the Mouth of Madness:
By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
What's new this week in loonygames? As our loony editor.
efore I start with this week's column, I'm afraid I have to point out that this week's issue is dedicated to the living memory of Stanley Kubrick. There are few true geniuses in this world, and we lost one of them last Sunday. Kubrick is perhaps the only director in film history who never made a bad film, and in my opinion, never made a film that wasn't anything short of brilliant. To pull in an analogy from the gaming industry, Kubrick was one part Miyamoto, one part Carmack, and even one part Derek Smart. With his passing, we loose any chance of ever seeing AI, or even his true vision for his last film, Eyes Wide Shut. It is with great sadness that I dedicate this issue to the man whose work is an inspiration to anyone who has ever had a creative thought. We'll miss you.
On a much less…somber note, i'll be attending the Extreme Annihiliation event this weekend in Texas. Look for my report to run next week. I Hope to see as many of you there as possible...I'll be the freak huddled around the Dreamcast. ;)
Regardless, you may recall that last week saw the first run of announcements regarding the next generation PlayStation. As the sort of weirdo who really gets off on anything like this, I was completely astonished by the announcement that Sony plans to release the PSX 2 (or 2K) in late '99 or early 2000. This would seem to be extremely quick for a system that nobody has ever seen the development kits for (loonygames' calls to developers seem to have confirmed this) and with Sega's planned US release of the Dreamcast in September (supposedly…this has yet to be confirmed, however all signs point to this) the question arises…is Sega screwed?
If you had asked me this question the day of the PSX2 announcement, I probably would have said yes, however with some thinking, I've since decided otherwise. Sega is not run by fools, regardless of what some newsgroup postings might have you think. In fact, Sega is run by some very shrewd businessmen. On paper, the PSX2 appears to dwarf the Dreamcast by an incredible percentage, however, as Bernie Stolar was quick to point out in his teleconferenced statement, it's not the specs that make a system, it's the games. Obviously, this is the typical company-that's-screwed-line, as you'll recall Nintendo's continued assertion that they believe in "quality, not quantity" and that they'd rather have one Zelda instead of sixty lesser quality games, but in this case, I tend to believe it to a certain extent.
Let's look at what Dreamcast has to offer its customers in Japan now, and will offer US consumers this Fall, shall we? With Dreamcast, you get a few decent titles, (Sonic Adventure, Virtua Fighter 3) a WebTV terminal, and quite a few great games on the way (can you say Resident Evil: Code Veronica?). All for a relatively low price of $200 (or thereabouts). Not to mention the fact that they're going to have one of the largest launches for a consumer device…ever. Don't underestimate Sega's marketing power…they're pumping huge amounts of dough into this thing, and also remember that 95% of their potential audience has never even heard of Sony's new system, and they won't exactly be doing much in the way of promotion for it until 2000 in the US.
The fact that they've got a WebTV terminal in there means that they have the potential to suck in people who want Internet access. Sure, all you guys own computers, but bear in mind that there is a huge audience out there who have been hearing about this inter-net thing out there for years, and are curious. They won't buy a WebTV, because it's too specialized. But will they buy a console system that plays cool games, and also happens to allow them to get e-mail? It remains to be seen, but my guess is that yes, there are a lot of people who would be interested in this. Think about it. Your kid wants Sonic Adventure. You want e-mail. With the Dreamcast, you get both, for hundreds of dollars less than it would cost you to get a computer, and it's a hell of a lot less complicated and intimidating. If they're really smart, they'll be readying a cheap version of Deer Hunter for the Dreamcast launch…laugh all you want, but I can seriously say that it would sell tons of systems.
But what about the PSX2 specifically? Let's talk about it a bit. The PSX2 is no question, a beast of a machine. But, it's got some weird things about it that make me question its immediate success. First and foremost, is its backward compatibility. It's cool that they're doing it, but you may recall that Sega and Nintendo have toyed with the concept before and both have ultimately decided that it was a mistake. Why? Because it doesn't make the new machine nearly as attractive to the potential consumer. If there are still great games coming out for the old box, why bother upgrading? And for developers, this isn't especially enticing either. If I, Developer A, make a game for the PSX 1, it will run on both the PSX 1 and 2. However, if I do some major forward-thinking, and make it for the PSX2, I'm limiting my audience to just PSX2 users. And with a launch price of $400 (admittedly pure speculation at this time) it would appear that the first people to buy PSX2s are likely to be the fabled, "early adopters." These are those people who buy new hardware no matter what the price…the guys who bought 3DO machines when they existed. The people who bought HDTV sets last month. And of course, weirdos like me, who were amongst the first DVD owners.
If Sony can deliver the system for under $300, then it'll be a different story. But $400 is way too pricey for the average consumer to ditch his old (and still useful) PlayStation. Indeed, it would appear that Sega's banking on this, as Bernie Stolar mentioned in his statement, that he believes Sony to be aiming for a different market than Sega. At that price, Sony had better plan on including a modem to make the thing a worthwhile purchase…or they'll be shooting themselves in the foot.
And what about the modem? Sony has said that the reason they haven't announced any sort of modem pack-in, is because they don't want to commit to any specific modem a year before the system's release. This is definitely a smart move on their part no question, but at the same time, if they don't feature a built-in modem, they're potentially shooting themselves in the foot. Why? Sure, it's easy to upgrade the PSX2 with any modem you like thanks to their numerous expansion ports (the USB, IEEE and PCMCIA ports are all ideal for one) but by not including one out of the box they create a non-standard platform. Something no console system to date has ever successfully managed to get around. If they offer a modem for sale the same day the PSX2 launches, they still can't guarantee that anyone will actually buy one. And even if a number of people do actually buy them, it won't be the same as if they had it out of the box. By having the modem built into the system from the day it ships, Sega can go to developers with the design specs, and say that every person who purchases the system will definitely have a modem, and furthermore, will have a specific kind of modem. For developers that are used to console development, this is extremely important. Someone who's used to creating a system for a fixed set of hardware specs is not going to be thrilled at the idea that some users might have different baud modems than others. Sega's low-baud modem might be laughable in two years, but at least developers will know that they have to optimize for a fixed speed, and if they can make that, then every Dreamcast owner will be able to play the game well. (Sega has proven this can be done with reports of flawless multiplayer with their recently shipped Sega Rally 2.)
There's no question in my mind that the PSX2 will be an enormous success, but I think it's far too soon to predict a Dreamcast flop. The Saturn, despite horrible sales in the US, and relatively outdated hardware, was still an enormous success in Japan, outselling the Nintendo 64. The Genesis managed to succeed, despite reports of the SNES' development, and that one launched with barely any titles as well. What made that one a success? It sure as heck wasn't Altered Beast, or the Genesis modem, it was a kickass advertising campaign, coupled with a little hedgehog named Sonic. Don't sell Sega short…they've got a great track record, and a lot of dough to make sure the system's a hit.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He really, really, really, wants a Dreamcast. And a PSX2 would be pretty swanky as well.
Credits: From the Mouth of Madness logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...or we'll just forget about you. Let's see how you like it.