In the past 25 years, there have been five generations of home video games systems. Since Nintendo changed the world by releasing the NES in 1987, there has always been at least two consoles competing for dominance in the wild west of the games industry. This competition— coupled with rapid advancements in technology—has led to a new generation of battling systems coming out every five years, like clockwork.
It's been five years since the PS3 and Wii came out, six since the Xbox 360, and until last week fans hadn't heard even an unsubstantiated whiff of a new generation of home consoles. It's only fitting that Nintendo is the company to finally sate the games media after this long drought. Rumors of their new home console have been popping up all over the web in the wake of developers receiving dev kits from Nintendo. The Wii is considered a game-for-babies by many hardcore gamers, and if what we've learned about this system so far is true, the new console is certainly not for babies. It's designed to take on Sony and Microsoft head-on.
Of course, Nintendo has neither confirmed nor denied any of the information below. Be skeptical. But most of these rumors come from respected sources, and have been corroborated to varying degrees, so be excited as well. Here's what we've heard so far.
- Processor: Custom 3-Core IBM PowerPC. The XBox 360 also has a 3-core custom PowerPC, but an older one. This will allow publishers to port their XBox 360 catalogs to the new Nintendo console almost for free, and bolster Nintendo's selection of good hardcore titles fast. This will attract new 3rd-party development as well, since developers love working with the XBox 360 architecture and Cafe will simply have a better version of that.
- Graphics: ATI Radeon R700-series graphics card with version 4.1 shaders. Also basically a newer version of the XBox 360 hardware for easy porting/programming, but with a new shader added for smoother, sexier 3D and 1080P HD.
- RAM: 512 MB unified (especially shady rumor, but seems plausible). Identical to the PS3 and XBox 360, and a massive step up from the 1990's-like 64 MB on the Wii.
- Controller: 6" touch screen, Wii sensor bar, front-facing camera, d-pads, triggers, bumpers. Where to start?! By far the most intriguing part of the leaks. It sounds like a Dreamcast VMU, but with the tech of a tablet PC instead of a Tamogotchi.
What to make of Project Cafe then? There are good and bad signs for Nintendo here, if any of it is true:
The good news is Nintendo has finally taken steps to improve their hardware in a powerful and developer-friendly way. This should bolster their collection of 3rd party games, and improve their relationships with 3rd party developers, who have historically hated them and worked on other consoles whenever possible. Depending on how the final product looks, it sounds like they may have created a revolutionary controller as well. A 6" screen is almost as big as the screen of the iPad, which could make for some interesting Nintendo DS-like multiscreen gameplay, and Dreamcast VMU-like portability options.
There are also portents of doom. Yes, Cafe is marginally more powerful than the XBox 360 and perhaps the PS3, although the two are tough to compare. Those two systems came out five and six years ago, so if Nintendo catches them now, they're still five years behind. Microsoft and Sony will come out with something eventually, and where will Cafe be then? Right where the Wii is now, hopelessly outdated. As for the controller, it's a visionary idea and those kinds of ideas are what keep Nintendo in business. But try this exercise: go find the nearest iPad and pick it up. Hold it like you'd hold a video game controller. Imagine some thumbsticks, buttons, and such added to the device. Now picture trying to play a game with that device. Doesn't sound too ergonomically sound does it? Remember how cool motion control on the Wii was when it came out? That infatuation faded fast, and this one may dissipate as well, if Nintendo focuses too much on gimmicky "innovation" and forgets to make a good controller in the process.
At this time, we really don't know anything official about the mysterious Project Cafe. Nintendo is expected to debut the console at E3, so hold tight until June, and we'll bring you a more substantial story then.