Where I Read

NextGen #31: July 1997

We’re almost caught up with Nintendo Power magazine – or rather this issue will get us caught up about where we’re at with Nintendo Power magazine (but not where this month’s issue of the Nintendo Power Retrospectives would put us).

Cover: Our cover game for this issue is Blasto, a fully voiced CG mascot platformer put out for the PlayStation featuring the voice of Phil Hartman – and which would come out the month he was murdered.

Industry Interview: On a lighter note, we have an interview with Sid Meyer, who has left Microprose to start Firaxis, and talk at length about his new company and how his design philosophy fits with his corporate philosophy. It’s not without some fault or oversights – for example, he talks about not really having a marketing division or a sales division, and how because of that there’s a focus on making good games, as opposed to having some marketing suit saying they need to make games for the 13-18 teen girl demographic.

The problem is of course that at this point the game industry is, through societal pressures and how marketing has pushed a very overly masculine take on how games are sold, the people working at Firaxis are likely going to be guys, probably in their 20s and 30s (some in their 40s). They’re also likely going to be White. While, certainly, a lot of those focus-tested-to-death games for girls aren’t necessarily going to be great (such as many of the Barbie licensed titles), there’s also going to be an unwillingness to step out of their preconceptions and biases.

News: GDC (currently called “CGDC” – Computer Game Developers Conference) has come and gone, and we get something of a description of the event, that it’s very laid back and boozy, and also concerns that the new ownership of the event will cause it to become more corporate.

Also, on a sidebar, at this CGDC we also get a couple of significant news stories – 3D Realms has announced their new upcoming title, Duke Nukem Forever! Also, we get a mention that their other big in-development title is Prey – which I’d completely forgotten about – especially since that game didn’t come out until the Xbox 360.

Yeah, that release date’s gonna slip.

We also have some mention of a new competitor in the handheld competition – Tiger Electronics Games’ Game.Com – with them trying to step from standard LCD single game devices to a more serious game console – with the device looking fairly primitive, even by the standards of the time.

The size of the Game Gear, without the performance.

Arcadia: We get the first mention of the current (as of 2022) last remaining big dog in the arcade industry – Dave & Busters.

Joyriding: We have a discussion of biggest issue with online multiplayer gaming at this time – ping and the latency issues that come with it – issues that are… significantly less of an issue in this age of ubiquitous (but not ubiquitous enough) high-speed internet.

What Makes A Good Game: So, we have an article regarding what makes a game good or not. This includes stuff like a discussion of game balance – both in terms of general difficulty, but also in terms of kinds of experiences the player has in the game – citing the mix of action sequences and puzzle sequences in Tomb Raider as an example. The discussion of creativity is unfortunately mainly focused on controls and mechanics, less on narrative, which kind of shows where we’re at with the discussion of games as an artistic medium at this time. We then have a discussion of focus – sticking with what your game’s core competency is, whether it’s racing really fast with Wipeout, simple to learn but complicated to master puzzle design with Tetris, and so on. There’s also a general discussion of tension, character, and energy – all in terms of descriptive concepts to use to discuss how and why a game works (or doesn’t).

I also appreciate that the article does state outright that (generally) what makes a game good is a manner of personal taste, and a large part of this article is based on building a critical vocabulary for players in general to discuss games and whether they like them or not.

Alphas (Previews): We have a very extensive preview of Blasto to lead out the issue – with particular attention being given to how some of the game’s graphics were done – with the implication that the visuals are particularly cutting edge for the time.

There are also some screenshots of another M2 title – World Championship Racing – which also never came out. It’s an interesting-looking title for the system, and honestly, it’s kind of a bummer that nothing ever came of it.

I kinda wish this got ported to something else.

Just in time for the present-day announcement of Armored Core VI, we have preview coverage of the first game in the series. There’s also a preview of G-Police with a discussion of the types of missions in the game, and the visual design of the world. We have what might be our first licensed superhero RPG with a game based on Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood.

Even more high profile is another look at Metal Gear Solid, the game that would bring Hideo Kojima to superstardom (another connection here to the recent VGAs). Meanwhile, at Activision, they’ve lost the Mechwarrior license, but have made up for it with a license to Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear mech game. It bears mentioning that the character designs for Heavy Gear are a little more humanoid.

The Way Games Ought To Be: This is Neil West, one of NextGen’s editors, picking up this column from Chris Crawford, after his other duties took up his available time to write it. What he wants is what Crawford has been asking about as well, but as I’ve mentioned in the past is also one of those things that there just isn’t the tech for at this point – games that provided more options for resolving the problems the players are put against than violence. However, having a larger possibility space requires a more involved engine, and with it possibly more graphical horsepower, more processing power, and more memory to handle all those possibilities. As I’ve stated before, this is a call for creating games with the possibility space of a tabletop RPG run by a human GM. It’s 2022 and we’re still not there now, and I’m not completely convinced that it is due to a lack of willingness to write that kind of game, and more that creating that kind of game requires a lot more manpower to create the range of needed material.

The perfect example of this is Disco Elysium, an RPG where all the resolutions in the game are non-violent… because picking violent solutions always goes badly. It’s a different exclusion from the possibility space, which is also done deliberately by working through the limitations of an isometric RPG engine.

Finals (Reviews): We have a few 3D RPGs for the N64 this issue, with War Gods and Dark Rift, but with the standout title being (deservedly) being Blast Corps.

On the PlayStation, the big title here is Bushido Blade, probably one of the best games in all of the PS1’s library. We also have the console port of Mechwarrior 2, and EA’s Triple Play ‘98, giving Sony’s console a really strong lineup of games this issue.

The Saturn’s offerings are a little more middling, with what feels like the notable standout title being Gundam Gaiden II – a mech simulator in the Universal Century timeline.

The PC also is rocking the house, with Interstate 76 on the car combat side of things, Air Warrior II on the flight sim front, The Last Express for adventure fans, MDK on the shooter side, and on your real-time administration simulator front, there’s Theme Hospital. Honestly there’s a lot of really good stuff for people on the PC this month.

Even the arcade has a double dose of solid Capcom fighting games with both Darkstalkers 3 and Street Figher 3. NG likes both, though theyre a little confused as to why Capcom didn’t make the jump to 3D with Street Fighter’s 3rd numbered title. Speaking of third games, Namco has Tekken 3, which reminds me that I need to play catch-up with the rest of the Tekken series, as I do truly enjoy the ridiculously over-the-top story of that franchise.

Letters: We have a wonderful letter from S. Marois responding to the interviews with both Sen. Lieberman and Professor Jenkins.

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