On December 28, Sony officially stopped making the Playstation 2 in Japan. Which wasn’t terribly cheery news for the end of the year. Oh, I know they’ll still be kicking around, they sold millions of the buggers, but it still feels like the end of an era. Of the string of consoles that make up my own personal gaming genealogy, I still rate the PS2 as the best, sitting in a lovely sweet spot where the technology was powerful without deterring third party development. A lot of my favorite games were on it: Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time… now all those memories will be lost. Like tears in a tear storage facility.
Last week in XP I made an impassioned request that we pack in the stupid console war system and the obsession with trying to reinvent controllers and interfaces with every generation, and part of that is in the interest of historical preservation. If Sony and Microsoft do massively disappoint me and bring out a new generation PlayStation and Xbox, what really haunts me is the thought that they’ll completely bugger up the backwards compatibility, like they did last time, and that’ll be another generation of games, classics and space-fillers alike, thrown to the furnace. Or left at the whimsical, cack-handed mercies of the “HD remake”. You can’t just keep doing that. The people who invented photography did not then immediately burn all the paintings. Art is nothing without the context of all the art that has come before it.
That’s why I’ve called for the standardisation of gaming technology, and the company-specific console replaced with what is basically a living room friendly gaming PC with about five hundred USB ports in the front. Something that will run pretty much any software you jam in it even if it is twenty years old, or – if you’re into the seriously prehistoric – is equally content to run a downloadable emulator developed by some third party who cares for a company’s old catalogue even after the company itself doesn’t.
I feel I need to clarify last week’s position a bit, because some of the comments I noticed seemed to indicate that a few points were being missed. Some people started invoking the word “competition”, how it’s an important thing to have in an open market, and that a standardized model for consoles would be detrimental to it. That’s a point that needs a bit of debating, I think, and personally I don’t see the issue. No one complains about USB ports having no competition in the field of hardware connectors, or at least no-one who’d make for stimulating company.
But what people arguing for competition in games hardware don’t seem to realise is that the current console situation isn’t competitive in the ideal sense. It’s not referred to as the “console competition”, it’s a “war”. And I would love competition. It would suit me down to the ground if the companies would start treating it like a competition rather than a war. The difference being that, in a competition, if you start supporting a different side it’s accepted that this is because the other side suits your needs better. Whereas, in a war, if you start supporting the other side, you get fucking murdered.
Actually, “war” might be the wrong word, too. It’s more like that thing that was going in Orwell’s 1984, an almost entirely artificial conflict kept around mainly for keeping everyone in check. How it seems to work is that each of the three big consoles are some kind of weird insular North Korea-like nation, all of whom are keeping an eye on each other so the moment any of them gets the slightest edge in weapons technology they can all rip it off and rebrand it for their own people. It’s not a competitive market so much as it is three separate monopolies, all trying to get exclusive titles and franchises, rigidly controlling what can and cannot be played on their turf.
In a truly competitive market I would be allowed to play Uncharted with a 360 controller, because my preference is for something better suited to my big hands and without those squidgy PS3 triggers I hate. A competitive market is about there being several different methods for achieving the same result, serving different tastes and preferences. The problem with the PS3 and the Xbox is that these are pretty much the same methods of achieving the same result. The systems are equally powerful, the games are the same, the controllers have the same number of buttons in the same positions, and the only thing that differentiates them is an artificial encoding dictating what disks a console is willing to run.
Question the reality in which we live. In my happy parallel universe where games consoles are like DVD players and are all based around standard hardware, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are merely competing game publishers and controller manufacturers. And while we’re dreaming, the sky is also pink, and everyone has candy canes growing out of their palms.
In this reality, the only thing that affects which of the big three ends up on top is which one puts out the best games and the most functional hardware that fit most comfortably around our palm-mounted candy canes. They can’t force anything on anyone through any exclusivity bollocks. Motion controls would never have been more than a little nichey blip, because the parallel universe developers would be iffy about having to develop for specialized peripherals that not every potential customer is willing to invest in. Nintendo would never have been able to convince anyone that such a thing represented the future of all gaming because they would never have been in a position to force the audience to use it.
It just seems to me that this entire creative medium has it arse backwards, commercially speaking. The console manufacturers have us all by the balls/tits. The only thing that matters, and that has ever mattered, is the games, and the content thereof, but the whole system – particularly this culture of exclusivity – is one in which games exist to serve the consoles. And that’s bananas. The painting does not exist to support the easel. Rachmaninoff did not compose Prelude in C-sharp minor so that Thomas Edison could sell gramophones. Although I wouldn’t have put it past Edison, actually, the big Tesla-hating cunt.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.