PlayStation2: After the dust settles

PS2 is a huge hit with gamers in Japan - but not with programmers
Written by ZDNet UK on

Could a potential shortage of great games cave in the gold mine? As far as Japanese gaming goes, Sony's PlayStation2 (PS2) is everything. In Japan, where Nintendo 64 is dead and Dreamcast never caught on, Sony enjoys a complete lock on the console game market. Add all the Saturns, Nintendo 64s, and Dreamcasts together, and the sum equals about half the number of PlayStations sold in Japan.

But much of Japan's intoxication with the original PlayStation has worn off. The console game market was down last year, a turn that many analysts attributed to people waiting for the release of PS2. Hence, when PS2 launched on March 4, consumers lined up in droves and inventories disappeared at record speed.

In an interview that took place two days before the launch of PS2, Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa described the situation to ZDNN in dramatic weather terms. "The PS2 typhoon is hitting Japan right now. We [Nintendo] just have to wait and see what happens after the typhoon has gone."

Programming pros and cons

It is no secret that PS2 is difficult to program. Having recently finished Code Veronica for Dreamcast, Capcom's Shinji Mikami openly admits his admiration for Sega's easily programmed hardware. He is currently working on multiple projects for PS2, and says working on the powerful new system is problematic.

In fact, when asked which is harder to program for, PS2 or Saturn (even Sega employees complained about trying to access the dual 32-bit processors in Saturn), Mikami responded: "PS2 is harder, hands down." Mikami is not alone. Designers at Namco, Konami, and SquareSoft all mentioned the difficulties of programming PS2. One programmer who wished to remain anonymous pinned his dislike of PS2 on the tools that were created for it. "Sony provided an extensive library with PlayStation. The library would do a lot of the work; but with PS2, there is no library. We need to create our own library, which poses its own set of problems in that there are so many choices to achieve the same effects."

Capcom's Keiji Inafune takes complaints about the PS2 library even further; but he sees it as ultimately positive. "There really isn't a library, so we have to make one up as we go along. Starting a new project means that we start with developing the library first."

While he admits that the tasks involved in creating PS2 games are challenging, Inafune sees the new system as offering new opportunities that must be harnessed.

"Until now, because of the limitations of the hardware, when I asked a programmer if something could be done, they would say it couldn't be done. With PS2, they tell me, 'Yes, maybe, but it will take a long time.' How long, they don't know," says Inafune, who is currently working on Onimusha: Demon Warrior -- one of the most anticipated games coming out on PS2.

Of course, Inafune's got it made when it comes to freedom. Capcom executives, realizing that Inafune has an instant audience waiting for Onimusha, have green-lighted him with a blockbuster budget. Asked if PlayStation2 games cost over $4m (£2.53m) to make, Inafune smiles and says he has spent double-digit millions on his.

"So now as a producer, my dilemma is, what do I do?" Inafune says. "Do I let them go with the concept without knowing how long it will take to implement it? In a sense there are no hardware limitations now and there is now a large learning curve for programmers."

Take me to Part II

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