Above & Beyond

-Tom Donoho
AAARRRGGGHHH!!" (taken from A&B #5)

Welcome, one and all, to my new issuely column here in A&B and Al Giovetti's e-zine, "Aaarrrggghhh!". In it, each and every two months I'll try to think up seven or eight (or 214) topics to use as a medium to force my opinion down your little throat. I've been struggling the last couple of issues to find somewhere where I could include my miscellaneous thoughts and opinions on the industry... and you're looking at my answer. Whether they be vid game related or not, you can always count on something interesting going on, without the overabundant use of exclamation marks and hype. So, with that...

Yes, my friends, it's true. In case any of you haven't heard, Arnie Katz, claimed by many of starting and keeping the fandom ball rolling. His opinions on VG zines are (were) read by many and worshipped by few. He's the one that kept fandom going, with a monthly column in Electronic Games and then, EGM2 magazines, reviewing several

EG fanzines. But now, it seems, the oh-so-literate people behind the desk at Sendai Publications, publishers of EGM2, EGM, and many other VG prorags, have forced Arnie to quit his monthly column. ("(quote by EGM2 rep here)") No one yet (that I know of) has talked to Mr. Katz about how he feels on the topic... though he hasn't responded to any of my communique.

Why did this happen, you say? It seems that our friends at the mag came to the conclusion a few months ago that "Fandom Central" just wasn't getting a high-enough readership, so, just like that, they eliminated it, reducing Arnie to doing only a column appearing monthly in another Sendai rag, Intelligent Gamer's Fusion.

Of course, no matter how much we shout, EGM2 will ignore us. No matter how many letters we write, not one of them will get published (No, sir... we wouldn't want that... gotta save room for the real necessities... like the Psycho Letter of the Month!). To tell you the truth, it's useless unless one of us happens to be an advertiser, in which case they'd definitely put the column back (let alone padding review scores), for fear of us pulling our ads.

Yes, the good Senator's at it again. No surprise, really. After all, elections are just around the corner... Bob Dole is censoring the hell out of TV and movies, Bill Clinton is censoring the hell out of the internet, why shouldn't Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) be doing the same to video games? This time, instead of titles such as Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, he's citing such games as Primal Rage (the urination thing), among others. As I hear it, the case has yet to come before Congress, but no doubt when it does, we'll end up seeing some major change in the industry... and it will probably be a little more drastic than slapping a rating on the box, which was the result of the previous fiasco.

Yeah, they'll justify this point by saying that games put violence highest and morality lowest... that games are influencing the kids of today to become the criminals of tomorrow. OF course, everyone knows, that relieving stress on the screen is much better than doing it in real life (you DO know that, right?). Anyway. Just don't be surprised if we start seeing a 6-button programmable control pad for Barbie's Dreamhouse Turbo Championship Editon...


Well... it depends. If your view of fandom is a certain generation of faneds/zines... then it's already buried. The days of Uproar, Fantazine, IBTL, and Video Apocalypse (among others) are gone... but a mew breed of 'eds has come to take its place. My worries are enhanced, though, that fandom will actually die. Before, back when Arnie K.'s column was still appearing regularly, fandom had at least ONE form to be let known to through the mainstream media (i.e., prorags). Whenever one faned or fan quit fandom, it seemed that there was always another one or more there to take his/her place. Not anymore. I feel that when this "generation" of 'eds n' fans "die out," all knowledge of the existence of VG fandom will be lost. Sure, faneds and fans will sometimes involve a friend(s) in fandom... but the many people who turned to Electronic Games and EGM2 for fandom info. are now left out in the cold.

Otherwise, though, fandom is simply evolving. Sure, I'd like to see an organization like N.A.E.G.E. or G.E.A. spring up again (actually, this has already been done in part with the cool people at The Consortium), but I'll live.

Now, this may just be a matter of personal opinion... but it seems to me that there are fewer and fewer "intelligent" zines out there today. True, there is a great amount out there that are "intelligent" (I'm not going to name them), but it seems that the ratio seems to be decreasing rapidly. Ah, well. It's probably just me...

Yup... Street Fighter Alpha 2 is making its way here as we speak. I guess as long as the consumer keeps shelling out $$$ to this "company," they'll keep making SFme2 clone after meaningless clone. At one time I was actually considering purchasing SF3 when it was released (probably never will be...)... but now... no chance. In fact, Capcom'll be lucky if they ever get another penny from me again. They've already gotten enough of my hard-earned dollars. I bet you anything it won't be long 'till we start seeing Super SFA2, or SFA2 Turbo, or the like...

Oh, ant BTW... it seems that this is becoming the norm of almost all brawlers out there... upgrade after upgrade they claim we "need," even though the second (or higher) is VIRTUALLY THE SAME as its counter part. Just look at Ultimate MK3... if you're not going to make a whole new sequel, don't waste our time (and dollars).

It seems that lately companies are releasing sequel after sequel of the same games. What's happened to originality? Even if a certain title isn't a sequel, the game seems to have already been released before. There's nothing that really sets it apart from others in its genre. Sure, there are little differences here and there no matter what cart or CD you pick up, but still...

I'm not sure if there is a fixable problem or not. It is possible that so many games have been made and released in the last 20 years that there is now nothing that hasn't already been done. Or, it may just be that the companies, after seeing what big profits being in the VG industry can yield them, that they turn lazy. They'll make anything as quick as possible in order to get it out on the shelves and start seeing the money roll in. And the easiest way to do this is to simply plagiarize what others had already done. Though, to avoid any real criticism from the promags, they'll of course make a few minute changes. But still, I find myself playing less and less lately... due to the above conditions. I fear that if comps keep marketing rehash after pathetic rehash, the electronic games industry is due to have another crash (Getting off-topic here, but so be it... the dedicated-platform industry is already going downhill thanks to PCs and the increasingly large number of families purchasing them. (Just take a look at the trade charts every month in IG Fusion or Next Generation...), much like the infamous crash of 1984... when many claimed Atari kept producing too many "bad" tiles. Anyone else agree with me on this one?

Well, what'd ya'll think? Please send all letters of praise/hate/worship/cheese to me (at 1804 Tony Lane, Wichita, KS 67212-1578)... I love getting mail. And, 'till next time, Russ Perry IS still in fandom... -TD

Bad (taken from The Consortium #3)
by Tom Donoho, Editor in Chief, Above & Beyond

Sixteen-bit is dying for a reason. Because all the next-generation platforms, such as the Nintendo 64 and the Sony Playstation, are hitting the market and giving third-party game producers an excuse to produce titles, especially movie translation titles, that are a disgrace to the electronic gaming industry.

Now, don't get me wrong, there have always been terrible games out there. These titles usually have blips and ploinks for sound, blurred, fuzzy graphics, and horrid gameplay. Most important of all, they are not FUN. And that's the whole reason for gaming, isn't it? Clueless gamers will see a hot movie license title hit the shelves (usually produced by companies like TH*Q, LJN, or Ocean), and rush it to the check-out counter with no second thoughts, awaiting an afternoon or evening of fun. Unfortunately, as soon as they insert the cartridge (or CD), most likely it will be your average below-average side-scroller. Titles that have been infected with this plague recently include Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, and Cutthroat Island, to name just a few, all of which were movie-to-video game translations. They are all torture to play.

But now, these pathetic attempts at video games are flooding into the market even faster than before.

Why don't game publishers spend a little more time and money on a project, which as a result, would boost sales considerably? Why don't game publishers realize that they are producing below-par games? I honestly don't know. Maybe it is because of the ignorant 10-year-olds, or maybe the company just doesn't care. As long as the executives see substantial profits, they'll say 'screw it' with research and development, and use basically the same side-scroller engine, just changing the backgrounds and sprites, to fit the storyline.

The Nintendo Seal of Quality states that Nintendo has reviewed this product and that it has met our standards for excellence in workmanship, reliability, and entertainment value. Entertainment value"?!? Sounds rather hypocritical, if you ask me. Because they sell, Nintendo keeps allowing all the pathetic third party shit to be released into the market. They couldn't care less about "entertainment value, as is apparent with some of the recent titles for the Super Nintendo and Game Boy. Sega, and all the other companies, are the same way. If the consumers won't wake up, this will never change. Unfortunately, most gamers haven't got a clue, and will con tinue to buy it depending on the level of hype the prozines place on it, which is decided by who is paying the most for their ads. But that is a whole other story entirely...

-Tom Donoho

The Past, Present, & Future of Nintendo (taken from A&B #4)
It all started with playing cards. Hanafuda playing cards were not as popular as regular playing cards in Japan around the turn of the 19th century, when Fusajiro Yamauchi decided to start producing them.

The Yamauchis would keep that name in their family business for centuries to come. It is often hard to believe that now we are used to seeing high-end 64-bit computer powerhouses from a company that just over a century ago was making paper imprinted with deer and the moon on them just to provide some much-needed entertainment to bored Japanese villagers.

Many believe that Nintendo Company, Ltd.'s first foray into the "games" that it markets today was the "Nintendo Beam Gun", an idea that Gunpei Yokoi (who is still on staff in Research & Development today) had dreamed up.

The idea was based on light guns and solar cells. When the beam from the Nintendo-produced light gun was fired, it hit one of many solar cells and, in effect, destroyed a toy barrel or caused a "lion" to roar. This was one of Nintendo's early successes, as it sold rapidly through the early seventies and led to the production of a new headquarters for the rapidly growing Nintendo offices.

Soon after, the same idea that the Nintendo Beam Gun was based on was incorporated into "shooting ranges," bowling alleys converted into a larger version of the beam gun. A big hype was built up around the grand-opening, and after the media arrived and everyone was there eagerly anticipating trying out this new form of entertainment, the beam guns malfunctioned. Genyo Takeda, a researcher and developer, was forced to climb behind the ranges and manually control them when a shot was fired. The press, nor any of the attendees, were unable to notice any difference.

But soon after the debut of the laser-gun ranges, Japan's economy was on the decline, and soon nobody seemed to be visiting Nintendo's laser clay ranges. Yamauchi was looking for a new hit product... something big.

It has been said that one of Yamauchi's friends from his childhood suggested the idea to him. Soon after, he launched the new product, the "Color TV Game 6," which had six different variations of the "Pong"-style game Atari and other companies were making millions off of in the United States. Soon following was the "Color TV Game 15," a bigger system than the first, containing 15 of the addictive games.

More electronic game related devices were released following the CTVG15, including the Game & Watch, a handheld video game that was no larger than a pocket calculator and had a digital clock built-in. Many of these were sold through the next few years, including many "bootleg" versions that were not made by Nintendo and resulted in the company loosing potential millions.

All of these devices enjoyed a huge installment base (a large number of units bought and in homes), but after the Game & Watch, Nintendo and its R&D team had run out of ideas.

While Nintendo was experimenting with putting some of their titles in arcades across the U.S. and Japan, Masayuki Uemura, a top R&D head at Nintendo, was collaborating with Hiroshi Yamauchi about building a new gaming system. They were working on one that could have interchangeable cartridges, something the Color TV and Game & Watch did not have, and could be priced cheaply enough that Japanese consumers would purchase one for their homes. At the time, Atari and a few other companies were doing the same thing in the United States.

The result of many late-night meetings with Yamauchi and Uemura's designers was the "Famicom," or Family Computer.

The Famicom was a tremendous success. In the first two months on the market, Nintendo's super-machine quickly sold 500,000 units. The system was very toy-like, with a bright red-and-white design, and included 2 controllers and a microphone.

Just as Nintendo was beginning to put its feet up and watch the units roll of the shelves, a problem occurred. There were reports that some of the software out for the system caused it to "freeze up."

Hiroshi Yamauchi quickly decided to recall every system. Every machine on every store shelf had to be taken off, returned to the plant in Uji, have its defective part replaced, and returned back to the stores. All of this mishap happened to occur in the prime of the Japanese New Year, Japan's sales equivalent to Christmas in the U.S. It was a very bad break for Nintendo, who had worked so hard to achieve their position in the electronic games marketplace.

But, in the end, the problem did not do too much damage to the company.

Yamauchi was looking for some hot designers and programmers to make some of the software for the Famicom that would really pick up its sales. His answer was Sigeru Miyamoto, a planning department apprentice. From childhood, Miyamoto had in him the talent for game design. When he was living with his parents in a small Japanese town, Sigeru would do many things alone by himself, such as exploring. Once, he discovered the opening of a small cave. He ventured back to it several times until he finally got up the courage to go inside. The excitement of exploring, of discovering something new, previously unseen, was the center of his motivation for venturing in to the cave, as well as many other childhood endeavors. He translated this into his games, which were almost all video game bestsellers-of-all-time. Yamauchi put him to work after hiring him to design titles, and his first titles were rejected by Yamauchi (known inside the company as "The Mother Brain," a takeoff from Metroid, one of the NES's/Famicom's best-selling titles), but soon after, came up with a game where a carpenter in red overalls rode conveyor belts, climbed ladders, and did many other feats to rescue a damsel in distress. It was with this title that Miyamoto made a name for himself among the top video game designers of the past and present. Donkey Kong had made Hiroshi Yamauchi decide it was time to make a move. A move to America.

Yamauchi's daughter, Yoko, was out at a party one evening. It was one of the few she had ever attended or probably ever would, as pop Yamauchi usually forbid that form of socializing. However, when Hiroshi Yamauchi was out of town on business one evening, she decided to try it out. Once there and having a miserable time, a nice young gentleman by the name of Minoru Awakawa approached her and asked her for a dance. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, she said a soft 'yes.' Her initial feelings about the man would later turn out to be untrue. She and Arakawa laughed and danced through the night, and shortly before parting for the evening decided to meet again. They would form an intense relationship involving Arakawa to travel back and forth from Tokyo and Kyoto to see him. Later, he was asked to dinner at the Yamauchi home. He accepted and, over dinner, was questioned by Hiroshi. In his usual no-nonsense tone, Hiroshi told Minoru that "If you are going to marry my daughter, you should marry quickly." A couple months later, Mino officially popped the question. His response was a nervous 'yes.'

While Minoru was working as a civil engineer, Yamauchi was still working on his battle plan for bringing the Famicom to the U.S. After Mino and Yoko had moved temporarily to Canada for an engineering job he was involved in, Yamauchi asked him if he would head up Nintendo's new U.S. division. His initial response was a no, but his wife begged him to accept it (he was working very long hours in his present employment), so, after careful consideration, he said yes.

Arakawa quickly set up the new division, hiring workers here, there, and everywhere. One of the more important to come aboard was Howard Lincoln, a lawyer who was presently working for the law form of Sax and MacIver in Seattle.

Soon, Minoru Arakawa started placing some of Nintendo's game titles in America's arcades. One of the first was "Radarscope." Mino saw the huge response the trial units were getting that were scattered in a few arcades and quickly placed a huge order back to Japan. However, by the time Nintendo's Japanese headquarters could produce and ship all the units back to the U.S., the fervor surrounding the title in the United States had completely diminished. Arakawa was left with thousands of "Radarscopes" that he couldn't even give away. It was decided, after many heated international telephone conversations between Hiroshi Yamauchi and Minori Arakawa, that all the games would be shipped back to Japan and be replaced with a new title (the motherboards inside the units would be the only things switched, they could reuse the wood casing and most of the other chips inside). At the time, however, Nintendo of Japan was running into a good-game dry spell. Yamauchi decided to put the young apprentice, Sigeru Miyamoto, on the job.

As fast as they could, NOJ replaced the thousands of "Radarscope" units with Miyamoto's popular-in-Japan title, Donkey Kong.

They put the game in arcades, and it took off. It was a huge success. Soon later, Arakawa used the fortune he made off of Donkey Kong in arcades to build Nintendo's new U.S. headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Before Nintendo of America (NOA) could finally transport Japan's Famicom to the U.S. shores, a problem arose. A lawsuit was filed from MCA against NOA, claiming that Nintendo had infringed upon its copyright for its movie "King Kong" by using the word "Kong" in the title for Donkey Kong. Some fierce arguments were held between Howard Lincoln and Sidney Sheinberg of MCA. After Nintendo had refused to settle (they maintained that there was no copyright infringement; that they had done nothing wrong), the case was taken to court. But, as it turned out, MCA had never actually owned the rights to King Kong in the first place, and had they actually owned them, the judge ruled, MCA would have still lost the case because the use of the word 'Kong' did not necessarily relate to the movie.

And with that, Nintendo brought the 8-bit Nintendo to America. A few design changes were made (the system was changed to gray and white, etc.). It had a relatively slow start, but soon picked up sales tremendously, outselling any other system on the market by a long shot. Years later, the Super Nintendo Entertainment system was released, and it enjoyed almost the same success. And now, the future is only looking brighter, as Nintendo has recently announced that they will be releasing a 64-bit system, the "Ultra 64," in August of 1996.

But no one will forget what Nintendo has become... from it's first days starting out as a playing card manufacturer, to now launching the most powerful gaming system to date. -TD