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Behind the Scenes of Wii U Software Development 92

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the should've-used-emacs dept.
Sockatume writes "Digital Foundry has published an article from an anonymous but trusted developer outlining the challenges of developing for the Nintendo Wii U. The piece confirms some common perceptions of Nintendo, such as their attitude to third party developers, and presents a few surprises, like networking code not being made available to outside developers until the console was almost on sale."
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Behind the Scenes of Wii U Software Development

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  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao&hotmail,com> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:14AM (#45949907) Homepage

    Almost immediately after the reveal the emails starting flying asking what people thought of the new console design and specification. The almost universal answer was, "I like the new controller, but the CPU looks a bit underpowered".

    Funny, when they revealed it, I was underwhelmed by the controller. I thought: this looks so pointless, it's like a tablet that you can't carry around.

    • by psavo (162634)

      I like the controller. Much better having menus/maps on hands than going to menu and dig there. And then there's the asymmetric play (from common games seen in LEGO Marvel where other player can wander off and see his things on pad controller instead of splitscreen).

      • I like the controller. Much better having menus/maps on hands than going to menu and dig there. And then there's the asymmetric play (from common games seen in LEGO Marvel where other player can wander off and see his things on pad controller instead of splitscreen).

        I like the controller concept; but it's pretty awkward that it was released (and both the BOM teardowns and the pricing of individual controllers suggests it wasn't inexpensive compared to the console as a whole) at the same time that the market is being flooded with iPads and Android tablets, many markedly more competent, classier screens, etc.

        Given that the console market is highly price sensitive, and the Wii U draws serious flack for being underpowered, it's a pity that they had to blow the cash on a

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      It just looks unwieldy to me. I mean, I have big hands and generally like a bigger controller (I like the 360 controller over the PS3 controller, for example), but even I have to balk at the Wii U controller. To me it looks even more uncomfortable than the old Dreamcast controller.

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:47AM (#45950095)

        Have you tried one? It's really nice, having the controls separated like that is much easier on your wrists and posture in general.

        • by TWiTfan (2887093)

          I haven't actually tried one, and so fair enough. Maybe it's a perception problem more than anything else. People see the controller (especially parents looking to buy it for their kids) and are intimidated by it--kind of the exact opposite of the Wii controller, which was so simple.

          • by Sockatume (732728)

            That's the front and the back of the problem, really. People who try it like it, but unlike the Wii it's very hard to get people to that first step. It's not even easy to demonstrate in a store because of the size of it. I usually hop on the first demo pod I see of a new system, but I didn't get a shot on a WiiU until months after launch when someone brought one to a reunion. Completely shattered my expectations of what it would feel like in use.

        • Replying to undo accidental negative mod. I might as well explain myself: I wanted to mark this as insightful because I recently came into possession of one of these consoles and have found the controller to be quite comfortable. For me the big feature of it is the audio coming from the controller itself. Yeah, the speakers aren't as good as those on my TV, but the stereo separation from a source that close is great!

          Nintendo really did do something great with the controller, here. Pity the software lib

      • by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:51AM (#45950127)

        Funny thing: I liked the old DC controller and the original Xbox controller. As long as you didn't hold them improperly, they were great.

        The trick is, you are supposed to actually hold them in your HAND, not your fingers. That prevents finger strain and a lot of the RSI problems people get into with awkward hand positioning. The side of the controller goes into the crease between thumb and forefinger and across your palm, and your thumbs are free to use the buttons while your index and middle finger operate the triggers.

        The Xbox controller was the first one I ever had a marathon gaming session with and felt no pain after. Couldn't say that about any of nintendo's controllers, nor the silly Playstation controllers that jab your hand with a too-short flange underneath each side and force you to curl your ring and pinky fingers in to try to hold it up.

        It's ergonomics 101.

        The other feature I "like" about the WiiU's controller is the theoretical ability to play a game on it while someone else uses the TV. Not enough to buy a WiiU, but I like the concept of the feature. The problem with it is that from what I hear, most companies don't really take advantage of that - they assume you have the TV running the game, and the pad screen available for some other form of readout, and so going to single-screen mode hurts your gameplay options.

        I guess that's kind of like with the Wii's controller. There were a few games that used it really well, and a lot of third-party games (looking square at Activision here) where they implemented shitty controls to "show off" the motion-sensing features when there was no good gameplay reason to bother with motion-sensing anything.

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          The problem with the original Xbox controller is that the palm grip is was terribly intolerant of hand sizes: if your fingers don't reach the sticks and buttons in that posture, you're going to have to assume an uncomfortable one. It would've been fine if MS were producing a bespoke controller per user, or every user's hand was exactly average-sized, but you've got to design in a tolerance for natural variability. The finger grip of more traditionally-shaped controllers accomplishes that.

          • by Moryath (553296)

            Which is why they created the kiddie-friendly Xbox S controller in short order... pick which one you want.

            • by Sockatume (732728)

              They originally designed that for Japan, based on the same assumptions about designing around the "average hand". As a consequence people there thought it was too large.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            The problem with every controller that is not the original Xbox controller is that it is too small for me. Controllers should be sold in small, medium, and large sizes, which would solve this problem completely. If designed carefully they can use the same internals.

            • by Sockatume (732728)

              You'd have to make sure you got demand right, especially around the iffy launch time, but it's not as though the things are going to rot on the shelf if you overestimate a little one way or another.

        • by trdrstv (986999)

          The other feature I "like" about the WiiU's controller is the theoretical ability to play a game on it while someone else uses the TV. Not enough to buy a WiiU, but I like the concept of the feature. The problem with it is that from what I hear, most companies don't really take advantage of that - they assume you have the TV running the game, and the pad screen available for some other form of readout, and so going to single-screen mode hurts your gameplay options.

          There's some games that you don't allow Off-TV play, but I'd wager there's more that do. Sure some games require you use both because they are designed for it, but even Nintendo has quite a few games that support Off TV play. Think of it this way if they're going to port Call of Duty / Assassins Creed or Batman to the platform, they were designed without a second screen in mind and had features added to use it. If you choose off-screen, you simply get the regular PS360 type experience.

          For me one of the gr

      • by Agent0013 (828350)
        My three year old doesn't seem to have any problems with it. And her hands are pretty small.
    • I have a Wii U and really don't use the tablet controller because battery life is so poor. That being said, the wireless non tablet controller is one of the best feeling and nicest controllers to play on of any system and any generation. Close to the Xbox controller but without the bulk, and light years better than the PS controllers, which you practically need to develop callouses on your hands if you plan to play for a while.
    • I bought the console strictly for social play. The controller design excels at enabling fun multiplayer games for use in the same room by giving one player things the other can't see (a hide and seek style game for example). Keeping UI off the TV is nice, but not terribly effective when you have to continually take your eyes off screen to interact with your inventory, map, etc.
    • by Xest (935314)

      I thought that too, until through a combination of a fire sale, the will of my girlfriend to play Lego City Undercover, and an onset of Mario nostalgia convinced me to impulse buy one.

      Don't regret it at all. It's not perfect, I only seem to get 6 hours or so out of the main controller which is rather annoying if you want a longer session without recharging, and it needs more games, but what it has is all really good. I loved Pikmin 3, it was one of my favourite games of last year. The controller is surprisi

    • by csumpi (2258986)
      The controller is cool. But.

      If you have multiple kids, you'd have to buy extra "cool" controllers for each. And find games, if they even exist, that support multiple "cool" controllers. So basically Nintendo reduced it's marketplace to single people, households with only one child and the super rich.

      .
      • Score of 5?! Spoken like someone who has no actual knowledge of the console. 1.) The Wii U only supports one new controller. The games themselves are only designed for one player to use the new controller at a time. 2.) All other players use the standard Wiimotes, the same that came with the original Wii.
        • by csumpi (2258986)

          The Wii U only supports one new controller.

          Well that's of course not true. From the Wii U tech specs: [nintendo.com]

          "The Wii U console is capable of supporting two Wii U GamePad controllers, up to four Wii Remote (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers or Wii U Pro Controllers, and Wii accessories such as the Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board."

          .

  • Apparently some other devs have come to a different conclusion: http://nintendoenthusiast.com/news/harder-develop-games-wii-u-case-says-renegade-kid/ [nintendoenthusiast.com].

    But hey, a bit of FUD keeps the day going.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      How can a first-person anecdotal account constitute FUD [wikipedia.org]?

      • From an anonymous source? But OK, go on believing everything you read on the interwebs.
        • by Sockatume (732728)

          It hardly takes a planet-sized intellect to reconcile an early WiiU developer stating that it was an uphill struggle with incomplete tools, with a present-day developer years later stating that they find it really easy and that they think the other guy must have been using early and incomplete tools.

          And neither constitute "FUD" in any sense but "thing that's negative about something I like".

          • I don't mind negative things about something I like. I mind negative news about something I like, when the consensus is that the thing is hardly representative, without mentioning that fact.
            • by Sockatume (732728)

              It's hardly the only article to have elaborated on how bad Nintendo's developer support was in the run up to the WiiU launch. It's telling that all the rebuttals that you're citing are related to the current state of WiiU development, not the events that the article actually describes.

              • "Digital Foundry has published an article from an anonymous but trusted developer outlining the challenges of developing for the Nintendo Wii U. The piece confirms some common perceptions of Nintendo, such as their attitude to third party developers, and presents a few surprises, like networking code not being made available to outside developers until the console was almost on sale."

                I have read that time and time again, and every time it seems to indicate that this is the current state of affairs.

                • "Digital Foundry has published an article from an anonymous but trusted developer outlining the challenges of developing for the Nintendo Wii U. The piece confirms some common perceptions of Nintendo, such as their attitude to third party developers, and presents a few surprises, like networking code not being made available to outside developers until the console was almost on sale."

                  I have read that time and time again, and every time it seems to indicate that this is the current state of affairs.

                  If you read the whole article you couldn't fail to realise he's talking about early stuff. Key clues being the bit about ninty coming to announce the thing, all the talk of rapidly changing dev kits, the way he's talking about getting a game out for release, talking about ninty handling the transition to HD and the fact he says it's early days and most documentation for it is light or missing. Fair enough if you like it, more power to you, but don't try and change what they said to something you can defend

                  • The actual article (which I read two days ago) is bad enough for not providing an updated context, but I suppose it can be considered some kind of personal experience. The slashdot summary, however, make this seem as if it is the normal state of affairs.
                • by Sockatume (732728)

                  Believe it or not, there's a thing in that summary* called a "link" that takes you to a big list of words - those are the actual article.

                  *Which I threw together in about five seconds, but still includes an explicit reference to the run-up to launch.

                  • A link is not an excuse for a misleading summary, and neither is the fact that you only spent five seconds on it.
                    • by Sockatume (732728)

                      Yes, it was a terrible error for me to assume that people would read the article, particularly if the summary was intentionally short on details. As your remarks, which have repeatedly operated under the assumption that the article was about the current state of affairs, so clearly demonstrate.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, on one side you have EG article with detailed explanations on why it is/was hard to develop for WiiU, with concrete examples, written by a dev. On the other side, on NintendoEthusiast, you've got the following statement:
      "I am not a programmer, but from what I gather the Wii U is not more difficult to develop for than other platforms."

      That basically sounds like a discussion of an adult with a 3-year old.

      • So, on one side you have EG article with detailed explanations on why it is/was hard to develop for WiiU, with concrete examples, written by a dev. On the other side, on NintendoEthusiast, you've got the following statement: "I am not a programmer, but from what I gather the Wii U is not more difficult to develop for than other platforms."

        That basically sounds like a discussion of an adult with a 3-year old.

        Don't forget it's a tweet, a renowned source of excellence and credibility.

    • by Moryath (553296)

      Wow. Getting a "debunk" from a PR blog called "Nintendo Enthusiast" about the WiiU... That's like trusting Fox News when they say the Tea Party aren't a bunch of racists.

    • What tipped you off?

      Code optimised for the PowerPC processors found in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

      Having worked on other hardware consoles, I suppose that we were rather spoilt by having mature toolchains that integrated nicely with our development environment. ----... ---- This doesn't sound bad, but when you are debugging and making lots of changes, these additional times add up. If you made 10 changes to a file in a morning, you could be spending over 50 minutes waiting for the linker to complete, whi

    • Well it is possible the situation was pretty dire in the beginnings of pre-launch SDKs and gotten better from there. The system has been out for a while.

  • Based on EA's comments earlier last year, I'm surprised they even still HAVE third-party developers.

    • The reality is that EA got in a huff because Nintendo said no to Origins and how they wanted to handle the multiplayer scenario, basically forcing Origin into the equation. That's when EA drew a line in the sand and FUD campaign started.
  • That's the real news story.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:51AM (#45950123)
    I know lots of people who own a Wii (myself included), and amazingly few people who actually use it.
  • I worked for a major Asian technology company (trust me, you have heard of them), and many of the problems with Nintendo in the article take me back to those days. They were totally out of the loop with consumer technology trends in America (as Nintendo seemed to be with PSN and XBox Live).

    The English level was very low. Hey, it's their country, right? Well, yeah, but when you are trying to be a global company and working with developers all over the world, you can't waste a week while all your emails ar

    • by RogueyWon (735973)

      I've had similar experiences in the past, though I'd say it's specifically Japanese. I think a large part of the problem stems from how they teach English in their schools - it's actually compulsory right through to 18 (for those who stay in education that long) but is taught like Western schools teach Latin (ie. as an intellectual and linguistic exercise, not as a living, spoken language). I suspect that plays a big role in the decline of Japanese global competitiveness when compared to other East Asian so

  • by JImbob0i0 (1202835) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:55AM (#45950149)

    Following this 'anonymous developer' this article ended up being refuted by multiple developers ...

    More bad blood and FUD by EA perhaps?

    See more details here [nintendoenthusiast.com] and here [reddit.com].

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @11:13AM (#45951039)

      I don't think you can call a collection of offhand tweets and casual remarks from developers a "refutation" when the article's about specific technical and toolchain issues.

      • by Narishma (822073)

        Not to mention that those developers doing the refuting are all very small indie developers making small 2d games. The anonymous developer in the article sounds like a AAA developer. The situations are hardly comparable.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's a link to three indie developers talking about their programming experience on the wii u. I'm totally sure a 3 man team making a 2d side scroller is pushing the system exactly the way a 100+ man team doing the latest port of a triple AAA title is.

  • What I'm always sort of shocked by is how Nintendo knows how to make good games; but their ability to make software seems stuck back in the era when you just built the hardware and let the ROM in the cartridge take over. It isn't a huge surprise that Microsoft approaches their consoles with a heavy dose of software and server backend (even if you don't like their software, they sure have years of experience with writing the stuff, and know a thing or two about running high-volume server operations). Sony is
  • If it was taking Nintendo a week to translate questions from Japanese to English and then translate the reply. Why didn't this company have somebody on retainer who could translate the initial question into Japanese so questions could be answered in an hour?
    • I meant English to Japanese in the above.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      It read to me that they were going through their own translator in the UK, but unless you're dropping really big bucks on somebody you're not going to get messages relayed in real time, especially out of office hours.

      • by glennrrr (592457)
        How much could it possibly cost to have a subscription to a translation service? It isn't as though speaking Japanese and English are super powers. My own wife does a great job translating English to Chinese and back again, and I doubt she'd charge anybody more than $60/hr for the work if she were in that business.
        • by Sockatume (732728)

          My impression that interpreting work is surprisingly expensive, and technical interpreting work (excluding law as its own special nightmare) even more so. You'd think they'd have the sense to have someone who spoke Japanese fluently on the staff in a casual role, but medium-sized developers don't have that option. I don't think the article was from someone like EA or Ubisoft, who you'd expect to have a direct pipeline to Kyoto.

  • New console's APIs are not finalized until last minute. How is this news?

    What was this dude expecting? Having the APIs set in stone a year before launch on a brand new platform?

    .
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Lead time. If the net code doesn't become available until the console's literally on sale, either you don't do a launch title, or you do a launch title that assumes the net code doesn't exist.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @12:37PM (#45952153) Journal

    Yes, it is underpowered, but do you really need that much power?

    Let me first point out that when I first bought the Wii-U, the whole thing was a HUGE disappointment to me, it cost as much as a PS4, it had less power than an Xbox360, and the controller looked like a thing out of an 80s Fischer Price toy, huge, bulky and heavy - worst part of all...a RESISTIVE screen in our multi-touch society which made browsing on this thing, not as smooth as ANY tablet I know of. And the Updating mistake? Shortly after unpacking, I had to wait 3-4 hours for the thing to update...even on a 12mbit line, huge annoying update. And to no avail, the menues were horribly slow and annoying.

    But...all that negativity aside, they actually did something right. Netflix was installed, and it was the BEST streaming app I've ever seen, not even on any of my other so called HD streaming devices...could even touch it. The practical video-selection menu on the Wii-U controller gave us an unbeatable feeling of browsing trough DVDs in a video rental store, and it could display information about the movie - while watching the actual movie on the bigscreen, this brought back the "hold-your-dvd-in-your-hands" feel when I used to rent/own movies back in the days, it was right - it felt good. And the streaming quality was totally unseen on any other device. It also recovered whatever you saw earlier...faster than anywhere, I was in Video heaven. That APP alone, saved the Wii-U for me when the lack of titles were so obvious

    But the problems wasn't over yet, Nintendos endless arrogance shows up again and again, the Netflix APP stopped working properly somewhere mid April 2013 because a Nintendo update broke it. Netflix didn't respond to the thousands of complaints...and Nintendo left it up to its volunteers at the MiiVerse to try to help people re-install the App..but to no Avail, this "Black-Screen" issue with Netflix lasted nearly 5 Months before they actually fixed it. But after that - all was peachy in Nintendo land.

    Nintendo DOES still have issues with connecting players online (eg. Camera / Chat features, and Wii Sports Bowling that rarely if ever connects with another player), Nintendo claims it's owners fault for having a too strong firewall, not all ports available etc...but nothing is ever wrong with Nintendos programming, needless to say...we've already had a team of experts on this (our cable supporters & full time technicians, who have even set up a special Nintendo Wii-U pass all on their routers, but to no avail - it IS actually Nintendos fault...but you know the Nintendo team, they are NEVER at fault.

    So, what is so smart about Nintendo then? Well, they made this device available before EVERYONE else, this means...they've had a YEAR to iron out baby bugs and other startup issues. Today the Wii-U is a great little box with lots of 3rd party games sold for very low prices (we're talking dollar store prices here), and some great titles like Super Mario 3D World...which is in my opinion, worth purchasing the Wii-U for alone, it's a feast to gorge upon, but should have been released WITH the console back in the days of early release.

    I was heading off to purchase an PS4, and it was quickly sold out in November/December. I could get one in January, but seeing how much fun I'm having with the Wii-U today, and remembering the launch issues it had...plus seeing the PS4 owners having problems abundance and a severe lack of fun titles...makes me think I'm doing just fine, and I suspect - so will a lot of people, expect to pick up PS4 cheap in the nearest future.

  • I still like my Wii U
    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, you clearly don't. Remember, this is the internet, you're not allowed to have your own opinion that goes against that of the masses here. That would be... unfortunate.

    • by tfranzese (869766)
      You're not alone. And every so often Nintendo drops a gem on you with little (Super Mario 3D World) to no (NES Remix) lead up. Between Steam and Nintendo, I couldn't be a happier gamer.

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