You're familiar with the cliche "Hindsight is 20/20" right? Of course you are, that's why it's a cliche. But that doesn't mean that we can't have some fun with it anyway. So to get this party started, I'm going to pick on Flux Magazine for a little while.
Flux was a magazine from the mid-90s devoted to comic books, music and video games. It didn't last for very long (a mere 7 issues) but it attempted to brand itself as the more "mature" alternative to EGM and the like. What this meant in theory was that it was for older readers. In practice, it just meant they showed more pictures of scantily-clad women and occasionally dropped a four-letter word or two between the covers. Not hard to see why they folded.
In any case, I just got myself a copy of issue #4 and when I opened it up to the very first page, I had to suppress the urge to snort Mountain Dew out my nose at the editorial. Now again, I remind everybody, this was written in 1995 right on the cusp of the transition from the 16-bit to the 32-bit era and nobody had any idea how it was going to turn out. With that in mind, here are the editorial predictions for a few of our favorite systems:
3DO: First out of the gate with a 32-bit machine and therefore leading the pack. With about 150 software titles and a half-mil users worldwide, they've got a good head start. The M2 accelerator will give this machine true 64-bit muscle later this year, and DOOM and Myst are on the way. The price is finally reasonable, but knock off yet another $100, and we're talkin' a killer system well worth the dough.
I'll pause while you stop laughing. As we all know, the 3DO failed in every market it tried to penetrate. While the launch price of this behemoth was $700 at the start, by the time the above quote appeared, it was down to $500. The M2 never materialized, DOOM wound up being an abysmal port, Myst didn't look any better than it did on your computer, and about a year after Flux predicted a $100 price drop would make it THE 32-bit system to own, bar none, Panasonic quietly folded 3DO and wound up restructuring the company as a whole to make up for the financial beating they took on their game console that wasn't a game console. The only thing this system killed was its own parents. Ouch!
VIRTUAL BOY: Ow! My eyes! My EYES!
OK, so they got that one right, but that's like hunting cows with shotguns--pretty hard to miss no matter how far away you are. Another one?
SONY PLAYSTATION: The industry's been buzzing about the PS since its announcement, but the public is only now catching on to the system's potential. Japanese sales are strong, the, uh, two games that we've seen look great, and rumors of MKIII being available in time for the machine's rollout seem to be gaining credibility. Then again, so do the rumors of a $450 price tag. And that controller...why not a standard D-pad instead of four individual buttons? So much for games that require diagonal or quarter-circle moves (SFII, cough cough)...
I just...wow... Yeah. Clearly written by somebody who never got the chance to actually hold a PS controller, as they would have realized it was a standard D-pad, just with the diagonals recessed under the casing to make it easier on the thumbs. I can't be positive, but at this point I imagine the two games they would have been looking at were Ridge Racer and Battle Arena Toshinden (which were very good looking games at the time). The US release included more than a dozen titles, many of which went on to become system staples or killer apps (in addition to the two above, there was also Wipeout, Destruction Derby, Doom, Mortal Kombat 3, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, Warhawk, Twisted Metal, Ace Combat, Tekken and Myst just to name the breakout hits), and the price tag was $299, a far cry from the $450 one guestimated by Flux. And, just to spite them, there were any number of successful fighting games released for the "system without a D-pad".
SEGA SATURN: A few overhauls later, the Saturn finally looks good to appear in the States by the end of the summer. It's a minor hit in Japan, fueled mostly by Virtua Fighter, but Sega CEO Tom Kalinske says it won't come to American soil until they figure out how to make it run Genesis and 32X software. Other sources at Sega say that's impossible--it was never part of the plan and it's too late to change it now. If they can get their bass-ackwards compatibility problem taken care of, they stand a good chance of keeping the bulk of Sonic fans on board--even with a $400+ price tag. Otherwise, a lot of Genesis gamers are gonna jump ship.
To be fair, the inaccuracy of the launch date isn't Flux's fault, as Sega maintained a September release date for the Saturn up until the infamous May E3 speech where Kalinske surprised everybody by saying that you could get it "today" at select retailers. There never was a backwards compatibility problem with the Saturn since nobody expected it to happen anyway. Unfortunately, the price tag combined with the presence of the 32X and the impending release of the Playstation worked together to bite Sega in the posterior. Kalinske left Sega in 1996, and by 1997 the Saturn was no more as focus turned to developing the Dreamcast. Sadly, a lot of Genesis gamers did jump ship.
NINTENDO ULTRA 64: A true 64-bit machine promising unbelievable graphics at an unbelievably low price. Yeah, right. Nintendo does have the financial power to get this on the market for the promised $250, but expect to pay through the nose for the software. Insiders say Killer Instinct will be even better at home thanks to an advanced chip set, which has gamers treating Ultra like its the only system out there--even though it's not out there yet. Show us a freakin' prototype already--not protohype!
Just a reminder, but this was written over a year before the system launched (hence the reason they were still calling it the Ultra 64) and reliable information was hard to come by. No matter though, we still see mistakes. For one thing, Nintendo did deliver on the "great graphics at a low price" promise: the N64 launched in the US with a $199 price point (but they were right about the software being expensive at $60 vs. $40 or $50 for Saturn or Playstation titles). Also, an arcade port of Killer Instinct never materialized on the N64 (despite promises in the arcade game's attract mode that it was coming). Killer Instinct Gold was a port of KI2 that added some features (team battle, anyone?) and dropped some others (most notably the alternate endings that were possible for the various characters). False advertising? Only your hairdresser knows for sure...
So what we learn in the end isn't that the editors of Flux were idiots, they just didn't have access to a time machine and were predicting as best they could. Some of their predictions were spot-on (especially the 32X one which basically says that by the time Sega gets the 32X up to snuff there won't be anyone left to care), but most of them missed the bullseye by a ring or two. And that's OK; they're human.
Doesn't mean we can't look back and laugh at them though.