Bubsy 3D

Introduction

Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind allowed the title character to become Accolade’s mascot, being one most successful Western console games of 1993. Despite the game’s success, series creator Michael Berlyn left the team shortly after its release. Despite this, Accolade wished to keep their character’s success going, and commissioned a sequel. However, because Accolade nearly went bankrupt developing Bubsy, this new team had nothing but contempt for Mr. Berlyn’s character. They made it clear in interviews they were forced to make a follow-up and didn’t care about its quality. This apathetic team ended up making two games: Bubsy II and Bubsy: Fractured Furry Tales. Both debuted in 1994; the former on many of the same platforms as the original and the latter on the ill-fated Atari Jaguar. The little amount of care that went into these works was evident. While Bubsy II made marginal improvements to the gameplay, Fractured Furry Tales proceeded to mimic the original. Not surprisingly, Bubsy II ended up receiving more acclaim from critics.

Mr. Berlyn made it no secret that he hated both games, as he was not involved in their creation. Fortunately for him, he was about to get a chance to make a triumphant return. The second and third installments of the Bubsy series did not fare well commercially. Therefore, Accolade approached Mr. Berlyn to develop a new installment in their rapidly sinking franchise. He agreed to their terms under one condition: the new game was not to be a retread of the original. Moreover, he sought to set his sights higher by doing something the gaming world, by and large, had never seen before. His team was to explore uncharted territory by making this new installment a platforming game with a fully three-dimensional presentation. The amount of ambition that went into this game was truly remarkable. Characters models would be composed of flat, shaded polygons, it was to feature cutscenes animated by hand, and Mr. Berlyn intended to give Bubsy a true voice.

Satisfied with how the game was turning out, Mr. Berlyn attended the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 1996 in order to demonstrate the beta of their work – aptly named Bubsy 3D. While he likely intended to make waves, little did he know that he was about to receive a brutal wake-up call.

As early as 1991, Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo had been playing around with the idea of a three-dimensional game starring his company’s own mascot, Mario. A mere five years later, he and his team were bringing this vision into reality in the form of a game named Super Mario 64. Mr. Berlyn realized after seeing its beta that his own game was vastly inferior to Nintendo’s offering. Indeed, Nintendo had stopped at nothing to ensure Super Mario 64 was as polished as they could make it, and delayed the game’s console, the Nintendo 64, to June of 1996. This was a luxury Accolade didn’t have. To make matters worse, another developer named Naughty Dog was about to enter the console business by having their own 3D platformer, Crash Bandicoot, debut on the PlayStation. This would ensure direct competition between it and Bubsy 3D.

Mr. Berlyn, realizing he couldn’t take what he learned from watching the Super Mario 64 demonstration, vowed to use the little remaining time to make Bubsy 3D as good as possible. The game was released in November of 1996 – five months after the domestic release of Super Mario 64. Despite being seen as an overall worse effort than Super Mario 64, Bubsy 3D managed to receive mixed reviews, earning acclaim from sources such as GameFan, GameZilla, and derision from others, including Next Generation and Electronic Gaming Monthly. Despite this, PSExtreme was particularly enthusiastic about the game, giving it 93% and their “Gold X Award”. The reviewer in question compared it to a Warner Brothers cartoon. Against the truly fearsome Nintendo, how has Mr. Berlyn’s effort fared in hindsight?

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Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

Introduction

Video game designer Michael Berlyn got his start in the industry as an implementer working for Polarware. The first game of note he worked on was a piece of interactive fiction entitled Oo-Topos. Released in 1981, it was well-received among PC gamers, and he would continue his work on other adventure titles with Polarware before joining Infocom in 1983. Around this time, a company named Accolade was founded in San Jose, California by Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. They saw their revenues increase with each passing year after releasing several acclaimed games for Amiga, Apple II, and the PC, including Test Drive, HardBall!, Law of the West, and Psi-5 Trading Company. Mr. Berlyn would join this company by 1990, and the first game he designed for them was Altered Destiny. However, it received a fairly lukewarm response, generally passed over in favor of Sierra’s output.

Shortly after this project saw completion, he became burned out on the adventure game genre and wanted to try something new. The answer came in the form of a game Sega had released in June of 1991 in order to compete with Nintendo: Sonic the Hedgehog. With Nintendo having dominated the console gaming industry for the entire third generation, Sega proved a formidable opponent. Sonic the Hedgehog was the embodiment of the era’s zeitgeist. He had a hip attitude and his gameplay was lightning fast compared to the slow, ostensibly out-of-touch Mario. Mr. Berlyn was so impressed with Sega’s game that he ended up playing it fourteen hours a day for a whole week. Already, he was figuring out how he could implement his own take on this game. Within the next few years, Accolade had created the lead character for Mr. Berlyn’s vision: a bobcat named Bubsy.

The game, named Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, was to be released for both the Sega Genesis and Super NES in 1993. Accolade stopped at nothing to extensively promote their game. Director John Skeel sought to create a game as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, yet as deep as Super Mario Bros. It would be easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. He was even intended to be voiced in the game proper. His catchphrase “What could possibly go wrong?” was derived from a quip courtesy of the development team. They even commissioned a pilot for an animated series that aired later in the year, though the show was never picked up for any further episodes.

Nonetheless, as a result of Accolade’s marketing campaign, anticipation for Bubsy reached a fever pitch. The character even won a “Most Hype for a Character of 1993” award in the publication Electronic Gaming Monthly. When Bubsy was released, it received positive reviews from nearly every review outlet at the time. Though not as popular as Sonic the Hedgehog, critics enjoyed the level design, graphics, and the sheer amount of personality possessed by the title character. It was especially enjoyed by those who had a Super NES, as for it would be the closest they could get to playing Sonic the Hedgehog themselves without a Sega Genesis. In an era that saw no shortage of quality 2D platformers, does Bubsy stand to this day as a pinnacle of the genre?

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