Nintendo Direct Pre-E3 2012 summary

E3 hasn’t even kicked off yet, but earlier tonight Nintendo broadcast a first look at some of the features of its upcoming home console – some new, some not-so-new.  Introducing the video, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata stands in a sparingly furnished room, the only decoration of note is a wooden frame on the wall behind him. On it, Japanese characters proudly spell out one of Nintendo’s longest held ethoses. Roughly translated, it means  ”Creating something unique”. This ideology has been, according to Iwata, the philosophical cornerstone during the development of Nintendo products past and present, and the Wii U is no different.

The revised Game Pad will feature clickable analogue sticks, a first in Nintendo history

In 2008, less than two years after the launch of its radical and phenomenally successful Wii, Nintendo began discussing development options for its next console, all with the intention of creating something unique. With the Wii U, it seems that the focus will largely be on social interaction and integration, particularly in the online space. Iwata shows a picture of a family sat together in a room. “Does this look familiar?”, he asks. Each member of the family is absorbed in different experiences, – laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-readers – all together in a physical sense, but detached socially.

People are gathered together with friends and family but not truly connected, paying more attention to separate devices. New technology has made our lives easier and more efficient, but we have to wonder what this will mean for the nature of human relationships moving forward. One of the challenges we set for ourselves [when developing Wii U] was something that helped unite people rather than divide them, whether in the same room or great distances apart.

Iwata references a book by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle called Alone Together which he believes encapsulates the idea of technology as not merely a tool, but as something which is very much a part of our social fabric. As with the Wii before it, the Wii U will place a heavy focus on social interaction, but with added emphasis on online networking. “Better, together” seems to be the Wii U’s slogan.

Satoru Iwata believes this is a scene that will be familiar to many people

The idea of this Nintendo Direct presentation was to introduce the system’s controller and features in a more contextual sense, allowing the E3 presser to focus almost entirely on games. Incredibly, Iwata hinted that Nintendo 3DS games may not feature at the media briefing on Tuesday at all, leaving the 60 minute time slot allocated exclusively to Wii U software, but this seems unlikely.

The uPad, the DRC, the padlet, the subscreen - we’ve seen it called many things over the past few weeks, but its official name is now officially official. The console’s quirky controller will be ingeniously known as the Wii U Game Pad. According to Iwata, this is a throwback to the Famicom/NES controller.

Aside from its official name, Iwata divulged information about the controller’s new form factor which has undergone a significant overhaul since last year’s E3 appearance:

  • The controller now features clickable analogue sticks rather than the 3DS-esque circle pads on the prototype model. The sticks do not feature the octagonal gate from the GameCube, Nunchuk and Classic controllers.
  • The back of the controller has also been redesigned with new handles located at the bottom of the pad.
  • The D-Pad and face buttons have also been shifted slightly inwards for a more ergonomically pleasing controller.
  • An NFC reader-writer now features on the face of the console.
  • “TV Control Button” allows the Wii U Game Pad to act as a universal TV remote and can turn the console on and off.
  • Touch screen still appears to be resistive rather than capacitative, so no multi-touch.
  • Still features a gyroscope and accelerometer.

The potential of two screens has been realised with Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, but with Wii U it becomes more dynamic due to the relationship between them: they are not fixed. This enables something Iwata refers to as ‘asymmetric diversity’.  The Wii U will still feature connectivity with all Wii controllers including the Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board.

The Wii U Pro pad looks remarkably familiar

Nintendo also showed off a prototype for the Wii U Pro Controller, which looks to be a fully wireless pad akin to the Classic Controller, but presumably with clickable sticks. As you can see, it looks frighteningly similar to the Xbox 360 pad, which, in my eyes, is a very good thing.

 ”But it’s black?!” I hear you cry! Yep, in a horrendously-yet-knowingly overproduced concept video, Nintendo confirmed that the Wii U will also be available in black, although probably not at launch. In said video, glimpses of the Wii U’s OS and online services were shown, further pushing the idea of social integration.

The activity feed - like your Facebook news feed, but with less baby photos

A guy is playing a zombie shooter on his Wii U when he gets stumped by an ostensibly difficult boss fight. He pauses the game and flicks over to the Wii U’s ‘activity feed’, not too dissimilar to Facebook’s news feed. He posts a plea for help when, almost immediately, a friend dishes up some advice which the guy doesn’t quite understand. To clear up the confusion, he starts a video call with his friend who acts as his walkthrough before switching back to the game and beating the boss. What’s most impressive about this, though, is that the Wii U is capable of all this at OS-level, so there’s no need to quit the game. Cross-game video chat confirmed.

Also shown off was Miiverse. Internally known as Mii Wara Wara (the noise or commotion made by a large crowd), Miiverse is the first thing you see when you power on the Wii U. It features your Mii, the Miis of other accounts on your console, Miis from your Friends List, and Miis from your country who are playing the same games as you. The Miis will gather around the icon of games that they’ve recently played and comments about their experiences with it will pop up – stuff like high scores and pleas for help.

Miiverse - the Wii U's OS - focuses heavily on social interaction

Miiverse can also be activated at any time in any game without going back to the Wii U Menu. There was also demonstrations of cross-game messaging, including drawings, photos and screenshots. The urpose of Miiverse is to “add a new degree of empathy between players”. Iwata refers to the small screen on the Game Pad as a “social window” linking player to player, room to room. He says that players will feel connected even if they’re not playing at the same time, even in single player games. Miiverse will eventually be accessible on 3DS, PC, smartphones or any other web-enabled mobile device, but not at launch.

The Nintendo Network will eventually be accessible via smartphones and other web-connected devices

Key points

  • Wii U name is final.
  • Controller officially known as Wii U Game Pad.
  • Clickable analogue sticks. No octagonal gate.
  • Revised face button layout.
  • NFC (near-field communication) reader/writer on the face of the Game Pad, left-hand side.
  • Ergonomic changes on the back of the Game Pad.
  • Game Pad acts as a universal TV remote.
  • Wii U will support all official Wii controllers including Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Balance Board.
  • Fully wireless Wii U specific Pro pad to be released alongside Wii U for more traditional experiences. Similar to Wii Classic Controller Pro in form.
  • Black Wii U and Game Pads available.
  • Wii U operating system allows for multitasking, video chat available without shutting down the game session.
  • Activity feed allows you to post about and discuss games with people on your friends list.
  • Send text and photo messages to friends including screenshots of games. Unclear whether screenshots are OS-level or game-specific.
  • ‘Miiverse’ will enhance the social aspect of gaming for everyone, even in single player games.
  • Nintendo Network will be accessible via Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, smartphones and other web-enabled mobile devices.
Check out the full video here.
Be sure to watch Nintendo’s full E3 press conference on Tuesday, 5pm BST.
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