Better Friend Codes, Achievements and More: Nintendo Answers Our Burning Wii U QuestionsS

Nintendo will have a much less annoying Friend Code system for the Wii U, four layers of protection in their online service and system-level Achievements, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime tells Kotaku.

The Nintendo boss and I rapidly ran through a list of questions about the Wii U's features during a wide-ranging interview a few days ago in Los Angeles. I sought clarity about some of the less-well-publicized aspects of Wii U that will surely matter to the most fervent gamers.

We started by talking about Nintendo's own claim that its vaunted screen-based controller, the GamePad, will only have a battery life of 3-5 hours. (Notably, when I arrived at the interview, the GamePad was being recharged—while being turned on.)

Fils-Aime ducked nothing:

Battery Life

Nintendo had said earlier in the week that Wii U controllers would only hold up to five hours of charge but could be recharged while playing. Prototype controllers at E3 had a power input a the top of the controller; Fils-Aime said finalized units will take charge from the bottom, below the screen, for better comfort if you have it plugged in while playing.

On the length of the battery life, he said, "I have to say that, as a company, we are amazingly conservative when it comes to giving guidance on things like battery life. If you go back to the 3DS discussion on battery life, the numbers we gave before launch vs. the reality of launch were very different. So what I would tell you is that Nintendo is absolutely committed to making sure that the battery life for the Wii U will not get in the way of the gaming experience."

Nintendo had claimed 3-8 hours for the 3DS. Users can judge for themselves if that was a) too little and b) inconsistent with what their 3DS holds.


Off-TV Play

The ability to view and play Wii U games on the GamePad screen rather than on a TV screen is a "capability [that] is there for every game but it's a developer's choice if they want that to be part of the experience." Nintendo calls it Off-TV Play and the feature will likely be flagged on Wii U game boxes.


The Xbox-Like Wii U Pro Controller

Come on, Reggie, doesn't your new hardcore-gamer Wii U controller look like a 360 controller? "And you could say that our competitive controllers look a lot like our controller," he retorted. "Fundamentally, ergonomically, it's driven by what feels good in the hand. The controller has been in development for quite some time, and it's based on feedback that, for certain games and for certain experiences, that type of controller offers a richer experience."


Big Brother in the MiiVerse

Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata (Reggie's boss) recently told the L.A. Times that users of Nintendo's expansive new Wii U online service, MiiVerse, will see any messages they submit subjected to several layers of moderation. Given that Nintendo prefers its systems to be kid-safe, and given that MiiVerse is designed to fill the Wii U's boot-up screen and many of its games with text messages from friends and fellow gamers discussing games, the heavy moderation isn't surprising. But it seems potentially heavy-handed, possibly ineffective and liable to slow online communication if messages have to wait to be screened.

Fils-Aime clarified: "The way to think about how we will ensure a positive consumer experience with MiiVerse… first, there are parental controls. As a parent you can choose for your child not to have any MiiVerse conversation. You can do it only with friends. You can do it with everyone.

"The second level is going to be essentially a technology-driven scan to make sure that inappropriate words and inappropriate pictures don't make it onto MiiVerse.

"The third level is going to be the community that will police and flag items.

"The fourth level is for a human review at Nintendo."

But what if, as in the example given by Nintendo when debuting the MiiVerse, I want to post a request for help for a game I'm stuck on? Do I have to wait a while for that to run?

"Let's take that example. I need help with level so-and-so. The technical scan happens. There's no bad words. It happens." No queue? "Correct."

This, Fils-Aime said, is when a Nintendo rep would step in: "If the community is flagging it or if there's an issue where the consumer is continuously trying to send inappropriate content. Because this is account driven, if Stephen Totilo is continuously trying to send inappropriate content then we have the ability to message this."


System-Level Achievements

Some of Nintendo's top game designers don't want to put Achievements in their games, but Nintendo has put an Achievement-like system in the 3DS, mostly to reward people for feats involving the system's Street Pass networking system. In other words, the system itself has Achievements. "We will have that," Fils-Aime said. "Once you start getting into game-specific [Achievements] that's developer driven." Microsoft may require every game to have Achievements, but, Fils-Aime said, "That is not our philosophy."


Those Notorious Friend Codes

First the bad news… maybe. Nintendo has not chucked the idea of requiring people to have friend codes, which, on the Wii, were 16-digit codes that people had to exchange before being linked as friends on the system.

And now the better news… "There are friend codes, but it's not the existing friend code system," Fils-Aime said. "What do I mean by that? Here's what I mean: you will be able to identify people as friends and have a certain level of interaction vs. a different level of interaction for the more general population. The method by which you identify someone as a friend is a lot simpler than what's happening today with Friend Codes." (He declined to lay out the new Wii U friend code program just yet.)

The problem I believe people had with the Wii version, I told Fils-Aime, is that adults who owned the system felt like, hey, if I'm an adult, treat me like an adult and let me friend people I've met online without having to call a person and exchange a code or something like that. "Agreed," Fils-Aime said.

"You feel like those people will be happier?" I asked.

"Yes, they will be."


Wii Digital Content Survives

Fils-Aime confirmed that Wii owners will be able to transfer their game saves and any purchased content from the Wii to the Wii U.


Data Storage?

Still no big hard-drive for the Wii U, but, Fils-Aime said, "The main message we've communicated is that it's got USB ports so you can keep adding storage to your heart's content." It's not clear how Nintendo expects players to store lots of downloadable expansions and to games like, say, Mass Effect 3. That'll be a follow-up for another day.


Wii U-3DS Connection?

"It was last year that we talked about a new Smash Bros. that will have some interoperability, some linkage between Wii U and Nintendo 3DS," Fils-Aime said. "Obviously [Smash Bros. lead designer] Mr. Sakurai, having just finished Kid Icarus, hasn't made a ton of progress on that game, but that's going to be the one where we talk about how the two systems could work together on one game."


Single-Touch vs. Multi-Touch

The Wii U GamePad is not multi-touch. Not a problem, Fils-Aime said, holding a GamePad in his hands. "When we went through the building of this and, given some of the functionality, we thought that single-touch was a more appropriate option, especially when you've got other button configurations."

As he held the controller he reached into the touch screen with one of his thumbs and then tapped the screen with a forefinger. Each time, he kept his other hand on the controller.

Then he put the controller down so he could touch the screen with a finger from each hand. "Is this really the way you want to play a game? I don't think so."

Surely it would be nice to give people options? I suggested it was a cost thing. "Certainly there's a cost to it. Again, we envision this as a controller that you're putting in your hands and you're doing a two-screen experience. The concept of putting it in your lap to do multi-touch for us just feels unwieldy."


Used Games

"We don't have a policy surrounding used games," Fils-Aime said. "We have not put in place any technology to go after the used game business."


Black and White Wii U's?

Fils-Aime: We are showing white and black [Wii U's] here [at E3]. We haven't said anything about launch."


Topics for which Fils-Aime had nothing to announce

New Virtual Console platforms; whether VC games can run on the GamePad, Wii U launch price, Wii U launch line-up.


Note: I discussed several other Nintendo topics with Fils-Aime, including the issue of how powerful the console is and what that augurs for long-term third-party gaming support. Those will be the subjects of other stories here on Kotaku in the days ahead.