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Opinion: Doug Thompson, Daddy Warbucks, Emily Kaitz

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Wii won’t play well with others
By Doug Thompson

Hi. I’m Doug and I’m a console wars news addict.
“Hi, Doug.”
I don’t own a Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360. Yet every week some new development pops up about the three-way competition between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.
Microsoft executives admitted last week that they have to make Xbox 360 games that appeal more to casual gamers: Moms, hard-core gamers who got lives and don’t have whole days to beat a game anymore, seniors and kids.
In short, people the Wii got to first.
“If we don’t make that move, make it early and expand our demographic, we will wind up in the same place as with Xbox 1, a solid business with 25 million people,” said Peter Moore, a vice president who oversees the Xbox, in the Bloomberg interview. “What I need is a solid business with 90 million people.”
Holy Detroit, Batman: That sounded like an echo from some Big 3 automaker executive in the 1980s talking about Toyota.
Find the whole story at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aH1dO99w6ILU
Think I’m overreacting? The motion-controlled Wii sold 360,000 units in April and would have sold more if Nintendo manufacturing capacity wasn’t used up. The most technically powerful of the rival consoles, Sony’s Playstation 3, sold 82,000. The upper-mid-range Xbox 360 sold 174,000. The ancient, obsolete and supposedly replaced Playstation 2 sold 194,000.
This has some pretty serious implications for the game industry as a whole, beyond the impact on Sony and Microsoft.
Game developers design their wares around the technical capabilities of the dominant console. Later on, they “port,” or adapt, the most successful games to other consoles.
The Wii has the least horsepower of any of the Big Three consoles – by far. It’s a glorified Gamecube with a neat controller. Even more important, the real dominant console still appears to be the ancient PS2.
This means you can’t make a game that uses the PS3’s full potential and then port it to the dominant console in the market. You design simpler, smaller games and port them to the PS3 and Xbox 360 – but there’s big problems with that.
How do you port a game that’s a lot of fun when you swing and snap the Wii’s controller to a console with limited motion sensitivity, if any? You make a more boring thumb-pusher, probably – and something people can play on their PS2.
Within a year, most new games will be designed around a Wii, or PS2 technology that came out in 1999. The PS3 especially will be a sitting waste of unused horsepower.
Dare I say it? The race for more powerful graphics and bigger games may plateau, at least briefly.
The chief operating officer of game giant Electronic Arts griped, in an article on the website of “Wired,” that incorporating the motion control of the Wii into the latest version of the insanely successful Madden series of football games cost “an enormous amount of money.”
He did not say that his corporation would start doing what corporations always do: Designing their game for the Wii from the start.
All this is still more bad news for the PS3, whose main competition is now the personal computer.
For $500 – less than the price of a PS3 – you can order a blu-ray player and burner for your PC from newegg.com. It won’t play PS3 games. It will play upcoming PC ports of PS3 games, however, and games designed for the PC.
The lush, expansive games that seemed bound for the blu-ray disc for the PS3 will now go to the PC too. Why? Because the PS3 customer base is so small.
If you’re going to develop a lush, expansive game – something that’s very expensive – you want a bigger base of potential customers than the PS3 offers.
The biggest player in the PC market is – Microsoft.
A core part of Microsoft’s game strategy is to make Xbox 360 games that can be easily ported to PC, driving down the development costs for PC games.
The PS3 is already hurting. Now it appears that the Wii will dominate casual games while the combination of the Xbox 360, the PC and Microsoft could dominate the higher end.
Not quite “Game Over” for Sony, but getting close.
Daddy Warbucks

Church parking lots: More than nickles and noses

For years a collection of churches and Dickson Street
have lived (and thrived) on an understood agreement: Parking would be free for those frequenting those less than angelic establishments along Dickson Street during the week. Yet on the Sabbath, those who left their autos(and beer bottles, cups, and other stuff) were to leave the scene so the Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians could drive in and worship. But now the University Baptist Church will begin charging for parking. So now all those who have enjoyed the free parking and the walk to Dickson, must now ante up. And despite the carrot of public use offered by Central United Methodist, which torn down historic homes and businesses to build their own parking garage – it probably won’t be long until they collect nickles, dimes and dollars, from those who want to park in their soon-to-be-completed mega garage. Paid parking always comes with headaches. An hour is still 60 minutes. A tow bill is always high. And the episode of retrieving your car from an impound yard is stressful. But it is about “nickles and noses” as the Baptist usta say on attendance issues. And paid parking is about “nickels and noses,” those who have the nickels want their noses as close to where they are going as possible. Parking is at a premium. Churches shuttle their folks to and from all kind of sites to get them to the church on time. More and taller parking garages might not be the best answer, especially if they are all pay-to-park venues. Could the entertainment venues on Dickson Street soon see declining attendance? Daddy W. says wait, watch and see. And get out your spare change.

OIL HIGHER
Now that a wave of bad publicity over the $3 and higher gas prices has waned, we are getting excited over $3 and change gas prices. Will we ever see $2, $2.10 or how about $1.89 a gallon again? Doubtful.

LR GETS D.C.
It didn’t take the folks at Little Rock National long to find an air carrier to give them an almost direct flight into the nation’s capitol. The Central Arkansas folks sure had their collective noses out of joint that XNA scored direct and daily flights into Washington D.C. The jealousy between NWA and the rest of the state continues.

R.I.P.
Looks like the Arkansas Outfitters at 262 North School St., right behind the Dickson Street Bookshop is gone. All the high-dollar Western and outdoorsy themed lamps and knick-knacks are gone. The doors were locked and for about a week there was heavy wrapping paper over the windows. Now the paper is pulled back and the place is empty.

TAKE 2 AMNESTY
The folks at Take 2 video are pretty creative. With the declining movie rental biz – since you can almost download anything to a computer, Blackberry or cell phone, the Take 2 folks are trying to help the Humane Society and clear the bad debts on the Take 2 books. The video store is offering amnesty for customers who have lost or never returned movies or have late fees a chance to make a $10 donation to the Humane Society this month in exchange for wiping out their debit to Take 2.

The Demented Chord
By Emily Kaitz

Praise The Lord and Pass The Mango Margaritas

People were laughing and talking, eating tacos and drinking beer while the six-piece black gospel band performed under a canopy. It was high noon in Austin, Texas, and I was scanning the crowd at Maria’s Taco Xpress for my friend Helen, who had invited me to her friend Elizabeth’s birthday brunch.

At Taco Xpress you order your food at the counter, and a quick perusal of the crowded interior revealed no Helen and a food line that extended out the back door and around the corner. I wasn’t ready to deal with that, and I had no idea what Elizabeth looked like. Fortunately I recognized a few faces on the patio where the gospel band was.

“Pull up a chair,” said Don, a tall-dark-handsome acquaintance who seemed to show up with a different woman every time I ran into him. Today was no exception. “Are you getting something to eat?” asked his willowy companion du jour.  “I recommend the migas tacos and the mango margaritas.” I explained about the lengthy food line. “You could still get a drink,” she told me. “There’s a separate line for the bar, and it’s short.”

Sure enough, I had a mango margarita in my hand two minutes later, and sat down again to enjoy the music. The band was quite good.  There were two lead singers with strong voices who moved animatedly around the stage, despite the fact that one of them must have weighed at least 300 pounds.  The back-up musicians provided a throbbing accompaniment on electric guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. Being totally non-religious, I didn’t recognize many of the songs, but once in a while they threw in a gospel adaptation of a Motown classic, like Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “My Girl.”

I guess – you say – what could make me feel this way
Jesus – Jesus – Jesus – talkin’ ’bout Jesus – Jesus!

When there was a long pause after one song, it became apparent that the guitar player had broken a string and didn’t have a replacement. “If there’s anyone in the audience who happens to have a G guitar string, it would help us out a lot,” boomed the heftier lead singer.

Well.  I had my guitar with me out in the car. The whole reason I was in Austin, after all, was to play a couple of gigs. “I think I’ve got one,” I called loudly, and ran back to the parking lot. I make a habit of always carrying an extra set of strings in my guitar case. Triumphantly I returned to the patio bearing the requested G-string. The guitar player’s face lit up.  “Praise the Lord!” he shouted.

“Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways,” I was thinking to myself as the band started up again. “How interesting that I, a lapsed Unitarian, would be the one to provide a G-string.” I took another swig of my mango margarita. It was absolutely delicious.

“Are you Emily?” A woman who had seen me bring the guitar string to the stage approached. “I’m Elizabeth, Helen’s friend. She’s running a little late, but my husband and I are sitting over there. Please join us.” “Okay,” I said, “but first I have to dance.” There wasn’t much of a dance floor and I didn’t have a partner, but the beat was good and the mango margarita was doing its work. I danced.

Helen showed up, by which time the food line had shortened dramatically.  I got two migas tacos, and proceeded to drench them in several kinds of homemade salsa. “You know,” I remarked to the table at large, “I don’t know if they’d go for this up in Arkansas. People there tend to be more straight-laced about their religion. It’s a shame, but I can’t imagine them sitting around drinking in the middle of the day and listening to a bunch of guys singing about Jesus. But you know, I think they’d get a lot more converts if they let people drink mango margaritas while they were listening to the gospel music.”

All in all, the gospel brunch at Taco Xpress turned out to be an excellent experience for us all. I think Helen summed it up pretty well when she said, “From now on, whenever somebody asks me where I go to church, I’m going to say ‘Taco Xpress!'”

Maria’s Taco Xpress is located at 2529 S. Lamar Ave. in Austin, Texas.  Phone number 512-444-0261. The Sunday gospel brunch is from noon to 2 p.m. More info and menu at tacoxpress.com.

One Comment

Darrel June 19, 2007 at 11:15 pm

DAR
Hello Doug, I am fascinated by the console wars as well, and I almost completely disagree with your claims on this issue. It’s as if you have no sense of history of these systems. I’ll respond to a few of your claims:

THOMP
Sony’s Playstation 3, sold 82,000. The upper-mid-range Xbox 360 sold 174,000. The ancient, obsolete and supposedly replaced Playstation 2 sold 194,000.>>

DAR
The idea that the PS2 is in any way ancient and obsolete is nonsense. With an install base of about 100 million units, over 11,000 games available to play on it and a sales price 1/6 of the next gen PS3, the PS2 will continue to be a best seller for Sony for quite some time. And please stop pretending that this is some kind of surprise for Sony. It is in fact the game plan. Perhaps you are unaware that fully 60% of PSone sales occurred AFTER the PS2 was released in Japan. Also, as with when the PS2 first came out, Sony is selling it’s PS3’s at a loss (about $180 per unit). They will be quite happy to sell a great number of PS3 later down the road when they have streamlined production and get costs down (as they are currently doing extremely successfully with the PS2).

THOMP
… the real dominant console still appears to be the ancient PS2.>>

DAR
With regard to install base, correct. And this may be the case for some time. And don’t forget, the PS3 plays all PS2 games.

THOMP
This means you can’t make a game that uses the PS3’s full potential and then port it to the dominant console in the market. >>

DAR
That’s just silly. Did the fact that the hugely successful PSone could not play next generation PS2 games deal a blow to the PS2? Of course not. Your comments seem to lack any understanding of the history of these game consoles and how their life spans overlap.

THOMP
Within a year, most new games will be designed around a Wii, or PS2 technology that came out in 1999. The PS3 especially will be a sitting waste of unused horsepower.>>

DAR
Wanna bet? What rubbish. The PS2 will be a major player for some time because of it’s huge install base but the PS3 (and X-box and Wii) are the future. The same situation pertained during the last console change except for the fact that the X-box is a much larger contender this time and may grab about 1/3 of the market. It’s a big market. If Blue Ray wins the format war (as I think it will) this will only help the PS3 more. With the high price of Blue Ray players it is (at the moment) almost the equivalent of buying a Blue Ray player and get the PS3 game machine for free.

THOMP
Dare I say it? The race for more powerful graphics and bigger games may plateau, at least briefly.>>

DAR
Well of course. The PS3 is Sony’s new plateau and will be for at least 5-6 years.

THOMP
more bad news for the PS3, whose main competition is now the personal computer.
For $500 – less than the price of a PS3 – you can order a blu-ray player and burner for your PC from newegg.com.>>

DAR
As if we weren’t playing PC games 10 or 15 years ago? As if a mere internal blue ray player/burner is in any way comparable to a PS3! Good grief. And how much did the computer cost that the drive sits in? And can it play PS3 games with the level/speed/quality of a PS3? Of course not ( see below).

THOMP
It won’t play PS3 games. It will play upcoming PC ports of PS3 games, however, and games designed for the PC.>>

DAR
Right, and the little duel core Pentium 4 2.0GHz chip (minimum required to drive the blue ray burner you refer to) will not compete with the eight 3.2GHz chips humming along in the PS3 cell system.

THOMP
The lush, expansive games that seemed bound for the blu-ray disc for the PS3 will now go to the PC too. Why? Because the PS3 customer base is so small.>>

DAR
Almost all of those “lush expansive games” can be stored on a DVD. If not one then two. The size of the memory disk used has absolutely nothing to do with quality of the game (Blue Ray is simply a memory disk and much small than a hard drive). What has everything to do with it is the power of the PS3 game console itself. PC’s will probably catch it but it will be some time.

THOMP
If you’re going to develop a lush, expansive game – something that’s very expensive – you want a bigger base of potential customers than the PS3 offers.>>

DAR
That would have been an absurd thing to say when the PS2 first launched, and it is just as absurd to say it now. Sony thinks much longer term than the few launch months you are considering.

THOMP
The PS3 is already hurting.>>

DAR
As I pointed out the last time you floated this one, the PS3 sold more machines than PSone, PS2 or the X-box during their first 3 months. Also, to rebut your other complaints, ALL of these machines launched with a sorely limited number of games and the launch games are ALWAYS a poor indicator of the full power potential of the console (which is not usually realized until a year or two later). You say these things regarding the PS3 as if it is somehow supposed to be a big deal. It isn’t. These things are to be expected.

THOMP
Not quite “Game Over” for Sony, but getting close.>>

DAR
Wanna bet? What a load.

Above you said the PS3 will be: “a sitting waste of unused horsepower.” Not so. Programers, as usual will tap that power in the coming years. Mine is being tapped right now. I have my PS3 running a distributed computing system with Stanford University. I am loaning it my PS3 power. It is at this moment, as it does almost 24/7, crunching numbers and simulating folding proteins for the purpose of curing various diseases like cancer. To give you and idea of the PS3’s power, consider this. Stanford has 190,475 computers, mostly Pentium 4’s working in this system to accomplish 181 teraflops. This has been going on for years. That’s nice. Currently (at these very moment) there are 27,395 PS3 owners that are donating their computing power in this system. They are putting out 496 teraflops. You do the math.

Actually, let me do it. PS3’s, with only 1/7 the number of systems running, are doing 2.7 as much number crunching as the PC’s. And they only have them set on idle (about 30 gigaflops).

cheers,

Darrel.

ps You can read about this project here:

http://folding.stanford.edu/

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