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Alone in the StreetPass Crowd

Kyle Orland | 1 Aug 2011 09:00
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The game I played most on the E3 show floor this year wasn't featured in any press conference. It wasn't promoted with gaudy, costumed booth babes or sequestered behind closed doors, to be played by a select few. In fact, it wasn't highlighted on even one of the hundreds of demo stations publishers set up for the show. Yet I and hundreds of other attendees found themselves sampling the title in a way only a gathering like E3 could make possible.

The game in question was the Nintendo 3DS' StreetPass Mii Plaza, a title that shows off both Nintendo's penchant for unique ideas as well as its seemingly utter inability to provide a meaningful online experience.

StreetPass Mii Plaza shows off both Nintendo's penchant for unique ideas as well as its seemingly utter inability to provide a meaningful online experience

StreetPass Mii Plaza makes use of the 3DS' unique StreetPass feature, a bit of hardware and system software design wizardry that lets the system's WiFi antenna communicate with other nearby 3DS units, even if both systems are closed and in sleep mode (which might now be better termed "semi-awake mode"). In StreetPass Mii Plaza, this communication takes the form of an exchange of cartoon-like Miis that have been pre-designed and pre-designated for sharing by each owner, along with basic information like hometown, last-played game and selections from a pre-set list of life goals and hobbies (not surprisingly, "playing videogames" was a popular hobby choice among E3 attendees).

StreetPass seems like an idea tailor-made for Japan, where a large proportion of the population makes daily commutes to, from and within dense urban areas on packed trains, and where Nintendo has so far sold 3.46 DS systems for each living citizen (only a slight exaggeration). As a 3DS early adopter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, though, my invisible StreetPass beacons went cruelly unanswered for weeks, no matter how many times I walked to the corner store for a bottle of Mountain Dew.

But through the days of StreetPass disappointment, I looked forward expectantly to E3, where I was sure thousands of other game industry professionals were similarly waiting to perform an automatic, invisible digital handshake with me. If StreetPass didn't prove itself in such an environment, it seemed clear it would never prove itself at all.

I discovered the first of what would be nearly 200 bites on my StreetPass lure as I was speeding away from the Los Angeles airport to my hotel. James - or his Mii, at least - was a bespectacled, shaggy-haired, red-shirted fellow who enjoys Street Fighter IV, I was told. As soon as I spied that Mii's cartoony face I was able to identify his creator - a tall, lanky guy who had been standing behind me in the cab line! At the time I had taken his too-wide grin as simple excitement at attending what I imagined was his first E3 (he looked the type), but now that I thought about it, he might have been grinning at the white 3DS case I had hanging from my belt loop (don't judge me!), imagining that he, too, might be getting his first StreetPass connection.

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