Developers are making games for a Nintendo 4K console that doesn’t exist

Many people were surprised to learn that Nintendo Co.’s new video game console lacked a feature common to competing systems: support for high-fidelity 4K graphics. Perhaps most puzzled were the many developers who were working on 4K games using a software toolkit provided by Nintendo.

Employees at 11 game companies said their teams were in possession of Nintendo’s 4K development kit for the Switch. The companies span the globe, from large publishers to small studios and include at least one that has never made a console game before, Zynga Inc., according to employees, who asked not to be identified because they didn’t. were not allowed to chat. their projects publicly.

The latest model of the best-selling Nintendo Switch is expected to go on sale on October 8. It will sport a larger screen than current versions, use OLED technology for better color and contrast, and, at 37,980, cost more than its predecessors. .

But a system capable of handling 4K gaming isn’t expected to be released until the end of next year at the earliest, people familiar with the plans said. This leaves Nintendo at a technical disadvantage compared to its rivals, whose shares have soared this year while Nintendo’s have lost 20%. It also risks alienating developers who have spent months adapting their games to take advantage of the improved hardware capabilities.

Nintendo responded to a list of questions saying the Bloomberg report was “inaccurate” and declined to say which parts of the information it was referring to.

Bloomberg began reporting product details over a year ago, including the larger OLED display, the fall release, and the higher price tag. It was also supposed to contain a faster chip from Nvidia Corp. which would allow 4K graphics when connected to a TV, people familiar with the plan said in March. Nvidia declined to comment.

But the 4K capability did not materialize. It is not known exactly when the design changed. The reason, according to a person familiar with Nintendo’s hardware planning, was the shortage of components, a large-scale problem that arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic. After unveiling the OLED Switch, Nintendo said it “has no plans to release another model just yet”.

By the time Nintendo introduced the new console in July, the company had already distributed the 4K kits to external developers and asked them to design software to support the higher resolution. A development kit, which is used to test unfinished games, is a standard tool in the game creation process. The Nintendo Switch kit contains additional memory to accommodate debugging software and additional ports to facilitate connection to a computer, but otherwise has similar capabilities to the hardware that customers would have at home. The kit for the original switch, like consumer products, outputs video to a TV or monitor at 1080p resolution. The new is 4K.

The lack of 4K in next month’s product is significant as it technically puts Nintendo’s system at a disadvantage. Microsoft Corp. and Sony Group Corp. have been offering 4K compatible consoles for several years and have released even more powerful hardware in 2020, which continues to experience insatiable demand. The Nintendo Switch, released in 2017, is still selling well, and early pre-orders for the OLED Switch in the US and Japan suggest it will be another hit, although Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 won’t. only strengthen. as more and more games come out that take advantage of their increased power.

The developers declined to speculate on Nintendo’s plans for another console, but said they plan to release their 4K Switch games during or after the second half of next year. Last month, Zynga said that Star Wars: Hunters, a game for the Switch and smartphones, would likely be delayed until 2022 after initially slated for release this year. Although Bloomberg has identified 11 companies using the 4K kits, the actual number is likely much higher.

Nintendo could still decide not to release Switch 4K. The Kyoto, Japan-based company has quietly put aside many products over the years for strategic reasons or technical challenges. A notable example is a sleep monitor called Quality of Life that the company unveiled in 2014 and never sold. For developers who have spent considerable resources preparing a 4K console, the lack of an upgrade would complicate plans and could add the burden of converting their projects to support less powerful hardware.

The chip supply problems triggered by the pandemic present a unique hurdle. Shortages of some important electronic components are hurting production in many industries, with automakers losing more than $ 100 billion (11.2 trillion yen) as a result. Nvidia is one of the many semiconductor designers who have said they are unable to fulfill all of the orders they receive. Even outside of the most powerful and advanced processors, electronics manufacturers face an uphill struggle to secure cheap but essential chips, such as power and data converters.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Toshiba Corp. identified demand from game console makers as an area where it is struggling to catch up. A specific class of components, ABF substrates, is needed for the Nintendo 4K product, but supplies for those parts are now fully booked until 2025, said executives of Nintendo’s component suppliers who have asked not to be identified.

Nintendo chairman Shuntaro Furukawa has said on several occasions in recent months that the company has not been able to manufacture as many Switch units as it would like. A supplier, who requested anonymity, said production was well behind schedule to meet Nintendo’s goal of selling 25.5 million units in this fiscal year, which ends in March.

One of Nintendo’s assemblers said he was confident he could achieve Nintendo’s goal. But they warned that stock could be meager during the holiday shopping season, especially if the new OLED model turns out to be a hit.

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