"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

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November 28, 2006

Wii vs. HD (Nintendo Wii Launch, part 1)
So I find myself in something of a conflicted, frustrated limbo with the Nintendo Wii right now. Allow me to explain. I was able to score a console last Sunday morning. Not having a pre-order and out of a paralyzing fear that I'd be out of luck if I waited until the morning of the 19th, I reaffirmed my nerddom by camping out in front of Best Buy the night before. Twelve and a half brutal, cold hours in line. Seriously. But I got the Wii, a bunch of games, extra controllers, and everything was right with the world. Except for one thing.

Nintendo laudably managed to dodge many of the hurdles that felled the PS3 (see below) and Xbox 360 launches: it has respectable availability (it may take a little effort and luck, but if you want a Wii before Xmas, you should be able to find one; no one's getting a PS3), a varied selection of software highlighting the new control scheme (including one system seller in Zelda), and a mass market-friendly price. However, they made one colossal, headache-inducingly stupid mistake: IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO GET A SET OF WII COMPONENT CABLES. I can't emphasize this strongly enough: this really, really, really, really pisses me off. Now, Nintendo's long been an HD-unfriendly company, but this has gone far enough: the Wii maxes out at 480p, composite cables ship with the system, and newer GameCubes actually shipped with the component video output removed from the system altogether (an especially callous move; seriously, Nintendo, what did this save you? Two cents a system?)

What kills me is how easy this problem should have been to solve--or, more accurately, how easy it would have been to keep it from becoming a problem at all. For a while now, Nintendo's played the "no one has an HDTV" card and equivocated for months concerning component cable availability at launch. They finally bowed to pressure and opened orders over the phone and online only days before the 19th. In a matter of hours, they completely sold out their initial stock. I ordered my cable the afternoon they appeared online and have been on backorder ever since. Seriously, Nintendo? How could they so wildly misjudge the market? Tell me the name of the clueless fuck who's feeding these bogus HD stats to Nintendo so I can bitch-slap the hell out of him. Consider that many of the people obsessed enough to buy a Wii at launch are technology early adopters likely to have an HDTV and there would seem to be no more opportune time to have cables available. What's the worst case scenario? You manufacture too many cables and just keep them in storage? They would certainly sell over the next few years as more and more people buy HDTVs (and the HD market is growing by leaps and bounds). How could they read this so poorly? Just as mind-boggling is how none of the third-party manufacturers managed to get a cable out for launch--unprecedented access to a starving market and no one's taking advantage? Ridiculous.

Now I know this isn't even a problem for a majority of gamers and you may scoff and say I'm an overreacting video snob (and I don't deny it), but here it is: I've had my beloved 32" Panasonic CRT HDTV for two and a half years now, I've become accustomed to progressive scan, component video goodness and I refuse to go back. Not helping matters is that I've spent the past few weeks basking in the 1080i splendor of my new Xbox 360. Going from that to composite-powered 480i is like putting a layer of wax paper on the screen. Now, I'm not insane enough to not play the Wii at all until I get my cables, but I do have some standards and, as such, I will not play Zelda until I can experience it in its entire progressive scan glory. The jewel in the Wii launch crown, the most acclaimed game of 2006, years of anticipation, and, thanks to Nintendo, it's sitting and gathering dust in my apartment. And I'm not alone; check out any Wii message board for plenty of others like me. Here's what it feels like. Imagine you've been waiting for years to see a particular movie and it's finally hitting DVD. You're counting down the days, you're dying to watch it. The day it comes out, you head to the store bright and early and find out that, oops, they've decided only to release it on VHS. The DVD version won't be out for a few more weeks. Now, you need to decide, give in to temptation and watch the substandard VHS copy or wait, annoyed, until the DVD hits. But the real question is, why do I even have to make this choice? How could Nintendo screw this up so badly?

So, even though I've been playing the Wii plenty over the last week, I've spent much less time with it than I normally would have. It seems a bit unfair to write much about the system or games yet as a result. Fingers crossed, Nintendo's shipping out the next batch of cables this week, so I should be drowning in the Wii/Zelda magnificence soon, but Nintendo was thisclose to nailing the Wii launch and let hubris once again punish what should be their most treasured target audience: tech-friendly, money-spending nerds. The Wii launch has been delayed for nine days now...and counting.

Switching gears, hot on the heels of last year's Xbox 360 debut, Sony couldn't pass up the chance to add a PS3 chapter to the book of Bad Console Launches. Let's look at the tape: zero availability (ensuring that the only people to get one are the idle rich able to blow ridiculous sums on eBay for their spoiled kids), a thoroughly mediocre software lineup consisting mostly of underwhelming ports (Resistance is literally the only PS3 game worth buying now), backward compatibility faults (complete dealbreaker: not being able to play Guitar Hero 2 on the PS3 yet when GH2 is ten times better than any PS3 game), an arrogant, bank-breaking price point, and hardware issues (check out this story--the second page is titled, "Why Marc can't get a PS3 until he buys a new TV.") Why exactly are people killing themselves for this system again? That said, the future is likely bright for the PS3. The Xbox 360 had the same laundry list of problems, but, a year after launch, I decided that there was finally enough quality software to justify buying one and I've no regrets. It's a great system (boy, 1080i output sure is scrumptious). But while the PS3 may finally start showing its potential a year from now, at the moment, it's just a glitchy Blu Ray player.