Nintendo’s always hard at work coming up with new ways to improve their overall user experience, from the hardware to the games. But they usually try to do things their own way instead of simply following the prevailing industry trends. According to a handful of new patents, however, Nintendo’s thinking of finally adopting a couple features from today’s consumer electronics—in-game voice chat and eco-friendly low-power modes for their game console hardware.

As usual, of course, they’ve imagined these features in a very Nintendo-like way.

Nintendo’s patent for in-game chat makes use of an external device—like the Wii U GamePad—as an off-screen chat interface:

An exemplary game system includes a monitor for displaying a game image or a television program, and a terminal device having a camera, a microphone, and a loudspeaker. When a user is playing a game or viewing a television program by using the monitor, another user can have chat by using the terminal device.

As it turns out, this would actually be a really elegant, living room-friendly solution to in-game voice chat. You wouldn’t have to have a particular camera and mic setup to get your chat going—simply start talking into your controller, or prop up the GamePad in the most convenient spot available.

Another patent describes a hardware system with multiple operating modes depending on the amount of power the user wants to consume—a full-power mode, an eco-friendly mode, and a very low-power mode that disables all network features:

An information processing system is capable of communicating with an external apparatus via a network. The information processing system is capable of operating in at least three operation modes including: a first mode; a second mode, which consumes less power than the first mode; and a third mode, which consumes less power than the second mode and where the communication via the network is not performed.

With Nintendo’s most recent hardware, tremendous priority was placed on allowing those devices to work without drawing a lot of power. Energy efficiency is actually a pretty big deal globally, but in Japan the dedication to eco-friendly devices is much more powerful, which led Nintendo’s engineers to prioritize low power consumption when designing 3DS and Wii U.

The hierarchical setup for processing routines laid out in the patent could theoretically allow future Nintendo devices to accommodate the need for energy efficiency while also supporting software that’s a bit more demanding from a performance perspective. Could this be the solution to a Nintendo architecture that can support the majority of third-party ports?

There are a couple other interesting ideas tossed around in various other patents, such as:

  • Real-time changes to the environment based on players’ interactions with in-game hindrances, shared over a network. These kinds of changes could involve, for example, scaling the difficulty of certain segments of a game based on how well or how poorly the general playerbase is doing. This could very well be a more passive replacement for the intrusive “Super Guide” feature Nintendo’s used in previous titles, where you could ask the game to give you some special advantages or simply take over if you were having trouble.
  • Using sound as a sampling mechanism for reading compressed data. The theory is that a particular data sequence could correspond to a particular audio signal, and a small sampling of that audio signal would be enough to identify the data. It’d be something like an aural QR code.

Of course, we have no idea if any of these will ever come to fruition. But it’s good to see that Nintendo’s looking to embrace new and interesting technologies, even as they start to adopt what by now are old ideas like in-game chat.

Source: FreshPatents (1, 2, 3, 4)

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