The Nintendo Switch is releasing soon, on March 3rd, and game fans have had the chance to voice their impressions online since the launch lineup’s premiere last night.
But what do game developers think of Nintendo Switch?
On the eve of the premiere, I reached out to a number of Callvention speakers, who collectively worked on everything from Wing Commander to Excitebike 64, and from Turok to Red Dead Redemption.
Their opinions below are insightful as they illustrate what members of the broader development community thinks of Nintendo Switch.
Comparing Nintendo Switch to Other Nintendo Launches
Faran Thomason, who worked on both portable and console games while at Nintendo, is optimistic about Nintendo’s marketing approach yesterday, commending the streaming approach used for publicizing the launch, as well as the company’s use of social media.
Releasing the console in March does seem untraditional, says Thomason.
“A launch so close to after Christmas seems odd, but hopefully it will give them time to ramp up so there are plenty of hardware units and new games available for next Christmas,” notes Thomason.
Meanwhile, Matt Durgavich, a former programmer at Rockstar Games, says Nintendo will need more than just their own games to succeed.
“Nintendo needs to move beyond first party to succeed,” says Durgavich. “No surprise there.”
The opportunity may lie in working with independent developers.
“Indies are well suited to building new brands on something like the Switch,” says Durgavich. “Established players with long running brands will struggle to bring something to the Switch that doesn’t feel like a gimmick.”
Nintendo Switch’s $299 Price
Some fans were upset with the $299 price tag of Nintendo Switch, which places it in line with pricing of existing next-gen consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Yet at $299, Nintendo Switch is cheaper than the vast majority of consoles on launch day, when factoring in inflation.
“I don’t have any experience with the system yet, but I think the price point is pretty magic and I will probably get one once the dust clears,” says Marc Schaefgen, who runs The Sound Department – Austin, and who designed sound for games such as Wing Commander and Turok.
Further, if Nintendo markets the platform’s value as being two systems in one: a portable handheld and a home console, Nintendo might convince users this is more than worth the price tag.
“The portable experience is their differentiator here, and they have the success of the 3DS to build upon,” says Durgavich. “Ultimately, If the software offerings impel gamers to take their Switches with them, Nintendo could be on to something.”
A Home Console That Can Be Used as a Portable
The clearest differentiator of Nintendo Switch is its capability to “switch” instantly from a home console played on a TV to a portable handheld that can be played anywhere.
But how valuable is that differentiator?
“I think gamer’s want Nintendo style games on any format,” says Thomason. “That being said, I myself have like 5 tablets, and I’m not sure I need another one.”
Further, over the past few years, competition for high quality AAA experiences on portable formats has increased greatly.
“There are a lot of high quality games on tablet & portable formats,” says Thomason.
Enabling a game on everything from a 60″ screen to a portable tablet does create some development hurdles, such as ensuring visuals and text are easily visible on both sizes.
“Taking a console game and shrinking it to a portable probably means a difficult to read screen. It’ll be a big challenge for developers to overcome,” notes Durgavich, who programmed for games like Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3.
Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble Controller
The HD touch feedback used in the Joy-Con controller can bring people physically closer to their games, even enabling gameplay without looking at a screen. Nintendo promises it is so accurate that gamers will be able to feel the sensation of ice cubes and water being placed in a virtual glass. While other game companies pursue VR, Nintendo is bringing increased immersiveness through an improved controller interface.
“The haptics here could provide a subtle dimension of immersion,” says Durgavich. “Apple has shown this is possible with their new line of touch pads on the MacBook line.”
“Done right, a game might provide a compelling hook for a player by simulating the heft of a sword or the recoil of a firing weapon,” says Durgavich.
“The more feedback you can give a player the better,” says Schaefgen. “And hey, three ice cubes are better than one right? With the play style of “no video,” like 1-2 Switch has, it becomes even more important as your feedback is limited to you hand(s).”
The original Wii’s controller promised to change controllers for the future, but didn’t quite live up to the original announcement’s promise. Similarly, Joy-Con’s capabilities will have to be truly judged when used in person.
“Overall the Joy Con seems pretty cool, but not having used them yet it is hard to say,” says Schaefgen. “Controllers in gaming systems can be a very controversial subject and some people get really opinionated about them. I feel like they are just another tool in the box and you create your experience around said tool.”
Expanding the Gaming Audience
Since the release of Nintendo DS, Nintendo has been very clear on the company’s intention to have all people game, and not just traditional gamers. That approach seems to be continuing with Nintendo Switch.
“Since the Wii, Nintendo has been pushing the direction of gaming, and not just developing boxes that can play interactive movies,” says Schaefgen. “I like this direction and the possibilities it offers. “
“I do like Nintendo’s approach,” continued Schaefgen. “They always put gaming first, putting physical and mental interaction you can experience alone or with groups of people ahead of watching pretty pictures on a screen, while every 10 minutes or so you shoot a bunch of bad guys, then go back to watching pretty pictures again.”
“I like the casual and multiplayer aspects of the system, hopefully it can bring back older (more senior) gamers as I think the original Wii went a long way at getting multiple generations of families to play games together,” says Thomason. “That is something currently missing from the market today.”