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GDC08: Wii Fit panel aimed at developers


Takano Sawano's panel "Wii Fit: Creating a Brand New Interface for the Home Console" wasn't the "megaton" style of panel. It was more of what GDC is all about: developers interacting, sharing ideas and technology with one another. It remains to be seen whether more developers will pick up on the Balance Board technology, but Sawano made an interesting case.

First he played six Japanese commercials: families enjoying each minigame, of course. Then he introduced the board and the ideas behind it. He said that the board is such a natural extension of the Wii idea that it would be the product of a strategic business decision -- but that this isn't the case. As usual, one of Miyamoto's whims is what drove the development: specifically, when he decided that weighing himself was fun. As a part of this, he revealed Miyamoto's original Wii software notes -- a total mess of arrows, boxes, circles, clouds, pizza clipart, there was a truck in there ... showing what he conceived as the "Party Pack" (Wii Play), a "Sports Pack" (Wii Sports) and a "Health Pack" (Wii Fit).

Sawano then took us through the development of the device, which started as two scales next to each other. Successive iterations included things a Wiimote on top to record balance, a rounded bottom, and even the analog detection mechanism from an N64 controller rigged into a scale. Too many moving parts would lead to too much maintenance, it was decided, after a trip to Nintendo's service center. In the end, they decided upon four strain gauges, which measure movement up, down, left, and right with minimal motion. It still had the Wiimote attached for syncing until Iwata told the team that "Connecting the Wii Remote is a clumsy solution, don't you think?"

Sawano then discussed the Wii Fit software, with screens and video from the European version (due April 25th). He demonstrated the Wii Fit Channel feature, which allows users to measure their weight, BMI, and "Fitness Age" daily, as well as doing some training, without having to put the disc in. The idea was to make the game as convenient as possible to make it easy to keep a daily routine. He demonstrated some yoga gameplay, with a new, cheery English coach that gives the player encouragement when he stops (or fails). He also demonstrated the Wii Remote speaker coaching, which allows the player to keep training in aerobics while the TV is tuned somewhere else.

Next was a demonstration of Namco Bandai's Family Ski, with a video of a Japanese comedian playing -- and, of course, enjoying -- the Balance Board-based skiing.

The presentation ended with an appeal to developers. Having given the stats of the board during the first part of the talk, he reminded the audience that the board was basically an analog foot controller. And with the Wiimote combined, players can "go beyond fingertip controls of the past and use your entire body to play with great precision."

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