Bleeps and Bloops: Death matches, carnage, and strategic war waged

By Dan Rosart
Tuner Fenton Campus
Brampton, Ontario

In 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System revolutionized and revitalized the Video Game industry. That means Nintendo has only itself to blame for its current competition.

Add to this the fact that Nintendo's deal with Sony to develop a CD-ROM expansion to the SNES collapsed, and Sony transformed the salvage into the Sony Playstation.

The Video Gaming market is split primarily between three contenders: The Nintendo 64, the Sony Playstation, and the PC market. Each has its own advantages. The PC gaming platform, while comparatively expensive, has the potential for superior graphics and internet play. The Sony Playstation has large storage media and widespread developer support, but its slow CD-ROM drive can create annoying load times, and the Playstation has some minor quirks, like no hardware filters and some issues with twitching textures.

The Nintendo 64, released over a year after the Playstation, still has fewer games, most likely due to their choice of the limited size cartridge media, but load times are non-existent. Antialiasing and fog effects are built into the hardware, and Nintendo's few developers are top notch, with Nintendo itself and second and third-party companies like Rare, Iguana, and Left Field Studios putting out extraordinary games like Turok 2, Goldeneye 007, NBA Courtside, and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The latter has been acclaimed by many as the best video game ever made, for its expansive cinematic locations and breathtaking special effects. Many, however, prefer the Final Fantasy saga, previously for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo, and now appearing on the Playstation, for its pre-rendered cinema and enormous storyline, which consumed three full CD's.

Further complicating the industry will be the release of the Sega Dreamcast this summer. Sega has a tradition of releasing a powerful system early in a generation, then falling behind newer technology with poor quality games. The Dreamcast may be another example of this effect, as Sony has recently announced its "Playstation 2", which will be over 3 times as powerful as the Dreamcast when it is released in at least a year. For this round, however, Sega says that they will provide much more support for third party developers. Since the extinction of the Saturn, Sega has been surviving based on the revenue from its arcade games such as Gunblade and House of the Dead. The Dreamcast, already released in Japan, features astounding visuals but sales have been disappointing, as the system has not been performing as well as the Nintendo 64 in the techno-savvy Japanese market.

The Nintendo 64 has in the past performed poorly in Japan, due primarily to the Cartridge media used and the lack of developer support. In recent months, however, titles like The Legend of Zelda, Mario Party, and Super Smash Brothers have attracted niche gamers back to the console. Nintendo owes much of their global success to one man, Shigeru Miyamoto, who developed the Super Mario 64, F-Zero X, and The Legend of Zelda. (It is often pointed out that the Nintendo
64 was primarily developed to showcase Mario 64.)

Nintendo also has an ace up its sleeve, with its new, yet-unnamed console, arriving in at least two years. The system will definitely not use cartridges, instead probably leaning toward the much larger DVD format. Don't expect much news on this system for a while, though.

Meanwhile, in the handheld market, the Nintendo Game Boy has enjoyed dominance for over a decade. When it was introduced in 1989, it faced stiff competition from both the Sega Game Gear, a color handheld system which was restrictively large and had short battery life; and the Atari Lynx, a technologically superior system, also with color, but with very little software support. Both systems eventually fell by the wayside (The Lynx first) as consumers chose the smaller greenish-monochrome system with the longer battery life and the developer support. (The Game Boy, and Game boy Software, consistently outsell Nintendo 64 hardware and software in Japan.) In 1998, the Game Boy Color was released, approximately doubling the power of the original system and adding color, force-feedback, and infra-red capabilities to the original system.

At the top of the power spectrum is the Gaming PC, which has the advantage of being fully scalable, but the disadvantage of an unenviably high price. 3D accelerators such as the 3dfx Voodoo and the Nvidia Riva TNT allow the computer to achieve realistic 3D graphics in real time--but these cards can cost $200 or more each, in addition to the over $1,000 price tag of the PC.

Add to that as much as $60 for a gaming mouse, or $100 or more for a high quality joystick, and your gaming PC can run you quite a pretty penny. However, as many a hardcore gamer will agree, it's the only way to play games with people around the world. (This may change--the Dreamcast is shipping with a 56k modem)

With three new game consoles and several new 3D accelerators hitting the market in the next few years, it is clear the video game industry will not be collapsing anytime soon. Students interested in breaking into the industry should look into Full Sail or Digipen, two colleges which offer courses specializing in video game production. Whatever your favorite genre, though, at least one company is sure to be making a game for you.

Image credits: Nintendo 64, copyright 1997 Nintendo. Dreamcast image from IGNDC; copyright 1998 Sega. Game Boy Color, copyright 1998 Nintendo. Drakan:Order of the Flame, copyright 1999 Surreal Software/Psygnosis.