When an Empire is Struck Back
[Ed. Note: The following is a revision of
an earlier essay entitled "Spastic Reviews", which I have taken down and
replaced with this one.
If I were to say that I didn't feel somewhat uneasy in posting an article that quotes me, particularly when said quote contains a rather conspicuous grammatical error, I'd be lying. Trust me, I'm not doing this as a self-promotion. Citing my words was his idea, not mine. ("I can't think of anything that would seem more guilty than a man who hasn't been accused of anything professing his innocence." -Quiz Show) Just... please believe me, regardless of how full-of-crap I've proven to be in the past.]
"The NES has gone from the public's pedestals to its closets, pawn shops, and, in the case of certain thoroughly misguided individuals, waste baskets."
-Dief Wolf, "A Belated Response to Assorted Moral Criticisms of the NES".
The following is a justification of sorts. A common anxiety I feel when purchasing any game (particulairly when purchasing a new console) is admittedly a poor imitation of Hamlet's Immortal Question: "Should I or Shouldn't I?" Until the dawn of Dreamcast, with its integrated modem and online-playing potential, you really could do only one thing with them. Namely play games. It didn't matter if it was cartridge or CD-based. 8, 16, 32, or even 64-bits. If you can't find any software which you would honestly wish to purchase, then the result would be disastrous. Through the following, I'll delineate some of the various qualms which I have in regards to this "leap of faith."
I have an infinite amount of patience. In point of fact, the reason I have been playing videogames for the past ten years is because I didn't have anything else to do. What I don't "hold" with is meaningless and propagandic drivel (take that, Nintendo Power!). I'm not normally pre-disposed to erudition in regards to the pastimes of our youths. Yet, when it comes to my own personal obsessions, I am not averse to giving it a whirl. Unlike practically everyone in the videogaming industry (the editors of magazines which exploit them in particular), I, the reluctant consumer, perceive the current trend of software manufacturing (namely the producing endless amounts of drivel) is much more stomach churning than the FMV fad from which it had been spawned. In my eyes, it isn't the empyrean1 that I had been deluded in my youth into believing it to be, but a noxious sewer filled with excrement and the bloated corpses of such giants of the industry as Sega and Nintendo. All of this time, the psychedelic curtain of "entertainment" which had hidden the industry's ultimate profit motive has now become as tattered and false as the dress that a licentious whore would wear to her own wedding (to paraphrase Dean Koontz's Mister Murder: "the grim reaper wearing a costume to masquerade party which had flesh so thin and cheap that it was not for a moment convincing".) It is with these views which I have a partial brotherhood with Saruman, the disgraced wizard whose staff had been broken and was evicted from his ivory tower simply because he chose to speak the truth.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying everything about the current formats is entirely bad. It's just that I naturally believe that all things must evolve if they hope to survive. So that's why I'm quick to pass judgement on what I might perceive to be a deficiency (whether it be in design or premise) which it's predecessor might not have had. Huge example: Nintendo produced the NES, then Gameboy, then SNES. This is progress. However, then their hardware development output started to crank out some real "turds" (remind me to thank EGM for this brilliant terminology). Virtual Boy (a 32-bit, "portable" game system which comes with a ridiculously clunky HMD and can only display monochromatic red and black in its graphic display? They should have just made it an accessory to the SNES which let you play games in 3-D and which doubled as a stand-alone.); assorted varieties of new, more "colorful" Game Boys (if I took a dozen pieces of shit and painted each one a different color, I'd still have a dozen pieces of shit.); GB Pocket (modern technology might have advanced far enough to allow you miniaturize a GB, yet I really feel sorry for the poor bastards who chucked their "classic" version for this midget since their AC/DC adapters and link cables had subsequently become obsolete.); and Super GB (I can't think of anything too bad about this idea except for the fact that the SNES is no longer Nintendo's "mainstream" unit).
To be fair, I'll now document Sega's big flops: 32-X (it was designed as a predecessor to the Saturn so that the leap from a 16-bit, cartridge-based format which could be upgraded to a multimedia system with the addition of an optional CD-ROM drive to a 32-bit, CD-ROM only next generation system wouldn't seem too much of an imposition to the consumer).
So, there you have it. Nintendo's score: -4. And Sega's: -1. Looks like Sega wins by a huge three-point-margin. Must have been a field goal...
So, how may you ask, does the Playstation come into this equation? Way back when dinosaurs roamed the air (and pretty-much damn-near killed all other living things with their noxious output of mass quantities of shit at every consecutive bowel movement), Sega released a little machine known as the Sega-CD2. They had previously released the Genesis, single-handedly pioneering what they had called the "Sixteen-bit Revolution," because Nintendo was dominating the 8-bit format with their NES. If you couldn't beat them at their own game, then just raise the bar a little higher. The Genesis pretty much had two improvements over the NES: it had a head phone jack which you could also use to easily hook-up your game system up to a stereo (if you were into that kind of thing) and not feel like a doofus if you did (as in someone who really liked to crank up DW 3's music); and, since it was twice as powerful, developers could more easily translate arcade games onto a home system without having to severely dumb it down (compare Golden Axe to TMNT2: The Arcade Game).
Naturally, Nintendo wanted to level the playing field, so they released the SNES. As one might expect, the SNES was technically superior since it was designed specifically to be much more powerful than the Genesis. To combat Nintendo's established SMB franchise, Sega founded the Sonic Team who unleashed Sonic the Hedgehog to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting populace (I'm also quite sure that Dr. Robotnik's Mario-esque appearance is not entirely coincidental). In regards to a direct comparison between Genesis and SNES, I'll only say this: Sega produced its RPGs in-house (starting with Phantasy Star series and then Shining Force). Nintendo relied entirely on third party developers such as Square and Enix for this genre. Now, Square and Enix have both jumped-ship so that the N64 is almost completely w/o any RPGs to speak of. (What genius thought of "Quest64"'s title?)
So, in an act of retaliation to the SNES, Sega, as I have said, created the Sega-CD, a CD-ROM drive that acted as a peripheral to make their existing product a great deal more versatile. This was the current trend at the time since CDs were not the established storage medium for videogames which they are now. Now, I'm sure a lot of people get their panties in an uproar at the slightest mention of Full Motion Video (FMV). However, you have to put yourself in the mind of a developer who produces video games (Circa early '90s). You'll ask yourself, "What can a CD do that a cartridge can't?" and "What is the cheapest, most efficient way that I can best utilize the extra space which is afforded to me by a compact disc?" (Please note that the original SNES game SFII: "The World Warrior" took up 16MB of memory while the average CD affords you the use of 650MBs. That's nearly forty-one times more memory!) So, they came to the logical conclusion of making games entirely out of digitized footage3. Previous forays into this medium, such as Atari's Pit Fighter and Midway's Mortal Kombat, were less than promising. As for the new application of digitized video footage, they called them "Interactive Movies" and Sea's workhorse for designing these was Digital Pictures. Sure, the actors acting might have been deplorable because they could only afford B-Movie actors and let's face it, you would have a hard time convincing Sylvester Stallone to reprise his role as Rocky just so you could use his name as a license. This is what makes Jean Claude Van Dam's role as Guile in the live-action Street Fighter movie and the subsequent game really confusing.
So, in a brilliant stroke of original thinking (I wish I could have said that in earnest), Nintendo announces that they were creating an add-on to the SNES that would let it become a 32-bit CD-ROM based system4. They were developing this for several years with Sony and the rumors of its eminent release were almost non-stop from '92 to '95. That's when Nintendo became aware that Sega was developing a 32-bit machine of its own which would be completely independent of the Genesis. So, Nintendo erroneously decided to kick Sony's ass to the curb since the peripheral (dubbed "Playstation") were it to ever be released would instantaneously become obsolete. Sony, quite obviously, was really ticked off by this. So, they took the prototype that Nintendo just didn't have the balls to see to the end, and eventually wound up with THE PLAYSTATION. The N64 is Nintendo's fourth attempt at making a console (third generation software-wise). Saturn was Sega's fourth. PSX is Sony's first!!
PLEASE NOTE: for the record, as of 8/30/99, I do not currently own a Playstation. However, due the immanent release of DC in the US, N64 and PSX have been marked down to $100 bucks each. As for the former, I still think it's a piece of shit. Yet, I would be tempted to get the latter just because only an absolute moron could pass-up LUNAR: SILVER STAR STORY COMPLETE, FINAL FANTASY ANTHOLOGY, and METAL GEAR SOLID. It's just real unfortunate that I missed out on the Lunars the first time around, having bought a Sega-CD in late '97. This is not a solicited advertisement, just my own personal opinion.
2 For a better explanation of this trend, check out: http://www.emunews.net/sega_cd.htm.
3 Consider for a moment the fact that one measly second of footage would take up 30 frames of video to display. (In film, the standard projection speed is 24fps.) I've played one or two games, most notably "Batman: The Video Game on NES" and "Street Fighter: The Movie" on Saturn, where the between-level "cinema scenes" would only display a single, static picture (or "capture") from the movie and a brief transcript of dialogue. Now, Gameplay-wise, the FMV games which I have played had very limited interaction (the Night Trap/ Double Switch syndrome). But others, such as Ground Zero TX and Prize Fighter on Sega-CD, weren't too bad. Now, we've got Motion Capture technology where only the performer's movements and voice need be recorded for the production of a game. All visual information is created artificially.
4 From the July '92 issue of Gamepro entitled "THE SUPER NES CD: The Stealth System": "...The official Nintendo line is that the system will be simultaneously introduced in the United States, Canada and Japan in January 1993. The initial production run will be 300,000 units per month, and the target price range is $200... (alludes to a partnership between Nintendo and Phillips and Nintendo) That means the Phillips CD Interactive System (CD-I) should also be able to play SNES CDs. Sony, who started the Nintendo CD-ROM project until Philips entered the picture, is also working on the Play Station, a CD-ROM system that (allegedly) will feature an SNES CD accessory... Be patient, Nintendo nuts, as we all know, Big N has a way of arriving late for the party and still making a grand entrance." There's also an illustration of a young boy peeking under a curtain that displays the terse warning "NES CD UNIT/ OFF LIMITS!" They really had no idea how inaccessible it would be.
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