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Triforce Arcade Profile

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Triforce - Namco, Nintendo, and Sega

It's mid-February 2002, and in the heart of Makuhari Messe, Japan, the AOU 2002 Amusement Expo has parted its doors for a crowd of anxious attendees waiting outside. It's the usual affair of a trade show showcasing the latest arcade games and hardware. However, as Nintendo revealed but two months earlier, the show would hold a not-so-usual announcement.

Making its first ever public appearance, a protoype of the next-generation arcade hardware conceived from a business alliance between Sega, Namco, and Nintendo was officially unveiled in Sega's booth. A simple soccer game, believed to be Virtua Striker 2002, was shown in video form as a hardware demonstration (pictured left).

Referring to the significance of the announcement, Shigeru Miyamoto said in a follow-up interview held in London, "Firstly, from a long experience in creating arcade games, Namco and Sega understand that the GameCube technology is good enough to make this type of arcade hardware, and that it is easy and efficient enough to make their software."

Dubbed "Triforce", this new hardware is based on the Nintendo GameCube architecture and is being backed by Namco and Sega in hopes of expanding the dwindling arcade market.

"Triforce is, of course, the name of an item in The Legend of Zelda," Miyamoto revealed. "The meaning of it is three forces coming together to become a big power."

The goal of the Triforce game system is to bridge the home and game arcade entertainment experience. To do this Nintendo will employ the use of its GameCube Memory Cards to allow gamers to transfer data from the home to the arcade and vice versa. This interactivity is tentatively being called the GameForce Network. Via GameCube's memory cards, the first title announced for "Triforce" F-Zero AC (Arcade) will give gamers the ability to communicate with the jointly-developed F-Zero GC (GameCube). Though the extent of the interconnectivity features have yet to be announced, this feature has the potential to allow gamers the ability to transfer their high scores, best racers, or self-made racing tracks to the arcade and home again.

A Look Back

It wasn't too long ago when Nintendo's president, Hiroshi Yamauchi, made the decision to dive Nintendo headfirst into the growing prosperity of the arcade coin-op business. This was, of course, back in the early 1980's when Nintendo was creating arcade shoot-em-ups, where the player's goal was to shoot and kill everything that appeared on the screen. Nintendo released such shoot-em-up formulated arcade games including: Hellfire, Sky Skipper and Sheriff. The focus on the shoot-em-up formula changed, however, when Shigeru Miyamoto was told to continue on a generic arcade game named Radarscope (pictured right). Unsatisfied, Miyamoto dumped the project and with the help of Gunpei Yokoi, commenced work on Donkey Kong. The game would star a portly plumber who went to great lengths to save his girlfriend from a giant gorilla. The same year Nintendo released Donkey Kong, it would become the hottest, best selling coin-operated game of the year, selling 65,000 units in America.

Nintendo got into the business of arcades, developing such titles as Jet-Pak and Donkey Kong but left as the arcade business began to founder and the Company's focus moved to its home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Now, over 20 years later, Nintendo has come back into the now dwindling arcade market with a powerful, and affordably priced system based on the GameCube architecture.

The Triforce is a flexible system created with the hope that it will allow developers to easily bring their arcade games to market both in arcades and the living room. This ease of development, squeezing the power out early from the hardware rather than a long adoption process, is what Nintendo hopes will attract support from the top game developers. Providing a cost-effective environment for arcade development was another key reason to produce "Triforce", according to Miyamoto.

"Of course, it's low cost has been taken into consideration," Miyamoto continued. "Another important point is that whatever software is made for Triforce will be readily available for GameCube."

Arcade hardware is seldom cheap, and the Triforce Board, with its low-cost GameCube hardware, proves to be a worthy solution. This is where the secret of the low cost lies.

Sega's AM4 department is said to have re-written the Naomi development toolkit to be fully compatible with the Triforce. If they choose to use it, this is esssentially a major advantage for Sega and Namco, as both are familiar with the Naomi board since they have developed for it in the past. Also adding to create a low-cost is that the Triforce is in no way proprietary. This means developers can use GD-ROMs from Segas Naomi board, or even connect old ROMs to the system. No restrictions or limits are placed on the medium to be used.

Triforce Now

In its current form the Triforce unit (pictured below) looks like a "faceless" purple GameCube with an external GD-ROM drive attached by a cable. However, just as a book cannot be judged by its cover, neither can the Triforce.

The tripartite of Sega, Nintendo and Namco are playing the cards of the hardware specs very tight to their chest only revealing the 48MB of 1T-SRAM, yet curiously enough, boasting double that of the GameCube hardware itself. It's unknown how this will affect the ease of arcade to home ports.

Miyamoto explained, "As for the GameCube CPU and graphics chip, these are the ones actually used in a Triforce circuit board." This is said to allow developers to be more creative without being concerned as much with memory limitations.

In late October of 2002, Sega subsidiary CRI, best known for its work on the Aerodancing game series, announced plans to release a series of game development tools in Japan for new arcade platforms including the Xbox-based Chihiro and GameCube-based Triforce. According to company representatives, the developmental tools are individually tailored to each platform yet still allow nontraditional arcade developers to create software for the new platforms. The development tools include upgraded versions of existing CRI software including Sofdec and ADX for animation encoding. CRI also reportedly created several new tools including ROFS, a virtual file system for the Triforce.

In a recent interview with Japanese publication Famitsu, Sega`s Chief Operating Officer Tetsu Kayama addressed some issues in the company`s arcade plans.

"Xbox is not Sega's basic arcade hardware," Kayama said. "The system's specs are high, and thus our lineup for the system is greater than our lineup for Nintendo's Triforce system. However, there are also games for which Triforce must be used."

The arcade platform based on and used for Xbox development was also created by Sega. It is called Chihiro (pictured left). It was first unvealed on September 19, 2002 at the annual JAMMA arcade show in Tokyo, Japan. The first game made utilizing the Chihiro board was Sega's House of the Dead 3. Chihiro was created in a similar vein to the Triforce as it is based on the Xbox hardware architecture so that arcade games developed on the Chihiro board can be cheaply produced and easily ported to the Xbox console.

Sega and Namco Software Support

In September of 2001, Namco and Amusement Vision, under its parent company Sega, entered an agreement to develop a cooperative coin-op business. Nintendo's involvement in the joint venture thus originated from Amusement Vision, who had a vision to create an arcade game that could interact with the Nintendo GameCube. Through Triforce, the three companies have now come together to make this joint project a reality.

"The whole idea of the arcade board came out of discussion between Sega and Namco," Miyamoto revealed. "It was an idea that came from them. Being somebody that really got his start in the arcade industry, of course I think it would be nice to make some arcade games again, but actually we don't have any plans at this point."

Soon after the February 18, 2002 unveiling of Triforce at the AOU Amusement Expo, Miyamoto promised Triforce software announcements.

"As a matter of fact, although we've only just announced it, negotiations and development has been going on for a very long time," Miyamoto said. "So that software titles may be completed in a timely manner and running in arcade centers as soon as possible."

Nintendo has been spreading its development properties to third parties as of late, freeing up in-house resources.

"Instead of trying to train up massive teams, while working on established as well as new games, it makes much more sense for us to work with well-chosen partners," said Miyamoto. "It makes more sense than training vast numbers of people just for this time when we need them. We would not have enough manpower to develop these high quality games if we had to do so much training and growing internally."

As Miyamoto promised, Namco and Sega followed with game announcements in the subsequent months after the AOU 2002 Amusement Expo. The first occured in late March 2002 and was from Sega's Amusement Vision.

Nintendo and Sega's Amusement Vision will collaborate to develop "F-Zero (tentative title)" video game titles for the Triforce arcade board and the Nintendo GameCube. While Amusement Vision will be responsible for the bulk of the game's development, Nintendo EAD execs including Shigeru Miyamoto, Takaya Imamura, and Isshin Shimizu, will take on leading roles - Miyamoto in particular will be the project's producer.

Amusement Vision is the firm responsible for development of Sega's early coin-op hardware business. The company found great success in arcade software in the mid 1990's with the development of Daytona USA and Virtua Striker. Amusement Vision became a private subsidiary of Sega in 2000, lead by president Toshihiro Nagoshi, whom considers himself to be a racing fanatic. Other than the company's long-established franchises, GameCube owners are probably most familiar with Amusement Vision's GameCube puzzler Super Monkey Ball.

F-Zero AC & GC was first shown in video form at the 2002 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

"Because Namco and Sega are making games for the Triforce arcade board, which is based on GameCube system, that means that it will be much easier to bring those types of games to GameCube and that will essentially provide the system with a broader and more appealing library of games," Satoru Iwata said in a roundtable held in Las Vegas. "With that in mind, I think, probably in the weeks and months leading up to E3 2002 there is a high probability that there will be some announcements as to what types of things you will see on the Triforce board."

Besides a video of F-Zero at Nintendo's pre-show as well a video loop on the E3 floor, there were no additional announcements made regarding Triforce. The F-Zero video appeared to follow the series' tradition of beautiful futuristic tracks and intense lightening speed. F-Zero AC will be published by Sega and F-Zero GC will be published by Nintendo. Both titles are scheduled for a Japanese release within May of 2003. A North American release date has been set for June 23, 2003.

Rare and Nintendo released Star Fox Adventures for GameCube in late 2002. That, however, will only be the beginning of Fox McCloud's story for Nintendo's next-generation console.

In May 2002 insiders out of Japan leaked the fact that Namco and Nintendo were working on a new installment in the Starfox series. It has since been officially confirmed. Namco will be working on a true update to the Starfox series tentatively called Starfox Armada.

Starfox Armada is being developed by the team behind the Ace Combat series which appeared on PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The project manager, Atsushi Shiozawa, who was responsible for Ace Combat 4 will be participating in the Starfox development. Shiozawa commented that in Ace Combat 4, there were a lot of things he could not do because the game had to be realistic. With Star Fox, however, he plans to give the game more of an "action movie" feel.

Along with Nintendo and Namco's Triforce announcements, the two companies came to an agreement in which Nintendo would publish future Namco software titles to appear on the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance systems. A total of six Namco Nintendo GameCube titles are slated for release on the Nintendo GameCube by the end of 2003, including the highly acclaimed sequel to Soul Calibur and the Ridge Racer series. Additionally, eight Namco titles are scheduled to appear on the Game Boy Advance within 2002 and '03.

Nintendo Support?

Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd. revealed Nintendo's Triforce plans (or lack thereof) in a roundtable held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"The Triforce partnership really stemmed from the fact that Namco and Sega took a look at the GameCube architecture and the capabilities of the GameCube and the cost effectiveness of it and decided that it was a hardware really suited to making arcade games," Iwata continued. "Because of that, they wanted to have an arcade board for their business in the arcade industry and with that in mind Nintendo was happy to cooperate with them, but that doesn't mean that we're necessarily thinking about making arcade games. Obviously nobody can see into the future, but that is not our plan at this point. "

While Shigeru Miyamoto may have pondered, during an interview in London, the thought of using the Triforce for a Super Smash Bros. sequel, it later turned out to be simply a matter of him thinking out loud.

"It sounds like something I said in an interview in Europe has worked its way rapidly around the world," Miyamoto said. "I think I did say that something like Super Smash Bros. Melee might appear on the Triforce board."

Miyamoto agreed with Iwata saying, "The whole idea of the arcade board came out of discussion between Sega and Namco".

"It was an idea that came from them," Miyamoto continued. "Being somebody that really got his start in the arcade industry, of course I think it would be nice to make some arcade games again, but actually we don't have any plans at this point."

Nintendo deals with change slowly. No doubt, Nintendo has still yet to fully utilize the Game Boy Advance and GameCube linkability or embrace any sort of online game playing. Nevertheless, if Namco and Sega find success with their Triforce arcade counterparts, perhaps in time Nintendo will join.

However, it will likely take more than just Sega and Namco's support for Nintendo to once again get its feet wet in the arcade market.

"...But the fact that three companies have made the announcement does not mean that other companies are not utilizing the system," Miyamoto said. "We believe that Capcom and other companies are planning the use of Triforce."

Games

So what games are being developed for the Triforce? The only games thus far confirmed are Namco's Starfox Armada and Sega's F-Zero.

Unconfirmed rumors, however, suggest a Sega Virtua Soccer title, perhaps the one originally displayed as a hardware demonstration at the AOU 2002 Amusement Expo, could progress into game form. Afterall, Miyamoto has said that "arcade developer Sega is going to make a number of titles".

Unconfirmed rumors in late December 2002 also suggest Japanese developer Capcom will develop a game based on the popular anime Gundam series for the Triforce.

Rumors even speak of Konami looking positively at the hardware.

At this time, however, these are nothing more than rumors and speculation. Then there are also those musings of a gamer's imagination.

One idea includes a Namco Super Smash Bros. Melee spin-off, in the form of Namco All-Stars. This game would be based around the Super Smash Bros. type of gameplay, however only featuring Namco characters from Tekken and Pac-Man. Perhaps including the original characters from SSB:M in addition to those of Namco would greater diversify the game's appeal.

Another idea would be something such as an Animal Crossing "booth". Gamers could visit an arcade with their memory card to trade items with other players. This could ultimately allow the gamer to gain special features or even progress further into the game. Instead of trading items within your small Animal Crossing town, you could instead trade them with people from your own city. Although this would require gamers to actually step outside and breathe fresh air, it could work.

The potential games for Triforce are endless. While we'll likely never see any of these games on Triforce, one can always wish.

  • Time Crisis (Namco)
  • Super Namco Fighters (Namco)
  • Tekken (Namco)
  • House of the Dead (Sega)
  • Sega GT (Sega)
  • Virtua Fighter (Sega)
  • Mario Kart (Nintendo)
  • Super Smash Bros (Nintendo)
  • Wave Race (Nintendo)
  • Donkey Kong + (Nintendo)
  • 1080 Snowboarding (Nintendo)
  • Star Wars: Rogue Leader (Factor 5)

Additionally, Nintendo could lend other first-party franchises to third party developers as it has already done with Starfox and F-Zero. How about a GameCube iteration of Punch Out?

With the Triforce board acting as a hub of business, Namco, Sega and Nintendo are aiming at synergy to take effect in the field of parties' technology and business know-how. Also, by the vitalization of both amusement and consumer video game markets, we propose new game play that nobody has experienced before. -Nintendo of America

One can only hope Nintendo stays true to its word. While it remains to be seen whether Nintendo and developers will take advantage of it, the Triforce has the potential to begin a new age of gaming.


If you have any additional ideas or ways to utilize the Triforce, please send them to glen@n-sider.com