going to be a very healthy business for us.

Q: I talked to companies a few years ago that were working on ways to identify who was using the TV at a particular time so they could target ads to, say, mom, dad or the kids. How are you going to take advantage of that information, which you'll see through your system?

A: Certainly the way the system works, it gives us access to a lot of information, as long as the consumer agrees to share it with us. How we utilize that, we'll find out as we go.

Again, we're not in the ad-serving business. We're not in the micro-targeting business. But certainly I can imagine as we build out the service that's something that Comcast or AT&T or any of the cable companies are really going to be interested in, potentially.

Q: So it could give you leverage, negotiating to work with them?

A: Sure.

Q: Apple TV is also a rival of yours, including the current adapter and the rumored actual TV set. If it comes to pass I'll bet that it's something comparable to the interface you've developed (blending services, adding search, social and messaging, plus a simple and elegant remote).

A: We're all working off of the same public statements but it seems like they, too, want to be your cable box and they want to own that direct relationship with the consumer based on the content.

Again I think that's the sticking point for how they're going to bring their vision to life. Because I don't think any of the established players are willing to give that up.

Q: Over the life of this console the landscape's going to change, more video is going to move to on-demand, cloud services instead of cable.

A: Potentially. One of the beauties of what it is that we're doing is that essentially Nintendo TV is a cloud service, right? It's delivered over the Web. It's interactive. It can change on the fly.

Q: If this really grows, will it change the character of Nintendo? Will it become more of a consumer electronics company vs. a game company?

A: We've always been an entertainment company, going all the way back to the hanafuda cards and our key equities. We're an entertainment company. I think what the Wii U does is further show that our vision is this broader entertainment landscape.

Because in the end the time that consumer spends in any form of entertainment that's not on our device is a missed opportunity for us. It's that type of thinking that led us to create "Brain Age," same type of thinking that led us to create "Wii Fit." It's looking at the broadest landscape possible as to what constitutes entertainment.

Q: Do game companies have to evolve this way because the box and games business is declining?

A: From a Nintendo perspective this makes sense for us because we view ourselves from this broader entertainment landscape. We view every potential consumer as an opportunity. Whether they're 95 years old or 5 years old, we want to create entertainment that's going to speak to that consumer. In our view whether we deliver it in a handheld device or in their home, it's an opportunity to engage with that consumer, make them smile, give them something positive.

You look at the way we've managed the Mario franchise, the Zelda franchise, all our of our key franchise characters, utilizing a variety of different gameplay styles -- it's always been about driving entertainment.

Q: Will future versions of the 3DS handheld be more entertainment focused. Will there be a way to get Nintendo TV onto the 3DS or 4DS?

A: Today you can connect your DS to the Wii in terms downloading demos, downloading bits of entertainment. Second point is one of our key developers has already aid that they're working on a key franchise -- "Smash Brothers" -- that will have some form of connectivity between the 3DS and the Wii U.

Certainly because we manufacture the devices, we can enable some sort of connectivity. But beyond that on your 3DS today you can watch movies, on your 3DS today you can have a variety of deep experiences. We're certainly leveraging the learning we have in the broader space across all of our platforms.

Q: How about things like the timeline -- the interactive chatting about a show in Nintendo TV -- will that come to the future 3DS?

A: It could. But the piece to recognize and the reason we're able to bring that to life is that your signal, from either your cable box or your dish, this system has access to it through the IR codes. ... Who's to say the next iteration, ... the 4DS or whatever it is, might be able to do that, maybe.

But it just highlights the way we think about hardware development is we envision scenarios, we envision what can be done technically, that the current system doesn't do and then we build it into that new device.

For example, if we hadn't built the IR capability into the GamePad, the work we're doing with Nintendo TV couldn't come to pass. That's another key advantage we have, for example, vs. tablets or other handheld device. Not all of them have IR blasting capability. In fact, most of them don't.

Q: Speaking of tablets, how are you going to surface this against all the new tablets this holiday season?

A: We're working very hard to make sure that consumers understand that this is an entire system. It's the console, it's the GamePad itself, it's an entire proposition. It's not just a tablet that you're going to have in your home.

So the first step is really making sure that the consumer understands what is the entire proposition. The second step is making the consumer understand all of these great experiences that they can get that they're not going to be able to get on a tablet, and they're not going to be able to get on a tablet somehow connected to a gaming system like what our friends down the street are trying to do.

The only way we can deliver an experience like "New Super Mario Bros U" or like Nintendo TV is that this is an entire connected system , the way the GamePad talks to the console, the way the console is connected to the TV, the way it speaks to your entertainment provider. Your cable box or your dish provider. That entire ecosystem is what we're providing.

In our view the best way to bring that to life is to talk about the actual experiences, to talk about Nintendo TV and show it is unlike anything you can do today. To talk about the games and show that it's unlike anything that you can do today.

(Below is a screenshot of EA's FIFA Soccer 13 on the Wii U, with control details on the GamePad)

Q: You must have made a decision that linear TV was still going to be first-class on here. Your competitors, say, Google TV, didn't pony up for a guide. You did, deciding that people still watch a lot of linear (broadcast) TV. (Note: Google does not license a standard guide for live TV broadcasts, but a spokesman said there's a "TV & Movies" app available that pulls show data from online sources.)

A: There were just some numbers that were put out that ... in terms of TV viewing households, it's still something like 95 percent of all households. Linear TV is not going to go away, despite what anyone else says. It's certainly going to be driven by sports; it's going to be driven by event type programming. And so for us we absolutely embrace that in the way we're approaching Nintendo TV.

Q: Will you sell this system through Comcast or other TV partners?

A: It's certainly possible.

Q: Why didn't you just buy TiVo and go the whole DVR route?

A: That's not what we do.

Q: I wonder if Nintendo 30 years from now will be seen as more of an entertainment/video company?
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A: I think that we already see ourselves as an entertainment company. I think that certainly as we launch the Wii U, as consumers experience Nintendo TV, I think consumers will also see us as a broader entertainment company.

Q: Consumers may also think you're crazy to launch a system built around a tablet and a social network when there's a dominant tablet company and dominant social network already .... How will your Miiverse social network compete against Facebook?

A: We believe we're going to get traction with Miiverse because it's going to be dedicated to your gaming friends and your gaming community.

Here's the example: Yes, I belong to a few different social networks. But on that social network am I going to be posting how, you know, challenging this particular part of this particular Mario game is and asking for help? Probably not.

But I will post that type of information on Miiverse. And that's the difference. We're trying to cater to a specific opportunity around gaming and gaming conversations that we know our audience is passionate about.

Whether they're the most active consumer or whether they're the brand new game player, they get passionate about a game, they get passionate about questions of how to beat a level, the background for a level, what to play next. And we believe all of those social conversations are going to be best served by something like Miiverse vs. an existing social network.

Q: How about conversations about a football game or TV show that they're watching?

A: For those types of conversation, we're letting the consumer decide what's the best social network to use, whether it's through Miiverse or Twitter or Facebook. All of that's possible through Nintendo TV.

Q: Would you prefer that all those conversations happen through Miiverse?

A: For non-gaming conversations, we are ambivalent as to how the consumer wants to have that conversation. But we're passionate that when it comes to gaming, they're going to want to have that conversation through Miiverse.

Q: Are you going to monetize those conversations and social activity?

A: Right now we see it as a service. We see it as something that's going to be free to the consumer and a built-in part of the value proposition that is Wii U. Do we believe that potentially it's going to be a way for consumers to discover more content -- a way for consumers in the end to buy more software? Hopefully.

But we think making sure it's the best service possible for the consumer in the end is going to be good for us.

Q: Consumers might think the Wii U is expensive. Will the price slow the adoption?

A: That's why we've provided the two different price points and the two different SKUs. We certainly think that the basic model at $300 is a fantastic value. We think the deluxe version at $350 with "Nintendo Land" packed in is an exceptional value. We think whether you're looking to spend $350 or only want to spend $300, we've got something for everyone.

Q: What's your view on consumers' spending this holiday season? have they already spent their money on phones, or are they looking for a big new thing this holiday?

A: We think there's a variety of consumer situations out there. We certainly believe that there are quite a number of consumers looking for the next big hot product and looking to buy Wii U. That's millions of consumers.

We also think that there are going to be a few million consumers who are very late adopters who are going to be looking for a lower priced home console that has fantastic games. The Wii is for that customer.

We think that the Wii will have a strong holiday as well because there certainly are many consumers who are still feeling some financial pressure who only want to spend a certain amount of money but still want to play Mario and Donkey Kong and all of these great franchises.

There are going to be other consumers where they want a handheld and we've got a full range of different handhelds all the way from a DSi for $99 to a 3DS XL for $199. So I think that we have positioned ourselves regardless of the consumer's economic situation to find happiness with Mario.

Q: Will the Wii U and its capabilities last you through the next console generation?

A: We think so. It's based on having great graphics, it's based on having a robust online execution. We believe that this system is going to have a very long life, and it's going to be very well supported by third-party publishers.

Q: Will you refresh it through its life by adding big new partners, such as new video partners?

A: Certainly. It's going to be based on who the players are, and how they fit into the ecosystem that we're building. But as we drive the installed base of Wii U, we think there's going to be a lot of additional partnerships there for us to have.

Q: Can you fend off the Xbox 720 and PS4?

A: Once you talk about what that is, we can probably fend it off.

Q: What about goggles? Microsoft may be adding goggles. How can you make it without goggles?

A: Tell me if 3-D TVs with goggles have worked so far.

Here's Nintendo's demo video of Nintendo TV on the Wii U:

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October 8, 2012 10:10 AM

With Wii U, Nintendo reimagines TV interface

Posted by Brier Dudley

At first, you might think Nintendo is flat-out crazy.

The company is launching a new $300 game console amid the biggest slump in video-game sales in years.

It's also taking on Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com and everyone else selling new Web tablets this holiday season.

The defining feature of Nintendo's new Wii U is its GamePad controller -- a wireless, touch-screen tablet with a 6.2-inch diagonal screen. (shown here in a picture by Mark Harrison, Times staff photographer)

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But that's not challenging enough, apparently. As Facebook surpasses 1 billion users, Nintendo also is launching a new social network for the Wii U, which goes on sale Nov. 18.

Remember, though, that people also scratched their heads when Nintendo released the first Wii and its unusual motion-sensing controllers back in 2006.

That earlier Wii never won over the hard-core gamers, but the company still sold 96 million of the consoles and more than 800 million Wii games. The system made video games more accessible and physical, dramatically increasing their appeal and audience. Microsoft and Sony soon added motion-sensing controllers to their game consoles.

After spending time with executives at Nintendo of America's gleaming new headquarters in Redmond and getting a demonstration of the latest Wii U features, I think Nintendo may have done it again.

I haven't spent enough time yet with the console to be sure, but I think the Wii U has the potential to be equally transformative -- partly with games, but mostly with home entertainment funneled through the console.

In addition to playing full-fidelity games, the Wii U is designed to be an easy, fun and engaging portal to live TV and online video. This capability, dubbed Nintendo TV, looks like the Wii U's killer app.

Perhaps most significant, the system also previews what to expect from the next generation of video consoles arriving over the next year.

With the traditional game business under pressure from mobile and online games and new Web services consuming more of our free time, console makers have recast themselves as entertainment companies. Their systems have evolved into gateways to most everything you could want on your TV.

Starting with the Wii U, the next generation of consoles will be designed from the start to fill this broader role in the home, while also powering the most advanced games.

If they're successful, these systems will be a daily part of your life, whether you're playing games or not.

"The way that would say it is Nintendo TV is certainly going to be something that every member of the family picks up and engages in at least once a day," said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America. (below, photo by Mark Harrison, Times staff photographer)

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"If that helps them get more comfortable with the GamePad, and in the end adds to more games being played, then that's great," he said. "But fundamentally, it's part of the overall proposition of games, TV, plus social."

Nintendo's Zach Fountain demonstrated the setup for me.

When you first connect the system to your TV, it syncs up with your cable, satellite or antenna setup. It also connects with video streaming and rental services, including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com.

Then the Wii U GamePad becomes the ultimate universal remote control for your TV. Notably, the system includes a full TV guide displaying broadcast shows available to you via cable or antenna, plus an infrared system for changing the channel and controlling the volume on your TV set.

The GamePad's touch-screen can display a keypad, for searching out shows and movies, or sending messages to friends over Nintendo's network or via Twitter or Facebook.

To encourage these conversations, Nintendo will stream highlighted scenes from the show to the GamePad, so users can comment on a particular passage or something that caught their eye.

The pad also can be used to play a game or watch a streaming video while another show is being displayed on the TV screen.

Lots of devices connect TVs to online services, and increasingly TVs connect to them directly. It's been a capability of the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii for years.

But it's still the early days. Only about 10 percent of U.S. homes are streaming video to a TV set, according to research firm NPD.

One reason is that people still mostly watch broadcast TV, despite all the buzz around services such as Netflix.

Another reason is that the options for streaming video to your TV are still incomplete. Cable boxes handle TV but won't connect you to Netflix or Amazon. Streaming video adapters don't work with live TV broadcasts. Web-connected TVs receive both live and streaming video but their software isn't great and they don't have decent games.

Which remote do you reach for in this situation?

Take your pick: Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft, Comcast and a dozen others are all battling over this space in the living room, hoping you'll use their software and devices to find and select your next movie.

And now along comes Nintendo, like a Super Mario quarterback, leaping over the pile of linebackers bashing each other at the goal line.

Fils-Aime explained how Nintendo can make this move.

The company has several advantages. It's good at making simple, accessible interfaces. The appeal of its games will bring the Wii U into millions of homes. The company designs and builds its hardware, so it can include things like the infrared remote control.

Nintendo's business model is also key, because it's not competing with the video companies needed to make Nintendo TV a success. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo is not running a video store that conflicts with services on its platform.

"Essentially we were the perfect vehicle to drive this type of innovation into the home, whereas all of the other competitors have maybe an issue from a partnership standpoint that is tough to solve," Fils-Aime said.

Instead of trying to become the new cable box, Nintendo wants the Wii U to augment whatever TV setup people are using.

Nintendo also is getting a jump on Apple, which is expected to someday offer a more ambitious TV product than its wireless adapter for streaming video.

Altogether, this positions the Wii U to ride whatever evolution in TV services happens over the five- to 10-year life cycle of the console. Over that time TV broadcasts may shift further toward online delivery, increasing the need for truly universal remote controls.

In the meantime, Nintendo is drawing on the cluster of network and cloud-software expertise in the Seattle area. Fils-Aime said it's done more engineering on the Wii U and its services in this region, where the company now has about 1,300 employees.

It will take awhile for people to figure out where Nintendo's heading this time, but I'll bet a lot of them end up crazy for the Wii U.

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September 13, 2012 8:09 AM

Nintendo Wii U out Nov. 18, starts at $300 (updated with video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally revealed details of its upcoming Wii U, which will start the next generation of video game consoles amid growing competition from online and mobile games.

The company will begin selling the console - which features a tablet-like controller with a 6.2-inch touchscreen - on Nov. 18 for $300. That's for a model with 8 gigabytes of storage.

A "deluxe" version with 32 gigs of storage and a set of "Nintendo Land" games will cost $350.

"The wait is almost over - in just 66 days, Wii U will arrive with the strongest lineup of software in Nintendo history," Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, said in a release.

Fils-Aime revealed the launch details at an event in New York. Nintendo first unveiled the system in the summer of 2011.

With the Wii U, Nintendo is also boosting the development of console games that use auxiliary screens to create new control schemes and modes of play. Microsoft's working on a "smart glass" system to connect wireless devices such as phones and tablets to the Xbox 360, and Sony's using its handheld Vita as an auxiliary screen for the PS3.

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The Wii U pricing is just under the $399 entry level price of an iPad, but above the $200 price of a basic Xbox 360 console and $250 price of Sony's PlayStation 3. Sony and Microsoft are expected to unveil their next consoles in 2013.

Nintendo also revealed a video application for the Wii U called TVii that connects the console to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com, plus live TV broadcasts and TiVo DVRs. It takes advantage of the console's high-definition output and ability to use the GamePad as an auxiliary display and remote control.

With high-def output that the original Wii lacked, plus action-friendly control inputs, the Wii U is attracting triple-A titles such as "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," "Mass Effect 3" and "Assassin's Creed III."

Other games coming to the Wii U include "New Super Mario Bros U," "Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate," "Bayonetta 2" and "Lego City: Undercover."

Also featured on the console is an upgrade social and message system to connect players with friends and others using the Wii U.

The $300 Wii U will come in white with a single white GamePad controller, a sensor bar for receiving controller signals and an HDMI cable. The "Deluxe Set" comes in black and also includes a GamePad charging cradle and stand.

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Here's Nintendo's demo video:

Here's a Nintendo image of its Wii U title "Game & Wario":

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Last but not least, "New Super Mario Bros. U" featuring players' Mii avatars:

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July 25, 2012 4:58 PM

What's PopCap creative chief playing lately?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sitting next to PopCap's Jason Kapalka at lunch has its advantages.

Today, over tuna tartare at Seattle's RN74, he shared a few of the games that he's been playing lately.

Besides PopCap titles, of course.

Kapalka has a pretty good eye for games. He's a co-founder and chief creative officer of Seattle-based PopCap, which was acquired a year ago by EA in a deal worth up to $1.3 billion.

Here's what he's been playing lately:

"Ski Safari," a deceptively simple "runner" game in which you try to outrun an avalanche chasing you from the left side of the screen. Kapalka called the 99 cent iOS game "probably the coolest one I've seen recently."

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"Puzzle & Dragons," a puzzle-monster game (pictured) that really is big in Japan, where it's available through the Japanese version of iTunes. Kapalka is intrigued by the serious player-to-player competition seen in Japanese games and expects to see more intensely competitive games to show up in Western markets.

"Spelunky," a challenging, underground exploration game in which a whip, bombs and other tools are used to progress and to collect treasures. The players' haul is lost when they inevitably die, sending them back to start the section over again. "Spelunky" started as an indie PC game but was released this summer on Xbox LIve Arcade.

Kapalka likes the unforgiving challenge of "Spelunky." PopCap makes games that are more accessible to a broader range of players, but he thinks it's still important to make games hard enough that people feel rewarded when they succeed.

"You do lose something if games are always easy," he said.

Kapalka said PopCap is on the sidelines for now with Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console. "We're going to wait and see how it turns out," he said.

Looking farther ahead, Kapalka predicted a breakout of gaming on Web-connected TV sets. He's not sure if this will be via hardware from Apple, Google, Sony or another company, or through sets that connect directly to the Web.

"That's a potentially crazy thing that could come up in the next year or two," he said.

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June 22, 2012 11:29 AM

Nintendo launching jumbo 3DS

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo is launching not one but two new hardware systems this year.

The company today announced that it will begin selling a jumbo version of its 3DS handheld -- the 3DS XL -- on Aug. 19 for $200.

The device is being released ahead of the Wii U console, which is going on sale closer to the holidays.

Nintendo claims the 3DS XL screens are 90 percent larger than those on the original 3DS, which launched in March 2011.

The top screen with 3D capability is 4.88 inches diagonally, vs. 3.5 inches on the original, and the bottom screen is 4.18 inches. Like the original, it has a slider control to adjust or turn off the 3-D.

This isn't the first time Nintendo has supersized its handheld. In early 2010, a year after the DSi launched, the company began selling the DSi XL, with 4.2-inch screens. At the time, it noted that the DSi XL's 4.2-inch screens were 93 percent larger than those on the DS Lite.

Aug. 19 also is the day Nintendo releases "New Super Mario Bros. 2," which ought to help Nintendo sell the relatively pricey handheld at a time when full-sized consoles are $200 or less.

The bigger 3DS provides "even more real estate on their screens to enjoy entertainment applications like Nintendo Video and Netflix," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in the release.

The 3DS XL also gets a bigger battery than the original and comes with a 4 gigabyte memory card.

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June 11, 2012 10:05 AM

Best of E3 game show: Bows, boats, balls and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- With a tiny drum roll, because my ears are still ringing from the amplified madness of the E3 video-game extravaganza, here are my best-of-show awards.

Weapon of the Year: Composite bow in "Crysis 3."

Maybe it's because of the "Hunger Games" book and movie, but archery is hot nowadays, and every other game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) seemed to have a bow and arrow.

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The biggest is "Assassin's Creed III" in which you play a Native American hero armed with a bow during the American Revolution. It's arriving Oct. 13 on the Xbox, PlayStation and PC.

There's also a "Zelda" mini game for Nintendo's Wii U, on which you use the control sticks to aim and fire a bow and tilt the pad down to refill the quiver.

Disney's on it with an archery game tied to its upcoming movie "Brave." The movie looks great, but the game isn't as inspired. On the PS3 version I played, the archery was oversimplified -- you just pull a stick and a continuous stream of arrows flies out -- yet I still found it tricky to aim. The game is out June 19 on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PC and Mac.

In my favorite, "Crysis 3," there's a composite bow with military sights used to battle through New York City, circa 2047. In the game, the city has been transformed by an evil, faux-green corporation into a spooky, urban rain forest.

The bow is especially useful for stealth attacks when you're made invisible by the "Nanosuit," a trademark of "Crysis," a futuristic, sci-fi shooting franchise.

There's also a crazy assortment of guns in "Crysis 3," but the bow is more challenging. You can choose special arrows such as one that explodes or another that's electrified and zaps enemies standing in water where the arrow lands. The quiver is limited, but you can reuse arrows found in the lush, vividly rendered landscape. "Crysis 3" is coming to the Xbox, PS3 and PC in 2013.
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Best New Vehicle: Square-rigged battleship in "Assassin's Creed III." As revealed during Sony's E3 event, players get their John Paul Jones on by controlling the ship and cannons to attack British warships. I'm not sure how this will play in the U.K. market.
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Channeling Steve Jobs Award: Reggie Fils-Aime. The Nintendo of America president gets the award for saying the Wii U will "revolutionize your living room."

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Cinderella Story of the Year: British startup Playground Games. The founders (Ralph Fulton shown at left) met with Microsoft's Xbox team two years ago at E3, pitching their experience building racing games. This year they were back at the show -- unveiling "Forza Horizon." Their debut racing/action game is a highlight of Microsoft's fall lineup. It's coming to Xbox 360 on Oct. 23.
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Best Trend: Historical fiction. After thoroughly mining the future, medieval realms and wars of the 20th century, now the triple-A game developers are bringing the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s to life on game consoles with gorgeous titles like the "Assassin's Creed" series and "Dishonored," a quasi-Victorian, first-person action game (with a crossbow) coming to the Xbox, PS3 and PC on Oct. 9. If you could filter the violence, these would be the best educational games around.


Gore-Tex Award: Sony's augmented-reality Wonderbooks. The books, which display animated content on the TV screen when they're held in front of a PS3 camera attachment, were one of the few new products that didn't leak before the show.


Swag of the Year: Old fashioned Mickey Mouse hats embroidered on-site.

The hats were used to promote Disney's "Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two." Second place goes to Microsoft for giving rides around the E3 parking lot in a Ferrari, Lamborghini and other supercars to promote "Forza Horizon."

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Motion Game of the Year: "NBA Baller Beats."

I thought "Guitar Hero"-style rhythm games had run their course. But that was before I saw this Majesco title, which is coming to the Xbox 360 Kinect system on Sept. 11. You play using a real basketball, dribbling and making moves in sync with music and the scrolling graphics on screen. You can't play sitting down, and your downstairs neighbors will never forgive you.

Pivot of the Year: Microsoft's "Fable: The Journey."
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The game was introduced at last year's E3 conference as a casual, bucolic Xbox Kinect game you could play from the sofa, using arm gestures to control the reins of a horse-drawn cart as you explored an enchanted realm.

That was just the first take. Since then, the creative director left and the game was rebuilt on the Unreal Engine developed for action games. You can still drive the cart from the sofa, but the game -- releasing Oct. 9 -- turns out to be a fast-paced action title in which you race the cart past perilous obstacles, fling spells at hordes of attacking beasties and wave your arms to rip apart zombielike foes.

Booth of the Year: The Videogame History Museum.

It looked like Paul Allen's garage sale, with every imaginable digital toy over the past three decades spread out on folding tables. The Sunnyvale, Calif., organization's booth was irresistible and put it all in perspective.

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June 7, 2012 5:41 PM

E3: Q&A with Nintendo exec on Wii U, iPad, Facebook and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- Will Nintendo's new Wii U compete with the iPad as much as other game consoles, and will its Miiverse social network challenge Facebook?

And can the console win over hard-core gamers without "Call of Duty" -- or could the blockbuster action game be coming to the Wii U after all?

Those are some of the question I pitched at E3 to Scott Moffitt, the guy in charge of selling and marketing Nintendo hardware and games.

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Moffitt joined Nintendo of America as executive vice president of sales and marketing last year. Earlier he was at PepsiCo and Henkel Consumer Goods, handling brands like Mountain Dew, Right Guard and Dial.

Nintendo of America is based in Redmond, but Moffitt works from its marketing office in Redwood City, Calif.

Here are edited excerpts of our chat:

Q: Why is there no Wii U pricing information yet? Is it because you want another round of coverage when the price is announced, or have you not decided the price yet?

A: It's not that we haven't settled it. As is typical with past Nintendo console and hardware launches, we tend to try to announce the pricing and exact SKU information closer to launch. What we've said is the Wii U will be launching this holiday period and we'll make that kind of information available as we get closer to launch.

Q: How does Nintendo define the holiday season?

A: Holiday season really begins October, November, December, but of course the bulk of the sales begin Black Friday weekend, right after Thanksgiving.

Q: Do you see consumers this Christmas choosing between a $399 iPad and a Wii U, or will the Wii U be more head-to-head with other consoles?

A: I believe the competitive consideration set would include our friends from Microsoft and Sony more so than iPad devices. There's just limited gaming you can do on those devices if you really are a gamer that cares for deep, immersive gaming experiences with true button control.

So I do believe our true competition is the other consoles. But I'd say what we're offering is quite different and quite revolutionary so I think we'll compete with ourselves a bit.

Q: Are your primary buyers going to be Wii owners upgrading?
A: I think your early buyers are people who love early technology. And that probably is very broadly defined as active gamers that really want the newest, latest, greatest technology in gaming and are very intrigued by the second screen controller, which we call the Wii U, and all the interesting things it enables in home entertainment.

Q: So do you expect a slower build-up with mainstream consumers?

A: No, I think there will be a lot of current Nintendo fans also in that early rush to wait in lines and buy the Wii U. So I think current Nintendo fans that love our franchises and love playing Mario games they know they can only play on our systems will be lining up to buy it. Certainly Wii owners will be intrigued by what this has to offer as well.

Q: Your peers at Sony have told me they saw the PlayStation 3 as the upgrade for Wii owners. What will Wii U buyers be upgrading from?

A: The Wii U is intended for a broad audience. Nintendo's always been about expanding the gaming audience. The potential buyers are very broad. As we showed with Wii, when you bring interesting, new types of gaming the appeal can be quite broad. Once again, we're going to be able to transform the gaming experience, but it goes far beyond gaming. With Wii U there are three pillars to what Wii U offers.

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Certainly the integrated, second-screen controller transforms the way people play games. It will transform the way they connect with each other, with Miiverse. It will also transform the way they experience entertainment in the home. It's connected automatically to the internet, to your game console and you have the controller. That seamless connection creates lots of interesting entertainment possibilities as well as game possibilities.

Q: You have some new games for hard-core gamers but I didn't see "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield" for the Wii U. Can you get the core gamer if you don't have those titles on there?

A: E3 for us is all about games. We're focusing on that first pillar of the three pillars of what E3 can offer. Over 20 games were unveiled. That's a pretty broad lineup. But I can assure you even more games will be coming during the launch period so if there's a favorite game that gamers like, I think there's a good chance it will be coming to the platform. .... I would expect that gamers will see an immense array of first- and third-party content at launch.

Q: That's interesting. You're coming after the core strongly during what's going to be a big core season, with big titles coming out and the other consoles positioned for core gamers. Will most of your sales be to the family audience?

A: I wouldn't say that. I think Wii U is intended to reach a very broad audience. There's a lot that a core gamer will really appreciate in the system when they get into it and they see a game like "Batman Arkham City.

Yes, it's a game that was released last year but when you see how you can play it differently and what new kinds of experiences are available when you play it on the Wii U game pad. It really opens up and we think, could make it the preferred way to play some of those core games.

Q: How are you going handle parental and family safety issues around the Miiverse social network? Will there be age restrictions on its use?

A: There will be traditional parental family controls, as you'd expect with that. The Miiverse, we really haven't talked much about that yet, but it's a really interesting idea that will transform social connections both within game play and beyond game play with broader entertainment.

When you power up your system, you'll see this Mii plaza with not only your Mii but also the Miis of your friends and your neighbors and other people you're gaming with, but other people from your region or across the world. You'll see where they're congregating, which indicates their preferences for gaming or other entertainment.... We think it will enable fun interaction with households across the country and with gamers of all abilities.

Q: Will it be open to players under 13 years old?

A: It's open to gamers of all ages but you can set your parental controls, your parental restrictions, as you like.

Q: Will there be any bridges between Miiverse and say Facebook or Twitter?

A: We haven't announced anything in that area yet.

Q: Will you do more things wth the network and online services, for instance online storage and photo sharing?

A: We haven't announced any of those capabilities yet, but I think you're imagining several possibilities that have already been thought about.

We've also thought about how would you connect this new Nintendo network with your 3DS, your handheld gaming system, so you could certainly imagine lots of ways to connected all your gaming devices and enable some of the functions you're talking about. But that's not ready, that's not going to be announced at launch.

Q: Will the Miiverse become the primary way people connect online with friends and family, or is it intended to supplement other networks and message systems?

A: It's not meant to replace things people are doing on Facebook or other things. It's really not a competitor for those. It's a game-centered network. So it's meant to be a place to share gaming and entertainment content so it really inverts what Facebook does.

Facebook is a broad social network, it has a gaming aspect to it. This starts with gaming and enables some of the communication and interaction that consumers have become accustomed to with these other social networks.

Q: How will you benefit from having pole position in the next generation of game consoles?

A: I think Nintendo tends to launch new consoles when the technology and when the imagination is there to create something new that enables a richer and more interesting game experience. We don't have a set clock when we want a new console or a new piece of hardware to come out.

When we feel we have something that can elevate game play and transform the experience, that's when we'll bring it out. But certainly I would imagine being first will influence consoles that come from other manufacturers.

Comments | Category: Facebook , Gadgets & products , Games & entertainment , Nintendo , Tablets , Video games , Wii U , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 4, 2012 2:59 PM

E3: Video -- early peek at Nintendo's Wii U

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- Here's Nintendo's video providing an early peek at the redesigned Wii U and its touchscreen GamePad controller, which now has dual control sticks.

A new button on the pad also turns it into a fully independent TV remote control, plus it works as a browser and messaging console, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata explains in the video.

By releasing the video over the weekend, Nintendo got a jump on Microsoft's Monday press event, but Nintendo's still holding most details of its new console until its event on Tuesday morning.

The video mostly explains the company's thinking behind the new console, which Iwata said is designed to produce more smiles, more laughs and more empathy.

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Among the cool demos in the video is a game with throwing stars that are flicked at targets on the TV screen by sliding fingers across the Wii U controller's touchscreen. It shows up about 8 minutes into the video.

At 8:40, a new version of the Wii baseball game is shown, with the motion-sensing control pad used to "catch" a ball by moving it around and centering the ball within a circular reticle representing the glove.

About 26 minutes in, the controller is shown being used as a browser separate from what the console is displaying on the TV. If you find a website or a photo that you want to share with others in the room, it can be "flicked" to the TV's larger screen.

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The Wii U will bring Nintendo up to par with the Xbox and PlayStation in supporting hard-core games, and Nintendo is even offering a new Xbox-style controller called the "Pro" that will be sold separately.

Iwata also gave gamers at E3 and others following the news context to understand what Nintendo was trying to accomplish with the Wii U. In addition to creating a high-def version of the Wii that supports more advanced games and video services, Nintendo had more worldly concerns.

The company wanted to build a device that people would enjoy together, rather than use in isolation like some new technologies that can have people sitting in a circle staring silently at their gadgets, being "alone together."

It accomplishes this both with interactive games and sharing features and the new "Miiverse" social network based on players' Mii avatars. Iwata said the communications via this network will be done mostly through the Wii U controller, which Nintendo considers a "social window." Eventually the system will be accessible through smartphones, PC and tablets -- basically any Web-enabled device, Iwata said.

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May 14, 2012 9:34 AM

A closer look at Facebook IPO and Seattle NBA plan

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently not everyone appreciates my sense of humor.

Including a certain major investor in Facebook who is trying to bring an NBA team back to Seattle.

That would be Chris Hansen, the San Francisco hedge-fund manager orchestrating a deal to restore his beloved Seattle Sonics.

Hansen called last week after I wrote a blog post about how Facebook's upcoming IPO may help his basketball venture.

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Hansen has a big stake in the outcome of the Facebook stock offering, expected at the end of this week. He's the managing partner of a San Francisco investment company, Valiant Capital, which scored a coup in 2010. It was able to buy 36,335,590 private shares of Facebook for less than $500 million.

If Facebook does well after public trading of its stock begins, Valiant may double its money. At the high end of Facebook's projected offering -- $35 per share -- Valiant's day one gain would be nearly $800 million. Its shares would then be worth $1.27 billion.

Who knows how the stock will fare. It's supposed to break IPO records, but some big investors were reserved last week after Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg pitched the stock while wearing a hoodie, then disclosed that ad sales aren't growing as fast as site usage.

Maybe Facebook waited too long. Or maybe investors don't fully understand the complex machine that Zuckerberg built. Love it or hate it, Facebook seems to have all sorts of levers and dials to pull and twist and boost sales at will.

As they say, the rich get richer.

Then some of them decide to buy sports teams.

If they ask for public assistance -- especially from cities pleading poverty -- they become fair game for snarky blog posts.

My post joked that the Facebook windfall could enable Hansen to build two arenas without public financing, or refit KeyArena with heated massage chairs and a helicopter shuttle service.

Hansen didn't seem to mind the ribbing. He even read the flurry of online comments it generated.

But he wanted to make it clear that he personally won't pocket that $800 million.

"I would just want people to understand that Facebook is a position of my investment-management company, not a personal investment of Chris Hansen, and therefore the profits are the profits of the fund and the investors that it represents," he said.

As for his effort to build an arena for a Seattle NBA team, Hansen said it's going "great."

"I think we went into it knowing there would be some concerns, some constituencies that would be against it, that negotiations with the city and county wouldn't be easy," he said. "But I think there's very broad-based support, given the thoughtfulness and fairness of the transaction relative to the prior proposals in Seattle and other stadium transactions and arena transactions."

I'm not sure Seattle has decided yet whether it's fully invested in this offering. Yet Hansen, a Roosevelt High School graduate, is hoping his hometown ends up on his side.

"Hopefully people just trust -- really -- I'm trying to do what's right by the city," he said.

In the meantime, this should still be a pretty good week for Hansen, as long as Facebook doesn't face plant.

Firms like Valiant typically charge investors about 2 percent a year to manage their money and take 20 percent of fund profits.

So if Facebook stock does really well and Valiant's gain is $1 billion, the firm would net $200 million.

Most of the gain would go to investors in the fund, such as endowments and foundations. Hansen likely is personally invested in the fund, as well.

Hansen doesn't get all of the firm's profit. Valiant has eight or nine partners who share the firm's profits, although Hansen gets the largest share as managing partner.

This is business as usual, but it's become a sensitive topic for Hansen.

Especially since he asked the city of Seattle and King County to back a $200 million loan to help finance a $490 million arena south of Safeco Field.

Whether Hansen can pay for it all himself doesn't matter too much since local politicians are falling over each other to back the project. They did the same thing for Paul Allen, who is one of the richest men on earth. But it's a good opportunity to look at how these businesses work.

Facebook's the stock du jour, but Valiant invests in all sorts of companies in the U.S. and abroad. Its largest public holdings in the U.S. are $128.1 million worth of Apple stock, $78.6 million worth of Google and $71.2 million worth of cable company Liberty Global, according to a May 10 disclosure report.

I think there's enough there to say Hansen is continuing the Seattle tradition of using technology riches to fund pro sports teams.

Nintendo of America is the majority owner of the Mariners. Co-owners include veterans of Microsoft and RealNetworks.

Microsoft co-founder Allen owns the Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers. He's also part owner of the Sounders, whose general manager, Adrian Hanauer, was an early investor in Amazon.com and aQuantive and continues to be involved in Seattle startups.

Hansen hasn't yet disclosed the group of investors in his NBA venture but it's a safe bet that some made their fortunes in tech.

Nor is Hansen talking about his personal wealth, but he's otherwise adjusting to being a public figure.

"If I wasn't involved -- hadn't made a decision to come be involved bringing the Sonics back to Seattle -- I would have continued to enjoy my anonymity, continued to enjoy and value my anonymity," he said.

Hansen knew the spotlight was part of the deal.

"I have to be comfortable with it if I'm going to be successful," he said. "It comes with the territory."

Get ready, Chris. So do cheers and jeers from the cheap seats.

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July 22, 2011 3:07 PM

Nintendo Video launches for 3DS, no store yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo today launched the 3D video service for its 3DS handheld game player, which went on sale in March.

Called "Nintendo Video," it provides free, downloadable short videos and movie trailers that can be viewed in 3-D without special glasses on the 3DS.

It follows the release last week of a Netflix app for the 3DS, and Nintendo Video in Europe and Japan.

Videos are downloaded to the device via Wi-Fi.

Content will include movie trailers, sports and action clips and music videos, including an exclusive from Ok Go coming July 27. Exclusive content will also be provided by CollegeHumor, Jason DeRulo, Foster the People and Blue Man Group.

Microsoft and Sony are making their game consoles into entertainment hubs with access to proprietary online video stores that rent and sell movies and TV shows.

Nintendo may be heading that direction, but it's not there yet with Nintendo Video.

When I asked Nintendo whether the 3DS video service will offer full-length TV shows or movies, a spokeswoman said the company "hasn't announced anything about full-length content."

Asked about the potential for Nintendo Video to become a store for movies or TV shows, the spokeswoman provided this response, which I think means 'not at this point':

Nintendo Video is a free, one-way delivery system. Once it is downloaded, videos sent by Nintendo update automatically, so there is no way for users to interface with the service beyond choosing which videos to play.

It seems likely that Nintendo Video will evolve and add more capabilities, especially after the company introduces the Wii U with 1080p output. The company's president, Satoru Iwata, told me in June that video services will work well with the upcoming console in part because of its ability to stream content to its portable controller screen.

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June 13, 2011 3:49 PM

Game sales plunge, Xbox gains, NPD says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Video game sales dove 14 percent in May, nearly erasing the 20 percent gain seen in April, according to NPD's latest report on U.S. game sales.

It was the worst showing since October 2006, pulled down by a slim lineup of new games, the firm said.

The research firm politely waited until after the E3 show to release the data, which would have cast a shadow over the event and changed the tenor of its press coverage.

Total sales were $743.1 million, down 14 percent from $866.8 million last year.

Game software sales were $400.1 million, down from $503.8 million in May 2010. But the report only includes physical games, hardware and accessories and not digital downloads, NPD analyst Anita Baker noted in the release.

"Keeping in mind that these sales figures represent just the new physical portion of the market for video game hardware, software, and accessories and not the growing portion of the industry that is comprised of digital format content distribution, May 2011 was the lowest month of sales for the industry since October 2006. A light slate of new releases is at the heart of this month's performance."
"Overall, the Xbox 360 platform has contributed 34% of year-to-date revenues (across hardware, content and accessories) generated by new physical retail sales, gaining 7 share points over last year."

Baker said there were 42 new titles, but SKU, last month, compared to 58 in May 2010 and 72 in May 2009. This in turn reduced promotional activity and advertising, "which undoubtedly affected not only planned but impulse purchases."

All platforms saw declines except the Xbox 360, which was about flat - posting a 1 percent gain. The Xbox has accounted for 34 percent of physical game sales year-to-date, a share increase of 7 percent over last year, NPD said.

Microsoft said the Xbox 360 platform accounted for $265 million in retail sales in May.

Sony's PlayStation 3 and PSP also gained during the month and Nintendo's 3DS sales were "light" though NPD's expect a bump with the "Zelda" game for the 3D handheld.

Here are May's top 10 games in retail, in order of sales:

L.A. Noire (360, PS3)
Brink (360, PS3, PC)
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Wii, 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)
Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC)
Mortal Kombat 2011 (PS3, 360)
Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, Wii, NDS, PC)
Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Wii, 360, PS3)
NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, PC)
Just Dance 2 (Wii)
Lego Star Ware III: The Clone Wars (Wii, NDS, 360, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)

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June 9, 2011 2:40 PM

E3 video: Waiting for the Wii U, a parade of gamers

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's the line to see Nintendo's Wii U at the company's E3 booth.

A sign inside the booth said the wait would be an hour, which was unlikely. When I took this video Wednesday, the line snaked around the booth and then zigzagged through the interior space.

Some of the fans in line broke out their DS handhelds to while away the time.

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June 9, 2011 11:12 AM

E3: Nintendo's Iwata on Wii U video services, iPad competition

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's the full version of my Wii U story that includes material from an interview with Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. Among the topics we discussed were streaming video to the Wii U controller and competition with the iPad and other tablets.

LOS ANGELES -- Five years after its motion-controlled Wii changed the way people play video games, getting them to move arms and bodies, as well as fingers, Nintendo on Tuesday revealed another radically different console that it will begin selling next year.

Called the Wii U, the system is based on a souped-up version of the Wii that outputs high-definition video and runs the ultrarealistic action games that dominate the industry but are subpar on the lower-definition Wii.

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The new system's highlight is a control pad that looks somewhat like a tablet computer crossbred with a Nintendo handheld game player.

Wii buttons on the controller flank a 6-inch diagonal color touch-screen that mirrors -- or extends -- what's displayed on the TV screen.

The controller can be thought of as a gaming pad that someone can play with on the couch while another person is watching the TV, similar to the way people use the iPad to browse or play casual games while others are watching a show or movie.

Games can be played entirely on the controller, including board games when it's set on a table, or it can be used as a traditional controller with games played on a TV set. As a controller, it can be used to aim pitches in baseball games, or set on the floor to work as a golf tee. The device can also be used to make video calls and as a drawing tablet, when used with a stylus.

"Up until now home console games had to occupy the TV screen to be played," Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said during the unveiling at the Nokia Theatre at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition (E3). "You won't need to give up your game play when someone else comes into the room and wants to watch a TV program."

The console's name is a play on the word "you," Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, explained during the Nokia Theatre unveiling. He teased that it's "unique, unifying, maybe even Utopian."

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"We want to create a strong bond between games, your TV and the Internet and also similarly between you, your friends and your family, all interacting in the same room," he said.

Nintendo designed the console to work with one of the touch-screen controllers and up to four of the current Wii Remote motion controllers, guaranteeing a million hours of bickering over who gets to use the big remote. The system also is compatible with current Wii games and accessories, including its hugely popular Balance Board fitness system.

Front and rear cameras on the new controller enable it to run "augmented reality" games that Nintendo began selling earlier this year for its 3DS handheld gaming device. Such games use cameras to place an image of the player into the game and incorporate the space around the device into the game's landscape. On the screen, it may appear that you're shooting arrows at a cartoon version of your head as it bobs around the room, which itself appears to sustain damage from the action.

But mind-bending new games are only part of Nintendo's goal with the new system, with which it hopes to leap ahead of the next generation of game consoles that will arrive over the next four years.

Nintendo executives said they hope the system bridges the gap between casual games that are the current Wii's strong suit and hard-core games, which are most popular on Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. A parade of game publishers announced Tuesday that they'll produce Wii U versions of blockbuster franchises such as EA's "Battlefield" and Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed."

Electronic Arts Chief Executive John Riccitiello came on stage during Nintendo's media event and called the Wii U a "stunning breakthrough in game technology."

Nintendo also needed a system with 1080p video output to keep pace with video services on the Sony and Microsoft consoles. They have positioned the Xbox and PS3 as entertainment gateways that connect TV sets to online video services and, now, live TV broadcasts.

Although Nintendo hasn't yet announced video services for its new console, Iwata said during an interview that the Wii U has an advantage because the controller can be used as an auxiliary TV display, so you can carry it into the kitchen, for instance, and continue watching a movie or show on its screen.

Iwata also said the touch-screen works well for searching and selecting content, suggesting that it will function as a sort of super remote control for streaming-video services.

"That is going to be more convenient for you in comparison with how you have to do that with your TV set," he said.

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Although the controller can be used in similar ways to an iPad or other tablet -- as a device to entertain on the couch while the TV is on -- Iwata said Nintendo isn't chasing tablets with the controller.

"First of all, when we first thought about the possibility of adding a second screen with a new controller there was no talk about tablets at all. We have never thought about a tablet as a kind of competition," he said.

"But I think that we can take that as an advantage because today most of the people understand how to take advantage of the tablet in their life," he added. "Without it probably we would have a hard a hard time explaining how you can change your daily lives having such kind of things, with a controller with a screen."

Iwata declined to give details about pricing or the release date, but said the Wii U will go on sale sometime between April 1 and Dec. 31 -- after Nintendo's fiscal year ends in March.

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May 9, 2011 11:48 AM

Nintendo scores marketing boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

The guy who overhauled the Right Guard and Dial brands will now go to work on Nintendo's 3DS and the new Wii.

Scott Moffitt is the new executive vice president of sales and marketing at Redmond-based Nintendo of America, the company announced today.

Moffitt succeeds Cammie Dunaway, who left the company Oct. 1. He'll work out of Nintendo's Redwood City, Calif., office.

"His expertise in driving growth will be a terrific asset as we build momentum for the Nintendo 3DS system and continue to reach new audiences for the Wii console," Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, said in a release.

Previously Moffitt was senior VP and general manager of Henkel Consumer Goods, working on North American operations for its personal-care brands.

Earlier Moffitt worked at PepsiCo, handling brands like SoBe, Mountain Dew Code Red and AMP Energy Drink.

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April 25, 2011 10:29 AM

New Nintendo Wii: The full release

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo's announcement that the new Wii will appear in June leaves a lot to the imagination.

Here's the full statement, which doesn't say anything about whether the device will have high-definition playback, 3D capabilities or much else:

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April 14, 2011 2:21 PM

Report: New HD Wii unveiled by June

Posted by Brier Dudley

Expectations that Nintendo will unveil a new Wii at the E3 conference in June leapt today with a report from Game Informer, saying it has "confirmed with multiple sources" the high-def Wii is coming soon.

Maybe those sources are game publishers. An excerpt from the piece:

In fact, Nintendo is already showing publishers the system in an effort to get them interested and allow them plenty of time to start developing titles in anticipation of the system's reported late 2012 launch. This advance support marks a change from when the Wii launched. At that time, several Western publishers were outright surprised by the announcement, and it affected the software support for the platform.

Nintendo declined to comment.

The story also talks about how a high-def Wii will/would likely bring more triple A, hardcore games to Nintendo's console.

Full definition would also give the Wii parity with all the other set-top devices that stream and rent video nowadays. Netflix works well with the current Wii but only in standard definition.

It follows a report earlier this week that the price of the current Wii may drop to $150 on May 15, which is a pretty big hint that its replacement is coming soon.

I touched on the potential for a new Wii in my review of Nintendo's 3DS. My guess is there will be lots of ways to pair a 3DS with the new Wii, which may even have 3-D output.

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March 21, 2011 10:51 AM

Review: Nintendo 3DS a blast, but pricey

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo's new 3DS game player is hands-down the coolest new toy in the world for kids 13 and under, and those who just love electronic toys.

It's more fun than a barrel of smartphones.

It's too expensive and some may think it's gimmicky, but the 3DS will give Nintendo bragging rights again, until it comes out with a new version of the Wii console.

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The 3DS goes on sale for a dizzying $250 on Sunday, a month after its blockbuster release in Japan.

Not many kids will be able to afford one until the price comes down. It costs more than an Xbox or a Wii.

But eventually the 3DS will end up in the hands of millions, and it may change the way they think about video games.

From the outside, the 3DS looks a lot like the DS handheld game players that Nintendo has been making for years. It's a solid, half-pound, 3-inch by 5-inch slab available in black or blue.

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What's new is a system of cameras, lenses and software that display games and video in 3-D without requiring special glasses. The 3-D displays on a 3.5-inch diagonal screen. There's also a second, 3-inch touch screen.

It's more than just another 3-D video player being pushed onto mostly indifferent consumers, though. Instead of using 3-D mostly for gratuitous special effects, Nintendo designers used the technology to create exuberant, mind-bending games that blend the real and virtual worlds in unexpected ways, creating a new kind of fun.

Consider "Face Raiders," one of the preloaded games. Players take a picture of themselves, a family member or a friend with the 3DS, and the face becomes an animated ball, bouncing around the screen, making faces and sticking out its tongue.

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The animated head is actually bouncing around the room beyond the device. The game's landscape is a live image taken by the camera on the back of the 3DS. Peering into the screen is like looking through a magic window into an alternative version of the room you're in, which becomes a place where wild things are happening.

You fire yellow balls at the head -- or heads, after they multiply -- before they crash through the walls around you, leaving jagged holes.

Imagine how cathartic and subversive this can be for a kid. They'll appear to be sitting quietly on the couch, but from their perspective, they're smashing apart a room they were just forced to clean, lobbing balls at the cackling, digitized version of their little sister bouncing off the walls and ceiling.

This made me wonder about the enthusiasm that Japanese electronics companies have for 3-D technology. Perhaps the illusion of depth and extra space created by 3-D technology is appealing to people living in small homes in densely populated cities. It will also appeal to kids stuck in their rooms or crammed into the back seats of cars and minivans in the U.S.

Still, software and content are key, and it remains to be seen how many game developers will have as much success with the 3DS platform as Nintendo.

The 3-D effect can seem a little cheesy at times, reminiscent of its distant ancestor, the "animated" Cracker Jack prizes that appear to move when you look at them from different angles.

A 3DS version of Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL Football" was more fun with the 3D turned off, I thought, but maybe it was because I kept seeing double images of things like the field goals.

On all the games, the 3-D effect is sensitive to viewing angle and you have to hold the device about 10 inches from the face and straight on to get it right.

Action in "Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars" was dramatically better with the 3-D effect. Bridges extended across chasms, laser blasts zoomed by at different angles and there is, of course, the opening story that recedes into space.

Steel Diver2.jpg
If you were one of the kids who beelined to the periscope at Seattle's Museum of History & Industry, you'll love "Steel Diver," a great submarine game for the 3DS. One option has you peer through a scope, searching for ships hidden by waves in the foreground. When they get close, you see the 3-D depth charges sail toward your sub.

One of the best titles is included with the 3DS. Called "AR Games," it works with a set of "augmented reality" playing cards.

IMG00778-20110318-1048.jpg

IMG00785-20110318-1052.jpg
You place one on a flat surface and position the 3DS about 14 inches above the card. Then strange things happen in the room when you look through the 3DS lens.

Seen through the screen, the cards bulge until a box bursts upward. After you fire a few arrows at targets around the box -- calibrating the alignment -- an angry dragon may emerge for you to fight with more arrows.

Another box contains a billiard game in which my coffee table undulated and melted from a lava flow.

But a Mario AR card failed to launch its game, even after I followed the tips and made sure there was plenty of light in the room.

IMG00786-20110318-1109.jpg
This reminded me of the occasional challenge with Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor for the Xbox 360, which also uses depth-sensing cameras that can be thrown off by a room's lighting.

These cards are an opportunity for Nintendo to sell cheap upgrade packs, like Pokémon cards, but the company didn't provide details of its future plans for them.

To stream movies

The 3DS is also intended to be more of a multimedia device, putting it in better stead against the phones and tablet computers that are pushing into the market for handheld gaming.

Starting this summer, Netflix subscribers can stream movies to the 3DS. Nintendo's also going to operate a short-form video service to distribute 3-D movie trailers, music videos and comedy shorts to the device.

A Web browser will be added, and 3DS owners will get free Wi-Fi access on AT&T hot spots.

The 3DS also can be used to connect and play with nearby 3DS units, if parents haven't locked the device down with its parental control system.

There's also a pedometer that tracks steps when the device is closed but powered on.

IMG00760-20110317-1546.jpg
You would think the pedometer data would sync to the hugely popular Wii Fit game, but it doesn't.

This is one of several opportunities that Nintendo missed to have the 3DS work wirelessly with the Wii. Nor can you transfer "Mii" avatars that you've already created on the Wii onto the 3DS.

Perhaps Nintendo is holding those features back for the next version of the Wii, which some have speculated could be announced this summer.

It presumably will have 3-D capabilities, giving game developers another platform for the experience they're getting with the 3DS, and Nintendo another outlet for its upcoming 3-D entertainment channel.

Nintendo said production hasn't been significantly affected by the disaster in Japan. The tragedy puts the importance of games and gadgets in perspective but perhaps there's no better time for a Japanese company to show that it can see fun in the future.

Here's a picture I took at last June's E3 game conference of the line to see the 3DS, which was unveiled at the event:

Thumbnail image for DSCN2023.JPG

Here are the full specs of the 3DS, as listed by Nintendo:

Included in Hardware:
- Nintendo 3DS system
- Nintendo 3DS charging cradle
- Nintendo 3DS AC adapter
- Nintendo 3DS stylus
- SD Memory Card (2GB)
- AR Card(s) (view the cards using the outer cameras to play supported AR games)
- Quick-Start Guide
- Operations Manual (including warranty)

Characteristic Features:
- 3D screen, enabling 3D view without the need for special glasses and the ability to adjust or turn off 3D effect with the 3D Depth Slider.
- Stereo cameras that enable users to take 3D photos that can be viewed instantly on the 3D screen.
- New input interfaces including the Circle Pad, motion sensor, gyro sensor
- SpotPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS detect wireless hotspots or wireless LAN access points and obtain information, game data, free software, videos and so on for players even when the system is in sleep mode.*
- StreetPass, a feature that lets Nintendo 3DS exchange data automatically with other
Nintendo 3DS systems within range, even in sleep mode once this feature is activated by
the user. Data for multiple games can be exchanged simultaneously.
- Features that users can access without stopping game play such as the HOME menu, Internet Brower, Notifications, etc.
- Built-in software such as the Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound, Mii
Maker, StreetPass, Mii Plaza, AR Games, Activity Log, Face Raiders, etc.
Nintendo eShop where users can view trailers, software rankings and purchase software.
- System Transfer which enable users to transfer already purchased software from one
Nintendo 3DS system to another. DSiWare purchased for the Nintendo DSi or the Nintendo DSi XL can also be transferred into a Nintendo 3DS system.**
- Compatibility functions where both new software designed for Nintendo 3DS and most
software for the Nintendo DS family of systems can be played.
- Parental Controls which enable parents to restrict game content by ratings as well as use of specific wireless connectivity, 3D functionality, etc.***
*Some of these features may not be available at launch
**There is a limit to how many times transfers can be made. Some software may not be transferred.
***Additional features added through system updates may also be subject to Parental Controls.
Some of these features such as the Internet browser, Nintendo eShop, system transfer and the ability to download software and videos using SpotPass will be available after system updates are performed.

Size (when closed): 2.9 inches high, 5.3 inches long, 0.8 inches deep.

Weight: Approximately 8 ounces (including battery pack, stylus, SD memory card).

Upper Screen: Wide-screen LCD display, enabling 3D view without the need for special glasses. Capable of displaying approximately 16.77 million colors. 3.53 inches display (3.02 inches wide, 1.81 inches high) with 800 x 240 pixel resolution. 400 pixels are allocated to each eye to enable 3D viewing.

Lower Screen: LCD with a touch screen capable of displaying 16.77 million colors. 3.02 inches (2.42 inches wide, 1.81 inches high) with 320 x 240 pixel resolution.

Cameras: One inner camera and two outer cameras. Resolutions are 640 x 480 for each camera. Lens are single focus and uses the CMOS capture element. The active pixel count is approximately 300,000 pixels.

Wireless Communication: 2.4 GHz. Enabling local wireless communication among multiple Nintendo 3DS systems for game play and StreetPass. Enabling access to the Internet through wireless LAN access points (supports IEEE802.11 b/g with the WPA™/WPA2™ security feature). Recommended distance of wireless communication is within 98.4 feet. This can be shorter depending on the enviromental
situation. WPA and WPA2 are marks of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Input Controls: Input controls are the following:
- A/B/X/Y Button, +Control Pad, L/R Button, START/SELECT
- Circle Pad (enabling 360-degree analog input)
- Touch screen
- Embedded microphone
- Camera
- Motion sensor
- Gyro sensor

Other Input Controls: Other input controls are the following:
- 3D Depth Slider (enabling smooth adjustment of the 3D level effect)
- HOME Button (brings up the HOME menu)
- Wireless switch (can disable wireless functionality even during game play)
- POWER button

Connector: Connector includes:
Game Card slot
SD Card slot
Cradle connector
AC adapter connector
Audio jack (stereo output)

Sound: Stereo speakers positioned to the left and right of the top screen (supports virtual surround sound).

Stylus: Telescoping stylus (approximately 3.94 inches when fully extended).

Electric Power: AC adaptor (WAP-002 [USA]). Nintendo 3DS Battery Pack (lithium ion battery) [CTR-003].

Charge Time: About 3.5 hours

Battery Duration: When playing Nintendo 3DS software about 3-5 hours. When playing Nintendo DS software about 5-8 hours. Battery duration differs depending on the brightness setting of the screen. The information regarding battery duration is a rough standard. It can be shorter depending on what functions of the Nintendo 3DS system are used.

Game Card: Nintendo 3DS Game Card. The size is approximately the same as Nintendo DS Game Card.

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March 11, 2011 4:05 PM

Nintendo: No quake injuries, business continues

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo released a statement about the quake's effects on its headquarters in Kyoto.

The catastrophe won't affect business operations, apparently including shipments of the upcoming 3DS, which goes on sale March 27 in the U.S.

The statement:

We appreciate the concern shown in the aftermath of the recent disaster in Japan. We can confirm that at this time it appears that no one from Nintendo in Japan was injured and there was no apparent structural damage to our company headquarters in Kyoto. Business operations, including future product shipments, have not been affected. Our thoughts and best wishes are with everyone who has friends and family members who may have been affected by the earthquake or tsunami.

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January 19, 2011 11:07 AM

Nintendo 3DS here March 27 for $250, Sony challenger looms

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally shared details today of its 3DS handheld player's launch in the United States.

The 3-D version of its DS handheld, with an adjustable, glasses-free display, will go on sale March 27 for $250. It will be offered in two colors - Cosmo Black and Aqua Blue.
Nintendo_3DS_Aqua_Blue_highres.jpg
Nintendo unveiled the device at last June's E3 game conference and shared details of its Japan launch at a Tokyo event earlier this month. It announced the pricing at a New York press conference this morning.

Meanwhile Sony's going to release a new version of its PlayStation Portable device on Jan. 27 and a game-oriented Sony Ericsson touchscreen smartphone in February, according to a Bloomberg report.

Both companies are refreshing their handheld lineup in the face of growing competition from gaming on the iPhone and other smartphones, but Nintendo's still doing pretty well with the DS platform. Since it launched in late 2004, more than 47 million DS systems have been sold in the U.S. alone, including 2.5 million in December.

"Nintendo 3DS is a category of one - the experience simply doesn't exist anywhere else," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in today's press release. "You have to see Nintendo 3DS to believe it. And it's like nothing you've ever seen before."

Nintendo's 3DS will come with several games and applications pre-loaded on the device. They include the "Mii Maker" avatar creation application, a music playback system that lets uses manipulate songs played thorugh the device and "Face Raiders," a shooting game in which players shoot at funny versions of their face captured with the device's cameras.

The 3DS also taps into the fitness game trend by functioning as a pedometer when in sleep mode. Users earn "play coins" for steps they take, and can trade coins for extra content in certain games.

A Web browser will be offered separately through a system update, Nintendo said in its release.

Nintendo's also packaging the device with six augmented-reality cards. Here's how they're explained in the release:

When the two outer cameras are pointed at the cards, they read the cards and superimpose images and animations onto the scene. So users shouldn't be surprised if they see a dragon popping out of their kitchen tables. Developers can also use this technology to add creative new experiences to their games.

The augmented reality dragon makes an appearance about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into this Nintendo 3DS concept video:


Perhaps the focus will now turn to Microsoft, to see how its Windows Phone 7 platform - which has ties to Xbox Live - will compete for the attention of mobile gamers and game developers.

Here are some of the 30 games that will be available between the March 27 launch and the E3 conference in June (the "launch window" provided by Nintendo):

Pilotwings Resort, which has players soaring acrobatically over Wuhu Island

Nintendogs + cats, a new version of the Nintendo DS classic with a feline enhancement

Steel Diver, a side-scrolling submarine adventure that gives the illusion that the player is peering into an aquarium.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked from Atlus

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D from Capcom

Madden NFL Football from EA Sports

The Sims 3 from Electronic Arts

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D from Konami

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars from LucasArts

Ridge Racer 3D and Dual Pen Sports from Namco Bandai Games America Inc.

Super Monkey Ball 3D, Thor: God of Thunder and CRUSH 3D from SEGA

Bust-a-move Universe from Square Enix.

Samurai Warriors Chronicles and Dead or Alive Dimensions from Tecmo Koei America

Asphalt 3D, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D, Rayman 3D and Rabbids Travel in Time from Ubisoft.

Nintendo 3DS games "in the works" include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D; Star Fox 64 3D; Kid Icarus: Uprising; and new installments in the Mario Kart, Animal Crossing and Paper Mario series.

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October 4, 2010 4:12 PM

Dunaway goes from Nintendo to KidZania

Posted by Brier Dudley

Former Nintendo marketing boss Cammie Dunaway has announced her new gig. Dunaway's opening up a U.S. office for KidZania, a Mexico-based entertainment and education company with eight theme parks around the world.

Dunaway's going to be KidZania's San Jose, Calif.-based U.S. president and global chief marketing officer.

She was executive vice president at Nintendo of America until Friday.

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September 29, 2010 12:00 PM

Nintendo 3DS arrives in March, huge sales expected

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo finally offered details about the 3-D version of the DS that it unveiled at the E3 conference in June.

The company today said it will start selling the 3DS in Japan on Feb. 26 for $299. It will go on sale in the U.S. in March; the U.S. price hasn't been disclosed but it's expected to be $299 or less.

Nintendo3DS.jpg

No glasses are required to see the 3-D effect of games and videos played on the device, which has a slider control to adjust the amount of "3D-ness" on the 3.5-inch upper screen, all the way down to 2-D.

A dual-lens camera on the device can be used to take 3-D photos. Inside, the device includes a new gyroscopic sensor for controlling games by moving the device.

Nintendo's also giving its new flagship DS a wireless feature that lets it exchange data wirelessly with other 3DS units when in sleep mode.

Amazingly, the company expects to sell 4 million systems and 15 million games for the device by the end of March. For comparison, Apple's iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months.

Games coming to the device include 3-D versions of "Super Mario" and "Mario Kart."

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September 20, 2010 2:32 PM

Nintendo's Dunaway leaving

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo of America's marketing boss, Cammie Dunaway, is leaving the company on Oct. 1 for an unspecified job outside of the video game industry.

Dunaway, a former Yahoo exec, has been based in Redwood City, Calif., since she was hired in 2007.

At Redmond-based Nintendo of America, Dunaway was executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, issued the following statement:

"We appreciate Cammie's contributions to Nintendo and the role she played in bringing the Wii and Nintendo DS experiences to millions of people. Her team and the rest of Nintendo of America remain focused on our goal of maintaining the incredible momentum Nintendo enjoys heading into the busy holiday season."

The move comes as Nintendo's experiencing a relatively slow year. In July, the company told investors that it's expecting net income to decline 12.5 percent in its fiscal year ending in March.

In the U.S., video game sales are down 8 percent so far this year, according to NPD research.

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September 20, 2010 12:11 PM

Sony Move review, with photos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's my take on the Sony Move for the PlayStation 3.

In short, it's pretty fun and has potential for action games. Teens and older players may prefer it over the Wii if given a choice. It's a nice addition to the mix of motion-control systems available this year.

But the Move requires more fussing than expected, including frequent calibration. Using the Move with an on-screen keyboard is also tedious and challenging.

It's also expensive to get started, if you don't already have a PS3. But there's a big variety of games available and in the pipeline so Move probably won't have as slow a start as the console did when it first launched.

Today's column:

It's strange and cruel to have the most amazing toys arrive when we can least afford them.
MOVE_SCHAMP_BNDL_3D_98262 clip.jpg
This happened during the Depression, when Bugatti and Alfa Romeo blended gorgeous design and bleeding-edge technology to produce the greatest sports cars in history.

Now, as poverty reaches record levels in the U.S., it's Sony and Microsoft releasing dazzling new video-game systems that see and track players and project them into high-definition action on the screen.

Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect systems are a leap forward for home entertainment and may change the way televisions and other electronic devices are used in the future.

It began Sunday when Sony released the Move for the PlayStation 3.

Continue reading this post ...


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September 9, 2010 3:23 PM

NPD: Game sales fall to 2006 levels, "Halo: Reach" bump soon

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently kids bought school supplies instead of video games last month.

Or maybe they were saving money for "Halo: Reach" and other blockbusters coming soon.

The industry saw its worst August since 2006, with sales down 10 percent to $819 million, according to NPD's monthly report. Hardware sales were down 5 percent and software sales were down 14 percent.

Among the consoles that did sell, Xbox led the pack, with 356,700 units sold in the U.S. last month. Sony's PlayStation 3 sold 226,000 units and Nintendo sold 244,300 Wiis and 342,700 DS handhelds.

"Madden NFL 11" was the top-selling game, with the Xbox version taking first place and the PS3 version taking second. "Super Mario Galaxy 2" was third, followed by "Mafia II."

NPD analyst Anita Frazier expects 2010 sales will reach $18.6 billion to $20 billion, with a late boost from "Reach" and the new motion-control systems coming to the Xbox and PS3.

She noted in the release that the Wii had its softest month since its debut, while the Xbox and PS3 posted year-over-year gains. Xbox sales were down from July, though.

"That said, with 'Halo: Reach' coming to market next week, if hardware sales react in a similar fashion to what was experienced when 'Halo 3' was launched in September 2007, September could be a huge sales month for Xbox 360 hardware," she said in the release.

Frazier noted that there are about three times as many Xbox 360s compared with the launch of "Halo 3" "so the potential audience for 'Reach' is significantly larger."

"Between the size of the potential audience, the quality of the game previews, and the hefty marketing program behind the game, we can expect big numbers to be reported with September results," she said.

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August 12, 2010 3:30 PM

Video game sales down in July, Xbox flies with new console

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is crowing over the monthly NPD report on U.S. video-game sales, which show a 118 percent jump in Xbox console sales during July.

That was the most dramatic gain in a month when overall game sales were down 1 percent, to $846.5 million. July's usually relatively slow but hardware sales were 12 percent higher than July 2009, while game software sales were down 8 percent.

Microsoft sold 443,500 consoles, more than double sales in July 2009.

"It's a great position to be in and this isn't really even our busy season," Xbox spokesman David Dennis said.

Xbox also beat July sales of Nintendo's Wii (253,900), Sony's PlayStation 3 (214,500) and even Nintendo's DS (398,400).

But don't read it as a new trend. The Xbox sales were helped by a launch bounce that may not happen again until the Kinect goes on sale in November.

Xbox sales in July were boosted by the release of the new slimmer and quieter model (shown, with Kinect). Retailers also slashed the price of the previous consoles, which could be had for under $150 during July.
newxbox.jpg
Sony had the same launch effect last September, when PS3 sales doubled after a $100 price cut and the release of a slimmer model. The company sold 491,800 units that month.

Microsoft also cleaned up in the game accessory category, where the 1600 point Xbox Live card was the best-selling accessory for the fifth month running.

Another bright spot for the month was PC games, which rode the success of "Starcraft II" to a 103 percent gain, dollar-wise.

Apparently anticipating Microsoft's shining in the closely watched NPD report, Nintendo on Tuesday talked up Wii sales. It said 30 million units have been sold in the U.S. since its launch in November 2006.

Nintendo said that "further establishes Wii as the fastest-selling console in the history of the industry, reaching this milestone 15 months faster than the next best-selling console."

Sony also issued a statement today on the NPD report, noting that PS3 console sales have posted monthly sale gains for 12 consecutive months. They're up 76 percent since July 2009 and 45 percent year-to-date in the U.S.

Here are the top 10 games for the month:

NCAA FOOTBALL 11 - 360
NCAA FOOTBALL 11 - PS3
CRACKDOWN 2 - 360
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - NDS
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - WII
DRAGON QUEST IX: SENTINELS OF THE STARRY SKIES - NDS
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 - 360

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July 29, 2010 9:47 AM

Microsoft FAM: Wii inspired Xbox Kinect, mission impossible

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo's Wii gave Microsoft its initial inspiration to give the Xbox motion control capabilities that ultimately became the Kinect system.

That's according to a brief history of the project that Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, told at the company's financial analyst meeting this morning.

Mundie said the project drawing heavily on advanced research began about four years ago, when Microsoft was battling with Sony for the hearts of hard-core gamers. Nintendo's Wii showed that there was "another demographic and a different class of applications" for gaming, he said.

"It certainly showed that there was a market expansion opportunity in the gaming business if we were able to do something completely different," he said.

Rather than imitate the Wii, Microsoft decided to take it further and develop a controller-free system. At first it seemed impossible, but "we went from impossible to shipping in about three years," he said.

The Kinect, which goes on sale this fall for $149, also offers a glimpse of tomorrow's computer interfaces, Mundie said:

"It does portend a revolution in the way people will interact with computers."

Following Mundie's presentation, the 180 or so Wall Street analysts were given a chance to try Kinect in a "technology showcase" that's part of the event.

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July 15, 2010 3:30 PM

NPD: Game sales down 6%, but Xbox, PS3 sales up

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sales of video game software in the U.S. fell 15 percent to $531 million last month, according to the monthly NPD report.

But that was offset partly by sales of game consoles, including big gains for Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Game hardware sales were up 5 percent to $402 million. The number of console units sold was up 35 percent in the month.

Total industry sales during June were $1.1 billion, down 6 percent. But NPD analyst, Anita Frazier, is expecting the year to end with a bang and may match last year's $20 billion in sales.

"Given the strong slate of content still to come, and the release of the Move and Kinect controllers, which I believe will spark additional interest in gaming, I think we could see the total year new physical retail sales come in at $20 billion," she said in NPD's release.

The best-selling accessory last month was the Xbox 360 1,600 point card.

Here are the top 10 games sold in the U.S. last month. Notably missing is the new Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 game, which sold 68 percent fewer copies than last year's edition did in its first month, NPD said in the release.

RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - PS3
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
JUST DANCE - WII
WII FIT PLUS W/ BALANCE BOARD - WII
TOY STORY 3 - NDS
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - 360
LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 1-4 - WII
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - PS3

Here are June's game hardware sales by unit:

PS3 304,800
PSP 121,000
Xbox 360 451,700
Wii 422,500
DS 510,700


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July 7, 2010 2:10 PM

Game update: Zombie's "BlackLight" out, movie next

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zombie Studios' action shooting game "BlackLight: Tango Down" is debuting on Xbox Live today, the start of a multimedia media franchise for the venerable Pioneer Square company.

Highlights of the game -- which is being pitched as a blend of "Blade Runner" and "Call of Duty" -- are its weapon customization system and a "hyper reality visor" imaging system loosely based on systems used by real soldiers.

blacklightscreen.jpg
"BlackLight" is being sold for $15 as a downloadable game on Xbox Live Arcade. Versions for the PlayStation 3 and PC will appear in a few weeks on PlayStation Network and the Games for Windows Live service.

What's most notable about "BlackLight" may be its business development. Even before the game was done, Zombie reached deals to produce "BlackLight" comic books and a movie being developed by 20th Century Fox.

Zombie has been making military-themed games since it began in 1994, including the government-funded "America's Army." Chief Executive Mark Long is a retired major who worked in military research and development before entering the game business.

"BlackLight" won a few kudos from critics at the E3 show last month in Los Angeles, but didn't make it into the upper tier that won coveted Game Critics Awards chosen by 31 publications.

Bellevue's Valve was the local champion, with its "Portal 2" winning "Best PC Game" and "Best Action/Adventure Game."

Nintendo's 3DS -- the 3-D version of its DS handheld game system -- won best of show and best hardware, beating Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move controllers.

The Northwest can also lay claim to the best sports game of the show - NBA Jam, which was devleped by Electronic Arts Canada in Vancouver, B.C.

Other Game Critics Awards:

Best Original Game
"Dance Central" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Console Game
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Handheld Game
"God of War: Ghost of Sparta" (Ready at Dawn/Sony Santa Monica for PSP)

Best Action Game
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Role Playing Game
"Star Wars: The Old Republic" (BioWare Austin/LucasArts/EA for PC)

Best Fighting Game
"Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds" (Capcom for PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Racing Game
"Need for Speed Hot Pursuit" (Criterion Games/Electronic Arts for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Best Strategy Game
"Civilization V" (Firaxis/2K Games for PC)

Best Social/Casual Game
"Rock Band 3" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Electronic Arts for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii)

Best Motion Simulation Game
"Dance Central" (Harmonix/MTV Games/Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Online Multiplayer
"Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

Special Commendation for Graphics
"Rage" (id Software/Bethesda for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360)

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July 1, 2010 3:13 PM

NPD: Video game sales down 5% but platforms strong

Posted by Brier Dudley

Video game sales in the U.S. fell 5 percent to $823.5 million last month, but it was still the industry's third best-selling May on record, NPD said in its monthly report this month.

Console sales were flat and sales of handheld players fell. Overall hardware sales were down 20 percent while game software sales rose 4 percent.

But the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms were strong, with the Xbox contributing the biggest share of industry sales so far in 2010. Sony's PlayStation 3 saw the biggest percentage growth, with sales of hardware, software and accessories up 32 percent in May.

Nintendo hardware outsold them both, though, moving 334,800 Wiis and 383,700 DS handhelds, compared with 194,600 Xboxes, 154,500 PS3s and 59,400 PlayStation Portables.

"Red Dead Redemption" on the 360 was the top selling game with 945,900 units sold last month. The top 10:

RED DEAD REDEMPTION - 360
RED DEAD REDEMPTION - PS3
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 - WII
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - 360
UFC 2010: UNDISPUTED - PS3
WII FIT PLUS W/BALANCE BOARD- WII
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII - WII
ALAN WAKE - 360
POKEMON SOULSILVER VERSION - NDS
SKATE 3 - 360

Microsoft and Sony sent boasts to accompany the report. Samples:

Microsoft: "Xbox 360 continues to outsell the PlayStation 3 at retail for the fifth consecutive year and every single month of 2010. ... Half of May's best-selling console titles are on Xbox 360."

Sony: "In May, we experienced our tenth consecutive month of year over year growth, and it is clear that the demand for PlayStation 3 and its incredible content is not subsiding as evidenced by an increase of 18% in PS3 hardware sales and revenue increase of 58% in PS3 software sales since last May."

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June 29, 2010 1:55 PM

Nintendo holding Wii-lympics, summer games

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you've lost interest in the World Cup and can't wait for the next Olympics, perhaps Nintendo's new Wii Games: Summer 2010 can fill the void.

The game company is holding a national competition in five Wii sports, culminating in a championship event in Los Angeles from Sept. 3 through 5. One of the regional qualifiers takes place at Northgate Mall in August.

wiigames.jpg

Activities include "Wii Sports Resort" basketball and bowling; the "Wii Fit Plus" Hula Hoop challenge; New Super Mario Bros. Wii; and Mario Kart Wii.

There are different categories for kids, teens, adults, seniors and families. Contestants can pre-register now at the Wii Games site.

Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson is the games' "ambassador" and will appear at several of the regional competitions. They begin July 16 in New Jersey.

Prizes include Nintendo systems, home entertainment packages, trophies and a cruise.

Here's the Northgate event schedule:

8/13/2010 Times: 10:00 - 3:30 / 3:30 - 9:00
8/14/2010 Times: 10:00 - 3:30 / 3:30 - 9:00
8/15/2010 Times: 11:00 - 3:00 / 3:00 - 7:00

Here are the categories of competition:

Adult and Child (two players): Team consists of two team members, one of whom must be a child aged 6-12 and the other of whom must be either (a) the actual parent or legal guardian of the child or (b) 25 years of age or older.

Adult and Teen (two players): Team consists of two team members, one of whom must be a teenager aged 13-17 and the other of whom must be either (a) the actual parent or legal guardian of the child or (b) 30 years of age or older.

Teen (two players): Team consists of two team members, both of whom must be teenagers aged 13-17
.
Adult (two players): Both players must be adults aged 18 or older, with two possible exceptions:
1.Special Teen Step-Up Rule: A teenager aged 13-17 may compete in an Adult Team so long as the other team member is 18 years of age or older.
2.Special Super Adult Step-Down Rule: An adult(s) aged 55 or (older) may compete in an Adult Team
Super Adult (two players) - team consists of two (2) team members, both of whom must be 55 years or older.

Family (four players): Team consists of four (4) team members, two (2) of whom must be children aged 6-17 and at least one of whom must be either (a) the actual parent or legal guardian of at least one (1) of the children or (b) 35 years of age or older. Family participation is highly encouraged, however teammates do not need to be related.

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June 25, 2010 12:14 PM

Nintendo hires Expedia CIO to overhaul Redmond IT system

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo of America announced today that it has hired Ingvar Petursson as senior vice president of information services to "spearhead the modernization of the company's internal information systems."

Petursson was previously Expedia's CIO and before that worked in the IT departments of AT&T Wireless, Corbis and The Regence Group. TechFlash noted his resignation from Expedia on Tuesday. The Nintendo job is a new position.

Nintendo is starting a multi-year project modernizing its systems. It follows the recent completion of its new Redmond headquarters.

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June 16, 2010 6:24 PM

E3 Photos: Crazy games, lines, cars and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- A few random photos from E3.

Welcome to L.A.:
DSCN1999.JPG

One for the scrapbook:
DSCN2000.JPG

Yes, the game will have unlockable beards. Really.
DSCN1990.JPG

The line to see the Nintendo 3DS, on the platform under the red bar
DSCN2023.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


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June 15, 2010 10:00 AM

E3: Nintendo unveils 3-D DS, plus Miyamoto on 3-D gaming

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- New James Bond, Zelda, Mickey Mouse and Donkey Kong games announced at Nintendo's E3 press conference were just a prelude to the really big news.

There is indeed a 3-D version of the Nintendo DS and it not only plays 3D games, it also has dual camera lenses for taking 3-D photos. Nintendo's also partnering with Disney, Warner Brothers and DreamWorks to bring 3-D movies to the device.

All without glasses.

Nintendo declined to say how much the device will cost or when it will go on sale, though it's previously said it will be available by the end of March.

In person the 3-D effect is actually pretty good and far less cheesy than I expected, especially in a "Metal Gear Solid" game with tropical foliage that took advantage of the depth effect.

The 3-D version of Nintendogs is cute but doesn't seem as 3-D or interactive as Microsoft's "Kinectimals," which is almost freakishly realistic when you're moving your hands around to pet a vividly rendered, purring tiger cub on a big screen TV.

A slider on the device adjusts the amount of "3-D ness," from maximum to 2-D. Sliding while a game is running appears to move a rear plane forward and backward.

The 3.5-inch diagonal upper screen is 3-D. The lower of the two screens is not, and is the only one that has touch capabilities.

Here's Nintendo President Satoru Iwata holding it up at the event. The slider is on the right side of the upper screen:

DSCN1973.JPG

The DS 3-D also has an interesting wireless feature. When it senses a connection through a hotspot, it automatically downloads updates and new features to games, so there's something fresh to surprise players.

Most of the major game studios signed on develop 3-D games for the upcoming DS using new tools from Nintendo.

I asked Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo senior managing director and creative guru, if studios will want to build 3-D games for other devices after they've figured out the DS. Could the next version of the Wii console have 3-D capabilities, giving developers another place to use the 3-D game skills they build on the DS?

"It's hard to say right now," Miyamoto said through a translator.

The term "3-D" is actually confusing since earlier games, such as 1996 release 'Super Mario 64,' were also characterized as 3-D, he said.

Now the advance is 3-D visuals that add depth to the screen.

"Really where I think that's going to change games is that when you have these fully rendered worlds and you couple that with 3-D visuals, then it becomes readily apparent to the end user how to navigate that world because they have a sense of spatial relationship, that spatial relationship between all of the objects around them," he said.

"So people who have had a hard time navigating in what we used to call these 3-D games are going to be able to appreciate these 3-D effects and play more easily. It also brings a greater sense of realism to the worlds as well."

Miyamoto's highest profile current project is "Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword," one of several new games based on Nintendo's library of hit franchises coming to the Wii over the next year.

Fans in the audience at Nokia Theater didn't seem to mind when Miyamoto had wireless problems that interrupted his demonstration of an archery feature in the new Zelda. Other tools include a drone-like beetle that flies around, providing aerial views and shooting, and bombs that are dropped in attacks and to clear pathways.

Fans also sighed with disappointment when Nintendo said it won't release the game until spring 2011.

Also coming next year is "Mario Sports Mix," a wacky sports game featuring Nintendo's iconic character.

This year's lineup includes a remake of James Bond action game "GoldenEye" going on sale in November. It has eight playable Bond characters, including Oddjob, the villain with a deadly bowler hat that's tossed with a flick of the Wii controller. The game's playable with several players on a split screen or multiple players online.

Nintendo's biggest hit this year may be "Disney Epic Mickey," an exclusive Wii game developed by Disney that has the mouse playing through a world created from 80 years of Disney characters and settings. Mickey's tools are paint and paint thinner, for erasing or restoring color to characters, objects or the environment.

Players have to decide whether to solve problems by erasing things or to work toward restoring and saving "wasteland." Sort of like a Disney version of "Grand Theft Auto."

A new Wii version of "Donkey Kong" goes on sale for the holidays, and Nintendo's cuddly "Kirby" character is reborn in a game with an original fabric design. "Kirby's Epic Yarn" characters are made of bits of yarn bent into their shape and the landscape they work through is fabric, with zippers that open and weaving that unravels.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Redmond-based Nintendo of America, said pundits were wrong to predict last year the Wii's momentum was starting to wane. He said the console set a record for game system sales in December, and more games have been sold for the Wii than any other console since its launch 43 months ago.

"Underlying all those false assumptions about Wii is a mistaken belief that many new owners just play Wii Sports or Wii Fit for awhile and then lose interest, but that simply isn't the case," he said. "The reason is the popularity of intermediate or bridge games that usher new players toward the world of gaming."

Examples of such bridge games are Mario Kart, which sold more than 22 million copies, and "New Super Mario Bros.," which sold more than 14 million.

Fils-Aime's confidence continued after Sony announced later in the day that its Wii-like Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 will go on sale Sept. 19 for $50, or $100 for a kit with a controller, an "Eye" receiver and a sports game.

Neither Sony's Move or Microsoft's Kinect motion controller have as much appeal as the Wii, he said in an interview.

"What we were able to do was deliver compelling experiences to the consumer that were easy to get into, easy to enjoy, fun to play," he said. "What I am interested to see is what our two near-end competitors do to tick off all those three boxes, because I haven't seen it yet."

So he doesn't see Microsoft and Sony introducing fun, easy motion game systems?

"What I see is two companies that are trying to emulate what we've done," he said, adding that "I don't see the content that's going to wow the consumer."

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June 9, 2010 11:12 AM

Xbox director starts E3 trash talking on Twitter

Posted by Brier Dudley

With the E3 game conference less than a week away, the industry titans are getting their talking points ready.

Xbox director Aaron Greenberg got the ball rolling today with a tweet that slapped Sony, saying that Xbox exclusive "Halo 3" has outsold all of the top PlayStation 3 exclusives:

Just in from research team (NPD): Halo 3 has outsold Resistance 1 + 2, Uncharted 1+2, Killzone 2 and God of War III COMBINED....wow

But how does "Halo 3" stack up against "Wii Fit"?

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April 19, 2010 9:40 AM

Video: Sony PS3 Move demo, plus Q&A Zipper's SOCOM 4

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video from Sony's event in Seattle showcasing the PlayStation 3 Move system and SOCOM 4, followed by today's column - a Q&A with Brian Soderberg, president of SOCOM developer Zipper Interactive.

For its noisy shootout with Microsoft this fall, Sony is turning to one of its big guns in Redmond.

Sony is counting on Zipper Interactive to produce a blockbuster game for the PlayStation 3 this fall, when it's releasing a new version of its hit "SOCOM" military-action franchise.

The game will help showcase a new PS3 motion-control system called Move that's expected to cost about $100.

Move is going head-to-head with Microsoft's Project Natal control system for the Xbox 360 in the crucial holiday season.

Both companies are hoping these exotic new control systems will refresh their maturing consoles as the economic recovery takes hold.

They're also hoping for the kind of success that Nintendo has enjoyed with the Wii, attracting players turned off by complicated control systems, while also inspiring game studios to create new forms of immersive entertainment.

Zipper and "SOCOM" helped Sony leap ahead in the past.

When the PlayStation 2 introduced a network adapter enabling online play in 2002, the first "SOCOM" game was released to showcase this capability. The "SOCOM" franchise went on to be one of the PS2's biggest hits, selling more than 10 million copies, and Sony bought Zipper in 2006.

"SOCOM 4" is still early in development, with no price or release date set yet, but Sony has been showing it to fans and reporters in events across the country, including one in Seattle earlier this month.

During that session, I caught up with Zipper President Brian Soderberg, who co-founded the studio in 1995 after working on military-simulation systems. Here is an edited excerpt of the interview:

Q: What was it like to make a game with Sony's Move motion-control system?

A: Well, it actually was quite easy. I was a little skeptical after playing the Wii because it's very casual game and "SOCOM 4" is more of a core game. Although really, we're shooting for a more accessible game. I think the Move does that for us â€" it's much easier than trying to get both thumbs going.

Q: I'm curious about how physical the game will be, like with physical attacks?

A: We're still researching additional gestures. I know we're going to do some close-quarters moves like rifle butts and maybe bayonet style. Other things you can investigate is grenade throw and things like that.

Q: I wonder how people will feel about intense games like this and motion controls. When you start killing characters with your motions instead of just your thumbs, is it going to be a different psychological experience?

A: I think it will. It's interesting, when you walk by our offices and you see people playing with it, they actually seem a little more immersed, because it is more like a gun.

I think it actually opens the door for more immersion and obviously when you start doing gestures you're getting more physical and more into the game.

Q: How far can you go this direction? Is there some kind of boundary you don't want to cross, having people do these things physically?

A: I don't know about boundaries. It feels like there are really no boundaries that you have now. You have full 3-D motion and such accuracy and precision; you can pretty much do anything. Anything you can do with two hands, you can start to make that the interface to your game.

Q: It's like we're at a crossroads with entertainment, with these new systems taking us into the next realm.

A: I think this really is. It's just what are the developers going to do to take us to that next level.

Q: How will Sony's motion system do compared with other motion systems coming out this year?

A: Sony took their time and they did some really neat things. Their thing was to be super comprehensive with the full 3-D space recognition, plus the full three axis recognition, plus the precision and very low latency. It makes it possible to play all these core games, besides casual games, with such precision. I think the core game players are maybe going to embrace this as well.

Q: Do you think Microsoft's Natal system is sharp enough for aiming and motion in core games, or do you think they might just have minigames that show off Natal capabilities?

A: The minigames, casual games, are the obvious things that would be easy to do with that system. I'm not sure how you start doing guns in it. Maybe they're going to have add-on controllers, additional peripherals, added into it.

Q: Is it hard to keep your team motivated to build the fourth edition of something?

A: I always think that. I always think they're going to get tired of it. But when I actually check around the team a lot of them are really rabid "SOCOM" fans too, so they get really excited about it.

Q: I hear this version's going to be more cinematic.

A: Definitely. Besides the usual emphasis on AI [artificial intelligence] and replayability and being able to do things from different directions, the single-player will have a very cinematic story. As you play through you'll actually learn things about what's going on with your enemies and your teammates. There will be some cool surprises, that sort of thing.

We did some really cool things with the cinematics. Rather than just doing motion capture where you hook up the guys and capture the motion, at the same time we also captured the voice so we did dialogue and motion together. ...

Q: So they basically acted it out?

A: They basically were actors, yeah. We capture everything. We even did some digitization of the camera moves as well, so we had a handheld camera and a professional cameraman to actually do the motion. It really makes a difference; it makes it really feel like a movie.

Q: I understand this material will appear not just in cinematic sequences but during game play as well?

A: Absolutely. As much as we can. First of all, it's going to run in the actual game engine, so it's not like movies [playing at certain points during the game]. As much as we can, we will not take the camera away from the player. You'll be going through the environment and you'll just experience these cinematic events. ...

Q: How is business? We heard dreary reports about the game industry over the past year and now all sorts of interesting new things are coming to market. Are we into a new cycle?

A: It seems like it's turned around to me. Sony's really bullish on the future and we have some really big titles ... just came out. There are some big titles coming out and I think Sony's really doing well so I think the business is turning around.

Q: Do you think people have money to buy these new games and motion systems?

A: I think so. These new games that have been coming out recently have some pretty big numbers with what they sold. I think things really are turning around.

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April 15, 2010 3:35 PM

NPD: Video game sales crawl back, up 6 percent

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a long cold winter, video game sales perked up in March, posting a 6 percent gain to $1.52 billion, NPD reported in its closely watched monthly report.

It's the first overall sales increase for the industry outside of a holiday season since February 2009, the firm said.

But year-to-date sales are still down 7 percent, to $3.96 billion.

Nintendo's Wii and DS still sold the most units by far, and the Xbox 360 kept bragging rights over the PlayStation 3.

Here's the monthly tally of U.S. console sales:

PS2 118,300
PS3 313,900
PSP 119,900
Xbox 360 338,400
Wii 557,500
DS 700,800

Price cuts helped unit volume. Console prices were down 16 percent in March and software prices were flat.

Sony's "God of War III" was the top selling game with 1.1 million copies sold, followed by Nintendo's "Pokemon SoulSilver Version" with 1.02 million units sold.

The PS3 version of "Final Fantasy XIII" was the third best-selling title, outselling the Xbox version 828,200 to 493,900.

The reverse was true for fourth-ranked "Battlefield: Bad Company 2," which sold 825,500 copies of its Xbox version and 451,200 for the PS3.

Here's the top 10 list for March:

GOD OF WAR III PS3
POKEMON SOULSILVER VERSION NDS
FINAL FANTASY XIII PS3
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 360
POKEMON HEARTGOLD VERSION NDS
FINAL FANTASY XIII 360
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII WII
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 PS3
WII FIT PLUS W/ BALANCE BOARD WII
MLB 10: THE SHOW PS3

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April 12, 2010 2:46 PM

Netflix on the Wii, available now

Posted by Brier Dudley

Netflix officially made its streaming video service available on the Wii today, after several weeks of soft-launching the service.

It provides instant play of selected movies and TV shows through the Wii when a special Netflix disc is playing in the console. Netflix is providing the discs free to people who subscribe to plans starting at $8.99 a month. Here's a link to the Netflix Wii registration site.

The Wii is late to the Netflix party. Instant-play Netflix streaming has been available for a while on the Xbox 360, PlayStation3 and all sorts of Blu-ray players and Web-connected TVs.

But it's still a nice addition for Wii owners looking for a simple way to get Netflix streaming to their TVs. It's also a big step forward for the Wii, which otherwise lacks the movie playback capabilities of the Xbox and PS3.

I've been testing it at home and prefer the Wii setup over Netflix on my Tivo HD, even though the Wii service is lower resolution. That's because I've got weak DSL service at home and the lower res video streams just fine on the Wii, but pauses to buffer now and then on the high-def Tivo.

For families who already have Netflix and a Wii, the service could become an auxiliary DVR in the family room, providing a big library of on-demand movies and TV shows. The service also includes Netflix DVDs by mail (although note that Netflix recently agreed to delay new releases from a few major studios for up to 28 days).

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March 29, 2010 2:35 PM

Nintendo DS "Easy Piano" comes to U.S., via Redmond

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo DS owners wanting a plug-in piano keyboard for their device can stop envying their European counterparts.

Redmond publisher Valcon Games is bringing the "Easy Piano" game and keyboard to the North American market starting this week. Franco-Belgian game company GameLife released the title in Europe last September .

The $39 bundle includes a 13-note, full-octave external keyboard that plugs into the DS and software for learning keyboard skills, playing rythym games and composing and recording songs up to three minutes long on the DS.

"Easy Piano" is scaled to fit the standard DS; it doesn't yet have a larger keyboard for the new DS XL. The game is starting to appear this week at major retailers.

sliver-ds-lite-piano copy_lg.JPG

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March 11, 2010 4:55 PM

NPD: Xbox 360 tops dreary February game sales

Posted by Brier Dudley

Retail sales of video games sank in February, falling 15 percent to $1.26 billion, NPD reported today. Game hardware sales fell 20 percent, software was down 15 percent and accessories were down 1 percent.

But there was a silver lining for Microsoft, whose Xbox 360 was the best selling console of the month for the first time since September 2007, when "Halo 3" was released. The company sold 422,000 consoles last month, compared with 360,100 PlayStation 3s sold by Sony and 397,900 Wiis sold by Nintendo. The handheld Nintendo DS sold 613,200 units.

I wonder if next week's arrival of Sony's "God of War III" will give PS3 the top spot in March.
"Bioshock 2" on the 360 was the top selling game, followed by "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" and "Modern Warfare 2" on the 360. NPD said "Modern Warfare 2" has become the third best-selling game ever, with just under 10 million units sold since its launch in November.

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March 11, 2010 11:11 AM

Video: Sony's PS3 Move, with a Wiimote

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony finally shared details of the new PlayStation 3 motion control system that's going to battle it out with Microsoft's Project Natal (and the Wii) this holiday season.

The word from San Francisco, where it was shown last night at the Game Developers Conference, is that it's fun to play.

But it sure looks familar -- just like Wii controllers, including a primary controller topped with a ball that reminds me of the Jack in the Box antenna globes. A secondary controller is pretty close to the Wii nunchuck, but with Bluetooth wireless instead of a cable.

Starter kits with a sensor and a game will cost less than $100.

Here's a Sony video with game demonstrations via Joystiq, which has a big roundup on the gadget.

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February 24, 2010 1:14 PM

Video: Nintendo's crazy new "Super Mario Galaxy 2"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo's stash of magic wasabi is getting more potent, judging by the looks of "Super Mario Galaxy 2."

The wild new edition of the hit franchise goes on sale May 23 for the Wii, for $50. A screenshot:

super mario head.JPG

Here's a demo video released today. Play it full screen for the maximum hallucinatory effect:

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February 24, 2010 10:38 AM

Nintendo reveals 2010 plans: Big DS March 28, new Mario and a mini Kindle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo announced its lineup for the first half of 2010 at a press event in San Francisco today, finally sharing release dates for new products revealed over the last year.

Topping the list is the DSi XL, a bigger version of the comany's handheld, which goes on sale March 28 for $189.99 in burgundy or bronze. It will be preloaded with "BrainAge" games to help kids persuade parents that it's educational.

With the XL, the DS is approaching the size of a small clutch purse, with 4.2-inch screens that are 93 percent bigger than the DS Lite and a stylus that's about the size of a regular pen.

Closed, it's 6.3 by 3.6 inches and weighs "approximately 11.08 ounces (314 grams)," according to Nintendo.

New games include updates of key Wii franchises: "Super Mario Galaxy 2" is launching May 23 for the Wii, with new tools for Mario, such as a drill for tunneling through rocks, "Metroid: Other M" appears June 27 with the ability for players to switch on the fly between a classic 2-D format and 3-D play.

The company is also attempting to get in on the electronic book craze by releasing a set of classic books in the DS format.

Nintendo optimistically said its "100 Classic Books" title "transforms the Nintendo DS family of products into a library of timeless literature." The $19.99 game coming June 14 includes books from authors such as Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Jane Austen and Mark Twain. Text size can be adjusted on the device, bookmarks can be added and new content can be downloaded via Wi-Fi.

Here's a Nintendo image of the DS lineup, with the XL on the right:

Nintendo DS family_open fans.JPG

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January 28, 2010 8:00 PM

DigiPen gets new campus, teaching kids game development

Posted by Brier Dudley

DigiPen Institute of Technology, the Redmond college dedicated to training game developers, is about to get bigger.

The privately owned school is creating a new campus in a former Microsoft building on Willows Road in Redmond with more than 100,000 square feet of space. It's announcing the plan Friday, moving in the summer and starting classes there in the fall.

DigiPen is planning to use the new space to expand its degree programs and the science and technology education programs it offers to high school students in the region.

Graduates, sprinkled through the region's game industry, have produced a number of major titles, including Valve Software's "Portal," which was based on a student project called "Narbacular Drop."

DigiPen now splits between two Overlake-area buildings, a former warehouse adjacent to Nintendo of America that's been its main campus since 1998 and a satellite space on 154th Avenue Northeast.

Amenities at the new facility include a cafeteria, auditoriums with tiered seating, library, recreation area and general store.

"The new campus has been designed to fit DigiPen's unique way of teaching, which balances a very rigorous academic curriculum with practical projects from start to finish," founder Claude Comair said in a release.

With additional space, DigiPen's bachelor's and master's degree programs in game design and computer engineering may eventually increase to 1,200 matriculated students from the current 900, according to Raymond Yan, chief operating officer.

DigiPen will use part of the building for its Technology Academy program, which is funded by the state's vocational education program.

Also in the works are after-school and weekend classes in computer science and production art for Eastside high school students that are designed to prepare them for advanced-placement exams.

The school has been looking for space to expand for the past five years but had trouble competing with Microsoft for large complexes in the area, Yan said.

Now Microsoft is cutting back on leased space and consolidating at its enlarged campus, freeing up buildings like the three-story one DigiPen is leasing, across the street from Overlake Christian Church.

DigiPen also is expanding its reach abroad, with a campus that opened in Singapore two years ago and another it's planning to open in Bilbao, Spain.

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January 14, 2010 3:32 PM

Game sales down 8 percent in '09, Nintendo and "Warfare 2" score

Posted by Brier Dudley

The closely watched monthly game sales report from NPD is bleak today -- total U.S. retail sales of video games hardware and software were down 8 percent for the year to $19.66 billion.

But analyst Anita Frazier noted it's still been a good decade with more than 250 percent growth in sales at retail since 2000.

Through the year, PC game sales were down 23 percent and overall game software sales were down 11 percent, the firm said this afternoon.

From the release:

Aside from portable hardware, which experienced a 6 percent increase in revenue in 2009, all video game categories experienced declines, with the largest decline coming from console hardware (-13 percent). Console software and portable software both experienced declines of 10 percent, while video game accessories experienced a 1 percent decline.

Sales picked up a bit in December, when a 16 percent year over year increase in console sales contributed to an overall 4 percent sales increase.

One of Frazier's prepared comments:

"December marks just the fourth month of the year where the industry saw an increase over last year. January and February were both up, and since the decline that began in March, only September experienced growth. The big sales this month, particularly on the hardware front, is a positive move for the industry headed into what will hopefully be a recovery year in 2010."

Nintendo sold the most hardware in the month -- 3.81 million Wii consoles and 3.31 million DS handhelds -- while Sony edged out Microsoft, selling 1.36 million PlayStation 3 consoles vs. 1.31 million Xbox 360s.

Nintendo also claimed six of the 10 best-selling games during December. Valve's "Left 4 Dead 2" made the list at No. 9:

NPD games.JPG
For the year, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" on the 360 was the best-selling game. "Halo 3: ODST" came in ninth, and Nintendo titles dominated the rest of the list:

npd2.JPG

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January 14, 2010 11:15 AM

Clapton pitching T-Mobile Fender phone, Beyonce with Nintendo

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile this morning said Eric Clapton's lending his name to the company's new myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition - the one with a sunburst wood-grain, guitar like design.

Thumbnail image for 161342.jpg

Clapton's appearing in the company's ads and his songs "Layla," "My Father's Eyes," "Rock 'N' Roll Heart" and "Wonderful Tonight" will be preloaded on the HTC device. Also included are songs from Wyclef Jean, Avril Lavigne and Brad Paisley and the "Guitar: Solo" and "Musical Light" applications.

T-Mobile is also contributing Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, which benefits a drug treatment center in Antigua. I wonder if they thought it would be held at the shopping center near T-Mobile USA's Bellevue headquarters?

The phone goes on sale for Jan. 20 for $180 with a two-year service plan.

It's the second Eastside company to lasso a celebrity spokesperson this week.

On Tuesday Nintendo - which has its U.S. headquarters in Redmond - said Beyonce will do more promotion of the DS and its "Style Savvy" fashion game.

Beyonce last year pitched "Rhythm Heaven" for the DS. For "Style Savvy," she's providing downloadable designs from the Dereon clothing line she and her mother, Tina Knowles, created.

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January 13, 2010 9:15 AM

Wii gets Netflix, Nintendo boss says standard-def just fine

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo announced this morning that it's finally getting Netflix service on the Wii, so owners of the hit console can stream movies and TV shows through the console to their TV sets starting this spring.

It's the last of the current-generation consoles to get Netflix, which has become almost a standard feature on consoles and Internet connected set-top boxes and TVs.

Nintendo has still sold more than 26 million of the consoles, including 3 million in December despite a general slump in the game industry through 2009. U.S. game hardware sales were down 16 percent through November, according to NPD.

Netflix had 11.1 million subscribers at the end of September, paying $8.99 or more per month to receive DVDs mailed to their home and videos streamed via broadband.

"We believe that this will not only add fantastic value to existing consumers and have them spend more time with their Wii console. its another beneift for those consumers considering which console to buy," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in an interview.

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Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings told the New York Times that it took longer to develop the application for the unique Wii platform.

To initiate the feature, Wii owners will need to request a free disc from Netflix that will load the software. Discs can be requested at netflix.com/Wii. There will be no additional charge to extend a Netflix account to the Wii.

The disc is the same sort of disc used for Wii games and "allows the application to be very robust -- much more robust than what migh be made available simply through an application loaded onto the Wii console,'' Fils-Aime said.

"In order to create that type of application it takes time. Also to fully utilize the Wii remote takes time," Fils-Aime said.

Netflix subscribers can manage their full accounts on the Wii using the consoles remote.

Fils-Aime declined to say whether the company will also add the other de rigeur connected TV applications -- Facebook, Twitter and Pandora -- to the Wii.

"We certainly look at all of the activities the consumer is doing through the Internet and we constantly think about where are the opportunities to add value,'' he said.

Nor would Fils-Aime comment on speculation that the company may up the Wii's resolution from standard- to high-definition. He said the Netflix service works well with the current output.

"We don't believe that the non-HD resolution of the Wii console will hold back Netflix adoption through the Wii at all,'' he said. "The fact of the matter is the vast majority of the instant streaming content that Netflix has available is non-HD and the fact is that ... many consumers who have an HD television still aren't watching HD content through that television."

Fils-Aime said Netflix enhances the console's position in the home.

"Nintendo has always said that we compete in the entertainment industry so we fight minute by minute for consumers' entertainment time," he said. "This partnership with Netflix will help us get more of that consumers' entertainment time on the Wii console."

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October 19, 2009 3:35 PM

Video game sales rise on Xbox 360, "Halo 3: ODST"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Research firm NPD said video game sales emerged from their rut last month, posting a 1 percent gain, pulled up by the "Halo" franchise, Xbox platform and hardware price cuts.

With 1.52 million copies sold after its Sept. 22 launch, Bungie's "Halo 3: ODST" helped make last month the second best-selling game month since "Halo 3" sold 3 million copies in September 2007.

Sony's PlayStation 3 sales more than doubled sales over the previous year and took the top-selling console spot for the first time, after its price was cut to $299.

But Microsoft's "Xbox 360 platform contributed the most to industry unit and dollar sales as sales of 360 hardware, software and accessories comprised 32 percent of the month's revenues,'' NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in the release.

Total industry sales in the U.S. were $1.28 billion, up from $1.27 billion the year before. But year-to-date sales are still down 13 percent.

Here are the month's top-selling games, according to NPD. Shown are title, platform and units:


Halo 3:ODST, 360, 1,520,000
WII Sports Resort w/ WII Motion Plus, WII, 442,900
Madden NFL 10, 360, 289,600
Mario & Luigi:Bowser's Inside Story, DS, 258,100
The Beatles Rock Band, 360, 254,000
Madden NFL 10, PS3, 246,500
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, 360, 236,000
Batman Arkham Asylum, PS3, 212,500
Guitar Hero 5, 360, 210,800
The Beatles Rock Band, WII, 208,600

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September 23, 2009 4:05 PM

Nintendo giveaway: games, DS handhelds at Westlake Center

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you or your kid missed the "Halo" fest at EMP on Monday, there's a Nintendo promotion happening next Wednesday at Westlake Center.

To promote its new DS puzzle game, "Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box," the company is sending someone dressed as Layton -- with a brown overcoat and top hat -- to the shopping mall.

He'll challenge people to solve puzzles, and winners may receive games or even DS handheld game systems. Clues to his whereabouts are posted at the game's Web site.

Seattle is his last stop, after visits to Minneapolis, Miami and Boston that began yesterday. Maybe he wanted to be home in time for the Mariners last home stand of the season.

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July 21, 2009 3:15 PM

Casual Connect: How Nintendo makes great games, and money

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking at this morning's opening session of Casual Connect, Nintendo's Tom Prata shared a few tips on how game developers can overcome falling game prices, intense competition and other potentially overwhelming challenges.

Timely stuff for the 2,000 attendees from all corners of the casual game industry.

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Continue reading this post ...


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July 2, 2009 4:18 PM

Redmond Nintendo-Siras exec heading up Mt. McKinley

Posted by Brier Dudley

While most of us are gripping beers around the barbecue this weekend, the chief executive of Nintendo subsidiary Siras will be clinging to a rope on the side of Mt. McKinley in Alaska.

Peter Junger's a hardcore mountaineer well on his way to climbing the highest mountains all 50 states and McKinley's one of the last hard ones on his list.

Redmond-based Siras offers technology that companies use to "fingerprint" merchandise to reduce fraudulent returns and verify warranty eligiblity.

The company's Web site has a link to follow Junger's progress - he's using a GPS device from Spot Adventures that displays his progress on a Google map.

UPDATE: Junger and his climbing team made it to the summit yesterday just after 6 p.m.

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June 4, 2009 12:59 PM

E3: Pics of new Wii controller, Mr. Mario and more wackiness

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few more random snapshots from E3.

Even more evidence of Nintendo's push to attract the hardcore gamer crowd is the "Classic Controller Plus" for the Wii, shown only in protective cases in the Nintendo booth:

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Check out the high scorer on this "Wii Sports Resort" archery game. Another round and I could have had him:

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Also in the booth was Charles Martinet, the "voice of Mario." The San Francisco-area voice actor is a regular at such events:

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Then there are the irregulars. The pile of stuff was a display created to promote Ubisoft's "Rabbids Go Home" title. Not sure about the hat:

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An eight-core system for "Need for Speed: Shift"?

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Abbey Road re-created, sort of, for closed-door demos for "The Beatles: Rock Band":

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June 3, 2009 4:24 PM

E3: Archery takes a bow, before the new Zelda

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOST ANGELES -- One of the coolest activities on Nintendo's new "Wii Sports Resort" game is archery. You hold the Motion Plus remote up like a bow, then pull back on the mumchuck like a bowstring.

You line up a targeting ring over the bullseye and release. The trick is that you have to be still and aligned properly, just as with a real bow and arrow, and you have to compensate for distance and winds. The game puts you through a course with different targets at varying distances and weather.

It's a little like the "Wii Sports" golf games, which also require precision and adjustments for conditions, but Wii archery is clearly a skill you'll be using on other Wii games.

Like a new version of the hit Zelda franchise that's coming next year, incorporating both archery and swordplay with the more precise remote. The game wasn't part of Nintendo's press conference Tuesday, but designer Shigeru Miyamoto let slip later that he's working on the title now.

Sony also used archery to demonstrate its latest control system, the new motion controller coming next spring. An archery game was used to demonstrate the system during the company's press conference.

How long until Microsoft develops an archery game for its Natal controller?

Expect all sorts of new sports to be playable on consoles, now that new controllers are adding more capabilities.

Archery is cool but my favorite so far is the three-point basketball game that's also included in "Sports Resort," which goes on sale July 26 for $49 with the Motion Plus attachment.

To make a basket, you have to go through the actual basketball shooting motion while holding the controller, which senses the arc of your motion and how you snap your wrist.

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June 2, 2009 9:18 AM

E3: Nintendo's new Super Mario for Wii, Wii Fit Plus, Facebook on the DSi

Posted by Brier Dudley

LOS ANGELES -- Super Mario has already sold more than 200 million games and now he's being called upon to give Nintendo's Wii another boost, with a new multiplayer version of "Super Mario Brothers" for the Wii that's coming out this holiday season.

Nintendo also announced a new version of Wii Fit -- "Wii Fit Plus" -- that's a more customizable version of the console's hit exercise program. "Fit Plus" adds six more strength and yoga activities and the ability to build a custom exercise routine, without pauses between activities.

The company is also highlighting the previously announced "Wii Motion Plus" and showing new details of the upcoming "Wii Sports Resort" game with an improved Wiimote, which is set to be released July 26.

Players begin "Sports Resort" as a skydiver, leaping from a plane and using the remote to control their motion on descent.

Demos include the game's archery feature -- players pull back on the numchuck like a string, aligning it with the Wiimote to aim.

"It's not about learning the controls, it's about doing what comes naturally. From that point on its about your own skills,'' Bill Trinen, Nintendo's senior marketing manager, said before taking on Reggie Fils-Aime in basketball shooting game using the new remote.

Noting that Motion Plus will come within a few weeks with EA's "Grand Slam Tennis" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" games, Fils-Aime said the more precise remote will reflect "every little mistake you make in the real world" such as hitting a backhand into the net or slicing a golf shot.

"This new dimension in physical reality will have you muttering all the same bad words you do in real life,'' he said.

Fils-Aime talked about role-playing games on the Wii, including Ubisoft's "Red Steel 2," which will be playable only with the Motion Plus remote, before the talk turned to the DS.

Announcements for the handheld include "COP, the Recruit," a new "gritty" open-world franchise for the Nintendo DS; the North American debut of Japanese fashion design game "Style Savvy"; and a version of James Patterson's "Women's Murder Club" casual game franchise from THQ.

A DS title that drew a loud "YESSSS" from the upper level of the auditorium was the resurrected "Golden Sun" fantasy game, coming to the handheld in 2010, Fils-Aime said.

Also likely to be a hit on the device may be "Mario vs Donkey Kong: Minis March Again," a downloadable version of the franchise that lets players create and share their own levels. It's being released June 8.

Joining the social networking fray, the company is also enabling DSi users to directly upload pictures to Facebook.

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April 14, 2009 6:15 PM

Expert hands-on with Nintendo DSi, Fan Network

Posted by Brier Dudley

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I had to defer to an expert when testing the upgraded Nintendo Fan Network during its debut at the Mariners game this afternoon.

Namely, Cutter Locking, an 11-year-old Nintendo enthusiast and Mariners fan who has been coming to games for as long as he can remember. Locking is named for a kind of Randy Johnson's fastball, which his parents watched in the Kingdome while she was pregnant with Cutter.

"This is awesome -- it's sleeker, better, faster,'' he said seriously, looking into my eyes, after I handed him the DSi loaned by Nintendo, which also provided a seat at the game.

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Locking had watched from the next seat as I put the DSi through its paces, trying the new ESPN news feeds (fine but a little underwhelming, basic RSS feeds); the real-time streaming game video (great, but a few brief network pauses); and the nifty pitch tracker that instantly shows whether the ball is in or around the strike zone.

I ordered a hot dog and soda on the DSi -- the food cost $16.25, including a 17 percent service charge -- and it arrived in 12 minutes, delivered in a cardboard take-out box. I did have to enter my (company) credit card information twice, apparently because I mis-typed it the first time.

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Then I passed the device to Cutter, who has a Wii and an older Nintendo handheld at home that doesn't have the wireless radio needed to connect to the NFN.

Cutter (above) tried the games but seemed to mostly use the pitch tracker and the MLB data feeds to check progress of other games.

A few innings later, his dad, Mike Locking, went out to get a loaner DSi from the kiosk near section 127. The main kiosk near section 142 ran out early, but the smaller kiosk at 127 still had them after the game started. It was also selling units and helping people who brought their own.

Loading the software took several minutes, and the connection had to reconnect a few times in the concourse and in the stands when I lowered the unit below the seatbacks. It would periodically need to reconnect, and there were pauses of sometimes 10 seconds when connecting to the video feed.

"Dad -- the hydros!" Cutter said when the big screen's hydro game appeared on the DSi's video feed. "This is so cool."

Cutter's verdict?

"This is probably the coolest thing I've ever played."

A few minutes later dad's credit card was out so they could order fish & chips on the DSi.

"This free thing ended up costing me money, didn't it?" he said with a smile.

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April 13, 2009 7:58 AM

More on free DSi from Nintendo during games, ESPN on the Wii

Posted by Brier Dudley

The most intriguing thing I found while reporting Nintendo's plans to offer free DSi handheld loaners during Mariners games through June may be about the Wii.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Nintendo has basically been going through an extended beta test of its Nintendo Fan Network at Safeco Field since 2007 (in a $500 million lab ...).

This season should conclude the testing, at which point Nintendo hopes to extend the sports news, gaming and message service to other venues. Reading between the lines, it sounds pretty likely the NFN or something similar is heading to Wii consoles as well, probably with ESPN.

One footnote to today's story on this: Nintendo planned to announce today that the network would also provide captions for live game radio broadcasts, but that was held up at the last minute on Friday. It's debuting Tuesday with captions for P.A. announcements, but I wouldn't be surprised if broadcasts captions appear later, after they sort out arrangements.

Here are some screenshots of the stuff from ESPN that's debuting on the NFN at Tuesday's game, including the Zoom game featuring Ken Griffey, The images blend the upper and lower DS screens:

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March 16, 2009 3:00 AM

Video clips of "Flower" on Sony's PlayStation3

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few videos of "Flower," the fantastic new PlayStation3 game that's the subject of today's column.

They give you a little taste of the game, which is stunning on a big screen:

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March 12, 2009 11:55 AM

Apple's game plan for its "Wand" controller

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple is seeking to patent a "wand" remote control device that can control a TV screen cursor by waving and flicking it around, according to a report today by AppleInsider.

The device could use a combination of infrared light, gyroscopes and accelerometers.

Apple Insider posted a few images of Apple's patent filing, showing how the device works, but they missed this one:

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February 12, 2009 12:05 PM

Experience the Vancouver Winter Olympics, on Nintendo's Wii

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you can't find tickets to the Vancouver Olympics, Nintendo and Sega are offering an alternative.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 28, 2009 3:00 PM

Video game sales soaring, mostly family-friendly games

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder everyone's broke: They spent all their money on video games.

Sales rose to $21 billion in 2008, up 23 percent over 2007, according to NPD Group data released today by the Entertainment Software Association.

That includes $5 billion sold in December, the industry's biggest month ever -- roughly the same as the $5.1 billion sales recorded in all of 1997.

More than half the total -- $11.7 billion -- was entertainment software.

The stats also show how dominant blockbusters have become, the top 20 games accounting for 15 percent of the total sales, NPD found.

Yet the mix of games sold may be surprising. Based on the marketing buzz around Triple A titles, you'd think most people were buying violent, mature-rated shooters. Actually mature rated games accounted for 16 percent of sales.

Family-friendly games continue to be the biggest sellers. More than half of sales were games rated "Everyone 10-plus" and teen-rated "T" games had a 27 percent share. "Family entertainment" was also the most popular genre, with 19 percent of sales.

NPD research found that 189 million consoles were sold for a total of $8.9 billion, 29.1 million PC games were sold for $701 million, and portable software sales were at 79.5 million units totaling $2.1 billion. Retailers sold about 297.6 million computer and video games altogether, the firm said.

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January 15, 2009 2:35 PM

New YouTube TV channel for Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation3

Posted by Brier Dudley

"YouTube for Television," a new initiative announced last summer and highlighted last week at CES, is now available via Wii and PS3 game consoles.

Google created a special Web site for the service, which is accessible through the consoles' browsers in 22 regions in more than 12 languages. It follows an effort that began with AppleTV in June 2007; here's a timeline.

At the special site, YouTube videos are optimized for TV display. The interface also has bigger text and simplified navigation tools, plus an "auto-play capability" that "enables users to view related videos sequentially, emulating a traditional television experience,'' according to today's announcement on YouTube's official blog.

To access the site from a console, point its browser to youtube.com/tv. The new site doesn't appear in a PC browser yet, apparently.

Then, from the comfort of your sofa, you'll be able to enjoy content such as today's most popular YouTube clips, including "No Pants Subway Ride 2009" and "Oprah Loves Kate Winslets Breasts."

Here's a demo pulled from Sony's PlayStation blog:

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September 30, 2008 3:04 PM

Nintendo putting jukebox Wiis into hotel rooms

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nintendo today announced a pilot program with Marriott to install specially modified Wii consoles into six hotels.

The systems come with access to a library of games, which you select with a remote instead of inserting game discs. I wish they'd offer something similar for home users.

Continue reading this post ...


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December 12, 2007 5:42 PM

Tips for those who want a Wii for the holidays

Posted by Brier Dudley

Charlene Li, a Forrester media analyst, recently compiled a helpful list of tips for the holiday Wii-hunting season.

Among the tips: Register for Wiialerts, which sends e-mail alerts or messages to your cellphone when a batch becomes available at an online store, and go to stores like Toys R Us two to four hours before they open on a Sunday morning.

Don't give up too early. You get there with 20 people ahead of you in line. They tell you that employees have shared they have only 20 Wiis in stock. Don't leave yet! On Black Friday, I was at a GameStop in Stockton with family members who were 35 or so in line when only 20 Wiis were available. They didn't hand out vouchers, so they stood in line for an hour. As they snaked up to the front, people were leaving with only a game or two in hand, bypassing the chance to buy a Wii. Two family members got the last two Wiis. So you never know.

My suggestion for locals: Make friends with someone who works at Nintendo of America and finagle an invitation into the company store in Redmond.

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October 11, 2007 5:18 PM

Perrin Kaplan nunchuks Nintendo exec post

Posted by Brier Dudley

As several game sites predicted, Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America's longtime marketing vice president, is leaving the company.

Kaplan's the latest to quit since the company pulled a Boeing and chose to move various headquarters operations to New York and San Francisco.


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September 13, 2007 3:55 PM

Wii squeaks past Xbox 360

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to a Financial Times story called out by 1up.com which in turn was flagged by Slashdot, cumulative sales figures show Nintendo reclaiming the top console spot for the first time in 17 years.

The report says Nintendo has sold 9 million Wiis since launch, just ahead of the 8.9 million Xbox 360s since its launch a year earlier. Sony's PlayStation 3 lags with 3.7 million units sold, although it could get a boost from another price cut that's rumored to happen this holiday season and Sony's plans to add video recording and downloading features.

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May 8, 2007 9:13 AM

Nintendo sales force moving out of Redmond?

Posted by Brier Dudley

GameInformer magazine is reporting that Nintendo of America is moving its sales and marketing headquarters out of Redmond and going to either San Francisco or New York.

If correct, it's a big story and a huge disappointment that another big company would pull "a Boeing" and decide it's too important for the Puget Sound region and has to move to a big city.

Spokeswoman Eileen Tanner wouldn't confirm or deny the story. "I have no details or information on that rumor," she said.

The company's recent success would suggest that it doesn't have to move to improve.

Unanswered in the story is the question of what will happen to the North Bend distribution center and other operations in Redmond, such as localization and a small game studio.

I'm also curious to know if this could signal a change in ownership of the Mariners. If Nintendo isn't a Seattle company anymore, will it still want to be a majority owner of the city's baseball team?

Is this coming from Reggie? If he moves with the marketing group, will Redmond still be the headquarters? We'll have more details later, I'm sure.

UPDATE: This started a great conversation in comments about the area's business climate. That's still a good topic, even though the Nintendo changes aren't as dramatic as they sounded initially. Kim has lots of details and verification from a Redmond building official in this story today.

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April 24, 2007 9:22 AM

Signs that Nintendo has boosted Wii output

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm seeing signs that the Wii supply crunch may be ending, now that the company is ramping up production and most fanatics have found their consoles.

Details will come Thursday or Friday when Nintendo will provide a financial report, a spokeswoman said, but it's obviously going to be positive.

Nintendo said April 19 that it has already sold more than 1 million Wiis this year and shipments will increase this month.

There are plenty of clues of increased Wii flow. One was a job ad I saw a few days ago, seeking people to work at Nintendo's North America distribution center in North Bend. Nintendo is hiring more people to handle distribution and assembly tasks.

Then I saw that big retailers were confident enough in Wii supply to advertise consoles in the preprinted ads inserted in the Sunday paper. They weren't pushing costly bundles, just straight consoles at $249, so the channel must be turning its attention to mainstream buyers who care more about price.

What really sealed things, though, was a visit to the Redmond Target. I walked in the door and saw people pushing carts with Wiis inside.

Back in the electronics section, the Wii case still had about eight consoles sitting there untouched. I spent about 10 minutes watching the sales clerk hover with his key chain, in case anyone wanted to buy one, and saw only a few buyers.

But then, that Target is just a couple of miles or so from Nintendo's U.S. headquarters, and a stone's throw from Microsoft's Xbox offices.

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March 27, 2007 12:36 PM

Wii pirates set sail, Nintendo takes aim

Posted by Brier Dudley

For a primer on the challenges of a global game business, check this sequence of stories in Taiwan's DigiTimes:

March 13: Nintendo isn't selling Wiis in China yet, but they're already showing up there and being modified with chips allowing them to play pirated games:

Although the Nintendo Wii has not officially launched in China yet, the game console have been unofficially imported into the country and demand for modifications of the console using modchips has resulted in the price for such modifications to drop from 500-600 yuan a month ago to 200 yuan (US$26) currently, according to industry sources in Taiwan.

March 16: Wii hackers causing a "surprise boom" in sales of $20 LG DVD drives that work especially well for copying the console's game discs. It's unclear whether the discs are being copied for personal use or resale, but it sounds to me like the game pirates have set sail:

Although the launch date for the Wii in the Taiwan market is still uncertain, quite a large number of U.S.- and Japan-version consoles have been privately imported for sale, and this has subsequently caused growing demand for mod chips such as Wiinja, CycloWiz or WiiKey, which allow the consoles to run unlicensed game software, the sources pointed out. Such unlicensed game discs sell at NT$150-250, much lower than the NT$1,200-2,000 price for original software discs, the sources indicated.

Because of the demand for copying original game discs for use in modified Wii consoles, either for backup purposes or for sale, LG's LG-8164b, LG-8163b and LG-8162b DVD-ROM drives have become hot sellers because they are the most suitable models to read from an original Wii disc, the sources pointed out. The read disc image can then be burned onto a blank DVD+R/-R discs.

Today's story: Nintendo is changing the Wii's circuit layout to block mod chippers, but it may only slow them down:

The new Wiis, which are part of new shipments of the console, have an altered circuit layout that makes modification more difficult than in earlier versions. Users attempting to mod the new consoles using current modchips are very likely to damage the system, the sources pointed out.

In view of past instances where Nintendo and other games console makers including Microsoft and Sony have revised the circuitry of their consoles in attempts to to disable modchips, it is a logical expectation that a more advanced modchip specifically for the new Wii revision will be available in less than a month, the sources indicated.

Some providers of Wii modification services in Taiwan think Nintendo could adopt BGA (ball grid array) IC packaging to prolong the time needed by hackers to develop new modchips to at least four months. The longer waiting time would likely reduce the willingness of some users to modify the consoles, the sources noted.


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March 13, 2007 2:53 PM

Wii gets online multiplayer goodies

Posted by Brier Dudley

GameSpy is helping Nintendo develop features for online multiplayer Wii gaming, the companies announced today.

GameSpy will provide middleware for game developers to build "community features, such as friend rosters, advanced matchmaking capabilities and comprehensive rankings data,'' the release said.

The software will debut in "Pokemon Battle Revolution," which goes on sale June 25.

"This partnership will expand our wireless community of players on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in the release. "Millions of Nintendo DS users have already logged on using GameSpy's technology, and now Wii owners will be able to do the same in a fun and easy-to-use environment."

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February 21, 2007 12:26 PM

Nintendo Wii bonus points, from a neighbor

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking of moms, one in Redmond gave Nintendo big kudos for quickly repairing her family's beloved Wii.

"Saska" was expecting a hassle when the Wii had problems but being local, she just drove over to Nintendo's campus in Redmond and swapped the console for a new one.

She wrote it up in a blog posting titled "Customer service gone shockingly right" that became a mini Web hit.

I won't spoil the ending, but here's an excerpt:

"It's going to be about 30 minutes, though," she went on. "I'm really sorry."

She wasn't Japanese, but clearly Nintendo is a Japanese company. Only a Japanese service center would apologize for taking 30 minutes to repair a piece of electronics when my expectation going in was that I'd be without it for two weeks.

The post drew "hundreds of thousands" of readers, according to the site host, Vox, which called out the post yesterday as an example of great storytelling (and the site's ability to handle a traffic surge).

Apparently it's customer service week. For another great post, check out Joel Spolsky's "Seven steps to remarkable customer service."


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February 8, 2007 11:56 AM

A Nintendo phone?

Posted by Brier Dudley



The Register called out a patent that Nintendo has received for a phone with a four-way controller button:

Forget about the iPhone, does anyone fancy an nPhone? Yes, Nintendo has successfully patented a handset design that incorporates not only all the usual phone buttons but also a trio of game controller keys too.

The patent describes "a game and a mobile phone type electronic apparatus" that can suspend a game in process to answer incoming calls.

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January 11, 2007 4:11 PM

Wacky Wii goodies at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I'm not sure if these are approved by Nintendo, but Hong Kong peripheral manufacturer iCon is displaying some crazy new remotes for the Wii at CES.

Vincent Chan, a Los Angeles-based sales rep for iCon, told me they won't be available for at least a few months and prices won't be disclosed until the end of the month.

That gives Wii owners time to make room alongside their Wiimotes and Nunchucks for:


BRIER DUDLEY
The Wii steering wheel and tennis racket remotes. How about calling them the Wiiel and the Wiiacket?





The Wii "Light Gun." This company has got to get with the naming program -- this is obviously the Wiivolver.





The Wii "Golf Stick." That's got to be the Wiiedge.





This was called the Wii Baseball Bat, but it looks more like a Wiibrator.

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January 4, 2007 3:11 PM

Wii beats Apple's iTV to the punch?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple fans are drooling over the iTV device the company is developing to stream movies and music from a computer to home entertainment systems. Details about the device were expected at next week's Macworld show but the latest buzz is that the device may be delayed.

In the meantime, there's a way to stream content from a PC using Nintendo's Wii console, according to Orb Networks, an Emeryville, Calif., company that produces software for streaming digital media around the home.

Orb pointed to a YouTube video explaining the procedure -- basically you download Orb onto a PC, then use the Wii browser to navigate to Orb's Web site and log on there.

It looks like a cool application for the Wii, but it's not the final solution for streaming media, judging from all the clicks needed to find and play a song or video. Here's the video:

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November 16, 2006 2:35 PM

Amazon.com has 100-plus customers for every Wii

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's part of a note Amazon sent to customers on its Wii waiting list today:

We will be limiting purchases to one per household and we anticipate that we will sell through our inventory very quickly as we've received 100 times more Wii email sign-ups than consoles we'll have available for sale (i.e., for every Nintendo Wii we'll have for sale, over 100 people have signed up to be notified).

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November 9, 2006 5:04 PM

Console indecision at Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

What do customers ultimately buy after checking out the Sony PS3 listing at Amazon.com?

As of this afternoon, the site said 33 percent went on to buy an HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360. Another 33 percent bought "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" for Nintendo's Wii, and the remaining 33 percent bought "Final Fantasy XII" for the PS2.

That was for the $499 core system. Of the people viewing the $599 premium system, half went on to buy the HD-DVD drive and half bought "Final Fantasy."

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November 6, 2006 2:44 PM

Wii, PS3 camping guide

Posted by Brier Dudley

Great post flagged by Slashdot today: "The PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii Launch Day Camp-Out Guide."

Among the things to learn ahead of time, if you'll be camping out for a console:

"Where is the best place to line up? (Nothing's more embarrassing than waiting for days outside of a Best Buy to find out that the line is at another entrance. And, yes, I've heard about this happening.)"

If you need inspiration, here's a photo of the guy who bought the first Xbox 360 at the Bellevue Best Buy last year. He's the one with his arms in the air.


ELAINE THOMPSON / AP

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October 17, 2006 12:31 PM

The Wii and Wozniak broadcast

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking of the Wii, I'll be talking about the console tonight on KUOW 94.9 during John Moe's "The Works" show.

Other segments feature Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak and podcaster Rob Greenlee of Melodeo.

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October 17, 2006 11:19 AM

Wii vs. Xbox 360 pricing

Posted by Brier Dudley

I had an interesting e-mail exchange today with a vice president of Edelman, the PR firm representing Microsoft's Xbox business.

Ken Birge took exception to the way I compared the price of Nintendo's Wii console with the Xbox 360 in my column last week.

I said the $250 cost of a Wii -- which includes a game and wireless services -- is about half that of a comparable 360 setup.

Ken noted that the Xbox 360 core system -- the entry-level model without a hard drive -- is $299. He also pointed out that the standard 360 -- which costs $399 -- has more features than the Wii.

"Even if trying to say the Wii is equivalent to the base Xbox 360 at $399.00, this statement would not be fair, especially considering the additional hard drive and lack of high definition game play, etc.'' he wrote.

I agree that the 360 is a relatively good deal, especially the core system. But I think buyers will end up spending around $500 to get started with the Xbox, after the cost of things like online service and a game are added up.

As a holiday gift, you'd only have to buy a $250 Wii since everything you need is in the box. A $299 Xbox console would be a nice gift as well, but the recipient would have to buy a game before he or she could play, and other stuff to play online.

In my response to Ken, I said I came at the Wii from the perspective of someone who might buy one system or another, wondering how much it would cost them to really get started.

Here's the paragraph in question in the column:

"But the biggest selling point may be the price. It costs $250, with the sports game included, and free online services. That's about half the cost of an equivalent Xbox 360 or PS3 setup."

Here's how I explained my thinking to Ken:

The core system is closer in price, but I think the $399 standard 360 is a better comparison. That model is presented to consumers as the standard Xbox, not a stripped-down one. It also comes with a wireless controller, like the Wii, whereas the core Xbox only comes with a wired controller.

The Wii also has built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to a home network. That's a $100 extra on either Xbox.

A standard Xbox 360 console is $399. Add a game for $50, a year of online service for $50 to $60 and a $100 Wifi adapter = more than 2x the cost of a Wii.

A comparable core Xbox 360 setup would be: A $299 console plus a $50 game, $50 to $60 Live subscription, $100 Wi-Fi adapter and $50 wireless controller = still more than 2x the cost of a Wii.

That's just counting one year of Live service. If you give the console a three-year life, then the services cost would be $150 to $180 vs. zero on the Wii.

But there are other things to consider. If you have invested in a high-def television, you might want a console that makes the most of its quality. The Wii doesn't have high-def output like the 360.

Unlike the Wii, the 360 can also play DVD movies and stream content from a Windows PC over a home network. Those things will make the 360 a better value to some people.

I'll bet the Wii will pressure Microsoft to start bundling a game with the core 360. A game may not be in the box, but Microsoft could make deals behind the scenes with retailers so that sub-$300 Xbox bundles appear on shelves when the Wii goes on sale next month.

Ken didn't bring this up, but the real injustice I did to Xbox was lumping its price together with that of Sony's $500 to $600 PS3.

It's even harder to compare the 360 and PS3 prices, since the PS3 has a next-generation optical drive and it's bundle pricing isn't clear yet. Sony is also selling the PS3 at lower prices in Japan.

Clearly we'll be talking more about console prices as the Wii and PS3 go on sale next month.

I'd also like to hear what others think about the value of the various systems.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.