Us console gamers don't exactly have the luxury to make our systems the way we want. Sure, you can upgrade the hard drive, or add some accessories, maybe even change out a faceplate, but that's about it when it comes to customization. That kind of freedom really only comes with PC gaming, but I thought, what if I could design my own console? What would I do? How would I make it?
Well I've been thinking quite a bit on this lately, and I've got some crazy ideas that just might work. Now granted, I'm not a hardware designer, I don't know all the tech, and a lot of these ideas have been tried before, but I think a lot of them could work better if done in a different way. Other aspects I feel are already figured out, and that I'm basically fine with how they are already done. So without further ado, let us begin.
Let's start with the easy stuff: format. Blu Ray discs, done. I know, simple, right? But Nintendo absolutely instits on making proprietary versions of standardized formats so their consoles can't play the formats they are based upon. I agree with them in the sense that this is a gaming console, not a media hub, but I say why not both? The fact is modern gaming consoles are already expected to have all the components of a modern media hub anyway, why not go that extra step and give it that functionality? Sure you could save a few bucks on the licensing fees, or potentially make a higher capapacity disc, but the tradeoffs simply aren't worth the incompatibilities. Plus, if you can attract a larger audience, you can get more people buying your games, and more developers wanting to make games. It really is a win-win.
In my mind none of the consoles did this right, yet all 3 have an aspect that they did get right. With the PS4 is that you have a system that you can upgrade the internal storage but forces you into the limitations of a single laptop hard drive. With the Xbox One, you have a system that supports external storage won't allow you to upgrade or replace the internal storage at all. And while the Wii U allows for you to buy exactly what storage you want, there's no room for an internal hard drive and worse yet, it can't be transferred from one system to the next.
What I propose is a modification of the Xbox 360's setup. I feel like the idea behind a drive that's internal yet easily removable and upgradable is amazing. What people don't realize is that underneath that propretary case is a simple laptop hard drive. All developers would need to do is make that case open with a few small screws and allow you to swap out the drive for a larger one. Data transfers could be done via a USB cable much in the same way they work with the Xbox 360 data transfer cable. There would be no need for an external drive to back everything up and restore, streamlining the process. That being said, I would also support external storage if someone was so inclined. It is a bit easier to expand hard drive space without digging into the nuts and bolts, plus you can easily move content to other consoles.
I'm sure there are people out there who would disagree, but I fail to see the need for a full manual install of games. This is one thing I think Nintendo has done right to avoid and applaud them for it. I don't understand why it's so hard for developers to take data directly from a disc. I'm sure there is some performance improvement somewhere, but I honestly don't see it. When I download a game on the Wii U and 360, I see no changes in load times or performance at all. The drawbacks are painfully obvious too, particularly on the Xbox One. I understand the need to download and install patches but not forcing installs would make console gaming a better experience all around. At very least make the installs minimal (less than 5GB) This would make hard drives much easier to manage.
Finally, I love the idea of having two different models on the market, one with internal flash memory, the other with a hard drive. I think 32 GB of storage is an excellent place to start, for casuals and those who primarly buy physical releases, it would be plenty of space, and even then, there's a bay for expansion should someone decide they need more space. It would also be nice for those who want more than the standard capactity drive, or even those who are buying a replacement console. That 12GB PS3 that everyone hated was excellent for me, because I already had a laptop hard drive sitting around. But for those who just want a 500 GB system without a hassle, that would be there too. And ideally the console should operate without storage at all (which is a problem with the Playstation 3-4).
The problem with a closed box is that you can't upgrade the specs without segmenting your audience (ahem, new 3DS). But that doesn't mean you can't fix your system. In my opinion, consoles should be so designed to be able to be accessed and worked on by the common gamer. I feel like I should be able to open my system easily with simple phillips head screws and replace a broken part. I would love it if I could go to the manufacturer and buy a replacement optical drive or internal power supply. There shouldn't be 10 different versions on 1 part, and I should be able to swap them with a few basic tools. Now maybe not every part (like the motherboard for intstance) but the ones more prone to breaking would be grand.
Now that isn't to say I want it to be like a PC where it's up to the user to service his own machine, but if someone had the knowlege to fix a problem, why should he have to pay $100, send off his system across the country to fix a $20 part? Ideally, you should be able to take in your Xbox to a local Microsoft store, and either drop it off it be fixed or buy the part directly from them. At very least they could take care of the legwork for you. Maybe that wouldn't be realistic for someone like Nintendo, but maybe they could even partner with another company (maybe Gamestop?)
What about inputs and outputs? In my opinion Nintendo has got a really great setup for that, they have HDMI plus a multi A/V output. So there's you digital and analog outs, plus support for composite, S-video, and component. Component in particular makes for ease in recording gameplay footage to an external device. (Of couse the system should allow you to use the internal HDD as well). I'm not sure what Sony and Microsoft expect people who use DVI or need analog conntections to do because their systems don't support it. What's also odd is that Xbox One only supports 720p and 1080p output, the Xbox 360 had a broad range of resolutions that it supported, those should be included as well.
USB is unbiquitous at this point, as it should be, and all 3 systems support it, but the placement is off. In my opinion, you should have 2 USB ports in front for charging controllers and immediate access to wired accessories (such as arcade sticks), one on the side (like the Xbox one) for temporary things such as flash drives or a friends external hard drive, and at least one on the back for a permanent accessory such as a kinect or sensor bar. But all accessories should be USB, I see no need for a propriertary port. It should go without saying USB 3.0 should be the standard too.
I would also design my console around a companion device, but not force it on anyone. In my opinion, Sega was onto something with their VMU. A memory card that was also a handheld, but could also be used to play mini games, and transfer data. I would love something like this, and the closest we have now is the PS4 and Vita. I would take the integration a step further, all it needs is a cradle for charging and transferring data between the two systems. wifi is too slow. Ideally, once it has been synched you should be able to put your portable device down in the cradle, the system would recognize it and allow you to play any installed game on your device with a standard controller. Now imagine it would also serve as a memory card and have access to the clould to make it an all encompasing device. Obviously, much like the PS4, off screen play would be universally supported. They could even be sold at different features and price points.
Controllers to me are pretty straightforward, use the Wii U pro controller design. Layout is perfect, 80 hour batterly life, and a battery that can be replaced easily by the user, comes with an 8 foot mini USB cable (micro is too flimsy IMO), it would need drivers for PC compability. I would only add analog triggers and support for up to 8 controllers, just for compatibility. Use the Dual Shock 4's microphone port for chat or headphones but the system should also allow any bluetooth headset like the PS3.
The operating system
The OS is yet another issue that I feel like needs to be tackled. There's something about each of the 3 that I like and dislike. I like the Xross Media Bar for it's minimalist design; it's responsive and non intrusive, but options are totally burried and it's hard to find things like what's taking up all your hard drive space. The Wii U menu is clean and easy to navigate, but is barren in the options department. The Xbox "metro" layout is gaudy and forced advertisements down your throat, even when offline, but is fairly well laid out. The 360 version of it has plenty of options, and it is mostly intutitive.
That's just kind of a fine line to walk, do you want ease of use or plethura of options? Do you want it attractive or minimalist? Honestly, I think you can have both, it just takes some smart design choices. But basically, I would take the Xbox One metro setup where your main functions take up the most space, but then have a seperate section just for a shop and another one just for options. The shortcuts, folders, backgrounds, and screen savers could ALL be customized. Let me make my own themes, download fonts, or even have my ow background music playing. It's my console, let me make it the way I want.
Most of all it should just be easy to get around and figure things out. The user shouldn't have to be intimately familiar with every aspect of the interface to load up a game and have a good time, nor should he have to find some burried option to change basic things.
Online should be free. At the end of the day, developers pay for servers, and I pay for the game, why should the console manufacturer a cut? Yes, I know they have their own servers and such, but the cut they get from online purchases should go into that. That's not to say I'm against a paid version such as PS+, in fact that's a fantastic deal, but give me basic access for free and incentiveize me to want to get the premium version. I could even see more options, make a bundle that includes PS Now, EA access, or Sling TV.
Things like Miiverse make the community better too. But I'd take that a step further, how about a game hub like the Halo Channel? Imagine other major game series having a hub like that where you can get all your news, tips, tricks, leaderboards community contributions and DLC all in one place? Sega hinted at that with thier first party games back in the day (you could launch it in game) and I think it could really be special if they took that to the next level.
Achievements should be handled differently too. Trophies and adding to your gamerscore are arbitrary, what about a system like the 3DS play coins? Each game could have their own achievements that, when unlocked would also act as in in game currency that would allow you access exclusive content. So you could possibly see a character online with a costume, you just knew they worked hard to get it.
Sorry if I rambled on, but as you can see I have some pretty interesting ideas. I'm sure that a lot of these companies have already thought of a reason why it isn't done, but still it doesn't stop a guy from dreaming. Maybe I'm way off base, but I feel like there are still plenty of areas where Sonyy/Microsoft/Nintendo could improve. And I want to hear from you guys, what do you think they should do to make consoles better? Sound off in the comments below.