Archive for the ‘Now & Then’ Category
Switching It Up
A lot happened both in the talent pool of Mortal Kombat players and in the game design overall between the release of Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3 (MK3). For starters there was a mass exodus of on screen talent due to royalty disputes, so almost no one from the original two games returned for the third release. In addition, Boon and his team were trying to turn Mortal Kombat into a viable fighting game with things no one had ever seen before and mechanics that could compete with the massive rush of fighters in arcades. The game was completely Americanized, with all hints of Eastern influence including symbols, locales, and the soundtrack completely absent without a trace and instead replaced by urban stages, 90s hip-hop soundtracks, and cyborgs replaced the signature ninjas. These locations were now composed of pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and the character sprites were almost totally digitized as opposed to the digitized/hand drawn hybrid of the previous games. Along with it came an overhaul of the controls, including combos and a “run” button to address rightful claims that defensive players ruled the previous title. It’s all one giant 90s metaphor but that doesn’t change the fact that MK3 (and it’s update Ultimate MK3 or UMK3) stands as the moment I felt the series went into the mainstream fighter territory. Couple this with the fact that it was on just about every console that existed at the time, still dominated arcades, and had more content than rival Street Fighter II could ever dream to do with its iterations and I see why it’s creator Ed Boon’s favorite. Mortal Kombat 3 definitely upped the ante.
God of War feels like a series that just exploded in popularity but has now been lost in the gaming community abyss. Last year the God of War Collection (featuring the first two games in the series) was released to the Playstation Vita to such a poor reception that a lot of friends were generally surprised it was actually released. Then again the same group of friends were gob smacked that Borderlands 2 also came out on the Vita. Now, it could be argued that this lack of enthusiasm may be due to the lack of interest in the Playstation Vita. But forgotten or not, I’ve played through both God of War games so it’s time to see how they hold up today.
I was originally a massive fan of the very first God of War game on PS2. When I was first introduced to the game by a friend I got so into it we played through the entire game together in one single sitting, something that I rarely do with a video game. We spent a lot of the experience just gob smacked by how the PS2 was able to include great graphics and set pieces. Of course a lot of the great visuals are attributed to a fixed camera control and the set pieces being controlled entirely by quick time events (a feature I’m glad has started to disappear in the gaming industry). The game felt like a breath of fresh air. Although the game did not introduce a completely original experience it seemed to take elements that worked with other games like an anti hero storyline, hack and slash gameplay and upgrading your character with orbs. The game was not perfect, even for the time people criticised some of the challenging sections in the game most notably the infamous Hades area where you had to get pass various traps and obstacles. If you were hit just once you died instantly, leading to some massive gamer rage grinding your enjoyable experience to a complete halt. What made God of War stand out at the time was the epic adventure, where you travel into areas no man can supposedly enter (and the game clearly displays this by having dead bodies littered everywhere). You really felt like you were on this impossible quest. Every time you beat a gigantic boss or got pass a deadly trap you really felt a sense of achievement. The bosses were also enormous like the infamous hydra, a fantastic way to open the game and a design feature that seemed to carry over to all future games in the series as well. The game was well received by critics and gamers so it pretty much guaranteed a sequel. The developers seemed confident of this as well as the message “Kratos will return,” appears once the credits have finished at the end of the experience.
Sorry this is going up on Sunday night. Normally Retro Game Night is recorded on Friday and goes up Saturday morning, but we had to delay recording a day and these HD videos take a lot longer to render and post to YouTube. Either way, the video speaks for itself, but Fred got a retail copy of Resident Evil HD Remaster on PS3 that will be coming to the US in “early” 2015 (according to Capcom). Well since there was another option, we grabbed it early. Enjoy!
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $20.87 (disc only), $33.99 (complete), $130.00 (sealed) per Price Charting
Note: I did not have screen shots available from my last play and it appears all screens online are from emulation. This title does not look this good on the PS1.
Dichotomies exist in all forms of media. Whether it’s Elvis or the Beatles, Shakespeare or Marlowe, Alien or Aliens, and even Star Wars or Star Trek, the rule remains the same: you are allowed to like both but you always prefer one. In the realm of survival horror, the clear competition is Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Longtime readers and listeners know where I stand (RE), but that’s not to say the Silent Hill isn’t just as easily justified, if not moreso, as the better game even if it’s not necessarily the more popular one. Despite the original Resident Evil being a living haunted house, the game still rooted itself into a world of intense action, the ability to kill just about every opposing force, and a heavy science fiction/biological manipulation concept – proven even more by the game’s Japanese title Biohazard. Silent Hill, on the other hand, is classic unexplained horror and phenomena at its best. Where Resident Evil employed pre-rendered backgrounds and forced camera perspectives, Silent Hill was fully rendered and seemed to follow the player, thus linking the character on screen with the player. This makes it more terrifying because what happens to Harry (your playable character) seemingly happens to you as well. Not only that, but the perspective of the title is completely different. Harry is a regular guy, not a soldier, and he’s frantically trying to find his missing daughter, not to simply survive. It’s all just a different perspective to the horror game where instead of trying to scare you with jumps and big gross monsters (although you will get those in this title), Silent Hill thrives on the unknown and maintaining tension instead of random fear. In short, it’s Alien to Resident Evil’s style of Aliens.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Editor’s Note: Although I love classic games as much as the next guy, few games get to be restored as often as Resident Evil 4. Therefore, the recently released Ultimate HD Edition has the most cleaned up, 1080p native graphics to date and thanks to screenshot technology being what it is we were able to grab those assets directly from the game without any quality loss. We at GH101 have decided to feature screens from this version in the interest of clarity, despite the fact that they do not faithfully represent the graphical fidelity of the many previous versions. Hopefully purists will forgive us.
The Story of the Scrapped Versions
Whenever a game sits in development hell for too long, it has an adverse affect on everyone’s feelings for the game. The examples are too many to count but a couple quick mentions are the likes of Diakatana, Too Human, and of course Duke Nukem Forever. With a few exceptions, games that take too long to make can’t help but not live up to the hype and therefore disappoint an all-too-eager audience. One of these exceptions is Resident Evil 4. Originally announced in 1999, the concept was a Playstation 2 game with a brutally strong protagonist that was more action focused per the ongoing desires of Shinji Mikami (series creator that has been trying to go more action oriented since Resident Evil 2). This new iteration was appropriately tasked to Hideki Kamiya, notable for his director work on Resident Evil 2, and in connection with Noboru Sugimura, writer of Resident Evil 2. After a European trip that netted a Gothic art style and given the goals of the game it was decided that the camera would have to be dynamic and movable (much like Capcom had started in Dino Crisis) and thus ditch the traditional pre-rendered background in exchange for a fully rendered world. Much of the development style, tone, and even Kamiya’s direction involved a what was described as a “cool” world and eventually it got so far removed from the roots of both the survival horror genre and Resident Evil series and instead integrated demons and a new protagonist, Dante. A small fraction of the Capcom Production Studio 4, named Little Devils, converted this new concept with the juggling bug this team had seen in Onimusha: Warlords and eventually renamed the project to Devil May Cry in November 2000. While it spun off to a good game and an ongoing franchise that still lives today, Devil May Cry left Resident Evil 4 in a rut without a dev team (and some hardcore RE fans still refer to the game as Resident Evil 3.5 since the core concepts remained intact).
This week we are tackling quite possibly the two most popular titles of survival horror: Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill 2. Resident Evil 2 was scrapped only a few months before completion and completely redone, resulting in many of the staples that carried the franchise forward and stands as a fan favorite. Meanwhile Silent Hill 2 waited until the Playstation 2 hit the market and with one of the creepiest atmospheres of all times redefined what horror gaming could be. We openly discuss the notable aspects of both.
Starting today the reboot of Strider hits home consoles and PCs as developer Double Helix attempts to capture the charm that came with the original’s dedicated cult following. When I try to look back at Strider – and yes I grew up playing every version from the arcade at my local bowling alley that was ported to the Genesis along with the completely different NES version – it’s hard to see what exactly needs to be in the new game. Still, there’s no denying the hardcore appeal of this unique and odd addition to classic gaming that justifies looking back for those that didn’t grow up with it.
If you haven’t played it, the original arcade version of Strider is all over the place. There are multiple languages, settings across the globe, massive mechanical ape bosses, and even lead protagonist Hiryu riding on a whale at the end. As one of the pioneer titles of Capcom’s new CP arcade platform – think of it as a cartridge-based cabinet that allowed quick swapping of games with only a few ROM changes – the graphics are indicative of the cartoon style all CP titles shared (ie: Ghouls’n Ghosts, Willow, and of course Final Fight). Graphics aside, the game is also noted for its crazy gameplay that features hanging from walls and ceilings, fighting massive enemies, and reversed gravity. To accompany this eclectic melting pot was an equally frantic soundtrack that covered all the bases from electronic progressive music to ambient classical style. While the soundtrack is uncredited to original composer Junko Tamiya (she also did the solid NES version of Bionic Commando as well as my personal favorite Sweet Home), the original versions of the arcade game didn’t feature the Aerial Battleship or Third Moon stages (replaced instead by the first stage music on a loop) so it can be deduced that someone went back and composed those additional tunes. While the game itself covers a scant five stages that will take the average person probably 60-90 minutes in total (pros can do it in half that time) the high difficulty and game design that was more indicative of home consoles was fresh. Instead of trying to rack up a high score or conquer a single mechanic over and over you were progressing through brutally difficult levels with the carrot on the stick being that provided you could afford to continue as many times as it took, you could see the ending. This is why most people who play it today will either set it to free play on the cabinet or emulator and also explains why the PS1 port flat-out gave you unlimited continues.
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.
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.
Now & Then is a series where we dissect the culture of a specific series or genre or compare an influential game from the past and how it holds up today.
It’s a bit wierd that American McGee (yes, that’s his real name as far as I know) was given an opportunity to be a Creative Director on this ambitious project, even moreso as an early project with EA. He began his career at idworking mostly in level design for many of the first person shooter series that I grew up playing: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He was fired from id for reasons not known and eventually ended up at Electronic Arts, where after a few sound design and writing projects he was given a large budget and the role of Creative Director for Alice. Why EA back then agreed to put his name as part of the title or allowed him to create such a vivid project (in the Quake III engine, for irony’s sake) is beyond me, but it was a solid and pivotal decision. American McGee’s Alice is one of the darkest, most twisted games I’ve ever played and takes the story begun by Lewis Carroll more than a century prior and turns it on its head. To be fair, Wonderland has never been a “normal” place, begot mostly of fantasy concepts and mind-altered states, but I never felt that violence, murder, and insanity were heavy themes. While the gameplay wasn’t spectacular even at the time, the imagery and graphics impressed gamers enough to sell more than 1.5 million copies.
Midway must have known it had a hit on its hands with the original Mortal Kombat because no time was wasted creating the sequel. While most of us anticipated the home release of the first title, Mortal Kombat II (MKII) snuck into arcades and blew our minds. This game literally had it all – more characters, more fatalities/finishing moves, and more violence. For most MK series fans, myself included, this is considered to be the best and it’s one of the highest grossing video games of all time.
MK Meets its Match
The original Mortal Kombat was an impressive fighter, especially for one that was developed with digitized actors in only 10 months, but creator Ed Boon wanted to do more. “[MKII] had everything we wanted to put in the original MK but didn’t have time for,” he said in an interview with EGM2 (issue 5, Nov. 1994). It does seem like there’s some truth to his claim, especially with the introduction of more stage fatalities, a second fatality for each character, and even joke finishers “friendships” and “babalities”. I’m not so sure the roster was an initial idea, nor was the background concepts of Outworld, but I can definitely see the Midway team wanting to break away from the perceived reality of the original. Not only was MKII the definitive version of the original concept, but it continues to be the template for which all other titles in the series are based on.