[[The Story So Far]]
Many have compared this recent period to that during which the alignment of the planets occurred on the 5th of May, 2000.
In fact some may argue that the, almost, simultaneous release of the XBox and the Gamecube is even rarer than the planetary alignment, since no similar occurrence in the past has ever been recorded.
This period has also been one of the most active in the history of the video game industry. Amidst an explosion of press releases, light shows and grandiose speeches, two of the industry's leading companies have released their consoles, marking the beginning of the next generation of gaming. All the startled onlooker/consumer can say is "Let The Games Begin".
Since logic is usually the first victim of publicity, a more detailed understanding of what each console actually does and how it works, is essential. In an attempt to educate the gamers guess when deciding which console to buy, we will examine each consoles characteristics and offer some insight on the differences between them.
Although we will report the numbers associated with each machine, you are advised to see beyond them. Many aspects of system hardware can affect performance and of course any console is as good as the games that you can get for it.
This comprehensive guide of what's under the hood of each console will begin by exploring the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2. In the coming days, info on, the now discontinued, Dreamcast will also be published just so that you can have a more complete picture of the changing console times.
The review will start with the history leading to each console release and will continue with details on the hardware specs for each machine.
[NOTE: The purpose of this review is simple. We try to offer the technical data associated with the consoles in order to give you an idea of the effort and possibly the intentions of the manufacturers. All technical data presented is as reported by the companies who actually make the consoles. If you have any reason to believe that the numbers in this article are incorrect please EMAIL us and we will be glad to relay your concerns to the company involved.
In the process of composing this review we felt that some parts of processor function and graphics features should be explained, we did so as the need arose. These explanations may seem to make a section of the review seem more focused on one console, this is not the case though, since the details apply to all consoles.
Throughout this review we stress that you, the actual fund raiser for all these companies, should look beyond the numbers.
We also stress that in many cases the actual figures mentioned cannot yet be utilised. Be careful about how much importance you assign to the figures, as we mention in the article, "Any console is only as good as the titles made for it".
Megagames will not delete any comment posted, unless it is vulgar in nature AND has no meaningful content. All comments offering views or constructive criticism are welcome.]
Follow the link below and to the right to begin your exploration of the history of the consoles...
In many ways SONY is the Godfather of today's console systems. Nintendo invited SONY into the industry in 1988 by agreeing to have the Japanese giant manufacture a CD - Rom attachment for the, then upcoming Super Nintendo system.
This attachment, labeled the Super Disc, never made it to the SNes due to licensing and contractual problems. SONY however, released a modified version, as part of the Playstation system in 1991.
The original PlayStation didn't go far, it took 200 units before SONY decided to redesign it. The initial design allowed the device to read Super Nintendo cartridges, Audio CD's as well as CD-ROMs based on SONY and Phillips CD-ROM/XA format. This allowed the processor to access audio, video and computer data simultaneously.
The redesign led to the Playstation X (PSX). SONY had discontinued the Super Nintendo port and decided to focus on CD-Rom games. The hardware inside the device had also received a hefty upgrade making the PSX the pinnacle of console technology at the time of its release, December 1994 in Japan and September 1995 in the U.S. and Europe. The PSX quickly became the most popular console and the only natural step for SONY was to follow it up with something exceptional. Six years later the PlayStation 2 (PS2) was released.
The Xbox has a much briefer and simpler history. Microsoft was never really into the hardware market but they have always been into the money making one. The acute cash sniffing sense of the company's chairman suggested that the time was right for Microsoft to invest in console production. Having had the advantage of sitting in the shadows and watching other companies succeed or crash and burn, Microsoft hope to balance their relative inexperience in the hardware scene with an in depth understanding of the marketing processes involved.
The mystery for some analysts lies in the hardware the Xbox carries. Microsoft decided to arm their console with hardware which by far exceeds the requirements of the current gamer, they obviously didn't have to. The answer can probably be found in the question. It is most likely that Microsoft intended the Xbox as a Trojan horse in order to get into as many households as possible. Once sales of the box reach the desired levels, it is almost certain that the console will be used to offer a multitude of services. That would also explain the Xbox's overwhelming hardware, since it must have been designed with long term plans in mind. It is likely that in time add-ons for everything, from .network access to vacuum cleaner adaptors will be introduced for the console.
It is obvious that the Xbox will be a long term investment since Microsoft will go out of their way in order to support it for quite some time. Look out for various Free Xbox giveaways in true Trojan horse fashion?
Nintendo is widely accepted as the company responsible for moving the gamer from the Atari age of gaming, Pac-Man and Paddle games, to the more demanding Super Mario Bros age. The first console launched by Nintendo in the mid 80's revolutionized gaming, changing the industry forever. Ever since then Nintendo stood on the forefront of the console world enjoying tremendous success. That is, until SONY released the PSX in 1995. I am sure that date is deeply carved on Nintendo executive minds, as the day the good days were officially over.
But Nintendo had spent a long time at the top and was not prepared to remain second best in the field. One day after the PS2 was revealed to the world, Nintendo announced that it research and design was well under way for a next generation console. The project, announced in March 1999, was codenamed Project Dolphin. In the 24th of August 2000, Nintendo finally unveiled their console which was given the official name "Gamecube".
Although lacking a DVD player, a feature carried by both its major competitors, the GameCube boasts some impressive features and manages to remain quite a bit cheaper than the PS2 and the Xbox. "After all it is all about games" claim Nintendo.
To find out the full and detailed hardware specs of the PS2, XBox and GameCube press the link below and to the right...
The PS2 came filled with the latest developments in gaming at the time of its release.
A look at each of the hardware components comprising the PS2 offers some insight into the reasons behind the systems success.
- The processor used by the PS2 is the 128-bit "Emotion Engine".
- It operates at a clock speed of 294.912 MHz and it is a 0.18 micron custom CPU manufactured by Toshiba.
- Floating point unit (FPU) co-processor operates at 6.2 gigaflops.
- Bus Speed is at 3.2 GB per second.
- The original PSX CPU core is used as the I/O processor and operates at 33.8 MHz or
37.5 MHz (selectable).
Although a mere hardware listing can tell some things about what to expect of the PS2 it hides the true story. A more detailed review of the operating method of the PS2 processor can shed some light into the consoles performance?
PS2 Processor Operation
The PS2 processor is a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) which basically means that it is designed for simpler and fewer computations. RISC designs have the added advantage of being superscalar, which means that they can perform multiple instructions at the same time. In many ways the intricacies of the RISC design help counter the point made by many that the PS2 has a "slower" processor than the next generation consoles such as the Xbox and the GameCube (733 MHz and 485 MHz respectively).
FPU or Floating Point Unit is a processor dedicated to handling more complex mathematical procedures usually involving non integers i.e. numbers with decimal points. In order to avoid the delay which would be caused if the central processor carried out these operations, all non integers are sent to the FPU.
The work of these processors is measured in Floating Point Operations per second, the "float" term is derived from the decimal point which moves or floats from place to place depending on the operation carried out.
So when you see in the specifications that the PS2's (FPU) co-processor operates at 6.2 gigaFLOPS you know that it can perform 6.2 billion floating point operations in one second.
The Xbox possesses, by far, the fastest processor found in any console. Its impressive hardware begins with the machines heart, a custom modified, Intel Pentium III 733 MHz processor with a bus speed of 6.4 gigabytes per second. Compare this with the 3.2 Gb/s and 2.6 Gb/s offered by the PS2 and GameCube respectively and you can figure out why the Xbox is also known as the Hulk, it's green and it's a beast.
Although it is well known that the GameCube does not pack the MHz punch of the Xbox, it tries to compensate by design. The console is "driven" by the Gekko, which is an IBM 485 MHz processor, sporting the IBM PowerPC architecture. The system offers a bus speed of 2.6 Gb/s and more impressively 256 Kb of level 2 (L2) cache memory. It is obvious that Nintendo have tried to make up for what they lack in numbers, by using a more efficient design.
The Cube F.P.U. operates at 10.5 gigaFLOPS.
The PS2 was also the first console to introduce increased graphics processing capabilities, press the link below and to the right to find out about the many innovations the PS2 forced on to the console scene and how the competitors reacted...
- Clock Speed - 150 MHz
- Embedded cache
- 4 MB VRAM
- Resolution: 640x480 or 320x240 interlaced
- Colors: 24-bit (16,777,216) maximum, as well as 16-bit (65,536) mode
- Polygon rendering: 16 million with curved surfaces; 36 million with fogging; 38 million with lighting; 66 million raw polygons.
- Alpha channel
- Bezier surfacing
- Gouraud shading
- MIP mapping
- Perspective correction
The impressive hardware armory of the PS2 includes many hardware graphics effects such as an alpha channel, Bezier surfacing, perspective correction and MIP mapping.
The Alpha Channel:
In the PS2 the Alpha Channel is used to add a transparency effect on to objects. This effect is widely used in digital video, animation and video games.
The use of the Alpha Channel is executed in 5 main steps:
-8 bits are assigned to each of the three colors red, Green and Blue, in order to specify the amount of each needed to create a specific color. 24 bits in total.
-Another 8 bits are used to create a gray-scale mask that acts as a separate layer for representing levels of object transparency.
-The degree of transparency is determined by how dark the gray in the alpha channel is.
-By making an area of the mask dark gray, you can make an object appear to be very transparent
-By making it light grey, you can create special fog or water effects.
is a 3D modeling process that calculates how many polygons are needed to create an object. It bases the number on the level of detail necessary to make the object appear to be smooth to the viewer. The PS2 only performs these calculations on Bezier-surfaced objects that are in the game. Perspective correction makes the texture map resize at the same rate as the object that it is mapped on.
Is a form of texture mapping controlling the apparent size of each texture map? During this process, the processor will make an object appear more detailed as you move closer to the object in the game. The PS2 uses these maps in a method called trilinear MIP mapping:
-The distance from your viewpoint to an object in the game is calculated.
-The texture maps for the object are loaded. The three available maps are 64x64 (large), 32x32 (medium), and 8x8 (small).
-The exact size that the image map needs to be is determined.
-Based on the size of the object, the decision on which two texture maps will be used is made.
-The processor then calculates averages between the two texture maps, creating a custom texture map which is then applied to the object.
-In order to conserve processor power the system always attempts to use the smallest texture map possible given the distance between object and viewer. The smaller the texture map, the lower the processing load. On nearby objects, however, small texture maps create a grainy surface that looks bad, so larger texture maps have to be used.
As it is expected the Xbox carries impressive graphics hardware, designed by one of the leading graphics companies, NVIDIA.
As with the processor, the 3D Graphics Processor carried by the Xbox is a custom built 250 MHz unit which can produce 1 trillion operations per second and up to 125 million polygons per second. The Xbox graphics processor also supports high resolutions of up to 1920x1080 pixels.
In an obvious move to combat NVIDIA's participation in the Xbox, Nintendo decided to use a graphics processor powered by ATI. The chip called "Flipper", offers 162 MHz of processing power and helps the console produce 12 million polygons per second. Considering the N64 produces 150.000 polygons per second this is a big jump for Nintendo.
Some of the features carried by the Cube's graphics processor are: Fog, Sub-pixel Anti-aliasing, 8 Hardware Lights, Alpha Blending, Virtual Texture Design, Multi-texturing, Bump Mapping, Environment Mapping, MIP Mapping, Bilinear Filtering, Trilinear Filtering, Ansitropic Filtering, Real-time Hardware Texture Decompression (S3TC) Real-time Decompression of Display List, HW 3-line de-flickering filter.
In order to get a clearer view of the differences between consoles you can compare Xbox's 250 MHz processor producing 125 million polygons per second to the PS2's 150 MHz graphics processor producing 70 million polygons per second and GameCube's 162 MHz graphics processor producing 12 million polygons per second. Based on these figures and considering that polygons are the basis on which 3D images are built it is easy to conclude that the Xbox can produce a sharper, more detailed image.
Sticking to numbers however, is not the best way to judge consoles. It is widely accepted by hardware specialists that the Xbox and PS2 figures will probably never be used by the
consoles and that Nintendo's figures are closer to being realistic. It is however, safe to say that the Xbox and the PS2, especially the former, offer more of a long term investment than GameCube.
32 MB RDRAM
Custom produced by SONY
Exclusive SONY 4.7-GB DVD. Also supports original Play Station CDs, Video DVD support, Audio CD support.
Extra Features include:
Two memory card slots, Two USB ports, FireWire port (also known as SONY iLink) and one Type III PCMCIA card slot.
The 64 Mb available will run at 200 MHz DDR (Double Data Rate) and will offer the unique option for game developers to assign the available memory, as it is required, between the CPU and the graphics processor.
The Xbox carries a custom made 3D audio processor which supports 256 audio channels and Dolby AC3 encoding.
Originally announced to have a capacity of 10 Gb the hard drive was later reduced to 8 Gb, which still is an impressive feature of the console.
Media Processor/ Broadband:
The Xbox has a Media Communications Processor or (MCP), produced by NVIDIA, which helps with broadband connectivity as well as a 10/100 Mb/s Ethernet device allowing game play over cable or DSL connections.
A 56k modem will soon be made available as an optional add on. It is also expected that Microsoft will complete a deal with Japanese giants NTT Do Como in order to provide internet access for Japanese owners of the Xbox.
-5X DVD drive
-8Mb removable memory card
Nintendo offers a custom made 16-bit digital audio processor supporting 64 audio channels.
The GameCube has 40 Mb of memory, consisting of 24 Mb of 1T-SRAM and 16 Mb of 100-MHz DRAM with an approximate 10ns of Sustainable Latency.
The GameCube has a built in 56k Connexant v90 modem which connects to a serial port. Users will be able to play games using an online network. A broadband attachment will also be made available for the GameCube some time in the future.
The GameCube is the first Nintendo console not to use Game Cartridges. This means that N64 games are not compatible with the console. Games will be stored, using an exclusive Nintendo format, on 1.5 Gb optical discs which will be 8 cm in diameter, a good 4 cm smaller than a normal CD.
The lack of extensive features on the GameCube is justified by Nintendo as part of the effort to keep the price of the console low.
[[THE GAMES WAR]]
Time and time again, we hear and read of the consoles being the high tech weapons in the arsenals of Microsoft, Nintendo and SONY. They display them everywhere we look at, shiny, commanding, almost overwhelming. But any weapon is just an ornament without its ammunition and this time they all know that. All the companies involved have been engaged in an underground war in order to secure the most lucrative titles. The key word in this war is Exclusivity. The nature of this warfare seems to fit Microsoft like a glove. Dealing in contracts, secret deals and trade offs is what the Redmond giant does best. On the other hand Nintendo comes with a long tradition of games and has some of the best loved titles in game history. SONY can match both companies just by the sheer volume of titles available for the console, made even greater by the PS1 backward compatibility feature.
The PS2 uses a proprietary DVD format for storing its games while it can also accept games on CD and is able to accept PS1 games. The distinctive blue color of the PS2's discs makes its games easily recognizable.
When the PS2 launched in the US it had an unprecedented launch library of 26 titles. The list of development partners was also great including: 3DO, Acclaim, Activision, Agetec, Capcom, Eidos Interactive, Electronic Arts, Infogrames, Interplay, Kemco, Koei, Konami, Lucas Arts Entertainment Company, Midway, Namco, Take 2/Rockstar Games, Tecmo, THQ, and Working Designs. At the time of released SONY had an amazing 270 titles in development for the system and 301 content developers and publishers signed-up to create titles for PlayStation 2.
SONY was one of the first companies to see the necessity of assisting developers in the process of creating content for their console. The original PlayStation tools were supplied in the form of a PC extension board that required a PC or workstation. Connecting the PC or workstation to a network added further complexity to the development process. In contrast, the PlayStation2 development tools combined two separate operational modes in one unit: regular PlayStation programming/debugging mode and a new workstation mode. In the new mode, the tools could be used as a Linux-based workstation enabling developers to create graphics in the PlayStation2 development environment that were only previously possible on a separate workstation. When the PS2 development tools were employed with an Ethernet network connection, the result was a seamless development environment.
To attempt to list the titles that accompany the PS2 without missing some important games is impossible. It is just enough to say that the console has a great variety of games many of which have become classics. SONY's baby has also been around long enough to have the ability to supply some older but still great games at fairly decent prices.
One of the first companies to revolutionize the console, Nintendo needs no introduction. With SEGA out of the console production scene, Nintendo are rightfully referred to as the "Godfathers" of the modern day console. According to the producer the GameCube is having one of the best launches for a console ever, selling at a rate of, approximately, 27 per minute, nonstop, since its November 18th introduction. With a total of 600,000 units sold the Cube is bound to raise expectations as far as games are concerned. Nintendo have confused and dismayed their loyal followers, by first claiming that their games would target the very young gamer and then releasing some games which are obviously meant for a more mature audience.
Having, for the first time, introduced the use of an optical disc, as a means of storing games, Nintendo are now involved in a frenzied attempt to secure prestigious titles for their platform as well as to develop exciting sequels to their, already successful, series.
Upon launch, the Cube offered a choice of almost a dozen titles including Luigi's Mansion, a puzzle-adventure featuring familiar characters from the Mario games, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, a flight action game, and Wave Race: Blue Storm, a jet-ski racing game. As the Christmas season is already well under way, new titles have begun arriving such as NBA Courtside 2002 (Nintendo), Super Smash Bros. Melee, a fighting game featuring many classic Nintendo characters, Pikmin, an action strategy game, NFL Quarterback Club 2002 (Acclaim) and The Simpsons: Road Rage (EA), a racing game featuring Homer, Bart and the rest of the Simpson family.
As anticipation and hesitation, concerning the nature of the games to come for the GameCube, grows, everyone looks to the future in order to attempt to decipher developer intentions.
It is with much relief that Nintendo fans look at some titles expected in 2002.
A small list of those titles expected to enhance the consoles? image follows:
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (Nintendo) release: 2/11/02
Batman: Dark Tomorrow (Kemco) release: 3/02
Bloody Roar: Primal Fury (Activision) release: 3/02
James Bond 007 in... Agent Under Fire (EA) release: 3/02
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (Midway) release: 6/30/02
There seems to be a strong developing trend going for GameCube games so there is hope yet and with deals such as the recent one with EA concerning the upcoming Bond title and games such as The Matrix, The legend of Zelda and Resident Evil 3:Nemesis (all with a To Be Announced release date) things can only get better.
Microsoft have managed, extremely well, to compensate for their inexperience in console production by using their finely tuned predatory market instincts. With swift,
no-nonsense moves, Microsoft managed to secure some prestigious developers such as
id Software (Quake series), Eidos Interactive (Tomb Raider series), Bungie software (Halo).
Their success in creating an environment of excitement and awe surrounding the Xbox has also raised expectations to unprecedented levels.
In order to fulfill such hopes Microsoft announced an 11-title publishing agreement to premiere many of Sega's upcoming games on the Microsoft XBox console. In addition, Sega has plans to utilize the Xbox video game system's broadband online gaming capabilities. The games announced include:
Jet Grind Radio Future
Gamers should get ready to skate, grind and trick to a new beat.
The most recent version of "Sega GT" delivers adrenaline-filled, full-contact auto racing that allows gamers to design, build and customize the world's hottest cars and capture all the heated thrills found in high-performance driving.
"GUN VALKYRIE," the next-generation shooter for Xbox, takes players to war to ignite the battlefields by joining an elite force of mercenaries to battle it out for control of the universe.
Xbox owners will be the first to return to the stunning world of Panzer Dragoon. They can take flight once again to explore the lush beauty, fierce technology and mysterious dragon-breeding culture of one of Sega's most sought-after franchises.
Upon the Xbox's launch Microsoft had, in place, deals with 150 game developers including Sega, Capcom, Namco, Acclaim, Interplay, Take-Two, Ubi Soft Entertainment, LucasArts, Crave and Sierra Entertainment. Add to that Microsoft's own publishing house, which will initially produce 30% of all titles for the console and you have an impressive arsenal.
The titles available for the Green Monster at launch were : Dead or Alive 3 from Tecmo,
Madden NFL 2002, NASCAR Thunder 2002 and Cel Damage from Electronic Arts; NHL Hitz 20-02 from Midway; NASCAR Heat 2002, TransWorld Surf and Test Drive Off Road-Wide Open from Infogrames; Mad Dash Racing from Eidos; TDK's Shrek; 4x4 Evo 2 from Godgames; Dark Summit from THQ; Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x from Activision; and Konami's AirForce Delta Storm.
Another 20 titles are to hit stores before the end of the holiday season and a steady stream of games will continue after that.
A short but indicative list of upcoming Xbox titles will help you form an idea of what's to come.
The Matrix (Interplay) Spring 2002
The Thing (Universal Interactive Studios) Q2 2002
Spider Man - The Movie (Activision) TBA 2002
Legion - Legend of Excalibur (Midway) Q3 2002
Duality (Phantagram) Fall 2002
This is the classic story of the newcomer, Microsoft, stirring things up and preparing for a fight with the established Don, in this case Nintendo. When SONY did, much the same thing by taking on Nintendo and SEGA with PS, no one gave them a fighting chance. However, they persevered and became one of the best selling consoles in the history of gaming. Now SONY find themselves in the same position their rivals were in, will they survive? Will Microsoft manage to conquer this field too?
There is obviously no certain winner of this war. Recent reports show that instead of finding a loser, this conflict may have three winners since both new consoles are selling well and the PS2 has seen an unexpected rise in sales of up to 80%.