04/03/2009

“Trains!? In MY Zelda!?!?!”

by Matthew Hawkins

Alright! ICON 28 is almost here, and soon I’ll be off to Long Island to spend another solid three days talking about games, taking pictures of folks in wacky attire, and gawking at tentacle rape. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea about the finer details. Among other things, the show is taking place in a completely new venue. There’s actually three locations this time to be exact, with programming spread all across, and the main issue here is how and why some things are where they are.

Basically, most of the e-gaming programming (which I am a part of) will be in one place, that being Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, while just one or two will be at some other location, a hotel. Including my big one hour spiel, aka Gamer’s Court. So I’m expecting a poor turnout, which will totally bite since more so than anything I’ve ever done, audience participation will make or break it. I also was not able to find a judge’s robe or gavel to go along with the shtick, but at least I’ll have plenty of games on-hand to give out to participants! There’s also a bunch of other things I could bitch about, but that wouldn’t be very professional, plus at this point, I just want to forget about any nonsense and simply have a good time. Too bad Jason had to duck out at the last minute due to personal matters, so it’ll be just myself, Katie, and Hilary. The trifecta! Hopefully a good time will be had by all. And despite all the uncertainties ahead (I wonder if my groupies will be present), I’d like to hope that oh so unique ICON flavor and vibe will still be present, especially since it will be both ladies’ first taste!

And as for myself, it will more than likely be my final one. I know I’ve that last time, but this time I really mean it. Anyhow, for those of you who can come out, please do so! As for everyone else…. here’s my latest assortment of video game related info and nonsense, more than enough to keep anyone busy throughout the weekend!
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- First off, I guess I should perhaps touch upon the just passed GDC, right? Which might be a bit tough since I wasn’t actually there, as well as a tad bit pointless since it’s old news already, plus once again, I’m no Kotaku or IGN, so there’s no real need to go every little thing. But for those who missed everything and would like the whole story, Gamasutra’s got you covered of course. Plus, here’s the ultra condensed, to the point version.

BTW, anyone who doesn’t care about my two cents about the affair and just want to get to the goods (plenty of pretty pictures of WACKY JAPPY, with some possible loli), just skip the following big chunk of text.

Anyhow, from my perspective, it was a pretty decent affair. Not the mind-blowing, gamergasm that some hoped it would be, which to be honest, is a good thing. It’s a place for serious business and not stupid PR antics. Basically, Bob’s Game failed to make any sort of blip whatsoever. Though a demo was finally released on the homepage, I guess on day one of the event, which I believe was also “Day 100″ in Robert Pelloni’s mind.

So how is it? It’s pretty mediocre to be honest. Many were hoping for some epic train-wreck to add fuel to the lulz, but it’s not even that interesting. Other than how it tries way too hard to be cute and self-referential, Bob’s Game is remarkably unremarkable. As noted in forums, I can totally see some ultra two bit publisher buying the game from Robert, for dirt cheap naturally, then re-skin the entire thing with some crappy Saturday morning cartoon license. Which would then sit there on Target or Wal-Mart shelves, collecting dust, with it’s only chance of being picked up during one of their buy 2/get one 1 free sales. Possibly.

- Back to the actual show: the first few days were mostly centered on the iPhone, which at this point is pretty much being heralded by some as the greatest gaming platform. Mostly folks like Neil Young (not the musician but some other dude that runs a company that used to work at EA and makes iPhone games), who was quoted as saying, “We’re at the center of the new everything… The iPhone has revolutionized everything.”

Speaking as a person that is currently designing iPhone games, all I can say is that many of his points are valid, but some only for the moment. It’s now a golden age for iPhone app development, mostly because many can get away with releasing total bullsh*t, and without any real consequence. But it would also appear that change is in the air.

Furthermore, developing for the iPhone is just a pain in the ass. I’m sorry, but that’s the God’s honest truth. Because that touchscreen, and ESPECIALLY that accelerometer, ain’t what they’re cracked up to be. That’s not to say that truly compelling gameplay experiences are not possible… that’s also far from the truth. It’s just really, really hard to do so. Most developers are simply driven by the success stories, like of such and such’s goofy little app that was made completely on the side, which then goes on to pay off said person’s mansion and yacht. Then again, many have been complaining about problems with the system for some time now; basically there’s way too many stuff coming out, so virtually everything gets lost in the shuffle, forcing some to go through ridiculous lengths to gain even a little bit of attention (like paying for positive reviews via the App Store and the such). Everything will stabilize eventually, it’s just a matter of time when that will be, and if it’ll kill the entire thing in the process. Many feel that offering refunds is enough to destroy most small outfits. Time will only tell.

Though I do think it’s hilarious how last year, it was Nokia front and center, with their N-Gage 2.0 service, ready to take the mobile gaming world by storm. My how things have changed in just one year!

- Moving on, and as noted, the start of the conference was all about the little guy, where folks who had managed to find success tried to offer words of wisdom to those that are still trying to figure things out. Such as Ron Carmel, the one of the co-creators of World of Goo, who basically gave some rather obvious, yet still very sound advice.

Though the highlight of the indie set would have to be the grand unveiling of the second Fez trailer, by my good pal Phil Fish! Many jaws were dropped with that one.

I also love how Fish caused a bit of a stir on day two and basically stated what many do not want to hear: the word indie… much like the word nerd (see previous entry)… has lost all its meaning.

- But eventually, the “big boys” took the stage. First there was Nintendo; while the main man in charge, Satoru Iwata, gave his keynote, everyone back at home received a system update for their Wii’s, which addressed the biggest problem that the hardcore set has been bitching about (okay, one of them), that being the paltry amount of storage available for the system (and not it’s lack of HD-quality video outputting). I immediately downloaded the update and a whole new world was immediately opened up; like so many others, I too had grown frustrated with the constant need to move stuff back and forth to the SD card, and this issue also prevented flippant purchases from the Wii Shop Channel. But now, with the ability to launch games, and even send purchased gamed directly to an SD card, Nintendo has finally removed the one huge hurdle that’s been preventing both the Virtual Console and WiiWare from fully being realized. Simply amazing.

Granted, I do feel somewhat silly for praising Nintendo for such a move, because much like the upcoming cut and paste feature for the iPhone 3.0 firmware, both should have been implemented a LONG time ago. But it’s here and it’s awesome, that’s the most important stuff. And now my spending habits on the Wii Shop Channel might have a chance to catching up to Xbox Marketplace! Provided they finally start releasing the really good stuff for the VC. Where the hell is Starfox? Jesus.

Speaking of, classic arcade games have also been added to the Virtual Console. Yay? I personally feel it?s almost silly given how, as just noted, there are still so many awesome games yet to be release on the NES/SNES/Genesis front. Then again, if it finally means a home release for the arcade version of Super Mario Bros 1, which is far and away the most superiorthe GDC 09 trailer actually has me pumped! I guess it’s the music; I’m just a sucker for any old NES tune, redone all modern-like. Plus some rock-climbing game for the Wii Fit balance board was announced, and hat’s cool I guess. Then there was the accidental confirmation that us Americans are finally getting another Layton game. Yes! And what else? Oh yeah, the new Zelda for the DS, Spirit Tracks. Not surprisingly, people over at NeoGAF either loved it or hated it, with the quote highlighting this post being my absolute favorite. Along with this exchange:

“This sounds ridiculous. No thanks, Nintendo. Do. Not. Want.”

“Which parts of the Zelda universe DON’T sound ridiculous again?”

… And this wacky Photshop. I personally think it looks kinda neat. I still love the Wind Waker esthetic, and found Phantom Hourglass to be quite enjoyable, so yes, more please.

- Naturally the DSi was also a major focal point, which leads me to one of my absolute favorite stories, mostly because it related to one of my absolute favorite things about the GDC in general. And that’s hearing about stuff as they were coming down the pipeline. Last year we discovered that the Wii Fit board was originally supposed to use components from left-over N64 controllers that were just lying around, doing nothing. And this year it was revealed how the DSi at one point supported two game cards at once….

Along with a few other products that never made it out to market. I have no idea how Kotaku managed to come away with pictures, Nintendo and most everyone at the con when talking about such things is generally SUPER secretive and protective. But this is Mike McWhertor we’re talking about!

- Meanwhile, Sony also provided a number of highlights. Keita Takahashi was on-hand to talk about his latest creation, Noby Noby Boy, including how it was originally developed for the Xbox 360 but shifted to the PS3, mostly because the sticks on the controllers aren’t right next to each other on MS’s machine, along with a mention of an iPhone version that’s in the works. Be sure to check out Mike McWhertor’s selection of pulled quotes of course.

Then you had the guy behind Shadow of the Colossus, the guy behind No More Heroes, and one of the guys behind Fallout 3 all getting together. Gee, any guesses as to which of the three I could not have cared less about? At least he provided some unintentional comedy. And did we learn anything about what Team ICO has been brewing up for the PS3? Nope!

- The biggest star from Sony’s camp was easily Hideo Kojima. What he said can be found here and pics for those who might be interested can be found here. It’s really interesting! Though I guess the most noteworthy aspect of the presentation was how it very sowed the seeds of a gag, which I’ll touch upon later.

But yeah, even though I think his Meta Gear games are somewhat overrated, there’s a certain charm in all his work that’s hard to deny, and despite its rough edges, MGS4 still remains as the current sole reason to nab a PS3 for me. I guess I mostly like Kojima, since he appears to have a sense of humor about everything.

- What else? Oh, the Game Developers Choice Awards. You know, I recall being somewhat annoyed by the nominees and winners last year, and same goes for this year. Yes, LittleBigPlanet’s user generated content is awesome, I know, but the game itself totally blows! Also, I hear that Fallout 3 is great, but not that great.

At least there’s the far more interesting and satisfying Independent Games Festival Awards, though I am sad to say that I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t had a chance to check out any of the nominees and winners.

- Here’s two write-ups that I actually haven’t had a chance to go over myself, but I’m assuming they’re neat, and am posting them here as a reminder. Like this roundtable involving Peter Molyneux, Lorne Lanning, and Will Wright and this interview with Masaya Matsuura. Speaking of which, and not to get ahead, but Major Minor just came out! Anyone get it?

… Image courtesy of NeoGAF. Naturally. BTW, my interview with the other man behind it and PaRappa and UmJammer, Rodney Greenblat, should be going live on Gama any day now!

- The absolute best part of GDC last year was the Experimental Gameplay Session, and this year’s featured games sound particularly awesome. Especially Achron…

?Imagine an RTS where you can send your units back in time to destroy your opponent’s units before he?s even built them,? opened Chris Hazard, thoroughly confusing everyone in the audience, a confusion that never quite seemed to lift.

A complex RTS which features a ?timeline? across which players can leap across, the game worked as a ?race to the past? by players who understood it. Hazard found it easiest to describe the gameplay through tales of previous plays, such as a battle over a mining base that he won only to find his opponent going forward in time, researching nuclear technology, sending that technology back in time to before the mining base battle and nuking the area?only for Hazard to go back in time, avoid sending his men to the location, and watch his enemy nuke his own troops!

The game features multiple aspects of time travel — such as paradoxes and the requirement to send units either backwards or forwards in time to maintain causality; with characters even able to fight along side multiple future or past versions of itself — under the knowledge that any damage their past versions receive they also do.?

… As much of a sucker I am for old Nintendo tunes, times that by twelve for time travel shtick. BTW, going back to last year’s showing, which is where I learned about cursor*10, everyone’s played the sequel, right?

A close second in the “Oh dear God, I REALLY wish I could have gone” department was Game Design Challenge. Meanwhile, last year’s show ending rant session did nothing but make my eyes roll, and this year’s sounded just as obnoxious. Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything, since I’m pals with at least one of the people that participated, hence why I will not go into any details, but as much as I can’t help but groan whenever I hear a game developer bitch about his job, which at the end of the day could be FAR worse, I feel tens times as strong for game journalists. Cue my now overused example of some guy working his third shift in a row at McDonald’s that’s at least happy he’s not at some boring Square Enix press conference.

- Alright, enough about the GDC, though one last thing: many were predicting that Sony was going to lower the price of the PS3 at the show. And… nothing happened. Then a few days ago came word of a major announcement, and anticipation was once again raised. In the end, there was a price cut accounted! For the PS2. LOL. Why? Because apparently, Sony has lost all faith in fighting the Wii with their PS3, so here comes the PS2 to the rescue. Wow, just wow.

One final Sony/GDC related tidbit: during the show, Sony unveiled an alternative reality game for PlayStation Home. I actually find ARGs pretty neat, at least in theory (I actually tried to play Majestic a bunch of years ago… wasn’t all that fun), but one has to wonder if Sony even knows that the term “alternative reality game” means. Yeesh.

- At least Gomibako still looks hella awesome (I forget if I’ve mentioned it before, it’s that game that’s basically Tetris, but with trash)…

- Hey, Yuusha no Kuse Ni Namaikida (neat little PSP game, which is like a combination of Deception and Dig Dug) is coming to America apparently! As… Holy Invasion Of Privacy, Badman! Huh?

- Time to check out a bunch of game trailers. First, here’s The Munchables, a new upcoming title from Bandai Namco, that’s very much like Katamari Damacy, with a dash of Da Blob. Looks cute!

- Next up, anyone familiar with the world of vinyl toys is sure to recognize the name Scarygirl. Well, she’s getting a game!

- It’s kinda like Mega Man, except instead of shooting bad bots, he just explodes? It’s Explodemon!

- Remember me mentioning (and showing pics of) a very pretty Wii game called Muramasa: The Demon Blade? Time to see that beauty in action.

- And most have probably already seen/heard about this by now, but just in case, Katamari Tribute, the recently announced PS3 remake of the groundbreaking original. In addition to the re-done soundtrack by various big names (can’t wait for the YMCK track), the visuals are getting a re-touch, not just with an increase in resolution, but assorted graphic filters, as some might have noticed in the clip…

… I’m pretty surprised that there’s no 8-bit one. Also, and I know all diehard Katamari fans will want to punch me in the face for saying this, but I think it would be really neat if there was a photo-realistic level as well, though that would take more than just a simple graphic overlay. Again, the game is out of the creator’s hands, so why not go totally off the wall?

- Check this insane mod out: it’s a Famicom crammed into a NES cart

… And on a related note, here’s a Genesis crammed into a Genesis cart…

- This particular entry’s “Oh God, if I only lived in Japan, then I could get my grubby mitts on this game!” would have to be Kimi to Boku to Rittai/You And Me Together, which just came out for WiiWare…

… Here’s one totally enticing clip and here’s yet another. Aside from looking stylish yet totally inviting as all hell (trust me, not an easy combination), it’s yet another game by Kenji Eno! My God, that guy’s on some roll! His iPhone games have simply been the best.

- Meanwhile, over on the PS3, has anyone else heard of Mainichi Issyo? Its pretty hard to describe. One source its part social network game, part Animal Crossing/Tamagotchi simulator, and part news reader?

Apparently, there’s all these “episodes” which I believe are commercials for games, and then you get some item to adorn your room. BTW, here’s a video of the thing in action. I have no idea what’s going on. Anyhow, anyone in America that’s interested in checking this out actually can. Details behind the means, as well as general info behind Mainichi Issyo in general, can be found here.

- Long story short, there’s this game I’m working on, which I really can’t talk about, other than how it utilizes procedurally generated visuals. And while doing some research for some examples, I came across this, which I thought was pretty neat.

- Hey, there’s now a new site dedicated to King of Fighters XII! Plus, a mess load of awesome new shots…

… Wicked. MUCH better looking than SF4 imho. And call me crazy, but after watching this behind the scenes, I now have some confidence in the upcoming live-action KOF movie. Don’t ask me why. Well, the director did helm Fist of Legend, arguably Jet Li’s best film ever.

- Guess what series I’m quietly ga-ga for? Gyakuten Saiban aka the Ace Attorney series! And I’m praying that the latest installment, Gyakuten Kenji, which features Miles Edgeworth as the lead, will come here as well (no reason it should I suppose).

Anyhow, some might have heard that in its motherland, there’s a musical based on the game, which is indeed true…

… You can read about it here, along with information regarding a bunch of other stage renditions of video games, including one of Dance Dance Revolution that ran here in NYC last year? Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me? I totally feel my credibility is totally blown.

Hey, guess this is as good a time as any for the following…

- Sticking with fusion of games and song, a few might recall the supremely awesome Street Fighter ditty a whiles ago. The artist is some dude named Hyadain and it’s basically his thing you could say. I’m fairly certain that I’ve featured one of his Mega Man arrangements before (everyone will have to excuse my poor memory, but given how I link to about 7,000 different YouTube vids a month on average, one tends to lose track after a while), but I believe this one is nice and fresh, plus it has English subtitles! That and it features the Bubble Man theme from MM2, arguably one of the most beloved Mega Man tunes of them all.

- Get this: apparently a few years ago, only in Japan of course, was a GameCube game called Ohenro-San, which… actually, how about I simply quote IGN’s description of the game: “Walk the ancient world as a Buddhist monk of the 8th and 9th century in this adventure/travel sim game for GameCube. Put the miles of trekking on your feet and experience the travels for real with the use of an optional walking pad controller.”

… Gee, remind anyone of anything?

- The Minus World has actually been on a roll as of late, and their latest piece might be my favorite: the top nine game related OCD activities that we’re all guilty off. I’m DEFINITELY guilty of numbers 5, 4, and 1. Though number 3 is sorta like how certain people, when they hear the name Katamari, instantly starting singing the theme song, meaning they both send douche chills down my spin. Sorry, but true.

- Time to head on over to NeoGAF! Many question all the time I spend there, and my only response to that is how there is some genuinely awesome stuff to be found, which simply requires a certain degree of digging, which I do for you all because I love my readers. Anyhow, recently highlights include…

… Many of our favorite games have evolved over the years visually, and here’s a nice little thread with plenty of examples.

… Then there’s this one for a Donkey Kong 2, and it’s playable at Funspot?

Hey Jason, we’re going back this summer, right?

… On a related note, here we have an oldie, but still very much a goodie, and which I’ve been meaning to passing along for some time now: a rundown of various killer sound (and looking) rom hacks.

Nothing to crazy is included to be honest, mostly Mario, Sonic, and Zelda stuff, but almost all of it looks really awesome, ESPECIALLY the Sonic stuff. Like the totally homebrew Sonic CD title? Yikes!

… Though my current favorite topic would have to be the sexy hardware thread. And I totally believe that there’s nothing hotter than the original Genesis design. Nothing. Anyway, here’s my contribution, which was a bit of a minor hit.

- And finally, just the other day was April 1st, which traditionally in the world of video games meant an avalanche of fake video game items, some meant to be obvious jokes, other meant to be the real thing. And almost none of them this year was particularly entertaining. Though from Kotaku’s own round-up, I don’t seem to see any fake announcement of a Shenmue 3, thank goodness.

The Companion Cube in God of War PSP was pretty neat, if only because people actually had to go through the trouble of piecing something together and not just rely on a wacky Photoshop job like virtually everyone else. I also really dug this one courtesy of Stephen Totilo (which I just realized I was supposed to go drinking with earlier tonight…. oops) centered on Mother 3.

Yet the winner for this year has to go to Hideo Kojima. Mostly for capitalizing on all the buzz that he may or may not have created via his presentation at the GDC, all stemming from one very tiny little detail, as pictured previously. Which led to this. Note: only hardcore Kojima/MGS nerds need click that previous link. Though those same people will probably also be reminded of this.

And for a while now, all those who were excited over the possibility of a real-deal Metal Gear Raiden game was expecting something along the lines of this.

… Alright, that’s it for me! I’ll be back after the big show with my report. Have a good one!

  • http://www.jamesbochanski.com jamesbo

    The texture lighting, on the KOF fighters characters is too good.. I didnt think sprites could get better looking, but freaking there it is. I can’t wait to see that game in motion.

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