Where I Read

NextGen #36 (December 1997)

I’m finally caught up with where we are with Nintendo Power (though not with this month’s issue, but that’ll do).

Cover of NextGen #36, showing a wall outlet with a cord unplugged, with the text "The Game Machine of the Year"

Cover: The Game Machine of the Year – is this the year of the PC?

Industry Interview: This time it’s Jeremy Smith of Core Design, talking about Tomb Raider & Lara Croft. This leads to some discussion of how Lara – as a character – became famous outside the game. As someone whose commute used to take me past a Louis Vuitton store where Lightning (from Final Fantasy XIII) was the spokesmodel for an ad campaign, it’s interesting to see where this all started. That said, Smith also mentions that he’s turned down product placement deals with various fashion companies (in particular some hiking boots). In a weird way, taking the sponsorship deal might actually have helped deflect some of the concerns about the sexism – having Lara hocking products for women, particularly fashion, would have contrasted strongly with being a sexy character exclusively targeted at men (especially with all the cheesecake images that they’ve used in marketing materials.

There’s some discussion of the sexism related to Lara’s presentation, and Smith briefly tries to deflect before heavily doubling down – he repeatedly refers to both the character of Lara Croft and her spokesmodel Rhona Mitra repeatedly as “birds with great tits” which is really gross.

NextGen's obituary of Gunpei Yokoi.

News: We have what is probably the first big obituary of the video game industry, as Gunpei Yokoi has tragically died in a car accident. I remember reading about this online when the story broke, and probably one of the Video Game News’ first “Oh, we need to have a VIP obit like what the New York Times has” kind of moments.

On a lighter note, we have a discussion of “holographic storage” for data storage, and what this might mean for games. Currently, most holographic storage research focuses on large storage solutions for the cloud, so we’re not there yet. Meanwhile, Nintendo is doing a price cut for games by 15% to make the platform more appealing to consumers & publishers. Also, GT Interactive, Activision, and EA are buying up smaller studios.

Meanwhile, Sega is providing some PC specs to developers to work with while they get Project Dural dev kits ready. Acclaim has shut down its Japanese division, which apparently has also manufactured a surplus of about 175k Japanese N64 Turok carts. Going from current eBay prices, it looks like a Japanese and US loose Turok cart goes at about the same price.

Toolbox: We look at two dev tools – Catalyst and Torch. They take VRML object files, let you build simple environments with them, and add lighting. It doesn’t look like a full engine as described (from a game dev standpoint), but it’s nearly there.

Joyriding: Total Entertainment Network is trying to create a pro-gaming league (reminding you that E-Sports isn’t just a 21st-century idea).

Retroview: this time, we get the story of the Vectrex, and how it brought down Milton Bradley.

1997 In Review: We get the current state of the video game industry, and each of the related platforms, starting with the ascendance of the PC. In addition to the current state of each platform, we get a list of games released for that platform over 1997, and a score (which is compared to the previous year’s score)

  • PlayStation: Not as strong as last year, as it’s got some more power full opponents, but it’s still got that really strong install base.
  • N64: Also dropping off from last year, but that’s mainly due to third parties not latching on to the system.
  • Saturn: The Saturn also has dropped off, which is especially bad considering they weren’t doing well last year either.
  • PC: No scores are given for the PC, but it’s clear PCs are doing very well, even if they’re more expensive than the competition.

Which Way to the Underground: Where are the indy/underground games? The article seeks to answer that and discusses what’s needed for an indy developer to get started. It’s often obsolete in this age of digital distribution, and how console manufacturers have embraced indy developers, opening up consoles as a marketplace for prospective developers, but this is still useful to look at from a historical context, considering NextGen’s close industry ties. The article comes with a couple of nice interviews with Kazutoshi Jida and the late Kenji Eno (which reminds me how bummed I am that much of his Shane Bettenhausen’s interview with Eno at 1up has been lost).

Alphas (Previews): We’re starting off with a big one with Grim Fandango, Lucasarts take on the graphical adventure game with 3D graphics. This includes a brief interview with Tim Schafer. Also, Interstate ’76 is getting a prequel with Vigilante 8 – this time on consoles.

Speaking of high-profile games, we have a preview of Gran Turismo, which ends up being something of a system seller. Probably the more notable preview of an unshipped game (at least to me) is Elric the Necromancer, which is based on the novels by Michael Moorcock.

The Way Games Ought to Be: This issue argues that there is no such thing as a good licensed game. No, there is such a thing (Duck Tales, Alien 3 on 16-bit consoles, TMNT 2 the arcade game & TMNT 4, etc.) – it’s that it’s just hard to make them – you need someone with a passion for the source material, good development skills, and a solid sense of what makes a good game.

Finals (Reviews): We finally have multiple N64 games. The best scored of these is San Francisco Rush, with the others being Aero Fighters Assault, Clay Fighter 63 1/4, and F1 Pole Position 64 – so one really great game, a couple of middle-of-the-road games, and one that’s just dogshit.

On the PlayStation, we have Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which thankfully doesn’t get ragged for being 2D. The other major titles are Mega Man X4, Moto Racer, NHL ’98 (and with it Face Off ’98), and Namco’s SCUBA-diving action game Treasures of the Deep. EA also has Nuclear Strike, which I think is the final installment of the Strike series.

The Saturn basically only has one big title – Bust-A-Move 3.

For the PC, we’ve got Broken Sword 2, the Smoking Mirror, and the PC port of Legacy of Kain, which looks like a poor-quality port, which is unfortunate. More significantly, there are Jedi Knight and Total Annihilation, two major titles in their genres. Finally, there’s Starfleet Academy, which the reviewer recognizes as being a port of the SNES game, but with better graphics and FMV cutscenes.

Finally, in arcades, MK4 is out.

Letters: With some of the disappointment in the localization of Barrett in Final Fantasy VII, there’s a discussion of how video games need better representation of Black people – an issue that persists in 2023, though things have improved considerably.