Transfixed by 1996

15 Jul

I’m afraid I don’t have a regular article for you this week. By way of compensation, I do have a new ebook for you, compiling all of the articles from our recently concluded historical year of 1995, along with the special “Web Around the World” series about the birth of worldwide communications networks and (eventually!) the Internet. Because some of you have requested it, Richard Lindner and I have also prepared a special ebook volume that includes only the latter series. If you enjoy these ebooks, don’t hesitate to drop Richard a line at the email address on their frontispieces to thank him for his efforts.

We’re a couple of articles into 1996 already; I’ve covered Toonstruck and the first Broken Sword game. In keeping with a developing Digital Antiquarian tradition, let me tell you what else I have planned for the year as a whole:

  • The Discworld and Discworld II adventures, preceded by a short digression about Terry Pratchett and his literary Discworld universe in general, which has intersected with games on multiple occasions. (As many of you doubtless know, Terry Pratchett himself was a dedicated gamer, and his daughter Rhianna Pratchett has become a notable games journalist and designer in her own right.)
  • The second (and, sadly, last) Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes game, which plunges you even deeper into Victoriana than does its predecessor.
  • Rama and The Martian Chronicles, which are by no means great games. Nevertheless, they are on one level fairly typical exemplars of the Myst variants that were everywhere in the mid-1990s, and make for worthy objects of inquiry on that basis alone. And on another level, I think it will be interesting, constructive, and maybe even a bit nostalgic to compare them with earlier adaptations of Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, from the first era of bookware. (The Martian Chronicles was even created by Byron Preiss Productions, the same folks behind the old Telarium bookware line.)
  • Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, the penultimate million-selling adventure of the 1990s, a case study in being in the right place at the right time — said time being in this case very close to the release date of a certain blockbuster movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
  • The Pandora Directive. Enough said. Tex Murphy needs no justification.
  • Spycraft, an interactive spy movie by Activision, one of the more elaborate multimedia productions of its day, which courted controversy by letting you torture prisoners while playing the role of a CIA agent. Almost a decade later, the revelations about Guantánamo Bay would give this scene an uncomfortable aura of verisimilitude.
  • Star Control 3, Legend Entertainment’s much-maligned sequel to a much-beloved game.
  • Wing Commander IV. If anyone was wondering why Toonstruck‘s $8 million budget made it only the second most expensive computer game ever as of 1996, this article will provide the answer.
  • Battlecruiser 3000 AD. Because sometimes you just need a good laugh, and this story is like an Onion satire of the games industry come to life.
  • Terra Nova, Looking Glass’s next, somewhat less successful but nevertheless innovative experiment with immersive, emergent 3D world-building after the seminal System Shock.
  • Civilization II, Master of Orion II, and Heroes of Might and Magic II. I lump these three games together here because they are all strategy sequels — a thought-provoking concept in itself, in that they are iterations on gameplay rather than the next chapters of ongoing stories. They will, however, each get an article of their own as part of a mini-series.
  • The post-DOOM generation of first-person shooters, up to Quake and the advent of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. I know some of you have been itching for more coverage of these topics, to which I can only plead that they just aren’t my favorite sorts of games; chalk me up as too old, too slow, too pacifistic, and/or too bookish. This means I’m really not the best person to cover most first-person shooters in great individual depth. But I’ll try to do a group of them some sort of historical justice here, and spend some time on the software and hardware technology behind them as well, which I must confess to finding more interesting in some ways than the actual games.
  • Tomb Raider. Lara Croft has become arguably the most famous videogame character in the world in the years since her debut in 1996, as well as a lightning rod for discussion and controversy. Is she a sadly typical example of the objectification of women for the male-gamer gaze, or a rarer example of a capable, empowered female protagonist in a game? Or is she perhaps a little of both? We shall investigate.
  • Her Interactive. The story of the earliest games of Her Interactive, who would later carve out a permanent niche for themselves making Nancy Drew adventure games, is another fascinating and slightly bizarre tale, about attempting to sell games to teenage girls through partnerships with trendy fashion labels, with plots that might have been lifted from Beverly Hills 90210, in boxes stuffed with goodies that were like girlie versions of the Infocom gray boxes of yore. Do the games stay on the right side of the line between respectful outreach and pandering condescension? Again, we shall investigate.
  • Windows 95. The biggest topic for the year, this will serve as a continuation of not one but two earlier series: “Doing Windows” and the recently concluded “A Web Around the World.” Windows 95 was anything but just another Microsoft operating system, reflecting as it did its maker’s terror about a World Wide Web filled with increasingly “active” content that might eventually make traditional operating systems — and thus Microsoft themselves — irrelevant. And Windows 95 also introduced a little something called DirectX, which finally provided game developers with a runtime environment that was comprehensively better than bare-bones MS-DOS. But why, you may be asking, am I including Windows 95 in the coverage for 1996? Simply because it shipped very late in its titular year, and it took a while for its full impact to be felt.

To answer another question that will doubtless come up after reading the preceding: no, I’m not going to skip over Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo, one of the most popular games of the decade. I’ve just decided to push it into 1997, given that it appears not to have reached store shelves in most places until just after the new year. And I’ll make time for a round-up of real-time-strategy games, from Blizzard and others, before covering Diablo.

As always, none of this is set in stone. Feel free to make your case in the comments for anything I’ve neglected that you think would make a worthy topic for an article, or just to register your voice as a conscientious objector in the case of the games I won’t be able to get around to.

And if what’s coming up seems exciting to you and you haven’t yet signed up to support this project, please do think about doing so. Of course, I realize all too well that much in the world is uncertain right now and many of us feel ourselves to be on shaky ground, not least when it comes to our finances. By all means, take care of yourself and yours first. But if you have a little something left over after doing so and want to ensure that my voluminous archives continue to grow, anything you can spare would be immensely appreciated. See the links at the top right of this page!

And thank you — a million times thank you — to all of you who have already become Patreon patrons or made one-time or recurring PayPal donations. Your pledges and donations are the best validation a writer could have, in addition to being the only reason I’m able to keep on doing this. It’s been quite a ride already, and yet we have a long, long way still to go. See you next week for a proper article!


73 Responses to Transfixed by 1996

  1. Swiftish

    July 15, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    Would you be interested in covering ZZT and/or Megazeux? Most of the games made for them are at least partly of the adventure genre, and they had an interesting community and culture that sprang up around them.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 15, 2022 at 3:58 pm

      ZZT has come up before, but it’s one of those I haven’t any experience with, and frankly I’m not sure what to make of it. Megazeux I’ve never heard of. Is there a curated list anywhere of agreed-upon best “worlds” — preferably ones with more of a narrative focus?

      • Swiftish

        July 15, 2022 at 4:43 pm

        Megazeux was the (unofficial) successor to ZZT that came out a couple of years later. It had more features and a more robust scripting language. Some still preferred the simplicity of ZZT, though.

        I wasn’t so much interested in looking at specific games as the game creation programs themselves as a tool for non-programmers to make adventure games. And also the community it enabled around the same time that the internet was becoming a “thing”.

        I don’t know if there even were games that were popular enough that everyone in the community would have played them (other than the built-in ones). Most of the ones I downloaded were random ones I found on BBS sites or AOL, or made by friends.

        Most games were action-adventures kind of like Zelda or Atari Adventure (or Kingdom of Kroz, which seems like it must have inspired ZZT’s basic gameplay). Some were definitely of a more text adventure bent, but with ascii art. Many were pretty juvenile– we were mostly teens making these games at the time.

        Here are a couple of web sites.

        Sorry, I don’t know if I’m making a good case, here. I was really into these programs in the 90s, and they seem at least tangentially related to the topic of your blog.

        I’m a big fan of the blog, btw. Keep up the good work, regardless.

    • Jack Brounstein

      July 15, 2022 at 4:08 pm

      Incidentally, the Boss Fight Books release about ZZT was pretty good (as someone who had never heard of the game before reading it).

  2. Josh T.

    July 15, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    Very nice slate of articles coming up! Regarding the FPS entry, you might find this video essay (and series as a whole) by Errant Signal rather interesting. It’s a very thoughtful look at how both Quake and Duke Nukem 3D had separate influences on shooters and the games industry as a whole; the former with its 3D technology and online multiplayer, and the latter with its worldbuilding and reflection of gaming culture at that time.

  3. Jack Brounstein

    July 15, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    Hmm, no text adventure/IF content? If nothing else, I enjoy the collections of shorter write-ups of interesting titles, like the “Neo-Classical Interactive Fiction of 1995” article.

    And a meta-question: How far in advance do you have your articles planned? I know you mentioned in a comment elsewhere that you’ve been convinced to cover Final Fantasy VII, which implies that you at least have a road map through 1997.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 15, 2022 at 4:26 pm

      I’ll continue to do that from time to time, but I just don’t have enough games from 1996 that I feel passionately enough about to write up here. I expect to do another round-up as part of the 1997 coverage, with one or two 1996 titles included as well.

      I have a “long list” of games for 1997 already, but some of those will doubtless get culled after I realize they aren’t as interesting as I had thought they might be.

      • Richard Smith

        July 16, 2022 at 1:32 am

        So, are we not going to get more in depth articles on individual text adventures(as opposed to smaller round ups)? I am always interested to see your takes on them, as you were a part of some of it.

        • Jimmy Maher

          July 16, 2022 at 3:02 pm

          If I play something that cries out for such a treatment, sure. But modern IF presents a lot of challenges to write about at length in a relatable way. There aren’t the financial stakes, the broader cultural stakes, or the single narrative throughline of, say, Infocom’s history — just a bunch of hobbyists writing games in their spare time. And the games they came up with during the mid-1990s were, as I wrote in the last roundup, mostly neoclassical, conservative works that don’t really cry out for extended critical analysis, for all that I may love some of them. My #1 writerly rule — “Don’t Be Boring” — does come into play here. ;)

          • Nevin

            October 7, 2022 at 3:25 am

            I’m replying way late to this, but… If you look through IFDB’s list of games from 1996, it’s pretty disappointing.

            If you did write that article, the most interesting approach would be to consider how IF community standards were starting to develop now that they’d had a couple years to consider what games could be made. Neither “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents ‘A Fable'” nor “Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die” were GOOD, but they were informed the conversation over the next few years. “Tapestry” is the first attempt that I know of to really push the bounds of story-telling in the Inform era, and “Lists of Lists” experimented in another way.

            The only games that I might tell someone to try today are “So Far” and “The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet”.

            • Jimmy Maher

              October 7, 2022 at 5:37 am

              Yes. After 1995, a banner year for big, well-crafted, puzzly, traditionalist games, 1996 and 1997 were very much years of transition, as the community moved, a little uncertainly, into an era of shorter and more forthrightly “literary” works. As you said, many of the early experiments in this vein come off a little half-baked today. I think the highlights of those two years can easily be covered in one roundup article.

              The pickings get richer in 1998, the year of Anchorhead, Spider and Web, and Photopia. (I have mixed feelings on that last one, but it definitely can’t be ignored…)

              • Lisa H.

                October 7, 2022 at 8:36 pm

                Glad to see someone else with the unpopular opinion that Photopia is not that great. It’s certainly interesting as a form and technical experiment, but it left me cold.

  4. Andrew Pam

    July 15, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    These sound like excellent subjects and I look forward to your explorations and explications! I have Battlecruiser 3000AD mint in box, but never actually got around to playing it… the story of that game reminds me a little of the legendary animated film “The Thief and the Cobbler”, another forcibly released passion project.

    • Fuck David Cage

      July 15, 2022 at 6:23 pm

      Never play Battlecruiser 3000 A.D: I played the last version, Universal Combat and it still justified its reputation as a giant unplayable piece of shit.

  5. Ice Cream Jonsey

    July 15, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    The exact release date of Diablo has always been a little interesting to me. I was working at an Electronics Boutique on the east coast at the time and I remember closing my store on December 31st, 1996 with Diablo definitely not out on the shelves for sale. I don’t believe we had copies in the building but honestly, it’s been so long that I can’t definitively say.

    The store was closed on 1/1/2017 and when I got to work mid-morning on January 2nd 1997, copies had arrived and we had it available for everyone to purchase.

    I don’t doubt that certain places in the US had it for sale “early” on 12/31/96 and I remember hearing that 1/3/1997 was the original intended official release day by Blizzard.

    IIRC, once a store in a town broke the release date it was acceptable for all the other area software stores to do the same.

  6. Anonymous

    July 15, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Looking forward as always to the nest year of articles..
    I think you left out a word and wanted to say “Lara Croft has become arguably the most famous -female- videogame character in the world” not the most famous character overall.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 15, 2022 at 5:49 pm

      As intended, actually. ;) In my experience, even most people who have never played a videogame know Lara Croft. Her only competitors might be Pac-Man and Super Mario, perhaps Sonic, but they’re more mascots and cartoons than fully-developed characters. (Not that Lara is exactly Lady Macbeth in terms of depth, but you know what I mean…)

      • Sniffnoy

        July 15, 2022 at 5:56 pm

        Really? Lara Croft? That’s… surprising, for sure. I probably would have put Donkey Kong in the list of characters everyone knows, definitely would not have thought of Lara Croft. Like… hardly anyone seemed to be asking for her in Smash Bros or anything!

        • Whomever

          July 15, 2022 at 7:48 pm

          I actually agree with Jimmy, at least in the era. Non-gamers had heard of Lara Croft. There was in fact a couple of movies (which I have not seen but assume are terrible) in the early 2000s that probably added to this. Today? Maybe not but I’m not sure who else I’d think of

          • Michael

            July 16, 2022 at 10:08 pm

            I’d back that up, too. Lara Croft is known to pretty much everyone. Donkey Kong? That’s a character? The only reason people know it is because it was the name of the game. In fact, if you take out games where the character IS the name of the game (OK, technically her name is a part of it, but it’s generally treated as a subtitle), she’s it.

          • dks

            July 19, 2022 at 12:53 pm

            The movie series was actually rebooted in 2018, with a sequel still in the making. They are based on the also rebooted game series (starting in 2013), which obviously revived the popularity of the character.

      • Robert Barron

        July 15, 2022 at 6:01 pm

        I think that the last few years have promoted Sonic to a fully-developed character, even if the heavy lifting has been done by movies and not by computer games.

  7. Sniffnoy

    July 15, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    Huh, why Tomb Raider, I have to wonder? That seems pretty far away from what you usually cover…

  8. Michael Russo

    July 15, 2022 at 5:56 pm

    Sounds great, I’ll be here! And while I may not play any FPS games these days… well, since I beat Quake in 1996 really (!) … I did buy the original 3dfx Voodoo for it, and was pretty amazed and astounded by its graphics. So I’m quite excited for you to write up some technical details on 3D graphics in video games… maybe it won’t be a 10-part historical series, but if you want to take 3-4 parts to get up to Quake that’s fine by me! :)

  9. Fuck David Cage

    July 15, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    It played the most polished version of Battlecruiser 3000 A.D, Universal Combat and although it fixed the bugs it still fully justified its reputation as one of the biggest pieces of shit in the history of video games. Combat was a nonsensical mess in which you could not tell whether your shots were hitting the enemies or how much health you or the enemies had, travelling between star systems often took ten minutes of real time, the interface was a horrible clusterfuck, and it was no fun at all.

    • arthurdawg

      July 15, 2022 at 6:46 pm

      So pretty good overall? I mean it sounds like a solid endorsement on you part?

      • Fuck David Cage

        July 15, 2022 at 6:48 pm

        “it still fully justified its reputation as one of the biggest pieces of shit in the history of video games. Combat was a nonsensical mess in which you could not tell whether your shots were hitting the enemies or how much health you or the enemies had, travelling between star systems often took ten minutes of real time, the interface was a horrible clusterfuck, and it was no fun at all.” What is ambiguous?

  10. Fuck David Cage

    July 15, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    I also think Tomb Raider and Diablo and two of the worst game series, though that is a subjective assessment rather than the objectively awful nature of Battlecruiser 3000 and Universal Combat. Tomb Raider controls horribly, has frustrating level design and puzzles, the combat and platforming are incredibly tedious and repetitive and it lacks creativity–it is one of the worst examples of the awful 3D platformers that came before the definitive classic Mario 64. Modern Tomb Raider improves the controls and level design but without its quirks the series becomes horribly boring and uninteresting and there are still far better choices.

    Diablo, how I hate that series. Endlessly clicking on enemies again and again until my finger breaks, no variety, no charm, no fun. I can occasionally pick up loot, hooray, not like I cannot do that in a million far superior R.P.G.s. I have very little to say about this because it has so little substance.

  11. Adam M

    July 15, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Jimmy, will you be covering the sale of Sierra Online to CUC International in 1996, as a “time of endings” finale for the Ken and Roberta Williams story? I’ve loved reading all your Sierra focused articles since you began the series in 2013. I realize Sierra didn’t really end in 1996 and survived in various forms for a number of years, but without the Williams’s at the helm it just didn’t feel like the same company anymore.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 15, 2022 at 8:33 pm

      Yes, but I’m going to reserve that story for 1997, when the Williamses quite literally sailed off into the sunset after the release of King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity.

  12. Martin

    July 15, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    Good to see you tackling HER Interactive and Nancy Drew. I have all of them and, so far, have played through about 2/3s of them. Probably will be more like all of them by the time you get there.

    Also good to see you tackling Quake and the Doom-likes – for other reasons.

  13. Marco

    July 15, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    A few thoughts:

    1) It’s a good list. The only significant gap to my mind is Zork: Nemesis. Maybe not vital in historical terms, but given there was so much Zork earlier in the blog, and while this is a controversial opinion, for me it’s the only one after the original trilogy that captures the same mix of light and dark.

    2) Rose Tattoo (the second Lost Files game) has the most complex and intricate plot of any adventure game, and perhaps the only one that stands up as a literary work in its own right. The only slight problem is (in the version I have) some truly irritating bugs around Wiggins. Let me know if you need any help getting round them.

    3) Titanic: AOOT picked up a lot of sales from coming out close to the film Titanic, but note that in content it has far more resemblance to A Night To Remember (the book and the film). It would be awesome if you could work in a bit on its loose prequel Dust, which is a game that is very easy to underrate at the start but actually has just as much depth and nuance.

    4) Without putting in spoilers about Spycraft now, the ENTIRE BLOODY GAME has an uncomfortable aura of verisimilitude! I hope you’ll riff on that.

    5) Couple of other mentions from 1996, just to underline how incredible that year really was for adventure gaming. Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail has many flaws, but is visually beautiful and manages to be the most nineties game ever – to get maximum points you literally have to sit through a 40-minute set of Bill Clinton jokes. I’m not even making this up. The Dame was Loaded is also very flawed in execution, but goes further than anyone else in trying to create a total FMV adventure along the lines of the Dixon Hall holodeck programmes Captain Picard liked.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 16, 2022 at 7:51 am

      1. I confess to not being quite so enamored with Zork Nemesis as you are. For whatever reason, Myst-style games tend to be a hard sell with me. My plan was to shunt it into a preamble to Zork Grand Inquisitor, which will come with 1997.

      2. Already played it, and I also think very highly of it. No trouble with bugs either…

      3. I seriously considered doing a longer series about Titanic games and how they tied in with the broader pop culture: first the discovery of the wreck by Robert Ballard in the 1980s, then the movie in the 1990s. I don’t think that will end up happening, though, because it’s more a case of me wanting the games in question to be good than them actually being good.

      4. Yeah. It’s certainly a unique piece of work…

      5. I tend to find Al Lowe’s humor tiresome, so I don’t know how much I have to say about Love for Sail, although it will get a look-in as part of the 1997 Sierra coverage. The Dame Was Loaded may be worth looking at more closely, however… that one slipped under my radar.

      • Marco

        July 16, 2022 at 2:20 pm

        (Dixon Hill of course, my typo.)

        Nemesis and Grand Inquisitor are the only two adventure games of this era that I actually played at the time, as opposed to many years later. Nemesis worked for me because it was just about the right level of length and difficulty: the puzzles felt rewarding to beat and I didn’t need to resort to a walkthrough, unlike Myst and many others. Grand Inquisitor had great style but was just too short and easy. Fine to cover them together though.

        The Dame was Loaded actually has a decent plot, but they implemented real-time gameplay in a way that’s realistic but overly harsh. You can only save or even quit the game at one location, which takes time to get to, everywhere is only open at certain times of day, money and carrying capacity are constant worries, and if you don’t keep making progress you’re thrown out of town.

      • Andrew Plotkin

        July 17, 2022 at 1:56 am

        I think Zork Nemesis is notable in the history of 90s Myst-likes… which, I admit, isn’t a category with a lot of lasting impact. I mean, the *genre* was significant. You can fairly say that it spun out into *three* significant game genres of the 00s. (Hidden object games, Flash room escapes, and walking simulators.) But it’s hard to point to individual games other than Myst/Riven and say “yeah, people are still talking about that one.”

        Nonetheless, I’ll stand behind ZN as being an interesting adventure game in its own right. RTZ and ZGI were pretty solidly in the “satirical point-and-click for Zork fans” category.

        While flipping through 1996 adventure lists, I’d also mention Lighthouse: The Dark Being.

        And… Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain! Okay, that’s *really* not worth a blog post. But it was the accidental launching point of the Soul Reaver series — basically Tomb Raider only goth. Not really your beat, but pretty famous.

        • Mark Williams

          July 19, 2022 at 3:40 pm

          I was certainly hooked on Zork Nemesis at the time and would play it late into the night. There was no connection to the Zork games, in the way that RTZ and ZGI explicitly referenced the canon, but it was full of atmosphere and character. I think the Zork label was attached as a marketing ploy after the game was designed and written.
          I was also a massive fan of the voxel landscape of Terra Centauri and its squad based combat. If only it had been updated to higher resolution and faster processors.

  14. Alex

    July 16, 2022 at 6:22 am

    Regarding Diablo: I think it was my first Action RPG, but I never got far in it. I once got to the first demon boss (the butcher), lost and quit forever. It just wasn´t for me. Regarding Tomb Raider: First: Yes, there were a few movies made. I watched the first one in the cinema, but instantly forgot about it. It was something like Indiana Jones, but without anything special about it.

    Second: While of course your opinion on the classic games may vary (I liked the first one and enjoyed the second one a lot), I think they are an essential artefact of the time, at least in parts of Europe. While I don´t recall that the PC versions had a great cultural impact, the Playstation Games just fit in perfectly within the 90s popular culture. I was at the right age at that time and have very fond memories of it. I also remember the discussion about the the meaning of Lara Croft quite clearly (Is she a part of the new girl power movement or just a virtual sex doll?)

    But what do I think of the games today after the glory days long went by? To be honest, not much. After the 90s were over, I bought the fourth game and enyoyed it, but then I lost interest completely. Two years ago I tried to play Tomb Raider 2 again on the PS3, and I was so shocked about the murky graphics and the horrible controls, I quit after a few minutes.

    So, all in all: While I don´t know anything about the new games and movies, the old ones are important of you are interested in 90s popular culture, but otherwise: Don´t bother, they didn´t age well.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 16, 2022 at 7:56 am

      I had much the same experience with the first Tomb Raider recently. I found it almost unplayable, with its huge empty environments and complete lack of any orientation tools such as an auto-map. (Granted, I am exceptionally bad at virtual navigation…) In addition to the appeal of Lara Croft, I think it sold back in the day on the basis of its technology: no one had ever seen such huge, seamless 3D spaces. Now that such things are par for the course in games, it doesn’t have much else to fall back on.

      So, yeah, I’m more interested in Tomb Raider as a cultural phenomenon than as a game you might want to play in 2022. But I think there’s a heck of a lot to dig into in the former context.

      • Leo Vellés

        July 25, 2022 at 4:30 pm

        Jimmy, did you played the remake versión of the first Tomb Raider? It’s basically the same game, but with better graphics and gameplay. I believe it’s from 2010

        • Jimmy Maher

          July 26, 2022 at 6:33 am

          I haven’t. But I always want to experience the games I cover as they were would have been experienced by players of the time as much as possible, so I avoid remakes and re-releases.

  15. Vulpes

    July 16, 2022 at 7:49 am

    I’d encourage you to give Super Mario 64 a look. It’s not a narrative-heavy game, but it did revolutionize an important aspect of the connection between the player and game: the camera, along with camera-relative movement controls. I think that sort of connection is at least adjacent to your interests.

    • Ethan Andrew Johnson

      July 16, 2022 at 2:24 pm

      I think the topic of a 3D camera would best be left to a later date. Given that Jimmy focuses primarily on PC games, it would be a while until third person action games and narrative games would have to tackle with the camera.

      If there’s a place for that on this generally narrative-focused blog, I have heard that many game developers cite Mark Haigh-Hutchinson as someone who explained the technical nature of cameras better than anyone else. His book – though it came out later – was an extension of many of his GDC talks on the subject and would be a good starting point.

  16. Alex

    July 16, 2022 at 10:06 am

    @ Jimmy Maher: I´m really looking forward to your thoughts about the cultural aspects of the game. There is really much to write about. For instance, this music video by the German band “Die Ärzte” features Lara Croft and was very popular in Germany back in the day:

  17. Ethan Johnson

    July 16, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Terra Nova will be particularly interesting to me to see what you have to say about its narrative merits, resident Looking Glass guy that I am. The story I’ve been able to piece together so far is pretty wacky and I always enjoy seeing both your takes and what else you dig up.

  18. tom

    July 16, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    C&C Red Alert might not be worth an entire article but I’ll toss it out there anyway as a solid potential topic, perhaps serving a bridge in RTS coverage so to speak between Dune II and Starcraft, if you plan to cover the latter for 1998.

    • Brian Bagnall

      July 17, 2022 at 5:59 pm

      I second that. Loved the game in all its FMV glory.

      • Bogdanow

        July 18, 2022 at 8:24 pm

        I support C&C Red Alert!
        It also fits with the sequel being somehow different and more popular than the original game (similar to Dune 2), making an interesting point.
        Other suggestions: Resident Evil, Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures.

  19. Dylan

    July 16, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    This is a good list and there are no egregious exclusions! That said, here are a few suggestions:

    – The game I was most hoping you’d cover from 1996 was The Neverhood. I suspect you’d have some issues with it – the puzzles are of wildly varying quality – but it’s a beautiful game with a very unusual (and fantastic) soundtrack, an unusual development history (the short lived Dreamworks/Microsoft video game partnership) and is narratively unusual (being both delightfully surreal and a thinly-veiled Christian parable). Definitely an interesting mid-90s adventure game that is in some ways very much of its time and genre, and in other ways completely unlike any other game I’ve played.

    – Daggerfall isn’t a “must-cover” game like Morrowind is, but it is staggeringly ambitious, and has its dedicated fans to this day (to the point that absurd man-hours have gone into remaking the entire game in Unity – see the recent GOG release). Really pushing at the fringes of what a computer RPG can do.

    – Duke Nukem 3D will have aged poorly and is reasonably outside this blog’s core remit, but it’s absolutely an important 1996 game and does a lot of work in laying some immersive sim groundwork (the environmental actions and various gestures at verisimilitude)

    – Finally, I’d love to read about Meridian 59, one of the first graphical MMOs.

    • tom

      July 16, 2022 at 6:46 pm

      Meridian 59 is a great suggestion too, especially if you’re going to discuss Ultima Online and/or Everquest later on.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 16, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      I wanted to like The Neverhood, but I just couldn’t get on with it. Sorry!

      Your other suggestions will show up, but not in a standalone context: Daggerfall as part of a run-up to Morrowind, Duke Nukem 3D in the shooter round-up, Meridian 59 in the run-up to Ultima Online.

    • Doug Orleans

      August 3, 2022 at 6:29 pm

      I loved The Neverhood and I can’t believe it’s that old already!

  20. Alex

    July 16, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Yes, Duke 3D is a certainly a game within its genre that´s worth mentioning. Of all the shooters I´ve ever played, this may be the only one that I really remember fondly, apart from Wolf 3D (Yes, of course I played Half-Life and Unreal). There´s really something special about its combination of environment, gameplay and character-type.

  21. Vulpes

    July 17, 2022 at 12:54 am

    Thinking about it more, here are the games that jump out to me as omissions:

    First, as I already mentioned, Super Mario 64. It revolutionized both the control and camera of 3D games, and it’s the highest-rated and best-selling game of 1996. I know you generally focus on narrative-heavy games, but there are some games no historian of the medium can afford to be unfamiliar with, and this is one of them. If you’re planning on playing Tomb Raider, that’s all the more reason to play SM64: struggling with Lara’s clunky controls will make you appreciate what a revelation SM64 was.

    Next, Resident Evil. It pretty much invented modern survival horror, and it’s at least part-adventure game. What more do you want?

    I’d also recommend you look at the Pokémon games—they launched what is literally the highest-grossing media franchise in human history. They were also many people’s introduction to RPGs, and they manage to cram a huge world into a Game Boy cartridge. (Of course, if you’d prefer to wait until you reach 1998, the Western release, to cover them, that would be reasonable.)

    • Brian Bagnall

      July 17, 2022 at 7:50 pm

      I’m watching my son play Super Mario Odyssey right now, the latest evolution of the original SMB64. Back then I wasn’t too impressed with Nintendo games, other than Zelda and SMB, and was quite happy to remain in the computer world of gaming. These days I’m blown away by Nintendo’s dedication to refining their products.

  22. Gnoman

    July 17, 2022 at 7:07 am

    As Vulpes mentions, survival horror games are a pretty strong offshoot of the classic adventure game format. The exploration, puzzles* (mostly weak puzzles, but puzzles nonetheless) and atmosphere are not that different from a lot of the later 3D adventures in substance, making the biggest departure from that genre the addition of a combat system. The first example of these is Alone In The Dark (which was covered here, I think), but Resident Evil (first released in 1996) is a much more definitive birth.

    Given that this blog is so heavily focused on adventure games, and lately with the death thereof, some exploration into what they evolved into feels on-topic even if the games wouldn’t otherwise make the cut.

    * To make the comparison, an early puzzle in the first game is

    Gnxr gur JBBQ RZOYRZ sebz gur qvavat ebbz

    Hfr gur FJBEQ XRL gb ragre gur ebbz jvgu gur CVNAB gb zrrg ERORPPN


    ERORPPN jvyy cynl gur CVNAB, bcravat gur UVQQRA EBBZ

    Gnxr gur TBYQ RZOYRZ sebz gur UVQQRA EBBZ

    UVQQRA EBBZ jvyy pybfr, genccvat lbh

    Ercynpr gur TBYQ RZOYRZ jvgu gur JBBQ RZOYRZ gb erbcra gur cnffntr

    Ercynpr gur JBBQ RZOYRZ jvgu gur TBYQ RZOYRZ gb zbir gur PYBPX gb erprvir gur FUVRYQ XRL

    This would not be out of place in most adventure games.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 17, 2022 at 7:25 am

      I’ll do something with survival horror at some point, but not right now. That first Resident Evil game is written so disastrously badly that I’d have trouble focusing on much else. Call it to the perils of being a Literary Studies graduate writing about games. ;) By the time we get to, say, Silent Hill 2, we’re getting to something with a bit more sophistication.

      I wouldn’t really say that the point-and-click adventure games of the 1990s “evolved into” survival horror — at least not exclusively. Survival horror comes out of an action-adventure tradition that dates back to Atari’s Adventure from 1979, which was explicitly an attempt to adapt the experience of playing Crowther and Woods’s Adventure to a console that couldn’t possibly handle the original. The evolutionary line, in other words, stretches back to text adventures more so than graphical ones.

      I would say that as time went on almost all genres adopted some of adventure games’ interest in telling a story, accompanied by a fixed progression through a series of narrative-linked levels or the like rather than a series of one-off, bespoke experiences that the player was expected to curate for herself. You can see this beginning to happen well before Resident Evil. Eventually most people realized that what they had really liked about adventure games was the aspect of story and the sense of progression toward definitively “beating” a game, not the puzzles. And now they could get the former two things elsewhere.

      • Aula

        July 17, 2022 at 10:32 am

        “I’ll do something with survival horror at some point, but not right now.”

        Well, you could write about Bad Mojo as if it was a part of the survival horror genre. I mean, BM pretty much *is* survival horror; the whole point of the game is to try to survive in an environment where you will experience a lot of sudden deaths (which can be quite scary) until you learn how to avoid them, and although there’s no combat as such, you still get to kill some enemies.

        • Jimmy Maher

          July 17, 2022 at 7:15 pm

          I’m afraid that’s another one I bounced off of pretty hard. ;)

      • Vulpes

        July 18, 2022 at 1:48 am

        “Disastrously badly”? Clearly you lack the refinement to appreciate the poetic genius of the line “Jill sandwich”.

  23. Brian Bagnall

    July 17, 2022 at 7:46 pm

    This isn’t really related to 1996, but I’m excited for the upcoming game from Ken and Roberta Williams, Colossal Cave 3D Adventure. Obviously a reimagining of the game that started it all! This speaks volumes to me about the pairs dedication to game development and their reverence towards gaming history. They could be sailing on yachts and living their retirement, but they are both back in the trenches developing something that looks pretty cutting edge. I’m especially curious about Ken because he was strictly biz guy after the earliest games but he’s actually back to hands on development from the sound of it. A few quotes from him that have me tantalized are: “This is truly a game that will delight a new generation, and 100% different than anything I’ve seen in the market today. … Anyone who plays the VR version will be blown away. It is really staggering when you enter the cave.” This will be a must play on my Quest.

  24. Lt. Nitpicker

    July 22, 2022 at 2:50 am

    I’d say I was surprised by the lack of anything related to Eidetic or Bubsy 3D in the list of topics, but I’m honestly not. There are several reasons why, including the fact that the alleged story” behind it has been covered to death by many different people and sites, the lack of anything exactly like the GDC Boffo Games breakdown presentation, the need for a significant amount of “catch-up” material and the fact that the game is basically outside your wheelhouse as a platformer game on a console. (even if I feel that you should be covering more [story-focused] console games despite this blog’s focus on computer games) In my opinion, these factors outweigh the fact that Eidetic was founded by two notable figures from Infocom (Blank and Berlyn) who were both involved with Bubsy 3D. I personally feel that not covering this topic is the right move, and I would much rather see you cover topics that are more in this blog’s wheelhouse (like story-driven games) instead.

  25. Neal Tringham

    July 22, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    Just here to say you might want to take a look at Emperor of the Fading Suns – not a flawless game by any means, but IMO an interestingly different take on space strategy with a richly defined milieu. Like the slightly later Alpha Centauri, it was good at fostering emergent narratives.

  26. Neal Tringham

    July 22, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    Though now that I come to check, it looks like Emperor of the Fading Suns was actually released in 1997, despite Mobygames listing it as 1996?

    Looking forward to Discworld, anyway :)

  27. Leo Vellés

    July 25, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    I´m really glad that you will cover the second, and last, entry on the Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. The first time i read this blog was by a link that sent me here looking for information about The Case of the Serrated Scalpel, which is one of my favourite games of all time, and reading all the praise you wrote about that game, specially the graphic design. To this day, I think that is the game with the most beautiful pixel arte ever (what they do with the lightning and shadows is precious). And thanks to this game, I discovered this blog of which i read every single entry and comment, cause it`s the best blog for this subject, and I read a buch of them.
    About the FPS genre….I was a graphic adventure fan since I played Maniac Mansion on the C-64 in 1988, and that was exclusively my genre of choice for many years, cause the action games weren´t my cup of tea….Shooting zombies or aliens didn`t appeal to me, so Doom, Quake and the lot didn`t take on my interest….but the the first Medal of Honour was released, and that catched with me: now you kill nazis in places that are in the real world (to this day, I think the first one is the best of the franchise, and is better than the first Call of Duty).
    And then……Half Life came out, and boy, now i don´t mind shooting aliens because the game is sooo goooood! And, last year, I played Half Life 2 for the first time and I was amazed: a game from 2004 that still looks modern, with the best gameplay i ever saw on a game, the right level of difficulty, a groundbreaking narrative in game that has no cut scenes (well, to be honest that was first implemented in the original Half Life).
    So, being for so many years an only graphic adventure gamer, that the Half Life series managed to shake my standing on what games I played is something…
    I know we are a little soon for those, specially Half Life 2, but I wonder since you don`t like FPS if you gave it a try, cause I think you would like it very much.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 26, 2022 at 6:42 am

      I must sheepishly admit that I’ve never played any Half-Life game. I do look forward to Half-Life 1, and will definitely cover it here as the major landmark it is. I’ve been told by some players that the design hasn’t held up all that well once you look past its groundbreaking narrative elements, but we’ll see. I’m looking forward to finding out what I think of it as much as anyone. ;)

  28. Joshua Barrett

    July 26, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    I am, as always, curious to see your FPS coverage—despite it not being your favorite genre, you’ve been quite even-handed. And Quake, at least, is certainly deserving of the look here.

    Well, I say that. The least interesting thing about Quake is Quake, and I say that as somebody who really likes Quake. What will be much more relevant to this blog is Quake as a platform, in every sense of the word. QuakeWorld (the first version of Quake you could credibly play online, although arguably more appropriate for 1997) sits opposite Diablo: Both influenced the rise of online gaming, but had opposite approaches. Quake, in true id fashion, abdicated responsibility for network infrastructure and instead shipped server binaries to fans and made them do the work. Which was inconvenient, relatively, but gave the players a massive amount of control over their game: quake’s multiplayer infrastructure is not beholden to a company, so it still works, and you can fire up a server browser (now integrated into modern Quake ports for your convenience) and drop into a server all these years later. Diablo, by contrast, used a matchmaking system with Which made multiplayer easier and more convenient, but placed it entirely under Blizzard’s control. This is the approach that won in the multiplayer space, which was devastating for games as platforms: Because Quake players could do whatever they wanted online, Quake itself became a laboratory for the next generation of FPS ideas. CTF, still a mainstay game mode, was born as a Quake mod. The original Team Fortress popularized class-based gameplay and also came from Quake (as did 2fort, for better or worse). Rocket Arena experimented with the gameplay loop of deathmatch, placing the emphasis on raw combat (normal Quake DM is as much or more about resource management…), and meanwhile, demo files like Diary of a Camper were inventing Machinima, Quake Done Quick was helping to popularize speedrunning, and the mapping community was cranking out maps, good and bad. This same innovation carried into Quake 2, and Quake’s many technological descendants, most notably the Half-Life series.

    I guess my point is that Quake’s cultural significance is more interesting than the base game, which is just… very very satisfying.

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 27, 2022 at 8:01 am

      Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but 1997 was a watershed year, when gaming began to move onto the Internet in a big way. It was the year of QuakeWorld, Diablo, Ultima Online, and SubSpace (a game I knew nothing about until receiving an interesting email about it recently). An important step on the journey to today, when some youngsters I know struggle to wrap their heads around the concept of a game that *isn’t* played online with others. I’m sure I’ll try to mark all of this appropriately when the time comes.

  29. Alex

    July 27, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    I have to give Half-Life a second try. I got a pirate copy quite soon after it hit the market, played it from beginning to end and didn´t recognize any kind of genius in it. Running, jumping and shooting in a big environment just like in any other modern shooter. Yeah, it got some kind of stealth element, but there was nothing I recalled after beating it. Your comments here make me really curious about the things I might have missed in my teens.

  30. fb

    August 4, 2022 at 8:16 am

    I’m a bit late to the party, but would also like to say that that’s a great list of 1996 releases to cover – very much looking forward to your takes.

    A few additional suggestions of games released in ‘96 which I’d be curious to see covered at some point (I suppose they’re slightly on the obscure side/not necessarily hugely influential):

    Creatures – a virtual pet sandbox with an AI that was probably overhyped compared to what it ultimately delivered.

    Syndicate Wars – Bullfrog’s sequel to Syndicate, which introduced destructible 3D environments.

    Z – a comedic take on the RTS genre by the Bitmap Brothers that feels a bit like a tower-defense precursor.

    Ecstatica II – a game series with a haunting atmosphere and a unique look (the first part came out in ‘94, and the second apparently in ‘96 in Europe, but ‘97 in the states).

    SimCopter – a game that should not be as strange as it is.

    And I second Emperor of the Fading Suns, suggested above :)

    Anyway – thank you for your work & again looking forward to the upcoming articles!

  31. Alianora La Canta

    August 4, 2022 at 11:28 pm

    I second Creatures, in that the backstory is likely to be interesting and it was an important series for developing certain forms of AI that will become relevant when you later potentially cover The Sims and other games where player control of characters is conditional.

    Settlers II would fit well into the mini-series on strategy sequels you’re proposing.

    Obsidian might be worth a shout from its description, although I’m not sure how good it is because I have never played it.

    Descent II might be a good point to write about Descent if you’re going to do it (though I would understand if you opted not to do so).

  32. Tipi

    August 22, 2022 at 5:05 pm

    Man, looking at that list, 1996 was really a great year to be a PC gamer. Looking forward especially to the Battlecruiser 3000, Duke 3D and Master of Orion II articles. Of these, the first I’ve never played but am kind of fascinated by, while the latter two are both on my top 5 all time favorite games list.


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