Hi readers! Welcome to LostHammer and thanks for coming to visit with us!
I have an observation that I think bears consideration and celebration in our industry, one that is very easy to skim over and forget about, but one that really will be a gigantic boon to all of us, developer and gamer alike.
This secret sauce is : x86 platform becoming the de-facto standard for serious gaming!
Think about the history of gaming overall, it’s been dominated by drastically varying platforms and architectures. Even when more than one system used the same CPU, a lot of times there were wildly different special supplemental chips to consider which were crucial to making games for the platform. Well, all of that is about to go out the window in a big way!
With the current-gen stuff, you had :
PC with x86 CPU / Direct3D / OpenGL + Varying GPUs
Playstation 3 with Cell CPU + Nvidia GPU
Xbox 360 with IBM Xenon CPU + ATI Xenos GPU
What did all of this mean for developers? To start with, to do things right they had to take into consideration their weakest target platform when planning development, as being too ambitious with the design might make their plans impossible otherwise. Following that, they had to allocate very significant resources into merely getting the title ported to work correctly on each platform, even before any optimizations were undertaken. As far as optimizations, this was another round of expenses and delays, to get the title working optimally on the target platform. For gamers, this meant that there were often delays in getting versions of the titles they wanted released, and that in the $50-$60 that they spent on that title, a decent chunk of that money actually went into the resources necessary to even port the title. Lastly, less ‘proven’ titles, or entries from smaller publishers might not even see releases on multiple platforms due to the obstacles in expense and manpower.
Unification to the rescue!
What we have now moving forward with the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC gaming platforms is a dramatic improvement at every level. Both the PS4 and XboxOne have hardware in the exact same families and generations even, and all of it is made up of variants of ordinary PC gaming lineups. There remain differences in capability, and some unique oddball considerations such as Xbox One’s 32MB embedded cache (which remains, sadly, too small and too slow to compete with GDDR5 for top-tier 3D performance), but by and large, one can very easily develop for all of these platforms with a minimum of effort in contrast to the current status quo.
The Playstation 3 was a prime example in the negatives of having a very unique system architecture. Although a handful of titles such as Uncharted 3, The Last of Us, and so on do show the PS3’s full capabilities, far too many are simply disappointing, and this shows most clearly in cross-platform ports. Even the Xbox 360 was fairly unique in it’s own rights, however it was indisputably easier to produce titles on by comparison, and closer to the PC in terms of being able to port over easily.
Both the Xbox 360 and especially the Playstation 3 also held up game development due to their very limiting RAM setups. Even for 2005/2006, 512MB of total memory was already becoming quickly obsolete in the PC gaming world. Even taking into consideration the large overhead of the Windows operating system and APIs such as DirectX, there was still a lot more RAM to work with on PCs. This led to many PC titles showing enormous capability when coded to take full advantage of high end hardware, but much more often what happened were terrible ‘consolized’ ports that were written for systems with tiny amounts of memory, and with barely an effort at all to give PC gamers the advanced modeling/AI/maps/content that their systems were truly capable of achieving.
With the move to 8GB, these consoles are much further ahead of the curve in contrast to the 360/PS3 were at launch, even as their CPU/GPUs are somewhat weaker in the big picture compared to those days. At launch, the 360 and PS3 had GPU power that rivaled the best gaming systems out there, and only eclipsed by super expensive PCs. This time around, the GPU power in the new consoles is a bit more sedate. Still, with the large system ram and hugely updated graphics power, games should look amazing on the new consoles by comparison to PS3/360.
Perhaps the largest bonus, depending on how they roll this into their business models, will be in the reduced costs of porting titles across platforms for the developers. Now, the same budget will allow for a lot less time worrying about system X, Y, and Z, and this will shave dollars, labor expenses, and scheduling allocations out of the equation. Not only will this make more multiplatform titles almost inevitable, but it will make developers more profitable. To a team given the same amount of resources, this should enable a better final product. Instead of spending a huge amount of time optimizing for other systems and architectures, much more time can be spent making a good GAME.
This is great news for everybody. The only outlier in this regard is the Wii U, which remains on non-x86 hardware. This bodes poorly for cross-platform gaming on the WiiU moving forward, but Nintendo above all should be able to rely heavily on top-quality 1st party titles as long as they can move them along. If they get at least one full-fledged Mario/Zelda/Kart/Metroid/Smash/etc every 3-4 months at the longest, they will stay in the game as a very vibrant 3rd place. If they drop the ball, or try too much filler such as the Windwalker remake (hardly a Nintendo gamer alive wouldn’t MUCH rather see an actual new Zelda adventure before they re-skin an old title!), they may find themselves in trouble.
All in all, we’re in for a unique generation, and the potential to have the best gaming lineups in history! Thanks for reading, and comments and feedback are always appreciated!
Hi readers! It’s been great getting the feedback from the last few posts, and now it’s time to dive into the WiiU.
As someone most known for being a Nintendo champion, one might expect me to have a pretty positive opinion on the newest flagship Nintendo console. Overall the answer is yes, though I really have to explain the reasons why, as well as some issues I have with it. Let’s boil it down into separate sections!
Hardware and History
The Wii U is an oddball in every sense of the word. Compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, it’s fairly competitive, and even leads them in many crucial ways. If the Wii U had launched instead of the original Wii, it would have made for a very interesting race back in those days. It’s important to realize that Nintendo nearly universally designs consoles to be profitable from the start on a unit-by-unit basis, and has never pushed hardware specs to the limit. This has worked fairly well for them, and the proof is in the profits and respect from longtime gamers. They have some problems though, and that is perception amongst the newer generation of gamers that look at them as childish compared to Xbox and Playstation. There is a serious number of people who dismiss Nintendo as a children’s-only company.
While I agree that Nintendo has a very family-oriented focus, I don’t really see this as a really true criticism. While there may always be something ‘cooler’ than playing Nintendo titles, things like Halo, Call of Duty, etc, tend to come and go over the years, with older titles becoming very stale and not much worth replaying, even ancient Nintendo first-party titles are ludicrously fun with tons of depth. Fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 for a great example. The NES was about as powerful as a pocket calculator, and the CPU wasn’t even 5(!!) MHz, but that game has insane amounts of depth, deft playcontrol, and sublime level and character design. By and large, this has remained true through the years, with some lesser outings along the way, but the overall quality of 1st-party Nintendo titles is VERY high.
Getting back to the hardware for a moment, there is plenty of power on tap to make for some great games. Theoretically cross-platform titles from 360/PS3 should look and play great, but there are some problems with expecting those. For one, the kind of gamers looking for those titles aren’t usually looking for those titles ON a Nintendo console these days. Secondly, it’s a bit late in the current-gen battle to expect many great releases with the devs shifting almost exclusively towards new releases on PS4/Xbox One. Thirdly, with the new PS4/XB1 using X86 and AMD GCN technology along with 8GB of memory, cross-platforming against those guys will mean HUGE amounts of developer work and expense, and it’s just unlikely to expect that moving forward.
In retrospect, I would have preferred somewhat if Nintendo made the ‘tablet’ an option (or simply used 3DS instead), and put those resources into making the CPU/GPU/Memory a little more stout. I guess it’s not a huge deal in the end considering that the existing power will be more than enough to have some great Mario/Zelda/Smash/etc on there, but it’s a thought, and a crucial key in what to NOT expect. Don’t expect many big next-gen titles to show up from PS4/XBox One. That’s okay, they won’t have Mario/Zelda and company 😉
With prices varying from $299 to $349 commonly for the current sets, I have a hard time recommending them as an investment right this minute when the current small library is concerned. I expect a price drop, and perhaps some great new bundles this fall however. Perhaps something like a $229 16GB SKU, along with a drop to $269 or so for the 32GB. This is purely a guess, but prices around there along with a bundled game or two, and of course, more GAMES in the library, will make this pretty attractive to us long-time fans of the Nintendo franchise titles.
Currently we have a side scrolling Mario which is pretty fun, Zombie U, Monster Hunter 3, and a handful of others, but things are about to get a lot better :
Super Mario 3d World
Super Luigi U
Zelda Windwalker HD Remake
Mario Kart 8
Super Smash Bros
Brand new Zelda
Donkey Kong Country
Scribblenauts DC Comics
So, a pretty cool lineup of stuff. If they can keep their price point competitive, and keep their legacy as always having fun titles for all ages, it can be a vibrant and fun platform for years to come. The Wii sold a ton of consoles due to the initial hype, but I think a lot of the buyers simply used the Wii Fit or a handful of games and never went further. WiiU doesn’t have to set sales records to be a profitable platform and a fun place to go for titles that you can’t find anywhere else. If you already have a 360 or PS3, and don’t yet have a Wii or WiiU, it might be worth picking one of these up instead for a lot less than a PS4/XB1, and you can enjoy a great number of fantastic Wii and WiiU titles while waiting for some of the dust to settle on those new consoles. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years on consoles, it’s that waiting for the platforms to mature and for more games to show up along with revisions and price drops, it’s always rewarding. Comments and feedback always appreciated!