A history of the last 50 years in video gaming
In 1986, Nintendo had been toying with the idea of introducing disc-based technologies into their consoles for some time. But with the current hardware available to them, their rewritable magnetic discs could be easily wiped out and erased, coupled with the fact that these discs lacked any sort of copy protection, and were easy prey to piracy.
With the emergence of the CDROM/XA programming, Nintendo's interest was piqued. Simultaneously developed by Sony and Philips, CD-ROM/XA is an extension of the CD-ROM format that combines compressed audio, visual, and computer data, allowing all to be accessed simultaneously and, at the time, making it extremely difficult to pirate. Nintendo initially began to work with Sony to develop a CD-ROM add-on for their current 16-bit Super Nintendo and Super Famicom consoles. A contract was eventually brokered, and work began on the prototypes.
Deal, or No Deal....?
By May of 1991, The "SNES-CD" was ready to go, and was set to be announced at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show. However, when Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi, upon reading the original 1988 contract between Sony and Nintendo, he realized that this agreement essentially handed Sony almost complete and total control over any and all of Nintendo's titles written on the SNES-CD format. Furious, Yamauchi decided that the contract was totally unacceptable and secretly canceled all plans for the Nintendo-Sony SNES CD attachment. Instead of announcing the partnership between Sony and Nintendo, at 9 a.m. on the day of their C.E.S. presentation, Nintendo chairman Howard Lincoln instead stepped onstage and revealed that Nintendo had allied with Philips, and that Nintendo was abandoning all previous work Nintendo and Sony had, up until then, accomplished.
Lincoln and then current president of Nintendo of America, Minoru Arakawa, had flown to Philips headquarters in Europe prior to the announcement and had formed a new and decidedly different partnership—one that would give Nintendo complete and total control over its licenses on Philips machines.
Hell Hath No Fury......
After their partnership fell through with Nintendo, Sony considered halting their research, but ultimately decided to use what they had developed thus far and remake it into a complete, stand-alone console. When Nintendo caught wind of this decision, it filed a lawsuit claiming breach of contract and attempted, in U.S. federal court, to obtain an injunction against the release of this "Play Station" device on the grounds that Nintendo (theoretically) somehow still owned the name. The case ultimately denied Nintendo's injunction and, in October 1991, the first hint of this new "Play Station" was revealed.
By the end of 1992, Sony and Nintendo, having once again attempted a mutual partnership, reaching a somewhat shaky (and by some accounts, one-sided) deal whereby the new Play Station would still have a port for SNES cartridges, but Nintendo would maintain the rights and receive the bulk profits from the games, and the SNES would continue to use the Sony-designed audio chip. However, dissatisfied with this set-up, Sony decided in early 1993 to rework the Play Station to target a new generation of hardware and software. The SNES cart port was dropped and the space between the names "Play Station" was removed, renaming itself "PlayStation." With that done, Nintendo's involvement in Sony's new CD driven console was all but done and done.
Having heard whispers of Sony PlayStation's inevitable, and formidable, entry into the still-ongoing console wars, Sega rushed to call out a more powerful platform to cut off potential new competitors in the marketplace. For two years, beginning in February 1993 Sega began to design the new hardware. Since the project was top secret, it was secretly dubbed "Project Aurora," and was being touted as the most powerful console platform at the time. However, its initial design, two CPUs working with six other processors was, by all accounts, an extremely difficult endeavor. Many of the ancillary chips in the system were extremely difficult to work with, or rather they proved difficult to have them work together in tandem, which further increased the complexity of the system because the components were not originally designed to work together at all. Later day rumors suggest that the original design called for a single CPU, but upon hearing of the PlayStation's potential capabilities, a second processor was added late in development to increase potential performance.
Further hampering Project Aurora's release, many third-party developers cited the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring some to write in completely new assembly languages to achieve good performance. Still other developers had to almost entirely rewrite their Build engines to take advantage of Aurora's unconventional hardware. Initial side by side testing of unreleased ports for the PlayStation, proved that Aurora's performance was found to be significantly inferior. Eventually, however, later programming techniques employed by Sega saw an improvement in performance, and Project Aurora was officially retitled as the Sega Saturn.
The Saturn was released in Japan on November 22, 1994, barely six weeks ahead of its newest rival, Sony's PlayStation. Approximately 170,000 machines were sold on the first day. Solid numbers for Sega. Unfortunately, this is the last bit of good news Sega was to receive with the Saturn.
Wait for iiiit......Wait for iiiiiiit....
As 1994 drew to a close, and as the era of a the 16-bit generation was reaching its final days here in North America, the gaming community was eagerly anticipating the new 32-bit machine monster from Japan. In 1995, Sega president Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn would launch in the U.S. on "Saturnday", September 2, 1995. However, on May 11, 1995, at the first Electronic Entertainment Expo, Kalinske announced that this "Saturnday" date was a trick and that the system was being released immediately at a full 4 months ahead of schedule.
This "surprise attack" backfired on Sega for several reasons. First, The Saturn's high price point of $399 let Sony announce a $299 price for the PlayStation as a response to the Saturn's earlier E3 announcement. Second, The early launch also meant that the Saturn had only 6 games available when it launched, since most of Sega's third party games were slated to be completed by the original September launch date. Third, man of Sega's third party publishers, particularly those based in North America, were angered at the surprise launch date since many of their own titles were far from completed. Essentially the only software available on the shelves at launch was software made and released by Sega. Rumors would later suggest that this early launch was a calculated move to give Sega larger sales of their software at the expense of independent developers.
Fourth, and possibly the most damaging of them all for the Sega Saturn's fortune and future, several retailers who were not included in the early launch program, most notably Wal-Mart and KB Toys, became outright hostile towards Sega of America. Some retailers aggressively supported Sega's rivals. This resulted in Sega having difficulties with distributors for a significant time period. Sega's actions angered KB Toys alone so much that they refused to release the Saturn at all, and actually went as far as having their distributors remove anything Sega-related in stores to provide more retail space for the Saturn's competition instead.
By the time of the PlayStation's release on September 9, 1995, the Saturn had sold approximately 80,000 systems in North America. For all intents and purposes, the Sega Saturn was a flop, causing Sega to lose $267.9 million and lay off 30% of its workforce.
Having been beaten to the punch by Sega, The PlayStation was launched in Japan on December 3, 1994, with a North America and European release nearly a year later on September 9, 1995 and September 29, 1995 respectively. However, with the Saturn fracas still fresh on retailers minds, Sony enjoyed a very successful launch with successful titles including the Battle Arena Toshinden, Doom, Warhawk, Air Combat, Philosoma, and Ridge Racer franchises. It should be noted that, in addition to playing games, the PlayStation had the ability to read and play audio CDs and was the first home console unit to utilize separate memory cards to save in-game progress.
Perhaps the biggest coup to occur in Sony's favor was the exclusive release of Square's (Now Square-Enix) blockbuster Final Fantasy VII. Originally, FF VII was to be released for the SNES, but was eventually pushed back as a release title for the upcoming Nintendo 64. But with the limitations of data storage on cart based games, coupled with the fact that games were becoming considerably more complex (in story content, graphical enhancements and sound), not to mention that the cost of production was considerably more cheaper, Sony had effectively demonstrated the viability and flexibility of CD-based gaming. Many big name third party developers began to give Sony weight as it entered the market in force. And, by the end of its near 11 year run, The PlayStation had become the first home gaming console to top over 100 million units sold.
Late to the Party....
With the new hardware releases from Sega and PlayStation, Nintendo decided to finally throw its hat back into the ring. With the SNES no longer a viable competitor in the marketplace, a new console design began to take form. Dubbed "Project Reality", Nintendo's new entry into the console wars went underway.
Project Reality faced several roadblocks while being developed. One of which was Nintendo's refusal to adopt the CD-ROM format, instead opting to retain the cartridges that had been proven to be limiting in storage space, graphical punch, and sound. This in turn left many third party developers feeling cold. Many began jumping ship, opting to try their hand with the more successful and more mature rated PlayStation. Also, because of the carts, the smaller storage size limited the number of textures, resulting in many games that had blurry graphics, low-resolution textures, and what became known as "distance fog." Despite all of this, Nintendo's new 64 console was ready to go. The N64 was first unveiled in playable form to the public on November 24, 1995, at the 7th Annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan. Nintendo's next-generation console was introduced, with the tagline of "Get N or Get Out!"
The N64 was officially released in Japan June 23, 1996, followed by a North American release on September 29, 1996, and finally a European on March 1, 1997. In the US alone,it managed to sell 500,000 units in the first four months of release and enjoyed a fairly well received life. All told, however, Japanese sales were significantly less than what had been anticipated. Later day speculation suggests that the N64's lower popularity in Japan was due to the lack of role-playing games. In fact during its lifespan, only 6 out of the total 386 games released for the N64 were actually considered RPG's. Two of which were only available in Japan.
Despite this, the N64 is remembered mostly by several high profile and highly successful game titles. Notable among these were the GoldenEye 007, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Perfect Dark, and the Turok franchises. GoldenEye 007 is still remembered today as the singularly best FPS game ever, with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina being regarded as the N64's best story driven game of the last decade.
Time Marches On...
As with all things, time does indeed march forward. And as the 90's, as the 20th century itself, drew to a close, as high profile releases were either less than stellar or exceeded previously conceived expectations, the looming 21st century would see enough drama, enough upsets, and enough conflict to fuel its own reality TV show.
And it all started with Bill Gates.
To Be Continued...!!!
The Gaming (r)Evolution Part IV
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Aug 30, 2012.
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