What has everyone (by everyone I mean the few people that actually care about this sort of thing) been talking about lately? Why the HD-DVD/Blu-ray format war of course. What? You don't know what I'm talking about? Where have you been for the last year? Check this out for a refresher. With the announcement from Warner Bros about them exclusively supporting Blu-ray, it seems the war is almost over. Only two big studios are left behind HD-DVD and with reports coming in stating that about 85% of HD sales are going to Blu-ray. Don't expect them to stay that way for much longer. I know, HD-DVD players are cheaper than it's rivals are right now, but I have two things to say about that: 1. No titles, no sales. 2. PS3. Enough on that.

The real reason I bring up the format war (even though I detest even mentioning the thing) is this: Why would people care about a new format if digital downloadable content is the future? Online sales of music is pretty much the norm these days. Heck, I don't even remember the last time I bought a CD. Will movies and games go the same way?

With the advent of music downloads, services like Live and PSN for the game consoles, and Steam for computers, among many others, the case for buying from a brick and mortar store is dwindling. Convenience seems to be one of the biggest reasons for buying online these days. When going into a store you will invariably have to deal with a sales staff. Maybe you go to pick up the latest game for the Wii or PSP. It would be great if it just ends there right? But no, we have to put up with questions about joining a discount a club or about the latest game for pre-order. (Note to all GameStop employees, if I want to pre-order a game I'll tell you. Don't ask.) Situations like those are the reason I buy from retailers online almost exclusively these days, but I still buy the physical game, not a download. I know downloads are the future right? Yes, but I still prefer having an actual game in my hand instead of only having a collection of ones and zeros on my hard drive.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'm used to getting something when I pay for it. Oh, I know I get something when I download a game. My point is, what happens if your hard drive crashes or if it gets too full to add a new game? Both problems are pretty common these days. My take is this: I don't want to go through the hassle of re-downloading something I bought because something went wrong, or having to erase something else to add the game I just paid for. What happens if you have already downloaded that title to the max allowed by the online service? What if you lose your account information? What do you do next? The choices are simple. Either you buy the game again or you don't play it. Having the actual game on my shelf prevents me from ever getting into either of those situations. Don't get me wrong though, I have downloaded games and content from the Internet-with mixed results. I like getting content from PSN and have had no problems with that service yet. Steam, on the other hand, I will never use again.

I bought a physical disc for The Half-Life holiday pack last year for Christmas. A bunch of great games for a great price, how could you go wrong? By having to log into the service every time you want to play the game. What a tease. I buy a game and I can't even play it right away. I first had to set up an account, download the content from the website (because the disc I paid $50 for only had the Steam software on it), and then have everything authenticated with the disc I bought. Good in theory, but there are some problems. What if your Internet connection goes down? Sorry, no game. But it has an off-line mode you say. You still have to authenticate your account on a regular basis. If you can't authenticate, again, no game. I know it's an anti-piracy measure, but it just makes things harder for the consumer. When I buy a game I want to be able to stick it in and play it. I don't want to set up an account. I don't want to run your client software. I just want the game I paid for. If I wanted to download content, I would have download it directly off of the website. I learned by lesson though. Whenever I buy a computer game these days I look for one evil word: Steampowered.

Digital downloads may be the future, but for me, a physical disc (with the actual content on it) is the best option. I know the developers and publishers want to expand their profits -and not having to pay for packaging and all the other costs associated with it- are a great way to do it. But at what cost do they do it? Convenience of the customer has to be the primary focus or these online retailers will get a GameStop-like reputation.

Now I've given you my opinion of what 2008 will look like for each of the console systems. Overall, the prognosis is good for all the consoles this year. Each one has highly anticipated exclusives. The PS3 has Metal Gear Solid 4, and Little Big Planet. The Xbox 360 has Too Human and Halo Wars. The Wii has Super Mario Brothers Smash Brawl, and Wii Fit. Each of these games is anticipated to have a huge impact on the console war. Now what's on your mind?

What's that? You are asking me my opinion about "console wars"? I'll be happy to answer that for you. A war is a struggle between two or more factions. War typically has a winner and a loser. We never want to be the loser. In gaming it's a little different, especially when 3 exceptional consoles are on the market. We want to win. So how does a gamer, a true gamer, win? By not fixating on a brand and look at the games themselves. You could buy an Xbox or a PS3, but without the little disc you stick in the machine, you might get a little bored. I know I would. These companies that develop and publish games all have one goal: To put their games in the hands of gamers, and they ALL have great games that are worthy of our attention. My point is that more then one system you will give you a bigger potential library. Personally, I wouldn't mind putting Halo up on the shelf beside Uncharted. There's nothing wrong with it. It's gamers being gamers and remembering why we do this. To play great and fun games.

So have fun this year. Get that game system you always wanted but didn't get for Christmas. Then save up your money and get your second choice, too. Play Bioshock and Heavenly Sword. Or get Warhawk and Wii Sports. Get something you think will be fun and have fun playing.

What do you think? Should we, as more and more developers are suggesting, switch to a single console enterprise? What are the benefits? Risks? Down right dirty stuff we don't want to know about? Which system do you want and why? What games are you anticipating for 08? Do you subscribe to fanboyism? I want to know what you are thinking about. Drop me a line and let me know.
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Looking For A Comeback.

Next up, the PlayStation 3. This has been a tough year for Sony. They've mounted huge losses in their gaming division and have had some major shake-ups with management. The father of the PlayStation has left the building. What part of his legacy will remain? Will Sony be able to recover some losses this year and gain market share? Or will the other consoles remain in a leading position leaving the PS3 to perpetually play catch-up?

This is the year that will make or break Sony. They've been struggling against the 360, and more surprisingly the Wii, for a little over a year now. Thankfully for them, 2008 looks to be the year for Sony to make up some ground. In the war of consoles, exclusives are the big guns, and Sony has some very big guns on the way.

This year will see the release of several of Sony's biggest exclusives. We'll have Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Gran Tourismo 5, and Killzone 2 as continuing series'. The gamers are awaiting these games with baited breath, but a couple of other titles have some thunder of their own to sound. Later this year we will see the release of the biggest little title in Sony's line-up. Of course, I'm referring to LittleBigPlanet. This game has a lot of people talking, and for all the right reasons. The trailers that have been released for the game look absolutely amazing, and if we can do half the stuff they are telling us we can, it will be a groundbreaking title.

This year is also shaping up to be the year of the gamer as a designer. Starting with Unreal Tournament 3, LBP and continuing with Home, we'll be able to build, show, and play our own creations. Designing your own game experience isn't exactly new, but being able to put it online for other console owners to play is. Home is really the unknown here. We haven't seen a lot about it yet, but we all know what we want out of it. Creating Live and the achievement scheme for the 360 was a genius move on Microsoft's part. Now Sony knows they have to have something great to counter it. They're hoping Home will be it. Unfortunately, it's been delayed a couple of times already and that leads one to worry. Is it goig to be good enough? We really need to get this title in our hands soon or Sony may miss the boat.

Sony has a couple of stumbling blocks to get over before they can hit their stride. The single biggest concern they need to fix in order to be competitive, is price. The move to release the 40 gig model in time for the holidays was a good move. That single action help to pull them out of a distant third to a more respectable third. The problem, is that they are still in third. It's been recently released to the press that Sony has been able to reduce production costs (in some reports by as much as half). If true, Sony needs to pass that savings to the consumers. With the Wii at $250 and the base 360 at $280, the $400 PS3 is just not competitive enough. Even having a product with more features does not make it an instant sale. I think Sony has finally realized the folly of their ways.

The other factor that Sony needs to look at is their online presence. By itself the PlayStation Network is not bad. Free access to multiplayer, downloading games and trailers, and of course, the updates coming from the internet. What they need to do is combat Live itself. Achievements were an undeniable hit for the 360. If Home integrates an awards system, Live may have a run for it's money. A word of caution. Simply copying Microsoft's ideas will only cause a backlash. Whatever Sony comes up with had better be original and competitive.

There is great potential for Sony, and with great potential comes...Well, you know the rest. If Sony decides to sit back and not take advantage of their current momentum, they will definitely lose this war to Microsoft. It's in their hands now.

OK, the Wii. I really don't know where to go with this one. I'm conflicted. The potential is there to make 2008 their best year since the late 80's, but will the software be up to the task? 2007 was a great year for Nintendo. They went from ridiculed underdog to the top of the console heap in less than one year. How they did it was no surprise. They pioneered an innovative control scheme, made the console cheap, and made it accessible to the non-typical gamer. The virtual console was also a great idea. Backward compatibility has been a buzz word with previous generations, something that Nintendo hasn't taken advantage of until now. Adding the back catalog of classic games was a must for the Big N.

First, the good. Any game released by Nintendo with Wii in the title is sure to be a huge seller. This trend will definitely continue well into this year, and possibly, extending through the entire life of the console. We will also see releases of all the current popular Nintendo titles. Expect to see sequels with Mario, Link, and Samus in them. Whether or not we'll see these characters in their natural environments is another story. We should see some changes within the third party developers as well. As the developer community gets more familiar with the Wii's wireless motion controls we will hopefully see more chances being taken, instead of just putting out the cookie cutter projects of the previous generations and bad ports. Everyone is waiting for the lightsaber attachment and a good Star Wars game to back it up, so get on it LucasArts. We want to duel with Darth. Gaming for the beginning of the year with the Wii looks promising. With some huge titles having been released in the last few months and constant demand, expect Nintendo to stay on or near the top for this year.

Now here comes the problem. Looking at this from the hardcore perspective: Games and release dates. Where are they? We have some vague idea when some of the games are coming out, but even the games with published dates have been getting pushed back. The games that are being released? Well, it's not looking so hot. Taking a look at this weeks releases I see no winners and no big games. The next big game on the horizon, Super Smash Bros Brawl, isn't coming out until March...maybe. See, here's the problem with Nintendo. The big, good games take a lot longer to be released. How many true Mario games did we see on the Gamecube? Not many. Nintendo fans have always been expected to be patient through the long gaming drought between the AAA titles, but unfortunately, not given many decent choices to play in the interim.

I took a look at the titles currently available for the Wii via Amazon. I'm aware that this is not a complete list, but looking at the sampling they have available, I'm concerned. Now here's how my list turned out. Games with either Mario, Link, or Samus in them: 10 (I didn't even count Donkey Kong, Pokemon, or the Wario Ware titles in that list). Fishing games: 4. Bowling games: 2. And games that I called WTF??: 20. Now what type of games were in that last category you ask. I'll tell you. I see games titled Ninjabread Man, Cranium Kabookii, Sea Monsters, and Chicken Hunt. Needless to say, these are not big sellers. With these games outnumbering the decent titles by a factor of 2, it doesn't look good. Where's the quality control? A better question is probably this. Where are the new intellectual properties from Nintendo? We all love Mario, Link and Samus, but that doesn't mean we want to see them in every game you put out.

Delivering derivative and uninspired games is by no means a new phenomenon. Nintendo has a problem with delivering innovative first party games to the gamers for the past few generations. Having to wait 3 or 4 years for the next Super Mario title is torture. Having to wait for the next big non-Mario Nintendo title is an eternity. If you are a casual gamer, you may be in better shape. Just don't expect the best in quality. Does Nintendo hate us? Do they think we'll stick with them no matter the crap they feed us? Maybe. I'm hoping they are able to pick it up for 08. If they don't, the bubble may burst and leave Nintendo all sticky. My last words? Just these few: Ninjabread Man. WTF?!?!?!