Sunday, 5 April 2015

ReMEMBeR: December 1992, Electronic Games

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Electronic Games
Cover Date: December 1992
Country of Origin: USA

The grand daddy of dedicated video game magazines, Electronic Games, originally hit newsstands in 1981, in the hay day of video games' Golden Age.  The magazine gave us the first yearly award ceremony (with a Best Pong Clone category) and did establish quite a few of the tropes we would come to know and love about gaming magazines (in no small part due to the involvement of the late great and legendary gaming journalist Billy Kunkel, aka The Game Doctor)  until they pretty much died thanks to a little thing called the internet.

This issue is actually issue 3 of the revived magazine, after it was renamed Computer Entertainment following the '84 game crash. 

News:
Well what was going on way back at the tail end of 1992?

The big news in this issue is that Origin Systems, creators of the Ultima and Wing Commander franchises, is being bought up by EA for the whopping sum of $35 million. Larry Probst, then head of EA explains that the acquisition would "help launch Electronic Arts into the CD market".  Yes boys and girls, there was a time when floppy magnetic disks and chip ROM cartridges were the primary way of acquiring games and moving to a new medium was seen as a whole new market!  Then again, EA has bought up enough online and freemium companies in the last few years that you kinda have to see a real business model jump out right here.

Also this would pretty much mean that within three years Origin would cease to really exist.... another longstanding EA tradition!  We still mourn your passing Bullfrog....


In other EA news, they started a joint venture with Victor Musical Industries of Japan, a company best known for the Harvest Moon series.  Victor would take over localisation and distribution of EA games in Japan, mainly on the Mega Drive.  Wonder how many copies they actually managed to sell of Madden back then in Japan...


And because EA is SO much fun to talk about... they got sued by ESPN for their Electronic Arts Sports Network label.  The EASN was a bit too close to ESPN's ... uh... ESPN for ESPN's liking.  EASN would soon be replaced by the simple stylised EA logo with the word Sports under neath it that those of us that don't care about yearly updated rosters continue to successfully ignore to this day.

But they did manage this pretty cool Madden ad before they had to shut the logo down.

In other news, Accolade was to Sega, what Atari was to Nintendo.  Through a reverse engineering scheme and a separate label, Ballistic in this case, Accolade released several Genesis/Mega Drive titles without paying Sega their licensing fees.  Most of them were ports of computer games like Hardball!, Star Control, Turrican and The Duel: Test Drive II, but a few other games like Double Dragon and Super Off Road made in onto the label as well.  This month though we find out that a temporary injunction has been lifted, allowing Accolade to continue to sell their unlicensed carts, but sadly not in time for them to take advantage of the Christmas season.

Ultimately the case would be resolved and Ballistic would release titles such as The Lost Vikings and X-Men 2: Clone Wars on the Genesis with the Sega seal of approval.

Sierra got angry at Virgin Interactive over its comparisons between The Legend of Kyrandia and King's Quest in a series of ads as well as a blurb on the side of the game's box.


Apparently fun little stickers on the boxes were meant to make sure no one thought that they were buying a game filled with needless deaths and dull retreads of fairy tales.

And most interestingly of all Tandy tried one last attempt at relevancy in the home electronics market with the Tandy VIS.  Now I had never even heard of this device prior to reading this article.  It was a set top box based on standard PC hardware (a 286 with 1 MB of RAM and a single speed CD Rom drive, completely out dated hardware by that time), retailing for $699 and was a RadioShack exclusive.  It sounds a lot like an Amiga CDTV, but without the cool graphical flourishes an A500 could pull off.  The list of titles given for the system are mostly edutainment, with some nice additions like Future Classics Collection (one of my all time favourite titles), Loom, 7th Guest, King's Quest V and Space Quest IV.  (none of which ever seem to have been released)  The fact that the system was running with a specced down version of Windows, not dissimilar to the Dreamcast many years later, is an interesting historical footnote... and it had a wireless controller.  Gotta give it credit for that.
Here's a fun promotional video for the system... man these guys are easily impressed.


In other random bits, a third ReadySoft Dragon's Lair game was on it's way, Curse of Mordread.  Sadly it would be mainly made of bits and pieces from the arcade version of Time Warp that didn't make it into the disk based port.  A Bard's Tale board game, which doesn't seem to have seen the light of day gets announced and there's a notice of an add on card for the TurboGrafx-16 which  allows you to use Super CD games... so it's the 32X brought to you by NEC!  And Bob Jacob, of Cinemaware fame, cut a deal with his new company Bignet U.S.A. to make games based on Malibu comics characters (and no, none of those games ever got made).

And the Software Publishers Association busted a guy in Illinois for distributing pirated software over a BBS for an annual fee of $50.  So online piracy used to cost users money... man, how did those primitives survive?


Reviews:
So enough with the news... where are the games!!!

Wing Commander came home to consoles, with a technically competent SNES port, but two years after its debut on the PC, it appears to be a bit clunky.  The reviewer isn't sure the slower paced gameplay will strike a chord with the video gaming public at large, especially with Super Star Wars already on the market.  Still, the game got a respectable 85%.

Faceball 2000 gets a disturbingly positive review, with no mention of the horribly slow frame rate, or the Atari ST origins of the game.  The description of the games modes and strategies, while very promising belie the fact that it was actually an unplayable slide show on the SNES with the giant bullets causing seizure inducing flicker.  78%?  I think not sir!  Good day to you!

I said GOOD DAY!!!!

Spider-Man faces off against the Sinister Six in a game that was painfully bad but gets the strong endorsement of being "moderately entertaining" by the reviewer... and 72%?!?  OK, I'm starting to re-evaluate my expectations in regards to scores in this mag.

Death Valley Rally, a Road Runner licensed game by Sunsoft gets a whopping 92% thanks largely to its graphics and animation.  The reviewer admits the game  is that the "difficulty level is a little high for the younger gamers who will inevitably be attracted to this title."  Well, unless he is thinking of 38 year old gamers as "younger" he has a straight up insane view of how difficult a game should be.  This thing is absolutely murder with such an unbelievably floaty control system, massive sprites that make knowing where you'll land or seeing obstacle coming almost impossible and a very annoying habit of having you just fall through platforms for no apparent reason.

My god this mags rating system is busted....

Finally a game worthy of a decent score:  Rampart for the SNES.  While the mode 7 option that got added doesn't add much to the game, the port is top notch and gets a deserved 87%.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 gets reviewed with an admirable 91% Two player options are welcome additions to the game, although I can't shake the feeling that the reviewer doesn't like Tails... then again, who did, really?

Tyrants, the Genesis port of the Sensible Software Amiga classic Mega-Lo-Mania.  The basic gameplay remains unchanged from the original and the well balanced difficulty curve, technology trees and long term strategic element of trying to conquer islands with as few humans as possible all get positive mentions.  A strategy game for the rest of us, and duly rewarded with 82%.

Super Mario Kart also gets reviewed in these pages and gets a whopping 93% score... at least it beat out Death Valley Rampage... by 1%!

On the computer front we have Gobliiins from Coktel Vision which is fairly assessed as being a good looking game, that is horribly unfair in the way your energy is drained and can lead to massive frustration but for all but the hardiest players (or those with a trainer).

A similar warning goes to those about to play Darklands, the realistic medieval RPG from Microprose.  The game is a bit of a cult classic and the reviewer truly has identified that potential for the game, saying it may be too much for the casual RPG fan, but the hardcore should jump in immediately, if they have the whopping system requirements of 2 MB of RAM, a Hard Drive and a VGA card!  And don't forget DOS 5.0 and a mouse.  90%.  I can get behind that one.

Even the Amiga got some love in this issue with a review of seminal open world game Hunter.  Now there aren't any pictures of the game, but it does mention the 17 different vehicles you can use, the complex plot and immersive 3D world.  93%... not sure I feel comfortable with it being rated the same as Mario Kart though... guess that's what happens when your average rating is 85%+.

CD games, irrespective of console or computer, get their own section in the mag, even if there are only two titles, but we do get the classic Night Trap for the Sega CD.  The game is heralded as a great omen for Sega's CD add-on.  Granted they seem really enthralled with the sheer notion of playing "with real people" and of seeing Dana Plato again.  I guess at the time it really must have felt amazing, but the fact that they have to say that "it is suggested that players take extensive notes as to what is going on where and at what time, so that the game can be played through later, hopping from room to room, trapping the bad guys" means that there's no actual way of beating it without massive amounts of memorization and even note taking... OK for RPGs but for this?  Seems like a lot of effort.

Features:

The main editorial, as well as a later article discuss Fanzines and the Editor's crusade to fight against corporate run fan clubs and make sure that a true grassroots based fan community develops around the video gaming hobby.  Somehow he seems to think that if gamers don't unite to a community big publishers will simply manipulate us into some kind of hellish organized mob like activity, brainwashing us into believing their trite advertising slogans... wait, that is kinda how it works isn't it?

While admirable in theory it comes off as a bit of a daft idea that only makes sense if video games forever stay a small niche market and game review magazines can't be trusted... then again maybe he's telling us we can't trust HIS mag!  Given the ratings system, they may be right.

I'd love to hear his take on civil discourse in modern video game player forums... oh yeah giving them a voice was a GREAT idea!

There is also a fun little look at the evolving world of pinball games, which continue to incorporate more and more digital technology, adding story modes and becoming more like video games.  Sadly this renaissance of love for the silver ball would be short lived, and by 1999 there would only be one manufacturer of the devices on the planet.

In a more forward thinking vein we get an article about The Sierra Network.  A pre-Internet online service from Sierra.  The article describes the various games available but seems to be most impressed with the community aspect of the service, where people can really get to know one another via gaming (I can't help but feel that the editors are really pushing the social aspect of gaming throughout the mag... possibly as a reaction to the burgeoning anti-violence in games movement of the time, or maybe just against the image of the lonely anti-social nerd... hard to say).  Still it would have been fun to jump into a multiplayer bout in Yserbius, the online Eye of the Beholder clone or do some online dogfighting in Red Baron back in the day.

Speaking of Red Baron, there's an interview with Jeff Tunnell about him leaving Dynamix to start JTP and their first big game The Incredible Machine (and a Windows 3.1 screen saver at "its low $34.95 price"... my god, did anyone actually pay money for that kinda crap?  Was it that hard to turn off your damn monitor?!?!)

A 14 page guide to consoles is also included in the issue, giving a comprehensive rundown of the then current systems (Genesis, SNES, TG16, NeoGeo, SegaCD and NES).  While the NES's days are clearly numbered and the 16 battle rages, it's clear that the editors are not really taken in by CD technology for the 16 bit generation and are counting down the days until the 32 bit systems can take advantage of it (the Jaguar is already mentioned, with well deserved scepticism, as well as NEC's next system, no doubt the Japan exclusive, and pretty forgettable PC-FX and Electronic Arts is mentioned as the driving force behind the 3DO, which sounds like they misunderstood Trip Hawkins involvement as being synonymous with EA being behind the machine).


Ads:
And of course the most fun to be had in any old gaming mag is the Advertisements!

The Gameboy is still all the rage in 1992, three years after its initial release.  So why not have a guy with no ass and horrid taste in baggy shirts sell your portable flight sim game?  Seriously, is that the front or the back of his pants?  I can't tell.

A PC RPG staple, Might & Magic, makes its way to the NES, thanks to Sammy.  The computer variants success in Japan no doubt contributing to their development of the NES port. 

And Ys III makes it's way to the SNES.  The age of the console RPG in North America was dawning.


The magazine's split focus on both computer and console games is not lost on the advertisers.  Sierra has a series of one page ads throughout the book, covering amongst many others King's Quest VI (with some some bondage dude with the world's most narly afro), the Dynamix line of Flight Sims and The Sierra Network.


Sega is pimping SegaCD games, with an ad for the FMV monstrosities C+C Music Factory and Kris Kross Make your own Video, Sewer Shark and ... uh... Chuck Rock and Hook?  Wait, how did two sprite based games make it into this mix?!?!  Oh, they're all published by Sony Imagesoft... talk about stretching your ad dollar.

Sports Games used to appear from more than just one company, as evidenced by an avalanche of LJN/Acclaim/Flying Edge games on one page.

Spaceward Ho! a deeply engrossing, but dreadfully number intensive, turn based strategy game about interstellar conquest is sold with the kind of panache we would normally reserve for Old Spice ads.  I LOVE IT!!!

And an early ad for Dune II, the game that would give us the RTS genre... oh, Westwood, you made all my Frank Herbert fanboy dreams come true.

And last but not least, LJN, while disappointing us with horrid games based on movies, does deliver a geek gasm of crossover superlative goodness with a joint two page ad for games based on three separate franchises which would ever only meet in comic book form more than a decade later.
In Conclusion:
December 1992 was a time of hope.  Consoles had successfully made the jump from one successful generation to the next without a repeat of the 1984 crash, 32 bit systems were on their way, legal quarrels between publishers and system manufacturers were being resolved, amicable coexistence amongst gaming enthusiasts seemed on the verge of happening, arcades were alive and well and CD technology and online services were hinting at a bright future for the industry.

The Bit-Wars, DLC madness, Pay-to-Win Freemium gaming, the death of the arcade, the rise of the online flamer and the many shake ups and consolidations yet ahead were all just beyond the horizon.

A simpler time...

You can read the full issue here.

See you next month!

9 comments:

  1. Really great article! That video clip was just amazing! I can't believe we actually once considered that as relevant media...lol

    Great read, loved it all.

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  2. Great article Karl. There are some real classic games mentioned here. I for one love the Gobliiins game, I've played through the first three games and really enjoyed them.

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  3. Really great article! That video clip was just amazing! I can't believe we actually once considered that as relevant media...lol
    Great read, loved it all.
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