The clash of the consoles

The console wars kick off Friday with the release of the Sony PlayStation 3 and continue Sunday with the debut of the Nintendo Wii. The two consoles will compete against the already released Microsoft XBOX 360.

The fighting should be fierce, with Microsoft and Sony looking to take over living rooms with their systems and Nintendo looking to pull non-gamers into the fold of controller-clutching enthusiasts. Kevin Pereira, host of G4 TV’s Attack of the Show, is a video game expert. He gives the straight dope on what to expect from the Wiimote, virtual vegetable chopping and a Sony control sans rumble feature, among other things.

Tristan Wheelock: The PlayStation 3 (PS3) is going to have a considerably low initial shipment and is a lot more expensive than the Wii. How do you think that will affect the initial sales?

Kevin Pereira: It’s going to have a huge impact, to say the least. In fact, some analysts are saying this could be the biggest botched launch in video game history. There’s only going to be a few hundred thousand PS3s available in North America, and with all the hype and all the gamers showing up to the stores and kids tugging on their parents’ pant legs saying, “I need to have this new video game system,” it’s just not going to be available.

TW: My friend’s pretty excited; he preordered a PS3 and is going to throw it on eBay.

KP: It just launched in Japan earlier this week, and it had an attachment rate of less than 1 percent, which means people are buying consoles just to resell them.

TW: How do you think consumers are going to respond to the innovative control setup of the Wii?

KP: I think hardcore gamers that have followed Nintendo for a while are interested in the console just for the fact that it has that virtual console aspect built in, so they can play all the old NES games. (The virtual console feature will allow consumers to download older games from home for a discounted price. -Ed.) What’s going to be really interesting is to see how non-traditional gamers take hold of the console. Nintendo brought their console to an AARP (American Association of Retired People) meeting to show it off to senior citizens, and they loved it. Immediately they were playing the Wii sports titles, and I think that is the smartest thing they could ever be doing. A grandparent is going to say, “Hey, these are video games. Would my kids like these? Would my grandkids like these?” If the answer is yes, they are going to go buy them for all of their grandkids. It’s an experience that they can share. I mean, my grandparents certainly aren’t playing Halo with me. This could really revolutionize video games, not on like a hardware or a fancy graphics level, but in terms of innovative game play that could really usher in a new generation of gamers.

TW: It seems graphics can only get so sharp and realistic, and the Wii doesn’t have as much in the way of hardware compared to the XBOX 360 or the PS3. What direction do you think game development is going to go?

KP: A lot of developers will tell you – and a lot of serious gamers will tell you – that graphics don’t make a game. Yes, they can initially wow you and impress you, but if a game is crap or controls as such, that is going to be the end result of the game and the impression that the gamer has. Nintendo has clearly said, “Let Microsoft and Sony battle it out for who’s got the best graphics and the best hardware. Let them fight to the death and spend millions. We’re going to take a different route. We’re not going to care about processing power or hardware or RAM or built-in hard drives, not even DVD playback capability.” They’re solely focused on this intuitive and innovative control scheme. I think that’s going to do really well for them, because gamers have a clear choice between two different consoles if they want graphics, but if they want a new style of game play there is only one choice this holiday.

TW: Both the XBOX 360 and the PS3 are sporting next-generation DVD drives. The Wii has decided to forgo this feature. How do you think this will affect the decisions of potential buyers?

KP: I don’t think it will hurt them at all. The Wii left out the technologies clearly to keep their price point down, and it was a smart move. I don’t think anyone is picking up a Wii and going, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t play Blu-ray DVDs.” I think anybody who knows what Blu-ray or HD-DVD happens to be can either afford it as a secondary console or already knows that they’re interested or not interested in the Nintendo Wii.

TW: What do you think about Sony foregoing the rumble function in the PS3 controller?

KP: Huge, huge. Rumble is something that game players and makers, they take it for granted now. Sony leaving that out, that is a huge blow. While it may seem like a minor feature, when you’re playing your favorite shooter and there’s not that tactile feedback of plugging the shotgun or shooting the machine gun – without it, it feels one step more removed; it’s a little more lifeless. It’s an interesting controller, the PlayStation 3 controller. It’s wireless, it’s super light – again, it almost feels too light. It almost feels like cheap plastic, and without that rumble it’s not as entertaining of an experience.

TW: Going back to the controller, I was reading that it has some sort of motion functionality. How does that work? Does it compare to the Wii at all?

KP: It does in some ways. It’s called the SIXAXIS, is the name of their new controller. It has motion and rotation sensors in it. So for certain driving games, you can just move the controller left or right (and) it will treat it like a steering wheel, or if an enemy grabs you you can just shake it like a baby and it will get the enemy off of you. Not that I recommend shaking babies if you were to, of course. It’s not the exact same technology as the Wii. The Wii has a sensor bar, which you put above or below your television set and that can actually tell the console (how far) the remote is from the television set. That allows for complete 3D motion sensitivity. So if you’re sword fighting, you can actually stab at your television – that’s a motion that the PlayStation 3 controller wouldn’t register. It wouldn’t know that the controller is any closer to the TV than it was a second ago.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of Kevin Pereira’s words on the latest console combatants.