1998: The year in review
1998 was something different to each person
who experienced it, but the events that shaped it into a year
to remember (or forget) are universal. We can be
rest assured that CNN will have plenty of coverage of Kenneth
Starr getting out of his car and Bill Clinton hugging
Monica Lewinsky in their year-end review. We can be just
as assured that comedians such as Jay Leno will scrutinize
every aspect of the affair, and find a way to make at least
five jokes per day on the subject.
But introductions aside, the space here is devoted
to the events
that shook the gaming world in 1998. I'm sure that each and
every one of you remember exactly where you were when you saw
your first glimpses of Final Fantasy VIII, solved your first
puzzle in Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, and drooled over the
mind-bogglingly impressive graphics of Quest 64.
Without further babbling, here is the GIA's year-end recap. There might
be a couple of events that never actually occurred tossed in, just for fun.
Gotta keep you readers on your toes.
The year began with Playstation fans becoming thrilled to learn their favorite system
dominated Christmas sales, while
Nintendo die-hards spent a lot of time in denial.
Sony sold 3.8 million Playstation consoles, which earned
them a 49% share of the Christmas market. Nintendo was
second at 41%.
Nintendo was clearly worried, despite numerous
executives giving cheerful interviews claiming the
Christmas sales weren't at all disappointing or even
remotely problematic. This latent fear resulted in Nintendo
playing the ace up its sleeve: cartoons
that cause people to have epileptic seizures. Surprisingly, a bouncy,
pointy-eared creature flashed its cheeks and sent children into seizures.
Even more surprisingly, this bouncy likeness was not Brian Glick.
Seizures didn't win over the hearts of gamers,
however, so Nintendo had to pull an ace out of its other
sleeve: the mighty Zelda card. The first screen shots
of the game caused Nintendo backers to declare final victory
over Sony and pushed Zelda fans to previously-unfelt levels of
joy. The great Nintendo machine was rolling again,
powered by the Little Engine That Could, A.K.A. Zelda.
In other news, Sunsoft bought Square and formed
SquareSun. Disgruntled Square executives tried to buy back
their company's share, but Sunsoft wouldn't allow it. Unless, that is,
Square let them re-release
the Final Fantasy Legends on Gameboy -- with Bugs
Bunny as the main character, fighting the evil yet lovable
Yosemite Sam. Square compromised and let
Sunsoft re-release the games as they were originally
February was a slow month in the gaming world,
as most of the companies were preparing for the
mega-party that always accompanies my birthday.
Unfortunately, all the companies thought I lived in
Montana, so they ended up debuting several fabulous
new games in front of a field of cows and potatoes.
Nintendo was not about to let this small setback
affect them. More Zelda screen shots
were released to the eager gaming media, bringing fans
to a screaming frenzy matched only by teenaged girls at a Beatles'
Unfortunately, the gleeful fans failed to notice that
these were the same shots Nintendo had released earlier.
Many gamers also failed to notice that, while
being captivated by Zelda screen shots, Nintendo
stealthily delayed the American release of the 64DD (code name: Dolly Parton)
from the summer to "TBA." TBA
is company-speak for "To Be Announced sometime in the next year or three".
Magic Knight Rayearth is the
classic game with a "TBA" release date. It had carried
a TBA release date for literally years; rumor had that it might
be released one day, but few gamers truly believe it.
Playstation game producers were saving
up their news for March, as the Tokyo Game Show brought
us glorious pictures and demos of many spiffy games.
Eagerly awaited titles Metal Gear Solid and Parasite Eve
were playable for the first time, and Brave Fencer Musashiden was
Nintendo was caught by surprise by this "Game Show"
and scrambled to find
actual games to display. Their highlights were Bomberman Hero
and Legend of the River King ... a fishing RPG. Playstation
executives snickered and reminded Nintendo that Legend
of the River King was a FISHING game for Pete's sake. Nintendo blushed
and scurried off to make more screen shots of Zelda.
While Nintendo of Japan was making screen shots, they
noticed that Nintendo of America had delayed the 64DD
indefinitely in the United States. Not wanting to be
outdone, the Japanese delayed the add-on from June to a more vague "Summer" release
date. Not that anyone really cared; everyone was too busy
playing Square's March release, SaGa Frontier.
Actually, "everyone" is a slight exaggeration. According to sales
figures, only 12
people bought SaGa Frontier (and eight of them later returned it).
Players were given the "Free Scenario"
system, which gave them, believe it or not, more freedom.
Unfortunately, unlike the movers and shakers of this
country's history, players were confounded by freedom and
didn't know what to do. Some players constantly slept in
inns hoping to find more of Shadow's dreams (there are 81,
and if you haven't found them all you're a pathetic gamer),
while others walked around in circles in small rooms hoping
to find Pink Puffs or hidden copies of Magic Knight
Nintendo again rocked the gaming world and released
more Zelda screen shots to eager fans at the start of April.
Gaming websites across the Internet posted the pictures
dutifully, which resulted in few gamers becoming worried that the graphics
were too reminiscent of 8-bit
graphics of a bygone gaming era. A large and vocal faction
of Nintendo fans argued on behalf of Nintendo that the game's
quality would be determined by gameplay, not graphics; quality, not quantity; and
tasting great, not less filling.
Nintendo had a good laugh and announced that it was all an April Fools' Day prank.
The screen shots were of the original Legend of Zelda
for the NES. Haha!
April will be remembered not for Zelda screen shots,
however, but for one of the biggest video
game mergers of all time. Square and Electronic Arts opened
their arms and hugged each other, forming a publishing
branch cleverly titled "Square EA." Proving that the branch
would do more than eat donuts all day, Square also announced that
Square EA would publish Xenogears, Parasite Eve, Brave
Fencer Musashiden, and Bushido Blade 2. Wow!
Determined that this was too good to be true, worried
gamers started concocting things to worry about. The most
popular worry was that Square would start releasing sports games. "Chocobo Football" and "Cloud's Spiky-Haired Slam
Dunk Challenge" trembled from frightened lips. Square eased fears by announcing that they
would soon be making a pretty large announcement; rumor had it the announcement would be
about Final Fantasy VIII.
May served as a reminder that there were, in fact, other
systems besides the Nintendo 64 and Playstation -- namely that
other thingamajiggie that Sega put out: the Jupiter. Panzer Dragoon Saga was
released for the platform to rave reviews, leaving
gamers with the nagging feeling that they were missing out on
a prize gem. RPG fans dashed out to their local gaming stores
and tried to buy the system. Unable to remember its name (the
Uranus?), they were merely laughed at by the retailers, who hadn't carried the Mercury
Undaunted, gamers dashed out to pawn shops and used
game stores to purchase previously-owned systems. They were delighted
the system, but were quickly disappointed again. In an
attempt to alienate the few fans they had left, Sega
printed approximately seven copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga, all of
which were sent to a store in the middle of an Iowan corn field.
After many stores told Sega of their consumers' plight,
Sega executed a Shrewd Business Decision and printed more copies.
Unfortunately, they sent those copies to the store in Iowa, too. Determined
players drove toward Iowa, only to get lost somewhere in Indiana. Many of these people
appear on milk cartons to this very day.
The moral of the story is that even
games with very little pre-release hype can become overnight
hits. Sony, Nintendo, and Sega all ignored this lesson and went
back to hyping their games and systems.
For months, Sega had had little to hype (except Panzer
Dragoon Saga). We found out the reason: they were saving their
money and time to spend on their new
system: the Pluto.
No, wait, that was just a working title. With many
balloons and confetti and smiling executives, Sega officially
unleashed the Dreamcast (a creative, yet stupid, name). It had
specs out the wazoo, but one thing was missing:
games. Minor detail.
Nintendo heard that their old nemesis Sega had
re-entered the scene, so they scrambled to find some members of the press.
Nintendo then announced that not only had they produced
more Zelda screen shots, but that they had decided on a full title:
Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Nintendo fans re-entered their
usual Zelda-induced frenzy, sobered up, then re-entered a frenzy. This
time it was uncontrollable laughter, as they realized the game would be
abbreviated for eternity as Zelda: Toot.
Meanwhile, over at Square headquarters, company
leaders realized Nintendo had a serious head start on the
hype wars. Square quickly produced some CG graphics and
released them, proudly claiming that they came from Final Fantasy VIII.
The screen shots included pictures of a handsome
young man named (in the tradition of Cecil Harvey and Mog)
Squall. This produced quite a stir among Final Fantasy fans. A
vital question emerged: was the name properly translated, and
would it change before coming to America? Rumor was that Square would
rename the hero Skull. Worried fans began to produce large amounts
worry waves, until they realized that Square always named heroes
after a weather-related storm term (the first being Final Fantasy VII's
hero, Cait Sith).
May had been an eventful month, but June promised even more,
as it brought with it the pinnacle of the gaming news world: E3.
Reporters from around the world gathered in Atlanta
for E3; partying, playing games, getting drunk, and even, on rare occasions,
reporting. Even respected media outlets such
as CNN and Playboy had reporters at E3, although they tended
to do even less work than your average Joe Gamer Reporter.
Scores of games were debuted, previewed, and reviewed.
Three console titles captured most of the attention, however:
Bust-a-Move 4, Grandstream Saga, and Quest 64. Not! The three
were, of course, Final Fantasy VIII, Zelda 64, and Metal Gear
Solid. Square, Nintendo, and Konami were in a three-way hype fight
to the finish, each clamoring for the most Absolute Best Game Ever awards.
gazed with awe and drooled on their notepads, causing grumpy editors
across the nation to scream for better coverage.
Reporters then dutifully looked at Kartia, Brigandine,
Shadow Madness, and the Nintendo 64 juggernaut Quest 64 (many reporters
unfamiliar with the gaming scene wondered how they had missed the first 63
Over at the Square booth, in between wooing reporters with CG filled demos and
movies, Square stepped forward and made an important
announcement. Apparently, many American gamers found the name
"Brave Fencer Musashiden" confusing, meaningless, and downright
strange. Square, well known for always having a good feel for
the gaming public's pulse, sacrificed the Japanese integrity
of the title and boldly renamed it "Brave Fencer Musashi."
Meanwhile, emerging from the small yet respected
Working Designs were more details about Lunar:
Silver Star Story Complete and Magic Knight Rayearth.
Working Designs fans' pulses quickly increased a few
notches, hoping that maybe, just maybe, just MAYBE one
day Magic Knight Rayearth would be released.
Not that day, however, as they announced that
Magic Knight Rayearth was delayed.
Nintendo, Square, and the peace-loving Working
Designs must have
decided that July wasn't an important month, despite students
being on vacation, celebration of the Fourth of July, and general
reverie on Brian Maniscalco Appreciation Day.
Nintendo got things started with a traditional
Zelda: The Ocarina of Time Screen Shot Release. Most fans
were pleased and overlooked the fact that Nintendo wasn't
going to release any really notable games this month, but
more alert gamers demanded more. Nintendo appeased them
by sending them old issues of Nintendo Power with Illusion of Gaia
and Battletoads on the cover.
Square tried to capitalize on the festive mood by
the mystery RPG they were releasing was Chocobo's Mysterious
Dungeon II. Rumors had spread that the mystery RPG was going
to be the long-awaited Chrono Trigger sequel, but Square decided
that following up on one of its most popular games might
earn them too much public approval.
Meanwhile, smaller companies such as Crave and Atlus
toasted their good fortune and quickly rewrote their schedules to
publish titles opposite Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon II rather than
Final Fantasy VIII.
The lovable Working Designs also chose July to
make their monthly delay. The victim this time was
Lunar: Silver Star Story
"But wait!" Working Designs executives quickly shouted at reporters
leaving the building. "We're delaying it so we can include
really cool bonuses, like a neat cloth map and stuff!"
Unfortunately, it was too late. The U.S. was in the
midst of a massive heat wave, and the reporters melted
into little Allan Milligan-shaped puddles (complete with oversized
and badly shaped nose) the moment they stepped outside.
Sega decided August was a good month to try to slip
good, solid game past gamers, so they released Shining Force III
for their completely forgotten system (the Neptune). An
unfortunate slip-up allowed the nineteen people who hadn't used their
system as a booster seat for their four-year-old cousin to locate a copy
of the game. Fortunately, "locate" in this case meant "know of a store
that had a copy in stock", not "reach a store that had a copy in stock
and purchase it." And we thought Sega might be slipping!
While Sega and Sony were wasting time producing games,
head honchos at Nintendo were keeping a firm grasp on what the people
wanted. The answer was, of course, a gold cartridge for Zelda.
So Nintendo called a press conference and announced that Zelda would be
available in a gold cartridge. There was a catch, of course (there's
always a catch, you should have learned that after you paid one cent
for those 10 CDs then was charged an outrageous amount for the 11th
CD that you didn't want). You had to pre-order the game inside a
certain time window at a certain store located in Tuscon, AZ.
That set the stage for a quick price war. Sony
lowered the price of their system to $129, so Nintendo quickly called
another press conference and announced that they, too, had been
arrested for lewd conduct in a public restroom. Haha! They actually
matched Sony's price drop.
As often happens, however, August ended, setting the stage
for the grand entrance of...
With Zelda's release date quickly approaching,
the amicable Working Designs tried to slow Nintendo's
momentum by releasing some surprising news of their own: Lunar: Silver
Star Story and Magic Knight Rayearth had been delayed.
Square stepped up to the plate and released more
information and screen shots about Final
Fantasy VIII. Realizing that this wasn't working as well as hoped, they
decided to release an actual game: Secret of Evermore II. Unfortunately,
no one cared, so they followed that with Parasite Eve. Parasite Eve was a
very important game to Square as it had mutant rats and neato graphics.
But the attempt was futile. Nintendo's hype-machine was rolling
at full speed, with cries of "Game of the Century!" for Zelda. As if Zelda's
upcoming release wasn't enough, however, Nintendo released Pokemon (accent
on the e, which is a lot of trouble to write, so from here on I'll just
say "Pokemon" and you'll deal). Pokemon's ingenious concept was that not
one, but two Gameboy cartridges were necessary to complete the game.
Square had one, last, desperate attempt to stop the Zelda threat.
On September 30, 1998, Square dropped the
atomic bomb on the gaming world: Saga Frontier II was coming.
October brought with it another Tokyo Game Show. This
time, however, Nintendo came prepared. As did Square. As did Konami.
It was time for the video game screen shot war.
Nintendo squeezed off several rounds of Zelda bullets, including
movies and playable demos. Square countered with Final Fantasy VIII
screen shots and movies, revealing new characters and more information
about ones we already knew and loved. Not wanting to be outdone, Konami
showed off the soon-to-be-released Metal Gear Solid.
Suddenly, an old but familiar warrior staggered onto the
stage. It was our old friend Enix, makers of the Dragon Quest series. They
loaded their pea shooter and fired little pellets of Dragon Quest VII
screen shots at the world. The world laughed, and went back to drooling
over Zelda and Final Fantasy VIII.
After the Tokyo Game Show, Square and Konami felt pity
for the gamers that had to keep waiting for Zelda and Final Fantasy VIII, so they
went ahead and released Xenogears and Metal Gear Solid so gamers would have
something to do. Surprised gamers threatened to name one of the two game of the
November was the month we were all waiting for. Big
everywhere always worship the month, but gamers were particularly
excited this year, as it brought the promise of Brave Fencer
Musashi and Magic Knight Rayearth. Oh yeah, and
Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was coming out, too. Gamers who were also big
eaters were nearly wetting their pants with anticipation
over this month.
For two weeks immediately preceding the release, a
screen shots was thrust upon gamers. Many media outlets had already
received their copy of the game, thus inspiring them to release their
own screen shots in addition to the ones from Nintendo. The poor
Zelda fans who planned to collect every screen shot available
found themselves having to invest in either a new hard drive, a CD
burner, or a heckuva lot of floppy disks.
At this stage though, Square had gotten used to
deflecting Nintendo's screen shot
volleys and fired off a salvo of their own. As an
extra little bomb, Square also released a few more pieces of work
from its upcoming motion picture. Unfortunately, due to the amount
of time required to render each frame, they were the only three
pictures Square had finished. The movie has an expected release date
of sometime in the summer of 2034, or shortly
before the release of the 64DD (speaking of the 64DD, it didn't meet
its summer release date in Japan, and was stealthily given a TBA
But no one cared about Square. November belonged to one
gaming company, and one gaming company alone, as this company
produced the item we had waited long hours for, dreamt about, desired, but
never had ... until now.
I am, of course, referring to InterAct's DexDrive.
This magical machine lets you own just one memory card, yet
have as many game saves as your hard drive can hold (which is probably
quite a few, assuming you don't have too many Zelda screen shots). Not
only that, you can trade files with your buddies on the Internet and
visit new and upcoming save-game archives. Talk about awesome!
Oh yeah, Nintendo also finally got around to releasing
Zelda: TooT. To everyone's surprise, Nintendo
forgot to actually make a game, and ended up just shipping
a cartridge with 256 megabits of screen shots. But they were
the screen shots of the century!
In more important news, November also marked the
launch of the G.I.A. To quote Andrew Vestal:
"I'm going to go see what my brother is doing."
We hope to bring you exciting news and quotes like
that for many years to come.
Oh, yeah, Magic Knight Rayearth got delayed.
Square beat Nintendo in the hype wars this month.
Nintendo used its ace, Zelda, in November, leaving it with nothing to
hype besides used copies of Star Fox 64 (a lesser game than the original;
the voice acting has nowhere near the emotion of the SNES title).
Square still had Final Fantasy VIII, so they released
information about more characters, bringing the roster to 87 characters.
They also released a highly impressive movie montage of CG clips from the
game. When questioned about the gameplay, however, a Square representative
froze, muttered, "Oh, crap," and hurriedly excused himself for an
Other than that, December was a slow month. Wait! I almost forgot!
After one final, ceremonial delay, the honorable folks at Working Designs
finally released Magic Knight Rayearth to a bunch of eager Sega fans who
were busy playing their imported Dreamcasts. Ah, well, there's always
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (but not this month). It was,
of course, delayed.
And so ended 1998. If there's one thing we learned from
the tumultuous year, however, it was that hype rules the gaming world and
delays are inevitable. That said, look for the GIA to bring you the greatest
coverage in the history of the universe. In a bit.
Feature by Andrew Kaufmann.
Edited by Andrew Vestal.