Next Generation Gaming

I was recently asked about my take on the next-gen console wars. Now that the annual E3 trade show has come and gone, things are going to heat up quickly.

There are three main competitors in the console gaming race: Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (available now), Sony’s Playstation 3 (available in November), and the Nintendo Wii (available fourth quarter this year sometime). I’ll comment on each in order.

The 360’s main advantage is that by the time the other two consoles hit the public, Microsoft will have been on the market for a full year already. In gaming time, a year is an awfully long time to withhold the newest games from oneself. But really, there just aren’t any games that make me want to buy a 360. Sure, there’s World War II shooters that look pretty interesting, and racing games that look really pretty (ok, really really pretty). But take away the upgraded graphics, and the games are not much better than what I can get for my existing Xbox. The difference is certainly not enough to justify $400 out of my budget for the 360. But this said, when Halo 3 is released for the 360 (next year sometime) I will finally break down and buy the console. I just love that series too much! And by that point, I’m hoping the price of the system will have dropped a bit.

I have zero interest in obtaining a Playstation 3 – the price turned me off entirely. $600 will get you the higher end system, and $500 the lower end (missing a lengthy list of features). There is simply no way I will ever pay more than my monthly rent for a video game console. And there isn’t even a game like Halo 3 to get me excited. Everyone was buzzing at E3, wondering what the PS3 controller would look like. Well, it looks exactly like the current PS2 controller. But silver. The only two new features are an extra button in the center (stolen from the 360’s design) and a degree of motion sensitivity (stolen from the Nintendo Wii’s design). Plus, a feature of the PS2 controller has actually been removed: rumble force feedback.

Microsoft and Sony are both heavily pushing the fact that their consoles fully support gaming in high definition. What I think they’re forgetting is that the average consumer does not have an HDTV yet. Even I, who normally fits an early adopter profile, don’t plan on getting one in the next few years.

Which brings me to the final entry: the Nintendo Wii. Putting the strange name aside,
I really can’t wait for this one. The controller is fully motion sensitive, and many games will take full advantage of that fact. For example, play a tennis game: you swing the controller as if it were a racket. A racing game: you hold it like a steering wheel. Nintendo is aiming at both the existing gamer market and the vast group of those who have never owned a console. By simplifying the controller, they hope to remove an intimidation barrier and broaden the system’s overall appeal. Sure, the system will be missing some features (like true HD images – again I don’t have a TV to use that anyway), but the rumored price point of $200-$250 is the best thing Nintendo has going for them. The Wii is the only system of the three I plan to buy at launch day.

For me, Nintendo is the obvious winner. I mean come on, they’ve even managed to get me excited about a tennis game! And I can understand why many will still be drawn to the Xbox 360. But the Playstation 3? I can’t fathom how it can be successful. It will be overpriced, unoriginal, bulky, and perhaps most importantly – very few of their game previews at E3 made anybody sit up and say ‘wow’.
Anyway, that’s my two cents.


The way dorm room selection worked at my college, rising sophomores got the worst part of the deal. Freshman had spots assigned in designated freshman dorms. Seniors had first pick of what was left, Juniors next, and Sophomores got whatever was left over. Frequently, this meant the rooms actually ran out before every student could get one. That’s what happened to me and my roommate Jim – we got put on a waiting list, told we’d get whatever opened up over the summer.

To make a long story short, we ended up living in the Zerbe Health Center on campus. Two giant patient rooms had been converted into two dorm rooms, four guys in each, to help alleviate the room shortage. There were two singles down the hall as well, so 10 guys total (and an eleventh friend who might as well have lived there). We had to keep things down during the day, but at night we had the run of the building. Wheelchair races up and down the hall were not uncommon. The kitchen was ours to do with as we wanted, too. There we learned valuable lessons like “Don’t put hand soap in the dishwasher.” On the day of meningitis vaccines, when tons of students were tromping through the building, we threw a dorky party. I had better single moments in college, but not a better whole year. We made our own fun, but not without help.

Part of what made “The Ranch” (as we started calling the building) so special were the nurses who worked there. In particular, the head nurse Karen Danielson. Go look at this picture again, I’ve made a note marking her in the background. She treated the ten of us like we were her kids. She was a chef on the side, published a successful cookbook and was more than willing to share her culinary skills with us. Karen even went along with our whims when someone decided deep frying a twinkie would be a good idea. She talked to us when we were down, thrilled as the seniors got jobs and/or engaged, helped pick out outfits for dates (in one case even altering some pants for a guy), watched afternoon tv with us, and of course took care of us when we got sick.

Karen died of a sudden illness on Wednesday. I just found out. Unfortunately I never got back to see her after I graduated. I won’t be able to make it to the funeral, and just wanted to get a few words down. Campus won’t be the same without her.

Government proposes libraries block MySpace, social sites

CNet article

Proposal text

I learned tonight through the above CNet article that a proposal in Congress would force libraries and schools to block minors from any “commercial social network sites and chat rooms”. The text defines a commercial social network site as any site which lets users create a profile and communicate with other users.

To me, that would include pretty much any method of online communication except e-mail.

Am I misreading this?

Unimaginable features for the Wii

If you don’t follow gaming news regularly, you might have missed that Nintendo recently officially named its next video game system: “Wii”. (It’s pronounced ‘wee’, and yes the internet has been ablaze with puns!)

Previously code-named the Revolution, the system has the potential to be just that for console gaming. For example: the controller is fully motion-sensitive, meaning you can do things like play tennis games as if you were holding a real racket.

Anyway, to my point. Time magazine recently got some hands-on time with the new system. The article isn’t available on their website yet, but it is in Lexis Nexis (“A Game For All Ages”, by Lev Grossman, in the 5/15/06 issue). This quote was particularly illuminating to me: (the italics are my emphasis)

“But the name Wii not wii-thstanding, Nintendo has grasped two important notions that have eluded its competitors. The first is, Don’t listen to your customers. The hard-core gaming community is extremely vocal–they blog a lot–but if Nintendo kept listening to them, hard-core gamers would be the only audience it ever had. “[Wii] was unimaginable for them,” Iwata says. “And because it was unimaginable, they could not say that they wanted it. If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never surprise them.”

I think that advice can be applied to any profession, including libraries.

Review: Beyond Good & Evil (PS2)

Beyond Good & Evil

Year: 2003

Platform: Other

Category: Game

Rating: 5 out of 5

Beyond Good and Evil is the best video game I’ve played this year so far.

This is especially impressive given its original release date: two and a half years ago.

BG&E is a third-person sci-fi adventure. You play as Jade, a female photojournalist on the war-torn planet Hyllis. An alien race called the Dom’z (aliens do so love their apostrophies) launches almost daily attacks, kidnapping more and more citizens for purposes unknown. The local army, the Alpha Section, is tasked with the planet’s defense. But something isn’t quite right about their behavior.

Jade’s early missions are simple point and shoot adventures. But not with a gun – your goal is to take pictures of every life form on the planet to aid a science center’s research. This objective continues as a side quest throughout the game. Eventually Jade and her allies get sucked in to a plot of intrigue and deception. She links up with a rebel organization and puts her camera to a new use – exposing the truth. Later missions involve infiltrating enemy bases, snapping evidence of the Truth, and publishing it to the world. Of course there is some martial-arts style fighting involved, but that is really a small percentage of the gameplay. More often than not your objective is to avoid direct confrontation at all costs.

BG&E hits on all four crucial gaming cylinders: Gameplay, Graphics, Characters, and Plot.

Gameplay controls are simple and effective – few buttons are actually used, and they change to the appropriate function given a scene’s situation. The graphics are gorgeous, especially given their age. The game’s visual style is actractively stylized with touches of detailed realism. Talking pig/human hybrids feel right at home. The characters and plot are of the highest grade imaginable! I connected emotionally with Jade and her crew on a level very few games accomplish. While the
ending is left open for a sequel (which unfortunately looks like it won’t ever get made), there’s enough of a finale to still be satisfying.

The attention to immersive detail is really what sells the game. For example, the pictures you snap as Jade are woven into the game’s cinema scenes – used as examples by the characters and broadcast to the public.

I finished BG&E after about fourteen hours of gameplay, spread over a few months, and there’s no extras to motivate me to immediately play it again. For some, this might be too short. But I’ll take fourteen hours of high quality over forty hours of mediocre any day! And really, for the price I paid ($9.99 for a used copy) there’s no reason to complain.

Beyond Good and Evil is an absolute joy to play. If you’re looking for a game with depth beyond blowing up everything in sight, with characters who genuinely develop, and an interesting plot with a few hidden twists, give it a try. It’s the best game nobody has heard of!

(Note: BG&E was released for the Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, and PC. But comparatively few Gamecube copies were made, so that version is much harder to come by and commands a higher resale price.)