The early 90s were a time where the industry shifted from sprite-based graphics to 3D graphics. While two giants go at it and trade blows with each other, a new medium becomes popularized with the Nintendo Game Boy. Another interesting note is that the arcade starts to see a decline as home consoles become more common. Today we will see the best of what 2D games had to offer and look at the primitive (but fun) 3D games made at the time. Here are my 3 games from the early 90s:
(SNK) 2 Players – 1993
We will start with a 2D game that I remember fondly. Released on the Neo-Geo arcade both in North America and Japan, it was a fighting game that focused primarily on hand-to-hand combat set in the 18th century feudal-era. It featured characters that wielded weapons, a rage meter that fills when getting hit, a refined camera zoom that was welcomed from Art of Fighting, and had authentic music from that time period. It was considered a breath of fresh air due to the genre being known for re-hashes and knock-offs, and has receive a multitude of awards during the year it was released.
Regarded as the game that “put SNK on the map“, it was a game created by a combination of veteran SNK programmers and former Capcom employees. The game got ported to every console under the sun (at least in the 90s) and was infamous for it’s blood and graphic fatal attacks that kills opponents by slicing them in half. It was during the time of negative publicity with Mortal Kombat that forced Samurai Showdown to censor the game for most platforms (changing blood from red to white and disabling all fatal attacks). This was also considered the starting point for the wave of Neo Geo mod chips that allowed users to set the system’s region to Japan (or play in arcade mode) which would in turn allow the game to be played with all of the blood and death animations.
I remember this game in the arcade, playing it at multiple locations. One thing that stuck out was it’s quirky translations. I also enjoyed the tense gameplay with it’s slow moving characters coupled with their swift attacks that gave the weapons the illusion of weight behind them. Moves were easy to guess as they seem to borrow some from Street Fighter II, however I remember being frustrated at not being able to perform their “super” no matter what button combination I threw at it. If you ever come across an arcade with this game, I highly recommended you give it a try.
(Sega AM2) 8 Player LAN – 1993
This is another game that I fondly remember (and still play when I have the chance). The game was released in Japan in 1993 and world wide in 1994. It is one of the highest grossing arcade games of all time and was the first title to debut on the Sega Model 2 board (made with the help of Lockheed-Martin), being one of the most visually detailed 3D racing games at the time of it’s release. It came with a few innovations such as filtered, texture mapped polygons as well as a maintained 60 frames-per-second despite having multiple cars on the road. The game spawned remakes and also a homage to the game from the same company.
When Ridge Racer came onto the scene, the AM2 team were still working on the Model 2 board. As a way to compete, they were ordered by the company to create something better in every way. Toshihiro Nagoshi, the designer, happened to see a Nascar race while on a business trip. He also had the chance to walk a circuit in order to feel how steep a bank was. He then had the idea of making the player feel like he was a racer, while making sure that the player doesn’t get frustrated. He also programmed the game to analyze the players movements during the first lap to gage the players skill level and have the AI react accordingly.
One thing that I loved about this game was it’s unique manual transmission mechanic. As your car hits corners on any course, you can perform a drift by shifting down to the first gear, quickly going onto the second to regain control, then easing your car back to max speed by the usual shifting up of the gears. This needed to be done at the right time and with quick succession. This of course was much faster than using the break and gave the game a certain charm. It made for an intense and fast paced game, especially when you had your friends (and strangers) competing beside you with up to 8 people. I absolutely recommend trying this game if you see it in the wild.
Alone in the Dark
(Infogrames) 1 Player – 1992
And finally we have Alone in the Dark which is an action-adventure horror game for DOS on the PC. It got ported to many consoles and more recently for the iOS in 2014. The game lets you control a Private Investigator named Edward Carnby through a haunted mansion while fighting demons and solving puzzles. The game received critical acclaim, is still considered a breakthrough title, and is known to have it’s influence on the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises.
Frédérick Raynal (the designer) hated the game and didn’t think people would like it. He was exhausted by the end of the year long development period and was uncertain of the result. Much of that resentment may have been due to creating the software from scratch. An interesting thing about the hand-made editor was that the developers could modify animations in real-time, respond to enemy attacks seamlessly, while cooperating with collision detection. However due to his dedication to forward thinking technology, it enabled the team to create something that would inspire every survival horror title for the next 20 years.
With my brief time with this game as a kid, I remember the new style of controls being a bit of getting used to. I also remember certain scenes not having any music that added to the atmosphere of the game. At the time, I was still a kid and this idea of fixed camera view, coupled with the sounds that the game makes made the game too nerve-racking for me to continue. Overall, I feel that it still holds a certain charm with it’s polygonal graphics and midi style music.
It’s clear that 3D graphics were the future and so you had companies scrambling to release their own 32-bit systems. Full motion video was also a trend that seemed to prompt dedicated systems, and while that trend died, so did trust between partnering companies. Next we will see the result of a broken partnership and see the market give way to another gaming giant that truly made a mark in the industry.
Thanks for reading.