now, there are lots of brilliant things about the wii: it's internet access and built in apps for things like weather and news; the ever-present wii menu that removes the game as the base interface and turns the system into a general purpose device; the name itself is brilliant with its play on the words "we" (showing how it's something you play with others) and "me" (mii's are your characters that follow you from game to game); the standardized game components (such as the mii characters or the 3D globe); the small, light and innexpensive base unit (at the expense of rather basic graphics by today's standards, but that's way made up for by the affordability and playability which is more important to the target market here, e.g. not hard core gamers) ... but really it's the wiimotes that "do it" for me.
there are four really interest things about these game paddles, aside from the fact that they are wireless (this is an option on other systems to, but brilliant to make it the only option; wires suck) and have rumbling features (standard fare these days):
- there are two pieces, not just one
- they are motion sensitive and that is the central basis for game play in many games
- there is a speaker in the remote
- they are amazingly ergonomic
these things combined make for a completely different game play experience. by splitting the controller into two pieces (and calling it a remote even =) it makes it feel far more natural and allows for better ergonomics, with each piece able to be molded to a hand and allowing people to use all those buttons while still moving the hands independently (a natural motion for people).
the motion sensing attributes make for games that feel natural, are more engaging for non-gamers and are instantly learnably by applying already learned movements. what's really interesting is that when playing, for instance, wii sports tennis all you control is the swinging of the racket. the players on the court move of their own accord (not to mention they don't have arms or legs, just feet and hands that float around their body, though in a most convincing manner). when playing real tennis, one doesn't think about running. our brain handles that "automatically", which is to say without conscious intervention for us. so nintendo made running on the court something the game does. the player just swings their remote around to control the part a human usually thinks about: swinging the racket. this makes for a game where you don't need any real instruction to play it. there is no, "ok, press the arrows to move the guy around, then these other buttons to do different kinds of hits." leaping strikes, overhand volleys and even ball spin are all communicated to the game through natural motions of the hand. brilliant.
the speak in the remote is just as brilliant though: it gives environmental sound "for free". even on a television with built in speakers games take on a "3d" sound environment based on where the players (not the game!) are. so when playing tennis with someone else, when they hit the ball the racket sound comes from their remote, and therefore from where they are standing. the game suddenly sounds more real and sensible. the shared sounds (like the tennis ball bouncing on the court) still come from the shared interface (the t.v.). the remote-as-interface is really quite a fascinating concept.
i already touched on the ergonomics, but this really can't be overstated. even after extended playing my hands don't feel like they've been forced to go through some odd torture. this makes the game playing experience enjoyable and fun.
the fact that you can store your mii character ("who am i? i'm me! er.. mii!" ;) on your remote then take your remote to your friend's place and play with your mii there is just bonus. the four little lights on each remote showing connection status as well as which controller number you are is a really nice touch, too.
so for all the cool things about the wii itself, it is the controller .. er .. remote ... er .. wiimote that makes the system. it changes the games, it changes the game experience, it changes the profile of the people who want to play with it.
making a cheap console by skimping on modern graphics hardware and what not was really risky. making such a different controller took balls and a ton of imagination. and that's probably why it paid off: something new for exactly the people nintendo wanted to sell to (the massses, not gamers).
what's fascinating is that those wiimotes are just covered in buttons, triggers and directional controllers. but they still feel natural. you don't need to be featureless to be easy. the key seems to be to think about things from a human perspective rather than a features perspective.
i love design, and i love to appreciate and pick apart the designs of others. there are things i'd certainly improve about the wii (e.g. there should be an integrated recharger for the wireless wiimotes; some of the sotware UI is a bit clunky in places; the wiimotes could have better hardware for signaling the base station..) but i'm generally in awe at the creativity, daring and success of the design.
lots of lessons to learn there and to apply to our own creative endeavors =)
oh, and yes, i'm back home and back to working under full steam. catching up with communications and catching up with various patches and of course the latest in svn ... i should be back to committing storms of things by tomorrow. and then i can start posting "my latest kde 4.0 hack" stuff in my blog again =)