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Sound Off Vol. 2

Welcome to the second volume of our very ìspecialî feature, Sound Off. This time around we lay the smackdown on all sorts of topics, from the phantasmagorical Phantom, to the uber-hyped Chronicles of Riddick. And yes, this time around Jim does gather everyone around and spin a yarn for all of the youngsters to soak in with wide-eyed wonder. You canít beat that, eh? Now, as they say on MXC… Leez get it on!

Chris Lamanna’s Question: Does PC gaming seem to be dying down with the expansion of consoles, handhelds, and online multiplayer? If so, how can the PC make a comeback and fight against the three?

Anthony Kargeís Answer: As much as I love PC gaming, Iím afraid that the future of PC gaming isnít looking as bright as it should be. Notice how many HUGE games arenít being released exclusively for the PC anymore? That isnít a good thing. Another slap in the face is that itís becoming increasingly obvious that some big PC games are now being designed for console and then being ported to the PC afterwards. This is especially evident in the highly anticipated (but highly disappointing) Deus Ex 2. There goes the bragging rights my fellow PC geeks and me had.

Game companies realize that most people donít have a fully upgraded PC that can handle the latest software. Money is the sole reason any company makes a product, and that company wants to reach the widest audience possible. Fortunately, I still think the end of PC gaming isnít coming any time soon, or perhaps coming at all. Itís just that over time, the quality of PC gaming is being pegged down a notch or two.

Anthonyís Question: Whatís the deal with The Phantom? Do you think itís a hoax? Do you think it will succeed at all? Whatís happening over there at Infinium?

Chris Parhamís Answer: Iíd have to predict that the Phantom is going to be a phantom menace to the Big Three console makers. First letís look at the machine itself, or at least analyze what little we know of it. Now Iím pretty confident that itís not a hoax, but the abilities touted by the machineís product sheet, found at www.infiniumlabs.com, really seem a bit outlandish, to the point where I find it hard to spot areas, besides processor speed, where the Phantom doesnít match up with top PCs. That means itís going to be expensive to build from a hardware standpoint alone. Its use of a complete PC architecture suggests that this is basically a second computer for your living room–this may be a direction that will ultimately be profitable, but this type of high-technology endeavor doesnít seem to have the broad appeal of a simple-to-use, low-requirement game device like the PS2, Xbox, or GameCube. Itís also hard to imagine that the Phantom will be securing any of the key exclusive titles that help drive sales of specific consoles. I canít see the Phantom commanding a huge market like those of todayís major consoles.

The economist in me also worries that Infinium Labs is about the worst company you could choose to muster a challenge against the giant players already in the industry. Sony and Microsoft are strapped with cash to fight a price war; we saw in the early days of the Xbox that Bill Gates is willing to lose money for a time to secure market share. Considering the abilities the machine is slated to possess, itís going to be expensive to produce, and Infinium probably cannot afford the price war that a smart Sony or Microsoft would force on it. As a small, upstart company, Infinium is probably not in a position to challenge Microsoft or Sony directly, and thatís why I think the Phantom is probably doomed to failure even if it meets its own hype.

Chris Pís Answer: Quick and simple. Which sells more, the next incarnation of the Nintendo Gameboy, or Sony’s upcoming handheld offering, the PSP?

Chris Lís Answer: Although some people may think this is an obvious question, it really is not. There are a couple of different scenarios, and like the damn weather forecast, it’s always changing. Many people would guess the next version of the Nintendo Gameboy will sell more than Sony’s PSP. I wouldn’t disagree with you believing so. For years, Nintendo has probably been known more for its handhelds than its consoles. Nintendo has years of experience with handhelds, where as this is Sony’s first attempt. You must also remember that the gaming world hasn’t been friendly to new faces on the hand-held market, as the N-Gage was exact proof of that.

On the other hand, Sony could score on their first try. Their console technology has been more powerful than Nintendo’s, so you never know what may happen. Sony also has a wider game database than any other console/hand-held manufacturer. Of course, you cannot forget their followers. Many PlayStation enthusiasts will most likely stay loyal to their name, and therefore spend their hard earned money on the PSP. There is still no sure shot of which one will sell more. There are way too many factors to think about which could change everything I have just told you. We will just have to wait and see. Will Nintendo continue to rule above all, or can Sony take away the hand-held spotlight?

Chris Lís Question: Will The Chronicles of Riddick for the Xbox be as good as everyone says it is? The graphics are as amazing or maybe better than Halo’s, claims Official Xbox Magazine. Is this game the real deal, or is it just another Brute Force disaster waiting to happen?

James Frazerís Answer: Lesson One: Never believe much what ‘official’ magazines say. It’s usually a whole load of tit and tat strung together to create an aura of excitement amongst the readers.

Lesson Two: Games hyped up with the words “better than” are usually let downs. See The Matrix, Brute Force, etc…

I usually laugh out load when someone says about graphics being ‘the best ever’. Games using this phrase usually turn out rushed and sink quickly to the sacred bargain bin, never to be seen again. However, given the advancement in technology over the years and massive budgets given to Riddick, things look promising indeed. Since the landmark Halo was released almost 2 years ago developers have gotten to grips with the Xbox and have become more efficient when churning out triple A titles such as Project Gotham 2, Links 2004 and Rainbow 6 III.

However, too many times have official magazines promoted shoddy games, and I’m afraid that this could be a repeat of the infamous Warhammer Incident. Yes the graphics could be better than Halo, but I very much doubt that gameplay will also score highly in that area. We all set our sights higher once Bungie released their benchmark title, and I can see The Chronicles of Riddick just falling short of the top spot, instead having a “try before you buy” sticker slapped on its hairy chest.

Jamesí Question: So far in the next gen war, only a select few of the reissues of classic titles have been worthwhile purchases of which I could count on one hand. Will the up-and-coming Driv3r set the record straight and the world alight?

Jim Smithís Answer: Human nature is bizarre in many ways. One thing that has always intrigued me is the way that the good times we remember best are as much about an event as a time. I remember hearing albums as a teenager that had a profound effect on me and I remember the times around them quite vividly too, but it’s the music that cements the memory. A few years later another event happened which triggered a chain of events Iíll always remember, but this time it wasn’t an album, but a game. That game was Driver.

Thing is, everything was right. The handling, the music, the colours, the graphics, the mood, the difficulty level (save the last level – grrr…) and my friends and I lapped it up, to the point where I could still him the theme tune to you to this very day. Games like that don’t come along every day.

But can they still do it, can Driv3r reclaim the thrown? Well, there’s one thing that stands in its way. GTA. It’s sad to say it, but GTA has really stolen Driver’s thunder. Can Reflections compete with the all-conquering franchise?

Maybe. Stuntman, released early in the PS2’s lifecycle was a strange one. It had the handling of Driver, boy did it, but it concentrated on the ‘make a mistake and you start again’ school of video gaming. Yes, Driver had that on many levels, but not all of them.

However, Stuntman did have the exceptional Driver handling, which brings me to the biggie – Will Driv3r be any good?

Well… Maybe. Just maybe…

Jimís Question: The twilight years of a console (such as the phase the PS2 is entering now) traditionally produce the best games, since the coders have got their act together. At the same time, though, PC’s traditionally outdo their console counterparts in terms of processing power.

So, at this stage is it better to be a console gamer or a PC gamer?

Josh Kramerís Answer: Well, PCís pretty much outdo their console counterparts in processing power no matter where you are in a systemís life. Iíd guess that one month after a consoleís release you could snag a top-of-the-line PC that was more powerful. That said, console games traditionally sell much better than PC games, despite the technology gap.

The reason is simple: stability. Console gamers love the fact that you can pop in a game without worry of system requirements, wonky installations or the ever-dreaded blue screen of death. Also, developers are able to squeeze out much more performance from a console than would be possible on a PC of equal speed, because they know exactly what the specs are for every system that will be running their game (PC devs have to program for the lowest common denominator). So to answer your question: it is, has, and always will be better to be a console gamer.

Joshís Question: Hereís a simple one: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat?

Jimís Answer: That’s a bit of a joke. In the very early 90s, before the 3D revolution (and especially before the FPS dominance of the multi-player market) it was all about the 1-on-1 beat ’em up. Teenagers of the time (gulp – even I was a teenager back then…) had only one way to prove they were good and games: be flash at SFII. MK never got played down my local arcade, except that is by the tourists or the really young kids who didn’t know better.

Ever played pound-on-pound-in? That was how the locals where I lived managed to all get a game on one of the two heavily crowded SF cabinets. If you wanted to play, you put a pound in the machine and put a pound on the top and took on the current champ. Winner took the pound on the top; winner got to stay on to face the next challenger.

I’d make about £20 every Saturday, straight after my humdrum high street store checkout job.

I can clearly remember the guy who cheesed everyone out with Vega’s scissorkick-to-throw, and the guy who could actually pull off Dhalsim’s 3 button- reverse dragon teleport in SFII Turbo (mid-combo mind…) I also remember having mammoth stalemate battles of Ryu-vs-Ryu simply chucking fireballs about my Chinese mate Ying, who could whip out quarter forward’s as fast as anyone.

Ah, they were the days. Sorry – what were we talking about?

Jimís Question: What’s the most ridiculous video game peripheral ever and why?

Jamesí Answer: We’ve had many a weird peripheral which you would have thought would hinder the gamer in their quest for completion, like a fishing rod for SEGA Bass Fishing or maracas for another SEGA title, Samba De Amigo. Recently, retailer GAME saw the opportunity to release a light gun with nobly bits tacked on in the name of a sniper rifle for Silent Scope Complete for Xbox. With a good sturdy butt that rests on your arm, a cool reload slider, force feedback when you shoot and of course, a sniper scope (which sadly doesn’t zoom or have any use) you certainly look the part and I managed to shave seconds off my top times swinging the beast around the screen.

However, perhaps the most bizarre peripheral was from Nintendo when the NES first released Stateside. Called the ‘Original Set’, gamers could pick up the control deck, two controllers, a Zapper light gun and the unique ROB (Robotic Operation Buddy), for $250 (£155). Standing a mere 25 centimetres tall, this little ‘dude’ did nothing more than stack up coloured disks according to your actions in a game called Giromite, also packaged with the bundle. Unfortunately the light gun game Duck Hunt, also included in the bundle, proved more successful and Nintendo soon realised that production of ROB wasn’t financially viable. Soon ROB and his game were omitted from the second pack, named the ‘Action Set’, with the popular platformer Super Mario Bros taking it’s place for a more affordable $200 (£125).

So next time your buddies start debating over wacky peripherals in the playground, splurt that one out and be prepared to catch them as they fall over stunned. Or walk away silently as they shout ‘nerd’.

Well, another volume of Sound Off is in the books. What crazy questions will Vol. 3 bring? Will someone actually own up and declare a Best Game Ever? Will Jim go off on another one of his world famous tangents and unearth some more info on his checkered past? Will Phillip stop his frantic work on Version 6 to get in on the action? Stay tuned to find out…

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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