You won't believe me when I tell you this, but I gained a great deal of insight on Nintendo's newly announced 3DS through an unlikely source: Nintendogs + Cats. During Nintendo's annual post-E3 press conference roundtable, several members of the gaming media from around the world gathered to hear what Nintendo's brain trust had to say about the morning's announcements. Besides information regarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo had plenty to say regarding the newly-announced Nintendo 3DS.
Nintendo's lead creative designer Shigeru Miyamoto was accompanied by Hideki Kanno, the lead designer of Nintendogs as well as the hardware lead on the 3DS. Before turning the microphone over to Kanno, Miyamoto discussed some of his core ideas behind the new hardware. He said that he wanted to take many of the ideas of the DS and implement them into a medium that allowed gamers to truly experience 3D space.
He cited Mario as an example. "In true 3D space, you should have little confusion about making a jump to hit a question block. If 3D gaming is set to a specific standard, he said, developers should have an easier time making games, since the specs are uniform, while there's a lot of variances on other platforms. And that unformity, he believes, is why it was important for one developer to design the 3DS. "If the 3DS goes well, I can finally retire," joked Miyamoto as he introduced Kanno.
Kanno, it turns out, has worked for years as a software designer, with Nintendogs being one of his most successful projects. He said that as a software developer, he complained about the limitations and brick walls he ran into with Nintendo's hardware team. The experience of creating this new handheld, he said, has humbled him greatly.
They're Only Friendly When They Want Something...
"You know, I really wanted to keep the existence of this project a secret, but then last year, Mr. Miyamoto told someone in an interview that he got a cat," Kanno said, joking about Miyamoto's famous tendency to create games out of his everyday experiences.
"I thought I was just throwing people off our trail by saying we were making Nintencats," Miyamoto retorted, grinning.
"His ideas are always made into games, so when I found out that he bought a cat, I was sad, because I knew what I'd be working on next," Kanno replied.
It seems that in order to create this new element of the game, Kanno had to spend extensive time with cats to learn more about them. The idea was to re-create the fun of watching cats interact with each other when humans aren't around.
"Cats are a lot like girls. When they approach you, they're warm and friendly, but when you approach them, it's very hard," he quipped, to laughter from the audience. Other ideas stemmed from Miyamoto's stories of how his kitten adjusted to living with a house with a dog.
The Tech Behind the Pets
Kanno said that one of the best side effects of the new technology has been his ability to recreate fur technology effectively through the new 3D hardware. And that's not confined to the game's feline friends. The new system can support more dogs and more breeds, including bigger ones. In addition, Kanno said that the team wants to increase the connection between you and your dog. In Nintendogs, you could use the touch screen to pet your dog and communicate with it via the microphone.
In the new game, you'll be able to use the 3DS' inner camera to look at and respond to your pet, and he or she will respond in kind. Kanno said that if you cock your head to the side, the dog will do the same. If you move your face in closer to the camera, the dog will jump in closer and "lick your face" (the screen). The reaction to your facial movements is a huge step forward for the interactivity within the series. It sounds, from what Kanno is saying, that the programming that lets adorable puppies interact with you via camera can set the standard for what other developers can do to program A.I. around your facial expressions.
Don't Just Bark, Push!
Kanno looked at Nintendogs' Bark Mode and how he could use 3DS' wireless capabilities to take advantage. In the DS game, it was a bit inconvenient to set up the feature: the system still had to be on, and you had to have a cartridge inserted, and so on. With the 3DS, if the information is active, the system detects if someone is nearby and exchanges information with them automatically, and that goes for Animal Crossing 3DS and Mario Kart 3DS, too. Kanno's ambition is that with the new hardware, you don't have to activate anything, you receive data in a manner similar to push notification on a smartphone.
Miyamoto chimed in with some anecdotes about Nintendogs as well as the blistering popularity of Dragon Quest IX in Japan. He mentioned that at the height on Nintendogs' heyday, gamers across densely populated cities like Tokyo had little problem finding other DS owners to share data with. And when the game's popularity waned over time, Nintendo opened Bark Stations for players to trade information with others. He cited how Dragon Quest has created areas around electronics districts where gamers go to play co-op together. And the most telling thing of all was when he said that while the Internet makes it easy for gamers to trade data, the real world,and human interaction in it via gaming, is most important. "Ideally, we will all be exchanging dogs with each other come E3 2011."
With that, the Nintendogs + Cats section of the roundtable came to a close. And although I'm not a fan of the games myself, I began to see many of the ideas and potential of what the 3DS can do after listening to Kanno describe its gameplay concepts. To learn more from the Nintendo Roundtable, check out Miyamoto's talk regarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as well as more on the 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.