Nintendo's Two Reasons For Making A New Wii Now

We've been playing the same old Wii since 2006, which makes the calls for Nintendo to create a new Wii - Wii HD! Wii 2? Wii-As-Powerful-As-The-Xbox-360!?! - about... four years old. As recently as last November, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime was telling Kotaku that it wasn't time to talk about a new Wii yet.

Now, it is time to talk about a new Wii.

We've got a Wii U coming, a machine we finally saw and played at E3 last week. It's an odd, intriguing system with unspecified horsepower and a controller that contains a screen. Why was it time to show off this new Wii and plan it for a 2012 release? Fils-Aime and one of Nintendo's top creators don't cite the slowing sales of the 86-million-selling Wii. They have other reasons.

"The way we approach hardware development," Fils-Aime told me last week, "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."

In the abstract, that does sound like the way Nintendo does things, always trying to zig when other people are zagging. That explanation skips the business concerns, of course, but it begs the question of what the creative people at Nintendo were cooking up and what kind of push they were giving Nintendo's powers-that-be that produced not just a more powerful Wii but something so, well, odd.

Long-time Animal Crossing developer Katsuya Eguchi, a Nintendo veteran and producer on upcoming Wii U projects, told me that prettier graphics were one of the pushes.

"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," he said. The 2006 Wii could send a 480p signal to a TV, at best. The new one can run games in 1080p, the same high-def standard hit by the 360 and PlayStation 3. "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."

Nintendo creators sometimes create beautiful games. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, for example, has a timeless cartoony style. But they're not known for pushing graphics to the technical limit, of rendering their Zeldas and Marios with the graphical fidelity of a Gears of War or LittleBigPlanet. Of course, they never had a machine powerful enough to do that stuff.

The mention of a Wii U Metroid got me wondering, and, surprisingly, Nintendo's Katsuya Eguchi was more than willing to talk about such a game. Was he merely brainstorming on the fly? You be the judge.
We got onto the topic after I asked why a Wii U demo that he made called Battle Mii featured a cute version of Metroid heroine Samus Aran's space-ship. I asked him if he was trying to send people a message.
"I can't give you any details now," he said, "but I'm sure there will be a new Metroid release making use of the new controller, not just to control Samus and her ship but also to give the player a new source of information. Maybe the player is looking at the screen but has the information that they need to defeat the enemy in their hands." Maybe you could hold the Wii controller up to the screen and scan your enemy, I suggested. "You could look through the screen and scan your enemy and find where it's weakspot is." Sold, Metroid fans?

I wondered whether the Wii U would enable a Mario that was so graphically advanced that it would show the wrinkles in Mario's clothes and the sweat on his brow. "With the Wii U, while we certainly will have that ability," Eguchi said. "Whether or not we take advantage of it or whether we see the sweat on Mario's brow, that's kind of [Mario creator]Mr Miyamoto's call. The bottom line is that it's always our goal to make the best experience for the player... The New Super Mario Bros. Mii [Wii U prototype] , that takes advantage of HD and detailed graphics in that, when you're playing, you'll know exactly which Mii is you. Because of the detail that's presented. There are many possibilities with the HD that we can take advantage of."

Eguchi said Nintendo has no aversion to doing technically-advanced graphics. "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 is games like Mario and even Animal Crossing where those details might take away from that experience. We have to explore our options."

That's the graphics, but here's Eguchi's surprising explanation for why Nintendo is going with a screen-based controller. Why the screen in the controller?

"When we first came out with the Wii, our goal was to have the Wii on all the time," Eguchi said, almost losing me from the start. "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."

One of the Wii U's more compelling features is indeed the ability for the console to stream high-end games to the controller screen when the TV isn't available, but I told Eguchi that I was surprised this was such a high priority for Nintendo. I hadn't expected Nintendo's driving goal to be for consumers to keep their console running at all times, though in retrospect, that helps explain initiatives like Wii Connect 24, a service that encouraged Wii owners to keep their system in sleep mode, always prepared to automatically download new content.

"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.'"

The Wii U may not have a Wii-style blue light in its disc drive that illuminates when there's a new reason to turn it on - Eguchi said that omission isn't necessarily final - but Nintendo does plan to let people power on their screen-based Wii U controller and check it for updates (status reports of what their friends are playing, for example) even without turning their TV on.

Why the Wii U and why now?

1) HD Graphics. 2) A console that can always be on.

Those are some of the reasons.

Top photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images


Comments

    I figured with the Wii one of their goals was to always keep the console on... But in that case they're missing a whole bunch of features still.
    Eguchi said "People might be watching a DVD or watching TV and when that was happening they couldn’t interact with the game."
    So why not allow the console to play DVDs and other multimedia? Or add social connections like Facebook and Twitter? Give people some sort of /reason/ to leave their Wiis on, even when they are doing other stuff.
    If they want us to keep our Wiis on permanently, it's going to have to do a lot more than play games. A second screen isn't going to change that.

      Because people don't want to access facebook and twitter from their consoles - they have phones and tablets and computers for that, much better interfaces. There is no point Nintendo trying to take on the silly battle of 'our console is the primary device connected to your television that you watch tv and media through' like a ps3. The way they are approaching it is smart. I love the idea of being able to just check the controller and see if friends are online without having to switch my tv over. I also want to do that only when I want to, not have notifications pop up when I'm watching tv/movies.

    I agree. They should have blue ray playback or netflix on their dashboard, and at least a modest sized hard drive so it could be used as a pvr. This way people always have a reason to have their wii u on, or at least connected to their tv.

    The basic resistive touch screen Nintendo showed in the controller is a very long way from new tech or a even a new idea. And there weren't any games shown which showed compelling reasons to have released a whole new console based on that idea.

    Isn't it the case that they sold as many wii consoles as they possibly could and therefore needed something new to boost home sales?

    Problem is, soccer mums don't need or want a new console. The hardcore seems split between those who can't live without Zelda/Mario and the rest of us who can't see a reason to buy yet another console with little 3rd party support, not even any 1st party games announced, no multiplayer, and no promise of vastly improved online services. To top it off, Nintendo says they want it out next year and will somehow have these amazing next gen games programmed in less than a year and a half, even though their biggest 3rd party developer says they don't know what the specs are or how it compares to 360/PS3 powerwise.

    It doesn't look to be a console many of us are going to want, especially so given the way it was revealed, seemingly in a mad rush, perhaps to show investors they are taking action to maintain home sales? Guess what -those investors are as unimpressed as most of us.

    Iwata -RESIGN!

      Actually, that's something I noticed too. The whole Wii U - idea, implementation, everything - seems like one big rush job.
      Then again, so was the DS and that turned out all right for them.

      Bluray playback or netflix? It would be nice but by no means will change the fortunes of the console. Look at what happened the current generation - none of these features turned the console wars in anyones favour - Wii still is the No.1 selling console and has sold the most software units.

      Resistive touch is more accurate then capacitive touch. Thats why you can use a stylus. I prefer accuracy then multitouch and considering there is the whole gamut of control options on the Wii U controller, capacitive multitouch is unnecessary. Its not because one is newer tech then the other its what is more suitable and accuracy in games i think is more important.

      No games that show compelling reasons for the Wii U? Have you by any chance been reading any facts about the Wii U? Of course there are NO finished games showing what the Wii U can do. At E3 they were just announcing the Wii U and also demonstrating what is POSSIBLE on it. Maybe if they were launching this year we could have expected some finished software to show off the new system but since its some time next year its perfectly understandable if games are not in a state worthy of displaying.

      No its not a case of them selling enough Wiis, considering Nintendo havent really brought out any decent software (bar the release of Zelda SS) the downward trend of sales just means the focus has been shifted to the new console. Besides Nintendo always release a console every five or so years, its got nothing to do with dwindling sales. In fact they plan to continue selling Wiis at a bargain basement price once the Wii U comes out. Finally Nintendo have made profit from day one of Wii sales and are the No.1 selling console too, Unlike ps3 or 360, thats why they are not forced to do crappy 10 year lifecycles.

      Soccer moms? Obviously the Wii U has got xbot fanboys all sooky. No Third party support? i agree the original Wii had practically no real support but from the list of games announced for the Wii U the support seems to be very strong. It just takes a few 'hard core games' to make it onto the Wii U and for them to sell well and all of the sudden everyone wants in on the action. Thats how markets work - supply and demand. The Wii had the impediment of poor graphics and a control method that was not universal (Wiimote Nunchuk vs dual analogue). Now the Wii U has Dual analogue there is absolutely no reason not to port games to the Wii U. Also the graphics are Full HD so you know the games will look best on Wii U (as long as they optimize it and not make it a straight port). The Wii brand is still strong (No.1 console) and the Wii has sold the most software also, so there is alot going for the Wii U not to mention they will be the only new console being released. Only the biggest xbot would ignore these facts.

      No 1st party games? Um the console will be released next year when launch time is closer expect more announcements. Why is that hard to understand? No Multiplayer? Developers have already confirmed friends codes have been ditched and an online service like the playstation network has been hinted to be what the Wii U's online will look and play like. And it will be free.

      Lets not talk about how the games look till they actually ready ok. But considering 5 years has passed since the ps3 or 360 thats 5 years of advancements available for the Wii U.

      Maybe it doesnt look like a console xbots want, but i sure as hell am interested. I dont think it was too rushed. I think they have been to slow. The Wii U should have been out by Dec 2011, not 2012. They kept the Wii going because despite its graphics and that all consoles have motion control, the Wii still turns a profit. Anyway its ok to delay the console till everything is good & ready.

      Investors issues - its understandable. The Wii U is a whole year away and the Wii hasnt had any big announcements (hardware or software wise) hence the significant slow down in sales.

      Iwata resign? What you want someone that turned a healthy profit for the company, and made Nintendo the no.1 console in both Home and portable markets to quit? What kind of ridiculous & nonsensical statement is that. On the other hand the xbox and playstation divisions have yet to break even (hence 10 year lifecyles).

      You xbots really need to try harder if you want to bitch and moan about the Wii U.

    Why Now?

    Wii has become obsolete thanks to Kinect and Move. Now the Wii isnt the only console that has motion controls. The graphics on the Wii are way past its use by date.

    Also 5 years has passed, and its time to upgrade to newer technology. Alot has happened in the last 5 years technology wise, and that can be included in the Wii U.

    Finally its strategic. We know sony and microsoft are doing 10 year lifecycles out of necessity rather then choice, by releasing it next year they have about 3 or 4 years before either company release a new console. In that time Nintendo has the freedom of expanding the install base with out any direct competition (ie new console releases). The Wii U sales should peak around the 3 or 4 year mark (if the Wii is any indication). Once the next playstation or xbox are released Nintendo can wait 1 or 2 more years before releasing the successor of the Wii.

    Thanks to the success of the Wii Nintendo can position itself in a way to be one step ahead of the competition. We'll see soon enough if this strategy works.

    Or it will go like the N64 and GameCube and crash and burn, and take them back to the brink, and well get a new saturday morning cartoon made by nintendo to sell games.
    (I'm not saying the N64 and GameCube were bad systems... they just didn't sell very well vs the PS1 and PS2. And I actually liked Pokemon when I was younger.)

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