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Jim Merrick gets connected

Nintendo bigwig talks Wi-Fi, Rev and Hideo Kojima's game.

Jim Merrick is a busy man. As Nintendo Europe's senior vice president of marketing, he's been rushed off his feet lately trying to ensure that we're all jolly excited about the forthcoming release of Mario Kart DS and the launch of Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service.

And he's done a very good job, at least as far as we're concerned. We're at the Nintendo Europe Summit in Frankfurt, where we've already had the chance to play Mario Kart against opponents in various locations all around the world, and we're very excited indeed. Even more excited than when we realised they were giving us actual frankfurters for tea.

Merrick's excited too, of course, but not about the frankfurters. No, it's all about the main focus of today's events, Wi-Fi Connection, as he explains when we get the chance to sit down and have a chat.

Getting connected

"We've been on the sidelines of online gaming for a long time - we just didn't see the right combination of value for the consumer and technology and gameplay," says Merrick.

"Now I think the time is right. We talked about the promise of Wi-Fi when we first introduced DS and now we can show you, with Mario Kart and with Tony Hawk, what Nintendo's vision of online gaming is."

You'll be seeing this all over the place soon.

But knowing Nintendo, and knowing that the Revolution is on the way, we suspect this is just the beginning. So, for starters can we expect a massively multiplayer title one day?

That's not Nintendo's style, says Merrick, but adds: "It's certainly possible... It really depends on Mr Miyamoto and Mr Konno, and whether they see that vision."

He reaffirms that the Revolution will make use of Wi-Fi Connection, although it "has a lot of different requirements and capabilities."

These include the "virtual console", Merrick explains, which will allow you to download NES, SNES and N64 games and store them on your Revolution's 512MB of flash memory - which Merrick confirms is expandable. And, of course, you'll be able to play GameCube games straight off the disc - "You don't need an adaptor, the Revolution will digest either full size Revolution games or the smaller GameCube discs," Merrick says.

"It's actually one of the unique elements of the system - there's never been a slot-based disc drive that can handle two different formats. It's one of the neat pieces of technology nobody seems to pick up on."

But back to the virtual console. Merrick tells us that a number of third parties have already committed to providing their back catalogue for download, but he won't tell us their names.

"I think you can guess, though," he says. "The usual suspects."

Merrick continues: "Will it be every game we ever published on any system? Probably not."

We point out that this is probably a good thing since some of them were rubbish, frankly, and Merrick greets this with a chuckle. We point out that we only meant one or two of them, and they were third party ones, and that everything Nintendo has ever done has been completely brilliant actually, and that we're very grateful that he hasn't thrown us out.

Name your price

Ahh, happy days! We just can't wait to see this again.

Moving swiftly on, we ask Merrick what the price point for retro games is likely to be. "I have no idea," he says. "What would you pay for your favourite game of the 16-bit era, say?"

We suggest that naughty retro pirates would say "Nothing," since the scamps can download many old games for free, in between supporting drugs and terrorism and porn of course...

"If you want to play on your PC, then sure, but they don't play as well there as they play on a console. And then in the middle of the night there's a knock on your door and the Nintendo police come and take you away," Merrick says. He's chuckling again, thankfully.

"Obviously, that segment of the market will always exist - there's always going to be some sort of piracy. But I think that for many mass market consumers, if it's easy and relatively low cost - 'Oh gosh, I remember that, I love the original Mario Bros, I grew up on that game, a couple of pounds and boy I can download that'" - that would be great."

A couple of pounds, eh? Nothing's been confirmed, says Merrick. He does reveal that Nintendo's online plans for Revolution don't stop at old days games, however.

"It is possible that you could download movies or demos of games that would expire in 30 days, or a game that you could share with another person... Using the digital rights management system, there are a lot of possibilities how we can control these things that we download, whatever they are - movies, music, demos, or full games."

Hmm. That sounds a bit familiar - don't tell us Nintendo's going for the whole "multimedia hub" thing too...

"No. When I talk about music and movies, I mean you might download a trailer for a game, or in-game music. But our business is interactive entertainment - we're not looking to be the home multimedia broadband portal, they can fight over that." We think we know who "they" are, even though he's not saying.

Speaking of which, when it comes to the question of Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, Merrick's very clear as to which side Nintendo's on: "Neither. We're not getting involved with that argument at all." It's probably for the best.

Back to the Revolution, then. When asked whether we'll be able to get our hands on the console at E3 in May, Merrick repeats what he told us last time - "I would be very disappointed if I went to E3 and didn't play Revolution games, wouldn't you?" Yes, sir, and now you've said that twice we're going to be even more disappointed if it all goes wrong.

Merrick says he's not sure if we'll only get to play games using the freestyle controller, or if those which use the "nunchuk" or "classic" add-ons will also be on show. "It's really the developers' choice," he tells us.

Ah ha, but which developers? And when, oh when are they going to tell us about their games?

"We haven't announced specifically what will be shown when, but there are a lot of third parties working on games for Revolution. But they are third parties, so when they decide to show or when they decide to announce is their call."

It seems likely that Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima will be one of those third parties - the fact that he was bigging up the Revolution at the Tokyo Game Show would imply that he's doing a game for the console, surely...

"That would imply that, yes," says Merrick carefully.

"He had very favourable comments to say about the freestyle controller. I think in his comments he stopped short of saying what game he was working on, so again, as a third party it's his privilege to say what he's doing."

But he is doing a Revolution game? "To my knowledge, yes." Goody.

Launch time

Just imagine, this could be sitting in your very own house one day.

Next we asked Merrick about Satoru Iwata's recent comments regarding a possible simultaneous launch for the Revolution. Here's the good news: "With DS, we were 14 weeks, which was the tightest Nintendo has ever been with a console launch and that was an achievement. But with Revolution, we expect to do better than that. That certainly is our goal.

"You know, simultaneous - what's 'simultaneous'? The same day, the same time?" Merrick goes on.

"That probably doesn't even make commercial sense. But within a few weeks of one another, sure."

And here's the even better news: Europe might not get left behind for once.

"We're very serious about trying to be a more global company and not follow the stereotypical formula of Japan first, then the US, then Europe some time later," Merrick says. So does that mean the Revolution could be the first console to launch in Europe first?

"Anything's possible. There are no rules that it must be Japan or US first." Hurrah!

Merrick says that Revolution is still "just a codename" for the console, and that there's "a lot of trademark checking and copyright issues" still to be sorted out. He says that various names are still being bandied about - and that no, Revolution 360 isn't one of them.

Our time is almost up, according to the kindly PR gentleman with the stripy scarf, so let's end with a tricky one. What does Merrick think of Epic Games' Mark Rein and his suggestion that games based around the freestyle controller will be "gimmicky", "cheap" and downright "crappy"?

Merrick appears to be unconcerned. "Mark has a very narrow section of the business. Epic builds middleware, they're very technically savvy guys, but he doesn't have a Revolution controller, he doesn't have a dev kit, he's talking about something he knows nothing about.

"So if he'd like to get a dev kit and really dig into it, then I'd be interested to hear what he has to say."

There you have it, Epic Games' Mark Rein - come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. And now there's just time for one more trip round Cheep Cheep Beach before it's off home to reflect on what we've learned, ponder the future of Nintendo and wonder why it's surprising that frankfurters taste exactly the same in Frankfurt as they do everywhere else in the world. Ah, life's great mysteries.