In the early 90’s arcade era, just before the huge gaming see-change that was the 5th generation, ‘polygons’ were the buzzword of choice. Magazines boasted of new machines that could move thousands of shapes per second to process the new 3D worlds we would soon be enjoying. VR headsets were presented in ‘Tomorrow's World’ style programmes and in the arcades everyone looked like seasick idiot pirates coming up from below deck.
POLYGON noun. Pronunciation /ˈpɒlɪɡ(ə)n/
(GEOMETRY) a plane figure with at least three straight sides and angles, anatomically five or more.
Article by Andy Foster
Tron-like landscapes were depicted in the much loved Gamesmaster programme as the future of various games started to take on this very stylised look that only plane coloured shapes can represent. A clean, stylised, and instantly recognisable look that even now still feels like it resembles the future!
I had the pleasure of playing the 1000CS Cyberspace coin up machine in some sleepy seaside town, either Portsmouth or Bognor Regis - I can’t remember. It made me feel sick and disorientated at first, but I didn’t care as I had played it and I was going tell everyone I had played it even if they weren’t interested because I was literally in a 3D world…you know…like life!
The home ports of these games at the time are often criticised and early 3D gaming as something which maybe hasn't held up well in some instances, but for me it's all part of the charm.
Polygons will flicker on and off and scenery will bend and flop about like the early dodgy sets of Ramsay Street in 90s episodes of Neighbours. For me though, like colour clash and sprite collision before it, this only adds to its charm. The arcades and home video game industry were well into their journey of merging by this point and maybe the AM2 era was arguably the last hurrah of the arcades. If you'd don't include dance machines of course!
Winning Run, Lander (Zarch), Starfox, Cybermorph, Stunt Race FX, Hard Drivin, Race Drivin, are all games released at various times with un-textured polygons that have that distinct style but there's two games I wanted to talk about here...
The summer of 93 was the first time I laid my eyes on the new upright arcade cab of Virtua Fighter whilst on holiday with my best chum Chris Jackson. Nothing prepared me for those fighters moving in glorious fluid 3D. Although I had seen screenshots in magazines it didn't do it justice... it's like the difference of looking at a super soaker and actually squirting someone with one! The graphic design for this game is so iconic and it had Sega's trademark high quality all over the cabinet.
As a 12 year old kid playing Dizzy and Flimbo’s Quest at home on my C64 this was an otherworldly and unobtainable experience; just like all those 80’s Sega cabinets preceding it were. I remember it well as not only was it my first encounter with Virtua Fighter but I also had a crush on a girl that kept coming into the arcades that week. I didn't even speak to her... not because of the games.... just because I couldn't muster the courage! Jacky would have asked her out for a coke, maybe even a two player game of space hockey, but that's why kids like me would put in £1 to play as him as he was a double ‘ard Indy Car Racer and I was just a little scrat with a global hyper colour tee-shirt on!
It was quite something that in only 2 years I'd be playing a very good port at home on my 32x and even that was virtually out of date as soon as it arrived due to the start of textured polygons in home gaming. Things moved so fast back then it seems to have slowed down over the last 10 years; we basically get better looking versions of the same game. The breakthrough into 3D was a real eye-opener and something that I guess the Wii was trying to create with a similar sea-change into interactive motion; it wasn’t quite to be though.
Virtua Fighter is a game I still play regularly on my Saturn and never seem to tire of it. I'd go as far as to say I like its vibe more than Virtua Fighter 2 but I'm aware that's potentially mad!
Which brings me to one of my favourite games of all time… Virtua Racing. Released just before Fighter in 1992 by the legendary Sega AM2 this game set the bar in terms of racers for years to come. The different camera angles, smooth framerate and gorgeous visuals set it apart from anything at the time and things moved so quickly after that with Daytona and Sega Rally both being released very quickly afterwards complete with textured polygons. As soon as I had played it in the arcades sat in the perfectly formed plastic formula one car, I wanted it at home instantly on the trusty Megadrive and it wasn’t very long that I would have to wait.
Most people’s first foray into import games was the release of Street Fighter 2 on the SNES; with Buzz Lightyear toy demand style fighting to have the cart at home! This was the only time I have ever bought an import on release and nagged my Dad for the Japanese version that came with a convertor in Portsmouth’s Ross Records shop (it’s still there!). I adored the box art and my Dad paid a little less for the Jap version. I played it to death, I was always on it… and like most Sega racers the first track is so iconic. The fairground, the Bridge that leapt out of the screen as you past through it, the VR men in the pit lane, the checkpoint music, I could play that track on repeat for hours. Little touches like the sparks that come of the titanium tray at the back of the car, tyre skid marks that stay there, and digitised speech all add to the games charm; it’s the perfect arcade racer.
The game reminds me of an innocent time, an age before girls, smoking, riding around on mopeds, making music and generally being a late-teens plonker took precedent over those simple video game pleasures. It also reminds me of Sega World in Bournemouth and friends coming round for split screen action! It really was an incredible achievement to port it to the Megadrive and I had it on the 32X also. The deluxe version is still a fantastic version and I’m currently looking for a cheap Saturn version so if any readers out there know of one… hook me up! Please!
VR still is the future in my head... blocky flat polygons are still attractive to my eye and represent everything exciting about the early 3D world. Wireframe 3D was the beginning, graphics like my Tomy Tronic, but that’s a different story…
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