Monday, September 27, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1994 (Part 1)

"Overall, the Atari Jaguar's starting line-up isn't spectacular, but at the same time it is just a test launch. I'm sure better games will be available by the time the nationwide launch happens the next year."

As Atari's "final" home console enters a new calendar year, the test market launch is still in effect, and will remain so for the next five months. Because of that, there really isn't much available for the console outside of those original four games, and do remember that one of them is a pack-in. Meanwhile, at the Winter CES show that January, SN Systems (which had experience creating development hardware for game consoles) secretly showed Sony a prototype dev kit, which helped push Sony forward with the eventual production of the PlayStation, which had been publicly announced the past October. Also at this same CES, Sega internally decided to create a piece of hardware in response to the Atari Jaguar... We'll get back to that later. Later, on March 20, the 3DO saw release in Japan, where it'd shockingly receive not only the largest overall number of game releases (close to 3/4 of the entire catalog), & even two exclusive console variants, but nearly half of the 3DO's entire catalog was Japan-exclusive!

However, on April 13, just a few weeks shy of the console's nationwide release in North America, the Atari Jaguar would see its first new game for the year, and thankfully it wound up becoming one of the console's most beloved.

Released in arcades back in 1981 & programmed by Dave Theurer, Tempest was the first game ever released for Atari's Color-Quadrascan vector display tech, and quickly became a big hit with its hectic shooting action & sense of actual progression from one stage to another, since each one was different from what came before. When came time for Atari's return to the console market with the Jaguar, the company held a gathering at a gaming convention with various developers, in which a list of old Atari games was shown & the developers could choose which one they each wanted to reinterpret for the Jaguar. Jeff Minter, an English designer who had his own studio called Llamasoft, volunteered to take Tempest, since it was one of his favorite games. When he attended the console's launch party in late 1993, the creator of the Jaguar told Minter that he felt that Minter's game was a poor demonstration of the console's capabilities, and while Minter was dismayed at the response, he still pushed through & finished the game. The end result is Tempest 2000, a game that's perfect proof that, in the end, gameplay is key, because this game is absolutely outstanding.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: The Surprisingly (If Fitting) Perpetual Life of Chakan: The Forever Man in Print

In the early 1980's, aspiring comic book artist Robert A. Kraus founded his own studio, RAK Graphics. His first published comic would be Thundermace No. 1, which he co-created with his friend Rick Sellers, the latter of which would go on to become a voice actor, best known for still voicing "The General" from those "1-800-General" commercials for The General Insurance Company; I am not kidding. Found in that comic was a back-up story starring someone named "Chakan: The Forever Man", a mysterious swordsman that "looked like a cross of a zombie & Clint Eastwood" (Kraus' own words) who took on all manner of supernatural creatures with a dark tone, a stark difference from Thundermace's more hopeful swords & sorcery motif. Chakan (technically pronounced "Shay-khan") would continue as back-up stories over the years, slowly finding itself a small fanbase, and Kraus himself started to get an itch to give the character his own comic. So in July of 1990, Chakan: The Forever Man No. 1 came out, a black-&-white comic telling of how Chakan became the undying warrior he is, as well as what he thought would be his final battle.

What came next, though, was pure serendipity.

This actually isn't RAK's artwork, though based on an image he drew,
but the game's cover is easily the most iconic art for Chakan out there.

While attending Gen Con in Milwaulkee sometime in the late 80s, Sega of America producer Ed Annunziata (Ecco the Dolphin, Tiny Tank, Mort the Chicken) came across Kraus' booth & saw artwork for Chakan: The Forever Man, catching his interest & sparking conversation between the two. Due to the comic's darker tone, Annunziata felt that it fit well with Sega's older audience direction that it was going with for its new console, the Genesis (Mega Drive, around the world), and eventually an agreement was made for a Chakan video game to be produced for the system, as well as a similar-but-separate game for the handheld Game Gear, making this one of the earliest independently-owned comics to ever receive a video game adaptation, if not the first. The game, released at the end of 1992, has since become notorious for its unforgiving difficulty & infamous "ending", but has since received a cult following due to its unique & dark visual aesthetic, appropriately harsh music, & unforgiving difficulty; beyond two aborted attempts on both the Dreamcast & iOS, no other games were made. To most, that's the long & short of Chakan: The Forever Man... But like the "The Gray Slayer" himself, the truth goes on for far, far longer than you'd expect.

This is a general overview of Chakan: The Forever Man in its original printed form, that of the original comics & later the graphic novellas that have long since told his tales.