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Sun Tzu would be proud

13 May on Blogs  

Nintendo is quite famous for its oriental-style wisdom. Be it in the meaning of its name or famous quotes like the “upturning of the tea table”, there is a zen beauty in the simplicity of their argument. And that’s why this whole Cafe thing going on right now made my brain buzz with the ingenuity – be it accidental or purposeful – of its strategy.

“What are you talking about?”, you might be asking. Well, I am obviously connecting loose pieces of a puzzle that are dripping sparsely in rumors (and when it comes to Nintendo, not everything can be taken at face value – remember the Tegra chipset and worldwide 3G deals for 3DS that never came to pass? Nintendo engineers research a lot of stuff that never amounts to actual products). Yet, if what we know is true, Nintendo could very well be preparing the simplest and most elegant move in an elaborate game of chess. But first, a little disclaimer: given their philosophy, I think a lot of this may indeed be accidental, because they usually don’t base their decisions on the competition THAT much… but who knows? I think the effect will be the same nonetheless.

Now let’s see what we know: SUPPOSEDLY the new system, codenamed “Cafe”, is based on IBM PowerPC technology and ATI graphics chipset, not unlike the Wii. However, the architecture seems much more in line with the Xbox 360, and given the timeframe, it will probably be slightly more powerful than the Microsoft offering, sporting the R700 chipset. There are talks of naming the system “Stream”, which could be connected to a supposed touch-screen enabled controller capable of running gameplay on itself. Let’s keep all that in mind and work from there, shall we?

I think it’s safe to say that one of Microsoft’s biggest advantages this generation was coming out first. Being the first off the gate has helped tremendously with a few exceptions (the Dreamcast and the Genesis/Mega Drive come to mind). By releasing their system now, Nintendo has pretty much check-mated both Sony and Microsoft: they officially have to hurry their next generation, which clearly wasn’t in their short term plans. Microsoft has just cracked a new target segment with the Kinect and it would be unwise to leave them orphaned by introducing a new system and moving support away. But since their obvious upgrade for a new generation would be significantly better graphics, chances are they would have to wait at least a couple of years to offer something truly eye-catching at consumer-affordable prices (Sony made it plenty clear that US$599 was not an acceptable price tag for a videogame with the PS3). This gives Nintendo a lot of time to sail peacefully.

But that’s not all. By doing this, Nintendo now will have a platform that is easily portable for Xbox 360 and PS3 games. If I were them, I’d even go as far as suggest software companies to keep the exact same assets (not using the possible extra horsepower), and just raise the resolution to 1080p and/or lock the frame rate at 60fps (the latter incidentally also makes games more easily adaptable for stereoscopic 3D display, should they decide to pursue that feature). Games will look pretty much the same, but will FEEL much nicer. And that just adds more pressure on Sony and Microsoft to deliver a new generation that not only looks good, but will also be expected to run at 1080p and 60fps – a very tough juggling act. I am sure they will have 1080p, but the 60fps is always something developers are willing to sacrifice to make their titles shinier. At the same time, it’s something consumers don’t DEMAND… and yet, if you get them used to it, it can be very hard to give up – just see all the PC users complaining when they play on a console.

If that comes to be the case, Nintendo’s biggest hurdle will be convincing those that already have a PS3 or Xbox that the migration is worth it, as a good part of the software lineup will probably be similar. For die-hard Nintendo fans that won’t be a question: new Marios, Zeldas and Metroids should be more than enough (and I am willing to bet a new Pikmin would be the ideal game to showcase the console when it is unveiled and launched: just imagine a beautiful realistic garden with thousands of tiny colorful creatures). But that still leaves a lot of people. I bet the new system will have a new controller, but will also be backwards compatible with GameCube and Wii controllers as well as games. I am still not sure what they will offer here to create the same splash the 3DS and Wii created, and am guessing the full skinny on the controller will probably help answer that. However, I think there is one more part of the equation.

The 3DS gives us an interesting insight. It already has the first inklings of Nintendo’s new instance with online connectivity and community. Streetpass and Spotpass are clearly features that are vital to their strategy – they want people as well as games to communicate amongst themselves. It’s an evolution of the whole WiiConnect24, which sincerely never was implemented properly. Now imagine if the controller was Streetpass compatible. Some cool concepts start coming up, like a much friendlier implementation of social gaming that does not depend on Facebook spamming. Not only that, but what if instead of Achievements they implemented a system of Play Coins in which you gain them by completing certain tasks and you could unlock certain game content with it? What if this content could even be traded among contacts? The possibilities are enticing.

I am guessing that the "Stream" name may hide more than we imagine. What is being streamed where? Games to the console or the controller? Save data among friends? I expect the big surprise to be somewhere in there. Like I said, I think the community features may be the key, but we might just have to wait and see.

But if there is one thing I learned with Nintendo is to not get overly excited with possibilities. I loved the concept of WiiConnect24. I dreamed of visiting towns of offline friends in Animal Crossing… and that only led to disappointment. Yet Nintendo has all the right cards in their hand at the right time (pun intended). Maybe it was not their plan… but I guess it really does pay to leave destiny to the heavens.

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.