Project Café - What Can We Expect?
The public reveal of Project Café, the current codename for Nintendo’s follow up to the hugely successful Wii, will be here before we know it. Nintendo has confirmed that they will demo their new home console at E3 in June. However, a recent shareholder address revealed that it will not be released during the current fiscal year (April 2012), so don’t go throwing out your balance boards and nunchucks just yet.
Concrete details of Project Café are few and far between, but the information we do have is more than enough to excite an industry and audience unsure of what to expect from the eighth generation, and has raised the question if we are yet ready to finish with the current.
Here are a few of the key issues and questions facing Nintendo in the coming months.
I. Can Nintendo convince the Wii casual crowd to upgrade?
With a vast library of family friendly games, and motion controls that removed the hurdle of the traditional controller, the Wii won the battle for the family living room convincingly. It tapped into a new demographic of casual gamers – people who saw the Wii as a lifestyle tool and bought titles like Wii Sports and Wii Fit in their millions. However, these gamers were perhaps more reluctant to buy software after they had secured their core titles, and it may be a struggle for Nintendo to keep them on-board and convince them of the merits of Project Café.
Now that motion controls have been done, how can Nintendo retain this lucrative slice of the market going into the next generation? This audience is Nintendo’s to win, as Sony and Microsoft are unlikely to convert them with their next generation consoles, but I have no idea how they will go about courting them.
II. What about the all-important controller?
The controller was the defining feature of the Wii, and it would appear that Project Café is set to follow suit. It has been rumoured to include a six inch widescreen, touch-screen display and has been suggested that this feature may enable gamers to stream directly from the console to their controller – a short-range remote platform that would allow games to be played in the palm of your hand instead of on your TV, if you so desire. This could also, theoretically, allow 2+ people to play the console at once independent of one another, which would be an impressive achievement.
To give you a better picture of the proposed touch screen, the LCD of the Dreamcast VMU/controller was 1.5” wide, though a more fitting comparison would be the PSP 3000 with its 4.3” display. If the specs for Café’s screen are correct, then it is clear that it will be part of a huge controller, something which may prove problematic. Oversized pads have not fared well in the past, including the original Xbox controller which had to be down-sized for Japan. Of course, Nintendo will be savvy to such concerns and hopefully they can find a balance between innovative features and ease of use.
If there is to be backward compatibility, which is expected, then clearly this new controller would not be the ideal tool for motion controls. We will most likely be using our old Wii remotes with Café, much like GameCube pads could be used with the Wii.
III. Will Nintendo make more of a commitment to online gaming?
With talk of Project Café being far more powerful than the PS3 and 360, it would appear that Nintendo are looking to compete more directly with Sony and Microsoft. Whilst the company’s fortunes have skyrocketed since the launch of the Wii, it has lost a certain amount of cred with hardcore (I hate that word) gamers. An improved online multiplayer would go some way towards winning back fans who strayed after the GameCube.
For a console that features so many games aimed at a younger audience, the Wii’s inconvenient Friend Codes were a necessary evil, though hopefully they will do away with it here. Either way, Nintendo will have to work hard to convince online gamers that their next console can compete with the constantly improving PSN and Live services.
IV. Will Project Café secure vital third party support?
The Wii suffered a lack of quality third party developed games, which Nintendo did little to remedy. In-house titles dominated the Wii sales charts from day one, and when multi-platform games arrived they were often stripped down versions of what was available elsewhere.
Word is that Rockstar Games, developer of a number of hugely successful series including Grand Theft Auto, are already on-board. If this is true, it will be a huge boon for Nintendo. Having well-respected companies like Rockstar from day one, traditionally a developer of more mature games, will allow Nintendo to challenge Sony and Microsoft outside of the area in which it has become comfortable over the last six years.
V. Will there be some sort of system to rival Trophies and Achievements?
Ok, I know it’s only window dressing, but I would love to be able to track friends and my own progress across Nintendo games. I don’t see why this would be problematic and this is perhaps one area in which I would be happy to see Project Café conform and not differentiate itself from the competition.
Odds & Ends
1. Despite being as well established as they are, Sony has an unfortunate tendency to drop the ball from time to time. PSN has been down for a week due to an external attack, but these things do happen – seemingly a regular occurrence in this digital age. However, I do take issue with Sony’s incompetence in dealing with the problem in a timely matter, only announcing yesterday that they believe personal information – certainly usernames, passwords and addresses and possibly credit card details – may have been compromised. Why such a slow response to a matter of such urgency? Sony is rightfully getting slaughtered online and in print for this gross mismanagement of the problem, and shares have nose-dived. It never ceases to amaze me how Sony can get so many things right, yet get others so terribly wrong.
2. I have fallen into a gaming rut over the last few days. The timing of this funk couldn’t be worse as a combination of Easter and the Royal wedding have blessed me with ample time to get stuck into a few games. The PSN fiasco has ruled out online gaming, I have become beyond frustrated with NBA 2K11’s glitches and the sale copy of Mafia II which I ordered last week has yet to arrive. I thought I would grasp the opportunity to finally play Mass Effect (I played and loved ME2 last year) but a muted opening and that bloody moon buggy forced me to abandon it. Clutching at straws, I opted for another game which had been sat on the shelf for far too long – Portal. I am thoroughly enjoying the simplicity of it all, though I’m not convinced that I should splash out on the sequel just yet. LA Noire can’t come sooner enough.