Video games, Where I Read

NextGen #29: May 1997

It’s time for the response to the last issue’s interview with Joe Lieberman.

Cover: This issue’s cover has to do with the issues with the N64’s library.

Industry Interview: The response to Lieberman’s interview this issue comes from Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT, of the Media Studies department. Looking up some of his background and academic work, I think he’s a person I should be reading more of.

In any case, Jenkins rips Lieberman’s arguments to shreds. Some of the points he brings up relate to some of the points I brought up with my read-through of the last issue, and honestly, the whole article is worth reading.

If I have a criticism, it’s the focus on video games as an exclusively masculine pastime in the article. Admittedly, this is (as of the issue’s publication) due to issues with market forces and how the marketing of video games excessively focuses on the male audience to the detriment of women (as mentioned in my analysis of the last issue), but it’s a situation the market put itself into.

News: Sony is dropping the price of the PlayStation to $149 ($262 in 2022 dollars). Sega says they’re not dropping their price, Nintendo of Japan says they are, and Nintendo of America says they aren’t.

The Arizona State Legislature has SB1433 going through committee, which would criminalize the sale of violent video games to minors by retailers. I’ll admit I normally associate this particular kind of legislation with California and Senator Leland Yee, and I was not able to find any information on this bill in particular, so it’s possible it was a non-starter.

N64 Library Woes: This is, in short, an analysis of the woes that the N64 is facing, particularly when it comes to their library. I got into much of this in my last Nintendo Power Retrospectives episode. The big thing this article has that my previous analysis didn’t is that Nintendo has apparently returned to demanding exclusivity on all N64 games again, something that they could barely get away with demanding 3-4 years before, and they definitely can’t get away with now.

NextGen also has a sit-down interview with Howard Lincoln about this. While with his position in Nintendo he kind of has to back the company’s play, he also doesn’t really answer the questions. When asked about RPGs and the lack of games in that genre on the N64, his response is (basically) “They’re coming, honest gov!” When asked about the lack of quality games, he points to sales numbers while ignoring that NextGen’s interviewer brought this up in the question – that games are selling well but only because there is a small selection so if you’ve got an N64 you take what you can get. It feels like a degree of desperation.

As part of this, we get a profile of Hiroshi Yamaguchi, the President of Nintendo of Japan. The profile showcases his take-no-prisoners corporate philosophy, both in the context of how it helped Nintendo claim the top spot in the market, but also its weaknesses – particularly related to dismissing and underestimating the competition. NG’s clear implication is that Yamaguchi has so convinced himself that, based on the success of the SNES, NES, and Game Boy, Nintendo’s position was unassailable – not by Sega and certainly not by Sony – that he could not conceive of a situation where developers who had previously been Nintendo stalwarts would actually go through with leaving if they didn’t like where the company was going with the design of the N64. They’d grumble, but they’d ultimately stay because he thought there was nowhere they could go.

This would also fit with the inciting event that started the path to the PlayStation, and the defection that would lead to the PlayStation’s dominance – Nintendo snubbing Sony when it came to the PlayStation add-on for the SNES, and Square defecting to the PlayStation over the decision to stick with cartridges. If you believe that you and you alone decide which direction the industry goes, and anyone else will follow the path you take, occasionally moving a little ahead but ultimately deferring to your course, then the choice, while wrong, is consistent.

Nintendo, unlike NEC and Sega, ultimately rejected any form of CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, and otherwise did okay. While Sega is still in the market, NEC dropped out, and the 3DO was a non-starter. So, you might find yourself thinking that you shouldn’t change too much from what you’re doing before – cartridges will work fine, and while 3D games are the direction of the future, you can handle everything with cartridges, because that’s what worked before, so why change? Now, this is an impulse you should reject, but considering that Yamaguchi also doesn’t tolerate opposition within the company, it’s likely that nobody felt they could safely challenge his assumptions (or if they did, they were demoted to irrelevance or fired).

The feature wraps with a list of upcoming N64 titles, quite a few of which did not come out – such as Earthbound 3 (N64) or Robotech. In particular, we have mentioned here Metroid 64 and Mario 64-2, and near that I can tell, the latter game only existed as a single-level prototype, and Metroid 64 never even started development.

Alphas (Previews): Dave Kaemmer and Papyrus games are working on Grand Prix Legends, a retro racing game – Kaemmer would later go on to be the lead on iRacing. PC is also getting the World War 2 combat flight sim European Air War from Microprose. Millennium software also has a virtual life game with Creatures, which the magazine has previously covered – but I have not discussed. Basically, this was a virtual life game where your creatures would evolve over time and with life experiences – think like an early version of Spore.

Jane’s Combat Simulations has 686(I) Hunter Killer, a submarine combat sim set during the present day (complete with a hard choice by the developers to refuse to have any sort of returning the Soviet Union as part of the plot – indeed, the end of the Soviet Union made them completely re-do the plot and missions of the game during development).

On the N64, Kemco has Top Gear Rally, which ditches the SF elements from the previous game, in favor of conventional rally racing.

We have a look at another M2 game (which is unreleased), Power Crystal, an RPG. I’m kind of surprised that none of these M2 games ever got ported to the PC.

On the Saturn, we have a preview of the motorcycle racing game ManxTT, from Sega. There’s also a preview of an upcoming Sega arcade title – House of the Dead.

The PlayStation is getting Runabout, an open-world driving game set in a third-person behind-the-back perspective, with the player going through various cities. The game looks less like a proto-GTA3, and more like a proto-Crazy Taxi.

Wrapping things up, we have a development profile for a Norwegian developer, Innerloop. They are currently working on a landscape development engine called “IFS” or Integrated Functions System. Their first game, JSF: Joint Strike Fighter, will use it for terrain mapping, but they’re also hoping to use it in other games.. While, going from my research, the developer doesn’t last, the concept looks promising enough I’m surprised nobody bought them for the tech.

Finals (Reviews): We’re starting with the N64 and Doom 64 – they think Doom is showing its age, but they do like how the visuals are realized on the N64. We also get reviews of Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey & NBA Hangtime, which they’re less impressed with.

On the PlayStation, Origin has a port of Crusader: No Remorse that NG likes, along with Vandal Hearts. They’re a little more lukewarm on Descent Maximum and outright hate ID4. They also have an unreasonable hate for the Mega Man series, which impacts their score for Mega Man 8. However, probably the most laughable review in hindsight is their review of Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, which they liked, but they think the game will be forgotten in 5 years (when it is still beloved to this day). The remaining notable titles are Rage Racer and Tiger Shark, which they think are fine.

The Saturn has gotten a port of Command & Conquer which gets a solid score, though I wonder how it controls. Otherwise, Koei has a strategy game with Heir of Zendor, along with a troubled port of Hexen.

On PC, we have Privateer 2 (starring Clive Owen), which gets a good score in spite of this release apparently not supporting Windows 95.

Letters: In the letters column we have two corrections from representatives for sites featured in the round-up a few issues ago, one from Engage Games Online and another from Papyrus. We also have a letter about the issue with first-run PS1s having issues with the laser skipping – an issue I’d heard about but my own PS1 didn’t have.

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