Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dale DeSharone - an unspoken legend

After HG101 contributor Audun Sorlie wrote a memorial for composer Ryu Umemoto, I felt compelled to dig out the notes from my interviews with Dale DeSharone, who passed away February 2008 from leukemia, and share them with the world. For me there's a feeling, like a sense of duty having interviewed someone no longer with us, especially since as far as I know I'm the only one to have interviewed Dale. He was involved in early Atari software, some acclaimed C64 classics, including Below the Root, an adaptation of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy of books. He was connected with the team that developed Red Book Audio, was a pioneer of the CD medium for games, and was instrumental in making sure the Philips CDi had software. His career later included the PlayStation and GameCube, right up to the current generation. Perhaps though, his most known works, are the two side-scrolling Zelda games for CDi, which I will forever argue are well designed games which are fun to play.

Above all though, Dale was a sincere, decent human being, well loved by all those who knew and worked with him. I am always reminded of the memorial comments from James Bach, who explained how Dale had given him a start with his career, taught him to drive and helped him through a family tragedy.

My own experience of Dale was that he went above and beyond when helping with my articles, providing numerous high res scans and always happy to answer my many questions, and I will always remember that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Brief Look at Bundle in a Box - Deep Space

There's still a few more days left to grab the Bundle in a Box - Deep Space pack. It's a unique bunch of games, so I sat down for a bit and gave a run through some of them.

Space Giraffe 

This is probably the most well known game in the bundle, being that it was also an XBLA release in the early years on the service. It's got a mixed reputation, due to it being too busy and colorful, but I like it quite a bit. It's a Jeff Minter game, and even though the instruction screen proclaims that it's not's basically Tempest, but with a different ruleset.


The initials of this confusingly named title (there's no Digital Rights Management nonsense on any of the games packed in here) actually stands for Death Ray Manta. It makes a good companion to Space Giraffe in that it's obviously inspired by Minter's works, with the colorful graphics, catchy techno music and lots of halfway baffling gibberish tossed about. Unfortunately it runs really slow on my computer so I can't say anything more than that.


 Apparently this is an update of an old Commodore 64 shooter, which I was unfamiliar with. It's a side-scroller shooter like Gradius, but honestly, not nearly as good. Title screen music is nice and SID-y though.

Dark Scavenger 

This game reminds me a lot of Infocom's Beyond Zork, which was a text adventure crossed with a simple RPG. However, it modernizes the interface by adding graphics and ditching the text parser in favor of menu-selection. It's creatively quaint, or quaintly creative. The art style is interesting, though the writing is a little on the dry side.

There's a bunch of other games included in the bundle, including the space combat simulator The Wreckless, and A Bagful of Wrong, which in itself is a selection of nine MORE games. So while the games included aren't as famous as some of the other indie bundles out there, it's still a great deal for a few bucks.

Anyway, if you purchase, make sure to vote for my very-much-work-in-progress Christopher Columbus is an Idiot for the Indie Dev Grant. And thanks to Indie Gamers for their coverage last week, too!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Making of Immercenary (3DO)

Recently Gamasutra published an article of mine charting the development of 3DO FPS Immercenary (the one where you're trapped in a faux-MMO environment). It includes photography from those who worked on it, and is worth checking out. Certainly I'm extremely proud to be the first person ever to interview those behind it. This was when the FPS genre was still in a nascent stage, and while it ultimately went in a different direction, I find this evolutionary cul-de-sac rather fascinating. I also have some left over screens, so perhaps I should write a second article for HG101? I've always thought it a shame there's so little coverage of this online.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Basic History of BASIC - Dr Kurtz, David Ahl, John Lutz, Steve Wozniak

Crikey, I've left this a long time to post. If you're in the industry and receive Game Developer Magazine, maybe you noticed in the above issue my article on the origin of the Beginners All-purpose Standard Instruction Code programming language. I interviewed Dr Thomas Kurtz who co-created BASIC, along with David Ahl who wrote the million selling 101 BASIC Computer Games book which helped popularised the language, John Lutz who was head of the True BASIC company, and also Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who created Integer BASIC for the first Apple computers. I even spoke with Marc-Oliver Ihm on Yabasic for the Sony's PlayStation 2. Due to space not everything could be used - below you'll find my leftover materials covering "10 Things touched by BASIC" and "10 BASIC Dialects", with interview quotes!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Update 9/18 - Shadow Hearts, Knight Arms, Journey to Silius, Four Winds Fantasy, After Burner, T&C Surf Design

The Shadow Hearts series of RPGs is somewhat brilliant. Before getting off to a rocky start with the survival horror/RPG PSOne title Koudelka, it started officially on the PlayStation 2, where it was released within weeks of Final Fantasy X and was summarily trounced. It's true that this first entry was rough around the edges as well, but the sequel refined its technical aspects, and it developed a unique voice, one that carefully balanced horror with comedy. The third one is honestly my favorite of the bunch, since it takes place in a whacked-out version of the Americas circa 1920, although some do (understandably) find it a bit too goofy.

Knight Arms is a fairly cool combo side-scroller shooter/Space Harrier clone, while Journey to Silius is one of Sunsoft's best NES titles, also well known for its immensely epic soundtrack. And Four Winds Fantasy is an extremely bizarre RPG on the XBLIG, scribbled out in MS Paint.

It was mentioned on the blog last week, but make sure to check out the interview with Jim Gregory regarding the cancelled SNES version of Akira, which reveals some fascinating information on an ambitious multi-platform project that just didn't work out.

The latest episode of Game Club 199X focuses on the legendary Deus Ex, which should really get an article here some day, once I figure out how to get Invisible War to not crash continiously on my computer. The spotlight article focuses on After Burner, which includes some pictures of various computer ports I'd missed initially, nicer screenshots in general, and a proper review of After Burner Climax. Your Weekly Kusoge is T&C Surf Design, one of the many poorly thought-out games to capitalize on the surfer dude fascination of the late 80s/early 90s. And Part 17 of the iOS Shooter Article covers iFighter 1945, Magnetar: Space Fighter, Blastian and The Orbital Hive.

Also, I am going to shamelessly mention a few eBay auctions I have going on for the next week, mostly really offbeat stuff that's been covered on the site before. Cave Love is a cool doujin music CD with music from Cave shooters, which was reviewed here. Cheetah in the Dark is another fascinating Japanese doujin CD with vocal remixes from Cheetahmen II. Hagane is a fairly decent Strider-type game for the SNES, which was reviewed here. The American release suddenly shot up in value over the past year, so here's a chance to get the cheaper Japanese release. And Kyozou Musume is the infamous "Shadow of the Colossus monster as sexy moe girls" doujinshi which was also featured here awhile back. Also up is a lot of 16 factory sealed PlayStation games and a Godzilla vs. Destroyah Real Action figure.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Scroll Vol. 7 is Out - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles special, plus Gamespite Journal's Sega Vol. 1

Volume 7 of Ray Barnholt's excellent Scroll Magazine is out, which is a heavily advisable purchase. This one covers all of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game, at least from the era that's worth caring about - that is, the NES, SNES, Genesis, Arcade and Genesis titles, along with Manhattan Missions and the PC ports. It also contains a nifty timeline of important Turtle events, as well as the number of appearances by recurring bad guys.

Also worth noting, separately, is Gamespite Journal Vol. 12. I've fallen behind on these lately because I do most of my web browsing at work, and for some reason, Parish's new domain is blocked. This volume concentrates on Sega's output in the late 80s and early 90s, with a second volume coming next year covering their later games. I enjoy Nintendo coverage and all, but Sega is a topic near and dear to me - just take a look at HG101's Sega coverage in comparison to Nintendo, so this volume is a personal favorite.

HG101's next book - the first of a new series - will be focusing on Sega as well. Details will be forthcoming on it soon!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Akira - SNES - Jim Gregory

As promised, my interview with Jim Gregory, on Akira for the SNES. Further interview responses expected in the coming months (hopefully). Spread it around! There has never been this level of detail on the unreleased games published before.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HG101 is Making an Adventure Game - Christopher Columbus is an Idiot

For the better part of the year, I've been working on my own adventure game. It's called "Christopher Columbus is an Idiot", which paints a pretty straightforward picture of what the game is about.

The story is loosely based on history, in as much as "history" is defined by checking a Wikipedia article, translating it into another language, forgetting half of it, and then delibrately misappopropriating the rest into a form that would surely baffle the academic community. In real life, Christopher Columbus someone so deeply denial about his misdiscoveries that he wrongly identified an entire race of people - a mistake with ramifications today! - and apparently refused to acknowledge that he'd ever done anything wrong. What kind of foolish buffoon does that? That's what we seek to answer.

Naturally, the project came about after I had finished up the HG101 Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures. After playing tons and tons of these titles, I've gotten a decent grasp of what I like and don't like about the genre, and wanted to concentrate that into my own project. That, and after slapping together Que Pasa, Perro? in a week (a game which I still love despite its obvious simplicity), I found that I enjoyed making games and wanted to do something on a grander scale. (And also make it an actual point-and-click game, so people would actually play it.)

I've felt that with the proliferation of indie development over the past few years, we've entered a second Golden Age of adventures games. But while titles like the Blackwell series, Gemini Rue and Resonance are all excellent, there aren't many of them that are all that least, with the exception of the two Ben There, Dan That! games, which I happily talk about all day to anyone in earshot. The reason why I loved these types of games as a kid was because they had an excellent sense of humor. Comedy in gaming is rare altogether, for reasons that I'm not entirely clear on, and I want to bring that back.

So Christopher Columbus is an Idiot is extremely silly. Sure, themes of colonialism and religion are explored, but it all takes the back seat to stripper librarians, beaver uprisings, nude time gypsies, crying dolphins, dandy fops, addle-brained monarchs, warrior princesses, hipster turkeys, pornographic conspiracies, dragon fetishists, telepathic rabbits, and at least a few references to the baffling 1992 adventure/dungeon crawler/space combat simulator game Inca. The whole deal is obviously inspired by LucasArts games (though the interfae is closer to Sierra) but the sense of humor is quite unique.

I hadn't intended to announce this quite yet, but it's come out into the open when I entered it into consideration for the Indie Dev Grant as part of the latest Bundle-in-a-Box. While I've got most of the design done on paper and a significant chunk of the game already up and running in Adventure Game Studio, I'm an awful artist, and need some money to pay for both graphics and music. The one screenshot at the top of the article is the only image vaguely representative of the final product, and even then, it's missing the interface. As of now, most of the game is rendered in MS Paint scribbles.

Anyway, when the Bundle-in-a-Box goes live on Friday or so, please consider adding a bit to the Indie Dev Grant, and voting for Christopher Columbus is an Idiot. I'll be happy to answer to any questions about it!

Here are a few more screens of the rough, work-in-progress version:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Update 9/7 - Silpheed, Galaxy Force, Hyperzone, Hover!, Metal Storm

When I was a kid, I was pumped as hell for Silpheed. I was a Genesis lad, and Electronic Gaming Monthly was telling me for months on end that this would be the game to put Star Fox to shame. didn't quite turn out that way, but I was still mighty impressed at the visual trickery it used to make it seem like the Sega CD was a polygon pushing monster. Anyway, while the Sega CD Silpheed is by far the most popular, the series actually has its roots in home computers like the PC88, and was localized by Sierra back in the late 80s, who had a partnership with developer Game Arts. A third game was released for the PlayStation 2 near its launch, and is well renowned for being Treasure's most unimpressive game. Most recently, it's shown up on the XBox 360 and Android mobile phones as a Colony Wars-style flight combat sim, leaving behind its isometric shooter predecessors. Anyway, they're rather impressive, and it's a great read.

Most of the rest of the articles have a similar theme, which was quite unintentional, that being early 3D shooters. Galaxy Force is Sega's most impressive super scaler game, though like most arcade ports, it seems to be defined by its awful Genesis port rather than the original arcade game, which was released in some really amazing motion cabinets. Hyperzone is another 3D game, not quite as impressive but still pretty cool, developed by Hal and released for the SNES, using Mode 7 for its visual trickery. And Hover was bundled with copies of Windows 95, an interesting little tech demo to prove that the operating system wasn't total garbage at running games, like its precursors were. The outlier this update is Metal Storm, Irem's cult NES classic, where you play as a gravity flipping robot.

Your Weekly Kusoge involves >Dexter's Laboratory: Mandark's Lab. One might automatically assumes that such a game would be crap, except one of the Dexter's Lab games for the GameBoy Color was actually just a reskinned Elevator Action, so there was some precedent for good games from the license. Our spotlight article is a double feature, revamping the articles for Space Channel 5 and Rez, two rhythmically infused games developed by United Game Artists, one of the many talented teams at Sega in the Dreamcast era. And page 16 of the iOS Shooters article covers Ace Doodle Fighter, Ace Fighter, ArcadeGuardian PRO / iGuardian and Angel Rush.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

199X Dispatch - Our Lingering Deus Ex Question

Another month has come and gone, and the Deus Ex Ultra-Team Ultra-Challenge is over. The podcast has been recorded and should be available in the thread by the time you read this.

In what I hope will become a regular feature of the podcast, Snarboo closes out with a "lingering question." He wants to know if it is possible to kill every last person in Hong Kong. If not (Tracer Tong may well have a plot-powered forcefield) how close can one get?

The first person to provide Youtube proof of the possibility or impossibility of this challenge will get Pit Fighter for Game Boy a cherished game from my own collection, autographed by me. You are guaranteed to have the only one of those ever to exist. So in terms of rarity, it's priceless.

And of course, don't forget to vote on one of September's three randomly-selected games: Crystalis (NES), Military Madness (TG16), or Ninja Kid (NES) / Pocky & Rocky (SNES). Vote or die!