Tag Archives: retronauts

Retronauts hits Episode 100 again, but this time it’s not the end

Well, we finally did it. We survived long enough to reach episode 100.

Well, OK; the original run of Retronauts hit episode 100, too. But I always think of that series as having only made it to 99, because 99 was where I decided to call it quits. The show never recovered from the 1UPocalypse at the beginning of 2009, the day that Hearst Publishing and UGO decided to acquire 1UP and the Ziff-Davis games magazine group and promptly lay off 2/3s of the people who made those properties worth reading and listening to. Since Retronauts was built on a foundation of having free access to several dozen veteran games journalists whom I could easily pull into the studio for an hour to jaw about their favorite classic games, the layoffs meant 2/3s of our resources were taken from us on that bitter January day. Several other people tried their hand at hosting in the wake of those cuts, but they also found the show too difficult to pull together for long as well.

And so, the original Retronauts episode 100 existed only as a final footnote to the show — less a proper episode and more of a chance for the regulars to get together and reminisce for a bit. And it didn’t even go the way it was supposed to, because several of the intended participants weren’t able to make the session! All in all, a fitting and honestly somewhat bleak end to the original run, after which it was relaunched into a call-in show (bad idea) and eventually resuscitated by Bob (good idea).

This episode 100, on the other hand, is not an ending, and it doesn’t represent a final statement before a cataclysmic format change borne of desperation. No, this episode only ties a bow on one thing, and that is an outstanding obligation from our Kickstarter campaign. We finally managed to get together with our final “cohost an episode” level backer to record the episode he paid for. (And the remainder of our lingering Kickstarter incentive obligations will be wrapped up just as soon as I’m done with my current BitSummit/recording weekend trip. Expect an update next week!) Getting together with Daniel seemed a fitting capper for the first 100 episodes of the crowd-funded and independent era of Retronauts, but in this case the “capper” is simply a number, nothing literal. Bob’s already uploaded episode 101 to Patreon, and by the end of this weekend’s recording session we’ll have more than a dozen episodes in the can for future release. Ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on, friends.

MP3, 27.9 MB | 51:23
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

Oh, and there is one other thing: The cover art this week is a taste of our new site design and branding artwork, which will be making its full debut very soon.

So no, episode 100 is not the end this time around. It’s almost, I dunno, a new beginning. So thank you for your support these past 100 episodes, and we hope you’ll stick with us for the next 100. (And beyond that, really, but we don’t want to come off as greedy.)

Episode description: For our 100th full episode since our crowdfunded relaunch, we complete a long-overdue Kickstarter obligation by inviting backer Daniel Hawks to join us in a discussion of the early days and notable landmarks of CD-ROM gaming.

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After over 20 years and 25 games, is the original Worms still fun?

Yes, it is.

After a much needed quiet week following the release of that hour-long Duke Nukem Forever documentary, the Kim Justice channel is once again on the move today with a little video that’s all about Worms — specifically the very first Worms game, made at the request of a patron who most certainly adores the series. Worms is undoubtedly very successful as far as British video game series — indeed, it’s one of the last from the Amiga that’s still standing today, despite coming so late in the computer’s life (development on the game was started on the Amiga, although strangely this version came out last — not arriving until December 1995). It is also undoubtedly a big contributor to Team 17’s continued existence as one of the longest lived independent studios in the game.

One of the difficulties of covering Worms as a series isn’t the sheer amount of games, it’s that most of the games are pretty damn similar. They’re all very casual games based off of an artillery game formula that’s as old as the creation of computer games itself, although really came to prominence with Wendell Hicken’s DOS game Scorched Earth in 1991. Talking of which, one of the highlights of this video was playing Scorched Tanks — a great Amiga version of the classic that came out on an Amiga Power coverdisk back in the day, featuring all of the original’s customisation and what feels like 100 different weapons…definitely worth checking out. And so is the original Worms, if you haven’t played it in a while — one of the good things about the similarity of Worms games is that you can go to almost any of the “good” games in the series and have fun because they all follow the same formula of bazookas, grenades, high-pitched voices and exploding sheep.

Ah, Worms. The only game where the Royal Family can call up an airstrike on their rivals in a world made of spaghetti.

The video also touches a few more bases such as The Director’s Cut, a rare Amiga-only update of the original that actually introduces a lot of the most famous weapons and mechanics from later games — everything from Holy Hand Grenades to backflipping actually come from this obscure 1997 game, which makes it feel something like an Amiga version of Worms 2. This video also reminded me of the “multiplayer wars”, which happened at around the same time as the more famous bit wars —  at a time when games loved to lay claim to as big a multiplayer number as possible, Worms claimed 16 through hotseating. A team could consist of four players, each assigned to a single worm! But hey, why stop there — why not assign 2 players to 1 worm? Or 4? I think they undersold it somewhat. Of course, you’ve got to fit all of these people in the room so it might get a tad uncomfortable in there…just having 1 player to a team’s usually fine.  There’s more in the video but obviously that shouldn’t be spoiled — hopefully you enjoy it on this fine Monday morning! Do feel free to leave your memories of the time your brother gave you a dead arm after a jammy bazooka shot took out half of his team in the comments.

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Live from Midwest Gaming Classic, it’s Retronauts Micro

Several times a year, Bob and I descend upon some unexpecting city and talk for an hour about old video games. Last month, our unwitting target was Milwaukee, where we spoke at Midwest Gaming Classic. This year, we decided to focus on Splatterhouse — and not by coincidence. Not one but two world-class Splatterhouse players attend MGC each year: Caitlin Oliver and Kevin Bunch, both of whom have competed for (and repeatedly held) the official high-score records for Splatterhouse in the arcade and on TurboGrafx-16, respectively. You don’t get much more “expert” than that without going directly to the developers.

MP3, 27.9 MB | 51:23
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

Given that this is a live recording, of course, the audio quality is pretty noisy. But there’s some great info about the games in here, so it’s definitely worth your time.

Episode description: Live from a very noisy Milwaukee stage, Jeremy and Bob are joined by Splatterhouse experts and world record holders Caitlin Oliver and Kevin Bunch to contemplate the complete history of Namco’s gross-out brawler franchise.

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Kim recommends…Lionheart (Amiga, 1993)

The Amiga was, during its time, particularly well known for its demoscene — one side of this was, of course, the hacking of lots of Amiga games and all of that good old piracy stuff, but plenty of talent went into the “cracktros” that usually accompanied said games, not to mention the graphical demos that these teams would create on their own, using the Miggy’s graphical hardware to create some definite magic. There are lots of different stories from the demoscene world of software whizkids doing their thing, and occasionally taking their talent and applying it to games — one group of demoscene kids known as The Silents went on to become Digital Illusions CE, made their name with the likes of Pinball Illusions on the Amiga, and gradually became one of the world’s biggest video game developers as EA DICE. Another ex-demoscene group, Thalion, weren’t quite as fortunate — but before their demise, they left us with several classic games, chief among which is the frankly staggering Lionheart.

There’s not a whole lot to say here other than my god, it’s beautiful.

When I talk about Amiga graphics, “parallax scrolling” is likely to be the first thing that comes to your mind — the art of differently-scrolling planes is something that the system was pretty good at, as evidenced in the main by Psygnosis’s Shadow of the Beast. Naturally parallax scrolling could get overused — it soon stopped being impressive after a while, and there were plenty of egregious examples where parallax frankly just got in the way of the actual game. Lionheart, however, even after years of parallax-based fun before it, is the definitive example of how well it works on the Amiga — it manages to do the whole “every screen is a Roger Dean prog rock album cover” schtick even better than Beast does, and I’d struggle to find a game on the Amiga that, on the whole, is prettier than Lionheart. For the game’s artist, Henk Nieborg, this would be the title that made his name — you can also find his work on the likes of Flink, The Adventures of Lomax and the Shantae series.

Even better than the art, however, is the fact that Thalion matched it up with excellent gameplay. Lionheart is a very playable hack ‘n’ slash title — it’s fun to deal with the various creepy-crawlies and otherworldly behemoths the game throws at you. There’s enough variation to keep things moving, and as opposed to a more straightforward game like Shadow of the Beast you’re allowed to explore somewhat without things going wrong. One of the big problems with a lot of parallax-heavy games was the significant lack of gameplay that ended up being associated with them, but Lionheart showed that you didn’t need to sacrifice good gameplay for pretty pictures, and that they could co-exist comfortably.

Someone should re-release Lionheart, only with songs by Yes being the entire soundtrack. It’d definitely work.

Lionheart’s developers, Thalion, were all about creating games that, technically, were right on the bleeding edge for both the Amiga and the Atari ST — the majority of their games were all graphically excellent, and that was often married with very good gameplay. Alas, good sales often seemed to elude them — as one of the smaller games studios around, they often found their sales damaged greatly by the sheer prevalence of piracy in the Amiga scene. Lionheart was their attempt to see if making such graphically strong action games on the Amiga was still commercially viable — and despite excellent reviews, the sales showed that it weren’t. Thalion ultimately closed their doors in 1994, preserving their work on the UK computers for all time — Lionheart is perhaps the most accessible and greatest example of the legacy that they left behind, and one of the strongest Amiga exclusive titles out there to boot.

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The ZX Spectrum Next meddles with the primal forces of nature and cooks an egg

No.

 

This isn’t right.

 

Not at all.

 

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Olifiers. And you will atone.

What we have here is the ZX Spectrum Next (which has been talked about previously at Retronauts towers) showing off the benefits of its new, larger FPGA — which it reached thanks to achieving its first stretch goal. Because of this, they’ve been able to add some more functionality to the system…part of that being the ability to play with (or emulate accurately) a SID music chip. The SID is, of course, the chip that was used in the Commodore 64 to make some of the best game music of the decade — created by Robert Yannes, it was a technical marvel that still baffles people somewhat today, considering that most other computers at the time (including the Spectrum 48k) possessed little more than a single-channel beeper in terms of sound. The Spectrum 128k upgraded its sound to an AY chip — the same sort of thing you get in a Game Boy — but still, the SID was the undisputed champion in the world of ’80s computer sound.

Even though I myself belong more to the Spectrum crowd than the C64 crowd, hearing a ZX Spectrum playing SID tunes so effectively is almost wrong, as if the streams have just been crossed. Of course, it is just a cool little bit of functionality and emulation — the Spectrum Next folk are not busy cannibalising old C64’s and cutting out their SID chips in order to stick them into the Spectrum Next (something that actually can happen to C64’s that you buy on Ebay due to the chip’s value as a synthesizer), but the feeling this brings is strange, as if someone managed to get a Mega Drive cartridge to run on a Super Nintendo. We truly are in an odd dimension.

In other Speccy Next-related news, the system has already managed to secure itself a big name character — one that may be familiar to anyone who grew up in the era. Dizzy is an egg with hands and feet, and the ability to roll around all over the place collecting objects, solving puzzles and saving his kinfolk from evil wizards — he was one of the most popular characters around back in the UK computer days with several big games under his belt, although there’s a chance that Americans may know him from Fantastic Dizzy, which did come out for both the NES and the Mega Drive/Genesis. It has been announced by the creators of the series, Philip and Andrew Oliver (better known as The Oliver Twins), that a brand new Dizzy game directed by themselves and made by a team that remade Crystal Kingdom Dizzy — one of the more maligned entries in the Dizzy canon — will be released onto the ZX Spectrum Next, not for two pounds nor for three pounds, but for free as a way of commemorating the success of the project. After several false starts and failed Kickstarters, said new game will be the first official Dizzy title in 25 years, ending a pretty long wait.  Speaking of the project, there are four days left to run on the Next’s Kickstarter, and it stands at over half a million pounds — if you fancy sticking your two’pennorth in, then don’t hesitate to do so.

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Kim recommends…Skitchin’ (Mega Drive, 1994)

(This post will be even better if you load up this here YouTube video and listen to the contents within while reading. Seriously, do it. In the words of Dr. Evil, throw me a frickin’ bone here.)

With news about old machines being rather slow today — as is often the case — it’s perhaps time for another recommendation post.  Skitchin’ is one of those games on the Mega Drive that can be somewhat unfairly maligned, perhaps due to it being the absolute single most ’90s game in existence – the entire decade runs through it. You’ve got the crunchy guitar soundtrack, the digitised pictures of folks with asymmetrical flattops and other ridiculous hairstyles, the graffiti aesthetics and the very art of skitching itself – hitching a ride by hanging on to the back of a car while also on skates or rollerblades. Skitching’s a real act and can be pretty damn dangerous, meaning that like any true ’90s video game, Skitchin’ also generated tons of controversy as people worried about their kids copying what they saw on the screen. Nothing even comes close to being as ’90s as Skitchin’.

Dunno about you, but I’ll buy anything sold by a greasy guy out the back of a van. Those shades are back in, by the way.

What’s often forgotten about the game amidst the entire summation of the whole Generation X period though, is how great Skitchin’ actually is. It’s an offshoot of the much more popular Road Rash series, with the same focus on beating your rivals — literally and figuratively — to first place, but the gameplay has a lot more features than just on the road violence. The art of skitching itself is so fun to do in game, as you quickly try to switch from the back of one car to the next, launching yourself from the side each time…it’s nuts and normally goes badly when you don’t quite make it to the car in front, but it’s so fast — it helps that Skitchin’ runs really smoothly, a lot better than Road Rash I and II does.

Skitchin’ is also a very active racer — again, more so than Road Rash where it often seems like you just move from one biker to the next. Every other skitcher is trying to do the same thing you are, and it’s quite a difficult act — meaning that it’s not uncommon to watch as your rivals get sent flying everywhere on a busy road as a car slams into the back of them.  Hazards on the road are plentiful – cars aside there’s oil slicks, the odd barricade, and plenty of ramps, which can kinda surprise you. Ramps offer a chance to show off by doing a trick too, as long as you stick the landing…you can even do this off of any skater who happens to be lying in the road. Imagine flying off of a rival, doing a star jump and sticking the landing as the crowd admire you — that’s pretty freaking gnarly. Of course, unexpected jumps like that often result in you landing in a crumpled bone heap and then getting knocked for six by an incoming vehicle. Skitchin’ demands serious engagement, all the time.

The art of Skitchin’ itself. In the words of Dr. Dre, “Never let me slip ’cause if I slip, then I’m slippin'”.

It was often hard for people to take Skitchin’ seriously at the time and it obviously still is in many ways — it couldn’t hammer home the time it’s from any more than it does. But then virtually everything about the game actually works — the risk/reward gameplay that it revels in, the technical craft, even that music — which is one of the few times that anyone, especially in a Western game, has made electric guitar on a Mega Drive game sound really good. Only a few years after Skitchin’, extreme sports games would be absolutely everywhere as the craze for skateboarding gathered momentum, and in that context Skitchin’ is far from out of place. It’s taken me quite some time to take the game seriously — you’ll probably be the same — but I’ve come to think that it’s better than any of the classic and better known Road Rash titles. But whatever, enough beeswax from me — if you’ve got the cheddar, then peace on out to the local Atari store, and gank yourself a copy. It’s the bomb-diggity, no diggity. We outta here.

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TecToy’s newest authentic looking Mega Drive clone is out…with some potential extras

The new adventures of TecToy’s brand spanking, old looking Mega Drive.

News has generally been pretty good for Sega recently — not only did they announce that their earnings are on the rise, but they’ve also announced that cult classic VANQUISH is heading to PC’s later this month following the success of Bayonetta’s arrival on Steam. That’s all well and good, but there’s something else on the retro side of things — their partnership with Brazilian electronics company TecToy has been going for 30 years, and that anniversary has been marked with the official release of TecToy’s new Limited Edition Mega Drive for the Brazilian market — yours directly from the company for the price of R$449 (or roughly $140).

This particular Mega Drive generated something of a stir when it was announced due to its highly authentic look — all of the packaging is based around the classic Mega Drive that TecToy would make back in the 90’s, and the exterior of the console itself is basically a Mega Drive 1, using the same molds that TecToy used in the past for the console and its joysticks. This is in direct contrast to previous, less authentic clones that TecToy have made such as, for example, Mega Drive 4 Guitar Idol — where Mega Drive games were packed in with more modern mobile titles and a Brazilian-focused take on Guitar Hero. The new Mega Drive also features a cartridge slot for any old games you might have, and is compatible with most games — the SVP-laden Virtua Racing naturally won’t play, and neither will the Sonic 3 & Knuckles combo, Eternal Champions, Super Street Fighter II or — weirdly — Truxton. I’m not sure why Truxton, of all the older games, is incompatible, and can only deduce that it’s because they’re not fans of Classic Game Room. Sorry, Mark.

This typical TecToy clone comes with a Guitar Hero clone that’s not as good as Rock Revolution, but it has a death pact with Guitar Praise.

Mind you, anyone looking to import the machine should be aware that it is still pretty much a console on a chip, like most MD clones, with 22 built-in games that come on a mini-SD card. This selection includes classics such as Shinobi III and Comix Zone, along with…um, Crystal’s Pony Tale and Last Battle – although apparently updates to the game list will be available, and it’s not clear whether you could just bung that SD Card full of ROMs and stick it in there. This Mega Drive is also composite video only using Brazil’s PAL-M video format, and naturally it’s designed with Brazil’s rather exotic power system in mind — so you’re going to have a whale of a time getting the machine to power up without frying it, let alone getting it to display a picture. In the end, if you do manage to not blow it up and get a picture out of it then you’ll be greeted with a quite low-quality clone system, with the usual poor sound and graphics you’d expect from such a thing — this is still an ATGames machine on the inside distributed by TecToy, therefore it’s not a recommended purchase by any means. For anyone outside of Brazil, it’s a commemoration of the country’s status as a market where Sega has continued to sell for 30 years now…of course, there are a myriad of different reasons for that — the incredible taxation that Brazil puts on imported goods, political corruption and general poverty being just a few — although that’s all a subject for another day.

What is potentially of interest, however, is that the company have announced that they will be reprinting several of their own classic Mega Drive games in cartridge form to go along with the release of the console. The first of these is Turma da Mônica na Terra dos Monstros (Monica in the Land of Monsters), which is a 1994 reskin of Wonder Boy in Monster World based on the popular Brazilian comic strip and cartoon “Monica’s Gang”. There are two other Monica games by TecToy, both of which are based on Wonder Boy titles — perhaps they’ll get released too, along with the likes of Férias Frustradas do Pica-Pau (Woody Woodpecker’s Frustrated Vacations) or Show do Milhão (The Million Show – basically Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?). TecToy president Stefano Arnhold also mentioned that they wanted to reprint Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II, the classic Mega Drive racing title that TecToy actually had a large hand in through introducing the late great F1 driver to Sega in Japan, but licensing issues thwarted it.

Monica in action. Instead of a sword, she beats the shit out of people with a bunny rabbit doll. She’s pretty cool.

The general hype and interest worldwide has certainly shown one thing — there is surely an interest out there for Sega to produce an authentic clone in the same vein as the NES Classic Edition. If some people are willing to import a TecToy system from Brazil just because it looks like a Mega Drive, then surely they’d buy something more globally produced. Of course, Sega have licensed their old systems out for cheap and cheerful clones for some time now — ATGames make them, and companies like TecToy, Hyperkin in the US and Blaze in the UK distribute them. But if Sega were to commission something more authentic looking and with, one would hope, better production values than the typical ATGames clone – including things like HDMI Output, or a neat little menu, or even some cool little fake scanlines? They could be onto a very nice little earner.

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Kim recommends…D/Generation (Amiga, 1991)

D/Generation always seems to be a game that slips through the cracks somewhat, despite being a thoroughly cyberpunk game that combines a lot of different elements together pretty well — there’s isometric shooting, a decent amount of puzzling, and a lot of good plot and mood setting. It’s also one of the legitimately really good games that came out for the CD32, not to mention one of the few CD32 re-releases that actually took advantage of the new platform — although it’s still probably best on the A500 simply for controlling reasons.

Anyway…D/Generation. What is it? You play as a thoroughly oblivious courier who has to deliver a package to the offices of a company called Genoq. Specifically, you must deliver it to a researcher named Jean-Paul Derrida, perhaps the most awesome compound name made up of two famous people in the history of games. In the beginning, you don’t really know anything at all — you’re just a lowly courier, until the office doors lock behind you and you’re suddenly greeted with lots of dead folk, security systems that have gone haywire, and a ton of biomonsters lurking on the ten floors between you and your delivery point…hey-ho, may as well deliver the package! We don’t want our wages docked or anything now, do we?

An iconic computer game quote. That’ll teach you not to peer down into weird alien egg-shaped things.

In D/Generation, just about every room offers something of a different challenge, or some neat little way to use the laser gun which you fortunately find along the way — more than just blasting enemies, it can bounce off of walls or travel through teleportation devices. You’ll need to use these for the puzzle-based rooms, although there’s plenty of other rooms where progress is merely a case of turning a bunch of abominations into anti-matter and saving one of the survivors of the attack from a somewhat grisly end. You do also have a quite limited supply of bombs, which can be useful — simply because you can use them to blast through a door if you need to, thus getting yourself out of a puzzle you can’t solve. They don’t grow on trees, mind you.

The game was very well received at the time — it earnt little but 90’s and high 80’s from most of the big magazines around, and Amiga Power actually rated it as the 40th best game in the whole history of the computer, which is no mean feat. And yet,D/Generation is largely forgotten these days…sometimes the isometrics can cause a few annoyances and it’s quite the touch cookie, but it never managed to get too far past the Amiga’s boundaries — there is a PC version, but that’s it. It’s a surprise that no attempt was ever made to port it to a console, either by Mindscape or someone else — it’d probably be better than some of the other Amiga ports we did see on the 16-bits, like Onslaught or Sword of Sodan. There is an HD remake of the game available on Steam, although reviews for this version are somewhat middling and thin on the ground. And so, D/Generation remains obscure, which is unfortunate — as just like the courier in the game itself, most folks have no idea what’s actually lurking within. Highly recommended.

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“It’s out there…” 22 years since the American launch of the Sega Saturn

The Sega Saturn, or the definition of something unloved then but rightly cherished now.

Yes, it’s May 11th! The anniversary of one of the most shocking console launches in the history of video games. On this day in 1995, at the very first Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske announced that 30,000 Sega Saturns were already in stores across America, complete with a copy of Virtua Fighter, for the cost of $399 — a surprise release that came four months before the proposed release date of September 2nd (or “Saturnday” as it was known). It’s something of an infamous event, one that’s almost seen as the height of video game drama — especially when, during Sony’s conference on the very same day, head of development Steve Race interrupted a purposefully dreary presentation by Olaf Olafsson (remember him from yesterday?) to say the number “$299”, thus changing the course of gaming history forever and leaving ol’ Mr. Kalinske with a mouth as agape as The Mask’s.

The history is well documented, and we know the fallout from this day well — the Saturn’s surprise launch annoyed retailers such as Best Buy and Walmart who did not receive any of the 30,000 Saturns, there were only a handful of launch titles available for the system for some months afterwards, and ultimately the move gave Sega barely any advantage over Sony in the new 32-bit console war — indeed, once the PlayStation arrived on 9th September, it soon picked the Saturn apart and built up a huge lead from which Sega had little hope of ever recovering. One thing that’s less talked about, perhaps, is how the Saturn’s launch went over in Europe — something all the more frustrating considering just how similar the European history of the Saturn is to the American history.

An example of the Saturn’s UK advertising, featuring the popular mascot “woman with rings around her head”. Why didn’t it sell?

Much like in America, the Saturn launched early here as well — arriving on July 8th, 1995, albeit this time with a mere two month advantage over the PlayStation. Not that this advantage was anything that helped — unfortunately for Sega, a lot of people made the decision to wait two months for Sony’s machine to come out. This is perhaps quite the surprise considering where Sega stood in Europe — by and large they were the leading console brand in Europe with key areas such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany belonging to Sega, meaning that the Mega Drive had overall beaten the Super Nintendo in terms of sales over there. They had control, and yet they lost it in mere months.

On paper, the games that the Saturn launched with don’t look all that bad — the European lineup was, much like the North American one, led by Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA, with Clockwork Knight and Worldwide Soccer filling out the list. Unlike America, Panzer Dragoon’s release was separated from this quartet and allowed to stand on its own — possibly wise considering that there was little else scheduled between the July launch and September. Panzer Dragoon may well have been the most impressive early Saturn title of them all both from a technical and a gameplay perspective, but as an entirely new franchise it would have been quite the ask for it to battle with PlayStation launch titles like Tekken and Ridge Racer — both of which were more recognised in Europe than Virtua Fighter and Daytona were. One also wonders how much of Sega’s failings in the region boiled down to a simple yet significant lack of Sonic.

Was it all a question of marketing? Perhaps there was a sense of complacency hanging around Sega’s status in Europe, with only a few million dollars assigned to Sega’s marketing budget for the region. Sony, meanwhile, set $20 million aside for the console’s European launch, which included famed adverts such as SAPS (the Society Against PlayStation), which in the coming years would evolve into a highly reactive, trend-setting and often controversial marketing drive that appealed to the young adult market in a way that Sega wanted to do, but were never able to emulate — Sega weren’t ever ones for things like sticking their machines in night clubs, commissioning posters with a spaced out Sara Cox bleeding from the nose, or passing around perforated cards that could be turned into roaches for your joint at Glastonbury festival.

Wipeout is like cocaine, yeah? Sound! Funnily enough you would also get a nosebleed if you tried to watch Sara Cox’s The Girlie Show.

In the end, the story of the Saturn’s launch and its battle with the PlayStation in Europe is, if anything, an even more decisive victory than the more famed American story, even if it lacks those dramatic events. Sega got it, they had it, and then they lost it — it is estimated that the Sega Saturn sold an estimated one million units in Europe, a rather shocking number compared to the 10.4 million sales that the Mega Drive had generated in the continent, and a drop in the ocean compared to the 40.12 million consoles that Sony shipped over here. Over the years the Saturn has developed a reputation as a very fine console indeed, especially when it comes to 2D games, and the system’s cache as a retro games machine is surely much higher than it ever was now as opposed to the status it had when it was actually released — and as the rules of retro start to apply to the 2D and 3D games of the 32-bit generation, that’s only going to increase. Still, knowing what we know about the system now only makes it more surprising to look back on just how quickly Sega managed to lose the status that it had back in 1995 — they tried to draw Sony out, but before they knew it their house started crumbling around them as if someone had just tippex-ed “Sony” over their name. Such are the fickle ways of video game marketing.

Fancy a bit more info on the launch of the Saturn and how badly things went for Sega in ’95?  Well, not to be a total self-promoting arsehole or anything but I do have a video on the subject. It’s called Sega in 1995: What the F**k is Going On?

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The Nintendo PlayStation is fully working at last

The Nintendo PlayStation, much like Rob Van Dam, is one of a kind.

For those of you who have been following the story of the Nintendo PlayStation prototype since it first surfaced in 2015, you now finally have something of an end to the whole saga — after a long period of tinkering, hammering, sodduh-ing and lord knows what else, popular YouTube console modder and electronics bod Ben Heck (of The Ben Heck Show) has finally managed to get the machine fully working to the point where it can run games from the “Super CD ROM” portion of the system.

The prototype, the only one that is known to exist, was originally found by Terry Diebold when his employers, Advanta Corporation, went bust in 2009. A man named Olaf Olafsson was the president of the company — previously he was CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment back when Nintendo and Sony formed a short-lived partnership, during which time Sony announced the SNES/PSX system and Nintendo announced they were working with Philips on the hybrid console at the very same CES show in 1991, the ultimate fruit of which was those godawful Mario and Zelda games on the CD-i. It appears as though Olaf took the prototype to Advanta as a personal belonging but never got around to picking it up as the company closed down, meaning that the system itself was part of a boxed lot that Terry won in an auction at the close of Advanta for a mere $75, only finding out what was inside after the fact. It wasn’t until 2015 when his son Daniel made an innocuous Reddit post about a Nintendo PlayStation sitting up in his father’s attic that people — obviously disbelieving at first — slowly realised what the Diebolds had once pictures of the machine were released.

The system itself has always been able to play Super Nintendo games just fine, but trying to load up a CD has always resulted in nought but a BIOS screen. Ben Heck, a man who can also be found making portable Xbox Ones, N64’s and ZX Spectrums on the Internet, met up with the Diebolds at the Midwest Gaming Classic Expo in 2016, and he’s been working on the prototype ever since — documenting the labours of himself and his team over the course of several videos and livestreams until finally, a few days ago, the news that everyone’s been waiting for was announced in video form; that the Nintendo PlayStation prototype is now able to successfully run CD-ROM’s filled with game data. While no games were ever actually programmed for the system — it is somewhat different from the Sony PlayStation we eventually got meaning you can’t just run Gran Turismo on it, and the game that Heck shows off in the video was created using an emulator — it is now, at last, fully functional.

Ben Heck, YouTube tinkerer extraordinaire.

Of course, it is not for me to spoil the processes that Mr. Heck undertook on the system in order to get it working — he is a very capable person when it comes to presenting electronics on the Internet and he’s clearly done a great job on this project, whereas whenever I turn an old system on part of me unreasonably worries that it will blow up; which is coincidentally the reason why the Diebolds never once turned the prototype on in all the time that they had it sitting in the house, fearing that they would go down in infamy as the people who somehow managed to fry this one-of-a-kind historically significant item. But if you’re interested in the workings of consoles, modifications and a unique piece of video game history finally strutting its stuff after 26 years? Ben Heck’s video is more than worth a watch — even for those of us whose understanding of how to fix a computer problem boils down to little more than “turn it off and on again”.

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