My Next Gen: A Long Ramble

Here we are, six months into the “next generation” of game consoles, and what should be a headlong charge into a future of gaming nirvana now seems more like a head first dive into a concrete wall. Without a helmet. The Xbox 360 came out of the gate almost stillborn. There were shortages. There were hardware problems. There were no games. Sony’s new machine is nowhere to be found, no doubt bogged down by Sony’s quest to exploit “convergence” in the living room. What “convergence” means in this case is that you give Sony a lot of money for the right to have your living room stereo system be extremely difficult to operate. Microsoft is playing this game too, but from the PC side of the world, which means that their solutions are even more expensive and harder to use. Sony and Microsoft appear to be convinced that the way to win the next round is to build tons of features that nobody really wants.

HD Graphics. Nobody really cares. Actualy, I should rephrase. Anyone who cares spends his time in his basement figuring out how to liquid cool his new AMD Superthong-64 and ATI Xtreeeeeme quad-screen SLI 800 video card. In other words, no one who really matters cares. Sony has sold 200 million Playstation 2 and Playstation consoles, neither of which can render a decent textured and antialiased polygon. They’ll probably sell another 100 million PS2s before it’s all over.

Online “Community”. A place where 12 year olds call you their gay bitch.

Media Center. In a world where a device that is as smooth and well integrated as Tivo is still not easy enough for most people, what hope do these network streaming media boxes possibly have? None.

Downloadable Retro. I’ve griped about this before. Expecting me to be happy about spending $400 on a machine to download clones of 10 year old games is not the best business move.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Nintendo has shown a controller no one cares about. Who knows what they are thinking, but at least you can count on them to concentrate on, you know, games, instead of synergystic multimedia cross-licensed digital entertainment platforms. There is no doubt that the Revolution will do well in the traditional role of the Nintendo console: being a showcase for Nintendo’s game production genius. Also, everyone thought the DS was nuts too, and look how that turned out.

The DS actually points out one way the next generation should be moving. This is because smaller machines are always better. Unfortunately, the industry at large doesn’t seem to believe this. Despite the fact that sales of portables saved the industry from an overall down year in 2005, you can say with confidence that the next large scale AAA title is not coming out on your DS or PSP. Where is Final Fantasy 13 for the PSP? Where is the next great Zelda adventure for the DS? Why is it that, with a few exceptions, the handhelds are relegated to ports, smaller scale games and especially novelty and puzzle titles?

The problem can’t be hardware. Both of these machines have graphics that are decent by home console standards. The PSP has decent analog control, and the DS has the cool touchscreen, so lack of good controls should not be an issue. Both machines have networking capabilities that are superior to any of the current home consoles. No wires needed! And, both machines have a true next generation feature that is so critical, and so important that the fact that the industry continues to ignore it defies comprehension:

You can start and stop the game instantly and at any time.

I’ve harped about this before, but system-provided instant sleep makes your gaming experiece so much better that once you have it you simply can’t understand why you would play a game that doesn’t support it. With all the copies of Madden that I have in the house, which do I play most? The PSP. Why? Because I can just pick it up and play it. I can start a game when I get home, flip the switch when I need to cook dinner, and then pick the game up again when the kid is in bed. No booting, no loads, no menus. I just flip the sleep switch and I’m back in the game. For once, I have complete control over my gaming experience.

I want all my games to do this. I want it more than shinier graphics, more memory and bigger hard disks. I want it more than more online modes. I certainly want it more than a controller that I can fish with. So my challenge to the industry is for you to get off your collective self-important asses and rather than making me games with higher resolution artwork and not much else, give me some real games for the handhelds. I don’t want to hear excuses about platform limitations, control problems, or resource constraints. These are the best and most modern machines that I currently have for playing games. I’d like something big to do on them.