The Xbox 720 is going to have a fully-realized holodeck, capable of transporting gamers to their darkest, most lurid, most immersive Star Trekkian fantasies. The PS4 controller will be able to split in half, separating like the saucer section and the drive section of the Enterprise, transporting gamers to their darkest, most lurid, most immersive Star Trekkian fantasies.
The Wii U will have a screen, and, well… Actually we know all about the Wii U. Anyone can go buy one right now and find out for if the hype has any points in common with actual reality. Or if it delivers on those Star Trekkian fantasies we keep hearing about.
Why the disconnect? Why the stark difference? Why the wild extremes? Because we’ve all been here before: This ain’t a roller coaster, it’s a merry-go-round. Anyone who’s had their boots on the ground in the Console Wars knows when to duck, when to shoot, and when to squat down and take chow whenever they can.
This is the Eighth War. And for those who haven’t seen as many battles (read: not as decrepit and ancient), pull up a seat around the fire and listen. And learn. And wonder where the hell that NES robot ended up. If he loves you. If he misses you. If the microchip he calls a heart was ever even capable of affection in the first place.
What’s In a Name?
Let’s start with the current spat of propaganda. What do we think we know about the XBOX 720? First off, it isn’t called that. Maybe. It might be called the Durango. Or is it the Infinity? How about Kryptos, not unlike Superman’s superdog. What we know is this: nothing.
The “PlayStation 4” name is a more likely candidate for the console now codenamed Orbis, simply because the Sony brand has a slightly older lineage than the XBOX, and hasn’t bothered to change it’s name since its inception.
Why not a give a shot at this little match game? Try to pick which rumored name goes with which rumored console:
Sudden Console Death Syndrome
If we can’t settle on names, one would think we could settle on at least mild success? On the knowledge that the console will even exist a year after it comes out? Ever heard of the TurboGraphix? The TurboGraphix was the front-runner in the 16-bit era, one of the first. It came out while Nintendo was still firmly in the 8-bit era, and when the Genesis was still a twinkle in Sega’s eye. Yet, today the console is virtually lost to obscurity. Ironically, a few generations later Sega would suffer the same fate, popping out the Dreamcast ahead of that entire generation (PS2, Gamecube, and the Xbox). Like the TurboGraphix, the Dreamcast had superior hardware. The Dreamcast also boasted an array of technical advances, quality games, and design innovations that single-handedly created the template for modern consoles. The Dreamcast lasted barely a year, taken down by just the rumors of the PlayStation2. Rumors are a tricky business, not to be totally ignored or completely consumed.
Some rumors, though, go absolutely nowhere. Remember those thirteen original launch-day titles for the Nintendo 64? According to Nintendo, we’d see Zelda 64 at launch along with Star Fox 64, Mario Kart R, Kirby Ball 64, and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. In reality, the N64 launched with two games: Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. If you were in Japan you got a third game, the aptly titled Saikyo Habu Shogi. Those eleven other promised launch games were a howling wind through an empty tube. Still, at least there was a list to speculate about. The “Xbox 720” so far is being rumored to host such spectacular titles as Remedy’s “Future-Gen” Game, a Crytek Game, and a potential Bethesda game. The PS4 has even less to speculate about, software-wise. That might have something to do with the fact that the PS4 itself hasn’t even been officially confirmed or revealed to exist by Sony yet. That does put a dampener on concrete evidence.
We’re hearing that the Xbox 720 will have some kind of projector/Kinect/3D glasses functionality to create a virtual 3D environment right in the living room. For the potential low-low price of 300-400 dollars! Did you know that the Nintendo Power Glove was going to make “you and the game one.” Don’t believe me? Check out the commercial. What about that Sony has twice claimed that it’s system will come with a DVR recorder? Not only that, but the recorder had the same name; but it never came out anywhere but Japan, and even then it never took the market by storm. They were both called the PSX, and were told they were coming bundled with the PlayStation. Oh wait, no, they’ll be bundled with the PlayStation 2. Sony learned their lesson and made no claims to include a DVR this generation, but come the end of February we’ll find out for sure whether or not four will be the charm. The Xbox 720 is already bursting with rumors of a DVR included inside the box too. But then, the Xbox 360 made a similar claim.
Out of Control
Nintendo’s own literature once said about the N64 controller’s save pack: “This is actually used inside the controller itself allowing you to save your own data such as game play and controller customizations. For instance when you play a VS mode of a game, you can save fight information on each controller…” Does anybody else remember fighting virtual copies of your friends, encoded with their secret techniques and mapped to a computer opponent? No? Never played Mario Kart against a Cylon impersonator? How about those PS3 Batarang controllers? The one that actually looked like a Cylon Raider?
That’s okay Sony. Nintendo was rumored to be shipping the wireless WaveBird controllers for the GameCube, which would have made them the first console to do wireless controllers right out of the gate, and do them well. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either, and gamers everywhere cursed the tangled net of controller cables that would crop up around the GameCube. Speaking of controllers that never showed up, the PlayStation 2 was demonstrated at a few conventions with sword-shaped controllers where players could wave around and slap at phantom ninjas. We’d eventually see something like what they showed for the PS2 nearly a decade later. For the PlayStation 3.
The release dates for new consoles are about as well-defined as their technical magic. The Sega Saturn famously pulled a “gotcha” release prank that infuriated distributors and consumers alike, and is believed to be largely responsible for the console’s crash and burn. Sega announced the Saturn would be released in the US on Sep, 2, 1995. Sega also conveniently renamed the day to “Saturnday.” Yes, it was a Saturday. Unfortunately, Sega actually pulled a surprise launch in May, four months before the claimed release date. They only launched with six of their (much larger) list of launch titles, none of which were third party. This actually added game developers to the list of people Sega pissed off, because they though that Sega was trying to undercut their games so that first-party Sega titles had a head-start on sales. Immediately after Sega did their surprise launch, the PlayStation was announced at a lower price point, thus definitively sealing the tomb on the Saturn. Though some of the Saturn’s failure may have had to do with Segata Sanshiro, the “Judo Master” marketing gimmick who promised to track down and beat the crap out of people who didn’t play Sega Saturn.
Rumors have taken us down dark paths, rumors that have fueled enough forum flame wars to light and heat the Earth. Rumors of virtual reality. Rumors of 3D. Rumors of techspecs that were conjured whole and complete out of the cavernous rear-end of the marketing department. Promises of total immersion. Promises of perfect motion controls, devious artificial intelligence (Dreamcast: It’s Thinking), and the final end to all of our non-videogame time. The singularity. The Promise. The Promise is a Big Mac. The Promise is fluff, hype, nonsense. With another year or two of rumors to sort through, invest in salt. You’ll need all the grains of it you can find to make it through the bullshots and exciting copy and flashy commercials. Through the Power Gloves, and the Emotion Cell processors, and the Blast Processing that gives Sonic his speed. We’ve been through this before. We’ll get through it again. Lay down the swords, roll up the banners. And wait. We’ll hear more than we ever wanted to about the next generation soon enough.
Answers to the Matchup: