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The End of the Same Road

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Why the videogame industry needs to change...and what one company is doing to achieve it.

September 17 2005 - Remember back to the days of the original NES? Remember how, when the Super Nintendo came out we were all so taken aback by how improved the graphics were? The higher number of pixels made it so Mario could finally have pupils in his eyes, and the power of the hardware made it so things could overlap on-screen characters, and we saw fog partially cover-up on-screen sprites for the first time. Remember how, when the Nintendo 64 came out, people were literally awestruck at how great Mario and his world looked in full 3-D, and how easy, comfortable, and accurate it felt to control Mario with a fully rotational analog stick? Remember how, when you finally were able to feel action on the screen through the rumble pak? Remember how, when Playstation 2 came out, the graphics looked as though we were playing a movie? Remember when GameCube and Xbox came out, and the graphics were even better than they were on the PS2, and people wondered how they could imporve any more? Well, they were one generation too early to make that kind of call...
 
    Fast-forward to the year 2005. The year that the big three console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo, and newcomer Microsoft) unveil their next-generation consoles to the public. At May's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, each company holds their pre-E3 press conference. Sony, after saying nothing about Playstation 3 shows everyone everything about their powerful new machine. It's easily the most technologically powerful of the three. Microsoft, having already unveiled the Xbox 360 two weeks earlier, simply shows off their console again, with added emphasis on upcoming software and third-party publisher support. Then, Nintendo holds their conference. Most of it revolves around the success of the DS, and new games to play on it coming in the summer and fall. But, they devote roughly a quarter of their conference to show us the console they temporarily call 'Revolution'. We learn that, aside from it being remarkably small and slick, it is capable of downloading 20 years of backlog Nintendo games from all of their previous systems, excluding obviously the GameCube (because it's already backwards compatible with that system). Aside from that, we learn nothing about the Revolution, other than that's controller will be "very unique, and create a 'gaming revolution'".
    
     The public's reception of all three consoles is fairly positive. PS3 gains the reputation of being the most powerful along with having the most games, though everyone hates the look of the controller. Xbox 360 is perceived as having the best online service and controller, plus it's coming out before the other two. Nintendo, as it has been since GameCube began to stumble in North America, was perceived somewhat negatively, as the least powerful and the last one to come out. Plus, people were turned off by the fact that next to nothing was shown for it.
 
     Fast-forward again to the 2005 Tokyo Game Show. Sony decides to not do what it had promised, and chose not to show any playable PS3 software at the show. Microsoft spends the entire show trying it's hardest to convince the Japanese market that the Xbox 360 will be a great system to play their style of games. Though, without much luck. Nintendo kicks off the show with the unveiling of the Revolution controller. A TV remote-like device that has built-in motion sensors to control the action on the screen, throwing out the industry-standard 'second joystick'. People are split. Some people love it, and see it's awesome potential, others shun it as a disgrace, and says it reinforces the public perception that Nintendo is 'dying'. There's just one problem with that logic. Nintendo isn't what's dying...
 
     Let's take a look at the controllers for the three next-generation systems...
 
    
 
    
 

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Microsoft Xbox 360 controller

First up, is the Xbox 360 controller. It doesn't take a genius to see that it's almost identical to the original Xbox controller-S, just with a new coat of paint, and the addition of the 'Home' button, which has nothing to do with control or interaction. 'Home' simply pauses the game and brings you to a menu.

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Nintendo Revolution Controller with joystick attachment

Next up is the newly unveiled Nintendo Revolution controller. Here, you can clearly see that it looks nothing like any controller before, and has new functions that no controller has ever had before. Namely, motion sensors to add a new level of control never yet experienced in a console game. Also, it's pictured with the joystick attachment, to show that it's not just the 'remote' that does the work.

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Sony Playstation 3 'prototype' Controller

Lastly, and most certainly least, is the Playstation 3 controller. As you can clearly see, this is no pretty sight. This controller is easily the ugliest and most uncomfortable controller design ever. We're talking below Dreamcast-level here. Look at the disclaimer in the bottom right corner. It's as if Sony knew it was bad, but still showed it to the public. Big mistake. Obviously, this controller will never see the light of retail-day.

 
As you can see, there is only one controller that is different from its predecessor. That would obviously be the Revolution controller. The Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers sport GameCube-equivalent functionality. By that, i mean they're an entire generation behind in controller design. The GameCube, PS2, and Xbox controllers competed with eachother. The PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers compete with eachother, while the Revolution controller leaps forward into new territory.
 
     Whatever happened to the days when each new console cycle brought with it new ways to control and interact? It's as if Sony and Microsoft decided they were above change.
 
     Allow me to pose a question. What do Microsoft and Sony offer in the next-generation that's new? Their controllers for their new systems are almost exactly the same as their previous ones. Their plans for their software are rehashes of tried-and-true franchise games. The only change they bring to the table is in the visual realm. The graphics on their systems are simply amazing to behold. Literally, it's like playing a movie. It's so realistic that it's hard to distinguish between real life. To many people, that sounds like a great thing. And it is, but this is the last time that it's going to happen.
 
     The graphics on the next machines are so incredibly realistic, that there is no possible way that they could improve enough with the next (after PS3 and 360) machines to make graphics the main selling point. When the successors to Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 come along, the epitome of visual realism will have already been acheived. The difference between the graphics of the new and old will be minimal. It won't be enough of a difference to make it so that the graphics would make you want to buy the systems. Whether you admit it or not, there will have to be something else with the next systems to make people want to buy them, and it won't have anything to do with graphics.
 
     That leaves only one other thing: Control. New ways to control games will be the key in the next two rounds of game systems. Graphics will not be important anymore, because they will have already reached the peak of visual realism. There is nowhere else to go. New ways to control and interact is the only direction to take. In a word: innovation.
 
     Nintendo, so far, is the only company to see this problem far enough in advance and actually try to do something about it. They have been saying it for over a year now. Things need to change, or the videogame industry will hit a dead-end at the end of the next console cycle. Hence, the DS and the Revolution controller.
 
     The DS and, expecially, the Revolution controller, offer entirely new gameplay experiences that broaden the horizon of known game control and open the doors to new kinds of games. The touch screen, the built-in microphone, and the dual-screen setup allow game creators to create entirely new gameplay experiences, and allow game players entirely new way to play games. The Revolution controller allows a virtually infinite amount of new gameplay experiences with it's motion sensor technology. The possibilities for both game creators and game players is endless. These, and only these innovations in game control will allow the industry to continue to grow and expand.
 
     People say Nintendo only thinks short-term? Look at Sony and Microsoft. They're completely blind to their negative impact on the future of the industry. Short-term, Sony and Microsoft will do fine. It's when it comes time to release the next consoles. When that time comes, they're going to need only look in the mirror at who's fault it is that they don't know how they're going to create a new generation of game machines, where graphics don't matter and controller innovation is key to future growth and success. And when that time comes, Nintendo will be two steps ahead of them...
 
     Who's thinking short-term now?
 
-SCP

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