Tag Archives: Nintendo

Qualcomm May Release a Nintendo Switch Clone Running Android

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Qualcomm makes the chips that power some of the most popular mobile devices in the world, but it’s barely dipped its toe in direct-to-consumer products. That’s about the change, according to a new report from Android Police. It seems Qualcomm is branching out into gaming with a Nintendo Switch clone. The Android-powered device will have removable JoyCon-style controllers, 5G connectivity, and multiple app stores at launch, including one from Epic Games. Say hello to your new Fortnite machine… in about a year. 

The unnamed source tells AP that Qualcomm wants to use its gaming machine to demonstrate all the capabilities of the Snapdragon SoC. Sure, those chips are in millions of phones, but OEMs rarely take full advantage of what the hardware can do. The handheld will feature a slightly thicker form factor than your average phone, giving it more thermal headroom and a cooling fan. That should reduce slowdowns from throttling, even during intense gaming sessions. There will also be a 6,000 mAh battery and a 6.65-inch 1080p display. Qualcomm often makes demo hardware to show to OEMs, but the report claims this device is being designed for consumers and will be sold direct by Qualcomm. That’s not completely without precedent — the company sold its Toq smartwatch with Mirasol display technology back in 2013 and 2014.

Qualcomm is reportedly working with a “premium supplier” to design the controllers, but you won’t always use them attached to the console. Again, like the Switch, the Qualcomm handheld will support a video-out docked mode. However, it’s unclear if this will be via the USB-C port or a secondary HDMI port. Naturally, the console will also have a Qualcomm 5G modem, currently expected to be the aging X55. 

The console will run Android 12 at launch, which is currently on the docket for early 2022. It will have Google Play certification, giving you access to all the standard Android apps and games, but there will also be an Epic Game Store client. That means Fortnite is most certainly on the menu, as will many other titles. Epic has been trying to break into mobile game distribution, so it’s probably going to come out swinging with exclusive titles. 

We don’t know what ARM chip the device will use, but it’s probably going to be whatever Qualcomm’s latest and greatest is in early 2022 — the successor to the current Snapdragon 888. The company is targeting a $ 300 price tag, making it substantially cheaper than a modern smartphone. Naturally, Qualcomm has refused to comment.

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Report: Nintendo ‘Switch Pro’ Will Feature DLSS, New Nvidia Silicon

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A few weeks ago, we wrote about the possibility the rumored Switch refresh coming from Nvidia and Nintendo later this year would use DLSS. Rumors have claimed that the new Switch (sometimes referred to as the Switch Pro) would target 4K rendering when plugged into a dock. Modern gaming GPUs aren’t efficient enough to drive AAA titles at native 4K on handheld power budgets, so it seemed likely that any 4K-capable hybrid solution would use either DLSS or an approach like checkerboard rendering to hit that resolution target.

Today, agreeably, Bloomberg ran a story claiming that the new Switch will indeed use DLSS to reach 4K when played in docked mode. Because the feature will require additional code, it may only be supported on new titles going forward, and the report reiterates claims that the upcoming Switch will have a larger display (7 inches, up from the current 6.2 inches). This doesn’t necessarily require a form factor change. Eliminating the bezels from the current Switch would allow Nintendo to increase the screen size up to 7.5 inches, without changing the physical device at all.

A hypothetical Switch with no bezels. Image posted to Reddit by user agiantbluewhale

DLSS is Nvidia’s deep learning technology for enhancing low-resolution images into high-resolution renders using AI. The technique requires tensor cores, which means a Volta or later GPU, but it offers the potential for much higher resolutions than a device like the Switch can render natively.

Making DLSS a built-in capability of newer titles also allows Nvidia to keep offering support for the mainstream Switch. Both flavors of the platform will target 720p by default in handheld mode, so the only difference between the Switch and Switch Pro would be the latter’s ability to hold a 720p image where the Switch drops below that target to keep its frame rate up. When docked, the standard Switch would raise its clock somewhat and continue to target somewhere between 720p and 1080p, depending on the title. The Switch Pro would have the option to engage DLSS and aim for 4K. In theory, Nintendo and Nvidia could work to enable other resolution targets besides 4K, or to boost the frame rate up to 60fps instead of holding 30fps.

Sony and Microsoft allow game developers to target a mixture of experiences, and gamers can sometimes choose between playing a game at 1080p60 or 4K30, for example. Nintendo hasn’t previously offered this degree of flexibility, but the Switch has been something of a game-changer for the Japanese company.

Nintendo Finally Has a Reason to Chase Cutting-Edge Silicon

Nintendo has never particularly chased silicon specifications. There have been times in the console cycle when the company’s platforms led its competition — the SNES was a better console than the Genesis, despite a lower CPU clock — but the last time Nintendo attempted to position its own platform (mostly) head to head against Sony and Microsoft was 20 years ago, with the GameCube.

The Switch followed Nintendo’s conservative design philosophy by tapping a commodity chip and a known silicon design, but that’s not how mobile device manufacturers maximize performance or battery life. It’s still possible Nintendo would tap a newer bulk Nvidia SoC, but the more I look at the situation, the more likely it seems Nintendo might have paid Nvidia for some custom design work. Company executives have made statements implying Nintendo may have changed its approach to system design:

If Nintendo stuck with an existing Nvidia solution, Xavier NX would be the likely chip of choice. Xavier is huge, though, with a die size of 350mm sq compared with just 118mm sq. for the original Tegra X1 SoC. Its CPU cores are only clocked at 1.2GHz in quad-core mode (when operated in a 10W power envelope) and it’s built on a 12nm FinFET process. Either 7nm or 5nm (7nm being more likely) would be better for power consumption. The GPU is larger (512 cores), but based on the older Volta architecture, not Ampere or Turing.

Paying Nvidia for a custom SoC would give Nintendo the freedom to target the features it wanted for Switch Pro without paying (in $ or die space) for hardware blocks it doesn’t need. Nvidia doesn’t currently manufacture a quad-core Cortex-A78 SoC with 256-512 Ampere GPU cores. Nvidia’s Ampere-equipped Orin SoC won’t hit the market until 2022, and it’s a 750W TDP part intended for vehicles. We’re guessing the Switch Pro probably doesn’t represent a truly radical experiment in die recovery.

Bloomberg reports that the Switch Pro could be priced between $ 349 and $ 399 and a price increase makes sense if Nintendo is planning to pay for custom silicon. This could be seen as somewhat in tension with reports Nvidia has ceased production of the current Switch SoC. Nintendo has introduced larger versions of its handheld devices before, but it’s never forced its customers to adopt a more-expensive version of a handheld by phasing out an older model.

The company’s last set of earnings slides state:

“When adapting a new technology, we go to great lengths to ensure we offer new and innovative content that complements it… when we do decide to use an existing technology, we actively pursue collaborations with partner companies that specialize in that technology.”

DLSS could be a truly game-changing technology for the Switch Pro. The current Switch is based on a 7-year-old GPU and an eight-year-old CPU. The Cortex-A57 was never a particularly power-efficient CPU core — it’s the same CPU that powered the Snapdragon 810 — so stepping up to a modern design based on the A76 or A78 would be advantageous for Nintendo. Xavier NX offers 51.2GB/s of memory bandwidth and we can expect any custom silicon to at least match this level, or at least 2x what’s available on the Switch today. If Nintendo had pushed the envelope back in 2017, the gap between the Switch and Switch Pro would be smaller, but Nintendo relied on commodity hardware when it built the handheld in the first place, which means a jump to either the leading edge or n-1 would deliver a proportionally larger boost.

A custom, Ampere-based Switch Pro ought to be able to offer a rock-solid 30 or 60fps in 720p mode, while a DLSS-powered 4K mode worth playing seems plausible, given the combined gains in memory bandwidth efficiency and raw memory bandwidth. Nintendo would almost certainly follow in the footsteps of Sony and Microsoft in requiring that Switch games work well on both Switch and Switch Pro, to avoid alienating customers.

Nintendo doesn’t try to compete head-to-head with Sony and Microsoft the way it used to, but it still pays close attention to how its products are positioned in-market against the other firms. Adding 4K capabilities to the Switch allows Nintendo’s handheld to claim the same render target as the far larger consoles, delivered in a fraction of the power. Nintendo cannot build a Switch Pro that competes with the PS5 or Xbox Series S|X on raw power, but the combination of cutting-edge manufacturing, updated hardware architectures, and AI could shrink the gap between the current Switch and other consoles significantly. This time around, Nintendo may feel the gains are worth the cost.

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Nvidia Reportedly Ending Production of Nintendo Switch Processor

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Nvidia has been interested in making its own mobile chips for years, going all the way back to 2008 and the original Tegra chip that powered the Microsoft Zune HD. Tegra has been at the heart of more successful devices in recent years, most notably the Nintendo Switch. Things might be changing in Nintendo’s lineup if a new report is to be believed. According to “a person familiar with the matter,” Nvidia is ending production of the Tegra chip that powers the Switch, PCMag reports. 

The Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip (SoC) is designed around technology that’s a few years old, but it can still pull its weight thanks to the powerful GPU. The original Switch used the stock Tegra X1 (codename Erista), but that chip had a vulnerability that modders used to modify the Switch’s system software. Nintendo updated the console in 2019 to use a new Tegra X1+ (codenamed Mariko). Now that chip is apparently finished. 

There are a few ways this could affect Nintendo, including not at all. It’s possible Nintendo intends to use the same Mariko chip for all its future Switch hardware, and Nvidia ending production won’t change that. Nintendo could be working to stockpile all the chips they’ll need for the rest of the Switch’s life cycle, in which case, this news won’t affect you at all. 

It’s also plausible that Nintendo plans to upgrade the Switch with better hardware. There are rumors of a high-end Switch revamp, featuring a larger OLED display and support for 4K docked gaming. The current Tegra X1+ would struggle with 4K, so many have speculated it could use AI-powered DLSS to upscale graphics. However, a more powerful SoC could just do 4K natively. 

TegraK1-Full

Nvidia, which is trying to acquire UK-based Arm Holdings, has several newer Tegra chip designs, but they’ve only appeared in developer-focused products and a few cars. The newest is Orin, which was announced in 2019, but we know almost nothing about it other than it would be much faster than the Mariko chip. 

There may also be an outside chance that Nintendo is going to struggle to get enough parts to keep building the Switch. Although, I have to think Nvidia wouldn’t end production if Nintendo was still buying millions of current-gen Tegras. If this report proves accurate, I think it will serve to legitimize the rumors of a revamped Switch console. When we’ll see that is anyone’s guess, though.

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Could Nvidia’s DLSS Help the Nintendo Switch Hit 4K Resolutions?

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Last week, rumors broke that Nintendo’s rumored Switch update will feature capabilities like an OLED panel, larger display (said to be 7 inches, up from 6.2 inches), and 4K output when docked.

Two of these things are unlike the others. A larger display and an OLED, with the associated benefits of that technology, could both be fitted to the Switch as it currently exists. The third — a boost to 4K rendering when docked — isn’t something the current Switch hardware can pull off without some kind of additional upgrade.

Be advised that all of the below is speculation. Nintendo has not released any comments on any future Switch designs and ExtremeTech does not possess inside information regarding the future of the console.

The Switch poses a unique upgrade challenge that consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series S|X don’t have to deal with. Sony and Microsoft only have to concern themselves with the living room experience. Nintendo has to address the handheld market, too. That means any changes to the Switch can’t destroy its battery life or risk making the console too hot. Keeping the handheld at 720p achieves these goals in handheld mode, but how will Nintendo deliver the horsepower required for 4K rendering in docked mode? 4K packs 4x the pixels of standard 1080p, but it’s a 9x jump from the Switch’s current 720p target.

Nvidia and Nintendo can tackle this problem from a few different directions. While Nintendo could theoretically pay Nvidia to port the Switch’s T210 SoC from 16nm to 7nm, that chip only offers 25.6GB/s of main memory bandwidth and is unlikely to support docked 4K play with such a thin pipe.

If Nintendo wants to go with a new SoC architecture, Nvidia has plenty to choose from. Nvidia’s Jetson TX2 uses Pascal instead of Maxwell, and it’s possible the company has built a new SoC variant for Nintendo based on its Turing or Ampere GPU architectures. One of these two architectures would give Nintendo a better chance to hit 4K.

Nvidia and Nintendo have three paths available to them. First, brute-force. It’s unlikely that a second port of the aged T210 down to 7nm would deliver enough performance or memory bandwidth. The Pascal-based Jetson TX2 seems to be the minimum chip for the job, and Nintendo could always pay Nvidia to build an SoC based around either Turing or Ampere. This is the most straightforward option, the simplest, and probably the least likely to deliver a great 4K gaming experience. Even the 2.3x jump in memory bandwidth from the current Switch (25.6GB/s) to the Nvidia Jetson TX2 (59.7GB/s) isn’t nearly enough to pay for the 9x increase in pixels from 720p to 4K.

There are two alternative approaches we know of: Checkerboard rendering and DLSS.

Checkerboard rendering is a technique Sony popularized with the PlayStation 4 Pro a few years back. It’s a method of rendering that leaves gaps in between the drawn pixels, like a checkerboard. Used properly, the impact on visual quality compared with native 4K is small.

Checkerboard rendering doesn’t require any features specific to Turing or Ampere and could potentially be used by the Pascal-based TX2. It’s proven and it would save bandwidth and compute horsepower compared with the pure brute-force approach.

DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) is a technique Nvidia has developed for anti-aliasing that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve real-time image quality. Nvidia’s DLSS 2.0 is said to provide near native-quality images while rendering between 25-50 percent of the pixels. Nvidia trains its DLSS model on DGX-equipped supercomputers and runs the workload on your local GPU (or, in this hypothesis, on your local Switch).

The Turing and Ampere GPU micro-architectures include specialized tensor cores for handling DLSS, so any attempt to add the feature to the Switch would require upgrading to an SoC based on one of these architectures. DLSS 1.0 didn’t work particularly well, but it also relied on a game-by-game approach to improving overall image quality.

DLSS 2.0 adopted a more generic architecture and allowed for the implementation of various quality modes. Bringing this technology to a handheld device would involve some heavy lifting, but Nintendo might be able to save power by only turning DLSS on when the console is in docked mode. If the tensor cores can be kept otherwise deactivated, Nintendo wouldn’t lose power in handheld mode just from including them on-die.

There are two reasons to be dubious of this idea. First, it requires Nintendo to make a pretty big leap forward for a mid-generation upgrade. Typically, Nintendo mid-cycle updates like the 3DS XL are faster, more efficient versions of the base platform. A Turing SoC might show up on 14nm, but any Ampere design would likely be on 7nm. Nintendo doesn’t usually leap for the latest and greatest CPU and GPU tech, so this kind of update would be a bit out of band for them.

Second, this idea assumes Nintendo would use tensor cores for upscaling, but not integrate ray tracing or other prominent Turing/Ampere features. Nvidia and AMD have packaged all these technologies together in other contexts, so it would be unusual to see them split now.

The advantages of DLSS or checkerboard rendering are big enough that we still think we’re more likely to see them than not, but Nintendo would have to be willing to push a bit out of its comfort zone to adopt them. We’ll see what the company has to say as the year progresses.

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New Nintendo Switch With Larger Samsung OLED Rumored for This Year

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Nintendo has consistently downplayed rumors of new Switch consoles, but a report in Bloomberg says 2021 will see the launch of a new high-end version of Nintendo’s massively successful console. This device will allegedly feature a larger Samsung OLED and support for 4K gaming in docked mode, but that might complicate things for developers. 

There are currently two versions of the Switch; the standard hybrid console and the handheld-only Switch Lite. The Switch has a 6.2-inch 720p LCD. and the Lite is just a bit smaller at 5.5 inches. The rumored device would replace the hybrid console and feature a 7-inch OLED panel manufactured by Samsung. 

The LCD on the current Switch is very high-quality, despite the low resolution. The move to OLED could bring better black levels, more vibrant colors, and improved battery life — it’s the same thing we’ve seen with phones over the past few years as even mid-range devices have moved to OLED. The screen will apparently remain 720p, but Bloomberg claims docked mode will feature a resolution change. When this rumored Switch is docked, it might support 4K output. 

The Switch’s lack of support for 4K screens has been a sticking point for gamers who have grown accustomed to higher resolutions, but 1080p was the best the Switch could manage. Developers have complained about the complications of supporting two different resolutions, but the gap will be even bigger if the console steps up to 4K. 

The Switch Lite launched in 2019 with a smaller screen and no support for docked mode.

We don’t know anything about the internals at this point, but it’s safe to assume the device will still have an Nvidia Tegra chip. The GPU on that chip doesn’t have enough power to render games reliably at 4K — it can struggle at 1080p sometimes. The going speculation is that it will leverage Nvidia’s DLSS technology, which uses AI to sharpen and upscale graphics. We know the Tegra can run DLSS because it’s enabled on the Shield Android TV. However, DLSS would use more power, so it might be limited to docked 4K mode. 

Bloomberg’s sources suggest the new display panels will ship to manufacturers around July. That would give Nintendo just enough time to get units manufactured and on the market in time for the holidays. This isn’t the first time rumors have pointed to a new hi-end Switch, but we’re more willing to believe it now. Nintendo will be looking for a way to prop up sales this year as the newer and more advanced PS5 and Xbox Series X become more widely available.

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Nintendo Switch Sales Blow Past 3DS, Animal Crossing Moves 31M Copies

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The Nintendo Switch has been a hot commodity all through 2020 and the console’s sales figures reflect it. According to a recent Nintendo press release, the company sold 24.1 million Switches in 2020, a 35 percent increase year-on-year. The surge in sales has given the Switch the kick it needed to pass the lifetime sales of its predecessor, the Nintendo 3DS. As of December 31, 79.87M Switches have been sold worldwide. Back when the 3DS debuted, it faced a very different market.

The 3DS launched in 2011, in the middle of mass-market smartphone adoption. Its initially high price and the uncertain future of its 3D effects put some users off the console. Nintendo saw which way the wind was blowing and slashed the 3DS’s price by nearly a third, from $ 250 to $ 170. Sales of the platform promptly surged, and while the 3DS never achieved the dizzying heights of the original Nintendo DS, its lifetime total of 75.92 million sales is enough to make it the 12th best-selling console of all time, beating out the NES, SNES, and the original Xbox One.

While Nintendo doesn’t mention it, the Switch broke its own record for most units shipped this year. Nintendo’s fiscal quarters don’t align with the calendar year, so it may be waiting until what we would consider Q2 before it gives a formal full-year total.

The Switch has already broken its 2019 shipment record by no less than 25 percent. If sales remained this strong for another year, the Switch’s total lifetime sales would be bumping up against the Wii, at 101.64 million consoles shipped over its lifetime. As it closes in on four years old, the Switch is outselling the PS4 at a comparable point in its life cycle.

Ten years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find pundits arguing that the only way Nintendo would survive is if it went all-in on smartphones and started working on mobile ports. Dedicated handheld gaming systems were dead, or so the popular opinion went, to be inexorably replaced by touchscreens and phones.

If the 3DS proved that Nintendo had enough of a dedicated fan base to support a handheld console ecosystem, the Switch has shown that tens of millions of smartphone owners also enjoy gaming on a dedicated handheld platform. Animal Crossing has sold a massive 31.18M units in less than a year. The only game to sell more copies is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with 33.41M in lifetime sales. Animal Crossing will beat it next quarter, based on how well each is selling. Nintendo moved a total of 176.1 million games in calendar 2020, an increase of 43 percent over last year.

Despite the impact of smartphones, dedicated handheld gaming is very much alive — at least if you’re a Nintendo fan. Don’t say such things near PlayStation Vita forums.

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Unreleased Nintendo Game Boy Keyboard Brought Back to Life

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The original Nintendo Game Boy was among the most popular electronic gizmos for several years running in the late 80s and early 90s, so naturally, there were a lot of accessories. Not all Game Boy accessories were given Nintendo’s explicit blessing, but the Work Boy was. This tiny mobile keyboard appeared briefly in gaming magazines after debuting at CES 1992. The device never launched, fading into obscurity as quickly as it appeared. Gaming history YouTuber Liam Robertson has gotten his hands on a Work Boy — possibly the last one in the world, and it’s working thanks to that giant Nintendo data leak from a few months back. 

The Work Boy was a project from Source Research and Development and produced by Fabtek Inc with direct oversight from Nintendo. It consisted of a full QWERTY keyboard and a software suite to go with it. If the Work Boy had launched, it would have turned the gaming handheld into a rudimentary PDA with functions like currency conversion, an address book, a clock, and a calendar. Just as the device and its software were nearing completion, Nintendo announced its intention to drop the price of the Game Boy. Fabtek, worrying that people wouldn’t buy an accessory that was more expensive than the Game Boy itself, scrapped the project. 

That might have been the end of it if not for a series of features in gaming magazines. Liam Robertson started investigating the history of the Work Boy 28 years after its debut. Since Fabtek decided to can the project, you can’t just go out and buy a Work Boy. Luckily, Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz had a prototype still in his possession, possibly the last extant Work Boy in the world. 

Robertson was dismayed to learn that the Work Boy, which connected to the Game Boy via an integrated link cable, didn’t do anything when plugged in. As it turns out, there was a cartridge component that ran most of the Work Boy’s software. Without a copy of that, the accessory was forever dead. By happenstance, a massive Nintendo IP leak known as the Gigaleak happened just a few weeks after Robertson got his hands on the Work Boy, and hiding in the many gigabytes of Nintendo history was the Work Boy’s near-final software. 

Robertson burned the Work Boy software (v8.87) into a reusable cart and plugged the device in — and it worked. You can see the Work Boy working in the video above. While the functionality is meager by today’s standards, it would have been incredible in the early 90s. Owners could have maintained databases and track other data with a (marginally) portable device. It even supported dialing phone numbers by playing dial tones into the receiver. 

You can understand why the Work Boy got the ax — it was bulky, expensive, and the keyboard itself looked hard to use. It would be years before another handheld device would get this kind of functionality. But it would have been fun to see the Work Boy hit the market.

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Nintendo Suing to Stop Release of Switch Hacking Kits

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The Switch is the biggest hardware success for Nintendo in years, but the money it makes on the console is nothing compared with game sales. Naturally, Nintendo is quick to deploy its army of lawyers when someone threatens to undermine those sales. For example, if you’re running a ROM repository. Hacking collective Team-Xecuter is set to release a tool that can unlock the Switch to play homebrew and pirated games. Nintendo would very much like to stop that from happening, so it has filed a lawsuit

You might know Team-Xecuter from its last major project, a USB dongle that can install the custom SX OS on Switch units from June 2018 and earlier. Those consoles have an older version of the Nvidia Tegra SoC with an exploitable flaw that Team-Xecuter and others have used to mod the software. Newer consoles have a patched chip that blocks such mods, but Team-Xecuter says its upcoming SX Core (standard Switch) and SX Lite (Switch Lite) kits will be able to get SX OS on even the upgraded models. 

Unlike the USB dongle, the new kits require opening the console to solder in a small daughter board with its own SD card slot. Team-Xecuter has demoed the system a few times, and early testing and review units have already shipped out. The devices, which cost about $ 50, could go on sale in the coming weeks. Once installed, SX OS allows Switch owners to back up their content, play homebrew games, and yes, run pirated games.

Nintendo’s lawyers claim allowing the SX Core and SX Lite to go on sale would cause “astounding” damage to Nintendo’s business. The lawsuit points out the SX Core and SX Lite will make 35 million more Switch consoles hackable, which is in addition to the 20 million affected by the Tegra exploit. The community is divided on Team-Xecuter — while there are fans anxious to get the mod kits, others are uncomfortable with Team-Xecuter’s focus on piracy. Most teams creating mod tools for the Switch do so for the express purpose of backing up content and making homebrew games.

Pre-orders of the SX Core and SX Lite have been live at various retailers for weeks, but Nintendo seeks an injunction that will block any further sales. Nintendo also demands $ 2,500 in damages per sale, plus the seizure and destruction of all Team-Xecuter kits. No matter what happens, the genie is out of the bottle. Even if Nintendo stops Team-Xecuter, someone else will just clone the technology.

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The Nintendo Switch Has Now Outsold the N64 and GameCube Combined

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Out of all the video game companies, Nintendo seems to be the one best-positioned to ride out the pandemic sweeping the planet. While Sony and Microsoft are enjoying an increased wave of gamers in their ecosystems as well, the realities of the console cycle are working against each company. With the PS5 and Xbox Series X expected to launch in November, existing gamers may be buying more titles for the Xbox One and PS4, but they aren’t exactly rushing out to purchase hardware. (AMD has confirmed this already, by noting that it recorded negligible semicustom console revenue in Q1 due to drawdowns in preparation for future launches).

Nintendo, though, is having no such problems. The Switch has had a banner quarter, driven by an enormous surge of interest in games like Animal Crossing. Nintendo sold 3.29M Switches in the previous quarter, up 1.33x over Q1 2019. Lifetime sales of the Switch, which debuted on March 3, 2017 are now 55.77M, larger than both the GameCube and the N64, which sold 21.74M and 32.93M, respectively. It’s also above the lifetime estimated sales of the Xbox One family, despite the fact that the Xbox One turns seven this year, while the Switch is barely three. From April 2019 – March 2020, Nintendo sold 21.03M Switches, 1.53M units higher than its previous target.

Animal Crossing, which went on sale March 20, has already moved over 13M copies in the first six weeks. It’s the fastest-selling Switch game of all time and already the 7th-highest selling game on the platform, ever. Prices on Switches have skyrocketed recently as scalpers have reportedly deployed bots to purchase stocks as quickly as they appear in stores.

The turf isn’t actually grass. It’s money.

According to Nintendo, the Switch is “barely halfway through its life cycle,” and Nintendo has no plans to change that view.

Nintendo Already Upgraded the Switch

One point I want to push back against is the idea that Nintendo hasn’t upgraded the Switch. Nintendo upgraded the Switch 10 months ago, when it unveiled a new model with dramatically better battery life, boosting it between 1.4x and 1.8x.

It’s true that this doesn’t count as a new model to the mass market, but the mass market was reportedly confused by the similarity between “Wii” and “Wii U”, believing the latter to be an extension of the former. It should, however, matter to those of us in tech circles. Battery life efficiency improvements across device families are few and far between, precisely because manufacturers tend to counter increased efficiency with smaller batteries or more powerful components.

The old Switch had an estimated life of 2.5 – 6.5 hours. The new Switch offers an estimated 4.5 to 9 hours. Expressed in terms that would have mattered a great deal to me as a child on family car trips: 2.5 hours barely gets you from Newburgh to Terre Haute, IN while 4.5 hours puts you in Kentland or Morocco. 6.75 hours — the midpoint of Nintendo’s guidance — is the time it takes to travel from Newburgh, IN to Hobart, IN for an Officially Approved Childhood Family Visit (aka, “vacation.”). It’s a very real upgrade, and it’s unfair to moan about how we all want more battery life from our electronic devices, only to turn around and pretend the Switch you can buy today is the same as the device you could purchase in 2017. It isn’t. If what you care about is playing games remotely without worrying about the battery dying, the 2019 Switch is a vast improvement over the 2017 model.

The one downside for Nintendo headed into Q2 is that its release schedule is looking a little threadbare. Apart from rumors of Super Mario remasters that the company has neither confirmed nor denied, there’s not much dropping in the next few months. Bayonetta 3, Metroid Prime 4, and the sequel to Breath of the Wild are all still listed as TBA titles. Nintendo hasn’t said much about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, other than noting that its development timelines may be impacted as a result.

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Massive Nintendo Leak Includes Wii Source Code, N64 Demo Games

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Nintendo is notoriously secretive about its development process, but we just got a glimpse of how the sausage is made thanks to a massive leak of data from the Nintendo Wii and N64. Among the thousands of files posted online in recent days are the source code for the Wii operating system, detailed design documents, and software demos for the Nintendo 64. 

The files first appeared on 4chan, a largely unmoderated online forum that has given rise to Anonymous, QAnon conspiracy theories, and uncountable memes. We won’t link to the leaked Nintendo data, but it’s easy enough to find with a Google search. We don’t know who posted the files (4chan is anonymous by default) or if it has anything to do with the recent hack of Nintendo’s online service. The timing is suspect, though. However, online chatter points the finger at a company called BroadOn, a company that worked with Nintendo repeatedly over the years and did much of the technical design work to make the Wii a reality. 

Emulation fans and developers will probably be overjoyed about this leak. It should be possible to improve game emulation significantly with access to the full source code for the Wii’s operating system and SDK. The leak even contains block diagrams and Verilog files for every part of the Wii. Verilog is a text format for describing electronic circuits and systems — someone with the right know-how could basically recreate every component of the Wii from this data. Of course, Nintendo’s lawyers will probably be racking up billable hours to ensure that it doesn’t happen. 

Also contained in the 3 gigabytes of leaked data are several documents and files from the Nintendo 64, which dominated gaming in the late 90s. There are functional demos for the N64 that show off what, at the time, were groundbreaking 3D rendering techniques (see above). This is a fascinating glimpse of this pivotal time in gaming history, and there may be a lot more to come. There are even a few documents relating to the development of the 2001 cult-favorite Gamecube console. 

Some sources on 4chan claim this cache of data is just a taste of what’s out there — there may be as much as 2TB of stolen Nintendo data in the hands of hackers. If true, it’s only a matter of time before it’s laid bare on the internet.

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