Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Future of Gaming

There are consoles, games, and companies that have defined the gaming industry’s power in modern culture. When you think of Nintendo, games immediately come to mind. The NES started this console revolution and will forever be remembered as easily the most important home console ever made. It brought the idea of games from the arcade to the living room. Not only did it bring games to the living room, but it also started the rise of an industry that now exceeds the movie industry. The gaming industry has had its revolutions. After the NES, the SNES was quite simply a more powerful NES with the same gameplay. It was a massive success and has gone down in history as having some of the best games of all time. Zelda, Metroid, and Mariokart were all birthed onto this console and continue their success today. This was also when Sega gave birth to the more powerful yet less supported Sega Genesis. Sonic is the game that comes to mind when you hear the word Sega. Unfortunately, recent attempts at the Sonic game have proven to be complete disasters. Before Nintendo had even released its N64, the Playstation came to the market. The Playstation was a revolutionary system, with CDs being the format on which the games were written. Not only that, but it employed a strong graphics card and more mature games then Nintendo was used to. Although it may have been more than twice the price of the N64, it sold over a 100 million systems and enjoyed massive profit for Sony and birth of a very strong name. Playstation became famous in its first attempt. But we must also not forget the N64, the first console ever to employ built in slots for four players. Not only did the N64 have four player ability, but is also included the analog stick which changed gaming forever. It had tremendous success, although Nintendo was dethroned from its position as market leader. The N64 will forever be remembered for its amazing games like Mario 64, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Now as we end the genre of the Playstation and N64 Sega releases a new system. Named Dreamcast, the system was more powerful than the original Playstation and even employed a very futuristic online gaming service for broadband users. The Sega Dreamcast could have gone onto massive success. Unfortunately for Sega, the timing could not have been worse. The Playstation 2 came around and crushed it. Sega simply did not have the money to compete or even hold the system up. It failed, but will forever be remembered as a great system that could have had a much longer lifespan. The Playstation 2 is the first home console to be backwards compatible and also enjoyed some very great early games and great titles from third party companies like Rockstar, which created the wildly successful Grand Theft Auto 3 exclusively for the PS2. There was also a new system emerging, the Xbox. The Xbox will go down in history as being the console that single handedly made console online gaming what it is today. Released a little later than the PS2, the Xbox had twice the CPU power, more raw graphics power, a service that would define the Xbox called Xbox Live, and was also the first console ever to utilize a hard drive that could play custom soundtracks. The Xbox might not have gone on today to be such a success if it had not had Halo. Halo, created by Bungie exclusively for the Xbox, redefined FPS for consoles and to a lesser extent a great storyline. It was the killer app for the Xbox and became known as one of the most successful franchises of all time. The Xbox really helped the industry prepare for online gaming and media connectivity. Xbox Live became the best online gaming service ever created. Had it not been for Halo and Xbox Live, the Xbox 360 as we know it would probably cease to exist. Also this generation we saw Nintendo’s GC, which was powerful but lacked a DVD player but more importantly it lacked online of any kind and third party support. It came in last place because Nintendo simply didn’t anticipate the weak developer support and that online gaming would become a necessity for many gamers. The GC was not wildly successful, and will probably go down in history as Nintendo’s worse console. But now the next generation is upon us with the PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii leading the charge. Sony’s Playstation 3 made an undoubtedly strong showing at E3 2005, where tech specs were released, and trailers like Killzone 2 wowed the crowd. Even if these trailers were prerendered, consumers got very excited about this powerful console. Microsoft also released tech specs for their Xbox 360, and even had games running on Alpha kits(Power Mac G5s, actually) in real time. However, the trailers weren’t great and the whole conference was blown away by Sony’s spectacular presentation. And finally there was Nintendo, who simply “showed” us the system and kept their lips pretty tight on the other details, especially the mysterious controller. They too were blown away by Sony’s well thought out and impressive conference. Then began speculation, with people wondering what on earth was going on with the Revolution. Then came the Tokyo Game Show, which was an important event for the Revolution. The controller was revealed in a teaser video, and the crowd looked at Iwata in confusion. After some demonstrations and hands on time with the controller, developers like Ubisoft started working on many new products like Red Steel to take advantage of the controller. The Xbox 360 also had a large showing at TGS 2005. Microsoft released screenshots of the interface, more details for the online, the final specs, and of course the pricing. That November the Xbox 360 was launched and ran into a few problems. There was no killer app and a lot of technical problems. The Xbox 360 survived, however, and is now the fastest selling console of all time. It had a bumpy start but is now seeing some very promising titles that take full advantage of the power of Xbox Live. Now E3 2006 was make or break time for Nintendo, and Sony was expected to have a very strong showing as well. People expected that since Microsoft had already released its system, their showing would not be very important. But as always there were many surprises at E3 2006. Nintendo undoubtedly stole the show. Their booths were so crowded that one would have to wait up to six hours just to try it for a few minutes. The games were impressive and really showed that Nintendo was not going to try to compete with Microsoft and Sony and that this new direction was definitely a good one. Also the price of less than $250 was announced to widespread acceptance. In second place was Microsoft, who simply put bombarded the crowd with a fantastic lineup of Arcade and typical games coming to the system. There were a lot of quality games coming to the system. And this pleased a lot of gamers, knowing that the hardware sitting on the store shelves that could be capable of rendering these fantastic games. Not only that, but Microsoft released Live Anywhere, which has the ability to connect computers, consoles, and phones in one service. Although everyone expected Sony to steal the show, they definitely upset their fan base. The conference was long and boring and there were key games like Devil May Cry and Killzone 2 mysteriously missing. And then the pricing was announced for $499 and $599 in America. Whether or not this price will make an impact on consumers is yet to be known. Sony’s press conference was a dud. But the system definitely promises to be the place for High Definition movies and games, obviously with the incorporation of Blu-Ray technology. And with the inclusion of a Blu-Ray player, some consumers with HDTVs may see it as quite a steal. And some may see it as a bloated price for unnecessary technology. It will be up to the consumers this holiday season. After telling about the consoles, games, and companies that defined our industry, we must now look to the future. Obviously online gaming is one component that is becoming more and more vital, with Xbox 360 consumers hooking their console up to Live 60% of the time, a rapid increase from the mere 10% hookup of the original Xbox. Microsoft and Nintendo have already established online gaming networks, and now Sony will soon release the details on the Playstation Network Platform, which promises to be heavily similar to Xbox Live. So online gaming will be thriving this generation. It is expected to reach 13 billion dollars of revenue by 2008. Also a large question for Microsoft and Sony is whether or not they will convert to entirely 3d space controllers for Nintendo. Just like Nintendo released the analog stick, it could soon become the defacto of gaming pads, or possibly end up like the Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s disastrous and horrific console. I think the new 3d controller has the possibility of becoming the standard. Nintendo’s disruptive technology has been wildly successful in Japan, where Nintendo DSes are selling out every month and where DS games dominate the top ten list of console games sold, despite being weaker and less multimedia powerhouse than the Sony PSP. The Sony PSP and DS are very close in all of the other combined regions. But beyond that, my question is will the Wii’s controller be forever remembered as defining the way we play games, or will it simply boost sales initially and then die out as a gimmick. In an interview with Bill Gates and Peter Moore, they both denied the idea of a motion sensitive controller as anything as more than a gimmick. They should be skeptical, they released a controller for the PC named the sidewinder in 1998 and it was a complete disaster. Bill Gates also mentioned that people do not stay entirely still while they play a game, and slight movements could ruin the entire game experience. We must obviously take note, however, that Bill Gate’s system the Xbox 360 has no motion sensing capabilities built into the controller. So it may just be typical rhetoric from executives. Nintendo’s executives say it will open up the door for developers who have a great idea to execute the controller. And they’re right, FPS on the Revolution will be an entirely new experience for any consumer who has ever played a FPS or some who have not before. And many new games with possibly new genres will rise. This is extremely good for Nintendo, and it is a relief that games like Red Steel, Far Cry, and Call of Duty will come to the Wii. Nintendo has successfully convinced developers that a lot of people will buy their system and that their games will sell on the system. Developers should believe Nintendo, in almost every poll after E3 the Wii is getting a lot of credit (and a lot of buyers) for the direction they are taking. Nintendo’s Wii is going to be successful. There’s no doubt about that. And it will definitely sell more than the Gamecube. Why? Is it because of the controller, the full backwards compatibility, price tag, or free online. Will the future of games be through motion sensing controllers? I can guarantee that Microsoft and Sony are both either researching these types of controllers or possibly even started working on one for the next generation. We have had two hands on the controller and been pressing buttons, then moving analog sticks, then pulling triggers. For the first time in gaming history we are dramatically changing the we play games. Take the mouse for example, we use it to point, but it is not in a 3d space. We move it left to move left, and move it right to move right. We do not pick it up and move it around to show direction. The space that the mouse lies on is 2 dimensional. And we only move the mouse on a two dimensional plane. Other input devices, like our car’s steering wheel must also be considered. You do not move the steering wheel up and down to accelerate. You move it on a two dimensional plane. There is no 3d movement in driving a car. There are 3 dimensional controllers, however. To fly a plane you use a 3 dimensional space to navigate the path you will go. And you are in a 3d space, so the controller is appropriate. Another example that is a bit more complicated is the shooting of a gun. You aim the gun through a skewed 2d plane, but this is not all that you are doing. You must also move in a direction. So in the end shooting a gun in most videogame applications will be in a 3d space. When you throw a football you move on a two dimensional plane and throw on a two dimensional plane thus making the entire movement a 3 dimensional action. On the Nintendo Wii’s controller, you use the analog stick to accomplish one two dimensional movement and the pointing or sensing ability of the main controller to control the other two dimensional movement. You must also notice that the Wii’s controller can also operate as a 3d function like swinging a sword. You may move the controller up and down to cut thins, but stabbing the opponent would make it 2 two dimensional movements (or a 3d movement). The Wii’s controller pushes all of the boundaries that would be restrictive on a normal controller. On a normal controller, you can only control two separate 2 dimensional actions. On the Wii’s controller, you can control one 2 dimensional action and either a 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional action. The Wii’s controller is literally the boundary of which Nintendo can push physics of interaction. You cannot have two three dimensional actions (contrary to what Sony believes the PS3 can achieve). The human brain cannot process it. There is no fourth dimension possible (yet). The Wii’s controller will become the future of controllers everywhere. All that must be achieved as of right now is for developers to learn how to properly calculate how to control this new device. And keep in mind that every game will not possibly ever use this type of control. Some 2d actions simply feel better in 2d than in 3d. Now that we have pushed what is possible in controllers, we must push the games to new heights. And 3d motion sensing controllers ARE the Wave of the Future. Supraman84

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