On the one hand you have the Playstation 3, which gives gamers what they’ve come to expect from new system releases: better graphics, better sound, higher resolution, a good launch line-up of software with decent backwards-compatibility (Sony claims only a few hundred PS1 and PS2 games are incompatible, and that this will be improved with future firmware revisions) and a price tag of $830AU–$999AU for the core console with no included games. The controller is a conventional two-handed one, but with full motion sensing (which Sony introduced after Nintendo announced the Wii, but we’ll get to that in time) and no Rumble (because the shaking interfered with the motion sensing).
On the other hand you have the Nintendo Wii, which is an entirely different dealy. Instead of focusing on graphics and audio, the Wii rethinks the very way people interact with video games. The one-handed Wiimote is just like a TV remote control, but a sensor bar included with the Wii tracks its movement through space: pitch, tilt, yaw, forwards and backwards and side-to-side are all recognised. If you want to swing a sword, you swing the Wiimote. If you want to cast a fishing line, you flick the controller outwards. Hitting a tennis ball or putting is just like in meatspace. If you want to shoot or point or look or aim you simply point your Wiimote at the screen. Hell, if you want to steer a vehicle you just hold the Wiimote by the ends and turn it like a steering wheel. A D-pad and seven buttons are on the Wiimote, and an attachable ‘nunchuk’ attachment has a joystick and two extra trigger buttons for more complex control schemes. It’s priced at $400AU with a party game included.
What’s so important about this launch is that it lets hardware developers know what gamers want more: great graphics or great gameplay. The PS3 soundly whips the Wii in terms of raw power, but Nintendo weren’t focusing on performance to begin with. The way a person interacts with a game directly affects how much they enjoy it. Though both controllers sense motion, the PS3’s two-handed gamepad severly limits its application. You can’t swing it like a sword or smack a tennis ball with it, so its most probable use will be as a pointer in first-person shooting games or strategy games. And its lack of Rumble and reportedly awkward buttons detract from immersion — and that’s something you need to keep. Just ask the developers of Steel Battalion, an Xbox 360 game that shipped with its own 40-button, 1․2-metre–wide tank cockpit controller, replete with buttons for closing the hatch and operating the windscreen wipers.
The Wiimote, being one-handed, can be held and applied any way you want, and not only can you move it in more ways, but it comes with Rumble and an on-board speaker. If you loose an arrow, the sound it makes in flight begins at your hand and travels towards the TV screen. If you reload a weapon, you can hear it at the controller. There’s your immersion. If you watch footage of people playing with the Wiimote, the experience leaves amazing smiles on their faces.
The Wii’s comparatively low pricing and friendly-looking controller encourage casual gamers and non-gamers to try it, while the PS3 is almost exclusively for more serious gamers. In the next three days I’ll be keeping a close eye on the launch of both systems to see if the future of gaming goes forward or stays static, and to know if we can expect innovation or stagnation.
As for me, I pre-ordered a Wii on the very first day it was offered.