Next Wave Report: The 32-Bit Brawl


A prodigious war has erupted within the entertainment industry (and no, this is not about the struggle to stop Pauly Shore). We're talking about the fight for hearts, minds, and wallets in the videogaming space. The buzz surrounding the groundbreaking 32-Bit Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn has translated into concrete results, to the point that few can deny the staying power of their next-gen capabilities. By all accounts, including first-hand testimonials from game stores and distributors, the Sony machine is rapidly decimating Saturn. Four-to-one, say the latest reports. Dedicated Sega games players still prefer to abide by tradition, but overall shoppers are preferring PlayStation upon renting each device.

Japan's Sega Enterprises reported a striking collapse in profits over the past quarter, all but admitting that their strategies thus far have been ineffective at staving off the competition. Saturn's four-month head start, it appears, did not avail it from an absolute beating at the behest of the Sony juggernaut. Incessant criticism from journalists and analysts alike made the terrain rougher than expected. Having abandoned its optimistic promise to support all Sega devices presently on the market, the games company is now intent on bringing all hands on-deck for Saturn. You've all seen the change, surely. Their console's MSRP was slashed to $299 (Sega now estimated to be losing $100 per unit sold) and the talented teams at AM2 and AM3 doubled down to create killer ports of VF2 and Sega Rally. Likewise evident is the telltale end for the Sega-CD and 32X, two investments that fell short of expectations. Sega's fabled 32X-Genesis combo, codenamed "Neptune", is canned completely.

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Sony aggressively challenges gamers while Sega declares ownership of the arcade.

Sega's renewed determination to kick things into high-gear is only rivaled by the equally driven pursuit of its chief rival in the 32-Bit warzone. PlayStation continues to coast on a marvelous wave of strong sales, developer support, and eons of hype while Sega busies itself to reformulate tactics. Sony may be losing money on hardware units sold, but massive numbers in the realm of software more than negates this loss. That all said, the entertainment giant would be wise to avoid resting on its laurels. Its courting of development partners has paid the bills with high-quality hits like Wipeout, but any scent of a cash cow may very well result in a drain of innovation in favor of rushed, unimaginative cash-ins. Preventing an Atari 2600-like scenario must be a top priority of PlayStation if it seeks to continue its reign.

The entire paradigm of this arrangement is set to face disruption yet again with the inevitable arrival of Nintendo's Ultra 64 and Matsushita's M2 - licensed last year from Trip Hawkins and the 3DO Company. 64-Bit technology has the capability to be a tremendous uptick from what we have seen on PSX and Saturn, a facet proven with the magnificent Super Mario 64. One look at SM64 will tell you the gaming landscape is about to change quite dramatically. Even somewhat less exhilarating technical updates like Z-Buffering will boost processing speeds to allow more advanced softs. SCEA President Martin Homlish is not blind to the flashing warning signs along the horizon, himself admitting Nintendo is a worthwhile force in the next-gen market space. Nevertheless, he is quick to point out the competitor's most glaring weakness: The NU64's stubborn reliance on cartridges. "Consumers may look at cartridge-based software as old technology," he claimed. "They are yesterday's games." Oh, snap!

Regardless of your platform of choice, the excitement for next-gen, 3-D tech is inescapable. Game developers are just now starting to truly exploit each system's potential, as seen in Capcom's thrilling Resident Evil horror game (full review coming next month!). Hits like Virtua Cop, Sega Rally, Tekken, and MK3 prove that the arcade experience can be brought home in its total glory. The type of revolutionary 3-D gameplay promised at the dawn of this generation is still on the way (We hope!).


[Article from the March 1996 Issue of PPM]


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