March 15, 2006

My Next Gen: A Long Ramble

by psu

Here we are, six months into the "next generation" of game consoles, and what should be a headlong charge into a future of gaming nirvana now seems more like a head first dive into a concrete wall. Without a helmet. The Xbox 360 came out of the gate almost stillborn. There were shortages. There were hardware problems. There were no games. Sony's new machine is nowhere to be found, no doubt bogged down by Sony's quest to exploit "convergence" in the living room. What "convergence" means in this case is that you give Sony a lot of money for the right to have your living room stereo system be extremely difficult to operate. Microsoft is playing this game too, but from the PC side of the world, which means that their solutions are even more expensive and harder to use.

Sony and Microsoft appear to be convinced that the way to win the next round is to build tons of features that nobody really wants.

HD Graphics. Nobody really cares. Actualy, I should rephrase. Anyone who cares spends his time in his basement figuring out how to liquid cool his new AMD Superthong-64 and ATI Xtreeeeeme quad-screen SLI 800 video card. In other words, no one who really matters cares. Sony has sold 200 million Playstation 2 and Playstation consoles, neither of which can render a decent textured and antialiased polygon. They'll probably sell another 100 million PS2s before it's all over.

Online "Community". A place where 12 year olds call you their gay bitch.

Media Center. In a world where a device that is as smooth and well integrated as Tivo is still not easy enough for most people, what hope do these network streaming media boxes possibly have? None.

Downloadable Retro. I've griped about this before. Expecting me to be happy about spending $400 on a machine to download clones of 10 year old games is not the best business move.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Nintendo has shown a controller no one cares about. Who knows what they are thinking, but at least you can count on them to concentrate on, you know, games, instead of synergystic multimedia cross-licensed digital entertainment platforms. There is no doubt that the Revolution will do well in the traditional role of the Nintendo console: being a showcase for Nintendo's game production genius. Also, everyone thought the DS was nuts too, and look how that turned out.

The DS actually points out one way the next generation should be moving. This is because smaller machines are always better. Unfortunately, the industry at large doesn't seem to believe this. Despite the fact that sales of portables saved the industry from an overall down year in 2005, you can say with confidence that the next large scale AAA title is not coming out on your DS or PSP. Where is Final Fantasy 13 for the PSP? Where is the next great Zelda adventure for the DS? Why is it that, with a few exceptions, the handhelds are relegated to ports, smaller scale games and especially novelty and puzzle titles?

The problem can't be hardware. Both of these machines have graphics that are decent by home console standards. The PSP has decent analog control, and the DS has the cool touchscreen, so lack of good controls should not be an issue. Both machines have networking capabilities that are superior to any of the current home consoles. No wires needed! And, both machines have a true next generation feature that is so critical, and so important that the fact that the industry continues to ignore it defies comprehension:

You can start and stop the game instantly and at any time.

I've harped about this before, but system-provided instant sleep makes your gaming experiece so much better that once you have it you simply can't understand why you would play a game that doesn't support it. With all the copies of Madden that I have in the house, which do I play most? The PSP. Why? Because I can just pick it up and play it. I can start a game when I get home, flip the switch when I need to cook dinner, and then pick the game up again when the kid is in bed. No booting, no loads, no menus. I just flip the sleep switch and I'm back in the game. For once, I have complete control over my gaming experience.

I want all my games to do this. I want it more than shinier graphics, more memory and bigger hard disks. I want it more than more online modes. I certainly want it more than a controller that I can fish with. So my challenge to the industry is for you to get off your collective self-important asses and rather than making me games with higher resolution artwork and not much else, give me some real games for the handhelds. I don't want to hear excuses about platform limitations, control problems, or resource constraints. These are the best and most modern machines that I currently have for playing games. I'd like something big to do on them.

Posted by psu at March 15, 2006 09:04 PM | Bookmark This

"Nintendo has shown a controller no one cares about"

I assume the 'no one' in this sentence is refering to players, and perhaps more specifically, the current gaming community. Everyone I've spoken to in the game design community is really excited by the prospect of the new controller. The current twin stick controller is a real barrier to play for players on the edge (or off the edge) of the market. I for one am very excited to see if Nintendo can pull in a new audience of players out of the wings.

We still have to see what Nintendo do with the new tech, but their track record is strong and I'm certainly looking forward to a chance to see it all in action.

Take care!

Posted by Chris at March 16, 2006 04:16 AM

Actually, "no one" was just an unfair and arbitrary dig with no real basis in fact .. and also partly an ironic statement to point out that "no one" cared about the dual screens in the DS either.

Posted by psu at March 16, 2006 06:46 AM

I don't care about the revolution controller and don't know anyone who does, either. Gimmick games ahoy!

Posted by Andy P at March 16, 2006 09:50 AM

I couldn't agree more. Following the "news" of a hobby I'm extremely likely to pick up consoles and games which get put aside for the convenience and ease of use of a PSP or DS. I don't monopolize the tv in the house, I play when I'm clientless at work, and much like your excellent example, I play a few rounds between stirring the spaghetti sauce.

Handhelds are the best platform for adults who yearn to game. We finally have true systems for it, now give us the games worthy of them.

Posted by Musashi at March 16, 2006 10:28 AM

When it comes to the Revolution controller, I care.

As psu said, the DS has the same gimmick allegations leveled at it, and sometimes those are true. But the many games being made to take advantage of it are fantastic.

I refuse to believe that the Dual Shock is the only interface we will ever need, ever again.

Posted by Thomas at March 16, 2006 10:41 AM

I agree with your ramblings. As far as HD Graphics, there is another group that cares, home theater wanabee junkies. My friend just got an expensive HDTV and now wants to buy an Xbox 360. I asked what games he was interested in and he said that he did not know, he just knows that the graphics will look incredible on his new TV! The gameplay does not matter to him, as long as it looks great he is satisfied. Also, it is sad when you have to spend another $400 on a gaming system to justify the thousands of dollars you just spent on a new TV.

I agree with your online community opinion, I stopped playing online because every time I died trying to help my team I would hear "OMG you suck!" by some thirteen year old with a whiney voice. No thanks.

As for the Revolution controller, I can see it being a shift in the way we play games. I know that if for some strange reason I wanted to play games with my parents it would be odd for them to pick up a PS2 controller and fumble with the buttons and dual analog sticks. But if I were to hand them a Revolution controller and say "Wave it this way or tilt it that way when you want to move" I could see them getting into it and having a good time. I think that the Revolution may just make casual gamers out of non-games in the same way that games like Guitar Hero are putting smiles on people's faces who have not played a game years.

Posted by Kevin at March 16, 2006 01:11 PM

> I refuse to believe that the Dual Shock is the only interface we will ever need, ever again.

Absolutely. Bring out a "Revolution controller" for Xbox 360, PS3 or Gamecube, and I'll recognise there's an opportunity for creativity. In exactly the same way that dance mats, driving wheels and fishing rods all have their place.

But nobody produces a whole console around a fishing rod controller and I have yet to see the slightest bit of evidence that the Revolution controller will be even slightly more justifiable than that.

Posted by Andy P at March 17, 2006 08:36 AM

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