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Smoke, mirrors and the next generation
History tells us: Don't believe all you're hearing about Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
May 26, 2005: 10:08 AM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
Want more video game news and commentary? Click the professor.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) There was a lot of hype last week about the next generation of game machines. Microsoft said the Xbox 360 will ultimately reach 1 billion consumers worldwide, while Sony gave a laundry list of features for the PlayStation 3, showing some jaw dropping footage along the way.

(Nintendo promised a Revolution, but didn't go much further than that.)

I hate to be a wet blanket, but it's time to come back to reality.

It's not hard to forgive the hardware publishers for a little bit of hyperbole at E3, the annual trade show of the video game industry. It is, after all, their moment in the sun. But now that the crowds have gone home and the booth babes have changed back into street clothes, it's time to recognize that a fair number of the promises made last week will quietly fade away.

Need proof? Look no further than the introductory days of the PlayStation 2 or Xbox.

The Xbox was supposed to have resolution that went beyond HDTV and have a graphics chip three times beyond that of the PC. Ultimately, only a handful of games have offered 1080i resolution (the current standard for high-def). Most titles offering advanced graphics stick with 480p resolution, which is lower than high definition. And PCs had nVidia's (Research) GeForce 3 (which featured a graphics chip comparable to that found in the Xbox) months before the console launched.

Bill Gates, meanwhile, spoke of "incredible, persistent, online worlds" that would be created because of what the Xbox hard drive could do. Only one "True Fantasy Live Online" - was started, and it never materialized.

The PlayStation 2 was going to offer AOL Instant Messaging and have characters whose facial expressions were incredibly lifelike as they progressed through the game. AIM and PS2 were never again spoken in the same sentence and the lauded "emotion engine" didn't come close to living up to its promise.

Phil Harrison, an executive vice president at Sony, talked highly of software that would incorporate visual imaging, saying it would enable users to import photographs from a digital camera, then "animate these in 3D, add sounds, and email them to their family or friends, just like a greeting card."

Never happened.

So what about the pretty pictures we all saw? Guess what... the graphics demos at those 1999 and 2000 press conferences were just as impressive (at the time) as what Sony showed off with its footage of "Killzone" or "Fight Night: Round 3" last Monday. Sony showed a lifelike female character from "Ridge Racer" strutting a catwalk and winking flirtatiously at viewers when it unveiled the PS2. Early Xbox footage showed a buff woman named Raven and her hulking robot friend showing off their martial arts form.

Both were amazing pieces of video, but no real-time gameplay on either machine ever lived up to that early footage.

That's not really the fault of developers. It's not hard to make early tech demos especially impressive, since you don't have to worry about including artificial intelligence or physics or any of the other resource chomping features that have to go into games to make them fun. Publishers, though, create them to have something to show potential buyers and say "Look! Look!! Now you've got to buy our new machine!" before laughing maniacally and rushing off to roll around in their piles of cash.

Let's not forget online, either. Sony (Research), back before the PS2's launch, said gamers would be able to download titles from existing PlayStation and PS2 libraries via broadband. Harrison (sounding a lot like Microsoft's (Research) J. Allard did earlier this year) encouraged developers to think of episodic games, which could be downloaded chapter by chapter.

Gates, meanwhile, told gamers they would be able to download trial versions of games to their Xbox's hard drive to help them decide whether to buy a retail copy. The same promise is being made with Xbox 360.

The fact of the matter is we will see a leap in quality with next generation games. I've had the chance to have hands-on time with several Xbox 360 games, including the very promising "Gears of War" and "Need for Speed: Most Wanted," and they show tons of potential. I'm sure when the time comes to try out PS3 games I'll be equally impressed.

But as Sony talks of users using the PS3's optional high-def camera to launch their own broadcasts and Microsoft discusses non-gamers hopping onto Xbox Live to sell shirts or skateboards they've created for the latest "Tony Hawk" game, take it with a grain of salt.

Better yet, grab a big shaker and begin pouring liberally.

Learn more about Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Check out our E3 special report.

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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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