PlayStation2: After the dust settles, Part II

Probing the possibilities

Inafune is not alone in noticing the learning curve and the possibilities. Shigeru Yokoyama, Namco Group general manager of the CS product development department, describes programming for PS2 as "very, very difficult;" but also notes the great possibilities.

"To be honest," says Yokoyama, "we don't know how much we can do with PS2 yet. What we know is that we're not utilising all of its capabilities. This year was the first year that the consumer division has had better hardware than the arcade division. We are now developing software and we are also learning what we can do with this new hardware."

Gozo Kitao, a Konami general manager currently overseeing three PS2 projects, puts it another way. "If you focus on making full use of all the specs, it will be very expensive and time-consuming to produce a game. Instead, if you can focus on one aspect of the game, then I believe you can produce a great game. For example, in an action game, accentuate the gameplay even to the point of compromising other aspects like graphics."

Kitao apparently decided to concentrate on historical accuracy aspects when he and his team created Gradius III and IV, his first PS2 project. The ship in this game looks exactly like the one in the original Gradius - Konami's first game for the NES. Some of the other monsters such as a flock of dragons that appear out of gold metallic jellied orbs look pretty good.

As to the cost of making games for PS2, Kitao says the amount of money it costs to make games depends on what you want to accomplish. "It really depends on where you focus when producing a game. You may spend $10m (£6.32m) producing a very meaningful, good game, and you may spend $2m. It all depends on the methods used and how you're able to focus. At the PlayStation festival, the game that caught my attention was Fantavision. I believe that if you added just a little something to that, it would be a fantastic game. I don't believe that Fantavision cost much to make."

On the line

The next big thing for PlayStation2 is online gaming, which should come via a hard drive/modem peripheral currently under development at Sony Computer Entertainment. When it comes to PS2's future, Capcom and Square are betting that the big bucks will be in multi-player gaming.

"Networking will be the key," says Capcom director of research and development, Yoshiki Okamoto, who was group leader of the team that created Street Fighter II in his earlier days. "Just as Street Fighter II contributed to the success of Capcom due to its head-to-head play, once the network environment of these new platforms is ready, it will open up new possibilities in the next phase of head-to-head gameplay."

Okamoto insists that network gaming will be "vital" to Capcom's future. SquareSoft is taking an even more aggressive approach -- launching a Final Fantasy-based PS2 Internet gaming site that may go up even before Sony releases its modem.

"The modem made by Sony Computers may be out by the end of the year or early next year," says SquareSoft executive vice president Hisashi Suzuki. "The PS2 has a slot for PC cards; so it is possible to have a PC card and modem [Suzuki is referring to a modem on a PCMCIA card similar to the modems used by some laptop computers] right away. We may be able to come up with a game that uses it and the two can be sold as a package. The problem is the distribution.

"It's a matter of which to choose: speed [Sony's high-speed modem] or being first [to market]. For example, when we come out with Final Fantasy 10, [the game] won't require a hard disk or, as Kutaragi says, a cable modem since it (the online portion) is a strategic guide provided through narrow band. The question becomes whether we will authorise a card manufactured by Seiko or TDK and just tell the players to plug the phone line into the authorised card and players will be able to enjoy Final Fantasy 10. If we do that, we won't have to wait for Sony to come out with a card."

Take me back to Part I

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