If history has taught us anything, it’s that Nintendo will this year begin the development of the console that will replace Wii U.
This logical conclusion comes from studying the excellent “Iwata Asks” interview series, published on the Nintendo website by CEO Satoru Iwata. Iwata started writing these near-monthly entries back in 2006 to co-incide with the Wii console launch.
The articles give us valuable insight into how the Japanese-based company operates. In 2006, the first article, The Wii Hardware brought together the designers of the Wii console to reveal what it was like developing the then state-of-the-art technology.
Genyo Takeda, General Manager of Nintendo’s Integrated Research and Development Division disclosed the company began working on the Wii console as soon as GameCube was launched, way back in 2001.
“We started developing Wii right after Nintendo launched the GameCube. You know, as soon as we complete one system, we start thinking about the next one.” he revealed.
It would be a statement that is echoed a number of times in the Iwata Asks series from hardware developers.
The immediacy in which Nintendo moves on developing the next hardware iteration was best summed up in the article title Two Cameras and an SD Card where Masato Kuwahara of the Development Engineering Department reveals he was assinged to come up with a proposal for the next version of Nintendo DS.
As you’re probably aware, Nintendo DS launched in 2004 and in 2006 a redesign was released; Nintendo DS Lite. Kuwahara explained how the Nintendo DSi project was green-lit.
“It all began when toward the end of 2006 my boss assigned me to work on a new DS and told me to put together a proposal for presentation at the end of December outlining what kind of system we wanted to make.” he said.
“And by February of the next year, we would had to hammer out most of the specifications for the internal chip. We had to move at an incredible pace. From planning to determining the specs, we moved from one thing to the next without pause. It was pretty intense.”
Nintendo DSi was released in 2008, merely one year after the company signed off on a new hardware model.
In 2008, as soon as the Nintendo DSi was wrapped up and ready to roll out, the company started development of the Nintendo 3DS.
Nintendo 3DS had a longer backstory; Nintendo President and Chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi always loved the idea of images popping out of the screen. When he and Shigeru Miyamoto set up a theme park exhibition in 2006 that used Nintendo DS as an interactive map, Yamauchi ordered Miyamoto to come up with a way to have images pop out of the screen.
Nintendo worked on the idea however did not make the deadline and shelved the technology until 2008 when development of the Nintendo 3DS was officially started. Iwata himself reveals as much in And That’s How the Nintendo 3DS Was Made.
So that leaves just one console left that we need to confirm went into development as soon as its predecessor was finalised: Wii U.
Unfortunatly, the example isn’t as black and white as the other consoles described in the interview series. It is there, though.
Yasuhisa Kitano from the Product Development Department of the Integrated Research and Development Division was put in charge of mechanical design on Wii U. This involved development of the Wii U case, the thermal design and other little bits and pieces such as connectors and cables.
One of the engineering obstacles the development team had to overcome with Wii U was designing the system so that it could work when displayed vertically or horizontally. Iwata asked for more information about the debate.
“We on the mechanical engineering team started design of the Wii U back around April of 2009,” Kitano revealed.
“At first, we considered various configurations aside from the Wii-type like horizontal types and square types like the GameCube. But pretty early on we settled on the Wii type.”
While it remains unclear exactly how far into the consoles’ development the team had gotten before the mechanical engineering group was brought in to design the outer shell, the fact remains that between 2006, the launch of Wii, and 2011 when Wii U was first introduced, Wii U hardware development was firmly underway in some shape.
It is for these reasons we are confident in speculating Nintendo’s next console, the one that will replace Wii U, is already being developed somewhere in the depths of Nintendo’s head quarters.
This has several implications for Nintendo.
For example, in the event that Wii U does eventually fail to capture the imaginations of the buying public, Nintendo already have a ‘Plan B’ in the development phase.
Also, Nintendo are in a unique position where they have started developing a new console at the verge of a next-generation product cycle from its rivals, Sony and Microsoft. This gives Nintendo the upper hand in that they can leverage the hardware specifications of those devices right now while they’re still in the “drawing board” phase, and use that intel to come up with ideas that may out-pace the competition.
All they would need to do is make a console that is “better” in the eyes of their engineers than the competition, and design it in a way that games can easily be moved onto their new machine.
Regardless of how Wii U performs over the next few years, Nintendo fans should feel comforted in the knowledge that as long as the company retains investors, they will continue business as usual: making consoles, and making games.
What do you want to see in the next Nintendo console? Let’s give them some ideas in the comments below!