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My theory about what the Nintendo NX is going to be

Handheld? Home? Both?

| Categories: 3DS, NX, SideArc, Video Games, Wii U | 9 Comments »


Have you heard the rumor of the day? The known-to-exist-but-still-shrouded-in-secrecy Nintendo NX is going to be a hybrid handheld and home console in one!

Well, that’s certainly the way it seems with the popular rumors going around. In fact, comments from Ubisoft and The Pok√©mon Company seem to corroborate the idea that the NX is going to be some sort of all-in-one device for home and on the go. You’ve probably already read that quote from¬†Tsunekazu Ishihara that “the NX is trying to change the concept of what it means to be a home console device or a hand-held device.”

Still, until Nintendo actually shows us what the NX is this is all just rumors and speculation – the fact of the matter is we don’t know what form this is going to take. The popular theory of the moment is the “Eurogamer Report,” as some refer to it, claiming that the NX is a handheld device with removable controllers and a dock for home viewing. (I’m sure you’ve read that by now, so I’m just going to work on that assumption.)

However, from the first time it was announced I have theorized that the NX is not going to be a single console but rather a family of consoles. An “NX Home” and an “NX Go,” if you will. This is based on comments that I had read from the late Satoru Iwata, which I had been unable to find for a long time.

Until now.

It seems clear to me in re-reading these comments that from some time ago there was already a clear idea of what the NX would be. Looking at Nintendo’s history adds additional – albeit circumstantial – evidence to back this claim up as well.

Adding my theory into the pile, let’s start by taking a look at the first part.

Comments straight from the source

First, let’s consider the evidence, shall we? Take a look at a couple of briefings from Nintendo, and in particular the comments from Iwata regarding their plans for future consoles.

(These are rather dry, so I will highlight the relevant details. Please feel free to review them in context to point out any inaccuracies in my theorizing.)

From 2013 – Source

Relevant quote:

“Last year we also started a project to integrate the architecture for our future platforms. What we mean by integrating platforms is not integrating handhelds devices and home consoles to make only one machine. What we are aiming at is to integrate the architecture to form a common basis for software development so that we can make software assets more transferable, and operating systems and their build-in applications more portable, regardless of form factor or performance of each platform. They will also work to avoid software lineup shortages or software development delays which tend to happen just after the launch of new hardware. Some time ago it was technologically impossible to have the same architecture for handheld devices and home consoles and what we did was therefore reasonable.”

From 2014 – Source

Relevant quote:

“Last year Nintendo reorganized its R&D divisions and integrated the handheld device and home console development teams into one division under Mr. Takeda. Previously, our handheld video game devices and home video game consoles had to be developed separately as the technological requirements of each system, whether it was battery powered or connected to a power supply, differed greatly, leading to completely different architectures and, hence, divergent methods of software development. However, because of vast technological advances, it became possible to achieve a fair degree of architectural integration. We discussed this point, and we ultimately concluded that it was the right time to integrate the two teams.

For example, currently it requires a huge amount of effort to port Wii software to Nintendo 3DS because not only their resolutions but also the methods of software development are entirely different. The same thing happens when we try to port Nintendo 3DS software to Wii U. If the transition of software from platform to platform can be made simpler, this will help solve the problem of game shortages in the launch periods of new platforms. Also, as technological advances took place at such a dramatic rate, and we were forced to choose the best technologies for video games under cost restrictions, each time we developed a new platform, we always ended up developing a system that was completely different from its predecessor. The only exception was when we went from Nintendo GameCube to Wii. Though the controller changed completely, the actual computer and graphics chips were developed very smoothly as they were very similar to those of Nintendo GameCube, but all the other systems required ground-up effort. However, I think that we no longer need this kind of effort under the current circumstances. In this perspective, while we are only going to be able to start this with the next system, it will become important for us to accurately take advantage of what we have done with the Wii U architecture. It of course does not mean that we are going to use exactly the same architecture as Wii U, but we are going to create a system that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately. When this happens, home consoles and handheld devices will no longer be completely different, and they will become like brothers in a family of systems.

Still, I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform. To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models. The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples. Whether we will ultimately need just one device will be determined by what consumers demand in the future, and that is not something we know at the moment.”

There’s always a caveat, and in this case that last sentence seems to indicate that there’s still a chance for a single, all-purpose device. However, by and large from these comments Nintendo seems to be working toward the goal of a cross-compatible group of consoles rather than a singular entity.

Looking to the past to predict the future

In the beginning...
In the beginning…

There is a long history within Nintendo’s products that seems to indicate that this is their plan.

Digging deeper to try and reveal the future based on the past Nintendo has long seemed discontent with the fact that they have two separate devices. Choices need to be made, and most games cannot be released on both systems for many reasons. However, Nintendo has made efforts to bridge this gap between home and handheld for almost as long as there has been a handheld Nintendo.

– SNES had the Super GameBoy.
– GameCube had the GameBoy Player.
– Wii U has GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS Virtual Console titles.

Nintendo wants us to play our portable games on the big screen, and they obviously see it as both profitable and something that we want to do.

After all, this last point seems to be a particularly odd one. Why devote the resources into porting these games into an effectively dead console when they can run natively (or close to it) on a device that has sold nearly 4x as many units? The 3DS family, of course, can play all Nintendo DS games. Nintendo themselves also proved that it can run GBA games with little to no work thanks to the Ambassador Program they implemented for the early adopters who paid $250 at launch.

My guess is that these plans were already in place long before the Wii U was known to be a sales failure. If I were a betting man I would wager that Nintendo even had plans to emulate 3DS games on the Wii U before the financial expense to implement this plan became too large and was then canceled when it became clear that Wii U sales were not going to improve.

More recently, Nintendo has also shown that they want us to play some of their console games on the go as well. The 3DS has excellent remakes of many home console games such as Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Star Fox 64, Hyrule Warriors, and more on the way with Yoshi’s Woolly World and Super Mario Maker.

Bringing it back to the here and now

All of this coincidental evidence leads me back to my original thought: I still believe that the NX is going to be multiple consoles. It just makes a lot more sense to me. The last time they talked about the NX they claimed it is going to be a never-before seen concept. The Eurogamer Report, however does have precedence in form and function.

I don't know about you, but this does not look like something I'd want to hold for an extended period of time.
I don’t know about you, but this does not look like something I’d want to hold for an extended period of time.

Look familiar? With the exception of the TV dock, this tablet sounds almost exactly like what Eurogamer was describing with the NX.

(Source: Aikun.co )

My idea does also bear some similarity with the PS Vita and the PS TV. A notable difference here is that, at least in theory, both the home version and the portable version would play all of the same games. It also could provide additional power to render games when playing on the TV, and an alternate lower resolution mode to conserve battery on the go.

Similarities aside, let’s also briefly consider the impractical side of selling a dock and a portable.

For one thing, it could increase the cost of the final product to where it becomes unreasonable to the average customer.

It could also provide minimal benefit compared to a standalone solution. At best the dock could house additional processing power to send to a TV. At worst, it could simply overclock the existing processor in the handheld unit – or perhaps run the processor at the standard clock speed compared to having the handheld underclocked when not docked.

However, compare that concept to having a dedicated home console and a dedicated handheld console – which in this instance would share the same game library. Thinking practically, the cost would be divided, making it a more appealing purchase for a customer to pick up whichever one they are more interested in. The home console could also be more powerful than would be possible using a handheld processor, allowing Nintendo to finally compete with Microsoft and Sony once again regarding specs if they wanted to. Or at least the “base” models of their consoles, considering Nintendo doesn’t like to sell systems at a loss and it will likely need to be sold at a competitive price.

Whether the crowd that cares only about specs will be worth chasing for Nintendo, at least this would give them that option. (And, to be honest, that thought could also give more fuel to the all-in-one rumor.)

Having an entirely shared library would make cross-buy-styled purchasing standard, and cross-save-styled gaming potentially easier as well. All games purchased would likely, logically include a portable version and a home version – which is an appealing idea. A quick sync with another device running the same platform could be quick, easy, and painless – something that hasn’t yet been mastered by the competition, despite them offering this idea first.

Let’s wrap this up, shall we?

I certainly don’t know anything that’s going on and I’m just as eager as anyone to finally learn more about Nintendo’s latest and (hopefully) greatest. There seem to be the pieces to put together, but as for what they will actually do is still anyone’s guess at the moment.

No matter what the NX winds up being, I just hope that Nintendo knows what they’re doing.