Gaming History 101

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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 spydersvenom

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 spydersvenom

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 spydersvenom

January 1, 2014 at 11:35 am

Podcast: Rock Man of Doom

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This week Fred goes solo to celebrate Doom‘s 20th Anniversary and the Mega Man series.  Keji Inafune’s legacy may live on through Mighty Number 9, but when he was a young new college grad Capcom employed him to create one of the most beloved and long running franchises of the company’s history.

Also if you want more Doom coverage, feel free to check out our podcast on Doom clones.



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Written by spydersvenom

December 11, 2013 at 9:51 am

Podcast: You Are Go For Launch

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This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch?  It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.



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Written by spydersvenom

December 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Podcast: Generation in Review

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This week Fred welcomes listener Yuri (@JamesFortengard) and fellow podcaster Isaiah (@i_say_uh) from the Party Chat to discuss the console generation that officially comes to an end on 11/15/2013. They discuss innovations, trends, and passing fads of the longest generation ever in history that awarded gamers with some of the most dynamic experiences to date.



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Written by spydersvenom

November 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

Posted in DS, podcast, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360

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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Podcast: Square’s Swan Song

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If you are going to talk significant JRPGs in America, one of the most influential series is Final Fantasy.  Whether you believe that it was the last game Square may have ever made or that it was simply the last game designer Sakaguchi would be a part of, the massive success of this digital Dungeons & Dragons title started a strong fan base that continues today.  In part one of our coverage, Fred and Eli “Sodoom” team up to discuss Final Fantasy I-VI including development, design, gameplay, and of course Cid.



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Written by spydersvenom

October 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Review: Final Fantasy IV

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ff4_us_boxConsole: SNES (as Final Fantasy II in the United States – title changed in later releases)
Released: November 1991
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Difficulty: Hard
Price: $24.67 (used, cart only), $70.57 (used, complete), $300.00 (new)
Additional Releases:Wonderswan Color (Japan only, updated graphics), Playstation (Final Fantasy Chronicles, new translation), Gameboy Advance (Final Fantasy IV Advanced, upgraded visuals, new translation/conversion to more closely resemble Japanese version), DS (full 3D remodeling, new dungeon), PSP (Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, updated 2D visuals instead of 3D, includes The After Years and a new campaign Interlude to bridge gap between the events of IV and The After Years)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (SNES version, $8), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $30), iOS/Android (GBA version, $16)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II

Please note: This was originally released as Final Fantasy II in the United States and later re-named to the appropriate numbering system.  The actual Final Fantasy II Japan-only Famicom (NES)release review will be live shortly.

ff4_1Despite the numbering of this game (and Final Fantasy VI) to be completely messed up in the US, Final Fantasy IV is a must play for fans of the series and JRPG genre.  As George Lucas would put it, this is the “definitive version” of the game director (and series creator) Hironobu Sakaguchi originally wanted to make.  It learns from its three predecessors and weaves in a powerful story almost unheard of at this point in gaming.  Originally intended to be a final NES title in the series, budgetary and scheduling issues forced the 80 percent complete title to be scrapped and re-made on the new Super Nintendo (SNES) console with some of the original ideas integrated.  The elemental concepts of the original, heavy story elements of the sequel, and job system of the third (it would be better utilized in Final Fantasy V however) were all mashed together with a new active time battle (ATB) system to create the most compelling game yet.  ATB ditched traditional turn-based combat for a timer that allowed characters to attack at their own pace based on the type of warrior they were.  This continues to be a staple of the series today and even snuck into other RPGs like Chrono TriggerFinal Fantasy IV hit early in the SNES and celebrated mass critical and financial success worldwide and is considered a favorite by many series fans.

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As you probably have noticed, the game was originally titled Final Fantasy II in North America because it was the second game to be released here – Square released the original in late 1989, about a month before the third game released in Japan.  It was decided that instead of localizing the previous games, which were met with mixed feelings, the next game would simply be released worldwide with different numbering.  It’s not simply blind porting that is responsible for the game’s massive re-releases, Square seems very scared of introducing the original rather brutally difficult title to North America.  The US version on SNES is shortened significantly, probably 12-15 hours, due to storylines and dungeons being removed as well as a significant drop in the game’s difficulty.  An even easier version, Final Fantasy IV Easy Type, was released in Japan after countless complaints of the game’s punishing difficulty in its original form.  Religious spells and symbols were also changed or removed based on Nintendo’s censorship policies in the US as well, which led to confusion when comparing both versions for ff2_3walkthroughs.  Subsequent re-releases of the title in America re-named to the proper numbering, which also gave way for releases of the previously unreleased titles as well, and adjustments for the appropriate spell names, symbols, and entire plot made for a beefier 30-40 hour game.  Square also updated to the original difficulty, which required a much heftier amount of grinding and replaying of long dungeons with brutal boss battles, resulting in an understandable popularity of the original shorter and easier SNES release.  If you give it the time and patience it deserves, Final Fantasy IV is a magical fairytale that stands strong even today, and if you get highly invested the additional side stories/games of Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection on PSP creates one of the most expanded worlds of the Final Fantasy universe aside from FFVII.  Personally I have a hard time thinking this is of the best because the dated grinding and steep difficulty is just something fewer and fewer gamers, even retro ones playing on portables, have time for.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

Written by spydersvenom

September 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm

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