The one console future

Silicon Knights founder and president Denis Dyack is talking about an open standard for gaming consoles on gamasutra today. EA’s head of international distribution Gerhard Florin told the BBC he wants.

We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible. You don’t need an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii — the consumer won’t even realise the platform it is being played on.

There is already an organization called Gamix, Inc that offers a PC based open platform. I don’t think Gamiz’s approach will ever work. You need to offer the main hardware console makers a reason to believe in this. Sony and Microsoft already own many studios. Why would they ever create games for a PC-only based platform? Microsoft could benefit from this if Windows is used, but then the platform would not be “open” anymore.

So the big question here, how can we consolidate the interests of companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to push to support one standard. A standard that allows a game developer to build once and deploy anywhere. Thats a really hard question. But we can start somewhere. First of all, even though its an open standard, there needs to be room for differentiation. The standard should include a hardware and software spec that manufacturers need to comply with. In terms of Hardware, a multi-core Power PC based architecture is a safe bet since all the consoles use Power PC based processors now. As for Software, an Operating System API is all that is needed. Vendors like Sony and MS can compete by trying to build a better system that complies to the standard.

Network Equipment vendors have been competing in the same way for years. In Networking, you had to comply to a standard, otherwise devices would not be able to talk to each other. Now the same needs to happen in gaming.

A distribution medium like Blu-Ray or HD-DVD will need to be picked for this open standard as well … another big problem!! Hardware distribution will not die anytime soon. Most publishers will try to push their games online. Even if you had a 200GB hard drive, its only got room for 4-7 multi-lingual HD games. So downloading the whole game is just not that sexy yet.

There are several factors that need to be considered in defining this open standard:
1- Timing
2- Publisher and Developer Commitment
3- Manufacturing issues
4- Fairness

Now how can console vendors differentiate their products:
1- Hardware: manufacture your own chip and focus on making certain aspects better than the others.
2- System Software: optimize your OS to be better. Provide an easy to use API. Make it easy for end user to plug in their own applications without sacrificing system integrity. Make it easy for people to use the console for other purposes.
3- Creative input/output devices. The Wii controller is not the end!! There are many other cool ways to interact with games. Look at Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The rumble was considered a next generation input device. What about 3D glasses? Special lighting effects, anything that immerses the gamer in the experience. Whether its a movie or a game.
4- Application Software = Games mostly but just like Sony and MS are doing with the XLive and PSN. Provide a market place and a community (think Home).

There are a lot of things that still can be done. If you compare the quality of offline rendered animations and runtime animations, you will notice that games tech is still lagging behind. Physics has not been really utilized enough in gameplay elements. Open worlds are not so open. Characters are not as responsive as you would want them to be. AI is still progressing and rendering is only getting better. Lighting, textures, and effects are all things that can be improved dramatically.

Hopefully a successful initiative for an open standard console will get started.

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