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Touchy-feely party possibilities: Wii U controller ideas
by Philip Minchin on 10/14/11 01:46:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I know it's late for this, but I was thinking about Nintendo setting the Wii U up with hardcoded limitations on the number of the new touchscreen controllers it can connect to.

I kind of get that - especially if they're planning to allow connection to DSs, and/or other touchscreens - but to actually restrict this at a hardware level would be a huge mistake. The potential here is massive.

I understand the logic – if the controllers are essentially dumb terminals and all the rendering is being done on the console, there are pretty fundamental limits to what can be achieved.

But the rendering load varies wildy by task.

If all the terminals are basically being given the same images and interface options – for instance, a multiple choice selection for voting or trivia quizzes, or (with some basic input processing on the touchscreen) a question and a text interface for open questions – there is virtually no processing required. Just broadcast the same image-and-interface bundle out to all the terminals and co-ordinate responses (eg determine who answered a question first).

And if there are standard-pre-rendered interfaces, which for some applications (quizzes, questionnaires) there’s no reason not to use, the workload is reduced even further.

What’s more, if the touchscreen controller is essentially a dumb terminal, there is no need for it to physically be a Wii U controller. Depending on the radio frequencies used by the devices, it could be an app. (I admit to total ignorance here; this may not actually be feasible. But c’mon: Bluetooth, wifi... surely the connectivity’s not insurmountable.) I know that Nintendo actually do traditionally plan on making some money on hardware... but a low cap on controllers per console says they’re not thinking in these terms for the touchscreen controllers anyway.

As for actual uses, there are lots of activities which could be co-ordinated from a Wii U with a large cap on connections, an ability to connect to non-controller touchscreens and a friendly UI:

  • Voting (on movies, music, activities), announcements and photosharing at parties
  • Co-ordinating
  • Trivia contests – making the Wii U a must-buy for pubs etc hosting such things, and allowing an objective element to timing challenges
  • Household calendars and shopping/to-do lists (also, Chore Wars?)
  • Activities like scavenger hunts etc  (would be dependent on range or ability to roam)

If you could network multiple consoles to pool and co-process their inputs, you could even go huge – you could have realtime voting/feedback at public meetings, or massive trivia contests.

I have library IT experience and my partner’s a primary teacher, so take it from me that schools and libraries could both find uses. Realtime classroom tests (i.e. non-trivia contests), for instance.

Just some random, hurried thoughts – but I do hope Nintendo see the possibilities here and allow for them.

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Craig Stern
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I agree 100%. I was excited when I first learned of the controller, then immediately became unexcited once I realized there could only be one per system. Capping the WiiU at one touchscreen controller per console limits its possibilities dramatically, essentially killing any sort of competitive real-time multiplayer play which involves the players having different information available to each of them (RTS with fog of war, FPS without split screen, etc.) It's a shame.

Luis Guimaraes
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More screen would further the controller in the spectrum between gimmick and awesomeness.

At least asymmetric gameplay, either versus, cooperative or simply parallel, can be a possibility still.

Jamie Mann
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Fundamentally, the Wii U probably won't have the horsepower to push out multiple HD-quality displays - and even if it could, I suspect there'd be significant issues with getting enough wireless bandwidth to stream multiple HD displays; even a single qHD display (960 * 540) will take between 2-4mb of bandwidth to keep artefacting to a minimum.

Which isn't to be said it couldn't be done: if the WUC is being used as a secondary display (e.g. inventory display), then you could probably do something funky with upscaling and/or frame-rate reductions. However, it'll very much depend on what Nintendo's hardware is capable of...

Philip Minchin
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Jamie, thanks for the comment!

I get that for live gameplay - but I don't want to neglect the possibilities of (a) images which don't require 60fps rendering, such as inventory arrangement (as you suggest) or, as Luis suggests, hidden statistical info about selected RTS units; and (b) multiple *copies* of the same image/interface bundle.

As an example of (b): depending on how dumb the terminal is, you could have an html-style image with mapped response areas that is static until one of the response areas is "clicked" - again, the example of multiple devices receiving the same screen of multiple choice options. They all download the same image with code saying "if area A is selected, send response A; if B, send B" etc. Then the console merely needs to wait for replies, and optionally note the order in which they are received. Voila - instant trivia/voting interface.

Some cool possibilities that it would be a shame to lose.

Brad Borne
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' "Technically, it is possible for the Wii U to support multiple Wii U Controllers," Iwata said. However, this will result in a "considerable" price increase.

According to Iwata, "We're not planning on asking our customers to buy multiple Wii U Controllers." '

Has someone at Nintendo said something different since E3? From what I remember, they just kept saying that they weren't going to make games that ask players to spend that much money. Reggie even supposedly confirmed that the system was going to be able to do it.

Horsepower has absolutetly nothing to do with it, every system since the n64 has the power to run 4 player split screen. The ATI chip itself has a special multiple stream output mode.

Don't know about the bandwidth, though. Developer reports are saying that they're having trouble with artifacting and compression problems, so the bandwidth to each controller is definitely being limited. It's also running on proprietary wireless, not just Bluetooth, so who knows how much bandwidth they have to play with.

Philip Minchin
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Thanks Brad! Doesn't one-to-many broadcasting, as in the trivia/public voting examples, solve the bandwidth problem as well though? I'm not exactly a wireless expert but I would think that it would be possible to broadcast a single package to multiple recipients and then queue responses in the order received.

My point is that there is a whole bunch of interaction - and therefore gameplay - that doesn't require 60fps qHD rendering - including transmission - and if anyone can make it work Nintendo can.

Hakim Boukellif
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One-to-many could be done (it's not like one device receiving it sucks the signal out of the ether, after all) and would solve the bandwidth problem, but only if all the controllers are receiving the same image, which has limited usefulness, since you might as well display it on the TV, then. Even for something like a quiz game where everyone has the same answers to choose from, you at least need personalized visual feedback when selecting an answer. I supposed this could be done to some extent by sending the base image to all controllers and a compressed diff image to individual controllers, though.

Another thing to take into consideration: the more the controller has to be able to do on its own (be it applying a diff image or providing visual feedback to touch panel presses itself), the more expensive it will be, the less likely people will buy multiple controllers and the less likely developers will take advantage of the functionality.

Philip Minchin
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Good points, Hakim.

I guess I am not-so-subtly arguing for some native capacity to process interaction - button-presses being a good example. I don't know enough about the realities of text input, especially in Japanese, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had to back off on that as a "simple" input option :)

Since Iwata has already said that the devices will not be sold in the same way as Wii remotes, I don't feel that adding a little extra capacity (and price per unit) is necessarily a dealbreaker though. In fact, my argument is exactly that the expanded capacity would increase the potential market considerably - so lower margins would be offset by higher sales.

And, again, if we're talking a dumb touchscreen terminal with constrained interactivity - why not an app? A console that you can talk to with your tablet or phone... sweet!

In fact, regardless of whether they allow other devices to mimic touchscreen controllers, I'd love to see them (and other game platform makers) enable games to talk to tablet/smartphone apps... it would allow the return of hidden-information shared-screen/in-person games, which would be pretty spectacular.

Thanks again, though - a meaty, thought-provoking comment.