Bit Age Times
Issue #14 -
For years, the Super Nintendo was
considered the premier console for role playing games. With great games
like Final Fantasy 2 and 3, Legend of Zelda: A Link From the Past,
Chronotrigger and more, it is easy to see why it gained that reputation.
But in recent years, another system has come by and built a much bigger and
better collection of RPGs. This newer system has captured the crown as the
best system for RPG fans. This system is the Sony Playstation!
I know that RPGs are not the first thing
that people think of when they think of the Playstation. Instead, they
think of huge lineup of sports games, with Electronic Arts, 989 Sports and
others, trying to outdo each other. They think of the great selection of
racing games, like the Grand Turismo series. They may even think of the
wealth of fighters with the Tekken series battling it out with the Battle
Arena series as well as the numerous other series. But RPGs is not
something that comes to mind. But it should!
The biggest advantage that the Playstation
has is that it features many great games from other systems as well as
plenty of new series. If you are a fan of Final Fantasy, the king of the
RPGs, then the Playstation offers a ton of choices! From the multi-million
selling Final Fantasy 7, 8 and 9, to the well revered Final Fantasy Tactics,
you have tons of options. Add in the two Final Fantasy Anthology, one of
which brings two previously unreleased in the United States games. There
are also a handful of Chocobo games, some of which are RPGs.
While the wealth of Final Fantasy games is
enough for some gamers, there is a ton more of worthwhile RPGs. If you are
old school, you can play the Lunar series, with updated graphics and cut
scenes. The very popular and very expensive Chronotrigger from the Super
Nintendo is available on one of the Final Fantasy Chronicles compilations,
along with Final Fantasy 2. The sequel to Chronotrigger, Chrono Cross, is
also available on the Playstation.
If these games are not enough, you have
the Suikoden series, Legend of Dragoon, Legend of Mana, Vandal Hearts and a
ton more! Whether you like turn based RPGs, real time ones, classic or new,
there is something for you on the Playstation!
There was a time in video games when third
party support did not mean a whole lot. Sure it helped a system, but a
company could have a successful system without a ton of 3rd party support.
Of course, this was before the "Video Game Crash". Since then, 3rd party
support can be the difference between success and failure.
I know what you are thinking, the Nintendo
64 did not have alot of 3rd party support and it did pretty good. Well, it
did do good, but it could have done great with some support. The
Playstation smoked it, with 3rd party support being the big difference. So,
you can do all right without alot of support, but if you really want to be a
market leader, you need the support.
The biggest reason for importance of third
party support is for the revenue it generates. Unlike the past, most video
game companies lose money on their systems. There are rumors that Microsoft
will lose over $100.00 on each X-Box sold. Hard to make money that way.
But with enough systems sold, they will get the software and make their
money off licensing. Console makers charge anywhere from $10.00-$15.00 a
game as a fee for publishing on their platform. Take this and times it over
the millions of games they hope to sell and you have some immense profits.
The best example is the Sony Playstation. Before they lowered their
licensing fees, there were sales of somewhere in the vicinity of a half a
billion games for the Playstation. Take that number and times it by the
$15.00 they used to charge for licensing and you get an amazing number, over
$7 billion dollars! That is pure profit for them as they only have to
charge a fee and give their OK. This does not even account for the sales of
systems, joysticks and memory cards. Now you understand why Microsoft got
into the console business.
Besides the large profits generated by
third party support, it is also crucial to build the user base. There needs
to be a large user base to get the third party support, but you cannot
generate the large user base without third party support. Sounds like a
catch 22, but it really isn't. If you build a very good product and give it
alot of support, the third party companies will come.
As the industry has become much bigger and
the players that much stronger, the battle to get third party support,
specifically exclusive games, the stakes are going to get even bigger. Look
for companies like Sony and Microsoft to not only buy up companies, but also
sign companies to exclusive contracts for certain titles. `They can offer
perks like reduced or no licensing fees for certain titles, cash payments or
other incentives. Imagine if Microsoft could secure the rights to the next
Final Fantasy or Metal Gear game? What if Madden only showed up on the
Playstation 2? This could really change the video game landscape and none
of these are out of the realm of possibility.
It should be quite obvious the importance
of third party developers. They have come a long way from when Activision,
the first third party developer, was sued by Atari for releasing games on
their system. They have gone full circle, from despised to embraced and
For a moment in the 90's, Atari was back!
The stock that once languished at under a dollar, had soared to over $15.00
a share! The company that was left for dead, suddenly had a powerful, new
system that was turning heads. The Atari Jaguar showed all the promise in
the world, but it forget one key thing, games.
The Atari Jaguar can be the perfect
blueprint for how not to launch a game system. Besides making a good
system, they did absolutely nothing else right. It used an obsolete medium,
carts, it had almost no third party support and worst of all, it had almost
no worthwhile first party games. Talk about trying to win a race with your
legs tied together, the Jaguar was doomed from the start.
I still remember the first time I saw a
Jaguar in action. After reading articles about it and hearing people
talking about it, I was excited to see it in person. When it was finally
released, I rushed up to a local game store to check it out and possibly buy
one. When I entered the store, I was greeted by the sight of Cybermorph,
possibly one of the ugliest games I had seen in a long time. Here is this
64 bit system with all this potential and what do I see? I see what looks
like Starfox flying through a bunch of blocks. Needless to say, I did not
While one game does not make a system, it
was enough to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I did later look at other
games, but I only saw a few games that really captured my interest and none
of them were worth the investment. Out of the 50+ games for the Jaguar,
there are only about 8 originally released games that were worth owning.
Aliens vs Predator, Tempest 2000, Defender 2000, Missile Command 3D, Iron
Soldier and a few that I cannot think of right now. Not a very good
Two areas that the Jaguar was seriously
lacking in were sports games and fighters. Remember that fighters were very
popular at this time and all the Jaguar had to show was some awful game
called Fight For Life (very prophetic title). For sports games, you had
Troy Aikman Football and Fever Pitch Soccer, two lackluster titles. An NBA
Jam game may have come out for the Jaguar, but I am not certain on that.
Considering the success of sports games in the USA, I think there was some
bad decision making here. While all the old arcade games being remade was
nice, I doubt that they sold many systems. A few more sports games,
especially some good ones, along with an established fighting game or two,
could have done wonders for the Jaguar.
The bottom line of this article is that
despite the promise that the Jaguar showed, without the software, it had no
chance. It is probably one of the best examples of how a lack of software,
especially quality software, will sink a system faster than anything else.
Hopefully other systems will learn a lesson from the Jaguar. Make sure to
have some very good first party games and especially have some serious third
party support. Otherwise, it is a complete waste of time and money to even
bother coming out.
Ever watch Star Trek: The Next
Generation? Know the hologram room or whatever it is called (as you can
see, I am not a big Star Trek fan), where they can live out any adventure,
during any time period in Earth or any other planet's history? Seems like a
bunch of science fiction, right? You may want to think again. While we are
quite a way from something that elaborate, it is becoming more and more of a
The ability to create a virtual world is
something that almost all programmers strive for. With the fast developing
hardware, HDTV, virtual reality gear and greater storage, these virtual
worlds are going to really get larger and more intricate than ever before!
If you look at the Playstation, which came
out in 1995 and at the X-Box, which comes out later this year, you have an
amazing difference. And this is only a 6 year period. If things can
continue to change at this rate, imagine what games will look like, six
years from now. Add in the much higher resolution of HDTV and the immense
storage capacity of DVDs and you have the ability to make such worlds.
There are still a few things that will
hold back this potential. First is the slow acceptance of HDTV. This is
really essential as they are nearly tapped out on what they can do with
regular television. But when it finally becomes affordable, look out! It
is just the high price that is keeping buyers at bay.
The other item that is needed is some
peripherals to give you the feeling of being in the game. First thing we
need is an affordable VR helmet, with tracking. Too many of the helmets
that have been offered, do not come with tracking. For people not familiar
with this, tracking allows the user to turn their head and see all around
them. Imagine being on an alien planet and being able to turn your head and
see the planet's landscape. Think how much this would improve gameplay,
especially with stereo sound, to let you know which direction a sound is
Besides a VR helmet, a controller is
needed that is not as non-realistic as a joystick. A suit that tracked your
movements and provided force feedback, to let you know where you have been
hit and how hard. Also, a voice activated control system that keeps the
person in the game. It would be hard to view a joystick, with a VR helmet
Right now, the biggest obstacle for this
is cost. Like all electronic devices, it takes alot of sales for a product
to reach a impulse price. The few thousand that it would cost for such a
device, not to mention the game system, is enough to keep most gamers away.
But if they can make something that is so absorbing, so incredible that it
becomes a must have item, then the sales can be reached that would bring it
to a reasonable price.
While we are probably a good 10 years or
more from such a setup, it is nice to think about it. Unlike the humorous
attempts at Virtual Reality that they push at arcades, the graphics and
speed are finally getting to a point where it is nearing believable. Let us
hope and maybe one day we will be enjoying such games.
A while back, I spoke of Championship
Manager, a great soccer management program that most people probably never
heard of. I praised it and told everyone what an amazing game it was.
Well, here is another game that was mostly overlooked and deserves much more
The game this time is Daggerfall, a 1st
person dungeon romp that gave us the ability to really forge our own story.
Unlike most RPGs (that stands for Role Playing Game, the general term for
dungeon and dragon inspired games), Daggerfall did not follow a set story.
You did not have to find the green key to the emerald door to proceed in the
story. You could take on whatever mission you wanted and do whatever you
wanted. It allowed freedom that until recently, was unavailable in video
To give you an idea of the freedom of the
game, you could be good or bad. You could join numerous guilds. You could
come down with lycanthropy (where you turn into a werewolf) or even
vampirism. You could buy a house, rob people, the possibilities were
overwhelming. While it did suffer from pixilated graphics, it was a great
game and still remains as one of the best ever! How many 6 year old games
still have a newsgroup going that is dedicated to just one game?
Don't believe me about how deep the game
is, check out this great FAQ about Daggerfall and you will see how much
there is to this amazing game:
For people who want to experience
Daggerfall, but are looking for a more modern version, fear not! Bethesda,
the publisher are doing an updated version called Morrowind: The Elder
Scrolls for the Microsoft X-Box and PC. It is due out sometime next year.
Some reports say it is due in the spring of 2002 and others say the fall of
2002. Knowing Bethesda, expect it in the fall. The game is supposed to
have the same openess of Daggerfall.
The one article that will not die is the
one that I wrote about the upcoming console war between the X-Box, Gamecube,
PS2 and Dreamcast (when I wrote it, the Dreamcast was still alive and
kicking). Well, since then I have seen and heard all kind of stuff about
this big console war that will happen this Christmas season. Guess what, it
is not a console war, it is a skirmish. Nothing more, nothing less.
Confused? Well, read on and find out why.
Let us go back in time, to last holiday
season. A certain game system named Playstation 2 came out and was a huge
hit. Remember that? You may also remember a few other things, like a
shortage of systems? How about scalpers selling systems on eBay for over
$1,000, or more than 3 times the retail price. I see a light coming on in
your head, you do remember. Guess what? All those scalpers and people who
were forced to pay high prices (I still laugh at those idiots, just wait a
few months and save alot of jack), will be back again. Know those limited
number of X-Boxes and Gamecubes that are coming? They will sell out
immediately. Is this because these systems are going to be the best? Is it
because the games coming are the best ever and every true gamer must have
them? No, it is pure greed. Whatever systems do not get bought up by real
consumers, will be scarfed up by profiteers, who want to line their pockets
on the dashed hopes of the consumers who did not preorder in the spring or
decided to not wait out all night in hopes of getting one for that screaming
little brat in your life (of course that screaming little brat may be you).
As you can see, the true champion of the
latest video game war cannot be determined by this holiday season. Both the
X-Box and Gamecube will sell all of their limited quantities, regardless of
how good their systems and software truly are. Also, the Playstation 2 will
sell a ton of systems because they have the games and the other two will
sell out. So when Mom comes looking for a system and the Playstation 2 is
the only choice, guess which one she will buy? Plus, when the sales clerk
shows her the 200+ games that are available, the 1,000+ Playstation 1 games
that are compatible and the DVD feature, it will be an easy sell.
The true battle will be the holiday of
2002. This is when all three systems will have plenty of time to get
production up and have plenty of games and systems available. That is when
the games that the third and first party software companies have been
working on, will see the light of day. One thing to remember about launches
is that many games get pushed out, most of the time before they are really
ready. Publishers usually want at least a game out for launch and even if
it is not fully ready, they still push them out. Ditto for Christmas (don't
believe me, look at Legends of Wrestling, Simpsons Road Rage, both of which
would have greatly benefited from a few extra months), where a publisher
will push out games to make the important holiday season and to hell with
whether or not they are totally ready.
The final note here is that the Christmas
season of 2001 was merely a skirmish in the Great Console Battle. The real
battle will wage throughout 2002 and come to a head in the holiday season of
2002. By then, we will be able to see what the games will really look like
on each system. All their strengths and weaknesses will be more visible.
And the most important of all, we will have a better idea of where they
stand in both total sales of systems as well as how well the software
sells. Add in a few nagging questions like will the Gamecube sell better in
Japan in 2002, than it did in its lackluster debut? How well will the X-Box
sell in 2002, both in the USA and also in the more fickle Japanese market,
as well as the European market? Who will be the first to embrace online
gaming (and don't say Dreamcast, I am talking about the remaining
companies)? Lastly, will the X-Box and the Gamecube continue to get good
third party support and will many companies abandon the Playstation 2?
Here is a quick breakdown of which system
you should get. Look at what kind of gamer you are and decide. You may
find yourself wanting more than one, and if you can afford it, go for it!
1. Are you the kind of person who likes a
sure bet? Do you want a safe choice? If so, buy the Playstation 2. With
over 20 million systems sold, worldwide, a library of over 200 titles and
growing fast and with backwards compatibility of over 1,000 PS1 games, you
have as safe a bet as possible.
2. Are you a risk taker? Do you like the
dark horse, with the big odds? If so, the X-Box is the system for you. It
has the most power, the most potential. With the built-in hard drive and
online capability, it offers the most for the money. But it is also a long
shot. Sure, it has sold well at launch, but so did the Dreamcast. It does
have good third party support now, but most of the titles are ports. Can
you say Tony Hawks 2X, when the PS2 and Gamecube received Tony Hawks 3? It
will be interesting to see how many of these third party companies bring
their big titles in 2002. But with Microsoft's money and determination,
they have a great chance. Remember that Sony was once a dark horse.
3. Are you a loyalist? Do you remain
faithful to one company? Odds are you are a Nintendo fan and the Gamecube
is for you. While the systems may end up in third place (with a weak launch
lineup, two or three games worth owning, depending on who you talk to), they
will be the home of the hottest game franchises, with Mario, Zelda and
Pokemon. While Nintendo says they are more dedicated to having third party
support, I will believe it when I see it. They know that their titles can
and will carry a system. Do you know anyone who bought a Nintendo 64
because of a third party game? Didn't think so. But there were quite a few
Playstations sold because of Final Fantasy. So the Gamecube may be in third
place now, but that can easily change when the next Mario game ships.|
One major problem with video games is they
have been very linear. You have been given a set path to follow and it is
up to you to go from Point A to Point B. While this is fine for most games,
there comes a time when you wish you could go further. Ever wish you could
race that car into the stands? Have you ever wanted to run your quarterback
off the field and go into the stands? These may seem a bit extreme, but you
know where I am coming from. No matter how big the worlds look that they
create, there are still barriers that you cannot go past. Play Crazy Taxi
and see how many well placed fences and walls are there to limit where you
can go. Wouldn't you like to be able to drive wherever you want? Wouldn't
you like to stop and shop at the stores you pass?
Wish no more! The days of games offering
more freedom are coming! With games like Shenmue, Grand Theft Auto 3 and
the upcoming Morrowind and Project Ego, the days of wishing may be a thing
of the past. Finally the gamer is getting some much deserved freedom and it
will be interesting to see what they do with it.
There were games in the past that did
offer some freedom (see the review of Daggerfall in this very issue), but
they were as rare as hen's teeth. But in the past year, we saw two games
that pushed the boundaries and offer more freedom to the gamer. While
neither one offered complete freedom, they both took a positive step
Shenmue, the epic game from Sega, offered
the gamer more freedom than any game in recent memory. For the first time,
you could waste your money on stuff that normally only was there for
decoration. Want to buy a soda and drink it? Now you could! Ever wish you
could walk into a virtual arcade and play games? It was now possible.
Plus, the NPC (non player characters) now followed routines. They responded
to questions based on what you asked them. As you learned more, you could
ask different questions and get different responses than from previous
conversations. Also, they went about their lives. They went to work, went
home and lived their lives. They didn't just stand there all day, every day
as they did in the past. That man who you talked to in the afternoon, would
be gone in the evening. Stores opened and closed at certain times. Seasons
changed. The world really came alive!
But there were still limitations in
Shenmue. While the conversations changed, you did not have any control over
what you said. There was a preset phrase that was based on where you were
in the game. Also, most store could be entered, but that was it. You could
not eat at the restaurant. The clothes at the clothing store were not for
sale (at least not to you). That motorcycle you saw, could not be taken.
While there was more interactivity, there were still plenty of limitations,
ones that let you know that it was still a video game, one that was still on
rails, only the rails got bigger and there were more turns in the track.
The other big game to offer freedom is
Grand Theft Auto 3, possibly one of the most ambitious games ever created!
While very adult in its nature, any real gamer owes it to themselves to try
this game. It is by far one of the best games that I have ever played (and
I have been playing games since Pong)! It is that good!
The game offered tons of freedom! First
off, there are missions you can complete, but you can do them in the order
you want. Some need to be done first to open others, but there is still
alot of freedom to how many and when you want to complete them. Also, many
of the missions can be completed in many different ways. One mission in
particular, involves destroying three laundry trucks. You can smash into
them with a car and destroy them that way. You can throw grenades at them
and try to destroy them or you can hijack them and destroy them that way.
The game is really open ended like this! The city is huge and you can
search to your heart's content. Steal any car you want, beat anyone up or
just ride the subway. There is so much that you can do, it is mind
boggling. You can also play the role of a police officer, taxi driver,
fireman or ambulance driver. Each one offers its own challenges and are fun
diversions! You can drive pretty much anywhere you want! The game is so
deep and offers so much that you can easily get 100 hours of gameplay out of
But once again, there are limitations to
this large world. While there are a ton of buildings, all but a few are
closed off. You can walk up to the gas station, but you cannot enter it.
Want to spend your hard earned loot? You can buy guns and that is about
it. There is no eating, drinking or any other necessities of life. While
the artificial intelligence is quite good, there are still signs that it is
truly artificial. Police only come after you for big crimes. You can speed
past them and run the red lights and they ignore you. But if you run into
them, it is a different story. You can punch someone and they will get up
and sometime they just walk away, no problem (of course, some will run or
will turn around and beat you up). You can steal a cab and switch to cabbie
mode and usually your first fare will be the person you just kicked out of
the cab, when you stole it. The funny thing is they are usually headed to
the gun store. Another big problem is that you can cause all the damage you
want and it will be cleaned right up. I have never seen workers on the city
payroll work this fast! Guess it would be too taxing on the system to keep
track of all the damage (especially after a midnight run with a semi truck).
So while both games took major steps
forward in player interactivity and in the development of more realistic and
interactive worlds, they are still just steps. Let us hope that future
games like Morrowind, Project Ego and even the next Rockstar game, State of
Emergency, will offer even more options for the player. I do not know about
you, but I have tasted freedom and it has only made me hungrier for more. I
do not want the closed confinements of the past, but rather the wide open
spaces of the future!
I must start off with an apology. Someone
sent me a very good article on the 3DO, but with some computer problems that
I have experienced, it was lost as well as his name and email address. I do
apologize for not publishing it.
With that said, a new issue has finally
been released! As you can see, Bit Age Times does not follow a set release
date. I am hoping to do it more often in 2002, but I cannot guarantee it.
I do plan on doing more coverage of the new systems as I am greatly enjoying
them and this will make it easier for me to write the issue.
Have yourself a great New Years and I look
forward to 2002, which is shaping up to possibly be the greatest year in
video game history! With three systems vying for first place, it will be
the gamers who benefit the most!