Console Wars (2015)
AND THE HARE
Three men stood at a podium, each one bursting with a palpable sense of pride.
To the right was Ed McCracken, the president of Silicon Graphics. Dressed in a brown suit and tan tie, he appeared somewhat uncomfortable in the spotlight. But beneath his uneven smile was a pristine confidence, confirming that this announcement was really as revolutionary as those in attendance had suspected. “It’s great to be able to work with the industry leader,” McCracken said before going on to describe his new partner as “one of the best marketing companies in any industry.”
To the left was Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics. Although he looked like an adult version of Charlie Brown, this man was no peanut. He knew how to control a room, use smiles as effectively as pauses, and describe big, complex things as if they made all the sense in the world. “We’re going to integrate graphics, computing technology, software, compression, and encryption—all of the technologies needed to make all of this happen—and we’re going to put it all on one chip.”
And between these two men, representing one of the world’s largest videogame companies, was a calm, confident, steely-eyed executive, Howard Lincoln. “I’m here this morning to announce the next generation in Nintendo home entertainment products,” Lincoln said. “A product whose improved gameplay will, simply put, be stunning. Nintendo, together with Silicon Graphics and MIPS Technologies (a subsidiary of SGI), have entered into a worldwide joint development and licensing agreement under which our companies will develop this new and unique product.”
To demonstrate the gaming power of this proposed new product, a splashy video showed off 3-D graphics of a shuttle hurtling through space, a jet jittering through Paris, and a race car revving its way through a speedway.
“It will utilize the real-time, 3-D graphics technology for which Silicon Graphics is world-famous,” Lincoln boasted, “and will feature a new, true 64-bit MIPS multimedia media chipset. All of this will be combined with Nintendo’s unequaled expertise in videogame creation, technology, and marketing.”
“A full quantum step of game performance,” McCracken added.
“And it’s going to be far more powerful than anything out there in the market today,” Clark added as well. “Far more powerful—I guarantee it!”
Although it’s easy for executives to boast about having the Best Thing Ever, the 3-D demo was proof that this was about more than just words. The graphics on display weren’t quite lifelike, as there was an obvious animated quality to them, but the shapes, colors, and movements were closer to reality than anything that had ever come before.
Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that this new console, scheduled for release in 1995, would soon be named Project Reality. But for now, this revolutionary system had no name, nor did it even need one. The only names that really mattered were Silicon Graphics, Nintendo, and not-Sega.
A couple months earlier:
Tom Kalinske stared at the phone on his desk, hoping that something might miraculously change between now and when he dialed the number, but after realizing that hope was no substitute for acceptance, he finally picked up the phone.
“Is Jim in?” Kalinske asked when Jim Clark’s secretary picked up. When she went to look for her boss, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Kalinske fought off the urge to go over exactly what he would say. Normally, preparation was a good thing, but here it would only make him sound rehearsed, and that was the last thing Kalinske wanted. He wanted Clark to hear the raw nerves in his voice, for whatever that might be worth.
“Hey, Tom,” Clark said, sounding aloof but upbeat, as he often did. “What’s going on? Have you come with good news?”
Raw. Honest. Aggravated. “Sadly, the opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve just heard back from Japan,” Kalinske said with a muted growl in his voice, “and the response . . . well, it’s very disappointing.”
After the meeting with Silicon Graphics, Kalinske had been over the moon about the idea of forging forward together. To convince Sega of Japan that this was the right move, he worked with Toyoda, Miller, and Glen to present the case for SGI. It had many of the same benefits of working with Sony but would still give SOJ the autonomy they desired. They probably wouldn’t love the idea of working with an American company, but there was no denying that what Silicon Graphics could build would be more powerful than anything being developed in Japan (including the Hitachi chipset that was currently in place to power the Saturn) and that SGI’s chipset would undoubtedly be cheaper. It was a no-brainer, a guarantee that Sega would be a major player in the next generation, but SOJ didn’t see it that way. They had called Kalinske earlier today to notify him that they were not interested in working with SGI. What? Why? The chip is too big. Huh? It’s too big. Too big for what? Sorry, no thank you. Goodbye.
“Tom,” Clark said, sounding shocked, “I know very little about what your R&D team has planned, only what Joe Miller shared with me, but I can all but guarantee you that our chipset is going to be faster, more powerful, and cheaper than what they have.”
“I know,” Kalinske said. “I’d be surprised if you weren’t correct about that.”
“All right,” Clark said after a pause. “All right.”
“No, it’s not all right,” Kalinske replied. “And I apologize for wasting your time.”
“All right,” Clark repeated. “What am I supposed to do now?”
Good question—and one that Kalinske had recently began to ask himself about his own future. With Sega of Japan’s rejection of deals with Sony and now Silicon Graphics, Kalinske had seriously begun to doubt that this fairy tale would have a happy ending. He thought seriously about resigning, but he just couldn’t deal with the thought of abandoning his team. If SOJ planned to slowly dismantle SOA, then the least he could do was stay here to fight alongside Rioux, Toyoda, Fornasier, Glen, Miller, and everyone else he’d sold on his vision.
“Jim, here’s what I’m going to do,” Kalinske said, now skimming through his Rolodex. “I think I have the name of someone who might be very interested in hearing about what SGI has to offer.”
Kalinske scrolled past the beginning of the alphabet, slowing down as he approached the letter L. “Do you have a pen ready?” He kept skimming until he got to the contact information he was searching for: Lincoln, Howard.