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Wii

Depth of Sound

by Jonathan Metts - July 16, 2006, 8:56 pm PDT
Total comments: 20

How the Wii remote's speaker may change the way we listen to games.

The big secret feature of the Wii controller, eagerly anticipated for months ahead of E3 2006, was in fact quite small. The Wii Remote's built-in speaker left most of us scratching our heads. Nintendo gave only a brief mention about the feature at their press conference, and there was no practical demonstration either in the Kodak Theater or on the E3 show floor. Only a couple of first-party game demos were using the feature at all, but even these couldn't be heard very well due to the overwhelming noise of the expo. Developers we spoke to were unsure of how the feature would be used. Although we believe Nintendo told developers about the speaker before E3, it wasn't supported in development kits until just before the show or possibly afterwards. In short, the speaker remains almost as much a mystery as it was before E3, and Wii is set to launch only a few months from now. I'd like to discuss the potential of this feature and speculate on some of its future applications.

What Nintendo has said about the speaker is intriguing. At the E3 press conference, Bill Trinen said that the speaker can provide "immersive sound" and more depth of sound. In Zelda, the speaker makes sounds when you use the sword, bow, or fishing reel. The bow and arrow example is particularly clever, because it corresponds so well to how you hold a bow in real life archery. As you pull back the string, the sound of the string in tension travels from the televisions speakers to the controller's speaker. When you let the arrow fly, the whistling sound of its flight quickly travels from the controller's speaker back to the television speakers. The whole effect might be greatly amplified if you actually had to pull back the Wii Remote to fire arrows, but as of E3, this action was performed by pressing buttons only. Imagine that stretching sound playing right next to your ear as you pull the controller way back, just as a real bow and arrow is stretched back near your ear before the arrow is released.

What's interesting about the speaker application in Zelda is that it demonstrates the potential of "depth of sound". Nintendo may have found a cheap, novel way to bring surround sound, or at least something akin to it, to a mass audience. Let's face it, a decent surround setup for the living room costs at least a few hundred dollars, and you could easily spend thousands on a high end receiver and good satellite speakers. Even then, the effect works best if you are seated in one particular spot in the room, where all the speakers point together. Such a setup would generally not work well for Wii, because many games require (or at least suggest) that you stand up and move around while playing. Multiplayer games will be even more chaotic. Plus, Wii is aimed at a more mainstream audience than traditional consoles, and most of the new people Nintendo is hoping to reach do not have extravagant surround sound setups at home. With the Wii Remote's speaker, these people can get some of the same immersion with just the controller itself. This practical alternative to surround sound was demonstrated at E3 by Wii Sports, wherein the speaker emits the sound of your virtual tennis racket hitting the ball, which gives a surround-like effect in this game very much based on multiple people moving around the room.

With the built-in speaker, each player in a multiplayer game can have his or her own sounds pumped to the controller, which may open new gameplay possibilities that were not technologically possible before. Goro Abe, the director of Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, told us that his game may include some activities in which sounds play in the controller's speaker and you must react to those sounds. Depending on your position in the room and whatever else you're doing with the controller (which could be almost anything, knowing this game!), this use of the speaker could be significantly different than just playing the sounds from the television.

Although Wario Ware is not technically a multiplayer game, something like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers could use the controller's speaker in much the same way the GBA speaker was used in the original FFCC on GameCube. Depending on the speaker's volume (which is selectable with buttons on the remote) and your proximity with other players, the game could even send you secret hints and instructions, like the individual objectives in the original game. With the speaker set on low volume, it would be simple enough for the television screen to indicate that players should hold the remote to their ears for a personalized hint.

When the speaker was first revealed, some people immediately pointed out that most speakers can also function as microphones. Apparently this is true, but the sound quality is very poor – this is the method used by most Walkie-Talkies, to give you an idea. We don't know whether Nintendo will provide enough developer access to the speaker to enable such a microphone mode, but if they do, it could only be used for some very crude functions. Do you really want to be blowing on the controller the way you have to in every crappy third-party DS game? Anything more sophisticated, like voice chat or a karaoke game, would need a real, external microphone or headset. The good news is that such a device could easily be connected to the expansion port on the Wii remote, maybe even with a pass-through port to also connect the nunchuck attachment.

Even with speaker functions alone, the Wii Remote's built-in speaker is quite an interesting little feature that has never really been attempted in console gaming, except for some minor usage in the "heyday" of GameCube-GBA connectivity. The true potential of the speaker to change the way we listen to games is ultimately dependent upon the quality of the speaker and, more importantly, the creativity of game developers. In that sense, it's really a perfect fit with all the other strange features of the Wii system.

Got a cool idea for the Wii Remote's speaker? Jump into Talkback and let us know!

Talkback

WindyManSteven Rodriguez, Staff AlumnusJuly 16, 2006

If I lose my Wii controller in the expansive canyons of my couch and can't find it, I want the speaker to emit a loud locator tone so I know where it got lost to.

Also, I thought it would be funny if the controller belted out expletives at the player, instead of the other way around.

BlackNMild2k1July 16, 2006

Quote

Originally posted by: WindyMan
Also, I thought it would be funny if the controller belted out expletives at the player, instead of the other way around.
me: *losing a game of Street fighter 2 to a 7 year old*

wiimote: "dayum you suck!!"

me: face-icon-small-shocked.gif *continues losing to 7 year old* face-icon-small-blush.gif

wiimote: "When we said we were targeting 'non-gamers', we meant people that hadn't played before, not people that couldn't play at all"

me: face-icon-small-mad.gif *snaps wiimote into two and throws across the room, then grabs a different wiimote*

wiimote #2: "you still suck"

PryopizmStan Ferguson, Staff AlumnusJuly 16, 2006

I would like my Wiimote to sweetly serenade me as I fall asleep in its loving arms.

mantidorJuly 16, 2006

Quote

Originally posted by: WindyMan
If I lose my Wii controller in the expansive canyons of my couch and can't find it, I want the speaker to emit a loud locator tone so I know where it got lost to.



Hey you stole my idea!

Everytime I can't find a remote, the wavebird receptor or the wavebird itself I imagine how great it would be if the TV/GC had a button that if you press make the controller to blink and beep.



thejeekJuly 16, 2006

It's hardly worth using the speaker as a microphone - not only would the resulting sound quality be fairly crap but you'd still need additional electronics to support sound input anyway (at least an amplifier and analog to digital converter). Also, without a separate microphone, full duplex would be tricky or impossible and might need additional electronics to insure the input circuitry isn't cooked by the output amplifier - Walkie-talkies, which are not full duplex, presumably get around this by disconnecting the speaker from the output amplifier via the push-to-talk button, which would be bloody annoying on the Wii.


PaleMike Gamin, Contributing EditorJuly 17, 2006

I'm still very worried that a tinny piece of junk speaker is gonna sound out of place in my setup. I hope Nintendo only uses it for sound effects and doesn't actually try and play music through it. Even then I'm a bit worried.

PryopizmStan Ferguson, Staff AlumnusJuly 17, 2006

Was anyone able to actually hear it at E3?

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorJuly 17, 2006

How about we set our four Wii-Motes in each corner of the room. Then, while watching a DVD on the Wii, it uses them for surround sound? face-icon-small-smile.gif

PaleMike Gamin, Contributing EditorJuly 17, 2006

I honestly forget to stick my ear up next to it for both Mario and Zelda.

I was so anxious to actually play it because the lines were so long, I forgot.. ><

Athrun ZalaJuly 17, 2006

The good news is that such a device could easily be connected to the expansion port on the Wii remote, maybe even with a pass-through port to also connect the nunchuck attachment.

more like, the good news is the Wii uses Bluetooth face-icon-small-wink.gif

RequiemJuly 17, 2006

Ya...

In all honesty, I would love to see a wireless headset that doesn't invovle the controller. Something that doesn't have to be used for games either would be great.

And the WiiTalk would be that much better.

EasyCureJuly 17, 2006

remember eternal darkness, and how you could hear a women sobbing and screaming in the background when you first started to go insane? imagine how cool that would be coming out of your wiimote speaker.

it could be more than just a few sound effects coming out of the controller as opposed to the tv, they could have audio only clues in certain games. some examples :

- a game in which you have to crack a safe. the game prompts you to hold the speaker up to your ear and you turn the dial by rotating the anolouge stick.

- a scenario where you have to put your ear up to a door to listen in; like someone under cover and listening to a secret conversation to get clues about the enemy, or a fps game that lets you hear hostages calling for help from behind a door.

things like that would make it it an almost vital part to the game, as opposed to coming off as a g!mmick.

now back to the horror genre... you could hear foot steps faintly in the wiimote and know somethings coming up behind you. or the game would prompt you to put the speaker up to your ear for an audio clue but instead have a scream play out instead. it could make you wii your pants!

It will be an interesting challenge to incorporate the Wiimote speaker into gameplay, hmm... it really doesn't have any immediate obvious applications beyond the cliche does it?

Hmmm... what an exciting design challenge!

I remember seeing a clip of a "Friday the 13th" movie and the victem was holding up a phone to her ear. She heard Freddy's voice on the phone, then all of a sudden a tongue came out of the top "speaker" part of the phone (near her ear) and boy that was FREAKISHLY SICK!

... dunno why I brought that up, Wiimotes won't be sprouting tongues anytime soon.

But maybe something similar where the sound out of the Wiimote could be integral to gameplay...

~Carmine M. Red
Kairon@aol.com

Quote

Originally posted by: EasyCure

- a scenario where you have to put your ear up to a door to listen in; like someone under cover and listening to a secret conversation to get clues about the enemy, or a fps game that lets you hear hostages calling for help from behind a door.


In a horror game, that whisper would turn into a scream in a fraction of a second.

Ideally, the response would look something like this.

~Carmine M. Red
Kairon@aol.com

RequiemJuly 17, 2006

Kairon Thank you for that!

EasyCure: There som' mighty nice ideas, I reckon.

I would be cool if while swimming underwater, you heard bubbles.

Or while boxing, you could hear yourself pant, and the louder and harder it is (maybe some heartbeats aswell), the lower the stamina you have. (Would be cool with double Wiimotes, stereo style).

Or in Zelda, when your holding a bomb, you could hear it "hiss".

Or, you could be some nuclear-biologist dude with a flamethrower and go into an abandoned town that was hit by a nuclear bomb to investigate something strange. There would be no HUD, simply your arm showing your flame thrower. The way you would scope out enemies would be with one of those radiation detectors that "click". The clicking would come out of the Wiimote and the faster the clicks, the closer the mutated monsters.

Or, and this really has nothing to do with the speaker, you could be holding a mask (it doesn't matter what the situation is), and when you put the wiimote close to your face, your onscreen character would do the same (letting you sneak idly by). But the mask ubstructs your view and so it is beneficial to drop it when needed.

Ohhhh that last one would be a great part of the game ----- in THIEF!

Quote

Originally posted by: Requiem

Or, you could be some nuclear-biologist dude with a flamethrower and go into an abandoned town that was hit by a nuclear bomb to investigate something strange. There would be no HUD, simply your arm showing your flame thrower. The way you would scope out enemies would be with one of those radiation detectors that "click". The clicking would come out of the Wiimote and the faster the clicks, the closer the mutated monsters.


OMG. An Aliens game would ROCK!

~Carmine M. Red
Kairon@aol.com

EasyCureJuly 17, 2006

thank you and likewise, so far all the ideas have been good.

oh and that radiation bit.. for some reason it made me think of The Hills Have Eyes. lol imagine a game based on the movie and hearing "ddaaaaaaaaddyyyy" come out of the wiimote. i'd probably react just like that women in the video

LouieturkeyJuly 20, 2006

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon
I remember seeing a clip of a "Friday the 13th" movie and the victem was holding up a phone to her ear. She heard Freddy's voice on the phone, then all of a sudden a tongue came out of the top "speaker" part of the phone (near her ear) and boy that was FREAKISHLY SICK!



Just because I'm anal, it's "Nightmare on Elmstreet." Not Friday as that would be Jason and he hasn't stuck his tongue out of a phone in any movie, let alone make a noise of any kind from his vocal chords.

That reminds me, anyone remember the Friday the 13th game for the NES? I highly enjoyed that game.

TomBraccoSeptember 03, 2006

This is an article I wrote about the possibilty that the Wiimote could be used as an Ocarina for Twilight Princess which says that simply blowing into the Wiimote like you can with the DS might prove promising:

Spit Valves for the Wii-mote?

While hearing the crackle of the bow and the whizz of the arrow sounds great, what if we can actually play the ocaria we may see in Twilight Princess. Considering that the Nintendo DS has a microphone on it that players are able to blow into while manipulating something on screen like a sailboat for exmple makes it clear that the Wiimote could handle such functionality if it sports a fancy microphone. Maybe then we can hold it like a flute with our left hand touching the d-pad and the A button for each note and our right just for extra support while blowing into it to ring each note out. You'd only hear the notes if you blew like a real flute or ocarina. This is something very possible that would not only work extremely well but would add something even greater to the game, the chance to actually feel as if you are playing the ocarina, something many Zelda fans would find very exciting.

NinGurl69 *hugglesSeptember 03, 2006

I really wanted to hear the sound of flesh slicing and blood squirting in Trauma Center: Hot Nurse Paradise.

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