For some time now I have been pondering the possibility that Nintendo might be developing a type of “hybrid” portable/home console format as its intended “gimmick” for codename “NX”. Though many have interpreted this to mean one single device that is portable while also capable of connecting to a television, in my mind I see this as two distinct yet compatible platforms that function as one architecture, ergo the “hybrid”moniker. My reasoning for concluding such a seemingly outlandish hypothesis is actually grounded in facts already detailed by Nintendo themselves, in actions as well as words. The most notable indicator of this possible concept came when Nintendo announced in 2013 that they would be consolidating their home console and portable divisions under one roof, which just so happened to occur around the time when development for the NX was first initiated. Another major clue we were given hinting that Nintendo might very well be heading in this direction arrived in the form of a financial report earlier this year from Nintendo 3DS ROM chip supplier Macronix. Their Chairman, Wu Miin was quoted during a quarterly forecast that they expected the next quarter to be as strong as the previous one due to the impending Nintendo NX launch. Though rather vague at first blush this statement might well have been attributed to internal chips used by the NX system itself. Macronix being one of the main suppliers of 3DS game cartridge ROM chips for Nintendo has lead many, including myself, to believe that it is highly possible they could also be hard at work developing game cartridges for the NX. This could indicate a transition from optical discs back to a cartridge-based game media not utilized in a home console since the Nintendo 64. A shift from discs to high capacity cartridges could result in seamless transitions between a portable platform, let’s call it the “NX-P”, and a home console, the “NX-C”, with a single shared software media.
Sound’s pretty good so far, huh? Unfortunately there are a few “snags” in this hypothesis, specifically in regards with utilizing this cartridge-based game media. Those “snags” being the cartridge’s size and replication costs. As attractive as high speed, removable ROM-based media seems, the big problem is that average game sizes are around 40-60Gb before any DLC packs are even factored in. Even though there would most definitely be a huge savings for Nintendo buying these cartridges in the kinds of bulk orders required to support millions upon millions of consoles, they would still be more expensive than the considerably cheaper, high capacity Blu-ray media already standard across current platforms, even though data transfer speed for cartridges far exceed optical disc data retrieval. Using a Chinese-based company such as Macronix, costs would likely be further offset, and considering the ever-declining cost-per-gigabyte associated with solid state media there is still a chance that cartridges on the NX could achieve the required capacities to satisfy 3rd party developers’ ever-growing game space requirements. As for the previously mentioned DLC data Nintendo would likely include on-board solid state memory on both NX-P and NX-C consoles. But their partnership with Macronix might allow Nintendo the advantage of also having them develop high-capacity flash cards with a proprietary design that if made inexpensive enough could allow for say 64-256gb of storage that could be removed and shared along with the games between consoles!
But I think we’re missing the meat of this hypothesis. What would Nintendo have to gain by marrying the NX-C and NX-P devices with shared software? I think the most obvious advantage initially is that with their software teams all working in unison their quantity of output will not only be potentially higher but the quality of the games produced will also likely be on par with their competitors. The advantages available for third party developers are also of consideration. If a studio develops a game for the NX platforms they immediately have two compatible but separate systems that title will work with, allowing for potentially two revenue streams for every game developed on the NX.
I’m sure at this point you’re saying to yourself,”Well this NX-P thingy is going to cause games to be far less advanced than other consoles!” And you’d be right! There is no way that Nintendo could possibly release an affordable, advanced, portable system capable of competing even with the current PS4 and Xbox One consoles, much less their successors, the PS4 “Neo” and Project Scorpio. But what if Nintendo’s NX-C home console could “hold its own” and sustain an equivalent level of perceived graphical fidelity (i.e. solid 1080p/60fps gameplay) while utilizing a shared architecture with the NX-P so that the games resolution and levels of detail can be scaled down, as PC developers are already well acquainted with, to something akin to the Wii U’s standard 720p/30fps? Sounds weak you say? Well that’s the same fidelity shown in this year’s Game Critics Awards E3 Best of Show, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That would mean that every game you play on your NX-C would immediately go with you wherever you go on your NX-P! The same cartridge would play the same game on both compatible platforms at different resolutions, offering you the unique opportunity to transfer your console experience onto the portable system!
As for marketing such an ambitious endeavor most people probably believe that Nintendo would be forced to combine these two platforms into one package or SKU making its cost skyrocket, but that’s not necessarily the case at all. Consider this: if the NX is indeed a 100% shared platform, why wouldn’t Nintendo offer them as two “lower priced” units? And for those who want both, Nintendo could offer a combined SKU box set. You don’t think a gold Breath of the Wild NX-P/NX-C box set wouldn’t fly off of store shelves?
Here’s some food for thought: shortly before Mr. Iwata’s untimely death he made a rather revealing statement during the March 2014 3rd Quarter Nintendo Financial Briefing regarding precisely what he envisioned the NX would be:
“…In this perspective, while we are only going to be able to start this with the next system [NX], it will become important for us to accurately take advantage of what we have done with the Wii U architecture. It of course does not mean that we are going to use exactly the same architecture as Wii U, but we are going to create a system that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately. When this happens, home consoles and handheld devices will no longer be completely different, and they will become like brothers in a family of systems.
Still, I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform. To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models. The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples. Whether we will ultimately need just one device will be determined by what consumers demand in the future, and that is not something we know at the moment. However, we are hoping to change and correct the situation in which we develop games for different platforms individually and sometimes disappoint consumers with game shortages as we attempt to move from one platform to another, and we believe that we will be able to deliver tangible results in the future.”
Quite interesting, as it seems that Mr. Iwata was likely referring to the Wii U Gamepad as the architecture Nintendo was utilizing as a starting point for the NX development, alluding to some form of portable screen device working in conjunction with a home console, not as one system, but in a family of systems like “brothers”. Also that he stated Nintendo hopes to emulate Apple and Android by developing a “common platform” for Nintendo’s future systems to program for. Just keep in mind that I do understand this is all my own conjecture and postulating based on the limited facts Nintendo has allowed us to know of their codename “NX” console. So it is with asbestos undies I open myself up to your fire-bathed perspectives!
And as always, game-on users!