Sony at E3: Let's copy from everyone!

Sony showed demonstrations of its modified PS3 controller and the accompanying games lineup at E3 today. According to an [article at Heise Online](http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/72851), Sony didn’t manage to set itself off from the crowd. The release date of the new console is November 17 in Europe and the USA, six days after the Japanese debut. The price is a hefty EUR 499 for the 20 GB and EUR 599 for the 60 GB version.

Also shown were the redesigned controller’s motion sensor abilities. Heise notes that “the controller seems to be hastily copied from Nintendo’s new Wii console.” Furthermore, “it does not look like Sony’s controller will be able to match the Wii’s precision. Instead of simplifying controls, Sony adds yet another type of control to their pad that the player will be forced to learn.”

The presentation left the feeling that Sony will be trying to copy from everyone. They want the price point and connectivity of the Xbox 360 and some of Wii’s unique controls, instead of offering something truly new that is wholly its own.

The games lineup also looks derivative, and Heise was particularly disappointed with the looks of the next Gran Turismo game. It looks “not even nearly as spectacular as in the scenes Sony showed earlier” (and this was to be expected), but apparently the tracks look bleak, sterile and boring.

“The games Sony showed left something to be desired in the originality department”, says Heise. “The look of the level shown from Resistance – Fall of Man might just as well have been placed in Warhawk, Killzone or Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4. The design appeared completely interchangeable.”

Also, Heise criticized that the often heard argument that Xbox 360 games only aim for young macho men can also be applied to the PS3 library. Singstar, Hot Shots Golf and Africa being the only exceptions so far.

Heise is not known for in-depth gaming coverage, but even they noticed that large parts of the industry have degenerated into rehash-factories. I might be walking the primary-colored path towards Nintendo fanboydom, but I think all of this bodes well for Nintendo, since they are so *not* what Sony and Microsoft are at the moment.

First Wii player reports in TIME

Time (or is it TIME? They seem to insist. If so, what does the acronym stand for?) was given the honor of sending one of their writers to Kyoto to sample Nintendo’s Wii. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

Here’s Lev Grossman’s fairly interesting [Time.com article](http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1191861,00.html). While he’s a bit inaccurate with some of the more obscure details, I’m surprised to see an article of this depth in the mainstream press. I hope the plan is working out and this gets Nintendo where they want to be; I suppose this kind of coverage is all part of the Wii plan.

Coop launches new line of lactose-free products

Coop is taking an active stance and has released (this week) several new lactose-free products. Among them:

– 3 different flavors of ice cream
– Mozzarella
– Cottage cheese
– Whole milk
– Skimmed milk
– Vanilla-flavored milk
– Chocolate-flavored milk
– Curd cheese
– Cream
– Various yoghurts

This is great news for lactose intolerant people (including Asians and Africans of course) living in Switzerland! Coop has so far been very quiet in this sector, but Migros recently released a new line of soy-based products like puddings and chocolate drinks. This was a response to high demand from people on a vegan diet, but those with LI also profited from the move. That coop targets us specifically with this new line is fantastic. The products are made out of processed dairy milk, no soy involved (in case you’re worried about soy allergy).

Some small manufacturers, such as Breisgaumilch from Germany, already produce lactose-free cream for example, but that was a niche product only available in select stores in Germany. This is the first time such a product makes it to a Swiss mass-producer like Coop, who is present in nearly every larger town.

Olé!

I will try some of the stuff to see if it tastes like mold or toothpaste or newspapers.

Source: A Coop employee posting at the [Libase.de forum](http://www.libase.de/thread.html?threadid=13270&boardid=14).

Is Nintendo ripping off Europe?

While trying to find cheaper Nintendo DS games, I noticed a large discrepancy between prices in the US, the EU and Switzerland. Here’s a comparison, all prices in Euros.

Title Price USA Price EU Price CH
Brain Age 15.00 27.00 31.00
Tetris DS 28.00 35.00 44.00
Mario Kart DS 28.00 39.00 44.00

I started investigating and asked a bunch of Swiss retailers why some games are more than twice as expensive in Switzerland. A game that is clearly only worth EUR 15 (Brain Age) is selling for EUR 31 here — how does that make sense? The retailers couldn’t really answer me, they think that Waldmeier AG might be to blame. Waldmeier has the monopoly on Nintendo imports in Switzerland. In many other European countries, Nintendo does their own distribution, but Switzerland is handled by Waldmeier. I asked Waldmeier for a comment but received no answer in more than one week.

So not only do the Swiss get less value for money (the Nintendo VIP club isn’t available here, for example), but we also pay significantly more. Similarly, people in the EU are paying between 40 and 80% more than North Americans. Canadians, by the way, pay about the same as USians.

Of course I realize that it costs money to translate the games into the different languages of all the territories where the same single EU DS cart is sold. But a 40% increase to translate the 200 or so text strings that pop up in a kart racing game? The per capita purchasing power of the EU is slightly higher than that of the US, yes, that’s true. But how do you explain the differences between titles? Why is Mario Kart DS 40% more expensive and Brain Age 80%? If we had price parity, the percentual difference for every title would be the same.

Something is fundamentally broken with Nintendo’s pricing.

Square-Enix launches Final Fantasy III site

FF3 is the only one of the NES-born FF games not to receive a relaunch so far. Square-Enix are working on a 3D adaptation of the title for the Nintendo DS.

On the game’s new official website, meanwhile, you can listen to harp music while watching Japanese elves of questionable gender caress a crystal:

[http://www.square-enix.co.jp/ff3/](http://www.square-enix.co.jp/ff3/)

COMING SOON! indeed.

Retrospective Review: Shadow of the Colossus

A bird of prey swoops from the sky, down into a deep gorge, trees and vibrant green grasses fringing the sides, a proud river snaking along its bottom. The bird cries, then plunges on, gaining speed as it darts toward a majestic landscape composed of canyons, deserts and endless plains. But avian matters are of little concern to our hero. His problem is an entirely human one. He’s carrying the limp body of a woman. Unconscious or dead? Dead, we must presume. As he sets her down on the stone altar in the middle of this barren temple, her unbreathing chest leaves no doubt. We do not learn her name or what she is to him, but his intentions at least are clear: he wants to resurrect her.

That’s how Shadow of the Colossus (SotC) welcomes you into its world and points you in the right direction. It’s not the best intro I’ve ever seen, but it excels at what it’s there for: to set the stage for what follows. It gives your eyes a small taste of the lush terraces you may once visit, drenched in warm sunlight, and then dumps you into a chilly stone temple, with an equally cold woman and a tall horse. Oh yes, the horse. But I’ll get to that.

The problem I face is that I’ve got this dead woman, but I probably want her alive. Rumor has it that there’s a temple where someone can help. A god, maybe. *The gods*, maybe. All I get to see of it is a bright light in the sky, and its voice is a mix of many, whispering the same subtitled mumbo-jumbo we’ve heard in Ico. It seems to know what it’s talking vis à vis revival possibilities for mysterious dead women, so I listen. It shows me sixteen statues. These represent sixteen colossi, it explains. To revive my fallen girlfriend/wife/sister/accountant, I have to kill them all. With my magical sword that locates and slays colossi. Bummer.

So I set out. Glancing round the temple to find an exit, I mount my horse, Agro. It feels strange to ride Agro. Controller movements lack any immediacy, and pushing the left analog stick accomplishes nothing on its own. But there’s a button to make the horse move forward, and only with this forward motion do left and right have any effect, since horses aren’t helicopters and can’t slide sideways. Except in the circus, perhaps. But this isn’t the circus! See, I told you I’d get back to the horse.

I tenderly coax Agro toward the temple’s exit, getting a feel for the controls while bumping his nose into the odd pillar. The hoofbeats are transferred to my hands through the vibrating controller, which adds a bit to the realism. Not so bad, a horse.

The first unexpected thing comes up here. While the landscape outside the gloomy temple was an indistinguishable glowing cloud so far, it turns into a wide plain of green grass as my character’s eyes adjust to the glare. Amazing! Slowly more details emerge, the bright blue sky, the play of sunlight and shadow, the earthy colors of a distant rocky hill. The landscape looks breathtaking. Throughout the game I never tired of the feeling I got when I saw it. Particularly after emerging from a dusty cave or deep forest, the liberating sensation of a ride on Agro’s back through the varied deserts, plains and hills is remarkable.

Did we talk about the sword? I have a magical sword. The gods seemed mighty impressed by that. They even showed me the built-in colossus locator: hold the blade into the sun and follow the beam of light. So that’s what I do. Ah-hah. It points straight ahead towards a hill. Let’s ride! As I ride there I notice how Agro’s controls make more sense now. The faster he’s running, the harder it is to make him go anywhere but straight ahead and I found myself yanking the stick left and right spasmodically as I tried to home in on my goal. It feels quite natural, though. The only places where the horse controls are really lacking is when it’s time to turn around in close quarters. Agro will refuse to turn, then turn too far, then refuse to turn again and take a step back only to walk foward into whatever’s in his way, so it takes you ages to get out of a narrow cave. Not comfy. But manageable, mind you, and probably realistic.

There, now we’ve arrived at the hill. It seems to be a horse-free zone, Agro still lacking rotors. So I jump off my horse. The next section functions as a tutorial for how to control the various climbing and grabbing movements your character can perform. Well done, there, it’s instructive without boring you to death, and at the end of the section you’ve actually accomplished something: you’re standing in front of your first colossus. Yikes.

The colossus battles are the meat of the game: there are no other enemies at all, and you spend more time in actual colossus battles than riding around. Unless you choose to just ride around. But that’s your choice. Don’t cheat yourself, though, as the colossi are at least as beautiful as the landscape. Each of them has patches of fur to which you can cling, and some features are made out of horn- or tooth-like material. One particular individual wears a crown of supersized teeth right there on his head. Must be hell to brush. All of these biological, plantlike and animal-like elements give the creatures a look that’s at the same time otherworldly and sort of recognizable. Very eerie! The result is that every encounter is accompanied by a very dense atmosphere as you ride towards the lair of your enemy and wonder what it looks like, where it might appear from and how it fits into its surroundings. You’ll meet a gigantic water snake, an oversized bulldog and several magnified humanoid warriors, each in its very own and very fitting setting. Sometimes, I felt a gulliveresque sense of unbelonging in their company, and I wonder if it was mutual.

The dramaturgy of the battles is roughly the same each time. Find colossus, discover weak spots, attack weak spots. The difference lies in how these spot are exposed and how you get to them in the first place. Most of the battles see you climbing a colossus, perhaps starting with his arm so you can jump on his head, then sliding down the back to find a weak spot in his spine and plunge your sword into it. The colossi aren’t stupid, so they’ll want to shake you off, stomp you, drive a fifteen ton stone sword into your skull or drown you in the lake. So be careful.

When the battle is over you’re back on your quest. You get on Agro’s back again to find the next colossus. The lack whisper of the wind and the soothing landscape bring your pulse rate back to normal. These parts of the game are oddly meditative in that sense.

One thing that deserves a special mention is the music. Most of the time, you don’t hear anything. No music, at least. Agro’s hoofbeats, the sound of the wind in your ears, your own footsteps on grass, sand and gravel are all there, and the lack of any other sounds creates a dense, expectant atmosphere. The music only starts when you catch a glimpse of a colossus. Violins and celli are your accompaniment for most battles, playing a timeless epic harmony and launching into wild crescendos in synch with your struggle. I found the soundtrack captivating and excellently produced. The pools of silence between the islands of dramatic, intense music add greatly to the effect.

This game is so full of technological marvels: HDR, blooming effects, meticulously animated fur and specialized adaptable collision detection in the colossus models. But it never feels like a tech demo, it never feels like it aims to please the hardcore gamer crowd, but it also never feels like it’s something for the uninspired game buyer who picks whatever’s on the top spot of the sales charts. This is no NFS Underground. Instead, if you try it you will find a very creative, very *finished* game that defies accurate categorization. One that can suck you in for an entire weekend, one that invites you to lose yourself in its world, and puts very few obstacles in your way once you arrive.

This title was a must-buy for me ever since it was announced over a year ago, and I’m glad it doesn’t disappoint.

Title Shadow of the Colossus
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
Links Official Website
Various Reviews

Back from Cebit

I’m [back][3] from the [Cebit 2006][1] trade fair in Hannover. We saw nice, flat new [Shuttle mini-PCs][4], ridiculously overpowered graphics cards, RFID passports and entire boatfuls of Asian people. Also, we tried to talk to those responsible for putting browsers and mail clients on mobile phones at Samsung, Nokia etc., because it would be great if those phones had the [CAcert][2] root certificate built-in.

(And people dressed in long beige coats tried to sell us code. In any language! C, C+, JavaScript, C-, PHP, VB.net, C#, Forth, C$… Any language! Those wacky Indians. But we did take their pamphlets.)

[1]: http://www.cebit.de/ “Cebit 2006”
[2]: http://www.cacert.org/ “CAcert”
[3]: http://terror.snm-hgkz.ch/photos/v/holidays/cebit06/ “Photos from Cebit 2006”
[4]: http://www.mini-itx.com/2006/03/09/shuttles-xpc-mini-x100 “Shuttle’s XPC x100”