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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March 2005, 14:29 GMT
Why good ideas beat good graphics
By Owain Bennallack
Develop magazine in San Francisco

Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata, AFP/Getty
Iwata: Games need good ideas more than good graphics
Nintendo released fresh details about its upcoming games console, codenamed Revolution, at a game developers conference.

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo president, confirmed that the new console will be able to run games originally made for the GameCube.

He also revealed that Revolution will come with wi-fi connectivity built-in.

Wi-fi is a technology that enables computers and other devices to wirelessly connect to each other. Nintendo wants to use it to link players that are close to each other or who want to play via the internet.

Nintendo's latest handheld games device, the DS, also comes with a version of wi-fi built-in, and Mr Iwata said Nintendo will offer a free net connection service to DS owners, enabling them to play games against each other at no charge.

The Nintendo DS is now on sale in Europe.

Mr Iwata said that Nintendo has already sold four million of the devices in Japan and America, where it went on sale 16 weeks ago.

Innovation the key

Despite the hardware announcements, most of Mr Iwata's speech, entitled "The Heart of the Gamer", was a call for more imaginative game design.

Close-up of Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo
GameCube games will play on new Revolution console
Game creators cannot rely on better graphics and more powerful games machines to attract new audiences, Mr Iwata said.

Nintendo's rivals Sony and Microsoft are also planning to launch updated games machines over the next two years, and Mr Iwata predicted that the cost of developing a game for one of these new consoles could run into 10s of millions of dollars.

But he warned that better hardware and bigger development budgets would not be enough to encourage more people to play either.

Instead, he said that game designers must make new kinds of games.

"The best ideas, not the biggest budgets, will win," said Mr Iwata.

"In the universe of interactive entertainment, there is a planet we call video games. We know this planet the best, but it is not the only one," he explained.

"There are other planets that entertain, and it is those planets we are keen to explore."

Mr Iwata said that the large sums of money now required to make a game meant the world's biggest entertainment companies were taking a fresh interest in the industry.

But he said that their expertise might not be compatible with games.

"Their books, movies and TV shows are the same for every user - but our games let users write their own screenplays, and their own endings," he said.

Creative play

"Nintendo remains committed to innovation, and that puts them alone among the console manufacturers," said Jonathan Newth, a game creator who heard the keynote address.

Screenshot from Advance Wars: Under Fire, Kuju
Advance Wars: Wireless will help players take each other on
The managing director of Kuju, a London-based game developer working on Advance Wars: Under Fire for Nintendo's GameCube, Mr Newth is interested in exploring wireless connectivity.

"We're looking forward to creating games that players will play with their friends at any time, wherever they are," he said.

Schelley Olhava, a video games analyst from market research firm IDC, believes that Nintendo will try to appeal to two audiences with its future hardware.

"The big question is can they satisfy the Nintendo gamer, while also bringing in new gamers?" she said.

Changing reality

Mr Iwata's call for more creativity echoed a separate lecture at the conference from one of the pioneers of modern games, Peter Molyneux.

"It's all very well making war games and racing games, but we have to realise that we can do things with games that no other industry has ever done before," said Mr Molyneux, the managing director of Guildford-based Lionhead Studios.

Mr Molyneux demonstrated his thinking with The Room, a work-in-progress title created by Lionhead.

While only a prototype, The Room is strikingly different to existing games.

Action in the game is set to lines of poetry by Emily Dickinson.

Mr Molyneux showed how players can speed up time in the game world by altering an in-game clock, and how they can alter matter by passing it through special mirrors, or build new objects from what he called "digital clay".

Screenshot from The Movies, Lionhead
The Movies: No manual required.
"We can play around with what people think of as reality," the veteran developer explained.

Revered as one of the pioneers of modern video games, Mr Molyneux added that future games should be easier to play.

"Slowly this industry is becoming truly mass market, which means lots of people are coming who don't want to learn a game, they just want to play," Mr Molyneux told the conference.

To this end, for his two latest games, The Movies and Black and White 2, Mr Molyneux has removed all the complicated menus of traditional strategy games.

Instead, players make actions directly in the game world.

For example, in The Movies, a game that simulates the operation of a Hollywood studio, to make someone into a film star, the player simply grabs a wannabe actor and drops them into the casting room.

"I want you to be able to pick up a handyman and match them with a movie star, and for them to go into a trailer and have an intimate moment," Mr Molyneux joked.

The Game Developers Conference ran from 7 to 11 March in San Francisco since Monday.

Owain Bennallack is the editor of Develop magazine.

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