Sunday, December 25, 2011

RIP Hiroyuki Kanno (1974-2011)

Despite the holiday season bringing joy, laughter and harmony to many of us, it doesn't shelter life from its fragile nature. Today, Abel announced that Hiroyuki Kanno has passed away. On December 19th, Kanno left us due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Kanno was only 37 years old.

Throughout his life, Kanno was an avid reader and studied the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King, as well as philosophical studies in order to learn about the human psyche and emotional patterns. He would make use of this when he began to design video games in his early 20s for C's Ware, a visual novel software house that became an influential in the progression of the visual novel genre with his games Eve burst error and Desire. His greatest achievement in video games would later be YU-NO, the multi dimensional thriller which not only brought innovation to visual novels, but video gaming as a whole.

Kanno was a close friend of late Ryu Umemoto, a friendship which saw them collaborate on the games which made them two of the most well respected individuals and deeply regarded in the independent video game scene in Japan in their respective fields. Now, the legendary duo has both passed away, all within 6 months.

Hardcore Gaming 101 would like to offer our thoughts and condolences to Kanno's family.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Update 12/23 - Top 250 Western VGM Tracks, Skygunner, Dynamite Dux, Blake Stone, Last Action Hero

The results of the Best Western Video Game Music of All Time Poll are in! We've compiled a list of 250 songs from numerous composers that seem to be overlooked by much of the VGM community at large, including tons of stuff from the Commodore 64, Amiga, NES and Genesis, along with numerous indie games (and a few AAA titles even) that stand out from the crowd. If nothing else, it should help get rid of that perception that all Western music is generic Hollywood-type stuff!

Updates are going to be slow for a bit due to the holidays and everything, plus other Big Happenings Coming Soon, but in the meantime here's a few shorter articles. Every once in awhile I'm possessed to write about obscure Sega minutae - this time it's Dynamite Dux, which I believe is one of the first cutesy-type beat-em-ups. Overall it's rather average, but it's got a great graphical style, and it's one of those games I'd always read about in magazines for the Sega Master System but had never really played since the system had largely dried up in America when it came out. In other mediocrity news, we also have a review of Blake Stone, two first person shooters from the shareware era that licensed the Wolfenstein 3D engine and took the adventures into space. They also had the bad luck to be released within weeks of Doom and Doom II, respectively, which means they looked and played terribly outdated, but in spite of that I (and probably a few other people out there) have some vaguely pleasant memories of them.

A bit away from the usual norm is an extensive review of all seven versions of Last Action Hero. Why, exactly? Well, every one of us has some kind of game that marked our transition from naive kids who loved everything placed in front of us into cynical bastards aware of commercial exploitation. For me, that game was Bubsy. For Audun Sorlie, it was this. We don't have a proper kusoge article ready this week, but this will more than suffice for quite awhile. There's even a short interview with one of the guys involved that helps explain the ridiculousness of what went wrong, despite a solid design document.

The only truly great game featured in this update is Skygunner, an incredibly fun early PS2 created by a studio called PixelArts. It's a cutesy air combat-type game with irrespresibly cute Japanese-style artwork mixed with a fantastic European-style setting, with some really excellent music. It's light and breezy, and something of a cult classic.

Also, thanks to Adventure Gamers for cataloguing my stupid game Que Pasa Perro? in its database, and covering it on their November 2011 Freeware roundup, vaguely legitimizing some random goofiness I threw together over the course of the week. Extra double thanks to the guy who recorded a whole walkthrough and posted it on Youtube. He's doing a Let's Play of the terrifying Bubsy 3D so you know he's an alright kinda guy. And super triple thanks to the folks behind its TVTropes page. I do hope you check out the whole ordeal if you haven't already.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kindle version of HG101 Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures 50% off for limited time, plus KDP select

Just for the holidays, from now until Wednesday, December 28th, the Kindle version of The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures will be 50% off. That means $4.99 for US buyers, and assorted similar discounts for other regions based on whatever conversion metric Amazon is using at the moment. This is only going for a week, so it's a good time to pick it up, especially if you get a Kindle this holiday season!

Additionally, the book is also enrolled in the Amazon KDP Select program. This means that if you have a Kindle and Amazon Prime, you can borrow the book, for free, although you're limited to one title a month. Keep in mind though that when they mean "Kindle" they mean "an official Kindle device". I only own mobile decides that run Kindle software, and this doesn't apply if you're using an iPhone, Android or the PC reading software. I made the mistake of purchasing my own book to test it out, and based on the refund numbers, it seems like at least one other person did too. Sorry! It's a neat program although initially a little vague.

Finally, the book has always been available in America, the United Kingdom and Germany, but Amazon has expanded its Kindle store to include Italy, France and Spain, so do check that out as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections on year’s end – and a Sakura Wars V review

Probably my last blog entry for this year, I talk about our everyone’s pile of uncompleted games, plus random gubbins, but mainly I talk about Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love, for PS2.

GamesTM issues 116 had a feature on the most anticipated of 2012, starting off by saying that if you haven’t got a massive backlog of unplayed games you’re not doing it right. Sadly this is true, since with the majority of games aiming for the 40-100 hours mark, buying one game every two months will require you to invest many, many hours into them.
My own backlog stands at 17 PS3 games (including Disgaea 3, which is still sealed and I intend to sell), 12 PS2 games, around 15 PS1 games (most on PSN), half a dozen PSN exclusive titles, and a few PC games (if it arrives before New Year I hope to write an HG101 article on Boiling Point: Road to Hell). Plus I’m not even counting the countless Saturn games I downloaded for my modded system. They say piracy harms sales? Bullshit. I’m going to be reselling most of these games unplayed and in some cases still sealed, flooding the market with cheap second titles which will stop people from buying new. On the other hand if I had pirated my PS3 games and allowed my gluttony to run rampant, I wouldn’t have any games to resell. Piracy doesn’t usually increase sales of new games, but it’s naïve to think that every pirated game = loss of a sale.
Long story short: I was determined to complete Sakura Wars V in a couple of weekends, since CJ Iwakura on HG101's forums said it was great, and I had bought a US PS2 specifically to play it. Plus my brother was going to visit soon, and I knew he had bought me Dark Souls to play over the holidays (in return my gift is an alarm clock and expensive Navy Rum – which if you think about it, kind of compliments each other). If I waited until next year it would just languish on the shelf.

It took around 28 hours to finish, and it’s actually quite a nice visual novel/strategy hybrid. It’s kind of like a poor-man’s Valkyria Chronicles almost, with a visual novel tacked on. The best thing though is that there’s no need to grind. Each battle is its own standalone segment, with no time limit or ranks or EXP gain and other associated nonsense. Which is good, because I prefer having the time to play a strategy title slow and carefully.

If you like visual novels then it should definitely appeal. There’s plenty of divergence points based on your decisions, plus a few free-roaming sections. I actually didn’t like these, because these are timed and if I’m in the mood for linear visual novels then I like it to stay that way. But it’s not a deal breaker.

The characterisation of the good guys is pretty fun. You have the bespectacled Japanophile; the hard line bossy lawyer; the creepy and mysterious Japanese woman; schizophrenic country hick; moe girl in wheelchair; and chirpy kid who duel-wields revolvers. Just your average bunch. But they have charm, as strange as they are. It’s also kinda racy in places, as one female character openly fondles another’s breasts in the bath house, but ultimately it’s all tongue-in-cheek and played for laughs. And there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The bad guys in contrast are terribly written, one-dimensional and universally awful – which is a shame.
It’s a great game for Sunday afternoon, like a good lazy book, which you can page through. My only gripe is that while it allows quick-saving, it forces you to quit back to the title screen afterwards. I would have preferred a more lenient system to allow easy checking of different dialogue choices.

This is not the game you hold up as proof of videogames’ validity, but it’s definitely an esoteric (and probably guilty) pleasure to indulge in, and probably the PS2’s swansong. And if the rest of the hip world thinks you’re weird because you chose the Subaru ending, to heck with them all – leave them to their GoW games on 360/PS3.

For those curious, Hardcore Gaming 101 is working on some proper Sakura Wars coverage – but there’s a lot to cover. And no, I’m not the one doing it.

Also, because it's so awkward, here's some racist dialogue encountered towards the end. Given people's sensitivities to such things, I'm surprised it was left in.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hardcore Gaming 101 Child's Play Marathon

Saturday, December 17th, 10AM to 10PM.


Games you've either never heard of or have always wondered
'what kind of madman in their right mind would buy that game much less play it'.

(And this is just to give you an idea.)

Best of all, we're open to viewer recommendations, assuming I own it. (Which is pretty likely.)

Yours truly will be hosting, and some friends of mine will be helping out from time to time, one of whom is one of the best damn God Hand Players alive.


Child's Play sanctioned and approved, baby!

Hope to see you join in. Or at least pony up some cash for the kiddies. (Especially that.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Update 12/12 - Teenage Mutant Turtles mega article, Vic Tokai platformers, Martial Masters, Akira

About a year ago or so, we published a massive article covering the many, many Asterix games. This time around is a similarly themed article covering the entirety of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. There are roughly 30 games in total, spanning from the original Konami NES game all the way up until the recent Ubisoft titles, with numerous highs and lows throughout. It's thirteen pages long and includes a brief history of the TMNT franchise itself, making for very comprehensive reading.

Since that particular update is huge, there are only a few smaller articles to post up. One is one which I couldn't think of a proper name for, so I called it Vic Tokai - Speed Tengoku Jump Jigoku. It's a series of four (technically, three and a half) platformers developed by Vic Tokai which are all technically part of the same series, seeing how they have largely identical play mechanics, despite there being no thematic links between them. The first is Kid Kool, which I think the Angry Video Game Nerd (righfully) tore apart earlier this year. However, most of the major issues in that game got fixed for the Master System title Psycho Fox, which then evolved into the Mega Drive/Genesis games Magical Hat no Turbo Buttobi Daibouken (in Japan) and Decap Attack (in North America and Europe). It's sort of cool to see ideas go from total unworkable garbage into a minor classic.

We're finishing up the single game coverage with Martial Masters, an incredibly nice looking arcade 2D fighter made by IGS, who I keep wanting to call the "SNK of China" just based on its adherence to classic spritework and traditional genres around the turn of the century despite both the hardware and the audience evolving in different directions. None of their games seem to have ever been ported, so they mostly live on through MAME. Their work is generally worth checking out, including this one.

Also up is a new podcast called Game Club 199X, started by members of the HG101 forums and IRC channel. The idea behind this series is to play games as they were originally intended - that is, no FAQs, no cheats, no save states, just the support of the local community - to get through some rather old and obtuse games. Last month's game was Snake's Revenge, which is discussed in this episode. December's game is the Interplat classic (and predecessor to Fallout) Wasteland, so check out the forum thread if you're interested in joining in.

And Your Weekly Kusoge is the Amiga version of Akira, which is largely regarded as the second worst game on the computer. So very much lost potential, there.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update 12/5 - YU-NO, Alpha Protocol, Revolution X, Quest for the Rings, The Fool's Errand

If any English speaker knows the name YU-NO, it's probably from an awful hentai anime translated back in the late 90s. This was a bad way to get introduced to this game, a rather excellent visual novel with some outstanding music. The game's recently been fan-translated, so do check out this expansive article detailing why it's so fascinating. (And a vague NSFW warning on it, since it is technically an eroge.)

HG101 is normally a retro site, but occasionally we cover recent games that tend to get overlooked or are least worth addressing. This is the case with Alpha Protocol, Obsidian's action/stealth/RPG epic from last year. It definitely didn't hit the same level of success as Mass Effect did, but it does some rather clever things in regards to storytelling, even though the plot itself is fundamentally ridiculous.

Other articles this update include Quest for the Rings, a release for the Odyssey² that attempted to combine video and board games; The Fool's Errand, one of the first attempts to marry Games Magazine-style puzzles with a narrative, paving the way for The 7th Guest and Myst; and Revolution X, the incredibly stupid shooting gallery game starring Aerosmith. Your Weekly Kusoge is Xenophage: Alien Bloodsport, one of the many absolutely terrible fighting games developed for the PC after the success of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in the arcades. And our spotlight article updates our piece on the Korean brawler Eojjeonji Joheun Il-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok and its sequel (and much more succinctly named) Storm.

And a quick reminder! Just a few more days to vote on the best Western VGM tracks!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Snatcher Sega CD ported to iOS...?

I recently interviewed Jeremy Blaustein, along with David Hayter and other Metal Gear folks for a print magazine, and while these interviews and snippets of them will appear on HG101 in the near future, this snippet of speculation is too cool to wait for.

Jeremy Blaustein still speaks with friends at Konami, and he recommended they should put the original Sega CD version of Snatcher on iOS. As he explained: “Apparently they can't release it because right now Mr. Kojima is doing this radio play for Snatcher and isn't interested in releasing the old Snatcher at this time. One has to believe that he's keeping it, you know, up his sleeve to pull out when he needs to. I'm just speculating that it will be the next thing that Mr. Kojima will put out, since it's too good of a property.”

It is an excellent property, and admittedly this is speculation, because no one wants to speak too much on the record, but Kojima's popularity continues to soar, his MGS series is on everyone's mind, plus the Radio Drama is being unofficially translated by fans, surely if there was a time for Snatcher to be ported to iOS it would be soon? (if you've not checked out the fan-translation of the radio drama, do it now, it is a phenomenal achievement)

And, because it's so damn awesome, here is another photo from Jeremy's personal collection, taken during the Snatcher voice recording sessions.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Best of Western VGM Poll Pt. 2

More cool songs and Youtube embeds ahead!

Deus Ex Human Revolution - Sarif HQ Intro Combat

Deus Ex: Human Revolution probably has the best video game soundtrack released this year, only really challenged by Xenoblade (even though it's technically a 2010 game.) It's a shame about how many people seem to be playing this game super stealthy, because that means they'd be missing out on all of the amazing combat themes, of which there are several based on your location. This one here, the best of the best, is right in the prologue, before you even properly begin the game. It's a shame that both the Augmented Edition and official soundtrack releases are missing such huge chunks of the music.

Command and Conquer Renegade - Command and Conquer

Did I post this song the last time? I don't remember. Westwood's Frank Klepacki put out some of the best music on the PC back in the mid-90s.

Universe at War - Modern Design

Klepacki's work on Universe at War is also excellent, much truer to the roots of Command and Conquer than the actual modern Command and Conquer.

Neotokyo - Tachi

I got turned onto this soundtrack in the last poll and immediately bought the soundtrack. I don't think this track in particular got any votes, but it's one of my favorites.

Return All Robots! - Roboballad

I only barely know what this game is, but the soundtrack was included in that awesome Indie Music Bundle over the Thanksgiving weekend, and has quickly become one of my favorites of the bunch. My favorite part is around the 2:30 mark, which reminds me of bits of the Ducktales NES soundtrack.

The Binding of Isaac - Sacrificial

I don't know if I like Team Meat's newest game, sort of a rogue-like combined with Zelda and a twin stick shooter, but Danny Baranowsky's soundtrack is aces.

Ocean Loader 2

To anyone who asked if loader themes counted, because they weren't tied to any specific game, the answer is yes, largely so rad tunes like this one can be accounted for.

Mass Effect - M4 Part 2 (Faunts)

We've been playing fast and loose with the "no licensed music" rule, which was mostly done just to disqualify rhythm games and playlist-type sports games, which major sites seem to call "video game music" even though it really isn't. Still, we've been allowing certain cases, usually for alternative bands, like Canadian space rock band Faunts, in this instance. The guitars in this remind me a lot of the following song...

System Shock - Intro

For being pretty basic from an animation standpoint, I've always REALLY loved this intro.

Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Burning Town

A remixed version of the first level theme from the original GBC game. Remarkably catchy. It was released on the iOS awhile back if you can stand the touch control pad.