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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Wii U's Impact on PC Gaming

Nintendo's Wii U announcement has been pretty much impossible to ignore and more or less dominated the entire day. Joystiq's site lets you filter news stories by platform; PC gaming news was limited to a handful of posts discussing XCOM, Borderlands 2, some Steam deals, and a soccer title from Konami.

I watched the Japanese reveal last night (and understood none of it) in addition to the North American presentation earlier today. The Wii U is definitely intriguing - the Nintendo TVii feature looks pretty cool and I'm wondering how well it'd work with my Comcast DVR set top box. As someone who owns an aging laptop and doesn't have a tablet, I found the prospect of the GamePad's screen adding to the TV viewing experience pretty interesting. My Wii system has been collecting dust for a while now, so the idea that the Wii U could potentially function as a multimedia hub for several years makes me wonder if it might be worth the $300-350 price tag.

As far as actual gaming is concerned I'm still on the fence about the Wii U. Tom's Hardware posted some rumored technical specs yesterday that make me wonder about the Wii U's staying power.

CPU: "Espresso" CPU on the Wii U has three enhanced Broadway cores
GPU: "GPU7" AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU. Unique API = GX2, which supports Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10.1 and OpenGL 3.3 equivalent functionality)
Memory: Mem1 = 32MB Mem2 = 1GB (that applications can use)
Storage: Internal 8 GB with support for SD Cards (SD Cards up to 2GB/ SDHC Cards up to 32GB) and External USB Connected Hard Drives
Networking: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i
Video Cables Supported: Compatible cables include HDMI, Wii D-Terminal, Wii Component Video, Wii RGB, Wii S-Video Stereo AV and Wii AV.
USB: Four USB 2.0 Ports

Most of that seemingly checks out after today's reveal, but take it with a grain of salt. DX10.1 makes me a little sad, and USB 2.0 ports are going to seem agonizingly slow in a couple of years. Performance-wise this thing is rumored to be on par with, or a little bit better than, the PS3 and Xbox360. I'm sure the first-party Nintendo games are going to look amazing, but I'm wondering about the quality of cross-platform titles. Are we going to see games that are "dumbed-down" to the level of the X360 and PS3 until MS and Sony release their new consoles? After we reach that point, will the Wii U be relegated to the back of the pack?

The Wii U's impact on PC gaming is up in the air as well. Nintendo's console is obviously going to support some pretty unique gameplay by leveraging the GamePad, and it's hard to tell if any of that will be translatable to the PC. I highly doubt we'll be seeing a ton of support for multi-monitor systems all of a sudden that throw things like inventory screens and mini maps onto a second monitor. Come to think of it, I don't know if I can name a single title off the top of my head that was released for the Wii and the PC but not the X360 and PS3. Most cross-platform games that make their way to PC have pretty standard dual-analog control schemes, so I doubt anything too revolutionary is going to make its way to the mouse and keyboard.

The Wiimote was one of the more interesting aspects of the Wii; I think Reggie Fils-Aime mentioned that something like 100 million Wiimotes had been sold thus far in the US. People were able to hack together support for the remote on PC since you could pair it via Bluetooth. I doubt it'd be that simple with the GamePad, but it'd be cool to see. The Kinect saw some PC support, though Microsoft isn't exactly a stranger to the market like Nintendo.

I think the biggest changes we'll see in the next couple of years, especially once the X720 and PS4 are released, are the adoption of Blu-ray (or similar) discs and the long-overdue death of DX9. The Wii U's game price of $60, now in line with the X360 and PS3, might also raise the PC standard to $60.

The Wii U uses a proprietary 25GB disc format - basically Blu-ray without paying Sony the licensing fees. This leaves the X360 as odd man out with dual-layer 7.95GB DVDs, and after Microsoft's next console is released we'll probably see a pretty sizeable increase in game installation size. Assuming broadband adoption and speeds continue to increase, the idea of downloading a 20-25GB game from Steam in the future might not be too terrible. Larger games will likely mean more room for higher-resolution textures and things like voice acting; 2560x1440 might be the new standard in a year or two.

The Wii U's rumored DX10.1 GPU is a little underwhelming, but I guess you can't expect too much horsepower for $300. As I mentioned earlier, Nintendo and PC gaming don't seem to have too much in common without involving the X360 and PS3; whether or not we'll see more DX11 titles in the next year or so likely depends on the X720 and PS4. Developers have been using smoke and mirrors to enable DX11-type effects on DX9 consoles for a couple of years now, so it's not too much of a stretch to imagine a DX10.1 or DX11 console sticking around until the DX12/DX13 days. Regardless, any increase in living room hardware is likely to trickle down to the PC, where we'll hopefully see DX9 games dying off sooner rather than later.

The Wii U hits stores in the US on November 18th. Despite my childhood Nintendo fanboy-ism, I think I'll wait to get a hands-on look in a store before hopping on board. After all, $300 buys a lot of PC hardware, and saving your $60 for a Steam sale nets you a lot of game for the money.


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Tom's Hardware Reviews
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