News Article

Game Designer Says "Wii U Isn't Sure of Itself, and That's its Greatest Virtue"

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Nintendo tackles modern technology habits

There are plenty of us, outside of North America at least, that are waiting to spend serious time on Wii U, so concepts such as asynchronous multiplayer are still shrouded in some mystery; even early adopters are likely to still be discovering new uses for the system's GamePad controller. Plenty is already being said about Nintendo's new grand idea, with a variety of views ranging from gushing praise to dismissals of the second screen as a gimmick, along with plenty of balanced arguments in between.

One interesting perspective is that of game designer and researcher Ian Bogost, who's written a fairly lengthy article on the Wii U concept for Gamasutra. Bogost goes into great detail about the concept of dual screen play, and interestingly turns a fairly common complaint — the awkward practice of looking from GamePad to TV on regular occasions — and argues that it's actually a move by Nintendo to relate gaming experience to that of everyday habits.

The sensation of being split between the television and the handheld computer feels strange and awkward. But isn't this precisely how all of us feel today, all the time? Torn between the lush absorption of newly cinematic television and the lo-fi repetition of streams of text and image on our mobile phones and tablets? If the Wii attached to television's past, the Wii U couples to its present: still seemingly unassailable, the most powerful mass medium around, delivering more and more immersion annually, yet substantially eroded by tiny devices delivering quips, quotes, and cat photos.

...If earlier Nintendo systems made video games safe for homes and families, the Wii U turns the tables: it attempts to make the current trends in the internet and consumer electronics safe for video games. It's the first earnest, sustained, hardware-invested example of such an effort, and it's full of risk and danger.

Bogost goes on to talk about some of the system's launch titles, with a general argument that they give a sense of a game system breaking the mould, without necessarily realising it's doing so to that degree. By incorporating a traditional idea of playing games on the TV, but throwing in a secondary screen that can be compared to the distractions of devices such as tablets and smartphones, perhaps Nintendo is acknowledging the shifting nature of video game entertainment, without necessarily being sure of the way it's going to continue to evolve.

It's almost impossible to understand the Wii U in the abstract, without playing it. And even then you won't be sure of it, because the Wii U isn't sure of itself, and that's its greatest virtue. In an age when showy CEOs shout hubristic, trite predictions about the inevitable future of games, The Wii U offers an understated bravado that's far more courageous. With it, Nintendo admits, "we don't know either." We don't know what video games are anymore, or what they will become. It's a huge risk, and it's probably the most daring move Nintendo has made in its 125-year history. Domestication through polite ferocity. Feral design.

... We've all been assuming that games "growing up" means growing up in theme, tackling adult issues, achieving the aesthetic feats of literature and painting and film — even if by "film" we usually mean "summer tent-pole movies."

But there are other ways to grow up. One involves embracing the uncertainty of one's own form and responding deliberately. That's what real art does, after all. It admits that it doesn't know what art is in theory, but only in practice. It gives the finger to its critics because it doesn't care if they like the results. Some among us keep asking for the Citizen Kane of games. Maybe Nintendo delivered something better, something weirder and more surprising — particularly for a consumer electronics device. Not craft but soul, for once. Even Apple hasn't succeeded at that.

It's an article that's certainly academic in tone, but is certainly worth a read for a slightly different perspective on the Wii U and GamePad concept. Let us know what you think of Bogost's ideas in the comments below.


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User Comments (39)



Scollurio said:

I think that's bogus. I (personally) am glad when my dayjob is done and I can relax without having to check my iPhone for mail or facebook. I don't buy into dual screen play at all. I love Nintendo software but Im wondering more and more about their hardware. Make good games and I won't care on which system they're running. Even the DS had only a few titles that really gave the second screen some justification, I fear it will be the same with Wii U.



Dogpigfish said:

Like the 3ds it's really hard to explain without trying first. It's fluid and feels right.



GameLord08 said:

To me, he's hit the nail on the head - very eloquently too. I've always thought of the Wii U as more of an intuitive contribution to the industry, more so than it is innovative - it somehow expands in many different directions all at once, yet it has some sort of... interesting fluidity to it. This is what has defined it as a proper next-generation console for me; it's a true ingenuity for gaming, way beyond what photo-realistic visuals or whatever else may be able to do for us (aside from being effectively vomit-inducing in some games).

It leaves developers with many different experimental possibilities (which is something Nintendo Land demonstrates exceedingly well, alongside games like Chasing Aurora and Spin The Bottle) - it's pushing them to be more thoughtful and resourceful, which seems to be the direction we need to be headed with all that's going on. Another big plus is that the console is very affiable to developers, from what we've heard: easier to develop for, more accessible (especially towards indie and third-party developers), cost-efficient development etc. So, the doors are essentially being flung wide open.

However, the question with the Wii U is whether or not developers (and gamers) are ready to appreciate that. That may very well be what determines the console's success - or otherwise.



MAB said:

I liked the troll bit about crApple... The bloke knows what he is talkin' about.



Daz-brum said:

Nintendo are wise at what they do, by opening up development to indie developers the apple apps could I hope anyway find there way who doesnt want to play Swordigo on a nintendo machine.



WanderingPB said:

The article is very poignant and eloquent. This is an idea of the growth and progression of gaming. Who would have thought that mobile gaming would have gained such popularity these past few year? Or better yet how many doubted the Wii and its motion controls? I know i did…and now watching my son playing games on the Wii and my iphone i realize how much gaming has grown beyond visual graphics.

Guess the next step is having a "holodeck" like in Star Trek…



luminalace said:

I think I get what he's saying but regardless, I am so excited that Nintendo is again giving us a console that is unique and more than just about more power under the hood!



Mahe said:

I agree with the author: Nintendo doesn't know what they're doing with the Wii U.




One or two wierd replies for the article here so far - ahem...Though most are sound as usual. Anyway, very interesting read.



AVahne said:

This is possibly the first intelligent article I've read on the Internet in quite a long time.



Shworange said:

Nintendo is taking an enormous risk with the Wii U. They designed a system that is remarkable in many ways and are hoping that it clicks with the public. My only issue with this is its marketing. I have seen only one commercial for the Wii U on tv. It's that sill one where everyone is in an apartment style box and is playing in their own fashion. My wife didn't understand it until she stumbled upon a YouTube video showing people playing in a real setting. Featuring high points such as the ability to watch tv while playing a game. Also the ability to customize tv watching on the yet to be released Tvii app. Also, the chaser and chased play of chase mii. Then it all clicked with her. She immediately realized that this would be a fantastic family present for Christmas. When we bought it, we had three people at target ask us, "so what's so special about the Wii U?" When we explained all the ways it's different from the Wii (including that its nintendo's next system, not just a repackaged Wii) people responded very positively and enthusiastically. These contrasts need to be portrayed to the people effectively. This will help it to take off and get the attention it deserves.



Aloysius_Rexford said:

This is interesting. I mean, it makes sense if you let yourself think about it.

  • Nintendo has always been courageous in almost all of there system. None of them really have looked similar in the slightest. Like, look at Xbox, and PS3 they have always had the same console design; never really reaching outside the box to see what else they can do. Unless that's PS3 "Move" or Xbox's "Kinect." But, even then those are just attachments. I don't know just a thought.
    Good read though.


HawkeyeWii said:

I'm sure in a couple of years the new 720 and PS4 will come out and another couple years after that and they will copy Nintendo's idea just like they both did with motion gaming.



Aloysius_Rexford said:

@HawkeyeWii Nicely put. If I remember correctly Nintendo actually helped with Xbox's kinect. But, I am probably wrong just a rumored thing.
Wouldn't surprise me if Nintendo did though. : P



retro_player_22 said:

More like developers aren't sure of how to handle the Wii U. It's not like Nintendo never tried any idea regarding a second screen on a console controller before, heck they tried that with Four Swords Adventure and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles on GameCube (GBA is like a second screen except it doesn't had a touch screen) and even as a feature in Pac-Man Vs. for GameCube. I don't see why developers are so alienate by this as if they never see this kind of innovation before.



aaronsullivan said:

I don't completely agree with the degree of disruption he mentions from the time I played with it. He's taking it to a very philosophical realm that the addition of the GamePad doesn't quite reach without some filling in the blanks. Of course, that is what you do with art, but I still think the article is overwrought. Basically, Nintendo has the gall to try something audacious and fun again, critics be damned. That's what Nintendo has done since forever. The NES came at a time when video games were a bust, for instance. This guy's just seems excited about it because it's the first time he's noticed. [So, I've got more to say on this below since I've read the entire source article now]

I will say that playing this way IS a paradigm shift and I even had a similar experience that I had to the first time I played Wii Sports Tennis. I was having to think in a different way and interacting with the game and especially the people right around me in a way my brain hadn't done before. That acute sense of "this is something new" was there. As much as I thought the GamePad was a cool idea full of potential, I didn't expect that feeling again.

I really don't think you can appreciate the Wii U until you play with a few friends and family who are comfortable competing and getting involved vocally. "He's near me! I'm purple!" "She's in red, headed toward green!" "Where is he going?" "Look at her face!"

We had a blast and my 3 1/2 year old was instantly addicted. We could have been a commercial. lol.

Advice: Throw in some Luigi's Mansion first, then Animal Crossing, and then Mario Chase. Don't start with Mario Chase! Our first run was completely boring as no one ever saw Mario! And obviously you must have Nintendo Land. What a waste to skip the best part of the Wii U so far.



erv said:

Spot on article - after friday I'll be able to say whether or not I agree, but as a gaming and nintendo fan, I am biased towards the 'yes' side of course. It does look like nintendo has created something truly enjoyable and lots of fun



Boo_Buster said:

@Aloysius_Rexford The gentleman who created the tech for Nintendo's Motion Controller went to Microsoft and offered it to them first. They told the gentleman we can make something better than this and he took the idea to Nintendo. The rest is Wii history.



Boo_Buster said:

I had that unsure feeling after picking up the Wii U and going through the whole hour long system update, hearing all the stories of "bricked" systems, freezes and the like (which has happened to me. And hey, the SNES froze every now and again, did it not?) I am loving the Wii U based on my own experiences. Instead of assuming, just wait until you get to spend some time with the Wii U, and then form an educated opinion. Most of these people on the internet talking about the Wii U probably do not even have one, which is hilariously dumb and moronic, but that is the internet for you.



Ryno said:

@Boo_Buster: THE SNES had "slow down" but I don't remember ever freezing.

Having only really played NintendoLand, I have discovered that Nintendo has done it again with a new way to play. I'm excited to see the possibilities to come.



rjejr said:

I don't think the 2nd screen will be a big issue unless the game developers make it an issue. I don't think it's a good idea to have to look at both screens at once like how it is split on some DS games, but for maps and inventory when you just want to glance down quick every now and then I think it's more submersive than having a menu screen pop up on your tv. Plus all the bonuses of using it as a radar detector or sniper rifle or rear view mirror. The Wii had some bad controlling games and I'm sure the Wii U will as well but I'm confident the good uses will outweigh the broken gameplay attempts.



aaronsullivan said:

Okay reading the whole article now:
Stupid highlights:
*Nintendo helped make the gaming industry "immature" because it stopped a masturbation game from being made.
*Metroid was a game made for children.
*Gears of War is a Nintendoified "core game" as are most core games. (If only!)
*His definition of what Nintendo has done in the past is oversimplified to make his point sound more grand. His vision of Nintendo is of making a safe choice for everyone all the time. Oversimplified to the extreme, in my opinion.

Now, once he gets to the second screen experience thing, he starts making some sense.

Still he under represents the innovations that Nintendo has brought to the franchises saying fans give them a pass because it's "Mario".

I don't think he's too far off about how Nintendo is approaching this, as in not knowing what games are going to be this generation. But I'm also not so sure this isn't how Nintendo has approached every console. Nintendo has been amazingly experimental and full of risk taking for such a large company since before the Wii. When risks don't pan out people just call it stupid even if it is innovative — Wii Music, anyone? This is where I disagree with him. He's analyzing this closely as if it's a new thing for Nintendo, but I think he's just starting to really fathom the DNA of Nintendo, not stumbling across some great sea change for the company with the release of the Wii U.

Having said that, his ideas about how the GamePad is fitting right into the current tech trend of phone/tablets mixing with TVs and in particular the "no screen effect" are compelling. Nintendo has shown itself to be RIGHT on the cutting edge in this way, seeing the trend and working towards it — as Steve Jobs quoted Wayne Gretzky: "...skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."



aaronsullivan said:

As far as marketing goes, I think there can be some improvement, BUT Nintendo already seems to be selling as many Wii U consoles as it can make.

The REAL marketing is going to be in Holiday get-togethers as people get to play and hear about it from those who own it. That's why I thought it was so critical to get Nintendo TVii active before Thanksgiving (and it really is critical to get it going before Christmas and New Years)



alLabouTandroiD said:

The GamePad has the potential to make games at least feel more dynamic. Hope it lives up to its potential.



strongest_link said:

@Shworange Like the Wii, if the Wii U is ultimately a success with the casual, family-friendly gaming market, it will be the result of word-of-mouth. Your anecdote is a great example of this. If the Wii U is as innovative as Nintendo hopes, it will sell itself.



Henmii said:

"It's a huge risk, and it's probably the most daring move Nintendo has made in its 125-year history"

I wouldn't call that a risk, coming up with a tablet controller when tablets are hip and trendy! I call that jumping on the bandwagon!



LittleIrves said:

When I saw and read this yesterday, it floored me. Bogost does some cool experimental game development (Cow Clicker, Simony) but I hadn't read much of his stuff. It's great to see smart people invested in the industry actually paying attention and writing thoughtfully about what Nintendo is doing.



kyuubikid213 said:

@Henmii I'd consider it a risk when the competition themselves aren't using a second screen controller as an integral part of the majority of their systems' gaming libraries.




Sounds nice, let's just go with that Nintendo. (Iwata and Reggie nod furiously, not wanting to reveal that truthfully they just winged it.)



Ren said:

Aaronsullivan makes some really good points above.

It's great that he (Bogost) can talk in academic verse but it doesn't mean he has a clear grasp of Nintendo's history or the direction of hardware design over all. he sounds a little like some of the fans here with a bigger vocabulary.

As Aaron said this is not THAT much of a departure from the kind of innovation that Nintendo has always built it's successes on. You could take the NES, the N64 and the Wii especially (in their time) and look at the way that they changed the way we think about interactive entertainment; it's huge, nothing short of the current system, maybe more risky in some ways. Putting the tablet and screen together is a natural progression to come out of lots of testing, not the result of a deep psychological experiment by Nintendo. Tablets are everywhere, screens are cheap/high quality and worked fine in 2's on the DS for so many years. why is this a grand revelation?

and it's just naive to think that Nintendo is trying harder to make experimental art than boatloads of money; no, he didn't say that, but it's implied in this heady fanboy, jargon. (though, yes, video games ARE ART, but it's still a big business)

And like many other fans here, he has flatly dismissed apple like they are a competing console company. Apple has never had any intention of making video games and 'fun machines', but they are masterful designers for basic machines that do more than a Nintendo ever will.

I love all my N systems but it will never edit professional media for me (at which I make my living), make calls, keep appointments, process hi-res photos, keep documents, histories, design web pages, etc, etc.. It's a freaking computer; and they're made for common people to be able to use. then there are the even simpler tablets and portable devices that do almost as much in one. to compare these things to Nintendo machines is also naive to say the least; night and day. Nintendos have a VERY specific purpose so it's easier to define innovation there, and are barely able to handle anything else hardware wise, not to mention the interface design that has never come near what apple can produce. I'm not trying to hate on Nintendo but all this "Crapple" trolling is just ignorant if you only play video games.



LavaTwilight said:

Academic is definitely a word to describe it, but maybe so is cultured? It's a different take on it and a different way of looking at it (it being the wii u and games market) and I think his comments saying how Nintendo have brought 'soul' to the games market is nothing short of praise to the system. Reflecting on his comments I can see myself becoming very attached to the console, similar to how one would be attached to their mobile phone. Not necessarily possessive, selfish or addicted. Just to view it as something more than just a box that is used to play a game on. As each time I play it there would continue to be a new experience, whether that's marveling at the artwork in NSMBU or whatever the case may be. I would want to share it with people like I would share my favourite artwork by Rembrandt or Magritte by others. They may not see what I see but I can't put it better than Bogost. His seems to be the most balanced and ultimately persuasive review I have seen of the Wii U to date!

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