Friday Flashback Five: Week of October 25, 1998


It’s the end of the week, and of course that means it’s time for another Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we go through five random games that debuted this week in history, and this week is no different. This time around, we’re heading back to the near-Paleolithic era of the week of October Twenty-Fifth, ‘Ninety-Eight.

An almost startlingly large number of games came out this week, mostly for the computer and the PlayStation, though a few came out for the Nintendo 64.  They were also examples of nearly, if not, every genre possible at the time, and quite a few were mixtures.  It was actually difficult to pick just five, since even the poor ones were interesting—but we’ve managed to do just that.

Now for the usual disclaimers: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as you ready your clicking-finger.  Also, this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list.  It’s just a look back at five random games from our hobby’s history and a peek at what effect they may or may not have had.

With that out of the way, let’s get it on!

Twisted Metal III
Technically, the Twisted Metal series is about driving tricked-out vehicles and blowing the heck out of each other.  However, it would be perhaps more accurate to say that it’s more like a one-on-one fighting game than any sort of car-based game.  There are special weapons reminiscent of “special moves” by fighters such as Sub-Zero or Ryu, and the entire point is to destroy everyone who isn’t you or your partner.

The third entry in the series, Twisted Metal III saw quite a few changes to the formula, starting with a change in developer.  989 Studios took over for SingleTrac Entertainment Technologies, Inc., and almost revamped the game from the ground up—though the changes weren’t necessarily for the better.

Is that a tractor? A shoebox with wheels? A school bus squished by Godzilla?

The graphics were lackluster, and while the soundtrack was fine, the sound-effects—weren’t.  The biggest change, though, was to the physics.  This time around, cars bounced around by running into so much as a large pebble.  Smacking into another car often ended up with the car doing the smacking on its back—there was a decent chance of the same from explosions, say.  Considering what the game was, this could come up often.  Add to that boring level design, and you have a game that, being charitable, garnered more of a “meh” reaction.

A humorous-ish co-op Let’s Play can be found right here.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
Though Crash Bandicoot was an attempt by Sony at creating a mascot, he never really saw the same fame as Mario or Sonic.  Still, they tried, and his games were certainly interesting, whatever else could be said about them, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped was no exception.

While most levels were the same as before, asking the player to deal with platforming elements, item-collecting, and so on, there were interspersed with those levels were ones that let you take control of a vehicle—a jet ski, say, or a plane, amongst others.  They helped break up the game play a little, providing a refreshing change of pace.

It’s been said by plenty of gamers that Warped was the best of the series; interesting level design combined with nice music and great visuals came together to make a game that was fun, perhaps more than the protagonist’s comparable lack of popularity would have made one expect.

An informational Let’s Play can be found right here.

Half-Life
For much of the genre’s life, first-person shooters tended to be simplistic.  “Here’s a gun, there’s the enemies, go get ’em, scooter.”  Plots tended to be minimal and/or humorously over-the-top (I’m looking at you, nearly every Duke Nukem ever), enemies tended to be monstrous alien-demon-things that would wear your guts for garters given half a chance, and that was more or less all there was to it.  We didn’t mind it, though—we got to blow the ever-loving heck out of things.

Everyone knows who Gordon Freeman is—so here's Gregory House as the man.

Then Half-Life came along.  Apparently, developer Valve wasn’t content to add another “kill everything in sight and find key-cards” sort of game.  No, they went and came out with something that—well, if it didn’t revolutionize the genre, it came pretty close.

The differences from what was expected could be found right from the start.  Typically, you were given a touch of plot, then handed your gun and given a pat on the back before being shoved out to find things to make into chunky salsa.  In Half-Life, though, you started out—as a normal day in the life of scientist Gordon Freeman, as he went to work.  It sounds kind of boring in dry text, but it was anything but.  Besides getting one used to the idea of how the protective suit worked, amongst a few other things, it got the player used to the idea that there were actually some N.P.C.s they shouldn’t turn into paste.

That was actually rather revolutionary—few, if any, F.P.S.es before really had such a thing.  It seemed like Valve made the game with the philosophy of “believability can make good game play” in mind.  There were scripted events and cut-scenes, but they mostly felt natural, and the same could be said for what in other games would be called “pick-ups”.  Health, ammunition, weapons, and more—they were all “justified”.  The protective suit needed to be recharged, and you could find power stations here and there, in logical places (usually near things like laboratories housing more dangerous experiments—where a scientist would wear the suit).  Weapons and ammunition are grabbed from supply closets or from the corpses of security guards.  The list really does go on.

There’s a reason the game is still popular, even to this day, and even though later games in the series have eclipsed it.  It was really unlike anything we’d ever seen before, and it provided a hint of the things Valve would come out with in the future.

A blind Let’s Play can be found here.

Extreme Paintbrawl
The problem with making a video game based on some phenomenon sweeping gamers is that it’s all too easy to, well, make it suck.  Consider the recent Parkour craze that’s in nearly every video game, whether it should be or not.  It—doesn’t always work.  Such has been true for quite a while.  Extreme Paintbrawl is an example of when such a thing just doesn’t work.

Paintball has an interesting history, starting as glorified farm equipment and becoming the tactical “shoot your friends in the happy-place and say it was an accident” sport enjoyed even today.  Its height of popularity was arguably the late ‘Nineties, so making a game based on the sport wasn’t surprising.  What was surprising was how much it would stink.

Right out the gate, gamers knew it wasn’t going to be considered the best game ever.  It was built on the Build engine, the same one used for Duke Nukem 3D, and one that could be better described as “2.5D” instead of truly being three-dimensional.  It worked, though, for its time, and worked wonderfully—but that was for its time.  By the time of Extreme Paintbrawl, its time had come and gone.

Even though it was built on the same engine as Duke Nukem 3D, it wasn’t anywhere near as interesting.  The levels were bland (and, oddly, there wasn’t an actual paintball field included in the list of levels), artificial intelligence scripting was definitely more along the “artificial stupidity” lines, the graphics were so horrible that you couldn’t really tell your allies from your enemies, and it was buggy as heck.  And those are perhaps the good points.

Game play footage can be seen right here.

Disney/Pixar A Bug’s Life
In the early ‘Nineties, Disney was known for games of just as high a quality as their movies.  Titles like Disney’s The Lion King and Disney’s Aladdin are still considered simply wonderful games, and hold up quite well to games today.  That was the early ‘Nineties, though.

By the late-‘Nineties, something started to change, and this is exemplified no better than in Disney/Pixar A Bug’s Life.  There was simply nothing really even half-decent about it.  The camera was your mortal enemy, the voice-work was teeth-gritting irritating, and the graphics were bland.  Then you had a poor attack of throwing fruit at enemies but without much way to really know where to aim.

On the other hand, it had numerous clips from the movie.  Makes one wonder how much of the game was meant to be a game, and how much was meant to be a very expensive advertisement.

An informational Let’s Play of the Nintendo 64 version can be found here.

*                        *                        *

That’s all for this week.  See you on Monday, and have a good weekend!

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