Nintendo delays Dolphin console

Software hold-ups push U.S. launch beyond 2000 -- Game Boy Color successor also put on hold.

TOKYO - Don't look for Nintendo's next-generation game system this year -- at least not in the United States. In an interview shortly before Sony Corp.'s launch of PlayStation2 in Japan, Nintendo executives Hiroshi Imanishi and Yasuhiro Minagawa told MSNBC that while they still hoped to release Dolphin in Japan by the end of the year, the system would not be released in the United States in 2000.

"We are targeting a December launch before the Japanese Christmas season," said Imanishi. "But we have to take many things into consideration for political and strategic reasons, so we just cannot tell if the Japanese launch is 100 percent sure or not."

He further stated that Nintendo had decided not to stage the worldwide launch it announced last August at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), and that Nintendo of America could release the system at its own discretion. He did not release any information about when that time might be.

During this discussion Imanishi, the No. 2 man at Nintendo Co. Ltd., admitted that Nintendo has only given Dolphin game development kits to a "select few talented and capable companies." The only companies he would acknowledge as having received kits were Nintendo internal, Rare Ltd. (developer of Goldeneye 007 and Donkey Kong 64) and Konami (Castlevania 64).

According to Imanishi, the hold-up is software. "It's always the case with Nintendo, the hardware is already completed, but the software is not."

Unlike Sony and even Sega, Nintendo relies on a defined set of game properties to sell its systems - characters such as Mario, Link and Donkey Kong. Because of their enduring popularity, these characters are more valuable to Nintendo than any hardware system, and Nintendo is not willing to risk rushing game developers such as Shigeru Miyamoto to finish games that might tarnish these characters' images. The problem is that designers such as Miyamoto are perfectionists who are never fully satisfied that their games are polished.

Imanishi released few details about Dolphin during this meeting. He stated that the Nintendo version of Dolphin would not be able to play motion pictures on DVD, but that a separate version of Dolphin manufactured by Matsushita (aka Panasonic) would have movie playback.

"Like N64, and Super Famicon, Dolphin will be a game machine," said Minagawa, a Nintendo of Japan spokesman. "But having said that, Famicon was used for the network trading and Super Famicons is still being used for betting on horse racing online. It's a matter of what kind of attachment you are going to make for the consumer."

Imanishi said Nintendo has not decided on a retail price that Dolphin will retail at, but stated that "We will need to make it cheaper than PlayStation2." One problem, he noted, is that the price of semiconductors is currently going up.

In the meantime, Nintendo faces a rough time in console sales. Nintendo 64, Nintendo's current console system, is a virtual no man's land in Japan and Europe. Even in the United States, the one territory where Nintendo has remained competitive in the console market, Sony is still dominant with PlayStation.

During this interview, Imanishi discussed the future of Game Boy -Nintendo's 11-year-old, 8-bit handheld game system.

Nintendo had announced plans to replace Game Boy Color - the latest iteration of Game Boy - with a 32-bit system called Game Boy Advance later this year.

These plans, however, have also been put on hold. "Right now, Game Boy Color is selling very well all over the world so there are people who ask, 'Why bring anything out now?' We don't need to bring anything out now," Imanishi said.

"Selling very well" is a huge understatement. It would be more accurate to say that Game Boy Color is doing phenomenally.

According to Minagawa, Nintendo cannot possibly keep up with the orders for Game Boy hardware. In fact, he and Imanishi disclosed that internal Nintendo projections have Game Boy's worldwide hardware sales exceeding 100 million units sold by the end of May. "We are already at more than 300 million [pieces of software sold]," said Minagawa.

There is no question that Nintendo has completed work on Game Boy Advance - software companies all over the United States and Japan confirm that they have received development kits for the system. The fact is that with the success of Pokemon, consumers have shown renewed interest in Game Boy, and replacing it would kill the golden goose while it is still laying dozens of valuable eggs.

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