My birthday is actually Monday, but my supercool wife Mo got me with a huge birthday surprise today. She organized the whole thing with my whole family chipping in and I never suspected. Without knowing (or caring) what a "Wii" is, turns out she'd been driving all over Oregon all last week, while sick, looking for a Wii for mii. She saw my Amazon Wishlist and went off hunting for a Wii. The amazing part is that she actually thought it was US$450 because I added a "bundle" to my list, and was thrilled when it was $249. Still "ridiculously expensive why do you have so many gadgets," but cool when one finds that something is nearly half what they expected it'd be.
Lately I've been thinking about games and hobbies that would bring family and friends together, rather than Gears of War style games that I can't play with anyone but the sick bastards at work. :) My buddy Eli and boss Chris have turned me on to alternative (my word) boardgaming, and that'll be the topic of this week's Hanselminutes. More on that later. I'm looking for games that are fun. Full stop.
I did research on the Wii for the podcast on Next Generation Gaming, although I got a few things wrong, I generally had the right idea. The Wii - specifically the controllers and the experience - is built to be fun, and really stretches the classic controller design assumptions.
It's tiny, the Wii is. Quite wee, in fact. It's smaller than the Xbox360's HD-DVD by a considerable margin. It's of course, easy to hook up as it includes Composite RCA cables, and a sensor bar. Everything else is wireless.
The sensor bar appears to be two IR receivers on a foot long bar that has to be mounted either above or below your TV. From what I can glean in an hour, there's two physical transmitters next to each other on the Wiimote and there's two receivers. When you're pointing the controller (folks talk about calibrating, but I never saw those screens. It just worked.) it knows the orientation (if you twisted your wrist) as well as the location you're pointing to. The IR details, along with the internal gyroscope and accelerometer give it a pretty decent idea of where you are. The little floating hand cursor actually twists with you. It's very much like the Gyromouse of years past. (Folks are hacking the Wiimote for Linux and Windows, but it's kind of pointless as that controller is freely available. I use it for my Media Center.) I believe Nintendo either bought or sleeps with that company.
The Wii outputs composite, but you can get Component Cables that'll do 480p. I believe I'm out of Video Inputs though, so I'm just plugging it into the Camcorder front jacks on the Receiver. I seriously doubt the screen quality would get THAT much better, considering that my Onkyo is upconverting the output to 480p anyway and pushing it through HDMI, but I'm probably wrong. I'll try the component cables one day.
I hooked it up, and went through a few menus. It was very Japanese minimalist. Big, clear buttons, simple menus. The hardest part was typing in the WEP key for my WiFi with the on screen keyboard. After that, the Wii went through a lengthy self-update process that seemed to have three parts. Not sure why it took so long.
I popped in the free Wii Sports game and tried tennis. It took literally two minutes to get it. The controllers really work well.
I thought it might just be me, so I figured I'd use my control case - the wife.
"Here dear, try this."
"Oh, lord, what is this. The video game; no you go ahead."
"Seriously, two minutes. Try it."
The video at left is the two minutes. She actually liked it. She liked it a lot. This is a woman who sees little value in the Xbox360 beyond Bejeweled. I asked if it was the controllers or the graphics that she appreciated (remembering to myself that she was wholly unimpressed while I foisted Topspin Tennis on the Xbox360 on her). She said that fact that there was no learning curve, and that we were 'off our butts.'
Wii Sports is a silly little ditty, but addictive and fun. I look forward to having four people playing mixed doubles. I hope that Nintendo comes out with deeper version of Wii sports...even a "Wii Summer Games" would be a blast.
At this point I can say that while the Xbox360 and Sony PS3 are both truly gorgeous, the Wii is just good fun. So far that's based on one game, and what I hear about Zelda. The current Wii lineup appears, IMHO, to be fairly weak. It'll take a year I figure for the developers to really do something interesting with the controllers beyond minigames.
The Xbox is all about community. It really is. I have at least 50 folks on my buddy list and I enjoy that distributed community. I get the impression that the Wii is also expanding the community to the person standing next to you. The DS and Gameboy were like that also with their game sharing and head-to-head features. Yes, I know that there's lot of systems that do this, and yes, I know that Fusion Frenzy was a great party game on the original Xbox. But argue with this: The number of times that Mo has played Gears of War with me is somewhere between zero and bubkes. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Xbox immensely when I get a chance to play it. But if there's a chance to spend time with the Wife, the Wife always wins. Ideally I'd combine the two hobbies and actually play a game with the Wife. The fact that she picked up the controllers and was losing a virtual tennis match two minutes later is a significant event, IMHO. The Whole Wii Experience was seamless, from Out of the Box to Game Over.
For now, if I were considering buying a console, I could totally recommend the Wii. Even after tonight's few hours with it, I suspect Mo and I will play Tennis a few times a week. I also think that the accessibility and non-existent learning curve might even get Mom and Dad using the Wii.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.