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Turok: How A Comic Book Character Helped Redefine Video Gaming [Part 1]


Crazy Luigi

On March 16, 2017, news involving Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was announced that it had finally been confirmed for re-release at long last on PC platforms like Steam, GOG.com, and the Humble Store. The new release for Turok 2 sought to remaster some of the games levels from before and properly modify them for PC gamers for those that wanted to play the franchise again. Before that point, though, there was a previous game from said franchise that was also re-released on PC via digital servers like Steam on December 15, 2015. That game was none other than the original Turok game for the Nintendo 64 (and not that attempt to remaster the franchise for a more “modern appeal”), Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Now for plenty of video gamers at the time, it was the most kickass console game you could ever have back in the day, as it was the first FPS game released for the console (released at the end of February 1997, over a month before Doom 64 tried to make its case for console gamers), and for a series that originated in comic book form, it really made quite a case for Acclaim to be its savior.

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Well, the boxart doesn't lie here... save for the design of Turok himself.

Yes, believe it or not, before being more known as a video game franchise that sadly came and went before its time, Turok was originally known as a comic book franchise that began during what was known as either the Golden Age or Silver Age of comic books. The reason why the confusion came about is that Turok’s character first came to existence around 1954 or 1955 for the now-defunct Four Color Comics, which would fit around the end of the Golden Age era, but his actual series debut came out via Dell Comics (and after a certain point, Gold Key Comics) at around 1956, which was considered the time the Silver Age era began. Regardless of what the case may be, Turok finally made his debut in comic book form… under the name Turok, Son of Stone. Believe it or not, the story of Turok’s origins before being turned into video game form is just as interesting as some of the changes that would go on afterwards. For now, though, all you need to know for Turok, Son of Stone is that it involves Mandan Native American brothers named Turok and Andar finding themselves inside what’s known as the Lost Valley (which is apparently in Carlsbad, New Mexico) because they were originally searching for drinking water. Quite a far cry from what the series would eventually become over the years, huh?

Anyways, once Turok and Andar find themselves inside the Lost Valley, that’s where the setting starts to shine on itself. Within the Lost Valley, the two natives discover the many fascinating creatures from prehistoric eras are still alive and kicking. Those aforementioned creatures are not all friendly to the two brothers, though. In fact, many of them view Turok and his brother as prey that they would be more than happy to have as their next meals. Throughout this original Turok series, he and his brother have to watch out for many different dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts that lie within the Lost Valley (with the Mandan natives having their own little ways of describing what each creature is like in admittedly very primitive sounding aspects), trying to survive as hunters (or at least Turok being the main hunter) against many beasts that could crush or eat the human beings. I haven’t read any of Turok’s comics myself, but there clearly was some sort of audience for Turok if it managed to survive from the 1950’s all the way until the 1980’s, with it only being that way because of Gold Key Comics going out of business.

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Wait, when did King Kong get into the picture?!

After the closure of Gold Key Comics, the Turok franchise went under a pretty strange limbo. Not only were Dell Comics (the original holders of Turok) defunct by the 1970’s (hence the mention of Gold Key Comics), but Mattel (the eventual owners of some of Gold Key’s products) didn’t appear to hold any sort of genuine interest in continuing the series themselves. In fact, that kind of attitude continued well throughout the rest of the 1980’s and early 1990’s before a guy named Jim Shooter (best known for having a very successful, albeit controversial tenure being the editor-in-chief for Marvel and some of his work in DC Comics) wound up acquiring the rights to Turok alongside a couple other Gold Key properties. The main honcho of a recently birthed Valiant Comics somehow managed to acquire the rights to Turok back in 1992 (with a revamped version of him appearing in a Magnus: Robot Fighter comic, oddly enough), and the series was renamed to what’s more commonly known as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. In this revamped version of Turok, the series managed to provide a mixture of both minor changes (both Turok (or more properly known here, Tal’Set) and Andar are Saquin warriors from the 1800’s instead of Mandan natives from before Christopher Columbus “discovered America,” the Lost Valley of prehistoric creatures became the more commonly referred to Lost Lands with humans, dinosaurs, cyborgs, and even demons and aliens all coexisting in a place with time holding no meaning whatsoever) and major changes (Turok’s story now holds an evil villain named the Mothergod that makes dinosaurs become intelligent as “bionisaurs;” modern-day and even some futuristic weapons are held by Turok alongside a signature bow and arrow; other enemies like the Campaigner, the Longhunter, and a bionisaur named Mon-Ark are also introduced) that helped the series grow during the 1990’s. That success for Turok combined with the promise of Valiant Comics’ properties at the time helped lead to Acclaim Entertainment gaining rights to publish video games for Valiant’s characters (and later on owning Valiant and renaming them to Acclaim Comics), with its recently purchased Iguana Entertainment providing proper development for the Turok: Dinosaur Hunter series in particular.

I’m not going to lie when I say that the people involved with developing the Turok: Dinosaur Hunter video game were facing some rather big risks with this game. Both Acclaim and Iguana Entertainment wanted to focus on action for the series, but action games before that point in time were considered to be more side-scrolling games that primarily consisted of shooting on consoles like the SNES and Sega Genesis. Not only that, but development for 3D environments for a console like the Nintendo 64 was still considerably new for plenty of video game developers at the time, let alone Acclaim and Iguana. They even originally had the idea of having Turok play as a third person (shooting) game similar to Tomb Raider before it even existed, but wound up going for a first person shooter game instead. The first person shooter genre previously held major success on multiple PC platforms with games like Wolfenstein 3D and the original Doom, but had not performed quite as well on other consoles that were deemed inferior at the time. Acclaim in particular felt pressure from this title succeeding above all others for Nintendo’s upcoming console due to them facing major financial struggles at the time, to the point where they were even hoping to get promotion from Magic: The Gathering of all places and have Turok’s first video game be out by the holiday season for 1996. While Acclaim hadn’t met the holiday season goal, it did manage to put Turok: Dinosaur Hunter out for release before anything else like Doom 64 or Goldeneye 007 could step in on its turf and take all the credit away from them. And to their credit, it certainly felt like nothing gamers at the time had ever seen before!

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"I AM TUROK!!!"

Right out of the gate, the game lets you know that it’s nothing like what you would have experienced beforehand, even if you’re a PC gamer. Not only would you have to learn how the Nintendo 64 controller worked for this particular game (remember, not too many games were released for the console back in early 1997, and none of them were first person shooters beforehand), but you also had to learn how to properly move, shoot, swim, and do other complex things like manage weapons and ammunition, climb up walls, pull up a grid map on screen (because you will wind up using it at some point sooner or later) and even strafe. Now this may sound like complaining on the surface, but consider the fact that most video gamers were either children (like myself back in the day) or teenagers; finding adults who were actually video gamers were rather rare, and even they still would have had to learn the mechanics of the Nintendo 64’s admittedly weirdly designed controller properly. Once everything was taken care of properly on the player’s end, said player would discover an action game that not only had the makings of an adventure only a warrior could have experienced, but also a genre that showcased a lot of untapped potential that only Turok at the time unleashed. Not a bad outcome for a game that had an inexperienced project manager at hand.

In Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, you play as Tal’Set, better known as Turok, exploring the multiple areas within the Lost Land and finding keys for each level along the way. As Turok explores the levels further and further, more enemies and weapons show up to help expand the game to something more than what it is. At the beginning, you get to use a simple bow and arrow (known better as the Tek bow in this game) with a knife as your first weapons while you get to hunt humans, dinosaurs, and beastly creatures known as Pur-Lins; not to mention collect key pieces (which are more like stones and pieces of jewelry than actual keys) and Life Force Triangles to gain extra lives. By the time you reach “The Final Confrontation,” though, you get to fight against more complex enemies like the alien infantry, demon lords, giant attack robots, and even dinosaurs with heavy weapons attached to them (just to make sure they try and keep up with the “Dinosaur Hunter” subtitle). Luckily, the further you go on, the more your weaponry expands from things like the usual handgun and shotgun to nice, futuristic weapons like the pulse rifle and particle accelerator alongside more heavy weaponry like the minigun and grenade launcher. By the end, you wind up having quite an extensive weapon lineup (at least in terms of games released back in 1997), with the most powerful weapons of the game pretty much being the quad rocket launcher, a fusion cannon, and the Chronoscepter… provided you managed to find the weapon parts for it in each level, of course.

In case you couldn’t figure it out earlier on, besides acting like a hunter, part of the appeal of Turok has to relate to the exploration that goes on in the entire game. With the way the maps for Turok: Dinosaur Hunter in particular work, it lets you make your own choices on how you want to handle going through each level bit by bit, as well as finding out what secrets each area entails for you. For example, during the opening moments of level 1, there’s a special point in the level that allows you to climb a certain wall. That particular area allows you to get yourself an automatic shotgun even before you get the normal shotgun in your inventory, meaning you could theoretically go through the entire game without ever once touching that particular gun since you already have the upgraded shotgun in your inventory. Furthermore, there are these blue portals that I personally like calling the “trial portals” that can (more often than not) help you out on your journey, as these portals take you to strange, blue dimensions (might be spiritual?) which hold ammunition and/or health, as well as some decent challenges with platforming, dodging, attacking, and swimming. Believe me, those places can be quite the lifesavers for you if you’re feeling low on either health or ammunition. Besides those examples and finding out where each piece of the Chronoscepter (a.k.a., the ultimate weapon of the game) is at, it’s really one of those cases where it’s the journey within the Lost Land that explains it better than words ultimately can.

Another aspect that I personally adore with this game is the music. Oh boy, does this music kick so much ass! While most video game music from the late 1990’s focused on either cheerful sounds or more hard rock/heavy metal music (with an occasional soundtrack revolving around atmosphere like Goldeneye 007 or Perfect Dark), composer Darren Mitchell decides to go into a more unique direction with itself. For Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the soundtrack revolves more onto the tribal aspects fitting for a Native American explorer. It’s very rare that other melodic sounding instruments are there to add onto its compositions, but those moments don’t hurt the sounds needed there. In fact, some of those sounds almost enhance some of the more atmospheric, intense moments with the game, including the songs for the boss battles. I know I haven’t a heard a soundtrack like that before in a video game, and I’ve honestly rarely heard anything else like it since then. So I think it’s fair to say this game has a one of a kind soundtrack that’s just as blood pumping as any orchestral or rock and roll game in the modern day era would be.

Of course, not everything about the game works directly in its favor. For starters, the story involved with the game is nearly nonexistent. Oh sure, there are bosses that try and kill Turok through either their size and/or power (and in some cases, external weapons like Humvees), but besides a single line from the first boss and a single line from the last boss, there’s nothing within the game that really explains why anything in the game is even happening in the first place. Hell, even that first line doesn’t amount to much of anything, as all the boss said there was “'Ey!” before he brings out the Humvees to try and kill you! I know that project manager David Dienstbier wanted to have the game focus primarily more on action over any kind of story that Turok had, but a part of me thinks Acclaim and Iguana Entertainment were a bit carried away with it inside the game as a whole. It certainly didn’t help that any actual story driven elements that were found for the game went into other things like comic books, strategy guides, or even Nintendo Power issues as opposed to finding them within the game itself! In fact, a part of me does think the non-story that Turok: Dinosaur Hunter had inside the game kind of hurt the story the sequel had when that was released, but that’s a topic for another day.

One other problem I personally had to go with it was the fact that a few of the puzzles left me stumped for a lot longer than they should have. Granted, most of the puzzles and secrets that the game has usually are done quite cleverly, to the point where they even managed to make first person platforming appear to be fun in those moments. However, some levels managed to hold areas that were very tricky to figure out, to the point where I had trouble progressing through the game at a couple of moments because of how I didn’t know what to do in those moments, including where to find the last key piece to unlock the last level at one point. While you can use places like YouTube or GameFAQs nowadays to help you out in troublesome places where the branching levels feel a bit too branched out as a newcomer, back when the game was first released, if you were lost in terms of finding something or trying to progress through a level, you might be considered shit out of luck if you were on your own. Beyond those faults, though, any other complaints like fog, using save stations to save your progress, or even making the Chronoscepter be the easy way out against the otherwise pretty challenging final boss really feels minor or trivial by comparison. Honestly, if I were doing a normal video game review, I’d just provide a paragraph of fluff, give out a score like a 9/10 to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (for the Night Dive remaster; probably an 8.5/10 for the original Nintendo 64 version), and leave it at that. Yet in this case, I feel like I should give out all that I can to showcase the kind of impact it had over the future of not just the Nintendo 64, but also for all of video gaming right now.

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Notice something familiar there?

When it comes to impacts for both comic books and video games, Turok always feels like it manages to be more subtle about it than most people would give it credit for otherwise. In the case of the video gaming world, I feel the impact is more everlasting than the comics ever would be. For starters, it managed to be the first ever first person shooter to hold not just its environments, but everything within the game into 3D graphics. As a reference point, most first person shooters like the original Doom and Quake had to rely on not just levels, but other things like weapons and enemies fitting in a 2.5D spectrum (meaning even though they act like 3D models, they hold more of a 2D kind of behavior), with Quake originally trying to be the first game of its kind to become fully 3D. While Quake did eventually get to having everything fully rendered in 3D properly with its sequel, Quake II was ultimately behind Turok: Dinosaur Hunter by over nine months in terms of release dates, with Turok primarily being for the Nintendo 64 only at the time (and not for PC as well). In fact, Turok can be considered a pioneer for the first person shooter genre for not just introducing elements like real-time lighting effects and particle systems, but also expanding how levels could be done for the genre as a whole. With this game, it truly told gamers that you didn’t have to be locked in a closed corridor like Doom to have fun; you could go into more expansive places like jungles or cities or even ancient ruins to explore the majesty they can hold in them.

Another new thing that Turok did before most other developers would go on and do the same themselves for games like Uncharted was provide motion capture for enemies like humans and dinosaurs alike. Granted while Turok wasn’t exactly the first game to use that technology (thank Virtua Fighter 2 for that bit), it was one of the first to use Acclaim’s very own custom, state-of-the-art motion capture studio to help make believable movements from not just human enemies, but also animals like a raptor or a gigantic praying mantis come to life. A crafty solution that was made for the dinosaurs in the game resulted in them using animals like emus or ostriches as references to figure out how they would first move before coming up with the ways the dinosaurs would attack properly. Regular humans, on the other hand, would be done just by using a stuntman to act out how a human would shoot things like plasma rifles or magic scepters and go from there. The help from Acclaim made the problems that Iguana Entertainment was first facing become alleviated since they didn’t have the resources or time to complete a game like Turok properly otherwise.

I could mention some other things like how it proved to Nintendo and other console developers that M-rated first person shooters can succeed just as well there as they would for PC (regardless of price) or the creativity from the series that I have rarely seen in other games within its genre, but that’d just be hammering home the point for too long now. Instead, I wanted to leave you with this particular note in mind. After the success of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (but before its sequel was released), one of the game’s producers and founder of Iguana Entertainment, Jeff Spangenberg, helped create an alliance with Nintendo to create a new company to help produce video games for an up-and-coming console for older audiences. That company would become the fabled Retro Studios, best known for helping out with the original Metroid Prime trilogy, the revamped Donkey Kong Country series, and even developing Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo. Yeah… without the help of Turok, we not only wouldn’t have had some of the best first person shooter games in video gaming history, but we also probably wouldn’t have the fantastic revivals of franchises like Donkey Kong Country and Metroid Prime. In fact, I honestly wouldn’t think of saying it’s a disservice for Turok’s spiritual successor to be the Metroid Prime series, especially since some of the original workers from the Turok series back at Acclaim would find themselves working on the Metroid Prime games at Retro Studios all those years later. I should also note that Jeff would also find another company named Topheavy Studios, who wound up creating The Guy Game, but hey, not everything innovative can come back 100% positive on the world.

With the history of Turok, I find it quite sad that its video game series feels like it’s been swept under the rug after all the work the franchise first did for the video gaming industry. While Turok is still alive and kicking in comic book format thanks to the likes of Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Comics (even having a new series released in August this year), I can’t quite say the same thing for the video game series after the failed 2008 reboot done by Propaganda Games, Touchstone, and Disney. That’s why I say if you haven’t had the chance to do so, please get Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and its sequel on Steam (or whatever you like using for PC games) as soon as you can! While the original game may not look the best around anymore, I can tell you first hand that the game plays even better now than it did back in 1997, and the way things work there are still practical to go through now as they were back then. Not only that, but by supporting these games, it can help send a message that Turok is still a relevant video game franchise that needs the right developers like Night Dive Studios to succeed moving forward. While I don’t know who exactly would hold the video gaming rights for Turok right now, if it’s indeed Night Dive Studios, I would be absolutely glad to have their expertise on board to make the series work again! If those same rights holders can also get David Dienstbier to join in for a bit of creative flair moving forward, that would also be a nice bonus for the franchise too.

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MAZZ0Murder

Posted

Well I never got the chance to play the game. And heck, I sure didn't know it was based on a comic book. Does sound like a fun one though! :D

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Countsmegula

Posted

Well, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the second game, but mostly the 2006 reboot most of all because I'd like to see what you think of yet another reboot that ruined a once excellent series of games and killed the chance of any sequels in the future.

Seriously though Turok on N64 is great and the reboot is still trash.

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Crazy Luigi

Posted

8 hours ago, Countsmegula said:

Well, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the second game, but mostly the 2006 reboot most of all because I'd like to see what you think of yet another reboot that ruined a once excellent series of games and killed the chance of any sequels in the future.

Seriously though Turok on N64 is great and the reboot is still trash.

Well, unfortunately, I haven't played any of the games after the second one. Maybe it's a good thing, considering that Turok apparently went on a downward spiral after the second game, with that reboot being the last straw. Anyways, I mainly wrote this to give Turok his fair due as a video game character and series, as well as help people understand a few more things about his comic book series. Maybe if Night Dive Studios does complete the Turok Nintendo 64 games on Steam, I can finish it all up after I finish writing about the second game.

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trepmaws

Posted

If I may offer my own thoughts on this game...

Turok was one of three games my parents originally got for our freshly-purchased N64 when I was a kid (the other two being Doom 64 and a Mortal Kombat 4 knock-off called War Gods...yeah, my parents were cool like that). Grew up not knowing a damn thing about the story in this game. Simply learning it was based on a comic book series explained far more about what was going on than the game itself ever did, heh. Still, going in blind made for a fascinating experience, as I never knew what the game was gonna throw at me next. I expected dinosaurs given the title, and could have reasonably expected enemy humans armed with fancy weapons of their own, but aliens? Demons? Robots? Some super-powerful magician at the top of a cyber-fortress? And then everything blows up and it's GAME OVER?

It was a trip, I tell ya.

Gameplay-wise it's got all the hallmarks of the time --- weird console shooter controls (its default inverted y-axis on aiming is why I still invert such controls to this day), crazy-thick fog everywhere to hide the N64's limited draw distance, restricted number of lives and save points, platforming sections that will no doubt eat through said lives, and speaking of a 3D N64 game with platforming, we even got collectathon elements with the keys, triangles, powerups and Chronoscepter pieces. Any game released today with these elements would be considered kind of a mess, but hey, we all have our awkward phases growing up that are nonetheless important to our development. The FPS genre is no different, and Turok was part of that phase. And it doesn't change how interesting the exploration element is, nor does it make blowing up enemies and watching them fly off a cliff screaming any less entertaining. And speaking of blowing things up, they got it right with the weapons; all the wacky variety you would expect of a 90's shooter, from mundane-but-effective (the automatic shotgun and assault rifle being staples of this category) to flashy and strange (the alien weapon and particle accelerator being highlights here) to world-ending nukes (the fusion cannon, and the Chronoscepter if you can assemble it). The sound and feel given to them provides just the right amount of punch when shot, and the enemies for their part react accordingly. To paraphrase Yahtzee for a moment when he was talking about Rage, this isn't like Half-Life where defeated enemies just fall down or ragdoll when you put the required amount of hurt on them. Human enemies can get flipped off their feet in somewhat comical fashion, trip over themselves if hit while charging at you, and some bleed out from their wounds in a graphic-for-the-time way before biting it. Aliens will go down still shooting, or a well-placed shot will damage their equipment, leaving them a few seconds to come to terms with their predicament before it explodes. Mounted triceratopseseses will roll over and crush their rider, the list goes on. Oh, and did I mention nearly everything can be sent flying by explosives? Had hours of fun as a kid turning on the all weapons/unlimited ammo cheats and doing that. It's details that didn't have to be included, but certainly add a lot to the carnage. Add to this the fact that (at least in the higher difficulties of the remaster, can't remember if this was also a thing in the original) enemies will respawn after a while, meaning (unlike when you get lost in, say, Doom) the tension rarely lets up while exploring, especially in places like level 3 where you'll have enemies shooting and running at you from everywhere.

Does everything about the game hold up as well today as Doom or Half-Life do? Nah, it's got a lot of archaic bits that would make anyone acquainted with modern shooters groan and/or scratch their head, and I wouldn't blame them. Is it still an interesting piece of FPS history that can provide a good deal of fun despite the problems? You bet. Just go with the Night Dive remaster on Steam if you can, you'll appreciate having the improved controls and other features.

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