Tuesday, November 13, 2007

With the Wii, the controller is the key

It's a good day for the Caddell parents. Our #1 Christmas task was locating and purchasing a Nintendo Wii for our 6- and 4-year-old boys. I don't know how it is where you live, but here stores receive small shipments of Wiis each week and sell them out as soon as they get them.

So today my wife got an email from GameStop letting us know they got some Wiis in. So I dutifully zipped over to the mall (in Harrisburg, most things are pretty close to each other, which is a beautiful thing at a time like this).

I got the last Wii in stock. So, at least in my own mind, I am a hero for the day. And the kid in me can't wait till the 25th. (I unwittingly spoiled my wife's Christmas gift for me--Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08--by buying my own copy from GameStop. Oops.)

But why do I want to play the Wii, when I couldn't be bothered with a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360?

It's the controller. Which is no surprise to anyone--it was Nintendo's central innovation for the Wii. But why is the controller so appealing to non-gamers?

One clue was watching my son play one of the standard consoles. Depending on the game, the buttons on the controller have completely different meanings ("If you want to speed up, press the 'A' button"). There's a joystick, and the four-way direction thing-y. And those colored buttons. What do they each do?

The learning curve for any new game is daunting...too daunting for me to bother trying. I don't have the patience for getting blasted into oblivion a hundred times before figuring out how to enable my shields.

PC games are no better. A year ago I signed up for RuneScape and spent an hour trying to walk out of the first room I plopped into--before I gave up.

But the Wii controller is more intuitive. It's one level of abstraction closer to real movement and action. There's much less need to translate what you want to do into controller language.

As such, the Wii will probably never be cool to hardcore gamers. But I don't care; if you're looking for me on December 26th, I'll be playing Pebble Beach with Tiger.