Random Rants For E3 2005

So much has gone on recently that it's almost impossible to write a complete piece on each one before the news recedes into obscurity. Here are a few items of note and my take on each, then, before things pile up so high I can't get out from under them:

By their prices, you shall know them

IGN thinks the price of the PlayStation 3 in Japan could be around $465 or so. Regardless of whether it's true or not, that number is already out there, and I'm sure in the meantime, if the Xbox 360 is going to be less than that-- the whisper number is an oh-so-appropriate $360-- Microsoft will definitely push that in their promotions. With the positions out of the starting gate reversed in this round, Sony has to either count on gamers staying loyal to Sony and not straying into the Xbox camp, or convincing gamers to delay until their console hits the streets to upgrade. With life cycles shortening, that's a tough sell. If you're an Xbox owner, your machine is going to be four years old this November, and apparently Microsoft thinks that's old enough. If Microsoft delivers on the Xbox compatibility front and can promote an attractive lineup of launch titles, I think it stands to reason that those customers will be fairly likely to buy a 360, just as PlayStation owners opted for a PlayStation 2-- it was a low-risk option. If the Xbox 360 isn't much more expensive, will play the old games, support new features like Xbox Silver and HDTV-- then there's no reason for Xbox owners to wait and see what Sony dishes up.

If you're a PlayStation 2 owner, though, most likely your console is even longer in the teeth. It was out before the Xbox and was not the most powerful machine in the last generation of consoles, even if it was the most successful. Again, if the Xbox is projected to be cheaper, will be out for the holidays with some impressive new games as well as access to some popular old Xbox exclusives (like Halo and Halo 2), the Xbox 360 could be tempting, whether you're planning on getting the PlayStation 3 when it comes out or not.

Sony's got a hard sell convincing gamers to wait longer and pay more for a console just because it's more powerful, especially given that their last machine is the oldest and, arguably, least powerful of the last lineup. So the Xbox 360 could have an advantage if it can keep its price under $400. Goldman Sachs worries they can't.

Fighting the future

Sony and Microsoft are, predictably, talking smack now about their respective consoles' technological superiority. Sony is pushing their next-gen optical drive, and Microsoft is pushing their proven and advancing online strategy.

What Sony seems to be pushing now is a box that will last as long or longer as their last-- what they call "future-proofing". They're putting in a Blu-Ray drive, even though the standards war over the next dominant DVD format isn't over. Since Sony has their own horse to back in their race, they've got to eat their own dog food. Let's see how that works out for them.

They're also putting in a lot of ports without making it clear what you're supposed to plug them into. It seems to have multiple ethernet ports, even though there's no Sony online system to plug it into and no sign of one. Somebody ought to tell Sony that Xbox Live is pretty cool and still only needs one ethernet port. Perhaps Sony is bundling in a hub and/or router into their console this time, but I'm betting that most online gamers already have these; and even a small Japanese apartment isn't so cramped you can't fit a hub next to the PS3.

The PS3 also has two HDMI ports. Most people don't even have one HDTV yet, let alone two. What's the second port for? One can salivate over the idea of racing games or flight sims with wider fields of vision using two monitors.. but let's be serious. This isn't future-proofing, this is feature creep.

Can you spell X-B-O-X without M-A-C?

I took a bit of flak for my piece on Steve Jobs' role in promoting awareness of Halo and the.. ahem, "halo effect" that may have had on the Xbox's success. However, the Xbox-Apple connections don't stop there. Not only does the Xbox 360 use a PowerPC chip from IBM-- the same company that designs and fabricates the G4 and G5 processors that today's Macs use-- but the development kits that developers use to make Xbox games are, themeselves, Apple Power Macintosh G5 computers. In fact, since the Xbox 360 hardware apparently isn't finished yet, the Xbox 360 game demos at E3 are running on Power Macintosh G5s. According to MacNN, this explains the lackluster appearance of some demos, as the consumer video cards in the devkits aren't up to the same standards as the custom ATI GPU in the Xbox 360.

To Rip Or Not To Rip

HaloDev and Blast Radius traded missives last week on the legality and morality of so-called "ripping"-- the direct, electronic extraction of content from one game for insertion into a mod for another game-- sometimes another game in the same series or by the same studio or publisher, but sometimes not.

Building the H2CE project to bring Halo 2 to Halo Custom Edition, but creating their own assets from scratch rather than ripping and enjoying a pseudo-endorsed status with Bungie, HaloDev's Nick thinks that ripping is wrong as well as illegal and is a lazy way to make mods. Their upcoming editor, Prometheus, will not support content ripping, which apparently some prospective users want it to.

Flashman at Blast Radius, conversely, doesn't see asset creation from scratch as being any better than ripping-- just more time consuming, and the extra effort really doesn't get rid of the essential legal issue, which is that recreating one company's intellectual property without permission is a no-no if they catch you, regardless of how you did it.

Both sides have a point. However, neither address the central issue: which is that most mod teams don't seek or get permission from the creators of intellectual property, and therefore exist in a legal limbo, where they will never get an official approval and could be shut down at any moment, even if the developers personally like their project.

This is going to start to get thornier with games like Pariah, which have built-in editing tools for the Xbox version of the game-- this is going to open up content creation to a much huger audience. On the Xbox platform, this is all nicely neat and contained, as MS controls Xbox Live, which is the only distribution medium that exists. Distribution mediums like that are starting for PC games, like Steam. What's needed is a comprehensive, industry-wide licensing scheme that allows modders to apply for, and receive, permissions for non-commercial or commercial mod creation. It's time for modmaking to come out into the open.

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