Nintendo officially announced the launch date and pricing of the Wii U today. We’ve known a few things about it for a while, now, specifically the new controller with its built-in high resolution color touchscreen.
Secondary screens have been done before. The Sega Dreamcast controller had a built-in module that docked in the controller and provited a tiny low-resolution monochrome display, for minigames and private information for multiplayer games. And Nintendo has on occasions done Game Boy/Game Cube crossover games, where part of the game is played on the handheld system and part is played on the TV.
Wii U represents a maturation of the concept, and the first time a very high quality screen was put onto the controller. There are a lot of interesting possibilities that come out of this, succinctly summarized as “asymmetric”, which is fancytalk for “Thing A happens on screen A while Thing B happens on screen B.”
The main strength of 2-screen gaming is this assymetric aspect. Of course, network multiplayer gamers have had this for quite some time. The Wii U seems even more geared toward multiplayer gaming, where the multiple players are together in the same room. One difference I see is that the Wii approach lends itself more to a “shared data/private data” game. While technically this is the way it usually is with network multiplayer gaming, the sharing now becomes more literal.
Most networked PC games give each player “*My* Thing A,” where whatever that thing is, it’s essentially the same for all players, just their view of it. For example, their avatar’s first-person view of the map from its position on the map, with their private data for their health and inventory. Wii U has the potential to give each player a unique “Thing”. A great example of this is given in the recent Penny Arcade strip, depicting a hypoethetical computer-aided role playing game on the Wii U. Unlike the typical computer RPG genre, where the computer acts as the game master, and the world and storyline are all pre-programmed, the Penny Arcade concept shows a DM using the Wii U as a world realization tool, but controlling the world in a more interactive way.
This is great stuff, and I hope we’ll get to see it, but it makes me wonder how the Wii U serves the single-player game. To me, the first thing that occurs to me is that a single-player dual screen game is very much like texting and driving. Diverting attention between two screens is a challenge, but maybe not a rewarding one. There’s definitely potential for novel, interesting new modes of play, but I’m not sure yet how it will take shape.
Hopefully today’s press conference will have shed some light on this. I’m looking foward to finding out later today.