Nintendo's official premiere at the Wii U console was easily the most talked about event during this year's E3 conference. As it happened, the focus of the announcement was not on the console itself but on its controller, a wholly unique contraption with a built-in screen, capable of beaming full gameplay footage into the palm of your hand.
There was little doubt about Nintendo's level of innovation, but the presentation did leave a lot of questions regarding some of the areas in which the company has lagged behind competitors. Nintendo has been notoriously slow to provide gamers with a viable online gaming platform and that remains the case even after the launch of their latest device, the Nintendo 3DS. It begs the question, will the Wii U finally be different? I spoke with Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's head of game design and the creator of "Mario" and "Zelda," to get the answer.
"We're not going to sit here and say that our goal is to become the number one online gaming company, because that's not our goal," he said when discussing the online functionality plans for the Wii U. "But, understanding that the types of experiences our consumers like to play do often contain elements to them that can be improved or may even require an online connection and also knowing that the system is going to have a browser I think suggests that obviously internet and internet connectivity is going to be very important for the system."
He continued, imagining ways in which online connectivity could improve the Wii U experience:
"For example, there are opportunities to take advantage of online to expand a local, same-room multiplayer experience by connecting that to the internet and making new types of play that way. Also by having the smaller screen, being able to go online and perhaps see what game your friend is playing or see what TV they're watching, I think there's a lot of possibilities for how you could use that. Certainly internet functionality is something that will be important for the system."
One of the reasons Nintendo hasn't managed to match the offering of companies like Xbox and Sony is the lack of an individual account, or gamertag, for users. With the Wii, DSi and 3DS, users have one account per system. Switch to another system and you're forced into playing on another account. Speaking with a Ubisoft producer during E3, we learned that system-specific accounts will be gone on the Wii U (along with friend codes), but Miyamoto was unwilling to confirm that.
With regards to user-specific accounts, though, Miyamoto did have some thoughts about how they might be implemented. "We have introduced Miis to the world and everyone will hopefully have their own Mii, so obviously I think there's possibilities along those lines there. And I will say that this is a system that will have a great deal of appeal for its online connectivity."
Nintendo's focus on providing a safe-for-the-whole family console isn't going anywhere, though. Said Miyamoto: "A key word for Nintendo in the online sphere has been creating an experience that's comfortable for all players, so we'll still look at that and stick to our idea of trying to create an online experience that's welcoming to everyone."