by Dick Ward
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took some time to explain the new system, possible applications for the technology, and reveal more about the Miiverse multiplayer components. The verdict? It sure is unique. Oh and no, they didn't reveal a price yet.
"I believe when you hear from Nintendo this week, there may be several times when you say to yourself, 'well, that certainly is unique," says Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo. "Hopefully," he adds, "you'll be thinking of unique in a good way."
This sentiment started off the pre-E3 presentation on the Wii U system. The main conference, according to Iwata, will be focused almost exclusively on games. This early video gives us a look at just how the Wii U works in great detail.
Iwata begins by talking about the goals Nintendo had when creating the Wii U, aside from making a boatload of money. He says that the idea behind the system was inspired by a book called Alone Together written by Sherry Turkle. It's a study on how technology alters our social lives – if you've ever sat with your friends and realized that each of you is playing with a phone or tablet, you're familiar with this change. Iwata says that the Wii U will attempt to bring people together instead of separate them.
He then went on to show the Wii U Game Pad in full, and there have been a few changes from the prototype. The biggest change – and the one that gamers will be most happy about – is that the dreadful phone-like circle pads have been replaced with proper analog sticks. Iwata says that the low profile pads are great for mobile devices, but not for a home system.
The feature that's completely unique to the Wii U, and one that will certainly be exciting to explore, is called Isometric Diversity. What this means, essentially, is that the Wii U gamepad can be doing something completely different from what's happening on the big screen.
Demo videos showed off a few potential uses, including setting the Wii U gamepad on the ground and teeing off of it and using it to catch fly balls in a baseball game. The best application shown was baseball related too. Using the Wii U gamepad, one player can pitch from the appropriate point of view, while the other can bat on the big screen with the camera behind the batter. It wasn't shown, but I'm imagining picking plays in football games without my friends getting to see what they are – takes me back to the ol' Dreamcast. Iwata says that we'll be seeing a whole lot more about all of this during the full E3 presser.
Additionally, if you want to play a Wii U game and you can't access the TV, you'll be able to play it on the Wii U gamepad. It sounds like this won't be a universal feature though. That is to say that only games with the feature built in will be able to use it.
The Wii U Gamepad won't be the only way to play games – you'll also be able to use Nintendo Wii accessories like the Wiimote, Nunchuck and Wii Fit. But there's another option for hardcore gamers.
Nintendo is calling this new control method the Wii U Pro Controller. The simplest way to describe it is to call it a kind of crappy Xbox 360 controller. It looks just a touch blockier and the analog sticks are in different positions, but the style is almost exactly the same. Just less comfortable looking.
Nintendo followed up all this information about the Wii U by showing a strange and rambling long-form commercial . It showed off some of the social features though – and those social features seem weird. For Nintendo anyway.
When you turn the Wii on, you'll see a whole load of Miis roaming around with word bubbles over their heads. These will be comprised of the Miis on your system, those of your friends and those of people playing the same games as you are.
From the look of things, with the newly introduced Miiverse you'll also be able to post on forums specific to each game. Even farther than that, you can create messages with drawings and doodles of your own. Cooler yet – you can use screenshots from the game you're playing.
You can even video chat, though it's not entirely clear whether you need to be friends with someone to enable the chat. The commercial makes it seem like you don't, which is, well, interesting.
Developers can add Miiverse functionality to their games as well, allowing players to post messages at certain points or – as shown in the video – between levels. It's a sort of 'Demon's Souls' approach that could lead to some really cool communication between people.
I'm actually pretty excited to see the ability to limit this social communication to the gamepad. Keeping popups off of your screen while playing and watching movies is a nice touch, especially since you can still communicate with the people you want to talk to.
Iwata said that the same Miiverse communication tools present on the Wii U will also be accessible through the 3DS PC and "any web enabled mobile device." I'm assuming the service will come in the form of an app, but nothing was specified.
All of this social stuff is really intriguing, but it's very non-Nintendo. It all seems very open – not like the Wii at all. I'd imagine that the Wii U will have plenty of parental controls to limit communication, but the idea of Nintendo's core audience of children and families meeting up with the kinds of awful folks that famously inhabit Xbox Live is just dreadful. Expect to see a scare tactic news story in the near future. Also, expect to see people drawing dicks all over the place.
All in all, it's an interesting system. In a way, it reminds me of a new Apple product. When the iPad was first launched there wasn't a clear use for it, but Apple was convinced that if they put out a really cool piece of tech, 3rd party developers would find plenty to do with it. Nintendo is different though, in that they depend almost entirely on their own games to push systems out the door.
The biggest Wii U mystery that remains is pricing, and I really think that could be the big thing that determines the success or failure of the system. The Wii launched at $249, but it's clearly not up to the same standards of the Wii U. That leads me to believe that we'll see a higher launch price for the Wii U.
And the problem there is that Nintendo is no longer a company for hardcore gamers. That means they can't get away with charging hardcore gaming prices. A $299 launch price would be tough to swallow for Wii users and anything above that seems like it would be system suicide.
On Tuesday we'll find out the answers to one more nagging question – what games are we going to see on the Wii U? Even more importantly, what games are we going to see at launch? A Mario or Zelda game coming out with the system could make a big difference in those early sales.