by Mike Shea on 6 June 2003
Looking back at my article on Why Computers Suck, it was obvious that over the last few years my views have changed a bit. They haven't changed that much, however. Computers still suck and game consoles are the future of home gaming. Not all consoles are created equal, and it would appear that the current crop of game systems, while very much improved, are evolutionary, not revolutionary. This article outlines the specifications for the ideal next generation game console.
Ideal Console SpecificationsHDTV Resolutions for all games (480p widescreen, 720p, and 1080i) Composite, S-Video, Component, and VGA connection compatibility for no more than $20 per adapter Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in all games with DTS capability through an optical jack Built in ethernet with optional modem Online service included for free. Individual game or service fees may apply. Built in DVD player with optional remote capable of 480p resolutions Built in voice support with included headset A large library of games with many online game system sellers Games striving for 60fps at max resolutions Controller with analog thumbpads and built-in vibration feedback (like current PS2 and Xbox controllers) Console cost of $200None of the above specifications are out of the range of current technology. While some of it is hard to bundle in a $200 package, hopefully hardware costs will be cheap enough to include these features. Many systems have some of these covered already, but none has all of them. Lets take a deeper look.
Support for High Definiton video and Dolby Digital sound will make it the best system for home theater use. Having a game system feeding a 55" to 110" screen at 1920x1080 interlaced or 1280x720 progressive resolution will truly immerse the user in another world. We've come a long way from the 14" TV in the kitchen with the Genesis hooked up. We now have the infrastructure for truly high resolution, high definition, high quality gaming, all we need is the system and the software. While few have full HDTV displays currently, offering a VGA adapter allows the system to output high resolutions on the VGA monitors already in many homes. It acts as a bridge between composite video and HD gaming, and is required. One of the biggest mistakes of the Xbox is the lack of VGA support.
Home networking is the other major factor. A game system should be able to connect to the internet without any additional cost or any additional hardware. Buy it, take it home, plug it in, and you are on the net. Some games or services may require a cost to play, like Everquest Online Adventures, but to simply plug it in should cost nothing. The system should include a headset and microphone for voice communications over online games. The days of the keyboard are over, its time to really communicate.
The number one factor in a good system are the games. If you do not have good system-selling games, your system will die. In order to push online gaming to the masses, system selling online games must exist. While there will always be point A to point B single player games, the systems of the future should support worlds. Buy the world of Halo and rush the confederate hills with 25 of your best troops, all live players. Buy the world of Everquest and group up against the evils of Norrath without leaving your couch. World Series Baseball will have teams of live players playing other teams of live players in huge virtual leagues. Race cars across the streets of San Francisco against a city full of live players doing the same. Galactic space battles, oceans of deadly pirates, the jungles of Viet Nam, the dark tunnels of alien worlds, all of these worlds lend themselves to online play and would help connect gamers all over the world.
Current System Comparisons
How do current systems compare to these specifications? Lets start with the most popular Playstation 2. The PS2, while having great penetration into the market, is lacking in many of the required features. It is the first DVD based system but has no high definition capability, no in-game dolby digital, no built in internet connectivity, and no voice support. While it is not a bad single-player console and has a lot of hit games, it is not a whole lot more than a juiced up Atari 2600.
The Gamecube is in the same boat as the PS2. It at least has 480 progressive video but few games are in widescreen. Few games have Dolby Digital and there is very limited network capability. The library of exclusive hit games such as Mario, Metroid, Zelda, and Starfox help the system quite a bit, but again, it is an evolution of the Nintendo, not a true landmark for home gaming.
The Xbox is the closest system to the specs above but limited hit games, limited software support for high definition video, and heavy costs associated to networked gaming hinder it. The Xbox could fix this by bundling Xbox Live with the console and offering more games in high definition. It is the only console that can meet the above specifications without having to rebuild their hardware architecture.
A Brave New Digital World
We are on the edge of a great change in gaming. Systems are getting far more powerful. Home infrastructures for high resolution video, multichannel audio, and network connectivity are taking root. We will soon have nothing but our imagination as a limitation. Soon barriers of race, class, disability, nationality, or sex can be ignored. You are who you want to be. People's interaction will be based completely on personality. It is difficult to imagine it, but a $200 black box can completely change our world. Any company who follows the above plan will succeed not only financially but in actually helping people connect in worlds of entertainment.