May 2005 – at E3, the ‘big three’ games console manufacturers revealed the designs for their next consoles, to be released over 2005-6. While Sony and Microsoft provided technical specs for their machines, and showed running demos of forthcoming games (revealed later not to be running on the actual hardware after all), Nintendo were content (or able) just to unveil the design of their new box, codenamed ‘Revolution’, and also revealed details of it’s backward compatability and the, admittedly rather attractive, possibility to download their vast back-catalogue of games from consoles past. The World frowned cynically.
In September 2005, at the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo revealed the real reasoning for the ‘Revolution’ codename – its new controller.
Nintendo has always led the way in controller design, which in turn affects what’s possible in the games themselves. They’ve pioneered many innovations in console control design – the D-pad, shoulder buttons, ‘analogue’-movement, and ‘rumble’ feedback. All of these devices have since become standard on any joypad. So, trust Nintendo to take the next step. But they haven’t added new buttons, sticks or screens to their pad. They believe that controllers and therefore games are becoming too complicated for the casual player to just pick up and play. What they did, no-one saw coming:
The first thing you think is “Er, it’s a remote control and it only has seven buttons and a D-pad. How on Earth am I going to play modern games on that?”
Well, the answer is this: it’s position and motion sensitive. The hardware calculates the position, direction and movement of the controller to translate the slightest physical actions in to ingame actions. I have to admit, at first it all sounds a little gimmicky and I was wondering how it would work in the context of a real game. However, on seeing the promotional video played at TGS, it all became clear.
The video is from the perspective of a TV set, showing people using the controller to play various games. While it doesn’t show any real software, it does get the viewer using their imagination and dreaming up what you can do with the new control. In each case, it’s easy to tell what type of game is being ‘played’ by the sound effects combined with what the gamer is doing. I can’t imagine that being possible with a joypad! The video shows people ‘playing’ shoot-’em-ups, adventure games, huddling together on the sofa with ‘Mario Party’ style games, and even drumming, fishing and chopping veg! The main advantage of the controller seems to be its flexibility – it could be used as a mouse-style pointing device, sword, gun, steering wheel, fishing-rod, fly-swat, or whatever the game designer can come up with.
It already has its critics, but most people with a bit of imagination are excited about the prospects that such a controller brings with it. It’s not clear how, or even if traditional games will translate to the ‘Revolution’, but do we really care? What we want is new and exciting ways to play, and Nintendo is looking forwards, not back.