The Art of the Game: The Power of the PlayStation Is Challenging Designers to Match Its Capabilities-And Forcing Sony's Competitors to Rethink Their Strategies

By Croal, N'Gai | Newsweek, March 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Art of the Game: The Power of the PlayStation Is Challenging Designers to Match Its Capabilities-And Forcing Sony's Competitors to Rethink Their Strategies


Croal, N'Gai, Newsweek


Past the loading-dock entrance to the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, past the roadie with the I'm not a redneck... I just needed the job T shirt, Dejan Stanisavljevic's blond dreadlocks sway wildly as he scrambles to set up a PC, LCD monitor and high-tech 3-D scanning camera in a greenroom. His mission: to cyberscan the heads and faces of 15 wrestlers for Electronic Arts' WCW wrestling game designed for the PlayStation 2. For the original PlayStation, he would have simply used drawing software to re-create Goldberg from a picture of the wrestler. But that's so last millennium; for the blazingly fast PlayStation 2, anything less than hyperrealism is unacceptable. As soon as Dejan finishes setting up, Goldberg walks in, fresh from recording his trademark catchphrases "Who's next? Come get some" and "No one escapes the jackhammer!" for the benefit of an EA sound man.

An assistant seats Goldberg in front of a machine that casts thin vertical lines on his face. As they rotate Goldberg, scanning his entire head in four takes, an extremely lifelike 3-D image of the snarling wrestler pops up on the monitor.

If God is in the details, the PlayStation 2 is divine. And around the world, game developers and publishers are treating it like a miracle. "People who have been in this industry for 20 years see this as a paradigm shift," says industry veteran Stan Roach. The audience is more than ready to shift into second gear. At 25 million units sold, one in four U.S. households now has a PlayStation. And what started out as child's play now attracts all ages--59 percent of console players are over 18--largely because many games on the PlayStation appealed to more mature players. Yet gamemakers think their industry still gets no respect, largely because many boomers don't play the games that turn on Gens X and Y.

The PS 2 could change that: from football and baseball to strategy and combat, the flagship games for PlayStation 2 are so visually seductive that they may make even confirmed nongamers think about picking up a controller. "I've spent the last 18 years preparing for the next two years," says Roach. "The reason they're calling [the PS2] the Emotion Engine is because we'll finally be able to break the visual barrier so people can identify with the characters." Fortunately for us, the new games shouldn't cost more than the $30-$40 we're paying right now. And to keep broadening the fan base, Sony has adjusted its licensing strategy so that publishers can come out with low-end games for as little as $13 and still turn a profit.

With the PlayStation 2 debuting first in Japan, designers there are much further along with their game development than their U.S. counterparts. A handful of companies in Japan gave NEWSWEEK a sneak peek. Namco's driving game Ridge Racer V is emblematic. "Ridge Racer IV came out in December 1998," says Namco spokesperson Tsuyumi Toyoda as she demonstrates the game running on a current PlayStation. "The background is plain. We couldn't do many things with the graphics." Then she shows the game running on a PlayStation 2; the difference is dramatic. The car's shiny surface reflects the sky, sunlight, clouds. Billows of smoke spill out from the squealing tires. Sparks fly as the undercarriage scrapes the road. A hazy sunset descends as your car tears through the city streets at top speed.

Taking advantage of the new technology requires real money. The average budget to produce a game on Sega's Genesis in the '90s was about $200,000. For today's PlayStation and Nintendo 64, it's around $2 million. Many designers expect development costs for a PlayStation 2 game to jump to at least $4 million. Part of that expense goes to creating "Toy Story 2"- quality computer-generated movies; Capcom hired a film director to handle the opening sequence for Onimusha, its samurai-versus-the-undead adventure game. Its imagery ranges from the dramatic (an army of shambling undead warriors backlit by an enormous moon) to the sublime (a single tear falls from the hero's face and splashes in the dirt at his feet). …

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