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Mario Kart 64 vs. Diddy Kong Racing – The Ultimate Retro Racing Game Debate

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The two notoriously addictive and challenging 3D racing games produced for the Nintendo 64 were Mario Kart 64, developed by Nintendo and released on February 10th 1997, and Diddy Kong Racing, developed by Rareware and released on the 21st of November 1997. Both games skyrocketed in sales and popularity, with Diddy Kong selling over 4.5 million copies and Mario Kart selling over 9 million copies. The outrageous sales of Mario Kart 64 was arguably due to the fact that the characters were previously known and established by Nintendo in previous games, whilst the characters featured on Diddy Kong Racing were generally new installments.

In fact, Nintendo used Diddy Kong Racing as a platform to set up new characters to be released in other Nintendo games; these were characters such as Banjo the bear (the Banjo Kazooie series following) and Conker the Squirrel (the infamous Conkers Bad Fur Day followed). But the age old debate between old school and retro gamers remains: which was better? There are hardcore advocates and arguments on both sides, some of which we will take a look at.

Storylines

dkrac_1Typically racing games do not have or need a strong storyline. It is arguable that if people have bought a racing game, they want to race vehicles around a track, not play an action adventure. There are certain disadvantages including a storyline, such as once you have taken all of the available cars for a spin around every track, where is there to go from there?

Mario Kart 64 has no discernible storyline – effectively, Mario and his friends have all gathered together and decided to race – that is simply it.  On the other hand, Diddy Kong Racing has a developed, all be it mental, storyline. It involves Wizpig, an alien pig from space, trying to take over an island that a tiger has been put in charge of… and there’s a flying elephant at some stage… it’s crazy. However, this injects a huge element of fun into the gameplay. When you have a known adversary to eventually race against, it spurs you on and gives you the drive to race again and again.

This is what Mario Kart 64 is missing.  The argument is that a single player mode that involves racing against the other characters again and again with minimal dimensions to the story don’t give you a drive to continue playing for hours and hours on end.

 

Tracks

toad_turnpikeWithin Mario Kart 64, every track has been extremely well thought out and detailed, complete with the music reflecting the mood and feel of each track. You always know which track is your favourite and which one is your worst because they are all extremely distinct from each other.

When looking at the racing courses on Diddy Kong Racing, so many tracks evoke a feeling of unremarkability. Having played both, I couldn’t tell you which is my favourite Diddy Kong course, but I can instantly recall my favourite Mario Kart track (it’s Toad’s Turnpike).

Gameplay

Controls

The controls in Mario Kart 64 are, unfortunately for Diddy Kong Racing, unparalleled. Both the responsiveness and the terrain interaction match perfectly to give an accurate representation of each player’s ability at the game itself.  Diddy Kong Racing, on the other hand, struggles to match up to the same level of responsiveness, and the terrain can make the game almost unplayable on some of the (ice) levels.

Vehicle Diversity

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The vehicle selection in Diddy Kong gives you access to a selection of cars, planes, and hovercrafts.  This, whilst giving more of a variety of gameplay to a gamer, has upsides and downsides. The hovercraft is extremely hard to control, cornering like a golf buggy on ice. The planes, although fun, have issues with certain tracks as it is seemingly impossible to turn a corner without crashing into a wall. Even with these detrimental aspects, the vehicle diversity keeps the tracks interesting and challenging.

In Mario Kart, you can develop your technique with each character, but after playing the game for a long time you get so used to the tracks and vehicles behaviour that the game becomes less challenging.  This can lead to getting bored with playing the game, which is obviously the opposite effect that the developers wanted.

 

MultiPlayer

There is no discernible winner in this category; both games have a great multiplayer component to them. Mario Kart has been supported as being the better of the two for group racing and battle rounds, but I think this is more a matter of personal preference.

 

The Verdict

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Although both games have great attributes to them, I believe that Mario Kart 64 is the winner. This is purely down to reflective talent in the controls and weapon base that the game possess. Although Diddy Kong Racing has a great free roaming edge to the gamer platform, Mario Kart‘s developed tracks and notable characters are unforgettable. In the debate about what’s a better video game, sometimes the effort into developing and making them is forgotten. Product design consultants and software design companies work hard to achieve the best gaming experience for their audience base, and I think that they should be commended with both titles in creating two fantastic and distinct racing games.

 

Written by Drew Rapley

May 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Blog, Head to Head, N64

Tetris Aid

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How Tetris Has Been Used in Research To Help Health Problems

tetris_1

Tetris that famous game released in 1984. Beloved for its simplicity and addictive nature; but did you know that Tetris has actually been used in a variety of medical studies?  There is plenty of research reporting the benefits of gaming despite the media having us believe playing video games turn us into serial killers and dysfunctional members of society. Today’s article focuses on the research studies performed using Tetris.

Tetris good for the eyes.

le_tetOne interesting study carried out in America and even in the UK is using Tetris to treat Amblyopia. You may know this condition more as a “lazy eye”, where one eye is not seeing as well as the other eye and can be accompanied by an eye turn.  It usually occurs at a very young age and current treatment involves patching the good eye to force the bad eye to work. Spectacles are also given to aid this treatment. Unfortunately not all treatments are successful and the lazy eye can remain into adulthood; treatment for a lazy eye in adults is usually ineffective.

A study in in Canada at the McGil Univesity found playing the game Tetris with both eyes open was more effective than patching the good eye¹. In the study participants wore special goggles.  Some of the patients had their good eye totally occluded during Tetris play whilst the other participants had both eyes open and the goggles showed different images of the Tetris game.

The study found vision and depth perception improved dramatically and studies are now under way to see if the treatment can help children with a lazy eye.

Tetris curbs your addictions

.Ever had a addiction?  Smoking? Coffee? Buying too many video games? Well this study from Plymouth University in the UK may be for you².

The UK study on 119 people has found playing Tetris can reduce cravings for people with addictions. Published in Appetite, the study was designed to test Elaborated Intrusion Theory which suggests cravings are not just desire-based, but visual as well. The research hypothesized that performing a visual intensive task can reduce cravings.  In this test participants had to describe their cravings before playing Tetris and once the game was complete they were asked to describe their cravings afterward.

Students who participated in the test found their cravings reduce more than 24 percent compared to people who did not play Tetris.

 

Tetris helps with Trauma

At Oxford University in the UK, Tetris was found to reduce the effects of traumatic stress³.

ptsd_tetIn this study 40 participants were exposed to distressing images and half were then given Tetris to play after a period of time. The experiment then looked into the number of flashbacks experienced by the participants.  The half that played Tetris were found to have fewer flashbacks than the participants who did not.

It was believed playing Tetris helped disrupt the laying down of memories, therefore those who played the game had less flashbacks of the distressing images.  Since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relies on flashbacks like distressing sights, sounds, or smells of a traumatic event, the experiment worked on the principle that it may be possible to modify the way the brain forms memories in the hours after an event.

tetris_2

Of course it is important to point out all of these studies require more information and study to prove the theories. It does go to show that there really is proof that video games can actually be beneficial in helping several medical conditions. Of course that probably won’t change the bad press surrounding the media but who knows maybe in the future Tetris will be prescribed on the NHS and Doctors will be handing us Gameboys instead of pills.

References

1: lazy eye

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22245620

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130422122953.htm

2: addiction

http://www.joystiq.com/2014/03/23/tetris-used-to-help-curb-addictive-cravings-in-uk-study/

3: trauma

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7813637.stm

Written by jamalais

April 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

Posted in Features, Gameboy, NES, PC/Mac

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Progressive Challenge: A History of Game Difficulties

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Zelda2

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Shin Megami Tensei Persona, IkarugaDark Souls.  All of these games have one thing in common: they are hard as hell.  Since the genesis of the video game difficulty has existed to be the barrier to entry and the extension of game experiences.  What is a video game if not a challenge?  Originally technology had not caught up with the goals of the medium so games had to use difficulty to bridge the gap of a good experience where visuals and storytelling failed.  Nowadays games are just as capable, if not more, than other media in being an interactive experience and therefore difficulty steps aside most times.  I consistently hear that the concept of difficulty is dead, that a hard game dictates a good game, and that today’s gamers are weak and catered to.  Frankly, I disagree with all of that.  Gaming is typically tech dependent and with that dependence comes the evolution of experience, which results in the evolution of difficulty.  Games haven’t gotten harder or easier, they have simply evolved.

Difficulty Trends

I think the question of how difficult a game is comes to the amount of time you spend with it, which is why games seem easier today.  Traditionally the challenge was intended to get you to play the game more often, justifying the high price tag for a relatively short experience.  Take Contra for example, I cleared that game on this very site in roughly half an hour without using any codes.  This is not an easy feat for many gamers and definitely much harder for those that didn’t grow up playing the game.  While it may have only taken me 30 minutes, there are tens of hours of practice spanning more than 25 years that led up to that run.  In contrast, I could not conquer Ghosts’n’Goblins and finally gave up after two hours.  There is someone out there who is the exact opposite as me and it’s most likely based on what they have played.  This is transparently due to memorization – once you know exactly what is going to happen to the point that the game becomes manageable.  The best way to memorize something is to repeat it over and over.  Enter the first generation of the difficulty.

Parallel to this initial outing in repetition and memorization comes reflex.  Some of you reading that last paragraph may be thinking more of games like Punch-Out!! or even a PowerPad game like Stadium Events that require you to have the skill to conquer them.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve memorized Bald Bull’s charge, if you can’t nail the timing of hitting him in the stomach you’re either repeating the dodge till the end of the round or eating canvas.  Either way, you’ll never win.  Being able to conquer a skill set, nail timing, and basically having the reflexes to perform complex tasks in games like Super Mario Bros. 2 (Lost Levels in the US) either enabled or prevented your ability to win.

battletoadsFinally there were the dick programmers.  Like it or not they didn’t have an appropriate way to blanket difficulty so they were forced to fudge it.  This explains such terrible games as Beat Takeshi’s Challenge, Battletoads, and Silver Surfer where being good at the game or memorizing how to beat it meant nothing because the game invariably stacks the odds against you.  Repeating an area is one thing but forcing someone into game over screen after game over screen to the point of insanity with nothing but unsavable hours to retread the past is not fun.  These games are not fun.  They are only used for the purpose of masochism.

 

Contemporary Difficulty

From that point they just continued to evolve in a regular pattern until you get the games of today.  Nowadays the point of many games is to tell a tale rather than post a challenge, resulting in games like Heavy Rain that have no end game state.  On the other hand some of the biggest and oldest gaming tropes hold true.  Dark Souls is nothing more than a memorization game, as are any of the bullet hell shmups you may enjoy today.  The game never changes its course, it always spawns the same enemies in the same way – many argue to alter this mechanic would navigate it to the “not fun” hard status.  Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero/Rock Band are also nothing more than reflex gameplay, requiring that you not only understand what to do, but perform actual physical tasks to achieve your goal.  I think the only difference to games today and from the past is the unknown.

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Imagine playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time today.  I will fully admit that I can breeze through this title in no time, having little fear of taking on Gannon at the end, but then I grew up playing it and knowing its intricacies.  I think you would be hard pressed to find someone today that hasn’t played it dedicate the time it would take to figure out the mechanics, find the secrets like where to get hearts and the location of dungeons, and finally complete the game.  If that person were to go online, you may accuse them of making the game unfairly easy or cheating to get ahead.  This is why people criticize Dark Souls and those that generate guides to get it.  It also explains why it’s so popular; gamers get to return to those better days where you have to figure the world out.    Also keep in mind that like Dark Souls, it may not be just about memorization or reflexes, but both, which creates a whole new barrier for entry.  Still, there will always be those games that are not fun and unnaturally hard for no reason, and for games like Knight’s Contract I say good riddance and the world is a better place without you.

Written by spydersvenom

March 31, 2014 at 4:01 pm

How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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1

The term “arcade game” these days conjures up images of cutting-edge graphics and sound, combined with innovative and interactive technology that can bring any concept to life.  However, good graphics and interactivity have not always been a necessity for a game that is both enjoyable and addictive. I dread to mention the recent phenomenon of the Flappy Bird app but it is an example of an outrageously faulty and basic game becoming extremely popular. This has been seen in the past with games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, Tetris and Asteroids following very basic concepts and graphics, but still being addictive and rewarding when completed.

The Really Early Days

The first arcade games kicked off at amusement parks and are still present at fairs and theme parks, but there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about them. Ring toss, throwing balls at stacked cans, shooting targets, and other simple challenges have been doing the rounds for hundreds of years and can still draw in the punters to this day. Just don’t go expecting an easy win. Perhaps this is what is indicative of a good game – making it appear simple whilst making it actually fiendishly difficult to win. Make it too hard, however ,and you are left with Zelda II.

Pinball Wizard

2The introduction of the electric element into arcade games in the 1930s completely revolutionized pinball, which had existed as a spring-loaded tabletop ball game since the 17th century, and the advent of player controlled flippers in the 1940s solidified pinball’s reputation as a classic favourite amongst arcade gamers. Pinball continues to be a popular game to this day with digitized versions adding to the range of machines available. The Japanese even have their own variant of Pinball called “Pachinko’” which features multiple smaller balls in play all at the same time.

The Beginning of the Computer Age

The 1970s was the dawn of computer-based games. Rather than mechanical amusements, which had up until this point held sway. The seminal Pong was released in 1972 and in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a swathe of arcade classics were released including Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. Game cabinets took their lead from pinball table designs but featured digital monitors and player-controlled joysticks and input buttons to control the action on screen rather than physically manipulating items, as in earlier amusement games. Anyone who was lucky enough to be alive at this great time will tell you that Pong was very addictive.

Late 80s Into the 90s – The Birth of the Games Console

SEGA MEGADRIVE – Release Date – October 29, 1988

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The Sega Genesis (or Sega Mega Drive outside the US) saw the beginning of the developed console, bringing games like Sonic The Hedgehog, Pat Riley Basketball and Mortal Kombat to life. This product was unwittingly the start of a new generation of gaming. With most of the games relying on reflex and timing, they relied on the same instincts that were instilled in the general population from old arcade games.

GAME BOY – Release Date – April 21, 1989

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The Game Boy saw a different kind of gaming completely. The handheld device was a revolutionary idea, and the death of every gamers social life. When I was a youngster I would literally take the bulky object everywhere I went, just for a few more goes on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Again, the product design of the Game Boy was very simple, whilst the hardware and software were complex at the time of its release, showing that product design does not necessarily have to be complicated to be popular.

SNES – Release Date – November 21, 1990

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What a machine. As a proud owner of a SNES, I have to say that the hours spent in front of the console were some of the best of my childhood. If you think this is sad then you obviously haven’t played the original Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II or Donkey Kong Country. The design of the console and indeed of the games themselves worked extremely well. It never tried to be too extravagant or design based, simply slot the cartridge in the top (after blowing on it, of course) and you’re in gamer land. Nintendo skyrocketed in popularity with games being created in house and by third parties like Capcom. The product design of the console meant that they could improve the graphics and make a significant move from 2D platform games. Eventually this design would give us the hallowed Nintendo 64, which brought out games such as Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64.

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Shift Towards The Physical

Fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II gathered huge followings whilst racers such as Daytona USA developed the trend of simulating an actual in-car experience. Gun games also developed so that players held an imitation weapon and fired at on-screen targets. In 1998, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) marked a shift towards physical actions and computer inputs being combined. Players “dancing” on arrow pads would try to stay in time with a selected track, simultaneously watching the rhythm and timing displayed on-screen.

7This has now led to new product designs and consoles that promote active movement. Consoles such as the Wii and the Xbox One now have the player standing up, moving around, and using themselves as the controller in many games. The future of product design in the gaming industry has never been predictable, but we can see that there is definitely a paradigm shift in the way that people are viewing gaming experiences and indeed the target audience for games.

Increased physical interaction has incorporated all manner of activities that have now been made available in arcade format. Football, guitar, drums, shooting, driving, and many more pastimes have been translated into interactive games with motion control, eye tracking, and other modern features common in today’s games. DCA’s design for the X-Putt, a golf putting game, shows how a design idea and inventive product can combine to create a novel and fun experience for gamers.

Killzone: Getting Caught Up With the Story

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Killzone_ps2

Normally we solely talk retro on this blog but with the upcoming PS4 I just can’t help but get everyone acquainted with the story of Killzone.  While I’ve been a hardcore fan since the second game (I played the original but didn’t much care for it), most people managed to skip the series due to its long development delays, similar aesthetic to other shooters of the time, and much better marketed titles from both Sony internal (Resistance 2) and competitor Microsoft (Gears of War 2).  It really is a shame because Killzone 2 is quite distinct from other shooters of the generation, but I will get into that later in the article.  The focus of this is to get you caught up with the story and elements of each game in the series, so that you can jump into the latest iteration, Shadow Fall, at the PS4 launch without having to worry about everything that came before it.  Given that Killzone covers three console generations now (PS2-PS4) and almost 10 years, it’s got quite a lineage for a series with three main titles and two portable side stories.  Unlike most game franchises, the Killzone series stays mostly progressive with story and each new iteration directly follows its predecessor in the timelineso Shadow Fall takes place at the tail end of the current franchise.  I have each game listed below along with a story synopsis and notable gameplay elements and updates to each in the order they take place in the Killzone universe.  Without further ado, I give you the Killzone story so far:

Killzone

kz_ps2_2It all starts in the distant future where nuclear fallout has all but obliterated Earth and space exploration and colonization has become a lucrative business.  Of these colonizing companies is the Helghan Corporation, which reminds me of the ethical compass of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Aliens and the dress code of the Third Reich.  The conflict first begins with Helghan discovering Alpha Centauri, a system with two planets: Vekta, an Earth-like planet rife for colonization, and a decayed shell of a planet, Helghan, both named after connections to the company.  Conflict breaks out as rivals begin to notice the value of Alpha Centauri, necessitating the formation of armies – the Helghast Army of Helghan and the United Colonial Army (UCA) of the United Colonial Nations (UCN) – and leading to the historical First Extrasolar War.  War breaks out when the UCN embargo Helghan from sole colonization of Vekta, which they ignore, and thus get invaded by the UCA.  In the end the UCA emerge victorious and colonize Vekta, banishing the Helghast to Helghan.  With this dichotomy in place, the UCN create an extraordinary military force known as the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA, think Colonial Marines) to protect Vekta should the Helghast decide to retaliate.  Instead of fighting back, Helghan colonizes the harsh industrial planet named after the company and eventually members of the Helghast are born with the ability to breathe the atmosphere of both brutal Helghan air and traditional oxygen.  An aggressive leader with all the traits of Adolph Hitler and from the bloodline that can breathe both atmospheres named Scholar Vasari uses a staged assassination attempt and charm to rise above the ranks and take leadership of Helghan, declaring a new world order known as the Helghan Empire.  As you can probably tell, this is no longer just a corporate mantra but now an entire people.  After preparing a sizable army, Vasari calls for a blitz assault of the ISA on Vekta and starts the Second Extrasolar War.

And that’s just the story before you begin playing.  Killzone tells the story of ISA Captain Jan Templar as he fights off the oncoming Helghast forces invading Vekta.  After fighting in the outskirts of the main ISA headquarters, Templar is forced to fall back into the base only to find it overrun by Helghast forces.  Eventually he will fend off the troops long enough to evacuate alongside fellow soldier Marshal Lugar, who saves his life.  During the evacuation another lone solider named Ricardo Velasquez (remember him, he comes back again) assists a platoon from escaping large Helghast resistance, requesting the assistance of Templar and Lugar.  It is at this time the two leaders also discover and set out to find traitor General Stuart Adams, a Helghan spy that lowered the alert system and defenses long enough for the Helghast forces to invade.  As the game continues you take out strategic points across the various armies and interact with several spies, counter-operatives, and even an unnecessary side plot with another army.  In the end, Adams and his troops are subdued, the main station of Vekta is destroyed, and both Templar and Lugar escape.

Relevance:  Killzone had great graphics for the PS2 and the HD remake on the PS3 is also no exception.  Unfortunately for developer Guerilla, the gameplay kinda sucked, the movement and shooting was complicated and clunky, aside from enemies the environment was sparse, and it just wasn’t that fun to play.  It did, however, set up a pretty rock solid storyline and although the main campaign story was recycled and predictable, I will go on record saying I rather enjoyed the overall plot that has nothing to do with actually playing the game.  I hate to admit it, but you should probably skip this one, it requires more patience than one really needs to offer an experience like this.  Like all HD remakes, the PS3 version may look a lot better, but the gameplay remains mostly identical.

From there the series has two side tangents, both on portable consoles.

Killzone Liberation

kz_lib_boxAs a serviceable third-person shooter for the Playstation Portable (PSP), Killzone Liberation takes place two months after Killzone.  You once again control Templar as he seeks out multiple hostages taken by new Helghast leaders General Armin Metrac and right hand Colonial Cobar, both assigned by Vasari to capture key targets in the war on Vekta.  As you progress through the game the writing on the wall steers to the Helghast upping tech to attack the ISA and both Lugar and Velaszquez (now known as “Rico” for short) make cameos.  At the end of the 4th mission, the final one on the UMD, you discover that upon the defeat of Metrac, Vasari now plans to use nuclear weapons against the ISA and that there is a traitor in Templar’s midst.  A fifth mission available as downloadable content epilogues the game with Rico Velasquez being wrongly accused as the traitor and it is discovered that it was instead another solider you worked with throughout most of the game (although he was forgettable).

Relevance:  This game was much more gameplay than story, an interesting juxtaposition from the original.  I recommend checking it out if you wish – it is compatible with Vita – but going into it with the open mind that it was a dated attempt to utilize Sony’s portable and did it better than most.  It will be a lot of work for a storyline I just summed up in a paragraph and requires a piece of paid DLC to fully appreciate.  Granted, I give props to Guerilla, who did develop this iteration.

The only jump in development/release dates comes next with the recent Vita release Killzone Mercenary.

Killzone Mercenary

It’s kind of a throw away plot that has little to do with the universe.  Oh well, here we go.  You control mercenary Arran Danner (what is with Guerilla’s names?), a former UCA soldier turned merc that works for whoever has the highest paycheck.  During an extraction mission of an ISA diplomat, things go wrong and you end up protecting a little boy as you unfold a plot to use biological warfare on Vekta.  You discover that the ISA forces have a way to wipe out the entire Helghast army on Vekta in one fell swoop, but the ethical reality of genocide is too much for this mercenary to bear.  He joins forces with the Helghast, eliminating the weapon and extracting the boy, all while keeping their identities safe.  At the end it is discovered that Vasari did, in fact, acquire a nuclear weapon in the midst of this conflict.

killzone_merc_box

Relevance: Almost none.  The story is throw away, the concepts already revealed in the release of Killzone 2 and it seems this was developer Guerilla’s alternative team showing off their talents at creating an FPS experience on the Vita without damaging the Killzone cannon.  While I must admit it adds almost nothing to story or cannon, it is one of the best and most fun games on Sony’s handheld, so just go into it to have fun instead of revealing plot.

Now back to the console trilogy.

Killzone 2

kz2_1After the war on Vekta begins to take a back seat, a full blown invasion of home world Helghan takes shape with the ISA forces hoping that the elimination of leader Vasari will essentially “cut the head” off the army and discontinue the attack of Helghast forces.  You now take control of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a special forces operative, as they begin the invasion on Helghan.  During an assault on the anti-air measures of the capital city Pyrrhus, Sev discovers that the Helghast have been able to harness the natural Helghan (planet, not army) resource of Petrusite, allowing for arc towers that can basically zap and destroy any solider or armament against them.  As they attempt to take out the Tharsis Refinery on the outskirts, Colonel Radac (your nemesis for the game) kidnaps key members of Sev’s group.  It’s not all bad news, Sev does discover the details behind Red Dust, the nuclear weapon, and manages to steal the launch codes before breaking out and escaping with his team.  Everyone extracts to the New Sun, an invasion ship of the fleet that assaulted Helghan.  Radac predictably finds his way on board, kills a key member of Sev’s team (playing the game reveals more background on character Garza) and steals back the codes, however the dying member Garza manages to crash the invaded New Sun into the Tharsis Refinery and ruin most of the arc tower plans.  The game wraps with Sev and Rico invading the Helghan capital to capture Vasari, but being somewhat delayed by the triggering of Red Dust on the city.  The two continue into the capital, fight a ridiculous boss battle with Radac in the process, and the gloomy words of Vasari convince Sev to kill the Helghast leader instead of taking him into custody.  As the sun sets over Pyrrhus a massive Helghan fleet is revealed and ready to take out the ISA.

Relevance: Killzone 2 is a hell of an experience.  Relatively long compared to other first-person shooters, roughly 12 hours, and with an enemy AI and “killbox” level design that forces you to play hyper aggressive, it’s unlike most games of its times.  Couple that with gorgeous graphics, cool weapons, and a cover system not unlike that in Gears of War and there’s little reason to give this one a try.  It was somewhat forgotten with an early 2009 release that put it outside the holiday season, immediately following Resistance 2, and in direct competition with Resident Evil 5 (not to mention Gears of War 2 just went up against Resistance 2 at the end of 2008).  Of the games released on the Playstation 3 platform, I still consider Killzone 2 one of the top 5 games to try on the console despite it’s ridiculous final boss battle.

kz2_vasari

And finally…

Killzone 3

Opening immediately following its predecessor, the goal is now to get Sev, Rico, and the rest of the ISA forces off Helghan and out of the eye of the storm that is retaliation.  Next in command of the Helghan forces is Admiral Orlock, a man not unlike Vasari in his ability to use rhetoric and propaganda to get his way from the Helghan senate.  Not in his court is Jorhan Stahl, head of Stahl Arms Corporation and responsible for the largest number of military resources on Helghan.  It is clear that these two men don’t get along and there may be some competition for the “throne” of leadership.  Sev and Rico attempt an extraction and some botched plans and assaults later the two are marooned and separated on Helghan, lasting more than 6 months on the run.  In the meantime, the senate grows weary of Orlock’s leadership and the suggestion is made that Stahl take leadership.  While it doesn’t happen, Stahl withholds prototype weapons from the Helghan army and decides to use his own private forces to hunt down the lone soldiers in direct competition to Orlock, who has been hunting them for half a year.  In the meantime, Sev makes his way to the Helghan jungle (an interesting level), speaks with Vekta leadership, and a cease-fire is negotiated to extract the soldiers.  Stahls men find Sev and capture him, resulting in Rico and a few of his men saving him (this is now par for the course).

During the escape, Sev and Rico discover a plot to eliminate all of Earth’s forces from Stahl, using a prototype weapon.  As a result they go about infiltrating and destroying Stahl’s forces before attacking the man himself.  This entire conflict takes place in space, specifically in the Helghan orbit, and involves some interesting space combat, physics, and an eventual push to Stahl himself.  After a brief battle, Sev drops a massive Petrusite nuclear bomb on Stahl’s cruiser to eliminate any chance he will be a threat, resulting in a nuclear fallout that wipes most of Helghan.  After some reflecting on killing millions of people all at once, Sev and Rico return to Vekta and a post-credits scene shows two Helghast soldiers investigating an escape pod on Helghan and stating, “Welcome home sir,” implying that Stahl may very well be alive.

killzone3

Relevance:  Killzone 3 was a bit gimmicky.  It had 3D, jetpacks, and plenty of crazy weapons on its side, but in the end it just wasn’t as strong as its predecessor.  Still, it was quite enjoyable and many liked the new lighter feel of your fighter and his ability to act a bit more like a Call of Duty soldier (which I felt was a step back).  Multiplayer continued to thrive and with long battles, massive maps, and rotating objectives, still stands strong today as an exclusive multiplayer shooter.

And that’s the story at this point.  With the preview coverage I’ve seen on Killzone Shadow Fall up to this point I think it’s safe to assume that much like the other iterations, it will be a visual masterpiece with the jury still out on gameplay.  Here’s hoping it plays as good as it looks.

Written by spydersvenom

November 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Check This Out: Game Vault (Omaha, NE)

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IMAG0566

At first glance Game Vault, located just outside the core downtown area of Omaha, looks like another clone of GameStop. Upon entering, you may still feel that way as most of the walls are lined with modern PS3, 360, and Wii titles along with a large flat screen television that is displaying an endless playlist of gameplay videos. It wasn’t until I began to browse the large glass cases and have a brief chat with owner Scott, who was the only employee in his store on this brisk Saturday morning, that I learned Omaha has quite a great local game store.

IMAG0567His featured glass case contained a few instantly recognizable gems of retro gaming, such as a boxed complete copy of Earthbound on the SNES (he also had a loose cart for the more budget-conscious), as well as other SNES classics like Super Metroid, Super Mario RPG, and Yoshi’s Island, all boxed and complete. Rarely have I entered a store that not only provided such care on these holy grails of gaming, a few of my friends have been searching for boxed complete copies of these games for years, but his prices were reasonable. It’s not just the SNES that he has to offer, I was stunned to find everything from a stack of Atari 2600 games to a batch of decent 3DO titles and even a Jaguar game or two. In fact, I don’t think it was possible to name a system this guy didn’t have at least a few games for (including PC games, new and old). He even had an import game section that had a mint copy of Dino Crisis on the PS1 from Japan, as if resting on the shelf just for me. Often times when you see stores like this, I remember one in particular in downtown Chicago and another in New York, that you expect heavily inflated prices. Not the case in Game Vault, Scott’s prices are fair, easily topping most of GameStop’s and eBay’s prices, and he doesn’t require a game club membership or anything to get the best price. All in all, Game Vault is one of the most diverse and well stocked used game stores around. I’m now saddened I don’t live in Omaha.

IMAG0568His inventory aside, owner Scott O’Dell knows what makes a good store run. I know this because I saw it firsthand. He’s not an elitist gamer, nor is he a socially awkward super nerd; he’s just a regular guy who is proud of his store. From talking with him and his friendly regulars I was able to discern that he had spent at least a little time at GameStop, but as a responsible business owner he had nothing negative to say about the chain. Instead he focuses on informing his customers of the many benefits, including price, that his store offers. Customer service is one thing, but he also knows his stuff. We chatted for a short time about all kinds of topics from the crazy things he sees come through his doors that people want to sell to the attack of popular games. Scott doesn’t care if you’re there for Call of Duty or Panzer Dragoon Zwei, he just wants to make sure you get what you want. We talked about things like the elitist retro gamer, the massive increase in value of 8-bit and 16-bit era Nintendo carts, and of all things his excitement for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. During our entire conversation he never lost sight of the fact that he has a store to run and customers to attend to, politely ducking out of our conversation to help those that came in. That’s good to see because lately I feel that game stores have become the hangout for gamers with no money and lots of time. Employees seem like they would rather chat up nonsense about gaming with non-customers instead of a person like me who is seconds away from dropping $100. It’s the comic shop dilemma, managing your regulars that spend lots of time and little money, with your random customers that could wind up dropping major cash if the circumstance fits. He does the same at the register, chatting up his customers for a brief few moments while the process takes place, then making sure to assist anyone else waiting to check out immediately following. It’s refreshing to meet an owner that is a balanced hybrid between gamer and businessman.

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In the end I spent a total of 90 minutes in his store, probably far too long for the amount I spent, and managed to pick up several great items I don’t think I would find anywhere else. Scott recommended Syberia on the Xbox as I discussed my negativity towards retro point-and-click adventures for contemporary players, and I managed to rummage plenty of things I wanted myself. I picked up the aforementioned Japanese Dino Crisis on PS1, an interesting book on the history of Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) for a mere 25 cents, Iron Soldier on the Jaguar, and a copy of Halo: ODST without the multiplayer disc at a heavily discounted price. I noticed he also had tabletop games, which are quickly making a comeback, and after a few minutes of debate as to whether or not to pick up Settlers of Catan, I decided not to on account of the fact I would have to travel with it. Upon checking out Scott mentioned that I had perhaps the most eclectic selection he’s ever seen leave the store, which sums my taste in retro gaming quite nicely. I’m pleased I decided to Google “retro game store omaha” that morning, otherwise I never would have stumbled upon this great brick-and-mortar game store.

This article is my personal impressions of a retro game shop I found while out of town on vacation and is not in any way affiliated with Game Vault or any type of sponsorship. As an avid game collector, I always want to expand my knowledge of game shop locations, especially the ones that get it right, a practice few sites do. If you’re in the Omaha area and want to check out Game Vault, the information on the store is below:

Game Vault
6307 Center St, Suite 102
Omaha, NE 68106
Phone: 402-555-7476
www.gamevault.me

Written by spydersvenom

May 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

Interview: Super Icon

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Claire Hill-Whittall

Claire Hill-Whittall

Richard Hill-Whittall

Richard Hill-Whittall

si_logo

Super Icon is the independent developer responsible for the impressive retro flashback title Life of Pixel.  Aside from developing this and a few other titles on the Playstation Mobile platform, this husband and wife duo has big plans afoot, not the least being a new kickstarter project to bring Life of Pixel to a wider audience on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android (with additional content).   Recently Creative Director Richard Hill-Whittall and Claire Hill-Whittall in Business Development were kind enough to answer some questions that we at Gaming History 101 and you readers were wondering about this clear appreciation for early consoles and microcomputers.

GH101: Where did the idea to make Life of Pixel come from?

Richard: Life of Pixel is essentially my pet project; an exploration of
8-bit games computers and consoles, from the graphical and audio limitations
through to references to many of the classic games I grew up with. I always
wanted to do 8-bit graphics, but missed it the first time round as I was too
young.

GH101: Did the game always start off as an homage to 1980s gaming or did you
originally focus on one console?

Claire: It started off as a mixture of 8 and 16 bit machines, but we decided to
focus on 8-bit as there were so many machines to explore with such a wide
range of different graphical limitations and styles.

GH101: Why has your company chosen the PlayStation Mobile platform?  Any plans to port this or other titles to additional platforms such as PSN mini,  Steam, or XNA? [This question predates the recent Kickstarter reveal - ed]

pixelClaire: We had a good relationship with Sony, and were really keen to work on PSM -
the experience was good, and Sony were very supportive. The only
disappointment is the limited sales on the format.

We have just launched a Kickstarter for Pixel, to take it over onto PC, Mac,
iOS and Android. We hope to get the game out to as wider audience as
possible and to keep evolving and expanding the game.

GH101: We noticed you had specific artists for each console’s music and that you
gave them proper credit during the game instead of in the final credits.  How did you go about finding these artists?  Was it a conscious decision to put their names in before the final credits?

Claire: We posted on a couple of forums looking for chip musicians where we explained
about the game and the response was incredible. So many great chip musicians
came forward.

We definitely wanted to display their names in lights as it were, as the
audio is such a major aspect of the game, and these guys did some stellar
tunes for a very limited budget. We are very grateful to them.

GH01: Your site has released level maps for those complaining of the difficulty.
As someone who beat the game 100 Percent without the maps, and I noticed you
make no apologies for the difficulty on your
site, did you ever make tweaks to the difficulty?   I felt the levels
were tough but fair and if you explored enough, there were always safe paths
through a level.  Did you make specific level design changes based on
pre-release feedback?

Richard: Well we could complete all the levels easily enough – but you get so close
to a project, you know every part of each level. Some users however were put
off by the difficulty, and in fairness there were some “cheap” deaths.

I went through every level and tweaked them to remove unfair “luck” based
potential death (i.e. when you do a blind drop and land on a monster!).  So
while I didn’t try to make the levels particularly easier, they are now a
fair test of skill, not chance. We are a lot happier with all of the levels
now too.

lop_menu

GH101: I loved the bonus levels that unlock at the end and how you chose to handle them.  Was it always planned to

be in the game or later added on?

Richard: Nope [it wasn't].  I was working on the update, loving revisiting the game, and
thought I want to add a new machine, especially for those players who
played through the entire game.  As a thank you, really.

***WARNING: Mild spoilers in the following statement, skip to the next question if you don’t want to be spoiled.***
I tweeted for suggestions on the machine and the Master System got the most
votes.  It was cool too as it had extra colors to play with over NES, which
was nice.

GH101: Do you have any plans on a sequel?  Perhaps a 1990s/16-bit era title?

Richard: We do plan on a sequel – the 16-bit systems. We’re keen to explore more
8-bits first though as there are some good ones we missed.

GH101: What is your favourite gaming console or microcomputer and why?

Richard: I think the C64 (Commodore 64).  The music swings it; SID music (and sound fx actually) is
just the best! (smiles)

GH101: What project(s) are you currently working on?  When and where can we expect
them?
Mega Blast

Mega Blast

Claire: We have a second PSM title in the works, called MegaBlast, which is an
intense old school score-attack arcade shooter influenced by classic space
shooters such as Galaga, Galaxian, and Space Invaders.  [It] should be out this
month.

We have a couple of Vita titles in development.  They are slow going but we
aim to finish them this year.

Also we are doing a Unity title – sort of a cross between Battlezone and
Doom – really enjoying that one.  Also Rich has done a solo project, Super
Golf, which is a 2D golfing platformer through popular culture coming very
soon for PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

Written by spydersvenom

May 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Getting It Backwards

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ds_nesVideo game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.

Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.

bc_SonyBackwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.

It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?

Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):

  • ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
Coleco Gemini (Atari 2600 Clone)

Coleco Gemini (Atari 2600 Clone)

  • Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
    Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
  • Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
  • Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
  • Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
  • Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
    Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
  • Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
  • Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
    Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
  • Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
    Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
Original Wii Prototype

Original Wii Prototype

  • Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
    Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.

Written by spydersvenom

May 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm

For the Love of the Light Gun

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zapper2I can’t explain my love for the light gun.  It’s one of the oldest forms of interactive entertainment, dating back to the carnival days where you would fire air rifles at a metal bullseye to make an old man’s hat pop up or a dog bark.  Once the gun made the transition to video games it honestly became one of the most lifelike and violent gaming tropes throughout history.  Not to get deep with it, but you are pointing a gun at a target, usually alive, and shooting it.  There is not other gesture like it, you are shooting a modern device to kill something, virtual or not.  At the same time it also doubles as the most simple form of proficiency.  I don’t think anyone will claim that being good at Duck Hunt or Lethal Enforcers relates to being a good shot in a shooting range, but it’s got a much higher chance of significance than being able to get a headshot in Call of Duty.  Whereas the FPS emulates the concept of aiming and firing a gun with 1:1 responses from a controller, a light gun truly simulates the experience.

lethalenforcersLight gun games have been a niche genre, but that doesn’t prevent them from withstanding the test of time and being available on most home consoles and one of the most popular games, even today, in arcades.  I guess it’s because despite the maturity implied behind firing a gun, it’s one of the easiest concepts for us to pick up.  I’ve been on many adventures thanks to light gun games – whether it’s cleaning up the future in T2: The Arcade Game, battling zombies in a haunted house through House of the Dead, or enjoying some of the worst acting of all time in Mad Dog McCree.

It’s also significant because the light gun is a genre nearly impossible to emulate and doesn’t translate well in today’s technology.  While there are exceptions, you will have a hard time playing Crypt Killer properly on a PC running MAME and most HDTV technologies don’t support light guns from the past.  Authenticity is as important as the genre itself.  This month I’ve decided to dedicate to a timeless style of video game that I always make first priority when buying a new (or old) system: the light gun shooter.  Come join me to learn about some of the best, worst, funniest, and definitely weirdest titles to ever grace the hobby of video games.  Thanks to my huge CRT television and original hardware, I can even show you videos.

Written by spydersvenom

April 1, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Feature: Max Payne – A New Perspective

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Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.

I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.

Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.

“Life knows two miseries: getting what you don’t want and not getting what you want.”

Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.

I originally had no intention of playing the first game again. I own the PC version of the second, but the original Max Payne came with Max Payne 3 as a digital download. Even though I bought Max Payne 3 used, the code was still in the box, unused. I got lucky. I’m so glad I replayed it.

There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line. The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask “why me?” and “what if?”

Max Payne used to be an NYPD cop, but when his family was murdered and he was framed for it, everything went to hell. As he attempted to destroy the people responsible, Payne discovered it wasn’t just a random drug-induced psycho murderer responsible. Forces more sinister, and a story much darker, destroyed Max’s once beautiful suburban ideal.

“The trouble with wanting something is the fear of losing it, or never getting it. The thought makes you weak.”

You probably hear a lot of people say, “Just skip [insert game title] and play the new one because otherwise you’ll get burned out.” This says a lot about a franchise if people think it better to skip entire installments because you might otherwise become bored of the series as a whole. It signifies not a bad game, but one that doesn’t innovate enough, in one way or another, between installments. I hear this sentiment about the Assassin’s Creed franchise a lot. I am now more enthusiastic about the Max Payne series than ever before. I champion for it now, not only for the gameplay and locales, but more for the plot and method of storytelling.

The Max Payne titles follow and adhere to one another as if they were one complete story, with each game referring back to its predecessor, including Max Payne 3. Going back and playing through the first two titles first had a vast impact on my appreciation for the series as a whole – I would not feel the same way had I not gone back.

“Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He was trying to put out my flames with gasoline.”

The man who created Max Payne is Sam Lake. He wrote the script, he created the story, and he was the literal face of Max Payne in the original game. Lake’s studio, Remedy Entertainment, is responsible for developing the game – of which he also assisted in level design – and also created Alan Wake. (Notice their names sound similar: Alan Wake and Sam Lake.)

I have a newfound respect for Remedy, and especially Lake, that I even want to go back and replay Alan Wake. I’ve realized now, how genius Lakes writing talent is. It’s because I’ve grown up (sort of) that I can appreciate a good story, no a great story, when I see it.

Dialogue in Max Payne 1 and 2 is witty, raw, and drenched in noir style. Coupled with the voice of James McCaffrey, Max Payne feels like a living, breathing, and ultimately heart-broken human being. He’s not a caricature, but a real, sad person. I wish I could meet Max Payne and buy him a drin- er, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Max is a deep character. His interactions with others and the world have weight and consequence. His emotions and attitude have merit. You want him to overcome the death and sadness surrounding him. I felt like I was Max Payne, feeling the stab of every horrible moment he felt, and truly sympathized with him.

All of this is accomplished through Lake’s ability to write, with the necessary help of McCaffrey’s ability to voice act, and McCaffrey’s deep voice to inflect at every opportune moment.

Whoever at Remedy chose to use comic strips as cutscenes had a brilliant idea that lent heavily to the atmosphere. Many of the characters aside from Payne are caricatures by design. This causes a superb effect that brings the entire world of Payne into a surreal comic book existence.

After Y2K, the end of the world had become a cliché.”

But not all is depressing and dark. Lake also wrote some extremely funny stuff, especially in MP2, that will have you chuckling and shaking your head. This lightens up the mood at the most opportune, sometimes even juxtaposed moments. For instance, there’s Dick Justice. Just saying the title makes me laugh aloud: Dick, Justice. He is a rip-off character, his story is Max’s as a blaxploitation television show seen at certain moments throughout the games on TVs and posters. Another is in reference to video games. At certain points Max’s inner monologue will refer to the HUD interface and feeling like he’s being controlled, like in a video game. Don’t forget about the Captain Baseball Bat Boy TV show, which is continuously referenced throughout the series. At one point in MP2, you go to a someone’s home that is littered with fan items. This guy even has a huge full-body suit of the main character, which he is wearing when you find him. If he takes it off: Kaboom! A bomb is strapped to it, triggered to go off if he ever removes the suit. Lake writes in such a way that approaches the fourth wall but never quite breaks it. It’s hilarious and ultimately damn good writing.

Like Alan Wake’s name is a reference to Alan waking, so is Max Payne’s name a reference to maximum pain. Something I have yet to see anyone talk about, even after many Google searches, is Mona Sax’s name. The first letter of the first name and the last letters of the last name spell out “Max”. On top of this, Mona Sax’s hideout is located at a fun house entitled “Address Unknown”. Yet another almost fourth wall breaking item named after the television show with the same name that mirrors Max’s paranoia throughout the second game. This meta-level is when I officially jumped onboard the “champion Max Payne” train.

Valkyr was meant to be a white-winged maiden that would lift you up to a warrior’s heaven.”

Underlying almost every title and name in the game lies something deeper still: Norse mythology. A nightclub entitled Ragna Rock, a drug pivotal to the story is called Valkyr, and the company you storm is named Aesir Corporation. All of these reference mythological entities and locations in Norse Mythology. I had never recognized any of this until this latest playthrough of the games. The scope of the storytelling grew larger during every minute of playtime, as did my amazement of it.

Finally, the theme songs for the series are haunting and excellent to say the least. They raise the hair on my neck and bring me to a state akin to Max’s sad and angry isolation (in a good way).

The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above. A bit closer to Heaven.”

Games rarely have me feel this way, let alone gush about them with love. I feel this way about the original Halo and Mass Effect 1 to some extent, but Max Payne is now my favorite video game character of all time.

They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point.”

If you have never played Max Payne 1 or 2, or thought about playing Max Payne 3 without playing the previous two installments, you should go back and give the original two installments a try. Even if you’ve played Max Payne 3 but didn’t understand the main characters motivations and liked the gameplay, or only played the original(s) years ago, like myself, you should definitely consider replaying them. The stories are mature (in the true sense, not in terms of content), and the gameplay is also damn fun. You can complete both games in around 12 hours and then hopefully jump enthusiastically into Max Payne 3 like I did. All of the same praise I have for these two titles continues in the third game along with an amazing finish.

I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive; my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”

If interested, my review of Max Payne 3 will be posted in the blog at EZ Mode Unlocked within the next two weeks.

Written by spydersvenom

November 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

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