Saturday, April 30, 2011

Movie Review: GET LAMP

I didn't get off to a good start with text adventures, originally. Played a few bad ones back on the C64 and wasn't that impressed. The early Sierra graphic adventures weren't fit to convert me, either. No one can describe the frustrations the genre often implied better than Ron Gilbert did on his Maniac Mansion Postmortem talk at GDC 2011:

You'd see a bush on the screen. You wouldn't know what to call it, so you type "PICK UP PLANT", and it's "I don't know what a plant is", so you type "PICK UP BUSH" and it's "I don't know what a bush is", you'd say "PICK UP SHRUBBERY" and it's "I don't know what a shrubbery" is, so eventually you type "FUCK YOU", and it's, you know "Do you really need to swear?" and I'm like "Yes, yes, I really need to swear."

Oddly enough, it was also Sierra that won me back for Interactive Fiction many years later, with Leisure Suit Larry 7. While the game was a slick point & click graphical adventure as modern as could be in 1996, it had that neat little parser thing underneath, where all commands that could be executed with the mouse could be typed in instead. But that was only the beginning, as soon I found myself fascinated with the idea of trying out the strangest commands and searching for the naughty easter eggs. That got me to give text adventures a second chance. And as it turns out, the parser often isn't too awful after all, as soon as one gets a general idea how it works and which basic verbs it uses for the most part.

The genre was already about 20 years old then, though. Now it's more than 30. Its mainstream commercial days are long gone. Playing catch-up, with the games itself as with the genre history, has become a thoroughly daunting task as a result. Well, now (since last year's summer, to be exact) there's a documentary to watch to get the greater picture of an unique chapter in gaming history, when computer games aspired to be like books rather than movies, advertised under the only slightly pretentious name Interactive Fiction.

This documentary is the result of a monumental effort, shot and produced by Jason Scott over the course of more than three years, with over 70 interviews being conducted in the meantime. The title of the film? GET LAMP, named after an essential command at the very beginning of many early games, notably the first adventure game ever, simply named Adventure by Will Crowther & Don Woods.

I was curious how GET LAMP would handle the visual representation. After all, what can there be to show about games that consist of plain text only? First of course comes the DVD case, which tries its best to honor the Infocom tradition of unique packaging, with some gorgeous artwork and a numbered coin, which shows the lamp the director kept carrying around while shooting the film, and which shows up in the picture all the time, I suppose in case you feel like playing a drinking game (in which case the movie might actually kill you, I guess).

The film itself starts showing the exploration of a real cave and interviews with various cave explorers. There's no narration, but the documentary generally does an excellent job of telling its narrative through the skilled assembling of interviews. Only here in the beginning I was a little confused for a while until I got that this was actually dealing of the very cave that was used as a model for the cave in Adventure, Colossal Cave.

The rest of the film is much more heavy on the interviews, but contemporary TV footage and newspaper clippings (the latter usually shown too briefly) help to set you back into ancient times of electronic entertainment, while the film goes on to follow the history of Adventure International and Infocom, the two major text adventure companies.

Most adventure game designers are quite funny guys, and thus there's plenty of amusing anecdotes, like business conversations you could only ever have at Infocom, like the one Bob Bates remembers: "The elf is drunk, but I gave him the magic wand..." But it's not only entertaining, but most of all highly educational. Or did you know that the first dissertation on game aesthetics was written in 1985, by a graduate in German literature of all people (her name's Mary Ann Buckle)?

The second half deals with the playing experience (drawing maps!) and the indie IF scene that's thriving nowadays, producing odd name sublines like "interactive fiction author" or "long-time game player," often with no clue what the particular interview partner actually did, so this part is initially much less impressive than the portions full of genre legends sharing their wisdom.

Very interesting to me, however, was a chapter on blind people playing text adventure games. One quote sounded particularly inspiring: "I think it's actually liberating, because you can explore a world with sight." A screen message like "It's pitch black. You don't see a thing," is bound to carry a certain irony in this setting.

Not all is great, though. A serious issue to me was the way the DVD is put together. There's an "interactive" version and a "non-interactive" version of the main documentary, eventually the interactive one presents three choices, asking which content you want to watch next, but there's no real information on whether the other parts would follow afterwards, or if you'd have to go back to the beginning first, or whether the non-interactive version contained all content from the interactive one. Also, because of the whole interactivity thing, the film is broken down into different titles, so DVD players only display the running time of the current title, which makes it a bitch to refer to or find certain sections. Then there's the menu points "EXPLORE BEDQUILT" (which deals with the cave) and "EXAMINE INFOCOM". I clicked on the latter, and it started with familiar scenes from the main documentary, leaving me wondering whether this was merely a recut of Infocom-relevant bits and I was wasting my time. Turns out most of it was new, but I almost skipped the whole thing. I get that they were going for an "adventure"-like composition, but with a documentary, it's just incredibly confusing. Even after clicking on all the main menu points, and also watching the extensive bonus footage on the second disc, I'm still not sure if I've seen everything. The Infocom feature also has a lot of commentary, but it is all in plain text, displayed while the interviewees are talking, which makes it hard to follow, at least for bad multitaskers.

I was also a little bit disappointed that it didn't go into the transition to point&click adventures at Sierra and Lucas Arts. Infocom's and Legend's attempts to add graphics to classic text adventures are mentioned, but that's it. It's easy (and totally legitimate) to just say that was out of the scope of the project, but I personally would have welcomed such a chapter. Also, the second disc contains the music video "It Is Pitch Dark" by MC Frontalot, but no interview with the man, another missed opportunity in my book.

Despite its few flaws, GET LAMP is a must-watch for anyone interested into the history of adventure gaming or even the history of video gaming in general for its myriads of interesting anecdotes. The DVD is rather pricey, but I figure you mostly pay for the packaging.

Information and ordering is available at

Friday, April 29, 2011

Update 4/25 - Dezaemon, Gadget: Past as Future

Oops! I forgot to post this week's update on the blog). Might as well note that Trouble Witches Neo is out on the XBLA, and you can read a review of the original PC version, though it hasn't been updated to include the enhancements from the new version.

Dezaemon is a long-ish running series that originated in Japan and ran up into the 32-bit era. Its Japanese name might be impenetrable to foreigners, but it's basically a "Make My Own Shooter" construction set. The PSOne version was released on the North American PSN not too long ago courtesy of Monkey Paw Games, and with a help of a guide, you can figure out how to muck around with some stuff (assuming the PSN comes up anytime soon, anyway.) The article here gives a full rundown of all versions, plus tons upon tons of screenshots of various fan submissions - there's some cool stuff you can do with it, apparently! The other featured article is Gadget: Past as Future, a Japanese-developed interactive movie/adventure game was apparently rather popular when it was released back in 1993, though I'd only first heard of it a few months ago. I haven't played it yet myself, but it's got a nicely trippy art style. It seems hard to find the original game, but it was released last month on iOS platforms, which should be suitable for a first person game like this.

The featured article this week is Realm of the Haunted, a cool first person shooter/horror/adventure game that was recently released on Good Old Games. And your weekly kusoge is Pray for Death, an intensely bad Killer Instinct clone for the PC.

By the way, the adventure game book is nearing completion, but I'm giving it an extra head-to-toe run down to make sure it's as typo free as possible. I'm not really sure how long it takes from the time I hit the "approve" button to the time it shows up on Amazon, but I can safely say it probably won't be ready by the end of the early May launch is looking more likely. More updates as they appear, of course.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Growlanser IV comes to the PSP. The last chance for the series in the US?

I've been a long-term supporter of the Growlanser franchise.

I bought the ill-fated Generations LE on the day it came out, and the sordid affair of THAT game's release inadvertently lead to Working Designs closing their doors.

After a rather massive(and eventually) wasted effort to help see the never-localized remake of the first game on the PSP brought to the US by Atlus, and with the sixth game equally ignored for localization, the future seemed pretty bleak for Growlanser in the US.

Good thing Japan isn't done yet!

The fourth game just got confirmed for a PSP remake/rerelease in Famitsu.

As before, I'm doing whatever I can to help see this game get a US release.

You can help, too. Every voice counts.

Ask the Tales of community. Fans CAN make a difference.

Let's see if we can't prove it.


While there hasn't been a peep or even a release date for the US Release of No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise, the load time ridden, buggy PS3 port of the game,  Japan has a date for the Konami fixed version.  It's also going to be budget priced.

It's getting the dreaded Z rating (18+) and for once that actually means completely uncensored.  It's release date is July 21st, a month before Westerners are expected to pay full retail for it.  That leaves the only reason to wait for the US release is if you absolutely can't stand menus/instructions in Japanese.  Maybe the date and price will change, but I can't recall any time where the Western improved version of game was released in Japan before the West and budget priced.

Japan News roundup for April 27th 2011

I just like that image.  You're going to see a Kotaku story Kotaku readers about Japan's Nikkei price dropping dramatically.  Which makes sense unless you look at the 3 month average.  What happened in the middle of March?  3DS launch?

Though this may be the last place I'd expect you to learn it from, the hackers that "compromised" the Playstation 3's "protective barrier" probably have your credit card data.

Irem's Doki Doki Suikoden got 5 and 6s in Famitsu.

Nippon Ichi is making a Bikkuriman game with Disgaea characters. official site

Japan DSiWare just released an impressive looking Virtual On clone, Battle of Elemental.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dragon Quest V for the DS appears to have been reprinted (and musings on RPG localizations)

So it looks like Amazon is restocking new copies of Dragon Quest V for the DS. You should probably buy this - even though they're $40, per its original retail price, it quickly went out of print, and most online places were selling used copies in excess of $60. (Granted, it's always been $35 at Gamestop, but they are difficult to find and may not even have the case/manual, due to some new policies of keeping them off the store floor to make way for 3DS titles.) It is definitely worth grabbing - it's basically the game that convinced me the Dragon Quest series in general was pretty good, and I still feel it's the best of them, even though the series overall is a little too conservative for my tastes. (Check out the review for a bit of gushing and very slight spoilers for the few hours of the game, of which explanation is necessary to convey why it's so fantastic.) (And apologies for not grabbing any English pics of the DS version of V, or for the DS version of VI at all - I just got the latter one myself last week.)

The case of Dragon Quest V is interesting in relation to how it got to valuable so quickly. Square-Enix prepped up Dragon Quest IV to be a relatively big title, but it looks like they overshipped it and the title underperformed, so copies can still be easily found for $15 and under. As a result, they printed substantially fewer copies of Dragon Quest V, even though that particular entry has a far greater reputation. It must've under sold too, since Nintendo took over marketing and distribution for IX and VI, but now since IX has gained some popularity, more gamers are looking back for the titles they missed, and V has the best word of mouth.

I think a lot of bigger publishers underestimate the power of word of mouth for RPG titles. The type of folks who play RPGs are also usually the types to hang out in forums and converse with other like-minded folk, and have a good idea of what's good and what isn't. If a particular entry in a series is bad, unfortunately, it then suggests that there's no interest in the series at all, cancelling further localization plans. Sure, Front Mission 4 flopped, but that's because it wasn't very good, not because there wasn't interest in Front Mission 5. And what about Valkyria Chronicles 2? It probably also stumbled, not only due to its downgraded release on the PSP, but the general reaction (at least in English speaking territories) of it being substantially inferior, but will that doom the localization of Valkyria Chronicles 3, even though it's purported to be better?

At any rate, buy Dragon Quest V. Show that there's SOME type of interest portable RPGs. I'd rather be playing my games on a TV or computer monitor, but I'd also play them on a portable over not getting to play them in English at all. (And while it's not on sale, you should also get Radiant Historia on the case of it being pretty damn good.)

GamesTM 108

The latest issue of GTM which, as per usual, I received for free. So I am totally biased here as a non-paying reader, plus they send me cash monies every month for writing stuff. Even so, I think the quality stands for itself. Infinitely better than that utterly worthless garbage that was the relaunched EGM (I paid for my 6 issues – I’ve earned the right to bitch until hell freezes over). GTM still doesn’t credit their writers, which is both stupid and unforgivable, but that doesn’t detract from the anonymous people who write this. (I would have put an entry up for 107, but my inside contact was very busy and couldn't post it until recently)

The cover is an in-game screenshot from Epic’s new Next Generation hype nonsense everyone is talking about. I know they’re very proud of their cover, but I inherently dislike CG renders, even if it is in-game and therefore real-time, and I’ve never quite understood the obsession over increasing graphical muscle. I’m still happy playing my retro consoles – which has led to me being viewed as a Mr Retro figure among the gaming press, but I like to think of myself as more all-encompassing, able to play Perfect Dark on the N64 in the morning before playing Metro 2033 on my killer PC rig in the evening. FUN FACT: both aforementioned first-person shooters are excellent, despite the disparity in their graphics.

Taken from Twitter, posted by alialsawaf, another mag cover with in-game screen.

Also, as for the names of the authors, I managed to get the truth out of a mole I have at the publisher of GamesTM. So now we can really know who wrote all these. Bolded for convenience.

This is a sumptuous opening spread detailing all 108 Suikoden characters, because, you know, this is issue 108 of the magazine. In a way I hate this spread, since I many times pitched something similar for Retro Gamer's double pages, but was always shot down because Suikoden is apparently too obscure. So in a way, seeing this is like seeing someone else fulfil my artistic vision. Still, it's a bit goregous, innit?
GTM Author: Tori Black

This 4 page feature on Catherine is reason enough to buy this issue. It's an in-depth, extremely intelligent feature (it could be the most intelligent thing I've read in a games magazine this year), and not only is it fascinating, but it moves beyond mere games. It looks at Japanese cultural trends, their "elevator society", norms and values for the young and older generations, Japan's declining birth rate, the fact that young Japanese are less interested in getting married or having kids, and a decline in people taking adult responsibility. It's also a preview and review for the Catherine game - my god, it is such a forward thinking feature, that it's almost beyond the vanguard of description. I'm going to incur the ire of my superiors, but since it's not on their website, I've included hi-res scans for you to read. It reminds me of my Japanese sociology classes at university, which looked at various aspects of Japanese culture and society - but don't let my academic comparisons put you off. It's woven into the fabric of the Catherine game and the current Japanese game industry. It even draws attention to Haruki Murakami's 1988 novel Dance, Dance, Dance. Bloody fantastic. Best article of the year?
GTM Author: Lexi Belle

A good feature on El Shaddai which reveals fascinating info from the developers, along with a serious and level headed discussion of the religious source material. I'm expecting a lot of other mags to dismiss the religious subtexts, and I think this is wrong, because whether you're an atheist or not, I expect my writers to try to understand what the games they critique are covering. Which is why I was especially pleased with mags that reviewed Okami and made the effort to research Japanese myths and legends.
GTM Author: Ashlynn Brooke (aka Ash)

I haven't read this, but the design is nice and I'm pleased with how GTM continues to cover the niche and obscure.
GTM Author: Dana DeArmond

The showcase section is ace, since it gives you a bite sized chunk of lots and lots of little games which might not get coverage in other magazines which only grant single-page coverage to titles but not less. This is great, because right now, if I hadn't read about these on websites or forums already, I would totally be psyched for: Gungnir, Akiba's Trip, Unchainable Rexx, Rochard, Fancy pants Adventures, A Valley Without Wind (hole bloody hell this looks FANTASTIC), Red Johnson's Chronicles, Fallen Frontier, Yakuza of the End, Amy (by Flashback guy Paul Cuisset, yes yes yes yes yes yes yes YES), Robotics;Notes, Nin2-Junp, Akai Katana Shin, and Earth Seeker.
GTM Author: Chayse Evans

Feature on the next generation of graphics. I read it, and I was a bit depressed by it. Rather like last month's article on independent consultants. It all points to an ever greater bloating of games, with hundreds of people slaving away to make something which lacks soul or creativity. I miss the cottage industry days of 4 guys in a house making games. Still, if you like your graphics PUMPED, then this is a nerdcore article which - to me - appears to revel in geek love for the technology.
GTM Author: Jenna Haze

An article on games which can be played as a family. I didn't read it, and I won't, because I don't care for this. Still, at least they're not afraid to look at unconventional subjects.
GTM Author: Kayden Kross

An excellent feature on the perceived value of games. I can't be bothered to scan it hi-res like the Catherine article, but it's a topical and important subject/feature. The AppStore has let the genie out of the bottle with regards to a better pricing model, and no one is going to be able to get him back in. We're growing accustomed to cheap and free games, which is the way it should be. I hear people still pay $60 for console games? What for? I've recently bought several new PS3 games for $15 each, because I waited a couple of weeks and looked for bargains. The DEATH of expensive games starts NOW.
GTM Author: Jesse Jane

Review of Gemini Rue. A good score for a good game. Glad to see someone on staff like adventure games. I can't wait for GTM's review of HG101's Guide to Adventure Games!
GTM Author: Amber Rayne

A 6 page making of Guilty Gear, complete with photos and concept art from the guy behind it. Nikki clearly likes some one on one 2D action!
GTM Author: Nikki Rhodes

A retro feature on compilations. Sadly it's not very good, and I'm saying this purely because the author doesn't heavily condemn Backbone Entertainment for the utterly shoddy and dreadful emulation work they did on the Genesis collections. Hideous filters, nowhere near as good as what I can get on PC emulators or even the emulators put out by Sega's AM2 division, and no ability to play Sonic 2 or 3 locked on to Sonic and Knuckles. Unlike Sonic Jam, which allowed this. Backbone, aka Digital Eclipse, appear to be utterly insipid and pathetic in their way of handling compilations, and any article which fails to condemn them to the 7th level of damnation, just doesn't pass muster in my book. The rest of the feature was OK, I guess, but I wanted - no, I NEEDED - to see more Backbone vitriol. Those Genesis compilations on PS3 and Xbox 360 were TERRIBLE.
GTM Author: Ann Marie Rios

And finally, I leave you with a letter praising GTM's review of Deadly Premonition. Nay, praising the reviewer, whoever that dashing genius may be. I don't know who it is, but clearly said reviewer is a writer worth his salt, one to watch and lavish praise on (as this letter writer did). Some might even call said reviewer a god amongst demigods, and they would be right. They would be so right. If only we could know who this Messiah of men really is. Such a good review.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fortnightly Korean gaming stuff: Q&A with Jason Park. And an update.

Keeping our recent spree of monthly interviews rolling, Jason Park (Korean Name 박성준 Park Seongjun), who a long time ago worked at HiCom and eSofNet on the Corum series and is now head of the R&D division at Eyasoft, answered a few questions for us. It's shorter than usual, but we're still told some interesting stories.

In other news, as a new research opportunity has opened up since the article was first written (namely the full-text-search supported online availability of three daily newspapers up until 1999), the first small chapter in part 1, "Zero Hour", has been significantly improved and almost doubled in length. The history now also has a definitive starting date, which is the year 1976. For anyone interested in really old stuff (like Pong consoles and such) that portion will be well worth a re-read. There's also a new appendix listing most Korean gaming magazines that were published throughout the years, and of course also the usual small corrections & additions throughout, notably many new old photos in the main text body.

Now check out the full text for the interview:

Jason Park

When did you join HiCom and what was your job at the company?

I've started in November 1997 at HiCom and stayed there until the closing of eSofnet in December 2004.

At the time I joined, the company was just in the final stages of Corum 2. I've worked as a programmer on Corum 3 and Corum Oejeon, and also on some MMOs after that.

Then this was before you joined the company, but did you maybe hear anything about the Mega Drive games that HiCom had developed, Powerball and IF?

As far as I know, Powerball was almost completed, but cancelled due to the rapid transition of platforms. After the followup console, the Saturn, was released, no one saw any market value in Mega Drive games, anymore. I never heard about IF.

Remains a mystery: IF

The Corum series was quite popular, but Corum Oejeon disappointed many fans for not having to do anything with the other games, regardless of what qualities it may have had. What was the reason to change a beloved series like that?

The development team itself was pretty confident about Corum's strengths and its positioning as a series of action RPGs. The only problem was that at the time those didn't sell as well as turn based SRPGs, mostly represented by The War of Genesis. As you probably know, HiCom was also the publisher for The War of Genesis: Rhapsody of Zephyr, which had the consequence that management put the two series in comparison all the more.

Corum 3 was released in English, but only for BeOS

Corum 3 was very well received for its production values and gameplay, but nonetheless it stayed far behind the popularity of The War of Genesis, so at that point even inside the team there came the idea that maybe that was the kind of game the market wants, so it was decided to develop a turn based SRPG as a kind of side story.

Corum Oejeon, the black sheep in the series

But for a team like that that was well used to creating action RPGs it proved difficult to emulate the delicate scenario and dramatic strength of a game like The War of Genesis, and among the staff pessimistic views arised. Towards the end HiCom joined with eSofnet and started to shift towards online games, so Corum Oejeon didn't get 100% the attention it needed and was kinda just finished up to push it out.

When researching today, the relation between HiCom and eSofnet is hard to quite figure out. Did HiCom become eSofnet, or was that a different company that bought HiCom?

HiCom later became eSofNet as a result of their fusioning with FEW. As a result, the team first operated under the transitional name Softtop while the company became Wise HiCom, and a few months later eSofNet. So it should be correct to view eSofNet not as a company that existed independently before, but the result of the fusion of HiCom and FEW.

After the closing of eSofNet, most staff members went on to found different companies. As far as I know, the Corum team founded NetTimeSoft to make Corum Online. Their homepage isn't accessible lately, does the company still exist?

When eSofNet closed their doors, the games that were in development at the time were scattered to various companies, according to the rights and contracts. The Corum team moved to NetTimeSoft, the N-Age team to Seda Online, and the Dark Story Online team to Eya Interactive (today EyaSoft). Furthermore, after going through complicated procedures the former team leader of Dragon Raja got to complete the game with his new company Barunson, and the team for Ys Online, which was still in early development, went to CJ Internet, who were the main investor in the game. I don't know about the current conditions of NetTimeSoft. As far as I know, almost all the former Corum team members left around 2004-2005.

Corum Online

I remember the Corum team back then for their outstanding teamwork and know-how. Especially when HiCom first went bancrupt during the development of Corum 3, even with payment overdue for months, only one single team member quit, while the rest kept working until the end to complete the project.

Unfortunately, after the fusion of HiCom and FEW the former president of the latter became the head of the R&D department, and there were a lot of problems because his style differed from that of the HiCom people. About half of the staff left the company in the first half of 2000, and was scattered here and there, so a true sequel to the Corum series became impossible.

Since the former president of HiCom, Han Youngjo, stayed with EyaSoft as an advisor, after all those twists and turns many former HiCom staff members came back together at EyaSoft one by one, and are now working together on new projects.

Project E, one of the games currently in development at EyaSoft

Thursday, April 21, 2011

VtB's New Website:

Some of you who follow the site have probably noticed I haven't been posting much lately. Well, it's for a reason! I've teamed up with Nick Milicia, owner of Next Level Video Games (a classy hardcore game shop in South Jersey), to bring into the world a brand site by the name of . Fans of the crappy/awesome Data East beatemup Captain Amercia and the Avengers will recognize the significance. I'm still going to be here at HG101 posting in the forums and contributing to the articles from time to time, so no worries. HG101 followers love us here for the academic approach and the attention for detail. As Articles Editor, I've contributed some of that tone to Mech Taco but we've also added a bit of irreverence. Already we have a great variety of content including reviews, podcasts, and editorials. We have let's plays, fan art, top ten lists, and gameplay videos to follow in the coming weeks. I'd appreciate if my friends here could give us a look and let us know what you think! We'd love to be part of your daily round along with HG101. We are also always looking for new writers so if you think you'll fit in, let me know! [/shameless plug]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 OST - Mostly Complete

A couple months ago I recorded a few songs from Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, assuming that a more complete rip would surface. That hasn't happened to my knowledge, so I decided to do it myself...kind of.

(Megaupload keeps giving me "file not available at this moment" messages, but I assure you it's there! If I can dig up my Mediafire account I'll see about posting it there, if it becomes an issue.)

This is not a complete rip - it's missing a few tracks, like the menu theme, the map theme, and some of the ending songs and cutscene bits. They're also improperly and inconsistently titled, because I neglected to catalog them properly when recording them. But I didn't get to complete it last time I had my PS3 hooked up to my computer and I just don't have the time at the moment to hook it up again to complete it, so I figured this was better than nothing, considering it was originally done just for my own sake. It should have all of the level themes, at least.

It's a great soundtrack - Simon Viklund is not only a great arranger but an excellent composer as well (though many songs are variations on themes from the original game.) It's almost as if the SID chip never went out of style. It's also rather unique from a cultural perspective - Bionic Commando is a Japanese property, but Viklund brought the feeling from the Commodore 64, a very Western (and particularly European) sound that is probably alien to the game's home land.

I love the game itself - I should get a proper review up eventually, but it really got the short end of the stick, for a number of reasons. The changes in the control scheme are off-putting for the first hour or so, but some of the acrobatics you can (and need to) pull off in the final stages make it all worthwhile.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

FM Synth Fans Take Heed - Tree of Knowledge - A PC98 Tribute Album

The landscape of old school Japanese eroge is mystifying to those outside the country, largely thanks to that troublesome issue known as a "language barrier". Still, outside of appreciating them for their obvious qualities (assuming you're down with late 80s/early 90s anime hair/eyes, as well you should be), they generally have some fantastic music, as our recent run in Ryu Umemoto has taught us. (Also check out some music from Misty Blue by Yuzo Koshiro, which isn't an eroge to my knowledge, but is similarly impenetrable to us gaijin.) All it takes is some appreciation for some good FM synth.

Steven "surasshu" Velema and Ken "coda" Snyder, two non-Japanese composers, love this style of music so much that they created their own tribute album, similar to Atsushi Fukai's numerous "Project" albums. Titled "Tree of Knowledge, it comes complete with an authentic late 90s Japanese website at, along with a made-up plot, screenshots and character artwork, under the pretense of being a long lost game. The tracklist consists of an opening theme, a couple of general songs, and a theme for each of girls, balancing nicely between the peppy songs and the darker ones. It's quite good stuff, and anyone with a thing for FM synth - if you grew up with a Genesis or an Adlib capable sound card on your PC and dig it - will definitely enjoy it. It can be had for $10 as a digital download or $12 on a CD, and will be releasing on May 1.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Update 4/8 - Gemini Rue, Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke, Color a Dinosaur

Busy busy busy! As it turns out, 380,000 words is a whole lot to edit! In the meantime, please whet your appetite with a look at Gemini Rue, which came out not more than two months ago, and is already the darling of the adventure gaming world - and for good reason. Nowadays, niche genre fans complain that mainstream rags give the shaft to JRPGs and shooters - meanwhile, adventure game fans have had to deal with the same stuff for something like the past fifteen years. So when a place like IGN gives it a sparkling review, you know it has to be at least pretty good. (Selectbutton also posted a decent write-up recently.) It might be chunky and low def, but it's certainly stylized, and soundtrack is legitimately fantastic.

We've got something like three decently sized shooter articles somewhere in the works, but in the meantime, please enjoy this look at Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke, a cool Japanese PSP puzzler based on a Flash game. It's one of those (unfortunately numerous, as of recent) portable titles that never came out in North America or Europe, but it's definitely worth a look. But at least we can be happy for Xseed, as they recently released Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, part of Falcom's fairly popular RPG series. The article's been around for awhile, but it's recently been updated to clear up some spoilers and mention its longcoming English release, thanks to one SpaceDrake. Longtime PSP fans will remember the early Legend of Heroes games released by Namco-Bandai - those are the third, fourth and fifth entries in the series, and not only where the ports kind of bad, but the translations were dire. And considering the biggest strength of the series lay in its characterization and storytelling, that ended up being a death knell. Thankfully, Xseed did a much better job with this one, the first entry (out of three) on the sixth Legend of Heroes series. Yes, that sounds confusing, but please buy it so they'll release the rest of them, and maybe Zero no Kiseki (the seventh entry), or maybe something rad like Brandish.

Oh, and your weekly kusoge is Color a Dinosaur, a conceptually flawed NES title that somehow fails even within its fairly limited scope. I do like the screenshot used for the "recent articles" pic, as it seems like the dinosaur-thing has gotten entirely too baked.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Going Japan Eroge

Before Korea conquered the world with MMOs, bringing games to overseas markets used to be not only a status symbol for Korean developers, but also a way to escape the limitations of the comparatively small Korean market, where games where always pirated more often than bought. Japan was a particular popular but hard-to-get target. Popular because Japan is the country with, like, the lowest software piracy rate in the world, and because of a sense of rivalry with the then world leader in video game production; hard to get because of different computer standards (mostly PC-98 until 1995, thereafter Windows 95 while most Korean games were still DOS-based for about two more years) and because the Japanese PC game market is [exaggeration] almost exclusively an adult game market unless you're Falcom[/exaggeration]. The Koreans did their best to overcome these problems, by porting their games to Windows primarily for Japanese export, like Phantagram did with Zyclunt and Softmax with Aimpoint. Yet popular games like Zyclunt and Softmax' The War of Genesis still ended up with extremely niche publishers no one has ever heard about, others like Aimpoint seem like they didn't even make it that far. In later years reasonable success on the Japanese market always seemed to mean - no big surprise here - to team up with Falcom, like Rhapsody of Zephyr and Arcturus showed. But there was also another way - some companies figured to get games onto a market that's dominated by adult software, they'd just have to fill up their games with adult content. Warning: While this post doesn't contain any particularly nasty images, it might still be just ever so slightly NSFW if you're working for a very serious superior. Such a game is Xenoage. Developed and published by Gama Soft in Korea in 2000, the game originally is a perfectly harmless SRPG in cute anime style graphics. When famous-infamous eroge producer Xuse picked up the game for publication in Japan, however, it turned out an entirely different deal. Now titled Kaze to Daichi no Pageant, the game came with a significantly changed plot, where of course the protagonist gets to woo pretty much all the ladies that show up in the game. But that's not where the changes end, in-engine cutscenes are replaced by static images, even when there are no hentai scenes around. Dialogues are accompanied by character portraits now redrawn in a more Japanese style, with even a few new ones for characters that previously didn't have any lines to speak, mostly female ones. While the sprites are mostly the same, battlefields have been re-rendered. Oddly enough, they still resemble the original ones but look worse in most cases. The ingame map has also been mirrored and altered for whatever reasons - maybe because volcanos are cool. Besides all these cosmetic changes, the Japanese version is also significantly easier than even the lowest of formerly three difficulty levels.
No, it most definitely doesn't end with a kiss.
Comparison pictures: Xenoage was not the only occasion where a Korean game was sexed-up to sell in Japan, though. The next example is at the same time a call-out to any experts of Japanese PC games. It is named Newly Weds and developed by Ecstasy Entertainment. Already a slightly "sexy" Princess Maker clone where in place of the princess is the wife of the player character, Newly Weds contains several images that clearly betray the artists desire to actually draw them in a more naughty way, sometimes they even look like they're edited from a more revealing original. Ecstasy Entertainment announced that they would produce a Japanese version with nude imagery, however a publisher was never named. Either the Japanese version never came out, got its title changed and/or got an even more minor release than earlier Korean games in Japan. The Korean title would read 新婚日記 in Chinese characters, but such a game doesn't seem to exist in Japan. Here are some more screenshots, should anyone have ever seen this game in its Japanese version, please comment.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sony will convince you not to buy PS Move

So last week Sony put up videos of some Japanese comedians and a cute girl playing Playstation Move Games.  They've since updated to include every Move game I can think of (all seven?)  I'm amazed they released these videos.  See for yourself below.

Kung Fu Rider

Playstation Move Heroes

Furi! Furi! Sarugechu! (Ape Escape)

You get the idea.  Thanks bluewater4649 for the uploads.

WAHP 15 - Japanese podcast

The latest "Welcome! A Huge Podcast" has been out for over a week, and I'm late to the party. Read on for awesome info on the latest show all about Japan.

The format is different in that it's been done by 3 guest speakers: Christian Nutt, Heidi Kemps, and Kevin Gifford.

I was only previously aware of Kevin, from Magweasel, but the other two newcomers also know their stuff and the entire show is full of lots of esoteric information - it doesn't feel dumbed down and the really geeky conversations are great to revel in (though Christian does handily take moments to explain stuff that might be a little too obscure). The only factual complaint I have is they described the First Lady of Videogames as being, I think, Rieko Kodama. When really it's probably Roberta Williams (pictured). Then again I have been beard deep in HG101's adventure book, helping to proof read it, so I have Roberta on the brain now (my god that sounds wrong).

It was a really good episode, maybe a little wordy in places, but a few personal highlights are as follows:

* Discussion on the hosts' time working on various games magazines was fascinating - I'd like an entire show dedicated to this, with the original 3 chaps and these guest speakers.

* Discussion of how Japan's economy and games market was dealing with the recent tragedy was very enlightening

* Japan's KUSOGE 2010 awards, which is especially interesting if you've been enjoying HG101's kusoge series.

* Detailed Comiket explanation from Heidi. I now, more than ever, want to visit Comiket. If I end up spending a thousand bucks on a summer holiday in Japan, I am blaming this podcast.

* Kevin Gifford's wacky, slightly deranged, but hilariously awesome random singing. In Japanese. It should be a regular staple of the show. In fact I think either Casey Loe or Shidoshi should attempt kidnapping Gifford (he reveals where he lives in said podcast), in order to guarantee singing in future podcasts.

Anyway, it was a good listen for 3 hours and 40 minutes. Not to everyone's taste, but with plenty of great bits. Hilarious end segment too.

WARNING! A Huge Podcast is Approaching Fast!

A podcast covering the world of Japanese gaming, brought to you by long-time stars of the gaming press Christian Nutt (1P), Heidi Kemps (2P), and Kevin Gifford (3P).

//Stage 015
//Main Topic: Our Introductions to Imports + Comiket

//Now Playing: Hard Corps: Uprising, Pokemon Black, Yakuza 4, Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, The 3rd Birthday, Dragon Quest VI

//Subtopics: Japan goes on a massive game cancellation + delaying spree, concern over Tokyo Game Show 2011, Akihabara killer gonna be killed, Hudson gonna be killed (by Konami), the winners of best kusoge of 2010, Coming Next, and a whole lot of the great talk you always love from us!

//00:01:20 – Intro
//00:16:42 – Releace a New!!
//01:03:59 – Hot Infos
//01:59:40 – Let`s Discussion
//03:17:44 – Coming Next
//03:41:38 – Untitled End Segment

//So You Don`t Miss It:

//Coming Next Japan Game Mentions
//Mamoru-kun Was Cursed!! ~Meikai Katsugeki Wide Version~, BlazBlue Continuum Shift II, Oneechanbara Special, Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 Professional, Bullet Soul, Cubic Ninja, Earth Defense Force 2 Portable, Pilotwings Resort, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Super Robot Wars II Z: Hakaihen

//Other Game Mentions
//Dracula X, Xanadu, Faxanadu, Ys I & II, Rolling Stone: Drum King, Ys III, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Contra, BlazBlue, Dragon Quest, Tactics Ogre, Yakuza: OF THE END, PowerPro Baseball, Tokimeki Memorial, Monster Rancher, Princess Maker, Dream Club, Kurohyou, Phantasy Star Portable, Valkyria Chronicles 2, Parasite Eve, Monster Hunter, Fatal Frame, Ikenie no Yoru, Disgaea 4, Dragon Quest VII, Final Fantasy XIII, Dragon Quest IX, Deca Sports, Momotaro Densetsu, Birubaku, Motorstorm 3, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, Inazuma Eleven, Steel Diver, Dynasty Warriors 7, Tales of Destiny, Bomberman 3DS, Omega Five, Tengai Makyou, Miami Law, Arc the Lad, Growlancer, Kabuki Klash, Oriental Blue: Ao no Tengai, Bokosuka Wars, Final Fantasy XIV, Major Wii – Perfect Closer, Kakuto Chojin, Crimson Tears, Pro Golfer Saru, Appleseed Ex Machina, Love Root Zero Kisskiss Labyrinth, Jinsei Game: Happy Family, Sengoku Hime 2, Shura no Mon, Last Rebellion, Virtual-On Marz, Criminal Girls, Dino Crisis 3, Blade Dancer, Dragoneer`s Aria, A Witch`s Tale, Bumpy Trot, Hello Kitty to Issho! Block Crush 123!, Chrono Trigger, Seiken Densetsu 3, Final Fantasy V, Atelier Iris, Secret of Mana, Romancing SaGa, Phantasy Star IV, Illusion of Gaia, Toshinden 2, Jung Rhythm, Robo-Pit, Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers, Lunar: The Silver Star, Samurai Spirits RPG, Radiant Silvergun, Linda3, Suikoden II, Fhey Area, Sol Feace, Heavy Nova, Earnest Evans, El Viento, Anetto Futatabi, Cosmic Fantasy Stories, Sonic Aventure, Sonic Colors, Godzilla Generations, Final Fantasy VIII, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Crash Bandicoot 3, Dokodemo Isshou, Persona, Gokujyou Parodius Da!, El Shaddai, Sengoku Basara, Pokemon, Tower of Duraga, Peggle, Etrian Odyssey, Bayonetta, Gunstar Heroes, DoDonPachi Black Label X, Mind Jack, Nier, Bullet Witch, Drakengard, Drag-On Dragoon, Blue Dragon, My World My Way, Master of the Monster Lair, Namco x Capcom, World of Warcraft