Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Next Gen Musings

We are on the cusp of greatness. Graphics that will blow our minds, games that will push the boundaries of creativity, and new console features that will revolutionize the way we look at video games. Or so Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would like us to think. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is nigh upon us and with it, most of the veils of secrecy around the next crop of consoles will be lifted. Nintendo’s newly named Wii, Microsoft’s beat-the-other-guys-to-the-punch Xbox 360, and Sony’s uber-expensive Playstation 3 will show off all they’ve got, and even some things they don’t (Sony, I am looking at you). This is the first time that I will have to decide which console I am going to buy and essentially pledge my allegiance towards. The following are my thoughts on the three major consoles and the epic war that shall ensue. No Wii puns, I promise.

Nintendo recently revealed(1) the real name of its console: the artist formerly known as Revolution, abbreviated to Wii. This is easily the dumbest name of anything I have ever heard, much less a game console. But honestly, I don’t think this will matter in the least. I am still going to refer to it as Revolution, unless it becomes cool to call it Wii, then I will cave to peer pressure. Consoles are about games, not names. Nintendo has cornered the market on weird and quirky which coincidentally is huge in Japan. Their new controller scheme is very exciting and truly revolutionary. Fishing, tennis, anything involving swords, and countless other mechanics in video games could become very interesting. Nintendo has already had a tough time porting games and I wonder if the big companies are willing to spend the time and money on porting their games using this odd peripheral. The announcement and unveiling of Madden(2) is very exciting and could very well stem these worries.

The biggest knock on Nintendo so far is that they are targeting a more casual audience and neglecting the hard-core gamer. With its family friendly approach and peculiar controller “gimmick” many serious gamers could be turned off to the system. Coinciding with this is Nintendo’s “game-play first, graphics second” approach. While admirable and idealistic, a lot of gamers are stupid and love shiny graphics. All this reminds me a lot of the GameCube and that sadly underachieved. The best part about all this will be the price point. Rumored to be selling at $250 range at launch this could be the cheapest console of the next generation by almost $200. That is a lot of money and could make the decision a lot tougher on the consumer.

Nintendo’s Wii is the most exciting and mysterious of the new consoles and it should be interesting to see what they bring to E3. If I could only see one thing at E3 it would by Nintendo by far. I think the Revolution/Wii will be everyone’s second console when it’s all said and done. The casual gamers will love its quirkiness, relatively cheap price, and the ability to download the classics. The hardcore will probably stick with their Xboxes and PS3’s and eventually buy the Wii because it’s so darn cheap and interesting. The back library and low price seem great but the possible lack of ports and lesser graphics may keep Nintendo a distant third in the console race, which they probably already know.

Microsoft-Xbox 360
Bill Gates’ baby will be an old man by the time the other two consoles arrive. With already great games like Oblivion and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Microsoft is getting a head start in the arms race for video game supremacy. Gamer reputations, hot wireless controller action, and the best online service around, Microsoft will make a big push to knock Sony from the top. The 360 has yet to reach its full potential, a lot of its games are ports of current gen and PC games that look just slightly better. The new Xbox also demands a really nice HD TV to look its best. Oblivion and GRAW, two newer games, are the best so far and some would argue these aren’t the “killer APPs” Microsoft needs. Halo 3, which will have a video at E3, will be the only game Microsoft needs to sell 360’s.

The biggest advantage to coming out earlier than your competitors is that you are the only cat in town. A lot of people already own a 360 and therefore aren’t willing to shell out more cash for a new console. Another thing is that the 360 will have all of its bugs worked out by the time the PS3 and Wii launch. Rumors of a price drop(3) of $100 in October are very appealing, especially because that could be before either one of the new consoles are available. Another advantage to being the first kid on the block is that you can get some great titles out before your competitors. Microsoft’s E3 lineup(4) looks very strong, lead by Gears of War and Too Human. As it stands right now Microsoft has a substantial lead in the console wars, but let’s see if they can keep it up.

Sony-Playstation 3
And in this corner, the heavyweight champ of the video game world, Sony. Sony owns the console market in Japan and has ties with some of the biggest Japanese developers (SquareEnix or starters) giving it a solid base already. Even without a sleek online service that some other company has, Sony remained on top by a fairly large margin. I feel that Microsoft is getting close and Sony looks kind of like the crafty veteran whose time is coming to a close. Regardless Sony is still number one and you gotta beat the best to be the best.

With Nintendo revealing more and more about the Wii, the Playstation 3 has become the console shrouded in the most mystery. Will it cost the rumored $500 or more? Are any of the impressive videos we have seen for games the real deal? Will Blu-Ray beat HD DVD? (and does anyone care?) Is that controller really as uncomfortable as it looks? Sony has a lot of explaining to do to create some buzz around the PS3. Sony still has Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, and a lot of other franchises that will draw in the fanboys, but at what price? I, for one, am not willing to pay $500 for a console just because it can play some blue item that I have no idea about and some FF games. Now if the games look as ridiculous as the MGS4 video does, then maybe, but until then Sony has some catching up to do.

As it stands this day, May 2, 2006 I am leaning towards the Xbox 360. If the price drop is true and the games at E3 (Halo 3 included) look impressive, I will find it very hard not to pick one up at $299. I really like Sony and the franchises they have ties to, but I don’t like burning money. Five hundred bucks is a lot to spend on anything and Sony has a lot of holes to fill. If it turns out it will sell in the range of the 360 at launch, I would probably get one eventually. Nintendo and its Wii are a real wild card. The nostalgia of downloadable NES games and the funkiness of the controller, coupled with the price point may be too much for gamers to deny. Nintendo is always strong in Japan and if they get an online system going could be the dark horse in this jumbled mess. One thing is for sure, I am going to be on my computer and have G4 on around the clock keeping up with all the idiosyncrasies of E3. This is the best time to be a dork.

1 http://revolution.ign.com/articles/703/703502p1.html

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