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New game consoles: Online will be where it's at

By ROBB GUIDO

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


The first head-to-head showdown between Sega's Dreamcast and Sony's PlayStation 2 didn't turn out to be much of a battle.

Sega blitzed the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles with cutting-edge games, many of which used the Dreamcast modem for online gaming. Sony showed only a better-looking but lackluster next-generation lineup. And it left some experts wondering about PlayStation 2's prospects.

"They're telling everybody it's this super gaming platform, but it's not," said Rick Mears, an editor at Gamefan magazine. "They'll probably sell a million of them, but I already sold mine to someone else. It's not even better than Sega Dreamcast, and that's been out for a year."

But it's only June, and Sony has plenty of time for surprises, leaving gamers to ask this question over the summer: Buy a Dreamcast or wait for PlayStation 2's October debut? Now, I'm obviously a proponent of owning every system out there because good games know no platform. But we have different sets of consumers looking at the issue:

* If you are a hard-core gamer, the answer is easy. Buy a PlayStation 2 if only for the DVD player. Sure you could buy just a DVD player for less, but in the long run, PlayStation 2 will be worth the hefty $300 price tag. There are so many companies working on PlayStation 2 titles, you have to think a killer title will emerge, even if the launch titles haven't wowed people so far.

* Then we have mainstream gamers. These are people who have a life outside their apartment, who don't necessarily know what rpg stands for (role-playing game), and couldn't care less how powerful a system's processor is. It's also parents with kids who want what they want, regardless of how many hours mom or dad work to pay for it. I'm sure these folks would like some ammo against their kids who likely will plead for PlayStation 2 come the holidays.

Here's your ammo, though it might not cost you that much less. First, you can forget the buy-it-for-the-DVD theory. The PlayStation is probably going to end up in the kid's room where only he will have access to it.

Second, Sega has one of the most impressive lineups of games for this year and next. Some are so much fun they will truly have everyone wanting to play the Dreamcast. Ready are a Latin maracas game, a talking fish game, and even online sports games.

Sony, meanwhile, added a modem to the PlayStation 2, an item that wasn't included with the Japanese version. Online gaming is where the future is, and Sega has its act together in this area.

But Sony has promised much more than just games. Using the modem of the PlayStation 2, gamers will be able to surf the Net and download music, movies and games from Sony Web sites. It sounds as if Sony is hoping its audience will spend more time buying online than playing games.

No Sony games at the E3 show focused on the online aspect. Sega meanwhile had an entire Sega Net area, where players tried to best each other at basketball, puzzle games such as Chu Chu Rocket and online role-playing games such as Phantasy Star Online.

Sega created the feeling of an entire online community at E3, and pulling this off on a global level would be a quite a feat. What game player wouldn't want to be part of a massive worldwide society of Sega owners? You can count me in. There's even talk of making the Dreamcast compatible with America Online, the nation's largest Internet service. (Now you need direct access to the Internet.) If Sega can make this deal work, watch out.

The bottom line is that Sony may feel that its system is the future of entertainment, but all it has shown so far are the same old games with better graphics. Sega, meanwhile, has stated repeatedly that it's just a game company, though it looks to be doing more for the future of home gaming than any other game company at the moment.

Then again, give Sony time.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

-- Robb Guido is an avid gamer who lives in Clearwater.

COMPARISON CHART

Sega Dreamcast

  • CPU: 128-Bit

  • Format: CD-ROM

  • Modem: Yes (online play available)

  • Release: Now

  • Must-have games for 2000: Samba de Amigo, Sea Man, Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, Major League Baseball 2K

* * *

Sony PlayStation 2

  • CPU: 128-Bit

  • Format: DVD

  • Modem: Yes

  • Release: Oct. 26

  • Must-have games for 2000: Madden 2001, Gran Turismo 2000, Tekken Tag

* * *

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