Doug Thompson

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PC, console should be friends
By Doug Thompson

Supposedly, an Xbox 360 controller will work on some personal computers. This was news to me.

This little tidbit was mentioned in one of those year-end wrap-ups by Gamespy, a respected gamer site.
Microsoft wants two people to be able to play certain games online, with or against each other, even if one customer has a PC and the other an Xbox 360. It’s a simple idea, but not one anybody’s pursued before, at least not enough. “M$” is even insisting that PC games on its preferred label have that kind of compatibility, where it can be controlled by a Xbox controller and have other features like widescreen display.
PC gaming has been pushed into a niche by consoles, but that niche is a nice one. “The Sims” is the Beatles of gaming, and “World of Warcraft” is the Rolling Stones. (I say that at the risk of getting hate mail from “Everquest” fans, but I can’t help that. I don’t play either and don’t have a dog in this hunt. All I know is that “WoW” sales are incredible.) These are games people play online, and they are dominated by PCs.
If Microsoft can make a game like “World of Warcraft” accessible to both PC and Xbox players, then clearly it will have a larger market to sell to.
It’s not a bad plan. The bigger a game’s community is, the richer and less automated the environment. Once again, M$ and its Xbox would get them a leg up on arch-rival Sony and its PlayStation 3.
I’m beginning to feel sorry for Sony. I was a harsh critic of them during their arrogant phase, when they announced that the “next generation” of consoles didn’t start until the PS3 shows up. Their machine is far more powerful than its rivals. That’s turning out to be a big problem, however. As I’ve said before, developers aren’t making games that take full advantage of the platform’s power.
Go to the game site “Gamespot.” Look up every review they have of PS3 games. There are 19 of them. Eight of them have scores of 6.6 or less out of 10. Only a couple of the good ones are exclusive to the platform.
The gaming industry is old enough where the major game developers who don’t know how to make money have all died. They’re creating games for the platform that’s already out there and has a base of players. That would be the Xbox 360. Its list of games covers three pages. Its top game, “Gears of War,” won the site’s Game of the Year award. As I said, the PS3 has 19 reviewed games and that includes a fair share of turkeys. The 19th best game on the Xbox 360 list has a score of 8.3.
It’s too soon to declare a winner in the console wars, but the Xbox 360 is having an excellent opening. I said before that the most under-reported bit of gaming news was that Grand Theft Auto was no longer going to be a franchise that started on Sony’s platform. Putting as much of my bias as I can aside, I’m having a very hard time here finding good news for Sony.
Another niche for PCs is strategy games, which is where I fit in. I don’t yearn for a PlayStation 3 because “Medieval II: Total War” doesn’t run on it. I’d also throw in the niche of very detailed simulations, such as the combat flight simulator “Il-2 Sturmovik” and the latest “Silent Hunter” for U-Boats.
I’m starting to wonder if the console — particularly the PS3 — isn’t powerful enough to run games like mine.
Assuming I had a faster Internet connection, I wouldn’t mind giving “Il-2” a try online. I say that with the understanding that the online community is filled with people who can “fly” the simulation better with their feet and with their shoes on than I could ever do with my hands, and that there are far more who lurk around the airfields where new players show up and blast them on the ground. These poor, desperate souls are called “vultures” for simple and plain reasons.
Getting a game like that to play on consoles would bring in a whole new crop of victims and, eventually, aces.
I never plan on buying a console except for my kids, but hope that the console folks succeed in linking me up with some Xbox or PlayStation player who wants to get a first-hand demonstration of how to apply enfilade fire from a Mameluk Archer in “Medieval II: Total War.” “The farmer and the cowhand should be friends,” and so should the console nut and the PC grognard.

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