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Sensitive Wii maker snubs developers

Nintendo keeps development kit to itself

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Nintendo may have announced a new enhancement to the Wii controller, but don't expect many titles to take advantage of the new accuracy.

Many in the development community only found out about the Wii MotionPlus yesterday - the same time as the rest of us.

Developers normally expect to get early access to peripherals, so they can quickly create new games to take advantage of the new hardware, but this time Nintendo seems to have kept the details to themselves, leaving at least some games developers wondering if success may be leading to a little arrogance from the Japanese giant.

The Wii MotionPlus improves the accuracy of location tracking in the Wii controller which, while revolutionary, has long been a source of annoyance to developers who quickly discovered the restrictions they would be required to work around.

The Wii knows the location of the controllers thanks to the twin IR receivers in the bar mounted above the TV, but when there's no line of sight - such as when the controller is behind the player, or just pointed the wrong way - then games are dependent on the accelerometer mounted in the top of the controller. This is superbly sensitive, enough to register a heart beat, but that sensitivity means a lot of noise - and it can only register 3Gs of acceleration.

The latter limit can be triggered by the flick of the hand, such as the flick to the right at the start of a forehand swing to the left, leaving the console with notification of a 3G acceleration in each direction and no idea where the controller is, unless it happens to pass in front of the sensor bar.

This can be solved with the addition of a second accelerometer, ideally at the other end of the remote, and that is what the MotionPlus appears to be. With less sensitivity, but no 3G limit, it becomes possible to track the location of the remote with much greater accuracy, as reported by those who've had a chance to play with the sensor.

But failing to inform developers isn't the only change in policy from Kyoto. It has always been the case that games developers were not permitted to require a specific controller for a specific game, even if playing would make little sense without it: Punters who don't want to buy the WiiFit will be able to play surfing games by balancing the usual controller on a hand, however unsatisfying the experience would be. But it seems that MotionPlus will change that, with developers able to demand their users buy the peripheral, or just don't play.

Much of this could be oversight by Nintendo. The company hasn't got back to us yet to let us know either way, but changing the rules without consultation does risk annoying the very developers on which any games console relies. ®

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