E3 is just on the horizon and one console maker has a steely grip on our attention. It’s not Sony, those guys are in the proverbial doghouse through the foreseeable future. It is Nintendo. With the confirmation of “Project: Cafe” being the development of a next-generation console, many are wondering what it will look like and what the gaming experience may be. “Project: Cafe” was leaked but a few days before Nintendo confirmed that the official unveiling will be at E3 pertaining to their next console to be released in 2012. I doubt it will be playable in any real sense, but June 7-9 at E3 has now turned in to an even greater spectacle than it has been in some five years.
Nintendo has always been known for gaming innovation. From it’s landmark console, the NES, in 1985, to the motion controlled console, the Wii, we have come to expect great leaps and bounds in interface from Nintendo. They have given us prolific titles and innovations in gaming throughout the years, but recently have been dominated by the likes of Microsoft and Sony in the console wars. Though Nintendo has almost monopolized the handheld market world-wide with a new model coming out seemingly every six-months, they have lost almost all touch with “core” gamers who see motion control and interface as a “gimmick” in it’s infancy as a working model for the future.
Let’s face it, gamers don’t really want to move. If we wanted to exercise we would go to the gym, and playing tennis belongs on the clay, not my hardwood floors. All consoles have gotten in to the motion market at one level or another, with peripheral items like Playstation’s Move (the strobing ice cream cone), six-axis controllers, or Microsoft’s intriguing Kinect system, which simply tracks body movement at the major joints. All of these innovations stemmed from the excitement over the Wii interface. But unlike the Wii, these were not the main selling point, but extra packages left as an alternative to traditional gameplay.
Speculation on what Nintendo is hatching for us at E3 has been widespread and mixed with anticipation and trepidation. You can see some of the sketched models here, but we do know a little bit about the console. According to sources with IGN, “the Nintendo project will ‘out perform the PlayStation 3’s NVIDIA 7800GTX-based processor. Like the Xbox 360, the system’s CPU will be a custom-built triple-core IBM PowerPC chipset, but the clocking speeds will be faster.’” It is also rumored to integrate touchscreen in it’s controller. Wait, controller? Yes, this system will clearly not be based solely on movement, not if they want to be able to compete with the “core” of gamers that are not swayed by anything but perfect games and immersive experiences.
This announcement is very savvy on the part of Nintendo. Though Sony and Microsoft will have major announcements (this recently announced “secret” Microsoft development studio in Vancouver makes me nervous), Nintendo has gotten out ahead of the race by announcing not only a new console, but that we are at most 16-months away from clearing a shelf for it in our homes. I doubt that a new Playstation of XBox are in the works along that same time line. I’m not counting them out for a new console in the next 24-months, but I doubt they are as far along in the process as Nintendo. They were able to focus their energy down the line after the Wii, while everyone else was working out the kinks in their “truly next-gen” hardware. Nintendo will most certainly be the first to launch something of a higher level in graphics, features, and interface. If they can keep the price tag under $499, then they are in business for one hell of a fourth quarter next year.
I’m not totally discounting Sony and Microsoft. If we look at time lines in innovation for their consoles, they often follow a rebuild on an existing console with a next-gen platform within 18-months. There was the Playstation that was proceeded by the PSOne, a smaller and slimmer model before they dropped the PS2. The PS2 was followed by a rebuild to another smaller model called the “Slim.” The PS3 now has the little brother called…you guessed it, the PS3 Slim. XBox did a similar run, boosting sales late after launch, moving models of sexier XBox’s and XBox360’s. Recently they came out with the latest model with a 250 GB built in memory, Wi-Fi connectivity built-in, and it’s able to run at 1080i when the last model rocked only 720. So with the releases of these sexier models, could the next consoles in their line be that far off? I doubt it. In 18 to 24-months we will hear announcements of next-gen console’s from both Sony and Microsoft, though Microsoft contends that the 360 will have a lifespan viable until 2015, which means they will support it in part or full until then. XBox was released in 2001, XBox360 in 2005, and now it’s 2011…hmmmm, time for a new ‘Box, I’m betting. Playstation were released in ’94, ’00, and ’06…hmmmm, we might need a new play play for fun fun in 2012.
So, what might I think this Nintendo console is going to look like? Well, nothing like the Wii. Knowing Nintendo, they are going a different direction, again. Yes, it will be as powerful as a next-gen console should be. The Wii was never meant to compete with the PS3 and 360 in terms of graphics or computing power, the motion-control was the selling point, just as the 3DS is selling on the 3D specs. It will most definitely have built in Wi-Fi access, run 1080i, have a massive built in storage capacity (something around 250-500 GB), and will most definitely offer a marketplace where packages of classic Nintendo titles will be available. It will integrate optional motion control interface with a controller that has six-axis gyroscopic capabilities and may even be compatible with the old Wii-mote and games, but this will not be the main selling point.
The Wii2 as some are calling it, or the WiiHD, both of which are highly inaccurate since I doubt it is a continuation of the Wii console, is going to shine in it’s gaming experience getting back to classic sitting and playing. The controller has always been something Nintendo tried to innovate. I surmise that we can safely assume the touch screen technology will be a major part of interface in your hands. Maybe saying goodbye to joysticks and hello to touch pads all together, though this might push it over the sub-500 price range. I’m sure they will offer “retro-controllers,” but the use of joysticks might be a thing of the past. Imagine a controller you can customize to your specific hand size by moving interface pads around to fit your needs. Stereoscopic 3D, potentially without glasses, might be a major development for this console since Nintendo is the company pioneering it in the hand-held market.
The other key to the success of this next console is securing new, and exciting titles for exclusive release on what I think is going to be called the Nintendo “Nexus” (though this is probably a copyrighted name they won’t get the right for). At launch, not three, six, or nine months after release; needs to be a Mario title, Zelda title, and a epic FPS or RPG franchise that will live out it’s days on the “Nexus.” It cannot be exclusively for the young or the family. We need highly developed and polished titles that are emblazoned with “M” ratings at launch. I submit that the console might be able to come pre-loaded with a title or a backlog of franchise titles like the Mario series up to that point as well. Nintendo also needs a solid racing and fighting or boxing title; maybe a sports game like football or basketball. With the “Nexus” we don’t need a “Wii Sports” title. This console will not need to show off interface in this manner, it will at it’s very core be made for a gamer to sit down and plug in.
Well, I suppose this is all speculation from the wishful thinking of a lifetime gamer. The NES was my first experience and Nintendo has always held a warm place in my heart as the gateway console in to a world of endless possibilities. This industry has been earning it’s stripes as a legitimate art form through music, story, and development over the years. Games are now scored by composers. Stories are now written like screen plays that unravel with you in the driver’s seat. Nintendo laid the foundation that all over creations have built their studios on. An entire generation knows the Konami Code and were always scared by the music of world 1-2. Nintendo is getting set to now take on, head to head, the graphic giants in the console wars. They are not releasing another console to catch up to the likes of Microsoft and Sony, but to show us what the future of gaming will look like; to beat them to the punch. Nintendo has learned from mistakes made with the Wii and will present at E3 the dazzling culmination of years of work and innovative thinking that has kept this giant working in games for more than 35 years.