[Where I Read] NextGen Magazine #3 – March 1995

Moving right along with NextGen Magazine #3 for March of 1995.

Cover of NextGen #3

The cover of this issue is just a photograph of the Sony Playstation – which seems dull now, but is kind of a big deal since we haven’t seen the actual final US version of the console in this magazine yet.

The editorial leads into that – the PlayStation is out, which means that the Saturn has some real competition, since the N64 isn’t out yet. So, it’s time to compare the two.

Interview

The magazine’s structure is starting to cement a little bit, with the first article of each issue being an interview. We had an interview with Trip Hawkins in issue #1, Shigeru Miyamoto in #2, and this issue we have one with Tom Kalinsky of Sega. This interview was done before the launch of the 32X and the Saturn in the US, so those consoles are the focus of this article.

32X

NG raises their doubts on the 32X, particularly in comparison to the Saturn. Kalinsky’s response is that the 32X is cheaper, and that’s the only thing that matters, with the Neptune serving as an onboarding platform for new users. It’s a noble thought. However, the failure of the 32X shows that ultimately if you don’t have a good software library, people won’t buy your system, no matter how cheap it is.

This issue is aggravated by the fact that the Neptune never materialized. Honestly – this late in the console’s lifespan, with the Saturn coming around the corner, I can see why it didn’t. By this point, most people who would buy a Genesis would have had an opportunity to buy a Genesis, either new or used.

As far as Kalinsky’s thoughts on the 32X itself are concerned, he likes Doom (though this isn’t one of the best ports of the game), and says the quality of 32X games will improve with time. This likely would have been true – there’s a marked difference between Genesis launch titles and games later in the system’s life. However, if your console doesn’t have a lifespan, then there’s no time to improve.

Saturn

Kalinsky doesn’t have any information to provide on the Saturn’s launch, but they plan to sell more 32X units than Saturn units. Further, he states that the PlayStation has them beat on price, but the Saturn has stronger software quality. This is something of a direct contradiction on his arguements in support of the 32X, and to NextGen’s credit, their interview does (briefly) bring this up.

Kalinsky also says that he anticipates similar dueling releases between the Saturn and the PlayStation in the US, and the interviewer notes that Kalinsky smiles when he says this. I wonder if the plan to launch the console during the first E3 had already been set in stone at this point.

There’s also some discussion about the Jaguar, 3DO, and Nintendo’s decision to stick with consoles, and Kalinsky’s thoughts here pretty much reflect what the historical record shows – that by this point the Jaguar and 3DO were dead in the water, and the decision to use cartridges instead of disks hindered third party adoption of the N64.

News

The game industry took up 30% of the show floor at Winter CES some in hastily assembled pavilions, so people in the game industry are grumpy, likely laying the groundwork for the rise of E3. Nintendo was there, and the N64 wasn’t, but the Virtual Boy was. Sega had the Saturn and several launch titles.

Speaking of which, NextGen gives their thoughts on the Virtual Boy and they’re not impressed. Neither are the users at Winter CES.

The Saturn and PlayStation have launched in Japan. NextGen really likes the experiences of using the PlayStation, including praising the Startup sound, which I absolutely agree with. With the exception of the PS2, PlayStation systems have had excellent startup sounds. NextGen was less impressed with the launch lineup of the Saturn, but the good games they do have, like Virtua Fighter, are impressive.

In the Joyriding column, the focus is what you need to get online in 1995. Specifically, you need a dial-up modem, with the blazing fast speed of 28.8K!

On the Video CD front, a new HDCD format is coming, and it will totally kill VCD, they’re sure. Did VCD ever actually thrive in the US?

We get some books under Essential Reading, including David Scheff’s guide on video games for parents.

In the State of Arcades, Sega is still doing well in Japanese arcades, with Sega Rally and Virtua Fighter 2 both in the op of the charts. Blockbuster is also launching a chain of barcades, showing they’re ahead of their time on that front.

Finally, in the Generator column, the topic is the Apple Pippin – Apple’s planned game console. The Mac press is hyped (but I’ve noticed that around this time they’re hyped about pretty much everything), but everyone else, including developers, have a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Hardware

We’re starting off with the launch of the Playstation, with a more indepth piece, including some background on the events between Nintendo & Sony that lead to the PlayStation’s creation. The article paints Nintendo’s actions in the Sony & Phillips deals as a deliberate attempt to both maintain control of the SNES and to push Sony out of the console space through publicly humiliating the company. If this is true, this backfired spectacularly.

Launch Titles

We start of with Ridge Racer, probably the highest profile launch game for the system. Well, either this or Toshinden. NG is very impressed with the game’s graphical prowess and play control, though they suspect dedicated players would have the game beaten in a few weeks, though they cite the lack of content for that more than a lack of difficulty.

Features

Video Game Music

Interview Excerpt with Tim Fellin

We start off with an article on video game music. At this point in the 90s, with the shift to CD based storage in gaming, alongside the graphics arms race, there’s been a less prominent arms race when it comes to game audio and music in particular. The focus in this article is predominantly focused on the UK – the article describes video game sound as starting with the ZX Spectrum & Commodore 64, before proceeding to the Amiga. Similar efforts on American computers are ignored entirely.

Part of this is the interview subjects prefer working on those platforms. The Genesis gets ragged on for the use of FM Synth, and the SNES gets dunked on for the lack of memory for game audio. This leads to some discussion of the memory bandwidth needed to pull both music and graphics off of the cartridge or disk at the same time.

There are also some bits in this article that are unintentionally humorous. For example, composer Tim Fellin complains about Chiptunes, claiming that they were never went to be, and he would rather leave the industry than do chiptunes again. Well, since by this point he’s left the industry and has never thought of himself as a gamer, he won’t have to “suffer” through the soundtracks of Shovel Knight or The Messenger.

There’s also a bunch of ragging on MIDI, slamming on it because, according to composer Andrew Barnabas – everyone can do it. Barnabas has also stopped working on video game music, and similarly stopped before the chiptune revival.

Not all of this is sour grapes. There are complaints from composers and sound designers of not being adequately integrated in the game design process, something that has changed with time. Still, the hyperbolic rhetoric in this article about older video game audio hardware is more than a little much.

Virtua Fighter

Next up is coverage of Sega’s 3D fighting game, which has finally come to home consoles. The editors like how playing the game at home puts you in a position where you can appreciate the fluidity of the animations, along with the camera perspective. However, with the first Virtua Fighter game, while the characters are 3D characters, in an actual 3D environment, the game doesn’t really take advantage of that – there are no options to side-step or dodge-roll. We’ll see these later in Tekken.

What’s Wrong With The PC?

If it wasn’t the fact that this article was written for a magazine instead of a web site, I’d call that headline clickbait. As it is, the point of the article is a question of standards. Different standards for video and audio processing, different standards for add-on cards, different standards for memory, etc. All of this also leads to developers having to do a lot more compatibility testing and configuration when they’re making games and requires more testing and configuration by gamers while they’re setting up new hardware.

In short, this mess (and it was a mess) is the thing that leads to Microsoft developing with DirectX as a system for handling PC hardware management from the software side.

Alphas (Previews)

Lots more PlayStation and PC games in the preview column this issue.

  • TohShinDen: Yes, they misspelled Toshinden. In any case, this is the first big 3D fighting game for the PlayStation – and it’s a weapon-based fighter, like Samurai Shodown, instead of a hand-to-hand fighter like Tekken or Virtua Fighter.
  • Dark Forces: Lucasarts is making its own first-person shooter. NextGen doesn’t call it that, at this point, this type of game is still being called “Doom Clones”, but that’s what it is. In any case, what puts Dark Forces over Doom is that it has fully 3D levels with multiple floors, as opposed to Doom, where all its levels are basically laid out flat.
  • Boxer’s Road: Boxing game from a developer imaginatively named “New”.
  • Hudson Soft Visit: We get a side bit about NextGen’s staff visiting Hudson Soft, leading into a bunch of additional background on the organization until we get into the meat of the article – there’s the Hi-Ten, an “HD” console that is meant for exhibition events. Think of it less like arcade hardware, and more like the console equivalent of a concept car. Hudson also is working on a semi-turn-based fighting game called Battle Heat. The game was apparently released on the PC-FX.
  • Iron Assault: This is another first-person shooter, though this one puts you in a mech, though one inspired more by Mechwarrior and VOTOMS than Gundam.
  • Motor Toon Grand Prix: Racing game with an identity crisis – the game has a cartoony art style, but an extremely realistic handling model. The last part of this makes sense if you consider that the game was developed by Polyphony Digital, the studio that will go on to make Gran Turismo.

Reviews

3DO

  • Cowboy Casino Interactive Poker (Intelliplay): FMV Poker game, which is exactly what you imagine. 1/5
  • Family Feud (GameTek): FMV game show adaptation. NG considers it to be an accurate adaptation of the show – so you’ll get as much out of it as you would from the show. 3/5
  • Ghost Hunter (Matsushita): Graphical adventure game with FMV (since we’re on the 3DO) and it’s also an import game, entirely in Japanese. 3/5
  • Lemmings (Psygnosis): The 3DO has Lemmings, and it’s still good. I don’t know who owns the Lemmings IP, but I kind of wish they’d bring it back. 4/5
  • Off-World Interceptor (Crystal Dynamics): Vehicle based action game, with FMV cutscenes that is so campy and dopey that the developers added MST3K style riffing. 3/5
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Panasonic): Super’s roster, turbo’s speed, and a 3-button controller, though a 6-button controller is due to come out later. 4/5
  • Rebel Assault (LucasArts): Console port of an on-rails Star Wars shooter, which NG is not to impressed with. 2/5
  • Samurai Shodown (Crystal Dynamics): NG thinks it’s a pretty good arcade port, though it has some loading issues. 3/5
  • Shanghai: The Great Wall (Activision): port of Activision’s mahjong solitaire game. 3/5
  • Station Invasion (Club 3DO): Kid’s puzzle game aimed for younger players. 3/5
  • Supreme Warrior (Digital Pictures): FMV game from the makers of Night Trap, this time as a martial arts game made on the Shaw Brothers lot. 2/5
  • World Cup Golf: Hayatt Dorado Beach (US Gold): Golf game, on that particular golf course, but it has some problems with reading greens. 2/5

32X

  • Motocross Championship (Sega): Motorcycle racing game which is not quite as good as other racing games in the same genre. 3/5

Jaguar

  • Bubsy: Fractured Furry Tales (Atari): This is the Bubsy game that everyone forgets about, and while NG feels it looks good, they’re not impressed with its controls. 2/5
  • Kasumi Ninja (Atari): A fighting game with digitized characters like Mortal Kombat, and it’s really bad. 1/5
  • Val d’Isere Skiing and Snowboarding (Atari): A very basic attempt at an extreme sports game, which NG finds to be mediocre. 2/5
  • Zool 2 (Atari): A platformer that NG is pretty impressed with. 3/5.

Macintosh

  • SimTower (Maxis): It’s SimCity with a skyscraper, which means you’re actually managing less stuff and have fewer events. 2/5
  • PegLeg (Changeling Software): Addictive first-person shooter, though it’s not clear how this stacks up compared to PC games. 3/5

PC

  • Cyberwar (SCI): This appears to be the sequel to the earlier Lawnmower Man games, but without the license, and it’s not great. 2/5
  • Cyberia (Interplay): FMV adventure game with CGI pre-rendered graphics. NG thinks the story is more engaging than Rebel Assault (they specifically call that out). 3/5
  • Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (Sierra): Lode Runner is back in Pog form! Aside from a graphical overhaul, the game doesn’t rock the boat. 2/5
  • King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (Sierra): Continuation of the series with more detailed cartoon-style graphics. 4/5
  • Zephyr (New World Computing): This is a first-person combat racing game. Ancient DOS Games did a review of this that gives a good sense of how this plays. 3/5
  • Lords of the Realm (Impressions): A real-time strategy game with city management elements, like medieval SimCity with combat. 4/5.
  • Menzoberranzan (SSI): Dungeon Crawler RPG that sends you into the city of the draw. The visuals get praise. 3/5
  • Noctropolis (Electronic Arts): Adventure game with a comic book theme. NG likes the presentation, and as this is a CD-ROM release, there is on-disk music. NG has some issues with the puzzles. 4/5
  • Realms of Arkania: Star Trail (Sir-Tech): Dungeon crawler – the control scheme is compared to the contemporary Might & Magic games, as are the graphics. NG finds it too complex. 3/5
  • Rise of the Robots (Time Warner Interactive): Fighting game with unresponsive controls, sluggish animations, and poor AI. 2/5
  • US Navy Fighters (Electronic Arts): Combat flight simulator that supports every form of flight stick and (for the time) top-notch graphics. 4/5

Sega CD

  • Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (Rocket Science): Based on the comic and cartoon show, and as described in the article this is more of a driving game. 3/5
  • Bouncers (Sega): Fighting/Basketball game combo. It’s goofy, but they like it. 3/5
  • Phantasy Star IV (Sega): NG is not impressed with this game. They don’t like that the game hasn’t gotten a graphical or mechanical overhaul, never mind that it has one of the most beloved stories in JRPGs. 3/5 (Did not know this was supposed to get a Sega CD release).
  • Darkseed (Vic Tokai): Port of the PC adventure game, with art by H.R. Giger. NG recommends checking it out. 3/5
  • Ecco 2: The Tides of Time (Sega): NG thinks the graphics are improved from the cartridge version, and the music definitely i. Additionally, the game introduces “History Glyphs” that expand on the game’s backstory. 3/5
  • Slam City with Scotty Pippen (Digital Pictures): This is an FMV basketball game. This seems like a terrible idea, particularly with the horrible resolutions for video on the Sega CD, but NG likes it. 3/5
  • Midnight Raiders (Sega): FMV vehicle game, and apparently a good one. 2/5

Genesis

  • Aero the Acrobat 2 (Sunsoft): continuation of the gameplay of the last game, and I reviewed the SNES version in a previous episode of the Nintendo Power Retrospectives. 3/5
  • Mega Bomberman (Sega): Genesis version of Super Bomberman. As with the SNES version, the strength of this game is the multi-player (particularly with the multi-tap. 3/5
  • NHL All-Star ’95 (Sega): Sega has a hockey game, with all the licenses but not quite the gameplay. 3/5
  • Rugby World Cup ’95 (EA): EA is branching out into rugby, and apparently it’s good. 3/5
  • Ristar (Sega): Another platformer, and NG is impressed with how the mechanics articulate. 3/5.
  • PGA Tour III (EA): EA’s golf games are generally really solid, and this game is no exception. 4/5
  • Viewpoint (American Sammy): Port of a Neo-Geo shooter, and apparently it has the same camera angle as Zaxxon, not that I can tell since there are no pictures. 3/5

SNES

  • Brutal (GameTek): I reviewed this in a previous installment of Nintendo Power Retrospectives. 3/5.
  • Ignition Factor (Jaleco): A shooter where you play a firefighter, rescuing people from a burning building, like a combat-light Robotron. 3/5
  • Loony Tunes B-Ball (Sunsoft): This predates Space Jam, but basically this is NBA Jam with Looney Tunes characters. 3/5
  • Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City (EA): Basketball themed platformer featuring Jordan, and it’s not very good. 2/5
  • Radical Rex (Activision): Mascot platformer that isn’t very good. 1/5
  • The Shadow (Ocean): Beat-em-up based on the film. 2/5
  • Jurassic Park II: The Chaos Continues (Ocean): More conventional side scroller based on the film. 2/5
  • Uniracers (Nintendo): I’ve also previously reviewed this on a previous episode of Nintendo Power Retrospectives. 3/5

Arcade

  • King of Fighters (SNK): The game that kicked off a fighting game franchise – NG isn’t too impressed. 3/5
  • Mazinger Z (Banpresto): Shoot-em-up based on the Super Robot anime (NG brings up the Shogun Warriors version). NG considers it to be mechanically generic. 3/5
  • Samurai Shodown 2 (SNK): NG likes this fighter a lot more than the other fighting games that don’t have weapons. 4/5.

Letters

The letters column has a lot of praise for this magazine, along with a request for more coverage of games from a female perspective. The editors aren’t dismissive of that concept, but it’s clear that they hadn’t considered the idea, and aren’t self-aware enough to know how to respond to that question.

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