Sometimes a Nintendo technology has to flail around half-heartedly in the marketplace before it can become refined enough to become fun and indispensable. Consider the GameCube-to-Game-Boy-Advance connection cable that wanted to promote friendship and togetherness, but instead merely promoted spending a lot of money on accessories before any fun could be had. Friendship and togetherness with handheld game systems later appeared fully-formed on the Nintendo DS. 3D made a valiant attempt during the Virtual Boy era, but had to go back to the workshop long enough to become the upcoming Nintendo 3DS. Then there's Tag Mode, a Nintendo DS addition that ideally allowed DS units to communicate with one another when their owners wandered within range. This communication would add new trinkets to games such as Nintendogs, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and — in the form of a Pictochat awareness sensor — Yoshi Touch & Go. The problem with Tag Mode is that one's DS must be playing the game in question in order to be useful. If you're not playing Nintendogs but someone nearby is, then the systems can't communicate. Who wants to walk around with Nintendogs all day long when one would really rather play something else? Fortunately, when the 3DS launches, it will handle Tag Mode a little better in that the function will be tied to the hardware and not the software. Tag Mode's designer, Hideki Konno, explains in this Wired GameLife interview.
Wired.com: You mentioned Tag Mode, which will let users exchange game data regardless of what game they’re currently playing. So if I want to trade Nintendogs with someone, it’ll be saved on the hardware, not the cartridge?
Konno: In the hardware, we have the capability that when you first play a game that supports Tag Mode, it will save to a Tag Mode data slot in the hardware system. We are planning to support multiple games at the same time: Mario Kart, Nintendogs, Animal Crossing, etc.
Wired.com: And so there must be a menu in the hardware where you can manage the data, delete the data for games you aren’t using anymore …
Konno:Yes, we’ll prepare a Tag Mode Viewer, where if you look at the viewer you’ll be able to see that, for example you were able to connect with 50 people in Nintendogs and got their data, or got 100 people in Animal Crossing.
Wired.com: It seems like this would extend the life cycles of games; after you are done playing a game you might get some data and then decide to put the game back in.
Konno: Yes. We would like to create Tag Mode so that it will bring consumers a sense of wanting to play a game again, after they get new data from games that they’d forgotten about.
This is a change that had to happen if Tag Mode were to ever be useful in a passive communication sense. Granted that I never see a DS/DSi "in the wild" except for when I go to E3, but even when I would take my chances on hoping to cross paths with another DS owner during an average day, I was never happy about having to keep a game active in my DS when I was ready to play something else. Linking the mode to the 3DS itself is a much better design decision and I'm glad to see it in the works. Now when the time comes I'll just need to find other 3DS owners to walk past in stony silence.
By the way: that screenshot of the German version of Animal Crossing: Wild World was the only image I could find of the current DS Tag Mode in action (there called "Contact Mode"), and even then it was like searching for a needle in an infinite haystack. I guess the current version of Tag Mode really does go unused!