14/06/2013

GAMES DEVELOPER WEBSITES AT THE TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM

Well, that was an interesting E3, wasn't it? Forget the future, though. It'll probably all be terrible anyway, except Mega Man appearing in Smash Bros. because there's no way that can fail. Instead of looking forward, let's splash around in the foetid puddle of pointless nostalgia and travel back in time to take a look at some of the websites put up by the game's industry's biggest names (and Jaleco) around the turn of the millennium. Yes, thanks to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, we can once again experience Web 1.0 and see what was hip in the year 2000. They still said "hip" in 2000, right? I forget. It was thirteen years ago, after all.

Nintendo, 1999


(click pictures to enlarge)
Okay, so websites from 1999 are never going to be perfectly archived - missing pictures are going to be a recurring theme throughout this article - but you get the idea with Nintendo's website. It's all about the Nintendo 64, as you would expect. The focus is on Zelda 64 - that is, Ocarina of Time - but before we get on to that, let's take a moment to enjoy the banner at the top of the page. Yeah, the one where a giant Donkey Kong is sneaking up on Princess Peach, possibly with the intent to lick her. Still, it's a more civil ending than most games of Mario Party manage.


The Ocarina of Time page contains much less retina-searing ugliness than I expected from a site of this vintage. Don't worry, that'll change. So, yeah, Zelda 64. This is all very simple, the kind of links you'd expect from a page like this, plus a tiny advert for the official strategy guide. That's what I'd forgotten about the web of the late '90s - just how tiny everything was. The fact that Link looks like he's squinting on the cover only makes it seem smaller.


The most interesting part of the Ocarina of Time website was this interview with Shigeru Miyamoto himself. As always, he comes across as though he was placed on this Earth for the specific and sole reason of making people happy through the medium of videogames.
The interview's main focus is Zelda 64, naturally, with tidbits about the games development as well as this revelation about Miyamoto's movie-watching habits:


I wouldn't want to judge the man, but I find it extremely difficult to imagine Shigeru Miyamoto sitting down to watch Pink Flamingos. That said, it may explain some of Wario's more grotesque scatalogical moments.


Also included is this hint of what Majora's Mask could have been, a 64DD title that swapped new dungeons into Ocarina of Time instead of being a stand-alone title. Of course the 64DD lived a short and fruitless life, so that never happened.


"Naked Mario? In Super Mario 64? No." said Miyamoto, with a laugh. It was nervous laughter, the sudden fear about the intentions of his interviewer sending a chill up his spine.
Seriously, I never heard any rumours about Naked Mario and I was the kind of nerd who paid attention to these things. Maybe British spods were burned out on nude characters after none of the thousands of purported methods to get Lara Croft naked in the original Tomb Raider panned out.


Speaking of Majora's Mask, there are also some screenshots from an early build of the game, when it was still called Zelda Gaiden. I can't remember enough about Majora's Mask to tell you what parts of these shots are different from the final release, but I'm sure they'll be of interest to someone.

Capcom, 2000


Capcom's millennial web presence is a rather more cluttered affair. Drop-down menus are the theme, and judging by Akuma's face they're causing him some considerable pain.
A couple of things jump out at me from the mess. The first is that it's a good job my internet access was very limited at this time, because the invitation to "talk with others about Marvel vs. Capcom" would have lead me to have never shut up about it. The other thing is the tagline for Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The problem isn't the words themselves but the way they're presented - writing "The Terror is Relentless" with no punctuation rather robs the statement of any power it may have had. It sounds like a bulletpoint from a corporate slideshow, which I suppose may well have been where it originated.


A personal memory, this one, because The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was the first thing I ever bought over the internet. I bought it from Game's website, and I can't be 100% percent certain on this but I'm pretty damn sure I paid a lot more than $29.95 for it. For all the recent talk of mandatory internet connections and untradeable games, it's worth remembering that some aspects of videogaming are definitely much better than they were, and the treatment of us poor Europe plebs is one of them.
This page also serves as a grim reminder of just how terrible most US box art was, even when compared to the European versions. I know it's Tron Bonne's game, but not putting Servbots on the cover seems like shooting yourself in the foot, a foot that could have been protected by a gaggle of adorable robot slaves.


Speaking of Servbots, there was once a Servbot towel available for purchase on Capcom's web store. I think the happy and scared expressions are intended to represent the Servbot's mood before and after you've rubbed your damp, naked body with his face.


Something else I learned from this website: Ghosts 'n' Goblins was released on the Game Boy Color. I did not know that. I guess that's why they call it the Information Superhighway.


Finally from Capcom, here's a quick look at the MegaMan Legends page from the Japanese Capcom site. I don't think I've ever seen these illustrations before, and they depict a hard truth - while the girls get something nice to hug, Mega Man is being attacked by a dog. Even back then, Capcom's hatred for Mega Man was clearly already on the rise.

Silent Hill, 1999


I didn't see much of interest on Konami's main site, but that's probably because I was hankering for some Silent Hill and I didn't want to be wading through a mire of tripe like (ugh) Metal Gear Solid and (eww, gross) Suikoden to get there. Those were sarcastic groans of displeasure, by the way. Trust me, my dating techniques have taught me what real groans of displeasure sound like.
So, this is the entrance page to Konami's Silent Hill site, and it's green. Really green, and flecked with lightning. Did Mountain Dew run a Silent Hill tie-in around this time? You've probably already noticed that rather than showing the protagonist or one of the game's trademark monsters, Konami opted for a big picture of everyone's favourite mad-eyed, child-sacrificing gyromancy enthusiast Dahlia Gillespie, and that's kind of refreshing. It at least shows a charming lack of advertising drive, because nowadays there's no chance that a major developer would promote their game with a picture of an old woman with a skull three sizes too big for her head.
One last thing of note - more Greek-style letters in a Silent Hill context. I've mentioned their appearance in Silent Hill 2 before, and there are some in Silent Hill 3 as part of (if I remember correctly) Valtiel's texture, so at this point they're looking like something of a SH theme. You heard it here first, Silent Hill is actually a testing ground devised by the mighty Olympian Gods to measure the worth or mortal souls.


I wonder how many emails they got about that piano puzzle? What was the tipping point that broke Konami's webmaster down to the point that they just put the answer on the website? Of course, if you don't know which notes correspond to which piano keys, this answer is useless to you. Good work, webmaster.


I also found this press release for Silent Hill 2 that suffered an endearingly wonky translation job. Highlights include the unnecessary quotation marks around the word "noise" and this sentence - "Going through intricate story and maze of quiz, the player reaches ending climax". Now, nobody loves Silent Hill 2 more than I do, but I never reached ending climax while playing it.

Squaresoft, 2000


Sadly there wasn't much to see on Squaresoft's site - I think the servers that host that particular archive were down - but I did find this Vagrant Story splash page that I distinctly remember seeing at the time it was actually live, probably during one of the many high school lunch hours that I spent reading about upcoming games instead of, you know, eating some food or socialising with my peers.
This page reminds me of two things: one is that I should really play Vagrant Story again, and the other is that before I start a new game I should take a three-month course to study the unknowable intricacies of Vagrant Story's crafting and combat systems, because the game itself sure as hell won't explain them to you.

Sega, 2000
Again, nothing too stellar from the Sega site, mostly plenty of familiar and depressingly enthusiastic advertising gumpf about the power of the Dreamcast and how it was going to totally blow the competition away, the DC is radical and did we mention that you can play online!? Holy cow, Sega really is the future! There was this one thing, though...


A killer competition where the prize is a chance to get on stage with Limp Bizkit and play a Dreamcast game against Fred Durst himself! I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that the pictures in this article don't work, because there is no way they could have been anything less than the perfect encapsulation of the millennial zeitgeist, the age crystallised and condensed into a series of heavily-compressed .jpg images.
The competition seems like it might be kind of unpleasant for the winner, though. Besides the obvious indignities of being at a Limp Bizkit show, I can't imagine Durst being the kind of guy who would respond well to a kid beating him at a videogame in front of a crowd. I can see the headlines now, "PR Disaster for Sega as Bad Musician Loses Videogame, Punches Child."

Jaleco, 1999
Regular VGJunk readers will know of my affection for Japan's premier games developer (not-quite-good-enough subdivision) Jaleco, so naturally I had to check out how they had chosen to represent themselves on the world wide web. I was not disappointed.


Jaleco's website kindly provided by Mr. Collins' Year-9 IT class. Good work, kids.
I'm not really sure what they were going for with this one. There's a space theme, sure. That I can see. Is that the planet Jaleco, currently under attack from a swarm of intergalactic dots that represent paying customers? Or maybe those are supposed to be stars, a visual metaphor for the shining quality of Jaleco's videogames. Possibly the person responsible for this image had just figured out how to draw gradient-filled circles in CorelDRAW and the project just got away from them a little.
There's not much content here - a brief page about a Game Boy Color title called Pocket Bowling  is the main "highlight."


They really went with the old "is that a bowling pin in your pocket?" line, huh? Such unexpected crudeness from Jaleco, and using something as large as a bowling pin in that innuendo just seems like puerile bragging.
Between the horrible colour combination, the sloppy punctuation and the misaligned images, Jaleco's website screams one thing to me: GeoCities. And what was the single most defining feature of the GeoCities experience? No, not the text rendered unreadable by clashing backgrounds, not the abundance of links to a dizzying array of weblinks - it was the animated "Under Construction" gifs.


Yeah, gifs like that one. This exact gif appears in several places throughout the Jaleco site. Just a reminder, Jaleco were an actual company and not a thirteen-year-old with a sweet X-Files fansite.
That seems like a good place to end this article, because I can't see anything topping that. So, what was the web presence of the big-name games developers like at the turn of the millennium? A lot less competent, that's what.

14 comments:

  1. Oh maaaaan, I totally remember those Nintendo sites. I used to visit them all the time. This was when I first started using the intarweb in like 1998.

    Retro game websites are the new retro game magazines.

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    1. Yeah, there's a lot of interesting stuff tucked away on the archive for sure and it's a bit different than the stuff you get in games mags.

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  2. Yo, I own the Servbot towel! It's a tiny hand towel, not a body towel. I suppose it could also double as a loincloth, which would explain the little guy's distraught expression.

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    1. Oh man, I'm jealous of your tiny Servbot towel! Not that I'd want to wear it as a loincloth, of course...

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  3. Oh, man, if only I had Internet at the age of 13. Some of this stuff is pretty good.

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    1. Yeah, I can foresee more of these articles because there's plenty of content there.

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  4. Ah, good times, fond memories... and a very inadequate caching by the Internet Archive as usual, I presume? =)

    I still remember Nintendo Power on AOL, complete with Diddy Kong running around. Not that I ever really got to visit except when I snuck a demo disc of it onto my computer when my parents weren't around (they didn't want internet on the one and only phone line in the house at the time), but I do remember the ads and such. Pity that stuff isn't archived anywhere.

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    1. Ahh, the curse of the tied-up phone line, I remember that one well.

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  5. Ah, such a nostalgia trip. I remember checking the news sites every day for new Zelda 64 screenshots, back when we called it Zelda 64.

    I do think it's fair to point out, if only for historical context, that things on the internet weren't small at the time, when most people were running their displays at 640x480 or 800x600.Them pixels were a lot bigger then. It's just viewing hose same sites on our new-fangled 1920x1080 flat panels that make things look small. Just so the folks that spent the year 2000 socializing with their classmates instead of surfing the internet, or maybe watching Sesame Street, don't get the wrong idea.

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    1. You're totally right - I mostly meant "small" in the sense of sites not having many pages and everything being heavily compressed to save as much bandwidth a possible.

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  6. Man... I miss Game Boy boxes. What a perfect packaging design.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. Speaking of loincloths, you missed one of the best sites of the day, Rare's. Leigh Loveday was hilarious in the Scribes and you can't find much better place to be a gamer than the wonderful world of secrets and threats of violence that was 'Ask Uncle Tusk'. I guess the entries for the article sort of peg you more on Sony at the time but maybe that's just coincidence. Anyway go find some archived Tusk!

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    1. I actually wrote to Uncle Tusk once. My letter got featured. It was about the potential of them going third party and he tore into me because that's what he was there for. I remember thinking back to that when I heard Rare was going third party after all.

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