Peripherals On a Pig

After watching Nintendo reveal their new Wii U controller with hardly a nod toward the actual console that plugs into the TV, it’s become clear that how we control our games is a good deal more important than what displays them. Think back to when the 360 and PS3 were announced. Remember the spec wars? How many gigaflops the PS3 could churn compared to the 360 was a big deal. Now companies like Apple don't bother disclosing how much RAM the iPad 2 has, because it doesn't matter. Whenever a new product is announced with more technical specs than user features, you know it's time to back away slowly.

Technology only matters so far as it can do the job and get out of the way.

We’re rapidly approaching parity once again in terms of graphics, sound and online interaction between all the big console makers. What’s left is how we interface with the same games. Exclusivity to a single platform has been replaced with exclusive control features and DLC, because it’s one of the few significant differentiators left if you don't own Mario or Zelda.

Nintendo understands this better than most. They completely rocked the industry with the Wii. And with the new Wii U controller, Nintendo will offer a new interface to the very same HD games you’ve been looking forward to on your 360, PS3 or PC.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has also gone their own way with the concept, and this is the first time we’ve caught a glimpse of what the payoff will be a year into the Kinect’s lifecycle. Microsoft trotted out a bunch of new ways to graft a Kinect experience onto hardcore games. Doing my best Cyrano de Bergerac impression while whispering lines of dialog to Shepard in Mass Effect 3 is a novel idea, but the game is clearly not built from the ground up for it. Better if the main character didn’t speak at all after I was done speaking my lines, and Mass Effect just wouldn’t be what it is without Shepard. If you want me to speak for the character I’m controlling, then get him/her out of the way. The day will come when speaking to your games will be tied to some new and cool. That won’t be today, though, because right now all we’re getting is vocal buttons.

Forza 4 comes closer to worthwhile immersion with tried and true features like head tracking, but considering how far away you need to be sitting for Kinect to work, I wonder if they can find that sweet spot between intentional movement and incidental movement. When I turn my head to shoo the cat away, I don’t really want my driver staring at the trees whizzing by.

Sony continues to push 3D and Move as their own interface tweaks, but neither interface is unique to the platform. The fidelity is there, but Move clearly isn’t enticing developers to throw their DualShock controllers out the window. Ken Levine did a great job expressing his doubt on stage and affirming that yes, Bioshock: Infinite will have Move support, but I’ll eat my hat if there weren’t sacks of money thrown at 2K Games to make that happen. I'll eat two hats if you think it's better with Move.

Nintendo had the most befuddling, odd presentation of the bunch. Half-hearted nods to popular franchises and some vague demos and promises were presented, but there are still plenty of questions to answer in the months ahead. As near as I can tell, they’re keeping all their Wii peripherals (and games, presumably) compatible with the new platform. The Wii U controller will be wirelessly tethered to the new console unit itself, meaning it’s not really going to be something you can take on the road with you. Instead, the controller with its built-in six inch touch screen will play all of the major, AAA releases with the added screen interface. Nintendo knew they needed something to graft onto these HD, non-exclusive games, and this one is definitely unique. Unlike Kinect and Move, a screen can be informational. The Dreamcast controller on steroids is the obvious comparison, but the old Gameboy Advance connection cable to the Gamecube is clearly the forefather of the concept. Did you ever call Tingle on your GBA when you played Zelda: The Wind Waker? I did. It was alright, but not optimal. Something wireless with a touch screen? That’s better. I can imagine the gameplay implications of having that second screen act a sort of ad-hoc, Nintendo DS kind of addition to living room gaming.

But for all their efforts, the big console makers are mostly trying to strap jetpacks and monocles onto the same old pigs. A big part of extending the life of this technological console generation is trying to add wrinkles to long established gameplay concepts. Nintendo has been doing it since the move to 3D with the Nintendo 64 and they’re still tossing out old Super Nintendo franchises with different interfaces and tweaks every year. Sony and Microsoft have wised up and offered the same because for the most part, it’s working. But how long can it last? When every platform has Modern Warfare 6, Uncharted 4 and Gears of War 5, will some new waggle and some 3D really keep the same old gameplay fresh enough?

This push into peripherals that break paradigms and shake up the competition is starting to look like the last stand of an industry that doesn’t quite know how to deal with what’s coming. Free to play, social and mobile games are coming into their primacy, and they’re doing fine with touch screens, mice and gamepads. Their gameplay designs are rapidly catching up with AAA, $60 games. How much are console makers willing to contort themselves to stay on top of the heap and still charge their premiums? Why am I suddenly envisioning Power Gloves and Super Scopes?

When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games. We're going to hit a wall eventually where fatigue for the current game design standards will outweigh any novelties console makers can throw into the mix. The first device that changes $60 games for the better and pushes new thinking in design will be the real champ of the coming years. Given what we've seen at E3 this year, I don't think anyone has the answer yet.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

TheGameguru wrote:

The problem is that even these companies are starting to realize how meaningless as well as difficult tech specs are to the consumer. Consumers could grasp 16-bit and 32-bit. It was a single data point. In today's modern console of custom multiple-core processors and custom designed GPU's with pixel fill rates and vertex shaders it's all mumbo jumbo nonsense.

When Sony tried to convince the populous that the PS3 was vastly superior to the Xbox 360 they fell solidly on their ass and even after about a year of trying most hardcore Sony fanbois gave up. It's just so much more complicated these days to win a spec war that it's hardly worth the effort when you can't neatly wrap it up into a single data point

Disagree on a couple of main points here. Tech specs do matter, and they matter a lot. It's true that for the vast majority of the customer base, tech specs are meaningless. But, for a small chunk of the really hard-core, they're meaningful and critically important. And the people in this small group are key opinion leaders who advise their friends, post online, get excited, and drive sales.

Also, among the general public today, there is still a general impression that the PS3 is vastly more powerful than any of the other consoles. Sony did a good job with their marketing on this point. Their tech specs enabled them to plausibly argue this issue, even though the architecture as a whole ended up being inefficient and cumbersome.

RolandofGilead wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
RolandofGilead wrote:

You seem to be more hipster than hip.
I couldn't figure out why until I reread this part.

TheHipGamer wrote:

waving a pretend plastic gun around my living room is a gimmick.

It wasn't when you were eight.

I guess? I played Duck Hunt. It was fun, but it wasn't as fun as the games I really liked on the NES: things like River City Ransom, Zelda, and Metal Gear. If finding that the same mechanic I discarded back when the Super Scope came out and I thought it was kinda lame makes me a hipster, hey, whatever.

I have got to look up this Super Scope everybody keeps talking about.

Anyway, I wasn't talking about Duck Hunt. When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was a black plastic bat.
When you held it by the grip, it became a sword.
When you held it in the middle, it became a magic staff.
When you held it like a rifle, it became a rifle.
When you held it like a missile launcher, it became a missile launcher.

OK, hold on. Calling me a hipster is fine, even comical. But your argument for doing it is that my tastes have evolved over the last twenty-something years? Especially within the context of the insult, that's a little ironic, don't you think?

TheHipGamer wrote:

OK, hold on. Calling me a hipster is fine, even comical.

Thank you, I'm very lazy and like to go for the lowest hanging fruit possible.
Also, your avatar pic greatly inspired me

But your argument for doing it is that my tastes have evolved over the last twenty-something years? Especially within the context of the insult, that's a little ironic, don't you think? :)

So hipsters aren't born, they're made?

I get what I was thinking now. I completely agree with you on everything you said except what I quoted first. That phrase seemed to reverse the entire reading.
I, like you, am not interested in Gears of Modern Mario Party.
Take a list at the games I'm playing and I think it's fairly diverse (minus RTS which I'll add soon-I'm afraid of them because I actually fail the tutorial missions honestly).
All I care about is if it is fun to play and/or has great immersion, like you say.
However I have waved many plastic pretend guns around in my pursuit of entertainment.
So if a game is served by what you call a gimmick, then it is no longer a gimmick.
If you're not willing to look foolish, then you're not trying to have fun, you're trying to be cool, and thus a hipster.
Of course, if we mean gimmick in the way that they are trying to force everybody to use it, and develop for it, and play it and spending millions of dollars to convince us of its utility and greatness when really they just want to sell a product with higher margins, then yes, absolutely, it's a gimmick.

RolandofGilead wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:

OK, hold on. Calling me a hipster is fine, even comical.

Thank you, I'm very lazy and like to go for the lowest hanging fruit possible.
Also, your avatar pic greatly inspired me

Hey, I like that picture! My wife took it one night in the Carribean, just before dinner, when we were drinking beers and enjoying each others' company.

In real life, I box, sell software, and like Tom Petty. Hipsters scowl at me. Maybe it's because my jeans fit.

RolandofGilead wrote:

If you're not willing to look foolish, then you're not trying to have fun, you're trying to be cool, and thus a hipster.

Completely agree.

RolandofGilead wrote:

Of course, if we mean gimmick in the way that they are trying to force everybody to use it, and develop for it, and play it and spending millions of dollars to convince us of its utility and greatness when really they just want to sell a product with higher margins, then yes, absolutely, it's a gimmick.

This. Not sure it's even about revenue so much as lack of creativity; mediocre games that are based on a gimmicky piece of tech can find more traction than mediocre games based on old tech. Had Levine or Specter (well, pre-Disney Specter) come out and said, "this is what you need to be trying, gamers, because it's going to do something you'll care about", I would be intrigued. As is, my Kinect sits unused.

polq37 wrote:

Tech specs do matter, and they matter a lot. It's true that for the vast majority of the customer base, tech specs are meaningless. But, for a small chunk of the really hard-core, they're meaningful and critically important. And the people in this small group are key opinion leaders who advise their friends, post online, get excited, and drive sales.

I'd put this a slightly different way: tech specs matter insofar as library matters, and tech specs are what allow a system to run the games that give it a bigger/better library.

The PS3's tech edge over the 360 ultimately doesn't matter, because the vast majority of developers develop with the 360's specs in mind. With a very few exceptions, PS3 games don't look better than 360 games even though the PS3's specs are better.

HOWEVER, the PS3 and 360's tech edge over the Wii matters quite a bit, because the Wii can't run Bioshock or Batman Arkham Asylum or, yes, Call of Duty.

I'm a reasonably educated and tech-savvy person who talks about these things with strangers on Internet forums, and I couldn't tell you specifically what it is about the Wii that makes it less powerful than the 360. But I CAN give you a list of awesome games that run on the 360 that don't run on the Wii, and that matters.

Not to be the Nintendo apologist, but at least when they do a new peripheral it comes bundled with the console, the shells and other things they have offered (outside of the balance board) are standard to their platform so developers can at least count on that. The balance board at least had bundled software. As for the Wii U, it does have interesting potential in the form of asymmetrical gameplay the off stage demo where one guy was playing a FPS while the other was dropping enemies in on a top down view was intriguing. Also the Wii U controller has all the standard buttons, and one of the features is simply a way for me to better share the TV with the wife. That alone for me is worth its weight in gold. If I don't have to interrupt my session of Arkham City to allow her to watch SVU and we can be in the same room I am happy.

Technically, only the Wiimote and now the WiiPad (can we just agree to call it that from now on?) are non-standard controllers that come bundled with every system. You have to go back as far as the NES and the Zapper light gun to find another example, and IIRC even that was dropped from later bundles.

The Power Pad, Super Scope, DK bongos, Classic Controller, and various microphones and Gameboy / DS link cables are all examples of optional control peripherals released with varying degrees of support. There are probably more that I'm forgetting.

The NES was shipped with a nonstandard controller. It has since become standard.

While on the one hand that picture is awesome, it's also more than a little unsettling when you consider what's about to happen to the pig. Maybe I'm being to sensitive but it's upset me a bit.

crunchy wrote:

While on the one hand that picture is awesome, it's also more than a little unsettling when you consider what's about to happen to the pig. Maybe I'm being to sensitive but it's upset me a bit.

Buddy, that is almost certainly shopped. First of all, at that angle - it would be hard to hold a little piggy up that high off of the ground. They are not light. Secondly - the extra mass on the rocket (I would assume) totally jack up the trajectory and the shooter would end up with a burnt face and the rocket landing close to him, perhaps wounding him.

I agree that tech specs are getting less and less important. The jump from PS2 to PS3/360 came slowly for a lot of consumers, and the next one will be slower still. I'm betting the next Sony/MS boxes will launch at a relatively low price point. The public is much more willing to tread water graphically than some of us want to admit.

SallyNasty wrote:
crunchy wrote:

While on the one hand that picture is awesome, it's also more than a little unsettling when you consider what's about to happen to the pig. Maybe I'm being to sensitive but it's upset me a bit.

Buddy, that is almost certainly shopped. First of all, at that angle - it would be hard to hold a little piggy up that high off of the ground. They are not light. Secondly - the extra mass on the rocket (I would assume) totally jack up the trajectory and the shooter would end up with a burnt face and the rocket landing close to him, perhaps wounding him.

Point taken, although I think it's almost as likely that some nut-job would consider doing such a thing, and if they did it would certainly make the rounds on the internet. Regardless, I'll accept your explanation as the most likely and stop worrying about the piggie.

crunchy wrote:
SallyNasty wrote:
crunchy wrote:

While on the one hand that picture is awesome, it's also more than a little unsettling when you consider what's about to happen to the pig. Maybe I'm being to sensitive but it's upset me a bit.

Buddy, that is almost certainly shopped. First of all, at that angle - it would be hard to hold a little piggy up that high off of the ground. They are not light. Secondly - the extra mass on the rocket (I would assume) totally jack up the trajectory and the shooter would end up with a burnt face and the rocket landing close to him, perhaps wounding him.

Point taken, although I think it's almost as likely that some nut-job would consider doing such a thing, and if they did it would certainly make the rounds on the internet. Regardless, I'll accept your explanation as the most likely and stop worrying about the piggie. :)

On the other hand, it could be the start of enterprising franchise opportunity for home delivered, homestyle roast baby pig (still sizzling, or it's free).

You haven't tasted roasted pork, until you've tried our famous rocket seared flavour.