It's a tad humorous to imagine how gamers of the past would react to today's video games. You know, take someone playing Space Invaders in 1979 and show them Gears of War 2. I like to think I know how a younger version of me would have reacted to today's games. It would not have been the technological advances that surprised me though. When I first saw Dragon's Lair as a kid I reasoned that one day all games would look that good only you'd have full control of the characters. It took 20 years but we got there.
What would have caught me off-guard was the direction that the industry and some once-great franchises took. OK, not when I was a kid but when I was more aware of things like that. I think talking to the 1995 version of me would be a perfect candidate for an exercise like this. In 1995 I didn't have a whole lot going on. I was working at a Waldensoftware store and not much else. About six months later I'd get my act together, but that Christmas season I was just directionlessly going through the motions of life. Despite that, I did have an excellent grip on the video game market of the era.
For those that don't recall Christmas 1995, it was the first holiday season for the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in the US. It was also the last Christmas for many 4th generation gaming consoles. The Sega CD, 32X, Jaguar, 3DO, Virtual Boy, and Game Gear wouldn't see the next lighting of the tree. For the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, it was their final year of relevance. Looking back, it just might be the single most interesting Christmas for video games.
So let's hop in the ol' TARDIS and travel back to that Waldensoftware store in 1995...
Hey, I'm you from the year 2008.
Are you bringing apocalyptic visions of the future?
Nah, just here to talk about video games in 2008.. most of which are apocalyptic visions of the future though.
Interesting, so they must be up to Street Fighter VII by 2008 right?
Well, they did just release a new Street Fighter game - Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.
Cool. Wait, did you say "two"?
Yup, 13 years have passed and they're still remaking Street Fighter II.
Wow. So what's that for - Nintendo Ultra 256, Sega Jupiter?
Ah, so this new PlayStation system must have done pretty well after all. What do Nintendo and Sega have out?
Nintendo has a system called the "Wii". The controller looks like a TV remote and uses motion sensors. It also has a balance board for yoga games.
That must be about as popular as the Virtual Boy.
Top selling system today by a landslide, nearly double the next two consoles combined. [Source: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/wii-sells-over-2m-units-in-3bn-november]. After some initial reservations even you bought one. They of course still have the top selling hand held called the "DS", it outsells the Sony PlayStation Portable by more than three to one. Sega makes games for both of them.
Sega making games for a Nintendo system?
Crazy huh? The Saturn failed after a couple years. Their next system, called the "Dreamcast", was great but pulled from the market pretty quickly. Now they're primarily focused on abusing franchise titles. Ever wonder what it would be like if Sonic the Hedgehog turned into a werewolf?
No, never. I thought Knuckles Chaotix was as low as it could go. Please tell me the Mario and Zelda series haven't undergone the same treatment.
Well, Link does turn into a wolf in one game but it's not quite as bad as it sounds. Not much has changed for these two series. Mario still gets plastered on a million games. Some are good, some are crappy Olympics games. There's a new Zelda game out every year or so. They still follow the same basic formula. You know - get the bow, find some keys in the dungeon, kill a few bats, fight Ganon and so on.
OK so if those are basically the same, and they're still rehashing Street Fighter II, what's really new between now and 2008? Well, I mean besides yoga games?
The "sandbox" game genre has really evolved - games with an open environment where you can freely explore and do whatever you like. There's a plot or mission to follow, but if you just want to talk to people or earn money by working a repetitive job there's nothing stopping you.
You mean like Starflight?
Yeah, now that you mention it I guess Starflight fits this description. I was really thinking of the GTA games though.
Right, the first one isn't out yet. GTA stands for Grand Theft Auto which is a popular series this decade. So popular that if you belittle them on your web site you get lots of hate mail. It's a game where you steal cars, get in shootouts with police, go on assassination missions, and jump motorcycles over random objects. It's by the guys who made Lemmings.
How does that work with the motion controls.
They don't make it for Wii, PlayStation 3 has it though.
Huh? The Wii is the best selling system but doesn't have the most popular series of the day.
Yup. Although Halo might be a more popular series than GTA. The Wii doesn't have that either, it's only on the Xbox 360 from Microsoft. It's the second best selling console with the PlayStation 3 bringing-up the rear.
Alright, I can see Microsoft making a game console. PC games have really boomed since Windows 95 came out. There are already people forking over $1000 for a top of the line gaming PC. Sooner or later someone's got to get the idea of making a PC that's only designed to play games and doesn't need all the configuration and installation hassles. Is that what this Xbox 360 thing is?
You got it. On a related note, PC games are basically dead now except for MMORPGS.
Really, really big multiplayer online RPGs.
Got it. They've got stuff like today but they're text based, I'm sure modems are faster in 2008 so they could do graphical ones by then. Man, I bet they could make an awesome online Shadowrun RPG.
You'd think so.
It makes sense that PC games would fade once home consoles started looking better. I mean, this Wii thing must look spectacular to be crushing the competition.
Nope. It has the weakest graphics of all the systems. The PlayStation 3 is probably the best, then the Xbox 360, then the Wii.
Alright, so it's the cheapest then?
The Xbox 360 is $50 cheaper. It's a $150 cheaper than the PlayStation 3 though.
Right because the PlayStation 3 just came out but the other two have been around a while.
The Xbox 360 came out first, the Wii and PlayStation 3 at basically the same time a year later.
What!? The Saturn is more expensive than the PlayStation which has better graphics. You've already said the Saturn didn't make it so shouldn't the Xbox 360 be ahead of the Wii.
I know that's how it seems like it should work, but the Wii has this incredible cross-over appeal. Most of the people buying it normally wouldn't set foot into a store like this. Same story for the DS hand held. The Sony PlayStation Portable looks way better but really can't compete.
Right, Game Boy vs. Game Gear. So if the PlayStation was successful, and I assume there was a PlayStation 2 somewhere in there, how did Sony drop the ball on the PlayStation 3?
Not sure, I think the issue is with the Blu-Ray player. Initially it was about the same price, or even cheaper, to buy a PlayStation 3 than a standalone Blu-Ray player. Now that Blu-Ray players are under $200 the PlayStation 3 is hurting. People who want a Blu-Ray player will just buy a Blu-Ray player. People who want a game system will buy an Xbox 360 or Wii. People who want both can buy a standalone Blu-Ray player and Xbox 360 for less than a PlayStation 3.
It's a step up from DVD.
No time to explain, we'll save that for another visit.
What about Mortal Kombat? As you recall, I was disappointed by Mortal Kombat 3. Did the series rebound?
Well, they have a new game out... Mortal Kombat vs. DC Comics or some name along those lines. It features characters from Mortal Kombat fighting super heroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman.
Superman?! How is that even possible? Does Scorpion have a kryptonite spear or something?
I don't know nor do I care to find out.
What's next, Zangief fighting Wolverine?
Yeah... they made four of those.
I thought you said you weren't bringing apocalyptic visions of the future.
Look, I know it sounds like the video game business has gone crazy but really it's not that different than what you have here today. The PlayStation and Saturn have some unforgettable launch titles. The Genesis and Super Nintendo have a few of their best games released during their twilight. But for every great game of this era, there are at least ten awful ones. Look at some of the crap you've got on the shelf here - Addams Family Values, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, Judge Dredd, Quarterback Attack - is any of this really better than Sub Zero fighting The Joker?
I suppose not.
And this hand held DS system I mentioned, it's possibly the best game system ever made. We bought it late so we have some catching-up to do but it didn't take long to see why it's such a big deal. It also has the non-traditional gamer appeal like the Wii, but unlike the Wii it's also a dream system for RPG fans. Imagine a portable system with new Lunar, Final Fantasy, Zelda, Dragon Quest, and Dungeon Explorer games. OK, the Dungeon Explorer game is kinda weak but there's a new Phantasy Star and Ys I&II remake on the way as well.
How long do I have to wait for that?
Hey morons, how long do I have to wait in this line!?
What do you have there? Rise of Robots for 3DO? Come back in two weeks when it's being cleared-out for $20. Don't wait too long though because the 3DO won't be around by next summer.
You have no idea what you're talking about. Just wait until the M2 comes out, It'll blow away this piece of junk PlayStation.
Sorry friend but it's time to admit defeat. I promise you will never be able to buy an M2.
I promise I will never buy it here, I'm never shopping at this dump again! <storms off>
Problem solved. Alright, I gotta run. Kid and office stuff to deal with.
We'll save that for another visit too. Oh, if any copies of Spider-Man: Web of Fire for 32X show up in the store go ahead and buy every one.
Whatever you say dude.