Nintendo reveals WiiU details in pre-E3 show

Over the weekend Nintendo gave a sneak peek into what we can expect later this year from the WiiU with its latest Nintendo Direct video, outlining some console functions and features.

Nintendo will apparently focus on their new WiiU console at their E3 presentation tomorrow. The WiiU is Nintendo’s next-generation follow up to the Wii, featuring high definition graphics and a unique new controller with a large touch pad and traditional button inputs.

In this past year Nintendo has released a series of special videos to announce and promote new content known as Nintendo Direct. Yesterday Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, hosted a 30-minute Nintendo Direct video about the key features of the new WiiU console. There were no major game announcements (that comes tomorrow), but there was still some exciting announcements.

 Introducing the WiiU Game Pad

Nintendo’s slow burn presentation started with the basics of the new controller. Much like the Wii, Nintendo is putting great emphasis on the input method, rather that the hardware itself. The WiiU controller was revealed last year in a prototype form with some questionable design choices. For starters it did not have traditional analog sticks, instead having dual circle pads, the analog nub alternative used by the 3DS. The controller itself also looked bulky and uncomfortable. Nintendo put a lot of effort into fixing the perceived problems with the old design in the final WiiU controller product.

First, the controller has been named the WiiU Game Pad, a reference to how the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controller was often called a game pad. The most obvious change to the controller is that the circle pads are gone, replaced by dual analog sticks. For the first time for a Nintendo system, the analog sticks will click in like the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 standard controllers, allowing them to double as buttons. The controller as a whole has also been redesigned with ergonomic grips on the back and button layouts that have been shifted slightly off-center from the analog sticks for a more comfortable position.

Iwata also outlined two new features of the WiiU Game Pad.  First, under the DPad, is a Near Field Communication (NFC) reader/writer, that will be used for scanning cards or figures to interact with possible future games. An example of this kind of feature would be the scan portal used in Activision’s Skylanders game, released last November. The second new feature of the WiiU Game Pad is the ability to use it as a universal TV remote using the built-in Infrared (IR) technology.

A new secondary controller was also introduced, called the WiiU Pro Controller. It seems that it will be functionally the same as the WiiU Game Pad, only without the screen, sporting a design very close to the standard wireless Xbox 360 controller.

 Welcome to the Miiverse

Nintendo has been criticized for their lack of online presence for the past decade, but they have refused to simply use the standards set by Microsoft’s Xbox Live or Sony’s Playstation Network. Their reaction is a new two-tiered approach with the Nintendo Network, already utilized by Nintendo 3DS games, and new to the WiiU, the Miiverse.

At the end of the video Iwata revealed that the Nintendo Network will be more than a simple rebranding of the old standard, Nintendo Wifi Connection. The future plan for the Nintendo Network will be to link the WiiU, 3DS and all future consoles and portable systems together, similarly to what Sony has done with the Playstation Network, connecting the Playstation 3, PSP and PS Vita.

Miiverse was the main focus of the last half of the presentation. It will be a clever combination of standard online functionality, social networking and asynchronous online interaction. When players turn on their WiiU, it will be flooded by Miis who will congregate around games that, that particular player is playing at the moment. These Miis  will be from your friends list as well as strangers. The Miiverse can be accessed at any time, including while playing a game without forcing the player to quit out of the game.

Nintendo seems to be taking inspiration from social media sites like Twitter with the ability to interact with other players from the WiiU console. Players can sent text messages to other players, post screenshots of games they are playing or even transmit user-generated content this way, for games that support it.

The miiverse will also support functionality that will allow players to leave messages for other players in games that support it. The example given in the video was players leaving notes about levels in a Super Mario Bros. game. It seems like a clever way to incorporate asynchronous online interaction, like leaving notes for other players in games like Demon’s Souls on the Playstation 3.

Maybe the most significant part of this announcement though is that for the first time, Nintendo is looking to expand into the Smartphone space. Sometime after the WiiU launches players will be able to access the Miiverse from their 3DS system, but also from smartphones. This is a significant step in the right direction for Nintendo in stepping into a modern online social setting.

Nintendo did a great job of getting buzz around the WiiU before its E3 presentation, but tomorrow will be the real test of what we can expect from the WiiU launch later this year.

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