Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Old school’ Category

As I prepare to say goodbye to to the blog, I thought it would be a great time to revisit “Games of our Lives.”  The original 3-part series was some of my favorite material to write, and I still go back and re-read them every now and then.  I intended to cap off each year with a new entry, but that got away from me after I concluded part 3 with 2007. So without further adieu:

2008 – Super Smash Bros. Brawl – The original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 was a high school, and later dorm room favorite.  I didn’t play very much of the GameCube followup, but the promise of more Smash Bros. on the Wii – a console I was already having so much fun with – was a no brainer.

Brawl is the last game I stood in line for at a midnight launch, a month before my wedding in 2008.  It could very well be the last midnight launch I EVER attend.

With all its game modes and hidden characters, Brawl is an unbelievably deep game.  A month after launch, I was still having a blast discovering things in the single player mode.  So when I couldn’t sleep the night before our big wedding weekend, I naturally popped in Brawl.

The familiar feeling of smacking around characters like Link and Kirby with my old pal Mario really brought me back.  I had just quit my job the day before, and was about to start my family the day after.  But for a few pre-dawn hours, none of that mattered.  I got to play.

2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Last year was the first time since I started writing the blog that I named a Game of the Year, so it would have been easy to choose New Super Mario Bros. Wii. But when I think back on 2009, it all kind of pales in comparison to an unseasonably warm Sunday in early November when I got to meet my beautiful daughter.

I had missed the first Uncharted. It came out before I got my Playstation 3, and while it sounded cool (especially Nathan Drake’s badass shirt per Tim Schafer), but there were a ton of great games in my backlog by then.

Among Thieves was met with critical acclaim upon release, and must’ve set some kind of record for enthusiast press podcasts devoted to singing its praises.  It’s a technically solid game, puts endearing characters into a compelling story, and even threw in rich multiplayer modes for good measure.

All that aside, I was desperately trying to finish Uncharted 2 as my wife’s due date approached, and that’s why it will always stick out in my mind.  That whole week was a blur of making sure we were ready, from packing the hospital bag to washing the newborn clothes.  And whenever my wife took a nap, or I managed to snag a spare moment, I would jump back into Nathan Drake’s search for Shangri-La.  I was at the final boss, this close to beating the game when we finally had to go to the hospital, and I didn’t end up beating it until about a week after we brought my daughter home.  So it has the distinction of being the first game I played as a dad, too.

Read Full Post »

In case you’ve been under a rock, today is the 25ht anniversary of Super Mario Brothers original Japanese release.  As I write this, “Mario Bros” is the #5 trending topic on Twitter.  In addition to the usual suspects, a ton of mainstream press covered it.  I even saw a headline about the anniversary on that screen in the elevator in my office building.  Y’know, the one that everyone awkwardly stares at, so they don’t need to make conversation.

It’s appropriate that the anniversary happens to fall on the release date for the latest Halo game, Reach. These two properties couldn’t be further apart.

Halo is the very essence of what drives the industry today – a multiplayer-focused shooter fueled by competition, favored by angsty teens (and ghastly teens-at-heart), where it’s not uncommon to count more epithets than bodies. I’ll admit it – I’ve never played much Halo.  It just never appealed to me.

Mario games look downright quaint by comparison, with bright colors, squeaky clean character design, and all those side adventures in cart racers, puzzlers, brawlers, RPG’s…

Just take a look at their flagship characters.  Halo’s Master Chief is a faceless cipher under that impenetrable helmet. He and his space marine buddies have now starred in 5 games, but are still mostly marketed around (and purchased for) the multiplayer experience.  Besides, he just wouldn’t fit in a fun, happy-go-lucky cart racer.

Mario doesn’t speak either, outside of the occasional “it’s-a-meeee!’ or “let’s-a-go!”  But his charisma and charm have moved 240 million games – just among the character-focused core series.

Mario has been a constant through some remarkable personal benchmarks.  For those of you just joining us, some highlights: One of my first published reviews was on Mario 64.  I broke the news to readers (and in turn, some of my friends) about my wife’s pregnancy via a post about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  And when it came time to take the baby announcement photos, my daughter had on a Princess Peach onesie.  Mario was even mentioned twice in speeches at my wedding – one of those during the actual ceremony.

Playing a Mario game evokes much of the same feeling for me as watching my daughter play on the floor does now.  There is an innocence, and a simplicity to it that will always be endearing.  I can’t help but smile when it’s just me, and the jumping, and the coins.

Happy birthday, buddy.

Read Full Post »

I can’t get enough of Mass Effect 2.  I’ve spent nearly all of my play time over the last three weeks with it, hardly touching any other games.  Looking at its impressive debut at #2 on January’s NPD rankings after only six days on shelves, I’m not alone. And with all that love comes A LOT of coverage in the enthusiast press in this immediate post-release honeymoon period.

Mass Effect's' story is driven by players' choices - rooting it in the here and now

There’s been some bitching backlash on Twitter about ME2 coverage fatigue this week.  And if you’re suffering from it, well… this is probably not the post for you.  Sorry.  Perhaps a link to this awesome site will make up for it?  Cool.

Aaaanyways, there has also been some really excellent discussion around the game.  Be sure and check out Rebel FM’s full hour of thoughtful banter (with some very minor spoilers) and a particularly good episode from the 1Up guys.

All these very qualified games journos have lauded the way choices the player makes throughout ME2 impact the story.  Sure, BioWare games almost all have some level of this “choose your own adventure” mechanic, but it really sings this time out.  The choices feel natural.  As a result, I found myself making my in-game decisions based more upon what I actually felt was right (or at least justified) given the circumstances, rather than explicitly trying to play either the badass or boy scout role.  And in the end, my character was more believable as a hero with shades of gray.

I wonder if this approach to decision-driving storytelling actually handicaps ME2 it in the nostalgia department.  If it had come out 10 years ago when I was younger and obnoxious less patient, my playthrough (and by extension, my Commander Shepard) would be completely different.  I’d probably go Rogue more often, my character would be kind of a jerk, and the body count would be a lot higher.  If I were to blow the dust off that game today at 28 years old, I’d play it just as I am now, with more balanced choices.

The most elegant example I’ve seen of nostalgia-by-way-of-videogame was in the 1988 CLASSIC (and sick day movie favorite of yours truly) Big. In the movie’s third act, adult Josh is playing through the same adventure game that we see young Josh playing as the film opens:

You are standing in the cavern of the evil wizard. All around you are
the carcasses of slain ice dwarfs….Melt wizard….What do you want to
melt him with? …Throw thermal pod

He makes the same choices in both playthroughs, and that’s what makes Josh remember what it’s like to be kid.  I’m not sure anyone could, or would even want to, play through ME2 the exact same way from different stages in their life.  So does that make it… unnostalgic?  Non-nostalgic?

Read Full Post »

Of course this game will be awesome. He looks like the frickin' Rocketeer!

Just like last year, this Christmas’ new games slate went lighter than planned, as quite a few high priority games’ release dates slipped into the first quarter of next year.  Hardly anyone wants to delay a project release, especially when you consider how long the development cycle on current gen games can get.  But sometimes a game could benefit from a few more months of polishing, as was the case with this year’s GOTY contender Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Other times, a real juggernaut hits retail, and it makes more sense for a publisher to hold back a release until it can find more room in headlines and on shelves.  Modern Warfare 2 and New Super Mario Brothers Wii in particular sucked all the air out of the room this year.

It’s been fascinating to watch what Capcom’s community team and developer Airtight Games have been doing with the extra time until the release of their delayed title, Dark Void. Of course, they’ve checked all the necessary boxes: a fan site, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. Their Twitter community manager is really committed to speaking as the character of a survivor from within the Void, and ties in the game’s fiction nicely with even routine things like giveaway contests.

And this is where it gets really cool.  Last week Capcom announced Dark Void Zero, an 8-bit “prequel” to their soon-to-be-released current gen game.  Retro lightning already struck twice for Capcom, with Mega Man 9 and the outstanding Bionic Commando: Rearmed, so why not try for a third?  But Mega Man and Bionic Commando really are established, well-loved franchises with all the history and nostalgia that entails. 

Dark Void’s a completely new IP.  And it’s been hard out there for a pimp new property lately.  Just ask EA!  On top of developing an impressive fiction to serve the current-gen Dark Void game and the fan community, AND developing a fun 8-bit game to expand that universe and generate buzz, big C also developed a suitable backstory for the 8-bit game, as if the property had existed during that era.

All this attention to detail in the pre-release period has elevated Dark Void from a title I was merely interested in to pretty much a must-buy on day 1.  I’ll probably download Dark Void Zero to boot.  Well played, Capcom.

Read Full Post »

ctown fair sign 2Last week, yours truly was called upon to protect the city and county of New York from the forces of evil.  Luckily, jurors get a whopping 2 hours for lunch and my local Hall of Justice is a few shorts blocks away from one of NYC’s truly hidden gems – Chinatown Fair.  Once famous for its dancing, tic-tac-toe playing chicken, Chinatown Fair is the city’s last bastion of the smoke filled, dimly lit arcade scene that bore nerd havens in malls and boardwalks around the country throughout the 80s and mid 90s.

I had last been in a proper arcade sometime in college (Pinball Pete’s represent!), but arcades had begun a quick and steady descent into obsolescence in this country some years before that.  Starting with the earliest consoles, each generation inched closer and closer to delivering a true arcade experience.

The Playstation/Saturn era finally delivered parity, but the home experience still came up short in perhaps the most critical area: competition.  This generation’s online matchmaking took care of that, and now  just about the closest thing you can find to an arcade in the States is some kind “Chuck E. Cheese for adults” nightmare with lots of bad food and fairly lame out-of-home-attraction type games.

SFIV

CF's networked SFIV cabinets - the only ones in NYC?

Chinatown Fair is unapologetic in its lineup and old-school decor.  The place is lined wall-to-wall with Capcom, SNK and Namco fighters.  A few big cabinet driving games, light-gun shooters, shmups and the obligatory Dance Dance Revolution machines round out the collection.

The latest additions to CF are all imports, as the scene’s still vibrant across the Pacific.  It was a good opportunity for me to see how arcade companies are adapting their hardware to suit more casual play styles, just like in console games.

A few driving and rhythm games at CF feature a proprietary card system that tracks players’ progress, much like a players’ club card in a casino.  So after a one-time nominal purchase on the actual game cabinet – for example, a racer based on the anime Initial D – the player can insert their card into any Initial D cabinet they encounter in any arcade in the world, and they’ll be able to use the car they’ve customized on the tracks they’ve unlocked progressing through the game.  It’s like having a savegame file that’s always with you, or an Xbox LIVE account that works in the arcade.

I thoroughly dug my visit to Chinatown Fair.  It feels like one of the divier spots from my time in Japan.   And I mean that as a huge compliment.  I can understand how the arcade business model got phased out, but it’s kind of a shame that there are so few of them left for younger gamers to experience.  If you happen to know of a particular good spot in your town, be sure and leave it in the comments.

I'm such a baller

Read Full Post »

Last week, LucasArts announced they’d blow the dust off their venerable adventure games catalog, offering an ongoing selection of hits via Steam.  Of course, gamers everywhere rejoiced, and the immediate questions were all positive: ‘what other platfroms will these be available on?’ and ‘what other classics will they release next?’

The announcement came on top of Major Nelson’s release of this summer’s Xbox LIVE Arcade schedule.  They’re mining some classics as well, with remakes of LucasArts’ own Secret of Monkey Island and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time as well as a re-release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

These announcements, and the fanfare surrounding them, show what a compelling revenue stream a publisher’s back catalog can make.  And it makes very good sense.  It takes a much smaller team and significantly less expense to prep an old, critically acclaimed gem for re-rerelease on a new system, even in the case of a full refresh like this week’s stellar Secret of Monkey Island remake.  Gamers that might just be discovering that IP through Telltale’s new episodic Tales of Monkey Island series can go back to the original and see what made these characters and the whole SCUMM system so endearing.  

Publishers don’t need to put any expense or energy into packaging these titles and bringing them to retail.  When the games are strong enough, as is the case with LucasArts’ catalog, they don’t even really need to market them very much.  The enthusiast community will do it for them.  Essentially, a rerelease of a true masterpiece is a pure profit play for a publisher that put in all the years of hard work building a great library.

As long as publishers don’t turn the valve too far and just start releasing every piece of crap title they’ve ever produced, I hope to see a lot more classics coming down the pipe.  In this still very sequel-heavy business, re-releasing the early gems from a series a few months ahead of a new installment could be a very wise marketing spend.  For instance, Ico  and Shadow of the Colossus should hit the PSN store a few weeks before The Last Guardian hits the shelves.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been meaning to write a reaction to last week’s sale of id Software to ZeniMax, but it’s honestly taken me this long to figure out how I felt about it, exactly.  For anyone that was an avid gamer in the mid 90’s, id (and particularly the DOOM series) represented a very specific division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

If you were a teenage nerd in the mid 90's, you recognize this poster

If you were a teenage nerd in the mid 90's, you recognize this poster

They were unapologetically hardcore in their approach to game design: their subject material was edgy at the time, and their games always required top-of-the-line hardware to run really well.  You either dug DOOM’s horror/sci-fi storyline, complete with impaled space marines and hooved demons, or it turned you off.  You either had the patience to manually configure a mulitplayer session, or you didn’t go near it.  Id’s developers even appealed to a very specific audience, with cars and attitude more befitting the founders of Image Comics than the code monkeys of the day.

In its heydey, DOOM was tremendously popular, but only among the specific audience of hardcore gamers.  This planing away of less-than-hardcore gamers was not only a ballsy move by the id guys, it helped light the way for a lot of nerds avid gamers to figure out who their friends were, and where they fit in.

On the one hand, ZeniMax seems like the perfect place for a shop like id.  As pointed out in last week’s superb “Listen Up” podcast, id’s strengths complement ZeniMax’s own Bethesda studio’s weaknesses perfectly, and vice versa.  Guys like John Carmack can continue to work on bulletproof code and not have to worry about moving up the food chain and staffing up as a publisher just to maintain their IP.

But a part of me is a little… not sad… nostalgic for the loss of id as its own entity.  While they stood in one place and cranked out shooters seemingly fueled by Red Bull and teen angst, this industry changed around them. 

World of Warcraft came along and showed PC gamers that they could play with each other online in scenarios that weren’t always framed by the barrel of a gun.  Microsoft’s entry into the console game brought a “shooter box” into the market that had fixed specs and a user base too large to ignore, so id’s constant pushing of the hardware envolope had to be roped in for their games (not to mention their more profitable engine licensing business) to be a success.  Like a former chart topper turned lounge act, DOOM‘s shock value wore off with age and Grand Theft Auto, then our Wiis and casual gaming friends, wives, and mothers showed us that you could hold a controller and smile at the same time, in a non-ironic way.

The DOOM movie: too late to be awesome, too crappy to by funny

The DOOM movie: too late to be awesome, too crappy to be funny

Meanwhile, Race to Witch Mountain’s The Rock starred in the long awaited big screen adaptation of DOOM.

In reaction to the sale, estranged co-founder John Romero tweeted “i guess i was shocked and sad to see the id Software of old changed forever today. it’s a new day and a new id.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »