Friday, June 28, 2013

Next-Gen Gaming: Why I'm NOT buying an XBox 1 or PS4

In my relatively isolated media bubble, the topics that compete for my attention are relatively simple: comic books, movies & music, technology and video games. Anything that relates directly to one of these things is included as well. So as E3 came and went, the video game world was buzzing as Microsoft and Sony fired their opening salvos in the coming console wars.

Microsoft, which is a relative newcomer in the grand scheme of video gaming, has reigned supreme for years on the strength of its XBox 360, which, had it not suffered so much hardware failure, could potentially challenge the Super Nintendo as the greatest game system of all time. The XB360 concentrated on a great gaming experience with sharp, easy controls and smooth action. The controller is so good that I cannot play a first person shooter with any other one. So there was much excitement over their long-awaited next-generation console, the XBox One. (which we all thought would be the XBox 720) Sony, (the former champion with another GOAT contending console, the PS2) who stumbled out of the gate with the PS3 but delivered a great (if overpriced) console that featured home theater integration, blu-ray playback (Sony introduced this concept with a DVD playing PS2) and great independent titles, has upgraded to the PS4.

Each console has its strength and weaknesses, but here's what neither of them offer:

Backward compatability. This is a real thorn for me, and a lot of people; Sony started the trend with the PS2 by offering the ability to play your old PS1 games, a genius move that helped justify the extra cost of moving to the new gaming system, only to basically abandon it with the PS3. Microsoft treated backwards compatability in their XBox 360 as an afterthought, making sure top games like Halo worked but not placing any emphasis on it. What's interesting about this is that before Sony offered that to us on the PS2, we as gamers had never thought about it before; and now we are angry that these companies have taken it away from us. Microsoft in particular is committing a huge transgression against its customers by not even allowing the purchases made with their XBOX LIVE accounts to transfer to the new system.

Affordability. This may seem petty, as I paid $300 for my PS3 five years ago, but for a system that includes 1 controller, no games, and can't even play my old games, $399 for a PS4 and $499 for an XB1 feels like highway robbery. I can remember being 9 or 10 years old and begging my parents for a Nintendo Entertainment System that cost $199 and came with 2 controllers, a light gun, and 2 games. Now, I realize that things cost more now, but look at the value there - I was able to make the initial purchase and take the thing home and play it right then without having to make an additional purchase. I was also able to play with a friend or family member as well, again at no extra cost.

Replay Factor. I'll confess - I don't do online gaming. So for me, getting Call of Duty: MW3 is like spending $60 for 4 hours of entertainment. That's not to say that this game and others aren't fantastic, but once I finished COD:MW3, I didn't touch it again. When I was a kid, I played Super Mario Bros 3 literally hundreds of times. It didn't matter how many times I beat it, there was always something new to discover and some new twist to the way I played it. My favorite game of all time is Maniac Mansion, a story about a mad scientist, his crazy family, an alien tentacle, and a meteor. It sounds zany, but I have actually played and beaten the game over 100 times and it still doesn't get old. The game features multiple solutions and scenarios that are entertaining and engrossing. I don't care that it has no photo-realistic dogs or epic soundtrack.

The point I'm getting to is that I really have no interest in spending $500 to play the next Call of Duty or God of War game because I'll only play them once. You may think I am just getting old (I've lamented about this in another blog post already) but I say I'm getting wiser. As the father of a 4 year old who loves to play games (already, I know!), I think she won't miss either of those titles. I certainly won't miss having to turn the XB1 on every day just to let Microsoft know I'm alive, either.

I did take the plunge recently though, and bought a new game system: the Nintendo Wii U. I have a Wii, (which played GameCube games, by the way) and my daughter loved it. After looking at the Wii U, finally in HD, with the iPad-like main controller that can be used instead of the TV, I decided to go in Nintendo's direction. They've been largely dismissed by the "serious" gaming crowd, as they don't cater to the first person shooters and massive role playing games of the other 2. But I offer this opinion: they have better, longer lasting games.

The first game I fell in love with, like many gamers of my generation, was Super Mario Bros., the pack-in game with the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It was simple to play, easy to get good at, and difficult to master. Yet every time I beat the game, I came back for more. The sequels were even better, introducing us to new concepts and maintaining a high level of re-playability. Super Mario Bros. 3 may even be the best video game of all time. Another Nintendo classic is Metroid, which has always appealed to my interest in sci-fi and fantasy in general. Throw in The Legend of Zelda, and you have 3 very enjoyable, consistently fantastic and highly replayable games that are going to continue on the Wii U. I bought "New Super Mario Bros U" with the console and have loved every second of it - and so has my daughter. We're looking forward to Super Smash Bros U, Mario Kart U, and many more titles. We'll love playing them over and over in the years to come.

That's worth a lot more than one or two exclusive titles that I'll play through once and sell for 1/4 the price I paid for it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oh, what a life

It's incredibly easy to become so wrapped up in our own lives, with specific needs and desires, that we break down into whining children when something doesn't go quite the way we want it to. I'm not going to write another one of those "look how good we've got it" essays, instead I merely want to share a couple of experiences I've had lately.

First, our dishwasher died. Far too soon, if you ask me, as it had a relatively much shorter life than the other major appliances in my home, but it was also a troubled child from the start, so maybe my hopes were too high. I also wasn't very happy about having to buy a new one, as opposed to paying about 80% of that amount to a repairman to fix the troublemaker. There was a considerable amount of pressure on me to get it replaced though; you see, my wife doesn't like to wash the dishes by hand. Neither do I, come to think of it. But the dishwasher had spoiled us - we hadn't always had one. When we (I) finally broke down and bought one about 5 years ago, there was great joy and glee in the house. Look at all our extra free time now! Look at my (her) non-dishpan hands!

Fast forward to present day, and the few days we were without a dishwasher were very tense. I became exceedingly concerned that I (my wife) might have to wash a sink full of dishes BY HAND. This great revelation came to me as I was laying on an inflatable raft, drifting around in the pool in my backyard on a beautful sunny weekend day, listening to my daughter splash and play in the water. There I was, relaxed, content, happy. It was then that it occurred to me that there are people out there not as fortunate as I am: they don't have dishwashers. Heck, they probably don't even have pools, although mine is the $300 above ground variety and nothing to drive up the price of my tiny 1,000 sq ft home.

But it sure makes my life more enjoyable.