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Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
Wow, what a long Game Overview hiatus! Did you guys miss it?
I didn’t adequately gather this week’s news for GO, so instead I’m going to focus on one thing and one game: the recently announced Scavenge Mode for Left 4 Dead 2 (come on now, did you really think I could talk about any other game after that long break?)
Added to the usual Campaign, Versus, and Survival modes is this new mode meant for short rounds of what seems to be frantic gameplay. Like all post-apocalyptic situations, this mode centers on obtaining canisters of gas to power up a generator placed on the map. Empty a tank and you add 20 more seconds to your 120 second timer. There are 16 tanks separated throughout the map and should one be disposed of via stray bullets of Spitter bile, they supposedly respawn after a set amount of time.
It sounds like a lot of fun and it’s a really neat twist that one of the zombies has the power to deny the resource. In fact, the Spitter has a lot of power in this map. Her mortar shots can deny access to the generator and she’s also capable of bursting canisters. It almost seems like it’ll be too hard for the survivors.
As a side note, 1Up noticed a new, unannounced difficulty known as “Realistic” mode. Details are non-existent on this, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to guess that it’ll be a level of difficulty beyond Expert. Will it do away with the game-y extravagances of the core game mechanics or will it just be a more extreme expert mode? We’ll find out soon enough, the game is set to debut next month.
Jet lag is always a bit difficult to overcome, but when you’ve flown to the other side of the world, the body really doesn’t know what to do with itself. So it came to pass that I wrote the whole second half of Part II of this travelogue at 0600 after a half hour of tossing and turning, despite being on almost no sleep. This third part comes straight from my exhausted fingers to you, starting before the first Giants game and continuing after getting back to the hotel.
Our bright morning begins at 0830 for a quick pre-trip briefing. Dave and I quickly learn that we are most definitely the youngest members of the group. There are maybe four or five people on the tour younger than 30 and certainly none in their early twenties like us. Bob thankfully runs a rather loose ship, allowing us to mostly do what we want throughout the day instead of being forced to do one thing at all times. We meet up for trains and ballgames and that’s about it. Once the main tour departs, I won’t even have that, since Bob and Mayumi plan to head off on their own.
Mayumi offered to head to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and Dave and I decided to go along. Our hotel is near private railway lines and the Tokyo Metro, so we hopped aboard, allowing me to experience the metro firsthand. It most resembles the DC Metro, since it requires you to pay a fare based on how far you travel, which is rather unfortunate, but the trains arrive almost 800 times faster and more regularly, so the comparison clearly only goes so far.
Sensō-ji’s main features are the iconic giant lanterns that adorn the center of each of the gates of the temple. In between the two gates, the area is packed to the gills with vendors and stalls selling food, typical Japanese souvenirs, toys, clothes, and video games. The temple itself is a rather loose compound with shops flanking it on all sides along with a Shinto shrine. Dave and I explored the area a bit, but decided not to get souvenirs right away since it was still early in the trip. The temple was also fully populated with hordes of schoolchildren, all in uniform visiting the shrine on class trips. Even very small children were on trips to the temple, carried by hilarious carts like children on hand-pushed buses. Apparently they do this in other big cities in America, but I’d never seen it before so Dave and I quickly took to accusing the cart pushers of kidnapping all the kids in the carts.
The outer gate has a huge lantern
After our temple visit, we had free time until the game, so Dave and I decided to go eat lunch and hit up Akihabara again. Since CoCo Curry is on the way to Akihabara and it’s so good, Dave and I had yet another lunch there that I thoroughly enjoyed. Since we were visiting in the daytime, Akihabara looked a lot more like it should complete with alleys bursting with electronic components. In the distance I spotted Pac-Man ghosts chasing an 8-bit Mario and assumed that it had to be some sort of retro-game store. Since I was looking for a copy of Mother 3 to validate a translated ROM, Dave and I headed toward it to check it out.
If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.
Once we got closer, it became immediately obvious that we were standing at the door of a Super Potato, Japan’s most famous video game collectors store. The interior is divided up loosely chronologically, with early systems like the Famicom, MSX, and PC Engine situated on the first floor of the shop, Super Famicom and Mega Drive on the second floor of the shop, and Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, GB and GBA at the top of the games sections (game soundtracks also lived on this floor). The topmost floor was a retro-game arcade that had some seriously old arcade cabinets and some seriously awesome decorations and all of the floors had collectibles and toys from famous franchises.
My hunt for Mother 3 did not go so well at first, mostly because it seemed that there were no used copies sitting around the shelves. I walked up to the counter on that floor, said “Mother 3″ in the most inquisitive way possible, and just looked confused. At first I didn’t think they understood what I meant, but they helped me look a bit and didn’t find it. Before I could get too dejected, the other guy behind the counter pulled out a new cartridge in the Japanese-style GBA box. My wallet was lightened by about ¥3600, but I was now the owner of a brand new Mother 3 cart. Mission Complete! S-Rank!
I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato
I can’t forget to mention that we also found a pretty sweet capsule machine that sold keychains that made noises from the Mario series. I got a coin keychain for ¥200. Dave became less enthused by my antics by the end of the day, but that coin sound is just spot on and super fun. BONUS FACT: I believe they use one of these during the 4-Minute Warning section of Listen Up! on 1up.com.
Our quest for games satisfied, we decided to go into a music store next. My goal was to find the one Sambomaster CD I couldn’t import into the states. Unfortunately, the Japanese system of organization eluded me. We thought that maybe they adopted a Roman ordering based on sounds because we seemed to see bands with English names clustered around each other if they had the same letters, but our theory was quickly dashed and we were left wandering the store confused. My next idea was to walk up to a sales clerk, show her the entry for Sambomaster on my iPod (it’s written in kanji or katakana, I don’t know which), and pray that she could lead us to it. It turned out that the Sambomaster section was literally right behind us on the shelf and they also had the album I was looking for. Another successful mission.
Dave and I decided to try to head into a Sofmap again and climbed our way to the top floor to check out some video games. The selection was pretty enormous, complete with Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS games. Some of the DS games had way cooler boxart than the ones we’re used to. The worst part about the music store was seeing the games I most want to come out in the states, the Powapuro series, sitting in the store mocking me. Both the NPB edition and MLB Power Pros 2009 were sitting right there. I will be investigating ways to play Japanese games at home while I’m out here, since I know I can manage to play a Japanese baseball game with no knowledge of the language.
Please come to the states!
Our walk back to the hotel passed by a Shinto shrine, which housed a much smaller, single shop just outside. At this shrine I did not drink any water, but I did wash my hands and I took a picture of the board with all the ema. On our way out we noticed a tanuki statue. Not sure if you readers are aware, but tanuki in folklore have famously large testicles in Japan. It’s insane.
He's got large...tracts of land?
We got back to the hotel room and noticed that the “Do not clean” sign we put up was gone and the room was clean. I wonder why we even bothered…
It was in and out time for our first baseball game. The matchup was the Yomiuri Giants vs. the Yakult Swallows in the Tokyo Dome. The Dome itself is located in a giant entertainment complex in Tokyo with an amusement park and a mall right across the street. Bob took us to the top of a nearby building to get a good view of the surroundings and then set us loose until game time. We had about an hour to kill and Dave and I noticed that there was a roller coaster that spiraled through and around the buildings that composed the amusement park. We decided to investigate, along with our new travel buddy Susan.
You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!
When we got to the coaster, heretofore known as Thunder Dolphin, we saw that it cost ¥1000 (~$10) to ride, but we weren’t going to let that discourage us. Susan opted not to ride, but we barreled up the steps, hoped we bought admission (the machine was in Japanese), and queued up. The coaster had lockers on the other side for passengers to pack their belongings in, so we headed over and emptied out and got on the coaster. If you check Dave’s pictures, you know by now that this coaster was built with extreme in mind. The first drop is at a 72° angle, for heaven’s sake, and everything is very tight and compressed since it’s in the city. It’s an intense roller coaster that was tons of fun! I just wish we could have gone on it again for free.
What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?
The coaster put us at just the right time to enter the Dome, which, unlike other ballparks in the states, had restaurants and shops on the outside. We queued at our gate, got to the rotating glass doors, and awaited the attendant-allowed opportunity to walk through the doors. Turns out, they keep the dome tightly sealed, because our ears all popped upon entering the dome, which is also kept at a Tokyo-warm 77-80°F, but there we were, within the Tokyo Dome, home of the most famous baseball team in Japan.
The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.
It’s said that the Giants are rather like the Yankees of Japan and I can kind of see that. The ballpark has a stateliness to it and their team has a low-frills, dignified approach that does away with too much craziness. Their mascots, for some odd reason, are rabbits from space, but we’ll let that slide. Even before the game, a steady stream of concession stand girls were wandering all the aisles, offering coke to the fans. Once the game started, they were joined by the famous beer girls. I once confused the tanks they carried on their backs for hot water for noodles, but the reality is that they’re tasked with roaming their sections all game with a heavy tank of beer strapped to their backs. As they empty out, they head back to their HQ and refill the tanks to go at it again. It’s impressive, considering the size of these girls.
Getting ready to pour us some "bieru"
Also immediately obvious were the ōendan (cheer) squads that sit in the outfield bleachers representing both teams. I learned from other members of the tour that admission into those sections is strictly limited by membership in the fan club. To gain membership, you must be willing to travel with the team on a set number of games, know every fight song, know every player-related cheer, and be spirited. They are intense. They started cheering before the game and they continued to cheer with the same intensity to the bitter end (which Dave and I missed…more on that soon).
The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?
The ballgame began and after a half-inning of awe at how the Swallows cheer section was going nuts, the Giants were set to come up. We quickly learned that the aura of “bad-assery” that most ballplayers in the states cultivate doesn’t seem to be as necessary out here in Japan, especially since some of the players were coming up to bat to bubbly J-Pop or slow, Japanese ballads. It was bizarre, especially when a foreign, Hispanic player came up to bat and it was not salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.
The game itself is played with small ball in mind a lot more than in the states. We still saw a home run that night, but most of the players were shooting for base hits. Baltimore chops were a common sight to ensure safe baserunner advancement and they bunted freely. Very rarely did they swing for the fences and if they did, it was probably an American player doing it.
The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.
In the 7th inning I learned that there is no stretch out here, just a communal rendition of the Giants fight song along with dancing mascots. The balloon thing was strangely absent, so I have no footage of that either.
It being the first full day out in Tokyo, Dave and I didn’t do so well at staying up through the game. By the 8th inning, we found ourselves sleeping through most of the at-bats and the cheers. Only the roar of the crowd at a great play would rouse us, only to return us unconscious. With the Giants down 3-1 in the top of the 9th, we went back to the hotel to sleep, but it turns out that we made a mistake there. The Giants caught up that inning and tied up the game. Two hours later, the game ended in a tie in the 12th and both teams were pooped. By the way, Japan baseball ends after 12 innings, no matter what. They allow ties.
So that was our first day of baseball. We are headed for Kyoto next and we will use the bullet train to get there and to the Orix Buffaloes game in Kobe. I’ve got to pass out now, I’m dying of exhaustion.
There’s been a lot of news this week, so let’s get right down to it.
The Xbox Live Summer of Arcade schedule has been announced and it looks like there are some great games coming soon.
22 July – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled – A 3D update of the classic arcade and SNES beat-em-up, this game could be fun, but then again, the 3D models just look so uninspired compared to the cartoon and their pixelated counterparts.
29 July – Marvel vs. Capcom 2 – The most famous of the Capcom vs. series, MvC2 was one of the worst kept secrets in video gaming. We’re all excited to see it arrive soon, even if the game makes absolutely no sense and is hectic as hell.
5 August – Splosion Man – Don’t know much about this platformer other than that 1up.com kind of likes it.
12 August – Trials HD – Some motorcycle racing platformer. :yawn:
19 August – Shadow Complex – Epic’s latest project was surprisingly not Gears of War related. This Metroidvania-style game has a lot of promise and a great pedigree. Will it deliver?
The English have figured out something before we did:
Music game downloads are becoming a significant share of music sales.
They’re looking into counting them on the downloads chart to try and track them a little better. I applaud their practical thinking.
My national pride (the 4th wasn’t that long ago) requires me to say, “Hey, at least we figured out dentistry first!” Sorry UK, nothing personal.
Some great trailers and videos about Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted 2.
While we’re in the vicinity of Bioware coverage, why not mention this alarming statistic about The Old Republic, Bioware’s upcoming (in 201X) MMO.
The good folks at Bioware claim that TOR will be as long as 10 KOTORs. Now, Knights of the Old Republic was a plenty long game, but the scope we’re talking here is, wait for it, forty (40!) novels worth of dialogue that’s ALL SPOKEN. That’s going to be a lot of audio.
L4D2 and Nerds
Has a week gone by since L4D2′s announcement that I haven’t talked about it?
EA and Valve have decided to show off the new game, specifically a campaign called “Swamp Fever,” at next week’s San Diego Comic-Con. This means I may have more news next week to post about. Good on you Valve and EA
Everything Old is New Again
Much has been said of the recent resurgence of the fighting and adventure game genres. The most recent Giant Bomb Bomcast (Downloadable Here) made a joke about how we were back in the 90s with the punchline being something like “All we need is for Starcraft and Diablo to come out again.”
Well Starcraft II is scheduled for a late 2009 launch, but analysts are starting to get skeptical (quite frankly, so am I), especially given statements by Blizzard itself. They want about four to six months to beta test the new game, but we’re already at a point where only five months remain before 2010.
My prediction: mid-2010.
Two Million?! USO!
Dragon Quest IX went and had two million pre-orders set for the game before launch. Guess what, it sold about two million. Lines weren’t as ridiculous as they were in prior years, but it was still something of an event.
I started reading an article on Kotaku about the launch and it didn’t quite feel like it was by Brian Ashcraft as my RSS reader said it was. It sounded more like…well, I watched a video on the story (good read) and pretty much knew by then that it was Tim Rogers. It’s worth reading and it provides a look at what a modern Dragon Quest launch is like in Japan now that players can just pre-order their games at local convenience stores.
UFC president Dana White says “EA doesn’t give a fuck about mixed martial arts.” That makes two of us…
The real point of the story is that White tried to pitch the ridiculously well-selling UFC Undisputed 2009 to EA a few years ago, before MMA was big, and he was turned down. Now he says that if any fighter signs to be in EA’s upcoming MMA title (creatively entitled MMA), they can kiss the UFC goodbye.
This now makes for two (three, counting this one) more paragraphs about UFC than I ever want to see on this blog again, so I will close with Penny Arcade’s accurate rendition of every UFC match ever.
VIDEO GAME BREAK!
SOUR / 日々の音色 (Hibi no Neiro) MV from Magico Nakamura on Vimeo.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Get ready to say “That’s ridiculous.”
Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to Call of Duty 4, has a special edition coming out that includes functioning night vision goggles. The less said about how ridiculous that is, the better.
Club Nintendo Rewards
If you were a Platinum member of Club Nintendo last year, you can earn yourself a Punch-Out Wii download that will allow you to box Doc Louis, your personal trainer. It’s kind of crazy, but also way cool.
1 Beellion Dollars
You know how EA has that pesky monopoly on football games due to an exclusive deal with the NFL?
Well, according to an economist, that deal has cost gamers about $926 million due to lack of competition allowing EA to raise their prices.
EA thinks this is ridiculous and I kind of agree. Guess what, Mr. Economist? If 2K still had access to NFL licenses, they probably would have sold their game for $60 too.
Looks Neat and Shadowy
That dude, Michel Gagne, who’s famous for leaving Disney and making his own cartoons has got a game in the works and it looks beautiful. Watch:
The game is called Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and it looks quite good and retro-tough. All of the footage is in-game, apparently, so it also looks pretty kicking.
On my second attempt to win an Uncharted 2 Beta key, I finally succeeded! I will let you guys know what it’s like once I get a chance to start playing, but I’m super pumped.
Kids are stupid. It’s really not their fault, how can they know anything about the important things in life without any real-life experience. Take my music-habits as a kid as a prime example. It’s not like I was listening to The Wiggles or anything so terrible, but among the real musical gems that I was listening to (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) on Majic 102.7 (WMXJ) was some questionable material. Sure, Alvin & the Chipmunks singing country music (Urban Chipmunk, lovingly referred to as “a piece of shit” by Rolling Stone magazine), Bugs and Friends Sing the Beatles, and Kermit Unpigged may have featured music by legitimate artists or actual classics in their genres, but, did you notice that it’s all marketing trash?
That was what I spent most of my time listening to, laughing like an idiot and thinking they were the greatest thing ever. Little did I know that I was far closer to musical perfection than I realized by another way I wasted my time. Of course, I apply that phrase liberally, because we all know that spending hours playing video games certainly seems like a waste of time, but is 100% legit. The year was 199X and I was manning the controller to save the world from Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters as they threatened humanity in the year 200X. Did you know that, with an easy gap of a decade between when I last played Mega Man and back in January of this year I can still remember and point out tunes from that game? Wait, did Dan just go and say that the soundtrack to Mega Man 2 is equivalent to great rock music? Just roll with me on this one, I’m making a point (a correct one).
It’s been said that necessity breeds innovation and nowhere was necessity more evident than the 8-bit sound processors encased within the video game systems of old. Ok, it was more evident in the previous generation of sound processors, but I wasn’t alive then and I don’t really care. Necessity bred one of the most kickass soundtracks ever to grace the 8-bit era. Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi made the Nintendo sing. Sure, they’re not quite as iconic as the works of Koji Kondo or Nobuo Uematsu, but they were really catchy, hip, and cool tracks.
That spirit of innovation was a requirement during the days of the NES and SNES, but by the time the Playstation hit most developers had moved onto Red Book audio and if they weren’t shelling out for full orchestras they were using MIDI synthesizers and the like. The art of what would eventually come to be called chiptunes was no longer necessary. We were better for it, right?
Last year I remember listening to an episode of Retronauts and the subject of video game music came up. The hypothesis was posited that in-game music had actually declined in quality and had become somewhat same-y. Iconic tunes were a thing of the past. There are a lot of things that could really affect this, I mean, do we ever really think that new media we come across as better than what we discovered in the past? For most people the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia prevent new, quality media from being better than what we used to watch/listen to/read in our youth. Things just aren’t the same anymore. To tell you the truth, that argument doesn’t even really matter in the context of this post, so we’ll move on.
All I was trying to say is that we, the video game-consuming public, have strong feelings of nostalgia with respect to chiptunes. So much so that musicians began to voluntarily restrict themselves just to see what they could musically produce. The chiptunes scene was born, social networking allowed it to grow, and we’ve arrived at Anamanaguchi.
Let’s face it though, just how much can a genre of music that involves 8-bit chirps, bleeps, and bloops penetrate the mainstream? I love video games and video game music, so something that sounds like it is naturally going to be attractive to me. Anamanaguchi can’t get around the fact that there are 8-bit samples in their music, but what they can do is try to broaden their sound by adding in real drums, guitar and bass. It’s brilliant. Limiting yourself to 8-bit samples will keep the audience equally limited.
There are definitely two names mentioned far too often on this blog, but I’m going to still mention Leigh Alexander of Sexy Videogameland, Kotaku, and Gamasutra fame, because her SVGL and Kotaku articles are the ones that alerted me to this band rising in the Brooklyn indie music scene. Her article mentions that the band has been listed as an up-and-coming band and not just among other chiptunes (or bitpop) artists. They cite their influences as real rockers, not 8 Bit Weapon, and it shows.
Of course, it’s still on the awkward side to share with random individuals who you can’t be sure will jive with chippy music. I picked up the albums this weekend hot off of watching a video, but I balked at exposing my visiting friends to it and opted to play it quietly in the background, but all that did was let the occasional muddled chirp sound through. Definitely not what I wanted anyway, so I just put on some FOB when I got tired of quiet bitpop.
Once I had some privacy and the ability to listen in depth, I found a great punk sound that totally blew me away. There are two small albums available on Amazon.com: Dawn Metropolis and Power Supply EP, with the former being the more recent release. At their website, Anamanaguchi.com, you can listen to all of Dawn Metropolis and you can also check out an interpretive video that plays in the background of their shows at this site. The little videos show an interesting mini-epic that the music is trying to convey and are pretty cool and trippy.
The best tracks to check out on each album are:
Power Supply EP
- “Video Challenge”
- “Helix Nebula”
- “Air Base”
- “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”
- “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”
There’s just a great sound to these discs and I think it would be a definite challenge to keep your toes from tapping to these beats.
Below are some videos, one of “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” and another from Blip Festival 2007
Anamanaguchi – Jet Pack Blues, Sunset Hues from Dr. Limelight on Vimeo.
Anamanaguchi // Blip Festival 2007: The Videos from 2 Player Productions on Vimeo.
King of Fighters XII, yeah that’s still coming out. I’m having a hard time caring without Mai :hint hint: See the episode below to catch the trailer.
Remember last week when I told you all about that Giant Bomb achievements feature? Seems I’m not doing that well. I’ve only got ‘A’s in Mass Effect, Castle Crashers, and Lost Odyssey and a good chunk of my rare achievements are World of Warcraft achievements available only to those who were playing the game way back in the day. That being said, I do have a lot of Lost Odyssey and Mass Effect rare achievements and I think I’m going to ignore the DoA 4 rare since it’s probably the anti-achievement I got for losing tons of matches.
If nothing, this has inspired me to start hitting up those achievements harder. The easy targets would be more Mass Effect, Rock Band 2, and Lost Odyssey for the S-Rank. but I think that I will be playing Fallout 3 once I finish Persona 4 next, so it might have to wait a while. That’s a respectable endeavor too, since I only have a C in the game.
It’s raining, but is it heavy?
The oddly named Heavy Rain promises to bring mature, serious gaming to the PS3. I’ve heard much about the game’s merits, mostly from Shane Bettenhousen back when he was on the 1UP crew, but I’d yet to see any footage of the game in action. Lucky for me, GTTV, or Gametrailers TV, is featuring Heavy Rain in their latest episode:
(Sorry about some of the stupidity of the interview, I don’t write the immature questions)
As the episode mentions, Heavy Rain is developed by the same folks who brought us Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophesy back in the day. That game had a narrative that quickly fell apart near the end, but was an otherwise solid piece of storytelling. Heavy Rain has serious promise not to fall into that trap.
How cool is it that if one of your characters dies it becomes part of the story. You lose control of that person and the game continues. Seriously, all they have to do is not get stupid ridiculous like the end of Indigo Prophesy and they already have me as a customer.
Guess what? You can export Miis to the DS!
The previously hidden feature doesn’t do much for games that don’t support it, but it’s crazy to learn this little secret. Pressing A, B, 1, and then holding 2 will bring up the export dialog. Useless, but cool for the future.
Do me a Solid, will ya?
New Metal Gear game announcement at E3? Seems likely. The teaser site is apparently flashing 5@E3…Seems pretty self-evident there.
The Pigs are keeping us down!
First Capcom, then Koei, and now Square Enix have restricted all Japanese travel to E3 this year citing the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic as the reason they are limiting their travel. Considering that Japan is actually facing quite the problem on its shores, you’d think that the execs would want to get out of the country sometime soon, but then again, I guess it’s the ethically responsible thing to do not to have them travel around. That being said, I’m sure the last thing Japan is doing in this case is worrying about US safety. All jokes aside, hopefully this swine flu pandemic slows down and goes away soon.
[Thanks to Kotaku and Gametrailers for the links]
We’re gonna take a quick break from talking about Final Fantasy villains until I take some time to figure out how I’m gonna tackle XI and instead talk about the game that kept me up until ~0345 this morning: Dwarf Fortress.
You’ve probably never heard of this game, but this incredibly robust one-man (!) coding project will knock your socks off. Here’s how I got around to it:
DF has been released since 2006, but I first heard about it on Three Panel Soul, Ian McConville and Matt Boyd’s followup project to Mac Hall. There was a strip in there describing a dwarf fortress whose entire economy consisted of cats. I was intrigued, but the game’s simple ASCII graphics made the interface look daunting and scary and kept me from trying it out right then. The seed was planted, I just didn’t have the time or patience to try it yet.
Fast forward to earlier this week. I’m listening to one of 1up.com’s podcasts, Good Grief (you rock Tina!), when they started talking about the ancient roguelike Nethack. I had to pause the podcast to go to work, but memories of the Dwarf Fortress strip clawed their way back up to the front of my brain (admittedly not very well, I thought the strip was about Nethack) and I started looking for the strip to get information about the game. Again, I found the graphics daunting, but I learned of a graphical tileset available at May Green that allowed you to take the hyper complicated ASCII graphics and turn them into at least more recognizable icons.
Still, it wasn’t enough. The game’s interface was super daunting when I booted it up and I was too intimidated. Cue the timely rant reference to the game by Tycho of Penny Arcade. His intervention led me to a detailed tutorial that allowed me to finally come to grips with the game mechanics and implement all the stuff I’ve been reading about.
Phew, so that’s a long way to get to where we wanted to get with Dwarf Fortress, but I think it’s a great story. DF has totally blown my mind as a game. Right now I’ve got abou 12-14 dwarves under my command and as I have them bore into the earth, deforest the landscape, trap bears and kobolds in cages, and wrestle so hard their clothes start to fall off in the barracks, I find myself falling in love with this quirky game. Every tiny detail is tightly modeled. For instance, every creature in the game has an organ system. Battle can cause damage to a dwarf’s spleen, causing him to die if he doesn’t get medical care. Individual limbs can be damaged. The guy in the tutorial caught goblins in cage traps (my main defense right now) and somehow in the ruckus the goblin’s eyes were gouged out. Now it just sits in the cage, freaks out, and repeatedly passes out. Here’s an excerpt from a dev about development of these systems:
“Today was compound fractures as well as fractured layers being knocked inward to damage soft inner portions. So a bone in the arm for example could break through the skin if the arm is struck by even a blunt weapon, and impacts can also force jagged skull edges into the brain or a broken rib into the heart or a lung (generally, the broken layers can cross body part boundaries according to the wound’s path over body part relationships)”
I could go on and on for hours about my fortress, but I’ll hold off for a bit until I’ve got some screenshots and some story to go with it. Can’t wait to get home and play some more instead of napping.
So I’m a little obsessed with the Zombpocalypse at this point in time. Between my recent obsession with the amazingly good Left 4 Dead and my strong desires to read books like World War Z, I found myself purchasing a comic book that I heard recommended by Shawn Elliot on the now defunct GFW Radio (now known as LAN Party).
The Walking Dead was mentioned by the podcast members to be a mature and complex view of the end of the world following the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s not your typical short, two-hour movie that ends, it is, as Robert Kirkman likes to make a point of stating (it appears on the back of each book), a continuing story of survival horror. His afterward on the first volume speaks about his dissatisfaction with the ending of all those movies. About his disappointment with the lack of a critical look at how society would proceed following the end of the world.
As a result, he created this series with a short term goal of at least 100 issues, but with the intention of lasting as long as he could manage to stay in print (technically as long as he wants to keep doing it). So far he’s doing a pretty good job of it too. The series isn’t too full of cliches and it does have characters whose archetypes haven’t been fully explored in zombie movies. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen any zombie media that has children in it, for example.
The story centers mostly around Officer Rick Grimes who was shot and went into a coma only to awake weeks later alone in a hospital filled with zombies. He reunites with his family and the story continues from there.
There are a few problems that I have with the book though, basically stemming from narrative weakness at times. Sometimes character motivations are erratic or strange, but this can be explained with the all-too-convenient “we’re all stressed from the apocalypse,” which I’m still not a fan of. There is also plenty of character culling that occurs almost too frequently. I know we can’t have the characters not die or it becomes boring or unrealistic in terms of the zombpocalypse, but as I said, sometimes it happens to often and you’ll lose a character that you just met a few issues ago or there will be a wholesale cleaning out of the unnecessary cast members.
Also, with the elimination of the Woodbury now and the deaths of both Lori and Judith, one has to wonder what the whole goddamn point of her pregnancy was? Why put us through all of that, the potential illegitimacy of the new baby, and all that jazz only to kill her soon after delivery. I’m also hoping that Andrea is still alive along with Glen and Dale, but I know that if I were to pick up the comic books and not wait for the next hardcover, I could easily know right now about some of these decisions.
With that said, I do really enjoy the book and I plan to continue to read it as it is released. You’re doing a great job Kirkman, keep it up!
Following the departure of Jeff Green from the GFW magazine, it seems that my actual favorite member of GFW, Shawn Elliot, is also splitting to head to 2k Boston, the game studio responsible for Bioshock.
While I applaud his career move out of the sinking ship that is GFW, I have to say that I will really miss his presence on 1Up podcasts. Best of luck to you out there in Boston, we’ll miss you man.
Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’ve instead started a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:
Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation
Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!
The 16-bit era may have refined the gameplay of each generation prior to it, true modern game design didn’t officially begin until the release of the post-16-bit consoles with their 3-D capable processors. We’ll just pretend that Star Fox didn’t exist on the SNES for the sake of this point, but even if we do allow it, the 3-D effects in Star Fox, or on any system prior to the SNES, were primitive at best. The first real 3-D game with any influence on modern 3-D games was the launch title of the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64. Everything from camera control to hub world design has been more or less ripped from this first, pioneering game to just about any other 3-D platformer and the conventions set forth by SM64 were even adopted by genres as distinctly different as RPGs.
Also debuting with the Nintendo 64 was analog control on the home console. Mario was able to walk or run dynamically based on how much pressure was applied to the control stick, and other companies took notice. Within a year or so, the Sony Playstation had its own dual analog stick control (two makes it better!), which initially seemed like a rip off, but was brilliant in conception as the second control stick allowed for the natural progression of the camera buttons into the camera stick. Dual analog controls led to the current incarnations of the console first-person shooter and the genre’s best attempt at mimicking the pinpoint precision of mouse and keyboard FPS control. Voice acting became prominent as developers moved away from cartridge media (some more begrudgingly than others :cough: Nintendo :cough:) onto the more spacious disc-based CDs and DVDs. In fact, games and gaming matured into the more cinematic experience we now enjoy based on the power increases this generation.
Surprisingly enough, the company that had been synonymous with the video game, Nintendo, faded into virtual obscurity with the Playstation replacing it as the industry leader. Late in this time period, we saw also saw the launch of the Microsoft Xbox and as we laughed at the bulky design, gigantic controllers, and relative lack of games available, save Halo (which I will go on record as saying I don’t really care for), Microsoft cooly and stealthy maneuvered into first place in terms of HD systems with its next console launch.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves with that last point, so let’s get back to the list. Our third place game takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…you meatbag. A blast from the past in taking place a whole 4,000 years before A New Hope, it’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
#3 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Lucasarts knows one thing is constant about its fanbase: they will consume just about any piece of Star Wars-related media that they throw out there and that attention to detail is commonly expressed through the many mediocre video games that the company puts out. While the series has actually enjoyed a number of stellar titles, the prequel video game blitz had been taking its toll on consumers as the property was overexposed and not with a bevy of AAA titles.
Enter BioWare, a company you wouldn’t typically associate with the sci-fi genre (back then). They were best know, at this point, for Neverwinter Nights, a D&D-based dungeon crawling RPG, and Baldur’s Gate, another D&D based fantasy RPG. These are very highly regarded titles to this date, as old as they are, but I know many of us couldn’t help but wonder about how Knights of the Old Republic would turn out.
Not being a company to stray from what they do well, KotOR’s battle system is essentially a turn-based RPG based on, what do you know?, the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The interesting part about the engine is that it defaults to a game that is very much not turn-based. You can input commands for the character to carry out in their next “turn”, but the turns were relatively seamlessly hidden from the player, making it appear that the non-queued actions were being carried out on the fly. Couple this interesting and actually well-orchestrated battle mechanic with the ability to wield a one-handed or two-handed lightsaber or dual-wield one-handed lightsabers, throw in a couple of force powers, including that evil lightning thing that the Emperor does, and you had fanboys frothing at the mouth to get their hands on this game.
Which brings us to the story, which was, rather unlike the Lucas-penned prequels, nothing short of amazing. As mentioned before, our story begins 4,000 before A New Hope and two mega-powerful Sith Lords, Darth Revan and Darth Malak, were wreaking havoc on the Republic, as Sith Lords are wont to do. The Republic is able to decommission Revan, thanks to the powerful Jedi Knight Bastila Shan, but Malak was still out there terrorizing systems with vast resources at his disposal of a mysterious source.
So what does this have to do with you, the Player Character? First, you have to decide on a couple of things: your name, gender, appearance, you know, the basics, then you’re plopped right onto a Republic ship of some sort that Malak is assaulting to get his hands on Bastila. You meet up with Carh Onasi, Bastila escapes on to the surface somewhere, and you and Carth head down to the planet yourselves to look for her, starting your adventure. The greatest part about this narrative though is that you can partially control its direction. Many of the quests and sidequests have multiple solutions based on decisions that will affect your alignment. What’s this alignment deal? It’s the core of the Star Wars existence, Light Side and Dark Side. Basically, your decisions will net you Light or Dark points that will determine which force abilities your character eventually has available to him/her. Helping people out generally nets you Light points. Helping someone out, getting your reward, then killing all of the parties involved and looting their corpses usually nets you Dark side points. While the game lets you officially decide on your ending in a dialog tree near the finale, these actions that your character undertakes will affect the way your avatar is displayed on screen and the way that characters interact with the player character. Someone like the hilarious and very evil droid HK-47 will applaud the taking of innocent life, guilty life, uninvolved life, etc., but a goody two shoes like Bastila or Carth will be a quite the buzz kill as they criticize the mass murders you may choose to commit.
Speaking of characters, the batch in this game are about as good an ensemble cast as you can find. Sure, Mission Vao, T3-M4, and Juhani aren’t that interesting, but the rest of the cast delivers it strong, with HK-47′s performance making him the stand-out character in the entire Star Wars Universe for me (followed by the eminent Grand Admiral Thrawn (AKA Mitth’raw’nuruodo) and the super-cool Mara Jade and Talon Karrde (can you tell I love Zahn’s Expanded Universe books?)).
“Definition: Love is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometers away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope…Love is knowing your target, putting them in your targeting reticule, and together, achieving a singular purpose against statistically long odds.”
Yeah, he’s that awesome.
All of this great characterization and gameplay would be for naught if BioWare hadn’t come up with an equally awesome plot for our beloved player character to run through. The tale relies very heavily on the plot twist that SPOILER ALERTyou are Darth Revan/SPOILER ALERT and that the battle where you were supposedly killed resulted in you simply being captured and the Jedi Order reprogramming your mind. This overarching story of the Star Forge combined with the mini-sagas taking place on each planet make for an excellent narrative structure that BioWare continues to implement in its other AAA sci-fi epic Mass Effect.
KotOR is probably the best Star Wars game I’ve ever played and among the top-notch RPGs I’ve ever played (rare for a Western RPG!). If you’ve never played it, you can pick it up for either the original Xbox or just play a slightly enhanced version for the PC or Mac. What are you waiting for? Go play it or I’ll send HK-47 after you!
Here’s some great HK-47 video, but beware, they contains spoilers (also, the second is from KotOR 2)
This next game will probably be the most controversial entry among all of the games I’ve elevated to this position. I’ll give you a few hints:
1. Its unveiling followed a proof of concept video shown at a prior trade show that was considered to be much cooler than the final product
2. Regardless of your opinion on this iteration in the series, it’s generally accepted that this game blows
3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
See More The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Various at IGN.com
#2 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
I’m sure a good chunk of the Zelda fans out there are wondering “Why Wind Waker? Doesn’t Twilight Princess qualify for this era?”
Yes, Twilight Princess does qualify for this era. Unfortunately, I think it’s uninspired and it suffers from lack of cohesive focus. When I played TP I felt like I was going through the motions to complete what was supposed to be an awesome game. It was definitely a more mature story and arguably slightly more interesting in execution, but it just felt lifeless and like Nintendo was just cranking out a mature LoZ title just to appease the fans after Wind Waker. Miyamoto genuinely thought that Wind Waker was a great game and I think he was seriously affected by the US fan backlash over what he felt was where the Zelda series should live. It kind of reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 2. Taken from a rather biased article written by Jeremy Parish of 1up.com, I found this quote:
“Kojima supposedly once said of Metal Gear Solid 2, ‘This is my Metal Gear. If it is to be destroyed, I will do it my way.’”
Parish admits directly after the statement that this quotation is probably apocryphal, but the general idea is still there. In Japan Kojima didn’t bother to hide that Raiden was the main character because he knew they wouldn’t mind him so much. In the states, Raiden does not have a very good reputation and a lot of gamers were upset about being duped.
This bait-and-switch happened to a much lesser degree with Wind Waker. Back in Spaceworld 2000, the aforementioned proof-of-concept video was shown.
This is what people began to expect from the next Zelda game. Miyamoto, perhaps remembering that Zelda was based on his childhood adventures in the countryside, seemed to want to bring Zelda back to its more innocent roots. The art style of WW is strongly reminiscent of A Link to the Past and the atmosphere is much less serious at times than that of Ocarina of Time (which is also amazing, but just doesn’t make the list, I like this one more).
The moral of the story: don’t make Miyamoto do what he doesn’t want to do. Otherwise you end up with a soulless game like TP instead of WW.
Speaking of WW, the game starts off by tying back to the Ocarina of Time, but this is definitely not the Hyrule that you once knew. In fact, it’s not even really Hyrule at all. The people of this world live on islands within the Great Sea. After your sister is kidnapped for looking too much like Zelda, you set out with some pirates to save her. Along the way you get a boat, explore dungeons, etc. Typical Zelda fare.
The story does get good though, as you eventually discover that the pirate captain you’ve been gallivanting with on occasion is actually the reincarnation of Princess Zelda, holder of the Triforce of Wisdom! You, naturally are the reincarnation of Dan (what? I always rename Link), so you’ve got the Triforce of Courage. This leaves the Triforce of Power, which, as always, is in the possession of the evil Ganondorf. You discover your true identities underwater in the game’s surprise twist. It’s unclear precisely what happened, but at some point the threat of Ganondorf was so great that the only way to defeat him was to call forth the Great Sea to submerge Hyrule and Ganondorf once and for all. The King of Hyrule, AKA the ship you’ve been sailing around in the whole game, was still alive, but sealed beneath the waves while Ganondorf had mysteriously escaped. Once you fully recover the Triforce of Courage, you confront Ganondorf, who extracts the Triforces from Zelda, Dan, and himself, and claims that whomever touches the Triforce will get a wish granted, his being the restoration of Ganondorf-controlled Hyrule. Before he can make a wish, the King of Hyrule touches it and wishes that Hyrule and Ganondorf be washed away and for Link and Zelda to escape. Link and Zelda turn Ganondorf to stone to keep him from escaping, water pours into the previously sealed-off Hyrule, and the great kingdom is erased from history.
Aside from being my favorite LoZ game story, I think that the Great Sea is my favorite LoZ overworld. Sure, it’s a little dull sometimes to sail around the map with the whole vast expanse of blue, but it’s also calming and fun at the same time. You see, you set the wind direction and you just put up your sails and move. Every little quadrant of the map features at least one, but typically more secrets and challenges and the whole island design allowed pre-Mario Galaxy development because each island could be specifically tailored to challenge different aspects of your arsenal of equipment and moves.
Sailing is fun, the story is fun, the gameplay is fun (but WAY too easy) and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters?
I remember seeing this sucker in the movie theaters:
This Japanese commercial emphasizes the stark contrast between how Zelda is marketed in the East and West. Our commercial has that dark and edgy look while the Japanese one is more whimsical in presentation:
The top game on my list for this era is one that I actually finished fairly recently. While some may argue that there might be bias because it’s the most recent of these games that I’ve played, those people are wrong. What is this game? Here’s the only hint you’ll get: within this game you will experience pain, fear, end, fury, sorrow, and joy. The one that doesn’t make much sense is probably the giveaway that I’m talking about Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Subsistence).
#1 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I’ve already waxed quite poetically about the game and story of MGS3 in my review, so if you skipped that guy to avoid spoilers, don’t bother reading it now, but that’s a good chunk of the validation for why this game sits at the #1 spot.
Still, I figure I should expand a bit about what makes this game so great. More than any other Metal Gear game to date (that I’ve played), Metal Gear Solid 3 absolutely embodies the tagline of “Tactical Stealth Action.” As you slink through the Russian jungle to achieve your mission, you really do feel like this is how it would theoretically be done. Naked Snake is also a great character. He hasn’t seen as much action as Solid at this point in his life, so he’s more naive and pure. Seeing him develop into the persona of Big Boss is truly moving as you see why both Naked and Solid end up making the decisions they later make in life after growing tired of the endless manipulations of governments.
The game succeeds on all fronts and truly deserves to stand out as the best this era ever produced.
Here’s a parody video highlighting one of the other characters as the actual protagonist:
Yet another parody movie regarding the end of the game:
Oh man, what a great Japanese commercial:
So that’s that for the Post 16-bit, Pre-Current Gen top three. Keep tuning in this week to see what didn’t quite make the list, but was still awesome!