Imagine a video game where you drop a virtual fishing line into a lake. Your hand grips the pole, and you can move to where the fish are biting. When you feel a tug, a jerk on the pole brings in the catch.
This is what it's like playing with Nintendo Co.'s new game controller, which senses a player's actual movement and position in space. The device -- a key piece of the company's highly anticipated next-generation game machine -- represents Nintendo's bid to liberate gaming from the conventional keypad as it works to go in a different direction from its giant rivals, Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp.
The new controller is being introduced today at a Tokyo game industry convention. The complete console, Nintendo Revolution, is scheduled to go on sale in 2006, company officials say.
Revolution's shiny, plastic controller is about the size and shape of a candy bar, with a few buttons on top and a trigger-like button on the bottom. During a game, the player holds it in one hand like a remote control, then moves through the game by bending the wrist and sweeping the arm. It is wireless, so no cords get in the way of the gesturing.
The controller comes with an extension called the Nunchuck that gives players a small, thumb-controlled joystick to hold in the other hand for use in certain games.
In a demonstration of the controller, some games required pushing buttons for moves such as jumping or shooting, while others, like the fishing game, relied solely on hand and arm movements. Players in one game held the controller as if it were a paper airplane, tilting it this way and that to maneuver an on-screen craft.
The device, which works by communicating with small sensors that sit under or on top of the television, gives gaming a kind of kinetic energy the company hopes will appeal to both seasoned gamers and people who have never played video games.
"Gaming has been whittled down to a group of core users," says Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's top game developer and the industry legend who created the popular Mario Bros. and the Zelda fantasy series. "We've tried to make this something that even your mother can enjoy."
It is also a sign of the determination of the game maker, based in Kyoto, to distinguish itself from competitors that are readying their own next-generation machines for release over the coming year. Both Sony, with PlayStation 3, and Microsoft, with Xbox 360, are expected to emphasize lifelike graphics and complex virtual environments as selling points for their new machines. Nintendo's Miyamoto, however, says that with the Revolution, his company is playing down complexity and focusing on the joy of play.
"You'll be able to do things with this that you've never done in games before," Miyamoto says.
Nintendo is battling an image that its machines and games are mainly for children -- even as they increasingly want more grown-up games. At the same time, Sony and Microsoft have grander visions. Their machines, in addition to playing games, are meant to serve as home entertainment hubs, for watching movies, playing music and chatting online.
Still, Nintendo remains one of the most profitable video game companies in the world. In the last fiscal year ended March 31, it had an operating profit margin of about 22 percent, and about $7.41 billion in cash, making it one of Japan's most cash-rich companies.
With its popular GameBoy, Nintendo is still the hands-down leader in the handheld gaming business. Yet the company has been flagging in the console business. Nintendo's GameCube last year was scrambling to keep up with Microsoft's Xbox in worldwide sales. Sony has sold 90 million PlayStation 2 machines globally, compared with 40 million for the rival consoles combined.
Nintendo has yet to introduce new games specifically for Revolution. Miyamoto says possibilities include games in which players hold two controllers, using one as a sword and one as a shield, or games in which players fly by flapping their arms like a bird.