The Nintendo Wii 2 will no doubt headline some surprising technology, but as with the 3DS its consolidation of interactions, connectivity and visual technology will be the more important story.
The original Wii was announced to a slightly perplexed world in 2005, but (love it or hate it) over the coming years it won respect and interest from not only gamers but the wider public. At the time I was impressed that Nintendo was following through on the rhetoric that it had started around the launch of the Gamecube: that engaging and enjoyable games were dependent on interaction rather than graphical horsepower. Many criticized the Wii for languishing a generation behind both the 360 and PS3 in terms of visuals. But by side-stepping the desire to impress players with ever more realistic visuals they created a platform where interaction and playability were front and center.
The real challenge for Nintendo is now on the table: how to follow on this initial success. Once a disruptive technology has been adopted by other manufacturers, how should they extend their ethos into a subsequent generation of consoles? Recently there has been plenty of speculation about the Wii 2 or Wii HD. The expectation is that Nintendo will announce a beefed up Wii before the year is out, and maybe even at the E3 videogame conference in early June.
What is more likely, however, is something a little less predictable. The next Wii will doubtless offer improved graphics and 3D HD output, but I don’t think that will be the headline. Nintendo will want a more revolutionary hook to hang their next console on. This is likely to focus on interactivity and connectivity rather than graphics and sound. To that end I think there will be more work done on the controller: Nintendo will want to consolidate the existing MotionPlus technology, and likely match innovations elsewhere — here I am thinking a wireless Nunchuck that also has a vibration feature is all but certain.
Beyond this they need to bring across innovations from the 3DS. Some of these are quite obvious, like the inclusion of an analog stick on both Nunchuck and Wii Remote, but others are less so: For instance, I think it is likely that we will see a camera incorporated into the Wii-mote to enable a variety augmented reality games and new interactions elsewhere. This will also enable the enhanced Mii Maker tools that work from a picture of the person being created. It’s also likely that they will include a microphone in the controller (to complement Wii-Speak functionality), as well as an enhanced speaker. This opens the door to a variety of new game play techniques and closes the gap between the DS and Wii’s functionality.
Another big area they will be pushing is connectivity, both between the Wii 2 and other Nintendo devices but also between Wii 2 consoles themselves. On the ground, one obvious extension of the Virtual Console feature on the Wii and 3DS seems to be a return of the Gameboy Player, although here it would be called the Virtual Player. This would provide a Wii channel that connected to your 3DS or DS and enabled you to play DS games on your TV. This connectivity may even be as explicit as a physical docking station for the 3DS being incorporated into the Wii 2 hardware. Games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Batman: The Brave and The Bold, and even Zelda Four Swords on the Gamecube have demonstrated how compelling these trans-platform experiences can be, and by more closely tying console and handheld these possibilities are substantially extended.
Connectivity between Wii 2 consoles is likely to pick up on the success of the StreetPass feature on the 3DS. Here though, the controller would be all you’d need to take with you to exchange data with friends and passers by on the street, just like you do with your 3DS currently. This would also mean that you could take a controller to a friend’s house and play their Wii with all your player data, save files and awards travelling with you. Add to that the prospect of a camera and pedometer included in the same housing and you have a number of reasons to keep your controller with you at all times.
The final piece of the Wii 2 HD puzzle is Nintendo’s increased openness and cooperation with third parties. As we have seen on the 3DS, they are likely to be much more successful at creating an environment where publishers and developers want to see their games.
All these small pieces may not sound like they add up to much, but together they represent a substantial next step for the Wii. Undoubtedly the new Wii console will be backward-compatible (although Gamecube support will probably be dropped) and for the next few years at least be talked of in terms of an alternative rather than replacement for the Wii. But what this picture is lacking is that one hook on which Nintendo can market all of this. Increased connectivity and interactivity alone are unlikely to be enough. I suspect that some new controller technology will fill this need, and possibly something along the lines of incorporating a touch screen somewhere (really completing the DS-Wii synergy). But this is where my guesswork really has to draw the line and admit that Nintendo is likely to surprise us when they announce the new console this year.
For me, as long as they stay true to their focus on interaction rather than realistic graphics, I’ll be coming along for the ride.