As the weather heats up, the games scene tends to cool down, especially this year, what with no No Man’s Sky and all. Grumble. What happened in the past? Alleged racism, legal stuff and a game or two. Ah.

10 Years Ago This Month: July 2006

psprace

In the first decade of PlayStation, Sony’s marketing projected a cool image geared toward the 20 something crowd, and a more diverse one than ever in games. In 2006 though, with a tough job selling the expensive PS3, the Sony marketing department had an uphill climb. For the PSP though, Sony seemed to have lost all touch.

While Nintendo was winning new crowds with the DS, appealing to males and females young and old with the Touch Generations line, the PSP had some racially questionable material. For the new white coloured PSP, Sony commissioned billboard ads in Europe showing a caucasian woman holding a black woman in a submissive pose with the copy ‘White is Coming’. Countless complaints later, the ads were scrapped.

prey

Prey would fade in people&s memories until 2016, when Bethesda announced a reboot.

3D Realms were more socially conscious perhaps. This month’s Prey took the unconventional approach of having a Native American central protagonist. Its opening section, much like Half Life before it, established the regular way of live for Tommy (they avoided the Street Fighter approach of having his last name be Hawk) on a Native American reservation. Then aliens come and it all went scifi. There followed some fairly stereotypical mysticism around The hero’s journey for Tommy, but it was refreshing to not play as a hulking white guy, and the game itself, while overly long, was decent. This would have been parlayed into a sequel; 3D Realms though didn’t have a reputation of getting games out the door (Duke Nukem Forever was ten years in development at this point), and was shuttered before Prey 2 got close to completion.

Going back to Sony though, while their P and R were suffering, their R and D was going full pelt. This month the company obtained a patent for new motion sensing technology; unlike the Wii, which used an IR camera in the controller to seek out two sources of light and anchor a motion controlled pointer, this was the reverse. In using a camera to trace a controller or other object, Sony had now patented what would become the ill-fated Move for PS3, and the head tracking and controller interface for the upcoming PS VR.

20 Years Ago This Month: July 1996

nights

After a late June launch, the N64 was coasting on its strong launch titles this month, with no new releases. The Super Famicom was seeing more action in fact with Star Ocean. Developed by TriAce, a team spun off from cult developer of 16 bit obscura Wolf Team, this Enox published RPG was pushing the SFC to its breaking point. Cramming the humble cartridge to its gills, this was the best looking SFC game by some margin, and even featured quite a bit of voice acting to launch its scifi story.

If you wanted to explore more literal oceans, there was ArtDink’s Aquanaut’s Holiday. A first person exploration game, Aquanaut’s Holiday was an incredibly rare title at the time for not giving the player any objectives enemies to fight, or really any objectives to complete beyond building a coral reef. While its kind is more commonplace today (and even may meet with some derision now), ArtDink was met with a good deal more vitriol in 1996 than it would in 2016. Despite largely being panned, though, it garnered a cult status that saw sequels in Japan up to the PS3.

The Saturn had a strong month in Japan. Hyped for months, Sonic Team’s Nights Into Dreams finally made its way onto the system. With hopes high from Sonic Team, given the blue spiky one had yet to have a proper appearance on the console, Nights arguably delivered from a game perspective, even if the character never really caught on. You played as the titular Nights, a court jester like guardian figure to a pair of children that we’re dealing with nightmares about performance anxiety and bullying. You flew around dreamscapes collecting blue chips and performing tricks to open up the exit to a stage before taking on a boss.

Virtua Fighter Kids was a gross cash grab and a tacit admission that Saturn VF3 was in trouble.

Virtua Fighter Kids was a gross cash grab and a tacit admission that Saturn VF3 was in trouble.

Combining an excellent musical score with an unprecedented sense of flight, the game felt great and far more free than the stages 2.5D layout actually offered. The game was also available with an analogue controller for the Saturn, which, featuring a pair of analogue triggers as well, felt great and an improvement (in this writer’s opinion) on the N64 model. That said, Nights wouldn’t quite sell Saturns as Mario sold the N64, and for good reason given SM64’s quality. Scope as well, Nights would be brought up to the summer to counter the N64 and Mario, leading to some aspects, like the AI driven Chao creatures that roamed the land, being considerably scaled back. The Chaos would eventually be brought into a Takagotchi style mode in the Sonic Adventure games.

If Aquanaut’s Holiday and Nights were both a bit too peaceful, there were fighting options on Saturn. Why not have children fight for a start? Virtua Fighter Kids had super deformed versions of the VF characters with giant heads showing more expressive faces. Minor alterations to gameplay aside, this was basically VF2 with some different music and CG intros, and was a real sign of a cash cow being milked until the udders ached.

A handful of Panasonic manufactured M2 systems are in the wild somewhere, and incredibly expensive.

A handful of Panasonic manufactured M2 systems are in the wild somewhere, and incredibly expensive.

The 3DO was never a cash cow, but Trip Hawkins’ brand, along with Matsushita, was trying to stay afloat. The M2 was being talked about this month, a 64 bit console with a 3DO developed Power PC processor under its hood. Graphically it outperformed anything else on the market at the time, and would have been a generational half step between the systems available and the Dreamcast and PS2. System development would be all but completed, and Konami would have been on board to provide significant third party support. Even promotional material for the machine’s launch was produced, but Matsushita suddenly got cold feet and abandoned the system at the 11th hour.

M2 would linger in the void until well into 1998, going from games system to entry level CAD device for architects. The only way people would really get their hands on M2 though would be through Konami’s System 16 arcade architecture. This was an M2 in an arcade cab, but only five games would use the system: fighter Battle Tryst, soccer game Heat of Eleven ’98, vertical shmup Polystars and rail shooters Evil Knight and Total Vice. Why so few? These games were M2s in an arcade cab, right down to running games off CDs. It was too much to expect arcade goers to sit through the CD load times and Konami scrapped the underperforming hardware, with that unique architecture meaning there weren’t even any home ports.

30 Years Ago This Month: July 1986

dump

Sega’s Mark III had been in a rough shape all through 1986, but while it was a few months yet before a western launch breathed some life into the system, this month followed on from June’s Fantasy Zone with a whopping two (count ’em!) games.

As it happened, these were also the first two licensed products on the Mk3. Gokuaku Domei Dump Matsumoto was a conversion of the recent arcade game of the same name, and was built around the eponymous All Japan Women’s wrestling star Matsumoto. As head of the Gokuaku Domei stable, Matsumoto feuded with the white hot Crush Gals tag team through the ’80s, and with women’s wrestling reaching its peak in Japan, it’s not that strange that the first wrestling game on a system would be about joshi.

This was a reasonably faithful conversion of the arcade game in spirit, though in design, it took on a much less realistic, super deformed look. In the west, the game would take on the much more generic monicker of Pro Wrestling, and was about men, with the women’s genre all but non existent in the States. Both versions of the game were fairly unremarkable, the western version most famous for its dreadful box art featuring a man head locking his own decapitated noggin.

Dump Matsumoto was joined by Hokuto no Ken on Mk3 this month. This was a pretty dreadful adaptation of the anime it was based on. As with Pro Wrestling though, this wouldn’t be a licensed product when localized, without rights to Fist of the North Star, Sega would change the game’s name to Black Belt, giving it even less reason to pick up.

On Famicom, there was a new game each for cartridge and floppy. Sokoban, the 1981 creation of Hiroyuki Imabayashi made its way to the FDS in Sokoban Special. The block pushing puzzler took advantage of the disc system with a level editor and a large number of brain teasers. Five years after players first saw the game, it felt rather dry, but not nearly as bland as the massive wave of Sokoban clones that would invade the Game Boy.

The base Famicom also got a port of Tecmo’s arcade game Solomon’s Key. The FC port would go on to attain more game than the arcade original, thanks to its faithful conversion and intense difficulty. A puzzle platformer, you were given magical abilities to cast fireballs at enemies and also create and destroy blocks to use as platforms, grabbing a key to unlock an exit.

The image 'doh' evoked three years before The Simpsons

The image ‘doh’ evoked three years before The Simpsons

Meanwhile Taito brought us Arkanoid, this month in arcades and soon to every other format under the sun. This obviously drew inspiration from Atari’s Breakout. The solution to the design challenge of making a single player Pong in the days before AI routines, Breakout was successful but had gotten a bit tired. Taito’s answer was to add a variety of power-ups to the game, from multiball to machine guns, and even bosses as you battled against the all powerful Doh. Arkanoid would be both ported and cloned ad infinitum even to the present day, but it all started here.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)