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Size Doesn't Matter

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Reactions to Nintendo and Matsushita's new mini DVD 1.5 GB capable media have been mixed. While many applaud the optical format for it's sleek compact design, there has also been widespread criticism over its smaller data storage when compared to a regular DVD. A regular DVD is capable of holding at least 4.7 GB. This of course offers developers a ridiculous amount of space and freedom. Of course in the real world we are well aware there is no possible way a developer is going to fill 4.7 GB with pure game code. If you look at the Nintendo 64, you would agree some of the greatest games come on a media ranging from 4 to 64 MB. Standard CD's hold 650 MB. Yet the games provided on them are not longer or better programmed than games done on low capacity cartridges. So, where does most of the 650 Megabytes of data come from? Audio and FMV.

Many people have voiced their complaints over the N64's low quality music and lack of FMV. The reason Nintendo 64 was not very efficient at providing Redbook media, was that it just didn't have enough data storage to store it. The N64's solution was to work with sequenced MIDI sampling and real time cinemas as an alternative. Both these methods are actually better suited for a video game environment than FMV or Redbook audio. While a real time cinema and MIDI score can change according to data responds, since it's created and manipulated on the fly by the CPU, FMV and Redbook audio will remain unaffected due to them simply being streamed off the CD. This allows cinemas and music to be interactive and change accordingly to actions taking place in a game. Another problem with the Nintendo 64 is that it had neither a sound chip nor great audio tools to pump high channel efficient MIDI without taxing the CPU drastically. That was then.

Nintendo has taken a much more meticulous approach in designing the Nintendo GameCube. Midway through the N64's life cycle, a company named Factor 5 came out of nowhere and designed a godsend of audio tools for the system. Factor 5 developed two codec proprietary sound tools for the Nintendo 64. One was titled MusyX and the other was MORT. MusyX was an awesome MIDI/MOD sequencing program that allowed you to stream compressed soundbytes off the cart and use them as MIDI voices. It was also built from scratch and it turned out to be a great deal more efficient than the N64's prebuilt sound tools. This would allow developers to output a high channel and high quality MIDI/MOD sequence on the N64 without even the luxury of a soundchip. MORT was also a highly efficient audio program; it compressed sound waves at a ratio of 15:1. This allowed developers to fit lengthy speech samples on a small amount of cartridge space. Nintendo did not hesitate and quickly licensed the sound tools to be used on the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color.

Nintendo again commissioned Factor 5 to develop sound tools for the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. This time, not only has Factor 5 updated its tools to be even more efficient and more capable, but it also has a sound chip and stronger CPU to work with. Until now nobody knew how important Nintendo's alliance with Factor 5 really was.

Since the GameCube only offers 1.5 GB of space, in order for a developer to maximize the amount of space they will have to use the MusyX and MORT sound proprietary tools that are included in the system. Instead of using a Gigabyte in Redbook audio and FMV, a developer could use 1/10 of it with real-time high channel dynamic MIDI/MOD sequencing, MORT speech compression, and real time cinemas. This would mean a game could be done on a 1.5 GB disc and be just as cinematic, just as long, and just as fun.

Along with the sound capabilities, Nintendo's GameCube also boasts a dramatic improvement in polygon, texturing, and lighting display abilities. Meaning while many were awed with the real-time cinemas of Zelda, they will no doubt be in greater awe with the GameCube's on the fly generated cutscenes. With graphics taking such a huge jump, the need for FMV lessens. GameCube's real-time cinemas can look silky smooth and very dramatic. Real-time cinemas are inexpensive compared to a production studio's CG FMV. Meaning a developer can produce an animated sequence longer and cheaper if it chooses to use real-time over FMV. Any smart and creative developer would be wise to choose Nintendo's philosophy over the philosophy Square used on the Playstation.

Besides Nintendo emphasizing these methods due to storage space restrictions, it also work better towards creating a game environment. If you think about it, if a developer uses MORT, MusyX, and real time cutscenes on a 1.5 GB disc, in relative terms that disc space would be the equivalent of a 100 GB DVD. While a developer might spend 2 Gigabytes on FMV, 2 Gigabytes on Redbook audio, and 2 more Gigabytes on speech dialogue, a GameCube developer could express the same form of communication with much less data.