Posted on February 21, 2023 in Technology

Wii: A Masterpiece of it’s Time

The Wii, a motion-controller game console, used a combination of things to make sure it read your movements. The Wii was a truly special device!

Hardy Equipment

If you could only look at consoles to compare them, the Wii is at an advantage. It stands straight up, like a book on the shelf! It’s also much smaller. Other consoles can be stood up straight, but it’s not advisable – if doing so blocks the vent, the console can overheat and then die. The Playstation 5 recently advised against flipping the device on its side because the cooling system could break down and leak, which is not good.  

Aside from configuration, the Wii is the weakest of it’s generation of consoles, but that’s actually still a selling point – the device was so cheap because almost all of the interior computing hardware was coming ‘off the shelf’, which made it weaker, but meant the consumer was paying less for a device like no other on the market.

The Wii could sense motion in a way that other consoles simply had not dared to try – no doubt the Xbox or Playstation would manage to create a machine/controller pack that cost three times as much as the Wii did.

Differing Technologies

The Kinect, a much more unique approach to the matter of motion detection, is much more complex, but also more expensive. And Xbox’s mishandling of the new ‘always on’ era of gaming made it pretty contentious. Playstation had the most success by simply trying to emulate what the Wii had going for it.

And what did the Wii have going? It used a sensor bar in conjunction with the actual device to sense where the controller was pointing. The sensor bar itself didn’t actually do anything but light up!

This meant that in a pinch, you could simulate a missing Wii bar with a couple of candles – the machine is using the sensor bar as a frame of reference for where the controller is pointing at any given time. Within the controller itself was an accelerometer, which allowed the machine to tell if you were spinning, shaking, swinging, or otherwise moving the remote. Nintendo even later produced an optional set of control enhancers (the Wii Motion Plus) for games that required even finer tuning. The only downside was that controllers sometimes went through TVs or windows, which eventually stopped happening once users adjusted to the unfamiliar motions of bowling. 

Good Games

One of the biggest deciders of a console’s fate back in the 2000’s was what games would be available on launch day. Wonder why so many consoles come with games already downloaded to them? It’s because that system benefits every party involved, and may swing the purchasing party on whether or not to get the special edition of a particular console. Outside of built-ins, the console has to attract studios to make games, otherwise you end up with a catalogue full of repeats, sometimes even made by the console developers themselves. The Stadia, the Ouya, and a number of other small consoles make a great platform that doesn’t have any games on it. None attractive enough to swing the purchaser.

The Wii, because it was made by Nintendo, was already hand-in-hand with a number of games from a brand known for being family friendly. For families looking for a new console that a child of any age could play, this was a fantastic option. It had zombie games alongside party games and sport simulators. It really was a game-changer.

Bad Sequel

Given all of this , the most disappointing part of the Wii is the Wii U, the next console in the line. Not enough was done to ensure users knew the Wii U was a different console. It sounds ridiculous, but it was a real problem! The Wii U looked just like the Wii to someone who didn’t have either, and the game cases didn’t do a great job of telling users what console they were buying for, so once it came out, there was always the chance that a well-meaning relative would buy the wrong edition of a game.

Similarly, the Wii (just like all Nintendo products) didn’t make enough for the first run… and then broke pattern by drastically overproducing the WiiU, a business decision that haunts the choices made by execs to this day (it was impossible to get a Switch for a good three or so months after launch).

Still – the Wii did set standards for what AR really could be, even without a helmet or anything too fancy. In a way, it’s got tons of sequels. The Playstation started using motion controls after the Wii proved it was not only possible, it was fun! And it opened the door to gameplay mechanics that engineers and programmers could have only dreamed of.