Should All Game Systems Be Created Equal?

Should All Game Systems Be Created Equal?

All men and women are created equal, but anyone who observes this current generation of game systems should be able to discern very easily that not all consoles are engineered to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

There are multiple reasons why competing consoles come out at different heights: If one console hits the market early, the others might hang back for retooling so that its engineers can release something a little faster, a little more powerful. Or, sometimes a company will have something completely different in mind versus its competitors’ plans.

But Epic Games hopes that the near future will see consoles and the PC linking hands as equals, for ease of game development, as well as ease of porting games across platforms. At last March’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), the studio showed off a teaser tech demo titled Samaritan to illustrate what the future of game development might hold for the Unreal Engine 3. Dr. Mike Capps, President of Epic Games, brought up the demo again at GDC Europe.

“[Samaritan] was our love letter to console manufacturers saying what we wanted to see in next generation,” Capps said. “We did this because we though it was the right thing to do, not because it makes us money, not because anyone is trying to license our engine for the next Xbox or anything else. Why did we spend all that time on it? I think it’ll be clear to you soon.”

But will Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo be swayed by a tech demo? Capps pointed out that it’s happened in the past.

“We went to Microsoft and said – please please please, you need 512 to be competitive, you need 512 to be successful. And it cost them a billion dollars to do it but it’s why they were competitive this generation.”

But if all consoles were engineered to stand as equals, what would separate them aside from the company names stamped on their casings? First-party properties would be a separative barrier, as would the consoles’ release dates. But the differences in game consoles, both small and large, are what drive innovation.

It’s never been strictly a question of who has the most power under the hood. The Atari 2600 trumped the far more powerful ColecoVision and Intellivision. The NES flattened the Sega Master System, at least in North America. And though the Nintendo 64 wasn’t nearly as successful as the PlayStation–partially because the N64 didn’t conform to what was the norm at the time–the analogue thumbstick on its controller revolutionized gaming forever.

Handheld gaming contains more examples of vital differences. Nintendo could have released a better, faster, stronger Game Boy Advance and we would have been happy enough because we wouldn’t have known about the awesome things developers can do with a touch screen.

There can admittedly be some problems with innovations in engineering. Early games on the Nintendo DS shoehorned in touch screen controls as an essential, instead of incorporating them naturally (which eventually happened). The Wii’s revolutionary controller opened up gaming to multiple demographics, but left behind traditional gamers who grew up on a d-pad supported by six to eight additional buttons. If Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft strove to match each other exactly, there would be a lot less confusion and a lot less heartbreak as third-party games could be ported smoothly from one system to the other without much loss from iteration to iteration.

But then following the exploits of each company would become a lot less interesting. And given the Wii U’s built-in tablet, we already have assurance that the next console race isn’t going to see Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft trying to match each other’s stride.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

3 Comments

  1. i found your article to be a very good read. i too have been thinking about the possibilities and advancements game makers could achieve if the tools i.e. ‘paint brushes’ they use to create their art were not always changing. would the 16th chapel be as beautiful if Michelangelo had to paint it with sponges? maybe it might have been but the real debate that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have to have is whether they want to be the paint brush or the canvas. i’ll put it to you this way; the role of the artist is to expose the ‘art’ to the world so that it can be interpreted. they can do this through many forms and avenues like painting, sculpting, or architecture. however, the mediums stays the same. Michelangelo did not start David and half way through change his mind and decided to make him an arty coffee table. what Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are doing is just that; changing the canvas so that the artist can only create that ‘one’ masterpiece so that they can hold the exclusivity on that art to recoup the cost in making the canvas in the first place. its no big secrete that these console cost a lot to develop but if the big three were to be the paint brushes, they would loss the exclusivity but gain the mastery within the art. in other words, all the consoles would have the same technical specs with some software difference i.e. online/apps while allowing game developers to create multiple engines and art tools to create their worlds to run on all consumer devices. don’t know if i’m right but trust me, i’m not the only one thinking about this. what do you think?

  2. Don’t forget online plans. Xbox LIVE, Nintendo WiFi, and the PlayStation Network have each made some pretty strong statements this generation, for good or ill.

    I like the idea of systems equal in power, but each with their own unique quirks to distinguish them. No More Heroes and Call of Duty have shown how the same basic experience can run with different control schemes, and hopefully the Wii U will take that to another level with a level of power developers would be willing to cross-develop for.

    If memory serves, E3 had some games in the works which may be the same on one level– the basic experience– but with the Wii U controller adding a little something extra that the others may not have.

    In fact, it’s comparable to something we saw last generation– take another look at Mega Man X Command Mission for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. Same core experience, but with notable differences as well.

  3. Hmmm, strange article. I believe Mike Capps was simply referring to just raw power: more RAM and a high processor speed. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference….iMacs these days have tons of power, equal to a high end pc. But the experience is different, most notably because of the OS. But the controls (keyboard and mouse) are a huge part. A small thin keyboard, and a buttonless mouse with built in gestures changes everything, especially when browsing. Clearly apple putting in the same guts as a pc that have some horsepower, doesn’t make them lethargic to being innovative and different. And it shouldn’t affect other companies aswell, and if it does, then they’re a garbage company who won’t last long. Giving developers relatively the same guts to work with across platforms allows them to easily develope and game, with killer graphics, and then allow them to focus on tailoring the game to each systems strengths. i.e different controls etc.

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