Top 5 Failed Console ‘Innovations’ This-Gen
©2010 Alex Baldwin – Features Editor
So we’ve finally been given a good look at the final ‘PlayStation Move‘ controllers, and Project Natal is expected to dominate a significant portion of E3, but what about all those other so-called ‘innovations’ that have launched and failed this generation?
You know, the things Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony’s PR were desperately trying to convince us would be an integral part of our gaming experience only for them to either fade away or remain an uncomfortable or unneeded addition to our lounge room.
That’s why it’s time to honour the Top 5 Failed Console Innovations. At least for a few minutes before stuffing them back in the closet to serve the more useful purpose of collecting dust.
5) Xbox Live Vision Camera
Originally planned for the first Xbox, the Xbox Live Vision Camera was touted as an answer to the PS2′s EyeToy which was reaching the peak of its popularity, but with the additional features of video conferencing over Xbox Live.
It seemed like a good idea when it finally launched on the 360 – play Live Arcade games and see your opponents, video chat for free with friends and play some camera-enabled games like Rayman Raving Rabbids. Unfortunately the people-aspect is perhaps what killed it.
Those who took the plunge and tried some video Uno or other games quickly learned that they’d rather not be aware of the startlingly high percentage of players who enjoy playing games in their underwear…or less.
But hey, there’s always motion-controlled games right? Sadly the poor sales of the camera combined with very few camera-based games ensured most who spent the money on the camera eventually just relegated it to use as a PC webcam as it luckily used USB connection and worked fine with Skype and MSN.
It’s now obvious why Microsoft seemed to abandon the Xbox 360 Vision Camera very quickly with Project Natal’s announcement, but it’s still a reminder of how quickly a peripheral can die without proper support.
This is a debatable topic, but I’m going to look at it from where we are now. Leading up to the Nintendo Revolution (later renamed to Wii) launch gamers and non-gamers alike were stunned by the perceived flawless motion tracking of the Wiimote. Watching Nintendo reps leaping around onstage playing furious tennis matches, seeing Red Steel’s sword swinging, it all looked amazing.
Unfortunately things became a lot clearer when we finally got it in our grubby paws – the Wiimote was about as accurate and precise as a drunk Stormtrooper, and all the amazing action’s we’d seen on screen were canned animations. Red Steel’s sword didn’t track your motions, all it could tell was whether you did a vertical or horizontal swipe.
The Miis in Wii Tennis didn’t follow your swings with simple wrist flicks all that was enough to win a match. The Wiimote couldn’t even tell where you were holding it unless you pointed it at the screen and even then it was an approximation of where you were pointing, as it had no idea how large your screen was.
While Nintendo has since then brought out the MotionPlus to correct some of these problems, we’re yet to see whether it will be adopted by many developers and due to the lackluster (read: pretty much non-existent) support for online, games that were released prior to the MotionPlus can’t be patched to support it like 360, PS3 and PC games can.
3) PS3 Sixaxis Controller
Firstly, the lack of rumble was just plain silly. While Sony came up with many laughable reasons for its omission (ie; ‘it would mess up the Sixaxis acceleromater’ and ‘gamers don’t want rumble anymore, it’s last-gen’), the truth of the matter was widely known that Sony’s legal battle with Immersion had been raging on for several years, (which are patent-holders of the feature) and simply did not want to pay the fees Immersion Corp were asking. Microsoft had settled quickly in order to continue using the “rumble feature’ (hence rumble in 360 controllers from the start) while Sony preferred a longer, drawn out legal battle which they believed they would win.
It was soon after release of the PS3 that Sony gave up the legal battle and settled out-of-court for $US150.3 million, which then prompted a sudden backflip and Sony decided everyone did indeed want and ‘need’ rumble (‘in order to experience the true feeling of games’) and released the PS3 Dualshock 3, which is what all PS3 owners should have had from the beginning.
The second reason is the Sixaxis Motion Control itself. Announced several months after Nintendo’s unveiling of the Wii and its Motion-Controllers, the Sixaxis Motion Control came across as a poor-man’s Wiimote and the game support, even from Sony themselves, did nothing to change this.
Most were simply hacked-on motion minigames or features that just ended up quite awkward and made it an unwanted controller feature that customers must still pay for, as the PS3 DualShock 3 is still the most expensive regular game controller on the market.
The third is something of a pet peeve of mine: the ergonomics, or lack of. The DualShock 3 shape has not changed since it got its dual thumbsticks, and in my mind it really should. Designed to look nice and be practical there appears to have been no thought to making it comfortable over long gaming sessions.
The handle ‘prongs’ aren’t moulded, the front surface it just flat and geometric, and in the end provides no real support or stability in my hands (ergonomically unsound design not allowing for true right-left thumb juxtaposition – as R/L thumbs rest one above the other when hands held close together in ‘relaxed position, not parallel or ‘adjacent’ to each other – as mentioned by an expert high-use ‘ergonomist’ and health & safety inspector).
Unfortunately the worst are the triggers, which for some unknown reason are convex instead of concave which results in a tighter grip needed to keep them down to prevent your fingers slipping off, and a strange spongy feel that makes them harder to depress the further in the are instead of the uniform pressure of the 360 triggers. Of course, it’s all dependant on the user but there’s no denying there’s room for improvement.
2) Xbox 360 Add-ons
One of Microsoft’s big weapons against Sony has always been price, but the drawback is it’s at the expense of features.
With the Core / Arcade Xbox 360 pack missing a hard drive, developers could not make use of hard-drive-streaming to speed up load times or install certain features and assets where and if needed.
While noble in not charging those not needing WiFi for an unneccessary feature in their console, the exorbitant price of the add-on was massively overblown.
The HD-DVD drive is also up for debate, as it’s interesting to wonder how the so-called ‘HD Format Wars’ would have played out if the Xbox 360 had included it built-in, being the best-selling console after the Wii.
However, the addon was priced very well in comparison to standalone HD-DVD players and had some great bonus deals so that part can’t be faulted.
And as mentioned above, the rather sad Xbox-Live Camera which many gamers simply do not use is a handy PC webcam but hardly a ‘feature’ for the Xbox 360.
1) PlayStation Home
I was really looking forward to this. From Sony’s hype machine I was imagining a Second Life-esque world where we could have our own apartment, walk to a friend’s place, head down to the plaza and enter a building to jump into a particular game’s lobby and hang out and chat.
The reality was a lot less appealing.
For starters, in the end Sony’s Playstation Home was only a few (very very few considering the development time) tiny ‘areas’ seperated by loading screens so no large world or wandering around, and no walking to a friend’s apartment.
Secondly, the limited customisation resulted in everyone looking like brain-dead fashion models that made me shudder as it seemed a bit too much of a depiction of what perhaps Hitler’s ideal world would be.
The areas themselves also lacked any form of personality with sterile, trying-way-too-hard-to-be-hip-and-modern architecture combined with constant ads (both posters and videos) for the latest Sony-related products, games or films. Makes me wonder if the entire project was a sneaky way to shove more advertising down our throats…
Another truly annoying aspect was the limitation for text-based chat only, so you could take 5 minutes typing a sentence or you could plug in a keyboard and keep switching between keyboard and controller to do anything.
I have gotten so used to just speaking naturally with everyone on Xbox Live, that it was quite emotionless and boring tapping out sentences that would usually be answered by various 3 or 4-lettered acronyms.
Finally we’re back to the people-problem again. A stroll through Sony’s Playstation Home reveals little more than people either doing dance emotes in front of screens showing game trailers (really? You have nothing better to do than watch your dancer emote repeated over and over?) or observe every female avatar get virtually molested.
Sony’s Playstation Home could have been so much more. A virtual world instead of a collection of individual tiny 3D chat rooms (that makes chatting way harder than it needs to be) but in the end, it is a product that promised to be the reason to own a PS3, and instead comes across as quite simply a waste of time and a reminder of the number of way too many lonely men out there.