Thoughts on My First 24 Hours with a Nintendo Wii

So, I actually did get a Nintendo Wii for my birthday. And yesterday, for the first time, I actually had a free moment or two to hook it up and play with it. Since then, I’ve probably played a total of 60 minutes of Wii Sports, and I thought I’d capture some of my first thoughts.

First, I wrote in a post about the Nintendo Wii a while back that I thought the new Wii Remote was a gimmick. Well, while I still think it’s a bit of a gimmick, it’s a well executed one. The thing works. It’s very easy to pick up and play, and there is something very engaging about interacting with video games this way.

In fact, my two year old son, Jacob, thinks it is absolutely hysterical to watch people play with the Wii. I think he loves seeing people jump around, and then have it be mirrored on screen. I don’t know, but when my brother Daniel was playing Wii Tennis, we could not get him to stop laughing.

It’s great. More importantly, it is well designed. The wireless detection and motion measurement is good enough to work and not be frustrating.  My faded, scarred memories of the Nintendo Power Glove have now been put to rest.  This is what motion detection should be in a gaming environment, with very little setup.  I’ve have found some sports more “realistic” than others. Tennis and Baseball seem to map well (there is something very rewarding about hitting a home run with the Wii Remote). Bowling is OK, but has some kinks. Golf and Boxing are really not designed to reward people with realistic motion.

From a product design standpoint, the way the remote fits in the hand, the placement of the buttons seems excellent. The affordances of the Wii remote seem to match the intended motions well.

Now, since I’m a nitpicker, here are my design suggestions for Nintendo:

  • Learn by example. It’s clear that the Wii remote is measuring some types of movements and not others when you play certain games. It would be nice to have a standardized “visual feedback screen”, where you could make sample motions, and the Wii would “diagnose” what it actually detected.  When is it looking for lateral motion, up/down, twisting.  It would be a big help to avoid frustration if you actually knew what the game was looking for. It took me 5 frustrating minutes to figure out the motions that the boxing game really cared about. Another idea here would be a “demo” mode where the Wii showed you how it expected you to work the remote for that game.
  • Ship with Two Controllers. It’s a bit lame to get the machine, and then realize that most of the games are more fun with two people. You can’t find extra controllers anywhere – Nintendo should have launched the 1.0 package with two controllers. It would have highlighted the social aspect of the Wii.
  • Expand to the Feet. It seems like there should be something, like the Nike+iPod insert, that you could add to your feet for these games. Since it’s only looking at the motion of the hand controllers, games that need foot motion are left out, or end up somewhat awkwardly implemented (like Boxing). This interface could really scale to having multiple on-body measures – maybe eventually motion points in multiple places (like arms, legs, torso).
  • Wii Elbow? Wii Shoulder? After playing for an hour, I hate to say it, but you can really feel it. It’s not tiring, per se, but I could feel a little bit of tennis elbow coming on, and my rotator cuff was feeling a little strained. Maybe there needs to be a stretching routine for the Wii? I know this sounds goofy, but I’m expecting to see more engineers walking around rubbing their elbows & shoulders as 2007 goes on.

It’s not surprising to me that the Wii is selling as well as it is. What is suprising is that the Wii is almost outselling the Xb0x 360, even though the Xbox is a high definition box with more games and with ample supply. I agree with this article – I’m going to be checking out Nintendo stock a little more closely.

I’m going to play a bit more now. My “Wii Age”, according to Wii Sports, started at 50 when I first played, and is now down to 33. I’m going to have to work hard to get down into the 20s.

In the meantime, watch out for Wii damage (my most popular post on the topic), and tighten your straps.

Nintendo Wii Damage: Unintended Consequences of Innovation

Another fun little post for tonight.

Most of you probably know that one of the great new features of the Nintendo Wii is the motion-sensitive controller that lets you really swing the controller to control the game.  You can swing a golf club or tennis racket, punch in boxing, bowl, and swing a sword in Zelda.  Pretty cool, although I personally have commented that this is likely to be a short-lived gimmick.

This website has a lot of the Wii commercials loaded, in case you want to see it in action.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished, and no innovation happens without unintended consequences.

For the Nintendo Wii, the unintended consequence seems to be… Wii Damage!

cracked_tv__2.gif

There is a whole website now dedicated to damage that people have done swinging that new controller around playing games!  Cracked projection TVs, glasses, windows, some cuts & bruises.  There is even a photo of a Wii remote that cracked the case of a TV and got stuck!

Love it.

WiiDamage.com

Nostalgia on the Auction Block: Super Nintendo (SNES)

A little trip down memory lane today.

I’ve finally dusted off, organized, and listed my old Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) on eBay. My parents found these in their garage when they cleaned it out last year for remodeling. Five listings actually:

  1. SNES Console, with Super Mario World
  2. 33 SNES Games
  3. ASCiiPAD Turbo Controller
  4. SNES Game Genie
  5. Extra AC Adapter

I searched the completed auctions for prices, and it seems like the SNES is actually worth more than a Gamecube these days. I guess nostalgia is worth a lot. I have to admit, when I plugged it into my TV today and got to play a little Super Mario World, all those memories came back to me.

I’ve dedicated the auctions to a good cause… I’m going to use the money to get a Nintendo Wii for Jacob. Yes, I know Jacob is two years old. But he’s incredibly facile already, and I think within the next year he’ll be able to enjoy it with me.

Anyway, here is the link to my SNES auctions on eBay. I’ll post next week with how the pricing worked out.

For more fun, I also have my original Nintendo and Atari 2600 with games to auction off. Nostalgia city!

Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) vs. Nintendo Wii: The Game Professional Pespective

There is a very interesting Question of the Week on Gamasutra today. They asked an audience of video game professionals which console they were going to buy. The question was:

As a video game professional, are you buying a Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Wii or both on their North American launch later next week? How are you securing your console (eBay, pre-order, queue?), and what underpinned your buying decision?

I thought the answers were fairly interesting.  Overall, game professionals are not really happy with the direction of the industry at this point.  They see a very hardware-focused generation this time, with not a lot of focus on the quality and playability of the games.  Many of the titles for Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3 are sequels to existing games, just upgraded with new graphics (ie, every Electronic Arts sports title).

As a result, there is a lot of excitement about the Nintendo Wii, and their stake in the ground that it is game quality and playability that matter, not next-generation graphics.

Personally, I think in the end, there is not question that consumers will continue to push for increased graphics and processing.  This continues to make professional game economics look more and more like movie economics.  Many new game titles now cost $15M-$20M to produce.  This economic one-up-manship will not stop, however, as long as the profits from a successful title continue to rise into the hundreds of millions.  Just like the movie industry, there will always be low-budget, independent games that make news.  However, by and large, it will be the bread-and-butter, expensive titles with expensive franchises that dominate the industry.

It’s the price that the video game industry is paying for being as large and mass-market as they have become.

Still, you have to credit Nintendo for fighting the good fight for game design.  After all, this is the company that literally saved the industry in the mid-1980s from the ruin that was left after the Atari rocket crashed.  Their party line then was they same as their party line now: too many games of low quality will kill the industry.  It’s better to have fewer, higher quality titles that really deliver great games.

South Park Episode on Nintendo Wii

With many thanks to Chad Alderson for finding this episode online.

This was the South Park episode from last week. Cartman is so obsessed with getting a Nintendo Wii, he can’t wait the two weeks, and has himself frozen. He accidentally ends up 500 years in the future, and, well, typical South Park things happen.

(Update: 12/2/2006 – Due to the original video being pulled, I’m linking to the South Park Zone, which maintains links to all of the episodes from Season 10. It’s a two-part episode called “Go God Go”)

I don’t know what is more disturbing:

  1. That South Park has now had two episodes this season so close to my heart (World of Warcraft, Nintendo Wii)
  2. That Chad is reading & responding to my blog within seconds of me posting

Chad, you might be my only dedicated reader, but thank you very very much for this link. If it’s OK, I’m not going to post all the video links from your blog, although this one did make me laugh.

Why I Want a Nintendo Wii

So, before I get cynical, let me be perfectly clear:

If you want to buy me a great holiday present, buy me a Nintendo Wii. I want it, I love it, I need it. Get it for me.

Now, as the buzz builds, and I see machines priced at $300 over retail due to the scarcity of the machines, I thought I’d comment on why I want one.

It’s not because of the name. Wii? Are you serious? Even the codename, “Revolution” was better. If Nintendo needs to trim the fat on their marketing expenses, I’m pretty sure we can find some of the people responsible for that name to top the list.

It’s not because of the new controller. Nintendo really seems to have gotten the press going after E3 this year. All I see now are articles highlighting this new controller that lets you “swing a bat” or “cast a rod”. It seems to have hit some sort of chord with journalists who for the most part don’t play video games, but see some sort of excitement in a video game system that has more interaction in it and is easier to learn. Forbes has even reminisced about the old codename for the machine, by saying Nintendo’s Wii is a Revolution.

Maybe.

But you are talking to a Nintendo fan from the mid-1980s. Someone who bought the Light Gun. Someone who bought the Power Glove. Someone who has been promised these type of innovations before, and eventually realized that they are, in fact, just a gimmick.

Some of the best games ever had a single joystick and a single button. Or used four keys on keyboard. There have been exceptions – games that became famous because of their input device. I’m thinking of Centipede with the trackball or Dance Dance Revolution. Sometimes they create an entire genre of games (how many shooters with pistols have you seen in the arcades over the past 10 years.) In most cases, however, the input device does not define the quality of the game.

I’m just not convinced that Nintendo is going to redefine the input device for all games, which means that most good games will be designed for a traditional controller. And that means that someone is going to make a lot of money selling a traditional game controller for the Nintendo Wii very soon.

It’s not because of the price, although who would have thought $249 would be the “low end” price in late 2006 for a modern game system. And that’s without HD!

No, I want a Wii for a very simple reason, and it is the reason I’ve wanted every game system that I’ve ever owned since the Atari 2600.

It’s the software, stupid.

Nintendo continues to make unique and great games. Games that you cannot find on the other platforms, games that are better designed for all ages. I want to play the next Zelda, I want to play the next Mario. I’m excited about the fact that in a year or two I’ll be able to play the next Mario Kart with my son. I’m even excited about the fact that I may be better than him at it… at least until he turns 6 in 2010.

Sony has tried this round to differentiate themselves with better graphics. It’s ironic, since this was the approach that Microsoft tried to take with the first Xbox, and failed. Why? Because in a world where most games are made by third parties, the games tend to be cross-platform. Cross-platform means lowest common denominator development, in most cases.
That’s why it was rare to see significant improvements in the Xbox version of a game over the Playstation 2. And that’s why it’ll be rare to see significant improvements in a PS3 version of a game over the Xbox 360.

Microsoft is smarter this time. They have unique software for their platform based on in-house game developers that they have built or acquired. Of course, Microsoft has it’s own strategic fault, which is that they are a dual-platform gaming company. They continue to build games both for the Xbox 360 and for Windows. As a result, since most people have a PC, they can buy a PS3 and know full well that they will be able to play any game from Microsoft on their Windows PC, and any others on the Sony PS3.

I’m sure I’ll end up with an Xbox 360 or PS3 at some point, when the prices come down, and when I actually have an HD television in the living room.

But for now, buy me a Nintendo Wii. I need to start practicing now if I’m going to maintain my video game edge over my son through 2010. After all, he’s already 2.

Will Wright is a Genius (Spore)

For some reason, I’ve been posting a lot about video games lately. I’m not sure why, since with all the commotion at home, it has been literally months since I’ve been able to play anything.

After all, I’ve already sold my Gamecube & PS2 in anticipation of getting the next-generation machines in 2007.

Still, it would not be right to talk about video games, and not tip my hat to Will Wright, creative genius behind a large number of games including The Sims.

For those of you uninitiated into the magic of his upcoming game, Spore, you can get some basic info here. Spore attempts to marry all the elements of various simulation games that have drawn me in the past. Everything from creature creation, evolution, village building, technology maps, global domination, and galactic conquest.

As a wonderful sign of the times, you can find extensive demos of Spore right now on YouTube! Some feature Will Wright himself!

It may sound juvenile to some, but I have always had the utmost respect for creators of great games. Of course, growing up in the video game era, I’ve logged literally thousands of hours in my life, from the Atari 2600 & Apple ][ all the way to today’s consoles and PCs. But that isn’t the reason.

Writing this blog has led me to some epiphanies about why I find so much interest in certain things, and I now realize that video games fit the definition of this blog in a way I hadn’t initially considered.  Building a great video game requires a marriage of understanding of people and technology.
Most great video games push technology to the limits, but that’s not always required. Tetris & SimCity are examples of great games that didn’t push technical limits.

More than anything, great video games are first and foremost great games. Building a great game requires an understanding of narrative and competition, interaction and presentation. Video games must contain enough complexity to generate dozens of hours of continuous engagement, and yet enough simplicity to seduce a new player quickly and easily.

At the same time, like an artist leveraging the voice of their medium, great gamemakers make the most of their medium – technology.  Just as a sculptor works with stone differently than brass, so too a great gamemaker will work differently depending on the platform.

When I began the graduate program in Computer Science at Stanford in Human Computer Interaction, I remember evaluating in detail the genius behind the original Mario 64 video game. Nintendo, the company that effectively saved video games in the late 1980s, had managed to take the standard 2D platform game, and elegantly translate it to 3D. More importantly, they had expanded the definition of fluid 3D control with their new controller, which allowed for incredible freedom of expression. They created a world for Mario that was 3D, and yet felt contiguous with the previous Mario properties in a way that didn’t seem bizarre like Disney’s attempts at a 3D Mickey.

Spore looks like one of those singular events in gaming, like World of Warcraft, that will take a genre to a new level. I have every confidence that Will Wright is going to launch another masterpiece.

The only question is… can I really wait for Maxis/EA to release a Mac version?

Code Monkey Video on YouTube

Found this today on Chad Alderson‘s blog. It’s not worth $1.65 Billion, but it’s definitely worth something.


Jonathan Coulton releases his songs under the Creative Commons license, allowing third parties (like Michael Booth) the ability to create things like these videos with them. These videos themselves are spliced together from World of Warcraft.

Lyrics are available here.

Some key lines:

Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write god damned login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy, just proud

Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew
Code Monkey very simple man
With big warm fuzzy secret heart:
Code Monkey like you

Very funny, and very cool.