The opiate of the masses

There is one item of news, a topic of daily conversation, not far from anyone’s lips; it is whispered about on trains and takes up all chit-chat: the weather! It swings from wintry cold to unseasonably warm from one day to the next, if you’re in the sun and sheltered from the wind. On consecutive days I dress too warm or too light as the weather see-saws between two seasonal extremes. An interesting topic for a blog post, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In less exciting news it may not entirely have escaped your notice that last weekend saw the release of Sony’s new Playstation 3, a date true to Sony’s infatuation with alliterative release dates. I shied away from commenting on the subject on the day itself, as I spent the morning at home asleep and probably couldn’t offer any insights that you wouldn’t be able to read about in more detail on blogs and news websites that pay their staff to queue up in the rain. I have, however, driven the machine around the block a few times very briefly at the office on our resident massively wasted huge television and am now confident I can cast a developer’s eye over the products and comment on them. For all the stories on idiots queuing and unscrupulous scalpers I’d refer to the usual sites, like Kotaku or GameSetWatch or whatever commercial games websites you can stomach.

The machine itself is slick enough but warms up markedly from the top and back; not quite so hot as to cause house-fire fears but probably enough to stop you from stacking anything on top of it. It’s not noisy and loading times are comparable to those of the Playstation 2. The menu interface, a carbon copy of the PSP’s in layout and design, does little to excite me. It looks good but isn’t intuitive. Still, it functions and gets you from A to B. The boxes the games come in are cute, but lave a see-through space of about an inch at the top making them look like cheap Chinese rip-offs with badly colour-copied covers cut down a few sizes too short.

I have had a brief spell on Ridge Racer 7, Resistance and Gundam, but not enough to write reviews on them to the detail they deserve. My first impressions however are a little subdued. Ridge Racer certainly looks slick but doesn’t slap me in the face with a next-gen haddock. Some of the earlier courses have the distinct whiff of an Xbox360 launch game, though the later ones do offer more in the way of eye candy. I could spot no jaggies amongst the waterfalls and cows that uselessly litter the roadside.
A surprise racing title for the PS3

Resistance looks very adequate; it is obviously a well-crafted game but graphically the opening levels don’t surpass the graphical splendour of recent PC shooters. Gundam was, as behooves the series, pretty dire. It was dark and clunky with bad controls and a terrible camera, often behind your mobile suit, blocking the view precisely where you want to concentrate. By the time we encountered a massive invisible wall to prohibit our movement we switched off. The whole idea of invisible barriers is odious, especially in this case as they don’t seem to apply to enemy characters who can stand in safe areas and shoot at you without you being able to reach them, for no visible reason, to slash at them, as shooting is made impossible with the camera firmly focused on your massive mech backside.

50,000 Yen's worth of disapointment

A demo CD with pre-rendered movies for Enchant Arm and Armored Core was also a mixed bag of disappointments. Enchant Arms, even in this pre-rendered state, look dire, like a badly made PS2 game and Armored Core had some nice FMV sequences mixed in with underwhelming game-play footage. To be fair, both these products are still being developed.

None of the products we briefly played seemed to look any better than the current crop of Xbox360 games, but the machine seemingly effortlessly pushed the data around like a topper so I have no doubt we will be seeing some stunning games come out later on in its lifetime, possibly 1 or 2 years hence. The biggest problem however is that to reach such heights of graphical quality one can imagine massive budgets and teams need to be involved and few but the richest corporations could afford that luxury. My guess is that for the foreseeable future Xbox360 and PS3 games will be created from the same source to maximize returns for the publisher causing less of a rift than Sony may have hoped for. What the scenario will be like 3 or 4 years from now is anyone’s guess though, and it largely depends on how successful the PS3 will be.

If I allow myself to be cynical, and why break the habit of a lifetime, I’d say Ridge Racer is a portent of things to come: more of the same games but prettier. But Hell, if that is what the masses want, who am I to complain? I am not unaware of the fact that those masses help pay for my daily Pot Noodle! And let’s, for brevity’s sake, ignore the SIXAXIS as the failed, badly-executed and gimmicky ploy to steal Nintendo’s wind that it is.

So buy now or buy later? Well, now if you want to double your investment via on-line auction, but as a gamer I’d recommend holding off for a while. The launch games are all of the variety and quality that you could easily live without for a while and although I spotted no problems, I’m sure Sony will be releasing firmware updates and new versions of the hardware as problems arise with its launch stock – another Sony tradition with all its hardware. If the price comes down I think the PS3 will be a good console to buy, this time next year or the year after. Maybe.


  1. Canadians also have a fixation on discussing the weather, glad to see we're not the only ones.

    I'm not interested in the PS3 with the shocking amount of AAA games out on the Nintendo DS. I just wished there was some way the Wii could play them on the big screen, because portables give me cramps.

    Have you ever presented us some of the games you've worked on? Would love to see some of them, even if they're cheap H-mahjong or train simulators ;)

  2. I can only think that the Enchanted Arms blockyness is down to the video encoding. It does look darned pretty running on the XBox 360.

    Now as for it's gameplay, that's a different matter.

  3. PS3 is actually worth the value considering what it is capable of. XBox 360 with the add-on $200 HD Drive is about the same price. I don't see why some people like to rip on the price when they are both the about the same. In the long run, I think PS3 will come thru because EVERY PS3 has blu-ray but not every XBox 360 consumer will have a HD DVD Drive. I am disappointed with the Wii, I was hoping it would have DVD playback. I guess waiting another year isn't so bad considering PS2 is at it's peak.

  4. How disgruntled you are with the price depends on what you expect to be using the PS3 for. If it's just for games it is a bit excessive. If it's for Blu-Ray it's cheap, considering standalone drives for PCs retail at 100,000 Yen!!!

    Personally I'm standing back until this VHS/Betamax "war" has been concluded.

  5. Whichever wins, we all lose: Not exactly look forward to buying all my movies in the new format. Again.

  6. don't buy all your movies in a new format then ;)

    DVDs still play on blu-ray/HDDVD, don't they?

    I wouldn't be surprised if iTunes movie downloads are where people go for films in the future anyway, not blu-ray or hddvd.

  7. Encahnted Arms is the first real RPG demonstrating the XBOX 360's graphics.