Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wii U - Things to Improve

As promised, here’s the second part of my Wii U impressions focusing on things for Nintendo to improve.  For the first part, click here. 


As noted previously, it takes too long to exit games. Since my last blog post, I have also installed a brand new 1TB WD My Book Essential external HDD with 1 downloadable game installed and nothing else so far.  The addition of the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) seems to make the OS boot up take several seconds longer.   Upon exiting a game to return to the main menu, I can hear the HDD spinning and the status light flash as the console boots/access the drive. As I am typing this, I quickly booted up New Super Mario Brothers U then exited.  It took 33 seconds to return to the OS menu, about the same amount of time for the game to load up.  And again, my hard drive’s light was blinking and I can hear it spinning.

Given Nintendo’s rationale for not including an internal HDD outside of the 8 or 32GB Flash memory was because of the abundance and low cost of external HD, an admirable course of action given the 360’s outrageous proprietary HDD prices,  one should also expect that consumers who do install a HDD should not be penalized for it.  Or put differently, the OS should be optimized to anticipate for external HDDs and load times should be optimized to accommodate the extra seek times required to access HDD on boot up.

Then there are also the freezing issues.  I’ve experienced it on Miiverse a couple of times and a few more times in Nintendo Land.  This is certainly Nintendo’s most complex piece of hardware and OS, and stress testing new hardware is part of the occupational hazard of being an early adopter, but the freezing issues are widespread and occur often enough (with Nintendo Land) that they should be addressed sooner rather than later.

There are also a couple of minor annoyances.

First, I was heartened to see the Wii Remote controller works for navigating the Wara Wara Plaza. However, when entering the OS level apps like the web browser, eshop and Miiverse, it no longer works.  This tends to break the seamless experience of the OS.  While the Wii Remote no longer working can be expected for games that don't support it, simply moving in and out of the utility/OS level apps shouldn't force players to use the Game Pad!

Brief connection error message on system power-up
Second, adding the external HDD also had the impact of causing a delayed feed to the GamePad on initial power-up of the Wii U.  Prior to attaching the 1TB, the GamePad and TV would be in sync. After attaching the external HDD, the GamePad would for a few seconds give an indication that it is not receiving data from the console  (see pictured) before finally catching up with the TV.

I have hope Nintendo will continue to optimize the OS to at minimum halve boot time of the OS when exiting games to around 15 seconds. But ideally, it needs to be even faster than that.


As I noted in my previous blog post, this is a great idea and a great ‘community’.  I like the idea of building an online community around games in the way Nintendo is doing.

However, the service could use some speeding up.  A cold boot, that is, pausing a game or an app to go to Miiverse takes anywhere from 15-20 seconds for the Miiverse to load.   The load time is shorter for games like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Brothers U which have native Miiverse support.  When they prompt you to make a post/commentary of your achievements in-game, it only takes a few seconds or so to get to a screen for me to start posting.  This is how fast it should be for every game.

Once in Miiverse, navigation can also be slowed down by server side issues.  Pages and Mii icons will often fail to load properly, and moving from one page to another can be slowed if the server is busy.  The Miiverse experience needs to be seamless, as if the whole thing is running on the Wii U.

Just like the OS, this is something within Nintendo’s power to fix. As this is most likely a combination of server capacity and the web-based tool Nintendo is using to run Miiverse, I have hope this is something they can address with more resources and code optimization.

Performance issue aside, there are some material improvements I’d like to see on Miiverse as well.

  • One’s favourited communities should be easily accessible from the Miiverse sidebar, rather than having to go through our profile screen

Tezuka's Miiverse post has received hundreds of responses.

  • Friend requests searched through Miiverse will show up as a request, yet when someone adds you through their friendlist, not notification is sent.  The two should be one and the same.
  • I found and replied to Mr. Takashi Tezuka’s welcome Message on Miiverse (pictured), but since, I’ve received daily notifications someone has replied to his thread.       The feature is actually useful for small scale community-level communications to ensure responses to Miiverse posts aren’t lost and everyone participating in the conversation is notified when someone has made a new comment.  However, on popular posts, or in this case, a post by a Nintendo personality, notifications on responses becomes overwhelming.   
  • Although the Miiverse system is smart enough to aggregate comments made in a short time span into a single notice, it still sends out multiple notices if comments are made with large gaps of time in-between.   A good solution is to simply limit all notifications to a single notice that gets updated/bumped up on the notifications list if there’s been recent activity.  This will reduce the amount of notices in Miiverse. 
  • I saw someone comment on-line, and I agree, that in the long run, a lot of Miiverse postings are just going to get buried in the sheer number of new posts being made as well as because of the passage of time.   Will anyone still read posts made this week three years from now? Members should have the ability to archive, curate and file  their own feed for historical purposes and perhaps even advertise them in a 'greatest hits' section based on number of 'Yeahs' they have received.
  • An ancillary point here is that there should be a keyword search feature.  Miiverse already supports tags for games such as New Super Mario Brothers U.  This is how the system sorts the comments to show in the game.    Users can currently access posts sorted by tags if they happen to find a post with a tag and click on them.  However, tag search and tag listing (a good example would be an Index of all the tags for NSMB U’s levels) and sorting posts within those tags by popularity, date of post, country etc. still aren’t supported features but need to be as Miiverse begins to get busy.

Photo Channel

If a Nintendo console needed a photo management channel, it is the Wii U.  Between the great screen captures we can take, and the top notch web browser (probably the best console browser out there right now), there is no option to save photos.  Let's bring this one back!

Nintendo Network ID

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because I think Nintendo is probably already hearing a lot about this.  I feel like there’s been a bit of a bait and switch here, even though no one from Nintendo ever confirmed this.

We did get our accounts we wanted and shouted from the rooftops for, but for now, it appears our accounts and the digital games we purchase on the Wii U are still tied to the hardware.

This really needs to be addressed in some way or form.  It need not be as liberal as Steam where simply logging on in another computer grants you the right to re-download all the software attached to the account.   A more reasonable approach is to provide a web application and telephone service line for people to log-in /call and transfer their Nintendo ID profile from one Wii U console to another by keying in the serial code.

This would avoid all the pain of people having traded in or lost a Wii U and not being able to recover their digital content.   Rather, from  Nintendo’s point of view, all they need is to ensure our Nintendo ID is only linked to one piece of hardware at any one time.   And when a console is stolen, Nintendo can simply allow us to link it to a new machine, while deactivating access of the old console.

For trade- ins, all we need to do on our end is to unlink our account and re-link it to the new hardware.
I am sure Nintendo has good reason to stick to their draconian and cumbersome practices.  But let me say this as someone who has long tolerated it, has never traded in my consoles, or lost my digital downloads because of a lost/stolen Nintendo hardware.  Nintendo, you need to fix this and link purchases on an accounts level and allow people to migrate those accounts as needed.   

Well that is it for now.  Wii U is a fantastic proof of concept for what Nintendo wants to do as a follow up for the Wii and I’m fairly happy right now.  The technical analysis of what chips are in it is kind of irrelevant to me at this point so they don’t make my list.  I hope Nintendo can get to work on the issues raised above as soon as possible and give us something to smile about in 2013.

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