Opinion: Doug Thompson and Daddy Warbucks

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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.
Daddy Warbucks
Stocks, trucks, bell ringers and mall moves

Stock surge continues in 2007
Daddy W., who dabbles just a bit in the stock market and is a fan of that fanatical stock expert on the cable channels, sees a bright future in the markets for 2007 despite what some consider tenuous world market conditions. The housing market slump and the lagging auto sales due to high energy costs does make the long time observer of the equities give slight pause. But there are signs that the market may continue strong – at least through the cold, winter months of early 2007. A poll published in the New York Times taken from 1998 to 2006, showing confidence in the stock market shows few changes for American consumers during that time period. For example, in 1998, 62 percent of Americans had faith in the stock market. Last year ended with 66 percent having faith in the markets. In the same poll, in 1998, 60 percent said it was a good time to buy a home. That slid to 47 percent at the end of 2006. In contrast in 1998, 30 percent of Americans felt it was a safe time to buy a home and in 2006 that figure had risen to 45 percent.

Truckers thrive
A trio of Arkansas trucking firms have been delivering and getting good news. JB Hunt Transportation got a well recommended trading boost from analysts which shot the stock price up over $1 – a strong sign that despite depressed general freight the fourth largest trucking conglomerate has based itself in the proper sectors to show a profit. ABF out of Fort Smith has announced it will pursue even more of its door-to-door freight capacity and USA Truck plans to open new terminals in the southeast.

Gas prices
For the record, local gasoline prices in 2006 ranged from $3.08 per gallon to an average of $2.25. The cost did dip close to $1.99 several times.

Ring that bell
The Northwest Arkansas Salvation Army units collected close to their goal’s of $100,000 from the red kettles this holiday season. They say that that money stays in the local units. Along with these copious donations and the thrift store income, the Salvation Army should be pretty flush for the new year.

Mall buyers and sellers
A trio of Arkansas’ fattest real estate cats, Doyle Rogers of Batesville and Little Rock, John Flake of Little Rock and Pinnacle (Rogers) and Sam Mathis of Springdale, stepped up and plunked down $400 million for three malls – Fayetteville’s Northwest Arkansas Mall and a pair of larger and newer malls one in Oklahoma City and another in Golden Colo. The sale stunned a lot of folks, including Daddy W. who didn’t think the improved NWA Mall was doing all that well. But it probably is. These guys may buy some well-worn proprieties – but they don’t buy junk.

Plant closings
Gov. Elect-Mike Beebe will face some economic unrest when he takes oath. Wynne lost longtime employer Munro Shoe Co. and some 200 jobs and a plant in Rogers will idle some 120 workers. Plus the timber industry is in the layoff mode. It’ll be a great time to be governor if he can turn some of this around and help the working people of Arkansas.

Fayetteville closings
The Citgo gas station and convenience store on Garland Avenue in Fayetteville has closed, but the new little Chinese take-out is still operating there. There was some excitement about a gas leak in that area. The old A-1 Pawn on Sixth Street has moved and apparently there’s some new fast food joint that will be joining the mix on Sixth. And bye-bye to two North College restaurants, Sassafras and Acropolis.

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