Earlier this week in New York, Nintendo gave MTV News the rare opportunity to go hands-on with the company's 2006 home console, code-named the Revolution.
Many ideas spring to mind when playing demos on the first game console designed to detect the movement of the controller as it's maneuvered in midair. Waving the controller could lead to new ways to make Mario hop, throw a "Madden" pass or steer a stolen vehicle in "Grand Theft Auto" (see "First Look: Nintendo Revolution Controller Feels Smooth As Puppet Strings").
But what are actual game developers dreaming up? With the Revolution already garnering praise from design heavyweights like "Metal Gear Solid" inventor Hideo Kojima and "Sims" creator Will Wright, MTV News reached out to game makers willing to go on the record about their early experiments with the console and its controller.
Jack Sorensen, executive vice president of worldwide studios at THQ, where an undisclosed number of Revolution games are under development, said he first used the controller in the summer, about a month before the device's public unveiling. A Nintendo fishing demo had him hooked. Once they got controller development kits, his team got to work testing ideas.
"Within a matter of weeks we had literally dozens if not well over a hundred kinds of play patterns that could be done with the controller," he said. "There's almost too much that people can think of, which is a sign that it's inspirational."
He expects the controller to work well with first-person shooters, "combat-style games" and real-time strategy titles. Those are all genres that have worked well with mouse-driven commands on a computer and, he said, can similarly benefit from the Revolution's ability to let players control onscreen images by pointing the controller at them. "In certain genres this is going to feel so good that it's hard to imagine Sony and Microsoft not also offering this as an option," he said.
Sorenson wasn't as sold on using the wireless controller for driving games, suggesting that a conventional controller's analog stick might allow for less awkward handling of tight corners.
He was highest on an idea that wasn't immediately apparent in the New York demos but could be possible with the system's "nunchuck" controller setup, in which a cell-phone-size device topped with an analog stick is held in one hand, while the wireless movement-sensitive remote-control-like controller is held in other. Players might use the analog stick in that setup to move a character, while using the main controller for an entirely separate activity. That concept might harness the same skills used in real life to drive a car and fiddle with the radio at the same time. For a more game-based yet completely hypothetical scenario, Sorenson said to picture it with Mario. "There's a certain freedom in being able to have your thumb on the joystick moving Mario around in a 3-D space — almost not thinking about it — and then having a separate cursor that says 'Oh, there's a fire, go put that out.' And every time you shake your motion controller at it something can happen."
An idea like that might not suit Guha Bala, president of Activision's New York development studio Vicarious Visions, who said that some two-handed controls could "be like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time."
Bala's company has been one of the most highly regarded American development studios on Nintendo's other experimental system, the Nintendo DS. His team has been toying with the Revolution controller for several months.
"There are a number of things you can imagine that a Revolution controller [could do] that would be quite cool," he said. He rattled off a bunch: "Wielding a baseball bat, for example, or a golf club, tennis racket or anything like that or in a fighting game or a first-person shooter or Spider-Man casting a web or Tony Hawk trying to manipulate a skateboard."
Bala said the controller could offer a great variety of distinct context-sensitive controls as a game demands them. A player in a role-playing game who needs to cast a spell at one moment could suddenly use the controller as a magic wand, for example. Better yet, players could design their own gestures to trigger different spells. "What we hope to do is unlock some creative potential in the user so they can start defining their own moves," he said.
Nintendo had offered THQ and Activision as examples of non-Japanese developers who are already exploring the system's possibilities. The company also pointed to "Splinter Cell" and "King Kong" publisher Ubisoft, whose spokesperson, David Hawk, said, "We have some wonderful ideas for the console and plan to support Nintendo's latest offering, with more details to follow at a future date."
And what of EA, the largest of the Western third-parties? "Although we are excited about the gameplay possibilities that it introduces, it is a bit too early for us to give specifics on how the new controller will influence the development of our games," EA spokesperson Tammy Schachter said.
Nintendo Executive VP of Sales and Marketing Reggie Fils-Aime offered his own EA insight. "I've heard some of the reaction of the EA sports guys, and they're the ones that are off the hook with what you can do with a two-controller setup."
He anticipates that many developers, jazzed by demos like the ones offered in New York, will offer enough support to produce a satisfying array of titles by the time the system hits stores in 2006.
That will only happen, though, as long as the bean counters at those companies will allow it — a challenge complicated by Nintendo's sometimes strained relationship with third-party developers, who tend to throw more support to Microsoft and Sony's consoles. "For them, what's important is our launch lineup," said Fils-Aime. "What's important is a very strong first six months out of the gate, and, frankly, some conversations and arm-twisting and encouragement to do unique titles that leverage the controller."
And what will Nintendo offer to lead the charge? The company isn't saying. When asked how the Revolution might work with a "Mario" game, a room full of Nintendo employees demoing the system for MTV News suddenly got very tight-lipped.