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Smaller is Better

by Jonathan Metts - October 16, 2000, 7:52 am PDT

Jonathan Metts takes a look at Nintendo's decision to not go with standard DVD media

Since Nintendo's revelation at Spaceworld that the GameCube (or N-Cube as I prefer to call it) would use miniature DVDs instead of standard ones, the company has caught a lot of flak from the press. Many are already predicting the system's failure, because in their eyes, Nintendo has not made enough progress away from its traditionally exclusive, stubborn ways. Some media analysts have equated the mini-DVDs with the N64's carts as a poor choice of storage medium that will ultimately lead to third-party abandonment.

Excrement. All that talk is simply excrement. The true nature of the Big N's decision is compromise: they've combined the best elements of cartridges with the best elements of normal DVD. To explain, I've made the following feature-by-feature list of the mini-DVD's advantages:

Space - the largest N64 cartridge was 64MB, and on it Angel Studios crammed hundres of pre-rendered backgrounds, hours of voice-over work, several minutes of full-motion video, and yes, an entire game that most people (except me, ;-) loved. The N-Cube DVDs will hold 1.5GB, or approximately 1,500 MB, over 23 times the size of Resident Evil 2's cart. Add to this the fact that N-Cube graphics will make the primary space-hogger, FMV, obsolete. Naysayers cite the Playstation 2's superior capacity (a maximum of 4.7GB), but in truth most PS2 games are still put on regular old CDs, and the few on DVD are not using nearly the entire capacity. If you want proof, just look at Dreamcast...not a word has been said in complaint of its GD-ROM's capacity, and those discs only hold only 2/3 the data that the mini-DVD will. Bottom line: N-Cube discs will hold plenty of stuff. Of course, you may be asking why doesn't Nintendo just use the big DVDs and have a little left over. Well! l...

Cost - When gamers and publishers called for Nintendo to lower the price of software in the next console generation, I don't think they realized just how far the company would take that advice. Back in May '99, when "Project Dolphin" was first announced, huge praise was given to Nintendo for finally switching to a disc-based format, especially one as big and cheap as DVD. Now we know that the mini-DVDs the system uses will be even cheaper than standard DVDs, making prices for brand new games as low as $30 possible (theoretically). Lower game prices will probably also be influenced by the system's ease of development, but that's a whole other issue that I won't get into here. Anyway, considering the price of PS2 games in Japan (upwards of sixty and seventy dollars), the cheaper mini-DVD format could be a big help for N-Cube's success. Bottom line: brand new 128-bit N-Cube games for as cheap or cheaper than current Playstation games.

Anti-piracy - This may not interest you very much as a consumer, but widespread piracy costs gaming companies a LOT of money, and those expenses are ultimately transferred to us gamers in the form of higher prices for software. Until now, Nintendo's cartridge format has always deterred piracy except in minor forms such as PC emulation. However, the switchover to a disc system brings a multitude of problems in this area, especially with the recent spread of inexpensive CD-R drives (and sooner than you think, DVD-writable drives). Nintendo of course commissioned its partner Matsushita to encrypt the N-Cube discs as much as possible, and I think that's all they planned to do at first. Then fear crept back into the company's motives, and they decided to make the disc smaller than normal DVDs. The effect this decision will have on piracy is clear; for one thing, it could take months or even years before hackers break the disc encryption system, although I have no doubt that eventually it could be done. However, even that would do little good...by adopting a proprietary format, Nintendo has made certain that the only people able to reproduce the N-Cube's specific type of discs will be developers and publishers. Even when writable DVDs finally become commonplace, those big discs still won't even fit into the system. Bottom line: Nintendo saves money + publishers save money = you save money.

Really, those reasons alone are enough to merit the mini-DVD decision, though I could go on about speed (much faster than normal DVD drives), portability, etc. if I so desired. What this all translates too is that Nintendo is not just being stubborn, and they're not going against the norm just for the sake of being different. The company has very good reasons for opting for this new format, and I personally applaud them for making a decision that may confuse or even anger some people at first, but will prove itself just in the end.

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