Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Game Club 199X New Year's Party!

And so, a new year is upon us once more. To celebrate, the GC9X crew will be hosting a special stream on January 5th, 8 PM CST! Join Bobinator and the rest of the rad GC9X crew as they look through a bunch of old comic ads. Like this one:

Now, you might be wondering what this game is, or what it plays like. And that's what we're wondering, too! So for this special New Year's stream, we'll be checking out ads just like this and playing games none of us have probably ever played! We hope to see you all there soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Parts 21 & 22

After a long absence, the Nintendo Power Retrospectives return, with parts 21 & 22, as for some reason I didn't post part 21 on the blog. Well, it's time to rectify that.

Part 21 - covering the Super Mario Bros 3 Strategy Guide, and SMB 3 itself:

Part 22:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

IGN Convention 2013, Bahrain

This year I had resigned myself to attending a so-so Sony convention and a more interesting TGXPO a month later, then something interesting happened. A botched attempt to perform Hajj ended with me vacationing with my parents at the Intercontinental Jubail on the other side of the country for a few days before rendezvousing with my friend for a short drive to Bahrain. Our objective was to attend the IGN Convention being held there at the Bahrain Exhibition Center and sponsored by IGN Middle East.

Having done their first successful convention a few months prior in Dubai, IGN ME set their sights on bottling that lightning again. The two-day October event cost roughly 13$ for a single day pass and a 130$ for a VIP pass that covered both days and came with additional perks.

We arrived an hour before the scheduled start of the event to scope the joint out and confirm our VIP tickets which we had booked in advance by phone. Although the registration methods seemed a bit spartan, there was no doubt that the staff had things under control. What caught my attention immediately was a slip of paper on the registration counter listing two of the guests who would not be showing up at the convention as scheduled: A Saudi comedian and WWE wrestler Kevin Nash. The loss of the latter was both a blessing and a curse as it a caused several people (including a second friend who had come along just to see Kevin) to return their VIP tickets and leave, but it did allow us more time with the other guest which I’ll get to in a bit.

By the time the convention was ready to start, the lobby was packed with people including several cosplayers. The convention floor was very spacious and easily allowed for people to move between exhibits.

Game-wise, the software on display wasn’t particularly large. It mostly consisted of the PS4 lineup from SGD 2013 plus Yaiba, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Just Dance 2014 and a few other odds and ends. More interesting was actually all the other stuff they had on the floor: A retro museum featuring old donated consoles along with a demo booth for the Ouya, artist booths, indie dev booths, a casual competition area (complete with foosball machines) and even a miniature food court!

A large corridor off to the side of the convention floor housed several vendor booths (something noticeably lacking from TGXPO and SGD) selling video games, comics, anime, figures and other assorted knick knacks.

Present at the con was the Oculus Rift, which was being used to demo a non-interactive space scenario, a horror scenario where you had to keep pressing down on the controller's trigger buttons and Atajrubah, an Arabian-themed first person game by UAE-based developer Alan Robinson. On the first day the Rift had lines going all the way back to the convention entrance. At the behest of a new friend we made, I sat down to try the Rift on the second day thanks to the shorter waiting line afforded to me by my VIP ticket. After some explanation I started exploring around in Atajrubah’s desert area. Looking around by moving my head instead of the right analog stick took some getting used to, and I don’t figure out that I could actually interact with objects until the last two minutes or so of my allotted time. Overall, while the execution of the tech was sound, I’m going to wait for something a bit more substantial software-wise.

Another interesting attraction was gaming website GameOverviews showcasing what I initially mistook for Steam Boxes but were actually just custom gaming PCs. They had several different rigs doing things like running Mortal Kombat 9 at 1080P and Dead Space 2 on a really cool triple monitor setup. There’s also something endlessly amusing about being guided through each PC’s specs by a guy cosplaying as Street Fighter’s Sagat.

Eventually, we gathered around a stage at the edge of the convention floor to welcome IGNCon’s celebrity guest: Legendary video game producer Keiji Inafune, formerly of Capcom, presently of his own company Comcept, he of the many beloved games in the expansive Mega Man series.

Keiji was accompanied by Comcept producer Jon LeFlore (who also acted as his interpreter) and another guest: EVO player and Mad Catz sponsored Western Wolves member Ryan Hart. One fan came to convention dressed in a full Mega Man X costume, which everyone was so impressed by they let him up on stage to stand behind Keiji.

The guests sat down for a short interview by an IGN staffer followed by a Q&A session from the audience. It was during the latter that I came to two disappointing realizations: a) That a lot of gamers are rather annoyingly ignorant of how little say Keiji has in what Capcom plans to do with Mega Man after his departure from the company, and b) Shoehorning Ryan into the panel was completely unfair to the guy.

There's a time and place for any kind of celebrity, but as an organizer you need to understand that there are hierarchies that don't necessarily mix. Apart from being able to speak Japanese, Ryan had nothing else in common with Keiji and spent the majority of the Q&A session being ignored until the IGN staff intervened by asking him a question or two just to remind the audience that he was still there.

Anyway, once the questions were over people started lining up for signings and photographs. Normally we'd also be doing the same, but that's where another one of our VIP ticket perks kick in. We actually get access to a special lounge with free snacks and some extended hands on time with the celebrities after they finish with the normal attendees.

When the guests finally sat down in the VIP room, we formed our own small line. My friend who’s a huge fan of Zero gave Keiji a framed photograph of the D-Arts Zero action figure with the words “Thanks for creating my hero!” printed on it in Japanese, which was a pleasant surprise to Keiji and his companions.

After a few people were done with their own personal interviews with Keiji, we sat down with the man and exchanged pleasantries as best we could under the language barrier. It kind of sucked to be so close to the man and yet at the same time be separated by a wall of interpretation, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

Generally speaking, the above was a recount of both days of the convention since there wasn’t a large difference between the two event-wise. According to the staff, had Kevin Nash actually showed up as planned each guest would have gotten a day to themselves when it came to the meet and greet and VIP session.

Overall, I had a lot of fun at this convention. It felt great to be in one place with so many people who share the same passion for Mega Man and I loved the experience of attending new cons outside of my home country.

In closing, here's my friend's impression of meeting Keiji:

"On a spring day around mid-May or June, (or maybe even late summer) '97. I popped into my, now legendary, Sega Saturn console a CD. Little did I know that the game contained on said CD would influence my 12-year-old and lil bro's activities for the next 10 months or so non-stop, and immortalize to us what already was an iconic video gaming mascot at the time.

This CD contained the title "Mega Man" followed by an "X4". I had only heard of Mega Man on game ads via magazines and packed-in NES brochures on early 90's SNES games up until then. The intro of said game by itself blew our minds. Lush, colorful, and filled with action only Japanese imagination could capture via their animation techniques (or so our minds thought) at the time.

Long story short, we spent about 4 months until we beat the first (master robot) boss of the game. And ended up beating the entire thing first, a few months after that, with the character who was considered only suitable for experts. That character's name was Zero. And for various reasons, the character has remained possibly the only one from video games I continually nerd out on, even though I've since left the hobby as a full-time enjoyment medium and only keep track of said industry based mostly on my nostalgic "Hardcore" attitude of the past.

Ever since Zero's adventure during that specific game left an impression in my 12-year-old brain the size only a child of said age can consider massive, I've followed his progress through future games of the series (X), while looking back at the games that preceded X4 (with not even one "main" game which I haven't at least skimmed). And I've also wished to meet the man behind the legendary red character to express to him what the character, and the game(s) involved, has personally meant to me.

Mind you, at the time of writing this "story", if you told me 2 months ago that I would soon get the chance to meet the man behind Zero, I would've considered it just wishful thinking. However, around late September of 2013, the Middle East branch of IGN made an announcement that left me dazed for that entire day. I couldn't believe it, the organizing team behind the planned Bahrain convention managed to get ahold of Inafune, and he was more than happy to accept the offer and promote his (as of yet) KickStarter record breaking funded game Mighty No. 9 (which I'm proudly stating to be a personal "Becker").

On October the 18th of 2013, me and my friend were in awe to see a man we frequently "nerd'ed" on and relate to our childhood right in front of us in the flesh. We got our chance to lengthily meet him and his Comcept company team face to face thanks to our purchase of VIP passes (which turned out to be one of the best decisions of our lives). How did he react to our fandom and love culminated from his over 20 years of work on the Mega Man franchise? The attached picture says it all.

Rokku on, Inafune-san. 16 years later, I've finally realized what I was (partially) fighting for!"

-Sami Al-Madhi

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In our forum thread for last update's Mickey Mania article, we spent a bit of time discussing how 8/16-bit European developed platformers had elements which very clearly gave away their origins, and, on a broad level, just weren't as good as many Japanese developed ones. To counter that, Derboo wrote up an article on Lionheart, a forgotten Amiga classic that has the virtue of that gorgeous bright European style while still being an excellent game in its own right.

In general, we have a fascination with American or European games that get ported to Japanese platforms to see how they handle it. Law of the West originated on the Commodore 64 and Apple II, but also ended up on the Famicom and PC88, with some minor changes in the former's case to accomodate the console audience. The game itself is interesting because it might very well be the first instance of dialogue trees, even though it's not explicitly an adventure game or an RPG, but rather, more of a broad "sheriff simulator". I also posted the article for Murder on the Mississippi, which again originated on the Commodore 64 and Apple II platforms, but was ported to the Famicom and MSX2 courtesy of Jaleco, probably to capitalize on the murder mystery crazy due to the success of Yuji Horii's Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken. In both of these cases, the Nintendo versions were not re-released out of Japan, making them weird little exclusives. I'd like to run a feature on more of these, someday!

We're rounding out these with an article on Trog, a single screen action game from Midway that uses claymation, and is generally like a more violent version of Pac-Man. It's probably most remembered for being featured prominently in the arcade scene in Terminator 2. The Secret Files article has also been updated to include a review of the third game in the popular German adventure game series, though unfortunately it seems to be pretty terrible.

The iOS Shooter article has been updated with more arena shooters, most of them taking after Asteroids in some way. The most interesting (or bizarre) of these is Facetroids, which makes enemies out of pictures from your Facebook account. And episode 23 of Game Club 199X discusses Sweet Home, Capcom's ur-survival horror game for the Famicom, which was also based on a movie from around the same time.

Finally, the HG101 Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is featured as part of the Video Game StoryBundle, which includes eight quality video game related books and zines packed together for a low price. You can pay $3 or more to get our book plus Dreamcast Worlds by Zoya Street, Kill Screen Issues 1 and 7, Blue Wizard Is About To Die by Seth Barkan (a lovably goofy poetry book) and Vaporware by Richard Dansky. Pay $10 or more and get Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy, A Slow Year by Ian Bogost, and Replay: The History of Video Games by Tristan Donovan. It's a great selection of stuff for a low price, so please do check it out!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sony Gamer's Day 2013 in Saudi Arabia

So despite the disastrous first try in 2012, Sony decided to take another shot at their Gamer Day convention in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The event once again took place at the Riyadh Exhibition Center (RICEC), and this time all four exhibition halls were used for a grand total of 15,000 square meters of floor space. The event organizers didn't spare any expenses this time. On top of that, they hired a security company and imposed a proper ticketing system at approximately 20$ to attend per day in order to lessen the flow of rabble that plagued last year’s event.

When my friend and I arrived at the event location, we were orderly ushered into a line that led into the exhibition hall. We discovered that half the rented floor space was actually used as an area to properly check in attendees, which worked wonders for keeping things organized.

After receiving our passes and free PSN Plus monthly trials, we finally entered the convention area. The layout wasn’t terribly different from last year, but not having to wade through a sea of people was an improvement.

On display was the usual smattering of demos for upcoming games. The first I tried out was Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Having completely ignored the DMC-style hack n’slash genre for the better part of this console generation, I didn’t find anything particularly worth noting about the gameplay. There were a few amusing touches though, like clearing obstacles by sticking zombies into vehicles. This leads to grin-inducing bit near the end where you destroy a strip club by having a zombie drive a truck straight through the roof between a pair of giant stocking-clad legs followed by your character standing under a shower of panties. I wasn’t able to finish off the boss because I couldn’t do anything beyond stunning him with a charge attack.

The other group of games that caught my eye was an entire corner of the convention reserved for Namco Bandai releases, including the upcoming Young Justice Legacy game which Namco Bandai will be publishing for Little Orbit outside the US. There was also the upcoming but unaffiliated Ben 10 game which was probably placed there because they couldn’t find a better location for it. The rest of the demos were comprised of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z and Dark Souls 2. Someone decided that the demo character for Dark Souls 2 should be equipped with an incredibly unwieldy zweihander, so that any poor fool not familiar with the unforgiving intricacies of the series will just flail around and die horribly at the first enemy encounter (or maybe that just happened to me and I’m being a bitter sore loser about it).

The real stars of the show of course were the playable PS4 demos of Knack, Drive Club and The Playroom, the latter of which was enclosed in a separate room and had the longest waiting line in the entire convention. I got to try out Knack for a bit, but unfortunately I was tossed right into where the previous player left off so all I ended up doing was some generic platforming with no hint of the game’s Katamari-inspired growth gimmick. On that note, I should mention that apart from games that had very small or non-existent lines like Yaiba, demo times were still much too short.

I also tried out Tearaway for the Vita, which relied almost entirely on the handheld’s touchscreens to get anything done like drawing a paper crown (a segment I regretted not trying to do something more obscene with). I did like the camera gimmick that projected my face as an all-seeing deity upon the game world so I could play out my fantasy of being the Eye of Sauron or that creepy baby-faced sun from Teletubbies.

Since there weren’t any kid-unfriendly games that needed to be enclosed behind walls, the increased space allowed for a dedicated panel area (that doubled as the game tournament venue) and an indie developer booth, which were both missing from last year. What was missing from this year though were big name celebrity guests.

Speaking of tournaments, they actually happened this time but not without a few sloppy management hiccups. The Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 tournament had the in-game spectator audio and commentary blasted over all the convention floor speakers from some unfathomable reason, while the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 tournament happened quietly in the Namco Bandai corner and caused it be closed off to the people who wanted to try the other games. The sheer backwardness with which Sony KSA is handling a simple tournament setup that TGXPO got right the first time two whole years ago is bad enough without them indirectly telling non-Call of Duty tournaments how irrelevant they are.

The first two days were generally the same, but once again I couldn't attend the third day due to car troubles.

On the whole, this convention fared much better than the last thanks to some honest-to-God planning this time. While the increased floor space and pricey entrance fee definitely played a role in reducing the amount of chaos, it’s still unknown if they would have been enough had there been an actual celebrity guest or two. This is probably the biggest challenge that conventions here need to overcome before we can brag to the rest of the world about our local flavor of nerd gatherings.