We’ve all be wondering since Nintendo announced their console as to how powerful it’s actually going to be. Is it going to be more powerful than its predecessor the Wii, or even the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3? Is it just going to be another cruddy system and really won’t live up to all of the hype that Nintendo has been giving it? I personally would like to know what the graphics are going to look like in comparison to our current generation consoles and then in comparison to the next generation consoles which are unfortunately, not here yet.
A huge part of gaming has to deal with how well games perform, the overall quality of the game, and how good the game actually looks. As a gamer you’ve probably seen that the advancements in graphics technology has really been defining the game industry as new hardware constantly gets developed and pushed out into the public. Graphics, the visuals of the game, they mean a lot to it. Which means that consoles should be doing their part.
The Wii U has essentially been hidden when it comes to hardware since it’s announcement. Developers have been working on various launch titles for the upcoming console under a very strict NDA (non-disclosure agreements) and shifting development kits. As we’re nearing launch though, the final kits are being used to develop games. Eurgamer has been able to speak to a variety of developers leading to the investigation of the hardware inside the Wii U. Thanks to Eurogamer’s investigation, we now have the final specs on this upcoming console.
The Wii U’s true power has been shrouded in mystery ever since it was announced, with developers working on launch titles gagged by strict non-disclosure agreements and ever shifting development kits. Now, though, as we near launch, final kits are in the wild. And, crucially, developers Eurogamer spoke to as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the innards of the Wii U now have final specifications.
Here’s what some of the developers told Eurogamer:
The CPU: The Wii U’s IBM-made CPU is made up of three Power PC cores. We’ve been unable to ascertain the clock speed of the CPU (more on this later), but we know out of order execution is supported.
RAM in the final retail unit: 1GB of RAM is available to games.
GPU: The Wii U’s graphics processing unit is a custom AMD 7 series GPU. Clock speed and pipelines were not disclosed, but we do know it supports DirectX 10 and shader 4 type features. We also know that eDRAM is embedded in the GPU custom chip in a similar way to the Wii.
Eurogamer had asked Blitz Games Studios’ design director John Nash a near impossible question, yet simple: is the Wii U more powerful that the current generation? He replied saying that “it’s comparable the current generation and a bit more powerful than that.”
The positive thing about the Wii U is where it outdoes the current generation. Current generation consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 only have around 500+ mb of RAM. The Wii U has doubled that and is able to give an entire gig of a ram to games on the console. That’s very helpful as games will be able to expand in the amount of memory they take. There’s also a lot of praise for the GPU in the Wii U too.
“The Wii U is a nice console to work with because it’s got so much RAM in comparison [to the PS3 and Xbox 360],” another Wii U developer that Eurogamer contacted, who wished to keep his identity anonymous, told Eurogamer. “For E3 we simply dumped the whole game into memory and never once used the disc after the content was loaded from it.”
The new added RAM sided with the new GPU will mean that Wii U games have a very high possibility to do a whole lot more for developers than what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 could ever do. According to another source Eurogamer contacted, the Wii U version of his company’s game will actually be “the smoothest console version” (I’m really curious as to how smooth this source is talking).
“We’re a GPU-heavy game,” Eurogamer’s source continued. “Wii U has a powerful GPU with more oomph than the rivals – and is more modern in architecture and shader support, which may come in handy later on. The CPU on the other hand is a different question. We are not limited by it but some other games might suffer from it. Still, because of the GPU, I expect most multi-platform games to look the best on Wii U, even if the difference might not be huge sometimes.”
The Wii U’s new CPU is an interesting mention as it has on numerous occasions, confused many developers. It’s current clock speed remains private, but most developers have agreed that it’s lower than what is offered in consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which is quite disappointing. While we aren’t sure what sort of impact this is going to have on games in the future, it’s already had an impact on the console. Supposedly the Wii U developer kits were sent to various studios with Nintendo indicating that it would be supporting four controllers or “GamePads” at the same time. The only thing is is that as the dev kits were refined and everything began falling into its place, it was apparent that the Wii U would not be supporting up to four GamePads as they originally had aimed for.
“The funny thing about Wii U is, as each week went on, we discovered more cool things we could do with it,” Nash said. “It’s very much a fast-moving space with shifting sands. Because we were fairly early on with this, the specification for the machine wasn’t nailed down. In fact, Nintendo were still chasing the idea of having four of the tablets running concurrently. Now they’ve stepped away from that and said you can have up to two depending on what you’re doing in the game. That’s given us a base level specification which has changed our thinking and some of our design.
“Now we’ve got a final specification of what’s going to be delivered on release, we’re re-factoring a lot of our designs because the assumptions we made are now in concrete. We know what the specification is going to be.”
According to Nash, some bandwidth issues that had been pinned down to being associated with having four constant streams coming from one Wii U machine to four GamePads obliterated the idea of having support for up to four controllers on the console. I find that kind of disappointing as having four player games running with friends in the mix is always a really fun time. “As game producers and consumers, of course we would be absolutely delighted if the thing would run four Wii U tablets,” Nash said. “That would be great. And it might even be part of their strategy for the next evolution if they do another rev of hardware.
“But at the moment it’s purely limited to processing and signal transmission bandwidth and a combination thereof.”
All that said, Wii U games that will be streaming two of the GamePad controllers will see their performance impacted heavily in terms of the frame rate. But. Developers have told Eurogamer that they may be able to work around this small conundrum. “That’s one of the areas we’re looking at to find out if that’s always the case,” Nash said. “And even if it is, if you want to use two screens, you need to design around that and produce a game genre, type and set of mechanics where that, fundamentally, is not going to cause any problem whatsoever.
“The holy grail of everything having to run at 60 frames per second is great, but it’s only actually that important when you’re using a twitch game or a shooter or a racer. Below that, it doesn’t matter at all. If you’re playing a third-person character game then it absolutely doesn’t matter.”
The indie developer known as Two Tribes said that its 2D platformer game Toki Tori 2 would be running in full, native 1080p on the Wii U console. If you take a moment to look around and do your research, you’ll notice that there are only a small handful of developers that have created games for the PlayStation 3 that is able to manage that. This backs up what many people have been saying about the graphical capabilities packed into Nintendo’s Wii U. There’s only one issue though. Since Nintendo’s Wii U games will only be running natively in 720p, Eurogamer was bent on getting more information.
“GPU fillrate is not a major bottleneck for our game, so we should be fine rendering our game in 1080p,” Two Tribes boss Martijn Reuvers told Eurogamer in their interview. “In fact, it already runs on 1080p on the Wii U, without problems.” Eurogamer asked Reuvers about the memory usage in the game, given that games will have to factor in streaming to the GamePad. Reuver’s replied saying, “It is an extra framebuffer, which obviously consumes some memory,” Reuvers said. “But with Toki Tori we don’t run into memory problems, so this extra buffer isn’t a problem.”
One unfortunate thing is that if we assume both Microsoft and Sony will be releasing their next gen consoles later next year, the Wii U will be enjoying some great publicity as the most powerful console on the market. But, when those consoles end up releasing, the Wii U is going to be lagging far behind in the graphics and performance area of things. The next Xbox has been rumored that it will be allowing developers to use the DirextX 11 graphics standard so that they can easily shift PC code to this new console. Currently the Wii U only supports DirextX 10 and comes with a terrible processor. That said, when the consoles come out from Microsoft and Sony, the Wii U is going to be left far behind and possibly even long forgotten.
“Given the environment where there is a lot of hearsay and whispers about what PlayStation and Xbox are going to do, of course people are going to compare those whispers against what’s happening with the Nintendo hardware,” Nash said. “That happens on every revolution. The first person out of the blocks to say, on the next rev of hardware we’re doing this, there are immediately comparisons between that and the rumors that are happening with the other platforms.
“And yes, I would definitely say that people would be concerned because the disparity between the two is quite a lot. However, that’s what happened with the Wii console versus PS3 and Xbox 360. But the point is the quality of the experience you derive from the console is not index linked to the clock cycles. It really doesn’t make any difference. You build an experience based on what that machine’s capable of, and you take advantage of what those machines have in terms of unique abilities.
“So, for me, it’s like, yeah, I’d be worried if I was briefed to produce a first-person shooter to the same quality as something that’s going to appear on the next rev of PlayStation and Xbox. Of course I’d be hugely worried. You’re not going to be able to do that. But being as my brief is never going to be that, I’m not worried about that because I’m going to make an entirely different flavor of game on the Nintendo hardware.”
It’s all very interesting really. Nintendo was supposedly making a next-gen console, and here we have a console coming out that isn’t going to be able to do half of what the new Xbox and PlayStation is going to be able to do. I understand that Nintendo is aiming for a different crowd and everything, but if you went ahead and made a console like the Xbox with similar specifications, you could essentially do platformers just as easy on that console. This is where I am entirely confused.
If you’re interested, Eurogamer has a much larger article with a whole lot more details on the Wii U with their investigation. If you want to read it (I’d estimate around 4000 words) just hit the source link below. It was a fantastic read and is really going to help consumers make a decision as to whether they want a Wii U or not. I think that a lot of people are going to be disappointed and will be leaning towards their current gen consoles.
Any thoughts on all of this? I’m sure we could get a pretty good discussion going here.