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Xbox 360 Has Nothing On Atari 2600
Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) offers gamers two different choices. One has a hard drive, component display cable and a wireless controller. The other is a stripped-down model that lacks a hard drive, has a composite cable and a fixed-line controller.
Want the one with the hard drive but don't want (or need) the wireless controller or component cable? Tough. Buy the composite cable and wired controller separately.
On top of this enforced "freedom" of choice, retailers took it another step and offered pre-orders on systems bundled with games, accessories and even pre-paid game rentals. Toys R Us (nyse: TOY - news - people ) offers, through Amazon.com (nasdaq: AMZN - news - people ), four variations: the Pro Players Bundle I and II, and the Core Players Bundle I and II. These bundles are priced at $999.95. Picking one of these bundles makes you a sucker, not a gamer.
The confusion may be intentional. Microsoft likely hoped to cover up its lack of original games available at launch.
The two editions allow consumers the flexibility to enter the immersive, high-definition world of Xbox 360 gaming and build toward the complete Xbox 360 entertainment experience, a Microsoft representative said.
Ridge Racer 6? Project Gotham Racing 3? Do developers (and Microsoft) lack so much faith in the new system that they have to recycle repetitious-by-nature racing games? How embarrassing is it that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has been delayed to some point in 2006? How embarrassing is it that the advertising blitz for that game had already begun before the delay was announced?
It doesn't matter how many different faceplates a gamer can slap onto the front of a system. Granted, the wood-grain edition looks more interesting than another first-person shooter game, but unlike computers, one doesn't sit at a desk in front of the system. Also, why would Microsoft spend such time and money on an aspect that it acknowledges its gamers will likely ignore? Ideally the system would sit in the dark, outside of the glow of the television, as the gamer ploughs on through the night.
The influence of movies and the movie industry has destroyed the gaming field in recent years. Is it possible to play a game that doesn't have tiresome cinematic introductions and cut scenes interspersed? Even more disingenuous are the screen shots from those clips passed off as actual scenes of game play.
The best gaming platform of all time is undoubtedly the Atari (nasdaq: ATAR - news - people ) 2600. What other system had or will have as wide a variety of games that were genre-less (Human Cannonball and Lost Luggage, for example)? What other system will have the permanence of Atari 2600 games, which are available on every modern platform in the form of anthologies and as mobile games?
The Atari 2600 controllers--the joystick and the paddle--each only had one button. That spoke to the elegant simplicity of gaming. A game that requires a controller with one analog and one digital direction stick and ten buttons is certainly more complex, but it's not more fun to play. The Apple Computer (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) Macintosh mouse had only one button for 20 years, yet, it was always easier to use than a PC mouse. Even the new multi-button Mighty Mouse bends to the use of one button.
In fact, the most enduring videogame in the American collective consciousness, Pac-Man, doesn't even require buttons. And will anybody ever record a song, "Ridge Racer 6 Fever"?
The best title ever made in the history of U.S. videogaming was DragonStomper. It will never be surpassed because games are no longer comprised of the labor and love of one person. Games no longer have the consistent vision of a single artist/programmer, nor the dignity to end with a finality to close off all sequels. Hats off to DragonStomper creator Stephen Landrum!
DragonStomper was innovative for its graphics (which are still charming today) and music cues. "Taps" played when the player was killed; "I'm in the Money" chimed out when booty was picked off a fallen foe. There were also multiple ways to solve problems. One could descend to the dragon's lair on a rope or simply jump down (and absorb some damage).
It was simple, due to Landrum's ingenious menu system, and infinitely replayable, due to randomized monsters and items. The game, along with the Supercharger memory charger needed to play it, was also a huge risk to produce. In today's conservative game-publishing environment, there is no way DragonStomper could have been done today, unless it was tied in with the Lord of the Rings franchise. Certainly, it wouldn't have been as well executed.
Isn't that the point to gaming, to have fun? How much more incrementally fun is Ridge Racer 6 than Ridge Racer 5, or even the original Ridge Racer? Are things even more fun when manufacturers bring out different iterations of the very hardware you play on?
If anything, the Xbox 360 is aptly named: Microsoft is trying to give gamers the spin.