Preview: Playstation 3 Gotta Go Wii Wii

Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi Battle to the DeathThe most interesting upcoming technology battle will take place between two new video game consoles from Japan. It’s sure to be so heated, in fact, that the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 might just ruin Christmas for us all. Every kid’s gonna want one (or both) of the console’s but demand will far outstrip supply for months into 2007.

The PS3 is Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s XBox 360 video game console. What’s interesting is that Sony is describing their machine as a “computer entertainment system” and it is, indeed, a technical powerhouse that can do a lot more than just play games. It’s also massive, (and, to my eyes, ugly) as you can see in the comparison illustration after the click.

The Wii, on the other hand, makes no apologies about being, well, just another video game console (and much more visually appealing than the PS3). What makes the Wii so interesting, however, is the philosophical difference and unique gaming experience the Wii will offer regular people. As the Wii web site says, “Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else.”

The PS3, like the XBox 360, will be a big, complex, powerful gaming and entertainment system for hardcore geek gamers bent on long, dedicated, involving virtual experiences. On the other hand, the Wii is a small, lightweight pure gaming system designed to draw regular folks into more accessible games through a unique game play experience.

Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii Size ComparisonLike the XBox 360, the Sony PS3 is enormous. In fact, it’s even bigger than that behemoth. I fully expect it to be as noisy, too, considering the extreme amount of computing power inside that will require significant cooling. Speaking from experience, the fan noise in the XBox 360 is unbearable; it’s what eventually led me to decide to sell the console.

The Playstation 3 follows the standard style of controller that’s evolved over the last few generations of gaming systems: a couple of joysticks and buttons on a single controller designed to be held in two hands to operate. Mastering the controller can be a challenge, especially for new gamers.

The Wii sounds more interesting because Nintendo has exctually re-thought important aspects of the gaming experience. Nintendo is after the mass of people in the world who don’t commonly play video games, particularly young women and older people. They’re doing this by adding two qualities to the gameplay experience that are somewhat lacking from Microsoft’s and Sony’s approach: fun and ease-of-use.

Again, speaking from experience, too many new console games are just too complex and learning-intense to interest casual gamers. Nintendo wants to make it easy to just pick up a controller and have some fun.Wii Game Controller

Speaking of the Wii controller, this is the most interesting and potentially revolutionary aspect of the new system. It resembles a television remote control with a joystick tethered to it. While the joystick will control aspects of motion on-screen, games will primarily respond to the physical movement of the main controller itself.

This means players will have to swing the controller, shake it, and angle it to get in the game. For example, to play tennis, you’ll use the controller as a virtual racket. To play baseball it’s a bat. Sound odd? Well, I’ve watched videos of it and I have to say, it looks like fun.

Sony is gunning it to move some PS3 onto the market in a couple of months but if their recent quality control problems are any indication, it’s probably wise to stay away from the first wave of units that will hit the market. If you insist on being on the bleeding edge with this device, be sure to pick up some form of extended warranty (some component or other will definitely crap out).

Nintendo’s been a tad more coy about the final release information and dates for the Wii (as Nintendo tends to be). One things for sure: if the Sony Playstation 3 is a significant evolution for that platform, the Wii represents a revolution in gameplay. It’s just too unique in philosophy and design not to have a wide-ranging impact, whatever its market success.

Both consoles are being released for the holiday shopping market, but it’s likely nothing to get too worked up about. The Playstation 3 is slated to hit store shelves on November 17, and Nintendo has promised to deliver consoles the same day as Sony.

What’s more likely, of course, is that all the hardcore gamers will snap up their pre-ordered PS3s as they trickle into stores starting on the 17th. So unless your name’s Brad Pitt, don’t expect to lay your hands on a PS3 until the new year. The Wii consoles will tend to be more readily available from release date.