Tony’s Time: Wii U and the Controller Potential
So, we’re a week away from E3 and everyone’s getting ready for Nintendo’s big show. Last year was a trial run for what we’re going to see this year. It was basically Nintendo’s chance to let everyone see their early thoughts and designs on what their next home console can do. The controller was fairly well received with many of the people that got hands-on time with it praising the comfort and the possibility of the design. As we inch ever closer to this year’s event more and more details are surfacing about the system. Some of them are true and some of them are more or less speculation. We know the system is going to be HD capable and it’s going to be on par, slightly less powerful or slightly more powerful than the current HD consoles. My thought is it’s going to be slightly higher spec, but that’s just me thinking out loud. I want to focus more on the controller and I can’t help but toss my thoughts out about what I see in the controller.
First, of all the immediate comparisons to the DS/3DS come to mind. The controller has a tablet sized six inch screen that many people immediately said would give you a giant DS to work with. I think this is going to be helpful for Wii U as developers have had seven years with the DS to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Sure there are some companies out there that still use it as a menu screen and nothing more, but there are plenty of other developers out there that have come up with some innovative ideas for Nintendo’s dual screened system. I’m looking at games like The World Ends With You which used the dual screens for a unique combat experience, or Monster Tale which used the top screen for the main action and the bottom screen as a pokemon-style pet game.
Another detail we know about the system is the presence of Near Field Communication. That is the technology used in games like Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. This allows players to use collectible figures in the game that can keep persistent stats and work across multiple player’s save files. This was demonstrated in a leaked video from Ubisoft about an upcoming Rabbids game, which has not been confirmed. Ubisoft said the video was an internal video used by developers to show off potential ideas for the game. We do know the system has the technology and the potential for this is endless. Obviously the most talked about way for Nintendo fans is through a collectible Pokemon game that would use figures to interact with a new pokemon adventure. One potential use that’s been discussed is through a persistent gamer card that players could carry around. This card could be used to automatically log players onto a system and would keep track of their play data, potential achievements and other information tied to their account.
The controller also has a camera which could have many uses for gameplay and interaction between players. A Skype-like app that uses the controller’s camera would be a great feature to include allowing players to quickly and easily communicate with each other via text, voice or video. Imagine you’re playing a game and then receive a message from a friend that shows up on your controller challenging you to a game or inviting you to a co-op experience. Gone are the days of lifeless text chats or voice messages. Now you can see who you’re playing with and challenges would take on even more meaning. You could also potentially have a picture-in-picture feature where you could always see your opponents or friends and see their reactions to events in a game live as they happen.
The one feature I would love to see is the home menu of the system being on the controller itself rather than or in addition to the TV. The touch screen is the most effective and personal way to interact with your systems and having all of your apps, games and features accessible with the touch of a button would make navigating your library amazingly easy. The TV screen could be used for information about games that you’ve selected or as a mirror so that other people in the room could see what you’re doing – but having your system available in your hands could bring your video game experience to a new level. Imagine having a cover view style library pull up showing all of your games. This could bring some of the physical media experience to a digital platform. The spine of a box art could be displayed to the left and right of the active game with the full box art being shown on the TV or the device. Swiping left or right with your hands would easily shuffle through your library of games and bring some of the tactile nature of having a shelf full of games and make it a very intuitive experience.
There are plenty of other ways Nintendo has shown the device could be used. Navigating the web through sites like YouTube would be like no other experience before. Videos could be previewed on the controller and then sent to the TV screen so that everyone could watch the media together. There could even be some interaction between multiple people where one person is controlling the on-screen browsing and the person with a Wii U controller is looking for other things to share with their family. Of course they’ve also talked about the ability to display the games on the controller without the need for a television which would bring the console experience into your hand and allow you to take it to nearly every part of your house in ways you couldn’t have done before. Does this mean lots of multi-player gaming sessions while someone is sitting on a toilet? Probably, but that’s the way of the future.
There is also the potential for having console and handheld devices interacting in ways they’ve never been able to before. The 3DS and the Wii U would be virtually the same system and players at home could now play with and compete against friends on their handhelds. This could mean the potential for up to eight-player, or more, multi-player sessions where you’ve only been able to have four players before. Just think of the craziness of eight-player Smash Bros. sessions. It could also mean Nintendo could finally bring a unified eShop experience to their customers. Ideally Nintendo would announce eShop games would be compatible with Wii U and 3DS systems. As long as those systems were linked to the same Club Nintendo or eShop account, the game could be accessed by a player on either device. Will this happen? I don’t know if Nintendo is ready for that yet, but I would be the first to applaud them for doing that. It could also mean gameplay could be carried on the road and then synced up to the console to allow gaming sessions on the go that could then be brought to your TV to continue.
The Wii U has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about video games and media. Nintendo, if things are done correctly, could lead the way for the next generation of consoles and dictate what Sony, Microsoft and even companies like Apple would have to do to be successful moving forward. All of this hinges on the one device that connects to your system. It’s a device that hasn’t seen much change in the last decade. Nintendo has always been at the forefront of the way people interact with their games through the controller and they could be on the verge of something like that once again. We’ll find out next week just what they have in mind, but I’m hopeful and very excited about what the future could hold with Wii U.