Revolutionary: 3rd Party Control

Mike sylvester
M. sylvester|01.16.09

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Mike sylvester
January 16th, 2009
Revolutionary: 3rd Party Control
Last week at CES, Nyko surprise announced their first entry into the 3rd party Wiimote market, the Wand. Though it has been beaten to market by a few other Wiimote clones, this may be the first Wii Remote you'll find encroaching on Nintendo's shelf space in your local game shop. We won't begin to speculate why no one else's products can be readily found in brick 'n' mortars, but we'll be grateful to finally have some choice.

So far, this has been an unusual generation for controller-makers on all platforms. Microsoft doesn't license out its wireless technology, so 3rd party gamepads have to connect via USB. Sony's gyrating, vibrating, rechargeable DUALSHOCK 3 controllers may just be too complex for 3rd parties to replicate in full functionality when the userbase is too small to make a profit from. And the 3rd parties have seemed to be satisfied raking in the dough with non-essential add-ons and shells for Nintendo's own brand of controller. It does indeed come as a surprise that Nyko is now bringing out a Wiimote, and an enhanced one at that. Before we've had a chance to review the Wand, let's examine why its introduction has been long overdue.

We can call the Wand revolutionary, because it's revolting in every sense of the word. The style and shape are aesthetically offensive and frightening. With a D-pad only a masochist could love, and a color scheme that would just as well fit on Playskool toys, one might question how that design ever made it out of the waste basket and onto the production lines. Why not just stick with something closer to Nintendo's Wiimote? Well, Nyko's Kama wireless Nunchuk was similar enough in shape and style to Nintendo's wired Nunchuks to get the lawyers' attention. The case was settled peacefully, but the Wand's design was probably chosen as the least likely to rile up Nintendo's lawyers.

From time to time, Nintendo has been known to strong-arm 3rd parties, whether it's in the hardware biz or software. There's potentially a lot of money to be made in selling peripherals, or licensing designs and technology to 3rd parties, so it's no wonder Nintendo is very protective of its business. Back in the NES era, Nintendo designed the trademark cross-shaped D-pad, and has been protecting that intellectual property ever since. The cross shape often works better than Sony's button-style D-pad, and the Xbox 360's round D-pad is a cruel joke by comparison, but the simple, yet reliable cross pad is off limits, unless, of course, manufacturers are willing to pay for it.

The altered shape of the Wand can be a plus or a minus, depending on how the Wii Remote fits your hand, but will anyone really welcome the extra pointy bits on the D-pad? The button sizes and shapes shouldn't negatively impact our gaming, though GlovePIE scripters will have to work around the re-arranged LEDs. We're hopeful that Nyko sprung for a higher quality speaker than Nintendo's own, which hits our eardrums with a resonance similar to nails on a chalk board. Vibration is in, and a stronger motor would be welcome, but hasn't been promised.

With Nyko having made no announcement to create games for the Wand, the analog buttons being presented seem useless. Wii games aren't designed to expect analog input from the buttons, but, as GlovePIE scripters know, there are ways to fit analog behavior into a digital signal. Pulse density modulation simulates tapping a button at variable speeds relative to your input. Pulling harder on the B trigger could tell the Wand's onboard processer to ramp up the rate at which it sends an on/off signal for that button to the Wii. If the Wand's "analog" buttons indeed work this way, it would mean all existing Wii games are already compatible, even if it may yield unfavorable results in most of them. Analog buttons could be reason enough for GlovePIE scripters to trade Wii Remotes for Wands, provided that the Wand plays nice with GlovePIE.

The Trans-Port technology seems a little more obvious in its functioning. Mechanical doohickies for relaying a button press from a shell to the Wiimote are replaced by electrical extensions. It seems simple enough, but it still has some interesting potential applications. Combine the analog buttons with the Trans-Port technology, and you can have a Wand wheel shell with a set of analog throttle and brake pedals tethered on. Mario Kart Wii, Excite Truck, or whichever racing games you're into could get a whole lot deeper.

There are still some questions in the air. Will 3rd party Wiimotes fit the shells and attachments already on the market and in our homes? Will they be electronically compatible with Nintendo's Nunchuks, Classic Controllers, guitars, and MotionPlus? And, ugly as it may be, it's still got its charms. The Wand may hit the shelves at a lower price than Nintendo's Remotes, but we're mainly interested in seeing how the analog buttons work and what I can do with it in GlovePIE. If the Wand proves successful, Nintendo and competitors may find themselves cribbing features from it for their next generation controllers.

Every other week, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities. Nyko's Perfect Shot gun shell is a favorite amongst Wii Fanboys, but the Trans-Port technology in Nyko's Wand controller may make it obsolete. Read our review of the Perfect Shot and stay tuned to see if perfection can be improved upon.

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