GDC: Nintendo announces DS online, first Revolution details

DS gets Wi-Fi later this year, Revolution goes online and stays backward compatible.

You can download Satoru Iwata's keynote in video form from Eurofiles.

The wraps have finally come off Nintendo's online plans, with president Satoru Iwata revealing that a free Wi-Fi service for the DS will launch later this year - and will also be a standard feature of the Revolution next-gen console.

Speaking on the same stage that played host to Microsoft's J Allard yesterday, Iwata's keynote - delivered in English - outlined Nintendo's approach to game development and plans for the future.

In an hour-long talk which was regularly interrupted by bursts of applause from the audience, the biggest news was undoubtedly the company's move into the online gaming market, which Iwata argued was a logical progression from its past products.

"I want to announce today that following the groundbreaking work we have always done in connecting players, we will aggressively pursue Wi-Fi technology, starting with the Nintendo DS," he told the crowd.

The wireless online service for the console will use a common interface and API for both WiFi and LAN play, he said, so that it will feel the same for consumers to use either service, while the "most important consumer barrier" will be removed by making the service free.

Although he did not commit to an exact timescale for the roll-out of the service, he said that the infrastructure is almost complete, and pledged that developers will have kits for the WiFi service by the time E3 arrives in May - with the first games set to launch with Wi-Fi support by the end of the year.

The only Wi-Fi game which was demonstrated during the keynote was Animal Crossing WiFi, which Iwata said was chosen as an example of a "non-game game - a form of entertainment that doesn't have a winner or even a real conclusion", and as a game whose play style would be unaffected by latency.

Speaking briefly about Revolution, Iwata announced a number of hard details regarding the next-generation system for the first time - including the fact that the console will be backwards compatible with the GameCube, and will have WiFi online functionality built into the system.

The chips for the system are on schedule, he claimed, with ATI working on a custom graphics part codenamed "Hollywood" and IBM working on a chip called "Broadway" - the capitals of movie entertainment and stage entertainment respectively, he noted.

And in line with comments from Microsoft's J Allard and Sony's Mark DeLoura yesterday, Iwata promised that Revolution will not be a difficult platform to develop for. "Even though the game experience will be very different for players, developing for Revolution will be familiar," he pledged. "There will be no steep new learning curve. It's a place where the best ideas, not the biggest budget, will win."

Iwata opened his keynote with a talk about his own background as a game developer, including a mention of the first game he wrote - a baseball game on a programmable calculator - and his role as a founder of what is now one of Nintendo's key second party developers, HAL Labs, while still studying at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

The former game designer took part in an 8-player wireless game of Mario Kart DS on stage (in which he came in the bottom half of the table, much to his dismay) and also presented a stunning new video of the next Zelda game on the Cube, along with demonstrations of two of the company's "non-game games" on the DS - puppy simulator Nintendogs, and visual music creation title Electroplankton. Three separate videos of the speech, along with all-new game footage is available for download on Eurofiles now.

Speaking about Nintendo's plans for the future, Iwata introduced the metaphor of a "universe" of interactive entertainment. "There is a planet we call videogames," he said, "and it is the one we know best, but it is only one planet. Also in this universe are other planets that entertain, but in a different way from current videogames. It is this part of the universe that we are anxious to explore."

"On one hand," he continued, "we work every day to make what we now describe as videogames better. We want to give the players what they want. But at the same time, we are intent on finding out what else we can do to entertain. We want to do something new, to show players something that they may not even know they want."

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