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The History of Panzer Dragoon

April 16, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 8 Next
 

The Beginning

Panzer Dragoon Saturn Cover The early days of the Saturn were dark indeed. Sega was primarily counting on home conversions of Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA to carry its hype, especially during the summer of 1995, when it was surprisingly launched at a rather pricey $400. Although fans gobbled them up, Namco had a one-two punch of Tekken and Ridge Racer, which were being released for Sony's brand new PlayStation.

Despite not having quite the same level of arcade street cred, they both looked much better, and helped begin Sony's dominance in the console gaming field. Meanwhile, Sega scrambled to make its Virtua Fighter port look less embarrassing with the release of Virtua Fighter Remix, and tried to create a number of other properties such as Clockwork Knight and Bug!, neither of which were terribly impressive.

In these dark early days, one of the only truly original titles that Sega fans could get excited about was Panzer Dragoon, created by a Sega team known as Team Andromeda. Although it was specifically designed for the home console, Panzer Dragoon felt much like an arcade game -- it was short and shallow, but remarkably pretty, at least for the time.

In many ways, Panzer Dragoon is a light-gun game without the light gun -- the gamer term for this is a "rail shooter." Although you pilot a flying dragon, the game's path is completely pre-calculated, so all you need to do is shoot at enemies and dodge incoming fire.

In all games, you have two weapons -- a standard gun, and a lock-on laser, which is activated by holding down the fire button, targetting several enemies, then releasing. You'll then send out a homing laser which decimate -- or least badly wound -- whatever is in your sights. The only real freedom you have is the ability to turn your viewpoint for a 360 degree view of the landscape as you fly over the game's desolate landscape, which is activated by hitting the left or right trigger buttons.

Since enemies come from all angles, being able to shoot in any direction is key to survival. However, it also contributes to one of Panzer Dragoon's biggest issues -- sometimes, there's just way too much going on at once. Short of spinning the view around rapidly, the only way to detect incoming enemies is by paying attention to the radar at the top of the screen. Before you get used to it, you'll find yourself tracking the enemies' position frantically, until you can finally target them, only to find out that they've already fired off a few shots and done some damage to your dragon.

In many cases, the most efficient way to combat enemies is simply to play through the levels over and over, and memorize when and where the enemy formations pop up. It's frustrating to get the hang of at first, but the learning curve is almost a necessity, because the Saturn Panzer Dragoon games are remarkably short, and they needed some kind of staying power.

There are other issues that take some adjusting -- you don't directly control your dragon, but rather, you control the targetting cursor, and the dragon just sort of follows. It's strange to feel the disconnect between the beast you're piloting, especially if you're more familiar with similar games like Nintendo's StarFox 64. It doesn't help that trying to dodge enemy attacks can be quite difficult due to both the controls and perspective -- most of the time, it's better just to try to shoot down enemy projectiles than rather dodge them, which can occasionally be a fruitless affair.


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