Sony launches PlayStation 2

Photo by Tom Cruze/Chicago Sun-Times

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 25, 2000

Just how big is the hoopla surrounding the release of PlayStation 2 on Thursday?

Let’s put it this way. Teenage boys and young adult males want this as much as little girls want ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake.

One out of every four homes in North America has a first-generation PlayStation. And it looks like a good chunk of those households are jonesing to get their hands on the new version of game console. PS2, which doubles as an entertainment center (it can play audio CDs and DVDs), promises mind-blowing graphics and sound.

Demand is high for PS2, which was launched in March in Japan. But because of manufacturing delays in Japan, only 500,000 consoles–half the number manufacturer Sony Corp. initially promised–will go on sale this week. There have been some reports questioning whether Sony hadn’t staged this to create even more demand for the console.

“This is not a marketing tactic,” says Stephanie Iwamasa, a spokeswoman for Sony Computer Entertainment American. “Absolutely not. There has been a huge response for the product and we want to be able to get as many out as fast as we can. Back in May, we said that we would launch 3 million units by the end of the fiscal year and we are right on schedule to keep the product flowing.”

Initial indications are that Sony will have difficulty meeting demand.

Most Chicago area stores expect fast and furious activity at the cash registers.

“Oh yeah, [we will sell out] in the first 10 minutes,” said sales agent Valentino Fontilli at the Circuit City store in Niles. “It’s the machine of the year.”

The Best Buy on North Avenue will open Thursday at 6 a.m., four hours earlier than normal, and will issue tickets to customers reserving PlayStations.

Roosevelt Thurmond, senior assistant in the media department, could not disclose how many PlayStations the store will be receiving.

The new systems, which will retail for $299, “will be secured” behind a glass case in the store, “just because of the hype of it and the price,” said Thurmond.

Many shoppers may find themselves plain out of luck.

The Funcoland in Niles is getting only 15 systems. But about 60 people have been on a waiting list since last fall.

The basic system includes a sleek, black console, a hand-held controller, backward compatibility (you can play all your old PlayStation games on it) and ports for future connections. Memory cards ($34 for each card, which holds 8MB of data) and games ($49) are sold separately.

The core audience for these consoles is 18- to 34-year-old men. But, according to experts, as time goes on, younger fans join in.

“With every gaming platform, you see that the early adapters are hard-core gamers–older boys and young men who are in on everything new in digital entertainment,” says Kathy Vrabeck, executive vice president of Global Brand Management at Activision, which makes games for PlayStation 2. “But when there’s this buzz and excitement around something like PlayStation 2, even people who are light gamers will step up.”

Girls and young women are traditionally not heavy players of video games, she says, which is one reason software is more testosterone driven.

“What you’ll see is that at the end of the life cycle for certain applications, there will be software aimed at girls, like there was with the Barbie games for the old PlayStation [which was introduced in 1995],” she says. “You’ll see that happen at the end of this platform as well.”


Just the Facts

Price: $299

Weight: 2.5 kilograms (that’s 5 pounds)

Small places: The PlayStation 2 stands horizontally or vertically.

What it comes with: Console, analog controller, and all the necessary cables and cords.

What you need to have more fun with it: The PlayStation 2 doesnt come with a memory card, which is stupid. Be prepared to be frustrated. The PlayStation wont be able to remember where you left off in your game playing and youll have to start from the beginning each time you want to play. So fork over $34 for at least one memory card, which stores 8MB of data and has a data transfer rate up to 250 times faster than the current memory cards.

Backward compatible?: Yes, you can play any of your 800 old PlayStation games on this newer model.

What you need, Part II: Software. there will be 26 new software titles launched on Thursday, with more than 50 titles released in time for the holidays. Additionally, 270 titles are in current development for PlayStation 2.

Cool:  These new consoles come equipped with cooling ducts, which keep the consoles from overheating. These may benefit people who dont want to spring for the memory cards and would rather leave their PlayStations on all day long.

The competition: It’s not so fierce now, but come 2001, PlayStation 2 will be joined by Microsofts Xbox and Nintendos Dolphi and Gamecube.

Availability: Only 500,000 consoles will be in stores as of Thursday, but Sony promises that it will ship 100,000 units each week in order to meet consumer demand.  Sony aims to ship 3 million units in North America (10 million worldwide) by March, 2001.

Bells and whistles: Though most fans probably will purchase this as a game, Sony is also marketing the PlayStation 2 as an entertainment center, since DVDs and CDs may be played on it as well.

Even novices will find it easy to use

When I got the PlayStation 2, I started to hyperventilate.

Not because I was so excited at getting to test out the console, but because I was worried about whether it would take me forever to hook the thing up.

Rest assured, it’s simple enough for an adult to handle. It’s not quite as easy as plugging in your TV, but it’s much less difficult than setting up a VCR.

Another confession: I have played maybe a handful of video games in my lifetime. Usually pretty poorly, too, I might add.

But then again, video games aren’t aimed at me or my female kind. I am not part of the 18-34 male demographic that keeps Sony Computer Entertainment in business.

Still, I figured, “What the heck? Let’s see what this is all about.”

Truth be told, PlayStation 2 is a hoot. The graphics are much clearer than the older model, and the sound is crisp and concise.

Too bad the dialogue on some of the games doesn’t take advantage of that. I made the mistake of trying to follow the storyline of “Orphen: Scion of Sorcery” (a magical escape adventure) and was sidetracked by the fact that the lips didn’t move in sync to the voices. After a while, though, the Godzilla-meets-Clutch-Cargo effect had kind of a kitschy charm that I found funny.

I did wonder why the hero kept shouting, “Greased lightning!” until someone pointed out that he was actually saying, “Bite of lightning!” As if that made any more sense.

But I digress. The addition I was most excited about was PlayStation 2’s ability to play DVDs on its console. I had read the reports that in Japan–where the prices of DVD players are extraordinarily high–some consumers were buying the PlayStation 2 in place of mid-level DVD players.

Unfortunately, the picture rolled and the color faded in and out throughout “The Matrix.” So instead of seeing Keanu Reeves kick butt in all his black-clad glory, he disappeared at times. I felt as if I were watching a scrambled cable channel.

“Most DVDs will run [on the PlayStation 2] just like on any mid-level DVD player, but there is a small percentage that won’t,” says Stephanie Iwamasa, a spokeswoman for Sony Computer Entertainment American. “I’m not sure why you had the problem with `The Matrix,’ because when we showcased the PlayStation 2 at Cannes etc., that was one of the movies that we used to demonstrate. It worked perfectly.

“We’re not marketing the PlayStation 2 as a replacement for a DVD player, but that’s one of the obvious perks of the system.”

Did I like PS2? You bet. Despite some of the frustrations of being a novice player …

Oh, gotta go … Orphen and his pals are waiting for me.

Local kids test it out 

“The graphics are great!”

This is the mantra that was repeated throughout the evening as five Northwest Side boys tested out the PlayStation 2. They were excited because they are boys. And because they got their hands on the new console days before their friends.

A few factoids first.

Time it took them to take the contents out of the box and get the Playstation 2 working: less than two minutes.

Time it took them to figure out how to play the new adventure game “Orphen: Scion of Sorcery”: another couple minutes.

Number of times they commented on how cool the visuals looked: I stopped counting at 3 dozen.

Number of times they commented on how lame it was that PlayStation 2 doesn’t come supplied with a memory card: 14.

“This is really kind of cool,” said Christian Neill, 16. “The [control pad] rumbles. With Nintendo, you have to have a Rumble Pad to get that same kind of feeling.”

Translation: When the images on TV shake, the hand-held controller vibrates as well, giving the player a more realistic feel when he plays the game.

Noting the clarity of the screen images, Carter Sims, 15, added, “This looks closer to what you’d see on a computer screen than any other game system around. I also like the sound, which sounds a lot better than the old PlayStation.”

But the lack of a memory card meant that the boys couldn’t stop and start their games at random. Rather, they had to go through entire sequences to get to where they wanted to be.

After repeated viewings of the same scenarios, this grew tiring. At one point, Christian sighed, “We have to listen to the stupid little kids [on screen] again.”

As they listened to one of the characters whine about not wanting to get her clothes dirty, the boys howled with laughter and dissed her and her prissy ways.

Luckily, the games move at a relatively quick pace.

“The games load a lot faster than on the old PlayStation,” noted Timothy Broberg, 16. “I don’t think I’m going to buy the new one though. I have the old one. I also have a computer, and I really like playing games on there.”

Ryan Maniaci, 14, says that the buzz around PlayStation is huge for kids his age. In fact, he is such a huge fan that he brought his old unit with him to compare it to the new model.

“I’m definitely going to buy the new one as soon as I save up enough money,” he said. “It’s awesome!”

But Christian’s 12-year-old brother, Seth, wasn’t as convinced.

“The graphics are pretty good on PlayStation 2,” he said.

“But I’m waiting for the new Nintendo Gamecube to come out. It’s supposed to cost less and do really cool things.”

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