Even though Sony and Microsoft have yet to release their next-generation gaming systems, Nintendo’s latest console, which hit shelves last November, is already falling behind when it comes to the software used to make new games.
Last March, the gaming industry converged on San Francisco for the annual Game Developers Conference. Along with awards handed out for achievements in game design, the conference offered peeks at developers' upcoming products, including demos for a few of the graphics engines that will be used as frameworks for the next generation of software, or "next gen."
But don’t expect all of these engines to support the Wii U. Speaking with Kotaku after showing off a new demo for the highly anticipated Unreal Engine 4, Epic Games vice president Mark Rein revealed that the new engine will not support Nintendo’s already-dated tech specs.
“Our goal for Unreal Engine 4 console-wise is next-gen consoles,” Rein said. “That’s really what our energies are focused on. If you want to make a Wii U game, we have Unreal Engine 3, and it’s powering some of the best games on the Wii U already. Nothing controversial, guys.”
When originally posed the same question by IGN, Rein dismissed the idea entirely, saying, "I just laugh at the question ... Unreal Engine 4, we're not PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii U. It's next-gen technology. That's what we're aiming for."
He later added, however, that a Wii U version could theoretically be possible at some point thanks to the scalable nature of the new engine.
Whether or not that ever happens could mean a lot for the future of the Wii U. During the current cycle of consoles, Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 has been used to power many high-profile titles, including “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and its sequel “Arkham City" (both rated T); “Bioshock Infinite," “Gears of War," “Mass Effect” and “XCOM: Enemy Unknown" (all rated M).
Missing out entirely on Unreal Engine 4 would be a critical loss in the Wii U's attempt to capture hardcore gamers. The original Wii saw great success with family-oriented content and casual gaming experiences but was criticized by hardcore gamers and developed a reputation for only making “kiddie” games. Sales figures for the Wii U have so far been disappointing.
Epic’s original comments were followed up by another big disappointment. Speaking with Eurogamer, Patrick Bach, executive producer on the highly successful “Battlefield” franchise, said that EA DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine would also not feature Wii U support.
These announcements reveal one of Nintendo’s biggest problems right now, namely convincing developers and consumers alike that its new console isn’t already becoming outdated.
Despite weak hardware sales and dwindling third-party support, though, don’t give up on Nintendo just yet, says EA CEO John Riccitiello.
While saying that he doesn’t consider the Wii U to be a real next-gen console, according to Forbes, Riccitiello told EA investors last February, “Never count Nintendo out. They’ve got some of the best IP (intellectual properties) in the game industry. When their marquee titles show up, that’s when you usually see the bounce. I deeply respect the achievements they’ve had over the last several years. And as I said, you never really count them out.”
IGN reports that Nintendo will bring some of its biggest franchises to show off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo later this year, including three games starring the world’s most famous plumber: “Super Smash Bros.,” “Mario Kart” and a brand new 3-D Mario game.
Along with a new Zelda title currently in development, first-party offerings like these could help turn things around for Nintendo even as Sony and Microsoft prepare to launch new consoles.
The question is, will Nintendo’s own software offerings be enough to compensate for the absence of truly next-gen titles, a lack of third-party support and hardware that's quickly being outpaced by the competition? And should Nintendo even try to compete with Sony and Microsoft, or should it focus on what it does best, providing unique content aimed at families?
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.