As you can imagine, many reporters had questions about the Wii U's hardware, relative to the PS3 and Xbox 360. One of the few people who actually provided some answers was Ubisoft Quebec's senior technical architect Marc Parenteau, who was brought in to discuss a Wii U Assassin's Creed at a developer round-table.
Unfortunately, even he wasn't that specific.
Many of Parenteau's responses alluded to the Wii U being a more powerful console, but seemed pre-written in spots, and when they weren't, he was scrambling. Those responses, along with his answers, are telling in their own right.
We're going with our guts here, and my gut says that comparing the Wii U to other consoles seems to be a major source of anxiety for everyone connected to the new console.
First, while speaking about Assassin's Creed on Wii U, Parenteau lauded the Wii U for being able to handle a current-gen game like Assassin's Creed.
"The multi-core architecture of the console is a natural fit for our in-house HD engines, such as the Anvil engine used in Assassin's Creed. In addition, the large memory capacity of the console will be used to bring performance enhancements, such as pre-calculating data or increasing our cache sizes... Assassin's Creed has a very distintive look, and we want to get it just right. so I'm happy to say that the graphical shaders that are used in development are fully functional. This will allow us to reuse our assets across platforms and make sure that the graphical quality is top-notch."
So basically he's confirming that Assassin's Creed can run on the Wii U, but in a more technical way. The fact that the Anvil engine works on Wii U simply means that the console has to be comprable to PS3 and Xbox 360. As for "pre-calculating data" and "increasing cache sizes", that implies that the machine would be able pre-load more of the game, reducing lag. However, the vague way in which its mentioned means that we can't say that. The statement implies that the console is very powerful, without saying so.
Here's an example of what could be, frankly, a red herring: Why would Ubisoft or Nintendo want to mention those facts without showing off? It could be because the exact specs aren't in place yet, a fact that you'll see below, or it could be because the specs aren't as impressive as they'd like, especially when used in a conversation about a multi-platform franchise. It's also possible that Nintendo didn't give Ubisoft any preparation for speaking about the Wii U from that perspective. Parenteau tried to do his best to convey the difference between the Wii U and other consoles without stepping on anyone's toes, which led to his vague response.
Next, Parenteau notes the similarities between the Wii and Wii U from a development standpoint.
"Developers with Wii experience will find that there's a familiar set of APIs. New features, such as the multi-core processing are... extend the APIs in a natural way, with low-level but straight-forward calls."
While you might see this and want to rant about how the Wii U is a re-packaged version of the Wii platform, let's control that urge. In reality, having a similar application programming interface (API) means that the programming tools for the Wii U will be similar to Wii, which would be a boon for developers who have already spent time making games on Wii.
Lastly, Parenteau seemed frazzled while answering the following question: "Can you comment on power of Wii U hardware as compared to the other consoles that you've worked on? Specifically the current-gen consoles, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3." So this is it. This is the question. Honestly, it's a little funny that he didn't seem ready for it. Check it out.
"It's too early to make comparisons with that sort of thing. We're still learning how to maximize the usage of the hardware. The hardware is evolving a bit also. The dev kits are not final, so there's still some before the actual... uh... before we can make comparisons. And you have to understand, we've been working on other engines for a long time so we need some time to catch up and get up to date on what we can do with the hardware. So to compare now wouldn't be fair."
So it's the answer that you would expect in this situation. As he says, the console hardware isn't finalised, so Nintendo doesn't want anyone speculating on it, either bad-mouthing it or building expectations higher than they can handle. Still, number of ways they find to say "no comment" is striking.
Why would Nintendo or Ubisoft put Parenteau in this position? They had to have known that someone would have asked this question, and yet they this guy, a relatively low-level spokesman for the company, without a paddle? The answer is that Nintendo never talks about the tech specs of its hardware this far in advance. Still, it's curious that nobody will say anything about it. While Nintendo is silent on the issue, it's easy to start thinking the worst based on these generalisations.