Next-Gen Console Hardware – Just Exactly What is Inside the Playstation 4 and Xbox One

With E3 behind us, and all the major new console and game announcements done, many of you already have chosen a side, and preordered either a Playstation 4 or an X-box One.  But did you know these two consoles are more similar than you would think?  For the first time, we have two major consoles designed by the same hardware manufacturer.  So yes, both machines have almost the exact same hardware internals, with a few key differences.

The CPU

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When talking about their next-generation consoles, Microsoft and Sony have made much that their new machines feature an “eight-core” processor.  In a sense this is true, but in another it’s just marketing making the machines sound much more powerful than they really are.

Both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are based on AMD’s “Jaguar” processor technology.  The successor to AMD’s previous “Bobcat” chip, “Jaguar” was made to compete with Intel’s Atom processors, and is an Intel-compatible x86 part.  This means it runs the same instruction set as the processors inside PCs and Macs. Given some creative hacking, Windows, OS X or Linux could be installed in these consoles.

The “Jaguar” technology is based on “modules”.  Each “Jaguar” module contains four (4) “Jaguar” cores, an AMD Radeon GPU and the required hardware for interfacing with memory and devices.  The new consoles have the equivalent of two (2) of these “Jaguar” modules packaged in the same die.    The “Jaguar” CPU cores are about as powerful as an Intel Core i3 when running non-intensive programs, which means they’re not really all that powerful.  Some journalists at E3 remarked that the games did not look as good, or run as smoothly on the show floor as what was show by Sony and Microsoft at their respective press conferences.  As it turns out, those press conference demos were running on HP Windows 7 PCs with high-end Nvidia graphics boards, which were much more powerful than the actual console hardware, which was designed for low-cost tablets and notebooks.  It’s worrying that the weak CPU cores may cause frame-rate drops and hiccups in the final retail versions of games, but we’ll have to wait and see.  There’s still almost six (6) months until the Xbox One and Playstation 4 launch, which gives developers plenty of time to optimize their code.

The GPU

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The GPU in the Xbox One and Playstation 4 is integrated into the same die as the CPU, and is based on AMD’s GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture.  It’s the same technology powering AMD’s lates Radeon 8XXX series of graphics cards.  How powerful the GPU is depends on the number of “Compute Units” it has.  Both consoles have the same GPU, in essence, the equivalent of a mid-rance PC graphics card, such as a Geforce 660 or Radeon 7850, but the Playstation 4 trumps the Xbox One in sheer power, since it has eighteen (18) of these unites, as compared to the Xbox One’s twelve (12).  The Playstation 4 also has twice the number of Render Output units (ROP), thirty-two (32) to the Xbox One’s sixteen (16).  Quite simply, this means that games have the potential to look better and play smoother on the Playstation 4, especially when considering the nest part of the equation.

The Memory

Both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One will have 8GB of RAM, set up in a Unified Memory Architechture.  But the Playstation 4’s memory will be GDDR5, the same memory used in the fastest graphics cards, whereas the Xbox One will use DDR3 memory, the same type that current PCs use, which is cheaper but considerably slower.  The end result is that the Playstation 4 has 1.84 Teraflops, while the Xbox One has 1.23 Teraflops.  In order to compensate for the slower RAM in the Xbox One, Microsoft also included 32MB of super-fast ESRAM, which can be accessed by the CPU and GPU at once.  Apparently Microsoft’s dev software automatically optimizes code to use this superfast memory cache to speed up operations.  However, even this cannot boost performance to Playstation 4 levels.

In any case, the biggest innovation introduced with these consoles is Heterogeneous Memory Architecture (HMA).  Contrary to current PC hardware designs, programs made for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One will benefit from both the CPU and the GPU being able to access the same memory pool.  This eliminates the overhead involved in copying data from one set of memory to another in code execution, and pretty much what Mark Cerny meant that the Playstation 4 has a “supercharged PC architecture”.  This memory architecture will makes its way to PCs and Macs, eventually.

What this all means

As I stated before, never have a pair of gaming consoles been more alike.  Since both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One are based on the same AMD hardware architecture, you can expect games to look virtually identical on both machines, except maybe for the odd first-party game (Halo, Uncharted series), in which developers will take the time to really push the hardware of their particular target console.  The fact that both machines are x86-based is a big win for developers, who’ll be working with a familiar, easy to use architecture, and for PC gamers, who’ll benefit from easier porting of console games to their platform.  As a result, PC gamers will see games not sually develop for their platform, such as Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and other Japanese, console-only franchises.

It also means that the technology inside these boxes is nowhere near as powerful as a current gaming PC, and comparatively much cheaper.  Neither Microsoft or Sony are losing any money on console sales this time around.

The odd man out is Nintendo, whose Wii U still uses a PowerPC-based architecture… but that’s a story for another time.

After The Storm Comes The Calm… It’s Time to Focus on What’s Important: The Games and The Features

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E3 2013 is over, and in the aftermath most articles and online posts have kept repeating the same mantra over and over again:  that Sony had “won” E3, and that Microsoft’s Xbox One was “doomed”, due to its numerous and onerous restrictions on game usage and sharing, and its “online check-in once a day” requirement.

Well, in a page taken directly from Mad Men’s quintessential ad man (and douche) Don Draper, Microsoft didn’t like what it was hearing, so it “changed the conversation.”  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back seems to have been an appearance by Sony’s Mark Cerny in the Jimmy Fallon Show, in which Fallon remarked that the PS4 was going to be the only console that played used games, to which the audience responded with thunderous applause.  The very next day, Microsoft dropped a bomb, and announced that it was backpedaling on all previously announced Xbox One DRM restrictions and measures.  You could buy and sell used games.  Games would work exactly as they did with the Xbox 360.  There would be no online check-in requirement.  Armed Forced gamers in particular greeted this last part of the announcement very enthusiastically.

So now that the Microsoft has leveled the playing field (except for that pesky $100 price difference between the Xbox One and the PS4) it’s time to focus on what makes these new game consoles appealing:  the games and the features.

This week Sony released a short video.  It was previously shown at their E3 Press Conference.  It shows a young man named Will arriving at his pad, and turning on the PS4.  The has some pizza, and plays a little Knack, when one of his PSN friends, rudely interrupts, and asks him to come help him out in a multiplayer Killzone game.  WIll doesn’t have that game, so he seamlessly switches to the PSN Store screen, buys it, and starts the download for the multiplayer part of the game first.  (That download bar is moving screamingly fast, so I presume Will has Google Fiber, or some other kick-ass, Grade A broadband service;) He goes back to playing Knack while Killzone downloads in the background, and then he gets a message from the very cute Sarah, who asks if he’s playing Knack.  They start chatting, with Will using the gamepad to select letters and characters from an improved but familiar on-screen keyboard (console makers have to improve this part … inputting sentences in a console is awful, and it seems like it will continue to be awful unless you connect a physical keyboard.)  He gets a message that Killzone has finished downloading, clicks on a “Join” on-screen button, and seamlessly switches to his friends’s Killzone game.  Will and his buddy record and share gameplay videos.  The camera cuts away to Sarah, who, as it turs out, is chatting with Will from her smartphone, while sitting ina diner somewhere.  Sarah then buys Killzone from her smartphone, and has it remotely downloaded to her own PS4.  Will and Sarah keep flirting, while Brian, Will’s buddy, presumably sits around like a big fat third wheel. 😛

As to the Xbox One, Microsoft demoed its interface and features both on the console’s reveal event and at it E3 Press Conference. Thanks to its integrated Kinnect 2.0 sensor, the console recognizes your voice command to turn itself on.  It identifies you through the camera, and logs you into your Xbox Live account automatically.  It takes you to your own, personal home screen, with your games, videos, messages and such.  The home screen also shows your last activity, whether it was a game you were playing, a video you were watching, or a web page you were browsing.  It has a new “Trending” section, in which you can see what’s currently popular in Xbox Live (akin to similar Google + and Twitter trending topics features.)  You can browse the new Xbox Live interface using hand gestures, and can always use the command “X-box, go home” (which has become sort of an Internet meme lately) to return to your home screen.  You can enable the X-box One’s TV features by saying “Xbox, watch TV.)  The console integrates your TV feed, either from your cable or satellite TV company, through an HDMI pass-through connector, meaning you don’t have to switch TV inputs to watch TV.  You can say “Xbox, game” to switch seamlessly to a game, or “Watch TV” to go back to live TV, or “Go to Music” to switch to your Xbox Live Music collection.  You can run Internet Explorer alongside a movie your watching, using something Microsoft calls “Snap Mode” or Live TV, and resize windows by moving your arms, similar to the way you “pinch to zoom” on a tablet or smartphone.  You can perform the same functions using the Xbox Smartglass app on a Windows 8, Android or iOS mobile device.  The Xbox One also comes with Skype built-in, for video chats with family and friends.  You can also do group chats in DH, all while running other apps and services in “Snap Mode”.

In truth, all of these social and online features are mere evolutions of what’s already out there.  The Xbox One’s TV features are similar to what Google TV and even Nintendo’s Wii U already offer, but taken a step further.  It’s not as good as a Tivo Premiere DVR, because it doesn’t have a built-in cablecard slot that would let it integrate completely with your pay TV service.  The video chatting, digital distribution and download, multiplayer and sharing features are mere integrations of what is availables to PC gamers right now, down to the use of UStream and Twitch to share gameplay videos and such.  What these new consoles do is to bring all the features and services in an easy-to-use package for Joe Consumer, which is very nice, but don’ forget… in the end, it’s all about the games.  But that’s a topic for another post.

Oh, and I discovered League of Legends this week.  I actually had a boxed version of the game, but it’s been sitting on my shelf for years, unopened.  (It appears you can’t get a retail version anymore, or so I’m told, which is sad, because it came with a cool manual and poster, and a bunch of unlocked champions and even some cash to spend at the game’s shop.)  I had fun playing the game with some very patient Google+ friends, and can definitely see why it’s so successful, and how it can become addictive (and expensive!).

So I watched E3 2013… Here Are My Thoughts.

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Microsoft’s E3 2013 Press Conference

Microsoft’s Press Conference was the first one out of the gate.  It opened with a showing of Metal gear Solid V for the Xbox One. It was weird hearing Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of Snake, but the game itself looks amazing, a photoreallistic   open world on Konami’s proprietary Fox Engine.  You can ride horses, and the game environment reflects the reallistic passage of time (day to night, the weather changes, etc.)  Hideo Kojima himself was on-hand to present the game, but he refrained on praising Microsoft’s new system specifically, since this will be a multi-platform title.

Next hey showed World of Tanks for Xbox 360. The free-to-play game is already immensely popular on the PC, and I have no doubt it will be right at home on Xbox Live.

Microsoft thet showed the indie-looking Max the Curse of Brotherhood.  It looks like a fun game, but it was the Demon’s Souls 2 trailer that really got people’s attention.  Looking incredible, and incredibly hard, a lot of fan are eagerly awaiting this one.

Microsoft then announced that there’s a redesigned Xbox 360 console it’s more rectng, available to by right now.  The new 360 is more rectangular and boxy, and very similar to the Xbox One.  Microsoft also announced that Xbox Live Gold now will now include a selection of free games, just like Sony’s successful Playstation Plus service.

Moving on to the Xbox One, Microsoft showed gameplay for Ryse, a former Xbox 360 title now converted to Xbox One.  It is an action game taking place in Ancient Rome.  The trailer depicted Roman sldiers arriving on an fortified enemy beach and disembarking amid a hail of arrows. As I watched the admittedly amazing-looking trailer, I wondered “how much of this is pre-scripted”, and how much can you control?  I did appreciate how the Romans marched in phalanx formation on the enemy city, though.

Next up was literally the last game announcement I would have expected.  As they showed the character models with the names, I was thinking “no way!”.  But it turns out that Killer Instinct is back, exclusive on Xbox One.

Insomniac then appeared onstage to show their latest game, Sunset Overdrive.  The game features an open, living world.  Insomniac claims it uses Microsoft’s cloud processing platform to help with the heavy lifting, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the screen.  The game has a wacky, humorous overtone that was completely missing from Insomniac’s last game, “Fuse”.  There’s even a weapon that shoots old vinyl LP records.

Microsoft then returned to show Forza 5. The game just looks photoreallistic, and the big new feature is that it has a “drive-vatar” that plays online for you when you’re not around.  People’s drive-atars supposedly will compete against each other and with online players.  The whole thing just sounds creepy, to tell the truth, and I hope the final game lets you opt out of it.

Microsoft also had a new trailer for Quantum Break, a game they had shown at the Xbox One reveal in last month, and which they described as a marriage of television and gaming.  I’ve heard those claims before (Defiance, I’m looking at you), but, other than some FMV footage that was show at the game’s reveal in May, Microsoft has not explained what they mean by this.  They showed more of the game’s story, and some actual gameplay.  Time is broken and stutters and freezes. The player can freeze time, to try and change disasters, and save victims, by moving people and objects around the environment before time starts flowing again.   It looks really amazing.  They must have seen “The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything”, or “Clockstoppers.”

D4, another exclusive, D4, an episodic murder mystery, with attractive, somewhat cell-shaded graphics.  The trailer depicts hand-to-hand fighting in a crashing airliner.  Definitely one to keep an eye on.

What Microsoft showed next was one of two games that really wowed me, and the best thing in their entire presentation.  The game is called Project Spark… and it’s a game about building games.  At first sight it looks like Little Big Planet 3D meets Black & White.  You can create the environment, create mountains and valleys, place player characters, place enemies, and play your creations in multiplayer.  This one is coming out for Windows PCs as well, and it’s definitely a must-buy.

Microsoft then talked about the new Xbox Live, and how it will work on the Xbox One It uses Xbox Smartglass more.  It has game sharing and DVR features, and records your gameplay, which you can edit for sharing with friends.  Xbox Live will have built-in Twitch integration.  You can broadcast on Twitch live.  Also, there will be no more Microsoft points, only cash/currency. The Xbox Live account will become a console account, not a user account anymore.  Up to ten family members can share the same Xbox live subscription.

Microsoft also showed Dead Rising 3.  The third game in Capcom’s zombie series features an open world, with no load times.  The action is fast and furious, there are plenty of weapons to use against the undead, and you can improvise your own.  However, it seems to be lacking the wacky, over-the-top tone of the original, though.

CD Projektt RED showed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.  The dev team has added  Kinect 2.0 to the gameplay.  The game also  uses smartglass for character development and inventory management. The combat system looks to be particularly deep.

EA showed Battlefield 4, which will be on the PC and PS4 too.  They bungled the presentation… the video wouldn’t play, and the suit/presenter freaked out.  The game looks like its previous iterations, with improved graphics.

Microsoft showcased Below, an indie action-adventure from the makers of Superbrothers:  Sword and Sorcery. The game looks Zelda-ish in ga,meplay, and that’s a good thing.

Near the end of the conference, Microsoft showed Halo 4… in n amazing cutscene.  But just a cutscene, no gameplay.  Oh, and they had a woman onstage!

The final game shown was Titanfall by Respawn Entertainment.  It’s an amazing mech-combat game in which you can get out of your mech for some FPS action.  The graphics are amazing, and the gameplay seamless and deep, both in single and multiplayer modes.  Just like Project Spark, this looks like a must-have.  TitanFall from Rewspawn will be available on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.

The Xbox One will cost $499, and will be released in late November in North America.  The price is kind of steep for a gaming console — it’s more than I expected.  The AMD hardware in the Xbox One does not justify such a price, so the Kinect 2.0 must be expensive.

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Sony E3 Press Conference

The Sony Press Conference ran late… at 15 minutes past they were still seating people in the auditorium. First, Sony  showed a video with Sony’s various developers expressig their views about the PS4. This reflects Sony’s expressed commitment to design the PS4 in accordance with developers’ preferences, to make it both powerful but easy to work with.

After the initia; video, Jack Trenton came onstage.  He talked about the PS Vita first.  —  The Walking Dead is coming to PSVita, both the original game as well as the new episode. Soy promises PSVita will play a strong role in the PS4 ecosystem.  PS4 games will play on PS Vita through Wifi streaming.  God of War collection HD, Final Fantasy X and X2 HD, Tearaway will also be coming to the PS Vita this year.

Trenton then talked about the PS3, starting with The Last of Us, the best reviewed game of 2013(to be affair, it seems the game is pretty awesome.).  He then showed Puppeteer, which is cute and impressive, and Rain, a game where you play an invisible character you can only see because of the rain.

Beyond Two Souls looked as amazing and cinematic as ever, with real-world actors putting in an appearance.

Gran Turismo 6 was shown.  It will ship later this year, as a swan song to the PS3.

Warner Interactive showed a Batman Arkham Origins trailer.  Playstaiton is getting exclusive skins and content, such as Adam West Batman from the 60’s, and Azrael Batman from Knightfall.

Sony also announced that Grand Theft Auto 5 will be getting an exclusive bundle for PS3 at $299.  There will also be a specially branded headset.  Sony promises to deliver the ultimate GTA 5 experience for gamers.

Sony then moved on to the reveal (finally) of the Playstation 4.  The PS4 is a slanted black box… smaller and sleeker (and definitely more attractive) than the Xbox One.  It can stand vertically, like the PS2, and has a groove in the middle that glows blue when the machine is powered on.  It definitely looks like a game console.

Shu Yoshida, President of Sony Worlwide Studios, takes the stage.  He shows the other games Sony has in store for PS4, starting with Ready at Dawn’s The Order 1886… a Victorian London steampunk adventure where the characters werewolves and other supernatural monsters with various steampunk weaponry right out a Jules Verne novel.  it looked amazing.

Killzone Shadow Fall looked more complete than the last time it was shown at the PS4’s announcement in February..    Drive club was shown in trailer form. They showed a longer trailer for  Infamous:  Second Son, focusing more on the characters and story.  It looks fun and amazing, as does Knack.  These will be launch titles, except for Infamous, which will release Q1 2014.

The Dark Sorcerer trailer was pretty funny,  with the already-shown talking old man revealed to be a wizard preparing an incantation… and later revealed to be an over-the-hill actor playing a part in a cheesy TV show.  It was a cute reveal, and the characters express emotion better than any other developers characters’, except maybe Ninja Theory’s (they always get the eyes right, which is extremely difficult.)

Sony also reaffirmed their commitment to indie developers, by showing their games onstage.  Supergiant’s “Transistor” is  from the makers of the surprise hit “Bastion”. Sony confirmed that indie devs can self-publish on the PS Store.

Other indie titles showcased by Sony at the conference were Clay Entertainment’s (Shank) “Don’t Starve”; “Mercenary Kings”; “Secret Ponchos”.. a shooter/dungeon crawler.  Oddworld Inhabitants is also back, and developing for PS4.  “Oddoworld: New and Tasty” for is a new game in the Oddworld universe, and will be available for the PS4.17 Bit Games’ (Skull of the Shogun)  “Galaxy” (a cool space shooter.)  Sony’s headlining their indie devs on stage was a very cool, very nice gesture, especially their showing of “Octodad”, a game literally made by a first-time developer in his dorm room.

Blizzard announced Diablo 3 for PS3 and PS4.  The game will have exclusive items not found on other versions.

Square Enix appeared in video form, announcing Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III for PS4.  Fnal Fantasy XV is the game formerly known as Final Fantasy: Versus XIII.

Ubisoft showed Assassin’s Creed : Black Flag for PS4, which will let you play as Aveline from the PS Vita-exclusive Assassin’s Creed Liberation.  They showed actual PS4 gameplay.  It looks terrific… it looked so good it rivaled pre-rendered trailers shown in past E3’s.

Ubisoft also showed its multi-platform title showing Watch Dogs… Playstation owners get an additional hour of gameplay, among other exclusive features.

Jack Trenton then came back onstage, and, with a big smile, announced that Playstation 4 games will have no DRM restrictions at all.  No Online requirement. No restrictions on sales of used games.  No territorial lockout.   Playstation Plus membership carrier over to PS4.  Members will get a special version of Drive Club at the PS4’s launch, and other free games every month.  The crowd went wild.  I felt sorry for Microsoft at that moment.

The final game shown was Bungie’s upcoming multiplatform title “Destiny”.  It was a long, gameplay trailer, and it seemed reminiscent of Defiance, but in a seamless world.  Definitely one to watch.

Sony then announced the price… PS4 will be $399.99, available this Holiday in the U.S and Europe. The crowd went wild again.  And, again, I felt sorry for Microsoft.

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Nintendo Direct E3

Iwatata’s video presentation started Pokemon X/Y for 3DS.  The graphics are tremendously improved.  And now you can pet, fondle and feed your Pokemon (the kids will eat this up, mark my words.) There’s even a new type of pokemom (fairy pokemon, effective against dragon-type pokemon.)  The graphics on 3DS are a marked improvement from previous Pokemon games.

Next, Nintendo Super Mario 3D World, a proper 3d Mario title in every sense of the word.  Mario now has a cat-suit, that lets him use his claws to clim walls and scratch his enemies.  The gameplay has more in common with Super Mario 3D for Nintendo 3DS than with the Super Mario Galaxy games.

Nintendo announced Mario Kart 8 is coming to Wii U in 2014.  The cars can now transform into a hover mode and race on walls and ceilings.

Next, Wii Party U was shown… it’s still the definitive party game/mini-game collection.  It has been delayed until late 2013.

Nintendo showed it sprrogress on The Legend of Zeda: The Wind Waker 3D runs at 1080p on the Wii U.  It looks and sounds amazing. In a nod to the Demon’s Souls series you can send MiiVerse messages and screenshots that will then wash ashore in a bottle in other players’ games.

They showed more of Platinum Games’ The Wonderful 101’s gameplay.  You can draw shapes on the Wii U pad to select unite powers for your heroes.  You can buy additional powers to use in battle from an in-game shop.  If you draw a sword or a gun, that’s the shape your heroes will form.  The game also features previously undisclosed multiplayer modes.  It looks like a must-have for game-starved Wii U owners this year.

There’s also going to be a new Donkey Kong Country title:  Donkey Kong Country:  Tropical Freeze.  Konkey Kong, Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong have to defend Donkey Kong Island from invading Vikings.  Each character will play very differently, and open up new paths in levels.

Platinum games showed an amazing-looking trailer for Bayonetta 2… the graphics are amazing, and so is the gameplay, including screen-filling bosses and fast-paced, crazy attacks. Bayonetta herself has been redesigned, with a new, shorter haircut.  It will be released in 2014.

Monolith Soft’s “X”, their follow-up to Xenoblade”, will feature open-world gameplay and mechs you can pilot in combat.  The graphics looka t east as good as anything on PS4 or Xbox One shown at E3 so far.  It will be also be released in 2014.

The final game Nintendo showed was….Super Smash Bros 4 for Wii U and 3DS… now featuring… Megaman!!! 🙂  The trailer reveal brought a smile to this veteran gamer’s face.  Animal Crossing characters will also be in the game.  It is also slated for release in 2014.

In all, it was an impressive showing for all three console-makers, with Nintendo having the smaller presence, since they have already released their next-generation console (Wii U.)  Sony absolutely destroyed Microsoft, with the PS4’s price undercutting the Xbox One’s by $100, and the lack of all the annoying Xbox One requirements and restrictions that have clouded Microsoft’s next-gen system over the past few months.

As I post this, E3 is still going on, so enjoy all the cool gaming news coming out of Los Angeles this week.  😉

A Nightmare Scenario

I’ve been away on vacation with my son for the last week.  That’s a long time in the games industry, and over the past few days I’ve been catching up with everything that happened while I was away… the games that launched, the industry rumors, the pre-E3 and WWDC rumors, Computex and Intel’s release of its new Haswell line of processors.  However, the one thing that really surprised me, and caught my attention, was the unexpected release of “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” for the Apple iPad.

A brief retrospective is in order for younger gamers/readers.  “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”, or KOTOR, as it’s usually referred to by those in the know, was an role-playing game developed by Bioware for the original Microsoft X-Box console, back around the turn of the century (LoL, I always wanted to work that  phrase into a post :P).  The game is an absolute jewel, and widely considered to be the best Star Wars game of all time, as well as one of the best overall RPGs of all time.  It’s fondly remembered today, and fans are still clamoring  for a proper third installment, instead of the MMORPG that EA/Bioware eventually put out (“Star Wars: The Old Republic”.)

 

So this hardcore console RPG is now available for the iPad, and it plays beautifully with touch controls.  The graphics look even better than on the Xbox, because you are looking at them on a higher-resolution screen.  The story and the characters are as amazing as ever.  Gamers can now have this “experience” without the need of a gaming console hooked up to the television set.

The release of KOTOR on the iPad got me thinking about the Wii U’s lackluster sales, and how it’s struggling in the market.  I own a Wii U, and it’s an excellent console, with the usual Nintendo classic games, and a unique controller with its own touchscreen.  Games look beautiful on it, because it has newer hardware internals than both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.  But it’s not selling, not just in North America, but in Japan as well.  The weekly sales numbers for the console over there are about 6,000, well below even PS Vita numbers (another struggling gaming device, but a topic for another day.)

Due to some leaks in the past couple of days, I’m fully expecting Nintendo to phase out the Wii U Basic Set, and sell what was formerly the Deluxe Set at the $299.99 price point.  Nintendo will also announce Wii U versions of its most beloved franchises at E3, like 3D Mario, Zelda and Super Smash Bros.  But what if its efforts fail to reinvigorate Wii U sales?  What if game developers abandon it en masse, and Nintendo is forced to discontinue it, like Sega did with the Dreamcast?

Let’s take this “nightmare scenario” one step further.  Over the past few months Sony announced their Playstation 4, and Microsoft announced their Xbox One, both for release in November of this year.  We already know their almost-identical, PC based hardware-internals, and, unlike with the Wii U, the gaming public is wary of suspected DRM, anti-piracy and, in the case of the Xbox One, privacy-threatening concerns, thanks to its always-on Kinnect 2.0.  So what if these console are released this Holiday Season, and they don’t sell?  Maybe the Wii U’s struggles are a sign of something more significant, a permanent shift of gaming to other, multi-function devices, such as tablets and smartphones, or even the PC, where free-to-play games attract millions of players every week.  What if gamers decide that they don’t need a TV screen to play their video games, or worse, that they can get their “fix” elsewhere for a buck a pop, or even for free?  The days og the gaming console and $60 (or, as rumored for the Xbox One and PS4, $70) game may be numbered.

Something to think about.Image