GDC: Nintendo to 'disrupt consoles' soon - Iwata

SEGA games on Rev, Zelda DS.

Satoru Iwata confounded expectations during his GDC keynote comments - but not necessarily in the way some commentators expected.

Instead of revealing substantial new information on Nintendo's next-generation console Revolution, Iwata discussed how Nintendo is "disrupting development" on a number of fronts, and promised attendees that they would see how Nintendo plans to "disrupt console gaming" in a few weeks' time - presumably a reference to the E3 trade show in May.

Pre-event speculation focused on a new name for the Revolution - still a codeword for the console - but instead the Nintendo president limited news to the announcement that SEGA Mega Drive and Hudson/NEC TurboGrafx games would be made available through the system's "Virtual Console" library of downloadable content.

Iwata also revealed a new Zelda game for the Nintendo DS - Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is due out this year, and will be playable at E3 alongside what's widely considered to be the GameCube's last stand, Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Iwata began by talking about the phenomenon of Brain Training, which has now sold over five million copies across the range in Japan - and at one stage invited fellow developer Will Wright, GDC organiser Jamil Moledina and G4TV's Geoff Keighley on-stage to play the game, known as Brain Age in the west, with one another.

Brain Training was the product of a taskforce set up to create a game that would have universal appeal, Iwata said, and partly thanks to the interest of Nintendo CFO Yoshihiro Mori - whose interest in a book on the subject led to a meeting between Dr Kawashima and Satoru Iwata on the day the original DS launched in Japan.

Having been convinced by a demonstration from Kawashima, Iwata tasked a small team with creating the first game within 90 days. "I could see they weren't happy, but with such a short schedule they had no time to complain," he joked to the crowd.

Following a demonstration of Brain Age, which includes over 100 Sudoku puzzles in its western incarnation, and a discussion of its success, Iwata moved on to talking about the Nintendo DS online service Wi-Fi Connection - revealing its origins as "Project Houseparty", a system designed to allow gamers to play together without the risk of intimidation from an "aggressive" and "vocal" minority of hardcore online players.

The system was designed with Nintendo stalwart Mario Kart and GameCube success Animal Crossing in mind, he said. It would be for friends to play together.

Following this, Iwata presented Metroid Prime: Hunters, recently released in the USA, as a demonstration of how Nintendo is continuing to develop games in traditional styles - citing Tetris DS and New Super Mario Bros. as further examples of this.

Then he moved on to the new Zelda for DS, Phantom Hourglass, which features 3D graphics within a 2D perspective - similar in some senses to New Super Mario Bros.

Finally he turned to Revolution, which many had expected would be the core focus of his address. Instead, he reiterated that the design was about creating a wireless, approachable, and yet sophisticated system that would be "revolutionary". Shigeru Miyamoto, he said, originally envisioned the now famous one-handed TV remote-style controller, but following discussion with other developers further peripherals were developed geared toward traditional two-handed play - and useful for backwards compatibility as a bonus.

In terms of Revolution news, Iwata's main thrust was to do with Virtual Console - the system that will allow players to download NES and Super NES games to play on Revolution. SEGA's Mega Drive titles - a "best of" selection, the publisher announced independently - would be available along with Hudson/NEC TurboGrafx titles, as part of a service Iwata said would be the videogames version of iTunes Music Store. Cost would not be a barrier, he intimated.

Future Zeldas, Marios and Metroids will be bigger masterpieces than ever before - but this doesn't have to be the only business model, he said.

"When I imagine what faces us right now, I think of explorers setting foot on a new continent. For them, it was impossible to imagine what adventure lay ahead," he said, before concluding that having disrupted handheld and Wi-Fi gaming, Nintendo would soon disrupt console gaming too.

Many will agree with his sentiments, but the initial reaction to the keynote - in considerable contrast to Phil Harrison's news-heavy address yesterday - will be one of slight disappointment that Iwata wasn't prepared to disrupt the news flow in March, too.

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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