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The Evolution of the Nintendo DS - Part Two:

Written By: J. Castle


In The Begining: Project Nitro 

So where did the idea for the Nintendo DS originate?  The machine actually finds it’s origins in the late 90’s, during a time when Nintendo was researching a successor to the Game Boy Color.  The rumors, dubbed “Project Nitro,” were extremely common. Any portable gaming enthusiast may have heard this story. It was even mentioned in the pages of GamePro Magazine.  These rumors almost seemed forgotten until the launch of the Nintendo DS.

Certain writers in the press have claimed the Nintendo DS is based on old and allegedly outdated technology.  But what does that really mean? Well the truth is the machine was based on a old idea, but not old technology.  Common sense dictates that the DS was probably given a few technical updates since the original design.  Several years had passed since the first Project Nitro rumors hit the web. Obviously video game technology had advanced since that time. Of course this fact evaded many doubters in the press who claimed the machine was based on old tech and that it was nothing more than a "hold over" until the arrival of the next Gameboy.

The Death of The Gameboy Franchise: 

Most writers, including myself, believe the Nintendo DS was originally created to protect the lucrative Gameboy Franchise. This is the reason why so many people in the mainstream press felt the DS was nothing more than cannon fodder. This is also why most people felt the DS was using old technology. The press just assumed that Nintendo threw something together at the last minute to stave off the PSP. Basically resurrecting the old "Project Nitro." This also the reason why some people hoped in vain for a new Gameboy portable. Unfortunately for Gameboy fans the massive success of the Nintendo DS quickly killed any chance for a Gameboy successor. Nintendo's "third pillar" strategy quickly crumbled. It wasn't long before the DS had killed the Gameboy franchise entirely. However this didn't stop certain media outlets from bashing the DS and promoting the idea of a new Gameboy portable.

NeoGAF Gets It Wrong...Again:

While the mainstream press was filled with doom and gloom several popular message boards also jumped the anti Nintendo DS bandwagon. The most famous of which is NeoGAF. Usually NeoGAF is a terrific site filled with lots of informative content. I actually stopped reading video game magazines at one point because I could get the same information just by visiting NeoGAF. For a while many people looked to NeoGAF as the main source of their video game news. The forum was praised by the mainstream press and it even had a number of video game industry celebrities post on its boards.

Unfortunately, like many, my faith in that institution began to waver. The forum is known for having several outspoken, industry connected users. They also had a mascot named "Drinky Crow" who famously bashed the DS and frequently told people to sell the device. His antics were so popular there were threads tracking the popularity of his trolling topics. 99% of the time Nintendo, its products, and its fanbase were the subject of his hatefilled tirades. This isn't much of a surprise however. NeoGAF is frequently refered to as "Sony Age Forums." What FOX News is to the Republican Party, NeoGAF is to Sony fans. Drinky Crow was merely preaching to the choir.

Another well known, important NeoGAF user is Sonycowboy. Some people claim this user is the source of NeoGAF's monthly NPD sales figures. It is obvious by reading his posts that he is connected to the industry and possibly a Sony employee. Here is a quote from Sonycowboy concerning the launch of the Nintendo DS.

"Put the PSP next to the DS in the eyes of a customer and you can bury the DS the next day. The DS started very well, but so did the Dreamcast. The DS, IMHO, was a knee jerk reaction to the PSP and is sloppy all the way down the board. The launch titles between the two systems are night and day. The DS couldn't even sell 1-1 software to hardware. The PSP is over a generation ahead in terms of technology and is going to wipe the floor with the DS. I completely respect Nintendo as a software company, but as far as hardware is concerned, they are a sheep lost in the woods, and Sony is coming home to grandma's house (how's that for mixed literary allusions? ) The DS will sell decently for 6-12 months, but it's so far behind the PSP, customers are going to jump ship." -Sonycowboy via NeoGAF

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=27843 (Source link)

Ouch! As you can see his comments reflect the same ideas being pushed by the mainstream press. He claims the DS was shoddy, thrown together at the last minute, and nothing more than a hold over to keep people from buying the Sony PSP. Hilariously four years later and the Nintendo DS is one of the most successful video game products of all time. Its has literally dozens of million selling game titles and the machine itself has pushed over 100 million units world wide.  I guess now you understand why I no longer trust NeoGAF. But still, in defense of Sonycowboy, he was merely repeating what many people were already stating. In some ways he was just following the lead of the mainstream press.

More Choice Quotes from the NeoGAF Community

“Inferior” Tech

Just after the release of the Nintendo DS video game web site IGN.com was given the chance to interview Nintendo’s own George Harrison.


While discussing the topic of the Nintendo Wii, called "revolution" at the time,  a reporter for IGN.com asked Harrison the following question regarding the Nintendo DS and its alleged “technical inferiority.”

From the article:

IGN.com: "This week's question:
Despite being technically inferior, the DS is outpacing the PSP in sales. Do you think the Revolution (Wii) can best 360 and PS3 in a similar manner? Nintendo says it's going for a different market and we understand that, but talking sheer numbers, do you believe Revolution (Wii) can become the sales leader? Why or why not?”

To which George Harrison deftly replied:

George Harrison, senior vice President of marketing, Nintendo of America
:"First, let me dissect your question a little bit. Yes, we want to expand the total game market to people who've stopped playing regularly, or who've never played before. But that's only half the goal. The other half is to bring compelling new experiences even to the most avid gamers. If we achieve both goals, yes, there's no reason we can't compete favorably with any competitor.

Secondly, you define the debate as one of graphical attributes. We don't. We don't believe graphic realism will be the deciding factor of success for the new consoles. It's like saying Van Gogh's paintings are 'graphically inferior' because they're not photo realistic depictions.But more importantly, remember how the PSP was marketed: as a device to bring the console experience to handhelds. In many ways, we've done that -- but I wonder right now whether they believe that's enough."

I have never seen a company rep destroy a reporter’s question so thoroughly.  Harrison’s use of the Van Gogh analogy makes this reporter look like a fool.  It’s the perfect way to frame this debate.  This situation makes your realize that many journalists in the video game media simply do not understand what Nintendo is all about.  Four years later and 100+ million DS units sold and they still don’t get it. They probably never will.

"Go Van Gogh!"

Corporate Sabotage or Critical Doubt?

It is important to note that at the time of the Nintendo DS launch many of the writers at IGN.com held a very low opinion of the machine. The same is true for most sites on the web. Even many Nintendo fans were in doubt. The DS was truly an underdog. After the launch of the Nintendo DS, Matt Casamassina, the Nintendo Editor for IGN.com, wrote several articles proclaiming his love for machine's rival, the Sony PSP. Now don't get me wrong, I also love the Sony PSP, its hard not to love it.  However being primarily a Nintendo reporter, his words angered and antagonized many people in his own readership. Some people call this "fan baiting." This is a tactic where you say something that will deliberately outrage your readers merely to get public attention. (and most importantly, web traffic.)

Matt also spread rumors claiming the Nintendo DS would quickly be replaced by another Nintendo portable that was secretly waiting in the wings. These false claims were dangerously close to being media generated sabotage.  Matt actually stated that the next Gameboy would be a portable GameCube. He also claimed the Nintendo DS was merely a hold over until the arrival the new machine. (Sound familiar?) Of course four years later and there is still no sign of the Portable Game Cube. Here are Matt's own words on this subject. As you will see, even an avid Nintendo supporter like Matt did not believe the Nintendo DS would succeed. He was also the most outspoken advocate of the Portable GameCube myth.

"The Portable Myth"

First Matt answers a readers questions about "the next gameboy" possibly appearing at a forthcoming e3 Expo. This was just months after the release of the Nintendo DS.

Reader Question: "Will the Revolution (Wii) and the new Game Boy be present in some shape or form?"

IGN.com: "As for the new Game Boy, you never know. It could actually show up, especially if Nintendo wants to convince potential PSP owne rs to wait for the true follow-up to GBA."

In a later column he continued to spread spread the Portable GameCube myth:

Reader Question: "Matt you seem down on the ds but what about the next game boy do you think that could compete with PSP?"

Matt responds:
"Don't let my rants fool you. I'm not down on the DS. I'm just waiting to see its true potential realized. As for the next Game Boy, which I'll call Game Boy Evolution since this seems to be the popular title for it, I'm extremely optimistic."

"Actually, based on things I've heard, the paths of the DS and GBE have intersected already. Sources claim that the idea for the next Game Boy took flight right about the same time GameCube launched. The device was merely supposed to be a portable GameCube. Nintendo was hoping to create a synergy between the two platforms. However, for whatever reason -- probably an inability to miniaturize the GameCube at a consumer-friendly price -- the Game Boy successor was abandoned."

"What's interesting is that work on Game Boy Evolution is allegedly further along than most of us would probably guess. And more intriguing still, sources claim that Nintendo is once again trying to make the machine a portable GameCube."

Unfortunately Matt would continue to spread the portable GameCube myth for several months after the release of the Nintendo DS. Its amazing that Nintendo did not try to stop him from sabotaging their new product. After all, with his large readership his words could have easily damaged the success of Nintendo's new portable.

Caught Red Handed: The Smoking Gun?

Sometime later Matt Casamassina would make another outlandish claim. However this time his words were actually removed from the IGN website! Unfortunately for Matt's credibility the internet has a million eyes, and it never forgets. Here is what Matt had to say:

Matt Casamassina: "IMB may be working on a revised Broadway chip with a lower clock speed for a future Nintendo handheld - presumably one that plays GameCube discs"

This little comment caused quite a firestorm of controversy. This line was quickly omitted by the IGN staff. Any mention of this line was also removed from the IGN forums. Fortunately for us, a member of the IGN message board alerted the world to the strange omission. Even Kotaku made note of the mysterious deletion.

Why was the comment removed? Well its four years later and the alleged "portable gamecube" has still not become a reality. Its not hard to think that Matt may have been lying about this alleged "rumor." After all, that's an easy conclusion to make when you consider his track record.

Ironically Matt also predicted the Nintendo Wii would fail. Here are his exact words on that subject. He wrote these words just after the public learned about Nintendo's new motion controller.

Matt: "Gloom and doom mostly over. I'm quite sure that despite this lunatic decision Revolution (Wii) will have its unique appeal. It'll still have a place in my living room. But I think it will become more niche due to a domino effect that's sure to happen. I predict less third-party support because cross-platform ports are sure to be more difficult. And as a result, I'm sure Revolution -- like GameCube -- will become a console for Nintendo fans."

Well of course the Wii is a console for Nintendo fans. Just as the PS3 is a console for Sony fans and the 360 is a console for Microsoft enthusiasts. However Matt's words are deliberately insulting. He also strongly implies there is something wrong with being a Nintendo fan. Most laughably of all he actually predicted that the most successful console of this hardware generation would be a failure. 

Now we do not mean to pick on poor Matt. He's actually an outstanding writer with a real passion for his subject. He is also a very nice guy. Unfortunately his words make him the ideal poster boy for the critical doubt and scorn the DS received from the mainstream press. As you can clearly see no one in the press had a clue when it came to Nintendo's future plans. And what about the alleged "portable gamecube?" It was all bullshit. There was never a plan to create a portable Game Cube. That story was all a lie created by people who did not want the Nintendo DS to succeed. 

Evolution versus Intelligent Design

So where did the idea for the Nintendo DS come from?  Its unusual design seems to embody Nintendo’s video game philosophy.  It represents Nintendo’s beliefs as a company.  It’s a new “front man” telling the world who they are, and what they are all about.  The DS isn’t merely about graphics; it’s about having a unique gaming experience.  It’s quite a ballsy statement when you think about it.

Further more, just by examining the “Nintendo family tree” we can see where this machine draws much of its strength.  There are some who say that Nintendo merely pulled the Nintendo DS out of their ass in an attempt to stave off the PSP.  However once you examine the evidence you will see otherwise.  The Nintendo DS is part of a rich dynastic legacy . And as the old saying goes, Nintendo never throws away a good idea. As you will soon learn, the Nintendo DS was born from a long history of Nintendo innovation.