Posted on June 14 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Wii U was something no one saw coming. All right, so by E3 we all saw it coming, what with the incredible number of Project Café rumors floating around the web, but I don’t think anyone outside of the gaming world would have predicted it, say, in November of last year, when Nintendo’s software output was stronger than ever and Reggie Fils-Aime went on the record to say that Wii wouldn’t be finished until Nintendo developers ran out of ideas.
Now we’ve got the Wii U, slated for release in the middle of 2012, and it seems like that ideal has all but been shoved aside. What exactly drove Nintendo to announce a new console?
Stephen Totilo of Kotaku got a chance to talk with a couple big Nintendo movers and shakers about why Wii U is coming now:
The way we approach hardware development is that, when there are experiences that our internal development teams bring to bear that can’t be executed with the current systems, that’s a signal to us that it’s time for exploration of new systems. And, Stephen, specifically in this case, our development teams were bringing forward two-screen ideas, two-separate-screen ideas. Ideas that leveraged the big 10-feet-away interface and the one-foot-away smaller-screen interface. That was the signal for not only a new system but one that took advantage of two separate screens.
Katsuya Eguchi (developer of Animal Crossing and lead Wii U producer:
More and more people have access to high definition televisions, so the timing is right for a next-generation Wii that takes advantage of that technology and the access to it. The Wii only supported SD and, at that time, HD was not as common and readily available. But now, as more people have access to HD, we think the time is right to release an HD version of the Wii.
Now that we have a Wii in HD—the Wii U—there are games like Zelda or Metroid or Star Fox, that definitely will benefit from the ability to display those detailed graphics. But there [are] games like Mario and even Animal Crossing where those details might take away from that experience. We have to explore our options.
When we first came out with the Wii, our goal was to have the Wii on all the time. The goal was to have users interacting with the hardware all the time. But the reality is most people only have one TV in their living room. Because of that, we had to share time. People might be watching a DVD or watching TV and when that was happening they couldn’t interact with the game.
So we needed a solution. We needed an idea that would alleviate that problem. And that solution was including a screen that was a part of the console and allowing people to interact not just with the TV screen but also on the screen that comes with the console.
The idea of having people interact with [the console] all the time,” Eguchi said, “came from [the fact] that people buy the game and they play it. Once they’re done with the game, they tend to put it aside and set the Wii aside. In order to prevent that from happening, the goal was to make sure people always had something fun to do on their console…so that that the feeling associated with that hardware was that, ‘if I turn this on and interact with it I’m going to experience something good.’
It sounds like no one of these factors really would have pushed Nintendo to release a new console. We heard just a few months ago from Iwata that HD graphics were not enough incentive for Nintendo to make a new home system, and dual-screen technology has been in the works since the beginnings of the DS. Now that HD and touch screen controllers have become more accessible, however, Nintendo believes it’s finally time to introduce them to the home console space.
It all seems good on paper, but will it translate to good gameplay ideas? So far my experiences seem to say “yes,” but we’ll just have to wait and see.