10-22-2008, 11:25 PM
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Animal Crossing: City Folk
Nintendo's been the slowest of all the console manufacturers on giving gamers the ability to voice chat with friends over the internet. Even with the built-in microphone it took the company at least two years to officially put it in use on the Nintendo DS. Nintendo's using the release of Animal Crossing: City Folk to launch its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) initiative on the Wii, but in a very untraditional way: through a TV-mounted microphone called WiiSpeak. And with Animal Crossing's release just weeks away, Nintendo invited me over to the San Francisco Bay Area office for an updated voice chat experience with the peripheral.
Since the first game to utilize the Wii Speak peripheral will be Animal Crossing, it made sense to see how it works within the game experience. When you visit a friend's village, if you have a Wii Speak peripheral attached to the USB port of your Wii, you'll automatically be ready to chat, indicated by a Microphone icon in the upper left of the screen. You have the ability to turn off the microphone in the Animal Crossing chat menu where you also have the ability to adjust the volume and see who has the voice chat ability (noted by a mic icon next to their name). Naturally, you can't visit someone's village without their friend code, so the WiiSpeak seems to be open to anyone that wanders into the village. You cannot setup private voice chat sessions, meaning if you say something, everyone in that village will hear you no matter where you're standing. If you need to say something in private to someone, that's what the text chat's for.
We've been begging for it, and now Nintendo's voice solution is finally on the way.
Right from the start of the meeting, I was already connected to someone's village back in Nintendo's Treehouse facility in Redmond, Washington. As I walked around the village I could converse with the folks just by speaking towards the television -- the conference room had the WiiSpeak mounted on top of the television where the sensor bar is. The peripheral has the same double-sided tape as the sensor bar, so you can stick it anywhere, but it looks like it sits natural and flush in the middle of the sensor bar.
At the start of the experience I felt I needed to shout since I was speaking towards a television about six to eight feet from my seat. But I realized that it was unnecessary, the other side could hear me at my normal speaking voice so I brought my conversation down to natural levels. On the other end, I could hear one person clearly but the other two people came up a little "hollow," and we determined that the one I could hear without focusing my attention was sitting the closest to his WiiSpeak mic. The others I could hear and understand, but the quality of their voices did drop noticeably due to their position in the room.
During my hands-on with WiiSpeak, members of the Treehouse did say that the sound quality continues to improve as the game gets closer to release -- according to them the voice chat has gotten significantly better since its debut during E3.
With a non-focused microphone picking up pretty much everything in the room, did I hear feedback or the other person's game? The answer is yes, sometimes. It seems that the WiiSpeak does do a bit of software noise cancelling, but it's not perfect. When someone spoke I could hear the faint sound of their Animal Crossing background noise playing through as well. And when I cranked up the volume of the microphone output in the Animal Crossing menu, the feedback made the sound so echoed and distorted that I had to back it down immediately. And there is a bit of lag between conversations -- nothing terribly long, but there was a significant pause between when I said something to the guys back in Redmond and when they would reply. And this was during questions when they didn't have to pause and check the PR script to answer the question. Kidding.
One problem I noticed: you can't turn down the in-game music separately to hear the voices better. As I mentioned above you can turn up the incoming voice volume but that was just asking for nasty feedback as the incoming voice traveled back through the microphone. Hopefully other games using WiiSpeak will give this option.
News Source: IGN.com - By Craig Harris.