June 04, 2012, 8:30 AM — Nintendo pulled a fast one this weekend when it announced on Saturday that it would be holding a pre-E3 livestream event on Sunday afternoon. Considering most gaming journalists were probably en route to E3 during the timeslot it would take place, I thought it was a strange time to hold the event.
I spent a day thinking how awesome it was for Nintendo to put gamers first for once. Give them a sneak peak of what's going on at E3 before those jaded journalists got to the show.
Well, it turned out that it was just a canned 30 minute video; kind of a preview of the Wii U ahead of E3, and one that all the gaming blogs had seen ahead of time. You could tell from the many posts going up at the same time that coverage had been pre-written and was waiting for an embargo to expire.
Ah well, it was a nice thought: a gaming company sending a gift to gamers during E3 week. Maybe next year.
But enough of that, let's talk about what we saw. The presentation was broken into two main parts. First there was a close look at the production model of the Wii U tablet controller, now called the Wii U Gamepad. Turns out the leaked photo we saw a couple of weeks ago was the real deal. The production controller features joysticks instead of circle pads and a slightly revamped button layout for long term comfort. Turns out the two mysterious squares we saw serve two different functions. One is a NFC unit (for Skylanders-like interactions and, Nintendo hopes, sales) and the other was a TV button. Turns out the Wii U Gamepad will function as an IR remote for your TV. That's a nice touch.
With a good long look at the controller out of the way, Nintendo spent the rest of the presentation talking about the social aspects of the Wii U. Traditionally Nintendo has been very slow to embrace online but they seem to have thrown caution to the wind with the Wii U.
When you turn on the Wii U you'll see a homescreen with icons representing your games and swarms of Nintendo Mii avatars swarming around them. You'll also see pop-up chat messages from the people controlling those Miis.
The examples shown were of course positive and useful but I can't help but immediately think of how much hate speech and profane comments we're going to see in these pop-ups. I'm assuming there's a way to turn them off and I'm sure every parent everywhere will do just that.
Looked at from a more positive point of view, a lot of what they showed was pretty exciting. Basically they're building a twitter-like chat system into the OS and that system will have hooks into every game. So you can be playing a single player game, get stuck and, without shutting down the game, flip over to the social network to see if anyone has tips. It kind of reminded me of the hint system in From Software's games, Demon Souls and Dark Souls in a way. It seemed from the demo that the messages you get will be associated with where you are in the game. I wouldn't call that a 'confirmed' feature yet, though (and just to be clear, the hints aren't seen in the game like they are in the From Software titles).
If you want more personal help, the Wii U Gamepad also facilitates video chat. Meanwhile the text chat will eventually become available on the Nintendo 3DS, PC and "any mobile device with a web browser."
Those were the highlights of the presentation and it really did come off as kind of a tease. Really the only gameplay we saw was the same clips we saw from last year's E3; we'll have to wait for Tuesday to see the Wii U's launch line-up shown off.
The Wii U does look like another family friendly console (off-color jokes in the online chat notwithstanding) with features like flinging video or web browser sessions from the Wii U Gamepad to the TV, complete with dramatic curtain-opening effect if you so desire.
But I need to see the games before I get excited. I do have to say the company knows their audience though. My girlfriend, who doesn't pay the slightest attention to whatever Sony and Microsoft do, was willing to sit through the Nintendo presentation and was even live-tweeting it. She's already sold on the system since she's so fond of the Wii.
Here's the canned video. For a seriously cringe-worthy (yet funny) example of what the social aspects of the Wii U bring to the table, skip to about the 12:30 mark.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.