Battle of the Boxes
Nintendo's GameCube is the unproven darling of the industry. Its small size and modest price ($199; $100 less than Xbox and PlayStation 2) make it more attractive for children, as does Nintendo's line of family-friendly games -- which includes Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Pokemon.
But don't be fooled by size and price. With one and a half times the RAM of PlayStation 2 and a faster processor, GameCube has a slight edge when it comes to graphics. It's also easier to program than PlayStation 2, a benefit that should enable designers to throw in perks, such as the ability to choose the weather in games that unfold outdoors.
Although GameCube has strong hardware, it
hasn't got the best assortment of games. Unaffiliated game developers are not flocking to make products for Nintendo, a company that tends to use its consoles to promote its own games. Thus consumers looking for variety may be more drawn to PlayStation 2, for which 200 games are already available and many more are in the works.
The best way to find out how the new consoles stack up against one another is to consult the people who make games for all three. Whereas some video games are created for only one console -- for example, Halo was made specifically for Xbox -- other new games can be played on any of the three platforms. Activision-owned Neversoft, for example, is currently putting the finishing touches on Tony Hawk's Professional Skater 3, the latest version of a perennial bestseller that Activision will publish for PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox.
Neversoft producer Scott Pease and his team have found Xbox easier to program than PlayStation 2, in part because of its 64 megabytes of memory. By contrast, PlayStation 2 has only 24 megabytes of memory, leaving the team scrambling for every bit of power. Although GameCube has 40 megabytes of memory in two general banks, Neversoft programmers still had to withdraw memory from the audio bank to store animations.
Programmers at Tiburon, the company that develops John Madden NFL games for Electronic Arts, have had a similar experience. According to Tiburon executives, Xbox's processing power has enabled their programmers to add little improvements such as helmet scuffs, anti-aliasing (a technology that smoothes jagged lines), and additional lighting effects. Some members of the Tiburon team, however, felt that the GameCube version looks best, even though it has fewer graphic enhancements than the Xbox version.
Overall, though, the technical differences are fairly minor. Xbox has a built-in hard drive that provides for faster load-up times, and the difficulty of programming PlayStation 2 may make software developers pull out their hair; but these differences will seldom impact the gaming experience.