Highlights from Nintendo’s Pre-E3 Video Conference

This year’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) conference will run from June 5th to 7th in Los Angeles. In anticipation of that, Nintendo decided to start the party early by introducing some key components of its first high-definition console. These include the redesigned Wii U Gamepad, Pro Controller and the Miiverse.

Wii U Gamepad

The Wii was a bit of a Swiss Army Knife with all sorts of control options. The new Wii U raises the stakes by not only supporting the WiiMote, Nunchuck and Wii Fitness board, but also by centering an interface around a new controller, called the Wii U Gamepad. The Gamepad retains all the features introduced last year, but with some notable redesigns and some new features that were revealed during Sunday’s pre-E3 press video.

First off, the Gamepad now has what appear to be industry-standard dual analog sticks that can be depressed as buttons. These sticks are matched with four shoulder buttons and some ergonomics that will hopefully make the Gamepad grip friendly. This should bring Nintendo more in line more with Sony’s and Microsoft’s control schemes.

This announcement was followed by the introduction of an NFC (near field communication) reader/writer to the left of the Wii U Gamepad’s touch screen. As described, the NFC Reader/Writer can “place cards or figures on this… data that can be read or written in your experience.” Considering the success of Activision’s Skylanders figures, and Nintendo’s history of playing cards, ecards and augment cards, the NFC Reader/Writer may wind up with some compelling uses. Nintendo also revealed some interesting universal remote functionality. The TV button on the Gamepad can be pressed to turn the Gamepad into “a fully independent infrared TV remote.”

The Wii U and Dual Screens

The press video goes on to show some of the ways that Nintendo sees the combination of Gamepad screen and TV being used in future games. The Wii U has dual-screen potential, just like the Nintendo DS or 3DS. However, with the Wii U, the screen position is not fixed and is therefore subject to changing dynamics. This was illustrated by placing the Gamepad on the floor. The Gamepad displayed a golf ball and tee, and allowed the player to tee off using a Wiimote while looking at both the Gamepad and TV screen. The touch screen was also used to send ninja stars towards the TV screen.

High Definition? Next Gen?

The video hints at “improved hardware specs” for Nintendo’s new device, but no specifics were revealed. Hopefully, more information will come later this week.

Nintendo then harped on the Wii U’s ability to function without a TV. This included an allusion to HD graphics on the Gamepad’s screen, but again no specifics.

The Wii U Pro Controller

Mentioned briefly, the Wii U is claimed to support “all previous forms of control, but also will support the new Wii U Pro Controller.” The “all previous forms” part is further detailed as being the Wiimote, Nunchuck and the Balance Board. As the internet begins to froth over similarities between the design and look of the Wii U Pro Controller and the Xbox 360 controller, it’s important to note that the Pro Controller was specified as a “separate peripheral.” To me, that means it will not be bundled with the system, and will therefore be lacking for support. The Wii’s Classic Controller, classic Controller Pro and 3DS Circle Pad Pro all come to mind.

Wii vs Wii U

The video attempts to clarify how Nintendo wants the public to perceive the Wii U and its function in the home. Ultimately, stating that the Wii U is “both a simple evolution of the Wii and something different and new” is another way of saying that it will be, “Everything you enjoy about the Wii, plus new capabilities that we hope will remove what you didn’t love about the Wii.” I have to say that this explanation is very well reasoned, even if the public sees the Wii U (and to some extent the 3DS) as unwanted sequels. It does what Wii did, only better, plus it can do more.

The Miiverse – Because the Internet Does Exist

Fearing that words and graphics could not adequately explain what the Miiverse is, the video presents a fictional Miiverse experience.

The example features an idiot who can’t get past a zombie and is forced to turn to the Wii U’s social networking interface for help. First, he posts a cry for help using the Gamepad. The touch screen facilitates typing, while allowing for some drawing as well. This leads to a phone call from his friend/enemy, who had read the post off of a cell phone. This sequence is followed by a Wii U video call with some older gentleman. Despite the painful way that Nintendo decided to introduce these features, they seem promising, more useful than just having Miis around. Thankfully, there’s no hint of Friend Codes. Oddly absent, however, is anything comparable to the Xbox 360’s in-game voice chat, which might have alleviated the need for a cell phone.

The Miiverse and the Homescreen

The video goes on to show how these Miiverse features will be a part of the Wii U from the moment it’s turned on. Miis from the player’s console, friend list and same language region occupy the new home screen, complete with little messages and drawings. Some Miiverse details include ubiquitous availability. In other words, the player will not have to exit a game to access Miiverse features. In fact, they may be further integrated into game designs as in “The New Super Mario Bros.” example. The Miiverse is expected to expand to the 3DS with interfaces available on PC and other bits of mobile technology, such as smartphones.

One funny thing mentioned about having Miiverse social messages is a desire to regulate out spoilers. One point made was that the Wii U Gamepad’s screen is a social window, with the touchscreen being more integrated than many other living room devices. The Gamepad is also being pitched as device that allows for internet browsing, and entertaining presentations on TV of that internet experience. This feature seems basic with its childish curtains and Power Point-esque similarities, but Nintendo wants you to browse the internet with your family and friends in a fun manner.

One Real Concern

While the basic and debatably useful/useless nature of the Miiverse is a concern, an even bigger issue is the potential performance cost to any games on the Wii U. Developing for the Wii, with its 64 MB of RAM, made supporting something as simple as the Home Screen a constant concern. The Wii U’s various camera, IR ports and other running peripherals could be problematic. Further, the need to pause mid-game and store the entire experience while the player makes a video call is even more troublesome. Hopefully, the specs will make this less of a struggle than aspects of the Wii have been. Really, I wish that console makers would have RAM and a fixed save space for all these features that’s separate from the developer memory.

Here is the video in its entirety:

17 comments

  1. JM

    Razer’s “Project Fiona” is the 10″ 2560 x 1600 OLED gaming tablet I want.

    The only way Nintendo gets my money is if they make ‘Advance Wars U.’

    • Years ago, I left a GBA SP in my car for six months in the middle of an Advance Wars game, and the battery was still ready when I resumed playing, not to mention the screen surviving months of summer car greenhouse.

    • Nintendo is all about their first party titles, and they have become expert at pulling out a fan favorite ip and making a new quality tile.
      Advance Wars would kill on iTunes, or Google Play, or the Windows app/game Marketplace, or Steam, but we’ll see a new Advance Wars on the Wii U or 3DS before that happens.

  2. Just…..not interested, Nintendo lost me probably for good once the Wii came out, I’m simply tired of buying their system only for their exclusive titles, Mario and Zelda just dont do it for me anymore, new franchises on the Playstation and Xbox have been so much better and have moved gaming forward in many regards (take Uncharted for example), Nintendo has given no reason to bother getting this new system, another wonky controller? Sorry, not buying into it this time Nintendo, I’m staying with Microsoft and Sony from now on.

    As awesome as the Wii sold, the only people I know that even touch the thing are parents with smaller kids, not one gamer friend my age bothers turning the thing on anymore, I hope that this system at least gets the games everyone is going to get, but 64 megs of memory? sheesh, there are going to be a lot of stuff that simply wont make it to this thing because of that alone….

    • That is the one undercurrent – will Nintendo do anything to encourage third party developers to make games for the Wii U? So far, we’ve seen the suspect Pro Controller, but how many months (or years) until EA and Activision, etc. have Wii U dev kits?

  3. William Henley

    It is definately better than I thought it would be. This could actually work. I am still not sold myself, but there are some intersting features. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts.

    • So many games on the iPhone just need a d-pad and a few buttons to really make them awesome- Nintendo is poised to exploit this omission on Apple’s part.

      • William Henley

        Agreed. I don’t think we will see Nintendo win out against Sony or Microsoft, but Nintendo does have a unique product, and targets a unique audience. Nintendo will do well. Look at profit margines versus market share percentage. Nintendo is turning a profit. I mean, its like comparing Mac to PC. If you look at market share, you would thing that Apple is failing misrably, and will go out of business. If you look at Apple’s profits, however, you can see just how strong of a company Apple is. Same is true than Nintendo.

        So, yes, the XBox and Playstation may outsell Nintendo. That doesn’t mean that the Wii U is going to be a failure.

        Sorry, I realize that wasn’t a direct reply to what you said. I agree with you, then went out on a tangent.

        • Apple does well because people keep paying WAY too much for their products, they have to charge a premium because they wouldnt survive otherwise, I have no desire to pay almost twice as much for a mac book pro or an apple PC over regular Laptops and PCs with Windows, some people are and can and thats fine, but I would love to see how much more Apple would be adopted if they lowered their prices and had a more open outlook on their OS, Itunes and pretty much their whole ecosystem.

          But so far for E3, no one has seemed to be real impressive, no real talk about a new system from either MS or Sony and honestly do we need them even next year? I like Microsofts SmartGlass, it pretty much makes your Xbox360 a Wii U with your current smart phone or tablet, pretty cool 🙂 But other than that, some more games and nothing much else of interest really

          • I know that collectively consumers like new tech, some more than others, and at the same time some device drawbacks really put us off. For instance, I cannot stand how leaving batteries in a WiiMote results in corrosion after a few months.
            But just in terms of Apple products as they relate to this discussion, software chases hardware, and software pushes the product. Apple’s app store is a huge market force.

  4. JM

    Microsoft’s SmartGlass just turned the 360 into a Wii U.

    Gaming fads only last 1-2 years. What’s Nintendo going to do in 2014?

    • After I knocked Nintendo earlier for not sharing their devkits, Ubisoft just showed us several games running on the Wii U. The new Rayman actually used the touchscreen convincingly. Suddenly, I remember how well Ubi showed when the Wii was launched.

  5. I really don’t understand what Nintendo is doing. The Wii U looks more like a peripheral accessory for the Wii than a whole new system. I can’t imagine how they’re going to convince people to buy into it.

    That said, the success of the original Wii still perplexes me. So I guess all I can do is shrug, say it isn’t for me, and move on.

    • Today’s Nintendo briefing should be illuminating. Ubisoft showed off some Wii U titles yesterday that were promising, Rayman and ZombiU.

      Nintendo’s challenge is convincing people that disliked the Wii and DS experience to try again, and at the same time, to get people who like the Wii and DS to upgrade.

    • William Henley

      I could claim that they are adding HD functionality, but truthfully, they probably could have done that with the Wii in a firmware update. Both the PS2 and the original XBox had some games that did HD. You could argue, though, that the hardware (especially the ram) of the Wii was too little to really do HD.

      What Nintendo needs now is a killer app. The thought of setting a touchscreen tablet on the floor and using a WiiMote to go golfing just sounds hokey, and the thought that one false move, and you have a shattered display on the tablet.

  6. JM

    Wii U is coming out at $400 in Japan.

    Soccer mom is done with Brain Age and Wii Fit.

    All your base are belong to iOS.

    Did Nintendo’s keynote please the core fanboys?

    No Zelda, no Metroid, no 3D Mario, no Smash Brothers, no Mario Kart, no Donkey Kong, no Animal Crossing, no Kirby, no New IP.

    Pikmin only sold 1.5 million copies.

    Nintendo just committed seppuku.