Thursday, April 21, 2011

The OverThinker's insane Wii2 theory

(posted to both blogs, because it's relevant)

Okay. By now, everyone is reasonably-certain that "Wii2" gets revealed at E3. And slightly-less-than-everyone is reasonably-certain that it's mystery-controller A.) isn't a Wii-Remote successor but rather can interface with one or something like one (knowing Nintendo this means peripheral backwards-compatibility, which they'd be INSANE not to do after selling everyone's mom a fortune in Wii Sports toolkits) and B.) incorporates a camera and mini-LCD touch screen into it's design - with most rumors suggesting the screen is roughly the size of an iPhone's, which would be HUGE for something that most are assuming is going to be "built-in" to a conventional dual-stick/buttons controller.

I've got a different theory...

I'll say upfront that I'm almost-certainly 100% off-base about this; largely because I have no talent or skillset for engineering. But on the off chance I'm right (or that it's not Nintendo's idea but not a bad one either...) here we go:

What if the touch-screen is an "everycontroller?"

Here's the idea: The screen will "fit" because it isn't there in-addition to action-buttons, but INSTEAD of action buttons. Basically, instead of dedicated action-buttons that every game has to be engineered for, the controller is just one or two analog sticks with NO dedicated action-buttons - instead, the touch-screen generates a set of "buttons" the arrangement and "form" of which are SPECIFIC to each individual game. Arcade-style buttons for a fighter, NES/SNES setup for a platformer, a PC-style stylus-oriented inventory menu for a sim (or an MMO?), something else for whole other genres I'm not thinking of or haven't been invented yet?

So, yeah. Crazy, probably not even close. But I don't think anyone could deny that this sounds EXACTLY like something Nintendo would do, right? Attention-getting, table-upturning, callous disregard for how 3rd party developers will feel about having to be controller-builders as well as game-designers and - this is the important part - it would LOOK ultra-revolutionary and cutting edge but can actually be built entirely out of decades-old technology their tech-teams are already well-versed in from the DS line. (Hmm... slightly-less insane theory: The controler will look like the bottom half of a 3DS, and a 3DS could be used in-place of one.)

So... uh-huh, that's kind of it: A controller that can turn into "any" controller - at least, that's how they'd sell it.


SuperCamMan said...

That's actually exactly what I was thinking the controller would be. Really, it would just make sense. EVERY OTHER piece of technology is going in that direction so why wouldn't Nintendo do that with their game controller.

spork said...

Nice idea, however touch screens usually aren't as quickly manipulated as manual controller buttons, making many games that require quick movements very difficult and annoying to play. For example, imagine playing Street Fighter on the iPhone vs. someone playing with a standard controller. Tapping light-punch, regular-punch and heavy-punch in quick sequence is much harder than pressing the buttons on a standard controller.

Another disadvantage to having a constantly changing controller is that players would find it annoying having to learn a new set of finger placements for each game. You pick up a PS 3 game, and instincually you know that X is select and O is cancel for menus. For side-scrollers, X is for jump, [] is for the main attack. That instant familiarity would be lost, and might drive away players.

Touch screens make a great addition to buttoned controllers, but I can't see them being a replacement.

Timzor said...

No way. Game controllers, unless you're operating a handheld, need to be able to be manipulated blind. If we're talking about a handheld, and the screen and controller are an inch apart, you could easily manage to look at the screen, while keeping one eye on the touchscreen to figure out where to tap. Imagine trying to split your attention between your TV and your touch screen controller, though, with no way to tell which buttons you're hitting by feel alone. It would be a terrible gaming experience.

Joe said...

Timzor's right on the money. Also, most touch-screen devices seem to retail for at least $200. While that's sure to come down, it seems prohibitively expensive for a controller.

Clayton said...

hmmmmm, THAT would actually be something I'd like to see as a controller one day. It's almost like saying "ya want buttons, devs, HERE'S YER FUGGIN' BUTTONS! HAHAHAHAHA!"

J.C. Hedges said...

I wouldn't put it past them. My personal experience with virtual buttons hasn't been the best, but that opinion is grounded with iPhone games. Still, that doesn't mean they don't have potential.

I'd certainly be interested if they can pull it off. I learned from my immature pessimism of the Wii that I shouldn't ever doubt the genius of Nintendo.

We all know they're going to show us all something that will make everyone go bananas.

Jakob said...

One element about gaming that always bothered me and, in my opinion, was criminally underestimated, were the controls.
Almost insulting in that aspect is Sony, who continuously refuses to redesign their button layout for 17 years. Not even the NPG gets a different layout.
They seem to ignore that gaming changes. In the mid 90s, 2D platformer and fighters were the most popular genres, and the original design of the controller was just fine for these. Even the hastily slapped on analog sticks fitted well for the 3D games of this era.
But today? 3D Shooters, be they first or third person, are clearly the most overused genre. And people are playing them on controllers designed for something completely different.
But I digress.

I always thought that it is impossible to have a controller with a fixed layout that would be perfect for any genre. An arcade stick may be ideal for fighters, but atrocious to use for most other genres. A Thumbstick may do just fine for 3D-platformers, but for their 2D-counterpart, it's better to use a D-Pad. However, if the layout is capable of freely switching around, it could adapt to any game.
If someone looks at Nintendo's evolution in their controllers, it is easy to see the likelihood of an adaptive controller. The GameCube introduced prioritized action buttons, so newcomers have less trouble memorizing the layout. The DS introduced a touchscreen that allows individual layout. The Wii introduced a controller that could transform into different controllers to fit to the game.
Holding the Wiimote normally made it ideal for easy motion control and pointing. Holding it sideways turned it into what essentially is an NES controller, allowing you to play classic games. Plugging in the Nunchuck allowed the control of bigger and more complex games.
And the Classic Controller discarded everything and gave you a traditional and more robust control scheme. Additionally, plastic shells are capable of emerging you into the game even more. I, for one, can't play Mario Kart without the Wii Wheel. And the Wii Zapper also suits ideal for shooters.
So, yes, it is likely that the future of videogames lies in the remodeling of the controllers. They will become more flexible and less static to perfect the control scheme for every individual game.

The only problem I have with this thesis is that for the time being, a touchscreen can't replace the comfort of an actual button.
I am sure the controller will feature a physical analog stick and/or dpad, but anyone who played on an iPhone and a gaming console knows that the press on a flat surface is absolutely inferior to the push of a button. Come to think of it, I think I once saw blueprints for a controller consisting of a big touchscreen that could emulate all controllers of every current gen-consoles, and the lacking comfort is what came first in my mind.

In retrospect, I guess I overdid it with this wall of text.

imsmart said...

I've discovered the perfect controller. People swarm in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off! Nothing can stop me now! Except microscopic germs...

Sanguine Symphony said...

I like having dedicated buttons. They just feel right.... Not to mention I could see myself breaking a touch screen in tense situations if its not made with stand it. If I played a Fire Pro game on my DS and it were all Touch my DS would be nonoperational by now.

Giuseppe said...

The only issue I see with touch screen is the ergonomics. With that WiiMote cover and nun-chuck the controller is shaped nicely for the hands.

Otherwise, I agree. I think you'll have your main action buttons on the controller and the touch screen will be utilised for customised controls to help create some complex games. You could even use it as a track/mousepad and then the line between PC and console gaming is further dissolved.

Chev said...

It's an intriguing idea, but my only problem with this is essentially what spork and Jakob said: touch screens aren't as easy to manipulate, or as comfortable, as plain old controllers. It just feels better when there's actual button to press instead of just tapping a screen. Maybe it would be better if there were two action buttons along with the analog sticks...?

That said I'm no engineer myself but I don't think the idea is technically unfeasible at all. Lots of DS games already essentially do this on a smaller scale. You can control FF4DS or TWEWY entirely with the stylus if you want.

Nik said...

Nohamotyo* strikes again! Does no one remember the rumors leading up to the Wiimote's unveiling?

This idea of a touchscreen controller is nothing new -- in fact, it's so old, it's what lots of people thought the then-called Revolution's controller was going to be. And they thought so because they all looked at the DS and figured Nintendo was going to continue in that direction. This exact same thing seems to be happening now -- again.

*No One Has A Memory Over Two Years Old

Randy said...

Not a bad idea, but what would that mean for the many individuals who rest their thumb on the buttons so they know where they are? Maybe a combination of a few built in buttons and a touch screen would work out the best.

biomechanical923 said...

Hey, Bob.
Great post, very imaginative and smart.
Even if it is pure speculation, it's ideas like yours that really get me excited about gaming as a whole.

Your idea may not be far from becoming a reality. As they already make an LED screen keyboard, with EVERY key as an LED screen that will show the function you map to it, see the link.

Now imagine these LED screens on every face button of a gaming controller. Some commenters mey complain about needing to "re-learn every button for every game" as if it might overcomplicate things. I honestly disagree and believe the opposite may be true.

Having dynamic keys on a controller may actually simplify gaming to the point that it can attract an even larger userbase.

Imagine passing off the controller to a friend who has never played a particular game before.

"What button do I press to jump??"

"You press the button with the little picture of a guy jumping on it"

"What do I press to attack?"

"You press the button with the picture of a sword on it"

ETC... ETC....

Basically it would be taking the intuitive nature of dynamic action buttons (like in the beloved Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask) and applying it to the LCD controller instead of on screen.

Pure genius.

biomechanical923 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.