NextGen #4 (April 1995): Where I Read
It’s been a while since my last recap of NextGen, mainly because these take a long time to transcribe. Also because they’re kind of long. Still, it’s time to return to this chunk of video game history, and with it take a look at some of the platforms that fell by the wayside.
Our cover for this issue asks if this is the last gasp of the Atari Jaguar? it probably is. The inside teaser points out that Atari has been a fixture of video games since the dawn of the industry. I’d say that’s half true. It’s been present since the dawn of the industry, but it certainly stopped being relevant around the time of The Crash, and after Atari split between Atari Games and Atari Computers.
The magazine’s opening interview is with Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and co-founder of Chuck E. Cheese. As of this issue (and to this day), Bushnell isn’t too involved in the game industry and is shows in his remarks. He does point out out one thing in his remarks that bears mentioning – video games drive the adoption of new technologies on PCs, and he also points out how the Mid-90s video game industry has utterly failed to include women, both as developers and as customers.
Bushnell feels Atari isn’t dead yet, but they’ll have to bust their ass and pull off a killer marketing campaign. That’s not wrong – but it will also take a lot of luck, and a truly killer app or two to demand attention. That’s what helped turn things around for Microsoft with the Xbox (Halo and later Mechassault). However, the Jaguar just never gets those things.
Atari’s Last Push
Speaking of the Jaguar, we start off with Atari doing their last big push, starting with a planned CD-ROM Add-on for the Jaguar. Atari has 6 months before the Saturn & Playstation come out in the US (less for the Saturn) so unless your killer app is already in the pipeline now then it’s not going to be out in time to save the Jaguar.
Meanwhile, VideoLogic is unveiling some new 3D rendering tech called PowerVR. These end up becoming a line of GPUs that get used on the Dreamcast and the Vita.
Saturn and PS1 Japanese Launch
NextGen has finally been able to get hands-on with the release versions of the Saturn and the PlayStation. They’re impressed with the physical build quality of the PlayStation. They feel the Saturn is stocky and large but doesn’t use the space effectively – there’s a lot of open space in the case, and what’s here is in a sort of three-tier configuration. I wonder if that’s for heat management. Apparently the Saturn also uses some rendering tech from Microsoft.
LAN Gaming is the topic this time, in particular, Doom deathmatches, along with Rise of the Triad and Wing Commander Armada. Now, because this is the Bad Old Days of PC Gaming, this is a lot more involved to pull off than it is now. Now everything’s over TCP/IP and other similar methods for networking, but in those days things were more… complicated.
Sony and Interfilm are making a real interactive movie, called Mr. Payback. The film uses controllers in a theater to allow the audience to vote on different options. From some quick searching, it seems that the film was pretty bad and poorly reviewed.
In arcade news, NAMI is going to try to come up with a networking standard for network play in arcades, which is a neat concept. Midway also has been field testing Mortal Kombat III.
Bandai has announced that they’re going to license Apple’s Pippin Technology. Based on some research, basically Bandai’s the only company that does anything with it. Katz media signs on as a licensor, but their release is basically a re-dress of Bandai’s version of the Pippin hardware.
NextGen reports that the new HDCD video format is going to set the world on fire. (Narrator: No, it won’t.)
Our cover story is a profile of the rise, fall, and attempted re-rise of Atari. This version of events kind of throws Atari’s PC business under the bus by claiming that the Atari 800 over-stretched their resources in development while defending Atari suing companies who were developing software for the 800 without paying licensing fees. I’d argue that those lawsuits did more to hinder adoption of the system.
The Atari ST was later eclipsed by the Amiga, and the Atari Falcon (which I’d never heard of) also bombed, leading to the Jaguar. We get big quotes from Sega & 3DO writing off the system. Meanwhile, Atari is sending out lawyers over their video game patents in order to secure additional capital. I’m just going to say here – if the thing keeping you afloat are lawsuits against the competition, then that’s not actually a good sign of your long-term health. Eventually, you’re going to run out of people to sue.
In my analysis, the Jaguar never had a chance. It came out too soon when 3D technology wasn’t quite at a level where it was viable on consoles and definitely wasn’t economical. By the time we’ve reached where we are now in the magazine, there are more developers who feel comfortable designing 3D games – and they’re designing games for the Saturn and Playstation, whose hardware specs can eat the Jaguar’s lunch.
Sam Tramiel Interview
We have an interview with Atari’s current CEO – Sam Tramiel, who gives a rebuttal to that article. It’s basically a whole bunch of variations on the statement “Don’t worry, everything is fine.” Or, to put it another way.
As we will see, everything is not fine.
Gunpei Yokoi Interview
This is an interview that is rough in hindsight, as this is Yokoi sitting down with NextGen to promote the Virtual Boy. Yokoi basically says that the Virtual Boy is intended to exist alongside the Game Boy the same way that Nintendo would go on to describe the GBA and the DS – just without the “Third Pillar” terminology. Considering how they also have a talk about the high expectations Nintendo has for sales, and considering how after the failure of the VB, Nintendo puts Yokoi out to pasture, this feels awkward and sad.
There’s an ad for Saturn Dev Kits! I’ve never seen a company sell Dev Kits before – especially a third-party.
What’s Wrong with the PC (Part Two)
A continuation of the article from last issue, getting into the trials and tribulations of PC Gaming in the mid-90s. There is talk about AMD and Cyrix – the big competitors for Intel in the x86 space. AMD is still around, while Cyrix got bought out and absorbed by National Semiconductor. There’s also discussion of Intel’s new Pentium series of processor, compared with IBM, Motorola, and Apple’s PowerPC Architecture.
There’s also a bunch of interviews with game developers about what it’s like making games for the PC. Developers are constantly frustrated about the difficulties optimizing for different hardware configurations, and how it’s hard to optimize when everything is in flux.
However, the biggest upcoming developments on the PC front are due to this little operating system coming down the line called Windows 95, with some discussion of Win95’s memory mapper. Also, Creative Labs has a sound card format standard coming down the pipe as well, called Sound Blaster. There’s a new memory standard on the way as well, and there’s the adoption of hard to pirate (hah!) CD-Roms!
They also suspect that the future of computing is PCMCIA cards and… nope. PCI-Express is where it’s at. They also suspect that speech recognition will be second nature by the end of the century. They’re close – it’s a lot more common by the 2010s, but we’re not quite at Star Trek dictation yet.
- Looking Glass Technologies: We get to meet the future developers of the Ultima Underworld and System Shock games. They talk very briefly about the Ultima Underworld games, but the main focus of the article is Flight Unlimited and Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri. The games are made using voxels for the games’ graphics and are designed using VR integration. It’s kind of interesting seeing the discussion of Voxels now, considering that the rise of Minecraft has lead to a resurgence of the tech – albeit for purposes of style.
- Grand Chaser: Sega port of Cyberdreams, a futuristic racing game with vehicle designs by Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Tron, Turn A Gundam)
- Slipstream 5000: Futuristic aerial racing game. The screenshots look like pre-rendered FMV CGI.
- AM2: NextGen visits the developers of Virtua Fighter, with screenshots of Virtua Fighter 2. This looks really good.
- AM3: Continuing the Sega tour, AM3 has Sega Rally, which also looks really good.
- Command and Conquer: Westwood is making a new RTS game with a revised version of the Dune II engine, with an original universe. They talk about the 3D CG cutscenes, and the difference between the GDI and Brotherhood of Nod’s playstyles. They don’t get into the FMV cutscenes that become the series hallmark though.
- Sim Isle: This time Intelligent Games is contributing to the Sim franchise, where you’re running an island paradise, but without the dictatorship part of a game like Tropico.
- Tir Na Nog: This is a graphical adventure game from Psygnosis about Cu Chulainn. The graphics look kind of rough, especially Cu Chullain’s character design, and how it looks on the backgrounds. It has rotoscoped and digitized characters, like Mortal Kombat.
- Psychic Detective: Interactive movie from Electronic Arts, where we don’t get any info on the plot.
- Metal Jacket: Mecha action game for the PS1 from Pony Canyon, with a two-person dev team.
- A-Train (SCE): This is like Sim City, except the city builds around mass transit and rail tracks you lay. They think it’s a quality, but niche, game. 3/5
- Ridge Racer (Namco): Port of the arcade racing game with a reverse track mode and additional cars. NextGen misses the multi-player and they feel the cars are a little similar. 4/5
- Toh Shin Den (Takara): Tekken isn’t out yet, so this is the PS1’s first fighter. In NG’s view, this is a good fighter, with true 3D movement and the inclusion of weapons – though NG finds it inferior to Virtua fighter, which I’d almost call it praising with faint condemnation. 4/5
- Motor Toon Grand Prix (SCE): This has the problem of having hte look of a Kart racer, but the gameplay of a serious racer (unsurprising – since this was developed by Polyphony Digital), complete with the ability to race against your ghost. This leaves NextGen unsure of what this game is supposed to be. 2/5
- Clockwork Knight (Sega): 2.5D platformer clearly inspired by Pixar’s work, but which didn’t inspire litigation the same way that Uniracers did. NextGen found it easy and short, a good tech demo, but not a solid full game. 3/5
- Tama (Tengen): “Labyrinth” style game (as in the one with the marble) with rough controls. 2/6
- Virtua Fighter (Sega): More solid gameplay than Tohshinden, but not as good graphically. Otherwise a solid arcade port. 4/6
- Return Fire (Prolific Publishing): Vehicle-based capture the flag game with either single-player or two-player options – though the single-player game is basically two-player vs. bots so it gets monotonous. 4/5
- Crime Patrol (American Laser Games): Shooting gallery game – they’re not impressed. 2/5
- Jammit (Street Sports): I reviewed the SNES version of the game – I hated that game, and NG wasn’t impressed with this version either, though they’re a little more forgiving than I was. 2/5
- Novastorm (Psygnosis): Shoot ’em up with 3D graphics over a pre-rendered background. NextGen is not impressed, though they might personally be done with the genre. 1/5
- Starblade (Panasonic): Rebel Assault-style action game, with an enhanced graphics mode for the 3DO. 2/5
- Syndicate (Ocean): Port of the PC action-strategy game. NG is very impressed, though they don’t talk about how the controls adapt to the Jaguar’s controller. 4/5
- Theme Park (Ocean): Another port of a bullfrog game by Ocean. However, they’re not impressed with the gameplay and layouts. 2/5
- Corpse Killer (Digital Pictures): 32X FMV Zombie Shooting Game. NG says to skip. 1/5
- Metal Head (Sega): Mecha action with sluggish combat and dull music. 2/5
- Blackthorne (Interplay): I reviewed the SNES version of this on Nintendo Power Retrospectives. NG really liked the presentation. 4/5.
- Creature Shock (Virgin): Arcade-style shooter with heavy graphics, which doesn’t impress NextGen. 1/5
- Front Page Sports Baseball ’94 (Sierra): Continuation of Sierra’s sports series, which Id’ be interested in if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m confident that the fielding is garbage, though I’d be happy to be proven wrong. 4/5
- Gazillionaire (Spectrum Holobyte): Very generic space trading game. 2/5
- Inferno (Ocean): Space simulator that is flawed, though it has fun weapons and controls. 3/5
- Space Ace CD-ROM (Readysoft): It’s space ace. It’s a solid arcade port, but it’s still Space Ace. 2/5
- Star Crusader (GameTek): Kind of a low graphical intensity Wing Commander. Good gameplay with less intensive graphics. 3/5
- Star Reach (Interplay): Arcade RTS. NextGen says they enjoyed it in their capsule review, but only gave it 2/5.
- NASCAR Racing (Virgin): EA didn’t always have this license. NG is really impressed with this game, due to the level of customization and physics. 4/5
- The Lemmings Chronicles (Psygnosis): Another 90 Lemmings Levels. 3/5
- Transport Tycoon (Microprose): Like a mix of Railroad Tycoon and Sim City 2000 where you’re running multiple kinds of transport companies. 4/5
- Zeppelin (Microprose): Economic sim where you’re running an airship fleet. 2/5.
- Flashback (US Gold): Port of the cinematic action game. NG likes it. 3/5
- Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (Activision): Another port with improved audio. 2/5
- Shadow of the Beast II (Psygnosis): Port of the Amiga game from a while back, as a sequel to a game from even further back, which hasn’t been updated at all. 1/5
- Space Ace (ReadySoft): The spiritual sequel to Dragon’s Lair. NG is not a fan. 2/5
- Beyond Oasis (Sega): Zelda-style action-RPG. They take the interface & controls, less so the combat and story. 2/5
- Desert Demolition starring Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote (Sega): Racing game where you either play as the Coyote or the Road Runner as you try to catch or escape from (respectively) the other, over 6 levels. 3/5
- Ecco Jr. (Sega): A simpler version of Ecco the Dolphin, which is something of a gateway. 2/5
- NBA Action ’95 – Starring David Robinson (Sega): Aspires to catch up with NBA Live ’95, but has a too far zoomed out camera perspective, with generic animations. 2/5
- Road Rash 3 (EA): Takes the animations and track layouts from the 3DO version, plus two new tracks and the ability to upgrade your bike. 3/5
- NBA Jam Tournament Edition (Acclaim): I’ve covered the SNES version a while back on Nintendo Power Retrospectives. NG thinks its a good improvement to the base game. 3/5
- The Adventures of Batman and Robin (Sega): After we covered the Konami SNES version on Nintendo Power Retrospectives, but Sega’s version is reportedly a step-down. 1/5
- World Series Baseball ’95 (Sega): NG thinks this includes an incredibly solid baseball game. No information on whether the game’s fielding is any good. 4/5
- X-Men 2: Clone Wars: Sequel to the earlier game, which puts the X-men up against the Phalanx, making the game contemporaneous with the story in the comics, more or less. This also puts us semi-contemporaneous with where we are in Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men (the podcast is a little ahead of where we are). The game has Magneto as a playable character when at this point in the comics he’s comatose and being cared for by Colossus. In any case, NG likes the Genesis version more than the SNES version. 2/5
- Bossin’s Black Bass (Hot B): This is arguably one of the best 16-bit fishing games, and NG likes it. 3/5
- The Flintstones (Ocean of America): Side-scrolling action game based on the live-action film, which I’ve reviewed in an earlier episode of Nintendo Power Retrospectives. NG thinks it’s okay. 3/5
- Pieces (Atlus): I reviewed this a while back on a previous episode of Nintendo Power. I thought it was a fun, but flawed, Puzzle game. NG has pretty much the same view. 3/5
- Pinball Fantasies (GameTek): Collection of four pinball tables. It has some problems with limited fields of view and sluggish scrolling, which is a big issue with pinball games in general. 2/5
- Power Instinct (Atlus): NextGen’s reviews, due to their capsule format, tend to be very generic and flavorless, so with a review that’s as passive-aggressive and sarcastic as this one, I kind of expect a lower score than what this game got. 2/5
- Tetris & Dr. Mario (Nintendo of America): It’s two of the best puzzle games made to date, if not in the history of video games as a whole, and Tetris has two-player. 4/5
- The Ignition Factor (Jaleco): NextGen reviewed this game just last issue. The score is the same though. 3/5
- Ogre Battle (Enix): I’ve reviewed this in Nintendo Power Retrospectives 94. As a refresher, this is the start of the (Tactics) Ogre (Battle) series. NextGen really likes the game. 4/5
- Ren & Stimpy: Time Warp (THQ): There haven’t really been any good Ren & Stimpy games before, and there still aren’t any now. 1/5
- Wario’s Woods (Nintendo): Puzzle game based around matching critters vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, and the review doesn’t explain that well. Though, with how the game is described, that might be the game’s fault for not explaining itself well. 2/5
- X-Men: Children of the Atom (Capcom): Fighting game based on the comics, with voice acting from the cast of the TV show. 3/5
- Tatoo Assassins (Data East): Fighting game with digitized characters and excessive violence like Mortal Kombat – and crappier controls and story. 2/5
PC Gamer Ad, Letters, Dispatches
We get an ad for PC Gamer – man, I wish I could find more scans of that magazine, as I wouldn’t mind doing a recap of that a little more than of NextGen. It has more of a narrative voice, and while there are complete scans out there of CGW, the minus for running that long is it starts further back than Nintendo Power Retrospectives did. Eh, maybe I might do some recaps of CGW starting from when the first issue of Nintendo Power came out.
The Letters column for this issue asks for more Mac coverage in the wake of Marathon. That seems like a reasonable request – hopefully that will happen.
The Dispatches column this issue is from Randy Breen of EA, writing about the added potential of 32-bit gaming hardware.
Next issue of NextGen, we get profiles of the Apple Pippin and the Sony PlayStation. One of those will be a viable gaming platform, the other… not so much.
When I recap that issue, I will be skipping the reviews. Frankly, NextGen’s reviews represent the worst traits of ’90s video game criticism – the mindset that quantity of reviews is more useful than the quality of reviews, and that it does not matter what voice the criticism is coming from is. It’s the same impulse that put the reviews for GamePro Magazine and DieHard GameFan behind personas that were (except for Major Mike) owned by the Magazine, meaning that they could replace the person behind the persona without the reader’s knowledge.
Thus, the reviews in NextGen are utterly useless. They’re one sentence and a numeric score. Good reviews are more than that. Even if you don’t have a lot to say about a game, as with a lot of the snapshot capsule reviews I do for Nintendo Power Retrospectives, a single sentence tells you basically nothing about why the game got that score.
That said, the news and preview coverage is fairly useful, so I will be continuing to cover those parts of the magazine, and if NextGen changes how they do their reviews, I will give them the time of day.