New Project Cafe rumors make me nervous

Recently Nintendo gave official confirmation regarding the development of their next console, which is to be unveiled at E3 2011 next month. The code name for the console at this point is Project Cafe, which will almost certainly not be the final name for the console. Ever since the first rumors hit the Internet, speculation has been running wild over what the console would bring to the table. Some sources say that it’s significantly more powerful than the 360 and PS3, others say it’s about on par. Some say it has a 6″ touch screen on the controller, others say that’s crazy talk. Either way, some rumors seem to be gaining momentum, and the newest round points to some quirky decisions being made.

According to Stephen Totilo, here are the newest batch of rumors that he’s pulled together; and he seems confident that they are indeed legitimate.

  • No internal hard drive
  • 8GB flash-based memory, possibly for game storage
  • Disc format that holds 25GB storage (possibly single-layer blu-ray)
  • Support for SD cards
  • Possibly 1080i maximum resolution
  • The console can stream to the controller screen for portable play
  • Wii Remotes definitely work with new console

I like the streaming to the screen for portable play, that sounds nice. It’s also really cool that the Wii Remotes will still work with the console, but the first few items worry me. Without a larger storage solution, downloadable content will be somewhat limited or else gamers will always be having to swap in SD cards. The disc storage might point to blu-ray, which would be nice, but it would be a real shame if they don’t support multi-layered discs. Finally, the possibility that the console won’t do 1080p would be near inexcusable. While 1080i still looks nice, there’s no reason not to support full 1080p with a console that’s aimed for a 2012 release.

It’s starting to feel like some of the earlier rumors about Nintendo putting out a powerhouse console are starting to be replaced by Nintendo putting out a console that’s going to be more in line with the 360 and PS3. While that’s a huge leap up from the Wii, it would be the same story again once the PS3 and 360 successors release and Nintendo’s console is once again a generation behind.

Graphics aren’t the issue here, either. The issue is that if Nintendo’s console can’t keep up from a hardware standpoint, the library will suffer. The fact that 3rd parties have been speaking highly of Project Cafe makes me think that Nintendo has a good idea on their hands, but I’m really hoping that it’s not going to be a generation behind again.

What Nintendo needs to do with their next console

Speculation is wild regarding the next Nintendo console, which as confirmed to be an HD console. For some fans, simply having a Wii that’s capable of 1080 resolutions. For most, however, Nintendo is in need of some reparations in order to get the hardcore to embrace their next offering. I’ve done some digging around into the rumors, have touched base with some developers I know and some PR people and they seem to think Nintendo is sincere in their desire to regain popularity with hardcore gamers and it’s not just lip service to ensure a strong launch support. So what does Nintendo do to get back in the good graces of the hardcore audience?

Better Online Support

One of the most important areas in which Nintendo needs to improve is in their online offerings. The Wii is online-enabled, but it’s pretty horrible overall in regards to the experience you get with online play. Nintendo needs to make friends list management easier, communication a focal point in gameplay, and a better solution for downloading games, content, and updates/fixes. To accomplish this, Nintendo is going to have to back off of their nanny tendencies and trust in parental supervision a bit more. It’s unlike Nintendo to open up the gates to wider communication via their platforms, but the time is now if they want to seriously contend in the online realm.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, Nintendo, make the Virtual Console service better!

A Standard Control Scheme out of the Box

Using a Classic Controller or a GameCube controller is a decent way to play games in a more standard manner on the Wii, but since neither controller came with the console, the inclusion of standard control schemes in games was an option that was typically an afterthought for many developers. With rumors swirling of a screen embedded into the controller, it’s nice to hear just as many rumors saying that the controller has a dual analog setup. How’s this for crazy? Nintendo has NEVER had a console with a dual analog controller unless it was an optional accessory. It’s time to get on the dual analog train, Nintendo.

Standard Media

While just about everybody has more DVD players than TV sets these days, it can’t hurt for Nintendo to finally support a common disc format that allows the system to play media other than video games. A blu-ray player would be nice, but if they don’t opt for blu-ray, DVD has to be the choice, despite its limited storage capacity. Swapping discs from time to time is preferable to an oddball format that doesn’t allow for any other uses.

Actual 3rd Party Support!

Nintendo has always raked in huge profits thanks to their high selling 1st party games, but no console in history has ever won the console war on the strength of their 1st party library alone. It’s time that Nintendo opens its doors more widely to 3rd parties and provides them with better tools, licensing agreements, and does a better job promoting 3rd party offerings. Many times Microsoft or Sony will help 3rd parties advertise their games and it always helps push more units through the sales channel. Nintendo needs to do the same.

Bring Back Core Titles Development

Miis are everywhere these days, and when used properly they’re great. However, aside from a handful of Zelda and Metroid titles, Nintendo has been far too casual with their offerings to appease the hardcore crowd. Not since Perfect Dark has Nintendo had a strong FPS offering (no, Geist doesn’t count) come from one of their own studios. That’s far too long. Keep up with the Marios and Zeldas, but explore some deeper content as well. While 3rd parties could carry the majority of this burden, it’s the 1st parties that generally need to provide the exclusives.

Make the Gimmicks Count and Support Them

Nintendo loves to engage in quirky behavior with their hardware. Sometimes the quirks turn into significant contributions to the industry (trigger buttons, rumble, d-pad, etc.), and other times those quirks fizzle and are left in the past (bongos, GBA link, Wii Speak, etc.) to fill closet space. While I don’t want Nintendo to stop pushing out their quirky accessories, they need to do a better job at supporting them once they’re out. The Wii Balance Board had some potential that was definitely left untapped. It’s fine to experiment, but don’t leave the buyers out in the cold once they gamble on new concepts.

It’s a long list of things that Nintendo needs to do, but I think that’s pretty indicative of where they stand with the hardcore crowd. Nostalgia always propels Nintendo’s efforts with the older crowd, but that effect seems to be losing its potency as each year goes by. If Nintendo is truly serious about becoming a mainstay in the hardcore gaming circles again, they better come to the next generation with a new attitude and a broader vision. We’ll find out more at E3 2011 this June.