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Column: Roboto-Chan

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Hounds of War

August 31, 2011 5:00 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the ground breaking game Chrome Hounds by From Software]

Back in 2001, From Software announced their support for Microsoft's first foray into the console market. With games like Murakumo and Gaia Blade. many of the Japanese press and public regarded the Xbox as a possible contender. After all, this was a staunch Japanese developer making games for an American console. The thing was that whilst Murakumo was available shortly after the Xbox's release in Japan, Gaia Blade disappeared into insignificance.

The promotional in-game movie for Gaia Blade that was shown at the 2001 Tokyo Game Show displayed a rather lush "real time simulation" RPG set in a mythical almost ancient Greek-inspired landscape. A scantily clad female warrior dispensed with multiple beasts in a pretty brutal fashion.

Roll forward a year to the following Tokyo Game Show, and now people were asking what had happened to Gaia Blade. This time there weren't any in-game movies but instead a few instances of pre-production artwork -- again set in the mythical world but now with bipedal mecha, and the game's name had been changed to that of Gaia Gear. Admittedly, very few were surprised to see mecha in a From Software game, but they were confused after seeing in-game footage of what looked to be an entirely different type of game. The question on everybody's lips was what in the hell was From Software doing?

A year later, a game finally appeared, the name had changed yet again as had the setting, but the same designs of bi-pedal mecha were present; the world had finally been introduced to Chrome Hound: Age of Arms.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Gungriffon - The Forgotten Conflict

November 16, 2009 12:00 PM |

gungriffon_highmacs1.jpg['Roboto-chan!' is a column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the lesser known and decidedly under appreciated Gungriffon games by GameArts.]

As a developer GameArts are known most for their work on the wondrous Grandia games as well as their input to the Silpheed series, but they've also produced a rather well wrought selection of mecha games too.

Specifically, the four Gungriffon games that have graced multiple consoles over the years. These games pre-date From Software's perennial Armored Core series but due to a number of factors, both cultural and financial, the games have never quite garnered the appreciation they so sorely deserved.

This is not to say that the Gungriffon games haven't been critically lauded over the years but they haven't reached the broader appeal that something like Heavy Gear did for instance, despite both series sharing similar base rulesets for the mecha. Amusingly, the design of mecha themselves has often been mistakenly attributed to be Western in origin, despite the obvious linkages to Ryosuke Takahashi's VOTOMS series, something that again Heavy Gear shares. As such, we'll delve into the series as a whole and examine what has made these games remain such a cult hit.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Transformers - Robots in Demise

July 31, 2009 4:00 PM |

transformers_convoy1.png['Roboto-chan!' is a GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the more recent attempts at making a Transformers game and why the franchise has critically stalled somewhat.]

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching a lot of cartoons. One of which was Transformers and like with many shows of that era many of my childhood friends owned the toys as well. We would play Autobots and Decepticons in our respective gardens, re-enacting the aeon long struggle between mechanical good and evil. Of all the mecha franchises birthed in Japan, Transformers is one that has the greatest amount of cultural common ground in the West; there's an almost implicit understanding of how these fictional living machines operate.

Yet, for all this commonality the vast majority of the games that attempt to re-produce those afternoons of toy robot battling end up being disjointed and functionally quite fractured.

I've already covered something similar about the various Macross games, as that franchise has a very close mechanical linkage to Transformers, but the issue here isn't a technical and logistical one but a cultural one in regards to the ability of learning from what has gone before.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Virtual Ontaku

March 4, 2009 8:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the history of the cult favourite Virtual On series and why it's one of the few SEGA intellectual properties that still engenders such fan based fervour.]

shirokis_temjin_katoki.pngI first played Virtual On years ago now, originally on the Saturn port in fact. I look back at that with some disdain admittedly, as I later but quickly realised that the arcade original, with its wondrous twinstick control setup, was a far superior game. The arcade version took me a few months of practice to get into, mainly because the nearest arcade was an hour's train ride away and I was still at the tender age that meant I didn't have a driving license.

Once I'd learnt the basics I decided to create a club in a fairly central London arcade (London being in the UK, in case you're wondering). It was imaginatively titled the London Virtual On Club, or LonVOC for short.

It then appeared that my practice had been pretty thorough, as my subsequent skills were rather potent against the new club members (all of whom were keen to best me, but in the non-Xbox Live smacktalk sense). We were also later graced with the only arcade cabinet of Virtual On Oratorio Tangram (M.S.B.S. 5.2) in the UK, which was a lot of fun.

Considering the recent announcement of Oratorio Tangram coming to digital download, it seems only fair to cover a series that made me travel halfway across my native country just to plumb credits into an arcade cabinet (a cabinet I later ended up owning, as you probably know already).

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': A Theory Of Postmechanism

January 18, 2009 12:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the recent shift in gaming that's included a greater aesthetic, rather than functional, approach to mecha.]

gundam_musou2_logo.gifThe Koei and Bandai Namco-created game whose logo is to the left is very much a branded Gundam title. You've got the V2 Gundam high fiving the Nu, whilst roundhousing twenty Zakus in the face. Yet, despite the presence of these mecha the game is functionally very much divorced from the pantheon it's visually representing.

When people define genres of gaming, like a platformer or a racer, they're specifically highlighting what those types of games functionally offer. The mecha gaming genre is no different in this regard; as it's offering a selection of playable rules that have been honed from over half a century of pop-cultural references. Games like Virtual On and Armored Core are trying to interpret the abilities of mecha rather than just anything superficially aesthetic.

So why does a game like the one I've been talking about, the Dynasty Warriors/Gundam crossover Gundam Musou, even exist and how should it be viewed in relation to the history of gaming?

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Bangai-O Origins

November 8, 2008 4:00 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a column written by Ollie Barder, which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This column covers the origins of the Bangai-O series and why Hover Attack isn't the main creative creative catalyst.]

bangaio_tamashii.jpgThere are few games developers in the world that engender such a fan driven fervour as Treasure. Their games are revered in an almost monolithic sense, beacons of taut gaming functionality they distill the mechanics of a game into something palpably cogent. However, there are a few instances amongst their creative portfolio that have wider cultural leanings.

I am, of course, referring to Bakuretsu Muteki Bangai-O. A series of games featuring the titular mecha, Bangai-O, as it sprays a colourful 2D world with a vast array of homing missiles and lasers. The initial functional impetus for the game was outed as being that of the Sharp X1 title Hover Attack but in a more recent interview, this was merely a partial catalyst as it became clearer that the main influences took on a far greater role.

Specifically, three anime series were cited in the interview; Macross, Layzner and Ideon. For those that have been reading the column regularly, I've already covered the effect of each of these series (here and here). Now it's time to see how these influences actually manifest themselves in a gaming series such as Bangai-O.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Macross Pioneers

October 23, 2008 8:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' will again be a fortnightly column by the indomitable Ollie Barder, who has returned from the blinking LED encrusted future to warn humanity about the inevitable robot apocalypse. This column covers the problems surrounding making a Macross game and how the series has thus far been portrayed in a functional sense.]

macross_ace_frontier_cover.jpgFirstly, it's nice to be back writing this column again. I've looked on from afar and wanted to take the reigns again several times but real world requirements dictated otherwise. I hope to resume the column on a regular fortnightly basis as well, so at least the wonderful Game Set Watch readership can once again have their robot gaming fix.

Anyway, what with the latest TV series, Macross Frontier, finishing a scant few weeks ago and the new PSP game Macross Ace Frontier being released recently, it seems that now is a good time to talk about a series that has often been given a somewhat unfortunate gaming treatment.

Of all the mecha franchises out there Macross is one of the most badly represented. This isn't because developers want to sabotage the series but more down to the fact that each Macross game is actually comprised of three disparate gaming genres all vying for dominance via one control method.

To clarify, Macross is a series based around love triangles, giant aliens, music and, of course, planes that can transform into large robots. Naturally, each game focuses on these variable fighters, which results in a game that has to offer control for each of it's three modes; fighter, GERWALK and battroid.

To say that that this is a pretty tough undertaking isn't in any way an understatement. It's actually, almost utterly impossible.

With that, let's get on with the column...

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Armored Core For Inquiry

August 27, 2008 8:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers the announcement of Armored Core For Answer's Western release via Ubisoft and the trials that will face it.]

acfa_360_cover1.jpgI had planned on discussing the various design issues with making a viable Macross game but that will have to wait until the next column. The reason behind this is that the game that many thought wouldn't see a release outside of Japan has finally been picked up by Ubisoft.

The game is Armored Core For Answer and I played both versions extensively earlier this year. It's a remarkable functional achievement as it pits the player in a mecha travelling at 2000 km/h against huge mobile fortresses. Think Shadow of the Colossus meets guns and robots and you won't be far off.

It's also very much a standalone game, as you can't transfer money or parts from Armored Core 4. This is a first for the series, as From Software have normally rewarded long-time players with a distinct advantage over newcomers.

So, it seems only sensible to go into Roboto-chan overdrive and give a low-down on the new game.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': A Windfall of Mecha

July 8, 2008 4:00 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the relatively new and upcoming mecha designer, Takayuki Yanase.]

mgs4_metalgear_mkII_1.jpgA good few years ago now, I used to live in Japan. Around the time of the original Xbox's launch I was somewhat without games to play. Thankfully there was one mecha game available for it (though admittedly I bought the damn thing on the strength of the as yet unreleased Steel Battalion). The game was Murakumo and whilst it was rather rubbish it did act as a mechanical stop-gap of sorts.

The mecha design though, was of noteworthy repute. Instead of farming out the art to one of the more famous mecha designers out there, From Software turned to their talent in-house. It was there that their unfaltering gaze fell upon the shoulders of one Takayuki Yanase.

Not only did he pen the entire mecha roster for the game he ended up becoming an integral member of the FMV production, creating storyboards and generally using his amazing talents to bring mecha to life.

However, that was as I said a good few years ago now. So, what's he up to these days?

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': The Last Boost

June 24, 2008 8:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the brilliantly anomalous by-product of Team Andromeda and Polyphony Digital.]

omega_boost_front.jpgIn 1999 a developer renowned for its pedigree in creating driving simulators ventured into pastures where high speed mecha roam. The developer was Polyphony Digital, the game: Omega Boost for the original PlayStation.

It was possibly the most accomplished implementation of mecha themed space combat yet achieved.

The player had control over the titular mecha, the Omega Boost, and were able to acquire targets in spherical 3D at incredible speed. Considering the aesthetic influences from anime such as Macross, it was unsurprising that Shoji Kawamori helmed the mecha design with his regular finesse.

Many assumed that the game was an offshoot from Team Andromeda's seminal Panzer Dragoon series, as the beautifully insane homing lasers were in similar effect. It became an almost apocryphal tale, that was supposedly wholly without credence.

Well, Yuji Yasuhara would probably disagree...