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Archive For June, 2006

On 'Counter-Strike, India Style'

June 28, 2006 11:30 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eleph.jpg Over at Wired News, they've added a fun article about the rise of online gaming in India, discussing how perhaps China isn't the only place to look for in order to see a video game boom.

Though it also includes a horrific typo in one of the first paragraphs: "Those leading the charge aren't shy to admit that the elephant has a dragon in its sites", the article frames overall game growth in terms of competitive gaming: "Tangible progress will be marked by the first Indian participation in the Electronic Sports World Cup, which kicks off June 30 in Paris. Earlier this month, 162 regional qualifiers from nine Indian cities came to New Delhi -- including 8-year-old Rohan Karir, a TrackMania prodigy -- to compete for 10 tickets to Paris and a shot at some of the $400,000 ESWC prize money."

It goes on to note: "According to a report released last month by the San Francisco consulting firm Pearl Research, which focuses on gaming trends in Asia, the Indian online games market will exceed $200 million in 2010... "India is basically where China was in 2001," says Allison Luong, Pearl's managing director. "That's when China's games market started to develop and an online games culture started to form."" It's still small potatoes, but hey, it's interesting potatoes.

COLUMN: 'Compilation Catalog' - Sega Ages 2500: Space Harrier II

June 28, 2006 8:30 AM | trevorw

Cover Image['Compilation Catalog' is a regular biweekly analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new. This entry's subject is Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 20: Space Harrier II - Space Harrier Complete Collection, released in 2005 for the Playstation 2.]

The first iteration of Sega's current series of retro remakes weren't exactly warmly received. The results of a partnership with budget-development specialists D3 Publisher, the remakes produced by the joint publishing effort 3D AGES under the Sega Ages 2500 series ranged from somewhat presentable to downright ugly, with gameplay that was sometimes robust and enjoyable and other times absolutely reprehensible. In 2005, Sega rebooted Sega Ages 2500 with a new focus on faithful ports and emulations of classics coupled with presentation that represents the cream of the retro-compilation crop. One of the first franchises to receive the new treatment was Space Harrier, in Space Harrier II: Space Harrier Complete Collection.

Welcome to the Fantasy Zone

sharrier-01.jpgThe original Space Harrier has already received its own entry in the Sega Ages 2500 series (which can also be found in Sega Classics Collection), so in this volume, it's Space Harrier II (the Genesis sequel) that nominally has the limelight. But really, it's almost as if Sega's using Space Harrier II as a minor excuse to release a perfect port of the original Space Harrier on this particular collection, as an apology for the first, coolly-received remake. And perfect it is: it's just as fast and smooth as the original groundbreaking rail-shooter, with no glitches or inaccuracies in its conversion.

It's easy to see why the game is so well-loved to this day, with its blinding speed and classic tunes, and it holds up extremely well (even if you don't care for scaling sprites - shame on you!) And for only the second time ever, Space Harrier supports analog control. The original arcade game sported a full-sized aircraft-style joystick that allowed for precise control and aiming, but no console version of the game since - aside from the Sega Ages version that was released for the Saturn - has supported anything but digital D-pad controls. Here, Space Harrier supports the analog sticks present on the Dual Shock and Dual Shock 2 controllers, as well as two of Hori's USB flight sticks (break out your limited-edition copies of Ace Combat 5!).

Space Harrier SMS
Also accounted for here are the Sega Master System and Game Gear conversions of the arcade game. Both of these are as limited as you might imagine, given the 8-bit hardware they run on. Both struggle along valiantly at roughly half or quarter the speed of the original and are full of messily-converted graphics and sparse level layouts. have tunes that are pretty faithful to the original's soundtrack, though those in the Game Gear version sound a good deal fresher. To access the Game Gear version of the game, by the way, hold right on the D-pad while the cursor's on the version-select option in the game-select menu.

Get Ready

Space Harrier II
Space Harrier II, originally meant to display the young Genesis's muscle in comparison with arcade hardware of the time, doesn't hold up nearly as well today as its older brother. It carries forward Space Harrier's famous infinite horizon well enough, but as the Genesis had no built-in scaling hardware, all the scaling here is faked. Each of the game's objects was captured at several different levels of zoom and stored in ROM for display at given intervals, giving a mild - but very choppy - simulation of scaling.

Choppy as well is the Harrier's movements: moving him across the screen makes him jump between a set of fixed positions, instead of having him move smoothly as in the original game. All of this makes the game seem as if it's running at about fifteen frames per second or so. Naturally, this isn't the best state for any aspiring action game to be in, let alone the descendant of one as speedy as Space Harrier. That, coupled with the comparatively lackluster soundtrack and level designs, leave this one feeling fairly uninspired.

Ouch!

The third headlining title here is Space Harrier 3D, a Master System game that made use of a rather dodgy-looking pair of goggles that had lens-shutter mechanism that, coupled with a flickery game display, created a 3D effect. That potentially headache-inducing mechanism isn't available here (thankfully?), because it simply wouldn't make much sense to include it, given the current selection of 3D-compatible goggles for PS2. Rather, this version of Space Harrier 3D has a mode that uses the old red/blue 3D effect instead.

You'll have to break out the scissors and glue if you don't already have a pair of those cardboard goggles, though. Packaged in with the game is a little envelope that contains sheets of red and blue cellophane, along with a pattern and instructions for cutting out and assembling a pair of 3D glasses. Thankfully, for those of us who don't want to go through the trouble, there's an option to switch off the 3D mode entirely. (And it's worth noting that there's a hidden mode that replicates the original's flickering, as well as an option that lets you use the same glasses you'd use to view stereogram images. Just hold right on the control pad while on the "3D Type" option.)

Space Harrier 3DOf course, stripping away the gimmick leaves you with an original Space Harrier sequel that's not much more advanced than the original Master System Space Harrier. It's competent for the hardware, though, even if it's inherited the Genesis version's choppy player movement. And what's with the TIE Fighters? An extra bonus for fans of the US version, though, is emulated support for the FM-synthesis module that was only released for the Japanese Sega Mark III system. Anybody who's only heard the original Master System version's reedy tones will be in for a treat.

You're Doing Great

And since presentation is the name of the game here, no effort has been spared in making each version of each game present here as faithful as possible. The emulation (or conversion, whichever the case) is absolutely rock-solid in each case, and all of the original options and cheats for the old games are present. There's a gallery for each game with sound effects, music, and printed material included. The original Space Harrier has its promotional flyers, while the other games have their cover art and manuals - from both the Japanese and overseas versions of the games - scanned at a quality so crystal-clear and a resolution so huge that you can zoom in and read every word. Space Harrier's gallery also includes an expert superplay of the game, along with the option for the player to record and play back play sessions.

There's no lack of video options available: each game can be displayed in an interlaced and scaled mode, in progressive-scan, or pixel-perfect in its native resolution (termed '240p' here). This latter option is something that's missing from nearly every major retro-compilation that's released these days, and the lack of it leaves the vast majority of all those classics looking blurry, shimmery, and limp. Such is not the case here. And in the game's manual, there are interviews with and comments (all in Japanese, of course) from Japanese journalists and members of the original Space Harrier development team, including Yu Suzuki.

This package, along with the even-more-excellent Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box, represents the standard that all retro-compilations should be measured by. Even though there are "only" five games present here for your (roughly) $25, this package shows that care and respect for classics like Space Harrier and how they're presented can go a long way, even in the face of the ever-decreasing, technology-driven perceived value of games like these.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]

EVE Online Tournament To Be Streamed

June 28, 2006 5:50 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/eveo.jpg Former GSW blogger Tony Walsh has some excellent new information about space-based MMO Eve Online holding a large-scale video/audio streaming event to showcase some in-world tournaments taking place next month.

Walsh explains: "CCP, maker of the popular, massively multiplayer sci-fi game EVE Online, has announced that it will be broadcasting live audio and video programs across the `net from its offices between July 14 and 23, 2006. The broadcast coincides with a planned tournament, allowing viewers to see and hear all 95 matches with commentary. A high and low quality video stream will be provided, as well as an audio-only stream for those who prefer it."

He also notes: "Planned features include a tour of the CCP offices, information about the company's in-house magazine (which pays writers with in-game cash), and live interviews with CCP developers." CCP have been one of the most pro-active MMO firms in terms of stimulating in-game community, especially since they've managed to keep with one gigantic shard for in-game world use, and this looks like another good community-building event from them.

Fantasy Westward Journey Creator Goes East

June 28, 2006 2:28 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/fwest.jpg Former Marketwatch founder and current Chinese MMO don Bill Bishop continues to blog pointedly about the Chinese game market, and his latest post relays the interesting information that "Kingsoft has hired away Xu Bo, lead designer of Fantasy Westward Journey, and several core members of his development team."

Of course, this is partly interesting because most of us have no idea which MMOs are big in China (yes, apart from WoW!), but apparently, Netease's Fantasy Westward Journey and its sequel are two of the largest, numbering in the high hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users (!), and powering a lot of Chinese firm Netease's growth.

Bishop adds: "I'm not sure how much this matters for Netease long-term. I doubt this new Kingsoft game will be ready before 2008, and Fantasy Westward Journey shows no signs of slowing down (think Lineage and NCSoft and you realize Netease could live for years on just this one game). Netease does appear to be having issues with its long-awaited 3D game Tianxia." Again, somewhat over our heads, but fascinating just for the on-the-ground insight.

Advent Rising Comic, What They Did Next

June 27, 2006 11:38 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/advrise.jpg Thanks to a post over at FiringSquad, we get to find out what the folks behind the lofty but ultimately a bit clunky Advent Rising (particularly the Mustard brothers!) have been doing since they left previous company GlyphX Games.

Apparently: "The game is called Empire and its universe will actually be revealed first in a novel of the same name by noted science fiction author Orson Scott Card. The novel, due for release in late Novemeber, takes place in the near future with a second American Civil War raging. FiringSquad contacted Chair Entertainment for more info on the game and a represenative told us that the Empire game will be an Unreal Engine 3 first person shooter and that the Empire universe is their creation. Orson Scott Card elected to write the novel based on Chair's ideas and will have a large hand in developing the storyline for the game."

More than that, we were very surprised to note that a comic book based on Advent Rising is still being produced, even after the game flopped and helped contribute to the near-downfall of publisher Majesco. The final issue of the 5-part miniseries looks like it's just been released, though. Anyone check it out?

Dangerous Dave 2, Devilishly Dissected

June 27, 2006 8:40 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ddave.png Apparently twistedly 'inspired' by sister site Gamasutra's game postmortems, a new site Gawd's Museum of Dissected Games, has been set up to take games apart from a hacker perspective - a 'postmortem' by dissection via an unrelated party!

The first of these is for John Carmack and John Romero's PC shareware platformer Dangerous Dave 2, for which it's explained: "If you have never played dave2, you may think that this is yet another platformer in the favor of Command Keen; well, if you have played it, you know it’s closer to the Doom frenchise. Master Tom Hall designed this game for Softdisk’s Gamer’s Edge disk right after leaving Softdisk and founding id. With Adrian Carmack on the graphics, the game featured so much gore (for pixelated graphics, of course) that some of it had to be removed."

Thus, 'Gawd' explains how he took the game's files apart to extract all of the sprite data, even including the programs he used to do so, and concluding: "As I mentioned earlier, I am passionate about making a new Dave episode. There are actually 7 other Dangerous Dave games, but nobody speaks of them. I am talking about a game that is featuring Dave’s cold personality, with Metal Slug-like levels and Castlevania-like bosses, and of course Paul Robertson’s mighty Pirate Baby’s Cabana Battle Street Fighter 2006-like body count and blood-sprinklers." Woo, blood-sprinklers!

The History Of Phantagram's Kingdom

June 27, 2006 5:41 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/nnn.jpg Always nice to see mainstream media coverage of video game industry notables, esp. outside the U.S., and there's a nice Korea Herald profile of Phantagram's Sang-youn Lee just posted which does exactly that.

The surprisingly honest piece explains what happened to Phantagram after the first Kingdom Under Fire title came out - which was pretty messy: "Through venture capital and corporate investments, the company's management was taken over by CJ, one of the country's conglomerates. The takeover did not bear fruit; instead, the company was in disarray. Then, Kim Taek-jin, CEO of NCsoft, stepped in and bought the company, but Lee revealed of that deal: "I was so naive. Kim just wanted us to help make Lineage III. He offered very good compensations including stocks to me, but I felt I was cheated. So I gave up the NCsoft stocks worth tens of billions of won and left out."

It also reveals how Phantagram came back from the dead: "When Lee walked out of NCsoft in late 2003 and tried to rebuild Phantagram which was in tatters, he had a place to depend on - Blueside. When NCsoft took over the company, there were around 200 Phantagram employees, but many of Lee's core developers quit when the company was merged into NCsoft and formed a new company, Blueside... Now, Phantagram draws up a broad blueprint for game development and directs the entire process. Blueside takes care of actual development through former Phantagram engineers. Such efficient cooperative work system has helped develop [Xbox 360 title Ninety-Nine Nights] in a short period of time, Lee said." A very neat history of the man and the company.

Mystery Science PlayStation Underground 3000

June 27, 2006 2:45 PM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/mst3k.jpg Those lovable chaps at the 'Seconds Out, Round One!' weblog Kotaku have spotted a Mystery Science Theater clip from the PlayStation Underground disc posted on YouTube - here's the direct YouTube link, for those who want to see 'related videos', etc.

Kotakblogger Brian Ashcraft notes: "Host Mike and 'bots Crow and Tom Servo snark on shoddy TV spots and shoddier graphics. My favorite exchange: 'Like Crash Bandicoot and Jet Mato.' 'It's Moto. Jet Mato is your laxative!" Also worth noting that this encoding emanated from the MST3K Digital Archive Project, who apparently rescue all kinds of extra shows nowadays (uhh, Let's Bowl?!)

Anyhow, MST3K is certainly a semi-obsession of ours, so go check out the Satellite News website, go buy some of the Rhino-packaged MST3K box sets (they were surprisingly cheap last time we checked!), and then kick back with this neat little obscurity, which also includes a bunch of 'behind the scene' footage from the show at the end of the clip.

Writing Up Trilby's Notes

June 27, 2006 11:56 AM | Simon Carless

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/tntn.gif Poking around some ill-reached corner of the Internet, we spotted, via RoushiMSX's LiveJournal, that new (&free!) graphic/text adventure Trilby's Notes has debuted, from the same folks at Fully Ramblomatic who've made a bunch of the top freeware adventure games of the past couple of years - and that's right, you read it correctly, 'graphics/text adventure'!

RoushiMSX's full post on the game explains: "Trilby's Notes is out! The game is a direct sequel to 5 Days a Stranger and an interquel between 5DaS and 7 Days a Skeptic, so make sure you brush up before you play it :) The parser interface is a nice throwback to the classic adventure games from Sierra and the writing is flat out fantastic. Thus far the graphics have been among the best Yahtzee has done yet, with some really nice looking backgrounds and pretty good animation."

The creator, the great Yahtzee himself, explains re: the text bit: "Don't hit me. I made it use a text parser for several reasons: (A) because the game is presented as Trilby's written account of the event, so typing commands feels like you're typing up the document or something, (B) as an homage to the AGI and SCI0 Sierra games of yesteryear, and (C) because I've never done a text parser game with AGS before. I had my testers try out the parser exhaustively so hopefully it's somewhat intuitive."

COLUMN: 'Parallax Memories' – Sonic & Knuckles

June 27, 2006 8:58 AM |

LOCKED AND LOADED!['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SEGA’s locked-on: Sonic & Knuckles.]

More Than Just Blast Processing

Last week was Sonic the Hedgehog’s 15th Birthday. You all knew that though, right? Well, I guess that makes it late for a party, but let’s have one anyways! The original Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Genesis in June 1991; its star was to be the mascot for the new Sega, and he ascended to the status of pop icon. Since I’ve already talked about how one of the initial designs for Sonic ended up, and I assume that most of you already know the original game with passionate familiarity (if not the original will be released for the GBA later this year), I’m skipping ahead a bit.

In the winter of 1994, no longer a child, I was purchasing my own games, but money was pretty tight. I heavily debated which game would be worth the most for my money. I was bombarded with television advertisements for a game that promised to give me not only one game, but also allow you to attach other game cartridges which would expand their play as well: Sonic & Knuckles. Initially I was going to hold off for Christmas and hope to get it from a loving family member, but I caved in—I must be weak against advertising or have a soft spot for midgets.

The O.G. Logo? Who can say? Where is Tails? What is an echidna? These questions answered next week!Locked On

Back then, I was not as knowledgeable in games, so I didn’t know what went into the creation of Sonic & Knuckles. I just knew that I could play as that flying ... what was he? Oh yeah, an echidna. Initially, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was to be twice as long as it was when released. To get a game out on schedule, the second half of Sonic 3 was cut out, and the first half was polished into a final product. The other half was then completed and also turned into a standalone game, Sonic & Knuckles, released with lock-on technology. The top of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge would lift open and you could then “lock-on” the Sonic 3 cartridge on top to create the complete game.

When the two games were combined, and upon completion of Sonic 3, you move right into the levels on the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge. The rivals become friends and team up to stop the real enemy: Dr. Robotnik. As further evidence, the stage select shows inaccessible levels in Sonic 3 that were later included in S&K, and if you look at the sound test you can even listen to music from those levels. With the two games locked together, the vision is finally completed and many new things can be found, including mini-games, more bosses, side stories, more saves, additional music, changed icons, new forms, and more emeralds.

Don't touch the red jems... balls... err, spheres
Blue Bonus

As I said, the lock-on technology promised more than just one game; you could now also play as Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which was bundled in with many Genesis systems and is probably one of the most common games for the system). Unlike Sonic 3, however, Sonic 2 was not initially designed for use with the red spiky-haired mammal. This makes many parts more difficult, if not exceptionally frustrating. Still, the ability to completely explore every inch of a game that I thought I knew inside out made up for this.

Curious as I was, and even though it was not mentioned anywhere, I figured I would attempt to play Sonic the Hedgehog 1 using lock-on technology. It didn’t work, but I was treated to one of the mini-games from Sonic & Knuckles: the blue-sphere game. Sonic 1 will allow you to play though all 134,217,728 possible random combinations of the blue-sphere game if you have the mental capacity to do so. Experimenting with other games leads only to single blue-sphere levels.

The only negative thing about Sonic & Knuckles was that it was the first purchase of a Genesis game I made which had a cardboard box. Sonic and Knuckles gave me much more than any game had previously offered from a single purchase, and because of this, no Sonic game released since has been anywhere near as important to me. Hopefully Sonic Team can deliver sometime in the future, but so far they have been largely unsuccessful.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: As you might remember us recently reporting, Turner's GameTap service for PC just added officially licensed versions of Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 with the lock-on technology, if you want to see what MattW is talking about in this column without digging out your Genesis. UPDATE: Commenter JohnH points out: "Sonic Mega Collection has included games that account for all the "lock-on" configurations, including using Sonic 1 to play Blue Sphere, so that's probably the best way to experience them, since Mega Collection is the same price as two months of Gametap.' Good man!)

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]

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