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Things can't get any better, can they?
Edge #174, April 2007
Back when I used to write an occasionally games-related thing called Digitiser, we would regularly receive letters accusing us of bias toward one console or another. Every single day we'd be accused of hating one console or other in favour of all the other systems. I never quite understood why, because we were equally unpleasant about each of the main formats, and equally pleasant at times too.
Usually, every console has at least something going for it (for the purposes of this argument we shall forget the CD-32, the Jaguar, et al), and plenty of reasons to hate it as well.
I'm well aware that, of late, I've had quite a bee in my buzzer about the PlayStation 3. In several of these columns I've been disparaging about Sony's console. Frankly, Sony hasn't helped its cause, what with the hilarious: 'Oh! But we thought of it before them!' motion-sensitive controller, the hilarious fake fan-blogs (the marketing equivalent of a Tory MP human beatboxing in front of underprivileged teenage drug addicts), and press releases claiming that the Sixaxis has won awards when it hasn't. And then there's THAT price point, which is just asking for a knee to the throat.
However, any anti-PlayStation 3 'bias' is through reason and circumstance rather than any sort of irrational format bias. If you really thought about it, you'd come to the same conclusions as myself. Unless you're an idiot.
The truth is (even putting Sony's recent, jaw-dropping PR incompetence aside) the PS3 has simply arrived 18 months too late. The stark bottom line is that I just don't see it offering me anything I can't get elsewhere. There's an important note of distinction between the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and that note is as follows: there really isn't that much of a distinction between the two of them. The 360 may be a year older than the PS3, but its software is already a generation ahead. The games look and play pretty much the same on both machines.
We're at a point now where games hardware is so powerful it's like the difference between travelling at 450,000 mph and 490,000 mph; when your hair is being blown back into its follicles are those 40,000 mph going to matter?
I've most likely mentioned before that - like those Victorian saps who thought their lungs would explode if they travelled faster than 30mph - I really thought graphics had peaked with the 3DO. Actually, to be fair to myself, what I actually asked at the time was whether graphics needed to get any better. I can vividly recall playing the 3DO version of Road Rash, and pondering whether graphics had reached a point where incremental improvements in visuals had stopped contributing to the gameplay.
I may have been a generation or so too early in my ponderings, but I once again think that it has been a long time since graphics technology has genuinely enhanced gameplay. I'm not talking about whether games - as a whole - are improved by better graphics, but whether new graphics technologies can also provide new types of gameplay, as well as more efficient rendering of female games characters' breasts.
The most obvious example would be that leap from 2D to 3D. From Super Contra to Wolfenstein, or from Mario World to Mario 64, or Sonic The Hedgehog to Tomb Raider.
You can have better, smoother 3D, with multiple light sources and bump mapping, and you might be able to throw more characters on screen, but I really do think this is it: we have reached the tipping point where graphics can no longer contribute new ideas to games.
It's probably a lot of the reason why Nintendo is now less concerned with the look of its software, and the power inside its consoles, and started thinking in more spatial, real-world terms, about what games can achieve.
I mean, what are the innovations of the PS3? 'True' high-definition visuals? Whoooh! I can barely contain my glee. A Blu-ray player? Yes, because I'm desperate to own a copy of Terminator 3 that looks slightly sharper than the one I already own. A motion-sensitive controller? The classic PlayStation controller was never conceived with motion sensitivity in mind, and if anyone thinks we're going to get motion-sensitive PS3 games which feature the same levels of interactivity and innovation as Wii Sports or WarioWare Touched, then they're the most blinkered zealot in history.
The PlayStation boasts a healthy launch line-up, and it'll play games just fine, but there's no escaping the fact that the games on the PlayStation 3 are either already available on the Xbox 360, or have equivalents which are. Frankly, there is no reason for the PS3 to exist. It's a redundant console. You've got the Wii for your Nintendo exclusives, and your fix of innovation, and the 360 for everything else.
I realise I'm going to have to shut up about the PlayStation soon, for fear of becoming a stuck record. I've actually got nothing against Sony, but a market-leading hardware company hasn't ballsed things up like this since Sega and the 32X. It's human nature to laugh and point when we witness a car crashe Or is that just me?
Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.