NE: There has been so many different versions of the story when it comes to dev kits. Some developers have seemed very eager and excited. Other have came off as disappointed. What are we to believe?
I: As everyone is aware, there have been different models of the dev kits floating around. Many of the discrepancies between developers about the power of the dev kits are apparently because Nintendo has only given the newer, more beefy version of it to the really big publishers while the smaller developers were left with the so-called outdated model. [Editor's note: I assume this is because Nintendo has been taking their feedback into account when tweaking the system specs and therefore have been constantly updating them with the newer models to see if they were happy. Whereas, smaller developers haven't been part of this dialogue - they only have the dev kits to actually start the development rolling on their new games.]
But, now that GDC is over, it seems from the chatter in the industry that the big “hairy and heavy” dev kit has started to become the new standard of Wii U currently in possession by most developers and hopefully we’ll start to get a real taste of what this system is capable of post-GDC.
NE: Okay, let’s get to the big question: Unreal Engine 4. Is it a yes or no on the Wii U hardware?
I: Wii U already can run something akin to Unreal Engine 3.9 but I find this whole topic much less noteworthy than many are making it out be. While details on feature requirements for the new engine are nearly zero, comments from Epic suggest that there should be no reason why the Unreal Engine 4 won’t be able to scale “down” to work on the Wii U. Just remember that that it’s not power that is the main factor for an engine, rather, it’s the features offered by the hardware and the age of the hardware. For example, in theory, if there were to be an Unreal Engine 4 right now, it possibly could be scaled down in terms of power to work on the PS3 and 360 because they support the features that are considered standard across the industry. However, in reality, when the Unreal Engine 4 is released we probably won’t see much Unreal Engine 4 on them because those systems are aging. The modern hardware going into Wii U could be new enough to support the Unreal Engine 4 at least on a scaled down level in terms of power.
See, this is specifically the issue that was encountered with the Wii, which Nintendo wants to avoid. The problem wasn’t so much that the hardware was weak, rather, it was that the hardware didn’t follow industry standards at the time and therefore impossible for developers to easily port the newest engines to the Wii. The Wii U solves this and more. More than a year ago, the Wii U dev kits were already souped up Xbox 360′s in some ways. So, developers were basically just “dragging and dropping” their PC and 360 code onto the early Wii U hardware last year, even before any new software and projects had begun development. This is how games like Darksiders 2 were up and running on Wii U hardware for E3 2011 after only a matter of weeks in development, though Nintendo finally decided not to show the “instant” port those developers had completed.