SANTA MONICA, California — Last year some people were worried that the Wii console overseen by Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime was driving some gamers to accidentally hurl their controllers through their TV screens.
A week ago, at E3, Fils-Aime helped unveil the Wii Balance Board, a bathroom-scale-shaped controller designed for Wii-enabled full-body yoga, hula-hooping and skiing video game action (see “Nintendo At E3: Mad ‘Mario’ Titles On The Way; Wii Zapper Could Be A Future Shock” ). Might Nintendo be concerned that the Board will drive gamers to accidentally hurl themselves through their TV screens?
“We take the design very seriously, so we’ve done a lot of testing,” Fils-Aime told MTV News. “We don’t see any risk of consumers falling off that Balance Board unless they’re … doing this while they’ve had a few too many alcoholic beverages.”
Two days before Fils-Aime talked to MTV News, his company had used its annual E3 press conference to announce release dates for “Super Mario Galaxy” and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” and unveil the Wii Fit program and Balance Board. In a wide-ranging interview, Fils-Aime discussed those announcements, offered details on “Manhunt 2″ and some less-celebrated upcoming Nintendo titles, and even talked about whether people should apply to work as his assistant.
The Balance Board had generated sizable E3 buzz by Friday morning, and Fils-Aime was ready to talk about uses for it beyond Wii Fit. “Boarding games are obvious, whether it’s skateboard or surfboard, he said. “My favorite idea is: Imagine a golf game where you’re standing on the Balance Board measuring the shift of your weight and using the Wii remote for a [golf] club.” He said Nintendo is having “lots of conversations” with outside game publishers and developers to see if such titles will be made.
The Balance Board was designed to induce the parents and non-gamers clearing Wiis from store shelves. Fils-Aime hopes more established gamers will be hooked by games like “Mario Kart” on the Wii. “I’ve played it,” he said. “I’ve used the Wii wheel and it is great. The online capabilities are exactly what you would expect them to be: a large number of players [and an] online battle mode. To the ‘Kart’ fans, hang on [till] 2008 and all your wishes will be fulfilled.”
Nintendo’s E3 press conference featured fewer announcements and showcased fewer games. Fils-Aime said that was a conscious choice, designed to focus attention on what he called “breaking news.” So what of the details the company left out? For example, is December 3’s “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” for the Wii also going to be playable online? “We haven’t said. We will make other announcements around ‘Smash Bros. Brawl,’ but we decided to not overly focus on it in this show.” He said gamers interested in the latest news on that title should check out the blog maintained by its lead developer, Masahiro Sakurai.
At least “Smash Bros.” was mentioned in the conference. What about mysterious titles like “Endless Ocean,” which was listed as a Nintendo-published Wii release for October in the E3 press kit but otherwise undiscussed? It’s a diving game, apparently. “It has all of the Zen of scuba-diving, which is relaxing and melodic,” Fils-Aime said. “I think for people who are into that type of experience, it’s going to be a blast.”
Fils-Aime provided an update on the Wii Ware program, which was announced last month — for the initiative, Nintendo will allow small developers to create original, downloadable games for the Wii. Nintendo has been “overwhelmed with request for development kits,” which will run developers under $2,000 each, he said.
He affirmed that Nintendo will not vet these games for content, though the titles will be required to carry an Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating. “Essentially our process is simply to make sure that it is compatible with our system and that it will play properly, but it’s the developer’s responsibility to get the rating and to do all of the other work required to publish the title,” he said.
And where will gamers save these downloadable games when they become available in 2008? Unlike the PS3 and the most popular version of the Xbox 360, the Wii does not have a hard drive. Fils-Aime suggested users plan on utilizing secure digital cards or the Wii’s internal 512 MB flash memory. The 512 MB memory may not be large enough to hold as many games as the competing consoles’ hard drives, but users can re-download games they have deleted from it without having to pay for them again. Why not release a hard drive for the Wii? Fils-Aime replied: “Could there be a market for a Wii hard drive? There certainly could be.”
The ratings issue has been particularly relevant to the Wii lately because of “Manhunt 2,” the Rockstar game that had been slated for early July but was pushed back when the ESRB said the game merited an adults-only label (see “‘Manhunt 2′ On Hold — Company Chairman Calls It ‘Fine Piece Of Art’ “ ). Nintendo doesn’t publish AO games. Fils-Aime said he had played some of the game and hoped the game could be “adjusted” so that it gets an M rating. “The game that I saw was a pretty violent game. For me, it’s not my taste in a game, but it certainly could be for other types of consumers. I really do hope it gets published on our platform.”
Fils-Aime has been a celebrity among hard-core Nintendo gamers since the 2004 E3 press conference, when he took the stage announcing that he’s about “kickin’ ass” and “takin’ names.”
“I received quite a few bizarre résumés and requests,” he said. “I think all you need to do is still look at those active ‘Reggie-lution’ sites and all the things that are going on. Folks had this vision that they would be able to hang out and spend time with [Nintendo President] Mr. [Satoru] Iwata and [Nintendo lead game designer] Mr. [Shigeru] Miyamoto or whatever the case may be. There’s a lot more work than simply hanging out and playing games.” Sorry Nintendo fans, he said the job has now been filled.