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Digital Foundry vs. 3DS

Tech talk and brand new demo analysis.

Thank Nintendo for this year's slice of E3 wonder. Last year Microsoft blew minds with the first reveal of Project Natal, but "the big N" appears to have sewn up E3 2010 with the only new piece of gaming hardware we'll see at this year's show: Nintendo 3DS.

Let's get out of the way everything that it isn't. There's absolutely no sign at all of an NVIDIA Tegra GPU in this as previously reported, and clearly the graphics technology is not in the same league. Earlier suggestions that the new console would be in the same visual class as PS3 or Xbox 360 are incorrect.

What we do have is a massively significant increase in rendering power over the existing DS, leap-frogging the PSP and probably offering around the same horsepower as a Dreamcast, maybe in some respects giving PS2-level performance. But from everything I've seen so far there's no sign of the sort of rendering features that you see in iPad or iPhone 3GS, so no evidence of programmable pixel shaders or other state-of-the-art OpenGL ES 2.0 loveliness.

Nintendo being Nintendo, there's very little coming out of the company about the technical make-up of the machine itself. However, it's clear that it is using ARM CPU architecture (albeit with a likely significant speed boost over DSi) so as to maintain compatibility with the existing range of DS hardware.

Well-informed sources have told us that after the NVIDIA deal went south a while back, Nintendo sourced a new graphics processor from closer to home. Japanese firm DMP is strongly rumoured to be providing the GPU for 3DS: certainly the firm's association with close Nintendo partner NEC, along with the fact that its graphics core is already being used with an auto-stereoscopic display, make it the most likely candidate by far.

Visually intensive games like Metal Gear Solid look fantastic on the 3DS.

If the GPU within the Nintendo 3DS is less powerful than some might have hoped for, the actual presentation via auto-stereoscopic 3D display is nothing short of sensational. The 3D image gives plenty of depth and looks superb: bright, clear and very crisp, right up there with the best PSP screens, albeit with that extra, crucial dimension.

In contrast to the current 3D screens using glasses, there's absolutely no dulled image quality with 3DS. Conventional stereo 3D requires half of the light emitted by the display to be sent to each eye, reducing overall clarity. Not so with 3DS, which is vibrant and beautiful.

My first port of call after returning from the E3 showfloor was to check out Oli Welsh's initial hands-on posted earlier in the day. Interestingly it's clear that my extended demo session covers a whole range of extra content: behind the scenes, Nintendo has three different 3DS prototypes, each with its onboard memory packed with a different selection of demos.

Getting to see them all in the charged E3 atmosphere and essentially hogging the hottest item on the showfloor isn't easy, but Nintendo is very courteous in allowing extended access to every piece of material available so we can provide the most accurate and extensive reportage possible.

There's plenty of it, too - a refreshing state of affairs for a system still apparently in development. Star of the 3DS content is clearly Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater, presented in a so-called "Naked Sample Edition" for E3.

Oli's already raved about this, but this is an important title not least because Kojima Productions has put its name to it, meaning that it's the real deal. Not only that but the demo itself is very reminiscent of the extended trailers Kojima-san's team used to put together to thrill us at the trade shows of yore. There's just one difference with this one: it's clearly running in real-time, and we have control of the camera via the analogue nub.

Switching between first- and third-person cameras we get to see Snake moving stealthily through the jungle, facing a giant snake that pops out of the screen, negotiating his way past an enemy patrol, crossing a rope bridge and evading a swarm of bees (!) before facing off against a boss [surely "Boss" - Ed] in a field of flowers shedding their petals. Beautiful stuff. If you ever get to check out this demo, you will instantly want to buy a 3DS. It's that compelling.

In a similar vein to the MGS demo we have Resident Evil: Revelations from Capcom. No gameplay environments, but what we do have is a cut-scene featuring dynamic camera tweaking, zoom options and a pause button for appreciating some of the more spectacular shots.

What impresses here is that it looks as though Capcom has tried to scale back its Resident Evil 5 models to work on the 3DS. While backgrounds are very simplistic, those player models are astonishingly well-realised and very good-looking. The fact that the Chris Redfield model is readily recognisable from his HD adventures speaks for itself.

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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