Switch inherits Wii’s philosophy

Nintendo Everything has an interview up on regarding the inception and design of the Switch. We’ll take it at face value for now, all this sort of interviews are mix of hard facts and PR after all. It’s a bit on the long side, four pages in total, but a good read nevertheless.

The first thing they quote with big blue font is how the Switch was designed to bring everyone together and play. Remember Wii’s We’d like to play ads? The Switch encompasses the same idea, which incidentally is shared with the NES (which they specifically mention and want to go way back to the hanafuda cards) and to some extent with the SNES. Can’t forget the Game Boy and the DS. It’s sad to see Koizumi saying that playing together is core essence of Nintendo, when they’ve done so much do disregard this. It is also not the full extent of Nintendo’s core, but this is neither here or there. What Koizumi is saying with his little speech about getting strangers into gaming is expansion of the market, something that Nintendo’s successful consoles have done.

The idea of Nintendo’s home console being a device that could be turned into a sort of game-presentation/sharing device on its own probably shaped the console all the way through the development. The Switch is chock-full of technological things that aren’t really needed, like the HD Rumble that the upcoming Senran Kagura is probably going to use somehow to imitate the physics of female body. The split wireless controller would’ve been enough to allocate this, but Nintendo does have a history of obsessing with useless WOW!-factors, like the 3D screen on the 3DS or the tablet controller on the Wii U.

While the Wii wouldn’t fit into this console-presenter idea, it had much easier time penetrating the wall that modern controllers put up. The Wiimote is an easy contraption to handle and use, which made the Wii an excellent console to boot up and have people playing games without worrying much how to control a given game. The rest was up to how well the game itself was designed. There certainly was a WOW! factor in Wiimotes without a doubt, but at least they saw use.

I should note at this point that the Switch is mentioned began development about three years ago. This is about the same time Nintendo’s main support on the 3DS and Wii U started lacking in major releases (or on VC for the matter) and fits their modus operandi. Just like with the Wii and previous consoles, about half of the predecessor’s life cycle is dedicated for the development of the successor.

Both Takahashi and Koizumi mention how Iwata helped them with engineering challenges, as both of them have design backgrounds. While they paint designers’ life as a daydreamer, it’s much more closer to constantly trying to solve a puzzle but having jack shit idea how to proceed. You just gotta make things work, and it helps if there are people in your team who can tell you what’s possible and why. Giving a designer total freedom only asks trouble.

I’m also calling bullshit on the fact that single-player games saw a rise on the N64 because only one controller was included. Knowing how Nintendo has gone on the record how they don’t follow their competitors’ actions (which is probably bollocks as well), how can they determine whether or not N64 was the reason for this supposed rise in single-player games? If Nintendo is worried about lack of multiplayer games and support this view, they should’ve dropped the price of their controllers and adding multiplayer elements to games like Super Mario Sunshine rather than bitching how third party is doing the same. It could be also argued that a game that can be played both single- and multiplayer and can stand on its own in single-player mode is superior to a game that requires two or more players at any given time.

Naming your product something that could attract the consumer is no easy deal. Sometimes you find a perfect name that has nothing to do with the actual product, like how Uncle Ben’s has nothing to do with rice, yet it’s a good name due to branding and all that. A PlayStation does give some hint what done with it, as does GameCube. Switch on the other hand doesn’t, but with the marketing and branding Nintendo’s doing, the idea of switching things up on the fly seems be associated with the system. Whatever else they had as candidates would be interesting to see, but at least it’s something simple and memorable. Like GameBoy.

One thing that will make the Switch stand apart from its competitors… actually, I’m not sure if the Switch has any competition per se. Because it’s a hybrid console, it doesn’t compete in traditional game console field. It competes against whatever Sony and Microsoft will dish out next, but they’re on weaker legs due to decentralisation of home entertainment. On handheld markets it has absolutely no competition with Vita being dead in the water elsewhere but in Japan. I hope you like importing for that little bugger. What a load of wasted potential Vita was. Whatever it is the competition will offer probably won’t be a pure bred game console. Consoles as home media centres is a ruling paradigm Nintendo has mostly gone against, and the Switch continues to do so. It’s main thing is to play games and dammit it needs to do it fast.

Takahashi’s argument that they didn’t want to fight smartphones and wanted to make friends with them makes no sense. Nintendo’s games and smartphones are two different markets, but I guess this is where the whole DeNA thing steps in. The whole social media aspect is what they gunned for, and seems to be the reason online chat and numerous other aspects of their online seems to be less than screwed up. Now that their online will actually cost money, I really do hope they’ll up their game in every aspect. I know it’s a futile wish, but it’s good to live with hope.

Nintendo also knows VR is terrible but still claims to be researching in it.

What strikes hopeful in Switch’s development is that it took in young people, to an extent. While it is good to take in new blood in order to rejuvenate your company and get in some new ideas, this is a generation that has lived with game consoles their whole lives. Unlike with the first three or four console generations, there is a preconception with high-end consumers what a game console needs to be like nowadays. It’s like how Zelda fans who jumped unto the ship with Ocarina of Time tend to rewrite Link’s Adventure as some sort of terrible aberration from the form. That’s Majora’s Mask.

Perhaps the last bit that garners a mention in this post is how Takahashi agrees that Switch should have more software than what was on the Wii or Wii U. Wii might be a bit hard to overcome, but Wii U’s statistics aren’t anything to write home about. Bloomberg seems to think that the Switch will sell more than the Wii, which is a tall order. While the initial reaction to Switch was essentially the same as with any other successful Nintendo console, i.e. dead on arrival, its sales show otherwise. Because the Switch sits in the handheld console market, it has the possibility of selling higher numbers than the Wii without a doubt. If it hits both home console and handheld markets with equal force, it’ll outsell the Wii. If the devs have games half-assed, it’ll sell less.

The Switch had a similar launch to the DS. It was big, with big sales left and right. Then came about a year long slumber, after which it was revised as a portable SNES of sorts. The Switch could have a similar cycle, where after this big start it trails off, and when enough and certain kind of software is release, blows up in sales again. Most likely during a holiday.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.

The 9th console generation hits in March

Nintendo has a strong start with the Switch as it stands now. While the event did show numerous titles, in the end it left yearning for more. Seems like Nintendo’s intending to keep  a hype train going until the launch hits.

Overall, I have to say that the presentation itself was rather professional. No outlandish theatrics or anything like that. No real bullshit dead air, just proper and interesting presentation. The clothing was a highlight in itself, showcasing that most of these people are professionals. There was class in this event that is absent from most. Well, outside some choices, like Nogami aiming for funnier style that was more worth a facepalm than anything else, and Aonuma really needs to stop wearing that terrible looking hoodie. Actually, remove Aonuma altogether.

Having Tatsumi Kimishima on the stage in the very beginning was what was needed. He might not be Iwata or Yamauchi, but the public does not yet know who he is. He took the stage in a very sure and confident manner. Mikishima had a proper stage presence, which was enhanced by the fact he had an interpreter. Having a Japanese businessman speaking in broken English is jarring, as you have to concentrate on the words rather than on the content. Shibata of course went in with broken English as an exception.

Shinya Takahashi is another new-ish name. As with Kimishima, the public got to know him better. While Miyamoto has been the face of the company alongside Iwata for some time now, it seems Nintendo has been progressively been pushing to give a face for their franchises. After all, Nintendo has been becoming a company of IPs in few ways.

The info about the Switch goes from pretty damn neat to weak. First of all, region freedom is a welcome change in how Nintendo handles their machines, and this tickles all the importers’ nuts just the right way.

Paid online is hit on the system, but then again a game that relies solely on online multiplayer will become obsolete in number of years solely because of that. Like it or not, a game still needs to have a solid offline mode stand the test of time. Hopefully the subscription for the online is less than what either of their competitors prices theirs at, and is more usable than before.

Switch’s battery life is no worse than 3DS, but at least I can throw in a battery bank. However, the main hardware showcase, the real piece of hardware that really matters when it comes to game consoles, is the controller design. While I personally love all the stuff they managed to pack into the Joycons (the name is still terrible) the fact is that they are over-engineered. The reason the Switch retails at $300 is probably partially because the controllers. I intending to do a longer piece about the controller design itself sometime later, so let’s leave the rest for later.

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I admit that the size of the controllers seem to be on the smaller side.

The Pro Controller will retail at $70, which further reminds me how tired I am to pay stupidly high prices for controllers. The price point will hurt Switch’s sales, and with what looks like a Mushroom Kingdom-less 3D Mario, the Switch has few things going against it already.

I did expect to see more gameplay footage rather than promotional trailers, but I guess that was a foolhardy wish. 1-2-Switch is no WiiSports and won’t drive system sales. It probably works the best as a tech demo of sorts and a party game for some, but overall there will be no large interest in it. Arms won’t fare any better, but I hope it’ll have better controls than most of Wii’s boxing games. The logo’s also too industrial, something that would fit on a DeWalt drill. It needs to be punched up a bit. Splatoon has its fans, but a system seller it is not, and the sequel really doesn’t seem to change things around one bit.

Super Mario Odyssey is a surprise in that it reminds more Sonic Adventure than previous Mario titles. There is nothing special about 3D Mario, and moving to the “real world” instead of expanding on Mushroom Kingdom is a mistep. Now if they could put the same amount of effort and money into 2D Mario games, things would be great. 3D Mario hasn’t really driven high sales with Nintendo’s past consoles, and with the changes Odyssey has to the world, it’s doubtful this will drive sales either.

Xenoblade 2 looks nice and all, but I doubt it will be a huge hit either. Fire Emblem Musou will stay a niche title still. Only Japan cares about Dragon Quest, there are numerous reasons why Final Fantasy has always been more popular. Shin Megami Tensei‘s 25th anniversary title hopefully visits the roots of the franchise a bit more and hopefully gets a fully uncensored release in the West. Let’s be honest, RPGs is what Switch needs, which is why something like Skyrim will probably see at least decent sales. Project Octopath Traveller left people largely cold as it showed jack shit.

It was fun to see Suda-51, Sega’s and EA’s representatives come to the stage and mention they know the Switch exists and intend to develop for it. Props to EA’s interpreter. Europe loves FIFA, so this bit felt more fanservice towards soccer fans than anything else.

Despite the lineup we saw towards the end of the event, we didn’t get launch lineup, but we got confirmation for numerous titles, including a Street Fighter II (now confirmed as Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers) and a new Bomberman. Goddamit, a Bomberman title on launch? Sign me in. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild goes for the epic, and it still needs to convince me that it’s more than what the trailer show (i.e. less plot and more adventure content to play with lesser emphasize on puzzles.) However, between it and Super Mario Odyssey, it’s BotW that has the edge.

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Thou the edge needs to be cleaned up, it’s rusty and needs polishing

3rd of March is when the 9th console game generation hits. It was a nice ending for the show, though more info came soon after.

For example, the Switch Online Service as a free trial period and seems to have the usual stuff you expect from modern online services: free games, exclusive deals and online multiplayer. However, the inclusion of device application for phones and tablets is stupid. Why would you need to use their dedicated application to call your friends to play an online game? You can just phone them. Online play for NES and SNES games can be good, if its implemented right and connection is up to it. Then again, not many retro game is worth online play, if we’re brutally honest. Co-op is fun and all, but without direction connection to the second player, it’s missing something essential from the mix.

News are pouring in all the time, but I’ll take the slow route with them. Little consideration and taking it easy instead of insta-blogging should do some good for the thought.

However, from what we already have here can make an educated guess that the Switch won’t probably be the same success story as the NES (sans Europe) or the Wii, but won’t be a bomb like the Wii U either. It’s going to do just fine, meandering on the more positive side of the story.

Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.

Enter Nintendo Switch

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The rumours were mostly true, the NX, named properly as Switch, is a hybrid.

If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, here it is.

This is first impression by large. You should also check Nvidia’s post about the console.

White and black are passé, the colour we’ve shown is grey all around. It has very little sharp corners and overall looks smooth. It’s what the leaks told it was, and the overall impression is very subdued, but rather attractive. I hope multiple colour options are available, and at least one is in NES colours.

The controller design, or Joy-Con as they call it, lacks a good D-Pad on the go. I understand that it’s a sacrifice that had to be made because of the nature of the machine, but it still sucks. I hope third party Joy-Cons will remedy this, and that third party Joy-Cons can add features that are not in the standard ones. The name Joy-Con is awful tho, it should be anything but just ‘con.’ The Switch is following Wii’s example by showcasing the controller itself first, not any of the launch titles. Could we expect something like Wii Sports? I hope the controllers can function as or with a Wiimote.

Not only that, but the buttons overall worry me. The plus and minus are shaped as they are, which work well with the blind or otherwise visually impaired, but the rest of the console isn’t designed them in mind. There’s no reason they couldn’t be normal buttons.

The idea of having the controllers separate is neat, but the obvious question is how much wear and tear the controllers can take before they don’t click in anymore. Is the lock mechanism exchangeable, or moulded? A lot of little questions like that pop up to me. They are mighty small when playing with a friend, but at least it’s a neat feature. I just hope games will be able to make use of it well. Sports titles at least should be able to. 2D multiplayers could make a triumphant return, even when you’d have to use a stick to control the character on-screen. D-pad or an arcade stick will always be better for the likes of Mario and Mega Man than a thumbstick.

The Pro-Controller is business as usual. I just hope the D-Pad won’t suck.

The stand/rack where the screen unit will sit in looks a bit bland, but nothing that decals can’t fix. The best thing about the Switch at this point is not on the go part, but that it uses game cards. That’s great, I’ve always disliked the disc medium for whatever reason. However, the itty bitty stand that makes the screen unit stand (seen in 1:04 in the video) will break easily. These sort of legs are just awful, and it should’ve been full console width.

This being a hybrid console, Nintendo most likely will not create a DS for the time being. This will be the first 9th Generation console, and it’ll last somewhere 2022. Because of the leaks, the surprise is very low. You will see a lot of previous gen games ported to this, as it is per fashion when a console has no defining feature to it. For example, the NES and GBA saw a lot ports from home consoles, but the DS forced companies to think outside the box and make new games. However, the more software the Switch gets, the better. I’m just hoping most of it will be something new. You can expect Nintendo to release their old games on the Switch.

However, the best thing about the Switch’s video is that it shows people playing together, as a group. It follows the same idea of playing together. However, a lot of the people in there were from certain age range, and I hope this won’t mean Nintendo is going to ignore the rest. Make this a NES 3.0.

Price can make or break the console. This one could be on the expensive side, and that could damage the console’s image. The Switch needs to be cheap and easily available, not a high-end market product. However, what’s more important are the games. This console won’t sell on its hardware, but on the games that will make use of the hardware. Nintendo has shown none as of yet, and the moment we see the games we can make further assumptions about what their goals are.