Hi, I’m Andre Meadows and this is Crash
As you’ll remember from last time, by the mid-90s, Nintendo and Sega were in the midst of a war for console dominance,
and their struggle to outdo each other were driving improvements in hardware, games, and all around user experience.
The video game industry was worth around
$19 billion in 1993,
and that kind of money is likely to attract the attention of an even bigger company than Sega and Nintendo.
Enter Sony, a pretty well-known Japanese electronics company that had like $36 billion in total revenue in 1993.
Sony was about to enter the console market
with the Playstation.
And that unassuming gray box was about to
disrupt pretty much everything in home consoles.
So, the second round of the console war between Nintendo and SEGA was still in full swing in 1994, and we’ll get to Sony’s role in a bit,
but I just want to point out that there were some other consoles that tried to take part in the console war but just didn’t get in there.
And remember Atari? They tried too.
They made their last stand in the console
market in 1993 with the Jaguar,
an attempt to take a technological leap past
The Atari Jaguar was technically a 32 bit
system, but it had two significant problems.
It was really difficult for programmers to
write games for it,
and it had this totally bizarre controller
design with a numeric keypad.
You can almost hear the Intellivision and Colecovision controllers looking at it and going “really?”
Very few developers made games for the Jaguar, and few people wanted to play the games that did get made.
Which wasn’t great for sales.
Now, processing power wasn’t the only technology
game companies were pushing forward.
Most of the industry was looking toward the relatively new data storage format, compact discs.
They might seem quaint now, in the age of streaming and the death of physical media and all,
but in the 1990s, CDs were AMAZING.
And these plastic compact discs could hold a lot more data than a game cartridge. I mean, A LOT more.
For example, the standard Sega cartridge held
somewhere between 4 and 5 megabytes of data.
A CD-ROM could hold over 700 megabytes.
And they had LASERS!
Sega was first to market with a 1992 North American release of their SegaCD add-on for the Genesis,
and their rush to get it released showed.
It was criticized for its high price, its
lack of quality games,
and the fact that the new massive storage capacity was mostly just used to add grainy video sequences, rather than improving gameplay.
But don’t blame Sonic CD for that, OK?
Sonic CD was cool.
Gave us Metal Sonic.
Despite the problems with the SegaCD, the
company tried again to make a technological
leap without introducing a new console in
1994, when they launched the 32x add-on.
It was an attempt to be the first to market
with 32 bit processing,
but the 32x faced a lot of the same criticisms
the SegaCD had.
Poor games, a high price, and a sense that
the peripheral really didn’t add much to
the experience made the 32x a commercial failure.
The SegaCD and the 32x foreshadowed Sega’s
hardware struggles in the industry.
But Sega had a pretty good reason to rush
these products to market.
As we mentioned earlier, the consumer electronics giant, Sony, was about to enter the video game market,
and Sega was correctly worried that this would
weaken their sales.
Sony had been in the background of the game
industry for a few years,
and had tentatively partnered with Nintendo in 1998 to help develop a CD-ROM peripheral for the SNES.
That drive was never released,
and the two companies had a big fight about
Nintendo flirting with Sony’s competition Philips,
and they had a terrible breakup, and Sony
“Fine. We’ll go make our own CD based
video game console,
and it’ll be better than any console you
ever made, NINTENDO!”
And that’s just what they did.
Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
In 1994, Sony debuted their 32-bit PlayStation.
Prior to launch, Sony developed strong relationships
with third-party developers like Namco and
Konami to ensure the console would have great
Their design featured technological innovations which were miles ahead of Sega and Nintendo’s consoles.
The CD-ROM drive was essential to the console’s
The CD-ROMS weren’t quite as fast as the
flash memory-based cartridges,
but their massively increased storage capacity gave developers the space to combine detailed pre-rendered backgrounds
with polygon-based foreground graphics to create immersive experiences unlike anything gamers had seen on a console.
But the downside of the move to CD storage
was in transfer speeds.
These early CD drives were considerably slower
than cartridge-based games,
and it could take a long time for a large
level of a game to load into the system memory.
This was the birth of the…load screen.
The Playstation also emphasized the then-new
technology of polygon-based 3D graphics.
These powerful graphics processors allowed
developers to create worlds with depth,
and at their best gave players the opportunity to look around and see a sort of fully realized world.
These blocky characters made of thousands of triangles might look clunky and primitive to us now,
but at the time,
they were revolutionary.
Watching the perspective of the game change
as the in-game camera spun around your character
was an unusual and exciting experience for
players in the 90s.
A smaller innovation, both in terms of size and impact on the industry, was the memory card.
The Playstation didn’t have internal storage
to save games.
Instead it used a small memory card, which
allowed players to save their progress,
but also made those saved games portable.
Want to show your friend how far you’ve
gotten in Tomb Raider?
You could take your saved game with you when
you went to your friend’s house.
Thanks Thought Bubble.
These technical advantages allowed the Playstation to quickly take the lead in a market full of outdated consoles,
but Sega and Nintendo didn’t stand still.
Sega released it’s 32-bit Saturn console
It’s beautiful isn’t it.
But it didn’t manage to recapture much market
share from Sony.
The console mainly suffered from a lack of
Sega rushed a product to market again, and
they failed again.
Third-party game developers were reluctant
to make games for the system.
Sega wasn’t even able to launch a game with its most popular character, Sonic, on the console.
The Saturn failed to catch on with the gaming
public, and was discontinued by 1998.
Nintendo’s answer to the Playstation and
the Saturn was to step back, take a breath,
skip the whole 32-bit thing, and get a head start on the next generation of consoles.
The Nintendo 64 was launched in 1996, and
was an immediate hit.
As you might have guessed from the name, the
console came loaded with a 64-bit processor.
The system was also widely praised for its controller design which included a control stick.
Now, although it was technically digital and
not an analog stick,
it had varying levels of movement and nearly
You still had the d-pad like most game controllers,
but you were limited to those 8 directions.
Whereas with the control stick you allowed
for much more nuanced movement.
Which was ideal for 3D rendered worlds that
were everywhere in the 90s.
And the N64 capitalized on these great controllers
by also being the first mass-market console
with four built in controller ports.
This not only differentiated the console from
the other options,
it foreshadowed a focus on multiplayer, social
games that would be some of its bestsellers.
The N64 was also the last major console to
deliver games on cartridges.
While cartridges allowed for blazing fast data transfers, and avoided those load screens no one likes,
they did introduce limitations for developers.
Those storage capacities we talked about before became an increasing concern for these larger and larger games.
Also, cartridges were also much more expensive
meaning a game that didn’t sell was a much bigger loss for a company if that game was on a cartridge vs a CD-ROM.
But these consoles weren’t successful just
because they had the latest technology.
Sega Saturn and Atari Jaguar had that as well.
Advanced hardware can only do so much to help sell a console, but great games can do the trick.
The Playstation and the N64 dominated the
market in the late 1990s
because they used these technological advances
to deliver great gaming experiences.
Nintendo understood how to harness the potential
of 3D immediately.
Super Mario 64 featured a huge world that
was entirely polygon based.
The game featured a flying camera system that
followed the player around the world,
but also allowed players to take control and explore scenes by swiveling the camera around.
Another huge Nintendo 64 hit was GoldenEye 007, a first person shooter based in the James Bond universe.
And unlike the movie it was based on, the game was met with pretty universal acclaim from critics and from players.
It would go on to sell 8 million copies.
GoldenEye 007 was praised for well-crafted single player missions, as well as its local multiplayer deathmatch mode.
The game leveraged the n64’s four controller
ports to host four player combat,
and as it turned out, players really liked
shooting each other in video games.
The four N64 controller ports allowed Nintendo to focus on making video games that you could play in groups,
such as four player races in Mario Kart 64
and Diddy Kong Racing,
4 player minigames in the Mario Party series,
or 4-player fights in Super Smash Brothers.
But even all this couldn’t keep up with
the Playstation’s success.
Sony’s close relationships with developers led to many excellent and innovative games appearing on its system.
Games like Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider was released on Playstation in 1996 and became one of the most iconic games of the era.
The game was met with praise for its huge,
richly detailed world,
and its innovative level designs that pushed
the boundaries of adventure platform games.
The game’s lead character Lara Croft was
an instant celebrity,
and Tomb Raider even had success outside of
The franchise spread out into movies,
and Lara appeared on the covers of magazines
that were normally about real people.
She even made an appearance on U2’s PopMart
But Tomb Raider has also met with a lot of
much of it centered around Lara Crofts unrealistic body proportions, and the sexualization of her character.
Although, some of the concerns about Lara and unrealistic body images have been addressed in later versions of the game.
All of this points to the unprecedented level of immersion and connection that 1990s games introduced to the market.
These more-realistic-than-ever characters
and following them in their game worlds,
as well as in real life, allowed players to
connect with them like never before.
In addition to characters, the advances in the industry also increased the ways players connected with games through improved storytelling.
And there was no better example of the massive narratives that could unfold on the new consoles than Final Fantasy 7.
This role playing game was so huge, it was
delivered on three discs.
The world of Final Fantasy 7 was open-ended
and players could choose their path.
While the game has a linear story, there were also many optional side quests for the players to take.
The Materia system allowed players to adjust
and alter their abilities.
And the massive storage capacity of CDs meant developers could include lots of full motion video cut scenes,
and include a lot of story to go with all
And there was a lot of gameplay.
Players could literally spend hundreds of
hours in the game,
trying to complete the many quests and collect
all the items and spells.
Final Fantasy 7 was also successfully ported
to personal computers,
and oh man, we haven’t even talked about
PC gaming yet!
Home computers were also becoming more powerful,
and the games that were available for them
were improving as well.
There were ports of console games like Tomb
Raider and Final Fantasy VII,
but there were several games and genres that
were at their best in their PC versions.
First person shooters flourished in the PC
Games like Quake and Duke Nukem capitalized
on the success of Doom,
and delivered ever more harrowing experiences
to PC players.
But, even the FPS scene able to add compelling
There were franchises like Half-Life that were successful at integrating gripping stories into FPS action.
And as we got to the end of the 1990s, Sega
tried one more entry into the console market.
On 9/9/1999, Sega released the dreamcast, which was powerful, innovative, and launched with great games.
In addition to raw processing power, the Dreamcast
featured a modem for online multiplayer games,
played on this new thing called the Internets.
And it also had a cool controller that had
an optional display.
And it had lots of really good games, and
lots of really weird games. Like Seaman.
But even with its Sonic Adventures, its Jet
Set Radios, and its Marvels vs Capcoms,
the Dreamcast didn’t take off and ended
up being Sega’s final home console.
The company changed its business model to
become a game development company only,
and Nintendo and Sony were the only two consoles
But, the market wouldn’t stay uncrowded
Next time, we’re going to discuss the arrival a new home console from a company that rivals even the megacorp that is Sony.
A company that pushed the technological and
storytelling aspects of the medium even further.
That’s right, we’re talking about a little company called Microsoft. We’ll see you next time.
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Stacey Emigholz studio in Indianpolis, Indiana.
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