Nintendo fires first shot in 2001 games war

With many improvements packed into the player, Nintendo hopes the GameBoy Advance will be able to repeat the success of the first-generation machine which was launched in 1989 and last year sold its 100 millionth unit. The GameBoy has been revised several times since the original machine went on sale, most recently with a colour-screen version, although the GameBoy Advance is a completely new platform.

The new machine is based on a 32-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processor -- a big improvement on the 8-bit processor used in the original machine -- and features a colour TFT (thin film transistor) with 240 by 160 pixels resolution and capable of displaying 32,000 colours. In addition to the souped-up hardware, the design has also been changed to make the GameBoy Advance a horizontal format terminal with the controls on either side of the screen rather than beneath the screen as on the current machine.

Far beyond the design changes, the new console represents Nintendo's first shot in what promises to be a fierce battle for customers in the computer gaming market this year.

It will fire its second shot later in the year when it launches the Game Cube, a new home gaming system designed to be used with a television, that will battle Sony Computer Entertainment's (SCEI) PlayStation 2 which was launched with much fanfare last year. Microsoft will also join the battle later in the year with the launch of its Xbox console which is based on the PC architecture.

The stakes are high and have already claimed one victim. Sega announced earlier this year it is discontinuing its Dreamcast console on the back of heavy losses after the company never managed to beat the hype surrounding Sony Computer Entertainment's (SCEI) PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles. Nintendo plans to launch the GameBoy Advance in the US on June 11 and promises to have at least 60 titles available in North America in time for holiday season this year. It retails for 9,800 yen ($147) in Japan.

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Martyn Williams

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