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E3 2006: Is Console Monogamy Wrong?

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E3 is now well underway; each of the three key players have finished their press conference events and revealed their new toys. Sony and Nintendo — and Microsoft, to a certain degree — arguably have a lot riding on E3 this year. Both Nintendo and Sony have new systems on the horizon, and Microsoft faces a challenging holiday season in the face of competition from their two rivals. But the average gamer must ask: Where does that leave me?

Karateka.1986.gifWith the launch of the Xbox 360, I took a long hard look at my gaming habits and made some changes. I’ve been an avid gamer ever since I can remember, starting out with a Commodore Vic 20, upgrading to Commodore 64, and then onto an Amiga (with one megabyte memory upgrade, no less). I’ve owned a SNES, a Megadrive (or Genesis, if you prefer), the ill-fated MegaCD, the even more ill fated Atari Jaguar and more. I’ve been playing games long enough to have played a little game called Karateka, and remember being awestruck by a demo of Jordan Mechner’s exciting new game Prince of Persia at a gaming conference in London. I still own a Dreamcast; I’ve tried and discarded the PSP, DS, and other handheld systems. My insatiable hunger for every gaming system on the face of the planet knows no bounds. Until now. It seems my insatiable hunger is somewhat satiated.

In the past, the prospect of only owning one system seemed ludicrous. There have always been games which are only available on one system, classic titles like Ico that allow you to easily justify ownership of a system. In order to be able to play every single one of these titles, it’s necessary to own every system. But these days I find myself with less and less time to play games. Perhaps that’s not strictly true; a more accurate description might be that I find myself less inclined to spend what little free time I do have playing games. Some might say I’ve finally “grown up,” but I’ve never considered gaming to be a childish interest so I wouldn’t subscribe to that. Unless by “grown up” they mean, “got a job, had a child, and bought my own home.”

And so, with the release of Microsoft’s next-gen wonder-console, I decided to adopt a monogamous approach to console gaming. I sold my PSP, DS, Xbox, and PS2. I’ve kept my PC, but rarely play anything on it. I’ve also kept my GameCube, but this is largely down to the fact that it’s not worth the effort of selling it. I’m not anti-GameCube, it just hasn’t been plugged in for a while due to lack of games. I decided I would cleanse my life of the distractions of multi-platform gaming, and focus my attention on a single platform. Surely this way I’d have more time to focus on the small number of games I have, thus leading to a more rewarding console gaming experience? Apparently not.

Things were wonderful for a while. My new 360 took care of all my needs; streaming video from my PC, providing me with better graphical splendor than I’ve ever experienced before, and even accommodating my desire for short bursts of gaming pleasure thanks to Live Arcade. But after the initial burst of excitement subsided, after that honeymoon period was over, the 360 has left me a little cold. It’s still more than willing: It’s a great system, and the vast majority of the games are superb. But it just doesn’t feel like the shot in the arm that the console world needed. I can honestly say that I’ve spent more time with Live Arcade’s bite sized disposable gaming than any of the epic full price titles. Can the PS3, or Wii, bring a new lease of life? Maybe they’ll make me appreciate my trusty 360 even more. With this in mind, let’s look at each company’s E3 press conference:

ps3.jpgSony — Lucky Sony, they were up first. With what seemed like the whole world desperate for concrete information about the PS3, Sony had a lot to live up to. Given my new monogamous approach to gaming, I’d decided that no matter what the exclusives were, I wouldn’t be getting a PS3. But as is always the way with these things, as Sony’s conference approached, I thought maybe I could be lured away from my 360. Maybe Sony’s machine would be so awe inspiring, so irresistibly exciting, that I wouldn’t be able to resist.

It seems that the opposite is not only true for me, but for a large part of the gaming world too. I’m reasonably certain that I’ve not read anything overwhelmingly positive about Sony’s PS3 conference. At the event itself, the audience seemed to be largely non-plussed by everything they were shown. After the event, the press have criticized Sony’s feeble attempt at motion-enabling their pads, attacked them for their lack of clarity on the two PS3 models, and been unimpressed by the games on display. The general opinion seems to be that Sony has dropped the ball at E3, and I would agree entirely. Their press conference lacked that vital excitement factor.

wii.jpgNintendo — I’ll admit, the prospect of the Wii had me intrigued, and Nintendo’s entertaining press conference has pretty much convinced me: I’ll be getting one. I’m also convinced that I need a DS Lite in my life again too — despite having owned the original DS and upgrading to a PSP. I suspect Nintendo’s strategy of concentrating on fun rather than awesome next-gen graphics will pay off. If, like me, you’re somewhat disillusioned with the state of play, Nintendo’s systems might just be fun enough to fix things. I actually miss being able to spend ten minutes playing something on the DS, rather than having to invest large chunks of time in mammoth play sessions. Do I think the hard-core gaming elite will embrace the Wii with open arms? No (although I suspect a few of them might pick them up out of curiosity). But I think with Wii Nintendo might be able to reach the mass-market audience it’s always dreamed of. The general press are reacting positively to Wii too (despite the name), any many seem to regard Nintendo’s conference to be the best of the three.

xbox360logo1.jpgMicrosoft — Given that the 360 is already available pretty much everywhere, Microsoft had a tough act to follow. They had no shiny new hardware to show off, so their focus had to be on games. Or more specifically, software. Their Live Anywhere plan is an interesting move, and in many ways shares the same goals for mass-market domination as Nintendo. As I said, I’ve probably spent more time on Live Arcade than in any full-blown titles, and Microsoft have perhaps found that this is the case for many owners. As a result, they’re seeking to push the Live Arcade experience out to mobile phones, PCs, and potentially other devices (Origami, anyone?). And it might just work. I feel a need to own a DS again to indulge in short bursts of addictive game play, and if Microsoft can supply this same addictive element on all of their platforms they could be on to a winner. I’m not convinced by their plan to allow PC and 360 games to interact — the differences in control configurations have always hindered this idea.

Games wise, Microsoft’s event was a little uninspiring. Another Halo sequel. Another GTA sequel. A Fable sequel. Is anybody else bored of this yet? They’ve even taken a classic SNES RPG (Shadowrun) and turned it into another tiresome FPS. Gears of War does look quite exciting though.

The console world seems to be dividing into two sides. First, we have the hard core, uber-consoles with multimedia capabilities and incredible graphics, allowing you to play all your favorite franchise titles in magnificent high definition. Secondly, there are the accessible, fun consoles that don’t really care about graphical splendor, but instead concern themselves with addictive game play, innovative concepts, and broad ranging appeal. Microsoft’s machine, potentially, is uniquely placed to straddle both camps, allowing both large and small scale gaming on both the console and numerous third and first party portable devices. It’s entirely possible (and likely, given their shameful “borrowing” of the motion sending controller) that Sony will do the same thing with the PS3 and PSP. Nintendo fall firmly into the second camp, unapologetically focusing their efforts on fun.

It’ll be an interesting Christmas — only time will tell which of these two approaches really is the true next generation. One thing’s for sure, due to Nintendo’s promise of no-strings-attached fun, I’m going to have to cheat on my Xbox. I can only hope she forgives me…

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About Dan

  • Pikachelsea

    “despite having owned the original DS and upgrading to a PSP.”

    Upgrading? I’m going to have to call you out on that one. The DS is still dominating the handheld market, and more DS games have received glowing reviews and hot sales numbers than PSP games. Plus, it’s a hundred bucks cheaper than the PSP, and the DS Lite will be just as (if not much more) aesthetically pleasing. The PSP is a downgrade from the DS in every conceivable way.

    I also don’t see how Microsoft is “straddling” the unique/graphics oriented camp. There really haven’t been any insanely unique offerings on 360 as of yet, and whenever I hear anyone talking about the 360 (particularly its owners), the overriding subject is graphics, graphics, graphics.

    Personally, I’m tired of all the fuss over graphics (especially since many E3-goers have said they barely see any difference at all between the graphics of 360 and PS3), and seeing people diss the graphics of the Wii (not saying you are doing this, but many others have, calling the graphics of even Zelda “bad”). The graphics on Wii, as far as I can tell, are perfectly acceptable and not hurt at all by the lack of HD. If anything, it will help developers quite a bit by not blowing up development costs to extravant proportions by forcing them to create a bunch of costly HD textures.

    Anyway, just wanted to make those comments. Good blog!

  • Yup, you got me there. I didn’t make myself terribly clear on that point, to be honest. Allow me to explain here…

    At the time, I thought the PSP would be an upgrade. I thought it’s graphical superiority and multimedia functionality would make it a much better choice. Guess what: It got stashed away in my drawer after a few weeks of play, and only came out to be posted off to its new owner (thanks Ebay!). I’ve wanted to get my DS back ever since, and will do just that as soon as I can get a Lite.

    As for the Wii’s graphics: It doesn’t bother me in the slightest! If it’s as fun as I think (hope) it’s going to be, and if my whole family can sit around and have some of that fun with the Wii, then I really don’t care what it looks like.

    Thanks for your comments Pikachelsea – it gave me a chance to clear up that DS/PSP comment!

  • Darren

    I think the age where graphics made a console good are gone there is only so much u need as regards graphics to make a game good its time now to focus on gameplay which in my opinion is the most important factor. Take resi 4 on gamecube it is one of the most beautiful games i have seen there is no need for anything better!!

  • Frank

    I have just downloaded all three E3 presentations and really struggled to watch them through. I am so sick of the MTV like marketing blah blah put out by Sony and Microsoft. Nothing they say seems real, nothing rings of truth, no sincerity, no credibility. Just hype.

    I also don’t like the products they are attracting. Repetitive games…kill kill, kill, bored, bored, boring! The focus on graphics is just another sign of hollow games churned out these days. Waist of time.

    My biggest concern is the “we want to control all your entertainment” approach. Bugger off!
    I am never going to trust these two with my music, movies, games, personal communications – I don’t need them for all this stuff.

    I don’t want my habits monitored and sold to marketing companies and I don’t want any advertising in my games. I don’t want to be reminded about “new and exciting media” through pop ups reminding me to buy or pre-download a new game episode today!

    By the looks of things Nintendo is offering good fun games with no intrusive features, so I’m going with them.

  • ____q____

    Shadowrun was also a Megadrive RPG.

  • Good point ____q____ – well spotted.

    @Frank – I think a lot of people feel like that. More and more people online seem to have decided that they’re going to go with the fun option. Perhaps we’ve reached some sort of graphical critical mass, and people are now turned off by graphics and have gone in search of fun gameplay again. For example, the Lost Planet demo seems to be going down well for just that reason; it’s good fun.

  • Dynamo of Eternia

    This is an interesting article.

    I am someone who owns many game systems from over the years (Atari 2600, NES, SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Saturn, N64, PS1, PS2, Dreamcast, Xbox, Gamecube, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance SP, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360).

    I’ve been one to keep up with gaming. The problem with things this time around is that as far as the actual gaming is concerned, it seems like there isn’t much of a leap with PS3 or Xbox 360.

    As others have pointed out, the graphics aren’t as much of an issue as they once were. And I think I know why.
    In the past, when things went from one generation of gaming to the next, yes, the graphics got better, but more than that changed. When things went from NES to SNES, for example, not only did the graphics increase, but there were also more buttons added to the controller, and the games were able to be made on a more complicated level. Types of gameplay that simply were not possible on the previous generation of systems were now available.

    Then in the mid 90s (PS1, Saturn, N64 era), things shifted to 3D gaming, added analog sticks to the systems, and a few more buttons, and took things to whole new levels. This was monumental, but there was still room for improvement.

    Then the next generation of 3D gaming happened (Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube). The graphics were significantly increased, even more possiblities were opened, and it took that form of gaming to new levels.

    But now…. well, I have Xbox 360. It is nice. I am glad to own it. The graphics are better than that of Xbox, but not by some huge margin. And, from what I’ve been hearing, the graphics of PS3 don’t look much better than that of 360. Neither of these systems really seem to be offering new forms of Gameplay. Odds are aside from the slightly better graphics, Halo 3 and Metal Gear 4 are both games that easily could have come out of Xbox and PS2 and not been a whole lot different from what they will be like on the newer systems.

    I think Nintendo made the right move this time around. Like I said before, with the previous generations, not only did the graphics change and improve, but the gameplay options did as well. While the other 2 companies are focusing in on the graphics, Nintendo has chosen to focus on the Gameplay. And from what I’ve been hearing, its paying off. I read an article earlier today saying that the lines waiting to try the Wii at E3 were around 4 hours of wait time. While, the PS3 averaged at 30 minutes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to have the Xbox 360. It is a nice system, and since the will eventually stop making games for the older systems, it is nice to have something newer. I do plan to get the Wii, as it seems like it will really bring something new to the mix. So, I guess I won’t be narrowing down to one system only.

    As far as PS3 goes, I definately won’t be getting it at launch (unless I win the lotto between now and then), and whether or not I get it at all is uncertain at this point. A major price drop will ne necessary. There are only a few titles that were exclusive to PS2 that I really even care about. And about the only one that I can think of that would make me go out and get a PS3 is if they make Kingdom Hearts 3 for it.

    I give Xbox 360 some more credit than PS3, though. At least they didn’t try to push the technology so far in advance that it jacked the price to completely unreasonable levels. $500 and $600 is just insane for PS3. You can get both of the competeing systems for the same amount of money as the nicer PS3. I’m sure blue Ray will be nice, but I’m not jumping on a new movie format until I know which of the two (HD-DVD and Blue Ray) will survive.

    So, yeah, I may not get all of the systems this time around. Aside from Wii, none of them seem to be bringing any kind of new experience in how the games are played. It’s just the same old, same old for the most part.

    On the topic of DS vs. PSP, I have to agree with Pikachelsea’s comments. The PSP is really not much of an upgrade over the DS. Sony tried to make the PSP look great by letting it play music and movies. The DS focueses on games.

    This is the way I see the systems. PSP is a good portable system. The DS is a good ANYWHERE system.

    See, with PSP, that system seems like it will be better for people who travel a lot. If you are going to buy a movie that can only be played on it, you should use it a lot. And, as far as the games go, most of them (particularly the bigger, more popular titles) tend to be stripped down versions of games that are out of PS2 and Xbox. Star Wars Battle Front 2 and Grand Theft Auto come to mind. I’m sure they are nice and all on PSP, but if you are sitting at home, what are you going to play? – the stripped down PSP version, or the nicer, console version? I think the choice is obvious.

    The only games on PSP that even interest me right now are the Capcom games. They’ve released some Mega Man titles that look interesting and a little new. And they released a new version of Street Fighter Alpha 3 with a bunch of extra features that the original never had. And, I heard they are releasing the Power Stone collection for it – this is a series of games that was on Dreamcast that I loved, and now they will be on PSP with new characters and extra features.

    But, as nice as that all is, its not enough to make me spend $200+ for the system plus games, etc (particularly considering that most of the games I want are ones I own, just with some new extras).

    DS, on the other hand, actually offers a new playing experience. Even if many of the titles are sequels and spin offs from existing game series on console systems, they tend to be much more than watered down translations of those games. The touch screen and the way things are layed out and set up overall offers something new, different, and refreshing to the mix. The system is good for traveling, but its also something that I can (and often do) sit down on my couch at home and play.

    And that’s the problem with PSP. Like I said, its good for people who travel a lot. But, honestly, do most people really travel THAT much to make it worth while? I guess if you have a job where you travel a lot, that’s one thing. But I don’t. and if I take a major vacation, its maybe once a year. That hardly makes something like PSP worth while for me.

    So, I will stick with my DS. I can enjoy it at home, and if I happen to be traveling somewhere, then I can take it with me!

  • John Smith

    What happened to the days of the joy stick and one button.

  • Brett

    Karateka was the best game ever… ah, the glory days.