Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Console Wars and the Switch to PC

Japan has been the last bastion of hope when you think of Console Games. The "double dragon" Japanese corporate team of Sony and Nintendo continue to rule the console market in Asia and Europe. For us in the United States, Microsoft has worked its way to the number 2 spot ever since they debuted of the original Xbox in the winter of 2001. The decline in popularity of console games since the late 90s due to the advent of PC online gaming has been especially tough on those of us who grew up playing on old Nintendo, Sega, and Atari game consoles.

For me, the switch to PC gaming happened around the time of the release of the original Half-Life; in other words, 1998 was the tipping point. As mentioned in an earlier entry, I was already quite savvy with the whole concept of gaming on the computer. Duke Nukem 3d, Shadow Warrior, Command and Conquer, Doom, Quake, Commander Keen, Wolfenstein, and other such classic PC-DOS games were already fun in my mind. However, to play with other people, I still relied on my trusty SNES, PS1, N64, and whatnot. In 1994, trying to set up a PC ‘multiplayer’ game with a friend induced headaches, and usually parents did not want the house phone line tied up. So games like Super Mario Kart (1992), Starfox (1993), Street Fighter 2 (1993), and eventually games like Goldeneye 007 (1997) were the best and easiest ways to have a fun time with a couple of friends. However, after they left the house, the fun stopped and you were forced to play by yourself. This was of no concern, though, because games were quite well-made during those days and single-player was usually so enthralling that you stayed up till morning trying to “find this,” “get here,” or “kill this boss.”

Then came better graphics cards, broadband connectivity, and Half-Life in 1998. A year later during the summer of 1999, Beta 1.0 of a start-up, unknown mod named Counter-Strike (CS) hit the ‘net. On August 17, 1999 I warily clicked “Download from this mirror!” for CS Beta 2.1 from the original www.counter-strike.net website. The rest is just plain history. I’ve been playing counter-strike for ~7 years. Wow. But I’m proud that I can say I’ve been with CS since the relative beginning, playing through most of its constantly evolving life. (As an aside: CS Beta 6.5 was clearly the best version of the game, nothing has come close.) In 2002, I did it again. I clicked on “Download” for a mod called Firearms (FA). “Firearms” was a HL1 mod originally packaged with Half-Life. I joined gaming groups called “clans,” and by the time of its relative death in 2005, I was proud to retire as one of the top 10 Firearms players in the world. I met a great group of people playing that game, and I respect each and every one of them. To this day, I frequent their forums and await the FA team’s upcoming mod for HL2 called World at War.

I’m especially fond of the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre of gaming and the computer was the best possible vehicle for its evolution. Thus, console gaming lacked a certain quality whenever I tried to play on them. Halo, regarded as the king of console FPS’ is fun, yet I still find myself bored and looking for that “something else.” Whether that “something else” is a mouse and keyboard combo, superior graphics, or better multiplayer support, is indefinable. There are people out there who still like console games because they care for the franchises it was built upon. And I agree. Some games like the Metal Gear Solid series, the Resident Evil series, the Dead or Alive series, and so much more are solid, fun games on the consoles that PC gaming cannot touch. Thus, consoles are in a whole different league from PC gaming entirely. With the next-gen systems, like the Xbox 360, PS3, and Nintendo Revolution, one cannot help but make the comparison that these consoles are beginning to look a lot like PCs in the sense that they stray away from the classic console flavor of games like Chrono Trigger or Ninja Gaiden. Indeed, a lot of the next-gen “launch” games are PC ports in and of themselves. This is very disappointing to see as I would like to see a continuation of this unique cultural entertainment form. But it is a bit too early to make judgments about these systems without waiting until they launch and allowing us to view what they have in store. Microsoft’s latest entry was a tad disappointing, let’s hope Sony and Nintendo can change our minds.


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