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Will Wii Be Fit?
Posted on Thursday, February 21 2008 @ 20:28:18 Eastern

Speaker: Takao Sawano from Nintendo. Japanese name, Japanese person, Japanese language. How am I gonna... Oh, radio headsets... channel 1 is in English. Some woman in an enclosed booth translating the speech into something I can understand. The booth had a window. I waved hi.

Venue: Chamber room. Enough to seat at least one thousand health-conscious people (at least I hope so). Multiple stands in the front, holding up multiple pairs of speakers. Takao’s voice echoes throughout the room. The audience is brainwashed. Must kill all hedgehogs.

Cannot take pictures of un-televised commercials in presentation. Weak…

Commercial Highlights: Players input height and weight. Can track progress of health and various stats on a graph. People shown stretching, doing yoga, keeping their balance on the board, twisting an imaginary hula hoop around their waist, ski-jumping, and hitting imaginary soccer balls. One boy acts as if he’s been smacked in the head with an actual soccer ball. His family laughs at his poor grasp on reality.

To be released in America on May 19th, Wii Fit has already sold 1.4 million units in Japan since December 1st. It comes packaged in a thin white rectangular box containing the software and the balance board, which looks like a thin aerobic step with two rectangles engraved on top to show where you’re supposed to place your feet.

Sawano then describes the lengthy process of how the final product came to be, but let’s condense this shall we. First, Miyamoto pines for a health-related item for the Wii. Cue picture of Miyamoto’s conceptual sketches with the item circled in red. Apparently, he was inspired: He really likes weighing himself. A hundred Americans die of a heart attack after the statement is uttered.

Miyamoto-san is displayed as a Mii. Hair parted in the middle, raccoon-looking human face, happy demeanor, Wii T-shirt. He says to make the balance board cost-effective yet precise, he reused the N64 rotary encoder design for its joystick for the initial prototype. Would it work?! Miyamoto was worried! Anxious even! Poor multi-millionaires!

Another inspiration: sumo wrestlers. Eh? Well, it's because they’re so fa… heft... … well-fed. The common yokozuna would crack a normal bathroom scale. [I’m sure that fact sounds better in Japanese.] So the design started with two scales, with each calculating how much pressure is applied on the left, right, front, and back side.

Was rumble a good idea? No. It wouldn’t have much effect for an average person supporting their full body weight, and if it did have enough effect, it would run the batteries down too quickly.

Was a square good? No. Nearly all exercises use the shoulders and that means more support, so the square desing was widened into a rectangle. Humans are wider than are... err... girthy? Fortunately, Sawano explains that this made the board look less like a bathroom scale and more like a wide bathroom scale something else entirely.

Was connecting the Wii-remote to it good? No to that as well. Yes, you could use the batteries from the Wii-remote to power the board, but as Mr. Iwata said to the development team: Who wants to kneel down and connect the remote every time they want to weigh themselves?

The final product is a sleek, white board that is half a meter wide, about a third a meter long, and five centimeters thick. It weighs about 8 lbs., lasts for 60 hours on four standard AA batteries, and can be turned off through the Wii System. In fact, it’s like nothing else on the market. (The Atari Joyboard rolls in its grave.)

Reportedly, the balance board has at least as much precision as the Wii-remote, which if that’s the case, I hope it is much more precise than that. It is said to be able to detect even the slight weight changes of arm and hand movements. Let’s hope that’s true. If not, a butterfly in Kansas will flap its wings and destroy all of us.

The Wii Fit software is meant for people to manage their health by playing casually every day. Two main menus: training and body test. Body test calculates your overall fitness ability, your Brain Wii Fit age. Fortunately, a Wii Fit channel will be added to the main menu, so that you don’t have to load the game just to get a quick body test.

Training is exactly what it sounds like and is split up between 15 yoga, 15 strength training, 9 aerobics, and 9 balance exercises. A virtual trainer will provide advice and give motivation, reprimanding players if they quit halfway through a routine - scoring them 0 pts and labelling them as a “Couch Potato”. During aerobics exercises, you can actually switch the channel and watch television, as the speaker on the Wii remote counts out: “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2….” Running exercises transport players to Wii Fit Island and have players run in place as their Mii characters sprint about the park. However, there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement - it seems like you might just be able to swing the Wii remote with your hands until your arms give out. Hmmm... couch running?

Cheating might also creep up when you earn Fit Credits. Outside of the in-game exercises, you can manually enter any time you spend exercising in the real world for credits. Yeah, I spent twenty hours swimming today. Oh, you too?! Still, cheating here truly means cheating yourself. It’s not like punching in an infinite health cheat so that you can pass an annoyingly difficult boss. Here, the boss - the only point of blame - is yourself.

Oddly, the balance board will likely have much more importance than the game itself, much more so than the Wii Zapper in Link’s Crossbow Traning. Players now have a peripheral to control a character from 360 degrees. Paired with the Wii-remote, it allows developers an incredible range of user mobility and a more tools for innovation. Family Ski, to be released in Japan by Bandai Namco Games, has the player shift weight from either side while moving their poles with the Wii-remote to navigate down a mountain with undulating hills and sharp peaks.

Whether Wii Fit successfully converts lazy butts (like me) into first-picks for P.E. class or not, the potential of its balance board as a pressure-sensitive device opens the door a little more than just a crack for new ideas. But according to a survey of Wii Fit owners in Japan, one of the largest demographics for the title were those between the ages of 40 and 50, and 72% said that they have other family members who are exercising along with them. Hey, physical exertion might actually be fun… err… did I just say that?

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