The secret behind Wii U game development
Gaming consoles are still among the most popular means of gaming among gaming enthusiasts, nowadays providing some serious competition to PC gaming. However, while two big names in the industry – Sony and Microsoft – have no trouble keeping up with PCs, another industry giant in the field of gaming consoles is having trouble keeping up with the rest of the consoles, and doesn’t ever dare dreaming of competing with PCs. Yes, unfortunately we’re talking about Nintendo, an iconic name in the field of gaming consoles. Not only did Nintendo failed to come up with a console that’s powerful enough to challenge the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, but on the software side the things are not too pretty either, with developers having a really hard time pushing out games for Nintendo’s latest creation – the Nintendo Wii U. So, what lead to this situation? Several factors, actually. Let’s take them one by one.
It’s all about size
The first and most important obstacle came from the creator of the console itself – Nintendo. Their vision was to create a console that’s too small and too quiet. Sure, innovation is always good, as long as huge performance sacrifices are not made for the sake of innovation. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened with the Nintendo Wii U: in the race to make the console small, quiet and basically barely noticeable, Nintendo sacrificed valuable hardware space and had to opt for less-powerful hardware for physical and heat considerations. As a result, the Nintendo Wii U comes with an under-powered processor.
As you can easily guess, the lack of a powerful enough processor is the first major challenge game developers have to face. An under-powered processor is a huge setback, especially in a time when games are expected to be playable in a high-definition format. Add the fact that Nintendo wanted to rely on its new touch-screen enabled controller as a unique control feature and you will understand that game developers were facing a very sensitive situation – developing high-quality content that will run on low-performance components. To make things even worse, the console came with only 2 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM memory; as a comparison, both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One come with 8GB of RAM.
The cherry on top was the fact that the development kits provided by Nintendo are considerably more difficult to use than most SDKs out there, turning the developers’ jobs even harder than it already was.
Graphics save the day
While the processor and the RAM didn’t help the Wii U very much, the tiny console did have an ace up its sleeve – it came with a pretty powerful graphics processor. Since developers were already desperate, and willing to hang to everything that could save them, the over-powered GPU didn’t go unnoticed, and it essentially became the salvation piece.
Essentially, developers optimized everything to the maximum, squeezing every bit of power they could from the processor; the trick, though, was that they tried to allot as much processing as possible to the GPU, which was powerful enough to handle some extra load. However, this trick significantly complicated the game development process by forcing the developers to find a perfect equilibrium between load balancing (which is already very complicated) and making cutbacks.
At a time of its launch, the Nintendo Wii U was far from what Nintendo anticipated it would be. Sure, the console was small, but it couldn’t even dream to compete with the big boys, PS4 and Xbox One. After the developers of popular games didn’t bother much trying to create games for the under-powered console, Nintendo seems to finally understanding that a bit of a shift in direction was needed, and focused on pushing the Wii U on a different path. With the release of Mario Kart 8, which was optimized for the new console and controllers, Nintendo demonstrated that it understood where its place is. Also, the game faced a lot of positive feedback, making some developers wanting to give the Wii U a second chance, and while it is clear that without a major upgrade overhaul the console still doesn’t stand any chance against its competitors, its current situation might just be a good opportunity for developers to jump on Nintendo’s bandwagon and push the console in a different direction.
This is the guest post by Jason Phillips and Train Games 365!