Today Nintendo broadcast a pre-filmed presentation by President Satoru Iwata regarding the Wii U controller and the Wii U’s approach to social networking. It had a number of clever ideas that, if they work as well in real life as they do in the presentation, could go a long way towards generating enthusiasm for the upcoming console.
The Controls: The Wii U GamePad and the Wii U Pro Controller
The first news is that we are no longer going to call it the “Wii U controller,” but instead the Wii U gamepad. While this video marks the first time Nintendo has shown off the final version of the gamepad, it’s not the first time we’ve seen it, as it’s the same controller whose image was recently leaked. The nub controllers of the version Nintendo showed last year have been replaced by analog sticks, and these can also be pushed in like the PS3 controller’s. The mysterious little square to the left of the tablet indicates where to place items when using the gamepad’s NFC reader/writer, which can read and write information to special objects and cards.
There is also a TV button. This can be turned on even if your Wii U is off, and can be used as an infrared television remote.
Iwata also mentions that the gamepad has a motion sensor and a gyro sensor, and that the Wii U will support the Wii remote, nunchuk and balance board, but none of that is new.
He also briefly showed off a more conventional controller without a touchscreen called the Wii U Pro Controller. This seems to be there for those who have complained that the Wii U gamepad looks like it might not be comfortable for long playing sessions. Iwata says the Wii U Pro might be “more attractive for longer, more intense forms of game.”
The Miiverse: Social Networking and Many Ways to Connect and Communicate
Nintendo is not just banking on the novelty value of the Wii U gamepad, and is putting a strong emphasis on the Wii U as a social, online device. It is possible for a player to suspend a game in order to go onto a forum to ask for advice on how to beat that game, or to do a video chat with a friend (the presentation suggests that the quality of the Gamepad’s camera and microphone will be quite good). You can post a screenshot of the game you’re playing. You can send game content you’ve created for use by someone else (I’m assuming this would be customized characters and the like). You can send text messages plus handwritten notes and hand-drawn pictures. The Miiverse is browser based, and while this won’t be available at launch, Iwata promises you will eventually be able to access the Miiverse from your PC or a mobile device.
Nintendo is very focused on making people feel connected (at the beginning of his lecture, Iwata shows a picture of a family in the living room ignoring one another in favor of their electronic devices and mentions the Sherry Turkle book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.) To help us be more together in our alone togetherness, the Wii U (and the 3DS) will be a part of the Miiverse (Mii+universe, if you can’t guess), a way for Nintendo users to be connected with one another. When you turn on the Wii U the television screen will show something called the Mii Wara Wara, a sort of virtual town square in which little Mii avatars gather around game icons, with little chat bubbles letting you know what they’re saying (wara wara is a Japanese phrase to indicate the noise and commotion of a crowd). The Miis onscreen are the avatars of friends and people around the world, and the goal is to let you see at a glance what people are playing and what they’re saying about it. This wara wara approach can even be integrated into games; there is a brief clip of a crowd of Miis hanging out in what looks like a Wii U New Super Mario Bros. game.
Iwata describes the Wii U gamepad as a “social window” to further Nintendo’s goal of “creating something that would help unite people rather than divide them...” He feels that the most memorable experiences of the Wii were when people played together, and the goal here seems to be to make people play together whether they’re in the same room or not even in the same country.
Odds and Ends and a Conclusion
There are a couple of other small things to note. Judging by a video shown during the presentation, there may be a black Wii available, so the Wii U may come in both black and white. The Wii U will have an Internet browser that by default displays on both the gamepad and TV, but you can hide the browser on the TV and then reveal it, meaning if you were browsing in the living room and found a video you liked you could toss it up on the big screen to show your friends.
This pre-E3 video is a promising start to Nintendo’s Wii U pitch. The controller looks very impressive, and the Miiverse is a promising and surprising development that suggests Nintendo may finally be willing to truly embrace the online world. Their next presentation will be at E3 on June 5 and will mainly focus on Wii U games; if it as impressive as this, the Wii U could well be the hot item this Christmas.