The pre-E3 silly season is early this year, and it's all Nintendo's fault. We know full well that this year, likely at E3 or potentially a little beforehand, the company will reveal its next generation of hardware. It's potentially a 'third pillar' of hardware but, in light of declining 3DS momentum and continually low Wii U numbers, it'll likely have the focus of a replacement for those systems. The hype is real, and we're desperate to see what it is.
Of course, the problem with anticipated releases is that rumours happen, and can trend almost as much as a celebrity's nude selfie. That happened in the past week with a fuzzy leaked controller image that we wrote off as likely fake, before we were then in a state of re-assessment when alternative images of a black unit emerged. Within a short time of publication our colleague Liam Robertson had shown us information that confirmed with 99% certainly it was another fake, and it was then revealed as such.
First of all, I want to reference some lessons learnt this week in the tricky world of fake-spotting. The second leak, the black controller, for a brief moment had me and others in the Nintendo Life team fearful it was the real deal (which I'll address a little later), but even after we then saw information to prove it was fake we were still unsure of what to make of it. The photos weren't manipulated and were of a high quality, so what was going on?
My first instinct, shared with some colleagues, was that it was either a rough and old Nintendo prototype, or possible a gadget entirely unrelated to Nintendo. There are so many companies in the Far East, for example, that produce cheap technology knock-offs that it could have been from one of those.
As the charmingly apologetic video for the latter's fake revealed, however, it was actually a primitive 3D printed model. A 3D printer, some attention to detail and spray-paint produced a rather convincing look that had the internet aflutter. Needless to say, we'll now be adding a '3D printed' setting to our BS-meter, but they're trickier to deconstruct than old fashioned fuzzy Photoshop jobs. The next few months are bound to be full of 'leaks' that will be hard to call.
Now, in terms of why the prospect of the 'controller' being real had me in a slight panic, that was largely due to the awful and un-ergonomic design. It was also, though, because the idea of Nintendo ditching physical inputs outwith sticks and shoulder wheels is concerning beyond words.
Some may call out the fact that I've written enthusiastically about the idea of NX having a portable iteration and also the free-form screen patent on which the fakes were based. Yet it's one thing to like a concept and another to want it to be the final product.
As the image above shows, Nintendo patents don't need to be eligible products, but rather formal ways to call dibs on cool ideas. I like the idea of free-form screen technology, motion aspects and even shoulder buttons that can function as a scroller. The key, though, is to avoid going so off-point with future technology that no-one will develop for the thing, which is why the idea of these controllers concerned me.
A concept like that doesn't - arguably, this is all opinion - successfully target anyone. A lot of dedicated gamers want physical inputs so they can play 'properly', and those that play a lot on phones and tablets are unlikely to want a similar touchscreen that's complicated by analogue sticks and other shenanigans. As a device the fake doesn't target a blue ocean of consumers, but splashes into a small pool of hardcore Nintendo enthusiasts. That's why patents are great for ideas, but not necessarily final products.
That's what makes the challenge with NX so intriguing. The Wii Remote looked bonkers at first, but its simplicity, application and appeal was immediately obvious when the Wii was revealed. The GamePad, conversely, tried to promote the trend of tablets after they'd already become desirable in slicker, more modern forms; Nintendo, perhaps, had been a little unlucky in hitting a trend too late. Finding a new concept and design that enthrals millions nowadays requires a bit of brilliance and - of course - some luck.
I still like the idea of an NX that integrates portable and home console aspects, especially as the portable market remains by far the most lucrative for Nintendo. If there are separate SKUs for a portable and a home console 'box' - and a bundle with both for crazy people like me and, I suspect, a number reading this - then Nintendo can have the best of both worlds. It's a huge logistical and technological challenge to produce hardware that's powerful, integrated and a sensible price, but with all of the moves by Nintendo to unite its portable and home console teams and the ambition it evidently has, I wouldn't put it past the company to find a magical solution.
Or it could be something completely different. It's my understanding that it's still only a very small number that actually know what NX is, perhaps to the frustration of some third-party developers - in the end I'm just relieved that it's not as the fakes tried to make us believe.
In any case, there'll be a lot of claims from people claiming to know what NX is in the next few months, and as a team we'll just assess each on their merits. With some we'll have fun with the 'Rumour Buster' tag, and others may be convincing enough to just be a 'rumour'. Others, like a random 'triple-A dev' on Reddit that says they can't share images but that they're 'totally legit' - well, we'll just ignore them entirely.