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Nintendo Enthusiast was granted a peak into the world of next-gen software after a conversation with an industry insider. We share a summarized version of what we interpreted from the conversation…

Please be aware that Nintendo Enthusiast cannot independently verify every answer given below.


 

We\’ve heard a lot about development software and middleware being available on the the Wii U, and we\’ve also heard about specific engines up and running on the Wii U. So, let’s discuss some of these.

With the licensing agreement Nintendo has signed with Havok, studios from all over the world will have access to Havok’s Physics and Animation middleware when developing games for Wii U. Those technologies are used in a number of marquee titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Assassin’s Creed series. What does this mean for the Wii U?

Well, the Havok Physics Middleware is no surprise. It was on the Wii and it’s a widely used engine.

 

Nintendo beefed up its proprietary arsenal recently with the acquisition of Mobiclip- a Paris-based video codec provider. What can we expect to come from this?

In terms of MobiClip, you\’ll get to SEE more stuff later this year. Their technology will be common on Nintendo platforms from here on in.

 

Nintendo will also be able to provide Wii U game developers with Autodesk’s Gameware products, including user interface middleware Scaleform, artificial intelligence middleware Kynapse, and interactive character animation middleware HumanIK. Is this something we should be excited for?

Autodesk Gameware is a suite of middleware for modern hardware, especially good for creating high detail end products with ease. What’s important to me about this is the fact Nintendo is giving the newest, more advanced versions of it for free to Wii U developers. This shows how easy it is to make Wii U games and take advantage of the more powerful hardware. It speaks volumes of how confident they feel in their system and how much they want to encourage third parties of all sizes to go ahead and take it for a spin.

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There has been so many different versions of the story when it comes to dev kits. Some developers have seemed very eager and excited. Other have came off as disappointed. What are we to believe?

As everyone is aware, there have been different models of the dev kits floating around. Many of the discrepancies between developers about the power of the dev kits are apparently because Nintendo has only given the newer, more beefy version of it to the really big publishers while the smaller developers were left with the so-called outdated model. [Editor’s note: I assume this is because Nintendo has been taking their feedback into account when tweaking the system specs and therefore have been constantly updating them with the newer models to see if they were happy. Whereas, smaller developers haven\’t been part of this dialogue – they only have the dev kits to actually start the development rolling on their new games.]

But, now that GDC is over, it seems from the chatter in the industry that the big \”hairy and heavy\” dev kit has started to become the new standard of Wii U currently in possession by most developers and hopefully we\’ll start to get a real taste of what this system is capable of post-GDC.

 

What of Microsoft and Sony? Have either of them begun to discuss next-gen plans with the industry?

Speaking of hardware development, Microsoft has likely joined Nintendo in deciding not to pursue heavy hardware-losses a la PS3 for the launch hardware on their next system. You can expect them to try and launch before Sony again with whatever loss of newer versions of hardware that will entail. With their next console, Microsoft will be taking steps away from disc drives, but will support SD cards, USB drives, and digital retail game downloads, just like the Wii U.

Interestingly, this makes the Sony PS3 the only console in the past, present, or future to be centered around Blu-Ray movie capability (We\’re not discussing PS4, of course.) It may be smart, though, for Microsoft and Nintendo to release Blu-Ray movie compatible models at a future date. Using the Wii U controller as a remote to control your movies would be pretty smooth. On the other hand, Hulu and Netflix seem to have some good ideas up their sleeves about what they can do with the Wii U controller.

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Okay, let’s get to the big question: Unreal Engine 4. Is it a yes or no on the Wii U hardware?

Wii U already can run something akin to Unreal Engine 3.9 but I find this whole topic much less noteworthy than many are making it out be. While details on feature requirements for the new engine are nearly zero, comments from Epic suggest that there should be no reason why the Unreal Engine 4 won\’t be able to scale \”down\” to work on the Wii U. Just remember that that it’s not power that is the main factor for an engine, rather, it’s the features offered by the hardware and the age of the hardware. For example, in theory, if there were to be an Unreal Engine 4 right now, it possibly could be scaled down in terms of power to work on the PS3 and 360 because they support the features that are considered standard across the industry. However, in reality, when the Unreal Engine 4 is released we probably won\’t see much Unreal Engine 4 on them because those systems are aging. The modern hardware going into Wii U could be new enough to support the Unreal Engine 4 at least on a scaled down level in terms of power.

See, this is specifically the issue that was encountered with the Wii, which Nintendo wants to avoid. The problem wasn\’t so much that the hardware was weak, rather, it was that the hardware didn\’t follow industry standards at the time and therefore impossible for developers to easily port the newest engines to the Wii. The Wii U solves this and more. More than a year ago, the Wii U dev kits were already feeling like powered up Xbox 360’s in some ways. So, developers were basically just \”dragging and dropping\” their PC and 360 code onto the early Wii U hardware last year, even before any new software and projects had begun development. This is how games like Darksiders 2 were up and running on Wii U hardware for E3 2011 after only a matter of weeks in development, though Nintendo finally decided not to show the \”instant\” port those developers had completed.

 

From the 360? But what about Direct X?

Many 360 and PC games run on engines like the Unreal Engine 3,  and Unreal Engine 3 runs great on Wii U. Remember, DirectX, like OpenGL, is not an engine, they are API’s. Most games are made with an engine like Unreal Engine in order to be easily ported cross-platform.

 

So, I guess we can assume that games running on engines like Unreal can be ported to the Wii U quite easily?

Again, yes. Hardware like the Wii and PS3 make it hard to port to them because their hardware is either outdated/non-flexible and/or exotic. The more \”power\” parts of a game are the hardest to port. This is why, particularly certain engines and ports, all the power in the PS3 CPU couldn\’t save games from running without problems once ported from the 360, because that power was divided and exotic and needed lots of work to make the Cell CPU show it’s superior power in spite of the weaker GPU that Sony chose. It’s clear that Nintendo intends to remove obstacles involved with porting  from current and future consoles.

 

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