[Where I Read] NextGen Magazine #1
It has been a long time since I did Where I Read for a video game magazine, as much of the work I had been putting into my read through of Nintendo Power has been going into the Nintendo Power Retrospectives, and the second magazine I’d been covering – Electronic Gaming Monthly – has made something of a return. However, with my coverage of Nintendo Power for the show having reached 1995, I feel like I’ve lost some perspective on where the game industry was at this point, so I’ve decided to launch a read-through of another magazine, that is contemporaneous for where we are in gaming in the N.P.R.
Specifically, I’m starting with NextGen Magazine, which launched in January of 1995. This magazine, as the title suggests, is meant to cover the upcoming wave of NextGen hardware – various 32-bit consoles. The magazine is starting with the systems out at that time – the Atari Jaguar, 3DO, Phillips CD-i, and the Sega 32X, and moving into upcoming platforms – the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64. Of those, the Saturn and PlayStation were already out in Japan at this point, but had yet to come out in the US, and the N64 had yet to launch at all. The magazine will also be covering PC gaming as well, as we’re entering a point where PCs will start aggressively pushing the cutting edge in what can be done with games with a varying degree of success, while consoles start doing drastic leaps with the next wave of hardware and while they never quite catch up with the PCs of their time, they do bring other things to the table.
With earlier magazines like my Nintendo Power recaps, I’d pick out a single game of the issue to cover myself. I’m thinking about doing something similar going forward, but I’ve yet to exactly figure out how I want to handle this yet. In the meantime, let’s get this issue started.
The cover game for this issue is Virtua Fighter 2, with a wrap-around cover. The inside mentions a particular focus this issue on the PS1, Saturn, and 3DO – making me wonder if there is an emulator for the 3DO.
The magazine also opens with an advertisement for a game called Creature Shock, a PC game from Argonaut, the developers of Starfox and the creators of the SuperFX chip – which appears to be an FMV based game, based on the images appearing to be from prerendered cutscenes.
The magazine opens with an editorial laying out the magazine’s concept, which I’ve laid out earlier, and which also lays out the state of the industry, followed up by an ad for the 32X, which is ’90s as hell, not quite going on the same level as some of the ads we’re going to get to later, while going for some mildly risque humor to sell the game system
Our first full article of the issue is an interview with Trip Hawkins, founder of EA and head of 3DO, on the current state of the 3DO as a platform. Trip really tries to downplay the low install base for the 3DO, while the unnamed interviewer tries to nail him to the ground with this. Trip also tries to kick the competition, both existing and future, under the bus. For some of them, like the CD-i, Jaguar, and 32X, it’s not hard, but going after the N64 and Saturn seems premature. Trip also gets into the upcoming M2 architecture for the 3DO, but history has shown that goes nowhere.
This leads me to a point with this magazine – not all, but a lot of the articles here don’t have bylines. A lack of bylines for news articles was common in EGM and other similar magazines, same as preview coverage. However, we’re not going to see bylines for review coverage as well later on this issue. It’s rather frustrating here, as EGM gave the Review Crew bylines. While GamePro’s review coverage was under pseudonyms, there were still names, so you could make estimations based on the name attached to a review what the author’s taste in games was and make decisions accordingly. In NextGen, at this point, we have nothing of the sort.
In the news column, we get coverage and analysis for the release of the 32X, which has yet to launch, and the authors are extremely skeptical when it comes to the system’s prospects (legitimately so, as the Saturn is already out in Japan). There are also some notes on the upcoming release of the Neo-Geo CD system, which looks interesting, though apparently, the physical system has problems with loading times. This is due to the NG-CD having slow drive speeds and needing to load basically all (or at least most) of the game into RAM before the game can be played.
The JAMMA trade show also has a look at Virtua Cop from Sega, Tekken from Namco, and some new arcade hardware from Sega based on the Saturn hardware. Speaking of trade shows, at the CSG trade show in Japan, Sega showed some additional titles for the Saturn to the public (though the Saturn was already out in Japan at this point. Panzer Dragoon got the most focus and was apparently near completion at this point.
Getting back into ads for a second – there’s an ad this issue for Star Trek: TNG – The Final Unity. I’d covered the SNES version game earlier in the Nintendo Power Retrospectives, but this game for the PC adds full FMV of the show’s cast, making this the first Star Trek game with the characters of a show playing their characters on screen in a video game. We’d gotten voiceovers from the original cast in the two earlier Star Trek: TOS games from Interplay, but this is something very different.
In hardware news, 3D Labs in the UK has a new 3D accelerator chip – along with some surprisingly in-depth documentation on how the chip works, with something closer to a trade journal than a consumer-facing magazine. This leads me to one of the recurring things with NextGen – the magazine tap-dances across a fine line between being for enthusiasts of the industry and people who work in the industry – while I’m not going to get into it this issue, each issue of NextGen is going to have at least one, if not more, employment ads for various companies in the game industry.
Moving into business news, Blockbuster is planning to merge with Viacom, Atari is dropping its lawsuit against Sega, with Sega providing a cash infusion to Atari, presumably as part of a settlement. Nintendo is shifting its gears on its return policy, as it’s willing to take return of unsold stock of Donkey Kong Country – which I suspect is something of a winning gamble, as Donkey Kong Country turned out to be a hit. Further, Summer CES – which was predominantly focused on the video game industry, is likely to be canceled due to the rise of the new US video game focused trade show – E3.
Also, related to the earlier article about 3DO – the company is adding an additional $3-per-copy published surcharge on top of their existing $3-per-copy sold royalties plan, in order to make up for sagging software sales – in turn caused by their minuscule install base. Naturally, publishers are pissed, and this is definitely something that’s going to aggravate the system’s death spiral.
In arcade news, in response to the console game industry voluntarily instituting the ESRB rating system to avoid congressional regulation, arcade manufacturers are hoping that Congress will be placated and will leave them alone.
There’s some coverage of the Virtual Boy (which has not shown up in Nintendo Power at this point at all, with some speculation on the system’s design, along with an artist’s imagined rendering in a Japanese magazine which looks nothing like the final product.
Next up is an article laying out the terrain for where the various systems stand, titled “Players”. The CD-I didn’t put its best forward and is trying to lean harder into FMV games to regain lost ground. 32X has some promising titles, but the elephant in the room (which they don’t mention) is that the Saturn is coming to the US, and they’re going to render 32X obsolete. Jaguar is light on software, though they have Tempest 2000, Doom, and Alien vs. Predator coming, but they don’t have the money to really market it.
NEC has the PC Engine FX, which is their own backward compatibility. The Neo-Geo CD has the problems mentioned earlier, though it’s games are more affordable than the Neo-Geo cartridges. And then there’s PlayStation. Sony has 15 exclusive titles for the Japanese launch, plus a console exclusive for Mortal Kombat for the US (as Mortal Kombat has always been bigger here than in Japan), and a whole bunch of support from 3rd parties who like the platform. Saturn is revising it’s hardware and development tools in the wake of the launch of the reveal of the PlayStation.
And then there is the N64 (still called the Ultra 64). There’s some growing speculation here – DKC2 for the Ultra 64 (nope), it will get a CD-ROM add-on (nope). Meanwhile, the 3DO has dramatically slashed their price for the console, and EA has some major titles on the way. However, as the interviews and news stories earlier in this issue have mentioned, they’re still in a pretty bad spot.
In the wake of the congressional hearings on violence in video games in 1994, and the launch of the ESRB rating systems, NextGen got representatives of four game companies – Tom Zito of Digital Pictures (Night Trap), Gilbert Austin of Maelstrom, Jay Wilbur from Id, and Lief Marwede from Incredible Technologies. There’s a discussion of the role of violence in video games, but because the level of violence is pretty basic in most of those games, so is the discussion. Gilbert Austin’s contribution is something of an exception, as it’s an adventure game and how violence is used in that genre can be more complex – though even then the game they discuss doesn’t quite match up to some later titles like Phantasmagoria.
Now we finally get into Alphas, their preview coverage. Sony has a racer for the PlayStation called Motor Toon Grand Prix which while it has Kart racer character designs, but serious racer physics, which makes sense since this is from Polyphony Digital (the developers of the Gran Turismo series). Sega has the Saturn version of Virtua Fighter, Namco has upcoming ports of Ridge Racer and Tekken for the PS1, Tengen has Tama (a mix of Marble Madness and that labyrinth marble board game) also coming to the PlayStation. Back to Sega and the Saturn, they have Daytona USA and Clockwork Knight. Finally, there’s Toshinden from Takara, which is planned to be a multi-console release and is a 3D weapon-based fighter.
Atari has the 3D Fighting game Fight for Life for the Jaguar, while 3DO has coming up the most meaningful franchise for the system – Gex.
Finally, we get to the reviews column – Finals. As mentioned earlier, none of these game reviews have bylines, and the reviews are scored on a five-star scale. Also, all these reviews are about 1-2 paragraphs long, and include, and are in some cases dominated by the by the premise of the game in question, limiting their utility as a buying guide.
- Alone in the Dark (3DO, Interplay): Port of the PC game that launched the survival horror genre. 3/5.
- Demolition Man (3DO, Virgin): This is kind of a mix of a rail shooter, FPS, brawler, and driving game, and manages to not be good at any of them. 2/5
- John Madden Football (3DO, EA): Apparently the 3DO’s hardware allows for some really good character animation. 4/5
- Mega Race (3DO, EA): 3D racing game and a PC port, they’re impressed with the game’s graphics and style, but don’t talk much about the controls and how it compares to the PC version. 4/5
- Patoonk (3DO, P.F. Magic): This is a pinball-ish game where you basically play the pinball. They’re not impressed with the monotonous level design. 2/5.
- Road Rash (3DO, EA): This is probably the highest profile title for the 3DO, being something of a director’s cut of the Genesis version – but one which will be matched by a later version for the PS1. 4/5
- Shock Wave (3DO, EA): This is a shooter from EA – NG compares this to Battlezone, which makes me think this might have been an attempt at a console version of a 6-degrees-of-freedom game like Descent, which came out the year before. 2/5
- Soccer Kid (3DO, 3DO): Basically, this is an attempt at a 2D mascot platformer for the 3DO. NG is not impressed, finding both the concept and gameplay generic. 2/5
- Star Control II (3DO, Crystal Dynamics): This is a console port of the PC game. for some reason, NG doesn’t think this as enough of a sequel, instead considering it a remake. *sigh* No, that’s not how that works – you can have a sequel that is a narrative progression instead of a mechanical progression. They’re also panning this a little because of the use of 2D graphics. Frankly, this game probably works better on PC anyway. 3/5.
- Super Wing Commander (3DO, Origin): Port of the first game, and presumably the expansion The Secret Mission, though they don’t say that. NG considers it visually the superior port, though the controls are considerably inferior to the PC version. 4/6
- FIFA International Soccer (3DO, EA): This is a really good 3D version of FIFA, by which I mean it’s the first 3D version of FIFA, and NG really likes it. 5/5
- Slayer (3DO, SSI): First-person Dungeon Crawler with the AD&D license, but with no campaign setting attached, and you only have one character instead of a party, which means that the game kind of fails on the RPG front. 2/5
- Alien vs. Predator (Jaguar, Atari): First person shooter where you play as either the Alien, Predator or Colonial Marine. You’re playing through the same areas with different tactics and traversal options, along with different mission objectives. However, the game apparently has bad loading times. 4/5.
- Way of the Warrior (3DO, Universal Interactive): Mortal Kombat styled fighting game, though NG says it’s worse than Pit Fighter (whuff). Also, we’re definitely getting into the Mid-90s here, with the presence of White Zombie on the soundtrack – specifically music from La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, so you can look forward to Thunder Kiss ’65. Or you could just listen to the album on Spotify or YouTube Music instead. 2/5.
- Doom (Jaguar, Atari): Sluggish controls are the main issue NG calls attention to, not the game’s also infamous sound problems. 3/5.
- Tempest 2000 (Jaguar, Atari): Remake of the classic Atari arcade game, and one of the top titles for this system. 4/5
- Wolfenstein 3D (Jaguar, Atari): NG considers this a good port – considering that Doom is out by this point, and Quake comes out later in 1995, this game is getting long in the tooth. 2/5
- Star Wars Arcade (32X, Sega): Port of the arcade with a few additional game levels. The graphics do more flat-shaded surfaces. 3/5
- Virtua Racing Deluxe (32X, Sega): Expanded home port of the arcade game, with 2 tracks and cars that aren’t on the Genesis version. It has some problems with squirrely controls. 3/5
- Litil Divil (CD-i, Phillips): Maze game for kids, and NG is not impressed. 1/5
- The 7th Guest (CD-i, Phillips): This is the flagship game for this system, but the PC version was probably better. 3/5
- Burn: Cycle (CD-i, Phillips): Action/Interactive-movie. The game has some problems with the CD-i’s controller. 3/5
- Voyeur (CD-i, Phillips): Soap opera interactive movie. NG is impressed with the plot, and considers it a must-get for the CDI. 3/5.
- Aero Fighters 2 (Neo-Geo, SNK): Shump for the Neo-Geo, NG doesn’t say what makes this stand out. It may be nothing makes this stand-out. 2/5
- Aggressors of Dark Kombat (Neo-Geo, SNK): A 2D fighting game with the breadth of the arenas that brawlers have, and with improvised weapons.
- Colonization (PC, Microprose): So, I played a lot of this game in middle school in Exploratory class. NG calls it a mix of Civ, Seven Cities of Gold, and Railroad Tycoon, and I’d call that legit, and that it works. 4/5.
- Delta V (PC, Bethesda): This appears to be an another cyberpunk inspired vehicle shooter. 2/5
- Doom 2 (PC, Good Times): More Doom. NG accuses Id of resting on their laurels – they need to wait until 1996. 3/5
- Relentless (PC, EA): Isometric cinematic action game developed by (according to NG) Delphine software – except some Googling shows that the US release is from Activision (EA was the European publisher – but NG says Delphine was the European publisher). NG really likes this game though – 4/5.
- The Fortress of Dr. Radiaka (PC, Meritt): This, going from the capsule description, as a first-person shooter with a lot of comedic, campy flair. 3/5
- Malcom’s Revenge (PC, Virgin): This is the third Legend of Kyrandia game. They don’t particularly get into the controls & interface (this is one of the faults of these short capsule reviews). 4/5
- Master of Magic (PC, Microprose): Fantasy 4X game. NG gives the vibe (in only one sentence of review text) that this is a fun game if you’re familiar to the genre, but is somewhat impenetrable for newcomers. 3/5
- NHL Hockey ’95 (PC, EA): Remember when EA released their sports titles on PC? Good times. Anyway, NG thinks this was a pretty strong game, and a good expansion of the gameplay from earlier titles. 4/5
- PGA Tour Golf 486 (PC, EA): Apparently this game, has more courses and some improved graphical effects, but ends up chugging on a top-of-the-line (for the time system. 2/5
- Quarantine (PC, Gametek): The review describes this as a mish-mash of genres, but they generally like it. It appears to be a mix of a shooter and a driving game with an open world and upgrades. 4/5
- Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine (Sega CD, Rocket Science): On-rails shooter, with FMV cutscenes, but basically a shorter Sewer Shark. 2/5
- Battlecorps (Sega CD, Time Warner): Mecha simulator, but it runs into problems with the system’s hardware limitations (as this is just a Sega CD game, without 32X enhancements). 3/5
- Lethal Enforcers II: The Gunfighters (Sega CD, Konami): It’s like in the first Lethal Enforcers game but in the Old West. NG considers it to be a decent sequel. 3/5
- Mickey Mania (Sega CD, Sony Imagesoft): Disney Platformer going through the history of Mickey Mouse. They laud the music, which makes up for the reduced color palette. 4/5
- The Masked Rider (Sega CD, Sega): Dragon’s Lair style game based on Kamen Rider – NG is not impressed with the gameplay style. 2/5
- Snatcher (Sega CD, Konami): Visual Novel/Adventure Game from Hideo Kojima. NG likes the game, though they consider the voice acting a little rough. Considering voice acting in general from this vintage, I could see this game standing to get a re-release with a new English voice cast. 3/5
- Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis, Konami): Very difficult Contra game, but NG really liked it. 3/5
- Dynamite Heady (Genesis, Sega): Action/Platformer from Treasure. NG really likes the game’s level design. 4/5
- Earthworm Jim (Genesis, Playmates): NG is incredibly impressed by the animation, but they find the gameplay a little generic. 4/5
- Sonic & Knuckles (Genesis, Sega): NG’s not impressed with the level’s you’re playing, but they are impressed with the lock-on technology. 4/5
- Mickey Mania (Genesis, Sony): As with the Sega CD version, but without the improved soundtrack. 4/5
- NHL ’95 (Genesis, EA): NG thinks it’s a solid game. 4/5
- Shaq Fu (Genesis, EA): NG doesn’t like the controls, but they like the animations. 2/5
- Samurai Shodown (Genesis, Takara): NG is disappointed by the loss of the zooming, and they wonder what Takara’s using all that space on the cartridge for. 3/5
- Urban Strike (Genesis, EA): NG’s impressed with the visual style of the game – and in particular how they make each city visually distinct while finding the gameplay identical to earlier games in the series. 3/5
- Adventures of Batman & Robin (SNES, Konami): Solid visuals, but with somewhat sluggish controls. 3/5
- The Lion King (SNES, Virgin): NG is impressed with the fluid character animations and the strong responsive controls. 4/5
- Mortal Kombat II (SNES, Acclaim): NG considers this to be the superior home version of the game, in every respect. 5/5
- NBA Live ’95 (SNES, EA): NG basically considers this to be the most accurate basketball sim to date.
- Pitfall: The Mayan Adventures (SNES, Activision): Action platformer reviving the Pitfall franchise, except NG considers it to be pretty run-of-the-mill. 2/5
- Ace Driver (Arcade, Namco): Formula 1 arcade racing game with 3D graphics and a force feedback seat. 4/5.
- Crusin’ USA (Arcade, Midway): NG feels that this should have been the sequel to OutRun, which I’d consider to be high praise. 5/5
- Primal Rage (Arcade, Atari): Fighting game where you play primal gods with digitized stop-motion sprites. NG likes the style but finds it rather button-mashy. 3/5
- Ridge Racer II (Arcade, Namco): NG likes the improved graphics and 8-player multiplayer with arcade machine-link, and the improved drifting (which would become the signature trait of the Ridge Racer series). 4/5
- Virtua Cop (Arcade, Sega): NG isn’t impressed with the game. They still think it’s good, but it’s just nothing special. 3/5.
- Killer Instinct (Arcade, Midway): NG likes the graphics and animations – we’ll see what they think with the home versions (in particular for the N64).
The issue wraps up with an advance letters column, from various people with some hype for the magazine, before the release of the first issue.