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The Future of Console Gaming

part 2/page 11


   Back to more recent times though, this lack of advertising seriously hurt the Jaguar, and while some of the mainstream video game publications covered the software, there were always problems. Also, when there was coverage, many times it would come under fire for being either to praising or to critical of everything. One particular case was a major video game publication who at the time, not only gave major coverage to Jaguar games, but also sold them through a mail-order outlet. There were many times that they were accused of hyping a poor Jaguar title in order to boost their retail sales (at times a praised title would be offered at a special discount somewhere else in the magazine). Sadly, this wasn't a situation that was unique to the Jag though.

   Another problem was that there were still feelings of resentment among loyal Lynx users who felt that support for their system had been prematurely cut short so that Atari could focus on the Jaguar. While this has never been proven in what I've read, the way Atari handled the situation leaves many questions. On the other side of the fence you also had a lot of people really cheering for Atari to pull out all the stops and come back full tilt to storm the industry. For many U.S. gamers Atari had to succeed, if only for the fact that without an independent Atari company, the U.S. gaming market would be finally dominated by Japanese hardware manufactures, leaving no option to a gamer who wanted to support his home turf.

   As a gamer and fan of Atari consoles during the 1990's one problem has baffled me as much then as it does now. That is... Why, when each system seemed to be at it's peek with fans, did software distribution dry up and new titles cease to be developed?

   While I can't speak for the Lynx, I have heard from a number of developers off the record stories that may explain the lack of software. One problem not highly publicized for various reasons, was that in a couple of cases, internal Atari management examined a proposed third-party title and then developed their own version of the game. This only has to happen once to put off prospective developers.

   The one example I can talk about regarding this, was with the game HoverStrike. The story goes that the new (at the time) development house Hyper Image Productions signed up with Atari to produce a game entitled Hover Hunter. Sometime after Hyper Image delivered a technology demo to Atari along with information about how the game would work and play, Atari itself turned out it's own title HoverStrike. Amazingly the games were nearly identical and while Atari refused to acknowledge any similarity between the games, it was clear to anyone who saw the two running at trade-shows. From what we were told, following Atari's release of its own game they then began to drag their feet in helping to get Hover Hunter to market. Eventually Hyper Image gave up, first changing the name of the game with plans to release it on another system. Then later, because they had been so discouraged by their experience with Atari, they stopped development on the game altogether and now have apparently closed shop.

   Another problem we've been told about was Atari's constant meddling with third party games before release. According to some programmers we've spoken with, sometimes Atari would go so far as to demand changes which developers claimed effected the long-term playability of a title. One example of this is with the game Flip Out. At one point we published a somewhat critical review of this game in our magazine, and not long afterwards we received a complaint from one of the programmers on the title. He felt that we had been unfair in our review and explained that we had criticized the game strictly on features that Atari had required them to add, such as the varying skill level selections and "progression of difficulty" structure. Gorilla Systems had apparently wanted to make the game more challenging by default, but Atari had demanded that they dumb down the game to make it easier for players. Unfortunately, the overly easy nature of the game was one of our main complaints, but since that was how the game was published, the review stood.

   It's sad to think that if Atari (or more specifically, the Tremails) had at anytime, pulled out all the stops, straightened up development problems, improved the overall quality of many of their games, and really pushed advertising, they may have had a chance to hang in there. But then again, that would be like saying that if Atari had been a different company they would have succeeded. Sure, anyone can say that, but we'll never really know now. As it stands, what positive things that did happen were too little, too late.

   In my next installment I will cover the secondary players in the video game industry SNK, 3DO, NEC/TTI, Tiger, Amiga and Microsoft. Companies, some of which, who are still going strong and others who have passed in the industries wake.

To be continued...



Footnotes and links are on the next page...

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