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Vol. 2, Issue 15
March 13, 2000

From the Mouth of Madness:


by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman




ell, over the weekend, Microsoft made their long-overdue announcement about their plans to break into the already crowded console market with their X-Box system. Now, speaking as a console fan, Iím excited. I collect these things, so naturally any new system is sure to make me happy. But at the same time, thereís something a little fishy about what Microsoft has been telling people about their X-Box console.

The biggest problem is that the system doesnít exist yet. I donít care what theyíre telling the press and developers; there is no X-Box yet. Just projected hardware specs and software tests. It doesnít exist, and there certainly arenít any developerís kits yet. How do I know this? Simple Ė as soon as last Monday, the official specs for the system hadnít been nailed down. Up until the day before Bill Gates went on CNBC and told the world it existed, nobody was sure if AMD or Intel was going to end up as the core processor, and even the initial announcement only said, ďan x86 compatible processor.Ē

This doesnít mean Microsoft canít go around telling people to commit to the system, mind you. Because itís going to run on an OS thatís based on the Windows 2000 kernel (a great decision on their part) they can give developers a list of things they need to build into their PC titles to easily port them over. But Microsoft is going to milk their initial publicity for all itís worth, and make it seem to the general public like the system is on the verge of release Ė when in fact itís more than a year and a half away.

Which brings me to another problem. Microsoft is claiming that the X-Box will be more than twice as powerful as the Playstation 2. Thatís great news, and I canít wait to see what it can doÖbut because they didnít have any physical hardware to show off at their announcement, they showed pre-rendered demos. Boo, hiss, Microsoft. For shame! The demonstrations they showed were pre-rendered movies, that were intended to simulate what the X-Box will be capable of. Unfortunately, it was neither particularly technically impressive (several developers have said that there was nothing shown that a decent team couldnít easily reproduce on the Playstation 2) nor was it visually impressive to the general public. Now granted, this wasnít supposed to be a major announcement to the general public (it was at the Game Developerís Conference), but nonetheless, the news made its way to many major news outlets, and so the demo was widely shown.

If you really want to get people excited, show some games, man. At the initial Playstation 2 announcement, the world snoozed their way through a particle lightshow, before getting their heads blown apart by a cut-scene from Final Fantasy VIII rendered in real-time (not to mention that awesome clip from Tekken Tag Tournament). Now thatís how you impress people.

But Iím being a little harsh here, and I realize that. In truth, the X-Box is a good thing. A very, very good thing. As bizarre as it sounds, Microsoft is going to prevent a major monopoly from occurring. Sony plans on dominating your living room with their Playstation 2, and thatís all fine and good, but do you really want all your eggs in one basket? Competition, particularly from someone with as much cash behind them as Microsoft, can only benefit the end-user.† Microsoft is planning on spending more to promote the X-Box than they did to promote Windows 95. According to Gates himself, the company will spend, ďbillions over the next five yearsĒ getting this thing out there.

And while it will ultimately be the games that sell the system, thereís one thing that is guaranteed Ė this thing will look awesome. Microsoft has some of the best hardware designers in the business working for them, and that means weíll get a styliní looking system.

Iím a little troubled by certain things, however. The system has a hard drive out of the box (an 8 gig drive, to be exact). This has all kinds of implicationsÖsome of which are very positive, like the fact that memory cards will never be needed for the system, but there are also some bad things. For example Ė what about viruses? If itís intended to be used for online gaming, itís going to be wide-open for virus attacks. And if itís got a hard-drive, that means someone could figure out how to get into your X-Box and completely wipe your system. And what about fragmentation? An 8 gig hard drive needs to run CHKDSK and Defrag on a regular basis or itís going to go sour. A console system with a buggy hard drive is a bad thing.

Microsoft says the drive will be used primarily for caching of games in progress (cool) and also for downloading additional content for games. I donít expect people to issue bug-fixes for X-Box games, so I wouldnít worry about people releasing half-completed games with the intention of fixing them laterÖbut wouldnít it be nice to know that if a game slips through the cracks it can be fixed? I bet Sony wishes they could have done that with Gran Turismo 2Öand Acclaim with Turok: Rage Wars (although there really isnít much of anything that could save that one).

Ultimately, this announcement from Microsoft raised as many questions as it answered. This yearís E3 will be really exciting, as itíll have Sony formally announcing the details of the Playstation 2 US launch (rumors are flying that itíll be released as soon as August), more Dolphin details from Nintendo (including the next GameBoy system, which will apparently not be the GB Advance yet), Segaís Dreamcast Network 2000 details, and hey! Even SNK is going to be announcing a new system in addition to the next big X-Box announcement (expect games this time, people).†

Needless to say, I canít wait.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor in chief here at loonygames.

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 2000 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.