Wii U GamePads guts explained by Nintendo

Nintendo has shed some more light on the inner workings of the Wii U’s GamePad. Several members of Nintendo’s research and development teams spoke about the process behind displaying and capturing video for the handheld component in the most recent Iwata Asks.

While most streaming video systems can afford to have a little bit of buffering and lag, it would have been the kiss of death for skill-based games on Wii U, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said.

“With the Wii U GamePad, however, Mario has to jump as soon as you press the button, so if there’s latency, it’s fatal for the game,” Iwata said. “You had to take on a challenge that no one else had before.”

Nintendo developed new methods for video compression with the GamePad which allows it to have, in some cases, video latency superior to a connected HDTV.

The GamePad also needed to overcome several obstacles as a fairly involved device which streams all its data wirelessly. For example, moving the controller around during gameplay would normally suffer from the Doppler effect (the reason why trucks sound higher pitched coming and lower pitched going). Distance was also a concern: the pad will be able to function optimally within the same room as the Wii U console, but could suffer if separated by thick walls.

Designing the controller’s hardware was no easier than its software, with a strict weight limit of 500 grams (about 1.1 pounds) for a device containing multiple control inputs, a wireless radio, and NFC capabilities.

“The senior staff encouraged the new employees starting off with the Wii U project by saying that development isn’t always this hard,” said Masato Ibuki of Nintendo’s product development department. “I think all the teams were that way.”

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