Ah…the world of video gaming.
Other than a brief period of time when I was obsessed with beating the original “Crash Bandicoot” on PlayStation 2 (mission accomplished, btw) I have never been into video games. Number One Son Thomas on the other hand plays a fair share of them. He’s not alone in that. Video games and consoles are a multi-billion dollar a year business ($7.1 billion in the U.S. alone in 2005). Those kinds of dollars have produced epic races to new technology, cut throat business practices by the major players and lots of competition between platforms.
Sony’s PlayStation 2 is far and away the champ of the video game world. Released in 2000, it was a hard item to come by for quite a while. It has sold an unbelievable 110 million units worldwide.
Last year the console wars started heating up again, with high definition gaming being the next coup. Microsoft beat everyone to the marketplace with it’s XBox 360 console, which used current DVD technology for game disks but had high definition graphics and internet connectivity for on-line gameplay. This last holiday season Sony countered with it’s long anticipated PlayStation 3, which boasted high definition graphics and internet connectivity, plus had a Blu-Ray drive that was included in anticipation of the need for far higher capacity in gaming disks (and to try and put a Trojan horse Blu-Ray movie player in every PS3 home… but we won’t go there with this).
It looked like a showdown between the XBox 360 and the PS3 in 2007, but a third player ended up being the champ of the last year’s sales by a wide margin… and it did it via the philosophy that bigger, faster and more complex it’s always better.
While the 360 did pretty well in sales and the PS3 was very disappointing, the Nintendo WII flew off the shelves and it’s only just now that you can find them in store. They don’t last long on the shelf… we have been looking for one since last winter and The Lovely Anna happened upon the last one of a just-recieved shipment at the local Toys-R-Us last week. We brought it home and hooked it up.
It’s worth mentioning how popular this game console is with kids despite the lack of high resolution graphics. In fact the graphics are simple and very much archaic compared to the latest and greatest from the 360 and the PS3. Still, out kids were very excited when we told them we had gotten one… they have been playing it incessantly ever since. We’ve actually had to exercise parental “that’s enough WII for today” authority.
The system represents some very smart sideways thinking on the part of Nintendo, who has been a distant third in the gaming world with their Gamecube for years. Rather than investing in expensive graphics engines, advanced disk technology and intensive programing, they decided not to try and compete with the Big Boys but to offer something completely different. The result was the WII, which uses a special technology to allow a greater degree of physical interactivity with the games as opposed to the usual sitting on you butt with a controller. With the WII, you use their controller to bat, pitch, bowl, golf, sword fight… you name it. You stand up, move and are a part of the game. The controller is incredibly adept at sensing movement, speed, angles, twists, etc. and allows games that would be very boring with just a regular controller to be a lot of fun for everybody. I can’t stand first person shooter games but have found myself virtual bowling, playing tennis, boxing and playing a lot of other fun games with the kids. The concept is very smart and it’s no wonder this small console has outsold it’s bigger, more powerful competitors by a large margin.
The controller aside, the programming is also very smart. One of the first things you do is create a “Mii”, which is a character for you to use in the games. Each Wii is saved in the system, and you can have multiple Mii’s under your identity and use whatever one you want when you play a game. The coolest thing about the Mii’s, at least for me as a caricaturist, is that they can be actual caricatures if you are creative enough. You get to go through and select head shapes, different kinds of eyes, noses, mouths, hair, etc. You can change their sizes, spacing and angles. With a little effort you can make some pretty accurate Mii caricatures. Here’s a picture of my Mii:
Not bad. They are very simple by design, but it kind of looks like me. You can see the various face shapes that can be chosen. Along the top are the other features you can customize. To the right of the face icon is hair, then eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, glasses and accessories… body type is to the left and then preferences. We did one of each family member. How you alter the size, spacing and angles of the features are a good exercise in simple caricature thinking.
The fun doesn’t stop there. The Wii also has built in wifi and internet connectivity. You can befriend someone else’s Wii if you know their special console ID and the name they chose for it. Then whatever Mii’s they have set to “mingle” will appear in a special area of your Mii menu called the “Mii Parade”. You can drag then to your Mii Plaza and they will then be available to play in games. There is some clever thinking here, like having any Mii’s in your system appear in the crowd or as other characters at random. I find my Mii often in the crowd behind the bowlers and such. Funny. You can also store your Mii’s within your controller itself with a few selections, and then take you controller to another person’s house with a Mii and play their games with your own Mii. Fun and smart.
There are a lot of other features, especially with regard to the internet. You can exchange messages with those you have befriended, shop, check the weather and do other online things via “channels” you can download and activate. These are cool but not much more than interesting additions. The real focus of the Wii is the unique nature of the controller and it’s physical interactivity with the games.
At only $250.00 compared to $350.00 for the cheapest 360 and a ridiculous $500 for the cheapest PS3, the Wii is a bargain as well as a much more fun game system. It just goes to show that sometimes bigger isn’t always better.
753 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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