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CD-ROM Technology and the Video Game Industry
Posted on Tuesday, December 4 2012 @ 08:36:16 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Back in the early 1990s, CD-ROM technology was still in its infancy. The technology was unproven at the time, but developers have always tried to incorporate future technologies and saw a great deal of promise in the new storage medium. Up until this point, nearly all forms of entertainment came in the form of cartridges or tapes, such as the cartridges used by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Video Home System (VHS) tapes used by the movie industry. The old cartridge-based software storage philosophy was about to get replaced, but not without a fight.

On October 15, 1992, SEGA released the SEGA CD (SEGA CD, 2012). This was the first mainstream CD-ROM-based video game console released in the United States. The developers were amazed at the massive storage of the CD-ROM medium compared to the traditional cartridges of the day. The Super Nintendo had a cartridge capacity of 16MB, while a CD-ROM had 700MB (SNES 1st-gen, 2012). This is almost forty-four times more storage, but that is not the only plus side of CD-ROMs. CD-ROMs are also significantly cheaper to produce than cartridges. During the late 1990s, the MSRP of a Sony PlayStation CD-ROM was $39.99 while the price for the same game ported on the Nintendo 64 was $59.99 (N64 US Launch, 2012).

The difference was clear to not only software developers, but to the consumer as well. CD-ROM technology was the way of the future. Having such massive amounts of storage available has led to sweeping changes in the video game industry. For the first time ever, large amounts of cinema-quality full-motion video could be interwoven during gameplay to richen storylines and immerse the user in the game world. Massive worlds could now be created which would lead to monumental changes and open new doors for developers. Games such as Final Fantasy VII, the genre defining role-playing game which was released on the Sony PlayStation in 1997, had such a massive and cinematic world that the game required three CD-ROMs to contain. Video games of this magnitude were impossible to reproduce on a cartridge-based system, as the game would have required dozens upon dozens of cartridges to contain it.


However, as amazing as early CD-ROM technology was, it was not without its own faults. Fast optical drives were expensive to produce, which resulted in hardware developers to install 1X and 2X speed CD-ROM drives into their systems. These single- and double-speed drives were slow, which resulted in long loading times. The 4X speed technology was a massive improvement, but was too cost-prohibitive to produce until the late 1990s. Furthermore, because a CD-ROM does not contain any physical hardware like a cartridge does, they can’t hold any saved data storage nor contain any hardware accelerator chips. The game CD-ROM simply holds the game data that was burned into it by the manufacturer and cannot be altered in any way. CD-ROMs are also very fragile, with the data portion prone to scratching, making the disc unreadable. Cartridges tend to be very sturdy, built using thick plastic that can take years of abuse and still perform flawlessly.

Even with these cons, CD-ROM technology has changed personal computing and video gaming forever. It has allowed the user to enjoy vast worlds that are no longer limited by storage constraints. The significantly lower cost of production has given the consumer an incredible amount of bang for the buck, while still allowing developers enough room to turn a generous profit.

The future is bright for CD-ROM based technology. Over the years, optical data storage has improved and increased with the release of DVD-ROM technology. Yet again, disc technology has changed the way consumers think about video games. Even further advancement in the form of Blu-ray has allowed the storage capacity of optical discs to rise to a staggering fifty gigabytes (Blu-Ray, 2012).

All home video game consoles have been using optical discs now for over a decade, and all signs point to the future generation using optical discs as well (PS3News, 2012). While cartridges carried video game advancement for generations, the time came when they hit their ceiling. From that point on, the CD-ROM took the reins and charged forward into the future.

References:
Blu-Ray. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.blu-ray.com/faq/Classic Games. (2012). Retrieved
from http://classicgames.about.com/od/history/tp/History-of-Video-Games-Pt-5.htm

N64 US Launch. (2012). Retrieved from
http://www.pennoaks.net/archive64/Miscellaneous_Articles/N64_US_Launch.htm

PS3 News. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.ps3news.com/playstation-3-psn-news/rumor-
sony-ps4-to-use-optical-storage-discs-like-blu-ray-on-ps3/

SEGA CD. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.giantbomb.com/sega-cd/60-29/

SNES 1st-gen (Super Nintendo). (2012). Retrieved from    
http://gdgt.com/nintendo/snes/1st-gen/specs/

The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly Vox Pop competition. ~Ed. Nick
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