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Archive For December, 2006

Super Mario Underworld Flash Terrifies World

December 21, 2006 1:09 PM | Simon Carless

- RSF has put up a new flash video, though it passed under my radar for some time (in fact, he's due for a new one). This one's shorter than many of his earlier works (hint: use this link to see Super Mario Underworld once he updates his frontpage), such as Michael Fantasy and Sega Fantasy IV.

Anyway, Super Mario Underworld is an epic battle between the Mario and Luigi (or something? maybe?) set in the Super Mario World universe. As usual, it's epic and awesome, though the song has lyrics this time, featuring someone who probably didn't get very good grades in English. It's apparently a pseudo-parody of this flash video, which appeared at flash★bomb '05, a japanese flash animation event. Looks like they didn't do it again in 2006, unfortunately.

[NOTE: This is a reprint from Insert Credit, which is of course run by Game Developer's Features Editor Brandon Sheffield with some his lovable buddies. We try to crosspost Brandon's posts occasionally as some kind of nod to the fact that this is a 'work blog'. But just go read IC too, cos it's cool, huh?]

COLUMN: ‘Game Collector’s Melancholy’ - Military Madness

December 21, 2006 9:01 AM |

['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. Nintendo’s Wii has been on the shelves for a several weeks and interest in its Virtual Console feature is growing. Now that Military Madness has just been released for the Virtual Console, let’s take a look at Hudsonsoft’s strategy gem.]

Lunacy

military_madness_boxart.jpgNEC’s TurboGrafx-16 (known as PC Engine in Japan) has a special place in the hearts of collectors. Brought to America in late 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 was the underdog of the fourth generation consoles and struggled for life against the much more popular Genesis and Super Nintendo systems. Saddled with a complex variety of models, formats, and peripherals and a limited catalog of primarily Japanese games that most Americans were unfamiliar with, the console limped along for a few years before being consigned to the dustbin of history. Sad, but not too many tears were shed. However, all of the qualities that worked against TurboGrafx-16 in the marketplace make it irresistible to collectors and one of the key titles for TG-16 enthusiasts would have to be Military Madness.

Developed by Hudsonsoft and released in 1989, the game carries the somewhat more dignified title of Nectaris in Japan. Its narrative set up is good guys versus bad guys, slugging it out in a science fiction war on the surface of the moon.

At its core, Military Madness’ turn-based strategy is very basic. Each unit on the play field has an attack strength, defense strength and a movement allowance. In combat these factors are modified by terrain and encirclement. Over time, attack and defense erode as the unit suffers losses, although this is offset somewhat by the hardening of experience. Also, some unit types are weaker or stronger against other unit types to keep things interesting.

The game can be seen as a refinement of a wargame formula first articulated in 1986 by System Soft’s Daisenryaku and later employed by games such as Panzer General and Iron Storm. But it is the elegance and simplicity of Military Madness that sets it apart from other similar titles. While the game’s mechanics are easy to understand, better put a pot of coffee on because mastery will take some time.

Military Madness is also blessed with an excellent AI opponent. Aggressive but good at playing defense when necessary, the AI is flexible and surprisingly life-like. As the game’s minor-key soundtrack turns quietly in the background, it is easy to imagine yourself facing off against a devious cybernetic mind, cool and subtle. Death comes quickly in the hard vacuum of Mare Nectaris.

Monomania

military_madness01.jpgSearch for Military Madness online and expect to pay about $35 for a complete copy. Games for the PC Engine/TG-16 came on a format called a HuCard which was also called a TurboChip in America. It was a chip embedded in a thick, plastic card about the size of a credit card. The cards were stored in custom CD jewel cases with booklet inserts and then packaged in cardboard boxes about half the size of the old CD long boxes. Although the cards are mostly indestructible, all the extra packaging has a tendency to go missing, so pay a lot less if you are buying just the card by itself.

Over the years there have been a number of versions of the the original Nectaris. In 1992 it was ported to the NEC-98 and Sharp X68000, two popular Japanese micro computers.

A sequel called Neo Nectaris was released on CD-ROM for the PC Engine DUO in 1994. In Neo Nectaris battles were fought across a martian landscape with a variety of new units. The game was further enhanced with detailed animations and a CD audio soundtrack. Unfortunately, the TG-16 was pretty much dead at that point so it never received an American release.

A PC DOS version was created by a German developer in 1995. It was unusual in that it was complete remake done under license from Hudsonsoft. A Windows 95 port of the PC Engine version was released for Japan in 1997.

Japan also got a Gameboy version in 1998. Nectaris GB included a map editor and a feature called GB KISS that enabled data to be swapped between games via infrared ports built into the cartridges. It also took advantage of Hudson’s GB KISS LINK peripheral, an infrared modem that plugged into a personal computer, allowing game data to be shared from the cartridge and a hard drive.

In 1998 Jaleco published a Playstation remake of Military Madness for America called Nectaris: Military Madness. It was largely the same game as the original, padded out with an abundance of extra maps and a map editor. The graphics were upgraded in places and polygon battle scenes were added. Visually, the end result was not entirely successful. The maps had a blurry, smoothed over look and the battle scenes dragged an already time consuming game down to a snail’s pace. However, the moody music was intact and the underlying game play was tuned to perfection.

Jaleco packaged Nectaris: Military Madness behind the most generic cover art that I have ever seen and it is unlikely that anyone who wasn’t already familiar with game even bothered to pick it up. As a result, online auctions are probably the best place to find it for around $20.

In addition to the Wii version, Military Madness can also be found on mobile phones. A neat idea, but completing a single map can sometimes take hours of concentration, making the game seem ill-suited for quick, on-the-go play.

Involutional Melancholia

military_madness07.jpgYears ago I had an opportunity to buy a TurboDuo system, still in the box, along with Military Madness, Vasteel, and Dracula X. The owner was going to let the whole thing go for fifty dollars. I passed.

I don’t know why. I probably wanted to spend my money on Descent for the Playstation, thinking that it looked “cool” or something. Oh well. I am beginning to realize that collecting is really about the empty spaces on a shelf, the things that are lost and gone.

My collection can never be complete. I can only attempt to fill varying degrees of absence. It makes me a bit sad when I think about it, but then I remember games are fun to play! So, with Military Madness now available for only 600 Wii points, I won’t be letting this one slip away again.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) 2006 Hudsonsoft, Inc. All Rights Reserved

ACMI Games Up The '80s, Aussie Style

December 21, 2006 3:02 AM | Simon Carless

- We've previously mentioned the Australian Centre For The Moving Image, or ACMI for short - which keeps putting on absolutely excellent video game-themed exhibitions, such as the 'Sonic The Hedgehog: Icon Of Our Times' exhibit from 2005.

Well, Helen Stuckey sent over a bunch of awesome postcards and a brochure for the latest exhibition, 'Hits Of The 80s: Aussie Games That Rocked The World', which runs at the Melbourne museum/exhibit space until May 6th, 2007, and in which you can "...Discover the games of the pioneering Beam Software (Melbourne House) in this secret history of Australia's place in the rise and rise of the videogame."

The featured games include The Hobbit and Horace Goes Skiing (yay!), and there's also an excellent essay on the origins of Melbourne House, the game developer which was essentially the bedrock of the Australian video game scene, and was recently bought by Krome, of course.

(Ah, and I just noticed that Aussie game development scene site Sumea has a news story on the opening with video of a presentation from Alfred Milgrom, founder of Beam Software (Melbourne House) - very neat.)

Gama's WOOMB, Quantum Leap, GCG's Audio Learnings

December 20, 2006 9:10 PM | Simon Carless

- There are not one, not two, but three Gamasutra and associated site posts which have appeared over the past couple of days and that may be of interest to you crazed GSW readers, so I am therefore passing them on, yay:

- Alistair Wallis caught up with WOOMB.net's Sander Zuidema to talk about the service, which "...offers translated Japanese titles from the MSX computer system for PC download. Most of these games are available in English for the first time, with the service also providing translations of the manuals and other associated extras." We've covered it before, but it seems like they're stepping things up: "During 2006 our goal was to release one game every three weeks. Throughout 2007 we intend to increase this amount, sometimes releasing several games at once, or single games at a higher frequency."

- We also posted the Quantum Leap 'Most Important Games Of 2006' on Gama today, noting: "They're timeless. They're inspirational. They inspire us, make us question our standards, and provide a roadmap for the future of development. They are the games that innovate and move the industry forward, and Gamasutra is proud to recognize them with our series of Quantum Leap Awards." And yes, Elite Beat Agents gets mentioned, and the point is somewhat that these aren't necessarily the best games, but the ones that are bounding ahead. Though there's a fair amount of overlap.

- Finally, Vincent Diamante, who is a long-time Gamasutra contributor and whom you may also know as one of the founders of Insert Credit, has posted a useful article on 'How to Break into Game Audio' on our sister Game Career Guide educational site. Mr. Diamante has been working on projects like Cloud and RoboBlitz recently, which is rather cool, and he has some good hands-on info on what has actually been our most-requested missing article on GCG in recent weeks. Good job, that man!

Joel Stein Buys A Penis In Second Life

December 20, 2006 3:15 PM | Simon Carless

- Humor columnist Joel Stein has been messing around in Second Life in his latest report for Time Magazine, and needless to say, he finds all kinds of bizarre things (yes, including an attractive in-game female who is an attractive female in real life.)

He also seems surprised by furries, which is, well, endearing: "As I quickly learned, having sex is exactly what many of the people on the site spend their time doing. Occasionally, it seemed, with characters that look like giant fluffy squirrels—which is wonderful, because there is nothing like the warm flush of superiority you feel when discovering a fetish you don't have."

This, in fact is the smartest summing-up of Second Life's insane horizons and practical reality that I've seen, even if it's done unconsciously: "I planned to put the Reuters guy out of business, own some kind of island where drone armies did my bidding and force people to follow laws based on my insane whims. Unfortunately, the other thing I learned about myself on Second Life, after spending half an hour learning how to walk, was that I'm too lazy to do any of those things. Or even draw my hair and eyebrows right." [Via BrokenToys.]

Minter To Keynote Independent Games Summit

December 20, 2006 10:49 AM | Simon Carless

- As you guys may know, I'm organizing the Independent Games Summit at GDC this year, which is running alongside the IGF, so we get to reveal our keynote this morning, and it's good news for Yak fanboys, I would say - this reprinted from Gamasutra:

"Jeff Minter, a 25-year game veteran and indie gaming legend, will keynote the first annual Independent Games Summit hosted by the CMP Game Group (also creators of Gamasutra.com) March 5-6, as part of the 2007 Game Developers Conference at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center.

In his keynote, indie veteran and Llamasoft founder Minter (Tempest 2000, Attack Of The Mutant Camels) will discuss his personal history in the business, his design philosophy, and his current projects, including Space Giraffe for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, in an extremely rare North American appearance for the elusive programmer.

The IGS is a two-day event dedicated to the art and science of development practices, distribution strategies, and innovative ideas in the independent gaming community, and includes lectures from major indie figures from Three Rings, Reflexive Entertainment, Telltale Games, The Behemoth, Introversion, Valve, ThatGameCompany, NinjaBee, Gamelab, and many more.

Some more of the most highly anticipated IGS sessions include:

- Innovation in Indie Games, an exploration of creativity by the developers of the Experimental Gameplay Project at CMU, IGF-winning Braid, and Everyday Shooter, among others.

- Fostering an Experimental Student Project: How Cloud Got Made, a look back at lessons learned on the production process and finding the balance between professional game development and student resources, from the creators of PS3 game fl0w.

- Postmortem: Gastronaut Studios' Small Arms, an experiential study of the frenetic Xbox Live Arcade multiplayer shooter and insight into indie games on consoles

Top-level sessions ranging across such broad subject matter as content development, student contributions and accessibility are open to all registrants. There are two new conference passes designed specifically for the IGS. The IGS Expo Pass opens the doors to the summit sessions, the expo, five intro-level sessions and GDC networking events, and the IGS Classic Pass grants access to the two-day summit, as well as all GDC lectures, panels, roundtables and keynotes."

Vodafone's Receiver Peeks At Games

December 20, 2006 3:36 AM | Simon Carless

- Jim Rossignol sends over word that mega-cellphone carrier Vodafone, who are big in Europe (and not so much in Japan any more, as I recall!) have released a video game-themed issue of its 'Receiver' web magazine, with some pretty neat articles on video games.

There's a DB Weiss excerpt from Lucky Wander Boy in MP3 form, Rossignol himself talks about his Korean experience (though Gamasutra is not a 'web development portal', guys!), Pocket Gamer's Stuart Dredge discusses the future of mobile gaming, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin talks about play and experience.

Sure, a lot of this is a bit erudite, but Wardrip-Fruin's essay starts by talking about 2001 and Eliza all at once, so we forgive him: "In the mid-1960s Joseph Weizenbaum created a stunning piece of software. Years before HAL 9000's screen debut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, this software, Eliza, made it possible to have a conversation with a computer."

Holmes, Cthulhu - Two Great Tastes Now Combined!

December 19, 2006 9:01 PM | Simon Carless

- Hope he doesn't mind, but Gamasutra Podcast exec. producer and genial host Tom Kim sent out a funny email the other day about one of my fave subjects, Cthulhu (who is making a comeback nowadays, let's not forget!), so I pass it on.

Tom writes: "Following up on my posting on the Evil Avatar forums regarding IKEA's takeover by The Great Old Ones, here's an article from WorthPlaying.com about an upcoming Sherlock Holmes versus Cthulhu PC adventure game... A 3D graphic adventure out of Germany featuring two, shall we say, less than mainstream intellectual properties? Once again, the only explanation I have is that the ultimate incarnation of cosmic madness, the Dread Lord Cthulhu must have had a hand, er, claw, er, tentacle in."

Looks like Adventure Gamers has some good info on the title, which is called 'Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened', and "...will take players through London, a psychiatric hospital in Switzerland, various stops in the United States, and Scotland." There's even a German-language playable demo linked on the Adventure Gamers page, if you're tempted.

(Isn't Lovecraft-related IP still in copyright, btw? Obviously, Holmes isn't, which is why developer Frogwares, big PD IP fans, are doing it.)

OPM Gets Smedley PS3 MMO Hints

December 19, 2006 1:37 PM | Simon Carless

- Wow, lots of acronyms in the headline, but I just got the latest issue of Ziff Davis' EGM, and the final issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, aw, in the mail, and there's an interesting tidbit in a one-page OPM interview with Sony Online boss John Smedley that is worth repeating.

As part of his chat about the PlayStation Network online component for the PS3, which has been designed by SOE, Smedley says: "Sony doesn't have a 50MB Xbox Live Arcade limit. Sony's letting publishers do what they want... We're making an MMO that won't be distributed at retail, and we believe so strongly in it that it will only be made available online." Interesting - this appears to be confirmation that an upcoming SOE title will be digital download-only for PlayStation 3.

Smedley has talked about this a little before, in a personal blog from earlier this year: "We have four diverse MMO titles in internal development, not counting the five MMOs we currently have live, or our partnership with Sigil for Vanguard.... We’re also concentrating on bringing each of these games to you on both the PC and the upcoming PlayStation 3." He also notes: "With the exception of the DC Comics game we’re working on, each of these games is an original IP." But Smedley hadn't previously indicated that at least one of them would be digital download-only on PS3.

I wonder, is this PS3 MMO going to be free and pay for items/upgrades, or just pay-to-download - or both? The PlayStation Network makes pay for items very possible, of course. I guess we'll find out in due course - and let's not start 'OMG Sony is ripping us off by nickel and dime-ing us' rumors with regard to pay-for-items until it's obvious what's going on, shall we?

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Armored Hardcore

December 19, 2006 9:13 AM | Ollie Barder

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This week's column covers the epic Armored Core series]

aclr_game.jpgWhat with Armored Core 4's release a scant few days away, it seems only sensible to write a retrospective on possibly one of the most successful mecha gaming franchises ever created.

You'd think that a dedicated gaming intellectual property that affords immense creative freedom on the part of the player would be championed outside of Japan as well as within. While the latter is certainly true, the former is sadly not the case.

Admittedly, From Software's Armored Core games have often received rather disappointing localisations and non-existent marketing but some balk at the series' ongoing complexity, both in terms of the controls and intricate customisation.

The truth is that these games have a very traditional learning curve in effect and not just as a series but for each and every game. In the current climate of zero effort rewards maximum enjoyment, Armored Core is decidedly antagonistic in its approach on making the player learn the game. In many ways, the Armored Core series is the spiritual successor to games like Assault Suits Valken.

Armored Core 4 does look to change this slightly but more of that later. Anyway, here's more history on Armored Core than you shake a reinforced ceramic composite stick at (oh, and each of the gameplay screenshots double as links to in-game footage for this edition of the column).

More after the jump...

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