NextGen #27: March 1997

Just one issue away from getting things all caught up.

Cover: We have online multiplayer gaming on the cover this issue, with particular focus on the PC version of Bomberman.

Industry Interview: We have an interview with Richard Garriott about the upcoming release of Ultima Online – which is not the first graphical MMO, but the one which would do the most to popularize it until Everquest would innovate on the concept further. There’s some discussion here on Garriott’s views (as of ’97) on online social interaction – and he generally doesn’t like the sense of social disconnect when it comes to playing games with what we’d now call “randos” in the sense of anonymity providing a shield for bad behavior.

In a particular sense here, he’s differentiating anonymity in the context of playing multiplayer games through a matchmaking service on a server versus a persistent world like there will be in Ultima Online, because that persistence provides an opportunity for social consequences that you don’t have when playing Quake with a bunch of people online – the world and your interactions with that person don’t necessarily persist beyond that match. It’s different from something like the “John Gabriel Internet Fuckwad Theory” – because that fails to differentiate a social environment like an IRC server, UseNet Group, or forum from a pickup game of Command & Conquer or Starcraft.

News: The UKs Advertising Standards Authority is getting flack for ads for video games that are probably in more poor taste than some of the ones in the US (sort of – we get a lot of suicide imagery in ads that have come up in NextGen, even if they generally eschew the cheesecake that some of the UK ads get into – remember, at this point you still had UK Tabloids running topless pictures of women on page 6.)

I’m gonna say, the Resident Evil ad is pretty good and plays off of an actual image that is used in the game.

Top 10 Online Gaming Sites: So, what this is not is a collection of online news sites and communities, ala Gamespot or IGN (then still known as the “Imagine Games Network”) – this is referring to combined community and matchmaking sites. The picks are:

  1. Kali (originally iFrag): Client and server software for matchmaking, with both available for purchase – the software was still supported through 2012 – I can’t speak to whether the software is still getting updates, or if there’s an open-source equivalent to the program at present – if there is let me know in the comments. Either way, it’s still available for purchase.
  2. MPlayer: A set of software clients that reportedly tend to work better on specific ISPs – like Mindspring. This ultimately got bought by GameSpy, and got shut down when GameSpy also was shut down.
  3. Quake Dedicated Servers: Pretty straighforward.
  4. Battle.Net: Blizzard’s dedicated client for Diablo and Starcraft (and a later re-release for Warcraft II) – has become the dedicated storefront for Activision Blizzard games in general. Also, Battle.Net set the example for other publishers and developers of the value of running your own matchmaking and community services, which in some respects leaded to them cutting the legs out of some of the other services that are mentioned here.
  5. Total Entertainment Network: Appears to require you to play through Concentric Networks, who have set things up on their end to minimize latency in matchmaking.
  6. MPG Net: Mainly using board games & other turn-based strategic games where latency is less of an issue. I can’t find any information on what happened to this company – though I can tell that their current site is defunct.
  7. Internet Gaming Zone: Run by Microsoft for their internally published games. This has pretty much been replaced by Xbox Live, with the old service being shut down in 2006, and with it multiplayer for games from that period (such as Age of Empires 1, Midtown Madness, etc.)
  8. Westwood Chat: Much as with Battle.Net and the IGZ, this was for first-party games by, in this case, Westwood.
  9. OT Sports: Only used for one game – Monday Night Football.
  10. DWANGO: Online matchmaking service with a geographic focus on major cities. Will be shut down in 1998. The company would live on after the Japanese branch would be bought by Kadokawa and would go on to create the NicoNico streaming service, and would buy Spike & Chunsoft.

There are additional sidebars for their favorite multiplayer games, along with a discussion of the matchmaking services provided by some of the Walled Garden ISPs from this time, like AOL and Compuserve.

Warren, if you think “choosing the die type” is the most important decision you need to make when designing a game, then you’re bad at RPGs. And if you don’t think that and you’re presenting that as being the case, then you’re a disingenuous POS.

Alphas (Previews): Not a lot of titles this time – we do get a look at the PC port of Bomberman, which moves from 2D pixel art sprites to pre-rendered 3D characters. There’s also a look at “The Dark Project” from Looking Glass, which hasn’t gotten the “Thief” part of the name yet. This coverage also leads to an interview with Warren Spector. The interviewer brings up Spector’s time in tabletop games, and Spector, feeling no compunction to be diplomatic, proceeds to throw massive amounts of shade on tabletop games, and some of his co-workers at previous companies (particularly Chris Taylor at Origin around Wing Commander IV). In particular, his comment about leaving Tabletop RPG design was that he felt that there was no challenge in designing tabletop games – which, well, I had to stifle a spoken “Oh fuck you!” when I read that (on account of my being in public).

Moving from that, Bungie is stepping into the PC space with Myth – which is a real-time strategy game that differentiates from other RTS games due to the lack of direct resource management and persistence of units between missions (which puts it a little closer to Microsoft’s Close Combat games). Also, Namco is working on a home port of Time Crisis and EA is working on Need for Speed 2.

Finals (Reviews): A light lineup this issue. The PS1 has retro game collections from Atari and Namco (Atari’s first and Namco’s 3rd – Namco’s is somewhat panned due to the inclusion of Tower of Druaga, but I think that subsequent research on game influences and the evolution of the medium has justified the game’s inclusion). Madden now has a challenger with NFL Gameday ’97. Also, the first Persona game is out and NextGen’s editorial staff doesn’t like the different perspectives in the game’s presentation (third-person strategic in combat, first-person dungeon crawl when exploring environments, an abstracted view with the party as a meeple-esque icon on the overworld, etc.) Ultimately, I think history has been on the side of Persona 1, though I’d recommend the PSP remake over the US PS1 release, due to the inclusion of additional cut content and the reworked localization.

The Saturn has NFL ’97 from Sega and a Saturn version of Toshinden, both of which are heavily panned, due to poor graphics and control. On the other hand, Virtua Cop 2 gets a much better score as they consider it to be a solid arcade port.

The PC section doesn’t have a lot of stand-out titles – lots of them, but none that really grab you, with a few exceptions. There’s Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh, which gets some pretty good reviews, and I’ve heard mixed things about it – there was a play-through of it on Giant Bomb, so I should probably give that a watch. There’s also a weird misprint issue here where they use the same screenshot for two different games on the same page.

Finally, in the Arcade, we have Virtua Fighter 3, which is tremendously well regarded, and Street Fighter EX, the first 3D Street Fighter game, which is panned.

Letters: In the Letters column, we have a letter asking why there aren’t names attached to NextGen’s articles and reviews. The explanation given by Editorial is that the editorial staff stands behind all their content, and they reflect this by not putting their name on it (legit) and that they’re not a bunch of primadonnas who need to show off (which is not legit). The problem with this explanation, especially the second half, is that at this point in time we have several publications – particularly GamePro and Diehard GameFan – which did not give their writers bylines, instead giving colorful pseudonyms (which were generally owned by the magazine), which served to make it difficult for competing publications to poach talent, the same way that Japanese developers would be required to use pseudonyms on game credits. If they’d just stuck with the first part, I might have cut them a little more slack.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to help to support the site, please consider backing my Patreon. Patreon backers get to access my reviews and Let’s Plays up to a week in advance.

If you want to support the site, but can’t afford to pledge monthly, please consider tossing a few bucks into my Ko-Fi instead.