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Talking Point: NFC and AR - Two Cool Extras That Need Some Love

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

The features that time forgot

Remember the augmented reality (AR) games on 3DS? Go on, check your handheld, they're still there, quietly sitting on the home screen waiting to be enjoyed. Built into the system for all to experience whenever they like, taking an established technology and adding a hefty dose of Nintendo whimsy and charm. They were also quite a focus when the handheld was released — arguably because there was no eShop or "killer" launch game — with many using it as an early "look at what my cool new toy can do" demonstration. That little AR mascot — a yellow box with eyes — felt loved, cherished and like a valued part of the 3DS team.

Like a virtual Buzz Lightyear, however, it now sits near the bottom of the toy box, covered by an ever-increasing retail library and a lot of eShop downloads, disregarded and little loved. As for the AR cards themselves, that made the magic possible, good luck finding them — try looking in the bottom of a drawer.

What was supposed to be a major part of the handheld seems to have been lost to brief cameos and little more, with some download games even having the audacity to use the outer cameras on the system for real-world AR — different in that you can't view a 360-degree perspective, but the view is fixed and simply rendered on screen — so you don't need to find those cards. Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir tried using the tech with its own AR book, but was let-down by the fact that the experience was a bit rubbish, while Kid Icarus: Uprising has pocket-money-hungry collectible cards that play out pre-determined battles on your table-top — fun, but hardly pushing boundaries. Somewhat bizarrely Nintendo itself appears to have practically abandoned the concept beyond these simple examples, not even producing new or expanded versions of the built-in AR games, which would be something.

Which brings us to the NFC (near-field communication) capabilities in the GamePad, that little area marked out below the D-Pad on the left-hand side on the controller. Again it's simple, well-established technology, except this time Nintendo hasn't added its own unique flavour; launch day brought no equivalent mini-games, such as a simple collection that would use tiny mascot figurines, for example. There was nothing — no launch games use it, no upcoming games seem to use it; it's the feature that's been left redundant.

Perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised by NFC's irrelevance to date. As this entertaining Iwata Asks excerpt highlights, the team responsible for developing the GamePad apparently didn't even know the feature would definitely be included until it was announced to the public.

Iwamoto: We were supposed to be making a controller, but it has all the functions of a handheld!

Yamashita: Yes. And they all run wirelessly. We had to develop software for a lot of things—NFC, the TV control button, and the geomagnetic sensor — it was a lot of work! However, with regard to NFC, when we saw your announcement, Iwata-san, we were shocked. We were like, "Huh?! He's announcing that?!" (laughs)

Iwata: Is that so? Sorry about that! (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

And until recently, we imagined a scenario where we'd speak to anyone at Nintendo and say, "so, what's coming next that uses NFC". Nintendo: (laughs).

Yet that may be about to change, with Shigeru Miyamoto saying in clear terms that NFC is on the to-do list within Nintendo.

With NFC, that's a feature that everyone that owns a Wii U can take advantage of. So that's what we're putting our priorities right now. We're hoping that in the near future we'll be able to show you something that will take advantage of the NFC on Wii U and people will be able to enjoy that.

What this will entail, and ultimately how much it'll cost, is a mystery until Nintendo reveals more, though we're a little cautious that bank loans may be required if a Skylanders/Disney Infinity approach is taken.

It's not as if the technology can't be used in creative ways, not just in games but also for practical uses — over a year ago we suggested ideas such as Smash Bros. figurines or cards that can be scanned on a rival system to transport characters or initiate battles, cards that integrate with built-in e-reading software or even the boring but useful prospect of eShop cards that apply funds with a simple swipe across the GamePad. This is easy to use technology that's been around for years and will be familiar to anyone with a travel pass on a modern underground train service, for example — all it needs is software.

If the will is there within Nintendo and others, perhaps we'll see some interesting ideas along the lines of those shown off in the 'leaked' Rayman Legends trailer of last year, though the inclusion of the concept has evidently been dropped with Ubisoft stating it "can't disclose" information on what was an internal demonstration.

So there's hope for NFC, though it seems that AR on the 3DS — by which we mean the card-using 360-degree angle kind — is still being quietly ignored. It'll be interesting to see what Nintendo produces to utilise the GamePad's NFC, and we certainly feel that a perfect home for software that uses the scanner, as well as the handheld's AR capabilities, is the eShop. The download platforms provide the perfect staging ground for small, experimental apps and games that make full use of the hardware tech available. Perhaps an approach similar to that at Game Freak and other companies can be the perfect method to make these experiences possible — staff get given a small percentage of time to work on and pitch their own ideas. Perhaps Nintendo does this, but if not then it'd certainly be a way to leverage the creative talent within its various teams.

Nintendo's hardware in recent times has had a core focus on innovation and gaming experiences that use off-the-shelf, affordable technology in fun new ways. It's an area where the company often flourishes, but in the cases of the 3DS AR cards and Wii U's NFC, there's still a lot of unfulfilled potential.

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User Comments (47)

SheldonRandoms

#1

SheldonRandoms said:

I give AR lot's of love, those pictures on swapnote are great examples, now I wonder what I can do next?

Dashtag

#2

Dashtag said:

NFC sounds interesting. I like AR games but, er... the 3DS's camera isn't all that great.

Grumpalo

#3

Grumpalo said:

The problem with the AR cards is that you lose the image the second you try to move around.
I like your idea of using the NFC for EShop points. I'd also like to see it get used for the Club Nintendo Stars/Coins cards that come with games so i could add them to my account without having to type in the long code.

moo99

#4

moo99 said:

Finding a use for NFC in any device is puzzling. Samsung uses it in several phones now, and it's less convenient than email. I'm surprised it's so popular, and including it in a device meant to be kept at home is pretty stupid.

Grubdog

#5

Grubdog said:

Yeah, I don't see the point either. You're just scanning stuff to flick a switch? I can't see that adding anything that can't already be done. If anyone can prove otherwise though, it's Nintendo.

IxnayontheCK

#6

IxnayontheCK said:

Nfc can't feel forced though. Skylanders was new and original so it was cool. If every game starts suggesting we buy figures or cards or whatever, its gonna get old. That said, I'm also intriged to see what Nintendo can come up with.

Kirk

#7

Kirk said:

They are gimmicks that very few games will ever use effectively imo.

I'd like to see them supported but I have yet to see an AR game that I don't think is mostly just time wasting casual garbage so I'm not that bothered either.

Also, I think that image of the Rabid on the screen is a little bit of lie when it comes to NFC since I think it only really works on the GamePad if you specifically touch on the little icon at the left side of the GamePad. I guess you could touch the area and then sit the character on the screen but it's not really the same effect.

I guess the NFC could be use for swiping points cards on or whatever but that's hardly exciting stuff.

Windy

#8

Windy said:

I was hoping to see an AR Dungeon Crawler as shown in early examples of the AR games but it seems to have died

LordJumpMad

#9

LordJumpMad said:

I think they already scrap these gimmicky ideas for games, due to a lack of creativity.
Could have been something great, but now it just sits in your 3DS, taking up hardware space, that could have been used for improving graphics of the 3DS.

AlexSora89

#10

AlexSora89 said:

As I stated elsewhere, while AR has been used well so far - in that it's not been misused - NFC (combined with the current emergence of microtransactions as well as EA's infamous statement about a future of omnipresent microtransactions) is something that shouldn't be a priority at the moment, considering gaming is already expensive as-is.

There's only one possible outcome - if NFC and microtransactions become as omnipresent as EA wishes them to be, gamers everywhere are eventually bound to say "screw it, we're going retro with emulation".

Dodger

#11

Dodger said:

I don't see a point to either. AR isn't that useful for anything except toys, especially without good cameras. You need to have spotlights on your living room ceiling for it to see anything and if you move at all then it pauses. That kinda ruined it for me.

Same with NFC. I can't think of any way to use it ingame that isn't Skylanders and I don't want more games to be like Skylanders.

AlexSora89

#12

AlexSora89 said:

On second thought, you know what? Just imagine the potential of a level editor in the next 3DS Smash Bros. game using 3d photos for backgrounds!

Nnnnnnnnngh... gotta wait... still gotta wait...

allav866

#13

allav866 said:

@Windy The Denpa Men: They Came by Wave uses AR during sequences where you catch the Denpa Men, then take them into the game world for a dungeon-crawling rpg.

Sun

#14

Sun said:

What about that Wii finger device? Iwata said that it would definitely be released and then ignored it without saying a word... Weird.

ThomasBW84Admin

#15

ThomasBW84 said:

Oh well, I think NFC and AR should be used more, just for the sake of variety and experimental games. Looks like I'm in the minority!

Sun

#16

Sun said:

The problem is that 3DS cameras are absolute crap and NFC for a home console seems pretty useless unless you are willing to collect silly toys. Actually collecting silly toys can feel great.. before you turn 8.

JSuede

#17

JSuede said:

Personally, I think Nintendo would clean up if they reissued Pokemon cards with NFC in conjunction with a Pokemon Stadium/Colosseum experience. The main single player would allow you to roam around the open world, catch and train Pokemon just like the good old days. For battles on and offline, you can either use the cards to use a Pokemon, or you can use the ones you have trained. Healing items and the like can also be placed on cards so that you aren't buying a pack of straight Pokemon....keeps people buying. The trading cards were HUGE when they first released and as far as I can tell, they have fallen by the wayside.

The issue would be avoiding "pay to win." One solution would be that while the Pokemon in the card packs could be rare, they wouldn't be super powered and perhaps tailored to the level class of the battle (when chosen...not on a card by card basis). This would allow the people who spend the time training their Pokemon to potentially defeat people with more rare Pokemon, but also give card owners a fighting chance by using strategy to prevail.

The cards also solve the issue of having 600+ figurines laying around. Cards are easily stackable and can be put into card books (I still have all of my original Pokemon cards because of those :-D)

I need to stop....I'll just be disappointed when it doesn't happen. This needs to be pitched to Nintendo because now I'm sad, haha.

Burning_Spear

#18

Burning_Spear said:

Both features seem like gimmicks to me. AR gave me a stiff neck, and NFC seems like a clunky way of doing things that can either be accomplished via on-screen menus or simply included in the original software. I can see NFC being used to transfer Miis or leveled-up or customized characters from one Wii U to another, but a Wii remote can be used for the same purpose.

milojica

#19

milojica said:

You can use NFC for anti-piracy. You just include an item that is needed to progress through the certain point in the game as an actual item that comes packed in the box. But that limits the game for retail only. Also you can make some promo stuff that can be transferred into the game.

BrightShadows31

#20

BrightShadows31 said:

I can see possibilities here. What if on brawl there were figurines that would unlock that character on the system, but only on one system, then if you scan it again, it gave you that character just until you quit the game? Plus it could use ir to work with the 3ds version too... MAKE IT HAPPEN IWATA =D

bezerker99

#21

bezerker99 said:

OMG, you're RIGHT!!! I have no idea where those AR cards are. lol

Good read, went perfect with my coffee here! :)

AlexSora89

#22

AlexSora89 said:

The whole premise of "pay for this extra thing to unlock this and that" was implemented perfectly in Kingdom Hearts 3D. There, the "special Dream Eaters" could be unlocked via AR cards, but there was still the "traditional" way to get 'em as well, so players without the AR cards can still have access to those creatures. When NFC and AR are used to unlock something faster, that's a good use of it - like a "honest" GameShark/Action Replay, if you will.

@BrightShadows31: No. Just... no. You can do that on more casual games such as Skylanders or Disney Infinity, but that's it. Such a mechanic has no place whatsoever in a fighter. Or in any mainstream game, for that matter. I don't want to sound rough with this but... those are the facts.

C-Olimar

#23

C-Olimar said:

The horrible camera on the 3DS ruined AR games for me. As for NFC, I wouldn't mind figures or cards as long as there were only a few, and the game wasn't dependent on them.

Kaeobais

#24

Kaeobais said:

NFC shouldn't be used as a way to gouge more money out of us. However, if NFC was added to different figures and collectibles from popular franchises and using it just added little bonuses and cool effects, then that would be cool. I buy gaming related figurines all the time. If they just also happened to interact with their respective companies games, that would be cool.

GazPlant

#25

GazPlant said:

Yep, they need to be used more, but only when it's done sensibly. Kid Icarus had a wonderful use of AR Cards, and I'd love to see more. After all, what's the point of having that functionality on the system if no-one will use it?

SCAR392

#26

SCAR392 said:

I think these features are awesome. Don't you know that everything's a gimmick until it's the next big thing? LOL.
Seriously though, having cards and figures with programming on them is cool stuff.

ThreadShadow

#27

ThreadShadow said:

Without a second camera on the Gamepad can the Wii U do AR at all? I still think it was a bit of a mistake not to include a second camera on the Gamepad.

SCAR392

#28

SCAR392 said:

You can do AR without 3D. PS Vita does it, too, it just doesn't render the figures on screen in 3D.

SCAR392

#29

SCAR392 said:

Oh, I see what you meant... You can hold the Gamepad away from you and have it show up on the TV maybe. Who knows.

cornishlee

#30

cornishlee said:

I don't have a 3DS but I cannot see the point of NFC in games, I really can't. Until Miyamoto's comments the other day I'd assumed it would never be used except maybe in some little first party eShop offering. Honestly, his "NFC's a priority" comments, even if they were taken out of context, have me more worried than any amount of the 'Wii U is terrible/doomed to fail' stories over the past few months.

baba_944

#31

baba_944 said:

What about this: AR mode for "Donkey Kong 64 3D"? Expanding the game's world into the real world all while fighting King K. Rool in Stereoscopic 3D.

StephenYap3

#32

StephenYap3 said:

Agreed with the AR. I want to be able to play with my AR cards, but what else can I do with them? I'm already bored of them and have no other idea what to do. And Nintendo, please update AR games like you did with Streetpass Mii Plaza so that there would be more features and the ability to use both Miis and Characters when taking snapshots.

Dpullam

#33

Dpullam said:

I actually thought the AR games were quite fun to play on my 3DS. I haven't touched them in a couple months since I already have quite a long list of games to play though. As for NFC, it is an interesting idea but I was not a fan of how Skylanders used it. It would cost far too much money to actually be worth paying for those figurines.

duffmman

#34

duffmman said:

The Pokemon Card Game should from here on out should be Augment Reality ready for the 3DS. So that you can play the game but the Pokemon pop out and do the attacks you tell them to on the 3DS.

duffmman

#36

duffmman said:

@JSuede

I saw your NFC thing, but I think AR on the 3DS sounds more exciting to me, cuz you and your friends would still be able to play it anywhere, and the idea of the pokemon jumping out of their cards sounds really cool to me.

EaZy_T

#39

EaZy_T said:

I wonder if NFC could be used to have small games/VC on a card/figure?
I can imagine a figure of Mario with SML embedded in NFC. Or a card that has a NFC minigame or demo to promote an upcoming release.
I think if NFC could be used like this, they could make really neat items/rewards for Club Nintendo.
.

ETA: This could also apply to retail or special Club AR Cards.

JSuede

#40

JSuede said:

@duffmman I guess that's true. I don't have a 3DS so my knowledge of the AR stuff is pretty limited and doesn't appeal to my current wants. I think I might get one to take advantage of that XL Luigi's mansion deal though

Maybe they could pull a Monster Hunter and do cross-save and have both the AR stuff and NFC stuff on the cards?

LordessMeep

#42

LordessMeep said:

I have my AR cards nicely tucked inside a pocket in my 3DS's case. I played around with AR back when I'd just gotten the system and wanted to take a break from SM3DL. It's interesting enough, but after a while, the gimmick got old. I really liked how Denpa Men implemented AR and would love to see something like that again.
I disliked the Skylanders way of doing NFC (and I am not looking forward to Disney Infinity either) because it feels more like a pay-to-win game or even on-disk DLC. Bonus content via figurines/cards is fine, but paying extra for a 100% completion? No, thank you.
If Nintendo departs from these two common ways to implement NFC, I'd like to see it.

nomeacuerdo

#45

nomeacuerdo said:

That would completely stop piracy, I think: "scan the disk to be able to play the game" for retail games, for example.

DreaddJester

#46

DreaddJester said:

Personally I would like to see an AR game that allowed people to create their own AR enviroments to a degree. For instance.... I remember hearing about an AR game where you placed a map of a city on a tabletop and the AR made it come to life. You played the part of a chopper pilot trying to guide people to safety by gunning down zombies in the city. I think Skittles were used as special bombs and traps for the zombies as the color and shape of Skittles were easily recognizable by the program.

So how about we take something like that a step further and allow players to create their own maps or map sections on the computer then printing them out on their printer. Certain building, street, or other city items could use a certain print pattern or color to identify them as such to the program. Players could then share maps online only by uploading the graphic image of the map section and printing it out. This same sort of thing could be used to create dungeons if you were looking for more of a dungeon crawler RPG style play.

FordGuy

#47

FordGuy said:

I use AR games sometimes, but really the cards make the whole thing very clumsy, difficult to use, and the camera resolution is also pretty bad. When I do play it though, it's great fun. Keep on rockin', yellow box dude!

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