Sunday, March 31, 2013

You Should Contribute to the Retronauts Kickstarter

The Retronauts panel at PAX East began on a bittersweet note, as the panelists announced that it would be the last installment of the podcast ever recorded. The gloom didn't last long though, as when the panel wrapped up, the team announced a Kickstarter to continue the podcast well past the closure of 1Up, the site that began and hosted them for the past six years.

This is something you should definitely pledge to. It's hard to underscore how important this podcast is - it was the inspiration for both the old HG101 podcast (which I'll reupload the old episodes of, someday!) as well as the currently running Game Club 199X, and I'm sure numerous others. The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures largely owes its existence to the excellent adventure game episode. It's been an incredibly rich and entertaining source for retro material for the past several years that it was a bummer to potentially lose it.

It's already succeeded in its modest $12,000 goal, but higher rankings will allow for more video content and books, as well as a full Retronauts website.

It should be noted that podcasts are incredibly difficult to monetize - they aren't ad supported in the same way that written or video content is. Nevertheless, these things do take a significant amount of time to research, record, and edit, not to mention the cost of decent recording equipment - costs which I think many people don't realize. Do keep that in mind when pledging - I'm reminding everyone of this as a pre-emptive strike against any "well why don't they just do it for free!" in the comments section. In fact, there's a whole big post about this explicitly breaking out the reasons for costs at the Retronauts site.

Indie Game Publications: Scroll Issue 9: Artdink and Gamespite: The Anatomy of Castlevania

The past few weeks have seen the release of two excellent self published works - the latest issue of Ray Barnholt's Scroll magazine, and Vol. 13 of the Gamespite Journal, The Anatomy of Castlevania.

This issue of Scroll focuses almost entirely on the Japanese developer Artdink. Most folks are familiar with Artdink through the likes of their off-kilter PSOne output, like No One Stops Mr. Domino!, Tail of the Sun, Aquanaut's Holiday and Carnage Heart (of which a port just recently appeared on the NA PSN). They're the sort of strange titles that proliferated back in the 32-bit era, before those pesky things known as "massive profits" became a concern.

What most probably don't know, though, is that Artdink has a long history of strategy and sim titles. In fact, if you go back to the early 90s, there's actually a lot of similarities between them and Maxis. People at the time thought so too, so Maxis was the one that published an localized version of their popular train simulator A-Train. Alas, the game rather flopped, so most of their titles have been relegated to Japanese home computer formats, all but nearly impenetrable to most. Ray has played almost all of these, and their history makes for fascinating reading, most of which hasn't been documented anywhere else. It's essential reading for anyone who visits a site like HG101. The PDF is $5, the print version from Magcloud is $17+shipping.

The latest issue of the Gamespite Journal follows the "Anatomy of" series, posted by Jeremy Parish on his website Telebunny (formerly Gamespite), which seek to explore the depths of both old-school game mechanics and their level designs. The Castlevania series is ripe for such analyzations, because they really are some of the best of the era - sure, their jumping mechanics might seem clunky, but it's all very deliberately so, and is essential to both the rhythm and the pacing of the game.

While the previous volumes have been trade paperbacks, this is a wider format book, filled with large spreads with level maps and tons upon tons of pictures. It focuses entirely on the first three Castlevanias for the NES, with quick mentions of the bizarre MSX2 offshot Vampire Killer and dire arcade game Haunted Castle. For anyone who's had the levels for these games permanently emblazened in their mind since childhood, it's another highly recommended purchase. It is pricey though - the softcover runs at $42 plus shipping costs, and there's no B&W version of the wide format book. There is a cheaper B&W trade paperback version, though it doesn't have all the same content, and due to the format, it missing the cool layouts. The content is also available to read freely here.

Incidentally, the next HG101 book will be about Castlevania. I actually purchased some booth space for the upcoming Too Many Games in mid-June, and I had hoped to have it ready for then, but time has been a precious resource lately, so that may not be possible. It will feature (almost) completely new reviews of the entire series, plus tons of additional content, including information on spinoffs, fan games, inspired works, soundtracks, comics and all sorts of extra stuff. Here is a quick picture of (roughly) of what it will look like - if you've seen the Sega book, it uses the same basic layout.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 5

I'm coming to the last issue of Fun Club News. Henceforth, I'll be covering Nintendo Power proper.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 4

I'm picking up my pace this issue and taking a look at issues #4 and #5 of Nintendo Fun Club News.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 3

This time I'm taking a look at Fun Club News #3, featuring Metroid and Rad Racer.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Update 3/10 - Penguin Land, Hopper Robo, Bubbles, Martian Gothic, Game Club 199X Podcast: Electro Man, Pizza Delivery Boy

Sega's Penguin Land stands out to me because it was first Sega Master System game that wasn't just a Mega Cartridge (the standard designation for a cartridge using 1 megabit of ROM), but a Mega Cartridge Plus! Why the Plus? Because it had a battery backup, in order to save the user-created levels, showing a level of versatility that was relatively rare in console games back then. Of course, the game, which is an action-puzzler where you need to roll an egg downwards through a cave filled with polar bears, is incredibly difficult, to the point where I can't beat more than a single stage. But, it's got penguins! It's sort of an offshoot of Pengo, in that matter, even though they play differently. (Expect a Pengo article in the neat future too.) Anyway, there are a lot more titles in the series than the SMS game, which this article expounds upon.

Hopper Robo is another unique Sega game from 1983 - it's unfortunate it never caught on because the eponymous character is quite adorable. Bubbles is one of those Midway games that pops up on arcade compilations and no one's really heard of it since it's outclassed by other more popular titles, but is actually pretty good. And Martian Gothic, an overlooked survival horror game in the vein of Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil.

The iOS shooter article features Blast Fighter, Chopper Desert Storm, Orion Fighter (pictured), Codename Cobra Classic DX and Codename Cobra: Desert Storm Deluxe. For the latest episode of Game Club 199X, we have an unusual platformer from Poland. Originally published under the name Electro Body, Electro Man was later picked up and distributed by Epic MegaGames, the shareware distributor who later broke out and delivered such future hits such as Gears of War. Your Weekly Kusoge is Pizza Delivery Boy, which I think might be the first Wii game we've covered under this column, which is surprising given the huge fail-to-win ratio present on last generation's most popular system. And the spotlight article is Treasure's Mischief Makers, because it's one of those neat little side-scrollers that tends to get swept under the rug, both by fans of the company and by fans of the system.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

TGXPO 2012

True Gaming surprised a lot of people still somewhat sour from the events of Sony Gamer’s Day 2012 by announcing TGXPO 2012 just a scant two months after it.

The three day event took place at the MENA Grand Khaldia hotel, a somewhat odd choice given its location in one of Riyadh’s older shopping districts. Entry required purchasing a physical ticket for every day of entry at a nominal fee. The game line-up consisted mostly of already released games, but there were promised demos of DmC, Metal Gear Rising, Gears of War Judgment, Lost Planet 3 and Fable: The Journey. Nintendo was sadly absent this year. The tournaments this time around were for Halo 4 and FIFA 13, and there was an additional challenge event where people could register to fight EVO player Abdullatif Al-Hamli aka Razer Latif in Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition for a chance to win an Xbox 360.

The first thing I noticed upon entry on the first day is that I wasn’t wading through a sea of people like the last two times. The floor was spacious and there weren’t enormous crowds of people. Everything was going smoothly apart from the fact that Gears of War Judgment and Lost Planet 3 were conspicuously absent. Some legitimate talent from the east and west coast of the kingdom tried their hand against Latif, but the man who once beat Daigo walked away with the win every time.

I spent the second day mostly sitting down with Latif and making pleasant small talk. The third day was mostly chilling with the floor staff over matches of Street Fighter X Tekken which was on display for some reason. Once again I couldn’t attend the cosplay contest due to circumstances but it still showcased the same level of talent as last year, including a very nice Auron costume and the return of Frank West.

Overall, I had fun at this expo. Personally I found that it lacked a bit of oomph with regards to guests and events but it’s still an improvement over last year and a step in the right direction for conventions in the Kingdom.

But wait, there’s more! I caught up with True Gaming founder Mohammed Albsimi and asked a few questions. Here’s a paraphrasing of the interview:

How long was TGXPO 2012 in planning?

We’ve been planning it since the end of the first one last year. We had initially promised to hold the event on October in the Riyadh Exhibition Center (RICEC) or at the Faisliyah hotel failing that. However, scheduling conflicts with Sony Gamer’s Day and a few other circumstances forced us to delay by a few months.

What do you think went wrong with Sony Gamer’s Day and how did that affect planning for TGXPO?

Sony advertised the event a little too publicly, and that attracted the attention of the wrong crowds. We took careful note of the mistakes made there and did everything we could to circumvent them

Was the location (an out of the way district) and date (which coincided with many students having final exams) a deliberate decision?

It was completely a matter of circumstance.

Were there plans to get more guests who worked in the games industry?

SGD set a bad precedent for bringing foreign guests to gaming conventions here, but next year we should be able to bring back high profile industry veterans as well as have more interactive panels.

Similar to last year, TGXPO seems to suffer from having game lineups that are mostly already released on the market as opposed to upcoming. Are publishers being difficult with regards to providing playable demos? Additionally, what happened to games that were promised but didn’t show up like Gears of War Judgment and Lost Planet 3?

The publishers aren’t actually a problem. I believe we had a respectable selection of upcoming games for TGXPO 2011. As for this year, most of the games on display actually were unreleased back in October, but obviously the two month delay wasn’t something we could easily adapt to in terms of the lineup. As for the missing games, the matter was out of our hands. The Lost Planet 3 demo unit that we were sent experienced technical issues and wouldn’t work, while the Gears of War Judgment demo was being held by customs.

Where was Computer House?

Computer House’s participation this year was limited to only being our ticket vendor.

Where was Nintendo?

Nintendo was actually planning to display the Wii U at TGXPO but ran into trouble with their corporate headquarters due to not having settled on a release date for the console.

Special thanks to Mohammed Albsimi, Adel Bajunaid and the rest of the TG staff for making this happen and I wish them the best of luck on future conventions.

Tried to take a photo with Mohammed but my light sensitive eyes derped out. Still worth it to show off my custom t-shirt.

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 2

I'm continuing to bring you all to the most recent episode of the Nintendo Power Retrospectives with part 2, covering Nintendo Fun Club News, Issue #2.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Want a 'zine on shooters? Check out the Pink Bullets

Pink Bullets is a rather neat shoot-em-up blog that started up awhile ago. Cool chap Ian Cortina has just put up a pre-order for a 28 page color 'zine, which definitely looks to be worth checking out. It's looking to be about $10 shipped to the US, which is a pretty decent price! The site says that he needs to reach 100 pre-orders for it to happen, but it looks like it's already surpassed that number so publication is a sure thing.

Having published a couple books (with more planned on the way), HG101 fully supports any efforts for publications like these, especially on relatively niche topics like shooters. Please give them your support!