Extra Punctuation

The Upcoming (And Pointless) Console War


I found it a little wearying to see comments on my ZombiU review to the effect that my distaste for the Wii U was “inevitable”. I wouldn’t have thought so. I didn’t like the Wii because all that faffing about with motion controls was detrimental to functional gameplay, but I was cool with Nintendo right up to the Wii, and the Wii U seemed like a return to a focus on immersive gaming and a slightly less drastic enforcement of hardware gimmicks.

Note the operative words “slightly less”. And it’s the touchscreen controller that gave me a sense of foreboding about the Wee Poo (sorry, that was beneath me). It didn’t seem like having to occasionally look at the controller would be good for immersion, your gaze repeatedly tracking across the living room as you shift your view from screen to screen, but in practice it turned out that wasn’t really the issue. The issue is pointlessness, because humans are not chameleons and cannot operate their eyes independently.

Having two screens to play with can only be justified if both screens are used synchronously. It makes sense on the DS because the screens are right next to each other and there’s a dearth of screen real estate on a handheld, but my living room TV is very big and lots of stuff can fit on it.

A lot of people have been saying to me, ooh, it does add something when you can sort through your inventory on the touchscreen in real time, glancing up to the big screen to check that the zombies haven’t closed in. But my point is, how many screens are you looking at when you’re sorting your inventory? One. And how many are you looking at when you’re checking your surroundings? Still one. If you had a game that switched to the inventory screen when a button is held down, instantly returning to the gameplay screen when the button is released, then that would be functionally identical to the ZombiU inventory system. And it doesn’t require a touchscreen draining the controller’s battery life.

The touchscreen-plus-big-screen setup has precisely one function, and that’s local multiplayer. There’s a lot of potential in the concept of one player having exclusively access to an additional screen, and while I haven’t had much of a chance to try them out myself, I’m assured that the local multiplayer games in Nintendoland can be quite the larf and a harf. Actually one application that occurred to me was co-op sniping: one player could act as the spotter, highlighting targets on the big screen using a Wiimote like a laser pointer, while the other player uses the touchscreen as the scoped view and follows their directions.

But you can’t base a whole console around local multiplayer because there will be a lot of times when you want to amuse yourself and there aren’t any other convenient human beings around (feel free to make your personal favorite masturbation joke here). If the touchscreen controller had been offered as some kind of peripheral for the occasions when you are playing local multiplayer, that would have been jim dandy. But no, it’s always got to be all or nothing with Nintendo these days, doesn’t it. They’re like a bad gambler going all in on a pair of nines. So every single player game on the Wii U will have to have needless touchscreen gimmicks by law.

Still, at least the touchscreen controller has one function, which puts it ahead of motion controls, at least. Motion controls essentially have negative function, because they do a lot to reduce one’s ability to react in a game world. It’s like playing a normal game with mittens on your hands, at best. It’s a shame that things got as far as Steel Battalion on the Kinect before everyone figured that out, but still, lesson eventually learned.


If there’s to be new hardware, around which you intend to base the whole console, it needs to be the kind of thing that improves gaming universally, like dual analog sticks on the PlayStation 1. And if no such innovation can be made – and personally I can’t think of any, ’cause dual analog sticks came about during the transition from 2D to 3D gameplay and no such massive quantum leap is occurring at present – then would that be so terrible? If everyone stopped trying to reinvent the bloody wheel and accept that the best way to play videogames is with a controller in your hands, fingers on buttons with tactile feedback and an intuitive layout, and your eyes glued to the screen?

Because if we can accept that current gaming interfaces aren’t going to get better, and make one set of hardware standard (or at least modular enough to suit all tastes) then that means the industry can finally settle down into the nice comfortable routine that the home movie industry has. The major strength of which is non-exclusivity. Fuck Sony and fuck Microsoft if they try to keep this obsolete “Console War” concept going with a new Playstation and new Xbox, from which they and all of us would have absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose. That’s why this whole concept of the “Steam Box” has me intrigued, because it’s basically just a PC running Steam with the TV-friendly interface on. And anyone can build a PC. Just like anyone can build a DVD player.

But that’s not what’s most important to me. The important part is that, just like anyone can build a DVD player, anyone can buy a camcorder. Then they can make a film about whatever they want, edit it with free dubbing software, burn it to a DVD and show it to their friends on any DVD player. And that’s what I want to see: I want a home console where I can jam in something I’ve made on a USB key and be playing it within seconds. I’m always saying that videogames are a new form of art and an important aspect of art is that absolutely anyone can express the feelings important to them, and with programs like Game Maker and Unity that is very much possible.

But for a culture of universal expression to really blossom, videogames need to drop this fucking exclusive and elitist attitude, where consoles artificially reject anything but the disks it has approved of, approval they will only give if you’ve proved you have millions of dollars and a willingness to tick all the fucking boxes. Even within the console’s exclusive camp there’s this persistent two-tier system, with triple-A on one side and Arcade on the other, and that distinction is only getting more needless when it’s no indication of which is better or has the longer play time, only how much money the developers had.

Learn the lesson of history, guys: any society with a rigid and unjust class system will inevitably stagnate, then invite unrest and revolution. And I see no reason that shouldn’t apply to software distribution, too. Come on. New year, new industry. One where Call of Duty stands next to Cave Story on the same list, with no judgment and equality for all. Think on it.

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.

About the author