With a large portion of the world either enjoying or getting ready to enjoy the delights of Nintendo's most recent console, it's becoming increasingly clear that many sceptics of the machine are slowly being won over. Naturally, not everyone is going to be enamoured by Wii, but the oh-so vocal shouts of opposition have slowly ebbed away into a more dull murmur as doubts are batted, bowled or even punched away with the likes of Wii Sports.
There are still some genuine concerns though, albeit rather early and somewhat misguided. Chief of these are fears over Wii's future and potential. While only the most myopic of gamers would declare the diminutive console's launch catalogue is a true reflection of the type of games we can expect in the next few years, it's not uncommon to peer into your navel and contemplate just how much imagination will be utilised in forthcoming software. Are we doomed to simply pushing the Wii-mote in small gestures to create pre-arranged sword movements? Destined to only use it for mini-game madness? Forever forced into only playing sports games to take full advantage of one-to-one movement?
Are we hell.
The sky is not falling.
Imagine this, if you will.
'The game starts off with you driving down a packed night road, racing towards your destination. Using the remote as a steering wheel you manage to weave through the traffic, its speaker offering a GPS style vocal system, audibly telling you which turns to make as they approach. Unfortunately, it's not enough to avoid the large traffic jam down a fraught main street barely a minute into your journey. The controller suddenly rings in your hand. Reluctantly, you press the action button and the phone receiver switches on. It's the Inspector. And he's pissed off you've not made it to the crime scene yet (alas, this is what happens when you don’t make sure your civilian vehicle's emergency light isn’t working). After a terse verbal ticking, he tells you you've got five minutes to get to the target destination, or you're off the case. The counter starts, each beep mounting towards a 'game over', with a disconcerting wristwatch tick coming from the remote.
'Getting out the car is the quickest option, with you soon sprinting down the sidewalk, brushing past irate passers-by looking to take in the midnight air. Half way there, the remote speaker kicks in suddenly; the police radio. Muffled screams. Gunshots. Then a crackly cut-out as the radio dies. The clock ticks again, with more urgency as you rapidly shake the nunchuck to increase the speed of your tired legs. By the time you get to the building, still minutes to spare, your vision is a scattered jigsaw of black blotches, patching the image of a barren and abandoned derelict, which's only light is the solitary red-blue of your more punctual companions. The lack of noise is disconcerting. A quick flick of the action button on your remote activates the radio again. Nothing. Even less inviting is the peering darkness as you enter the warehouse. Another button on the remote switches on the flashlight, which buzzes with an unreliable flicker. You shake the controller rapidly, and the crackly buzz clicks into a hum as its light finally beams into a full and sure existence. You sweep its dusty yellow luminance around a shell of shattered wood and broken brick. Nothing. At all.
'Stairs are climbed with a creaky groan that mocks your attempts at analogue-stick assisted stealth with every step. At its summit you reach the designated floor, equipped with a drawn gun that tandems as a base to the slightly shaky torch. A closed door greets you. Edging the remote forward, you push the entrance slowly open, suddenly realising, with a sharp rumble in the controller, your weapon has been knocked aside by the shadowy figure who stood behind it. Panicked, you dash for the nearest available weapon – a loose lead pipe, which you yank off its support via a forced pull on the controller. You turn to your assailant and with remote mimicking your swing, the cylinder of metal arcs towards the head of your attacker, but you just about stop yourself from connecting in time when the light of a broken window reveals it's the Inspector. After a clipped explanation, he eventually offers a grimy, blood blotted hand, silently asking for a shake of reconciliation and reciprocation. You raise your remote gingerly, but then decide not to indulge the invite, withdrawing your virtual hand back to your side. The man shrugs, feigning casual indifference, but such a seemingly unimportant choice is likely to create problems later on.
'In the meantime, he takes you to the bodies, two of which are the police officers who arrived first on the scene before you or the Inspector made it. He tells you support is already on its way and to take pictures. Duly, you flip the remote on its side and a night-vision viewfinder kicks in. A push forward gives you zoom control, while a click and high pitched whine from the speaker confirms every shot. As you finish, the controller rumbles again with the shrill cry of a phone. You answer. It's the Inspector yelling another angry threat of instant unemployment if you don’t get to the crime scene within two minutes, before he audibly punches the receiver down. Confused, you turn to where you thought the Inspector (the one you nearly brained with lead) was standing.
'He's gone. Leaving only a trembling heartbeat rumble of the remote and the cackling sound of laughter echoing through its speaker.'
If my gin and age addled brain can come up with something like this as a mere opening to a game, I'd imagine some of the more talented developers in the industry are already deeply into actually creating that sort of environment and more, where the remote surpasses an object of just one or two uses; it becomes your whole key to a door of possibilities. How about later wandering into an arcade and using it as a direct motion gamepad? Or quick-time action events are suddenly given a new depth as you're forced into making motions rather than just button presses to avoid sudden attacks. Even a switch from a first-person viewpoint to point-click type dialogue trees can be made seamless and unobtrusive. Something like the generally excellent Condemned on Xbox 360 would fit perfectly within the framework of Wii remote assisted gameplay. In fact, we're already starting to see this sort of thing used in more minute form across a number of genres and games from the Wii's launch, with Zelda (no spoilers here, so you'll have to use your imagination), Call of Duty (using the remote to paddle a boat or push off attackers struggling for your weapon), Red Steel (turning tables over, gestures) and obviously the manic WarioWare: Smooth Moves (which contains just about every type of remote movement possible in the most inane circumstances). It doesn’t take much imagination to allow for a combination of these elements, wrapped around a full game along the lines of Half-Life 2, Bully/Canis Canem Edit or even Grand Theft Auto.
And the chances of fulfilling this sort of gameplay potential?
I'd say it's pretty damn high.
Why? Among the tons of expected 'non-games' and mini-game extravaganzas? Surely developers would be more willing to produce such a deep and story-driven title on other, more powerful formats, right? In some respects, yes. But in one vitally important respect, no. Creating such a game is often a costly and time intensive affair. More so when dealing with new technology, where the resources used to make that type of software has to be balanced with knowledge that the audience will respond to it. Which is partly why we've not seen Shenmue 3 after the commercially poor performance of its prequels. With Wii, however, the risks are slightly less damaging.
It's through Nintendo's dogged persistence to keep Wii's technology none too far from its GameCube pedigree that will allow for us to see these types of games quicker and more readily. It's true that without the power possessed by Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Wii isn’t able of creating games that contain worlds as physics-rich as we may want. But this isn’t a Super Nintendo we're dealing with. Despite some rather mixed results in the visual department for some of its launch games, Wii is perfectly capable of turning out high quality graphics and environments that can do the job at hand. Much of the legwork rests in the hands of the artist director, in many cases, who determines the look and style of a game and can make a huge difference to how it compares to other examples across formats. But ultimately, Wii can create these types of game on a scale that not only takes less time, but leaves the bean counters in a financially more viable position, because having slightly older hardware equates with less idiosyncrasies and lower costs. If Sega were to ever consider finally going ahead with Shenmue 3, any monetary dangers would be far more avoidable via Wii than other formats, not to mention the gameplay could push in directions previously unexplored. Heck, even the forklift driving sections could be more interesting (…although I personally wouldn’t go holding your breath too long on that count).
Developer familiarity with Wii's architecture means we'll be seeing greater results, quicker. After all, it's no coincidence we often see some of the best games of a generation near the end of a console's natural life span. By that time, developers have got a greater measure of the machine's capabilities, vaster coding libraries make the job faster and it's far easier to squeeze out the full power of a console. With Wii being so close to GameCube in structure, programmers and designers are effectively continuing on with the experience they've gained and working what they're familiar with, rather than having to totally starting afresh. Compare the beautiful Resident Evil 4 -easily one of the best looking and playing titles on GameCube- against some of the machine's earlier titles and you get an idea of the disparity that comes with time, not to mention an able dev team. Given Wii's capability to create more convincing game worlds than its predecessor, we can expect more superlative results much earlier within its lifespan. Of course this will peter out a little as time allows for programmers and artists to get better grips of rival hardware, but who's to say what will happen by then.
Which means, for all the fears and concerns that Wii will be a machine full of bitty little games with nothing resembling the genres the hardcore contingent are used to, we're actually just as likely to see these genres rise and evolve more rapidly, through a mixture of developers knowing the machine better and the costs being far more amiable. Those thinking this isn’t convincingly viable on Wii are severely misjudging its apparent 'lack' of power. After all, going back to Shenmue, it remains one of the most diverse and complex examples of a game world. And that was on the much less powerful Dreamcast. Of course it or any other games of its type won't look as amazing on Wii compared to something like BioShock or Mass Effect on Xbox 360. But I'm willing to bet the Wii's remote has the potential to make things much more involving and rewarding, in the right hands.
For all their blow and bluster, the best games machines are often known for providing new experiences in the most compelling fashion. It doesn’t mean they have to be original. Goldeneye wasn’t. Halo certainly wasn’t. GTA 3. Super Mario Kart. Final Fantasy (you pick the number). Half-Life. Goldeneye. Metal Gear Solid. Super Mario 64. Ocarina of Time. Soul Calibur. And so many more. None were strict bastions of originality, yet remain some of the best examples of our medium. It's inevitable we'll see something that reaches the potential of the generation's possibilities across all formats. Just that with Wii, we're likely to see it a little quicker and more pronounced through its clear advantages.
Launch titles are rarely ever a strong example of what a machine can do, Super Mario 64 notwithstanding. It often takes well over a year before we start seeing the killer app fruits of a plucky developer's labour, and given the next wave of Wii games are being made from the ground-up to support its unique features -huge prizes await the first developer to make the world notice such invention- you can expect rapid changes to reflect that within the industry. Some will still point out that whatever they see on the horizon shows a lack of promise in fulfilling Wii's new control possibilities, but again they're being far too quick to judge. Game designers (especially Nintendo ones) are a secretive lot, often guarding certain ideas right up until release. It's nice to have a few gameplay surprises when you actually play the game, as well. It's amusing that I've heard people suggest that from the brief few levels they're seen of Super Mario Galaxy it doesn’t express any new concepts, when of all the companies and of all the designers to accuse a lack of fresh ideas, Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto are probably the most unlikely examples to choose. They're not going to show us everything this early, nor indeed, will they show us everything in the first place. And while many other developers aren’t as cagey as the big N, you can bet there's plenty of experimentation going on behind closed doors to offer a few pleasant shocks come 2007 and 2008 alone. The fact Metal Gear supremo Hideo Kojima is working on a Wii game should be enough to get you excited, given his rather powerful imagination and strong desire to think outside the box.
Wii has already come a long way from the irritable moans of discontent and cynicism that accompanied its unveiling, bringing people around and changing minds within a few casual plays of its enchanting controller. Regarding its potential, I see little difference. Come this time next year, I doubt people will still have the same preconceived and premature doubts ready to spill from their tongue and instead be moaning that we're just not getting 'amazing killer app game X' soon enough. But when it comes, it will be worth the wait.
It always is.
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