May 21, 1999
Two months after Sony announced its
PlayStation II, which will be DVD-ROM based, Nintendo has announced that it will work with
Matsushita Electric to develop Nintendo's next-generation game machine--also
DVD-ROM-based. Matsushita and Nintendo have agreed on a wide-ranging collaboration, based
on the DVD platform, to cooperate on products that incorporate game machines and digital
Nintendo has not yet revealed all of the details of its
plans for the next-generation machine, code-named "Dolphin." According to Howard
Lincoln, chairman, Nintendo of America, "We're going to continue to be very
circumspect in revealing all of Dolphin's specs for a very simple reason--there are more
technological surprises to come and we'd like to keep them just that...for you and
especially for our competitors."
However, Nintendo has announced that Matsushita will
develop and supply the DVD media and the drive devices for the next-generation Nintendo.
The Dolphin will also feature a 400MHz central processor, dubbed the Gekko, that is in the
late stages of development. IBM is designing the Gekko based on its Power PC architecture.
The Gekko will offer extra on-chip memory to provide more efficient data management
between the processor and the game system's primary graphics chip, which is a new 200MHZ
chip custom-designed by ArtX Inc. The system will also offer 3.2GB/sec memory bandwidth.
Though many gamers might anticipate that Nintendo's move
to DVD, after three generations of cartridge-based games, was precipitated by the desire
to implement game-features that the storage size of this new media might allow, this does
not appear to have been a factor. Nintendo decided to make the move to using DVD media
because it is less expensive to produce and much easier to protect. Nintendo has suffered
from piracy problems with its cartridges (especially in Asian markets) and believes that
the next-generation games, which will be manufactured by Matsushita, will be
According to Sony, PlayStation II will be CD/DVD-ROM-based
and fully backward-compatible with previous PlayStation games. As Nintendo 64 is
cartridge-based, current users could be dismayed by the change to a DVD-ROM-based system.
Nintendo is not overly concerned with backward-compatibility, however. Nintendo has
expressed confidence that gamers want to play the newest, fastest, most graphically
interesting games and that those who want to play their older games will simply keep their
Nintendo has yet to discuss what they believe the change
of format will mean to the games themselves. It is expected that animations such as facial
movements and expressions will be greatly enhanced and that effects like gravity, wind,
and water movement will be more realistic. However, as Nintendo's strength has
traditionally been software, the company believes that its developers are up to the
challenge and opportunities the new media presents. Nintendo will initially develop games
in-house and with its stable of second-party developers but will probably have third-party
kits available in about six months.
Nintendo plans to have the new machine out by Christmas
2000 and Sony has said it expects PlayStation II to be available in the U.S. in the fall
of 2000. Both companies are banking on lower DVD drive costs and are not announcing
pricing at this stage, however both have expressed the goal of producing machines at a
competitive retail price.