The Console War - Facts and Myths [12/22/01]

If you talk to other people interested in videogaming, you're sure to talk about the good and bad qualities of the current crop of consoles on the market. Problem is, some people don't have their facts straight or even worse are console fanboys (people who support one company/console over others and will make up falsehoods to sway people from purchasing anything otherwise). We here at ILS have decided to give you a rundown of facts and the most prevalent falsehoods.

Playstation 2

Backwards Compatible - Sony's got this one going for it. With a huge lineup of games (only equaled or surpassed by the NES and SNES) for Sony's first console, making the PS2 backwards compatible was an excellent idea. It allows people who didn't buy the first console to still enjoy the excellent games. While there is a small handful of games that don't seem to work right (FF Anthology seems to have problems for me) most work well.

DVD Function - The DVD function for the PS2 plays DVDs and not much more. I'm not going to lie to you and say it's comparable to top of the line DVD players. It isn't. With the DVD remote and driver upgrade disc (which saves the drivers to your memory card) the PS2's DVD capability is comparable to a low-cost DVD player. If you're looking to just play DVDs, it'll do fine. If you're looking for anything more, buy a DVD player.

The PS2 is hard to develop for - While this is partially true, it's also been blown out of proportions by many who want to exploit this as a weakness. The challenge in developing new games for the PS2 is that a lot of the options available are open-ended, leaving game developers many choices on how to build even the simplest features. Instead of having one set way to build an visual effect in a game, there might be multiple solutions to the same answer. Anyone who says this is driving developers away is just being foolish.

The PS2 breaks down a lot - While this is partially true, it's not to the degree that some people have been noting. I've seen comments on posting boards that 75% of the initial launch consoles were faulty. This is entirely fabricated. The reason you see more people with problems rather than not is that people don't start up conversations saying that their console hasn't broken down. One of the more persistent problems is that the console acts like a dust magnet. Cleaning it regularly with compressed air and vacuuming the vents will help.

The PS3 is already in development for 2002/2003 - Seeing as the processor chip won't start production until 2004, don't count on it until 2005 at the earliest. Also, only one company has been foolish enough to drop a console (Sega) before it's time is up. Anyone who tells you that Sony is rushing production of the PS3 because the PS2 can't compete needs to see a doctor. Why would Sony kill a console that's financially competing (LA Times, Gamespot) with the launch of two "superior" consoles.

The Good and The Bad for PS2 --------------------------
While the PS2 is technically an older and less powerful console, it still enjoys a one-year head start on the competition and a huge installed user base. Also, Sony has the luxury of already rolling out a number of A+ titles (Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto 3, etc.) which have aided in selling consoles. Where Sony has stumbled is in their online plans. Instead of releasing their hard-drive and online adapter in November as planned, they've pushed back release until Spring of 2002. Currently, the only game that's online is Tony Hawk 3, which you have to get a third-party adapter to play.

Gamecube

Nintendo is so kiddy - No. Just because a handful of their high-profile games also appeal to younger age groups doesn't not make them kiddy. Mario and Zelda have been with most gamers all of their gaming lives. If someone tells you that the Gamecube is kiddy, remind them that the Resident Evil series is now on the console, not to mention Star Wars Rogue Squadron, Eternal Darkness and a few other more mature titles. Just because the higher profile titles involve familiar icons from our childhood doesn't make the whole console's lineup "kiddy".

No DVD compatibility - Out of the three consoles, the Gamecube is the only one that isn't DVD ready (with or without remote). While there is a hybrid console with DVD player made in cooperation with Panasonic, it is for the Japanese market only. Don't expect it anywhere else.

The Good and The Bad for Gamecube --------------------------
The good news is that Gamecube has a lot of big name series going it's way (Sonic, Resident Evil, Mario, Zelda, Metroid), so it'll be able to shore up a solid line-up by next year. While the console is $100 cheaper, it doesn't have the DVD capabilities of the others. The only real problem that Gamecube seems to have right now is the small amount of games available, but for a console that's just launched, that's not anything bad.

Xbox

Microsoft is buying up developers - Yes, Microsoft has made deals to get exclusive titles (Halo, The Matrix) and other deals to get games that were originally intended for other consoles (Shenmue 2, Munch's Oddysey), but the plain fact is that Microsoft is doing what everyone else is doing. Crying foul is doing nothing but being hypocritical. Make sure you point that same finger at Nintendo for courting the Resident Evil Series and at Sony and Squaresoft for keeping Final Fantasy on the PS2. Probably the biggest story in this is when Microsoft acquired the rights to The Matrix game (based on the movie). To be honest, console exclusives may be the one thing that really helps Microsoft bridge the gap in sales as a newcomer. Does anyone else recall when Final Fantasy VII went to the Playstation, giving the newcomer console the boost it needed?

DVD Compatibility - Much like the PS2, the Xbox can play DVDs, but first, you have to buy the DVD remote to access it. Unlike the PS2, the Xbox does not play DVDs straight out of the box with the game controller. The trade-off is that the DVD capability is a little bit better. But still, if you want high-quality DVD playback, get a DVD player.

The Xbox and its controller are huge - I can't contest the actual size of the Xbox. It is fairly large, but considering that it has a built-in hard drive, this is forgivable. The controller itself is big compared to others, but there will be a smaller one available during the Japanese launch for those people who don't like the larger controller.

The Good and The Bad for Xbox --------------------------
With a lot of power under the hood, the Xbox is going to be able to churn out a lot of good-looking games. Their main weakness is the lack of games for younger kids and a weak RPG lineup. While Microsoft may believe that their market is the older crowd, they would be fools to ignore younger gamers. Also, the Xbox currently only supports broadband online access (for a network that won't be up until late 2002/early 2003), thereby cutting out the people who only have normal online access through phone lines.

Other

I heard Square is going to develop for other consoles - If you're talking about the Wonderswan handheld, yes. If you're talking about the Xbox, Gamecube or Gameboy Advance, time will tell. Recently, Sony bought 19% of Square to help them recover from recent losses. This doesn't mean that Square is Sony's own little development house. Square has been interested in doing games for the Gameboy Advance, but have yet to hammer out a deal with Nintendo, who want Square to develop a series of original exclusive titles for the Gamecube before they can even touch the Gameboy Advance. Considering that, rumors about what consoles Final Fantasy XI will debut on are still up in the air.

Can I get viruses in my console going online - Not that we know of. I wish I could say no with confidence, but since both the PS2 and Xbox will utilize hard drives, which store information in memory, there is always the chance that something might happen. The good news is that neither hard drive has any direct effect to the console's operation and ability to play games. Any virus contracted will not effect the ability to play games. While there has been one game that came with a virus when you put it in your PC, anyone who tells you you'll get a virus on your console while going online is messing with you.

The best buy you can find - A Dreamcast. You can get it for less than $100, it has a huge library of games (some of which haven't been ported to other console's yet) and even the games go at a cheap price. If Sega hadn't pulled out of the console business prematurely, this console might be giving the other three a good run for their money, especially with so many Sega developed games staying on their own hardware instead of filling out the roster of the competition.

With all of this said, I hope you have a better idea of what is going on in the world of gaming. While this is not the definitive statement on everything, and things are apt to change due to market and economic constraints, I think this basic overview should help you decide what's fanboy rhetoric and what is actual fact.

- - Kinderfeld

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Console Specs - links

Xbox - Gamecube - PS2