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Tycho / on Fri, Nov 11 2005 at 4:30 am

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It’s certainly not their fault - allotments of the 360 were cut pretty much in half.  I went and preordered the first day I heard about “shortages,” my mind flashing back to the frigid PS2 launch.  I don’t think that the similarities are entirely superficial.  I don’t see any reason to believe that reported shortages constitute a marketing “bonus round” coming into the holidays.  I hope that you came away with one, in any event:  it’s an amazing platform.  There’s some faint praise, for you.

So, Nintendo Wi-fi.

As I said before, I think that for most people it will just work.  You can get a heads up on whether or not your home setup will do the trick here - they have a fairly comprehensive list of common equipment and its compatibility out there.  Because it’s not a g device, you’re going to have to settle for mixed mode, which I know is distasteful for some people.  We were in mixed mode anyway for the PSPs in the office, so we were “red to go.”  Of course, if you have no wireless at home and aren’t particularly interested in it, you might do what I’m doing and utilize the Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Adapter.  It’s essentially a USB dongle that automates their already ridiculously simple connectivity, available from their online store.  I’m fairly certain the Revolution will end up connecting through it as well. 

The reason I keep coming back to this is because with all their emphasis on “hotspot” play - partnerships with McDonalds, and so forth - I wasn’t sure if they were rocking some proprietary bullshit out there that would obfuscate home connectivity.  They aren’t.  I’ve gone on a kind of unofficial “tour” of local coffee joints with free wi-fi and accomplished great feats of racing.  If they have a WEP key, it’s easy to input that key with the stylus.  The PSP has many advantages over the DS from a hardware perspective, presumably that is what the extra hundred and twenty dollars buys you.  But in the wireless setup department, indeed, any kind of data entry, the stylus is king

Service-wise, how does one select games and play online?  It’s one of the three main menus, distinguished from vanilla “Multiplayer” with the menu item Nintendo WFC.  After making the rest of their whole thing so easy, I’ll never understand why they didn’t just make an “Internet” menu item.  Moving in from there, you can either log the machine onto the service, enter a “Friend Code,” or fiddle with settings.

You might not know about Friend Codes. 

The game and the system together generate an online “identity” for you.  It’s nothing like a Gamertag, in that it doesn’t persist from game to game and there’s no name associated with it.  It’s just a way to differentiate your device from the others attaching to the service.  Anyone you play a local wi-fi game with is automatically considered a “friend,” even though this may not be entirely accurate, and you don’t need to add those people.  You’ll need to exchange friend codes to anyone else you want in there.  As a process, it’s certainly a little byzantine - but the likelihood of those people actually being your friends is pretty good.  It stands somewhere between the perfect, archetypical shapes of Xbox Live and the howling chaos of the Playstation.

Friends are important because they enrich our lives.  But also, in this specific case, it’s necessary to their matchmaking scheme.  As I mentioned before, Animal Crossing on the DS only allows people to play with their friends, so setting up your online cadre is a must.  In the case of Mario Kart DS, “Friends” is one of four classes of people you can join games with.  So, where Xbox Live has “Optimatch,” where the user can define any element of the game they’re looking for, and also has Quickmatch for no frills matching, Nintendo has created a kind of hybrid system with what is probably a sufficient amount of granularity.  In their scheme, you have “Friends,” “Rivals” who aren’t your friends, “Regional,” and “Worldwide.” 

How does it play?  When we first tested it at Nintendo, terrible.  We must have had fifty or more people in there, all connecting to a single access point, trying to play with groups of people around the world who were also in packed rooms.  I’m happy to say that it was the scenario itself that caused the problems, and not the underlying tech.  As soon as we began to play local games, all was forgiven.  Of course, there are some distinctions:  there is a constrained but still ample track list for online play, as well as a four Kart limitation.  Purists may be unhappy to find that items do not “drag” behind karts online.  I hope they manage to survive.

I’ve had a few games here at home since then, and though the sets “people with the game” and “people online with their DS” rarely overlap, I’ve had a few amazing races.  With the PSP, you’re like, of course this fucker gets online.  It’s jet black and has a soft case.  With the DS, it’s still kind of a shock for me that the system I’ve had these strange little private experiences on also connects to your vasty Intertron. 

(CW)TB out.

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