A portion of an NES interview with former Sunsoft dev, René Boutin...
: Nintendo announced that the Wii U is launching later this year. How do you feel about the console and its touchscreen controller?
: In general it looks really cool, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand Nintendo really knows how to create fun and innovative interactive experiences and the hardware is really interesting, especially the convergence of gaming and traditional entertainment media. The idea of a singular set-top box for gaming, movies, music and television has been envisioned for at least 15 years now.
On the other hand, I haven’t used my Wii or 360 in over a year. Most of my gaming these days is in short bursts on iPhone or iPad, so I can’t help but look at Wii U with an iOS bias. Nintendo is already behind the curve when it comes to tablet and touch gaming. I already have the convenience of linking my media devices and TVs via Airplay and Apple TV. And I’m used to a convenient digital marketplace where I can easily find and download games and apps for free or very cheap. It’s becoming really hard to justify spending $50 on a big budget story-driven game I don’t have time to play.
I believe the future of Wii U and other next generation consoles will depend heavily on its digital marketplace and maintaining a daily interaction with its players, such as through a mobile app or ensuring that the Wii U becomes the first device people turn on when using their TVs. Nintendo has to compete with a platform that evolves its hardware on a yearly basis and basically lives in my pocket. They might pull it off via their “device for all media” strategy and appeal to a mass market. Otherwise I see it ending up like the Wii—everyone has one but never turns it on.
: In the 90′s, you worked on both the Sega Genesis and SNES. What were the biggest strengths and weaknesses of each of these consoles? Also, which console did you prefer developing for?
As a video game artist and animator at that time, I couldn’t help but be more enthusiastic for the SNES. It definitely had the graphics advantage. Just off the top of my head, I remember it had a greater color palette, more colors for sprites, as many as three independently scrollable background layers, sprite transparency and of course the famous “Mode 7” rotatable/scalable background mode.
However you needed really talented programmers to push these features because the main CPU was rather underpowered and the system architecture really complex. We used to call it “fake 16-bit” because it was really a custom version of an 8-bit CPU hybridized with some 16-bit functionality. The Sega Genesis on the other hand had a true 16-bit processor, the Motorola 68000, despite being a couple years older than the SNES.
The SNES’s wavetable sound chip also gave it a big advantage with audio, and I still feel the controller was way more ergonomic than the Genesis one. So my clear favorite if it isn’t obvious already was the SNES!
: (Let’s not forget that this era also saw the Turbo Grafix 16, and the rich kids’ favorite mega-console, the Neo Geo AES.)
Full interview here