Ahead of its presentations at E3, Nintendo revealed several key initiatives for its upcoming Wii U console, including a social layer that will be deeply integrated into the system - and beyond onto PCs and smartphones.
The company did not make any game announcements during Sunday's Nintendo Direct livestream, but it introduced new features for the "Wii U GamePad," its newly named tablet controller for the system, such as video chat (similar to iOS's Facetime feature) and "Miiverse" social functions.
When users turn on the console, they will be greeted with crowds of Mii avatars surrounding game icons and discussing them. They can read what people around the world are saying about a game, as well as participate in the conversations by posting their own typed or handwritten messages.
Nintendo showed a Twitter-like newsfeed that users could access and post messages to with the GamePad. They can even call others from that feed, and conduct a video chat session that uses the tablet's built-in camera.
"The purpose of Miiverse is not only to add information but a new degree of empathy between players," said Nintendo CEO and president Satoru Iwata. He noted that the console's development team sought to build something "that will help unite people rather than divide them."
These Miiverse features extend into games -- Nintendo showed a clip of players going through a New Super Mario Bros.
title, and then seeing text-based comments posted by others appear next to specific game stages.
When Wii U launches this holiday season, Miiverse will only be accessible through the new console. But Nintendo intends to eventually make this social platform available on Nintendo 3DSes, PCs, and web-enabled mobile devices such as smartphones.
"We consider the small screen on the Wii U itself as a social window fully capable of linking player to player, from living room to living room, sharing across both time and space," said Iwata.
He adds, "Not only does Wii U offer players a way to connect across great distances, but they can also enjoy a sense of connection even when they are not playing at the same time."
Nintendo also demonstrated other GamePad features, such as using the tablet as an infrared TV remote, playing a game on the tablet even if someone is watching TV, and browsing the internet on the controller.
As for the design of the Wii U's controller itself, Nintendo revealed that it had replaced the 3DS-style Circle Pads shown in previous designs with analog sticks. It has a new NFC Reader/Writer element
, too, for scanning physical items that will drop virtual content into games.
For "core" users, Nintendo also unveiled its Wii U Pro Controller, a traditional game pad that lacks a touchscreen and looks like an updated version of Wii's Classic Controller Pro. The alternative design is meant to be "lighter and more attractive for longer, more intense forms of gaming."
Nintendo intends to discuss other hardware details for Wii U, upcoming software, and other 3DS announcements during its E3 week presentations.