G A M I N G C O N S O L E S
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g a m i n g c o n s o l e s
Gaming consoles have proved themselves to be the best in digital entertainment. Gaming consoles were designed for the sole purpose of playing electronic games and nothing else. A gaming console is a highly specialised piece of hardware that has rapidly evolved since its inception incorporating all the latest advancements in processor technology, memory, graphics, and sound among others to give the gamer the ultimate gaming experience.
WHY GAMING IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE COMPUTER INDUSTRY
Research conducted in 2002 show that 60% of US residents aged six and above play computer games. Over 221 million computer and video games were sold in the U.S. Earlier research found that 35% of U.S. residents surveyed said that video games were the most entertaining media activity while television came in a distant second at 18%. The U.S. gaming industry reported sales of over $ 6.5 billion in the fiscal year 2002-03. Datamonitor estimates that online gaming revenues will reach $ 2.9 billion by 2005. Additional research has found that 90% of U.S. households with children has rented or owned a computer or video game and that U.S. children spend an average of 20 minutes a day playing video games. Research conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project showed that 66% of American teenagers play or download games online. While 57% of girls play online, 75% of boys reported to having played internet games. This has great impact on influencing online game content and multiplayer capability on websites.
The global computer and video game industry, generating revenue of over 20 billion U.S. dollars a year, forms a major part of the entertainment industry. The sales of major games are counted in millions (and these are for software units that often cost 30 to 50 UK pounds each), meaning that total revenues often match or exceed cinema movie revenues. Game playing is widespread; surveys collated by organisations such as the Interactive Digital Software Association indicate that up to 60 per cent of people in developed countries routinely play computer or video games, with an average player age in the mid to late twenties, and only a narrow majority being male. Add on those who play the occasional game of Solitaire or Minesweeper on the PC at work, and one observes a phenomenon more common than buying a newspaper, owning a pet, or going on holiday abroad.
Why are games so popular? The answer to this question is to be found in real life. Essentially, most people spend much of their time playing games of some kind or another like making it through traffic lights before they turn red, attempting to catch the train or bus before it leaves, completing the crossword, or answering the questions correctly on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire before the contestants. Office politics forms a continuous, real-life strategy game which many people play, whether they want to or not, with player-definable goals such as ‘increase salary to next level’, ‘become the boss’, ‘score points off a rival colleague and beat them to that promotion’ or ‘get a better job elsewhere’. Gaming philosophers who frequent some of the many game-related online forums periodically compare aspects of gaming to real life–with the key difference being that when “Game Over” is reached in real life, there is no restart option.
But why video games? Such entertainment and culture is not new, being available for home use for over 30 years. Rapid advances in graphics, processing power, game design and complexity have resulted in contemporary games rendering those of even just a few years ago crude and simplistic in comparison. Games are designed to sell, and therefore to be attractive, challenging, mind-engaging, stimulating, increasing curiosity, and inviting further exploration in addition to an urge for ‘just one more go’ - factors that have resulted in increased interest from the education, teaching and learning sectors.
Video games are most often found on video gaming consoles that plug into your television. These are produced by four well-known companies; Microsoft, which manufactures the XBox; Sony, which manufactures the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2; Nintendo, which manufactures the GameCube; and Sega, which manufactures the Dreamcast.
The PC is a major host of games, many of which make use of the standard keyboard and mouse input configuration for games such as strategy simulations. Other media devices, such as Interactive TV, handheld PCs and Palm Pilots, and the newer generations of mobile phone, play host to increasingly complex games–basically, where there is a processor and a screen, so there is the potential for games which is usually quickly filled.
It is important to note the increasing complexity of the aforementioned video gaming consoles, which increasingly resemble specialised, performance enhanced PCs - though without the cost, instability, long start-up waits, complexity and need for upgrades. The XBox, for example, contains a hard drive for saving game positions and tracks from your favourite CDs, which then form the background music of various games. These consoles also offer broadband capabilities for fast online gaming.
This particular area of the games sector is of great relevance to the library and information community. Online gaming has actually been around for quite a few years on the PC, and was successfully implemented through a game called Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast console. The more popular online games, such as Everquest, allow complex and simultaneous in-game interaction between many thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of people (irrespective of their physical location). In these games, people can exchange information and items, fight, move through a virtual world and observe the actions of others. Unfortunately, to date and to its loss, the informatics sector has not deeply investigated online gaming to see which techniques, technologies and concepts are transferable to systems using information access, discovery and management.
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of game-related courses in academic institutions, both in the UK and further afield. Most contain some element of game design or programming; demand comes from the large number of prospective game developers, and companies faced with the continuing shortage of skilled staff.
Skills gained on these courses are transferable to other technological areas, such as health and medicine (e.g. body, illness and drug action simulation), the military (strategic, battle and weapon simulation, without costly weapons or friendly-fire injuries), and business and management (economic and management simulations). Grades for admittance on such courses are usually high, and applications oversubscribed. In the UK, several universities are planning new game-related courses for the 2004 and 2005 academic years, with a few others already offering multimedia and game programming courses.
In addition to courses, a number of game-related research centres have emerged of late in institutions such as Albertay in Dundee, Liverpool John Moores, Bournemouth, Manchester, and Teeside. Numerous other game-related projects and research groups are scattered around universities and colleges.
It is important to note that academic research is not confined to the programming side of video games. Academic subjects increasingly involved with the gaming sector include:
○ the arts (graphics and character design)
○ music (soundtracks and special effects)
○ history (providing accurate detail from factual events)
○ geography (landscapes and settings)
○ literature (plot and script construction)
○ biology and the life sciences (accurate plant and animal growth and behaviour)
○ sports sciences (how athletes run)
○ built and urban sciences (building design and layout)
○ engineering (vehicle dynamics and handling)
○ sociology (effects of games on society)
○ psychology (effects of games on the individual)
Such involvement has benefits for all parties. For academics, revenue is generated, staff kept on, and research used for practical purposes in the real world. Games companies receive relevant input, with the backing of academic expertise. Not surprisingly, this research has led to a steadily increasing collection of articles, papers and reports, which a growing number of people and organisations are attempting to categorise and index.
One of the most exciting areas where academia and the gaming sector overlap is that of education and learning. This can take one of two forms: using conventional computer and video games to enhance learning, or using gaming technologies and techniques to design and produce more effective learning software and material. A number of research groups and centres are making progress with various aspects of gaming and education, such as the E-GEMS group in Canada and the Games To Teach project at MIT. In the UK, TEEM (Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia) have investigated the use and educational value of computer games both at home and at school, while BECTa (British Educational Communications and Technology agency) have carried out similar investigations and produced guidelines on how computer games can support learning. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of educational and ICT(Information, Communication and Technology) funding bodies, such as the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) either monitoring or funding exploratory or research work in this area.
In addition to official exploration and research of non-gaming uses of computer and video games, and gaming consoles, there are plenty of people who take a great delight in ‘making stuff do things it wasn't designed to do’. As soon as a video game console is released, a community of people determined to take it apart, write their own programs and increase the functionality, springs up. The hand-held GameBoy Advance, which is cheap and easy to develop software for (in an unofficial capacity), is the device of choice for many such developers. For example, one student has developed a web server on his GameBoy Advance as part of his final year undergraduate project. The Linux developer community has also tweaked the popular open source operating system to run on major game consoles like Microsoft XBox, Nintendo GameCube, Sega Dreamcast, and the Sony game consoles PlayStation and PlayStation 2.
Surprisingly, more women than men reported playing computer and online games (approximately 60% women compared to 40% men) while about the same number of men and women reported playing video games. Part of the reason why more women than men play computer games may be that video games are generally focussed on action and adventure (often violent in nature) while computer games are typically traditional games (for instance, solitaire and board games). Video games are often rigid in their game options and narrative structure. This research holds great implications for the world of game programming.
A gaming console is a system that is exclusively dedicated for gaming. It has been optimized for game playing as that is its core function. One can play games on a PC or even a cellphone but these are not systems dedicated for gaming, so they cannot be termed gaming consoles.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF VIDEO GAME CONSOLES
Video games have been around since the early 1970s. The first commercial arcade video game, Computer Space by Nutting Associates, was introduced in 1971. In 1972, Atari introduced Pong to the arcades. An interesting item to note is that Atari was formed by Nolan Bushnell, the man who developed Computer Space. He left Nutting Associates to found Atari, which then produced Pong, the first truly successful commercial arcade video game.
That same year, Magnavox offered the first home video game system. Dubbed the Odyssey, it did not even have a microprocessor. The core of the system was a board with about four-dozen transistors and diodes. The Odyssey was very limited–it could only produce very simple graphics, and required that custom plastic overlays be taped over the television screen. In 1975, Atari introduced a home version of its popular arcade game, Pong. Pong was a phenomenal success, opening the door to the future of home video games.
THE ATARI 2600
Although the Fairchild Channel F, released in 1976, was the first true removable game system, Atari once again had the first such system to be a commercial success. Introduced in 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), the 2600 used removable cartridges, allowing a multitude of games to be played using the same hardware.
The hardware in the 2600 was quite sophisticated at the time, although it seems incredibly simple now. It consisted of:
• MOS 6502 microprocessor
• Stella, a custom graphics chip that controlled the synchronization to the TV and all other video processing tasks
• 128 bytes of RAM
• 4-kilobyte ROM-based game cartridges
The chips were attached to a small printed circuit board (PCB) that also connected to the joystick ports, cartridge connector, power supply and video output. Games consisted of software encoded on ROM chips and housed in plastic cartridges. The ROM was wired on a PCB that had a series of metal contacts along one edge. These contacts seated into a plug on the console's main board when a cartridge was plugged into the system. When power was supplied to the system, it would sense the presence of the ROM and load the game software into memory.
Systems like the Atari 2600, its descendant, the 5200, Coleco's ColecoVision and Mattel's IntelliVision helped to generate interest in home video games for a few years. But interest began to wane because the quality of the home product lagged far behind arcade standards. But in 1985, Nintendo introduced the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and everything changed.
The NES introduced three very important concepts to the video game system industry:
• Using a gamepad controller instead of a joystick
• Creating authentic reproductions of arcade video games for the home system
• Using the hardware as a loss leader by aggressively pricing it, then making a profit on the games themselves
Nintendo's strategy paid off, and the NES sparked a revival in the home video game market that continues to thrive and expand even now. No longer were home video game systems looked upon as inferior imitations of arcade machines. New games that would have been impractical to create for commercial systems, such as Legend of Zelda, were developed for the home markets. These games enticed many people who had not thought about buying a home video game system before to purchase the NES.
Nintendo continued to develop and introduce new game consoles. Other companies, such as Sega and Sony, then decided to create their own home video game systems.
BASIC COMPONENTS OF A VIDEO GAME CONSOLE
The core components that all video game consoles have in common are
➢ User control interface
➢ Software kernel
➢ Storage medium for games
➢ Video output
➢ Audio output
➢ Power supply
The user control interface allows the player to interact with the video game. Without it, a video game would be a passive medium, like cable TV. Early game systems used paddles or joysticks, but most systems today use sophisticated game controllers with a variety of buttons and special features.
The CPU is the heart of the video game console. It is a microprocessor that powers the game system. Microprocessors are required for the operation of any computational device. On a game console, the CPU coordinates the functions of the various hardware and software units.
Ever since the early days of the Atari 2600, video game systems have always relied on RAM to provide temporary storage of games as they are being played. Without RAM, even the fastest CPU could not provide the necessary speed for an interactive gaming experience.
The software kernel is the console's operating system. It provides the interface between the various pieces of hardware, allowing the video game programmers to write code using common software libraries and tools.
The two most common storage technologies used for video games today are CD and ROM-based cartridges. Current systems also offer some type of solid-state memory cards for storing saved games and personal information. Flash memory cards can be used to store personal information and game progress. Newer systems like the Microsoft XBox and the Sony PlayStation 2 have DVD drives.
All game consoles provide a video signal that is compatible with the television system. Depending on the country or region, this may be NTSC or PAL/SECAM. NTSC is commonly found throughout America while PAL/SECAM is the dominant TV system in Asia and Europe. Most consoles have a dedicated graphics processor that provides specialised mapping, texturing and geometric functions, in addition to controlling video output.
Another dedicated chip typically handles the audio processing chores and outputs stereo sound or, in some cases, digital surround sound. Modern game consoles have sound processors that have DTS functionality.
Power supply is required in some form or the other by virtually any device today.
The software used on these dedicated computer systems has evolved amazingly from the simple rectangular blips used in Pong. Games today feature richly textured, full-color graphics, awesome sound and complex interaction between player and system. The increased storage capacity of the cartridges and discs allows game developers to include incredibly detailed graphics and CD-quality soundtracks. Several of the video game systems have built-in special effects that add features like unique lighting or texture mapping in real-time. There is a huge variety of games available for the various game consoles today.
A T Y P I C A L G A M E C O N S O L E
A joystick is used mainly to control on-screen movement in computer games. It feeds three kinds of information to the computer–horizontal movement, vertical movement, and on-off signals when the action buttons are pressed. Joysticks designed for flight-simulator players have an extra control called a top hat on the top of the stick, providing an additional set of thumb-operated horizontal and vertical movement controls.
Joysticks were once the ultimate in controllers for electronic gamers, but other types of controllers are increasingly becoming popular. For driving games there are realistic steering wheels which often come with a separate foot pedal unit for accelerating and braking.
One recent development is force feedback technology, found in some high-end joysticks and steering wheels. Instead of just passively being pushed around, a force feedback controller has motors that make the controller actually move in your hand, reflecting the on-screen action.
Joysticks take something entirely physical–the movement of your hand-and translate it into something entirely mathematical–a string of ones and zeros (the language of computers). With a good joystick, the translation is so flawless that one completely forgets about it. When one is really engaged in a game, one feels that there is direct interaction with the virtual world.
The technology has evolved a great deal from the first game console designs to the sophisticated force feedback models available today.
A SIMPLE SYSTEM
The basic idea of a joystick is to translate the movement of a plastic stick into electronic information a console can process. Joysticks are used in all kinds of machines, including F-15 fighter jets, heavy earth moving equipment, cranes, bulldozers, wheelchairs and industrial automation. The same principles applicable for game console joysticks also apply to other sorts of joysticks.
The various joystick technologies differ mainly in how much information they pass on. The simplest joystick design, used in many early game consoles, is just a specialised electrical switch.
This basic design consists of a stick that is attached to a plastic base with a flexible rubber sheath. The base houses a circuit board that sits directly underneath the stick. The circuit board is made up of several ‘printed wires’, which connect to several contact terminals. Ordinary wires extend from these contact points to the computer.
An early Atari joystick
The printed wires form a simple electrical circuit made up of several smaller circuits. The circuits just carry electricity from one contact point to another. When the joystick is in the neutral position–when one is not pushing one way or another–all but one of the individual circuits are broken. The conductive material in each wire doesn't quite connect, so the circuit can't conduct electricity.
Each broken section is covered with a simple plastic button containing a tiny metal disc. When one moves the stick in any direction, it pushes down on one of these buttons, pressing the conductive metal disc against the circuit board. This closes the circuit–it completes the connection between the two wire sections. When the circuit is closed, electricity can flow down a wire from the game console, through the printed wire, and to another wire leading back to the console.
When the game console picks up a charge on a particular wire, it knows that the joystick is in the right position to complete that particular circuit. Pushing the stick forward closes the forward switch, pushing it left closes the left switch, and so on. In some designs, the computer recognizes a diagonal position when the stick closes two switches (for example, closing the forward switch and the left switch simultaneously would mean a forward/leftward diagonal position). The firing buttons work exactly the same way–when you press down, it completes a circuit and the console recognizes a fire command.
Two variations on the switch design. In both, the stick's motion closes movable metal contacts.
This design communicates joystick motion in a sort of shorthand–it processes movement as absolute values instead of subtle gradations. In other words, it can't distinguish between pressing forward on the stick a little bit and pushing it as far as it will go–there is only one value for forward.
This is fine–even ideal–for some games. It is the perfect design form something like Pac Man or Tetris, for example. But it can be fairly limiting for other games, such as flight simulators.
CONVENTIONAL ANALOG DESIGN
In order to communicate a full range of motion to the computer, a joystick needs to measure the stick's position on two axes–the X-axis (left to right) and the Y-axis (up and down). Just as in basic geometry, the X-Y coordinates pinpoint the stick's position exactly.
In the standard joystick design, the handle moves a narrow rod that sits in two rotatable, slotted shafts. Tilting the stick forward and backward pivots the Y-axis shaft from side to side. Tilting it left to right pivots the X-axis shaft. When you move the stick diagonally, it pivots both shafts. Several springs center the stick when you let go of it.
To determine the location of the stick, the joystick control system simply monitors the position of each shaft. The conventional analog joystick design does this with two potentiometers, or variable resistors. The diagram below shows a typical arrangement.
Each potentiometer consists of a resistor, in the form of a curved track, and a movable contact arm. The computer power supply conducts electricity to the input terminal, through the curved resistor, through the contact arm and back to the joystick port on the console.
By moving the contact arm along the track, you can increase or decrease the resistance acting on the current flowing through this circuit. If the contact arm is on the opposite end of the path from the input connection terminal, electricity will have to flow through a long length of resistor, so it will face maximum resistance. If the contact arm is near the input terminal, the potentiometer will have minimal resistance.
Each potentiometer is connected to one of the joystick shafts so that pivoting the shaft rotates the contact arm. In other words, if you push the stick all the way forward, it will turn the potentiometer contact arm to one end of the track, and if you pull it back toward you, it will turn the contact arm the other way.
Varying the resistance of the potentiometer alters the electrical current in the connected circuit. In this way, the potentiometer translates the stick's physical position into an electrical signal, which it passes on to the joystick port on the computer.
This electrical signal is totally analog–it is a varying wave of information, like a radio signal. In order to make the information usable, the computer needs to translate it into a digital signal–a strict numerical value.
In the conventional system, a card (a printed circuit board) inside the game console handles this with a very crude analog-to-digital converter. The basic idea is to use the varying voltage from each potentiometer to charge a capacitor, a simple electrical device that stores electricity. If the potentiometer is adjusted to offer more resistance, it will take the capacitor longer to charge; if it offers less resistance, the capacitor will charge more quickly.
By discharging the capacitor and then timing how long it takes it to recharge, the converter can determine the position of the potentiometer, and therefore the joystick. The measured recharge rate is a numerical value the computer can recognize. The console performs this operation whenever it needs to get a read on the joystick.
You can potentially apply this system to an infinite variety of controls by connecting a potentiometer to different rotating components. For example, conventional steering wheel controllers work exactly the same way, with the wheel rotating the potentiometer contact arm directly. Some joysticks use an additional potentiometer for a Z-axis, activated by rotating the stick itself.
Some joysticks also have a ‘top hat’ - a thumb-activated miniature controller on top of the stick.
The Flighterstick, a modern programmable USB joystick, uses the same “hands-on throttle and stick” (HOTAS) system as real fighter jets – individual buttons have unique shapes and textures so you can identify them by touch.
There are a couple of big problems with the conventional analog joystick system. First of all, the crude analog-to-digital conversion process isn't very accurate, since the system doesn't have a true analog-to-digital converter. This compromises the joystick's sensitivity somewhat. Secondly, the host console has to dedicate a lot of processing power to regularly poll the joystick system to determine the position of the stick. This takes a lot of power away from other operations.
Joystick manufacturers have addressed these problems in a couple of different ways. One solution is to add a sensitive analog-to-digital converter chip in a specialised game adapter card or in the joystick itself. In this system, the converter spits out digital information directly to the computer, which improves the accuracy of the stick and reduces the work load on the host processor. These new joystick models can usually connect to USB ports, which also improves speed and reliability.
Another solution is to skip the analog potentiometer technology all together. Many newer controllers use optical sensors to read stick movement digitally. The diagram below shows one common system.
In this system, the two shafts are connected to two slotted wheels. Each wheel is positioned between two light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and two photocells (the graphic only shows one photocell, LED pair for the sake of simplicity). When light from each LED shines through one of the slots, it causes the photocell on the other side of the wheel to generate a small amount of current. When the wheel rotates slightly, it blocks the light and the photocell doesn't generate current (or it generates less current).
When the shaft pivots, it spins the wheel, and the moving slots repeatedly break the light beam shining on the photocell. This causes the photocell to generate rapid pulses of current. Based on the number of pulses that the photocells have generated, the processor knows how far the stick has moved. By comparing the patterns coming from both photocells monitoring one wheel, the processor can figure out which way the stick is moving. This is the same basic system used in many computer mice.
The basic idea of a force feedback joystick (also called a haptic feedback joystick) is to move the stick in conjunction with onscreen action. For example, if you are shooting a machine gun in an action game, the stick would vibrate in your hands. Or if you crashed your plane in a flight simulator, the stick would push back suddenly.
Force feedback joysticks have most of the same components as ordinary joysticks, with a few important additions–an onboard microprocessor, a couple of electrical motors and either a gear train or belt and pulley system. The diagram below shows one simple design.
The X-axis and Y-axis shafts connected to the stick both engage a belt pulley. The other end of the belt for each axis engages a motor's axle. In this setup, rotating the motor axle will move the belt to pivot the shaft, and pivoting the shaft will move the belt to rotate the motor axle. The belt's function is to transmit and amplify the force from the motor to the shaft.
Both an electrical signal from the onboard processor and the physical movement of the joystick will rotate the motor axle. In this way, you can still move the joystick even when the motor is moving it. On the opposite end of the motor, the axle is connected to the joystick's position sensors (its potentiometers or optical sensors, for example). Whenever the stick moves, whether due to the motor or the player, the sensors detect its position.
The joystick has a built-in ROM chip that stores various sequences of motor movement. For example, it might have a machine gun sequence that instructs the motors to rapidly change direction, or a rocket launcher sequence that instructs the motor to shift the joystick backward suddenly and then forward again. The game software requests a particular sequence, and the computer transmits the request to the joystick's onboard processor, which brings up the appropriate data from its own memory. This reduces the work load on the console and makes for faster reaction times.
As joysticks continue to evolve, manufacturers will take force feedback technology to whole new levels. This is great for avid gamers, of course, but it could also have a big effect on the rest of the population. Force feedback controller technology could lead to significant changes in industrial machinery, wheelchairs and other equipment for handicapped people, and even medical care. Researchers are also developing force feedback controllers to let people ‘feel’ the Internet as they surf.
The possible applications are endless. In the future, joysticks could be as ubiquitous as computer keyboards are today.
THE MICROSOFT XBOX
The game consoles that are available today are never enough for video gamers; their attention is always focused on what the next great thing will be. In 2000, it was the PlayStation 2. The game console wars heated up as Nintendo unveiled its latest console, called GameCube. But the big news was that the computer software giant Microsoft entered the multi-billion dollar game console market with the XBox.
The console is a black box with a large “X” imprinted into the top. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has said that the XBox has more power than any console currently on the market.
Microsoft unveiled the XBox's final industrial design at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show.
Microsoft says that its marketing for the XBox has been the largest effort ever for one of its products. In fact, the XBox's marketing budget is the largest for any game console in history, easily surpassing Sega's $100 million campaign in 1998.
On paper, the XBox has more brute power and speed than any game console on the market.
INSIDE THE X
In March 2000, rumors that Microsoft was developing a game console were confirmed when Gates took the wraps off the XBox demo unit. In January 2001, the demo model, a big chrome “X” with a green-glowing light in the middle, was replaced by a more traditional black box. As analysts predicted, the only part of the demo model to make it into the final design is the glowing green light on top of the box. The sidewinder controller pad used with the demo unit was also altered for the final XBox design.
A lot has been made of the XBox's design, but it takes more than a cool look to sell gamers on a product. Just like a book, it is what is inside the cover that really matters. One advantage that Microsoft has enjoyed is that it has been able to sit back and watch what other game console manufacturers have done. In doing so, Microsoft's designers have examined what has worked and what has failed in recent game consoles.
On the inside, the XBox is fairly similar to a PC. But Microsoft maintains that it is not a PC for your living room. There's no mouse or keyboard to go with it. The XBox does boast:
• A modified 733-megahertz (MHz) Intel Pentium III Coppermine processor with a maximum bus transfer rate of 6.4 gigabytes per second (GBps).
• The XBox possesses the fastest processing speeds for a game console to date. For comparison, the PlayStation 2 has a 300-MHz processor and a maximum bus transfer rate of 3.2 GBps. The Nintendo GameCube has a 485-MHz processor and a 2.6 GB maximum bus transfer rate.
• A custom 250-MHz 3-D graphics processor from NVIDIA that can process more than 1 trillion operations per second and produce up to 125 million polygons per second.
Polygons are the building blocks of 3-D graphic images. Increasing the number polygons results in sharper, more detailed images. The graphics processor also supports high resolutions of up to 1920x1080 pixels. For comparison, the PlayStation 2 has a 150-MHz graphics processor and produces 70 million polygons per second. The GameCube has a 162-MHz graphics processor and produces 12 million polygons per second. It should be pointed out that the PlayStation 2 and XBox figures are theoretical top speeds–it is unlikely that a system will reach that limit. Nintendo's figure is considered a more realistic number for its console.
• A custom 3-D audio processor that supports 256 audio channels and Dolby AC3 encoding.
• An 8-GB built-in hard drive (Having a built-in hard drive allows games to start up faster).
• 64 MB of unified memory, which game developers can allocate to the central processing unit and graphics processing unit as needed (This arguably makes the XBox more flexible for game designers).
• A stripped down version of Windows 2000 as its operating system.
• A media communications processor (MCP), also from NVIDIA, that enables broadband connectivity, and a 10/100-Mbps (megabits per second) built-in Ethernet that allows you to use your cable modem or DSL to play games online.
As of November 15, 2002, the XBox online gaming service is active. It requires a broadband connection and a $49.95 subscription to XBox Live.
Other XBox features include:
• 5X DVD drive with movie playback (functional with addition of movie playback kit)
• 8-MB removable memory card
• Four custom game controller ports (one controller sold with the unit)
• HDTV support
• Expansion port
Game superiority ultimately decides who wins the battle in the video game console industry. One can easily design a machine with 10 times more power and speed than the XBox, but, if the games aren’t interesting enough, he/she can do well to forget all about selling it. Having better games is what vaulted Sony over Nintendo in the late 1990s.
Project Gotham Racing
Like the PS2, the XBox uses proprietary 4.7-GB DVD games. Microsoft has signed deals with more than 150 video game makers who have committed themselves to developing games for Microsoft's XBox game console. These game developers include id Software, maker of the popular Quake series, and Eidos Interactive, which makes the Tomb Raider games featuring Lara Croft. Other XBox game manufacturers include Bandai, Capcom, Hudson, Soft, Konami, Midway Home Entertainment, Namco, Sierra Studios, THQ and Ubi Soft. Microsoft, itself a PC game publisher, is producing about 30 percent of XBox's games.
One of the most impressive qualities of the XBox is its realistic environments. For example, characters cast shadows on each other, a first for the game console industry, making for some pretty realistic scenes.
The momentum of the PS2 might be too much for the XBox to overcome–but then again, in 1995, no one thought that Sony would surpass Nintendo in popularity.
THE NINTENDO GAMECUBE
In the United States, the Nintendo GameCube is the undeniable underdog of the ‘console wars’. Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's XBox certainly sell better, and they tend to get more media attention. Toward the end of 2002, for example, the PlayStation 2 stirred up a lot of controversy with its new game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Microsoft had a hit with XBox Live, its online gaming program. Once the undisputed king of home video games, Nintendo now seems to be struggling just to hold its own.
The Nintendo GameCube
But if one actually spends any time with a GameCube, he/she may be confused by its reputation as a third-rate system. It's hard to see ground-breaking GameCube games like Metroid Prime and Super Mario Sunshine as anything less than state of the art. No matter how it fares in sales, this console is definitely a remarkable technological achievement.
INSIDE THE CUBE
The GameCube is not actually a cube; at 6 inches long, 6 inches wide and 4.3 inches tall (15 x 15 x 11 cm), it is a very compact rectangular block. Like its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, the GameCube comes in a variety of colors. A handle on the back of the machine makes it easy to transport.
The limited edition platinum GameCube
While Nintendo didn't spend a lot of time on the aesthetics of the console, the insides are pretty impressive. A deeper look at the components inside the GameCube reveals the following:
The GameCube is powered by a 485-megahertz (MHz) IBM microprocessor, an extension of the IBM PowerPC architecture. It has a maximum bus transfer rate of 2.6 GB per second. The GameCube also features a whopping 256 kilobytes (KB) of Level 2 (L2) cache memory.
An ATI 162-MHz graphics chip, called “Flipper” allows the GameCube to produce about 12 million polygons per second. Polygons are the building blocks of 3-D graphics. Increasing the number of polygons results in sharper, more detailed images. In comparison, the Nintendo 64 produces 150,000 polygons per second.
A special 16-bit digital signal processor supports 64 audio channels.
The GameCube has 40 MB of RAM (24 MB 1T-SRAM, 16 MB of 100-MHz DRAM).
Gamers can now attach a modem to the GameCube. The modem fits into a serial port on the underside of the console. It allow users to connect to an online network, where they can trade data and play games over the Internet.
56K modem Broadband modem
Other GameCube features include:
○ Four game controller ports
○ Wavebird wireless RF game controller (sold separately)
○ Two slots for Memory Cards
○ High speed parallel port
○ Two high-speed serial ports
○ Analog and digital audio/video outputs
The GameCube's wireless controller
One thing that you won't find in Nintendo's GameCube is a DVD player, which the PS2 and XBox both have. Nintendo says it's sticking to the basics and what it knows best - video games.
The GameCube is the first Nintendo console not to use game cartridges. Instead, the GameCube uses 1.5-GB proprietary optical discs with a diameter of 8 cm (3.14 inches). A compact disc has a diameter of 12 cm (4.72 inches), which is the size of the Sony game discs.
The GameCube uses small proprietary discs instead of cartridges.
The biggest difference between the different consoles is their respective game catalogues. Gamers typically pick the console that supports the titles they are most interested in. The PlayStation 2 has a huge lead in sheer number of games because it plays original PlayStation games and it hit store shelves well before the other consoles. The XBox has fared well largely because of high profile games aimed at teenage and adult players (such as Halo and Splinter Cell).
Nintendo's main strategy has been to launch exclusive games based on well-known established characters. For example, Mario, Star Fox and Metroid’s Samus, who were all featured in hit games on earlier Nintendo consoles, will appear only in GameCube titles. Nintendo has also worked out a deal with Capcom for exclusive rights to new Resident Evil games.
Super Mario Sunshine
As it turned out, using established characters in the console's biggest games had a significant downside. With the cartoon Mario characters on the front and centre, the GameCube was immediately branded by many as a children’s’ game console. While it does have many games aimed at older players, it hasn't hit on anything as controversial as the PlayStation 2's Grand Theft Auto series or as lauded as X-Box's shooter Halo.
[pic] [pic] [pic] [pic]
One thing the GameCube does have over the competition is its ability to interact with the Game Boy Advance (GBA), Nintendo's handheld system. The GBA plugs directly into the GameCube's controller port to allow the two systems to communicate with select games. In May 2003, Nintendo released an accessory that will let you play Game Boy games on a TV, through the GameCube.
The Game Boy Player
Ultimately, the winner in the game console wars will be the gamers themselves. As the console manufacturers continue to try to top one another to attract increasingly discriminating buyers, the great titles keep on coming.
THE SEGA DREAMCAST
The Sega Dreamcast hit the market in 1999 and was hailed as an innovative video game system.
With good reason, Popular Science magazine recognized the Sega Dreamcast as one of the most important and innovative products of 1999. Impressive technical specifications, great games and an imaginative advertising campaign heralded the arrival of the latest system from a company known for groundbreaking video game systems.
An established leader in the arcade, Sega entered the home market right on the heels of Nintendo. Renamed the Sega Master System, the system known as the Mark III in Japan debuted in the United States in 1986. The Sega Master System used an 8-bit CPU, 128K ROM-based operating system and had a 128K of RAM. Games came on two types of cartridges: a large cartridge that could hold a megabit of game code, and a smaller cartridge that held 256 kilobits of game code.
In 1989, Sega introduced the world's first 16-bit home video game system, the Genesis. Based on Motorola's 68000 processor, the system was technically superior to anything else on the market. But the sheer dominance of Nintendo overshadowed the Genesis, when the rival company debuted the Super Nintendo Entertainment System later that same year.
But Sega beat Sony and Nintendo to the punch with a 32-bit system. The Saturn was officially launched on May 11, 1995. Not only was it the first 32-bit system, but it had two 28.8 MHz 32-bit Hitachi SH-2 processors working in parallel. Sega's Saturn was an amazing system with an incredible architecture, but quickly fell behind the other 32-bit system released that year, Sony's PlayStation.
Codenamed Katana, the Dreamcast was released in the fall of 1999, the first system to provide a built-in modem and 128-bit graphics.
• Processor: 64-bit Hitachi SH-4
o Processor clock speed: 200 MHz
o MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second): 360
o Bus speed: 800 MB per second
§ Instruction: 8 K
§ Data: 16 K
• Graphics: 128-bit 100 MHz NEC PowerVR 2DC
o Resolution: 640x480 or 320x240 interlaced
o Colors: 24-bit (16,777,216) maximum, as well as 16-bit (65,536) mode
o Polygon rendering: 3,000,000 polygons per second
o Geometry engine:
§ Alpha blending
§ Perspective correction
§ Gouraud shading
§ Anistropic, bilinear and trilinear mip mapping
o Memory: 8 MB video RAM
• Audio: 45 MHz Yamaha Super Intelligent sound processor
o Channels: 64
o Sample rate: 44.1 KHz
o Special effects: reverb, delay and surround sound
o Memory: 2 MB RAM
• Memory: 16 MB
• Operating system: Windows CE-based custom Sega OS
• Game medium: Proprietary GD-ROM (Gigabyte Disc)
o Transfer speed: 1800 kilobytes per second
o Storage capacity: 1.2 gigabytes
o Memory buffer: 128 K
• Modem: 56 kilobits per second (Kbps)
Like the Sony PlayStation, the CPU in the Dreamcast is a RISC processor. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer, and means that the instructions and computations performed by the processor are simpler and fewer. Also, RISC chips are superscalar–they can perform multiple instructions simultaneously. This combination of capabilities, performing more instructions simultaneously and completing each instruction faster because it is simpler, allows the CPU to perform better than many chips with a much faster clock speed.
Inside a Dreamcast console is the RISC processor, similar to that in other video game systems.
To lower production costs, the graphics processor is combined with circuitry to control the system through a single application specific integrated circuit (ASIC). Simply put, this means that a custom chip is created to manage all of the necessary components that would normally be handled by separate chips. The Dreamcast sound processor is another ASIC; it combines a 45 MHz ARM7 CPU and a Yamaha digital signal processor (DSP). The ARM7 is a 32-bit RISC chip that handles all processing of the compressed adaptive differential pulse code modulation (ADPCM) audio information in real time. ADPCM is used to sample analog information, compress it at a ratio of 4:1 and store it in digital format.
The Dreamcast has several hardware effects that are handled by the PowerVR chip. They include alpha blending, perspective correction and mip mapping.
Alpha blending uses the alpha channel to add transparency effects to an object. This is a special graphics mode used by digital video, animation and video games to achieve certain looks. Essentially, 24 bits are used to define the red, green and blue amounts, 8 bits each, needed to create a specific color. Another 8 bits are used to create a gray-scale mask that acts as a separate layer for representing levels of object transparency. How transparent an object will be is determined by how dark the gray in the alpha channel is. By making an area of the mask dark gray, you can make an object appear to be very transparent; by making it light gray, you can create special fog or water effects.
Mip mapping is a form of texture mapping in which different sizes of each texture map are made. In essence, the processor replaces the appearance of an object with a more detailed image as you move closer to the object in the game. Let's take a look at how Dreamcast uses these maps in trilinear mip mapping:
1. The system calculates the distance from your viewpoint to an object in the game.
2. The system loads the texture maps for the object. Our three maps will be 64x64 (large), 32x32 (medium), and 8x8 (small).
3. The system determines the exact size that the image map needs to be. Let's say 16x16 for our example here.
4. Based on the size, it decides which two texture maps to use. For our example, it will choose the medium and small texture maps.
5. It will then interpolate (average) between the two texture maps, creating a custom texture map that is 16x16, which it then applies it to the object.
When a game is put in the console, the following happens:
• You turn the power on.
• The disc spins up to speed.
• While the disc is spinning up, the console loads portions of the operating system from ROM into RAM.
• The game initialization sequence is loaded into RAM.
• You interact with the game via the controller.
• As each specific part of the game is requested, the application code and hardware-render geometry are loaded into RAM, while the video and audio portions are usually streamed directly from the CD.
• The PowerVR chip coordinates everything. In addition to processing graphics, it receives the input from the controller, pulls the data from RAM, sends it to the CPU and directs the use of the audio processor.
• You are finally beaten by the game and turn it off.
The Dreamcast is the first console that has a built-in 56 Kbps modem. It was added to enable online play over a phone line, allowing users to play games against each other across long distances. In addition to the built-in modem, Sega is working on a cable or DSL external modem. Broadband networks are being developed that will take advantage of such a modem and enable fast online games for the Dreamcast.
As it is with other systems, the controller is the primary user interface for the Dreamcast. The standard Dreamcast controller has 11 buttons plus an analog joystick. The buttons include:
○ four buttons arranged as a directional pad on the top left
○ Start button in the top middle
○ four action buttons on the top right
○ one analog trigger on the front left
○ one analog trigger on the front right
○ analog joystick on the top left
A Sega Dreamcast controller
Although each button can be configured to perform a specific and distinctive action, all of the buttons, except for the two analog triggers and joystick, work on the same principle. In essence, each button is a switch that completes a circuit whenever it is pressed. A small metal disc beneath the button is pushed into contact with two strips of conductive material on the circuit board inside the controller. While the metal disc is in contact, it conducts electricity between the two strips. The controller senses that the circuit is closed and sends that data to the Dreamcast. The CPU compares that data with the instructions in the game software for that button, and triggers the appropriate response. There is also a metal disc under each arm of the directional pad. If one is playing a game in which pushing down on the directional pad causes the character to crouch, a similar string of connections is made from the time one pushes down on the pad to when the character crouches.
The analog joystick and triggers work in a completely different way from the buttons described above. The triggers each have a tiny magnet attached to the end of the trigger arm. When the trigger is depressed, the magnet is pushed toward a sensor mounted on the controller's circuit board. Through the process of induction, the magnet creates resistance to the current passing through the sensor. On the bottom of the magnet is a layer of foam padding. Pushing harder on the trigger compresses the padding, which brings the magnet closer to the sensor. The closer the magnet is to the sensor, the more resistance is induced. This variable resistance makes the triggers pressure-sensitive.
The joystick also uses a magnet, along with four small sensors. The sensors are arranged like a compass, with one at each of the cardinal points (north, south, east, west). The base of the joystick is shaped like a ball, with tiny spokes radiating out. The ball sits in a socket above the sensors. Spikes on the socket fit between the spokes on the ball. This allows for an extraordinary amount of movement without letting the joystick twist out of alignment with the sensors. As the joystick is moved, the magnet in the base moves closer to one or two of the sensors, and farther from the others. The system monitors the changes in induction caused by the magnet's movement to calculate the position of the joystick.
The controller has two expansion ports where memory cards, tremor packs, Visual Memory System (VMS) devices and other system additions can be inserted.
A popular option is the tremor pack, which provides force feedback. This feature provides a tactile stimulation to certain actions in a game. For example, in a racing game, one might feel a jarring vibration as one’s car slams into the wall. Force feedback is actually accomplished through the use of a very common device, a simple electric motor. The shaft of the motor holds an unbalanced weight. When power is supplied to the motor, it spins the weight. Because the weight is unbalanced, the motor tries to wobble. But since the motor is securely mounted inside the tremor pack, the wobble translates into a shuddering vibration of the controller itself.
While standard memory cards can be used with the Dreamcast, the VMS units are unique to this console. The VMS is actually a tiny Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) that fits into the upper expansion port of the controller.
About the size of a business card, each VMS unit contains:
8-bit Hitachi CPU
128 K memory (Flash RAM)
Monochrome LCD panel, 48 pixels wide by 32 pixels high
Two button (watch) batteries, with auto-off function, to provide power
When the VMS is inserted into a Dreamcast controller, its LCD can be used to perform some unique functions. For example, in a football game, one can select plays without one’s opponent seeing what they are. In addition to serving as a memory card for the Dreamcast, the VMS can be used as a stand alone device. Small games, as well as traditional PDA functions like a calendar and phone directory, can be downloaded to the VMS and taken with self.
While Dreamcast games are similar to CD-ROM, the actual optical disc used is proprietary, and can hold up to 1.2 gigabytes of information. This is a lot of space– most games use only a fraction of it for the actual game. What can eat up the space are the incredible full motion video intros and intermissions included in most Dreamcast games.
The Sega Dreamcast has a drive similar to other CD-ROM drives, but the optical disc is proprietary.
There is a noticeable delay while the game is loaded from the CD, which you do not get with cartridge-based games. Of course, the trade-off for faster loading is a significantly smaller amount of storage on a cartridge.
Dreamcast CDs are just as susceptible to scratches and intense heat as normal CDs. Even more so in fact, since a scratch on a game CD can make it totally unusable.
The games available for the Dreamcast cover all the categories, and its library of games is increasing rapidly. Game prices range from under $20 for certain preplayed titles to over $75 for some of the hottest new games.
THE SONY PLAYSTATION
In 1988, Sony entered into an agreement with Nintendo to develop a CD-ROM attachment, known as the Super Disc, for the soon-to-be released Super Nintendo. Due to many contractual and licensing problems, the Super Disc was never released. Instead, a modified version was introduced by Sony in 1991, in a system called the PlayStation.
The original PlayStation read these Super Discs, special interactive CDs based on technology developed by Sony and Phillips called CD-ROM/XA. This extension of the CD-ROM format allowed audio, video and computer data to be accessed simultaneously by the processor. The PlayStation also read audio CDs, and had a cartridge port for accepting Super Nintendo game cartridges. The PlayStation was envisioned as the core of a home multimedia center. Sony only manufactured about 200 of them before deciding to retool the design.
The new design, dubbed the PlayStation X, or PSX, dropped the Super Nintendo cartridge port and focused solely on CD-ROM based games. The component hardware inside the console was revamped as well, to ensure an immersing and responsive gaming experience. Launched in Japan in December of 1994, and in the United States and Europe in September of 1995, the PlayStation quickly became the most popular system available. The PlayStation became so popular that at one time Sony’s estimates revealed that one out of every four households in the United States had a PlayStation.
• Processor: 32-bit R3000A
§ Processor clock speed: 33.8688 MHz
§ MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second): 30
§ Bus speed: 132 MB per second
• Data: 4 KB
• Instruction cache: 1 KB
§ Resolution: 640x480 maximum (five interlaced and four non-interlaced modes supported)
§ Colors: 24-bit (16,777,216) maximum; other modes supported are 4-bit (16), 8-bit (256) and 15-bit (32,768)
§ Maximum sprite size: 256 pixels high x 256 pixels wide
§ Polygon rendering: 360,000 polygons per second
§ Geometry engine: Provides additional hardware rendering of polygons to include Gouraud shading, texture-mapping and lighting effects
§ Memory: 1 MB RAM
§ MPEG decoder
§ Channels: 24
§ Sample rate: 44.1 KHz
§ Memory: 512K RAM
§ Digital effects (envelope, looping, reverb)
§ MIDI support
• Memory: 2 MB RAM
• Operating system: Proprietary 512K ROM
• Game medium: CD-ROM
§ Transfer speed: 150 KB per second normal, 300 KB per second double speed
§ Audio CD support
§ Memory buffer: 32K
The CPU in the PSX is a RISC processor. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer, and means that the instructions and computations performed by the processor are simpler and fewer. Also, RISC chips are superscalar–they can perform multiple instructions at the same time. This combination of capabilities, performing multiple instructions simultaneously and completing each instruction faster because it is simpler, allows the CPU to perform better than many chips with a much faster clock speed.
To lower production costs, the CPU, graphics and audio processors are combined into a single application specific integrated circuit, or ASIC. Simply put, the ASIC is a customized chip created to manage all of the components that would otherwise be handled by three separate chips.
The PlayStation reads games from a CD-ROM/XA disc with a laser.
The games come on proprietary CD-ROM/XA discs that are read by laser, just like regular CDs. When a game is put in the console, the following happens:
• You turn the power on.
• The disc spins up to speed.
• While the disc is spinning up, the console loads portions of the operating system from ROM into RAM.
• The game initialization sequence is loaded into RAM.
• You interact with the game via the controller.
• As each specific part of the game is requested, the application code and hardware-render geometry are loaded into RAM, while the video and audio portions are usually streamed directly from the CD.
• The CPU coordinates everything. It receives the input from the controller, pulls the data from RAM and directs the graphics and audio processing.
• You are finally beaten by the game and turn it off.
Since all information is flushed from RAM when the power is turned off, you will lose any personal game data. But one can save it by using one of the special Flash memory cards. The card is inserted into one of the two slots on the front of the PSX, above the port for the controller.
The controller is the primary user interface for the PlayStation. And just as the gamepad that came with the original Nintendo Entertainment System was a radical departure from previous controllers, the PSX controller changed the rules again. With its winged shape and abundance of well-positioned buttons, it is user-friendly and yet powerful.
The Sony PlayStation X was the first in the line of modern day gaming consoles with revolutionary features like Force Feedback. It was so successful that Sony estimated that one in every five US households had a PlayStation.
The standard PSX controller has 14 buttons. They include:
• four buttons arranged as a directional pad on the top left
• Start and Select buttons in the top middle
• four action buttons on the top right
• two action buttons on the front left
• two action buttons on the front right
Although each button can be configured to perform a specific and distinctive action, they all work on the same principle. In essence, each button is a switch that completes a circuit when it is pressed. A small metal disk beneath the button is pushed into contact with two strips of conductive material on the circuit board inside the controller. While the metal disk is in contact, it conducts electricity between the two strips. The controller senses that the circuit is closed and sends that data to the PSX. The CPU compares that data with the instructions in the game software for that button, and triggers the appropriate response. There is also a metal disk under each arm of the directional pad. If one is playing a game in which pushing down on the directional pad causes the character to crouch, a similar string of connections is made from the time one pushes down on the pad to when the character crouches.
Newer Dual Shock PSX controllers have analog joysticks on them, as well as the standard buttons. These joysticks work in a completely different way from the buttons described above. Two potentiometers (variable resistors) are positioned at right angles to each other below the joystick. Current flows constantly through each one, but the amount of current is determined by the amount of resistance. Resistance is increased or decreased based on the position of the joystick. By monitoring the output of each potentiometer, the PSX can determine the exact angle at which the joystick is being held, and trigger the appropriate response based on that angle. In games that support them, analog features like these allow for amazing control over gameplay.
Another feature of the Dual Shock controller, actually the reason for its name, is force feedback. This feature provides a tactile stimulation to certain actions in a game. For example, in a racing game, one might feel a jarring vibration as one’s car slams into the wall.
The Dual Shock controller uses force feedback to simulate the action in the game.
Force feedback is actually accomplished through the use of a very common device, a simple electric motor. In the Dual Shock controller, two motors are used, one housed in each handgrip. The shaft of each motor holds an unbalanced weight. When power is supplied to the motor, it spins the weight. Because the weight is unbalanced, the motor tries to wobble. But since the motor is securely mounted inside the controller, the wobble translates into a shuddering vibration of the controller itself. To understand how the controller communicates with the PSX
Here's what each pin does:
1. DATA–This pin carries the signal that the controller sends to the PSX each time a button is pressed. It is an 8-bit serial transmission.
2. COMMAND–This pin is used by the PSX to send information to the controller. Such information might trigger the motors in a Dual Shock controller at the proper moment. It also uses an 8-bit serial transmission.
3. Not used
5. POWER - This pin supplies 5 volts to the controller from the PSX.
6. SELECT - This pin is used by the PSX to notify the controller of incoming data.
7. CLOCK - This pin carries a synchronizing signal sent from the PSX to the controller.
8. Not used
9. ACKNOWLEDGE - This pin sends a signal to the PSX from the controller after each command that is received on Pin 2.
The games on the PSX are CD-ROM-based, so they are limited to a maximum size of 650 Mb. But this is a lot of space. In fact, most games do not use more than a fraction of it for the actual game. What can eat up the space are the incredible full motion video intros and intermissions that PlayStation games are known for.
There is a noticeable delay while the game is loaded from the CD, which one doesn’t get in cartridge-based games. Of course, the trade-off for faster loading is a significantly smaller amount of storage on the cartridge.
Because they are black instead of the traditional silver, PSX CDs are very distinctive. The CDs are just as susceptible to scratches and intense heat as normal audio CDs - even more so in fact, since a scratch on a game CD can make it totally unusable.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
The games available for the PlayStation cover all of the categories. It has, by far, the largest game library of any of the consoles on the market today. Game prices range from under $10, for certain preplayed titles, to over $50 for some of the hottest new games.
THE SONY PLAYSTATION 2
The Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) was one of the most anticipated products of 2001. The technical features of the PS2 are very impressive.
In 1988, Sony entered into an agreement with Nintendo to develop a CD-ROM attachment, known as the Super Disc, for the soon-to-be released Super Nintendo. Due to many contractual and licensing problems, the Super Disc was never released. Instead, a modified version was introduced by Sony in 1991, as part of a system called the PlayStation.
The PlayStation reads Super Discs, special interactive CDs based on technology developed by Sony and Phillips called CD-ROM/XA. This extension of the CD-ROM format allowed audio, video and computer data to be accessed simultaneously by the processor. The PlayStation also read audio CDs and had a cartridge port for accepting Super Nintendo game cartridges. The original PlayStation was envisioned as the core of a home multimedia center. Sony only manufactured about 200 of them before deciding to retool the design.
The new design, dubbed the PlayStation X, or PSX, dropped the Super Nintendo cartridge port and focused solely on CD-ROM-based games. The component hardware inside the console was revamped as well to ensure an immersing and responsive gaming experience. Launched in Japan in December of 1994, and in the United States and Europe in September of 1995, the PlayStation quickly became the most popular system available.
View of the Emotion Engine and Graphic Synthesizer processors
• Processor: 128-bit "Emotion Engine"
§ Processor clock speed: 300 MHz
§ Floating point unit (FPU) co-processor operating at 6.2 gigaflops
§ Bus speed: 3.2 GB per second
§ Original PlayStation CPU core as I/O processor
• Graphics: "Graphics Synthesizer"
§ 150 MHz
§ Embedded cache
§ 4 MB VRAM
§ Resolution: 640x480 or 320x240 interlaced
§ Colors: 24-bit (16,777,216) maximum, as well as 16-bit (65,536) mode
§ Geometry engine:
o Alpha channel
o Bezier surfacing
o Gouraud shading
o Mip mapping
o Perspective correction
§ Polygon rendering: 75 million polygons per second
• Audio: SPU2 (+CPU)
§ Channels: 48
§ Sample rate: 44.1 KHz or 48 KHz
§ Memory: 2 MB RAM
§ Optical digital output
• Memory: 32 MB RDRAM
• Operating system: Proprietary Sony
• Game medium: Proprietary 4.7-GB DVD
§ Supports original PlayStation CDs
§ Video DVD support
§ Audio CD support
• Drive bay (for hard disk or network interface)
• Other features:
§ Two memory card slots
§ Two USB ports
§ FireWire port (called iLink by Sony)
Like the original PlayStation, the CPU in the PS2 is a RISC processor. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer, and means that the instructions and computations performed by the processor are simpler and fewer. Also, RISC chips are superscalar–they can perform multiple instructions at the same time. This combination of capabilities, performing multiple instructions simultaneously and completing each instruction faster because it is simpler, allows the CPU to perform better than many chips with a much faster clock speed.
The floating point unit (FPU) is a special processor that is dedicated to handling complex mathematical equations, particularly those that include non-integers, numbers after the decimal point. These calculations are commonly referred to as floating point operations because the decimal point can move, or float, depending on the outcome of the calculation. The complexity of such numbers can create a tremendous bottleneck if the main processor has to take the time to perform each calculation. To alleviate this, the non-integer numbers are sent to the FPU.
The speed with which the FPU can process these calculations is expressed as floating point operations per second (FLOPS). A gigaflop is one billion of these. So this means that the PS2's 6.2-gigaflop FPU can perform 6.2 billion floating point operations in a second.
The PS2 has several hardware effects that are handled by the Graphics Synthesizer. They include an alpha channel, Bezier surfacing, perspective correction and mip mapping.
The PS2 uses the alpha channel to add transparency effects to an object. This is a special graphics mode used by digital video, animation and video games to achieve certain looks.
• 24 bits are used to define the amounts of red, green and blue, 8 bits each, needed to create a specific color.
• Another 8 bits are used to create a gray-scale mask that acts as a separate layer for representing levels of object transparency.
• The degree of transparency is determined by how dark the gray in the alpha channel is.
• By making an area of the mask dark gray, you can make an object appear to be very transparent
• By making it light grey, you can create special fog or water effects.
Bezier surfacing is a 3-D modeling process that calculates how many polygons are needed to create an object. It bases the number on the level of detail necessary to make the object appear to be smooth to the viewer. The PS2 only performs these calculations on Bezier-surfaced objects that are in the game. Perspective correction makes the texture map resize at the same rate as the object that it is mapped on.
Mip mapping is a form of texture mapping whereby different sizes of each texture map are made. In essence, the processor replaces the appearance of an object with a more detailed image as one moves closer to the object in the game. To understand how the PS2 uses these maps in trilinear mip mapping,
• The system calculates the distance from your viewpoint to an object in the game.
• The system loads the texture maps for the object. Our three maps will be 64x64 (large), 32x32 (medium), and 8x8 (small).
• The system determines the exact size that the image map needs to be - let's say 16x16 for our example here.
• Based on the size, it decides which two texture maps to use. For our example, it might choose the medium and small texture maps.
• It then interpolates (averages) between the two texture maps, creating a custom texture map that is 16x16, which it then applies to the object.
The goal is to use the smallest texture map possible given the distance that the object is from the viewer. The smaller the texture map, the lower the processing load. On nearby objects, however, small texture maps create a grainy surface that looks bad, so larger texture maps are used there.
The controller is the primary user interface for the PlayStation 2. With its winged shape, analog controls and abundance of well-positioned buttons, it is easy to use yet powerful.
The Sony PlayStation2 controller
The standard PS2 controller has 15 buttons; all of them, except for Analog, Start and Select are analog. They include:
four buttons arranged as a directional pad on the top left
Analog, Start and Select buttons in the top middle
four action buttons on the top right
two action buttons on the front left
two action buttons on the front right
one analog joystick on the top left
one analog joystick on the top right
Although each button can be configured to perform a specific and distinctive action, they all work on the same principle. Each button has a tiny curved disk attached to its bottom. This disk is very conductive. When the button is depressed, the disk is pushed against a thin conductive strip mounted on the controller's circuit board. If the button is pressed lightly, the bottom part of the curved disk is all that touches the strip, increasing the level of conductivity slightly. As the button is pressed harder, more of the disk comes into contact with the strip, gradually increasing the level of conductivity. This varying degree of conductivity makes the buttons pressure-sensitive.
PS2 controllers also have two analog joysticks. These joysticks work in a completely different way from the buttons described above. Two potentiometers, variable resistors, are positioned at right angles to each other below the joystick. Current flows constantly through each one, but the amount of current is determined by the amount of resistance. Resistance is increased or decreased based on the position of the joystick. By monitoring the output of each potentiometer, the PS2 can determine the exact angle at which the joystick is being held, and trigger the appropriate response. In games that support them, analog features such as these allow for amazing control over gameplay.
Another feature of the Dual Shock 2 controller, actually the reason for its name, is force feedback. This feature provides a tactile stimulation to certain actions in a game. For example, in a racing game, one might feel a jarring vibration as one’s car slams into the wall. Force feedback is actually accomplished through the use of a very common device, a simple electric motor. In the Dual Shock 2 controller, two motors are used, one housed in each handgrip. The shaft of each motor holds an unbalanced weight. When power is supplied to the motor, it spins the weight. Because the weight is unbalanced, the motor tries to wobble. But since the motor is securely mounted inside the controller, the wobble translates into a shuddering vibration of the controller itself.
The games for the PS2 come on either CD or DVD; and the system plays games created for the original PlayStation as well.
The 4.7-GB DVD drive gives PlayStation 2 games a larger capacity than original PlayStation games.
The CDs are just as susceptible to scratches and intense heat as regular audio CDs–even more so in fact, since a scratch on a game CD can make it totally unusable.
Here are just a few examples of PS2 games:
Games for the PlayStation 2 are coming out at a rapid pace. Since it will play older PlayStation games as well, it offers an incredibly large existing game library. Game prices range from about $20 to $70.
SOME RELATED FACTS
➢ The Sega Dreamcast was the first console to implement online play over a phone line, calling the system Sega Net.
➢ The Microsoft XBox is the first video game system to completely support HDTV.
➢ Popular Science recognized the Sega Dreamcast as one of the most important and innovative products of 1999.
➢ The Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, contained 40 transistors and no microprocessor. The new Pentium 4 microprocessor contains 42 million transistors on the chip itself!
➢ The PlayStation 2 is the first system to have graphics capability better than that of the leading-edge personal computer at the time of its release.
➢ The Nintendo N64 marked the first time that computer graphics workstation manufacturer Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) developed game hardware technology.
➢ While the original Atari Football game was first created in 1973, it wasn't released until 1978. It was delayed because the game couldn't scroll the screen - players couldn't move beyond the area shown on the monitor. When the game was finally released, it became the first game to utilize scrolling, a key part of many games today.
➢ The Atari Pong video game console was the No. 1 selling item for the holiday season in 1975.
➢ The first console to have games available in the form of add-on cartridges was the Fairchild Channel F console, introduced in August 1976.
➢ The PlayStation 2 is the first video game system to use DVD technology.
➢ On the original Magnavox Odyssey, players had to keep score themselves because the machine couldn't.
➢ The Nintendo GameCube's proprietary disc can hold 1.5 gigabytes of data - 190 times more than what an N64 game cartridge can hold.
➢ On the market from 1977 till 1990, the Atari 2600 lasted longer than any other game system in history.
➢ The Sega Genesis featured a version of the same Motorola processor that powered the original Apple Macintosh computer.
➢ Mattel's Intellivison system, introduced in 1980, featured an add-on called “PlayCable”, which delivered games by cable TV.
➢ Nintendo's Game Boy is the most successful game system ever, with more than 100 million units sold worldwide.
➢ The word ‘Atari’ comes from the ancient Japanese game of Go and means “you are about to be engulfed.” Technically, it is the word used by a player to inform his opponent that he is about to lose, similar to “check” in chess.
➢ In the 1980s, a service called Gameline allowed users to download games to the Atari 2600 over regular phone lines. It was not a success, but did form part of the foundation for America Online, the world's largest Internet service provider.
➢ The first color portable video game system was the Atari Lynx, introduced in 1989 and priced at $149.
➢ Introduced in 1993, the 3DO was the first video game system to be based entirely on CD technology.
➢ The Sony PlayStation was originally intended as a CD add-on o the Super Nintendo. When licensing problems and other issues arose, Sony decided to develop the PlayStation as a machine of its own.
MICROSOFT XBOX 2
Not much is known at this stage about the XBox 2. After much speculation that Microsoft has opted for ATi, there is now a new round of rumours that Microsoft may design the processors on its own – it has licensed some SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc.) patents. Also, the CPU for the XBox 2 is rumoured to have the ability to decode and execute instructions in Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), which is an integral part of .NET; while being downward compatible with the XBox at the same time.
SONY PLAYSTATION 3
The ‘Cell’ is the microprocessor that will power the PlayStation 3 when it comes out, sometime in 2005. Dubbed as a supercomputer on a chip, it is currently being developed jointly by Sony, Toshiba and IBM. It will be fabricated using 0.10 micron silicon-on-insulator (SOI) process technology. The PS3 will also make use of Grid computing, which is a variation of distributed computing and presumably involves networked game machines sharing software, processing power and data.
On the whole, gaming consoles are the better option in the long run. After all, they are designed for gaming right from scratch. This has helped the industry understand the basic requirements of 3D and multimedia applications. Without a doubt, this will affect the designs of PCs in the future and make them more gamer friendly.
“Gaming is indeed heading in the direction of becoming a mainstream form of entertainment. Gaming experience drives technology requirements and in turn contributes to the growth of the IT industry. For gaming there is a need for better graphics and better storage to be able to handle heavy data. As games become increasingly complex, peripherals and technology can provide significant assistance to the gamer, enhancing the gaming experience.”
“Through various experiments, scientists across the world have started to study children’s brains to understand what goes on during the hours they spend on gaming. It seems clear that children are growing adept at handling visual information and multitasking, making group online gaming actually help some kids overcome childhood problems. Some games foster problem-solving and role-playing skills. There is even evidence that gaming may make kids smarter. Many psychologists say that gaming may contribute to better IQ scores and that measure quickness in solving pattern-recognition problems. If anything, it probably means that they are better suited to being fighter pilots or air traffic controllers.”
The future of gaming has the potential to become beneficial or destructive to society just like any other technology.
- Vivek Prakash,
Vice-President (IT & Telecom),
TABLE OF CONTENTS
← INTRODUCTION 1
← WHY GAMING IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE COMPUTER INDUSTRY 2
← DEFINITION 8
← A BRIEF HISTORY OF VIDEO GAME CONSOLES 9
← BASIC COMPONENTS OF A VIDEO GAME CONSOLE 13
← A TYPICAL GAME CONSOLE 16
← JOYSTICK 17
← GAMING CONSOLES
□ THE MICROSOFT XBOX 29
□ THE NINTENDO GAMECUBE 34
□ THE SEGA DREAMCAST 41
□ THE SONY PLAYSTATION 51
□ THE SONY PLAYSTATION 2 61
← RELATED FACTS 69
← THE FUTURE 71
← CONCLUSION 72
← REFERENCES 73
I am very much grateful to Dr. Agnisarman Namboothiri, HOD, Department of Information Technology, for providing me with the right guidance necessary to complete this seminar.
I remain greatly indebted to Mr.Saheer and Ms.Deepa, Lecturers, Department of Information Technology, without whose technical assistance this seminar would not have been brought about to completion.
I also thank all the staff in the Department of Information Technology for their extended support and wholehearted cooperation.
- TOBY JOSEPH
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