From GameCube to Wii: How an influential designer made his mark on the industry

Few designers are able to claim they've created a product that's influenced the lives of millions people across the globe, and even fewer can claim to have done so twice.

Kenichiro Ashida, a researcher and developer at Japanese entertainment giant Nintendo, is the man behind the GameCube and Wii video game consoles, and on a wider scale, the introduction of motion-control gaming into the marketplace. If you ever find yourself jumping about in front of a motion sensor in front of a TV, throwing virtual bowling balls and swinging digital golf clubs, Kenichiro Ashida is the man behind it all.

While Nintendo won't be the first company called to mind when something thinks about design, this is an organisation that's had a significant impact on our culture. Over the past few decades, the products produced by Japanese giant have evolved and adapted to changing markets, keeping up with the times while introducing new ideas on a regular basis. From the outlandish design of the original GameCube controller through to the innovative dual screen Nintendo DS system, it's clear Nintendo is always focused on what's ahead.

However, with virtual reality on the horizon, and motion control set to play a major role in how people control these new technologies, it's important to understand where it all started.

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Pre Wii: Consoles before motion

Most people born in the 80s and 90s will remember growing up playing a game console, or at least rushing over to a friend's house after school to hop over mushrooms and race karts around fantastic tracks. The inputs here were simple: users would simply press buttons on a controller and the character on screen would correspond with an action. Simple.

The approach obviously proved popular, as game consoles featuring similarly basic input methods are available today. From a control perspective, you're able to pick up any new game console and use it in much the same way as a console from the 80s or 90s.

While you won't hear his name mentioned all too often, Kenichiro Ashida decided to see how the age-old methods of game control could be taken in a new direction.

Expanding the audience

So, why disregard the old 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' adage? Gaming has always been about innovation, that's a key reason why we're now seeing the emergence of virtual reality.

Pioneering the original design and creation of the Wii controllers, along with the range of popular accessories that followed, Kenichiro Ashida was instrumental in the success of the console.

Following the release, consumers showed serious interest in the technology. Thanks to an easy-to-understand control system, paired with accessible family-friendly games, the console took off.

For an idea of just how successful the console was, as of March 31 last year, the Wii had sold 101.52 million units across the globe. For reference, consoles of the same 'generation' managed numbers around 20 million units lower. The Xbox 360 released by Microsoft sold 85.39 million units, according to VGChartz, while the PS3 released by Sony sold 86.33 million units.

The rest, as they say, is history. Across the globe, millions of tiny white Wii consoles now sit under televisions, still showing what's possible when motion control is done right.

Those early motion control lessons pioneered by Kenichiro Ashida will certainly prove useful as the industry moves forward.

Where to from here? Going virtual

If you take a look at any major technology news website, whether it's Ars Technica or The Verge, virtual reality will almost undoubtedly make the headlines. Thanks to the efforts of companies like Oculus, Samsung, HTC, Valve and others, a new way of viewing content – video games or otherwise – is starting to gain traction.

In a nutshell, virtual reality commonly manifests in the form of headsets users plug into a computer, where images are then fed across to twin displays in the headset. For the user, virtual worlds appear to be real, as the eye cannot see the edge of the display.

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It's immersive, and likely the future of how we watch media and consume other digital content. So what about controlling the experiences within these headsets?

Motion control could be the answer, based off important lessons explored by Kenichiro Ashida.

In fact, Oculus, one of the major VR players, is creating a technology called Oculus Touch. When users are holding the dual controllers – similar in size to the Nintendo Wii controls, it becomes easier to manipulate objects in the virtual environment. Essentially, it's an evolution of the technology found in the Wii.

A new generation of designers

Across the globe, designers are now using CAD software in combination with powerful new methods of manufacturing to prototype and design new products. Certainly, there's a good chance that the next Kenichiro Ashida is at home right now using such methods to come up with new ways to play.

To learn more about next generation CAD software for designers, engineers and those involved in prototyping, check out the SOLIDWORKS website.