Benjamin J. Heckendorn, December 17th, 2001 AD
It's December 2001 as I write this. The XBox and GameCube have just been released. The Sony PS2 is doing well, with lots of new games coming out. Games are becoming more realistic every day it seems. The videogame industry makes more than Hollywood. (probably cause movies lately stink but that's another subject altogether)
And so I ponder... Where is video gaming headed? In this article, I'm going to share my views & opinions on this subject, as well as predict the fates of the current crop of consoles.
The PS2 was a system released to almost as much hype as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, but luckily it was better. Its initial offering of games was sparse, but a year later, many great titles line the shelves. In an unprecedented event for Video Gaming, I see the PS2 as being the Number #1 console of this current generation. (Generation 5, circa 2000-2005). Never before has a company had the most popular console 2 generations in a row (the SNES/Genesis was close, but let's face it, for all intents and purposes Sega won)
For the "Power-On Bragging Sequence Graphically Nonsense" I give the PS2 3rd place. The Playstation logo, then glowing orbs flying around blue swirls, then sometimes having to select "Game Application"... BS! I wanna play NOW! The Power ON/OFF Reset button is also annoying, once the Amazing Blue LED's appeal is gone. I want my system to shut off NOW, not in 3 seconds. If I wanted to wait for a system to shut down, I'd play on my PC.
(Sub-note: I'm not a PC gamer. I find it too expensive to stay on top of it all.)
The PS2, as with the Gamecube, does not have 'out of the box' support for networking or broadband, but neither do most American homes. Sure, home networking is advancing, but you'd need 2 or more expensive consoles for that. So, at least for now, I don't see it as a huge distracter to the system. Especially since the Playstation console has a high proliferation of single-player experience games.
One problem I have with the PS2, and it's not a BIG complaint but valid nonetheless, is the controllers. Now, they are nice, Sony was really ahead of its time back in '95 by designing them that way, and the rumble feature works very well. But the analog sticks are thrown on as an afterthought. Why didn't they re-design them for the PS2, since it requires analog sticks anyway? Analog sticks have been the norm since '96, but every controller up 'til the Gamecube has the analog stick in a 'afterthought' position when it is the main control! I really don't see why a PS2 controller with the analog stick right where it belongs (in place of the D-Pad) would be such a big deal to build. People would buy it automatically just because it's new and different. And it would make it one of the best controllers ever,
Also with the PS2, why are there only 2 controller ports? Oh, I know why, so they can sell Multi-taps. I'm sure that was in their business model but it annoys John Q. Multiplayer. Think of it this way. If a game developer KNOWS that a system has 4 ports, it will assume the gamers will use them all and thus develop content to take advantage. On the other hand, if a game developer knows that the gamers will have to spend another 30-50 bucks buying a Multi-tap, will they put as much effort into a 4-player mode knowing that a certain percentage of their market can't even use it? An example, by time we got a Multi-tap for Time Splitters last fall, we were already tired of it and were back to playing Perfect Dark.
Another thing I think that could be better on the PS2 are the load times. They don't seem remarkably better than the PSOne. Naturally, the games are more complex and need more data, but still... I remember while playing Time Splitters being quite worried at the load time between deathmatches. I thought "Is this the future of console deathmatching? WAITING?" It's kind of like when you go to a movie and there's so many previews in front of it you forget what movie is was you came to see. Or when a web page takes so long to load you forget where exactly you're visiting. I don't know about you, but after a deathmatch (especially if I don't win, um, which is rare of course!) I want an immediate REMATCH! What sort of a world do we live in where you spend 20%+ of a night of console deathmatching WAITING? We demand INSTANT GRATIFICATION! We don't still use audio cassette drives for our computers, do we?
But, the Playstation 1/2 was never a big multiplayer system in my opinion anyway. It's geared more towards 1 player games, RPG's and 2 player sports titles. And on the same token, as mentioned before, the lack of a broadband adapter won't break any hearts.
The SUV of consoles. Over-powered & huge. VERY American, I doubt it will do much of a dent in the PS2's Japanese market. The Cube will probably even beat it overseas.
For the "Power-On Bragging Sequence Graphically Nonsense" I give the XBox 2nd place. It's not too much to put up with. They sure like the color green, don't they? Good marketing, soon green will be synonymous with XBox. (sorry grass)
The controller certainly could be better. Although quite large, they fit the hand well. However, what is WITH the buttons on it? Whose idea was it to make a controller with 4 tiny jelly-bean sized / colored buttons 1/128th of an inch apart? You thumb has to snake around the second analog stick to reach them, I don't see why the buttons couldn't be a LITTLE more to the right. Granted, they aren't as bad as Intellivision controllers! But when playing it, I found myself having to look down at the buttons from time to time to see which one I was pushing.
A good portion of the controller is WASTED with this big green ORB thing that says X on it. OK, it's an XBox, we get it! I think the XBox controller alone is about the size of a Gamecube. However, the 'breakaway' cord is a FANTASTIC idea... if it were not for the XBox. I can't count how many times I've seen the poor N64 get knocked around by someone tripping over a cord. But the XBox is so heavy, yanking out the plugs doesn't even budge it. I know, I've tried.
If I ever break down and get an XBox, rest assured I am building my own controller.
The graphics on the XBox are pretty good, a notch above PS2 I'd say. The poly counts seem pretty high. The first time I walked up to a rock in Halo I thought "holy cow, look at this rock!" I mean, we've seen that kinda bump map stuff for a while on the PC, but for some reason it seems cooler on a console. However, supposedly the Gamecube has twice the render layers so I'll be expecting highly detailed rocks on that system as well.
One problem I have with the XBox, and it's not even really with the system itself, is that Microsoft can and WILL blow unlimited amounts of money to make it successful. The XBox's opening game line-up is pretty good, but then again, wasn't it rumored that Microsoft practically THREW money at developers?
On the same token - Will the XBox be buggy? Will it require 'service packs'? Will it cram MSN down your throat? Will you have to de-frag it? (Halo could be the first FPS where you have to de-frag, ha ha, ok that was lame) As far as standalone stability goes, Microsoft's track record is spotty. Can XBox be different? Only time will tell.
The Chevy Metro of consoles. Small, but it will get you where you want to go. Probably the most radically designed system ever, well, ever released, who KNOWS what sort of vaporware Atari was cooking up in the early 80's. I love 3 inch CD's, they're so cool and I think it's neat that Nintendo used them on the Gamecube. Probably mostly to be different and avoid piracy, but still an interesting choice. Load time is barely noticeable. I have a feeling that Nintendo made it some sort of policy that games for the system can have no visible load time. I really like the fact that when you turn on the system you don't have to wade through a bunch of pretentious title screens for the system, something that's bugged me since the first Playstation. On the 'Cube, games just START. What did Nintendo say years and years ago? "The future doesn't belong to the snails?" Darn straight. Above, I mentioned concern for the future of deathmatching, but after playing the Gamecube, I'm confident that I can launch into instant Perfect Dark Zero rematches.
(Although, after a round when they show scores, they should have a REMATCH! button. In which each player press a certain button, say "X", and their window shows "REMATCH!". Kind of like a taunt. Anyway, if all 4 players choose to rematch, the rematch begins immediately without having to go back to the games option screen, thus eliminating any load time! Rare, are you listening?)
The 1.5 gigabyte limit of the discs could scare developers, though. Although (here I show my old school roots) how many Playstation games used all the space for game play and graphics? That's right, it was all music & video. Remember how Ridge Racer fit into the 2 meg system memory and once it loaded you could stick in any CD you wanted? The system memory of the Gamecube alone (40 meg) could hold an entire N64 game.
The controllers are great. They feel great, they look great, and the analog pad is EXACTLY where it should be. The buttons take a little getting used to... It's not that they're placed wrong, it's just that they're so different. Having a giant trigger harkens back to the days of the Atari 2600, and there's nothing wrong with that. The shoulder buttons fit your fingers perfectly, unlike the XBox / Dreamcast shoulder buttons which feel like Windex spray triggers.
Of the 3 consoles out now, I'd want most of all to see the Gamecube succeed. The unit is small and convenient, it probably has the best controller ever designed and let's face it, Nintendo makes the best games.
As much as I want to see the Gamecube succeed, however, its launch titles are not the greatest. Now, it used to be that systems never had the greatest games at launch, it always took a year or two. Sega didn't have Sonic for 2 years after the Genesis came out, Goldeneye came out a year after the N64 and the NES's biggest game came 5 YEARS after its release.
But things are different today. People want instant gratification. Similar to how movies make 40-50% of their total money in the first weekend, people want their games NOW. And in this capacity, the XBox is beating the Gamecube.
A friend of mine works in the electronics department of a Wal-Mart in a provincial factory town. Let's face it, THAT is America, THAT is a barometer of how things are. And, according to him, the XBox is beating Gamecube by a significant margin. He said more people asked about the Gamecube prior to launch, but after launch the XBox sold the most. Why is this? Possibly because the XBox is targeted to people in their 20's who can blow $300-$400 if they want to get an XBox, whereas kids wanting a Gamecube have to ask their parents to buy them one. Hence, the $100 price difference is of no consequence.
Some find it strange that the PS2 still costs $300. But, it makes sense. They know their biggest concern is the XBox, which is the same cost. But, the PS2 has all the best titles with the biggest library, allowing them to justify their cost. Also, Sony has to make money with the hardware eventually.
There seems to be endless amounts of games coming out / scheduled for the XBox. Will it lead to a flood of inferior product, the same thing that happened with the Atari 2600? It could, depending on the licensing contingencies of the XBox.
Nintendo has THE games coming out next year, including the first real Mario game in 6 years. I predict that if the Gamecube is going to succeed, it has 1 year to do so. (gosh, didn't people say that about the Dreamcast?) One year from now will see the release of Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Star Fox and other top-flight titles. (I'd include Perfect Dark zero, but if it actually came out on time I'd eat an XBox controller) Anyway, if the Gamecube has the must-have titles, it'll sell systems. Right now the XBox has the whole Gen-X appeal "and it can play DVD's" thing going. Personally, I think a game system is meant to play games ('born to play', anyone?) but I am not the average consumer, either. Back in the 80's nobody expected their Atari 2600 to play their "Thriller" cassettes, did they? But now, just as Wal-Marts replace multiple small businesses, game consoles become 'everything' boxes. It's the lumping together, shoving everything into a box and conforming that I don't like it.
Joe Q Six-pack sees the XBox, thinks "Hey, I can play Madden 2001/02/03/04/05/06 on this thing AND watch Coyote Ugly/Fast & The Furious on DVD, I'll buy it!"
Zeepo Q. Tripledice sees the PS2 and thinks "Wow, there's a lot of RPG's coming out for this thing! I can't wait to cast 30 minute-long spells! And I can watch Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within on DVD, I'll buy it!"
Here's the problem I see for Nintendo. Ok, when the Saturn and Playstation came out, people didn't say "Oh, and I can play my audio CD's on it, too!" Why not? Because by that time, everyone had a CD player already. They bought the Playstation as a game system. On this token, not having a CD player didn't hurt the N64 from a buyer's perspective, just a developing one.
Fast-forward to present. DVD has taken off faster than anyone could have predicted. People like me are shocked, mostly because we remember every aborted "new big thing" in the last ten years, like VCD, DAT and HDTV (ok, not aborted but delayed so badly it may as well been). Anyway, after 20 YEARS as a standard, VHS is finally being replaced.
The key word here is BEING replaced. Hence, not everyone has a DVD player yet, we're still in the transition stage. And this is what could kill Nintendo.
When people see that they can get a 'free' DVD player when they buy a system they realize they can kill 2 birds with one stone. Get the new game system everyone's talking about, and get the new movie player everyone's talking about.
It also helps that the game system they're buying is going to be hooked up to the same TV that would have the DVD player anyway. This is especially true of gamers in their 20's. Also, if the system is for the kid's TV, well, then the kids get their own DVD player so they can watch Shrek for the millionth time without bugging their parents.
...Therefore, I regrettable predict that the Gamecube will fail. Failure might just mean they'll have to settle for 3rd place, but it's a failure nonetheless. Nintendo will probably release some of the best games ever made in the coming year, but the XBox and PS2, with their scantily-clad Gen X appeal will sell all the consoles, being 2nd (XBox) and 1st (PS2).
Sorry to remind everyone of Pepsi Campaign Starring Cindy Crawford Number 3 (or was that 4?...) What I meant was the NEXT generation of video game systems, the ones we'll see released around 2005-2006. Here are my predictions! Save this document and read it 5 years from now for fun!
Nintendo will return to its Game & Watch roots and only sell portable systems. They'll make games for other systems, a la Sega.
Nintendo is going to have a really brilliant idea, though. Think of this. In 2001, it would be possible for Sony to make a Playstation (one) portable. They won't, because the discs are too big and they can't beat Nintendo in the portable market. But the existing library of PS1 games would beat the Gameboy Advance with a large stick!
In 2006, technology will allow the guts of a Gamecube to be shrunk down to miniature proportions. The small 3 inch CD is perfect for on-the-go gaming. That and the fact that Nintendo dominates the portable market is why we will see a portable Gamecube by 2006.
Don't think so? It worked for Sega. It's surprising how many people don't realize that a Game Gear is simply a Master System with a screen.
Microsoft will play hardball and release the E Box. They'll avoid calling it the XBox 2 for the same reasons movie sequels are never called "2" anymore. Plus, the Playstation will be up to "3" and Microsoft won't want to sound inferior.
The "E" in E Box stands for Everything or Entertainment. I predict it will have the following:
There's probably more stuff it will have. Whatever new 'hot' stuff comes out in the next 5 years for television entertainment will probably be in the E Box. It will be intended as the only thing you need hooked up to your television. It'll cost even more than an XBox does now, but will justify its cost with all the added features.
Right now, no one is worried about Microsoft having a monopoly in the videogame market, but someday they might. There's a very good chance they may dominate Generation 6.
Sony will release the Playstation 3. They won't include as much stuff as Microsoft will for cost purposes. And that might kill them. They'll survive, but there's a very good chance they'll get knocked down to 2nd place.
The purposed architecture of the PS3 may be even more complex & unfamiliar as the PS2, and that might also hurt them. Maybe they'll finally redesign the controller, though. Even Atari did that. I think Sony may rest on it laurels too much, just as Atari & Sega did, and not accept the XBox as the threat that it really is. And that will probably be their downfall.
The Games in 2006
They will be CLOSE. Graphics in games 5 years from now will almost look like real-life, but not quite. Things like grass, water & faces will still be a little off. And the environments won't be that big, either. It'll be a step up from the current generation, as usual. But it won't be the holy grail of graphics, not yet.
Online gaming will be HUGE. 5 years from now, DSL, cable modems and broadband will be commonplace and systems will take advantage of it. This is kind of unfortunate, though, because you just can't beat the thrill of having 3 real-life friends in the room to stomp and trash-talk. But, when your friends aren't around or if one of them gets married or something you can always find someone online to blow to smithereens. Things like the E Box's cable modems will help bridge the gap. In 2005, broadband still won't have total proliferation. But cable will, and has for decades.
I also believe videogames will start having some sort of awards system, much like the Oscars (which also didn't kick in until movies had been around for decades). Especially with videogames becoming more and more popular, we'll see nationally televised Video Game Awards and watch Mr. Miyamoto collect a Walt Disney-size collection of awards.
Graphics will achieve near-photo realistic quality. Some stuff WILL look like real life. People's faces and the like still won't fool us. However, the graphics realism will be close enough to be considered 'scary'...
Games will have movie-sized budgets as a norm but be done with much higher standards than films.
Think of this. If you make a confusing, hard-to-follow video game where you cannot tell what's going on, nobody will buy it. If you make a confusing, hard-to-follow movie where you cannot tell what's going on, people will go to it anyway and you'll get paid millions to make one confusing film after another.
However, this will come to an end. The film industry will either shape back up or die. Well, not DIE, people always have to go on dates, but Video Gaming will kick Movies around the block.
Interactivity with entertainment is a good thing. Watching movies or TV is mostly a passive experience. Unless a movie is really good or bad, do you even THINK about it? You have to think to play a videogame. I think videogames become more and more popular will create a better sense of interaction and thought, at least for now. Families that sit around a TV like a bunch of zombies watching bad TV because "nothing else is on" will, in the future, get to be involved in multiplayer online interactive gaming!
How many people watch "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and shout out answers? The TV doesn't listen! But, in the future, people can play the game in real-time with a digitally preserved and polygon Regis Phillips. Put enough advertising into the game and you could even award prizes.
And not just that show. Any game show could now be performed by families and players all over the world. Shows could have branching plots and character decisions could be chosen by a vote of all viewers. There could be who-done-its, who-dates-who anything and everything is possible.
Marketers would love it. They could do instant market surveys with people hardly knowing. The television rating systems that decides which show stays or goes will receive a major overhaul, and the results could be surprising! (just so long as Max Headroom doesn't come back... again)
This could be HUGE, really BIG. The biggest thing to hit television since television itself. They've talked about this sort of thing for a LONG long time already, but I think by 2010, when everyone has a videogame 'everything' box tied into the cable /broadband, it will finally become a reality. We will see the Second Golden Age of Television. Brought about by videogame devices.
Viewers will no longer be viewers. They'll be participants. They will get to think. Thinking, what a concept. Hopefully I'm right and it makes a resurgence.
Videogames will become photo realistic, undistinguishable from normal television. Television will have entire programs rendered on the fly by your home video game unit, which will be built into your television or available as an add-on for older model sets. Shows can be created by writers without the use of actors or physical production techniques. Hollywood unions are going to a have a FIT, especially because they know there's nothing they can do about it.
Talent will emerge from everywhere. A person sitting at home in their spare time could write an episode of Friends 2015. People wanting to watch the show could then select from a list of home-brew talent or custom shows. Such as "wow, this guy from Iowa wrote an episode that's received a million hits/viewings, I'll watch it!" You then download the show, and it is rendered (using virtual actors) on your television/game system.
Want it to star Jennifer Anniston circa 1996? You bet! Want it to star Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Betty Davis, Frank Sinatra, Tori Spelling & Elvis? No problem.
Remember that old Microsoft Movie Maker program? The one where you make polygon characters walk around spitting lines? That's the kind of stuff we'll be seeing, only much, much more advanced. It'll probably still be called Microsoft Movie Maker, though. VIRTUAL movie maker I mean.
So, overall, with some exceptions, normal filmmaking & television techniques will be cast aside. The whole 'star' system will be devalued, actors won't be getting $20 million paydays any longer.
Good filmmakers in the movie industry will survive, now given unlimited canvases with which to paint their work. But as a whole, the digital revolution will change Hollywood and the face of entertainment as we know it. And we'll witness the best entertainment we've ever seen.
The games during this period will stay pretty much the same, but with photo-realism of course. Games will be more expansive, with concepts such as Phantasy Star Online being the biggest draw. The play concepts of that title will branch to all sorts of games. You could have a game that lasts for years, where players enter and exit, all collaborating to win World War 1 for the second time. Real-life simulators such as The Sims will involve players from all over the globe.
Gaming will be reaching its goal.
Gaming Reaches Its Goal
I'm not saying A.I. robots will conquer earth or anything. But I am saying that the ability to 'unplug' your brain from conciseness and 'plug into' a completely computer-generated world will happen. Nano-technology advances by 2050 will enable this, along with 50 more years of human research and a better understanding of what makes us tick.
People will get their permanent 'plug' as casually as they now get tattoos (but far more useful!) Multi-player video games won't involve controllers. You'll plug a cable into yourself instead.
Take a virtual vacation from the comfort of your living room. Slow down time in your brain. Think you've been away for a week? Nope, it's just been an evening, go to sleep and head for work the next morning. This could actually led to people who are much happier in life. Even if it's not real, the psychological benefits would be the same.
Not the same as a real vacation? How would you know? Can you feel the warm ocean winds and the sand between your toes? Real enough, I'd say. But what if you never wanted to wake up? You have to pay the rent, don't you? We could see levels of addiction that by comparison would make drugs & cigarettes seem like a joke. People could squander whole paychecks for a few minutes in a 'reality-simulator', while their real-life family starves.
Hopefully most people will enjoy in moderation, and simply live entire alter-lives using their systems on a recreational level. Want to fight in World War II? Load up that scenario. Don't worry, you won't really die. Want to go on your dream date with some girl/guy who lives in another country? No problem! Wanna remove that mole on your chin first? Sure. Heck, just go as Tom Cruise and save yourself the effort.
Escapism, entering another life and doing as you please. That has been gaming's purpose and goal since its inception. And with these developments, gaming will have achieved its goal.
The possibilities are endless, and the consequences dire. Human beings could either become more enlightened and intelligent once they escape the financial & geographically limitations of their existence, or they could become fat lifeless blobs in true Zager & Evans fashion.
Historians will look back on the past 100 years of gaming and single out the following things as the most important:
The Atari 2600
Where will we go from there? Now that's something I won't even attempt to predict.