Opinion » Cybernaut

Console yourself


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Now we've finally reached the age where video game consoles are as ubiquitous as toasters in modern households, it's going to be interesting to see what the next generation looks like.

Nintendo recently updated its product with the underwhelming WiiU, and both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 will be updated next year by Microsoft and Sony. Valve is getting into the action with the Steam Box, a new system that is supposed to bring PC gaming to televisions at a reasonable price — something I don't quite believe yet given that high-end gaming rigs still require about $2,000 in hardware. As well, the Kickstarter-funded, Android-based Ouya console will launch this year for $99, although with no disk reader or hard-drive you're limited to web games and the OnLive experience where most of the action takes place on remote servers that broadcast it back to your television. OnLive itself is a moderate success, just nowhere as big as the company expected to be two years after launch.

When you include mobile games, casual and not-so-casual web games, developers must be tearing their hair out right now figuring out how they're going to support all of these platforms. Instead of some kind of end-game scenario where one console survived, the market is far more fractured than it used to be.

PC Gaming — Nothing seems to affect PC gaming, as gamers seem to get the best of all worlds. Their hardware is usually a few years ahead of what consoles are offering, and allows you to use any kind of control scheme you want — keyboards and mice, joysticks, Kinect sensors, whatever. Most console games, with the exception of PS3 exclusives, typically come out on PC at some point, and while set-up costs are high (that $2,000 gaming rig I mentioned earlier), games are usually a lot cheaper through services like Steam, you have access to some incredible game mods that improve on graphics or gameplay, and overall graphic performance is usually higher.

The one thing that PC games lack is living room appeal, the ability to sit back on a couch and play games on a 50-inch screen with/against friends. That's something the Steam Box will reportedly fix...

Steam Box — Details are still materializing, but at the recent Consumer Electronics Show Valve showed off a Linux-based combination PC-console called Steam Box. It's basically a PC that hooks up to a HD television that will theoretically let you play any game available on the Steam (www.steampowered.com) store. It sounds promising but, as I mentioned earlier, I don't see how they can provide a gaming experience that's anything like a PC for a console price.

WiiU — Sales, to put it mildly, are disappointing at this stage. While the concept is interesting, and the ability to walk away from your couch and keep playing the same game using the controller's built-in screen is nothing short of awesome, people don't seem too keen on this system. The price is a bit steep ($349) for a system that's actually less powerful than an Xbox 360 or PS3, and you'll probably spend at least another $50 on additional controllers. The WiiU is better at playing multiplatform games like Call of Duty than the Wii, but one of the chief things hampering Nintendo has been the fact that the only titles that seem to sell well are Nintendo exclusives like Super Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros., Legend of Zelda, etc.