Nintendo Switch must be more powerful

Bloomberg recently reported that Nintendo is working on a new, more powerful version of Nintendo Switch hardware that would allow the console to display games in 4K resolution when docked. It would definitely be a cool feature, but that’s not why this news is so exciting.

The truth is, the Switch has been underpowered for quite some time now, and it’s become a problem for anyone who uses the hardware as their primary console. The problem has never been a lack of 4K support, but rather the ability to deliver even graphically modest games to the player without having to make annoying performance compromises.

The question of optimization

The Switch came out four years ago and took off like a rocket due to the portable / console hybrid nature of the system design and the availability of a Mario game that has become an instant classic, a Zelda game. which … well, did the same, and an updated version of one of the best Mario Kart games ever.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have received mid-generation power upgrades, and Microsoft and Sony follow-ups have attempted to bring some of the power of PC gaming to consoles. Nintendo released its system from the guts of a glorified cell phone. It was a bold choice that paid off, proving that some players are more interested in game library and portability than raw power.

The Switch wasn’t as powerful as the competition, but who cared? It didn’t have to be. Nintendo was making their own great games for the platform, and those worked really well. The difference in power between the Switch and its closest competitors was also much less pronounced in the pre-2017 era.

A Nintendo Switch and the new Nintendo Switch Lite, side by side

Photo: Michael McWhertor / Polygon

But this power gap has widened over time. Overcooked launched with significant frame rate issues; Ark: Survival Evolved had to be reduced to the essentials to work on the system. Motion Twin, the developer of Dead cells, apologized for the state of its Switch version at launch. And the most recent Switch port of a major game, Respawn Entertainment Apex Legends, is a very compromised experience.

Game developer Sterling Selover wrote about the challenges of porting Stingbot Forbidden arts to Switch in 2019. “In total, I spent 4 months working on the Switch port, while continuing to improve and finish the game on other platforms,” said Selover. “The Switch’s hardware is unique and unless a game is designed specifically for The Switch, it’s likely going to be very difficult to maintain consistency with consoles of more powerful hardware.”

This problem only gets worse as developers focus on the increased power of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. It will only be more difficult to create games that perform well on both console classes. The answer is either more time spent on optimization, which has its own costs and limitations for small teams, or design with the huge power disparity in mind early on.

Over time, however, it becomes more likely that more games with disappointing performance, load times, and resolution will be released for the Switch. This is bad news for everyone, with developers trying to deliver the best version of their games to fans who want to play high quality ports on their Switch. Something had to give.

So what does more powerful hardware do for us?

The new Switch hardware is also said to include technology that would allow developers to optimize system performance.

“Adding DLSS would be a boon for new games and developers,” Polygon’s Michael McWhertor explained in a recent console post. “Nvidia’s technology uses AI to accelerate graphics rendering through image reconstruction, maintaining high image quality while delivering improved frame rates. Put simply, it allows a video card to render a game at a lower internal resolution – reducing the load on the GPU – because it uses Nvidia’s AI algorithm to generate a reconstructed image that looks just as good (or, in some cases better than) the game rendered in native resolution. “

Forget about the frame rate and resolution arguments. The real issues here are the readability and feel of each game. The developers want to create Switch ports that allow gamers to see and understand the action while ensuring that games are still fun to play. This is the goal.

Nintendo put developers in a tough spot with the original Switch: The system isn’t powerful enough to compare to competing consoles, but it sells so well that developers may feel like they can’t. not afford to ignore it. By ramping up the power of the lowest-end console on the market, Nintendo can make game development easier across the board, which could lead to more – and better – ports for all the games you want to play in. shifting.

By offering more powerful Switch hardware and getting gamers on that more powerful hardware as quickly as possible, Nintendo could give developers an ecosystem where they can spend less time optimizing their games to achieve that goal. It also means that developers who spend time creating scalable engines can use more of the features of those engines on the Switch while still keeping the game playable in terms of raw performance.

The best of times? More ports, done in less time, using less resources, that look better and perform better And that’s good for everyone … except maybe Microsoft and Sony.