June 3, 2012 at 6:07 PM ET
In a video announcement featuring its president, Satoru Iwata, Nintendo showed off the final version of their new Wii U console and controller, along with some new social features like video chat and game-specific message boards. The launch games will be shown on Tuesday at their on-stage presentation shortly before the doors open here at E3, but it seems Nintendo wanted to let a few cats out of the bag early.
The "new controller," as the company has been calling it publicly for a full year now, has finally been named: it's the Wii U GamePad. That's meant to be a throwback to the original NES gamepad as well as a fairly accurate description of the device itself: it's a pad that you game with.
The GamePad is similar to the prototype they showed off last year, but the layout is different, the whole controller is slightly larger, and the circle pads in the top corners have been replaced with traditional analog sticks. There's also a spot for near-field communication (NFC), allowing tokens and cards to be scanned into the controller without swiping or putting in codes.
After Iwata explained the new GamePad (and quickly showed a sleek new Pro controller, left) for those who don't want to use it), he moved onto Miiverse, Nintendo's new Mii-based platform for social interaction around games. Each game will have a community of players who can leave messages and tips inside the game -- several message bubbles popped up on one Mario's defeat, for instance, with real people expressing frustration with that section and offering support.
Iwata said they feel this adds "a new degree of empathy between players," and also that "even with no one else in the room, you won't feel alone." To that end, video communication between Wii U consoles will also be possible, using the camera built into the GamePad. And hand-written messages and doodles can be sent, a la Pictochat. Parts of this whole communication platform will also be available through a smartphone app.
Ways in which the Wii U will interact with the TV were teased but not fully fleshed out: the GamePad will act as a TV controller, for instance, and can be used to browse the internet or push video to the screen.
The actual games you'll be playing on the Wii U will be announced and shown off Tuesday morning at 9AM Pacific time; we'll be reporting live from the press conference, so watch this space for more news from Nintendo and the other majors here at E3.
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Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc.