TAMPA - E3 2011 is fast appproaching, and the big three console makers are expected to announce their plans for their future systems.
Nintendo has already announced development on its next console, at this point code named "Project Cafe."
Sony's upcoming handheld, the NGP, is the powerful successor to the PlayStation Portable, which came to American store shelves in 2005.
Microsoft is the wild card, with rumors swirling that big time game makers already have development kits for their unannounced Xbox 360 follow-up.
With all that in mind, here's a look at what each company needs to put in their machines to catch the consumer's eye - and get the money out of their wallet.
Nintendo's Project Cafe:
1) The Nintendo Wii changed the way we play with its revolutionary motion controls and reintroduced video gaming to a generation that grew up with Mario and Zelda. The wand controller became second nature for the 80 million-plus that have enjoyed the Wii, and Nintendo needs to keep something similar in their next system. Changing back to a more modern version, with dual joysticks and multiple buttons and triggers, might alienate the crowd that snatched up the Wii.
2) The Wii was mocked by many hardcore gamers as an underpowered, unimpressive, weak system. Its graphics were marginally above those produced by the Gamecube, and as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 dazzled a new generation with high definition visuals and surround sound, the Wii got left in the dust. The new system must be capable of 1080p graphics and digital surround sound. HDMI is also a must, and with 3D technology becoming more and more popular, that feature has to be considered as well. The Wii doesn't even play DVDs, an absolute requirement for the next system.
3) Nintendo has always cranked out top hits with their own reliable stars: Mario, Link, Samus, Pokemon, and many more. It's the third party developers that have been unkind over the years, often designing their smash hits like Call of Duty and Madden for the top-notch consoles and dumbing them down for the Wii. This leads to barebones versions of top titles that don't sell nearly as well. Nintendo needs to build friendships with EA and Activision, among others, proving that their console is not a wimp in the next generation and that it's worth their attention.
4) Playing online with your friends on the Wii is harder than acing the SATs. Individual "friend codes", randomly generated numbers that must be entered for each game, have alienated many players looking to play with their pals online. Xbox and PS3 gamers can make their own username which applies across all games, and at this point, it's stunning Nintendo hasn't caught on. This simple idea is the first step Nintendo has to put in place in order to essentially "build" their online population. Their Virtual Console store, however, has been very popular, selling past games like the original Super Mario Brothers and many Super Nintendo hits as digital downloads for a few bucks each. These purchases need to carry over to the next system.
5) Finally, Nintendo's systems have been priced lower than the competition nearly every console generation. That needs to stay the case for the next console. If Nintendo can squeeze all of that and more into "Project Cafe", and keep it under $300, they'll have another winner on store shelves.
1) The PSP was a daring first entry into the portable gaming market for Sony. Boasting better graphics and sound than anything Nintendo could offer, tech junkies were dazzled. The 3DS from Nintendo has closed part of the gap, offering glasses-free 3D. Whether the NGP has 3D or not, it needs to keep wowing players with amazing visuals. If early indications hold true, there's little to worry about.
2) The original PSP ran on proprietary UMD discs, and this was a major drain on the system's battery. Future design revisions have since eliminated the need for discs, instead storing games on memory sticks or a small built-in hard drive. Still, with the giant touch screen and constant internet connectivity of the NGP, there are concerns that the battery might last just six hours or less. This is unacceptable for players looking for something to do on long flights or vacations, when charging isn't available. Sony must work on an alternative before launch time.
3) The NGP will come with a touch screen on the front, touch pad on the back, dual joysticks, and traditional face buttons and shoulder buttons. While touchscreen gaming is popular on smart phones, no major device has both front AND back touch pads. This new control mechanism must be implemented in a way that draws players in and proves useful, without becoming too confusing and useless. It's up to developers to make the most of it.
4) With several exciting online features planned, one major draw has to be included to put things over the top: Netflix support would be monumental for the NGP. While already a staple on the iPad, Netflix on the NGP would be yet