The Future of Simulations Part 4 – Following-up on our staff roundtable discussion, Chunx brings some more points to the table. Page 3

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But nothing stays static for long in the field of computer technology, and that includes the console market. Consoles are evolving and growing, in power and capability, while maintaining relatively low cost and ease of use. The Xbox 360 and PS3 will offer much more robust capability than their predecessors. Advances in online capability, processor speed, memory and graphics all make the next generation of console closer in capability to PCs than ever before. And that trend towards ever-increasing capability and “horsepower” is likely to continue as the “console” gradually morphs into the hub of tomorrow’s home entertainment center. As that happens, it will only make sense that all software game titles will gradually move over into the console format.

"It shouldn't matter to us what platform supports our genre, so long as our genre is properly supported."Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but only if simulation titles can establish a foothold in the evolved-console market. If consoles do indeed continue to grow in capability and performance, PC game genres that stubbornly refuse to adapt to reality and make the leap to new platforms will become extinct. So what I am saying is “don’t hate the console, hate the mindless console game titles.” The more powerful consoles become, the more likely we are to have our kind of game title find its way to that mainstream form of entertainment system. And really, what we enjoy is the gameplay experience we get from hard-core simulation titles. It shouldn’t matter to us what platform supports our genre, so long as our genre is properly supported. If future generations of consoles can run a title as realistic and compelling as Falcon 4.0, GPL or OFP2 without compromising on the level of control, depth or challenge of their PC counterparts, I’d be happy to run out and purchase that console system. Without a difference in gameplay performance, it would be certainly be cheaper to own and operate than my PC and less likely to have “bugs” related to incompatibility with some unique component or family of components in my PC. But if hard-core titles don’t make the leap and our PC game genre dies off due to a shriveling of the market, then we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for the loss of our hobby.

 

Controllers And Sim Survival

Although I am sometimes troubled and pessimistic about the continuing marginalization of hard-core, realistic sim/games in the electronic entertainment corporate boardrooms (where the money is, but the understanding isn’t), the vision, drive and passion of folks we saw at E3 in the SimBin, XSI and Tri-Synergy studio teams, and the products they can produce without big money backing, have done much to buoy my hopes for the future of challenging and rewarding simulation titles. I only hope that the sales they generate, not only for the games themselves but also for controllers (HOTAS, wheels, head-trackers) and game-related PC hardware (high-end GPU video cards, sound cards and PPUs), are enough to keep those companies from moving out of the genre — or going under. Because simulations are typically hardware and peripheral-intensive titles, their survival in the marketplace is greatly tied to one another’s success. If you don’t believe that, imagine trying to play GTR or LOMAC on a game pad or keyboard. In a way I think you could use Moto GP3 as a crystal ball to see a potential dark future for flight and racing sims. Just extrapolate my Moto GP3 and motorcycle controller tale here to the other sim types. With few motorcycle sims out there, there’s little to no interest (or profit) in designing or producing specific controllers for them. I think that if you want the genre to survive, you have to keep that synergy between sim-specific hardware and software in mind and spend your hobby dollars accordingly. If you don’t let your wallet speak for your gaming desires, your voice won’t be heard in the marketplace, and our high-end simulation hobby will grind to a stop.

 

Saitek’s display at E3 offered some unique insight into how this PC simulation controller manufacturer is dealing with the reality of a dwindling sim market. Realizing that the majority of profitable PC titles and console titles are now first-person shooters (Doom3, Half Life 2, Far Cry, Halo2, etc), Saitek’s new product lineup cleverly focuses on that genre in order to capture the “crossover” market between PC and console. New products included the “Pro Gamer Command Pad” (a Nostromo-style left-hand control pad), the “Eclipse” back-lit keyboard, and the 1600-dpi “Gamer Mouse.” But the “star” of Saitek’s new lineup was their new “P990” game-pad for PCs. You might be wondering why was the P990 the “most important” news Saitek had for us hard-core sim fans? Well, Saitek did some consumer research, and found that console gamers often wanted to make the leap to PC titles, but found they couldn’t play them easily due to their inexperience with PC controls (i.e., keyboard and mouse). Saitek’s goal was to offer a PC game controller that would make the transition from console to PC on games easier. The P990 does just that — it makes PC shooters more accessible and user-friendly for console players to learn and enjoy. The right joystick on the P990 does mouse emulation, and the left/right triggers act as left/right mouse buttons, respectively. The Saitek rep did acknowledge that the P990 wouldn’t beat a mouse and keyboard for overall performance and control, but that the device would make it easier — and more desirable — for the console crowd to make the transition to PC FPS titles. How’s that for innovative marketing and product development?! I salute Saitek for branching out in this direction, looking to capture the console crowd as they mature into PC titles — because the more folks that move over to PC titles, the greater our chances of adding folks to our simulation demographic. I just hope that Saitek’s new lineup is successful enough that they don’t have to discontinue their line of quality HOTAS and FF Wheels, because the P990 stands a good chance of being the “pied piper” that leads these gamers towards X52 and R440 sales. And sales of those products definitely keeps our genre on the map.


Look for the next roundtable discussion coming soon with sim industry developers and producers.

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