Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1990s Games and Other Systems

Last night, after a weary hit of finals, I wanted to play some games, but the only things that came to mind on the SNES emulator were The Lost Vikings and Final Fantasy VI, prompting me to give "Boxer", the DOSBox-based Mac tool a spin. While Boxer performs beautifully, my distaste with DOS began to formulate. Ignoring the fact that DOS is a nasty, cryptic mess, it's true that DOS got tons of good games for the 1990s--the market share was huge, but as a gaming machine, it's terrible.

In one corner, there's the Mac, with a superior user interface, with higher resolution, and even decent sound (the Mac's native sound chip won't blow anyone away, but didn't need expensive sound cards like DOS did to not sound like garbage). In the other, there's the SNES and Genesis. While neither could handle CD-based games very well (Sega CD was not exactly a revolution, and of course the SNES had no CD input at all), and the SNES had the Genesis beat in nearly every category (though the Genesis had a few neat features and some extremely effective marketing).

This isn't the case anymore, as between the Mac and PC you've got a formidable system. Console games just aren't what they used to be, and Nintendo has fallen onto a third-tier system riding on its extremely popular franchises and multiplayer-focused abilities.

I'm not going to turn this into a whole "consoles vs. PCs battle", even though one of the reasons why computers are superior gaming machines is not just upgradeable specs, affordable software, and non-game uses, it's also the ability to play legacy software with not much effort. Consoles are still superior in other aspects, particularly in the ease of use in setting something up to play, the fact that even when buying old games, they're tuned to the system (emulators for systems made after 1994 often require a lot of fiddling to get to work properly, if they do work properly at all), and nothing beats playing games on the TV.

In 2011, I gave up on the Nintendo fanboyism and accepted computers as the superior system (getting a Steam account, though I have far less games than you'd think) but still have a love for the vintage, particularly consoles.

One thing I've always wondered about is the fall of Sega. Atari's fall stemmed from some awful and arrogant choices back in the mid-1980s and any efforts to return post-1984 were undermined by Jack Tramiel's control (reminds me of a certain discount store/department store company, whose name rhymes with "tears"), but Sega's was different. The Sega CD notwithstanding (it was awful looking back, but at the time wasn't a bad idea), the real problem starts with two bad choices in the mid-1990s:

1) The Sega Saturn's botched launch, screwing over discount stores and having very few games at launch
2) The Sega 32X.

Now, I know that the Saturn was an extremely expensive console ($400) but I think had it launched with the ability to play Genesis cartridges and Sega CD games, it would've at least given a boost in the "software" department.

The Dreamcast of course had other problems, and even if the Saturn had backwards compatibility it had other problems (particularly difficult development problems--it rendered everything in quadrilaterals instead of the industry standard of triangles, which warped textures at best).

The Nintendo 64 was sadly doomed either way. The N64 had great games, but cartridges held a fraction of the data CDs did and were more expensive than CD games (games never went below $30, many new releases were $70-$80, and that was late 1990s money). If Nintendo 64 had released the 64DD as planned and even managed to get the storage size upped to equivalent CD sizes (the disks were planned as 64MB, as opposed to Super Mario 64's 8MB, but cartridges eventually got to that size by the time Conker's Bad Fur Day rolled around in 2001, and that was puny compared to the 550+ MB capacity CDs had), then it could've worked, but that would've made the machine even more expensive. From there on out, every system was awful was in a special way. The GameCube's problems were detailed in the 2011 post, and the Wii, released in late 2006 (a fantastic time in the history of Nintendo, which I am absolutely sure we'll never see again) was completely unlike anything on the market and lowered the barrier to entry to video games by creating a new controller, was the "Virtual Console", which re-released old games from the NES, SNES, and N64, which you bought off the system for a small fee. Although there were some mixed feelings about it then, notably a flat $5 price for NES games which seemed reasonable for classics (The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros.) but a waste of money for others (Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Pinball). It also made you feel better since you pirated all of them years earlier but refuse to pay some jacked-up price at the video game store.

It sold a ton of systems for years but really fell apart later, marred by shovelware, the inferior power compared to the 360 and the PS3, and the controller working against it when it came to games. The Wii U...well, the less said the better.

In the end, there is going to be no "super system". Even the vaunted computer systems often need a lot of tinkering to play games, even ones released on older variants of same system.

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