Wii Leads Pack, Everyone Catches Up

February 3, 2009 at 2:08 am 1 comment

Last week, NGai Croal, one of the Internet Generation’s more prolific tech writers and columnists, said that publishers and developers should start leading with the Wii, then porting over to the PS3 and 360:

…rather than continue to lead development on 360, PS3 and high-end PC, developers and publishers should lead on Wii, PS2 and mid-to-low-end-PCs, then up-port those games to their HD counterparts.

This, of course, lead to some debate on various message boards regarding Croal’s statement.  For the most part, gamers seem to be against this idea:

The tech is already there to make games on 360/PS3 first and foremost. He wants publishers to throw all that way and start over this far into the gen to start on Wii/PS2? I guess he wants them to waste even more money.   -MrBob, NeoGaf forums

It would make sense, though, for developers to consider bringing more of their ‘A-game’ to the Wii.  It’s been talked about ever since 2007, when the industry realized that Nintendo’s odd, underpowered console was trouncing the competition, surpassing Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in terms of install base by the end of that year.  2008 came and went, and every month saw the Wii as the best selling console, even seeing a record-breaking holiday season.  With the Wii’s worlwide install base closing around 45 million (and counting), it should be a publisher and developer’s dream come true: a system that not only core gamers have, but casual players own as well.

So what’s the problem?

The most obvious problem is the Wii’s underpowered graphics processor and CPU.  Most publishers and developers that creat multi-platform games port to the Wii mostly as an afterthought.  This leads to some pretty sloppy ports, as it is more difficult to scale back a game rather than scale up.  What Mr. Croal suggests is a compromise that not only makes good business sense, but could potentially please everyone.

For example, they create a Grand Theft Auto game on the Wii, similar to GTA: San Andreas that was released a few years back.  That game was made with PS2-era specs and could, theoretically, be easy to make on the Wii.  The game could then be upscaled with better textures and resolutions to look better on the HD consoles.  But, there lies another problem.  As others have already pointed out, doing it this way would mean not taking full advantage of the other consoles’ capabilities.  A game like Grand Theft Auto IV would work best on the 360 and PS3, but if it started out as a Wii game, it could’ve potentially been a more limited product in terms of scope and features.

Then there’s the issue of the controller.  To me, it’s just not that much of an issue as I think most developers are too lazy to really figure out how to use the thing.  Sure, the Wiimote and Nunchuck aren’t great for fighting games, but force the players to use the Wii’s classic controller, and there shouldn’t be a problem.  I know there are plenty of ways to make any of the Wii’s controller types work with any game genre, it’s just a matter of figuring it out.

So what is the industry going to do?  Well, it’s obvious they won’t lead every project with the Wii.  The best thing to hope for is that developers and publishers craft unique experiences just for the Wii, much like what they’ve been doing with the DS since 2004.  And stop with the minigames already.  With the worldwide economy the way it is, it only makes sense for publishers to have as many people as possible buy their games, and that means more Wii games.  But not just more games, more advertising.  If casual players don’t know Madden is on the Wii, they most likely won’t buy it on that console.

I also think some blame is to fall on consumers.  There are plenty of gamers, like myself, who keep abreast of the goings-on in the videogame industry.  When a promising new Wii game comes out that isn’t targeted toward casual players, it’s exciting news, but when we don’t support the game (especially when it’s a good game), it sends the wrong signal.  Wii owners want an experience like Devil May Cry or Gears of War, despite what the sales of Carnival Games say.

Who knows if the Wii’s momentum can continue throughout 2009.  The only major casual game release on the horizon is Wii Sports Resort, which comes with the new Wii Motion Plus controller add-on.  For the hardcore, there isn’t much, save for a few notable exceptions, like the black-and-white MadWorld, the sci-fi FPS The Conduit, and the delayed-but-promising survival-horror game Winter.  As long as the games are good, we should support them.  If we don’t, then we’ll see more shovelware, mini-game collections, and bad ports on the system.

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