Nintendo’s Wii U – What it is and what it does

By Brenna Hillier, Thursday, 16 June 2011 07:41 GMT

Wii U’s debut has been marked by a confusing dribble of conflicting reports, as Nintendo president Satoru Iwata himself admits. Be baffled no longer. Here’s everything we know in one place.

The Basics

Wii U’s main draw is the tablet-like controller, which sports a 6.2″ touchscreen faced with plastic, not glass, reportedly keeping it quite light.

The controller has two triggers and four face keys. Twin analog circles provide for traditional control schemes, while gyroscope-motion sensing and a front-facing camera provide more esoteric options. The camera may eventually be capable of facial recognition.

The console currently supports only one of the new, as-yet unnamed controllers, with extra players relying on WiiMotes. Currently, Nintendo is not planning to retail touchscreen controllers separately from the console, but is contemplating adding support for more than one if it can achieve a compelling price point.

The Wii U is backwards compatible with all Wii peripherals and software, but does not support Gamecube games or controllers. Wii games will not be upscaled.

Online connectivity is possible, and Nintendo is ditching its draconian, clumsy friend codes system. Developers may be required to implement their own network features and online identity, meaning players might need a new account for every game.

Wii U is not challenging the media-centre claims of other consoles; it won’t even support DVD or BluRay playback, with Iwata commenting that most people already own these kinds of devices.

The launch

Nintendo has vaguely commented that the console is a year from release, with a 2012 spring or summer release window suggested by Sega.

A 2012 release date has already been confirmed.

Nintendo isn’t pretending the console will come cheap, predicting it will likely go for more than $250, with retailer listings aiming as high as £400.

The launch-line up is a long way from being confirmed, but there’s a massive pool to choose from. Wii’s career was marked by a lack of third-party content, a reputation Nintendo was eager to buck during the Wii U reveal.

Expected and rumoured games and franchises

Super Smash Bros.
No More Heroes
Lego City Stories
Devil’s Third
Metro Last Light
Final Fantasy
Batman: Arkham City
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Ninja Gaiden 3
Mass Effect
Madden NFL
Telltale games
Metal Gear Solid
Call of Duty
Darksiders 2
Ghost Recon Online
Killer Freaks from Outer Space
Assassin’s Creed
Guitar Hero
New Super Mario Bros. Mii
Pikmin 3
Wii U Sports, Play, Music, Rhythm, Party

Iwata told investors the console will take advantage of online features and attract third parties with HD capabilities, especially shooters.

Epic has dropped heavy hints it will be throwing Unreal Engine support behind the new console, while Crytek has already confirmed CryEngine support.

On the first party front, Nintendo hasn’t produced a Wii U-specific version of upcoming blockbuster The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, apparently because it was built for the WiiMote. and therefore won’t take advantage of Wii U’s features.

The guts

The console itself was locked away during E3, with only the secured controller on show, but appeared in images released after the Nintendo press conference and very briefly during the reveal itself, under a TV in a demo video. Stealthy close up photographs appeared yesterday.

Nintendo’s explanation for keeping the device under wraps – which caused confusion as to whether the Wii U even had a body – is that the design is not finalised, although Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has suggested the box seen so far is close to the finished product.

Analysts have said developers are estimating Wii U has 50 percent more power than PS3.

John Carmack, id Software’s senior engineer, isn’t as optimistic, saying the new console is on the level with competitors.

Meanwhile, a cagey series of comments from a senior Ubisoft technician has cast doubt on the console’s power.

Nintendo’s decision to showcase PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 footage instead of actual Wii U content – despite offers from developers – suggests comparisons are unfavourable at this point.

Reports suggest current development kits are not the console’s final build, and may be under-powered.

The console’s graphics are powered by an AMD chip which is said to be similar to the ageing R770. Reggie said in an interview following Wii U’s E3 reveal that 1080p visuals are supported.

It is reported to have DirectX 10.1 support and be capable of streaming four standard definition feeds simultaneously.

Wii U’s CPU is a little more mysterious, with anonymous sources claiming it uses the same processor technology as IBM supercomputer Watson.

The CPU allegedly supports using a 45nm processing, as does that of the PlayStation 3 Slim model, and features a “lot” of DRAM.

Nintendo is yet to discuss the system’s internal memory, although it has indicated support for USB drives and devices.

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