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Nintendo Wii U, Technology and Bushido

by June 13, 2011
Nintendo Wii U, Technology and Bushido

Nintendo Wii U, Technology and Bushido

A couple of months ago I reported that Wii was going to debut its next-gen console at E3, possibly kicking off the next generation game-console war. But the current iteration of the video game war isn't focused on a console's graphics power but on peripherals and interface. Nintendo was busy at E3 2011 announcing Wii U, the upcoming touch-screen, HD version of Wii that will put it on a level playing field with its more powerful rivals – Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3.

The name for the new console is Wii U and Nintendo says the U stands for you! It’s the first major game-console release since 2006 - not only for Nintendo, but for the gaming industry itself. Let's take a closer look the two main features that mark Wii U a step ahead for Nintendo: the controller, and its processing power.

Color LCD Touch Screen Controller

The kids just love streaking their grimy paws across screens these days, and Nintendo wants to fill that need with a 6.2-inch full touch screen controller for Wii U. This is a single-touch screen (as opposed to a multi-touch screen) which means the user can only input a command from a single point (or touch) on the screen at a time. This seriously narrows the amount of cool controls you can perform, like those Apple has made famous that require two finger-tips at once to zoom in and out. But single-touch is probably (definitely) a lot cheaper to produce.

The controller has two analog thumb-sticks, a digital directional pad, four face buttons, two trigger-style buttons on the front-facing shoulders of the controller, tilt/motion sensor, microphone, and a camera… of course. That’s a lot of function under the hood of one "small" controller!

Nintendo showed off the controller's versatility at E3 with a few game demos. You can play simple games in the controller itself that makes clever use of its tilt control. But the most amazing part of the demonstration was seeing the controller use the camera function to provide the player with a full-motion targeting sight on the controller's screen. Check it out for yourself on this video from E3.

Nintendo may have scored another hit in playability with its Wii U touchscreen.

Sadly, Nintendo has reported that you’ll only be able to use one touch-screen controller at a time with the system. However, an engineer at Nintendo told a blogger at Kotaku that they're considering opening it up to two by the time the system is released next year.

Console Specs

Hardware firepower hasn't been Nintendo's strong suit in this current generation of consoles. But Nintendo was at E3 to announce that Wii U will be every bit as powerful as rivals Xbox 360 and PS3. Using a customized multi-core processor from IBM and a graphics processor from AMD – the system will generate a video resolution of 1080p with a rumored 6GB of on-board flash memory. The box will have 4 USB ports that will support USB storage. So, it looks like Wii U will finally meet, but not exceed, Xbox 360 and PS3 in graphics power. (Editor's note: it only took them how many years???)

Anyone hoping for a Nintendo Blu-ray player will be disappointed. Games are stored on discs using a proprietary format that can store 25-GB of data.

Graphics Power and the Casual Gamer

Neither Sony nor Microsoft has announced plans to release a new game console to compete with Wii U, and they really don’t have to. Wii U is Nintendo playing catch-up to the current generation in video display devices that have evolved since 2006, today 1080p is practically mandatory.

Nintendo Wii was was able to blow away the competition in sales right out of the gates by practically creating a whole new gaming demographic we call the “casual gamer”. But it couldn’t do HD - and in the last year, both the price and sales of Wii have dropped like a discarded controller.

As mentioned earlier, the new salvos being fired in the console war aren't about increasing graphics power and resolution, but about peripherals and interface. One could say it's Nintendo that fired the first periphs/interface volley with Wii and its revolutionary motion controller. But now both Microsoft and Sony are onboard doing motion-controllers, but (perhaps) even better than Wii.

Sony's Move system uses a deceptively simple method of light-up controllers that allow its camera to localize movement with far superior speed and accuracy than Wii. Alternatively, Microsoft has big plans for Kinect, not just as a gaming control peripheral for Xbox 360, but as a lead-in for a future of true Minority Report-style, independent motion-control computing.

Microsoft and Sony aren't rushing to produce new consoles… yet. That's Probably because the hardware is suitable for 1080p resolution. It's true that you can never say computing power is finished and it's folly to say that 1080p resolution display devices are all the public will ever need. But as a standard accepted by studios, networks and hardware manufacturers alike – 1080p is going to be around for a long, long time. Nobody is anxious to jump on board the next-step in resolution.

So, advances in game-console graphics power will be strategically placed in smoother access to cloud or network resources and other general areas of graphics quality like anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, texturing and polygon count. (Editor's note: and making the processing fast enough to react in near-real-time to the new motion sensing software and hardware - something that is, in our opinion, hampering its movement into the mainstream at present). Pushing resolution isn’t going to be an issue for the foreseeable future.

Nintendo’s Bushido Code

Nintendo Bushido

In true Samurai form, Nintendo may have innovated best, by not innovating at all. Wii U received an underwhelming reception from investors causing Nintendo stock to drop the day it was announced. But investors are a fickle bunch, and Nintendo stock will in no way influence the success of the device when Wii U arrives in 2012. Investors would have been satisfied with nothing less than the earthly arrival of a messianic technological wonder. Remember, nobody was impressed when Wii was first announced back in '06.

No, there is no technology in Wii U we haven't seen done better elsewhere. But that's exactly how Nintendo controls its cost. Nintendo isn't in the business of producing searing-edge technology - instead it makes clever use of zen-like simplicity.

When it comes to gaming, the brain-space isn’t concerned with mega-pixels, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering – in gaming all that matters is fun. Nindendo seems to have its finger on the intangible pulse of fun-factor while maintaining affordability with underwhelming tech. If Wii U is priced in reach of the mainstream consumer Nintendo has a really good chance of selling the public, for a second time, the best-selling console the current generation.


About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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