E3 has crept up on me, but press conferences would seem to be going on as I type this. I followed the Xbox 360 unveiling last week; looks pretty cool. There were rumors that the console was going to be a bit underpowered, but Microsoft has apparently changed its mind: three cores each of which can run two threads (multithreaded world, here we come), plus a GPU that can do a trillion floating point operations a second, sounds pretty good to me. Maybe Sony’s super-spiffy-magic cell processor will beat that, but I have a hard time imagining that there will be a big performance gap between the two.

It’s interesting to see console designers finally converge on what functionality a controller should have; I agree with their answers. Two joysticks, one D-pad, four face buttons (plus a glorified pause button), four triggers. And an agreement that rumble is nice, but not at the expense of wireless. I like the designs where one trigger on each side is deeper and has analog functionality (much better for driving games than overloading the second joystick for accelerate/brake), and I don’t want analog functionality anywhere else other than, of course the joysticks. And I like the somewhat asymmetrical and colorful layouts that make the key controls easiest to reach, and that make it clear which face buttons are the most important ones (for games that don’t use them all equally); hopefully Sony will learn from Nintendo and Microsoft in this regard.

Of course, for all I know, Nintendo will introduce some completely bizarre controller tomorrow; they seem to like doing stuff like that. Still, I doubt it can be too weird, because their new console will be backwards compatible. I suppose they could just require you to buy Gamecube controllers to play Gamecube games, though.

One thing that I’d been wondering about: will the new Xbox be backwards-compatible with the old one? Last week’s press announcements didn’t say anything one way or another, which makes me think it’s still up in the air. Which is a little frustrating, because the recent release of Jade Empire, combined with the dearth of games for other consoles, makes me want to buy an Xbox now, so I’m trying to figure out whether or not I should give in or hold off half a year and just pick up an Xbox 360. That’s kind of silly, though – the current console is cheap enough now (and you have to think they’ll drop the price again any day now), and the new one will probably be hard enough to get right after launch, and packaged with tons of crap that I have no desire to get, that there isn’t much financial reason to hold off. So probably the best thing to do is, once I get tired of Gran Turismo 4, to just go out and buy an Xbox, spend the rest of the summer and fall playing Shenmue II and Jade Empire, and buy the next generation of consoles whenever the games force me to do so.

I never would have guessed when Microsoft bought Rare that they would have exactly one game to show for it at this point. (Plus another game to be released in a month that’s a remake of an N64 game.) I mean, Kameo showed for a couple of E3’s as an N64 game, but it not only didn’t release for the N64, it missed the entire next generation of consoles! Despite that, Perfect Dark Zero may be enough by itself to convince me to get an Xbox 360. I’m not a big FPS fan, but I really liked Perfect Dark: in particular, the cooperative scripted deathmatch missions are by far my favorite way of enjoying an FPS.

Even there, though, I’m probably in a minority: everybody else is waiting for Halo 3 for their FPS fix. I don’t know if I’ll buy the first two games in that series: on the one hand, I feel pretty uncultured because I haven’t played them, and I’m sure their multiplayer play is excellent. On the other hand, I’ve heard some bad things about their single-player modes, and I don’t have enough friends around to play it with. So I’m torn; it will probably depend on the lulls between new game releases. The best solution would be for me to have more friends around to play video games with, of course…

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