Game Systems Deserve Respect
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
What speed CPU are you running?
You may have noticed computer speeds just seem to get
faster and faster,
at the same time that prices for entry-level packages, featuring less
top-of-the-line processors get cheaper and cheaper.
Right now, the fastest Intel offering is a 400 MHz
450 MHz models soon. (If you want to go to the non-Intel Alpha, you can
already run Windows NT at 500 MHz or faster). As I write, in Vancouver,
clone shops are advertising 200 MHz MMX systems for $799?including
In my house (not necessarily a typical computer
household), there are
three computers?none of which stacks up to the bottom-end, low-priced
to say nothing of being within scratching distance of the top end. We
a Pentium 166 (pre-MMX) desktop, a P-133 notebook (which I?m writing on
right now), and a 160 MHz Mac (pre-G3).
And yet, I?m pretty much able to run everything I need
or want on these
machines. The only business application that?s complained was IBM?s
which wanted an MMX processor, it claimed, though it seemed to work
We surf the net and run streaming video. The
bottleneck there is the
slow modem connection, not the CPU speed on any of the three computers.
Even games, arguably the most demanding software,
work?the ones we?ve
tried typically require a Pentium 100 or at most a 133. Yes, some would
run better with a 3DFx graphics processor, but that?s different from
a faster CPU.
The net result is problems for Intel.
They?re trying hard to convince the big business
market that they need
to upgrade to ever-faster processors, but haven?t demonstrated much of
a need. Right now, they?re trying to convince business that faster
would allow for video conferencing, but the reality is that not much
conferencing is being done. Downloading video-porn off the Internet
closed office doors, maybe. But is that a business need that will
a Chief Financial Office to spring for a company-wide upgrade?
At prices like $799, entry-level computers are getting
closer to the
price-point of the pure game systems-- $300 for a Sony Playstation or a
Nintendo N64. Of course, for the game systems, you need to add a TV
but most homes already have one.
When I mentioned that my house had three computers, I
have said four. We also have a Playstation. And while I?m not the game
player, I remain impressed with that little, special-function computer.
Sure, it?s three-year old technology. Unlike PCs, game
come out with gotta-have new versions every three to six months. That
that programmers writing for game systems can?t count on more system
to allow them to dump in new features. If they want a better-looking
they?ve got to write it better.
Plug and play and easy to use. How come it?s a
no-brainer to use two
game controllers with a ?system?, while it seems to require an
degree (and a lot of luck) to do the same thing with a PC that may cost
10 times as much? The result is that kids (note the plural) gravitate
game systems?playing is a social event. Kids play games on PCs?one at a
time. A whole different experience.
Underneath their cheap plastic cases, game systems are
sophisticated. The N64, for example, uses a Rambus high speed memory
that?s been adopted by Intel for its next-generation of processors. Its
video system is so advanced that games like Shadows of the Empire run
N64 and PC?but only if you add a 3D video co-processor to your PC,
costs about as much as an entire N64 system.
Game systems are starting to get more respect from the
Perhaps they?ve noticed that while PC game software sells a respectable
$1.7 billion a year, Playstation and N64 games account for over
billion. A best selling game system title typically sells twice as many
copies as a PC best-seller
This is forcing companies like Microsoft to rethink
For years, the company?s game software was available only for
They?ve recently announced a willingness to license their games to
for release on game system platforms, where they?ll have to compete
the larger number of games that are already released for both PC and
system platforms?or for game systems alone.
The software giant has also teamed up with Sega,
platform became an also-ran among game systems. Together, they?ve
Dreamcast, with Sega producing the hardware, and Microsoft providing a
variation of its Windows CE as the system software.
The next-generation Dreamcast promises graphics
horsepower able to display
3 million polygons per second?ten times as much as today?s N64, and
any of this year?s, or next year?s PCs. The CE software will be
on the CD disk with any games sold, making sure that the version used
always up to date.