New game platform desperately seeking games
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Toronto Computes,
My teenage son, Joey, has been helping me to review
game software for
several years now-- long enough for Joey to notice a pattern in games
are available both for PC and a game platform like Sony Playstation.
He?s noticed that while each new PC version gets more
and more graphically
sophisticated. The new Playstation or N64 version, however, looks
much like last year?s or the version from the year before.
That?s because each year, the PC version is able to
take advantage of
improved hardware. The downside is that each year?s version requires
and newer computers?EA?s NHL 2000, for example, requires at least a 200
mhz Pentium (a 1997 computer), while really wanting at least a (1998)
mhz Pentium-II or Celeron.
The game platforms?Playstation or N64, however, remain
fixed as 1995-era
technology. A lot of system for a low price, but increasingly aging
The next generation of game systems, however, has
begun with the September
release of the first of its generation, Sega?s Dreamcast.
We had the loan of a Dreamcast, along with a sampling
of games. Joey
and Sam were also able to rent additional games from the local video
Compared to the previous generation systems, Dreamcast boasts
specs. The $299 system offers 128-bit graphics (Playstation and N64 are
32-bit systems), in a compact unit that also promises Internet access.
A 56kb modem is built-in, allowing gamers to use the
Net for interactive
play, along with Web surfing, chat, and more?though no games actually
these features at the moment.
The Dreamcast is a pretty perky computer in its own
right, with a 200
MHz Hitachi SH-4 CPU, 16 megs of main RAM, 8 MB of video RAM, and so
It?s capable of handling 3 million polygons a second (a key statistic
3D gaming), with 24-bit colour running at a realistic 60 frames per
Programs are stored on a proprietary format CD-ROM, allowing storage of
a full gigabyte of information?50% more than on standard CDs, while
allowing the unit to play standard audio CDs. An optional keyboard can
be plugged in?handy if the unit is going to be used for Internet
The statistics are meaningless, however, unless there
are games to play
on the hardware. Sega was an early casualty in the previous generation
of game system wars, when its Saturn system offered few games to
with Sony?s Playstation or the Nintendo 64. Sega has done a much better
job of wooing developers this time around?18 games were available at
date, with Sega suggesting that there will be 100 titles by the end of
2000. Sega has done a good job making sure that rental hardware and
are available in many of the larger video rental stores.
Still, both of the boys testing the unit were
underwhelmed by the games
they tried. They both commented that it seemed like the games had been
rushed out the door, in order to have them ready for the September
They found the level of graphics overall much better than the
equivalents?Dreamcast games were clearer and more 3D, less sketchy and
blocky then the last-generation competition. Still, most appeared to
the attention to detail that they?ve been seeing in the best new games
aimed at PC users.
Both boys liked Sega?s Sonic Adventure, the latest
game featuring the
company?s popular Sonic the Hedgehog. Sam, however, thought that of the
five Dreamcast games he?d tried out, Sonic was the only one that was
fun. He suggested that the platform needed at least one really good
game like Goldeneye for N64 or Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid for
that would make kids feel like they needed to buy a Dreamcast
Joey commented that it was hard to compare Dreamcast
and PC games?he
felt that it varied from game to game. Overall, both Sam and Joey
that the PC was still ahead for graphics performance, but not by much.
Sega is the only next-generation console system
and claims to have sold $145 million dollars worth of units in the
24 hours of release?a figure far higher than Playstation or N64?s
outperforming even recent, much-hyped films like The Phantom Menace.
But Sega?s window of opportunity to establish itself
will be a short
one. Sony tried to steal some of their thunder, choosing the week of
Dreamcast?s release to announce details of its Playstation 2, due next
year. That unit will include a built-in DVD player, allowing users to
it show DVD movies on their TV. Also a 128-bit system, it promises
polygon rates than Dreamcast. Sony, which currently gets about 40% of
income from the current Playstation, seems to be aiming the PSX2 as a
of replacement for a home computer. Pricing should be around $400.
next-generation models are expected from Nintendo, and possibly
though details are currently sketchy.
The boys? verdict? For now, wait a while for all the
to come onto market, and for prices to drop.