Hello, my intended...

Well, we touched on my problems with videogames in general some time ago, but since the climate has skewed rather sharply since then, I figured I'd touch on it once more. Forward any complaints to the usual mailbox.

Presently, there are three major 'new' systems coming to store shelves this season. One from Sony, one from Nintendo, and (strangely) one from MICROSOFT. We'll touch on Sega's being out of the console biz shortly, be patient. Sony's PS2 has been out for a year now at $299, and despite Nintendo selling their new box for $199, and Microsoft going for $299, Sony has stated they have no plans to reduce their price before the end of the year - if then. That's just GOT to cost them, no bout a doubt it. Now, before all you PS2 EA's (early adopters) get your knickers in a twist, let me state flatly that the PS2 STILL doesn't impress me enough to drop three bills on it. Sure, you'll have Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy X pretty soon, but what else? Thought so. So that's, what, one supposedly great game every six months on average? How DO you stand the G-Forces from all that speed? Heh.

Need I remind you that the last system that touted 'quality over quantity' was the currently in the bargain bin N64? But at least Nintendo wasn't audacious enough to charge a person $45 for a FIREWORKS SIMULATOR as a LAUNCH TITLE. Don't get me started on it also being a DVD player, because the list is growing RAPIDLY of the movie DVDs that will NOT play on it. Not that I'm crying about not being able to see the likes of 'Gone in Sixty Seconds', mind, but I'd rather make those decisions at the videostore than after I bring the title in question HOME. Same thing with it's touted 'backwards compatibility' with PSone games. Except for like, ten percent of them - and they have no way of knowing WHICH ten percent except as reported by the miserable folks that got hosed buying games they couldn't PLAY. Sony's response? 'Shit happens'. Ah, so THAT'S how you treat customers in the New Millenium... Yes, I see it all so CLEARLY now... Guess it beats doing it the HARD way. Heh.

Don't get me wrong, though... I have a Playstation (I refuse to call it a PSone because it isn't) if I want to play Playstation games - though except for Fire Pro G I usually don't, and with a better version on the Dreamcast, my PSX is collecting D.U.S.T.. Actually, there's two Playstations in the house - and three DVD players counting the one on my laptop that I can output to my TV. Now if I didn't already have all that stuff, I suppose them being 'features' of the PS2 would be stronger selling points for me (as in being a distraction from how poor the initial wave of games were). Oh well. Hopefully they got the crap out of their system and may yet find some way to convince me I should buy one... It can happen - just not for three Cs, savvy?

Not that I blame them for not posting a list of 'unsupported' games, mind you, since it kinda suggests that they can't even emulate their OWN hardware -ON- their own hardware. Perhaps they should stop suing Bleem and just hire them? Too much like a good idea, I guess.

That seems a near enough marker to segue into my Sega asides. Bar none, Sega is my favorite game-maker. Why? Because they know that the glam and glitter of how many mega-texels you have in a lens-flare means DICK when the game isn't any FUN. Lately, I hate to admit, it's a bit tougher to be a Sega booster, considering the FIASCO I've gone through with SegaNet. Free to play when you have your own ISP, $19.95 a month if you want a Sega E-Mail addy. I chose the latter because they'd throw in a keyboard and a rebate; both of which I have YET to receive. Then they go and release Phantasy Star Online (PSO), and shit hits the fan. People are online ALL the time, and when that happens you can't let OTHER people on; other people who quickly tire of busy signals and go somewhere else. Just ask AOL. Now that that's settled, they release PSO v2, BUT you have to pay $15 every three months to play it online. Okay, that's still cheaper than Everquest, you figure, so you go for it... Oops. Now you have to pay $10 a month to use SegaNet PLUS the $60 a year for the best game on it? Uh oh, Chongo.

How long before SegaNet starts charging PER GAME? If you play alot of games online, you know as well as I do that it can get pretty damn expensive. And what sort of games are we talking about? Quake 3? I can play that online with my PC (at DSL speed) on Gamespy for FREE. Bomberman? I can boot up any number of my emulators with TCP/IP and play that in at least twenty different formats for FREE, too. Chu Chu ROCKET? What? SegaSwirl? Huh? At 56k? Don't even get me STARTED on the experience of trying to play SPORTS games over the phoneline... Might as well be playing freeze-tag with all the network bogdown. Bah.

Not to seem like I want something for nothing, folks, but if you make a game that can't be fully enjoyed without being online, then you shouldn't charge as much as you would for a game than CAN be enjoyed without being online. Many games that are fun alone become AWESOME when you throw other folks into the mix - even if most of them are filthy cheats. By that token, no matter HOW much fun a game is touted to be online, if you want to tell me I can't play it at ALL without tying up my phone line, I can't play it at all, PERIOD. This is why Everquest and Ultima Onlines have never seen a DIME of Bobo's dough, and why they never WILL. Conversely, Blizzard gets a PILE of my business. Why? Because I can play Warcraft whenever I fuckin' WANT to, and taking it online is both OPTIONAL and FREE. Bottom line, folks, is that it's just good business sense to offer a bonus to your loyal customers for BEING loyal, since that means they STAY loyal - and as long as they're happily playing YOUR game, they're not buying and thus not playing someone ELSE'S. It also makes them all the more eager to pick up the next installment of YOUR game. I've bought Diablo II AND the Expansion Pack THREE TIMES so I can play it over my home network as WELL as online and alone. Fun + Choice = Market Share = Profit.

Keeping game servers up is expensive, I'm sure, but not as expensive as broadcast advertising on 150 some-odd channels. Not even close. Have you ever seen a commercial for Starcraft on TV? Me neither. Why? Because good word of mouth beats a thirty second spot during the Super Bowl any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Sega USED to know that... Sigh. That's why they went under, folks... If you try to do it ALL, you end up with nothing except tired. Sega didn't have the other devices to fall back on for profit until the Dreamcast got entrenched like Sony did. Sega didn't have the resources to plug away on TV about how good their games were AND run a free game server. Blizzard just picked one and let the games (and happy users) speak instead. Electronic Arts picks one, also, but they're starting to see the wisdom of Blizzard's tact and are moving some of their franchises (such as Need for Speed) online and producing a few less Madden 2xxx commericials.

Now we're getting into the meat of the meal... First, let's look at the Gamecube from the fine folks at Nintendo... Personally, I already bought the Gameboy Advance in that weirdo off-purple, and after six months I still hate it (though it beat the shit out of the translucent fushcia). Will it stop me from buying the Gamecube? No, that would be shallow. What stops me is the THREE games they have as launch titles, and that I have to buy TWO of them before Toys R Us will even let me buy the damn thing AT ALL. I'm glad that Mario isn't among the launch, mind, but Luigi is a plumber too according to canon, and now I have to believe he's a GHOSTBUSTER on the SIDE? Remember what I said about eye-candy on top of crap? Still holds. Now, I'm not saying that these scant offerings are crap, heavens, no. I haven't played them. However, that the offerings ARE so scant IS INDEED crap-tacular. Need I remind anyone that historically speaking, any system that doesn't offer a WIDE variety of good games ALWAYS fails - one more reason I still haven't plunked down on the PS2. Neo-Geo? Fighting games out the wazoo. Dippin' dot else. FAILED. Nintendo's own N64? Sure, they had some variety.... Pokemon, Mario, or Crap - sometimes you could even get Crap in Pokemon or Mario flavors... Look what a stellar success IT was... Now ask yourself whether you think Nintendo looked? Me neither.

Then we have the machine that looks like the one to beat: Microsoft's X-Box. I don't say that lightly, let me tell you. Microsoft's never done something like this before? Granted. Microsoft will probably take a major bath in red ink for at least two years? Possibly. Since we're on history type lessons already, let me remind you that people said the same damn things about Sony when it introduced the Playstation. Who's laughing now?

And it's not like MS doesn't have ANY experience at gameboxes, people.  Windows Compact Edition - coincidentally and ironically shortened to spell WinCE -  was the OS for the Dreamcast, and you can bet MS learned SOMETHING from partnering with a hardware maker. You know what it was? The same thing Sony learned after Nintendo decided the SNES didn't need a CD-ROM, after all. To wit: If you want to do it, do it YOURSELF. Unlike Sega, though, Microsoft has the hardcore cabbage to throw behind the system to make sure people not only know what it is, but that they WANT it. And unlike Sony, they're making sure there's enough to go around without paying a 500% markup to some scumbag on EBay so your kids don't think you suck.

Does Microsoft have experience at producing games? Yes. YEARS of it. More years, I might add, than Sony does NOW, and they had that much when Sony STARTED. And when you consider that the X-Box is essentially a single-purpose PC, with the same DirectX programming that EVERY development house out there knows forward and backward? Could we see 'ports' of games like Deus EX, Everquest, Half-Life, and any other super-popular PC title? Well, when you consider that all these folks really need to do is move the code to an X-Box disk, it starts looking like a damn fine day in Toontown, don't it? For Chrissakes, Microsoft released specs on how to config a PC to BE an X-Box so everyone could develop for it.  Upon considering they can pare down all the extra drivers they normally have to include in a PC release to cover whatever jingle-jangle sound and video cards from 1986 you MIGHT try to run it on, and Diablo II running off a single DVD doesn't seem like such a longshot anymore, now does it? No, clearly not.

Add in that I can connect it to my DSL and home network as easily and as soon as I plug it in? Add in that I can get extra levels, roster updates, and online gaming via that DSL? Add in that I can rip my CDs to mp3 on the X-Box's hard drive and play my own tunes in the game in case I hate the soundtrack? Add in that this is the first American (albeit Mexican assembled) console system EVER?

It's beginning to look a lot like X-Box....

Hell, most PC games STILL only run in 640x480, so seeing it on a TV isn't gonna be that tough... That seems like a pretty deep well to draw from until the Japanese developers get onboard, right? Right. To top it off, Sega's moving their franchises squarely behind X-Box. Phantasy Star Online? Shenmue? Sonic? Virtua Fighter? X-Boxers. Several of them have been on PC for years, though I would have liked it if they'd done a better job with Virtua-Fighter I am looking forward to getting the PC version of PSO to play on my robeast tower.

So it seems after hitting the window on home consoles, Sega's finally showing that they're in it to win it and are pushing their existing online gaming network to anyone that'll listen (though I think MS will probably do that for themselves), such as Sony and Nintendo, who really haven't any idea where to START getting their machines online, since they're still not even sure there's any MONEY in it... Duh.

If anything, I can see the X-Box 'killing' PC gaming... A standardized set of hardware is like RAID, people. Kills bugs dead. Does it seem logical that most of these development houses will make a version that will run on the X-Box, and THEN start piddling around with drivers for your three year old soundcard and gimmicking up some software rendering to compensate for your crapola onboard video? You don't have to be Sherlock to see that one ambling over the ridge, kids.

I say bring it on.

You're welcome. See you SOON.