History of video game consoles (sixth generation)

History of video game consoles (sixth generation)
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The sixth-generation era (sometimes referred to as the 128-bit era; see "Bits and system power" below) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds available at the turn of the 21st century. Platforms of the sixth generation include the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. This era began on November 27, 1998 with the release of the Dreamcast, and it was joined by the PlayStation 2 in March 2000. The Dreamcast was discontinued in North America in November 2001 and in Europe in late 2002. The Xbox was discontinued in 2005. The GameCube was discontinued in 2007. By the end of 2011, only the PlayStation 2 remained in production and continues to sell steadily.[1]

Contents

Home systems

Sony's PlayStation 2 achieved sales dominance in this generation, with over 147 million units sold as of November 2010,[2] also making it the best-selling console in history.[2][3] Microsoft's Xbox came in second with over 24 million sold and the Nintendo GameCube was third with 21.6 million sold. Sega's Dreamcast, which arrived prior to all of the others and was discontinued prematurely in 2001, came in fourth with 10.6 million sold, representing 6.5% of the sixth generation sales.[citation needed]

The sixth generation began to end when the Xbox was succeeded by the Xbox 360 in late 2005. GameCube hardware (Platinum color only) was still being produced when the Wii was released in late 2006, but has since been greatly reduced. PlayStation 2 sales continued to be strong into November 2010,[4] due to the system's large software library, continuing software support, and affordable price.[5]

From left: Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox game controllers.

In February 2008, the PlayStation 2 outsold both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the United States.[6][7] Games were still being produced for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube as of 2007, while Dreamcast games were officially discontinued in 2002. There were still a few games being produced for the Dreamcast in 2007, but they are essentially NAOMI arcade ports released only in Japan, with small print runs.

Dreamcast

Sega's Dreamcast was the first console of the generation[8] and introduced several innovations including Internet gaming as an optional feature through its add-on modem, and a web browser. It was also the first home console to always display full SD resolution.

The console helped to restore Sega's reputation, which had been damaged by the earlier failures of the Sega Saturn, Sega 32X, and Mega-CD. Despite this, the Dreamcast was discontinued prematurely due to numerous factors. The impending and much-hyped PlayStation 2 slowed Dreamcast sales, mostly due to the fact that the PlayStation 2 had a built-in DVD player and a huge number of PS1 owners looking to upgrade with the same company, Sony. In addition, Sega's short-lived support/success of its post-Sega Megadrive products the Mega-CD, 32X and Saturn had left developers and customers skeptical, with some holding out to see whether the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 would come out on top.

Sega's decision to implement a GD-ROM (though publicly advertised as a CD-ROM) for storage medium did save costs but it did not compare well against the PS2's much touted DVD capabilities. And while the format proved to be harder to pirate than regular CDs, piraters would eventually find their way, causing game sales to decline at one point, which led to Sega releasing different models that had more copyright protection. Sega was either unable or unwilling to spend the advertising money necessary to compete with Sony, which themselves took massive losses on the PlayStation 2 to gain market-share. With the announcements of the Xbox and GameCube in late 2000, Sega's console was considered by some to be outdated only two years after its release. The previous losses from the Saturn, 32X, and Sega/Mega-CD, stagnation of sales due to the PlayStation 2, and impending competition from Microsoft and Nintendo caused Sega's revenue to shrink and announce their intention on killing the system in early 2001, dropping the system entirely and leaving the console market in early 2002. Sega also announced it would shut down SegaNet, an online gaming community that supported online-capable Dreamcast titles. Due to user outcry over the decision, Sega delayed the service's closure by an additional 6 months.

PlayStation 2

The brand Sony had established with the original PlayStation was a major factor in the PlayStation 2's dominance, both in terms of securing a consumer base and attracting third party developers, with the gradual increase in one reinforcing the other. The PlayStation 2 was also able to play DVDs and was backwards-compatible with PlayStation games, which many say helped the former's sales. Sony Computer Entertainment secured licensing for key games such as Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, enabling the PS2 to outperform its competitors' launches.

Xbox

Although the Xbox had the formidable financial backing of Microsoft, it was unable to significantly threaten the dominance of the PlayStation 2 as market leader; however, the Xbox attracted a large fanbase and strong third-party support in the United States and Europe and became a recognizable brand amongst the mainstream. The Xbox Live online service with its centralized model proved particularly successful, prompting Sony to boost the online capabilities of the PlayStation 2. Xbox Live also gave the Xbox an edge over the GameCube, which had a near total lack of online games. The flagship of Xbox Live was the game Halo 2, which was the best selling Xbox game with 8 million copies sold worldwide.[9][10]

In Japan, Xbox sales were very poor, partly due to Microsoft's inability to attract major Japanese developers and game franchises. The console's physical size, which did not fit local aesthetic standards, and brand loyalty to Japanese companies such as Sony and Nintendo were considerable factors as well.

GameCube

Nintendo struggled with conflicting brand images, particularly the family-friendly one developed during the 1990s. Its arsenal of franchises and history in the industry, though earning it a loyal fan base, failed to give it an advantage against the Xbox and PlayStation 2 which captured audiences seeking 'Mature' titles which Nintendo had fewer of. Nintendo also made little headway into online gaming (releasing a small handful of online-capable games, the most popular of which was Phantasy Star Online, which was in fact a port of the Dreamcast game), instead emphasizing Game Boy Advance connectivity. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube failed to match the sales of its predecessor, the Nintendo 64.

Nintendo did however rejuvenate its relationship with many developers, often working in close collaboration with them to produce games based upon its franchises, in contrast to the past where it was frequently seen as bullying developers. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube had more first and second party releases than its competitors, whose most successful titles were mainly products of third party developers.

Bits and system power

Bit ratings for consoles largely fell by the wayside after the 32-bit era. The number of "bits" cited in console names referred to the CPU word size, but there was little to be gained from increasing the word size much beyond 32 bits; performance depended on other factors, such as processor speed, graphics processor speed, bandwidth, and memory size.

The importance of the number of bits in the modern console gaming market has thus decreased due to the use of components that process data in varying word sizes. Previously, console manufacturers advertised the “n-bit talk” to over-emphasize the hardware capabilities of their system. The Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 were the last systems to use the term “128-bit” in their marketing to describe their capability.

It is not easy to compare the relative "power" of the different systems. Having a larger CPU word size does not necessarily make one console more powerful than another. Likewise the operating frequency (clock rate) of a system's CPU is not an accurate measure either.

The Microsoft Xbox uses a 32-bit (general purpose) CISC x86 architecture CPU, with an instruction set equal to that of the Coppermine core Mobile Celeron, though it has less cache memory (128 kB) than the PC equivalent. It has 64 MB RAM (shared) and runs at 733 MHz. Most notably, its NV2A GPU, which is very similar to the GeForce Ti4000 series for desktop computers, makes it the only console in its time with traditional vertex and pixel shaders.[11] Many of sixth generation's late PC ports, for example Far Cry Instincts, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2, which were meant to be released for all consoles managed to make it only to the Xbox due to its similarity to the PC the originals were built on.[citation needed]

The Nintendo GameCube is the most compact sixth generation console. Its IBM Gekko PowerPC CPU runs at 485 MHz, while its "Flipper" graphics processor is comparable to the ATI Radeon 7200, and it has 43 MB of non-unified memory(24MB of 1T-SRAM, 3 MB embedded 1T-SRAM , and 16MB DRAM). The GameCube supports Dolby Pro Logic II.[12]

The PlayStation 2's CPU (known as the “128-bit Emotion Engine”) has a 64-bit double precision core based on MIPS architecture. It includes three separate execution units inside the one processor and each one is capable of executing two instructions per cycle. The PS2's Graphics Synthesizer has fast dedicated video memory, though it is limited in the amount of data it can hold. Consequently, many of the PS2's games have reduced textures compared with versions for other consoles. It also does not have a transform and lighting unit like the ones found in the Xbox and GameCube GPUs.

The Dreamcast has a 64-bit double-precision superscalar SuperH-4 RISC MPU core with a 32-bit integer unit using 16-bit fixed-length instructions, a 64-bit data bus allowing a variable width of either 8, 16, 32 or 64-bits, and a 128-bit floating-point bus.[13] The PowerVR 2DC CLX2 chipset uses a unique method of rendering a 3D scene called Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR): While storing polygons in triangle strip format in memory, the display is split into tiles associated with a list of visibly overlapping triangles onto which, using a process similar to ray tracing, rays are cast and a pixel is rendered from the triangle closest to the camera. After calculating the depths associated with each polygon for one tile row in 1 cycle, the whole tile is flushed to video memory before passing on to render the next tile. Once all information has been collated for the current frame, the tiles are rendered in turn to produce the final image.[14]

Comparison

Name Dreamcast PlayStation 2 GameCube Xbox
Console An NTSC Sega Dreamcast Console and PAL Controller with VMU. Slimline (left) and Original (right) PS2 consoles Purple GameCube and controller Xbox console with "Controller S"
Launch prices US$199.99[15]
GB£199.99[15]
US$299.99
GB£299.99
214.99
US$199.99
GB£129.99[16]
€199.99[16]
US$299.99
GB£299.99
€214.99
Best-selling game Sonic Adventure, 2.5 million (as of June 2006)[17] Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, 19 million shipped (as of April 30, 2008)[18] Super Smash Bros. Melee, 7.09 million (as of March 10, 2008)[19] Halo 2, 8 million (as of May 9, 2006)[10][20]
Release date
  • JP November 27, 1998
  • NA September 9, 1999
  • EU October 14, 1999
  • AUS October 14, 1999
  • JP March 4, 2000
  • NA October 26, 2000
  • EU November 24, 2000
  • AUS November 30, 2000
  • JP September 14, 2001
  • NA November 18, 2001
  • EU May 3, 2002
  • AUS May 17, 2002
  • NA November 15, 2001
  • JP February 22, 2002
  • EU March 14, 2002
Discontinued N/A 2007[21]
Accessories (retail)
  • Visual Memory Unit
  • Dreamcast mouse and keyboard
  • Fishing Rod
  • Microphone
  • Light Gun
  • Dreameye camera
  • Samba de Amigo Maracas (controller)
  • More...
  • Xbox Live Starter Kit
  • Xbox Media Center Extender
  • DVD Playback Kit
  • Xbox Music Mixer
  • Memory Unit (8 MB)
  • Logitech Wireless Controller (2.4 GHz)
  • More...
CPU 200 MHz SuperH SH-4 294 MHz MIPS "Emotion Engine" 485 MHz PowerPC "Gekko" 733 MHz x86 Intel Celeron/PIII Custom Hybrid
GPU 100 MHz NEC/VideoLogic PowerVR CLX2 147 MHz "Graphics Synthesizer" 162 MHz ATI "Flipper" 233 MHz Custom Nvidia NV2A
RAM Main RAM 16 MB SDRAM
Video RAM 8 MB
Sound RAM 2 MB
Main RAM 32 MB RDRAM
Video RAM 4 MB
Main RAM 24 MB 1T-SRAM
Video RAM 3 MB embedded 1T-SRAM
16 MB DRAM
64 MB unified DDR SDRAM
Online service Dreamarena, GameSpy, SegaNet Non-unified service Sega, Lan play, Emulation-online adapter required Xbox Live (2002-2010)
Backward compatibility None PlayStation GB, GBC, and GBA
(using Game Boy Player)
None
System software SegaOS, Microsoft Windows CE, KallistiOS proprietary OS, HD Loader, Linux
DVD Playback Kit
proprietary OS, startup disc for Game Boy Player Xbox Music Mixer
DVD Playback Kit, Xbox Linux
Consumer programmability Homebrew possible via KallistiOS, Windows CE, Katana (the latter two are illegal in the homebrew community) Yabasic software and limited Linux OS. Homebrew also possible via both modchips and softmods. Homebrew possible via hack Via Softmods and/or modchips; Modified Windows CE 2.x, Linux

Worldwide sales standings

Console Units sold
PlayStation 2 150 million (as of January 31, 2011)[22][23]
Xbox 24 million (as of May 10, 2006)[24]
GameCube 21.74 million (as of September 30, 2010)[25]
Dreamcast 10.6 million (as of September 6, 2002)[26][27]

Handheld systems

During the sixth generation era, the handheld game console market expanded with the introduction of new devices from many different manufacturers. Nintendo maintained its dominant share of the handheld market with the release in 2001 of the Game Boy Advance, which featured many upgrades and new features over the Game Boy. Two redesigns of this system followed, the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003 and the Game Boy Micro in 2005. Also introduced were the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1998 and Bandai's WonderSwan Color, launched in Japan in 1999. South Korean company Game Park introduced its GP32 handheld in 2001, and with it came the dawn of open source handheld consoles. The Game Boy Advance line of handhelds has sold 81.51 million units worldwide as of September 30, 2010.[25]

A major new addition to the market was the trend for corporations to include a large number of "non-gaming" features into their handheld consoles, including cell phones, MP3 players, portable movie players, and PDA-like features. The handheld that started this trend was Nokia's N-Gage, which was released in 2003 and doubled primarily as a mobile phone. It went through a redesign in 2004 and was renamed the N-Gage QD. A second handheld, the Zodiac from Tapwave, was released in 2004; based on the Palm OS, it offered specialized gaming-oriented video and sound capabilities, but it had an unwieldy development kit due to the underlying PalmOS foundation.

With more and more PDAs arriving during the previous generation, the difference between consumer electronics and traditional computing began to blur and cheap console technology grew as a result. It was said of PDAs that they are "the computers of handheld gaming" because of their multi-purpose capabilities and the increasingly powerful computer hardware that resided within them. This capability existed to move gaming beyond the last generation's 16-bit limitations; however, PDAs were still geared towards the typical businessman, and lacked new, affordable software franchises to compete with dedicated handheld gaming consoles.

Console Units sold
Game Boy Advance
(figure includes GBA SP and Game Boy Micro)
81.51 million[25]
N-Gage 3 million[28]
Game Boy Micro 2.5 million[28]
Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color 2 million[28]
Tapwave Zodiac less than 200,000 units[29]
GP32 30,000

Trends

Market convergence

Major publishers such as Activision, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft adopted a cross-platform strategy, releasing versions of their games for PC, all major consoles, and in some cases, handhelds as well. The sixth generation was the first to help console and computer software grow closer together as well as outperform the arcade market in features, graphics and business.[citation needed] The Dreamcast, which had an official Windows CE Development Kit to help porting games from PC's to Dreamcast, and the Xbox, which was made from off-the-shelf PC parts and hosted many PC ports, factored into this also.

Controversial games

While the sixth generation was not the first to have its share of controversial games, this generation was noted to have extensive criticism by public figures of "objectionable" content in gaming such as sex, crime, violence, profanity, drug use, and social propaganda as well as topics of debate such as religion, politics, feminism, and economics.

The sixth generation was also notable because it saw the continuation of lawmakers taking actions against the video game industry. The most famous were Rockstar Games' Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto games (Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) facing lawsuits over alleged racial slurs and influencing minors to commit crimes, while Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was briefly given an adult rating and banned from stores over the availability of an abandoned sex mini-game using the Hot Coffee mod.

The sixth generation also coincided with the September 11 attacks in New York City and the Pentagon, which had a huge impact on the entertainment industry, including the video game industry; in the subsequent market climate many games were edited in response to the sensitivity surrounding the event. Prior to its release, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty depicted a submersible mobile fortress hijacked by terrorists destroying a good portion of Manhattan in view of the twin towers (this can be found in the "Document of Metal Gear Solid 2" making-of feature). Similarly, several undisclosed modifications were made in Grand Theft Auto III, including a change to the police cars' color scheme (the old scheme resembled that of NYPD's older blue and white design). The Dreamcast game Propeller Arena was never officially released, possibly due to a certain level which was visually very similar to the September 11 attacks.

Emulation and retro gaming

Because of the increased computing power of video game consoles and the widespread usage of emulators, the sixth generation saw the rise of console emulation and retro gaming on a vast scale. Many games for older systems were updated with superior graphics or sound and re-released for current consoles. Commonly emulated games included those released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Mega Drive/Genesis, the PlayStation (the PS2 can play PS1 games natively), and the Nintendo 64.

Also during this generation, the computing power of hand-held consoles became capable of supporting games made for some of the earliest gaming consoles and several companies released remakes of classic games for the handhelds. Nintendo introduced a line of NES and SNES games for its Game Boy Advance handheld, including Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls and Nintendo's Metroid: Zero Mission. Also, an increasing number of third-party developers, including Midway Games, Capcom, Namco, Atari, and Sega, released anthology collections of some of their old games. Additionally, many video games and video game series that were originally confined to Japan were released in North America and Europe for the first time.

Rise of online gaming

Online gaming, which in previous generations had been the exclusive domain of PC games, became more prominent in video game consoles during this generation. The Dreamcast initiated this change with its built in modem, internet browsing software, and ability to play certain games online. The PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube also offered online gaming, though their approaches and commitment to it varied greatly. The Xbox offered an integrated service called Xbox Live that cost $50 per year and was only compatible with a broadband internet connection. Its ability to connect gamers for online multi-player matches was a considerable factor in allowing the Xbox to gain a foothold in the western market, especially in the first-person shooter genre. The PlayStation 2 left its online gaming service up to each individual game publisher, and though it was free to use, it was not always an ideal experience, especially with games published by small developers. The SOCOM series was one of the most popular online competitive games for the PS2.[citation needed] The GameCube did not offer online play for any of its first-party titles, with only Sega's Phantasy Star Online series making use of the console's online capabilities. In addition, online capability was not out-of-the-box; an adapter was needed to hook the console to the internet.

Mergers

Many game publishing companies with a long established history merged with their competitors: Microsoft bought second-party developer Rare in 2002; Square merged with Enix to form Square Enix in 2003 and then later bought Taito; Sega merged with Sammy to form Sega Sammy Holdings in 2004; Konami bought a majority share of Hudson Soft; Namco merged with Bandai to form Namco Bandai Holdings in 2006.

Remakes

Software

Milestone titles

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater improved upon the stealth genre by adding many new abilities, and for the first time in its respective genre made the surroundings nearly completely interactive. Both games achieved widespread critical acclaim, as they improved many elements from their predecessor.
  • Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC popularized "sandbox" style gameplay in an urban crime setting, which has since been widely imitated. In addition, it brought violence and other potentially objectionable content in video games back into the mainstream spotlight, thus reviving the video game controversy.
  • Resident Evil 4 revamped the franchise in a new, more action-oriented direction. The decision to port the former GameCube exclusive to the PS2 was met with some controversy. It remains one of the highest rated games of the generation.
  • Shenmue for the Dreamcast went down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive video game produced to date (US$70 million).[30] Produced by Sega's AM2 division, this game helped set the graphics standards of its time. In the 7th generation, Grand Theft Auto IV would overtake it with a 100 million dollar budget.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved was by far the most successful launch title for the Xbox.
  • Halo 2 set records as the fastest grossing release in entertainment history [31] and was still very successful on the Xbox Live online gaming service until support was dropped in April 2010. Halo 2's sales record was broken by the next game in the series, Halo 3.[citation needed]
  • Metroid Prime is one of the Nintendo GameCube's, and the sixth-generation era's, highest rated titles, with a score of 96.3 on GameRankings and a 97 on Metacritic.[32][33]
  • SoulCalibur for the Dreamcast is widely considered one of the greatest fighting games of all time, and is the first game of its genre, on any platform, to have ever received a perfect 10.0 rating from IGN[34] and GameSpot[35] and also a perfect 40/40 (second of only fifteen games)[36] by Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu.

References

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  3. ^ The Jakarta Post - The Journal of Indonesia Today
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  35. ^ Soul Calibur for Dreamcast Review - Dreamcast Soul Calibur Review
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