Thursday, November 26, 2009

HG101 Digital Archive Project - Zillion

The HG101 Digital Archive Project already hit its first stumbling block. Originally I had anticipated on storing all of these on my Fileplanet account, a holdover from the IGN/Gamespy hosting days of a few months ago. I was under the impression that we would keep these accounts, but no - the server was simply turned off last week without them telling anyone. All of the files are still accessible, but we can't upload anything more. The public upload utility is still there, though, which I think I'll have to use, going forward. Fileplanet has always sucked, but it's also more reliable than Megaupload, whose links haphazardly disappear for any number of arbitrary reasons.

But, we'll work with it! I recorded and encoded the first two episodes of the Zillion anime. For quick reference, Zillion was apparently some kind of laser tag toy from the mid-80s, which the anime (and video games) were tied into. Despite obviously being essentially little more than advertisements, I've always held a weakpoint for it, because those little doodles in the SMS game manual was essentially my introduction to anime. I was disappointed when I saw the anime and found that JJ, the awesome guy from the game, was kinda of a weenie in the show, but hey - Apple and Champ are still badass, those guns still look cool no matter how cheesy they are, and the Norsa (or Noza as they're called here) are still pretty badass. The anime shares a lot of music with the game, too, featuring vocal 80s J-pop renditions of much of the soundtrack.

Although there were numerous episodes televised in Japan, the US only got a handful - five tapes with a single 20 minute episode each, and a sixth tape with a 40 minute OVA. They were dubbed by Streamline Pictures, the same guys responsible for Macross and basically any of the anime distributed in the US during the 80s. The dubbing is actually quite good and they're still fairly watchable. Please enjoy. The Japanese episodes are also being fansubbed over at Anime Classic, so you can look forward to the episodes not released in English.

Just keep in mind that the quality on the second episode is a little sketchy near the end due to the iffy tape I have. The only VCR I have has a tendency to display a large ugly "VIDEO RECALIBRATION" message whenever it gets too staticy, which pops up a couple of times. It's annoying, but better than watching them on Youtube, at any rate.

Episode 1 - They Call me J.J.
Episode 2 - Hang Fire

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Update - 11/22 - Monkey Island, The Longest Journey, Heart of China, Rise of the Dragon, The Incredible Machine, Uru and Syndicate

The Monkey Island series is probably the least deserving of any adventure games featured on this site, if only because there are legions of excellent fan sites and wikis already in place. Still, like many, it was my introduction to the genre, so I took the past few months to play through them due to the release of Telltale's new series. Other adventure game articles include The Longest Journey, which also contains its sequel, Dreamfall, and two Dynamix adventures: Heart of China, a vaguely silly pulp adventure with digitized actors, and Rise of the Dragon, a much gritter, cyberpunk tale. Also up are looks at The Incredible Machine, Dynamix's series of puzzlers; Uru, the online Myst game, and Bullfrog's
Syndicate, a dark sim/real time strategy/action game featuring cyborgs and incredible amounts of wanton destruction.

Also, I'm getting rid of the main RSS feed, in favor of unifying it with the blog's feed. The blog will also be updated when the main site is updated so you can keep up with the article postings.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Doujin Games Hit the West

Obtaining doujin games legally, for the most part, has been a bit of a hassle. (Read here for more on that.) Recently, a few Western publishers have picked up the ball and started localizing and releasing them outside the country.

Rockin' Android, based in Los Angeles, has already released The Acceleration of Suguri (a one-on-one shooter very similar to Senko no Ronde), QLIONE, and Flying Red Barrel, while the shooter Gundemonium is due out in May. They're nice packages, especially for Suguri and Gundemonium, which contains all of the current sequels and upgrades to them on a single disc, making it much easier than tracking down separate Japanese releases. You can buy physical copies from their store, or download them through Gamersgate or Direct2Drive. The physical release of Suguri is actually quite nice, as it comes in a DVD-style case and contains soundtracks for both games in MP3 format, as well as a printed manual. Considering any of the doujin games I've ever bought rarely even include an installation card, it's a nice deal for $20.

DHM Interactive is a French company that specializes in localizing niche stuff, similar to Atlus. They're bringing over the Ys DS releases (separately, for some reason, instead of the combined version released in the US) but they've also licensed Chantelise and Gunners Heart (also check out the articles for Chantelise and Gunners Heart. For right now, they only seem to offer physical copies, and at 20 euros each, it's a bit pricey for US gamers, working to about $30 each before shipping. (The same company is also releasing a Sengoku Anthology, compiling the trilogy of Neo Geo fighters, but it doesn't seem to have been released in Japan or anywhere else.)

Hopefully these legit releases will gain some traction so we see more of them and maybe one day we'll see the "bigger" names like Touhou or Melty Blood get localized. Due to their somewhat copyright infringing nature, though, it's unlikely that the ones based off other video games and manga (or any of the number of gal games) will ever get localized. (Still, Gunners Heart is based off of Skygunner, so there's always a chance.) I think the biggest obstacle, though, is that the audience for doujin gaming generally coincides with the freeloading anime audience, who most just resort to torrents, which is why the anime DVD market is as dismal as it is. So, if these interest you, these projects are definitely worth supporting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Videogames on TV

Following on rather aptly from previous blog entries on the influence videogames have on TV...

I took part in the SelectButton Podcast, Episode 4, over the weekend. The theme being the portrayal of games in TV and film – whether it’s fictionally created games for the show, games being played badly with flailing limbs, videogame tournaments on TV, and so on.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the theme is things such as the fake Montezano's Quest game in Fullhouse, which had a fascinating write up on SelectButton. A lot of other fascinating topics were covered too, and if you visit the forum topic, there are a ton of hilarious links. Here’s a few which I highly recommend you all watch:

Look Around You

The Wizard - I Love The Power Glove

Karate Champ in Blood Sport

Second Life on The Office

Montesano's Quest

Generally I didn’t contribute too much, but I did talk about British televised videogame tournaments, and for the first time discovered that the phenomena is rare in the US. In the UK there were 7 series of Games Master (not to be confused with the loosely connected and utterly **** magazine), with 126 episodes, and 4 series of Game World, resulting in over 800 episodes. Both featured PvP tournaments and high score battles, while GM also had gameplay tips and other stuff. And if you watched Charlie Brooker’s GameSwipe show, he showed footage from vintage British computer programs from the 1980s – so the UK from the beginning seemed to give semi-decent coverage to computers and the games played on them.

I spent my teenage years watching Games Master and Games World, and prior to that in South Africa watching Videopower when it featured the Power Team cartoon, and over the years had assumed that there must have been a lot of games-based shows in the US. Apparently not!

While GM and GW weren’t as cool as you’d expect or hope, instead relying on gimmicks and kitsch themes instead of gameplay footage, they were interesting and they at least existed, bringing videogame content to the masses via mainstream terrestrial television (well, Gamesmaster was on Channel 4, Games World was a satellite only thing).

I was also a contestant on Games World on two separate weeks
(the Aztec themed series), but perhaps I’ll save that for another blog entry. Friends at school watched the episodes, but I was never able to, so if you have footage of Games World series 4, please upload it somewhere!

EDIT: Just to clarify, GW was divided into weeks, with 5 contestants slowly being whittled down in each, until one was left, and his final score put him on an overall leaderboard. The first time I went I lost in round 2, but they liked me, so along with 4 others I came back for another shot at the title. At this point I made it through each of the 5 days, faced off against 2 videators, and ended up as 6th place on leaderboard (at least, I think it was 6th place). Unfortunately only the top 5 ended up getting prizes - I came close, so close. If anyone has footage of me winning, I would love to see it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

HG101 Digital Archive Project - Maniac Mansion

Not too long ago I mentioned a desire to start capturing old VHS tapes and other not-commercially-available TV or anime shows related to video games, and releasing them on the internet. I got everything sorted out, so now we have...

Maniac Mansion, a Canadian sitcom produced in 1990. There were 66 episodes in total for the Family Channel, a cable network that, at the time, had pretty low penetration. (It was largely known for the religious show The 700 Club and since morphed into ABC Family, I think.)

Maniac Mansion is only very, very loosely based on the Lucasarts game. It ditches the whole bit with the teenagers and just focuses on the Edisons, except the Edisons are nothing like they are in the game. Sure, the head of the household is named Fred, he's a mad scientist, and there's a meteor in his basement (which isn't sentient like the games), but that's about all they have in common. The rest of the family is completely different, albeit with some quirks due to his experiments - his 4 four old son was turned into a hulking, halfway mentally handicapped giant with an annoying falsetto voice, and his brother-in-law was turned into a fly. The quote on the cover of the VHS tape I have says that New York Post claims it's "The '90s equivalent of the Addams Family". It isn't. It has none of the same horror-fueled charm as the Addams, nor even the schlocky atmosphere of the game. The house isn't even so much a mansion as just a large house, and the family certainly isn't crazy enough to be considered maniacs.

Anyway, it's a regular sitcom, so the family face dilemmas which they handle in humorous ways, then everything's happy at the end. Some consider it a spiritual successor to the Canadian sketch show SCTV, since some of the same people worked on it. It stars Joe Flaherty (best known recently for his role as the crazy dad in the excellent Freaks and Geeks) as Fred and was created by Eugene Levy (Jim's dad from the American Pie movies.) Despite its comedy roots, the show really isn't very funny outside of its slightly offbeat premise.

But why take my word? Grab the files yourself, which are uploaded below on Fileplanet and compressed with the Xvid codec. Please feel free to spread these around! These were taken from the sole VHS release called The Love Collection, which contained these two episodes. I paid entirely too much for this tape from someone off, so please enjoy them!

Fred's A Courtin'

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More TV show weirdness - Qué vida más triste

As a follow up to the Fathed Ted post, the same TVTropes entry on Pac Man Fever mentions a Spanish TV show called "Qué Vida Más Triste", or "What a Sad Life". From what I can gather, it's a show about a dude who sites in his room and talks directly to a camera, describing various aspects of his somewhat nerdy life. (Maybe this sorta direction is common over in Spain - when I was there over the summer there was an office comedy that was shot entirely from the point of view of a hidden camera in a vending machine.) The main character, Borja, also happens to be a huge video gamer, but as the TVTropes entry attests, the writers have a tendency to get some aspects horribly wrong. So take this:

Whaaaat! Yes, it's a whole episode devoted to Alex Kidd, the old Sega mascot that basically no one likes any more. Borja is a huge fan of it - check out his homemade TV shirt which even shows the Japanese Mark III artwork!! So he talks about this one Alex Kidd game that no one has even beaten, and he never had the balls to do it himself. Take note that the graphics used in the game were from the SMS version of The Lost Stars but he's playing it on a Genesis. So he tries it again, and eventually succeeds!

The only ending message is "You Win", which greatly disappoints Borja, except he wakes up the next day with all of Alex Kidd's powers, including super strength, telekinesis, and teleportation.

Wait, what? Alex can break blocks, but he never had those other two skills. Borja eventually dawns his own superhero outfit, per below:

It's so weird! They managed to dig up a rather obscure video game hero, and then proceed to entirely get him wrong. How did this happen? It seems like maybe they have one video game expert on staff to come up with this stuff, then the rest of the writers completely ignore him.

Anyway, there's another episode where Borja tries to tell his friend that he sees life like a video game. First off is Street Fighter II:

This is actually pretty funny!

He starts whacking his friend and his life goes down. Then his friend wallops him on head and his life goes down to near zero. Then the two get in a tussle and one executes a "fatality" on him. Never mind that it's mixing up Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but we'll roll with it.

Next is a character customization from some random RPG. Here he's talking about wooing his lady friend Veronica.

Here's Super Mario Bros. 3 world map, as he travels around the neighborhood to buy flowers and such.

Except there's a competing suitor at her house! At this point it transitions to something like the sword fighting insult scenes from The Secret of Monkey Island, where dialogue options appear at the bottom, and the cursor selects one for Borja to say, after which he whaps his opponent with his flowers. (The bottom option, which his competitor eventually resorts to, translates to "I am rubber, you are glue.", the "failure" insult from Monkey Island, as if the Caribbean-ish music in the background didn't make it clear enough.

Finally, Borja chats up Veronica with little icons appearing above their head a la The Sims. The TVTropes dude seems offended by this, and lamented that they didn't use a visual novel instead, but I think The Sims bit is still acceptable and more easily relatable.

There are many more instances in the TVTropes entry on details it constantly gets wrong, including a bit where they go to the store to buy Mega Man 9. (Ooops.) What does interest me is that there's a TV show that actually sticks in some video game jokes. Sure, you'll see visual novel and Dragon Quest parodies fairly often in Japanese shows, but it's extremely uncommon outside the country.

The closest I've seen in any English show - outside of scenes with people playing uber popular games like Guitar Hero or Wii Sports or World of Warcraft, or a few broad parodies from The Simpsons or Futurama - is a scene in the (mostly regrettable but not intolerable) CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, where a character plays Mario 64 on an emulator. They even got the sound effects right! But the general problem with this show - and indeed, the reason why this kind of humor never pops up - is because it's not nearly mainstream enough. TV writers, you know, it's OK if not everyone gets the joke! You don't need to explain to us why nerds hate Joel Schumacher in the context of Batman!

So, here the videos below (unsubtitled) from Youtube, in case anyone's curious to see the whole episodes I've described.

(A good thanks goes to my girlfriend for translating most of this!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Street Fighter II Champion Edition in Father Ted

Today I was reading over the Pac Man Fever entry over at TVTropes, wherein TV shows improperly show video games being played, usually by using generic 70s arcade game over sound effects in a game that looks like Halo, or some such. It reminded me of an episode of the mid 90s British (well, technically Irish) sitcom Father Ted (which was created by Graham Linehan, who more recently did The IT Crowd. Both are excellent shows, I definitely advise hitting up Netflix for both.) In the fourth episodes of season two, two characters are playing a video game.

Note that, in keeping with the trope, they're just randomly mashing buttons and appear to be using Atari-ish joysticks. This is weird because the game in question is shown briefly to be Street Fighter II:

...but wait a minute. Isn't there something odd about that shot? Note the solid black background on the status bar. That's right, this is the beta of the Genesis version of Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition, shown to the press in early 1993 and delayed until later in the year to retool it to more closely match the arcade (and SNES) game. (I spent an entire summer between seventh and eighth grade grieving this, because I wanted it so badly, but only had a Genesis.) I couldn't find any pictures of it out there, and my scanner is so badly broken that I can't put up any shots, so you'll have to trust me on this.

So the question is: how on earth did a sitcom get a beta copy of a video game that was only ever shown to the press? Was it just a video tape? They obviously aren't played it for real. The only place I ever read about this was in the Retro section of an old issue of British mag games(tm), wherein they were equally as perplexed. Furthermore, the episode had aired around 1996 or 97, long after the official version had been released. I don't know if anyone ever figured this out - anybody know?

Now that Windows 7 is what Vista should've been...

... they really need to resolve this once and for all:

Seriously. It shouldn't come down to doing something like this just for the operating system to recognize the stick inputs as actual directions instead of Point of View toggles since almost every single game on Windows always assume that people won't be using POV hats to move around in it. Don't tell me I have to BUY a PS3 one which I've heard is ironically easier to set up on Microsoft's operating system.

It took me a couple of repeats of listening to popcorn☆magic in order to not throw my stick against the monitor.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The console versions of Wing Commander

I've mentioned this in the past, but I first got my start in PC gaming through the Sega CD. In retrospect, a lot of the ports were kinda bad, especially stuff like Monkey Island and Willy Beamish, both of which had horrible, horrible loads times. On the other hand, a few others actually had a few nice perks that weren't in the original version. Both Rise of the Dragon and Wing Commander had voice acting, and damned good voice acting too. Uber-ubiquitous voice actor Cam Clarke, who appeared in pretty much every 80s cartoon, plus others (younger fans will recognize him as the voice of Liquid Snake, DEAR BROTHER!) He played the main character in Rise of the Dragon, and the commander (the biggest speaking role) in Wing Commander.

Since the dialogue was now spoken aloud, you can no longer name your hero, but it created an odd inconsistency in a few places. In the PC version, you're asked to enter both your name and your callsign. In the Sega CD version, these both default to "Hotshot". That's okay for a callsign, but during the few times where they're supposed to call you by your name, they say your callsign instead. During the "game over" funeral scenes, they refer to you as "2nd Lt. Hotshot" (or whatever rank you are), which probably sounds ridiculous to anyone in the military.

The Sega CD Wing Commander also had a completely new soundtrack, entirely exclusive to this version. The opening credits the musicians as the same guys behind the original game - The Fat Man and another guy whose name I can't recall at the moment - so it's not like this was a bastardization or anything. It is strange that it was changed, given that Wing Commander was one of the first PC games to have a really notable soundtrack. The general opinion seems to be that it's rubbish, but I quite like it. It uses the PCM sampling of the Sega CD that sounds quite a bit better than the OPL3 FM synth found on Adlib/Soundblaster cards, which were typical of computers from the early 90s, if they had any at all.

On a personal level, the different music actually worked out well, though - Wing Commander II (released only on the PC) recycles a huge chunk of the music from the PC version of its predecessor. It was all new to me at the time, though, so it seemed like less of a cop-out. (The soundtrack wasn't the only bit of laziness in Wing Commander II, but we'll save that for another day.) I recorded a bunch of these with GENS since I couldn't find them anywhere on the internet. A handful of tracks are available over at the Wing Commander CIC, but those are only the redbook tracks that play during certain cutscenes.

Beyond the aural differences, the port really isn't very good. It's remarkably sluggish, and I didn't realize at the time that the game was supposed to play as slowly as it does. The PC version also runs at an incredibly inconsistent speed, which this one suffers from too. When you're only fighting a single enemy with no wingmen, it runs fine. But standard engagements usually have at least three or four other ships, usually more, so the whole game runs at maybe 25% of the speed it should. It does make it much easier, at least.

When I was in grade school, I had a friendly rival with one of my buddies - I was the Sega guy, he was the Nintendo guy. We often used Wing Commander as a sparing ground to which was better, which we eventually gave up once we convinced our parents to get PCs and moved on to Wing Commander Armada anyway. But back in the day, he swore that the SNES version was better, even though it lacked voices. I finally booted it up and...okay, the Sega CD version wasn't great, but the SNES one is much worse.

It technically runs a slightly more appropriate speed, but it accomplishes this at the expensive of smoothness. It's a remarkably choppy game, which is made more aggravating because there are several elements on the screen all moving independently from each other. The space debris, for example, moves smoothly, but the waypoint indicator does not. The radar moves similarly, which is a bit of a problem when you're trying to track down targets. But hey, the little red box that used to frame the targeted enemy is completely gone anyway, making the targeting system almost useless outside of using missiles. The alarms that blare whenever enemies have locked on with a missile is much louder, where it's nothing more than a flashing indicator in other versions.

There are other weird bits too. It only seems like you ever face off against a single foe at a time, even though there are multiple enemies around. It's especially odd when you're navigating through asteroid fields, because even though there are rocks flying around, they're just part of the background - you only ever dodge asteroids one at a time. It's very strange!

In order to fit the five meg game into a 1 meg cartridge, there's tons of details stripped out. The character portraits and the cutscenes are very obviously affected, but it's even more apparent in-game, where the number of frames for each ship have been cut down drastically. As a result, you only see ships from a very select set of angles, and it looks really, really wrong. There are undoubtedly a myriad of other issues that arose from both the limitations of the SNES and the shoddiness of the port programmers. (The SNES version was done by Mindscape, while the Sega CD one was done by Game Arts over in Japan.) The save function has been replaced with passwords, which is typical. The music (mostly faithful to the PC original, at least in composition) sounds like it was run through a MIDI to SPC conversion program and the instrument samples weren't properly adjusted at all. At least the new sound effects are much better than the tinny blips from the PC version. You can read more about some differences on this thread. The SNES version is the one that made it onto that EA Replay compilation for the PSP.

And there's Super Wing Commander, a total remake that was originally released solely on the 3DO, and later, only ported to the Macintosh, of all places. In many ways, it's a huge improvement over even the PC original. It seems to utilize the same improved engine as Wing Commander Armada, with a larger cockpit window that doesn't feel nearly as cramped, higher resolution ship sprites that are much less pixellated, and a "targeting lead" cursor that aids incredibly in aiming.

In-game, it's great, but out of the game? The whole look is much darker and more "realistic", using a lot of mid-90s CG design. Some of the cutscenes are ridiculous, like the takeoff scene, where your character is suited up via a complicated system of robotic arms, then jettisoned into a tube and elevated into the ship before taking off. Sometimes simpler is better, people! The characters now use portraits that look like touched up, digitized pictures of real actors, except they're animated in the same way as before - a static head shot, moving lips, and eyes that occasionally blink is a disturbingly robotic fashion. This version is fully voice acted too, except it's terrible.

I haven't recorded the 3DO voices or music, but I've uploaded a few tunes from the Sega CD version, since they didn't appear to be up at the Wing Commander CIC.


Sega CD




Sega CD



The Longest Blog

(Some vague spoilers follow)

I've been spending the past few weeks playing The Longest Journey games in preparation for an article. I'd bought Dreamfall for the Xbox when it came out and loved it, even though I only got about 2/3rds of the way through, and only briefly mucked with The Longest Journey (the first game) when I grabbed it from the Target discount section. Honestly, if it weren't for the article and the fact that I was curious to how it fit in with Dreamfall, I probably wouldn't have finished it. I'm generally not a fan of fantasy fiction and that's more or less The Longest Journey in spades. It doesn't help that the plot casually meanders through the first few hours of the game, with a whole ton of extraneous (if well written) dialogue, and then it takes even longer for the ball to actually get rolling.

Still, in the end, I'm glad I stuck with it. Once the story does start, it does get pretty good, especially as it starts to weave in more science fiction elements near the end. It also provided a much more suitable background to Dreamfall. Technically Dreamfall's plot stands alone, but there are a lot of recurring characters that wouldn't make much sense otherwise. One of the coolest things about the game is seeing how locations and characters change in the ten years between the two games. Venice, once a burgeoning, beautiful college town, is nothing more than a rainy depressing trash heap. Charlie and Emma, the friends that we spent a considerable amount of time with during the opening hours of The Longest Journey, only to be more or less abandoned as the story progressed, are still baffled and depressed over the mysterious loss of April. Crow, too, makes a comeback as the wisecracking sidekick and despite having the same personality, more or less, comes off as less annoying. Other characters, including fellow Shifter Brian Westhouse and former nemesis Roper Klacks (now a reformed potion salesman), also make appearances and play minor but welcome roles. And then there's April herself, no longer bubbly and having long grown embittered with her life in Arcadia and the fallout from the ending from the first game. Her arc doesn't have remotely the same impact if you haven't played that one, where she would just comes off as overtly bitter and stand-offish.

I see lots of people still preferring The Longest Journey over Dreamfall. I don't agree, but I can definitely see why. The Longest Journey is a classic hero's journey tale, spanning several lands and cultures through the magical world of Arcadia, and even a few dingy spots in the "real" world of Stark. It's full of funny and outright weird characters, and Dreamfall doesn't quite have that. There's not nearly as much dialogue, and the trees are much simpler, where you pick topics instead of direct lines. There are a few interesting characters, particularly April's Watilla, a robotic gorilla toy which doubles as a personal organizer and talks with an oddly quiet demeanor similar to Teddy from Steven Spielburg's A.I. (He's even voiced by the same voice actor.) There are a couple of other oddball characters throughout, but none of them stand out in the same way that Roper Klacks did in the first game. Most of the best characters are the ones that make recurring appearances. And Zoe, a determined, beautiful heroine with a gorgeous British accent, is a fine heroine, she lacks April's sense of witticisms, and her humor is much more dry.

From a storytelling standpoint, Dreamfall is also far, far different, focusing primarily on Zoe's search for the truth, April's fight against the rebels, Kian's fight against his people, and all three protagonists' search for purpose and a renewal of faith. There's far less of an emphasis on Arcadia - outside of a few brief locations, the setting rarely leaves the city of Marcuria and only mentions about the other races and history in passing. This isn't necessarily a bad change, because there's a mystery driving the player forward, and it's more than just tracking down MacGuffins.

Still, the world of Arcadia is so vast and densely layered that, for as much time as you spent listening about it and exploring it, it still felt like there was more to explore. Certain important events happened off screen, like the invasion of Marcuria by an outside force, because it didn't directly involve April. Dreamfall reels in some of these and expands on the existing mythology, which in turn strengthens the world posed in the first game. Specifically, it even deals with the fallout from said invasion.

At the same time, though, Dreamfall's story rapidly becomes unfocused. With three main characters and multiple threads in most of these, it tosses at lot at you. Sure, all characters are put through journeys of faith, so they have that in common, but from a plot standpoint, it's never entirely clear how it all fits together. And this is further elucidated by the ending, possibly one of the worst cliffhangers in all of video gaming.

We say "worst" not because it was bad or anything. It's not something was rushed through production like the finale of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, nor was a victim of crappy writing. It's intentionally set up that way, since Tornquist always envisioned Dreamfall as the second part of a trilogy. If you go into it realizing this, you'll probably be less aggravated, but it's still ends up unsatisfying.

Lots of people compare it to the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, but it's not really fitting, because it's much, much more depressing. Furthermore, out of the half dozen of so story threads introduced through the course of the game, only one of them is really resolved, and the rest left hanging. And then, during the ending, the writers twist the knife even further by introducing more questions for which there are (yet) no explanation. And at least everyone knew thay Return of the Jedi would be coming. Tornqiest has been promising a sequel since Dreamfall came out, but given the reality of game development, it's not a certainty. It could very well go the way of Shenmue, which ended at the second game. But even though Shenmue stopped partway through its overall arc, at least the game told some kind of standalone story, whereas Dreamfall mostly feels like a huge setup.

If nothing else, it helps identify video gaming as a unique medium of storytelling, separate from books or film. At the beginning of Dreamfall, Zoë is in a coma, narrating the story in the form of a flashback. As a player, we're given hope that we can somehow save her from her rather grave condition, but no - by the end of the game, she's still bed-ridden with little hope of ever waking up. Even though there are no alternate paths or endings, it still somehow feels like we, the player, have failed her in some way, making the finale all the more heart breaking.

Still, even if you end up aggravated by the ending, at least it shows how much you care about the worlds of Arcadia and Stark, its story, and its characters. Both games work together brilliantly, and it only makes us hungrier for The Dreamfall Chapters, which is meant to be the second half of Dreamfall.

Tornquist has been largely tightlipped on details, much to everyone's frustration. It doesn't help that Funcom's concentrating on MMOs like Age of Conan and The Secret World instead of making new Dreamfall games. For far, they're mostly likely going to be downloadable episodic content, similar to Telltale's games, and Tornquist is aiming for it to be multi-platform. It's going to pick up directly from where Dreamfall left off, and continue the stories of Zoe, April and Kin, as well as other characters, both new and old. Hopefully Funcom will stop wasting their time and get on with finishing up with Dreamfall.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Agarest Senki on PS3 localised – WTF?

Having been following the Japanese PSN videos for this, I discover today that the slightly hentai-esque strategy-RPG-meets-dating-sim by Idea Factory has not only been localised into English, but is on sale. RIGHT NOW. Under the name of Agarest: Generations of War.


I’d watched the PSN videos of this and thought: it looks cool, but it’ll never come out here, much like eroge Tears to Tiara: Kakan no Daichi, and several other Japan-only PS3 games, including Way of the Samurai 3. Well, not only has Way of the Samurai 3 made it to the west, but now Agarest, and apparently Yakuza 3 is also on its way. What a relief and a great time for fans of Japanese games - it would seem the hard days of importing are over.

Thing is, I subscribe to Dave Halverson’s almighty PLAY magazine, plus I browse GamesTM and EDGE in the UK, and none of these have had any coverage, to my knowledge. Perhaps I wasn’t browsing hard enough in WH Smiths. Metacritic has nothing either. I’ve also heard not a peep online about its localisation. Which is a shame, because it pretty awesome. I’m surprised Halverson has jumped on it, because the boobage content is rather high.

I only found out about it due to Neo magazine, a sort of lacklustre inheritor of Manga Mania's throne as the UK's leading anime magazine. They gave it a half page review using recycled press shots.

Taken from Wikipedia:
The story progresses through various points plotted on a map. By visiting each point, the player has to battle the creatures, complete a quest, visit a town or go through a conversation to advance through the storyline and open up more points. Fighting plays out like a strategic RPG where each character has his/her own set of moves, but by moving each character to an appropriate square, you can chain characters together and pull off combos. The game includes dating sim elements through its "Soul Breed" system which allows the player to create a new character by pursuing a relationship with a female character.

So, a game involving sex, then? The age classification on the UK box says 12, because the content includes: sex and swearing. I can’t imagine what kind of sex gets a game a 12 rating and not an 18-only rating, so it must be only mild themes (like a girl's cream covered face).

What’s fascinating about the UK version is that it was localised by Ghostlight, who were originally thinking of redoing the cover art as being realistic.

Now, I think I speak for everyone when I say that looks ****ing godawful. Possibly the worst art imagineable. Thankfully they kept the original in the end. Ghostlight also pulled an Atlus on us by producing a limited edition version featuring the following:
* Agarest: Generations of War PlayStation®3
* Collectors Edition slipcase
* Collectors Edition inlay
* 48 page art book
* 6 collectable artcards featuring images from the game
* A3 limited edition poster

And the best news? It’s only £44.99 for the special edition, while the standard version is £34.99. That’s a great deal. Considering those filth-eating bastards at Activision have the gall to charge £45 for a basic game, raising the normal RRP for all new titles by a fiver, I think this is a fantastic bargain and Ghostlight should be commended. They should be hailed as beacons of light in an industry ravaged by greed. Activision should also be spat on, considering they tried to sue various magazine publishers in the UK for criticising them, pulled advertising, and basically gagged the entire press association if they tried to speak out against it. Well, Activision, you can kiss my ass if you think you can silence HG101. I’m waiting for your court order, scumbags.

Now for the bad news: Agarest isn’t going to hit the USA until 2010, and furthermore it will be a download-only PSN title. So if you want hard copies, much like you had to with Siren Blood Curse, you’ll need to import it. Let me also say, Blood Curse is amazgine. My PS3 came packed with Little Big Planet, which I didn’t like that much, so I traded my sealed copy in for Blood Curse, and it was 100% worth it.

Even more bad news: Agarest has hit UK retailers in extremely limited quantities. Where I live GameStation were sold out, and Game had only 2 copies. Other stores I visited had absolutely none. None of the staff were even clued up on it, and had to search through draws to find the last copies – but they were quite eager to sell me Uncharted 2 and the rest of this winter’s blockbusters. Man, screw that. And I haven’t even seen the Special Edition anywhere. Further bad news is that I am broke. Totally broke. Broker than a totally broke money-broker in financially troubled times. I also have Disgaea 3 to start (and finish, maybe?), plus Cross Edge to buy. There’s a few too many interesting RPGs out right now.

So, I can’t tell you how it plays. I’ve also seen no mention of it on forums. So it seems like the masses are ignoring this. Meaning expect it to rise in price over time.
EDIT: I've just discovered, you can actually buy the game direct from the publisher, which is kinda cool.

Man... if it wasn’t for the fact I still have an unopened copy of Muramas for the Wii to start, I’d be seriously tempted to sell the white brick and HDD for some cash to lubricate my PS3 library. Yeah, you heard me, I said lubricate.