Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ape Escape

I had two favorite sub-genres on the Playstation 1, survival horror and stealth. I had to buy second copies of Resident Evil 2, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and Syphon Filter because I had just played them too much.

Late in the Playstation's life, magazines started talking about a game that in all honesty, looked like a kid's game. It was a ballsy move by Sony, being the first game that required a Dual Shock controller, something that still not everyone had. It promised to combine platforming elements, puzzles, and stealth action.

I just didn't understand how this stealth action was going to be any good, since I wouldn't have a silent pistol equipped under a terrorist threat. To me, the stealth genre involved some action hero, sticking to the shadows, getting fed intel over a headset.

Late in the summer of 1999, I found myself at Babbages with $130 in store credit. As I browsed the racks of games, Ape Escape kept jumping out at me. I still don't know what it was, because I had already written the game off, but that day, I wanted nothing more than to have Ape Escape.

I walked out of there with a green dual shock controller, Ape Escape, Warzone 2100, and The Unholy War. (Turned out to be one of my better game trips as all of those games ended up being personal "classics.")

The game was beyond anything I could've imagined. Each ape had it's own personality traits that played into how you could trick and capture them. The lights on top of their head told you how aware of danger they were. There were fully fledged mini-games like skiing and boxing that were better than many full retail counterparts. The levels locked out entire areas until you came back powered up later in the game.

I found myself completely enamored with this world. I couldn't put down the controller. My completionist ways didn't like leaving apes behind because I didn't have the right tool to catch them. I needed to unlock that next gadget. I needed to beat Jake in the next obstacle course.

I never finished the game. I had something like 2% of the game to clear to fully finish it, but like thousands of Playstation fans, I was the victim of a Mad Catz memory card corruption.

Thanks to an excellent PSP remake, I'm trying it again. The warm glow of my Vita screen transforms me back to summer of 1999 where I gladly trounce my way through the levels for the second time. I'm determined to get that 100% before Christmas.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kickstarting Nostalgia and Tie Fighter

Some of the most successfully funded gaming Kickstarters are those that pull at our nostalgia heartstrings for genres the huge publishing companies have long considered dead.

Double Fine's Adventure game and Project Eternity are two of the better examples. The adventure game promises to scratch that Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango itch, and Project Eternity that hardcore DND adventure game.

I feel I know what to expect from those games, but one that I backed and am interested in seeing the finished product is Star Citizen, from the creator of Wing Commander, Chris Roberts.

I'm most interested in seeing this space flight simulator because what has been promised just doesn't seem possible for the $2,000,000 pledged. We are being promised the Earth and moon quite literally.

Every Friday my email inbox lights up with a well produced and often comedic variety show on art assets, updates on game development, and staff bios from the RSI Comm-link. It's obvious the passion is there, but since none of my Kickstarter games have yet shipped, I'm wondering what the final product will actually look like.

But I'm excited, even if it is cautiously.

I never played Wing Commander on the PC, (I put in some time on WC4 on the Playstation) but I put in massive amounts of time into Tie Fighter.

Daily I was pounding in the DOS line to start the game, listening to the CD Rom spinning hard in our Windows 95 HP desktop, and listening to the choppy intro movie.

I spent hours gladly escorting Imperial shuttles, inspecting space containers, and earning every badge in the training courses. It was a game I had to fully digest before I could put it back into the CD wallet.

It was a game of discovery. Not only of different planets and ships and tactics, but you were learning things about your ship well beyond the final credits.

I was able to get through most of the game chasing down A-Wings and switching between my primary and secondary weapons, but then I started discovering how I could divert power from my shields to a gun to have the recharge time shortened or I learned how to charge while barrel rolling to quickly take out an X-wing.

Now, I should've gone home and poured over the thick instruction book to find out how to use everything at my disposal before I booted the game, but I was 10 and I wanted to fly alongside Darth Vader immediately.

I loved the game. The story was gripping, pulling me into this world of Imperial factions and backstabbing. I forgot that the Rebels were supposed to be the good guys, and soon I understood the Empires side of the story. That's some powerful stuff. A game made me rethink three films that had been ingrained in my from the age of four.

I don't expect to be wowed by Tie Fighter, but it's been so long since I've played a real space sim that I can't imagine how when I leave my hanger the first time and see the billions of miles of stars around me that I won't have a chill down my spine and a smile on my face.

Monday, August 19, 2013

X-men on the Sega Genesis

Like most children in the early 90's, my brothers and I were completely caught up in X-men mania. (Something had to take the place of Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtle mania which we had just been cured of) The cartoon was on TV, the comics were getting a major push, and the giant two screen arcade game was eating our quarters.

Naturally we had most of the games for the Sega Genesis. This was one of the few times where we could all agree to pool our allowance for a common cause. Although the games had many flaws (music and sound effects, terrible level design, difficulty, plot, etc) the X-men games hold a special place in my family's collective heart.

The 1993 X-men game was the first one we purchased. We had no idea it existed until one faithful trip to the video game aisles at Toys R Us where we found X-men on sale for $20. I pulled one of those pieces of paper off the display and wandered up to customer service to claim my prize.

It was actually a pretty solid action platformer.

This game reminded me much of the first Ninja Turtles' game on the NES because you could switch between one of four characters, (Cyclopes, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Gambit) and each one had special abilities or weapons that were better suited for certain parts of the game.

There was one level, Mojo's Super Crunch, that I was rarely able to beat. There was a platformer part, early on in the level where I never figured out how to get passed it.

I had to rely on Nightcrawler teleporting through a wall. Nightcrawler's teleporting ability was random, sometimes he would slide right to the other side of the wall for me and other times he would teleport backwards, essentially forcing me to start the game over again.

My favorite game was X-men 2: The Clone Wars. This took the controller sharing / bickering over who got to play out of mix because it had co-op. Not only did it have co-op, but it did it right. You didn't share lives, started with plenty of lives, and when one player fell off the screen, they would teleport up to the other character.

This had a weird cast of characters available, just like the first game. You could pick between Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Psylocke (who was getting a big comic book push at the time) and Magneto. My brother and I loved the amount of choice, but with the cartoon being on the air, I wondered why we didn't see Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, or even Bishop?

In a way, I guess I have to give them props for including Nightcrawler and Beast, who had limited time in the cartoon, and Psylocke who had joined team Cyclops in the comic series, but never felt like a major player.

The big issue with this game is how large some of the levels are and the backtracking required. This gets especially confusing since so much of the maps have similar backgrounds. My brother and I stopped bickering over who got to play, and started arguing over which way we were supposed to go.

Finally, late in our Sega Genesis days, my brother traded Maximum Carnage for Wolverine: Adamantium Rage which turned out to be one of the biggest trade downs ever accomplished in my house.

Listen to those gorgeous opening credits. They hit that 90's extreme-ness so well.

It's a shame that the level design is so atrocious, the enemy design so uninspired, and the plot just about non-existent. I remember something about Wolverine having a photograph and wanting revenge, but I don't think it went much deeper than that.

The difficulty in Adamantium Rage was incredible as well. The only real way to beat the game was with a Game Genie or by doing what the guy in the YouTube video does and run through most of it.

I think most people can agree that X-men games have never been great. Some of the early beat-em-ups scratch that nostalgia itch, but most of the games have been digital piles of garbage. (I'm looking at you current generation Marvel games.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why Light Guns Don't Work on HDTVs

When I was in college, I had one of those terrible months where my car required an $800 repair, my electric bill was $150 more than the previous month, and rent was due.

I had to sell most of my media to pay for everything. I sold my Gamecube, NES, Playstation 2, and about 150 DVDs and 200+ games.

I've slowly been rebuilding my collection now that I make adult wages.

One genre I noticed does not really exist on current platforms was the light gun game. Yes, the Nintendo Wii and Playstation Move have made it possible to have similar games, but there's nothing better than feeling the click on a Nintendo zapper's trigger and killing some ducks.

I wanted to buy Area 51 (again) for the PS1, but could not find a way to have a light gun connect to my PS3 to play it. So I started doing some research and found out that light gun games do not work on modern HD TVs.

I read a ton of technical explanations from computer science and electrical engineering students that I did not understand. I'm more of a visual guy. So the best explanation is to watch a video.

When you are not playing and pay close attention, you'll notice when the trigger is pulled the screen flashes black and the "hit box" around the bird flashes white. That was how light guns determined if it was a hit or not. The gun looked for that white box and if it did not see it, you missed.

If it did not see the black flash because you were pointing the gun off screen, some games would register that as a reload.

Out of all the theories I've read on why this exactly doesn't work, the two reasons that seem most logical are:

  1. Timing issue caused by refresh rate
    • PaRappa the Rapper is supposedly really hard to play on an LCD because of the minor delay between sound systems and the picture on the screen. 
    • I had trouble beating the first level of Space Channel 5 HD for the same reason.
    • Even a new game like Rocksmith is hard to play on a HDTV because of this same delay. 
  2. Brightness / no true black screen on an LCD
I am sure someone will figure this out. I have read a few threads where people claim that their super awesome TVs have a quick enough refresh rate to where it will register hits sometimes. I have a feeling the fix will be on the software side (HD collection for Wii and Move?) but who knows, maybe our televisions will become so crisp and fast that we will not need a software fix. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Official Playstation Magazine Demo Disk No. 5, February 1998

For a kid that didn't get much of an allowance, sometimes demo disks were the only way for me to enjoy "new" games. It was better for me to plop down $10 for a magazine, demo disk, and mall pretzel with cheese rather than save for six months and buy a game that I might not end up liking.

I recently found a bunch of my old Official Playstation Magazine demo disks. I've had emotions bouncing back and forth between, "I own most of the full versions of these games now and this could be the worst way to waste time" and "wow, this could be a really cool look into gaming history."

I had some time to waste, so I grabbed the first disk I saw in the binder, OPM No. 5, February 1998.

For those of you that don't know the format, OPM would send out a demo disk that generally had half playable demos and half teaser trailers with each of their magazines. This is an especially solid disk.

Resident Evil 2 (video)

The first thing I noticed was how terrible the compressed PS1 footage looked on an HD TV.

Second thing I noticed was that Capcom has had a hard-on for action oriented survival horror games since 1998. They might not have fully implemented that until Resident Evil 4, but this trailer shows no less than 6,000 gun shots.

Pandemonium 2 (Video)

Pandemonium was one of those games I always remember sitting front and center on the shelves for cheap. I always held it in my hand, read the back, looked at the pictures, and then set it back down. I could never figure out exactly what it was. I liked the colors, but that was about it.

I watched the 2 minute video with gameplay footage and I still don't know what it is. Anyone know if it were any good?

Tomb Raider 2 (Playable Demo)

All of my Tomb Raider instincts came back to me. I battled the tigers with the backwards strafe and fire (with the occasional roll) and the importance of walking when near edges. The one thing I forgot was how often my finger found R2 and I lit a flare. I burned through them all in the first minute or two.

I remember the demo. I played it over and over again doing speed runs, finding all the secrets, trying to do it without killing anything when I was a kid.

There were two things I noticed that were different from the final version.

Tigers seem to endlessly spawn in the opening area every 90 seconds or so. Also, there seemed to be more keys needed to open doors than I remember in the final version.

Crime Killer (Playable Demo) 

I don't remember this game. I tried to find more information about it because it just seemed like a weird game. I found a 15 year old IGN review (3/5) and a Gamespot review (6.8/10) but nothing else on the game. It's some sort of take on car combat where you drive around police vehicles and shoot down enemy cars.

The demo itself was a mess. Textures were dropping, the cop car handled like a pinball machine, and there were hundreds of aircraft firing missiles and lasers onto these city streets, but not really hitting anything.

Command and Conquer: Red Alert (Playable Demo)

No! RTS games do not belong on a console. Just NO!

C&C has similar problems to Warcraft 2. Huge frame rate drops, terrible controls, and everything looks like a messy blob.

2 disks of fun and mouse support were bullet points on the splash screen. That should say a lot when two bullet points were hardware related.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Editorial: Nintendo Launch Retrospective

With the Nintendo WiiU launching back in November, there still isn’t an impressive library. My local game store has one half shelf dedicated to WiiU games. Most of the real estate has Wii overflow from the full Wii shelf next to it.

When you think about it, besides the Mario game that came packed in with the system, most Nintendo launches were weak on the software side. You got that one killer app, but for months, nothing else.

I’m going to break down the classic Nintendo 1st party game, the biggest 3rd party game, and the worst game at launch.

NES (1985): The NES had a soft launch, only releasing to FAO Schwartz in New York originally and eventually would find its way everywhere. It obviously wasn’t a blockbuster seller immediately, but this is the system that built the Nintendo name.
  • 1st Party: Super Mario Bros
  • 3rd Party: Kung-Fu
  • Worst Game: Gyromite

Gameboy (1989): Again, hard to get concrete numbers and dates, the Gameboy managed to sell really well. Most people mostly used the portable as a Tetris machine for the first several months of its life, but eventually the Gameboy would go on to sell more than 118 million units.
  • 1st Party: Super Mario Land
  • 3rd Party: Tetris
  • Worst Game: Baseball (bad port of original NES game)

Super NES (1991): The Super NES has one of the smaller launches in Nintendo history, but they launched with a much greater quality of games.
  • 1st Party: Super Mario World
  • 3rd Party: Sim City
  • Worst Game: Gradius 3 (It’s not a bad game, just the worst out of the launch titles.)

Nintendo 64 (1997): Quite literally there were only two games at the launch of the N64 as far as I can tell, but both games were fantastic.
  • 1st Party: Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64
  • 3rd Party: N/A
  • Worst Game: Pilotwings (?)

Nintendo Game Cube (2001): The Gamecube is often frowned upon as one of the worst Nintendo systems to hit the market. I believe it was the best. But the launch was mostly ports from other consoles.
The Gamecube launched with 13 games. Not only did it have the weakest 1st party launch title in Nintendo’s history, Luigi’s Mansion, it also only contained games that could be purchased for other consoles.
  • 1st Party: Luigi’s Mansion
  • 3rd Party: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II
  • Worst Game: Fur Fighters: Viggo’s Revenge

Gameboy Advance (2001): The Gameboy Advance had a fairly limited launch line up. It had many games, but was almost all ports from other systems.
  • 1st Party: Super Mario Advance (Super Mario 2 Repackaged)
  • 3rd Party:  Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Earthworm Jim, Rayman Advance
  • Worst: Army Men Advance

Nintendo DS (2004): The Nintendo DS had a mildly better launch than the Game Cube. Since most games didn’t know how to use the touchpad yet, most had little reason to actually be on the DS, other than the cheap production value. The worst game, Ping Pals, managed to get many <1 10s="" 500="" america="" around="" ds="" in="" launch="" media.="" north="" of="" on="" out="" p="" sold="" somewhere="" still="" supposedly="" the="" units="" week.="">
  • 1st Party: Metroid Prime Hunters: First hunt
  • 3rd Party: The Urbs: Sims in the City
  • Worst Game: Ping Pals

Nintendo Wii (2006): Nintendo Wii had a weak launch lineup with bang up marketing. Games that were broken like “Red Steel” were pushed like the second coming. The strongest non-pack in release, Zelda, was a Gamecube port. Now Wii fans have been treated to at best, three worthwhile releases a year.
  • 1st Party: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports
  • 3rd Party: Call of Duty 3, Red Steel
  • Worst Game: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Nintendo 3DS (2011): I’m still confused about the 3DS launch. As far as I can tell, there pretty much wasn’t software at the launch of the 3DS. Literally there were games, but not really. Most were rehashing of other games or games that hadn’t figured out the tech quite yet.
  • 1st Party: Pilotwings Resort, Nintendogs + Cats
  • 3rd Party: Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition,
  • Worst Game: Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Asphalt 3D

Nintendo WiiU (2012):  Jokes aside, I want this console to work. Failing consoles are good for no one. Still, it seems Nintendo rushed the hardware out the door knowing that it's tech specs wouldn't be able to compete with PS4 and Xbox One. There weren't a lot of launch games and besides the release of Pikmin 3, there really haven't been many game releases since launch.

Most of the third party games are ports of older games from this generation like Mass Effect 3 and Batman Arkham City.

  • 1st Party: New Super Mario Bros U
  • 3rd Party: Mass Effect 3: Special Edition
  • Worst Game: Game Party Champions

I guess my conclusion from looking at all the Nintendo launches is that I should stop expecting these insanely great pack in launches like the SNES and N64. The launches weren't as bad as I thought, but there weren't many stand outs.

The business model has changed. Xbox 360 launched with nothing. Playstation 3 took forever to get some great exclusives out. Kinect and Move are both jokes. PS4 and Xbox One both have weak launches.

I guess I held Nintendo at a higher level. But nowadays, it’s all about the hardware sales. No one wants to take a risk on an unproven console and install base.