The Nintendo Way
A New Generation – A New Revolution
by Stavros Kokkineas
Many times when I discuss with my friends what videogame company is the best, there are a lot of interesting and creative arguments thrown at each other. The final goal is to be able to get that other guy in our camp so we will have another ally on the way to a better world.
Sony friends bring up the fact that the Japanese (ex-)giant successfully introduced the digital medium in the industry, with their Playstation console, and that they revolutionized how videogames were marketed, expanding the medium’s audience as a result. Also they point out the cleverness of how Sony was able to create a fertile ground on their camp so third parties can be creative and come up with some amazing and huge franchises. The likes of Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Tekken and many more IPs that essentially launched on the system, never cease to amaze. Not to mention other franchises like Castlevania and Final Fantasy that sky rocketed in celebrity, and sales, because of the expanded audience and the amazing way Sony used to market their products.
Microsoft fans on the other hand never stop bringing up the way the Xbox revolutionized online-multiplayer, how Halo redefined the FPS genre with its double-analog control scheme and how Microsoft even today is one step ahead of the competition with their Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360.
Of course all these trying-so-hard-to-be-but-I-just-can\’t-make-it opponents of Nintendo cannot deal with the facts. And the main fact is that without Nintendo the industry would probably not exist in the first place, and even if it did, it would be a much more different place than it is today.
So for the sake of putting all these trying wannabes in their place I am gonna mention how Nintendo with each new system they released, managed to revolutionize gaming and bring the industry to the point it is today. So, without further ado let’s begin our analysis on how Nintendo is the Mother of us all:
1. The NES era – The D-Pad
Many can argue that the cross is the symbol of Jesus’s sacrifice and resurection.
Nothing less can be said for the same cross shaped D-Pad the NES introduced in accordance to the game industry at the time.
Invented by the master himself, Gunpei Yokoi, in 1982 for the Donkey Kong Game & Watch version it was meant to be the main way of moving your character on the NES and also the main reason why videogames still exist today.
An amazing showcase of simplicity and genius design, the D-Pad provides the highly accurate control that is needed for games like Super Mario Bros, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania and so many other NES titles to truly shine. Also, it is one of the simplest control schemes that you understand instantly and can use it to navigate through inventory screens and in – game choices.
Still apparent on all videogame controllers the D-Pad was the Jesus Christ of videogames back in the crash of 1983 and is still the guardian angel that secretely makes sure any complicated in-game tasks can be made simple by the use of a cross.
Praise the lord, Gunpei Yokoi, for coming up with the most essential element of videogame controllers up to this day.
2. The SNES era – Shoulder buttons and the uknown X,Y
As time moved on Nintendo had new competitors to take care off.
Sega released their Mega Drive system in 1988 and as the years went by and with some very bold marketing campaigns they started getting serious momentum.
Nintendo was ahead of the game and they had already planned one of the best videogame systems ever in existence up to the time this article is being written.
Nintendo introduced the SNES and along with it a radically new controller. With two shoulder buttons and four buttons for action the SNES template is used on every major system since then.
The plethora of movements, actions and combinations than are possible by this design is what essentially has defined videogames for the last 22 years. No designer could have made great games if he didn\’t have a solid control scheme to rely upon and one that can support his creations. The SNES controller was a radical introduction in the videogame industry that changed the way we play games as time and again has shown.
So next time you use a DualShock or Sixaxis or Xbox 360 controller be reminded where it all began.
3. The N64 era – The Analog Stick and Rumble Pack
Up to now, we have seen how Nintendo was able to master mainly the 2D gaming design and create the best ways of interacting with what is going on on the screen. But as time passes on and new dimensions are found and explored so must a controller also change itself to be in accordance with its time.
So the way to best interact with a 3D world is none other that a simple stick moving 360 degrees around. As simple in the idea as the D-Pad, the analog stick, also existing on all videogame controllers since it was introduced, is a master display of superior design and provides one of the most efficient ways to interact with anything that comes up on screen in a 3D environment. It is also instantaneously understandable which is what promotes something from being good to being extraordinary.
The analog stick itself could be reason enough to constitute the N64 as one of the most important releases in videogame history but there was also another major breakthrough made in the days of the N64. Probably Nintendo didn\’t realize the true potential of a little peripheral called the “Rumble Pack”.
The feeling of a simple vibration when an explosion happens on screen, or when you get hit by an enemy in a fighting game, or when you get shot in an FPS, is of unmentionable value as it is a minor consequence of what you would feel if such an event happened in real life. The major point here is that it is something that you feel, you don\’t see it on the screen but it vibrates your both hands, making you feel the physical change and in the process providing you with that much more of a realistic experience.
And this completes the puzzle of how all modern videogame controllers are designed, or at least how they were designed until 2006.
4. The Gamecube era – FPAs and Cel-shaded Graphics
Up to now, we have seen the essentials that make videogames what they are today and how Nintendo actually introduced and made famous these elements that still today define a huge percentage of how videogames are created and played.
As the Gamecube controller had but a few minor tweaks, most notably how the action buttons are placed around each other, and the introduction of a second analog stick and a third shoulder button, I will focus on two innovations in Game Design that still to this day very select and few companies were able to master on the level Nintendo did.
The first one is known as the First – Person Adventure genre, and for all of you who may say that such a genre doesn\’t exist Retro Studios themselves have defined the Metroid Prime Trilogy as FPAs.
I will never forget the first time I played Metroid Prime. It was in a department store and you could only play the first section of the game, on the Space Pirate’s station. I was so instantly and absolutely amazed and sucked into this world, just by seeing it, I think I had decided to buy a Gamecube and the game before I even touched the controller. The feeling of total isolation, the constant feeling of danger and the fact that you know that the only thing that can help you is a scan visor. The fixed amount of shots needed to take out most of the enemies, the geniously designed new species, the incredible lore and storyline behind the Chozos, Tallon IV and the Phazon. All indications of one of the best games ever in existence.
But apart from an amazing game Metroid Prime is also something more, or at least it is not something less. It is not a brainless FPS where there is absolutely no ultimate goal but just to kill a virtual enemy. No thought, no discovery, no creativty, just pure violence for the sake of it. Metroid Prime was able to harmoniously combine combat, exploration, puzzle-solving, story telling and supreme controls and an unsurpassed visor system that created a whole new world of gaming posssibilities. Possibilities that unfortunately, up to this day no other company has even touched upon and it’s a real shame as the FPA genre is the good cousin of FPS. A cousin that deserves attention, love and a place in the spotlight to show its true potential.
Secondly, the Gamecube was the home of another great title and even though many Zelda fans will argue that the Wind Waker is but a mere average Zelda title there is one element noone can deny TWW did right. That is cel-shading. Whoever played the game can guarantee you of its smooth animation, vibrant coulors, beautiful effects and lighting and overall an unreached level of cartoon-like visuals and atmosphere to this day.
The only other game to have achieved something as beatiful as that is Okami on the PS2 and the Wii. But that game probably would never happen if it wasn\’t for a very persistent choice Miyamoto – san and Aonuma – san made to introduce the cel-shading technique in a series so important and big as the The Legend of Zelda is. It caused the steer necessary to make an impact on the whole industry and gave the trigger to other companies to use another form of expression in their games.
5. The Wii era – Motion Controls and Super Mario Galaxy
So after the Gamecube and a little break from paradigm shifts Nintendo decided to get back in the game and in a rather extraordinary way. They decided that almost any form of conventional control they had introduced in the first place was getting too old and boring and decided to turn the tables upside down.
Thus, the Wii was born and along with it Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Music, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Party and all those casual titles that managed to expand the market once more and make videogames accessible and fun to an even larger audience.
As the biggest revolution in gaming since the NES days Wii changed the face of the industry even before its lifecycle was over as the Playstation Move and Microsoft Kinect prove.
And with a good reason too, there are few things more intuitive than having to actually swing the racket so you can hit the ball in a tennis title or swing your sword in the right way so you can defeat enemies in the ancient land of Hyrule.
Also, another very important breakthrough made in this generation was the release of a literally ground breaking title named as “Super Mario Galaxy”. The radical new design of planetoids packed with challenges, the subtle way of motion controls integration as part of getting star bits, the magnificent use of gravity. All these elements revolutionized the platform genre and can have an impact on almost all other types of games if the elements found in Super Mario Galaxy are analyzed, studied and implemented correctly by Game Designers.
All in all, Wii is a prime example of how old school gaming can be reinvented and of how completely new ways of interaction can improve how we experience our favorite medium.
Looking into the future and with the Wii U hopefully out before the end of this year, we cannot wait to see how the world will change and how Nintendo will be on the forefront of radical change and fun new ways to play once more.
And this is my answer to all Sony and Microsoft fans that cannot realize why Nintendo is the videogame industry of today. I believe one day you will understand. Salutations.