By Alex Kierkegaard / November 13, 2014
They [the new consoles] need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it — even if they don't know that they want it.
Cliff Bleszinski, arthouse developer, Epic Games
Why is Nintendo in the doldrums? The casuals will give you a thousand false reasons, while the weeaboos will deny reality altogether and pretend that there's no issue, so gather round and pay attention if you want to hear The Truth from the only videogame analyst who understands and can communicate it.
First off, let me say that the best article written on this subject up to now has been Nick's (aka the Segabastard) Woes of the Wii U. The reason people are not buying the Wii U, he concludes in there, is because "[they] learned their lesson with the Wii". The entire article then is devoted to showing that the Wii was the shittiest major console ever made (or rather, that it had the shittiest library of any major console ever, which is not quite the same thing, but no need to get pedantic about that right now; I've already done that in the forum [ > ]).
Nick's article then is the baseline to understand what's going on. And it is on top of this baseline that we are now going to begin building. So let's move on and start getting into the interesting stuff.
To start with then, let me make clear that I am approaching the issue from an ARTISTIC perspective, NOT from a FINANCIAL one. This right here is the criterion that separates the casuals from the hardcore. Anyone who gives precedence to the financial angle is a casual (if not indeed a non-gamer). It's the same sort of bullshit as with crap like mobile games, or "edutainment", or "gamification", or even stuff like AutoCAD and Minecraft (and indeed stuff like Nintendogs, Wii Fit, etc.) I've already sort of covered it in Non-games are for Non-gamers (and, before that, in On "Values" for "Monies" to an extent). Videogame company moves into a non-gaming field and makes a ton of money, and the casuals and non-gamers immediately start running around like headless chickens, screaming "X NON-GAMING APPLICATION IS TEH FUTURE OF GAMING!!!11" No it isn't, fagots. If a gaming company moves outside of gaming, all this means is that IT IS NO LONGER A GAMING COMPANY, and you should therefore NOT EVEN BE TALKING ABOUT IT, let alone TALKING ABOUT IT ALL THE TIME, EVEN TO THE EXCLUSION OF WHAT REAL GAMING COMPANIES ARE DOING.
Casuals lol, but anyway, let's keep going.
So when I say that Nintendo is in the doldrums, I mean from the perspective of GAMING, not as a financial entity. If Nintendo goes back to making playing cards and starts raking in a ton of cash, it will still be DEAD TO ME if they are not at the same time churning out new, cutting-edge games and game hardware. And indeed, from what little I do know of the financial aspect of the artform (for I take pride in not knowing much about it, and leaving bean-counting to the bean-counters), Nintendo is in no such trouble. Worst comes to worst they can abandon their hardware business and turn multiplatform, and they can be selling enough Mario games to keep all their employees' bellies full of rice and raw fish for the foreseeable future. And that's why all talk of lack of third-party support for Nintendo is not a big deal. The only reason Nintendo makes hardware in the first place is to avoid paying other console manufacturers their licensing fees. For what was the point of the Wii anyway? All its games can be made to run on the GameCube just fine. The Wii might have been twice as powerful, supposedly, but there were still no games made for it that actually utilized this extra power. If anything, there are games on the GameCube that are technically far more impressive than anything seen on the Wii (e.g. F-Zero GX, among several others). As for the gimmicky controllers — they are just controllers. They could have been made to work with the GameCube just fine. What Nintendo essentially did with the Wii, then, was create TWO CONSOLES FOR A SINGLE GENERATION, and that's why they have been ONE GENERATION BEHIND ever since. The Wii was a trick to make players buy the same console twice. I am not saying that it was a scam, as Nick said in his article; I am sure that Miyamoto and co. were stupid enough to believe their own bullshit that waving a little stick around like a retard would revolutionize gaming. They did not believe in the power of hardware enough to invest sufficiently into improving it, so they invested in peripherals instead, such as controllers, and left the main hardware unit pretty much unchanged — thereby dooming themselves into irrelevance.
Or at least that's what the smartest gamers are saying. And they are right, to an extent. Only there is a bigger truth hiding behind that truth — their little truth — and since it's bigger, it's also rightER. It is a truth that's more true; a higher truth. And that's what I will elaborate now.
For why did Nintendo not believe in the power of hardware? Why does it STILL not believe in it? This is the million-dollar question.
Some people may say that Nintendo is simply financially incapable of keeping up with Sony and Microsoft in the hardware race, so they dropped out of it because they had no choice. They might have WANTED to keep up, those people will say, but they simply couldn't. On the face of it, this theory seems correct, but we can't be sure without asking a bean counter to come in and tell us whether its premise is sound. Is Nintendo really financially incapable of keeping up with Sony and MS in the hardware race? I don't know. I have no idea how much money is required for that, and whether Nintendo had that money in the bank or, if not, whether they could have raised it. But though this question is mildly interesting, and I wouldn't mind receiving a good answer on it at some point, I will now try to explain why it's irrelevant. For even if Nintendo had had the money to keep up with Sony and MS in the hardware race, that investment would have been a waste, at least as far as Nintendo's own game development efforts are concerned, since its games would not have been able to take advantage of it. For I mean, sure, you could make a more detailed, shinier Mario on a PlayStation 4 or an Xbone than you could on a Wii or a Wii U, but the main benefit of stronger hardware is not to improve existing kinds of games (let alone to improve them only aesthetically), but, as I have explained at length in my essay The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros, TO MAKE NEW, MORE COMPLEX (and hence more immersive, and hence more artistic) KINDS OF GAMES POSSIBLE. And I quote:
"The quest for power has always been partly about jazzing up the graphics of course, but to view it simply as such would be missing the point. The real benefit of more advanced technology is that it enables developers to create new kinds of games. Metal Gear Solid and Katamari Damashii, for example, would not have been possible on 16-bit consoles [...]. And when the extra power or new features of the latest technologies are not used to create totally new experiences, they are used to evolve existing genres and take them in new directions. Herzog Zwei, the first real-time tactics game, was developed in the late '80s to run on the 16-bit Mega Drive, but massive-scale RTT and RTS games such as Creative Assembly's Total War series or Chris Taylor's Supreme Commander would not have been possible without the power of today's cutting-edge computer systems."
Innovative developers, therefore, are "hardware whores", because THAT'S what's required for innovation: MORE POWERFUL HARDWARE (and this has been true, as I have explained in detail in my Genealogy, since the beginning of art, otherwise we'd still be scratching cave walls with sharp rocks today). But also vice versa: STAGNANT developers (such as casual and "indie" game developers, for example, and as I am explaining now, Nintendo) do not give two shits about it, because their backwards, stagnant game designs DO NOT NEED IT.
And this is The Truth about what happened with Nintendo: there was a time when they were on the cutting-edge of game design, turning out such incredible, hardcore, cutting-edge games as Super Mario World that, 25 years later, have still not been superseded (for to so much as attempt to name a better 2D platformer than SMW is proof that you are casual — it even beats out all 3D ones, for christsake). For what Nick and the casuals say about Nintendo being a company for children is bullshit: the Famicom and the Super Famicom were two of the most hardcore consoles ever, and their libraries are full of hardcore games that Nick and the casuals are too casual to tackle (or to even so much as know about, in fact). And this is what pushed Nintendo to create the SUPER Famicom, instead of the Famicom U (the FU lol): Super Mario World's unprecedented scale, complexity and beauty; F-Zero's unprecedented speed; Pilotwings' unprecedented mechanics and immersion; and so on. It is the SOFTWARE, the ART, that drives development of the hardware, and when this art is missing — when the artists lose their way and can't find the road to the future to save their lives — the hardware loses its way too. And so it did. And that's why Nintendo has become irrelevant today. NOT because they fell out of the hardware race, but because they fell out of the ARTISTIC one, which is today dominated by powerful arthouse developers such as Ubisoft, Activision, Electronic Arts and the rest of them, which are giving the "Mane Streem" (i.e. the HUMAN PSYCHE) what it wants, which is — unbeknown to everyone except the master psychologist and ultimate philosopher that is me — to follow the Tree of Gaming all the way past yesterday's primitive genres to the very top: to the first-person free-roaming virtual-reality role-playing games that are the future of art, and which Nintendo's old foggies like Miyamoto (who, like apparently most Asians, gets motion sickness from first-person games — they get motion sickness from LIFE) do not have the faintest notion of.
So rest in peace, Nintendo. We loved you, but you won't be missed, because we have Intel, Nvidia and Oculus VR to make our hardware today, and Ubisoft, Activision, Electronic Arts and the rest of them to make our games. So we are all set, thankyouverymuch and thanks for all the fish (I mean the memories), kthxbai. And for those of you who are wondering what the "Tree of Gaming" is, stick around. It is one of the crowning achievements of my theory of art, and I'll be explaining it in great detail shortly.
March 22, 2017 update:. The ongoing Breath of the Wild emulation fracas has compelled me to return to this subject, at least momentarily, and beat this particular dead horse a little bit more, for good measure. For those who need catching up, go to the relevant thread on NeoGAF, which has now been locked, and start reading backwards from the last post [ > ]. And of course my stance on the issue is: pirate away. Go ahead, bring Nintendo down. If they wanted to stay in the race they should not have released a machine that's so weak it can be emulated on a toaster 48 hours after release. So yes, people are stealing Nintendo's money, but Nintendo tried to steal THEIR money FIRST when they rebadged their last console and tried to sell it to people all over again, with a mere gimmicky controller added which could have easily been been sold separately for the Wii U (exactly as what happened with the GameCube and the Wii a decade earlier). Or want to make a modern portable machine like Vita as opposed to the shitty gimmicky DSes you've been peddling for years? Make a portable machine then, without trashing your home console simultaneously and dropping all support for it. So we will buy your hardware if it brings something new to the table — and this new thing is always MORE POWER, because BIGGER IS BETTER, as everyone well knows by now, and if it SEEMS that something new doesn't require more power, as in the case of VR for example, that's merely an ILLUSION because VR requires INSANE amounts of power to realize its full potential. So either bring a more powerful machine to the table, or fuck off and die and turn software-only like Sega, who well deserved to be kicked out of the race for failing to keep up due to the lack of megabuck$ and moneyhat$. No moneyhat$ means you don't deserve to be in the hardware race, and PC master race has emulated your toaster in 48 hours and is playing your game and distributing it to everyone for free because you are a loser who deserves to lose, get it? And the moment Cemu or some other project reaches parity with Switch, we will pirate THE FUCK out of every half-decent game you make, and you won't see A DIME for it, loser. If you want to see our dimes, call up Sony or MS and beg them to allow you to sell your games on their download services, running on complex, advanced machines that it will take years to emulate.
So, to bring some much-needed perspective into this nonsense, realize that when people praise Nintendo and BotW they are praising the software division, which is in no danger no matter what happens to the Switch. In the last resort, if Nintendo is too stupid to keep the team together and churning out cutting-edge free-roaming masterpieces back-to-back, the devs can just disband and they will instantly be rehired in any number of studios across the world. Talent like that does not disappear from one day to the next, or even from one year to the next. So it is solely the hardware division that is in danger here, because it sucks, and therefore deserves to be, when it fails to even compete with a kid making an emulator in his bedroom lol. But the really funny thing about this whole business, and where it connects to my analysis of the fortunes of the company and its design philosophy above, is that with this game making a ton of money and attracting a ton of attention and acclaim, Nintendo will be forced to consider making cutting-edge games a priority from now on. So perhaps they will become a developer to watch once again, at some point. The market — the "mane streem" — is rewarding them for going free-roaming, first with Xenoblade on the Wii U, and then with this, in which 400 people (including the entire studio that made Xenoblade) worked for five years with a multi-million dollar budget to bring it to fruition. So the "smaller is better" native American aboriginal Australian minimalist pauper limp-wristed fagot design philosophy has finally been disowned even by Nintendo — though of course don't expect anyone to verbalize this for a few more decades yet, because the entire pseudo-intellectual cartel controlling blogs and forums on the internet is still deeply and unrepentantly communist. But the execs at Nintendo have seen where the future lies, and that that future is both awesome, and highly lucrative. The question now, as far as the company is concerned, is whether they have the business acumen and artistic talent to pursue it.
I will be watching, and playing, and analyzing everything.