The PlayStation Gamemaker: Disassembling Net Yaroze

August 20, 2019, at 09:11 PM by mgarcia in Media, Articles (0 comments)

Title: The PlayStation Gamemaker: Disassembling Net Yaroze Author: mgarcia Date: 2019-08-20 21:11 +1000 Tags: Media, Articles Comments: Open


Mirror of the original article from Gamespot: http://www.gamespot.com/features/vgs/psx/yaroze
Which was referenced in these books.

The PlayStation Gamemaker: Disassembling Net Yaroze

By Johnny Pepastaek

Black. The color itself evokes an aura of mystery, danger, and mystical power. That's why black cats portend bad luck, why ninjas wear black, and why Knight Rider's car, KITT, is painted black rather than, oh, say hot pink.

Add to that list the Net Yaroze PlayStation ("yah-row-zei" stems from a Japanese verb that translates into English as "let's do it together"). Black rather than the generic gray of ordinary PS systems, the Net Yaroze PS looks more like a deadly gadget devised by James Bond's equipment man Q than a video game system. But of course the Net Yaroze PS is more than just a console; it's a device that will give gamers the chance to do what couldn't be done for more than a decade: create their own PS video games.

Net Yaroze is "a hobbyist's program," stressed Molly Smith, SCEA communications manager. "It's to instill and create a community of people who love games, people who want to work with our architecture. We didn't develop the program to do anything more or less."

Fair enough. But that space between "more or less" is quite a subject. Want to know more? We knew you would.


Net Yaroze 101 - How the Net Yaroze differs from all other versions of the PlayStation.

Sony officials have stated the Net Yaroze consoles sold in the US will not be materially different from black PS systems sold in Japan and Europe. But what makes the black PS different from the gray one available in stores and the blue one used by professional developers and game testers? Here's a list:

Unlike the gray PS, the black PS has no territorial lockout code, so it can play black production CDs (and Net Yaroze games) from Japan, the US, and Europe.
Unlike the newer model gray PS, the black PS offers the A/V composite and AV Multi Out ports (the new gray PS has only the latter output).
Unlike the gray PS, the black PS comes with two controllers (black ones to match the system), instead of one.
Unlike the gray PS, the black PS can output to both NTSC- and PAL-compatible monitors. (The black PS automatically adjusts output based on the game in use.)

However, for a US user to run a PAL-formatted game, he will need a PAL-compatible monitor. But, "most SCART [a European RGB connector] equipped televisions will handle 60Hz vertical sync," said SCEA's Bill Rehbock, the vice president of research and development at SCEA and the main man heading Net Yaroze in the US. "So we expect that European Yaroze members will allow their games to function at 60Hz/NTSC."

SCEA's Bill Rehbock

Unlike the blue PS, the black PS cannot play preproduction, or gold, CDs. (Gold CDs are those usually sent to beta testers and the media for early evaluation.)
Unlike the blue PS systems with 8 MB of main RAM, the black PS offers only 2 MB of main RAM - as much as the gray PS has.

The Basics - What comes with the Net Yaroze.

Of course, the "create your own PS video games" catchphrase comes with plenty of asterisks. At no point should Net Yaroze members think that the US$750 Net Yaroze system has the same gusto as the professional development kits.

The Net Yaroze System

For one thing, the Net Yaroze software lacks the support for libraries (basically a set of commands programmers "borrow" when they write games) available to commercial developers, specifically the use of full motion video and the ability to burn games on CD. The GNU C compiler that comes with Net Yaroze is less robust than the compiler used by the pros. Also, Net Yaroze members won't get as much tech support as is given to SCEA's licensed developers.

Since gamers won't be able to burn their own CDs, they must be able to fit their programs (or at least workable sections of a larger program) within the PS memory limits: 2 MB for main RAM, 1 MB for video RAM and .5 MB for sound RAM.

Other than the fact that they can't stream data off CD, Net Yaroze users are working under the same memory limitations as the pros do. The only difference is that the pros can download new data off CD; black PS users must transfer files off their PC hard drive any time they "switch" levels. However, players can run games that use Red Book audio and stream music off a CD while the game is running (but it will be up to the programmer to make it work properly).

These limits may sound restrictive, but Net Yaroze members probably won't have access to high-powered workstations to render streaming video and audio. The sound tools in the PS are of very high quality, so MIDI composing should do the job for most users.

Another limitation is that Net Yaroze games can only be run on black PS systems - they cannot, for instance, be downloaded onto gray PS systems (at least, no one has found a way to do it yet). To prevent pirating, SCEA has devised a unique security system. The first security block is simply that a black PS boot disk won't work on a gray PS; this CD has the start-up code required for users to download code onto the black PS' RAM via a special cable linking the PS to the PC. The second line of defense is a security access card that must be plugged into the black PS memory card slot before it can run any files. This means that only Net Yaroze gamers - and any friends they invite over - will be able to view their game creations.

The PC-to-PS serial cable


Restrictions - What can't be done with the system.

While gripes about these technical limitations have surfaced on the Internet, most Net Yaroze members are just happy to get a chance to show off their skills.

"This is the ultimate reward for PS gamers," Rehbock said. "If you really, really want to see how it's done, go for it! If you think you can do better, just do it!"

However, the issue of making money from "just doing it" is far stickier that one might assume.

For PCs and Macs, programmers are virtually free to create whatever software they want. There's no line between turning a personal project into a commercial product. However, the licensing agreement users must sign before becoming Net Yaroze members prohibits them from distributing any of their programs "without the advance written consent of SCEA."

From a legal standpoint, the licensing agreement gives users full copyright to any original source code written. However, since they're using SCEA's development tools to turn that code into a game, users don't own any files that incorporate functions provided by SCEA - and that undoubtedly includes the finished product. SCEA also has the right to use any games users create for publicity and promotional purposes.

For a game to go commercial, programmers will have to find a licensed publisher (SCEA or someone else) willing to buy the program or game idea and develop it further - under SCEA's commercial development rules and approval process.

The bottom line: The Net Yaroze will let users make their own PS games, but unless the games find a publisher, users shouldn't expect to sell them legally to other gamers. That may sound like a bum deal, but "if it is a quality game, it's going to be picked up by a publisher," said Interplay game producer Jeremy Airey. "And there isn't one person doing this [game programming] who wouldn't jump at the opportunity of being picked up by a publisher. That would be a dream for anybody that starts programming games like this."

Plus, the game itself doesn't have to be good to get a publisher's attention. "Producers and directors of technology at various video game companies are going to be looking at what people are doing out here, and saying, 'Wow, that's a really cool effect. I just want to buy that. Your game stinks, but there's this one thing that you did in it that was really cool,'" Rehbock predicted. A company may offer several thousand dollars for a nifty visual effect or an ultra-tight routine, rather than write identical code from scratch.

Even if projects don't pan out commercially, the process can still be a valuable learning experience. "A person that does a game on Net Yaroze is not going to be really far from being able to do a Direct 3D game for the PC," Rehbock said. "Once you begin doing video game programming and begin writing code with 3-D stuff in mind, it's not that hard."To be honest, Net Yaroze won't turn every member into a latter-day Toru Ikebuchi*. But all it takes is one member to break into the big leagues and go commercial for SCEA's program to succeed beyond its wildest expectations.

"That would have to be the greatest thing - to get a boxed copy of a game knowing that this person started as a Yaroze member," Smith said.

(*Toru Ikebuchi was the main programmer and a designer behind SCEA and Squaresoft's Tobal No. 1, as well as Sega games such as Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter.)


The Master Plan Sony's hopes for the Net Yaroze.

SCEA officials will only say that "several thousand" Net Yaroze systems have been sold in Japan since its debut last June. That number will undoubtedly grow now that the North American and European programs have started. However, compared to the 11 million-plus gray PS systems sold so far, the Net Yaroze numbers are just a drop in the bucket.

SCEA has no advertising budget for Net Yaroze, nor any mass-market strategy. (Officials refuse to disclose how many systems SCEA has allocated for the US market.) But to paraphrase Rhett Butler, SCEA frankly doesn't give a damn about how many Net Yaroze systems it sells.

"We have no sales projections," Rehbock said. "I mean, imagine a video game company that doesn't care how many they sell of something! So if we sell a total of 1,000, and one cool game comes out of it - all the better."

As far as future plans go, SCEA hopes to tie Net Yaroze in with various community colleges. SCEA has already contacted schools in Canada and the San Francisco Bay Area to try to integrate Net Yaroze into the current curriculum. "They can set up a class and have 30 of these machines," said John Phua, SCEA developer support product manager and one of the key players in setting up Net Yaroze in North America. "People can come in there and learn the basics of C, and they can go off and work on a project or game of some sort."

SCEA's John Phua

On another level, Rehbock hopes the emergence of Net Yaroze will draw younger gamers and video game magazines into the world of computer programming - just as BASIC game programming did in the 80s. "I would love to see from every single game magazine at least a couple pages on programming" each month and "program listings that explain how the heck these games get written," he said.

"There are just an infinite number of possibilities with the program itself that we probably don't even know," Smith admitted. "We'll just stumble along as we go. It's not like, 'Six months from now we'll see this, and in six months after that we'll end up seeing this.' Who knows what it will end up being? There are a lot of different end scenarios for the users."


The Games - A look at what folks have created on the system so far.

SCEA has taken a hands-off approach to guiding Yaroze developers - members are almost totally free to pursue whatever projects they want. Basically, this is SCEA's grand science experiment, and the Yaroze program is just a huge petri dish. "We're giving them a wonderful set of tools and telling them, 'Be creative,'" said Phua.

But there is one rule Net Yaroze members must follow: The member agreement expressly prohibits them from designing a game that:

  • Defames another
  • Infringes on the legal or intellectual property rights... of others
  • Is obscene and sexually explicit
  • Is racially or ethnically objectionable
  • Depicts intoxication or substance abuse
  • Reflects adversely on the name, reputation or goodwill of SCEA or its affiliates
  • Violates any law or regulation

But aside from the "political correctness" caveat, Net Yaroze members are not bound by any of SCEA's game design rules, or the interface and presentation guidelines that all commercial developers must follow (which, for example, always designate the X button as the primary fire-action button). In fact, SCEA is going out of its way to avoid telling Net Yaroze members anything about programmer guidelines.

"Internally, in this building, as well as between this building and Japan, we're constantly debating over whether or not even telling [a Net Yaroze member] X is the primary fire button is a good thing," said Rehbock. "With Yaroze, we have pretty much decided not to tell anybody anything, and these [games] are the results."

It may sound mean-spirited, but it makes a lot of sense - the way to fuel original game ideas is to prevent members from coming in with preconceived notions about good game design. "We want them to have a blank slate," added Phua. "Who knows what they'll come up with?" What they've come up with so far are a batch of Net Yaroze games that have a no-holds-barred mentality to them; the rawness of many titles actually adds to their appeal. Some of the wackier "games" to emerge:

  • A pig race. By the way, players watch it, not play it. And the first pig apparently wins every time.
  • A 2-D shooting game where the enemies are…vegetables. (This programmer obviously hated finishing his dinner plate.)
  • A game in which the character spits fireballs at - a best guess here - people the game's programmer knows (and probably isn't too fond of, considering he's spewing hot, flaming rocks at them).

Rehbock estimates about a quarter of Net Yaroze games fall into that eclectic, hodgepodge mix: pointless-yet-cool-looking demos, strange game concepts, and oddities that defy conventional genres.

Two major categories of games members have taken a stab at are Raiden-type shooters and Tetris-type puzzle games. Both categories have spawned some real gems. "I have seen some of the coolest Tetris variants in the last three months that I have ever seen," Rehbock said. "Who'd have thought?" Some of those thoughts include:

  • A game combining poker and Tetris, where the goal apparently is to link together high hands like flushes and straights.
  • A backward Tetris in which players link similarly colored orbs to make them disappear.
  • A conventional Tetris clone in which the emphasis is on linking colors rather than shapes; the result is Tetris-like play with the added dimension of combo-chain moves.

The flip side to Net Yaroze's "no rules" philosophy, however, is that members can push the envelope. A few have already gone over the edge.

A heavy-duty hacker in Japan "wrote a 16-bit video game system emulator. You take apart the cartridge, use a ROM reader, suck the code out, load it on the PlayStation and play it," Rehbock said. For obvious reasons, SCEA pulled the emulator off its web site. "They can [program] for themselves, they can invite people over to see it, but we'll pull it off the web site" if it's trouble, he added.

Rehbock described the rest of the crop as "pretty cutting-edge" stuff, such as several racing games that expand the limits of the genre. His personal favorite, called R3, is a racing game with the same 3-D perspective as Nanotek Warrior, but in R3 the goal is speed, not survival. The courses have ridges on the track that slow players down, which must be avoided. None of the Net Yaroze games has gone commercial yet - but the program is in its infancy. Still, some of the games already have the polish and quality art to rival finished commercial PS titles. Anyone who held up random screenshots of these Yaroze games to comparable commercial titles would be hard-pressed to tell the difference:

One of the first action RPGs, tentatively titled Terra Incognita, is just killer to watch. The overhead 3-D perspective looks similar to Sega's Dark Savior, but it seems to have borrowed some of Nintendo's Zelda quirks, such as the swinging sword. Plus, the player can change camera angles at will. Thanks to some great visual polygon tricks and detailed textures, the game looks very convincing.

One Net Yaroze member, who eventually found a job with a game company, made a polygon-based 3-D shooting game not unlike Nintendo's Star Fox, but with more intensity and far better textures.

Echoing back to the old-school days of Atari 2600's Combat was a 3-D polygon-based tank battle game. The programmer had added many new levels to exploit the game's various strategy elements. Another hot number was a house adventure game. At first glance, the polygon graphics rivaled any commercial game; the game's perspective was like Tomb Raider's, but with an overhead view. Essentially the player could explore the house to find letters and keys to different rooms in an apparent quest to piece together a story.

Originally, SCEA's Net Yaroze web site in Europe asserted that a gamer, with the black PS and the proper gusto, could code a level of Tomb Raider or WipeOut, or even Ridge Racer - any game that could fit into the black PS' total RAM. However, Rehbock estimated that gamers probably couldn't create a game like Tekken.

As if to prove him wrong, someone did create a 3-D polygonal fighting game. The game - featuring two characters in cat suits facing off - was still a work in progress but looked impressive nevertheless; the game ran fluidly at 60 frames per second. This is one game "everybody's going to watch," Rehbock said.

The variety of games demonstrates the remarkable amount of room for creativity within the Net Yaroze parameters. "We've got some people who are just initially dabbling with it, and then, as you go through, you'll find the sharp programmers to look out for - the pros with experience," Phua said.

Usually, the bulk of games take only a couple weeks to code. In fact, to underscore the ease of PS game development, Rehbock let a friend borrow a black PS for a week. His friend had programming experience, but he had never worked on the PS. A week later, he devised a Breakout-type game that looked as good as a topnotch, finished 16-bit title.

Given the free exchange of most game source code, members can take one another's ideas and expand on them. For instance, a person may write a game engine for a Doom-type game. Using that engine, other members could craft a level editor and design new stages. These games don't have to adhere to deadlines or marketing budgets; they can continually grow and improve. (Plus, player feedback may actually make a major difference in a game's evolution. When's the last time that could be said about a commercial game?)

Obviously, SCEA will not let members post any games that rip off copyrighted graphics or audio from commercial games, so don't look for any modified commercial games on Net Yaroze (although members are more than welcome to try rewriting a variant of an existing game).

SCEA hopes to gather the best Net Yaroze games and publish them on a compilation disc - the project is currently code-named "Best of Yaroze." If these plans do indeed come to fruition, gray PS owners will be able to see what they've been missing.


What Color is Your PlayStation? - The long and short on all the different versions (and colors) of the Sony PlayStation.

If Sony added any more colors to its lineup of various PlayStation consoles, the consoles might soon be mistaken for supersized "Play It Loud" Game Boys or M&Ms.; For those keeping score, here's a list of all the major PS consoles floating out there and their distinguishing characteristics:

Blue (DTL-H1001) The original debugging station made available only to licensed developers and media, it offered 8 MB of RAM (but only 2 MB is used for games) and could run black (production) and gold (alpha and beta) PS games. It offered a full slate of outputs, except the S-Video port.

The original debugging station

Gray (DTL-H1001H) For the most part, this PS was identical to the blue PlayStations, except in color.
Gray (SCPH-1000) - Selling for 39800 yen, this was the first available model in Japan. It had a full lineup of outputs, including an S-Video port. It only had 2 MB of main RAM as opposed to the 8 MB in debugging systems. This model could only run black Japanese CDs.
Gray (SCPH-1001) - Selling for $299, this was the first gray model available in North America. To help cut costs, SCEA removed the S-Video port. This model could run only black US CDs.
Gray (SCPH-1000, SCPH-1001 internal revision) - After SCEA realized that a swap trick was allowing users to play US games on Japanese systems and vice versa, the company reengineered the machines on both models to prevent the trick from working. Of course, users found a more difficult yet effective double swap trick to bypass those changes.
Gray (SCPH-3000) - This PS was a Japanese model that sold for 29800 yen. Gray (SCPH-3500) - To reduce manufacturing costs, SCEA released this model in Japan. It lacked the S-Video port available in earlier Japanese models.
Gray (SCPH-5500) - Available in Japan and the US, this redesigned model used fewer parts and consequently allowed SCEA to increase manufacturing output by 30 percent. Inside, the location of the CD motor was moved, the motherboard was shrunk by 20 percent, and the separate A/V composite ports were dropped in favor of the single AV Multi Out port. Ostensibly, this streamlined model helped pave the way for the recent price drop to $149 in the United States.

The PlayStation you're most likely to have

Black (DTL-3000) - The Net Yaroze model in Japan (the US and European versions are expected to have the same model number), these PS systems can read black CDs from all territories: PAL games from Europe, and NTSC games from Japan and the US. Plus, it's the only system that can load Net Yaroze games into memory.

The Net Yaroze System

White (SCPH-5903) - This system sold in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Selling for about $330, the white PS systems will be able to run not only Japanese PS games, but also video CDs - a popular commodity in those Asian countries.

What the Pros Think - What the PlayStation developers think of the Net Yaroze.

A behind-the-scenes comment recently overheard at the SCEA offices in Foster City, CA, revealed that developers and third-party publishers are apparently going ape over Net Yaroze.

"All the developers are calling for one," said one woman in the research and development offices. "Everyone wants to get a black PlayStation because it just looks so cool."

That's not all. With Rehbock and others predicting "genre-breaking games" will sprout from Net Yaroze, third-party game companies are watching developments like hawks. "Without exception, every single major licensee has called up" to request a Net Yaroze system, Rehbock said, "simply so they can have access to the web site and be able to see what people are working on."

Here's what some professional developers think about Net Yaroze:

Denis Dyack, president of Silicon Knights, which developed Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. "It'll help expose gamers to the demands and difficulties of video game development and maybe even widen the ranks of potential workers to hire. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. We need to generate as much excitement in the industry as we can."
Kerry Ganofsky, president of High Voltage Software, which developed NCAA Final Four '97 for Mindscape. "I have high hopes for Net Yaroze, as long as folks realize that game development is more than just a nice piece of hardware. This PlayStation does not teach play mechanics, game design, or gameplay balance. It's only part of the equation for making quality games."
Mark Skaggs, president of Tetragon, makers of Virgin's Nanotek Warrior: "I wish when I got out of school...they had something like this. I would've bought it and would have had a great time with it. It's very much like the old Commodore or old Amiga or TRS-80 machines: You get it, and you sit at home and play with it forever and ever. ...Also, the possibility of hiring people who already know PlayStation basics, rather than having to train them on everything on the PlayStation, is interesting to me. It's not going to get you a job if you don't know what you're doing, but if you get it and use it, you've got a leg up on all those people who don't."
Jeremy Airey, a top producer at Interplay, currently working on a ClayFighter Extreme and ClayFighter 63 & 1/3: "I think it's pretty significant. It's really hard now to find programmers that don't belong somewhere already. It's really hard to find new talent; it's really hard for younger programmers to make a name for themselves. ...This is going to let people stretch their legs, and learn how to program the Sony and maybe get their foot in the door and work their way to bigger and better [projects] with budgets behind them."

Programming Language - All the necessary "computer stuff."

The reason why the PlayStation can offer a program like Net Yaroze - and why the Nintendo 64 and Saturn can't (at least, not without costing an arm and a leg) - stems from the programming philosophy fostered by its original designers.

All PS games are written using the C programming language and the PS' standard libraries. This gives video game programmers a consistent, well-known language to work with that is flexible enough to grow along with the system. Since the PS uses C, it's familiar ground to most experienced computer programmers. Arguably, it'll be easier to program for the PS than the PC. Programmers don't have to worry about supporting sound cards or 3-D accelerators - if a game works on one PS, it'll work on all PS systems.

"All of our libraries are pretty typical C calls," said Rehbock. "We're not doing anything crazy or really esoteric."

"Since the PlayStation is designed with libraries, that provided a whole new level compared to a lot of other previous generation consoles where there wasn't a set of libraries," added Phua. As a result, there are more "people who'll actually be able to program because it's all at a higher-level" language.What's so special about the PS programming libraries? The functions within these libraries fall under one of three categories. The first library offers low-level functions for programmers who prefer to work with assembly code. The middle library offers the standard function calls used by most programs. The topmost library holds special high-level functions used for audio manipulation or 3-D graphics handling. Essentially, that library helps coders pull off impressive 3-D effects without requiring extensive 3-D programming experience.

"That high-level library allows you to not have to worry about things on the polygon level," Rehbock said. "You just worry about things on the object level. You set an object in the environment, you put in a camera, and say, 'Here. Render this.'" Actually, a number of PS games have taken advantage of those specialized 3-D libraries, such as PaRappa the Rapper (Sony Music Japan) and Tokyo Highway Battle(Jaleco).

Developers familiar with the standard PS libraries believe these are more than sufficient for Net Yaroze users, meaning that rewriting the libraries to optimize game performance - as some commercial developers have done - shouldn't be a concern.

"The big key part those libraries give you is: You can get working quickly with them, get something showing on the screen," said Skaggs. "Only when you want to get the 30- frames- per- second- at- all- costs sort of thing do you get into the realm of rewriting the libraries. I've seen screenshots of some of the games that people are doing on Net Yaroze, and it doesn't seem that they're at the point yet of needing every ounce of speed from the machine."

Of course, to compile code, draw art, or compose music, you'll need a PC or Mac that can handle the load. According to SCEA officials, the minimum baseline for a PC user is a 66 MHz 486 DX2 with a modem for Yaroze Server access, a CD-ROM drive, 4 MB of RAM, 10 MB of hard disk drive space, a mouse and an SVGA monitor. This setup should let members run the DOS-based GNU C compiler and various sound and music utilities included with Net Yaroze.

Code Warrior!

For users looking for a friendlier integrated development environment (IDE), Metrowerks has a limited-time deal with Sony to bundle CodeWarrior for Net Yaroze for only $149 more. (The version of CodeWarrior supports only the PlayStation; it can't be used to compile and debug PC or Mac programs.) To use Net Yaroze with a Mac, CodeWarrior is required. Metrowerks also has a Windows 4.0-Windows 95 version available.

The advantage of using CodeWarrior is that it offers a graphical interface - windows and dialogue boxes - making it easy to edit, compile, and debug code. Also, it has a speedy compiler for both C and C++ code, plus inline assembly support for MIPS R3000 instructions. (In layman's terms, this means CodeWarrior can help make sure your code is optimized for the PS.) Plus, MetroWerks plans to update the PS libraries three times per year and offer users a free year of online support.

A beefier computer is needed to use CodeWarrior, obviously. For the PC, it requires a 486 or better processor, Windows 4.0 or Windows 95, a CD-ROM drive, 60 MB of hard disk drive space, 16 MB of RAM (32 MB recommended), and an RS-232 compliant serial port to hook up the PC to the PS (most PCs have this port).

For Mac users, CodeWarrior needs a Power PC 601 or better processor, System 7.1 or later, a CD-ROM drive, 60 MB of hard disk drive space, 16 MB of RAM (32 MB recommended), and an RS-232 compliant serial port (most Mac users will probably have to buy a Mac serial to DB-9 adapter, available at most computer stores).

But to get optimal use from Net Yaroze, users will need some extra programs. For all the Yaroze Server access, they should have Netscape Navigator 2.0 or an equivalent browser and, obviously, online access. Those aiming to do 2-D artwork should have a painting program such as Adobe Photoshop (although there are plenty of capable shareware programs available in this category).

For those looking to get into the 3-D modeling end, Sony - in its initial application kits - offers discounted versions of Kinetix's 3D Studio Release 4, Animator Pro, and Texture Universe. However, these programs are only available for DOS as of this writing. Another much-ballyhooed 3-D modeling program, Lightwave 4.0, will apparently not come with the Net Yaroze kit. This 3-D modeler was offered to Japanese Net Yaroze members several months after launch. SCEA may offer a similar deal in Europe and the US later this year, but for now, Sony has not made any announcements.


Bang or Bust - An editorial on the pros and cons of the system.

The more I think about the merits of Net Yaroze, the more I feel like a Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats commercial:
The avid gamer in me thinks Net Yaroze is a bang.
The avid programmer in me thinks Net Yaroze is a bust.

The avid gamer in me sees revolutionary possibilities with Net Yaroze. It will give a voice to a long-silent group - the video game enthusiasts. Instead of bitchin' and moanin' about how bad games are, they'll finally get a chance to show developers what making quality software is all about.

Certainly, there will be some revolutionary game ideas proffered via Net Yaroze. Almost no one doubts that Net Yaroze will bring some badly needed fresh air into a market polluted with overused genres: the fighting game - need we say more?

"The emphasis on gameplay is going to be revived, finally. It's been lacking," said Airey. "What you're really going to find are some interesting new twists on the gameplay itself. With the industry in general becoming jaded with graphics, they're probably realizing that they need to show more than just pretty colors and lights - now we need to start showing gameplay again. I think it's going to scare a lot of people to see what the general public comes up with because it'll give an idea of what they want to see and play, as opposed to what the industry is making."

But then the avid programmer in me creeps in. Why can't I burn my own CDs? Why can't I use FMV? Why can't I stream audio and data? Why can't I program in Visual Basic? All these limitations just make Net Yaroze not worth the $750 needed to get into it.

The avid gamer in me responds that those limitations are hidden advantages for avid programmers. "Since users won't be able to make these huge, cool full motion videos and full audio streaming," said Airey, "you're going to see a lot more emphasis on the gameplay as opposed to making cool movies and stuff. So it's actually a good thing."

Good thing my ass, responds the avid programmer in me. I won't be able to sell, or even give away, any of my own games unless I can find a willing publisher. With the PC and Mac, I can code a program, then post it for the world to see and use. Under the Net Yaroze rules, my PS creations will be available only to a select few. It would be a little better if there was some way Sony would, for $250 or so, burn a CD with my program on it - just so I could show it off. But there's no way that's going to happen, so why bother?

The avid gamer in me agrees that not being able to show off games to ordinary PS users kind of blows. However, those programs can be shown to the people who count: the professional game developers. For the avid programmer looking for a job, this is one of Net Yaroze's strongest points. "Usually people don't come up with their best game in the world their first time out," admitted Skaggs. "But if these [Net Yaroze] guys cut their teeth for the first year or two, learning the bases and internalizing all the gameplay issues - just think: Two or three years from now, when you have a whole raft of people who've been doing this thing for years, they can get into the professional game developer community. That's going to be great."

The avid programmer in me argues that good programmers can learn C and game design on almost any platform: PC, Mac, Amiga, etc. As any developer will tell you, really good gameplay, at its roots, should be hardware independent. Then I consider: The PlayStation will not be around forever - once 64-bit technology exists, who will care about developing for an outdated system?

The avid gamer in me responds, When was the last time you programmed for a 286 PC? Or a Mac running System 6.0? Computers change, buddy. But as long as you don't throw away your computer and development tools, you can program this PS for the rest of your life, if you so desire.

That's when the avid programmer in me reminds the avid gamer in me about the $750 price tag. Just for a black PlayStation that can play any black CDs and have access to all the games made by other users, well, $750 is a steep price. Based on the admittedly rougher quality of Net Yaroze games, the avid programmer believes that money is better spent on PS games and a nice C-C++ compiler for the Mac or PC.

"The regular PlayStation owner is probably not going to be very interested in the stuff these guys generate," Skaggs contended, "unless something like a Tetris-type game comes out of it. But if that's the case, then somebody will come in, either Sony or someone else, get that developer on board, get the rights to the game, and publish it."

In the end, the avid gamer in me wins out. While I agree that using Net Yaroze to learn programming is a bad idea - if you've already got a PC, why not learn to code that first? - there's too much potential in Net Yaroze to ignore. Maybe I can come out with the next Tetris. Maybe I can land a game design job with another developer. Maybe I can use my programs to secure funding for my own start-up company.

Or maybe not. But I'll never know unless I try, and Net Yaroze is the first project in a long while that gives gamers that opportunity. Is that opportunity worth $750 to you?


How to Join - Last, but not least, how to pick up a Net Yaroze... and all the legalities involved.

Unlike buying a gray PlayStation, obtaining a Net Yaroze PS isn't as simple as popping over to the local store. There's a couple rings to jump through before becoming an official member:

First, you have to request an application kit that includes an order form, information about related software, and a license agreement that must be filled out and signed. Those interested can call (415) 655-3600 to request a sign-up kit. Online, folks can email

yarozeinfo_scea@interactive.sony.com
(make sure to give your full address so Sony Computer Entertainment will know where to send it).

The final option is to visit the US Net Yaroze site. The main requirements for becoming a North American Net Yaroze member: You must be a resident of Canada or the United States (no plans have been announced yet to support Mexico); you also must be an individual, and not a corporation, requesting the Net Yaroze for personal use (meaning that you cannot resell it or give it to someone else).

Once the application is filled out, it must be mailed with payment ($750 for the system, $899 for the system plus CodeWarrior for Net Yaroze) back to SCEA, which will then accept or reject the application (as long as your payment goes through, there shouldn't be any problem).

In about two weeks, the Net Yaroze package should arrive, and should include the following: a black PlayStation with a power plug and composite A/V cables, two black PS controllers, a PC disk with all the programming libraries, necessary software (the GNU C compiler/linker/debugger plus various music/graphics utilities), three manuals (a start-up guide, user's guide and library reference), the serial communications cable to connect the PS to a PC, a black PS boot CD and a black keycard that looks like a memory card.

Below is a copy of the legal agreement all Net Yaroze members must sign:

		Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc.
		Net Yaroze Membership and License Agreement

		PLEASE REVIEW THE FOLLOWING TERMS AND CONDITIONS CAREFULLY 
		BEFORE SIGNING AND RETURNING THIS MEMBERSHIP AND LICENSE 
		AGREEMENT. BY SIGNING AND RETURNING THIS MEMBERSHIP AND 
		LICENSE AGREEMENT AND TENDERING PAYMENT, YOU INDICATE THAT 
		YOU UNDERSTAND, ACCEPT AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE 
		FOLLOWING TERMS AND CONDITIONS. THIS IS A LEGAL AGREEMENT
		WHICH BINDS YOU IF SCEA ACCEPTS YOUR PAYMENT AND PROVIDES 
		A CONSOLE AND DEVELOPMENT TOOLS TO YOU. IF YOU ARE UNDER 
		EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE, YOUR PARENT OR GUARDIAN MUST REVIEW 
		AND SIGN THIS AGREEMENT.

		1.     Definitions

		1.1  "Agreement" means this Net Yaroze Membership and 
		     License Agreement.
		1.2  "Console" means the black PlayStation console 
		     purchased by the Member under this Agreement.
		1.3  "Development Tools" means the Hardware Tools and the 
		     Software Tools.
		1.4  "Hardware Tools" means the equipment (such as the
		     cable, the boot CD and access card) licensed under 
		     this Agreement and used by the Member to 
		     execute-on the console-the PlayStation Format Software 
		     stored in the Host 
		     Computer
		1.5  "Host Computer" means the Member's personal computer 
		     which meets or exceeds the specifications set forth 
		     in the accompanying materials.
		1.6  "License Fee" means the sum to be paid by Member to 
		     SCEA, as established and as may be modified by SCEA 
		     from time to time, as a condition to of the delivery 
		     Development Tools and the Member's Console to Member.
		1.7  "Member" or "You" means an individual residing in the 
		     United States or who Canada has consented to the terms 
		     of this Agreement and has paid the License Fee and any 
		     Membership Fee.
		1.8  "Membership Fee" means a periodic fee which may be 
		     established by SCEA  
		     beginning on April 1, 1998 for access to the Yaroze 
		     Server.
		1.9  "Net Yaroze" means the membership organization operated 
		     by SCEA to facilitate communication and information 
		     sharing among Members.
		1.10 "PlayStation Format Software" means the executable 
		     files created from the Member's PlayStation Format 
		     Source Code.
		1.11 "PlayStation Format Source Code" means source code 
		     written by the Member which, through the use of the 
		     Software Tools and Hardware Tools, is displayed as 
		     PlayStation Format Software through the Console.
		1.12 "SCEA" means Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.
		1.13 "Software Tools" means the software and associated 
		     documentation that are provided to and licensed to 
		     the Member under this Agreement, including updates, 
		     supplements and new versions which may be provided by 
		     SCEA from time to time.
		1.14 "Third Party Development Tools" means any SCEA-approved 
		     third party software tools which may be used in 
		     conjunction with the Development Tools and Console and 
		     which are supplied to the Member by SCEA or such 
		     third party at the Member's request.
		1.15 "Yaroze Server" means the server operated by SCEA for 
		     Member support and exchange of information.
		1.16 "Yaroze Server Rules" means the rules set forth in 
		     section 7 below, and such other rules as SCEA may 
		     reasonable institute for the use of the 
		     Yaroze Server.

		2.    Grant of Rights and Reserved Rights. Subject to the 
		      terms and conditions of this Agreement, SCEA grants 
		      You the nonexclusive, nontransferable right 
		      and license to 
		      (a) install one copy of the Software Tools on the 
		          Host Computer and 
		      (b) use the Development Tools to create PlayStation 
		          Format Software.

		2.1  You grant to SCEA the nonexclusive, worldwide right 
		     and license 
		     (a) for publicity and promotional purposes only and 
		         in any and all media, to use, reproduce, display 
		         and distribute portions of any 
		         of the PlayStation Format Software that You create 
		         and 
		     (b) post all or part of the PlayStation Format 
		         Software that You create on SCEA's Yaroze Server 
		         and/or similar Yaroze Servers maintained in Europe 
		         and Japan.

		2.2  All user of Third Party Development Tools is governed 
		     by any license terms included within the packaging for 
		     the Third Party Development Tools.

		2.3  SCEA reserves all rights not expressly granted in this 
		     Agreement.



		2.4  Additionally, SCEA reserves the right:

		2.4.1 To reject any application for Membership.

		2.4.2 To institute and charge a Membership Fee, and/or to 
		      charge for any upgrades and enhancements to the 
		      Development Tools and/or the Console that, in its 
		      sole discretion, it may make available.

		2.4.3 To institute reasonable additional terms and 
		      conditions of membership and access to the Yaroze 
		      Server.

		2.4.4 To limit or withhold access to the Yaroze Server if 
		      You violate any of the terms and conditions of this 
		      Agreement.

		2.4.5 To delete, copy or move software and/or other 
		      information that You post on the Yaroze Server.

		2.4.6 To suspend the operation of the Yaroze Server at 
		      any time for maintenance, inspection, upgrades, or 
		      as a result of any event beyond SCEA's reasonable 
		      control.

		2.4.7 To discontinue the operation of the Yaroze Server 
		      and Net Yaroze, on and after April 1, 1998 for any 
		      reason or no reason.

		3. Restrictions. You shall not:

		3.1  Decompile, disassemble, peel semiconductor components 
		     from, or otherwise reverse engineer or attempt to 
		     reverse engineer or derive source code from 
		     the Console and/or the Development Tools.

		3.2 Transfer, license, rent, lease, modify or otherwise 
		    dispose of the Console and/or the Development Tools.

		3.3 Use, reproduce, copy or display the Development Tools 
		    for any purpose other than to create PlayStation Format 
		    Software.

		3.4  Use, reproduce, copy or display the Development 
		     Tools for any unlawful purpose, or to violate any 
		     laws, ordinances or regulations.

		3.5  Infringe on the copyright or other intellectual 
		     property rights of SCEA or any other party.

		3.6  Violate the right to privacy or the right of publicity 
		     of SCEA or any other party.

		3.7  In connection with Net Yaroze, engage in conduct which 
		     SCEA judges in its discretion to be inappropriate 
		     including, but not limited to, the user of 
		     obscene language, conduct which is sexually explicit, 
		     conduct which depicts intoxication or substance abuse, 
		     or conduct which reflects adversely on the name, 
		     reputation or goodwill or SCEA or its affiliates.

		3.8  Disseminate, distribute, publish, sell or license Your 
		     or any Member's PlayStation Format Software without 
		     the advance written consent of SCEA. You may, however, 
		     post PlayStation Format Software on the Yaroze Server.

		4.   Affirmative Obligations of Members. The Net Yaroze 
		     program is designed to enable individuals-as opposed 
		     to corporations of licensed commercial developers 
		     and/or publishers-to create PlayStation Format 
		     Software for personal use, to present to SCEA and, 
		     through the Yaroze Server, for the enjoyment of other 
		     Net Yaroze members. Accordingly, You promise SCEA that 
		     You are and individual and that You are not a 
		     corporation, a licensed commercial developer and/or 
		     publisher. 

		Additionally, You promise that you shall:

		4.1 Be responsible for the Host Computer, Your modem and
		    for all costs associated with connection to the 
		    Yaroze Server.

		4.2 Maintain the Development Tools in good condition.

		4.3 Actively participate in Net Yaroze, and when posting 
		    information on or transmitting information through the 
		    Yaroze Server, shall comply with the Yaroze 

		Server Rules.

		4.4 If You are under the age of eighteen, review this 
		    Membership and License Agreement with, and have this 
		    Membership and License Agreement signed by, your parent 
		    or guardian.
		4.5 Upon request, provide SCEA with a copy of any 
		    PlayStation Format Software that You create.
		4.6 Promptly notify SCEA of any bugs or errors that You 
		    discover in the Software Tools. The information 
		    contained in any such notifications shall become the 
		    property of SCEA. SCEA shall make reasonable efforts 
		    to correct, but is not obligated to correct, such bugs 
		    or errors.
		4.7  Promptly notify SCEA of any change of address, 
		     telephone number or e-mail address.

		5.   Ownership

		5.1  All title to, patent rights in, copyrights to and 
		     trademarks associated with, the Development Tools 
		     (including, but not limited to, any images, 
		     photographs, animations, video, audio, music, text and 
		     applets, incorporated into any of the Development 
		     Tools) and any accompanying printed material are owned 
		     by SCEA or its suppliers. You agree not to alter 
		     or remove any detail of ownership, copyright,
		     trademark or other proprietary right connected with 
		     the Development Tools or the Console.
		5.2  You own the copyright in any PlayStation Format Source
		     Code that You create; however, Your use of the 
		     Development Tools to create PlayStation Format Software 
		     is under the license granted in this Agreement. 
		     Accordingly, 
		     (i)  You gain no right of ownership in any portion or 
		          derivative of the Development Tools used in, 
		          referenced by, accessed by or incorporated in the 
		          PlayStation Format Source Code that You create 
		          and 
		     (ii) at the bottom of the title screen of any 
		          PlayStation Format Software that You create, 
		          You must display the following legal 
		          text (with an appropriate modification to the year 
		          as SCEA may, in the future, request): 
		          Portions © 1997, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.



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