We made it, the Summer months have arrived and it’s time to cut loose, gather in giant crowds, eat until our stomachs burst, but not TOO much because we still want to look good in our bathing suits. Then, once the sun sets, and you’ve thrown your wet clothes on the chaise lounge, and the only light is from the glow of the moon on the surface of the pool, the distance between your body and the PS5 controller is a problem we can fix, they’ll never notice us.
By the way, did you know that this column is now three years old!!! Wow, where has the time gone, eh? We’ve been through a lot together; the Spider-Man hype, the Fallout 76 release, then re-release, then re-release, making fun of Anthem, saying good bye to the 3DS with Persona Q2, seeing the 69 comments the week Death Stranding came out and giggling about it, going into lockdown the same week that both Animal Crossing and Doom came out, counting down the weeks to the PS5/Series X|S launch, doing the same for Cyberpunk and then immediately regretting it, waiting with baited breath to see if Lady Dimitrescu would step on us, to today, reading this entire thing and then listening to a Minus The Bear song. In case you missed it over the weekend, I wrote a “remastered” version of my very first New Game Releases column, you can check it out here, here, or here. Thank you for sticking around and making my Tuesdays magical. Here’s to another great year!
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5) – Releases Jun. 11th
Insomniac Games’ Ratchet & Clank franchise has been going strong since its debut in 2002. This 19 year Sony staple has delighted players over three console generations, and now they can add a fourth when the latest entry in the “Future Saga” series, Rift Apart, drops this week. Taking advantage of the PS5’s fast load times, Rift Apart sees Ratchet, Clank, and new friend Rivet, warping through various dimensions as they try and thwart the plans of the evil Doctor Nefarious. Expect plenty of gorgeous visuals, unique weapons, frustrating but fair platforming, and weird, creepy fan drawings on Deviant Art.
Backbone (PC) – Releases Jun. 8th
Backbone is a point & click adventure game set in a dystopian Vancouver, BC, starring a cast of anthropomorphic animals. Expect weird, creepy fan drawings on Deviant Art.
Chivalry II (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 8th
Probably one of the more anticipated PC games of the year (and I guess consoles), Chivalry II promises more of the same gameplay that the original had, except now your teams are much larger, 64 v. 64.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Jun. 10th
Originally I had intended to put this in the “Everything Else” section, but then I noticed that Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida was promoting this game heavily on his Twitter profile. It is part of his indie game initiative for the PlayStation and so I figured it was worth giving a deeper look. I’m intrigued by the trailer, would love to see what critics and other players think about it.
Game Builder Garage (Switch) – Releases Jun. 11th
For the budding game developer in your family, Nintendo is releasing a pretty powerful tool called Game Builder Garage. Using simple commands and shapes, players can create not just levels, like in Super Mario Maker, but entire games. While the game does not feature any recognizable Nintendo characters, their charm is found all over Game Builder Garage. I can’t wait to play through 500 versions of stage 1-1 from Super Mario Bros.
Guilty Gear -Strive- (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Jun 11th
It’s a good week for fans of long running franchises, as the now 23 year old Guilty Gear series is releasing its 7th main line game in the series, and its 24th release altogether. Billed as a “complete restructure” of the series, Strive aims to make the Guilty Gear series more accessible to novice players, but by keeping most of the main mechanics intact, should still very competitive for veteran players. Gone are lengthy in-game manuals, instead replaced by tutorials that are aimed to help beginners gain tangible experience rather then having to study technical jargon. Developer Arc System Works and Team Red have also said that they aim to make the online playability a key priority in Strive by doing better at matching up players of equal skill and working in the background to try and ensure stable framerates and what not during online matches. Is this going to be the biggest and best fighting game of the year? Yes, I think it will.
Ports and Re-releases:
Neptunia ReVerse (PS5) – Releases Jun. 8th
Ten after releasing on the PS3, and eight years after releasing on the Vita, Neptunia ReVerse is now here to be experienced on your PS5. Yes, you, Jeff, only you.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade (PS5) – Releases Jun.10th
Hey, another PS5 JRPG port! Adding on to what we got from last year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, Intergrade promises enhanced visuals, but more importantly, there is new story content! In this new DLC chapter, players can take control of the young ninja Yuffie as she explores Midgard and somehow doesn’t come across Cloud. There’s some good news/bad news here. The good news is that PS4 owners can upgrade to the PS5 version for free…the bad news is that if you do upgrade for free then you’ll need to buy the Yuffie DLC. I mean, that’s not that bad, they could have just made us all re-buy the game, so honestly, no harm/no foul. Now, does my save data transfer between the two…
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 10th
Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis (PC/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 9th
I think this video explains it all.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure (PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 1st
Open Country (PC) – Releases Jun. 10th
Valley of No Roads (PC) – Releases Jun. 11th
Wave Break (PC/Switch) – Releases Jun. 11th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Duke Nukem Forever (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Jun. 14th, 2011: Wiki Link
Last week I talked about Sucker Punch’s terrible Infamous 2, a game so offensively bland that it made me never want to watch The Boondock Saints again. This week, however, we have a game that is unabashedly offensive, so much so that it almost seems proud of that fact. Yes, folks, we’re talking about the infamously delayed Duke Nuke Forever. Originally announced in 1997 as a sequel to 3D Realms’ megahit Duke Nukem 3D, Forever was almost instantly plagued by set back and delays. With DN3D’s Build Engine looking dated by 1997, the decision was made to use Id Software’s Quake II engine to help achieve a modern look, however the cost was incredibly expensive and it wasn’t even ready. To help mitigate delays (ha!) the team and 3D Realms opted to start work on the game using the Quake engine with the hopes that they could port their work to the QII engine when it was ready. With an ambitions mid-1998 release date, 3D Realms would show off work in progress footage in PC Gamer magazine and at the 1998 E3 trade show. After their E3 showing, one of the game’s programmers suggested they switch over to Epic Game’s Unreal engine, suggesting that it was better suited for Duke Nukem Forever due to its ability to render more real-world style environments, as well as large, wide open spaces. With much of Forever taking place in the Las Vegas desert, 3D Realms found that the QII engine was having trouble handling that kind of look. 3D Realms promised that Forever would only be delayed 4-6 weeks due to the engine switch, and that all of the footage people had seen thus far would not be lost. However, according to inside sources the switch was a massive undertaking by the team and amounted to a complete reboot of the project. That 4-6 week delay turned into a 4-6 month delay, then a year, then another year, and another. Then in 2001, after three years of no new news or screenshots, 3D Realms came to E3 and finally had a new trailer. It was a magnificent looking game, with critics describing it as one of the most impressive looking games ever made. When they asked the team when the game would be ready, their response was, “when it’s done“.
What the public at large didn’t know was that Duke Nukem Forever was once again going through an engine change, with a switch to a new version of Unreal that was better suited for online multiplayer, delaying things further. Not only that, but the publishing right to the game was continually changing hands, first going from 3D Realms itself to GT Interactive until that company was sold to Infogrames, so publishing rights moved over to a company called Gathering of Developers until one of its co-founders passed away prompting it to shut down and be absorbed by its parent company Take-Two Interactive. It was here that things started to get a bit more public, as Take-Two would continually have to update stock holders on the status of the game. However, due to the contract 3D Realms had with Take-Two, they were allowed to release it on their terms with no influence from T2, as 3D Realms was fully financing the game on their own. Eventually private spats would become public, causing 3D Realms to respond that the game was still on track and should be out by the end of 2004, beginning of 2005. With the middle of the new decade approaching, Forever’s impressive graphics at the 2001 E3 were starting to look dated and laughable, especially when compared with Valve’s masterful Half-Life 2, one of the gold standards in video game graphics at the time. Sure enough, behind the scenes at 3D Realms they were switching engines again, with rumors they were toying with the Doom 3 engine turning out to be false, journalists who had seen the latest build were told that it was using a Swedish firm’s physics engine. With the beginning of 2005 passing there was a rumor that 3D Realms would show something big at E3, which many meant as a new Duke Nukem Forever trailer, but what they got instead was a look at the upcoming PC/Xbox 360 game Prey (another long in development title, originally announced in 1997). With the staff at 3D Realms and publisher Take-Two becoming increasingly impatient with how long development was taking, the game’s lead George Broussard assured everyone in January 2006 that everything was just fine, their team was good and that he wasn’t worried about Take-Two. In 2007 a new creative director was hired who said the game was very well near done, just give them two years to polish it. That’s it, just two more years…
With the continued delays putting the small team of 18 under intense pressure, Broussard became serious about getting the game finished and out the door. Various current and ex-employees would say that the game lacked a clear focus and were doubtful it would be completed. Sometime in 2008/2009, funding at 3D Realms began to dry up. Broussard reached out to Take-Two, asking for $6 million dollars to complete the game. Take-Two agreed, but then changed the terms to $2.5 upfront with another $2.5 once the game released. Broussard then rejected Take-Two’s offer, spelling the end for DNF’s development. Feeling that they had been cheated out of their investment on the publishing rights to Duke, Take-Two sued 3D Realms for breach of contract and asked a judge to force 3D Realms to keep all of their work on the game intact. The judge denied this, but the remaining team at 3D Realms stated that they had no intention of stopping development, only that FULL development had ended, it was all being done part time, by current and former employees who would continue to work on the game in their spare time at home. Some of these former employees started their own company called Triptych who just so happened to share office space with a company called Gearbox who were themselves getting ready to put out their first big game called Borderlands. Gearbox’s president, Randy Pitchford, had worked at 3D Realms in the 90s, even putting in time on the original version of Duke Nukem Forever. When he heard that DNF was in danger of never coming out he put it upon himself and his company to save Duke and finally get the game released. Take-Two would eventually drop the lawsuit and development would move over to Gearbox after they purchased the rights to the franchise from 3D Realms. With a larger team behind the project, and a clear goal in mind, Gearbox announced that DNF would finally released on May 3rd…before delaying it once again to June 14th. After nearly 15 years in development, Duke Nukem Forever was finally coming out. Surely after all that time it must be some kind of masterpiece, right? RIGHT?!
There was a sense of excitement and hype surrounding the release of Duke Nukem Forever, with much of the promotional materials referring to the long development time in a tongue-in-cheek manner and heavily playing up the sexual nature of the game with the trailer featuring nude characters and using “booth babes” at convention appearances. When critics and players finally got a chance to play the game they all had a fairly unanimous reaction, “This is what we waited for“? Yes, that long, drawn out development time did not, in fact, turn out a good game; rather the opposite happened, we got what you could arguably call one of the worst video games ever made. Critics were not kind in their assessment of Duke Nukem Forever, making particular note of just how dated the game felt in every way; the graphics, the combat, the story, the tone, and the humor. While most FPS titles by 2011 had evolved into more mature themes and a penchant for unique and experimental gameplay, DNF felt like a game that would have come out during the early days of the PS2. Critics were unimpressed with the game’s level design, lamenting that much of the exploration that make Duke Nukem 3D charming was completely absent in Forever, with players moving from one fight to another through series of generic hallways. Across the board, the game was a technical mess, with ridiculously long load times, a noticeable decrease in the amount of enemies on screen at one time, and a multiplayer mode that felt like an afterthought. Perhaps the biggest fault of the game, however, was what video game review show X-Play called its “creepy, hateful view of women“. While DN3D had its fair share of misogyny (shake it baby!), something about nude sprites tamps down the grossness in a way that 3D polygon models don’t. One particularly notable level, and I’ll warn you now, the description may not be suitable for readers who don’t want to read about violence against women, the major plan of the aliens attacking Earth is to impregnate our women and have them birth a new alien race to take over the planet. In order to stop this, Duke had to murder every woman who has an alien inside of her, and he cracks jokes about as he goes along. Apparently there are even severed breasts nailed to the wall in this stage which Duke can interact with, laughing and giggling without a care in the world about what has happened to these women. The whole thing was so sickening and depraved that it led some reviewers to look at Duke in a different light, seeing him not as a wise cracking joker who likes to shoot bad guys and fuck hot chicks, but instead as a soulless psychopath. All in all, Duke Nukem Forever is a nauseating experience, both in its content and because the frame rates are so shitty and the graphics so bad that I could barely get through it without feeling like I wanted to throw up from motion sickness. Gearbox teased a potential sequel at the end of Forever, but the reception to the game was so bad that it seems those plans are on hold for now. If Duke Nukem Forever had come out in the early 2000s like it was supposed to I think we’d look back on it with a bit of fondness and may have even been happy to see a Switch port, or whatever. Instead we got a game that was fed by pettiness, bickering, hubris, hatred, and way, WAY too many jokes lifted from old movies that would have felt dated in 2001. Do you need to play this game? Fuck no, but I’ll be damned if its development wasn’t an interesting story.
Game Boy Advance – Released Jun. 11th, 2001: Wiki Link
Nintendo’s Game Boy, released in 1989, was a revolutionary piece of technology that changed how people played video games portably. Essentially an NES in your pocket, Gunpei Yokoi’s brilliant design and engineering were crucial in helping Nintendo survive stiff competition from Sega and Sony throughout the 90s. While the Game Boy Color would release in 1998, it was more of an upgrade than a true successor, but in June of 2001, nearly twelve years after the release of the Game Boy, Nintendo was ready to debut their brand new handheld, the 32 bit powerhouse, Game Boy Advance. Unlike Yokoi’s famous “portrait” layout (screen on top, buttons below), Nintendo contracted a French designer, Gwénaël Nicolas, to come up with the look of the GBA, who opted to go with a “landscape” layout, with buttons on either side of the screen, similar to the Game Gear and Atari Lynx. While the system was announced in 1999, Nintendo had been toying with the idea of a 32 bit Game Boy since at least 1996, when rumors leaked about something called “Project Atlantis”, but by 1997 it was decided to halt work on the system since the original Game Boy took up 80% of the handheld console market and was therefore too popular to replace. However, by 2001 it was time for an update, the world was already playing gorgeous looking games on the PS2, and Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s Xbox were very close to being released, those 8 bit GBC graphics weren’t going to cut it anymore.
The specifications of the GBA were pretty impressive for the day, with a 2.9 inch LCD screen, a 15 hour battery life, a 240×160 pixel resolution, stereo sound, and full backwards compatibility with both Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, giving the system one hell of a library. Nintendo also promised to release a whole suite of fancy peripherals for the system, including an updated Game Boy Camera, a link cable that could connect to the GameCube, and a card scanning device called the e-Reader. While the camera wouldn’t ever release, the link cable and e-Reader did come out and both were pretty major components of the system for its entire life. In some cases you could even combine the two peripherals, as in Animal Crossing for the GameCube, which allowed you to scan in designs and receive unique furniture items. Nintendo had high, but modest hopes for the GBA, expecting the system to sell over 1 million units in Japan in the first month, but they were surprised to see how well the system did in North America where it would sell over 500k units in the first week, making it the fastest selling console debut at the time, prompting Nintendo to immediately order and send 100k additional units to retailers, with the goal of getting 500k more GBAs to stores by the end of June. Critics and players alike were impressed with the Game Boy Advance, and speaking from a personal level, as someone who skipped out on the original Game Boy because of its perceived limitations, I was over the moon about the Game Boy Advance. While the system’s power impressed people, one major point of contention was the distinct lack of either a front or back light on the screen, making it very difficult to see at times. This obviously helped keep the battery life high, but it came at the cost of being able to see clearly. Still, it was a small problem with a device that, at the time, was so fantastic, and showed that the handheld console was here to stay, with Nintendo being the undisputed kings of the market. Eventually we would get a re-design and a backlit screen in the form on the Game Boy Advance SP, before Nintendo finally ended the Game Boy line in 2005 with the Game Boy Micro, before moving on to the DS family of systems.
Twelve games (possibly fifteen, but who knows) launched with the Game Boy Advance on June 11th, and there are some surprisingly good things in there. While you won’t find any of these on the Switch, Nintendo did release a handful on both the 3DS and Wii U through the Virtual Console. Are any of them worth playing? You’re about to find out.
Nintendo First-Party Games:
Back in March we talked about 2011’s 3DS launch and the pretty lack luster first-party offerings from the big N. By comparison, their GBA launch titles were slam dunks, featuring a long awaited sequel with F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, and a remake/port that would start a trend of very confusingly named games with Super Mario Advance: Super Mario Bros. 2. Having already received a 16 bit remake on the SNES through Super Mario All-Stars, this new version of SMB2 wasn’t just a typical port, it was chock full of new stuff. The 32 bit GBA allowed the team to revamp the graphics, as well as upgrade and enlarge various sprites. Not only that, but the game remixed the boss order, added in a robotic Birdo, and even put Yoshi in the game as the host of an egg collecting mini game. It was one of the best selling games in the GBA library and would be followed up ports of Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and Super Mario Bros. 3. For their second first party title, Nintendo went back to the well of neglected franchises and put out a brand new F-Zero game, subtitled Maximum Velocity. Developed by a brand new Nintendo subsidiary called NDcube, Maximum Velocity would be their first game before moving on to focus primarily on Mario Party titles, and the recently released Clubhouse Games on the Switch. Set 25 years after the first F-Zero, this was only the second game in the series to not feature the original four racers; Captain Falcon, Dr. Stewart, Samurai Goroh, and Pico. It plays almost identically to its SNES predecessor, although I found it to be a bit harder, and slightly soulless, with the game feeling a tad hollow. Both of these are available on the Wii U if you’re one of the fifteen people who still have one.
Platformers are perhaps the most iconic and longest last genres in all of video games. In fact there’s even a fantastic series written about them right here on The Avocado from Dramus that you should all go check out. Unsurprisingly, with the GBA being a 2D centric system, there were three platformers released on the console (as well as the above mentioned Super Mario Advance); Konami’s Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and two ports, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure from Activision and Rayman Advance from Ubisoft. I wanted to start with the platformers not just because it’s a tried and true genre, but because Castlevania is probably the best game in the entire launch lineup. Despite not having the involvement of long time producer Koji Igarashi, the game followed very closely to the style and tone of his masterpiece Symphony of the Night. While it earned high marks from critics, it ultimately suffered tremendously because of the lack of a light source on the GBA screen, making it very hard to see enemies and platforms, an absolute necessity when playing a platformer. Fear not, however, as the game is available on the Wii U…if you have one. This was actually something I just learned, because I spent MONTHS trying to track down a physical copy. I finally did, for like $30 bucks, and then when I went to start doing research on the title I learned about the Wii U version, pretty pissed. Anyway, enough of that. Next up is Activision’s Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, a port of their 1994 SNES/Genesis game, published by Majesco, who were actually very supportive of the GBA throughout its lifespan. Featuring hand drawn graphics in a similar style to Aladdin on the Genesis, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure follows the son of Pitfall Harry, named Harry Jr., as we treks around in dense jungles and spooky caves, looking for treasure and adventure like his father. While the original releases were widely praised, the 2001 GBA port is an atrocious piece of garbage and suffers from what I think more than a few Game Boy Advance games suffer from, and that is washed out colors and muddy sprites, both of which were a bit of a necessity due to the GBA’s poor screen lighting. Finally, Ubisoft’s most famous character at the time, Rayman, made an appearance as a launch title, being a port of his very first adventure. It’s a solid title that looks and plays great on the GBA, highly recommended, plus it’s also on the Wii U. Four out of five on the VC so far, pretty good Nintendo (now where’s the GBA library on Switch).
I put “sports” in quotations because none of these are what you’d consider traditional sports games; no baseball, no football, no soccer, etc. Looking things over, if you throw in F-Zero, the “sports” genre has the most launch titles for the GBA, which is pretty impressive, I think. Alright, so instead of those boring ass “real” sports, the titles here lean towards the more extreme side, with Spike’s Fire Pro Wrestling, Midway’s Ready 2 Rumble Boxing Round 2, Super Dodgeball Advance (published by Atlus), and of course, the biggest name in video games in the late 90s/early 2000s, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Starting off with Fire Pro Wrestling, this title developed by Spike had been a long running franchise in Japan ever since its 1989 debut on the PC Engine by developer Human Entertainment. When it launched with the GBA, Fire Pro Wrestling had accomplished two firsts; first to be released on a portable system and first to be localized and released in North America. This is a bit of a niche series, and I found it both difficult to control and figure out how to play, but the franchise has a cult following, so if you like this series then you should check out where it all started for players in NA. Midway’s Ready 2 Rumble Boxing is one of those franchises that burned really hot when it came out, but then immediately fizzled out into non-existence. Based on the second entry in the series that also released on Dreamcast, PS2, PSX and N64, this is also a poor title, up there with Pitfall as examples of games NOT to play on the GBA. Despite holding the same name as the Technos Japan series, Super Dodge Ball Advance is not a Kunio game, featuring none of the characters you might know and love. In fact, it’s really only Super Dodge Ball in name, as the game play isn’t really reminiscent of the NES or SNES releases. Still, it’s not a terrible game, and like Majesco, this was just the first of MANY games that Atlus would publish over the years on the GBA. Finally, the best of these sports games is the port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Unlike its home console counterpart, THPS2 on the GBA is a 2D isometric game. The basic concept is still there, complete tasks in each stage in order to unlock new levels, and despite what you might think, every level is in there. I didn’t quite love it, the controls were not very good, but I could have seen myself sitting in my room, playing this on a lazy afternoon, listening to some Millencolin on my Winamp player. Sadly, none of these titles made it to the Virtual Console, bringing us to a poor 4/9 launch titles on the service. Womp, womp.
These last three GBA launch titles are kind of the “miscellaneous” group. I fudged it a little bit by calling Army Men Advance and Iridion 3D shooters, although you do shoot in both of them. The odd-man out here is Chu Chu Rocket which is a puzzle game, although there are rockets that shoot up when the mice escape, cut me some slack, okay? While I didn’t really enjoy Pitfall and Ready 2 Rumble, the worst launch title in the entire bunch is Army Men Advance from developer DC Studios and publisher 3DO. Part of the Army Men franchise, AMA is an isometric dungeon crawler/shooter that sounds way more interesting than it actually is. I wouldn’t mind a nice run and gun dungeon crawler, but the controls in this game are fucking atrocious. AMA was clearly made for children, with bright, colorful graphics and a Playskool art design. I can’t recommend this game any less, its one of the worst I’ve ever played in my entire life. This next game, Iridion 3D isn’t the best game in the launch lineup, but it was the most delightfully surprising. When I picked this up it was the cartridge only, and if you know anything about GBA carts, their artwork is typically terrible, and Iridion 3D is no exception. When I finally fired it up I was excited to see that it was a shooter game where you guide a spaceship down a long corridor, avoiding obstacles and shooting enemies. Even more surprising was that the game was, in fact, 3D, with polygon graphics mixed with sprites. It was a nice showcase of just how powerful the GBA was, foreshadowing it’s fairly extensive lineup of FPS games to come. Finally we have Chu Chu Rocket, one of the very first games released on a non-Sega console after the demise of the Dreamcast, and freaking out 90s kids who had just spent the last decade arguing over who was better, Nintendo or Sega. Featuring all of the same gameplay and content from the Dreamcast version, Chu Chu Rocket was well received by critics and players, particularly for its multiplayer capabilities. With the Game Boy Advance lacking online features, Sega allowed up to four players to connect their GBAs to each other and play together using only one cartridge. While the puzzle genre may have been the original Game Boy’s bread and butter, with only one at launch it seemed the genre had lost some of its luster. While none of these made it to the Wii U Virtual Console in North America, Japan did get Chu Chu Rocket on theirs, lucky bums. Iridion 3D and its sequel did release on Steam, while Army Men Advance deserves a place in the same landfill as the Atari 2600 version of E.T.
Well that does it folks, another retro console release in the books. I really enjoyed my time with the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s, playing a ton of great stuff on it and I’m looking forward to going to a few of them as we discuss its notable titles over the next four to five years. Now it’s time to get ready for the 1991 Neo Geo home console release…
Star Control (Genesis) – Released Jun. 1991…probably: Wiki Link
The story of the game Star Control is also the story of how game developer Toys For Bob was founded. Started in 1989 by Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford and Terry Falls, the company would thrive, releasing several successful titles over its lifespan including Pandemonium!, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, Spyro Reignited, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, and of course Skylanders. However, their very first title was a science fiction game called Star Control that was a hybrid strategy/action title. Taking inspiration from two of Reiche’s earlier games, Archon and Mail Order Monsters, as well as two popular PC games of the day, Spacewar! and Star Raiders, Reiche would team up with a programming named Fred Ford to create the basic gameplay mechanics as well as the characters and ships. Reiche explained that when creating the various alien races, he would draw a picture of them and then let them “tell him” who they were at what they wanted. His inspiration came from some unique places, with one race of aliens, the evil Ur-Quan, being based on a photograph in National Geographic of a caterpillar dangling over its prey. For another set of characters, the robotic Androsynths, Reiche decided to have them dressed up like the band Devo and pilot the ship as a group. The game would release for MS-DOS PC’s in July of 1990 to widespread critical and financial acclaim. After ports to other PC based systems, Toys For Bob was ready to take Star Control to the living room through the most powerful (and easiest to reverse engineer) home console on the market, Sega’s 16 bit powerhouse the Genesis.
Like Nintendo, Sega wanted developers to sign licensing agreements with them, and like Nintendo, Sega used this as a way to curb piracy and ensure quality products were being released on their system. At $10-$15 per cartridge this wasn’t that big of a deal for major publishers and developers, but to a small, independent company like Toys For Bob and their publisher Accolade, this cut deeply into their profits. On top of the cost, however, was another caveat to developing for the Genesis, you would agree not to release your game on any other console, thereby limiting your audience. Accolade, seeing this as a shitty deal, purchased a Genesis and reverse engineered the code that was needed to ensure a game’s playability on the Genesis. This tiny, 20 byte file would be placed on every Genesis game, throwing up a screen of text once you powered on the game that read “Produced by or under license from Sega Enterprises Ltd“. In essence, Sega was trying to ensure that pirates couldn’t put their games on the machine because they would, in essence, be lying when that screen appeared. Through their efforts, Accolade was able to find this code, copy it, and put it on their cartridges, including Ishido: The Way of Stones, HardBall, Mike Ditka Power Football, Turrican, and of course Star Control. When Sega learned about this they became furious and took Accolade to court over this. A judge initially sided with Sega and forced Accolade to cease all sales of its Genesis cartridges and recall all of its stock. Knowing that if they did this they would be financially ruined, Accolade appealed, and in a stunning reverse, the second judge sided with Accolade. He noted that Sega’s code, which made that screen of text appear before every game, was not public information, so the only way to know how to use it would be to lawfully reverse engineer it, which Accolade did. Further, the judge decided that Sega had put itself in legal jeopardy in two ways; falsely labeling competitors products and discouraging competitors from trying to manufacture and release software for their system. The judge also scoffed at Sega’s notions that Accolade’s software sales were hurting Sega’s own first-party software sales, finding no credible evidence of it. Finally, in regards to that screen of text once again, the judge ruled that Sega’s paltry 20 byte code was miniscule compared to the sizes of Accolades code which amounted to anywhere from 500K to 1.5 million bytes of data. The judge believed that the significantly larger amount of data meant that the product was overwhelmingly Accolade’s and not Sega’s. Sega v. Accolade was considered a landmark case in fair use, copyright infringement, and reverse engineering, being cited in multiple cases since the courts 1993 decision. Oh, so now you might be asking, “is Star Control any good?“, LOL, no, it’s pretty bad on the Genesis. I imagine it’s much better on PC where you have more buttons and a mouse. Still, the game was very influential in its own right, being cited as one of the key inspirations for the first Mass Effect game, so that’s pretty neat. I’m going to go now, good bye.
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