In recent years, Nintendo has been known more for the eccentricity of its hardware more than anything else. From the Wii’s motion controls, to the Wii U’s dual-screen gameplay, and the Switch’s portability, many analyses have focused on the physical design of Nintendo’s hardware while ignoring the systems’ most critical underpinnings: its architectural design and technology. While Sony and Microsoft have been locked in a fierce war over console specifications for the past three generations–pitting each others’ machines in an ever-evolving battle for supremacy–Nintendo has focused on the software.
That’s a shame, though. As the progenitor of the modern games industry and a talented hardware manufacturer, Nintendo deserves a closer look at the technology behind their consoles and what makes them unique. In part two of a three-part series, we dive deep into Nintendo’s design choices for the esoteric GameCube and revolutionary Wii.
Find part one of this series here.
Nintendo GameCube (GCN): Lost at Sea
Licking its wounds after a fifth-generation drubbing at the hands of Sony, Nintendo went back to the drawing board and analyzed their mistakes. Their next move was to address what had went wrong with the N64 and to avoid making the same crippling mistakes. Whereas both the SNES and N64 had been challenging for even the most seasoned of programmers, Nintendo wanted to change that with their upcoming “Dolphin” game system. Announced by Nintendo of America President Howard Lincoln in 1999, Dolphin was marketed as “33% above the projected performance data of [Sony’s] PlayStation 2” and “easily twice as fast as [Sega’s] Dreamcast” for “pretty cheap[,]” bringing the power to, as Shigeru Miyamoto put it, “handle any kind of software developers are interested in creating.”
At the core of this greater graphical capability were IBM’s “Gekko” CPU and ATI’s “Flipper” GPU. Similar to IBM’s 64 bit PowerPC 750CXe, used in some Apple G3s, Gekko was an incredibly power-efficient CPU that was hardware limited by its shorter CPU pipelines to a maximum operating frequency of 485 MHz. Chosen for its cool operating temperature and small-form-factor, (which matched with Nintendo’s overall design motif with the GameCube), Gekko was a cheap, easy-to-produce, and power-efficient: three key factors that allowed it to play nice with the GameCube’s real powerhouse, ATI’s Flipper GPU.
After a nasty break-up with Silicon Graphics, Nintendo contracted graphics developer ArtX to develop Flipper in 1998. In 2000, however, ArtX was bought by GPU developer ATI who proceeded to officially ship Flipper. Originally clocked at 200 MHz before being bumped down to 162 MHz when Nintendo adjusted Gekko’s clock rate shortly before launch, Flipper was a potent, efficient GPU that leveraged several technologies (e.g. anti-aliasing) that were substantial advancements on what had been offered in previous console generations.
Part of this advancement came from how Flipper utilized its 3MB of on-die memory. With over half of the GPU’s 51 million transistors dedicated to this 3MB arrangement (composed of a 2MB Z-buffer and a 1MB texture cache), Nintendo leaned heavily on Flipper’s embedded 1T-SRAM to obtain results that were admirable, even when compared to contemporary PCs. While there were some flaws in the general design of the chip, including a reliance on the same 1T-SRAM for the system’s main memory, that showed ATI’s lack of involvement, Flipper ultimately proved a cost-effective, fast GPU that had the powerful tools developers wanted.
The GameCube was Nintendo’s first console with full support for 480p progressive scan component video. While it lacked the Xbox’s support for HD output, the GameCube was capable of a much cleaner image than any Nintendo console before it. Unfortunately, the system’s component cables were built with a proprietary DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that made it nearly impossible for third parties to replicate at the time. It also had several expansion ports–two serial and one high-speed parallel port–that allowed the possibility of expansion in the future. Nintendo would eventually utilize the serial ports for modem and ethernet add-ons that added basic online functionality and the parallel port for the Game Boy Player, which allowed for Game Boy games of any generation to be played on the GameCube. Nintendo would remove the second serial port and component video support when they released a second model of the GameCube, the DOL-101, later on in the console’s lifespan.
Like with the N64, Nintendo’s main problem with the GameCube was in how it approached physical media. While the N64 had opted for cartridges over CDs and had caused a myriad of problems for developers in the process, Nintendo opted to finally adopt an optical format for GameCube. However, still plagued by the piracy worries that had driven the decision to stay with cartridges when designing the N64, Nintendo decided to utilize a variant of the 8cm mini-DVD as their standard. Compared to the PlayStation 2, whose discs held between 4.7 and 8.5 GB, the GameCube’s mini discs could only hold 1.5 GB. While this was rarely a problem for neither first party titles, who based their games around the limitations present in the system, nor for multi-platform games, who generally performed better on Nintendo’s machine anyway, it was an issue because it prevented DVD playback.
Like with the n64, Nintendo’s main problem with the GameCube was in how it approached physical media.
For all their competency in designing every other aspect of the GameCube, Nintendo’s decision to leave out full DVD compatibility sank the GameCube’s chances of success. The PlayStation 2 was released a year earlier and for $100 more, but carried with it several key advantages, including the ability to play full size, retail DVDs, a feature that three years earlier had cost $599 by itself. For a second straight console generation, Nintendo found itself faltering despite having more advanced technology than its closest competitor.
Though the GameCube launched with a plethora of third party support, it soon evaporated and the company was left with a paltry 21 million in hardware sales, less than a third of what they achieved with the NES. By 2004, Nintendo was forced to come up with something different, to engineer a successor to the GameCube that didn’t compete on power but on something else entirely: innovation.
Nintendo Wii: The Casual Connection
With the GameCube clearly a failure by the middle of 2004, Nintendo decided to move on from its flailing console and chart its path for the next generation. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata started giving the first idea of what was to come at GDC in 2005, offering tantalizing hints about Nintendo’s next console. Powered by IBM’s Broadway CPU and ATI’s Hollywood GPU, the “Revolution” would offer backwards compatibility, Wi-Fi support, and would be developer friendly. Instead of focusing on raw power, as the GameCube had, the Revolution would target $250, have a parent-friendly, price tag and go for a completely different path than other next-gens, like Microsoft’s then-upcoming Xbox 360.
Nintendo opted for a blue ocean strategy, going after a market that hadn’t been targeted before: casual gamers who had never bought a console. Their choice of technology emphasized that. IBM’s new Broadway CPU brought an increased clock rate of 729 MHz and ATI’s Hollywood GPU increased clock rates to 243 MHz. That, coupled with 512MB of NAND storage, native support for widescreen, and a library of classic games gave the Revolution a technical advantage over the aging GameCube. However, the technology inside was not its greatest advantage.
Instead, it relied upon innovation. Unveiled in late 2005, the Revolution’s controller turned heads. A singular, TV-remote style, pointer-enabled motion controller with few face buttons, it went headfirst against the leading industry trend, bucking convention and showing the first signs of a new identity under Iwata that focused on a more family-friendly image. Instead of an analog stick on the main controller, it relied instead on the add-on Nunchuck peripheral to provide proper analog input. Later came the name: Wii. The subject of a multitude of jokes, puns, and memes following its reveal, the Wii had all the markings of a non-starter. If Nintendo had competed on power before and lost, what happened now that one of their few advantages were gone?
While it was leagues behind the PS3 and Xbox 360 technologically and lacked little-to-any appeal for hardcore gamers, the Wii succeeded in one critical area: selling its appeal of pure, simple fun. From professional reviewers to soccer moms, it launched to rave reviews, selling out multiple times in its first few years and lighting the retail world on fire by selling over 600,000 units in the US in just over a week and an incomprehensible 101 million units in lifetime sales. The Wii marked the beginning of an incredible turnaround for Nintendo. After over twenty-five years of declining hardware sales, they had finally succeeded at expanding their console market, connecting with casual gamers on a scale never seen before, nor since.
Nintendo opted for a blue ocean strategy, going after…casual gamers who had never bought a console.
Much like the NES, the Wii’s technology wasn’t new or technically impressive, but incredibly innovative. However, unlike the NES, the Wii didn’t just pair aged technology with good games, it innovated on how to play those games, incorporating motion-controls into Nintendo classics, such as Mario Kart, and creating new classics, like Wii Sports, that showed just how flexible Nintendo could be.
However, like all successes, Nintendo’s venture with the Wii was short-lived. By 2011, there were rumblings of Project Cafe, a “Wii 2” that, for better or for worse, would decide the future of Nintendo…
Be sure to check out the final part of this series, as we discuss the technical history behind both the Wii U and Switch.
‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming
Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.
In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.
It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.
Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.
And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.
It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.
No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more.
How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?
Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.
One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?
Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.
Real Friends Raid Together
Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.
After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.
If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.
After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.
Max Raid Battle Rundown
The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.
To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.
If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.
The Fruits of Victory
Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.
Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.
Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.
15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter
On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.
“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”
On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.
The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.
Taking the Narrative Back
Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.
Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Snake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.
Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.
Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.
A Whole New Meaning to Survival
When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.
Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.
On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.
The Beginning of Product Placement
The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.
The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”
When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.
A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank
At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.
Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.
2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.
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