Fifth generation of video game consoles
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The fifth-generation era (also known as the 32-bit era, the 64-bit era and the 3D era) refers to computer and video games, video game consoles and video game handhelds from approximately 1993 to 2001. For home consoles, the best-selling console was the PlayStation by a wide margin, followed by the Nintendo 64 and then the Sega Saturn. For handhelds, this era was characterized by significant fragmentation, because the first handheld of the generation, the Genesis Nomad, had a lifespan of just two years, and the Virtual Boy had a lifespan of less than one. Both were discontinued before the other handhelds made their debut. The Neo Geo Pocket was released in 1998, but was dropped by SNK in favor of the fully backwards compatible Neo Geo Pocket Color just a year later. Nintendo's Game Boy Color was the winner in handhelds by a large margin. There were also two updated versions of the original Game Boy: Game Boy Light (Japan only) and Game Boy Pocket.
The era is known for its pivotal role in the video game industry's leap from 2D computer graphics to 3D computer graphics, as well as the shift from home consoles using ROM cartridges to optical discs. The development of the Internet also made it possible to store and download tape and ROM images of older games, eventually leading 7th generation consoles (such as the Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DSi) to make many older games available for purchase or download. There was considerable overlap between this and the sixth generation of consoles, which began with the launch of the Dreamcast in Japan on November 27, 1998. The fifth generation officially ended with the discontinuation of the PlayStation (known in its re-engineered form as the "PSOne") in March 2005, a few months after the launch of the seventh generation.
Some features that distinguished fifth generation consoles from fourth generation consoles include:
- 3D polygon graphics with texture mapping
- Optical disc (CD-ROM) game storage, allowing much larger storage space (up to 650 MB) than ROM cartridges
- CD quality audio recordings (music and speech), PCM audio with 16-bit depth and 44.1 kHz sampling rate
- Wide adoption of full motion video, displaying pre-rendered computer animation or live action footage
- Analog controllers
- Display resolution from 480i to 576i
- Color depth up to 16,777,216 colors (24-bit true color)
- 3D graphical capabilities such as lighting, Gouraud shading, anti-aliasing and texture filtering
- 1 History
- 2 Home systems
- 3 Handheld systems
- 4 Software
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Transition to 3D
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The 32-bit/64-bit era is most noted for the rise of fully 3D polygon games. While there were games prior that had used three-dimensional polygon environments, such as Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter in the arcades and Star Fox on the Super NES, it was in this era that many game designers began to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into 3D on video game consoles. Early efforts from then-industry leaders Sega and Nintendo saw the introduction of the 32X and Super FX, which provided rudimentary 3D capabilities to the 16-bit Genesis and Super NES. Prime examples of this trend include Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn, Tomb Raider on the PlayStation and Saturn, Tekken and Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation, and Super Mario 64 on the N64. Their 3D environments were widely marketed and they steered the industry's focus away from side-scrolling and rail-style titles, as well as opening doors to more complex games and genres. 3D became the main focus in this era as well as a slow decline of cartridges in favor of CDs, due to the ability to produce games less expensively and the media's high storage capabilities.
CD vs. cartridge
After allowing Sony to develop a CD-based prototype console for them and a similar failed partnership with Philips, Nintendo decided to make the Nintendo 64 a cartridge-based system like its predecessors. Publicly, Nintendo defended this decision on the grounds that it would give games shorter load times than a compact disc (and would decrease piracy). However, it also had the dubious benefit of allowing Nintendo to charge higher licensing fees, as cartridge production was considerably more expensive than CD production. Many third-party developers like EA Sports viewed this as an underhanded attempt to raise more money for Nintendo and many of them became more reluctant to release games on the N64.
Nintendo's decision to use a cartridge based system sparked a small scale war among gamers as to which was better. The chief advantages of the CD-ROM format were (1)larger storage capacity, allowing for a much greater amount of game content, (2)considerably lower manufacturing costs, making them much less risky for game publishers, (3)lower retail prices due to the reduced need to compensate for manufacturing costs. Its disadvantages compared to cartridge were (1)considerable load times, (2)their inability to load data "on the fly", making them reliant on the console RAM, and (3)the greater manufacturing costs of CD-ROM drives compared to cartridge slots, resulting in generally higher retail prices for CD-based consoles. A Nintendo magazine ad placed a Space Shuttle (cartridge) next to a snail (a CD) and dared consumers to decide "which one was better".
Almost every other contemporary system used the new CD-ROM technology (the Nintendo 64 was the last major home video game console to use cartridges, until the Nintendo Switch in 2017). Consequent to the storage and cost advantages of the CD-ROM format, many game developers shifted their support away from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation. One of the most influential game franchises to change consoles during this era was the Final Fantasy series, beginning with Final Fantasy VII, which was originally being developed for the N64 but due to storage capacity issues was shifted to and released on the PlayStation; prior Final Fantasy games had all been published on Nintendo consoles – either the NES or Super NES, with the only other entries being on the Wonderswan, or computers like the MSX.
Overview of the fifth generation consoles
There was much confusion over which console was superior to the others. Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that there were more competing consoles in this era than at any other time since the North American video game crash of 1983, with video game magazines frequently predicting a second crash due to the similar deluge of new consoles. Also, console makers routinely boasted theoretical maximum limits of each system's 3D polygon rendering without accounting for real world in-game performance.
The FM Towns Marty is considered the world's first 32-bit console (predating the Amiga CD32 and 3DO), being released in February 20, 1993 by Japanese electronic company Fujitsu. Never released outside Japan, it was largely marketed as a console version of the FM Towns home computer, being compatible with games developed for the FM Towns. It failed to make an impact in the marketplace due to its expense relative to other consoles and inability to compete with home computers. While using a 32-bit word length, however, the Intel 80386SX CPU only supports 16-bit bus addressing (similar to the Motorola 68000 in 1985's Amiga 1000) and a maximum of 24-bit RAM addressing.
The 32X, an add-on console for the Genesis, was launched a short time before the Sega Saturn. The Sega Neptune was also announced as a standalone version of the 32X, but ultimately canceled. Sega failed to deliver a steady flow of games for the 32X platform. More importantly, with the Saturn and PlayStation already on the horizon, most gamers preferred to save up their money rather than spend it on a console that was doomed to become obsolete in just a few months.
The Sega Saturn was released as Sega's entry into the 32-bit console market. It became Sega's most successful console in Japan, but it was not the overseas commercial success that the Master System and Mega Drive had been and lagged in third place overall.
The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 as the world's first 64-bit system. However, sales at launch were well below the incumbent fourth generation consoles, and a small games library rooted in a shortage of third party support made it impossible for the Jaguar to catch up, selling below 250,000 units. The system's 64-bit nature was also questioned by many. The 32-bit Atari Panther, set to be released in 1991, was canceled due to unexpectedly rapid progress in developing the Jaguar.
The PlayStation was the most successful console of this generation, with attention given by 3rd party developers enabling it to achieve market dominance, becoming the first home console to ship 100 million units worldwide.
Because of many delays in the release of the Nintendo 64, in 1995 Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a supposedly portable system capable of displaying true 3D graphics, albeit in monochromatic red and black. However, in practice it is not functionally portable, though it was at first marketed as such, and because of the nature of its graphical capabilities, the system can cause headaches and eye strain. It was discontinued within a year, with less than 25 games ever released for it.
The Nintendo 64, originally announced as the "Ultra 64", was released in 1996. The system's delays and use of the cartridge format while all of its competitors used CDs made it an unpopular platform among third party developers. However, a number of wildly popular 1st party titles allowed the Nintendo 64 to maintain strong sales in the United States, though it still remained a distant second to the PlayStation.
NEC, creator of the TurboGrafx-16, TurboDuo, Coregrafx, and SuperGrafx, also entered the market with the PC-FX in 1994. The system had a 32-bit processor, 16-bit stereo sound, a 16,777,000 color palette and featured the highest quality full motion video of any console on the market at the time. The PC-FX broke away from traditional console design by being a tower system that allowed for numerous expansion points including a connection for NEC's PC-9800 series of computers. Despite its impressive specs, it was marketed as the ultimate side-scrolling console and could not match the sales of the 3D systems currently on the market.
Aftermath of the fifth generation
By the end of the 1995 Christmas shopping season, the fifth generation has come down to a struggle between the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, and the upcoming Nintendo 64. The FM Towns Marty and Amiga CD32 had already been discontinued; the Jaguar and 32X were still on the market but were considered a lost cause by industry analysts; the Neo Geo CD had proven to appeal only to a niche market; and industry analysts had already determined that the yet-to-launch Apple Bandai Pippin was too expensive to make any impact in the market. Moreover, even the leading fifth generation consoles were still facing sluggish sales. Combined sales for the PlayStation, Saturn, and 3DO barely topped 1 million units for the Christmas shopping season, as compared to combined sales of 4 million for the Sega Genesis and Super NES. Focus groups showed that most children under 12 years old are equally happy playing on fourth generation consoles as they are playing on fifth generation consoles, making the fourth generation consoles more appealing to adults buying gifts for children, since they are cheaper. Industry analysts began putting forth the possibility that the fifth generation of consoles would never overtake the fourth generation in sales, and become superseded by a new generation of DVD player consoles before they could achieve mass acceptance.
After the dust settled in the fifth generation console wars, several companies saw their outlooks change drastically. Atari Corporation, which was not able to recover its losses, ended up being purchased by JT Storage and stopped making game hardware. Sega's loss of consumer confidence (coupled with its previous console failures) along with their financial difficulties, set the company up for a similar fate in the next round of console wars.
The Sega Saturn suffered from poor marketing and comparatively limited third-party support outside Japan. Sega's decision to use dual processors was roundly criticized, as this made it difficult to efficiently develop for the console. Sega was also hurt by a surprise four-month-early U.S. launch of their console. Third party developers, who had been planning for the originally scheduled launch, could not provide launch titles and were angered by the move. Retailers were caught unprepared, resulting in distribution problems. Some retailers, such as the now defunct KB Toys, were so furious that they refused to stock the Saturn thereafter.
Due to numerous delays, the Nintendo 64 was released one year later than its competitors. By the time it was finally launched in 1996, Sony had already established its dominance, the Saturn was starting to struggle, and the Jaguar and 3DO had been discontinued. Its use of cartridge media rather than compact discs alienated some developers and publishers due to the space limits, the relatively high cost involved, and a considerably longer production time. In addition, the initially high suggested retail price of the console may have driven potential customers away, and some early adopters of the system who had paid the initial price may have been angered by Nintendo's decision to cut the price of the system by $50 six months after its release. However, the Nintendo 64 turned out to be a commercial success, particularly in the United States, where it sold 20.63 million units, nearly two third of its worldwide sales of 32.93 million units. It was also home to highly successful games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Super Smash Bros. Still, while the Nintendo 64 sold far more units than the Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar, and 3DO, it failed to surpass the PlayStation, which dominated the market.
By 1997, 40% to 60% of American homes played on video game consoles. 30% to 40% of these homes owned a console, while an additional 10% to 20% rented or shared a console.
|Name||3DO Interactive Multiplayer||Atari Jaguar||Sega Saturn||PlayStation||Nintendo 64|
|Developer||The 3DO Company||Atari||Sega||Sony||Nintendo|
|Launch price (USD)||US$699.99 (equivalent to $1,161 in 2016)||US$249.99 (equivalent to $414 in 2016)||US$399.99 (equivalent to $629 in 2016)||US$299.99 (equivalent to $472 in 2016)||US$199.99 (equivalent to $305 in 2016)|
|Best-selling game||Gex, over 1 million||Alien vs Predator (Atari Jaguar game), more than 50.000||Virtua Fighter 2, 1.7 million in Japan||Gran Turismo, 10.85 million shipped (as of April 30, 2008)||Super Mario 64, 11.62 million (as of May 21, 2003)|
|CPU||ARM60 (32‑bit RISC) @ 12.5 MHz (10 MIPS)||NEC VR4300 (64‑bit RISC) @ 93.75 MHz (125 MIPS)|
||Reality Co-Processor (64‑bit MIPS R4000 based, 128‑bit vector register processor) @ 62.5 MHz|
|Sound chip(s)||Custom 20‑bit DSP||"Jerry" chip: DSP, 2× DAC (converts digital data to analog signals)||Sony SPU (Sound Processing Unit)||Reality Signal Processor (DSP)|
|Memory||3 MB RAM||2 MB FPM DRAM (4× 512 KB chips)||4.5 MB RAM||3587 KB RAM||4 MB RDRAM (8 MB with Expansion Pak)|
|Audio||Stereo audio, with:||Stereo audio, with:||Stereo audio, with:
||Stereo audio, with:
||Stereo audio, with:|
|Online services||None||Jaguar Voice/Data Communicator 19.2k modem (no mass production) (1995-present)||None|
- These consoles are either less notable, never saw a worldwide release, and/or have sold particularly poorly, and are therefore listed as 'Other'.
Add-ons and remakes
Released in Japan in 1999
Worldwide sales standings
|PlayStation||102.49 million shipped (74.34 million PlayStation, 28.15 million PSone) (as of March 31, 2005)|
|Nintendo 64||32.93 million (as of March 31, 2005)|
|Sega Saturn||9.26 million|
|Atari Jaguar||250,000 (as of May 15, 2007)|
|FM Towns Marty||45,000 (as of December 31, 1993)|
|Apple Bandai Pippin||42,000 (as of May 4, 2007)|
From 1996 to 1999 (when the PlayStation, N64 and Saturn were the major 5th-generation consoles still on the market) Sony managed a 47% market share of the worldwide market, followed by Nintendo with 28% (with a percentage of that figure from the 16‑bit Super NES), while Sega was third with 23% (with a percentage of that from the Dreamcast).
Production of the Sega Saturn was discontinued in 1998. Its demise being accelerated by rumors that work on its successor was underway; these rumors hurt the systems' sales in the west as early as 1997. The N64 was succeeded by the GameCube in 2001, but continued its production until 2004; however, PlayStation production was not ceased as it was redesigned as the PSone, further extending the life of the console around the release of the follow-up PlayStation 2. The PlayStation console production was discontinued in 2006, shortly after the Xbox 360 was released.
Released in 1995 in the U.S. only
Released in 1997
Released in 1998
Released in 1999 in Japan only
Released in 2000 in Japan only
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- Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) was a breakthrough IP for Nintendo, featuring characters from Nintendo owned franchises fighting in a party styled game. Super Smash Bros. has since been succeeded by 4 additional titles in the series.
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- Virtua Fighter (Arcade, Saturn) by Sega AM2 and Sega created the 3D fighting game genre. The console port, which was nearly identical to the arcade game, sold at a nearly 1:1 ratio with the Saturn hardware at launch. The original arcade version also had a major influence on the PlayStation becoming a 3D focused console.
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Ryoji Akagawa: If it wasn't for Virtua Fighter, the PlayStation probably would have had a completely different hardware concept.