Step through the doors of GameDeals Video Games in New Westminster, B.C., and you’ll find a veritable graveyard of outmoded, poorly thought-out and ill-timed gaming consoles and joysticks. Owner Brian Hughes is justifiably proud of his collection, particularly his Nintendo Power Glove, “the coolest and most useless peripheral ever made.” Released in 1989, the Power Glove was the first controller to recreate human hand movements on a screen in real time. There was only one problem: it didn’t work.
Then there’s the TurboGrafx 16 game system, an “amazing” hand-held console, also released in 1989. Just 14cm by 14cm, the TurboGrafx had just a handful of games and was prohibitively priced. “Had it come out three or four years later, it might have been huge.”
The Power Glove and the TurboGrafx are not just cool pieces of gaming history. They’re symbols of the risks consumers accept when they shell out for the latest gaming technology. Do you buy the trusted and proven (albeit less cutting-edge) hardware? Or jump on the bandwagon and grab the next big thing as soon as it comes out?
In a world where new gaming options and new hardware seem to be hitting the market every other quarter, it’s even more important to make an informed selection.
With its revolutionary motion caption system, the Wii sold 30 million units in the U.S. alone and remains the fastest selling console in history, but Tim Balay, senior merchandise manager of gaming and used gaming at Future Shop, said the Wii isn’t for everyone. “Nintendo really hit on a fantastic element with motion gaming, but for the more hardcore crowd I think it’s desired as an option, not a full-time control scheme.”
With almost half a decade under their respective belts, the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 are just starting to get long in the tooth. But don’t expect an overhaul any time soon.
“This generation of hardware was more expensive and both companies need to keep it going for a few more years,” GameDeals’ Hughes said.
On the bright side, Xbox and Sony have lots of bundled options to entice buyers, Balay said. Sony recently launched Move, which it claims is the most advanced motion capture system on the market. And Microsoft is looking to cut the cord on the controller altogether with the launch of its Kinect motion capture system, which enables players to interact solely through gestures and verbal commands.
Go go games
Mobile gaming is hot and Future Shop’s Balay is pumped about the iPad’s gaming potential. With its fused GPS, touch screen, gyroscopes and always-on data, “the iPad isn’t a game changer in that space; it has actually created an entirely new space.”
He said the different technologies packed into the tablet will enable a whole new generation of “alternate reality games” (ARGs) to emerge. ARGs will deliver an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform by fusing multimedia with game elements and storylines that can be influenced by a participant’s ideas or actions. “The tools are there for utterly new mind-blowing gaming experiences.”
But Balay also said the Nintendo DS and DSi and Sony PSP and PSPgo remain successful pieces of hardware that should continue to appeal to a broad cross-section of users. Nintendo is betting its innovative new 3DS system, which will allow players to see 3D images without the use of special glasses, will be a major success. “That system is going to do incredibly well, if not for the 3D, then for the powerful hardware that comes with it.”
Sony is replying to this threat with its upcoming PSP2, prototypes of which are now in the hands of game designers.
Back to Apple: the company recently added a social media gaming network called Game Center to the iPod touch and iPhone. Balay said “it remains to be seen what kind of impact this feature will have on the space.”
PCs still deliver elite play
In terms of creating the most immersive and real-life gaming experiences, you still can’t beat a tricked-out PC, but the emphasis is on the “tricked out” part, said Vancouver-based computer support professional James Lasenby. There is a fundamental difference between a PC and a gaming machine. “They’re totally different animals. While your PC has to carry out many tasks simultaneously, a gaming machine is devoted to one task only: gaming.”
Alienware, a wholly owned Dell subsidiary, is focused solely on building high-end gaming machines. Another interesting brand is Los Angeles-based gaming computer maker CyberPower. But if a cutting-edge (and expensive) Alienware or CyberPower isn’t your thing, Future Shop’s Balay said mainstream manufacturers are also doing “a great job listening to gamers” and building in the best processors, video cards and power supplies.
So, which platform is the best platform for you?
“First, figure out what games you want to play, then buy the system you need to play them,” Hughes said. “If you start with a system then look for the games, you may not find what you want.”
Before you buy, however, you would do well to heed the graveyard that is GameDeals’ front window. “Looking back, most of the failed systems and peripherals here all looked like they were way ahead of their time.”
The good, the bad and the ugly zombie killing
iPod touch fourth generation
Starting price: $250
video call capability; LED-backlit retina display; front and rear cameras and HD video recording/editing
it’s not a phone; many games lack depth
Apple iPhone 4 (32GB)
Price: $780 unlocked
delivers enhanced performance over its predecessor, a slick new display and improved clarity; enables multi-tasking
very expensive without a three-year contract. There’s also that antenna issue to consider, and many games lack depth
Starting price: $549
consolidates your laptop, e-reader, gaming device and iPod into an elegant supergadget
jack of all trades, master of none ; price
PlayStation Portable (PSP) 3000
widescreen display and strong graphics; built-in Wi-Fi and Web browser; doubles as music, video and photo player
multimedia functionality, particularly for video, is not particularly good
Nintendo DSi XL
sports two very large screens and improved viewing angle; strong battery life; pre-installed games and software
Large screens make it a bit bulky and less portable; old games can’t be used
super cheap; revolutionary motion capture control; built-in Wi-Fi; free online gameplay and other services
lack of advanced HD graphics and surround sound (features found in competing consoles); limited game selection; revolutionary motion capture system now available elsewhere
PlayStation 3 Move Bundle
this bundled version’s motion capture controller will appeal to a broad cross-section of your family; includes Blu-ray player and free online gaming
inferior standard game controller
newest version is quieter and comes in a cool black; superior standard controller; ready for Kinect motion control adoption
subscription required for online game play (though that’s still very cheap)
lightning-fast Intel Core i7 processor and whopping 2GB dedicated graphics memory; liquid cooling system, and it also looks really, really cool
only your wallet can say
claims to be the most powerful 17-inch gaming laptop
the screen is a little small but this is a notebook
Illustration: Jon Berkeley