Written By: E. Thomas
In recent weeks I have read stories on the internet talking about
the debut of the Nintendo DS at the E3 Expo in 2004. While I feel some of these tales offer a glimpse of the madness that
was E3 2004, none of them truly reveal the whole story. That’s why I have decided to tell this story myself. This is
a tale that needs to be told by someone who was there for all three days.
Nintendo Reveals "Project Nitro":
On November 13th, 2003 Nintendo announced they were working on
a new gaming product, one they referred to as a “third pillar” in their hardware strategy. It was said that this
new product was not intended to be the follow up or replacement for the struggling GameCube or the wildly successful Game
Boy Advance, but instead it would be an entirely new concept.
Finally a few months later on January 20th, 2004 the president
of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, announced the Nintendo DS. Few details were made available at the time, but we did know that the
machine would feature a dual screen format, similar to the classic Game and Watch series. While I personally was very excited
about the new system, the vast majority of online gamers greeted the hardware with a heavy dose of negativity and skepticism.
One of Many Images
Created to Mock Project Nitro
It was generally felt by many gamers and the press that the system
was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to Sony’s recently announced PlayStation Portable. For years Nintendo had
struggled in the console market against Sony. The GameCube had been utterly crushed by the massively successful PlayStation
2. The press also never gave the GameCube a fair shake, constantly stereotyping it as a “purple lunch box” despite
the fact that a black model of the system had been available since day one. With the PSP looming in the distance many thought
this was the last stand for Nintendo. Their dominance in the portable gaming market was the one thing that kept them relevant
during this dark time. It appeared that the company was a road apple waiting to be squashed.
The Internet Hates It:
Click Thumbnail for Full
In March of 2004 the full specs for the system were revealed,
and the response on the Internet was a deluge of negativity and trolling. Nintendo was a whipping boy for fanboys everywhere.
The new product was met with mockery and scorn. Popular websites such as NeoGAF, then considered the “voice of the industry”
were filled with comments like the ones you see in the above image. Even after the launch of the product the site was filled
with people saying “sell your DS, it’s all over, join the winning team!”
Beautiful Computer Rendering
of a Fictional Product
It wasn’t just the fanboys on the message boards who were
smearing the new product. One writer for a major news outlet even started a false rumor, based on absolutely nothing other
than his own wishful thinking, that Nintendo was working on a “portable Game Cube” and that the DS was merely
a hold over product and people should wait for the new handheld GameCube instead. Can you imagine a major news outlet printing
something like that? It was nothing more than corporate sabotage. It certainly was not a fun time for Nintendo fans, but I
remained optimistic and I couldn’t wait to see the new machine at E3 Expo 2004.
Reggie Takes The Stage:
Reggie Fils-Aime Introduces
the Nintendo DS
Nintendo held their yearly E3 press conference just before the
start of the Expo. However this year something was very different. We were introduced to a new spokesman named Reggie Fils-Aime.
Reggie was a breath of fresh air for the company. He was a tough, no nonsense front man who represented a drastic change in
direction for Nintendo. He displayed a brash confidence as he took the stage and uttered those now famous words. “My
name is Reggie, I’m about kicking ass and taking names, and we’re about making games.” This statement set
the tone for a dramatic sea change within the company. One that few realized would be caused directly by Nintendo’s
new mystery product.
E3 Expo 2004: The Morning of the First Day
E3 Expo 2004: Light Up Nintendo
DS Stylus - A Highly Prized Collectible
Finally the show was upon us. I lined up early as I do every
year, with the intention of heading right for the Nintendo booth. I was very eager to see the new system. I am a confessed
gadget junkie and I love portable game systems. I was very excited to learn about the Nintendo DS and Sony’s new PSP.
I wasn’t playing either side of the fence. I was just happy to see so much attention being given to the handheld gaming
I arrived in the Nintendo booth early Wednesday morning. The
Nintendo DS was actually being shown in a private demo area that was separate from the Nintendo booth. You basically got in
line and waited to enter the walled off area. Once you got inside you were given a very cool light up stylus. It’s one
of the best collectibles I have ever received at the show.
Things Get Ugly:
The Original Nintendo DS
Prototype - Never Seen Again After E3 2004
Once I finally got inside the private demo area I was greeted
by a number of demo units. This was the original Nintendo DS prototype model, one that was never intended for commercial release.
I still feel very fortunate to have had the chance to try this early prototype. However, many other people attending the show
did not feel the same level of respect.
It was then that I noticed an ugly scene brewing in the Nintendo
DS demo theater. People were doing their best to scratch the hell out of the touch screens. They were rubbing the screens
furiously with the free stylus, which as we quickly learned, wasn’t the best stylus to be used with the touch screen.
It’s soft, waxy tip actually marred up the screens pretty badly. Fanboys noticed this immediately and quickly went to
town damaging the screens the best they could. And they didn’t just purposely scratch the screens, oh no, I saw one
group of young men stabbing the screen as hard as they could, and then laughing about their act of destruction.
On my way out of the theater I noticed a young lady trying one
of the systems. She looked around for a moment, and when she felt no one was watching, she took her stylus and rubbed the
hell out of the top screen, scratching it considerably. She had this intense, furious scowl on her face. Once she was done
with her act of vandalism she quickly exited the theater.
By the third day of the show things were really hairy. Some of
the demo units in the DS theater were seriously damaged. The touch screens definitely weren’t looking too good. I was
on my third visit to the area when I noticed two men wearing blue shirts. They were from a rival company. They surveyed the
chaos on the demo theater and laughed. The booth attendants looked upon the chaos in horror. There was simply nothing they
Finally I get outside the booth and I’m talking with a
friend who worked for Nintendo at the time. I cannot reveal the identity of this person, but I will say that she lived
in Japan. Finally a well dressed Japanese man approaches her while we are talking. He worked for a rival company. I politely
step aside and allow them to converse. The Japanese man says something that causes the smile on my friend’s
face to quickly disappear. After that he abruptly turned and walked away. I say to my friend “what was that about?”
My friend replied that the man said “when this product fails you can always make games for us.” Holy cow! Even
the executives were getting in on the trolling! I was at a loss for words.
The Return of an Old Hero
Little did anyone know at the time that Nintendo had just revealed
a product that would go on to be the most successful gaming product ever made. The Nintendo DS would defy all expectations
and go on to sell over 150 million units worldwide. This does not include all the millions of people who bought second hand
units or were given used systems by a family member or friend. The Nintendo DS was a legitimate phenomenon that changed portable
gaming forever. It outsold its rival by an almost 2 to 1 ratio. It also had literally dozens of million selling titles.
It even paved the way for the Nintendo Wii, a system that itself would sell over 100 million units and counting.
Touch Screen Adapter Made
for the Game Boy Color, Shown Attached to GBA SP
The hardware itself was based around ideas developed by the legendary
Gunpei Yokoi. This includes the obvious dual screen design, reminiscent of his popular Game and Watch series. It also has
a microphone on the system like the original Famicom controller. Even the touch screen was something developed at the end
of his tenure in the mid 1990s. It was as if he had saved the company one last time. Years later the company would reveal
the successor to the DS, called the Nintendo 3DS, during their press conference at the E3 Expo in 2011. During the presentation
the company bathed the stage in red lighting, in a subtle tribute to the Virtual Boy and it's red graphics, a 3D gaming system
developed by Gunpei Yokoi years earlier. It was a beautiful and subtle tribute to his genius and noble spirit.
Old Enemies, New Friends:
What about the folks that mocked and ridiculed the Nintendo DS?
Well NeoGAF, despite being an excellent source for news, has unfortunately been eclipsed in popularity by Reddit and the Image
Chans. The first of which is great for gaming news, and the second provides a “no holds barred” arena for video
game discussion. There are also video game news aggregators, which serve up a daily dose of gaming news without
all the bias. And what about that writer who started the false “portable GameCube” rumor? Well he is no longer
employed as a video game journalist.
Over the years the E3 Expo has increased security considerably.
If you ever tried any of the shenanigans I saw at E3 Expo 2004 they would immediately bounce you out of the arena and probably
bar you from future events.
And what about all the people who thought the PSP would end Nintendo
as a company? Well they quickly learned a tough lesson. The DS / PSP era of portable gaming was literally the best time in
handheld gaming history. The intense competition was the greatest thing that ever happened to gamers. Strangely enough the
two systems complimented each other perfectly. I found myself constantly playing one or the other. I own literally hundreds
of games for each system. The DS / PSP era truly was a high water mark in portable gaming history, the likes of which we may
never see again. So all of that hate, malice and trolling leading up to the DS launch, it was all for nothing.
The History and Future of Nintendo Handheld Gaming (LINK)
The History of the Sony PlayStation Portable (LINK)