Where I Read

NextGen #35 (November 1997)

Almost caught up with Nintendo Power – just 1-2 issues away (depending on how you count it).

Cover: This issue they’re featuring 25 games that will change the way you play games, either through technological or gameplay innovations.

Industry Interview: Our interview is with Steve Grand of Cyberlife, the creator of Creatures. Steve is their Director of technology. The interview focuses on their research in Artificial Life, which feels like an evolutionary dead-end in gaming, though Grand (whose company is invested in this) views Artificial Life as the future.

News: We have a look at Sega’s new project – Dural – which the company is working on making it easier to develop for, to improve the products of that console after facing various issues with developers writing for the Saturn. Meanwhile, VM Labs & Jeff Minter are working on a new console architecture, code-named “Project X” to try & beat the N64.

Tokyo Game Show 1997 has come and gone, with the Playstation having a strong showing. ECTS was around the same time in Europe, NextGen’s Colin Campbell paints a picture of Nintendo blowing the whole continent off.

Toolbox: We have a new column on tools used for game design, this time focusing on 3D Studio MAX.

Joyriding: The focus this issue is on how online multi-player services need a killer app to be successful. Ironically, approaching with the hindsight of the 2020s (ha-ha), what this industry has learned in the past 26 years is that on the development side, partitioning your player base across multiple services (whether they’re PC services or across consoles), hurts your player pool, which is why all these tiny individual services (HEAT, TEN, etc.) eventually folded on PC, and why we’re slowly getting cross-play on consoles.

Movers & Shakers: Reporter Colin Campbell talks at length about how reporters should continue to ask the tough questions – framed from a consumer advocacy angle. This is significant, from the context of discussing the changes in games media, as over the years we’ve also gone to them asking the tough questions from a workers’ rights angle as well (as Patrick Klepick and others at Waypoint – RIP – have done), and from a historical preservation standpoint (as the VGHF has done).

This fits into the preservation of game ephemera in a way – it’s important to talk about the ways in which have talked about video games in the past – not just in terms of what was said, but what our attention was focused on. It may be embarrassing how in the past we would focus on talking about video games from a “Consumer Reports” (like the magazine) standpoint – instead of an artistic criticism standpoint, and how in turn this led to normalizing ignoring racially insensitive or misogynist or objectifying content. We’ll get into this a little more in issue #36.

Retroview: Steve Kent tells the story of Owen Rabin’s “Tunnel Hunt”.

A few quick ad notes this issue – we’re getting into the late ’90s-early ’00s anime bubble, leading to ads to the first Armitage The Third movie (with a dub starring Kiefer Sutherland), alongside the Ghost in the Shell game.

25 Breakthrough Games: This is our cover article – focusing on games that NextGen thinks will be (no pun intended) “game changers” – some of which aren’t out yet. I’ll list the games, along with a few notes on why they chose to include them (and maybe a little editorialization). This list is in alphabetical order.

  • Battlezone: The combination of strategy and action, along with the complexity serves as an indicator of the pendulum swinging in the favor of computers.
  • Blade Runner: The characters move on their own internal clock, along with having expressive models that will play into the search for Replicants and the use of the VK Test, which shows a focus on the presentation of the performances of digital characters.
  • Burning Rangers: The most innovative game on the Saturn, which pushes the system graphically to its limits, combined with some untested design ideas.
  • Die by the Sword: The game is included for its way of handling weapon use in combat.
  • Fire Team: An online multiplayer game designed for short bursts and a variety of gameplay scenarios.
  • Fly by Wire: A possible killer app for the PS1 Dual Analog controller – also made by a small dev team.
  • Galapagos: A mix of artificial life and a God Game.
  • G. Police: A 3D game in a dense futuristic environment with a sense of style.
  • Grand Prix Legends: Super-realistic simulation of historic racing.
  • Half-Life: Well-written storyline, sophisticated enemy AI, and a big overhaul of the Quake Engine.
  • I-War (released in the US as Independence War): Does a lot with software rendering instead of being dependent on a particular video card model.
  • Jedi Knight: Engaging first-person melee combat in a FPS.
  • Mask of Eternity: Doing a King’s Quest-style graphical adventure in a polygonal engine.
  • Messiah: Mainly the game’s character engine.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Fleshed out environments combined with well-implemented stealth.
  • Myth: Real-time strategy with 3D armies & environments.
  • Prey: More abstract level environments.
  • Quake 2: The graphical improvements to the Quake Engine.
  • Skies: Non-fantasy MMO.
  • StarCraft: Significant shifts from the Warcraft formula.
  • 10^Six: Oh dear Christ this game’s thing is Proto-NFTs – re-sellable virtual items with special ownership tracking.
  • Trespasser: Innovative level environments conveying being on Isla Nublar.
  • Ultima Online: The killer app for MMOs (until Everquest comes out).
  • Zelda 64: Moving the Legend of Zelda concept & polygonal gameplay.
  • Zork Grand Inquisitor: Adapting Zork well to a graphical, indeed polygonal environment.

They also give 5 “also rans” with at least a few of them being in hindsight (and some cases not even close to hindsight – they should have known at the time) snubs. My editorializations are in parentheses.

  • Tomb Raider 2: “More of the same” (Ooo-kay).
  • Resident Evil 2: Ditto (Also ditto – this is a much larger and more immersive environment, combined with the game changing based on the order in which each character’s story is played).
  • Unreal: “No gameplay innovation, just a good game engine” (So what’s Quake 2 then?)
  • Daikatana: “Need to see final execution.” (Fair enough).
  • Riven: “Myst isn’t a game, neither is this.” (Bullshit).

Alphas (Previews): DreamWorks is working on their first big game – Trespasser, a game sequel to The Lost World. The game is meant to be very immersive – you view your inventory by looking at what you’re carrying on your person. Game physics is also meant to be a big deal. The game also appears to be aiming at being this era of gaming’s Crisis, in terms of detail and horsepower needed to run it well. I suspect this is something of an over-reach.

Our first corporate profile is Sony Music Entertainment, who previously published Kileak, and is currently working on Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. There’s also a mech game in process – Speed Power Gunbike (the first game developed by Inti Creates). The profile paints them as the developer, when, again, Gunbike is developed by Inti Creates, and Tenchu is developed by Acquire.

We have another corporate profile, this time of Atari Games, which is now owned by Midway. This includes previews of Rush the Rock (the sequel to San Francisco Rush), and 3D fighter The “Juke” Project., along with an interview with Atari’s current president, Dan Van Eldren, who is focusing the company on Arcade machines.

Our third corporation is developer Metropolis, from Poland, and is working on a game based on The Witcher – this will eventually be shelved and CD Projekt will get the rights later. They are also working on a console RPG-inspired game which I think will eventually become Gorky 17.

Moving into individual games, there’s a preview of Quest 64, which is an attempt to make a proper RPG on the N64. The RPGs continue with Panzer Dragoon Saga on the Saturn – set in the universe of the Panzer Dragoon games.

There’s also a more in-depth preview of 10^Six, which is basically a mix of MULE and massively multiplayer shooter, with the ability to make real-money transactions for in-game items from your fellow players.

Psygnosis is also working on a mob strategy game titled Respect Inc, which does eventually come out – apparently in Russia and from someone else.

Finally, Square is working on a couple of games – a RTS version of Front Mission titled Front Mission Alternative, and then a shoot-em-up with Einhander.

The Way Games Ought To Be: The discussion here is on moments from recent games where all the elements of the game, mechanically and aesthetically, come together to make something special.

Finals (Reviews): Just one N64 game in this issue – Tetrisphere, which overcomplicated the formula.

On PlayStation, we have a bunch of great titles – Abe’s Odyssee, Ace Combat 2, PaRappa The Rapper, and NFL GameDay ’98, just to name a few. Some of the lower-scoring games which still caught my interest are Croc (from Argonaut, the StarFox creators), Ghost in the Shell (from the developers of Jumping Flash), Herc’s Adventure (LucasArts adopting the Zombies Ate My Neighbors structure to ancient Greece) and Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha.

The Saturn has a trio of titles. We have two fighting games – Last Bronx and Marvel Super Heroes, both of which review well, though NG’s implicit bias against sprite-based games is showing, as it gets a lower score and is described as “not being any different from Street Fighter II”. On the other side, there’s Saturn Bomberman, which has a 10-player multiplayer mode.

On the PC, there’s the adventure game Atlantis: The Lost Tales, a very buggy adaptation of TSR’s Dragon Dice, and X-Com Apocalypse.

Letters: We have a letter talking about the growing market for arcades for grown-ups – nobody’s using the term “Bar-cade” yet.

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