Hey Nintendo, is there something you’re not telling us?
In the wake of the Switch Lite announcement, Nintendo casually mentioned that a new verson of the original Switch was on the way, one that featured more battery life for more portable play. Beyond that, well…hey, how about that battery? The Verge speculated that the extended life was due partially due to “newer, more efficient CPU,” but actual details about the change were hard to come by.
However, I’m getting a feeling that there’s more to this new CPU than just being “more efficient.” Specifically, I think there might be a decent processing power boost hidden under the hood, one that allows the console to handle large, more-powerful games.
Where did you ever get THAT idea? I hear you ask. Well, it started about the time the Switch seemingly got another huge new addition…
The brief showing of an Overwatch-themed case for Nintendo Switch set the Internet abuzz with speculation. Why on earth would you make an officially-licensed Switch case branded with a game that isn’t on the Switch? The general conclusion was that it because the game wasn’t on the Switch yet, and that Jeff Kaplan and the crew at Blizzard were preparing to announce that Overwatch was finally making its way on to Nintendo’s new hardware.
Although most of the gaming world was gushing over this possibility, my first reaction was one of skepticism. Weren’t we all told years ago that there was no way Overwatch could ever run on the Switch because the console just wasn’t powerful enough?
“I think the problem is, we’ve really targeted our min spec in a way that we would have to revisit performance and how to get on that platform.” —Kaplan, as reported by Express, April 2017
“Right now there are some technical challenges…The tech specs [on Switch] aren’t quite there. It would be a non-trivial undertaking for us to make the game on Switch.” —Kaplan, as told to Business Insider, May 2017
“We’re huge Nintendo fans…We would absolutely love to see the game on something like Switch, it’s just not feasible currently.” —Another quote from the BI interview
These statements don’t sound like someone who’s itching to push their team to adapt to a weaker platform like the Switch. However, there’s another Kaplan quote in that Business Insider article that piques my curiosity:
“These companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, they’re so good about working with developers. And they evolve their technology over time.” (emphasis added)
In some sense, Kaplan was saying that they wouldn’t mind supporting the Switch, but if is was going to happen, Nintendo would need to meet them halfway. But come on, Nintendo had bet big on avoiding the arms race of the Xbox One X and the Playstation 4 (and had seemingly succeeded), and wasn’t about to stretch its neck out to beef up its console…was it?
Fast forward to 2018, and Blizzard was starting to sing a different tune:
“Anything is within the realm of possibility…If [Overwatch developer] Team 4 picks up that endeavor, that’s on them…Yes, [Overwatch on Switch] is feasible.” —Pete Stilwell, Blizzard Senior Producer, as reported by CNET, August 2018
Blizzard was working on porting Diablo III to the Switch at the time, and it’s not hard to imagine the Big N broaching the subject of porting Overwatch during this effort. Still, the Switch boasted no more horsepower than it had the year before, so even asking about Overwatch seems like a waste of time…unless Nintendo knew it had another card up its sleeve.
Fast forward to 2019, and suddenly we’ve got a fresh Switch revision and a strong signal that Overwatch is on its way. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, of course, but it seems like there would be no way the latter would happen without the former.
Digital Foundry found some minor performance improvements during their testing of the new Switch, attributing them to both the new processor and the use of better memory chips. That doesn’t quite reach the bar of my earlier “decent processing power boost” claim, but it was apparently enough to convince Blizzard to take the leap with what’s currently is most-popular franchise. Perhaps the revision was enough of a good faith gesture (along with the Switch’s biggest source of power: its large and still-growing install base) to make Blizzard decide that expending the effort to meet the Switch’s specs was worth the investment. Like Diamond Rio, Nintendo and Blizzard decided to “Meet In The Middle.”
There are still many questions to be answered about all this (most notably “Is it actually Overwatch that’s coming, or just some spin-off title?”), but for my money, Nintendo’s starting to push the envelope a little bit to try and reap the rewards of bringing in third-party AAA titles. If it’s Overwatch today, it could be Call Of Duty or Red Dead Redemption tomorrow (and maybe even Madden or the NHL series, if someone would slap some sense into EA). The siren song of processing power seems to be pushing Nintendo to push the Switch’s limits, and if it brings more great games to the console, I’d say everyone wins.