Satoru Iwata opened the pre-E3 Nintendo Direct show with a declaration of Nintendo's intent to continue being unique — and a half hour long web show dedicated to its new console days before the start of E3 certainly fits into that category. Iwata promised that Tuesday's conference would focus "almost entirely on Wii U games", so software was left aside so that he could instead spill various beans about Wii U as a system. It's been a long time coming after a year of secrecy — so what did we learn?
Iwata pointed towards the trend of families and friends sitting together but simultaneously being alone, using their own separate multimedia devices, as a concept in the development of Wii U. The system is intended to unite rather than divide, whether that's in the same room or on the other side of the world.
The Wii U controller is now officially known as the Wii U GamePad, named for its NES ancestor. It differs from the model seen at E3 2011 in several ways. It now hosts two clickable analogue sticks rather than 3DS-style sliders, the stylus holder has been switched over to the top right of the controller's back, the D-pad and face buttons have been moved so that they're not directly beneath the analogue sticks and the back has been redesigned for comfort.
There's also a square on the front-left of the pad for Near-Field Communication activities; place a card or figure on it and data can be read or written through the wireless technology. As an added bonus, Wii U GamePad can be used as an infra-red remote control for your television without the need for the system to be switched on. Its touch and motion functionalities were emphasised, though no changes were mentioned on those fronts.
Wii U is compatible with existing Wii control options, such as the Wii Remote, Nunchuk and Balance Board. For those most interested in multi-platform titles, where the Wii U GamePad's screen might not be quite as crucial, a Wii U Pro Controller will be available. It's essentially a traditional game controller much like that of Xbox 360's, featuring two analogue sticks, four shoulder buttons and four face buttons.
A crazy video showed a man unable to defeat a zombie and begging for help on a game-specific messageboard via Wii U GamePad. As well as showing off a black version of Wii U, this video began to show off the level of interaction that makes up Wii U's online system. Each game has its own bulletin board where you can share messages with others that are playing; a social network thread for each title. If typed messages aren't enough, you can also use video chat to communicate with others using the Wii U GamePad as your camera.
Iwata also treated us to a first look at Wii U's Home menu — essentially an expanded, always online Mii Plaza known as Miiverse. The development team have been referring to it as Mii Wara Wara, a Japanese term that refers to the "general noise and commotion" of a crowd. Dozens of Miis gather around various games icons, sharing status updates and live conversation through speech bubbles. Any Miis stored on your Wii U, your friends and anybody sharing a common language playing the same games as you will turn up. Wii U GamePad is used to select actions and access games, while the television screen is tiled with the most popular games currently being played, whether you own them or not. These views are interchangeable between controller and TV.
Miiverse can be activated at any time mid-game to communicate with others. You can send text messages, scribble handwritten notes and doodles, even take and send screenshots or user-created content over the network. Every Wii U game is compatible, the Miiverse always accessible on the Wii U GamePad's screen with a tap of the Home button. Miiverse can also be incorporated without ever halting the game. A 2D Mario title, known as New Super Mario Bros. Mii (working title) at E3 2011, has players chatting all over the map screen and lets you annotate sections of the game with comments; to lament a death, perhaps. These notes can be shared in other players' games — but don't worry, as Nintendo will be trying to restrict spoilers. Even in a single player game, without traditional online interaction, Miiverse will be present and available.
These social activities are planned to be shared away from Wii U too. Miiverse will only be on Wii U at launch, but it's been designed to be used with Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and any future Nintendo consoles. It'll soon be expanded so that it's accessible in some form via the world wide web and mobile devices as well.
Iwata finished up by describing the relationship concept of Wii U. It aims to change the relationship between family and games, games and television, television and the internet. Wii U GamePad can be used as an internet browser in the palm of your hand, but content can also be shared with the TV. Virtual curtains can be draped over the television screen before revealing content to your rapt audience, lending an air of showmanship and entertainment to the simple act of internet browsing.
Nintendo believes that Wii U has the potential to solve the problem of alone together. It aims to share more smiles, more laughs, more empathy, wherever you are playing. Wii U will connect to the Miiverse to bring friends, family and others together — even with nobody else in the same room, you won't be alone.
Don't forget to tune in to Nintendo's E3 press conference on Tuesday, where Nintendo will finally show off Wii U games. 3DS won't be left behind though — there'll also be plenty of news about the handheld platform too.