In a video game universe, the pairings do not get much stranger than this: family-friendly Nintendo and controversial video game developer Rockstar.
The horror title Manhunt 2 ($30-$40) will hit stores on Halloween for Nintendo Wii and Sony's PlayStation 2. Since the Wii version uses the motion-sensitive controllers, it literally gives players the hands of a killer. Manhunt 2 was originally rated Adults Only — equivalent to an X in films — and now carries an M for mature audiences (17 and up).
"It is a technological fit, and the gameplay works," says Newsweek's N'gai Croal. "But culturally, it's not a fit."
Nintendo doesn't need to expand its user base to help the Wii continue to outsell its pricier and technologically superior competitors. Since launching in November, Nintendo has sold 4 million Wiis; in the same time, Microsoft has sold 3 million Xbox 360s and Sony 1.75 million PS3s, according to market tracking firm The NPD Group.
Wii remains so successful that Nintendo doesn't think it can supply enough to meet this holiday season's demand. "People need to keep in touch with their retailers as to when shipments will come in," says Nintendo's Perrin Kaplan.
Manhunt 2 is simply the most radical example of Nintendo's ongoing strategy to provide "a breadth of games of all story lines and all genres," she says.
A flood of new Wii titles is on the way, including Super Mario Galaxy (Nov. 12), horror game Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Nov. 13) and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Dec. 3).
But Manhunt 2 goes the furthest. Players take the role of a psychiatric escapee who has murderous rages as he tries to uncover his past. On the Wii, players physically make killing motions with the controllers — slashing for stabs and lifting to strangle — rather than simply pushing buttons. Rockstar's goal is to put players in the horror genre in ways that films like Saw or Hostel cannot.
"It's a different level of engagement in video games," says Rockstar's Rodney Walker. "You can literally experience the emotional responses of the character."
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board tagged Manhunt 2 with the Adults Only rating in June, essentially banning the game. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony do not permit AO games to be made for their consoles, and many retailers will not stock AO titles. Rockstar changed the game and resubmitted it to earn an M rating.
Walker concedes that some might be turned off by the game. "But what about other people who should have a choice whether or not to play it?" he says.
Geoff Keighley, host of Spike TV's Game Head, says the Wii game "proves once and for all that Nintendo is ready for gritty M-rated content. Fifteen years ago, Nintendo wouldn't even allow blood on the console in Mortal Kombat."
Upcoming Xbox 360 Arcade console set to replace the Core model
Despite the Xbox 360’s seeming need for a hard disk drive, Microsoft will continue to sell an entry-level model of its console without any such magnetic storage. A new, unannounced Xbox 360 Arcade console was found listed on Amazon.com and Toys “R” Us websites.
Both retailers price the new Xbox 360 Arcade console at $279.99 – the same price currently occupied by the Core model – with availability beginning on October 23.
DailyTech previously reported on word that a new entry-level Xbox 360 would be packaged with a 256MB memory card and five free Xbox Live Arcade games. The basic model may not be the only one getting a holiday makeover; however, as the Xbox 360 Premium and Elite models may also soon be bundled with Forza Motorsport 2 and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
The upcoming Xbox 360 Arcade package, even though without a hard drive, would still represent a better value than the current Core bundle. In order to store game saves, buyers of Core machine would have to purchase at least a 64MB memory unit, which retails for $29.99.
Even with 256MB bundled in with the new system, users may soon find themselves without enough storage to download more than just a handful of Xbox Live Arcade games. One must wonder why Microsoft did not opt to include the 512MB memory unit instead.
CALGARY -- Lori Shyba says the death of a young family friend in an alcohol-related motorcycle crash was the inspiration behind Booze Cruise, a video game designed to let young teens simulate the experience of driving drunk.
Shyba, a grad student at the University of Calgary, and a team of six others spent the last 10 months building a game that would demonstrate all the hazards of getting behind the wheel when over the limit without the awful, real-life consequences.
Needless to say, the goal of the game is to get home without crashing or killing anyone.
But that's more than a challenge when you have to deal with tunnel vision, flared lights and reaction time slowed to replicate a blood alcohol level of 0.25, or "hammered."
There are grannies and kids to avoid as well as checkstops, the odd sighting of Elvis and his hound dog, and maybe a pink elephant or two.
It's clear that despite the sombre - and sober - subject matter, the game was designed to still be fun for young, pre-driving teenagers to play. But unlike other driving games, the congratulations at the end lists the number of demerit points earned, jail time and other actual ramifications.
"No kid wants to spend any extra money on insurance, let alone lose their life or kill anybody when they're driving," Shyba said.
"So let them have their thrills in the game, let them know what the consequences are, let them rehearse the reality of what will happen in real life - entertain them but also educate them about the hazards of drinking and driving."
Jim Parker, a computer science professor at the university's fine arts program who oversaw the Booze Cruise project, says no one expects the video game to solve such a super-costly societal problem.
But he says it might have a better chance of deterrence with young drivers than the shock-and-gore campaigns of still photos and weeping parents.
"What we wanted to be able to do is have an accurate simulation of what it's like to drink and drive. I think people believe that they can have five drinks and get in the car and drive," he said.
"We want to convince them in a very practical sense that they're not capable of doing it, and if they try they'll get caught or they'll get hurt."
Parker says computer simulation and games are on the cutting edge for teaching techniques, whether it's trying to get teens to drive responsibly or training pilots, surgeons and other professionals.
The developers dismiss any suggestion that the game might be used for less noble purposes - for example, by gamers who might get a kick out of competing for the worst outcomes - or make a serious offence look like fun.
"Our position it that it's better to practise drunk driving in a simulation than on the streets," said Shyba. "The Booze Cruise has a fundamental advantage over real life - a reset button where there's no consequence to failure. And failure it is to have insurance rates go sky high and to lose your licence, make no mistake about it. You learn a way not to do it in the future."
The project did get some experienced input from Const. Rob Haffner with the Calgary Police Service's traffic and alcohol division. With alcohol-related collisions still occurring everywhere, Haffner says any extra help in educating young drivers is needed.
The game, which still requires some modification and upgrades, will likely get its first trial players at the Calgary Police Service interactive museum.
Efforts will also be made to get sponsors to cover the costs to send free copies to school boards, health authorities and anywhere else that it could be used, says Shyba.
"I'd like to save a life, and if the reach is city-wide, that would be satisfactory in that I think that Calgary kids will benefit by it. If it moves further than that, maybe we'll save more than one life.
"Maybe we'll be able to educate kids to understand that if they get into accidents, their insurance costs go up, they get into accidents, there are lives that are lost, maybe even their own. And that is so desperately sad for families."