Sunday, June 30, 2013

Editorial: The Importance of the Controller (Top 3 List)

With this new generation of consoles coming, the controller seems to be the most talked about feature. (You know, other than that whole DRM thing) I don't remember the controller design being all that important up until the Playstation 1 / N64 era. Moving into "3D" worlds required much more precision than ever before. Manufacturers had to concentrate on more than going left or right and having 2-6 input buttons.

The controller had to be an afterthought for most console designers before the early 90s.

The NES came with its harsh rectangle and stiff D-pad. The Colecovision had its calculator with the joystick at the top. Or the similarly designed Intellivision with the calculator at the top instead.

Sega seemed to have the worst designs. I never really got comfortable with the Dreamcast controller and the few times I held a Saturn controller I wanted to throw it out the window. Even the simplicity of the Genesis controller wasn't exactly perfect. I still have scars from the blisters that controller gave me when playing Royal Rumble.

There have actually been more controller failures than successes. But, being ever the positive person, I'm going to focus on my top three favorite controllers.

3. Xbox 360

There's no way this controller could be in the top list if the D-pad was used more often in modern games. We can all agree, it is probably the worst D-pad on a controller. 

But in the age of the console first person shooter, this controller is the best. The triggers, bumpers, and placement of the sticks are ergonomically perfect for the modern console game. 

It wasn't until I switched to the Playstation 3 when I realized just how perfect this controller is. And considering where it came from, it's design was no small feat. Just look at the original Xbox's controller (I count it among the worst) compared to where Microsoft brought the design for the 360. 

2. Playstation Dual Shock 2: Specifically, the emerald green see through Dual Shock 2 controller. 

The weight was great, the design gorgeous, and I could play for five hours without getting tired. 

I loved being able to see through the case and see how the Dual Shock worked. 

I used this bad boy so much that the analog sticks eventually stopped working. Not willing to throw it in the trash, I took the controller apart and figured out how the thing worked. Turned out one of the pads the joystick interacted with was lose. Just had to reseat it and it worked perfectly. 

It felt solid to. I knew I could use it as a weapon if I somehow came under attack while playing games. 

1. Nintendo Gamecube

A small confession, I might spend time on the weekends writing love poetry to this controller. 

I don't hear this controller talked about often, but no other controller comes close to the Gamecube. My fingers instantly knew where all the buttons were. It was light, it had a lot of beautiful feminine curves, and it came in just about every color you could want.

It felt like the games were built around the controller, whether you were playing MarioKart or Resident Evil 4. Everything just worked. 

I still boot up my Gamecube from time to time and just wish I could pair that controller up with my Playstation 3. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Editorial: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the Personality of the Level

A buddy came over last weekend for a kickback, old-school sleepover with pizza, video games, and general nerd discussion. (The only difference is instead of drinking Mountain Dew, we drank beer.)

When he saw that I had several Genesis classics on PSN, he demanded we boot them up. 

First up was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. My buddy is a Sonic fiend. He's one of those few people that have been able to forgive the countless terrible games featuring our favorite blue mascot. He's one of those mythological people that get excited before every Sonic game that comes out.  

I have a soft spot for the first three Sonic games on the Genesis, but I drifted apart from the chili dog eating animal after the Genesis. 

There are sections of the game I vividly remember. The beautiful first zone, Emerald Hill, bouncing off the flippers in Casino Night Zone, and the frustrating Shoots and Ladders of the Oil Ocean Zone. 

And then there are the ones I always forget about, not because they are lesser zones, but they were the ones I didn't have to play as much or they didn't cause me to throw my controller at the TV. It had been so long since I'd played Sonic 2, that when we came to Aquatic Ruin, Hill Top, or that damned Metropolis Zone, it was like seeing the game for the first time again. 

I was amazed at how varied each zone was. It's something missing from games today. Gears of War and Call of Duty are filled with the same brown and gray hues for the entire 10 hour campaign. 

In Sonic 2, each Zone has a personality, its own music and enemies. You came to know the new difficulties that awaiting in each area. It was handy when talking about the new secret you found on the playground to reference the lava river in Hill Top Zone or the bottomless pit in Mystic Cave. I can't say, "oh, there's a dog tag hidden in the ruined city, with all the cement and dust when the locusts attack," because that's the entire game. 

It took maybe 15 minutes for my buddy to get to the Winged Fortress, where hundreds of times I gave up on the game in my childhood.

We didn't beat it Saturday night. It might have been because we did not have a Genesis controller so the muscle memory was just slightly off. It might have just been the 7 beers we each had already. But Dr. "Eggman" Robotnic would continue to hold the last Chaos Emeralds. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

OPM September 1999 - Letters to the Editor

Back in 1999, I had an embarrassing Limp Bizkit related email address, dressed like a skater, and was a mall rat. Having just moved to a new city and getting a "babysitting" job that paid a whole $40 a week, I spent a lot of time bouncing between the Babbages, FunCoLand, and Gamestop at my local mall to pass the time and blow some cash.

I was a regular at Babbages. The employees there actually liked talking videogames and appeared to know more than your average game shop mall employee.

I was known by name at Babbages. They knew that I was good for $50-80 a month and I traded in games all the time. I often was able to jump ahead on pre-order waiting lists (when they still meant something) and was privy to games they hadn't yet demoed on the floor.

So, when they got a Dreamcast with Powerstone, the manager treated me like a VIP. He said, "Dan, I have something awesome to show you. Let's play." I grabbed that large awkward controller and we booted up the Sega Dreamcast.

It was fun. It was actually a fun 3D arena fighter with weapons spread across each map.  I unfortunately bought Bio F.R.E.A.K.S for the Playstation 1 and knew how these types of games typically went.

My mind was having a hard time conceiving how smooth the frame rate was for a 3d fighter.I was all too familiar with the frame rate drop when playing multiplayer Smash Brothers or Goldeneye on the N64, but my brief time on the Dreamcast I didn't notice any slowdown.

Then he popped in Sonic Adventure and my jaw dropped when I saw my favorite blue mascot blazing through this 3D city.

While I was playing, the manager was spewing off all these hardware specs that meant very little to me, but essentially he said, "Dreamcast is more powerful than what the PS2 will be."

I was just about sold.

Later while contemplating if I should blow my summer allowance on a Dreamcast, I came up with the idea to write a letter to the editor of the Official Playstation Magazine.

I was surprised when my Yahoo! Messenger started exploding with all of these strangers telling me, "Thank you for asking for a side by side comparison." Or "You tell them." (Which was weird, because I don't feel like I expressed an opinion.)

I had no clue that my letter had been published as my OPM still hadn't arrived. (I later found out, this issue came out a week earlier in Canada, which is why I wasn't aware that I had been published.)

Here is the only time I've been published in a magazine.

That's a lot of MBs and MHz!

Thinking back, the manager was probably trying to get a hardware sale. He probably didn't have a strong preference one way or the other in the Sega vs Sony vs Nintendo fight.

I don't know if he was getting desperate because the Dreamcast wasn't selling as well as they had hoped or if in a year he would be spouting the same lines about the Playstation 2 being the superior console.

Either way, I used my money to buy a car and I wouldn't have either console until 2002 when the first Resident Evil film was released on DVD and I bought my PS2.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Editorial: Biggest E3 Misteps

Watching Microsoft confirm our worst DRM fears and then the subsequent bitch slap Sony delivered only hours later made me think of the biggest E3 missteps. Konami is a perennial failure forcing Japanese executives to read intense English scripts about their games. And damn if there aren't always CEOs that obviously know nothing about games, nervously standing in front of the crowd, talking about games, spewing buzz words. All of these clips could be cut into a 3 hour montage on YouTube.

Here are 3 of my favorite failures at E3.

Nintendo 2008
E3 has only been widely available to watch for maybe 8 years now, and there have been some pretty pathetic pressers, but nothing was as disappointing as Nintendo in 2008 when they spent what felt like half their conference showing the future failure that is Wii music.

Sega 1995

I read this one in countless magazines and just couldn't believe it. I was a Genesis guy and was incredibly excited about the Saturn.

Sega decided they would surprise release the Sega Saturn the day of the conference, but only to some stores and with only 6 launch games. On top of that, the Saturn was $100 more than the Playstation. All these missteps culminated in the Saturn sitting in the 1990s shame circle right next to the Virtual Boy and Apple Pippin.

Sony 2006

Sony already had a misstep with their 2005 conference where they egotistically announced a $499 price point, but then came the realistic-battles-from-feudal-Japan-crab-battle. Just watch the video, it explains itself.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Smash Brothers Brawl

Last week, I did the unthinkable. I took my 10-year-old Smash Brother's Brawl save and deleted it. It had everything unlocked and a good chunk of the trophies earned. Something in me said I needed to earn all the unlocks once again. Something told me that enough time had passed that my 20-year-old self had earned things that my almost 30-year-old self didn't deserve.

Well I stare at Marth and Jigglypuff as my only two unlocked characters right now, and I think I made a mistake.

I remember seeing this commercial as a kid and freaking out. This premise was just too much for me.

I couldn't decide if this was an elaborate joke or if it were real. I knew Nintendo protected their first party creations, but then again they did allow the CD-I version of Mario and Zelda.

I did not own a Nintendo 64 and when I found out this was a real thing, I was jealous. I'd heard rumors that Sony was developing a similar 4 person fighting game involving ninjas, but like most things in this first 3D generation, it was an idea that never materialized.

It wasn't until several years later, when the Gamecube was released, that I finally got to play a Smash Brothers' game. It... was... glorious.

It was one of those Mountain Dew and pizza fueled game sessions that lasted seven hours. I was hooked. As the night went on, we unlocked most of the secret characters and levels, and we just kept going. Around 4 a.m. my buddy rubbed his unblinking eyes and went home. We repeated this several weekends in a row never getting sick of it.

Eventually I would go back and play the Nintendo 64 version. (which was just as enjoyable) I was never big into fighting games but something about the quick sessions and heavy hits had me hooked.

It was a fighting game that required some skill, but you could also win with luck and some good button mashing. It was the ultimate level playing field. (Don't get me wrong, I recognize when someone has talent.)

There was magic in seeing the Mushroom Kingdom, Donkey Kong Country, and Starfox themed levels rendered. The music, the art, and the power-ups were all deliciously Nintendo for something that on paper was not Nintendo. Had you come to me in 1992 and said, "Someday, you'll be able to beat the hell out of Mario while being Link," I would've told you to shut the hell up.

I remember when the Wii version was coming out, how excited I was watching the website update with new characters, levels, and power-ups every week. I could not wait to see what other achieved games would be tapped.

There aren't many games that bring out that excitement in me nowadays. I know with E3 coming in the next days, we're due to hear about the next Smash Brothers' entry. Again, I find myself without a Nintendo console. I'll be on the outside looking in, until maybe 5 years from now when I can revisit

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Editorial: Losing Steam with the JRPG

I've always had this internal battle raging. About twice a year I get this yearning to play a JRPG style game and about 1.9 times a year I get this yearning to not finish that game.

This all started with Final Fantasy VII in the summer of 1997. My cousin and I went to the local rental store, saw this cool cover with a guy and a huge sword, and took it home. No amount of pizza and Mountain Dew could dull the disappointment that we weren't actively running into large hordes of enemies and cutting them down with this man sized sword.

That night, thinking maybe we missed something, I popped the game in after my cousin went to bed. I tried to take the game in. The prerendered backgrounds were beautiful. The music, some of the best I'd heard. But still, I just didn't understand the battle engine. My 13 year old self couldn't understand why my characters were taking breaks between hits. I didn't feel their fate actually rested in my hands, but rather rested in the hands of Lady Luck.

I've revisted Final Fantasy VII on my PSP in 2009 and enjoyed it much more. In fact, I've made it to the end of disk two... and I've been stuck there for 2 years. This isn't because I've come against a tough boss, its because I read a spoiler that said, "Don't even bother fighting the last boss without Knights of the Round," which I did not get.

The only two JRPG style games that I've actually finished are Legend of Legaia (PS1) and Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360). Both gave me an intense feeling of accomplishment and I think that's the feeling I'm chasing when I boot up that JRPG every year.

And while I chase that, the list of JRPGs that sit unfinished on my Vita and PS3 memory cards grows and this is almost a memorial for them, because I just don't know if I will ever finish any of them. The world will remain in chaos and the hero will remain casually living life at the last save point.

  • Final Fantasy IV - Corrupt save state has me stuck in a dungeon I immediately die in
  • Final Fantasy V - 3 hours in and I lost steam
  • Final Fantasy VII - Sitting at the end of disk two where I have to decide whether to grind my level up to 99 or try to go back and get Knights of the Round. 
  • Final Fantasy VIII - There's really no good reason. I actually liked this one better than VII, bought a copy of it, but never played more than the demo. 
  • Grandia - I just don't know where I'm supposed to go after the first town and am too lazy to look it up. 
  • Chrono Cross - It just seems so daunting to play this. 
  • Persona 4 Golden - Can't beat a boss about 6 hours in. 

Bringing Back the Blog

I've decided to bring back my old "Media Whore" blog. This time its going to be more focused on old games, memories, and old gaming magazines. Sure there will be an occasional thought about a newer game or film or comic, but this is really for me to reminisce.

I'm going to leave my old blogs up which are damn near 5 years old now because why the hell not. They weren't all written by me, but its still interesting to see what was popular then.

The group that would soon become wrong about a dozen articles before we bought a domain and had a proper site for three years.

I've been missing having an outlet for my video game thoughts. So, this blog is a free, public place for me to accomplish that.