NeoGAF has a habit of taking gaming news way more seriously than most other places would, and half the fun of an event like E3 is observing all of the arguments and meltdowns that follow as the big three run through their press conferences. Thus, when arguments quickly sparked in to flamewars about how powerful Nintendo's new console is (or isn't), how many jaggies were in that HD Zelda screenshot, or how they're forsaking the Wii's "blue ocean" strategy in favor of begging hardcore gamers to come back, I figured that it was just GAF being GAF - these are the same people who, for example, will over-hype themselves for a game like GTA4, which inevitably develops in to a huge backlash against that game when it doesn't live up to their unrealistic expectations, which then in itself evolves in to a backlash against the previous backlash. Yeah, GAF's a weird place.
And yet, as I'm sure Nintendo is quickly rediscovering, those hardcore gamers are incredibly fickle. The amount of lukewarm sentiment I'm seeing - not just from places like NeoGAF, but the entire internet - is shocking to me. Part of that is Nintendo's confusing way of unveiling the device - there's a lot of people out there who still aren't clear as to whether or not this is a peripheral for the existing Wii, or if there's even a console attached to it at all. Nintendo did an amazingly poor job of outlining what the "WiiU" is, and the awkward naming scheme does not help. And even among those who seem to "get it", the WiiU has failed to excite. My question is: Why?
When you break it down, the WiiU is like the polished result of every weird experiment Nintendo's been doing since 2005. It incorporates touch, multiple screens, and motion controls, on top of a traditional controller interface, with dual analog sticks, triggers, bumpers, and face buttons. It is, theoretically, a Nintendo DS, Wii, and Playstation 3 all in one console. No longer do you have to worry about buying a Wii for a couple of novelties while the rest of system is flooded with cut-down versions of big budget HD console releases. There's little danger in traditional gaming experiences being spoiled by the Wii's lack of buttons or analog sticks. And the new controller opens the door to a wealth of unique gaming possibilities: Playing a multiplayer game? Everybody with a controller in their hands has a mic. Everybody. Remember some of the weird stuff games like Burnout Paradise were doing with the Playstation Eye and 360 Vision? Now everybody has a camera, too. Don't want to show the world your neckbeard? Touchscreen keyboard for text chat. And with the screen embedded in the controller, you can push the chat window off your TV to keep the interface unobstructed. Heck, imagine being able to browse the Xbox Guide without exiting, pausing, or even overlaying your main game screen. The potential here is incredible.
"But we've already heard about potential with the Wii!" I hear you cry. "The number of Wii games that successfully implemented motion controls can almost be counted on one hand! Most of the DS stuff was equally underwhelming! We're not falling for this again!" And you're right. But that was in part due to the fact that you had to make games specifically for the Wii or the DS and nothing else. A Wii game that successfully implemented motion control was difficult to translate upwards to the 360 or PS3. Similarly, titles like Red Faction Guerrilla and Assassin's Creed were difficult to replicate on the considerably weaker tech. Interchangeability was not really worth the time, money, or effort it would take to make it work. This was a problem that was twofold, because it meant many publishers, to make those "specifically built for the Wii and nothing else" titles, had to assemble teams of developers who would exclusively create games for that platform. These teams were often made up of low-budgets and B-tier developers, while the company's best and brightest focused their attention elsewhere, on larger budget and higher profile Xbox, Playstation, and PC games.
Assuming the WiiU has the horsepower third party developers are implying it does, that allows guys like Cliff Bleszinski, Yves Guillemot, John Carmack, Ken Levine, Dan Houser and everybody at Valve Software to look at the console and parlay their existing strengths in to creating a new experience without having to break off and create a Wii-specific team, with Wii-specific programmers, and Wii-specific designers, who are compressing their idea to fit within the Wii-specific limitations. This works to eliminate the prevailing thought of "My ideas are impossible on the Wii, so I'm not even going to consider it" among a lot of high-profile developers. Sure, you can argue that Sony and Microsoft have been providing those options to developers for at least a year already - and you're not wrong. But attach rates on Playstation Move and to a lesser extent Kinect have not exactly been 1:1. There are a lot of Xbox 360s out there without Kinects, and even more Playstation 3s out there with no Move controllers. Trying to sell to somebody who has to own two individual gadgets together is a small market compared to a console that launches with all of these features packed in every box ever sold with the console for its entire lifespan. This leaves the door open for developers to play with the WiiU's more unique capabilities, knowing that the console's entire install base can experience the full suite of control options available. The fruits of this are already starting to appear - Gearbox Software has mentioned the possibility of displaying the iconic Aliens motion tracker on the controller's screen, providing Colonial Marines with a slightly more authentic experience.
The "achilles heel" in all of this is an issue of time: All of Nintendo's hard work setting the WiiU up to be an apology for neglecting "hardcore gamers" could be undone with two simple words: "Next Generation". Despite Sony and Microsoft looking for longer tails out of their console hardware, if either of them announced new console hardware at E3 2012, that would give Nintendo mere months of parity before being dumped back down to the exact same hardware disadvantage they spent the majority of the Wii's lifecycle in. Microsoft has already been spotted hiring engineers for the next Xbox, and while Sony once constantly reminded us that the Playstation 3 was on a "ten-year cycle", there's no way they're going to lag behind their biggest competitor when it comes time to pull the curtain back on the Playstation 4. I'm sure this is a fact that already weighs heavy in many third-party developers minds, given companies like Epic Games teasing the next generation of Unreal Engine.
"Samaritan" is currently impossible on consumer-grade graphics hardware - but it won't take long for that to change.
Perhaps the impending next generation explains the malaise towards the WiiU: Nintendo is banking on Microsoft and Sony keeping true to their word and riding their consoles out for at least another two years. In actuality, it would not be a surprise to find out that either Microsoft, or Sony, or both are probably having meetings right now discussing ways to snipe Nintendo's play at catch-up as soon as financially possible. E3 2012 is when the boys are separated from the men.
But until that other shoe drops, The WiiU is an exciting prospect and I'm interested in seeing how it all shakes out.