Feature: The Weird and Wonderful World of Nintendo Patents
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Because gaming needs more wackiness
Nintendo is well known for pushing new ideas, often utilising established technology to broaden our horizons and shake up gaming experiences. The Wii Remote may have used well-worn technology in innovative ways to prompt a motion-control craze, yet it wasn't received with universal rapture before the Wii launched and sold in significant numbers — a number of people dismissed the very idea. Not all of Nintendo's bold ideas and gadgets have been runaway successes, but it continues to look beyond existing products for the next irresistible hook.
With such a creative outlook there are, naturally, plenty of ideas that flirt on the boundaries of innovative and incomprehensible. Getting a perspective on some of Nintendo's concepts is as simple as trawling its patent applications, an area where firm and speculative ideas meet and, in a number of cases, never get beyond the drawing board — this neat "illumination device" is a recent example that's been discovered. These documents may have a lot of money and time invested behind them, but they can also bring a smile to weary faces as we contemplate some of the madness that could have been.
We've trawled through our archives to find some of the most intriguing, amusing and bizarre Nintendo patent applications of recent years.
The Wii U GamePad has a sizeable touch screen, and the latest DualShock for the PS4 has a small touch pad, both examples of controllers having an extra input requiring some tapping and swiping. Undeniably looking rather like a periscope, the funnel above would have housed a screen that would have used infra-red to detect touch, supposedly ideal for drawing or mimicking a mouse pointer. With the rather nifty Wii Pointer and the impending Wii U at that point, it's no surprise that this went absolutely nowhere.
A personal favourite of this article's humble writer, as it neatly exemplifies the moments of madness that the Wii bandwagon prompted. Many of us adore the Wii and what it did to revolutionise mainstream gaming, but this inflatable seat shows the insane lengths almost pursued to make motion controlled gaming more immersive. A Nunchuk could also be used to simulate "bronco riding, a lasso, a sword, or other weapon". We would have bought one.
Those that enjoy silly E3 presentations may remember an early Microsoft Kinect demo, in which a photogenic extra attempting to be macho ran on the spot and played invisible American Football; it worked, but why do it was the question. Nintendo almost went down that road to madness in a more literal sense, with a squishy shell shaped like a football with a Remote embedded inside — you'd run on the spot, lift it in the air to jump and simulate throws. The dark side is strong with this one, as pretending to throw accessories likely leads to actually throwing them — remember kids, broken TVs aren't funny.
This one could, in theory, be rather neat, albeit peculiar. A special stylus would have a 'marker' that's picked up by the inward facing camera on the system, allowing you to manipulate objects on the stereoscopic 3D screen without direct contact — so you could grab items and pull them "out" of the screen or vice-versa pushing them into the depth of the 3D effect. That marker could also utilise the external cameras, like AR cards, and also be placed on a finger-tip for some trippy stylus free effects. The same patent application also proposed a vibrating stylus, essentially a rumble feature that would react to what's happening in the game.
This certainly qualifies in the "pointless but I want it" category, as it essentially takes the concave design of the Circle Pad (sloping inwards) and makes it convex, so therefore more like a typical analogue stick — it resembled the GameCube equivalent. This would have to be some sort of clip-on accessory, as that clamshell won't close with a Circle Pad sticking out.
R.O.B. has had a number of cameo appearances and is recognisable to Nintendo fans, but despite the boldness of the idea wasn't actually a very functional toy. Released in some NES bundles, he was an attempt to introduce a robotic buddy to gaming, and the technology simply wasn't ready. This patent shows that Nintendo has considered the idea recently, with a Wii Remote embedded for the toy to interact with and control games. Toy robots have come a long way so this may not be that barmy and, again, we'd probably buy one.
Those are some that we've reported on in recent years, and there are more interesting examples out in the wild. Let us know which you'd actually want to own in the poll below, which boggle your mind, and any other examples you feel deserve recognition.
Which of these patents is your favourite? (285 votes)
I'm digging the Wii Remote touch pad / periscope
That inflatable horse-riding peripheral looks comfortable and fun
I want the Wii Remote football, because FOOTBALL
I want a rad 'marker' stylus that vibrates
The ornamental Circle Pad, just because
A new R.O.B., because it would be awesome
Please login to vote in this poll.