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Mushroom Kingdon, June 2, 2006

My publisher has asked me to start writing a video game column. I've decided to call it Mushroom Kingdom. The first of what will be a weekly read follows ...
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Mushroom Kingdom
By Stephen Webster
Complete Nerd
June 2, 2006
For: The News Connection, Binary Culture

Wii will see …

First of all, no, we are not on psychedelic drugs. This column’s title, Mushroom Kingdom, is derivative of a land which many remember fondly. Most members of the under-35 generation(s) will hearken back to sitting in front of a television in the early 80’s, nodding their heads to electronic beeps and boops, jumping on Goombas’ heads in an effort to save a kidnapped princess. Of course, I’m talking about that cultural flashpoint; an iconographic mainstay of my own childhood: Super Mario, who lived in the Mushroom Kingdom and conquered an entire decade of this, the “lost” generation.

Ah, the memories.

Perhaps it is ironic that such a title was chosen for this new column, for our first subject Nintendo’s latest and greatest, coming soon to a living room near you. Unlike mainstream competitors Sony and Microsoft, who are prepared to saturate the market with expensive, high-powered, “media center” machines, Nintendo seems to have sidestepped this battle all-together. If Bill Gates is a four-star technology general, then Nintendo’s genius game creator Shigeru Miyamoto is a pied-piper savant, happily skipping right out of town square and taking the strategist’s soldiers with him.

I am talking about the Nintendo Wii (pronounced “We”), the most unusual game machine the world has yet to see. No rhyme intended. Last month the gaming world converged on the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), the largest showcase of coming-soon software known to man. Nintendo came out of this week-long electronics marathon sitting pretty, boasting five-hour lines around their booth and more playable games than Sony and Microsoft. The appeal of this new machine is unique, and its execution, thus far, has been flawless.

For starters, the Wii will appeal to current gamers and reach out to those who write off the pastime as pointless or too complicated. The key here is simplicity. When the company’s press conference opened, famed Mario creator Miyamoto stood stage-right, holding a television-style, single-hand remote. Behind him, a massive screen depicting an orchestra comprised of simple, cartoonish characters. He raised his hands to signal the start of the melody, and then proceeded to conduct a Nintendo-themed symphony with simple flicks of his wrist, as though he were holding a conductor’s baton.

The audience was in awe of what was otherwise a simple technology demonstration.

Other games showcased were Wii Sports, where up to four players can join in on a game of golf, baseball, tennis or air-sports. Participants hold the motion-sensitive controller like they would any sporting accessory. Swing the bat to hit the ball. Pull off a backhand stroke to volley back across the net. Smack a drive with a digital nine-iron, just like you would on the green. In air-sports, players pilot a variety of flying craft by holding the controller like a paper airplane. It is so simple, your grandmother could do it; yet fun enough that even your uber-gamer nephew will get in on the action.

The company also plans to have their latest Legend of Zelda title, Twilight Princess, available at system launch. It too will have Wii functionality. Imagine swinging the Hero of Time’s sword as though you were holding it; or firing off an arrow, only to hear it (via the controller’s internal speaker) fly from your hand, right into the television screen. Nintendo also showed off a new Mario game, called Super Mario Galaxy, a new Super Smash Brothers game with online multiplayer, a new Metroid title and a handful of other old franchises renewed for Wii. Third-party developers were also on-board in droves, as the company has made it their goal to reduce development costs for their new system to just one-third of what Xbox 360 or PS3 development costs.

It may have a funny name, but where would modern America be without Google or Ikea? Wii may yet take over the world. The new PlayStation set to debut in November at $599, giving Nintendo a shot at a huge victory this Christmas. The company has pledged to launch their system at or below $249. It plays GameCube games and works with the old controllers, runs DVDs, and even has a free online service for multiplayer, and sports a new content delivery method called “Virtual Console,” which allows players to download and play any of Nintendo’s games from the last 20 years.

I’m just not sure how it will feel asking my mother to put the controller down so I can take my video games home. Wii will see.

Stephen Webster is an Investigative Reporter with North-Texas weekly The News Connection, a Staff Writer with Peace Journalism Magazine and George W. Bush's hometown paper The Lone Star Iconoclast, a former contributor to The Dallas Morning News' Science & Technology section and the former Editor-in-Chief of Binary Culture.

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