Monday, February 28, 2011

Korean Indie Games: Team Device

Here's some more Korean indie game coverage, as promised. This time let's once again take a look at a somewhat older game, or rather games, as Team Device has put out a number of them between 2000-2007.

Their first two games, Hana-bi and Reminiscence, are virtual novels. There's hardly anything to be found out about Hana-bi, but there's a (very) short demo for Reminiscence, showing some decent artwork and a story I couldn't care less for. Anyway, to the next game...

To save the best one for last, here's Dangerous China!! Released in 2007, this is their most recent game, a homage to Touhou Project and other than their other, commercial games, free for download. You're basically just dodging knifes thrown by the other girl, but there was an online ranking system, which made the thing a bit more interesting (but has been shut down by now, unfortunately).

Definitely the high point of their catalogue to the average Western gamer is Angel Destroyer, a sidescrolling Danmaku. Somehow I like sidescrolling shmups more than vertical ones, but most I ever see nowadays is vertical, so finding this was a welcome change for me. In the standard setting it feels a bit too easy at first, but already the second stage demands some serious skills. There's a whole bunch of more challenging options, but no easier ones (except setting the number of credits higher), so people who suck at this type of game (like me) are mostly out of luck.

At the beginning of each game one choses between three weapon systems, which greatly affect the difficulty as well. I couldn't tell you much of substance about the scoring system, but every time you dodge a bullet just by a pixel's margin, a "scratch" counter goes up, which seems to affect scoring significantly.

Angel Destroyer also features some great art and story scenes in form of dialogue boxes during the stages.

The game is no longer sold, unfortunately, but everyone can try the demo (as well as most of the other games) through Team Device's homepage, The full game has been leaked to certain western sharing communities, although this version is the Japanese one, which lead many to believe that the game is from Japan. Due to the very Japanized art direction in Team Device's games, one really couldn't tell the difference, though.

More recently, the team has worked on another Visual Novel title called Lost Number, but it has put on hold just about two months ago because the artist left the project.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Akira homebrew game on PC

Some may recall my entry on the games I’ve made, which included an Akira game which was subsequently deleted. Well, I’ve started to remake it. Download the demo today!


I take no responsibility for any damage this may cause. As far as I can tell it's totally safe.

Push ALT and ENTER for fullscreen. Arrows to move, space to shoot. To cancel sideways inertia push DOWN. Or wait for it to cancel itself.

Make sure to enter the number 1 (ONE) at the start for engine sounds. All sounds are on by default, except engine revving, which is off, but if you push 1 you should get some engine sounds when increasing/decreasing your throttle.

It’s taken me about a week in a my spare time, with a 6 month gap in the middle due to loss of interest. But I started it again last week and added one of the Clown gang. It’s little more than a tech demo, and I stole the music track from the Amiga game, but it kinda shows what I’d want it to be if I ever finished it. I want to add another Clown biker or two, and give each distinctive AI. The current one is stupid, and while he will try to evade your line of fire he doesn’t see the barricades and doesn’t actively attack you. If I can I’d also intend to add one of those flying vehicles from the film, since they wouldn’t be affected by the road speed.

The basic premise is: survive the XX kilometres to the stadium, in a Spyhunter style game, and then switch to a Space Invaders type game for the boss fight against Tetsuo. The second half hasn’t even been started yet, but I’m already growing bored of this project (plus I’ve got a 4 page magazine article due in soon and I’m contributing to the Adventure Book). So I guess this will have to suffice until I find more time/motivation.

If your fuel runs out it just resets. Eventually I’d intend for it to be Game Over, with the chance to pick up extra fuel as the game goes along (perhaps tied to the death of a biker). The idea would be you need to avoid obstacles and keep your fuel up. Your lazer gun is recharged via the bike engine (like in the film), so it burns up more fuel. Hitting anything bad drains fuel too (though if you hit a barricade at full speed you should be fine). The clown bikers swing green hockey sticks to attack you. The “km” bar on the right charts your progress to the (non-existent) stadium. Each time you shoot a Clown biker it marks your kill count on the right. Clowns can die on barricades.

Oh, an the reason the Kaneda sprite looks so ugly is I drew it first, about 6 months ago, and did the Clown biker today - obviously I was more artistically motivated. If I work on it some more I'll also try to use more sound files, since they're easy to add in QBasic. I found this site with sound files. For example I'd like to later have Kaneda saying his "just when my coil was reaching the green line" quote, to be used when the player presses ESC to finish the game, or after a Game Over.

FUN FACT: the game was made without any arrays. I have never been able to work out how to do them properly, so I don’t use them. Which is why there’s only one biker and two barricades and I will never be able to elevate myself above 1980s era game design. I suppose if someone really wanted it they could have the source code.

Have fun, and don’t complain about the music theft. This is a non-profit thing so I don’t really care. If you spot any bugs or anything which needs addressing, post in the comments and I might fix it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A serious game: Generation Zero

Set in the rubbles of post-WW2 Berlin, the game currently in development at the young Munich studio Reality Twist takes a perspective formerly unseen in video games— to a topic that is one of most used ones at the same time, though almost all previous examples take place during the War, be it in dozens of WW2 FPS like Medal of Honor, the vampire slasher BloodRayne or the espionage stealth game Velvet Assassin. To little surprise, since that's where the killings go on, and you gotta have killing in a video game, right? Right?

Well, as a point&click adventure, Generation Zero is little concerned with that kind of activity, and instead focuses around the survival of a youth gang between the ruins, promising interactions of three playable characters, multiple solutions with individual consequences and a particularly carefully researched and thus authentic setting.

For that, Generation Zero has been nominated for the "Serious Games" award at the CeBIT 2011 fair, but one certain aspect of its "serious" design bears the opportunity to set a milestone for the recognition of video games in Germany: If you're running around in 1945 Berlin, you'd have to be very lucky never to encounter any depictions of the Nazi Swastika, so far a no-go for video games in Germany. Reality Twist is currently pushing for the right to retain that symbol in the graphics of their game.

In which way is the Swastika important for video games? As dilligent Hardcore Gaming 101 readers might know, the ban on the symbol in Germany makes exceptions only for works of particular artistic or educational value. So far everyone has assumed the status quo of 1989 to be intact, when a movie called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ran over the silver screen, featuring dozens of Swastika in many of its scenes, while a game called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade only depicted big black boxes where the hated symbol had been in the rest of the world. If Reality Twist gets through with this, that would mean that for the first time games would be placed on one level with movies in the matter, officially sanctioned no less.

Even better when we get a great game with an unspent historic setting with the deal. Early screenshots of Generation Zero sure look the part, at least. The game is being developed for PC, MAC and iPad.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yakuza film review PART 2

With the nearing release of Yakuza 4 in the West I’ve been hurrying to complete Yakuza 3 (despite the deplorable removal of my beautiful mahjong), and so I thought it time to rewatch the two live-action Yakuza films that were produced. Today: the Follow Up.

Sometime in 2007 I became aware of this feature-length film based on the first Yakuza game. I wanted to buy it, but all the DVDs I saw didn’t have any English subtitles. It had been pirated though and put online, complete with fan-made English subtitles. So after several days of downloading I put the two together and burned myself a custom DVD – as a neat bonus I included the prequel film on the disc.

Unfortunately the subtitles had been made by someone who clearly hadn’t been listening to what characters were saying – the most outlandish example being in a store, when Kazuma is asked a question by the owner. The subtitles say: “Your store sucks.” When in actual fact he said: “Dog food.” Not in Japanese, he actually used the words dog and food in English, which only proved how pathetic the fansub was. I declared the film to be crap and stopped watching at around the halfway mark because it didn’t make any sense. While individual sentences were logical in isolation, there was no context to any of them – characters whose dialogue was setting up later scenes were reduced to spouting nonsense with no relevance to anything else. It was surreal and unpleasant, since the film is quite complicated anyway.

Last week though I saw that it had undergone official subtitling and had been available in the US for some time, unrated and cheaply published. It cost $20 to be shipped to Europe and in preparation for Yakuza 4, I was keen to see what it was actually like.

If there was a film-applicable term for kusoge (awfully good?) then Yakuza: Like a Dragon would carry it proudly. It’s 110 minutes of visually splendorous violence and lunacy, only barely coherent and so overdone that the original storyline from the game (which it’s based on) only just manages to be heard. It’s an example of excess and, while it fails as a film for the uninitiated, as a game-to-film adaptation for those who know the source material it’s a strange kind of awesome.

The basic premise of: Kazuma gets out of jail, looks after small girl, fights one-eyed freak Majima, finds girl’s mom who dies, and then kills his best friend Nishki, is still there, but it weaves in several other storylines which ultimately steal the audience’s attention. Throughout the film we also view the following.

A pair of incompetent bank robbers in colourful knitted ski-masks on the hottest day of the year attempt to rob a bank which has no money and then their air-conditioning breaks down. A pair of delinquent teens go on a robbing spree, first with a knife and later with a gun. A Korean mafia assassin visits town to kill an important politician. Majima is bored and is determined to fuck shit up for everyone. All of the above is interwoven with great complexity and is so focused on, that by the time Kazuma finds Haruka’s mom, who turns out to be Yumi, and then fights Nishki in Millennium Tower, you’re wondering who the hell these new characters are and why they’re even here.

Kazuma’s character is never fleshed out, apart from two sections of dialogue where Detective Date asks when he got our of prison (it’s never explained why he was in), and later on, when it’s mentioned that Kazuma, Nishki and Yumi were all at the same orphanage. Or course Yumi and Nishki’s screen time is about five minutes combined at the end, making the exposition pointless. In fact Kazuma’s role in the story is almost redundant, and if anything is more like a Maguffin for Majima’s rampage through Tokyo looking for him. And here’s the thing, Kazuma is meant to be the lead in the Yakuza film, but all the supporting characters prove more interesting than him – from the silent assassin who makes great cocktails to the hardcore masochist who sells guns – they’re all more interesting and better developed.

The crowning character, and main allure of the film, is Majima Goro. He was insane in the games to begin with, but here he’s elevated to what must be one of the most outlandish, flamboyant, deranged villains in film history. Despite his brutality and irredeemable personality, you can’t help but like him by virtue of how alive he appears (and how difficult he is to kill). Majima gets all the cool lines, while Kazuma is simply shunted from scene to scene, overshadowed by everything else. He’s also far too young looking to be playing someone who spent 10 years in prison.

The other major draw for the film is the well-choreographed fight sequences backed by some pretty awesome heavy metal music. If Yakuza the Prologue was tasteful, subtle and subdued, then Like a Dragon is the absolute opposite. Violence is frequent, gratuitous, and so over-the-top it takes on a fantasy element. When Kazuma isn’t bursting into blue flame you’ll see character’s heads used as baseball-bat sponges, a dozen shotguns destroying a bar replete with wine bottles, and bizarre CG sequences which need to be seen to be believed. It’s a cartoon become live, which is perhaps why it’s such a good game-to-film adaptation despite being a terrible film. Games are not even remotely like films, contrary to what a million shrill voices try to bleat, which is why adaptations often suck. Games are fantastical creations traditionally not bound by any kind of rules or logic, even if they appear to have a realistic setting. A film trying to replicate a game should therefore be void of traditional film-making logic.

I suppose a final highlight is that Nagoshi-san himself, the creator of Ryu ga Gotoku, makes a cameo as Jingu the politician flying around in helicopter – and ends up shot in the had (pictured). He doesn’t say anything and ends up being killed. Twice. Which isn’t really a spoiler – you’ll know why afterwards.

In a way, Like a Dragon is very similar to Miike’s other film, Ichi the Killer, containing flamboyantly dressed yakuza members, acts of extreme cruelty, masochists, depravity, surrealism and plenty of colour on screen. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed Ichi the Killer, but as a standalone film it was more coherent and functional than Like a Dragon – which I actually enjoyed more by virtue of its association with one of my favourite game series. Confusing and akin to reliving a fever dream, Like a Dragon will prove impenetrable for anyone unaware of the Yakuza games. But if you can find it cheap, and like the Yakuza games, it has a strange allure to it.

Our rating: 3 stars out of 4 (but only if you’re aware of the source material)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Update 2/21 - Terminal Reality, The Typing of the Dead

This week we're featuring the work of Terminal Reality, the Texas-based game developer behind the Bloodrayne series, as well as the creepy PC game Nocturne and one of the Blair Witch Project tie-ins. It's a pretty expansive piece, complete with developer interviews and tons of interesting trivia. (There's a third Bloodrayne movie? How disastrous!) And our Weekly Kusoge is The Typing of the Dead, where Sega took The House of the Dead 2 and turned it into a typing tutor. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that kusoge doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad game - The Typing of the Dead is probably the best in the series - but in this case it's marveling over the fact that such an incredulously bizarre game ever got made. The Sega of today would surely not be that brazen. I'd also like to apologize for the brevity of this update - even though it was a long weekend in the States, I've been quite busy lately, much of it putting the finishing touches on the adventure game book in hopes to have it done for an April-ish release. Please check the cover list out - as of current, there are over 250 games covered, some with expansive articles, some with brief page-long blurbs, and the total page count is hovering around 750 pages. I wrote a 2000 word love letter to Grim Fandango, which was a pretty satisfying way to spend the time off. Updates might slow a bit until it finally gets out the door, but it will definitely be worth it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Smithsonian museum = incompetent?

I realise the Smithsonian has an aura of awe surrounding it; an institute of such respectability that no one would dare criticise it. Well, when they decide to take on the realm of videogames, which I have over 20 years experience in and am an unequivocal expert on, and they screw it up, I'm going to say something. The Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibit is flawed and appears to have been devised by an idiot.

You go to the site, you register via an email address and are instantly given a password. You then have 80 votes to spend on games of artistic merit. This in itself is open to abuse, since you could create unlimited fake log-in accounts (which I will be doing), but the worst crime here is how utterly broken their voting system is.

You can only vote for ONE game, in each GENRE category of each system. They don't properly explain this to you, and the HTML is broken anyway in Firefox, forcing me to use Opera, but I only noticed this after I'd voted for Gunstar Heroes under the TARGET category. I then tried to vote for Ranger X but was denied. I had 75 votes left, but they wouldn't allow me to vote in one of the all-time greatest action games on the Mega Drive/Genesis. You're forced to pick between Gunstar, Viewpoint or Ranger X.

The problem here is they expect me to spend the rest of my votes in the other categories. But here's the catch people: who cares about some obscure strategy titles on the Intellivision? I can't vote for Ranger X, but I'm expected to choose either Armor Battle, B-17 Bomber or Utopia? I don't want to vote for any of them! Are they of any significance to anything?

I realise what they're trying to do. They're trying to force our votes so we don't end up with everyone spending all their votes on Gears of War, Halo and Bioshock, which is fair enough, that's admirable. But the hamfisted way they've devised this means that great games, like Ranger X to give a personal example, are going to be overlooked because they absolutely insist that I need to vote for Utopia on Intellivision. So really, you don't have 80 votes to play around - you have 1 vote for each genre on each system for each era.

The selection of games is reasonable, I will admit, showing that they at least spoke to someone of intelligence in the gaming world. Some will complain about the absence of some games (Demon's Souls?), but the shortlist isn't my problem. They managed to put obscure stuff like Espagaluda and other niche titles in there (Jet Set Radio and Future are both on there too). But because of the way the voting has been forced, it's all redundant, since most categories have a game that everyone will vote for to the detriment of the others, and since you can only vote once in each category it kind of negates the whole exercise. Why put Star Wars next to Super Mario World? No one will ever waste a vote on Star Wars instead of SMW - whereas if they allowed a specific number of votes for ANY game within a specific era, then we'd obviously get a lot of SMW votes, but people would have the opportunity to spend some votes on other games. As it stands, I can guarantee that some great games will receive nothing, simply because of how illogically this has been devised. The only way to correct the shortcomings of this system is to create multiple accounts. I've made several different accounts with email addresses which don't even exist, purely to make use of my 80 votes as I see fit. 80 votes have now been cast, and without the shackles of their arbitrary and illogical system.

Whoever devised the voting system had absolutely no clue about games or indeed voting. Or perhaps anything at all. It is a ridiculous exercise in frustration that will only skew the perception of games. Also, Jesus H Christ, Steel Battalion in the same category as Sid Meier's Pirates? Crimson Skies in the same category as Diablo II?

Who in the flaming hell categorised these? Gibbons? Macaques? Mangabeys? If academia can't understand the medium of games, then please just leave it alone and get lost.

Man, screw this nonsense.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yakuza film review PART 1

With the nearing release of Yakuza 4 in the West I’ve been hurrying to complete Yakuza 3 (despite the deplorable removal of my beautiful mahjong), and so I also thought it time to rewatch the two live-action Yakuza films that were produced. Today: the Prologue.

To promote the release of Ryu ga Gotoku (the first Yakuza game), Sega commissioned a short 40 minute prologue film to be made, detailing the life of Kazuma Kiryu growing up in Sunshine Orphanage. It examined how both he and Nishki came to be orphans and then yakuza, and how they came to know Yumi, who Kazuma develops affection for over the years. It involved renowned Japanese film maker Takeshi Miike, who also went on to make the follow-up feature-length film, though the two movies could not be more different.

Some time in late 2006, around the time of the first Yakuza’s western release, Sega took to subtitling this prologue movie and putting it on their website in four parts, for free. It was a great way to spend some boring office time and I downloaded all four parts, later converting to Video CD format and burning to CDR. Today they’re no longer on Sega’s website, but it’s worth looking for them online and burning your own disc.

I did a search on Youtube with the intention of linking you, but I can't find it at all! Also, due to the slow-paced nature of the film you’ll be more comfortable watching from a couch. So try to find a torrent perhaps? Here's the Wikiedia page.

For anyone who is a fan of the Yakuza games this is essential viewing since it expands on the characters of Kazuma and Nishki, and provides a basis for Kazuma’s personality throughout the subsequent games – it’s so essential, I’m surprised Sega hasn’t included it as a bonus with every release in the series.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks which gradually build up to the film’s opening scene. The earliest explains how Yumi’s parents died when yakuza opened fire on a crowd of pedestrians, with moustachioed Fuma then taking her to Sunshine Orphanage. Kazuma and Nishki are already there, along with Nishki’s sister, and the four children grow to be close friends. After Nishki’s sister falls ill and Fuma pays for the medical bills, Nishki feels indebted to Fuma and discusses with Kazuma wanting to join the yakuza. The death of their parents is explained and, with the two youngsters already showing prowess as fighters at school they decide to leave and join Fuma. But not before Kazuma offers Yumi a ring as a keepsake, which she continues to wear into adulthood.

There’s tragedy in the character of Kazuma. As one memorable quote from Fuma puts it: “There are two types of yakuza. The idiot who loves being one. And the idiot who had no choice but to become one.” Always motivated by duty he plays a hero unfairly painted as a villain and is punished for this. Seeing his and Nishki’s childhoods is important, since it reveals that even at a young age Nishki was prone to resentment and wayward behaviour, whereas Kazuma was always thinking ahead.

Besides the story it’s also beautifully shot, with different colour tones for different periods of time (childhood memories always seem to be warmed and tinged with yellow), and some really well choreographed action. The shootouts are bloody and don’t pull away, while the fist fighting appears to have some hard knocks. It’s also well cast, with the actor playing adult Kazuma (apparently a former wrestler) fitting the role nicely.

I suppose a facile comparison could be made to the Godfather films, since the violence here isn’t glorified or obsessed over – it’s simply something that’s become a part of the characters’ lives. It’s also always juxtapositioned against quieter scenes of family life and everyday mundanities, with events taking on a hazy dreamlike quality. My only other experience of Takeshi Miike’s films is Ichi the Killer and, unlike the follow-up film, I don’t see any similarities here. This is much slower, and is perhaps also comparable to Takeshi Kitano’s work, such as the yakuza-at-the-beach story of Sonatine.

Whatever comparisons you want to make (and perhaps I've been too generous) it’s only 40 minutes long and, assuming you care about the Ryu ga Gotoku characters to begin with, is an excellent way to spend some time getting reacquainted with Kazuma for the next game.

Our rating? 4 full stars out of 4

Within the next 7 days we’ll be posting out review of the follow-up film, Yakuza: Like A Dragon.