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Podcast: Ready, Aim, Fire!

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the wonderful world of light gun shooters.  What started as a mere carnival game evolved into one of the more interactive – and for some of us fun – genres that has not withstood the test of time.  With the advent of newer screens, the technology that made light guns possible is now ruined by delays of no more than a fraction of a second.  In this episode we discuss the history, technology behind, and our fondest memories of the games that utilized the light gun peripheral.


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Written by Fred Rojas

December 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Night: Contra 3, Contra Hard Corps, and Contra Rebirth

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This week Fred goes 16-bit and beyond with his Contra.  Having spent literally decades conquering the first two, it appears he doesn’t fair so well into the next generation.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 23, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 2: Crimson Butterfly

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pz2_boxff2_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii
Released: 2003
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $24.77 (disc only), $26.88 (complete), $56.88 (sealed) per Price Charting

Jam’s Take:

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is a sequel to the original horror PS2 hit that brings more of everything. More ghosts, more places to wander around and more pictures than a bachelors degree in photography. But is this game a picture worth hanging on your wall or maybe more suitable as a Christmas greeting card?

After surviving the mansion incident from the first game you find yourself now playing as a totally different character in a different setting. This time you play as a young girl called Mio Amakura and occasionally your messed up twin sister Mayu. After becoming lost in Minakami forest you stumble across a village. What could possibly go wrong here? Well it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the place is haunted with the tortured souls of its dead inhabitants as well as that something weird is affecting your twin sister Mayo.  The plot is completely separate from the original Project Zero title. The only main link being that you find the Camera Obscura, which is the same device in the first game, as a weapon.  You use it to snap the things that go bump in the night – this time its an entire village as opposed to just a mansion.  The plot of this game is rather complicated and felt quite hard to follow. Like the first game, there are several documents littered around the place providing you with some background information on what happened to the village and its inhabitants.

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Project Zero 2 does make a couple of changes to the series as well. First off, the game now has a novice mode for those gamers who are just utterly terrified of the “brave” normal mode. Saying that, even normal mode comes across as significantly easier than the first game in the series.  The most significant gameplay adjustment is taking pictures of the ghosts. Like the first game you wander around in third person and when you want to take a picture you switch to a first person perspective. A small yellow bar will be highlighted indicating that your picture will damage the ghost. Items of interest can be photographed and highlighted in blue in the view finder, taking the picture will usually help unlock a door or solve a puzzle. In this game you are practically encouraged to get up close and personal to the ghouls to take damage from them, the closer you get the more the yellow bar fills. If your used to the charging mechanic of the first game, that mechanic may confuse you at first as it is not made entirely clear when taking a picture will damage the ghost. Similar to the first game there is an opportunity to take a picture at just the right point to do maximum damage, called a “Zero shot,” and your HUD bar will highlight totally red when you have this opportunity. Unlike the previous games ghost encounters may have more than one ghost, they may even last longer, which is saying a lot as ghosts encounters in the first game were not a short experience. Not only that, encounters can be random anywhere in the game, it is not advised to hang around in a room doing nothing for too long.

You can upgrade the camera, which has been made a lot easier from the first. You accumulate points to upgrade by snapping pictures of the ghoulies and you also find spirit stones for upgrade slots hidden around the game. To upgrade the camera you need to use a spirit stone first to activate the slot and then have enough points to solidify the upgrade. This unique way of upgrading seems to be a way of preventing the player upgrading the camera too quickly.  Just like the first game you can also load your camera with different types of film that will do different amounts of damage and specific effects. These are in limited supply and scattered across the village.

You will regularly encounter puzzles throughout the game and many of them involve you using the camera at a specific spot to unlock a door. The game will also give you logic puzzles to solve like rotating dials to match the colours.  A lot of the game feels like a giant Easter egg hunt where you wander around an area looking for key items to solve a bigger puzzle.  You can save your game as many times as you want at designated lamp points; however, if there is a ghost in the area the lamp will go out preventing you from saving. Taking a snap shot and vanquishing the spook will enable you to once again use the save point. This mechanic was in the original game as well and is a great way of making you feel that nowhere is safe.

ff2_3Graphically the game does an excellent job of recreating a spooky village. You really feel like you’re alone as you wander around this creepy place with the sense that something is watching you, and it usually is. Ghosts appear to look surprisingly solid, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. Ghosts take on the forms of members of the villagers who once lived there and there are a huge number of ghosts in comparison to the first game. You’ll encounter blind ghosts, priest ghosts, children ghosts, and my favourite the crazy suicide ghost who attack you by constantly falling from a high up altitude. Of course this ghost was not meant to be funny but it did make me laugh more than tremble with fear. There are of course a lot of ghosts which just seem to hang around in the village. They won’t attack you, they act as the collectables in the game. Taking images of ghosts in the game and saving them to a separate photo album file will unlock additional costumes for Mio and Mayu.

The question I just could not help asking in Project Zero 2 was: so when does this game get scary? To be fair this game has several eerie moments but I never particularly felt scared or in danger when playing this game. Once again I am comparing this to the original game which seemed to contain scenes I found very unsettling. Saying that the developers apparently toned the horror down for this game to encourage players to actually finish the experience.

Project Zero 2 is certainly easier than the first game and a lot more accessible to people new to the series. Ammo and health items are very easy to come by even on standard difficulty. Some may find the pace of the game a little slow and frustrating as you wander around the village looking where to go next, the game does have a handy map if you get completely stuck. Once you get over the first few hours of the game you should be able to finish between eight to ten hours the first time through. The game does have multiple endings to experience and you are encouraged to play through the game multiple times to unlock extra difficulties, costumes and collect a picture of every damn ghost in the game if your a hardcore collector.

Overall, Project Zero 2 is a solid game but as you could tell from this review I could not help constantly comparing it to the original. The game changes the gameplay mechanics for the camera in a way I don’t think is as enjoyable by timing the right shot as opposed to charging it up. The story didn’t really draw me into the world or care as much for the main characters. When the game was finished I was quite surprised as it just seemed to abruptly end. Saying that, the game is a lot easier and more appealing to people new to the series. Unfortunately the game will still only appeal to a niche audience. If you want to try a horror game that tries things different from the typical survival horror experience I recommend giving this a try. If you liked the original I’m pretty sure you’ll find this game enjoyable. For everyone else this is a tough game to recommend. Though I had fun with the game I favour the original more, but felt compelled enough to look at the sequel.

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Fred’s Take:

Unlike Jam, I have not played the first and thus do not have to worry about comparing the two.  What I have a harder time with is wrapping my head around why this game is so popular in US horror gaming circles.  I get what appeals in other Japan-centric games like Silent Hill or even potentially Resident Evil - disturbing images and big squishy monsters – but I never understood that supernatural appeal vibrant in Japanese ghost stories.  These stories in visual media always break the universal rules of good horror: they are complicated tales instead of a simple plot, you see the danger in full view instead of off screen or lingering in the shadows, and they don’t clearly end.  Fatal Frame II is all of these things and I just don’t understand the appeal.

ff2_4Despite this fact, it is a decent game that encompasses solid mechanics and a great world to explore.  Whereas many found it to be an unsettling attack to the senses, I found to it to be a great exploratory simulation of events and locations I’d never have to the guts to tread in real life.  I always talk about games being haunted house simulations, which is more of an American view in that I’m expecting big gory beasts and graphic violence, whereas Fatal Frame II is literally a series of haunted houses you have to reconcile.  The village is flooded with souls that are both at peace and tortured, but you may never know who these people are or why they fit in either camp (except for whether or not you can damage them with the camera) thanks to the brunt of the plot being in collectible books.  Reading those books isn’t the issue, its knowing whether or not you have found all of them and the game’s complete lack of care whether you did or not, that I start having issues with.  When unraveled the tale is quite simple, but far be it for the developers to present it that way and instead you end up circling the same concepts and stories a few dozen times before you can comprehend what even happened by the time the credits roll.  Fatal Frame II does effectively capture the strongest sense from Japanese ghost stories, which is to screw with your perspective and corrupt something you love.  It’s very good at that.  It messes with you.

Combat is consistent, although figuring out the inner workings of how that all comes to pass takes time.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a mechanic, the game allows other ghosts you encounter to change or break the rules you just figured out.  Perhaps you could always snap a shot of a ghost coming out of invisibility the last time but this time the ghost’s ability is to disappear when it’s fully visible and you have to hit it at a different time or distance.  Maybe the ghost is in plain view but because the camera doesn’t turn yellow/red you can’t snap a photo for damage.  Maybe a girl is literally falling out of the sky to her death and although she’s invisible has the ability to hurt you when she lands even though other ghosts walk right through you.  It’s a bit irritating at first until you realize you have plenty of health and healing items for trial and error, but when faced with a ghost that can’t be exorcised or one that kills you in a single touch (or both) the annoyance of the battle system can get the best of you.  I just had a hard time being threatened by enemies that I can walk through, in many points of animation can’t harm me, and consistently go invisible.  Then again, I was scared to death and on the edge of my seat as I navigated a room plagued by a one-hit death ghost.

With all the focus on exploration – whether it’s fighting a new enemy, looking for something specific, or trying to find out where your half-goofballs sister is gallivanting to next – I was hoping I’d be looking for more interesting items.  The random unnecessary books that document the past, present, and potential future of The Lost Village and your place in it are fascinating little tidbits of lore, but those are completely optional as are the content spirits lingering about.  What is necessary is annoying fetch quests that have you finding stupid little stones in the ground with fragments of a key, assembling a doll from six or seven different parts strewn about, or traversing an entire house only to find the item you need was in the first room you entered and having to re-trace your steps twice while you fetch and return with that item.  It makes the relatively short game a bit long in the tooth.

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In the end I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for a traditional, non-violent, complicated ghost story about fetching things while your sister goes crazy.  I did, however, have a good time getting through the game’s 6-8 hour initial campaign and appreciating the moments, stories, and enemies that did make me smile and nod.  Fatal Frame II is different from other games and it’s well executed in what that specific game is, which is perhaps why it stands as such a pivotal title in the genre.  Everything you experience, down to the final moments and multiple endings, assure you that if you’re a fan of the likes of Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge) that you’ll be right at home with the eerie atmosphere Fatal Frame II has to offer.  For me, this was nothing more than a unique style to a niche genre that, while well executed, just wasn’t that much up my ally.  Still, if you feel at home with a good old fashioned Japanese ghost story, complete with cryptic outcome, this may just be the game you’ve always been looking for.

Final Scores   Jam: 2 out of 5  –  Fred: 3 out of 5    (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Podcast: Crimson Butterfly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle a horror game that is often mentioned as one of the scariest and best horror games to ever release.  Oddly enough, neither of the guys have played it despite being self-proclaimed survival horror fans.  Regardless, they tackle this popular title about a pair of twin girls who descend upon the spirit-infested Lost Village and uncover the tragedies that happened there.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Night: Splatterhouse

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This week Fred is playing two versions of Splatterhouse.  The first is the US Turbografx-16 port of the Japanese arcade title, slightly modified to avoid lawsuits in regards to lead character Rick’s similarity to Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th.  The second was only released in Japan on the Famicom (NES) due possibly to some even more obvious legal concerns.  It was titled Wanpaku Graffiti.  Enjoy!

Written by Fred Rojas

October 4, 2014 at 11:22 am

Retrospective: Resident Evil 4

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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.  – Fred Rojas

The Story of the Scrapped Versions

re4_boxWhenever 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 DiakatanaToo 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).

It wasn’t until nearly a year later, late 2001, that the large scale Capcom Production Studio 4 team regrouped to begin development on Resident Evil 4.  Sugimura was still involved at this time and his scenario company Flagship and the original concept was Leon Kennedy breaking into Umbrella’s European headquarters to save a girl (who’s identity has never been revealed) while fighting various types of zombies and other creatures a la the original game.  At this time the third person view was already the gameplay style although Leon was overcome by the Progenitor Virus, thus giving his left hand special abilities, and included first person action sequences like we saw hints of in previous games.

re4_hookmanAs time went on the concept developed into the demo that was shown at E3 2003 known as Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (Hallucination Biohazard 4 in English), but it has been come to be nicknamed Resident Evil 4: Hook Man Version by those that talk about it in the RE circles (FYI: Resident Evil is Biohazard in Japan but not here due to the metal band’s trademark).  Development of this version began when Flagship’s original scenario was dropped and Mikami brought in Yasuhisa Kawamura, scenario writer for Resident Evil 3, to make a scarier game.  At first the movie Lost Souls was the template and it featured an unnamed female protagonist that found herself in an abandoned building with a killer on the loose.  An in-between version re-introduced Leon as the lead, had him working with a mutated dog as a sidekick, and eventually making his way through Umbrella creator Spencer’s Castle to rescue a girl and fight his way out (with Hook Man as the killer and a newer version of the Nemesis character).  Eventually this was adapted into a final version that would become the demo.  In this version Leon was traversing a haunted castle, infected with a virus, and it was causing a mix of various jarring camera effects and hallucinations.  To help with the goal of a scary atmosphere and merge the perspective of the player with Leon, an over-the-shoulder camera, laser sight, and quick time events (QTEs) were integrated, some of the more notable attributes of the final game.  Enemies in the demo ranged from suits of armor that came to life and eventually a the Hook Man, a ghostlike zombie with a torn hook for a left hand, as a final enemy for the demo.  You can find a 5 minute video of this build on YouTube (pardon if the link isn’t valid over time) that was found in the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD that came as a pre-order bonus for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube in 2005.  Cost of development and technical obstacles forced Mikami to step in and assist in scenario writing and development, something Kawamura has gone on record saying he’s ashamed of, and completely scrapped the game.  It was 2004 and Resident Evil 4 was back to square one.  Fortunately you can find most parts of this version (aside from the demo video) in other Capcom games: many of these assets ended up in the PS2 game Haunting Ground, the Progenitor Virus concept was the base for Resident Evil 5, and of course the Spencer Estate concept was revitalized in the RE5 DLC Lost in Nightmares.

The Deal With Nintendo

re4_3In November 2002, Capcom announced a 5 game deal with Nintendo that would see five of the titles coming to the GameCube, known as the Capcom Five, and among those (despite some miscommunication) only Resident Evil 4 was to remain console exclusive.  After rumors suggested that users and investors were adding pressure to move the game to the much more successful Playstation 2, Mikami even came out and claimed he would “cut his  head off” if RE4 ever made its way to another console.  In late 2003 Shinji Mikami took over directional duties and had a large part in scenario and writing duties to completely re-invent the series.  He spread a massive campaign in interviews and told the Capcom Production 4 Team that the focus was to be on action and not horror.  To assist with this he dropped the Umbrella involvement completely, created the Ganados concept, and clearly borrowed from many earlier versions of the game, including the new Dante-like look and personality for Leon.  By E3 2004 Capcom locked down a January 2005 release for Gamecube and then to everyone’s shock an awe a Halloween 2004 announcement for 3 new Resident Evil PS2 titles revealed that a port of Resident Evil 4 with expanded content would be hitting the PS2 later in 2005.  This made Gamecube fans livid, some of which admitted to purchasing the nearly dead console purely for the now three year prospect of finding the game only on Nintendo’s console.  For the record, Mikami did not cut off his own head and the PS2 version did come out.  I have never been able to find out if there was any action from Nintendo for breaking the exclusivity, although in those days it wasn’t always a paid or contractual deal so perhaps Nintendo had no leg to stand on.

The Game

After all that hype and pressure, it’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 is as wonderful as it turned out to be.  If you’ve never played it, the genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it sticks to the basics of game design while also offering a look and feel that is fresh.  Easily one of the most gorgeous games from that generation, I still contest that the Gamecube version is the best looking from that time period, so if you have a choice that game really was developed for that console.  Additionally the game was long, like 15-20 hours long, and didn’t feel as such.  Each of the five chapters feel like complete games in and of themselves and while enemy types and bosses do reappear from time to time, the environments and scenarios are unique for the most part.  Even more striking is the way that game develops alongside the player as a whole.

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In the first act you are traversing the woods of Spain as Leon, completely unaware of what’s to come but you know it’s not going to be good.  Eventually you get introduced the Ganados, who at this point are townsfolk that have established farming villages along the countryside, but of course they are violent toward you.  After killing off a pair of cops that accompany you, the Ganados turn full attention on you and with the different ways they attack based on where you shoot them and how close you are too them, it’s clear that these are no zombies.  Ganados will throw weapons at you (that yes, you can shoot out of the air), duck under your laser sight, run around you, and overall give you that sinking feeling of being entirely alone against the world.  Not only that, but the world is quite jarring for the time, with the over-the-shoulder camera and focus with the laser sight on where to shoot everyone, it’s a steep learning curve.  That’s why the first main area, a central town, is so pivotal and one hell of a demo.  You enter into this town that is fully populated by Ganados that all give chase upon your arrival.  You can go in and out of houses, down different paths, jump out of windows, and navigate a small space where you have almost no idea where to go next.  Since your perspective only allows for what’s directly in front of you, a somewhat accurate interpretation of what being in that situation in real life is like, it’s dangerous to take a corner without knowing what’s going on and you always take a risk of being jumped when you dare look behind you.  Sure it’s seen as somewhat tanklike controls today, but back then it was about as good as you were going to get out of Capcom.  Then the chainsaw guy arrives, a larger sized villager with a potato sack on his head and eye holes cut out, and he begins to chase you at a much faster pace than the others.  This doesn’t meant that the horde of Ganados back off either, you’re now thrown in the mix with all of them.  No matter how many times you shoot Chainsaw Guy he won’t die for good and you have limited ammo at this point and most people will probably get caught by him at least once, which triggers and instant death where Leon’s torso is sawed diagonally across the sternum.  It’s freaky and it demonstrates the biggest change in Resident Evil 4: you won’t be scared, you’ll just feel immense tension, which triggers a different kind of fear.   When those church bells ring after a certain period of time and clear the town of danger, I had to literally take a break and step away from the game.  My thoughts at the time were, “damn, that was close.”  It was a great rush.

re4_2From there the game digresses into a somewhat interesting storyline that contains a mass of interesting and tactical scenarios.  Whether it’s fighting the sea creature in the lake, tackling El Gigante for the first time, eventually meeting and dealing with Salazar, knife-fighting Krauser, and eventually unraveling the mystery of Las Plagas, Resident Evil 4 is a thrill ride.  Each new area of the game will challenge the skills you had previously learned and try to force you to use them in new ways to the point that your cumulative skills make the initial Ganados fight seem like a walk in the park.  When I completed the game for the first time after getting the game for my birthday in 2005 (I had a Gamecube for the few other Resident Evil games on the platform) and again that Christmas on PS2, it was fantastic and I couldn’t offer it up to enough people to experience.  Capcom and Mikami had gambled big – the series was to be discontinued if a failure – and they had succeeded admirably.  For better or worse, Resident Evil would never be the same.

It sold well.  1.6 million units on Gamecube and more than 2 million on PS2, not to mention eventual ports to the PC (terrible initial attempt) and Wii before receiving HD remakes on 360/PS3 recently and eventually the Ultimate HD Version on PC this year.  I think the reason it keeps being remade is that Resident Evil 4 still looks amazing today, now with updated assets and filters, and the gameplay, while seemingly dated, is still that perfect mix of locked in time and tolerable to a modern audience.  If you have yet to experience this game and are even somewhat of a fan of Resident Evil, you should pick this game up and give it a go.  It was a steal at $50 back in 2005 and today it’s a reminder that not all re-invented games in development hell end up being underwhelming, dated messes.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 5, 2014 at 3:41 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.

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 Fred Rojas

February 27, 2014 at 3:16 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 Fred Rojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Podcast: Final Fantasy VI Game Club

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This week Fred and Eli (@Sodoom) discuss what many believe to be the best 16-bit RPG of all time: Final Fantasy VI (better known as Final Fantasy III on the SNES in the US).  We discuss the combat system, characters, plot, and most memorable moment on this truly timeless RPG.


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Written by Fred Rojas

January 1, 2014 at 11:35 am

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