Over the course of the Nintendo DS’ lifetime, we bore witness to the development of many unique genres of games that were allowed a place in the games market thanks to the nature of the device. Games like Brain Age or My Japanese Coach or Flash Focus: Vision Training that may not have been otherwise possible at the time.
One such game is already available on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan: The 3D Illustrated Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna, released last week.
This is a collaboration between four companies — Heibonsha, Nintendo, Paon, and Qtec. The “game” is exactly what it sounds like — an actual encyclopedia — but with a few very cool added twists. Before we get into those, let’s begin with the product’s history and how it came about.
Heibonsha, a publishing company known for reference materials such as dictionaries or the nature magazine, Monthly Anima, were the ones who originally approached Nintendo with the proposal. One of Nintendo’s staff, Toshiharu Izuno (producer on DK: King of Swing), had worked with Heibonsha in the past on a WiiWare title named Aqua Living. It was a virtual aquarium that you could populate with fish and learn about them through a detailed fish guide included in the game.
Izuno had an interest in flowers and wanted to collaborate further with Heibonsha on a flower game, but nothing came of this idea at first. Then, in October 2006, Heibonsha approached Nintendo with the proposal to create a flower encyclopedia.
They would be in charge of gathering the reference materials, researching, writing the various encyclopedia entries, and compiling the photographs and movies included in the product.
Izuno had originally wanted to create something to allow people to learn the names of flowers in a fun manner. When he heard of the DSi XL releasing in November of 2009, he thought it would be fun to use the DSi camera to identify flowers by their names. The execution of this idea didn’t go well for various reasons, and just as the team found themselves in a fix, news of the 3DS came about and he shifted the focus to 3D images.
Qtec were tasked with the job of making everything 3D. Paon, of Klonoa fame, were in charge of the programming, design, and development. They came up with some of the features present in the encyclopedia as well, such as the flower camera search engine, which finally granted Izuno’s wish. Finally, Nintendo directed and produced the encyclopedia, with Izuno serving as its producer.
As producer, Izuno found that adaptability was key to the project. As time went by, the staff weren’t above contributing their own suggestions, such as adding birds and other fauna in addition to just flowers, and adding movies to the encyclopedia instead of just still photographs.
The 3D Illustrated Encyclopedia includes a plethora of features. The index, with pictures of all the flowers and animals (and fungi), is compiled in several different configurations, so you could choose to browse by kingdom, by time of blooming, alphabetically, and by flower color, among many other categories. On the bottom screen is a colorful map of all the entries, while the top shows the individual photographs that make up the mosaic.
There’s also several search options, including flower size, shape, type (clusters or single), direction (whether it points up or down) and color.
Of course, you could just search by name, too. In addition, you can search using the environmental search, where you select a virtual environment — forest, autumn city, plains — and it appears on the top screen. Using the gyroscope, you can move around and search and lock onto creatures that come onto the screen.
For birds and other animals, you can also search by call. Categories include “strange call,” “rumbling call,” and “loud call.” The entries are also sorted by geography — in this case, Japanese prefectures.
In addition, if you have phobias for certain creatures like snakes or spiders, you can opt to exclude them from your searches.
The final and most advanced search technique used in the game is the “flower camera,” which we mentioned before. It’s easy to use — just answer a few questions about the flower type (clusters? Pointing downwards?) and then point the 3DS camera at a flower in your garden. The Encyclopedia will spit back a list of possible matches, which you can narrow down with a series of three questions (Is the flower a tree, vine or neither? Are the petals easy or difficult to count? What shape are the petals?).
This function was a great effort on Paon’s part and they’re especially proud of it.
Each entry contains at least a picture and a written entry. The latter includes both general information, such as height, color, where the creature or flower is found, as well as trivia. Below the pictures are links to various features. One of these is the 360-degree camera rotation, called “Spinning View,” which allows you to view all angles of the organism. This feature is Qtec’s brainchild, since they were in charge of the 3D. In fact, every single piece of content in the encyclopedia is in stereoscopic 3D.
Another neat feature, especially in the case of birds, frogs, and insects and such, are movies featuring their calls. There are “subtitles,” Japanese onomatopoeias, that help you search for them later (some of the interpretations are very unique, such as the “Pi pi chuichui chiyochiyo churiri” of the wren).
Finally, there’s the “Living Links” feature. This brings you into a screen with the current-selected organism in the center and four different entries in each corner, each related to the one in the center in different ways. Some have similar shapes, some have similar names, some have names that are easily confused, and some have names that originated from another creature. Some have predator-prey relationships, and others have symbiotic relationships. It’s a quick and interesting way to surf through the different entries with ease. You can always go to the habitat of the flower or creature and browse from there instead, too. To create this, one editor from Heibonsha even went on an “environmental investigation” journey to investigate plants and animals in the wild for several years.
To mix things up a bit, you can also browse by “Mystery Link,” which will connect different creatures based on themes (that are kept secret from you, of course). Some include ingredients to the seven-herb rice porridge, insects grouped by running speed rank, and creatures whose names were used for man-made satellites.
Finally, as a fun aside, you can also take the flower quiz to test your knowledge. You can choose how many questions you want to try at once (50? 100? 200?), and you keep answering 2-choice multiple choice questions until you get one wrong, at which point it’s game over.
The 3D Illustrated Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna was released in Japan last week. It only sold 6,034 in its first week, but it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t a video game — it’s an encyclopedia for nature enthusiasts.