Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WonderSwan Review

The WonderSwan is a portable gaming system released back in '98 in Japan and a few other Asian countries. The WonderSwan is inexpensive, costs around 4800 yen ($50), about the price of a new game, and the games aren't much more expensive, and are around $35-40. Also, battery life is the longest of the portables I've played, so this is a good portable for a person that doesn't have much money, and want a portable gaming system.
Size, Button Layout & Controls9/10

The WS is a small system, at around 74.3 X 121 X 17.5 milimeters, it is smaller than the GBA, and will easily fit into a back pocket. If you use an AA battery, the size increases to a 74.3 X 121 X 24.3 milimeters, but it isn't much of a problem. The only thing that might be problematic is that there is an area that is protruding in the shape of a battery and it gets in the way of the grip, but you'll probably live with it.

The button layout for the WS is odd, as there are two buttons and two D-pad like buttons. Most games will pay like the GBA, which is horizontally, and the lower D-Pad, the X-Buttons will serve as the directional buttons and the two buttons, A and B, will serve as action commands. But in other games, the upper D-Pad, the Y buttons, will serve as the directions and the X buttons will serve as the actions, just like the classical Game Boy.. so the WS has an interesting concept of being able to play games horizontally and vertically.

There are two other buttons, one being the start button and the other being a sound button, which controls sound. Also, the WS has an ON/OFF switch on the left side, and a contrast wheel on the bottom of the console. And finally, in the top right corner, there is a hole where you can put a wrist strap on.
Screen & Graphics9/10

The screen for the WS is bigger than the Game Boy, and just as big as the GBA, maybe a teeny bit smaller. You'll see that the graphics are way better than the Game Boy, and almost as good as the GBA in Black and White. You can also control the contrast by using the wheel on the bottom to make games darker or lighter. Most games look decent, but not many push the hardware to produce the best.
Sound & Game Format8/10

The Sound in the WS can get a little annoying, as there isn't a switch to control the sound, but a button to choose from three levels of sound. Loud, Medium, and None. So it's essential to buy an earphone adapter to play games without bothering others, but the music and voice samples are great on most games. But again, not many of the games push the hardware, so it's not easy to see the WS's full potential. Just expect average portable device sound here.
The WS has a rectangular shaped cartridge, and the data port is exposed, so you'll either need to keep the game in the WS or in a case. Ive heard the WS's cart has something like 3 or 4 times a Game Boy Color's Cartridge, so the game has more possibilities.
Battery Life & Protection10/10 (more like 12 but oh well...)
This is the WS's strength point: Battery Life. Ive really never went over 30 hours on a game boy pocket, which requires two AA batteries, and never over 25 with a Game Boy Color. The GBA SP's mileage is 10 hours with the backlight, and 18 without. The WS's surpasses all. I've went over 30 with this baby, I'm sure it can achieve far more in a different contrast. that's 30 hours on one AA, more than doubling the GB, GBC and GBA SP's mileage, and it also doesn't compromise any features that have been shown to this point, except for the backlight, but you can just put a flashlight in your mouth and lower the contrast and... ta-da! You'll be able to play in the dark!

The WS doesn't really need protection, because the games are in black and white, and a streak or two won't hurt you in the gameplay. And if you tie a wrist strap to prevent it from falling, you won't break it either. You can probably just put the WS in a leather case, or you can buy a glove, cut the fingers out and stitch it, because the WS is so compact and will fit in there. But if you must, you can go ahead and buy a WS protector at a game store that has WS appliances.
Game Library, Fun Factor & Additional Features9/10
The WS's horsepower quite doesn't match up to the GBA or the NGPC, so it can't really support frantic action games, although they have a few really good titles like pocket fighters. So what does this leave us? Strategy games and turn based games like Card Games and RPG's. I only have one WS card game, and that is Tekken Card Challenge, but there are plenty of RPG's like Digimon Ver. WonderSwan and more. The WS heavily relies on the japanese market, so there arent too many games with english in them. So if you understand Japanese, go for those RPG's, but if you don't, well... your library will be limited. Just get a driving game or an action game.
I've heard the WS supports connection between the PS2 and the PocketStation, I do have a Japanese WS and a Japanese PS2, so all i need to do is to bribe my friend to give me his Japanese PocketStation. I don't have a clue what this connection may do, but it sounds fun to me!

Overall Comment
If you're in the market for an inexpensive portable, the WS is a must, because the System and the Games aren't expensive, and the battery life is the best ive seen so far. But if you do not understand Japanese and are an avid fan of RPG's, you'll most likely be disappointed with this experience, unless you don't care about the storyline. I have to say the WS isn't really import friendly, but it is a great system after all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

RETRO: Panasonic REAL 3DO Interactive Multiplayer FZ-1

Jaguar History - Technical Aspects

In 1991, the Sega Genesis was at the cutting edge of videogame technology in America and enjoying strong sales. NEC's Turbografx-16 was a distant second, and the Super Nintendo was yet to be released. Rumors swirled about various new peripherals and consoles - Genesis and Neo-Geo CD drives, the Sony Playstation, and a CD drive for the forthcoming Super Nintendo. Another rumor to circulate in 1991 was that Atari was back with a new 32-bit console called the Panther that was set to debut against the Super Nintendo later that year. However, after the Summer CES that year, Atari announced that the Panther was cancelled so that they could concentrate on a new machine, the 64-bit Jaguar. Behind the scenes, Atari had actually been developing both systems at the same time, but the Jaguar had progressed at such a rate that it made sense to skip the Panther.

Atari was very tight-lipped about its new machine at first, but then it began sending out press releases announcing the Jaguar with various technical specifications. Atari said they planned to debut the machine in 1993, and that there would definitely be a 64-bit RISC based processor at its core. This was exciting news to gamers, as it would seemingly make it the most technically advanced machine, well beyond the 16-bit Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Even better, Atari said the price would be between $100 and $150.

Technically, the Jaguar was impressive. Five processors reside in three chips, two of them being proprietary (Tom and Jerry) with a third being a Motorola 68000 coprocessor. The GPU runs at 26.591Mhz and is rated at 26.591 MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second). There is a 64-bit data bus for communication and two megabytes of fast-page mode DRAM. Development systems cost between $7,500 and $9,000 and ran on IBM PC or Atari TT030 computers, with art development possible on various other machines.

When Atari finally announced the official launch of the Jaguar, the price tag was $200 and was bundled with a Cybermorph cartridge and one controller. However, when it actually hit store shelves the price had climbed to $250. Even with a higher price tag, sales were brisk. IBM was manufacturing the system for Atari, and things were looking up. Atari was set to market the Jaguar with a $3 million advertising budget, a telephone support line, and promised support from over 20 third party developers. However, retailers and the media were still skeptical that Atari could deliver quality software and keep all of its promises.

When the machine actually hit the streets, the reaction was mixed. Some gamers were excited by the increased power, while some felt that the system fell short of its promises. Some people claimed that the the Jaguar wasn't actually a true 64-bit system, that it was simply two 32-bit processors working in parallel. However, Atari was pressing forward with their advertising campaign touting its 64-bit power, and an impressive number of third-party titles had been announced in development. Unfortunately for these developers, the Jaguar proved very difficult to program for and Atari did not have sufficient development tools. Many Jaguar games were consequently delayed, and others were rushed out the door and were less than impressive. Ultimately, many announced developers simply did not develop any Jaguar titles.

The Idea for 32X

The idea for the 32X originally came from Sega of Japan and was handed to Sega of America to work on. SOA decided that it was better for the unit to be an upgrade to the existing Mega Drive rather than a separate console. This move would have the advantage of making the 32X more appealing to users who would rather upgrade their current hardware then buy an all-new standalone console. SOA went with the SOJ design plan to have twin 32-bit processors and a separate graphics processor. In November 1994, the 32X was released in the US, a month later in Japan (where it was called the Super 32X) and in January 1995 in Europe.

At first, the 32X was a success. Sega was unable to ship the 1 million units it had promised and ended up shipping about half of that to retailers because of slow production. Nevertheless, the 32X sold out in many areas and Genesis owners were keen to get their hands on it in time for Christmas. With a non-existent library of games and none bundled with the unit, consumers who had bought the 32X had to be patient for a while.

Things then started going down hill. Complaints started coming in about the the unit not being compatible with some older TVs, which prompted Sega to release an adaptor to rectify the problem, at a price of course. Another issue was the metallic clips, which had to be placed on both sides of the cartridge slot to protect it from electromagnetic interference. Apparently, many parents found it difficult to clip them on around the cartridge covers. I can't seem to believe that this was a major problem, but then again what do I know except for what I read.

A third factor was news coming in from Sega of Japan about the Saturn, which left gamers confused. Was the 32X the thing to have, or was it the Saturn, or maybe the Sega CD! Unsatisfied customers took back their 32X hardware and software to their stores and the 32X seemed to be in big trouble. Upcoming games were slowly cancelled and both Sega and retailers across the US realized that the 32X didn't have long to live. By the Christmas of 1995, the 32-bit console was dead and buried, with DarXide being the last game ever to be released for it. I personally have no memories of the 32X because I didn't own it until recently, but reading about how it was ultimately the beginning of Sega's decline as a hardware console company really makes me sad (and for some reason angry at Sony! Don't ask why)

The 32X retailed for $159. 27 games were released for the European 32X, 18 for the Japanese Super 32X and 39 for the American Sega 32X.

Friday, November 03, 2006

32X History - 32X games and History

The Sega 32X (Japanese: スーパー32X) is an add-on for the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis video game console by Sega.
In Japan, it was distributed under the name Sega Super 32X. In North America, its name was the Sega Genesis 32X. In Europe, Australia, and other countries that use PAL, it was called the Sega Mega Drive 32X. Most gamers, for simplicity's sake, refer to it as just the "32X".

Market history
With the release of the Super Famicom in Japan and the Super NES in North America, Sega needed to leapfrog Nintendo in the technological department. The Sega Mega-CD, known as Sega CD in North America, had not worked as well, in a business sense, as Sega had wanted it to. Sega had various developments underway, named after planets. Some used System 16 technology, as the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, as well as other arcade games, did.
The 32X was released in mid-November 1994 in North America for $150, Japan on December 3rd 1994 for ¥16,800, and Europe in January 1995 for £170 / DM 400.

Technical aspects
The Sega 32X can only be used in conjunction with a Mega Drive/Genesis system; it is plugged in where the cartridge bay is. Besides playing its own cartridges, it also acts as a passthrough for Mega Drive games so it can be a permanent attachment. (The SVP based Virtua Racing was the only exception.) The 32X came with several spacers so it would work with all (then current) versions of the Mega Drive. (The Genesis 3, which lacks circuitry needed, and appropriate plugs, to work with the 32X, was introduced later.) It could be used with the Sega Multi-Mega/Sega CDX system, but the spacers would not accommodate the CDX, which created a number of user-unfriendly conditions in the unit. Without the use of the spacers, some of the 32X hardware was left exposed and vulnerable. The combined unit was also very prone to tipping over, risking damage to the unit and games. In addition to the physical problems, there was also an issue with FCC approval.
Most 32X games cannot be played unless the distribution region of the game matches the region of the console. A few games are not locked and can be played on a console from any region (e.g. Fifa 96). Two games, Darxide and FIFA Soccer '96, were only released for the PAL 32X.
All but one of the games released for the Japanese market were released in the United States, albeit some had different names. The one Japanese-only game was Sangokushi IV (known as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV").
In addition to regular cartridge-based 32X games, there were also a very small number 32X CD games. As the name suggests, these required both the 32X and Mega-CD/Sega CD addons. The lack of a significant userbase due to the high cost of purchasing all three necessary components saw only five games released, only one of those developed by Sega. The most notable of these was a new version of the infamous Night Trap with 32,768 onscreen colors instead of the 64 found on the regular Mega-CD/Sega CD version.

Technical specifications
Processor: Twin SH2 32 bit RISC processors with a clock speed of 23 MHz, 40 MIPS each
Video RAM: Two linear framebuffers with support for RLE compression and an overdraw mode to simplify compositing objects with transparency. All scaling, rotation, and 3D operations are performed in software on the SH2 processors.
Color depth: 32,768 simultaneous colors on screen at standard Mega Drive/Genesis resolution. Video output can overlay Mega Drive/Genesis graphics or vice versa. Mega Drive/Genesis video effects such as shadow or hilight do not affect 32X video.
Memory: 256KB (2 MBit) program RAM and two 128KB (1 MBit) framebuffers.
Audio: Stereo 10-bit PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) mixing with Mega Drive/Genesis sound for a total of 12 audio channels of varying capability, 22 with the addition of a Mega-CD/Sega CD.
I/O: Same as Mega Drive/Genesis.
Storage: 32X cartridges are fundamentally the same as Mega Drive/Genesis cartridges with some small differences in the plastic casing. A few CD-ROM games were developed that also required a Mega-CD/Sega CD.
Compatibility: Compatible with Mega Drive/Genesis models 1 and 2, JVC Wondermega/X'Eye and the Multi-Mega/CDX. The 32X does not work with the Genesis 3 which lacks some of the necessary interface logic.


On January 8, 1994, Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, ordered his company to make a 32-bit cartridge based console that would be in stores by Christmas 1994. This would at first be named "Project Jupiter", but after Sega found CD technology cheaper, they decided to modify it instead of dropping the cartridge project (that would be called "Project Saturn"). Hideki Sato and some other Sega of Japan engineers came over to collaborate about the project with Sega of America's Joe Miller. The first idea was a new Mega Drive/Genesis with more colors and a 32-bit processor. Miller thought that an add-on to the Mega Drive/Genesis would be a better idea, because he felt that gamers would not buy an improved version of the Mega Drive/Genesis. And so, this project was codenamed Project Mars, and Sega of America was going to shape the project.
At the same time, however, Sega of Japan was working on the Sega Saturn, a CD-based 32-bit videogame system. Sega of America did not learn of this until Project Mars was already in progress.

The video-gaming public first got a glimpse at the Summer 1994 CES in Chicago, Illinois. Players highly anticipated the system, because it would make the Genesis superior to the Super Famicom/SNES. The console was unmasked as the 32X, with a price projection of $170 (USD), at a gamers' day, held by Sega of America in September 1994.
The 32X hit the market in North America in November 1994, during the same month the Sega Saturn was released in Japan. Many industry insiders speculated that the 32X was doomed from the beginning as the Sega Saturn hardware was widely regarded as more powerful than the 32X and had the support of many Japanese third party software developers (a necessary resource required for any gaming platform's long term success) which the 32X was sorely lacking.
Only 500,000 consoles had been produced for North American consumption, yet orders were in the millions. The console allegedly had numerous mechanical problems. Games had been rushed for the system in the run up to Christmas 1994. Some early games came with errors in programming, causing crashes and glitches on certain titles. Other games required leaving out parts in order to make the Christmas deadline; Doom 32X is missing almost half the levels present on the PC. Many complained that their 32X was not working with their Mega Drive/Genesis or television. Sega was forced to give away adapters.
Since this was an expensive add-on system, Sega decided to offer a £50 discount on games with the console in Europe. However, the offer came in the form of rebate vouchers, which were difficult to take advantage of. Just like its North American counterpart, this console was initially popular. Orders exceeded one million, but not enough were produced, and supply shortage problems arose.

By mid-1995, the time the Sega executives realized their blunder, it was too late. Developers and licensees had abandoned this console in favor of what they perceived to be a true 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn. Even though the 32X was a 32-bit system, the games did not appear to take full advantage of 32 bit processing; many games were rushed and produced in 2D. Many were just slightly-enhanced ports of Genesis or old arcade games such as Mortal Kombat II and Space Harrier.
Due to successful marketing, customers perceived the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation as the true next-generation consoles, due to their rich launch titles and 3D graphics. Also, customers perceived that Sega abandoned the 32X despite promises to the contrary, due to the launch of the Saturn.
Console makers, prior to the launch of PlayStation 2, would often abandon platforms and offer no backwards compatibility with older systems. For this reason Sega's 32X customers felt cheated because of the apparent lower quality of the game, and the inevitability of obsolescence.
Store shelves became littered with unwanted Sega 32X systems, and prices for a new one dropped as low as $19.95. Sega planned a console named the Sega Neptune, which would have been a Genesis and 32X in one. However, by the time a prototype was developed, the Sega Saturn was going to be released, and Sega cancelled the Neptune.
The situation became so bad that the 32X was actually mocked on Saturday Night Live, as well as in the gaming magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, which likened the 32X to a 'waffle maker' and the games as 'batter'. The Sega 32X fiasco is now considered one of the most poorly planned console releases ever.
The last game made for the 32X in the US was Spider-Man: Web of Fire (1996). The last ever 32X game was Darxide, which had been intended by Frontier Developments to be a launch title for the ill-fated Neptune. Both these games now command a high value from collectors — but especially Darxide (up to $1000) due to its scarcity, reputation and auspicious creator (David Braben, co-writer of the groundbreaking game Elite). Nevertheless, it is exceeded in rarity by the European PAL versions of the games Primal Rage and T-Mek. For obscure reasons a mere handful of copies of these games are known to be in circulation - with T-Mek being so scarce that until a copy surfaced on eBay in late 2005, it was widely held that the PAL release was only a rumour. The appearance of a copy has fuelled speculation that other rumoured but unconfirmed PAL games may also exist, in particular BC Racers.
For many years prior, console makers promised devices like the 32X (for consoles such as the Colecovision, Intellivision II, and some Atari systems) that would extend and enhance the original system. The 32X was the first product released that fundamentally altered the original console's abilities. However, deficient in software titles and lacking the 3D capabilities the gaming community demanded, the add-on represented a technological dead end, ultimately punishing early adopters. Ignorant of the idea that console systems' primary strength is in standardization, Sega had created three different platforms (the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and the Mega-CD/Sega CD and the 32X add-ons) all under the same banner, stealing valuable shelf space from itself and confusing both vendors and consumers in the process. The entire episode demonstrated that producing such add-ons is likely to have detrimental effects on a system's brand marketing strategy.
The system ended production worldwide in 1996.

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