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Wednesday
Jun082011

The Wii U

Some people seem to hate on Nintendo's concept for Wii U, while others are excited. I think the skepticism is understandable because it's hard for people to imagine a new thing that's different from current things. I still am reeling from people on my forums who "couldn't imagine how the Apple iPad could be of any use," and now it's created a new category of device that may eclipse PCs. The gaming world in general couldn't really imagine the Wii catching on (what's with the weird remote and lack of power??), but it dominated for years. Even the *balance board* accessory outsold the entire PS3 platform, last time I checked. So perhaps its best to look at some history, first.

Nintendo's History

Nintendo has always made good games, but they've also always used a hardware strategy that sets them up for success. (How the hell they make such consistently good games, regardless of hardware, is beyond the scope of my post, but an interesting question, too). Their strategy has been to make new "verbs" and then design games for those verbs. This is actually their term, though I forget if it was Miyamoto or another Nintendo representative who used that term. What they mean is their hardware gives players a new way to interact with games, and so Nintendo can offer new experiences.

If you think back to E3 several years ago, Nintendo boldly announced "We won't be announcing the controller for the Wii at E3." Yes, they actually announced that they would not announce something, and that made news. Why would they not announce the controller? Miyamoto explained that Nintendo was the first system to have a d-pad, and now that's standard. They were the first to have rumble. They were the first to have an analog stick. I think there were other firsts in there somewhere too, but the rest of the industry copies them and they wanted even more of a headstart on the Wii, which is fair enough. We now know that the secret at the time was that they were the first to bring motion control to consoles and the mainstream.

Iwata's Promise

In 2006 at the Game Developer's Conference, Nintendo's President Iwata addressed a packed auditorium about the future of Nintendo. At events like this, you can kind of feel the tenor of the room, if people are angry or bored or whatever else. In that room, the feeling was excitement and skepticism. Iwata's story of the future was exciting but, I think many (including me) thought it was kind of a fairy tale.

Iwata told a story about a company who was doing well and top of their industry, but then another company came along and took their crown. It was about Nintendo losing to Sony, remember that's what happened during the days of PS2. The punch line is that his story was really about Pepsi losing to Coke. Pepsi found itself on the #2 end of the cola wars, and Pepsi's strategy then, he said, is exactly what Nintendo's will be now (in 2006). Rather than sink more money into fighting Coke on the same battlefield, they diversified. Pepsico then created the #1 selling bottled water, the #1 selling sports drink, the #1 selling energy drink, and several other categories. They were fighting on a battlefield that Coke didn't even know they were supposed to care about.

The DS, he told us, is this kind of disruptive technology. It's not about power of hardware but about how the player can interact and getting new kinds of players entirely. And he said we shouldn't all be thinking about "games" as meaning only hardcore experiences. With two screens, one of them a touch screen, and a stylus, the DS can offer new experiences that other platforms can't. He said that hardcore games are really just one "planet" in the solar system of entertainment. Nintendo still cares about that planet, he told us, and he showed images of Metroid, Zelda, Mario, and Resident Evil 4. But there's a whole other world of software entertainment that goes beyond what we're used to right now. He announced for the first time that Brain Age for the DS would come to the US, and he explained how that's an example of another kind of software entertainment.

Well, he was right. The DS was huge. Things like Brain Age and Nintendogs were from those "other planets" he was talking about. Core games like New Super Mario Bros sold tens of millions, too. Then Nintendo carried this strategy even further with the Wii, a system that got your mom to actually play something. When you first saw the Wii, did you realize it would be an insanely successful platform for exercise-related software entertainment? More likely, you weren't able to even imagine such a thing, so you said it will never go anywhere.

Wii U

So now a new Nintendo platform is upon us. As usual, it has new verbs. This time, it's hard to even pin down what they are. I mean with the Wii, at least I could encapsulate it as "motion control," but now there's two screens that have so many potential uses, I don't even know where to start. You can play a console game on it when someone else is using the TV. You can use Wii Fit away from your TV. You can play games with hidden information, such as card games where each player has his own hand cards. Even just having a map always visible, while not "exciting," is pretty damn useful (see: Castlevania on DS). You can use the touch screen to select a group of units in an RTS, something console games have always really struggled with. You can use the controller as a targeting reticule that you hold up to the screen, or a catcher's mitt, or a magnifying glass, or a steering wheel. 

There are so many things you could potentially do, that it's hard to even predict what will become of it all. The thing that is a safe bet though is Nintendo will develop some compelling, interesting uses of these new "verbs" and do well financially.

The Hardcore

The thing caught my eye the most, ironically, isn't anything new though. It's something old. The original Wii was successful at the mission of getting a whole new world of people playing games who didn't before. It was less successful though at retaining core gamers. Games with more meat to them kind of need some buttons, no matter how you slice it, and the limits of the wiimote are disappointing in that area. So what caught my eye the most is actually that they went back to 4 face buttons + shoulder buttons, and that it has two analog sticks in addition to a d-pad. It seems the Wii U is more poised to retain the market of core gamers than the Wii was, while still having the capability of "buttonless games" that involve moving the controller around in space and gesturing on the touch screen. Maybe it's awkward that the distance between the d-pad and buttons is so large, but I'd have to hold it myself to really know. In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

Maybe someone should develop Yomi for Wii U, hehe.

Reader Comments (24)

I'm definitely interested in this, because it retains all of its predecessor's advantages while fixing its two biggest problems: it had a very poor form factor for non-motion-controlled games, and it wasn't in HD. (It remains to be seen whether it will fix the other major disadvantage of the Wii, its poor online functionality.)

However, there is one detail that nobody seems to have discovered: will developers be expecting players to have more than one of these touchpad controllers? This seems like it could get real pricey, real fast.

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I heard only one peripheral screen works at a time. =/ Still excited about the singleplayer possibilities and the announcement of two new SSBs.

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMinwu

I just hope that their online/multiplayer gaming experience isn't a joke. All I could ask for is just decent online play, no achievements needed.

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlhazard

While I understand this doesn't distract from your point, Wii Balance Board hasn't outsold PS3.

Wii Balance Board < 30 million units
PS3 ~50 million units

Regardless Wii Fit alone has sold over twice as many units as PS3 or Xbox 360's best selling game.

Some other numbers:
Xbox 360 ~55 million units
Wii > 70 million units
DS ~147 million units
PS2 ~150 million units

June 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbbobjs

It actually literally did outsell the PS3 as of the date I looked that up, but that was a long time ago.

Alhazard: Yeah online play is a tough one. They are REALLY into the idea of protecting everyone from each other, so you know your kids aren't on there getting trash talked. They are also really into the idea bad people online scare regular people away from even trying online. They are pretty successful at making that safe environment online...but um...at the expense of the kind of online that you or I would ever want.

June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I see lots of people making the assumption that 2 or more of the new controllers will be usable simultaneously, but from everything Nintendo has shown us so far this will definitely not be the case. For instance look at the different multiplayer use cases they showed during the conference, all of them were about one new controller and multiple old remotes. You also have to consider the sheer amount of wireless bandwidth this will need to maintain an unbroken low-latency image stream. They likely dedicate an entire radio for this thing.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSR

From what I read, the controller will not be sold separately, which means that to have another one, you need another console. It does not mention if we can connect a controller to another console than the one with which it was sold, though.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

The Wii U probably won't stay afloat for long. A bit like the 3DS that fails at being a handheld, Wii U seems directionless. It doesn't know where it wants to go. But there are bigger problems. Namely, the Wii.

What do I mean? What did the Wii promise to it's customers? Amazing motion-controlled experiences and a return to more oldschool way of making games, something more down to earth amid all the Hollywood-obsessed drek with a palette of concrete gray, dirt brown, neon orange and blood red. Something that wasn't afraid of being a game.
Did the audience get it? Like hell it did. After two years of content bombardment for the Expanded Audience/Arcade Generation and the Playstation Generation alike, the droughts began. It's hilarious when people say the Wii's time is at an end when it's barely had any games for two years, NSMB Christmas notwithstanding. We've got Wii Sports Resort. We've got a mediocre sword game with a ton of promise in Red Steel 2. Little else that isn't a half-assed port. The Wii hasn't delivered, so why should the customers - both the new and the disinterested ones - trust Nintendo again and buy Wii U? To have yet another five years of "just wait, we'll deliver something eventually"?

For anyone trying the Skyward Sword card, just read what Nintendo has been saying about it. The game will be one big puzzle. Action? Like hell, the enemies will be puzzles too. The attitude that created the Wii is all but gone. There is no fight against disinterest, no new gamers to snare, no unknown markets to explore. Nintendo is heading for the red oceans for the industry. I'm not making this stuff up. It's all there in Nintendo's speech this E3 and even before that.

@bboobjs, the Balance Board did have a higher installed base that the PS3 back in the day when Wii Fit was the hotcakes. It's been eclipsed since then, though, as you noted.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee

@Coffee: a little hasty and vengeful there aren't we, in declaring the 3DS has already failed at being a handheld? If this is about the incredibly overhyped battery life issue, that supposed "deadly flaw" has been a non-starter in the real world.

I know plenty of people who back in the day, sneered about how the DS was a mutant freak and failure, nothing like the Gameboy, and oh yeah, also nothing like that sexy Playstation Portable...

As for Wii U... the non-streamed private roundtables over the rest of E3 involved quite a lot of demos of prototype software for Wii U that honestly have more promise than literally anything 3rd parties ever attempted with the Wii. They were lifeblogged for anyone who's interested, info can be looked up in a number of major sites.

The short of it is that it would be very naive to shrug and write off Wii U right now. This has developers interested precisely because they're straining at the walls of the PS3 and 360 at this point, yet they can still use their HD assets when assembling Wii U titles. It's also a mistake to get suckered into the mindset that Wii U will just be dumped in 2 years when the PS4 and Nextbox 720 appear. Because the old hardware update cycle is dead. People are assuming that Sony and Microsoft's new boxes will appear and somehow have magical technology from the future. That isn't happening.

The PC world caught up and ran away with staying at the forefront of the technology game. Mass market console boxes have hit the wall of what can be crammed in but still sold at a price people will accept for a set top box. Consoles will never again show up that appear to have the world's most advanced gaming technology for a cheap price. By the time the new HD consoles are revealed, the PC gaming world will still be far ahead, and multiplatform games will still be scaled down in terms of visual quality and performance compared to a high end gaming PC.

Console gaming has become much more of a true commodity; that's just the way it is.

Where Wii U may establish itself with a "difference" is that it will be able to support all the mainstream, and hardcore, games but also offer extra functionality that is unique, frequently turning the Wii U edition of the title into the definitive one. Some of the applications for its interface and controller are already very exciting for even the hardcore. (Such as the Aliens: Colonial Marines title in which the screen on the controller acts as both the classic Aliens motion tracker designed to freak the player out in the dark, and also as an interactive map with heat blobs, radar traces, and more.)

Folks should also realize that Wii U is a response to Nintendo's read adversary: Apple.

Apple is already on the road to a Wii U-like experience, with iPad display of content to a big screen TV via Apple TV integration, allowing for games that would work much like a Wii U title. Apple tho, is not interested in the true mass market - only the upper class of customer. Wii U's tablet like controller, while tethered to the living room, replicates the kind of functionality most people who use an iPad as a living room accessory want. Except Wii U will certainly be more affordable than an iPad plus Apple TV on top of that.

In that regard, Wii U may also be the beginning of Nintendo's "exit strategy" from the traditional set top box console world; because that's the way it's going for everyone. Nintendo is just getting there now with the format and form factor to prepare.

If Wii U succeeds, I can all but guarantee that the platform that comes after it will be a fully mobile gaming tablet (with buttons!) that can also display on any properly configured television panel in range.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDigitalD

DigitalD: good post, would read again.

June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Speak for yourself guys. Honestly when I saw the Wii remote I thought "Oooh this is cool." And honestly, I think the exact same thing about the Wii U.

Now, if the 3DS actually took off, that WOULD surprise me, because 3D has never, ever worked well in the past. (Virtual Boy, anyone?) But hey, there's a first time for everything.

But back to the Wii U... Imagine a game like Four Swords. Now imagine that it's suddenly a lot easier to find 4 friends to play it with because the controllers for it are the controllers you'd just naturally use for the system. Honestly, I just see the Wii U as taking a tried-and-true concept from the DS and applying it to a console.

The only reason games like Crystal Cronicles and Four Swords didn't really take off as well as they could've is the fact that games like those rely upon peripherals that didn't come with the system. It's the same reason you don't see games that use the rifle thingie for the Wii other than Umbrella Cronicles.

It's not that the idea itself fails, it's just that not many companies really want to explore the possibilities of such an idea because the sales of any game that uses the peripheral is limited by the sales of the peripheral itself. That's why people happily use the Wii Remote but are hesitant to use motion sensing peripherals for the other two consoles. Nothing is special about the Wii Remote other than the fact that it's the default controller that people expect to use with the system.

As for people saying that only one of those special controllers will be functional at once... honestly I find that hard to believe. I find it hard to believe that Nintendo would release something with such a huge, obvious shortcoming. Such a thing would totally cripple the whole point of the console. Nintendo is smarter than that.

I find it more likely that there are bugs and/or shortcomings with current iterations of these controllers that Nintendo hasn't overcome yet, but intends to overcome in the future. Yeah, there's problems, but there's also workarounds.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSHLK

I never got into the 360 vs wii vs ps3 because i never owned any. By that time I was strictly PC gaming because nothing else interested me. I went over to my friend's house a lot and I played the wii over there.

I hated it. My entire experience with the wii was just pretending to have a bit of fun while playing kiddie games or games that had too much randomness to be fun.

If developers for WiiU can give me something like a counterstrike or a tf2 or a starcraft brood war or a street fighter, I'd be impressed. The best I got from the Wii is Super smash bros. Brawl which was a big disappointment. At least the other consoles got call of duties and street fighters.

So now my friend tells me to tune into the nintendo e3 conference. I do and they announce the WiiU that is supposed to bring everyone, including the people they left behind with the wii. But after seeing the controller, I can tell they want nothing to do with me.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames Crom

@DigitalD

Hasty and vengeful? How am I hasty? Nintendo's success in handhelds has, for the past twenty years, been built on durable, affordable machines with good battery life and kickass games suitable for the handheld. What does the 3DS have? The 3D adds little value to most customers and kills the machine's battery in addition to jacking up the price. Nintendo held back on whatever good stuff it had to give third parties the chance to shine. When the reason third parties generally sell much less than Nintendo is that the third parties are mediocre, Nintendo isn't. And even the good ones on the 3DS are console ports, not something specifically made for the handheld.

So you launch an expensive machine with no battery life and mediocre games against an absurdly successful predecessor with a cheaper price tag and better battery life? In essence, you're asking people to fork over money for nothing. For most, the 3DS is a downgrade to their current handheld. Why the hell would they buy one?

Also, why would I be naive to write Wii U off at this point? What would be naive would be to believe it will actually succeed, let alone manage to match Wii. Developers are excited. Awesome. That doesn't make the issue with people's disappointment at the Wii go away. To get people over, the games have to be insane. Wii Sports, Wii Fit, New Super Mario Bros. Wii insane. Problem is, Nintendo doesn't think correctly anymore. The way their heads are wired has changed dramatically since 2006. The mindset and motivation that created Wii Sports and Wii Fit is gone. I doubt they'll be able to make something like that for the Wii U, not now.
I'll give them one 2d Mario, because Miyamoto is good at that even if he dislikes making them. But after three new games, people will be lusting for content, not just the good old 2d gameplay. NSMB's Generic Ice and Sand Worlds won't cut it anymore. And new content and modern Nintendo rarely, if ever, belong in the same sentence.

re: Apple, why would Apple's multimedia endeavors interest Nintendo all that much? The only major threat from Apple's part is (if Nintendo is competent) causing people to think videogames as a whole aren't worth shit. That's it. Period. How big that threat is is anyone's guess - those one-dollar prices could just be for simple cheap mobile entertainment in people's eyes, instead of bigger, more fine-tuned experiences like NSMB Wii. If those two merge in people's minds, then yeah, Nintendo (and others in the industry) will have a problem in their hands. Another '83 wouldn't be far-fetched at that point.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee

Nintendo used to be rivals with Sony, but now it's Apple who is their biggest threat. Nintendo has owned handhelds forever, but Apple changed the game with iOS devices. That's now a huge market with low barrier to entry and easy approvals and distribution. Nintendo knows this too, as Iwata said it himself in a memo to Nintendo employees. Not that you need Iwata to tell you though, it's obvious.

June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

My first impression of the Wii U was pretty meh. Then I visited some online forums about board games and a bunch of people were talking about how the Wii U gives the ability to have hidden information in a local setting. After looking at it from that perspective, I think it could turn out to be incredible. It seems to me that the Wii U could implement digital versions of almost every Euro board game on the market.

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJimb0v

-- Coffee: sir, you seem very bitter and outraged over Nintendo and the 3DS. That seems like exaggerated negativity to me.

I think it is a bad idea to draw such glamorous pictures of all the ways the device has failed two months after it was released. Pointing at launch software is also not valid based on historical fact. Every portable device has had a weak launch line up. The Nintendo DS was awful for over six months and launched with a port of Mario 64 that played terribly on the DS. The Sony PSP had one or two good games and almost nothing for a year. The Gameboy Advance had nothing but a couple of SNES ports or remakes for nearly a year.

I know four people who bought a 3DS, truth be told. No one has complained about it, or said that it is crippled by its battery run time, either. Other comments that the battery panic was false make sense. The gaming press (and some alarmist bloggers, especially a few particular career trolls) are a bunch of chicken littles. They ran that 3DS battery panic scare to get hits and generate controversy. However I suppose it fits in a narrative that damns Nintendo if that is your mission.

-- general comment: Comparing the 3D part of the 3DS to previous usages of 3D is very misleading. The function on the 3DS is a wholly different generation of technology. It is like saying that the 3D graphics are worthless because the Sega Saturn had horrible 3D capability. The only limit of the current goggles free 3D technology is its viewing angle, which again, is something alarmbell nerds have ranted about in forums, and on blogs. But in real life, doesn't cause much of a problem except maybe to people who are spazzes and swing the device around as they try to play. Heh! I have seen people like that. They really do it.

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMoribundCadaver

Actually, Nintendo was not the first to create an analog stick, rumble, motion controls, 3D, or (I do believe) even the D-Pad

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I honestly don't care about the "potential" of this thing if Nintendo won't put in the effort to make quality games for it. Nintendo didn't even try to make anything interesting with the Wii's motion controls, and those are much more conducive to gaming than an awkwardly huge tablet controller.

For once, I think I'll pass on a Nintendo console. Not because I think the tablet controller direction is wrong or stupid, but because of all the unfulfilled promises of the Wii.

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPoisonDagger

Very insightful Sirlin!I remember reading your first post when the Wii's controller was finalized, and you basically called it back then. The controller would be amazing in it's own right, and the amount of inputs where far beyond what we could work with at the time. (Z + X + Y axis is nearly infinite, but accuracy would hinder the flow of gameplay.) With the Wii itself going into Sunset as the WiiU comes into play, we can take a look back and really look at where the Wii shined and fell on. Much like any other Nintendo System, the 1st Party support showed how games should of been made. Mario Bros and Galaxy in particular showed how the Shake/Waggle was a useful feature to include and to make the experience feel natural. The biggest letdown of the software though was way the developers had to shoehorn in motion controls to their games, or not even use proper motion controls. On the other end though, games like Okami and No More Heroes really used the system to it's fullest by being minimalistic with it's motion requirements.

I look forward to the WiiU because of it's additional screen, much like how the DS found it's place with dual screens, I love the concepts that Nintendo is coming up with in the Tech Demos and hope they pull it though. As DigitalD pointed out, the set-box era may as well be over as everything has become more interconnected and cloud based. The concept that the WiiU can work on it's own and transfer it's data to the controller seems that Nintendo is taking a play from OnLive (Remote gaming service and Entertainment) more then the Xbox/PS3 route(Full Entertainment Center).

Gram Stark (from LoadingReadyRun) basically called it while the Wii was still a question to the public, stating that the PS3 and the XBOX360 was going to split the core player base and one of them would be the dominate system, but everyone would have a Wii as their secondary system on the side due to Nintendo's usual strong showing and the very acceptable pricepoint for entry.

June 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterXander

Among other things, the Wii U can be a DS in home console form. This is one of the reasons I agree with Sirlin on this one.

Imprecise motion-controls should not even be implemented as optional in some games - the extra screen (a touch screen at that) is a different story. It is practically always useful for something in practically every single game, even if it is not used spectacularly every time, it will still make the game at least slightly better than otherwise (when not making it quite a lot better). The extra screen stands to improve the game in ways that matters more than just hypothetical improved graphics on competing systems (hypothetical because I believe few games will strive to do more than the Wii U can handle). Precise touch screen controls can improve many game more than improved graphics. Also relevant is that adding functionality to that extra touch screen should cost the developers less than creating better graphics.

More exciting are the new experiences (the touch screen alone offered new quality experiences in the DS such as Elite Beat Agents and Trauma Center). They can probably do some very interesting things with this one that wouldn't work well on the DS or 3DS with touch + motion (as the TV stays put, unlike the handhelds).
Finally, there is also online multiplayer where each player has their own private touch-screen (online you could already split part of the screen out to display only to you of course), and the single console multiplayer with Wii-motes and a master-player with a private screen are also promising for stuff like Pac-Man VS (used to be on the Gamecube but you had to be connected with 1 GBA).

I have little doubts the Wii U will be successful.

Ivo.

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIvo
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