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Games Entertainment

The Battle Of The Consoles: From Atari To The Xbox 311

msolnik writes: "There's been a lot of talk about Xbox, and GameCube, and even more speculation about the technology inside the box. However, the console wars are not going to be won based purely on technology. There's a long history of cyclical win and lose peaks and troughs for companies that have tried to stay the course in this business. Nintendo stands alone in having survived a number of generations of innovation and still managed to remain a contender in the market. Tom's Hardware has delivered this unique assessment of The Console Wars." Update: 12/06 16:28 GMT by M : Note that Tom's has updated some of the charts in the article - they note that there was a misunderstanding between Tom's and the article's author as to which version of the charts to post.
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The Battle Of The Consoles: From Atari To The Xbox

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  • losing on technology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reachinmark ( 536719 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:33AM (#2664320) Homepage
    However, the console wars are not going to be won based purely on technology.

    They might be lost though. If it turns out to be really easy to modify an X-Box enough to run Linux and play your MP3's, DIV-X movies, do email, etc, then people might buy an X-Box and never spend a penny on an X-Box game.

    Since Microsoft, as with most console companies, are selling the console at a loss, and making up for it with game sales, this can't be a good thing for them. Their choice of almost-standard components might cost them in the long run.

    • by lunenburg ( 37393 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:55AM (#2664365) Homepage
      Of course, if people buy the hardware as a cheap PC console to hack on, and never buy games, Microsoft will also be able to take those numbers to the game writers and say "Look how large the installed base of the X-Box is. You should write your games for us, not the PS2 or GameCube."

      In that case, taking the loss on the console won't hurt Microsoft in the long run, as it will increase their dominance in the gaming market.
    • That does sound to be true.
      But it is not.

      If everyone starts buying Xboxes, the cost will go down. The cost of something is made of fixed costs and variable costs (dunno the english naming scheme for them).
      Microsoft will expect to lose money on a certain number of sold machines. Any machine morethen that will make profit.
      It does make a difference if you make and sell 1 million machines or 2 million machines. The fixed costs only come once, only the variable costs count for each machine.
      • If everyone starts buying Xboxes, the cost will go down.

        Now that's rich. I challenge you to name any Microsoft product where the price has dropped with mass production.

        The cost of PC's has fallen to become an unbelievable value. The cost of the Microsoft software kindly preloaded on those PC's? Just the opposite.

        Some "innovation," Bill. Sheesh...
        • You're mixing up cost and price.
          Cost means the cost for Microsoft to build such a thing.
          Price means the price you pay to get one.
          Anything inbetween is what Microsoft loses or wins.
        • Of course the price to purchase the software is going up! The cost to write the software only goes up. The reason why hardware costs so much less to produce than it did 20 years ago is that manufacturing advances increase density of components and it requires much less valuable material to produce the same thing.

          Can you apply that to software? Maybe.. if by manufacturing advances you can say that Visual Studio makes Microsoft's software engineers more effective at writing code. But we all know that's not true, at least on the scale that would be required to reduce a team of programmers by a factor of 2 (or more) each year to justify decreasing the price at the same rate as hardware decreases. Sure MS could say that because they're going to sell 100 million copies of XP they will adjust the price accordingly, but they are like any publisher - book, music, movie. They set a price where they will turn a profit after some X number of copies are sold.

          It's a business, they have to pay thousands of real people to write code. And they continue to pay them even after the product it released, so the revenue from the software sales pays their salaries. Yes, they are huge and could probably afford to charge less. But why should they? It's a business and the market will currently bear the price they set. In 5 years, who knows, maybe it won't. Maybe Open Source will have a strong enough foothold that people won't tolerate these prices.

          BTW - the cost of software preloaded on PC's from major manufacturers is pennies on the dollar compared to what you pay retail. It's the same for corporations who pay for volume licensing. Probably much closer to what it actually costs to produce the software.

        • "Now that's rich. I challenge you to name any Microsoft product where the price has dropped with mass production"

          Microsoft Sidewinder Joysticks. You're thinking of software, where the price rarely drops, unlike hardware, where it often (eventually) does, especially as they have stiff competition in that area.
      • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @09:10AM (#2664413)
        Microsoft will expect to lose money on a certain number of sold machines. Any machine morethen that will make profit.

        You are assuming that the "losses" Microsoft are making is due to capital investment, and it makes an operating income on each unit. But it is widely believed that each unit actually costs more to manufacture than it is sold for, meaning that every sale will result in a loss, on top of capital investment. Under this model, the cost is recouped from the games. The percentage of the profit made on total games sales that Microsoft receives must cover the loss on the consoles, and the capex plus interest, and anything left on top of that is the only profit MS will see.

        So the question is, what is the average number of games/merchandise that must be sold per console in order to make a profit?
        • Yes, that's what I'm assuming.
          And simply put, if you're right, then I'm wrong.

          But saying widely assumed also means noone knows for sure, and noone has looked in Microsofts financial kitchen.
    • They might be lost though. If it turns out to be really easy to modify an X-Box enough to run Linux and play your MP3's, DIV-X movies, do email, etc, then people might buy an X-Box and never spend a penny on an X-Box game.

      Look mate - in your peer group, and on this website, maybe there is a relatatively high percentage minority of people who are going to do this - but in the real world, normal everyday people do not do this. Wake up!!

      As an example - how much money do you think MS 'lose' on computers sold on which people solely install linux? It's really not that great a percentage of total pc's...
      • Microsoft don't lose anything on the sale of PCs that run Linux, because all the OEMs pay Microsoft a fee base on units shipped, regardless of whether or not they have Windows installed. They only way to avoid giving money to Microsoft when you buy a new PC is to buy parts and assemble it yourself. Even bringing back the Windows CD and asking for a refund hurts the OEM more than it hurts Microsoft.
    • DVD players were more expensive than a PS2 in Japan so people bought them and didn't buy games. Sony took a bath until DVD players got cheap.
    • Then comes a problem. If Linux buyers produce a jump in sales, them MS can claim vastly higher sales numbers.

      This leads to a public perception that this is the console that's going to succeed (they don't know why they're being bought), which in turn has the habit of making it the console that will succeed.

      Public perception counts for a lot.
    • The total number of XBox's sold to people looking to modify them (and hence never buying games) will probably barely register a blip on the radar compared to total overall sales. Hacking the XBox is cool, but let's face it: 99% of the population will never do it.
    • by King Of Chat ( 469438 ) <fecking_address@hotmail.com> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @10:36AM (#2664691) Homepage Journal
      (trying not to repeat to many previous comments)

      However easy it is, it still sounds like a geek thing. Most people who would even consider doing a thing like that would already have a perfectly functional PC.

      Saying that, using standard technology may get them into trouble in other ways. IANAEE (electronics engineer) but I bet that over millions of units, the custom hardware which most consoles use costs less. As the production ramps up, jamming loads onto a few custom made chips starts to pay.

      If they think they can win the console wars the same way they one the browser wars (and let's face it, IE costs something to produce and distribute) then they would've had to come in a lot lower than $300. I'm assuming that their plan is to ultimately have the "all MS" household but they forget that:

      browsers are cheap to make in bulk

      people don't spend $100s on games for their browser
      Unless they get the games that people want to play, they will come unstuck.

      This insightful analysis has been brought to you by a Sega Saturn owner.

    • Since Microsoft, as with most console companies, are selling the console at a loss, and making up for it with game sales, this can't be a good thing for them. Their choice of almost-standard components might cost them in the long run.



      And the craftiest loophole is that they get to deduct the loss, and then make money on games and licensing for the system. They lose money, but make it up when filing taxes.

  • Wheres the SNES??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@keirstead. o r g> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:38AM (#2664329) Homepage

    On this page [tomshardware.com], there is a chart that shows "Console History", with the relative successes by companies shown in bold. Not only is th SNES not boled, It's not even there. I find this very unsual, since growing up, everyone I knew had an SNES, period. You were considered "way out of it" if you were stuck with one of those crappy Genesis things.

    • by rograndom ( 112079 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:55AM (#2664369) Homepage
      I find this very unsual, since growing up, everyone I knew had an SNES, period. You were considered "way out of it" if you were stuck with one of those crappy Genesis things.

      Maybe it was a regional thing? When I was growing up only a few people I knew had a SNES, but everyone had a Genesis. I think mostly because certain games, Madden Football, MK3, really sucked on the SNES. Although the kid who had the SNES was quite popular once he got Mario Kart...
      • I dunno. I always found most Genesis games to be lacking when compared to SNES games. The SNES was still blasting the Genesis off the shelves around here, even after they tried their 32x and Sega-CD charades.

        • I had both, but amongst my friends, the EA Sports games on Genesis made it the preferred system- especially Madden Football. SNES was what you used when you wanted to play girly pastel-colored kids' platform games or an RPG. Well, actually I preferred those SNES games most of the time, but I speaking for the majority of people I knew here.
    • by derek_m ( 125935 )
      and thats only the beginning of the ridiculous errors. This was clearly written by someone who isnt old enough to remember the wait for Doom to be released. "released upon an unsuspecting world" - funny, thats not how I remember it.

      I gave up on the article before the middle - Doom creating the market for "add-in sound and graphics cards" was the final straw. If only there were some people over the age of 16 with half a brain writing for these hardware sites .....

      • by lamz ( 60321 )

        Exactly!

        This article has a huge black hole between the Atari 2600 in the early 80s and Doom on PC in 1993. To me, the first impressive PC game was Castle Wolfenstein. But before that, the entire second half of the 80s was dominated by Atari STs and Amigas as game machines. PCs and Macs during this period were "business" machines which didn't pander to the games market. For those of you not old enough to remember, the PC as dominant games platform is a relatively recent phenomenon.

        • Not to mention the Sierra era of the PC! I was in absolute shock that they skipped over the golden age of adventure gaming. Between the sierra stuff (King's/Space Quest) and Lucas Arts (Indy/Maniac Mansion/Monkey Island) there was a whole age of pre-FPS gaming that the article blatantly ignored, in favor of lumping adventure games in with Doom.

          Of course, you're very right about PC's not being dominant. The fact that the NES had the lion's share of great games for either PC or Console of that era is very telling.
      • by itarget ( 168249 )
        I think it was the old Sierra Space/Police/Hero's Quest games that finally made me break down and buy a sound card.

        I absolutely had to hear those little tunes and sound effects on something better than a PC speaker.

        I can't see how Doom could have increased demand for add-in graphics cards, though. It used no 3D acceleration and any computer bought anywhere near the time it came out had a VGA card more than capable of handling the game's 2D-3D graphics anyway.
        Doom 2 kicked my little 486dx33's ass, and even then the thing I upgraded was the CPU and not the video card.
    • First off, I was also incensed that the SNES wasn't included in the console list. But then I looked at the chart in a little more detail. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I could have sworn that the PSX was/is a 32-bit system. Also, on the system specs for the current lineup, they show the capacity of the GameCube's memory card is 1Mb, when Nintendo plainly states on their site that it's a 4Mb card.

      And why did the writer skip from Infocomm straight to Doom. There were a lot of genres that grew up between text adventures and FPSes. What happened to the side-scrolling platform jumpers like Sonic and Super Mario Brothers? What about all of the RPGs published by Square? Sports games grew by leaps and bounds during that time.

      I generally like the articles on Tom's Hardware, but this one seemed like it was thrown together by a team of rabid monkeys (or some other randomly-generated /. page creator) in a matter of minutes. I know that failure to check your sources is nothing new to most slashdotters, but I hope it doesn't become the norm for other sites like Tom's.

      </RANT>

    • That very same chart now has the SNES listed, but not the original NES that revived the videogame industry in the first place.

  • by JimPooley ( 150814 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:41AM (#2664334) Homepage
    A better 'that was then, this is now' comparison might have been to show Wolfenstein 3D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein... Enormous difference ten years makes!
    (Even better, show the original Wolfenstein game, 2D with stick figures. Wasn't that kind of a 'Berserk' ripoff? Coward. Fight like a robot.)
  • by Zergwyn ( 514693 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:44AM (#2664342)
    I have played and enjoyed consoles since the original NES. Despite the many faces that have come and gone, a few constant things seem to always add up to success. A system needs to be easy to develop for, have enough power/expandability to not be far behind to competition, and/or have forward momentum from a previous successful system. However, often success breeds arrogence, and companies forget these principles.

    A combination of two or more of these usually makes up for a lack in the others. Likewise, failure in multiple categories often doom a system. Nintendo dominated with the SNES, which had an incredible set of developers. But they took a long time developing a replacement, and when they did the N64 was both hard to develop for, couldn't run old games, and didn't have the ability to easily hold as much as the PS1(FMV on a cartridge?). It had plenty of power over the PS1, but not much else.

    Likewise, the current PS2 isn't as easy to develop for, or as powerful as the Xbox and Gamecube. But it is easy enough, and since it can run all the PS1 games and came out first it has a huge market penetration jump start. If a company can only afford to initially develop for one platform, they will probably do it on the system that has the most market share. Likewise, many consumers will buy the system with the most games, building an upward momentum for the system. Neither Nintendo(with experience) or Microsoft(with $$$) are small contenders who can be counted out, which is good as it will make sure none of the companies sit on their laurels. Hopefully, we will get to seem some really great development in the years ahead.

    • FMV on a cartridge
      See the Resident Evil game for Nintendo64. All the video of the two or three disc PS1 version.
    • I think the X-Box will boom for a while due to it's power but the GameCube will eat into that market a lot. Unless they get some good games they will sink. So far Halo seems to be their only winning game. DOA3 will be another good one I think. But is that enough for that price tag?

      If X-Box wants to live they need to take on Playstation which while not so powerful has a lot of really good games and programmers experienced in writing those good games. They could try to convert all those programmers to writing X-Box games and eventually they'd get good games coming in but they'd never catch up. I can see Microsoft buying off the dead Bleem and using that technology to make PSX games playable on the X-Box. They have the money to fight Sony endlessly in court over the legality of the move and in the mean time they'd suddenly be making thousands of games people already own playable on their own box.. possibly better than they play on the PS2. Of course little profit is made from making those games playable but if they can convert those gamers over and feed them their new games then they might just be able to severly dent the Playstation market. If they could make the X-Box also play PS2 games and match the price of the PS2 they might even be able to kill off the Playstation. With Microsoft's history of dirty tricks I can see them making such a move.
  • sketchy at best (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bartacus ( 40172 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:47AM (#2664348) Homepage Journal
    The review seems a bit sketchy. How can we skip from 'Tennis for Two' (1958) to Doom (1993)?

    Aside from a few sales numbers, I see no mention of Atari. This is more of a Console vs PC's article --- and new consoles at that.

    Oh yeah, I don't think the PSX was 64 bits.

    -B
    • you're right, here are the specs:
      • R3000A 32bit RISC chip @ 33.8mhz - Manufactured by LSI Logic Corp.
      • Clearing capacity: 30 MIPS
      • Bus bandwidth: 132 Mb/sec
      personally i thought the article was badly put together. like other people have mentioned, skimming over some very important landmarks (hello, where was the zx spectrum and manic miner).

    • The PSX was 32 bits. However, the Atari Jaguar (listed further up) was 64 bits, and not 32 bits as reported. It was actually the first 64 bit console ever, although optimised for 2d rather than 3d. Oh, and I recall that the Dreamcast was initially touted as being the first 128 bit console - not 64 bits as listed.

      The number of factual errors and omissions in this article was quite incredible, although some bizarre little factoids made the cut - "Cornerstone" from Infocom (*NOT* "Infocomm") was mentioned for instance. And then there was the weird speculation of how much ATI and Nvidia would earn on their chipsets. The list goes on and on...

      I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

      PS. And when Benjamin Franklin said "Games lubricate the body and the mind", I don't think he was talking about Quake, do you?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:53AM (#2664360)
    There may be a battle for the console market, but the question is why are they at war.

    Microsoft is looking for control over the television. They think they've taken the first step, selling a box that people hook up to their TV. Too bad it's $300, but that's the microsoft way - you might as well charge the customer if they're willing to pay.

    Nintendo is looking for control of the gaming market. Control of the television is not an aspiration - yet.
  • by cribcage ( 205308 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @08:58AM (#2664375) Homepage Journal
    ...Further proof that the world is in dire need of more (competent) editors.

    The authors open their article with a neat little chart listing "the dates of the introductions of various consoles. ... Relative successes are listed in bold." NEC's Turbografx 16 is listed in bold, as a "relative success." Sega's Genesis, on the other hand...? Apparently Genesis wasn't "relatively successful," according to Hodgson, etc. Oh, and FYI, while I'm sure Nintendo appreciates their listing N64 as a "relative success," they might have preferred that the authors at least INCLUDE the Super NES on the list.

    Their wonderfully-short second section, "Console History," spans in painstaking detail the gaming industry's progress during the crucial period between the heyday of MIT's Rail Road Club and the formation of software giant Infocomm in 1979. From there, they proceed directly to the next logical video gaming landmark -- with a third section, accurately titled, "Then Came Doom."

    The article's most valuable offerings are a 21-item chart comparing a whopping three consoles (Xbox, PS2 and GCN), including such poignant criteria as "DVD Movie Playback" and "Broadband Enabled"; and a whole five sentences comparing these three systems, proving conclusively that somewhere during the authors' extensive research for this article, one of them did in fact quickly scan MSNBC's "Game Time" article -- which, it's worth adding, is a vastly more useful and intelligent article (with regard to the current "Top 3"), and can be found at the following URL:

    http://www.msnbc.com/news/techgames_front.asp

    crib
    • Not a good history of video games and I learned nothing..... I liked the chart of the gaming systems and time...
    • Oh, and FYI, while I'm sure Nintendo appreciates their listing N64 as a "relative success," they might have preferred that the authors at least INCLUDE the Super NES on the list.

      I just couldn't believe that the TurboGraphx 16 was bolded and the SNES wasn't even there. The SNES was an excellent system in its day. I mean just look at Street Fighter 2 - it was nearly identical to the arcade version. This was a game that was so popular that companies were manufacturing arcade quality controllers so you could play SF2 at home and do dragon punches without destroying your thumbs. There was no console on the market at that point able to compete with it. Sure the Genesis had technically better hardware, and the Neo Geo was fantastic (but who could afford it?). But it all comes back to the games, right? And the SNES simply had better games, for the money, than anything else out there.
      • I don't know about the Genesis having better hardware. It had a faster CPU. 12 MHz against 3.58 MHz on the SNES, but the graphics and sound processors on the SNES blew the Genesis out of the water.

        I'll never forget the SEGA commercial that was talking about Genesis and it's "Blast Processing". They showed Sonic and compared it to Mario Kart in an ill-advised move that was intended to illustrate the disparity in processing speeds. Unfortunately, I saw this commercial as a freshman in High School and was STILL playing Mario Kart for hours in my college dorm while Sonic's *third* incarnation was collecting dust on the back shelf.
  • by Steev ( 5372 ) <steve@NosPam.stevedinn.com> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @09:05AM (#2664393) Homepage
    It's obvious that technology doesn't really come into play when consoles are concerned. It's all about marketing and getting the buy-in of the game development companies. Just like the applications make the OS, the games make the console.

    The Sega Dreamcast was WAY ahead of its time when it came to graphics. Soul Calibur is one example of a game with outstanding graphics that kick the crap out of anything on the PSone (which was the competition at the time). Personally, I think it competes more directly with the PS2, but that's another topic altogether. The point is that it didn't have the backing of the game developers like the PS did, so in the end, it lost out. Not because it was an inferior system (it wasn't), but because the marketing push and support wasn't there.
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @09:06AM (#2664396)
    The history was superficial, and the information on the current consoles was wrong in respect to the Game Cube.

    First, he makes the common mistake of giving the polygon/sec counts. MS and Sony have theoretical maximum counts while Nintendo's count is real-world with all of the eye candy turned on. He then uses this comparison to show the inferiority of the Cube hardware when the framerate of Cube games could be higher given the same games with complex action.

    Look at the columns of features. See "N/A" next to most of the Cube's fetures? It makes it look like there's nothing there, yet the Cube has good marks in most of these rows, such as audio, HDTV, broadband and 56K modem.
  • Been there (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jsse ( 254124 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @09:10AM (#2664412) Homepage Journal
    Just my personal opinion....

    Atari 2600 was the first game console I bought. Thoughout the game history I think it was the games themselves leading the trend, rather than the game consoles.

    We choose a game console by the games which they could run, rather by the innovative technologies it had. I wouldn't buy PS if it couldn't run Final Fantasy, etc.(like I wouldn't consider switching from Apple II to IBM if IBM couldn't run Ultima. ^_^)

    I wondered why so many good games would only run on one particular game console, until I got to meet a game developer who told me that gaming industry is in fact, in contrary to what I thought, running a very serious business out there.

    Production of a game nowaday involved a lot of money. Unless a game developer signed a very restrictive license agreement with the game console vendor, you wouldn't be granted the right to develop game for their console, and VC wouldn't give you money for your development.

    The gaming business in game console is very different from gaming business in PC. Everybody can write games for PC, but only under close-partnership would one be allowed to develop game in a particular game console.

    That explain why one game would appear in one game console seldom(not never) appear in another.
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @09:30AM (#2664477)
    I agree. It stands unique as the worst one I've seen so far.
  • Had some interesting little tidbits- but it was like he tried to rush that article in a day or something, the history of video games had huge holes in it.

    And the hardware is somewhat irrelevant at this point I think- it's all about the games that are available! Playstation2 is the clear winner this year- though it did have a head start. X-Box though just has so much power and potential- it'll be interesting to see what comes out this time next year for it. Nintendo- well Nintendo is Nintendo and they just go and do their thing and sell millions of units almost apart from what everyone else is doing- as long as they keep their strong branding to kids they will happily suck up the cash.
  • by matp ( 42758 )
    I didn't realise that we went straight from infocom to doom. Man, those graphics cards manufacturers sure beat moores law there ;)
  • what about gameboy (Score:2, Informative)

    by segmond ( 34052 )
    the turbografx made the list, yet the SNES and the gameboy didn't? hello? the gameboy has been the hottest selling console and i still see myself playing one in 10 years. i thought the jaguar was 64bit? it got listed as 32! and the psx which is 32 got listed as 64.
  • The Genesis was highly successful... And so was the SNES, which isn't even on there. The PS1 was only a 32 bit system, but the Atari Jaguar was 64. The Dreamcast is 128 bit. Who wrote this article? 3 People from "Crocodile" Dundee securities, including a Dr. couldn't get it right... Gee, If they're this bad with these numbers, how good are they with financial numbers?
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @10:13AM (#2664615)

    Text adventures are still alive and well, and still to this day feature better graphics than any console. (Even if you have a 1600x1200 monitory, text adventures feature more detail, you can zoom in infinantly on any area if your imangination is good enough)

    Text adventures have always been puzzles and NPC interactoin. Sure there is a strong movement away from pure puzzles in the text adventure world, but they are still there. Doom is about finding the blue key, while Zork is getting the theif to do what you can't do yourself.

    • It's the same thing with MUDs and MMORPGs. Sure Everquest and DAOC might look damn nice, but I cannot (no matter how hard I try) keep from going back to good old MajorMUD. Sure it may only be text, but it's the most addictive game ever created (Diablo 2 comes in a close second).

      -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @10:35AM (#2664687)
    Part 2:

    And thus, with some battle lost, Rome fell, leaving only monuments and lead piping behind

    NEXT>>>> The American Civil War

  • Really bad chart (Score:2, Redundant)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 )
    Did anyone else notice the chart on the second page. The 'history of game consoles'?

    It was so full of errors as to be amazing. No mention of the supernintendo, marking the Turbo Graphix 16 as a 'success' and marking the orgional playstation as being 64bit? I mean its not a big deal, but seeing it really calls into question the crediblity of the whole article, IMO
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @10:42AM (#2664719)
    CNBC did a report on the X-Box on monday during Business Center and brought up a good point. Historically consoles have been highly proprietary and had long lifespans. But with the introduction of the X-Box Microsoft is changing the industry. A typical console has a development time of 18-24 months and a lifespan of 5 years. The long lifespan is to recoup the losses incurred in the first few years of producing the hardware.

    The X-Box on the otherhand is off the shelf parts. The original development cycle took 18 months, but it can be upgraded every year. There aren't much technical hurdles from keeping microsoft from putting P4's into next year's version of the XBox. They can upgrade is every year and it will still run all the games.

    It introduces problems like minimum requirements for consoles, but Microsoft is still ahead because they shortened the development cycle. From now on Nintendo and Sony will have to rethink their business model and will have to play catch up to microsoft in the near term.
    • Nevermind that there are 20 million Playstation 2 machines out there already... Microsoft has quite a bit of "catching up" to do itself before they can start dictating terms to developers like you seem to think. I wouldn't count on the XBox being a wild success; frankly there are no good games out for it yet (at least ones that I would pay for), and if the XBox is unable to differentiate itself from the PC then it will go down in flames very quickly.

      That said, good luck to Microsoft and Nintendo -- we need more competition in the console wars.

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Thursday December 06, 2001 @10:56AM (#2664786)
    Take it from someone who has been programming consoles and home computers for 20 years. Even back in the day, you'd read that the Atari 2600 had only a couple of sprites, then you'd see games with a dozen or more moving objects. The problem is simple: specs are the raw capabilities of what the hardware can do. They're the *starting* point for the programmer. And of course they're meaningless by themselves. Let's use a guitar as an analogy. Imagine that console makers sold guitars:

    1. In the spec lists comparing Nintendo's guitar to Sony's guitar, you'd see that one had 6 strings and the other 12. Does this mean you can play twice as many songs on the latter?

    2. Sony claims that their guitar is capable of 1000 chords per second. Now what do they mean by that? Is that the limit to how much beating the strings can take? But what if you played 1000 chords per second? Would there be any time for subtleties or even *changing* chords? Of course not, so who cares about that number.

    Hardware specs really are like this (for example, 3dfx loved to claim 3 million triangles per second on some of their cards; in reality, programmers only got about 150,000). Fanboys *love* to think that bigger is better and that console X really can have games with 50,000,000 triangles per second, but that's not how it works.
    • Yeah, and in the end there are two kinds of killer apps in the console biz: one the game where the developers pull out the stops and really push the envelope by making the software outperform most of what's been produced for the hardware, and two the Tetris or Pokemon - technically no huge marvel but so compelling to play that it ends up being ubiquitous.


      Still, there is something to say for raw power. In the end, Microsoft is now in the unenviable position of giving away $100 to every new customer while making the customer feel they've payed an excessive or at least significant amount for the console. On the other hand they're in the enviable position of having that thousand foot mountain of cash in the secret basement vault. In the end, to beat the dead horse a little bit more, it's gonna come down to the games, whether they can attract developers who will take advantage of the power that the box undeniably has. Still, I think they could well stumble on this one; they're outside their core competency. The computer and console world is full of tales of the technically superior flash in the pan

  • it just seems like the makers of these gaming consoles keep are forgetting why people by gaming consoles in the first place - to have fun.

    my first memories of game consoles in the 80's when nintendo and sega first broke out in the 80's the emphasis in advertising was on how much fun you could have using their consoles, the average person who buys game consoles is more into professional wresting and not kernel updates.

    let's face it, there's a lot of really games out there that have amazing graphics, require state of the art technology to run, had used millions of man hours in their creation, etc... still are still not as adictive and fun as something as silly as a very low tech game you would use on your pda.

    it just seems to me that it's getting harder and harder to find a game console that offers a countless number of games that are hard to put down.

  • by ShieldWolf ( 20476 ) <(jeffrankine) (at) (netscape.net)> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @11:20AM (#2664906)
    They say the Atari 2600 came out in 1976 - BUT the ORIGINAL name of that system was the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) the 2600 moniker was added later to keep it in line with the 5200.

    -ShieldWolf
  • Maybe i'm old... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saqmaster ( 522261 ) <stu.hotmail@com> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @11:28AM (#2664942) Homepage

    My first console was an Atari VCS (the wooden version of the 2600) - My how things have changed.

    Call me nostalgic, but I stil believe the 8-bit days were the best. Get your SEGA Master System or your NES (with funky robot if rich) and you were away!

    I currently own a PS2, I use it sometimes, GT3 and GTA3 are pretty good games, lots of fun.. But having observed the progression of games over the last, say, 10 years, I believe they came to a bit of a halt when the Internet got popular.

    Games houses all thought "Wow, the Internet, let's make our games support online play, let's build communities!".

    Sure, that's a great idea. Brings in money. Uses the Internet. Builds huge user bases (look at Ultima Online, Everquest etc.)

    Also, around the same time, more and more games started getting ported to new funky 3D versions - of course Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake were the daddy's - other platforms such as the Amiga failed miserably (With the likes of Alien Breed 3D - the apparent Doom competitor). I've not really seen any _really_ original games in the past 5 years, maybe it's not possible anymore? Maybe people are too narrowminded. I don't want any more 3D conversions of driving games, fighting games, or platform games. What does that leave? Is the games market so huge that we've expired originality and can now only focus on making our GPU's in consoles faster to support prettier textures on the same old 3D models. Who knows.

    Why were 3D platform games soooo good? Why did everyone love a parallel scrolling Shoot'em UP? Sit a kid of today down infront of a 8/16-bit console with a 'decent' game from the past. Sure, they'll complain "the graphics are crappy!", but give it 5 minutes of gameplay and they probably wouldn't be able to get off it all day. I doubt they'd be the same with their new GameCube or PS2 or XBOX.

    What changed? What happened?

    Maybe I just got old and don't get the buzz from gaming I used to, I'm quite partial to a bit of GT3/GTA3 on the PS2 and FlightSim/Quake/UT on the PC - but you just don't get the same flashy lights around the 'gaming' thing anymore.

    Be it the XBOX, PS2 or GameCube - they all basically do the same thing. Sure, some have slightly higher specs, some have Internet support, some have big this, big that. Whatever. The key to consoles being successful (as they once were) would be for the games designers. Back in the day, games designers/dev guys would make the most out of the limitations of the machine - look at platforms like the C-64/ZX Sinclair. People used to get excited about the demo's cracking groups etc. used to release basically because it was so unreal of the technology at the time. You don't see that anymore. I'm not actually aware of any 'demo scene' on the PC. Did the PC get too good? Is there nothing worth making a demo about these days?

    The flair has gone. Modern games are just conversions of old games, made into pretty 3D and added Internet play.

    • by viking099 ( 70446 )
      I wouldn't say that there have been no innovations in gaming in recent times...
      I mean, look at Super Monkey Ball (GC) and Jet Grind Radio (DC). These games aren't much like anything that came out before them (I guess SMB can be compared to that old game Marble Madness), and they're a blast to play!
      I just think that giving developers a chance to be innovative is too much of a gamble for the big time production houses, and they don't want to risk coming out with a truely unique game, only to find that no one wants to buy it because it's too different.
      Hopefully, we'll see an increase in smaller game houses who are more willing/able to take a risk on a new game, and it'll knock the shit out of everything else out there.
    • The Playstation has many games, as a result, people can rent a new game for each weekend. This means that you need to crank out games, because you can't get best sellers. The only games that sell are those that are too long for 1-2 weekends. The Final Fantasies sold, but the rest are variations. They may all be the same game, but the graphics are a bit different so you rent a different one for the weekend. Sony with its Third Party strategy created a system where games sell for a bit then become bargain bins and rentals run the market.

      Look at the N64, and the Gamecube is similar. Sure there are games that you can rent and beat in a weekend, but Nintendo STILL focuses on game play. Their strategy, since the NES, was to make amazing games that would be best sellers and create artificial shortages.

      For N64, Bond was an amazing game. Sure, it's a FPS (which I normally hate), but it was DAMNED fun. People played and played and played. The game is still fun 5 years ago.

      Super Smash Brothers is AMAZING. It's a fun game that never gets old because you play against your friends. Mario 64 had LOADS of fun and a lot of gameplay. The Zeldas for N64 were creative and interesting. Midway's Blitz and Hang Time are phenomenal lines of games, arcade style sports games are a blast.

      Hell, I only played the N64 heavily for the first year before I left for school, I had a blast with it. When I visited the folks on breaks, my brother always had 2-3 new awesome games that were a blast.

      Nintendo still focuses on Gameplay. Their lines of games are amazing. I hope that more people interested in gaming see through the "hundred of identical games" and pick up a Gamecube instead and get 5-10 games that they will play for years. That combined with enough Third Parties that you can rent a new game whenever you want should make an awesome system.

      The problem is the economics of the system. People rent games and play through them then move on. There are still games that remain loads of fun (I still play a few games of Powerball on the Genesis when I visit my parents), but they don't work in the rental-focused market.

      Alex
  • by gmezero ( 4448 )
    My oppinion is that this kind of article 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.
    • The XBOX has hardware assisted/accelerated Dolby Digital 5.1 out, unlike the PS2 which uses part of the main cpu to encode/decode the signal. (Supporting full Dolby DTS without impacting game performance as well as supporting Pro Logic and what not)

      Xbox comes with a 10 gig harddrive capable of 50,000 game saves, downloads, character saves and whatnot, PS2 and Gamecube have neither.

      Xbox comes with a 100mbit ethernet. PS2 and Gamecube have neither.

      Xbox will be upwards compatible with MUCH more success. Say 5 years from now the Xbox will be at 4 ghz, 1 gig ram, 500x dvd rom and half the size, still capable of running previous games without emulation or hardware tricks simply because the process moved forward instead of being completely re-engineered.

      Xbox supports "prgressive scanning" on games, and didn't include it on DVD's because mircrosoft wants to sell games, not movies. (but may do so in the future as needed). Gamecube and PS2 don't do progressive scan movies either.

      Progressive scanning is still a feature of "Taiste". DVD MOVIES are encoded at what, 500 lines resolution so progressive scanning at those resolutions amounts to what??? NOT MUCH.

      Remember, consoles are still "Consumer Devices" Hence they're aren't meant for niche markets of people with 15,000 dollar tv's and they aren't meant to compared to 1,200 dollar progressive scanning dvd players.

      However, PS2, Xbox and GC are kick ass systems affordable to the masses and frankly, the Xbox has the "Sex appeal" for those with the big toys already. PS2 was ahead of its time a year ago, and the Game cube is nintendo's toy and nintendo has its own market.

      The winner is the consumer. I paid 300.00 for a dvd player 2 years ago, i paid 300 bucks for my xbox wich plays dvds, games and much more. Even if i stick to my 3-5 launch title games and a few more, i still "never lost".

      So what is this console war?

      Hell, coke, pepsi and dr pepper still duke it out, i can't imagine one ever winning that "war", so why would it be different for any other product? (Mercedes, BMW, Audi..... on and on..)
  • On this [tomshardware.com] page, under "Operating Systems" they list:

    X-Box: W2k Kernel
    PS2: Closed, Sony proprietory
    Cube: Closed, Nintendo proprietory

    That should be:

    X-Box: Closed, Microsoft proprietory
    PS2: Closed, Sony proprietory
    Cube: Closed, Nintendo proprietory

    I like how having the OS be the W2k kernel is presented as a bonus. You have to pay a hefty license to develop/publish a game on ALL the systems. Maybe this guy is just a little too used to getting all of his Nvidia hardware and MS software for free.

  • My favorite part [tomshardware.com] is where they list the "Memory Bandwidth", "Polygon Performance", "Simultaneous Texture Fills", and "Compressed Textures" for the consoles.

    Wow, look how crippled the GameCube's polygon performance is! And the GameCube doesn't even support compressed textures or "simultaneous texture fills"! It looks like GameCube games will have around less than 1/10th the polygons as the other consoles, with a single bad texture on them. This thing sucks! I'm glad I read a good in-depth technical site Tom's Hardware instead of the promotional literature produced by the console maker's themselves. I almost wasted my money on that lame-ass underpowered GameCube!

    (Clue for the clueless: that was sarcasm.)

  • That atrocious little chart of consoles surprisingly included the original Odyssey! Ah, the days before video games used microchips. I'm surprised that mine doesn't have 'SOLID STATE' proudly stamped on the case somewhere.


    On another note,

    Indeed, no one had seen the like done before with 256 colors, 320 by 200 display, and a hopping 66 MHz 486 with 4 megabytes of RAM

    Funny, I don't remember many people with a 486-66 back then. The BIG deal about Doom was that you DIDN'T need the newest and best PC to run it. Low end 386's did it just fine, if you didn't mind a reduced screen size.

  • He left out Commodore - who released two consoles. Both of which were somewhat groundbreaking - the CDTV being the first system to have a CD-Rom drive (released in 1989 - designed by former Atari guy who invented pong) and the CD-32 the first 32 bit dedicated console - which actually has a lot in common with the Xbox - being that they were both came from former PC's. At the time I thought they both played great games.
    • Here [cdtv.org.uk] is a good site about the CDTV and CD32.

      This site says the CDTV was released in 1990. Not sure who is right, that was a while back. Anyhow, the specs on this machine was pretty impressive for the time:

      Motorola 68000 7.14Mhz 16 Bit CPU
      1 Meg Chip RAM
      A graphics coprocessor which could display full screen animations at up to 4096 colors
      Stereo 4 channel 14 Bit sound chip (the system could also play audio CDs)
      DMA Architecture (transfer data with no CPU usage)
      1x CD-ROM drive
      VCR style case

      When you think about it, Commodore basically released the first 16 bit CD-ROM based game console (with the exception that it was designed to look good with the rest of your AV components). A lot of upgrades and such were also available, both from Commodore and third parties (allowing everything from adding floppy and hard drives, a mouse and a keyboard, and more).

      The CD32 was just as impressive, considering it was released in 1993:

      Motorola 68020 14Mhz 32 Bit CPU
      2 Meg Chip RAM
      2X speed SCSI CD-ROM
      16,000,000 colours Max
      Game console style case with top loading CD-ROM

      It used the same style sound system as the CDTV and other Amigas. There was also an expansion slot, which was typically used for what was called the "FMV Card" - which essentially allowed you to watch CD-I and VCD movies through the console. The controllers were pretty slick too, from what I remember. So, here you have in 1993, Commodore releases the first 32 Bit CD-ROM based console with movie playing capabilities.

      Of course, as we all know, both of these consoles (and Commodore itself) bombed.

      I don't understand why, outside of poor marketing (or lack of would be the better way to put it). The same thing happenned to the Neo-Geo and the 3DO. The high price also managed to help on all of these platforms.

      But what is the difference today? The marketing by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft is much higher than what the other consoles did - but I do remember 3DO being marketed pretty hard, same with Neo-Geo. I remember playing a 3DO at Best Buy, next to "next best" offerrings from Sega and Nintendo.

      The 3DO was pretty expensive, so were the Neo Geo and CD32. But why is it today super expensive consoles fly off the shelves (even in a recession!), but back then, in relatively good times - they didn't? Can someone explain that?

      To top it off, why is it that consoles with way far advanced capabilities don't seem to sell, but ones with marginal capabilities over last year's model seem to sell easily (and really, the capabilities of the X-Box, etc - really aren't that great over last years offerings)?

      It is like the market is offered a super sports car for $10,000 - but no one wants it. But when the features that were in it appear in a sedan five years later, selling for the same amount - everyone can't wait!

      Actually, I bet the car market works like this too...
  • Hrm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Etriaph ( 16235 )
    I seem to have noticed that they didn't include the Nintendo 8-bit console on the list, the Nintendo Entertainment System. You know, the one that had The Legend of Zelda, Bionic Commando, Final Fantasy, Contra, Super Mario Bros I, II and III? Ya, it was missing on the list when I looked at it, 1:36pm EST. One would kinda think they would at least mention the console that for so long was the thing to buy to play games. There had to have been at least 500 titles released for it. Feh to them I say!
  • I can't believe 3 people signed their names on it. I know many people have already complained about its numerous errors, omissions, and distortions, so I will confine myself to the problems with the comparison chart on this page [tomshardware.com].

    There are three types of problems in this chart. In many places the authors put "N/A" because they were simply too lazy to find out the correct specifications. Uninformed readers might get the impression this means the console lacked any features in that category. Secondly, some of the numbers are just wrong. Finally, many of these numbers are comparing apples to oranges. Since the errors seem to be concentrated on the Gamecube, and that's the console I know the most about, I'll just stick to correcting their mistakes on that column in the table.

    Graphics Processing Unit_____162.5 MHz, not 200
    Memory Bandwidth_____________2.6 GB/s, not 3.2
    Simultaneous Texture Fills___8
    Compressed Textures__________6:1 (S3TC)
    Storage______________________Standard .5 meg and up cards, an +____________________________adapter will allow the use of flash +____________________________cards up to 64 megs in size
    Maximum Resolution___________1920x1080

    Many of these categories aren't directly comparable. Even the RAM comparison is misleading, because Nintendo decided to use several different types of RAM. There are 24 MBs of so-called "1T-SRAM [mosys.com]," which is actually a new type of DRAM offering improved and more consistent access times and transfer rates. There are also 16 megs of 83 MHz SDRAM, for sound and (speculatively) "other" unspecified purposes. Flipper has 3MB of embedded memory in the form of 2MB frame buffer and a 1MB texture cache. This totals 43 megs. On the other hand, the Xbox is a UMA machine with 64 MB of 200 MHz DDR-Dram. It has more memory and memory bandwidth, but actual performance is further from the peak numbers listed, in comparison to the Gamecube, and UMA designs are less bandwidth efficient. Therefore the memory bandwidth numbers aren't comparable either. The Gamecube is really the most bandwidth efficient of all 3 consoles, for a handful of reasons.

    The polygon performance numbers given are meaningless, and clearly whoever posted those numbers has no idea what they mean. "6-12M/s" is Nintendo's conservative estimate of what developers would achieve in game. The PS2 and Xbox numbers are probably for flat-shaded triangle meshes - a number which is nearly useless in revealing what the hardware can do in a real game. Unless, of course, I, Robot [mameworld.net] becomes popular again.

    Pardon my shitty chart, but the <pre> tag isn't allowed anymore, and the lameness filter was driving me nuts.

  • Sludge (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AgentTim3 ( 447311 )
    I can't understand how this horrible mess even gets posted.

    First, look at the history. One page attempting to cover console history from its infancy to present?? Oh but wait let's throw in some crap about PC games as well, and mash everything all together! Idiots.

    Second, their concept of the various generations is way wrong. You want a brief overview, here you go:

    Prehistoric Age
    (Atari 2600, Coleco, Intellivision, etc) Mostly dominated by Atari but definite niches for the other systems. Good debate to be had as to respective merits.

    Age of Revolution
    Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System
    This is what really brought consoles into homes. Almost everybody had one or the other of these. Yeah, it depended on your region or local distribution, but both systems had excellent and addictive titles. Again, you can have great debates over which one was more dominant.

    Round of 16 (bits)
    The logical extension of the previous age. SNES & Genesis. One more time, great games and great fun. Sure that TurboGrafx and some other crap was in here mixing things up a bit.

    Pre-Modern
    PSX, N64, and Dreamcast
    These span a pretty wide time period. But you look at what people were actually playing, and it's clear that recent competition was between these 3, until we reach the present.

    Now - "Next-generation" consoles are here today!
    PS2, GameCube, and X-Box
    Well, there's been enough talk debating the respective merits of these suckers. Time will tell the winner.

    Final rant
    PC games started up for real around the time of NES. By for real I mean getting serious about graphics and starting to drive the hardware revolution (which I think was possibly one point of this misguided article). Once that first VGA monitor hit, that really kicked things off. (Does anyone remember MCGA? :)

    Since then, PC games have continued merrily along in their SEPARATE MARKET from consoles. Let's all say that slowly. SEPARATE MARKET. There NEVER will be an integration between the two, the differences in the platforms are far too great. People need to stop with the arguments of which one is better since they're just different.

    Look at it: Screen resolution, user interface (10-12 key controller vs. 101-key + mouse), storage capacity, delivery mediums, the list goes on and on.

    If Microsoft's business plan is to merge the two together and dominate all gaming worldwide, well they're screwed. They'll get beat by people writing games just for PC's that do a better job, and they'll get beat by people writing console-specific games that do a better job.

    Terrible article, but at least it can kick off the discussion...

    -a rogue Nugget
  • Missing a few things (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hether ( 101201 )
    Why is there a gaping hole in the timeline of this article, from 1979 to 1993 with Duke Nukem? It can't be because their weren't any interesting technological improvements during those years, because there were.

    Interesting nonetheless, but it seemed like he was missing a few things.
  • If you like this... (Score:3, Informative)

    by PRickard ( 16563 ) <pr@@@ms-bc...com> on Thursday December 06, 2001 @07:06PM (#2667956) Homepage
    If you like this, check out the report in May's Wired (9.05). Behind the Screens [wired.com]: An insiders' oral history of the videogame, from the birth of the Brown Box to the arrival of the Xbox. The magazine version of this article also had an awesome four-page pullout timeline (with photos) of video game development since the early 1970's.

    I just read that piece last night because I stay about 6 months behind in all my magazine reading. I would like to say I do it deliberately to keep things "in perspective," but its more like I've got too many classes and too much work and too much web site to read the things when they first come in.

    One more moderation and I'll hit the karma ceiling...

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