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June 03, 2012

E3: Nintendo Miiverse Social Network unveiled

Posted in: Games

Nintendo Co. has taken the wraps off Miiverse, a social network designed for players of its upcoming Wii U video game console.

In a 30-minute video released Sunday afternoon on the company’s website, Nintendo’s Chief Executive Satoru Iwata demonstrated Miiverse as a way for players to post game-related updates and questions to one another, send handwritten messages using the console’s touch-screen tablet controller and even set up a video chat with other players.

The announcement came two days before the Japanese game company’s formal news conference at E3, the industry’s annual gathering in downtown Los Angeles.

Standing in Nintendo’s Kyoto headquarters below the company’s motto written in Japanese calligraphy that translates to “creating something unique,” Iwata in the video insisted that the Wii U, and Miiverse, will be a game-changer for the console business, which has been in steady decline over the last three years as consumers shift their focus and dollars toward games on smartphones and tablets, as well as social games on Facebook.

“People are gathered together in the same room, but they are not truly connected. They are paying more attention to their devices than to each other,” Iwata said. “We have to wonder what this will mean for the nature of human relationships moving forward. So one of the challenges we set for ourselves was creating something that will help unite people rather than divide them.”

While users will be able to access Miiverse posts and comments on a browser and mobile devices, its primary use will probably occur on the Wii U console.

Wii U controller

Wii U controller. (Nintendo)

Central to the Wii U is a tablet-sized controller with a 6.2-inch touch screen, dubbed the GamePad in a nod to the Nintendo Entertainment System’s controller in the 1980s with the same name. Players use the GamePad’s screen to scroll through posts and compose their own comments, using a stylus to draw pictures or a virtual keyboard to type.

The television screen, meanwhile, shows the avatars of other players on the network, clustered around the game titles they happen to be playing at the time.

A front-facing camera lets players initiate a video chat, with the person they are talking with appearing on the TV screen.

Iwata said he hoped Miiverse would foster “a new degree of empathy between players. We consider the small screen as the social window…. Miiverse can connect your living room with those of others, regardless of space or time.”

The GamePad, introduced at last year’s E3, has several new features, including two joysticks instead of a circle pad and a special button that turns the controller into a touch-screen TV remote control.

Additionally, there is a sensor on the GamePad that wirelessly detects and reads data embedded in other objects, such as trading cards or action figures. Think Pokemon cards that can unlock creatures within a console game when placed near the GamePad.

– Alex Pham

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