Where I Read

NextGen #20: August 1996

Continuing to get caught up with Nintendo Power with our next issue of NextGen, which has Chris Crawford’s column back, though the issue is generally lighter overall.

Our cover for this issue is the impending launch of the N64, with Super Mario 64 on the cover.

Industry Interview: We have a bit of an interesting conceit for the interview this time. In the past we’ve had interviews with representatives of Nintendo of America (Howard Lincoln), Sega of America (Tom Kalinski), and Sony Computer Entertainment America (Andrew House), individually. With this past E3, NextGen had the idea of doing a metaphorical roundtable interview. Specifically, they went to their interviews with each person separately with the same set of questions, and then sent them follow-up questions later based on some of the responses from other interview subjects. At this point it’s probably the closest we can get to get representatives of the Big Three in a roundtable – and because of this particular approach, you get a bit of a degree of candor that you wouldn’t get based on having all three in the same room.

Considering one of the big stories at E3 was the Playstation Price Cut, they open with that – Kalinski and Lincoln take it as an act of desperation. House’s response to that is:

Related to everyone dunking on everyone else, Sony and Sega don’t think the N64 will be out by Christmas (it will). In a distinct sense of candor, though, all three agree, including Howard Lincoln, that Nintendo’s decision to stick with cartridges will ultimately end up hurting the size of the N64’s library. Lincoln tries to spin it as a positive, that there will be more gold, and it will be easier to sort the wheat from the chaff. We’ll see in future installments of Nintendo Power Retrospectives.

News: We’re actually a little after E3, so things are a little light – the big story here is Intel is working on the MMX revision to the Pentium architecture – it’s the addition of a whole bunch of additional instructions for the processor, that theoretically could be added as a firmware upgrade instead of an actual chip-level change. However, downloading firmware upgrades for your motherboard was, IIRC, less of a thing at the time, so I don’t know how well that will go.

Chris Crawford Column: Crawford’s column has been moved up in the magazine this issue – this time covering the importance of not just emotional content in general, but depth of that content, and the need for emotional maturity by game developers when crafting their narrative to provide that depth. That is an incredibly valid point – at this point in games, probably the strongest examples of coming close to this level of the emotional depth of content would be some elements of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI/III, and those are very much outliers. FMV games often have the quantity of story that would be required to deliver that depth, but not always the quality story to provide it.

10 Things The N64 Is Doing Right, 20 It’s Doing Wrong: This would be what we would call now a “clickbait listicle”. It’s NextGen structuring their rundown of the N64’s strengths and weaknesses as pair of numbered lists. To summarize their views – what N64 has in its favor is Nintendo. The quality of their first party games has generally been rock solid, and they have some significant brand recognition. However, the decision to stick with cartridges has alienated some key third parties with their own established track records, whose games can provide that needed launch depth – Konami, Capcom, and Square in particular, and the decision to stick with Cartridges will also mean that their games will always cost more – and the more ambitious the game, the more it will cost to make.

That said, the article, because this is the mid-to-late ’90s and the gaming sphere has just bought itself a timeshare in toxic masculinity that it has yet to divest itself of – marks the “cuteness” factor as a mark against Nintendo – that people play Mario “in spite” of the character designs, and that Nintendo has no attitude. Also, the fact that the N64 does not handle 2D content well at all is not considered a mark against it because, again, NextGen has a significant bias against games that use 2D content in favor of exclusively 3D games.

Alphas (Previews): Several rundowns of the N64’s launch lineup, particularly Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings, mainly covering stuff we’ve already gone over in Nintendo Power Magazine. There’s also a puff interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, with the general gist of the questions effectively being “Just how awesome are you?” I can’t exactly blame them for that, but it’s still a little cringy.

There’s also a look at the new, 3D Madden game for the Saturn and PS1.

Finals (Reviews): The high profile titles this issue on the consoles are sequels on the PS1 – Jumping Flash 2 and Tekken 2, and the Saturn having NHL Powerplay ’96. However, the PC is where the big titles are – Earthsiege 2 and then Duke Nukem 3D. In the latter game, well, there are a lot of ways in which Duke 3D doesn’t hold up – how women are depicted, Duke’s vernacular being almost entirely made up of catchphrases taken from other, better works. However, the game also takes the effort to provide a tremendous amount of interactivity to make the world feel like a living place. The crassness of the overall writing of the work dramatically overshadows this to a degree where I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the damn game to a casual player.

However, if you were a game designer in 1996, I’d recommend playing Duke 3D just to play around with the interactive elements like pool tables, bathrooms, and so on. Deus Ex will be much better when that game comes out, and will greatly eclipse Duke 3D, to the point where, in 2021, Duke 3D has been overshadowed by multiple better games that developers can learn much more from. Indeed, of the games this issue, Tekken 2 and Earthsiege 2 catch my interest more – maybe NHL Powerplay ’96, to see how the game executes hockey in 3D. But otherwise, that’s it.

Next issue, speaking of listicle clickbait, they’re promising their top 100 games of all time (to date).

Someone in the NextGen mailroom is very about to have several very bad weeks.

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