How powerful is the 3DS - and more importantly, who cares?

I've got a reputation on the team for having a technical eye for games. I firmly believe I can tell you which console a multiformat game is running on just from looking at the screen. I notice pop-up, anti-aliasing and re-draw. I guess it comes from constantly trying to justify my Sega Saturn compared to PlayStation owners back in the day.

But no more. I have a personal plea for all the people like me, in one very specific instance - stop analysing the 3DS.

Nintendo's new machine is beautiful. It's turning some of the greatest games ever made into worlds so real you feel you could reach out and touch them. It's got Kid Icarus soaring through blue skies way above a city basking in the heat from the blazing sun... look:

Look at that princess. Look at the expression in her face. Her flowing hair, the curve of her hip. What can we do to shatter this vision of beauty? Turn her into numbers!

Above: The supposed specs of 3DS's processor. In Japanese. Exciting?

Sites like geeky-gadgets have been reporting the machine's architecture as having a DMP PICA200 graphics chip with a clock speed of 200MHz, which can display up to 15.3 million polygons per second, 800 million pixels and full screen anti-aliasing. Sounds great. Means nothing. Especially as all of the above is at 'peak performance', and therefore never going to feature exactly in any retail game.

In the days of PSone, it did matter how many polygons per second a machine could do - it was the difference between F1 cars having suspension rods or just wheels that weren't attached to anything. But after Dreamcast passed 1million polys a second and people started talking about floating points instead, it all started to get a bit pointless keeping count.

With PS2 or Gamecube, as long as developers didn't try and do things like fully 3D grass in a football game or thousands of on-screen characters at once, they could make pretty much whatever they wanted - and that's good enough.

Above: Project Gotham Racing 3. Do you need to see the techy stuff?

After graphics have passed the 'Oh, that's supposed to be Mario' stage and reached the 'Mario looks cool' stage, there's no real need to go into detail about the tech, especially on a handheld. Not unless you're a PC gamer who would commit suicide if his rig didn't run Crysis on top settings at 300fps. So seeing sites like defconawesome saying:

"Not surprisingly, the GPU utilizes OpenGL ES and support 32 and 16 bit PNG pixel formats, like a lot of portable devices. Also, DMP’s technology includes a lot of ‘on-board’ rendering capabilities. Certain particle, skinning, and shading rendering functions are integrated, making it a much more robust system."

...feels a bit insulting to Nintendo. Is this really all we gamers care about?

At the end of the day, it's about what developers choose to do with the machine. Remember how everybody declared the PSP/DS race over before it had even begun, in favour of the Sony machine? Having the best specs does not equate to the best experience for the gamer, as the last five years have shown.

Even after rendering everything twice to create the 3D effect, 3DS still has the grunt to achieve Gamecube quality graphics. That's all the information you need. I mean, at this stage I don't know how the 3D screen tech really works. But I'm glad. I don't want to be the cynical guy who kills ET and cuts him up on the autopsy table to find out what does what.

I want to see his finger light up.

23 Jun, 2010


  • jamesslater - June 24, 2010 1:08 p.m.

    I think you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As others have said you can appreciate the artistic merits of game visuals while still analysing them from a technical viewpoint - in fact I would argue that an understanding of the tricks engineers and programmers use gives you a greater appreciation of good visuals. There will always be room for improvement in graphics (no game is photorealistic no matter what anybody says), and we should be grateful for technically-adept people who are working to push the boundaries, even if we don't understand their language. Also worth pointing out: this is a handheld, and handhelds always lag behind their home console big brothers in terms of specs. Having a handheld produce Gamecube quality graphics is a big deal, and people want to know how it's done. Personally I am more interested in the games, but it would be presumptuous of me, or anyone, to say that the technical aspects of game creation don't matter or that because I am not interested in / don't understand them, that nobody else should either.
  • Zanthis - June 24, 2010 12:50 p.m.

    Brilliant point. Who really cares which system is more powerful? Yes the PS3 was the more powerful system, but come launch the 360 had better games so people chose it. It's all about the software and the 3DS does not look to dissappoint. I know I'll be getting one and I don't care about all those numbers.
  • philipshaw - June 24, 2010 11:46 a.m.

    I agree, who cares about specs if the games aren't good
  • JamesT - June 24, 2010 5:38 a.m.

    It probably all matters quite a bit to people interested in the development of these type of things. Future console designers and such.
  • spideralex90 - June 23, 2010 9:20 p.m.

    Sony could have destroyed everyone in portable machines if the PSP just had one more analog stick. They apparently can't figure this out four machines later.
  • slimjim441 - June 23, 2010 8 p.m.

    And it's true, the specs don't really matter. It's like advertising that a car has fuel injection instead of a carburetor. @reverandglass Nintendo confirmed shortly after the press conference that the 3DS IS infact powered by magic.
  • slimjim441 - June 23, 2010 7:52 p.m.

    I'm saving money now, so by the time it comes out, I can buy a 3DS, Zelda, Mario Kart, Star Fox, Snake Eater, Paper Mario, Assassins Creed, Sonic, and Maybe Bomberman and Kid Icarus if I got some cash left over. Plus I also need to start saving for Other M, Kirby's Epic Yarn, DKC Retrurns, Skyward Sword and a new bass amp. Damn I need a job...
  • EnragedTortoise1 - June 23, 2010 7:44 p.m.

    I care about the games, not just teh graffix. But I will still wait in relentless anticipation for the system.. Drooool
  • reverandglass - June 23, 2010 7:19 p.m.

    the 3ds is powered by magic as far as I'm concerned and I'm happy to never be proved wrong. I'm only interested in home console spec these days in terms of the likely best experience and future proofing. I'm far more worried about feature like bluetooth, blu ray and hard drive space than bits, bytes and floating points.
  • Howetzer - June 23, 2010 5:21 p.m.

    H to tha izO, V to tha izA. That's the anthem, get cho damn hands up!
  • bschroth - June 23, 2010 5:05 p.m.

    I agree that specs don't matter much for consoles and handhelds anymore. All that matters are the results.
  • MrDuracraft - June 23, 2010 4:48 p.m.

    You can't really get mad at people for having nerdgasms over the specs, because they are impressive. But you're right about the fact that they don't mean as much anymore and people don't have to spend days discussing/arguing about them. Btw, the last two sentences summed it up very nicely.
  • 510BrotherPanda - June 23, 2010 3:37 p.m.

    If only it played Gamecube discs, then nothing would have a remote chance of topping it. 3d, DS AND Gamecube backward compatibility?
  • JohnnyAppleSperm - June 23, 2010 3:14 p.m.

    Man, that's got so much graphics! I can't wait to hold that many graphics. Recaptcha: No takeout. What do you mean I can't go to Japan and get my graphics early?
  • zer0hvk - June 23, 2010 2:58 p.m.

    very nice article, I agree with you completely, also, I am completely mystified by the 3DS, I want to play it, SOON!!!
  • beemoh - June 23, 2010 2:44 p.m.

    I agree with this. Similarly, we should stop making TV shows like Megastructures- it takes all the fun out and misses the point of driving over bridges.
  • StrayGator - June 23, 2010 2:32 p.m.

    I only partly agree. Wearing my Gamer Hat, I'm happy with everything as long as it plays smoothly, looks "good enough" and is fun. I'll give up suspension rods for meatier handling any day. Switching to my Geek Hat, however, changes the perspective somewhat. New technologies and impoved visuals do account for something after all. For some of us, the prospect of the things achievable with the features and limitations of a given platform is as intriguing as the ways you'd try to circumvent security measures as solid snake. Yes, I love seeing the innards of things and learn how they work. This is not necessarily cynicism, rather it is appreciation of the desgners' work and curiosity as for how they achieved that. The 3DS isn't a Unicorn. Dissecting it won't harm anything - unless you forcibly want to believe that it is "Magical"(TM, Apple Inc.). The work of programmers and engineers shouldn't eclipse the work of designers and artist, your'e absolutely right there. Should it be the other way around? Just for the record, I started playing Crysis on medium detail. Loved the visuals, not so much the game. Sold it, probably won't bother with 2.
  • awesomedudes - June 23, 2010 1:58 p.m.

    the 3ds will be fun
  • db1331 - June 23, 2010 1:45 p.m.

    Looking at the 3DS for the first time blew my mind. I didn't know that kind of 3D was possible. That being said, I still wasn't going to buy one. Then they announced the Ocarina remake. Damn you, Nintendo. I will probably end up getting one on launch day if Ocarina is available.
  • Hydrohs - June 23, 2010 1:43 p.m.

    I think people are analysing this BECAUSE it looks so good. They're trying to figure out how. That's my position on it, anyway. I was never expecting it to look this good because frankly, I don't expect handheld graphics to be amazing.

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