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With all the talk about The Order 1886 being a short game, I couldn't help but want to chime in on my philosophy on how long a game should be. Now this isn't the same as my blog on what makes a game complete. Because I feel like a game's length isn't always tied to how complete it is.
Just to throw it out there, some good examples of a "complete" game that isn't long, is Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Trials Fusion, and Super Smash Bros. While they all have a pretty healthy amount of content with plenty of replayablity, just playing through the main game takes only a matter of hours.
Try completing these on hard
On the other end of the spectrum, we have games that while lengthy, don't really have any replay value and the experience is what drives it. These are the Legend of Zelda's, the Arkham Games and most JRPG's.
Ideally, the shorter games make up for it with mechanical depth and wealth of modes, and longer games have more gripping narative and gamplay that's slower, more methodical. So you could theoretically play Virtua Fighter for hours trying to nail the perfect timing on that devistating combo, just the same as you could trying to EV train that rare pokemon you found.
But what happens when a game can't provide either the mechanical depth, the wealth of modes of play, or a longer narrative experience? What happens then? Well that's okay too, becauase there are ways around that too. I don't feel like I need to bring up all the countless examples of indie games that provided a brief expereince, with no replay value, nor other mode to extend the playtime, yet are beloved by the gaming community. They did this by making a clear vision of the experience they wanted to provide, made it mechanically sound, unique and (most importantly) sold it for a resonable price.
Not an experience you'll easily forget
At the heart of the issue is The Order 1886 has failed to deliver in this regard. Now, I haven't played the game, so I'm not speaking from personal experience. But I have played quite a few games that I feel this was exactly the sin that the developers commited. Much like a wedding dress, it was purchased at a high price, loved immensely for one day, then forgotten.
People are reasonably upset too. They feel like they aren't getting enough bang for the buck, and I concur. But you also have your crowd that defend the lack of content. I heard someone say that you pay $12 to see a 2 hour movie, and if you factored in the math $60 for a 8 hour game isn't totally unreasonable. But I feel like that's comparing apples to oranges. I could just as easily use an example of buying an old dictionary from the thrift store for a couple bucks and spending countless hours reading it. Can't say how enjoyable it will be, but there it is.
I don't feel like the campaign needs to be a set amount of hours, nor have a certain number of multiplayer maps, but there is a certain amount of content expected for a full price retail game. I don't know about you, but I expect to feel like I got my moneys worth. No, I'm not asking for needless padding like a tacked on multiplayer. Games like Tomb Raider, and Dead Space 2 simply never needed a mutiplayer, but it had to be shoehorned in. Why? Because developers felt that if they didn't include them, people would trade in their games for new ones.
Maybe I'm the exception, but I feel like if a game made an impact on me, I want to keep it around. I want to share that experience with my friends or keep it so I can play through the game later. The Last of Us is not a game I would just casually trade in for a few bucks off another game, it's a quintessential Playstation game.
So I implore developers to stop short changing us on content. That's fine for a game to be short, just make it worth our hard earned gaming dollar.
Us console gamers don't exactly have the luxury to make our systems the way we want. Sure, you can upgrade the hard drive, or add some accessories, maybe even change out a faceplate, but that's about it when it comes to customization. That kind of freedom really only comes with PC gaming, but I thought, what if I could design my own console? What would I do? How would I make it?
Well I've been thinking quite a bit on this lately, and I've got some crazy ideas that just might work. Now granted, I'm not a hardware designer, I don't know all the tech, and a lot of these ideas have been tried before, but I think a lot of them could work better if done in a different way. Other aspects I feel are already figured out, and that I'm basically fine with how they are already done. So without further ado, let us begin.
Let's start with the easy stuff: format. Blu Ray discs, done. I know, simple, right? But Nintendo absolutely instits on making proprietary versions of standardized formats so their consoles can't play the formats they are based upon. I agree with them in the sense that this is a gaming console, not a media hub, but I say why not both? The fact is modern gaming consoles are already expected to have all the components of a modern media hub anyway, why not go that extra step and give it that functionality? Sure you could save a few bucks on the licensing fees, or potentially make a higher capapacity disc, but the tradeoffs simply aren't worth the incompatibilities. Plus, if you can attract a larger audience, you can get more people buying your games, and more developers wanting to make games. It really is a win-win.
In my mind none of the consoles did this right, yet all 3 have an aspect that they did get right. With the PS4 is that you have a system that you can upgrade the internal storage but forces you into the limitations of a single laptop hard drive. With the Xbox One, you have a system that supports external storage won't allow you to upgrade or replace the internal storage at all. And while the Wii U allows for you to buy exactly what storage you want, there's no room for an internal hard drive and worse yet, it can't be transferred from one system to the next.
What I propose is a modification of the Xbox 360's setup. I feel like the idea behind a drive that's internal yet easily removable and upgradable is amazing. What people don't realize is that underneath that propretary case is a simple laptop hard drive. All developers would need to do is make that case open with a few small screws and allow you to swap out the drive for a larger one. Data transfers could be done via a USB cable much in the same way they work with the Xbox 360 data transfer cable. There would be no need for an external drive to back everything up and restore, streamlining the process. That being said, I would also support external storage if someone was so inclined. It is a bit easier to expand hard drive space without digging into the nuts and bolts, plus you can easily move content to other consoles.
I'm sure there are people out there who would disagree, but I fail to see the need for a full manual install of games. This is one thing I think Nintendo has done right to avoid and applaud them for it. I don't understand why it's so hard for developers to take data directly from a disc. I'm sure there is some performance improvement somewhere, but I honestly don't see it. When I download a game on the Wii U and 360, I see no changes in load times or performance at all. The drawbacks are painfully obvious too, particularly on the Xbox One. I understand the need to download and install patches but not forcing installs would make console gaming a better experience all around. At very least make the installs minimal (less than 5GB) This would make hard drives much easier to manage.
Finally, I love the idea of having two different models on the market, one with internal flash memory, the other with a hard drive. I think 32 GB of storage is an excellent place to start, for casuals and those who primarly buy physical releases, it would be plenty of space, and even then, there's a bay for expansion should someone decide they need more space. It would also be nice for those who want more than the standard capactity drive, or even those who are buying a replacement console. That 12GB PS3 that everyone hated was excellent for me, because I already had a laptop hard drive sitting around. But for those who just want a 500 GB system without a hassle, that would be there too. And ideally the console should operate without storage at all (which is a problem with the Playstation 3-4).
The problem with a closed box is that you can't upgrade the specs without segmenting your audience (ahem, new 3DS). But that doesn't mean you can't fix your system. In my opinion, consoles should be so designed to be able to be accessed and worked on by the common gamer. I feel like I should be able to open my system easily with simple phillips head screws and replace a broken part. I would love it if I could go to the manufacturer and buy a replacement optical drive or internal power supply. There shouldn't be 10 different versions on 1 part, and I should be able to swap them with a few basic tools. Now maybe not every part (like the motherboard for intstance) but the ones more prone to breaking would be grand.
Now that isn't to say I want it to be like a PC where it's up to the user to service his own machine, but if someone had the knowlege to fix a problem, why should he have to pay $100, send off his system across the country to fix a $20 part? Ideally, you should be able to take in your Xbox to a local Microsoft store, and either drop it off it be fixed or buy the part directly from them. At very least they could take care of the legwork for you. Maybe that wouldn't be realistic for someone like Nintendo, but maybe they could even partner with another company (maybe Gamestop?)
What about inputs and outputs? In my opinion Nintendo has got a really great setup for that, they have HDMI plus a multi A/V output. So there's you digital and analog outs, plus support for composite, S-video, and component. Component in particular makes for ease in recording gameplay footage to an external device. (Of couse the system should allow you to use the internal HDD as well). I'm not sure what Sony and Microsoft expect people who use DVI or need analog conntections to do because their systems don't support it. What's also odd is that Xbox One only supports 720p and 1080p output, the Xbox 360 had a broad range of resolutions that it supported, those should be included as well.
USB is unbiquitous at this point, as it should be, and all 3 systems support it, but the placement is off. In my opinion, you should have 2 USB ports in front for charging controllers and immediate access to wired accessories (such as arcade sticks), one on the side (like the Xbox one) for temporary things such as flash drives or a friends external hard drive, and at least one on the back for a permanent accessory such as a kinect or sensor bar. But all accessories should be USB, I see no need for a propriertary port. It should go without saying USB 3.0 should be the standard too.
I would also design my console around a companion device, but not force it on anyone. In my opinion, Sega was onto something with their VMU. A memory card that was also a handheld, but could also be used to play mini games, and transfer data. I would love something like this, and the closest we have now is the PS4 and Vita. I would take the integration a step further, all it needs is a cradle for charging and transferring data between the two systems. wifi is too slow. Ideally, once it has been synched you should be able to put your portable device down in the cradle, the system would recognize it and allow you to play any installed game on your device with a standard controller. Now imagine it would also serve as a memory card and have access to the clould to make it an all encompasing device. Obviously, much like the PS4, off screen play would be universally supported. They could even be sold at different features and price points.
Controllers to me are pretty straightforward, use the Wii U pro controller design. Layout is perfect, 80 hour batterly life, and a battery that can be replaced easily by the user, comes with an 8 foot mini USB cable (micro is too flimsy IMO), it would need drivers for PC compability. I would only add analog triggers and support for up to 8 controllers, just for compatibility. Use the Dual Shock 4's microphone port for chat or headphones but the system should also allow any bluetooth headset like the PS3.
The operating system
The OS is yet another issue that I feel like needs to be tackled. There's something about each of the 3 that I like and dislike. I like the Xross Media Bar for it's minimalist design; it's responsive and non intrusive, but options are totally burried and it's hard to find things like what's taking up all your hard drive space. The Wii U menu is clean and easy to navigate, but is barren in the options department. The Xbox "metro" layout is gaudy and forced advertisements down your throat, even when offline, but is fairly well laid out. The 360 version of it has plenty of options, and it is mostly intutitive.
That's just kind of a fine line to walk, do you want ease of use or plethura of options? Do you want it attractive or minimalist? Honestly, I think you can have both, it just takes some smart design choices. But basically, I would take the Xbox One metro setup where your main functions take up the most space, but then have a seperate section just for a shop and another one just for options. The shortcuts, folders, backgrounds, and screen savers could ALL be customized. Let me make my own themes, download fonts, or even have my ow background music playing. It's my console, let me make it the way I want.
Most of all it should just be easy to get around and figure things out. The user shouldn't have to be intimately familiar with every aspect of the interface to load up a game and have a good time, nor should he have to find some burried option to change basic things.
Online should be free. At the end of the day, developers pay for servers, and I pay for the game, why should the console manufacturer a cut? Yes, I know they have their own servers and such, but the cut they get from online purchases should go into that. That's not to say I'm against a paid version such as PS+, in fact that's a fantastic deal, but give me basic access for free and incentiveize me to want to get the premium version. I could even see more options, make a bundle that includes PS Now, EA access, or Sling TV.
Things like Miiverse make the community better too. But I'd take that a step further, how about a game hub like the Halo Channel? Imagine other major game series having a hub like that where you can get all your news, tips, tricks, leaderboards community contributions and DLC all in one place? Sega hinted at that with thier first party games back in the day (you could launch it in game) and I think it could really be special if they took that to the next level.
Achievements should be handled differently too. Trophies and adding to your gamerscore are arbitrary, what about a system like the 3DS play coins? Each game could have their own achievements that, when unlocked would also act as in in game currency that would allow you access exclusive content. So you could possibly see a character online with a costume, you just knew they worked hard to get it.
Sorry if I rambled on, but as you can see I have some pretty interesting ideas. I'm sure that a lot of these companies have already thought of a reason why it isn't done, but still it doesn't stop a guy from dreaming. Maybe I'm way off base, but I feel like there are still plenty of areas where Sonyy/Microsoft/Nintendo could improve. And I want to hear from you guys, what do you think they should do to make consoles better? Sound off in the comments below.
If you went and asked the average gamer if they considered games "art" I think they would overwhelmingly say yes. They would point out examples like Journey, Limbo and Shadow of the Colossus and say that is the proof. If proded to go further, they could give the concept drawings of games like Soul Calibur and the music of Final Fantasy as further evidence to support their opinion. But I think when pushed to what art is, how to define it, and how it correlates to video games, the average gamer would be hard pressed to do so.
I am of the opinion that video games aren't art. But before you bring out your pitchforks and burning crosses, hear me out. In my opinion, games themselves are not art, but rather contain art. That is to say, that there are certainly aspects of games that have artistic value, such as the style of the world, or the music, but does something that houses art, constititue art itself? I don't think so. The halls of a museum a work of art? Does the CD or the file of an MP3 qualify as art? No, that's propsterus, but you'd be surprised how easily that idea is embraced when it comes to games.
I don't think there is an easy definition of art, but if I had to define it by my terms I would say it's a skillfull expression of self. To clarify, I see things like music, dance, visual depictions (such as paintings or scupltures), literature as art. They all have that common thread where someone is using their skills to express something. I think it goes without saying that art is a very personal thing and is open to interpretation, even the definition iteself is open.
But that's where my problem is with calling games art, there's no personal part. Most modern games have a vision made up or a few individuals, but there are masses of people working on them. The AAA game is so designed that the people working on them have little to no creative input. It's too big of a machine to just take out ideas or implement something new even if it might work better. Theres too much money on the line, and time is too short to allow for any creative input.
I'm not just picking on games either, Hollywood blockbusters are the same way. At a certain point, when these games get so big, the would be artists becoming nothing more than laborers. Take Lady Gaga for an example. Who are those people playing the music to her song; did you ever think about that? Those are just performers, they have no input to how the song is written. They aren't creating anything except playing the notes put before them. Art is about creation and expression, this is not the case when it comes to big budget productions.
In my opinion, the more people you add to a production the less artisitic value it has becaue in order to gain continutity each person has to agree to a decision. Those games that are a scattered mess of ideas, the games with half baked ideas and loose ends on the story? Yeah, those are games where the developers members weren't on the same page.
Another problem with big productions is: who exactly is an artist? Are the janitors that clean the office artists? After all, they contributed to the project even if it is indirectly. If they didn't have a clean work environment how can the composers be able to make music? Do you see how ridiculous that argument can get?
But what about smaller projects? Fez was basically programed with one guy. That I think tends to blur the lines a bit. Because frankly, that is very much a skillful expression of self. And if you added a couple more people, it doesn't suddenly cease to be art. So I'm not implying a hard and fast rule here. I just feel like it becomes harder to see the vision when it's spread so thin.
So this is how I come to my conclusion. It's undeniable that there is a lot of art in video games, and a lot of talented artists working on games, but to say that games in it of themselves are art, I struggle with that.
So I'm sure there's plenty of you that will probably disagree with me, and that's fine. But I would like to hear your thoughts, maybe there's something I'm overlooking. I'd like to hear where everyone else is and why they feel that way.
While I've given quite a bit of love to Nintendo, and some towards Microsoft and Sony, I feel like there's another company that I haven't quite given some love to, and that's Sega. While they still exist in today's market, they are a shadow of their former self. But back in the day (which is always Tuesday by the way) they were something else. They took on a giant in the industry who at the time owned 90% of the industry and challenged them. If you look at them today, it's hard to believe they were ever a juggernaut, but they really were. And they did that by releasing edgy, unique and well made games that helped define the 16-bit era. So I'd like to share with you my history with the company and their systems.
My first introduction to Sega was the Genesis. It was never my system you see, much in the same way I had to earn my N64, my brother had to earn his Genesis. But that meant that I got to play it. I remember we got the core system which didn't come with any games in the system, but a free copy of Sonic 2 with a mail-in coupon. Of course, that game took what seemed like an eternity to come so we rented from the local video store in the meantime. I remember the first game we got and by proxy the first 16 bit game I ever played: Tiny Toon Adventures.
I remember the production values were just heads and tails above what the NES could produce. In case you've never played the game it's chock full of fan service, the music the characters, it's a licensed game done properly. Now in hindsight, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a well done platformer.
The Genesis in general felt very different to me than the SNES. The former had such a dark, underground feel to it, like it may have been the underdog, but it also meant you got to go though some uncharted territory in gaming. Sega did a lot of things that Nintendo didn't. They were more open to mature content, instead of trying to block things like the Game Genie, they endorsed it, and had a very strong arcade lineup.
I think their biggest undoing happened because they stretched themselves too thin, they started getting hardware crazy and at one time they were juggling multiple incompatible formats. If they had just stuck to the Geneis and Sega CD and made some games that actually took advantage of the format it might have been a different story. Imagine more games like Snatcher, Lunar and Sonic CD, and less like Night Trap and Sewer Shark.
I would even take that argument a step further. Imagine if the Sega Saturn had been backwards compatible with both the Sega CD and the Genesis. It wouldn't have mattered that the system was $400, it would have been this amazing value proposition where you would be getting 3 systems in 1. See people don't have a problem with spending more money, as long as there's a way to justify it.
The Sega Saturn was never my system either. I never got one because by the time I knew it existed it was discontinued. But my friend had one, in fact the first time I went to his house he introduced me to the system. To this day he still talks about the Saturn and how it was his childhood system. I got to see games like Xmen: Children of the Atom, Darkstalkers, and Panzer Dragoon. These were the kinds of games I had almost no familiarty with outside the first two being based on Street Fighter II. While they were cool games, they were decidedly niche, even by today's standards. In fact the Saturn is if anything a niche system; you don't see casual gamers playing the system. It wasn't just the higher price point that was damning, even the chipset that made the system needlessly expensive and difficult to develop for are obstacles that could have been overcome, it was that Sega couldn't produce a game for the masses.
Look at the Saturn's library. You have a plethura of fighters, action games, shmups, and the occassional RPG, but what game even became the killer app? I suppose you could argue Nights into Dreams, but isn't that somewhat niche too? Even something as amazing as Virtua Fighter 2 got overlooked in light of other fighters like Tekken and Killer Instsinct.
Awesome, but it's not Sonic the Hedgehog
But of course we must come to the Dreamcast. The ever amazing, terribly underrated Dreamcast. It's hard to believe that there is only 3 years difference between the release of the Saturn and the release of the Dreamcast. You could not chose too more opposite systems put out by the same company. It's as if they took everything that held the Saturn back and fixed it.
I got one for Christmas of 1999 (and yes, once again I had to earn that system). While I enjoyed playing Soul Calibur quite a bit, the game that won me over was Sonic Adventure. I must have played the demo 50 times till I just had to have the game.
Dreamcast easily had the best launch lineup of any system ever. Now it is a bit of a cheat, the DC launched in Japan the year earlier and we got all those first gen games in the US in one giant launch splooge. We got House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder, Mortal Kombat Gold, Power Stone, Ready to Rumble Boxing, Sonic Adventure and of couse Soul Calibur. There were a few others, but these alone were enough to consider getting the system day 1. Modern systems don't do that. You usually get a couple exclusives and the rest are a bunch of ports. Even as good as the Wii U launch lineup was, it didn't touch Dreamcast's.
That's the legacy the Dreamacast left behind though. It may have had those niche titles that only appealed to the core, but it a broad range of games to appeal to pretty much everyone. But I like that the features the system had were about gaming. It didn't have a bloated price to get a built in DVD player and worry about games second, it was games first, the way it should be.
The system was ahead of it's time. How many console gamers were playing MMO's in 2001? Who was using voice chat, getting downloadable content, surfing the web, and running games in 480p back in the day? Yeah, Dreamcast gamers were.
But of course, we all know the story, Sega basically went bankrupt. They couldn't afford to support the Dreamcast and became a third party publisher. I have to say my heart sank when I heard the news. If any system deserved to succeed and didn't, it was the Dreamcast.
While it was initially hard to bear the news, it became much easier as we started to see projects moved to the PS2 Gamecube and Xbox. And in the 6th gen we saw what Sega wanted to do with the Dreamcast, they were just across multiple platforms. We saw Shenmue II, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Virtua Fighter 4, House of the Dead 3, and Jet Set Radio Future, and for a while it seemed Sega was going to be okay.
But something happened to Sega last gen; it didn't happen overnight either. I'm sure you guys have noticed it too, but 10 years ago Sega was one of the best third party publishers out there, if not the best. But you'd be hard pressed to make such a statement of them today. I mean, they do put out good games today: Sonic All Stars Racing, Sonic Generations and Aliens Infestation are all pretty well recieved games. But there's also a lot of crap like Aliens Colonian Marines and Sonic Boom. If you were to tell kids back in the 90's that Sonic would be reduced to annual installments with wildy varying degrees of quality, they wouldn't beleive it.
Sega is sitting on more dormant IP's than any other publisher in the industry. I could go on how Comix Zone could be a fantastic downloadable game, or how much fans have been clamoring for a conclusion to the Shenmue story, but I think I've went on long enough. Thing is, I don't really know why Sega is in such financial straits. If they had just stuck to their guns they would be doing fine like they were 10 years ago. I just hope they can turn things around. I don't want to see them go the way of Atari.
Ever since I've got my hands on my first amplifier back in 2000, I've been a bit of an A/V junkie. There is something cool about having a media center in my living room that makes everyone want to game at my house. Fact is, I've got the best A/V setup of any of my friends, and it's not even a close call.
And as of late it's been the Playstation systems that have been the center of it all. Now I know I can run out and spend $500+ on a full featured Oppo blu ray player, and I'm sure they have some advantages, but for my money, PS3 is probably the best blu ray player in the world. Not only is it sleek and sexy, but also backwards compatible with one of my all time favorite systems (PS1), but also has all the features of a smart device including a fairly large hard drive and plays its own games to boot. I do lament the loss of PS2 compatibility (which seems like more trouble than its worth) but despite that the PS3 is my multimedia hub.
Am I the only one who gets excited for this?
To go along with that, I've also decided to replace my PSP that was stolen back in 2013. Now I know what some of you might ask, why not get a Vita? And that is a fair question. I kept rolling it around in my head, and as much as I was annoyed at the UMD format, I decided that the PSP was the better call. Basically, PSP has the library of games that I'd much rather play, and I didn't want to be locked down to Vita could offer digitally. Also, stoage is a major expense for Vita. For the PSP it's a much easier issue to tackle, especially since you really only need a small amount of storage for saves. I also want to be able to play PS1 games, so I can either buy them digitally and play on PS3 or PSP (Vita can't play them all for some reason) or stream the games to my PS3. I've already got a 32GB card on order. I also love the idea that the PSP can easily play and transfer media files via USB, no extra program needed. So I feel pretty justified in my decision.
They were made for each other
Now I have two setups at home, a 50 inch plasma for my old school gaming which has a PS3, modded Wii (for 8-16 bit games) Dreamcast, Sega Saturn, and N64, all adapted for HDMI. In the not to distant future I'd like to output those systems with RGB scart, but that's expensive and complicated. So for now upscaled S-video will have to do.
My modern setup has a 60 inch plasma with a 7.2 surround sound setup. That's got my second PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, all of them using a wired connection except Wii U, so everything is high speed low, low drag. My tablet which has all my media files can stream audio to my amplifier and act as a second screen via the Onkyo app is pretty amazing. My plan is to replace my second PS3 with a PS4, and get a Vita for off screen play. I'm not sure how easy it is for Vita to stream media files to PS4 so if anyone could enlighten me, I would be most thankful. Both PS4 and Vita have some notable memory issues. Vita's are well documented so I don't feel like I need to beat a dead horse. But the PS4's seem to be ignored. Fundamentally, it works the same as the PS3's except it eats through storage space much more quickly due to the manditory game installs. Without the option for external storage, and having to live with the caveats of a laptop drive, it makes it hard to make the PS4 a media hub. So I'm hoping that by the time I'm ready to buy there's going to be a larger hard drive included or more options available. I could very well see in 5-6 years that I could put in a 6 TB SSD and have a 128 GB Vita ready to share content. As for now though, that's just not a possibility.
I could make the Xbox One my media hub for my modern setup, but it's not quite optimal. The Blu ray aspect of the Xbone is servicable, but I feel like it's not as feature rich as it could be. Sony has always had great playback software. I'm also a big fan of the second screen functionality, I suppose my tablet could do that with Smartglass, I may need to look into it futher. That seems like it could be useful. The idea that I had was to be able to watch blu ray discs from the second screen, and from my understanding there's no way to do that. Wii U could do that if it actually played Blu Ray movies, but it's the least media friendly console I've seen since the Gamecube, and that's saying something. A total missed opportunity if you ask me.
Sorry if I ranted on rather than having a distinct point, just thinking out loud I suppose. If you guys have any suggestions or information to add I'd love to hear it. I don't have all the equipment I need so my knowlege of some of it is limited. Long story short I just want to have a badass A/V setup that allows me to consume it any way I choose. I've got some pics in the gallery for those who want to see them, and if you have some pics of your A/V or PC gaming setup I'd love to see them too.
Nintendo's been acting kinda funny lately. No, not their normal shenanigans like prentending the internet doesn't exist, and producing low quantities of high demand items. This is a lot more subtle, something you have to look a little closer to see.
We all know that new hardware is planned years before anything is released, but usually companies are hush hush about it, until they have something concrete to demonstrate. But Nintendo has actually been surprsingly vocal considering the Wii U is only a couple years old.
First off, they have already admitted to having production lines working on ideas for the next system. But what's strange is that they've also said they already have a clear direction on what their next system will be. They've even gone so far as to talk about the "fusion" of a handheld and console in one.
So I want to know what is: what is Nintendo planning? I can say this much, historically Nintendo changes direction every two generations. (If you've already heard my explanation of this bear with me.)
The NES, SNES and Game Boy all share a similar philosophy on hardware: a compeitive piece of tech that has the end user and developers in mind. These are the systems that had the best third party support, and were generally well made and without gimmicks.
Pure, simple, fun
The N64, Gamecube, GBC, and GBA were more focused on "less is more". They were all about delivering more powerful hardware, cutting back features deemed unneccessary or superflous to get the bottom line price while giving optimal game performance.
Pretty impressive for a $200 box back in 2001
The Wii, DS, 3DS and Wii U take the opposite approach. They forego power in lieu of features, innovation and price. They make every attempt to stand out from their compeitiors and have far less consideration for third party.
Where else can you do this?
While you could call out the pros and cons in each approach, it's hard to deny that in many respects Nintendo needs to adjust their thinking for their next system. I think it's pretty apparent from their comments, that this is very much what they intend to do.
So, what of this fusion? How can they possibly combine two technologies that are so different? Believe it or not, this might be something we start to see in the current generation. In, case you haven't noticed, Nintendo often starts implementing their next gen ideas late into the current gen cycles.
The FX chip and accelerators put into late SNES games show Nintendo was pushing towards a 3D future. Look at Star Fox, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, the Donkey Kong Country series, and Killer Instinct. Late into the Gamecube we saw things like Odama. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Donkey Konga and Mario Party 7 & 8 which used new interfaces to bring some new ideas to the table. Should it be any surprise that we start seeing some of the fusion ideas implemented into Wii U?
The one consistant is that the handheld and console will no longer be distinct. Games like Smash Bros and Monster Hunter 3U already allow for you to use the 3DS as a controller. Add the fact that the "new" 3DS is implementing better specs (possibly to accomodate better Wii U functionality) the homogenization of features between the Wii U gamepad and the 3DS with the current information that we do have and I believe the fusion idea isn't as far off as you might think.
What does surprise me a bit is to see Nintendo not implementing any kind of 3DS player into the Wii U. After all, the Wii U gamepad already has all the features of the 3DS and then some, all it would take is a simple USB adapter to make the connections complete. The biggest obstacle would be updating the firmware to acccomodate to the 3DS cards, but other than that it would be totally feasable. It's not like Nintendo is new to the idea of letting you play handheld games on the console.
The obvious and clear advantage to making this fusion is development. No longer would Nintendo's fanbase be divided between handheld and console, nor would there need to be seperate marketing and development. Not only could this allow for an incredibly broad range of software, but would also help fill in the gaps so there wouldn't be months of dry spells. I've always said, there's plenty to play on Nintendo systems as long as you have both their handheld and console. The gaps releases is what turns people off.
So why not do it? The elephant in the room is the technology gap between handhelds and consoles. Nintendo traditionally is two generations behind on their handhelds; GBA emulates SNES, DS emulates N64, 3DS emulates Gamecube. So even with a potential next gen system being able to produce graphics on par with 360 and PS3, that would still be really far behind for a 9th gen console. Even with all the other tech, it would be a hard sell for consumers to buy system that's so dated.
Then comes this issue of price. Imagine if they made a system like the Wii U, where the 3DS XL was the controller, how much would that cost? Even with Sony somewhat implementing that tech with the PS4 and Vita, they aren't bundled together. At best they might be able to sell them together for $500. I can't see Nintendo going that high to combine them.
And even then, what would you do if you did manage to make a beast like this? Would there be 50GB games on a handeld? How would you design the games, the interface, and the world? Like it or not, handheld games are designed differently than console games, and for good reason. It just wouldn't make sense to make a game like The Evil Within on a handheld. It could be done, but that's not why people like handhelds. Pokemon would be terribly boring on a console, grinding is only tollerable becaus it's a distraction. I could see possibly making games that would only be playable on the handheld aspect of the fusion, but then doesn't it lose its advantage. Why not just have them seperate then?
The only legitimate solution that I could see to most of these problems is cloud computing. Theoretically, you could store everything in the clould and use a 4G connection to play these games on the road. But given Nintendo's historical reluctance to implement online features (let alone pioneer them) I'm not sure that's a step they themselves would be comfortable making.
Could it be anything like this?
The fusion sure is an interesting idea, but I don't see how it could work, even with technology 3-4 years into the future. One thing is for sure though, Nintendo's next system will be very interesting to see.
Post Script: Just for some futher speculation and food for thought, here's a video from Review Tech USA that might be on to something.