I wondered which of these would become the central message of the Wii U, the feature that would become emblematic of the system. For Shigeru Miyamoto, Senior Managing Director and General Manager, Entertainment Analysis & Development Division, it's none of those. "For me, personally, what's most important is the idea that when the family goes into the living room, that the first screen they'll interact with will be the Wii U screen," Miyamoto told me in an interview directly following Nintendo's E3 2012 press conference. "Whether they're doing that for social elements, or for watching television, or for games, that to me is the most important element of this new Wii hardware."
That's not to downplay the importance of the system's new asymmetric potential – among others, for the very practical reason of enabling experiences that were possible but prohibitively expensive before. "In the past, we've seen things like connectivity, where you have two devices working together," Miyamoto said. "But the challenge there is that not everybody has those two devices. With Wii U, you have both the console and the game screen together in one package, so everybody who owns it has exactly what they need to enjoy that asymmetric gameplay. That makes it easy for developers to take advantage of that unified ecosystem and build for it." In other words, things like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which relied on a connection between the GBA and GameCube, don't have to be anomalies.
"One other thing that I think may possibly change the way people design games," Miyamoto added, "is because of the use of the motion sensing technology and the gyroscope, and combining that with the screen. Now you have the ability to look around in a space that expands beyond the TV, this world that completely surrounds you." This functionality was shown off in a demo called Wii U Panorama View, which allowed players to look around nature scenes using the Wii U GamePad. This demo is set to be released holiday 2012, though Nintendo's fact sheet offers no indication of whether it will be included with the hardware or sold separately.
Though it's capable of new experiences, it seems the Wii U is well-designed to handle existing types of games – specifically, DS and 3DS games. After all, the Wii U is configured like a giant DS, with a touchscreen vertically oriented beneath another display. How does designing a Wii U game differ from designing a 3DS or DS game? "Well, I think from a game design perspective, in the living room, when you have one large TV that everyone is looking at, and you have this one smaller screen that a single player has, that they can hide from the others and do different things on," Miyamoto said, "I think that creates very different game experiences from, just for example, having two screens locked together in one position."
With Wii U, you have both the console and the game screen together in one package, so everybody who owns it has exactly what they need to enjoy that asymmetric gameplay.- Shigeru Miyamoto
Not that you couldn't do the same thing on both platforms. "Of course, you could always use this to also take, for example, 3DS games and perhaps bring them to the living room," Miyamoto speculated, "so perhaps you could have a Nintendogs game where you're interacting with the dog on the Wii U Gamepad and then you see a bigger dog there." In general, Miyamoto said, the new Wii U hardware is "really inspiring us and giving us a lot of good ideas," not all focused on big dogs.
As the legend goes, Miyamoto's real inspirations come from the things he's doing when he's not at work – a childhood spent exploring nature became The Legend of Zelda, a gardening hobby became Pikmin, a family pet inspired Nintendogs.
"Mr. Iwata always tells me I'm not allowed to tell anybody," Miyamoto told me. "It had been, for a long time, sort of a secret that I was going to art museums. But we just announced the project at the Louvre in Paris. So I can talk about that now. Maybe in the fall it might feel a bit more complete."
If Miyamoto's time off work is a mystery, his time at work is somewhat clearer. I asked if he had any interest in working with a small team to create a game himself as he once did with Donkey Kong, and he suggested that he's doing just that.
"One thing I want to clear up is, people like to ask me if I want to do a small project with a small team," Miyamoto said. "I do like working with a small team, and I'm working with a number of small teams on a lot of different ideas, but the problem is because of all these different roles that I have to fulfill, it takes me a long time to write the design document. It's not that it's a small project, it's that small teams take longer to do larger design documents." In other words, it's going to take a long time to see these experiments play out in public. "So maybe this time next year I'll have something ready to show you that perhaps will illustrate that idea.
"I have some storyboards that I have to draw before I finish this trip," Miyamoto said, laughing. "It's fun, I use Flipnote Studio to draw my storyboards."