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This Week In Video Game History

This Week In Video Game History

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by January 17, 2018 retro

This Week In Video Game History… Leon S. Kennedy returns, an excellent Strategy Sim arrives on Game Boy Advance, Link tries to waken a sleeping Zelda and Nintendo saves the day.

Video Game History

 

Resident Evil 4 (NGC) [2005]

 

This week in video game history, the Resident Evil series returned initially as a GameCube exclusive, first released in the U.S. in January of 2005.

A once small-town cop, Leon has left the Raccoon City Police Department. He is now an agent of the United States Government, and in this mission, Leon is challenged with the rescue of Ashley Graham, daughter of the U.S. president.

Ashley is believed to be held captive by a mysterious cult that is said to reside in an unnamed rural area of Spain. On arrival, Leon encounters a group of extremely hostile villagers who pledge their lives to the cult known as Los Illuminados (The Enlightened Ones) and its leader, Lord Saddler. Now Leon has to rescue Ashley and uncover the plans of Los Illuminados, which involve a bizarre parasite known as Las Plagas.

Reinvention

Resident Evil 4 did away with the infamous tank controls, fixed camera angles, zombies, puzzle solving and resource management that are typical of the series. Instead, designers chose precise laser targeting from an over-the-shoulder perspective. The controls are still tank-like but the perspective made all the difference. It introduced a new enemy, the Ganados, and created a new threat in the form of the Las Plagas parasite. Though resource management is a factor it’s less intense this time around and affords all-out shooting.

Development

Ideas for Resident Evil 4 began in the late 90s around the time of the development of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Several titles were created between then and the eventual release of Resident Evil 4, which included: the first-person shooter Resident Evil Survivor and its sequel; the remake of the original; Resident Evil Outbreak and its sequel; prequel Resident Evil Zero; and handheld game Resident Evil Gaiden.

During this time Resident Evil 4 had quite a protracted development which involved a total of four scrapped versions. Originally intended for the PlayStation 2, the first of these builds was directed by Hideki Kamiya (director of Resident Evil 2).

A scenario for Resident Evil 4 was written by Noboru Sugimura, who created the scenario for Resident Evil 2. Sugimura wrote a story based on Kamiya’s idea for a more action-orientated game. Sugimura’s scenario centered around a protagonist named Tony. Tony would be a man with skills and intelligence that greatly surpassed any normal human being. He was also invincible. Kamiya wanted a change from the usually fixed camera angle that the series is known for. He felt such a camera angle did not fit an action-focused video game, and so opted for a more dynamic camera system.

Creating a new franchise

The game would then take on a more gothic aesthetic when the design team visited locations in Europe, including the United Kingdom and Spain. The team captured images of gothic architecture and brickwork for use in textures. Eventually, Kamiya felt that what he and the team had planned so far strayed too far from the core themes of the Resident Evil series. Despite the efforts of the design team to make it work, Kamiya convinced them to use these assets in a game independent of Resident Evil series.

Devil May Cry

Devil May Cry (2001) began development as the first version of Resident Evil 4

The original scenario written by Sugimura remained largely identical when Kamiya rewrote it to a story set in a world of demons. He then changed the story characters names including that of the protagonist, which he changed from Tony to Dante. This game would kick off a new franchise on its own, Devil May Cry.

In 2001, development began for what would eventually become the Resident Evil 4 we know now. Within a year the game was nearly half complete and announced to be a Nintendo GameCube exclusive. Still, this version would undergo several revisions.

The version designed in 2001 featured Leon S. Kennedy infiltrating Umbrella’s European Headquarters and featured zombies instead of Las Plagas infected villagers. The scenario for this version was again written by Noboru Sugimura. At some point during this story, Leon becomes infected by the Progenitor Virus (the basis of the original T-Virus). The Progenitor virus was originally planned to be introduced in this story but would later be introduced in Resident Evil 5. Leon’s infection not only would threaten his life but also grant a mysterious power in his left hand. This version included some first-person elements and did not include Ashley Graham, but did star a different girl that was never revealed. She would likely have featured in escort missions just like Ashley.

Hook Man

In 2003, another unique version was revealed. Despite a desire to not drift far from Resident Evil archetypes, it featured supernatural elements. It was officially named Maboroshi No Biohazard 4, which translates to Phantom Biohazard 4 confirming the developers’ ghostly theme intentions (Biohazard being the Japanese title of the series). The story even took place within the walls of a haunted building in which Leon has contracted a bizarre disease and featured atypical enemies such as animated dolls, walking suits of armour, and particularly a hook-wielding man. This version would be known as the Hook Man Version. Though this version would be scrapped, elements from this version would find its way into the final version such as the quick-time events, over-the-shoulder perspective, and the laser sight.

Related imageThe Hook Man version could well have been the final version. It was even revealed at the 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). By the time it was scrapped it had a very basic story concept. This version was helmed by Yasuhisa Kawamura who penned the scenario for Resident Evil 3. Kawamura was inspired by a movie starring Winona Ryder called Lost Souls, in which Winona’s character finds herself trapped in a house with a maniac on the loose. Kawamura’s intention was to create a Resident Evil game that was high in tension and much scarier. The scenario once again finds Leon infiltrating a building, a castle owned by Umbrella Corporation founder Ozwell Spencer. In a lab deep below the castle, Leon discovers a young girl and attempts to rescue her. He also discovers a dog that, despite being a B.O.W (Bio-Organic Weapon created by Umbrella), accompanies Leon and the girl as they navigate their way through the castle halls. Development progressed well until costs and other hurdles resulted in the eventual scrapping of the Hook Man version.

Umbrella Corporation

Resident Evil 4 (for the first time) did not directly involve the Umbrella Corporation

Major changes

It fell upon series creator Shinji Mikami to step in and rescue the development of this new Resident Evil game. Another version was created going back to the zombies in a house formula yet even this version was scrapped after a short time. The next version continued the original decision to reinvent the series. The majority of the development staff were tired of the same old thing after the creation of Resident Evil Zero. It was felt that the series was in danger of becoming cookie cut. Shinji Mikami continued as director but some staff members were still skeptical of the proposed reinvention. The goal to switch from classic Survival Horror to Action caused the most concern.

In an attempt to create a fresh Resident Evil game, Shinji Mikami wrote a story that for the first time did not directly involve the exploits of the Umbrella Corporation. He also created a new enemy – the Ganados – replacing the archetypal zombies and redesigned Leon to look “tougher and cool”. Mikami then chose to set the game story in a different location than that of a city or mysterious building. He set the game in a rural area of a European country, which he chose to be Spain. To replace the usual undead monster-creating virus he continued with the use of the Las Plagas parasite. Eventually, continuing concerns surrounding the reinvention were assuaged, especially when the final released version would be regarded as not only the best in the Resident Evil series but one of the greatest games ever made.

Advance Wars (GBA) [2001]

 

This week in 2001, Advance Wars was released for Game Boy Advance in Europe. A spiritual successor to Japan and Nintendo Entertainment System exclusive Famicom Wars, hence its original title – Game Boy Wars Advance.

Handheld consoles aren’t typically known for their strategy sims. The small screens of handhelds from the early 2000s such as the Neo Geo Pocket and the Game Boy Advance aren’t really suitable for displaying the expanse of a war zone. This would likely be the attitude of many strategy sim developers. Surely they would prefer creating games for the larger screens and controls of a home computer or games console? Developer Intelligent Systems showed everyone how to do it, creating one of the best games for Nintendo’s brilliant little handheld.

Advance Wars takes place in the aptly named War Worlds. The game begins in “Field Training” yet, despite being considered training, is an actual conflict taking place. Field Training sees a conflict between the army of the nation of Orange Star (the player) and the national army of Blue Moon.

Gameplay

The Orange Star army begins with one Commanding Officer, Andy, later adding two more: Max and Sami. Each C.O has their own pros and cons, such as adding increased attack power while decreasing attack range. Commanding Officers also have what are called C.O powers, which grant the player an advantage such as a critical hit bonus or a disadvantage applied to their opponent.

Gameplay consists of two to four enemy armies fighting across a grid-based battlefield with the player instructing the commanding officer of their army. The player controls the deployment and actions of various army units and soldiers. Victory can be achieved in one of two ways, either by obliterating the enemy or capturing their headquarters.  

The Commanding Officers of each army take it in turns to command their units, ordering them to move positions, attack enemy units or capture neutral or enemy buildings. There are a variety of 18 units, some only capable of attacking certain other units and having a set range and effectiveness which is governed by other factors such as terrain and weather. When units collide, the outcome is dictated by how they generally stack up against each other. For example, a unit of tanks would obliterate a unit of soldiers, whereas a unit of soldiers versus another unit of soldiers would not destroy each other but the unit that attacks first causes more damage while enduring a little damage themselves.

Changing views

Just like Pokemon, underlying its adorable look Advance Wars is a large and complex game. Its replay value is increased with no battle scenario having one solution. Its cutesy colourful art style was chosen to target a young audience, yet it was most popular with teens and adults being a deep and seriously challenging strategy game and widely regarded as one of the best, well-balanced and infinitely replayable games available for Game Boy Advance.

Like early RPGs, Advance Wars almost remained a Japan exclusive. Nintendo believed that Western audiences weren’t interested in turn-based games or even complicated games. It would be released in the West eventually but with the addition of an in-depth tutorial. Advance Wars’ success changed Nintendo’s view of Western tastes, which encouraged the Western release of titles such as Fire Emblem, which too began as a Japan exclusive.

 

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (FDS) [1987]

 

This week in 1987, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was released for Famicom Disk System in Japan, coming less than a year after the first entry in the Legend of Zelda series. It was always the intention of Shigeru Miyamoto to make a follow up to the first Legend of Zelda game that was different. To do so a different team was assembled to create it with Miyamoto choosing not to direct, but he stayed on as producer. Zelda co-creator Takashi Tezuka returned to write the script and story. Instead of Koji Kondo, a different music composer was brought on board in the form of Akito Nakatsuka, who composed music for many other Miyamoto and Nintendo games.

Miyamoto and co were successful in creating a game that was a fundamentally unique game in the series and very different from its predecessor. It combines the overworld top-down aspects of its predecessor with side-scrolling platforming elements. Though side on perspectives would be seen in later entries it never again featured so prominently. Another aspect that would not be seen again is the lives feature, that is if you were to ignore the non-canonical Philips CD-i games Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, Link would begin with 3 lives whereas future games opted for a single hearts-based life bar.

New ideas

Though unique, Zelda II introduced many aspects that would be seen again later in the series. For example, NPCs would play a more significant role in Link’s adventure, giving important guidance and information that would help him in his quest. It was one of the first games in which NPCs wandered and appeared to have their own agendas, giving the world a sense of life. It was also one of the first games to combine platforming and role-playing elements, such as leveling up attributes, and also introduced the Magic Meter that governs Links use of spells. This title saw the first appearance of the Triforce of Courage and Link’s evil doppelganger – Dark Link (or Shadow Link) – which functions as the games final boss and a challenge before acquiring the Triforce of Courage.

Zelda II was the final Zelda game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System before the series moved to the Super NES. It was a critical and financial success and would become the 5th best-selling game for NES.

Most of the Sages that appear in the Zelda series, particularly N64 classic Ocarina of Time, are named for the towns in the Adventure of Link, which also includes the town of Mido, named for a Kokiri villager who is not a sage, though Zelda lore dictates that the towns are named after the sages.

Story

Zelda II begins after the destruction of Ganon in Link’s first adventure. Link notices a strange mark on his left hand that bears a striking resemblance to the crest of Hyrule. He seeks out Impa, described (though not appearing) as a wise old woman. Impa takes Link to a location known as North Castle, wherein stands a door that has been magically sealed for generations. Placing Link’s hand against the door, Impa opens it to reveal a chamber, in the center of which stands an altar. On the altar sleeps a maiden, whom Impa identifies as Zelda (though not the Zelda from the first game), a princess from long ago who is the origin of the “Legend of Zelda”.

A long time ago, Zelda’s brother had attempted to convince his sister to reveal the locations of the 3 pieces of the Triforce, a secret given to her by their deceased father. Zelda’s brother had the power of a wizard by his side. This wizard, infuriated by Zelda’s lack of cooperation, struck her with a spell that put her into a deep sleep. The magic was powerful, so powerful that the wizard lost control of it and was killed. Zelda’s brother, now rife with guilt, had his sister placed safely within the chamber. He hoped that one day she could be awakened. In remembrance of this tragedy, he decreed that royal princesses born from then on would always be named Zelda.

Impa explains the mark on Link’s hand indicates that he is chosen to rescue the princess from her eternal slumber. She then gives Link a chest containing six crystals that include ancient writings, writings that only a great future king could read, and discovers that Link can read them. They explain that the six crystals must be returned to six statues around Hyrule. Once returned to their respective homes they will open the way to the ‘Great Palace’. The palace contains the ‘Triforce of Courage’ which when combined with the Triforces of Power and Wisdom grant the only power that will awaken the snoozing princess.

The Video Game Crash of 1983

35 years ago, the video game industry suffered a significant recession. Video game revenues fell by a staggering 97% in just two years.

The primary cause was over-saturation of games in the North American market. It brought about an abrupt end to the second generation of video game consoles. This crash caused the bankruptcy of several video game companies and cast serious doubts over the future of the industry (that is until a certain Japanese company came to the rescue).

It began in 1983 and got progressively worse through to 1985. Around the time of the crash, the biggest companies involved in the industry included Atari, Coleco Industries, Mattel, and Magnavox. Atari had two major consoles on the market: the Atari VCS (aka 2600) and the Atari 5200 (which itself performed poorly). Coleco Industries produced the ColecoVision, Mattel had the Intellivision, while Magnavox created their successor console the Odyssey².

Too many games can be bad

Most of the above machines had large video game libraries. Mattel and Coleco had both created adapters for Atari VCS cartridges, and later Coleco created the Coleco Gemini. The Gemini is a combined console clone of the Atari 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision. The market then became flooded with games (especially for Atari consoles). On top of this, Atari chose not to oversee the games created by third-party developers. These developers churned out consistently terrible games, hence in Japan, the crash would be known as the “Atari Shock”. Video game revenues would further plummet when around only 10% of those games would sell well. Those considered mediocre would likely be returned to retailers.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is regarded as one of the worst games ever made

With so many games and consoles flooding the market, retailers struggled. They not only struggled to shift their stock but had trouble finding sufficient floor space in their stores. These retailers would then return their surplus stock to their publishers who would struggle to pay these unexpected mass refunds. This resulted in many publishers shutting their doors for good. Retailers who struggled to shift their stock were forced to sell their games and consoles at greatly reduced prices. So significant was this crash that Magnavox, manufacturers of the pioneering Magnavox Odyssey, left the industry entirely.  In order to reduce their surplus stock, retailers limited their range. They chose to sell solely new games and new consoles, reducing sales even further.

Atari

The company most affected by the crash was arguably the one most responsible for it, Atari. At the same time, Atari made two significant missteps. Two major failures were the Atari 2600 port of Pacman and the famously disastrous E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. Both games expected to sell well and were produced in the hundreds of thousands. Both performed extremely poorly, E.T especially, regarded as one of (if not the) worst video games of all time. This hurt Atari, the industry leader, significantly. Atari then secretly dumped thousands of E.T cartridges in a landfill in New Mexico. Many believed it was an urban legend until the cartridges were uncovered in 2013.

Nintendo

Nintendo arrived on the video game scene by creating the Color-TV Game. A dedicated home console series produced from 1977 to 1980 which performed reasonably well overall. In July of 1983, Nintendo introduced the Famicom (Family Computer) home console in Japan. Nintendo redesigned the Famicom and soft-launched in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985.

Nintendo had learned a lot from the mistakes of others. Their handheld, the Game & Watch, was designed with the mistakes of Milton Bradley’s faulty, leaky Microvision handheld in mind. Nintendo learned from Atari’s errors, particularly that of video game quality considerations when opening the doors to 3rd party developers. They created the golden Nintendo “Seal of Quality” seen on all Nintendo games. They limited the number of 3rd party games, allowing the release of games that only met Nintendo’s quality standards.

When the NES arrived, Nintendo had no significant competition. This allowed the Japanese company to secure a massive 70% market share. Annual video game revenues (having dropped from over $3 billion to $100 million) increased to over $2 billion by 1988. Nintendo rekindled optimism for the future of the industry and ushered in the third generation of video game consoles.

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