In 1993, CF had a crack at imagining games and technology in the time we now live in. Er – some of it went well. The early to middling ’90s […]
In 1993, CF had a crack at imagining games and technology in the time we now live in. Er – some of it went well.
The early to middling ’90s were a strange and exciting crossover time for video games. In 1993 you could buy Arnie 2 on cassette for your Commodore 64 and then wander over to the PC section like a sir to get a copy of Doom. The unsettling, technically stunning first person shooter was so popular that within hours of its launch universities were having to ban it from campuses because its multi player mode was crippling their doddery computer networks. It was so far away from Zeppelin’s £3.99 pew-pew-pew offering it’s ridiculous, but these games – running on tech that was worlds apart – really were available to buy at the same time.
What really defined this half decade was uncertainty. What would games be like in the future, and who would be making them? The big boys were struggling. Commodore had hurt itself with weak offerings like the C64 Games System, the oddly regressive Amiga 600 and the poorly supported CD32. Atari had made something special in the Jaguar, but the public weren’t convinced. It was the console that killed them. And Amstrad? They were going mental, gluing a Megadrive and a PC together and trying to get £600 for the demented hybrid.
The best guess was that we’d have years of virtual shooting between Nintendo and Sega. They were the only two companies to have consistently offered consoles in most of the world, and people were going mad for Mario Kart and the speed of Sonic. You can already see the cracks if you look back with 20/20, though. To pick a couple from the long list, publishers were annoyed that Nintendo was stubbornly refusing to move away from expensive cartridges and on to CD. That was partly to combat piracy, but there was also an element of control: publishers had to buy the carts from Nintendo, which was expensive (especially if you didn’t sell them – Acclaim and other big hitters lost millions this way). Sega, meanwhile, fluffed its timing. The Megadrive follow up console, the Saturn, was rushed out to beat Playstation. As a result, it didn’t even have a Sonic game at launch and the machine’s availability was patchy because its announcement had taken retailers by surprise. It was on the back foot from the start.
Other electronic companies could see that the landscape was changing. Everyone was trying to make a console and become the new sheriff. Time magazine’s 1993 product of the year was the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, conceived by EA founder Trip Hawkins and designed by some of the guys who’d made the Amiga and handheld Atari Lynx. The 3DO was interesting because it wasn’t a console itself; more, a list of specifications that hardware companies could use to make their own consoles. The idea? A universal games format, sort of like VHS became for video.
“SONY DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE HARDWARE OR SOFTWARE” – SEGA
Phillips, meanwhile, plumped to make an all-in-one system that could play your music discs and CD-ROMS. It was called the CD-I. And then there was Sony: it had recently fallen out with Nintendo, who it had been working with to provide a CD add-on to enhance the SNES. After a lot of tedious legal wrangling, Sony eventually got the rights to use the technology as the basis for the first Playstation. Sega laughed, revealing it had turned down the chance to work with them and saying that Sony “didn’t know how to make hardware or software”. The game press lolled too, with Brit games bible Computer And Video Games calling PS the “least likely of the new machines to succeed”. Japanese magazine Famicom Tsūshin gave the Playstation 19 out of 40. Hindsight, eh? (also who rates anything out of 40? – Ed)
Let’s not forget the first wave of Virtual Reality in the early ’90s either. The VR that most people saw was Virtuality, either at their arcade or on the Gamesmaster TV show. At $73,000 a pop, little Johnny in Wigan wasn’t going to have one for his bedroom. Early home VR attempts were made by the likes of Sega, but their Megadrive headset sank behind the excuse of being “too realistic and potentially dangerous”. Somebody buy that PR team a pint!
We can laugh at everything now ‘cos we know what happened, but nothing was clear at all in late ’93 when Commodore Format ish 37 tried to predict the future. Over The Edge is a brave CF classic (starts page 56 – Ed) tackling virtual reality, online gaming and even the future of banking in the same issue as a review of Alien 3 on tape and a preview of home brew classic Mayhem In Monsterland. This sort of futuristic article is always dangerous because you’ve got to ham it up a bit to be entertaining, and then somebody comes along decades later and pulls it apart like you were serious. That’s us, that is. Let’s see how the CF team saw the year 2020-ish…
ONLINE MULTI PLAY
This is one of the areas that CF gets almost spot on, with the pull quote on the first page of the article asking us to imagine a world in which you play Elite, flying alongside another craft that’s actually a real person hundreds of miles away. Sandbox stuff like online Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead 2 have realised this, but on a much larger scale than the team anticipated.
“IMAGINE A WORLD IN WHICH YOU PLAY ELITE ALONGSIDE A REAL PERSON HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY”
CF explains the idea of online gaming by going back to the Multi Dungeon User – MUD – from the ’80s. With MUD, you rang up on your modem and took part in a text adventure. The appeal lay with the story not being static because you interacted with other humans, and it’s here that Format quite impressively predicts the coming decades. Since MUD, they say, only Gameboys playing stuff like Tetris in competition mode have cracked the multiplayer mainstream, and even then they were physically hooked up. But fibre optics and increased communication speeds will “change everything”. A 10/10 there, we reckon.
“There’s a gaming revolution waiting to happen”, says CF. “It has to do with connectivity.” In the future, rather than going to a shop “you’ll get software through your television”.
There was already some precedent for this. In 1990, Sega’s Meganet was an online service for the Megadrive. Available in Japan and later Brazil, it used dial up internet to let you pay to play one of 17 games and even had some multi player options. Later in the US, Sega Channel did the same thing on a much bigger scale for anybody daft enough to pay the eye watering fees. This paved the way for stuff like today’s Playstation Network.
CF didn’t see it that way for the UK. It expected things to operate on a more local basis. The “game TV networks” would let you patch in to your local community’s system and “play against friends down the street” instead of going ’round their house and knocking on the door. Some license there for a bit of colour, we think, but they get one thing absolutely right: “this stuff will make us unfit.”
A proper LOL one, this. Over The Edge perfectly predicts “digital maps” in this issue, and does a really good job of explaining how useful they’ll be in stopping your Mum and Dad arguing on long car trips. An LCD screen on the dashboard? They predicted it. A dot indicating where you destination is, and a path showing your route to it? Check. Other data like hotels and traffic data? Wow, they got it. “The system will have to come on CD and cost about £4,000”? We’ve snorted our coffee everywhere.
There’s plenty of other wonderful reading (and some real clangers) to be had in Over The Edge. You can find a scan here (P56 – Ed), and if you read one other thing today we really recommend it. It’s notable that they don’t see any kind of modern phone in the future, which is testament to how quickly the world has moved. Imagine dropping an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy on somebody’s desk in 1993 and even beginning to start explaining the super computer everybody now has in their pocket. That “£4,000 digital map” is a tiny, free part of every single one of these life changing devices that nobody saw coming.
There’s one last home run for Commodore Format in this memorable piece. “There’s a good reason you’re still playing C64”, says editor Hutch. “It doesn’t matter how snazzy the graphics are, or how much speech and video there is in new technology. Unless there’s a good game in there, you’ll still get bored in ten minutes”.
The tone, as with all of Hutch’s CF‘s, is one of defiance and the firm belief that the C64 will still be here for a very long time. Even Hutch wasn’t brave enough to suggest we’d still be playing new games on the Commodore almost 30 years later, though. Now that was fanciful. CF
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