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      12-06-2006, 12:31 AM   #18
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Good article weighing up ps3, 360 and Wii

"Some people might think the consoles are engaged in some fierce battle for supremacy. Well, things are rather different.

Let’s turn back in time a bit: when the initial edition of Xbox first appeared in 2001, its declared rival was clearly the PS2. Despite the Gargantuan dimensions it managed to reap applauses and the prize for the best gaming console at that time. Every gamer thought at Microsoft’s product as a daring and fruitful endeavor, from which all could benefit (competition is good in for the industry).

The superior processing power Xbox brought (compared to the PS2) forced Sony to think at something that they would later call “a gaming PC” (the PS3). This is important, because the competition between the two giants (Sony and Microsoft) actually deepened the old path in gaming: better games means better graphics and in-game physics (in one word- realism). This is what the hardcore gamers like.

The following years have proven once more that evolution for games is intrinsically linked to the powerful hardware built for them. It is clear that games (for both PC and consoles) are among the most demanding software applications today, requiring more and more processing capabilities from the platforms they run onto. But this also means higher costs, for producers and for buyers alike. It is where Xbox 360 and PS3 are now included (if we ignore the PC, which is the classical example…).

If we were to find a single defining trait that would characterize the PS3 and the Xbox 360, that would definitely be power (I am omitting Wii intentionally). Compared to their predecessors and their greatest rival, the PC, next-gen gaming consoles are a lot more evolved concerning internal hardware. This allows them first to run games at higher FPS even on HD screens, bringing also a more realistic game-physics to the panel.

The second most important trait about Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is the optical drive that comes with them. Many are still considering the PS3 as merely a Blu Ray player that sells for only $600. It is a wrong point of view, but it has implications in the other battle Sony is involved in: the HD DVD vs. Blu Ray. Depending on the winner (if there’s ever going to be one…) games will be packed either for HD DVD (favored by Microsoft) or for Blu Ray (Sony’s turf). It is not far fetched to imagine in 5-10 years from now on games that will measure not less than 50GB, with huge high-resolution textures and extremely complex gameplay. This is what awaits us if the Blu Ray wins. This will make Crysis (the famous PC game that will illustrate Vista’s Direct X 10 capabilities) look like an arcade game…

Packing a lot of processing power is what actually defines the next-generation gaming, according to many analysts. But is it enough? Besides these hardware improvements and their implications next-gen consoles have brought little innovation: controlling a car or a 3D character is still quite difficult and sometimes boring. Microsoft tried to compensate this by introducing on Xbox Live a series of improvements from…the past: arcade games and pack of HD TV shows and movies. So actually what Microsoft did was to somehow deny and also underline the fact that Xbox 360 is a next gen console (arcade games vs. HD offer). Sony will follow that trend too: Vice President of Technology for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Paul Holman said that Sony plans to release a series of firmware upgrades, similar to the PSP, that will enable the PS3 to become more media center oriented and allow for third-party applications and hardware.

It is thus interesting to consider that next generation gaming consoles are naturally evolving towards a PC (this is what Sony claims about PS3), but in different paths: while MS doesn’t want gamers to think Xbox 360 is more of a PC (because it would affect the Games for Windows program; generally, gaming is the second most important activity for Windows users, occupying about 18% of their time), Sony is counting on making PS3 look like a powerful and cheap PC (simply because they just don’t have their OS installed on more than 90% of all computers in the world).

Right now, we are witnessing a hierarchy with PS3 at the top (the “boss’ of consoles in almost every aspect possible: weight, dimensions, processing capabilities and price), the Xbox 360 in its immediate vicinity (cheaper, plenty of additional services to choose from, attractive software package and connectivity with other platforms, especially Windows) and the “outsider” Wii.

I intentionally left Wii as a separate chapter because of a declaration that Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo, gave at this year’s E3: that Wii is not a next generation console and that it does not compete with Wii.

You can look at Wii whatever you want, but you cannot ignore it, despite of its outsider status. Actually if we take in consideration the numbers we might just have the huge surprise that Wii is the winner of the console war, at least until now: there have been sold more than a million Wii consoles in less than a month, far beyond what Sony managed to sell and close to what MS declared about its Xbox 360.

It is interesting to talk about Nintendo’s strategy before and after Wii’s launch. While Sony and Microsoft preferred to improve products that have already gained popularity and established a worldwide brand (Xbox vs PlayStation), Nintendo preferred to revolutionize gaming with Wii (by the way, the console’s code name was Revolution).

Starting with the odd name and continuing with the unusual dual-control system, Wii is clearly…something different. Compared to Xbox and PS, Wii has lower production costs and thus a lower price at retail shops. It has a “weaker” hardware, but has a wider range of addressability.

What Wii does is nothing more than follow the line of success established by its even smaller brother, the DS. In Japan, home of one the most powerful gaming communities in the world, Nintendo DS beats PSP by a factor of 1 to 5. DS has shown that today’s gaming can be fun without being extremely complicated and the fact that Nintendo launched the DS Lite especially for Europe demonstrates how popular this handheld console is in this part of the world.

Wii is merely repeating the success of DS: cheaper, innovative and addressing the masses (the slogan used in the ad campaign for Wii is “gaming for the masses”, while Wii-the name- was chosen because of its resemblance with “we”).

Wii “exploits” categories of gamers that Xbox 360 or PS3 ignore: women, elderly people and small children. They can all play Wii Sports, a game which has been voted as ‘Best Sports Game’ at E3 2006, but not everyone can play Halo 2. Games for Wii are not necessarily full of modern effects like soft shadows, bump mapping or specular lighting (although that doesn’t mean they don’t exist), but it seems gamers are not really missing them. Splinter Cell Double Agent for example, has the same gameplay and almost the same look on all platforms (PC, Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360) but what makes the difference is the feeling that the gamer has while pushing buttons on the keyboard, tilting the controller or holding the Nunchak. Actually, Wii’s controllers are another sweet innovation which makes it so attractive: it brings gaming to a level that PS3 and Xbox 360 don’t even dream of. Wii makes gaming more physically active: you don’t just sit on the couch or in front of the LCD screen, you move while playing, and thus your gaming experience is transformed.

In the end, Wii also demonstrates that a game is not all about fancy graphics and astounding physics. People play Mario on Wii with probably the same pleasure they did 10 years ago. And this pleasure is felt by all categories of gamers: even those who play Halo or FEAR are impressed. You could say that Wii brings back memories from the arcade era, but it does that in an original and also modern way and MS or Sony should take that originality in consideration."
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