Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Why A Horse Racing Game Could Have Transformed The Wii’s Revolutionary Tracking Sensor Technology From Outsider to Favourite

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There is no doubt that the Nintendo Wii was a game-changer. The issue was that the core of the videogame community didn’t want a shake-up of the rules. Whilst casual audiences loved the added immersion, and accessibility, offered by the PixArt's Multi-Object Tracking™ engine (MOT sensor™) technology, hardcore gamers remained firmly unimpressed by the lack of a traditional control scheme or gamepad. The ability to swing a tennis racket or pull on a horse’s reins came to be seen as the pinnacle of quick-burst fun for non-gamers and an infantile novelty and gimmick for hardcore gamers. Moreover, Nintendo’s decision to focus on this new control system, rather than improving the graphical and processing capabilities from the Gamecube era, was equally derided by both fans and critics of the Japanese video game giant.
Picture by doobybrain
However, this was not always the case. Back when Nintendo first announced its plan for a console controlled through motion sensors contained in a nunchaku-like device, the gaming community was intrigued and impressed. So much so that, although never proven to be connected, Sony – only weeks after Nintendo’s revealing of the Wii - announced the addition of a mini-motion sensor in its PS3 controller. Needless to say, Nintendo fans were livid. However, despite developers such as Incognito claiming that the additional technology was haphazardly introduced post-Wii, Sony have continually asserted that it was in development for months.

Despite this minor Sony-shaped hiccup, the Wii was a huge sales success upon its release. Indeed, only two years after its release in Japan, the Wii had already sold more units than the lifetime total of its predecessor the Gamecube: at 4,618,479 to 3,629,361 respectively. But even whilst its sale figures were soaring, the Wii’s reputation was falling. The crux of the issue being that the Wii was being viewed as a casual entertainment machine, aimed towards families, rather than as a serious and reputable videogame console and this problem was later admitted by Nintendo godfather Shigeru Miyamoto. This perceived identification of the Wii as nothing more than an electronic parlour game – combined with its lacking hardware – saw many major developers abandon the console or refuse to enthusiastically market the console.

But why did this happen to the Wii? Mainly, it was because developers couldn’t create games that utilised the system’s strengths correctly. Either titles were poorly made, simplistic uses of the sensor technology or they were exceptional games dragged down by needless motion sensor embellishments. Moreover, games that were perfect for the console – such as horse riding game Final Furlong – were never released or were postponed for long periods.

The example of Final Furlong is a quite potent one as it symbolises exactly the sort of title that should have been released on the Wii at regular intervals, especially in the UK market - where National Hunt horse racing events regularly attract huge television audiences and generate reams of column inches. In a market where betting is such a key component, it would seem logical for Nintendo to have utilised an audience so happy to part with their hard-earned cash in pursuit of horse racing action. 

Moreover, finding a celebrity endorsement for the product - such as renowned jockey AP McCoy, who is fast approaching his final Cheltenham Festival before retirement when the event takes place in mid-March, prior to the Grand National in April - would have added some much needed star power to both the game and Nintendo's appeal on a whole.

Horse riding was an excellent subject for the Wii’s control system, yet few if any titles based on this pursuit were released worldwide. The ability to steer, whip and balance on a horse would have been the perfect use of PixArt’s technology. This is because horse riding’s core physical dynamics would have organically and effectively transferred to the Wii’s motion sensor control system. It would neither have been a needless use of the senor or indicative of shallow or superficial gameplay.

Moreover, the wealth of gameplay options intrinsic to a horse racing title – such as training, breeding, racing etc. – would have meant the game would not have been one dimensional - a common critique of Wii games. Additionally, with horse racing games being all about fluid and vibrant animation not high-tech graphics, the sports-simulation sub-genre would not have shown the Wii’s graphical limitations either.


Ultimately, if more concepts such as horse racing had been utilised by Wii developers then the console could have been transformed from an early-favourite turned-outsider to a sure-fire bet. Unfortunately, as it transpired, if the Wii had run the Grand National it would have fell at the second hurdle.

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