Posted by: seanmalstrom | September 19, 2015

Hardware Follows the Software: The Relationship Between Hardware and Software Innovation

Here is a fantastic video of Steve Jobs in the early 1980s. Let’s watch it together reader:

Much is being said in this video. What I want to focus on are Steve Jobs’s philosophy of integrated hardware and software. Did you hear it? This is what he said:

The computer is a tool. However, there are still problems with the computer-as-tool. These include user interface problems. Software was written to fix these problems. As a result, the next generation of hardware would solve these problems so the software writers could focus on something else.

Also…

Computer power keeps increasing by leaps and bounds. How much power does a computer need? Why shouldn’t it be happy of where it is at now? What happens is that the extra power gets looped back around and fed into trying to solve the problem… of making the computer a better tool.

Now, does this relate to gaming such as console gaming? I would say it does. It also presents a view of integrated hardware and software that I find to be true and aligns with history.

With console gaming, let us look at examples of problems solved by software that were later solved by hardware. The prime example of this is 3d.

The above is a video of the game Zaxxon. There were many 3d games back in the day. However, the 3d had to be done in the software.

The above is a video of F-Zero. You could say it had ‘hardware’ as a solution, but it was a chip within the cartridge. To those who did PC gaming at the time, you know there was no such thing as a 3d card until the 1990s.

The above is a video of Mario 64. The 3d is being handled by the console. There is no doubt that the software is doing many things, but the actual 3d generation is not an illusion trick like it was from Zaxxon.

There are many other examples. Donkey Kong Country used a software trick to get the 32 bit type graphics in the game. The Super Nintendo hardware does not generate such graphics. However, succeeding hardware was eventually to be able to generate such graphics.

A very simple idea of the hardware following the software is multiplayer game that makes you share one controller. The next generation, the console has multiple controllers so the software doesn’t have to force people to share.

The NES and SNES had multi-tap type hardware expansions. This would be solved entirely with the N64 onward of Nintendo consoles being four players.

Nintendo even admits that their hardware side answers to the software side. However, I think this process has become corrupted over the years. Now, it seems the software side is saying, “Make something whimsical that I can make many ‘surprising’ games.” This reverses Steve Jobs interpretation of the integrated hardware and software. It also reveals gamers’ hatred of gimmicks.

The Wii was a fantastic console. Yet, not every game had to use motion control. Still, Nintendo did not listen. They gave us this:

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Above: This platformer had motion controls. Terrible!

Next Generation Hardware should be doing the job the software is doing in the prior generation. This gives the software so much more power to solve new problems. These solutions will become the hardware in the next generation. The cycle then moves on and on.

If you look at the evolution of, say, NES gaming, you saw games getting more beautiful, larger, and sounding better.

Above: Castlevania for the NES starts our example.

Above: Castlevania 3 is a massive cartridge and pushes the NES to be bigger and more beautiful.

Above: Super Castlevania has the console hardware doing much of the job that the software was pushing. Now the software can push in other ways. These other ways (such as simulating 3d) would be absorbed by the N64 hardware.

I think if Nintendo goes the path of writing software around a hardware point, they will see decreased sales as their console is no longer seen as an effective tool. The hardware, instead, should be written around the software and giving the software more power.

Above: The water is bluer and the sky clearer. The software sells the hardware. The software should also be the philosophical horse, not just sales horse, that pulls the hardware.

The Wii hardware was absorbing software issues. Pointing at the screen with the Wii-mote removed the software ‘fun’ of simulating pointing using the analog stick. The biggest problem software had was the user interface and the Wii-mote just obliterated that.

What in the world was the Wii U hardware supposed to solve? No one knows. This is why the Wii U is seen as a ‘bad tool’ and hence a ‘bad console’. Designing the console around the Gamepad is a mistake. We don’t buy Gamepads. We buy games. Design your game console around games.

I am so scared that the NX software will be designed around a gimmicky thing. Remember using the microphone on DS games simply because the DS had it there? It was terrible! Using motion controls in games that don’t need it is also terrible.

Since Nintendo is now very arrogant and knows everything, we should expect the software to revolve around the hardware instead of the hardware revolving around the software.


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