Saturday, January 28, 2017

Gaming Ads: Acclaim Entertainment

After scanning all of my magazines Acclaim ranks third in total ads with only Sega and Electronic Arts topping them. Although there are some great games based on comic book, movie, and television properties, many people are under the impression that licensed games are terrible. There is a reason for that as many licensed games are terrible, especially those published in the '90s, and Acclaim is one of the companies responsible for that. Founded in 1987, Acclaim churned out a lot of licensed games though you won't see all of them in this update as it published them under a variety of names, including its Flying Edge brand and two companies it acquired in the early '90s: Arena Entertainment and LJN. WWF, The Simpsons, and Spider-Man are three of the biggest licenses Acclaim released games for.

It's worth noting that Acclaim did publish some good games as it handled many of the home ports for Midway's Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam series'. Another highlight is Criterion Software's Burnout and Burnout 2, both published by Acclaim. Fittingly, the last game Acclaim published is based on the WWE wrestling license; Showdown: Legends of Wrestling released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Flickr album: Acclaim Entertainment

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Virtual Reality in the '90s

In the past year we've seen the official releases of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR virtual reality (VR) headsets. However, these aren't the first VR devices for gaming as a number of attempts at VR were made in the '90s. I've put together a quick overview with articles taken from my magazine collection and I'm including some links to a few worthwhile videos as well.

Electronic Gaming Monthly's
1993 Preview Guide
Sega's VR headset designed for use with the Genesis (or Mega Drive if you prefer) is well-known as images of the prototype made many appearances in articles and a working version was shown off at the 1993 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). From the articles and the video footage taken at CES it would appear that Sega was very close to releasing the headset and at an affordable price of $200. I'm sure I would have purchased it if given the chance but it never did find its way to retail.

Sega Visions August/September 1993
Sega's own magazine Sega Visions has a great article detailing how it works. They even have short descriptions of the first four games that were expected to release for the headset. Nuclear Rush, which was to be the pack-in title, has players piloting a hovercraft through a radioactive wasteland. The other three listed are Iron Hammer, Matrix Runner, and Outlaw Racing.

From Youtube user DigitalNeohuman, this is camcorder footage taken of Sega's VR presentation given at the aforementioned 1993 Consumer Electronics Show:

Two years later Atari unveiled their VR headset that was developed by Virtuality for the Jaguar console. Atari planned to release the accessory in the winter of 1995 but the Jaguar was not selling well so it's not too surprising that the headset was ultimately canceled.

Electronic Gaming
Monthly #71
Electronic Gaming
Monthly #74

Despite not being released, two headsets and one game do exist. The two headsets are not the same though as one is an earlier version than the other. Here is an interview from 2010 with the owner of the second, more complete, headset posted by Youtube user 8comicbooknerd9 (the video is about nine minutes but the interview is only five minutes with the rest of the time spent displaying still images):

Electronic Gaming
Monthly #64
The are a couple of released video game platforms that may be referenced as virtual reality but I wouldn't consider them to be. One is Nintendo's Virtual Boy which is a bulky portable system that may have the appearance of a VR headset but does not have the features of one. The system features red vector-like graphics over a black background and stereoscopic 3D that makes the user feel as if they are looking into the distance. However, there is no head tracking as the system must be placed on a table and not moved during play.

I do have some less than exciting first hand experience with the Virtual Boy. Shortly before it was released I was working in a toy store and the Nintendo representative that visited the store to change out the games in the demo kiosks brought the Virtual Boy with her to preview for retailers. I only got to play Red Alarm, a shooter with a viewpoint from behind a spaceship. As I recall during my brief play time I struggled to get a good feeling for the 3D and crashed into objects often. While I didn't get to play it much at all, it's not hard to see why critics reviewed it poorly and consumers never warmed up to it. The Virtual Boy was discontinued less than a year after it's August 1995 release in North America.

I don't expect Nintendo's ad campaign helped much.

Electronic Gaming
Monthly #77
The other game platform is referred to as virtual reality in an article from Electronic Gaming Monthly but based on product descriptions I'd say it's far from it. Tiger Electronics, makers of numerous handheld liquid crystal display (LCD) games, released the R-Zone in 1995. It's basically a LCD platform but with a head-mounted display and separate gamepad.

Computer users saw quite a few more investments in virtual reality than video game players and that hardware is more comparable to today's products. You can read about Virtual Vision's glasses in the EGM Preview Guide article posted up top with the Sega VR coverage and Greystone Technologies' work below the Virtual Boy article in the image above taken from EGM #64. Here are two more short articles from Electronic Gaming Monthly about a couple of types of VR glasses:

Lastly we have the VFX1 from Forte. I'd say the VFX1 is the most interesting virtual reality system from the '90s. It was released in 1995 and functions similarly to what was released in 2016. The headset can track the user's head movement, it has built-in stereo headphones, and a unique controller. What it lacks are games made specifically for VR and, being from 1995, the graphics couldn't exactly produce realistic environments in games. SiliconClassics produced a video that provides a great look at the VFX1 (the first three minutes and 50 seconds provide a VR overview):

It's surprising to see just how many companies tried their hand at virtual reality during the '90s but not surprising that all of the products were either canceled in the late stages of development or did not perform well at retail. The technology wasn't quite ready for what people were envisioning and VR all but disappeared from gaming for about 20 years. Some may still believe it's a gimmick and maybe the cost of the hardware will keep many big budget, VR-only games from being made in the near future. However, virtual reality will likely stick around this time as technology improves at a rapid pace and its uses outside of gaming continue to grow. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Gaming Ads: Access Software

Access Software, founded by Bruce Carver in 1982, is best known for the Links golf games and Tex Murphy adventure series. I remember playing Mean Streets, the first Tex Murphy game, on the Commodore 64 for eight hours straight, getting stuck, and never going back to it. I'm fairly certain I was near the end but just couldn't figure out what to do. This was before there the Internet and when you got stuck on a game back then you either had to figure it out yourself, find a magazine with a strategy guide, or fail. Perhaps my save file still works and I'll go back and finally finish it at some point as I'm sure the answer is online today or maybe I can actually figure it out myself now.

When you think of Links you might think first of Microsoft and that's because Microsoft purchased Access in 1999 and continued the series, as well as re-published many of the earlier Links games. Microsoft renamed Access to Salt Lake Games Studio and had the studio develop its first console games for the Xbox (Amped, Top Spin). In 2004 Microsoft sold the developer to Take-Two Interactive and its name was changed to Indie Built. The developer continued to work on the Amped and Top Spin series before being shut down in 2006. Some of the employees who worked for the studio over the years would later found Big Finnish Games in 2012 and release Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure in 2014.

Flickr album: Access Software

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Nintendo Switch

I find console launches are always fun even if it's a system I'm not particularly interested in so I figured I'd give my thoughts on Nintendo's upcoming Switch console. They finally unveiled the release date (March 3rd) and price ($299.99) two days ago. Although March was the month many expected for the launch, the end of the month seemed more likely as the 3rd is a little sudden at less than two months away. The system itself looks like a cross between a Wii U and a 3DS with the ability to use the new gamepad similarly to a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and take games on the go by disembarking the console from the dock to play them on a controller with a touch-screen. As is typical with Nintendo, local multiplayer is a focal point and the system's portability along with the new controllers will help get more players involved in every gaming session. Up to eight Switch consoles can be used together and the new gamepad can be split between two players.

Unfortunately, the price could be a little high in comparison to the competition and the accessory prices are going to eat into everyone's game budget. The retail launch titles are on the weak side too. The lineup includes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Bomberman R, 1-2-Switch, Skylanders Imaginators, and Just Dance 2017. Zelda is obviously the key game and is likely enough to sell plenty of systems. However, some fans might opt to get the game for the Wii U, a console they likely purchased specifically for this game. Bomberman is a welcome surprise with Konami being one of the last publishers one might have thought to find here (due to their handling Metal Gear Solid V and moving the company's focus toward gambling machines). 1-2-Switch appears to be the typical platform demo type of game, showing off something new with a variety of mini-games along the lines of Wii Sports and Nintendo Land. Skylanders Imaginators and Just Dance 2017 are the standard 4-6 month old games from other platforms looking for a few extra sales.

Remember these? Some good, some not so good.
If you missed LEGO City Undercover it's coming
to the Switch too, and most other platforms.
I would have expected more PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games to find their way into the Switch launch. Perhaps the sales during the Wii U's launch convinced some publishers that it wasn't worth the cost to develop a bunch of ports or they don't believe it's worth competing with Zelda at launch. Maybe with a March console launch it might be better to wait for the summer dry spell before unleashing a flurry of last year's games with updated content. Of course, it might just be too difficult to get most PS4/Xbox games to work on the Switch. There is definitely nothing wrong with quality over quantity, though it's always nice to have a variety of genres at launch since everyone likes different types of games. Plus, beyond Zelda the quality may be lacking. Bomberman could be great but it's also likely only fun with a few players.

Will there even be a good variety of original content post-launch? Nintendo themselves tend to recycle their own franchises over and over which has worked well for them, and they did add one new successful property on the Wii U in Splatoon. Third-party support is still important, however, if Nintendo wants the Switch to be a lot more successful than the Wii U. A number of publishers have pledged support to the Switch but will they release more than one game if sales of their first title are not good enough? Will we primarily see ports from third parties? Ubisoft will follow up Just Dance 2017 with Steep and Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition. More ports, awesome! I had a hard time getting into Steep; it was fun to mess around with the wingsuit but as big as the area to explore is I got tired of it rather quickly. Rayman Legends is one of the best of a solid platform series so if the fans want to play it again with some exclusive content, they'll need a Switch.

Puyo Puyo Tetris
Sega announced their upcoming multi-platform Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Mania, will release for the Switch, as will the puzzle game Puyo Puyo Tetris. I'd say Sega is a safe bet to stick with the Switch throughout its life cycle. They'll likely continue to pump out Sonic games that will always be at home on Nintendo's hardware. Sega subsidiary Atlus announced they're working on a new Shin Megami Tensei title for the console.

Electronic Arts put Mass Effect 3 on the Wii U at launch but recently BioWare stated they have no plans to release Mass Effect: Andromeda (also releasing in March) on the Switch. That's too bad as it's a popular series that is a nice change of pace to many of the games announced for the Switch. Instead EA was at the Switch presentation to let everyone know they would support the console with their next FIFA game release. FIFA is one of the most popular game franchises and it never hurts to have a solid library of sports games on any console.

Bethesda also made an appearance to back the Switch with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim is a great game, or it was when I played it in 2011 on the Xbox 360 and PC. Okay, I'm sure it's still a lot of fun but when the game releases in the fall it will be six years old and is that really what the Switch needs during its first holiday season? Many gamers will have already dedicated 100+ hours to Skyrim and it's asking a lot for RPG fans to buy the game again, especially if the MSRP is $59.99 (not sure if it is finalized but retailers do have pre-orders set to that price).

Super Mario Odyssey
There were more games announced by other publishers as well that you can check out over at Nintendo's website. We'll just have to wait and see how well the ports and other third-party releases perform. Even though third-party support is important for retail success (more games = more shelf space and attention by retailers), Nintendo will surely find continued success with their first-party titles. A few more things Nintendo mentioned are that the console will be region free which is great and the online service will be a free trial until the fall at which time it will be a subscription model. They also stated:

Subscribers will get to download and play a Nintendo Entertainment System™ (NES) or Super Nintendo Entertainment System™ (Super NES) game (with newly-added online play) for free for a month.

Nobody knows exactly how to interpret that. My guess is that users do not get to own the game they choose to play for a month, and then the next month they can either choose the same game or a different game. It's also very possible a game can only be chosen one time because Nintendo likely wants to hook players into buying every game they try. One thing Nintendo is not great at is sharing their older titles; they'd rather nickel and dime their fans over and over again. My suggestion would be to give out a free NES and/or Super NES game to own every month to subscribers. If Nintendo wants to do the select-one-game-per-month plan they should do that with all of their games beyond the 16-bit generation. In any case, they really do need to leverage their back catalog better. The fact that they've been making games for as long as they have gives them an edge over the competition that they haven't taken great advantage of.

Although I poke fun at the ports and might be a little sarcastic at times, I do hope Nintendo and the third-party publishers do well with the Switch. No video game fan should ever want to see a game or console fail. More games is always a good thing and more competition benefits all of us.

Gaming Ads: Absolute Entertainment

Absolute Entertainment was founded by former Activision employees in 1986. You can see some of the founder's names in their game titles, such as David Crane's A Boy and His Blob and Garry Kitchen's Battletank. David Crane is best known as the designer of Pitfall! while Garry Kitchen created GameMaker for Activision. Absolute made a number of original games but they did lean more heavily on ports and licensing deals during the few years preceding their closure in 1995.

Flickr album: Absolute Entertainment

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Gaming Ads: The 3DO Company

Originally founded in 1991 as San Mateo Software Games by Trip Hawkins, The 3DO Company designed the 3DO game console while other companies -- most notably Panasonic -- built the hardware. The system launched in 1993 at a very high price point of $699.99. There was plenty of competition from Sega and Nintendo at the time and Sony was not far behind, entering the video game market in 1995 (1994 in Japan) with the PlayStation and its $299.99 price. In 1996 the 3DO console was discontinued while The 3DO Company found some success as a software developer and publisher. It is best known for the development of the Army Men and High Heat Baseball games.

Flickr album: The 3DO Company

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome to Vault 1541!

I've never blogged before and putting everything together has been a bit overwhelming, though it has also been a long time coming as I've kicked around ideas in my head for nearly three years now. As the about section mentions, I started scanning my video game magazine collection in 2014 with a goal of building a website around that. However, after putting together a couple partial sites using web building services I decided it wasn't going to work out well and would likely be too expensive due to the storage space I require.

Just a few of my game magazines.
As I came across toy ads within the game magazines I also started thinking about my toy collection. I have a collection of toys from the '80s that sit in a basement in boxes and I thought it could be fun to explore them with others. Making YouTube videos might be challenging as I'm not the best speaker but my hope is people will at least get a kick out of seeing some of the old toys they played with when they were younger and perhaps enjoy viewing them with their own kids.

Although the focus is on video games and toys of the '80s and '90s, I play a lot of modern video games and will sometimes post about what I'm currently playing. As I write this I haven't set anything else up yet but along with the YouTube channel (I probably won't have videos up for a while), I expect to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts soon. There are likely newer apps people use but I don't want to have to run too many things.

Before I sign off let me tell you a little about myself. I was born in 1975 and grew up in a small town in Connecticut. Like many kids who grew up in the '80s I'm a big Star Wars fan. While I've got many Star Wars toys, my favorite is Hasbro's 3 3/4" G.I. Joe toy line. I should point out that when I do get YouTube started it will have many toys that were marketed toward boys but it won't exclusively be about action figures.

Myself surrounded by my game collection in the late '90s.
I got hooked on video games when my family got an Intellivision console which must have been in 1981 since we got the PlayCable service at the same time. After that I was mostly a Sega kid and don't have a lot of hands on experience with the old Nintendo systems. In the late '80s I inherited a Commodore 64 where I discovered what would become my favorite game of all time: Sid Meier's Pirates! 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the blog!