When I was a kid, I was enamored with games, absolutely in love. I played as so many characters and embodied their worlds, Mario, Link, Samus, Sonic, Fox McCloud, Doom Guy... but it was those last two that really showed me where games were heading. Both took the concepts of 3D space and showed me where the industry was going as a kid. They got me into a forward thinking mindset, looking ahead to the future and to the arrival of 3D gaming. In the following article, I will put forth the argument that Nintendo introduced 3D gaming to the world of consoles by showing my own experience. I will begin by looking at the two companies generally credited with the rise of 3D gaming, Sega and Sony. Then, I will look at two protagonists, Fox McCloud and Doom Guy, and their respective games which were released on the SNES to bolster my position that Nintendo brought us the joys of gaming in a 3D space before Sega or Sony. Nintendo introduced us to 3D gaming on the SNES.
When looking at the console gaming landscape of the 90's, one could easily look to one company as the impetus for the popularity of 3D gaming: Sony. Sony would go on to show us what 3D gaming was capable of in a console. but their Playstation had quite the competition at its start. With the Sega Saturn releasing in May 11 of 1995, it had an almost 4 month lead on Sony, who released their Playstation on Septemeber 9 of the same year. I still recall going over to friend’s houses at the age of 10 and being wowed by the Saturn. It was a system that came to us from a known variable. Everyone knew Sega.
Sega was the brash rival to the sweet Nintendo. Nintendo had Mario, the lovable , plump plumber doing the heroics of saving the princess, But Sega, oh man, Sega had Sonic. He was cool. He was fast. There were no princesses, but just speed and attitude. He was the antithesis of Mario, and as all children of the early 90's knew, “Sega does what Nintendon’t.”
Sega knew that they had a mascot that if massaged and perfected enough could compete with the Big N, but they also had a whole generation of children to win over, hence that clever, clever piece of marketing. It worked too! The playgrounds of the early 90's were filled with children heralding their favorite avatar, be it Mario or Sonic. This was the divide that gave us that bothersome term “console wars.” This was a war with huge stakes. I was there in the thick of it.
“MOM! Can I get a Saturn? DAD?! Can I get a Saturn?” I’d yell.
“It’s too much son. We already have a Nintendo, a Super Nintendo, a Game Gear, a Game Boy, and a computer that can play games. Why do you even need a, what is it called, a Saturn?” they’d bounce back.
“Its the Sega Saturn! Its the new system that’s gonna have all the games! Sonic is on it!”
“But don’t you already have Sonic?”
I never got that Saturn. I would continue playing my Super Nintendo and enjoying the games that peppered the end of it life cycle. It was Christmas of ‘95 that I found DOOM under the tree. To my ten year old self playing DOOM on my SNES was an impressive experience. All I had known of videogames were the likes of Mario, Link, and Samus. They, to this day, remain some of my favorite protagonists of gaming, but all of them sat squarely in a 2D space. But DOOM, and earlier Star Fox, would show the impressive capabilities for 3D gaming that the SNES possessed. For all of Sega’s marketing efforts, Nintendo did one thing on the SNES they simply couldn’t with the Genesis: simulated 3D space.
Certain SNES cartidges had a chip on board, the Super FX. It essentially took what was a system made for 2D gaming and beefed up the processing power to bring impressive gaming experiences to life. The developers of Star Fox, Argonaut games, were the developers of this powerful coprocesser.
Star Fox was released on February 21, 1993. It was unlike anything the SNES had seen at that point. It was one of my first experiences with 3D objects in games and I was floored. I would play it endlessly, finding all the rings, escaping by the skin of my teeth, wishing I could blow up Slippy. It looked and felt amazing. To think that the same system that produced Super Mario World could do Star Fox was incredible. Little did I know that even more impressive experiences were in store for the SNES a mere 2 years later.
September 1, 1995 came and with it DOOM to the SNES. This was an important day for me, as our family computer simply couldn’t run DOOM. Kings Quest? Sure! Space Quest? No problem! Doom? Keep on wishing kid. My wish was finally fulfilled when DOOM came to the SNES. I say this with little hyperbole: DOOM changed my understanding of games fundamentally. I knew this the moment I picked up the controller and hit the power switch.
E1M1. These 4 characters can transport me straight back to that base on Mars. Run forward, up the stairs to the left, Guy on the top, 2 on either side at the base of the stairs. Grab the shotgun. Kill all the grunts in the next room and pass them. Watch out for the Imp. Wait did I just hear a... whats that noise? I see the floor lower where I killed the Imp. Secrets! This same thinking would continue throughout the campaign. Kill all the monsters. Find all the Secrets. Navigate the Maze. It seems straightforward and rudimentary but its a testament to the design team that Doom is highly playable today, 24 years after its initial release on PC.
Many would look at my playing of the SNES version of DOOM and be baffled that I could enjoy a port that was so obviously inferior to the PC masterpiece. You know, I would agree with that sentiment 100% today, but at the ripe age of 10, experiencing the 1st person perspective for the first time when all I knew were 2D games was an unforgettable experience. I still to this day can’t tell you how I managed that game with an SNES pad. But I guess when you’re 10 and are experiencing a gaming masterpiece fresh, even without joysticks or a mouse, you’ll find a way. I did find a way. I still remember that blood red cartridge and the special place it held beside Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, and F-Zero on my shelf.
It wouldn’t be until ‘96 or ‘97 that our family got a N64 and then eventually a Playstation. And, wow, what an impressive experience those consoles were. Being the DOOM fan that I was, it wouldn’t take me long to learn of DOOM 64's pending release. My parent’s got it for me one Christmas and I was impressed as with about every game on the N64. But playing it as 12 year old brought me back to my first experience of DOOM, 2 years prior. Yes it looked superior, but aside from the joystick on the N64 pad, the experience of playing wasn’t all that dissimilar.
When playing DOOM 64, or any iteration upon the FPS genre, I am immediately transported to my room as a boy of 10, sitting on the carpet, trying to get one level further than my last run. I can visualize where games are heading, not only because I’ve dreamed about the evolution of gaming, but because I am experiencing it new and fresh. It’s all thanks to that incredible gray and purple box, the SNES.