Tag Archives: Japan

Nintendo surprised fans with the SNES Classic

snes-classic
Yesterday, Nintendo surprised fans with the SNES Classic, a mini console that bundles together 21 of the best classic games from the company’s 16-bit console in one tiny package. But perhaps no one was more surprised than veteran game creator Dylan Cuthbert, who learned the gadget would include one additional surprise: his long-canceled game, Star Fox 2. Yesterday evening, Cuthbert and several members of the original Star Fox 2 team went out to have a much-belated launch party for a game they’d made two decades earlier.

Star Fox 2 was a sequel the 1993 original, which saw Nintendo branch out in a new direction with a sci-fi-themed rail shooter on the SNES. In the game, Fox McCloud and a team of anthropomorphic animals / pilots defend their home planet from powerful alien invaders. The game let players pilot an angular craft called the Arwing, as they battled robots, alien creatures, and spaceships through expansive levels.

Star Fox was also one of the most technically impressive SNES games. By utilizing a new graphics processor called the Super FX, the team behind the original Star Fox were able to squeeze 3D graphics onto a console built for 2D games. Star Fox was the first Nintendo game to use polygonal graphics, setting in motion the company’s trend from 2D to 3D gaming. A big reason for that accomplishment was the technical wizardry of Cuthbert and his team at British developer Argonaut Software, who worked with Nintendo on the game.
Star Fox 2

When it came time to create a sequel, the team similarly wanted to make something that would wow players on a technical level. They set to work on not only designing a new game, but also developing a new version of the Super FX chip that would offer twice the memory and significantly faster processing. They experimented with all kinds of ideas, including the ability to pilot your ship using a full 360-degree range of motion. Cuthbert says that he rebuilt the original Star Fox engine “considerably” to fit all of these new ideas and gameplay features.

The game wasn’t merely a prototype; it was completed. The press was even shown demos at CES in 1995. But Star Fox 2 took a long time to develop — so long that the final product showed its age as new, more powerful platforms like the original Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn were released.

“The release [of Star Fox 2] got set back about a year or so, and half a year later, the Nintendo 64 system was due to come out, so we thought, ‘Is it too late to ask people to shell out for this?’” Nintendo design luminary Shigeru Miyamoto explained in an interview with the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. “And other companies’ game consoles were using polygons all over the place, so we didn’t think we could catch up even if we stuck this expensive chip in the cartridge, so we rethought it.”

The decision was made to cancel Star Fox 2, though many of its ideas — like 360-degree flying and the introduction of a tank vehicle — made their way into Star Fox 64, which was released in 1997. “We wanted to use that structure from Star Fox 2 to make scenes with a stronger sci-fi bent, and we wanted to make the Arwing feel more comfortable to fly,” Miyamoto explained. When former Nintendo programmer Kazuaki Morita started experimenting with the N64, Miyamoto realized it was the right platform for these ideas. “When I saw those, I thought, ‘Ah, now we can make it like a science fiction film!’” he explained.

Cuthbert, meanwhile, went on to found Kyoto-based studio Q-Games, best known for the “Pixeljunk” series of experimental games. Years later, Cuthbert would return to Star Fox when Q partnered with Nintendo to create a remake of Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 3DS. “The idea was to faithfully recreate the contents of Star Fox 64,” Cuthbert, who served as director on the project, explained during the same interview with Iwata. He described the 3DS version as “a rebirth.”

Having moved on to new companies and projects, Cuthbert and the original Star Fox 2 development team aren’t directly involved with the release on the SNES Classic — which explains his surprise at yesterday’s announcement. “I wonder if this is a first?” Cuthbert wrote on Twitter. “We mastered Star Fox 2 [22] years ago and it’s finally getting a release. Guinness World record?”


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Inside Japan’s Robot Hotel (Video)

The world’s first hotel staffed almost entirely by robots is opening its doors full-time to guests this month, but CBS News correspondent Seth Doane has already been able to spend a night in the futuristic facility near the city of Nagasaki.

Doane reports that the opening of a small, low-cost hotel doesn’t usually warrant international attention — even with gimmicks like drones, or the boss arriving via robotic platform.

But the “Henn’na Hotel,” which translates to “strange hotel” in Japanese, lives up to its name.

“Please ask me your request, but don’t ask me a difficult question because I am a robot,” says the dinosaur behind the check-in desk.

The English-speaking dinosaur robot is designed to appeal to kids. Also at reception, an almost creepy humanoid, programmed to speak Japanese, and of course, to bow in respect.

There’s a robotic bag-check, even a robot concierge.

Hideo Sawada is the man in charge. Doane asked him if robots, which rely on a set of multiple choice responses to any question asked, could really replace staff like the hotel concierge, who has actually tasted food.

“Isn’t hospitality about connecting with people,” Doane asked Sawada. “Isn’t that an important part of the hotel business?”

 

“For five-star hotels that are selling high-end service, human staff are essential,” Sawada replied. “But for three or four star hotels, you need comfortable lodging, and a basic level of communication at a reasonable price.”

Sawada says having robots fill jobs can help reduce labor costs by about 70 percent. At the Henn’na, rooms start at only about $80 per night — a pretty good deal in one of the most expensive countries in the world for travellers.

The hotel boss admitted that the robotic staff “don’t come cheap,” but said that compared to an annual payroll for human personnel, “they are quite cost-effective… and as (technology) improves I think they will become quite price-competitive.”

In technology-crazed Japan, robots are becoming part of everyday life; from commercials, to appearances on TV as modern-day samurai. They’re in stores greeting customers, and titillating tourists at Tokyo’s famed “robot restaurant.”

Hotels were merely the next logical progression.

There were some software hiccups as Doane checked in with the dinosaur-bot, but eventually he was off, to test the robot porter. He admitted he could probably have carried his bag himself, but given the option, “why not try another robot?”

He punched his room number into a keypad on the machine, and it showed him to his room, albeit, slowly.

Staring at his door, Doane was faced with another automation; facial recognition, in theory, replaces room keys at the Henn’na.

After a few tries, he made it into his room — no key necessary – to Rfind another robot waiting for him.

Unfortunately, that robot only spoke Japanese, and Doane’s local lingo wasn’t quite up to muster, so he had to rely on a provided “cheat sheet” to help with the wording. It couldn’t do much for his pronunciation, but soon, Doane and robot were in synchronicity, and the electric room attendant turned off the lights so he could go to sleep.

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Panasonic just unveiled a new invisible television

Since the arrival of flat-screen TVs, there’s not been a whole lot to get excited about in the world of televisions – how many ways can you improve on a big slab of glass, after all? Well, how about by making it almost invisible when you’re not using it?

Image result for panasonic INVISIBLE TELEVISIONThat’s the thinking behind a new prototype from Panasonic that’s just been shown off at the CEATEC electronics expo in Japan this week. When switched on, it’s just like a normal TV. When switched off, it’s as transparent as glass, meaning you can see the wall or shelving behind.

Panasonic describes it as the “future of display screens” – although as you might expect, the company’s staying tight-lipped about the technology behind its transparent TV, just in case its competitors have something similar in mind.Image result for panasonic INVISIBLE TELEVISION

Image result for panasonic INVISIBLE TELEVISION

According to Mat Smith at Engadget, the screen is made from a fine mesh embedded in a glass panel.

Image result for panasonic INVISIBLE TELEVISION

You can slide the panel around too, at least in Panasonic’s demo clip, where the TV performs double duty glass pane of a cabinet:

Because it can be moved around, you can easily get at shelves behind it, or adjust the height of the display depending on who’s watching.

Importantly, the screen uses the latest OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology, where each pixel lights itself (rather than being lit from behind).

Image result for panasonic INVISIBLE TELEVISION

Traditionally, OLED panels put a thin layer of plastic between two electrodes on top of a glass slab. Because of this, when the electric signal disappears, the slab can look virtually transparent.

OLED technology requires very little power too, which is why panels like this can be so thin. Eventually, tech firms are hoping to develop flexible OLED screensthat you can bend or even roll away.

And this isn’t just for your favourite crime drama or soap opera either – Panasonic’s marketing spiel envisions people using the display to control smart home devices, play music, or maybe even set the mood with a series of themed images.

Panasonic originally showed off the technology at CES in Las Vegas earlier in the year, but the company’s engineers say the latest version of their invisible television looks even more transparent when switched off, and brighter when switched on.

Unfortunately, despite the progress they’re making, it looks like it won’t be ready to buy for another three years or so, according to company representatives.

But that might actually be a good thing – it’ll give us some time to save up for it.

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