I am well aware that Sony fans will remain Sony fans no matter what Nintendo and Microsoft may say in their respective conferences today, so I’ll discuss Sony’s own performance now. For me the PS2‘s greatest strength was the breadth of games available for it, while its weakness was it’s controller, barely altered from the original console and very inconvenient to use. The delays suffered by the console were allegedly due to difficulties with the Cell processor, an investment that cost billions, where Microsoft took the triple-core approach with pre-existing technology. With the Xbox 360 already in circulation, what remained to be seen is whether the Cell processor’s rumoured power would make it almost instantly obsolete.
The short answer is no. In fact the movies premiered by Sony were somewhat disappointing. While it’s true to say these are only launch titles and do not take full advantage of the new platform, I was expecting at least some increase from those available on the 360. The truth is that graphically the systems seem virtually indistinguishable so far. On the controller front at least they’re not going with the ridiculous banana-shaped boomeroller they previously designed. The presenter paused as he revealed something that looked almost exactly like the existing controller, apparently expecting applause for this, although I am aware that some fans are happy with the status quo.
There are some marked improvements, but I hesitate to call any of them innovations. Look at the list at tell me when it sounds familiar: hard drive (MS Xbox), wireless controllers (Nintendo Wavebird), analogue shoulder buttons (MS trigger controls), online connectivity (MS Xbox live), and integration with a handheld (Nintendo Zelda: Wind Waker). It all feels like a game of catch-up on the last generation. They have also added some gyro-based motion-sensory wizardry to the controller, but its implementation seems like a rush job, far inferior to Nintendo’s and cynically one might suggest purely intended to steal some of their thunder. There’s no surprise some have already dubbed it the “PlaguarismStation3”, given Sony’s existing reputation for feature-stealing — Warhawk developer Incognito let slip they’ve only had the tiltable controller to work with for a matter of days. Motion detection also means no force-feedback as this was said to interfere with its sensors (and is, apparently, so last gen). However, word from the floor is that it all works. The new iToy demo was impressive, featuring a card game that could moved in front of the camera to be played out visually on the screen, although its use is niche. A real selling point is full backwards compatbility as far back as the original Playstation. I really think Microsoft dropped the ball here, only supporting backwards compatibility in a certain (growing) range of titles.
And the price tag on this system? The full model costs no less that $599. As with the 360 a lower model (smaller hard drive, no wireless) is available for $499. This will probably translate into a ridiculous UK launch price of at least £350-450, while Microsoft’s console will likely have dropped to be at least £100-200 cheaper. Justifying the incredible expense will be hard, even for fans, though I have no doubt they will pay it.
Overall (and you’re free to disagree and offer alternative opinions) this seems to confirm that I’ll be throwing in behind Microsoft again this time round, although I am intrigued to follow Nintendo’s news this afternoon as well (it’s less controversial as they’re aiming at a different niche market). I won’t be buying a Revolution, or a Wii, or whatever it’s called in twelve hours time, but it’s innovation I fully support and would love to try out.