Nintendo have a lot to prove after their current generation offering, the Nintendo Wii. The Wii’s retrograde hardware spec ensured that it didn’t even make it onto the same playing field as the PS360, the tech was scarcely an upgrade to the Game Cube, and the online service was a nonentity. Recently it came as no surprise to Michael Pachter that Nintendo announced an announcement set for the forthcoming E3 of their WiiHD, or rather Project Cafe. Project Cafe. Kind of puts you in mind of sipping a latte snug (and smug) in your neckerchief and ironic glasses, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, upon this announcement game ‘journalism’ luminaries crowed the proclamation that Nintendo were making a return to the hardcore gaming market because ZOMG the beastly Project Cafe is to be more powerful than the PS3, a four and a half year old console. Nintendo in typical fashion have been tight lipped as to what’s ‘neath the hood of their dream machine, but their *alleged* close partners have not, and so without further ado let us set about examining some rumoured specifications.
If rumour is to be believed then Nintendo is set to sport a MASSIVE tri-core PowerPC core courtesy of IBM, the same design as utilized by the Xbox 360, and said to be clocked at a similar frequency. That said, it is likely to be a more efficient processor than Microsoft’s CPU, and it is unknown at this point how many software threads it is capable of running (the 360 does two per core).
AMD look set to provide the GPU from their R700 family of processors, a three generation old technology, launched in 2008 and incumbent to the Radeon HD 4xxxx line of hardware. It is unknown which model will form the basis of the GPU, but I’d assume that it would be towards the higher end of the spectrum. Nintendo are said to be including at least 512mb of dedicated graphics memory, handily besting the PS3’s 256mb of graphics memory and the 360’s 512mb of shared system memory. Nintendo look to be the first home-console manufacturer to cross over into 1080p in any meaningful way.
In terms of storage Project Cafe is set to utilize 25gb disks, the format of which is currently unknown, effectively placing it on par with single layer Blu-Ray discs. In terms of storage Project Cafe is said to feature 8gb of flash memory, for all those MASSIVE downloadable games that Nintendo fans are known to enjoy.
Mercifully Nintendo are said to be launching their system with a proper ‘sticks and buttons’ controller, albeit one with a
mounted six inch LCD touchscreen. This heralds the return of controller-based inventories last seen on the Game Cube, and may indeed portend to the controller being used as a portable gaming device in its own right.
I am actually quite supportive of the use of LCD touchscreens for the purpose of gaming, and the idea of a controller/touchscreen hybrid quite frankly excites me, yet I do not trust Nintendo to be able to deliver on it. Controllers are quite big enough already without adding an additional touchscreen to the mix, and here is Nintendo who have not created a decent controller since the SNES in the early 90’s. I envision a hulking leviathan. That said, a reasonably sleek design is certainly not beyond them, the screen could be situated between both thumbsticks making an acceptable (albeit overlong) game pad, ideally the touchscreen could even be removed and used as a poor man’s iPod, but who knows? Cost will undoubtedly be a factor in limiting Nintendo’s exciting new idea, and even then you can expect the Project Cafe gamepad to redefine what is meant by ‘bloody expensive controller’.
There Is another rumour to the touch screen however, and this one is odd, and a little hard to believe, but allegedly Nintendo is deploying haptic screen technology; meaning that gamers can feel what they are touching. The technology can apparently simulate the texture of surfaces, and would no doubt be capable of of Braille and other such wonders for the vision impaired. Additionally the tactile feedback would solve the problem of having to avert your eyes from the screen in order to rummage in your inventory. Please remember however, that this is the least firm rumour to come out of the Project Cafe news frenzy (translated from a foreign site &c.).
Nintendo’s Project Cafe finds itself in an odd position, and there’s no two ways about it. If we were to compare Project Cafe to the current generation then the response would be largely positive, Nintendo look set to release a FULL HD gaming machine with a (possibly) interesting controller. Nintendo’s new disc format neatly avoids the Xbox’s bottleneck of disc-space, and the additional amount of GPU RAM capably avoids the PS3’s memory bottleneck, though of course the 8gb of flash memory does render it absolutely useless for online consumers (a good thing since Nintendo’s online services range from nascent to stillborn). Lack of storage is a massive faux pas, very shortsighted, though if it takes off it could be something I get behind, after all such designs are just the thing to eradicate the endless wave of DLC and Online Gates that bedevil us so! I approve? At any rate Nintendo’s online presence will remain strictly in amateur capacity.
Now, on the other hand nintendo’s next console is not competing with the current generation, rather it is ostensibly kicking off the eighth console generation, and to that end it looks a rather lot like the Sega Dreamcast (replete with overengineered controller). The PS4 and Xbox 720 will absolutely bury it in terms of performance, just like the Wii in relation to its current-gen competitors. Nintendo have learned no lessons about their use of outdated hardware, and they have learned no lessons about their threadbare online component, and why would they? They enjoyed a metric fuckton of undeserved success with the Wii. So where does this leave Nintendo? It leaves Nintendo with approximately one and a half years in which to entrench themselves within the hardcore gaming market, else go the casual route again.
The casual route will not work again I think. Motion waggle was casually accessible in a way that gamepads simply are not, not even when featuring touchscreens (and for that matter why the hell doesn’t the 3DS feature proper touchscreens when Nintendo is putting them into their fucking controllers?!). Casuals are happy with their iOS and Android devices, so a six inch touch screen isn’t going to impress them methinks. They will get some casual gamers sure, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wii Fit make a profitable return, but generally speaking the casual gamer is being pulled in too many directions to be Nintendo’s cash cow.
That just leaves the hardcore market, and let me say I just do not see this happening. Nintendo have a year and a half to gain marketshare, but the majority of the games which will appear on the system will invariably be slightly prettier looking cross-platform games, and I do not think that a significant selling point to woo PS360 gamers. Once this period is up Sony + Microsoft will flip the switch on their own eighth generation consoles and Project Cafe will be horribly embarrassed by far more capable gaming machines which truly seem to be a full generation beyond the capabilities of Nintendo’s consoles.
Project Cafe’s specs aren’t bad. By my reckoning they would be sufficient to run most modern day PC games in roughly medium-high settings, which is more than I can say for the PS360 with its frequently sub-HD resolutions. That said, I would expect Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles to match the high-end spec of 2011’s PC hardware market, if not go beyond. I do not predict that this will end up in a situation like the current generation where the Wii is mostly incompatible with PS360 software, rather I think it will be much worse for Nintendo. I predict that Project Cafe will be capable of running most PS4/720 software, but only just. Project Cafe will feature games with all their proverbial sliders dialed down to zero, and IMHO it will look much worse than custom software built to a more humble spec. This is the era of multiple-platform game releases and when every single Project Cafe version is substantially compromised it will do nothing to engender respect.
… And that just leaves Nintendo fanboys, the poor wretches who stuck around for the Game Cube, and then got dumped on by the Wii. Are this long suffering demography to be Nintendo’s bread and butter? Well time will tell.