Bit Age Times
Issue #8   May 2000

Table of Contents
01  The Top Fifty Most Influential Games of the Bit Age
02  The Best Baseball Game
03  The Evolution of the National Pastime
04  Reader Feedback

05 

Bits Still Matter
06  I Was a Teenage Altered Beast
07 Site of the Month
08 Conclusion

 

The Top Fifty Most Influential Games of the Bit Age (and beyond)!

We are getting down to the end of the list and the games here are more and more important. These are among the games that really defined new genres, pushed the boundaries of video games and boldly took us where no games have gone before. Any game from here on is worth owning. No matter if you are a fan of the genre the particular game is from, it is worth playing. These games (and in some cases series of games) are what gaming is all about!

#20-Tomb Raider-While this one may be borderline for the Bit Age, it is one of the most influential games to come along in a long time. Not only did it take the getting tired genre of first person shooters and change it into a third person perspective, but it created a new superstar in the video game world. Lara Croft is possibly the biggest character in video games since Sonic. She has become one of those characters who has transcended past video games and into popular culture, something only a handful of characters have been able to do. Oh yeah, it was a darn good game too!


#19-John Madden Football Series
-While the game itself may not be that special, its impact on the gaming world is phenomenal. It was one of the big reasons behind the success of the Sega Genesis and even more importantly, it helped to catapult Electronic Arts into the biggest third party publisher in the world. Madden has become a yearly ritual for many gamers and continues to sell copies and systems.

#18-Bomberman Series-Bomberman has the distinction of being the best multiplayer game ever! The series has developed over time, but despite the many incarnations of the game, it has managed to keep the gameplay intact. This game almost single-handedly created the term "party game" and continues to draw crowds to this very day.

#17-Castlevania Series-For two decades, we have followed the exploits of Simon Belmont and his battle with Dracula. The Castlevania series began with the Nintendo and have carried on to the today with versions on the Playstation and Nintendo 64. While the new versions are alot prettier, the core has remained, huge levels with lots of enemies and tons of hidden things to find. Each game is a grand adventure and an experience upon itself.

#16-Metroid-For gamers in the early days of the Nintendo, the demand for something besides of the successful Super Mario was great. Along came Metroid to fill the demand. Not only was it a great series, but along with Kid Icarus, it was the first game to have a save system in place. For the first time, a console game could be saved and you could come back to where you left off. No more all-nighters, no more praying there will be no power shortage. While it was not as grand as today's save system, it was a key start and allowed programmers to make bigger and longer games. The shackles of not being able to save your progress were coming off and the entire game market was changing.

#15-Mortal Kombat Series-The second most successful and popular of the fighting game series, Mortal Kombat took the games to a new level. With great graphics, wild characters and most importantly, lots of blood and the ever famous finishing moves, Mortal Kombat pushed the envelope. It also drew the attention of irate parents and a demand for censorship. But more than that, it became a franchise unto itself. There were movies, a television show, toys and more. Mortal Kombat became a part of our culture and gaming history.


#14-Phantasy Star Series
-While the Nintendo offered Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, the lowly Sega Master system offered a much deeper role playing game. For the fortunate ones who bought the Sega Master system, they got to experience Phantasy Star, the pinnacle of role playing games during its day. With a huge adventure, wonderful characters and great gameplay, the Sega owners had a wonderful little secret. The series continued on the Sega Genesis and was one of the pivotal series in the success of the Genesis as it offered some of the best role playing on the consoles.

#13-Megaman Series-Capcom proved that not every successful franchise for the Nintendo came from Nintendo.. Megaman was one of the most successful game series on the original Nintendo with 6 games in the series. It also continued it success on the Super Nintendo and while it is still coming out now, its best days are behind it. The series also spawned a cartoon show and quite a bit of merchandise. It was also the first series that I can remember where you could take the weapon of the defeated boss and use it.


#12-Dungeon Master
-Back in the mid 1980s, most of the dungeon games were in the Bard's Tale mold.. You would move through a dungeon until you wandered into some monsters. Then you would decide from a menu what to do. Do you fight, do your run or maybe throw a spell? You had time to decide what to do. It was called turn based and while it was fun, it wasn't very realistic. Then along came Dungeon Master, one of the most influential games and changed all of that. For the first time, you were wandering in a dungeon in real time. When a monster was coming at you, you didn't have time to think, you had to react and quickly. Spells had to be readied in advance. Your characters needed to eat and drink and rest. It was so far ahead of anything out at the time. It also paved the way for a ton of imitators like the Eye of the Beholder series and Ultima Underworld.

#11-Final Fantasy Series-While Nintendo gave us Dragon Warrior, Square went one better and gave us Final Fantasy, one of the most popular role playing games of all time. With the deep characters, long adventures and great characterization, it became a favorite and the games continue to be huge successes on every system they come out for. Some even contend that Square's move from Nintendo to Sony was a key ingredient in the success of the Playstation.

Come back next month for the grand conclusion! See how many of the top ten games you can name (I know you can easily guess half of them and the astute gamers can probably nail all of them). Also see if you can guess which order they will be in? Then tune in the month after for a list of the games that just missed the list.

The Best Baseball Game!

I have been a fan of baseball games from way back on the Intellivision. I was always a sucker for a great baseball game and kept buying them from the Colecovision's Super Action Baseball to the Bases Loaded Series on the Nintendo and later the World Series games on the Sega Genesis and Saturn. But each one left me wanting more. There was always something missing in the games that kept them from being the very best in sports games. Each one left out one key ingredient, good computer AI. While playing a human could remedy this, most games are played against the computer or console and so a good computer AI is needed to really make a great sports game. Until now, that didn't exist. Computer and console baseball games were predictable and played like they were run by a machine. Then came High Heat Baseball, the best series of baseball games ever!

I got the High Heat Baseball 2000 on a whim. I was contacted by someone who works for a company that liquidates surplus games and wanted to trade for some classic games. He sent me a list of games for trade and as I looked over the list, High Heat Baseball caught my eye. I remember reading in an earlier issue of Next Generation about the people behind it. I remember how they talked about making a great game that would have the pitcher pitch like their real life counterparts. Baserunning would be realistic as would hitting. I was intrigued and so I traded for that one. When I finally got it and tried it out, I was stunned. It was an incredible game! The pitchers no longer only threw strikes as in so many other games. If a pitcher had an 0-2 count on you, there was a good chance you were going to see a few out of the strike zone pitches to try and get you to chase one. Plus, a fastball looked fast and a changeup thrown right after it would have you swinging early.

But as good as it was, the sequel High Heat 2001 was even better! I saw it originally at a Babbages for $44.95 and was tempted to buy it. I had loved the previous version and knew I would get my money worth, but I am cheap. So I resisted temptation and held out. I next saw it at CompUSA for $29.95, a much better price, but once again I remained cheap (to give you an indication of my cheapness, my fantasy baseball team was called The Cheap Bastards, because I would get a bunch of cheap bargains and then lock them up with long term deals). Two weeks later, I saw a circular where Best Buy had it for $19.95, finally the right price! I went up as they opened and bought it up! Was the game worth it? It would have been a deal at the original price of $44.95, and it was a steal at $19.95. It retained all the best qualities of the previous version and added small things that improved the game. A much welcomed batting practice was the best improvement. Now you could go in and hone your skills against different levels of pitchers and against whatever pitches you wanted to see.


Besides the new hitting feature, they added more ballparks, better graphics, more speech and other cosmetic changes that make it a prettier game. About the only thing they didn't improve was the top player tables. I would like to see the top 20 home run hitters or top pitchers ERA for a particular league and that is not available. You have to wade through each to to find out who is the best. Hopefully they will improve this for the next version. One other thing I would like to see is player salaries and contract negotiations. I am big into running a team and would love to have a budget to meet and make tough decisions on what players to keep and which ones to get rid of. But these are minor things and do not detract from an incredible game.

One of the most impressive things about the game is the amount of research that went into it. Players are very much like their live counterparts. Throw an inside fastball to Mo Vaughn, a very good inside hitter and watch it go yard. Try to get John Olerud to chase an out of the strike zone pitch and watch as he walks to first base. It really is that realistic! From the devastating speed of a Randy Johnson fastball to the total unpredictability of a Tim Wakefield knuckleball, you get the best baseball game ever made! It really is the first one that got the pitcher/hitter battle right and that is the heart of baseball.

So if you are a fan of the National Pastime and want a baseball game done right, this is the best choice there is. It may take a bit for you to learn to hit a curveball, but it will be worth it. It is as close as you can get to playing baseball without being blessed with buckets of talent.

The Evolution of the National Pastime

Much like the real game has evolved from a pitcher orientated league in the beginning of the century to the slugfests of today, so has the video game counterparts also evolved. At the start of the Bit Age, the typical baseball game was crude both in graphics and gameplay. You had little control over the batting and the pitching was even worse. Usually you had a choice of a few pitches, usually four and sometimes you could move them around a bit. The opponents AI (artificial intelligence) was poor and after a dozen or so games, you could kill the game. It was all timing. You learned how to time the pitch and you could get tons of hits. You learned how to pitch and could limit the opposition. It was all reflexes. Games like Nintendo's Baseball and the Turbo Graphx's Baseball offered you mostly cosmetic changes from the predecessors on the Colecovision and Intellivision.

Then slowly games started to incorporate stats. Not just meaningless stats, but the ability to keep track of stats. Soon you could follow the progress of a player over the course of a season and see how many home runs you could accumulate. Games like Tony LaRussa took games further. Also we saw the evolution of franchises. Series like RBI Baseball and Bases Loaded became a yearly event for gamers. With new additions to look forward to, they created excitement.

As the years went by and the ability to save data came along, we slowly saw changes like the ability to create your own player. Now you could put yourself in the game. We also saw the use of real team names and players. Different stadiums were used, so you were not always stuck in the same place. Even concurrent seasons where you could run the same team for decades if you chose, had become a reality.

The evolution continued and still does today. Now the baseball market is broken into distinct categories. You have arcade games like the Triple Plays and High Heat Baseballs to the purely stat driven games like Baseball Mogul and Out of the Park. Now you have the ability to play different eras, deal with salary constraints, sign free agents and trade players. Some games even let you set ticket prices and the cost of a hot dog.

The future will be even brighter in the future. With DVD becoming more and more popular, you will see games that not only feature an announcer, but also a play by play person and possibly different announcers. There will be better graphics and more animations. More and more options will present themselves and who knows, they may incorporate such outlandish stuff as creating your own ballpark and mascot to voting on expansion and commissioners.

Reader Feedback

When I did an article on how well each of the new game systems would do, I expected some feedback. But I did not expect the amount I received! People either really agreed with me or thought I was dumb as a stump. Here are a few of the responses and my rebuttals to them.

How can you put the Dreamcast so low? Sure, it may not beat out the Playstation 2, but it will beat out the X-Box, which is nothing but a concept. Come on, who would buy a Microsoft based product over Dreamcast?

Editor-Since Dreamcast is a Microsoft based product in its operating system, I would guess any Sega fan would. ;)

Why would anyone want to wait six months for the Playstation 2 or a year for the Microsoft or Nintendo system, when they can have the Dreamcast now? Gamers will tire of watching their friends playing all the hottest games and going online and playing and buy the Dreamcast. By the time the other systems come out, there will be no money left for them. Sega Rules!

Editor-There are two big flaws in your theory that need to be addressed. First off, all the hottest games are not on the Dreamcast. Sure they have some popular games like the new Dead or Alive 2 and Resident Evil: Codename Veronica, but they still don't have Electronic Arts or Square in their corner and they are two of the biggest publishers out there. Some of the most anticipated games are the Final Fantasy series and from Nintendo, the next installments of Mario and Zelda, none of which will be featured on the Dreamcast. So while they have alot of great software for their system, the biggest titles will not be there.

The second flaw is the online service. While it is a big selling point, they will not officially get their service up and running until September. I still believe this is the second biggest mistake that Dreamcast has made (the first being that they did not go with DVD technology). That should have been given top priority and should have been in place at launch or at the latest, in January. Why bother including a modem when it is practically useless? If they had that in place back in January, they could have sold alot more systems. The online gameplaying is a great feature, but it has to be up and running to be of any use.

I can agree with putting Sony first, but why is Microsoft second? Nintendo can spend as much as Microsoft and they have the franchises to sell their system. Microsoft doesn't have Mario or Zelda to sell their systems. I really think that Bill Gates will fail here and I cannot wait to see it.

Editor-I think that you and everyone else is underestimating Microsoft. Remember this is the same company that everyone laughed at when they said they would compete with Netscape. Know what, they did it and there is no reason to believe they cannot succeed here either?

The advantages that Microsoft has over say a Sony when they first entered the game market is that they have experience making games. They also have done many different genres of games. From the highly successful Flight Simulator series to the real time strategy series, Age of Empires to the Microsoft Baseball series, they have been doing games for over a decade. So they have people who can make quality games and they have the money to go out and buy up a few game companies like Sony did when they bought Psygnosis and others.

The other advantage Microsoft has over Nintendo, Sony and others is that they already have a web presence and tons of experience. Unlike Sega who is struggling to get their site up and running for online gaming, Microsoft already has one in place. Plus, they have successful online games like Asheron's Call already up and running, so they have the know how to do it. They can have it up and running at launch, which is something that no one else has been able to do.

I think that anyone who underestimates Bill Gates desire to succeed is a fool. You can hate the man and his company, that is your prerogative, but give him his due. He took on Netscape and won. He jumped head first into the online service business and came in second to America Online, beating out the Prodigys and Compuserves of the world. So while he may not be able to wrestle the crown from Sony, there is no reason to believe he cannot finish second.

Bits Still Matter

By Fred Wagaman

In today’s polygon laden, texture-mapped, anti-alaised world, do bits still matter ?

Yes, they do.

At least in the area of hand held video games.

Last week, I finally broke down and purchased a Neo Geo Pocket. This 16-bit (yes, they even say that on the spec sheet) has great color, cool controls and some decent games. Let’s get to a review.

The Neo Geo Pocket is a little smaller than a Gameboy Color, and the machine is oriented in a horizontal direction. The Screen seems to be a little bigger than a Gameboy Color. It has 3 buttons, (A/B/Option) and a rather unique control pad. Instead of the traditional “+” it is small and round. It is a miniature version of the latest Neo Geo Control Pad for the CD unit. It also reminds me of the old NES Max control pad, but a little stiffer and self centering.

The games themselves are about ½ the size of a Gameboy game. The original games came in a very nice, hard-plastic clamshell case. The newer games come in a similar box made of cardboard.

The machine has an expansion port, AC port and headphones jack.

SNK (the makers of the Neo Geo) have provided a steady flow of fighting games to their systems over the years and the Neo Geo Pocket is no exception. I have played “Fatal Fury-1st Contact” and “King of Fighters R2”. Both have a lot of speed for a hand-held game. If you’ve played any of the fighting games on the Gameboy, then you know what a lack of speed is. Both games have a variety of moves. And this might surprise you when you consider that the machine only has 2 buttons. But SNK has made the best of it by registering the move based on how long you hold the button. A tap of the button will get you a different move than a press of the button. The other Neo Geo Systems (Arcade/Cart/CD) controllers have 4 buttons, so this technique simulates their availability.

SNK seems to be trying to break out of their “Fighter’s Only” reputation. The NGP also provides a variety of other software. Puzzle games are plentiful with Puzzle Bobble (Bust-a-Move), Magic Drop and Puzzle Link among others. Each of these appear to be faithful conversions of their larger brethren. Some classic arcade games also get converted to the NGP with Pac Man and one of my old time favorites, “Crush Roller”. For gambling fans, the NGP offers Blackjack, Slots and Poker. There are a couple of RPGs as well. Bio Motor Unitron and Dark Arms appear to be the better ones. SNK even went the Pokemon route by releasing basically the same game, “Dive Alert”, in two different versions. Each with their own submarines to find on your quest. Stealing another page from Pokemon, SNK has created a card battle game (ala Pokemon Cards) for the NGP. Their game pits the fighters of SNK against the fighters of Capcom. This compliments their Capcom vs. SNK fighting game.

Other SNK arcade games also make the trip to the small screen. Metal Slug 1 and 2 are both available.

One surprise to me is the available pack-in game. SNK offers the Neo Geo Pocket by itself, or with an NGP version of Sonic the Hedgehog. For the little bit I played it, it seems to be a very good version, with all the speed and color of it’s Genesis cousin.

King of Fighters R2 is capable of being connected to the Dreamcast via a special cable and can transfer some training data between the NGP and the Dreamcast version of KOF. This might be cool if you are qualified as a KOF freak, but to the average player, the $30 cable just can’t be justified.

If I had a complaint about the machine, it would be that the screen is hard to see in low-light. This has plagued every handheld unit that doesn’t backlight its screen. There is an available “worm light”-like unit that plugs into the expansion port, but it hasn’t been made widely available yet.

The strong points of the machine are speed, good color and variety of games that you’ll want to play. The machine is also very lightweight, even with the required 2 AA batteries installed. And it really would fit in a pocket. There is a built in Clock (with Alarm), Calendar and Horoscope (The Horoscope is more of a Biorhythm sort of thing).

Do you travel ? Are you tired of the same old Gameboy games and would like something different than Pokemon ? Do you like fighting and action games that actually play well in a portable machine ? The Neo Geo Pocket is for you. Try one out and I think you’ll be impressed.

Fred has been playing games for over 25 years and actively collecting them for over 10. The 2400 + games that he has takes up most of his home office and living room. He lives in Denver, PA with his understanding wife Jennie, his 4 year-old, button-loving son, Max and his newly acquired, wire chewing, 4th player, Lynzie. He notes that his wife hates when he goes away on business because he always comes home with something game related. He can be reached at fcw3@postoffice.ptd.net.

I Was a Teenage Altered Beast
Chapter Four

A good night sleep was just what the shaman ordered. I woke up and felt like a new man. And as I walked down to the river and stared into the river, I remembered that I was a new man! I was godly and loving it! I had to flex for a few minutes, if only to do my morning stretch. As I gazed at my reflection, I saw a very large fish swimming by. Without thinking, I stuck my hand in the water in a flash. Within a few seconds, I was pulling out a huge fish! My reflexes were unbelievable! This came from a man who when playing tag, would be stuck being it for days.  So I took the fish over to the flaming pile of zombies and cooked it.  While the stench was still strong, the pangs of hunger overcame me and I ate it up hungrily.  It wasn't until I finished that I realized that I also consumed the bones and scales.  Fighting zombies does make one famished.

Before I could carry on my journey, I was struck from behind.  Something hit me from behind and knocked me on my stomach.  I felt a hot, fetid breath on my neck and feared the worst.  Then my instincts took over and I rolled over to face my adversary.  There was another white wolf, fighting to maintain his foothold on me and snarling as he bared his fangs at me.  Drool dripped from his mouth as he envisioned me as a tasty morsel.  In what was a split second, his jaws lunged at me and he took at snap at my face, only to be blocked by my arm.  The jaws clenched down on my arm and I could feel the teeth breaking through my skin.  With my other hand, I punched the mighty beast in the side of his head.  The beast let out a yelp, but held onto my arm.  He was now biting down hard as if to separate my limb from my body.  Once again, I smashed my fist against his head.  This time I heard the sickening sound of bone cracking and he released the grip on my arm.  The beast fell down and squirmed in pain.  My guess is the bone fragments of his skull were now burrowing into his brain and the pain must have been immeasurable.  Even if the mighty beast did try to feast upon me, I could not watch it writher in pain and went over and retrieved my sword and put an end to its suffering.  

As I examined the wound on my arm, I once again saw the glowing orb rise from the beast.  Remembering the powers it bestowed upon me last time, I quickly snatched it from the air and let it consume me.  The fires once again consumed me and for a few seconds, great pain swept through me.  I then fell to the ground to regain my senses.  As the last ebbs of pain left me, I stood up and looked over my body.  Before I was big, but now I was monstrous!  I also felt a sense of power shoot through my veins that is beyond any mortal description.  

I decided that a test of strength was in order.  So I walked over to a fallen tree and grabbed one end.  This was a very large tree, measuring at least seven men in length and a good six or seven hands or so in diameter.  As I grabbed it, I gave a mighty heave and with little effort, I picked it up over my head.  I then dropped it in amazement.  

Before I could return to rational thought, I went and did something that no sane man would ever attempt.  I went over and punched a tree.  What foolish notion filled my head to make me think such a feat could be performed, is beyond me, but I did it nonetheless.  I went right over and punched a sizable hole right through the tree.  I must have looked the fool as I was standing there with my hand stuck in the trunk of the tree.

As fate would have it, this was also the same time that the great vision of the mad Wizard would appear to taunt me.  As I stood there stuck, billows of smoke rose from the ground and a great column of fire shot from the midst of the smoke.  In the very core of the fire was a grinning head of the wizard as he laughed at me.  "Foolish mortal, even your new found strength will be no match for my limitless powers.  Turn back now while your flesh still clings to your very bones, for soon I will leave you nothing more than a pile of bones."  With that the flames spread out and consumed me.  I shielded my eyes from the blast as the heat overwhelmed me.  All the vegetation in the general vicinity burned to a crisp.

With the tree reduced to ashes, I was easily able to wrestle my arm free.  As I looked around me, I saw a circle of nothing but blackened earth.  Every living thing around me was consumed by the fire.  As I looked down, I saw that my body had absorbed the great blast and there was no sign of any damage.  Not a trace of a burn on my body.  The only thing that was affected was my clothes, which were now long gone.  So I stood there in the middle of the forest, naked as the great bear.  I stood up and yelled out "Wizard, you gave me your best shot and failed.  I am coming for you and you better be ready!"  At that moment, I heard some laughing.  As I looked over, I saw some fairies giggling at my nakedness.  Soon my sense of superiority turned to embarrassment and I ran to the woods to cover myself up.  The wizard would have to wait until I was able to fashion some suitable clothing.

Site of the Month

Being a big fan of the Nintendo 8-Bit, I am always looking for quality sites.  Here is one that blew me away!  It is called the The Forbidden Nintendo Information Repository and it is full of stuff for all systems Nintendo, including the Famicom!  You get manuals, pictures, even stuff on unreleased games!  This site has a ton of stuff and then some!  

One of the more interesting pages is a Gameboy Rarity List, the first that I have seen.  Just looking at the sheer number of games released for the system is amazing.  The list is incomplete as only part of the games are rated by rarity, but it is being updated.  

So if you like NES stuff, check out this page at the following URL:

http://www.dragongames.com/repository/

Conclusion

Another month comes to a close and the start of summer is upon us.  This is generally a time when video game playing decreases as outside activities become more demanding of our time.  But it is also a great time to hit the flea markets and garage sales in search for cheap games.  With the Bit Age games declining in popularity, the prices have dropped and the quantity is increasing.  More and more people are moving to the 32 bit and 64 bit systems and getting rid of their older systems.  More and more of the game resale shops are either limiting their purchases of 16 bit games or offering such low prices that sellers are deciding to try other avenues for sale.  This gives you a great opportunity to capitalize and build up your collection.  For the next few years, the prices of Genesis, Nintendo and Super Nintendo should fall.  So while you are out enjoying the sunshine, you may want to check out a few games to add to your collection.  

Tom Zjaba - Editor