Console Wars

The following is a transcript of my Geek of the Week segment on Channel 31’s “Breakfast Show Live”, broadcast on the 3rd of November, 2006.


Prehistory

Console games have existed since the dawn of civilisation. It is said by anthropologists that modern humanity began with the development of the opposable thumb, which of course coincided with the first console game, thumb-wrestling.

Since that time, there have been countless generations of video games, but the one that really mattered was the one we just had. Playstation2 verses XBOX verses Nintendo Gamecube. This was the generation where gaming really took off across multiple demographics, from little kids right through to middle-aged executives. Suddenly it was okay for anyone to be a gamer, and the world rejoiced.

It almost goes without saying that in the race to be king of consoles, Playstation2 slaughtered them all. It was released first, it had the best games, it was reasonably priced and it came with a built-in DVD player when such things were still considered luxury items.

The Next Big Thingy

Now it’s time for the next round, so all three of the big players are now releasing their next-generation consoles. Today I want to educate our viewers on what differentiates the latest generation, and most critically which console will be the most popular. Because everyone knows that the most popular console will attract the biggest variety of games, which will attract more users, which will make it more popular, which will attract even more games, and so on. So picking the right system early will make sure that your console has a long and happy life under your TV, rather than a short and unpleasant flight out your window.

XBOX 360

In the latest generation of video consoles, the first cab off the rank was the XBOX 360. With this system, Microsoft rebuilt the XBOX from the ground up. The first XBOX was little more than a PC in a fancy black box, but the XBOX 360 is a serious piece of gaming hardware. It uses a different CPU, a different graphics chip, and a different operating system. There are some who accused Microsoft of pushing the envelope a little too hard, though, because the original 360s that came out had a few problems with overheating, to the point where you couldn’t keep the system running if it was sitting on carpet. Quite a few people suspended their power supplies on wires above the floor to prevent them from crashing. The problem got so bad that there is in fact a site called xbox360overheating.com dedicated to it.

Nevertheless, Microsoft decided to get the first-mover advantage that had been so successful for the Playstation2 during the previous round of the console wars, so they released the new XBOX 360 early and have had about a year to iron out the kinks before the other players come on the scene.

Now, when I was creating this segment, I actually rang Microsoft and asked if I could get a demo XBOX 360 system to bring on the show and demonstrate to your viewers. Microsoft’s marketing department clearly didn’t see the value in me owning a free XBOX 360, and so I am forced to bring you this artist’s impression of the console.

XBOX 360 Guy

As you can see, it’s sort of a metaphorical representation of Microsoft’s huge money pile. The man’s enormous hands represent the ergonomic problems that finer-boned gamers have experienced using Microsoft’s hefty controllers that were clearly designed for obese, gigantism-afflicted American hands. And of course the clock, set to 7:30am, represents Microsoft being just a little ahead of their time with the 360.

Playstation 3

Now, this brings us to the Playstation3. To be frank, Sony is in a lot of trouble. Their PSP portable system is being trounced by Nintendo, and despite selling a lot of Playstation2’s their Playstation3 is a year late, plagued by technical problems and playing catch-up with the features of other consoles. They haven’t helped themselves by trying to create probably the most advanced computing hardware ever devised to power the Playstation3.

The core of the PS3 is a chip called the Cell. Designed in collaboration the IBM, the Cell chip is actually 9 chips rolled into one, with one big chip acting like the ringleader and the others providing the raw horsepower. The Cell delivers about 300 times the computing power available from a standard desktop PC. It’s so powerful that it’s actually being used in a new generation of supercomputers built by IBM to simulate atomic tests and gene manipulation.

Nevertheless, a lot of people seem to think that despite the Cell’s greatness, the Playstation3 is a fundamentally flawed machine, plagued by technical problems and a classic product of big-corporation arrogance. I actually rang Sony and asked if they could provide us with a demonstration system so we could show it to you today, but they declined. Clearly it is not a marketing priority for them to provide me with a free console. So I’ve had an artist draw up an impression for you.

PS3 Voltron

Yes, I’m keenly aware that I wrote PS2 instead of PS3. It was 2am. So sue me

See, the Playstation3 is kind of like Voltron in New Zealand. Sure, it’s incredibly advanced and it can probably do amazing things, but there’s just no use for it yet.

Nintendo Wii

Now, this brings us to the dark horse of the race. Or, if you like, the pink fluffy horse playing a harp and vomiting stars, because I’m talking here about Nintendo. While Sony was telling everyone in the world how the Playstation3 would change the world, and Microsoft was trying to be the Old Sony and get out the door first, Nintendo very quietly went about creating a system that was as fun and simple to use as possible. So now, while Sony and Microsoft have released or are releasing systems that look like Marketing Strategies, Content Delivery Systems and Set Top Boxes, Nintendo is releasing a games console that actually looks like a lot of fun. And it’s called the Wii. That’s right, W-i-i Wii. Or, as I like to pronounce it, “Wheeeee!”. It’s a ridiculous name, but then again for a company that made its money from a brick-smashing italian who could put on a squirrel suit and fly, it’s probably not the silliest thing they’ve ever done.

One of the biggest selling points is the controller, which contains a motion sensor and can be waved around like a sword or a cricket bat or a tennis racket or a gun, or simply used like a normal controller. It’s wireless, so you can run around the room with it, and it has a clip-on attachment that also contains a motion sensor, and can be used as a shield or whatever.

Nintendo’s system doesn’t have such slick graphics as the other two, but it still looks great. It’s a lot smaller, it doesn’t overheat and it costs about 2/3rds as much, plus it’s a lot of fun. And that seems to be something that Microsoft and Sony have forgotten in their race to have the most snazzy features. So that’s my prediction for the winner of the next console wars. Nintendo. And I haven’t got an artists impression of that, because I intend to actually buy one.