Oy! One of the most obnoxious and painfully untruthful TG-16 ads ever created disgraces this issue of TurboPlay. In my commentary, I will spend some time examining how truth, lies and hype (and pictograms!) intersect in the world of marketing. Now, this won't be an exhaustive study on the subject, but I hope it will illustrate that some games truly live up their hype, while others fall horribly short.
Table of Contents for TurboPlay #12
- 01 Cover: Cadash (1991, HuCard). Artist: Jim McDermott.
- Cover art: Intended to complement the Cadash strategy guide featured in this issue, this illustration seems as if it was recycled from a D&D publication. Artist: Jim McDermott.
- 02 Advertisement: Cosmic Fantasy 2 (1992, CD).
- "Beyond Reality. Beyond Imagination. Beyond Belief. An immense RPG only for the TurboGrafx-CD. Believe it."
- 03 Table of Contents for issue #12.
- "Don't hesitate—take a look below, then turn the page and enjoy."
- 04 TurboMail: Letters from our loyal readers.
- "The mailbox has overflowed again with hot TG-16 questions. Maybe they are questions you've been wanting to ask."
- 05 Advertisement: Ballistix, Gunboat, Night Creatures (1991, HuCard). 05 06 07
- "These games are so full of action, you may not be able to contain yourself."
- 08 TurboTips: Codes, Tips and Tricks.
- "This issue, our gurus of games have come up with hot codes for such challenging contests as Blazing Lazers, Champions Forever Boxing, Dungeon Explorer, Legendary Axe, World Court Tennis, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys."
- 09 Advertisement: TurboPlay Magazine Subscription.
- "Subscribe to TurboPlay Magazine! 6 bi-monthly issues for $9.95"
- 10 Coming Soon: Game Previews. 10 11 23
- "We've got it for you first: a listing of what TTi plans to bring to store shelves in the coming months. Plan out your TG-16 buying now: Ballistix, Beyond Shadowgate, Bonk's Thunder Shooting, Camp California, Cosmic Fantasy II, Darkwing Duck, Dead Moon, Double Dragon II, Dragon Slayer, F-1 Circus, Falcon, Gate of Thunder, Ghost Manor, Gunboat, It Came From the Desert, Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu, Legend of Hero Tonma, Lode Runner '92, Loom, Lords of the Rising Sun, Magical Chase, Neutopia II, New Adventure Island, Night Creatures, Ninja Warriors, Order of the Griffon, Pom Ping World, Prince of Persia, Shadow of the Beast, Shape Shifter, Sports Festival, Star Parody, Super Sagaia, Super Star Soldier II, TV Sports: Baseball, TV Sports Series (SuperCD Compilation) and Valis III."
- 12 Strategy Guide: Cadash (1991, HuCard). 12 13 14 15 16 17
- "If you're having a hard time defeating Baarogue, fear not, because we have full maps of what you'll be facing in Cadash and how to get it out of your way."
- 18 Games Around the World. 18 19 20 21
- "You can't get these in America, at least not without going to an import store. Are you missing anything from overseas?" Titles include: Browning, Dragon Saber, Efera & Jiliora: Emblem of Darkness, Lady Phantom, Monster Pro Wrestling, Psychic Storm, R-Type Complete CD, Tengai Mayou II (Ziria: Far East of Eden 2), and Time Cruise II.
- 22 Closer Look: TurboChip Game Reviews.
- "This time, we put the upcoming Gunboat through the wringer. See what comes out on the other side."
- 24 Strategy Guide: Raiden (1991, HuCard). 24 25 26 27 28 29
- "Finding some rough spots in Raiden? In the second of our strategy guides, we take you through the battlefield safely."
- 30 TurboPlay Contest: Previous Winners and New Contest. 30 31
- "We're having a special on pasta this month, but you'll also discover the next installment of our never-ending contest machine. Do you wanna win?"
- 32 Advertisement: TurboGrafx-16 + Bonk's Revenge.
- "…to put it simply, get TurboGrafx-16 for $99.99 and get Bonk's Revenge for free!"
ONE GAME THAT LIVES UP TO ITS HYPE
Well, actually, I don't know if it is possible for any game to live up to its hype. That said, I am sure we can all agree that some games are at least worthy of the praise they receive, even if some of the claims are somewhat exaggerated. Read the passage below (taken from the "Games Around the World" column in this issue) and witness the praise Victor Ireland heaps upon Tengai Makyou II…
"Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru (Ziria: Far East of Eden 2) - First things first: This long-awaited sequel to the number two rated RPG of all time for the PC Engine is set for release in March—it should be out as you read this—and it will set a new standard for animation scenes in home video games. Rumored to be the most expensive game ever made, it will also be the biggest, longest and most lavish.
The main character is once again Manji Maru. In the course of the game, you will cover over 20,000 screens of overhead maps, fight 300 types of enemies and 48 different boss characters, enjoy more than 90 minutes of incredible animation, listen to three hours of speech, hear 24 CD music tracks and over 80 different PSG (machine generated) music tracks. Fans of the original game will find nearly the same combat interface, as well as special commands that allow control over items and characters you encounter during the course of your quest. One of the unique innovations is that in one portion of the game you must explore a tower to finish a boss, then, after the boss is history, you discover that the tower is actually a transformer that changes into your flying transportation! This one's a good bet to show up in the U.S., so look for it."
Wow. The passage speaks for itself: Tengai Makyou II is presented as one of the greatest, most technically impressive RPG's ever created for a console (circa 1992). Would the actual game, once released, meet everyone's expectations?
As it turned out, Tengai Makyou II was indeed a phenomenal success in Japan—both critically and commercially—and is still considered one of the most memorable RPG's to appear on a console. It is cherished for being an incredibly fun, thoroughly engrossing game that is filled with truly unique scenarios and a cast of zany characters. Over the years, the game's groundbreaking technical feats have become less relevant, which further reinforces that Tengai Makyou II's prestige is based on the quality of its content and not its technical specs.
Needless to say, Tengai Makyou II was never localized for the North American market, although it was being considered. What a damn shame.
THREE GAMES THAT DON'T LIVE UP TO THEIR HYPE
The TurboGrafx-16 library has its fair share of less-than-mediocre games. This isn't anything to get upset by, of course, because all platforms have some stinkers. But how would you feel if a first-party publisher hyped a trio of duds as if they were the next big thing?
Welcome to April of 1992. Turbo Technologies, Inc. (TTi) had just been created out of the ashes of NEC Home Technologies in an effort to save the struggling TurboGafx-16 console. Unfortunately, TTi's inaugural marketing campaigns did little to inspire hope. If anything, these ads demoralized faithful fans even further. As you may recall, I said that "one of the most obnoxious and painfully untruthful TG-16 ads ever created disgraces this issue of TurboPlay." Well, folks, here it is. With great bravado, the ad boldly declares (it's part pictogram, hence "obnoxious"):
"We've just released three [games] with graphics so intense they go [kaboom!], incredible sound effects that are more like [an electric guitar] than [a violin], and enough action to make your [toes] curl. Or, to put it simply, these games will [blow] your [@#??!!] mind away."
If you haven't already viewed the page scan, try guessing the names of the three TG-16 games that promised to "blow away the minds" and "soil the diapers" of Turbo fans. No, seriously, take a moment to think about it. The games in question? Why Night Creatures, Ballistix and Gunboat, of course! Contrary to the hyperbole in the ad copy, these were some of TG-16's most lackluster titles. But you would never suspect as much from the advertisement:
"These games are so full of action, you may not be able to contain yourself."
To emphasize this point, the ad has a picture of a pacifier and a pair of diapers in the upper-left-hand corner. Get it? You might not be able to "contain yourself"…my apologies to TTi, but at the time, only Sega was capable of pulling-off brash, irreverent marketing of this sort. Oh sure, other companies tried to emulate Sega's marketing tactics, but their efforts invariably fell flat. But let's not get sidetracked by this minor point.
The real crime here is not that TTi resorted to making potty jokes. No, the real crime is that TTi had the audacity to claim that Night Creatures, Ballistix and Gunboat were solid, action-packed titles with intense graphics and incredible sound effects. It was insulting. It was sad. It was pathetic. Less than a month old, and TTi had already lost what little credibility it had.
TTi wouldn't redeem themselves until they had sufficiently demonstrated their commitment to the console. TTi was able to regain some credibility by: (1) releasing a steady stream of new software (though some of the titles were only marginally better than Ballistix, Night Creatures and company), (2) launching the TurboDuo in the fall of 1992, and (3) supporting the TurboDuo with some truly great games. In hindsight, we can see that TTi made a valiant and noble effort to keep the TG-16 and Duo alive in the States, despite their initial stumblings. And yet, even today, there is a piece of me that simply refuses to accept that TTi described Night Creatures, Ballistix and Gunboat as having "enough action to make your toes curl." Surely this was a joke. Had anyone in marketing actually seen these games (let along play them)? What were they thinking?
A FETISH FOR PICTOGRAPHY
For folks keeping tally, two of the three TTi ads in this issue featured pictograms. Mercifully, the second pictogram ad is not nearly as irritating as the first one. Now, some of you may think that I loathe pictograms. This is simply not true! I am not a hater of pictograms. In fact, some of my best friends are pictographers. Pictograms even have their place in the realm of advertising, since a well-designed pictogram will encourage folks to stop what they are doing and try to decipher the message the ad is trying to convey. This inherent "puzzle-solving" quality of pictograms engages readers—even readers who would otherwise avoid advertisements:
"For less than [$100] you can get [TurboGrafx-16]. And just to get you started, we'll throw in a [Bonk's Revenge TurboChip], which is a [$50] value that you can have for less than [a penny]."
You see, unlike the previous pictogram advertisement, this one doesn't insult your intelligence. It is straightforward and refrains from heaping praise upon questionable games. Another reason why this second ad is more successful is because it limited itself to a handful of pictograms. Employ more than three or four pictograms in a single ad and you risk losing your audience: the puzzle-solving becomes too laborious a task and readers develop the urge to flip the page. The first TTi ad had no less than eight pictograms. The second ad contained only four.
EPILOGUE: TTi's DARKEST HOUR, NEARLY
If you browse through issues of EGM, GamePro, etc. from this era, you'll discover that TTi ran pictogram ads for several months in all of the major multi-platform gaming magazines. In fact, they often ran two pictogram ads in the same issue, just as they did here with TurboPlay #12.
See? I wasn't exaggerating. Someone at TTi was infatuated with pictography. Was it the marketing team? Or was it someone in the upper echelons of the corporate structure? We may never know who was truly to blame for the campaign, but, thankfully, TTi soon abandoned their fetish for pictography and adopted less obnoxious marketing ploys.
Actually, now that I think about it, things could have been much worse. We should be grateful that TTi didn't use pictography to promote genuinely awesome games such as Lords of Thunder, Dungeon Explorer II, Valis III, etc. Associating even a single pictogram with any of these fine games would have been an insult to their good name. A disgrace. A travesty. Indeed, at the end of the day, we should be grateful that only Night Creatures, Gunboat and Ballistix were immortalized vis-à-vis pictograms. It was a fate the trio truly deserved.
PLEASE NOTE: This article was originally entitled "Harnessing the Power of Pictograms to Achieve Your Marketing Goals". The terms "pictogram" and / or "pictograph" were used 25 times in the article.
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