As the dust settled from the chaos that was the crash of 1983, video games were seen as a fad that had come and passed. But with the ruthless and innovative strategy of the newcomer Nintendo, video games would rise from the ashes and once again make video games a force to be reckoned with (and for good). The revitalisation of the industry had new companies (and old ones alike) coming out with ground-breaking titles that not only changed the way we played them, but also changed the way we created them.
Today we will talk about games that I personally played in my childhood, learn more about them, and then see how they hold up in today’s world. Here are my 3 games that I remember as a child:
Phantasy Star II
(Sega AM7) 1 Player – 1989
First we’ll talk about Phantasy Star II which was released in Japan in 1989 and North America in 1990. The game takes place in a futuristic universe where humans live in colonies spread across three different planets, and order is maintained across the worlds by a massive supercomputer called the Mother Brain. For a game in 1989, it is said to have an engaging storyline due to its many memorable characters and loads of plot development which was unheard of at the time.
Set originally for the Sega Master System, the game would undergo a protagonist and a storyline change. Once it was decided that the game would release on the Sega Genesis, they had to rework all their plans. Furthermore, they only had 6 months to complete the game once everything was decided. Yuji Naka -who was a talented programmer that would later become a lead for the Sonic The Hedgehog games- is said to have been the reason that the game had completed in time. Another challenge that they had faced was having multiple people working on different aspects of development and trying to keep a harmonized experience. There is also an interesting tidbit regarding the dungeon levels and how it was all created by a single new employee; due to the new staff member putting a ton of effort and overdoing it, the lead designer didn’t want to put all his efforts in vain so they used all of his assets albeit with mixed feelings. As a result, this caused an unbalance at the latter half of the game, making the game more about the complex dungeons.
As a game that I played in my childhood, I felt that the story kept me interested as much as it could. It was only until the game became a grind was where I started to become dis-interested. Going through the story as quickly as you can would leave you underpowered and would force you to fight repeatedly in the overworld in order to level up. I did however like the item and battle system as it resembled Chrono Trigger, a game that I cherish. Overall, I felt that I could give this game another try if only I had the time and patience.
(Distinctive Software) 1 Player – 1987
Created by Distinctive Software during 1987 in Burnaby, British Columbia (the facility is now home to EA Canada), Test Drive is an exotic car driving simulator released as a cross-platform game. The double platinum title was developed by a team of 10, one of whom was Don Mattrick who not only helped design and code the game but also was one of the founders of the company. A native of Vancouver, Don Mattrick is known today to have played big roles at Microsoft and more recently, Zynga. The game brought us what’s known as the point-of-view position behind the wheel for the first time which is now a standard in all racing games.
Inspired by his own obsessions, the game essentially had you play through moments of Dons driving life in the earlier years of the 1980s. It featured scenery that resemble the Sea-to-Sky highway en route to Whistler, had you recklessly speed past vehicles, and out-speed cops (all of which he recalls doing). While aircraft simulators were crazily popular at the time, Don wanted to break the mould and set out to create the first driving simulator. With the attention to detail aimed at the mechanics and the cars, and having an appeal to computer gamers, Test Drive spawned multiple sequels like the most recent Test Drive Unlimited 2 released in 2011.
Having played this game during my childhood, the game does feel unique for it’s time. You simply drive your super-car to the next gas station (or further if your car allows for it) while you drive past vehicles and occasionally get the cop to chase after you. The spec sheets given for every car is a welcome addition, giving it that simulator feel. Setting the transmission to manual does add a bit of a challenge however the gameplay feels as if it were on rails. Another gripe that I had was that it was hard to tell if you were too close to a vehicle and so crashing was difficult to avoid. Overall, I feel the game did do as it was marketed and that gear heads would enjoy this game.
(Sega AM2) 1 Player – 1987
As Sega’s most successful arcade title, After Burner helped build the momentum that started earlier in the decade with Hang-On, Space Harrier and Out-Run. This was one of the earliest games to utilise the Sega X Board technology which allowed for easy scaling and rotation of sprites that gave the graphics a pseudo-3D look. The game was also known for it’s revolutionary sit-down cabinet that swayed as the player moved the joystick. Originally a Japan exclusive, the game became popular and was then exported all over the world. Outside Japan, the game was renamed to After Burner II and featured minor tweaks such as throttle control, extra levels and slight changes to the missile system.
Being one of his first titles, Yu Suzuki wasn’t planning on creating a jet game at first. The project was originally planned as a helicopter game taking inspiration from the Studio Ghibli film Castle In The Sky as he wanted to capture the anime feel of the film. However, once Yu Sukuki watched the pre-Scientology Tom Cruise in Top Gun, all those plans changed. Mr. Suzuki recalls the development process as completely different as he made things up as he went along instead of going off a design document. He did, however, find it to be a very wasteful process because of having to go back and make revisions when an idea seemed good. One big thing about it’s development was having the freedom in the amount of work hours. Sega recognized that in order to make a game that surpassed previous game profits, they needed to allow the team to work in a free environment which allowed them to work away from the main office and at any hours of their choosing.
I remember playing the stand-up version at the arcade and one thing that I enjoyed was the fast-paced nature of the game. You have projectiles flying towards you at every direction while you jink and perform barrel rolls to dodge them. The graphics were impressive for the time as the world seems to zoom past you at Mach speeds. This game holds up well and I highly recommend you give it a try.
Games were becoming more complex and because of this, developers needed a shift in the way they made them. There was also Nintendo with their lock-out chip and their limitations put on it’s 3rd party developers that ensured quality games were released (for their platform). With 16-bit consoles on the horizon and a rivalry that mirrors the 7th generation of consoles, we will start to see stiff competition where we as gamers had benefited greatly. I hope you enjoyed the 80s as we make our way to the 90s to more familiar territory.
Thank you for reading