one more time

In a Nintendo Direct yesterday, Satoru Iwata announced a new model of 3DS to be released next year, featuring various improvments. Among these include a larger screen with better parallax effect, a faster processor, more memory, a second analog nub (finally) and more shoulder buttons. The New 3DS’ screen can adjust its brightness automatically to compensate for ambient conditions, and track the player’s face to keep things looking just right.

The internet hasn’t taken this well, with complaints that the current hardware is now completely obsolete, that this move by Nintendo is an “insult” to its longtime supporters, and cries of how Nintendo won’t support their hardware for any considerable length of time. One complaint which strikes me as particularly ignorant is that which “this is the first time Nintendo has ever split the userbase…depending on which re-release of the handheld they bought.” Most forum comments stop just short of outright claims of fraud. I’m left wondering how long it will be until lawsuits from jilted customers start popping up.

I really don’t see where any of this hate is coming from. It’s not much different from the overall progression of Nintendo consoles over the past 15 years or so. While the original Game Boy persisted for a good deal before finally needing a successor, the Game Boy Color was only on shelves for three years before the Advance model was rolled out. It was another three years before they changed gears entirely and released the DS in 2004. The original 3DS was released in 2010…and here we are today.

Notably, the hinge of Nintendo’s strategy was that each new model included full backwards compatibility with the previous model, allowing customers to continue playing their older games on the new hardware, and continue to get their worth out of them. While the new 3DS will have some new hardware (namely the second analog nub and second set of shoulders) that will undoubtedly result in newer games that will be unplayable on the “old” 3DS, the new model can still play the old games. An upgrade is in no way forced, and the old hardware is nowhere near being cut off from support. Even if that were a possibility of some kind, developers simply could not ignore the over 40 million 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS units already out there. Games will still be made for these handhelds. They are not going away.

That being said, I’m not a mindless cheerleader blindly supporting the move. There are aspects I don’t like, first and foremost the name. With Nintendo still smarting from the confusion caused by the unimaginative name and bad marketing related with the Wii U, one would think they would at least try to come up with a name to distinguish the new from the old. But no, apparently Nintendo is still taking notes from Apple and are just calling it the “new 3DS”. I wish them luck in helping customers tell the two apart, and I don’t envy the legions of Best Buy and GameStop employees whose jobs it will be to enlighten them.

Hardware-wise, I actually don’t think Nintendo went far enough with the changes. The second analog nub is a joke. I fail to see how it will be comparably useful to the existing circle pad on the left side. Personally I enjoy eraser-head mice over touchpads and such, but this is a very different application. Besides the limited method of movement detection, it’s crammed into a tiny space that only leads my imagination to conjure scenarios involving my thumb slamming into the base of the hinge at high speed. I’m also less than enthusiastic about the extra set of shoulders. More shoulders means more can be done, but the placement of these buttons makes their practical use seem awkward. But I could be wrong, you never really know until you actually hold it in your hands and use it.

Other than that, the beefier CPU and extra memory mean better performance and more detailed graphics in the future, and microSD support is a nice step forward, though I question the placement of the slot in a recessed well in the bottom. In all, it seems like a mixed bag. I won’t be planning to upgrade anytime soon, as I’m quite happy with my 3DS XL. Maybe the next revision will have the true second circle pad I’ve been waiting for.

running in circles

Continuing the legacy this generation of consoles seems to be laying, yet another product is being modified to emulate its competitor’s product, even though they’re not competitors.

News has been abounding about the add-on of a second circle pad for Nintendo’s 3DS platform. Nintendo, certainly, has been hyping it up a lot in the last couple weeks. This seems to be a particularly stupid idea, to me. And I’ll tell you why.
First off, the damn thing looks damn ridiculous. It not only adds bulk, but it throws off the balance of the unit, both in terms of mass and visual appearance. Now, when you close the top, that circle pad will be exposed regardless. I think I can safely predict many of these circle pads quickly becoming clogged with lint and the other types of filth gamers regularly ingest.
Second, this attachment, by definition, cannot be required for any games–or at least, any significant number of them. Not everyone will be gullible enough to buy it, and if it’s not required not every developer will feel the need to account for it. Games like Ocarina 3D manage just fine without a second stick; if a game is made right it shouldn’t be a problem. (Shouldn’t.) So if it’s not required, who is going to want to program for an attachment that not everyone will buy? This has proven to be a downward spiral in the last decade and a half of gaming peripherals.
The final nail in the coffin: juice. Not orange juice (which I desire now that I’ve typed that), but the sort that is provided by a battery. Being that this add-0n clips to the device proper, and sticks right to the bottom of it, you’d think Nintendo would have thought, “hm, maybe we should also make it an extended battery!” But no. Not only does it not provide any extra OJ, it actually requires its own battery. This is definitely not a product I will buy.
What’s more, some of the latest whispers making their way through the grapevine indicate that Nintendo is currently in the process of designing a new 3DS that will include dual circle pads. This is just what Nintendo should have done to start with, and doing it now only makes the 3DS add-on look obsolete even before it hits shelves.

depth reception

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to enjoy my 3DS, I’m ready to give my thoughts and impressions to the four people who read this blog. Spoiler: I have mixed feelings. Mind you, this is purely my opinion, so if you don’t like the smell of bullshit, close this tab now.

The first thing that felt like a downgrade was the battery life. Now, I understand this is doing more work than the DSi I traded up from. The battery in the 3DS is a considerable 1300 mAh, compared to the DSi’s 840 mAh (and the DSi XL’s 1050 mAh). But the 3DS only gets, at most, 8 hours of battery life–and that’s playing an older DS game with brightness set to minimum and wireless disabled. Both DSi models easily surpass this without issue, unless their brightness is maxed. Hopefully in the next iteration of the 3DS, Nintendo will figure out a way to make the hardware more efficient.
The unit is almost exactly the same size and weight as the DSi, so it barely registered as a change in my mind, although the bottom screen is smaller than those on the former…it definitely feels smaller. I’m not a fan of this super-gloss revolution that has consumed the electronics world in the past decade–I very much enjoyed the matte finish of my DSi because it didn’t attract fingerprints or smudges. This, by comparison, makes me feel obsessive-compulsive, because if I don’t clean and wipe it constantly, its surface becomes almost slick, and not in that “blood on your sword” way that makes you feel manly and victorious. More in the “cooking grease on my damn controller” way. And what’s with the weird buttons-that-aren’t-buttons below the bottom screen? I wish they had put actually discrete buttons there, instead of…whatever these are. It’s difficult to use them by feel, and they’re sunken deep enough that I usually have to place the unit on something so I can exert enough force to trigger them.
One feature that seemed to take a backward step was the volume selector. On the original DS (and going back to the Game Boy Advance), this was a slider switch. I never had a good experience with this slider. Ever. On the DSi, this was graduated to + and – buttons that I found far more useful. Now, they’ve gone back to the slider, and though this is significantly better than the one I’ve used in the past, it’s tainted by those bad memories. It can be difficult to adjust the volume during gameplay this way, because of the way pressure has to be applied to the slider. In addition, the DSi buttons had the useful secondary function of quickly changing the brightness setting, which can’t be done now. This setting can be accessed via the home screen, but only while playing a 3DS game, which I’ll get into later.
The 3DS conveniently has a slider for the 3D screen function as well; the user can adjust the parallax barrier to suit their taste, or disable it entirely and play “flat.” What I’m not so big on is that the slider is designed to be operated from the side–that is to say, it’s possible to have the unit closed and one can still accidentally move the slider somehow, changing the depth setting and of course not realizing it until the next time it’s played. This gets annoying because I can never seem to get it quite back to where it was before.
Finally, the OS. It’s nice to see more progress in this area. The OS on the 3DS more closely resembles that of the Wii, most notably the “metabox” loading icon and the settings menus. Now, when the Home button is pressed during gameplay, the game is suspended while the user accesses their home screen, usually to change the brightness setting. But the OS can’t keep this game suspended beyond that–the user can’t go play another game (such as a downloaded DSiWare) and keep their first game suspended in the background. This would be a nice function to see, because sometimes you just need a break from futility to play something fun or use the browser. It doesn’t need to be able to hold more than one game, really…even entering system options requires that this game be ended, which kind of defeats the whole purpose.
One gripe I can’t get past is DS mode. DS games can’t be suspended via the Home button. The Home screen is not accessible at all without exiting the game entirely. Even the brightness settings cannot be changed, meaning once you start a DS game, you’re stuck unless you can save and quit. Why can’t even the Home screen be seen during DS games? Why did Ninendo go with a volume slider when the +/- buttons, such as on the DSi, could have resolved this issue with brightness settings? As usual, Nintendo threw in their odd design decisions, because their product wouldn’t be complete without them.
Final thought: The cameras. Get rid of them. Please. No one uses them. Taking 3D pictures is cool, but the quality is horrendous. Save a few bucks and some weight and just remove the cameras…really.

link to the future

Nintendo recently knocked down the price of the 3DS to stimulate sales. While the device has great potential, it needs more AAA titles to entice buyers. Really the only front-line title it has on shelves is Ocarina 3D; a fifth of all 3DS owners in the UK own this game and it’s easy to imagine that even more in the US and Japan have it. But it’s another case of Nintendo resurrecting the horse only to beat it again.

Now there is a call to remake Majora’s Mask on the 3DS. This movement has a bit more merit to it–it would be nice to see this lesser-known, somewhat maligned title step up and be recognized by a new generation of gamers. The same strategy could be utilized as before; namely, that the game engine is already there and will make development much easier.

Nntendo should go one step further.

New, original Zelda games could be made using the now-finished Ocarina engine. This is essentially the same strategy Nintendo used during Majora‘s development; by reusing the Ocarina engine, development time was reduced to just one year (compare to the original development cycle of Ocarina, which was over four years long). Now that the 3D engine has been done and most of the necessary textures are already there, a new Zelda game could be whipped up in a matter of months.

More stories could be told exploring other splits of the Ocarina timeline, or entirely original, standalone stories could be told (vis a vis Link’s Awakening and Oracle of Ages/Seasons). Even a side story covering other parts of Hyrule not seen in Ocarina, or parts of Termina that weren’t featured in Majora (Termina would especially be nice to see, as we’ve already seen every square centimeter of Hyrule many times). But by now I am merely embellishing my point.

A whole new world of portable 3D gaming is out there, just waiting for Link.