SDCC Discusses Blake J. Harris’ “The Console Wars,” with guests.

Author Blake J. Harris surrounded by Sega and Nintendo.

Author Blake J. Harris surrounded by Sega and Nintendo.

By: Nick Eskey

Once upon a time, Nintendo resurrected what remained of the home console market, and thus ruled the gaming world. Almost 95% of the market belonged to them. People didn’t play videogames, they played “Nintendo.” But then, a competitor slowly loomed in sight. Sega’s star was on the rise, threatening the hold that Nintendo held over the industry. And a war was on. It wasn’t fought on any battlefield with guns, but in the retail market.

Blake J. Harris lived in the time where Nintendo and Sega’s war was at its peak. In his adulthood, Blake realized that there wasn’t anything officially written with a deep level of research regarding that time. So he took it upon himself to take three years to write what he later entitled “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and The Battle that Defined a Generation.” But aside from himself, Blake also collected a few others who actually “fought” in the battle: Bill White and Perrin Kaplan on behalf of Nintendo of America, and Tom Kalinske and Al Nilsen on behalf of Sega of America.

During the high sales of the NES, Sega wanted to create a mascot of their own. Nintendo had Mario after all. Al Nelson was presented with two possible candidates: Something that as Al put it looked a lot like “an egg shaped, weeble-wobble character,” and a spike-haired hedgehog that dated a human girl. “I chose the lesser of two evils.”

Around the same time, president of Sega Japan approached Tom Kalinske and asked him to help place his company in a prime position in the market. Tom had worked with Flinstones Vitamins and Matel (on their franchises such as Barbie, He-man, and Matchbox). The president of Sega had heard of Tom when he was with Matel, and sought him out after he left the company. Tom Kalinske suggested to the board that they take out Altered Beast (the game that originally was bundled with it) and replace it with Sonic. He also wanted a lowered price for the system, aggressive marketing that called out Nintendo, and more games made for adults. The Japanese executives didn’t agree with him, but the president had brought him on to help Sega, so he allowed the moves.

It was Bill White of Nintendo who had to steer the marketing when Sega had started to exert itself. He first came in 1987 when Nintendo was attempting to resurrect the collapsed home console market. Bill tried hard to advertise the titles themselves, which he knew would “drive the hardware.” He also helped to sell the movie rights to Mario, which lead to the box office flop “Mario Bros. 2000.” “I was told to not get anything less than $100,000,” said White. “But at the end of the day, it really was about using it in hopes of further driving the brand.”

When Sega started to gain ground on what use to be Nintendo territory, Perrin Kaplan was brought in as someone who was outside of the industry. “I was a fresh face,” she said. “And I definitely didn’t play games.”

When Tom’s aggressive marketing started, they boasted about their faster processes, and poked fun at how slow Nintendo’s hardware’s was in comparison. The aggressive marketing was paying off. “It was an exciting time where we felt we could get a piece of the pie,” said Al Nelson. Bill White pushed for the Super Nintendo which was in the works to get released sooner. “Our competitor was 16 bit… I felt we needed to match it, but the executives felt that the NES still had legs. That there were still homes that it could still find itself in.” So instead, Bill pushed for large marketing campaigns. They did the Nintendo Championships that toured the malls, “so people could play the game.” Bill continued to use the games as a big focus.

Sega took to another tactic and marketed their system more to teenagers. “Nintendo marketed more for kids,” said Tom Kalinske. “We decided to be unique… We were on college campuses and concerts… it was very grass roots.”

Eventually, Sega had claimed a good slice of what use to be Nintendo’s. This became a wakeup call to Nintendo. “Nintendo was poked, made fun of. And when awakened, it went back to what it was best at.”

Today, we all know how the wars ultimately ended. But for the time, it created competition, and forced videogames into new directions that are still felt today. So even though Sega is no longer in the console industry where Nintendo still is, the war they fought definitely shaped the generation we live in now.

For more on battle between the two, go and pick up Blake J. Harris’ book, “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and The Battle that Defined a Generation.”

SDCC ’14 Art of Videogames Panel

Dark Horse leads the way in transporting videogames into the comic world.

Dark Horse leads the way in transporting videogames into the comic world.

By: Nick Eskey

Art has gone hand in hand with videogames almost since the beginning. Oh yes, the earliest games were either text-based adventures, or pixilated jumbles; Not really “artistic.” But the boxes they were packaged in were usually masterpieces of fantasies. It wasn’t that developers didn’t feel games were worthy of art as part of their game play, but the technology wasn’t there. Now, with high density pixel displays and fast processors, we find ourselves capable of things never thought possible with gaming. We’ve seen some of the best games ever released in the last few years. Typically they involve large, detailed worlds and characters that people can’t help but explore.

Various artists and designers that were part of huge titles like Tomb Raider, Halo, Mass Effect, Witcher, Plants Vs. Zombies, and The Last of Us were present at San Diego Comic Con to discuss the art of the games. “We are seeing fans want to explore more of the world, more of the characters that they were introduced to.” This has led to a good number of games getting their own comic book adaption. Not necessarily retelling the game itself, but “following storylines or characters that no one had thought of before.” Both The Last of Us and Tomb Raider have comics that are set to come out sometime within the year, both being published by Dark Horse. With Tomb Raider, we are promised to follow Lara Croft after the videogame finding out more of what she is.

The Witcher will also be seeing a comic, again by Dark Horse, entitled “House of Glass.” “The series will be a standalone story. It will add to the Witcher universe, and will introduce new characters and show monsters from the Witcher 3 game.” Other games like Halo and Mass Effect will be seeing comics too. Halo: The Next 72 Hours will take place after the 4th game, following the events that happen with Master chief. For Mass Effect, it will follow the main antagonist from the last DLC from Mass Effect 3. “It’s going to be a last adventure to go on with the characters of the original Mass Effect.”

Aside from comics, there’s other mediums like art books that show the full breadth of artistry that goes into game development. “Most often we only see three quarters of the artwork that goes into a game being used. There’s also the evolution of characters… That’s why art books are so great. They give a sneak peek into what didn’t make it in… what changed.”

With comics though, publishers and artists are very concerned with not letting the fans down. Because of this, even though they are different mediums, publishers try to make sure that the artists from the games are the ones that will also be the writers for the comics. This allows the stories and characters to be as connected as possible. “Sometimes it doesn’t work [though], especially when telling a side story. It then becomes a sand box experience. Here it becomes important to work with and trust a creative team.”

Videogames have become a platform for new forms of art, and they have taken a while to get to this point. Now that fans are eager to immerse themselves more in the worlds they introduce, their presence in comics and graphic novels will grow more and more, fleshing out worlds that perhaps even their writers didn’t know would come to be.