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Podcast: Shmup Game Club

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This week we are joined by listener Jason (@albirhiza) to discuss our Shmup Game Club: Giga Wing 2, Velocity (Ultra), Radiant Silvergun, Power-Up, and Sine Mora.  Campaigns, tactics, high scores, and more are covered as we dissect some of the more contemporary additions to the genre.



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Retro Game Challenge: Radiant Silvergun

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For those of you gearing up for this week’s Gaming History 101 shmup game club, I’ve got the Radiant Silvergun (links to my review/coverage of the game) campaign through to completion on a video here.  Don’t expect the best playing in the world, I’m okay but I’m no match for the one-lifers who take this game on.  It was more like 50 lives in my case, but nonetheless, I managed to complete the game despite some self destructing bosses.  Click on the box art for the video.

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Written by spydersvenom

March 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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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.

Strider Retrospective

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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.

Strider_1If 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 GhostsWillow, 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.

strider_2I remember playing it when I was about 10 years old and being blown away by the neo future envisioned in the story’s 2048 Soviet dictatorship, indicative of the continuing fear of Cold War oppression and Socialist/Communist popularity.  Each sound effect, especially the signature slash sound each time Hiryu swings his sword, had a crisp edge and realism I had not heard before.  It was even more impressive that some of these sounds made it into the NES port, which was a technical feat in its own regard.  While the plot is very hard to follow, even today, only playing for a few minutes proved that Hiryu, the youngest ever high-tech ninjas known as “Striders”, was a force to be reckoned with.  This is counter to the gameplay in that the extreme difficulty and new mechanics meant you would die quite a bit through even the most basic levels of the game.  Few titles I’ve ever played master the art of both empowering the player and kicking their butt at the same time, which Strider did in spades.  Each stage and even area of a stage was drastically different from the last and I will never forget the large-scale of each boss.  Not only that but beating the boss did not always mean the end of the level, especially with regards to the massive gravity sphere that destructed the ship you are on when it was defeated, resulting in a frantic escape run before completing the level.  Oh yeah, and there were massive cyborg interpretations of King Kong (large gorilla) and Godzilla (large T-Rex) as well.  Sweet.

Unfortunately I have to admit that I think a title like Strider is a perfect example of a game you most appreciate if you grew up with it.  In a wild development cycle that included three independent companies working on an arcade version, an NES version (who also happened to develop the simliar but different Ghosts’n Goblins port), and a manga in Japan, Strider was unlike most projects in video games at the time.  Ironically enough the Metroid-style open world NES version of the game that directly connected to the manga were completely severed by the business decisions of worldwide business.  A Famicom version of the game was never manufactured or released in Japan and the manga never saw its way to our shores (not to mention the language barrier that separated each medium), so in retrospect it’s one disconnected mess of a story.  One thing all regions had in common was that the teens of the time were enticed by the arcade port and many of them picked up and loved the later Genesis/Mega Drive version that came as close to the arcades as we saw in the late 80s.  Even more odd are the random sequels that share the franchise such as the horrid US Gold/Tiertex sequel Strider II (known as Journey From Darkness: Strider Returns in the US) that probably isn’t worth emulating.  Capcom later fixed the issue by ignoring the licensed sequel and releasing Strider 2 to arcades and later in a near-perfect port to the original Playstation.  While I wouldn’t say it changed the world, it was a cool take on the mechanics of Strider and the odd 3D graphics of the time.  If you play any version, I highly recommend the Genesis port because it really comes with no caveat.  With Grin’s 2009 project being scrapped and Double Helix’s recent success with Killer Instinct 3, here’s hoping that the reboot doesn’t disappoint.  Look back near the end of the week for that review.  Either way, what other game can you say ends with you riding the back of a freaking whale for no reason?

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Written by spydersvenom

February 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Podcast: Heroes in a Half Shell

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You can’t have grown up in the late 80s and not been struck by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It apparently transcends geographic location as co-hosts Fred (@spydersvenom) and James (@Jamalais) both had similar experiences growing up in different parts of the world.  In this episode we dissect TMNT’s roots, marketing, and obvious integration into video game culture, covering the games that made the surfer-style pizza-eating New York crime fighters a pop culture sensation.



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Written by spydersvenom

February 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Podcast: Taito Legends

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This week Fred is joined by James (@Jamalais) to discuss the arcade classics released by Taito in the 1980s.  They cover the company’s history and many of the staple titles like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt, Zoo Keeper, Bubble Bobble, Darius, Rainbow Islands, and Rastan.  Return to one of the arcade pioneers of gaming’s golden years.



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Please note: In the show Jam refers to a review for Rainbow Islands that was very close to him.  That review can be read, unedited, here.  (It is in an open document type, so I recommend using Google Docs to view.)

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February 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Podcast: Excelsior!

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This week Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) and Andy Urquhart (@damien14273) from the Agents of Shieldcast join Fred to discuss retro titles featuring Marvel Characters.  They learn that the distinction of titles early in gaming were almost nonexistent and perhaps Marvel having Disney behind it may actually be a good thing.  Listen on true believers!



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January 15, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Podcast: Twas the Night Before Xmas Part 2

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This year we celebrate more releases of Christmas time with special guests Rob “Trees” (@TreesLounge00), Shawn Freeman (@Freemandaddy5), and special guest Yomar “Yogi” (@Yogizilla).  With a goal of 1991-1996, we only make it through the first half of 1994 but it’s a fun ride through the biggest titles of the 16-bit era.  Merry Christmas everyone!



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And as a bonus we have a special Christmas card from Jam:

Written by spydersvenom

December 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Version: Mortal Kombat

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In this new video series we dissect the home versions of the arcade classic Mortal Kombat.  Check out the roughly 10 minute video for a quick retrospective on the title and the craze that resulted in September 1993 as many kids brought this violent title home.

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December 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Podcast: Devil’s Castle Dracula

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This week Fred is joined by Allen (@tearsofafeather) to discuss the Castlevania franchise.  As a fan of both this show and Castlevania, Allen assisted in talking about the vast adventures of the first six titles for the Belmont clan (Castlevania I-IV along with Rondo of Blood and Bloodlines).  Join us in one of the most technologically advanced and entertaining horror action platformers ever released.



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