An Analytical Discussion of the Industry, Culture, Progress and Nature of Video Games.

November 13th, 2006

Pixels and Progress's
Guide to Cocktail Chatter:
Next-Gen Launch Edition

The launch of the PS3 and Wii is happening this weekend, officially starting next-generation of home console gaming. It’s a confusing time, especially for people not familiar with the intricacies of video games and gaming culture. Fortunately, at this weekend’s cocktail party, you’ll be prepared to discuss the start of the next generation of gaming with anyone – even that guy who named his daughter “Samus”.

Microsoft Xbox 360
Xbox 360 talking points: This holiday season marks the 1 year anniversary of the launch of the 360, which is seen as the unofficial starting point of the “next-gen” of consoles. Despite any must-have launch titles (with the small exception of Call of Duty 2), the 360 had made its way into 5 million homes by the end of July. It’s generally expected to outsell all other consoles this holiday season now that a number of above-average games have come out for the system. Even staunch fanboys can’t argue that Xbox 360 has the superior online network by which all online networks will be judged.

Historical Context: Microsoft leapt blindly into the console wars at the height of Sony’s dominance in the home console market and Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market. The original Xbox was written off as an also-ran, but was technologically more advanced than either the PS2 or Gamecube and quickly gained ground among graphics-whores and first adopters. And then there’s Halo, which basically made owning an Xbox required for all incoming college freshmen. Or people who like guns. Or FPSes…

Conversation starter: “Xbox Live Marketplace is defining how downloadable content will be approached by developers for the foreseeable future. I’m just concerned how far the market will support content that doesn’t affect gameplay, like horse armor or new stadiums.”

Bonus conversation starter: “Is support from Japanese developers going to entirely disappear if the sales numbers for the 360 don’t start getting better in the Land of the Rising Sun?”

Conversation stopper: “I just pwned my first noob on Live. What a fag.”

Sony PS3
PS3 talking points: The PS3, despite being the follow-up to one of the most popular consoles ever (PS2) and having the brand recognition of Sony, is considered a bit of an underdog by industry analysts. It could have something to do with the $600 price tag. Or it could have something to do with the fact that Sony isn’t launching with any must-have titles that aren’t a) already on Xbox 360 with comparable graphics, or b) called Resistance. People at your party are likely to talk about Sony’s cell processor, which is being touted as Sony’s major advantage. You should add that the PS3 provides nine independent threads of execution for designers, which, if a recent interview with Gamasutra.com is any indication, will give the PS3-based designers the opportunity to create amazing games. Add: If first-generation games on the PS3 look like second-gen games on the 360, then what are 6th generation games going to look like on the PS3. Could they even appear on the 360 without being dumbed down?

PS3 historical context: You should be aware that only 400,000 of these babies were made because of a blu-ray snafu in the Sony trenches. The odds of you – or anyone at your cocktail party - getting one of these things are next to nothing. Still, the words “Playstation” have replaced “Nintendo” as the brand associated with gaming. Despite Sony’s overstated PR blitz (e.g., describing the PS3 as bringing a fourth dimension to gaming; being as powerful as a supercomputer at NASA, etc.), the PS3 is likely to bring the goods.

Conversation starter: “The PS3 is likely to be the Trojan Horse of Blu-ray for a majority of consumers. But, with only 400,000 hitting the market this Christmas could ‘Blu-ray’ be a synonym for ‘Beta’ in the next 10 years?”

Bonus conversation starter: “It’s clear that Sony is trying to emulate the Xbox launch (which also happened over a year after its main competitor, the PS2, launched) with pushing an ambitious, sci-fi FPS as their killer app. Is this going to work?”

Conversation stopper: “Who’s got one?”

Nintendo Wii
Wii talking points: The Wii is a dramatic step for Nintendo – a company once synonymous with home console gaming. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 are offering more of the same (but with enhanced graphics and online features), Nintendo has completely overhauled the control mechanism into a remote-controlish/light-gun hybrid that players wield as a sword/gun/hand/hula-hoop for different games. The Wii has been trashed by the gaming media for its poor graphics (a minor upgrade from the admittedly underpowered Gamecube). If this comes up at your party, just say, “Resident Evil 4” and “Twilight Princess”. Of course, you’re probably be met with, “Gears of War” and “Resistance”. If this happens, offer to go on a beer run.

Wii historical context: Unless you were in elementary school, the Gamecube was an abject failure: the Mario game was reviled for its gimmicky water-cannon gameplay, the Zelda suffered from a polarizing art direction inspired by equal parts anime and Precious Moments, and even the Metroid games – while well-reviewed technical achievements – were railed against for poor platforming elements and wonky gunplay gameplay. Keep in mind, as well, that just about every third party game to come out for the Gamecube was the worst in control, features, and graphics when compared to its counterpart on the Xbox or PS2. All this, and no online strategy (Phantasy Star doesn’t count). It’s no surprise that Nintendo is trying something totally different with the Wii.

Conversation starter: “How much of a coup was it to get Sega games on Virtual Console? Sonic and Mario! It’s a match made in retro-heaven!”

Bonus conversation starter: “The controller still exhibits lag. And it doesn’t work in a well-lit environment or direct sunlight. I wanted it to work, but the technology just isn’t there yet.”

Conversation stopper: Any penis joke involving the word “Wii”. Surprisingly, gamers are mostly over it.

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