Tag Archive: Nintendo 64


CD32

There aren’t many threads I pay attention to on www.alternatehistory.net these days, mainly as the whole site has turned into a massive circle-jerk or people are spewing forth the same damned topics over and over again.  But there are some I do like to read up on which combine two of my interests – video game & home computing alternative histories.                                         

The most commonly asked questions are “What if the Great Video Game Crash Never Happened”, “What if Sega won the Sega/Nintendo Wars”, “What if the Sony/Nintendo tie-up went through” and “What if the Dreamcast was a success?”  There are other, more minor questions that are asked but the one I find the most compelling is “What if Commodore didn’t run out of money?” 

So to treat you/bore you, I’m going to publish my take.  First comes the history lesson. 

The background – Commodore Business Machines (CBM) was the brainchild of Jack Tramiel and the dominant force in the home computer market during the 1980s thanks to canny sales technique and some shrewd tactics in closing out other competitors.  I don’t know anyone (under the age of 30) who has never heard of a Commodore 64 or a Commodore Amiga.  The Great Video Game Crash shifted a lot of focus from game consoles to home computers after 1983 (at least in North America and Europe) as they were more versatile and could be branded as educational as well as entertaining.  CBMs vision was to put a Commodore in every household by bringing down the overall cost of home computing (running at a loss per unit if need be) just to establish a presence.  Licensing would eventually recoup costs anyway given the low unit costs of cassettes and floppy disks to produce. 

As the 80s became the 90s, the 8-Bit market gave way to the 16-Bit market and games consoles (SNES/Super Famicom & Megadrive/Genesis) overtook the their slower (yet multi-purposeful) rivals.  There had been attempts in the computer industry to introduce CD-ROM technology but the development costs were prohibitive and few units ended up being sold – the Phillips CDI, the Commodore CDTV for example.  The future, at least for the next decade was going to be cartridges.  Commodore launched the ill-fated C64GS – a console based on the Commodore 64 which used cartridges rather than tapes/disks.  The added advantage to this was that the C64 had a cartridge slot so the games would continue to be accessible to the computer owners.   

Few developers took CBM up on their new machine and most of the games that were released were already on the market so there wasn’t anything to lure in gamers.  Despite an original mark up of about £100 per machine in the UK (cheaper than Nintendo’s NES but not cheaper than the Sega Master System/MS2), the value of the console quickly dropped to £60 to stimulate demand and retailers like Dixons dropped it to £15 in order to divest themselves of their stock.  Similarly weak sales figures were reported elsewhere the console was sold. 

Fortunately the Amiga market remained buoyant, at least for the time being particularly with the release of the Amiga 600 (a slimline Amiga 500+) and the less popular but more powerful Amiga 1200 (comparable to a first generation Pentium Computer).  It was around this time that Sony and Nintendo began to make noises about a CD ROM add on for the Super Nintendo; Sega had the Mega CD and the 32X which although weren’t successes, nonetheless pointed towards an inexorable march to optical disc technology. 

So Commodore began to rework their CDTV based on the technical specification of the Amiga 1200 and produced the CD32, what was heralded as “the first 32-Bit Console”.  The console was released worldwide and sold respectably in Europe but sales in the USA never materialised as there was a query over a patent (who said Apple/Google/Samsung’s current woes were anything new?) and the console was blocked.  Commodore had bet the farm on sales of the CD32 and ran out of cash despite money coming in from European and Japanese sales of the console.  Eventually they declared bankruptcy which finished off the firm and knocked one of the biggest players in the industry out of the market at the time when it was going to see its biggest expansion period. 

So – what if Commodore didn’t run out of cash?  Well, let’s remove the C64GS from history.  The money they saved in its development, marketing etc could easily help cover Commodore’s legal bills until the US legal system resolved the patent issue.  Or we could press for swifter closure on the whole patent topic.  Whatever – based on international sales, the CD32 will be a success with many Amiga titles being ported over and there’ll be all different franchises to enjoy (Sensible Soccer, Zool, Cannon Fodder, Dizzy etc).  I don’t think it’d be a roaring success as the main rival at this point would be the Atari Jaguar though that suffered problems from day one but a CD32 might give that a bit more life just for something different. 

How will the CD32 stack up against the big boys?  Well at the time there was the Sega Saturn and the Playstation.  The Nintendo 64 was still two years away and there was a lot of life left in the SNES but that had the younger market sewn up.  CD32 has a year on its rivals and could establish a strong presence.  In our timeline, the Sega Saturn failed because of its ridiculously high price and the lack of available consoles in North America and Europe.  Meanwhile Sony were new to the video game industry and benefitted from strong distribution links through the rest of their electronics business which also helped them drive down the costs of their console but they still would have been more expensive than the CD32.  Furthermore, the early days of the Playstation were mired in controversy – reports of overheating units, poor optical readers and most crucially, a crap range of games.  Sony couldn’t produce shite in those early days which led them to snap up several software houses such as Psygnosis in order to gain the necessary talent for their own software range. 

Sony’s other major benefit came from chipped consoles – they made a healthy profit on the console, less so on the games so who cares if their games are easy to copy?  Piracy was a major role in the early growth of the Playstation irrespective of what the official line might be and considering Sega were a tougher nut to crack given their copy protection (and Nintendo were still using cartridges) – it’s little wonder gamers went to Sony. 

Insert the CD32 into the equation and suddenly you have a cheap console with cheap games already – much of which are shovelware but the console is capable of keeping pace with the bigger boys and there’s every likelihood Commodore would release an updated version of the console in a couple of years to either N64 standards or somewhere between 32-Bit and 64-Bit.  Sony’s OTL advantage would be negated and I can see the Playstation heading the way of the Neo-Geo, the 3DO or the Atari Jaguar.  Sega might benefit from a weaker playstation but like Commodore, they’d be betting the farm with the release of the Dreamcast around the time of the launch of the Nintendo 64.   

What would a “CD64” (who could resist the sales potential of that name) be like?  Commodore would have to completely redesign the CD32 to account for polygon graphics rather than the traditional rendering which served so well in the 32 Bit era.  Commodore would need a machine capable of playing the main games of the era – first person shooters and 3D sport sims which will rely on better technology and rather than rely on Motorola chipsets, they might look to link up with IBM, their erstwhile rivals in the home computer market. 

In terms of software, with the demise of Sony and a continued Sega presence (in the mid term), there would be more independent publishers on the scene which the big boys such as Activision, EA et al would have a harder time competing with rather than steam-rolling over.  This might lead to defunct franchises continuing and franchises we take for granted today like Grand Theft Auto being more “flash in the pan” given how closely tied they were to the success of the Playstation.   

I think Nintendo would do well irrespective of how things would turn out as their fan base was completely different and they benefitted from a strong internal series of game franchises which will always sustain them.  Another butterfly of this scenario is the 64-DD – does this get released outside of Japan and if so, how would that do?  It’d drive the cost of games down thus making Nintendo act in a differing direction from how they behaved in our reality.   

The CD32 wouldn’t usher in Commodore’s second Golden Age but it would keep them a major player in the market and give the world a non-Japanese console in the marketplace – European software designers like Gremlin, Rare et al might be tempted to work with Commodore given their shared histories than with the Japanese producers.  What comes after the CD32 would really be the stuff of speculation and would it be able to fill the void of the PS2 or would Nintendo and Sega capture some of that market which means Sega games do NOT end up on other consoles?

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Mario 64 – Controversy Ahead

One of the great Video Game mysteries IMHO is “Why does Super Mario 64 keep appearing in the top 3 games of all time?” 

For the non-gamers who follow my blog, Super Mario 64 was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64 back in 1996 which took Mario into a 3D landscape.  Like most Mario games, Princess Peach (though I think this was the first time she was referred to as “Peach” rather than Princess Toadstool) had been kidnapped by Bowser and he had seized the source of the Castle’s magical potency, the 120 Power Stars (and before the nit-pickers seize upon this, I’m referring to all the stars and not just the ones in Bowser’s possession or the ones of his minions).  

Whilst 3D platform games had been tried before, it was Nintendo’s efforts which really made the format work demonstrating how all future efforts would look in the future.  The game was far more open-ended and less linear than all previous incarnations giving the player choice on how they wished to proceed and each time a level was entered, things could occur just a little differently translating into a unique experience. 

But is this enough to warrant inclusion in the top three games of all time? 

Depending on who’s compiling the list, the top three games will vary in choice and ranking but Mario 64’s inclusion is all but a foregone conclusion.  Other titles will include Space Invaders, one of the Link games (Ocarina of Time is a feature), Final Fantasy (one of), Tetris etc.  What many of the games in the top 3/top 5/top 10 lists will have in common is that they are the first in the genre or the epitome of the genre.  Think “Turn Based Strategy” and you’ll think of Civilization.  Think “Real Turn Strategy” and you’ll either think Age of Empires or Command and Conquer.  Think 3D Platform and you’ll think “Mario”.   

Mario didn’t really offer anything “new” and by that I mean it enhanced existing concepts but put them in a larger playing field.  Much of what was in SMB3 and SMW was recycled into Mario 64 whilst several other game concepts (Luigi, Yoshi) were dropped quite inexplicably.  They were inserted into Super Mario DS which enriched the gameplay quite a lot but at the time, bare bones.  

I believe there are better, far better 3D platform gamers out there which took some of the core concepts of Mario 64 and really made them better games.  My first thought as one might expect, extends to Rare’s Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie as well as Donkey Kong 64.  Mediaeval was also a great game in its own right though more Action Arcade and there’s the Rayman series of games.  Are they all Mario clones though or do they deliver a better experience? 

In my opinion, some of them are better than Mario 64 for a series of reasons – Banjo Kazooie & Tooie have the ability to transform the heroes into a series of weird and wonderful objects whilst the uniquely British humour inserted into the game gives it a more friendly approach.  Donkey Kong 64 worked along a similar vein, but allowed each of the four main characters to access different parts of the game’s levels so that you needed to take each character through to the end.  I’d offer more examples but my overall appreciation for 3D platform games waned once I got my Gamecube and in my secret shame, I never did finish off Super Mario Sunshine, nor Super Mario Galaxy.  Hell, I thought Yoshi’s Story on the N64 was a better game as the choice of levels allowed each run-through to be unique and completable within a couple hours playing. 

At the time of the N64’s launch, I spent way more of my time going through Shadows of the Empire – probably because I was a Star Wars fan – but I also loved the fact there were both 2D/3D space combat levels as well as the 1st person & 3rd person shooter.  Seasoned gamers got to brush up on differing sets of skills rather than doing the same thing through a series of landscapes.  I can’t remember what else my early N64 collection consisted of though Starfox 64 was one of those as was Mission Impossible, Pilotwings 64 and Goldeneye. There were far more game hours racked up on those titles than on Mario 64 – how can a truly great game be played once and forgotten?  There was only one difficulty mode, a few “secrets” though easily uncovered and there was never any tension except in the final Bowser fight.  This doesn’t really put the game in the top 3.  Top 10 or even top 25 maybe but not the top 3. 

Video games have been around for 40 years and Mario is shortly to enter his third decade.  Whilst we cannot deny the impact the little plumber from Brooklyn (though why he speaks with an Italian accent is beyond me) has made on the VG landscape, is he still a character that is in games which are the best ever or has the legend overtaken the man?

The Headbanging Parrot

As a Brit, I know it’s something of a cultural stereotype to keep on yakking about the weather but it’s just so damned variable that you can’t help but take an interest in what’s happening outside.  The other day many of us were bemoaning the end of summer – the outside temperature plummeted to 5 degrees one night and we shivered in our beds in August.  Yesterday the temperature peaked at 24 during the afternoon and it was definitely coat-free weather…hell, it was shirt free weather for many.  What a difference 72 hours can make.

Before I resort to other sources, here’s another online plea for help.  Back when I was living in Germany, SSVC used to run a television show to help British people learn German.  It was a fifteen minute programme (with a catch-up at the weekend) shown weeknights around 5.45pm.  It was presented by a German woman with the aid of her green parrot and the end credits frequently saw this parrot bobbing its head in time to the theme tune.  WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THIS PROGRAMME? I’ve tried every derivative of Google searches but haven’t come up with anything close. 

So, I have drawn a complete blank in my recent searches for a new rucksack – I spent a good chunk of Friday and Saturday hunting around all the Department stores and luggage stores but there was nothing suitable to be found.  Plan B is to get a Scottyvest from eBay or Amazon or some other retailer.  Most bags are too small or just don’t look sturdy enough to put up with the expected amount of junk I’ll lob into them (and I do weigh myself down like a packhorse or the Buckaroo donkey). 

By way of recompense for my failure, I wandered into HMV at the Trocadero yesterday evening and walked out with five blu-rays and four new games.  I say four new games, only one was new (Shinobi on the 3DS), the rest were three DS games I used to own and have bought back as part of my rebuilding of my former stockpile; Bust-a-Move DS, Star Trek Tactical Assault and…um…another one whose name I’ve temporarily forgotten but it was only £5.  That’s about 10 of 60 I’ve been able to reacquire but the others will take more than a little time.  Note to self – start writing these down on the iPad so I know what I DO have and what I DON’T have. 

Speaking of games, I unearthed my N64 at the weekend and played a bit of Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye 64 and South Park just to catch up on the general nostalgia trip I’m currently on.  Had a temper tantrum when I kept dying in Rusty Bucket Bay on Banjo and thought of playing Banjo Tooie as that was the better game.  Grrr.  It remains really weird to see these old polygon sprites on a big screen TV, as the cruder graphics are really shown up n all their blockiness.  Playing with the uniquely designed N64 pad is a weird experience for some games and for others, the only natural fit. 

After Friday’s recipe, I decided to make myself a Vegetarian Chilli that evening – was very not bad even if I do say so myself.  There was a substitution in that recipe for something I had a large surplus of in the fridge but it turned out great; really hot.  And threw together a pasta bake yesterday with some Mediterranean Vegetables, Brussels Sprouts and Fusilli Pasta which also turned out pretty well and is very likely to form the backbone of this week’s lunches.   

It’s really, really tempting to pass comment on the Government reshuffle today but as I don’t fancy being censured for any implication or innuendo, I’ll refrain.  Sufficed to say all the work some of us here have been putting into any number of projects is going to have to be put on hold as new Ministers get to grips with their briefs.  We know who the new Transport Supremo is (Patrick Mcloughlin) but there are two more vacancies (at time of writing) to fill. 

I suppose I should also (publicly) acknowledge my mother and sister’s birthday today; there’s that odd statistic where if you take a room full of thirty strangers, at least two of them will share the same birthday so naturally when they are in the same room…statistic proven.  So Happy Birthday y’old farts.

I am not Indiana Jones

This is my first proper five day week in almost two months at work and the thought doesn’t exactly deliver a warm feeling in my gut. Naturally it’s started ominously enough with an inability to get to sleep (I choose to blame an ear infection this time which I suspect was caused by shaved head hairs getting into my ear and under the skin) followed by a recurring dream I’ve had concerning the outbreak of a zombie plague and a very cramped, Transatlantic flight. The only difference this time was I was aware I’d faced the situation before and as soon as I recognised the “symptoms” in on of my fellow passengers, I knew what was going on.

There was only one mission to complete at the weekend – second television. It’s nice having my N64 set up in the lounge but I will have to return the set back upstairs. Late Saturday afternoon was when I popped out to Galleon’s Reach to check out the large Tesco Extra and a couple of other stores for sets. Alas, I couldn’t find what I wanted so tried to go to the Sainsbury’s Hypermarket by walking but got appallingly lost, gave up and went back home.

As it was well after 7, I thought I’d cook dinner and ignored the Siren’s call of the chip shop. There was a bag of unused vegetarian “mince” in the freezer so I chucked together a chilli. However, there was no sauce in the cupboard (a fundamental flaw in the plan) so tried something new – refried beans with chopped tomatoes. After I got past the cooking smell of burned hair, it tasted fairly decently although I didn’t do enough rice. Still, I shalln’t chance that particular combo again unless really pushed.

I played a “quick” game of Star Trek Mod Civ IV and won a Domination victory with the aid of Krenim Imperium. I was hoping for a Cultural Victory as that’s one I haven’t succeeded in as yet but alas it continues to elude me.

Continued the search for a television by gracing Oxford Street – saw a potential set in Curry’s but again, couldn’t make myself pay £180 for it though perhaps after the 22nd…having failed again, I decided to at least tick off another box on the “to-do” list, went to the Japanese confectioners on Piccadilly and bought Andy S’ birthday present. Then walked down to the Griffin and delivered it, stayed for the cinema and won £5 on the quiz machine. Though I was gagging for a sammich and walked halfway down towards Stockwell before giving up and finding a manky looking offering in the one shop I was advised to ignore. Even the Sainsbury’s garage was devoid of offerings other than Ginster’s Pies.

It came as something of a surprise to note just how many Portuguese cafes and restaurants there are heading towards Clapham, I had no idea the area was “Little Lisbon”. True, I’ve walked past the café and the deli on the Albert Embankment many times but thought that was by far the exception over the rule. Other than Nando’s, I don’t think I’ve tried Portuguese food properly.