Nintendo’s region locking, possible future and past

In a recent QA discussion, Iwata of Nintendo touched a little upon Nintendo’s policies on region locking. Zelda informer has a translation on the bit that matters. Much like other similar sessions, Iwata’s comments on the restriction are rather empty. While he does make a proper comment on the worldwide troubles when it comes to global licensing and localisation, Iwata regards that there is too many problems on region free console despite its possible benefits to both customer and service provider.

Whether or not Nintendo will make a move towards region free consoles is an open question, but because it’s Nintendo I would not get my hopes up.

This QA sparked a small discussion on the ‘net about Nintendo’s region locking. Nintendo has a history for region locking when it comes to their home consoles as each and every has a form of region lock implemented in them. In handhelds however, the DSi was Nintendo’s first and this was simply because of the eShop.

In reality, there is no real problems with region free consoles in modern gaming. Any and all handheld consoles were universally produced to be compatible with one sort of software, and thus there was no reason to region lock anything. The whole idea of a handheld is to have it everywhere you go and have the software working on it on the go. The GameBoy line and the DS enforced this and you can find many stories where people travelled to other regions and buying games there for their own region GameBoys.

In this regard, Nintendo has stopped producing handheld consoles as they are perceived. The DSi, 3DS and Flanders all are home consoles in handheld form. The idea of a handheld console on the go is the core basic of it. With region locking, the core of portability takes a hit. Because Nintendo forces the user account to be locked to the consoles rather than on a server, losing or having the console breaking down essentially causes the consumer lose everything digital one that particular console. That is a risk Nintendo should have taken into account from the get go and remove such possibility. How Nintendo is handling their user accounts at this moment is horribly designed and against the benefits of the customer, and thus against the benefits of Nintendo themselves.

There are completely valid legal reasons to limit the user access to different region online stores on the consoles, that much is true. SONY’s PlayStation Network is brilliant in this regard that the store is tied to the account region, and has the gray area that allows the user create different region accounts if one knows what they’re doing. This benefits SONY and allows more sales software globally than what it normally would have. Microsoft’s account system is less flexible, as the consoles are tied to a region as is the online store, but the developers are able to select whether or not lock their games to a particular region.

In order to enforce the core freedom of a handheld console while enforcing the online region lock, one possible solution would be to lock the online store, eShop in Nintendo’s case, to the account region while allowing the physical cartridges, or the games themselves, to be region free. This causes some problems, such the inability to access add-ons and updates to the game software if they’re only available on the online store. This could be solved by allowing the games access their online store page and nothing else, thus allowing the customer to fully take use of their software while limiting access to any other part of regionally locked material on the store. It’s not a perfect solution, but the companies could also form agreements where the contents of the games are licensed for use in a particular software on a console without limitations. It would be a legal jungle to tackle and entirely possible feat to do. It would require a paradigm shift in the companies, however.

Earlier on, Iwata has mentioned that region locking is due to cultural differences and the aforementioned legal restrictions. However, to say that they employ region lock because one regional culture may deem certain aspects as offensive or something similar is outright stupid. If that was the case, every nation would need its own region code and localisation and that’s not happening. Iwata would actually have a good chance here to come out and say how Nintendo encourages people to experience others culture through video games and see the differences as well as the common things cultures share.

With the discussion of Iwata’s QA it became apparent that not all were familiar with Nintendo’s history of region locking. Many claimed that the Super NES and N64 were region free consoles. Let’s take a look what sort of locking mechanism Nintendo has employed through the years in their home consoles.

The NES had a chip called 10NES and physical cartridge differences to enforce region locking. The NES and Famicom cartridges were different in size and shape as well as having different pin layout. The NES carts had their own chip inside, which the 10NES checked. If there was a conflict between the chips, the console would refuse to run the software.

The Super Nintendo followed some of the NES’ practices. The US got a abomination of a redesign, making a physical lockout between NTSC carts. This physical lockout is easy to bypass in either US or JPN console with removal of pegs that prevent different region cartridge insertion. PAL region console has a CIC chip, which functions like an upgraded 10NES chip. The PAL region used the same superior design the Japanese had, but because of the physical differences with the malformed US carts and the CIC differences with Japanese cart, the PAL console can’t run either.

The N64 region lock is the same as with SNES at its basics, but due to common design worldwide, the US and JPN only had raised surfaces preventing insertion of different region carts. This is easily solved by removing surfaces. There are five different variations of the N64 CIC chip in both NTSC and PAL of varying rarity. For example, Starfox has its unique chip for whatever reason.

With the removal of cartridges, physical differences between regions died out. The discs are uniform across regions, but the consoles still have a bios chip that check certain pathways on the PCB. The Game Boy Player add-on is region free in itself, but the disc required to run the device is not, as per standard. The Wii has a region check routine tied to its IOS system. Wii U has similar system to it, but it should also be noted that the Wii U GamePad is also region locked for whatever God forsaken reason.

Most physical lockouts can be circumvented in a way or another. mmmmonkey is a good site to start with older console region modding, if you’re into that. Modern consoles are another thing, and often bring piracy with the homebrew scene.

Review of the Month; 8Bitdo NES30 controller [Updated 2.11.2014]

8Bitdo NES30 controller is pretty neat, first of all. The controller was made in celebration for the 30th anniversary of good old FAMICOM and to the same extent, the NES, was designed and built to replicate the core of the NES controller with a bit more modern twist. However, there are things that keep this controller from being a top notch product. The previous post is a preface for this review, so you might want to give that a look as well.

Appearance

At the first glance, the only thing that separates NES30 from the actual NES controller is the four action buttons and the shoulder buttons. Colours, dimensions and all those are very close to the original. Even the slight elevation of the gray plastic from the black textured one is faithfully replicated, even the overall colours are the same. Well, almost. The red used in START and SELECT are a hue too dark. The NES controller has brighter red that stands out much clearer despite the difference being so small. It’s not like you’ll be looking at the controller during gameplay all that much, the NES controller’s overall shape is ingrained to the mind of pop-culture. To my eye, the gray used the bars splitting the controller in the middle have ever so slight variation in the hue, but this may be difference in the ages of the controllers.

Like two berries from different parents
Like two berries from different parents

In addition to the usual NES fare, there are obvious deviations. Outside the buttons include an X-shell, that is attached to the back of the controller and adds few millimetres of thickness to the controller, which in hand ergonomics is pretty damn important. You can actually put the shell on a NES controller and add some heft to it. It’s not a perfect fit, because the screw holes of the 30NES in the back are not 1:1 with NES controller. That, the NES controller lacks the locking spots. This is a point that was missed, as the shell addition adds to the controller handling overall. The shell in itself has rather lacklustre painting, as the black X does not accurately fill the moulds. This isn’t a big deal in of itself because you won’t be looking at it too much, but in otherwise in a product that has more or less perfectly accurate painting, this strikes extremely odd and unfitting. Also, because of the engravings are in the buttons, be prepared to clean them occasionally as they will start gathering dead skin matter. This is unhygienic and could have been prevented very easily. Yours truly will modify the engravings with some black epoxy paste to fill them in.

All in all, X-Shell doesn't add much at first impression
All in all, X-Shell doesn’t add much at first impression

Despite following the NES characteristics to a large extent, the USB socket is in the middle of the controller rather than placed off-centre to the left. While one could argue that this was made so that the cord wouldn’t meddle with the L-button, but after testing the shell with the NES controller, there would have been none. The NES30 lacks the small notches the NES controller has on the back and front the cord, which is a minor detail. However, in a product like this minor details matter.

The two LEDs are useful, as long as you read the manual what they signify. They are your only way to determine in what mode the controller is in. Not much to say about them, but green and blue were good choices. They stand out from the controller well enough and don’t shine through the plastic. However, as the shell is very close to them, you can see the lights on it, but as said you won’t be looking at the controller too much.

The action buttons looks pretty good, overall speaking. How the gray plus shape has been added to the controller to fit the buttons reflects how the buttons on the NES controller were inside a gray square. An option would have been to left the centre black, but that up to personal taste whether or not this would have been a better choice. However, the button names are engraved into the buttons themselves and they just vanish in there. You could see the buttons clearly on the NES controller as the AB were printed on the controller next to the buttons. This is a deviation in NES30 strikes odd to me. If nothing else, the engravings should’ve been another colour to bring the letters up more. That, or print the letters on the controller.

IMG_1908
Everything as packed in these lousy shots. If anyone wants to see how the buttons looks with black in them, drop a comment

The shoulder buttons are placed much like on the SNES controller and facilitate surprisingly small footprint on the controller despite their looks. The gray used in the shoulder buttons is new, and the USB cord bundle with the NES30 shared the same gray. The shoulder buttons too have engraved L and R in them, which is business as usual. These will get a black modding as well.

The back to the NES 30 echoes NES controller's aesthetics, but the engraved 8Bitdo looks tacky
The back to the NES 30 echoes NES controller’s aesthetics, but the engraved 8Bitdo looks tacky

The minor deviations are mostly in appearance, but the impression NES30 gives out is slightly too far removed from the NES controller it imitates.

Connectivity

As a Bluetooth controller, it works pretty much like other of its kind. However, it can be connected to the Wii, and the connection is made by pressing Start and Y together with the Wii acceptance button. The LEDs show to what it is connected to, and overall functions pretty much as expected.

During play

Now here’s the meat of the controller. Screw how the controller looks for now, all that matters is how it functions and plays out. NES and SNES games where used as control points, the likes of Mega Man X and X2, Battletoads and few others, to compare how NES30 stands against both NES and SNES controllers.

Because of the X-Shell adds more area to the controller, it makes the NES30 fit larger hands slightly better. I have no means large hands, but I did find the shell making the controller more comfortable to hold in your hands. Using the shell with the NES controller adds similar effect. Without the shell, the NES30 sits in your hand like the standard NES controller. Whether or not you like that is up to you. Personally, I find the NES controller extremely nice fit to my hands due to its simple shape and light weight. I have never found any corner in the controller sharp, and despite my hands being far larger than when I actively played my NES the size is still fine. After finding a good position to hold the controller in, you’ll forget its existence pretty soon, unlike with modern controller that keep reminding of themselves with their unique solutions in ergonomics.

The D-Pad

Despite the NES30 has the exact same D-Pad as the NES from outer appearance, it functions are not in the same league. The NES controller I used responds to directions accurately and it allows pixel perfect gameplay whenever needed. The NES30 does not. This is apparent in stages that require high performance gameplay with quick reflexes and accurate motions. For example, on the NES I am able to oneshot Turbo Tunnel without problems. I’ve just learned every nook and cranny the stage has to the point my muscle memory works according to the musical cues. Trying the same stage with the NES30 proved difficult simply because the D-Pad did not take directions properly, or was too sensitive for them. Pressing Up caused the ‘Toad to move forwards as well, screwing timings and multiple deaths. Furthermore, Tetris showed that the D-Pad had a lot of troubles moving the pieces as intended. It is rather hard, if not impossible, to have pixel perfect movement with the NES30. You can forget finely tuned gameplay with this one.

However, games that do not require all that accurate execution, like Mega Man X and X2, fair much better. This is because of the game design utilising more block per screen design rather than pin-point pixel accurate gameplay.

It should be noted that Battletoads was running on an emulator. Multiple different emulators were used to see if the directional input problem really was in the controller itself. When the NES30 was tested on Shooting games PC, like Raiden Legacy and Blue Wish Resurrection, there was nothing to complain about. The D-Pad had no troubles whatsoever. The player ships controlled perfectly and it was possible to pixel perfect gracing.

For platforming, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dream and La-Mulana were utilised. These two games represent the loose-accurate spectrum of gameplay. Giana Sisters is not too accurate where the player is and has overall good hit detection, thus allowing nicely relaxed gameplay whereas La-Mulana has very strict but highly accurate controls akin to classic Castlevania. Neither game showed any problems with the NES30, despite NES30 does not facilitate enough buttons for all the buttons La-Mulana expects you to have at your disposal, and the standard layout is not all that great. It also takes time to get used La-Mulana’s controls with NES30, but that may be because I’ve used to play the game with Hori’s fighting controller I reviewed previously. In Giana Sisters the controller has more than enough buttons to choose from and allows sort of nostalgic trip to the past due to the NES aesthetics.

That said, it would seem that Windows native games work perfectly with the NES30. The D-Pad issues only raised their ugly head when emulators were used. This is point wouldn’t stand out all too much, but the NES30 is advertised as a controller for emulators. The issues persisted after updating to the latest firmware. That said, the overall feeling is similar to the NES D-Pad because of the shape, but it is allowed to more slightly more and has more definitive firmness at the extremes, but otherwise being mushier than the NES D-Pad. Fighting game motions are easier to pull off with NES30, and often it seemed that the D-Pad functioned better because of its better performance in fighting games. When it works as intended, that is. The problems in input recognition or how it functions with emulators, or whatever the problem actually is, makes the D-Pad in NES30 a mediocre D-Pad overall. It’s still helluva lot better than 360 controller’s D-Pad, but that’s not hard to do.

Action buttons

The action buttons, much like the D-Pad, resemble NES’ own red buttons but have different feel to it. This may be because of the age difference between the controllers, but that doesn’t explain why the X-button on NES30 has began to fail after one week of use. To be accurate, the X-button began to stuck into the down position, which means any sort of proper gameplay becomes more or less impossible. However, the buttons otherwise performs as you would expect. The springiness they have is slightly different due to the different set of zebra rubbers under them. They’re a bit more silent, if you found the clacking of the NES buttons too annoying.

The addition of X and Y buttons change the dynamics of the controller. In the NES controller, A and B buttons were perfectly placed for your thumb. Naturally, the users’ thumbs will find their cosiest place on Y and B buttons. Rebranding the buttons into a new order would have been a poor option, as most people know where the buttons is based on the other Nintendo controllers. It feels natural to map buttons like that and the controller does that with the Wii. If it seems like I’m hampering on a non-issue, it’s because I sort of am.

The Start and Select buttons are exactly the same with the NES controller. Slightly firmer rubber, but still soft to touch. Essentially, they’re perfect.

The shoulder buttons, while perfectly clicky without any mushiness, suffer greatly from the shape and size of the controller. While the extra face buttons work quite well, the shape of the NES controller was not designed to facilitate shoulder buttons. They are awkward to push, but because of their clicky nature they are very easy to push down from any point of the controller, be it from the controller corner or from the far end on the top. This easy but awkward nature of them makes them to somewhat useless, but overall this is due to the shape of the NES controller 8Bitdo emulated.

Overall function

If you liked the NES controller, you’d like the NES30. It’s a joy to use, a no-nonsense controller from a more simpler era of gaming. It’s very compact to boot and easy to carry with you, if you fancy to carry around a game controller. Outside the problems of the D-Pad, the greatest gripe I have with the controller is that the battery can’t be replaced without a little knowhow.

This takes points off a lot. Or it would, if I would use points
This takes points off a lot. Or it would, if I would use points

When the battery dies, the controller becomes completely dependent on the USB cord. It would have been better for them to include a changeable battery. Hell, I prefer using AA batteries rather than having to use a product that will essentially become half useless when the battery dies inside the controller. Because the shell has been moulded to fit this particular battery inside it, you can’t change it any other battery with larger dimensions. This may have been a cost cutting choice, but I would have paid that extra ten bucks for this if the battery selection had been better.

Because of the issues with the D-Pad and the soldiered battery, the current price for this product seems to be a bit too high. All other problems you may have with this controller directly stem from the dimensions and aesthetics of the NES controller, and as such I would recommend getting this controller for 20€ if this seems like something you would fancy. 30€ is slightly too high to pay for somewhat unreliably working D-Pad. It could be that my controller is a flawed one. This could’ve been a great controller, but the few big issues it has keeps it at bay.

Ultimately, we also need to address whether or not all the deviations from the NES controller were required. I would argue that if they were making a celebratory controller, sticking with the original elements more would have been the right choice.

To summarise this review; When the controller works, it’s absolute joy to use. When and if the D-Pad fails, you wish to fling it at the farthest and hardest corner on Earth.

Screw that.

You can see the main problem of the design here; the shell behind has no surfaces that would support the USB port. The whole offers no support, just a passthrough. You can see the rightmost lead dangling in the air, as the USB port hanged from it prior this photo.
You can see the main problem of the design here; the shell behind has no surfaces that would support the USB port. The whole offers no support, just a passthrough. You can see the rightmost lead dangling in the air, as the USB port hanged from it prior this photo.

While the outside build quality is decent, the most delicate bit, the Micro-USB port, is shoddily supported. The port crack off in normal use, rendering the controller useless unless re-soldered. I can’t recommend a product with such a important weak spot. Such spots in any device needs to be secured tightly to prevent this sort of things happening.

RIP Hiroshi Yamauchi, 1927-2013

This was the man who build Nintendo to be a video game giant.  He came and created an industry there where there was none.  Now, this man has laid to rest.

“A console is just a box to play Mario with.”

Current game devs, learn from the past and become craftsmen. Learn Yamauchi’s way with the Famicom and NES, and you will be successful.

Quantity vs Quality with current games

The ration of quantity and quality is really messed up in the video game industry if you stop to think about it. The quality of games we have now is so disproportional as we’re getting less games each games and their quality is nothing to brag about at all. Pretty much all the games we’ve had this year were nothing but the same song sang three times around. None of them broke the status quo. Not even the Project Rainfall games had any impact, and while the audience got their RPGs, they impacted very little on the later days of the Wii. I admit that I was somewhat swayed by the hype, but I do enjoy Xenoblade a lot and I still recommend long-time players to give them a good look, unlike Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which is a completely awful game through and through.

Let’s look at the NES era. Companies had to agree to release a maximum of six games a year. Nowadays that might sound like madness as developing games takes anywhere between two years to six years. Personally I’ve always been aghast of these developing cycles. Back in the day companies like Konami had to open sub-companies like ULTRA GAMES in order to release more games. As a wee lad I never associated Konami with Turtles because of this.


ULTRA also released such small games like Metal Gear and Mission Impossible

During the NES era the developers had more limitations overall, so of course we assume that they can make greater, better and faster games. The crude truth is that the very same reason actually is actuallykilling the quality.

Nintendo’s tight hold on the released games in North America and Europe was a direct result of the Second Video Game Crash. Companies could’vepushed out a game in a week or two if needed, which would’ve oversaturrated of the market just like in the Atari era . Nintendo’s grip and the seal of quality meant something at that time, as it guaranteed that the industry wouldn’t face asimilar downfall again. It was necessary and it was for the better. These games needed to be good enough to get through. Exceptions always exist, but a lot of games changed the status quo in some way. Super Mario Bros., Metal Gear, Contra, Mega Man 2, Gradius, The Legend of Zelda, Battletoads, Ghost n’ Goblins, Golf, Super Mario Bros. 3, Castlevania… a lot of these games broke the mould in some form and went against the overall winds of the industry. People loved them. As a console the NES was against how past machines had conducted their business and wanted to offer something different. The same can be said of GameBoy, which kept itself very simple and straightforward throughout its iterations up to the GameBoy Colour. As such, in comparison we had a lot of games that were high quality and yet there was a high possibility to develope more, if Nintendo had allowed it. Nowadays nobody truly controls what gets released, and none of the games are even trying or aiming to break to thestatus quo. New Super Mario Bros. managed to do that on the DS, but it won’t happen again with the Wii U as none of the Mario games are trying to change anything; they’re the same bleep bloop sounds with the same candy graphics and same floaty controls. There’s no new content, no evolution and no refinement. The same applies to practically every game within the last fifteen years.

In raw numbers and disregarding any comparisons, games are more developed and released nowadays than previously. There’s a higher number of sales and more people are buying games, and yet the industry is imploding. The quality of modern games across the board, while selling more in numbers, is far lower. If we do take everything in notion, the macro economics are completely different. SONY can’t afford to spend tens of thousands on console development, Microsoft is aiming for video and music services more than games with their next “console” and Nintendo is making loss with every console sold that is not a Wii.

You might be asking Why is the quality so low if we have more money, more development time and more games released every year? The answer is that nearly all games stick to the same mould and don’t even try to add something new and change the scene. This is because the developers create games they want to play, or what the hardcore gamers would like to play. That’s three mistakes there right off the bat. The audience they’re aiming for is extremely small at best. Imagine the current game industry as an inbred family, that has advanced some six generations or more now. By now there’s so many genetic faults, that the family desperately needs some new genetic material to the gene pool. At one point all genes clicked and managed to produce two healthy looking babies that grew up to be a fine pair of teens named DS and Wii, but after some time due to the parents’ lack of care and hatred later on caused these exceptions to become dysfunctional and give birth to two malformed children; the 3DS and Wii U.

The general audience loved the Wii, and they loved the DS as soon as Nintendo managed to realize that they need to make it into a portable SNES and not a portable N64. Both DS and Wii competed in a region where SONY and Microsoft had not touched and developed games that were different from the inbred hardcore games, namely Wii Sports. Because of this they managed to developgood games for the first time since Donkey Kong Country. Fun fact; Super Nintendo was in a pickle when Super Mario World didn’t give it the boost to overcome Mega Drive’s sales. It took Donkey Kong Country to really turn the tables around. Another fun fact; Miyamoto hated and still hates Donkey Kong Country.

The reason the most selling console gets themost shovelware is really a sign that it’s also getting the highest quality games nowadays, but only in a very limited fashion. The other consoles might get games that sell to the hardcore audience, but they won’t sell to anyone else. I’ve yet to meet a person who owns a NES and a Wii who would’ve played Metal Gear Solid. They might know the memes of it, but as a whole those games don’t interest the general populace, the place where the real money is. If the developers would stop jacking off each other and begin to develop to the Blue Ocean market, we’d see an explosion in the industry. A good kind of explosion no less, like in the NES and Atari era.

Let’s finish this with some Twilight Express


I always liked the MegaDrive sound chip more than SNES anyway. It’s much more clearer and less muffled

Filler post; The most metal Famicom game


Here you see two reasons I love Famicom carts; all companies had unique carts, or cassettes, and some of them had stuff on both sides of the cart

How many songs have been made into games? Sure, there are bunch of songs that have inspired parts of games, but Holy Diver for the Famicom might be the only game that has been completely inspired by one single song, namely DIO’s Holy Diver.. In general, the game has very little to do with the song other than the general feeling; Holy Diver would work as a Castlevania song, and Holy Diver does feel somewhat similar to Castlevania.

I loved IREM. It was a company to respect and love, and because of IREM we have such games as R-Type, Undercover Cops and Kung-Fu Master. Part of the ex-IREM employees were also in the main designers who made the Metal Slug games, so the guys at IREM weren’t for show. I’m speaking in past tense as IREM has been systematically removing their games’ sites from their homesite and thus removing large parts of their company history.

Why would a loved company want to wilfully erase their history they’re known for? Other than that, IREM really is unremarkable company…


Have you ever heard Holy Diver in this form?