Michael Anderson 14/11/2005
Back in the day, when I was about 8 or something, I went round to my Cousin Paul's house and he had a fantastic new computer console called a Sega Master System. It had Michael Jackson on it and the graphics, sound and controls made my Spectrum seem like a right pile of crap. With Christmas conveniently approaching, I resolved immediately that I must have one of these new super-computers.
A few years later, when I was about 10 or something, I remember standing outside Dixons on Wrexham high street staring in wonderment at Sonic the Hedgehog bouncing around the screen of a thing called a Megadrive. Now it was my Master System that was embarrassingly anachronistic, with its 8-bit graphics and stupid two buttoned controllers (the Megadrive had three), and I started to hate myself for not having a Megadrive. With Christmas conveniently approaching, I resolved...etc.
Nowadays, a little older and wiser, I am nevertheless bracing myself for that same mixture of inadequacy, greed and jealousy of days gone by- the sensation that is the holy grail of Japanese boardrooms. In December the Microsoft Xbox360 heralds the dawn of a new generation of console, a new generation that will inevitably seem old and crappy in about 4 years' time when its successors arrive inexorably on the scene- if Kant were still around, I'm sure he'd agree. But he's dead.
The timing of the machine's release couldn't be better from Microsoft's perspective, arriving just three convenient weeks before Christmas in the UK and worldwide- several months before the Sony's PS3 or Nintendo's Revolution. Learning from the debacle of November 1941, the Americans have finally prevented the Japanese from getting in there first and wreaking havoc, as happened a few years ago when the original Xbox was released limping forlornly behind the PS2.
These new consoles don't mess about either, being capable of one teraflop, thanks to utilizing three symmetrical IBM cores running at 3.2 GHz each. Graphical performance is provided by a 500 MHz custom ATI graphics processor and backed up by super fast memory, 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM that is shared with the CPUs via unified memory architecture- whatever the fuck all that means. In short, the graphics and processing power will be dead good.
A myriad of remarkable titles are scheduled for release to showcase these Fancy-Dan graphics including a new version of Sonic the Hedgehog- I've heard that it looks even better than the aforementioned Megadrive version (with parallax scrolling and everything). Other notable releases include the predictably updated versions of existing quality franchises, including Tiger Woods, FIFA06, Tony Hawks and Tomb Raider. Also on the cards are Scarface and The Godfather games, which could both be potentially amazing (but are far more likely to be steaming piles of shite, like most 'film' games). There will also probably be loads of flashy racing games too, but who cares?
However, a new console with new power means that there is also the opportunity for programmers to push the technical capabilities of the machine and invent new concepts, gaming scenarios, etc, which leaves a lot of questions to ask- what a huge disappointment this all could be if it turned out to just be an Xbox with slightly better graphics. We all expect a significantly improved gaming system, but the really new and exciting thing about the new Xbox is that it continues the process of moving gaming from the bedroom and into the living room. The most significant 'new' feature is the ability to not only play games but also high-quality music and video files, via a Windows XP extension, aiming to replace a large chunk of Personal Computer's traditional roles- all for just over £200.
I comfortably predict that in a few years we will be laughing at the very idea of getting excited about an Xbox 360, and that everything will probably be like The Jetsons. For now though, the Xbox360 will represent the very cutting edge of entertainment systems, combining all your electronic entertainment in one box next to your (probably silver) telly. Having all this from one source is not far off now, and should be triumphantly heralded as a perfect example of technology making things better for us- we just need to be careful that the machines don't become militarily stronger than humanity and then go to war with us and send a robot back in time to 'terminate' the Connors.