Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ten Video Game Pets That Would Be Awesome to Own (and what I would use them for)

10. Cerberus from Resident Evil

Take this sucker to the vet, see what happens.

Sure, he’s not much to look at and he might end up tearing you to shreds. But as far as a guard dog for your yard, used car lot, junkyard, daycare, or whatever, he will never falter, except against a well placed shotgun round.
Good Uses: Protecting beer supplies, fighting terrorism, doggie kisses.
Evil Uses: Sending out into shopping malls, Lady Gaga concerts, marching band events or other large crowds to destroy.

9. Yoshi from Super Mario Bros.

You’d never know this guy could eat you, then fart you out as a egg.

He’s a dinosaur you can ride on and he won’t try to kill you. You also don’t need to take the time to train him and modify with thousands of dollars worth of armor. He also wears boots. I mean, isn’t that enough? Sure he has a lot of strange fanboys/girls out there, but if they get in your way, you can command Yoshi to eat them. Amirite?
Good Uses: Charity parades, educational petting zoos, beer delivery runs.
Evil Uses: Eating just about anybody or anything upon command.

8. Chocobo from Final Fantasy

Take a wild guess what he tastes like.

There isn’t much to say about a chocobo other than after years of playing Final Fantasy, you just gotta have one. Sure, he may not do much but run really fast (unless you find a rare flying one), but who wouldn’t want to mount up on a giant two-legged bird and run circles around their friends?
Good Uses: Delivering messages in a timely matter, saving people from floods (if flying), finding and reporting news about good deals on beer across town before it sells out.
Evil Uses: Commanding it to kick people in the face, putting it in fights for gambling purposes

7. Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog

It’s ok Tails, there’s always gonzo porn.

Tails? Seriously? The little whiney twerp from Sonic? Yeah… because, if you are a guy, you can train him to shut up and not talk and then put him on a leash and the ladies will DIG it. A two tailed fox? OMG KAWAII !!!! Oh yeah, the furries will dig it to, if you’re into that kinda thing.
Good Uses: uh….
Evil Uses: Impressing ladies, tormenting furries.

6. Donkey Kong

Hi kids. This is what’s called a “shit-eating grin”.

Let’s face it, having an intelligent ape who won’t punch you to death is pretty damn awesome. This is all about strength and intelligence.
Good Uses: Lifting kegs of beer, defending the helpless, chasing down bad guys and punching them to death, opening up stuck jars
Evil Uses: punching people to death.

5. Spyro the Dragon

Spyro obviously knows that purple = pimp.

He’s cute and he’s deadly. Best of all, he’s compact so you can take him on airplanes and into little snooty cafes in Beverly Hills.
Good Uses: heating up food, melting ice so children can go to school (debatable whether this is good or evil), warming up your hands with a gentle flame after you have dranken too many cold beers
Evil Uses: Burn! BURN MY PRETTY!! MWHAHAHAAA *cough*

4. Dragon from Panzer Dragoon

RARRR! That’s it, just “rarr!”.

Another mount pet… many of us born in the early 80s might have dreamed of riding that freaky Luck Dragon from Never Ending Story. Those of you born past 1995 have no idea WTF I am talking about. Needless to say, having a dragon that can breathe fire, is loyal to you, and can fly, is pretty damn sweet.
Good Uses: Anti-terrorism operations, burning poppy fields, flying you home safety after beers with your friends.
Evil Uses: More burning, more evil.

3. Ecco the Dolphin

That’s not really Ecco, but I bet you couldn’t tell the difference anyway.

Of course Ecco had to make our list because he is like… a super dolphin... Not only does he have some kind of weird super sonar that will kill just about anything, but he can swim REALLY fast. Hitch a ride on this guys fin and he can take you anywhere. Okay, maybe he doesn’t belong at number three, but he is just so classic!
Good Uses: Bringing imported beer across foreign waters, destroying poachers with sonar, saving manatees and other marine life.
Evil Uses: Destroying intercontinental underwater internet cables so people can’t download porn or twitter anymore (evil?)

2. Amaterasu from Okami

Yep, rad as hell.

She’s a wolf God. She can fight like it’s nobody’s business. And she looks rad as hell. She also can command the celestial brush to make shit happen. I’m talking, like, anything.
Good Uses: drawing up more beer when it runs out, keeping your feet warm on a cold winters night, bring to schools to educate children about demi-gods.
Evil Uses: drawing doors on people’s houses so you can sneak in, the ability to destroy anything with a metaphysical paintbrush actually brings a lot of things to mind.

1. Rush

Can your dog turn into a submarine? No, so shut up.

Rush, simply put, is a kick-ass dog. Let’s start with the fact that other than some (probably expensive) maintenance, you don’t have to feed him or walk him. Hell, you might not even have to pretend to love him since he is pretty much idiotically loyal. But let’s look at what he can do: he can turn into a flying jet sled, a trampoline, a pogo-stick thing, a submarine, some kind of super strength armor, a jet pack, a motorcycle, and who knows what else… I mean, if that isn’t rad, I don’t know what is.
Good Uses: Thousands of uses, in fact, Rush could probably turn into a micro-brewery too.
Evil Uses: Don’t get me started. I’m the kind of guy who would take The One Ring and use it for evil, imagine if I had Rush. Writer - TinyDinosaurs

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nintendo's Third Party Disasters

“Nintendo’s Third Party Disasters”

Ever wonder why Sony dived into the gaming industry suddenly in the 1990s? The major reason: Nintendo’s third party licensing sucks.

Ironically, Nintendo came into the spot light by developing games as a third party publisher party to begin with. In the early 1980s, Shigeru Miyamoto, created Nintendo’s two stars, Donkey Kong and Mario, and began porting their classic arcade games to home systems at the time, which profited the company enormously.

Eventually this led to the creation of the NES later in the decade and the rise of video game fascism would begin. According to David Sheff, author of “Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children,” Nintendo had strict guidelines for its third party publishers, such as:

· Licensees were not permitted to release the same game for a competing console until two years had passed.
· Nintendo would decide how many cartridges would be supplied to the licensee.
· Nintendo would decide how much space would be dedicated for articles, advertising, etc. in Nintendo Power.
· There was a minimum number of cartridges which had to be ordered by the licensee from Nintendo.
· There was a yearly limit of five games that a licensee may produce for a Nintendo console. This rule was made due to caution of over saturation which caused the North American video game crash of 1983.
Simply put: If you didn’t salute the f├╝hrer of video games of the 1980s and early 1990s your company was out of luck.

Companies such as Konami formed two companies, Ultra and Palcom to get around Nintendo’s rules so that they could publish more games. To me this is ludicrous because if a company can consistently produce quality games why limit them? That’s just outrageous.

Think of the possibilities that could have happened if Square-Enix or Konami wasn’t limited at the time. How many more games would we have to remember? How much more profit would they have made? It just doesn’t make sense to me to put in so many rules and regulations on third party developers.

Earlier in the 1990’s, Sony tried to reach a deal with Nintendo trying to add a CD drive to the SNES that would be attached to the bottom of it. If you don’t believe me, check the bottom of your SNES. See that port on the bottom? That’s where Sony’s CD drive would have gone had Nintendo had their way.

Thankfully, Sony stood up to them and created the Playstation, which many of us have fond memories of.

With increased competition from Sony in the 1990’s to the present Nintendo still hasn’t learned its lessons after being pummeled by Sony and Microsoft over the years. It still has strict rules about what can and can’t be published. In fact, it’s the main reason why Final Fantasy 7 was published on the Playstation rather than the Nintendo 64. Square-Enix was tired of all the red tape and decided to move on.

Fast-forward today and take a look at Nintendo’s Wii. Is there a Final Fantasy on it? Nope. A Metal Gear on the Wii? Won’t happen. Third party publishers are tired of Nintendo’s unflinching desire to just let go of the rules. As a result, the Wii is just a novelity to most serious gamers. It’s something you play when you have your grandma over and that’s pretty much it (excluding a solid game that comes out once a year which is rare).

Nintendo: Either loosen up your third party rules or join the graveyard along with Sega. This isn’t the 1990’s or 1980’s anymore. People are so over Donkey Kong and Mario (including myself, who grew up with them). Get rid of the garbage rules or Microsoft will dominate yet another aspect of our lives.

- Smiling Cobra

Thursday, December 24, 2009

“No Russian” Scene – Has Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 gone too far?

You’ve seen it, you’ve heard about it on the news and you’ve probably had a friend talk about it. Yes, the gory “No Russian” mission of Modern Warfare 2.

For those who haven’t experienced it, check it out here (warning graphic content):

The first time I went through this mission I was just utterly shocked, to the say the least. I remember hearing the guns cocking, the men zipping on their Kevlar and the elevator opening and the final quote “remember, no Russian,” before seeing a bunch of people lined up outside of a security clearance.

I thought “This can’t be happening, is it what I think it is,” and I saw the four men around me raise their guns and fire at all the people in line. “Wow, I just felt like what it feel likes to be a real terrorist,” and really feeling horrible at the carnage that was unleashed on my screen.

After walking through the airport for what seemed like hours, executing people left and right, encountering the Russian police and finally getting shot and killed the end; shot right in the face.

So has Infinity Ward gone too far with MW2? My answer: No, they haven’t and here’s why.

Whenever an action movie or a horror film comes out does the media ever criticize it for being too gory or too sexual? In most cases, they don’t. In fact you’ll often see quotes from popular movie critics about the movie being “visually stunning” and what not. But when it comes to video games? Oh, no we can’t have that!

MW2 simply allows you to view things from the eyes of a person who has been murdered or is a terrorist. It’s an action movie that the player gets to control. Can a movie really simulate your own death or having you pull the trigger on innocent people? Maybe, but no one has done it so far and it wouldn’t be as entertaining as a video game.

How is that any different than any other movie out there? There are ratings on the games so parents can know who the target audience is just like movies and yet video games are treated differently. Hypocrisy if you ask me.

Other video games have been put on the cross in the media. Bioware’s Mass Effect is perfect example. It wasn’t as “violent” or “gory” as MW2 but it did include a “romance” scene. The media (Fox News in particular) erupted with criticism about the game’s scenes.

Bioware and the creators of the game were taken back from the out lash that Fox News gave them and decided to further instigate it in their latest game Dragon Age: Origins. Simply put, they added more “romance” scenes including a gay scene for some hot man on man action. Take that Fox News.

I digress however and should get back to MW2. Before the game was released the “No Russian” scene was leaked. In my opinion, this was a smart tactical move by Infinity Ward and it had to be a controlled leak. Here’s why:

They knew that the media would go ballistic over such a scene like the “No Russian” one. This would get the media into a flurry of activity and create free publicity for the game, and you know what they say about publicity: Any publicity is good publicity.

So has this scene gone too far? Certainly not, it’s an interactive action game. How often do you get to be put into a situation where you get to murder people and actually feel how horrible about it? If anything it would remind players that life is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It also shows that all of us, no matter how much of a hard-ass we think we are, we do have morals for what is right and wrong. It shows just how truly evil terrorism is. Writer - Smiling Cobra

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Memories in video gaming: One Old-School Gamer’s Perspective

A Link in the Past

I must have been seven or eight years old, and I remember when my brother and I received that very first Legend of Zelda NES cart. We tore apart the plastic cellophane and opened up the box to reveal… a gold cart.

We, along with millions of other kids, then spent their every waking hour on the first Zelda game released in the United States. Video game magazines then were hardly available (most having died off in the Video Game Crash of ‘83), there was no internet, let alone a, with easy-to-access information… everything was word of mouth. So when we put the cart it, we didn’t know what to expect… hell, we didn’t even know what to do. But we loved it.

When we found the first dungeon, walked inside, and the music turned to ominous (keep in mind, in those days we were used to only one or two music scores for an entire console game) we all looked to one another and wondered “Just where the hell were we?”. I think we may even have gotten scared and ran out of the dungeon, fearing that Link’s three measly hearts wouldn’t cut what we were about to face (which would end up being a few measly bats and a pretty weak boss).

We spent hours trying to figure our way through dungeons, hand drawing maps, not knowing where to go, finding items we had no idea what the hell they did. We fought through bad engrish, and we didn’t have one single walkthrough to help us. We had to rely on friends of friends whose friends had parents who would let them call the Nintendo hint helpline, or who had an older brother that had figured it out on their own.

I remember dungeon eight could only be found on the map by blowing a whistle at a certain fairy pond. Mind you there were no hints to lead you here. We spent close to a year trying to figure this out, and nobody we knew had even gotten that far. Lo and behold, one day my brother’s friend was goofing off, and blowing the whistle in every screen, and when he got to that particular fairy pond, blew the whistle, the pond dried up and the staircase appeared. We all looked at each other as our mouths dropped and just sat speechless for minutes.

In the end, I think it took us two years or so to complete Zelda… not that it was a hard game, not that it was we were dumb (maybe we were a little dumb) but because there was nothing that would tell us where to go or what did what (especially if you were one to lose the instruction manual, as we children so often did). Now you can onto the net, and in two clicks your answer is solved.

But back then, there were very few complex adventure games (console wise that is… if you were into Sierra dominated PC gaming back then, you were screwed and destined to log onto sierra BBS’ or buying hint books), so it was possible to take a year or two to solve and beat one game.

Into the future

Now every month (sometimes, every week) epic games that take hundreds of hours to complete are released, with complex gameplay and complicated puzzles, and lots of extra content… yet, it seems it only takes a couple weeks to a month of heavy playing (okay, sometimes two, max) to beat these games. I wonder how many of us (me included) can sit at one RPG or adventure game, get stuck on an area and then feel the itchy fingers and desire to head onto the internet to check for the answer.

But why waste time when the next best game is coming out tomorrow, or sitting on your shelf ready to play?

There is definitively something gone from the classic feeling of gaming in the retro era, but it’s a double edged sword. I would rather have the selection of games now than the selection I had back then, because if we had the same selection back then, we probably wouldn’t have spent two years playing Zelda.

But if you ever find yourself wondering… just wondering…what the hell it was like to be us back in the mid to late 80’s, go ahead, put in (or ROM up, or virtual console it up) a NES game you’ve never played (give Castlevania 2: Simons Quest a go!) and try to get through it without anything other than the manual it came with…hours of brain numbing exploration…trial and error…maybe a good ol' pen and paper.

- TinyDinosaurs 12/11/09

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This Week in Gaming

The good, the bad, and the hope for a better tomorrow; all these are wrapped up in this week.

First, the bad. The XBox 360 turned 4. I'm not questioning the status of the 360 as the Ultimate Console Force in the Universe. I'm merely pointing out that, after four years, Microsoft still has issues ensuring the 360 remains Fully Operational, which in turn has left their XBox empire Vulnerable to Sony and Nintendo. Those of you reading this will likely fall into one of two camps: "Wow, fours years and no red ring of death yet!" or "Aargh! Four years and two 360s later, maybe this one will work." Sadly, for all the awesome brought to us by Halo, Assassin's Creed, and Madden, the 360 may always be remembered as much for its hardware issues as its gaming successes. And that's the bad side of the 360's birthday.

On the good side, we have the 5 year anniversary of World of Warcraft. The giant empire that sucked away the spare time of much of the free world has only been around for five years. Really, only five. Meanwhile, the origins of the Warcraft franchise are 15 years old. While I would love to join the masses celebrating a long Thanksgiving holiday with twenty hour marathon sessions in Azeroth... my internet connection at my current address makes WoW totally unplayable. I might have to stick with Orcs and Humans. And I'm ok with that.

And as for the hopes of a better tomorrow: Black Friday, meet the recessed gaming industry. Across the country, studios are showing a reluctance to hire. It is an understandable reluctance. Until we know for sure that the economy has stabilized and that the average consumer will open the wallet for a $50 title, development studios have to play conservatively. This holiday season is the perfect opportunity for consumers to provide that encouragement to the gaming industry.

So this weekend, do your part for the global economic recovery. Buy lots and lots of video games thus encouraging studios to invest in new workers, driving down unemployment and providing enjoyment and entertainment for all. Remember, only you can spark the gaming industry!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nintendo's Sky Is Not Falling

By now you've no doubt heard that Nintendo's last quarterly fiscal report was not as awesome as we have come to expect from Nintendo. Depending on where you get your financial news, you may be half convinced that the lower Wii numbers are a sign of doom for the company and an indicator of a tragic collapse in the gaming industry. In reality, it is no big deal. In fact, it might actually be good for gamers.

Yes, the PS3 has passed the Wii in monthly sales. There is an excellent reason for that. Two of them. Sony finally brought the PS3 price down to reality and the Wii, it seems, has just about saturated the market. With no equivalent of the Red Ring of Death to encourage repeat customers and help pad sales, once the Wii market is saturated the sales numbers will drop. That doesn't mean the death of the Wii. It simply means Nintendo's game has changed.

Now, more than at any other time since the release of the Wii, Nintendo will rely on software to drive revenue. If they want to continue to rake in a cool billion a quarter, they will have to sell games to all those millions of people who bought a Wii. That means Nintendo will have to find some good games for the Wii. And that could be a challenge, and that is why this is good for us.

For a very long time, the Wii has been flooded with crapware and cheap, ugly ports. Crapware and cheap, ugly ports do not make for happy accountants. We will only get burned by shoddy Wii titles so many times before we as gamers start to write off the Wii... and the Wii has been largely written off as a serious gaming platform. Nintendo's own franchise titles (New Super Mario Bros. Wii, for example) will continue to fly off the shelves in swarms... but Nintendo will have to do better. The occasional awesome Mario or Zelda title will not be enough to refill the corporate cash pipeline. Nintendo will have to come up with high quality, third party titles somewhere.

The result of rapidly declining Nintendo revenues, then, should be an increase in the number of high quality titles for us millions to play on our Wiis. Now that Nintendo will have to rely on software sales and has admitted they have dropped the ball in release good quality games, I think the company will focus more on what is published for the Wii. Better Wii games will mean more money for Nintendo.

More importantly, it will mean happy Wii gamers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gaming's Next Wave?

From abysmal 8-bit graphics to fully 3D worlds on your cell phone, gaming has gone where just about nothing (except maybe Linux) has gone before. And that would be everywhere.

But no sooner does the gaming industry roll over the cell phone market than a brand new challenge appears. Coming soon, I have no doubt, to a website near you... triple A titles for ebook readers. At this stage, thanks to Barnes and Noble, it is inevitable.

A quick recap on the dedicated eBook market as it stands today (and ignoring the legacy devices still sold by some publishers). There are basically three players: Amazon, Sony, and now Barnes and Noble. The interesting thing is that Barnes and Noble has decided to base their new entry into the race on Google's Android OS. Android, as I'm sure you know, is largely Google's answer to the iPhone and the iPod Touch, which are now being hailed by Apple as gaming devices on the same level as the PSP. In short, that means we now have an eBook reader that is backed by a somewhat open operating system that will no doubt become a significant focus of mobile game developers. The only problem is that screen.

Ebook reader screens are not exactly high performance, color drenched devices. They focus on battery life and being easy on the eyes, not accurate renderings of oozing alien guts. So, how will game developers adapt to low refresh rate, black and white screens? Excellent question. Other than text-based and puzzle games, I haven't a clue. But someone will do it. And when one studio goes there successfully, other will follow. And, in time, if the eBook reader succeeds on the market, gaming will adapt and the ebook space will become as saturated and competitive as the cell phone game market is now. This newest evolution of the video game might be the most interesting and creatively demanding one yet. It should be fun to watch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Games That Need To Be Made 2: Starship Troopers

No doubt, if any studio announced they were working on a Starship Troopers title, the vast majority of the media would assume a movie spin-off. Huge amounts of venom would be spewed on the company making a cheap Halo clone. Meanwhile, the original Starship Troopers, the Heinlein novel version, is languishing in the shadows... waiting.

Someone needs to bring it out of the shadows. I see this game primarily as an RPG. Character development primarily comes via promotion within the ranks of the military. In the novel, as a soldier moves up the ranks within the military, they still make the drop from orbiting spacecraft to planetary surface. The highest ranking general drops alongside the lowest rookie trooper. In the game, this would mean that as you move up the ranks, complexity and depth is only added. Little is taken away. There would not be a point at which you would stop shooting insects and concentrate on conducting a battle strategy. No, you would be conducting the battle, monitoring your units, watching for strategic opportunities, while doing your job as the Ultimate Orkin Man. Imagine trying to fight in WoW style cmbat while managing a Medieval 2 style battle strategy. Unless you're the poor soul who has to come up with the interface for such a game, that's probably an attractive idea... assuming it can be made fun.

And in between insect smashing action maps, as you visit various bases and stations for training or rest, you will be gradually exposed to the culture and backstory behind the war you are fighting, similar to how you are gradually enlightened in Half Life 2. Story is one factor that seperate great games from simply good ones, and the story in the novel can be easily adopted for the single player campaign of the game, no matter what choices you make.

In addition, the diverse ways to play would add both replay value and depth. Playing through the game without allowing yourself to promote past trooper should not be boring. But working up the ranks to general or admiral of the fleet should be equally interesting, for different reasons. Starship Troopers, faithfully rendered from the novel, should allow for an unprecedented level of depth and diversity within the game outside of the storyline. And that is before we consider the diversity of maps types, ranging from large planetary occupations to ultra small-scale raids.

Bottom line, ignore the movie and read the novel. Just about every location in the book, from boot camp to scorching a planet, can be imagined as part of an engaging and deep RPG. There is a real diamond of a game buried in that book, and I hope someone brings it to light soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Top 6 Videogame Westerns You Should Mebbe Checkout

Just played Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood recently, and it was good stuff; a decent McShooter dripping with pure, unadulterated "western", a theme I've always enjoyed. The guns are modest, dusty Winchesters and Colt Single Action Armies, rather than the usual modern guns and doofus sci-fi weapons. The dialogue is all hardboiled hick from the 188os ("AHM A CALLIN' YU OUT.") The Unwritten Law of the Size of Your Cowboy Hat, as Yahtzee so brilliantly pointed out, is in full effect. The music is classic western ragtime, and the gunshot sound effects straight out of the old movies and serials. And most important of all, that moral quagmire you find in the best of tales from the Old West shines through; the bad guys are vicious and brutal (worst of them a renegade a-hole Confederate colonel who vows to "return the darkies to bondage") while the goodies not much better (the poor Navajo learn this lesson quite the hard way).

Bound in Blood was polished and enjoyable enough to intrigue passers-by as I played it, including my fiance M, who then asked why isn't "The Western" more often of a theme in videogames. After all, many games are about shootin' shit, and many westerns are also about shootin' shit, and there's no shortage of tough guy tropes in either for children and man-children of all ages to roleplay as. The answers to that is 1) the videogame industry right now is fixated on McShooters, the gameplay of which doesn't always lend well to westerns (or, "the guns are shite", as Yahtzee phrases it), and 2) the western HAD in fact been a fairly common theme in videogames prior to these times, even right at the very beginning, such as Nintendo's very first game (Sheriff), the very first Japanese arcade game to be brought to the United States (Taito's Western Gun, via Midway), and as one of the first light gun games for both arcade and home console (Atari's Outlaw and the extremely rudimentary Shootout for the original Magnavox Odyssey). And without further ado, here's six more Western-themed videogames of note.

6. Mad Dog McCree

In the early days of gaming, Laserdisc/FMV games allowed many a company to dive into the videogame market using Old Media methods (such as Z-grade actors and cheesy props) without any of the fuss of dealing with the newer technologies videogames relied on. The drawback was, of course, that's little interactivity involved in a "game" that's basically a movie which runs on Quick Time Events. That didn't stop now-defunct American Laser Games from churning out a slew of these types of games, including this one.

In Mad Dog McCree you play the part of a nameless stranger who has obviously encountered the cowpoke equivalent of Caracas, Venezuela, being that he is shot at within half a minute of arriving into town. Seems that Mad Dog McCree and his gang are running wild, inflicting the town to such violence and humiliation as the imprisonment of its own sheriff at 2:24, the bad acting of the sheriff at 4:41, and the hilariously insane murder of the sheriff at 5:11. Fortunately, McCree's crew are complete dumbasses, as can be seen at 3:31; unfortunately however, the deliciously vicious cruelty of Mad Dog himself knows no bounds, as can be seen at 6:17 when he casually tries to blow up your grizzled friend with tens of pounds of dynamite.

While McCree was able to inspire a couple sequels, and the campy cowboy charm enduring (love the town mortician's various commentary that plays when you are killed), the title was obviously not a worthy pricey purchase then or now, as the "game" isn't much of one and requires at least a light gun of some sort to be remotely decent. But thanks to the unique interfaces of newer gaming platforms, Mad Dog McCree has encountered a renaissance as part of an affordable Wii bundle and even an iPhone release, where you'll be poking those outlaws to death with your finger. Make sure to use the middle one for Mad Dog, he deserves it for all this trouble.

5. Gun.Smoke

If the town in Mad Dog McCree takes place in Caracas, Venezuela, then the events in this game must occur during the Siege of Sarajevo. Ain't no wussy Z-grade actors in costume here in Gun.Smoke (sic, likely to avoid legal trouble with the show of the same name); cowboy hero Billy Bob, in his quest to free the town of Hicksville from the grasp of a family of robber barons known as the Wingates, will be taking on an endless horde of desperadoes, killers, Indians, snipers, bombers, ninjas, and a madman who's so obsessed with dynamite, it's literally on his mind. As in, lashed to his forehead. Fortunately, Billy Bob is armed with what could only be described as twin nineteenth-century RC-P90's. The tagline for this game reads: "RAIN OF BULLETS WITH THE TWO DEATH-DELIVERING GUNS". They aren't kidding.

The NES release of Gun.Smoke is a triumph from a musical standpoint. Despite the technical limitations, composers Ayako Mori and Junko Tamiya crafted a wonderful MIDI soundtrack that successfully evokes memories of Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, and Vaughn Monroe. It was one of the earliest examples of videogame music achieving art and legitimacy. Not bad for bleeps and bloops.

4. Sunset Riders

Sunset Riders was, I believe, the last title directed by one of Konami's great arcade gurus, H. Tsujimoto of Super Contra fame. Sunset Riders was certainly one of his best, and ranks right up there with the other Konami arcade greats of this period such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons; addictive gameplay that supports 4 players (!!), allowing a group of friends to blast their way through a very Wild West. Click the video to meet your heroes: bounty hunters Steve, Billy, Bob, and Cormano.

Believe it or not, Cormano, with his pink poncho and sombrero, is NOT the gay one. That would be Billy, who can be seen here sulking while his compadres wolf whistle at a showgirl revue. Who says Brokeback Mountain was groundbreaking?

Anyway, the plot is incidental: the four gunslingers come across a bright idea for a payday, which is kill all the worst outlaws in the Wild West and collect their bounties. This puts them in the crosshairs for every scoundrel out there, and believe me, if you are in a four-player posse, there will be a lot of them. At the end of level you track down your quarry, who's always a memorable boss character, including the vaudeville scumbag twins The Smith Bros., the preening Briton Richard Rose, and my favorite, a gracious thug named "El Greco", who's armed with a whip and hoplon shield and who, upon death, bequeaths his blood red sombrero to Cormano so that the latter doesn't have to look so gay anymore. Gracias, El Greco!

Humorous Old West antics aside, the game is classic, hectic arcade fun, as four friends fight off armies of killers firing at them from all angles while traveling through wild set pieces such as trains, horse chases, even across the backs of a buffalo herd. When is this one coming to XBLA?

3. Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist

There's actually been several different Western entries into the adventure game genre, but this somewhat little-known entry from Sierra's Al Lowe is a favorite. It was in fact a favorite of Al Lowe himself, over the rest of his other creations, and that includes the popular Leisure Suit Larry series. The game had, aside from the expected Sierra-style adventure gaming, an entertaining, joke-packed storyline starring a charming, bittersweet character who is classic Old West knight errant, as the game's memorable prologue ballad tells you below (or, you can listen to Lowe himself warbling it).

So Pharkas was once a gunfightin' prodigy who retired (very) early when outlaw Kenny the Kid humbled him. Now a candy ass pharmacist, Pharkas finds his past coming back to haunt him when he's embroiled in a town conspiracy, and may need to dust off those six shooters when trouble threatens those he loves. The game's puzzles and exploration, more so than most of Sierra's games and certainly others in the genre, intertwine well with Pharkas' humor and storyline, even contributing a bit of deconstruction to the Old West hero trope (Pharkas' self-discovery gets bittersweet when the player helps him track down his old gunslinger paraphernalia). Frankly, it was one of the best adventure games of that period, and if you have any sort of interest in the genre (especially since it's poised for a comeback these days), be sure to check this out somehow, or at least hope for a re-release soon.

2. GUN

If there was any type of theme that lends to the sandbox genre, it's clearly the western. Ride around small towns, committing mayhem, hunting for treasure or bounty on the side, gambling parlors, drunken fights with whores at bordellos...all that screams "GTA clone". Hell, plenty of the Old West frontier, the Chihuahuan Desert for example, is LITERALLY a sandbox.

There's been a few western-themed sandbox games (including one on the horizon for next year, Red Dead Redemption), but the best of them was arguably Neversoft's GUN. Although short (which, in my view, these days merely means its filler-free), GUN was much more truer to the elements of the genre that makes it fun to play: very open-ended, plenty of sidequests, and lots of crazy offbeat activities to distract yourself with, including scalping dead bodies and sticking hapless citizens with "dynamite arrows" (see below).

Also featuring an all-star voice cast including Kris Kristofferson, Thomas Jane (of Hung fame, who does great VA work as anyone who's played The Punisher on the original Xbox can tell you), Brad Douriff (yay, the Doctor from Deadwood!), Ron Perlman (yay, period!), and Lance Henrikson (fuck yes, period!), GUN is a great choice if you enjoy the sandbox genre (particularly before the genre drowned in linear, filler-humping GTA xeroxes) , and if you like a good western, then you've struck gold.

1. Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive

This is the one that managed to addict even M, despite all the quality of the others (er, well whatever quality Mad Dog McCree has). M is at best a (highly) casual gamer and, while interested in games with western themes, couldn't be arsed with dealing with the gaming stuff that comes along with it. That's where Infograme's execellent Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive comes in.

It's hard to describe just what the heck genre Desperados is for the uninitiated, but the best would be a "tactical puzzler"; think Police Quest: SWAT 2 with a touch of The Lost Vikings. You play as hired gun John Cooper, brought aboard by a railroad tycoon to stop a vicious train bandit in hopes that one thief could catch another. Cooper labors to assemble a gang to catch the desperado (and boy does he; if only human resource schmoes in our industry were as committed), only for them all to discover just how deep the banditry runs.

Each of Cooper's gang has advantages and disadvantages they can ply; Cooper for example has stealthy throwing knives but his spurs make a ruckus when he walks about, while freed plantation worker Sam has access to explosives and even a bag with a rattlesnake in it, and on and on for a total of seven or so different allies. The game then tosses however many of your posse the narrative currently gives you access to into a sprawling map, where you guide your allies via mouse-and-hotkey to mission success by any means you wish, or in M's case, any means necessary. In other words, I was quite surprised M's method of sneaking around a large female plantation worker in the second level. The woman, busily working a cauldron outside a shack, is overlooking much of the area leading to the exit for Cooper and Sam to escape from, and killing innocents is not an option the game allows. So what's M's solution? Distract the lady with Cooper's chiming pocket watch? Crawl through the cotton fields out of sight? Slip through and over nearby buildings? Nah. M settled for punching her in the back of the head, then beating her while she's down on the ground so that the poor lady stayed KO'd for the rest of the level. Argued M: "Hey! It's not like she died!" Classic western-style moral ambiguity that Sergio Leone would've no doubt appreciated.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Save The Galaxy: Take Two!

Bioware. As RPG makers go, the reputations don't get much more spotless than Bioware. Perhaps recently best known for Neverwinter Nights 2, Bioware has thrown its massive hat into the MMO arena. This is a good thing, I think.

Of somewhat more concern is the franchise Bioware attempting to MMO-ify. We've seen Star Wars in an online RPG format before. And it hasn't gone well. Granted, in the world of quality games, Sony Online Entertainment is to Bioware what a raw, greasy hamburger is to a 32oz top sirloin. So the general lack of consistent, high quality goodness from Star Wars Galaxies shouldn't in any way be taken to mean that The Old Republic will be a weak title.

But now there is no need to speculate. Beta sign ups are here. No matter how you slice it, this should be one of the most anticipated and closely watched game betas of the year. In the next few months we should be getting a fairly good feel for just how well Bioware has put this game together. Personally, I have extremely high expectations from these developers and cannot wait to see this game in action.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top 5 Suspect Homages in Videogames

"Suspect homages" are a fact in any medium. Sometimes somethings so good, the lightning in the bottle so crackling, that you must have it even if it means swiping the bottle when no one's lookin'. Here's my top five o' them.

5. Donkey Kong = King Kong

Right off the bat, you are thinking: "This is bullshit. It's a frigging parody; Donkey Kong 'steals' from King Kong as much as South Park 'steals' from Peanuts." And you and anyone else with a brain would be right. But tell that to arrogant Hollywood moguls.

In the early 80's, the original arcade smash Donkey Kong was making money hand-over-fist for a little company named Nintendo, with the latter planning incursions into the booming console and portable electronics markets. The success of videogames in general, and in particular Donkey Kong, was attracting the attention of a lot of Old Media, in the zenith of their power before they were to be humbled in the new millennium by little things like New Media and internet piracy. The mighty Universal Studios, owners of the King Kong property, dawned on an easy, all-American idea to enter the booming videogame market: sue Nintendo and friends for "stealing" their King Kong IP, demanding all profits and creative rights, and in return they "may" be allowed to work with Universal in the future. Don't you feel bad for pirating movies on the internet now?

Nintendo's licensors quickly folded under the threats, however, legendary Nintendo guru Howard Lincoln instead launched a legal campaign to fight back against this 800 lb. gorilla. Hiring the equally-legendary attorney John Kirby (of whom, it is said, the Nintendo character Kirby is named after), they proceeded to spank Unversial in court. The two companies together would essentially roleplay the "100m" level from Donkey Kong, with Nintendo as Mario yanking out the plugs and Universal as the doofus ape, stomping about, oblivious to its imminent doom.

Universal, it seemed, had argued in a case just years prior that King Kong was public domain, allowing them to swipe the character for a hideous retread. Now they were arguing the opposite, and on tenuous logic, no less. Universal's actions would lead to a loss of a good chunk of change and serious legal humiliation from a series of livid judges, one of them ruling that the gameplay of Universal's own King Kong videogame, in fact, ripped off Donkey Kong (King Kong = Donkey Kong!). The case would thus forever cement the legitimacy of videogame companies, and in particular Nintendo's prominence as One With Whom Not To Fuck With. It also gives us another reason to point and laugh at the movie cartel before we go back to torrenting. oh, that last line is in jest, I swear.

4. Limbo of the Lost = pretty much like all the games I own?

Since the days of Donkey Kong, the videogame industry has itself grown to be a huge, corporate behemoth. Despite this, there's still a trace of its old Wild West roots, sometimes showing up in scandals like this one: Limbo of the Lost from Majestic Studios. The development hell alone is enough to make it infamous. Low budget production values? Check. Ten years in development? Check. "Behind-the-scenes" clips made in YouTube amatuer-style? Check. A character named "Cranny Faggot"? Jesus Christ, check.

But what really made Limbo of the Lost the stuff of epic legends was that the game that was essentially a Frankenstein creation of stolen assets, images, even level design, particularly from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, of which they apparently didn't even bother to, say, remove references to characters in the art they stole from. Over a dozen titles have been linked to Limbo's thievery, and even footage from certain Hollywood films, such as Beetlejuice and Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series, have been spotted in the game.

Majestic Studios had wound up pulling distribution while it investigated what went wrong. Judging from my prior experiences in this industry, I'd say that, like too many projects in this industry, this one was headed by management dickheads whose videogame experience is limited to Minesweeper and online poker, and thus couldn't recognize the very assets being looted from AAA titles released only a few years ago. At any rate, Limbo of the Lost certainly lived up to its goofy title: forever lost in a limbo of infamy.

3. Quick Man = Stevie B

Videogame music has had already a rich, creative history in the 30 or so years since the genre first came about. While, for example, the American corporate music industry remains mired in churning out celebrities, chasing down teenagers for downloading illegal music, and slipping into irrelevancy, videogame music continues to grow and thrive, even into actual orchestra (check out the Toyko Philharmonic's rendition of a couple themes from Populous).

But with every artform, there's always a bit of suspect homage that shows up now and again, and videogame music is no exception. The similarities between the soundtrack of the original release of DOOM and popular rock metal of the day have been oft documented, Konami was forced to drop the Metal Gear Solid theme from their own series due to accusations of plagiarism, and the Elec Man stage theme from the original Mega Man seems to have been inspired by Tina Turner. Videogame music these days has gone far enough to become even a little intramural, if the recent Bandai Namco scandal is any indication (What bonehead steals music from Chrono Trigger? That soundtrack is one of the most obsessed over on the internets).

But, and speaking of Mega Man, the one that always amused me was the stage theme for Quick Man in Mega Man 2, and its passing resemblance to this cheesy funk single from the 80's.

I'm torn. On the one hand, Quick Man's stage theme seems to be Stevie B's "Spring Love" with a few beats altered, the tempo increased, a unique ditty tacked in on the end. I even recall me and my friends jokingly singing "Spring loooooooovvve....come back toooo meeeeeee" as we dodged those silly lasers back in 1989. On the other hand, Quick Man's stage theme, was, is, and always will be the dope show. And it takes pretty good talent to swipe a bit of music using a MIDI library, as opposed to, say, the Auto-Tune humping, sample-whoring "musicians" of today. So, uh, consider this entry redacted. Oh yes, and: Mega Man 2 rules.

2. K.C. Munchkin = Pac-Man

The O.G. of the "pretty blatant clone/supsect homage of a popular videogame" set, K.C. Munchkin! (exclamation point included!) was a home console clone of the original Pac-Man with some subtle changes (like turning the iconic Pac-Man character into a happy, hairy testicle with a mouth). Atari would ultimately sue publisher and archrival Magnavox over the issue, partly in retaliation for their similar lawsuit regarding Pong years earlier, but mostly in fear that the latter's superior quality to the notoriously awful Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man could cause them to evacuate in their moment of triumph.

Despite the obvious flattery, K.C. Munchkin! did have some genuine innovations, including dots that move around on their own and even level editors/generators (and hey, the courts did posit that K.C. himself had "more personality" and consumed "spookier" ghosts. Take that, Pac-Man!). However, the courts ruled in favor of Atari anyway, their decision probably influenced by Magnavox's own precedent regarding Pong, as well as the legions of knock-offs that Pac-Man had already been plagued with (witness Hangly-Man). The result was the premature demise of K.C. Munchkin! and a court decision that essentially confuses gameplay innovation with copyright infringement. History has not been kind to the decision; blatant clones still persist, most of them avoiding litigation, and the case would become especially irrelevant once the industry realized it was more lucrative to bring improvements to established gameplay ideas rather than pay lawyers obscene amounts of money to try to hold monopolies on them.

Despite their defeat, Magnavox was ultimately able to enjoy schadenfreude against Atari anyway, for two reasons. For one, the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man was such a failure that it's often blamed, along with E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, for causing the Crash of '83, whereas K.C. Munchkin continues to be appreciated by retro gaming fans to this today. The other was their cheeky "sequel" to K.C. Munchkin!, called K.C.'s Krazy Chase!. In Chase!, K.C. himself makes a little more effort to distinguish himself from Pac-Man, such as rolling about as he travels rather than "gobbling" forward. He still eats things, though, including his main target, a bloated, greedy worm; wonder what that last one's supposed to represent?

1. Squall Leonhart = this very metro J-Pop artist

There's perhaps plenty to dislike about Tetsuya Nomura, the popular character designer/artist of the new school Final Fantasy entries (and thanks to that popularity, now a high muckity-muck at Square-Enix). He's always had his detractors from the start, his by-the-numbers McAnime design (No sword too big! No hair too spikey! Never enough belt buckles and zippers!) in jarring contrast from the sumptuous and always recognizable work of series regular Yoshitaka Amano. Nomura was a mammoth hit with those millennials in the late 90's just beginning to experience these anime character design tropes for the first time. Those same fans wouldn't find out just how regurgitated these designs were until Nomura proceed to regurge all the way to around Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts, earning himself a fair amount of haters in the process. Speaking of Kingdom Hearts, when I heard of his role in the project, the first thing I thought was "He's gonna put a zipper and a belt buckle on Donald Duck's sailor cap". And sure enough, he did. (in fact, it almost looks like THREE zippers) Donald actually got off easy compared to poor Mickey Mouse, whose costume has, among other things, belt straps attached to the front of his shoes.

And speaking of his creations, there's perhaps plenty to hate about Final Fantasy VIII's marquee star, Squall Leonhart. Squall, in fact, can be seen as Nomura crystallized: for every one rabid idolater, there's a hater ready to stick in a shiv. Squall's game has been a victim of all sorts of excoriating reviews, the most legendary of which is a brutal, 7+ hour dismantling by Noah Antwiler of The Spoony Experiment. (On Nomura's designs, Antwiler wonders if there is a "'walking cliche' warehouse" the Final Fantasy VIII characters shop at) Often in the headlights for the game's creative failures is the ever-peculiar Squall himself; his cloying moodiness and sociopathic need to constantly prove he's a loner (even in the face of gorgeous women throwing themselves at his feet) is less Citizen Kane and more Anakin Skywalker, making Final Fantasy VIII that much more of a chore for some. Worse yet is that, in retrospect during this post 9-11/economic collapse/Bush clusterfuck era, his whiny pessimism about nothing looks all the more dated.

But one supposes that neither can be forgiven for stealing the look of one of Japan's most popular (and apparently most metrosexual) J-Pop artists.

Good grief.

Gackt is a musician/model/entertainer/human bishie based in Japan (whenever he's not torturing people with "crotch-splitting devices"). In the late 90's, right on the verge of launching his solo career, he would run afoul of this "homage" from Nomura and Square, and would later publicly deride the Squall character, according to this fan site, as "Gackt #2" . As you can see by the photo, Gackt is wrong; he only has one belt buckle in the pic on the right and zero on the left, whereas Squall has 8 buckles (including two on his shoes, unpictured). Case closed, go home Gackt.

Gackt would eventually forgive Square-Enix and Nomura, even himself crafting music for a later Final Fantasy title (the underwhelming Dirge of Cerberus). However, this suspect homage here will forever give haters of Nomura and Squall more ammo than they probably need.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

If Video Games were reliastic... has posted a hilarious photoshop gallery depicting what might happen if Video Games were more realistic.

There are some real Gems like this one:

And this one:

as well as a couple that I don't quite get, like this one:

and this one

You can check out the full Gallery here.

Source: Evil Avatar Forums

Monday, September 14, 2009

GDC 2009, Austin

Starting tomorrow in the heart of barbeque country, the Game Developers Conference, Austin will be underway. While it isn't likely that any major news will break from GDC Austin, keep your eyes open anyway. With keynotes from Sony Online Entertainment and Blizzard, you never know. The speakers list reads like a gaming red carpet list, but also includes a fair number of smaller studios and independent developers. The bulk of the conference gets underway on Wednesday, and I will certainly try to list here anything of interest that may break in Austin.

Monday, September 7, 2009

EyePet: The Tech Demo That Isn't

In 2008, Sony was showing off videos of something called EyePet, a digital monkey that would use the camera attachment for the PS3 to interact with gamers and their immediate environment. The demos showed the strangely cute quasi-monkey being petting by the gamers, learning to draw, and interacting with items digitally manipulated by the gamer. And just about no one took it seriously.

Later this year, EyePet will come out. And according to reviews popping up around the internet, it will deliver. Just about everything Sony showed, the EyePet does. The quasi-monkey can learn to draw. And he interact with objects you draw. If you draw a car, he may well drive away. You can pet the quasi-monkey, or feed him. Presumably, if so inclined, you could beat him like a drum. Take just about everything we saw in the Milo demo at E3 for Microsoft's Project Natal, and the EyePet is slated to deliver it on a smaller (and cuter) scale later this year.

Now we are still a long way from Natal-style purely motion gaming. The PS3 camera is not Natal. It isn't close to Natal, and no one, including Sony, is billing it as Natal. Regardless, Sony has put together an entertainment package that brings game elements with real-time motion capture and player-game interaction via controller gestures. This will be just about the first time the average (PS3 owning) person will be able to play with this type of set up first hand. As a result, this will be one the first indicators as to whether controllerless gaming is something that gamers actually want. An early indicator, but an indicator to be sure. Since motion-controlled gaming seems to be the wave of the future, it is an indicator well worth watching.

Friday, September 4, 2009

8-Bit Vinters creates wine for game nerds!

The Schulemeister is on record that my obsession with 8-Bit games is threatening our friendship. But here's something that he and his Geek Wine buddies can definitely understand.

As part of it's PAX coverage, Wired has posted up a quick tid-bit on a new wine maker named 8-Bit Vinters.

Acording to their about page they are up in the Walla Walla Washington "wine country".

There first vintage is called "Player 1" ('natch), here's what the website has to say about it:

The inaugural vintage of Player 1 displays the quality and diversity of fruit that is being produced in Eastern Washington. Player 1 is blended from various vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope, and Walla Walla Valley. 2007 was a moderately warm growing season with long, dry, sunny days that allowed for extended hang time during harvest. This wine shows an accessible and approachable style that is both fun to drink now and has the acidity and tannins to hold up for 5 years plus.

Appellation: Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, and Columbia Valley
Blend: 50% Syrah, 30% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Carmenere, 5% Malbec
Harvest Date: August and September 2007
Bottling Date: July 2009
Cooperage: French, American, and Hungarian for 18 to 22 months
Alcohol: 14.1%
pH: 3.74

As it happens, my brother lives up in Walla Walla (he's a former "Whitman" alum who could never leave). I'm going to see if he can score me a few bottles.

If I can I'll post an "un boxing / un corking" video for y'all to enjoy. If you can't wait that long, you can always order a few bottles for yourself from the companies website.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Video review of the Zizzle home pinball machine.

There was some discussion of the new Zizzle home pinball machine on this month's Retro Gaming Round Up so I had already had a little background on these machines. UK Mike and Subaru Brat described these games as being halfway between a toy and a true Pinball machine. Scott even talked about some people taking these and retheming them or updating them with high grade pinball components.

Well, I didn't have to wait long for additional information. Bill Loguidice over at Armchair Arcade has posted a nice little video review of the "Marvel Heroes" table. Seems like a pretty solid pinball experience:

Data East arcade classics coming to Wii thanks to Majesco.

A character named "The World" from Data East's Magical Drop

Game Set Watch has been doing some digging around the ESRB's rating information site and discovered that several Data East arcade games have been recently rated for release on Nintendo's Wii.

According to the ESRB listing the games included in the collection will include the following:

Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Burger Time, Caveman Ninja, Street Slam, Secret Agent, Magical drop

I'd buy this collection for Burger Time and Bad Dudes. I've never heard of some of these other games, I think Secret Agent was called Sly Spy, but I'm not 100% sure, One thing I can say is that the ESRB's description of Magical Drop is intriguing:

A puzzle game called Magical Drop III depicts female characters wearing provocative outfits that expose underwear and deep cleavage. When players score points or make successful combos, the background figures cheer or move in ways that cause their breasts to jiggle.

If they put that quote on the box, they should secure an additional 100k in sales.