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December 4, 2001

Bad gaming journalism...
   [ posted by: R.I.P ]
Tom's Hardware (I'm not bothering with a link) ran an article today (12/4) that represents a real problem in console gaming coverage by the PC gaming/hardware press. When dealing with issues that they feel they need to publish an article on yet they really don't know much about, they write a piece that doesn't say much of anything (yet fills up space!). Frequently, as part of this kind of article, the journalist will drop an unqualified chart or comparison sheet into the middle of their article.
For instance this article I'm annoyed with above has a large comparison chart in the middle of it that runs comparisons between the X-Box, PS2, and GameCube. Over half of the GC entries are marked "N/A" for not applicable. And stats in the GC column are just wrong in the context of what they're supposed to represent to the other systems. Top example here is the line that compares polygon processing. For X-Box and PS2 they have noted the "maximum poly rate", but on GC since Nintendo doesn't provide such a number, they have listed the "average poly rate"... yet nowhere do they distinguish what these numbers really represent, and the uninformed reader is left thinking that the GC is heavily inferior to the other two systems.
Ok, then next, how about this "3-D audio support in hardware" category? Well this is a bit misleading. All three systems have the ability to output 3-D audio... the GC supports Dolby Pro Logic II output, and the PS2 supports Digital Dolby output. Both of these allow for 3-D audio spaces (just listen to Rogue Squadron on the GC and tell me it doesn't feature some of the best separated audio space you've ever heard). All the "3-D audio hardware" does is it provides developers a crutch for their sound production. Now instead of having to actually engineer a program to handle the spatial modification/broadcast of sounds in a game space, they can just create a sound "bump map" (effectively a 2-D drawing with light and dark spots... a simple example would be light places allow sound through, dark spaces reflect sounds) and have their program send the sound clip, it's coordinates, and it's broadcast direction to the chip and the hardware does the rest. While this can be a boon to some developers, it isn't required to have 3-D sound.
Or worse yet, "HDTV support" listed as both Yes for Movie and Game support for X-Box when HDTV support for at least movies was actually canned just a few weeks ago... and wait, what's this, GameCube has N/A for game support??? Did the author of this chart do any research? The GC supports progressive scan output, and a number of games out now and coming soon also feature Anamorphic or 16:9/Anamorphic output to really take full advantage of an widescreen HDTV system.
Look, I'm not against listing comparisons between systems where one system has features that another lacks. But I do think it is a disservice to a company when you compare features that are only on system "A", yet skipping features that only appear on system "B"... or worse, listing a feature on "A" and not even acknowledging the feature on "B" (like in the HDTV game support reference above.
I guess I could say that it would be nice to see someone do a relevant comparison chart sometimes, with entries qualified as needed. Heck, the above mentioned article that shows this chart really doesn't even make use of the chart data, they just threw it in as a space filler to their readers to use for comparison. Unfortunately, if the author of the piece had a clue about what he was writing, he would have either A) not used the chart, or B) added the qualifiers needed to make the chart relevant.
When I think about it, this is like the kind of crap that prompted the original GZ staff into doing our magazine, so I suppose some things never change... and probably never will.
...Oh well... that's my beef for today.
A bunch of reviews coming shortly...

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