Nintendo Has a Plan to Deal With Its Wii U Calibration Problem

The most significant flaw I found with the otherwise-sturdy Wii U last week was the new screen controller's inability to "remember" its position vis a vis your TV. This proved to be a problem for games that required the GamePad to be aimed at the TV, since the GamePad's internal motion sensors would gradually lose track of where the TV had been. A simple button press on the controller would re-set its center point.

Nintendo's chief game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, didn't need to watch my video demonstration of the Wii U's calibration problem, to be aware of it.

"It's true that with some of the sensors that are used [in the GamePad,] there are limits to the precision they are able to measure," Miyamoto told me. "It becomes our role to look at how can we manage that or how can we make it so that the reclaibration becomes part of the gameplay. That's what we're going to be working on going forward."

The problem is understandable. The Wii U GamePad, unlike the Wii Remote, has no sensor that detects the sensor bar that Wii and Wii U owners will likely have set up in front of their TV. The Wii Remote has one right at its point.

Miyamoto observed that the Wii U game Pikmin 3, when controlled by the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, does not have these calibration issues. He's right. But when it's played with the GamePad, a configuration that lets you move a cursor in the game world with tilts of the GamePad, the calibration gradually degrades. Eventually, resting your controller in what feels like a central position leaves the cursor on the screen a bit off-center. Tapping a button on the controller re-sets it to the center.

I suggested to Miyamoto that better sensors might fix this. "Of course, in terms of the cost of goods, if there comes a time further down the road where you're able to get much more precise sensors and you're able to bring those in at a cost that is not too expensive, there might be an opportunity to improve that," he said. "But what we're doing [now] is we're looking at ... bringing in the best technology we can within a cost that's affordable The rest of it is on us to ensure in the software that we're programming it in such a way to adapt for that."

Both Pikmin 3 and the mini-game in Nintendo Land that produced this problem were in unfinished states at E3. And the majority of Wii U software that I played didn't have these issues—because they weren't designed to require the GamePad to "point" at the TV. There are, therefore, reasons to think that Nintendo can game-design its way around the issue. But if they can't completely, maybe it's time to think about adding a Wii Remote-style infrared sensor to the GamePad controller.