20050713

Escapism

If you've got some interest in video games, or where that industry is going, The Escapist is an interesting read. It's a magazine that just started recently, and is a wonderful internet journal.

That's not to say I necessarily agree with everything said within the articles, but what is said is said very well and obviously had far more thought put into it than the rest of the internet (although that isn't necessarily saying much).

In any case, the one article I can say I agreed with the least had to be The Contrarion. The fundamental argument of the article was that standardization eventually kill mutants, and that because of that principle Nintendo is doomed (hardware-wise). This summary hardly does the article justice, so I suggest you read it yourself before reading any further.

The author uses some pertinent experiences to illustrate the major point, as well as having his argument remain consistant and connected. However, I don't think that the argument holds. One of his early points is that "ubiquity only works when married with standardization". This is the first hole in his argument.

Nintendo's hardware has largely defined what is standard, especially in terms of the controller. The analog stick, the rumble pack, and the cardinally placed button layout seen on most controllers were all Nintendo's before anyone elses. In fact, Nintendo has been so influential that aspects of their controllers have even be hastily mimicked in a desperate attempt to beat Nintendo to their own innovation. In any case, Nintendo has largely defined hardware in that regard, and made it standard.

In fact, it can be said that for every home console that Nintendo brought forth, they standardized something. The NES redefined what a controller was, and the SNES did it again with the already mentioned cardinal button placement (ABXY) and shoulder buttons as well and the N64 added the analog stick and the rumble feature. All of these were copied by their competitors. More notable still is the now default support of four or more controllers also first appeared on the N64.

Admittedly, the GameCube was quite as standard setting as its predecessors. I continued to innovate, being smaller and far more durable than the competition, and including shoulder buttons that were sensitive to not only being pressed in, but how far they were pressed in. However, for perhaps the first time Nintendo didn't introduce hardware features that were necessary to standardize.

In any case, with all the certainty that Sony and Microsoft are eagerly awaiting their chance to copy Nintendo once the Revolution is revealed, the risk of Nintendo's hardware innovations failing to standardize seems rather small.

My other major critique of the author is centered on his perception of the state of affairs in the coming generation and Nintendo's current situation. While everyone has their own projections for what will happen in terms of victors and spoils next generation, there is hardly any propoganda to go one, let alone actual a set of hard data. Until more is revealed about any of the consoles aside from how they look and theoretical computational values, we honestly can't say for certain that a system will do well or poorly. We can say what we think, but it isn't certain. In that regard, the author calls the Revolution "dead on arrival". In the same way I say it'll be quite alive, but as it stands it all boils down to speculative opinion. It has to be conceeded that my opinion or any other must accept that with as little information as we have, change is possible, if not probable.

As Nintendo's current situation, the author says the GameCube has been "buried" and the GameBoy is "drowning". I can't agree with either of these statements. Regardless of whether the author includes the DS along with the GameBoy (despite their being seperate systems, the author continually refers to the "GameBoy DS"), I see hundreds of middle school kids and their younger siblings carrying GameBoys, but I hardly ever see a PSP or DS. It's simply far too early to start making a coffin for the premier handheld emporer who has reigned for countless years. As for the GameCube, it and the Xbox did approximately as well as one another. As Nintendo made money for every GameCube sold, and Microsoft lost money for every Xbox, if the GameCube is buried, the Xbox had a mine shaft collapse on it.

The author does make some very good points. The point concerning publishers and cross platform games is poignant, and needs to be considered carefully. Even a fledgling video game developer like myself understands that porting a game between systems is hard enough without having to worry about additional features that different console may have. The ease of sticking with something familiar is alluring.

Additionally, his argument concerning the GameBoy Micro is pretty irrefutable. Perhaps it's my lack of caring about things that are marketed to people like me, but the micro seemed to be a waste of time to me. It might do well, but if anyone's buying, it'll be the young gamers and not people like me.

In closing, however, the author jumps from denouncing Nintendo's attempts to innovate hardware, which was his strongest argument, to applying that to Nintendo's games. There's a jump from the well established and plausible argument of "Nintendo's innovation in hardware will be killed by what's standard" to "Nintendo's innovation in both hardware and software will be killed by what's standard". The author cites upcoming and already released titles marked for their innovation, and somehow his argument concerning Nintendo's failing hardware is supposed to apply.

As I said, his argument concerning hardware was plausible. Despite Nintendo's previous innovations, the GameCube hardly standardized anything as I said myself. It's entirely possible that Nintendo might flop with the Revolution and succumb to simply making games for other people. I wholly disagree with the notion thrust forward at the end of the article that Nintendo will fall wholly and fully, condemning us to unoriginal titles and hardware. It just doesn't follow from his argument.

Given standardized hardware, people will still innovate within games because consumers will demand it. Gamers have proven consistantly that selling us a game that is barely different from its predecessor doesn't work. Unless something is significantly changed, the series will rot in obscurity. If Nintendo stops making hardware, that doesn't immediately mean that gamers will suddenly lose their ability to discern that GTA27 didn't change anything but a few buildings from GTA26. Were such a situation to occur, gamers would simply stop buying games much like the first Video Game Crash back before the NES.

So, I'll conceed a lot of the author's points, but I come to a very different conclusion. If there was no Nintendo, it would necessary for Sony/Microsoft to create one.

2 comments:

Phil said...

I used to care about this type of thing. I used to actually analyze War3 screenshots, arguing and speculating about it with fellow enthusiats (sp?). Now I just like looking at the eye candy.

Frankly, I was just put off by how much people think about these things. Why do we need a clear-cut definition of gamer, hard-core, etc? That's like worrying about the changing meaning of words. The fact is that the problem will take care of itself, and in the meantime we can have entertaining arguments about who is hardcore just like the ones we have about who is the coolest.

Why do I need to argue about which console is the best or which will win? After they all come out I'll be exposed to them enough to make up my own mind, and, surprise surprise, I'll as accurate as these chattering monkeys while spending far less time thinking about it.

This magazine interests me only a little more than "People", and these gaming discussions seem to forget that games are games, and discussing them before they're out is about as useful as discussing a movie before it's out. All you can really do is watch the trailer and say "It's cool-looking" or "Doesn't interest me."

Matoushin said...

I understand your point. Just be aware that there are people like me who enjoy discussing things in depth. I'd like to think about and discuss the possibilities of the next generation in depth, but I honestly can't find many people who like doing that and specifically for video games. So, I just rant about it here.

You're right that all that discussion garners little more than what can be gained from passing thought. I can't disprove you there, but the point (at least for people like me) is more enjoying the speculation than actually discovering Nintendo's secrets. And honestly, I'd be a fool if I thought anyone save God could tell us who'll do best in this upcoming console war.