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ISSUE 120 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 12/1/2006

Console wars: The next generation

By Matt Everhart
Staff Writer
and Whitney Hills
Copy Editor

Friday, December 1, 2006

By Matt Everhart, Whitney Hills and Ryan Maus

What kind of moron camps outside a mass retailer in the middle of winter for a next-generation gaming console? A growing population of morons, it seems, including two-thirds of this article's contributors. The news media last week was filled with reports of people congregating days in advance for the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii, which, along with Microsoft's Xbox 360, form the next generation of video game systems.

A large percentage of college students currently play video games, and millions of Americans will purchase a new console within a year. But which one is right for you? Allow our panel of losers experts to assist.

Meet the Panel:

"Black Mage" Whitney: Has been gaming since the tender age of three. She particularly loves adventure games (Grim Fandango), shooters (Duke Nukem 3D) and real-time strategy. Racked up over 800 hours of played time in World of Warcraft, forging a level 60 Night Elf priestess before going cold turkey. All-time favorite console: the Sega Dreamcast. Rest in peace, little buddy.

"Link" Ryan: Enjoys candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach and watching all six "Star Wars" movies consecutively. A longtime and diehard Nintendo fanboy, he gladly throws money at the company whenever they release something for the DS, GameCube, and now the Wii. He dominates sports games and has traversed Hyrule many times with Link.

"Mario" Matt: Grew up playing original Nintendo at his aunt's until his mom caved and gave him a PlayStation. He has spent many memorable hours holed up in his room playing ICO, Final Fantasy X, and Contra with his twin brother. He wasted two full years of his life playing Everquest before kicking the addiction thanks to EAA (Everquest Addicts Anonymous).

The Hardware

With each new generation of systems, technology allows for better graphics, better features, better control and (allegedly) better gameplay. Here's how the next wave stacks up:

"Link" Ryan: For all its faults (more on that later) the PS3 is a technological masterpiece. It features the hottest thing in storage (Blu-Ray discs hold up to 50GB of data) and the processing power of approximately 10 million Super Nintendo systems!

Well, pretty much.

"Mario" Matt: The Xbox 360 produces graphics that equal those of the PS3, and comes with the industry's most robust online service (Xbox Live). Unfortunately, you can't go online via the campus network.

"Black Mage" Whitney: The Xbox 360 produces graphics that equal those of the PS3, and comes with the industry's most robust online service (Xbox Live). Unfortunately, you can't go online via the campus network.

The Games

They're called video "games" for a reason! Photorealism means nothing if there isn't anything to actually play on the system. What look to be the strengths and weaknesses of the libraries of the "Big Three"?

"Link" Ryan: As a proud Wii owner, I think this is the area where Nintendo will shine. The control scheme allows for innovative (and fun!) ways to play both company stalwarts (Mario, Zelda, Metroid) and established franchises like Madden football.

"Mario" Matt: The Xbox 360 has been out for a year now, and high-quality games like Gears of War (which has been described as the goriest game ever) have started hit store shelves. The PS3 launch lineup is pretty weak, but better games will start coming out this spring. Look for Lair, Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4.

"Black Mage" Whitney: In Call of Duty 3, the Wii encouraged me to use both hands to rifle-butt Nazi soldiers in the face. (Ach, mein Gesicht!) Almost every other Wii title incorporates similarly realistic hand and body motions, most of which are guaranteed to make you look like a complete toolshed and are also incredibly fun.

The Price

The PS3 and the Xbox 360 might be a step up from the old generation, but they're priced like it too - $600 and $400, respectively. The Wii is a more moderate $250, but games for each will set you back $50-$60. What's the deal?

"Black Mage" Whitney: Each console's price is (obviously) linked to its target market. The PS3's $600 tag makes it even more of a status symbol and "premium" console, the 360 is a little more moderate, and the Wii is priced for a much broader audience. Each will succeed for different reasons, but Wii will probably sell the most units.

"Mario" Matt: The PS3's price might seem outrageous, but it isn't that bad considering that standalone Blu-Ray players go for almost $1000. Beware of hidden costs: Wii controllers are $60, Xbox Live is up to $60 a year, and all three charge "microtransaction" fees for online content.

The Appeal

This gets at the heart of our query - which of these three (if any) has the most appeal? Each has its own strengths, weaknesses and target markets.

"Black Mage" Whitney: Because of its limited sports-and-shooter-centric library, the 360 remains the frat boy console of choice. The original Xbox didn't become a truly worthwhile system to own until at least a couple years after its release - I predict the same for the 360.

"Link" Ryan: The Wii might be the most awkwardly-named console of all time, but it is fun! Waving your arms around like a maniac while playing Wii Sports with your buddies or letting your friends "play with your Wii" has never been so much fun!

The Future

"Mario" Matt: All three consoles have big games coming out next year: Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Galaxy for Wii, Grand Theft Auto 4 for both PS3 and Xbox 360, and of course Halo 3 for 360. No matter which console you choose, the future looks bright.

"Black Mage" Whitney: Everyone seems to think the PS3 will either make or break Sony. Sony cannot be broken, no matter how many shortcomings at launch they may have had. The PS3 will eventually be just as successful as the PS2, provided developers take advantage of its hardware capabilities.

"Link" Ryan: I disagree - Sony's production gaffes this winter will cost them in the console race. I see Microsoft gaining valuable ground and market share in the next year. Some developers have already balked at exclusive PS3 support. Bill Gates will soon own even more of your soul.

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