Where I Read

NextGen #23: November 1996

Well, we’re breaking even when it comes to catching up to Nintendo Power.

Cover: Interstate ‘76 is the cover game. Also, this release has a Demo Disc – I should (later) check to see if that’s on the Internet Archive.

Industry Interview: This time they’re interviewing Teruhisa “Terry” Tokunaka, the President of Sony Computer Entertainment Enterprises, meaning he’s the Head of Playstation. The interview opens up by pushing on the big criticisms of the PS1. Stuff like Trip Hawkins saying 32-bit consoles are a mistake, claims that the ease to develop for the PS1 plus the reduced publishing cost for optical media will have a flood of shovel-ware, the system having already “peaked” – that sort of thing. Terry almost repudiates it successfully, although he begs off on the technical stuff.

One of the things Tokunaka brings up is that, ultimately, a big deal in the long term is what will become the Playstation The Best/Greatest Hits initiative. Because optical media is cheap to manufacture, the turnaround time for additional print runs of high-selling games is much quicker, and once they’ve recouped the early costs, they can be reprinted at a lower cost. By contrast, while we’re seeing a lot of reprints in the issues of Nintendo Power I’ve been covering, it’s at the end of the SNES’ lifespan, and in some cases, it’s for games that are about 3-4 years old.

News: We have an analysis of the N64’s first month. The vibe is generally “Promising”. Also, in the internet multiplayer column, we get a little bombshell dropped – Blizzard is designing their own multiplayer matchmaking platform. It’s going to get released for Warcraft II – and unlike Mplayer or Heat, they’re not going to charge to use it. This shouldn’t be revolutionary at this point – but it is.

Data Storage: We have the problem video games and consoles face – how much data can you hold in the storage medium? How much can you hold in memory? How fast can data be moved from storage to memory? And how do you manage what data is sent (and removed) from one to the other, and when?

At this point, the preferred idiom that’s discussed is one where there’s a single unified memory pool that’s used for everything – graphics, sound, general game assets, everything – instead of having memory reserved for graphics or audio. Nowadays we have a combination of two – dedicated memory on expansion cards like video cards, plus a shared pool for everything on the computer itself.

Artificial Life: We have a discussion of the development of AI in game design… before moving into a discussion of what the article calls “Artificial Life”, which is an attempt to emulate the behavior of organic life in a computer. As far as how this would come up in games – this feels like something that would go really well in the God-games genre, which – admittedly, makes it less of a thing now when we don’t get that many of those anymore

Who Really Invented Video Games: This article is a lead-in for a book by Stephen L. Kent over the court cases over the invention of Pong between Nolan Bushnell & Ralph Baer. This is basically some of the groundwork for what would become future books by the writer – The First Quarter and The Ultimate History of Video Games.

Alphas (Previews): Tetsuya Mizuguchi has a new team in Sega – Sega AM Annex. They are made up of some of the Sega Rally Championship team and are working on Sega Touring Car Championship. This also leads into an interview with Mizuguchi, which gets into his design philosophy, along with his interest in electronic music. The latter of which will get into what he’s Mizuguchiis currently known for – the Genki Rockets, Rez, Lumines, and Child of Eden.

We also have a preview of Virtual On for Saturn. There’s no information on how the controls are going to work since the game has a sort of dual Joystick control system in the arcades. There’s also a preview of the other of the big proto-MMORPGs – Meridian 59. Shadows of the Empire gets a moderately extensive preview as well – though that one doesn’t get into the trans-media side of the event.

Getting back to Blizzard, their next RTS – Starcraft – gets a preview. Also, as the RTS genre is starting to blossom, 3DO is getting in the game with Army Men. In this game’s case, they get less into the similarities with Toy Story, and more into the game leaning into the limitations of mid-90s computer rendering – it’s easier to make something look like plastic than it does to make it look lifelike.

There’s also a very extensive preview of Interstate ’76, which is built on the Mechwarrior 2 engine, except with some extensive modifications to reflect the fact that you’re driving a car instead of an ambulatory mech, along with new game mechanics like shooting a physical gun from behind the wheel of your car. I’m going to say – of the games that Microsoft is getting with the Activision merger, this is one of the ones I’ve started to become a little more pumped for.

Also, in the wake of Wave Race 64, we have a bunch of arcade games with jet ski races (no pun intended) since Wave Race demonstrated that 3D rendering can do water physics. The previews wrap with a look at the console ports of Mechwarrior 2, for both the Playstation and Saturn.

There’s an extensive ad-block for EB games, which caught my eye because there’s a controller advertised for the PC, put out by Thrustmaster, that’s modeled on the PS1 controller, except it has analog triggers for L2 and R2 – like we’d get around a decade later on the PS3 controller.

If you look closely, you can see the dents on the face buttons in the shape of the PS controller symbols.

Finals (Reviews): We have a conventional JRPG for the PS1 (as opposed to King’s Field), with Beyond the Beyond. This is somewhat particularly of note because this game is published by Camelot, who is going to go on to also put out some conventional launch JRPGs on the GBA and DS with the Golden Sun series. Crash Bandicoot 1 is also out – and both games get panned, though Beyond the Beyond is panned harder than Crash does. They do like the helicopter sim Black Dawn for the PS1 though.

Otherwise, the other reviewed games of note this issue are on the Saturn, with Virtua Fighter Kids, and Saturn Bomberman.

Letters: In the letters column, we have a slew of bad takes from writers – who call Quake overrated crap that has no innovation of any kind – and from editors as well – who claim that if you care about story in games you’re not a real gamer, when they included “A Mind Forever Voyaging” in their list of the top 100 games of all time last issue.

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