New Patent Application Hints That Nintendo NX is Unlike Any Console You’ve Seen Before

Monday, December 7th, 2015

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Nintendo NX

 

Nintendo has already hinted that its upcoming Nintendo NX platform will blend the capabilities of a home console with those of a more portable platform. This may sound like a tricky thing to do, and that’s because it undoubtedly is. While there are still very few details on the Nintendo NX, we just got a few new bits of information. Nintendo has filed a new patent application that sheds some new light on its mysterious upcoming system. The patent application (20150343306) portrays a gaming system that is different from any we’ve seen before. A primary gaming console (the Nintendo NX itself) is able to connect to one or more supplemental processing devices “to increase the speed or quality of a user’s gaming experience.” Some have interpreted this as a reference to the kinds of console upgrade hardware that we’ve seen before, but that’s not actually the case.

The diagram below is from the patent, and it shows an overview of the main idea here. This console can measure the latency and performance characteristics of each supplemental processing device it is connected to. It would use this information to assign appropriate workloads to each supplemental device, which allows the Nintendo NX itself to handle the most important and immediate things in the game. These supplemental processing devices can be connected to the console via wires, or they can also be connected through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Nintendo NX Patent 2

 

Nintendo’s new patent also discusses how end-users might setup their own hardware and make it available for distributed rendering during certain times of the day or night. It also mentions the possibility of rewarding players for sharing their hardware in this way by giving them game time, credits, etc.

This looks like a form of cluster-based console video gaming. The term cluster comes from the fact that instead of doing all of your processing on a single device, you are instead splitting the workload across a cluster of devices. One of the biggest issues with this by far, is latency (the time it takes for a message to travel back and forth between two devices). This is extremely important when streaming large amounts of data. For example, the Wii U has demonstrated a form of local game streaming with its Gamepad controller. The Wii U has to stream data to the Gamepad so that said Gamepad knows what it should be displaying on its screen, and what sounds it should be playing. Of course, some of the Wii U’s processing power gets devoted to sending data to the Gamepad, but with only one Gamepad this performance hit is quite manageable. The Gamepad is a cool feature, and two of its best uses I’ve seen were the scanner in ZombieU, and the editor mode in Super Mario Maker.

Nintendo NX Patent 3

 

Latency is a huge issue with streaming because if the connection isn’t fast enough, then you get interruptions. Many of you have probably experienced this kind of thing while watching YouTube videos, where it has to pause the video until it receives enough data to play more of it. If this happens, it means your internet is not transmitting the video data to you fast enough for the video to keep playing. In other words, your internet needs to send you the data at least as fast as that video data is being played back on your screen. If it doesn’t, then playback will have to stop because the data it needs to continue playing your video has not arrived yet from your internet connection. Despite the problem of latency, the major players in the gaming industry for the most part all have some sort of streaming technology in the works or in use. For example, the XBox One can stream your game to any Windows 10 PC that is running on a compatible network. The PlayStation Vita can stream some PS4 titles.

The supplemental processing devices mentioned in this patent will help the performance of the primary gaming console, and not hurt it as the Wii U Gamepad does. It’s really a game of give and take, a balancing act. In the world of video games, every feature has a cost beyond the monetary cost of creating it. That cost comes in the form of processing power, and Nintendo had to sacrifice a small bit of the Wii U’s processing power in order to make the Gamepad controller work. That isn’t the only cost of adding a feature to a game, there are others like memory usage. As for these supplemental processing devices, little is known about their true nature. Are they accessories you will be able to purchase, or would Nintendo release software you could install on your home PC (or other devices) to allow it to be used as a supplemental processing device when you want it to be?

Nintendo NX Patent 1

 

 

 

Nintendo’s new patent doesn’t go into detail on what they think would be good tasks to offload to these supplemental processing devices, but in general it would likely be things that are not immediately important within the game you are playing. For example, you could have the supplemental device handling some background world simulation, allowing the world to change without the primary console having to worry about it. This frees up some of the processing power on the primary gaming console to allow for higher quality simulation of what is going on within the immediate vicinity of the player. For example, the supplemental processing devices might handle simulation stuff for NPCs or other things in the world that need to move around or change (as long as they are not in the immediate area of the player). For example, having an NPC right in front of the player being simulated on a remote device could cause stuttering in that NPC’s movement due to latency.

The possibilities are endless as far as how the supplemental processing devices could be used. In the end, it will come down to what each development team is trying to do with their game. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so how this technology would be used will very likely differ on a game-by-game basis. Looking to the future, Nintendo has previously mentioned that it plans to announce the release date for its upcoming Nintendo NX platform at next year’s E3. Its launch may well be in the holiday season in 2016, as that’s when Nintendo tends to launch their new systems. They’ve also said that the Nintendo NX will be a complete break from the architecture of Wii/Wii U, but it is not currently known who is making the hardware for Nintendo’s upcoming system. For now, all we can do is wait for E3 when we may learn a lot more about the mysterious Nintendo NX.

 

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About Michael Fontanini

Michael is a veteran gamer in my early 30s, who grew up around video games, with fond memories of the oldies like the NES and SNES. He loves Nintendo but also plays a lot of games on his PC. Michael also enjoys going for walks or bike rides, and loves animals.

Michael is also a computer programmer. This started with a toy he got as a kid called PreComputer 1000 that was made by V-Tech. It had a simple programming mode which is what started him down the road of being a programmer! Michael can program in BASIC, Visual Basic, C++, C#, and is familiar with Java and Lua Script.

Putting programming and gaming together, Michael became a hobbyist game developer which may give him some good insights on game development! Most recently, he has been playing with the free version of the Unity engine (a powerful and easy-to-use game engine).

I love Nintendo but I also play a lot of game's on PC, many of which are on steam. My favorite Nintendo game's include Zelda, Metroid, and Smash Bros to name a few. On PC I love the Half-Life games, as well as most all of the Source Engine games just to name a few.




  • madmofo145

    Who knows it this directly applies to the NX, as companies are always patenting ideas that they may use way down the line, or not. The one obvious thing I could see here is for use in the hypothesized fusion console (which the NX could be). You have a main console that sits at home, and a powerful portable that goes with you, and when combined you get the power of both in a single TV console.

    Actual distributed computing in a gaming system would be very interesting, especially if you could hook up anything you wanted. I imagine the idea would be that games would run fine on the base console, but maybe I could hook up my PC to greatly boost the visuals. That would be quite interesting.

    • TachyonCode

      I suspect it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hook your PC up to it for that purpose, and I am a little bit surprised that the portable console isn’t the device that contains the bulk of the processing power or handles the bulk of the operations. Then again, power supply requirements might be an issue – here’s hoping they invest in a better battery.

      I would also hope that the home console provides more features unique to the use of the console in an in-home, local multiplayer scenario – having each player sitting down contribute to the processing power in a multiplayer game seems to me to be a sensible strategy.

    • ablazeofglory

      That, actually would be a really cool idea. Developers wouldn’t have to worry about rendering multiple players lowering the frame rate, and drawing more from the system because each new player would provide their own extra processing power. We could revive couch multiplayer because the whole game experience could be open to as many players as needed.

    • TachyonCode

      Additionally, if it were anything like the Wii U – where the portable console serves as a personal screen – in competitive local multiplayer, the TV could be a spectator screen, or display match statistics, or provide a split-screen for players to manage aspects of gameplay that wouldn’t immediately benefit “screenwatchers”.

  • Go2hell66

    “unlike any colsole you’ve seen before”

    Christ! did nintendo just fuck up again already? they never learn…

    • Speed12345

      Nintendo needs to stop reinventing the wheel with every console.

  • Sanji Himura

    Does that mean that the WiiU gamepad is forward compatible with the NX?

  • jmmueller

    I thought Sony did some testing of shared computing with the Cell processor of the PS3. I’m finding limited use cases in my head for cloud shared computing for gaming. For the case of graphics: nada. It could be useful for tracking NPCs/Mobs and what they are doing throughout an immersive area (say an open world game in which characters are doing things off screen). Latency issues of communicating the data in/out could mean that there wouldn’t be a lot to gain in many areas. But I can imagine the internet screams of “Nintendo sucks! My SINGLE PLAYER GAME is slow as **** because I have to use OTHER PEOPLE’s game systems to play it at XX FPS and I’m not on high speed bandwidth and nobody’s buying their console anyway!!!!”

  • ablazeofglory

    Theory time:
    They talked about a hybrid portable console. Perhaps the NX itself will be a handheld that comes with a significant power boost over the 3DS, and then it will be able to dock with an additional processing unit. This will give it power similar to or above the PS4 and Xbox One, but only when docked at home with the additional processors. This way, they can allow developers to choose what kind of game they wish to make, home console or portable, and they will be dealing with the same basic architecture either way. Theoretically they could also have it be like the PS4/Vita Remote Play whenever you have internet, but with the functionality built into a single console so you don’t have to buy 2 systems.

  • ablazeofglory

    Theory time:
    They talked about a hybrid portable console. Perhaps
    the NX itself will be a handheld that comes with a significant power
    boost over the 3DS, and then it will be able to dock with an additional
    processing unit. This will give it power similar to or above the PS4 and
    Xbox One, but only when docked at home with the additional processors.
    This way, they can allow developers to choose what kind of game they
    wish to make, home console or portable, and they will be dealing with
    the same basic architecture either way. Theoretically they could also
    have it be like the PS4/Vita Remote Play whenever you have internet, but
    with the functionality built into a single console so you don’t have to
    buy 2 systems.
    Just an idea.

  • Michael Fontanini

    You’re right madmofo145. It is entirely possible that this may not directly apply to the NX. It probably is related in some way though. It is the system they’re currently working on after all, but yea.

    Also, ablazeofglory said:

    “Perhaps the NX itself will be a handheld that comes with a significant power
    boost over the 3DS, and then it will be able to dock with an additional
    processing unit. This will give it power similar to or above the PS4 and
    Xbox One, but only when docked at home with the additional processors.
    This way, they can allow developers to choose what kind of game they
    wish to make, home console or portable, and they will be dealing with
    the same basic architecture either way. Theoretically they could also
    have it be like the PS4/Vita Remote Play whenever you have internet, but
    with the functionality built into a single console so you don’t have to
    buy 2 systems.”

    This is a very interesting idea and quite sensible too. I hadn’t even thought of anything like this but it is certainly a very cool idea.