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Archive For October, 2006

COLUMN: 'A Life In Obscurity' - A Maid is Not Enough

October 23, 2006 11:09 PM | trevorw

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our buddy Jiji ran out of stuff to post for his 'Compilation Catalog' column, so we're calling it 'A Life In Obscurity', and he'll alternate random D3 musings with compilation round-ups and other odd reviews, semi-regularly. Only on GSW! Because only we're crazy enough!]

It's a trap!It's not often that a Simple 2000 game has recognizable - or even mildly appealing - characters. More often than not, Simple 2000 characters simply represent archetypes or attempt to imitate well-known characters from full-priced games. But when a game in this series has characters that are so appealing that they make one want to ignore the overall quality of the game, it's clear that the developer has done something right. Such is the case with last August's release of Simple 2000 Series Vol. 105: The Maid Uniform and Machine Gun - and, indeed, there's a lot to ignore if one expects to have much fun with the game at all.

[Click through for more.]

MSX Classics Get Wooomb-like Western Versions

October 23, 2006 6:15 PM | Simon Carless

- You may remember, back at TGS, we covered the chiptune concert at the D4 Enterprise booth, partly to promote the 1-chip MSX and D4's digital download services.

Well, now the company's European counterpart, Bazix, has announced the launch of a digital download platform named Woomb.net, which offers legal downloads of localized MSX titles, at prices that seem to be around 8-9 euros ($10-$11) per game - it all runs through a custom launcher, though, so I'm not sure you get get ROMs, as such.

The press release explains: "At its start, WOOMB.net already offers several titles licensed from D4 Enterprise, such as Aleste (Power Strike), the Golvellius and Hydlide series, Laydock and Zanac. "Many Japanese software producers like Compile, Microcabin and T&E Soft are enthusiastic about the network and have already joined in", says Bart Schouten of Bazix, "Our goal is to add a large selection of classic games from Europe and the USA to WOOMB.net and Amusement Center as well.""

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Fear the Final Cougar 10/23/06

October 23, 2006 1:15 PM | Ollie Barder

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. The first column discusses how Japanese video game series Super Robot Wars actually has palpable continuity effects on the classic Japanese robots it features within it.]

Final Dancouga

We haven't long to wait until this majestic piece of poseable plastic makes its way into retailers (in Japan). The thing is, the history behind Final Dancouga is a bit complex. Roll back to 1985 and a new super robot anime TV series is in its heyday, by the name of Choujuu Kishin Dancouga it features four mechanical animals that combine to form the eponymous Dancouga itself.

The show was different than most super robot fare, namely it being released in 1985 and not 1975 and the fact that the Dancouga didn't appear until half way through the series (not to mention that the initial combination was a total disaster and almost resulted in the mecha's total destruction).

Oh No, Black Wing!

The second and more controversial aspect of Dancouga was its uber upgrade. This was the Black Wing, a large and transformable plane, that ultimately was to hitch up with Dancouga and form the somewhat kickass Final Dancouga. Unfortunately towards the end of the series Alan Igor sacrificed himself and the Black Wing, leaving millions of Japanese children sitting silently aghast in front of their televisions.

As they got older, some of these children eventually went to work for a company called Banpresto and decided that it was their remit to write anime history as it bloody well should have been. Almost every instance that Dancouga has appeared in a Super Robot Wars game has resulted in the upgrade to Final Dancouga along with a menu of uniquely potent attacks, even as recently as Alpha 3 and J. To the point now that a demand for this game only version of an anime heirloom be given toy form.

Licensing is a funny beast in Japan (or in this case five transforming mechanical beasts). Super Robot Wars is a series of games that started in 1991 and was basic anime otaku wish fulfilment; place mecha from disparate series in one turn based strategy game and let them high five their way to victory. Super Robot Wars has since grown and endured off this premise and has matured into a varied and vibrant series of games.

Super Robot Geeks

The secret with this license is that each of the mecha are unique and consequently have specific attributes that can be given gameplay form. Having all the different anime series produces often hundreds of units each with vibrantly diverse attributes. In addition, knowing the anime they come from often adds to strategic planning, for instance the Ideon feeds off the destruction of its compatriots and subsequently unleashes the full horrific wrath of the Ide.

Do you knowingly sacrifice your units to awaken this horrific power or use other means to vanquish the forces of evil (consequently the Dancouga feeds of the destruction of enemy units, which is from the anime as the pilots get angrier so the Dancouga becomes more powerful, so there's balance at work here).

Super Robot Wars also has fed itself back into the anime fold; both Mazinkaiser and Shin Getter Robo originally appeared in Super Robot Wars games before being graced with their own anime series.

Comebacks Through Robot Wars

Super Robot Wars has also acted as a catalyst for the revival of certain shows. Take Dancouga for example: you play through a game such as Alpha 3 and have the story from that series laid bare in concise chunks over the course of several stages. Follow that on with using the Cougar and laying majestic waste to a veritable robotic army and you crystallise the interest in the host work.

This then has the affect of said players going out and buying (or trying to buy, some aren't readily available these days) the series. They then go back and play the next game and understand more of the narrative references, as well as the now nuanced capabilities of that unit. Alternatively, if you're me, you buy the series and then the Soul of Chogokin toy (obviously for real world re-enactment purposes).

This wouldn't work obviously if there wasn't a palpable passion to re-create something like the Cougar in such a gameplaying context. I mean some of the 2D animation in these games is absolutely astounding and painstakingly accurate in almost all instances (it's one of the main reasons 3D Super Robot Wars games don't work that well, due to the lack of visual accuracy and finesse).

The point I suppose I have is that licensing isn't all bad, so long as you have insightfully geeky and anime folklore obsessed enthusiasts at the helm (preferably clenched fisted cosplaying enthusiasts with a penchant for striking poses).

To finish up, it's worth pointing out that a new Dancouga series is on the way in 2007; entitled Dancouga Nova. I'm sure it won't be long until the original Cougar and the newer iteration team up in a Super Robot Wars game.

[Ollie Barder is a freelance journalist who's written for The Guardian, appeared on BBC Radio 4 and contributed to Japanese mecha artbooks. He lives at home with an ever growing collection of Japanese die-cast robot toys and a very understanding wife.]

Bartholl Talks Teutonic Game Art Shenanigans

October 23, 2006 8:10 AM | Simon Carless

- Over at Videoludica, looks like Matteo Bittanti has interviewed German video game artist Aram Bartholl, and it's kinda fun, if a bit overly erudite.

Bartholl explains at one point: "I want to share a story about the project "de_dust" [a large number of various sized stacked crates arranged in a cluster. All the crates are printed with the same imitation wood texture from the computer game Counter-Strike.]"

He goes on: "About a month ago I received an email from Chris Ashton, a game developer of Turtle Rock Studios, who told me that he really liked my work. The funny thing is that he was the artist who created all the textures for the map "de_dust" back in the days when the mod was developed. Isn't that amazing? The guy who digitized and photo-shopped some wood pictures into a game which became a staple for an entire generation contacts me, the person who brought these wood pixels back to the real world. In other words, the circle is now complete." It's so beautiful!

Alex Handy Sez: 'Kyne Is Guilty!'

October 23, 2006 3:07 AM | Simon Carless

- [Another guest post, and the first in a raggedy series of 'Alex Handy Sez' missives, in which the former Game Developer editor and current Computer Games Magazine/Massive/otherstuff contributor riffs on something or other - cos we like his crazy hair! This time, he delightedly pokes at Psygnosis' Brataccas for the Atari ST.]

"Long ago, and far away, upon the Atari ST 520 I did play. And upon this merry machine I did play Brataccas.

You are Kyne. You have been accused of a crime you did not commit. On the asteroid mining colony known as Brataccas, you have come to clear your name. You've hidden your face, and assumed a new identity to unravel the strands that conspire against you.

Miners, Cops, and Ne'er-do-wells

The colony is populated with off-duty miners, tyrannical cops, and an organized crime gang, headed by a fat man in green. The asteroid is a living entity--as you play, all of the inhabitants of the colony move freely from place to place. A simple side-view gave you a 3D map of rooms to navigate, one door at a time. And it was those doors drawn lengthwise across the background that presented a real challenge to walk through.

You see, Brataccas was controlled entirely with the 2-button mouse. In those days, (1985), the mouse was still a newcomer to the personal computer, and the Atari ST and the Amiga were equipped with them. To walk left, hold the left mouse button and slide the mouse left. To walk right, hold the left mouse button and slide it right. Simple enough, right?

Well, then you have combat, which is entirely swordplay. Right mouse button, sweeping up with the mouse draws the blade. That same button in concert with sweeps to the left and right were your swings and stabs. Both buttons could force blocks, overhead slices, and defensive ducking. Everyone was armed, and drawing your sword in a room full of otherwise innocuous bystanders could spark a fight with which ever one of them felt toughest.

- Exit... Or Kill?

The single hardest manuver to execute. however, was walking away from the player, into the background. The second room in the game offered a direct left exit, and one background exit, through which the rest of the game was located. In order to see all of this, you have to press both mouse buttons and push up while Kyne stood in front of the door. In the days of imprecise mouses, this task was actually quite difficult, since anything less than a straight line up resulted in Kyne drawing his sword and starting all sorts of trouble.

The police left you alone, provided you weren't wandering through their control rooms. Even sword fights in one of Brataccas' many bars were acceptable, as long as you didn't drop anyone worth a damn. The locals were worth a damn, and they were all red. One of them, however, wore a skull mask, and he was not. He was your window into the underworld of Brataccas. As he wandered along with the other locals from bar to bar, chit chatting along the way, you could follow him and study his habits. Eventually, the cartoon speech bubbles would be populated with enticing clues.

Eventually, the skull fellow will address you by your real name, even though you are in disguise. Follow him for longer, and you'll see that this skull fellow has dealings with a lizard-headed green man. Ssssssslash is his name, and crime is his game. Strike up a conversation with Sssssssslash and he'll take you off-base and into the literal underworld of Brataccas, where you can meet his boss. Said boss, however, had no interest in your quest whatsoever. He's a red herring, as is the entire large underworld.

To End Is Simple...

To win Brataccas, you must simply wander into the police headquarters near the start of the game. A few rooms in, the police-boss--who floats around on a Yoda-sized levitating disc sled-- has an office. In there, the papers that prove you were set-up are located. Take those papers back to the starting point transporter, and you win.

Easier said than done. The police attack on sight if you're in their base, killin' all their d00ds.

The initial setting of Brataccas is intentionally confusing. As is the manual. Whenever a plot point is revealed in the manual, a hole is left open. While the manual is nowhere to be found online, an example of these holes is: "Kyne has been framed. To learn what crime he has been accused of, turn to page 27."

Page 27 was always the location of these secrets, and when you finally turned to this mythical missive, "This page intentionally left blank." Rats!

A rare Psygnosis gem."

[Alex Handy can put bricks to sleep just by looking at them. He always votes Silly Party, knows where his towel is, and loves to go to the zoo and watch the monkeys make a'more. When he's sober, he blogs at Gism Dot Net. When he's not sober, he wanders around downtown San Francisco dancing for nickels.]

'Little Plastic Dreams' - The 1980 Coleco Catalog

October 22, 2006 11:04 PM | Simon Carless

1980-coleco-catalog-21.jpgJason Scott notes in his ASCII blog that he’s managed to get his hands on a 1980 Coleco retailers catalog – yup, that’s pre-Colecovision material, but there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there nonetheless.

Witness, for example, the radness of the 1979 hit TV game system Colortron, which features 4 Pong-like games – tennis, handball, hockey and what is one of only two computerised versions of jai alai. There’s also the “number one selling target game” of 1979, Telstar Marksman. The Marksman features an astonishing 6 games in 1, including skeet, target, tennis, handball, hockey and – you guessed it – the second of only two computerised versions of jai alai.

Personally, despite being non-videogame related, my highlight is GOOD PUPPY™, which the catalog notes “walks, sits, heels then barks for a reward”. As if that wasn’t enough, “when a biscuit is placed in his mouth, the air-actuated GOOD PUPPY™ appears to chew it, but the biscuit drops into a pouch below his chin for repeated use”. That's PS3 beating tech if I ever I heard it.

[edited by alistairw]

Clover's Over, So Over, Don't Want Another

October 22, 2006 6:21 PM | Simon Carless

okami wallpapereToyChest’s Devil’s Advocate column is dealing with the whole Clover fiasco/tragedy this week, and they’re looking at it from a refreshingly logical point of view.

“Capcom were, on the one hand, attempting to nurture originality and creativity in games, and yet on the other invested the kind of money, and expected the kind of returns, that only blockbuster titles are capable of recouping,” writes columnist Luke Plunkett. “As a result, Capcom can blame, as they put it themselves, ‘extraordinary losses’ on the decision to close Clover Studio, but in reality they have nobody to blame but themselves.”

Plunkett goes on to compare Clover to an indie film studio, suggesting that Capcom should have provided them a budget befitting their arthouse style. “Had [Shaun of the Dead] received the budget of King Kong ($200,000,000)…it would have been a colossal failure. Yet this is exactly what happened with Clover when Capcom poured big-budget money and expectations into their games.”

Finally, he suggests that the demise of the studio may well have last implications for the entire industry. “Sadly, the legacy of this failure goes beyond the mere financial implications for Capcom: by confirming other big publisher’s fears about original content, Clover’s demise may have delivered a death-knell to any lingering notions that the likes of EA may start producing some genuinely creative, original games.” Sobering.

[edited by alistairw]

Holy Crapola, Jet Set Willy Online!

October 22, 2006 1:07 PM | Simon Carless

robot7.jpg Those who know me probably realize I'm a bit of a gigantic Matthew Smith fan - in fact, the article I wrote for Gillen and Rossignol's sadly cancelled book dealt with some extremely wacky mods of both Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy.

Anyhow, thus I was pretty damn hyped up with TIGSource explained that there's a completely unofficial Jet Set Willy Online in development - Tim explains it's: "The only online game that I’m mildly excited about right now... [co-author] bob posted a trailer video... to whet your appetite." Absolute genius!

Bob pops up in the comments to explain more: "At the moment we’ve got 4 game types in with a few more to come. We’ve got “race to” games, where its say, first Willy in space or to The Off License. (I’m pushing for “Choirboy”, first person up The Priests Hole, but I don’t think anyone else will oblige me on that one), First to collect amount of objects, Timed games from 5 to 45 minutes and Willy Tag (my personal favourite) where one Willy starts off pink and has to taint the others with his pinkness. The survivor wins."

[Oh, and though the article I wrote for Gillen/Rossignol never came out, Tim Edwards over at PC Gamer UK saw it and asked me to do a couple of pages on my favorite JSW/MM mods, which was duly published in Issue 165 (September 2006) in the following form [PDF link] - reproduced with PCG's permission, thanks!]

GameTap Gets Spooky For Halloween

October 22, 2006 7:55 AM | Simon Carless

robot7.jpg PC-centric 'all you can eat' game download service GameTap just shoved me its latest PR, for its Halloween catalog additions, so figured I would pass it on - esp. since they mention that the 22nd is the last day you can sign up for their 50% off when you sign up for a year deal.

The info explains: "Broadband entertainment just got eerie! This Halloween, Turner Broadcasting’s GameTap gets into the spirit of the holiday by featuring a number of the greatest fright night franchises ever, including “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams” and the “Konami Collector’s Series: Castlevania & Contra""

These would be: "Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams: As part of this decade’s most indelible survival horror series, “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams” contains all of the content of the original console version of “Silent Hill 2,” but with the PC extras. This includes the "Born from a Wish" scenario where players take control of Maria prior to her first appearance in the main game. Also included is a sixth ending to the main scenario and a minor feature that allows you to switch to a different film stock presentation."

Also: "Konami Collector’s Series: Castlevania & Contra: If “Silent Hill” is too mature for your taste, check out this E-rated 8 Bit collection of the first three “Castlevania” titles along with two “Contra” classics (“Contra” and “Super C”). These “Castlevania” vampire-slayer classics are filled with icons from horror literature and legends, such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Medusa, and the Grim Reaper." What's more: "Additional Games: Also joining the network on Halloween is “Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Gold” (which includes the “Desert Siege” and “Island Thunder” expansions) and “Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire,” a timely Arcade classic from Capcom."

Obviously, GameTap is getting a bit more noticed for the Sam & Max exclusivity (a great draw!), among other things - and this new offer. For me, I think what would _really_ help them take off is if something like the Apple iTV becomes mega-popular. If they could get their service onto that with a wireless (or wired) controller, so it's super-simple to play from the living room - kaboom! Right now, even I'm drawn to the comfort of my Xbox 360 to play some of this type of content, sadly - though the PC-centric stuff works, obviously.

[Statutory disclaimer: I've been a Beta tester for GameTap for a while, and they've been kind enough to platinum sponsor the Independent Games Festival, which I'm Chairman of, this year, as part of their plan to bolster their indie content. But I post this separately of that whole fun.]

The Casual Game Wars Get Nasty?

October 22, 2006 3:09 AM | Simon Carless

robot7.jpg The folks at Gamezebo are very clued-in to the casual game space, and so we get a fascinating editorial named 'Crazy Competition in Casual Games', about the increasing site-exclusivity of many top titles.

Editor Joel Brodie explains: "It's no mystery that Mystery Case Files is no longer on RealArcade... The reason, according to undisclosed sources, is that RealArcade told Big Fish Games a day ago that they will no longer distribute any of their current or future titles... This follows a decision by RealArcade earlier this year not to distribute any titles from Oberon Games. Oberon, likewise, does not distribute any RealArcade titles on its network of distribution partners, including MSN Game Zone and Pogo."

Wow, so some widespread changes happening - but why? Brodie notes: "For the past two years, companies that were bitter competitors on the distribution side were the best of friends as developers. Relating this to the retail world, it would be as if Walmart were selling their branded laundry detergent at Target. It just would not happen."

He concludes of the casual game space: "The Era of Coopetition is over and the Era of Crazy Competition has begun." Press panic button now! Or not, haw.

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