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Impact Games: Titles from the ’90s that changed us forever

For many of us here at Thunderbolt, the ‘90s was a time when our love for games and franchise characters blossomed. With the video game market nearly killing itself with over-saturation during the ‘80s, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System and Commodore Amiga helped saved the day as the ’90s dawned. The dominance by a few competitors allowed for a more concentrated focus on the video game industry.

Games were led by leaps and bounds in technological advances, as 2D sprites were replaced by polygons and controllers with an increasing number of buttons to support more varied gameplay were bundled with each new generation of consoles. For all of us there are many titles we hold dear in our hearts from this generation, an experience that continues to affect our attitude towards video games to this very day. These are the titles that impacted us the most from that generation.

Shane Ryan, Staff Writer

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Doom

The Carmack and Romero combination was gaming’s Lennon and McCartney. Together they would help create the greatest video game to this day.

Doom was never officially released in the UK until the ultimate edition was given worldwide availability. Most of my time spent was on the game’s first episode – Knee Deep in the Dead. Available boxed for around £5, it came on a floppy-disk and we needed to create a boot-disk to help it run smoothly. Running on a 486-DX33, Doom was a beautiful sight to behold. This was high-octane gaming at its very finest.

Bobby Prince’s score was a complete landmark. Borrowed (or should that be stolen?) guitar riffs and haunting, atmospheric soundscapes adorned the descent into hell and back. The final level, Dis, began with a whirl of guitar feedback that kicked into an adrenaline filled track as the final battle against the Spider Mastermind commenced.

Doom set many benchmarks that all other FPS titles would be rated on, including one very important feature – the quality of its shotgun. Any FPS worth its salt features an incredible shotgun. None however, match this inspired design. The pump-action reload animation, damage, range and sound effect of Doom’s shotgun is beautiful – a raven-haired goddess gracefully conducting a bullet-ballet masterpiece. Nothing has come close since.

Eighteen years since its release and it continues to garner new fans, being played time and time again by those that love it. Very few games of this generation, no matter how graphically stunning, as graphics will always be out dated, will still be played in ten years time. Doom is gaming perfection.

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Eye of the Beholder

Those that saw the Thunderbolt’s Most Wanted iPhone Games article will be aware of my love for this old adventure, now twenty-one years old. Taking what Dungeon Master started in 1987, with its first real-time 3D world and innovative first-person view, Eye of the Beholder constructed a perfect blend of official Advanced Dungeons & Dragon rules and video game sensibility.

A group of four are passing through Waterdeep when they are hired to investigate an evil force coming from beneath the city. Who they are is your choice. Man or woman, elf or human. Lawful, neutral or perhaps chaotic good – it’s your choice. The character creation system is incredibly deep. Moving away from the predetermined characters in FTL Games’ Dungeon Master, developers Westwood Studios took the AD&D model and imported it into a video game. Every last detail of each character could be adjusted and tweaked to suit exactly what you wanted. Whoever you created, they’d need to be a tough bunch as their journey would bring them face-to-face with Xanathar, the beholder itself.

Perhaps it’s due to my childhood crush on EOTB (and the woman with the perm & eyepatch combo) that I’ve always struggled with JRPGs. The meandering, endless cutscenes and moody, universe-saving teenage protagonists bore me to tears. They never compared to a group of rugged adults whose stories, personalities and future was left open to your imagination. A mage they don’t trust and a thief they can’t help but love; it was your story, your interpretation. It perfectly matched the board(less) game it was based upon, where imagination was king.

EOTB integrated AD&D rules, provided a robust character creation system, used well detailed sprites to give depth and character to its underground world and, along with Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld, would inspire the many Western RPGs that would follow. Western RPGs never went away, they never died – they just weren’t given the credit they deserved.

Calvin Kemph, Senior Staff Writer

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Command & Conquer: Red Alert

To this day, I hear the echoes of the Hell March, the notes pulsating through my head and bringing on the flashbacks. They come in hot flashes and cold chills. I see the soviet tanks rolling over the hill, branded with the iconic hammer and cycle and remember the taste of fear, the smell of the squads I commanded, burnt to a pile of ash by the enemy’s Tesla coil. I remember the biting cold of the snow and the razor-sharp fangs of the attack dogs. There was a beautiful science informing all aspects of the war, resulting in sleek mechanical designs – a means for our allied forces to hold their own against the brute force of the soviets.

Sean Kelley, Associate Editor

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Soul Calibur

While I wouldn’t call myself a Soul Calibur fan, it’s impossible to refute the significance of Namco’s iconic Dreamcast launch title. Originally debuting in 1998 on Namco’s System-12 arcade board, Soul Calibur was one of the finest looking games of its time. Abandoning the more rigid 2D playing field of its mostly forgotten arcade sibling, Soul Edge, it introduced the eight-way run, which has gone on to become a staple of almost every prominent 3D fighter.

While Soul Calibur would go on to see its fair share of play in arcades, it wasn’t until Namco’s console ‘port’ that the game would find its true place in history. Following the Dreamcast to retail on 9.9.99, Soul Calibur was the first home conversion to significantly improve on the arcade experience. Character models had all been given significant face lifts, stages had benefited from increased poly counts; frankly, the game looked amazing, it was your Dreamcast’s showpiece. And at that point, the paradigm was forever shifted. The days of walking into your local arcade, hoping to see the latest cutting edge graphics, was over.

Soul Calibur would go on to garner near universal appraise, both critically and commercially. Possessing a 96 on review aggregate site Meta Critic, Soul Calibur remains the highest rated fighting game of all time and nearly one in every ten Dreamcast owners also owns a copy of the title. The series has gone on to spawn several sequels and spin-offs, and remains one of the most popular – if not competitive – fighting game franchises still kicking.

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Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart legitimized the idea of popular characters working in wholly different genres. It’s true that Mario had starred in a number of non-Mario Bros. games previously, including many of Nintendo’s early sports games, but Super Mario Kart was different. It wasn’t a conventional sports game with Mario shoehorned in, it was a Mario game that happened to be a kart racer. Series staples like coins, turtle shells, warp pipes and stars were seamlessly transitioned from one genre to the next.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the game played – and still does – like a dream. The grip of the karts on the various surfaces was phenomenal. It was one of the earliest racing games where you really felt the heft of your vehicle in contrast to its environment and there was always a tactile sensation with every drift around every corner. Bumps, gravel pits and banana peels were all obstacles that you desperately wanted to avoid. An untimely spin out could easily cost you the race, and thus the coveted Mushroom Cup. I can’t tell you how many times I had to gaze in agony upon Toad, one pedestal above, popping what should have been my champagne.

If that wasn’t enough, Super Mario Kart is unquestionably the genesis of the so-called ‘kart racing’ genre. Many of Mario’s rivals and fellow mascots have gone on to find their way behind the wheel, from Sonic, to Crash Bandicoot, all the way to Bomberman, and yet, none have been able to equal the simple elegance of Shigeru Miyamoto’s racing masterpiece.

Finally, Super Mario Kart has one more important claim to fame: it is splitscreen gaming. Maybe not the first game to put two separate players in two different windows on the same screen, no single franchise has been as closely tied to splitscreen gaming than Mario Kart. And with the way Mario Kart Wii has sold, I’d wager that trend will continue.

Stew Chyou, Staff Writer

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Tekken 3

When 3D fighters were winning the hearts of gamers, the Tekken series served as its prominent golden boy. The stratagem was not only to port its titles for the home, but also polishing the graphics and throwing in fine crafted CG intros and endings; a unique gimmick, for its time, that would solidify its popularity amongst general gamers.

Tekken 3, however, pushed the mold, incorporating much more involving gameplay: multiple fighting stances and throw sequences for various characters, a more elaborate combo system, gigantic move sets, and introducing ‘Just Frames’ and the notorious Electric Wind God Fist into the fray. These elements, and T3‘s physics, would become the bare minimum standards of future Tekken titles including T3‘s “upgrade,” Tekken Tag Tournament.

Without the series’ developments that stemmed from Tekken 3, we may not be able to enjoy the modern Mortal Kombat. Ed Boon not only turns to Tekken for inspiration, he’s also a fan.

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Final Fantasy VII

The firestarter itself, Final Fantasy VII has been reputed as “the game that sold the PlayStation.” The title’s use of full motion CG and advanced graphics garnered mainstream awareness to JRPGs, thus accomplishing the mission set out by Squaresoft in delivering an interactive storytelling experience to pique the interests of the general public.

Final Fantasy VII is the consummation of the anime renaissance that began its budding in the ’90s: a thought provoking, complex story, memorable characters, the harmonious fusing of medieval and futuristic themes, having the delicate balance of the universe decided by two metrosexuals, etc. Along with its gameplay, accessible to individuals of varying gaming experiences, FFVII became the inaugural JRPG for thousands.

With the game utilizing 3D models backed by prerendered environments instead of the classic bird’s eye view, the title’s elements would become the new archetype for many future titles to follow, FF and other JRPGs alike. The birth of VII would also cause a chain reaction, leading to other works such as Kingdom Hearts and the film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (yuck).

That brings us to the end of our first ’90s Theme Week. We hope you’ve enjoyed looking back at this generation of video games as much as we did. The second part of the ’90s Theme Week is coming soon, and will be ready ‘when it’s done’.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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