Image: Adapted from Seven by thrig under a CC-BY license.

We’re still a month away from Nintendo’s big reveal of their next home console, known right now only as Project Café, but descriptions of the system so far have left many scratching their heads.

A screen with a controller, what can I do with that? Will it have decent online? What about powerful HD graphics? In the following two-part article, I will explore 10 hopes and dreams for the new system.

Today, I will be looking at the potential of the new controller set-up. Although we haven’t seen the device, the rumours are clear that it will include a sizable touchscreen as well as a traditional suite of buttons and sticks. Look forward to part two of this piece in the days to come, when I will cover the rest of the system.

Remember, any and all Project Café information can be found at our comprehensive report.

1. Secret information

Star Wars Scrabble

Image: Seven. CC-BY.

One of the great promises of GameCube-GBA connectivity was the concept of secret information. You could, in theory know things your playmates didn’t by virtue of receiving word on your own screen. This sounded like a boon for sports games, but it never really went anywhere. With the Wii’s successor rumoured to feature controllers wielding 6 inch touchscreens, this option is back in play.

Numerous board games operate on the joy of whipping out a devastating card or combo that you’ve been carefully saving all game: Scrabble, RISK, poker, and too many others to list. Project Café is the perfect opportunity to introduce this kind of social fun to the digital age. Sure, secret information is easy with online play, but that desperately lacks the joy of “meat space” human interaction. What good is laying out a set in RISK without hearing and seeing your opponent’s reaction “IRL”?

2. Main games and sub games

The controller’s screen opens up the possibility to add layers of gameplay previously unknown. The DS has shown that a second screen is good for more than just menus. Think, for example, of the innovative RPG The World Ends With You. Battles consisted of two characters fighting individually, one per screen. It was up to the player to manage both at once!

Splitting up action between main-screen and controller-screen gives Café, the chance to let gamers play games within games. Imagine performing a sliding block puzzle with an overhead view in the next Zelda on your touch screen controller, before looking back up at the TV to see the door to Link’s next destination burst open. Imagine micro-managing your economy in a sim game while running your military invasion on the TV’s screen.

3. Playing together separately

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Image: Nintendo.

Many players argue that rounds of Smash Bros. among more than two players is simply too hectic. The problem is that everyone needs to be seen on screen at once, leading to sometimes awkward camera work. With Project Café, you should be able to each take a closer look at the action on your own private screens.

Now consider the potential of allowing players to interact without being forced into the same gameplay areas. Imagine playing New Super Mario Bros. Café with three other people, but without having to be in the same spot in the same level at the same time. You could play ahead of your slower cooperatives while still being able to interact with them should it interest you. This also opens up the possibility of a racing mode in the game in which players try to outmaneuver each other to the flag-pole.

4. Split split-screen multiplayer

GoldenEye multiplayer

Image: Rare/Nintendo.

The era of 4-player split-screen multiplayer had its problems: cramped viewing room for all competing, and an uncomfortable amount of information shared between players. Those issues have largely been forgotten with the rise of online play, but the joy of getting together to play is missed by many. Depending upon its rendering capabilities, the Café may be able to break up what would be the 1/4 of screen dedicated to each player on the TV to the individual controllers.

Imagine playing an FPS in your hands without dealing with screen-lookers noting where you’re laying proximity mines while still getting to experience the real-life joy of being sworn at when you nail your opponents. It’s the video game equivalent of the Café’s potential to reignite board game gameplay.

5. Playing without playing

DS girl

Image: Tetris DS. CC-BY.

Many have theorized that Café’s controller will mean the system can be used even when the TV it’s hooked up to is occupied by something else. Depending upon the resolution of the screen and the streaming capacity of the console, this could be anything from mini games and downloadable titles (Virtual Console?) to full console games.

I’m already a fan of playing basic puzzle and action games on my DS while running the TV in the background, but a system with games designed around this style of play sounds even better. If you’re groaning in boredom at a movie your significant other is only half-way through and feeling the itch to game, you may be able to simply start playing Café without interrupting.

10 Hopes and Dreams for Project Café, Part 1: Controller Screen Fever