Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wii U vs. Smart Glass… Really?

So I walk into my girlfriend’s house greeted by a sweet kiss and an “I love you.” Shortly thereafter she states, “They said that they’re coming with something like the Wii U.” “Who’s they?” I asked. “Microsoft. I read it on Yahoo this morning.” Ha! I thought. It’s clear that she heard this from some main stream media outlet that somehow misconstrued SmartGlass as Microsoft’s jab at Nintendo’s new console. And then I began reading articles and listening to podcasts spouting the same message. Clearly there’s something that I’m missing, because that’s far from the message I got from watching their conference. Perhaps the execs mentioned something when I drifted off to sleep during the “checking the twitter feed” portion of the press conference. During the week of E3, IGN reported that Wii U’s most anticipated E3 showcased ZombiU could be ported over to the current competing consoles. This was when I realized that it wasn’t that I was missing something, I just disagree with the contrasts.

Porting ZombiU to the Playstation 3 makes sense. With Vita’s integration as a controller (very much like what was demonstrated on the All-Stars demo), and the handheld’s hardware, it would be a seamless transition. However, a SmartGlass integration would seem more of a shoe horn. Based on what we’ve seen in the demo at Nintendo’s conference, let’s say that ZombiU was available for the 360. We creep cautiously around the Buckingham Palace with our hands gripped tightly around the controller. When we come up on a body and begin to loot it, a prompt on the screen commands you to pick up your tablet/smartphone to rummage through their no-longer-needed belongings. You set the controller on your lap and sift through the inventory while frequently looking up at the screen ensuring there are no approaching zombies. Then you hear a faint moan right before you snap your head back up, staring into the ghoulish rotting pupils of an undead. S**t, s**t, s**t! You drop your button-less device as you frantically pick up your controller. But it’s too late, you’re already dead.
Imagine playing this with a 360 controller and an iPad

You may think of a loop hole to this method; perhaps hold the controller with one hand and your touch device with another, or maybe the game may not even ship with these scenarios programmed in. But one thing is clear: a SmartGlass port of a game such as ZombiU is likely to be an oddly different, and very forced piece of software. Looking back at Microsoft’s press conference, we’ve seen a few interesting uses for SmartGlass integration. Outside of its arguably useless Game of Thrones tracking map and inspired Sherlock Holmes saved progress, we were teased with play carried out after dictated via drawings on the screen in a Madden NFL concept, and a demonstration of Halo 4 with SmartGlass implemented, enabling unlocked Halo Waypoint data off of different landmarks and the sort within the environment, and it even showcased multiplayer invites on the device. These are concept demonstrations indeed. While Madden’s SmartGlass usage could be imbedded in some sort of career mode, none of what was shown in Halo 4’s demo can’t be achieved without SmartGlass. Taking a look at the tech’s implementation holistically, it seems as if X Box’s new multi device communication feature would be more useful with the system’s media library rather than games themselves. As described in the ZombiU hypothetical, games will likely require you to alternate between your standard 360 controller and your touch device, not an ideal way to play games, especially in comparison to Wii U’s all-in-one Game Pad and the Vita handheld itself. However don’t discredit and disregard its potential. Some titles can and will feature some creative usage of SmartGlass, including similar co-op game types seen in Wii U’s New Super Mario Bros. U and Rayman Legends, along with some Apple TV AirPlay like functionality.
Yeah, that’s cool and everything, but…

Taking in all that was showcased, the idea around SmartGlass seems all too similar to Kinect. For one, whether its development was Wii U inspired or not, SmartGlass mimics only half of what is capable on Nintendo’s new console with a touch only unit compared to the Game Pad’s touch screen and buttons. How is that reminiscent with their swing at motion gaming? Well with Kinect, “You’re the controller!”, which as we’ve seen, limits the style of experiences you can play whereas with the Wii, both motion and digital inputs can coexist simultaneously. Secondly, SmartGlass can be immediately seen better utilized with X Box’s media, as many claim found now with Kinect. Watching a film on the go and continuing progress on your 360 with its DVD/Blu-ray like information displayed on the device is an attractive idea, and navigating the dashboard as well as the internet with a swipe of the finger is a thoughtful and seamless alternative to Kinect functionality. X Box SmartGlass is no doubt an anticipated feature to your 360, however don’t expect it to mold or crack milestones in the gaming space.

The Wii U is in a league of its own for now. Microsoft is making a bold move by building in existing handheld devices, including iDevices, into its SmartGlass suite. Microsoft’s head of XBL Mark Whittman loosely claims that SmartGlass will bring you deeper into the gaming experience, but as of now, the tactility doesn’t match the Wii U’s Game Pad thus seemingly limiting its potential. But even if it were to do so, even if every touch device had an interface similar to the Game Pad, it would be unwise for developers to ignore the fact that not everyone has a smart phone or a tablet. It’s like launching an all-digital home console in this day and age.

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