Video Gaming Nirvana?
March 3, 1996
Note: In my high school's senior English class, we had to submit an article to a literary magazine that had essays written by high school students. This is the article I wrote. Yes, I have come a long way. It is now presented in its original, unedited form.
Video games have come a long way since their home-inception back in the late 1970's. Back then, the Atari 2600, Intellivision and Colecovision ruled the video game realm. Now, after a crash and several generations later, the major players are the Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Things are different now than they were back then though. Gluts of inferior games, which caused the great video game crash of 1984, are no longer existent. Sure, you'll see some crap every now and then, but nowhere near as much as back then. The video game industry is also bigger than the motion picture industry now. Quite a feat, indeed. Contrary to popular belief, video games are not just for "kids" anymore...
Sega's entry into the next generation war is the Sega Saturn. The Saturn is a 32-bit, CD-ROM-based video game system. It was released to the American public in May 1995.
In September of 1995, Sony tossed their hat into the video game market for the first time ever. The Sony PlayStation, like the Sega Saturn, is a 32-bit, CD-ROM-based video game system.
Nintendo—the king of the video game jungle—is about to enter the next generation market on September 30, 1996. And they plan on leapfrogging the competition by releasing a Silicon Graphics-powered 64-bit system. Silicon Graphics' computers were responsible for such special effects as the dinos in "Jurassic Park" and the different faces of Jim Carey in "The Mask."
One of the first things you're probably wondering is, "What does 32-bit or 64-bit mean?" Put quite simply, the more "bits" your system has, the better the games will look, sound and play. The graphics are more vivid and realistic with 3-D worlds. The sound is richer and more robust. And the computer opponent will actually be smarter and give you more of a challenge.
While the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation are both CD-ROM-based systems, the Nintendo 64 is still a cartridge-based system like your old Nintendo systems. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. With CD-ROM, you can hold over 150 times more information than a cartridge. That means games can have CD-quality music or little mini-movies in them. Although dissentients of CD-ROM (such as myself) will remind you that you're playing a game to actually PLAY it and not watch a movie. CD-ROMs are also cheaper to produce, and therefore, should cost less to the consumers, but most of the time, the savings aren't passed along. The most ominous disadvantage to CD-ROM is that every time you want to play a game, the system has to copy part of the game into its memory so you can play it. Cartridges don't have this problem. While that may not sound too bad, many games take anywhere from 15-30 seconds just to load one level into its memory! That's an eternity when you're itching to play the game. That very reason is why Nintendo opted to go with cartridges instead of CD-ROM.
All three of these systems have built-in capabilities to do realistic 3-D graphics—a feat previously unachievable on home video game systems before. Three-dimensional graphics are the new "hot" item in the world of video games. Every game, from fighting to sports to adventure, is heading into the 3-D kingdom. It help provides the player with a more immersive experience, and, in effect, "gets you into the game." While quite impressive, 3-D graphics still do have their problems on the 32-bit systems. Since 3-D graphics on the 32-bit systems are made-up of flat, one-dimensional polygons (a polygon is a flat shape such as a square or rectangle), you have to wonder why you can see through certain graphics in the games? Graphics will also mysteriously "pop-up" out of nowhere in the horizon on most games too. Nintendo's 64-bit system has the built-in hardware to fix these problems.
Wow! This next generation gaming sounds great!," says the consumer. Then the retailer replies, "Would you like to purchase one?" "Sure!," replied the consumer. "That will be $300 for just the system," replies the retailer, "and, oh yeah, another $50 if you want a game."
As you can see, next generation gaming is not cheap at all. Both the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn retail for $299.99—and that price doesn't include a game! They do package in a demo CD that lets you play one level of about 4 or 5 games. This is no compensation though. The demo CD quickly becomes boring in less than 24 hours.
Nintendo hopes to improve this situation somewhat. Their Nintendo 64 will retail for $199.99, without any games or demos. Many of you may be wondering, "How come it's cheaper? I thought it was 64-bit, which is better than both the Saturn or PlayStation!?!"
The main component which drove up the cost of the Sega and Sony systems is the CD-ROM drive. CD-ROM drives are mechanical devices which are complex in nature and can't be physically reduced. Something as innocent-sounding as CD-ROM can add $100 to the price of a system.
While it won't be possible to make a direct comparison with the Nintendo 64 (since Nintendo hasn't released the system yet), we can still compare and contrast the games of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. We can also discuss some of the key Nintendo 64 games which hold a lot of potential.
Nowadays, sports and fighting games are the stable of any video game farm. With sells of these games literally in the millions, it's very important for any company to release good games in these respective genres. The PlayStation is the clear leader in sports games at this point. NHL Face-Off and NFL GameDay are the two best hockey and football games yet. But you can find the best baseball game available yet, World Series Baseball, on the Sega Saturn. Since both of these systems are still in their infancy, many categories still need to be filled on each system. The Nintendo 64 sports lineup is not looking too stellar at this point. A 64-bit sequel to the hit Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball game is on its way. Along with a ground-breaking update to FIFA International Soccer.
Fighting games are the latest fad, and you can find plenty of them on both the PlayStation and Saturn. While the PlayStation has two good fighting games available (Battle Arena Toshinden and Tekken), the Saturn has arguably the best fighter of all-time in its lineup (Virtua Fighter 2.) Sequels to these games are already scheduled to appear in the second half of 1996. The Nintendo 64 won't be any stranger to fighting games either. A 3-D, updated version of Nintendo's fighting franchise, Killer Instinct, is scheduled to launch with the system. An enhanced version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is also scheduled to appear.
One other major battle ground has these two systems flailing their arms all over the place -- the racing category. Absolutely fabulous racing games have appeared for both of these systems. For the Saturn, you have Daytona USA and Sega Rally Championship, both translations of massive arcade hits. The former is a stock car racing game, while the latter takes the vehicle off- road. There are three great racing games for the PlayStation (although you'll probably hate one of the games and like the other.) Wipeout, Destruction Derby and Ridge Racer are the backbone of Sony's racing lineup. The Nintendo 64 will arguably be the best system for racing games. The following games are scheduled to appear: an all-new version of the greatest racing game of all-time, Super Mario Kart R; a graphically enhanced version of the arcade smash hit Cruis'n USA; Wave Race 64, a watercraft game with some of the most amazing graphics you've ever seen; and Buggie-Boogie, a fabulous game in which you can to make your own car and then race it.
While many of the 32-bit games above sound great, many of them have a serious, yet fundamental flaw. They are all too short. It's not exactly the greatest feeling in the world when you just spent $60 on a game to find that you completed it in two days. And over half the games have near-unbearable load times (c'mon! I'm not going to wait 30 seconds for one level to load.)
Despite this, there are several diamonds in the rough for each system. Your best bets on the PlayStation are: Toshinden, Tekken, Twisted Metal, Warhawk, NFL GameDay and NHL Face-Off. They are good games will a minimal amount of load time. Your best bets on the Saturn are: Virtua Fighter Remix, Virtua Fighter 2, Panzer Dragoon, World Series Baseball and Sega Rally.
The bottom line is that the systems are too expensive right now to warrant their purchase by the casual gamer. If you're a video gaming freak, and you have $350 lying around, then by all means purchase either a Saturn or PlayStation. But, for the casual gamer, your best bet would be to wait until Christmas, and seriously look at the Nintendo 64. The Nintendo 64 is cheaper, fast and more powerful. The games are also better (both gameplay wise and graphically) just from playing the initial previews.