This is what next-gen graphics looked like in 1997 – and why such jumps are missing today

The 1997 video game year looks antiquated in many ways. It was a time when online games were still an absolute niche; a time when games were delivered completely finished, without DLCs and day-one patches. But it was also a time when the graphics of games actually made gigantic leaps from generation to generation.

Real 3D games in which players could move around freely were quite a sensation in 1997. The first Playstation was released in Europe in 1995, the Nintendo 64 has been available here since March 1997. With the launch title “Super Mario 64”, a game appeared for the first time that had a freely movable camera and could be controlled with an analog stick. In addition, it had breathtaking graphics for the time with incredible foresight. At the time, the graphic possibilities seemed almost infinite for the first time; the realism within reach.

A nostalgic magazine cover

The cover of a video game magazine from 1997 should be viewed in this context. This, too, has become an almost antiquated concept: print magazines in which video games are discussed are very rare today. The business has almost completely shifted to online editorial offices.

At that time, however, these magazines were still commonplace, aimed at fans of a certain platform or simply covered all video games from PC to Playstation and Nintendo that came on the market at the time. One such magazine was Next Generation, which first appeared in January 1995 and was discontinued in January 2002.

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A cover of this magazine has been making the rounds for some time, because it reflects the mood in the video game industry at the time. In addition to the question of what should come after “Super Mario 64”, there is a big topic: “Unreal”. Back then, the word didn’t mean the engines used to make video games work. No, “Unreal” was the epitome of next-gen graphics back then as a game.

A screenshot of the game is shown on the cover – with the incredulous addition: “Yes, this is really a screenshot of a PC game”. You can see a chunky figure with square feet and lumpy hands. But, dear readers, we only see it that way from the present day. The screenshot may seem ridiculous today – it caused astonishment back then. This issue of the Next Generation thus also stands for a phenomenon that hardly exists today.

Today these jumps are missing

The jump from Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64 was gigantic. Every new graphics card for the PC meant unexpected leaps in graphics back then. This went hand in hand with completely new game concepts: freely accessible 3D surroundings, day and night changes, ever-growing worlds. It is therefore not surprising that today’s gamers often complain that there is not much that is new in video games. In the meantime we are graphically at a level where there are certainly still improvements in nuances, but by no means such jumps.

And the gameplay rarely brings radical innovations – first-person shooters, 3D adventures or platformer are simply played through. Really new experiences bring VR and AR worlds or processes that are advanced by artificial intelligence. Of course, that’s not as visible as a magazine cover from 1997. So let’s wallow in the comforting nostalgia for a little longer.

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