07/14/2006

Poundin’ Beers While Playing Pokemon

by Matthew Hawkins

Wednesday night’s movie night movie was Time Machine. The original, which was a favorite of mine as a kid (and I’d imagine for loads of other folks), and not the piece of crap remake with Guy Pierce and Jeremy Irons (as the head Morlock with a huge brain on his back). I guess my biggest beef with the movie (aside from the fact that it flat out sucks, from top to bottom) is the fact that, much like Mission Impossible 1), they gave away the best damn part of the whole thing in the trailer. In the Time Machine redux’s case, its the shot of the moon, with half of it blown to bits. They literally showed all of that one single shot in the trailer! Its actually worse than how Mission Impossible’s trailer featured the very best parts of the final action sequence.

Anyway, yeah, Time Machine is still pretty amazing. As a kid, various stuff freaked me out, like the lava and the books crumbling (which I still find sorta creepy, for assorted, perhaps deep-rooted psychological reasons). I hadn’t seen it in years, and in my youth I never fully realized how good leading man Rod Taylor’s acting was, or noticed how when the doctor finally instills some self forth and identity to the humans in the future, his girlfriend all of sudden becomes concerned about her hair. And the dopey kids at the dinner table before all that is basically today’s teenagers to a t (though that could be said for ever generation of youngsters).

Beforehand Jeff showed some behind the scenes stuff from How The West Was Won since he had been passing along info all week regarding Cinemarama, which popped up during our 2001 discussions the week prior. We also watched the first episode Slings & Arrows, which is about the drama that takes place behind the scenes of a theater group. Its from Canada, features Mark McKinney (you know, one of the Kids in the Hall), and was pretty good, as well as amazingly on-spot in its portray of theater folks.

Yesterday was a pretty day, video game-wise. In the morning was a meeting was Konami, but due to the DNA, I really can’t talk about it. Later in the evening was Nintendo’s “family night” which I explained previously. Since girlfriends and the such were welcome, I wanted to bring along MK, but she ended up going home early because the power died at work in her building the previous day which still wasn’t fixed, so I went solo.

The thing started at six and I arrived a little big around then; I hate being early at a party, but I had another appointment later in the evening, and it was too damn hot outside for just walking around and killing time. But the Nintendo folks were very friendly, in within a minute I had a beer in one hand and a DS Lite in another. I started out playing the new Starfox title (I’ll get to that in just a minute), and not long thereafter another game journalist arrived. Now, Nintendo had advertised the evening as being purely a DS-centric affair; they had the Wii running earlier in the week, but that was by appointment only, and had been since packed up. Apparently the guy didn’t get the memo, so when he found out he couldn’t play it, he got super pissed. At first everyone thought he was joking, but then he went on, loudly bitching and moaning, for a solid two minutes about how had busted his ass all the way to play the Wii and how he normally doesn’t waste his time for such things and so on. But the reps was nice about it, said sorry, and eventually got the guy to shut up.

Then, just as I had switched to Yoshi’s Island 2 (again, I’ll get back to it), about ten college age hipsters showed up. They were all really loud and obnoxious, and I simply couldn’t figure out who the hell they were (at first I figured they were some teens that were wrangled up by MTV, or maybe one wrote for some site and just decided to bring nine of his or her friends… the Nintendo folks had no clue either). But the thing is, I totally recognized the head girl, though for the life of me, I can’t remember from where (my guess is that it was some chick I tried flirting with via Fiendster or MakeOutClub back in the day). Anyway, yeah they were all pretty dopey and acting all hi (best/worst part is when one girl screamed “OH MY GOD, DO YOU REMEMBER NINTENDO CEREAL!?!?!?!” and then proceeds to hum the Super Mario theme (and yeah, I’m pretty sure the guy who works at Nintendo has heard about the Nintendo cereal by now).

But anyway, the most important thing was the games, and they had a whole bunch on-hand, including…

- Starfox DS: I had heard some complaints at E3 about the control (all ship movement is done entirely with the touch screen and stylus) but I liked it, for the most part. Maneuvering was actually quite easy, though I am not a fan of the bomb deployment; you touch and drag a bomb onto the touchscreen map, which really felt awkward). The graphics were decent, albeit a bit sparse, but maybe the game is just super early. If it still to the skies, I’ll be happy (like most I loathed the on-foot missions in Armada, but also unlike everyone else, I really disliked the tank missions from 64 as well). Though I’ll really be happy if I can finally get a portable port of the original.

- Yoshi’s Island 2: As a diehard fan of the first (I still sincerely believe that its one of the top five platformers of all-time), I’ve been aching to get my hands on it since first seeing it at E3. And the game feels great! It’s not terribly different (it’s pretty much EXACTLY like the original), but then again, you just don’t mess with perfection. Well, its not totally the same: I got to play around with Baby Peach’s mechanics which added a tiny bit of spice. The one thing I was really concerned was the animation; I was sorta disappointed with Yoshi’s walking cycle from the footage I had seen, but after finally seeing and playing if first hand, its really not that bad and doesn’t at all take away from the game. I simply can’t wait for the release (Christams is gonna be totally nuts).

- Final Fantasy 3: Didn’t spend too much time with it, but what little I played was very enjoyable. As I also sorta hinted at previously, I’m starting to get into old-school-y RPGs, and FFIII certainly fits the big. What I played was pretty early (30% of the FMVs were missing or incomplete), but everything just looks beautiful.

- Castlevania Portrait of Ruin: Needless to say, I was both shocked and elated to see the Konami title present. I know the series has gotten a lot of shit as of late for it’s “Metroid-vania” gameplay (some people prefer to call it “Castle-roid” and those people idiots), but I totally love it (though I really could have done without Dawn of Sorrow’s touchscreen usage). And this new one has a second character that can follow along, for a slightly Sonic & Tails vibe (well, more like Ninja Gaiden 2, by having another character nearby dealing damage, though the other does their own thing instead of purely mimicking your action). Graphically its quite nice, with a color scheme that reminds me of Harmony of Dissonance.

- Pokemon Ranger: I’ve played my fair share of Pokemon over the years, so it was nice to see Nintendo try to do different things with the franchise. Instead of RPG-style battling, you use the stylus to capture the pocket monsters by circling around them multiple times to create some force field or something. It was fairly decent, though I’m certain the younger set is going to eat it up; where as in the arcades, kids have this tendency towards slamming the hell out of the buttons rapidly, on the DS, kids just want to scribble and scratch the touchscreen furiously, and this game encourages this.

- Pokemon Mystery Dungeon (Blue Rescue Team): Didn’t get too much time in with this one, but this time around you actually control the Pokemon, which is sorta neat. And instead of them saying their name over and over again, they engage in “real” conversations. I just find the idea of its accompanying game, Red Rescue Team, being on the GBA really cool, though I can’t explain why.

- Elite Beat Agents: I know I played it already this Tuesday, but I wanted to check out another stage, so I tackled the harder of the two. And it most definitely just every bit of a challenge as the Japanese original was.

I think I may have played something else, but I can’t remember (blame the Heinekens on an empty stomach). Unfortunately, the new Zelda DS game was not available, nor Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2, but I was there playing games for over an hour and a half solid, so I can’t complain too much. Though I was pretty disheartened when I asked about the bitGenerations line and the possibility of them coming out here (the first wave just came out yesterday, actually), and the main Nintendo rep I dealt with for most of the night hadn’t even heard of them (and this guy knew his shit, like who Dimps was).

… Anyway, best part of the whole evening? When I tried changing games, I didn’t know how to turn off the DS Lite. So when the rep asked me if I had one already and I mentioned that I only had the original, he asked one of his folks “Hey, let’s hook this guy up with a Lite.” And they did!

On the way out (I had to get my system in a separate room; there was concern that if the hipster kids got word that they were giving away DSs, a mini riot would ensue, and that was totally understandable), I ran into Perrin Kaplan, the vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for Nintendo, as she was emailing the head office, so we chatted for a bit. I asked various things regarding the Wii, primarily the Virtual Console. I wondered if a game like Mega Man one, which is regularly re-release by Capcom in the form of various compilations, and they might be willing to pass along the game for the VC, and Kaplan’s basic answer is “We’re working on it.” Basically, its up to Capcom.

Aftewards I headed uptown to have dinner and a meeting. I’m going to forgo the specifics and the naming of names for the time being (though personal friends will know whom I’m referring to) and simply state that its a brand new client for whom I will be designing web games for. I went over my initial concepts and ideas for the project as a whole, plus stuff related to the production schedule, the budget, and all that jazz. I’m still doing research into the subject matter, but hopefully I’ll get things rolling in the next month or two.

As for tonight, I’m going drinking with Mike O’Connor and Steve Totilo (who said some really nice things about my GameSetWatch report earlier this week over at MTV News… once again, much appreciated Steve). And tomorrow is the Siren Music Fest, which everyone and their mom has been telling me that I shouldn’t bother with since the line-up absolutely sucks this year (plus its going to be like 100 degrees or something). But I’m still going. Why? Tradition. Every year I go with Joe and the rest of our merry little gang to make fun of sweaty hipsters and emo dorks (who, despite all the heat warning will still show up in three layers of suede), eat hot dogs, ride the bumper cars, and get drunk. Its just another excuse to hit Coney Island; the music itself is simply secondary. Seriously, this year’s line-up looks fucking atrocious; I want to punch almost every single person pictured on the site (and you know its bad news when each act has some blurb from goddamn MySpace). I sorely miss the days of Vic Trill and female prison wrestling.

Oh, btw, Joe just got back from the Warped Tour which this summer features a cast of colorful characters all created by Mr. Simko himself. So we went with the tour for a few dates to see some of his work, and you can check out some pics right here.

Oh, before I split, a few random game related stuff…

- Starting things off, a pair of couple itmes I originally came across via GameSetWatch. First, some info on Rush and Fire Megadas, a long forgotten game by the short-lived eclectic game developer Warp. And as a diehard Kenji Eno fanboy, I need to play this game. Its looks so bad that its good, then becomes bad again.

Second, check out this dude’s out of control video game collection.

- Speaking off collections, someone passed along pics from his visit to a second-hand game store while vacationing in Japan, and they absolutely have to be seen to be believed. Some of my favorite are…

Practically everything single thing you see is old and often quite rare. Note that how every single used game is stored and displayed with meticulous care. Really shows how totally pathetic Gamestops and EBs are, eh?

- And speaking of used games, once again, the possibility of people being unable to play used, rented, or borrowed games on the PS3 came up again earlier this week. I think I may have covered this before, but again, I can sorta understand where Sony is coming from since the used video game market, at least the way its established here in the US, is really hurting publishers (I also simply hate the way Gamestops and EBs conduct business; it seriously hurts both the game companies and the consumers). But the whole idea of someone not being able to play a game they bought at on a friend’s system is pretty ridiculous. Hence why all the Sony defenders are places such as the Gaming Age Forums (and they do still exist, $600 price point and all) are saying that its totally ridiculous and that Sony would never dare attempt such a thing. And all I can say is that they are doing just as crazy things right now. Not because I totally hate them and want to see their system tank, but I would actually love to see it happen. Plus, its going to eventually… it’s only a matter of type before the current means of selling games is completely changed. Things will be purely downloadable, there’s no doubt, like it or not, its just a matter of how long it will take.

- Oh, and some might recall a rumor going around that Microsoft was going to introduce a third, more “powerful” config of the Xbox 360, one that would included a HD=DVD drive built in, along with a larger HD (which would replace the current the “premuim” config, and what we have now would be the new “core” package). But I saw recently at the NeoGAF that it has been officially denied by MS, but we all know how well they keep their word…

Though to be totally honest, I am becoming more and more curious by the stuff I see being developed in Japan, especially with a new Silpheed game on the way, or that new RPG from Namco where you assume the role of a famous 19th century pianist. Question is, will any of it come out here?

- And speaking of commerce, at least one person in the business of making games seems to think that episodic gaming is bad business.

- Someone else at the NeoGAF passed this along: its a look at the upcoming Animal Crossing anime. And… I dunno. Rather generic and crappy, IMHO.

- Plus, here’s a slightly mislabel video that’s still very video game-like: it’s a send-up of the suburban life in Japan and video games, plus it has a hella cool flat-shaded polygon, meaning retro, look.

- And finally, another YouTube vid, though not game related, and courtesy of MK: the world’s cutest instructional video on how to poop.

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