October 29, 2008 4:00 PM | Simon Carless
[Following his ebullient first installment praising Nintendo's Wii, designer Brice Morrison looks at the flip side - discussing just how the console "has failed to deliver on the magic it promised."]
Released in November, 2006, the Nintendo Wii is revolutionary to say the least. With its innovative user interface, it has completely taken the world by storm by reinventing what video games are and who they are made for.
With nearly 30 million sold worldwide and over 160 million lifetime sales predicted (more than twice that of the Xbox 360 or PS3), Nintendo has clearly hit the ball out of the park.
Critics are raving, the crowds are cheering, it seems as though the once sagging console industry has been rejuvenated and ready to run at a blistering pace for years to come.
To this day, two years after launch, you still have a hard time finding a Wii in stores. But what consumers are lining up to buy isn’t the Wii, what they are buying is the idea and the dream of the Wii.
Consumers, many of whom have never played games before, have been picking up a Wii, enjoying it for a few weeks, and then watching it collect dust by their TV. They can’t explain why, but for some reason they just don’t play it anymore.
This is because the Wii has failed to deliver on the magic it promised.
A License to Dream
When I first heard about the Wii, I was completely ecstatic. Though the idea of movement-based controls are now obvious, at the time it was completely and utterly original. Such an idea had never even crossed the average gamer’s mind.
All we saw for the future was a jump from button-mashing to VR Headsets, with nothing in between. This first step off of the classic game controller was nothing short of mind blowing.
Everyone who watched in awe at the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) 2006 also watched their minds begin spinning with ideas. This is a godsend, we thought. We can do everything!
We can make fitness games that work your body, shooting games with actual movement, puzzle games with tactile interface, and much more. Truly, the Wii seemed like a license to dream anything.
But the ceiling was bound to appear.
Waggle: The Empty Promise
The principle failure of the Wii and its Wii remote is in its promise of immersion through movement. When many people imagine what playing the Wii would be like after seeing the commercials and experiences of other players, they imagine an incredibly immersive experience.
The movement based controls of the Wii hearken to a completely visceral play session, becoming one with the virtual world in front of them. We all drooled at the opportunity to dive behind couches in our living room to escape gunfire, being able to replicate a real tennis match without leaving the house, or having a sword fight that was even more real and tactile than the ones we had as children with wooden sticks.
It has been a disappointment, therefore, to see our promised virtual experience reduced to shaking the controller.
The problem is that waggling the Wii remote does not, in itself, add to a gameplay experience. If I want to open a virtual door and am asked to turn the Wii remote instead of pressing a button, that doesn’t make the experience more immersive.
While it may be novel once or twice, the simple movement itself does not enrich the game. In fact, it can become tedious and frustrating. Developers are just as guilty as players in this regard.
Creating one game after another that is essentially a recycled last-generation title, but with new Wii remote action, does not make it any different than the title was before.
The sad truth is that substituting Wii remote movement for a button press is nothing more than an empty promise. Upgrading to a new technology only to have the freshly minted fun evaporate after one run through is not technology well spent.
Looking Behind the Curtain
I remember teaching my cousin how to play Wii Tennis, and when he went to serve the ball, he lifted his left hand, the one not holding the Wii remote, to toss. At that moment, he didn’t understand how the Wii worked.
All he knew was that it was some sort of magical machine that mimicked your real life movements. It was a joyous occasion and a incredible exploratory experience.
But the innocence did not last long. Upon further experimentation, he learned how the controller worked, discovering that a quick snap of the wrist gave the same forehand as a loopy swing of his whole upper body. As the initial amazement wore off, Wii Tennis became simply another video game.
When the public imagined what was possible with the Wii, we imagined complete, full-on physical experiences akin to backyard football. Perhaps, we thought, you may even get a little bruised up in a game on the Wii, playing with competitive friends.
Many of the early press responses to the Wii held this view, with parents saying that they enjoy it because it gets them and their kids off the couch. But to say that you think the Wii gets you off the couch is to reveal a naive understanding of its fundamental gameplay.
Sure, it may get kids off the couch, but when they’ll be doing off the couch is flicking their wrists, not playing basketball.
The limitations of the Wii remote’s accelerometer (even with Wii Motion Plus) reveal it to be far short of the dream machine that players were pining over. The necessary later release of Wii Fit shows that Nintendo developers have come to terms with the limitations of the Wii remote by itself.
Wii Fit may be fantastic for those who want exercise, but it’s too specialized of a peripheral to do much for those who want to explore the virtual worlds present in other games, but in a more immersive way. We wanted the Wii remote to satisfy our needs outside of exercise, too.
What We Bought Vs. What We Have
The Nintendo Wii is an elegant symphony of hardware, software, marketing, and imagination. At first glance, it appears that it can do everything you could think of, an experience full of promise.
Everyone loves the idea of the Wii. The idea of a totally immersive experience. The idea of games that are more like kickball and less like Tetris. The idea of entering a brand new world. But after some time, we learn that we have purchased nothing more than a shakable A-button.
Without doubt, future console releases and peripherals will attempt to satisfy us further. The Wii has made a great leap forward, but those who think we have already arrived are mistaken.
[Brice Morrison is a game designer who has been developing quirky titles since he was in middle school. Before taking a job at Electronic Arts, he developed several successful independent games such as Jelly Wars, an action adventure franchise, and QuickQuests, a casual MMORPG.
While at the University of Virginia, Brice founded Student Game Developers, an organization which continues to produce games every semester and open the doors to the games industry for students. His blog at BriceMorrison.com discusses games in a broader context and how they can be more than simply entertainment.]