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|Kevin Krock, editor|
|MousePlanet at E3 Expo 2001 in Los Angeles - Part I I|
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sony PlayStation 2
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