Today's Innovations Yesterday: The Supplementary Screen - NewsVGChartz Staff , posted on 20 July 2011 / 2,611 Views
When it boils down to the basics, gaming is essentially the player's interaction with the controller to make an action happen on screen, which the player then processes, and reacts using the controller to continually update the information on screen, and so on. It's a cycle between the gamer, the controller, and the screen itself. But what if you were to add-in a little something to the equation. Like, a controller based screen. You've created a second focal point for the player to concentrate and receive information from, as well as interact with a title.
Adding a screen onto a controller, until the last decade, had been a bit too expensive for mass production. So it is no wonder that back in the early days of gaming, this sort of technology never saw any sort of implementation in the actual physical sense of a screen. But look hard enough and you can find a similar concept. The Intellevision's controller is considered one of the most awkward controllers of all time as not only does it have a weird disc-like control device, but it also a numpad on the controller. What makes this controller relevant to us is that the numpad had interchangeable overlays for each title. It's not the same thing as a screen at all, but it shows the early concept of having a form of interaction that is flexible between games by changing information with each overlay, even if it is just paper cards placed over a numpad. The Coleco Vision followed with a similar concept.
It wouldn't be until about the turn of the century when we actually start seeing any significant advancement on the concept. The most popular implementation was the Dreamcast's Virtual Memory Unit. Thanks to the memory card slot being on the Dreamcast controller itself, the VMU was able to plug directly into the controller and be within the player's view, giving them a second screen to support the main screen. Due to technical limitations of the device, in most cases the VMU was rarely used. Only about thirty titles actually supported the device, but there were some interesting ideas surrounding the concept. Resident Evil 2 and 3 displayed player's health on the VMU, allowing players to keep check on their status without pausing the game. And in NFL 2k you could choose a play in local multiplayer without having your rival what you've chosen. Just months later, Sony released a similar device for the PlayStation 1. But with the memory card slot placed on the console itself, the screen didn't offer any supplementary features during console gameplay.
Not much long after the Dreamcast's death, Nintendo took their own shot at the concept. But instead of having a screen based memory card or a special controller with an embedded screen, Nintendo turned to their already popular portable device, the Gameboy Advance. The GBA's controls limited what could be done within a more large AAA experience, so instead Nintendo turned to simplified multi-player solutions. While quite a bit of software on the Gamecube supported the connectivity between platforms, the most popular titles to push the concept was The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, both of which threw four players in epic adventures. The separate screens gave players their own menus, and in the case of Four Swords Adventures, the ability to explore without being completely chained to other players . But for this multiplayer focus each player needed a GBA and a link cable for each player, an expensive investment. While it created some interesting experiences, the overall success was rather poor.
With the PSP and the Nintendo DS removing the need for wired connections, you would assume that both of these platforms would have taken full advantage of the concept. Sony demonstrated the connectivity with a tech demo for the PlayStation 3 title Formula 1 Championship Edition, using the PSP as a rear view mirror. But at the end of the day, the feature was removed before release. The Nintendo DS also showed potential, but only took the place of a controller in Pokemon Battle Revolution and had some minor use in other titles including releases in the Guitar Hero franchise. It's strange to not see these features show up more often, especially given the amount of Nintendo DS systems out there.
Finally we're getting to the point where the second screen actually seems fees-able for mainstream use thanks to the Wii U. We can display full experiences on the controller and it's a core function of the system. Hurdles faced by past platforms are gone, so now we can simply look at what developers can or cannot do with the concept. But without knowing the Wii U's success, it's hard to say what kind of future the concept will have and if other companies will start jumping on the bandwagon.