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Jammin’!: The Story of ToeJam & Earl

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In proverbial “man I’m getting old” fashion, I’ve just realized that we’re just two-and-a-half years shy of the 30th Anniversary of ToeJam & Earl.  It’s not like I suddenly woke up and decided to write about this franchise, either, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove will release this Friday, March 1st and while we can’t talk about it yet, tune back into the site on Thursday to get all the details and our thoughts. Permit me to take you back to the halcyon days of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for you players outside North America) and into the team that dared to make a roguelike in 1991 on consoles.

ToeJam & Earl (1991, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Developed by Johnson Voorsanger Productions, Published by Sega)

The story of ToeJam & Earl starts with its creator Greg Johnson and his fanaticism for Rogue while at UCSD.  The link above will provide you background on both Rogue and the now dubbed “roguelike” genre, but back in 1980s there was only one game influencing a slew of young developers.  Johnson would go on to EA working on PC titles, including his most notable releases as designer on Starflight in 1986 and Starflight 2 in 1989, the latter receiving Computer Gaming World’s Roleplaying Game of the Year award in 1990.  The franchise involves space exploration with integrated strategy, combat, and simulation in a non-linear fashion.  It was a starting point and notoriety for Johnson early in his career and allowed him to get more creative as he brainstormed his next project.  It was around this time, according to a Gamasutra’s interview I reference consistently, that Johnson met Mark Voorsanger, a programmer, while mountain climbing with a mutual friend.  The two hit it off so well that Johnson pitched the idea for ToeJam & Earl and immediately set to work on establishing Johnson Voorsanger Productions, the studio that would develop and release the game.

The concept was pretty straightforward, but also unique for the time.  ToeJam & Earl is about two rapping aliens dripping with 90s urban culture who have their ship breakdown on Earth and have to scour randomly generated maps to re-collect all the pieces.  Some may even call it a cartoonish, funky version of Rogue.  According to Johnson, the main concepts that drove design were randomized maps and survival to complete the grand task of rebuilding your ship.  I’m used to hearing about all the struggles that game development faces – in the Gamasutra interview you can read about Johnson’s in his formative years – but oddly enough this wasn’t the case with ToeJam & Earl.  To hear him tell it, the design doc was easily assembled and Johnson pulled old team members into development, including the talented John Baker who was responsible for the soundtrack.  A quick meeting with Sega that spelled out the design on note cards along with their combined experience on major games was enough to get the title published.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Video: Let’s Compare Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic

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Thanks to the backward compatibility program on Xbox One, you can now play Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) in 1080p on the Xbox One and 4K on the Xbox One X. In this video we compare the resolution and performance of the original Xbox version, the Xbox 360 emulated version, both Xbox One versions, and finally the PC (with an without mods). This video is mastered in 4K at 60 fps, so if you have a screen that supports it we highly recommend viewing on that.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

Joust Review

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Joust.  Yes, that ostrich game you may have read about in the fiction novel Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Well I’m going to talk about it today because the site needs more arcade love and its about time Joust had a review. Full disclosure, I did review this game across a few emulators including MAME and multiple Midway Collections on Mega Drive (Genesis), PSP, and Xbox. This review will feature some brief discussion on the cabinet itself, which I have been fortunate enough to try at retro gaming conventions.

Released in 1982 by Williams Entertainment, Joust is single screen joystick and one button flapping mash fest. You play a knight riding on the back of the magnificent ostrich. With a lance in hand, your goal is simple: take out every enemy rider on screen. Then you repeat that wave after wave until you run out of lives. The single button on the cabinet is responsible for flapping wings of your feathered beast. You have to rapidly press the button to get your bird off the ground, but once you have the momentum going it becomes quite the skill to take down the other riders. You need to be slightly above the other rider and hit them to take them down. Once they are out of action an egg will drop which you’ll need to collect before it re-hatches a new rider and you have to take them out all over again. It becomes a juggle of priorities, choosing to take out the other riders or collect the eggs. The first wave, titled “Buzzard Blitz,” is fairly easy. Just three opponents spawn to ease you into the game, but like with a lot of these Williams games don’t be disappointed if you do loose all your lives on the first wave. It can take a few attempts to come to grips with the controls and figure out your strategy. By this point – back in the arcade days – you would have sunk a decent chunk of change into the cabinet.

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Written by jamalais

July 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth Review

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I remember the first time I read Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft.  I had come to it thanks to the Metallica song of the same name off the Ride the Lightning album, which intrigued me because the song had no lyrics despite being based off of a work of writing.  Some had touted it as a quintessential bit of horror fiction to rival even the strongest authors of today while others made the predictable claim that it was too disjointed from contemporary times to be relevant, let alone scary. I came away feeling a bit of both.  Much of the concepts of the work are for your head to create, but that’s also what made it so horrifying, it was indescribable.  Dark Corners of the Earth tries to bring an author and storyline that has dodged popular culture, widespread film, and of course video games for so long.  It’s one of the first instances where an interactive medium has attempted to bring Lovecraft’s world to life, no easy feat.  It’s not even based off of the main story Call of Cthulhu – although Lovecraft fans are used to the co-branding for various alternative works – but rather the novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth that details a town in New England that has isolated itself from the US.  Ultimately the town is inhabited by sea creatures and ancient beings, which is now brought to life with a twist in an unreliable narrator that wavers in sanity.  While Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth bites off a bit more than it can chew in overall design, not to mention the odd breaking point in the middle where it literally shifts genres, your ability to keep pace with it results in what could be one of the strongest horror video games of all time.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth Game Club

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There is no writer quite like H.P. Lovecraft and there’s definitely not a whole lot of games like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.  A divisive title that is seen by some a tiresome game of pointless challenges while others revere it as the quintessential horror video game.  Fred and Jam delve into the design, development, and campaign of this unique horror title.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

Metal Wolf Chaos Review

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If you’ve ever been interested in rare Xbox titles, focus on import gaming, or happened to click on a listicle that talks about the best games to play around Independence Day (guilty) then you’ve probably come across Metal Wolf Chaos.  Developed by From Software (Dark Souls) and only released on the original Xbox in Japan, both the console and game are hard to come by and will run you easily over $200 for the combo.  Even if you do get them, you’ll then need to know some Japanese to navigate the menus and upgrade paths.  Fortunately soft modding the Xbox is a common practice that often doesn’t even involve piracy, and some nice people have released a translation patch that you can add to your copy if you have one.  From Software is known for having just about as many bad games as good, so you may be asking whether or not all this work, money, and rarity makes the game worth it.  According to the articles online, yes, definitely.  I happen to disagree.  Metal Wolf Chaos is a fantastic pitch with a rock solid presentation, but when you walk away from the hype and get down to playing it, there’s little difference between this title and most of the Japanese games we slam over here in the West.

metal_wolf_chaos_1In Metal Wolf Chaos you play as President of the United States Michael Wilson, a distant relative of Woodrow Wilson, who is fighting civil insurrection due to economic downturns in the early 21st century.  This results in the development of massive military weapons and tech including his own mech suit called “Metal Wolf.”  In a predictable Japanese plotline, the Vice President Richard Hawk frames Wilson for re-enacting horrible laws like slavery and causing chaos throughout the country in Metal Wolf.  As Wilson you play through a slew of levels in major US cities trying to save the areas from total destruction thanks to the US military, who have for some reason decided to join forces with VP Hawk.  The collusion is made complete with the help of a journalist for a national news network who keeps covering the events and blaming Metal Wolf for everything going down in the country.  In the end the best answer is to obliterate much of the US forces and eventually take down Hawk and reveal him for the fraud he is.  Since this pitch is the basis for why so many people recommend you play it, I have to give From Software huge credit for a hilarious and ridiculous plot.  Despite it having no bearing on reality or the way our government works, it’s big dumb fun on the grandest scale  and you can’t help but laugh about the way the campaign unfolds.  The voice acting is also in English, so much of the plot dialogue is not lost on us English speakers and whether it’s intentionally cheesy or just the result of weaker voice actors, the game is better for it.  Little touches like a drum roll before your assistant reveals the given nickname for each mission and the blatant lack of integrity in every newscast from the US press kept me giggling from start to finish.  In terms of the elevator pitch, this game has it all.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in Reviews, Xbox

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Let’s Play Metal Wolf Chaos

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Released only in Japan, From Software (best known for Dark Souls) made a ridiculous game for the original Xbox. The president of the United States uses a mech to battle those that have invaded his country alongside the Vice President.  You can find our complete review here.

This playthrough is in 3 parts and the game is not completed at the end.  Our review outlines why and it’s clear by the end of the final stream as well.  

Written by Fred Rojas

July 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Old Console, New Hardware (Part 2)

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This week the mod conversation continues as the guys move into the CD-based consoles and the wonderful world of modchips.  There were many ways to get different things done in the Playstation era and beyond.  Finally the show wraps up with soft modding and the various things that can be done from consoles only a few generations old.


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Written by Fred Rojas

May 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

Doom Retrospective

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As I said in a previous article regarding Wolfenstein 3D, “Wolfenstein 3D did it first and Doom did it best.”  The same team, id Software, created both games so it’s less of a competition and more of an evolution.  While I agree that all games are a team effort, the technology that runs these games can sometimes be credited to one person.  In the case of Doom that one person is none other than John D. Carmack.  By this point most of us are aware of John Carmack and what he’s contributed to video games as a whole, but back in 1992 he was the guy creating a new engine for a new game.  That engine was called the Doom Engine.  Carmack claims the name Doom came from the movie The Color of Money in which Tom Cruise describes a custom pool cue as “doom” when questioned as to what’s in his case.  It was created to enhance the first person shooter to include different heights, distances, and even sound effects in stereo for a more realistic type of game.  In truth the hardware of the time couldn’t handle rendering a 3D world so the game is actually all on a flat plane in the code, which is why rooms never overlap and you can shoot a guy on a ledge by just aiming at the wall beneath him.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but in 1993 I hardly noticed.  Doom had positional breathing of mutant men, lighting effects (including dark rooms), a hybrid cyberpunk and distopian Hell setting, and a ton of violence.  It was the rock star of the video game world.

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Lost Treasures of Gaming: Oddworld Munch’s Oddysey

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This week Lost Treasures of Gaming had Lorne Lanning of Oddworld Inhabitants on to discuss the series of Oddworld games.  Fred goes into a little background of each before delving right into the first couple of levels in Oddworld Munch’s Oddysey HD on the Playstation 3.

You can find the Lost Treasures of Gaming podcast at http://omgnexus.com.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 20, 2016 at 11:00 am