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Pad Happy:
The Amazon-Sponsored (not) Bookshelf Edition

Vol. 2, Issue 11
February 10, 1999 

Personally, I think that consoles have a better chance of making online business profitable than the PC in its present state. The standard hardware format of a console is a big, big plus, as is the knowledge that everyone is running the same version of the game - I'm sure these factors are what led to the development of Microsoft's X-Box. Also, having a single company in charge of a network (like Sony, Sega and Square all plan on doing) means that the riskier concepts can be followed through, and development teams can be "encouraged" to focus on exploiting these features. Sure, nobody owns the internet (as we know it from using our PCs) and that's great, but it also means we (and developers) have to wait for the standards and ideas to emerge. The console giants will have the utmost control over the content of their networks - a worrying thought, sure, but it might just speed the evolution of the online experience, transforming it from a fragfest with brains (usually) to something entirely new and original. Or we might just get ports of Quake III Arena, heh.

You need only look at how Epic pounced on the opportunity to get the Unreal Tournament engine running on the Playstation 2 to see that "middleware" is going to become a massive part of game development over the next few years (and also how seriously many PC developers are taking the next-generation consoles). The size and ambition of many titles getting underway means that many (if not most) development teams will have to outsource a lot of their content-creation work and licensing elements of technology will become a matter of course. This increase in the costs of development means that developers will be looking to sell their game across as many formats as possible. As usual, id led where others are destined to follow when it chose to develop Quake III Arena with cross-format portability in mind.

It's difficult to predict what this might lead to: will we see more and more PC developers looking to port their titles to the console formats? If so, will these developers design games with the limitations of various hardware formats in mind? Will this lead to stifled creativity in the interests of maximizing sales? Somehow, I doubt anything so dramatic will happen - but there will definitely be some kind of impact. Perhaps the PC's days as a stand-alone gaming format are numbered?

Sony has indicated their desire to see the Playstation 2 stick around for even longer than the original Playstation hardware. To PC owners (used to upgrading some element of their system on an annual basis) the thought of a system remaining "static" for a six or seven year period must either be nuts, or terrifying beyond belief (or both). I must admit that, from an academic perspective, I'm curious to see how game development is influenced/forced to innovate by Playstation 2's hardware remaining in stasis over that time. The original Playstation format has looked very dated for some time, but it managed to fine-tune some of my favourite genres close to perfection - survival horror and rhythm-action ("I gotta believe!"). The fact that so many of the PS2 launch titles are merely graphically-accomplished versions of PlayStation games makes me think it will take some time before developers use the power of the system to really enhance the gameplay (as opposed to the graphical) experience.

- Nick Ferguson lives five minutes in the future (or five hours, if you go by EST).


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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 2000 Niick Ferguson. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so watch it - we know kung fu, gaijin.