How the Wii Works

The Wii's Interface and Specs

If you look at the controllers for the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3 and the GameCube, you'll notice that they're nearly identical. You hold them in two hands and use your thumbs to control the in-game action with buttons, D-pads and joysticks. Your index fingers pull triggers that shoot guns and perform other functions.

There are two ways to look at the similarity between these controllers. Are they identical because the design has been honed to perfection and there is no room for improvement? That's what happened, for example, with the car steering wheel. All cars have steering wheels, and they've all had steering wheels for nearly a century.

The other approach is to think about controllers in a completely different way -- a way that can revolutionize gameplay.

Nintendo took the latter approach: Its designers  went outside of the box and innovated. If you've only used traditional two-handed controllers, the Wii controller may appear a little strange. It looks like the remote control for a TV and it has no joystick. But the initial reviews have been good, and it actually makes sense once you understand the design principles.

The key to Nintendo's new game interface lies inside the controller. Instead of using a joystick to control the game, the primary control is the controller itself. The controller contains solid-state accelerometers that let it sense:

  • Tilting and rotation up and down
  • Tilting and rotation left and right
  • Rotation along the main axis (as with a screwdriver)
  • Acceleration up and down
  • Acceleration left and right
  • Acceleration toward the screen and away

The surprising thing is that you can create an accurate and natural user interface this way. See the next page for more information about the controller.