Cinematech Episode 249: “Best Year Ever”
This ep was the first in a series of four that was a collaboration between Gamespot.com and Cinematech. I enjoyed this series of eps for their unique theme and because they featured Gamespot personalities such as then-senior editor Jeff Gerstmann (later of Giant Bomb) and the late associate producer Ryan Davis.
This initial ep was about the high number of great games released in 1998 and why they made it the best year ever for gaming. Games including:
- Grand Theft Auto (PS1)
- Radiant Silvergun (Sega Saturn, Japan exclusive until the Xbox Live Arcade rerelease in 2011)
- Thief: The Dark Project (a PC stealth game with a first-person view written by Ken Levine of BioShock fame)
- Resident Evil 2 (PS1, later ported to the Nintendo 64, SEGA Dreamcast, the failed handheld Game.com, and PCs; also the subject of a tech demo for a Game Boy Advance version, and some loose comic adaptations)
- Starcraft (PC, Blizzard Entertainment)
- Parasite Eve (a PS1 horror RPG by Square based on a science fiction horror novel of the same name. In truth, PE the game is a sequel to the novel. This game is a personal favorite of mine, and I will mention such at any given opportunity. The game is also the first by Square to be rated M17+ by the ESRB)
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, N64)
- Metal Gear Solid (Konami, PS1)
- Tekken 3 (Namco, PS1)
- Panzer Dragoon Saga (Team Andromeda, Saturn)
- Banjo-Kazooie (Rareware, N64)
- Xenogears (another Square RPG for the PS1 that mixed combat and exploration between on-foot characters and characters piloting giant robots— in other words, awesome)
- The King of Fighters '98
One of the editors of Gamespot at the time explained the importance of 1998 as the year where nearly every major game genre was defined or redefined.
Timecode: 1:30: Clips from the very first GTA.
- Gerstmann: Grand Theft Auto was released to lukewarm reviews and raised a few eyebrows along the way, but we all know what ended up happening to that little series of games.
However, despite its lukewarm reviews, the games were popular enough to become Greatest Hits titles on the PS1.
Cut to a clip of rocket launcher-induced carnage from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (multiplatform, 2004-5) where Carl “CJ” Johnson, the main character, asks, “That's the best you got?”
An unrelated game similar to the old style of GTA games came out several years later: Retro City Rampage, a love letter to that style of game, retro games, and '80s North American pop culture in general. In short, it's awesome.
11:40: “Then & Now”, a montage comparing the games of '98 to their most recent installments at the time or on the horizon at the time, i.e. Ocarina of Time to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, RE2 to Resident Evil 4, GTA to GTA: San Andreas, and MGS to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
14:28: The intro of BG where a large villain in intimidating armor corners and kills a knight. Unmistakably speaking with the deep baritone of Kevin Michael Richardson, the villain says to the knight, “I will be the last. And you will go first,” before killing him. He breaks the knight's neck and flings him off of the ledge of the building. The knight's blood flows into the cobblestone street below, transitioning into the Baldur's Gate logo. Noice.
- Ryan Davis: Since it was coming from then-unknown developer Valve Software, expectations for Half-Life weren't all that high prior to release. Simply put, Half-Life was incredible. The way in which it wove together realistic, scripted sequences with thrilling shootouts and mind-bending puzzles was truly amazing. One of Half-Life's innovations was the way in which it never took you out of the experience. It was a class act that made all first-person shooters before it pale in comparison. It became the game that everyone tried to emulate, but no one could quite live up to. Considering how predominant the first-person shooter has become, that's saying a lot.
Like many FPSes before and after, Half-Life proved itself to be a technological showcase and an all-around great game that other games could aspire to be. Valve has made many great games since, such as Left 4 Dead and its sequel, and the Portal series, but perhaps they are a bit too perfectionist when it comes to the series that put them on the map...
18:31 Your Mileage May Vary, but it's time for Bad Games of 1998, such as:
- Twisted Metal 3, developed by Sony's in-house 989 Studios in SingleTrac's absence. The series took a bit of a dive after Twisted Metal 2 that arguably ended only when the original creators came back for Twisted Metal: Black on the PS2 in 2001.
- Pocket Fighter. After Capcom created a sleeper hit puzzle game in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, they decided to turn the cutesy, super-deformed approach into a full-fledged fighting game... more or less. Characters included: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Ibuki, Zangief, Sakura, Akuma, Dan, Morrigan, Hsien-ko, Felicia, and Tessa/Tabatha from Red Earth. This game's inclusion as a “Bad Game” was why I prefaced this section with a YMMV. I enjoyed this game when I was younger, mostly due to its cuteness and the wacky costumes. Admittedly, there was a strange mode where you could choose a fighter and equip them with a variety of items, which seemed to have little to no effect on their fighting effectiveness.
- Trespasser, a strange game related to Jurassic Park. This first-person adventure game boasted a very advanced physics engine that was poorly implemented into the game, and some hyped features (like incredibly advanced dinosaur AI that would incorporate emotions and basic motivations) that did not make it into the final game. The game was programmed by the person who would later be credited as the father of the Xbox and had an unusual feature where the heroine's health was indicated by the appearance of the tattoo on her chest.
- Bio F.R.E.A.K.S., a 3D fighting game from Midway released on the PS1, N64, and on PCs.
- Jeff Gerstmann: The transition from the 2D days of the '80s to the 3D days of the '90s wasn't a smooth one, but the textbook case for showing how it's done came in the form of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo64. The big revelation in The Ocarina of Time comes when you realize how much sense lock-on targeting makes in a third-person action/ adventure. Since the game would pivot the camera to keep your target in front of you, you could stop fumbling with the camera control and get on with the task at hand. Between its innovative techniques, great story, and interesting puzzles, it was nearly impossible to find fault with Ocarina of Time when it landed in 1998. That's why it's not only our Game of the Year, but it's also the first game on Gamespot to receive a perfect 10 score. Even at the time, we knew we wouldn't need hindsight to declare this one of the greatest games of all time.”
HAY, LISTEN! Linkies!
- Kimble Justice: Jurassic Park: Trespasser Review
- PC Gamer's Saturday Crapshoot: Trespasser
- Hardcore Gaming 101: Radiant Silver/Ikaruga and Parasite Eve
- Continue?: Bio F.R.E.A.K.S