Revolution: Worth the Wait?

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posted 6/24/2005 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
Revolution. The word itself sparks controversy. It implies upheaval, new ideas, monumental change. It’s also the codename of Nintendo’s next generation console. By design, the Big N has been aggravatingly secretive about the machine. While Sony and Microsoft have flaunted and flashed their machines at the media, Nintendo has kept theirs vaulted behind closed doors. The big question: is this smart? Should Iwata and company be adamantly sitting on this so-called revolutionary machine, while their competitors are getting all of the attention? Is the Revolution even worth the wait, or will it be another huge gimmick, like the virtual boy? Here’s what I think.

I’m going to break this down section by section, feature by feature, and give my opinion of every aspect of the N’s new machine, from its guts to the games it’ll be playing. I hope you find my ideas informative and though-provoking, but above all I hope I don’t piss off too many people. I’ll be honest, I’m a Nintendo fan, but a lot of this Revolution business has me scratching my head like the rest of you. So, for starters...



Hardware:
What everyone wants to know: how powerful will it be? Well, Nintendo hasn’t really told us yet. Everyone was expecting this info to be available at E3, but it just didn’t happen. Despite popular opinion, I believe this was the intelligent decision. Sony and Microsoft got into a virtual shoving match about their respective machines’ capabilities, spouting system specs and trying to one-up each other.

Per usual, Nintendo was more-soft spoken. They didn’t promise a processing beast that could power the known universe, they simply said that the Revolution would be "2 to3 times more powerful than the GameCube." Huh? That’s all? That’s what I said at first. But Nintendo also stated that they wanted a quiet, cool-running console that wouldn’t suck electricity as if through a straw.

What it comes down to is how that power is used. Nintendo and its developers are notorious for squeezing blood out of rocks when it comes to hardware. Look at Metroid Prime and its sequel; they look almost as good as some current-generation PC titles. Satoru Iwata stated that massive power is not the way of the future; rather, innovation is the key. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Revolution won’t pull its weight. ATI is manufacturing the GPU, codenamed Hollywood, and IBM is making the CPU, tagged Broadway. Both companies have done well for Nintendo in the past, and I have no reason to believe that they’ll screw up this time. Sure, the names are a bit funky, but I’m sure they’ll be changed. "Ultra64" and "Project Dolphin" didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either.


Secondary Hardware:
The Revolution will not have a hard drive. Now, before you pick up your torches and pitchforks, hear me out. I think this is a good idea. The PS3 and Xbox 360 are shaping up to be proverbial "does it all" machines, and personally I don’t think that the industry is ready for that. Both consoles will need an incredible amount of user-friendly streamlining to function and interact with the consumer at a reasonable level, and with all the bells and whistled packed into them, I don’t think it’s going to work out that way. The typical consumer, the people who are intimidated by technology, will be confounded by the massive amount of options available to them. Nintendo is keeping things simple.

Instead of a massive hard disk, the Revolution will utilize 512MB flash memory cards, which can be swapped in and out with ease. This is perfect for the average consumer; Nintendo wants a machine that not only tech-geek gamers can operate, but a console that is easily approachable for five-year old kids and eighty-year old grandmas too. A hard drive can be a finicky piece of hardware, and is far more likely to fail than flash cards. Cards are also much easier to understand and use. Nintendo promised that the data stored on the flash units could be transferred to an SD card, or to a PC, for management and storage. The Revolution’s data saving format is easy to use for everyone.

And since the PS3 and 360 hard drives will mostly be used to store pirated MP3’s anyway, I think Nintendo is on the right track.

The internal memory is being developed by MoSys, and there isn’t a lot of info on it now. It’s 512 meg of 1T-SRAM, and that’s all they’re saying. Suffice it to say that MoSys is a reliable manufacturer, and their memory on the GameCube is solid and efficient.




Connections/Video Support:
Some people got a close look at the Revolution at E3, and they reported on what hind of hookups it has on the back. Apparently it has proprietary component/digital out, and two USB 2.0 slots. Makes sense; it’s all standard equipment these days.

Now for the part I don’t get: there will be no, repeat NO high definition support. What?!! Nintendo sights a lack of HD cable sales for the GameCube, and promises that Revolution games will still look great. My answer: of course the Cube had a small HD following, you had to order the freaking component cables from a website! They were practically impossible to find on the shelf! And, of course, there were fewer HD TV’s during the Cube’s lifetime, and they were rather expensive.

A common trend in technology is that it gets smaller, faster, and overall cheaper within a short amount if time. HD TV’s are following suit. They will be quite common in a few years, and Nintendo needs to keep up on this one. They’ve bucked trends before; sometimes they were right, often they were wrong. They’re making a mistake here, and I can feel it. Who knows, maybe if enough people complain, they’ll change their minds. Start the letter writing campaigns, people.


Peripherals:
Nintendo’s finally getting into the DVD race, with an add-on device for the Revolution. Yes, it’s something extra to buy, but I doubt that it’ll run for much more than thirty bucks. Nothing has been revealed about this doohickey other than it’ll play standard DVD’s (go figure), so I can’t really give an opinion right now. Just remember that Microsoft pulled this fast one with the Xbox (remember the remote that "unlocked" the DVD player?) so I don’t think that making the player a peripheral will hurt Nintendo in the long run.



Online/Wireless:
The GameCube was the "solitary" console of the current generation. It had very limited online capability, while the PS2 and Xbox created small, teeming communities of online gamers. The ‘Cube had only two true online titles (Phantasy Star Online and its sequel, C.A.R.D.), and a handful of LAN capable games. Developers scoffed. Competitors snickered. Xbox fans guffawed...ahem. The reason for this is clear after a closer look, and again ties into Nintendo’s core strategy: online wasn’t easy on the GameCube.

Think about it. Xbox live required the kit and the headset, and a monthly fee. Sure, Halo fanboys went hog-wild for the service; that was a given and exactly what Microsoft was aiming for. Nintendo opted out of this line of though for the same reasons Microsoft carried through with it: that kind of online only attracted a hardcore audience.

The Revolution’s online service is targeting a mass audience, people from all walks of life, from the casual gamer to the hardcore. To make it appealing to so many different people, Revolution online will be seamless. It will be fast. And most importantly, it will be totally free.

The Revolution will not have an Ethernet jack; rather, Nintendo is basing its new service on a WiFi system, running 802.11b and 802.11g wireless. The possibilities are tantalizing. Gamers will have the ability to download a staggering twenty years of Nintendo content, titles for the NES, SNES and N64. First party games are certain, while second and third party software might require some negotiating (think Rare and Perfect Dark).

These past titles will not be free, but they will still be cheap and easy to download. Nintendo has hinted at special limited-time offers of free software and contest-oriented rewards. With this new service, Nintendo plans to create an online community the way it should be, with easy access to gamers worldwide and software that reflects this sense of community. Nintendo is entering the online battlefield in a big way.


Software:
Here’s where Nintendo will really make or break the Revolution. Everyone knows that a console with no games is a doorstop, and Nintendo learned this lesson the hard way with the GameCube. Remember the launch list? Rogue Leader was about the only game I was excited about, and I’m a Star Wars geek so that kind of follows. Mario was nowhere to be seen, and his bro Luigi was stuck in a short, bare-minimum kiddy adventure that primarily involved sucking ghosts. Thank god that the phenomenal Smash Bros. Melee showed up, or the Cube might’ve died before it got off the pad.

It turned out that Melee was the key. It gave the Cube enough steam to keep going, and sated fans long enough that they waited for Zelda Windwaker and Metroid Prime. Thankfully, Nintendo took notes and they’re following up on the Revolution.

Smash Bros. 3 will be the new console’s flagship title, and it makes perfect sense. Why have one or two mascots at launch, when you can have all of them? Melee contained a staggering twenty five playable characters that spanned Nintendo history, and its sequel will undoubtedly have more. With all of its unlockables and secrets, Melee chronicled twenty years of gaming, so it was a sure-buy for Nintendo fans. It was also damn fun, and ranks as one of the greatest party games of all time.

I have no doubt that the third installment will be an instant hit. It will push the already wide boundaries of Melee, and it will be online. Online Smash Bros. It’s a revolution in and of itself.

Added to that are Mario 128 and Metroid Prime 3. I’m already salivating, but we can expect a new Zelda not long after launch, and a new, yet unnamed intellectual property. Let’s hope it’s not another garden simulator. Still, keep in mind that the Revolution won’t just be a "masterpiece" console; Nintendo promises small, quirky independent titles too. To quote Satoru Iwata, "the Revolution will be a place where the best ideas win, not the biggest budgets."


Backwards Compatibility:
One of the biggest surprises about the Revolution is that it will be completely backwards compatible with the GameCube. At E3 we learned just how compatible, and I have to say I’m impressed. The Revolution’s primary format is standard 12CM double-layered DVD’s, but it has a "discerning" disk drive. You can pop either a Revolution or GameCube disk into the drive, and it’ll accept both without any configuration or hassle. Just slip in and play; again, with the simplicity. The top of the console snaps open to reveal four Cube controller ports and two memory card slots. The Revolution effectively has a GameCube built into it.

The other big surprise was the massive library of back titles available for download. The Revolution will be the first "virtual" system, eliminating the need for old consoles. Nintendo’s been experimenting with backwards compatibility on its handhelds, but I never expected a move like this, and I couldn’t be happier.


Style:
And now, for the all important sexy factor. The big three have been sleeking and smoothing their designs to maximize eye-catching appeal, and I’d have to say...Sony and Microsoft blew it. BIG time. First, the hallowed Playstation 3. We all know it’s going to be awesome, right? It’s going to be smooth as silk and even more gorgeous than the slim line PS2, right? Wrong. Let’s take a look, shall we?



Now we all know that pic is the result of clever Photoshoppery, but honestly, the PS3 does look like a grill. Looking at it puts me in the mood for a flame-broiled steak, not Metal Gear Solid 4. And what about the controller? Maybe Sony stole one of Batman’s boomerangs and put buttons on it. How the hell are you supposed to hold that thing, anyway? It looks like hands would slip right off of those enormous handles.

The Xbox 360, on the other hand, isn’t so much of a train wreck. It’s rather attractive, really, in a cozy sort of way. But in terms of design, it’s such a huge shift from the previous Xbox that it doesn’t make sense. The original Xbox was the biggest, thickest, baddest thing on the shelf, with that intimidating green X and gargantuan controller. The 360 looks like a tiny silver home PC, and an Apple PC at that. The concave design is kind of nifty, but it looks...weak. Cute. Remember how much the GameCube got slammed for being cute? People called it a lunchbox. Now Microsoft is making the same mistake. Xbox went from "I’m a badass, don’t mess with me" to "hey, come and play with me!" The 360 controller shouts this at the top of its lungs. It’s supposedly very comfortable, but those candy-colored buttons and pearly white plastic give a preschool toy feel.

The Revolution is the prettiest. It’s the greatest of Nintendo’s design success stories, if you ask me. It captures both an edgy masculine coolness and a trim, sleek femininity at the same time. It’s also the picture of simplicity, without the odd shapes or doodads of the other next-gen consoles. Clearly the smallest of the three, it emphasizes a compact stylish alternative to beastly power, and its default color of shining jet black is infinitely better than the GameCube’s cuddly indigo. Wasn’t Sony going down this road? Why is the PS3 the biggest new console, why is it trash-can silver instead of small, dark and mysterious? Nintendo wins the sex-appeal award, hands down.


Speculation:
Now, what’s left? Why, the scads of rumors, of course! Nintendo’s lack of info on their new console has spawned dozens of them, and they range from the outrageous to the plausible. Visit any gaming forum and you’re bound to find "teh REvOluTion wil have holoGrams and it will be teh ROXORS!11" or something of that sort. While it’s fairly easy to dismiss such amateur claims, others are frighteningly realistic. Most rumors concern the yet unveiled controller, which we know nothing about other than it’ll be wireless out of the box.

  1. Revolution will have gyroscopic controllers. Possible? Yes. A while back Nintendo signed some contracts with a gyroscope manufacturer. Tilt-sensitive controllers would be very intuitive, and Nintendo has already implemented such technology in GBA games like Wario Ware Twisted.


  2. Revolution will have pressure-sensitive controllers. Possible? Perhaps. This rumor, like many others, started with a livejournal, posted by a supposed Revolution developer. While dynamic pressure control would be very cool, there’s really no solid evidence to back this rumor up.


  3. Revolution will utilize new 3D projection technology. Possible? Who knows? This rumor was big about a month ago, when famous filmmakers were chatting up 3D projection at a conference. One of them commented that a new game console would use such technology, but again this information is unreliable at best.


  4. Revolution will connect to the DS. Possible? Yes. Nintendo’s VP of sales and marketing, Reggie "kick ass and take names" Fils Aime stated that both systems were "certainly capable" of such connectivity, and considering Nintendo’s penchant for this kind of thing, I’d say this one is probable.


  5. The Revolution is an advanced form of the Power Glove. Possible? Well, anything’s possible. The Power Glove was really a waste of time, but that was almost twenty years ago. If they made the concept work (like those cool gloves in the film Minority Report) it could really change gaming. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this rumor.

At the end of the day, we really have a lot more questions than answers. The Revolution’s ground-breaking feature is still tight under wraps, and Nintendo’s not showing us anything until later this year. So far we’ve seen the console itself and we have some idea of the system’s capabilities, and the promise of some core-franchise software. The controller will be the next big revelation, and frankly I think it’s worth waiting for. Nintendo’s been in the business longer than anyone, they’re learning from their mistakes and they have some ideas about the industry that make a lot sense when you stop and think about them.

Gaming can’t stay on its current course without some innovation. Look at the entertainment industry; when was the last time you saw a really original movie or something besides a reality show on TV? Gaming needs some fresh content as well and Nintendo plans to deliver. Their radical strategies might seem almost heretical, but remember, they built most of this industry. Now they’re going to change it. Trust me. It’ll be worth the wait.