Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wii versus 360 and PS3

My friend Darren repeated something often said about this batch of consoles: the Wii is the only truly next-gen console, while the 360 and PS3 are not really very innovative. I disagree.

As I told Darren, he's in good company. Will Wright, my favorite game designer, has made much the same claim. But I think that view is a failure to look beyond the obvious. It fails to recognize that a simple increase in processing and memory can and often does have a huge effect on gameplay -- not just evolutionary change, but also revolutionary change.

I only have experience with the 360, so I'm going to focus exclusively on that console. And let's be clear about something: this is not a fan post. If I had the money to, I'd own all three consoles. This is in no way bashing the Wii. I just want to explain why the 360 and PS3 should not be accused of failing to innovate.

Even the Xbox 360's first batch of games hinted at the new possibilities unlocked by the console's power. Kameo, a game by Rare that reminded me a lot of DonkeyKong 64, proved the different type of fun that could be had from charging through an endless horde of enemies. Gears of Wars 2 will apparently explore that idea further.

Oblivion could not have happened on the Wii. The visuals in that game are not fluff... they're an essential part of the experience. The massive gameworld, which requires a lot of memory, is essential to the experience. Something else that's essential to Oblivion: complex controls. The Wii remote and nunchuk are cool, but they're not capable of as many control options as a single 360 controller with two pressure-sensitive analog sticks and 19 buttons (including being able to click the analog sticks and push the d-pad in 8 directions) aside from the Start button.

Could the lighting and shadows of Dead Space, combined with the game's strategic dismemberment feature and its zero gravity environments, be done on the Wii? Or the water effects of Bioshock? How about the flurry of AI and animations for LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2? Or the detailed cities and motion-captured animations of Assassin's Creed?

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed will be released on every console, yet the 360 and PS3 aren't getting the multiplayer component that the other versions get. Why? I don't know, but I think it's probably meant to make up for the better experience the more powerful consoles are able to provide solely due to their power. One of the devs explicitly mentioned that the 360 and PS3 inspired them to make such a game. I'd be willing to bet that there's more than merely a difference in visuals between the game versions (but I could be wrong).

To be clear, the Wii is capable of impressive visuals, physics, and greater things than we've yet seen. But it's indisputably not capable of many specific designs.

One might argue that these new types of gameplay all could have been seen in PC gaming. But so could the Wii's motion controls. There's nothing any of the consoles have done that could not have been developed for the PC.

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