One of the biggest open questions in Nintendo's Wii U strategy has been its online component. The company has wasted no time in outlining some key aspects of its connected feature set in a pre-E3 presentation. In the (painfully-over-the-top cheesy) video demonstration, after dying in a nondescript Wii U survival horror game, the player selects his mood on the Gamepad and sends out a message to a forum generally commenting and asking for advice on beat a level. His friend sees the cry for help via his smartphone, in what we're assuming is a web-based client. (If anyone saw the Super Guide feature in New Super Mario Bros Wii, this looks vaguely familiar.) It's worth noting that he never seems to fully leaves the game, re-entering at the very same moment he paused.

The demo then cuts to the player actually calling up another forum member to video chat for advice. It's hard to tell if the forum member is already a friend of the player or a complete stranger; we assume the former, but if it is a stranger, this would mark a big change from Nintendo's high-security, more privacy-focused "Mii Friend Code" system for the Wii. We also question the convenience of this how-to system in-game over, say, using your nearby laptop or smartphone.

"We consider the small screen of the Wii U as a social window."

Miis are set to offer expanded functionality in Nintendo's next-generation hardware. When you turn on the Wii U, what pops up is a huge crowd of Mii characters from your system, from your friends' systems, and reportedly from people in the same country (or who speak the same language) playing similar games. It's something that CEO Satoru Iwata said the developers had initially nicknamed "Mii Wara Wara," from the Japanese word "warawara" (loosely translated to mean "bustling" or the general noise and commotion created by such a crowd). Collectively, however, the area is known as "Miiverse" (aka "Mii universe"). The Mii characters gather around the games they are playing, and related messages will pop up on the screen. Messages can be typed out or even sketched à la Draw Something or similar apps.

Developers will have access to some form of Miiverse API, allowing them to include elements within the games themselves. Iwata noted that it can all be relegated to the Wii U Gamepad controller itself, something he calls the "Social Window" connecting player to player, living room to living room.

Finally, the preview also highlighted the Wii U's web browser, and the system's ability to "throw" web content from the Gamepad to a TV screen, where users can use a virtual "curtain" to make a more dramatic reveal to friends. Yes, really.

Admittedly, the full scope of online functionality isn't entirely clear at this point, but Nintendo still has its official press conference scheduled for Tuesday morning, just before the doors open for E3 — we should have more information as the week continues.

Chris Welch contributed to this report.