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Console Wars – III September 25, 2010

Posted by anakronos in Console War, Histories.

As we entered the fifth generation of gaming there were a lot more fighters in the ring than in times previous.  It was a Royal Rumble of sorts, and a lot of companies that attempted to gain entry found themselves tossed out of the ring inside of what amounted to a minute in the market.  At this juncture the gamer population had aged a little bit, and with age came suspicion – and really high expectations…

But before we get into the winners, let’s point out the abject failures of this gen:

  1. Panasonic’s 3DO – Here were your options back then: buy a 3DO or just get a PlayStation and an N64 and still have about $150 left over to buy some games.  This system had a horribly limited library and was basically doomed at launch.
  2. Atari Jaguar – I don’t know a single person that bought this.  We all knew better, Atari almost destroyed home based gaming in the 80s when it bankrupted itself and disappeared from the gaming map.
  3. Sega’s 32x – This thing was launched almost at the same time as the Saturn– it was full of  fail, but sadly, it wouldn’t be Sega’s last mistake.
  4. Virtual Boy – Look man – I am fully aware that it wasn’t a console, but it wasn’t a portable either – either way you slice it, there is something we can both agree on, it sucked like no other.
  5. Neo Geo CD – There were few things more awesome than playing arcade quality Fatal Fury, Shodown, Metal Slug and a slew of other great titles at home, but this system just didn’t take off as it should have.  It’s a crying shame that a company as talented, innovative and groundbreaking as they were never managed to capture a significant portion of the market.
  6. PC-FX – Most of you never heard of this console and that’s just as well because it only had 62 games.  This system was basically the deathblow for NEC’s gaming division.

But enough about the losers, let’s talk about the real players of the era.

There is little doubt that the PlayStation brought home the Gold, N64 the Silver and off into the distance the Sega Saturn had to settle for tarnished bronze.   And mind you, it was never neck and neck – Sony sold something like 102 million units worldwide, compared with 35 million for the N64 and a paltry 9 million for the Saturn.  When you aggregate these numbers alone, 6.16% of the world’s gamers owned a Saturn, 23.98% an N64 and 69.86% a PlayStation.  I enjoyed this era immensely because at long last, the market finally exposed Sega for the eminent fuckups that they are.

But how could Nintendo, a once third-party developer for Atari, achieve massive success at both the 8 and 16-bit levels, only to lose it to the freshman Sony?   I don’t want to get into it now, but the major points were:

  1. They dragged their feet launching and developing the new system, giving Sony a one year market lead
  2. They stubbornly stuck to proprietary media – Nintendo collected royalties from each cart produced
  3. They generally catered to the kindergarten demographic
  4. They lost key third party support

What about Sega?  If anybody had told me that Sega was going to follow up their weak-ass Master System with what the Genesis turned out to be, an amazing powerhouse of console gaming, I would have laughed in their face – and I would have been wrong.  But to then see mighty Sega follow up the Genesis with the anemic sales of the Saturn, was just…sad.  No really – I’m totally serious here; it’s always been my contention that the best stimulus for good gaming is competition.  It seemed at the time that the void left by Sega was going to be bad for gaming, but it turns out that Sony was waiting in the wings to not only supplant Sega as Nintendo’s chief adversary, but change the face of gaming forever, and become its new standard bearer.

With that said, let’s talk about games.  I bought my first PlayStation when I was in AIT at Ft. Gordon, GA, back then the guys were only interested in playing Madden and the new NBA Live games.  I wasn’t a big fan of either, which led to buyer’s remorse – so I sold it to one of my buddies and bought the N64 instead.  At launch the N64 had Super Mario 64…which I played through until I got all the stars.  I also bought Waverace, Pilotwings and Shadows of the Empire – and proceeded to beat each of these as thoroughly as possible.  I was really surprised by the textures and rendering capacities of the N64, the graphics were typically more colorful, softer and less jagged than the PlayStation’s.  The N64 had anti-aliasing, Z-Buffering and Goraud Shading (all precursors to Voodoo 3dfx cards).  These effects really showed off the system’s potential in titles like Turok, Goldeneye and Perfect DarkRogue Squadron was one of my favorite ports, not just for its Star Wars theme, but because honestly, it was extremely well made.  Then of course there was Nintendo’s Magnum Opus, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  The N64 also had Mario Kart and Starfox, but sadly never released a Metroid.  The Nintendo faithful would have to wait one more generation for that to happen.

But wait a minute…if the system had all these great titles and superior hardware, how’d it come in second?

I hate to say it, but Holden McNeil put it best:  “It’s all about marketing.  Over- or underweight guys who don’t get laid – they’re our bread and butter.”

And that’s exactly who Sony marketed to, a primarily tween male audience.  That wasn’t the only factor though, there’s only one reason I bought a PlayStation, for the second time, and that was Final Fantasy VII, which is to me, the greatest game ever made.

While my PlayStation library was slender, it was packed with classics, among them: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy VII & VIII, Resident Evil I&II, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater II, Street Fighter Alpha II, Tekken III, Metal Gear Solid, the Tomb Raider series, and Jedi Power Battles.  Back then I was a real snob when it came to buying games because well…Sony had so many shitty games on their platform that it was almost a full time job trying to separate the crap from the good and subsequently the good from the awesome.  But more often than not, all your sifting would be richly rewarded.  On the N64 it was much different, I had a pretty easy time of identifying what games to avoid and which ones to reserve ahead of time.

In the end, third party support is what really helped Sony walk away with all the medals.  Nintendo was left reeling, but stubborn as a Bantha, insisted on the continued use of proprietary media and focusing on G audiences.

As the era drew to a close, there were forces at work that sought to mimic Sony’s success.  First though, they had to secure a franchise game.  Once Bungie was bought out, the stage was set for the exclusive console release of Halo.  With that, the fourth battle in the Great Console war began.


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