When it’s hot, we at KP like to put old games in the freezer for a few hours, then take our clothes off and rub them all over our naked bodies. You’re welcome.

10 Years Ago This Month: July 2007

cod4

E3 was later this year than before, and in a much different scaled down format, really consisting of a series of satellite events rather than the giant media hub that existed previously. With the E3 bubble set to pop once more, perhaps E3 2007 will be close to what E3 2018 or 2019 will be… if it still exists by then.

Of the big three, Microsoft had their backs furthest against the wall going in. The infamous Red Ring of Death situation, with units failing left and right pushed the company into a soft recall status; they expanded everybody’s warranties to three years and pledged to fix defective units for free at massive cost to the company.

Their conference showing was a strong bounce back, demonstrating fine form on the software end even if hardware was failing. Project Gotham Racing and Halo, two original XBox launch titles returned, with Halo 3 and PGR4 around the corner and looking impressive, Halo 3′s Forge engine promising impressive customisation online and the multiplayer suite looking strong.

Meanwhile, MS had landed enough deals to make significant third party multi platform releases appear to be 360 exclusives when they weren’t. Grand Theft Auto IV‘s generational leap for Liberty City was always going to draw a lot of attention. The star of MS’ show though was the latest in a series many had begun to dismiss when it was mired in World War 2.

Call of Duty 4 was subtitled Modern Warfare, and as expected ditched the WW2 setting for contemporary Middle Eastern conflict. It was the game’s extraordinary tech that won show viewers though, as the famous ‘All Ghillied Up’ demo showed soldiers emerging from camouflage and engaging in tense sniping.

Valve’s Orange Box, a compilation of Half Life 2, Half Life 2 Episode 1 and new games Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2 would also be a de facto console exclusive for 360 as far as promotion went, and in practice, performance wise, as the PS3 port would prove to be a disaster.

Sony also had backs to walls, but they had at least gotten acclimated to that position over the last year and a disastrous PS3 launch. 2007 was a chance to rally, and they did with a bunch of exclusives. Metal Gear Solid 4 led the way with a new trailer, while first party wise Uncharted continued to impress and the superhero open world action of Infamous made an impressive debut. Little Big Planet meanwhile promised to revolutionize online play with its shareable created levels.

This was... Not good.

Hardware wise the overpriced launch system would be replaced with a cheaper SKU, albeit one that removed backward compatibility with PS2. PSP got a refresh too, with a smaller and slimmer model that could output video to a TV, switching between home and portable long before Nintendo did the same.

It wasn’t all hits though. PlayStation Home was relied on as a linking gimmick throughout the Sony presentation and looked as exciting as it turned out to be (not very). Lair, Factor 5’s game that was supposed to be a showcase of what the PS3 could do, slipped out while the show was on, hoping to be undetected by a vitriolic press that hammered its bad controls and dull design. Haze, meanwhile, was given pride of place as a third party exclusive at the Sony show, but the end game turned out to be a risible ugly, half baked mess. Killzone 2 looked good in trailer form, but had the stench of prior years’ “target render” footage surrounding it that left viewers skeptical.

Nintendo were running at full steam away from any walls, but to see their show, it seemed like they were going full pelt into a pillar. Having amassed mainstream headlines for the success of the Wii, their show was filled with cutaways to news broadcasts and proto YouTube stars, while being decidedly light on content.

The Wii Zapper was heavily pushed as a revolutionary device that would change the way first person shooters would be played. In truth, it was a plastic shell for the Wii Remote and nothing more, marketed alongside old Sega arcade rail shooters and new Capcom rail shooters like Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles. Mario Kart Wii would also be debuted next to a plastic shell in the form of the Wii Wheel, a device that meant for easier play and completely neutered the game at large in a bid to balance handling to accommodate it.

The whole show was filled with the casual lifestyle stuff that would define the Wii’s legacy, with a long closing demo of Wii Fit, and the Wii Balance Board that was, at least, more technologically sophisticated than the Zapper and Wheel. The presentation was so overlong and overwrought it was easy to miss shining games like Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3, or what could have been a big third party release in NiGHTS Journey of Dreams, though that would ultimately disappoint on later release.

20 Years Ago This Month: June 1997

m2

1997’s E3 was already in the books, so instead of thinking about games coming out in the future, we had news of items soon to be canned.

First was the M2. The 3DO company’s follow up architecture was adopted by Matsushita and had made its way to a few arcade titles by now. Yet as a home platform it was set to find itself in a inter generational limbo, a step up from the PlayStation and N64 in some regards, but which would likely pale in comparison to what would soon be on the market by the time it released.

With development costs spiralling, Matsushita washed their hands of the project as a home console, instead oddly detailing plans to use the technology in estate agencies and architect’s offices to give virtual building tours. Meanwhile 3DO themselves took back shares Matsushita owned in the company in an (ultimately failed) bid to press on with the hardware.

Meanwhile Sega detailed plans for an online service for Saturn that wouldn’t ultimately come to pass. Heat was to be a Sega Saturn based proto version of PSN and XBox Live, and despite obviously being limited by its hardware and dial up connections, actually promised some forward thinking ideas. It would have had friend lists, and virtual currency (this being the 90s, the currency was dubbed Cybercoins) that could have been used to unlock content, and rather grossly, buy power ups to use in multiplayer games.

Heat never happened, but there was a Saturn netlink modem that direct dialled friends to play online versions of Daytona and Duke Nukem. The Cybercoin concept was ruled out in America but existed in a sense in Japan; here the net link games worked on a pay per play basis and you had to buy telephone card like products for the games you wanted to play with a few dozen Daytona races (for example) worth on them.

30 Years Ago This Month: July 1987

metalgear

In 1987, E3 was a twinkle in the ESRB’s eye. Hell, the ESRB didn’t even exist yet. So, free of conferences to hype upcoming games, games were just coming out instead. They were coming out in great volume, too, in Japan at least.

Undeniably the biggest release of the month in retrospect was on MSX. Konami’s Metal Gear was the first title to be headed up by Hideo Kojima, a new employee who was handed the project after a senior colleague left. The initial brief was for a top down action game in the vein of SNK’s Ikari Warriors, but this would prove problematic on limited MSX hardware. The platform didn’t support hardware scrolling and could only display a few sprites on screen. Kojima’s approach was to make the enemies far more lethal than the player character, making the game less about combat and more about evading combat.

The result was a pioneering stealth game, with an impressive array of spy gadgets to help Solid Snake infiltrate Outer Heaven. Explosives, silenced guns, and signature cigarettes and cardboard boxes were all there. An ambitious story considering its 8bit action nature was present too, with double crosses from Snake’s commander Big Boss, and even a fourth wall breaking command to turn off the computer at one point.

Metal Gear didn’t get the attention it quite deserved at the time of its release, especially in the west. This largely comes from the fact MSX just wasn’t adopted widely outside Japan, Konami’s Famicom port in December was poor, and the 1988 English localization of same abysmal.

Double Dragon came to arcades this month. The spiritual successor to the first Kunio Kun game, only recently brought westward as Renegade, the game expanded on its predecessor with weapons to steal from enemies and swing. Its twin protagonists Billy and Jimmy also meant the game lended itself to co-operative play, though Billy and Jimmy would end the game fighting each other, only one being able to walk away from the stereotypically kidnapped girl.

The Famicom had its fair share of hits and oddities this month. It’s biggest hit, on the Famicom Disk System wouldn’t really find fame until much later. Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic was a Shigeru Miyamoto headed project released to coincide with Fuji TV’s Yume Kojo event, and star a family of characters that appeared in animated interludes during the show. That meant for a diverse cast of characters in the platformer with differing levels of inertia and jumping prowess.

Getsufuu Maden was an overlooked gem.

Getsufuu Maden was an overlooked gem.

Doki Doki Panic was well received but it was its western localization that really caught on. With the Japanese Super Mario Brothers 2 being deemed too difficult, and too similar to the original, Nintendo elected to refit DDP as SMB2 for America and Europe. As a Mario game, it was much more popular, though later fans would recognize it as a strange offshoot for the series (in a tie to the game’s Dream Factory source material, the whole story was explained away as taking place in Mario’s dreams). The localized SMB2 would then be sent back to Japan and FDS as Super Mario USA years later, while the west got Japanese SMB2 as the Lost Levels on SNES, like a videogaming hostage exchange program.

Other Famicom releases of interest included Konami’s broadly overlooked Getsufuu Maden, a side scrolling action RPG with pseudo 3D sections, and Sunsoft’s Fantasy Zone. The interpretation of the arcade cute ’em up was fine, but more interesting was that the arcade game was made by Sega. Furthermore, it also already had a Sega developed home version, on Mark 3. Sega was oddly not particularly protective of its IP in the 80s.

Britain was pretty much off the news radar this month, with the biggest game wth a British link actually being a Japan exclusive. Jaleco had picked up the Japanese rights to Gremlin’s Monty on the Run, and put the game out on FDS. It was a very different game though, replacing Monty Mole’s fleeing across the English Channel into Europe with a human Monty raiding Aztec ruins. Rob Hubbard’s music played on the title screen, but beyond that and the name, this game had no real similarities whatsoever.

One game that did come out on UK shelves wasn’t that much to write home about in itself, but had its own little influence on the next ten years. Starfox was an Ariolasoft published exercise in Realtime Games’ efforts to make a 3D engine for 8 bit micros. The space based shooter had simple wireframe models to blast, but was too slow paced to be an exciting shooter, and too shallow to compete with the likes of Elite.

The game got middling reviews, then faded into obscurity. Until, that is, Nintendo put Starfox out on Super Famicom and SNES. When the European release came, it rubbed up against the original Starfox’s trademark, resulting in the game being renamed Starwing. Then Starfox 64, for whatever reason, was localised not as Starwing 64, but Lylat Wars. Go figure.