Rumor & Spec: Wii 2 Announcement Incoming
Called it 3 years ago, and that’s all the gloating I’m gonna do. Now let’s get to the rampant, irresponsible conjecture. Don’t worry, I’ll be nice and keep it more or less grounded in technology that exists at consumer level price points today.
2012 is a good launch timetable as well, for several important reasons. Let’s think about them!
The first of these is simply cost effectiveness–by launching in 2012 with hardware based on 2010/11 level computer hardware, they’ll be able to offer the console at an attractive price point. Given that the world economy still sucks, this will be important. I predict it’ll launch at $299, which is about $100 more than the proverbial “sweet spot,” but is still comfortable enough for people to accept it. And of course, launching at or near the prices of 5-6 year old consoles, it’ll seem like a bargain (yes, I do expect both PS3 and 360 to price drop before Wii HD launches, probably to around $249 for the hard drive models).
Second is performance. By using 2010/11 level computer hardware, they’ll *easily* be able to outmatch PS3 and 360, probably at price points similar to what you see today with PS3 and 360. We may see the first TRUE 1080p capable console come out of Nintendo, when all is said and done (360 and PS3 are, really, only “semi-HD” consoles, neither of which is powerful enough to do their best work at actual 1080p resolutions. As you know, most PS3/360 games barely manage 720p rendering, and those with the most effects and details tend to render at less than 720p before being upscaled).
Third is in controls. They’ve got a hard bead on just what the competition would do in the wake of Wii’s revolution in games controls: Microsoft innovated but delivered half-assed, and Sony delivered well but didn’t innovate at all, choosing just to parrot Nintendo. They’ve set their directions in game controls for at least the rest of this generation, and quite likely into next generation as well (Microsoft isn’t going to abandon Kinect, it’s too big of a hit, and Sony isn’t an innovator, so they’re not likely to do more than clone and iterate in a monkey-see, monkey-do fashion, as usual). Therefore, whatever Nintendo will do is likely to be something surprising. Will it grab the public in the way Wii did? Hard to say. I honestly don’t know what they could do beyond improving on Move (easy to do) and Kinect.
Last but not least, 360 and PS3 are starting to feel a little too old and familiar. They still have great graphics, let’s not pretend otherwise, and there are plenty of compelling games coming out for both platforms in the foreseeable future. But with that said, by the time 2012 rolls around, Xbox 360 will be 7 years old and PS3 will be 6. By the time PS2 was 7 years old, PS3 was already on store shelves, and the original Xbox never made it to 5, much less 7. In short, 2012 is going to feel a whole lot like “Next Generation time.”
There are, however, some major issues to contend with, which we’ll do after the break.
1. Backward compatibility with Wii software means a wand/nunchuck of some kind is a very probable. Now…it doesn’t mean that the new machine WILL have those, of course–as long as it uses bluetooth (guaranteed) it’ll be able to use Wii 1′s controllers–but I think it’s likely to have sophisticated new wands of its own. Nintendo proved the wand is a good tool, Sony validated that further by copying and improving it. However, Microsoft also proved their case with Kinect: that full body/face/voice detection and integration is compelling to consumers. Unfortunately they haven’t delivered on it (though I expect to see some announcements at E3) as well as they should have. That means there’s opportunity for someone to raise the bar.
2. Form factor. 2010 hardware is wicked powerful, so much so that PC’s today make 360 and PS3 look like a sad, tired joke in terms of raw performance (not to say they’re not fine visually–PS3 and 360 are absolutely at the “good enough” level of graphics for 99% of the population for the foreseeable future). But that power comes at a price, paid in heat, and 2010 hardware still runs pretty damn hot. Fitting it into a small, low-power case won’t be easy unless they do something really unexpected and use some variant of AMD’s Fusion APU, but I don’t think that’s likely. Maybe a high end ARM Cortex processor, but it’s hard to say. I’m convinced they’ll want to keep the unit small, attractive and power-conscious (green is the new black, after all).
3. Differentiation. So let’s say the system packs Bluray and 1080p proper rendering, that’s terrific. But it also means it’s just another PS3/360 to most people, because the odds of at least the early games being much different from PS3 and 360 are, let’s face it, very slim. Launch titles tend to be quick and dirty ports of existing properties, and especially if they support Unreal Engine 3, that will absolutely be the case. That means one thing: how you interact with the game is going to have to be a dramatic departure or refinement of what we have today.
On that front, I have a few thoughts. Perhaps they evolve the Wiimote to something just beyond Move, but integrate that with a full body camera tracking system a la Kinect. Maybe improve on it buy using two depth cameras mounted on opposite ends of your TV, who knows. Perhaps in addition to that, they integrate the previously announced Vitality Sensor straight into the controls so there are pads that can track your physiological responses right from the controller you’re holding (you see this on workout equipment all the time, it’s cheap and commonplace). Coupled with clever software, it really could “draw you into the game” like never before. It’s clearly a direction they’ve already been thinking about, and one they’ve since shut the hell up about with no explanation.
Suppose the list of player control features read like this:
1. True 1:1 motion control via handheld devices (wand, nunchuck, whatever. Achievable with a minor upgrade over Move)
2. Integrated physiology detection right in the controller, so your emotional responses register and affect the game meaningfully
3. Full body detection via 3D depth camera(s), refining Kinect’s direction
4. Voice control and interaction with games via directional microphones (likely built into said cameras)
That’s all just conjecture, but it’s based off of things we have today, at consumer level prices, all of which can stand further refinement and could be integrated with one another in order to form a more comprehensive control approach. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have each grabbed onto parts of these, but nobody has yet integrated them into a cohesive whole. Thanks to Nintendo’s sensor bar, Sony’s PS Eye and Microsoft’s Kinect, we’re also no longer averse to plopping gaming devices on top of our televisions if they promise to enhance the experience.
Who knows what we’ll see? Nobody, really, but it’s in Nintendo’s MO to do surprising things, and so far they seem to still be on their game with regards to releasing compelling new hardware (notice that 3DS had the best launch of any portable device in gaming history recently, even though it’s arguably overpriced), so it’s not too outrageous to think they may be pursuing some of these directions in order to wallop the competition. If they took such an approach, they’d not only keep the casual crowd they’ve converted into gamers, they’d easily win back the “hardcore” crowd as well.
Should be fun to see what happens!