The fight for dominance in the current new generation of game consoles is raging on.
The Xbox 360 is already out, and now it's about to have an HD-DVD version instead of the original DVD only drive. The Sony Playstation 3's release in Australia has been postponed to March 2007, but on paper it looks as if it's going to be the meanest of them all.
Still, I am far from impressed. When I look at the 360 all I see is the same old shit but with improved graphics. Sure, it makes a difference, but the games are all pretty much the same as they were. And that's where my problem is: the games.
They lack originality - most of them nowadays follow the same formula anyway, with the most dominant formula being the first person shooter.
And the vast majority of them require you to dedicate your life to them. For example, there's this Prince of Persia - Sands of Time game, which by now is an old one but shows what I'm talking about very well. It's a wonderful game: it's not overly violent, it's full of really original graphics, the look and feel are superb, and you just want to go there and follow the prince's adventure. But - and that's a big but - the game won't let you save other than in specific (and very far apart) saving points. Which means that you have to dedicate your life to it, because some of the puzzles are just too much for an idiot like me to muster all in one go. And that's why I keep leaving the game after relatively short bursts of enthusiasm.
I keep looking back to the holy grail of games. For me, FIFA 99 was the best of them all; I still have problems quantifying what it was that worked so well there, but it's the simple things that made it simple and approachable which made it great. So great that every time I hear the commentator in my head saying "Overmars... Cross into the box... Bergkamp scores!" I get shivers all over.
Our Xbox experience from the last three years shows that the games we enjoy the most are the ones we play together. Halo was great - we set it on "dead easy" level and went on a rampage of alien butchering. But most games are not that easy and do not let you cooperate so easily; and so the other games where we had so much fun were the Atari 2600 games - Pong and Outlaw in particular. Yes, we had other attempts at success with Worms 3D (the 3D element made it fail - too much for a game where simplicity rules) and Crash Bandicut kart racing, but we dropped them pretty quickly.
All this introduction is to say that the one new console prospect that actually manages to excite me is the upcoming Nintendo Wii.
It's small - the size of three DVD jewel boxes.
It's got internal wireless capabilities. You can turn it on and [hopefully] it would connect to the internet, without having to go through engineering feats to have it internet-fit. You can also have another Wii nearby and they'll talk to one another, creating the potential for superb multi player action.
You can stick SD cards in to save games. Which means you don't have to rely on Nintendo for some ultra expensive memory. It also means that you can easily carry your saved games with you.
But most of all it's its joystick that's innovative, to the point of creating enough potential for a minor revolution in the games arena. It's got a full scale motion detector on it, so - for example - when you play the bundled tennis game, you actually hit the ball with your hand. Come at it from below and you'll get a lob; spin your wrist as you hit it and you will get top-spin. There's also potential for getting away from the couch and moving about the room; I don't know, perhaps waving your light saber.
The bottom line is that this joystick represents true innovation that could really break new grounds in games, especially two player games. The potential to have half an hour of relaxing fun together is vastly increased with it, even if the Wii overall is hardly more capable, conventional performance wise, than our old Xbox (and is definitely archeological compared to the next generation Xbox / PS).
Pleasures don't come cheap nowadays. The initial release of the Wii would cost $400 for the console, plus $30 for a second joystick and $30 for another thing which you're most likely to need plus yet another $30 for yet another thing that you are even more likely to need. And games are not going to come cheaper than $70 each; all of which means that the Wii will probably not be this year's birthday gift to Jo. It's not just the cost but the fact that it's better to wait to see how good it really is, plus the fact that Jo will probably be as enthusiastic about another console as I am with John Howard's latest attempts to grab control over school curriculums (that said, she'll probably enjoy playing the games, while we all suffer under Howard - whether knowingly or unkonwingly).
Anyway, I'll be on the lookout to see if the Wii will really be the innovation it promises to be.