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Archive For April, 2006

COLUMN: The Gaijin Restoration - Sampaguita

April 30, 2006 10:27 PM | Simon Carless

Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita from Sony. It was released in late 1998 for the PlayStation in Japan.]

The Pleasure of My Text

I’ve been hooked on interactive fiction for quite a while, and by extension adventure games. There are several of my unspellchecked text adventures haunting the net (which I won’t reveal, due to intense shame.) My bookshelf houses the Oulipo Reader, Cortazar’s Hopscotch and the excellent Twisty Little Passages, and I feel in every fiber of my being that Fahrenheit, er, I mean, The Indigo Prophecy is an excellent, evolutionary return to form, using the semantics of cinema to deepen the experience of narrative. But, my humble beginnings come from my A+ book report from the 2nd grade on Seaside Mystery, or its complete title: Choose Your Own Adventure #67: Seaside Adventure. This was the gateway drug to Infocom, to Sierra, and eventually Half-Life and beyond.

no alt textChoose-your-own-adventure (CYOA henceforth) is an interesting, not quite missing link in interactive fiction. Often pegged as juvenile, it’s true that CYOAs do often cater to the kinder-crowd, but its simplicity and influence often creep into new media. Laser discs (with a modicum of twitch), DVDs and even CDs got into the act (with special mention to a vinyl record by one Ken Nordine: Colors, which came with obfuscated directions for random access playing.) I digress; I blog. This weeks little gem from the East is Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita. The former part of the title is a concatenation which expands and translates to “Drama that You Do.” The latter, Sampaguita, is a Sri Lankan flower. The game is an anime CYOA for the PlayStation 1. That drama and that adventure owe it all to their preceding pronouns.

Dark And Stormy Nights

no alt textThe game casts you as generic, nice if a bit lonely, salary-man everyman. Walking home one dark and stormy night, the area is bristled in an eerie tension. Police patrol, the wind blows, and black puddles glower light, and an alleyway hides away a crying girl in beautiful pink dress. She has amnesia. You do the noble thing and take her home and tend to her wounds. From here on, anything can happen to cut this story short.

There are 20 bad endings, 5 normal and a scant 3 good to strive for. The whole game is animated in a queer letterbox frame, pushed to the top of the screen, and peppered with stills when the action slows down. Periodically the choices pop up, and here is where the game becomes fiendishly unfriendly for friends of imports: it randomizes the selections. You can’t map a flowchart of progression without memorizing the actual kanji, hiragana and katakana, with some options looking identical to the untrained eye. A lone walkthrough Romanizes some choices, allowing one to go syllable hunting for a good, or even a normal ending, though finding all the bad endings is by no means easy.

In-flight Entertainment

no alt textThere’s a charm to the game regardless. It reminds me of watching the person to the left’s in-flight movie, with a glaring angle, crap resolution and no sound, (your PSP battery is dead, and you’ve already read this month’s Edge 4 times over) and trying to bend the movie to your will.

The plot is filled with action, snuggling, mysteries recovered, trips to arcades and a man named boy. Eventually a halo of flowers shows up, which I can only assume is the sampaguitas. Probably highly charged with mimetic energy. But to recall my cryptic and grammatically awkward mention of pronouns from above, it’s how the game handles you that is remarkable. Your choices may be few, but you only speak what you select. Your head is always cut off, or only the mouth is visible. The only time your eyes are revealed, is at the climax of the plot. And even then, your mouth is covered. This leads to interesting blocking and opens an interesting angle for those interested in inoculating the reader/viewer into the story. If any of this interests you, it seems Sony has ported it over to the PSP, so you can explore Maria’s dark past on your bullet train commute past Mt. Fuji.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]

Follin's Prime Gone, Not Forgotten - Remixers

April 30, 2006 6:03 PM | Simon Carless

prime.jpg Although all-time great video game musician Tim Follin, whom we interviewed for Gamasutra a few months, has now unfortunately quit the game biz, as we mentioned on GSW back in January, his legacy of genius music lives on, both in undiscovered 'gems' and remix goodness.

On the first of these - even the semi-canonical Follin Drome website doesn't list the obscure Sega Mega CD comic license Ultraverse: Prime, made by Malibu Interactive before they stiffed, and apparently so poor that it was only sold as a bundle with FMV game Microcosm, youch.

Well, we completely missed this Sardius-penned review of the 'Prime' theme song which reveals that the cheesy title tune (.MP3) has a flute (!) and synthesizer solo. Given that only Tim Follin ever puts rock-themed flute solos in games, and we know that he worked for Malibu, this appears to be a 'lost' Follin soundtrack (co-composed with Geoff?) of some kind - we're getting a copy as we speak.

It was also recently brought to our attention that the folks at OCRemix are partway through a Follin remix project, and some of the completed (though thus-far unavailable!) selections include musical genius XOC, he of Super Mario World cover album genius, who is covering both Magic Johnson's Fast Break & Super Off-Road. Hawt. In the meantime, poke XOC's other great arrangements and rejoice.

Is The Video Game Movie Doom-ed?

April 30, 2006 2:59 PM | Simon Carless

doomed.jpg A few weeks ago, an intriguing column in New York Magazine by Hollywood producer Lynda Obst appeared, named 'We Lost It at the Movies', and dealing with "...how Hollywood freaked out over vanishing audiences—who’ve now magically reappeared—and why teenage boys are a studio’s worst habit."

This started in June 2005, and Obst notes of the movie studios' frantic attempts to bring back movie audiences: "October brought Doom literally, which had started off tracking like gangbusters... Based on one of the most successful video games of all time, it would have to be a blockbuster, wouldn’t it? The tracking continued to build until the week of the movie’s debut, when it collapsed. If the kids didn’t come to Doom, starring The Rock, we could no longer call anything."

And, guess what? The film "...ultimately did $28 million in domestic box office. This was beyond horrible. Word of mouth killed Doom before it even opened. This was news; bad news." Of course, one does wonder how many teenagers have even played Doom, given that it's not a major console title. Nonetheless, Obst comments of market research: "Young men were too busy to go to the movies anymore. They would rather play video games on Friday nights or be on the Internet playing video games with strangers or hooking up or pretending to be hooking up or playing video games with or without the person they had just hooked up with."

So, Obst seems to be hinting that boy-friendly video game or action movies are some of the riskier things filmmakers can do right now, given their fickle audience: "We used to have a weekend to get our money out of a movie like Stealth or Doom. Now we get one night, tops. And that’s not enough to break even, the way it might have been in the good old days before the summer of 2003... we have to kill our singular addiction to teenage boys. We need to diversify the meaning of “our audience.”"

Of course, Obst has been diversifying for a while, given that she produced How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but... maybe the film biz is going through some of the same diversification issues as the game biz, for high-budget titles?

Boppin' Bops Back Onto Windows

April 30, 2006 11:35 AM | Simon Carless

boppin.png Over at Press The Buttons, blogged MattG has spotted an Apogee shareware classic once again available, in the form of reconstituted side-scrollin' puzzler Boppin'.

The official site has the new, free to leech Windows download for the game, of which PTB explains: "Seemingly combining elements of Dr. Mario with more conventional platformer adventures, our heroes accomplish this task by picking up special blocks and bopping them around the room so that they connect with identical blocks located in each level."

We also like that the Wikipedia entry for the game notes: " The Amiga version only sold 284 copies, according to the developers, and so it was ported to DOS and released as shareware."

Oh, and another fun note for the title: "The game was extremely bloody, with depictions of suicide when you lost all your lives, leading to concern from Apogee that led to the blood being disabled in later versions of the game, along with a replaced splash screen with a note claiming it to be a "politically corrected version"." Yay, political correctness!

Worky's Challenge Gets Serious Postmortem

April 30, 2006 5:41 AM | Simon Carless

worky.jpg We at GSW hope you 'automatically' read features on sister B2B site Gamasutra - hence the lack of backlinks, haw. But the same may not be true for Serious Games Source, our new B2B site covering "games created for training, health, government, military, educational and other uses."

The latest feature up there is a neat 'postmortem' look at Spanish educational 'serious game' Worky's Challenge by Exelweiss Entertainment, of which it's explained: "The game was an initiative by a mutual insurance company and the regional government of Valencia and was related to workplace risks. Workplace risks has been a touchy political issue in Spain lately. The number of injuries and deaths during work has skyrocketed in the last years. A burgeoning construction sector (which by itself has higher risks that other economic sectors) and the bad or nil preparation of workers in low-skill jobs have been two of the major culprits for this."

The game itself is actually a graphical adventure teaching about workplace safety, along with arcade-style mini-games, in which players are "battling Dr. Fatality by adopting safety measures and avoiding accidents", and the game's commissioners were certainly picky: "After being finished, the game had to pass an external panel of workplace experts to make sure everything was correct... Even simple details like the way a computer was placed relative to a window needed to be changed. A computer screen should not be directly facing a window to avoid screen glare." My eyes!

Sadly, we can't find a link to Exelweiss' Spanish-language game online anywhere, but if anyone knows where it can be downloaded or otherwise checked out...

In Praise Of Cinematech Nocturnal Emissions, Pt. Deux

April 30, 2006 12:38 AM | Simon Carless

crimepatrol.jpg So, the first time we were nice about gonzo game video show Cinematech: Nocturnal Emissions, which shows on U.S. cable channel G4, it brought us one of the show's producers, Ryan Stevens, who now writes the 'Gaijin Restoration' columns for GSW.

But, separately of that connection, and the fact that there's widespread gamegeek complaints on the rest of G4's non-gaming direction nowadays (I just found out that GameSpy's new staffer Li Kuo, who I was praising the other week, used to work on the excellent pre-'movie celeb' version of Icons, incidentally), the fact is that Nocturnal Emissions still rocks hard , because you will see video of weird, odd, awful, obscure and inspiring video games, most of which you can't even find footage of on the Internet.

You can see a few of these on the videos page at G4TV.com, but you probably need to watch episodes for the full effect. Now admittedly, there's a lot of cleavage in there, but a recent show I heartily enjoyed, for example, had: "[3DO laser game conversion] Crime Patrol [and its sleazy South American drug dealer sequel], [previously GSW-referenced] Rule of Rose, [excellent Korean PSP title] DJ Max Portable, and much more... including everyone's favorite [and the aforementioned smut], Megumi." In conclusion: you don't have to watch the rest of G4, but if you're a gamegeek, watch this.

Bloodspell Machinima Goth Funks It Up

April 29, 2006 7:28 PM | Simon Carless

bloodspell.jpg Rockstar-esque uberblog Boing Boing has posted info on the release of Episode 1 of Strange Company's 'Bloodspell' machinima, the long, long in-development movie that's made using BioWare's Neverwinter Nights, according to its official site.

A couple of interesting points - firstly, the movie "will be released as 5-7 minute episodes every two weeks until the entire film is available", and it's released under a Creative Commons license, which means people are free to mash it up and mess it up to their heart's content.

There's also a LJ making-of diary which has lots of great content, including the pronouncement: "BloodSpell began as a small, short, indy film to fill the gap between big Strange Company projects. We're fairly certain that the monster that idea spawned is the largest and most ambitious machinima project ever attempted, which just goes to demonstrate the dangers of enthusiasm." Yay, enthusiasm!

CDi Of The Tiger, The Thrill Of The Fight

April 29, 2006 2:20 PM | Simon Carless

thunder.jpg You may know him as GSW's very own 'Bastards Of 32-Bit' columnist DannyC, but now Monsieur Cowan has played even further to his obscure side and penned a big Philip CD-i 15-year retrospective for our chums at 1UP.

As the intro notes: "OK, so assuming that you actually know what the CD-i is, odds are that you think of it as little more than "that one system with the jacked-up Zelda games." There's a little bit more to the CD-i story than that, though. It's a tale that involves Nintendo's baby steps toward disc-based media, the origins of a little Sony project called the "Play Station," and a forgotten console that's host to some of the worst games of all time."

The resulting piece has quite a lot of precise info that was hazy to even geeks like us, and any feature that names Hulk Hogan's 'Thunder In Paradise' game as one of the _highlights_ of a console's lifecycle is a must-read around here, at least. Also, 'The Wacky World of Miniature Golf with Eugene Levy' - ouch!

Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns?

April 29, 2006 8:08 AM | Simon Carless

noitu.jpg The ever-vigilant Tim.W at Indygamer has spotted another freeware PC gaming gem, this time via Sweden, and it's the bizarrely named Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns.

But wait! Tim(e) explains all: "With a quirky name which is actually evolution spelled backwards, Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns is quickly gaining widespread recognition for it's classic platforming goodness. Setting a standard by winning TDC's Game of the Week award barely days after it was released, fans of classic console arcade action will not be disappointed with this effort."

If further explanation is needed: "Much like Capcom's Mega Man series, you get to utilize certain devices to change form and access special powers. The first few levels may seem repetitive but the game does get better after the second stage... Most of the highlights occur during boss battles, where each leader has to be defeated using different strategies." Yay, delightfully retro.

Gitaroo Man Sings Again, In A Different Tone

April 29, 2006 2:59 AM | Simon Carless

gitaroo.jpg GamesAreFun has posted up some neat news - the most complete info yet on Gitaroo Man Lives! for PSP, revealing a new official website for the port (aw!) of Inis' super-fun PlayStation 2 rhythm title.

According to GAF: "The site has a bunch of screens, along with a tracklist that reveals the names of two new songs in GM Lives! - "Metal Header" and "Toda Pasión." There's also a 30-second streaming sample of Metal Header, which we've made available for download."

The site also notes of the two bonus songs for the game, which is due in Japan this May and has no confirmed Western publisher yet: "According to the site, Metal Header was written by "tomzuin h" and recorded by Sonica Studio. So, it's not COIL (the rock group who did most of the original GM's songs), but it still has that distinctive Gitaroo Man feel, which is very nice to hear." Pick up the PS2 version of this title, if you haven't already - it's skeleton xylophone levels of fun!

[UPDATE: Ah - actually, Gitaroo Man has appeared on Koei's E3 game list, and "is coming to PSP in America later this year", according to 1UP. Hurrah for that!]

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