CES Quikie: XBox Preview

this quikie written for KoreanZ.com

Bill Gates opened the CES show floor on Friday morning with the second
keynote of the show. Bill brushed over the evolution of the computer and
his vision of “extreme entertainment.” During the speech, a pedestal with
a mysterious object atop was cloaked in black cloth. At the end of the
speech, Bill whipped back the cloth to reveal publicly for the first time
the Xbox’s actual design..

Those into gaming will know that the style of the box has no importance
relative to the quality of the hardware inside. So one of the Microsoft
presenters walked the crowd through two games in progress on a prototype
development kit. The first, “Munch’s Oddysee” was originally scheduled to
be part of the Playstation2 launch but was paid off by Microsoft to
release the game exclusively on Xbox. The demonstration was truly
impressive, showing extremely high quality animated figures in fully
textured, antialiased environments. Actions were smooth and believable.

The second demo, whose title and publisher are not recalling themselves
to me, showed a little girl a few inches tall that wielded a giant hammer as big as
herself in an environment full of giant insects. The gamer has a number
of very creative ways to use the hammer to squash, wipe, and mutilate the
bugs. This demo was equally impressive for its high quality realtime
rendering: the most impressive part of the demo was the ending bit, where
a giant robot comes to life that mimics the girl’s actions. The demoer
made the robot jump too high and consequently the robot’s head went
crashing through the ceiling with a resounding clang, leaving the robots
legs dangling helplessly below.

While I wouldn’t say that the graphics are at the point where they are
realistic – that is to say where screenshots could be mistaken for real
life photos, they are approaching broadcast-quality animation. The phrase
Bill used was “Toy Story-like quality” which really is pretty apt. I
figure in another five years, we’ll have movies with computer /
digitized actors that are mistakeable for humans, and another three years
after that will see realtime, interactive “reality,” at which point the
video game industry will be able to reach whole new audiences by creating
completely believable simulations and scenarios.

The Xbox will be coming out this Fall, pretty much at the same time as
Nintendo’s successor to the Nintendo 64, the Game Cube. Nintendo barely
had a showing at all at CES and has been keeping the hype meter pretty
low on their upcoming box, previously codenamed “Dolphin,” whereas
Microsoft has been running their press engine full steam. While it looks
on paper like the Xbox is far superior to the Game Cube, Microsoft has
been posting numbers that are aggressively optimistic theoretical
maximums (not really representative of in-game performance) whereas
Nintendo has been publishing guaranteed in-game minimums. The real
performance figures are rather close, according to sources at IGN and
elsewhere.

Both boxes are considerably faster than the Playstation2 and sport more
features, but that’s to be expected from a platform that will have had
over a year extra to develop. The PS2 has gained itself a reputation for
being devilishly difficult to program efficiently – this may steer
developers towards platforms that are easier to exploit but it also means
that the current set of PS2 games are nowhere near using the PS2’s full
capacity; much more powerful games may be coming out before long. Even if
Sony isn’t good at making the hardware trivial to code for, it does have
a positive reputation in terms of developer support, so we should see PS2
games being cranked out at an increasing rate. One of the aspects of the
PS2 that makes it so interesting is its ability to play games designed
for the original Playstation as well as DVDs and CDs. Consequently, it
can today already engage thousands of games, which is impressive for a
newly-released platform.

Christmas 2001 will see an interesting, aggressive console market come to
maturation: the Xbox and Dolphin will be newly out, the Playstation2 will
have a full repertoire of games to play on, and the Dreamcast may also
remain a contender.

All four will offer some form of Internet connectivity with multiplayer
gaming, email, and web browsing. The PS2 will have acquired a hard drive
peripheral, and the Xbox will ship with one inside. It’s hard to say
where things will go from there or who will win the wars, but it’s
certain that Microsoft’s Xbox is to be taken very seriously – its
widespread support among game developers, Windows-based API, and
high-speed graphics architecture (courtesy Nvidia Corporation) will offer
a compelling array of games and services. Nintendo’s Dolphin, if it is to
succeed, must be able to match Microsoft’s hype with a fully loaded
system shipping with a large array of compelling games. PS2, in the
interim, will take the lead as the home entertainment system of choice.

Author: dweekly

I like to start things. :)