Archive - Feb 2011

February 1st

Pockets Full Of Dy-No-Mite

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Memo to Nintendo and Sony: IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME. AND YOU. AND I'M SEEING APPLE NOW.

I don't just follow politics, you know. I also enjoy things that are fun. Like video games. I like video games a lot. I like video games so much, I like having them with me when I'm not in my house home place that I live. That's why I own both a Nintendo DS and a Sony PlayStation Portable. So you think I, of all people, would be thrilled to see the new versions of both machines unveiled over the course of a couple of weeks.

But I'm not. Nintendo has the 3DS, which, as its name cleverly implies, has a glasses-free 3D screen as its main draw. Sony is calling its box the Next Generation Portable, at least right now. I'm assuming that they picked the blandest possible code name so that nobody would decide they liked it and be annoyed when the real name came out. Well, it worked. It sounds like something off a shopping list from a dystopian future. "Please to buy two bread, one cheese, one toilet paper, and one next generation portable."

Let's start with Sony's box, because on paper, it seems to have everything a nerd would want. It has two analog sticks, just like a home machine. It has a powerful processor, just like a home machine. It has a high resolution screen, just like a home machine. It has all your favorite Sony licenses, like the Indiana Jones guy from Uncharted, and that sack thing, and Metal Gear Solid, just like the home machines.

But I can count on one hand the number of games on my home machines I'd want to be able to play on the bus. They take too long. You have to hear and see what's going on constantly so you can react quickly. You have to follow dialogue. None of these, I've found, are particularly conducive to the portable experience. Which is why Sony has also included a wish list of features from the smartphone world too. An OLED touchscreen! A 3G data connection! Social media! Cameras! Casual games! A microscopic battery life!

Except this thing's not going to replace your fancy phone. It's not even going to replace your fancy iPod. Ask anyone who ever tried listening to music, surfing the web, or watching movies on the PSP how quickly they gravitated to an iPod Touch. Also, 3G is great and all, except for the part where you know there's gonna be a monthly data fee. On top of the one you have for your phone, or the one you have for your iPad, or both.

The New Power Generation portable does have one thing going for it - it's the first device to incorporate a rear touchpad. Which sounds a bit filthy, but it really isn't. It just allows you to finger your device from the back. No, that sounds bad too. I'm just saying that with the NGP, if you poke around behind it for a while, you'll make things happen up front. Filth aside, this could actually be a clever and useful way of making games more interesting, even if they have a total of one sort of tech demo-type thing that shows off the potential. The DS and Wii were the same way back in the day, and they turned out fine.

And speaking of Nintendo, 3D! Hoo-fucking-ray. I'm not on board the 3D Backlash Bandwagon quite yet, but I'm certainly following its progress and am considering meeting up with it in the near future. And certainly, if we're finally going to get 3D as a general mode of our entertainment, glasses-free is ideal. But there are two problems with a 3D handheld gaming system.

First, glasses-free 3D has sweet spots. Spots where if the screen and your eyeballs are in the correct relative position, it works great. Outside those sweet spots, it doesn't work at all. Remember what I said about wanting to play on the bus? I guarantee you the 3DS won't work for shit on a bus. Good luck keeping your sweet spot over a speed bump, during a quick downhill stop, or when the Ayn Rand fanatic in the seat next to you jostles your arm so he can tell you about Atlas Shrugged.

And second, 3D doesn't change games. At all. It changes how they look. The 3DS lets you set the 3D effect all the way down to "off". Which means you can play all the games in 2D if you want. Which means why the fuck do I really care? I mean, even Avatar only gained about 8% more wow factor between 2D and 3D, so tell me again why I should be excited about another fucking iteration of Ridge Racer?

But maybe it's just me. I realized, with these announcements, that when it comes to portable gaming, I've become... a PC gamer. Yes, my PC is actually an iPad, but it's the same exact fucking mentality as the PC gamers had once we entered the age of the PlayStation. I don't need all those fancy boxes to play my games, I'll just buy this one big expensive box, play games on it when I'm not writing about creationists or tacos, and upgrade it every year or two so I can play the latest and greatest.

It must be like that Star Trek episode where Redjack had to move from host to host when the old host died. The PC gaming mentality had to go somewhere once all the PC gamers turned into either World of Warcraft fanatics or Farmville fanatics, and that malevolent life force has apparently lodged in my own brain, where it's compelling me to ignore those toys the kiddies play with in favor of one box I can also use to... be productive.

So, to sum up - it's not them, it's me. Except it really is them, too. And it doesn't matter, because I'm shacking up with Steve Jobs' shiny, glossy kids these days anyway. Plus, the fact is, I have baggage. Not emotional baggage, actual baggage that I lug around with me all day. So any new portable device of any time is gonna have to seriously justify its weight and its form factor. And neither Mario in 3-D Vision, nor rehashed console games in slightly scaled-down portable glory, are gonna cut it these days.