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Does This Nintendo Patent Hint at a Smartphone Revival for Nintendogs?

Fans of the Nintendo DS' virtual pup game are hoping it makes a return with some AR upgrades.

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A black Nintendo DS handheld console with the Nintendogs' splash screen on the device's touchscreen display.
Photo: Gizmodo

Just because a company files a patent for a new device, feature, or random idea, doesn’t necessarily mean it plans to make it a reality. Sometimes, it’s just to prevent other companies from doing it. So it’s impossible to say what will come of this recent AR-centric patent filing by Nintendo, but the included images have some Nintendo fans hoping it hints at a the return for a game that was a huge early hit for the Nintendo DS.

As with a lot of Nintendo devices that bring something radically new or different to video game hardware, there was a lot of skepticism around the dual-screened Nintendo DS when it debuted in late 2004, particularly when it was going up against the PlayStation Portable, which included a larger screen and better graphics. But the DS quickly became a hit amongst casual gamers a few months after its debut, thanks in part to a game called Nintendogs that let players care and interact with a virtual puppy through the handheld’s touchscreen. Nintendogs would go on to sell almost 24 million copies, making it the second best-selling DS game ever, so it’s no surprise that fans would love to see a revival.

A recent filing by Nintendo with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, for patent number 11,557,103, pertains to techniques for speeding up the interactivity of augmented reality applications when it comes to inserting virtual characters into real-world environments captured with a device’s camera.

Thus, the virtual object can be overlaid and displayed on the captured image, even before the characteristic portion has been detected in the captured image. Therefore, the response time that it takes to overlay and display the virtual object can be reduced. Further, the first updating may include updating the position and orientation of at least one of the virtual reference plane and the virtual camera, based on the detection of the characteristic portion indicating a plane in the real space in the captured image, such that a position and an orientation of the plane correspond to the position and orientation of the virtual reference plane in the overlay image.

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We’re not going to weigh in on the validity of the patent application or if Nintendo is really the first company to come up with these techniques, given how many augmented reality applications are already out there in the wild. All we care about is the illustrated diagrams Nintendo included with the patent, demonstrating how virtual objects can be placed, which are giving off big Nintendogs vibes.

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Nintendo has already taken its first steps into embracing mobile devices like smartphones as gaming platforms, with titles like Super Mario Run and Mario Kart Tour taking the company’s mascot on rare excursions to non-Nintendo devices. Will we see Nintendogs on iPhones and Android devices at some point? Pokémon Go has already demonstrated how augmented reality tricks can genuinely enhance some mobile games, and having a virtual puppy running around a player’s real home, or their actual neighborhood park, could potentially be a really clever update to Nintendog’s gameplay, plus a fun way to resurrect the title now that the DS is no more.