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The Wii U and Its Clutter: A Premature Hardware Post-Mortem

This post was originally posted on Medium

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This last week I was just gifted a Sega Saturn and decided to re-arrange my gaming area to put the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast near my up-scaler. Partially because of this addition and partially because of its relative disuse, I unplugged my Wii U and moved it to a different TV. It’s been awhile since I moved it and it really struck me how much clutter the Wii U brings with it.

First you have the unavoidable essentials that come with all modern consoles: HDMI, AC adapter for the console, and a USB cable to charge the Pro controller. Technically, you can use a Wii U with only these cables, but you will miss out on many GamePad specific games and experiences. To expand to the full feature set, you’re going to be including a second AC adapter for the GamePad and a sensor bar for Wii Remotes. If you have shelf space to burn, you can add a charging dock for the GamePad as well.

Already there are some possible improvements. Why doesn’t the Wii U GamePad use the same cable as the controllers? The GamePad could at least pull its power directly from the Wii U rather than from the wall. Better yet, the Wii U could also send the GamePad’s video over this magical cable rather than using WiFi. And the sensor bar need not be wired at all. Nyko has sold a wireless sensor bar for almost a decade; the Nintendo version could have improved on the Nyko version by being rechargeable and intelligently sleeping/waking when the console asked for it.

Ew, gross.

Ew, gross.

If you only play your Wii U casually and mostly buy physical copies of games, you probably only have as much clutter as comes with the Wii U. If you use your Wii U more frequently and purchase digital games, you will feel compelled to introduce more clutter into your house to compensate for at least two of the hardware’s main shortcomings: the network connection and storage space.

Since the Wii U prioritizes the GamePad’s connection for its 5.0 GHz WiFi, many will be forced to get a USB to ethernet adapter to overcome the congested world of 2.4GHz WiFi. Not to mention the Nintendo Network’s bad speeds. If you’ve been buying your games digitally, you’re going to need an external hard drive to store anything over the Wii U Deluxe’s 32GB of storage. Nintendo only recommends external desktop drives with their own power supplies, so there’s another power socket in addition to the hard drive’s USB cable.

There are only so many ways to handle WiFi problems, so the least Nintendo could have done would be to include a dedicated ethernet port. If the Wii U could send video to the GamePad over a wired cable, that would at least give some users the option to free up the 5.0GHz antenna if they live in an area with congested wireless. On the the further ends of possibility, the Wii U could use a more complex antenna or wireless protocol method to ensure that the Wii U and the GamePad both had full use of the wireless spectrum.

The storage problem has a range of solutions. Sony’s PlayStations 3 and 4 allow the user to swap in their own 2.5″ hard drives to replace their smaller stock sizes. That doesn’t fit the Wii U’s compact design, but the Wii U’s design could have alleviated the problem by supporting game storage on SDXC cards, which can reach 256GB at affordable prices. The Wii U also could have supported USB 3.0 to allow portable external drives as the Xbox One does. Finally, the Wii U could have simply shipped with a larger storage model for enthusiasts to purchase or upgrade to.

It’s like it wants to hug your face.

It’s like it wants to hug your face.

Cables and clutter aren’t always deal breakers for people. The plethora of plastic snap-ons for the Wii didn’t stop the console from flying off the shelves. And people buy new accessories for their consoles everyday hoping to make their lives easier. But I do think that the Wii U’s clutter demonstrates some of the reasons the Wii U has been such a historic failure for Nintendo.

First, the clutter demonstrates Nintendo’s faulty assumptions and the missed design opportunities they lead to. For example, the assumption that 2.4 GHz would be sufficient for the Wii U’s network connection sets off a series problems that require clutter to fix or end up driving away people. For every one person that seeks out an ethernet adapter because Netflix keeps buffering, I suspect at least a hundred more will just turn off their Wii U instead.

Second, the clutter shows that the Wii U lacks a strong concept to unify player experiences. Most Wii accessories centered around the Wii Remote Controller, as did the gameplay revolution the Wii hoped to bring about. By comparison the Wii U has a tablet GamePad for dual screen play, a Pro controller for mainstream games, support for Wii Remote Controllers for Wii games and many modern games, plus all the cables to support these controllers. It’s not never clear how you should expect to play a game until the game tells you that you’re using the wrong controller.

Console War Crimes.

Console War Crimes.

Since the release and commercial failure of the Wii U, Nintendo has changed significantly. Nintendo consolidated its console and handheld hardware divisions, longtime CEO and president Satoru Iwata passed away, and the entire internal structure of the company has shifted. I believe that the next Nintendo console can learn from the Wii U’s mistakes. But more than anything, I hope that Nintendo realizes that their new play experiences have a real world cost that must be overcome. Players welcomed the original Wii’s plastic steering wheels and Nunchucks because the accessible, fun game experiences overcame the real world cost of storing the clutter in a whicker basket next to the couch. Players paid the premium price for the PlayStation 4 because of its 1080p resolution and Blu-ray Player. For most players, Wii U never overcame the cost of its clutter.

Gunpei Yokoi famously designed the Game Boy with older, more common parts to keep costs down and improve battery life. The Wii was the closest Nintendo has come to Yokoi’s philosophy since the Virtual Boy, and the Wii U could have taken more than it did from the Wii and the Game Boy. Shipping with last generation hardware at current generation prices, the Wii U only used as much of the Yokoi philosophy as directly benefitted Nintendo’s bottom line. All the solutions I’ve suggested would raise the cost of Wii U production and thus lower Nintendo’s profits. But the Wii U has never been cheap enough to justify its thrift, as the Wii was. And the Wii U’s old hardware does not improve the user experience, as the Game Boy’s battery savings did.

Going forward, I don’t believe that Nintendo’s next console needs to be a sleek, high-end machine like the PlayStation 4 to succeed. I believe that the Nintendo NX needs just a strong philosophy that guides the design of the console, its accessories, and the games that play on it. And please let me charge all the controllers with the same cable.

Nintendo Remembers 3DS Virtual Console Exists

This article was originally posted on Medium

Screenshot of Pokémon Yellow

Pokémon Yellow has this delightful frame when played on a Super Game Boy.

This Saturday will be a special occasion for the Nintendo 3DS: Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow will be the first Virtual Console releases on the 3DS in over a year. If you live in Europe or Japan, it’s been even longer since your last 3DS Virtual Console release. Nintendo may have had a good reason for killing the 3DS Virtual Console, but I’ve been disappointed by the decline of such a promising ecosystem.

I loved the the original Wii Virtual Console, despite it not being as capable as many PC emulators. The Wii Shop Channel had a diverse catalog and the prices usually beat the cost of the original cartridges. The promise of the original Wii was a console that would bring in new audiences to gaming, while providing more involved experiences for dedicated gamers. The nature of the Virtual Console exemplifies these ideals. Virtual Console games were cheaper and more accessible than hunting for old cartridges like a collector so that anyone could try a few games, putting Super Mario Bros. 3 back in the hands of grandmas everywhere. Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata hoped that the Wii would redefine backwards compatibility for hardcore gamers, saying that playing, “the first Excitebike, EarthBound or Punch-Out, should make us all feel young again, at least for a while.”

Slide from E3 Announcing the Wii game console, then known as the Nintendo Revolution

Would “Revolution U” have been as confusing?

But since the peak of the Wii, the Virtual Console has only declined. While the Wii launched with a large number of titles across many platforms and continued to grow, the 3DS Virtual Console launched with very few games and only supports a handful of platforms. One of those platforms isn’t even available to most 3DS owners; early 3DS adopters were given free GBA Virtual Console titles that have never been released to anyone else. The Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and other home platforms would be good fit for the 3DS’ hardware, but the 3DS Virtual Console only goes as far as NES games.

Then there are the technical issues. The original Wii had its share of technical drawbacks and glitches of course, but the biggest flaws were the lack of more advanced emulator features like Save States. The 3DS includes a reasonable facsimile of this feature, but lacks others. Game Boy games are only available in a drab green color scheme without access to the Game Boy Color or Super Game Boy palettes. Additionally, Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow will be the first 3DS Virtual Console games to be able to use Game Link functionality over wireless. Of course these new features would take time to develop and implement, but if that’s a concern Nintendo should adjust the pricing model accordingly. The HD remake craze has rewarded faithful and considerate ports of games. It’s also a shame that the 3DS doesn’t allow you to remap buttons like the Wii U does.

Picture from Nintendo Patent filing demonstrating an ugly touch screen device

I guess I’ll play whatever this thing is.

As they plan their next console generation, Nintendo needs to make some decisions about how they’ll handle the future of the Virtual Console, if at all. If you visit the comment section on any Nintendo blog, you’ll see at least a few gamers suggesting that future of the Virtual Console is something similar to Sony’s PlayStation Now. PlayStation Now is sort of like Netflix meets Sega Channel. Pay for a monthly subscription or for a timed rental and Sony streams PlayStation 3 to your PlayStation 4, 3, Vita, and some special TV sets. I like the convenience of PlayStation Now and in my tests it’s always been a technical marvel.

After some adjustments, this approach could be compatible with Nintendo’s catalog, but one of the worst parts of PS Now is that you don’t own access to the games in anyway. Once I cancelled my PS Now subscription, my system was filled with husks of the old games I had tried. The Virtual Console already has generally anti-consumer ownership issues — like forcing you to pay extra to upgrade a Wii Virtual Console game to your Wii U — and a streaming service would just complicate the issue. The original Wii Virtual Console had 29 title delisted. They’re still available to people that purchased them, but a subscription service would need to address that issue somehow. Streaming services also require constant internet connections, which would really cut into my time with Mario’s Picross.

Slide from Nintendo of Japan presentation on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console

My dream Virtual Console wouldn’t be streaming based, but would have a subscription model closer to the Humble Monthly game service. Single games are still available for individual purchase, but the subscription service would guarantee a fresh feed of titles to try and a curated experience to highlight sleeper hits. While the dream Virtual Console would feature improvements on the technical backend, I’d be more excited if each game had a tighter Miiverse integration with collectible stamps and GIF recording. And of course, purchasing a game on one Nintendo platform should give me access on all of them with transferable save states.

Even without my daydream feature set, I think the Virtual Console can fulfill the promise it set out to achieve. Many classic games are still fun to play today and others are at least appeal to nostalgia. The next generation of game developers cutting their teeth on Super Mario Maker will also need access to the classic games that have become the keystones of the medium. While technical improvements are definitely needed for the Virtual Console to grow, it needs a steady stream of releases to even exist.

The Talk Show: Live From WWDC 2015

I just finished watching John Gruber’s The Talk Show: Live From WWDC 2015 video. Phil Schiller’s candor was almost as refreshing as his quick and dry sense of humor. I’m not an expert on Apple’s internal personalities, so my only glimpses into these people has been through the keynote events. Watching Schiller roll with audience reactions and banter with Gruber brought Apple down to Earth in a way that you don’t see in their events. Overall, the interview was more in-depth and satisfying that I could have imagined.

The Hole Story

The Hole Story won Grand Prize at the Girls Make Games Demo Day Competition in 2014 and was recently released on Itch.io. Here’s the premise:

After digging up a strange portal in her backyard, budding young archaeologist Wendy falls through time into a strange new land. She quickly discovers that her best chance of returning home is to rescue Alonna, a princess who has gone missing from the kingdom. Her goal in mind, Wendy sets about resolving the problem the best way she knows how – by digging of course!

I only just bought it, but from what I’ve played it’s clear that this is a very charming game by a group of talented students. I’m looking forward to playing the rest of it and seeing what else these designers will make.

Wii U: Wireless N vs. Ethernet Adapter

I originally posted this in September 2014 on a different site. With the impending release of Splatoon, I felt that now would be a good time to update it and post it again.

I had always believed that my Wireless N network was the superior way for the Wii U to connect to the Internet. Nintendo supports USB 2.0 to ethernet adapters, but I assumed that these would suffer from USB 2.0’s poor data speeds and therefore be inferior when Wireless N was available (though the Wii U is capable of dual-band Wireless N, it reserves the 5.0 GHz band for communication with the GamePad, so the network connection is limited to 2.4 GHz). But when my Monster Hunter 3U download failed twice, I ordered Monoprice’s Wii U ethernet adapter to give it a shot. My Wii U is very close to a wired switch, so running a cable isn’t an issue.

I got the adapter, ran some speed tests, and was surprised to find that the ethernet adapter provided nearly twice the download speed of my WiFi connection. With several tests via testmy.net, I found I was only getting ~9.1 Mbps (1.1 MB/s) down and ~5.1 Mbps (640 kB/s) up over Wireless N. When I plugged in the ethernet adapter, I was getting ~19.6 Mbps (or 2.5 MB/s) down, ~4.9 Mbps (611 kB/s) up. Multiple tests showed that there was some variation in the upload speed, but the ethernet had a more consistent download graph without the spikes and valleys of the WiFi connection.

Your mileage may vary so I recommend running your own test. Testmy.net has the only speed test that I can find so far that works in the Wii U’s browser. If your 2.4Ghz band is congested and you find your Wii U downloads over WiFi frequently failing like I did, you may find the USB adapter to be pretty useful. You’ll also notice a benefit in games like Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart 8. This weekend I found that I had a silky smooth connection during the Splatoon Global Testfire stress tests with only a few hiccups. I imagine the servers will be in even better shape with the official release on May 29, 2015.

None More Blog

I made a thing for my friend that lets you hide your public Tumblr page from casual visitors. This won’t act as protection from any sort of advanced user, as your Tumblr still gives off a RSS feed, your Tumblr can still be followed through the Dashboard, your posts can still be found in Tumblr search, and your Tumblr will be visible from inside the Tumblr mobile app. Additionally, if a visitor looks at the source code of this page, they will know this is a blog.

If someone happens to stumble upon your URL, however, this theme may present enough of a decoy to encourage them to move on. This is useful if you need to be very personal. This code works by completely replacing your real Tumblr theme thereby removing the template code that Tumblr themes use to display your content within a theme.

Here’s the code and a brief video explanation with a demonstration:
http://pastebin.com/5mKEexKV

I’d like to offer some advice for some of the people that this theme may appeal to. As I mentioned, this theme is not a viable form of protection. It’s merely a means of concealing your content in certain situations.  If you are being abused online or in real life, there is help. You can report online abuse directly Tumblr by emailing abuse@tumblr.com. You can talk to teachers you trust, or your school principal. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online.