In the week since reports about Nintendo's next home console began appearing in the gaming press, several aspects of the controller of the system's controller have become more clear.
Its main controller, as rumoured, will include a touchscreen, two analogue sticks and a camera, we've confirmed with our own games industry sources who are familiar with Nintendo's plans for the machine.
That new controller's screen will measure 6.2 inches and the controller will also include eight buttons. It won't necessarily be, however, the controller that every Wii 2 gamer uses. It isn't even being positioned as a replacement for the famous Wii Remote.
The new Nintendo console, which some have been referring to as Project Café, will also support Nintendo Wii remote-style controllers.
We're not clear on whether the new console will simply use the current Wii remote tech or if Nintendo will offer a remote that improves upon the already-improved and more motion-sensitive Wii Remote Plus that launched last year.
What we are clear on is that Nintendo intends for many games on its new console to be controlled with the same kind of arm-swinging and controller tilting made capable by the Wii Remote. Think of it this way, hypothetically speaking: a new Wii Sports could use the Remote; a new Zelda could use the screen-based twin-stick controller.
The more intriguing option, which we've been hearing in bits and pieces from our sources since last week is that two people playing a Café/Wii 2 game could be using the different controllers. One could operate the Remote; the other use the more traditional twin-sticks of the screen controller.
The more intriguing option is that two people playing a Café/Wii 2 game could be using different types of controllers.
While a twin-stick controller doesn't sound like the kind of Nintendo gizmo that would charm talk show hosts the way the Wii Remote did, the capabilities of the the screen controller do have people buzzing. The 6.2-inch screen will receive data wirelessly from the Nintendo console and presents an array of options, from putting the player's inventory or map on the controller screen, to allowing players to combine it with the controller's camera to snap photos that could be imported into a game or even turning it into some sort of glorified viewfinder (we're unclear about whether the camera on the controller points at the player or can be outward-facing; we've heard both - maybe it swivels?).
The controller screen could even run a separate app. Consider a bad co-op idea from us as an example, though not a recommendation: one player zips through mini-games that run on the screen-controller. Succeeding in each keeps the player using the Wii Remote alive - in a game running on the TV in the same room.
A touch-sensitive inventory screen right near your thumbs would be handy, of course. A variation on that concept will be seen in Nintendo's June re-make of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The game's original designers have said that players of the remake will greatly benefit from being able to tap the items they want to use on one screen while being to allow a different screen show, without clutter, the game's action. Clearly the new Nintendo console affords the same option, so the odds are that they'll take it.
The screen-in-controller idea isn't new to the games industry or Nintendo. Sega's 1999 gaming console, the Dreamcast, included simple monochromatic screens that were used for things like virtual pets. Nintendo pushed the concept in the early part of the previous decade, developing a handful of games that allowed players to link their Game Boy Advance portables to a GameCube console. That idea was used in a multiplayer Zelda game that allowed four players to share an adventure on a TV but occasionally duck into caves on their GBAs. Some iPhone developers have allowed people to use their iPhones as controllers for games running on iPad and PC. None of those executions compare to the idea of Nintendo pushing a screen controller as a principal innovation in its new console, a push that could transform the concept from an exception to a standard.
Nintendo isn't commenting publicly about its new console or its controllers, but the parts of this elephant are becoming more clear. We expect to see the full thing during Nintendo's presentation at E3 this June.