Before I get into my main topic I'd like to address where I've been as of late. While I've still been around to comment and share my opinions on stories, I can't be there as much as I used to be. Basically my work cracked down on me for the internet usage so I'm only able to get on at lunch or after work. I understand their perspective, but it does kind of suck for me because I'd like to be here more. But that's part of being an adult and having priorities.
Anyway, with that said I'd like to talk about the 6th generation of gaming, that is to say 1999-2006, which encompases the Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube . There are some others that fit into that generation such as the N-Gage or Game Boy Advance, but I'd like to just focus on the main consoles.
For a lot of people this generation was merely a stepping stone or stop gap to the 7th generation. For me however, it was rather long and drawn out transition from classic gaming to modern, taking gaming from adolecensce to adulthood. In many ways I feel like I have grown as gaming has, I was born in between the launch of the Famicom and NES (1984) so I consider the 8 and 16 bit era's to be gaming's childhood, the 32 bit era as those transitional tween years (where everything is awkward and uncomfortable to look back on) which brings us to the 6th generation being the teen years. My age doesn't perfectly coorespond, but that's just a way that I've viewed gaming history.
This dovetails into my first 6th generation system: the Dreamcast. Some have called it a 5th generation system because it launched so early in the cycle, (1998 in Japan) but it was Sega's system that really brought us into a modern era. This is especially true when you consider what it brought to the table, it had a higher density disc called the GD-Rom which held more than a standard disc (1 GB compared to 700 MB) could output to 480p via a VGA adapter, had accesories like a microphone, a webcam and of course came bundled with a modem making it online ready out of the box. It even had a web browser, something that none of the other 6th gen systems could nativley do.
As ahead of its time as the Dreamcast was, it seems like it had one foot in the 5th generation, and another in the 6th. Many of its early games were drastically cleaned up N64 and PS1 ports (mighty impressive feat when you consider the gap between those systems is 3-4 years) and it had a lot of games that would later to be considered dated by the time the Xbox and Gamecube were launched. Games like House of the Dead 2, Sonic Adventure, and Bangai-O.
Very different from the the other 6th gen systems
Of course, the Dreamcast was ultimatley discontinued by Sega due to their financial losses from their blunders from the previous generations. But we all know the PS2 had a part in that as well. Back in 2000, the gamers knew the Dreamcast was clearly had the better offerings, the sizable library of games (many of which were exclusive), the online play, plus the cheaper price and general availablity. But the masses didn't see it. They saw a $300 DVD player/PS1 that would eventually have good games, plus with the good reputation that Sony had rightfully earned and Sega had foolishly lost, it became apparent that PS2 was the system to own. Even with the unprecidented hardware shortages of the PS2, people decided in Christmas of 2000 that they would rather buy nothing than buy a Dreamcast.
That year a learned a great truth about the gaming industry that holds true today, the masses, not the core gamers decide what succeeds and fails in the gaming industry. So yes, it was Sega's poor decisions that led them to that point, I don't think the most diehard fan of the Dreamcast would argue that point, but still when Sega got their act together and made a system for with the gamers in mind, it wasn't relevant and no one cared. And yes, I still have a bit of resentment towards Sony to this day because of it. Call it a gruge if you must, but the same thing is happening with Wii U today.
Moving on, the next major event down the pipeline is the release of the Xbox and Gamecube. In my mind, these two were the polar opposites, not quite as striking and the simulatanous launch of the PS3 and Wii, but still, it's amazing how much they feel like two sides of the same coin.
On one hand you had the original Xbox, it was a beast of a system from a design standpoint. For those of you who don't know the X in Xbox was from Direct X, at one point in time it was being referred to as the Direct Xbox. Nearly every game supported 16:9 widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, and 480p, and in some cases 720p or 1080i. Pretty impressive for 2001. Not only this but they had a (now laughable) 8GB hard drive and built in broadband modem making it by far the most powerful console of the generation.
How I mostly remember the Xbox
But all that came at a cost. The system very expensive to make and Microsoft was forced to sell the system at a loss its entire lifespan. That would of course, explain why it was dropped so quickly after the Xbox 360 came out. So as much as we all think of the platform as a nice forray into the gaming industry, it really was a commercial failure. That isn't to say it didn't have some amazing games, and the best ports of most multiplat games, but it was sorely lacking on the exclusive side of the library.
On the other hand you have the Gamecube, a system that said less is more. The Gamecube had a minimalist design, it was a small compact cube that was designed to do one thing and do it well: play games. And boy did it, to this day Gamecube exclusive games can fetch pretty high prices. Next time you are on amazon, see how much a copy of Super Smash Bros Melee, Metal Gear Twin Snakes, or Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance go for in complete condition. There are some out there who claim it's a first party box like all modern Nintendo systems, but if you look, most AAA games made it over to the system, and in good form. They usually looked better than the PS2 port (although not as good as the Xbox port) but when the system was $100 less, and had more performance with the only consession being DVD playback, I would say Nintendo could make a pretty strong point for the Gamecube.
Now I'd like to get this point across because there is some very misinformed people online regarding the Gamecube format. For the record, yes, the Gamecube discs were only 1.5 GB compared to the 4.7 GB or 8.5GB (for dual layer) of the DVD format used by the PS2 and Xbox. Most people cite this as a reason the Gamcube wasn't "as successful" as the Xbox and PS2. But when you start looking at the circumstances, it's far less of an issue than it seems to be.
First off, most games didn't even use the second layer on the DVD format. If you'll recall God of War 2, a late PS2 game did, and it caused problems for some PS2 owners so Sony re-released the game with 2 discs. It shows how infrequently it was used by the very pioneers of the format. Fact is, most games fit just fine on the 1.5 GB disc. Now occasionally, consessions had to be made, a handful of games were released on 2 discs or had some of the CGI compressed, but as someone who ownes over 100 Gamecube games I can tell you this is a very small minority of effected games. Bear in mind the Playstation, Playstation 2 and Xbox 360 all have more multidisc games than Gamecube. Even if you look at it from a sales perspective the Xbox only sold 2 million more units than the Gamecube and didn't turn a profit like Nintendo. Long story short, the case against the Gamecube discs is completely overstated.
Don't judge a disc by its size...
Overall though, I'd say my biggest gripe with the generation is that the PS2 dominated so soundly. If you combine the sales of the Gamecube, Dreamcast, and Xbox it's about a 3rd of the PS2 sales. No disrespect to Sony's overwhelming success, but the other systems were great in their own right, and I feel like they could have saw more success than they did. I for one would have loved to have seen what could have been done with the Dreamcast or Xbox with more development time.
Really puts things into perspective...
But I must say I do love this generation because I feel it got some things right as well. I didn't appreciate it then, but I love that when a game was released, it was done, most games didn't need patches or DLC, and smaller games weren't as overlooked in light of massive marketing from the AAA publishers. I liked that games had a stronger emphasis on the single player experience, and local multiplayer had a stronger showing as well. I liked that each system had distinctions without being forced. The Gamecube had integration with the GBA both with the Game Boy Player and the link cable for extra features. The Xbox had the ability to play music in games, the best graphcis/sound, and of course online play. And the PS2 had a massive catalog of exclusives and their backwards compatibility.
No, last gen wasn't a bed of roses, but looking back on it how, I can see where it gave a lot to the industry, maybe most importantly of all: legitimacy. When the 6th generation began, it was only for the nerds in their parents basement, but by the time it ended, it was a mainstream form of entertainment. While both good and bad, legitimacy has given way to let others experience games who normally never would have, has allowed for bigger and bolder gaming expereinces, and has progressed to allow for more diversity. So with that I thank the 6th generation, for all the great games and change it has brought.