Simple is Beautiful

Sure, Nintendo offers smaller experiences, but at least they live within their means.

By Adam Sorice. Posted 07/13/2011 16:00 4 Comments     ShareThis

Simple is Beautiful masthead

Sometimes, I like to think that we work via osmosis at Nintendojo. Mental osmosis, at least. (Things haven’t gotten so tough that we’re now sharing water just yet.) What I mean is that one person on staff can have an idea and it inspires someone else to go off in a completely different direction and we all produce brilliant, sparkling, homogenous content. This seems to be happening a lot lately (and not least because I feel the overwhelming urge to write about Pok√©mon Ruby and Sapphire 3DS remakes because James keeps mentioning them on our podcast). A few weeks ago, I wrote a (very long) article about the portrayal of gender in Zelda and quicker than you can say “Go away Navi, I really can’t stand you!”, while Smith and James furiously scribbled away with their own theories about the characterisation and wider world of the Zelda franchise for Issue 57. It makes us feel like we all work in a big open space together, talking and discussing our ideas instead of being separated in stifling cubicles. (Even though we live in our own cubicles in different parts of the world, the point still stands.)

Well, it appears to have happened again. Last week, Lewis discussed the pitfalls of trying to play Nintendo games online and the company’s chance to turn its e-fortunes around with an online interface akin to PS3 or Xbox 360’s for Wii U. And now I’m here today, to talk about the kind of things that Wii U should simply not take from PS3 or 360 and should instead learn from Wii, the little console that could. (And for the most part, did.)

This may come as a vague revelation but I am not a Nintendo-exclusive gamer. Like many of the staff, I learned long ago that the arguments of being a traitor to Nintendo can hold about as much water as a F.L.U.D.D. (i.e. — nowhere near enough) and I have fully embraced the world of multi-platform gaming. Obviously you can look at this from the perspective that Nintendo is failing me as a Wii owner by not providing me everything that I want, but I like to think of it as more of a different kind of need. It’s not that my Wii wasn’t providing me with enough hardcore, must-play experiences (although that’s an article for another day) but that I wanted something else entirely different. Specifically a cheap Blu-Ray player, a DVD player that actually worked and LittleBigPlanet.

So yes, I am relatively unashamed to admit that I own a PS3. (I also have a 360 but that’s another story.) And what have my experiences down the hi-def rabbit hole taught me? Well, it’s taught me that you can’t sprint across open areas in Metal Gear Solid 4, guns blazing, unless you want to waddle like you’ve shit yourself and then get shot in the head for one. But (perhaps even more importantly) it’s taught me that speediness and simplicity have their own advantages. Simple can be beautiful.

Simple is minimal. Simple loads fast and is clean. Simple doesn’t promise the stars and then fall from the sky in disappointment. Simple exists within its means. And it doesn’t overheat ever. These are things people tend to forget about when they bemoan the lack of HD gaming in Nintendo land.

Zelda HD e3 2011 screen
Yes it’s hi def, but is it what you really want? No really? (Think about it…)

This is the bitter aftertaste of the HD experience, taking away from the sheer euphoria it provides. While Sony and Microsoft have successfully managed to create consoles that push the very limits of graphical power, it’s hardly a faultless experience, now is it? It’s the shortcomings that everyone conveniently forgets when our quest for smoother textures and more complex gameplay takes us beyond what Nintendo currently offers.

Allow me to offer a working example. Now and then, I can come across as a touch … impatient. After having played GameCube’s iteration of Smash Bros., the fact that the Wii version starts up with a ten second loading screen drew great ire on my part. Ten seconds?! I don’t want excuses, I want amazing Smash gameplay! And clearly I wasn’t willing to wait for it.

Now let’s shuffle over to the PS3. After having my personal information stolen (thanks, Sony) I was offered two full free games in compensation. Two full retail titles? That’s amazing! The Wii could never handle that; its download speed is so slow. HD gaming is truly here, hail the future!

Wait. Wait just a minute. Yes, that sounds amazing, but why have we collectively ignored the age-old idiom, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? This offer appears to be a marvelous example of the PS3’s abilities (personal security, aside) to exist as a truly 21st century console. If only it were. Because it’s not. It’s a nightmare in matte casing.

I decided to claim my games. It wasn’t the first day of the deal or anything, I just took it upon myself one day to claim my free games (inFamous and Wipeout HD in case you were interested) before the deal ran out. I turned on the PS3 and made my way to the PlayStation Store where the deal was being advertised. I click on the PS Store link.

“Your PSN account password has expired. Please choose a new password.”

Ugh, irksome. I choose a new password (which it rejects for not having enough numbers in it so I have to type with that infernal controller twice) before it accepts my updated credentials and lets me progress.

“A PlayStation System Update is available!”

Of course it is. Is it going to take seven hours like the last one? I know that Wii must also suffer its share of system updates but never has one exceeded fifteen minutes, let alone multiple hours. Because I don’t play my PS3 that regularly, it seems to need a massive update every time I turn the damn thing on. Half the time i just lose the will to live and switch it off.

System Update PlayStation 3
No, don’t do it!

I finally get to the PlayStation store. That only took half an hour! That’s quicker than driving to a store, right? I find the large, helpful link to the offer. How helpful and … large. I’ll just click it! Click. Uh, hello? Click click click click. Nothing. Great. I’ll just click you Until. You. Respond. Oh hello. As they say, twenty-third time is the charm!

I’m finally at the list of games I can choose from; I think I’ll take inFamous. I guess i just choose to download it? No, of course not. I need to download a completely unrelated piece of software that it didn’t tell me about. That’ll be another five minutes.

We done? Good. Time to download those games! I’ve only wasted an hour of my day on this, how wonderful. Excellent, just set those to download and off I go on with the rest of my afternoon until they’re all downloaded in an hour or two! I can even make them download in the background so I can still use my console. How helpful. I wonder how long it’s going to take?

Eight to ten hours. Each.

That’ll be me leaving the PS3 on overnight. At least it’s a quiet, demure little thing. Oh wait, it’s not. The whirring fan sounds like a wind tunnel and never stops. And do you know why it never stops? Because the console runs at a temperature reminiscent of the innards of a McDonald’s Apple Pie. On Mercury. In lava. Not only is there an incessant whirring but the PS3 Slim’s sleek casing makes worryingly loud knocking and banging sounds as it expands and contracts with the heat. Like a tray from the oven. Except with a Blu-ray drive.

I could go on and describe the lengthy wait, the sleeplessness, the install time and the fact that I don’t really like the games after all that but the point I’m trying to make is that the only way we have such technological innovations in the PlayStations and Xboxs of this world is because they can never live up to their promises. Graphics they can handle, it’s every other aspect of the HD experience that is sorely lacking.

And maybe that’s what Nintendo will bring to the market with Wii U? An HD experience that doesn’t piss me off, enrage me, insult me and keep me up at night. We know Nintendo is the master of ergonomics, i just hope they won’t fall into that all-too trodden pitfall labelled “Next-Gen Gaming.”

4 Responses to “Simple is Beautiful”

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    ugh, those download times are horrendous, thats why I got rid of my psp go, download only is torture. It’s also why I don’t think the psp vita or whatever its gonna be called is that good of an idea. It doesn’t take disks or carts….. I am definitely passing on it.

  • 150 points
    Lewis Hampson says...

    Nice article Adam, I know what you mean about updates etc, but this is only the first generation of HD consoles. The first time HD has been implemented into console gaming. These problems will hopefully be ironed out by the time the next-next generation comes year :D

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    “8 to 10 hours each…” That’s IF something does go wrong, the internet doesn’t crash, errors don’t interrupt the download…you turn it on in the morning only to find it 10% downloaded, and you have to restart.

    I see your point.

  • 1570 points
    penduin says...

    What really puzzles me about PS3/360 games is the concentration on loading huge texture maps and complex meshes rather than using that massive CPU power to build assets on the fly where possible.

    Procedural texture and geometry data is the key to simple, fast-loading data producing beautiful, complex results. Whether it’s Wii U or the next thing, from Nintendo or someone else, I’m pretty sure the next serious advance in video games will be the shift to procedural assets.

    Factor 5 did it on the GameCube; it’s not new or untested technology. But it’s a seriously underused technique, and with HD, it’s our best shot at reducing the horrendous loading (and downloading) times.

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