A couple of hours ago, a fellow gamer friend mentioned how he hoped for the Wii-successor to leave the same kind of “WTF?!”-impression that the current market leader left when Satoru Iwata unveiled it at Tokyo Game Show 2005. A lot of discussion boards are currently filled with notes from users that simply demand HD-resolution, a Wii HD, a Super Wii – in other words, the typical successor-system. Personally, I agree with that one friend: A Wii 2 with only better graphics and slightly better “everything else” wouldn´t really hype me much. I´d buy it on the advent of a new Zelda-game, of course, but it´d really lack any specialness. Some gamers out there correctly wrote about how going with a typical successor could even be quite dangerous for Nintendo, since the last remaining traditional home console manufacturer is in a rather unpleasant situation: The Wii sold tons, dominated the hardware landscape, but third party-support is absolutely dead, starting this year. Motion Controls have been adopted by both of Nintendo´s competitors, with Kinect showing a new kind of freshness that wiimote-style gaming has lost. And let´s not kid ourselves: The Wii 2 won´t be leader in graphics, be it for a long time or be it for the fact that third party-developers won´t support a powerful Nintendo-system. It´d get a lot of cheap up-ports, the end. That´s Nintendo´s outlook, that is what it looks like right now. One might mention the Nintendo 3DS to possibly change third parties´ perception of supporting a Nintendo-system, but that, too, can be doubted a lot.
Nintendo needs a special “so-me-thing“. They made the phrase “blue ocean” popular, and that´s exactly what they have to find anew. But what is this mystical, special, fresh new “something” that can ensure for the Japanese company to survive and continue being successful? Smallish innovations, software-based innovations are nice, and I already talked about such concepts, but these have two basic problematics: 1.) They lack the instant “wow“-factor for the masses, and 2.) they can be copied easily by competitors. Taking all of the above into account, looking at the hardware instead of (only) the software, and trying to get into Nintendo´s “creative mind“, I came up with 5 Concepts of Madness. What fascinated me, was that while coming up with these ideas, I engaged in some research using google and found out that these “well, that would be cool, wouldn´t it“-thoughts of mine are actually being turned into reality at this very moment. No, with the exception of one of them, these are not yet part of the gaming industry, BUT: Smart people have developed these technologies to the point where they´re reliable, comfortable to use and, probably, affordable. All of them have one thing in common, though: They increase our interaction with games – or games´ interaction with us.
1.) Living in a tablet-world – The Tablet-Hybrid
Yeah, I apologize for bringing such an unoriginal idea into this article, but it´s both as uncreative an idea as it´d be crazy for a home console´s concept. Tablets have been THE attention eating topic of the past year and the not-so little devices continue to grab the electronic entertainment industry´s buzz. Just now, Samsung is gaining more and more reputation for their Galaxy Tab-series, while Apple is about to announce the updated iPad-version. But wait: Am I about to propose for Nintendo to compete in *that* market? Well, bluntly said, yes. But imagine this:
The Wii 2 is neither portable nor stationary, it´s a hybrid-machine. It consists of a controller (of some kind), a dock-station for wireless picture-and-sound and a tablet. However, the tablet is not meant to become the main center of attraction of this system – it´s a natural expansion. To this day, I remember the days prior to E3 2005. Thanks to this most entertaining time in my internet-career, I also remember a quote of Shigeru Miyamoto that since then has often been cited. That quote basically expresses, how Miyamoto would love for games to leave that box in front you, that TV. A built-in projector was the most popular fan-theory. But what, if instead of going for something completely crazy and weird, Nintendo´d go for the realization of the Nintendo DS´ concept for home consoles? That way, the tablet becomes an extension of that game world that previously only existed in the confinements of your television. Just to make sure: The tablet would NOT be the main controller of the system, not by any means. You´d still have wiimotes in your hands. But imagine it like that: You´re sitting on your couch, playing the new Legend of Zelda-game, using the wiimote for 1:1 sword-fighting. Right next to you on the couch is the tablet. You need to take a look at the map, so you grab the tablet and watch it, while nothing breaks the immersion of the game you´re playing. And that´s only one admittedly superficial example for its usage. I don´t have a tablet, I´m not the one that´s in the position to tell you how awesome these devices are, but I guess millions of Samsung- and Apple-consumers would be happy to get their word out there.
Additionally, even though the tablet is supposed to be an extension to the existing gaming experience, it is, after all, a tablet. Which means that it´d make for great multimedia purposes as well as creating a continued gaming experience that´s not bound to the television. Browsing your console´s menu, chatting with friends from your friends list, playing some of the more simple games you downloaded from WiiWare, or even accessing special tablet-modes from the “big games” that add another layer to these games´ enjoyment. With Sony´s PSP2 featuring HD-graphics buil into a device that´s still quite a bit smaller than a tablet, satisfying visuals should be doable, too. I also don´t see this concept rivaling the Nintendo 3DS, since it´d be “just a tablet“, meaning no buttons or sticks. And be honest: You´d love for Iwata to reveal this concept of a Nintendo-tablet-hybrid at this or next year´s E3. I know you do.
2.) Let´s invade them! – The Augmented Reality-System
Maybe it´s just me that thinks this concept would be crazier than the above, but in my opinion it´d be a big gamble. A gamble that could change gaming in the same matter that Wii did. We all know by now what augmented reality, or in short: AR, is. Using a camera to film the real world, then inserting virtual objects or animated characters into that scene. There´s mostly two reasons why I feel confident to name it as an idea for a whole new system: 1.) Because existing AR always had a problem with the interaction of virtual objects and real world scenes, and 2.) because there´s so much untapped potential!
AR has been a gimmick and continues to stay on that level with what can be seen from Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP2 so far. But let´s take a moment and think about what this phrase actually means: Augmented Reality – some kind of mechanic or happening or action that takes reality and expands on it. Why, I ask, is it that this concept seemingly can only be used for cute pet-simulations or fad-like features? Well, because nobody´s taking it seriously, which, of course, is partly due to no such system existing that comes built-in with higher AR-capabilities. “Smartass, how about giving examples, eh?” With pleasure.
The big focus, as a consequence of the AR-features, would be a home console that´s all about creating unique experiences. To initiate that creation stage, the system comes bundled with a camera, a 3D-camera that can record the depth of its environment. It wouldn´t be just a stationary camera like Kinect or EyeToy, though, but also one that you can take with you. Go wherever you want and film the environment of yours. Later, you transfer the data to the main system and the real fun starts. For a Mario-game, you could now jump around with the good ol´ plumber in your own room or whatever you recorded. For Pokemon, fierce battles would ensue in your garden. Or, my favorite idea, the next Resident Evil-game would take place in your own house (or at least one part of the game). I often thought about how super-scary a horror-game would be, if it played in my neighborhood. Okay, maybe that´s because my neighborhood is that scary, but I believe that it´d be like that for most gamers: Seeing their comfort zone being invaded by the horrors and trying to survive. That´s how I imagine the proper use of AR. Sure, it all depends on the camera´s quality, which in turns might be costly, but it´d be definitely another game-changer. Gaming would be no longer about experiencing streamlined content, it´d be all about experimenting with your environment and changing games to your liking.
3.) Not the craziest one, guys – Brain Controls
Haha, I know, I know. This is the usual “guys, look at me, I´m making THAT joke again“-idea. But let´s bear with it for a moment. The idea of controlling a game with your brain, with your thoughts always seems like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives us sensational vibes, making us dream of fantasy stuff like telekinesis and telepathy. On the other hand: Win Button. Think to win, and you will. Yeah, not that exciting. But that´s not how it´s supposed to be implemented in real video games, anyways.
When Kinect was announced and Milo was shown, my mind went crazy about how this advanced camera could be used to complement traditional controller-inputs. You know, playing Mass Effect 3, moving Shepard (who´s male) with the one stick, turning the camera with the other one, shooting with the trigger and so on. And slapping aliens in the face by doing a punching-motion yourself, or throwing grenades or, well, that alien-sex part … For now, Kinect has turned into another minigame-fest and due to the lag, I don´t feel like it´ll change from that status any time soon. However, that´s where Brain Controls come in – only a hundred times better in theory.
Brain Controls should never become the primary input method (unless we´re talking about Matrix-like gaming). As a complementary input-option, however, it´d open up a whole new world of interaction with virtual worlds. Your primary controller would remain something like a Wiimote or a 360-controller, but in addition, you´d have some sleek sensor-device on top of your head that measures your brain activity. Examples for what that would enable players to do are literally limitless. You want it, you think it. Now, I know that you still think “okay, it´s nice to want things, but that´s far-into-the-future scifi-stuff“. Except it´s not. In the following video, Tan Le from Emotiv Systems shows off their next generation of human-machine interface – a sleek device that´s costs are in only the hundreds of dollars instead of thousands of dollars that previous brain measuring devices cost. Both design and price make this a real possibility. And if you want to know if it can actually be used for gaming purposes: Watch the video!
4.) Now they´re attacking – R.O.B. 2.0
So we´ve talked a lot about getting deeper into games to strengthen immersion and fascination. How about going the opposite route, though? Calling it “R.O.B. 2.0” is hyperbole, since the original hardware-gimmick for the NES couldn´t do a whole lot and actually only was supported by two games. But the concept I´m proposing is simply too damn similar in appearance, so don´t fall of your chairs: A robot-console.
“Robot-supported” console would be more exact, though. Social Gaming has become a buzz word that everyone has heard by now. One of the big parties that embraced these easily accessable, simple games was Nintendo. First, Sony brought games out of the playroom, then Nintendo brought it out of the hands of freaks, to the casual masses. But social gaming isn´t just this entry level-software. Microsoft took multiplayer-gaming to new heights with Xbox Live and keeps adding features that heighten the value of its communication aspects. “Social Gaming” has become a reality for gamers, but that´s only true as long as they´re sitting in front of their TV. Video games are still niche in that they´re confined to a narrowly defined space within our life. And it´s only getting worse for Nintendo, with smartphones, that are capable of hundreds of functions, taking away attention from dedicated gaming systems. Therefore, to keep attacking that new kind of competition, while maintaining a focus on what matters (gaming), one has to break free from that one confined space in front of the TV and place emphasis on a broader aspect of life.
Maybe you´re thinking of some kind of Nintendo smartphone now, but that´s totally not it. Software alone will not be enough to fight 1 Dollar-games. We all know that Paper Mario 3DS will be well worth its 30 Dollars, but the mainstream doesn´t care about that. The mainstream is happy with a simple touchscreen-only games to bridge the ten minutes waiting time in-between two events. It´s creative hardware that has a real shot at attracting consumers. That´s where R.O.B. 2.0 comes into play. Or let´s call it the NinBot, I like that better. We as gamers socialize with each other thanks to all the new possibilities, but who we´re not socializing with, is the games. Socializing with games? “Dude, hentai-games are not cool, eew …” No, not THAT kind of socializing, idiots *blushes*. What I mean is to look at virtual content as more than “just another title“. But that´s a mostly software-based decision and thus something that could be easily copied. That´s why there´s NinBot. NinBot is a small, well-designed robot that has basic communication skills. There´s lots of different ways to realize such a machine, but maybe it´d have a lcd-screen that could display emotions. It could make sounds, maybe learn words and simple sentences, getting more complex the more time you spend with it. But NinBot wouldn´t only be some Furby-copycat. While playing Call of Duty online, NinBot would work as your headset, imitating a real friend. Put it next to you on the couch, and what other human players say will sound from NinBot´s speakers. And don´t worry about a microphone, it is Nintendo that brought WiiSpeak to us, after all.
That´s just a small array of NinBot´s features, though. It all comes down to costs, but the little, fellow robot could also have a built-in camera that, which combined with the ability to walk/drive could make for some nice games to be played on the big screen. But no matter what, NinBot´s number one purpose would be to bring video games out of the living room and into the whole home space. Don´t imagine NinBot to look toy-like, instead picture a really cool-looking, stylish robot that can sit on your shoulders and becomes more fun the more you interact with it. I know that my reasoning for WHY THE FLYING FUCK SHOULD NINTENDO DO THAT?! hasn´t been that great, but I found this line on Wikipedia: “R.O.B. was released with the intention of portraying the Nintendo Entertainment System as something novel in order to alleviate retail fears following the video game crash of 1983.” If that line is even remotely true, then I don´t think NinBot is that crazy of an idea. Or it is, but a crazy, yet potential idea. And to give you another presentation of what direction I´m actually thinking for this robot-guy here, watch the following video, where Cynthia Breazeal from MIT demonstrates the development of socializing robot-technology.
5.) An audible revolution – Music Emotion
Phew, the crazier it gets, the harder to explain it, as well. And I don´t have another video to clear up the picture I´m going for. Let´s start simple: The Nintendo 64 and PlayStation started a visual revolution, introducing 3D-graphics that have been refined constantly since then. The next big revolution was about controls entering the motion-stage. Now, audiophiles might claim that DD 5.1-sound was exactly that, but I disagree: We haven´t seen a revolution of sound in video games, yet, and it is the area within games that offers room to attack. I´m a gamer, not an audiophile, so when I talk about a “revolution of sound“, I mean something that´s a game changer, not just some nicer sounding quality – that´s boring and not exciting at all!
What´s exciting, though, would be another case of gaming leaving the television. I´m thinking of an evolution of the Vitality Sensor-project. A device that is capable of measuring your feelings … if that is somehow possible at all. I guess I´m one of the few remaining Zelda-fans that likes the usage of midi-files, since these seem to be what enables the music to be dynamic. This kind of dynamic music, however, is reliant on nothing but pre-programmed actio-reactio situations. Riding on the sunny field => happy music. Enemy approaching => intimidating music. What we see has become interactive, what we do has become interactive, now why not what we hear, as well?
The new version of the Vitality Sensor, maybe a clip on your ear or whatever, would notice how the player feels in each and every situation and change up the music accordingly. That doesn´t mean that scary scenes would be ruined by some happy song playing due to the player´s fearless attitude. But instead of the super dark, intimidating song, a rather challenging, adventurous track would play if you engage a hard fight with a bright attitude. The vitality sensor wouldn´t be used exclusively for sound, though, so there´d also be other new aspects thanks to this hardware. And speaking of hardware, here´s the real crazy part about this music revolution: The Vitality Sensor wouldn´t be a sensor device only, it´d also be a type of MP3-player. Including a pair of earphones that´s either not fully covering the ear OR is of semi-permeable structure, so you can still hear your surroundings. Completely unrelated to your home console, you´d be wearing this “Vitality Sensor-MP3-Player” during everyday-life situations. The clue is that the sensor would still be measuring your feelings and playing corresponding music tracks, automatically changing between tracks, volume or speed. The idea is that, instead of keeping the player captivated in front of his TV, this device would transport a crucial part of what makes games and movies so emotional and intoxicating to the real world: Accompanying our feelings with perfectly fitting, mood-supporting music. If we take it a step further, there could be connectivity between every “Vitality Sensor-MP3-Player“, thus people interacting with each other will hear the same music during their encounter. And thus, the music revolution would begin.
Neither of the five above concepts sounds like a highly-likely plan for Nintendo´s future. I´m well aware of that. But neither did motion-controls and glassless 3D for a portable sound that likely. Anyone could talk about his dream Wii 2 with gorgeous HD-graphics, fantastic online-features and improved motion controls. But that has been done to death and, honestly, I personally hate the idea of that. The Wii is my favorite system of the current generation, which puts me in a minority within the “hardcore gamer“-crowd. But still, the reason why I loved the Wii were its unique features. Prior to the Wii´s revealing in 2005, I thought about giving up video gaming, or stay with only a PC. But then the Wii was shown, alongside the motion-controller. It was a dream come true, something that was so incredibly hard to take serious before its official confirmation. And I want to get a feel of that sensation again. Is one of these five concepts going to happen? Maybe not … but maybe yes! That´s the kind of thought that gets me excited, hyped. Not the thought of a WiiHD.