NERD: Nintendo's division in Europe - Lakitu's Packet

NERD: Nintendo's division in Europe - Lakitu's Packet


From 2002 onwards, since Iwata took over the company, and the GameCube and Game Boy Advance era just started, Nintendo has progressively reduced investments in the West. Collaborations with American and European software houses have decreased, and the failure to acquire Rareware is there, sad and stentorian as a tombstone, to remind us of the times that were. We are not here to analyze these decisions in detail, nor to understand if, in the long term, they have brought more advantages than disadvantages; we are here rather to talk about an exception, namely NERD.

NERD stands for Nintendo European Research and Development, and it is certainly no coincidence that the acronym refers to a word so widespread in this environment; although now we tend to use "nerd" also to define a kid who knows Harry Potter, or the Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars by heart, in the past this term had a more limited extension: negative and vexatious meanings aside , it was impossible that a "true nerd" did not also have scientific, mathematical or engineering skills. Here, NERD embraces that original concept as best it could not: it is a Parisian company made up solely of engineers, by their own admission "a kind of Disney Land" (as Iwata Asks confessed in this article).

Nintendo Classic Mini: one of NERD's creations. In this article we will try to summarize their path, and to communicate how unique they are within the "Nintendo family". First of all for logistical reasons: it is the only European studio (not headquarters, studio) of the multinational, which among other things works closely with Japanese developers. And we're not talking about translations, adaptations or marketing strategies: they participate in the company's technological research, and subsequent practical applications.

In a nutshell, however tortuous, it is the only direct and concrete way, living in Europe and not knowing Japanese, to collaborate directly with Nintendo. NERD is located in Paris, and was acquired by Nintendo in 2011: this, in itself, is also an unusual episode. The Kyotese company almost never incorporates other companies, preferring collaborations, and when it does - rarely, we repeat - it is mainly software houses, mostly Japanese (such as Monolith Soft). However, despite the preservation of their respective cultures (French and Japanese), this strange bond of mutual cooperation was created, motivated by common interests. A connection born during a British fair, communicating in the only language possible at the moment: the one characterized by numbers.


In the mid-90s Alexandre Delattre, given the propensity and talent for engineering, he enrolled at the École Centrale Paris, a French university founded in 1829. Here (in 1998) he met, among other professors, Jérôme Larrieu; the two establish a good relationship, the teacher recognizes the (human and professional) skills of the student, and convinces him to renounce the Doctorate to undertake, together with him, an adventure in the world of technological research: a research aimed mainly at achieving road in the world of video games. In 2003 they began their adventure by founding Actimagine and Mobiclip, and shortly afterwards the first collaborations with some prestigious industry giants (including Sony, Fisher-Price and Nokia) emerge. With respect to the academic world, the roles are reversed: Larrieu, considering the communication skills of his colleague, agrees that his former student (Delattre, in fact) directs the company.

Super Mario Advance: GBA was the first platform that took advantage of Mobiclip video compression (NERD). They begin by developing cross-platform 3D engines, among the first ever created, to the point that, while they are sculpting them, there is not even a word to define them. The approach with Nintendo takes place shortly after, when Mobiclip already has an exceptional video compression system in hand and, not mistakenly, is convinced that it may be of interest to the Japanese. The first meeting with Satoru Okada, which takes place at an Anglo-Saxon fair, has grotesque nuances: the French try to illustrate the potential of their technology, but - for linguistic reasons - they can't. Okada, former general manager of the Nintendo research and design department, as well as the main director of Metroid (the first, the one for NES), is still fascinated, so much so that he decides to visit them at their stand: there, through a pen and a piece of paper. , the French show him some numbers, indicative of what - according to them - they could achieve by working on the Game Boy Advance. Okada is impressed by what he has seen, and communicates what happened directly to Satoru Iwata: this is how the first collaboration between Mobiclip and Nintendo was born.

Metroid Fusion: a game that ideally combines NERD and Satoru Okada. As soon as success smiles, the main shareholders of the company decide that it is time to cash out: Larrieu and Delattre, among all the previous experiences, have a particular predilection for those lived with Nintendo. A company in line with their principles, constantly devoted to research and experimentation, not necessarily to the improvement of existing technologies. So they propose to Nintendo to, well, buy them. Unexpectedly, Iwata accepts: it's 2011, and Mobiclip becomes NERD, one of the very rare acquisitions made by the Kyotese leaders.

Shuntaro Furukawa: the Nintendo president, who continues the collaboration with NERD. At present, NERD has forty employees, and is constantly looking for talents, as long as they are in line with its identity: not only out of the ordinary skills are required, but also collaborative skills, in order to optimize the outcome of ongoing research. . Here, on their site, there are some tests you can compare yourself with to understand if, more or less, you are up to the required level.


Nintendo Labo VR Kit: NERD has collaborated in its creation. Since Mobiclip became NERD, since it is a full member of Nintendo in short, its tasks have gone beyond the - however noble - design of video compression tools. Among their first works was the development of the Nintendo DS emulator for Wii U: a project that is anything but simple. Here, however, you can see a complicated equation generated to balance the online matches of players: a matchmaking system that takes into account not only the absolute values ​​of the users, but also their "history" against certain opponents. Unfortunately, we do not know if, and if so where, it has been used. During the same period, they ensure that Wii titles are not only playable on Wii U via disc, but also by downloading them from the internet.

From here on, the collaboration with Japanese developers becomes closer. Although the console has had a relatively short life, and certainly not full of exclusives, New Nintendo 3DS has amazed the public with its ability to stabilize the stereoscopic display of images: a technology developed entirely in France.

The first triumph that brings international notoriety, and of course national (with articles on Le Figaro and Le Monde), takes place with the publication of the Nintendo Classic Mini, NES and SNES series. Here NERD has an extremely important role: it deals with game emulation, color fidelity, nostalgic graphic filters and, if that were not enough, it even introduces the possibility of "rewind" every software.

On the Nintendo Labo VR Kit they are the ones who refine the perception of the Joy-Con position; in the same period, and always in collaboration with EPD 4 (the "casual" team of the company), they developed a technology that allows, through the IR Camera of the Joy-Con, to capture the heartbeat of the player in Ring Fit Adventure. Still using the infrared camera, they introduce the possibility, in Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training for Switch, to recognize the position of the hands and, consequently, to play Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Ring Fit Adventure: NERD has devised a technology to measure the heartbeat. More recently, the studio had to deal with Super Mario. He participated in the creation of the experimental Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, and generated emulation software to bring Super Mario Sunshine to Switch, in the version that appeared in Super Mario 3D All-Stars. An edition that, unlike the original, features 16: 9 and high definition (even in in-game movies, which use a technology based on deep learning). Given the work done, and the similarities between GameCube and Wii, their technology is also used in the adaptation of Super Mario Galaxy.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD: NERD could be involved in the project. We do not know what they are doing at the moment in the Parisian studios. Maybe they've contributed to the design of the Nintendo Switch Pro or, indeed, are already mixing some technology for the next platform. More prosaically, it is possible that the next fruit of their work, given the experience gained in adaptations and emulation, is the already announced The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. Looking forward to the next bizarre technology, developed between the Eiffel Tower and the Kyoto Tower.

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