Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So Today's Miku's 3rd year anniversary...

... And all I have to show for it is a picture:

Of her about to eat ice cream like you weren't expecting THAT to happen

And a sound clip of her saying the name of this website.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Haiku Quest – an RPG featuring haiku poetry and Christopher Walken

It’s taken me a long while to finish my latest game, Haiku Quest. Mainly I had trouble recruiting voice actors to play the parts (as in very few volunteered when I asked, my request topic was mysteriously deleted, and even less replied after I’d sent them the innuendo laden script). But, on a whim which I never expected to work, I emailed Christopher’s agent and, intrigued by the idea of a non-profit independent game based on Japanese poetry, he took five minutes from his schedule to record the lines on someone’s laptop and emailed me a giant WAV file to cut up. If his voice sounds a little off, it’s because he was pressed for time (he apologises) and it wasn’t done in any kind of sound booth. I did my best to clean it up though.

The game was inspired my experiences with the haiku mini-game in Boku no Natsuyasumi 3. This was in Japanese though, and I wanted something analogous in English for western players to appreciate.

The poems are generally free-form, but I tried to adhere to most of the rules for writing English haiku. Since only fellow game players are likely to take an interest, all the poems were based on well-known videogames. I suppose the great failing of this endeavour is that you need a background in games to understand them. Christopher mentioned he only got a couple of the references.

The game features:
* A JRPG style of design
* A large overworld to explore
* Villages to visit
* NPCs to speak with
* Stores and inns to stop by
* Unique “instant-time” battle system
* Five different monsters to fight
* Streamlined inventory system
* 125 different poems to compose
* 5 true haiku to decipher
* A special "hidden secret" from the gods of haiku
* An incredible ending which will leave you floored
* The voice work of Christopher Walken

Download it here!

TIP: When playing, please do NOT hold down the arrow keys, rather tap them, since otherwise it may skip certain poetry sections.

And if you like it, be sure to spread it around.

Now all I hope is that someone tips off those lovely chaps TIGSource and this gets some kind of news entry. Heck, email Kotaku too, while you're at it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And the winner of the HG101 3D Dot Heroes Competition is....

...Shantae, from the 2002 Game Boy Color game of the same name! It looks cool, shows some design prowess, and references one of the only portable games to fetch a going price in the triple digits. Congrats to hiryu64 for the great job, and he should be expecting a copy of the 3D Dot Heroes Original Soundtrack in the mail soon. You, reader, can also download his entry here.

There should be an actual update coming real soon, where you can see the rest for yourself too!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Old German game mags (2)

The Video Games was Germany's first game magazine dedicated to consoles in the modern sense, with reviews, previews, etc. It started in early 1991 as a special issue of the home computer & PC magazine Power Play, which itself originated in the not games focused Happy Computer, but like it's mother mag, soon evolved into an independent publication, first quarterly, but from 1992 onwards monthly.

Hurray, in fall 1992, we Germans finally officially got the SNES.

A look at the editorial staff in early 1992. Replace Stephan Englhardt with Heinrich Lenhard and you got all the big names for the early years of German games journalism on one page. Compared to today, there was almost kind of a personal cult around some of those. Imagine a games magazine that advertises its writers with their pictures on the cover, as the first few issues of the magazine PC Player did:

"Games competence by Lenhard & Schneider"

Some of those pioneers are still well known today. Winnie Forster founded Gameplan and publishes encyclopedic books (I think only the Encyclopedia of Game Machines is available in English, but there's also a volume entirely dedicated to game controllers and a company/developer encyclopedia in German). The first book went to its third edition by now.

Boris Schneider (now Boris Schneider-Johne) is also responsible for what might be the first fan translation ever, with his German hack of the C64 adventure Murder on the Mississippi (now there's a bit of trivia to update your translation article with, Sketcz). Afterwards he got hired by Lucasfilm games for their early games (from Maniac Mansion to Fate of Atlantis). Today he's the Xbox product manager for Microsoft Germany.

Julian Eggebrecht of course is (was? I'm not up-do-date what happened after the US "branch" went out of business) one of the leading figures at Factor 5, Heinrich Lenhard founded about half of Germany's computer game magazines in the 80's and early 90's, and later also moved to the US and became correspondent for some of them.

When working with Korean game magazines during the first half of this year, I often chuckled at the many typos for English game titles, but revisiting my early Video Games issues, I was put into perspective quickly. Behold the review of Sol-Deace (EDIT: Oh, turns out the Genesis version of Sol-Feace was actually really titled as such. But the other examples below are still legit and not the only ones).

In another issue I thought for a moment that I had found a mention of a forgotten unreleased game called "Makros", until after a few lines later they wrote the full title "Makros 2036". But worst was "Twinckle Tales", directly below the big, fat logo showing the correct spelling.

Looking back, some of the review verdicts are also hard to comprehend nowadays. Many titles now widely acknowledged as timeless classics got fairly low scores, sometimes with pretty weird reasoning. Interesting was their three-component genre categorization, though. So as you can see below, Quantum Fighter is an Action Platformer with more weight on the platforming (the actual category was "dexterity games", though, so it wasn't necessary for any platforming to be involved).

Sprite of the Month. It might seem now that I'm obscessing with Chun Li, but really, my sources are.

What's that? Didn't remember this ad at all.

Neither did I remember Hudson's 32 bit console prototype. Btw., the mag dedicated a news page to every console manufacturer, titling each of them with an alliteration ("Engine Events", "Sega Special", "Nintendo News", etc.)

Ad for Laguna, a big-ish independent German publisher of Nintendo games. Of the SNES games I own, Breath of Fire II, Soul Blazer, Lord of the Rings and Shadowrun are Laguna published. I remember calling Nintendo's game help hotline and not getting any help with Breath of Fire II. ("That game doesn't exist.")

WTF!? Comic strip in a feature about adult themes in games, originally from Famitsu ('twas Famicom Tsushin back then, right?).

Afterwards I kinda lost sight of the Video Games and only started buying it again regularly at Dreamcast times, when it looked like this:

Video Games was then discontinued in early 2001 (the millenium years 1999-2001 weren't very good to germany's old game mags overall. IIRC, the only early 90's-mag that survived this period was the Man!ac, now renamed just M!)

Before closing this post, I've two questions about games I've rediscovered here:

The caption identifies this game as "Chakan". The Chakan I know is very different, which game is actually shown on the screenshot?

Then there was a preview about Plugsy, Psygnosis' would-be first console only title. I couldn't find any references whatsoever about this game on the web. Is it unreleased, or did it end up with another title?

I should also link to Kultpower.de, a great ressource for many of the old German mags, even with full scans of some issues.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Obscure Video Game Controversies - Hard Hat Mack

My dad was digging through the closet and found some old Atari 400 games from my childhood, which spurred me to rediscover some of the stuff I used to play when I was really young. Please forgive me if the next few entries rely on such self-indulgence.

One of these games was an Electronic Arts game called Hard Hat Mack. It's clearly inspired by Donkey Kong, in that it takes a single screen arcade-style platformer that takes place on a construction site. Instead of simply reaching the top of the screen, each level has its own unique goal. In the first screen, you need to grab girders spread throughout the screen, place them them in the gaps of the structure, then grab the jackhammer that's mysteriously floating the around the screen to solidfy their place. In the meantime, there's some guy causing trouble running around, along with rivets that are shot from the top of the screen and bounce down.

In the second screen...well, I never beat it when I was a kid, and even with the benefit of save states and twenty five years of gaming experience, I still can't. It seems to be a factory and apparently you need to gather all of the lunch boxes somehow, but some of the obstacles require such pixel perfect jumping that it's practically impossible. There is a third level, apparently.

It's an alright little game. Like Dig Dug, the music stops and goes as you move your character, playing a short little ditty that becomes remarkly catchy despite maybe being four seconds long. But the most interesting aspect is the title screen, which shows all of the characters.

Now, if you were gaming at a young age, you probably picked up some vocabulary from whatever you were playing. (Zillion for the Master System taught me the meaning of "suicide". It was an awkward moment for my parents.) Hard Hat Mack taught me what a vandal was. More confusing was the character labeled "Osha", which I just thought was a weird name, and my dad didn't know either. Twenty-some years later, I realized it was actually OSHA, which stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the governmental division that strives to ensure safe working conditions. I was googling around, then, and found this interesting story from a 1983 issue of the computer magazine Infoworld:

Earlier this month, Electronic Arts, a home-software publisher based in San Mateo, California, found itself in hot water with the state government. Hard Hat Mack, one of the company's arcade-style games, was banned from at least one Emporium-Capwell store after a California legislator objected to one of Mack's enemies, a white-shirted good name OSHA.

In Hard Hat Mack, OSHA runs around the game screen, clipboard in hand, trying to squash Mack, a blue-collar construction worker...California state senator Dan McCorquodale took offense to Electronic Arts' comic portray of OSHA as a video-game villain and dashed off a latter of complaint to the Emporium store in Santa Clara, California. Hard Hat Mack was anti-worker, he said, and it gave the children playing video games the wrong idea about their friendly federal government. Six days later, the store pulled the video game.

The last laugh may be on Mr. McCorquodale. All of this publicity will probably spur sales of Hard Hat Mack. It's rare to find a game that is part fun and part humorous social commentary.

In the long-run, obviously this didn't affect much of anything. No one really remembers the game nowadays, and since it's not violent in the way Death Race was, it hasn't exactly made a mark on history. Still amusing, though.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Catherine: Atlus finally arrive at the next-gen party

So it sure took Atlus long enough, but they're ready to step up to the HD plate, and they're coming out swinging.

Catherine is a survival-horror-esque Action RPG from the creative minds behind Persona 3 and 4; Shoji Meguro, Shigenori Soejima, Katsura Hoshino, etc.

Vincent is a 32 year old salaryman with no ambition.

Lately he's been having nightmarish dreams of sheep, falling, and falling sheep.

If he can't reach the top of a tower by the time he awakens, his fate is the same as theirs.

Reality isn't much better, as he keeps encountering a strange woman named Catherine.

Slated for a Winter 2010 release, here's a trailer.


Looks like a very improved version of the Persona 4 engine. A taste of things to come for Persona? We can only hope.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ys Seven is Out and You Should Buy It Now

Ys Seven came out in the US yesterday, and it's absolutely imperative that you buy it. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs on how awesome it is, but in the interest of keeping it brief, I'll point to the Official Sony US blog, which should do an excellent job of hyping you up, and I can confirm that it's not the usual PR speak either. The game hasn't been covered in the Ys article proper, just because I hadn't gotten enough time that I was happy to fully review it. I got about eight hours in and got distracted, but don't let my video game ADD put you off - those were eight damn good hours. Plus after I'd heard it was being released in English, I held off playing any further so I could actually enjoy the story.

I love Ys, because I truly believe the Action-RPG is The Best Genre. Despite their proliferation and popularity in the 16-bit era - Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, Beyond Oasis, Landstalker, Crusader of Centy, and even Zelda, if you want to argue that way (I would) - it's sorted of dried up over the past decade. Well....maybe not dried up, so much as torn apart and evolved. Outside of Zelda and its very particular type, you've got stuff like Bayonetta and God of War which weighs heavily on the action side and Champions of Norrath and Shining Force EX/Neo whatever leaning on the RPG side. Most of these don't really hit the sweet spot I'm looking for, although NIER is probably one of the best recent ones. You could probably stick in stuff like Odin Sphere and Muramasa, which are decent, although in different ways.

Ys though? Man. Ys was a series I really liked when I was introduced to it - Ys III is the best worst game ever made - but it really became super awesome with Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, which replaced its fun-by-wonky battle system with something far more gratifying. Then it got ridiculously mega awesome with Oath in Felghana, a little less awesome with Ys Origin, and graduated in some of doctorate in awesomise-tisity by the time Ys Seven rolled around last year.

In many ways, Ys is sort of a sister series to Castlevania, at least of the Symphony of the Night variety. I know that claim might put off some people, but hear me out! They are both focused on exploration, world-building, and level-building. Their controls are beautifully smooth, doubly impressive with the Ys games, since they're 3D games that play like 2D games. And they also all have amazing soundtracks.

In fact, Ys arguably does a lot of this better. It's got a beautiful tempo, as the very act of running around, hacking everything to bits, feels like a constant series of miniature rewards. It's better balanced, too. The day-to-day hacking and slashing is hardly taxing, difficulty-wise, but the bosses will test every single old-school arcade skill you've got. (And while grinding will help you out, they won't completely solve the matters either.) Admittedly, over the course of the series, the action actually started to get a little bit rusty by the time Ys Origin rolled around, but they revamped everything by adding a speedy dash button in Ys Seven, and substantially improved the battle system by adding tons of secondary skills. Altogther, Falcom impressed themselves enough with it that they took the engine and turned it into an arena-based fighting game, Ys vs Sora no Kiseki. (Which, to be honest, didn't turn out so well. It might be fun in multi-player, but single player is another story, and one for another time.)

So yeah, you shouldn't just buy this game to support XSeed and the PSP. Well, I mean, they're a brilliant company for licensing these and absolutely deserve your money, but this isn't a charity case or anything. This is one of the best games of 2010 (and of 2009 too, in fact.) I even say this as someone who doesn't particularly care for playing games on portables - I am slightly sad that Falcom abandoned a PC version, because I'd much rather play it on a 21 inch monitor with a proper controller - but it's just rad enough to overcome that inherent obstacle.

This summer really, really sucked

You know how too much of a good thing is bad for you? Well, that's exactly what happened to me. And Miku too:

And now you know the secret of how Miku keeps her figure like that

Anyway, to review:

1) G.Rev begins the assault with releasing the home port of Senko no Ronde DUO.

2) G.Rev calls in an assist attack from Sega by harassing me with Project Diva DLC.

3) The attack string cancels into a tag-team super move involving Blizzard Entertainment with Starcraft II and Sega releasing Project Diva 2nd WITHIN THE SAME FREAKING WEEK.

4) Comic Market 78 just happened last weekend, and there's some games that are distracting me from doing anything productive in relation to this website.

So in case some of you are wondering why I haven't posted in a while, it's a combination of all of these reasons right above. Hopefully I can scrape something together before this month is over!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yakuza 3 reviewed by real-life Yakuza

As pointed out by regular reader Zack, BoingBoing has a fascinating feature up where they get three real-life yakuza members to play Ryu ga Gotoku 3 and give their opinions.

Midoriyama is a now-retired former mid-level faction boss. Shirokawa is a high-ranking boss from a different group connected to Midoriyama through a ritual sake exchange. Kuroishi knows them both but is also from a different group.

This is an ingenious feature, and a fantastic example of proper investigative games journalism. While most print publications are happy with their annual April Fool gags, phoned-in email interviews, and outdated news, it's great to see something serious like this being attempted.

My favourite section of the interview is towards the end:
Ironically, the sections that Shirokawa seemed to enjoy the most were cut out of the US version: mahjong, the sexual massage parlor, and the hostess clubs. After I explain to him what Sega cut from the US version, he said: アメリカ版を買った奴がかわいそうだ。セガUSAが最低だね.(Translation: I feel sorry for the people who bought the American version. SEGA USA sucks.)

Yes indeed, Sega USA does suck. I for one loved the mahjong in Yakuza 2.

Read the full feature HERE.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Warning a Huge Podcast – Stage 007

It’s been a while, and there was some concern on my part that those involved had lost interest, but I’m pleased to see that WAHP is back!

Stage 007 clocks in at just over 2 hours, and apart from Casey Loe saying that the story in Valkyria Chronicles sucked (02:04:00), it’s a great listen. Actually, what’s annoying is not that Casey criticised it, rather he didn’t explain why – and seeing as I’ve seldom had the good fortune to play a videogame with as good or better a story than Valkyria Chronicles (which I thought in the context of gaming was perfect), I’d really like to know his reasons why he didn't like it, and get some recommendations for better storied games.

WARNING! A Huge Podcast is Approaching Fast!

A podcast covering the world of Japanese gaming, brought to you by ex-GameFan and ex-Play stars shidoshi, Casey Loe, and Nick Rox.

//Stage 007

//Now Playing: Last Ranker, Atelier Totori

//Subtopics: Capcom don’t waste no money, NIS and Image Epoch want you to punish girls, US retailers shy away from them “anime games”, Japanese Fallout 3 ad pokes fun at JRPGs, NIS cancels games, death watch: Flight Plan + Gaia + Dimple, Monolith campaigns against negative campaigns, Twitter Watch, Japanese sales, upcoming releases, and no, we aren’t dead. Honest.

Recettear release date and price announced

Carpe Fulgar has just announced that it’s made a deal with Stardock for the release of Recettear, thanks in part to everyone’s positive reaction, and they’ve also announced a price and tentative release date. September 10th!
US: $20
UK: £13
EU: €15

This puts it on par with higher end PSN releases and, while I’ll reserve judgement for when I’ve played the full version, the only thing I’m as equally excited for right now is Valkyria Chronicles 2 which is getting released in the next couple of weeks. So, yes, very much looking forward to Recettear.

Chun Li Wins

Blog's been quiet the last few days, so here are a few randon Street Fighter II related images and trivia.

Two pictures from the very first official Street Fighter II Tournament at the Kokugikan in 1992. Are those on the web at all (I mean, before now, in better quality)? Upon my search I only found pictures of later Tournaments at that location.

Chun Li ... smokes? Ewwww... And there's two of her? (photo from 1993)

Some later Chun Li promo cosplay for Street Fighter Zero/Alpha II

From a great Korean fan-art book I found at the public library once.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Old German Game mags (1)

So I'm back in Germany for now and digging through my own old magazines. Here's what was my most favourite game mag during the mid-90's (it was published from 1993 to 2000). UK readers might recognize the name, as it was licensed from a british mag. I'm talking about the Nintendo-only mag Total! It wasn't a translated mag, though, but had its own editorial stuff and content.

The second annyversary issue was the first one I bought myself, the first two years I used to read my cousin's copies.

Early preview of Street Fighter Alpha, then with the working title Street Fighter Legends. Screenshots are of course from the arcade version, back then I couldn't believe how good the background in the lower screenshot looked.

Julian Eggebrecht of Factor 5 used to be a freelancer for the mag. They also were pretty good for reports on import games, as they later got a Japanese freelancer (who was later employed at Squaresoft for localizations, I think). Only their viewpoint was a bit European-centered in hindsight, one time they called Seiken Densetsu Squaresoft's most important series (the only Final Fantasy game being released in Europe by then was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest). I think they were also among the first in Germany to include decent Anime coverage.

Review of Super Turrican 2 (not reviewed by Eggebrecht ;) ). Games were ranked in German school grades (1 being best and 6 being worst).

I think not many people have this issue. The old publishing house went bancrupt by the end of 1995, so issue 12/1995 never came out. The staff didn't give up, though, but founded their own publishing house (Xplain Verlag) after wrangling for the licensing right for a month. So everyone thought the mag was gone, and no one expected it to resurface it with issue 1/1996. I saw it by chance and of course bought it immediately. But only a few days after it came out, someone went out of their way to file a cease and desist order because of the Mortal Kombat logo on the cover. Mortal Kombat 2 was completely banned in Germany (not the regular no-advertisement and only sell to over-18 regulation, but actually criminally punishable prohibited. IIRC, MK 2 was the first game without Nazi symbols or open racism ever to be "graced" by a complete ban). No one bothered to notice that the logo was actually from the movie, which was rated 16-and-up, nor that the magazine had printed the Mortal Kombat 3 logo before without any problems. So as a result, the issue disappeared from shelves quickly, and may be the rarest next to the first issue.

They also offered newsletters via pagers. It's the 90's, baby!

The exclusive comic strip was discontinued with the change of publishing houses, sadly.

In later years with the SNES discontinued and little to report on the disappointing N64, the team found other ways to fill their pages, like with this kind of photo stories. Thanks to stuff like this, Total! is still the game mag many people in Germany have the fondest memories about.

By far the most interesting anecdote in the history of the mag has to be the Nasty Zone "scandal". Another mag had printed a non-existing game in their release schedule list, which reappeared in a Total! list. The problem was: Neither the game, nor the alleged developer "Haip" ever existed. The (already not very popular, later hated by some) editor in chief of that mag immediately blamed the Total! of copying "stealing" information from his publication, he was quoted saying "I thought the xx or the yy would fall for this, but I never imagined the Total! would be so stupid." and that he suspected "for a long time" that someone was stealing from his mag.

The would-be game was called Nasty Zone (after the mag where it first was listed, N-Zone) by the nonexistent company Haip (after the Editor in chief's name, Hans Ippisch).

The Total! made an honest apology for the fauxpas of not double-checking their research and promised to stick to reliable sources in the future, but also made fun of the whole Incident, even showing fake screenshots of the "game":

Research in 'reliable sources' is the nuts and bolts in our job. On the right picture you can see how our technically far advanced video game mag production machine (TOTAL-o-matic) processes hard facts within seconds.

(the mag on the copier is an issue of the N-Zone, below is the Total!)

Nasty Zone - Mega-Hype around stillbirth

Rarely has been made such a turmoil about a game hardly anyone even got to see a single pixel of. As usual, we have researched fiercly to present exclusively the very first images of Nasty Zone, which sadly inspire little hope for a decent title. In the interest of all honest N64-owners we convinced the development team to cease work on the project and do something more meaningful with their time.