Dark Light

Or how I stopped worrying and love the Nintendo 3DS.

I went to @Nintendo3DSLive, a Nintendo 3DS demonstration today, arriving at the event a couple of minutes late because the address was for the front of the huge building the event was at the back of, and therefore waiting for the next session about half an hour later. While we waited some subtitled Japanese people explained how great the 3DS was. Because there were 25 people or so in front of me I couldn’t read the screen. The subtitled people seemed pleased with the 3DS.

No games yet.

They stood some of us on a projected grid, and it projected squares around the people – which was neat – and then it drew lines between the squares, and this was to demonstrate that as you walk around town your 3DS will talk to other 3DSs (3DSs? 3DSi?) in the area and swap Miis and data around, so – for example – a clever game could do funky feedback-loop procedural stuff with the data of people you pass in the street, which is quite cool.

And yet, no games.

Then we were led into a room where a asian man in his white pajamas meditated on the meaning of standing on a set in a warehouse in London to the background of soothing music in a pentatonic scale. Suddenly! The music went all beepy! And a challenger appeared in red pajamas! They fought! After a pretty good demonstration of martial arts stage-fighting, someone paused Ryu and Ken (for it was they!) fortunately just before they could hadouken each other.

Oooh, Streetfightery. No actual games, though.

Then we were led into a blacklit room where Jill and Chris Renfield from Resident Evil explained to us that “infected” were attacking the next room! They would lead us though ten at a time. I lead the second group, and there were zombies in sheds coming out of doors! And a zombie with a chainsaw (that made no noise) attacked Chris! (Well, I assume zombies. It was a Resident Evil demonstration, after all. But no zombie make up or anything, though one did have a bit of sackcloth over his head. This fits, as the traditional zombie stereotype does involve rotten corpses shambling down the street braying “HEEEEEEEEEESSIAN! HEEEEEEEEEEESIAN!”)

Fun, nice stage fighting. No games.

The point of this was, obviously, to drive home how real games would be on the 3DS, and was quite fun to do. The various actors they’d hired to do this (awww, does that mean it wasn’t really Jill Valentine?) looked right, and did it well.

Next, Johnathon Ross appeared, in living colour and high resolution, to tell us all that we were going to play with 3DSs and that he had and that was nice. Thanks, Mr Ross.

And then, the machine itself.

For the major gameplay session we were filed into a room loaded with enough machines for us all to play at once in banks of ten or so, each with a game on. I played Streetfighter IV 3D, took a look at the queue for the Zelda instance and instead went to try Dead or Alive, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries and Steel Diver (a game about being a submarine). Later, in the next room, I tried Super Monkey Ball 3D, Nintendogs, the Mii creator, and an augmented reality demonstration.

First, the tech works. It really is a 3D screen, it really works without glasses, and it looks really cool. The display and graphics are shiny, and non-3D bits come off as a souped up DS. The only real layout change from the DS is the addition of an analogue control stick in the top left, which is really a slidey button rather than a stick. Controls on some things appear a little floaty, but part of that was playing precision touch games without a stick, I think (the styli were glued in for the demo).

The 3Dness goes backwards into the machine rather than “popping out” at you, and there’s a slider on the edge of the screen that allows you to maximize or minimize the depth it goes out to. If you like, you can slide it directly in to 2D mode, which isn’t any kind of power saving or switched mode, just the logical extension of controlling how “deep” the 3D mode displays.

There are a few limitations. There is definitely a limited “sweet spot” where you hold the console to avoid seeing double, although I’m not sure how affected it is by the eyesight of the viewer (The constant refrain of “3D! Without glasses!” led me to try this, and it is still in 3D without glasses. Three unplayably blurred dimensions). This isn’t an issue with most games, but the more kinetic games – and especially the ones which use the motion detection features – suffer quite a bit when the shift in your perspective makes the game double up into different images. There’s also a barely noticeable – to me – flicker on the screen, which I can see might turn into a headache given sufficient playtime. The startup screen warns you to take a 10 minute break every half hour or so, which is probably wise.

My feeling with this, and with the whole “3D in your home” revolution in general, is that it’s Technicolor. Films were black and white until techniques were developed to produce them in colour and Technicolor, despite producing over-saturated images at great expense, was an important step between black and white and modern film. The 3DS isn’t perfect, but it’s a cool bit of kit, and if the games are fun, that’s pretty much the important thing done.

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