Games People Play
Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 12 (Dec 2006)

Games People Play

Chief Editor
Karen Moltenbrey
Several years ago, gamers created a frenzy over the second-generation consoles, camping out in store parking lots for a chance to be the first on their block to experience the new wave of computer gaming. Offering a huge leap in power over the previous gaming consoles, these systems supported collision detection, accurate characters, and graphic detail that "immersed" players in the games. No longer were people simply moving polygons across a screen; they were part of the action.

It was not just the state-of-the-art hardware that people craved. Two years ago, overnight lines formed once again; this time, it was for the Xbox title Halo 2, which logged a first-day sales record of $125 million (see "The Halo Effect," January 2005). These events proved beyond a doubt that the video game industry was a cultural and economic force.

That idea was punctuated late last year with the arrival of the third generation in interactive entertainment: the Xbox 360 (see "Let the Games Begin," January 2006, pg. 22). Last month, Sony and Nintendo threw their latest systems into the ring, with the PlayStation 3 and Wii, respectively. All three systems take advantage of the industry’s latest breakthroughs in technology, representing a dramatic leap forward in high-def gaming and entertainment with vertex and pixel shading, displacement and normal mapping, dynamic ambient occlusion, global illumination, and other high-level graphics techniques.

This holiday season, all the attention is on the newcomers. Like last year with the Xbox 360, demand for the PS3 and the Wii far outweighs supply. Unless you had connections or the stamina to wait in a line for three days, you were not among those who celebrated Thanksgiving Day with turkey, stuffing, and Call of Duty 3.

So what is all the fuss about? Technology, graphics, and fun. Sony’s mega-powered and mega-priced PS3 is the most powerful console available. Its HD graphics support up to 1080p, and it plays Blu-ray games and films (which is partly responsible for the high price). At the heart of the system is Toshiba and IBM’s Cell processor, described as a supercomputer on a chip that delivers amazing graphics and gameplay. Athletes come alive like never before in a host of titles including NBA 07, Fight Night Round 3, Madden NFL 07, and more, while F.E.A.R. is taken to a new level.

Although the Wii generated just slightly less media attention than the PS3, it makes a bold statement, nonetheless. While not as powerful as the PS3 or 360, the Wii is angling for the fun factor, with its inviting Nunchuk controller system; players shake, rattle, or roll the Nunchuck/Wii Remote itself (or push the buttons) to control the action in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports, and other release titles.

So, what kinds of game graphics can we expect to see via these consoles? For years, industry experts have been anticipating the melding of films and games, and now it is time for developers to turn up their game. With this newfound power in a book-size box, we will be seeing athletes in what will look like game films, only we will be controlling their actions. Characters of all sizes and shapes will thrill us, scare us, and assist us like never before. And we will experience worlds of beauty, destruction, and intrigue beyond our imagination.

Let the games begin.