Why Nintendo NX Will Support Unreal Engine and ARM Architecture

Hey all!

So I’ve been doing a lot of research lately about Nintendo’s NX system, and upon my travels to the never-ending void of NX rumor and speculation, I’ve stumbled upon some interesting news, coming directly from Next Level Games!

For those unaware, Next Level Games is a 2nd-party Nintendo Studio based in Canada, which has developed games such as Super Mario Strikers, Punch Out!! (Wii), Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, as well as the recently released Metroid Prime: Federation Force.

The News

According to new job listings on Next Level Games’ website, they are looking for several new employees. Among the listings is one for a material artist. The job listing states that they are looking for someone with “Proficiency in Unreal”, as well as “Proficiency in optimizing ARM assembly.”

While this could be seen as a minor detail, it also signals a new direction for the company. The development studio just wrapped up development on and released Metroid Prime: Federation Force for the Nintendo 3DS system, and with the Wii U and 3DS systems on the way out, it is unlikely they would be beginning a new software project for those systems. Thus, as Nintendo transitions development to the NX system(s), it is likely these new positions are hiring for a new game for the NX (possibly Luigi’s Mansion 3).

The Wii U did not use ARM assembly (while the 3DS does), and did not support Unreal Engine 4, so this news confirms that they are hiring people to develop for a new, more modern, system. Unless they are developing a game for mobile (which is unlikely), this confirms this position is hiring for NX game development. And if these new positions are for an NX game, then this all but confirms that the NX will use ARM architecture, and support the Unreal Engine.

We’ve heard this rumored before; however, coming from an official job listing, this is as close to confirmed as you can get, without Nintendo officially confirming the final specs of the system.

Why This Is Viable for NX

Now let’s explain why the ARM architecture is the only one the NX can use, and why it’s a viable option for Nintendo.

So recently, there has been a large debate about whether the Nintendo NX will use x86 architecture or not. Some have claimed it will use x86, and others, like Emily Rogers, have clearly said it will not. However, no one has hard evidence to prove either, besides their sources (who have been reliable in the past). Either could be believed, especially if the NX is to, again, be a separate handheld and portable console. In that case, it could have both architectures for the different hardware form factors (which would explain why there are so many polar-opposite rumors about power and architecture from trusted sources on both sides).

However, there is something wrong with that thinking this time around. What Nintendo has said, is that for their next hardware system(s), they are going to unify the software development, and have it “absorb the Wii U’s architecture adequately,” so that they can develop games for two or more hardware form factors at once, with one common platform to develop for. This would make the system similar to Android and iOS, where the software can be developed for the one platform, and be scalable to whatever device you have, provided the devices all use a common architecture (most Androids use ARM architecture, thus why they can all support the same software).

The reason that Nintendo could not develop a game on the Wii U or 3DS and have it work on the other, is because the two system’s hardware and architectures were so different, that an entirely different build of the game had to be made for each platform. What Nintendo aims to do with the NX is to build a unified platform, where they can develop a game and have it work on any form factor. Thus, they can focus all of their software development effort on one platform, rather than two, and at the same time, have their software work on even more than two form factors.

In order to be able to achieve this, Nintendo would need to develop a unified OS that would work on multiple form factors. In addition, in order to support the same software running on different form factors, asynchronously, the system architecture would need to be the same on each hardware form factor. So while the NX could be a portable, a hybrid, and a home system, in order to play the same games on all three (and not need developers to make 3 separate versions of the game), the OS, hardware, and architecture need to be the same across all form factors.

The way this could look, for example, is that the portable system would have the least amount of power, and the home system would have the same hardware architecture as the portable, but just with higher processing power and speed (similar to the Gamecube compared to the Wii’s hardware). The hybrid could be somewhere in the middle. This way, the software would work as on Android or iOS, with the developer creating just one build of the software, but the software being able work across all of the hardware configurations and form factors, scaling the graphics and features of the software depending on how powerful the device is.

Lastly, since it would be the same build of the games running on different, but similar hardware, this means the system architecture would need to be the same across all of the hardware variations, in order for the same software to work on all of them.

If Nintendo’s NX platform is truly one that is unified across systems, including home console, portable, and other form factors, with software that works seamlessly across devices, it cannot use more than one architecture.

Thus, it cannot be both ARM and x86 architecture. It must be one over the other.

So Why ARM Architecture Over x86?

While we’ve heard the NX may be a home console, we’ve also heard it will be a hybrid, and a portable console. Unless the NX is purely a home console, having x86 architecture would not be a viable solution for all form factors. Why?

As we’ve seen so far, x86 architecture has been mostly restricted to home game consoles, needing a constant power supply. Why is that?

To put it simply,

There are two types of system architectures game consoles use:

CISC (Complex Integrated Set Computers) [x86], and RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computers) [ARM, PowerPC].

CISC-based systems are what PC’s use, and RISC-based systems are what Nintendo consoles have used since the GameCube, as well as mobile operating systems, such as Android and iOS.

x86 architecture is more complex and not as efficient as the newer ARM architecture. x86 is older, closer to PC’s architecture, and uses more power and energy compared to ARM architecture, which is why it has only been adopted for more power-hungry consoles, such as the Xbox One and Playstation 4 home systems.

With ARM architecture, a more simple and more efficient programming method results in lower power consumption and longer battery life, which is why ARM is the architecture of choice for mobile devices; devices so dependent on performing for long periods of time without being plugged in. Additionally, it has been proven that on average, modern ARM processors are actually faster than x86, and more suited towards gaming.

Due to these favorable attributes, ARM has been adopted as the architecture of choice over x86, for nearly all portable smart devices.

See: The ARM, the PPC, the x86, and the iPad…

Back to Nintendo

With the NX having a unified architecture across home, hybrid, and portable consoles, as well as being closely compatible with smart devices in the future, the x86 architecture does not make sense. Energy-friendly architectures, such as ARM, do.

Another reason Nintendo will use ARM:

Nintendo has actually been using similar processors for years! The PowerPC (another RISC-based architecture similar to ARM), has been used by Nintendo since the GameCube.

Additionally, it has always used ARM on its DS and 3DS line of portables.

With Nintendo merging their home and portable gaming divisions, and seemingly moving away from PowerPC architecture, but wanting to integrate the Wii U’s architecture adequately, only another RISC-based architecture would make sense, as x86 architecture would not be compatible.

So if Nintendo is moving away from PowerPC, but wants to incorporate the Wii U’s RISC-based architecture adequately, what’s the solution?

What’s the only other popular and viable RISC-based architecture to use?

ARM, of course!

With the indication that Next Level Games is moving to ARM architecture for their next project, and ARM architecture being the only viable solution for the various form factors NX could take, this all but confirms the NX, or its family of systems, will use ARM architecture, and none other.

As we’re now certain that the NX will use ARM architecture…

Who Will Develop This Architecture For The NX?

Aside from debates on which architecture the NX could use, we’ve seen debates on who will be making the chips the NX will use, as well.

So far, we’ve heard the NX will be powered by Nvidia, with the Tegra X1 SoC, or with the Tegra X2 SoC, possibly its Parker SoC.

We’ve also heard that it could use AMD chips, such as the upcoming Polaris, based on AMD’s relationship with Nintendo and console makers in general, as well as unannounced design wins.

And more recently, we’ve heard Nintendo could be again be returning to DMP to manufacture the graphics chips for the NX, continuing on from their previous mobile systems, the Nintendo 3DS.

Our verdict:

AMD will likely not power the console, unless it is not using Polaris, and rather making a custom ARM SoC or CPU for the NX. Polaris uses x86 architecture, and would use too much power for a handheld.

Nvidia is more likely, as the architecture in the Tegra SoC’s is already there: it’s ARM-based.

While we’ve heard mostly Tegra thus-far, there is a good chance DMP is taking the reigns again, as well. DMP has been a close partner with Nintendo in the past, and may work with them again. Additionally, with the 3DS, Nvidia’s chips were used as a placeholder GPU, until DMP replaced them. The same may happen again.

See:

Interestingly, it may also be that the system could use a combination of these manufacturers. For example, the CPU could be provided by AMD, but the GPU powered by Nvidia or DMP.

Until the NX is revealed, likely in September, these are the best bets we can see for NX.

Do you agree? Have a compelling argument against us? Let us know below in the comments!

For more info on the NX, read:

Everything We Know About the NX

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-Noah Sanchez, Gamer Splash

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15 thoughts on “Why Nintendo NX Will Support Unreal Engine and ARM Architecture

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