Now You’re Playing With (Less) Power

As gee-whizzy the tech of the Vita is, I’ve always been fond of a significantly less powerful handheld as compared to their home console counterparts.

I suppose it comes from the notion of lessons learned. While home consoles represent what can be done, their handheld alternatives exemplify what has been. While that sounds negative, I find it comforting. There’s always a learning curve associated with developing for the big boys. New techniques to grapple, and untested methods to attain previously impossible results. But the best of what home consoles can achieve is in the future. With handhelds, those strides had been made already. But instead of the best being behind them, these exemplary works serve as a stepping stone for what comes next.

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I’m hardly an expert of the technical side of this argument, but it’s not much of a stretch to equate the DS to the Nintendo 64. The dawn of the latter brought along aspects of design that weren’t a concern before, shifting from sprites to polygons obviously carries a price.

So when the DS came into the picture, those obstacles had been overcome. 3D was old hat, with worries of camera control a thing of the past. The DS allowed developers to put that 5+ years of experience with the N64 and PS to good use, as opposed to a constant cycle of adapting to new hardware just when one has fully come to terms with what the previous generation was capable of.

That expertise didn’t mean we just got new and improved versions of older games and ideas (although, Super Mario 64 DS certainly looks the way we remember the N64 original), it also meant experimental titles were less of a gamble. Akin to how the end of a system’s life leads to some of its oddest and most niche releases, the ability to produce content for a handheld is simply more cost effective and therefore less of a gamble. A project that cost X amount of dollars one year is destined to cost less (or comparatively so against the budget of a modern title) when placed in the hands of those much more familiar with the architecture due to years of development. Perhaps the publisher would use a leaner team because of that experience, allowing for less revenue risk. What this means is software that’s more daring and new, or at least better refined.

This all ties into an argument I’ve made before, so my obsession with weak handhelds isn’t going anywhere. However, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the perks of a system like the Vita. I’m just stuck in my ways, living the life of a portable curmudgeon.

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