More on Nintendo DS
Not playable at E3 after all? No pricing either? What do we really know?
Nintendo may not be telling us anything particularly concrete about its Dual Screen system ahead of trade show E3, but thanks to articles in Japanese magazine Famitsu Weekly and interviews with various high-ranking Nintendo executives we're starting to get a more rounded appreciation of the new platform.
Here's a brief recap of what we learnt from the original frenzied announcement. The Nintendo DS will employ two backlit, vertically aligned, three-inch TFT LCD screens (ruling out use of Sharp 3D screens as speculated in some quarters), it runs off a pair of processors - an ARM9 and an ARM7 sub-processor - and it will use "up to a Gigabit" or "semiconductor memory" for storage.
Here's a few more things we've learnt since then. The DS will rely on a rechargeable battery power source, like the GBA SP (though not confirmed as precisely the same tech/parts), it will employ smaller memory cards than we've grown used to in Nintendo handhelds, any possible wireless communications options will remain secret until E3 (with Nintendo refusing to comment either way), and Nintendo is undecided as yet on whether to make the unit backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance.
However with that said, attention is now turning towards May's E3 trade show in Los Angeles, and what we can expect to see there and in the run up to the show. Nintendo has almost uniformly told people to buzz off until E3, but veepee of corporate affairs Perrin Kaplan did make a few interesting comments in an IGN interview this week. Slightly crushingly, Kaplan responded to a direct question about whether the handheld will be playable at E3 with "You will be able to experience enough of it to make your judgement," but she did have some more encouraging words, stating that we'll "probably see things" (i.e. photos of the device, or software, or other cold hard evidence) closer to E3. Let's hope by "closer" she isn't referring to Nintendo's pre-E3 conference...
Meanwhile, as analysts have been speculating on the price, Nintendo has also stated that the launch price might be announced at E3, but told Famitsu Weekly that fluctuating LCD prices may force it to reconsider announcing the price tag until afterwards. It's unlikely to set the console back any further, and it's also a useful excuse if Sony announces a PSP price point that Nintendo wants time to think about. Not that they're competing with Sony, you understand...
On the development front, the big worry is quite simply "Who the hell is making games for this thing?" Nintendo owners traditionally buy far more of the big N's products than anything else for their machines, so it won't come as much surprise to hear from Famitsu that Shigeru Miyamoto is involved in developing games for DS internally at Nintendo, but Kaplan was keen to talk up the prospect of third party involvement. "The main reason [that we announced it in January] is that we were heading out on the road to talk to licensees and provide them with developments kits," she told IGN. "We thought it would be a really good time to let the rest of the world know about the exciting new product and give them something to whet their appetite." Pressed on whether this meant there was lots of development interest, Kaplan responded, "with the few that we've talked with, yes, definitely." Japanese support? "Yes" again.
Finally, all this interest in the Nintendo DS has somewhat overshadowed the current state of the Game Boy Advance, which enjoys stellar hardware sales but has seen enthusiasm for software slide way down. Some independent games are even finding it hard to get shelf space from retailers. Some cynics might even argue that the DS announcement is geared at diverting attention away from the plight of GBA developers. Given the obvious parallels (and the potential overlap), Kaplan was also asked about separating the two units. "It will really depend on the software that's built for it - the games that are made that take advantage of two screens and the ability to either view two things at one time or view something in a larger manner," she said rather unhelpfully, but she did, like everyone else it seems, describe the DS as "something completely different". "There will be a whole separate marketing program versus it being an extension of the Game Boy Advance," he told IGN, although she couldn't comment on the budget other than to say we could fairly assume it would be big.
Finally then, how about the true successor to Game Boy Advance? Is that in development? "Yes." When will we hear more? "At a time that makes sense in the normal life cycle," she said, adding "the SP is still very much on the upside."
Nintendo DS - maybe the DS stands for Diversion Strategy?