Whether or not you enjoyed Nintendo’s presentation on day two of the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, one thing was clear: Nintendo is pinning the future of their console gamings on the uniqueness of the tablet controller. Trusting the future of a gaming system — and quite possibly the future of an entire company — to a sometimes neat, oft gimmicky device seems insane. Not because the controller lacks utility, but because the same strategy played a large role in creating the Wii’s current troubles.
Sure, the Wii was severely handicapped by its lack of horsepower. Games that were possible on Microsoft and Sony’s systems had to be completely re-tooled to even run on Nintendo’s modest console. Asking developers to build a completely separate version of their games was an expensive proposition, and one which many companies were unwilling to undertake.
Even when a developer did seek to share their multi-platform products with a Nintendo-going audience, they were faced with a control scheme that was completely different than any other system they were developing for. The sad result was that many multi-platform titles on the Wii would end up with half-baked controls that incorporated the motion technology in ways that felt forced and unnatural. The very thing that made the system unique was little more than a hindrance to the gaming experience.
The Wii U boasts hardware that will out-pace current generation consoles, meaning that the technological limitations that prevented developers from including Nintendo as part of their cross-platform releases will no longer be an issue. Nintendo’s announcement of the Pro Controller means that companies will be able to avoid the pitfalls of re-designing their user input in order to make games compatible with a unique control setup. In other words, you’ll be able to play all the same games you currently enjoy on Xbox or PS3, but on the Wii U.
Which begs the question: Why should someone buy a completely new system just to play the same games they currently enjoy on their Xbox or Playstation? Nintendo’s answer seems to be the new tablet controller. Another non-standard input device that will make Nintendo an island and again ask developers to devote expensive resources to special development needs.
It seemed Nintendo was falling into a familiar trap. That is, until Microsoft and Sony came to the rescue with announcements of their own. Microsoft has shifted a large part of their focus towards integrating technology and entertainment channels in an attempt to become an all-in-one hub for all things digital. Among these initiatives is a new tool known as Microsoft SmartGlass. One of SmartGlass’ interesting features is the ability to connect any two Windows 8 based devices.
What does this mean for gamers? Windows based smart phones and tablets will soon be able to seamlessly communicate with the Xbox, opening the door for use in gaming as an additional or supplemental input device. In short, allowing these devices to be used as tablet controllers.
Sony also took time to discuss various ways in which the hand-held PS Vita will feature PS3 integration. Among other things, this gives the device “cross controller” capabilities which offer many of the same features as Nintendo’s tablet controller. For example, the inclusion of a secondary screen and touch-screen input.
For Nintendo, this means that developers of multi-platform properties will be able to focus on ways to use these supplemental devices without alienating any one particular system. While each device would see the most benefit from titles specifically designed for them, simpler, broader applications are possible without forcing a developer to spend time crafting major features that can only be enjoyed on a fraction of the systems they develop for.
Nintendo is obviously excited about their tablet controller. While it’s an admitted exaggeration to say that Microsoft and Sony have saved Nintendo by joining the tablet-style controller movement, it’s hard not to think that Nintendo’s hardware would be much less promising if not for Microsoft and Sony’s similar moves.Posted in Op Ed by Steve R Gibson on June 6, 2012