One of the apparent casualties of Disney's decision to hand EA
the reins of Star Wars development is the Wii U. DICE is one of the studios that EA confirmed would be working on Star Wars property, alongside Bioware and Visceral. The Battlefield developer has previously stated that the next generation of the Frostbite engine wouldn't run on the Wii U (meaning no Battlefield 4 for Nintendo's console), but new comments indicate that there's no chance of a Frostbite 2-powered game, either.
EA's initial announcement confirmed that future titles would be running on Frostbite 3. A reader then asked Johan Andersson, technical director of DICE, if this meant no Wii U games. Andersson responded with the following:
That's a surprising statement. Granted, the Wii U's horsepower is lacking compared to what Sony and Microsoft are preparing to ship, but reports from game developers generally pegged the Wii U's CPU as delivering Xbox 360 / Sony PS3-level performance. We suspect the problem here is one of optimization. As we discussed several months ago, the problem with the Wii U is that current HD developers are quite familiar with the Xbox 360 and PS3. They're in the process of familiarizing themselves with the x86-64 architecture that powers both the next-generation Xbox
and the PS4
Then, in the middle of that, you've got the Wii U. It's GPU is significantly more advanced than the PS3's or Xbox 360's, but it isn't based on AMD's GCN. It's CPU is a supercharged version of IBM's classic PowerPC 750 architecture -- which, again, is quite distinct from the Xenon or Cell processors used in current consoles. In point of fact, the Wii U's GPU remains a mystery, even after a great deal of analysis and close examination of the underlying hardware.
It's not a conventional RV700-derived design, but it doesn't look like anything that came after, either. The best guess analysts have made point to 320 stream processors, 16 texture mapping units, and 8 ROPs, which means the core (estimated to draw ~33W) simply isn't powerful enough to drive a lot of upcoming titles. Speculation abounds that Nintendo implemented additional capability in fixed-function units, and that makes sense -- if only because a significant percentage of the total Wii U die hasn't been firmly identified. Even so, this would put the Wii U's GPU ahead of the Xbox 360 and PS3's -- which brings us back to optimization problems as the reason for the problems.
Efficiently taking advantage of specialized function units may be key to porting any title to the Wii U, but it's not hard to see why a game studio like DICE wouldn't be overly interested. Right now, games need to be planned across the PS3, Xbox, PC, PS4, and Xbox Durango. Despite many similarities, each platform adds work and complexity. Then you've got the Wii U -- a specialized piece of silicon that's out of step with both the previous and upcoming generations.
Studios with dedicated Wii developer teams may have little problems stepping up to the challenge, but those without them may not see much value in adding them now. That's an unfortunate fact for Star Wars gamers, many of whom will be left out in the cold by these announcements.