UPDATE: Another report has surfaced from The Wall Street Journal from a separate, supposedly verified source, who claims that NX will also support Nintendo’s mobile titles, no doubt including the already-available, “Miitomo” and, “Pokemon GO.” The titles are likely played with the controller detachments removed, so that players can simply use touch input on the NX controller’s screen. Obviously, this information has once again not yet been verified by Nintendo one way or the other.
Original report follows:
Eurogamer and Digital Foundry have set the internet afire today, with a detailed report from multiple sources that purports to know exactly what we can expect from the bulk of Nintendo’s upcoming next-gen gaming platform, code-named ‘NX’. Before we get into it, I must extensively stress that none of these reports are verified by Nintendo, who refuse to comment on them one way or the other after being asked, simply stating that they have nothing to announce yet.
That said however, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill NX rumours, as they seem to carry a lot more weight, and Digital Foundry especially has clearly done their homework with how the device has apparently been put together. It’s not guaranteed that this information is fully correct, or even represents NX’s final design (in fact, Digital Foundry openly admits that the information more than likely comes from a prototype build of NX that is subject to change before its final public release next March), but it sounds pretty credible to a degree, and is certainly worth examining, and compiling with the glut of other NX scoops that have been trickling out from both Nintendo, and other sources, since Nintendo first claimed that they had a brand new game platform in development last year.
First, let’s dive right into Eurogamer’s claims about NX. Eurogamer claims that the device will not simply be a console/handheld hybrid, and will place a lot more emphasis on the latter over the former, at least in promotion. The main ‘brain’ of the NX is apparently located within the controller, which somewhat resembles the existing Wii U Gamepad in a rough drawing that Eurogamer has sketched out, only now, the two sides of the controller can be attached and detached as needed, leaving a tablet-like screen that could potentially be controlled through touch input. Allegedly, this controller can also be plugged into a ‘base unit’, one that also doubles as a charging deck for when you want to take NX games on the go, with the base unit allowing you to enjoy NX games on your television when the core tablet is plugged into it.
Eurogamer then goes on to corroborate several recent internet rumours about the NX, namely that it will use cartridges as a form of physical media (Gamestop’s CEO already confirmed that the NX will allow for used and borrowed games to boot), and that Nintendo briefly considered making the NX a digital-only platform, before ultimately deciding against it. While Eurogamer doesn’t outright state it however, digital download options for NX games are inevitable, especially with the new My Nintendo membership service pushing digital purchases especially highly, and Digital Foundry does say that NX’s alleged architecture would lend itself well to the inevitable catalogue of Virtual Console games that the device will host, even though they do claim that Virtual Console emulation of Wii U games is significantly less likely. The NX overhauling its platform architecture so much in contrast to Wii U means that the NX is extremely unlikely to be backwards-compatible with its predecessor’s games too, at least physically. Speaking of Wii U, the sources also claim that Nintendo’s future NX marketing message will simply stress the chance to take your games anywhere you want with NX, to avoid the confused, ill-communicated marketing of the Wii U both before and shortly after its launch in 2012.
Allegedly, Nintendo is beginning the NX cartridge lineup with a suggestion of 32GB cartridges, which seems pretty small for a console game, though bear in mind that this is likely meant to accommodate the portable capabilities of the device (where 32GB is much larger), and, as with platforms like the Super NES, and Sega’s Genesis/Mega Drive from the 90’s, the cartridge size could very well increase in later years of the platform’s life cycle. In fact, cartridges containing unique scaling and specialty components (i.e. Nintendo’s own Super FX chip that pushed the Super NES beyond its base capabilities in games like Star Fox), is a technical advantage that a cartridge would theoretically have over a disc, where a set ISO is simply bound and read from the disc, as opposed to a cartridge helping to actively boost the machine and the game with potentially unique hardware additions. Since NX is almost certainly trying to bridge consoles and handhelds according to most evidence, cartridges would indeed make more sense than discs when it comes to the inevitable scaling demands, and obviously, with digital copies of games, scaling also wouldn’t theoretically be an issue, depending on the capabilities of the platform’s OS, which Eurogamer’s sources claim is a new proprietary OS built by Nintendo exclusively for NX, and not any version of Google’s Android OS, as formerly rumoured.
That sums up the key beats from the Eurogamer report, and the Digital Foundry report about the NX’s reported specs is even more detailed, though it’s also full of a lot of techno-babble, so if you don’t speak geek, you might find a lot of it confusing. The long story short with the Digital Foundry report is this; Nintendo is apparently defecting from longtime spec collaborator, AMD, in favour of Nvidia, with Nvidia powering NX with their Tegra chip technology, a chipset that’s popular in microconsoles and mobile devices, and lends itself well to a device that seems like it’s trying to be both a console and a handheld. While prototype dev kits in the wild seem to use the Tegra X1 chip, which is already available in some of Google’s tablets and Nvidia’s own Nvidia Shield microconsole, there’s some, albeit very little-fueled for now, speculation that NX could be powered by the next-gen Tegra X2, which Nvidia is keeping a huge secret for the most part. If the Tegra X2 is any kind of leap over the Tegra X1, it would theoretically put NX’s capabilities at least somewhat in line with the current-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, even though Digital Foundry claims that the NX actually trumping either of even those consoles’ current launch models, is unlikely. Digital Foundry does point out however that Nintendo has defied low specs in clever ways before, even recently, citing examples like Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Digital Foundry also claims that even a Tegra X1 chipset is noticeably more powerful than the hardware running the last-gen Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, even when it’s limited to 720p resolution for ideal GPU resources necessary for good game performance, and while it’s not stated in the report, the Tegra X1 architecture can probably trump the Wii U as well, giving even the NX’s portable component a technical edge over Nintendo’s current console. Digital Foundry goes on to cite examples of how the Tegra X1 can finely balance battery life (a crucial element of NX’s portable capability) and game performance, citing how Nvidia Shield uses Tegra X1 to run high-res, strong-performing renditions of games like Doom 3: BFG Edition and Trine 2 that look and run better than these games do on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (even if DirectX-powered games like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Resident Evil 5 aren’t quite as sharp on this chipset), and when playing on the go, even the expected 720p display makes for a very high-powered handheld. Digital Foundry also points out that the evidence pointing to a 720p resolution with strong performance on the handheld screen would make the NX’s handheld component noticeably prettier and more powerful than the PlayStation Vita, which renders at about 540p, despite its launch models’ gorgeous OLED screen. They also mention that the PlayStation Vita is another platform that has defied low specs during its launch especially, citing sophisticated examples like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048 and Killzone: Mercenary.
That’s the gist of the Digital Foundry scoop with all of the techno-speak toned down and spoken in plain English, and when we combine this with the Eurogamer report, this does seem to paint a fairly detailed and credible image of what we can expect from the NX’s main capabilities, namely a device with an emphasis on portability that is more powerful than the New Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita by a sizable margin, and at least a bit more powerful than Wii U, even if it doesn’t seem like it will fully measure up to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One’s raw launch model specs, contrary to initial rumours. Considering the evidence, Nintendo’s history, and the state of the market, this element of the device’s portable capabilities certainly makes sense, even if it is unverified by Nintendo for now, and may not reflect the device’s finalized specs when it releases to the public. For the sake of argument however, assuming this information is all correct, does this answer every question related to the NX though? Frankly, no, it doesn’t. Not even close. In fact, Eurogamer and Digital Foundry only really seem to have outlined one half, if that, of the console’s gaming setup, the portable one.
Putting aside the obvious questions about secondary apps like Netflix and Twitch that platform owners would expect to be included with NX, as well as potential support for Virtual Console libraries and emulation, and smaller Nintendo eShop games for NX, there’s still a huge question mark that Eurogamer’s and Digital Foundry’s sources have barely addressed; The base unit. Again, for the sake of argument, if we assume that this lengthy scoop is correct, it tells us lots about how NX can be taken on the go… And almost nothing about how it can be played at home. Yes, the base unit serves as a charging deck for the controller, and the device’s main ‘brain’, and presumably the games, use the controller, but since NX is still stated from this report to work on a modern HDTV, the question remains… How? That’s a big question too. After all, it wouldn’t make sense for Nintendo to say that the NX can be played at home on a modern HDTV, and then offer literally no advantage to playing it at home on a modern HDTV. If only NX’s portable capabilities matter, then why is it not just a 3DS successor? Why is it not just a simple handheld? Clearly, there’s something that the sources either missed, or deliberately didn’t speak about regarding NX’s home capabilities, possibly because they don’t even know themselves.
Another obvious question about the NX’s home capabilities is, if we’re meant to detach the two button-laden halves of the tablet, and presumably plug it into the base unit to charge, how exactly do we play something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with very few buttons? It’s entirely possible that Eurogamer’s drawing is a purely theoretical mock-up that doesn’t include shoulder buttons or triggers that will probably be on the final device, which could also be shaped entirely differently in the end too, but the question remains; Exactly how does the relationship between the controller and the base unit work? Something’s not adding up with Eurogamer’s scoop, not because they didn’t do their homework, but because they only really got possible answers regarding the platform’s portable potential, not its home gaming potential.
Clearly, the NX has a sizable feature set for being played in the home too, and you know what proves that? Just Dance 2017, which we know is pretty much certainly going to be an NX launch title. Ubisoft directly confirming that Just Dance 2017 is in development for NX points to two things right away; First, that the detachable button placements on the controller no doubt have built-in motion-sensing capabilities, or else the game wouldn’t work on NX. Second, it proves that NX is not just a portable game system, since a franchise like Just Dance really doesn’t lend itself well to being played on the go, to say the least. The Legend of Zelda series producer, Eiji Aonuma directly stating that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has the same content on Wii U and NX, Sega confirming that an NX version of their upcoming Sonic game that’s primarily being built for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC is on the way, and Square Enix seemingly letting slip that NX runs Unreal Engine 4, after the Wii U struggled with even Unreal Engine 3, also seems to point to NX having no shortage of home gaming potential, even if the exact degree of that potential clearly has yet to be determined.
Some have already jumped to the conclusion that NX’s base unit doesn’t do anything, and merely charges the handheld/controller hybrid, but remember, Eurogamer never said that the base unit has no other functionality or offers no power boosts to the platform. In fact, they didn’t really say anything about the base unit, nor did Digital Foundry comment on whether the base unit had any additional power or capabilities that aren’t awarded to the controller when it’s taken on the go as a handheld. Moreover, Eurogamer’s and Digital Foundry’s notes don’t clarify exactly how games are shared between the television and handheld, physically or digitally. The report doesn’t even say exactly how the two major pieces of the NX, the controller/handheld and base unit, even interact at all! We just don’t know yet, and it seems foolish to assume that Nintendo would design a device that can be played at home and on the go, and then treat the ‘at home’ element like an afterthought. Clearly, if the NX is trying to unite the at-home and on-the-move gaming sensibilities in one device, as almost all of the evidence from everyone seems to indicate, there must be some advantage to playing games on your television, and not just the handheld. Is it improved HD quality? Is it built-in streaming capability for Twitch, YouTube, etc..? Is it boosted performance? All of these are likely possibilities, but we probably won’t get answers until the device’s proper reveal, which Eurogamer claims is planned for September.
In fact, the console’s still-undetermined reveal, the very reason behind the existence of this article, brings me to just one last big, major question; If the NX’s technology is so primitive, gimmicky and eccentric, and doesn’t fall in line at all with how competitors like Sony, Microsoft and Valve perpetuate their own gaming platforms, why is Nintendo concerned about rivals stealing it? Why would Nintendo care about people poaching their latest under-powered, niche-grabbing, oddball idea, which is why they claimed that they are waiting to properly unveil the NX, so that no one has time to steal its hook? When you think about it, there’s little to no reason for Nintendo to be so secretive about the NX, especially if they would benefit from getting the message out clearly and early, to help maximize launch sales and pre-orders when the Wii U failed to. Why would Nintendo risk the prolonged silence damaging their initial sales outlook and pre-order numbers? It’s unlikely that they’re just delusional, plus, withholding the platform’s announcement itself has nothing to do with having games ready for it at launch, so you can’t say that the hardware’s announcement depends on the games’ development cycles, especially in an age where companies can show pre-rendered CGI trailers, and sometimes even simple logos, and snag game pre-orders from that alone.
The only reason that seems to make sense is that Nintendo has one giant ace-in-the-hole when it comes to powering the NX technology, one that probably nobody has guessed yet, and it more than likely has to do with exactly how the platform scales so effortlessly between console and handheld, if that’s indeed the main hook of the device. Think beyond gaming. Think technology in general. If Digital Foundry is actually right with their unlikely musing about the NX being powered by the next-gen Tegra X2, and the NX’s architecture somehow cracks effortless, high-quality and speedy scaling between home and mobile platforms, or the NX has some other similar means of doing something like that, Sony and Microsoft alone would be all over it. Sony would steal Nintendo’s thunder even in Japan by re-purposing the technology between PlayStation and the Xperia mobile line (or maybe, if we’re really lucky, they’d make a better PlayStation Vita successor that can use it), just as Microsoft would have a field day here in the West with their recent Play Anywhere initiative, likely adding in Windows Mobile devices to the Xbox One/Windows 10 game carnival. Even beyond that, what’s to stop Sony and Microsoft from just coming up with more powerful console/handheld hybrid successor platforms to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that end up quickly out-muscling Nintendo?
Nintendo can’t compete with Sony and Microsoft in the realm of raw power, so as with the Wii, DS and 3DS most notably, they compensate by thinking outside the box, and designing previously unheard-of ways to design a video game. After all, which company perfected touch-controlled video games, and likely paved the way for smartphone game design? Nintendo, when they invented the DS. Which company took the world by storm by pioneering workable motion-controlled gaming that led to a revolution in fitness and body-tracking technology? Nintendo, when they invented the Wii. Even today, what’s the only device in the world that can render Hollywood-quality 3D visuals without the need for 3D glasses? The 3DS, invented by, once again, Nintendo. It’s obviously not proven, but it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that the NX could be compensating for its lower specs with a truly revolutionary technological idea behind its architecture and features, and something that’s never truly been done before in any other device, even beyond gaming. After all, lower specs didn’t prevent the DS, Wii and 3DS from selling gangbusters, even if the Wii U is an exception, and if the NX does come packing another technological breakthrough that effortlessly unites gaming at home and on-the-go, without the compromises of prior attempts, well, that could very well take the world by storm all over again! Hence, why we’re still sitting here wondering exactly what NX is and how it works, rather than having actually already seen it for ourselves.
What do you think? Are you excited or worried about the NX’s prospects? Have I missed something in the evidence? Do you even believe the evidence to begin with? As usual, your comments are welcome below, and don’t forget to power up Eggplante for all major news and updates on Nintendo and their platforms.