Nintendo has admitted to recent plans to sell a 3D home console and proprietary display. This may hint at future plans regarding the successor to the Wii console.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has confirmed that the GameCube, Wii's predecessor, was capable of displaying 3D visuals when hooked up to a parallax barrier LCD screen, the type of display also used in the upcoming handheld 3DS. The comments were made in a recent ´Iwata asks´ session, translated by Andriasang:
GameCube also had circuitry for 3D compatibility, revealed Iwata. If attached to a special LCD screen, the system could display 3D images. Nintendo even had a functional 3D version of Luigi's mansion. Due to the cost for the LCD screens, though, Nintendo decided that there was no market for the tech at the time.
Funnily enough, Iwata said the same thing in an interview last June and noone noticed. Worse still, two days before, 3DS hardware director Hideki Konno told IGN the same story in more detail:
When I was directing Luigi's Mansion on the GameCube we experimented with placing a 3D panel on the screen and making Luigi's Mansion play in 3D. However, at that time we had screen resolution issues. And cost issues. And to separately sell a panel for 3D gameplay wasn't a practical idea as a mass-market product.
Why should anyone have picked up on that? Those comments reveal which 3D technology Nintendo has been experimenting with for home consoles and that they had plans of selling proprietary displays. The latter aspect is significant. We already know that Nintendo's next home console will be capable of displaying 3D visuals. We just do not know how. Hang on. Do we really know the Wii 2 will be a 3D console? Let us recap.
Will Wii 2 really be a 3D console?
Yes, pretty much. Speaking to a Japanese newspaper in June 2010, Iwata announced the company's "plans to make the successor to the Wii 3D compatible, telling (...) that «a full-scale entry into this field will take some time because 3D televisions will not catch on right away.»"
Around the same time, Iwata told a different Japanese newspaper that the Wii could not be upgraded to display 3D visuals but they would "probably do it with the next system."
If you display a 3D image, the image quality becomes extremely bad, so we'd probably do it with the next system. We're thinking that the timing should be once the 3D television adoption rate crosses the 30% mark. We're looking at the adoption trends.
Our next clue arrived in September, courtesy of Spanish gaming site 3DJuegos (Spanish) which quoted ´Metroid´ co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto as follows:
At Nintendo we always have the obligation to surprise users with a new console. We have never done what others do. We prefer to create something new that catches people's attention, and I think this will continue at this time. Surely the new Nintendo machine will leave you all with your mouths open.
And finally, in a recent feature, IGN found more clues regarding Wii 2 being a 3D console (although they failed to quote the above statements). In a Japanese interview last September, again translated by Andriasang, game developer Tomonobu Itagaki (´Ninja Gaiden´, ´Dead or Alive´) spoke about his upcoming game ´Devil's Third.
Mysteriously, Itagaki said that the game could be released on platforms in addition to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. "We're developing it so that it can be brought to as yet unknown hardware as well. Specifically, the various areas of technology are scalable."
Impress asked if this means Nintendo 3DS and a next generation PSP are included in Itagaki's sights. Responded Itagaki, "More than that, although I can't say this easily because I don't have any information, it's possible that Nintendo could release a higher end console. Something like that."
As far as a possible launch window for a Wii successor is concerned (which I am not concerned with in this article), bear in mind that the game is slated for an early 2012 release.
The IGN feature does not separate the context correctly. The above quote was not made in the context of 3D visuals. Yet, only a few paragraphs above, Itagaki had noted his interest for such technology:
Itagaki appears to be big on 3D as a whole, saying "The thing I'm most interested in now may be 3D televisions." Rather than necessarily feeling the appeal of 3D itself, though, Itagaki said that he just likes new things. There are positive and negative aspects to 3D, he explained. The positive aspects include the impact of the visuals, and the wider expressive power. The negative aspects include the narrow sweet spot and the requirement for goggles.
So, in conclusion, there are "plans to make the successor to the Wii 3D compatible" and Nintendo would "probably do it with the next system" (both quotes by Iwata). "The new Nintendo machine will leave you all with your mouths open," a key Nintendo developer promises and a third party developer says "it's possible that Nintendo could release a higher end console" soon after talking about 3D technology. I am not going out on a limb here when I interpret this as confirmation of Nintendo's next generation home console being a 3D console.
How will Wii 2 display 3D visuals?
As you noticed from his statements above, Iwata is tying the release date of a 3D home console to 3D screens already available in households, which would suggest Nintendo is no longer looking into selling proprietary screens itself. And in another interview, Iwata dismissed the idea of parallax barrier technology applied to big screens.
With this parallax barrier technology, the LCD must be a certain distance away from the screen. It also needs a certain viewing angle. We think it is not a great match for the home TV set. As one of the engineers, I can anticipate that someone will invent a 3D TV that does not require you to wear 3D glasses. As far as today is concerned I do not think they can do it well. We need an invention to make it happen. If you ask me when, I have no idea.
And yet I would like to suggest that Nintendo might be doing just that: opting for a proprietary screen to be used with their next-generation home console. Instead of waiting for multi-functional 3D-capable tv sets to penetrate the market, Nintendo might want to offer a dedicated (and thus cheaper) proprietary solution. It might not be a parallax barrier and you may as well be able to hook the console up to standard television sets (i.e. it might be an add-on rather than integrated into the hardware). But Nintendo might want to sell an autostereoscopic 3D display. There is some evidence to support this.
Such technology has been rumoured to be an upcoming peripheral for the Wii in the past. Most notably, in November 2005, Nintendo star designer Shigeru Miyamoto told Business Week:
It's convenient to make games that are played on TVs. But I always wanted to have a custom-sized screen that wasn't the typical four-cornered cathode-ray-tube TV. I've always thought that games would eventually break free of the confines of a TV screen to fill an entire room. But I would rather not say anything more about that.
Rumours of a ´last secret´ concerning the Wii persisted for some time. As late as October 2006, Nintendo of America´s Perrin Kaplan confirmed that some features of the console had not yet been announced, saying "We do have a couple of other surprises" and noting that they would especially please the hardcore crowd.
Later that month, Reggie Fils-Aime was rumoured to have hinted at a "big Wii revelation" that would be announced around launch.
Specific rumours regarding some kind of 3D projection device started very early on, especially in the wake of the brilliant fake that was the Nintendo ON. But there were hard facts, too. There was (and is) proof that a Japanese gaming company had invested in 3D projection technology. Today, we still do not know which company is mentioned. Could it have been Nintendo investing in technology that will make it into the Wii successor?
If you want to read a dated, but thorough article about other hints at the Wii being coupled with a proprietary screen, check out an old Xgaming feature (via Wayback Machine). There are plenty of fakes in there, but it is worthwhile to consider the quotes and the patent, which baffle us still today. Of course, you can also just skim through my archive.
I think it is important, at this point, to consider what form a proprietary display could take and how much it could change gaming. Please consider the following excerpt of a Ubidays 2007 trailer.
Of course, Ubisoft denied that any such hardware ever existed or was ever planned. But the mock-up is inspiring nevertheless. And there is a small chance that Nintendo might be considering a 3D projector like this one for its next-generation home console. At the very least, the company considered selling a proprietary display for its last home console. And, again, this is a significant admission.
EDIT In fact, Nintendo translated the ´Iwata asks´ session themselves. Here are the relevant excerpts:
To go back a little further, the Nintendo GameCube system actually had 3D-compatible circuitry built in.Huh?It had the potential for such functions.Nintendo GameCube did? And all the Nintendo GameCubes systems around the world?Yeah. If you fit it with a certain accessory, it could display 3D images.What a secret!Nintendo GameCube was released in 2001, exactly ten years ago. We’d been thinking about 3D for a long time even back then.Why didn’t anyone ever know?The liquid crystal for it was still expensive. Simply put, Nintendo GameCube could display 3D images if you attached a special LCD, but that special liquid crystal was really expensive back then.Yeah, we’re talking about ten years ago.We couldn’t have done it without selling it for a price far above that of the Nintendo GameCube system, itself! We already had a game for it, though—Luigi’s Mansion, simultaneously released with Nintendo GameCube.The one in which Luigi shoulders a vacuum cleaner?Yeah, that one. We had a functional version of that in 3D.That was 3D?It would jump out at you pretty nicely.Even without special glasses, the 3D looked pretty good. But we considered how much the liquid crystal would cost, and it was just too expensive. We figured the market just wasn’t there for it.So you gave up. Whew! And now you’ve done it. I see! You never give up!Yeah. We never give up. (laughs)(laughs)I bet the one who was most persistent in pursuing 3D was Miyamoto-san.(laughs)