Out with 1992, In with 1993

15 May

First, the bad news: I’m afraid I won’t have a new article for you this Friday. My wife Dorte and I are going to take a long weekend in beautiful Bornholm, and I’ve been using this shortened work week to do some preparations for my next few months of writing. Both this site and The Analog Antiquarian will be pushed back one week because of this.

By way of compensation, though, I do have a new ebook for you, covering 1992 in this blog’s chronology. As usual, its existence is down to the good offices of Richard Lindner. You’ll find his email address on the title page of the ebook, so if you enjoy it, by all means send him an email to thank him.

A new ebook means, of course, that we’ve made it through another year. In fact, we’ve already started on 1993 with the Return to Zork coverage.

This one isn’t just any old year: a strong argument could be made that 1993 was the pivotal year in the entire history of computer gaming, the dividing line between its antiquity and modernity. For this was the year when CD-ROM finally went mainstream, virtually eliminating any and all technical restrictions on the size of games. The transformation this wrought on the graphics and sound of games, on their budgets, on their potential consumer appeal, and, indeed, on their very nature is almost impossible to overstate. We’ll have to wait until the rise of ubiquitous digital distribution well into the 2000s before we again see any single technology remotely as disruptive.

But as if the CD-ROM revolution wasn’t enough to make 1993 a special year, there was also the 3D graphics revolution, as exemplified by Doom, the game many would doubtless consider the game of the 1990s, at least in terms of pure populist appeal.

In addition to these two seismic events, the year is positively bursting with other themes, technologies, and franchises that remain inescapable today. An exciting time indeed.

So, here’s a broad outline of the specific topics I anticipate covering as we make our way through this year for the ages. (Needless to say, if you want to be totally surprised by each new article, skip this section!)

  • In addition to all of the multimedia flash that marked 1993, it was also the year when the groundwork for an Interactive Fiction Renaissance was laid, thanks to a game called Curses! which re-purposed Infocom’s legendary Z-Machine for its own ends. We’ll look at where the technology to make that seminal title came from as well as the game itself.
  • In the view of many fans, 1993 was the year that LucasArts peaked as a maker of graphic adventures, with perhaps the two most beloved games they ever made that don’t have “Monkey Island” in their names. Both will get their due here.
  • 1993 was the year that Sierra went into an economic tailspin, thanks to budgets and multimedia ambitions that were increasing even faster than sales. We’ll follow them as they start down this beginning of the road to acquisition and eventual oblivion — and we’ll also look at some of Sierra’s individual adventure games from the year, especially the much-loved first Gabriel Knight title.
  • 1993 was the year that Legend Entertainment finally had to face market realities and drop the parser from their adventure games, marking the definitive end of the text adventure as a commercial proposition. (Lucky that aforementioned amateur Renaissance was waiting in the wings, eh?) We’ll look at this end of Legend’s first era and beginning of their second, during which they became a maker of point-and-click adventures.
  • 1993 was the year that Alone in the Dark invented the survival-horror genre. We’ll look at where that game came from and how it holds up today.
  • 1993 was the last big year in CRPGs for quite some time, as a glut of samey titles tried gamers’ patience past the breaking point. We’ll look at Sierra’s Betrayal at Krondor, one of the less samey titles, and also at how the end of the CRPG gravy train affected Origin Systems and SSI, two of the leading practitioners of the genre.
  • 1993 was the year that the wheels came off for Commodore even in Europe, thanks to new Amiga models that arrived as too little, too late. We’ll look at the sad end of a company and a platform that once held so much promise.
  • 1993 was the year of the sequel to Lemmings! Enough said.
  • 1993 was the year of a little game from Interplay that I’ve always wished I could like more, Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space. We’ll use the occasion of its release to examine the checkered history of space-program management simulations in general, a sub-genre that seems like it ought to have worked beautifully but somehow never quite did.
  • 1993 was the year of Master of Orion, perhaps not the first grand 4X space opera in absolute terms but the one to which every subsequent game of the type would always be compared. Enough said.
  • 1993 was the year when shareware peaked. We’ll look at this rich culture of amateurs and semi-professionals making games of many stripes and asking people to pay for them after they got them.
  • 1993 was the year that The 7th Guest, the poster child for form over substance in gaming, popularized SVGA graphics, pushing the industry onward at last after six years stuck on the VGA standard. Along with The 7th Guest itself and the meteoric rise and fall of its maker Trilobyte, we’ll find out how a computer industry that had always looked to IBM to set its standards finally learned to drive its own technological evolution in a world where IBM had become all but irrelevant.
  • 1993 was the year of Myst, the best-selling adventure game in history. Was it a brilliant artistic creation, or did it ruin adventure games for the rest of the decade? Or are both things true? We shall investigate.
  • And 1993 was, as mentioned, the year of Doom, the yang to Myst‘s yin, the only shareware product ever to make its sellers multi-millionaires. We’ll try to address the many and varied aspects of what some would consider to be the most iconic computer game of all time. We’ll start with its incredible technology, end with the way its defiantly low-concept, ultra-violent personality coarsened the culture of gaming, and cover a heck of a lot of ground in between.

As some of that last bullet point would imply, not everything that happened in 1993 was unadulteratedly positive, but it was all important. And certainly the year produced more than its share of classic games that still stand up wonderfully today. I’m looking forward to digging into it.

So, let me close by thanking all of you who support this ongoing project in one way or another. Without you, it just wouldn’t be possible. If you’ve been reading for a while and you haven’t yet become a supporter, please do think about contributing through Patreon or PayPal (you’ll find the links in the right-hand sidebar). It really does make all the difference in the world to my ability to continue this work. And if you’re interested in history more generally, do check out The Analog Antiquarian as well. I’m very proud of the writing I’m doing there.

See you all in a week and half, when we’ll buckle down and get started on the to-do list above. Until then, thanks again for being the best readers in the world!


40 Responses to Out with 1992, In with 1993

  1. Ido Yehieli

    May 15, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Looking forward to next week & have fun on your vacation!

  2. Ehren

    May 15, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Exciting. I’m especially looking forward to your article(s) on Myst. Any chance you might retroactively cover Disney’s Stunt Island? It was a groudbreaking game in 1992, featuring realtime 3D graphics and sandbox gameplay.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 15, 2019 at 6:16 pm

      I plan to do a bit of a retrospective piece on flight simulators when we get to 1994. Maybe I can work at least a few paragraphs in then. (I must admit that I’m not generally all that excited personally by pure sandbox games, which can make it a bit tough for me to really do them justice. They always strike me as ideas and technology waiting for a designer to come along and make a real game out of them — which, I know, isn’t entirely or even mostly fair in many cases.)

  3. TT

    May 15, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Disappointed, but totally understand. Enjoy the weekend!

  4. Carlton Little

    May 15, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Man, I’m excited as always, to see the Upcoming list. You’re right, 1993 seems to be a big year, if not the biggest, relevant to PC gaming.

    But that is a *lot* of ground to cover. Are you sure you’ll be able to get to it all?

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 15, 2019 at 6:40 pm

      Why not? You have somewhere you need to be? ;) (Seriously, there aren’t any really long series in these plans. Those have really gummed up the works in the last few years.)

  5. Mike Russo

    May 15, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    This is very exciting. Especially looking forward to in-depth looks at Curses! (and don’t forget all the exciting background on Inform and the Z machine!) and Myst (which may have inspired a lot of crap, but was really great and helped introduce this kind of gaming to a lot of people). Enjoy the vaca!

  6. Brian Bagnall

    May 15, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    No problem, we all need a life. Enjoy your vacation.

    I’m especially looking forward to Alone in the Dark. That game was a revelation of how an adventure game could translate into a 3D polygon engine.

    It’s a bit too early, but I’m also looking forward to Under a Killing Moon. That game was a culmination of a lot of new factors: multimedia + adventure game + 3D game engine + CD ROM + huge budget.

  7. Lisa H.

    May 15, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    Doom, the yin to Myst‘s yang

    I submit that these two would be better characterized the other way around.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 16, 2019 at 4:18 am

      I didn’t realize there was really a difference in that sense. But sure, we can switch them. ;)

      • Lisa H.

        May 16, 2019 at 8:20 pm

        Oh, yes. See for instance. They’re not just “two things that can be considered together in some way”.

        • Reiko

          May 25, 2019 at 12:32 am

          Definitely. Doom is certainly more masculine than Myst. That’s exactly what I thought when I read the sentence, and then I saw the comment.

  8. Damjan Mozetič

    May 16, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Really looking forward to you covering Betrayal at Krondor, my all-time favourite RPG.

  9. Alex Freeman

    May 16, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Until then, thanks again for being the best readers in the world!

    I’d also like to thank you for being such a great person. I think we could’ve become great friends if our paths had crossed somehow in the physical world before you left for Denmark.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 17, 2019 at 7:16 am

      Not sure whether I’m really a great person, but thank you! That’s a very nice thing to say.

      • Alex Freeman

        May 18, 2019 at 6:35 am

        Well, you’re friendly, and I’ve enjoyed our discussions in the comments section, especially on topics I have difficulty finding others to discuss with, such as philosophical topics or technological ones like RISC vs. CISC.

  10. Andrew

    May 17, 2019 at 5:32 am

    As a massive Amiga nerd it hurts but can barely wait for the conclusion of the 68000 Wars.

    (Sent from my Amiga 2000 keyboard attached to a PC via Arduino ;)

  11. Joshua Barrett

    May 17, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    As a Doom head myself, I look forward to your likely somewhat disparaging remarks on the game, as well as the usual great stuff.

  12. Derek

    May 18, 2019 at 12:49 am

    Will The Journeyman Project be covered here? I know it’s not in the same league in terms of influence as Myst or The 7th Guest, but it was part of the same wave and did start one of the more durable adventure-game series of the 1990s.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 18, 2019 at 7:45 am

      The second game in that series made quite an impression on me; wandering through Leonardo’s workshop remains one of my more oddly indelible gaming memories. I’m planning to pick the series up with The Journeyman Project Turbo in 1994.

      • Derek

        May 18, 2019 at 3:29 pm

        Thanks, that makes sense.

  13. Jacen

    May 18, 2019 at 3:14 am

    I enjoy the Analog Antiquitarian as well. I’m super, super looking forward to post-pyramid stuff. (I went through an Egypt phase, so knew about 70% of most articles. But they were still fun)

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 18, 2019 at 7:50 am

      Thanks! I’m excited as well about the Oracle of Delphi. Going to try blending myth and history in a way I’ve never quite seen done before, but that seems really appropriate to the subject matter.

  14. Olof Kindgren

    May 18, 2019 at 10:19 am

    I was hoping to see Simon the sorcerer mentioned here. Don’t know if it has any historical significance but I always seen it as the restrained British Yin to Lucasarts’ loud American Yang. Having learned the history of Adventure Soft on this site I’m also curious to see the continuation of that story.

    Anyway, this already looks like super exciting topics for the coming months as well as the excellent writing on your sibling site

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 18, 2019 at 12:00 pm

      No, I don’t think so. Clever writing at times, but the design is the usual litany of sins. Sometimes, as with Return to Zork, a bad game is so important in one way or another that I have to give it an article. But I’d rather focus on the good games.

      • Olof Kindgren

        May 18, 2019 at 12:23 pm

        I won’t argue with that reasoning but I must say I’m a bit surprised by the aforementioned litany of sins as I thought (at least the first) Simon game was unequivocally praised.

        Just played through both of them earlier this year. Remembered them from my youth as funny but a bit mean. As an adult however I was more surprised by the difference between them. The first game was mostly quite kind but the other reeked of racism, bitterness and being mean for the sake of it and that got me intrigued as well. Oh well, I will have to do some research on my own to satisfy my curiosity

      • Brian Bagnall

        September 2, 2021 at 7:54 pm

        Simon the Sorcerer always seemed like a big game, even though I didn’t played it back in the day. I played a bit over the weekend and it seems quite worthy, although damn I don’t think I solved a single puzzle.

  15. Aula

    May 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Are you planning to write an article about sound cards? I think 1993 might be a good year for that, as it was when Gravis Ultrasound started to make waves (pardon the pun) in the sound card marketplace.

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 18, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      It’s an idea that’s crossed my mind from time to time, but the time never seemed right. But maybe it would indeed fit here. Will give it serious consideration. Thanks!

  16. Moschops

    May 20, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Ah, survival horror. Can we expect at some point (be it soon, or maybe in a furute installment) a roundup of Japanese survival horror games? Your history is, by necessity, focussed on the US scene but Japanese survival horror does dovetail nicely (and really went mainstream in the US when it turned into Resident Evil; a Japanese game that made it big in the US and began life as a remake of a classic of Japanese survial horror).

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 20, 2019 at 11:05 am

      It’s way out there in the future, but yes, probably so. Over the course of the 1990s, the gulf between console and computer games steadily narrowed as the latter lost their monopoly on sophistication and cross-platform tools brought many of the same games to both. This will give us a chance to check out iconic Japanese series like Resident Evil and even Final Fantasy.

  17. Slimehunter

    May 22, 2019 at 1:29 am

    Shareware. Yes!
    That’s all I have to say. I’m so excited, really. Most of my childhood gaming was on a Mac Color Classic with ALL the shareware.
    Can’t wait!
    Have a great vacation!

  18. PJN

    May 30, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    A massive game franchise that originated in 1992 was Mortal Kombat. It was a best seller that was released in arcades as well as multiple home consoles.

    It spawned a movie in 1995, and a new movie has been announced just recently. The latest game in the franchise, Mortal Kombat 11, was released just a month ago.

    I hope that your announcement that you are moving into 1993 means that you haven’t overlooked this game. Even if it isn’t typical of the types of games that you normally review, in my opinion there is quite a lot of interesting parts to the story of how the game was developed, the impact it had on pop culture at the time, and its legacy, both in the sheer number of sequels, but also the direct influence that this game had on the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and ratings for video games.

    At the very least I think it deserves an article as a precursor to what you’ve alluded to as Doom’s “low-concept, ultra-violent personality coarsened the culture of gaming”.

    But in order to hopefully persuade you, some other points that this game’s development story covers (which share a lot in common with other games that you’ve previously written articles about):

    – A game made for arcade that bridges the gap to being available on home console (i.e. from a powerful arcade machine to hand held devices)
    – Impressive sales figures
    – Early techniques in motion capture, and how the animation was more realistic than the cartoon-ish competitors
    – There is an underdog story here, in regards to how Street Fighter (which also had its own movie) was already well established
    – Ultra violence, and blood/gore, censure ship (not just the result in a rating system for video games similar to that which existed for music, but making it family friendly for Nintendo’s walled-garden). Apparently the Sega Genesis version of the game outsold the Nintendo port due to Nintendo’s anti-gore policy… Apparently by a factor of 5 to 1.
    – Secret codes/combos (fatalaties, babalities, buy a sub-zero doll etc) and a secret character/easter egg, and the hype (not to mention replay-ability) this produced around the game as friends would share secrets with each other, verbally, in a pre-internet era.
    – There is even an aftermath where the actors didn’t get adequate compensation and they sued (and lost). As with all your articles, there is a lot of interesting history of what it was like for the developers of the game (some of whom were living in Utah), considering that they were creating this ultra-violent game that caused so much controversy ( there are articles about one of the developers of the recent game MK11 being diagnosed with PTSD due to repeated exposure to graphic violence while working on the game).

    • Jimmy Maher

      May 31, 2019 at 8:07 am

      It looks like the computer version didn’t come out until 1993, so all is not lost. ;)

      That said, I’m not sure I’m the person to write the extensive history of its development and gameplay review you seem to envision. That’s probably better left to someone with more love for and understanding of this style of game; my writing about Street Fighter in that way would be a bit like a classical-music scholar trying to write about the history and appeal of punk rock.

      But it is another interesting cultural data point. Like Doom, it went against all of the prevailing wisdom among computer-game developers in 1993, yet was very successful. And it’s role in the debate over violence and the eventual adoption of a rating system for games is certainly important. I’ll be sure to give it its due in those contexts at least.

  19. Milk

    June 25, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    What I always found the most curious about comparing S&M with DotT is that while DotT certainly feels more polished, the former feels like much more content rich. Playing the Tentacle game, you get this feeling that Lucas Arts really was swetting to get all the animations, art and writing ready in time and within the budget, while S&M, coming a few months later, and with a lower budget at that, seems to constantly throw new areas, set-piece scenes and scenarios. While DotT provided funny dialogue, it always felt calculated and reserved coming off of MI2, and again, S&M showers you with line afterine of brilliant writing and voice acting for the most mundane of the interactions in which DotT would have found “I can’t reach it” good enough.
    In Tentacle’s remasters comentary Shaffer talks about how conscious of production costs they were while developing that game. I wonder if the S&M teem felt more loose in that respect, even if actually they had less dollars to work with. Maybe there is something to be said about how polish can also hinder your ability to get stuff done.
    Nevertheless, as a comedy, S&M has much more funny content, but is ultimately a more infuriating GAME to play for it’s more arbritrary design.

    • Jimmy Maher

      June 25, 2019 at 8:35 pm

      That’s a very good summation of the differences between the games. In terms of Graham Nelson’s old formulation of adventure games as a crossword at war with a narrative, Sam & Max is the better (i.e., funnier) narrative, but Day of the Tentacle is the better crossword.

  20. Nate Owens

    August 17, 2019 at 3:24 am

    Is there any plan on covering Star Wars: X-Wing? It seems to me that it represents the beginning of the end of LucasArts as the company that made polished goofball adventure games, and marked a transition to being a more conscientious bearer of the George Lucas brand.

    • Jimmy Maher

      August 17, 2019 at 7:19 am

      I’m going to hold out until 1994 and TIE Fighter, which is by far the better game. I’ll cover the whole lineage there.

      • Nate Owens

        August 17, 2019 at 11:09 am

        It occurs to me that the first Rebel Assault game came out in 1993 too. I’m not sure anyone is too nostalgic for that to be covered though.


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