Sunday, January 07, 2007

Duty Calls Twice

I spent Friday and Saturday night this weekend in 1940's Europe. Hey, did you know there was a big war going on back then? Yeah, me neither. Luckily, there's this game called Call of Duty 3 that encapsulates (in interactive entertainment form) that very dark period of history. The game is pretty good.

That's the extent of my review for the game itself. This post is not really about CoD3 but about the hardware that I used to run the game. Friday night was Wii night. Saturday was PS3 night. Two nights, two consoles, one game.

I know there's probably a ton of similar documented experiences out there on more legitimate publications but I really wanted to experience the differences between these two consoles myself. My preconceptions going into it would be that the Wii would provide a unique experience given the innovative controls whereas the PS3 would provide the more exciting sensory experience given the high definition video and better sound. In general, I was right but with a few interesting things to note.

The graphics of the Wii weren't disappointing when compared to the PS3. (In more professional publications, this is where you'd see the screenshots. I tried taking some with my camera but I couldn't sync up right and it all looked similar after the effect from my shaky hands) While playing on the PS3, there were only a few moments when the graphics really stood out. These moments were all when I was flopped on my stomach in the mud behind what little cover I could find. Enemy fire and grenades were exploding around me and yet between trying to reload and not get blown up, I'd notice a lovely patch of grass and sparkling running water. Oooh, how pretty. Wouldn't it be nice to just lay here and enjoy how the grass moves in the wind?

Granted, these little moments added up to some sort of subconscious fulfillment. I liken it to the sort you get from feasting at a buffet; it's not so much that you're getting a main dish that's much better than anywhere else, it's that you're getting a lot of little things that add up. If the PS3 visual experience is a 10, the Wii visual experience is a solid 8. In a world where we want everything, is an 8 enough? Let's talk about the controls.

The Wii controller is revolutionary and if you don't believe me, ten minutes with Wii Sports will turn you into not only a believer but an advocate. Games such as Monkey Ball and Rayman Rabbids were made for gaming with the controllers and these further prove the point. Unfortunately, not all games have or can have the affinity with the new control system. For a game like CoD3, the various things you can do with the Wii controllers are no more than a simple replacement for button pushes or joystick tugging.

Similar to the graphics situation, I rarely even noticed the differences. Once I rewired my brain, there really isn't any particular benefit from the Wii control system. In fact, for one particular gameplay sequence (where you wrestle with a bad guy for your weapon) the PS3 controller takes advantage of its motion sensing capabilities very much like the Wii. So where does that leave us?

Overall, I would say that if you played the game on only one system, you really aren't missing out on much. That is, the proverbial grass isn't that much greener on the other side.

This presents a problem as these two consoles begin to move away from launch buzz to sustainability. I really think cross-platform titles are going to be a wash in terms of generating excitement for a particular console. It's the exclusive games that will make the most difference.

I think it comes down to this: Can Nintendo sell enough Wii consoles to make it worthwhile for developers to create more exclusive titles for the Wii? If you're a studio about to start on a new project, would you try to make something that could run on all the next-gen systems or would you create something that maximizes the Wii control system? The default for studios and developers is continuing down the volume and technology arms race, favoring PS3.

What this Call of Duty exercise made me realize was that the Wii is still just a piece of hardware. It was the first time I began to think that it might be vulnerable. Nintendo really needs a continuous stream of titles to move the perception of the control system from playful novelty to practical value. I estimate this needs to happen within the year or we'll start to see a fading of interest in the Wii.

BTW, thanks to my buddy Ryan for "lending" me a copy of his Wii CoD3.


Anonymous said...

Even though I don't yet own a Wii -though, believe me, I have been trying my hardest but everything from my health to a murderous husband (no, really) has been getting in my way - I believe Nintendo has a winning system. And there are quite a few reasons, I think so, too.

First, they are Nintendo. Okay, this one is a little obvious, but if any one can find an interesting and fun way to use new technology in video games, it's this bunch of talented guys. If you need proof, just look at the Nintendo DS - it is, more or less, an experimental handheld and, even with the weak sauce graphics (compared to the PSP), it has still managed to blow Sony out of the water! I own both systems, and I'm not lying when I say my PSP is collecting dust. I mean, the system gets roughly one great game every six months, while the DS, IMO, has a much better ratio. Once some of those great Nintendo franchises start coming out (in a few months), the system will really start cooking.

Second, the gap may not be as large as you think. Sure, when you look at the graphics between the three consoles, the Wii certainly seems to be bringing up a distant third, but that can be misleading. Think back to the GameCube, and there are plenty of games that are like crack for your eyes, including Resident Evil 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which, really, ported with very little changed in the way of visuals. But, what's more, while it may still be lacking, so was the PS2 last generation, and it came out on top.

And, finally, as to the question of whether or not developers will support it, I believe the answer is a big ol' yes. Several developers/publishers have created studios to focus solely on Wii games, and they can afford to. Because the Wii hardware is so similar to the GameCube's, development costs are only a fraction of the other systems. And, it isn't just cheap for them, consumers are also getting a break, and being the most affordable system on the market will have a big impact on their decision, simply because it raises the chance that they will have a larger installed base.

In short, have faith!

(Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, despite being a Nintendo fanboy, I do own a PS3. While the system isn't all it's cracked up to be - yet - it does have potential...just not more than Nintendo's little box)

Ken said...

Murderous husband? Oh brother. I don't want to know... or do I?

I agree with both your first and second point. Nintendo has a great system on their hands but the big question is will it have the software to support its capabilities for the long term?

I think the graphics are fine for now, like I've said before, we really have reached the near point of diminishing returns on these graphics. When I'm in the heat of the moment playing, I really don't notice much of a difference.

Your third point is my big question. Will there really be enough developers that are out there that can take advantage of the Wii's capabilities? I'm talking about taking gameplay to the next level rather than just substituting button mashing for epileptic hand-waving. I'd really like to see some LocoRoco type thinking applied to the Wii. Now that's gonna make things interesting.

Anonymous said...

Well, you have to look at it this way, even though it is cheaper than the other systems, both in price and in development costs, it is still something of a risk. With the GameCube sort of dead in the water for a better part of its life, developers are likely wary of Nintendo's next system, which is vastly different than its competition. So, with this new console, shipping a lot of cheap ports not only makes sure you aren't losing a bunch of money in development costs for a system that may not succeed, but it will also make money for the time when they do start to develop larger projects.

As for innovation, we must look towards the game you mentioned, LocoRoco. Like that game, and games like Katamari Damacy, we have seen that innovation is possible even with hardware that doesn't lend itself to it. On the Wii, I think we will indeed see some interesting concepts for the system, as the resources are there - again, I have to point at the DS - and there are already a few fine examples of this.

From Nintendo, we have games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, which is not just a FPS, but also uses a few interesting concepts, like thrusting the Wii-mote nunchuk forward in order to snatch enemy shields away with an energy beam. From other companies, one game I know I am looking forward to is the new Harvest Moon game, which has some true-to-life controls. Sometimes it isn't always about innovation, but also immersion, and I think the Wii can do that better than any one else right now.