Nintendo Unveils Revolution Controller

The company seeks to set a new interface standard for games with its new freehand-style device

We waited and waited, and then waited some more, but now we finally know what the Nintendo Revolution controller is all about. Forget all the rumors you heard as this is nothing like those. Come on in and discover for yourself how Nintendo plans to change gaming as we know it (pics included!).

The mystery is no more. After wading through dozens of rumors, predictions and mockups (none of which really hit the mark), we finally get to see the real Nintendo Revolution controller. Continuing the theme of broadening the video game market that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata introduced at the Game Developers Conference, during his keynote speech at the Tokyo Game Show Iwata highlighted the success of Nintendogs and the DS platform and he then took the wraps off the "Revolution"-ary controller, which he believes will further widen the gaming demographic.

"Every gamer who plays. Every one who used to play. Even those who have yet to play, Nintendo is your bet," reads the new Nintendo mantra.

So what the heck is this thing? It looks like a remote control, is held like a remote control, but no sir, it's no remote control. This freehand-style device essentially tracks every slight movement of your hand (up, down, in, out, twisting, etc.) and translates this motion to the on-screen action. Two small sensors are placed near your TV to pick up the controller's transmission. In a sense, it's as if your hand is placed inside the TV set itself and is manipulating the virtual world.

The possible applications are wide open, but imagine yourself pointing the controller at the screen for precise aim in a first-person shooter (like a light-gun), slashing in the air as with a sword, swinging a baseball bat, pulling a fishing rod, or making a character (e.g. Mario) jump with a flick of the wrist.

"We thought about how everyone in the family uses the TV remote, but some people don't want to even touch the game controller," explained Iwata. "We want to set a new interface standard for games."

He continued, "The feeling is so natural and real, as soon as players use the controller, their minds will spin with the possibilities of how this will change gaming as we know it today. This is an extremely exciting innovation -- one that will thrill current players and entice new ones."

On the bottom of the wireless controller is an expansion port that will allow all sorts of attachments to be connected. The one that Nintendo demonstrated, a "nunchuk" style analog unit, will come with the Revolution console. Held in the left hand, the analog stick functions as you would expect, and the top of the unit has two shoulder/trigger buttons (Z1 and Z2). When combining the analog unit with the main controller wand, you can get results similar to dual-analog controllers, except that the right analog would be controller by your hand movement, not a stick. The best example of this was an early level of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, which had been adapted to use the Revolution control scheme. The left analog made the main character Samus move as usual, but aiming was achieved by pointing the freehand controller in the direction you wished to shoot.

Taking a closer look at the main unit reveals a big "A" button that you would press with your thumb and a "B" trigger on the back that you would squeeze with your index finger, when holding the controller in a typical remote fashion. The unit also includes a standard D-pad, select & start buttons, a "Home" button that Nintendo would not go into detail about, and two more "a" and "b" button near the bottom. These last two become very useful when you realize that the controller can also be turned sideways and used like the old-school 8-bit NES pad for more typical gameplay -- after all, the Revolution will be backwards compatible with 20 years of Nintendo titles through the "Virtual Console."

Finally, the controller is completely wireless, has built-in rumble functionality, and runs on regular batteries; it's possible that a rechargeable pack will be introduced as the system's launch nears. It's also important to note that Nintendo stated that this is not the final design but it's close, and it certainly gives us all a good indication of what they're trying to do.

Nintendo claims that they've already gotten "extremely positive" responses from major publishers worldwide. Here are a few:

"We were among the first publishers to see the control design in action. We're excited about the new controller and are looking forward to taking advantage of its innovative aspects." -- Serge Hascoet, Chief Creative Officer of Ubisoft

"What we're seeing from this controller is the same thing we saw with Nintendo DS. It's a system that's designed with an eye on enticing new players to the video game industry, and that's something we firmly support." -- Chuck Huebner, Head of Worldwide Studios, Activision, Inc.

"Nintendo has long been a trailblazer, and this controller design reinforces that reputation. We enthusiastically support Nintendo's next console because we believe their approach of continual innovation is very much in line with our own strategy of creating unique and innovative games for the next generation of hardware." -- Brian Farrell, president and CEO of THQ

"Game control is essential -- it's the area where perhaps the most game-play improvement can be made. While our portfolio represents a full array of titles across all genres, I think our sports titles might be the first to immediately take advantage of what this novel 'freehand' type of control has to offer." -- John Schappert, Sr. Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Arts Canada

Editor's comments

So is it a revolution? It very well could be. It's certainly an intriguing idea, and Nintendo ought to be commended for trying to broaden the market with something so intuitive. After all, what could be more familiar (to almost any person, regardless of age) than holding and pointing a remote? While many of you are probably very skeptical at this point, remember how much we all mocked the idea of the dual screens and touch screen. Now the DS is wildly successful, and its innovation shines especially when it gets the right applications, like Nintendogs. If we've learned one thing over the years, it's that Nintendo should never be underestimated.

However, just as with the DS, how many third-party publishers will be able to maximize the potential of the Revolution, and how many of the "killer apps" will come from Nintendo itself? That's where this becomes a very bold, yet risky move for the house that Mario built. Nintendo risks alienating itself from the rest of the industry. With this new control scheme it becomes less likely that multiplatform Xbox 360 and PS3 games will reach the Revolution's audience, and if they do, will they be properly adapted to use the full functionality of the controller?

Nintendo always said that it doesn't consider itself to be in the same chest-thumping tech environment as Sony and Microsoft. If that's the case, then it appears that Nintendo achieved its goal because with this new controller, it's very difficult indeed to say that Nintendo is competing with Xbox 360 and PS3; the Revolution is now on its own playing field, for better or worse.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.