Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category
We so very often recommend our listeners/viewers/readers get a foreign PSN because it’s so “easy”, but I figured with this morning’s news of Shadow Tower coming to the US PSN later today and the massive amount of games I purchase on the various PSN stores that it was high time to make it easy for you. Creating a PSN is not a difficult task, however it can be a challenge without knowing the language, written or otherwise, of the territory you seek and also knowing what you will and won’t gain from each. With the average Playstation 3 being able to tether up to 5 PSN accounts, I have chosen to dedicate one to my home base PSN, three to outside territories, and the final one to guests in my house. The best benefit of a PSN account on multiple consoles is that all accounts on that console can share installed games, so I purchase a game on my Japanese PSN only to use it on my American account for the sake of trophies and keeping my friends informed as to what I’m playing. Perhaps you don’t know how to create a PSN for another country or perhaps you don’t know the benefits, well this little article will assist you in making the proper decision.
Yesterday I saw a tweet from WayForward, a games developer that specializes in a retro feel and hand drawn animation, that it was celebrating 25 years. That’s impressive, especially when you consider that 1990 predates the Super NES and also because the 16-bit style has been around now for two and half decades. If you fancy yourself a fan of that era, long for the days of gorgeous hand drawn animation with large sprite-based characters on screen, and a 2D plane then WayForward is just the developer for you. Oh yeah, and its strongest titles are typically tough as nails so just like back in the 90s you’re going to have to die a lot and restart before you ever think about beating one. It should also be noted that WayForward is of the few studios that can really get a licensed game right and with the amount of care and detail afforded to this company’s many licensed outings it is akin to the Capcom Disney games. All of these reasons and the fantastic original series Shantae make WayForward a developer that retro enthusiasts should definitely know.
As I was looking into doing a history on this fantastic studio I came upon an excellent reference that was so good there’s no point in me doing one. While it’s easy to rag on big media conglomerates, IGN’s Mitch Dyer did a fantastic story of the origins of Ubisoft Montreal that includes stories of Splinter Cell‘s origin, the reinvention of Prince of Persia, and the visual treat that is Far Cry. It’s a fascinating story that documents the major franchises you can thank that studio for and a must read for gaming history buffs like ourselves. Head on over and check out House of Dreams: The Ubisoft Montreal Story when you can.
Not So Humble Beginnings
Before personalized computers were called “PCs” (or MACs for all you Apple people), they were better known as “microcomputers”. The name derives from the relatively small size and price of a computer with a microprocessor as the CPU and the same basic input/output structure for data and information. Much like PCs of today, this allowed software and game programmers to design a title all around one basic data flow and configuration and then optimize each specific microcomputer release for the specifications of that computer. American consumers even today are used to much lower prices than other countries and were slow to embrace the cost and concept of a microcomputer. That is, until the Commodore 64. At the time of its release the only major competitors in the US were the Apple II and Atari 800, boasting hefty price tags of $1200 and $900 respectively. With most game consoles priced at the time around $200 and some, like the ColecoVision, having computer add-ons for $400, the price endured for a microcomputer was restricted to certain households of higher income (and this doesn’t even include the cost for a monitor and desk to put it all in). Commodore had a different plan and thanks to vertical manufacturing and two strong chips to handle graphics and audio, the company went about making a microcomputer that could compete with the Apple II and less than half the price.
Rise of the Triad is more significant than it initially seems in the annals of first-person shooter (or Doom clone) history. In fact, had it remained under its original title, Rise of the Triad: Wolfenstein 3D Part II it would probably have more awareness and fall under the pantheon of id titles still garnering praise on Steam and Good Old Games. Due to several disputes that arguably are the direct result of John Carmack, a co-founder of developer id Software and lead in milestone shooters Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, the project was terminated in 1993 to avoid clashing with upcoming title Doom. This led to several disputes within the developer of Doom, id Software, and the planned publisher of Doom and previous publisher of several other titles, Apogee Software.
In the beginning there were two companies: developer id Software and publisher Apogee Software. For the most part Apogee was better known as its later developer 3D Realms, the team responsible for Duke Nukem 3D and originally Prey. Before that all happened, Apogee was making its money publishing id Software’s earliest successes including Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D. Apogee utilized the plan of “shareware” to market games, which is a method of giving people approximately 25-33 percent of a game to try out with the option to purchase the full game if interested. John Romero, the then lead designer on Doom at id Software, canceled Rise of the Triad and John Carmack decided to have id self publish so Apogee ended up not publishing Doom. id Software’s co-founder Tom Hall (Carmack and Romero were the other founders) left id to join Apogee. Apparently Hall had concern over the amount of violence and gore in Doom, a project he assisted greatly in creating. Ironically a year later when he completed work as lead designer on Rise of the Triad for Apogee, it would have even more blood and gore than Doom, including a random occurrence where an enemy would explode into gory giblets and “Ludicrous Gibs!” would appear on the screen.
It’s hard to believe, but the typical cartridge game began to phase out of gaming in 1995 when the new wave of consoles and the subsequent movement to disc-based media began. I’m sure plenty will be quick to point out that the N64 was a cartridge-based console, but I truly believe this decision was the result of Nintendo not wanting to give up the control over manufacturing and sordid history making a machine that read discs. This change happened 18 years ago, which means there is a significant number of gamers that are now in their early to mid 20s that have never played games on a cart. This is truly a shame because the versatility of cartridges is much more abundant than most people realize, but the crutch will always be that carts offer little storage for massive prices. In today’s lesson we will discuss what makes up a cartridge, benefits/setbacks, and how the cartridge was used to literally upgrade consoles for more than two decades.
Lately many games that embrace former genres that had fallen to the wayside are making a comeback. As a result lots of games press and developer media contacts like to coin phrases that are based on gameplay styles not many are familiar with. When someone tells you that Tokyo Jungle is a “roguelike” or that Guacamelee is a “MetroidVania” title, it’s entirely possible you have no idea what that means. After this article, you will no longer have that problem.
You may or may not know that the roots of the roguelike come from a 1980 computer game called Rogue, which established the dungeon crawler. This game was considered genre-changing when compared to the slower paced text adventures such as Zork and Dungeons & Dragons video game ports like Wizardry and Ultima. Developers Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, Ken Arnold, and Jon Lane site a hybrid between both types with influences from D&D as well as the text adventure Colossal Cave Adventure, which featured a detailed description of a cave system in Kentucky that was so precise it was used by a tourist to navigate parts of the actual caves it was based on. The result was a game where an adventurer explored a multi-floored dungeon, collecting items and facing enemies, in search of a final artifact (in this case the “Amulet of Yendor”) to complete the game. Each floor was more difficult than the last, you could not backtrack to a previous floor, and if you died you got a game over, simple as that. Additionally the layout of the dungeon, items, and enemies were all randomly generated, which meant you would ideally never play the same game twice. Despite the fact that you would have to start over, the experience of playing the game assisted you in handling enemies, utilizing items, and preparing for future encounters as such that you could eventually beat the game. Needless to say the game had a tough barrier for entry and popularized itself mostly on Unix systems in colleges across the country, but the public found it too complex and difficult.
I 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.
Light 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.