Friday, August 31, 2012

[EDITORIAL] What Nintendo Needs to Do With the Wii U; Thrice

If you caught the subtle music reference, good on you.

In this third installment, we're all about how you interact with the Wii U, primarily, the GamePad. We're gearing up for the September 13 conference Nintendo is holding. History has shown that Nintendo loves September announcements for pricing/availability for their upcoming systems, so expect this day to be the day we learn how much of a hit our credit cards are to take.

The biggest hurdle that Nintendo has in this generation, asides from not knowing a fucking thing that Sony and Microsoft are doing, is convincing people - customers and developers - that the GamePad is worth the investment. The GamePad, in itself, is an amalgamation of various technology knick-knacks we've grown accustomed to over the years. One part tablet, one part controller, squeeze in some social networking, add a touch of NFC (Near-Field Communication), and you've got a clusterfuck of gizmos.

By and large, it's main goal is to be a controller. In reality, it's nothing more than a gigantic, single-screened DS. Think about it: your TV would be the top screen, delivering the goodies to your noodle, while the controller's screen - a touch enabled screen, mind you - is where you interact with the game, with menu inputs, maps, inventory management...all the shit we've seen in DS games over the past 8 years. If the GamePad is allowing you to play the Wii U games on the controller, what's the point of the 3DS?

Between the 3DS, the GamePad, and the Wii U, cross-play gaming should be a no-brainer. Sega, of all companies, started the whole cross-play aspect with the Dreamcast and the Visual Memory Unit (or the VMU); sadly, it didn't catch on like it should have, as the technology then was severely limiting it. Then, Nintendo caught on with the GameCube and the GameBoy Advance, and the connection using the Link Cable; this was a hindrance, as some games (such as Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles) didn't suggest using the GBA, it was almost forced. Next up to the plate was Sony, and while the PSP was a great move forward with interlinking home console and portable system, the Vita is where it took off, as your game saves could go back and forth, making the Vita a true "portable PlayStation", despite some severe limitations. Where Sega started, Nintendo innovated, and Sony took on full-force.

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A fantastic idea.
Also, the worst infographic ever.
The Vita, despite having sluggish sales and a poor library thus far (with a few gems), the connection there between it and the PS3 is fairly remarkable. I recently picked up WipEout 2048 on the Vita, but only after it was announced that WipEout HD's content was going to be a free download for anyone who owns both versions. It was a great step forward for the cross-compatibility, but there are huge hurdles that need to be gotten rid of. Main point? Why the fuck do I need to own a copy on both systems in order to bring it over? Much like Digital Copy and Ultraviolet for DVDs, or even ripping my CDs to my computer and dumping them on my iPhone, why in the name of fuck can't I get a digital download of the Vita version if I buy the PS3 version? Thankfully, Sony has recently unveiled their Cross Buy platform at Gamescom, where if you buy the PS3 version, you get the Vita version for free. They've yet to detail the program - Can I buy the Vita version and get the PS3 verison? Is it a digital version of the Vita game? - but Sony has some big games lined up for the service, and is definitely a welcomed addition.

With the 3DS and Wii U, Nintendo needs to make cross-play not just a feature, but a prominent feature.   Take a cue from Sony, and make the interoperability between the two systems. While not all titles will not work properly due to technical limitations (mostly the Wii U being more powerful, and the 3DS lacking a second thumbstick), these games should have some kind of connection. I don't care if my 3DS won't play every single title, but that's where the next iteration of the 3DS comes into play. No, not the 3DS XL, but the 3DS 2 (or DS 3, DS Next, GameBoy 2...whatever you want to call it). This new system will fill - and should fill - that gap of technological limitations between the two, and, much like history has shown us, would be introduced part-way through the Wii U's lifecycle; not too far into it, but well within the first 2 years. If it hits around the purported half-way mark, then it needs to be future proof to accomodate the successor to the Wii U.

Image credit:
Crossing streams, the 3DS should be able to transmit it's games through the Wii U onto the big screen. Much like the Super GameBoy or the GameBoy Player for the GameCube, the 3DS should connect via a local network and play games directly on the TV, with the GamePad acting as your "base" hardware and touchscreen. The 3DS XL is a huge player here, considering the extravagant size of the system; the top half of the system alone is roughly the same size as the Vita. Not only would the XL work as a great controller, it should have been the controller. I'm not talking about packing in the XL with the Wii U, but with a good enough marketing campaign, the XL could prove to be a great alternative to the GamePad. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if retailers would have worked on a combo deal, such as "buy the Wii U, get the 3DS XL for so-much-money off". The only thing keeping the XL from being a GamePad is the lack of a secondary thumbstick. Pop on another one of these bad boys, and you've got a handheld system that not only doubles as a GamePad, but can perform cross-play capabilities with 3DS games being played on the Wii U and vice-versa.

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Back at E3 of this year, Microsoft finally unveiled the long-rumored SmartGlass platform. SmartGlass will exist as an app for your touch-screen-device-of-choice, and will allow you to control your Xbox, and even unlock content in your games. The biggest advantage to Microsoft here is their understanding of the mobile market. Rather than make a whole new tablet to throw on display to entice people to buy into it - thus segregating the market even further - Microsoft is allowing anyone who has purchased a mobile device from the major players - Apple, Motorola, and Samsung, just to name a few - to get in on the fun. I've actually covered this entire thing, so go play catch up; I'll wait.

The one thing to take away from that is this: SmartGlass is succeeding where the GamePad is already failing, and that is forcing customers to have yet another bulky, expensive piece of technology; this may be, in fact, a huge turn off for many. Nintendo thought they were doing something absolutely fantastic, and we all pondered on the possibilities the controller could deliver. Then, over the course of twelve months following the unveiling, Microsoft makes their own, solidifies the ideas behind it, creates the platform, then shits all over the concept of the GamePad. Lacking physical buttons is a detriment to the system, but it's minimal, considering the wide-spread coverage the SmartGlass would have. Think of SmartGlass as Microsoft's own jar of Nutella: they spread it around all the delectable tablets that you own, and you'll knowingly eat it, because, let's be honest, who denies themselves Nutella?

A great way for Nintendo to combat SmartGlass? Allow the 3DS to act as a controller for the Wii U.

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We've gotten this far, but it's far from over. Looking into the immediate future of what the Wii U can do is dandy and all, but what about what Nintendo is facing next year? Will Microsoft integrate SmartGlass into Xbox Durango to keep it from being labeled a "gimmick" by some? What about the PlayStation Orbis and the Vita; will the latin naming system really bring it "full circle"*? How will the whole Apple TV pan out with apps? Come back for Installment 04; it's going to be just as big as what it's name is paying homage to.