Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This is Thomas Gottschalk, one of the greatest German entertainers and host of "Wetten Dass..?" (Wanna bet..?). His show where (mostly high profile) celebreties bet on or against ordinary people with crazy propositions (recognize sausage brands by the taste of the can water, put a truck on beer bottles, rip phone books in half, etc.) with entertaining wagers has been extremely successful for decades (among the highest quotes in Europe).

So why is the guy on this blog? If you look closely at the picture, you'll notice in the background the repeating caption "Telespiele". That's what we called video games in the 70s, and that's how Germany's first interactive video game show was called.

Sadly, there is no(?) video footage of this show to be found on the web, and it aired before my time, so all I know is from online sources (listing the more useful ones below). Apparently Telespiele was Gottschalk's first "bigger" success after a young radio career and a number of mostly regional TV music programmes.

Telespiele was broadcasted for the first time on November 11th, 1977. The concept was based on an interesting idea by station technician Erhard Möller - he modified the Pong home video game to be controlled by noise instead of controllers. Loud noise would make the bat go up, a lower voice resulted in the opposite. Under Gottschalk's moderation, Pong was played in two variants: The first pitted calling candidates against each other, who screamed into their phones for victory. There was also a pure studio variant, however, where a single guest in a soundproof booth had to battle the whole audience armed with noisemakers.

Later they added more games, pictures show Pacman controlled with a bumper-car thingie and basketball controlled by moving actual balls. But apparently there were also racing games on fake motorbikes and other stuff we mostly know from 80's arcades.

Celebreties were also often invited to play games against each other, although Gottschalk didn't yet get the big hollywood stars he welcomes nowadays in Wetten dass..?, of course, but there were some fairly big names in Europe, like Roger Whittaker and Bud Spencer. The winner got to chose a music clip (mostly live recordings from the station's archive, that was before music videos became big, after all).

Maybe thanks to those guests and Gottschalk's show talent, Telespiele was incredibly more successful as one would imagine from a show based on video games nowadays. Started on the regional Südwestfunk, it moved to the nationwide public station ARD in 1981, reaching quotes up to 40 percent. Yet the end came already the same year, as the key staff involved with the show switched stations and went on with new programmes.

The concept for the show was sold to the UK, Netherlands and France, but I couldn't find out if it resulted to any actual shows there. I'm also interested if there's any shows in the US that predates it, or if this was indeed the first interactive video game show ever. Please comment if you know anything comparable from that time.

Sources (in German):

Monday, September 27, 2010

WAHP Stage 009 – plus Grasshopper and other podcasts

Stage 009 of Warning a Huge Podcast came out recently, which I’ve finished and have thoughts on, plus I provide links to all of Grasshopper’s podcasts, plus some coverage of the “8-4 Play Japan Game Panic” podcast, which I was recently made aware of. I've not had too much time to listen to stuff, since I've been modding Mega Drive systems and selling off my entire retro collection, but I always gotta make time for some WAHPing.

I’ve only just finished Stage 009 and despite covering TGS, which means anyone who has been following the internet probably knows most of what was at the show, this is probably the strongest episode so far. Lots of really good commentary and insight, from people who know the business (the three have worked as varying kinds of writers and localisers within the videogame and anime worlds). They also mention Gal Gun, which I’ve not seen much coverage of elsewhere.
What I like about WAHP is it gets right to heart of Japan’s problem of appealing to the west, and their declining market, and while a lot of websites and print magazines elsewhere kind of agree that something’s wrong, none of them have really explored the situation and given what I would regard as satisfactory conclusions, whereas WAHP will take the various comments from industry people, and go to town on why things are falling apart – if indeed they even are. This episode introduced Bucchake Watch (pronounced like "chuck hey"), where industry insiders say outlandish things, and it’s incredible listening.

If you’re one of the few (and wrong) people who thinks the podcast is too long or slow, this episode won’t change your mind. But those of you who, much like myself, enjoy the drawn out discourse, this should prove supremely satisfying.

Oh, and WAHP mentioned us HG101, mentioning them, which I’m now mentioning for good measure.

My only complaints are 1) they’ll occasionally discuss something visual, such as a company logo, without explaining what they’re seeing, only stating what they think. 2) There’s a lot of love on the show for Monster World IV, which is fair enough I guess, but I wonder if anyone’s completed it. I have a very intense dislike for the game, which I played a fan translation of many years ago, purely due to a severe game killing glitch I discovered.
There’s an ice dungeon broken into three parts, and half way through part 2 I was low on supplies and close to game over, so fought hell-for-leather trying to get back to the entrance to leave and return to town. Which I did, restocked and then saved. Only to find that the second entrance to the ice dungeon was blocked off, since by exiting it I think the game thought I’d completed it. Except I hadn’t, and so the flag to open entrance 3 hadn’t gone up. In the end I couldn’t return to the second part, and wasn’t allowed in the 3rd, and so was stuck forever with a broken save file. Bloody frustrating. If anyone knows a way around this I still have my old save file somewhere. And this was several hours into the game – so I can’t even hear its name now without feelings of frustration returning. (A quick check on RHDN mentions something of a glitch in Dejap’s original translation patch – I’m unsure if this Ice Pyramid glitch was introduced by them, or not).

Regardless, WAHP is essential listening as always, further details below.

//Stage 009
//Main Topic: Tokyo Game Show 2010

//Now Playing: Final Fantasy XIV, GaiaSeed, Chieri`s Heart ★ Pounding Hot Springs Steam Leisurely Trip

//Subtopics: CESA Awards, Inafune and Hino brewing something, Kojima hints FIVE, Japan rages as Jupiter pushes out four iM@S idols, FFXIV warning message is incredible, Twitter Watch (Kojima, Kamiya, Ono, Nomura), we launch our new section Bucchake Talk with Inafune, Mikami, ItoKen, and Itagaki, Sales Updata, Coming Next, Comment of You, we talk about the podcast, and we offer up three ways in which you can help us for free. //So You Don`t Miss It:

//Main Topic Game Mentions

//Shadows of the Damned, Asura`s Wrath, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Ryu ga Gotoku OF THE END, Valkyria Chronicles 3, Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy -012-, Disgaea 4, Phantasy Star Online 2, Galgun, Project Draco, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, Rise of the Nightmares, Haunt, Codename D, Radiant Silvergun, FirePro XBLA, Project Dark, Tengai Makyo, Langrisser Schwarz

//Coming Next Japan Game Mentions

//Tinkle ☆ Crusaders GoGo!, Eiyuu Densetsu Zero no Kiseki, Okamiden ~Chiisaki Taiyou~, Ken to Mahou to Gakuen Mono. 3, Gekijoban Macross F ~Itsuwari no Utahime~ Hybrid Pack, Keito no Kirby

//Other Game Mentions

//Monster World IV, Phantasy Star Universe, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Parappa the Rapper, Umjammer Lammy, Bangai-O: Missile Fury, Tengai Makyo: ZIRIA, Tengai Makyo II: MANJI-MARU, Tengai Makyo III: NAMIDA, Langrisser (III, IV, V), Demon`s Souls, 999, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

Besides WAHP, I’ve also been hearing good things about Grasshopper’s podcast, and those by 8-4 Play.

Every other week, tune into 8-4 Play for talk about video games, Japan, and Japanese video games, straight from the 8-4 offices in beautiful downtown Tokyo. Hosted by 1UP Japan's own Mark MacDonald, John Ricciardi, and Hiroko Minamoto.

There’s only two so far of 8-4, and I’ve not had any time to listen to them, but thought it was worth mentioning these. They sound awesome.

As for the Grasshopper’s Flower, Sun and Rain podcasts, I was disappointed to find there isn’t a dedicated page listing them all. At least I couldn't find one on the website. Thanks to Glider on NTSC-uk though, I now have a list of direct links to them. Again, I’ve downloaded them, but not had a chance to listen at all. Still, I hope this makes it easy to find them. Copy and paste into your browser, except the first URL which is crazy long (and I'm not even sure where it's being hosted...).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Psychology of Grinding

Etrian Odyssey III came out this past week, and once again, it's another game that will probably sit on my shelf for months until I get the time to really play it. Years after the fact, I'm still not sure if I like Etrian Odyssey. I like the feeling, conceptually, of getting lost in a maze and beating up stuff to awesome Yuzo Koshiro music, but then I realize it will require hours of dedication I just don't have, and then I'll go off to pursue something more immediately gratifying. At least, contrary to this completely wrong RPGamer review, it's got an outstanding soundtrack, easily next to NIER and Scott Pilgrim for Best Video Game OST of 2010.

I still read threads about Etrian Odyssey though, and there's a recurring sentiment that I also see about any old-school type RPG. There's a lot of resentment towards reviewers that claim that there's too much focus on grinding. No, the fans say, you absolutely don't need to grind in Dragon Quest or Etrian Odyssey or any of these games! If you fully explore the map and do all of the subquests and farm all of the supply points, you'll never need to sit around and build levels! Well...that's kind of grinding right there.

The disconnect, it seems, that people can't agree about what constitutes "grinding". Its general definition is mostly "any repetitive aspect which I find tedious", but that bar is completely different for every player. Me, I like the feeling of constant progression. I don't like doing subquests, or anything that strays away from the main goal - I never have and probably never will. But these sort of RPGs aren't built for that mindset, and are definitely for the people who like to explore and take their time.

The concept of leveling up is such an integral part of an RPG that to remove it completely feels like ripping out a spinal cord, but I think there are a few ways to, psychologically, get the player to enjoy this concept, so it doesn't feel like "grinding". (1) Provide more content that's part of the "main" game, and (2) deliver better player progression feedback.

The reason why I'm talking about this is because I'm still embroiled in Ys Seven at the moment. The only real criticism I can dish against the game is that there's almost too much of it. The previous Ys games were pretty short, with minimal weaponry and fairly small areas. Ys Seven is a much, much larger game in every regard, and that includes level design.

All prior Ys games have had copious amounts of grinding, because they're all based on a game that came out in like 1987. Most fans never really minded, because Falcom made it fun, but it's still a valid criticism towards them. In Ys Seven, they tried to fix that. If you break it down to percentages, you probably spend as much time killing enemies in Ys Seven as the previous games, but instead of simply running back and forth between the same few screens, it's spread out over the course of much longer levels, giving a more natural sense of progression.

For this to work, the "checkpoints", the boss battles, need to be well balanced, which Ys Seven is pretty good at. Although there are a handful of difficulty spikes (that stupid bird on the tower), for the most part, if you fight every enemy along the way and don't run past them, then you'll be sufficiently leveled up to take on the boss at a reasonable difficulty. There's no need to branch off and do anything else.

In the cases of Etrian Odyssey there's enough content there so the player just isn't running around in circles, but it's all presented as "optional". It isn't, really, but to people who like to play their games in a straightforward manner, they feel more like roadblocks than anything else.

Dragon Quest always felt the same way to me. If you charge through a dungeon and get to a boss, even if you've fought every random battle along the way and maybe returned to town once or twice to get new equipment, it doesn't always feel like you're QUITE ready for it.

This may actually not be true, which brings me to my second point - random-battle, turn-based RPGs do a TERRIBLE job of communicating to the player how powerful they actually are. Maybe you are well equipped to defeat that boss, but he pulled off that really powerful attack twice in a row on the same character and set you on a course to defeat. When the player dies, they are left to wonder - did I screw up, or am I simply underleveled? Luck plays a reasonable part in the proceedings, and players are aware of this, so I think the general assumption is that they aren't strong enough, which leads them to believe they need to grind some more. Maybe they don't though? But the game isn't making this message clear. One could argue that this feeling of uncertainity is a central aspect of an RPG, especially given how easy it is to liken Dragon Quest to gambling, but it's also not one I'm a fan of.

Ys Seven (and most other Ys games) don't really have this problem, because they're action-based, and it's clearer that you failed because your strategy is flawed or your reflexes aren't up to snuff. Or, if you're only doind single digit damage against a box with 10,000 HP, there's probably a character development issue. Whatever it is, the player has a better idea of what they're doing wrong.

There are numerous other examples of things done right or wrong. Nippon Ichi games, for example, everyone complains those are grindfests. I'm not sure I agree, but given how many options there are for character development, combined with their generally poor balance, makes it easy for them to come off that way. Again, it's all about perception and how it's presented, and these things go a long way towards improving player enjoyment. Maybe they should hire some actual psychologists to look at these things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Minecraft: a (much abridged) love letter

Last Friday, Penny Arcade ran the first of a series of comics about Minecraft, and perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, there was a sudden increase in popularity over the weekend which ended up being more than the servers could handle. Personally, I'd jumped on the bandwagon about a month ago, shortly after purchasing my new laptop, and long story short, I've been looking for any excuse in a storm to write about the game ever since, and seeing as the iron is still somewhat hot (provided I don't get lazy and sit on this post for too long), now is as good a time as any for me to gush unabashedly about a strange, blocky world with which I am enamoured.

For those of you who are immune to internet hype (I envy you) and/or have yet to try it, Minecraft is a first person sandbox game in which you are dropped into a procedurally generated world where everything is made up of cubes. These cubes can be destroyed, collected, used as materials to craft tools, or placed elsewhere on the map. The long and short of it, it's a world made up entirely of blocks, which you can take apart, and then use them to rebuild the everything around you however you see fit, providing players with many opportunities to build penis-shaped monuments... or other things, I guess.

Now, I'm not going to spend all that much time going over the main appeal of a game like this, because the answer should be pretty obvious to anyone who's ever played with Lego. When I was a kid, I used to imagine I could shrink myself down to the size of a Lego man and walk around inside the things I built, and I've had an affinity for any game that's approximated that experience in any sort of way. I share with you this little slice of my childhood with the belief that some of you feel the same way. But it's not the ability to build in and of itself that makes me want to talk about Minecraft, after all, there are a lot of games and digital toys out there to scratch exactly that itch, it's what Minecraft does to distinguish itself from such toys that makes it interesting. At any rate, all you really need to do is watch a youtube video of someone playing for a bit, and chances are you'll have a pretty good idea if this game is for you.

The interface and visual style of the game is heavily inspired by another indie game called Infiniminer (which I'll gladly discuss in a future post, if you'd like), and also takes cues from games like Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper. I'm actually pretty inept at Dwarf Fortress, so I can't comment on that part of it very much, but the Dungeon Keeper connection is pretty clear, at least in my mind. Thus, while it's still a first person game revolving mostly around building, there's a simplistic RTS metagame going on underneath, which is built out of two particular aspects, resource management, and survival. Both of these are far more rudimentary (and accessible) than they would be in a proper strategy game.

Depending on what difficulty setting you choose, you may or may not have to deal with nightly monster attacks. Now, this not actually being a first person shooter, combat is a bit clunky, and it's rather dangerous to try and take them on directly, so you're much better off playing to your strengths. In short, building some kind of rudimentary shelter, then, as the game goes on, you'll be able to construct different kinds of structures to keep yourself safe, like massive walls or fences, elaborate traps, or even moats of lava, in order to keep the mobs at bay. At every step, creativity is encouraged, and you always get to build your base your way.

Of course, if you, like me, are far more interested in simply building random things all over the place, you can set the difficulty to "peaceful" and thus prevent monsters from ever spawning. In either case, you're going to have to manage your resources. In a technical sense, everything in game is in limited quantities, but the world around you is so huge that the odds of ever actually running out of things like stone or dirt is pretty slim, but nevertheless, it's not as simple as clicking on these blocks over here, and then clicking on empty spaces over there. Certain blocks can be collected merely by punching them until they break, while others - notably, different types of stone and ore - cannot be collected unless broken with a pick axe. Different types of ores will require pickaxes made of stronger materials. Also, each material comes with it's own durability rating. Thus, a pick axe made of stone will last longer than one made of wood, for example, but since you can't collect stone without a pick axe, you'll need to start with a wooden one and work your way up the supposed "build order." Some tools are necessary to get certain jobs done - the crafting table for example is essential for putting together more complex tools - while others, like the shovel or axe, merely speed things up. Also available are weapons and armour, as well as pieces to make more complex mechanical contraptions.

Just today, in fact, I installed a very crude rail system, thanks to some advice I picked up from this tutorial video. My system, of course, is far, far less impressive than the one shown. The ingenuity of some gamers never ceases to amaze me.

But anyway, not to bog things down by going over too much minutia of the gameplay, the important thing is that these RTS elements have a few benefits.

First: It breaks up the game into discrete chunks. You're never just building for hours on end, because eventually, you'll run out of materials and need to mine for some more. So you build a few picks and collect some stone, and when all your tools are broken, it creates a natural break during which you'll probably want to go topside and do a little more work on your current work in progress, and then this still is interrupted by the need to protect yourself from monsters. The result is that if any one part becomes too monotonous, there's something else you can do instead.

Second: It forces you to think strategically about things in ways that building games usually don't. You don't want to leave yourself vulnerable, or get started on any project that wastes too many hard to get materials for nothing. The best example I can think of in my own game was that, at one point, I was running out of lumber, and while I planted a few trees here and there, I was having to head out farther and farther away from my main base in order to refill my stock. What I did, was build a crude bridge to a little island not far from my base, then using mass amounts of excess stone and dirt I'd collected digging for coal, I extended the island to about four times it's original size, and used this as my very own private tree farm. It's still a pretty thin layer of strategy, as far as things go, but it still helps to keep you engaged and feeling like you're part of the world, long after the thrill of building penis-shaped monuments has worn off.
Third: and possibly most importantly, it delays gratification. Sure, you can build the biggest, most elaborate, impressive, awe inspiring, penis-shaped monument the world has ever seen, but you gotta work for it. Every single block needs to be collected, one way or another, and then there's the logistics of putting the thing together, one block at a time, keeping in mind that you can't fly, and take damage if you fall from too great a height. When you're finally finished, a fair bit of time, energy, and attention span, has gone into your masterpiece. As much as I loathe to even bring up the idea of "sense of accomplishment," I can't deny, at the end of the day, whether you've built a giant fountain, a roller coaster, a castle, a huge pixel art mural, or in my case, a network of completely pointless cobblestone walkways, the pride and satisfaction you feel at the end of the day is made all the more real by the effort that you had to put into it.

Well, anyway, there's so much more to talk about, but for the sake of winding this down, I guess I'd say that what impresses me the most about Minecraft is just how open to emergent play it is. Fans have already created their own sport, called Spleef, and the levers and wire systems can make for some really fascinating devices. There's even a page on the game's wiki devoted to making logic gates out of redstone and switches.

I'm sure a lot of people just assumed that making the game entirely out of cubic blocks was just a way to ensure it ran smoothly on fairly modest hardware, but it's more than that. The environment in this game is extremely interactive. You can dig tunnels or build buildings anywhere and any way you want. You can even flatten entire mountains and rebuild them somewhere else if it floats your boat to do so. Much in the way that a roguelike can take tons of wildly different outcomes into account by rendering the world in ASCII, the possibilities available to the budding megalomaniac in Minecraft are vast indeed, and by building the world out of simple blocks, all of it becomes that much more approachable. It's a simple solution to a complicated problem.

Monday, September 20, 2010

GameFAN issue 3 – print’s not dead

It’s taken me a little while to get issue 3, but here are my thoughts. Also, an interesting revelation about EGM.

Actually, it’s not hugely interesting, but I was told that EGM only made one summer issue, with the next due in October – presumably with the new start-up mag they wanted to take their time cementing in those first few issues. I speak from experience when I say that completing an issue of a monthly games magazine is a punishing exercise. I guess this just means my 6 issue sub is going to last that little bit longer.

I do have the 3rd issue of GameFAN though, and while they’ve clearly been working overtime to get it finished and printed, I think they’re finding their feet. For a start the rear MovieFAN cover is no longer – which is great. But I’m also extremely pleased to say they haven’t scrapped non-game coverage altogether. I know a lot of people have commented on wanting a games only publication, but for me, I’m not only interested in games. I love movies, anime, manga, comics, books, artbooks, OSTs, music, model figures, yacht sailing and all manner of other stuuf, and all of these things have cross-over potential with games. Well, maybe not yacht sailing, but over the years it’s always been a pleasure to read about what my geeknocratic comrades were enjoying in the world of videos et cetera. How awesome would it be if in a later issue of GameFAN they covered Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 for review and preview, and in the back of the mag examined the anime and manga which were based on the first game, and how these came to influence the second game (since the game sequel was mainly greenlighted based on the success of the anime, not VC1). Whatever they do, the non-game coverage isn’t intrusive and has great potential – so I’m pleased it’s still there.

Another big change is the removal of the Viewpoint section with dual reviews, replaced instead by a more standard reviews section. I actually really liked the dual review structure, since it’s always valuable to have counter points to someone’s positive or negative views. Many times the two agreed though, and as Halverson said in issue 2, they’ll axe Viewpoint in the future but will run counter-points if staff disagree on a game to a large degree. It’d be great to see two highly opposing opinions clashing over a contentious title – diversity of opinion is a healthy sign, especially when PR people hassle you about reviews (and believe me they will, since their salary is augmented by the Metacritic scores you help shape).

As always the design is top notch, as you can see from these photos. Take Deathspank for example, I have no interest in the game personally, but the design drew me in and I took the time to read about it – in other mags, such as EDGE, the design is so brittle and unrewarding to the reader’s eyes, I don’t even want to read about the things I like. Every non-advertising page should enthral me, not put me off.

In today’s world it’s impossible to avoid art assets provided by PR companies – just sign up to and you will find every PR provided image and piece of artwork made available in both the USA and Europe. It’s easier to use PR assets than create your own screenshots. Inevitably you will find some of the same screens here as in other mags, but at least GameFAN tries to distance itself from the identical crowds. It’s refreshing to see an actual attempt being made at in-house creation of imagery. The rows of sequential screenshots are a sign of this, and their demise in magazines I believe could be more to do with the increased reliance on PR imagery rather than designers not liking them. The fact they even exist in GameFAN shows that someone took the time to actually grab images, in order, and make use of them.

I loved the sequential row of images for the purple dragon fight running along the bottom of the Metroid M page, and the entire thing came together with the text to give a genuine feeling of how the game plays. I’m not entirely convinced by the increase from the second issue in the number of 45 degree angled features, since as you can see in the Dragon Quest review you lose some of the imagery – but even so, I can only think of one other magazine, Retro Gamer, which has as appealing a design as here. When did everyone else stop enjoying colour?

The issue focuses on E3 with a series of editor profiles (man, don’t you love how in American mags everyone is an editor, as if to show you they’re considered valuable to the project? In the UK most of us are branded simply as “the staff” and treated like so much processed meat. Except for deputy editors, who take on the role of full-time editors except with less pay).

It’s a bit disconcerting to read up on E3 with the Tokyo Game Show featuring on the net right now, and my only criticism with the magazine is I seem to come to the party late and they’re still playing catch-up with their breakneck-speed relaunch. When coverage on a game, such as Vanquish, is only a page, is it due to the developer not providing content, or because of the hectic time frame? PLAY had some of the most impressive coverage of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, long before it was released, which really psyched me up for launch day. Here’s hoping for something similar with Platinum’s Vanquish.

As for the issue relaunch, they seem to have lost 2 members of staff since last issue (Matt Cabral and Steve Haske who aren’t in the credits), and replaced them with Frank Schneider, and now officially Valerie D who I spoke about last month. Most curious to find a shift so soon – though I’m not sure if they’re all based in the same office.


* While the Vanquish preview was a little short they had a big write up on Quantum Theory (also a cover-based shooter, it’ll be interesting to see these 2 games go head to head), and more significantly an interview with the game’s director, Makoto Shibata, which pretty much epitomises the whole problem we have right now with Japan’s declining confidence. While the director spoke with pride about his creation, he was adamant that he didn’t want the world to think it was a Japanese game or by Japanese people.

“Don’t look at Quantum Theory as a Japanese game, or a game with Japanese design sense.”

That’s a direct printed quote, and I find it both astounding and disturbing that a Japanese director would so desperately make a plea for people not to consider the game’s origin. Why? Although I realise it could have been edited, and might be out of context, we’re seeing the same thing all over the industry. For no good reason, the Japanese appear to be ashamed of themselves, even outsourcing key franchises to the west in order to attain that intangible “western feeling”. Sandlot are handing over development of the latest Earth Defence Force to the guys behind Matt Hazard – with catastrophic results. I mean, one shovelware company which struck it lucky with a fantastic low-budget series (and my love for the EDF games is both sincere and epic – they were one of the highlights of the previous decade), are farming it out to another shovelware company for god knows what reason. And the Matt Hazard guys, as could be expected, have failed epically in understanding what made EDF great. There’s no local co-op, there’s all manner of unnecessary graphical improvements, they’ve toned down the “global Earth” aspect of previous titles, but hey, they are implementing fancy rendering and an online mode at the expense of everything else. Whoopee.

Regardless of what you think of the quality of Quantum Theory, it’s worrying that the developer seems so pre-occupied with the game appearing “non-Japanese”. I would say any faults raised with the game itself might be a symptom of this myopic attitude and unnecessary self-loathing.

* Pixel art at the correct ratios – look at the Scott Pilgrim artwork. Not a distorted pixel on it. The relaunched Retro Gamer is another mag which did justice to pixel art, but I’ve seen countless other magazines resize it disproportionately, resulting in a creepy wave-like effect.

* The Kane and Lynch 2 preview. Something I liked with PLAY, and something I try to do with these blog posts, is that you go in expecting what you see, but what you get is something entirely different (PLAY’s review of Folklore was actually an examination of the games industry and Japan being ignored by the west). While K&L2’s preview does include previewy bits, it’s also a fascinating examination of visual fidelity in games, and the inevitable peak we’ve reached in terms of graphics, which will now hopefully be followed by artistically interesting experiments, such as K&L2’s camera filters. The best thing for me about the demo was how much atmosphere these filters created. It actually elevated the game above photo-realism in terms of how tangible everything felt. I won’t buy the game due how the original title resulted in someone getting fired for giving it a low score, and I find it bizarre that while I can take a cop hostage and execute him, and while I can shoot and kill civilians, I am not allowed to take a civilian hostage even though you can let hostages go free (what ridiculous hypocrisy), but I agree fully with the assessment that this is a great example of where the industry can go in terms of graphics.

* It was interesting to read Halverson’s follow-up Splatterhouse feature, now that it’s been moved in-house at Bandai-Namco, especially after he covered the Bottlerocket developed version so extensively in PLAY.

* Increased indie developer coverage.

* Kyle Stiff’s prediction for a current gen RPG Maker where you can share creations online ala Little Big Planet – hell yeah, I’ve been having that dream myself for a while now (Chef Island will be finished some day). Either that, or I hope the DS version of RPG Maker gets localised/fan translated. Technically I could put my PS1 RPG Maker saves online, but man, where the hell do I buy a cheap Dexdrive?

* Dave Halverson telling people to try a week off the grid. I concur. Switch off your internet ready mobile phones which are permanently on Facebook, and go sailing or hunting or picnicking or something. Quick, before Autumn is upon us.


* Frank S’ dislike of Resident Evil 3 (it was a perfectly good game I thought, and along with Code Veronica one which I preferred over Resident Evil 4 – but that’s a debate for another blog entry), and his dislike of Goldeneye, which I think still has some structurally clever level designs. Still, he had the funniest editorial of the lot, and I fully agree with his lack of belief in motion sensing technology being the future (E3 page), so I can’t criticise too harshly. I’m glad a few others are having doubts over Move and Kinect.

* E3 preview and full review of Dragon Quest IX in same issue (pages 53 and 92). In their defence, this is so easy to do and can be expected when you’re rushing, and I’ve been on publications myself which have done this and we didn’t notice until after printing. For readers who don’t know, magazines are actually created in chunks (normally 5-6 sections laid out on a flat plan), with news being done last to ensure relevance, and features done long in advance. Months blur into each other and it’s easy to forget what was written in week 1 when you’re rushing to finishing the mag in week 4.

* Only 2 sentences on Valkyria Chronicles 2. Hopefully it gets championed in future issues. It’s been released, I’ve been playing it, and it’s ace. With Ys 7’s release, the PSP is on RPG FIRE right now.


Being the E3 issue there’s a lot of coverage on a lot of different things, and some of it will already be known if you’re the kind of gamer who frequents HG101, but it’s nice to be reminded of things like El Shaddai, the new Rayman game (which proves 2D will never die), and the next Parasite Eve instalment. There’s also a healthy selection of interviews (one of which was extremely eye opening, as I mentioned above), plus increased indie coverage (which is always a good sign).

I’ve only read about half the issue, but I’m really enjoying the crazy ride on this magazine, much as I did with PLAY. I’ve seen criticism on other forums, but despite any of the faults others raise I’m still having fun reading it, and in turn I’m enjoying my hobby that little bit more. It’s unpredictable and I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m hoping once they settle into a groove they end up being the same irrepressible force that PLAY was and continue for a long while.

As they say: “Print’s not dead yet.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Interview with Al Lowe

Lately, I've been talking with some classic adventure game designers and interviewing them for various articles. The first one up is Al Lowe, who still maintans a large Internet presence thanks to his excellent web page. In addition to the humor database, there's tons upon tons of design documents, trivia, downloads, and links to other interviews that detail some of the inner workings of Sierra, both from a corporate and a technical level.

My questions mostly focused on a lot of small, specific inquiries I'd built up over time, and there's some interesting answers to all of those. But, as someone who spends way too much time analyzing design techniques, the biggest realization is that, when the time these games were made in the 80s, they really had no idea what they doing. That's not to say their products weren't fun, but nothing was set in stone for what were generally agreed on as "good" design. It was mostly just stuff they thought themselves and their friends would enjoy. There was practically no user feedback, and all they had were sales data. And even then, they still had no proper idea how to market them, so they just keep trying different stuff to see what worked.

All of this might seem obvious, but it's something that tends to get lost when criticizing something from a modern perspective. As a designer, Roberta Williams takes a lot of heat for crafting some incredibly difficult scenarios, hence the whole "Roberta Williams Dream Logic" thing, but her and her company were some of the first ones on the block to handle these games.

This obviously goes way beyond merely Sierra's history, of course, which makes some of the successes all the more fascinating, when you think about. The NES/FC version of Bionic Commando, developed more than 20 years ago in 1988, is still held to be the pinnacle of game design RE: grappling hook mechanics. Did they have any idea how brilliant that idea was, that people would still be gushing about it for two decades? Do they know now? There's so much that wasn't set in stone back then, leaving so much room to experiment, something that, by nature, is missing from a lot of games today. At this point, even the most brazen, innovative indie game is inspired by something from the past.

But enough with the heedless romanticism -- check out the interview itself. The Leisure Suit Larry article has also been slightly revised to make some updates, most notably a stupid mobile pinball game that had been recently discovered.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Compelling World Design: VVVVVV

How the hell did I get this far into 2010 and not have known anything about VVVVVV? Maybe that obtuse title caused my eyes to glaze over it whenever I saw any forum topics, but its appearance on Steam for a mere $5 convinced me to give it a go, and I'm in love with it. If you're like me and didn't know what it was...well, it takes the gravity flipping mechanic from Irem's NES game Metal Storm and turns it into the focus point, essentially making it a puzzle platformer. It's also huge on exploration, to the point where it's sort of a Metroidvania...but not really. There's a central hub where you need to find the other five levels, which can be conquered in any order, but there are no skills or upgrades or anything hidden like that to find. You merely explore.

I find it fascinating how I'm entranced by something so simple. Both Metroid's and Castlevania's exploration is heavily loot driven, in that the reward for heading down a dead-end would be a missile upgrade or a new sword or something. That aspect is mostly removed -- there are still "trinkets", literally named as such, which functionally don't have much purposes other than unlocking stuff, but provide some extra compulsion to take on additional challenges.

But even without those, there's still the the joy of exploration itself. Central to this fun is the gravity-flipping, of course -- he big difference between the hub world and the sub-levels is that the hub world is relatively free of danger, allowing you to reverse your direction and take off into the sky with abandon, and the only thing you might potentially lose is a few seconds. Death comes often, especially in the sub-levels, but the constant checkpoints help keep up the pace.

Indeed, the pacing is central to the experience, because not only is your movement quite expedient, the game world is both small and open enough so traveling never becomes tedious. If you were to run unimpeded from one side of the world to the other, it would take...maybe thirty seconds? Definitely less than a minute, plus the map wraps both vertically and horizonally. Plus there are transporters everywhere, in case you need to reach a far off spot. And yet in spite of how easy it is to travel, there's still lots of hidden niches that can be found through multiple passes. It doesn't hurt that the exploration theme music is one of the standouts of an already excellent soundtrack.

The other major motivation for exploration in Metroidvanias is the promise that you'd come across something cool or unique. The word of VVVVVV is pretty plain, but there are a lot of non-sequiturs throughout. Maybe they're in-jokes?

I like the bullhorn screaming "LIES" in big red letters. They're damaging projectiles, of course.

Crazier still is the elephant. Keep in mind that it's blinking, too, which accounts for the weird coloring when pasting these images together. I also spent too long in this room and apparently it turns your guy sad? I wonder why.

My favorite moment occurs when you walk from this room:

to this:

It's hard to see, but this entrance in the hub world leads to a small portion of one of the sub-levels. It's only a tiny room, so you can't actually do much, but you can see parts of it. You can tell you've entered foreign territory because the color scheme on the map indicates as such, and it looks a bit different from the normal hub world area. It's not a secret, per say, because it's out in the open, but it does give the player that they've stumbled upon something they shouldn't have. That's always one of the most gratifying of Metroidvanias -- seeing something you can't immediately access, and the excitement that comes when you to revisit it. It's even better when they tease you with something cool.

Apart from the minor glee that comes with slowly filling out an automap, another one of my favorite things is how video games use their mechanics to communicate in unique ways. My other favorite screen is this one:

All of those little "C" markposts are checkpoints, where you respawn when you die. Obviously putting all of these next to each other is functionally useless, but it sends a subconscious message to the player - something SO CRAZY is coming up that you'd better well be prepared. It's true, too, because the next set of screens is the "Veni, Vidi, Vici" section, which is sort of like those sections in Mega Man where you drop down a narrow series of shafts and have to avoid the spikes on the walls...except done over six screens or so, twice, once upside down and once right side up. The only disappointment in the way VVVVVV handles it is that the name of the room is "The Warning", which makes the message far too blatant when the design itself was beautifully subtle.

There's a certain nostalgia center in my brain that's directly stimulated by the Atari 400 games from when I was 3, 4 years old. I'm having a tough time defining exactly what that entails, but it's rare that modern game rubs that sweet spot. Bangai-O (both of them), probably, because they feature tiny characters running in huge stages (especially the DS game, with its level designer). VVVVVV does too, which is part of why I love it. Part of it is definitely the pseudo-Commodore 64 aesthetics, which is close enough to my own personal history, but all of the above aspects trigger that sense of wonder and discovery that I can't help but be related. It shouldn't bear repeating that it's easily worth the $5.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ghostlop: Unreleased Prototype

Ghostlop is an excellent unreleased puzzle game for the Neo-Geo developed by Data East. It appears to be completely finished. Unlike a lot of unreleased games, there are no complications about who owns the rights to publish the game and although no plans to release Ghostlop have been announced, G-Mode, the owner, has actually put a modest amount of effort into promoting it.

Ghostlop is a head-to-head arcade style puzzle game featuring a unique mix of elements from Puzzle Bobble and Breakout, with a color-switching mechanic reminiscent of Silhouette Mirage and Ikaruga. (Although it predates them both, with an intended release year of 1996.)

As you can see in the video above, you aim shots the same way as in Puzzle Bobble, but there are only two main colors of bubbles to destroy--or in this case ghosts. The A and B buttons determine whether your shot is red or blue. If your shot is the same color as the ghosts it hits, it will cut through them like in a bonus level of Alleyway. If it's the opposite color, it will bounce off without doing damage. You can switch as often as you like (even while the ball is bouncing around) so if there are a lot of red ghosts surrounded by a layer of blue ghosts, you could detach all of them from the top of the screen by throwing a blue shot to pass through the outer layer, switching to red to move through the middle, and then switching back to blue to pass out the other side, dropping the majority of the ghosts and putting a lot of garbage on your opponent's screen. As your ball bounces around you're free to move your character back and forth along the bottom of the screen, and you need to catch the ball when it comes back or suffer the penalty of having the pieces lower one notch.

The action is fast-paced and smooth. The lighthearted characters and rockabilly music add a lot of charm that is missing from newer puzzle games like Lumines and Planet Puzzle League. I've shown Ghostlop to a number of friends with a variety of puzzle-gaming skills, and they have all gotten addicted. It's a real shame that such a high-quality and unique game was never released, while the market is flooded with sequels and clones of virtually every puzzle game that was even remotely successful.

Only a couple of collectors have confirmed ownership of prototype cartridges, but the game's code was (like most things) leaked onto the internet and bootleg cartridges are even available if you really want to play it on your Neo-Geo.

I don't have anything especially new or novel to say about Ghostlop, but it's a really great game that deserves a wider audience, and it stands a better chance of eventually getting released than you might think. Data East filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and G-Mode acquired their back catalog in 2004. G-Mode registered at the end of 2007 and has steadily used it to promote ports of Data East games for consoles, mobile phones, and PC. The site lists all of the Data East games they own, including Japan-only games like Magical Drop F and the unreleased Ghostlop. Even more surprisingly, they've taken the time to record an official video of the game and post it on YouTube. Hopefully these efforts indicate that G-Mode is seriously considering allowing Ghostlop to finally see the light of day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm sorry, Samus. I'm afraid I can't let you do that.

So, Metroid: Other M has had some time to simmer in the public, giving us a chance to see if the panic over it's initial critical response was a little too hasty - or too forgiving, depending on who you ask. There's no denying that changes were made to the formula, whether for the better or not, I guess that depends on what exactly you wanted to get out of it, but for the most-part, things are just sort of different, but in a way that suits the kind of game Other M turned out to be.

One point that seems to have taken a great deal of criticism is that, in contrast to other Metroid games, where you start off fairly underpowered and find new weapons and abilities as you go, this time around, you start the game off with all your cool upgrades already equipped, but are not allowed to use any of them until you're given authorization to do so by a man named Adam Malkovich, your former commanding officer, and the guy who's actually in charge of the rescue mission around which the game revolves. I don't want to go into too many details, for fear of spoiling some of the events, but I will say that, at best, it's no less ridiculous than introducing some random plot contrivance to have Samus lose all her gear yet again, at worst, it's fairly clumsy and introduces some strange holes into the already shaky plot, potentially calling into question whether or not Malkovich is fit to lead a dance, let alone a rescue, but the points where any of this matter are few and far between, and the majority of the game is spent running around in different environments teeming with otherworldly atmosphere, exploring, shooting space bugs, finding hidden trinkets, and making mental notes of places you'd probably like to re-visit once you're authorized to use this thing or that, things that should all feel pretty familiar to fans of the series.

WAHP - Stage 008

Stage 008 of Warning a Huge Podcast is here, and as usual it's excellent. There's a lot of talk on localisation, and it was interesting to discover that Casey and Nick worked alongside Jeremy Blaustein on Suikoden 2. One of the most interesting aspects was answering a reader's letter on why Japan is no longer top dog in the industry. Could it be due to a lack of new blood and the old guard keeping too tight a reign on things? Some excellent discussion within.

//Stage 008

//Main Topic: Comment of You Special

//Now Playing: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

//Subtopics: Kayopolice`s big surprise, Japan is hot for girls who are boys, take your LovePlus+ girlfriend on a hot springs vacation, could Monster Hunter Portable 3rd go head-to-head with Nintendo 3DS, Atlus is dead, Atlus is not dead, Kamurocho may be dead, the hot reveal of… SaGa 3 remake for DS, Japanese developers keep saying Japanese development is dead, Final Fantasy XIV open beta is kinda dead (and the game wants to tell you how long you can play), SquareEnix trying harder for the Black Ops localization in Japan, Xbox 360 gets more shooting love (but Takahashi Meijin doesn`t like where the genre now is), SWERY is busy with Lord of Arcana – one of many Monster Hunter clones coming to Japan this year, Dead Rising 2: Case 0 shows Japan too much panty, Yun & Yang look to be confirmed for SSFIV (while Nick dreams of Elena and shidoshi begs for Poison), Zettai Zetsumei 4 features amazing advancements in graphic fidelity and toilet mechanics, we answer a metric ton of question you`ve asked us, and then we talk (very) briefly about upcoming releases and sales numbers.

Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 guidebook download

I've been too busy to post, but I've popped back to give you all some scans from the Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 on PS3 guidebook. I photographed the most relevant pages (about 1/3 of the book), and put them on Megaupload. I'm sure I'm breaking some kind of copyright law somewhere, but the book is as rare as hen's teeth these days, and with the game unlikely to see western release, this might help curious importers. Hiragana and Katakana knowledge are useful but not essential.

Get it HERE.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Took me a while to get to the second book...

Sopart's book is much lighter on the gaming strategies part, but of course it has to deal with a much broader market than Video Spiele covered two years before. The book not only introduces a big number of home computers, which had by then taken control of the market, but also consoles, LCD handhelds, "Mini Arcade" tabletops, even chess computers and the like.

While Videospiele gave me the impression that it was aimed at "gamers", Sopart has to spend 7 pages explaining "How he computer plays with humans".

Strictly speaking, computers are not ideal playfellows. From their makeup they bring neither intelligence nor flexibility, which are requirements for a good playfellows. But how could these devices became partners more demanding from the player than a human counterpart?

Picture with the funny caption "game for two", while the screen and the boxes above clearly show office applications.

Sadly, a lot of space is wasted with manual-like descriptions of stuff, but there are a few interesting points that kept being issues for many more years or even decades. So there's the reoccuring complaint about crappy boxes, evaluating plastic clamshells similar to VHS boxes (the winner here) vs instable cardboard boxes. Anyone who thought pro-gaming was a recent phenomenon is put into place by this argument in the joystick buyer guide: "Passionate gamers will be glad to hear that there are even joysticks that ship with interchangeable handles. Slowly, the industry is becoming more active for professionals."

Kinda defeats the purpose of a "wireless" controller, doesn't it?

From the chapter "Pictographs or cinema quality?":

You know them from so many images: The famous computer people. They are pictographs, stylized depictions. Computer games are still identified with pictographs. (...) Why?

Especially with the transition from pictographs to almost realistic figures [don't forget: this is 1984!] it becomes visible, how quickly computer games have developed [yes, perfect tense].

(...) Some of the things we get to see on our screens nowadays really almost look like movies [talking about home computers, so probably not even meaning Dragon's Lair. As it goes on:]

What does that mean for the computer gamer? He should know that these pictographs actually already belong into the realm of history, even if they're sometimes still sold.

And, most interestingly for retro gamers:

Game cassettes with pictograph-esque visualizations could, as scene insiders assume, become bestellers again already in a few years - as computer antiquity. For that one has to recognize, that we're still living in the beginning days of the computer industry, and thus also of computer games. In few years we will experience the same effect as with shellac records. Those classics from the founding years of the music industry are now en vogue. (...)

A similar phenomenon could soon become evident with computer games. Therefore, it is advisable to archive old games that don't satisfy the desired standards and quality today. This not only under an economic aspect (...), but also under consideration do be able to get a "notalgic effect" out of them in a couple of years.

On "war games":

There is no doubt: The bad reputation of computer games in some social strata is mostly due to the games, that contain elements of war. But there are differences world wide. In the USA war games are less strictly rejected by most of the population than in Europe and particularly in the Federal Republic [of Germany]. Yes, one could even say in the USA a greater group developed into downright fans of these kind of games. The special situation in Europe and most of all in Germany resulted from the experiences from two world wars.

In case you wondered how to get the best high scores:

Whoever wants to become a good or great gamer also has to be an adept with the joystick. So it's necessary to make exercises to strenghten the hand's musculature. Thereby, the hands tightly grasp an item [no, not what you're thinking] - a candle, for example.

"In this posture, you'll hardly achieve maximum performance on screen."

The book even has a chapter on game programming, but it doesn't do much more than listing a number of basic Basic commands...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Study the past to learn about the present.

Digging deeper into the history of non-English video game journalism, today we're unearthing two of the oldest German monographs that deal with our favourite hobby.

Peer & Ulrich Blumenschein co-wrote Videospiele in 1982. The team of father and son made sure that the book was written well (Ulrich Blumenschein had worked for rennomated magazines such as Spiegel and Stern) but also knew what it was talking about. I only recently found this book when I decided to write about the other one ...

... Computerspiele, by Christa-Maria Sopart. This is from 1984, but I got it sometime during the early 90's at a bargain bin for 1 Deutsche Mark.

It's astonishing to see the many aspects where we've come an incredibly long way during the last thirty years, and even more astonishing to see how some things never change.

Videospiele was focused on Arcade games and home console, and understood itself mostly as a playing and buying guide. Even the introduction sounds like an economy advisor:

Gratulations ...

... dear reader! The few bucks you've spent for this paperback volume are well invested. For if you use these guide properly, you can save more than the price of the book in a short time. That applies to the young Arcade-Freak as the family dad, who plans to buy a video game console for home use or even a new cassette for his son.

So after ten pages of video game history (interesting how the book already saw the decline of the American industry in favor of the Japanese) it goes on with strategies for the most popular arcade games at the time. Today this section mostly delivers entertaining value for the German paraphrases to the English game titles and a few funny drawings of game scenes. A few examples:

Asteroids: Gefährliche Reise durch den Raum (Dangerous Journey Through Space)

Galaxian: Überleben is alles (Surviving Is Everything)

Defender: Entführungsdrama auf dem Planeten X (Abduchtion Drama On Planet X)

Berzerk: Der üble Otto (The Evil Otto)

Phoenix: Hitchcock im Weltall (Hitchcock in Space)

Donkey Kong: Der Affe und die Jungfrau (The Ape and the Virgin)

Oh, and not to forget the Seven Golden Rules of arcade gaming (These have longer text explaing the rules, I'm only translating the catchphrases):

Rule No. 1: Select a game that appeals to you and that still gives you joy after a few test rounds - and specialize to that game!

Rule No. 2: Assemble your own list of Questions while watching others play, and don't stop watching until it seems you've answered all your particular questions!

Rule No. 3: Examine the machine before you start! [this warns of inferior rip-offs with similar titles and the condition of the conrols]

Rule No. 4: Training brings Score!

Rule No. 5: Let others help you, when you can't cope with a difficult situation in your game.

Rule No. 6: Concentrate while playing!

Rule No. 7: Keep cool while playing!

After that follows a comparison of the four consoles available in Germany at the time and their games - Atari VCS, Intellivision, Phillips Videopac Computer G7000 (that's what the Odyssey II was called here) and the German console, Interton Electronic Video Computer VC 4000. It seems the latter was already out-of-date by the time the book was published, as it is rather neglected. There's no picture of the hardware, and no single screenshot of any game (only one picture of a game box).

For each available game there's a review, if you want to call it that, with a description of the game's mechanics, a sentence about "What caught our attention" and two scores, Spielwert (Game Value) and Gesamturteil (Overall Assessment), of which I don't quite get what's the difference, although the latter is sometimes one point below the former. The unit are once again german school grades.

"What caught our attention" is once again good for chuckles:

"Once again Atari didn't even manage to find an understandable German title for the game." Yars' Revenge (Die Rache der Superfliege)

"The spookhouse can be really frightening, you shouldn't give it to your kids in the evening." Haunted House (Das Spukhaus)

Not so scary: Haunted House

"Simple as Pong. The coloring is very nice." Super Breakout

"You'll need strong nerves." Astrosmash

"It pays to win; the explosion of the enemy battlestar is worth to see and hear." Star Strike

"When playing for a long time, the trigger finger starts to hurt." Weltraum-Armada

"If it wasn't only three field players per team, the illusion would be perfect" Fußball

"Funny how the spectators turn their heads after the ball." Tennis

"Not suited for a small screen. Only with 60-cm color TV are the details on the map overview properly recognizable." Flotteneinsatz (Sea Battle)

"Pong in 2D" Tennis

Interesting in a historical sense is an article on the future of video games, surprisingly cautious with wild speculations, but rather focusing on technologies that were in development at the time or new trends in the US, mentioned are talkie peripherals and Subroc-3D, the first "real" 3D arcade game based on similar technology as we know from the Virtual Boy. On the rise of independent developers (here meaning not what we call indie games today, but 3rd party developers like Activision):

For the video gamer this are of course great perspectives. He can more and more feel like the reader [of books], who is able to read any book with only one pair of glasses. Or with other words: he isn't pressed for a decision between this or that hardware system when buying his basic equipment.

But of course there also had to be:

It seems we are not far from laser light to create spatial images (Holograms) or language controlled computers in Telegames, anymore.

An early announcement for ET the game?
Atari has already teamed up with Steven Spielberg, the man who raised the science fiction film to a new level with his "Star Wars" series (sic!) and [Spielberg] made a contract with Lucasfilm Ltd., the best special effects studio in the world, which created the phantastic scenes for films like "Star Trek II", "Poltergeist" and "ET". Goal of the cooperation is to create novel Video-Games, that appear like a movie at the cinema, with life-like characters in realistic surroundings.

(Almost) at the end of the book stands the eternal question: "Video Games - A danger for young people?"

Question: Are video games addicting?

Answer: (...) Of course there are gamers that overdo it.
One could compare them to buyers of season tickets to the Fußballbundesliga [premiere league of soccer]. No one accuses them of any addiction.


Question: Shouldn't the young arcade machine fans spend their money for better things?

Answer: (...) There are many temptations in our sparkling, pluralistic world. Cigarettes. Bubble Gum. Pot ... video games seem to be a lesser evil here.


[after an answer mentioning the learning effects of video games]
Frage: I hope this learning effect doesn't apply to those "War Games"?

Answer: Whether anyone plays "War" is first of all a question of good taste. Parents should definitely make sure not to draw in again that kind of war toys through the back door that has long been banned and disappeared in other places. Program cassettes like "Blowing up dams" are certainly not suited as gifts for a child's birthday or christmas.

Yeah, Germany had/has a rather troubled relationship with the topic "war".

The video game companies are well-advised to follow the example of Mattel Electronics, who didn't even bring a game with the title "B-17 Bomber", that's freely available for home use in the US, to the german market. The task in this game consists of flying bombing attacks on a mass of land that clearly recognizably shows the shape and characteristics of Europe.

By the way the definition for "War Games" by the federal ministry of youth, family and healthcare quoted in the book is: "Entertainment games without profit opportunity [not sure how to translate that, it means no gambling], with which cruelty or acts of war are depicted or where technical appliances are used to simulate bursts [meaning lightguns]."

When watching and questioning real Arcade-Freaks in Hamburg or Munich, it quickly becomes evident that in case they should encounter a green man of Mars on the street after leaving their Arcade, they'd prefer to go have a beer with him instead of putting him down with a laser gun (where to get such a thing, anyway).

Oh, this is getting really long, and it's getting really late. Going to bed now, there'll be a closer look at Sopart's book in a few days ...

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Scott Pilgrim vs. RPG Elements

The whole Scott Pilgrim multimedia blitzkrieg worked far better than it really should have. Yes, the movie flopped, but quality-wise it was completely fantastic, because the people that made it had an understanding of why people loved the comic. The same goes for UbiSoft's downloadable video game, which makes no excuses for being an updated version of River City Ransom. It's appropriate, given that Scott's universe is largely inspired by this particular game, and also welcome, because not even the original Kunio-kun developers have ever done it properly, instead compelled to remake the numerous sports related games that no one seems to care about (except the dodgeball ones, but those new ones haven't turned out all that well.) Other than the technical glitches, most people seem to like it, with the major criticism being against the RPG mechanics. I've even read some people say the game would be better off without them. Nonsense, I say -- for the type of game this is trying to be, they are essential.

This is because, from a design standpoint, the sidescrolling beat-em-up -- or the belt-scroller, if we're gonna be all hip -- just isn't very good.

That's not to totally write off a huge part of gaming history, or say that we were all fooling ourselves when we put quarters into TMNT: The Arcade Game. No, they're still FUN, because smashing stuff in Final Fight is pretty gratifying even twenty years later. But they're very, very hard to balance if you're going to play to win and not just put quarters into them. The 3D nature of the movement makes it hard to line up attacks. The size of the characters, combined with their sluggish movement and the nature of close quarters combat, makes defense maneuvers difficult. And the chaotic nature of the enemy attacks make it hard to predict their movement anyway. There is some technique required for crowd control, but even that grows nearly useless in a typical boss fight, wherein your opponent is clearly overpowered. And none of that takes into account that they're just really repetitive -- without any platforming or any other activities, it's literally the same action repeated thousands of times, which is usually not helped by the limited movesets. Even the most advanced games grow weary by the time the finale rolls around. It's widely acknowledged that these games tend to live or die in co-op multi-player, not only because it's more fun to bash heads with friends, but because the multiple characters allow you to tip the scales of balance through flat-out attrition.

Knowing that it's hard to be "good" at beat-em-ups -- and you can't make them too easy without being boring, or too hard without being frustrated -- the designers of Scott Pilgrim used RPG elements in an attempt to balance everything out by minimizing the need for player skill. In that way, the difficulty of the game is inversely proportionate to how long you've spent playing it. I know that sentiment sends terror down the spine of the "play games to 1 cc them" crowd, but if you're playing Scott Pilgrim that way, you're playing it wrong.

That might sound like it's meant to waste the player's time, but think of it like this. If you're making a old school style beat-em-up, you can (A) make it an hour long game with infinite credits, like many recent arcade ports, and have people claim that it's too easy and disposable, (B) make it like an NES game and give limited continues, forcing people to replay earlier stages over and over in hopes they get better and don't just give it up, or (C) implement a barrier that artificially slows down progress but gives the opportunity for the player to improve their stats and play over levels at their leisure. I'm not a huge fan of forced grinding, but the way it's presented in Scott Pilgrim mostly works, in large parts because the graphics and music is brilliant, and the core action is fun enough that it feels gratifying without getting too repetitive. I don't think I played a single level more than twice before I beat it, other than occasionally visiting some old stages for fun.

It's still got issues, though. When you stick RPG elements into an action game, you get a conundrum with your "starting point" at level 1 - do you stick your character in neutral state, that is, with skills on the level to a game without RPG elements, or do you nerf the character and weaken them, forcing them to climb the ranks to get skills you would otherwise commonly start with? Scott Pilgrim picks the latter route, and I'm not a fan of that. The first stage or so is really slow, because you're slow, and you don't have many skills, and it's not a lot of fun. It gets astronomically more enjoyable once you level up, but that's an awful way to start a game, especially when you're depending on sales from a demo.

Scott Pilgrim's other mistake is that leveling up is so haphazard that it's easy to turn the game into a complete cakewalk and become completely overpowered. This also happened to be the same exact issue with River City Ransom, so the developers must not have felt it was a concern, but it feels weird to beat a boss you've encountered for the first time in a handful of seconds.

It's not quite as well done as Castle Crashers, a game which Scott Pilgrim owes its very existence to due to its extraordinary success, but while it could've used some adjustment, it's still another fantastic example of how you can take an old-school arcade-style game and update it to a modern console mentality, and have it appeal to more than just a handful of people.