Having grown up in a Nintendo household, I rarely saw any Sony material. I remember school yard squabbles about N64 vs PlayStation, with neither side really knowing anything about the other. Back then, my only encounters with the PlayStation came from visiting my cousins, or spending time with a neighbor, so I only had a glancing knowledge of the system’s library. Some characters stood out in the commercials and magazines I saw at the time, like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, but besides those big names and some more obscure titles, it was undiscovered territory for me.
The late nineties saw the coming of a particular brand of hyper stylized action. Directors like the Wachowskis and John Woo made films that presented sweeping, heavily choreographed, action set pieces that experimented with cinematography in new and interesting ways. Some of these movies, like The Matrix, became cultural touchstones, whose effects are still felt to this day, while others, like Face/Off, were too ridiculous to be ignored.
Gaming was also advancing at this time and the next generation of consoles was on the way. Sony’s Playstation 2, Microsoft’s XBox, and Nintendo’s Gamecube were all capable of cutting edge graphics, comparable to what PCs could do at the time. Many projects originally planned for the PS1 and N64 were moved to the new hardware, and a small Finnish company, Remedy Entertainment, reconfigured their upcoming third person shooter to take full advantage of the new hardware.
At the turn of the century, the French based gaming company Ubisoft revitalized the Prince of Persia franchise with The Sands of Time. This action puzzle platformer is, to my mind, a shining example of bringing a 2D game to life in 3D. It changed a lot of the conventions from the previous games. The emphasis was put on more intricate parkour based platforming and there was no countdown timer. However it maintained the brutal sudden death gameplay, but balanced it out with the inclusion of the ability to turn back small amounts of time to undo your mistakes. That addition was so simple, but so perfect for this series that is helped make the game a classic.
There are some game designers out there that have extraordinary visions for new games. Some of them have undertaken ambitious projects that put them under intense strain, like Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia) and Eric Chahi (Out of this World), both of whom made games with very small teams and limited resources. Then there are those with greater resources that push the envelope with big budget titles like Ken Levine (BioShock) and Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War). However there are also those whose vision exceeds practicality. Probably the most well known developer like this is Peter Molyneux, who is notorious for heading projects that promise the stars, but a ultimately hindered by what is feasibly possible with that is available. This is not to say that all these projects end in disaster. The original Fable, although not as grandiose as promised, was still an enjoyable adventure game and Black & White, a simulation game similar to Sid Mier’s Civilization, was given critical acclaim at release.
I’ve often thought that the genre of videogames tailor made for expansive storytelling was the point and click adventure. In its heyday, adventure games were some of the most imaginative games around. They could take a player to very imaginative places and involve them in the progression of a story much more intimately than most action games. Games from Sierra and Lucas Arts could tell deep or shallow stories with superb writing in games like King’s Quest and Grim Fandango, Cyan Worlds produced the mind-bending settings of the Myst series, and Tell-Tale Games has used the medium to expand on the stories of popular franchises like The Walking Dead and Batman. These games have shown the versatility and expanded the story telling abilities of the genre through the years.
Growing up I never saw very much of PC gaming. I was mainly exposed to consoles in those years, but whenever I visited a friend or relative I was always excited to see new games, no matter what they were on. One day I recall visiting an Uncle’s home and him showing my brother and I Prince of Persia on his computer. Although I did not remember the name and could barely even begin to figure how to play it, I was struck by the realistic movement of the characters. Years later, I rediscovered the game when its reboot, The Sands of Time, was released. I was totally in love with the game, and when I got a copy of the original on Gameboy, I played it until I memorized the whole thing. A few years later, after gaining access to a Super Nintendo, I found a version produced by Konami and was very impressed with the expansions made on the home console version. But one day, I was browsing a used game shop and came across a copy of Prince of Persia 2 on SNES. I had no idea there was a sequel, and bought it right then and there. However, I was grossly disappointed to find a strange, broken, mess of a game that was so bad I didn’t wonder that it was not remembered by fans. Rather upset, I returned the game and moved on to other things.