Where I Read

Next Gen #34 (October, 1997)

It’s time to get into the differences between PCs and Consoles in the US.

Cover: This issue the cover has Activision’s remake of Battlezone for the PC, showcasing the PC/Console Divide.

Industry Interview: This time they’re interviewing Greg Ballard, Scott Sellers, and Gary Tarolli of 3DFX. They start off with the end of their partnership with Sega, and that they probably won’t be involved in the next wave of consoles, before moving into the company’s history. They’re not wrong – they went bankrupt in 2002. LGR has a really good episode of his Tech Tales series on the topic.

News: Related to that, Sega’s next console is going to be using the NEC PowerVR architecture. Meanwhile, SNK is showing off their new Hyper NeoGeo 64 arcade boards, and software libraries have been put together for the X-360 Sound Process to make them work on the PlayStation.

The Joyriding column continues to hype the launch of Ultima Online, which would have been only out for a few weeks by the time this issue hit.

RetroView: Next Gen has a new column from Stephen Kent covering the history of gaming, this time covering the now-infamous tale of ET for the Atari 2600.

The Great Escape: Game developers are leaving big publishers in pretty high-profile ways – Peter Molyneux started Lionhead after leaving Bullfrog, John Romero & Tom Hall started Ion Storm, Sid Meier started Firaxis, and Chris Roberts started Digital Anvil. Of those only Firaxis is still a going concern as of 2023.

In any case, a lot of the friction that led to these separations was born of being attached to a large organization, combined with too-rapid expansion with limited opportunities for advancement, along with the maturity of engines (with the option for external licensing) meaning that you have a lower up-front cost for starting a new studio – you don’t have to roll your tools from scratch before you can start building your first game.

There is, however, concern about how this new boom of small-team developers is viable in this era of game development (since we don’t have digital distribution yet). Though to be fair, this is still an issue now with the ability to have your game distributed by Steam or Itch, since you still have to get eyeballs on your game, and they’re not great at discovery.

The Future of Consoles: At E3, NextGen managed to get a round table of Sony’s Phil Harrison, Nintendo’s George Harrison (no relation), and Sega’s Gretchen Eichinger to discuss the future of consoles.

The focus of the discussion was on several topics – Product life cycles, online connectivity, additional functionality, and storage medium. It’s interesting to see in what ways the trajectory of gaming has zigged where these execs expected things to zag. For example, additional functionality outside of gaming is dismissed as something that isn’t necessarily viable – when Sony had the advantage of having a console that was also a good CD player (which was also an advantage to the Sega CD before that). Sony would later gain the advantage with the PS2 partly by having a DVD player, and the PS3 would also help gain a little market share by having a Blu-Ray player in addition to early models also having full backward compatibility (until they phased that out). When they think about online multiplayer, they’re thinking about it in a world where all forms of internet connection are some form of dial-up and high-speed internet isn’t economical from a consumer standpoint. Nintendo continues to stand hard by sticking with cartridges (to the point of coming to a very angry argument with Sony & Sega that leads to NextGen ending the roundtable). Probably the thing that everyone does get right is the idea that game console life cycles should be determined more by software than by hardware, though even then arguably you have people in the game press clamoring for a new console launch to get something to cover.

Virtual Pets: This is the era of Tamagotchi, so NextGen analyzes the concept of the virtual pet, and speculates about this leading to “real” AI. This includes an interview with Cliff Stoll, who is still managing to hang on to a tiny bit of relevance in his “He wrote the Cucko’s Egg so he must know his shit about computers” phase. Stoll is actually pretty anti-technology in a tremendously condescending way, to the point of refusing to consider the idea of “in some places apartments that will let you have pets are tremendously rare, so virtual pets are your only option to have a pet” as a valid scenario – and mocking people who have emotional attachments to virtual pets or characters.

Alphas (Previews): Once again we start with the cover game – Activision’s reboot of Battlezone, which is being done as an action-RTS. We also have some small previews of Concker’s Quest & Banjo-Kazooie from Rare, and a glimpse of Yoshi’s Story on the N64, plus Ocarina of Time and F-Zero 64. There’s also a look at Quake II from Id – mainly focusing on the game’s tech.

We have a developer profile of Kalisto, a French developer who is working on the licensed game for the movie The Fifth Element, and who previously developed Nightmare Creatures. They went under in 2000 (when the company founder was indicted for defrauding shareholders).

There’s a preview of I-War (which will be released in the US as Independence War). Tecmo is getting into the 3D fighter game with Dead or Alive, currently slated for Saturn & PS1. Rebellion is working on a new Alien vs. Predator game, and we have previews of Wing Commander Prophecy & Jedi Knight. Finally, we get a look at what will become Mega Man Legends – currently with the working title of Mega Man Neo.

The Way Games Ought To Be: Games are art! The problem is not enough people making them think that they are art. We also need to change the way we talk about games to reflect that. The dilemma editor-at-large Neil West faces is he’s criticizing studios who have put together all the visual & narrative elements of their games before first, and consider the mechanics and how the game plays to be an afterthought – without considering the opposite scenario – where you have designers who make a game where the act of playing the game is solid, but the visual and narrative that goes with the gameplay is an afterthought.

Finals (Reviews): Goldeneye 007 is out for the N64, and NextGen loves it. They’re a little less impressed with Mischief Makers (under its Japanese release) which they find overly difficult.

On the PS1, Final Fantasy VII is out and they love it – though they have some issues with how Barrett’s dialog is localized. The rest of the reviews on Sony’s platform are middle-of-the-road or lower, though Raystorm from Working Designs & Taito looks interesting, as does Runabout/Felony 11-79

For the Saturn, Sega has World Series Baseball ’98. The PC has a bunch of middle-of-the-pack titles, with Twinsen’s Odyssey and 688(I) Hunter/Killer being the standouts. Wrapping up this section, House of the Dead is out in arcades and is reviewed fairly well.

Letters: In the letters column, it seems there’s a beef between 3D Realms management and Ritual (developers of SiN) with a 3D Realms exec trying to bury Richard “Levelord” Grey’s contributions to the Duke Nukem games. It’s odd to see this level of Dirty Laundry being aired in this way.

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