On a date I'll avoid mentioning, the world changed. Simply acting odd in an airport now might result in an off-record trip to a nightmare gulag and getting electro-shocked until you admit to Jack Bauer that you know might where the anthrax is, when all you really know about Anthrax is they are f-ing metal, man. You can imagine my distress at being forced to do unnatural things to electronic devices in the middle of LAX.
I leaned down and blew very gently on my Nintendo DS, shifting my eyes side-to-side like a cartoon villain. Fortunately, the coast was clear, and that meant no screaming headlines ("Terrorist and Internet Jerk Arrested for Being Just Plain Weird with Electronic Box") and no scream-inducing torture in my future. My client needed me. I had to get these fingerprints even if it meant a long time in a prison that doesn't exist. If Phoenix Wright can endure, so can I, and we needed these prints to prove our client innocent.
The dust drifted away and the fingerprint became clear, and I had my first inkling that something big was coming toward me (and not just that LAPD cop). When it debuted, the DS felt like a gimmick, a bunch of input geegaws and doodads that might let you pet an e-dog. It felt more Virtual Boy than Next Generation of Interaction, if you get my drift, something that let you play a few pseudo-games before giving you awful headaches.
However, developers picked up the concept and ran with it, as Phoenix Wright was busy showing me in LAX, despite my reluctance and fear of jail. I blew gently on the DS to gather fingerprints, shouted into the microphone, used the touchpad to zero in on items of interest, and otherwise shifted through a series of interaction methods that seemed wholly unnatural, pre-DS. It was all smooth, transitioning from method to method as the game demanded, rather than some forced, half-baked system grafted on top of the standard two-button, D-Pad setup.
Looking back, Nintendo may not have officially standardized gamepad design, but they did lay waste to the competition. Pre-NES, the controller world was a Wild West of joysticks and twisty knobs and all out keyboards. Nintendo's massive success imposed a cleansing alternative on the input-device world, and though you can still pick up arcade sticks and weird devices at your leisure, the Dual Shock, Controller S and other standard controllers are all lineal descendents of the classic NES gamepad. Like European nobility, the controller family tree is more of a straight line, which explains the occasional genetic oddity like Sony's lamented "Boomerang" for the PlayStation 3.
If the signs coming out of trade shows and the press are any indication, the DS was just the beginning of the beyond-the-usual forms of interaction Nintendo plans to unveil in their next console. The Revolution's controller is, if nothing else, very different, and if the concepts they're playing with in the early previews are any indication, a new way to play is hovering just around the corner.
PC gamers have long gloated over mouse and keyboard inputs, while console designers see throwing more thumbsticks at a problem as a solution. Nintendo's design is much simpler: Point and shoot. Tilt sensors and 3-D movement detection open up whole new possibilities, like treating the controller as a fishing pole in a fishing game, or using it to conduct a symphony, or waving a sword around to smack Ganondorf right in his pig face. Imagine concepts like that with a year or two of refinement, simple but revolutionary things like actually batting in a baseball game, or squeezing the stick and pulling the trigger for a goalie-killing shot as the Fat Guy in Ice Hockey, or chopping up food and stirring the wok in a bizarre Japanese restaurant game.