Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Nintendo Switch Trailer Breakdown!

Round of drinks on me Bartender, we have ourselves a grand situation right now! A fantastic celebration that has brought great joy and a much needed charge to my metal joints.

It is the official announcement of Nintendo's latest console. The much rumored Nintendo NX has now been revealed as The Nintendo Switch.

And in three short minutes it is a fantastic stroke of precise, condensed visual information.

First, the trailer so you can follow along as I talk you through the many reasons why the guys in Marketing behind this deserve a raise.

First and foremost we have to take into account the establishing shot leading into the guy's living room. The first two shots show late night going into early morning, the second shot clearly showing the beginning of a sunrise. Why is this important? Because it shows that the man revealed playing The Legend of Zelda must be on an unconventional work and sleep schedule. It's the first of many modest modern touches this preview trailer does to subtly clue you in as to who this ad is aiming at.

The trailer then continues when the owner's dog barks and we get a shot of the logo and the look of the console itself. The dog barking is a sign that the man has owner responsibilities but doesn't want to quit playing. But rather than be forced to choose between taking his dog out for walkies or getting a bit further in his game, we see him take his controller apart easily and quickly, slip the two pieces onto a sort of tablet that's being cradled in the device and then removes it, the display of the game going from the television to the new mobile device. The next shot is him out on a morning walk with his dog, then taking a break on a bench where he continues playing his game.

This entire first fifty seconds is impressive because it answers several big questions succinctly. What is the name of Nintendo's new machine? The Nintendo Switch. What does it look like? Simple grey box with a tablet cradle and the logo on the front. Why is it called the Nintendo Switch? Because you can switch between playing in your living room to on the go with a simple understandable hardware design. Tablets are ubiquitous in our society now, gamepads have been attached to these devices before, therefore being able to just slide your controller's sticks and triggers around a tablet is one of those intuitive eureka moments. The name itself is also catchy and easily understood. Nintendo Switch, the Switch, The N S, Nindy Switch, either way it's punchy and makes a statement; a far cry from the confusing naming of the Wii going into the Wii U. Will the game be exactly the same on the go as on the big screen, so far it appears yes.

The very next scene has another big series of questions answered expertly. At this point, most people would easily assume the Switch is a slightly more powerful version of the tablet controller the Wii U had, the last console Nintendo unveiled to lukewarm results. A machine that you can also play on a small tablet controller is similar but the Wii U had very short range, you basically had to be in the same room as the console since its reception was so limited. What makes the Switch substantially better? The next scene is of a guy getting onto an airplane, but before he passes through the gate he bumps into a woman who also appears to have her portable Switch on her. They sit down and seem to talk while also focusing on their screens, as if they're multitasking.

Keep in mind airports and airplanes have strict rules when it comes to wi-fi signals so getting a strong connection to stream a game on this portable device from a machine in your home that could easily be hundreds of miles away is untenable. Not just from a signal perspective but a data perspective and a network perspective. A weak signal would mean latency issues, input delay and serious tearing and framerate problems which would lead to an overall awful playing experience. To overcompensate would mean eating up gigabytes of data, and if you don't have a network that can handle it even when the stars have aligned in your favor, the entire venture is a lot of money, energy and patience wasted.

Then we see him quickly slip what appears to be a flash card into a slot on the machine. Yep, this tablet hybrid isn't some overblown streaming box that will eat up data and battery life like a smartphone on 4G, but will run the software directly from a cartridge. That's right, Nintendo is going back to using cartridges, most likely utilizing Flash memory that is prevalent in USB thumb drives and memory cards used in many electronics if the brief glimpse of the cart is anything to go by.

But what about privacy? If you are playing a big game on the go, that will probably be distracting to people around you. The next scene shows him using the tablet's built in stand to keep it upright, plugs in a simple headphone jack into the top, then pulls the controller sections off the tablet and continues playing his game on the plane, respecting his fellow passengers' privacy and comfort while he fights dragons and trolls. What if you're in more casual familiar company? Keep the controllers attached and play it normally, as seen in the following scene where the same guy gets off the plane and gets into a friend's car. What about game saves? The next scene is the guy returning home, slotting the tablet into the home version of the Switch, and the game picks up exactly where it left off.

The next barrage of shots and scenes is used to show off the Switch's flexibility. How do you have local co-op play if you're on the go? One of the biggest strengths of Nintendo's consoles, moreso than the online focused PlayStation and Xbox platforms, is its focus on local play between friends sharing one screen. Scene of two guys on a road trip playing competitive Mario Kart, each one using one half of the portable controller to play. It's a noted credit to the controller's design: each side sports a control stick, four face buttons and a trigger, roughly the same amount of input the Wii Remote had. Elegant button layout, intuitive design, and accessibility are the tenets of good controller design: having one half a controller serve as part of a pair of other controllers being a masterclass in these principles in action. The guys in question then come to their destination: a place where they can race actual go-karts. Cute. 

The next scene shows a bunch of sports fans playing a game of basketball. After things die down, both of them take out two Switches and set them next to one another, a pair of controllers handed out to the four guys. Oh, so it will allow up to four people to play at the same time. What game are they playing? A port of NBA 2K from the looks of it. Yo dawg I hear you like Basketball....

The next scene shows a woman in her home playing what looks like an early version of a new Super Mario game, a small set of Amiibo figures near the console. She is called out by her friends so she casually goes portable on the Switch and shows it off to her friends. Seems like a repeat of information but it's the details that make it pop. A new Mario game is coming to the system, even a more casual female demographic can get behind the elegance of the device, the woman's friends are seen as being possibly outsiders to the gaming community as shown a quick but nonetheless important shot of her handing the controller to her friend in the matter of a mentor, and the presence of the Amiibo come with it an implicit promise of their continued functionality on the hardware as well as ensuring their established consumer base that more of what they love will still be coming.

The last scene is of a team of four guys seemingly planning out some elaborate strategy with white boards and markers, their Switches up and showing footage of the Wii U's runaway kid and squid friendly shooter, Splatoon. No buttons are being pressed as the tablets are displaying the footage so there will be some limited ability for streaming services, most likely the standards like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc., but it may also be a showcase of a limited playback feature similar to the PlayStation 4's Share Button or the Xbox One's recording software.. Next is a scene of the teams walking into a major eSports arena, their Switch controllers in their hands as they bow to the crowds and begin what is most likely a high stakes Splatoon tournament for thousands of dollars on the line.

The final image is one last look of the Nintendo Switch logo with a soft launch date of March 2017.

Now this is how you market a console! Too often Nintendo is pegged as the squeaky clean family friendly company and their marketing backs this notion. Little kids with their parents playing around the Nintendo system is a grand image that millions of people are familiar with. It helped put the Wii into every home in the world but it also horribly backfired with the Wii U, y'know on top of the confused marketing that had people believe it was a gamepad add-on for the Wii and not a brand new machine. 

Yet in that entire trailer, the Switch isn't marketed exclusively to children. The demographics show adults with very little time at home due to some obligation or another, frequent travelers, friends, mainstream non-gaming adults, women of varying degrees of gaming literacy from veteran to newbie, and even the hardcore pro competitive scene. It's a notable risk for Nintendo, yet the footage of the games shown are either broadly inoffensive bits of fantasy -- Skyrim is straight up swords and sorcery and NBA 2K is a basketball sim -- or from franchises that have over three decades of pop culture ubiquity to help cement their appropriate for all ages paradigm. Seriously, show your grandma Super Mario and she knows who he is.

It is also a solid example of clear transparency of the hardware's capabilities. The console was revealed almost immediately and it's application both as dedicated games platform and as a portable machine were the main focus; its strengths center stage. There was no off-putting alien dialogue about technical specs or the power of the cloud. In fact there is no talking at all save for an upbeat song with a consistent chorus of “gonna have a good time,” in case you forgot Nintendo's company motto of making sure you're having fun. A picture's worth a thousand words and a well-crafted three minute trailer is worth almost two thousand apparently.

There are still some questions that are left unanswered. Price, the battery life of the Switch on the go, the lingering question of Wii U backwards compatibility and how such software will be transferred since the Switch doesn't use discs, active availability, game development accessibility for 3rd parties, formal hardware specs, and of course launch lineup. These aren't pressing matters, Nintendo has five months between now and then to get this information out and their focus has always been on stellar first-party software first, cutting edge tech second. But for a console that was speculated and rumored to high heaven, Nintendo made a very smart call with this carefully constructed video. Consider me interested.

And not just because I want to play Skyrim on the go, though that's a total plus.

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