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Iwata Asks: Wii U Chat

Wii U may be less than a week away, but Nintendo’s still got time to squeeze out a few more Iwata Asks segments in between now and then, right? Mr. Iwata’s off to a good start with today’s new interview, which focuses exclusively on Wii U Chat, Nintendo’s new “TV phone” system.

If you don’t know anything about Wii U Chat, I recommend you check out this introduction video to the service, then read through my bullet-point breakdown of this new interview after the break.

  • Mr. Iwata’s guests today are Mr. Fumihiko Tamiya, the director of Wii U Chat, and Mr. Atsushi Watanabe, who was in charge of the library that allows Wii U Chat to be accessed on a system-wide basis. Mr. Iwata says that Mr. Watanabe is part of a division that researches technologies that might be used in future games.
  • The team says that the idea of a video call was actually born about 15 years ago when Nintendo 64 had just debuted. Mr. Miyamoto was also thinking about a “caricature” avatar system, which Wii realized through Miis.
  • When they put a camera in the Wii U GamePad, they started looking at various video conferencing technologies from companies like NTD and Vidyo and decided that they could make video calls work with Wii U.
  • They wound up working with Vidyo for their call system. Mr. Genyo Takeda had some connection there, so it made it easy to partner together.
  • Vidyo was especially helpful in thinks like lowering block noise (pixelation) due to higher Internet congestion. With Vidyo’s help, Nintendo was able to dynamically adjust the bitrate and resolution to minimize these interferences.
  • “Within Japan, there’s been an increase in areas with a good network environment, so you may not notice it as much. But overseas there are still a lot of areas with older lines, and it enables you to be able to keep a certain level of quality to all video chats, even those with someone in one of those areas.”
  • Once the connection between systems has been established for Wii U Chat, communication becomes P2P and doesn’t rely on the server. This helps avoid server load and ensures that Wii U Chat can be offered at no additional cost.
  • The idea to finally pursue video chat actually came from North America. Nintendo of America has said that Next Level Games had an open line and wanted to do something with it, so they decided to finally introduce video chat.
  • Before working on Wii U Chat, Mr. Tamiya worked on the Nintendo Zone Viewer for Nintendo 3DS, which was codeveloped with the Product Engineering Department at NOA. This team came back on board for Wii U Chat.
  • Tamiya: “I may be exaggerating, but I think feelings that can come across between emails and an actual visit are quite a bit different. A video meeting would be right in between the two.”
  • Because Wii U Chat was largely developed by NOA, they actually had to localize it back into Japanese! NOA’s NST division helped with the reverse localization. This is the first time Nintendo has brought in the overseas teams for this kind of work on new Nintendo firmware.
  • While Vidyo’s software is modular, making it easy to drop in elements one at a time, this is the first time it’s been used for a game console. They had to keep working on it as they finished developing the Wii U OS and network functionalities.
  • Silicon Studio helped with middleware development.
  • Both the TV and GamePad will display the same images. They wanted to make it simple enough that it’d be easy for anyone to use the service. The idea is that if you’re with your family, you’ll want to use the TV, but if you’re by yourself, you might prefer the GamePad.
  • Tamiya on incorporating Wii U Chat as a game console-based service: “I thought that the most important thing was not what you would do during the video chat, but the step leading up to it. Before you start a chat you’re waiting with bated breath, and the moment you’ve connected and you meet the other person’s eyes, you feel so glad. So I wanted to offer that experience directly, without any annoying fiddling around.”
  • The process of linking up on Wii U Chat has two main steps: “First, when you boot up Wii U Chat, you’ll see a list of all the Mii characters you have registered as a friend. Step one, you pick the friend you want to talk to. Step two, push the Call button, and then you’re connected!” Yep, it’s just that easy.
  • In your address book, Miis will be ordered in terms of video call frequency so you can find the friends you chat with most quickly, without having to flip through. This will replace a “speed dialing” or strictly alphabetical sorting system. The idea is that you will typically call only the people you’re closest to or need to communicate with most often.
  • Before beginning development, they held an “Ask Takeda-san How He Feels Meeting.” They got things like “I want this console to bring families happiness,” and “Wii U Chat must offer some form of play, since we’re Nintendo,” as well as “let’s make it available from day one!”
  • In terms of making families happy, they wanted to design Wii U Chat so that families could be “together” through this TV or GamePad-based connection in their living rooms.
  • We’ve already confirmed this, but if you’re playing a game and you get a call, the Home Button will flash. If you press Home, you can access Wii U Chat. This will require that you leave the game…but it seems as though it’ll be suspended, not totally terminated (TBC).
  • There’s a dedicated messages list for Wii U Chat so you can get in touch with people even when they’re not online.
  • Iwata: “Video chatting has already become pretty commonplace these days, but this does feel a little different, doesn’t it? Something about seeing the other person on my huge TV screen felt really new to me. When I first experienced it I thought, “Wow! They’re huge!” And until then a video chat with multiple people on each end was something I had only experienced on a business video conference session, so being able to have an experience like this at a home living room felt very fresh.”
  • Wii U Chat is a good way to offer video chat that many people can use together, whereas smartphones are more personal and optimized for one-on-one interaction.
  • They responded to the “element of play” request by adding in the feature where you can draw on the chat screen.
  • Iwata: “Normally you can never doodle on your bosses face, but we were able to do so during development. In fact, when you’re doodled on, it actually makes you happy.”
  • Originally this feature would bring up an on-screen “whiteboard,” but this didn’t test well. It would distract people from conversation and people would feel pressured by their drawing skills (or lack thereof). Plus, you couldn’t gauge the other person’s facial reactions as well.
  • The staff from 3DS’s Swapnote came on board for this feature.
  • They were having a serious conversation with Next Level Games at one point, and the mood became unpleasant. But they were able to draw out a few things to lighten the mood.
  • The “haze” that surrounds the drawn lines was developed by Yu Kitai, one of the Swapnote developers. It’s there to help the drawings be distinguishable against any background. Mr. Iwata believes this is out of the box thinking thanks to the popularity of instant photo booths that allow you to personalize your photos. “I feel like that’s the sort of attention to color coordination that you might not get with an all-male team.”
  • They had a bunch of other ideas, but didn’t add any of them. They wanted to keep things simple, and adding too much would take away from that. “There were a lot of capabilities that had a lot of impact, and that I thought were really good, but I tried to think about what was really necessary when it came to using this long-term as a part of your daily lives.”
  • They decided early on that Wii U Chat needed to be built-in so everyone could use it. They couldn’t install its final software in time for manufacturing, so you’ll perform a system update the first time you connect your Wii U to the Internet.
  • The way Wii U works as a TV phone device, you don’t necessarily have to show a full view of your living room, so if it’s messy or otherwise out of sorts, people don’t have to see it. Iwata hopes the portability of the GamePad camera will help people be more comfortable video chatting with each other.
  • Iwata: “If you set it on the Wii U GamePad Stand or the Wii U GamePad Cradle, you can chat without holding the GamePad. I really hope that people don’t just use it one on one. I hope they use it in a group.”

Source: Iwata Asks at Nintendo