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Future Imperfect: The 2006 predict-o-rama roundup September 5, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console.
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I love the new, of course, but I also have a fondness for nostalgia. Every so often, I’ll randomly come across a piece of writing from somewhere a while back that I read again and smile at – or, if it’s one of my own contributions, cringe at the grammatical errors and pisspoor sentence structure. Anyone who says that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be is trying to be clever and failing. You see, it’s actually good.

Today I came across something that never actually went up on PSO back in the day. It was a piece entitled ‘Knights of the Round Table’. A couple of weeks before the last showbiz E3 in May 2006, various PSO luminaries sat on a long MSN conversation with the intention of predicting which way various aspects of the console war would go. You can tell it’s old, as we were still calling the Wii the ‘Revolution’. The transcript was eventually written out and made almost coherent even though it never made it online, so although it’s more than a little self-indulgent, let’s load it up, set the way back machine to its wibbliest-wobbliest setting, and pick out some highlights and lowlights to find out just how many Mystic Megs out of ten we scored…

First, then, to myself. A discussion quickly evolved about the previous generation of consoles, where a question arose about complacency from Sony regarding PS2’s software, given the success of PS1. Everyone agreed that Sony had been far from complacent, and in fact had the broadest range of games across last gen by a long way. I then said the following about the forthcoming generation: “Where the corporation is complacent, I think, is at the top. But in a world where even many game journos are taken in by quite-obviously CGI promo reels, is it any wonder that the top brass still think they can just coast to victory? A word of warning though… treating Europe as a backwater? Getting complacent? Doesn’t that remind anyone else of Nintendo in the mid-90s? It’s a long way down…” Fluke, or reasoned observation? All I do know is that this prediction turned out to be not so far from the truth. A good start.

We continued with a short interlude about the 360 hardware difficulties at that time, which were still an unresolved issue. Me again: “As for the problems with machines breaking down, as this was the first major home console launch where Internet forums are so numerous and so vocal, it remains to be seen whether it was anything out of the ordinary or not.” Note to self: yes it was. Whoops.

Then we talked about Halo 3. Dave thought the following: “The multi-player potential for the title is undoubtedly huge, and Microsoft will surely be looking to it as bait for masses of potential online gamers. 32, even 64 player maps? Different classes, a la Battlefield online? More focused objective gametypes? Yes please.” This didn’t come to pass on the scale that Dave imagined, but apart from the number of players online at once, this strangely resembles what the at-the-time-unannounced Call of Duty 4 became.

Chris had his own views on Halo 3: “I think the 360 has had a decent enough head start for it to not be quite as important as some think. While it’s going to be massive in terms of sales, I’m not convinced it’s a make-or-break release for the 360.” Pretty bang-on. Halo 3 was a massive release for the console, but the series certainly hasn’t had to hold up the 360 as it did the original Xbox, which is an indication of how Microsoft has moved on.

The next question was about the PS3, and what Sony would have to do to really drop the ball. Here was my take on things: “I think that the only danger is a combination of mistakes, rather than one big one. Too high a price, some big games missing launch, launch games not looking as good as Xbox 360 second gen stuff, online service nowhere near as good as LIVE. If there’s 3 out of those 4 then I reckon they’ll have problems. Any less than that, and I can’t see the Sony juggernaut falling off the road any time soon.” Again, this was just my feeling following the E3 2005 show – that Sony had promised more than they could hope to deliver in the early days of PS3. I remain convinced that it was the spectacular 2005 show that laid the groundwork for Sony’s comparative malaise, and that they’re still recovering from it to this day.

The Wii (or Revolution as it was then) had its controller revealed shortly before our conversation, and there was much debate as to how it would be received. Chris had this to say on the subject of it being a potential gimmick: “Not a chance. The Revmote (as I like to call it) is the big difference as far as the Revolution goes. The Nintendo difference, if you like. And, whilst there’s a danger that it will lead to games being shorter and more “arcadey” (it’s difficult to see it being utilised throughout epic 30 hour plus adventure games, mainly thanks to the “knackered arm” aspect) I think they’ve learned from the DS that the method of controller input is vastly important. A simplification like the DS has really attracted a lot of non-gamers. And everyone knows how to use a TV remote, right? So it therefore opens gaming up to people who would be baffled by a standard controller with all the buttons. After all, hasn’t everyone, at some time or another, tried to move their avatar/vehicle, not by moving the analogue stick, but by tilting the controller to aid the turn? Well using the Revmote, now such a movement WILL affect the game. It’s something that could really revitalise old genres too – “new ways to play games” – the ethos has never been more appropriate.” Now that leads me to want to ask Chris what he thinks next week’s Lottery numbers will be. Wiidiculous.

Nintendo’s attitude towards online gaming was next. I had this opinion on the subject: “I think that Nintendo is going to only pay online gaming lip-service to be honest, and only really because it realises it can’t get by without it. I don’t expect a service anything like as comprehensive as LIVE or Sony’s offering. I think it’ll be free and super-easy to set up, which is good. The downside will be that it’ll be very stripped-down like the DS service, and while this may be enough for people who’ve never been online before, and passable for those who want to play the likes of Mario Kart online, for those people used to the functionality of the 360 it may be quite a culture shock.” Okay, so now I’m asking myself serious questions about why I haven’t won the Lottery yet. I seem to keep picking the wrong numbers, clearly on purpose.

Nintendo’s launch strategy for their new console was the last question. What would lead to the best chance of success? Everyone had their own opinion. Chris thought that a still-unrevealed new game would be the lynchpin: “Pilotwings. And I’m really optimistic it IS going to happen. The demo of the toy aeroplane flying around Delfino Plaza shown to select journos by Nintendo themselves has confirmed it for me. I honestly think that could be the killer launch app. Mario will roll out later, I think. TP will be a big draw too.” Sorry, Chris. I really wish you were right. (Note to self: this subject could easily be the basis of an ‘Open Goal’ article.)

Dave completely got what was going to happen with Zelda, though: “Speaking of Twilight Princess, it’ll be interesting to see what effect the Revolution will have on its release. It’d make perfect business sense for Nintendo to release it solely for the new system, but could they get away with such an act after constantly reassuring Gamecube owners they’ll be included in on the act?” Nintendo did indeed end up releasing it on the Cube and Wii, with the bizarre left-becoming-right stuff, like Callaghan to Thatcher.

I, meanwhile, thought this: “I think the smart decision would be to have it Rev-only. A few Cube owners might be annoyed, but they’ll all buy Revs anyway…” Both wrong and unnecessary, as it turned out.

Olly, meanwhile, turned Russell Grant here by predicting a completely new IP. One might even say, Wii Sports. This is probably the best prediction of the bunch: “As much as I’d like to see a new Mario, a new Pilotwings, and a new Metroid and the like on Revolution, I think Nintendo really need to make this a new era and totally define the Revolution as a new way to play games. To do this, they need at least one brand-new Nintendo IP. Something they’ve never done before, and something designed specifically with the Revolution in mind, rather than an existing franchise adapted to the console. Sequels are great and all, but they need to define this as a new beginning, and a brand-new IP from launch would go a long way to doing that.”

To wrap up, I said the following, which was only a theory at the time but has proven to be just as true this time around as it was last gen, perhaps even more so: “It’s interesting, you know. The current gen required you to buy every console to really get a well-rounded gaming experience. I’m wondering whether the same kind of outlay will be required yet again next gen. With the differences between the emphasis, features, and exclusive games between the 3 machines, that seems to be the way it’s headed at the moment.”

Reading all this through, we didn’t really do too badly back in May 2006 in predicting which way things would go. But there’s a lot of mileage still left in this console generation. Things could yet be turned completely on their head. That’s one of the things that makes the videogames industry so exciting: the intense competition between the hardware manufacturers, and the ebb and flow of momentum between them. We’re just starting the latest silly season of software releases, and it’ll be very interesting indeed to see where the land lies at the end of it all.

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