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?
With 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:
Sony — 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.
Nintendo — 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.
Microsoft — 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…