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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twenty-Four Hours with the Wii U

I failed to secure a Wii U at launch, but thanks to daily supply replenishment and a very hand store availability tool, I managed to grab a Deluxe set from a freshly replenished store a day later.  As I returned home from my local Best Buy, Wii U Deluxe in tow, the unit’s weight was striking.  It’s a  heavy piece of gear, GamePad, console, cables, altogether. Even my lighter wallet didn’t help.

In my day-long delay to obtain a Wii U, I had followed the launch day reactions closely.  Reviews from media leaned positive, but specialty forums elsewhere were abuzz with technical minutiae, long launch-day patch, and inferior ports.  The heads up was helpful.   I hastily opened the box,  unwrapped the console, and let in the new AV electronics smell as I set-up my console to link to the internet.   A few set-up screens later, the patch was downloading.  

In the meantime, I busied myself cleaning the niche where my Wii sat for several years and prepared its retirement.   Two and a half hours, including a Wii data transfer later, I was ready to dig in.  And despite negativity in some corners about the console and my own reservations about buying a Nintendo console on launch day (I felt burned on the 3DS), the Wii U has had a solid first impression.

Wii Transfer & Backwards compatibility

The process itself, including the Pikmin movers is whimsical and straightforward.  The only pain point in the transfer process is that the Wii > Wii U Transfer channel  needed to be downloaded ‘twice’, once on the Wii itself and again in the Wii (subconsole) in the Wii U channels list. 

Other than that, the on screen instructions were clear and the process itself was painless.  I was very disappointed however several channels, including Nintendo Channel (useful for collating gameplay data) did not copy over and it looks like my game history and message board history did not come over either.

As noted elsewhere, the Wii BC in Wii U lives up to the promise of Backwards compatibility, but falls short on functionality.  The loss in data, lack of Wii Shop integration into the Wii U eshop and inability to play Wii games on the GamePad is a hard pill to swallow.

One item worth pointing out is the improvement in sharpness of the visuals of Wii games on HDMI output, even if it is upscaled from 480p.  This is a nice surprise, and a welcome one.


I love the Mii Wara Wara plaza.  Cynical gamers probably could care less, but like the Wii Menu, it does something to capture the zeitgeist of the period.  The Wii was launched at the dawning of the age of YouTube, and the channels format was fitting and it still often voted as one of the most pleasant console UI of the current generation (or more appropriately last-generation).  With the Wii U Wara Wara Plaza   you could say Nintendo is somewhat late to the party in  terms of making a social network, or ahead of the curve,  in terms of creating and integrating social networking specifically for games.  Either way, the console is conceptually on  a different plane that the 360 or PS3 (even if you include Home).  Social networking is integrated, and doesn’t live in a separate app, and the Miiverse itself is always on (more on this later).

Luckily, I also didn’t experience the first day problems (slowness, timeouts etc) with the OS.  By the time I got my Wii U running, the plaza itself was working.  I immediately got a sense of the popular apps and games.   Nintendo Land / NSMB U were the busiest with the most Mii’s around, followed by ZombiU and BLOPS 2.

I also avoided most of the timeouts and errors from launch day, but having used the OS for 24 hours now, I can say that aspects needs optimization.   It takes too long to exit apps, and jumping from  a game/app to Miiverse to make a post can take 5-10 seconds. Ideally, it should be instant, though 3-5 seconds is probably acceptable.   

Given Wii U is perfectly updateable and it’s OS will undoubtedly get patched many times in its lifetime, I have no doubt this will be fixed eventually.  I hope it is sooner rather than later.


There’s been lots of talk and speculation about this Miiverse feature. I had opined  at E3 this year that it could possibly be a game changer for Nintendo.

Though the jury is still out, my early impressions are very positive.  Like any social network, it requires people to ‘buy in’ , so sceptical users and people who hate Nintendo on principle will likely wonder what this ‘fad’ is all about.  That said, it is fair to say most users who spend at least $300 + tax on a Wii U tend to have bought in to the idea or are at least open to it.

The result so far are vibrant communities for every app and every game released, even with only one region and roughly 2 days of sales under its belt.  Even indie eshop games like  Nano Assault Neo already have 700+ posts in its Miiverse community.   The larger games have thousands.  The largest, Nintendo Land and NSMB U have twenty thousand posts each.  It’s likely the most popular games in the future will have hundreds of thousands and millions of comments.

It’s also been noted that the off-game commentating isn’t that ground breaking and Steam does something similar.  That’s very true.  I think Steam communities is a good analogue for Miiverse. However, Miiverse ultimately does it better.  The communities portion in Steam is largely out of the way.  There’s more emphasis on Workshop for Mods and Patches (for the game I play the most – Civilization V) than the community aspect.  I’ve played hundreds of hours of Civ5 without ever reading a post in the Steam community, largely because I use specialist website/forums for my Civ discussions.  Besides, the Steam apps runs worse than Miiverse in terms of ease of access to comments.  It's not really designed for feedback, but more of a Facebook wall for various things to be thrown at it,  which slows down the load times even more.

Off-screen capture of a zoomed-in Wara Wara Plaza
In contrast Miiverse excels in is how the postings melds in with the Wara Wara OS level plazas.  As the Mii’s congregate around the apps on Wii U start-up, speech bubbles pop up with various twitter sized comments (text comments are limited to 100 characters).  The size of the crowd and tone of the comment give a quick overview on game popularity and the mood of the community.  Unlike twitter however, Miiverse also allows the space for the block of text to be used for hand written notes.  And many Miiverse users have instead used the allocated space to draw some pretty impressive pieces or art that can get across ideas that would take more than characters words to explain.   And it’s not all Mario or Zelda art either, although the quality of art for those two franchises is off-the-scale just two days in.  The Netflix community has plenty of in-jokes and art ranging from Breaking Bad to Arrested DevelopmentZombiU has a series of excellent Zombie related art with a strong crossover of Walking Dead discussion.   This is something I think that is ‘new’; although it’s been happening on gaming forums for ages, it’s unique to see a console’s entertainment apps directly reflected in comments made in the gaming side.

Unlike Steam, it is also very easy to share and comment on pretty much every app/game on the Wii U, even if the software doesn’t support Miiverse natively.  The Miiverse itself sits on the OS level and is always-on.  Pausing any game allows players to make a quick post about the game to the game’s community, and attach the current screenshot.   

Some games such as Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Brothers U, built with Miiverse integration in mind, brings those comments directly into the games themselves.  The game prompts users to post comments at the end of each level, to create level specific comments, and in Nintendo Land, a sampling of the NintendoLand Miiverse community is brought into the game, Mii’s and all, into the theme park, creating something of an asynchronous on-line community.  

Finally, nothing in Miiverse is console specific, which makes Nintendo’s promise to bring it to the PC, Smartphones and 3DS credible.  The interface is rather plain, but utilitarian.  From the hub, players can search for friends and add friends without the need to exchange friends code (thank heavens), message friends directly (essentially a Private Message feature), and access the ‘Activity Feed’ which is more or less, the Miiverse equivalent of the Twitter feed.  The feed funnels posts of yours friends posts, plus the posts of people you are following.

And here’s the last major light-bulb moment for the Miiverse.  Mingling in the Wara Wara plazas are Nintendo certified personalities.  They can be told apart from regular Miis by an extra green checkmark next to their portraits.   They can’t be friended but can be followed.  So far, people have found the accounts of Katsuya Eguchi (Nintendo Land ) and Takashi Tezuka (New Super Mario Bros. U).   They haven’t said much, except welcoming users in French, English and Spanish to their games.  It’s not something that’s immediately obvious when Miiverse was revealed, but the kind of close interaction game designers can have with the community is certainly interesting even if we expect most of their posts to be put through ‘official’ PR filters.  

Nintendo Land

I have done a 180 on this in under 24 hours.  I barely played my WiiSports disc six years ago and really felt the extra $50 I was paying for my Deluxe was mostly for the GamePad charging crade, the stand, extra memory and the Digitial download promotion.  But between NSMB U, ZombiU and Nintendo Land, I’ve played  Nintendo Land the most.

Pikmin Adventure
Much to my surprise, there is a healthy number of single player only attractions and all appear to be quite challenging with plenty of depth.   'Balloon Trip Breeze' and 'Captain Falcon’s Twister Race' are unforgiving and difficult.  'Takamaru’s Ninja Castle' is easy to play through but difficult to master. 

Of the multiplayer attractions, several have single-player modes.  My favourites so far are 'Pikmin Adventure' and 'The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest'.   Controlling Pikmin’s with the GamePad touchscreen is amazing, and gives something of a preview of what a DS Pikmin could have been.   Both games looks gorgeous, and dare I say, I prefer the Nintendo Land’s Pikmin aesthetic to the Wii up-port Pikmin 3 (I’m sure I’m going to hell for saying that)

Utility Apps

NintendoTVii is still offline, but I can comment on the Internet Browser.   The browser is neat on the game pad. It’s pretty fast.  It allows for multiple tabs (up to 6 max), and most sites fast.  YouTube support is excellent, though there will be a YouTube app rolling out later this year.  Note that the browser is HTML5 compatible, but no flash.

Wii U chat is a surprisingly cool and utilitarian app.  The app uses the GamePad’s built in Mic and Camera for video chats. The quality is surprisingly good and it even lets users preview the video feed  to position their cameras appropriately before they make a call.

Netflix is what you’d expect, but GamePad viewing is a neat feature. 

All in all, the Wii U has provided a very pleasant 24 hours for me.   Does this mean everything is great?

No. I have plenty of concerns as well, and I had planned to put them all in one posting.  But it looks like I’ve ran long on this one, so my concerns and critiques will be posted next time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

YouTube App Comes to Wii (Updated)

For all the talk of WiiSports selling the public to the Wii, one of the Wii's early killer-apps was the Internet Channel and it's YouTube support making it the earliest current-gen console to allow people to watch YouTube via their consoles on their TV.

As the internet has evolved and formats advanced, the Internet Browser struggled to keep pace.   The release of a TV friendly YouTube XL page by Google in 2009 designed specifically for console viewing of YouTube acted as a stop-gap for awhile.  More recent viewing of YouTube on the Wii via the browser has shown it's limitations, with very low resolution feeds and choppy framerates.

In recent years, YouTube has slowly rolled out it's apps on other consoles. With the Xbox 360 getting its own YouTube app in December 2011 followed by the PS3 in August of 2012.  The release of the Wii app today rounds out YouTube on the 'big three' consoles.

It appears the App is currently for the US-only, with rollouts to other countries in the coming months.  There is an easy workaround for Canadians (at least).  As my Wii is registered for Canadian use, I switched my country to US and I was allowed to download the app.

Linking the Wii YouTube App to my YouTube account was easy.  The Wii App generated a code and directed me to a page on YouTube. All I had to do was log into my PC, key in the string and YouTube did the rest.  In a manner of seconds, It had imported my playlists, favorites and subscriptions.

The interface is slick, and moves surprisingly fast.  Video quality will naturally vary depending on source content.  Old videos that are sub 480p will still look as they are.  However, videos in HD or 480p looks very good in the Wii app.  Not only is the framerate much improved from YouTube XL (it appears to be running at 30fps), the video quality is very much in the same ballpark as Netflix videos played on the Wii.

A nice surprise for Wii owners this late in the game, but it also shows Nintendo is still allowing Wii support for interested parties.

Fun Fact: YouTube App is published by Google and Licensed by Nintendo and is not a Nintendo product.  

YouTube's official announcement of the app on their YouTube blog.

Additional Thoughts:  (11-16)

  • Before linking your account, the default menu provides some basic categories such as Gaming, Politics, Trending.  These categories go away after linking to your YouTube account, replaced with your subscriptions instead.   It would be nice to have a separate screen for these categories as it encourages browsing rather than viewing through set-lists.
  • There are no Like/Dislike options ; Although comments is not necessary  I think including Like/Dislike would be nice.
  • Netflix videos are synced to when you last watched. I could watch up to a point on my PC, and switch over to my Wii or 3DS and continue where I left off.  The Wii app doesn't have this option.  Not a huge issue, but nice for longer videos.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Wii U Demo Station Impressions

I've had a chance to try out the Wii U (my first time seeing a unit in person) with the demo stations finally arriving at my local Best Buy and FutureShop here in Canada.

The Good
  • The controller is very comfortable to hold and surprisingly light
  • The size of the controller seems bigger than I had expected, but in a strange way, it looks less bulky than the forced perspective shot of the GamePad on the Wii U marketing materials
  • I've heard a few commentators disparaging the resolution of the GamePad, but my impression is that it looks quite bright and sharp and very comparable to a smartphone screen.  And it is certainly quite comparable to iPad 1 and most laptop/notebook screens.  I have a hard time seeing how a casual user is going to know it's not retina or hold that against the product in a significant way.  This seems more like a tech geek issue that only exists for people living in a bubble.
The Bad
  • Similar the early demo units at the Nintendo World Store in New York, these Canadian demo units only have Rayman Legends as a playable game.  Irony 101 - As I walked up to a demo unit, a father of 2 was fiddling with the GamePad and looking at Rayman Legends.   Next to him was a copy of Rayman Origins for the 360 that he was about to purchase.
  • The resistive touch screen does in deep feel a bit cheap if you're expecting to feel glass on what is very clearly a tablet looking GamePad.  The surface is plastic, similar to every Nintendo DS and 3DS device.
  • The menu is sparse but does include a video previewing Wii U accesories, the Wii U and the GamePad.   On-line features,  Miiverse and NintendoTVii are conspiciously missing.  This feels like a missed opportunity here for Nintendo to rope in casual users who might be interest in features.
The Ugly
  • While I don't doubt Rayman Legends is a good game to interest a segment of the core gamer set, every other game including marquee titles are in video form.  Worse, titles like ZombiU and Assasin's Creed III start with a slide show video.  I'm not sure if the slide show gives way to a full on video demo, I didn't stick around for it, but it just feels so... wrong to be treated to a slide show with a demo station.
While I walked away impressed and reassured the hardware, and especially the GamePad is a great product with a more than acceptable screen,  I can't help but feel Nintendo dropped the ball with planning their demo content.

Apparently, these units can get updates overnight via the Internet.   I would highly recommend Nintendo roll out more and better content for these units as soon as possible.   Rayman Legends is not going to sell Wii U to the public.