Wii 2's rumored touchscreen controller makes perfect sense

Nintendo logoThink a controller with a screen inside it sounds crazy? Actually, it makes perfect sense.

Nintendo confirmed early Monday that it is preparing to take the lid off a new home videogame machine, which it called the successor to the Wii, in June.

Nintendos official statement gave no specifics about the new machine, only saying that it would be playable at videogame conference E3 Expo starting June 7 and would be released in 2012. But reports from various enthusiast gaming press outlets in the past week, all citing anonymous game development sources, have painted a more detailed picture. Codenamed Project Cafe, the systems most distinguishing feature is said to be a controller with a built-in touchscreen.

This shouldnt be too shocking to anyone who has followed Nintendos product development history over the last decade. When the company first talked up the GameCube console circa 2001, it said you would be able to use your Game Boy Advance portable machine as a GameCube controller by linking the two systems with an optional $10 cable attachment (pictured above).

Well have to wait for E3 to find out what Nintendo is planning on doing with this evolved version of the concept, if the reports are indeed true. But a screen in a controller makes a great deal of sensenot simply because its the continuation of research the company has been doing for quite some time, but also because it might be an attempt to address current trends that threaten home game consoles.

Nintendo pushed what it called connectivity at E3 shows in the years after the GameCube announcement, showing a variety of different game concepts that relied on each player having two views on the action: One on the television, which everyone could see, and one on his or her own personal screen with private information.

The killer app for this concept was The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, a Zelda game for four players. When each player entered a different part of a dungeon or house, or fell down a hole, their view would change to the Game Boy Advance screen in their hands. At this point, they might let other players know what theyd foundor keep it a secret and hoard all the treasure for themselves.

Then again, killer app might be using the term far too loosely. While Four Swords Adventures was a critical success and an excellent proof of concept, it didnt become very popular. The barriers to entry were simply too high: Even if you could get four Game Boy Advance machines in the same room as your GameCube, you also had to hunt down four of those proprietary cables to hook them up with. And woe betide you if one of those Game Boys was out of AA batteries.

Nintendos connectivity dream

Nintendos connectivity play never went anywhere. Soon enough, the company quietly canceled everything related to the concept.

The GameCube and Game Boy may not have been a match made in heaven, but Wii and Nintendo DS were. Not only did both systems sell in far greater quantities, they were built to communicate wirelessly. So it was surprising to me that Nintendo didnt pursue this idea further now that it had a pair of machines much more suited to the task. The only game using this technology is Wii title Pokémon Battle Revolution, which lets the player use the Nintendo DS touchscreen as a controller, selecting moves that Pokémon use in battle.

It may have been that the company had its hands full producing games for Wiis revolutionary motion controller. But its more likely that Nintendo came to the realization that it would probably make this type of feature a key part of its next home console, and thus pulled back from implementing it with Wii and DS so as to draw a greater distinction between the original Wii and Wii 2 in consumers minds.

It wouldnt be the first time the company made such a strategic retreat: When Nintendo was preparing the Nintendo 64, a machine built around polygonal 3-D graphics, it canceled all its polygon 3-D games for the Super Nintendo system, even fully complete ones like Star Fox 2. Another promising game Nintendo pulled the plug on was Roll-o-Rama, in which you used a motion sensor inserted into the Game Boy Advance to roll balls around on the GameCube screen. Nintendo killed this game right around the time it would have been developing the motion controller for Wii.

Theres another reason this reported feature seems right on the money. In Nintendos home country of Japan, there has been a marked shift toward portable gaming. It is often said that Japan is more receptive to portables because its people spend more time commuting on the countrys extensive train system than in cars.

This is true, but its not the entire story. A great part of the appeal of Nintendo DS and Sonys PSP, which have seen sales rise as Wii and PlayStation 3 numbers have stagnated in Japan, is the personal nature of the device. Your game is on your own screen, not taking up the family television. A great deal of portable gaming is done in the home, not while out and about.

And it isnt just Japan thats shifting to the personal and portable. Research presented this year at conferences like DICE and Game Developers Conference strongly indicates that mobile, self-contained devices like Apples iPad are drawing gamers attention away from their home consoles.

We dont yet know what Project Cafe will let users do with this reported screen-in-a-controller. Will it be used like Four Swords, to give players their own view of a given situation? Like Pokémon Battle Revolution, as a controller? Or like iPad, putting the entirety of the game onto your own personal screen instead of the television?

But then, were getting a bit ahead of ourselvesE3 will shed much more light on the subject.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Nintendo

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