Nintendo Wants Its Platforms To Be More Like iOS

Nintendo Wants Their Platforms To Be More Like iOS

Nintendo's fighting on two fronts. The first, very real battleground it's waging war on is in retail, where its Wii U home console is struggling to build a user base. The second area of struggle has been in the hearts and minds of observers trying to decide how much faith to put into the company's foresight. The House of Mario offered one possible answer to both conundrums: whether handheld or home console, all its hardware's going to operate under a unified vision, much like the family of Apple products.

In a recent investor Q&A, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told attendees that the two internal teams that make handheld and console hardware have been merged with each other:

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.

Iwata then talked about the changes that Nintendo hopes to have happen as a result, like having more titles for subsequent hardware launches:

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.

The Nintendo boss also articulated how he hopes future Nintendo products will behave more like "brothers", instead of, say, cousins.

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.

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. However, we are hoping to change and correct the situation in which we develop games for different platforms individually and sometimes disappoint consumers with game shortages as we attempt to move from one platform to another, and we believe that we will be able to deliver tangible results in the future.

While this may not be the glorious, single-device future Luke Plunkett dreams of, getting all of its offerings crafted to speak the same unified language would probably create all sorts of exciting possibilities.


    I think it depends what sort of devices they decide to make. A consistent interface works well for iOS / Android because the devices are fundamentally similar, it's really just the size that differentiates an iPad from an iPhone - you interact with them in a very similar way.

    On the other hand, trying to take a one-size-fits-all approach to the user interface across very different devices isn't necessarily such a good idea. Look at the complaints a lot of people had about Windows 8 and its attempt to push a Windows phone style, touch-oriented interface onto keyboard/mouse oriented PC users.

      Yeah but if they added a second analogue stick and some triggers to the 3DS it would be the same interface.

    If it means a unified E-shop instead of having separate Wii U and 3DS virtual console game catalogues, good. I want to play Earthbound and Super Metroid on my 3DS.

    It's hard to take seriously the line about the difficulty of Wii -> 3DS -> Wii U when they achieved a pretty damn good result with MH3U on Day 1. Save sync was a bit fiddly, but cross play, cross platform multi and improved ports were all well demonstrated there. Sad that it's become the exception rather than the rule, since what was achieved there is what convinced me to get a Wii U, expecting things to get better from there onwards.

      There's no way of knowing how difficult that was to develop behind the scenes though. Also bear in mind that with Monster Hunter, the development team already had experience tying stuff together over different devices, save sharing and so on, because they had both home console and portable versions of previous games on Sony's platforms.

        My main point is that they achieved all of this with a launch title, and now they're complaining that it's too hard so the next console will address the problem. A launch title should be the beginning of what they are capable of doing with that hardware, not a crowning achievement that will never again be replicated. Quite frankly, if nothing else, it's misleading.

          But the point is that they're aiming to do it on a hardware level for all games. It's the difference between a game that runs on both Mac and PC vs Apple and Microsoft agreeing on a set of standards that ensures all games can run on both. In the GameBoy era Pokemon events required serious investment to setup. It wasn't R&D type stuff where it's complicated but once you figure out how to do it you can just replicate it. It was more like hacking their way around the limitations of the hardware. Sort of like making an eight player NES game or the original vision for Banjo-Kazooie's Stop 'n Swap.
          Thanks to the DS's local wireless and eventually WiFi and internet functionality pretty much any game can do those sorts of events without requiring anywhere near the investment. Any game could have potentially done it back in the GameBoy era, but it was simply impractical for a game that wasn't expecting to sell fifty billion copies.

          This works the same way. If Nintendo follow through with this it will mean what Monster Hunter really worked hard to achieve will be almost the default for all Nintendo games. It should open up the doors to make Nintendo platforms extremely appealing to publishers. They'd probably have to develop low and high quality versions of the game, but they'd still use the same engine and core functionality meaning they can make two versions for the price of one and a quarter. For some games it would make the console version practically free to develop.

            Yep, got all that. What I'm driving at is that the way the console started, it seemed like they were already doing that. To say "it's too hard now because we didn't plan for that" is a very disappointing piece of information to reveal at this stage.

      It's great that one development team managed to get a cross-Nintendo-platform release out day 1, but what about all the other developers? It's hard to fault Nintendo for wanting to make the process easier going forward.

        Don't get me wrong, it's a great move. It's necessary. It bodes well for future consoles / platforms.
        I'm just flabbergasted that it hadn't already happened, and it was in no way part of the Wii U design. That shocks me. I was honestly under the impression the 3DS and Wii U were 'companion' systems when the Wii U launched.

    I think bringing up Apple here derails the conversation a little. It actually sounds like a pretty solid idea. They've given up on powerful consoles, so why not make it so that their consoles and handhelds run off the same OS? It'd be sort of brilliant if my 3DS and Wii U were one console with the only difference being the physical hardware I use to play it. Sort of like the 2DS vs 3DS, or the DSi enhanced range. The 3DS is both the core and portable versions, while the Wii U is the home version and base station.

    I could also see Steam Machines doing this with Android gamepad tablets.

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