On a quiet, unassuming week in April, the gaming world suddenly exploded with news about a rumored successor to Wii. At the forefront of the story was IGN, news breaking early and later in the week about a new controller, and it was followed by a horde of fan mock-ups. According to the rumors, Nintendo’s new console — codenamed “Project Cafe” — will feature a controller that will:
- Carry dual analog sticks
- “Mirror a GameCube controller in function but not specific form” (i.e. have the general functionality of a Cube controller, albeit with buttons arranged differently)
- Boast a 6″ touch screen on the controller
- Have the capacity to stream content from the system to the controller
In addition, the system is also rumored to be in HD, use Blu-ray capacity media and be more powerful than PS3 or Xbox 360. It reportedly will retail for between $350 and $400 and release either later this year or sometime next year.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that the rumors are true. That may not be safe to assume at all, but let’s assume it anyway. IF the rumors are true, and IF the console is as IGN has described, what does that leave us with?
We have, simply, the most high-potential gaming system yet conceived by man.
I don’t think this statement is hyperbole. I think this is quite realistic. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have pitfalls or potential problems… there are plenty of those in these rumors, too. But let’s look at some of the more important features one-by-one and see what they bring to the table.
The 6″ touch screen. Any conversation about this new controller must begin with this singular idea. Nintendo has never really been revolutionary so much as evolutionary; Wii’s remote was an evolution over the DS touch screen, for example, turning touch into full-on three-dimensional movement. With the touch screen, though, the system seemingly (at least as far as we know) jettisons waggle for a far more practical motion interface. In doing so, Project Cafe seems to be coming full circle, going back to the touch screen that made the DS so effective.
What does this touch screen mean? Everything. Touch means more precise first person shooter controls. It means no more pausing the game to get into inventory menus. It means changing everything on the fly. It means being able to stream specific content to different controllers during quiz games or being able to text chat while playing an adventure title. It’s DS connectivity without the need for a DS. It means being able to create casual games that use the touch screen just as easily as hardcore games.
It means making games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords or Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles in a way that isn’t stupid.
There are some lingering questions, of course. How fragile will the screen be? Is the rumored $350 to $400 price tag reasonable for this kind of advanced tech, to say nothing of the cost of purchasing a second controller? And, as Dojo Editor-in-Chief Noah Ward discussed, how ergonomic and comfortable will the design be? (No one, after all, wants a controller that induces hand cramps or is too heavy to hold in one hand.)
GameCube functionality. The Wii remote has been a nice innovation, but it has also been limited. There aren’t a lot of buttons, and while part of that was to sell the console to the casual gamer, it has been a handicap to the core crowd. Moreoever, waggle has not yet shown itself to really have legs: I won’t say it was a fad, but certainly its use has been moderated some in recent years. A more traditional controller is still the most versatile, something Sony and Microsoft will learn as they stumble over their late, poor Wii-like peripherals.
The touch screen could also make a traditional controller less intimidating. It would be easy to make casual titles that just use the screen, which will be less off-putting to casual gamers. That doesn’t mean that grandma will go nuts for the touch screen the way she adored Wii bowling, but it still offers potential for scaffolded accessibility.
Of course, this cannot help but make me wonder at the future of the Wii remote. Does Nintendo intend this thing to be a “third pillar” alongside Wii (something DS was marketed as alongside GBA… and we see how that turned out) or is it a successor console? Does this mean Nintendo thinks a motion controller has run its course and it’s time to return to something less physical?
Streamed content. Rumor has it that the Cafe controller can stream various kinds of content onto the screen. We’ve already explored the use of the controller to stream supplemental game content like menus and reticules, and clearly that has its place. The claim has also been put forth that the controller could conceivably stream other forms of content, perhaps even full games.
As with much of the other speculated features, this concept is long on potential. A gamer could stream a game onto the screen while the TV was tuned into something else. The system could theoretically stream all kinds of content — movies, perhaps? — and turn the controller into a proxy handheld system.
The extent of this functionality is a point of curiosity for me. Could the console stream multiple media to different controllers, or just the same content to one or two outputs? (IGN believes it could stream to multiple outlets.) Would Nintendo seek out movie partnerships, or would the content be strictly game-related? Would the controller have any sort of audio output for streaming content, such as a speaker or headphone jack? These questions probe at the real limits of the tech, a discussion which invariably winds around toward cost, as increased functionality also means an increased price tag.
Everything here is rumor, which means that it could all go up in smoke as fast as you can say “Reggie.” If it is true, though, Nintendo could really hit the jackpot with this new innovation in home gaming. When I step back and consider what could be done with this system, it’s really mind-blowing.
At the same time, there are some serious, serious questions. If the specs are true, the controller could potentially be fragile and expensive, not to mention an energy hog. It also raises serious physical questions; how do you actually engineer this thing in a way that it can be comfortably held in a variety of configurations? Expect no resolution on any of this until we actually get a look at the thing.
On a broader level, cost could also come into play. An HD console with a robust controller like this is going to run a lot of money, even with the currently available technology. PS3 almost killed itself with its expense and Sony paid the price for years; Nintendo could find itself priced out if this thing winds up being everything it’s made out to be. On that note, I remain skeptical about the rumored price, which seems low for what this system purports to offer.
The upside, though, is impossible to ignore. This touch screen could reinvent Nintendo yet again and make this system a gold mine for almost every conceivable type of genre. We’ll find out if this is the real deal or fool’s gold come E3.