Developers Coming Back Home
During the NES and SNES era of console gaming, one company was synonymous with having all the big titles on their systems. While SEGA and to a lesser extent Atari tried to secure exclusives from third-parties, the only systems the third-parties were really concentrating on were Nintendo’s. By being the top of the range and by far the most popular system on the market at the time, the NES and SNES secured exclusive after exclusive and any multiplatform game was ported to the MegaDrive as opposed to being ported to the SNES.
The arrival of the N64, and the subsequent emergence of the PlayStation brand changed this. No longer did Nintendo have the lion’s share of the market and no longer did they have the clearly superior console. When the GameCube arrived and Microsoft joined the console fray, things got worse. Third-parties began to go elsewhere for their exclusives and more often than not the GameCube got lazy ports of other console versions. While the GameCube retained a strong partnership with companies such as Capcom and SEGA, development titans such as EA and Activision began to move further away, and the launch schedule thinned out. With the arrival of Wii, a huge change was promised, and in many ways we didn’t quite get that.
The opening year or two for the Wii was nothing short of a success, with third-parties eagerly taking on the challenge of motion control and incorporating it into their multiplatform games, with most of them taking the time to create a bespoke version of it for Nintendo’s system. But as the Xbox 360 and PS3 began to build steam, the Wii began to lose support. Why then, did Nintendo succeed for a short period early on? At this stage nothing has changed, but the Wii is suffering one of the worst game droughts for almost a decade of Nintendo gaming, whereas in 2007 there were perhaps too many games. The answer lies in the relative strength of the console.
On the face of it, the Wii is a developer’s dream. The console sports the most unique control scheme natively supported which not only guarantees whatever innovation they come up with will be viable for all players, but it also gives them a chance to do something a little bit different. There’s also the backend development side of things which is much simpler than the competing consoles and of course the most obvious one, that it is the most successful console of its generation by a comfortable margin. So it would seem sensible to pool resources to this console, would it not?
There are in fact two major reasons why developers shied away from the Wii after an early showing of support. While the controls and ease of development are still touted as good features of the Wii, the console suffered from one of the worst follow-up software purchases of any console (with perhaps the exception of the N-Gage), and even if software was bought, it was more than likely to be a more casually orientated title. This meant that even if a developer came up with a brilliant new idea, the chances of it reaching a critical mass on the Wii were low. It was therefore far easier to release it on another system where gamers would appreciate it more en masse.
The other reason was the actual horsepower of the machine itself. The almost comparable to GameCube levels of graphical and processing output of the Wii have long been the bane of every Nintendo fan who has seen what is going on in the wider gaming world, and as ever, developers want to work with cutting edge technology. While there is no denying the Wii Remote is just that, the ability of the system itself to produce pleasing results on screen when the developers are also working on a HD version is limiting. The result of this was initially lazy ports featuring some incredibly ugly graphics, but ultimately ended up being a complete lack of support from many developers. Which is where Wii U comes in.
As Reggie said at this year’s E3 Press Conference, Wii U is for you, the gamer. With the console comes the promise once again that the developers will be coming back, and after a few weeks of appreciation from big development names such as Epic and EA, we’ve got another name to add to the list. Valve.
Speaking at a recent awards ceremony, Gabe Newell said;
“Wii U seems to be a lot more powerful than the previous generation. It sort of fits better into the scalability in terms of graphics performance and CPU performance, so I think it’ll be a lot easier for us to fit it into our scalability model“
While it’s not a confirmation, this quote sheds a lot of light on why the Wii failed to attract some of the biggest developers to hang around. Quite simply, it just doesn’t fit in with their current developmental abilities. Imagine asking EA now to create a game for the N64 from scratch, meaning they would have to create all new assets and such that are at a much lower resolution than they are used to. The same scenario can be applied to developers such as Valve with the Wii. Valve have always been about pushing PCs to see what they can do, and to then go and ask them to recreate an entire game such as Portal 2 at a lower resolution to allow the Wii to run it is incredibly counter-intuitive for the team, along with being a complete waste of their time.
The simple fact is this; the Wii was underpowered for this generation and while it was a novel system, by the time third-parties got to grips with motion control, their development teams had moved on to HD quality games. That’s primarily why Nintendo are releasing such gems on the machine at the moment. They’ve been through the acclimatisation period and got motion control working perfectly, but they haven’t moved on to HD graphics yet. They can therefore continue to work happily with the Wii hardware and not need to downgrade anything. And it shows.
Wii U should be the changer in all this. While Nintendo will be entering the HD realm for the first time in 2012, and the results will be interesting given they have missed 5 years of experience in HD development, third parties are all ready to go. If anything, Wii U will allow them to develop better games, and as an added bonus, they get to play around with something new and innovative – the Wii U tablet. Give a developer something new and they will do wonders with it, and it’s going to be exciting to see what these companies can produce.
As Gabe Newell said, “We’ve always loved Nintendo“, and while it might sound presumptuous, I think most developers agree with that sentiment. Most of the teams working in gaming now were bred on a Nintendo system, so they all have a place in their hearts for the company. Now that Nintendo are back in the lead (or at least level with the others) of the graphical arms race, developers will come back. To them, it will be like coming home, and for us, it will be the resolution of a promise kept waiting since the N64 era.