(This is the text for the first episode of a new podcast I have begun called Gamer Zen.)

Hello, welcome to Gamer Zen, a new podcast about all things gaming. I’m Jeremiah Bourque, your host for this session. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Reports analyzing the Japanese Blu-Ray release of Final Fantasy XIII suggest that the 360 version of FF13 will “lose” going on 15 gigabytes of data.

My immediate question: how? What happened? Is the Hamburglar running off with the data?

Rather, it’s a simple question of technology. Now, I haven’t been a big fan of Kaz Hirai coming out every year and telling Sony’s investors that Blu-Ray has been a huge success in gaming. For movies? It’s killed HD-DVD successfully. For gaming? No. Blu-Ray hadn’t arrived yet at all.

When you look at data transfer, the 360 always had an advantage. When the 360 gained the ability to store games partially on the hard drive – IF THAT PARTICULAR CONSOLE HAD A HARD DRIVE, which we’ll come back to later – the net effect was to provide a significant load time reduction compared to the PS3, even when the PS3 was using games that required loading on to the hard drive. Developers didn’t even allow you to try some games without an installation.

Anyway, we come to Final Fantasy XIII.

The Xbox 360 version will be released on three DVD’s. These three DVD’s have an absolute storage capacity of 25 gigabytes, put together. The Blu -Ray release is 38 gigabytes, put together. That’s a problem.

Each disc will have to duplicate key game resources, just like multi-disc games usually have to. That’s another problem. And if FF13 DOESN’T, it’ll be just like Star Ocean 4 on 360, creating constant disc swapping that resulted in the game being one big ad for the PS3.

Only eight gigabytes are actual game data, with the rest of the space being devoted to drool-worthy CG movies. This is where the gimping will likely take place: lower sampling, less cool looking movies, with the gameplay being left largely intact. Largely, but not necessarily completely. We don’t know. But clearly, some compromises must be made.

I mean, seriously, Lost Odyssey, which I actually liked, had four DVD’s. Final Fantasy XIII will have only three? And people don’t expect there to be snips made here and there? Let’s be real about this.

Let’s also be clear about one more thing: with this kind of space situation, there’s absolutely no hope of having Japanese voices available on the 360 version for North America. The PS3’s Blu-Ray still has space to burn, and IGN gently made clear to Square’s people that yes, there is interest in such a thing! Not everyone’s like me, someone who decided to learn Japanese as an adult to be able to play games like this in raw, untranslated Japanese. Yes, yes, call me a weirdo, but I love the language and it goes beyond gaming. For everyone else, there’s subtitles and Japanese voices or just plain dubbing.

In this world, customers want choice.

The 360 had a good run. The price advantage of not forcing every unit to be pushed out with a hard drive, or with HD-DVD as part of the core hardware, gave it a competitive advantage against the PS3. Kaz Hirai’s propaganda to the contrary, even Metal Gear Solid 4 wasn’t really using the Blu-Ray for anything unique; four installs is a lot like four discs. Convenient, yes, but revolutionary? Not really.

I’ll put it this way. It’s taken until Final Fantasy XIII to make the Blu-Ray look like a visionary piece of technology, a vital and non- negotiable part of the package that will be heavily relied on in years to come as games are finally – FINALLY – large enough to properly exploit the additional space.

And finally, all the 360 gets are the scraps tossed to the family pets. Yes, maybe it was a coup to get FF13 on the Xbox 360, but don’t let anyone tell you that it’s the exact same game.

Largely? Yes. Completely? No dice. There will be compromises, because Microsoft picked its poison. MS made its bed and now has to lie in it.

I don’t envy Microsoft here. It made decisions that made it a lot of money, at least on the revenue side, while the PS3 struggled, waiting, waiting, and waiting again, for this generation’s Final Fantasy to come along to blow the competition away. Some thought that the 360 getting FF13 would totally negate the PS3’s hopes of an advantage.

Maybe not as much as some hoped.

Sometimes a decision can help you for a few years, a few good years, and still kill you in the long term.

Seriously, the lack of a hard-drive with every 360 may have made it some bucks, but it’s creating a lot of grief for the developers. Xbox Live Arcade? Needs hard drives unless you want to use those third-party solutions Microsoft frowns upon. How much does a good Microsoft-approved hard drive cost? Well, I have a kidney I’m not using right now…

This is lost business that Microsoft is not in a position to recoup. For all its near-term success, all of that early momentum seems to have ground with a halt. Now we have the 360 set to get Final Fantasy XIII – The Nerfed Edition. Regardless of how well they pick how to make their edits, the PR alone will be brutal.

It may take a while, but those chickens really do come home to roost.