Double Agent
He's got DQ7! Get him! - August 29, 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. "You fucked us!" "No! You fucked you! Don't invert stuff!" I love that line. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Bossman Vestal sent me this the other day, which I very much enjoyed reading. It's not anything particularly new or groundbreaking, but it is a very well written essay on the kind of things I've been trying to talk about in this column since day one: that gaming is not "high" art, but it is a medium with a huge amount of potential that already possesses an enormous amount of vitality and emotional investment from its supporters. Like I said, nothing that hasn't been said before, it's just nice to see that an MIT professor (and someone presumably not of the Nintendo Generation) is speaking up for games.


The flat console
Someone made a comment yesterday about the XBox that really made me think. Don't you think that Microsoft is like the Steve Forbes or Donald Trump of console gaming? Think about it. Forbes and Trump were successful businessmen in their own senses. However, they were ill-equipped to be politicians. That didn't stop them from making asses of themselves on national television and running in the Republican primaries.

Consider Microsoft now. They are a company that has primarily produced software. To my knowledge, the extent of their hardware prowess is the optical mouse. They look very ill-equipped to be entering the console gaming field. However, they have a lot of financial backing. The only difference is that Trump and Forbes had the common sense to drop out of the race when all seemed hopeless.

Of course, we'll have to wait for the XBox candidate to be released until we can vote for it, but I don't really see much of the American public voting for a Microsoft gaming console. Tune in tomorrow when I compare the 3D0 to Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.

Ed Ruane

As I've argued before, I think the X-Box is less an attempt to actually get into the console market, and more of an attempt for MS to seize the prized "set top box" market, where computers, gaming consoles, the Internet and TV all get rolled into one mucho grande burrito. This does a couple of things for Microsoft: gets them further into the lucrative home consumer market, lets them get have some say on what Americans' home dataspace will look like in fifteen years, and most importantly, gives them a place to run to if the DoJ chops them up into little tiny pieces. After all, no one can claim that the X-Box will dominate the market with the PS2 and Game Cube in competition, and yet the X-Box may well be capable of everything Windows can do.

The question of if MS can actually do it with their existing experience and skills is a good one, but the gobs and gobs of cash Mr. Bill has lying around can probably go a long way towards correcting any inequities.

But the question remains, if 3D0 is Ross Perot, who's Admiral Stockdale?

Remember RAM?

Not to discount the importance of RAM, but lets not forget that according to the conventional wisdom of the time, the PS1's Achilles heel was too little RAM. Both of its primary competitors, the Sega Saturn and N64 were endowed with much more RAM, but the PS eventually mopped the floor with them. I believe that the PS has painted prettier pictures than any of its competitors. PS1's Tekken 3 and Gran Turismo 2 vastly outshine N64's Fighter's Destiny 2 and Ridge Racer 64 as well as Saturn's Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally (sorry to use non-rpg examples, but N64 doesn't have much in the way of rpgs). So let's not make too much of the PS2's 'lack of RAM' since history has shone that creative developers can work around it (whether or not they choose to is another matter altogether).

- Mark

It might be more correct to say that the PSXs lack of RAM was something gamers tolerated, rather than something the system overcame. Frankly, I think the PSX has horrible 3D graphics when compared to nearly anything the N64's done. Textures are pixilated and blurry, model counts are laughably low, and only rarely has a PSX 3D game looked really good to me. (Vagrant Story and Dewprism come to mind, but that's it.)

But the actual games were great, so I put up with it, and I'm not sorry I did so. And having gone through the awkward PSX years, I don't think any PS2 game will ever look that bad to me - it's just that PS2 developers may not be able to create jaw-dropping graphics as easily as their Cube counterparts. That said, you're absolutely right that the amount of RAM may not matter that much, since it will ultimately come down to game design and originality in the end.

I want my DQ7!

I've got a quick question about game coverage. A week or so ago when FF9 was released, you guys had like three days of constant coverage of the game. Screenshots, reviews, etc. From the time the game was announced, you guys have done everything to post any news at all regarding it. Numbers of presales, character sketches, gameplay features, story leaks, etc. DQ7 gets released, blows FF9 sales numbers out of the water it's first weekend, and yet nothing is posted on the GIA. News stories about things the GIA would normally report on are being ignored. A japanese friend of mine pointed out an article that's been posted on several news sites about post release problems (two kids getting beaten up for their copy). You can bet your ass if the same story concerned an FF game you guys would have jumped on the opportunity to post it. So what gives? I remember when you guys first opened the site you promised not to give in to the biased reporting RPGamer had been known for. Aren't you even going to make an attempt to prove that promise true? Given the fact that DQ7 did over 2 million in sales, finding one of your "sources" that has played the game shouldn't be all that hard. FF9 didn't even do that it's first weekend and you had no problem getting news and pics to post then.

I am well aware that your staffers believe that DragonQuest isn't popular in the United States. They've made that opinion clear in many emails and postings on the page. However, simply because one game is not as popular as another is no reason not to give it equal coverage. You've given games like Evolution a large amout of coverage around it's release compared to what you've given DQ7... I'm just curious as to why.

The only posting related to the DQ7 release was a one paragraph post, a far cry from what releases normally get on your site. It seems to continue the trend of DQ bashing the site has had its ample share of lately. Your page even quotes part of an NCS news post, and only mentions the one bad thing they had to say about the game, taking the entire mood of the post completly out of context. You make it sound like everyone else, not just the GIA thinks that DQ7 isn't worth anyone's attention, when this is just not true. If you're going to quote someone in the future, be sure to keep it in context.

Personally, I would love to see more info on DQ7. It's no secret that I think the game's vastly overhyped and that I've developed something of a feud with its fans - believe me, the moment Famitsu comes out with a 25 review I'll be all over it. On the other hand, if the game is absolutely brilliant, then I still win because I've got a great new RPG to look forward to. So despite my tepid response toward DQ7, I'm as hungry for info as anyone. Case in point, I recently sent a private email to someone I've sparred with in this column many times, asking him what he thought of the game. I'm not saying this to prove any sort of objectivity, I'm just saying it to illustrate that I do want to know about this game.

However, the reason we haven't been talking a lot about the game is because there hasn't been that much info to share. Famitsu did not give us a pre-release review of the game, and to my knowledge (which could be completely inaccurate, admittedly) the game has simply not seen the kind of promotional bonanza that FF9 did. Combine that with the fact that the game as news was overshadowed by the Game Cube (although as a gaming event DQ is highly noteworthy) and you've got a near blackout on things DQ related. We post 'em as we get 'em (and we do have both the DQ sales story and the DQ theft story up as I write this) but there's simply not that much to talk about until the reviews come in. That's all.

Square! Getcha Square right here!
Just for the record, Square Co, Ltd (the Japanese company) has been a public offering for quite a while now. It trades on the Tokyo Exchange as # 9620 (Japanese exchanges use numbers rather than symbols). It's currently valued at around 5500 yen a share, or about $51 US (more info available on Yahoo! Japan at

'Course e-Trade, etc only deal with US stocks... so you'd likely need to actually use a broker to buy this one, and fees for small international transactions can be exorbitant. Though, for the record, it *is* up 80% in the past year and a half.


I was aware of this, but unless I've heard wrong, getting a piece of Square Co. will remain out of the reach of US gamers. Two noteworthy things about the Tokyo Stock Exchange: you've got to be a member to trade, and you can only trade in really large blocks (10,000 shares, if memory serves). A sufficiently motivated high school student might be able to get their hands on one or two (or 10, or 20) shares of Dell or Lucent, but short of being an extremely rich Japanese person, you'll probably never personally own Square Co. stock. Oh well, there's always mutual funds...

You got PC in my console! You got console in my PC!

I doubt the X-Box converts many PC gamers. Microsoft has stated that the X-Box will not play PC games. At first, it may be trivial to port a PC game to it, but that will only last for so long. The speed and graphics power of PCs currently increases so rapidly as to virtually mandate an annual hardware upgrade if you want to play PC games. Also, games developed for the PC are optimized for the platform's natural controllers, the mouse and keyboard, and these must be adapted for the X-Box's likely gamepad.

Eventually, something's gotta give. Either ports of PC games will be rushed and shoddily made (a la Dreamcast's Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation), or there will be considerable delays between the release dates for the PC and X-Box platforms. PC gamers will not tolerate either scenario. And consider that many of the best PC games will never be ported to the X-Box.

As to your comment on PC games having "straightforwardness," I'm not sure what you mean. As both a console and PC gamer, I'd say console games, in general, are more straightforward on most fronts. Complex console games like Final Fantasy Tactics pale in comparison to hideously intricate PC games like Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Even a relatively simple PC game such as Diablo II has an extraordinary amount of micromanagement. Aside from the expense of a capable PC gaming system, I'd say the complexity of PC games is the primary reason for the platform's mass market failure. (This is not an arrogant knock on console gamers. I love consoles.)

Oh yeah, and about Shenmue: I think the voice acting might tank it. I watched a video presentation of the game at E3, and the horrible English voice acting received alternating responses of stunned silence and stifled laughter from the audience. It was awful. They'd better include an option for Japanese voices with subtitles, or the game could end up being a joke.

--Nick W.

You're half right regarding PC power. While it's very true that PC games have gone up significantly in power, and will continue to do so, with an accompanying upgrade in graphics quality, PC games as games have remained relatively static. That is to say, strip away the fancy shells and many (but not all, of course) PC games aren't that much different from what was being played 5 years ago. In a few years the X-Box may not look as pretty as a high-end PC when playing a game, but I suspect it'll still be able to play it. Add in the fact that Sony, at least, looks to be upgrading their consoles every 3 years or so from here on out (which is about as often as most PC gamers I know upgrade their systems) and the X-Box begins to approach PC parity.

As to the topic of "straightforwardness", I was mostly referring to the narrative flow and design of games. Even something like LucasArts' Grim Fandango (a quite good game about a skeleton who works as an afterlife travel agent) doesn't begin to approach the weirdness inherent in having a plumber become a fire-throwing giant by eating mushrooms and flowers. As longtime gamers we may lose sight of this, but it's there.

And lastly, I don't think really complex titles have ever really been tried out on consoles, because as you say, the control pad is not really ideal for such titles. But with the PS2 and Dreamcast (and undoubtedly the X-Box) rushing to embrace mice and keyboards, a Sid Meier game could finally find a good home on a console.

CC Exp += inf?
Ok you know the trick in Final Fantasy III (vI in Japan) how you can go on the Lete River and with a turbo controler get infite experience, well I, Chance McFeelly, have found a similar trick in Chrono Cross. In the Home World when you are searching for the 6 dragon tricks you go to Earth Dragon Isle. Inside there is an area where there are three Rockroaches which you are supposes to get to cover three holes in the sand. one of these Rockroaches is walking around on a ledge to the left of the screen. This rock roach y9ou are supposed to fight and then push off the ledge and plug up one of the holes in the sand, but so long as you never choose to do this he will keep coming back to life for another fight. The catch is that he wont come back to life inless you are moving and not standing on him. The trik to getting infinate exp is this... rather than walking up to him and fighting, run up against a wall and let him come to you. this makes it so you are not on top of him, and if you hold down the button in the direction of the wall, you will still be moving, then after that all you need is a turbo controller that will hit the button over and over, and you have all you characters at max stats. the best bart is that the way CC is designed you will automaticly heal after the fight with your unused magic points.

Don't know anything about CC, still haven't played it. (Thursday's what they're now telling me.) I don't know if this works, and it may well not, since I seem to remember reading something about experience capping in the game. But in case it does, I'm printing it. Either way, don't bother me about it: if it works and you're inclined to do such things, enjoy, if not, BFD. Onward.

For the obsessive techie in all of us...
Those specs Nintendo released are quite confusing, aren't they? People aren't quite sure if the system is on par with the PS2, or significantly ahead/behind it. Thanks to some people with an extensive technical background at PlanetN2000, as well as others "in the know", I hope that we can settle some disputes on the issue.

Just for the record, you and I may not care about specs, being more interested in games, but developers *have* to know specs so that they know what they're dealing with. In a perfect development world, everything would be supported, and one wouldn't have to worry about limitations in hardware.

Apparently the 16MB of "A-memory" is for sound and data caching from the disc, but other less memory-intensive processes can be done here as well, like AI scripting.

There's the 2MB frame buffer, and the 1MB texture cache. It may seem strange that Nintendo would release a system with less video RAM than the PS2, but thanks to virtual texture caching and S3 texture compression, 1MB is in fact plenty for the system, as is 2MB for a frame buffer.

Transformations and texturing is done before loading to the frame buffer. The final image outputted is basically 640x480 with 24-bit colour. About one and a half megs, actually. So why the hublub? The PS2 uses the 4MB for frame buffering, texture caching, *and* transformations (but I'm also assuming that the main memory is used as well). The NGC uses the 2MB *just* for the image to be outputted.

S3 texture compression works in hardware by keeping textures stored in memory in compressed form, uncompressing only as needed. It's completely transparent to the developer, and the quality is lossless. 1MB texture cache with S3TC is adequate for many situations, but some high-poly scenes require just a bit more than 1MB. That's where virtual texture caching kicks in.

Virtual texture caching works by leaving texture data on the main memory, and swapping it to the texture cache as it is needed. This is also transparent to the developer if the feature is supported in hardware, so you essentially have a maximum of 25MB of RAM for textures on the NGC (1MB + 24MB main memory) if you wanted (but you wouldn't, because you need main RAM for other things). The NGC supports VTC in hardware; the PS2 does not, so a developer would have to do this in software. PC video cards currently do not support this because of massive bottlenecks in the architecture.

Normally, swapping textures constantly from main RAM to the cache would slow the system down considerably, but the main memory, texture cache, and frame buffer are ALL implementations of static RAM on the NGC. Static RAM is lightyears ahead of dynamic RAM in terms of access time and speed, but hindered only by cost and size. SRAM is generally limited to L1 and L2 cache on CPUs in PCs, and only kilobytes are implemented because of the size and cost limitations. Thanks to 1T-SRAM technology however, Nintendo has managed to fit a whopping 27MB of SRAM on the system. That is FAST. Coupling that with the NGC's ability to texture a polygon 8 times in one pass (read: add 8 different effects to the polygon, such as bumpmapping, bilinear filtering, etc. with one go), and you have some *very* sweet stuff.

What does it all mean? Well, NGC games could possibly look better than PS2 games, but an NGC 3rd-generation game would not be much of a step up graphically from a 1st-generation game. There could be a lot of untapped potential within the PS2 that developers will exploit in the years to come.

-Ayla Sakura

P.S. I'd get into polygon counts, but this letter is long enough as it is.

I really have nothing to add to this, except to say that I know it's over the word limit. I just thought it sounded authoritative and thought you might enjoy it, if you're inclined to obsess about specs.

They live
Hey sexy

Here's what'll make me choose a next gen system- Mystic Quest 2, Beyond the Beyond Gaiden, only red and black burn your eyeballs out graphics, and a controller that makes me smell like pee.

Word Melon Farmer, Gilbert

What's scary is there really may be people like this out there: I've seen letters praising Mystic Quest, Beyond the Beyond, and the Virtual Boy, so it's not impossible that someone could like all three.


Harken to the word of Chaos
Hey Double Agent,

some random, scattered thoughts (I wouldn't be the princess of Chaos, otherwise, would I?).

Square: at first I thought "Square, why oh why are you having money problems??? Should I consider buying stock?" but then it hit me: why would one buy stock for a company that is in slight financial difficulty, and yet has a subsidiary throw a Hollywood premiere for PE2? Can you say misguided? I won't even comment on the Aya lookalike contest, but it did make me laugh, partly in disbelief, I'll admit.

X-Box: (btw, the marketing honchos at MS better come up with a better moniker soon) I agree wholeheartedly with the point brought up yesterday. If you're okay with PC gaming, but you've always wanted to be able to get the same feel in a console, then you might have a point in wanting it to do ok. Yet, do such gamers constitute the lion's share of the market? Well...

Nintendo: Interesting developments, but I think they're risking too much by playing it safe timing-wise. They might get burned worse than they would have if they had rushed to keep up with Sega and Sony. Only time can tell at this point.

As for the other two contenders, enough has already been said...

Princess Jemmy, "VP, yay... VP, yay... VP, yay..."

You deeply disappoint me, Jemmy. I was hoping that under that fictional alter-ego lay a curvaceous blonde chick whose ultimate desire was to dress up in awkwardly high heels and a revealing black ball gown, thus showing that she and she alone was the ultimate physical avatar of an obscure virtual character. Yes, it's a pathetically geeky hope, bought on by too many years of anime babes, beer commercials and other trappings of a male-chauvinist society, but still...

At any rate, you should know by now that no matter how desperate a company is for cash, there's always room for marketing and management to waste some more with insane promotions and executive perks.

Famous last words
Dear Chris,

I will get a PS2 and enjoy Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and many other games. I also will get a Game Cube and enjoy all the Nintendo franchises. Heck, I'll probably buy a Dreamcast when the price eventually drops to $99. I will enjoy the pros and cons with each system like I currently do with my N64 and PS. I will not BITCH and MOAN about how Nintendo is doomed because they made mistakes years ago (which Space World showed they learned from and then some), that the PS2 will eventually stumble because it is too hard to develop for, or that Sega "appears" to be dying. News flash: Nintendo makes DAMN fine games. Sony has made gaming acceptable to the masses and has given RPGs their prestige in America we knew they deserved all along. Sega is becoming the "independent filmmaker" of the industry with their brave experimentation. More Final Fantasies are coming out, and Crono Cross could well become the next hit Square franchise. Rejoice, for man(n)a is falling from the skies for our enjoyment! Enjoy the renaissance instead of whining to shadows of console wars past.

Ninja Pirate Man, the optimist

P.S. And everyone quit your damn whining about Metroid. It'll be great and you know it.

Wow. A balanced, reasonable response hoping that all sides will come out of the approaching conflict having gained something. I dunno what to say about this anomaly, so I'll stop for the day.

Closing Comments:

After spending so much time arguing about the future of gaming, I think it's time to go retro again. In a pathetically transparent attempt to stave off Chrono Cross debate, I'd like to hear what you think about the original, nearly 5 years after it's release. How does it really hold up, compared to the PSX legacy? What's really so great about it? What's up with that hair? Let me know, and I'll see you tomorrow.

-Chris Jones, wondering why they never have a "big, hairy RPG guy" lookalike contest

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