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Iwata Asks: In Commemoration, Part 4 - Nintendo TVii

Iwata Asks - Nintendo TVii Part 1: “Just how much of it is the web?”

by Matt Walker - July 26, 2016, 6:30 am EDT

Part 1 of Nintendo TVii

1. “Just how much of it is the web?”

Iwata - “Since the Wii U is always next to your TV, and it’s also connected to the internet, is there any way we might be able to use it to make TV more enjoyable?” - that’s the thought that gave birth to the standard Wii U feature that we’re going to talk about today - Wii U’s own TV guide, Nintendo TVii. Let’s start with some self introductions.

Oda - I’m Oda of the Environment Creation Department. For this project I was in charge of direction for Nintendo TVii. The project started exactly this time two years ago (2010).

Kamigawa - I’m Kamigawa, also from the Environment Creation Department. I was added to the team January last year as a programmer, mainly directing the technological aspects. For this project, in addition to us, members from the Network Business Department of Tokyo’s Network System Development Group were involved in development.

Iwata - OK, thanks for joining us. It turns out that, while the idea for Nintendo TVii was around from a fairly early stage in the Wii U’s development cycle, it took quite a bit of time before something concrete was in place. Although that’s partly because we couldn’t necessarily provide the same service throughout the world, since each country has not only different programming, but different culture in regards to how they watch TV.   That being the case, Oda-san, what did you start with when you were initially put on the project?

Oda - I began by thinking about “what type of content would be ideal for accompanying the already complete experience of watching TV?” I started from zero, analyzing how people interface with TV, what it is they enjoy about it, and how they’ve come to accept this type of media. Although I had various thoughts during the planning stage, none of them really took shape at first, and really struggled.

Iwata - You certainly didn’t have a defined answer that you could then run with for these 2 years, did you? Right off the bat it’s like you wandered into the Lost Woods.

Oda - Exactly.

Iwata - I know this is going to be like Comparative Culturalism, but would you please give a simple explanation of the differences between how TV is watched in Japan and abroad?

Oda - Sure. First off, as Japanese people know, although each region is slightly different, our terrestrial broadcast signals typically feature 7 to 8 channels at the most, which have the lion’s shares of viewers. Abroad, however, it’s not uncommon to have 10’s or even 100’s of channels.

Iwata - In America cable has largely proliferated, so perhaps it’s like our CS broadcasting in Japan(※1), where you contract for many channels? Maybe that’s kind of a forced comparison. (laughs)

※1 CS Broadcast= Satellite broadcasting using Communication Satellites.

Oda - Yes, for instance in America it’s like they have sports channels for each team that broadcasts all of their games.

Iwata - Japan doesn’t even compare with that specialization or subdivision. Also VOD(※2)サservices are quite different from Japan as well.

※2 VOD=Video on Demand. System where users can stream whatever content they want to watch over the internet, when they want.

Oda - Yes. TV positioning for the individual is also completely different - in Japan it’s more a more passive culture, where everyone gathers to enjoy TV in the living room, where in America programs are divided per each individual’s tastes, delivering specifically to people’s needs.

Iwata - That’s why Americans probably couldn’t imagine what “Zapping”(※3)feels like - picking a channel by switching from one to the next, just seeing what’s on. There’s so many channels, they’d never be able to get through all of them! (laughs)

※3 Zapping= Flipping from channel to channel with the remote while watching TV.

Oda - Yes, and that’s one of the reasons America requested universal search over anything else.

Iwata - “Universal search” is a service that will show you what channel, what VOD is showing related programs after inputting keywords. It was already possible to search different VODs separately, so apparently the ability to search all of the VOD services and all of those multitudes of channels at once is a huge thing with lots of merit in America. That’s why they really wanted a service that would acquire all of that information at once.

Oda - Yes. And then in Europe it’s really hard to do that with one single format, since there are so many different countries, all with different languages.

Iwata - And that’s one of the reasons you ended up right in the Lost Woods from the beginning, but at one point I said, “There’s no way that the requests from Japan, America and Europe are all going to coalesce, so how about building the service on Web technology that would allow you to offer up a common base framework that could then implement different services per region, handling most of the operations on the server side?”

Oda - Yes. So although each region shares a common base, we ended up implementing Nintendo TVii as a server side service that could be fit to each different region’s needs - something we’ve never really had a precedent for in terms of engine or implementation for Nintendo hardware up until now.

Iwata - Up until now Nintendo had become rather good at creating client side software(※4), and for the web based services that we had implemented such as the Wii and Nintendo DSi shops, we sacrificed useability, so at the same time, for this approach we took on the challenge of figuring out what the optimal way would be to allow for the most comfortable user experience by providing the main service on the server side, leaving just the bare minimum environment on the client side. Kamigawa-san, would you please explain?

※4 Client=In terms of computer networking, the computer that uses the functionality and data provided by a server computer. In this case, referring to a Wii, Wii U or Nintendo 3DS connected to the internet.

Kamigawa - Sure. For Nintendo TVii’s client we utilized WebKit(※5) for creating it, so it’s a browser-type application. Most of the actual display is done based in HTML(※6)so it uses pages made with web technology.

※5 Webkit= Open source HTML rendering engine framework developed mainly by Apple.

※6 HTML= Language developed for creating web pages.

Iwata - Does that do anything special compared to a normal browser?

Kamigawa - There are lots of things that have been uniquely expanded upon. For instance, we take advantage of Wii U specific functions for playing sound.

Iwata - There’s also a framework for accepting the Wii U’s controls as well.

Kamigawa - That’s also included, so not only can the touch screen be used, but we also provide easy to use control with the various buttons as well.

Iwata - I got the opportunity to use it once right before we announced the American version, and honestly I felt that it felt so smooth and snappy that I almost couldn’t believe it was running on web technology.

Kamigawa - Yes. Mario Club(※7)did the debugging, and about a week in we were asked “This… this is web-based, not native(※8), right?”

※7 Mario Club= Mario Club, Inc. Handles software debugging and test playing for software in development at Nintendo.

※8 Native= In this case, an application that would issue commands directly to the hardware, performing program operations and drawing without passing through an HTML engine first.

Iwata - Ah, that’s one of those moments that just makes you smile as a creator!

Kamigawa - Ya, that was kind of a happy moment for me. (laughs) I’m often asked “just how much of it is the web?”, and when I explain that it’s almost completely web technology people are always surprised.

Iwata - Honestly, as the person that said “We have no choice but to make it using web technology in order to handle all of the different cultures” in the back of my mind I thought that, although we would achieve more flexibility when compared to a native app, that might come at the loss of controllability. But in the end that wasn’t the case at all, and I realized that Wii U is just that powerful, and the web engine was really well tuned.



Disco StuJuly 28, 2016

TVii needs to be wiped from the Nintendo history books. Let's just all pretend it never happened.

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