Peek at the drawings used to design the original ‘Zelda’
To quote one of my favorite video game characters: Greatness, from small beginnings. To celebrate The Legend of Zelda’s 30th anniversary, Nintendo has released a handful of drawings that were used to design the first game in the franchise. They’re essentially graph paper, with shaded boxes to represent walls and bottomless pits. Careful markings indicate where doors and monsters should be, while a pair of tables explain which colors should be used. Each page offers some wonderful insights into how Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and others mapped out one of the most iconic video games of all time. Looking at them, I can’t help but crack a smile.
Nintendo used a similar approach for Super Mario Bros. and other classic titles from the 8-bit era. They’re worth remembering as you barrel through the 30 or so games available on the NES Classic Edition this Christmas (provided you can acquire one, of course). If you’ve always wanted to make your own game, there’s nothing to stop you from grabbing a pad of paper and some marker pens. Who knows, you might come up with the next Shovel Knight. Or just a new level to recreate in Super Mario Maker.
‘Super Mario Run’ hits 40 million downloads in four days
Nintendo has released official download figures for its first (true) smartphone game. 40 million people have tapped their way through the free version of Super Mario Run in just four days. The full game is priced at $10, but Nintendo didn’t reveal exactly how many Mario Runners have decided to take the plunge. How does that compare to 2016’s smartphone hit, Pokémon Go? Well, it’s not a simple comparison.
Super Mario Run launched globally, but only on iPhones and iPads. Meanwhile Pokémon Go launched cross-platform, but rolled out slowly across the globe. Pokémon Go hit 30 million downloads in two weeks. In sheer money-making terms, both games are free to play (initially), and while Pokémon Go depended on in-app purchases, Mario Run jut offered the single ten-dollar purchase for the entire game. There’s no other in-app purchases for Mario’s smartphone debut, at least, not yet.
Source: Nintendo (Japanese)
The Nintendo Switch could be twice as powerful while docked
Just how powerful is Nintendo’s next game console? We won’t know for sure until January, but if the latest report from Eurogamer pans out, the answer could be kind of complicated. According to specifications provided to developers, the Nintendo Switch performance changes depending on how you use it: in its docked, TV-mode or as a gaming portable.
Specifically, sources familiar with the system have revealed two different graphic processor specifications for the final Nintendo Switch hardware — an undocked portable profile that clocks the NVIDIA Tegra GPU at 307.2MHz and a docked, TV-based profile that more than doubles it to 768MHz. Doing some rough calculations using the Tegra X1 chip the Switch’s silicon is said to be based off of, we can guess the console can push around 400 gigaflops on FP32 while docked. Yes, that’s a lot of numbers, but don’t worry about the math too much. The long and short of it is that the latest numbers show that the Nintendo Switch will definitely outpace the Wii U — but it’s still a few hundred (or thousand) gigaflops shy of its competitors.
That said, nobody really expected the next Nintendo to keep place with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Nintendo dropped out of the race to the top years ago, and hasn’t made a move to be the ‘most powerful’ game console in over a decade. That doesn’t seem to be changing with the Nintendo Switch.
This was the year of VR, until AR stole it
This was supposed to be the year of virtual reality, but barely had 2016 started when Microsoft threw a spanner in the works with the announcement of HoloLens. Rather than taking us to a virtual world, Microsoft’s headset pulls virtual objects into our own. Microsoft calls these objects Holograms, much to the chagrin of hologram enthusiasts, but most people know them as tenets of mixed, or augmented, reality. It’s already being touted as the next next big thing.
Of course, 2016 was full of VR. With spring came the retail launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Valve-endorsed Vive. Both require two things: a lot of cash and a lot of power. The Rift costs $599 while the Vive is $799 (including controllers and tracking accoutrements). But then you need to factor in the price of a PC that can support the high-fidelity, high-speed visuals VR requires. A typical all-in price started from $1,500, putting it out of the range of all but the most ardent of gamers. That price has dropped and will continue to drop as cheaper, better graphics cards are released.
There are no firm figures for how many VR kits have been sold. Steam statistics suggest that just 0.34 percent of its users in November had a headset. Even counting gamers who don’t use Steam, that would likely put the total figure sold across both Vive and Oculus at well under a million. That estimation is in line with VR analytics group SuperData Research, which projected around 450,000 HTC Vive sales and 355,000 Oculus Rift sales for 2016.
Just as Oculus and HTC should’ve been dominating the news cycle, Magic Leap, the secretive Google-backed mixed reality (MR) startup, finally broke cover with a Wired feature. Magic Leap is basically promising to do the same things as HoloLens, but better.
Details are scant, but rather than projecting images onto a portion of a giant helmet (like Microsoft’s headset), Magic Leap will beam light into your eyes, using a system called Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal to give these objects depth and solidity. The company has yet to show off any hardware or software or even suggest a year when its tech will be ready, but it’s nonetheless one of the best-funded startups around. Wired’s Magic Leap feature came in April, within weeks of the Vive and Rift launches. The timing was obvious, and the message was clear: There’s something better around the corner.
In the meantime, an ex-Google startup with a couple dozen employees was preparing to steal everyone’s attention with a mobile game. I’m talking about Niantic, of course, and Pokémon Go, which was undoubtedly the hit game of the summer, if not the year.
Somewhat erroneously referred to as an augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go is better described as a location-based game, like geocaching, with a pervasive layer on top. Definitions aside, there can be no doubt that AR has been a big part of its huge success. When catching Pokémon, players are shown a live feed from their device’s camera with a monster overlaid. Hundreds of thousands of people shared these images on social media, helping spread intrigue about the game.
Before long, packs of Pokémon hunters were roaming New York, London, Paris and other locations around the world, searching for new monsters and using an AR system to help catch them. Unlike Niantic’s last game, Ingress, this wasn’t just geeks and gamers. I can count on one hand the number of Ingress players I know. With Pokémon Go, I can count on one hand the people I know who didn’t play it. My 64-year-old mom played. My 10-year-old son played. It felt like, at one point, almost everyone gave it a shot. By the time Niantic announced an Apple Watch app for Pokémon Go, the game had already been downloaded 500 million times. That’s a ridiculous number.
Of course, crazes rise and fall, and it’s safe to say that Pokémon Go is, if not gone, seemingly on its way out of the public’s imagination. But its impact remains. My colleague Kris Naudus referred to Pokémon Go as AR’s aha moment, and I agree. For a fleeting minute, the game brought a little Pokémon magic into our world. It’s one of the most basic implementations of AR around, but we found it compelling. That should be encouraging for Microsoft, Magic Leap and any other company that’s planning a mixed or augmented reality product.
So where does that leave virtual reality? Well, there are still plenty of headsets out there, and VR is not going away anytime soon. Sony launched the PlayStation VR just a month ago, and it’s expected to equal Vive and Rift sales combined by the year’s end. It’s not that PSVR offers a better experience than its PC-based cousins. It’s just a lot cheaper — $399 to $499, depending on your needs — and has a way bigger reach. Steam stats suggest little over 10 percent of PC gamers have a VR-ready computer. Every PlayStation 4 owner can plug in a PSVR and get started. That gives Sony somewhere between two and four times the potential audience.
And even PSVR’s prospective audience is dwarfed by the potential market for smartphone VR. Google has sold cheap Cardboard viewers for a couple of years, but this year the company announced Daydream, a new initiative to bring a more premium VR experience to mobile users. Daydream View is a $79, comfortable headset sold with a bundled motion controller. At present, only Google’s Pixel and the updated Moto Z are Daydream-certified — a side effect of the high standard of experience that Google is hoping to maintain — but you can bet that many Android phones will support the standard in 2017.
VR, AR, MR and every other “R” need to coexist for a while. For now virtual reality is the easiest to pull off — software and hardware makers have the fewest things to keep track of and complete control of the virtual environment — and also the most developed. It’s fairly easy for a developer to build a VR app or for a manufacturer to make a VR-ready phone. Mixed reality is clearly harder.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is effectively a wearable computer, making thousands of calculations every second just to understand its environment. And its limitations, such as field of view, are way more apparent than those of a VR headset. The virtual objects of HoloLens have to be small enough — or faraway enough — to fit into a small square in the middle of the headset. You simply can’t see the whole illusion. Perhaps Magic Leap already has the answer to that problem, but given how many years it’s been in development — and how little it’s shown so far — it’s likely not a simple thing to figure out.
In 2017, Microsoft’s partners will release a handful of $300 VR headsets for Windows. Rather than competing with existing VR products, these headsets are more like a diet HoloLens. You’ll get the same experience, interface and apps as HoloLens, but your entire environment will be virtual. Think of it like a gateway drug for mixed reality. In one swoop, it’s getting both developers and users ready for MR, without the tribulations of dealing with first-generation, hyper-expensive headsets.
At the same time, Google is currently working on a device that uses cameras and algorithms to display mixed reality inside a virtual reality headset. It’s essentially going to be a combination of VR and Google’s Tango computer vision efforts, with a lot of extra smarts added on top. Again, the project seems almost like a stepping-stone toward a more complete mixed reality experience. The device has yet to be announced, but sources familiar with the matter say it’s of great importance to the company.
The dark horse in all of this is Apple. As is tradition, there’s been a lot of speculation and questions asked about the company’s plans for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. CEO Tim Cook has said that AR is more interesting than VR, as it’s less closed off and more social. The company has already acquired an AR company, and it has experts in the field within its ranks. Its iPhones clearly have the power and sensors to pull off a Daydream-like VR experience immediately, but it’s obviously waiting to offer something more compelling to its users.
There can be no doubt that ‘virtual reality’ headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stopgap until mixed reality is ready.
There can be no doubt that “virtual reality” headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stop-gap until mixed reality is ready. That probably sounds like a bold statement, but it’s easy to justify. Mixed reality headsets will, at some point make virtual objects appear solid. HoloLens isn’t there yet, sure, but Magic Leap claims to be, and you can be sure Microsoft is working on it.
Once these headsets are able to display opaque objects and cover our entire field of view, developers and creatives will have total control over what we see. They can decide to mix or augment our surroundings, like we’ve already seen with Magic Leap and HoloLens, or completely scrap that environment and put us in a virtual space, like with a VR headset. It should only take a few taps to send us to an augmented reality, a virtual one and back to our own.
This year showed millions of people how fun it can be to see a digital creation entering their world. And maybe 2017 won’t be the year, but as technology catches up to its aspirations, we might soon be able to see how fun it is to have millions of digital creations do the same.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
‘Wolfenstein 3D’ ported to Game Boy Color on turbocharged cart
Yes, that’s a Game Boy Color cartridge sporting the Wolfenstein 3D logo. It’s not just cosmetic, because a modder named Anders Granlund has built a playable version of the classic FPS for the ancient handheld console. To give you an idea of the degree of difficulty, Granlund designed and built a custom ARM-powered board to power the graphics, and built it into the cartridge. The final result is playable on any Game Boy Color.
Wolfenstein 3D and its ’90s brethren Doom, have been modded for a number of unlikely devices, including a TI calculator and Canon printer. And in fact, Wolfenstein 3D was actually ported to the Game Boy Advance directly from the MS-DOS version.
However, this mod is on another level. Granlund used a breadboard to program the EEprom himself, then ordered a custom board, complete with pinouts. Using those, he added an NXP graphics processor, equipped with an ARM Cortex-M0 running at 48MHz. That chip is obviously more powerful than the Intel 386 CPU that originally ran Wolfestein on MS-DOS.
Once all that worked, Granlund ordered another custom board combining his original design and the NXP processor. After more tweaks, he ordered and received the final Rev. C cartridge, saying “everything works as expected and … I didn’t need any bodge wires this time around.” The whole thing is, of course, powered strictly with the Game Boy Color’s batteries.
The result is a game that plays amazingly smoothly on the 160 x 144 pixel screen, as you can see in the video above. A Reddit user perhaps sums it up best: “This is hella impressive. I mean, I’m absolutely in awe of the technical skill required to do this.”
Source: Anders Granlund
After Math: Come undone
It’s been a hell of a week, folks. American intelligence confirmed that Russia conspired to hack of our election, Uber unleashed a pack of poorly trained autonomous automobiles upon the streets of San Francisco, Snapchat’s Spectacles went all medicinal and Super Mario Run debuted on iOS. Numbers, because how else are you going to know how many fingers are feeding you magic?
Nintendo will take the Switch on a ‘Preview Tour’ next month
Nintendo’s next console launches in March, and the company wants everyone to know about it. Following its showcase on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the Mario maker has confirmed a global tour for the Switch. It’ll be shown off first in New York this January (13-15), followed by Toronto (27-29) and Pax South in San Antonio (27-29). It’ll then head to Washington for three days in February (10-12), before making its way through Chicago (17-19) and San Francisco (24-26). The tour wraps up in March with stops in Los Angeles (3-5th), Pax East (16-18) and SXSW (16-18).
In each major city, the first two days will be an invite-only event. The third and final day will be open to everyone, however, so that curious fans can try the hardware for themselves. The PAX and SXSW showings will be a little different, allowing full access to the general public. While the new system has already been unveiled, we know little about its power, capabilities and software library. Nintendo has promised a “Switch Presentation” on January 12th, however, which should reveal more and lead nicely into its world tour. As much as I love The Legend of Zelda, it would be nice to see and play a few games that aren’t Breath of the Wild.
Source: Nintendo (Press Release)
Nintendo sold 196,000 NES Classic Editions in November
The NES Classic Edition has become a tough gift to find during this holiday season. Cheers to those who’ve already located one (or two), but according to industry tracker NPD, Nintendo sold 196,000 pieces of nostalgia-bait to US customers between its launch and the end of November. Compare that to Media-Create’s numbers, which showed Japanese sales of the Classic Mini Famicom surpassed 261k units in just one week. Clearly, the demand is there, but the question is if Nintendo will be able to make enough of the systems available before the holiday rush is over. (If it follows this up with an SNES Classic Edition, we’ll probably be lining up all over again.)
In non-NES news, the NPD report showed that, as expected, Sony’s PlayStation 4 is back atop the sales heap. According to analyst Sam Naji, it was pushed there by the PS4 Slim / Uncharted 4 bundle that accounted for 30 percent of all hardware units sold. Overall, however, even with the Xbox One S, PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro all on shelves, customers spent 35 percent less on videogame hardware than they did in 2015. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon managed to outsell the series previous best-selling combo (White and Black) by eight percent.
Nintendo Switch patent filing hints at potential for VR
Nintendo might have some big surprises in store when it sheds more light on the Switch game console in January. NeoGAF forum member Rösti has noticed a slew of just-published patent applications for the hybrid system, and one of them hints that the Switch might have virtual reality support. Effectively, it would turn the Switch into a larger-than-usual Daydream View or Gear VR — you’d slot it into a headset and use the console’s detachable controllers to play. Suddenly, Nintendo’s misgivings over VR seem like temporary roadblocks.
There’s no guarantee that Nintendo will have a VR headset ready and waiting for the March launch, or at all. This is just a patent application, and even fully granted patents don’t necessarily translate to shipping products. Nintendo may just be patenting the concept so that a rival console maker can’t implement the concept themselves. With that said, this is an extremely straightforward and logical idea — it wouldn’t be hard to add a basic VR experience to the Switch. Our only misgivings are over the display quality and processing power: if the Switch isn’t using at least a 1080p display and a reasonably quick CPU, its take on VR may be underwhelming.
‘Super Mario Run’ is now available
Finally, there’s a Mario game on smartphones. As promised, Nintendo has released Super Mario Run today, giving iPhone and iPad users a new way to run, leap and spin through the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s an auto-runner, meaning the portly plumber will jog, hop and vault over obstacles automatically. You tap the screen to jump, leaping across gaps and goombas to collect colorful coins. It sounds simple, but there’s a surprising amount of complexity to the platforming. Like Rayman Jungle Run, timing is essential to unlock contextual moves, such as rolls and wall jumps.
The game has a one-time fee of $9.99. Nintendo is keen to avoid the free-to-play mechanics that plague so many smartphone games, focusing instead on quality and traditional replayability. The levels are challenging enough, tasking players to collect coins of increasing difficulty. With plenty of stages and worlds to explore, they should keep you preoccupied for hours. There’s also Kingdom Builder, a basic village design mini-game, and Toad Rally, an aysnchronous multiplayer mode that emphasises style over brute-force level completion. The three modes feed into one another too, unlocking one-time “rally tickets,” enemy score multipliers and more.
It’s not all rosy, however. Nintendo has been criticised for demanding an always active internet connection. (The company says it’s to stop piracy.) If you’re the type of person that likes to game on their morning commute, or has to ration a modest data cap each month, this could be a deal-breaker. Regardless, it’s a landmark moment for the company and it’s beloved mustachioed mascot. Miitomo was an interesting experiment, sure, but it pales in comparison to the potential of Super Mario Run. This is a true platformer, albeit one with limited controls, that could make a ton of money and improve Nintendo’s standing in the public conscience.
Source: Super Mario Run (iOS)