NextGen #24: December 1996

Getting ever closer to getting caught up with where we’re at in Nintendo Power, as we wrap up 1996.

Cover: Which is better, the PlayStation, the Saturn, or the N64? The debate that will make message boards unbearable for the rest this console generation is getting addressed.

Industry Interview: We have an interview with David Rosen, founder of Sega. Not Sega of America. Sega. The main focus of the article is how Sega was founded, and how they got into arcade games, with a bit at the end about the current state of Sega in the industry. The current part of the company is very light, with the meat of the article being strictly on the company’s history.

News: TGS 1996 has come and gone. Among the games that are mentioned is Parappa The Rapper along with Tokimeki Memorial & Vandal Hearts from Konami. Namco also has a home port of Soul Edge. However, probably the biggest showing is for Squaresoft, who has a ton of RPGs – Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Saga Frontier. Nintendo, however, was not present – instead saving their games for Shoshinkai.

Speaking of Nintendo, Nintendo is planning to have some more N64 consoles out in time for the holiday. The official line from Nintendo is that this is an improved manufacturing process. NextGen outright says they’re lying and that the consoles are unsold inventory from Japan.

The Big Fight: So, we’re breaking down the big 3 consoles, and comparing them head-to-head – all the better to spark flame wars with. The PlayStation is under the microscope first, with NG stepping back slightly (but not completely) from their repeated assertion that “console that is easy to develop for = flooded with shovelware” and is therefore bad. Also, considering NG’s usual stance of “2D = Crap” I’m surprised to see them calling out Sony Management for not approving 2D games for US release.

The Saturn, as we’ve discussed before, was burdened by a rough launch, and hardware weirdness that makes it tricky to develop for, especially for 3D games. Well, the good news is that because PlayStation is abandoning 3D games, and the Saturn is great at those, they have a possible angle.

Then there’s the N64. It’s alienated third parties by sticking with cartridges. The architecture doesn’t do 3D well. Also, sticking with cartridges makes it difficult to bring costs down, especially reprints when a game is doing well. However, for good or for ill, as far as NG is concerned Nintendo’s first-party games and brand recognition puts it on equal footing with Sony.

As far as I am concerned, it really does speak volumes to the power of Nintendo’s first-party games and the difficulty of the development environment that Saturn ended up in third. Sony’s rejection of high-resolution 2D games and those similar games not working on PS4 at all could have made Saturn the place for the best version of the Street Fighter Alpha games, a great spot for a high-quality version of MK3, and (considering that Dragon Quest VII still had sprite-based graphics), the ideal place for Dragon Quest to jump ship to instead of the PlayStation. Instead, the Saturn finished third, and in the next generation, Sega would leave console manufacturing entirely.

Game Music: With the rise of optical media, you’d think this would cover new composers and people who are doing interesting things with game music, and you’d be part right. While we get a discussion of the orchestral soundtrack to Broken Sword, and the composers Kenji Eno (RIP) is working with at Warp, the main focus of the article is Sony Europe’s partnership with electronic music groups, particularly for the new Wipeout game.

Atari is Dead: Atari has died, and NextGen has Don Thomas’ account of its fall. In short, Atari got the Jaguar in Wal-Mart (it had not been in Wal-Mart before this), but did not capitalize with advertising. Wal-Mart returned their unsold inventory, which was damaged in the return shipment, and which had Wal-Mart stickers & security tags on it, so they couldn’t get other retailers to carry it.

Additional blame is laid at the feet of Jack Tramiel, who consistently refused to pay for marketing, grotesquely understaffed the company, and undermined the US market for Atari computers. Then, well,  the x86 standard took over for PCS, and while Apple whethered the storm through marketing and brand identity, the Tramiels weren’t into that, so they switched to games. Again, because Jack was running things, and Jack didn’t belive in advertising (or paying vendors), the console failed.

That is an over-simplification and fails to account for advertising campaigns like the “Do the Math” campaign. That said, Jack Tramiel’s penny-pinching habits were legendary, and frankly, ill-timed returns can absolutely kill a company – that’s part of what lead to original TSR’s ultimate demise. That said, if that level of returns was enough to sink Atari, they may not have had the resources to run that campaign in the first place.

Viewer: We have a collection of digital art, generally from commercial projects, like Final Fantasy VII. The captions erroneously credit Akira Toriyama as contributing to the project.

Preview art renders from Final Fantasy VII
Preview art renders from Final Fantasy VII

Alphas (Previews): Capcom is working on a 3D Street Fighter game – Street Fighter EX. There’s also some screen shots of Tenka, and the new Ridge Racer game. We also have a preview of Wonder Project J2 for the N64. Honestly, considering how much coverage Wonder Project J2 got in Nintendo Power, I’m legitimately surprise nobody has considered officially releasing it.

Wrapping this up, we have a preview of the first game from OddWorld Inhabitants – Part 1: SoulStorm, which would later be released as Abe’s Odyssey, and re-made with the SoulStorm title more recently.

There’s an ad insert for the Total Entertainment Network, another PC Online Gaming subscription service.

Finals (Reviews): We have, on the PS1, a review of Deception from Tecmo on the PS1. The score is on the middle of the road, but it’s also got a depth of story that grabs whoever wrote the review. There’s also the final installment of the Strike series, with Soviet Strike – which gets a really strong review. Bizarre Creations gets a big racing game showing with Formula 1 on the PS1. There’s also Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, kicking off another major series . They also very much like Tobal No. 1

On the Saturn, we have both, a 3D fighting game with Fighting Vipers, and a 2D one with Street Fighter Alpha 2. The PC has a few high profile titles, with the two with the longest legs being Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (listed with a different title), and The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall, both being well regarded.

Letters: We have a letter calling out Interplay’s Conquest of the New World for its erasure of indigenous cultures and gamification of genocide by the Conquistadors. To the credit of NextGen’s editorial staff, not only did they run the letter, but they also didn’t snark at it, criticize it, or rebut it. They did ask Interplay to respond, but that would be the appropriate thing to do, given the circumstances.

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