Sunday, 28 June 2015

ReMEMBeR: Oct. 1999, Computer & Video Games

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Computer & Video Games
Cover Date: October 1999
Country of Origin: UK

The first century to know video games was coming to an end and one of the oldest gaming mags in the world was still out there telling us, month after month, which games to play.  We took a look at C+VG once before here at Remember, with an issue from 1984.  In the ensuing 15 years, quite a bit had changed.  Consoles had experienced a true resurgence, there was only one real computer gaming platform and the internet made a lot of "up-to-date" news sections in magazines irrelevant.  C+VG had adapted to these trends by eliminating any real dedicated news segment (except for one small column towards the back tenth of the mag) or subdivisions amongst reviews and previews based on console and computer gaming.

Also gone are the black and white pages and more comprehensive coverage of all the games being released across platforms and instead we are getting a far more focused approach to the reporting.  Big mainstream titles are getting all the coverage with many smaller titles only being mentioned if they are true stand-outs.  The big color spreads, while definitely appealing and very eye catching, do hide a bit of scarcity in the number of games covered, but if you trust them not to steer you wrong, then you will know what to play by the time you are through the mag.

 The big event of the mag is obviously the impending Dreamcast launch.  The 32/64 bit generation was winding down (the PSX had already been on the market for over four years at this point) and the promise of online gaming was already coming true on the PC, with consoles looking to take the leap.  The magazine celebrates this with a big special report on the Dreamcast which will be launching on 9/23/99 in the UK (yeah, not nearly as cool as 9/9/99).

One of the big points they make about the Dreamcast is its low price point.  A UK first, the console will launch at under £200.  The Internet capabilities are considered revolutionary for consoles and priced cheaply, as there will be no connection fee outside of the local phone calls (those of us from the states, are scratching our heads... a primer on the history of phone call pricing can be found here). 
The joypad on the other hand is already looked at a bit sceptically, with it's lack of fire buttons.  The analogue shoulder buttons are a really nice addition and the idea of a mini Gameboy storage card is innovative, but each game will take advantage of it differently (if at all). 

Ultimately the controller would be one of the consoles biggest weak points, as a dual analog stick solution would prove vital for 3D game control in the coming generation.

A series of games are reviewed as well, each with an extra box comparing it to the competition already on the market.  These reviews include Sonic Adventure (heralded as one of the best games of all time and directly compared to Mario 64), Virtua Fighter 3tb, (trounced a bit in comparison with Tekken 3 for still not having a side step function and less than eye popping graphics).

Sega Rally 2 is heralded as a great racing game, with some minor framerate issues, a bemoaned lack of online multiplayer and in comparison with Colin McRae on the PSX, it is still just an arcade racer as opposed to a rally simulator.  Power Stone is one of the big hightlights of the launch line up, adding a new side to fighting games and incorporating unlockable VMU mini-games.  A cult classic game, that failed to really catch on due to a steep learning curve.  Trick Style, a flashy mix of racing game and skateboard sim in a futuristic enviornment gets a good rating, even if the learning curve is steep (I played the Windows version of this a lot back in the day and it was a hard game to get into, albeit a lot of fun).

There is also a quick breakdown of the games planned for the first month of the systems release, including several arcade fighting games (MK4 and MvC), Sega Bass Fishing, NFL Blitz 2k, House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder and Ready 2 Rumble.
Overall, a solid launch line up, but clearly lacking in key third party support, a problem the system would never quite solve.

Another feature in the mag, which is in retrospect far more important than the Dreamcast is a multi-page look at Pokemon.  By 1999 it was growing clear that "gotta catch 'em all" fever had finally gone viral in the West and there was no way we could avoid it any longer. 

And last but not least we also get a pull out poster of a semi-nude Lara Croft... And yes, already back then I was telling kids that we had it better with Maria Whitakker

The news section, known as Scoop! is accompanied about half way through the mag by a wonderful two page spread called The Next 4 Weeks.  This gives a breakdown of important game and movie releases for the next four weeks as well as TV show scheduling.  An innovative idea in 1999, as reporting on what was became less important with the dawn of the internet and Day-1 gaming and long lines at launch increasingly become the norm.  Seeing a Duke Nukem spin-off game listed here is a real nostalgia hit (as we kept waiting for Duke Nukem Forever, and hoped one of these games would be good... they weren't.)

The core news section starts with a plea for game publishers to lower the price of games in order to fight piracy.  This is brought on by a campaign at the time by the ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publishers Association) that was linking game piracy with terrorism, organized crime, drug dealing and prostitution.   Now they may have been exaggerating just a bit at the time, but the Lara Croft endorsed ad campaign was not very helpful.  C&VG actually takes the stand that lowering game prices would actually stop this.  I'm not sure how helpful that really would have been back in the days of brick and mortar, but given the economic realities of modern apstore economics, with most games being freemium or between 99 cents and $4.99, they really were a bit ahead of their time.

Bernie Stolar
Several little bits of news also appear in the sidebar, most notably a rumor that EA may be considering developing games for the Dreamcast, after Bernie Stolar stepped down from Sega shortly before the console's US launch (he had overseen the launch of the PSX for Sony and was hired as the head of Sega of America, following the Saturn's launch failure and was perceived as a major reason for the system's poor  marketing and ultimate failure and the ensuing losses taken by many third party publishers that supported it).  This would of course not end up coming true, and EA would bring its franchises to PS2 and XBox, helping accelerate the Dreamcast's downfall.

Playstation 2 rumors abound, with the "Emotion Engine" supposedly being able to detect emotions in player voices (I guess that's where karaoke games came from...) and that Everquest may be showing up on the system (which it did in a considerably simplified form and with an HD and modem add-on requirement that brings us too... ).  A rumor that the PS2 would launch with a still to be determined built in modem... which it did not.   Also, in then current gen news, Crash Team Racing is announced to be the last Crash game for the PSX (there would be one more, but it would end up being the last Crash game by initial developers Naughty Dog).
Access All Games is a section highlighting cool screen shots from upcoming games, especially cool is a shot of Vampire: Redemption, one of my all time favorite RPGs (yes... lots of people don't like it, but it still offers one of the best multiplayer online modes ever and I still think the story kicks ass), Street Fighter Alpha for Gameboy Color (which does look kinda impressive) and an early shot of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Gaiden, an enhanced version of Ocarina of Time for the 64DD that would eventually morph into Majora's Mask.


Soul Calibur, already out in Japan at this point for the Dreamcast looks to be the killer app the system needs.  It really was an amazing experience that sold a lot of Dreamcast hardware, especially upon the US release, and is still a fun game today.

Crash Team Racing is 80% complete and getting ready for launch.  the humor and characters from the series return, and it promises to balance some of the less fair power up flaws from Mario 64.  Ultimately it was a fun racing game with a lot of personality, but it didn't manage to dethrone Nintendo from their genre dominance.

Spyro 2 appears to be a technical powerhouse pushing the ageing PSX hardware harder than pretty much any game before it.  The series that would ultimately spawn/morph into Skylanders probably didn't help the Dreamcast's chances on the market.

System Shock 2 is predicted to be a classic (they forgot the word "cult" there), N64 gets a Starcraft, while PSX gets a Rainbow Six port, Final Fantasy VIII tries to fill the humonguous shoes of its predecessor, while the editors remark that it gets us one step closer to the promised PS2 experiences of the near future.

Fighting Force 2
While Fighting Force 1, Core Design's attempt to revive the arcade style beat 'em up genre in the age of polygons, didn't really work as well as one had hoped a year earlier, it was still a nice throw back to the previous generation and fun for those of us who remembered the good old days of Final Fight and Double Dragon. 
The series' sequel though was a whole other story.  Gone were the selectable characters and the somewhat fixed viewing angle and in was the behind the character angle made popular by Tomb Raider (another Core Design game) and a high tech futuristic spy motive, inspired by Konami's Metal Gear Solid.  While C+VG had given it their cover story, their enthusiasm is clearly subdued, as they ask if it is worth playing and reason that "there aren't many games of this type in existence anymore, which is why we like it. It's a simple game that allows you to punch and kick your way into an enemy base and grab weapons to raise more hell."
Scarcity raises value aparently. 

Horror games really started to take off with the 32 bit consoles, no doubt an advantage of being able to render dark claustrophobic corridors with spooky CD music.  Resident Evil did this marvelously and Shadowman, from Acclaim was trying to cash in on this trend with a property based on an indie comic book by the same name.  The comic didn't last (owned by an Acclaim subsidiary) and only one sequel ever emerged, but Shadowman was still an impressive title at the time that gave good goose bumps.

Soccer games were coming out already in yearly increments, with F.A. Premier League Stars and Michael Owen's World League Soccer 2000 both getting just two stars each.

Soul Reaver
The second Legacy of Kain game makes the leap to the third dimension and mixes the puzzling action of Tomb Raider with a story deep enough to make any RPG jealous.  A brilliant game that even today is super playable.  Sadly it only got 4/5 stars.  Robbery if you ask me... but I'm not impartial.

G-Police 2
A fun, if albeit hard to control, scifi-cop game. Just like its predecesor, Psygnosis had a good formula here that looked awesome, had a ton of atmosphere but just couldn't figure out a good control system.

Point Blank 2
PSX gun games don't get any more straightforward than this... the game pretty much could have been realized on the 16 bit systems... but let's face it, shooting at a screen is just as fun now as it was on the original Odysee 1

And here is a classic for the ages!  Wipeout 3, the final salvo of the Wipeout series on PSX, was faster, sharper looking and just as much fun as Wipeout XL (2097 in Europe).  A brilliant racer that is still a class of its own, earning its 5 star rating with aplomb.

A PSX port of a two year old PC FMV adventure game gets pretty much written off as outdated and dull. 

On the strategy end of things (and let's face it this is still the heyday of RTS gaming) we get  Homeworld (they absolutely adored this awesome space strategy game), Comand & Conquer Tiberian Sun (they found it to be a competent, if a bit stale sequel) and Command and Conquer on the N64 (which they consider to be a pretty poor port, lacking multiplayer modes and some poor graphics). 

Game Boy Color owners get two classic conversions for the handheld that could:  Spy Vs. Spy seems a bit dull as a single player experience, but just like the C64 version 15 years earlier, it's  a blast in two player mode... is there link cable support over the web with emulation?  Seriously... kinda jonesing for some SvS action now...

And R-Type DX, one of the most accomplished GBC games of all time hits with amazing use of color and extra game modes.  A must have!

The ads in this issue of C&VG are a bit weird.  Besides about eight pages of small ads for individual mail order game shops, there are almost no ads for actual games in the magazines.

Abomonation, a Diablo-a-like goes for a few screen shots and some oddly seductive, mutant monster thing.... I'm sold.

Quake 2 comes to the PSX and aparently its undercooked... which this port really wasn't, especially with its four player multiplayer mode.

But beyond that, it just turns into a slew of ads for junkfood!  We get some weirdo eating re-hydrated noodles with his feet while his sexy girlfriend is going unsatisfied... I mean, it's like they tapped into my live cam!

Sunny Delight apparently makes white hipsters look cool playing basketball (Caution:  This is not true).

Poppets promises you a disposable camera with your candy... go ahead, document your tooth decay and early onset diabetes! (and for you kids out there, we used to have seperate devices for making phone calls and taking pictures.  And yes, this meant sending pictures of your junk to a girl was MUCH more complicated... )

And Dr. Pepper UK aparently is stealing tired old early 90's Big Johnson gags for this back cover.  I love a good pun as much as they next guy, but really?  Could you have put in at least a little bit of effort?

In Conclusion:
The century was coming to an end.  Dreamcast showed us the promise of the next generation of systems, turning the crude 3D visuals of the PSX and N64 into smooth, fancy and stylish structures.  Games were getting bigger and more complex, with a variety of strategy and tactical games from the PC trying to move into a console market that was growing more and more adult.  The professionalisation of game development meant yearly updates to sports titles were now possible, piracy could be attacked with a more cohesive industry-wide approach and the internet was coming to change how we communicated, played and interacted with one another.

And the biggest game of the year was going to be a black and white 3 year old game about catching fantasy monsters, targeted at pre-teens, on a ten year old piece of hardware.

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