Halo was the game that made the original Xbox; it was the one thing the PlayStation 3 still lacks – the game that defines the playing experience. While there are a lot of good games out for the Xbox 360, including Halo 2, it will be Halo 3 that will possibly go the farthest to define the power of that platform. Halo 3 is one of two games enabling Microsoft to push the limits; the other is Shadowrun, which will directly connect PC gamers to Xbox 360 gamers. Both of these games are, if you will excuse the term, game changers. Halo 3 is the first massive multi-player on-line game for the console and Shadowrun the first to connect PC gamers and console gamers together for online play (though it is limited to a max of 16 in-game players at a time). Changing Game Designed from the start is voice capability. While not new to console gamers, most of us who play MMOGs on the PC side have had to use teamspeak, or some other out of game technology, to use voice. Getting an entire team on TeamSpeak is rarely possible. Voice adds a great deal to combat in that you don’t have to stop to chat and it is much easier to give commands or warnings verbally then it is to type them on a keyboard. One interesting side note is that on a panel I had last year on gaming, the reason game developers didn’t put voice into MMOGs was because of the number of men who liked to play female characters and felt the male voice spoiled the experience. Having played with TeamSpeak and a few guys, I can tell you it is rather disconcerting to suddenly find out the girl you have been playing beside isn’t a girl after all. It will be interesting to see whether the guys playing girls get the tools necessary to either make them sound feminine, choose to play as males or simply make believe they have deep, sexy voices. Personally, I’m hoping for the middle choice. :) For a console MMOG, the huge advantage is that you can push the hardware to its limits. This is a problem with PCs where you have to assume the lowest common hardware base, which may be a modem and a Pentium 3 with old graphics. With Halo 3 the game developers can rely on the fact that gamers are on broadband, have Xbox 360s and all have the same controllers. This means we should see things in this game we rarely see on PCs, short of the new DirectX 10 Vista stuff that we are still waiting for. This should give us powerful visuals and much quicker, console-like game play, which will be a new experience for MMOG players. The fact that everyone should be on broadband should reduce network lag but I’ll bet, when there are a lot of folks shooting in close proximity at the same time, lag will be nearly impossible not to feel. Still, both games appear first rate based on early reviews and they provide a level of play the other consoles, and most PCs, can’t deliver right now. Can Sony and Nintendo Keep Up? Nintendo is playing to the beat of a different drummer right now and I don’t see these latest efforts from Microsoft having much impact. Nintendo is more physical and tends to play to a younger crowd. Nintendo also has a very attractive price point so they should be able to sleep easy while continuing to enjoy an impressive sales ramp. Sony is in trouble if these games take off. They don’t even do multi-player that well yet, MMOGs are well out of their reach and they have effectively blocked every attempt their PC unit has made to work with their game platform. This creates the very real possibility that Sony PC users will be more likely to choose an Xbox 360 over Playstation 3 if they want to experience cross-platform play. This is the same with the Media Center – the Xbox will extend a Sony Media Center but a Playstation will just treat it as another PC with limited capabilities. This seems like they put interdivisional rivalry in front of competitiveness and that’s just silly. And, if Shadowrun is good, and it looks like it is very good, that’s also going to hurt Sony a lot. Next Steps There are a number of Xbox derivative products that are likely coming. Xbox has no mobile solution yet, which is a likely future product. In addition to the PC, vendors have been asking for a seat at the Xbox table and with the advancements in emulators and virtual machines, coupled with some impressive performance capabilities from next generation PC platforms, this is increasingly possible. They could also do a stripped down Xbox, which would have the multimedia capabilities but not play games, or license the interface to someone else who could bring one of those qualities out. The advantages a software company has are flexibility and hardware partners. With these new games and the most recent Instant Messaging announcement, they are in fact showcasing that flexibility. Next, prepare for them to start using their other advantage over the next 18 long months.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.
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