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Review Update: Life of Pixel

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LifeofPixel33

Life of Pixel has come a long way since we last reviewed it almost a year and a half ago on the Playstation Mobile platform.  At the time developer Super Icon was self-publishing on Sony’s open platform and what they created was a gem of a title at just around a dollar.  You can read my previous review if you’re interested but suffice to say that despite the Playstation Mobile platform being dead, the game lives on in all its glory on the Vita (although you cannot search for it, you must browse the Playstation Mobile tab in the Vita store).  After a few attempts to expand the license and platform, Life of Pixel has re-emerged, this time on PC, with a slew of changes (mostly for the best) and three more platforms for your retro gaming bliss.  I must admit that the game is addicting and right at home on mobile, but that there’s definitely much to be gained by planting this tightly timed platfomer on bigger screens.

LifeofPixel13From the moment you load the game, you can tell it has been updated.  Most consoles are now unlocked from the start (previously you had to complete half the levels in a console to unlock the next), Professor Pixel has been added to provide console background introductions before each set and offer hints along the way, and everything seems just a bit more crisp.  I understand that retro fans will be hesitant with that last statement because it may mean that the classic Atari 2600 or ZX Spectrum graphics will no longer look authentic, but worry not because none of those factors have been tweaked.  Additional tweaks include a timer for speed runners (previously your final time was shown upon completion of a level), newer mechanics like bombs, driving, and even flying, and the ability to take two hits instead of one – I wasn’t personally fond of this change because I was of the few who 100 percented the original version, but you can self police by restarting if you get hit.  I also loved the addition of the 16-bit generation with the SNES, Mega Drive (Genesis to us US folk), and Amiga being integrated with as much care and appreciation as the previous consoles.  Also it appears developer Super Icon is less afraid to pay homage to the classics, as you can see in the screen shots, and it was a blast playing these interesting hybrids between the favorites of my youth and Life of Pixel‘s distinct level design.  All in all this is definitely a complete package that enhances an already wonderful game, updates more consoles (including making the most of the sound chips of each),  and getting it to a wider audience.

LifeofPixel23I will admit that it was a bit of a stiff control setup, but this is at the fault of the PC platform and not Life of Pixel.  It fully  supports keyboard and controller inputs natively, but a fierce platformer will mop the floor with the lackluster 360 gamepad d-pad that I used on my PC for gaming.  Fortunately I had a PS1-style USB controller that worked wonderfully to counter these issues and I found this guy for only $5 at Micro Center.  Once you overcome that initial hurdle Life of Pixel had me all over again and I couldn’t help but try to 100 percent it a second time (thanks to the new levels and a few of the harder original ones I’m not quite there yet, but I will be soon!).  Some may criticize the game’s $6.99 price point, but I find it hard to scoff at the authentic and beefy game you get for half the price of the average indie release nowadays.  Furthermore, I have always touted that $1 on the Vita was far too low and that this game was easily a $5-$10 back then, let alone now.  Trust me, if you like old games and grew up with many of these consoles (and microcomputers for our European gamers) then there’s no way you won’t be charmed to death by Life of Pixel.  I don’t mean to gush, but I cannot say enough good things about this great throwback title that nails neo-retro.

Editor’s Note:  Due to the fact that this game is technically similar enough to the original that we do not deem it a new product, Life of Pixel’s original score would have been kept the same.  Since we did not support scores when the original game was released, it was re-evaluated for a score, which is posted below.

Review Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Life of Pixel is available on the PC and MAC platforms directly from the developer’s site at http://www.lifeofpixel.co.uk for $6.99.  A review copy was provided to the site.  It was played for approximately four hours to explore new content and properly evaluate all changes and enhancements.  If you wish to see the game on Steam, it is currently up for the Greenlight Program and you can vote for it.

Written by spydersvenom

August 29, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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I Love My MAME Cab

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mame_cabMan do I love my MAME cab.  In the culture of emulation, I’m not too keen on the concept.  I understand that emulation is necessary and that it has been an essential tool in not only archiving these great works of the past but also in allowing me to play import and fan translated games I otherwise never would have experienced.  Still, I think that more often than not emulation gives way to piracy.  If I want to go get Super Mario Bros 3 on NES, I’ve got a slew of choices: I can buy the original hardware and game, I can emulate illegally, or I can purchase legal emulated versions (Virtual Console).  In most of those scenarios I opt to purchase the tangible hardware/game – but this is not always the case as I have never purchased a Turbografx-16 CD console to play the handful of favorites like Rondo of Blood and instead “settled” for emulated, legal, Virtual Console and PSN versions.  On the arcade front the story is a bit different.  Not only do I have to pony up large sums of money for the hardware/software – in this case being a working cabinet and PCB board – but I also have to make space, transportation arrangements, power consumption, safety, and in many cases repairs.  It’s one thing to buy a PS1 game from Kentucky, have it shipped to you, resurface it if necessary, and then enjoy it.  For a good working Salamander cab I may have to pay $500-$1,000 upfront on eBay, drive to Kentucky with a large truck, move the whole thing over 1,000 miles without damaging it and paying for gas/transport, move it into my house, and then most likely degauss a monitor, replace some wires, re-solder some button connections, and if I’m lucky I can play that single game for about 30 minutes before it’s time for my A.D.D. brain to move onto the next new thing.

Enter MAME, Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, for the PC.  MAME is nothing new, the initial C++ build premiered in early 1997 when I was only in high school.  It has come a long way since then, but the core of the emulator remains intact and it allows you to play just about every arcade game that has ever come into existence and customize nearly every aspect of each game.  This comes with a price: at its core the emulator is command prompt (ie: what you used to call “DOS” if you aren’t familiar with command prompt inputs) that stops many players dead in their tracks.  It seems easy at first, just pull open a command prompt, type “mame.exe” along with the name of the game (rom) you want and go.  It gets complicated when you try to do things like adjust resolution, fit parameters, add enhancements built into MAME, use arcades with special languages or hard drives (SNK Neo-Geo or Capcome CP2 cabs), utilize controllers, or just plain flip a vertical game like Donkey Kong to working in the horizontal resolution of your monitor.  As a result, the MAME frontend has existed nearly as long as the program itself.  A frontend is a program that basically controls all of the aspects of MAME, puts in all the command prompt lines and options you want, and makes an easy launcher that usually contains an entire list of available games along with things like bezel art, marquees, screenshots, and even gameplay video.  With a copy of MAME (it is free at mame.net), a set of roms (be them a few or a complete 4,000+ set – don’t ask where to get those), and a frontend (here’s where to get those) you can create an all-in-one solution for an arcade on a relatively outdated PC that should only run you $100 today.

That’s just the beginning for many arcade addicts such as myself.  In college it was great, I just turned on this old Windows 98 machine that I set up to autorun the frontend Mamewah, and used the keyboard to play.  Eventually you beat DoDonPachi or Final Fight (neither arcade version available by digital means in 2001 when I was in college) enough times that you want the arcade “feel” and upgrade to a gamepad.  Using a program like Joy2Key (turns joypad buttons into keyboard presses and it’s free here) you play with the gamepad and pretend your PC has become and arcade console, but eventually that’s not good enough.  You do some stupid stuff like buy $200 X-Arcade USB sticks (link) or adapt PS2 Street Fighter 15th Anniversary sticks to your PC, but all have a limited life span and expensive replacement cost that you think twice on whether or not this is a correct solution.  Lets face it, arcades from the 80s and 90s were built to be abused and these fragile re-creations of the last decade or two just cannot compete.  Eventually you decide to yourself that you are going to get an arcade cabinet.

sf-anniversaryThat story is different for everyone.  Some super classic fans get the Multicade, which is a 60-in-1 collection of the most popular vertical raster games from the past, slam that PCB into any Jamma cabinet (we will get to that later), and now you have simple but addictive games like Ms. Pac-ManDonkey Kong, and Dig Dug at your fingertips.  Others grab those Neo Geo MVS cartridge-based cabs and scour eBay for the perfect combination of two or four classics from that library.  Some will buy their favorite game growing up, which is usually safe and inexpensive because by definition our arcade favorites were the ones that saw mass release like Mortal KombatStreet Fighter II, a Konami licensed brawler, or a shmup.  You’ll buy that, play it to death, and then I assure you it will eventually collect dust.  Then there are those like me who pick up the cheapest arcade cabinet that meets their needs (in my case it was a Pit Fighter cab with a working 25″ monitor that some guy gave me for free provided I came by and picked it up) and convert it to a MAME cab.  In many cases these conversions do not damage the original hardware, require no soldering or electronic knowledge, and only need a scant bit of software knowledge.  The following article (with the longest intro in history) discusses the steps to turning a simple arcade cabinet into a MAME cab, the cost involved, and the high level process to making it a reality.  As always, you can hit us up at the Contact link if you have additional questions for your setup, but please note that there are lots of online arcade resources that are probably much better than I am.  Also if you want to rehab or fix a single game arcade cab or are just curious about that side of it, a great technical resource is John’s Arcade on YouTube.

Selecting Your Cab

For me this was easy: I wanted something that fully worked with the biggest monitor and cheapest price.  As I began shopping I learned that most arcade monitors are between 19″-25″ and a vast majority will have horizontal resolution (like your TV, think Mortal Kombat) vs. vertical (think narrow sideways widescreen monitors like early games Space Invaders, Galagaand Frogger).  There are also two monitor types: raster and vector.  Raster monitors look much like the monitors and TVs of today, except that they tend to operate at a 640×480 resolution in 15 khz (which is a much lower frequency than computer monitors, more on that later).  Vector monitors are actually beams of light that create razor sharp graphics in either single color or multicolored setups that have more archaic graphics because they are literally drawing the image.  Vector monitors are rare because they weren’t in many games and a large quantity have died out and no one is making new ones – games include Red Baron, Tempest, and Asteroids.  Vector monitors usually are vertical resolution and should not be used for MAME cabs (not even sure it’s possible).  You also will benefit from getting a setup with the proper wiring structure, in this case I recommend the Japan Amusement Machinery Manufactures Association (or JAMMA) setup.  JAMMA is the most common wiring for arcade cabinets and it was widely used across the world because you could program your game to use this wiring setup and then swap the PCB (game) in and out of the cabinet at will.  It allowed arcade owners to buy like 30 cabinets and then just swap the bezel art, marquee, and PCB around to turn any cab into any game.  As a result most of your second generation games and later (1987-2000) will usually have JAMMA wiring, harnesses, and setups.  You can easily identify the JAMMA setup by the PCB wiring, or just doing a quick search on Google before buying a specific machine.  Please note that JAMMA is either wired for 3-button or 6-button, the later usually only being used by fighting games that already have six buttons, but either can be used by a MAME setup.  It can be time consuming, techincal, and an overall headache to convert a 3-button JAMMA to a 6-button because you have to re-wire the whole cab.  You have been warned.

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In the end I would say that a good two-player, 3-button, decent monitor JAMMA cab can be had for under $200 – sometimes even free like mine – and once you’ve done the wonderful process of moving it (bring a friend and a dolly) and quite possibly disassembling parts of it or your house to get it into a room, you’re good to go.  If you are a fighting fan, need a complete working list, or various other factors, a Capcom fighter a la Street Fighter II and its various iterations can be the better option, but cabs like that can vary, get expensive, and have limited quality so use caution when purchasing what is quite possibly the most modded arcade game of all time.  Always wanted to find a good well kept Killer Instinct myself but to no avail.

Selecting Your PC

p4Plain and simple Windows XP is the best PC to run MAME on because it’s compatible with every version, every frontend, and every software solution to making a PC run in a JAMMA harness.  You can get by pretty well with Windows 7, but most people I know downgrade to XP (full disclosure: my first MAME PC was an XP but my current is a Win 7).  You don’t need too much hardware and an external graphics card, while necessary for this conversion, has absolutely no bearing on the graphics.  It’s all in the processor.  I usually try to find a 3.0 ghz Pentium 4 or around there because right after that when they went multi-core MAME isn’t optimized for it.  RAM can be a biggie because it determines the games you able to play, although 2 GB of RAM are required by Windows 7 and that should be sufficient (and frankly the 512 MB required by Windows XP will still run a vast majority of games).  Since price and spec of computers change on a daily basis, this may not be a great reference later, but currently a perfect PC for MAME use would be this one at Micro Center (the Dell Optiplex GX620 Big Case) for $100 (it comes with Windows 7 but XP will be free these days).  Even better, this PC supports external PCI-e graphics cards, which most MAME cab creators will need.  When purchasing these cheap PCs for your setup, be sure to verify it can do that because there are many former office PCs that have an open PCI-e slot that cannot use them for graphics cards.  Again, a quick Google search will help you determine what’s best.  Once you get this computer, you’ll want to set it up with all your software and basically make it work the exact same way you want your MAME cab to work before starting the process of converting to your actual cab and adding in the graphics card.  You may even want drop a shortcut to your frontend in the “startup” folder for windows so that your PC will boot right into the menu and thus remove the need for keyboard/mouse when finally integrated into your cab.

 

Selecting Your MAME Version and Frontend

This is completely dependent upon the user.  Some people like different versions of MAME than others and at times it may come down to the rom set you have (many MAME rom sets are based on the specific version of MAME they are compatible with due to the name of the roms at the time that version was published).  If you mix and match rom sets for one version with a different version of MAME, some roms may be unrecognizable but I do not know how drastic these changes are.  You’ll do a lot of reading through message boards in your journey and you may find the version you think is best based on the feedback of others in your search.  As for the frontend (links in earlier paragraph), that again comes down to how much customization you want, what operating system you are using, what kind of cab you are using, and then personal preference.  The plus side to frontends is they are their own program so feel free to load up the specific MAME and rom set you want and then bounce around between frontends until you find one you like.  Again, MAME rom sets are not legal so how you obtain them, how many you obtain, and various other questions involving the games themselves cannot be answered here and will not be answered if you contact the site.  Your answer lies in a search.

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Putting it Together

Now that you have a working cab and a working MAME PC, you have to put these guys together.  This will require the following: an interface solution (some form of hardware/software that links the PC to the cab for button inputs and video/sound output), a way to send the correct video signal to your cab (this will be a graphics card of some kind), and a few bits of software to connect the pieces.

ultimarc_insideFirst off, the interface solution.  This will almost universally be handled by a J-PAC (I always use UltiMarc), which is a $60 item that plugs into your JAMMA PCB plug and will hook up to your PC’s video card, keyboard/USB port, and also accepts a separate keyboard (if necessary) for you to interface with.  In return it will give your PC keyboard inputs for all of your directional pads and buttons.  This will be how you can interface with MAME via your cab.  Now, while it does
have frequency jumpers for 15/25/31 khz so as not to burn out your arcade monitor with too much power, it does not convert the signal down to those frequencies so you will need a proper graphics card that can do this.  J-PAC is ready to go with 3-button setups but will require some re-wiring for any 6-button setups (although you can try plug & play but I doubt it will work).  There is a disc that comes with it that contains instructions on various setups, but for the most part I find the J-PAC to be ready to go out of the box (other than the monitor frequency jumpers).

Next is the graphics card.  In order to display your PC on an arcade cab you need to get the resolution proper for display (most horizontal monitors are 640×480) and the frequency correct (most monitors I’ve worked with are 15 khz).  The easiest way (but not the cheapest way) to do this is to purchase the ArcadeVGA graphics card (also from UltiMarc) for a whopping $90.  The plus side you get out of this card is that it’s tailor made for what you want and does pixel perfect recreations on your arcade monitor without software or settings.  This is an especially tempting option if you need a J-PAC and purchase at the same time.  I have seen them in action and they are nice, but I already had a graphics card that works and a J-PAC so I opted out of this for my current setup.  It’s by far the easiest and best option.

Alternatively, you can use a software called Soft15k to force any compatible graphics card to get your PC resolutions and frequencies used by arcade monitors.  You’ll be spending some time in the FAQ on this one.  If you scour the FAQ you can find compatible graphics cards (I’m in there too), but what I used was a Radeon HD 4350 by Gigabyte I can vouch for and the Arcade VGA is based on the Radeon HD 5450 so those are good starting points.  Try to pick cards from that era because they were low profile and required no additional power like today’s cards.  Also before you ask (and get no answer), Soft15K does work with Vista (don’t use this OS) and Windows 7.  The catch with Soft15K is that once you install it and shut down, the next boot will be in 15 khz and thus won’t display on a monitor, you’ll have to plug it into your J-PAC, turn on your arcade and pray that after it boots you get a viewable screen.  Remember to find and adjust the vertical and horizontal placement, size, and v sync to make sure the picture is not rolling, centered, and fully viewable (it’s usually 6-8 nobs with labels found somewhere on or around your monitor).  Assuming you’ve gotten it all set up, you should have a working MAME cab like this!

Cost and Final Rundown

So, how much should you expect to spend?  Of course it will vary based on arcade cabinet, hardware, software, options, etc.  Here’s a quick breakdown of my setup and you should be able to freely adjust the slight changes to your preferences.

Arcade cabinet:  $0.00 (but $150.00 in transport costs for renting a UHaul – be sure to rent the dolly too – and paying for gas and pizza/beer for those that helped me)

Computer:          $100.00 (try  not to spend more or use a modern rig)

J-PAC:                 $59.00

Graphics Card:  $30.00  (Gigabyte Radeon HD 4350)

Random purchases:  $150.00 (hardware, parts, degaussing coil, external speakers, etc)

Total Cost:  Approx $500

Total Time Spent on First Build:  Approx 10+ hours (spread over a week)

Again, your mileage may vary, but this is a good and (relatively) inexpensive way to play any arcades you would ever want.  Granted, based on cost and space this is not the option for everyone but without the cabinet the PC portion and price definitely can be.

 

Written by spydersvenom

August 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Arcade, Blog, Features

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Podcast: What Did You Expect?

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This week Fred and Jam are joined by guest Fortengard to talk about the world of video game movies.  Now, if we just sat around and ragged on them all day we would be just like every other gaming podcast.  Instead, we delve into concepts of production, adaptation, and what makes these movies good or what makes them completely worthless.

Note: I promised to post the chat for this show as well, you can find it here (.doc version).


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Retro Game Night: Jaws Games

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This week, for no particular reason, we decided to tackle Jaws games. There were three, but given time constraints we only tackled two: Jaws for the NES and Jaws Unleashed for the PS2. There may be a follow-up for Jaws: Ultimate Predator on the Wii.

Written by spydersvenom

August 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Posted in NES, PS2, Retro Game Night

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Podcast: Genesis Does

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This week Fred, Jam, and Derrick from Dead Pixel Live are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Sega Genesis.  The first heavy hitter of the 16-bit generation started as a console for sports games and high quality arcade ports and later became known as the console for edge and violence.  They cover the creation, launch, and span of a console that in six short years gave us a coveted library of memories.


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Written by spydersvenom

August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in Genesis, podcast

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Retro Game Night: Fire’n Ice and Skyblazer

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This week the “$130 episode” features the NES sequel to Solomon’s Key Fire’n Ice and the recently featured Retronauts favorite Skyblazer for the SNES.

Written by spydersvenom

August 17, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Review: Dino Crisis 2

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Dino_Crisis_2Console: Playstation, Windows
Released: 2000
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $14.00 (disc only), $25.00 (complete), $50.00 (sealed) per Price Charting

Dino Crisis 2: The Lost World. Okay, it’s just Dino Crisis 2.  Just a year after the first game, we get the second game from Capcom, and this time the developers decided to stray away from the survival horror gameplay and try take the series into a unique direction.  This is where the series started to experiment and take a new direction in terms of gameplay and mechanics. So was the game a development success or should it be a forgotten fossil?

dc2_1Dino Crisis 2 has a rather complex plot from its predecessor.  A city has vanished in time which was working with “third energy” and the survivors are now having to put up with some rather hungry Dinosaur residents.  Regina from the first game and a team called TRAT (another great Capcom name) are sent through a time portal to rescue survivors.  Surprisingly you begin the game as Dylan a generic looking army guy from TRAT. Throughout the game you will swap between Dylan and Regina who both use their own unique weapons.   The plot is explained at the end of the game in a very long cutscene but it’s unlikely you will particularly care, the story really comes across as an after thought in this game.

On your very first dinosaur encounter you realise the focus of the game has shifted to action over survival horror.  Initial impressions of the game are positive, plus you now have a Hud which displays your health status and your ammo. You can also move not only with your weapon readied and while you shoot as well as having tons of ammo to cope with the ridiculous amount of enemies you’ll be blasting. In fact, its fair to say you see more raptors in the first segment of Dino Crisis 2 than in the entire campaign of the original game.

When you enter an area dinosaurs will spawn constantly and as opposed to running away you’re now encouraged to shoot everything. It can feel frustrating as the dinosaurs sometimes leap out of bushes and damage you, which feels cheap and unfair. You rack up “extinction points” and can even increase these points by getting combo kills and exiting an area without receiving any damage. Extinction points can be used at computer terminals which are scattered throughout the game. You can buy new weapons, ammo, upgrade the ammo capacity of a gun, buy health items and upgrade items for your character. You can also save at the terminals as well.

Controls are practically identical to the original game. The main differences are you can press L1 to aim at a different target thought I found this useless in the game and just didn’t seem to work. It was easier just to re press R1 and you would aim at the nearest target. As opposed to a primary weapon you now used a secondary weapon like a machete to attack enemies in close quarters. This was very useful especially when being attacked by multiple enemies. The game also mixes gameplay up with a few on rails turret sections which mix the action up and are a nice change of pace.

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Puzzles this time around are essentially find a key and put it in the right door or buy a item from the computer terminal to progress through a section of the level. Though none are taxing on the mind some of the keys are hidden in horrible places that require you to backtrack through the game quite far to find them. The good news is I found on multiple play throughs you could pick these items up early if you know where to look.

The graphics return to pre rendered backgrounds in this game, so all screens are static and no more 3D models in the level environments. This probably was for the best as the game looks great. The environments are now a lot more varied, you’ll be running through jungles to larva filled caves. There is even one section where you will put on a diving suit and explore underwater which was very interesting. Of course occasionally you will hit a research facility to investigate but with the pre rendered backgrounds they look so much nicer this time around. The character models are as to be expected by this stage. The dinosaurs look fantastic especially with the variety of beasts you will encounter this time around.

Since the game is less about horror and more about shooting dinos in the face the game includes a full soundtrack. The music is surprisingly catchy and suited to the environment your exploring. Yes, the terrible voice acting returns with some really brilliant Capcom one liners this time around. The dinosaur sound effects are absolutely superb.

dc2_3It’s very much worth pointing out both Dino Crisis 1 and 2 introduced mechanics that would become standard affair in later Capcom titles. Dino Crisis brought 3D environments, 180 turns and the dreaded quick time even. Dino Crisis 2 brought a point system which could be used to buy and upgrade weapons. As gamers we have a lot to thanks (and in some cases hate) the series for.

Dino Crisis 2 is not a very long game. You will probably finish the first time through in around six hours and this will significantly decrease with multiple playthroughs. The game is not particularly difficult but crank it up to the hardest setting and it will keep you busy for a while. There are no multiple endings but you unlock the Dino Colosseum this is a mini game which allows you to play as characters and even dinosaurs from the series in a mini game where you have to wipe out multiple waves of dinosaurs. You can also unlock a VS mode where you and a friend can choose a dinosaur and fight to the death. There is also Dino Files to collect through the main campaign finding all of these unlocks a special card which lets you play through the game with unlimited ammo.

Dino Crisis 2 is a fantastic sequel taking the series in a direction that is different but better. The game builds on practically everything from the original. More dinosaur types from 5 to 11 so your not just shooting raptors for a change. More weapons for each character. More varied environments and just generally more fun. What the game does focus less on is puzzles. Funnily enough the audience who may dislike this game are the hardcore survival horror fans, which is funny as that’s the audience I recommend the first game to. The game is entertaining and very simple to pick up and play. Even after your done it is likely you’ll occasionally re visit the game to casually playthrough again.

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Also be sure to check out the Gaming History 101 Podcast Game Club episode where we discuss both Dino Crisis 1 and 2.

Written by jamalais

August 13, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Podcast: Final Fantasy X, X-2, and…XII?

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ff_coll_postThis week we are an ensemble cast with Andy from 42 Level One and Agents of Shieldcast as well as Eli from Knuckleballer Radio joining to discuss the main PS2 iterations of the Final Fantasy Series: X, X-2, and XII.  As with all our FF eps, it’s a broad overview, but the discussion will help you understand what to expect from each iteration and what development changes were made.  With the recent HD remakes of the X titles, you may just be tempted to give these titles a second glance.


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Written by spydersvenom

August 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Dino Crisis

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dc_boxConsole: Playstation, Dreamcast, PC
Released: 1999
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $7.50 (disc only), $10.00 (complete), $35.00 (sealed) per Price Charting

Dino Crisis really sounds like a winning formula if, like me, you are are fan of survival horror and dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong? Well its time to revisit this Sony Playstation 1999 release and see if it stood the test of time or should have remained extinct.

Dino Crisis released when survival horror was hitting a peak in the industry, at least in terms of the “tank-like” control system. The Sony Playstation had plenty of games like it to offer. In the same year Dino Crisis released we also saw Silent Hill from Konami and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis also from Capcom. Interesting to note: Shinji Mikami – creator of the original Resident Evil – was heavily involved in the production of this game so much so his name was put on the front of the box in hopes it would sell the game. Clearly something worked as Dino Crisis managed to sell over one million copies.

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Dino Crisis is set on Lisle Island and you play Regina, a member of SORT (Special Operations Rescue Team), because it wouldn’t be a Capcom game without a made up special unit. Regina, along with your team members Gail and Rick, are sent into the facility to hunt down Dr. Kirk who is a scientist working on a project titled ‘Third Energy”, which is believed to be linked to the production of dangerous weapons. Not long into the mission you find out most people in the facility are dead and the place seems rather empty, which should probably sound familiar for a survival horror game. Rather than the place being infested with a different common nasty, you find it’s dinosaurs that are responsible. So begins a survival tale of finding Dr. Kirk and getting out without becoming dino food. There really is not much to say on the story and it follows a very predictable path, even if you haven’t played other Capcom survival horror games.  Still, if you hunger a more in-depth look at the complete plot, we did a game club on it that you’re welcome to listen to.

Dino Crisis is a survival horror game that uses the tank style controls that are really “love it or hate it” by this point. You have limited ammo and health items and are generally expected to run from enemies more than attack them. Dino Crisis does introduce some new mechanics to the mix as well. In this game you can ready your weapon and move at the same time, however when you shoot your weapon you still remain stationary. You can spin 180 degrees on the spot, which is handy for quick escapes in the game. There is also this unique mixing mechanic where you can combine ammo and health items to create special items to enhance your equipment. Another new health item allows you to continue from the room you left off, should you die, basically acting as extra lives without returning to the last room you saved in. This mechanic comes in very handy for some of the frustrating encounters.  This game will, at times, allow you to make decisions on how the story progresses, triggered by the characters Rick and Gail giving you a choice on how to handle a particular situation. It’s a interesting mechanic that encourages more than one playthrough of the game and also helps you see the entire story – if you have any interest, that is.

dc_postA mechanic I didn’t care for in this game was the damage indication. There is no health bar, not even in your item menu. You are expected to watch Regina’s stature and movement to tell if she is injured. This sounds unique on paper, but most dinosaurs take a lot of health off especially on harder difficulties, making you more likely over use health items and get pretty irritated. Regina can also bleed, indicated by a small blood trail as you walk. Basically she will bleed out and die unless you stop the bleeding with a hemostat or health item that combines that effect. Surprisingly, these health items were pretty sparse.

The game feels much more puzzle-focused than action. You will regularly encounter puzzles which require you to find two discs and then enter a password by solving a logic puzzle. These are repeated throughout the game and get progressively harder. Though it is nice to see a game that asks you to use your head for a change, the backtracking through the environments to look for a single item gets very frustrating.

The graphics of the game are something new for the genre. The entire level design is now 3D rendered – this means all the items and environments are given their own 3D model – which is counter to what we’ve seen in the Resident Evil series that used pre-rendered backgrounds with single character models. Also occasionally the camera will follow Regina as she moves. It was probably a test what to expect from Resident Evil: Code Veronica, which used the trick often. Though the engine looks cool if you have a appreciation for game engines, to most gamers it will come across as ugly because the environments lack depth and detail when compared to pre-rendered environments used by most other survival horror games.  This is to be expected due to the technical limitations of the time – early 3D provided you with flexibility or graphical quality, but almost never both.

Character models are standard affair, the dinosaurs really steal the show as they look very impressive especially considering this is an original Playstation game. It’s just a shame there is not more dinosaur types. You have the raptor, which is the main enemy you will face, pterodactyl which are just a pain, Compy which just chase you around, some four legged dino that does a hefty amount of damage. Then there is the T–rex, which just looks great and most encounters with it lead to one hit deaths unless you handle them properly.

dc_3There is not much music in the game just the occasional tension theme to add to the horror elements. The voice acting is absolutely awful, but why would you want it any other way for a Capcom game?  The most memorable sounds are by far the dinosaur noises from the T-rex and raptor. Sometimes you’ll walk down a corridor and hear a raptor but it will never appear, a rare moment where the game actually felt scary.

To the games credit it really does try to make a game using Dinosaurs scary. The game introduces these “danger” segments where you walk down a corridor and a dinosaur essentially jumps you and the screen flashes “danger” you have to rapidly press any button on the controller to escape. It sounds like a good idea but like Quick Time Events (QTEs) in general these segments surprise you so suddenly if you don’t mash the buttons quick enough you die instantly.

I is not the longest game. Your first playthrough may take up to eight hours but that will significantly drop once you know where you are going. The game has multiple endings, harder difficulties and some extra modes unlocked once you have finished.  Overall, Dino Crisis is a decent game that will absolutely appeal to fans of survival horror and gamers that have a appreciation for early game design choices like the 3D models. For everyone else it’s a hard sell even if you like dinosaurs because the game generally is not that memorable and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I may have rated the game low but that’s only because I feel this won’t appeal to the mass market of gamers. Those that appreciate this game for what it brought to survival horror will be happy to add it to their collection.

Final Score: 2 out of 5  (our review policy and scoring can be found here)

 

Written by jamalais

August 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Quick Look: Bioshock

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Bioshock

This month’s game club is none other than the 2K Boston (Irrational Games) 2007 release Bioshock.  Unlike many of the games in our game club, it’s not the first time we’ve touched this game so instead of the usual banter we focus on gameplay elements, historical development context, and of course the slew of minutia that makes this nearly 7 year old game seem timeless.  Click on the icon above to view the video (embedding bypassed to improve home page load times). Due to a microphone balancing issue, my commentary is sometimes drowned out by the game’s audio

Written by spydersvenom

August 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

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