Consoles Nintendo

Console Innovation: Personal Screen Trumps Motion

The genie is out of the bottle … along with bringing the Nintendo console up to (and possibly exceeding) current generation gaming specs with HD 1080p graphics and a robust online service (eluded by Big Reggie himself) – we have another new disrupter;  the personal screen on the Wii U controller.

When I first heard the rumors about a 6″ screen being on the console controller, I had horrible flashbacks to VMU days and promises of Sony PSPs being used as rear-view mirrors.

After coming down from the my E3 high, I have decided that the personal screen is the greatest addon for a game console possible – completely trumping Nintendo’s previous disruption of motion controls.  But why?

Nintendo has been dipping their feet in this water for some time – even as recently as Pac-Man Vs. where everyone used their own GBA to play a game with up to four people.  It was an expensive proposition, but it was damn cool when you did manage to do it.

The fertile minds at Big N have been wanting to put a screen in front of you while you play – and now they’ve committed to it.  After all, isn’t it really just an EXTENSION of the Dual Screen model they’ve been using for years?  Two screens – one to play, one as an augmentation (or both to play).  They are just trying to make your console into a dual screen game machine like their handhelds (which is still printing money for them, so they must be on the right track, no?)

Motion controls were great.  They brought casual gamers that feared 12 button, multi-stick controllers back into the gaming fold.  But as we quickly found out, motion controls are fantastic for a select type of gaming – but was horribly used and abused for most other types of gaming (replacing buttons with gestures, implementing waggle “just for the sake of it”, etc.)

So while motion controls are neat and fun, they don’t connect the dots for both “casual” type games and the more “hardcore” type games.  Ask Sony.  Their six-axis goes almost unused with the exception of “tack-ons”.  Their Move product (as well as MS’s Kinect product) are pidgeon-holed into a select type of game that can properly utilize it (sports, dancing, et al).  Oh sure, MS is pushing developers like CRAZY to fist Kinect support into games – but a large portion of them are coming up as voice or gesture controls – not exactly cutting edge or remarkable.

Back to the personal screen and why it could be the greatest distruptor of all time.  The answer is simple;  while motion can augment a small variety of games, the personal screen can easily and very practically be added to enhance (dare I say?) ANY game.  That makes it more than a “tacked on” device – but a real game changer (pun intended).

What do I mean?  Simple … spin the Wheel of Games and whatever title comes up – see if you can come up with a killer use for that personal touch screen.  The more thought I gave it, the more sure I was that Nintendo has it right.

This article would be for naught if I didn’t provide tons of real world examples using existing games as the basis.  Sure, some of them are totally obvious – but others, not so much.  Let’s take a look.  By the way, developers – feel free to poach ANY of these ideas for your games.  I’ll take a humble mention in the credits 🙂

FPS Games (Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc)

There are so many of these types of games with different skins, it’s unnerving.  The good news is that there are a million and one uses for that personal screen.

  • The obvious one is sniping; using the screen as your scope for sniping long distances across the map.
  • The second most obvious; weapon, inventory and other “secondary” type uses.  Instead of having to use your bonuses in the order you got them (UAV, then Airstrike, then Mortars, then Dogs) you could queue them up as you earn them and touch the icon to call them any time.
  • Many weapons in these games are camera based – now instead of a hud or taking over the display, these “micro cameras” can be on the personal screen.
  • Advanced map display and tactics.  Forget the HUD being a tiny blip in the corner – display that sucker right there in front of you (SR71 standing by).  Forget little blue and green arrows.  Actually SEE the men on the screen from a top view.  Cool …
  • Back Cam … no more Ninja perk bastards sneaking up on you.  Wearing your special “rear view glasses” see behind you …
  • Secondary views … Infrared overlays .. use the controller as a heat detector by holding it up in front of you and panning across the TV view.
  • Face Time Like conferencing.  Holy crap, could you imagine being able to “face time” your team on large maps?  Imagine it for stealth/SOCOMM type games?
  • Spawn Cam … While you’re sitting there waiting to spawn, forget “flipping” through your team for something to watch … while the TV is showing your friend’s actions, you’re using the personal screen to prepare your loadout for when you respawn.  Split the personal screen into 8 boxes and watch EVERYONE at one time – like those casino security cameras.
  • Hacking Equipment.  Reprogram claymores, motion detectors, et al on your screen using the touch screen while still seeing the action on the TV.
  • Creating Emblems, Logos, etc.  It sure would be a lot more fun to make those in-game identifiers if you essentially had a tablet in front of you.
  • Display hints/cheats/walkthroughs during game play (i.e. buy the Prima guide at Gamestop, enter a code and you can have it on your personal screen while you play).


Racing Games

The cup runneth over for ideas here …

  • Can I FINALLY have my Speed Racer game with the steering controls AND the button activators between my hands?  Yep – with your personal touch screen, you can be driving – reach down and tap the A button on your steering console to use the jacks to jump …
  • Imagine a Knight Rider game where you use the personal screen as a cockpit interior “view” (pan the controller around to see the full inside view), being able to hit Turbo Boost right on the screen, or taking Devon’s phone calls on the little screen in the dashboard or performing repairs on K.I.T.T. after a run in with Goliath.
  • Of course the proverbial “rear view mirror” usage.  This time, everyone can use it – not just PSP owners.
  • Control your NOS and other in-car upgrades as required (ever see Fast and Furious?).  Deploy weapons (oil, smoke – again, like FPS games, you can finally queue up powerups and bonuses and use them non-sequentially).
  • Face time conferencing between cars and/or cockpit.
  • The obvious course map – but this time it can be in rich detail, showing weather and road conditions for your off-roader types.  Tap on the competitor’s cars to see their stats, position and other information.


RPG/Adventure Games

These are so blatently obvious, but I’ll throw them out for the world to see anyway.

  • Real-time Inventory control.  Duh.
  • Extensive mapping.  Imagine a game where you actually get to MAP again (we love you Etrian Odyssey!) – where it becomes part of the experience.  We have a touch screen – let us make annotations.
  • Dungeon making/level editing.  Developers – every player of your game has a tablet – start letting us build levels with a highly intuitive input method.
  • Casting spells, combining ingredients, tracing runes.  Again, duh.
  • Familiar Cams … enchant a monster and send him out ahead to scout.  The TV shows your current location (so you don’t get waylaid) but the personal screen shows the familiar’s POV.
  • Again face time discussions – while playing in different areas of the map or dungeon, communicate to your co-op player in real time.
  • Mini-game play where it makes sense (card games, dice games, bar games, solving riddles from Golum, blah blah blah …).
  • Display hints/cheats/walkthroughs during game play (i.e. buy the Prima guide at Gamestop, enter a code and you can have it on your personal screen while you play).


Fighting Games

You would think there was no room for a personal screen in this genre.  Wrong.

  • Statistical displays – perfect to see how (and where) your fighter (and the other guy) is injured.
  • Move Lists for complicated fighters.  Tap to execute – just look to the great range of 3DS fighting games to see how to use that touch screen.
  • Manage multiple tag team partners by touching their big icons on the personal screen.  Four on Four Tag Matches in the Wii U’s Mortal Kombat please …
  • Creating custom costumes, war paint, tattoos, etc.
  • Nice controls for accessing unlockables, browsing The Krypt, etc.  Mini games where appropriate.
  • X-Ray moves using the personal screen as a targeting X-Ray machine.  You MK players know what I’m talking about.


General Gaming

Here are even more uses.

  • Zoom in on detailed areas for Hidden Object games.
  • Scanning areas for hidden/secret rooms or items, explosives and other such tasks.
  • Receiving clues for game shows like Password
  • Thermal imager for a fire fighting simulation.
  • Binocular simulation for strategic games (or just looking for Sand People – or worse).
  • Performing surgical procedures in Trauma Center style games.
  • Realistic “cell phone” or “tablet” simulator for games where the onscreen player has them.  Take calls from your team lead with clues.  Use your cell phone to take pictures of the crime scene and “send” them to the lab.
  • Can you imagine a Dead Rising game where you DON’T use this controller as a camera for taking zombie pictures?
  • Proximity detector for “ghosts” or “aliens” in your house.  Use AR techniques with the controller as an on site camera to detect supernatural occurrences.
  • Obvious sports game augmentation.  Create custom plays on your personal screen.  Choose plays using visuals on your personal screen, while your buddy uses the TV (honor system applies).
  • Take photos of the player when scary things happen in a Silent Hill style games (I wish I had a picture of me when that first creature busted through the window).  Use real player face photos to show progression of disease or zombifying after bitten.
  • Anti-Aircraft gunning HAS to be fun with this.  Sit in a spinning office chair and rotate around to see and shoot down bogeys.  Your buddy can be flying the plane on the TV while you’re dogfighting on the rear guns.  Okay, imagine shooting down TIE fighters off the flank of the Millennium Falcon, got it?  (Don’t get cocky)

You know, I could sit here ALL DAY, picking games at random and figuring out how the personal screen can add value and increase the fun factor.  I’m sure after reading this article, you can add a dozen of your own ideas to the mix (hint: that’s what the COMMENTS section at the bottom is for).

The point is – with motion controls, you have a finite set of genres and games you can enhance.  With the personal screen – every game can be enhanced and improved.

I can’t wait to see what Nintendo and third party developers do with this new disruptive technology!

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

7 thoughts on “Console Innovation: Personal Screen Trumps Motion”

  1. Hey, Shane. John Edwards from Google+.

    Pac Man Vs was a heck of a lot of fun. It could be played with fewer than four players, but four player was the only real way to play it. Though, it only required a single GBA — the player with the GBA played as Pac-Man and could see the entire board, while the other players had a split screen view on the TV and could only see a small area around them. This led to a lot of cooperation, as the ghost players tended to work together to round up Pac-Man, since the winner was the player who had the most time as Pac-Man. Whenever a ghost caught Pac-Man, those two players swapped controllers, so that the player who caught Pac-Man became Pac-Man.

    Definitely a great article. Since the Wii U controller is essentially the bottom half of a DS, anything that you might find on a DS touchscreen could be used on the Wii U controller. Another great example would be dynamic interfaces, with sliders, dials, widgets that activate, deactive or rearrange, etc.

    That said, maybe we’ll see DS games ported to the Wii U.

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