The youth have time and energy, but no money.
The adults have energy and money, but no time.
The elderly have money and time, but no energy.
It’s a profound statement, but even when it comes to video games I find it to be true. When I was a small video game playing boy, I would pore over magazines and just WANT. My parents wouldn’t buy me anything (well not everything) I wanted (which means I appreciate money as an adult), so I was often limited to demo disks and whatever I could borrow from my uncle.
I’m not going to lament about missed opportunities to play games I have wanted since childhood and it isn’t a lack of interest that has prevented me from playing them now, but rather a lack of time. So many other games have come out in the intervening years, that there simply hasn’t been enough hours in the day to revisit them all.
One of my most desired Amiga games, was Guardian. Released for the Commodore CD32, this game was half StarFox and half Defender. Defender is a 1980 game, which
involves your spaceship destroying various enemies that are trying to abduct your planet’s citizens. Guardian uses StarFox style polygon 3D graphics but allows for full 360° movement.
I would always gaze at magazines longingly with their screenshots of Guardian, knowing that I’d likely never own it. The CD32 was very hard to find in Australia, and deep down I knew that it wouldn’t be worth getting one. Now I could hop on an emulator, or even spend a few hundred dollars on the real thing, but I haven’t yet. Maybe I will now though.
Another game that eluded my grasp is Lemmings 2: The Tribes. Yes, I never played the sequel to one of those all time greats. I had Lemmings when it was new and fresh. Lemmings 2 came out well after I had played the original and I was interested in more. However video games were more expensive back then and Dad wasn’t able to shell out 2% of his salary on a single new Amiga game… (Mum had no problem doing this with Pinball Fantasies).
Lemmings 2 took the idea of the original Lemmings (guiding suicidal green haired muppet men to safety), expanding on it enough to make it deserving of a sequel. The original Lemmings are joined by eleven new versions or tribes. Each of these tribes have abilities that relate to their tribe. The Beach Lemmings, for example, can use a hang glider to cross gaps. Canoes offer them the chance to cross water, which was always fatal in the original Lemmings. Egyptian Lemmings can fill gaps with cement, a nod to their Pyramid building abilities… Strange.
From the few videos I have looked at when I chose these two games as my missed games, they both look and sound fantastic. The music of Lemmings, has always been a highlight and the gameplay is just as compelling and tricky now as it was in 1993.
A couple of years ago, I posted a most amusing find on this blog; a piece of my childhood being auctioned off at a ridiculous premium. What I failed to do then was speak about this terrific game and my experiences with it.
Recent events have also led me to acquire a copy of Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday for the Mega Drive, a version I have been very curious about for close to twenty years, but I digress!
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was a complete triumph in SSI, TSR and all those concerned. It adapted a futuristic role playing setting (based loosely on the TV show and novels of the same name) into a traditional Gold Box Dungeons and Dragons rule set.
Besides the setting, there were two important changes between the Buck Rogers series and the older Forgotten Realms games. The player’s character ‘pieces’ were no longer customisable, but instead were picked from a selection of 40-50 preset designs. This might seem restricting, but the results were far more impressive. There was enough variation to make a great looking crew. Some of them even had headbands! Treasures of the Savage Frontier came out two years later and had far poorer looking icons.
The most important change in this game is the inclusion of class specific skills. Ten years later Third Edition D&D rules would introduce skills, but Buck Rogers would use this very well in 1990. Skills ranged from Rocket Piloting and Zero G training, to First Aid and Leadership.
The game features some idiosyncratic character classes, really capturing the comic book future. Rocket Jocks are your party leaders, rocket pilots and second tier fighters. Generally good with a firearm, it is best to not have them in the front lines.
Engineers keep your ship running, as well as being important in laying explosives as well as programming things. Rogues are the same as they are in regular D&D, except they bypass security doors/cameras as well as cut people when they aren’t looking. Medics, weakest of all, are vital as healing in Buck Rogers isn’t as simple as drinking a potion or sleeping for weeks inside a dungeon.
Apart from Terrans, playable races in the game are based on genetically modified humans. Venusians, Mercurians and Martians are all slightly modified or have simply changed over the hundreds of years living in and around their respective planets. More interesting are the Desert Runners (half beast men/women who inhabit the deserts of Mars) and Tinkers (half chimp mini people who are great engineers and medics, because of their dexterity and diminutive size).
The game gives you (after a few introductory missions) a whole solar system to explore, a multitude of secondary missions (all of which should be taken) and a great cast of characters. Buck Rogers himself makes an appearance. I have many good memories of this game back at the end of primary school, particularly how long it took Chooie and I to beat the second part of the game. No GameFAQS in 1992!
I saw this game, a year or so after playing the Amiga version, on a Mega Drive in a shopping center. It looked so different! Rather than static pieces moving across the game board, the characters animated when they walked, and the map view was isometric! This fascination stuck with me until last month, when a happy series of accidents happened and I managed to acquire a copy! When I get my Mega Drive up and running, I’ll report back!
I’ve often found myself wanting to join the video game underground, but betraying them at the last-minute.
Late primary school I always wanted something Sega and a Mega Drive was top on my list. Yet when it came to getting a console a few years later, Mr SNES was my choice (and ruining my fingers on Killer Instinct). Both Sonic the Hedgehog and Wonderboy were left without me. I never considered a Sega Saturn or an Atari Jaguar, those were fringe consoles that never were properly promoted in Australia (that I noticed anyway). Since my friend had an N64 I thought I’d compliment that with a PlayStation. It was a good move, since I didn’t end up some Goldeneye expert who sucked at every game after.
The Dreamcast was something else that I considered, since my furious amounts of Penny Arcade reading did a lot to convince me of its merits. In this instance I didn’t even buy its more popular contemporary, the PS2 and a Gamecube until some six years later. From say, 1999-2005 I peaced out of the console scene. My PC was so much more capable.
Finally, I bought a Wii on launch day, but since that ended up a bit of a trash heap, I thought I’d delve into getting a PS3. Nahh, changed my mind and got a 360 instead, stuck with what was safe again I guess? You might even say I did the same thing in replacing my Android and getting an iPhone 4S. Blah that HTC Legend sucked.
I summation, if it wasn’t for my adherence to the Amiga for so long, I’d have very little so-called ‘indie’ cred. I came to every console except the Wii very late and until recently didn’t really buy much for them before returning to some open-ended PC game. Read this article for more info.
I learned a lot about Sonic from these two young men. Felt like I was catching up on a little that I lost.
I think most of you long time readers know I’m a collector. Since I’m an only child, it’s been very easy for myself to amass far too many toys, games and books than I could ever hope to make full use of. I’m sure it’s the same with many people, although my housemates (and long-term friends) travel very light. When we all moved into this house, all of their things came in one car. When it came to myself, it took nearly 4 full carloads and six months later I’m still bringing in the occasional box or bag of stuff.
I have been known to buy games, SOLELY for their covers. Pretty ridiculous right? I don’t often bend to the collectors urge anymore. I find artificial ‘collectors editions’ to be very uninspiring, offering very little in anything really collectible. There are a few exceptions, but generally art books and figurines are good, anything else is usually not worth your time. The games that I bought for their covers weren’t special editions of any sort, their only ‘special’ quality was that they were Japanese.
The covers of Japanese games are generally better than those of their US or European and it has been the case since Japan came into the game making scene. There are plenty of famous examples, of excellent Japanese covers and… lesser artwork for the rest of the world.
The first of this little indulgence was Zero Mission, the Gameboy Advance remake of the original Metroid. It has a very dark, heavily stylised and classic rule of thirds cover. This also shows how out-of-the-way the branding is for this game, you can hardly see it is a GBA game. Good art but maybe it isn’t the best for marketing.
The American cover below uses much clearer Gameboy Advance branding, taking up a full 5th of the cover. While the artwork is good, it doesn’t look like a front cover of a game.
I played and finished my Japanese Zero mission with few issues. Surprisingly, the game was almost all in English, with only some Japanese menus and subtitles during the cut-scenes.
The other two games I bought were ones I barely played. F-Zero was really hard (and I can’t read Japanese) and Mega Man Zero 2 had a REALLY long unskippable opening scene and was also really hard. I got sick of watching the intro over and over when I died right near the start, so I gave up.
I think these both look great. The American version of the F-Zero box has the Gameboy Advance branding covering up the character on the left. I guess America and Europe didn’t think they were that important. Megaman Zero 2’s cover is a bit messier but I think is a nice piece of art. The American version of this cover, only features Megaman in front of a blue background… very generic.
I’m glad that at least for a while, game covers were worth collecting for their own sake. Japanese Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) had excellent art work as well. The US/European always featured much more obvious branding/logos. Japanese Gameboy Advance boxes are essentially smaller versions of the Super Nintendo ones, so it really is trying to get back to something I missed. I managed to find these on Play-Asia for less than $20 all together. I mean I love this stuff, but I’m not going to go into debt for it.
Unlike certain Kubrick collectors I know.
If only the GBA intro was this elaborate!
The Pocket Monster series is one of extremes. I’ve only played Diamond, so I was pretty late to this party (as usual) but it was a furious addiction. The game consumed some eighty hours of my time in a 2-3 week period. Since it was on DS, I was able to play it during lectures at university! HOW IRRESPONSIBLE OF ME! After a few months of on and off playing, I have yet to return to this series and I may have avoided a long term addiction.
I liked many of the newer Pokémon, however many of the original 150 featured in the animated series and the first three games are the most appealing. The cartoon is very uneven in quality, but it’s worth a look, mostly because of how terrible a trainer Ash is and for its sense of humor. If anything it is good advice on how NOT to be a Pokémon trainer. During this brief phase I wanted a nice wallpaper for my computer that reflected the original crew Ash used to roll with, before he evolved Charmander into that total bastard Charizard.
Here is a very cute drawing of the first four. From this guy I think.
I found this a few days ago, enjoy!
The seventh generation of video games has not been kind to their once undisputed masters.
After the ruinous times of 1983 and the video game bust, Japan was largely responsible for the resurrection of the whole industry. That is to say, Nintendo was, since I doubt the snow farmers of Hokkaido thought much of selling electronic entertainment to the Americas (and to a lesser extent, the Europes and Australiasia). As most of us would know, Nintendo would dominate the scene until the mid 90s when they were rapidly eclipsed by Sony and their PlayStation. Not forgetting that Sony was also Japanese!
From the rulers of video games in the 80s the Japanese largely maintained this into the 90s. Especially in the console arena the United States was left to being a third party developer. The PC arena was always different, Europe and the USA have dominated here for so long, with the Japanese seemingly adverse to using a mouse.
The mid 90s were a time of almost undisputed Japanese dominance. For a very good reason. Japan had the both the visionaries, experience and took it very seriously. I may sound very dismissive of the ‘west’ here, but for so long the great RPGs, platformers and puzzlers came from Japan, while the west made movie tie ins and sports. John Madden Football 93′ might have been a classic and sold exceptionally well, but it doesn’t hold the same cult status as a Super Metroid. Metroid not being released annually with a roster update and slight modifications every sequel might also help that! Posterity isn’t what the makers of sports games are really after though either.
Chrono Trigger then, came together at a time when all the elements were there. The Super Nintendo was getting a little old, but was well and truly at its best with its capabilities maxed out for Chrono Trigger. Squaresoft, the developers of the game, were able to use the talents of many of legendary figures combining the talents of both Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy) and Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest) creator along with the creator of all spiky haired/bandana wearing heroes, Akira Toriyama (Dragonball Z). Along with those legends, Yasunori Mitsuda was the new member of the team with no game compositions to his name. He ended up working until he passed out, waking from dreams with new song ideas. He lost 2/3 of his work in a hard drive crash, and eventually had to be hospitalized from stomach ulcers (I can’t imagine he’d have eaten very well then either)! Squaresoft stalwart Nobuo Uematsu finished off the soundtrack while Mitsuda recovered. Amazing development tale! Both game and soundtrack are superb, featuring a lovable cast, memorable locations and an excellent battle system. One of the tracks in particular, The Corridors of Time, does not sound at all like it belongs on a 16-bit cartridge game, crisp with complicated arrangements, it does not betray it’s rather humble origins.
So what happened to Japan, after being at the forefront for SO long? I think it is a combining of two things that even today still haunt
them. Consoles have been about a decade behind PCs in the realms of online/remote gaming. Western console developers (Microsoft) naturally were in the best position to do this, and after some delay the Xbox Original got Xbox Live. Sony was slow to adopt an online system, preferring to let developers tackle online gaming on a case by case basis with the PS2. Nintendo almost totally ignored online gaming until well into the Wii years and have not had much success even today. Handheld gaming is a different story, with the DS and its cousins having many excellent online games, but are more limited in their scope. The Wii has sold very well, but as a toy, not a gaming console. Wii fit is a video game when ‘Going to Pilates’ is sold by Activision.
Sega, was years ahead of Sony with their online offerings, however the very limited success of the Dreamcast meant this online gaming future was to be stalled. None of Japan’s consoles have been as online capable until the PS3. Scary stuff!
The other factor is the game design. The majority of contemporary Japanese games feel like retro trips or an art exhibition. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are definitely classics, but they are hardly accessible to the wider western audience. I can’t really fault the Japanese for making excellent high concept games though. No More Heroes is another low selling/high acclaim series that’s biggest attraction is how ‘Japanese’ it is.
Maybe it isn’t Japan’s fault. No one outside of Japan wants to buy Japanese games in case some insufferable Japanesefanboy ^_^ sees and attempts to befriend them. Horrific, I know this first hand.
I’m sure this is a cycle and the Japanese will return in strength . Next week I’ll probably write about how the Russians are making all the good PC games now.
Sounds Crazy, no?
P.S. Spell checker wanted to change Activision to Vivisection.
When they ruled the (gaming) world.
For most of my game playing life, one particular genre has kept me coming back and captured my imagination, The Role Playing Game. Probably more than all other genres put together, whether the game is open world or linear, has a set protagonist, or someone (or someones) that you create, they’ve always been my favourite.
Back when my cousin’s house was the only place I could get my hands on an Amiga, one game in particular had a special attraction. Not just from the six-year-old me, but from both of my female cousins, my uncle and my Dad. It was called Faery Tale Adventure and it formed a very large part of my earliest game playing experiences. I’d describe it as a more ‘loose’ Zelda, but that isn’t really doing the game justice since Faery Tale was by no means a clone of the famous series, in fact I doubt Zelda would have even factored into the developers minds considering they both came out in 1986.
Unlike its more famous cousin, you’re not constrained to narrow paths and the game world is almost completely open from the beginning. The fighting system is also very different, and not being
done in single attacks the character attacks when the button is held down, and doesn’t stop until it is released. This is very handy when you’re surrounded by foes, which was very often! Three brothers in a small village must return a magical talisman to the mayor. Julian, Phillip and Kevin are controlled one at a time, and you only swap if one dies. Each brother has a luck score, which depletes when they lose a battle, drown or are otherwise ‘killed’. A faery visits you and restores your life, until your luck runs out, then you’re for reals dead and it is up to the next brother to finish the quest.
For a boy, the game was appallingly daunting. Death happened very quickly and often. The game has no level scaling and no real leveling system per se, so the monsters you meet as soon as you leave your home town (Tambury) for the first time will be the same ones you face almost up until the last few minutes. Instead of leveling, your current brother gains ‘bravery’ as he kills monsters. By killing monsters he gets more powerful in both damage dealt and damage received. This is a broken system by modern standards, since the start of the game is very difficulty, but the last 1/3 of the game is almost too easy. So easy, that once Dad and I forgot to pause the game when we went to have lunch, half an hour later he calls me in to witness an amusing spectacle. Four skeletons surround Julian, beating the absolute shit out of him but to no avail, he was immune to it. Also interestingly the weapons were making clangs as though bouncing off metal armour, but he’s always shown, wearing cloth and leather. I guess maybe he was so tough, his flesh had changed to some iron composite. A far cry from the forays outside the village walls by my cousins, which resulted in immediate death.
Another hilarious time was when we realised our ‘Vitality’ or health had increased to the level where we could just walk under the water to get to a distant island, so far a way that a day/night cycle passed. That Julian sure has excellent lung capacity. Oh and, when you’re starving the brother starts to twitch and not respond to your control input properly, fail to find a bed and he will eventually pass out. A full colour graphics game from 1986 and it required you to both eat and sleep! Avant garde or what!
My Dad and I finished this game in 1990. About a year after getting our Amiga and probably three years after playing it for the first time. I even wrote the exact date down in the ‘notes’ section of the hint book we bought. Dad still regrets spending $30 on that thing, but I think it was worth it. The hint book certainly didn’t make the game easy to finish, but we finally knew where we needed to go.
I was totally bummed when we finished the game. It left a big hole in my life, which Grade 3 maths homework simply couldn’t fill. My Dad came to my rescue, handing me three books saying, ‘These are kinda like Faery Tale, but in a book, you choose where you go in them.‘
These three books were The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom, the first three in the Fighting Fantasy series. I realised RPGs don’t have to be on the computer and my path to Dungeons and Dragons was confirmed.
In my preteen (pre internet) days, I would imagine a future where multiplayer games would not need visiting anyone. Taking a joystick over to my friend’s house on a lazy Saturday became such a fixture in my life that it doesn’t feel so long ago. He lived on the other side of a valley, an epic journey of ten minutes. It wasn’t as though I found this short walk difficult or annoying, but the sheer convenience of being able to sit down at your computer, press a few buttons and be playing against a friend was a far in future.
Split screen continues to be a popular method of multiplaying, but back in the day it was pretty much your only option. From ages 10-15, Chooie and I would get into any multiplayer action we could get our hands on. Rarely were these games of the boxed and retail variety, but from the magazine Amiga Power. Over three years he and I collected nearly every issue and with it, their coverdisks. Two games we played really stood out; Extreme Violence and Gravity Force 2.
The first game was simple. The players each controlled a man with a hat and a gun, their goal is to be the first to kill the other player a few times. The usual power ups are available, bigger guns, faster boots, etc. While superficially plain, it had a visceral quality, the desperation of avoiding your opponents huge laser wave, and trying to pop him with your crappy bullet was always intense. Intense until my Chooie’s mother hid it from us for SEVERAL years, ugh.
Gravity Force 2 also came from Amiga Power and was an instant hit with us. Two little spaceships piloted through levels that looked like they were out of Lemmings. You’d try not to crash into the walls, avoid the turrets and shoot your opponent naturally, but where it stood out was the vast array of settings. The type of weapons used, the amount of air resistance and of course the effect of the gravity are just a few of the preferences players had control over. The levels included water which realistically slowed you down and caused your ship to float. Amiga Power also liked this game so much, that they sponsored the game’s creators to make a sequel, Gravity Power. It was a better game in almost every way except it never worked properly on my computer. Bummer!
Limitations in technology (and funds) curtailed my abilities to play any games remotely or system link. Very few games offered system link at the time, and none of my friends were really able to move their computers around for mere entertainment purposes. Remote play was not only beyond my budget, but largely beyond my imagination! How far we’ve come. Just today I sat down switched on my PC and within five minutes I was driving my custom built tank around a battlefield populated by thirty people, drawn from a hundred thousand strangers from around the world. This World of Tanks, made me realise how far we’ve come.
The internet has made finding opponents and allies for multiplayer games easier, but I’ll always miss those walks across the park, clutching my floppy disks and an extra joystick, eager to blast my friend to pieces.
Not all games are created equal. The variance in quality is due to many factors which I will not go into today.
I think the most peculiar factor of game appreciation is your access to it. That is, the less access you have to a game you like, the more special it feels. It’s a pretty simple theory and goes along the lines of the old saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill’. Visiting a friend’s house always meant more of a wow factor to any game that was played, especially one with hype behind it. Even as late as 1990 when my friends got their NES system, I was floored by it and wanted a go at Super Mario Bros immediately. The original Legend of Zelda was even more special, as none of my close friends had that.
Visiting my uncle’s vast Amiga games collection was always exciting to the young me. Games I could only play for an hour every month always seemed better than anything I had at home.
Now the dilemma
Most games lost their mystique when I acquired them, however, so you can’t visit the greener grass and it stay so special. I think I realised this when I was young, but you’re hardly going to deny yourself access to a great game just to make it seem more special.
One day I’ll come up with the perfect ratio of access vs denial and make millions.
Oh and Elizabeth Taylor died, just as I was submitting this. I wonder if she liked The Legend of Zelda?
Oh what a cruel country to live in Australia is, if you’re a gamer type. Delayed releases are still quite common and sometimes games do not arrive in this country at all! I do recall much trouble with Rock Band 2 arriving here, and who can forget Super Paper Mario? (That game’s delay turned out to be a good thing!). So the lamenting on release dates will continue, probably until the Indo-Australian tectonic plate slides under the North American one to such a degree that we’re literally connecting Japan to California.
The wishfulest of thinking.
There’s another aspect to this issue, however. Even more pressing than the issues of release delays is that of the pricing (incase you didn’t read the title). This is THE problem. New PC games at standard retail outlets are in the area of $80-$100 and new release console games are rarely lower than $90. This wouldn’t a huge deal if our currency value was floating around .60 to the US dollar. But as we know, not only is that rarely the case, but currently our dollar is MORE valuable than the greenback. The prices for video games of course don’t change. Just last week Harvey Norman were advertising on the radio their great price for Gran Turismo 5.
It was $119. $129 for the special edition.
Since then the price for the regular product has dropped to $77, which is a surprisingly fair price. EB games on the other hand will be selling GT 5 for the terrifying $118. A quick check of the USA EB site reveals a price of $59. It’s like a gate to Satan, only you have to spend TWO eternities with him since you’re Australian. Or something similar. There are simple ways around almost all of these problems. Importing at times of a strong Australian dollar is highly recommended and finding a reputable store on the webs isn’t too hard.
The Play-Asia store is one I recommend without hesitation, as I would have the late great, Lik Sang. Bless Hong Kong’s free trade system!
So it’s an unfair world?
I’d have to agree with you if you said that, we do pay too much for games in this country, but just hold on a few days!
I have a few bits and bobs that should cheer up the average gamer type.