06/29/2006

What The…

by Matthew Hawkins

- On Tuesday Vivendi Universal (I believe they’re just going by the name Sierra now) were in town to show off their holiday lineup and I got the chance to check out the latest Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot games.

I guess I should state that I’ve never been the biggest Spyro fan; I played the first one on the PSone years back and thought it was fairly decent, though hardly mind-blowing, but never bothered to follow the series since (actually, I did review one of the more recent games for the PS2/GameCube and was less than impressed). So I can’t say I was particularly interested in newest installment, and I think I’m safe in saying that the majority of the game playing audience feels the same way (unless your a pre-teen adolescent, since that’s been Spyro’s targeted audience thus far). Well I was at all expected to be so utterly amazed by what I saw; this latest one simply looks fucking fan-tastic.

Long story short, the next chapter is a re-boot: the folks behind it are attempting to establish a new character in a different world by giving context to who and what he is, primarily by tracing his backstory, which hasn’t really been done before. It’s still a kids game, but things aren’t so saccharine and rainbow colored anymore (with the exception of Spyro; he’s still bright purple). When I had heard that Spyro’s was getting a make-over and some added edge, I instantly thought of Shadow, but they’ve actually done a great job: Spyro’s a dragon in a fantasy word with other fantasy creatures instead of some vague Mushroom Kingdom-wannabe world with cartoony pigs with goggly eyes. Instead, enemies are now angry bamboos and weird creatures that ride on the backs of bats; it should be noted that the animation is really nice and character designs are believe it or not pretty fantastic. The whole thing looks pretty superb, primarily the effects; Spyro is able to breathe fire, ice, and shoot electricity, and he’s able to upgrade those powers to make them devastating. The effects, especially when they’re super powered-up, are pretty crazy: the ground shakes, all the bad guys are engulfed in flames, or frozen and made into huge snow balls (and if you miss, you leave a trail of ice wherever you shoot… the effect again is very nice). The best had to be when Spyro’s electricity is maxed up; as he moves around, random bits snaps all around him. Think of Lighting from Big Trouble in Little China. Aside from platforming, there’s flying levels, reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon, where he moves towards the screen on-rails, but we saw a bit where a bigger dragon is following him around, and along with the other enemies and environmental hazards. was pretty damn intense. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really looking forward to the game; once again, it isn’t anything particularity ground-breaking, but it looks to be a well constructed total package, and maybe the best kids game in years.

Next was Crash Bandicoot for the DS, and whereas I haven’t cared about Spyro, I’ve actually always sorta despised Crash. I’ve never liked the character and found his original games to be boring as hell. I guess it didn’t help that he was originally Sony’s “answer” to Sonic and Mario, and my “loyalties” were with those two. But this new game is a Mario Party-like game, and once again, looks pretty amazing! I guess the environment sorta helps to take the focus away from any character design flaws, but the games hella fun (the few games I tried out were pretty neat) and the game looks phenomenal, not just the graphics (which is cel-shaded and features some of the best 3D I’ve seen on the system, far and away) but the entire presentation. I guess that’s why when it was revealed that Dimps was the developer, I wasn’t surprised (Japanese produced games just have this level of sheen which you just don’t seem from American or UK dev teams). It’s the first of its kind for the system, which reminds me… why hasn’t Mario Party for the DS been announced yet?

- Later in the evening was the Games 4 Change Game Expo. The Games 4 Change conference took place on Tuesday and yesterday, and Parsons was hoping I would cover the event for Gamasutra, since I have somewhat of a relationship with the school, after covering their Atari co-sponsored game jams. Unfortunately, like the previous event which I also tried to cover, I simply couldn’t fit it into my schedule, but I was able to check out the Game Expo, which featured assorted games that promote social awareness and change, and was even able to bring my game design students which I teach on Tuesdays evenings as a class field trip.

The event was as expected fairly interesting, with a number or noteworthy games on display. Perhaps my favorite was Earthquake in Zipland, which is the brainchild of a child psychologist. Its basically a point and click adventure game geared towards children of divorced or separated parents. The takes place in Zipland, which something has happen and caused the land to split into two, separating the King and the Queen. The main character in the game must go about to bring the two lands together but fixing the zipper that unites the land and along the way deal with issues related to divorced children such as anger and depression. From what I understand, one of the primary messages throughout the game is that what has happened is not due to the fault of the character, though it may seem that way (since many divorced kids think its their faults that their parents are splitting up). I also believe in the end, the character is unable to successfully repair the land since its up to the King and Queen to want to be together, which is a less than happy ending, but they all have to learn to cope, like in real life.

Another excellent sounding game, which I unfortunately forget the name since all my notes are back home, is geared towards people who are immigrants seeking citizenship. Basically the game’s creator has created a template, such as the basic groundwork and the rules, with the goal of the game being for the player to get a green card. Then they go to schools with a heavy illegal immigrant quotient and ask them to not only play the game but actually create the environments and set up the challenges. So depending on who they are where they’re from offers some fascinating insight on what others think America is about, the good and the bad, as well as issues related to their own culture, its place in the United States, and what they think needs to be done to get a green card. I’m actually going to try and follow the progress of the initiative over the next few months since the creators are located in Brooklyn.

- As for last night, it was Wednesday, a.k.a. movie night. The feature was supposed to be the historical musical 1776, since next week is the 4th, plus Steve (Wilde) specifically want to see it, but because he arrived late, and the thing’s three hours (but three awesome hours! that is, if you’re into songs about the Constitution), so we just ended up filling time by watching a ton of other stuff, including clips from El Cid, Al Jolson, an old Burt Lancaster western whose name I can’t remember, Dark Shadows, The Pirates of Penzance, an episode of Deadwood, an episode of Action, and the best parts of the original Superman, though that was mostly so those who had seen it could “cleanse the palette”. I had totally forgotten how incredible that film was; I love Spider-Man and the first Tim Burton Batman and all, but in the end, I still believe the best pure superhero flick still has to be Superman. Given that the world’s biggest Superman fans, i.e. Jeff Rovin & company, absolutely loathed it, I really don’t know what to think (I was on the fence initially, but began to grow hopeful as I saw more and more), but I’ve been told to see it by next Wednesday to give my two cents.

On a side note, I had this dream the other night that DC finally decided to make shirts with the Earth-2 Superman logo and I was SO happy. But alas, it was just a dream… at least it beats the usual ones of me chasing after long lost systems and games. I’ll be so glad when the Wii finally arrives so I can download all those NES, SNES, and Genesis games and be done with it. Though to be honest, I’m still on the hunt for Genesis titles (again, since Genny emulation has been spotty… even when Sega’s behind them, and on systems that are many times more powerful). Case in point, I’m getting Phantasy Star 4 from Robin via a trade (he’s getting a pretty sweet high-end Mini DV/Super VHS deck that we’re throwing out at SVA only because of a burnt Fireewire port). I’m also on the constant look-out for a used by in excellent condition Genesis model 1 system; I have the model 3 unit, which was a birthday present from Dave many years back, but I just can’t stand the gimped video output. That and it can’t play Virtua Racing.

Anyway, back to movie night, Ric had to excuse himself at 10 to conduct a phone interview with Jet Li, and I felt so stupid for not being able to come up with any questions. I also told Ric about Subway Cinema’s post-Asian Film Fest/5th anniversary celebration on Sunday. Long story short, Grady Hendrix and company went to the Music Palace Theater, which was the mecca for all Asian film aficionados in NYC till it closed down, and raided their vaults. They ended up getting literally hundreds of ultra rare prints, many of which aren’t even available on DVD, and they plan on showing their favorites all day Sunday, from 2 pm to midnight, at the Anthology Film Archives, and for absolutely free! The thing is, everything has to be kept hush-hush, otherwise they’ll be slapped with multipe cease and desist orders, so instead of making a formal announcement they’re depending on word of mouth, like bloggers, to spread the news. Hence why they can’t formally announce what’ll be playing, but it was promised that at least one Jet Li movie, one Jackie Chan movie, one Sammo Hung movie, on Stephen Chow movie, and a ton of trailers would all be screened. Since Ric won’t be in town that day, he’s asked me to check it out and find out what they end up playing, and I was going to, but now I’m not too sure. I might instead head out to Long Island to hang with friends since its a holiday weekend, plus I’m fairly certain at this point that MK’s a bit worn out on Asian cinema (we still have two last films from the fest to check out on Saturday). And as I’ve mentioned already, I simply can’t stand the NYC movie going audience anymore, especially after last Saturday night’s debacle, so I’m not keen on spending 10 hours at the Archive.

Oh, so Subway Cinema decided to add another screening of Funky Forest this Friday night, and I’m debating if I want to check it out, since I wasn’t able to enjoy it the first time around. It’ll be at the Imaginasian theater, and while the crowds there are generally a lot better than the ass-hats who frequent the Archives, plus the theater itself isn’t some tiny little rundown shit-shack (which magnifies the antics of said idiots twenty-fold), I’m sure there’ll still be plenty WACKY JAPPY-types I’m certain, so I just don’t want that movie ruined twice for me. Ric mentioned to me that at the end of the summer he’ll be passing along to be a ton of Asian films, after he’s done doing his rounds, which will be sweet (and perfect timing since I should be done with my book by then), though I have asked if his sources could perhaps get me a copy of Funky Forest, and he seems hopefull. Adam is also trying to get a screener’s copy for me… what awesome friends I have!

- As for the actual 4th of July holiday, I’m thinking of going to Coney Island and seeing Takeru Kobayashi do his magic live. Joe tells me that afterwards that Nathan’s gives away free hot dogs, but most are so disgusted by the contest that most can’t accept the offer for free dogs. Not me!!!
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In other stuff, I’ve been hit with both a return of my nasty stomach ulcer and further annoyances with my insurance company, which is getting in the way me seeking treatment (plus the holidays are coming up, so everyone’s seeing a doctor). The pain in my stomach is really getting in way of my productivity (and it’s so not a good time for it), as well as screwing up my sleep cycle, which means I’ve at least gotten a chance to check out what’s going on with the world of games. Once again, this stuff might be “old news” if all you do is spend time on video game message boards, but since I can’t do that anymore, it’s all news to me…

- So the one game that I’m currently addicted to is Tetris DS. At this point, I always take the slower, local trains to any destination so I can squeeze in extra time, and it also gets my mind off the oppressive humidity of the subway stations, and even the trains when the AC is busted (which seems to be pretty common this year). The thing that’s grabbed me the most is the Touch mode; some of the other additional ones are sorta lame, but not Touch, which is so simple yet so mind-bendingly complex at times. For what felt like forever, I simply couldn’t pass the fifth Touch tower, but when I finally did, I felt like a friggin genius and so elated (I was starting get pissed for a week now since I’d always get so close). And what did I do the second I had finally gotten a high score? Immediately try to beat it, of course.

I guess my point is that I’m playing the Touch mode far more than the traditional one. Why? Well, my personal favorite version of all time is the one for the original Game Boy, and since then, there’s been little changes here and there that’s sorta ruined it for me. But no one has ever really complained about them, so I’ve remained silent. Well at Insert Credit last week, during talk of a new Tetris collection coming out from Sega, someone finally explained why the things are the way they are, and if you’re a Tetris diehard, it totally amazing. Essentially…

The classic modes will be really nice. However, the new mode (not mentioned on the front page??) makes me very sad. It will feature SRS (Super Rotation System) rules instead of Sega rules. SRS “features” such wonderful bullshit as infinite spin. See also this famous video review of Tetris Worlds where the word ‘broken’ is uttered repeatedly over the course of 2 minutes.

Sega has a long history of making Tetris games. Tetris (for 3 different arcade platforms, as well as Mega Drive), Flashpoint, Bloxeed, and the NAOMI/Dreamcast Sega Tetris. These games use a distinctive rotation system that plays very well. Other Japanese companies followed Sega’s lead, such as the Tetris Plus series of games. Most importantly, the TGM series (Tetris Grand Master) uses a slightly updated version of this rotation system. Sega rules are widely used because they work and people liked it.

Where does SRS come from? It’s the brain child of Henk Rogers, the founder of BPS and official godfather of Tetris. Pajitnov moved on with life, whereas this guy (responsible for GB and Famicom Tetris, among many many others) has only become more obsessed with it. The rights to Tetris are complicated, but to keep it short all new games must be approved by TTC (The Tetris Company). Frankly, what this actually means is they must meet Henk Rogers’ personal approval. Around the time Tetris Worlds was developed, Henk created SRS. It’s not intuitive, it’s not streamlined for fast play, and it removes all time pressure while playing.

So. This guy controls the rights to Tetris. He creates his own monstrosity of a rotation system. The next step? It is now mandatory for every game to use his game rules. Among other things this includes SRS, and a piece randomizer that often gives SZSZ. While Sega is the people’s choice, SRS is tyrannically enforced.

How has this affected Tetris games? TGM3, released to arcades a year ago, was forced to adhere to the Tetris Guidelines. Fortunately, the developer was able to mitigate the damage by giving the player the option to choose between Sega and SRS styles, with each getting their own highscore tables. (The best players are using Sega rules, of course.) Last December, for the X360 launch in Japan, another TGM game was released. By this time, the Guidelines had grown more strict. This game was forced to use the frustrating SZSZ randomizer, and it also had no Sega rotations whatsoever. As a sneaky way of bypassing the Guidelines once again, the developer released a patch over XBOX Live that added Sega behaviour. However, only so much could be done, and the result is a frankenstein mix of SRS and Sega rules that has been largely ignored by TGM players.

TGM players are very proud of their Sega roots. And the series has to fight and do sneaky stunts to keep them alive. And now we get this Sega collection, and it just highlights the bleak future ahead. Henk Rogers is very irritated that all the best fan clones immitate this Sega style, and would love to see it fade away into obscurity. Will there be a TGM4? If there is, will it be worth playing? The creator of the TGM series, Ichiro Mihara, is ranked #2 in Tetris DS wifi right now (below another TGM player, of course). For chrissake, let the talented, inspired man create whatever Tetris he wants.

… Crazy, eh?

- Oh, and here’s an impressive head to head session of Tetris from Japanese television between some J-pop idol and some dude.

- Speaking of Japanese pop stars, here’s Shigenori Yamashita, a comic, playing Super Mario for the very first time.

- And speaking of Mario, someone else at IC pointed towards this: Super Mario Bros is basically a retelling of the life of Siddhartha, who is the person that founded Buddhism. And it actually makes a whole lot of sense.

- Back to the DS real quick, it’s recently been revealed that upcoming the web browser for the DS will lack the ability to run Flash, PDFs, or even sound and video. That… sorta bites.

- I’ve even had some time to surf the GAF. First up, here’s a topic on the strangest, more weirdest game peripherals ever. My vote, as you’ll see, goes to either the Rez TranceVibrator (and of course, I had to include a pic from that legendary GameGirlAdvance “article”) and the Death Crimson controller. For those who don’t know what that might be, here’s some info, courtesy of its homepage which was linked to in the thread, which I didn’t even know was existence, and some pics.

Yup, that thing’s an actual controller, one specifically designed by a totally insane fan, to celebrate a Sega Saturn game which many believe is the worst game every created.

The thread itself has tons of awesome other candidates. Some of which I already expected, such as the Game Boy/sewing machine hook-up, but some which I had no idea existed, like a robot that you controlled with a WonderSwan, and another created by Sega which looked to have been their answer to Nintendo’s R.O.B.

- Next, here’s a few quotes from various industry folks regarding Shigeru Miyamoto from some European magazine. My personal favorite has to be from Ahmed Boukhelifa, who worked on Rayman 3: “The games are great, but the character design is the worst ever.”

I remember when Dave visited me at my office at Ubi Soft and drew a quickie sketch of Rayman, based upon my frustrations at the time while working on a series of Rayman web games, which never got produced btw. My biggest issue was with my producer and how all she could say when she was dissatisfied with my work was “It needs to be…. super-cool!” No matter what, I could never figured out what “super-cool” meant. Anyway, Dave ended up drawing Rayman with those sneakers that lights up when you take a step that little kids and homey-g’s all used to wear, and I kept drawing at my desk till the rest of my tenure. Not too long afterwards, Rayman 3 came out, and I have to wonder if anyone on that team saw that sketch.

- And I know I said I’d avoid with the PS3 bashing, but… check out the Kaz Hirai, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment, trying to answer a simple question regarding the cost of PS3 games. Basically, it’ll probably be $59.99, though it might be more, and in that case please don’t “ding” him. Though it won’t be $100. Yay. Though the best part of the discussion are the Sony apologists.

- So according to a GAF poster, Xyanide, the long forgotten Xbox shooter, is finally coming out on July the 18th. Here are some screens.

Believe it or not, its a shmup. Even if its not good (which I hear its not), I’m still going to get it. And here’s the trailer for the GBA version. Most people feel this one is indeed dead.

- Speaking of shooters and the Xbox, G Rev has recently started posting regular updates on Senko no Ronde for the 360. I still say the game should be on the Dreamcast, dammnit (and it would sell better too).

- And speaking of Dreamcast, some may know that Streets of Rage 4 was in development for the system, but it like many other tiles, never came to be. Well I finally came across some footage, and naturally, it was on YouTube: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4, and Video 5.

- Time for another YouTube vid, this one a real blast from the past: a 7-Up ad featuring Pac Man. Noteworthy before, for something that’s well over 20 plus years old, its highly impressive, and tons better than all the TV game ads we have today.

Then again, this recent Gametap ad, also featuring Pac Man, is pretty neat.

- Oh, and if you’re a fan of finishing moves from fighting games, a.k.a. the Fatalities from Mortal Kombat and whatever they were called in Eternal Champions, might be interested in this: all the final death moves from the Fist of the Northstar fighting game. Truth be told, most are lame, but a few are funny, like one where you just basically rip the clothes off a woman, another where you play a woman who tries to shoot something with a crossbow but ends up hitting the opponent in the face (for some Dick Cheney action), along with a weird Sears portrait stduio-esque floating head in the background, and the final one where I think someone decided to jump off a cliff and slit his wrist at the same time. Plus the over-dramatic music adds to the funny.

- As some folks may already know, Circuit City has a big game sale going on right now where tons of games are on sale for $8 a pop. For the full list, simply go to CheapAssGamer.com, but don’t bother, all of the good stuff is probably already gone. Perhaps this information should have been passed along in a more timely fashion, like last week when the prices were slashed (even though the sale officially “begins” on the 4th), but I went just as it got underway, but my local Circuit City didn’t have shit. Primarily because New York stores suck ass, but also because you have folks that monitors CAG all day long (they probably hit “reload page” every five seconds) and as soon as a sale goes on, they rush to the store, buy everything in sight, then post all that shit on their eBay stores, but for a profit of course.

Everyone, including myself, has been looking for Drill Dozer, and I don’t know a single soul that’s managed to get one. But anyway, I mention all this because there’s a new PSP game on the way that looks vaguely Drill Dozer-ish called Gurumin and it comes out today I believe. Be sure to check out trailer.

BTW, the only game I got was Gun and I tried it for like twenty minutes this past weekend and I was less than impressed; didn’t it get all this critical acclaim this past winter? I also most got Indigo Prophecy, but passed on the last minute since I hear that the ending is seriously retarded (and not because the sex scene got removed… which most everyone agrees was a good move).

And if anyone who’s able to find a copy of Drill Dozer at Circuit City is able to pick me up a copy… I’ll make it worth your time and effort. Thanks. I might as well also ask if anyone knows where I can get the soundtrack to Funky Forest. For that I’m will to pay BIG bucks for.

- Would you a DVD player disguised as a DVD player? Well there’s one available right now on.

Is it crazy for me to admit that I really, REALLY want this? Oh, and ‘sup TDS.

- The lovely Leah, the wonderful person who supplied me with all those hot pictures of the i am 8-bit photos from the past two years, passed this along recently: buttons featuring Mario & company courtesy of Chris Bishop, who is actually one of the artists from in the show.

- And sticking with art inspired by video games, here’s an awesome piece that was recently at Life Meter by Dan Schoening.

You can check out a bigger version here. Too bad its not wallpaper sized though.

… Moving away from the topic of video games real quick, but back to robots, here’s something else cool as pointed out at IC: a Japanese site site that’s all about robots. Its from the same people who run Game Watch called, interestingly enough, Robot Watch! There’s just SOOOOO much awesomeness to be found. Like this..

And here’s the URL of something that I just had lying around: a person’s attempt to connect every single facial expression that man and have a robot display them.

- Finally, diehard Transformer fans have probably already seen it, but for those who missed it, here’s a supposed shot of a Transformers from the set of the live-action flick.

Apparently, only one actual “real-life” Transformer has been built. Everything else will be CGI. Hence why this one is probably Bumblebee; aside from its yellow color, since the character has traditionally been the one to interact with humans the most, it makes sense to have an actual robot interact with the actor. As for his look… I can’t tell what the hell is what.

EDIT: So in a rush to get this post published, I made one major mistake that I didn’t catch, even after proofreading everything, and as a result part of my entry was missing (yes, I actually wrote more!). But now everything’s up; the missing stuff centered on Jet Li, the New York Asian Film Fest, and naturally, me bitching about last Saturday night, again. Thanks to Joe for catching the weird bit of text; the guy’s like my personal editor for this site!

  • http://www.gamersquarter.com Shapermc

    I call bullshit on the Xyanide. Next they are going to announce that the GBA game is still coming out.

    Also Gurumin came out for the PC in ’04 originally I think. Something like that. Either way, it was before Drill Dozer… and yea, that is actually the only game I managed to snag from the CC sale. So, you know someone now!

  • Westacular

    I heard maybe half of colour_thief’s story when Tetris DS first came out. Quite interesting. It’s threads like that which are what insert credit is all about. A “Global Frequency” of gaming, you might say.

  • Jason

    1776, songs about the Declaration of Independence.

  • http://www.fort90.com Matt

    That’s what I meant.

    … shows you how will I know my American history.

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