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All 3DO and Jaguar Games In Order: 1993 Round-Up

This Round-Up covers the following entries of All 3DO Games In Order and All Jaguar Games In Order:

3DO Launch Day: Crash 'n Burn

3DO in 1993 (Part 1): Battle Chess, Crime Patrol, Dragon's Lair, Escape From Monster Manor

3DO in 1993 (Part 2): Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise, Fatty Bear's Fun Pack, Lemmings, Putt-Putt Joins the Parade, Shelly Duvall's It's A Bird's Life

3DO in 1993 (Part 3): Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Stellar 7: Draxon's Revenge, The Life Stage: Virtual House, and Twisted: The Game Show

Jaguar in 1993: Cybermorph, Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, and Raiden

**This post is also featured on my site, fifthgengaming.blog, and can be found here.**

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1993 In Review

1993 was kind of a weird year for video game consoles. Even though 16-bit systems had been out for multiple years in North America (Turbografix-16 and Genesis were four years old and SNES was two), it was only just now that the 8-bit NES began to really taper off in terms of sales and game releases. This was also firmly in the era of various tomfool CD-ROM misadventures. Turbografix had been faffing about with the format since '89 and both the Sega CD and Phillips CD-i were a year old. It feels like the 16-bit era had just gotten up to steam, and yet this was the year when the early 32-bit systems made their crapshots. Those systems in question were from smaller, regional players making a play for the big times by getting in before the established manufacturers. In Japan there was Fujitsu's FM Towns Marty and in Europe there was Commodore's Amiga CD32. Neither of those particularly went anywhere, with Fujitsu dropping its effort by '95 and Commodore infamously imploding in '94. In North America there was the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, or 'Hawkins' Folly' as I like to call it, and the Atari Jaguar. Both of those consoles saw just enough action to get international launches in 1994, but they would be easily crushed by Sony and Sega before the end of '96. Though, the story of those demises will be for a different time.

The main thing to know for our purposes is that it was somewhat of a dry year for console games. From what I can tell, the important console releases were Star Fox, Super Mario All-Stars, Sonic CD, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II Turbo, Mega Man X, and a bunch of licensed games for stuff like Aladdin, X-Men, Jurassic Park, and Batman Returns among a multitude of others. '92 had been a banner year for 16-bit games in North America, and '94 would also see a lot of action, so this was kind of an off-cycle year. In theory this would have been a good moment for market disruption by a new entrant… as long as they had the games. As we will see later that last point will be decisive.

Though, the year becomes far busier when we extend our scope beyond consoles. In handhelds, the Game Boy was well on its way to establishing world domination despite seeing a paucity of big titles for similar reasons as consoles. Arcades in North America were entering into their last golden age, buoyed by the boom in Fighting games caused by the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series, the advent of 3D Racing games, and the massive phenomenon that was NBA Jam. Finally, PC games were out in front doing all of the interesting things in '93. This is the year that saw Myst, Doom, X-Wing, The 7th Guest, Syndicate, Rebel Assault (ugh), and the peak of early-90's Adventure games. These are all experiences that would be difficult or impossible for 16-bit consoles to keep up with, again making an opening for 32-bit entrants to flex their muscles. The story of the early 32-bit generation is the story of how those new entrants failed.

3DO Interactive Multiplayer

We've already dug into the origins of the 3DO in the intro post for that series, so I won't retread too much of that information. As far as I can tell, the 3DO sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 units in the three months it was on shelves in 1993. That was significantly better than the launch seasons for the Jaguar, FM Towns Marty, Amiga CD32, or CD-i, but it was a laughable fraction of the launches for the Genesis and Turbografix-16 four years earlier. That's probably the best that The 3DO Company could have hoped for considering their limited marketing budget, but there's no prize for being the most successful failure. This is also reflected in the probably 14 games released for the system in that first season. That's a fuzzy assessment because only the pack-in game, Crash n' Burn, has a confidently recorded release date. It's a bad sign when establishing the chronology for a console's games poses similar challenges to researching frickin' Middle Kingdom Egypt.

Still, it doesn't mean much to say that there were maybe 14 games released for the 3DO in its launch season. In comparison to other first entrants in the North American console market, this is on par with the launches of the Turbografix and Genesis in terms of quantity (and quality, if we're being honest) four years prior, which had 14 and 16 games respectively. This also blows the Jaguar out of the water, but we'll get to that. By earlier standards, this would be an adequate launch, even though there was only one big name, Star Wars, and no sports games. Yet, this is rightfully seen as a failure. Looking at additional context, we can see that only two years earlier the SNES launched with 32 games in its first season, with that group including some of the all-time most celebrated titles on that platform. Additionally, the next truly successful console launch after this would be the Playstation in '95, which saw 50 games ranging across most contemporary genres and levels of quality. The 3DO would have had a good start by 1989 standards, but it was woefully inadequate for '93. New game systems needed to come out as fully formed ideas at this point, and the 3DO was very much not that.

No Caption Provided

So, what went wrong? Conventional wisdom puts full blame on funding and The 3DO Company's business model. Their fully decentralized approach to manufacturing and game development is viewed as an inherent failure. As I alluded to in the Intro post, the licensing model, when used for hardware, tends to lead to a loss of control over the final product that goes on shelves. The pricing, product design, feature set, and overall quality of the FZ-1 model was ultimately the responsibility of Panasonic, which had not previously been involved in the industry and likely had both a different level of expertise from and incongruous incentives to The 3DO Company. That's cited as the main reason for the price/eye gauging $700 price tag at launch, of roughly $1400 in 2023 money. The amazing part is that anyone bought it at all. I remember Sony getting its teeth kicked in over the PS3's $600 launch price in '06, so I can only imagine that consumer reaction to the 3DO launch would have been so antagonistic that it sublimated into apathy. The issue of rogue manufacturers can be alleviated by having more than one, but inherently you're not going to get more than one of those on board for launch of an untried market entrant. Pricing will get better in '94 with the entry of Goldstar and dramatic price drops by Panasonic, but consumer sentiment was baked in by then.

Hawkins hocking the 3DO
Hawkins hocking the 3DO

Of equal importance would have been the decentralized nature of game development for the 3DO. Developing software isn't as expensive as developing hardware, but it still isn't cheap. As such, the business plan required strong third-party developers to get onboard quickly and decisively. The 3DO Company had been able to get significant pre-launch commitments from places like Electronic Arts, Crystal Dynamics, Humongous, and Microcabin for some reason. Yet, because 3DO had no control over those partners, EA's biggest games would miss the console's launch by a wide margin and everyone else kind of just did what they wanted. The 3DO Company would put out a couple of games in the launch season, but it was nowhere near enough to make up the difference for everything that was pushed into '94. Hawkins and Co. would realize this mistake and lean harder into first-party development after this, but again, it was too little too late.

Now, the obvious retort to the accusation of a bad business model is that they wouldn't have known it was a bad idea until they tried it. The thing is though, it was apparent to loads of industry observers that the plans for the 3DO were sketchy, and it would have taken incredible incompetence for Trip and his decision makers to not know that as well. That takes us to the most probable reason as to why such a risky bet was made in the first place: lack of money. Capitalization for tech start-ups in the early 90's wasn't anywhere close to being what it is now, or even in the late-90's. Money is the reason why they went from company founding to product launch in two years. Money is the reason why they didn't build their own boxes. Money is the reason why there was inadequate advertising. It was the reason why there weren't a half-dozen big first party games immediately available, and why they couldn't afford to give favorable deals to gain support from major publishers. The only reason why EA was committed at all was due to Trip Hawkins' personal connection. The money didn't exist to create a new video game console, but they did it anyway. From that point of view, it's a testament to the labors of the people at The 3DO Company that the damned thing got as far as it did.

Atari Jaguar

I didn't get deep into what was going on with the Jaguar in my intro post for that series, so we will need to address it now. The history of Atari is knowledge that is hostile to human comprehension. Let's try to summarize it up to the Jaguar. As the story goes, a young Nolan Bushnell saw Spacewar on a mainframe while in college in the early '60's. Since he also had experience managing an electromechanical arcade, he came to what is now an obvious conclusion. In 1969 Bushnell and a man by the name of Ted Dabney went into business and created a coin-op version of Spacewar that failed miserably. They were able to keep going after that by designing electro-mechanical games under the name Atari until '72, when Bushnell saw the Magnavox Odyssey and remembered that IP law had yet to deal with gaming. He had his engineer, Al Alcorn, create a coin-op version of the Odyssey, which they call Pong. Atari launched that game in late '72 and the video game industry was born.

Bushnell bought out Dabney for full control of Atari in '73 and after we yadda yadda our way through the mid-70's we get to the burgeoning home console market. The company had previously released a home version of Pong and was trying to do an end run around Magnavox by getting a home system made that could run multiple, separately sold game ROMs. When Fairchild beat them to market in 1976, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner to get the required funding to finish up their console, the Atari VCS which is more commonly known as the Atari 2600. This launched in 1977 and was massively successful, as we all know, but Bushnell had gotten in over his head and was forced out by Warner in '79. Under its new management, Atari's prototype for its follow-up to the 2600 was reconfigured as a personal computer and would become the moderately successful 8-bit Atari 800 PC. While that success was nice, the 2600 hardware was left to obsolescence. If you ask me, this was the main cause for the infamous drop in quality for 2600 games in 1982. Warner eventually got around to consolizing that 8-bit computer hardware as the Atari 5200 in late '82, but it was too late. The Crash happened throughout 1983 and would have taken Atari down completely if not for its computer and arcade sales. Even then, Warner was bleeding money, so they broke Atari's business apart and put the pieces up for sale. This is where the Tramiel family enters our story.

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Jack Tramiel was born (probably) Idek Trzmiel to a Jewish family in 1920's Poland. If you do the math, you can figure out how that went for him. After surviving the Holocaust, and apparently an encounter with Josef Mengele as well, the recently orphaned Idek moved to the United States, changed his name to Jack, and joined the U.S. Army as a technician. After some more yadda yadda-ing, it's 1953 and he now owns a typewriter shop called Commodore Portable Typewriter. In the late 50s Tramiel moved into typewriter manufacturing, but after a few years of growth the business started going bad in the early-60's. At this point he started selling large chunks of Commodore stock to a man named Irving Gould in order to reorient the company towards making adding machines. After adding machines went obsolete, Commodore made the jump to new-fangled digital calculators. Yet, after an apparent Texas Instruments screwjob in the mid-70's, Tramiel had to find yet another market. He was wisely informed that home computers were the future, so in 1977 the Commodore PET was launched as part of the first big wave in personal computing. The PET saw big success in Europe and its follow-up system, the Commodore 64, saw massive success worldwide. Either in spite of or due to that booming business, Gould forced Tramiel out of Commodore at the beginning of 1984. Commodore would later create the Amiga family of computers before dramatically imploding in '94. So it goes.

Jack bought the console and computing parts of Atari in mid-1984, while Warner kept the arcade business after some significant investment from Namco. Both halves of the company kept the brand name, with Tramiel's half calling itself Atari Corporation. Warner's half of the business would later publish under the Tengen name and get sold off to Midway before that company went under in '09. So, it goes. Atari Corp. on the other hand was the definition of a fixer upper. Tramiel had Atari's third-gen prototype wrapped up and kicked out the door as the 7800 in '86, seemingly as a revenue stopgap. The main effort went into rehabilitating Atari's PC division with the 16-bit Atari ST series of computers, which launched in 1985. These would see moderate success, mainly in Europe, which was enough to keep Atari Corp. solvent. After stabilizing the company and directing it to be a pain-in-the-ass for Commodore, Jack retired somewhere around the age of 60, leaving Atari to his son, Sam. This was probably met with relief by everyone involved, as Jack was notorious for being a prickly micromanager.

Sam seems to have been interested in returning Atari to its roots in game development. The 7800 still theoretically existed, and he was likely in charge when the business deals were done to launch the Atari Lynx handheld system in 1989. The Lynx had the dual utility of being an attempt to rehab Atari's image in gaming while also sticking it to Commodore, as its design originated with a couple of jilted Commodore engineers who had taken their Amiga handheld R&D and walked. The Lynx sold better than any Atari game system since the 2600, but still only captured something like 1% of the handheld market in the end. It holds the distinction of being the first in a long line of high-end systems that would fail to dislodge Nintendo from its handheld dominance. Even then, the Lynx was still successful enough to encourage Atari to take another swing at console manufacturing. That decision was also inspired by the declining market for non-DOS based PCs. I like to think that Jack would have thought the death of Atari's PC business to be a small price to pay for watching Commodore burn. Regardless, Sam had to pivot the company to a new direction for the 90's, and the only thing left to lean on was the console business.

Jack and Sam Tramiel
Jack and Sam Tramiel

Thus, we finally arrive at our point. You still reading? Good. By 1991, Atari Corp. might as well have been a new entrant to the console market. As such, they hired an outside firm called Flare II to work up prototypes for a 16-bit and 32-bit console, the Panther and Jaguar respectively. This was far enough into the 16-bit era that it was both easier and more economical to get a jump on 32-bit computing, so the Panther was scrapped pretty quickly. Sam Tramiel had Atari go all in with its financial resources to try and make the Jaguar work. Even then, they needed to be highly cost conscious in design, manufacturing, and distribution. Combining that with Atari's unrepaired reputation and recent memories of dealing with Jack, it was a steep uphill battle to get developer, distributor, and advertiser support for the new system. Even still, they proceeded to a limited market launch of the system on November 23, 1993, at a few stores in New York City and San Francisco. They were only able to get one pack-in title and three other games ready for that holiday season. Combining that limited scope with, let's say, skeptical consumer sentiment, it's kind of impressive that they were able to sell somewhere around 17,000 units by the end of the year. That revenue was needed to get a full U.S. launch off the ground in early '94. Atari was able to just scrape by.

The Jaguar itself was an oddity as a piece of consumer electronics. The architecture involved two equivalent 32-bit processers acting as the CPU, GPU, and sound card. Both theoretically clocked in at 26 Mhz, which was a significantly larger number than any other contemporary console. The two chips were managed by a now-ancient Motorola 68000 processor, which doesn't seem to have been great. Even though the chips themselves used 32-bit architecture, they seem to have been joined together on a 64-bit bus. From what I know that isn't a great way to do things, but it did allow Atari to advertise the Jaguar as a 64-bit system. The sticking point was the medium of the games themselves. The Jag launched as a cartridge system where the carts could hold a maximum of 6 Mb, the same as the SNES. I shouldn't have to tell you that you can't really do anything of value with that processing power using only 6 Mb. It seems that Atari made the mistakes that both Sega and Nintendo would make with their new systems. Joining together multiple processors causes massive headaches with software programming, as Sega would learn, and having the most processing power means nothing if you aren't running hundreds of megabytes through it, as Nintendo would find out. Then there's the controller, which, just see for yourself.

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Atari had already announced a CD drive add-on before the console even launched. That thing wouldn't be available until 1995, by which time it would be wholly too late. This whole story is one of attempting too much with too few resources, like a Roger Corman movie. Even then, Atari under Sam Tramiel was able to get a toehold in the console space, which was better than the company had done since 1982.

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Some Numbers

With so few games to consider, there isn't enough here to justify intensive number crunching or a tabular format, so let's run through some quick stats.

  • Of the 14 3DO games:
    • 6 were exclusive, 6 were PC ports, and 2 were ports of LaserDisc arcade games
    • 12 originated in North America, 1 in the UK, and 1 in Japan
    • 4 are educational games
    • Only 4 used live-action FMV
    • 2 could be considered as multimedia software more than games
    • The oldest port was from 1983 and the newest was less than a couple months old
  • Of the 4 Jaguar games:
    • 2 were exclusive, 1 was a PC port, and 1 was an arcade port
    • 3 originated in the UK and 1 from Japan
    • 2 of the games are 'Shmups, 1 is a Flight game, and 1 is a Puzzle game
    • Only 1 game is in polygonal 3D

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1993 GOTY

As painful as it's going to be, it's time to choose a Game of the Year for the 3DO and Jaguar in 1993. Now, because of how few games we're dealing with, I'm going to do something that I will never do again: I'm combining the games for the 3DO and Jaguar to find an overall GOTY for '93. Let's keep the spreadsheet around for reference.

No Caption Provided

The first thing we need to do is reconcile the two ranking lists. This is all vibes, and as such I have inserted Raiden at the top, because it's the only game I enjoyed at all, and Dino Dudes slots in nicely right under Lemmings where it belongs. The two Jaguar launch games are what they are.

Now that we have a combined list, we need to weed out the games which aren't worth ranking. This is going to include the ones that are closer to multimedia experiences than games (It's a Bird's Life and The Life Stage) and ports from other systems that aren't particularly relevant. That's a tricky thing to define, and I've landed on the method of filtering out games that are either too old (Dragon's Lair and Battle Chess), had already been widely ported (Raiden and Lemmings), or don't matter that much (Crime Patrol, Dino Dudes, and the Humongous games). That gets us down to seven games, which sadly only includes one of the previous top five.

Now that we have our list of nominees, we need to order them as objectively as we can. This was the most psychologically painful step for me. I tried to follow my standard criteria for doing this:

  • Is this game a complete thought?
  • Is the creative idea behind that thought any good?
  • Is that creative thought properly executed?
  • Is the end product novel in any way?

Now, I didn't put too much deep thought into this exercise for my own well-being. As such, I will declare Twisted: The Game Show as the 1993 GOTY for 32-bit consoles. It was the most complete thought of a thing, the idea of an FMV game show game does have some merit, this was the least badly executed attempt at a game, and this is kind of the first one of these ever made. I don't want to dig further into the other six games, other than to say that Stellar 7 barely exists. Congratulations are in order for Twink Fizzdale and literally no one else involved with the production of Twisted. I think I need to go lie down.

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What is Box Art Anyway?

All of these games only received North American releases in 1993, which means they all shipped in ugly long boxes. That kind of defeats the point of giving recognition to the best box art, because they're all bad. If I had to choose, I guess I would give top spot to Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, because it's the most interesting, I guess. Part of the problem is that the 3DO boxes are done with the aspect ratio of VHS sleeves, which I think should disqualify them. Heck, the games developed by The 3DO Company (Escape From Monster Manor and Twisted) even look like they're designed to resemble VHS covers. I dunno, man. Anyway, here are the Box Arts of the Year.

Winner(?):

No Caption Provided

Best VHS cover (Stellar 7 would have won this if there weren't too many fonts):

No Caption Provided

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What's Next?

We now get to move on to 1994, where we'll see the 3DO receive international launches and the Jaguar will get a full North American release. We're going to have 97 3DO games and 13 Jaguar games to look at. Unfortunately, we're also going to have to deal with our biggest problem with the 3DO, the lack of documented release dates. I have dates for 26 out of the 97 3DO games on my list. Do I believe those dates? Not at all, but it's what we have. So, here's what's going to happen: We're going to start by looking at all of the 3DO games with release dates, in order. We're then going to switch over to all of the Jaguar games released before December '94, switch back to look at all of our 71 unordered 3DO games, and then end the year with the Jaguar December releases. This set-up will let us avoid Bubsy for as long as humanly possible.

We'll get this started next week with our first five 3DO games of 1994: Total Eclipse, Microcosm, The Horde, Iron Angel of the Apocalypse, and MegaRace.

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