N64 HQ Reunion Tour: 'Dolphin' Thoughts
June 24, 1999
Note: This is the article I wrote for Planet GameCube's (formerly PlanetN2000) "N64 HQ Reunion Tour." A former N64 HQ staff writer, Billy Berghammer, decided to get as many N64 HQ writers together as possible to share what they've been doing since N64 HQ closed and to get their opinions and predictions about Nintendo GameCube, which was originally codenamed "Dolphin." The whole article was posted on his Planet GameCube Web site. My portion is now presented in its original, unedited form.
Any reference to "Dolphin" or "N2000" means that I'm talking about Nintendo GameCube (GCN). Those were codenames used for Nintendo's 128-bit system before it had an official name.
As many of you may have realized, I have been slowly fading into the Internet sunset over the past year. That has been my intention all along. But just because I'm not in the pubic eye anymore doesn't meant that I'm not around. I'm in the background as a silent reader of numerous sites. You just won't see me contributing letters or participating in chat.
With each passing day, N64 HQ seems more and more like a distant memory. Did I really do what I did? Yeah, I guess so. Sometimes I long for those days. Other times I'm glad that I cut loose when I did. Nevertheless, it's been impossible for me to cut the ties completely.
I decided I would fade into Internet obscurity once I went away to school. I spent my first two and a half years at a local college satellite campus, which meant I still lived at home and was a commuter to school every day. In January 1999, I left home for the first time to finish my final two years and a half years of school.
I met some great new people there, and I'm eagerly anticipating the fall semester. Even though I haven't been able to purchase or play anywhere near as many new games, I still managed to buy five N64 games in 1999: Castlevania, Mario Party, Vigilante 8, Super Smash Bros., and World Driver Championship. There are many N64 games coming out later this year that really pique my interest, too. Those titles include Pokémon Snap, Madden NFL 2000, Perfect Dark, Mario Golf 64, Top Gear Hyper-Bike or Excitebike 64, The New Tetris, Jet Force Gemini, Pokémon Stadium, Resident Evil 2, Donkey Kong 64, Gauntlet Legends, Vigilante 8: Second Offense, Duke Nukem: Zero Hour, Shadowman, and South Park: Chef's Luv Shack. Unfortunately, I'll probably only be able to buy six to eight of those games.
I made sure I continued to play video games while away at school. On the one-player side, I finished some games that I didn't complete before, such as Top Gear Overdrive, Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and English versions of Super Mario 64 and Wave Race 64. I also played through Castlevania with both characters. I still got a handful of older games I'll need to finish in the fall, but I now make sure I play through my new games before purchasing more.
On the multi-player side, a ton of GoldenEye 007 was played. My roommate and some of the people I met through him knew how to play it, so that's why we played that a lot. Mario Party was a distant second for the next game played the most. My roommate and I also played as teammates in International Superstar Soccer 64, and there was some multi-player dabbling with South Park, F-Zero X, Snowboard Kids, and Mario Kart 64.
Since I've been home for the summer, I've had a chance to play games even more. Mario Party is great to play with a few friends when you're half-lit late at night. Vigilante 8 was an absolute blast, as a friend and me just went completely through the game. And Super Smash Bros. has become a family affair between my older brother, my brother-in-law, and me. I'm also starting to play through World Driver Championship. I'm usually an arcade racing fan; however, I really wanted a racing game with more realism and depth, so I've been enjoying this one. It's kind of nice to have to use the brake in an N64 racing game.
Let's move on to the real reason that you're reading this. Yes, I know, you want some of my comments regarding Nintendo's upcoming system. First, no, I'm not doing a site for it or writing about it. My webmastering and contributing days are over for now. And, second, I don't have any secret sources who tell me information. So I only know as much as the average reader knows.
I would like to start by examining the competition. Let's talk about Sony. Why does everyone think Sony is unstoppable? It's not. In fact, it may be in trouble if it doesn't come up with a way to get the cost of the next PlayStation way down. It looks like it'll arrive at a cost of $400 or $500 in Japan, and you know there's no way it'll come out in the U.S. for less than $299.99 if it starts out that high. That's shooting yourself in the foot. I also think Sony is going to have software trouble in the beginning. The high development costs, coupled with the technical savvy needed to make games for it, could spell major problems.
Maybe even more intriguing than the retail price of PlayStation 2 (PS2) is its backward compatibility with the original. The average consumer is looking for the most bang for the buck, and it's easy to see how this feature will appeal to them. But what about the disadvantages? Nintendo never made its newer systems compatible with its older systems for a reason. Why? It segregates the market. While hard-core gamers obviously will buy the latest and greatest, there is a good chance the mainstream market will continue to support the original system's games. By the time PlayStation 2 comes out, there will be enormous new and used markets for PSX games with falling prices. If consumers know they can play old games on their new system, along with watching DVD movies, they will be less inclined to buy PlayStation 2 games. Watch this closely.
Remember, Nintendo virtually once had a monopoly in the video game market, and unexpected things have happened in each generation of video games ever since. The mighty Sony very well may fall.
And what about Sega? Strangely, I think Sega has positioned itself and Dreamcast to be players in the market. The $200 price point is great, the number and types of games at launch are impressive, the development environment pleases third-party licensees, and it could very well be half the price of Sony's next PlayStation by the time that reaches American shores. Sega appears to be doing things correctly this time, and it does have the full retail support it needs. The only problem right now is its lackluster Japanese debut.
I do, however, have a few immediate question marks. I'm still not convinced the internal modem is really that important. Hopefully Sega won't overemphasize it. I think mainstream networking gaming is another three to five years away. I also think that Sega may have too many games at launch. There's absolutely no reason for a measly few hundred thousand gamers to choose from 12 to 15 games the day the system comes out. You're just taking away from your own sales when you do that.
Down the road, Sega needs the much-ballyhooed "killer app" and some innovative software, which usually go hand-in-hand. Let's face it, Sonic Adventure is no Super Mario 64. But I can see Sonic's popularity gaining come Christmas time. I think Sega could become the clear leader by the end of 2000 with the right games. So even though Sega's 1999 lineup is quite impressive, it is just filled with better versions of games that have been done over and over. Sega's going to have to come up with some innovative, must-have games for 2000 to really convert the masses.
Now we come to Nintendo. Is it me, or does this company seem to be back on the right track? Of course, I've been a staunch N64 supporter from the beginning, and I continue to be. Nintendo won't be able to claim victory in the 32/64-bit generation like it came back to win the 16-bit wars, but it can continue to narrow the gap.
Let's go back to the pre-E3 announcement about Project Dolphin. I know I was absolutely stunned when I read the news. I was getting chills up and down my body as I found out Nintendo had not only teamed with IBM for a Power PC chip but with Matshushita for a DVD drive. I would have bet a large sum of money that Nintendo wouldn't go with DVD. I just figured it would have gone with a proprietary format something along the lines of the 64DD's disk format, except with a larger capacity.
To me, this shows Nintendo is serious in regaining its market share. Now I fully believe that it can and will do it, because Nintendo has one huge edge over Sony right now: price. If Nintendo's next system is going to be half as much as Sony's, then there will be no competition. I'm sure Sony will find some way to reduce the price of PlayStation 2, but it might be too late or it might cause Sony to have too many losses. That's the price Sony paid for all of its expensive research and development, whereas Nintendo just let someone else do it.
But there could be a recurring Nintendo problem with this: delays. When I first read information that N2000 would be released worldwide in late 2000, I actually believed it. After all, this was a new Nintendo, right? Well, reality started to set in. I'm going to make Nintendo defy my odds once again, because I don't think N2000 will be on U.S. shelves until holiday season 2001. I mean, hell, it's not like we've seen any hardware pictures or even seen any demos. Assuming Sony doesn't fall too much behind schedule, it will probably have another year lead over Nintendo, which will give it time to reduce manufacturing costs of its system.
I'm also concerned that even if the hardware was ready, I don't think the software would be ready. We can assume that software development started fall 1998 at the earliest, and realistically, the games most likely didn't go into full production until early 1999. But I'm guessing that maybe only one development team at NCL, one development team at Rare, and maybe Retro Studios started by then. Here's hoping that I'm wrong, but I get the feeling that Dolphin software development just started or will be starting shortly. That tight development schedule seems too close for comfort.
At any rate, I don't know how anyone could not be as excited about N2000 as they are about PS2. Both companies are taking similar routes with the DVD format and the ability to play DVD movies. And it looks like Nintendo is going after both the children and adult markets this time. And even though Sony exclusively has Squaresoft (for now), Nintendo exclusively has Miyamoto and Rare. Thank you, but I'll take the latter.