20 Year Retrospective – The Games Industry In 1994
It’s 2014 and everyone is in a flap about Next Generation gaming. The latest consoles offer hyper realistic graphics, vast adventures, and global online multiplayer action – it’s all very futuristic.
Two decades ago things seemed just as advanced.
1994 was a year of major technological advances, brilliant games, the launch of some console from Sony, and an early incarnation of online gaming.
Nintendo and Sega dominated the scene, and landmark titles such as Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country shook up the industry. However, the PlayStation launched in the final days of a hectic year, ushering in a new era of CD based gaming. It was a significant year for the industry, so here is the lowdown on the 12 months which helped shape the contemporary gaming world.
Key Moments of 1994
Nintendo released Super Metroid for the SNES on March 19th 1994 – a monumental moment in gaming history. A highly complex title with a vast map to explore, it merged Ridley Scott’s Alien atmospherics with challenging gameplay. It’s a masterpiece, and many critics still consider it one of the best games ever.
Rare’s Donkey Kong Country launched to much fanfare in November. Its use of pre-rendered 3D graphics was a major talking point – no one had seen anything like it before. 20 years on, what truly stands out is David Wise’s phenomenal soundtrack.
The landmark PlayStation was released in Sony’s native Nippon on December 3rd 1994. Along with the Sega Saturn, it made the step to CD based 32 bit gaming. It was a massive hit with fans, and began a new era of gaming in earnest.
Other than Super Metroid and Donkey Kong, 1994 was a major year in defining software titles. Some of this was kicking off in the Arcades: Namco released Point Blanc and Tekken, Rare had Killer Instinct, and Sega offered Daytona USA. These games would soon make it to several games consoles and continue technological improvements in graphics, sound, and game complexity. In early February Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for Mega Drive/Genesis, which introduced Knuckles for the first time. He proved a hit, leading to Sonic & Knuckles later in the year. Nintendo offered Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back on August 27th in Japan. The game has an unusual history, as from here it was only released in America (where it’s known as EarthBound). It’s gained a big cult following over the years, and can now be downloaded from the Wii U’s Virtual Console. Final Fantasy VI (or III in America) was released in Japan in April and is considered one of the finest games on the SNES. On June 9th, Shiny Entertainment released their first game to critical acclaim – the hilarious and bizarre Earthworm Jim. A brilliant sequel would follow in 1995, and there was an equally bizarre and hilarious cartoon series soon after. On the PC, id Software pioneered the Dial-up Wide-Area Network Game Operation (DWANGO), an early form of online gaming. Through the service you could play titles such as Doom II, Heretic, and Duke Nukem 3D. Origin Systems went all out for Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. Creating a complex plot, and drafting in acting talent such as Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell, the game was a critical success, and PC gamer named it the 72nd best PC game in 2011. Blizzard Entertainment (who changed their name from Silicon & Synapse in 1994) released a real-time strategy game called Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Well received, Blizzard eventually developed it into all dominating MMORPG World of Warcraft. Nintendo let loose the last official NES game in the form of puzzler Wario’s Woods. However, the unofficial last title was an unlicensed Bible game called Sunday Funday. It went out in 1995, and was redesigned from the 1990 game Menace Beach. Sensible software released Sensible Soccer (“soccer” being football to most of us), which Amiga Power magazine considered the best ever Amiga game.
Finally, the brilliant RPG Secret of Mana was released across Europe in late 1994, having had a successful run in Japan and America a year earlier.
Naturally, the major event was the release of Sony’s PlayStation. There was plenty more going on, though, as Nintendo and Sega’s immense success prompted other companies to have a go at the whole video game lark. Whilst Sony did a great job, others made a hellish mess of it. Atari got the Badness Machine rolling by releasing the Atari Jaguar in 1993 (the first 64 bit console, sort of). Launched in America, it received a widespread global release in 1994. Other companies were just as intrepid – also muscling into the arena were Aiwa, Bandai, and NEC. All concerned were eager to cash in on the booming industry, and began their ventures by releasing their multimedia consoles: the Aiwa Mega-CD, Playdia, and PC-FX. SNK also offered the Neo Geo CD home console. All failed miserably. Atari’s Jaguar is perhaps the most notable failure, given their former dominance of the burgeoning industry. The Jaguar was discontinued in 1996 following years of badly designed, ridiculous games (such as Attack of the Mutant Penguins), and lack of public enthusiasm. Even the big names were getting it wrong. Sega released the Sega Saturn in Japan on November 22nd. The Sega 32X was also available from November – an add on for the Mega Drive. Although the Saturn was eclipsed by Sony and Nintendo’s efforts, it offered numerous good games. The same can’t be stated for the disappointing 32X.
Nintendo had numerous projects on the go, with the Super Game Boy adapter for the SNES finally made available. Elsewhere, the pretty disastrous Virtual Boy was being developed. Gunpei Yokei created the device (he had invented the hugely popular Game Boy in the late ‘80s), which was a big flop on its release in 1995 due to headache inducing 3D graphics and poorly designed hardware.
The Games Industry
In gaming journalism, Game Zero magazine became the first video game media outlet to ditch print and take to the internet. Traditional formats would rule for some time. In the UK, for instance, TV based text magazine Digitiser (pictured above) was pulling in a million readers a week. Its brand of surreal humour and (then unheard of) daily updates turned it into a phenomenon. It stopped running in March 2003. June 24th saw the inauguration of the International Game Developers Association, which now has some 12,000 members across the world. It supports games designers through the industry. Unfortunately this did not help Commodore, who went out of business. Finally, Nintendo’s “Project Reality” was renamed the Ultra 64. Details were sketchy, but the project went on to become the Nintendo 64 (released in 1996), which revolutionised gaming with its first title: Super Mario 64.