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Witnessing the Revolution
Hands on time with Nintendo's next generation system. Will it change gaming?
December 15, 2005: 9:46 AM EST
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
The Nintendo Revolution controller will be substantially different than those found on other consoles.
The Nintendo Revolution controller will be substantially different than those found on other consoles.
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NEW YORK ( Interesting factoid about the Nintendo Revolution controller: It's smaller and lighter than you might think.

I recently had the chance to get some hands-on time with the company's next generation console to see whether the Revolution was, in fact, revolutionary. While the controller I used was still a prototype (the final one will be a bit larger and will include a button to power the machine on and off), it gave me a good chance to see what to expect when the system launches next year.

Shaped like a television remote control, the Revolution controller uses internal sensors to translate your wrist, arm and hand movements on screen. It's easy to use, but takes a few minutes to adjust your playing style. (I initially found myself waving my arms wildly, resulting in the onscreen pointer whizzing back and forth at blinding speeds.)

Nintendo wasn't kidding when it said it wanted to change the way people play, though. Once I figured out that subtle movements made for simple gameplay, I went through eight demos demonstrating a variety of features and possible uses. A simple point and shoot demo (like any of the thousands of Web-based Flash games) was more fun than I expected. I effortlessly pulled off loops and flight stunts I've never been able to manage with today's standard controller in a flying demo, simply by holding the controller as I might a paper airplane. ("Star Fox" fans should start getting excited.)

Other demos allowed me to telescopically zoom in and out on the screen, simply by moving the controller forward and backward and try some fishing by 'feeling' fish nibble on the line (via a rumble effect), then yanking the controller up in the air to hook them. ("Animal Crossing" fans, you might want to get excited, too.)

By adding an auxiliary thumbstick controller, I was able to play through a level of a retrofitted "Metroid Prime 2" (a GameCube game). Confession time: When it comes to console shooters, I'm terrible. I can finish them, but I'm nowhere near as competent as I am with my mouse/keyboard setup for the PC. In the early stages of the "Metroid" demo, it looked like this trend would continue, as I was all over the screen. By mid-way, though, I was better able to move and aim and enjoyed the game far more than I did with the GameCube controller. ("Metroid" fans... well, you're probably already pretty excited.)

It turns out I'm not the only one who has this problem with standard controllers.

"I was a developer for many years before my current role, but I've never been a very good gamer," Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told me. "I've never been able to control a first-person shooter, but as soon as I used the Revolution controller, I found it very easy to control the game. So, I think that's a genre that's particularly well suited for the controller."

Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America, said he hopes to see another type of game really take off with the Revolution.

"I hope [massively multiplayer online games] are really explored on this system," he said. "That's a genre, from the home console standpoint, that really hasn't been explored very well."

One of the problems the Revolution faces is dislodging the idea of the standard controller from people's minds. Mention home video games to most people and they'll conjure a mental image of someone sitting on a couch, both hands gripping one of today's standard controllers and not moving much. So the idea of moving your arm in a virtual sword fight or taking virtual aim at onscreen monsters might be hard to get across.

"When we first watched it, we thought, frankly, 'what the hell is this?'," said Jack Sorensen, executive vice president of worldwide studios for THQ. "The main thing is getting it in your hands. Once you do that, it's pretty intuitive. It's not about more buttons. It's about ease of use for consumers. ... I'm surprised and happy with the direction Nintendo is going."

Nintendo was in a similar situation a year ago when it launched the Nintendo DS. Explaining to people that a touch screen would be used to play games wasn't easy. The DS was something that had to be experienced to fully understand. Iwata said the company is better prepared this time around.

"It's going to be a challenge to take something that's a new concept and new idea and convey to the public ... how to understand it, but honestly I think the Revolution controller is going to be a lot easier to convey to the public than the DS was as a system," he said. "We've learned a lot in terms of how to communicate to people these new and different ideas and because of the experience we had with the DS, we're much more prepared."

The company has high hopes for its next console (Revolution, it should be noted, is just a code name the system's official name will be announced next year). Iwata has previously said if sales do not surpass the GameCube's, it will be considered a failure.

It goes beyond that, though.

"Until now, within a single household, we've had family members who play video games and family members who don't play video games - and they've been very separate," said Iwata. "Gradually, the barriers between those two have gotten stronger. ... Today, if you don't understand the controller, you're not able to enjoy video games. ... We expect [the Revolution controller] to become the standard in video game controls."

That's a tall order, especially amongst an audience that tends to be resistant to change. (The DS was often scorned by core gamers when it was initially announced. Some of those same gamers now regularly sing its praises. Others continue to argue it's a gimmick.)

The Revolution is scheduled to launch next year, most likely in the same time frame as Sony's (Research) PlayStation 3. Nintendo, which has already hinted it might offer the console at a lower price, has already promised to reveal all the details at a May press conference preceding the E3 trade show (the annual gathering of the video game industry).

That doesn't mean it will retreat behind a veil of silence until that point, however.

"It's fair to say that we have a number of things that we will begin unveiling all next year, leading up to E3," said Fils-Aime.

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Morris is Director of Content Development for Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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