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Out of This World

posted by Mel. on 3/13/01

For the children of the 16-bit atom, there was never a better time to be alive than the early 1990's. It was an era of great excitement for anyone who cut their teeth on an Atari 2600 joystick, when the multi-billion dollar industry that we'd all help build officially broke the bank and proved itself a far superior animal to its predecessors. No longer was the home video game system to be regarded as a mere novelty item as its 8-bit and Sub-bit parents had been--these new machines hummed on parallax levels, promised revolution through compact disc means and dialup technology, and created playground rifts the likes of which hadn't been seen since grade school years--technophiliac cowboys and indians for a new kind of kid.

The market may have appeared rocksteady to us, as pee-wee consumers suffocated beneath a veil of gawking zealotry to our system of choice, but in retrospect, we're lucky the fucker lasted the decade. It was all about the growing pains, and the price we paid for jumping onto the next big epoch--Nintendo, Sega and company had no problem using their demographics as guinea pigs for unproven commodities such as the aforementioned modem and CD offerings, and woe to the poor bastard who thought the newest system of the week stood a chance at toppling the two megaliths warring at the market's center. The 16-bit wars were the final rest stop on the Information Superhighway for an unpolished concept, and before Sony took the industry on its back and out of sight, it seemed like it could all end at any second.

We had an awesome paranoid trip going, mashing buttons and looking at each other with toothy grins, punching back the overall sensation that we were standing on the brink of total super-system meltdown: The Lynx was dying by '95, the Jaguar had become extinct before its first orders had been filled, Turbographix 16 and the mighty 3D0 seemed to be proof positive that there would be no tomorrow for the home system. We were all going to freeze in the midst of the 16-bit Ice Age, our little white and black boxes with their tack-on cartridges and defunct periphereals preserved for all time. Too beautiful to ever die, too impractical to have a real future.

And the politics. Oh, Christ on a crutch. The politics.

To say that you're a video game fan in this day and age isn't really a loaded question. All of a sudden, it's permissable to have a Playstation One that you "got a couple games for, and if something cool comes out, you'll get it", or an N64 that "you'll bring out if friends are over". In the golden age of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis epoch, there was no such line of logic--we had two choices. Two systems, two companies, two philosophies, two worlds apart, and simply, two choices.

If you were on the Sega side of the fence, you knew that Nintendo's little zealots were nothing but limp-wristed pansies who had sat idly by while their parent company replaced the blood content in the home port of Mortal Kombat with quarter-rate "sweat" graphics. You laughed at how it looked like Kano was ripping out a handful of dust when he finished off Sonya Blade. Your D-Day was when Capcom announced Street Fighter 2 would be a SNES exclusive, because at that moment, it was as if the Axis powers had seized Hawaii. Naturally, the Genesis 'port was released about a year later, but there was no such thing as "foresight" in the heat of battle.

And in the other trenches lay the Super Nintendo coalition--dire faithfuls who had shrugged off the threat of the Sega Master System (Although their Double Dragon did enable two player simultaneous clubberin') and made the natural jump from 8-bit NOA product to 16-bit. You knew that the Genesis fad couldn't last, marveled at how anyone could mistake the slipshod pixellation and washed-out colors of Sega's flagship machine for quality, and had a fit every time some Sonic-brainwashed motherfucker brought up "Blast Processing". Your moment of ultimate triumph was the release of Mortal Kombat 2, possibly the best 'port of a nineties-era arcade phenomenon, with blood splattering and acid spewing amidst bisected enemies. Even those Sega-sucking pricks at EGM had to lay down their arms and hail to the new king.. despite the fact that you'd always come up short in the topic of clock processor speed. (And yes, you did care.)

It really is funny how things play out sometimes.

Video games are a lot of things to a lot of different people. Lifestyle, hobby, career, interest, garage sale fodder.. and to anyone alive during that weird, fantastic Controller Cold War, zeitgeist. Video games from the nineties are an indelible bookmark to anyone who raised some hell in Mario Kart, busted open the opposing team superstar's head in NHL '94, or plugged in a Final Fantasy game for the first time. Regardless of how establishment you get, or how far away from your roots you stretch in life, you can't escape the effects of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme song or that initial impression of Super Mario World, with its colors and fantastic scaling and rotating revelations. Our parents always chalked it up to shrewd marketing, but it was our version of the Red Ryder Carbine Air Rifle. Something that couldn't be taken away, that which was solely ours. Whatever catastrophes or Senate hearings may have come.

Case in point, the recent tapping out heard 'round the technobrat world: Sega's overdue decision to bow out of the hardware market and turn their focus to bolstering the quality coffers of their old arch-foe Nintendo and the same Sony upstarts that put them six feet under. I couldn't help but to feel a pang of disappointment as I glossed the article. This was Holmes opening a law office with Moriarty, Batman and the Joker deciding that they'd end things on a fond note. The final shots in the cataclysmic struggle of the expired 16-bit conflict sputtered out of the barrel in a different world, and the goddamned echoes from so many wasted breaths during a junior highschool recess came back to haunt me. Where the hell has that passion gone? When the agony of something so trivial as whether or not Road Runner's Death Valley Rally would be as fast as Sonic and Knuckles would make you feel like you were about to cherry-pop an aneurysm?
The flashbacks made a swift change of gears from philosophical skews on the state of the maturation and the unwilling to safer turf. Namely, the games of my time in the technocratic sun--Zelda, Mario, Super Metroid, Mario Kart. The classics and the archaics, trailing in behind the favorites: Aerobiz, Clayfighter, and..

Out of This World.


Lester and the Great Gelatin Cube Experiment

It's hard to explain OOTW to anyone who doesn't instantly remember it--the game had been ported over from the underpowered and obsolete Macintosh IIgs, which in itself was a dubious proposition. It was fairly common knowledge that bridging the gap between the common button-humping kid and the erudite hunched over his home computer keyboard with synapses a-flarin' was bad business. The twain were not intended to meet, despite the fledgling assertions of Wolfenstein and its bastard family that would eventually turn that notion on its ass in the years that followed.

Regardless, Interplay--one of Nintendo's powerhouse developers, which also dropped The Lost Vikings, Rock N' Roll Racing and the aforementioned Clayfighter on the gaming public--took the task and cut the game loose in the Christmas season of 91'. It actually did a surprising business on the home circuit, mainly due to the fact that it used something called "polygon rotoscoping" to substitute hand-animated sprites for abstract figures that moved in astoundingly lifelike manners. Lester Knight Chaykin, the intrepid and mongoloid-browed hero of the piece, clipped along at about ten to twelve polygons himself, enabling both a prancing gallop and a shuffling trudge, as well as simpler tasks like ducking and firing a ubiquitous laser pistol. What was initially a marketing ploy later became the advent of the next generation in graphics content for the video game industry, making OOTW something of a disowned great-grandfather of the current machines and their billion-polygon rendering power.

The storyline was simple cheese: Lester Knight Chaykin, fancy-pants boy wonder and scientific genius, finds himself teleported to a strange alien world after a particle acceleration experiment goes awry. The gameplay itself was a smooth balance between pumping energy projectiles into the hulking alien population of the planet and using the ol' noodle to unravel an insidious parade of puzzles. Taking a page from the Ninja Gaiden groundbreak, Lester's consistent progression into the alien world was given further dramatic pump by a number of cut-scenes, the most amusing of which were undoubtedly his deaths.


Planet of the Manatee People

Yes, few games have so openly encouraged the defeat of the hero as OOTW--the Home Alone games and anything with the goddamned Olsen Twins in it obviously has a special place on the list, but the bastards who programmed Lester's adventure had an obvious dislike for their baby that was so pronounced, they were willing to have a fanged slug kill him.

No, seriously.

The sabretoothed slug bit is only one of at least a dozen other comedic ends for Lester. In retrospect, Interplay actually managed to spin a serious moral dilemma for anyone at the controls: do you continue on the level, or drop Lester into that pit to see if anything will be waiting to messily devour his bony little body? Throw in the variables of the game's physics, such as Lester's wimpy resolve (One shot with a laser and he's toeing daisies) and inability to hang onto ledges effectively or leap distances of any usefulness, and the die is pretty much cast: you've gotta let the bastard drown, just to see his unamused expression as he's swept into oblivion.

There's also an unhealthy amount of unintentional malice encouraged by certain scenarios that the player is thrown into: if the doddering alien pal that Lester accumulates about a quarter of the way through the game starts getting on your nerves, just use him as a shield the next time the bad guys come looking to swap some death-rays. In a roundabout way, OOTW was probably the best therapy a thirteen-year-old kid could possibly hope for.


Out of This World, and Through the Green Door

Despite the obvious and expected earmarks and liverspots of old age, OOTW still stands up as a good time in today's gaming world. The story has depth and the basic concept of the title is oozing with LSD charm, brooding landscapes and a permeating vibe of unrepentant weirdness weaving through the proceedings. If you aren't among the current crop of electric crack-addicted faithful, pick yourself up a copy at Funco Land or eBay, and let yourself ride the lightning to a simpler time in all our weird little lives.

Or, get yourself the ROM.

-m.

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