Welcome to the year 1993, when technology kicked into high gear and started kicking the older gears out. And yet, sometimes the high gears weren’t really that well thought out, so they ended up being outclassed by some of the old ones.
1993 came with the promise of a new era of technology. No longer bound by Zilog Z80s, or Motorola 68000, or even 486s. This was the age of the Pentium. The age of the CD Rom. The age that brought us the World Wide Web and also the first attempt to blow up The World Trade Center.
Gaming was entering a new age. Some would say that it was the 64 bit age, since the first 64 bit console was released that year, in the form of the Atari Jaguar. A console that actually wasn’t 64 bit, having two 32 bit chips that talked to each-other, but at least it went well for marketing. Not so well for sales, though, or for game development. The Jaguar was an outright disaster, being discontinued three years later and making Atari give up on the console market. A market that it had basically created, and almost ruined once upon a time.
It wasn’t the only CD based console to be released that year. For the 3DO company, set up by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, came up with a novel concept. The 3DO Interactive multiplayer. A console blueprint that would be built by several companies, as a new standard for home gaming. It had a high price, but actually had the muscle to back it up, some very beautiful games being made for it. The 3DO Console would however not really be the success that everyone had hoped. It too was discontinued within 3 years. Still, it outsold the Jaguar.
We were now well into the 3D age. Not just on the once leading platforms, like the Amiga, but on the arcades as well. Sega gave us one of the most beautiful 3D racing games of the age, Daytona USA. Not only did it manage to display gorgeous, for the era, polygonal textured graphics, but it did so at a smooth 60 frames a second, providing a level of fluidness that is even to this day very much sought after. Well, when the platforms can actually pull it off, because if they don’t, then you’ll see companies stating that 60 frames a second is actually a bad thing.
While Mortal Kombat 2 and the various versions of Street Fighter continued to drive the fighting game genre in 2D, Sega made another major step in 3D graphics that year, with Virtua Fighter. A game that attempted to move the genre into a new dimension, literally. No longer were players limited to going forward and backwards, now they could sidestep. Now, this didn’t necessarily lead to a revolution in the genre, what with many games still using the 2D arena design. But it was a sign that more could be done in the genre than was put forth by Street Fighter.
On the home consoles, even the SNES was getting into this whole new 3D thing, with games like Star Fox, created by Argonaut Software alongside Nintendo. Although the console itself wasn’t capable on its own to render the polygonal graphics that the game needed, the cartridge medium showed that it still had its uses, even in the age of the CD, by allowing a Super FX co-processor to be added to each cartridge, enabling more power for the game to use.
Star Wars fans would get one of the first true great games in the franchise, in the form of X-Wing. A 3D space dog fighting game that put you in the shoes of a rebel pilot, going on missions in the proximity of the movies, and also allowed you to take the plunge into the trenches of the Death Star itself. A very successful game that showed what could really be done when you took the Wing Commander formula and added 3D graphics to it, as well as a licenses that was worth considerably more at the time.
But if you really wanted 3D space flight, then Fronier: Elite 2 gave you the entire galaxy. To this day, few games have even dared to match is scale and ambition. With technology that by today’s standards is antiquated, this game managed to deliver a fully exploitable galaxy, with planets that could be landed on, and more importantly, it was actually a game, not just a space tourism simulator. You had combat, you had trading, you had clock towers on planets that would display actual accurate time. A groundbreaking space sim the likes of which we won’t often see.
But if the ground suited you more, there was a 3D giant robot simulator, in the form of the original MechWarrior game. Building upon the lore of the tabletop, and the success of the Westwood Battletech games, Mechwarrior let you lead a team of mercenaries through the inner sphere, completing randomly generating missions, getting better equipment and seeking revenge. The series that it spawned continues to this day and continues to be a thrill to play.
And if Sci-fi didn’t suit you, then how about an RPG? Betrayal at Krondor let you explore the 3D world of Midkemia, the same one you’d find the Riftwar novels of Raymond E Feist. You’d have plenty of opportunities for fighting, exploring, and a story that was very well put together and told through a lot of text, and a few photographs of some very goofy dressed people.
Those that weren’t satisfied with picture based goofyness could opt for Full Motion Video goffyness, with the release of The 7th Guest. It was one of the seminal games of this fledgling genre… in the sense that unlike Night Trap, this game was considered to be actually good at the time. You would step into a manor filled with mystery, showcased in superbly pre-rendered 3D images and movies, complete with actors. Although the actual things you’d be doing in the game, the puzzles, were kinda taken out of the context of the world itself, it still had a fantastic atmosphere that drew people in. The 7th Guest was a game that could only exist on one medium, the CD. And even so, fitting two hours of video on two disks would have still been impossible if one of the creators of the game, Graeme Devine, hadn’t basically invented file compression, or at the very least been one of the forefathers of the technology. And mind you, that very same year, we were still getting games from big publishers that fit on floppies. The 7th Guest would be one of the two main driving factors behind the proliferation of the CD, a killer app without which it may not have taken off as quickly as it did, the game going on to sell 1.5 million copies within two years.
The other game that really made the CD-ROM popular was also a fist person adventure game, also using pre-rendered scenes, but this time with less FMV. That game was Myst and took place in a more open environment than a haunted house. It threw you into a world you had no knowledge of and expected you to explore and figure out its many mysteries. It was a game that challenged minds of the player, and aimed to immerse them in a world, though it did it very badly, being a literal slideshow, but a good looking one for the time. Opinions on the vagueness and Myst can be polarizing, but what’s certain is that it and its sequels went on to be the best selling PC game series in history for most of the decade, surpassed only by the juggernaut that was The Sims.
And if this 3D adventure thing wasn’t your jam, you still had a boat load of classic, 2D adventures, like the insane Sam and Max Hit the Road. A cacophony of weirdness created by LucasArts, based on the characters created by one of the artists at the company, Steve Purcell. And Sierra On-Line brought something a bit darker, and a tad more grounded compared to the utter lunacy of Sam and Max, in the form of Gabriel Knight Sins of the Father. A game directed by Jane Jensen that put you in the shoes of a writer investigating murders in scenic New Orleans for his novels, and stumbling across a deep dark mystery with hints of Voodoo. It wasn’t a successful game, but that didn’t stop it from getting a few sequels, that also didn’t have much success. And while the first were quality games, one of the later ones gained some notoriety for having one of the dumbest puzzles ever conceived for a video game.
The Real Time Tactics genre got a shot in the arm this year, both with the classic Cannon Fodder, by sensible software, as well as Bullfrog’s Syndicate, a cyberpunk game where you’d be controlling a team of corporate cyborgs. It wasn’t the only cyberpunk game of the year, what with the NES version of Shadowrun being released.
Fans of strategy games got something very special that year. Sim City 2000 brought Will Wright’s masterpiece to a new audience, with new options, new graphics, references to non-existent reticulating splines, acrologies, and enough depth to it so that people could play it for weeks and enjoy it without having a clue how to actually make a city profitable. It would get many editions over the course of its existence, and even an urban renewal kit that let people create their own buildings, to recreate their own town, or whatever they wished within the Sim City 2000.
But for some, a city wasn’t enough. They needed to conquer the stars. And so we got Simtex’s Master of Orion. A space based 4X strategy game that let you colonize planets, discover advanced technology, negotiate peaceful solutions with other races, or simply conquer and destroy all in your path, and eventually seizing control of the grand prize itself, the planet Orion. A paradise who’s master would gain control over advanced technology, and the galaxy itself. Master of Orion defined the space based 4X game and built upon the legacy of ancient mainframe titles to create a genre that we still enjoy today. Now, technically, that year we also got Galactic Civilizations, which was also a space based 4X game, but being limited to only OS/2 meant that Brad Wardell’s creation wouldn’t really get much recognition until the Windows remake a decade later.
Might and Magic 5: Darkside of Xeen also came out this year, starting a trend that really didn’t go anywhere, but was amazing at the very least. Were the game installed alongside its predecessor, they would be bound together into a single entity, allowing players to freely travel between the two worlds and gave the access to the final true ending of an age for this series.
And, lastly, I think there is one game that must always be talked about when we speak of the year 1993. The game that defined the year, the game that defined a decade. The game of 1993. Doom.
Id Software made a masterpiece, the definitive first person shooter where you’d be in the shoes of a space marine, on Mars, trying to stop a demonic invasion from hell itself. It was full of action, with as much gore as you’d find in a Mortal Kombat game, but with a lot more to it than just shooting things with amazingly satisfying weapons. It was also about the varied enemies, the exploding barrels, and the superb levels that actually rewarded careful exploration and solving navigation puzzles. Two dimensional ones. Because all though Doom looked 3D, it was still firmly planted in the two dimensions, being a bit behind in terms of technology compared to Ultima Underworld, that even got a sequel this year, but way ahead of it in terms of speed and ease of play.
Doom quickly became the game to imitate, the big seller that everyone wanted a piece of. Doom clones would spawn at every step, creating the First Person Shooter genre as we know it, and becoming a new target for those wanting to blame violent video games for the all the evils of the world.
And with that we reach the end of 1993. Next week, a new king arises in the realm of consoles that will change the landscape of gaming forever.
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