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Kevin Krock, editor
MousePlanet at E3 Expo 2001 in Los Angeles - Part I I

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From Pong to Polygons

In Part I of this series, we took a look inside games built around Disney's Atlantis . With games targeted at both kids as well as the older crowd, it is tough to judge which are appropriate for your children, or even for yourself. I know that my first trip into the gaming world left me a little confused, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

In order to help clear the air, we tackle two major topics today:

  1. A primer into the gaming world takes a look at the different console (game machine) options from a non-technical view, which doesn't focus on how many "simultaneous polygons per second" a console is capable of producing.
  2. An explanation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system makes it easy for you to quickly determine exactly what a game contains, enabling you to make an informed decision about the types of games you want your family to enjoy.

The World of Consoles

Gaming machines date back to 1972. Although there are some disagreements about what constituted the first prevalent game console, many generally agree that it was the venerable game, Pong. Ralph Baer, considered the original inventor of this simple table tennis video game, probably never imagined just what it would develop into. You can read more about the history of Pong at Pong-Story.com .

The world of home game consoles has transformed from a simple game to thousands of games on a myriad of platforms, and making sense of what's out there can be a bit confusing. Let's take a look at the major home consoles currently available on the market, as well as a few that are coming out soon.

Sony's PlayStation

Currently the market leader, Sony's PlayStation (PS one) and PlayStation 2 (PS2) are in a third of all American homes. The PS one was originally launched in 1995, but got a face lift last year with a smaller, sleeker case. Sony introduced the PS2 last fall, and the public immediately encountered shortages. It was the hot toy last Christmas.

PlayStation

PS one

Though it uses older technology, the PlayStation, or PS one, is currently tops in the gaming world. With an average selling price of about $99, it is one of the cheapest entries in the game console market. Its games are based on CD-ROM technology, similar in nature to those used by your computer.

There are currently over 1,000 game titles available, ranging in price from $20 to $50 each. Although game graphics capability is significantly lower than what you find on newer systems, the games are still enjoyable.

PS2

PlayStation2
The PlayStation2 from Sony.
Image © Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. (SCEA)

PlayStation 2, launched last fall with overwhelming press coverage (not to mention a fascinating advertising campaign), is the current gold standard of the gaming world. A marriage of CD and DVD technologies brings this game console to life. Although there are similarities between the PS2 and a computer you may use for computer game play, the PS2 contains a few more surprises, including:

  • Full DVD playback compatibility, so you don't need to buy a separate DVD player. A separate remote control is available for purchase.
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 support and DTS audio encoding, as well as optical audio output.
  • USB and IEEE 1394 i.Link (Firewire) connectivity.
  • Internet connectivity with an optional network adapter, to be available in November. This adapter a V90 modem as well as a 10-T connection, high-speed broadband Internet access. A partnership with AOL should access to e-mail access, instant messaging and web browsing.
  • 40GB hard disk capability, in development and which would allow storage of games and other data.

Jak and Dax on the PS2
Jak and Dax on the PS2.
Image © SCEA

The graphics for PS2-specific games are an impressive step up from the PS one, with dramatic differences in detail and color. Although there are currently only 78 titles available for the PS2, over 200 more are in development. Game prices range from $25 to $60.

One nice feature is PS2 is backward compatibility, allowing you to play all PS one games on the PS2 console. The list price for the PS2 is $299 however, it is likely that this price may drop this fall when Nintendo's new GameCube and Microsoft's new Xbox game consoles are released.

My only negative statement about the PS2 is the noise level of the drive. The game disk drive and fan are very loud and can be distracting.

Nintendo's GameCube

Probably the best known console manufacturer, Nintendo has a dominant presence in the industry. Introduced in the U.S. in 1997, its Nintendo 64 system, built around a game cartridge system, was the premier game console. However given its dated technology and lack of future support and compatibility, I cannot recommend buying the N64 system at this point. Instead, take a look at Nintendo's newest offering, the GameCube.

 

Nintendo GameCube
GameCube console (above) and proprietary disk (below).
Images © Nintendo of America

GameCube Disk

Nintendo GameCube

Previewed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the GameCube is expected to launch in North America on November 5 of this year. Built exclusively for gaming, GameCube delivers some stunning results. The graphics are simply amazing. Like the PS2, it has several new features:

  • A network adapter and modem adapter.
  • A proprietary optical disk.
  • An optional wireless controller that allows you to play be up to 30 feet away from the console -- why hasn't anyone else thought of that?!
  • Digital video cable that allows you to hook your system up directly to a high-definition television (HDTV).
  • Digital audio output support.
  • Compatibility with Nintendo's new Game Boy Advance.

Nintendo expects to launch the GameCube with seven titles, with more to follow. The launch price has been set at approximately $200 with games priced at $50. The lack of DVD support is disappointing, but acceptable.

Disney's Mickey for GameCube
Disney's Mickey for Nintendo GameCube, expected to be available in spring 2002.
Image © Nintendo of America and Disney

One very nice feature is the GameCube's compatibility with Nintendo's new Game Boy Advance. The Game Boy Advance handheld controller can act as a full controller for the GameCube, saving money on the inevitable accessories.

GameCube with GBA Controllers
A GameCube console attached to a Game Boy Advance.
Image © Nintendo of America

Sega Dreamcast

Sega has recently begun restructuring operations, focusing more on game titles than on hardware. Sega launched its Dreamcast system in 1999 and recently ceased its manufacture. Several new game titles are in development and should be released over the next few months. Dreamcast was the first system to have a built-in modem, and it has the best existing game library.

Sega Dreamcast
Recently discontinued Sega Dreamcast
Image © Sega of America

Microsoft Xbox

Microsoft plans to launch the Xbox, its first entry into the game console market, on November 8 of this year. Priced at approximately $300, it should, along with Nintendo's GameCube, pose a challenge to Sony's leadership with the PlayStation 2. The graphics capabilities of the Xbox are comparable to those of the PS2 and GameCube, with amazingly sharp graphics. It is expected to be able to play DVDs, have digital audio outputs, and support both a hard drive and a network interface.

Microsoft Xbox
Microsoft's new Xbox.
Image © Microsoft

Several games are in the works for the Xbox, and should be available when the system ships. Unfortunately, when I asked Microsoft representatives about family oriented titles for the Xbox, I was told that the Xbox "isn't for families, (but) for gamers." I was then directed to the PC game section of their booth. Now, although I'm sure that this was not an accurate representation, it does reflect the attitudes of some game developers. We'll watch closely for future Xbox releases to see if this prediction holds.

PC/Macintosh

Although today's column focuses on purchasing a dedicated game console, this isn't your only option. Thousands of games are available for the PC and Macintosh platforms.

ESRB

Once you decide which game console system you want for your family, you must decide on what games to get. Being selective about your game titles, even moreso than choosing a console system, ensures that you and your family get the most out of your system.

With thousands of titles on the market, how do you decide which are appropriate for your family? A good starting point is the rating system provided by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

The ESRB is an independent rating board that evaluates computer games and provides ratings that are displayed on game packaging, which helps you to make an informed decision. Like the rating systems used by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), these ratings are only guides -- the final decision is left to you. The only exception is that some retailers do not sell "Mature" or "Adult Only" rated games to minors.

The rating system is made of two components - the first are the ratings symbols, which represent the general age group that the ESRB reviewers think the game is appropriate for. See side bar for a full listing of age groups.

The second component is the content descriptor, printed in black and white on the back of game packaging. The descriptor provide more detailed information regarding content that may not be age appropriate. Some of the descriptors include: comic mischief, realistic blood and gore, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs, and gaming. For a complete list of content descriptors and their explanations, visit the ESRB Web site.


In Part III, we look at the rest of Disney Interactive's upcoming releases, as well as what Disney Imagineering is bringing to the gaming realm!


Questions or comments? Contact Tony at tony@mouseplanet.com.

Covered Consoles

Sony PlayStation
Price : $99
Available : Now
Game Price : $20-50

Sony PlayStation 2
Price : $299
Available : Now
Game Price : $25-60

Nintendo GameCube
Price : $199
Available : November

Sega Dreamcast
Price : ?
Available : Discontinued

Microsoft Xbox
Price : $299
Available : November

ESRB Rating System

ESRB - Early Childhood
EARLY CHILDHOOD
Content may be suitable for persons ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
ESRB - Everyone
EVERYONE
Content may be suitable for persons ages 6 and older. May contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language.
ESRB - Teen
TEEN
Content may be suitable for persons ages 13 and older. May contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.
ESRB - Mature
MATURE
Content may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. May contain mature sexual themes or more intense violence or language.
ESRB - Adults Only
ADULTS ONLY
Content suitable only for adults. May include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Not intended for persons under the age of 18.
ESRB - Rating Pending

RATING PENDING
Product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating. You can call 1-800-771-3772 to check the final rating.

 

 

 

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