NextGen #28: April 1997

At long last, we’re caught up with Nintendo Power.

Cover: On our cover is Sega’s Super GT, on the Model 3 Arcade board.

Industry Interview: Our industry interview is with Senator Joe Lieberman, who is interviewed on his thoughts about violence in video games. NextGen’s justification for giving him page space is that most people probably haven’t actually watched his hearings on C-Span (fair), and to “prompt discussion on his points” – which, well, no. Because, ultimately, the points they want to pose thoughts about, and they bring up in the lead-in are questions like “Do games need to be violent to be fun?” or “Why do so many games involve killing things?” – and we don’t actually talk about those topics.

Before I get into talking about the interview itself, to have these conversations in order to actually prompt discussion, you need an interviewer who will ask pressing follow-up questions and really nail the interview subject’s feet to the floor if necessary. NextGen doesn’t do that – for several reasons. First, for all the advancement of video games as a storytelling medium, there is a lot of vocabulary that needs to be developed (as of 1997) about how we talk about games before we can have that conversation. Further, for that vocabulary to develop, we not only need a slew of games to come out to move the dialog, we also need some technological developments as well – specifically widespread high-speed internet connections, e-commerce, and digital distribution of video games.

Take, for example, Unpacking. Unpacking should be the game that Lieberman is asking for. It’s a game with no violent content whatsoever. No blood, no guts. It just follows a single person through various stages of their life as they unpack their stuff into each new space as their life unfolds. Technically, this should be perfectly viable on the Saturn or the PlayStation (not sure about the N64, probably not since it’s pixel art). If you put aside Sony’s absurd prohibition on 2D or pixel-art-based games, it should absolutely work on that console. However, the catch is that in 1997, we’re still at a point where the games that NextGen is talking about have to be distributed physically, with no options for digital distribution. This means you can’t self-publish, and your publisher will have to get retailers to want to carry this game on store shelves, never mind getting people to pick the game up and buy it.

Plus, critics at this point evaluate based on the quantity of the game – not just the quality of the game. So there’s the possibility that NextGen, EGM, or GamePro might pan this game based on the fact that you can beat it in 10 hours or less, as there’s nothing in there necessarily to enhance the difficulty – indeed, it’s a zen puzzle game, it’s not supposed to be “hard”. By contrast now, because of the accessibility provided by digital distribution, and the fact that the way game critics talk about games has changed purely by the massive quantity of games out there, meaning that NextGen and other publications’ model of reviewing every damn thing as fast as possible is no longer viable. Instead, they’ve found that reviewing what catches their interest and spending more time on it works better, and consequently, this slow-burn approach to handling games journalism is one where a game like Unpacking thrives.

And this is all without getting into the question where, if you made Unpacking in 1997, would the conclusion, which shows the protagonist in a happy, stable, same-sex relationship with another woman where they are raising a child together – would that get you called before Lieberman’s congressional hearings alongside Ed Boon and John Carmack, even though your game contains no sexually explicit content or graphic violence?

So, why this massive tangent? Well, because the questions NextGen asks Lieberman, and the non-answers he gives unchallenged show just how far dialog about games still needs to go. NextGen presses Lieberman on research and he admits how poor the existing research he’s trying to shape public policy on is, and he admits it isn’t enough before he very hamfistedly dodges to a different topic and NextGen lets him do so unchallenged. It shows that NextGen doesn’t have the vocabulary to redirect and hit that point from a different angle (because we haven’t developed that vocabulary yet), and because games journalism isn’t established enough that the people doing the interviewing don’t seem to have the confidence to challenge Lieberman.

By comparison, Jason Schreier writes for Bloomberg. Patrick Klepek writes for Vice. Games are big enough now as a business and as an artistic medium that both of those organizations feel they need to have dedicated reporting desks to cover those beats, and in turn, those organizations have reporters like Schreier and Klepek who, in interviews, can call people in positions of mainstream authority on their BS if they were to pull such a clumsily blatant redirect as Lieberman does, and will do so, either directly, or indirectly by shifting the topic to hit similar points from a single angle. Further, we have the vocabulary now to do that much more easily and to even provide examples.

News: We have numbers on the install-base on the Big 3 Consoles in 1996. Sony is a clear winner, with the Saturn and N64 duking it out for second place. N64 has the strongest showing of the two, managing to move into a close lead for second purely based on Holiday launch sales. As part of this, we have a sidebar of Hiroshi Yamaguchi, CEO and President of Nintendo of America, responding to Sony’s supremacy with some very open and blatant pot-shots, not only at Sony themselves, but the companies who jumped ship to Sony, such as Square and Enix (and with them Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest), and the Japanese Market as a whole. Considering that Nintendo’s stock price took a hit when they lost Dragon Quest, that feels like a clumsy move, which reeks a little bit of desperation.

I’m imagining Hiroshi Yamaguchi giving a slightly buzzed interview, where he’s badmouthing Enix and Square the way someone would lightly drunkenly rant about an ex who just dumped them, trying to pump themselves up by saying they didn’t need that person, before sitting down with a pint of rocky road and Rom-Com to quietly cry about the breakup while a friend tries to keep them from drunk-dialing their ex.

On a lighter note, we have our first look at an actual game for the M.2! It’s Power Crystal from Rebellion, and while Rebellion would go on to make future games, this game never came out. Some of the texture assets for the game got leaked during the pandemic at Games That Weren’t, so maybe go check that out.

Retro Gaming: We have a discussion of the renewed appeal of retro gaming, along with a discussion of the need for further innovation in the games industry, particularly in terms of game design. There’s also a quiet discussion of the Emulation of old game systems and the value of it when it comes to preservation, so to be clear, that is a drum that has been beaten for 25 years now.

Gallery: In our Video Game 3D art gallery, we have our first look at Metal Gear Solid (currently only known as Metal Gear.)

Alphas (Previews): We open with the cover game, Super GT, which has Yu Suzuki doing a more simulationist arcade racing game with licensed cars. There’s also a look at the Mission Impossible game for the N64, though it’s currently billed as being for the N64DD.

We have a pair of major fighting games this issue – Street Fighter III on the 2D side of things, accompanied with an interview with Noritaka Funamiza on the future of the series. The preview includes a look at the pixel art (which, frankly, is absolutely gorgeous, and won’t be topped until Guilty Gear comes out). On the 3D side of things, we have Tekken 3, which is the third Tekken game we’ve covered in 3 years, and will be the last game to come out on this console generation.

In a more obscure game sense, we have Sub Culture from Criterion, which is like Elite but is underwater. We also get some looks at Star Fox 64 and Deathtrap Dungeon for the PC.

There are also two developer profiles in this issue – one for Cyclone Studios, which had recently been bought by 3DO, and will (it looks like) get closed down in 1999. The other is DMA Design, which is currently best known as the developer of Lemmings, and who are currently working on a couple of titles called Body Harvest for the N64, and then Grand Theft Auto for the PC. You may know them now as Rockstar Games.

Finals (Reviews): We start our reviews with Turok – they like the game but feel the 3D platforming needs work, and to be fair, that’s something that people are going to be working on for the next 20+ years.

The Playstation has a bunch more titles, with mixed reactions. They generally like Codename: Tenka, though they feel there’s some room for improvement. However, the standout title here is unquestionably Soul Blade (the start of the Soul Calibur series).

The Saturn has Die Hard Arcade/Dynamite Deka, the Working Designs Strategy game Dragon Force, and Fighters Megamix, all of which get very strong reviews.

On PC there are a bunch of big titles, with Masters of Orion 2 and Lords of the Realm 2 on the strategy side. On the RPG side there’s a little title called Diablo from Blizzard North.

The Arcade has the first title in the Dead or Alive series making its debut, along with San Francisco Rush. We also have a review of a game that got an extensive preview a few issues ago – Sega Touring Car. NextGen finds that the game is actually too simulation-heavy for an arcade game, making it something that would probably actually have worked better on the Saturn.

Letters: We have a letter looking for Stephen Kent’s book – it’s not out yet, as he doesn’t have a publisher, though he will get one later.

Alright, now that we’re called up, I’ll be recapping some of this in a more concise form in the next issue of Nintendo Power Retrospectives, before slowing things down to match my pace for future issues of Nintendo Power.

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