With Sony’s public humiliation after announcing their partnership with Nintendo, nobody would foresee the beast that was about to awaken. And with it’s powerful hardware and high capacity Compact Disks, studios were jumping ship who were already had strained relations due to Nintendo’s restrictions. Today we will see another golden age of gaming where we see the emergence of memory cards as well as the slow death of cartridges. Again I will be covering games of my childhood and take you through how they were made and what made them special for me. Here are my 3 games for the week:
Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings
(Ensemble Studios) 1 Player – 1999
This is a real-time strategy (RTS) game for the PC and Mac that got different versions for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS. It is the sequel to the first Age of Empires but is set in the middle ages instead of the ancient era. It uses the same game engine but added new units and five new civilizations. In this game, players gather resources so that they can build towns, create armies, and defeat their enemies. The game won multiple awards and had an substantial impact on future games in its genre.
The team behind the game wanted to capture the broad appeal of the first game without making it too similar. With the goal of releasing the game in 1 year, they found it was not possible several months in with the quality that they sought. They then made a request to Microsoft (their publisher) for an extra year and in the mean time they would release an (easily developed) expansion to the first game. Additional programmers, artists and designers were hired to help meet the deadline. There were a few things that they wanted to address from the first game, most notably: the AI was too easy. In order to avoid having the AI cheat to add challenge, they introduce a trigger system. They also develop a new terrain system for 3D presentation capabilities. Unfortunately, many incomplete versions got leaked and sold illegally throught the pacific rim.
With countless hours lost playing in LAN and online games at home, the game was a fun grind and allowed you to think of different strategies with the country you chose. I used to always choose the Britons as they had the Trebuchets. There was also the cheats, one of which allowed you to spawn a Shelby Cobra that acted as a faster version of another ranged unit. I wasn’t really into RTS games after this one, but I would highly recommend this game if you want something simple (and complex).
Harvest Moon: Back To Nature
(Victor Interactive Software) 1 Player – 1999
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is a farming simulator for the PlayStation that takes you through the life of a man who takes the sudden responsibility of taking over a farm. The game would be the first Harvest Moon game on a non-Nintendo console and has spawned gender swapped remakes for the PlayStation, the PlayStation Portable, and the Gameboy Advance. Being the 5th game in the series and being one of the most well-known, the game still had you taking care of numerous animals, growing a variety of seasonal crops, and courting a selection of quirky women.
Developed by Victor Interactive Software which has been purchased by Marvelous Entertainment, the game is a mash-up between simulator and RPG. While taking alot of the art style from Harvest Moon 64, the themes were toned down heavily or outright removed. Also due to hardware limitations, the character sprites have the normal designs while the in-game designs are chibi (read: Cutified). There is a game breaking bug in the PAL version where after marrying a woman, the player could not get past picking your nickname.
When I picked up this game after I sprained my ankle (suddenly gaining alot of time to myself), it was clear that this version of the game was different from it’s Gameboy Advance counter part which I had played first. For one thing, some of the little money-making tricks that they added for the later version did not exist, which made Summer time in the game feel slower. The graphics, however, are in 3D which is a welcome change and helped make the game feel fresh. Otherwise, this game is still one of my favourites due to it’s atmosphere, catchy tunes, and the ability to develop relationships. Definitely a good time killer if you’re into that sort of thing.
(Sonic Team) 1 Player – 1999
Released as a launch title for the Sega Dreamcast, this became the best selling title for the system. This time the series villain Eggman releases an ancient monster who tries to collect the Chaos Emeralds as Sonic vows to stop him. There were numerous enhanced ports for the Gamecube and Windows as well as re-releases for Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. This would also be the last game by the characters creator, Naoto Ohshima.
After numerous attempts at making a good 3D Sonic game by Sega Technical Institute, it was understood by gamers that the only team that could create one was Sonic Team. With the Sega Saturn giving the developers some relatively capable hardware to expand on story, they set out to make the next generation game an RPG. Unfortunately, as it was clear that the Saturn was a sinking ship, they had to port whatever they can to what was then codenamed Katana (Dreamcast). They wanted to make the game the perfect demonstration of what the Dreamcast was capable of and even had classic Sonic programmer get involved with the hardware creation. As the team wanted to make the game more realistic, they went on a trip to Central and South America, and even used textures directly from the photos taken from the trip.
I loved the music in this game and I still would listen to the tunes once in a while. It was the first stage that truly captivated me and had me in love with the Dreamcast. Call me nostalgic, but that first stage really does take me back to when I was a young kid awe inspired by the graphics and seeing Sonic in the third dimension. The rest of the game was just as fun with it’s winding stages and wacky characters. This was a must buy for me when it got re-released on PSN and if your a Sonic fan, this would be a worthy item in your collection.
With Nintendo losing the top spot for game consoles, we now had Sony showing it’s worth with an open attitude with 3rd party developers and possibly the first (albeit obscure) instance of indie development. Next we will see another player enter the game with a big (literally) splash and it’s already established platform. Thank you for joining me for the 90s. We will now enter the early 2000’s and will once again start to see emerging gameplay innovations that we know and love today.
Thanks for reading.