Business-like, isn't he?



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    Nintendo can keep you active in the office

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver July 17-23, 2007; issue 925

    High Tech Office column

    We’ve been looking at gear to take away on holiday this summer, stuff to let you remain in touch, keep from getting lost or ensure that you can still watch “All My Children” far from home. But some of us may not get holidays at all this summer.

    If you can’t get out to the tennis court or the fairway you can bring them to you with a Nintendo Wii game console ($279). Released in Canada just before last Christmas, it’s become a runaway bestseller both here and abroad. Some might find this surprising. While game console competitors like Sony’s Playstation 3 (PS3) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 have focused on making game systems increasingly powerful to produce increasingly life-like visuals, the Wii (pronounced “wee”) graphics are definitely down-market.

    By not needing to disguise a super-computer in a game console, the Wii is smaller then the competition and about half the price. It’s also outselling the PS3 in Japan about two to one.

    The secret?

    While the other guys were focusing on the graphics, Nintendo focused on the fun. In the Wii’s case, what makes the difference is the controller. Traditionally, game systems have used hand-held controllers where the user’s thumbs did all the work. The Wii, however, ships with an innovative motion sensitive wireless controller. It uses Bluetooth radio to transmit its position in 3D space to a sensor placed by your TV. It can be swung like a tennis racket, golf club or baseball bat with the game software responding appropriately.

    (A so-called nunchuk controller is also included. It’s a joystick-like piece that plugs into the wireless controller allowing it to be used in a more traditional and sedate manner.)

    While game developers like Burnaby-based Electronic Arts are busy bringing add-on games for the Wii to market, Nintendo cleverly packs every unit with a disc bundling five sports games – tennis, golf, bowling, boxing, and wrestling – getting users hooked into the system’s controller. The graphics are minimalist, a step or two above stick figures, but players don’t seem to care.

    The result appeals to people who’ve never been interested in computer or video gaming. When I had the loan of a Wii, my wife, daughter and their friends surprised themselves enjoying virtual tennis. Prior to the Wii’s release, Ron Bertram, Nintendo Canada vice-president-GM, said, “Wii breaks the wall separating players from non-players by delivering the best game experience for the most affordable price. We believe the next leap is games for the masses, young and old, gamer or non, alone, with a friend or with the whole family.”
    My family would agree with him. (Be sure to pick up a second ($45) controller.)

    And while traditional game players just exercise their thumbs, Wii users seem to throw their whole bodies into it. A round of Wii tennis is a pretty solid workout – make sure to move furniture out of the way! The Internet has numerous examples of Wii-based exercise programs.

    (I’d like to see businesses buy these things and place them in staff rooms to give employees a way to take an active break from sedentary desk work.)

    The Wii uses disc-based games, but unlike the Playstation or Xbox consoles it can’t be used to play DVD movies or audio CDs. Nintendo is promising an upgrade to add this capability. It does include built-in 802.11g wireless networking and can go online to download software updates. This capability also lets users go online to connect to Nintendo’s WiiConnect24 service to download and play inexpensive ($5 to $10) “classic” games originally developed for older Nintendo game platforms or to view weather or news information. With a downloadable version of the Opera web browser, it can even be used to surf the Net.

    But that’s not why anyone would buy it. If you can’t get out this summer, Nintendo’s Wii might let you have an active summer without leaving your workplace or home.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan