Why Talk Of a HD Nintendo Console Almost Makes Me Sad

Whether you like it or not, the Wii has had a positive impact on gaming, and not in the strictly financial sense. Although it’s true that third party games haven’t had a great time on the system, and it’s largely become a dumpster for lazy ports and cash-in waggle games, there is something very special about the Wii that ensured my support  – the fact that it was technically inferior to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Seriously, I think its lack of horsepower was an inherently good thing.

This is why I am almost sorry to see that the system’s end has begun, with talk of Project Cafe dominating all Nintendo-related headlines.

I’ve had a theory for quite some time that the graphical setbacks of the Wii breed an environment for better crafted games. As much as I love some graphical pornography with high definition visuals and surround sound, there’s no escaping the fact that intense graphics can actually restrict a game‘s development. The pressure for higher and higher visual quality has seen budgets skyrocket, to the point where many games need to sell a million copies just to break even. There is an aesthetic standard that one expects on the Xbox 360 and PS3, where anything less than stellar can quickly be written off — quite childishly — as looking like a PS2 game.

On the Wii, there’s no such pressure. A lot of games do look like PS2-era titles, but because we expect that on the Wii, studios aren’t required quite so much to focus on the graphics. With that much energy, time and cash saved, what can they do? They can pour the extra resources into making some damn good games!

I offer Final Fantasy XIII as an example. Here’s a game that is rivaled by only a very few games in the graphical department, yet its story is dull as ditchwater and the gameplay is nowhere near as robust as past titles. Furthermore, Square Enix confirmed that it had to cut significant amounts of content (a whole game’s worth) from a title that already provided a shorter experience than PS2 and PSX-era Final Fantasy titles. Is it surprising that the game was more shallow and featured less content, though? How could they focus on anything else when they were building an entirely new engine to support those eye-shagging visuals?

In my opinion, the graphical focus led to Final Fantasy XIII being a worse game. In some ways, it’s not Square Enix’s fault — you simply cannot have a huge open world, eighty hours of content and tons of secret areas in a game that looks as good as Final Fantasy XIII does. It’s not logistically possible without more development and tons more money.

What I admire about the Wii was that it sorted this problem out for those developers without massive budgets or an obsessive need to let the art department masturbate for five years. Developers simply aren’t able to make stunning HD games on the Wii, so they’re forced to bring something else to the table with which to impress gamers. Not only that, but roleplaying games are able to provide what we used to expect of them, without the constraints that Final Fantasy XIII faced. In fact, the Wii has become a kind of sanctuary for Japanese roleplaying games, with the likes of Earth Seeker, Xenoblade, Arc Rise Fantasia and The Last Story all finding homes there. That’s the kind of lineup you’d expect to see on the PlayStation 2, and I think that’s always been a very positive aspect of the Wii.

Without HD graphics hogging development time, money and disc space, studios can make their games longer, larger and deeper. That’s why I still hold a torch for the potential release of games like Last Story and Earth Seeker, because I expect robust and satisfying gameplay as a direct result of the developer being under less pressure in the tech department. People have complained that the JRPG genre has sagged recently, and I think that’s certainly true on the 360 and PS3. I don’t, however, believe this is the case on the Wii and Nintendo DS. Some fantastic RPGs have hit those systems this generation, and there’s got to be a good reason for it.

I also believe that the lack of HD encourages the creation of games that look better artistically. It’s a common complaint this generation that titles have become grey, brown and dreary, due to an increased focus on “photorealism.” While I like grey and dreary for various aesthetic reasons, there’s no denying that many 360 and PS3 games look the same. It’s hard to distinguish Call of Duty from Medal of Honor, or Gears from Killzone, at least on an artistic level. Again, the Wii does not let you get away with that, because your “photorealistic” game will look like sludge. The answer? Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Donkey Kong Country Returns. No More Heroes. Super Mario Galaxy. Bright, colorful, unique, easily distinguishable titles that don’t boast the raw power of a PS3 game, but remain beautiful to behold in their own charming way.

So it is with a heavy heart that I consider Project Cafe and the various rumors that surround it. Some claim it’s as powerful as a PS3, others say it’s even more powerful. Nintendo is clearly aiming to compete in the visual arms race this time around, and while I am excited to see Zelda, Metroid and Mario in HD, I can’t help but feel a slight twinge of melancholy as well. I fear that it’s truly the end of an era — that the Wii’s “crappy” visuals were an underrated boon, encouraging interesting art styles and a focus on gameplay over graphics. No, it wasn’t fully taken advantage of by many developers, but there were some studios out there who understood what could be done on the Wii, and how to take advantage of that lowered visual expectancy. Where will they go now? What will they do?

I’m as excited about Project Cafe as the next guy, but I’m going to miss the Wii when it finally gets thrown on the scrapheap. I just hope The Last Story does indeed get localized before that happens, so I can experience one last hurrah.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

13 Comments on Why Talk Of a HD Nintendo Console Almost Makes Me Sad

max

On May 10, 2011 at 8:18 am

sure thing mate good graphics are still a good thing in a game bad graphics sucks live with it

Dawna

On May 10, 2011 at 8:35 am

Max was dropped on his head at birth, obv.

BUT KIRBY’S EPIC YARN HAD EXCELLENT GRAPHICS JIM! No really. ;)

Brolsen

On May 10, 2011 at 8:48 am

I dont care how much poly’s are being displayed, how much color correction is being applied, FoD or motion blur et cetera as long as the image is crisp. To be honest the image quality itself is what’s bothering me, not the graphics. I’v got proper cables and a decent HDtv but I can hardly tell the difference between a fuzzy N64 screen and a fuzzy Wii screen.

James

On May 10, 2011 at 10:32 am

I think I know what you mean; I have a thing for games on less powerful platforms that are noticeably trying to creatively transcend their limitations. Examples include the giant alligator and “monster tearing through the roof” scenes of “Resident Evil 2″ and that huge snow level in “Perfect Dark.”

With every new console, developers talk about how they no longer have to rely on “smoke and mirrors” anymore, but games are all smoke and mirrors; I appreciate being able to see the craftsmanship involved in setting them up.

Will

On May 10, 2011 at 10:45 am

Max, you make it difficult for people to understand how stupid your opinion is with that much lack of grammar.

Steve

On May 10, 2011 at 11:51 am

While I can see where you are coming from, Jim, I’m scratching my head at how stagnating technology would help the status quo of the gaming industry (forward-looking, of course). I can’t help but feel you’re simply basking in some nostalgic romance of the past, when games were simpler and thus made by simpler means. But what you are actually suggesting is akin to shoehorning developers into a restricted environment, praying that somehow it will force them to regurgitate some creativity of some sort in the end.

In a dream world, that idea might work. But that’s just not how it works in the real world. Creativity comes from being inspired and having a passion for creating something from nothing. Granted, the industry is more robotic today (push in… push out), but don’t blame it on the technology. Blame it on greed and man’s need to exploit a resource until it no longer profits. In other words, blame it on the corporate big wigs, the outsourcing/lazy developers, and, in some instances, the lemming-type gamers throwing their money away at anything that’s “oooh shiny!” Certainly don’t blame advancing hardware as the source of future gaming woes. I’d quote some silly Uncle Ben line of Spider Man fame, but “meh” on that.

There’s no reason why you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Mario, Link, and Samus can exist on a modern platform without selling out to the graphics-whore crowd. Case and point: look at Little Big Planet. An undeniable platformer with that old-school arcade feel, but maintaining a nice balance of artwork and style while taking advantage of the underlying tech without overdoing it. It can be done. It has been done.

It just sounds to me like you’re worried Nintendo is selling out. I, myself, think they sold out long ago anyway. You can’t live off your 1st party titles forever. I think Nintendo realized that the Wii party wagon had run its course and the next logical step was to invest some of that warehouse full of cash to try to lure 3rd party developers back their way. I see the Wii HD (or whatever it’s going to be called) as a smart move. Especially since the hardware sounds like it can match whatever is already out there. Even more bonus points if porting cross-platform titles is as simple as 1-2-3. At the very least, they can try to lure some of those PS3/Xbox gamers their way.

If they can make it co-exist nicely with the other consoles (Wii included), then I think it will succeed. If they try force feeding more gimmicks and charging rediculous amounts for silly overpriced controllers, then they’re going to quickly find out the casual crowd is perfectly happy with their original Wii. Even so, I don’t think they’ll be off to a good start trying to scrape the bottom of the barrel for gamers with recession proof pockets. Put simply, they need to market the Wii successor cheap.

And in 2-5 years from now, we’ll probably be back to square one again with the next-next-gen MS and Sony consoles flexing their hardware muscles. But somehow I don’t think Nintendo is really worried. It’s good to be king.

Jack Todd

On May 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

You seem to be confusing HD resolution, graphic engines & art direction.
Even today’s indie games are all HD. Nintendo has to release an HD console, phones have better resolutions.

James

On May 11, 2011 at 2:45 am

I have to agree and disagree on this point. I agree that 360 and PS3 titles alongside a great many PC titles have all fallen into the big black hole of Graphical Porn, some titles do not end up looking the same. Titles like Halo who utilize high-end graphics, not the best but still high-end, are easily distinguishable from the rest. Fallout with it’s insanely huge open world and it’s incredible attention to model detail managed to get away with lower-res textures but make that up with powerful shaders to add that eyecandy finish a lot of us crave.

What game studios are forgetting is that graphics =/= good game. Gameplay and story are what make the game good. This is why I also find Fable II and Fable III lack luster, great visuals and a somewhat sturdy engine but a poor backstory and hard to play game. Also it lagged incredibly bad on my 360 at many points.

What I want to see is companies looking back at the golden era, the 1990′s when games were bleeding edge but still played amazingly well. Titles like Croc, Oddworld, Trespasser (In particular), Duke, Doom, Heart of Darkness, Tomb Raider, Crash, Spyro, Zelda OoT, Mario 64, etc really were the best games of all time, only for their gameplay if anything, if the gameplay from back then was implemented in a new and fresh manner nowadays on our hardware, we’d have games that would really be worth replaying again and again like our old carts and scratched-to-death CD-Roms (and for us really old folk, our Floppy Disks :P )

I am glad to see the Wii go honestly just as I was glad that the old DS’s died, as long as Nintendo’s next product surpasses its current one, I will always be pleased.

trople

On May 11, 2011 at 2:51 am

Couldn’t agree more, Jim.

I clearly remember Nintendo justifying the Wii’s lack of horsepower before its release, by saying they were stepping out of the pissing contest, and catering for smaller teams with smaller budgets who can afford to take risks.

jsepter42

On May 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

Luckily, many game studios already wasted time developing HD engines for earlier systems (see xBox and PS3). Now, they can focus energy on creating incredible gaming experiences on Ninty’s new machine. And listen to the execs . . . the Wii ain’t goin’ nowhere for a long time. Too many homes already own one and continue to buy games. It’s the PS2 of this generation (a system still receiving the occasional new game, even years after the PS3 release).

Shawn

On May 13, 2011 at 6:10 am

All you wiiwii worshipers should keep in this in mind: even though the wii system sales are the strongest of the 3 consoles, software & online sales for nintendo lags greatly behind 360/Ps3. These are actually the most profitable for a company. This is why nintendo is releasing a new console, to make money on 3rd party ports, not out of the goodness of thier kind hearts.

max

On May 14, 2011 at 6:49 am

i dont think you all get the point that bad graphics sucks, i had a wii sold it a month later, i rented bully, didint play even 30 secs since the graphics were so horrible they were maybe worse then Vice City… sorry but Ugly looking games in 2012 dosent live long

spil spil and vinde

On March 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

People need to be schooled on Libal Lawfare…This is persecuting americans through the legal system through bogus claims to drain their resources through the courts and Judicial systems using Sharia.