Ideas and Thoughts: Nintendo Where Time Keeps on Slipping

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This Idea & Thought dedicated to Chris Farley, the other really cool fat guy who'd run around and shout on screen, and generally make me have a good time.

19-Dec-97

Now, down to bidness!  As you may have guessed, this is about Nintendo's (not-too-) distant future.  Since it's so far away, you can figure that I'll have new I&Ts; on this subject before the times that this tells of...

Now, when I'm speaking of Nintendo's next system, the sequel to the N64, I shall refer to it as... hmm... Ninfinity for now.  When I saw that 2064 contest in Nintendo Power, I never really entered it, but while thinking of a cool name for it, well, that's what I came up with.

What bit shall Ninfinity be?  I don't know.  Somewhere between 64 & 128-bit, though.  I mean, as you may have noticed, Nintendo's made a big deal of the N64 being 64-bit, so they may have some explaining to do to the general populace if their next system is that, too.  :)  But as far as this part is concerned, I have no definitive (as if any of my thoughts are) idea.

But, how "powerful" will it be?  I'll use the term "power" here, though it's really hard to measure that, since all systems do their magic differently.  But you must have some comparison of power, and you'll be forced to live with it for now.  Now, again, how powerful will it be?  Well, I figure VERY.  Think on this: when did you start seeing arcade games that look as good as the N64?  Not that long ago, right?  I mean, the original Virtua Fighter came out in what, '93?  Compare that to Super Mario 64, a home game only 3 years later.  In other words, it takes a very short time for that quality of graphics and all come home.  So let's just say the N64 is as powerful as Sega's Model 1 hardware, which is what VF ran on, even though we know it to be more so.  Only 3 years to bring home.  And since Nintendo releases a new system every 5 years or so, and it takes 3 years to get home, that would place us in mid to late '98 arcade games as far as Ninfinity is concerned.  And Sega's Model 3 hardware (Virtua Fighter 3) came out in late '96!!!  First, let me note something: you may notice I estimate down.  That is to be safe.  If I estimate the Ninfinity to be 10x more powerful than it really ends up, I'll be much more disappointed than if I, say, was only thinking half!  Now, you've seen how fast the arcade graphics can get home (or perhaps you'd rather notice how quickly computer graphics improve).  Either way, you can most assuredly understand that my 2,000,000 polygons per second (compared to that 160,000 for N64 number Nintendo threw around) estimate is very easily within reach for a 2001 system.

Now, how will all that extra be used?  Well, first let me figure something here... using those numbers above, I'm saying the Ninfinity can push 12.5x the amount of polygons the N64 can.  Now, before we go putting all these polygons on as they currently are, let's take care of other things first.  What things, you ask?  Resolution, frame rate, and horizon/popup.  Resolution is how many dots are on a screen at a time.  For a good example of resolution, compare Atari 2600, NES, and SNES.  Notice how blocky it is the farther back you go?  Sure you do.  Now, a game like SM64 is somewhat under 320x240, while the max current TVs can have is 640x480 (QBC '98 uses this resolution).  5x more!  I learned, though, that just because it's 5x the number of dots doesn't mean it takes 5x the power.  The 3D is the same.  It's just that the chips that change the 3D... thoughts inside the N64 into a picure for viewing on TV is taxed more.  Of course, we can assume that this will be faster for Ninfinity too, but even so I'll count that in... then there's the horizon & popup.  Perhaps you'd be more familiar with the term fog?  Yes, fog is in many games so the graphics can be better up close.  The less that can be shown on screen, the more polygons can be on each thing.  Turok is especially infamous for this.  And games which don't use fog often have things in the distance that seem to pop out of thin air as you come near.  I don't know any exact numbers for how much power it would take for the higher resolution or the horizon, especially since the latter is different for every game.  But let's say that it'll take 2x the power for both of those put together.  OK, now on to frame rate!  Most N64 games have no frame rate problems.  Frame rate is how many frames of screen there are per second on screen.  The more frames, the smoother it looks, but the less polygons and such each frame has.  A game like SM64 has about 24 fps.  The max a TV can have is 60 fps, which is what F-Zero 64 has.  The worst frame rate problem I know of on N64 so far is on Goldeneye.  Most of the time the frame rate is fine, but when you're in multiplayer, there's lots of enemies on the screen, there's an explosion, etc. it can start to go noticeably lower.  Let's say that the Ninfinity will have about double whatever would be used on the N64.  Then even the worst situations on Goldeneye wouldn't be THAT bad, and a game like SM64 (or SM Infinity) would be just as smooth as can be!  So all the above says that if we take a current game and give it the better resolution, frame rate, and less popup/fog, it'd take 4x the power (there's that word again).  And didn't my conservative estimates give the Ninfinity 12.5x the power of the N64?  Divided by 4, we still have 3x the number of polygons there are right now.  Now, for all the changes I've given above, some games would of course need more of certain things (such as frame rate for racing games) and some would need less, but still...

Now I've tackled the power issue.  Now it's time for the format, in other words what the games will be put on.  Well, I envision 3 formats: cartridge, rewriteable disk, and CD.  Cartridge, you ask?  Well, I don't really think games will be made for cartridge, but can it really hurt to have another port for extras?  I mean, it could use it for things similar to how the Saturn does now, and since the cartridge port itself costs next to nothing, why not?  Rewriteable disk?  Yes, like the 64DD.  Only larger.  Perhaps 128-256 MB.  And a CD drive.  What speed?  Let's say 24x or so.  Why disk AND CD?  Well, why not?  Not all games need the writeability, and CDs are cheaper to make.  Still, why both?  Well, it's about the same as with the cartridge port: the cost is so low, why not?  I mean, you can find a 24x CD-ROM for your PC for under $100 now!  And I know that currently 100 MB ZIP drives are $100, so even if you wanted to double that for the extra space, that's $300 as of now.  Yes, quite a lot, it's true.  But in over 3 years...?  Let me ask you this: what do you think a 24x would've cost 3 years ago?  I don't even think they made them then!  But rest assured, we all know that with things like this, price drops amazingly quick.  I'm sure that by the time the Ninfinity came out, you'd be able to get the combination for at the most $50.  Not that bad, eh?  Now, before I go even further into the future, let me ask you this: what problems does the N64 have, or has had?  Basically lack of games/developers and prices of games, right?  Especially RPGs, and things like that in Japan.  Now let me ask you this: why are the games pricey, and why is there a lack of games/developers?  This time there's only one answer: cartridges.  Now, we can all appreciate great cartridge games, but other than the side effects of cartrdiges, what would PlayStation have over the N64?  Exactly...

Now, shall I go even further into the future, my friends?  No?  Forget you, then!  I'm envisioning an upgrade.  Yes, already envisioning an upgade!  What would it be?  Perhaps you can guess, it is DVD!  But that's not all, it would also improve the tech specs of the system.  I'm envisioning an easy upgrade.  Easy upgrade?  Well, I'm thinking of how the extra RAM will be added to the N64 with the 64DD.  You know, the slot in the top-front of the N64 where you'll be able to plug it in?  I'm figuring that most things could be plugged in this way.  Of course the Ninfinity would be built expecting the extra 3D chips, RAM, etc. so it would work very well.  Very similar to PCs.  The developers wouldn't have to learn anything new, they'd just have more power to work with!  And, of course, all those frame rate/polygon numbers, etc. I worked on would be even better.  And for those games already made, they'd be improved too!  Things like the frame rate would be better, AI could be faster, etc.

Now, I've mainly talked about 3D stuff thus far, and I've neglected to mention one thing: Ninfinity should definitely not skimp on 2D!

Did I mention Ninfinity should be backwards compatible with N64?  Well, at least as far as accessories go.  Having N64 games play on it isn't a big deal (though it couldn't hurt), but think of all the accessories the N64 has, and will get in the future!  Microphones, cameras, possibly printers, etc. etc.  It'd be much better if the same ones could be used with the new system.  Of course they could make ones that would look more like the Ninfinity, perhaps better, etc. but if people really like these accessories they're probably not going to want to have to buy new versions of all of them.

There are a few more things which are quite obvious and not all that ineresting.  More and bigger textures, for example.  The others are too obvious for me to think of right now, or are at least not important enough to really mention.

Oh, wanna see a pic with a buncha polygons?  Well, I threw together 4 pics of SM64 in a sort of 4-player mode pic, which in essence shows how it would look with double the res both ways, and 4x the number of polygons.  I know my estimates ended up with about 3x, but remember it's all estimable, and would you really wanna see a pic of just 3-player?  Here's the link, anyhoo.

OK, people.  That's it for now.  I've got more to say, but I'll leave that for the unpast...

Joshua Slone believes that Yoda is the seventh Beatle.