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Podcast: Data Easy Meets West

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No it’s not a typo (just an inside joke), but we are actually talking about Data East and Data West.  This includes the games they developed, published, and even the pinball titles available.  It may not seem it, but Data East was a limited and significant developer of the mid-late 80s and just about all of the 90s.

Special thanks to Retronauts Episode 88 (1up Run), Brandon Sheffield (and his blog/podcast Insert Credit), as well as Topless Robot for your Data East and extensive Data West information.

Also be sure to check out the ASCII RPG/roguelike Sanctuary, for free, at the following address: http://blackshellgames.itch.io/srpg


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Written by spydersvenom

June 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Video: Retro Game Night – Dino Crisis

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dc_coverOne of this week’s Retro Game Night titles kicks off the June game club with 1999’s Dino Crisis.  Click on the box art above to view the video.  From Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, this game was simply put as Resident Evil meets Jurassic Park, even at the admission of the game’s characters.  In this video we play the first hour with commentary and get you set up for an interesting take on the survival horror genre.  We are doing both the first and second game for June, so watch for the sequel coming in two weeks.

Written by spydersvenom

June 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Tetris Aid

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How Tetris Has Been Used in Research To Help Health Problems

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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.

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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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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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Podcast: One Disc to Rule Them All

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This week Fred (@spydersvenom) and Jam (@Jamalais) are celebrating the compact disc, or CD.  Aside from the various movie and music industry uses, commercial CD video games changed the face of gaming and drastically increased potential content in retail games.  Join us as we make new site announcements and celebrate one of gaming’s most pivotal technology upgrades.


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Written by spydersvenom

March 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Retro Review: Dead Space

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Dead_Space_Box_ArtWhen you first read or hear about Dead Space, it may not seem to peak your interest as much as it should. In truth, Dead Space is an experience from start to finish. This game is going to suck you into a world that will literally take over your living room if you let it. Aside from that, the universe is big as well. You can currently pick up the graphic novel, telling the early story, and as of yesterday the animated movie also released, which tells of the events leading directly into the game. Couple that with the announcement that Dead Space 2 is officially in development and there’s no reason to skip this game.

In order to appreciate Dead Space, you want to play it at night, with surround sound (as sound seems like a bigger factor than visuals), and pair these factors with being alone. A high-def screen helps, but is in no way as necessary as surround sound for this game. From the very beginning to the tense ending, you will treat this game much like being the leader in a haunted house: at the edge of your seat.

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The basic plot begins in the comics (you can download a fully read retelling of the graphic novel for free in either XBL or PSN) and tells the story of a monolith found in a mining colony. As you probably expect, strange things happen in the colony that lead to tragedy, but before they do, the monolith is uploaded to a mining vessel called the Ishimura. The animated film tells the tale of what happens when the monolith makes this move. The game takes place when a small team, including game protagonist Isaac Clarke, travel to the Ishimura in response to a distress beacon.

Things aren’t quite right the moment you enter the ship and you are immediately thrown into a world containing the most tense moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. You will get many jumpy moments, that in truth are just cheap scares, but the more stressful part will be responding to these moments. Unlike most games, the Necromorphs, enemies of this game, cannot be killed by traditional means. The term “strategic dismemberment” is used to signify “cut off their limbs”, forcing you to actually have accuracy and very limited ammo makes this twice as important. This is one of those games where you can run completely out of ammo and never be able to make it through the rest of the game, so save often and keep at least 2 saves rotating (you can do this in both versions).

dead_3This game is not really the scare fest that it was advertised at, but at the same time, like a bunch of college kids at a haunted house, journalists are a little too quick to claim this game isn’t scary. You will jump quite a few times early in, but once the freak out of the jumpy creatures is over you will be left with nothing more than tension. That tension, however, will keep your heart racing through the second half of the game. The scale can go from small (your size) to incredibly large (boss battles and several new enemies that introduce themselves). It’s freaky to say the least in this too-close-to-avoid atmosphere stolen right out of Event Horizon.

There are several aspects of this game you won’t find anywhere else, beginning with the lack of gravity. The first time you see gravity turned off it will wow you with how seemingly accurate it can be. Fighting creatures in zero gravity seems to give you an advantage that you don’t find in other areas of the game and help to further the idea that your environment can often be your strongest weapon.  Stasis, which allows you to freeze creatures and certain items in the world, is easily the most useful tool in the game, but just like ammo it is very limited. Telekinesis, the one tool Isaac has an unlimited supply of, will allow you to grab and throw items and limbs of your enemies (and surprisingly does this much easier than the similar “force grab” of the Force Unleashed). Just in case you were running out of things to keep track of, vacuum areas will keep you rushing to as you have a limited supply of air for which to overcome obstacles that at times can be incredibly tough.

The controls are smooth and responsive, however from time to time you will get turned around with the complex control scheme (especially in the Xbox version, in my opinion). Having played both games, I preferred the way the PS3 handled the controls and chose to complete the game on PS3, however the controls are quite similar on both consoles, so the choice is really preference. The virtual HUD is great for holographic cut scenes, however when you run out of ammo and need to add stasis or check ammo supply, the fact that you don’t leave the game just adds one more thing to keep track of. I died at least a couple of times while being chased trying to exit the supply screen. Graphically this game looks almost identical on both systems (saw a few graphical tears in the PS3 version I didn’t see in the 360 version, but I was looking very hard on a large screen). While the box of both claim 1080p, this game is actually in 720p on both consoles and only upscales to 1080p (and not that smoothly) with some forced adjustments, however the game looks almost the same in 720p and 1080p, so just enjoy! The Ishimura is flooded with plenty of blood-soaked sets that are disturbing to any onlooker, so no kids allowed (and my fiance was a little unsettled after watching for about 20 minutes, so I now play without her around).

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There are some additional flaws with the game, namely that you are so low on ammo in the second half of the game that it becomes much more frustrating than tense, especially during late boss battles. The “new game +” feature, which allows you to keep all your upgrades and start a new game, is great except that you can’t change difficulty. I also didn’t understand why you have to complete the game more than twice to fully upgrade everything, this just seems too limited. The difficulty is above average, but once you’ve completed the game at least once, is possible (but with a lot of time and frustration). The trophies/achievements sadly don’t offer much to do other than the linear storyline has to offer.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on December 1, 2008 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.7 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Retro Review: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

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cod_boxCall of Duty is going someplace that no other World War II shooter franchise has gone before: modern day in a fictional Middle East country. The follow up to last year’s lackluster Call of Duty 3 (created by sibling developer Treyarch), Infinity Ward is back with its iteration to the franchise and suffice to say this game is impressive. Modern Warfare comes with a slew of tactical contemporary guns, a gripping new plotline, and easily the most gorgeous graphics I’ve ever seen. Look out Halo, you very well may have competition.

From the first mission where you are literally dropped into, boarding and clearing a large freight liner in the middle of the ocean during a rainstorm, this game is faster and more covert. Previous titles in the series focused around being the hero in a clutter of large scale battles, whereas much of Modern Warfare deals with a covert black ops feel. The change comes with additional tools like night vision, a melee knife attack and a short-burst run that are all, quite frankly, badass. In addition the campaign feels more like a team effort, with each member chipping in to do their part. Mind you, the AI won’t beat the game for you, but I had several instances where a random enemy that jumped in front of me was popped off by a teammate.

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Modern Warfare also integrates interactive scripted moments that make you feel even more like a black ops team behind enemy lines. Along with the impressive new graphics comes events that not only outline the horrors of war but really immerse you into a realistic experience. Without spoiling anything, lets just say you’ll never guess what happens half way through the campaign. The difficulty has also been tweaked a bit, dividing each difficulty with a much larger gap; you will immediately notice that normal difficulty doesn’t feel as tough as it did in COD 2 or 3, but the jump to veteran (hardest) seems wider. Regardless of what difficulty you play it on, it does seem that this game is on par with previous titles in terms of difficulty.

cod_2Whether it’s new or more apparent in Modern Warfare, infinite respawns come at inopportune times and cause probably the largest frustration within this game. Couple that with a timing element that presents itself from time to time and you almost sit back and wonder if Infinity Ward wanted you to complete the game at all. Rest assured, all encounters are beatable, but I couldn’t help feeling a lack of realism when I’m rushing through an endless sea of foes only to cross an invisible line and suddenly be alone with the little “checkpoint reached” in the upper left hand corner. For a game that focused so much on reality, this was the only time I was reminded that I was just playing a video game.

The multiplayer has also been tweaked and for the first time I am thoroughly enjoying a Call of Duty game of deathmatch. While previous games had a handful of maps and a class-based system, everything has been rehashed into an extremely complex perk and leveling system for Modern Warfare. Initially you are given only a few weapons, perks and versus modes to learn the ropes (for the first few levels it’s all basically free-for-all games). Every time you make a kill you get 10 xp in a continued effort to level up and raise your rank. An ingenious implementation, Infinity Ward now has the “+10 xp” show up above your enemy when you take them out and a random grenade thrown as you’re dying can result in a “+10 xp” when you respawn if you’re lucky enough to hit someone. This simple text on the screen is like the endless carrot on the fishing pole that I needed to enjoy hours of play without wondering what to do next. As you level up, more an more modes unlock including team deathmatch, capture the flag and even modes that rotate various match types.

cod_3This isn’t the only system in the game, mind you, as your perks and weaponry system work independently from the traditional leveling system. If you want to upgrade to a new weapon or add, say, a scope to your weapon, you have to prove proficiency in the lower weapons of the class. Once you get 25 kills with an assault rifle, you may get the option for a scope along with some bonus XP, but to get 75 kills will provide a better scope. To level up one or more guns of a certain type (assault, SMG, LMG, etc.) may result in better weapons; you snipers out there will be happy to see nearly half a dozen to pick from, but you’ll have to work to get those kills before unlocking others. In addition, leveling up will provide perks like being able to run longer, detect enemy explosives or my favorite, martyrdom, which drops a grenade on your dead body every time you’re killed. The mix and match of your perks, your teammates perks and your enemies perks can really mix things up on the various large maps that randomly rotate. Additionally, for those seeking more XP, there are different unlocked challenges that range from falling 50 ft and living to getting 25 kills while prone. Kill streaks are now handsomely rewarded by giving you a recon plane at 3 kills (see where all enemies are on the map for 30 seconds), an air strike at 5 kills that bombards an area of the map with missiles and even an attack chopper at 7 kills that is hard to shoot down and independently racks up kills for you while you continue to clear other ground forces. All in all there are few reason to want to play any other online multiplayer game.

The Call of Duty franchise, started by Medal of Honor alumns Inifinty Ward, continues to progress and adapt the military shooter and the move to modern, albeit fictional, times is a breath of fresh air. With the change of time and location comes a gorgeous new graphics engine and a new style of play that will have twitch gamers at the edge of their seat. The complex and gripping campaign will give you a taste of tings to come, but the real pull that will keep you coming back will be the multiplayer. I can say that after a mere six hours, I am definitely hooked and have all but forgotten about Halo 3. I prefer the twitch gameplay, quick kills, and stealth possibilities that Modern Warfare has to offer and with what seems to be an endless amount of perks and challenges, I have little reason to play anything else. If you are a fan of the FPS genre, you are missing out to let this highly anticipated title pass you by.

Review Score: 5 out of 5

This review was originally posted on a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 9.5 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 27, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Know This Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

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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.

 

Written by spydersvenom

February 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

Edge Online Covers the Original Thief in a Great Retrospective

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I am one of those gamers that just didn’t do PC gaming when 3D cards hit the market (Voodoo, 3DFX, etc) and as a result missed out on some of the most interesting games over the decade that spanned the late 90s/early 2000s.  Much like today, it was a hardware hurdle of having the right motherboard, installing the card, and trying not to blow up the family computer in the process.  Now that I’m just getting started on the new Thief game I wanted to read up on the original title Thief: The Dark Project.  I found a rock solid article just written a few days ago on Edge Online and I recommend that all who either played or wanted to play the alternative view on the validity of the first person perspective check it out.

Written by spydersvenom

February 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Posted in News, PC/Mac

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Review: Strider (2014)

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strider_boxYet another in a long line of modern re-hashes on cult favorites, I went into Strider with a bit more optimism than than other titles to date.  Aside from spruced up graphics the game appeared to be faithful to the arcade original, which my retrospective and the podcast last week contested is the best iteration of the series.  Couple that with the development being handled by Double Helix – a very popular developer with success not only in Killer Instinct 3, but also was purchased by Amazon for an unannounced project – and the open map MetroidVania game design, things were shaping up to success.  Having completed the game, I must admit that just like the anomaly of the original, Strider is a melting pot of prior series staples that gets it right from start to finish.

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The scale of the overall world is massive and can be stunning.

If you sit still too long in the original arcade game, you will die.  Best laid plans are to push forward (ie: to the right) and just attack anything in your path while trying not to fall off a ledge.  In the new game that theme is aggressively applied with herds of enemies so thick they will literally be a blocking point for you at times in the game.  As a member of the Strider clan, Hiryu is able to cut down most adversaries with the greatest of ease and the balance between enemy hit points and his acrobatic abilities result in a fast paced romp.  I never had down time in Strider and felt like a masterful ninja with frantic but controlled moves as I navigated the game’s massive map.  While I can concede to the basic MetroidVania label, I would say the game more closely resembles Rondo of Blood rather than the hybrid genre.  Even when you have a full moves list at your disposal these hiding places are more off the beaten path rather than the wide open areas you uncover in other titles of the genre.  What results is a game that is more linear than anything else, and despite it being a huge map the development team broke it up into different areas complete with a boss battle and new weapon at the core, so basically it’s just like having levels that you can return to.  Strider is no stranger to this method of map design, the original NES title was quite similar and a small following prefer it to the traditional “run to the right” design of the arcade title.  In the end I grew tired of looking too hard for too much because I was having such a blast following the marker to the next step of the main mission that I played it exactly like a linear game.

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Two bosses on opposing sides are no problem for Hiryu.

You will get many weapons and abilities and the pacing is a great way to teach you how to utilize and master each moveset before adding another.  While it probably would look hokey in real life, across the course of the game you go from being a basic jump and slash ninja to a masterful warrior that confidently charges into anything in his path.  While I feel the different plasmas were a foolish way to gate off areas throughout the campaign, there’s no denying the cool nature of them.  With each new plasma comes a new ability for your throwing weapon, the Kunai, that allows the 5-item spread shot to either bounce off walls, set explosives, or even freeze enemies, and assists in maximizing your options for dispatching the little guys that stand in your way.  When it comes to the bosses, however, you will instead be using Cypher techniques to deal the biggest bang for your buck.  These special moves cross the screen and deliver massive amounts of damage, which can be used against basic enemies but the recharge rate is slowed to the point that I never found myself doing it throughout the campaign whereas some bosses cannot even be hurt unless you unleash the technique.  I have to say that boss battles were quite hit or miss.  Some wanted you to utilize a bombardment of blind attacks while avoiding getting hit while others wanted you to learn pattern and techniques that weren’t referenced at all – thankfully someone in QA must have noticed this because a prompt will show on the screen telling you how to overcome them if you’re not getting it.  Strider’s past in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise definitely assisted both the gameplay and art department in how he has been customized and frankly I think the game is better for it.

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Look like anyone you remember?

There is still no denying the fact that Strider was utilized for this game in hopes that nostalgia will garner interest, which is best proved by the fact that I think this style of game has better examples like 2009’s Shadow Complex or even 2012’s Dust: An Elysian Tail.  If you’re familiar with the original in the least you will recognize the familiar setting in a socialist Eastern European land, cold mechanical cyberpunk aesthetic, and great new renderings of familiar faces.  It almost seems as if the Double Helix design team sat in a room with a list of things they loved about the other three games (we don’t recognize Strider Returns as cannon at this site) and in the end walked away with all of them still on the list.  I can’t tell you how new but also similar the game looks and feels in comparison to the original, which is now almost 25 years old, but yet how fun it all is.  I describe the dichotomy of the original being both empowering and brutally difficult and how that was somehow fun back then and now the dichotomy of how this title is both a recycling of the old game and an integration of emerging contemporary genres – it’s not supposed to work, but yet it does.  You will enjoy this game whether you’re familiar with Strider or not, but to have played the original, especially recently, enhances your enjoyment.  I still think it’s a shame that the PSN release of Strider 2 from the original Playstation (which included the original arcade game as well) doesn’t seem to be happening because that would couple this release perfectly.

On paper Strider isn’t doing anything new in the least and the combining of old concepts with a new reboot really reeks of a cash grab.  To my surprise this title feels like anything but, with enough care given to the look and feel that it’s really just a faithful recreation of the original (sans difficulty curve, thank God).  As I try to get hung up on or nitpick the faults there just aren’t enough and to a degree that it really matters.  At $15 the 4-6 hour campaign, which probably doubles if you find everything, is just a ton of fun.  The variety, scale, and clean coding makes for an experience that just works and sets no lofty expectations.  I kind of wish more games came in a package like this because it’s the perfect package for anyone and appeals to everyone.

Final Score: 4/5  (Review Guidelines can be found here)

Strider was provided by the publisher via review code on the Playstation 4.  It is available for $14.99 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

Written by spydersvenom

February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, PS3, PS4, Remakes, Reviews, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Tagged with ,

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