Sixth Generation 6
In the history of video games, the sixth-generation era (sometimes referred to as the 128-bit era) refers to the computer and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds available at the turn of the 21st century which was from 1998 to 2009. Platforms of the sixth generation include the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. This era began on November 27, 1998 with the Japanese release of the Dreamcast, and it was joined by the PlayStation 2 in March 2000 and the GameCube and Xbox in 2001. The Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001. The GameCube was discontinued in 2007 and the Xbox was discontinued in 2008. The PlayStation 2 was still being produced after the sixth generation ended before it discontinued in early 2013.
The last official Dreamcast games were released in 2002 (North America and Europe) and 2007 (Japan). The last GameCube games were released in 2007 (North America and Japan). The last Xbox games were released in 2007 (Japan) and 2008 (Europe and North America). FIFA 14 is the last game released for PlayStation 2.
The sixth generation of game systems consists of:
- PlayStation 2
The Sony PlayStation 2 achieved sales dominance in this generation, becoming the best-selling console in history, with over 150 million units sold as of February 2011. The Microsoft Xbox had sold over 24 million units as of May 2006, and the Nintendo GameCube had sold 22 million units as of September 2010. The Sega Dreamcast, which arrived prior to all of the others and was discontinued in 2001, came in fourth with 10.6 million sold.
The sixth generation began to end when the Xbox was succeeded by the Xbox 360 in late 2005. GameCube hardware was still being produced when the Wii was released in late 2006, but as of June 2008 has also been ceased. PlayStation 2 sales continued to be strong into November 2010, due to the system’s large software library, continuing software support, and affordable price.
In February 2008, the PlayStation 2 outsold both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the United States. Games were still being produced for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube as of 2008, while Dreamcast games were officially discontinued in 2003. There were still a few games being produced for the Dreamcast in 2004, but they are essentially NAOMI arcade ports released only in Japan, with small print runs. In January 2013, the PS2 was discontinued worldwide, ending the sixth generation.
Sega’s Dreamcast was the first console of the generation and introduced several innovations including Internet gaming as an optional feature through its built-in modem, and a web browser. It was also the first home console to always display full SD resolution.
The console helped to restore Sega’s reputation, which had been damaged by the earlier failures of the Sega Saturn, Sega 32X, and Mega-CD. Despite this, the Dreamcast was discontinued prematurely due to numerous factors. The impending and much-hyped PlayStation 2 slowed Dreamcast sales, mostly due to the fact that the PlayStation 2 had a built-in DVD player and a huge number of PS1 owners looking to upgrade with the same company, Sony. In addition, Sega’s short-lived support/success of its post-Sega Megadrive products the Mega-CD, 32X and Saturn had left developers and customers skeptical, with some holding out to see whether the Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 would come out on top.
Sega’s decision to implement a GD-ROM (though publicly advertised as a CD-ROM) for storage medium did save costs but it did not compare well against the PS2’s much touted DVD capabilities. Sega was either unable or unwilling to spend the advertising money necessary to compete with Sony, which themselves took massive losses on the PlayStation 2 to gain market-share. With the announcements of the Xbox and GameCube in late 2000, Sega’s console was considered by some to be outdated only two years after its release. The previous losses from the Saturn, 32X, and Sega/Mega-CD, stagnation of sales due to the PlayStation 2, and impending competition from Microsoft and Nintendo caused Sega’s revenue to shrink and announce their intention on killing the system in early 2003, dropping the system entirely and leaving the console market in early 2004. Sega also announced it would shut down SegaNet, an online gaming community that supported online-capable Dreamcast titles. Due to user outcry over the decision, Sega delayed the service’s closure by an additional 6 months.
The brand Sony had established with the original PlayStation was a major factor in the PlayStation 2’s dominance, both in terms of securing a consumer base and attracting third party developers, with the gradual increase in one reinforcing the other. The PlayStation 2 was also able to play DVDs and was backwards-compatible with PlayStation games, which many say helped the former’s sales. Sony Computer Entertainment secured licensing for key games such as Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, enabling the PS2 to outperform its competitors’ launches.
Nintendo struggled with conflicting brand images, particularly the family-friendly one developed during the 1990s. Its arsenal of franchises and history in the industry, though earning it a loyal fan base, failed to give it an advantage against the Xbox and PlayStation 2 which captured audiences seeking ‘Mature’ titles which Nintendo had fewer of. Nintendo also made little headway into online gaming (releasing a small handful of online-capable games, the most popular of which was Phantasy Star Online, which was in fact a port of the Dreamcast game), instead emphasizing Game Boy Advance connectivity. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube failed to match the sales of its predecessor, the Nintendo 64.
Nintendo did however rejuvenate its relationship with many developers, often working in close collaboration with them to produce games based upon its franchises, in contrast to the past where it was frequently seen as bullying developers. As a result, the Nintendo GameCube had more first and second party releases than its competitors, whose most successful titles were mainly products of third party developers.
Although the Xbox had the formidable financial backing of Microsoft, it was unable to significantly threaten the dominance of the PlayStation 2 as market leader; however, the Xbox attracted a large fanbase and strong third-party support in the United States and Europe and became a recognizable brand amongst the mainstream. The Xbox Live online service with its centralized model proved particularly successful, prompting Sony to boost the online capabilities of the PlayStation 2. Xbox Live also gave the Xbox an edge over the GameCube, which had a near total lack of online games. The flagship of Xbox Live was the game Halo 2, which was the best selling Xbox game with over 8 million copies sold worldwide.
In Japan, Xbox sales were very poor, partly due to Microsoft’s inability to attract major Japanese developers and game franchises. The console’s physical size, which did not fit local aesthetic standards, and brand loyalty to Japanese companies such as Sony and Nintendo were considerable factors as well.
Bits and system power
Bit ratings for consoles largely fell by the wayside after the fifth generation (32/64-bit) era. The number of “bits” cited in console names referred to the CPU word size, but there was little to be gained from increasing the word size much beyond 32 bits; performance depended on other factors, such as central processing unit speed, graphics processing unit speed, channel capacity, and data storage size.
The importance of the number of bits in the modern console gaming market has thus decreased due to the use of components that process data in varying word sizes. Previously, console manufacturers advertised the “n-bit talk” to over-emphasize the hardware capabilities of their system. The Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 were the last systems to use the term “128-bit” in their marketing to describe their capability.
It is not easy to compare the relative “power” of the different systems. Having a larger CPU word size does not necessarily make one console more powerful than another. Likewise the operating frequency (clock rate) of a system’s CPU is not an accurate measure either.
The Microsoft Xbox uses a 32-bit (general purpose) CISC x86 architecture CPU, with an instruction set equal to that of the Coppermine core Mobile Celeron, though it has less cache memory (128 kB) than the PC equivalent. It has 64 MB RAM (shared) and runs at 733 MHz. Its NV2A GPU, which is very similar to the GeForce 4 Series Ti4000 for desktop computers, makes it the only console in its time with traditional vertex and pixel shaders. Many of sixth generation’s late PC ports, for example Far Cry Instincts, Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, which were meant to be released for all consoles managed to make it only to the Xbox due to its similarity to the PC the originals were built on.
The Nintendo GameCube’s IBM Gekko PowerPC CPU runs at 485 MHz, while its “Flipper” graphics processor is comparable to the ATI Radeon 7200, and it has 43 MB of non-unified memory (24 MB of 1T-SRAM, 3 MB embedded 1T-SRAM, and 16 MB DRAM). The GameCube supports Dolby Pro Logic II.
The PlayStation 2’s CPU (known as the “128-bit Emotion Engine”) has a 64-bit double precision core based on MIPS architecture. It includes three separate execution units inside the one processor and each one is capable of executing two instructions per cycle. The PlayStation 2’s Graphics Synthesizer has fast dedicated video memory, though it is limited in the amount of data it can hold. Consequently, many of the PS2’s games have reduced textures compared with versions for other consoles. It also does not have a transform and lighting unit like the ones found in the Xbox and GameCube GPUs.
The Dreamcast has a 64-bit double-precision superscalar SuperH-4 RISC Central processing unit core with a 32-bit integer unit using 16-bit fixed-length instructions, a 64-bit data bus allowing a variable width of either 8, 16, 32 or 64-bits, and a 128-bit floating-point bus. The PowerVR 2DC CLX2 chipset uses a unique method of rendering a 3D scene called Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR): While storing polygons in triangle strip format in memory, the display is split into tiles associated with a list of visibly overlapping triangles onto which, using a process similar to ray tracing, rays are cast and a pixel is rendered from the triangle closest to the camera. After calculating the depths associated with each polygon for one tile row in 1 cycle, the whole tile is flushed to video memory before passing on to render the next tile. Once all information has been collated for the current frame, the tiles are rendered in turn to produce the final image.
During the sixth generation era, the handheld game console market expanded with the introduction of new devices from many different manufacturers. Nintendo maintained its dominant share of the handheld market with the release in 2001 of the Game Boy Advance, which featured many upgrades and new features over the Game Boy. Two redesigns of this system followed, the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003 and the Game Boy Micro in 2005. Also introduced were the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1998 and Bandai’s WonderSwan Color, launched in Japan in 1999. South Korean company Game Park introduced its GP32 handheld in 2001, and with it came the dawn of open source handheld consoles. The Game Boy Advance line of handhelds has sold 81.51 million units worldwide as of September 30, 2010.
A major new addition to the market was the trend for corporations to include a large number of “non-gaming” features into their handheld consoles, including cell phones, MP3 players, portable movie players, and PDA-like features. The handheld that started this trend was Nokia’s N-Gage, which was released in 2003 and doubled primarily as a mobile phone. It went through a redesign in 2004 and was renamed the N-Gage QD. A second handheld, the Zodiac from Tapwave, was released in 2004; based on the Palm OS, it offered specialized gaming-oriented video and sound capabilities, but it had an unwieldy development kit due to the underlying PalmOS foundation.
With more and more PDAs arriving during the previous generation, the difference between consumer electronics and traditional computing began to blur and cheap console technology grew as a result. It was said of PDAs that they are “the computers of handheld gaming” because of their multi-purpose capabilities and the increasingly powerful computer hardware that resided within them. This capability existed to move gaming beyond the last generation’s 16-bit limitations; however, PDAs were still geared towards the typical businessman, and lacked new, affordable software franchises to compete with dedicated handheld gaming consoles.