Sat. Jan 28th, 2023
The touchscreen display described in the patent surrounds the dual thumbsticks and extends almost all the way to the oval edge of the controller.

The touchscreen display described in the patent surrounds the dual thumbsticks and extends almost all the way to the oval edge of the controller.

Nintendo has been largely silent on its plans for its next console, codenamed NX, since the system was casually announced earlier this year. A newly published patent application from Nintendo, first filed in June, shows one possible design: an innovative handheld that tightly integrates embedded analog sticks with a wraparound oval touchscreen that extends to the edge of the device.

Unlike the Wii U or the DS portables – which have small rectangular touchscreens placed on each side between more traditional button-based controls – the patent shows an elliptical touchscreen that dominates almost the entire front of the device, in smartphone-based style. The only break in that surface is two small holes on either side for “control sticks” (read: analog thumbsticks) that extend deep into the controller. The tops of these clickable sticks are nearly flush with the screen, allowing players to smoothly move their thumbs from analog controls to the touch screen directly adjacent. (The patent also suggests the possibility of a 3DS-style parallax-barrier display that would enable “stereoscopic naked-eye vision”).

Other similar cutouts of the touchscreen surface could be included for buttons, “cross buttons” (read: d-pads), jog dials, etc., according to the patent, and shoulder buttons provide further, traditional tactile input. The key is that all of these traditional controls would be embedded directly “into” the touchscreen via holes in the surface, rather than sitting in a separate plastic housing on the side as with existing Nintendo hardware.

“A higher sense of immersion…”

The patent suggests a few uses for this tight fusion of physical controls and touchscreen display. For example, virtual buttons can be placed on the touchscreen right next to the thumbpads, providing context-sensitive input that changes throughout the game. In-game items can be used simply by touching them, or musical notes can drop directly into the thumbstick areas in a music game.

The touchscreen, according to the patent, can also provide a “guide view” in “help mode,” telling players the function of each thumbstick and button right next to where they are in real-life space. A circular menu could also be placed around the thumbsticks, allowing different options to be chosen on the fly with different thumbstick tilts; the patent spends a lot of time describing a quick-entry hybrid keyboard that could work in this way.

Developers have tried some of these hybrid input ideas in the past using the touch screens on Nintendo hardware. The problem in most of those cases is that it’s extremely inconvenient to move your thumb back and forth between the buttons/sticks and the relatively distant touchscreens on the Wii U and DS systems during gameplay. This patent seems intended to solve that awkwardness by placing the traditional controls and touchscreen controls as close together as possible.

The patent acknowledges that the user’s thumb naturally blocks part of the image when using the thumbsticks. On the other hand, the patent states, “since one’s own thumb overlaps the image … of the virtual space to be seen, the player can get a higher sense of immersion.” The patent describes a sense of “atmosphere” created when the touchscreen appears to shoot sparks and flames directly from the thumbs pointing the thumbsticks, for example.

At some points, the patent gets a little philosophical about the need for a new design to solve problems inherent in portable gaming hardware. “In order to miniaturize a gaming device, it is necessary to reduce the number of control buttons, make the control button small, or make the display panel small,” the patent reads. “On the other hand, a gaming device becomes large if it is intended to enlarge a display panel size.” The solution proposed here maximizes the usable display/touch area without enlarging the controller/system itself by placing that traditional input within the touch screen area and pushing that screen to the edge of the rounded design.

Is this the NX?

It’s never a good idea to assume that a patent application will only become a real product, no matter how intriguing the idea may seem. That said, there is some circumstantial evidence that this patent does indeed describe the direction Nintendo is (or was) planning for the mysterious NX.

First at the end of last year The Japanese Times reported that Nintendo would be the first customer of Sharp’s free-form display technology. That technology, which allows for non-rectangular LCD panels with cutouts for different physical inputs, matches the design discussed in the parent almost perfectly.

For another, the patent describes a self-contained unit (“a hand-held type”) with integrated processing capabilities and its own card slot for game cartridges, SD cards, and even SIM cards. A Wall Street Journal report earlier this year suggested the NX would be a mobile/console hybrid, including a portable device that “could be used in conjunction with the console or taken on the road for separate use” (unlike the Wii U GamePad, which only works near its console base station). The device described in this patent would certainly fit in there, even though the patent contains absolutely no mention of integration with a separate console.

Even if the NX doesn’t ultimately (or even remotely) resemble this patent, its publication provides the best public evidence yet of what Nintendo’s hardware designers are considering for the successor to the Wii U and 3DS. In March, the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata described the NX as “the new hardware system with a brand new concept”. That is what current Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said earlier this month Time that the NX is “different and clearly a new experience” that’s not “the next version of Wii or Wii U. It’s something unique and different. It’s something where we need to move away from those platforms to make it something that will appeal to our consumer base.”

A device similar in any way to the one described in this patent would certainly deserve those descriptions.

By akfire1

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