Castle Lusipurr #42: Birds-Eye View

Mary Poppins never had this kind of trouble with the Banks children. Perhaps a spoonful of sugar will remedy the problems I have with my staff. --Actually, on second thought, a spoonful of strychnine is more likely to do the trick.
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…Or, start from the beginning.

Every week, when Kenjujuu sends me these little whimsies that she has created with her hands, using actual drawing implements, I am impressed. Few people may be aware of this, but the content of the comic is entirely up to her. I, your humble columnist (and the not-so-humble President and Editor-in-Chief of this journalistic enterprise), have no directive capacity at all, apart from some initial starting points as to what sort of ways the staff might be initially portrayed. Oh, and the inclusion of Bod–I am quite inflexible on that point.

Contrast Kenjujuu’s artistic expertise with something from our benighted industry: E3. Both are created presumably with the best interest of the entire at heart. The comic rewards podcast listeners and serves up surprisingly accurate renditions of our staff to readers who would not otherwise have the faintest idea what we look like or what our place of business resembles. E3, for its part, rewards industry wags for being patient and having an incredibly high tolerance for the spin-filtered bullshit put forward by overpaid marketting gurus. In a Penny Arcade comic this week, a fictional CEO describes his (also fictional) company thus:

Our shop is Disruptive, because, you know, that’s what we are. It’s in our DNA to have our buzzwords go viral.

This sort of nonsensical doubletalk is, admittedly, fictional. It is also an accurate representation of the sort of crap which some game developers say about themselves. It is usually a sign that
1) Either the company represented has nothing to show and wants to deflect attention from this, or
2) The company has so much money that they do not have to show anything, because people will buy whatever, whatever.

The latter case is the one which we see most at E3, because the whole event is deliberately set up so as to prevent the attendance of any company so small that it actually needs media coverage. This is why the fatcats of the industry waddle out to California once per year, there to lay an egg about which the greatest minds of gaming journalism will prognosticate. Last year, the egg came in the shape of the Wii–except with a shitty piece of plastic stuck to it with a rope, and an attended by an even more dopey name.

This year probably will not top that legendary presentation, which was impressively delivered with the memorable quality of a thunderous fart erupting forth from a grotesquely obese housewife’s shattered undergarments during the tender, quiet moment of a child’s lingering (but heavily foreshadowed) death in the cinematic premiere of a heart-rending foreign-language drama at Cannes. But we should not be surprised–Nintendo have become masters at delivering press events which look like they have been written by our greatest absurdists and surrealists. Who can forget the sight of Miyamoto and company bravely soldiering through their WiiMusic performance of the Mario theme? What Sony possesses in the form of shameless bravado (“Five hundred and ninety-nine U.S. dollars!”), Nintendo has in the form of categorial amateurishness and ineptitude.

Earlier this week I Tweeted some questions to my paltry band of followers. I wanted to know what people primarily used their PS3s for, and what they primarily used their Wiis for. 90% of the responses said that they used their PS3 for PS3 games. Only 10% said that they used their Wii for Wii games.

Perhaps we should be sad about this. Perhaps this is the deathknell of what used to be one of the titans of game development. Perhaps Nintendo will not triumph at the death of Sega, as we might have thought it would back in 1987, but will rather follow it into hardware oblivion, at long last to develop games for systems made by someone else.

Yes, as I said, perhaps we should be sad about the passing away of a certainty about what gaming meant. But are we? Is there a single person out there who can honestly read the words, “And then, Nintendo will make games for the PlayStation and the XBox360,” and not feel, deep within their heart, a little jump of hope and joy? I know I do.

30 Comments

  1. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.01 at 16:47 | Permalink

    I’m a recovering Nintendo fanboy. That old part of me wants to point out that they probably still have the best talent under their roof, second party studios included. But the older, sober part of me wants to also point out that even if this is objectively the case all they’ve done for the better part of this generation is rest on their laurels.

    That said, they’d have to fuck up in a BIG way to go down this coming generation. Yes, they’ve lost money lately…because they literally made nothing for their home console. Nothing came out for ALMOST A YEAR. All the fiscal conservation (and Nintendo’s got that in spades) wont keep you from losing some money in that scenario. But their brand awareness and their handheld strength are unshakable. Combine that with their lack of a loss leader corporate stance, and you have a company that’s hard to kill.

  2. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.01 at 22:33 | Permalink

    @Mel: I would argue that their handheld strength *was* unshakeable, and that they have produced stuff–it’s just met with negative press. Kid Icarus Uprising and Mario Kart 7–both for 3DS–were hammered in reviews in a way which few Nintendo properties have been. They still got positive reviews from the dependable shills, but less in-line sites gave them the schellacking they rightly deserved.

    The WiiU is not shaping up well, though it is early days, and the 3DS still has yet to take off, whilst the Vita is, at least, developing. It doesn’t look good for Nintendo, and they can’t expect their first-party stuff to carry them along forever, especially when the quality is now quite variable.

  3. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.02 at 10:58 | Permalink

    The 3DS is moving more units than the DS did in the same time frame. The DS had a shaky launch, too. The Vita is a bomb. I wouldn’t call 4k units a week (a figure out stripped by both the wii and PSP) any sign but a troubling one. From what I’ve seen the 3DS is doing quite fine. And I meant nothing came out for the Wii. Not even things with bad press that could sell SOME units.

    But yes, Nintendo’s first party stuff needs to be supplemented by 3rd party offerings. I just don’t see them folding THIS generation baring a turn-around in the next two.

    I think Nintendo’s good faith with die hard fans and their talent on offer have both been rotting away as a result of their actions these past 6 or so years.

  4. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.02 at 12:42 | Permalink

    Mel, the Vita sold 50,000 units this week, 19,000 of which were in the US, so I don’t know where you’re getting this 4k figure from…

    3DS is a runaway sales success, but I only own two games on mine, and I don’t really see anything appealing on the horizon. Frankly, the 3DS doesn’t have much going for it in the third party department at present. Still, it’s far from cloudy skies for Nintendo in the portable arena.

  5. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.02 at 13:51 | Permalink

    I looked it up, I was wrong. The numbers were in reference to Japanese sales and after the “Golden Week” holidays where they moved not 4 but a bit over 6 thousand units the following week. Apparently the 3DS moved 46k during that same time frame.

  6. Matt Dance
    Posted 2012.06.02 at 17:04 | Permalink

    Honestly, seeing a Nintendo game on a different platform seems wrong to me. I don’t think “going the way of Sega” is a positive direction at all. But their first-party games have been lacking, so I’m not sure what they would do.

    One positive scenario I could see happening is Nintendo partnering with Sony. The former has the prestige, and the latter has better hardware. Maybe the two could focus on console and handhelds, mostly Japanese releases, letting the West pull through on computer-based releases.

    Also, the “legendary presentation” sentence in the article was genius.
    Also, the

  7. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.02 at 21:37 | Permalink

    @Mel: The Vita is shifting units on par with and occasionally surpassing 3DS sales.

    The idea that “nothing came out for the Wii. Not even things with bad press that could sell SOME units” is untrue. There have been a number of critically-acclaimed third-party Wii titles, not least of which is our most recent release in that arena: Xenoblade Chronicles. However, the third-party titles have slowed to a trickle. The Last Remnant will be the final, significant release in North America.

    As for volume: I currently own more disc-based Wii games than PS3 games (but I own far more downloadable PS3 games). That said, none of my disc-based Wii games are third-party–but that will change with the release of The Last Story later this year (and, if we ever get it, Pandora’s Tower).

    The point I was making in my column still stands. Nintendo is not doing particularly well and this is nobody’s fault but their own. They have alienated third-party developers and core gamers alike through their attempts to appeal to a casual group. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these casual purchasers do not buy software or upgrade their consoles, so Nintendo is in the precarious position of having built a console series upon a one-shot foundation.

    The 3DS is easily stronger than the WiiU, but I would argue that the 3DS is hardly a strong system either in terms of available software or in terms of design/functionality. The Vita has better software, albeit *only* fractionally so, and vastly superior hardware. I suspect that it will garner the lion’s share of third-party development.

    So the question is: how long can Nintendo coast along on first-party titles, and how long can they continue to disappoint people with those same first-party titles before they critically undermine their brands? For every Super Paper Mario we get a Mario Party or a Kid Icarus Uprising. Dismal!

  8. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 00:08 | Permalink

    I was exaggerating a tad about nothing coming out for the Wii, I know some things did come out, however…

    “Nintendo is in the precarious position of having built a console series upon a one-shot foundation.”

    This. This is pretty much the whole problem they have.

    But I only think they can ride out for a while based upon their performance during the N64 and Gamecube. Circumstances aren’t identical this time around, but I think they’re similar enough to say they’d have no problem going through another Gamecube-like generation of sales.

    Also, are you saying you think the Vita will get the lion’s share of third party software? Because already the 3DS is making good moves on properties like Monster Hunter, which is pretty much what propped up the PSP in Japan.

  9. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 01:14 | Permalink

    Lusipurr, Mel has pointed to an instance of third party title; your argument is invalidated.

  10. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 02:50 | Permalink

    @SN: There were some other excellent titles as well, though not which I cared for. Madworld springs to mind, as do Okami, Sonic Colours, Monster Hunter Tri, and Dead Space Extraction to name a few. For people who like innovative gameplay, I am told that Boom Blox actually did the motion crap right.

    @Mel: Yes, I am saying that the Vita will get the Lion’s share of third-party software. The enormous raft of third-party 3DS game cancellations looks to be backing me up on this. As for Monster Hunter being on the 3DS: not surprising–they made games for the Wii as well (see the list above) and were pledged to release a game or two on this system even before it released. However, they are also still developing for Sony. Monster Hunter Vita is coming out in due course if it isn’t out already.

    I am not saying the 3DS will not have ANY third-party properties. I am saying Sony will have more. As it has, and does, at present. Nintendo has alienated third-parties (especially small developers) over the past decade, whilst Microsoft and Sony have tried to cozy up to them. It’s a poor business strategy and one which may cost them the success of the current iteration of their handheld.

  11. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 04:23 | Permalink

    To be fair, for Sony to have more in the long-run, the Vita will have to take off to a greater extent than the PSP – or at least not be ravaged by piracy.

  12. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 08:22 | Permalink

    Yeah, I’m just saying, looking from precedent, Sony has had a hard time getting their handheld to get the most support and Nintendo seems to barely have to lift a finger to do so. And I hadn’t heard about massive cancellations for the 3DS. So if the winds really are changing THAT much on the handheld front, then color me surprised. I was under the impression that the Vita was the PSP all over again.

  13. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 10:39 | Permalink

    Mel, in case you don’t remember I will remind you that EVERYONE said that the 3DS was failing until Super Mario 3D Land came out, and then everyone bought one. Until that happened Nintendo had like 3 million 3DS’ sold across 6 months, which is a state not dissimilar to the PS Vita.

    Despite the fact that the sales of the 3DS appear to be in a boom phase, the PS Vita nevertheless appears to have much more in the way of intriguing third party games on the horizon, which tells me that in spite of the amount of economic sense that the 3DS represents, third party developers are rooting for the ascension of the Vita. Sure, they will ditch it if it experiences the piracy of the PSP, but the developers long to see an end to the dominance of Nintendo in the handheld arena.

  14. Drachonus
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 10:52 | Permalink

    Lusipurr, you still want a DS-i XL in exchange for a 3DS? if so contact me via PSN.

  15. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 11:11 | Permalink

    Yeah, the 3DS did have a rocky launch, as has the Vita. I was worried at first considering HOW rocky it was since it was the only thing that Nintendo could make real money on since the (relative) dormancy of the Wii. And once the Vita mirrored those launch woes everyone said “well, don’t count it out, the 3DS had similar problems and look at it now.”

    There certainly is no reason anyone would want one platform to go under, though. There needs to be competition in order for there to be engaging software. If the Vita and 3DS are able to co-exist we’re all the better for it.

  16. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 19:59 | Permalink

    “There certainly is no reason anyone would want one platform to go under, though. There needs to be competition in order for there to be engaging software. If the Vita and 3DS are able to co-exist we’re all the better for it.”

    Absolutely fallacious. Software developers compete with other SOFTWARE developers, not with other hardware developers. If the Vita or the 3DS go under, the ‘lack of competition’ will not mean a lack of engaging software.

    The hardware may not advance as much in such a circumstance, but the software? Come on. You are clearly making some kind of joke here.

  17. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 20:56 | Permalink

    I don’t want any one market to be run by any one hardware company. The hardware drives the software, if all we get is inch-by-inch iterations on the DS because (lets assume) no one can topple Nintendo’s handhelds then we will see less compelling software. Of that I feel certain.

    For a long time we got iterations on the Gameboy until an actual competitor came along, the PSP. Sony had stolen Nintendo’s thunder in the console market and they weren’t about to let that happen again in the handheld realm. So they innovated and made the DS. No one really had kind things to say about it at first, but look what it did. All the new software possibilities came out of that rivalry, the competition that got Nintendo to wake the fuck up. This wasn’t the Game Gear, it wasn’t the Neo Geo or Wonder Swan. It was Sony. Now, the PSP had its own problems and the DS ran away with the top spot, as we know. But I don’t think we would be seeing a DS had that initial competition not been there. Without it, we’d see a higher res GBA maybe with wifi options. And that profoundly impacted software innovations.

  18. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 21:30 | Permalink

    ” The hardware drives the software, if all we get is inch-by-inch iterations on the DS because (lets assume) no one can topple Nintendo’s handhelds then we will see less compelling software. Of that I feel certain.”

    I cannot even begin to express how wrong you are about this.

    Multiple hardware systems actually RETARD, not ENCOURAGE game development. Multiple hardware encourages hardware development. It makes it VERY hard to develop software and, in fact, encourages regressive–not progressive–development.

  19. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 21:50 | Permalink

    I don’t see how this works against my example of Nintendo making the DS in the face of Sony entering the handheld market. Because Nintendo needed to step things up and make their platform more attractive they, in the process, gave developers more options with which to make games. The DS afforded devs many more ways to craft a product than the GBA. I’m not talking about a flood of 4 or 5 different hardware platforms that devs needed to scramble to get comfortable with or any number that fractured the userbase so that ONLY multiplatform games could sell. There were two.

    Yes, initial costs of multiple platforms means some sub-par games early in the generation. But things even out as the developers become more familiar with the hardware. All the while the hardware competition that spurred the innovations allow developers more choice in how to make their game.

    If Sony never bothered to make the PSP and Nintendo found no reason to make something like the DS, would the handheld market truly be better off, specifically in terms of software?

  20. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 22:03 | Permalink

    The idea that companies only upgrade their hardware because they are forced to by other hardware competitors is demonstrably false.

  21. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.03 at 22:34 | Permalink

    You don’t think the incoming PSP was the cause of the DS? It wasn’t even considered a Gameboy replacement, Nintendo called it a “third pillar” in its business model.

  22. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.04 at 00:25 | Permalink

    Your comments only make sense in a world where the only thing that drives game development is the release of new hardware.

    Nintendo released numerous iterations and improvements upon the capability of the Game Boy (Original, Mk. II, Colour, Advance, SP) in the absence of any competitor of note. Their hardware was always behind everyone else, and yet it continued to succeed where the new and better hardware came, gained no developmental support, and failed MASSIVELY. By your logic, the GB series should have failed, and the good games would have been on other systems. But it was the GB series which gave us the best handheld games of a generation.

    You are trying to reduce this to a simple equation of “HARDWARE COMPETION = HARDWARE PROGRESS = GAME IMPROVEMENT”, which is so mind-bogglingly ridiculous that one wonders what could possibly be gained by talking to you further on the topic. For, by that line of thinking, games would constantly be getting better, and old games could not possibly compare to new ones. It also ignores the fact that Nintendo creates new consoles–not to compete with other companies–but because it knows that once sales of hardware plateau, it’s time for a new system to bring the money in.

    Software developers compete with other software developers. Giving them a plethora of systems to develop for does not help them to make a better game. That sort of business darwinism is ridiculous. Ask a developer whether they would honestly prefer to live in a one-console world and they will tell you the answer is yes. It makes developing a hell of a lot easier–one can focus on gameplay to a much greater extent.

    Of course, if you don’t believe this, look at the eras in which we have had many consoles vying for supremacy, and where one console had clear supremacy, and judge the quality of the games. By the standard that hardware competition means better games, we should now have the greatest games ever made, and the past SNES/PS1/PS2 eras should have been veritable wastelands, given the overwhelming supremacy which those consoles had.

  23. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.04 at 07:28 | Permalink

    I know companies still improve their hardware even when there’s no big competition, I said so myself. I didn’t say iterative improvements (the type of which the GB had) would lead to the system’s failure, especially in the absence of any competitor to note. Just that, once competition DID arise we got the DS. A system beyond iterative that became dominant and opened new doors for gameplay and development. I still maintain that we wouldn’t see THAT system if Sony hadn’t entered the market.

    The SNES/PS1/PS2 example, however, brings up a great point. Their supremacy, which lead to a large amount of developer support, meant those games were better because the only system worth developing for became quickly familiar to the development teams. I get that. Those three systems were also among the more iterative this industry has seen.

  24. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.04 at 09:07 | Permalink

    I am nowhere near drunk enough to be reading this thread…

  25. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.04 at 09:17 | Permalink

    But reading this thread IS illegal while driving!

  26. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.05 at 20:41 | Permalink

    “Just that, once competition DID arise we got the DS.”

    Correlation is not causation.

    “I still maintain that we wouldn’t see THAT system if Sony hadn’t entered the market.”

    Development of the DS began before development of the PSP. It was as iterative as the GBA was to the GB, and began life as an advancement of the GBA SP design.

    You have described the SNES and the PS1 as iterative. I no longer think you know what you are talking about on this thread.

  27. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.06 at 13:36 | Permalink

    I never thought he did. ^_^

  28. Mel
    Posted 2012.06.06 at 14:48 | Permalink

    The PS1 is a beefier SNES with a disc drive, right down to the copy pasted controller…. And the SNES is iterative in the same way you called the GBA iterative of the GB.

    Correlation MAY not be causation, but I argue that in this case that it WAS. That ALL correlation is not causation is silly.

    And I’d love to know how you’re aware when DS development began in comparison to the PSP, let alone how you knew what they wanted to do with it when it was in production. Yet, since you say it began life as just an advancement of the GBA SP design BEFORE word of the PSP came along…Do I really have to connect the dots here?

  29. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.06.07 at 09:46 | Permalink

    This reminds me of the time in Black Butler when Sebastian was pressed into the service of the two young Princes within the Tower of London.

  30. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.06.07 at 14:21 | Permalink

    @SN: Quite right, and if he wasn’t willing to serve his monarch in such a dedicated way, well, what kind of a butler would he be?