This is part two of a multi-part series, All is Fair in Love and Console Wars: Check back next week for the next entry of the series.
The Contest of Consoles
In the last chapter of All is Fair in Love and Console Wars, Sega was almost on its last leg. The Sega Saturn was performing below market expectations and a new challenger entered the ring. Sony’s PlayStation brought a whole new personality to the digital battlefront. There was a new dynamic in the ever-changing video game world.
This dynamic would not have been the same if it weren’t for a few missteps by the company behind Sonic the Hedgehog.
Funny Meeting You Here
The PlayStation many know and appreciate could have been under the ownership of Sega if both companies came to an agreement. According to the book, “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle That Defined a Generation”, by Blake J. Harris, Sega and Sony were collaborating to create the first PlayStation console. The deal fell through after Sega of Japan decided that their developers should focus on 2D sprite-based games instead of Sony’s proposed 3D-future.
Sega had another opportunity at outpacing the competition with the special effects company, Silicon Graphics. The plan was to create an affordable version of Silicon Graphics’ processors to create a 64-bit gaming experience. Sega turned this opportunity down as well, allowing the company to turn to Nintendo which eventually led to the creation of the massively successful Nintendo 64.
Nintendo too had plans with Sony that eventually led to some rather serious damages to the company name. The two companies collaborated on a disc based add-on that would increase the capabilities of the Super Nintendo system. Consumers would be able to play using standard cartridges or the new SNES-CD format. Due to licensing disagreements, the two companies went their separate ways. Sony would release their own PlayStation in 1994.
Nintendo eventually recovered from failed partnership with Sony, but it marked the swift descent of Sega in the console market. PlayStation then took the company’s place in the videogame console competition.
PlayStation Offers the Freedom of Choice
Sony released the PlayStation in 1994. The new brand of console brought forth a variety of benefits to developers.
The PlayStation used CD-ROMs to play games and music. Not only did CDs hold more data than their cartridge cousins, they were much less expensive to manufacture. Sony was not the sole provider of the format. CDs were practically everywhere.
Developers during the early 3D era liked to use highly detailed cutscenes known as Full Motion Videos. These cutscenes took up a massive amount of storage space. CDs were capable of providing developers with the necessary storage without issue. Games that ended up needing even more space could always include a second disc (see below).
The initial PlayStation remote was an adaptation of the standard controller. There were four face buttons, a directional pad, a start and select button, and four shoulder buttons. This conservative design allowed players to utilize all of the controller’s buttons at the same time.
Sony remodeled the remote in 1997 with the Dual Analog controller. This redesign allowed developers to create games that had precise movement and camera controls within a 3D space with its two control sticks. The overall button layout of the controller was the same, in that players still had access to every button.
The DualShock was the final iteration of the PlayStation controller. This rendition also released in 1997 after Sony refined its design. The DualShock eventually replaced both of the earlier models. The new design added a rumble motor in each handle of the controller. Developers took advantage of this addition to create more immersive experiences for the player.
The PlayStation controller was near perfect for a variety of different genres. The overall design of PlayStation’s controllers have remained consistent even in future generations because of its utilitarian form.
Innovative Gameplay as Nintendo’s Mainstay
Nintendo released its Nintendo 64 in 1996. The console had a successful launch with critically acclaimed titles like Super Mario 64 and Pilot Wings 64. The company revolutionized 3D gaming by finding formulas that work, even by today’s standards.
Super Mario 64 showed players what it meant to move within a 3D space. Mario moved fluidly with a simple push of a stick. Players ran, jumped, and flew in a way that was never before seen. Super Mario is still king of the platforming genre. Very few developers have attempted to create platforming experiences that could compete with the Italian plumber.
Ocarina of Time introduced precise lock-on combat known as Z-Targeting. This allowed the player to move throughout the environment while focusing on a specific enemy or object. This combat mechanic has been seen in nearly every third-person action game since. The title also included monsters of massive scale. Nintendo created a true sense of depth in story and gameplay because of its commitment to the third dimension.
Opinion and Performance
Nintendo stuck with cartridges as their media format of choice. They were much sturdier than discs and loading times were much faster on cartridges. They also worked right out the box. Players were not required to purchase a separate memory card to save their progress.
That being said, the cartridges were expensive and Nintendo controlled all production. They also limited the overall size that games could be, forcing developers to work within set limitations. The N64 cartridge could only hold up to 64 megabytes of data.
Taking all of this into consideration, the Nintendo 64 certainly had its own unique benefits.
The N64 was nearly twice as powerful as the Sony PlayStation. The N64 featured a 93.7 Mhz 64-bit CPU chip along with a 62.5 Mhz RCP and 4MB of RDRAM. The Sony PlayStation was a 32-bit device that housed a 33.8 Mhz CPU and only 2GB of RAM. Nintendo later released The Expansion Pak in 1998. This add-on doubled the amount of RAM to 8MB. There were only a few games that required this add-on but they vastly excelled in overall performance.
The N64 was more multiplayer friendly. Nintendo expanded the old two-player staple to the, now standard, four-player dynamic. This created the era of local multiplayer experiences. Titles like Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and Perfect Dark revolutionized the ways players enjoy games together.
Unique Controller, Multiple Possibilities
The N64 controller is another strong distinction between the two consoles. Nintendo opted for a more unique design for its device that offered a variety of uses. Players could hold the controller in different ways for different gaming experiences.
The controller’s primary focus is in the 3D realm. The analog stick was at the forefront of most N64 titles due to this emphasis. The device allowed for very specific forms of play.
There was a port on the back of the device that allowed for a variety of expansions. Most expansions had very specific uses.
The Transfer Pak allowed players to send Pokémon from GameBoy titles to the Pokémon Stadium series and The Controller Pack acted as an extra memory source.
Nintendo added the rumble feature to their controller in 1997 as well. Instead of creating a new controller, Nintendo developed the Rumble Pak. It plugged into the back of any N64 controller and provided intense force feedback.
The controller was a jack of all trades. It really shined when used for first-party Nintendo titles. Not every part of the controller was developer friendly, however.
There wasn’t nearly as much attention to the directional pad this time around. It did not serve the same function that it did for the generations prior. Characters moved almost exclusively through the analog stick. It was also impossible to have access to all of the buttons at one time. Developers had to choose one layout and stick with it.
Developers that wanted to focus on traditional 2D-gaming experiences found their efforts better appreciated elsewhere, on the PlayStation. 2D game developers were not the only Nintendo supporters jumping ship.
Your Ex-Best Console Friends
Many of the third-party staples that have long found their home on Nintendo moved in with other gaming devices.
Final Fantasy featured six installments on Nintendo platforms. Square, the developer of the franchise, now known as Square Enix, had large aspirations for their successful series. They wanted to take their epic RPG into the third-dimension with full force.
Production of Final Fantasy VII began on the N64 but ended shortly after the developer discovered the limitations of the console’s cartridges. The idea of moving to a CD-ROM based console seemed all the more attractive. Square used the new format to create a large-scale epic that spanned three discs in its entirety.
Final Fantasy VII propelled the company forward in new directions. Square became known far and wide as an innovator in video game visuals. The title has sold over 11 million copies since its release in 1997. Thus began Square’s long running partnership with the Sony brand.
Mega Man, the immensely popular action platformer by Capcom, was a mainstay on Nintendo consoles. The series began on Nintendo, but Mega Man 8 released on the PlayStation in 1996. Mega Man X4 followed shortly in 1997. X4 spawned two more sequels on the PlayStation. This middle trilogy of the X series featured fast-paced gameplay, detailed 2D environments, and highly complex soundtracks.
There was one title featuring the blue bomber on the N64, a 3D game called Mega Man 64. Its known as Mega Man Legends on PlayStation. It was the series’ first foray into 3D. Mega Man Legends focused less on platforming and more on combat. Mega Man explored a vast environment with a wealth of craftable weapons and customization options. Mega Man Legends landed a sequel, aptly named Mega Man Legends 2, on PlayStation hardware, not Nintendo’s. There was a third title in development by Capcom for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system, but it was unfortunately canceled. This left Mega Man Legends on a cliffhanger ending, and on Sony’s devices.
The Marsupial Distinction
As Sega created Sonic to compete with Super Mario, so too did Sony with their conception of Crash Bandicoot.
Andy Gavin is the co-creator of Crash Bandicoot and the game development studio, Naughty Dog. Gavin details Crash’s creation on his personal website.
“We wanted to do what Sega had done with the hedgehog and Warner Bros had done with the Tasmanian Devil and find some kind of animal that was cute, real, and no one really knew about,” said Gavin.
Jason Rubin, the other co-founder of Naughty Dog and co-creator of Crash Bandicoot shares his thoughts on Gavin’s site as well.
“Before Crash characters had no emotion (Pacman, and even Mario), or one dimensional emotions (Sonic was “fast”). Crash had facial emotions that let him speak to you and gave him personal range. Crash wasn’t any one emotion. Crash was Crash. For example, you could see Crash acting like a mime. Sonic and Mario weren’t capable expressing even a mimes range of emotion until after Crash came out. “Itsa me, Mario” just doesn’t cut it, especially when Mario’s face didn’t even animate as he said it!!” said Rubin.
Sony used their ill-mannered mascot to define their brand and promote the complexity of their console. PlayStation was about a different kind of fun. The company targeted players young and old. This led to the development of both kid friendly titles like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon and more mature experiences like Gran Turismo and Wild Arms.
The sixth generation of video game consoles is drawing to a close. Hit titles are still releasing for the PSone and the N64. Nintendo and Sony proved that you can be successful with two very different approaches to video game console design.
At this point in time, Sony is developing the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo is hard at work creating the Nintendo GameCube.
In an ironic twist of fate, Sony helped create their largest rival. Sony’s CEO, Nobuyuki Idei, met with Bill Gates during the development of the PlayStation 2. Idei declined Gates’ offer to include Microsoft’s DirectX software on the PS2. Afterwords, Gates saw the PS2 as a threat to PC gaming, which lead Microsoft to develop what would become the Xbox.
And thus began a new rivalry that still burns bright today.
To be continued in Part 3