Cerebral Gamer: Musings on Nintendo’s “Project Cafe”

Nintendo is once again ready to transform the way in which we play our games.. if all these wild rumors are all true, of course.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 04/25/2011 09:00 9 Comments     ShareThis

Cerebral Gamer

On a quiet, unassuming week in April, the gaming world suddenly exploded with news about a rumored successor to Wii.  At the forefront of the story was IGN, news breaking early and later in the week about a new controller, and it was followed by a horde of fan mock-ups.  According to the rumors, Nintendo’s new console — codenamed “Project Cafe” — will feature a controller that will:

  • Carry dual analog sticks
  • “Mirror a GameCube controller in function but not specific form” (i.e. have the general functionality of a Cube controller, albeit with buttons arranged differently)
  • Boast a 6″ touch screen on the controller
  • Have the capacity to stream content from the system to the controller

In addition, the system is also rumored to be in HD, use Blu-ray capacity media and be more powerful than PS3 or Xbox 360.  It reportedly will retail for between $350 and $400 and release either later this year or sometime next year.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that the rumors are true.  That may not be safe to assume at all, but let’s assume it anyway.  IF the rumors are true, and IF the console is as IGN has described, what does that leave us with?

We have, simply, the most high-potential gaming system yet conceived by man.

I don’t think this statement is hyperbole.  I think this is quite realistic.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t have pitfalls or potential problems… there are plenty of those in these rumors, too.  But let’s look at some of the more important features one-by-one and see what they bring to the table.

The 6″ touch screen.  Any conversation about this new controller must begin with this singular idea.  Nintendo has never really been revolutionary so much as evolutionary; Wii’s remote was an evolution over the DS touch screen, for example, turning touch into full-on three-dimensional movement.  With the touch screen, though, the system seemingly (at least as far as we know) jettisons waggle for a far more practical motion interface.  In doing so, Project Cafe seems to be coming full circle, going back to the touch screen that made the DS so effective.

What does this touch screen mean?  Everything.  Touch means more precise first person shooter controls.  It means no more pausing the game to get into inventory menus.  It means changing everything on the fly.  It means being able to stream specific content to different controllers during quiz games or being able to text chat while playing an adventure title.  It’s DS connectivity without the need for a DS.  It means being able to create casual games that use the touch screen just as easily as hardcore games.

It means making games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords or Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles in a way that isn’t stupid.

There are some lingering questions, of course.  How fragile will the screen be?  Is the rumored $350 to $400 price tag reasonable for this kind of advanced tech, to say nothing of the cost of purchasing a second controller?  And, as Dojo Editor-in-Chief Noah Ward discussed, how ergonomic and comfortable will the design be?  (No one, after all, wants a controller that induces hand cramps or is too heavy to hold in one hand.)

GameCube functionality. The Wii remote has been a nice innovation, but it has also been limited.  There aren’t a lot of buttons, and while part of that was to sell the console to the casual gamer, it has been a handicap to the core crowd.  Moreoever, waggle has not yet shown itself to really have legs: I won’t say it was a fad, but certainly its use has been moderated some in recent years.  A more traditional controller is still the most versatile, something Sony and Microsoft will learn as they stumble over their late, poor Wii-like peripherals.

The touch screen could also make a traditional controller less intimidating.  It would be easy to make casual titles that just use the screen, which will be less off-putting to casual gamers.  That doesn’t mean that grandma will go nuts for the touch screen the way she adored Wii bowling, but it still offers potential for scaffolded accessibility.

Of course, this cannot help but make me wonder at the future of the Wii remote.  Does Nintendo intend this thing to be a “third pillar” alongside Wii (something DS was marketed as alongside GBA… and we see how that turned out) or is it a successor console?  Does this mean Nintendo thinks a motion controller has run its course and it’s time to return to something less physical?

Streamed content.  Rumor has it that the Cafe controller can stream various kinds of content onto the screen.  We’ve already explored the use of the controller to stream supplemental game content like menus and reticules, and clearly that has its place.  The claim has also been put forth that the controller could conceivably stream other forms of content, perhaps even full games.

As with much of the other speculated features, this concept is long on potential.  A gamer could stream a game onto the screen while the TV was tuned into something else.  The system could theoretically stream all kinds of content — movies, perhaps? — and turn the controller into a proxy handheld system.

The extent of this functionality is a point of curiosity for me.  Could the console stream multiple media to different controllers, or just the same content to one or two outputs?  (IGN believes it could stream to multiple outlets.)  Would Nintendo seek out movie partnerships, or would the content be strictly game-related?  Would the controller have any sort of audio output for streaming content, such as a speaker or headphone jack?  These questions probe at the real limits of the tech, a discussion which invariably winds around toward cost, as increased functionality also means an increased price tag.

Conclusions

Everything here is rumor, which means that it could all go up in smoke as fast as you can say “Reggie.”  If it is true, though, Nintendo could really hit the jackpot with this new innovation in home gaming.  When I step back and consider what could be done with this system, it’s really mind-blowing.

At the same time, there are some serious, serious questions. If the specs are true, the controller could potentially be fragile and expensive, not to mention an energy hog.  It also raises serious physical questions; how do you actually engineer this thing in a way that it can be comfortably held in a variety of configurations?   Expect no resolution on any of this until we actually get a look at the thing.

On a broader level, cost could also come into play.  An HD console with a robust controller like this is going to run a lot of money, even with the currently available technology.  PS3 almost killed itself with its expense and Sony paid the price for years; Nintendo could find itself priced out if this thing winds up being everything it’s made out to be.  On that note, I remain skeptical about the rumored price, which seems low for what this system purports to offer.

The upside, though, is impossible to ignore.  This touch screen could reinvent Nintendo yet again and make this system a gold mine for almost every conceivable type of genre.   We’ll find out if this is the real deal or fool’s gold come E3.

9 Responses to “Cerebral Gamer: Musings on Nintendo’s “Project Cafe””

  • 156 points
    LocoBaka says...

    There is still a “big surprise” about the console that nintendo hasn’t allowed to become “rumors”. I’m sure there are steep penalties for violating an NDA.

    Thumb up 1
  • 162 points
    LadyMushroom says...

    @LocoBaka – I agree. Leaky as the leaks have been, I don’t think Nintendo has allowed anything to come out that it didn’t actually want to come out. While some of the information may well be true, I think we are missing the “key” that will make this console the new “revolution”.

    Thumb up 0
  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    Really interesting read Josh, I do think that Project Cafe has a lot more potential than people are realising at the moment. I could easily write a massive wall of a comment but I’ve got my own article to write on the subject so I’ll keep it short. I just hope Cafe lives up to the hype.

    Thumb up 0
  • 225 points
    wombatguy880 says...

    “Moreoever, waggle has not yet shown itself to really have legs”

    Why is this constantly being said? I can bowl, golf, box, play tennis, swing a sword, choke a person, throw them against a wall, headbutt them, shoot directly at a screen, reload, and even throw a grenade and this is with the faulty original wii controller before motion plus which is now default on wiis. What does waggle need to do to prove itself? Ohh! but sometimes I swing wildly left and it goes right! This is irrelevant as this reaction is still more revolutionary then press A to do whatever.

    I’m convinced this next controller will be amazing but if you think that nintendo somehow now thinks their next controller needs a gazillion buttons then you are hopefully mistaken. A touchscreen will be great for options but the most useful options would be pick football plays, play puzzlequest accurately, augmented reality experiments and experiences, individual play when separated in multiplayer quests (ala four swords), better multiplayer, or even possible keyboard abilities for things that actually need that.We don’t need 43 buttons. rivercity ransom for the nes had kick, punch, jump, jump kick, jump punch, throw weapon, use weapon, jump variants of those, run, and multiple special moves and it was on a nes controller. Developers have lost their minds today developing horrible ui where we have to hold down button 3 to press button 2 so we can do action A and that is just retarded. Few if any games will ever require more then 6 buttons and most those that do simply aren’t creative enough to warrant any attention.

    Thumb up 1
    • 255 points
      Joshua A. Johnston says...

      “Why is this constantly being said?”

      I believe you misunderstood my comments. The problem isn’t the lack of utility for waggle — certainly you can do a lot with it — it’s that developers don’t seem to be employing it in games as much as they did at launch. Spider-Man games from 2006, for example, used waggle extensively, while subsequent versions have excised it for all but a few special moves. Some of it is because buttons are more precise than Wii’s tech (no fault of Nintendo’s — the tech is circa 2006, after all), but it’s also not clear if there is really gamer demand for waggle now. It’s quite possible touch could supplant waggle as the interface of choice.

      “if you think that nintendo somehow now thinks their next controller needs a gazillion buttons then you are hopefully mistaken.”

      GameCube had seven major face buttons (A, B, X, Y, L, R, Z), which at last check is somewhat fewer than a gazillion, so, no, I don’t think that. :)

      Thumb up 0
  • 30 points
    CryojenX says...

    I don’t really expect it, but just in case, so i can say “first” in the bizarre parallel universe where this is right, I’m saying maybe the Project Cafe name hints at some type of Java functionality.

    I do however agree that I think we’re being kept in the dark on a key element of the new hardware.

    Thumb up 0
  • 225 points
    wombatguy880 says...

    Waggle isn’t needed for everything but most of this poor 3rd party development has less to do with the controllers faults, which admittedly do exist, but more with poor design choices by 3rd party developers. Godfather works almost flawlessly (controller-wise though the game is still just a port otherwise) and was released as a first generation wii title. It’s the proof that good control can be made but we currently have many developers which think they can just make a crap version of wii sports where you just shake the controller nonsensically to do everything. I agree there is good use for touch screen capability as not everything can be done simply with point and motion sensing but to pretend like the technology is at fault for developers making little effort just proves that many lazy developers are their own bane and someday will suffer for it.

    Java can be brought to any console as it is run inside a java virtual machine and relies on no particular architecture / does not care about hardware. It is not an innovation to bring it to consoles though. the name probably has more to do with nintendos desire to get people to play games that aren’t just about the traditional video game. They’ve had us exercising, playing hide and seek with controllers, and now we have augmented reality and that AR tech is probably going to be a big part of this. Combine that with personal communication methods and you have a cafe like environment where everyone enjoys each others company but still has their own special cup of what they like.

    Thumb up 0
    • 1329 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      ‘course we also have developers who decide to forgo motion capabilities entirely (well, mostly) and come up with things like Monster Hunter Tri! (: … yes, I know there are actually some pretty creative controls for that game, but nevertheless. But on the whole, yes, poor design choices. Agreed completely.

      Though oh man, Godfather– I’d totally forgotten about that game. I rented it some years ago (many years ago, now that I think about it) and having played only the barest hint of GTA before, Godfather was still actually pretty fun. I’m sure it’d still hold up today too, even post-GTA4.

      Thumb up 0

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