Kikizo Beats the Big Boys with Vague, Wonky, Idealistic Article

When you think of major sites with the contacts and clout to weasel some PS3 dev kit details out of developers (developers who might rightly fear for their jobs if they talk) a few big names should spring to mind. Gamespot, 1up, IGN, perhaps Next-gen.biz or GamesIndustry.biz.

How about Kikizo?

The relatively small London-based site (which supposedly gets one million page views a month) scored what could be a major coup by breaking details of how the Playstation 3 dev kits are holding up in early testing. The article’s deep background sources have made some skeptical of its veracity, but real or not, one thing is for certain… this article has its share of problems.

Kikizo’s expose is alternately vague, overly technical, speculative and idealistic, giving the average reader next to no chance of figuring out what the heck is going on.

First off, the obsession with techno-babble. I realize that Kikizo’s audience is likely much more interested in technical details and buzzwords than the average lay-reader, but the article’s intense focus on technical minutiae like “RSX’s crazy multi-way shader pipelines” and “volumetric phsyics” is still staggering.

Take the entire second page, which is devoted to discussing the vagaries of HDTV standards and how they apply to the PS3. Is it just HD, or is it super-duper HD? Or maybe even ULTRA HD! The thrilling conclusion? “So is the 1080p dream lost? It’s hard to say for sure.” Well that was helpful. (Also, if you’re dreaming of 1080p… it’s time to get some better dreams).

At one point in the story actually does he break from the techno-geek speak to describe why any of this actually matters:

“A peaceful early morning sunlight scatters through leaves and floods over the darkened branches, softly rendered shadow traces all the way down to a canvas where grains of earth are visible, while dynamic range lets our eyes see it all in accurate contrast together – it’s beautiful, almost like they promised this sort of scene would be – and it seems those 100 billion programmable shaders per second are being put to good use.”

Concise, evocative, and understandable. Of course it doesn’t last… casual mentions of things like “Phillips amBX technology,” “depth-of-field optical filtering” and “720p upscaling” are thrown about with no explanation, as if the audience was born knowing what they mean.

What’s more, the article is frustratingly vague, a nod to the fact that “they can’t mention any games or be specific about any game scenarios whatsoever” because of the anonymous sources. The article tries to get around this with comparisons to the Xbox 360 and video demos that have already been shown, but most of these comparisons are middling at best, muddy at worst. Take this extremely clear sentence:

“The difference in physics, detail and scene complexity between the Killzone or MotorStorm trailers and MGS4’s realtime demo is quite severely obvious, and it’s now abundantly clear to us that everyone’s early PS3 gaming experiences will be a whole lot more like the latter, but that’s not exactly a bad thing.”

Throughout the article, I got the impression that the author wanted to just come out and say he wasn’t that impressed, but didn’t have the courage to stand up to his own preconceptions about how awesome the system is going to be. Early on the article asks whether or not the test system meets the video demos we’ve been shown at E3. “The short answer is no, of course not – but it’s not an ugly picture by any means.” (emphasis added throughout this paragraph and the next to highlight the author’s rationalizations). Near the end of the article he says “it’s impossible not to be slightly disappointed, yet we’re still hugely excited.”

Direct comparisons to the Xbox 360 fare no better. The article does note that the PS3 is “a machine barely superior to Xbox 360,” but notes in the next sentence that “the gap could become bigger.” At one point, the author goes as far as to say that the system “is nowhere near the leap beyond Xbox 360 Sony wants you to believe,” but is quick to point out that this is “still impressive” in the very same sentence.

Every potential negative seems bounded by a “but it’s still early” caveat, while every hopeful sign is ridden to its most idealistic conclusion. Some might call it balance, I call it grasping for excuses.This is a hand-on impressions article, not an impartial news story. Make a call and make it straight.

Then there are the sections of the article that are simply speculative, like the three paragraph discussion of things the author would like to see on the PS3 (such as realistic water and hair) that were not even hinted at during his hands-on time. Or the paragraph that discusses the PS3’s potential cost without once mentioning how the hands-on demos affected his view on the issue. And then there’s the unexplained (and inexplicable) mention of “high definition IP webcams” as an example of a use for the system’s Cell processor “that keeps us excited.” (This guy sure is excitable).

There are some good things about the article. There is some good analysis of how the state of the dev kits plays into the expected Summer launch in Japan (outlook: good) and some evocative descriptions of how the power of the system can be put to good use (as noted above). Direct quotes from the unnamed developers are also high points, and much clearer than any muddied explanations the author puts forth (the place where a developer tells him to “stop asking stupid questions” is also a high point).

But the concluding statement that “all the claims, confusion and debate now make more sense,” is a bit of a stretch. Between the obscure techno-babble, vague speculation and pure wishful thinking, Kikizo’s article is a long way from making sense of much of anything about the PS3.

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