Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HG101 State of the Union September 2014

Here's a summary of the stuff that's been going on with HG101 the past month:



After being in the works for over two years, the Castlevania book is almost ready for publication! We unveiled the cover artwork a little while ago, provided by Rusty Shackles, who does lots of fantastic video game crossovers in the style of comic books. I spent this past weekend fixing up small little issues and am waiting for the final proof. Initially I'd anticipated having it ready for sale at the end of September, but that's because I like to leave a "Murphy's Law" buffer in case something goes massively wrong. So far it's shaping up okay though, so if all goes well it may be available by next week!

Note that everyone who contributes to the Patreon at the $5 (or more) per month level will receive free copies of the PDF and Kindle copies - the PDFs will be sold for $5 alone and probably about $7 for the Kindle copy. Anyone who has donated $10 or more has their name appearing under the table of contents nearing the beginning of the book. The cutoff date has passed for any future contributors, but the same deal will apply for any future books! Anyone who's donated at the $25 level will receive free copies of the books shipped to them, which I'll handle after the final proof has been approved.

The retail price of the Castlevania book is $25, but Amazon has a tendency to discount them, so it may be cheaper once it actually goes live.

Since most of the work on the Castlevania book has been completed, I've been concurrently working on the Konami Shooters book. This will encompass articles for Gradius, Life Force/Salamander, TwinBee, Parodius, Otomedius, and the Konami Shooters article, which includes Scramble, Time Pilot, Gyruss, Axelay, Xexex, Thunder Cross, Space Manbow and others. All of them are being updated to fix up various stuff, and the Parodius and TwinBee articles have been almost entirely rewritten, since they were from the early days of the site. We're also featuring a section on the numerous minigames featured in Tokimeki Memorial and other Konami games (which I started several years ago but never finished, because I hate playing those games), the usual sections about trivia, reviews for a few Gradius inspired games like Satazius and Hydorah, a rundown of some clones and fan games, and a full list of soundtrack albums. Since there is still some work to be done I hesitate giving release dates, but if all goes well it should be ready by early 2015.

I have a feeling that the Konami Shooter book may not be as popular as the others, just because there doesn't seem to be a large English speaking fan base. The forums at Gradius Home World aren't too active and most of the folks on the Shmups forums seem to rally around more modern shooters. Konami did a very poor job in building an audience in North America by failing to localize many of their shooters (they did a bit better in Europe, where they at least tried with a few Parodius and TwinBee games). But if you're a fan of Konami in general it'll definitely be worth checking out! In the 80s and 90s, the company had the feeling of an extended family, with games often cross-referencing each other (especially Parodius, which the series was essentially built for), and I love drawing these connections together, even if they are for games that are not particularly well known.

As for other site news: last month we pushed past the Patreon threshold to allow us to bring back the Your Weekly Kusoge column and solicit submissions. Since its inception, we've published reviews of Contra: Legacy of War, Sonic's Schoolhouse, Spanish for Everyone, Muscle March, Midgard, and Gokuu Densetsu: Magic Beast Warriors. We've closed submissions for the moment since we have a little over a month's left that's still to post, but we'll be reopening them soon.

We also debuted a new series of columns called Inventories, a name which is more or less blatantly stolen from The AV Club. They're basically listicles, but with more effort put into the standard thoughtless clickbait that most people seem to use them for. For our first one, we've featured a list of over 70 video games featuring women in leading lady (or otherwise featured) roles. We'll probably be updating it in the future to include a few that we've missed - you can drop in to the article's forum topic if you seem any that we've missed and that fit into the requirements. Someday we'll probably also flesh it out to more to include more heroines from the rest of the 8 and 16-bit era, but we'll be focusing on other Inventories for awhile instead. They do take a long time to research and compile - this one here is the result of a year's on-and-off work between Derboo and I - but they should be a more regular feature going forward.

Finally, other articles we've featured include PS1 platformer Tomba, 16-bit era shooter Steel Empire and its recent 3DS remake, the indie Mercenary Kings, the offbeat SFC RPG Gokinjou Boukentai, a look at the early 3D games powered by the Freescape engine, the (very) early falling block puzzler Highrise, and unfortunately unlocalized Falcom PSP RPG Nayuta no Kiseki. And we've finished publishing a massive article on the original Mega Man series, making it one of the larger articles on the site. The Game Club 199X page has been expanded to include the video series, as well as a new podcast line focused on indie games, the most recent topic being the fantastic Sega inspired Freedom Planet. The newest episode of the main podcast focuses on the recently fan translated Game Center CX 2.

We've also introduced a long requested function to swap the white text/black ground to a black text/white background, to improve readability. There are still some pages using the old pre-CSS code that won't work, but most of the site has been updated to feature this. Thanks to Derboo and his behinds the scene wizardry to get this up and working!

As for the coming month, please look forward for articles on System Shock, Danganronpa, Wizardry (another very long article to be posted in multiple parts), Smash TV/Total Carnage, Elemental Master, and the usual kusoge and 500 Word Indies columns.

As always, if you like the work that we do, please check out our Patreon! Your contributions are always much appreciated!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pathologic Kickstarter is live



It's already topped $100k at the time of writing, nearly halfway towards its goal of $250k. I backed it as soon as I heard. Read on to find out why.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pathologic Remake on Kickstarter



A remake of the fantastic survival game Pathologic is due to launch on Kickstarter (see the above video). If you've never heard of Pathologic, READ our lengthy feature on it. If you've already been charmed by its bleak landscape, read on!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mitchell Corporation arcade games available to license



A diverse selection of Mitchell Corporation's arcade back catalogue is up for grabs, to license and re-release on modern systems, including the phenomenal Cannon Dancer / Osman. Read on for details.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

HG101 State of the Union July 2014

First off, I'd like to extend a tremendous amount of gratitude for anyone who's donated to our site's Patreon. We've been running it for about a month now, so I thought I'd line out some of the changes we've implemented that have helped improve the site.

For starters, and you've probably already noticed this, the front page has been completely redesigned. The main reason behind this is that it makes updating much easier, since we don't need to write huge descriptions every time we update. In the past it was just me updating the main page, and I often only had time to get everything together on the weekends. We originally promised biweekly updates when we met out $500 funding goal, but between myself and fellow site admin Sam Derboo, we've exceeded that and have been hitting closer to three or four updates on a weekly basis. The extra money has helped funding the additional work required to get these updates in order. We've also worked our way (mostly) through our large posting backlog, so submitted articles will appear sooner. In the past, it often took up to three months before articles were officially posted, which I'm sure irritated some contributors, but the increased manpower has helped us become more efficient.

Additionally, we've also revised the site Submission Guidelines, which also outlines our revised payment rates. Initially they were kind of loose, typically about $15-$25 per game covered depending on the length, but with the help of the Patreon, we've revised them to, at the very least, double their original rates, and in the case of the longer pieces, nearly tripled. It's still not quite up as high as professional sites, but as contributions to the Patreon increase, we'll be increasing these too!

Note that all Patreon contributors of $5 or more get free digital copies of the books. If you've already contributed, check out the first post we made for links to the PDFs. You'll be receiving a free digital copy of the Castlevania book once it's completed too. A revised Kindle copy of the Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is coming soon, as well as a previously unreleased Kindle version of Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 1. All contributors of the $10 tier or higher will get their names in all upcoming books, including the Castlevania one, so let me know if you want a different name added. All contributors at the $25 tier will also get a copy of the Castlevania book mailed to you, so make sure you have your address entered!

Finally, I'd like to share some previews of books that are currently in progress. The $2,500 goal is kind of a pie-in-the-sky goal that would allow me to work full time on these, and we're not quite there yet, but books will still be coming, albeit at a very slow pace. The Castlevania book should be out in the next month or two, so more details will be posted of that shortly, but in the mean time here are some other books:

HG101 Presents: Konami Shooters (Gradius, Parodius, TwinBee, etc.)

HG101 Presents: Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 2

HG101 Presents: Shin Megami Tensei

HG101 Digest Vol. 1 (includes full articles for Bionic Commando and Strider, as well as similar games, plus 80 JP PS1 games worth playing, a collectors guide to Genesis/Mega Drive games, the Dark Age of JRPGs, and more. Future editions will cover Taito arcade games)

I'll be posting more samples in the coming weeks so you get a feel of what we've planned.

Thanks again for all of your support, and we hope that the new HG101 will be deserving of your support!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 30

This week I'm taking a look at Nintendo Power Issue #20.


Games Reviewed This Issue:
Mega Man III - Capcom (NES)
The Immortal - EA (NES)
Deja Vu - ICOM (NES)
Gremlins 2 - Sunsoft (NES)
Dragon's Lair: The Legend - CSG Imagesoft (Game Boy)
Mercenary Force - Meldac (Game Boy)
Burai Fighter Deluxe - Taxan (Game Boy)
F-1 Race - Nintendo (Game Boy)
Super Scrabble - GameTek (Game Boy)

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Gamester 81's Miracle Piano Teaching System Review: http://gamester81.com/rare-snes-miracle-piano-review/
Thanks to NESGuide.com for gameplay footage of The Immortal and Deja Vu.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 29

This week we're coming to Nintendo Power's final strategy guide issue, featuring a collection of games that support multi-tap.


Games reviewed this issue:
Gauntlet II - Mindscape (Developed by Atari)
Nintendo World Cup - Nintendo (Developed by Technos)
Swords & Serpents - Acclaim (Developed by Interplay)

Previously Reviewed Games:
NES Play Action Football & Super Off-Road: Part 18 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXS2MO1--fI
Super Spike V'Ball: Part 19 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISzcZ-SBbuc

Other Things of Note:
Retronauts' Kunio-Kun Episode: http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9088701
"Of Dice And Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It" by David M. Ewalt: http://ow.ly/ysvuk

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Konami Shooters in Hayate the Combat Butler (DS)

So let's say that it's 2008 and you've achieved your lifelong dream as an employee at Konami, the company that made awesome games like Castlevania, Contra and Gradius. Hooray! Except, you're stuck making garbage portable anime tie-in games instead. Boo! What do you do to pass away the time? Why, you sneak classic Konami minigames in an otherwise completely unrelated title!

There are a few DS games based off of Hayate the Combat Butler. The first one, Boku ga Romeo de Romeo ga Boku de, is a basically a visual novel, where you read lots of dialogue and occasionally interact with the touch screen. It seems pretty banal - except, at the end of each chapter, you can play a minigame, almost all of them just involve hitting objects with the stylus. The goal is to get a high score and increase your "Pathos", which is used for unlocking costumes and other things in the main game. The five minigames are:

Gradius:
Orbs spawn randomly around the screen. Smash as many of them as possible with the style.

Gradius II:
Moai heads spit out a bunch of stuff, which also need to be smashed with the stylus.

Parodius:
Based off of the sumo pig boss from the mountain stage of Parodius, this panda trounces back and forth. He stomps on the ground, causing stuff to fall from the sky, which must be smashed with the stylus.

TwinBee:
Hit the clouds and juggle the bells.

Quarth:
The most in-depth game, and the only one that doesn't require the stylus (though you can use it), you play a quick game of the Konami puzzle shooter Quarth, where you have to shoot bricks at falling objects, turning them into rectangles and causing them to disappear. The visuals here seem to be taken from the Ganbare Goemon DS title, which included a similar, but more in-depth, Quarth minigame.

If you want to play these, you can just speed through the text in the main game, then hit the Minigame option in the menu. Since they're randomly chosen, you may want to save the game (using the battery save, not the save state), play the game, then reset and reload if you want to try something different. Alternatively, I'm attaching some save states for use with DESMume .9.7.2 which will let you play each of the five games.

Also, if the score tallying sound effect at the end of each game is from the original Castlevania.

Most Tokimeki Memorial games also included unique shooter games - you can read about some of them here.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 28

After a long absence, the Nintendo Power Retrospectives are *back*. This time I'm covering issue 18 for November, 1990.


Retronauts Pocket episode of Destiny of an Emperor: http://www.retronauts.com/?p=602
Theme Music: Super Buck II by Estradasphere, a re-arrangement of the Overworld BGM from Super Mario Bros II, composed by Koji Kondo - http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR00577

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor

Game Covered:
Solar Jetman - Tradewest
Little Nemo - Capcom
Dr. Mario (NES & GB) - Nintendo
Duck Tales (GB) - Capcom
Robocop (GB) - Data East
Play Action Football (GB) - Nintendo
Castlevania III - Konami

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dark Age of JRPGs (11): Mugen no Shinzou

Mugen no Shinzou (夢幻の心臓) - PC-88, PC-98, Mz-2500, S1 (1984)

I promised we'd meet XTal Soft again soon, didn't I? Mugen no Shinzou ("Heart of Fantasy") is actually their first RPG and one of the most well-regarded Japanese computer RPGs. The Japanese Wikipedia entry on Hydlide describes it as one of the "big three" of Japanese CRPGs (the other two being Dragon Slayer and Hydlide), although that distinction may mostly come from its sequels. All in all, the series spans three titles, which were released about a year apart from each other.

Mugen no Shinzou was developed by Kazunari Tomo and one K. Kawahara. Lunar fans will probably remember the former as the creator of that series; after Mugen no Shinzou he did a few more games for Xtal Soft (including Mugen no Shinzou 2) before switching to Falcom, where he worked on Sorcerian and Dinosaur. As for Kawahara, I couldn't confirm 100% that it is the same person, but "K. Kawahara" appears credited for the Surlent scenario in Rudra no Hihou and a Katsuyoshi Kawahara directed the Final Fantasy remakes for PlayStation.

The game is also frequently cited as one of the influences for Dragon Quest. While I'm not sure Koichi Nakamura and Yuji Horii conceded as much directly (this lengthy conversation between Horii and his friend and later Dragon Quest collaborator Akira Sakuma seems to imply that they have at least played it), it sure does seem to make a lot of sense when playing it.

According to the plot, the protagonist is nearly killed in the real world, but gets rescued and spirited away by a god, ending up in a fantasy world full of dragons, goblins and other monsters. If those who enter don't find their way back to the real world soon, they are turned into monsters themselves and damned to eternal suffering. Thus the game actually has a "time" limit (although since the game is turn-based that translates to a turn limit) of 30,000 days. Moving every few steps advances the timer.

The game takes a lot of inspiration from Ultima, although like in Poibos the hero is merely a rectangle on a tiny window view of the map during overworld exploration. Another characteristic Mugen no Shinzou shares with Poibos is the fact that you won't survive most enemy encounters. At least the game starts next to a town, which is navigated in menu form. Resting in the inn to heal is fortunately quite cheap, but everything else is ridiculously expensive, resulting in the game's big similarity to Dragon Quest: It's basically just one huge, long, boring money grind.

The first enemy I was actually able to defeat was the above thief, but he poisoned me before he went down, and curing poison costs a lot, so I ended up spending more money than I earned on the fight. Which I soon learned is characteristic for most fights in this game.

Then I finally happened upon a peasant. Human characters usually don't attack you rightaway, and you can choose between three different attitudes when encountering them. It's also possible to flee or hide on sight, but doing so costs a few experience points. Experience points don't seem to do anything, though, so it's not too bad a deal. The peasants probably are the most friendly enemies, but killing them really is the only way to make any (very slow) progress. The drop shit for money, but are not too hard to defeat, and if you're really lucky you can get their sickle to sell in town for like 25 gold pieces.

So after heroically slaughtering peasants for a few hours I saved up some money to spend. The most important stop in the town is the hospital. Here you can heal the hero entirely (which costs 100 gold vs the 4 gold to heal 25 points in the inn, so it's only worth it much later as you start with a mere 100HP), cure poison for 20 gold or extend the maximum amount of HP by a few. The next town you get to when traveling west has a castle. Getting an audience with the king costs 500 gold, so I never met him, but you can train strength, agility and dexterity, but the amount you can learn here is limited. At least it makes enough difference so you can successful fight most human enemies.

You may save for better weapons or armor to get a bit stronger, but you'll soon find out that every piece of equipment is destructible, and especially armor is so expensive that you better get used to fighting most battles naked and unarmed, until you get lucky and capture an enemy's weapon. Luck is a huge part of things, anyway, as the random factor is much too high. You may defeat an enemy with ease, only to get hopelessly slaughtered in the next encounter with the same type. There's not much tactics to the fights, either, as you got only one guy who can either attack, change his gear or try to escape. There's a "spell" option during combat, too, but I never got far enough to learn any magic.

Don't ever run off the path, cause in the woods and mountains you're likely to get attacked by beasts, and they mean always trouble.

Sometimes when you're being nice to road encounters, they tell you some piece of information, usually the location of an interesting point of the map. I was directed to a poisonous well in the woods once, but usually the destination was a dungeon.

Entering here resulted in a pitch black graphics window, so I had to go back to town to buy a lamp and oil (at least there's no food management). This reveals a wireframe grid dungeon like in the early Ultima and Wizardry games. The tower I went into seemed rather huge, but had no distinguishing features other than a single trap right near the entrance, which just draws a lot of health when triggered. Apparently it's possible to get a map of the dungeons, but I never found one. The monsters here are quite a bit stronger than the human enemies outside (though nowhere near as destructive as the beasts in the wilderness), so usually after two or three fights I'm forced to back out. Mugen no Shinzou might be the most mechanically sound game I've played so far for this series, but the odds are still stacked far too heavily against the player. After 6-8 hours, I had just barely grinded my HP up to 200 and yet could barely make any money to get it up further.

Xtal Soft have to be lauded for the graphics, though. The world map view and wireframe dungeons may not be too special, but the game contains a ton of detailed enemy graphics. I hardly got anywhere in this game, and still met more than 20 different enemies.

Here is a Japanese Blog of a guy who actually managed to finish this game. You can see some more great monster graphics in some of the later posts.

Previous Episodes:
(1) The Dragon and Princess
(2) Some games we cannot play
(3) Danchizuma no Yuuwaku (NSFW)
(4) Ken to Mahou
(5) Dungeon
(6) Seiken Densetsu
(7) Panorama Toh
(8) Do Dutch Wives Dream of Electric Eels (NSFW)
(9) Some more games we cannot play
(10) Courageous Perseus