Tuesday, August 28, 2007

yep... i know

Yeah, so.. I guess I finally have to bite the bullet and buy a Nintendo DS at last. Siiiigh. It's been a long time coming, but I can not refuse the siren song of Arkanoid. I had the NES version about a billion years ago, with the special paddle.. ya know, the one which broke later tat same night. I don't really wanna think about how much that puppy goes for on eBay MIB these days.

For that matter I had Stack-Up as well. but it was missing some pieces, so i brought it back and exchanged for Popeye. Yeah-h-h Popeye's all well and good and everything but --geez-- I wish I coulda given Stack-Up a shot. ROB got pretty lonely. Hey, sure, he wasn't exactly the most elegant piece of gamin hardware, but.. damn.. unlike the power glove, at least it WORKED.

So recently i have come to the realization that I must finally shell out and buy a next-gen console.. can they still be called next-gen at this point? Xbox 360 is going on 2 years old, in a couple more months! Anyway, last "current system" I bought was a PS2, back in 2002.. it's still faithfully serving, 5 years later (well, it's good for watching movies on, what can I say). I inherited a half-busted Xbox (model 1) about 1 year ago, I think it's been.. anyway, I don't game too much at home, and my PC is definitely pretty long in the tooth as well. What this all adds up to is the fact that I gotta get me some new hardware. I am still no aficionado, at least not inthe conventional sense - but as time passes, more and more I realize that it's my duty as a game artists, especially in these times (and the coming ones) to stay more current with the state of things. Now, I cruise all the regular gaming sites, I get an eyeful of what's hot (and what isn't) pretty regularly - but it's getting harder to appreciate as the tech keeps leaping forward, from just some crappy Quicktimes and screengrabs. I gotta say, in these days when an xbox live account enables you to download no shortage of demos, this is a pretty cost-effective deal. I am not going to pony up immediately, but I think pretty soon I will be bringing a new console home.

And so the question is, then.. what to buy? Oh, here we go. I had this dilemma last time around too, it was a lot of back-and-forth until I got my job at Left Field Productions and it became evident that I'd be needing to look at however many Action Sports games I could get my hands on. At that point PS2 was the king, baby..

This time around? Well, I had been considering getting a Wii for a little while, actually.. but it definitely doesn't suit for the reasons mentioned above. Many of it's coming games are NOT hi-tech looking, to say the least.. if I got it, it would be strictly fr entertaining my girlfriend, I'd suspect. It would be cool, but as long as I am not burning with desire, I don't think it'll happen. But, I'd love for them to give me a reason. Make some weird games, Nintendo!! Come on!

PS3. Sigh. This is the one I'd most "like" to see sitting on my self, for a few reasons. But to buy one, especially right now, would be folly. It's expensive as hell! There's no games for it! The live service is.. uh.. not to terribly impressive, just yet! Man. There's nothing for PS3. If they had half as much going on as the Xbox then it'd raise an eyebrow or two of mine, but as it is the thing is floundering. I feel bad.. I wanted them to get their act together. It's just sitting limp with it's buddy the PSP. I would have more to do with my aging PS2. Ah well, maybe next year.

And so, the conclusion is, I need to get a 360. The download service sells it, for my purposes! That and.. well.. hell! There's next-gen GAMES on the thing that you can get right NOW. Tons of 'em. Bioshock, Crackdown, halo Shortly.. Plus all the backlog. And it's cheaper. Oh well.. let's not forget, the things are built shoddy as all hell. I guess that's one thing the poor PS3 has going for it, anyway.. it actually kinda works..

I guess that settles it. I am gonna do some more research and see just how crippled the download service is on PS3, if for nothing other than argument's sake. I know people are downloading stuff off there.. not really too sure what's on offer that's a good compromise though (Ninja Gaiden AGAIN? QBert?)

I gotta end this by saying I do hope PS3 gets it's act in gear. They missed their window to rule the world again, but they can still scrap together a decent showing. They've got some amazing talent in their stable (exclusives-wise) that can put up a strong level of support, if they ever gt the games out at a reasonable time (and maintain exclusivity). I guess time will tell -- good luck guys, you will need it!


A few posts ago I railed against metal gear solid 4. I said it lookd too realistic and boring, "like work..." Well, I saw the latest Leipzig trailer today, the one with the new bosses. Okay, I take it back!! "Laughing Octopus" -- man. Where the hell do they come up with this stuff? Like it or hate it, I appreciate the weird craziness of this stufff. It reminds me of crazy japanese Cyberthink from the 80s.. I don't know how to put it. But it's iconographic for next gen, for PS3. I am glad they are doing weird out of the ordinary stuff - keep it up. I still can't say the game will be my cup of tea, but I appreciate the bizarreness. It AIN'T REAL LIFE!!


Skate demo released for 360 a few days ago. All I have seen are sme crappy Youtube vids.. I wanna get my hands on that thing. I am guess Thrasher, and I am sure I will not feel it when i finally get my hands on it.. but i bet it will be kinda fun. I get the sense that developer was driven to make something a little special. My loyalistic NS tendencies were strong before but these days I want to just see something different and unique, special. Nothing wrong with that. I have seen the latest trailers for Tony Hawk 9 as well, and it looks nice and all.. more of the same, as usual, though. I hope they got the framerate up fom last year, and maintained the fun factor without getting bogged down with features or something -- yeah i am biased but Project 8 was a fun arcadey title, and they could easily replicate that (in a good way). I guess we will see soon.


Things are alright for me at Obsidian, I started arting a new level last week. To tell the truth, it was rough getting started.. though it was a theme I thought I would enjoy, it was a dra-a-a-ag. You get burned out sometimes, and when that happens, youjust do't wanna do ANYTHING. Just don't wanna look at it for awhile! So I started cobbling together some reference, got some direction from my lead, started filling in the elements. It began to take shape, but very unsatisfactory, even after a couple of days.. no enthusiasm. Today was "Eureka!" though, sometimes you get lucky and come across that single piece (or in this case, pieces) of reference that just NAILS it for you "oh crap! THAT'S what it should look like..." I wet and slaped some nw walls in, a couple different elements, and suddenly it's looking far less stupid and it's invigorating to work on once again. Whew! And on that note, i go to get myself to bed.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


yeah so... hrrrmph. this is it, after all this time... i am finally entertaining the notion of buying a next-gen system. "what's that!" you say, "but Ron HATES videogames.." Yeah well. What can I say. Being the "next gen artist" that I am (ahem ahem) I am cognizant of the fact that it is getting tougher and tougher to keep up withthe trends.. damned irresponsible.. and though I check the boards and the local sites daily, one can only keep so abreast of the information without (duh) getting one's hands dirty every so often. And yeah, I guess xbox version 1 isn't exactly cutting-edge anymore.

One of the big things I have realized is that there's this whole demo-scene going on now - you buy a next-gen console and subscribe to the online component, and you'll get access to all manner of downloadable material.. Rather, the latest up-and-coming hot product will release a sampler of what's coming down the tubes next. I definitely don't have time to play through full games of -- ANYTHING these days, so honestly samplers would pretty much hit the spot for me I suppose. After all, I am basically concerned with getting a rough glimpse of what is out there, not necessarily that being in my position I would need to play through everything..

On the selfish side, it would be nice to have a set-top box to stream movies from. My friend did that one night at his apartment, he downloaded a flick for a tiny fee (for a single viewing, or 24 hrs.. whatever it was). Yeah I was impressed, it looked pretty quality! I have got sorta addicted to downloading movies back in the day, but it has been so long since that period.. such a pain in the ass for a nonbeliever like me. I have no problem about tossing a couple buucks (yeah.. a COUPLE!) to DL something from my couch, without havoing to get up ad do ANYthing. i don't need to keep a DVD copy!

On the personal side

So what, then, to sink (unfinished)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Captain of the Industry

Games COnvention (or whatever they call it) apparently is goin' on in Leipzig, Germany right now. With E3 a thing of the past I kinda wish i could be there at the moment to shmooze and see what's goin' on. Also, damn it, it would be fun to just bum around in Germany. I hear the clubs are great and I know it would be a good time. Maybe in a few jobs from now I can swing it...

New footage leaked out for Mario Galaxy, the board-goers are kinda oohing over it. It looks.. well, i wouldn't say it looks "awesome." It looks capable, but man - a team like that, a history like that, you'd think after all these years they could churn out something somewhat remarkable! I'll say this much, even considering the hardware, the graphics look absolutely as perfect as they would ever need to (I'd still say the same thing about Sonic the Hedgehog 1+2 on Sega Genesis --- hell even Mega Man 1+2 back on NES, to be honest!) But now that the visual style is fixed at perfect, when can we expect the follow up of spot-on gameplay? It's harsh to judge just my short tidbit-previews and teasers, so I will reserve, but I already know the outcome 'cause "it happens every time." If you don't need to revolutionize, why would you bother...

Anyway in spite of myself I am interested to see the game when it launches. Have they even announced a date yet, I forgot! Mind you I have never played Sunshine and even worse, haven't played 64 for more than 5 minutes. I guess I could part with $5 on ebay for a system and a cart...

This piques my curiosity about New Super Mario Bros on DS, but again after what I'd seen "why bother?" It doesn't look bad, at all, it just looks like.. re-tread. In case I am coming across as overly mean, I'll think back to... 1991 when Super Mario World came out and it was already getting old. We all loved it as it was a big audiovisual upgrade, and it had some nifty tricks and gimmicks, but sooo much of that was forgettable. Run to the right, jump. Get coins. Get 1UP. For such a beautiful and remarkable game, why must they rely so heavily on gimmicks and cake-icing to get by.. when the design of the earlier efforts were rather GENIUS? Someone put it on autopilot and called it a day.

It's a little frowned upon to get snarky at the top franchises in gaming so I won't say anything to the tune of "these are bad games," they just aren't very evolutionary play-wise. Back then they didn't really need much more than an A/V upgrade and "more stuff to do," but in hindsight I want 'different, WEIRDER stuff to do." This loops around to today's games, where (damn it) everything is the SAME. Sequels are all well and good for films (not so much lately, honestly) but on games it just gets more and more boring.

I won a copy of Psychonauts on eBay today. My coworker told me "it'll hurt your eyes to look at..." I can't say I've ever been too entranced by the screens I have seen of it but something about this game tells me it might be a little more approaching what games could (and should) be about. I dislike the design of the character, and I wince at the thought of "steering him around with an Xbox controller" but i am eager to plug in and get my feet wet with it.

Looked at the video of Spore today, there's a new one up. It looks.. weird. Not bad, not bad at all.. the style looks a lot goofier and kiddier, or something, than I would have expected. Like Scholastic Edutainment or something. Again I am being harsh (but we should be!) I think WIll Wright is a Genius, looks like a megadork but a guy like him should look that way - he has a wonderful history and I think someone like that who has single-handedly helped steer the culture of videogaming more than a couple of times deserves a LOT of credit. He's no blowhard, just another PC geek in his suit and tie who seems to really know what the hell he is doing and the world is pretty fortunate for that. It's funny how he should be ranked among the likes of Miyamoto and yet you'd hardly picture the two ever being in the same room, never mind the same context.

I worked till about midnight last night and wrapped up my latest level, and now I am off onto the next one.. no end in sight! I am happy with how it ended up, I still want to make some changes to it as time permits. Like I said before, "next gen is a pain in the ass" and ain't that the truth. .but it's nice having more showpieces, I gotta admit.

Monday, August 20, 2007

another aimless post

.. they are all aimless, come on...

monday, after a long weekend. i think i wrote in here the other night, after i got back from vegas - i don't even remember! it's all a blur, man...

i have been grinding pretty heavy at work lately. so much to do and so little time. i am kind of a stickler for quality, no matter what i am working on and if there's a motto i will have is "if you are gonna do it, do it right..." and that's just how it has to be.

man. i hate next-gen. i think it's going to make me lose my mind. there was a time, not long ago, when i was salivating at the thought of "ohhh i cannot wait, all this extra memory to throw around, i can finally make big huge texturemaps all over the place, just dripping with gorgeous detail.." Well sir, that day has finally come (or so it would seem) and the verdict is.. bittersweet. i do live having the extra space, (no more compressing everything to 256 colors? 128 pixels, at BEST?) but the flipside of it is - it takes TOO DAMNED MUCH TIME to make all the tiny details now! It's true - our memory went up but our allotment of time hasn't. they aren't exactly hiring armies of artists to make stuff yet (unless you're EA, or someone) and so this translates to "if you wanna make stuff look pretty, go ahead, but do it QUICKLY." The game biz has always been about speed, no matter where you were - but now it's just mounting. Can I hack it? Sure you can, any good game artist worth his salt is gonna have dozens of shortcuts up his sleeve. Honestly, one of the great things I love about this job, I have to say it's extremely rewarding to develop your personal process, your work method. Everyone has their own repertoire.. I am no different. You share stuff, you pick stuff up, but you always have your own tricks and shortcuts that you rely on to get the shit done.

By the same token, there's always gonna be some pratfalls that everyone's gonna fall victim to. Sometimes it's a huge pain in the ass.. sometimes you get so burned out on the little details that all the time you made up earlier is gonna get gummed up on something stupid. well, this happens all over the board, unfortunately, in any department of any job.. the key is getting better, more efficient, so that you can cruise smoothly thru the troubling BS with relative ease and get your stuff out the door looking as nice as can be.

overwork.. late last week i was sitting at my desk pulling apart lightmap UVs for what seemed to be endless time. jus tpulling stupid little boxes around.. placing them in ornate interesting patterns that matter to no one at all.. so long as my shadows don't overlap and bleed. i wonder how many hours of my life i have spent staring at UV maps, nah better not to think of it!! When I couldn't drive to vegas anymore, i handed the wheel to my copilot and drifted in and out of sleep from the passenger seat. you can bet that as my eyelids sunk hellward, i was having visions of those same UV maps being unwrapped in my mind.. the white lines and red dots, pulling and sorting and scaling and placing and resorting and offsetting... i could see it clear as anything. As the driver spoke to me about.. i don't know what, my mind drifted on the brink of oblivion as my attention was concerned with the nonexistent UV maps manufactured by my subconciousness. I tried to snap out of it and rejoin the conversation, but i would mentally pull a couple more boxes over to the right "just because it felt good."


So I need a vacation.


I got my Gunner's Heaven game running on the Test PS2. Glad to see it works! I want to make a 2D run-n-gun! I missed out on a bid for the other PSX game I wanted, and it relisted for about 20 or 30 dollars more. I will have to wait for that thing to slip back down into affordability (isn't it a test kit, can't I just run burns on that thing!!!) In spite of my DC piracy noted earlier, I really don't mind shelling out a little cash for some of these games, really. Somehow it's less of a hassle.. or something. I guess so many of them cost so little anyway. Almost all the Saturn games I've bought cost me practically nothing. Well okay I DID shell out megabucks for that --one-- title (you shmupos can guess which one) but if need be I can always sell it back for the original investment. Sigh. I should just trade it in for the Zanac game, shouldn't I..

Watching myself type this (extremely nerdy) hot air, I gotta say it is nice, for a change, to spend mental energy worrying about simple shit that DOESN'T EVEN MATTER.

Alright. I want to finish up my current workload tonight. If i go on a tear I might be able to pull this off. Off I go...!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

take that!


Yeah, so here's my quality-of-life post (hopefully, a quick one..) Inspired by a recent thread on gaf, "why do developers leave the game industry?" Notably, the videogame industry is notorious for overworking their staffs with long hours and insidious crunch times and blah blah blah. Burnout being the eventual result, and dissatisfied people quitting their jobs to go and do something "normal," in order to have more time for social and family life, stuff like that.


Every job I have worked a has had some kind of overtime, "crunch" or "hardcore" periods where the staff was expected to put in extra hours beyond the (legal) call of duty to get a game done in a relatively tight schedule.. and the higher-ups will usually dangle some carrot or other in front of everyone's heads "if you do this for us, then 'good' things are going to happen!" Well, yeah, but define "good," please.. anyway anybody in the biz knows people who've done quite well, if not for working on a bonafide top-rated franchise then at least one that's moved a lot of SKUs, and so we all have friends who are "rolling in the dough" relatively. I remember moving here to LA 7 years ago, hearing how it was the land of milk and honey.. I didn't hear wrong....

So what happened? Why are people so bitter about crunch? Isn't it worth it, for a few years of your life, to pretty much just suck it up and play a little hardball? Sleep is for wusses, right? I have sort of got a reputation among those who know me as a workaholic, and yet you don't see me cruising around town in my canary yellow murcielago. Well, that's because i am a hoarder and i keep it all in coffee cans. no wait, i am extremely generous and i gave it all to charity. to ell the truth, i blew it all on blow and ho's, and don't you forget it. Well honestly, i've just not been in the "right place ad rigt time" (yet), but that's another story. Anyway i have already picked out my future mansion(s), wife (v/s), and cemetary plot (well at least that one is true). I am just waiting for the backend.

Anyway back to the point.. I find it ludicrous, the number of people who whine about hardcore. Yeah it's tiring. yeah it's not for everyone. Yeah it's... illegal in some cases. The morality of it is a different story. But there is no "slave industry.." no one is MAKING you do this. The compensation is not quite as evenly balanced as it, erm, could be, but still.. you are making leisure products! There is a future in it for anyone who has the nerve to hold on for awhile. If you can keep your metabolism from going belly-up, and you honestly enjoy your part in what you do, then just keep as (unfinished)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

back from vegas

that's nerdy

saturday night @ 9:30pm, just got back from vegas. i hadda take a day off from work as my girlfriend's ol' pal was getting hitched - we drove there all day, caught the wedding, crashed into the hotel bed (hard... i was gonna go to the casino but the urge to sleep absolutely overtook me). we just returned home and now i am gonna settle in for te remainder of the weekend with -- some work! yeah, it's never a moment to breathe, for this guy..

i was talking with a friend the other night, she is a bit of a writer and i suggested maybe she had ought to funnel her energies into a game-industry blog. she mentioned it had struck her but she didn't want it to be a case of conflict of interest. Yeah, i thought of this before, as well - and sure enough, i come home saturday night and see a link to my own website (and a quote from my own blog, which apparently had some editing issues) sourced from my very own company's fan-forums. yeah, a little strange and kind of off-putting! not that i don't welcome people reading what i have got to say in here, of course, i just need to always be mindful of the fact that it's important to always keep an eye over one's shoulder - you never know who can read what you are saying and what they can do with it, especialy in these days of "the new media."

As for the abilities we now have of "instantaneous information transmission," pretty much globally, or on a smaller level - well, yeah - it makes one tend to slow down for a minute. I have spent much time in the past on company messageboards (intranet) speaking my mind, relatively freely... i have learned it's better to keep to yourself largely (this is unfortunate, but understandable, as politics will dictate). that's just locally, but globally, everything is magnified...

Anyway, with all that in mind, i will always stick to the usual endless NDAs and such that i have signed (if you read it here, it's been in a wiki somewhere already, pretty much...) as opposed to disseminating the juicier info -- though that would certainly be more fun to get on about (ohh, the things i have seen, over the years). maybe someday when I become a powerful blowhard, eh? And now, to work...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

i guess it struck a nerve...

another busy day in the office, i was repairing ugly gross temp geo and textures.. well, replace "repair" with "replace" and you have a more accurate idea. sigh, texturemonkey, modelmonkey, got no money, janitor at the end of the day.. i make buildings! i make trees! i make fire trucks. i am like god with a boss!!!

I am not usually at liberty to say much about in-progress projects, for obvious reasons - let's just say that the game which i am currently working on.. it's been in production for a little while, and some time to go yet - it is coming along. i am pretty cut off from the community on the other side of the office but i finally ventured in there to see what was cookin'. their game is coming along very nicely. i was pretty impressed... hopefully i will get to put in some time on that project as well, at some point...!

so i like to listen to videogame-themed podcasts during the day, to while away the hours while i weld verts and offset pixels and yawn and fart and pick my nose. Honestly when you're pretty busy with production, it's an essential way for a guy like me to keep tabs on what's going on with the industry news - and honestly these days, there's no shortage of news in this field... no shortage of drama, especially! I will write a "podcast breakdown" blog one of these days, soon enough.. there's way too many to wade thru as it is, and honestly i can only bear to listen to a few of them. But the ones I like I do like very much, and heartily recommend. Today I had to give the latest DL of EGM Live a spin. Not my fave podcast for certain, but informative and not too terribly obnoxious (i'd say it's in the top 5 lately, actually). They did have a real nice interview with Lorne Lanning, the mastermind behind Oddworld.. remember those guys? One of those studios who were rather quite displaced from the "nerve center of the gaming scene," but always known for putting out quality (if eccentric) software. Truth be told, I never played any of their games (longer than a couple of moments or so) but surely I appreciated thir capable contributions to the gaming pasture.

Anyway I had my opinions about this Lanning fellow before, after reading some interviews previously and then, of course, their recent descent into sketchiness.. but I have to say I think the guy is on the level after listening to the ol' blowhard go on at length. Of the things he had to say, it was nice to hear him concur with the very thoughts I had had lately... to paraphrase, "in general, most people out there think that videogames are about killing! And the part of the consumer base that never gets into games, for that reason they are not really thinking that it's for them..." This is absolutely true, well it's not the main reason exactly but it's a strong contender. Look at other media.. all movies are not about killing! All the books, TV, etc.. Well, that is to say, that none of these other media chiefly focuses on one major factor. I have to say that for video games, a good 80 percent of them would have to involve some kind of combat.. sure you have sports simulators, racers, puzzle games, etc.. but these are still all dwarfed by the Halos and Final Fantasies and Ninja Gaidens of the world. Yeah, I know it's kind of a skew that I am putting on things.. but even te less violent, or more cartoony action games, involve running around and killing.. or at least shooting, rendering incapacitated, and so on.

This is why I am a big fan of puzzle games. You're goal is not necessarily to rack up points for murdering, you are exercising your brain/logic/thinking on the fly abilities. I'd say the same in favor of strategy games (even if they have a military theme), to some degree.. though yeah, I guess I would be a bit of a hypocrite, to a degree.

When I was at Neversoft I gained a huge respect for that sort of game, in that it was not really violent at all and neither was it trying to be a bonafide sports sim (rather, "inspired by..").. but it was concentrating on the player and his interaction with the environment. it rewarded creativity and let you feel like you were in this giant playground, doing things that you couldn't exactly do in real life (zipping up powerlines, over rooftops, etc). Sure it depart from reality early on, but it did so in a properly abstract way as to remain credible as a unique type of video game - and one that is not often duplicated, which I have to say is unfortunate.

It will be interesting when EA's Skate game releases shortly, to see how much of this formula they will try to emulate. Regardless of the whole "too late to the party?" argument, or any actual controversy, I have to say it's nice to see that in this day and age that anyone (even if it's a mammoth conglomerate like EA) is willing to still explore this relatively ignored avenue of game-style. I am disappointed to see that "oh well it's all got to stick to skateboarding," but it could be a lot worse.. skateboarding with guns?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Battle of Shoot 'em Up

now THIS is what I am talkin' about. i love the internet, in that you can totally randomly be searching for something and accidently find a crazy website loaded down with tons of goodies that you didn't even know existed.
Here's the latest:

A french site (break out the google translator!) - but honestly i haven't even started with the text just yet. This page is bleeding through with tons of oldschool gaming flyers/promo sheets for various arcade titles from the wonderful 16-Bit era. there was a time, albeit brief, when programmers were lazy and it was easy to churn out game after game after game with nearly identical engines "fly to the right. shoot guns. acquire larger more colorful weapons." hell even
I could program that! But in those days graphics were suddenly stepping up a few levels and that
glitz was enough to get the fans ecstatic (myself included among those numbers). In America it was still a kid's industry, but in Japan it seems like they were taking it a bit more seriously, promotion-wise. These flyers and wallpapers harken back to a time when ultra simplistic gameplay was no sweat, you were just excited to see pretty explosions and abominable biomechanical nigtmare bosses with glowing lifebars deteriorating in their midsections. These
flyers portray some of the funniest engrish you'll ever see, and some of the illos are just bleed-from-your-jaw AWFUL, but it's all totally fun and reminds me of a time "best left in history" - the days of R-Type, Zero Wing, Truxton, and Chelnov. I want to print these all out in high quality and wallpaper a room (i wish!)


today for the first time in a while i plugged in a Dreamcast controller and went to tow while i waited for my girlfriend to get her act together so we could have some lunch. I have often said that the DC was the last "cool"system that has been released, at least to my taste in video gaming.

Sega has always been a cool company, in that they were always well known for producing a stable of relatively mainstream-accessible material and yet they'd always support that with a healthy string of somewhat offbeat material. I can't really think of any other developer even approaching their size which would be so well-known for going across the ma as they had. A couple come to mind.. Konamai at times, Capcom, certainly Nintendo... but Sega stands alone when it came to weird risky (flat out crazy-shit) across the board. Hardware, arcade, and generally franchising what they could, to different degrees of success. Ironically, in the end they've never wound up with that "one surefire franchise" which could stand the test of time and the process of evolution. Phantasy Star, Sonic, those are venerable series but they never maintained the integrity overall of Mario, Zelda, Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid. Perhaps it could be argued in some cases (Virtua Fighter). But no one would argue that it's incredibly hard to maintain ANY franchise over the course of several generations - survival through one is tricky enough.

My roomate at the time and I bought our DC after the thing dropped to @ $100. It hadn't been out for that long (a little over a full season?) it seemed and already it was getting long in the tooth, or rather, short to remain on the shelf. A shame, as it was finding its legs and no matter how you sliced it, what kind of gamer you were, it was shaping up to provide decent support in many categories. In fact I'd say it was one of the final systems to launch with a relatively decent lineup that didn't feel totally rushed out the door (ready to rumble, sonic adventure, hydro thunder, NFL, some others which escape me.. oh yeah Soul Caliber!) Yeah that's not all LAUNCH launch but close enough. Anyway when we picked it up, it wasn't long before I got my hands on virtua tennis - a game i could still have a blast with to this day. Titles like that don't really need several iterations if you ask me, the gfx are already good enough and the play control is completely spot-on.. I am not any kind of tennis fan, but games like that completely nail down for me the pure lighting-in-a-bottle of what is just fun about video games! My roomie and I would unwind at the end of the day with that game, I am one of those who gets very violently into it with the trash-talking and screaming and pretty much pummeling my own opponent with fists and such (on the couch beside me, not merely the screen). Yeah, so online has never been a big deal for me, I confess.

I remember going out to "splurge" on a DC keyboard and a copy of Jet Grind Radio (after seeing it at E3, i knew I had to get my hands on that game!) We never used the keyboard for more than emailing, really (don't ask) though in hindsight I really wish I had picked up Typing of the Dead at some point. JGR proved to be really fun - also great to look at and listen to, even if i never did get terribly far into it (the slippery controls were kind of a buzzkill) but it didn't matter, that stuff was fun.

I never really got much further with my DC, though some years later my buddy in NYC set me a spindle full of burns (oh so illegal). Think of me what you will--I can hear it now "It's guys like you who led to the Dreamcast being oboslete and Sega dropping out of hardware," oh ok let's not get too carried away. I wouldn't have bought anything else for it anyway, beyond what I did (well, maybe about 2 or 3 titles). I picked up American Pro Trucker today, for the first time in like 3 years - such a great idea for a game, even if somewhat sloppily conceived! I don't care. To me, games like that are what define a system - those are themes that SHOULD be made into video games. There's a reason you don't see more offbeat titles like that, and it's a shame. Crazy Taxi is another, a game I always considered to be a decent diversion but not one worthy of generating much fanfare.. for some reason the community embraced it, because it was unusual (same as above, really). Games like these came and went, and they were fun - captivating, if only for a few moments - but they've not left much in the way of an indelible mark on the gaming landscape. To me, that's sad - instead, we get umpteen versons of final fantasy or re-re-re-re-releases of ninja gaiden. Not to knock on the legacy of either such title, but GEEZ, it's not what you would call innovative or -shrug- "weird..."

I would love to see Sega "come back" and toss their hat into hardware once again - I have no doubt that it will never happen, though. Frankly I am amazed they've done so well (and in such a style) as they have with their resulting publisher-only status, and like many I am curious to see what they will evolve into. It is reassuring to notice that they look back on their legacy as far as the types of titles they will continue to put out, anyway. I haven't forked over money for a Sega game in a long time (well.. not a new one) but even a picky gamer like me can find something that they've funded to wrap their teeth around. (If I had a PSP, I would likely be playing Crush right now!!!)

Sega, as a company, is one I have much to say about - we have had a long history together (and presently, I admit they are the ones paying for the development of my current project). I will always hold them in high regard for what they released during the 16-bit years (in spite of the awful CD-Rom and extra-awful 32X nonsense and all of that). Sega Saturn is something i am just coming to appreciate now (better late then never) and I hope they can manage to stick around and maintain their relevance for a long time to come - gaming would never be the same without them!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Try Hard...

so i found a couple of interesting JPN PSone games to check out: UMIHARA KAWASE SHUN and GUNNER'S HEAVEN. The former is a follow up to a Super Famicon title where you control this little girl with a Bionic Commando-style grappling hook in order to maneuver around levels- this one is more of a puzzle game than then "kill the futuristic Nazis" as it's inspiration was. I only played the SFC game briefly but this always struck me as one of those weird little cool games with a nice level of polish. Gunner's is pretty much an unapologetic rip-off of the old Sega Genesis favorite Gunstar Heroes, minus the 2-Player Co-op mode as well as the novelty. It looks like a pretty direct rip-off but honestly, is Gunstar a game that SHOULDN'T be ripped off? It's a little surprising that the Run 'n Gun genre is among the simplest as they come, yet it's never been terribly exploited. Here and there, but not so much as your typical platformer fare has. Anyway this game looks fun, with appropriate 2D love (both games are 2D actually) and I think it's a safe bet for both.

At this stage, I am not gonna ever pick up a videogame out of duty or brand loyalty or any of that - is f it is necessary reference for a project I am working on, then that is obvious, but otherwise I am not really into gaming for leisure anymore. So if I do pick up a game, it's gonna be pretty much for the other value it could give me; that is, what I can glean from it. There's so many knock-offs and sequels and all sorts of yawny bullshit littering the landscape nowadays, but there's also still a fairly healthy back-catalogue of just.. weird, interestingly designed games. Maybe the majority of those won't have the polish and finesse that more market-driven games would have received, but there are often enough cool little elements to make them worth one's time "oh, why didn't I think of making a game like that!" I have a whole rant about the Forgotten and Ignored Conventions of Gaming, but that's going to be more of an undertaking than I wish to sandwich in over here..


I consider myself to be somewhat savvy of Game-History related matters. I am not a whiz, but I have my share of knowledge. Yet every so often I will come across some morsel of info that will even have me scratching my head. The latest case - while cruising around on wikipedia, I stumbled onto the colorful history of a little company known as America Online (AOL). A minute of reading and I learned that the mega-corporation which helped shape the face of the Internet, began life as a humble obscure videogame download service?! No lie, apparently it was a special service for the Atari 2600 called "Gameline" - a special cartidge you'd plug into the console, which linked up to your phone jack. You could download games on a pay-to-play basis, something like a nickel per play - or something like that. Very bizarre. Anyway the thing debuted too close to the video game crash, and so it never really got too far - but the company which developed it (service and tech) went on to slowly morph into a pre-Internet Service (think of a low-level Prodigy or GEnie or whatever). Then time passed and some weird shady operations occured (don't they always) and it eventually reached mammoth status.. pretty strange.

Monday, August 6, 2007

news you can't use

Man. I go outta town for one week and the world turns upside down, game-news-world-wise. Okay, well maybe not upside-down, but it's definitely as hectic as ever. Honestly, while I was away at my folks' for some family business, I tended to shy away from the internet unless absolutely necessary (that is, other than keeping tabs on the junkmail buildup in my email account, i kept pretty far away besides). Already a workaholic, I have become something of a newsaholic in recent years (more specifically a neogaf-aholic) - any of my friends who will give me a moment to chew their ear off will hear me raving rather rabidly about "ohhhh crap have you been watching the gaf lately?" And so, yeah, outta sight -> outta mind and it was nice to get away, if at least for a couple of days. Unplug, disconnect, think about some stuff other than game craziness.

But of course it goes on anyway. "GTA IV delayed? Whazzis?? Another WOW expansion to take over the world? Blizzcon and Quakecon? id speech?" etc etc. Man. I still haven't even looked at the last released Mass Effect and Heavenly Sword vids, I just haven't got the time for all of this stuff! Playing catch-up is always burdensome.. exciting, though, if tiring.

I did manage to jump on the MGS4 bandwagon for a second (well, that is, I watched the gameplay demo). Yeah, the thing looks pretty. But whew - okay, I will throw a dart into my foot right here and say that I've only played MGS 1 for a few hours and that's the extent of my familiarity with the thing. It's always been a good-looking, idiosyncratic game that's got "a whole room to itself" and the latest looks no different, but really - does it actually look FUN to play? Considering my recent posts, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to hear such words out of me ("I like Burgertime and Columns!") but while the first MGS was novel and just fun and atmospheric, definitely boundary-pushing.. watching the new demo looked kind of yawn-worthy to me. I am of course a harsh critique of that style of game, simply because I prefer faster-action games - though of course stealth can be rewarding when done properly - I just don't like my games to be work more than play. Toys are nice but I don't need gimmicks over substance. Anyway I am sure the rest of the world will be pleased with the title.. Anyway I'lll end this rant with "Remember Portable Ops?" Does anyone?

So i got my hands on a PS2 Test unit recently. I won't expose my source (let's say I know a certain recently-retired Father of the Playstation Line.. not really, but that would make for an interesting story moreso than the truth). Anyway the thing can play JPN PS1/PS2 software, and I have a short list of games I'd like to check out for it - chief among which is a Compile game called "Zanac X Zanac," and I am not so sure I really wanna shell out $100+ for the damned thing. Though I'd likely enjoy it more than enough to get my money's worth. Ah so long as I am still working in 6 months, I'll shell out - deal? Anyway If anyone out there in BlogreaderLand has any weird Japan-only PS1/2 suggestions, I'd love to hear them - gaijin-friendly only please. I am thinking there's gotta be, also, some decent Simple 2000 games - and I might finally settle down with a port of Galaxy Force that is suitably rockin' (I should check to see if it's on the modded Xbox first, I suppose).

Anyway a week of catching up is ahead of me, so that will be some late-night pixel-pushing as it were.. stay tuned, and keep flippin' those Lynxes for Right-Handed Play...

Friday, August 3, 2007

16-bit atrocity

Geez so it's already my third post in, and I am at a loss as to what i should write. Never mind that A. I am 3,000 miles away from home, in my Home City of Boston for a funeral and B. There's a ferociously-squeaking doggie toy making lots of noise in the room beside me. C. I am preparing to meet my old homeys for some drinks in a couple of hours and catch up on "the good old days," and last but not least D. I am trying to type this on a Mac. Most people love their macs unapologetically - personally I count myself among those who prefer their Mac in iPod form, good for listening to music on and little else. But then I am always good to whine about some arbitrary thing or other.

Lounging in my hometown no doubt brings back many found memories of the gaming days of years past.... ahh, my adolesence. About 4 miles up the street from the den I am sitting in right now is housed one of the favorite locations of my youth, the arcade known as Fun & Games. Natick or Framingham, (the latter I believe) but it was just on the town line either way.. Pretty much the typical higher-level slum arcade of back in the days, they'd obviously lay out the dough to get the latest uprights and cabs in and out of that place like it was nobody's business (well, I guess then it would be EVERYBODY's business). Yeah they had Baby Pac-man, Kangaroo, Pac-Man Jr... Cobra Command and M.A.C.H.3 (laser machines!) and of course the little kickass disco passageway (lit blinking ceilings and floors.. ohh man i gotta find a modern version of that thing!) As the years passed they brought in Hang-On (sitdown), Outrun (... same). APB, Vindicators, E-SWAT, Robocop, Rampart, ok ok ok you get the point by now. They had crazy tracks on the ceilings with the crazy spaceship contraptions passing back and forth, the whole thing had this junk-space-age setting, as if designed by some futuristic whiz-kid stoner. Yeah, yeah.. I miss the 80s version of the future, what do you want me to tell ya. Anyway, I drive by there now and I don't even wanna set my foot inside. I have in the recent years, and I should say I am amazed at all that it is still there - but right up there on the marquee, and surprised that they kept the same logo, it's heralded as a Lazer Tag Arena. Wait isn't that shit from the 80s too?

I have a lot more to say about the arcades from back in the day. but for now I must meet the old heads for a couple black & tans. Hey I am in Boston, what did you expect me to say.

If i am lucky, with a bit of searching I might be able to dig up some vintage pics of game rooms in the old days..

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Well, I should get this out of the way pretty early - I am definitely what one would refer to as a retrogamer. Whereas my peers are excited to waggle their wii's and get intimate with the 14 or so switches on their bluetooth xbox controllers, I am more than happy to limit myself to UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT BABABA SELECT START. Not just for Contra, or Lifeforce, but pretty much in general when it comes to videogaming. Hell even if it's just a joystick and an action button, I can make do pretty well. Like most folks in my age range who do this for a living, I grew up during the Golden Age of Gaming; unlike most of them, I seem to have gotten myself quite stuck there.

When I was quite young, I got introduced to Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Atari 2600. I am not sure which caught my fancy first (hey, I was like 5 yrs old, whad'ya want) but I was pretty hooked right off the bat. It took a couple of years of nagging but finally my folks broke down and bought me an Atari 400 (yeah, that's right.. the one with the membrane keyboard!) I was kinda disappointed that it wasn't the Colecovision I had long been drooling over, but it won me over pretty quickly. Anyway, as I got older, things like the NES came into fashion and I was right at the front of that war. I was making maps for Super Mario Bros. when most kids still thought that stuff was terribly dorky.. Gluing my eyes to the Black and White kitchen television to save the princess in Legend of Zelda. Yeah, all the usual "80's Gaming cliche's" that you've heard thousands of times, I was just another example of the same story. But yeah, I was pretty fulfilled! Then, yeah, graduation to 16-Bit with the High Definition Graphics of Sega Genesis and SNES.. and well.. I dunno. I went to art school and discovered girls and beer, what can I say? My sheltered social life of adolescence finally gave way to finding something different to do with my hours (toiling away in the studio or rampaging thru campus) and I guess I started getting tired of sequel after sequel of the same ol' business.

And of course, halfway through college, I stumbled into my calling. Originally a Fine Arts student (but hey.. I had originally planned to draw comic books, in my innocence), I found my way into the mysterious young 3D Graphics department in our school. Jurassic Park was the new Hot Shit film, Terminator 2, and then the first Toy Story by Pixar.. 3D was always this beautiful novelty but now it was starting to pop up here and there for more than 14 seconds in a film (The Abyss). The time was right, I somehow slipped into it, and I was hooked immediately (I'll never forget the first time when someone showed me how to make a Sphere Bounce in front of a .TGA of a house on his Mac, and it only took 1 minute to render!) So yeah, I was hooked with the new captivation... I put down my charcoal and graphite and started laboring inthe lab, in front of Infini-D, in front of D-Paint, in front of Alias Poweranimator V7 on the SGI. Yeah, all the stuff I made was... CRAP.. but being in the middle of it was damn fun. It felt, strangely, like being a little kid fascinated with Legos, all over again.

But video games? Okay, I loved Sega but their CDrom system disappointed me and their 32X add-on was just malarkey. SNES was always very pretty but I never caught the RPG train and all the SFII ripoffs were making me yawn for years.. Saturn was on the horizon but (ouch) $400 for .. Clockwork Knight and Bug! (Yeah people look back at those games fondly, but looking at the box covers at the time, not terribly impressive). And then, we had the Playstation.. and of course Project Ultra, I mean N64. Okay, I was still paying attention, but I looked at the graphics on these things and then I looked at the 3D capabilities of the machines I was playing with at school. It was hard looking at these games with these super-simplified characters with blocks for hands and heads. It just looked ugly and gross. Virtua Fighter was pretty fresh when it launched but it didn't age well even back then. So basically, gaming lost me back there.. for awhile.

Yeah, it's a shallow thing to say. "I lost interest in games 'cause the graphics sucked" I know it's all about gamelay, and I knew this as well back then, but something about the rules of playing a 2D game never properly translated into those early 3D titles in a way that captivated me. Of course, things have changed in the years since - games are BEAUTIFUL now, even I have to admit it - but something else got lost that in there that has never completely been recaptured for me. That's not to say I haven't found games to enjoy since, not by a longshot. But things have definitely changed - I have changed - and working on the other side of the screen affects things as well.

So where does this leave me today, then? I mean, do I have any right to even try to write a game industry-themed blog when I say something like "I don't like video games anymore?" Well, honestly, I do like video games, and more than anything else, I can say I am profoundly excited about where games are going. I think anyone can agree that right now, we are stuck in kind of a rut of "bigger and better" where every game tries to outshine it's competitors with this gimmick or that, or throw some money at the proven dev team and let them crank out a sequel or inspired knock-off. And sure, a lot of the games come out well, with fun gameplay, multiplayer goodness, never mind the gorgeous audiovisuals. But for guys like me, the days of wonder are gone.. or at least, changed.

I have a lot to say about what retrogames I believe have held up, and what captivates me today. In spite of my tone, I still spend several hours a week cranking away at some of my favorites which time has otherwise forgot. More than mere nostalgia, there are a lot of titles which never received proper attention and slipped by the wayside, but due to the whole "retroscene" many have enjoyed sleeper status, a second chance. Some I have been lucky to get my hands on - so many, I still don't even know exist. The fun part is makinng those discoveries.. Anyway, those particulars are to be explored in other entries. For now, I must sign off..