I'm going to begin this with a simple statement that will probably rile a few people up:
The XBox looks good to me--at least initially.
First, let me get something out of the way... The Xbox launch will not be groundbreaking. The Gamecube launch will not be, either. Both will be better than the PS2's, but that's not saying a whole lot.
That said, I'm not ready to commit to either console completely--and thus have my personal opinion rather open-ended until next Spring...which is when all the heavy-hitting games for both consoles will start to take shape.
This being the case...anyone who says that either the Xbox or Gamecube is seriously better than one or the other right now is full of it. Maybe not on purpose...but they are still seriously misinformed. There seems to be a lot of Nintendo fan-boy feelings going around, especially in the US... Not to mention WAY TOO MUCH "Bill Gates sux0rz so I'm not gonna by M$'s stupid Xbox" in the air. (What's so ironic about this is that Sony is bigger, and far more evil than Microsoft...and these are the same people who have bought everything Sony ever made. If you're going to contribute to an evil empire, why have the biggest beef with the one whose tax-dollars contribute to the US at the very least?)
Anyway, it looks to me that things will shake down the following way:
The PS2 will continue to be strong, and fight with the Xbox for the teen and adult markets. The Xbox is shaping up to be a viable contender... Despite what rumors were flying around last year, the Xbox has a TON of Japanese 3rd-party support...and the name of the game with almost every major developer right now is "Cross-Platform Strategy". Every company, from Namco to Sega is preaching it right now. It simply makes sense right now to adopt a business model that allows marketing to as many customers as possible.
I personally like the Xbox better than the PS2 from a hardware standpoint for a few reasons... The graphics are better, I dislike Sony at this point, it has built-in Ethernet, and it as a built-in hard drive. I can't say anything about games simply because enough of next years games aren't announced yet--and what HAS been announced will likely appear on both consoles. I think it will boil down to the fact that the Xbox version will generally look better, will have easier support for networking, and often times less load-time. (Mostly because of the hard drive.)
It is true that the PS2 is starting to implement networking and quicker load times (FFX has the option to use the hard drive unit in Japan to reduce load times already)...but everything will cost money. Right now, the PS2 and Xbox are the same price...but the Ethernet adapter for the PS2 is around $80, and the hard drive is $150. So, yeah, that puts a slight inconvenience factor on my wallet. It sure doesn’t help that Sony controllers and memory cards are over $35 as well.
Nintendo lied, plain and simple. This isn't a BAD thing, though--Just a difference. Nintendo claimed they would be all about older audiences...but, seriously, that's not going to happen. Nintendo is targeting kids for the most part...and that's OK for kids. On the other hand, it doesn't appeal to me--which is probably why I won't buy the system. Either way, I think it sets the Gamecube out to be very much like the N64 was. It was a market player, but it never had to duke it out. The DC’s lineup was FAR better than the PS2’s, and especially the N64’s, but the N64 still sold better because there was little crossover. This is good for Nintendo, because it ensures sales no matter what happens with the PS2/Xbox war that is going to take place.
Because of this, I think the Xbox/PS2 and Gamecube can live together in harmony...without worrying about things too much. When Nintendo tries to pitch it for older audiences, though, they will have to starting fighting head-to-head. I think this is something Nintendo wants to avoid, which is why they are backing away from that methodology.
The biggest war here is the Xbox/PS2...And I hope the Xbox wins. I think it just may, as well. It is a superior piece of hardware, no doubt about it. It's easy to program for, and seems to be grabbing plenty of 3rd-party support. It will be a war, though...
As long as the Xbox gets the games I like--which, so far, it looks like it will--I would take it over the PS2 any day of the week. Between the Xbox and Gamecube, I think it comes down to personal preference in games. If you can, buy both...If you can't, figure out if the previous DC/PS lineup is more your style, or if you’re more taken with the N64 lineup. (Talking game style only, and not faults/advantages of the systems thereof.)
I have very little bad to say about either the Gamecube and Xbox at this point...as it is early. Both are looking to do quite well right now. The biggest thing to remember is that they are quite different; and if you like one, you shouldn't hate the other by default. Xbox and Gamecube are also looking to sell quite well. The Gamecube is cheap enough to be a Christmas gift for kids, and Toys "R" Us managed to sell all available Xbox preorders within half an hour the other day. (Both in stores and online via Amazon.com)
In an effort to expose the Xbox as a good platform, which I believe it is, I will give to you the top 5 Xbox Myths, and do my best to dispel them. Here we go.
Myth: Xbox has bad 3rd-party support
Reality: This is simply untrue. The Xbox has tons of 3rd-party support. From Sega to Capcom to Namco to Konami. Xbox will have Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill 2: Directors Cut, Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio, Soul Calibur 2, Onimusha 2, and many other high-profile games. From everything I've heard, Japanese developers have no angst toward the Xbox at all, and are more than happy to make a load of money selling games for it. Simply, I think we're going to see a similar relationship with the PS2/Xbox as the Genesis/SNES: Many games coming out on both systems at the same time--however, I see the Xbox in more of the SNES role.
Myth: Microsoft is the most evil company in the world
Reality: You may debate... But Sony is AT LEAST as evil as Microsoft. Nintendo isn't much better either. I know about business practices, and Sony is nasty...in many, many ways and in many, many industries. (Especially the music industry.) Nintendo is downright nasty to 3rd-party developers, and likes gouging them for all they're worth. Either way, I will decide if I want a PS2 based on if I like the game or not, I will NOT decide because Sony’s record labels keep squashing my favorite indy recording companies.
Myth: Xbox is based on Windows and will crash
Reality: THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE. The Xbox has an available Windows-esque shell OS--JUST LIKE THE DC. It also has a real-mode C++ environment, and an assembly environment as standard. Microsoft did not throw Windows ME on the Xbox. Whoever claimed this to begin with is a total moron. I have talked with a developer on the Xbox team, and the operating system occupies little more than 2 megabytes on the system. The only thing related to Windows is an implementation of the DirectX 8 API--which every modern PC game uses and tons of developers are familiar with. GOOD IDEA. Also, the XBox will not crash. The Xbox uses PC-ish hardware, but IT IS NOT A PC. It is a console. The only reason PCs crash is because when MS builds the operating system, it is expected to work with every computer with any imaginable combination of hardware, parts, and peripherals. A custom-made OS on completely locked hardware is simply never going to have those problems--ever. You may have heard rumors about Xbox’s crashing at E3, but the fact of the matter is that I saw far more crashed PS2’s than crashed Xbox’s. Either way, I’m pretty sure it was the fault of beta software.
Myth: Xbox is a "poor man's PC"
Reality: Whatever. It uses PC parts, yes. So what? When did this become a bad thing? PC technology is so far ahead of current console technology, it's not even funny. What's the problem? People have the impression that because it uses PC parts, the games will be more like PC games than console games. Why should you think that?? Games are geared toward audience, not hardware. And, simply put, a Pentium III 733 with that much RAM, and a custom GeForce 3 beats the beejeesus out of Sony's "Emotion Engine" and "Graphics Synthesizer." The Xbox can do super-hi resolutions, has built-in support for wide-screen and HDTV’s. (For instance, while watching Munch at E3, the version on the wide-screen actually showed more of the environment than the normal TV--very much like a movie widescreen/cropped cimparison. Very impressive.) Also, Microsoft not skimping on video RAM was a good move, one that will ensure such a tragic bottleneck from occurring in the same way the PS2’s theoretical performance is shot.
Myth: Xbox will have nothing but PC ports.
Reality: While it is true that PC ports would be possible, I doubt we'll see much of this at all. Again, it's about audience. PC ports wouldn't sell... Also, for the PC "ports" that would occur (such as Max Payne--which is very console-esque), since the Xbox has the same API, but has a better graphics engine, the games are likely to be better than the PC counterpart, with no downfalls. Say goodbye to choppy, glitchy "ports". Almost all Windows-based games use DirectX for graphics, DirectSound for sound, and DirectInput for controls...so all the implementation will be smooth as silk on the Xbox. This is going to make the stigma of terrible ports go away... Also, again, I doubt we'll see many PC games on the Xbox. But, if we do, they will be good.
I think that's most of the major ones... I can't believe a single console has generated so many bad rumors. :-P
All and all, I see the Xbox as a good competitor in the upcoming console wars. Idealy, it could take over the role of the Dreamcast in the market--providing more of an old-school atmosphere. I simply don’t see that the PS2 has the charisma to pull it off, and while the Gamecube definitely has appeal, it will lack audience. Microsoft has expressed a desire to pitch the Xbox as that kind of platform, and I hope they succeed. But, even if this doesn’t happen, the Xbox will be a viable platform for next-generation games.
I hope it, and the Gamecube, live a long, healthy life, and that the PS2 burns in the fiery pits of Hell for eternity. ;-)
|Has the innovation died out?
The discovery of highly advanced, ancient civilization buried in the past, a love story featuring more tragedy than most of Shakespeare's dramas or Hollywood's most shallow hits a la Titanic or Pearl Harbor (that depends on your very own perspective) and a Chosen One to save the world from the claws of a very insane and very, very freaky bad a$$. Sounds familiar to you? It should, basically because these are the ingredients of which present day RPGs tend to consist of. Oh sorry, a thousand apologies, I have forgotten to mention the advanced nation or race that's oppressing the rest of the world in its quest for domination. Aren't we RPGFans (not only the ladies and gentlemen running this site of the same name) pitiful fellows, being more or less addicted to a genre, whose main formula is as stereotype as the basic gameplay idea behind a racing game? Sort of, maybe the entire situation isn't just as bad as described above.
True, these advanced, ancient civilization, which are so superior and then paradoxically all tend to break down leaving only secrets for the game's heroes to explore can be found in dozens of games, ranging from GameArts' classic Saturn RPG Grandia, to Square's outstanding Xenogears. And is there any RPG out there, that doesn't contain any romance at all? The answer is most likely not "yes". And while occasionally, developers tend to show mercy to the weaker sex, by giving the role of the protagonist to a female character, like in Xenosaga or Parasite, in most cases we poor gamers end up taking the role of a brave, young or even younger, good looking hero, who is not only saving the world, but by the way always learning a lot about his own past and/or future. So, damn, why are we paying up to $50 a game several times a year, if all these games feature the same (story) elements and as much (less would be a more appropriate term, I guess) innovation as Eidos' uninspiring Tomb Raider series (that has only become a best seller because of a pair of major guns Ms. Crapt, eh Croft is carrying around under her shirt)?
Again, maybe the situation isn't so gloom. To put it straight, we haven't reached the day innovation and creativity died, yet we are not far away anymore either. As the director of a famous horror action adventure (hint: this time not from the sequel-friendly gentlemen from Capcom, but a well known Japanese competitor. Come on, there aren't a lot of survival horror games out there) put it in an interview some time ago, "making videogames is business". So, it's all about big, big bucks or rather yen. And surprise, surprise, creating innovative games is more costly than squeezing sequels and porting them over to every single console currently on the market from GBA to XBOX. Of course in the RPG genre it's more difficult to make actual sequels than in let's say, the action adventure genre, where you simply jump back and forth in time and confront a set of protagonists with zombie-infested locations and an evil corporation (that just can't store its chemicals in safe places) in the past, present and future. The reason being, that in each and every RPG the world is in serious disorder at the beginning and by the time of the outro movie, there is peace, happiness, and Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall, thanks to your glorious fight against the forces of evil. Yet this doesn't prevent developers from copying various elements of a successful competitor's product, as it happened in the case of Final Fantasy VII, which triggered off the RPG boom around the world. Since 1997, a flood of mediocre RPGs has appeared (not that there were no mediocre RPGs on the Super Famicom/SNES as well, though) on store shelves, luckily as mentioned above we have yet to witness to the funeral of terms like innovation and creativity. So, indeed there are RPGems, like Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Final Fantasy VII, Vagrant Story or Grandia (2) out there (not to mention 16-bit classics like Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger) that are more than worth the 40 or 50 bucks, you had to spend on them (and just in case they aren't part of your collection yet, make sure to buy them now, most of them are available for only 20 bucks due to "Greatest Hits" treatment).
On the other hand, the success of the very traditional Dragon Quest VII and Sega's (which has clearly been the industry's most innovative developer) opting out of the hardware business have shown that few people seem actually interested in innovation, despite of the never-ending cries for it. Still, business and creativity are not necessarily like fire and ice, take Chrono Cross for instance. It sold quite well (almost 700,000copies) in Japan and was still a highly innovative piece of RPG software. Provided Square continues to deliver at least one or two outstanding (and at the same time creative) titles once a year, Tetsuya Takahashi's success with Xenogears not resulting in a one hit wonder, and GameArts managing to produce more games in the fashion of the first two Grandias, the future at least for RPGFans doesn't look so grim.
- Professor Gast