Monday, 20 February 2017

The Taito WOWOW: The Console That Never Was

A look back at when Taito was considering creating a home console of their own, which would make use of satellite technology.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Brief Rolling Thunder Series Retrospective

Namco was one of the kings of the arcade and one of their best series was Rolling Thunder. This video takes a look back at it.

A Look Back at Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra

Waxing nostalgic about this classic CRPG.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Pokemon: 20 Years Late to the Party

Most people have this or that popular game series that they've never played before. I'm no different. In fact, there are quite a few big name series that I've not played. One of the most notable of the bunch is Pokemon. When the series first started, I was already in college and the game just didn't interest me. My priorities were different, there were a lot of really good RPGs already gobbling up my time (FFVII, Suikoden, and Wild Arms to name a few), and I pretty much wrote off Pokemon as a game for kids since most of the people playing it were tiny little rug rats.

Now, a good 20 years on, I finally decided to actually try a game in the series, and started with Pokemon Red, as I figured I might as well start with an early game and go from there if I decide to explore the series further.

So far, the experience has been alright. It's quite obvious that the game is geared toward a younger audience. The battle system is very simple, even compared to other RPGs at the time. The main challenge has come in figuring out which creatures are strong or weak against which other creatures. It actually reminds me of the Shin Megami Tensei games where combat has a similar underlying premise much of the time. There's a little bit of a learning curve in these sort of battle systems (assuming players don't take the easy way out and just download a chart detailing what beats what), but once one gets the hang of it things get quite fun exploiting enemies' weaknesses.

While there is that basic similarity in the two games' combat systems, one thing that Pokemon has which SMT doesn't is this underlying sense of optimism. SMT is just dark with it so often focusing on demons and angels fighting for control, and neither of them being particularly good choices for humanity. While it's not Warhammer 40K levels of grim dark, the world of SMT is not a happy place. Meanwhile, things are smiles and sunshine in Pokemon. Ash is out exploring the world, trying to discover as many pokemon as he can while challenging other collectors of these creatures, striving to be the best at what he does.

Maybe the two games are reflections of their audiences with Pokemon having generally younger players full of optimism, while SMT fans tend to skew older and developed a thick shell of cynicism. It is what it is, but I couldn't help but dwell on this difference for a time.

So far, I have been enjoying my time with the game. I'm definitely taking a more casual approach with it. It's a lot simpler than I'm used to when it comes to these sort of games, but I've been enjoying exploring the game world and trying to find all these different creatures that have since become so popular in video game lexicon. My first pokemon was a Squirtle, which I thought was adorable, and I was quite pleased to be able to capture an honest to goodness Pikachu early on in the game. Now I'm starting to see some of these guys evolve into stronger creatures, which is pretty exciting if I do say so myself.

There's still a ton I have to do in the game, collecting a bunch of badges, never mind pokemon. So, I'm going to be busy for the next while. The game hasn't made me into any sort of Pokemon true believer or anything, but it has proven enjoyable enough. It's certainly made me curious enough to try other, slightly more current installments in there series somewhere down the line.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Paladins: The Poor Man's Overwatch?


So, Hi Rez studios has had a new team-based FPS in beta for quite some time now called Paladins. Two groups of five compete against each other, usually battling over control points and / or payloads that must be escorted until one of the teams emerges victorious. It's pretty standard stuff for the genre, but one thing in particular is very difficult to ignore in the game: its characters.

While aesthetically, they're reasonably unique, or at least so much as this is possible without them feeling completely out of place in an FPS, they have a lot of moves very similar to those in Overwatch's roster. We could be here all day making comparisons. Whether its Reinhardt, Roadhog, Pharah, Reaper, or Torbjorn, or others, you'll finding a very noticeable analog running down the corridors of Paladins.

What's resulted is a mix of people taking pot shots at the game for being so similar, and others embracing it as an alternative since they don't want to play Overwatch for whatever reason, but still would like a similar experience. Personally, I find it difficult to go after Hi Rez too hard. It's not uncommon for certain types of characters to become archetypal over time in a genre, with variants slowly making their way into a number of games. We could just as easily point a finger at Overwatch for doing the same thing. After all, how many of its characters bare a striking resembles aesthetically or gameplay-wise to the cast of Team Fortress 2? Quite a few.

This isn't to say that two wrongs suddenly make a right, but as genres of games develop or a certain period in its development really begins to take form, similarities will begin to take root across a number of games in said genre. Whether it was the legions of fighting games that copied ideas from Street Fighter II in the 90s, 3D platformers taking cues from Super Mario 64, or everyone hopping on the hotkey-based MMORPG in the wake of World of Warcraft, there have been plenty of times where we've seen this pattern of several games in a genre absorbing, and sometimes quite blatantly, ideas from their peers. It's the nature of the business.

While Paladins has obviously taken several ideas from Overwatch, it still feels just different enough not to come off as an obnoxious clone, and for the most part it's proving to be reasonably entertaining, even with the game still in beta. I'd definitely recommend folks take a look at the game if they're curious. It's certainly worth one's time.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Know What's Fun? Shattering One's Arm

Astute readers and bots who frequent this site may have noticed a distinct lack of updates over the last few months. Well, there's a good reason for that: I broke my are really bad, got surgery, and things have been taking a good long time to recover.

Things are getting better, hence why I'm writing this post. I can play things pretty okay with a gamepad nowadays, which is nice. Moreover, I can actually type reasonably well again (albeit my pinky finger doesn't work so well, so holding the shift key has proven a challenge). Some PC games are proving a challenge, as my left hand isn't all that dexterous yet and I'll have to wait for the nerves in that arm to decide when they want to cooperate. So, that means no Overwatch or stuff of that ilk for a while. My PC gaming will be limited to RPGs, strategy games, and possibly MOBAs until my hand can handle spammier commands again.

With that, I reckon I'll be writing more here again now that I'm physically capable of it. The last few months have been somewhat unpleasant, but things are getting better now. Anyway, I figured I should post something to let folks know what's been happening. =)

Friday, 9 September 2016

CrossCode

CrossCode is a game that I've been keeping an eye on for a while now. Just from looking at it, the game oozed retro charm with its very 16-bit aesthetic and overhead Zelda-inspired perspective. Actually sitting down and spending some time with CrossCode reveals that there's a lot more to it. The game isn't simply a retro throwback meant to tug at our heartstrings through the powers of nostalgia. There are a number of modern day conveniences and design philosophies at work that a lot more depth to the experience.

The basic premise of CrossCode is that players take on the role of a girl named Lea who is trapped in a virtual world that is part of a popular MMORPG. It's all rather reminiscent of anime series such as .Hack and Log Horizon. Complicating things is that Lea has lost her memory, so she doesn't really understand much about the world that she's in. Luckily, she has the help of Sergei Asimov, a human in the real world who is communicating with Lea, trying to help her with her memory. From what I've played so far, he hasn't helped a huge amount and has been mostly helping Lea regain her ability to speak, as she's been affected by a glitch in the game whereby she can't talk. She may not be a brilliant conversationalist but it's a convenient way of pushing forward the silent protagonist.

As one progresses, they experience more of the world and Lea meets other players in the MMO. She has to keep her background a secret, though, as they think she's a normal player just like them, not a person trapped in the game. As she meets all of these people and they get to chatting, we see various nods to the MMO genre. What's nice about this is that dialog doesn't linger on jargon that is commonly associated with the genre. Instead, it's more about player attitudes and behaviors. It's a nice change of pace, as it seems like various shows or games that make reference to MMOs get hung up on language and spend little to no time looking at what makes the genre special in the first place: all of the different people who play the games.

In terms of actually going around and doing stuff, on a base level, CrossCode has a lot in common with classic Zelda games when the series was all about the overhead perspective. This can be seen through the various zones connected together that are teeming with monsters, often with treasure chests in hard to reach places, enticing players to figure out how to get to them.

Getting to said treasure chests, not to mention doors / passages to other zones is where we see the game come into its own, as platform puzzles play a big role in players getting around. There isn't any actual jump button when Lea explores an area, but when she comes to a ledge or a bit of ground that isn't much higher than where she is, Lea will jump automatically. With that, players can explore a given zone and try to figure out which ledges are of the appropriate heights and distances from one another to traverse to hidden or generally hard to reach areas.

Things become even more complicated in dungeons where the platforming becomes even more difficult and the puzzles more complex, incorporating moving pillars, and switches that have to be activated in very specific ways. It's also worth noting that dungeons are extremely large and can take over an hour to get through, usually with a very tough boss at the end.

There's also a fairly decent amount of character customization in CrossCode thanks to the game's talent tree. Branching into four directions, each specializing in different aspects (melee attacks, ranged attacks, health, and defense), the branches give players the option to enhance various base stats as well as unlocking new abilities. On top of this, players slowly learn different elemental abilities which can be treated as stances that Lea can switch between, each of which have corresponding branches on the talent tree that become available when she learns these stances. As such, even more customization is unlocked.

As mentioned earlier, the game's visuals are quite reminiscent of what one would expect to find during the 16-bit era, especially games that were showing up on the SNES at the time. Character and enemy designs are of the cutesy variety, while zones are fairly different from one another ranging from lush forests to snow-swept mountains to high tech facilities. One thing that really stood out while wandering CrossCode's world was how vibrant and colorful the aesthetic is, The colors really do pop off the screen.

Meanwhile, the music has quite a bit of synthy melodies going on that reminded me of Phantasy Star quite a bit. Being a huge fan of the music in that series, this suits me just fine.

At this point, CrossCode has been available on Steam's Early Access for a fair bit of time. There's already a lot to do in the game, so I'm getting the impression that it will be quite long when it's finally completed. As of now, the game is only slated for the PC and Wii U, but who knows, maybe it'll get brought over to other platforms in the future. It's certainly looking promising and will likely gobble up quite a bit of time for people who like Zelda-inspired action RPGs.