News: Before Blizzard & Warcraft, There Was Silicon & Synapse

Before Blizzard & Warcraft, There Was Silicon & Synapse

Blizzard Entertainment is considered one of the most successful game developers in the world. Ever since the release of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (their debut Warcraft game) in 1994, they've set sales records and created genre-defining games with remarkable consistency. But the company wasn't founded in 1994—it all started back in 1991 when they were called Silicon & Synapse.

Silicon & Synapse was a collaboration between three UCLA graduates dedicated to porting existing games from one console to another. They soon switched over to game development, and by the time the name change occurred (also in '94), they had created three video games for the Super Nintendo that while important and critically beloved, failed to set the world on fire like Warcraft did. But those SNES games aren't anywhere near as well-remembered as they should be.

RPM Racing

RPM Racing, which is the abbreviated version of Radical Psycho Machine Racing, seems to be the worst of the bunch. It was the first American-developed game released for the Super Nintendo, which is a significant milestone, but the gameplay is much less inspired than the two games that followed. It's a fairly standard racing game for the era, reminiscent of the NES classic RC Pro-Am. If nothing else, it was the basis for the excellent Rock N' Roll Racing (see below), which was originally planned as a sequel to this game before publisher Interplay (who published all three of Silicon & Synapse's games, along with many other classics) wisely added a licensed classic rock soundtrack and rebranded it.

(1) RPM Racing in action. (2) Look familiar?

The Lost Vikings

In The Lost Vikings, one can see the beginning of Blizzard's future style. It's a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer where players control three comically inept vikings with their own unique abilities. Switching between the vikings and combining their abilities is the key to solving the game's many puzzles, which are clever enough to be worth solving on their own merits. But one of the great things about Blizzard is how much effort they put into crafting deep backstories and hilarious dialog to couch their awesome game designs, and The Lost Vikings is the first example of that. The incidental dialog and cutscenes are entertaining and do a great job of developing the characters. That and the excellent gameplay make this the first real indication of Blizzard's excellence.

Note the indicental nose-picking and muscle-flexing animations. Those kinds of touches take love.

Rock n' Roll Racing

The "sequel" to RPM Racing was the last Silicon & Synapse release, and is still the only real alternative to Super Mario Kart for SNES fans of combat racing games. Rock N' Roll Racing has instrumental versions of classic rock songs like "Bad to the Bone" for the soundtrack. Previous games had features licensed music, but this was the first time the 8-bit reproductions actually sounded good. The gameplay is reminiscent of RPM Racing and RC Pro-Am, but with a better campaign system and better combat to make it superior to its predecessors. Because this type of small-track combat racing game has not really been replicated recently, Rock N' Roll Racing is still quite enjoyable today, and finds itself inserted into my FC Twin regularly.

Rock n' Roll Racing in action.

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1 Comment

Oh man I wasted way too many hours on RPM racing back in the days!

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