I think now that the energy of E3 has wound down, I can find a few minutes to put down my thoughts about key show moments and announcements.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t see a whole lot of the show. This was the first E3 where I wasn’t running around like a madman hitting appointments just to rush back and write a few hundred words on my experience. I had enough going on at the booth I was working because of its immense popularity.
I now see it from the other side. In the past, during my meetings I’d poke at my PR buddies to see what they thought about stuff on the show floor, and they’ll usually look sad and dejected saying things like “I haven’t had a chance to leave my booth…” That’s pretty much what happened to me, except for the sad and dejected part – I had so much going with one game that it honestly didn’t bother me that I didn’t get a chance to see games at the show.
Sure, I wish I could have sat in on the Bioshock: Infinite demo. Or played in Arkham City. But mostly I really wanted to head over to the Video Game Museum run by my buds who take care of the Classic Gaming Expo event in Vegas. I managed to keep up on all the announcements with the help of press conference live streams and up-to-the-minute blog reports with the help of my always-connected iPad, but in terms of hands-on play I didn’t get much.
I did, however, manage to swing by the Nintendo booth and squeeze in through the back entrance to wrap my hands around the Wii U controller and check out the tech demos on the scene. Before E3 I had no knowledge about the console and its name other than the rumors that pretty much everyone was hearing through the gaming industry. Those rumors were so spot on that the reveal didn’t really offer that much of a surprise. “Yep, that’s what I thought it would look like,” was my initial reaction.
But how does it feel? I’m sure there will be cosmetic changes between now and next year’s release, but for now I dig the comfort level of the Wii U controller. The Slide Pads – the ones used on the 3DS – feel smooth and flush on the Wii U controller, and offer good response and resistance in a world where analog sticks have reigned supreme. The button placement works well, though I can understand why I’ve been reading about the awkwardness of the button and D-pad placement : holding the Wii U controller naturally put my thumbs at the Slide Pads, not the buttons, which means I had to stretch a little bit to hit those A, B, X, and Y toggles.
As an aside, after seeing the Wii U controller, in my mind went back to Nintendo’s Game Developers Conference panel. There, Nintendo revealed that, during the R&D period of the 3DS, it created a modular prototype where D-pad, button, and Slide Pad modules could be swapped around freely so that they could determine the best position for the final product. That, honestly, should be commercialized for the Wii U: give us the option to pop the buttons and Slide Pad off the unit and switch their placement.
I think the only thing I’m not sold on is the system’s use of the old-school DS-like resistive touch screen technology. While future touch screen devices are utilizing the newer and more versatile conductive touch screens, this choice is definitely the questionable one. Resistive is great for single button presses using the stylus or a finger, but it’s not very responsive for quick swiping motions and multi-touch interfaces. The move to the cheaper resistive touch screens will certainly shave a few points off the manufacturing cost (and always remember, the videogame industry is here first and foremost to make money), but it definitely makes it more difficult to bring the pinch-and-swipe experiences to Wii U and will certainly attribute to a “step backwards” feel in a world of touch screen tablets.
But I’m a firm believer that the Wii U is the proper direction for a next generation console. I think this upcoming generation is going to be a hard sell to people who have already bought into the market with a PlayStation 3 and/or an Xbox 360, two systems that, essentially, do the same exact thing. Nintendo won’t win the “power” game, so it’s approaching the transition with a brand new experience that can’t be gotten anywhere else. Sounds pretty much status quo for the company these days, and it’s a strategy that’s working well for them.