Like most people, when I heard the Nintendo Wii controller would house a speaker I thought it was an interesting gimmick. How on earth could a speaker be useful? I already have a surround sound system that is quite nice. Why do I need a little speaker in my hand as well?
Items in your hand, sound like they are in your hand
Marcus and I sat down to discuss the possibilities. The first one that came up is that actions your character takes in the game, will create sounds that emanate from the controller. Reload your pistol, and you can hear it in your hand. Swords clash, right in the palm of your hand. Gunshots, creaking doors, pulling the pin on a grenade, etc. could all come from the controller. Imagine a game like Oblivion or Half Life 2, where many items can be picked up and interacted with. Imagine picking up a plate and sliding it over a brick wall, making a distinct grating sound. Combined with the tactile feedback of a rumble pack, games really will take a new step into immersion. Much in the way you can feel the action from the game through rumble, the added benefit of having sound come from within the room will enrich the gaming experience more than I initially believed.
An even more interesting application of the speaker would be to utilize it as part of a surround sound system. By balancing the timing and volume of a sound, the Nintendo Wii could trick the human ear into thinking a particular noise is coming from someplace between the TV and the Wii controller. Imagine, hitting a baseball; the crack of the bat, followed by a woosh as the ball flies away. By using nothing more than simple stereo speakers and the Wii controller, the game could balance the sound experience to make it sound as if the ball traveled from the bat (the controller) into the screen itself. If you hit it to left field, the sound will travel to the left.
Now, imagine this application of 3D space working for all sounds within a game. Charged shots in Metroid Prime would seemingly fly from the controller to the portion of the screen. As objects in-game, such as energy beams, airplanes, etc, come close to the player, the sound could appear to come out of the screen, occupying a place inside the room. The system knows where the remote is in relation to the screen and can automatically position the sound of various items anywhere. As your character moves through the game, all sounds could be projected into the play area, creating unparalleled immersion.
Try It Yourself
Next time you are playing a game, think about the sounds you hear. Most people take stereo and surround sound for granted in games these days, so actively listen to things as you play. Imagine, what the game would be like if you could hear the jingle of gold in your hand when you pick up loot and treasure. Imagine what it would be like to point a weapon, feel the recoil and hear the shots. Take it a step further and imagine the sounds coming from your entire sound system, perfectly balanced with the controller in your hand, the soundscape extending into your room. Next time you hear the blue shell in Mario Kart coming up from behind, imagine it getting louder and louder until it is right overhead.
Wii has the possibility of being the most innovative and radical game console ever created, provided developers can learn to harness the power and immersive potential.