A brief video history of PC side-scrollers
If you grew up playing games in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you remember that Mario dominated the discussion on playgrounds and after school. By some estimates, Nintendo controlled up to 90% of the home console market, and it’s no wonder that this dominance affected other sectors of the game industry. It took longer than you might think to offer Mario style-experiences on home computers at the time though, primarily because they were never intended to scroll action as smoothly as the NES did.
3D Realms was one of the earliest companies around to try and create side scrolling platformers on personal computers, and they’ve released a new video that talks to some of the pioneers of PC gaming, and how they were playing catch up with the consoles of the day. It’s interesting to look back on a time when PCs were unquestionably the inferior gaming machine and see how much has changed.
Back then, PC gamers had few options, but could usually try a game out before buying it by sharing disks or connecting to Bulletin Board Services (BBS) and downloading the shareware versions of games created by 3D Realms, Apogee, and Epic Megagames. The video interviews industry notables like Cliff Bleszinski, John Romero, and Tom Hall, and each of them tells a bit about what they were thinking when they were working on games like Jazz Jackrabbit, Duke Nukem, and Commander Keen.
Without Commander Keen, PC gaming may have taken a much different path. It was a PC version of Super Mario Bros. 3 programmed by Romero and John Carmack that brought them to the attention of Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software. Commander Keen was Apogee’s breakout title, and Romero and Hall’s work on the series led to the licencing Id Software made its fortune on.
I learned a few things from the video, apart from the fact that John Romero has a fabulous black manicure. In discussing Commander Keen, he mentioned how they wanted to take the lessons they’d learned from playing Mario, but apply them to a game with more vertical space, in which scrolling in all directions was necessary. Ironically, it was Romero and Carmack’s later creation, Doom, that ended up wiping out platforming games on the PC for many years.
Bleszinski points out that modern games tend to be more thoughtful and “emo” than games 20 years ago, which featured wisecracking main characters. The video ends by bringing up the recent resurgence of platform games on the PC, with titles like Shovel Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Inside all launching more or less simultaneously with their console versions.