Tuesday, February 3, 2015

quick points on the wii

I just finished Codename Revolution: The Nintendo Wii Platform. It's part of the MIT Press "Platform Studies", books that discuss specific video game platforms ranging from low level technical details, to high level design and aesthetic decision, to wider cultural implications.  (Bogost and Montfort's amazing Racing the Beam on the Atari 2600 being the first and foremost book in the series.)

A few minor thoughts while reading the book:

1. The book goes into some detail about the main menu of the Wii, how it was meant to be friendly and employed the idea of television-esque "channels" (which extends the a metaphor of the living room placement of the Wii, also echo'd in the use of "remotes" as the primary control.) One particularly unfriendly aspect of this menu is that you can ONLY select a channel by using the Wiimote in its "laser pointer" mode - and therefore have to have the sensor bar set up and well-positioned, a Wiimote ready to go with battery, etc. It would have been fairly trivial to allow, say, a Gamecube controller, or even the Wiimote D-pad, to select a game, but they elected not to do that. 

Combined with the way inserted discs don't "autoplay", this may have been a deliberate "forcing function". Despite the "this is a virtual console" rhetoric, it's as if they don't want you to forget you're not just playing a Gamecube. (I feel this more pointedly because at my folks' place, we use a projector, and would prefer not to have a sensor bar always strung across, especially if we are just playing Super Monkey Ball 2 or what not. Ironically, the workaround for us is to use a Guitar Hero guitar, which has a small joystick that can control the cursor, since the guitar otherwise blocks the IR sensor)

2. I was wondering if the book would mention "Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz". It was a launch title, and the first to really explore the interaction space of the Wiimote, via some 50 minigames. Some of these totally fall flat on their face, the pre-Motion Plus sensors just aren't up for what the designers are experimenting with, such as using the Wiimote like the slide of a trombone. (It also suffered from the early Wii lack of standards for buttons for pausing / restarting games etc.) Some of the other modes were quite clever, and I was disappointed never showed up elsewhere, like holding the Wiimote upright as a (slightly clumsy) "flight stick"-style joystick, one that didn't need a fixed base. (The fact that the minigame used it to pilot a submarine probably reflects the lack of precise control the early model suffered from.) 

3. While the GameCube gets some attention in the book I would have loved to see more mention of the Nintendo 64; in particular, when discussing Nintendo's philosophy about games as a social space, this device having 4 controller ports was very forward thinking. (And of course, the much-maligned 3-pronged controller pushed the envelope as well by introducing/popularizing an analog thumb-stick, and then later things like the rumble pack.) Personally, I'll always hold a small grudge against Sony for having the industry-leading PS2 only support 4 players with use of a separate device, and thus less support from game developers.

Overall the book is a fine read.

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