On the eve of the E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles this week, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata unveiled more details of the Wii U Game Pad, which confirmed details revealed in an unintentional leak of a photo of the device several weeks ago. The shipping version of the pad will be somewhat different in size and layout than the prototype Wii U controllers, with a slightly wider aspect ratio overall and substituting thumbsticks with a 360-degree range of motion in place of the flat, disc controllers in the prototype.
Nintendo is also moving deeper into augmented reality, only barely touched on with the 3DS portable console, with the Wii U Game Pad. The presentation included short clips including using the pad as a tee for a golf game by setting it on the floor and tossing shurikens from the pad toward the game on the HDTV with a flick of the finger.
Iwata also announced a “pro” controller quite similar in layout and shape to the controller used in Microsoft’s Xbox 360. All controllers used in the original Wii, including nunchuck, handheld controller, and the Balance Board, are compatible with the Wii U.
The company is also expanding its online gaming presence with “Miiverse.” Miiverse is presented on system start as a crowd of Mii avatars representing people using the Wii from around the world. Icons representing games being played also appear. In addition, real-time, Twitter-like communication will be enabled between players in the network using the Wii U Game Pad’s touchscreen. At a later date, Nintendo will also enable Miiverse messaging on PC or any portable device with web access.
Integrating a real-time, social media network into the console and gaming experience is a logical next step forward. Gamers have interacted with each other on third-party networks for years, but having those interactions be a fundamental part of the Wii U environment could be very cool for gamers, but also prevent risks and challenges for Nintendo, which has classically maintained a family-friendly environment in its gaming experiences.
Miiverse will also be accessible from within Wii U native games, including message posts in-game from players. Iwata emphasized that Nintendo “will work to prevent spoilers that ruin your game experience.” He gave no details as to how comments containing spoilers might be prevented, however.
Miiverse will support the Wii U plus the 3DS portable console, but Nintendo did not say whether the original Wii will also be a part of the Miiverse.
Watch the opening press conference of the 2012 E3 conference on a PCWorld liveblog on June 4.