Bavi_H's Blog

Nintendo Wii remote control

by Bavi_H, 11/23/2006

Ever since I've heard about the Nintendo Wii's remote control, I've been wanting to try one out. I even downloaded the Wii manuals recently to read up on the system. Yesterday, I tried out a Nintendo Wii for the first time at a GameStop in the mall.

My first experience

There are actually two GameStops in our mall. (I think one of them was originally an EB Games, but has since been changed to a GameStop.) When we went in the first GameStop, it's demo Wii had a black screen with text on it and there was no controller in sight. I was too afraid to ask the employees anything about it, and from a distance, I assumed it was some sort of error message. (It was probably just one of the menu screens, though.)

When I came to the second GameStop in the mall, it's Wii appeared to be functioning properly, and someone was actually playing with it. I didn't feel like waiting so I left and came back later.

When I returned, the Wii was sitting on it's main menu, and no one was using it, although some people were looking at it. A tweenish kid was asking a teenagerish kid if he was wondering where the remote controller was, but the teenager walked away uninterested. So I approached the kid and asked where the remote was, and he explained I could ask an employee for it if I gave them my ID. (The kid was too young to have his own ID and so I guess he wasn't allowed to use the remote, but he seemed eager to see the Wii in action.)

The actual Wii was behind a plastic case, so you couldn't interact with the buttons on the console. If I could have, I was thinking about trying the synchronization procedure. (You press a red sync button on the remote -- it's in the battery compartment -- then you press a similar sync button on the console, located behind a panel covering the memory card slot.) I looked inside the remote's battery compartment anyway just to see the sync button there.

I spent most of my time looking at the Wii's system menus. In the Wii menus, you move the Wii remote control to move an on-screen pointer, and click items with the A button (the largest button, placed for thumb use). Unfortunately, during the time I played with it, the remote didn't control the on-screen pointer very well. The pointer was very jerky, and it often took me a few tries to get it pointing were I wanted. As a possible compensation for this, the menu system is designed using lots of large on-screen buttons so you don't need to aim the pointer too precisely. [However, this means each screen has fewer buttons and thus causes more pages to click through to get tasks done.]

I played around with the avatar creation system included in the Wii. I chose a preset face, added a beanie, changed the clothing color, and added a name. Using the on-screen keyboard was especially problematic with the on-screen pointer's jitteriness. I was trying to enter a very simple name, "Guy", but I had to backspace several mistakes when the pointer went to a unintended key near the one I wanted. It even missed the backspace key once causing further frustration. Finally, my newly created avatar was walking around the little plaza of people. I picked him up and dragged him to the Delete option, and decided to try out a game next.

The Wii must have had an Excite Truck disc already loaded, since that game that loaded when selecting the disc item from the menu. I had read online that in this game, the remote control is used horizontally to steer the truck, but I wasn't sure how to select items from the game menu. When the Excite Truck menu appeared, I was still holding the controller like a remote, since I had just been using it that way in the Wii system menu. Since the Excite Truck menu had no on-screen pointer, I tried pressing up and down on the directional pad, but nothing happened. A guy behind me said "You need to press left and right, you're holding it the wrong way," and I realized what he meant: When you rotate the controller horizontally, what was originally the left and right directions in the remote control orientation now become down and up in the horizontal orientation. I was now able to move the menu selection, and chose the Tutorial option.

I only played the first Excite Truck tutorial, which describes how to steer with the horizontal remote control, but I skimmed over the text. From what I've read online, you're supposed to "turn" the horizontal remote control, as if it was a horizontal bar in the middle of a steering wheel. I guess you are supposed to hold it with the buttons facing you. But in the store, I actually held the controller with the buttons facing up, and found myself tilting the controller left and right, like a see-saw. I think this also worked, but I didn't spend a lot of time analyzing how the on-screen truck responded to my movements. The level only lasted 15 seconds. I had run the truck off the side of the course, but then a message on the screen seemed to indicate I had reached the goal. I wasn't sure if I prematurely crashed, or actually reached the goal but didn't notice it.

I felt a little embarrassed playing something new in public and having others see how poor I am. I quit the game and decided to see if I could improve the on-screen pointer's accuracy.

I found the sensitivity option in the Wii system menus. It has a slider with about five notches on it, and a little picture of what the remote can "see." (See How it works, below.) The on-screen instructions state you should adjust the sensitivity slider so that there are only two dots in the picture. But when I played with it, there were only two dots no matter what sensitively setting was selected. At the left end of the scale, the two dots were smaller, and at the right end of the scale the two dots were bigger. I wasn't sure which end of the scale would improve the pointer's accuracy, so I tried them both. Strangely, both ends of the scale seemed to work well. I was able to swing the controller left and right and the pointer didn't seem jerky. The only difference the setting made seemed to be the overall distance (or speed) the pointer moved per the same amount of controller motion.

I wasn't sure why the controller seemed to be controlling the pointer better now, but I had reached my comfort limit of experimenting in public. I felt like the two or three onlookers were a little annoyed with me playing with the system menus more than the actual game loaded into the system. I headed toward the counter to return the controller and retrieve my ID. While waiting for an employee to help me, I looked at the remote control again. It was kind of surreal that I was actually holding this device that I've read about for so many months.

I'm thinking about going to the GameStop down the street to see if they have a demo Wii setup there. I'm interested in experimenting with how to get the best the pointer accuracy.

How it works

The remote control uses a combination of three technologies.

It uses wireless to communicate with the console. Not only does the remote send its button presses and motion information to the console, but the console can send rumble and audio feedback to the remote, and even store data in the remote's memory. Additional remotes can be added to the system using a wireless synchronization procedure. The order that the remotes are synchronized determines which player number they are assigned.

The remote contains internal motion sensors to detect movement speed and controller orientation. By itself, the motion data is not precise enough to keep a lock on the controller's position. But for situations where gestures of the remote are used to control things instead of an on-screen pointer, the motion sensors alone are sufficient.

The remote also uses an infrared camera in combination with a sensor bar placed above or below the TV. Others have pointed out that the sensor bar's name is a misnomer, since it doesn't sense anything itself, but actually contains infrared LEDs that transmit infrared light to the remote. The infrared camera in the remote detects the infrared LEDs as points of light. When the remote moves up, down, left, or right, the remote detects the points of light moving in the camera's field of view. When the remote moves forward and backward, the camera detects the points of light moving further apart or closer together.

The accuracy of the position information is affected by the distance and angle the remote is from the sensor bar. During my first experience, the on-screen pointer was very jerky. I tried stepping backwards a few times, but the floor space in the store was a little crowded. The position detection can also suffer if there are other sources of infrared light besides the sensor bar. A sensitivity setting in the system menu seems designed to fine tune the camera's reception and might be able to tune out small infrared distractions.

The sensitivity screen actually shows a little view screen of the camera's current detection. The on screen instructions tell you to adjust the slider so that only two points of light are visible. I guess these points of light are the "picture" of two infrared LEDs in the sensor bar. But online sources I've read indicate the sensor bar has more than two LEDs, so it's unclear exactly what the dots represent.

Also, if I remember correctly, the dots moved similar to an on-screen pointer. That is, moving the controller up, down, left, or right caused the dots to move the same direction. But in a correct orientation of the camera's view, moving the controller to the left would cause the dots to move to the right edge of the camera's field of view. Either the system is inverting the display to make it less confusing, or maybe I just remembered it wrong. (I only played with it for less than a minute.)

Future experiments

I'm interested in experimenting with the controller again to determine how best to improve the positioning accuracy. I'm also interested in experimenting with the view screen shown on the sensitivity setting page. I'm thinking of bringing in some source of infrared light to see if it shows up on the view. I also want to try obscuring portions of the sensor bar to see how that affects the view screen image.

Overall, I'm very interested in this remote control input device. I want to try it again, but I don't think I want to buy a Wii. Video gaming has always seemed to expensive to me. And right now, I'm mostly interested in the input device, not any of the system's games. I'm thinking of trying the Wii again at the nearest GameStop, or else seeing if any neighbors have one yet.


Wii Operations Manual - System Setup [PDF]
Wii Operations Manual - Channels and Settings [PDF]
The PDF manuals from Nintendo.

Wii Remote from Wikipedia
Wikipedia's description of the Wii Remote. Includes lots of links at the end.

Nintendo Wiimote Technology
The most interesting thing on this page is the photo of the sensor bar. Since the digital camera the photo was taken with detects infrared light, the infrared LEDs in the sensor bar are visible in the image.

Update 11/24/2006: Here are some more links.

Nintendo Wii Sensor Bar Demystified
This YouTube video shows it is possible to remove the Wii sensor bar and substitute two television remote controls with buttons pushed down. In other words, the Wii Remote can detect it's position with any two properly positioned infrared transmitters. This suggests the sensor bar is only an infrared LED transmitter, and doesn't receive any information from the remote.

Wii en la casa de Joystiq
This blogger gets quotes of his roommate's first ever impressions of the Wii. (His roommate had never heard of the Wii before.) Also includes photos comparing the on-screen pointer with a laser pointer dot showing the actual position the Wii remote is pointing at.

Update - My second experience

11/24/2006 - I went to the GameStop down the street today to play with the demo Wii there. Here are some notes about my second experience with the Wii.

Smoother pointer

This time I was able to control on-screen pointer much better (after setting the sensitivity to reduce infrared noise). It was much smoother than my first time, but the pointer still jerked a little bit every once in a while. I was able to type on the on-screen keyboard with out much problem, though. Even though I now know the pointer can move much more smoothly, I'm still a little disappointed that it doesn't move as smoothly as I'd like. I wonder if a home environment would change the pointer accuracy.

Sensitivity view screen

In this GameStop, the demo Wii was just behind the front window. When I started, the pointer was very erratic. When moving the pointer to the right side of the screen, it would suddenly jump back to the left side of the screen. With some difficultly, I was finally able point to the proper buttons to get to the sensitivity screen. The view screen showed a big circle, as well as four other dots. Since there wasn't a large circular infrared LED anywhere, I assume the size of the circles on this screen represents the strength of the infrared signal detected at that point. I guess the remote's infrared detection may be less like a camera and more like a sensor. Or at least the view screen on the sensitivity page is just a representation of detected infrared points and their strength.

Anyway, I'm not sure what was causing the large circle on the view screen, but it looks like the four small dots were the sensor bar's LEDs and then some sort of reflection of them, and that what was causing the pointer to jump from one side of the screen to the other. I decreased the sensitivity slider until there were only two dots and the pointer acted better.

Excite Truck

During the Excite Truck tutorial, I paid closer attention to the instruction text. It actually shows a picture of tilting the controller left and right like a see-saw, so that method is definitely designed to work. The goal was marked by a banner above the course, so I had overlooked it on my previous play.