Friday, March 25, 2011

3DS hardware components cost $100

Analysts have estimated that the total costs of the Nintendo 3DS hardware components (a so-called ´bill of materials´ or B.O.M. estimate) comes to $100. The figure was made public by Eurogamer who have been given a preliminary estimate by David Carey, VP of technical intelligence for UBM TechInsights.

Bear in mind that the costs for assembly and distribution are not included and Nintendo will be keen on recouping their research and development investments, too. Still, the margin between the $100 B.O.M. and a $250 retail price appears unusually large, even given that Nintendo does not subsidise their consoles. After all, the positive reaction of journalists after the 3DS outing at E3 2010 was to blame that for the console to be marked up somewhat.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

3DS review

Since getting back from GDC in San Francisco, it's been a busy two weeks for me. But now, the GDC special of the weekly technology program I work for has aired and so have our video diaries on Facebook. Why not watch all of it and pick up some German?

Right in the midst of all this work, on Friday 11th, I got a parcel which certainly sweetened my weekend (and subsequent days). I got a 3DS and have been playing around with it pretty much every waking moment I could spare, playing ´Nintendogs + Cats´, ´Pilotwings Resort´ and ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´. It is a great console and it will take the market by storm, I am sure, but there are also indications of the device being rushed to market. Let me give you my impressions in detail.

The 3DS in comparison with the DSlite and the DSi XL

While I have always felt that the 3DS lacks the high-class finish of the DSi XL, the retail unit feels better than the various prototypes I handled. It still lacks the satinized surface of the XL and it oddly lacks the minimalistic design of most of its predecessors which was highly reminiscent of Apple products, but you will not be disappointed by the look and feel of the hardware. Particularly the gradient in both the cosmos black and aqua blue (which really is a green turquoise colour) looks nice.

In-built software

Nintendo Germany were quite clever. They sent out the units a few days ahead of the games. So we were forced to play around with the software that comes with the system, which we might not have done with a number of proper games to try out. None of them, it must be said, do the hardware power of the device any justice. Then again, the 3DS channels are not meant to wow you graphically. There are some nice tools in there, though. The augmented reality channel works a treat and is not what you might immediately expect from a system whose main feature is 3D vision. Similarly, Face Raiders is a wonderfully quirky idea and will keep you busy for some time.

The Mii Maker is a sobering experience, though. You will have seen that advert where a guy takes a snapshot of himself which is turned into a Mii with a great likeness. This simply does not work in my experience. You have to tell the system a surprising amount of detail first. And still, most Miis will look nothing like the person in the photo. Sure, there are some additional facial features and options for crafting Miis by hand, above and beyond the Wii's Mii Channel. But the promise of turning photos into Miis did not materialise.

The channel home screens rotate faster depending on microphone input

There is one tiny, almost insignificant feature which I would like to spend some time on, though. Watch the video above and see how you can manipulate the rotation speed for the 3DS channel home screens. You blow, cough or whistle and the Mii Plaza, for example, turns quicker. Sweet, I thought at first. But there is something akin to a bug in there. If you take the system with you onto a bus or train (which is what you would do with a portable console, right?) the constant background noise will make all objects rotate constantly at a very high speed. Watching this in 3D made me extremely dizzy - and I almost never suffer any adverse effects when perceiving 3D visuals. It would have been fairly easy to teach the system to tell short noise bursts and constant background noise apart, to prevent the latter from manipulating the rotation speed. The fact that Nintendo did not makes me believe that the system was, at least slightly, rushed to market. There are other little details that might suggest this.

The 3D effect

Okay, but let us focus on the main feature of the device. You will remember that the gaming press who tested the 3DS at E3 last year were unanimously euphoric. And my various hands-on sessions prior to me actually receiving the console mirrored that. It is a very pronounced 3D effect,while extremely easy on the eyes. And coupled with the increased hardware power, there is an amazing amount of detail to discover in the 3D images.

What has been baffling me is the seemingly large variation in the viewing angles. As you tilt the device sideways while playing, you will reach a point at which the two images are no longer exclusively seen by the eye they are meant for. You will see a double image, two layers which are slightly off, until you bring the device back into a middle position in front of you. This tolerance varies greatly from game to game. The built-in software seems to have a large tolerance, as does ´Nintendogs + Cats´. ´Pilotwings Resort´ seems to be somewhere in the middle, while ´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is rather difficult to handle. And I believe the reason to be more than just the fact that you are more likely to tilt the console in a heated ´Street Fighter´ battle than you are when gently stroking a dog. It appears to also be related to the objects and depth portrayed on screen.

Do not get me wrong. In any game, you will find that sweet spot and be mesmerised by the visuals. But some games seem to be more suited to be actually played on the road than others.


Now, let us briefly talk about the software titles Nintendo has kindly supplied. My expectations of which game would be the best were surprisingly overturned. I expected ´Nintendogs + Cats´ to not really interest me a lot. I had played the first version silly, or rather various versions, to be honest. And I expected to be finished with virtual pets for life. But this title will become the top seller, I am sure. When you see those beautifully rendered puppies put their little feet up on the frame of the screen, your heart will melt. This is nothing like the original games, I tell you.

Similarly with ´Pilotwings Resort´, I expected to be turned off by the fact that we all know Wuhu island by now and the gameplay is not exactly what a hardcore gamer has in mind. But there are amazing moments in the game which really play out the whole 3D experience: closely brushing past a tower or plummeting towards the ground from great height just feel awesome.

´Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition´ is another matter, unfortunately. The game itself is absolutely great. The visuals clearly illustrate the hardware power of the device. But the implementation of almost all menus into the game is rubbish. When you finish a battle, a window may just pop up out of nowhere above the layers that you had adjusted to, which feels very uncomfortable. In fact, in some camera angles, the character will actually slice through a status window. Also, the story sequences are entirely in 2D and the animated sequences just before and after each match are barely 3D. I realise it is a port, but it shows. It is still a great game, but I am shaking my head in disbelief at the little blemishes. After all, this game is distributed by Nintendo. Again, I get the feeling that the title just had to ship regardless.

Kiss my shiny, metal console: The 3DS surface has a metallic touch to it


I think that you will see some evidence here and there that the system may have been rushed out the door. Luckily, none of these details matter all too much. The menu rotation aspect will surely be addressed in upcoming firmware updates. Little flaws in a ported game will be forgotten about once the exclusive titles like ´Resident Evil´ and ´Metal Gear Solid´ start rolling in. (On that note: do not expect MGS to come out this year) The 3DS is, for the most parts or certainly all the parts that really matter, a great system and sure to be the first 3D entertainment device the public will eat up. I certainly will.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wii successor will surprise, Konno confirms

Nintendo's Hideki Konno, in charge of the 3DS hardware since 2008, has repeated that the company's next home console will surprise people. He did not confirm that 3D was planned for home consoles, of course. Previously, though, various Nintendo executives and producers made similar statements.

In a 45-minute interview with me, Konno said that simply transferring the 3DS' visual experience to a home console would not be enough. He also expressed doubts about peripherals needed for viewing 3D visuals, referring to glasses and proprietary screens alike. You will remember that Nintendo toyed with the idea of offering a separate autostereoscopic screen for the Gamecube, but canned the idea.

Konno went on to state that the strength of the 3DS was in offering 3D visuals out of the box. Also, its portability allowed for others to experience the device easily. When pressed about cooperations with movie studios, he could not confirm whether full-length 3D movies will be available on the console. So far, only movie trailers have been announced.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

PS3 shipments confiscated in Europe, Mizuguchi to produce gaming documentary

While we landed in San Francisco for GDC, some big news are coming out Europe. A Dutch court has ruled in favour of an injunction by electronics giant LG against Sony, resulting in the confiscation all PlayStation3 console shipments destined for the European market for at least the next ten days, British newspaper The Guardian reports.

Tens of thousands of PS3s were seized by customs officers last week in the Netherlands, the Guardian has learnt, in a dispute that centres on Sony's allegedly infringing use of Blu-ray technology belonging to LG. Sony, which imports around 100,000 of the consoles a week, is frantically trying to get the ban lifted. The Japanese company has the right to appeal to the European patents office.

LG meanwhile, could apply to the same patents office to get the 10-day import ban extended. Alternatively, the Korean company could apply for a court order to get the consoles destroyed but it is highly unlikely the court would grant a request to eliminate the warehoused goods.

LG argues that Sony PS3s infringe a number of its patents relating to playback of Blu-ray Discs. LG called for an investigation into the PS3's Blu-ray use in a filing with the US international trade commission earlier this month, and said it sought a "permanent exclusion order ... excluding entry into the United States" of the games console.

If Sony is found to have infringed LG patents, it could be forced to compensate the South Korean manufacturer for each PS3 it has sold around the world, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

On a side note, I just chatted to star developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Space Channel 5) who is producing a 45 minute documentary about videogames for Japanese television network NHK. He swapped his GDC developer badge for a media one and has joined our ranks, at least temporarily. Great idea, I find. Unfortunately, he was unsure about the documentary being available online. It will air in Japan at the end of this month.

EDIT Regarding the temporary PS3 import ban is concerned, it has been lifted. The dispute, though, is not yet over:

"The latest ruling orders LG to pay substantial damages, however it does not mean Sony is off the hook. It will still have to defend the claims of patent infringement at a later date."