Nintendo 3DS: Controlling Innovation

With the launch of the Nintendo 3DS this Sunday, the company continues its history of revolutionizing how games play, and how we play with them.

Nintendo 3DS Launch

While I have issues with Nintendo 3DS as a gadget, there is no denying that it is a remarkable gaming machine. With the 3-D capabilities come interesting media opportunities–it allows you to take 3-D photos, a 3-D version of OK Go’s “White Knuckles” music video comes with the handheld, and Netflix will stream in 3-D this summer. But looking beyond the flashy 3-D graphics, it is the treasure trove of innovative gameplay features that should make gamers excited.

Steel Diver

Since the Nintendo 3DS features both outward- and player-facing cameras (two cameras for 3-D images, actually), it enables some impressive Augmented Reality gaming. The 3DS comes with a picture of a coinblock from Super Mario. Point the camera at it, and it comes to life, letting you play minigames like archery and fishing, right there on your table. The player-facing camera can also be used in interesting ways: The Sims 3 uses a photo of your face as part of your Sim. Sims producer Ken Ogasawara said, “I had a lot of fun working with the camera and using it to get pictures of friends into the game. A combination of the face recognition and augmented reality would be an interesting concept, where it would not only bring something out into the world, but perhaps bringing in something into the world at the same time with the camera on the front and back.”

Augmented Reality Archery

The gyroscope and accelerometer allow motion control gaming, such as in Steel Diver. You are at a submarine periscope and actually rotate your whole body to turn your view and spot enemy ships to torpedo. These same sensors allow the 3DS, when in “sleep mode” to act as a pedometer to track how much you walk–which earns you coins to buy extras in certain games.

AR Card

Even the system’s wireless capabilities provide an innovative feature–Street Pass. When your 3DS is in sleep mode, you can exchange data with other 3DS systems in your vicinity. This enables features like automatic battles in Street Fighter IV 3D. In both racing games Ridge Racer 3D and Asphalt 3D you share ghost data, so you can race against cars that reflect the best lap times of other players. Tony Key, Ubisoft’s SVP of Sales & Marketing, said, “The StreetPass feature will garner a lot of attention from players. StreetPass has enormous potential to create sophisticated meta-games.”

Ridge Racer


All of these features create new opportunities for game developers to create unique experiences–even the 3-D graphics are just ripe for brand-new types of games. The control innovations coupled with the innovations carrying over from the Nintendo DS–dual screens, touchscreen controls, and voice controls via microphone–create a portable gaming package that will provide gameplay previously unseen. “Working on a new platform is always exciting; our development teams get to flex their creativity on designing games,” said Key.

Rayman 3D

It isn’t really surprising, since Nintendo has a history of leading the gaming industry. When the Nintendo Entertainment System game out in 1986, it reinvigorated the space, and had a handful of new features: games complex enough to last more than the handful of minutes like Atari games, or games with batteries so you could save your progress and resume your game later–which allowed lengthy quests like the original Legend of Zelda.


With each machine they released, Nintendo continued evolving: the Gameboy was the first portable system with cartridges to switch titles; Super Nintendo added shoulder buttons to controllers, along with  rudimentary 3-D sprites; the Nintendo 64 had the first controller with analog controls for precise movements; the Game Cube console and Gameboy Advance handheld had interconnectivity for unique gameplay opportunities, such as Pac Man Vs. and Zelda: Four Swords Adventure; and Nintendo DS had the aforementioned mic, touchscreen, and dual-screen design. Most recently and emphatically, the Wii’s motion controls and Mii system for creating cute versions of players left a huge impact on the game industry, evidenced by Sony and Microsoft’s later strategies (Move and Kinect for motion controls, PlayStation Home and Avatars matching Miis).

As a gamer who has played since the original NES was released, I have seen each generation of system and accompanying innovations change gaming. And now I have seen true 3-D graphics and watched a printed image of ink come to life through AR with the Nintendo 3DS. And so gaming has evolved again.

Sims 3


About the author

His work has also been published by Kill Screen, Tom's Guide, Tech Times, MTV Geek, GameSpot, Gamasutra, Laptop Mag, Co.Create, and Co.Labs. Focusing on the creativity and business of gaming, he is always up for a good interview or an intriguing feature.


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