Double Agent
A piece of the action - August 28, 2000 - Chris Jones

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. But Tonto he was smarter, and one day said "Kemosabe, kiss my ass, I bought a boat, I'm goin' out to sea." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wow. I always said I wanted to buy a piece of Square, and now here's my chance. The only problem is that it's Square USA, and I'm not sure exactly what the value of owning a piece of the them would be. Think about it: Square Japan produces the games and SquareEA publishes the games, so where does that leave Square USA? What do they do, besides some FMV work here and there? Are they going to start making games again, like FFMQ or Secret of Evermore? The very idea is enough to keep me far, far away from their stock. Sorry Square, as much as I want to see the FF Movie do well, I'm staying away from this one.


First off, some unfinished business
I think you're half right on this one, KZ. A larger screen on the GBA might cause a slight size increase, but not double the size of the machine, any more than laptop sizes have increased significantly as screens moved from 9-inch passive matrices to 14-inch active matrices. Cost is a factor, but the original Game Boy ran on 4 double As, and I don't know how much that hurt sales.

I'm not sure where you get your logic on dimensions. Laptops have moved from 9 to 14 inches because the top folding panel has more or less held a constant size. The keyboard (and to a lesser extent, the controlling hardware) needs that space, so it uses it.

On the gameboy advance however, the screen is the biggest part of the unit. If you increase the screen size (and remember, they fringe area around the screen counts too, since it holds some of the LCD components) then you have to increase the size proportionally to handle it. The bigger screen *is* going to cost at least 2x - current manufacturing yields for LCD displays is 25% or less these days. And then, you have to figure in adding more batteries, which increases assembly cost and brings in some peculiar weight balancing issues - in a horizontal unit, having everything at the center (whereas your hands are on the ends) is not a terribly good idea.

But yes, it is all moot anyways, because Gameboy's biggest market is 8-16 year olds, and unless you have an impulse buy priceline (under 100 dollars) its probably not going to sell much. Just saying "Gameboy did it before" only worries investors - they did it before, more than a decade ago!

Richard "KZ" Knight

Look again: laptops have been getting somewhat bigger as the screen size increases. Keyboards from yesteryear were significantly smaller than current models - you've got to look to see it, but as a longtime user, I can definitely feel the difference.

The bigger screen will cost more, maybe twice as much, maybe more. I'm not disputing that. What I am disputing is that this would cause a proportional increase in the unit size. Look at the GBA as it currently stands. The screen is a big part of the model, no question, but there's a lot of empty space that could be replaced with a bigger screen. The fringe area should be really minimal: take a look at how much edge a 14" Dell laptop has around the screen. And there's always the third dimension: if you have to, move the screen out and have the controls slightly recessed back, which will give you more room to play with while not increasing size much.

Look, this is a dead issue. I know it, you know it, but I keep bringing it up because I think portable gaming could be really something if we had the right system. The GBA's good, but it's not as great as it could be, and that frustrates me. That's all.

Franchise timing is everything
The circle is now complete.

nintendo dominates the market after struggeling against all odds

a few years later
Sega does the same by wrenching the strangle hold on all of our minds off with their "master system"

still later...
the 16 bit console wars begin and sega seems to be winning
Sega cd
sega starts slipping.

THEN, in one of the most bone-headed moves sence Napolean screwed up Waterloo, nintendo drops the "Nintendo Playstation" project

Sony and sega enter "next generation" console wars with the "revolutionary" new CD based systems (I am omiting the Jaguire, 3do, and neo geo)
Sega looses just as Nintendo tries to make a desperate come back, and seems to have a fighting chance
Nintendo starts to fall off of their throne again as the "Black Belt/Dural/Dreamcast" is announced.
Dreamcast, for awhile, is winning

Sony almost has their second system out in America
Nintendo and Microsoft have started building their new admissions for the "tertiary next-gen console wars"

The next few years should be interisting

DCB, who wants Chris to print this so bad that he can have my copy of Chrono cross (when I'm done with it)

PS. "Time always flows on, but history is destined to repeat itself" I wonder where I heard that

Keep your copy of CC, kid. I've got one of my own, I just need my freakin' TV so I can play it.

I appreciate that you're searching for a pattern in history, but as more than a few real historians have found out after staring at the data for years, it just ain't gonna happen. There are myriad differences between this upcoming war and the ones from the past, and you've paved over a few of them in your quest for a Grand Unification Theory. (For example, the SNES ultimately did quite well in the 16-bit wars, and Nintendo didn't really start to die off until the lack off good N64 software became apparent. Of course, you could argue that was implicit in their rejection of the original Play Station concept...)

But regardless, this contest will be interesting precisely because all the players have a more or less level playing field. Sega, though weak in comparison to the others, has had a year's headstart. Sony's box has a ton of hype, some great developers, and lots of goodwill because of the PSX's success. Nintendo seems to have contemplated long and hard over what their mistakes were with the N64, and seems hellbent on making the best pure gaming system they possibly can. Lastly, Microsoft has only themselves to fall back on, but that's all they may need. As you say, we are indeed in for interesting times... although it's worth pointing out that the Chinese have traditionally seen that as more curse than blessing.

X-Box pro...
well, evrybody seems to have a problem with the xbox...

because its microsoft offcourse... and possibly fearing they'll take over the whole home console market so that we are all stuck with microsoft

but, if you ask me its not gonna make much of a difference to the home console market

why ??

the thing is basicly an PC right ? it has an harddrive.. and all of them have the same hardware so it lets it tweak stuff magnificiently

and because its almost an PC... its sure to attract some PC-gamers because its an home console, the games will never get low framerates and will last longer then a gaming PC for sure, and all that for the price of half an (kind of cheap) PC

and because it has guaranteed framerates.... woudlnt it be great for online gaming? never worrying that it might drop an few FPS, just when you have the flag in TFC or even worse, an system CRASH when you have the flag in TFC ?

offcourse.. even my trusty snes has crashed once in a while.... but with 2 times a year i can forgive him that not that FF8PC crashes 6 times in the same place (right after gerogero boss (after train mission in timber)) because you were running it in fullscreen in stead of quarter screen (square pc team, i hate you !)

but what i just wanted to say with this... the x-box is also going to get an huge share of hardcore PC online gamers just because its an PC/console hybrid (for harry's sake, microsoft bought bungie so HALO is sure to be on it(and halo wont run on my old amdk6-2-300 for sure)) and the normal consolers are gonna stick with the PS2 and GC

well, thats my opinion on it all

(sorry my english is really bad, its because i come from holland)

I don't have a lot to add to this, since most of your points are pretty much dead on. The X-Box, if it properly leverages its PC background, could indeed make PC games go much more smoothly and give them a more polished feel: consolize them, in other words. That and Halo makes things interesting enough for me to keep a half-open mind about Mr. Bill's next venture.

...and con
Americans sure are dumb. They're predicting X-box to do badly simply because it's made by Billy Gates. Shouldn't the fact that the X-Box is an American system and the fact that the Japanese are the ones that make and buy the games come in to play on this subject? Do you really think the Japanese will want to import a system from America when they already have the capabilities to make one that equals the X-Box themselves? And what Japanese game developers would want to sign over games for an American system when they could work and make games under their own people?

X-Box isn't going to lose because it's a bad system. It will lose because it was made by Americans.

-Masami Eiri

Maybe I'm imagining things, but there seems to be an ugly chauvinistic edge to this letter I don't much care for. Not that you're entirely incorrect in your assumptions, but maybe not in the way you think. For example, many American companies have made huge inroads in the Japanese computer market, in both the hardware and software domains. I could simply be misinformed about this, but a hell of a lot of Austin tech companies I knew sold a ton of stuff in Japan, and didn't really have much in the way of native competition. And unless I'm completely loopy, the same applies to Microsoft, which means that MS will simply have the same problems over there that they have over here: convincing people that a software giant can make a good gaming console.

But that's where things get interesting. To do that, to beat out Nintendo and Sony and Sega, Microsoft's gotta come out with great games. And if their acquisition of Bungie is any indication, those games are gonna be somewhat PC oriented. This isn't a bad thing, but at the risk of overgeneralizing here, I think the relative straightforwardness of PC games are more attractive to most Americans, while Japanese console games have their own idiosyncrasies that make them more attractive to the Japanese. In other words, it may not be the messenger or the medium that sinks the X-Box in Japan, but the content.

AK stands tall, once more
I know this may be enormously anal, but you were right. The correct word IS trinary. Tertiary comes after primary and secondary. And naturally quaternary comes after that. But trinary is the three digit numbering system. Stand up for your nerdy knowledge!

Too much math.

Kirk B.

Good to know. Onward.

Bits and pieces
I'm a little confused, everyone keeps saying that the Game Cube is more powerful than the PS2. I was under the impression that although the GC was more powerful in some areas the PS2 was better in others (such as raw polygon pushing power). I was under the impression that the GC could do 20 million polys (peak) no f/x and that the PS2 could do 70 million (peak). The GC however does take the performance hits that the PS2 does when implementing anti-aliasing ect. Maybe I'm just talking out of my ass here I don't know.

Daniel Kaszor

I'm not real clear on the poly count myself, although it is clear from what Nintendo's been saying that raw power and benchmarks weren't their primary goal with the Cube. What the Cube has that makes it more attractive to developers is ease of use and a somewhat smarter design, meaning no repeats of the anti-aliasing problems the PS2 had (apparently the AA mode is much easier to access on the Cube) and no cache limits like the PS2 (which has a set 640k cache - the Cube implements some sort of virtual caching which means texture caches can easily be up in the megabyte range).

When all is said and done, I think the Cube may be effectively the better system from a technical standpoint. Now all they need to do is market the thing...

Nintendo's goin' down
Dear Agent:

Okay, I've been reading the debate about how the release date of the Game Cube will effect the new console race. Yesterday, you said that the fact that Game Cube is coming out over a year later means that people won't have to choose, and Nintendo might make the PSX look obsolete, thereby selling more units.

There are two problems with that theory. The first is that most gamers are impatient. The Gamecube could be 10 times the machine the PS2 is, but give gamers over a year to wait, and they're going to start getting anxious. Especially when their buddies start playing MGS2. Gamers might wait six or eight months for a sharper, faster system, but over a year? With another Final Fantasy on the shelves? I don't think so.

This leads to problem two. These days, game consoles are getting more and more costly. If people are persuaded into buying a PS2 by games like Final Fantasy, MGS2, and others, I doubt many of them will have the money to shell out for another system a year later. They'll stick with the system they already have.

Which means that Nintendo's only remaining market will be made up of those few gamers patient enough to wait a year and a half for the -possibility- of Metroid, and those few gamers with the money to throw away on -two- next generation systems. Not a lot of people, I'm guessing.

And on top of that, the continuing stream of great games for the PS (FF9, Crono Cross, etc.) helped gamers to resist the urge to buy a Dreamcast, but considering the weakness of the N64, Nintendo doesn't have anything to prevent players from going with the PS2.

I'm not Nintendo basher or anything, but from where I'm sitting, things don't look that rosy for the big N.

Jere, Lord of Pendragon

I think you're working from a couple of flawed assumptions here. The year's wait is a legit consideration, and Nintendo's gonna have a heck of a time playing catch up to the PS2, especially if it launches right when the first great PS2 games (MGS2, anyone?) are coming out. However, game system prices are staying pretty constant. The Dreamcast cost $199, same as the SNES I bought in '91. The PSX and PS2 launched high, but I didn't and won't pick one up until the price comes down some. And I'd be surprised if the Cube launched for over $200, if not much lower. Beyond that I'm hesitant to say, without seeing how well the PS2 launch goes and what the first real games from Nintendo look like.

Last of the true believers
Hey quit underestimating Sega everyone, it's not over yet. FAR from over. Think PS2 is vastly superior, and that once it's out nobody will even LOOK at Dreamcast? Think again, look at Shen Mue! Everyone always forgets about Shen Mue even though it scored big from every critic and has graphics that match anything the PS2 will have for at least a year.

Sega has been doing a great job with Dreamcast advertising. Sales are lacking, but millions of people know what the Dreamcast is... they know it exists and is available for purchase, they just don't know if they want one yet. Still, mission accomplished! When they do decide to look into purchasing a console, Dreamcast will at least be in the back of their mind. In reality, when was the last console generation where every gamer in the world went out and bought their console of choice at launch and abandoned their current machine? It's never happened, so why is this generation going to be different? The PSX did not start to take off until a year and a half after its launch.

When casual gamers are ready to buy a console, Dreamcast will be there. With an extremely low price. And games like Skies of Arcadia, Ecco the Dolphin, Shen Mue, Soul Calibur, and Grandia II. Maybe they do not own the market right now, but so what? The race has yet to begin and Dreamcast has enough power to have good graphics all the way to the end. Don't believe me, look at Shen Mue... Dreamcast is running at 60% power. Maybe they won't win but they will succeed.

This letter just hit me in a soft spot. I think my Dreamcast is really great, and I'd love to see the system do well. Grandia 2, Ecco the Dolphin, a huge lineup of sports games and Shen Mue should guarantee the system's stability, but I just can't personally get behind that argument. Too much of a cynic, I guess.

Which makes true believers like this one all the more important. I can't get behind you on this one, but I'm with you in spirit. Rock on, brother.

Closing Comments:

Interesting how console wars can bring out such intense responses. I'd try and shut the topic down now, but I have a feeling you've all got more to say and I wanna see you get it all out of your systems before we move on. So let's hear it, whatever else you want to talk about with the Cube, and how it measures up against the PS2, Dreamcast, X-Box, etc. One day only, act now! See you tomorrow.

-Chris Jones, going through severe TV withdrawal

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