Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, have you ever wanted to listen to me speak in to a microphone? I'll be you have, and today you're in luck because I've appeared on one of these new-fangled "pod casts". The "pod cast" in question is the Nitrobeard Beardcast, a podcast run by some cool dudes I know.
Actually, this can be considered my illustrious return to the podcasting arena. Those of you who have known me for long enough may remember that I was a regular on the short-lived MoogleCavern.com podcast (before the owner of that site packed his bags and called the whole website business quits). Me appearing on Nitrobeard almost didn't happen, particularly because I'm a shy little girl who runs and hides at the thought of social interaction, but figuring that would be kind of a jerk move given the subject of me being on their podcast had come up multiple times over the years, I decided to "get a grip" so to speak and do it. With the direction my life has been gradually drifting towards, I can't be a wallflower introvert forever, right?
Appearing on their podcast was fun, too, once I got over some of the initial jitters. Wouldn't mind doing it again in the future. In it, we discuss the state of Sonic the Hedgehog, the fandom that surrounds it, Sega's past, what it is I do at TSSZnews.com and how that feels, and so on. Me and Imran also discuss our recent tendency to livestream bad videogames and our tentative plans for some sort of livestream endurance race to the end of Sonic 2006 for charity or some other wacky goal. So give it a listen- who knows, you might even find a new favorite podcast. Sure, I may be buddies with the guys who produce it, but I've found it to be an essential part of my podcast lineup for quite a while now.
A brief recap: June 2010, I found out I won a contest for about $2000 worth of Xbox Live Gold and Microsoft Points (a "lifetime", in their words). It took me six or seven months, but I sold most of it off and ended up buying a handful of new goodies with it, most importantly some new PC hardware that finally put me in the same generational ballpark as everyone else. I can now comfortably run Crysis, Unreal Engine 3 games, so on and so forth (see also: my last blog).
Something I've noticed now that I have new hardware is that I want to try everything. I want to see how my system measures up. How does this run? How does that run? Crysis was obviously a big target, as even now, years after its release, it's still one of the high watermarks for computer graphics (until Battlefield 3 comes out, anyway). Eventually, I decided I wanted to see how well the PC version of Grand Theft Auto 4 ran. GTA4 has earned a pretty notorious reputation for being the kind of game that runs amazing on some system configurations and absolutely horrible on others, regardless of how powerful the hardware in question actually was.
Not too long ago, Team Meat's co-founder Ed McMillen said something controversial about PC game piracy to IGN. To summarize: Super Meat Boy doesn't have any anti-piracy DRM. Ed McMillen doesn't care if anybody pirates his game, because to him, anybody who plays Super Meat Boy (even if it means not paying for it) is that much more likely to buy Team Meat's next game, whatever that may be. In his opinion, malicious pirates are rare.
"The dinosaurs of marketing are really upset by piracy. They think it's literally stealing," he says. "They're old. That's really the reason. They're old and their ideas are old. They don't understand where we are now. They don't understand the mentality of people who are pirating things. They see them as thieves, the same people who go and shoplift. I don't f*@#ing shoplift but I have pirated sh@%-loads of stuff. Like it's just not the same, it's not the same thing at all."
"Sh@% changed," says McMillen, warming to his theme. "Deal with it. Sh@% went digital and this is how it works now. It's really easy to copy and give to other people."
I don't own a copy of Grand Theft Auto 4 for the PC. If it really is true that the game may, for no discernible reason, run absolutely awful on my system, I don't want to roll the dice and buy it. That leaves me with one of two options: Satisfy my own curiosity through the dubious medium of software piracy, or try really really hard to forget that the PC version of GTA4 even exists at all. The latter option is fine, I guess - I already own GTA4 for the Xbox 360, though that would mean missing out on all of the rad car mods and graphical patches people have been producing for the PC version (which as I've found are 90% of the fun).
But going by Team Meat's example, it doesn't have to be this way. If there was a demo for Grand Theft Auto 4 on the PC, this problem simply wouldn't exist - I could download the free trial version, see how it runs, and make a decision from there. The idea here is that a large number of pirates are simply curious about a game, so they, in essence, "make their own demo" - and oh, how convenient - this "demo" just so happens to include the entire rest of the game, too. Unfortunately for a platform that defined itself by the concept of " Shareware", freebie demos for top-tier game releases these days are getting fewer and farther between. Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski has made it clear that he believes having to take time to produce a demo eats up money and effort that could be better spent on the main game itself - and you'll notice that the only Epic-developed game in the last six years to have a demo was Unreal Tournament 3 ( Bulletstorm was developed by People Can Fly). Gears of War certainly has never had a demo, not on Xbox 360 or even on PC for the release of Gears of War 1. Another prevailing train of thought is that if your game is "important" enough, you simply don't need a demo. I'm sure everybody remembers the Silent Cartographer demo for the original Halo - but the franchise didn't see another demo release for nearly a decade. Even then, it's been implied that the demo for Halo Reach was only to test an Xbox 360 Dashboard upgrade.
And then there's an even bigger problem: developers and publishers who release demos in an attempt to trick consumers in to buying the full product. Bulletstorm, despite having a playable demo, loses points for the fact that what you're allowed to play is literally 3 minutes out of a 20+ minute mission. Before you're even offered an opportunity to get a feel for the game's ebb and flow, you're pulled out of the action and told to buy the full game. In comparison, the original DooM, a game that popularized the first-person shooter, gave you practically an hour of content for free before asking you to pony up the cash back in 1993 - and I'd say that franchise made parent company iD Software very, very happy.
So to the Cliff Bleszinskis of the world, I say this: take the money you're funneling in to SecuROM, or Starforce, or whatever "You must always be connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, forever" anti-piracy solution you've developed, and redirect it in to creating a meaty demo for your game. Something that offers a good, long, detailed look at the work you've done, and does not try to fool the consumer in to a purchase with some sort of stupid "Gotcha!" bait-and-switch moment. This goes back to another recent blog I wrote, about Tom Kalinske's aim to make the Sega Genesis a bigger success than Nintendo's hardware offerings: Kalinske was the man who proposed packaging copies of Sonic the Hedgehog for free with the Genesis. Sega of Japan's board of directors were genuinely offended at the idea of giving their best content away at no charge to consumers. Kalinske did it anyway, and it proved to be one of his first major successes at the company (before Sega of Japan eventually drove him away - read my blog on the matter if you haven't already).
The ultimate goal in all of this is to satisfy a would-be pirate's curiosity. To showcase everything from how well the game runs on a particular computer system, to what the game itself is even about. No smoke and mirrors, no teasing, just a lengthy, worthy demonstration. I guarantee piracy rates would see a decline.
It used to be that I was the kind of person who only updated his PC hardware once every six or seven years. That meant I was often two whole generations behind on game hardware - sometimes more. That's changed lately, as I've found myself upgrading my hardware every couple of years or less - going from seriously old and busted to pretty average hardware. This has, among other things, afforded me the ability to watch how Unreal Engine 3 games evolved as my hardware did. Check it out:
Ever since reading Sega-16'sinterview with Tom Kalinske, I have been shown a side of Sega I never knew existed - one that I've found continually fascinating. Unfortunately, Sega-16 has completely redesigned their site and never bothered to re-publish these fantastic articles, so the best I can give you is a Google Cache link. That doesn't really matter, though, as I've stumbled upon something else that also touches on the apparent feud Sega of Japan waged on Sega of America in the 16-bit console era.
The following comes from a (rather old) blog dedicated to a fan translation for SegaGaga. SegaGaga, for those in the dark, was a late-era Sega Dreamcast game developed by Hitmaker and published by Sega. It was an oddball sort of simulation RPG - positioned basically as Sega's last great hurrah. Imagine Game Dev Story with a rigid plot structure and a greater amount of anime/fantasy elements and you have a fuzzy picture of what the game was like. You took control of young game developer who moved through Sega's ranks in an effort not only to save the company, but to save the entire game industry itself. Offices were laid out like dungeons in a JRPG, and you fought mutated versions of irate programmers and designers in an effort to make them work harder. The game also had sort of a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of feel, as not only did you interact with physical people, but you were afforded the opportunity to speak to iconic characters like Alex Kidd (one particularly notable scene involves meeting a washed up Kidd working as a supermarket bag boy as he laments Sonic taking his place as the company's starlet). As you can imagine, the game was a little too niche to ever come stateside, and on top of that, the Dreamcast had already flat-lined in the west by the time SegaGaga hit Japanese shelves. While the game definitely did not take itself seriously, it does attempt to accurately recreate a timeline of what it was like at Sega, from their 8-bit beginnings all the way up to the eventual death of the Dreamcast. And, thanks to this blog, I've discovered SegaGaga even touches on the Sega of Japan vs. Sega of America Feud. I've deliberately truncated the following text in order to focus on the juicy parts, so you'll want to read the full blog entry to get the whole story - there's a link at the bottom of the post.
We’ve encountered a character in SegaGaga that might bother many long-time American Sega fans. In our present rough drafts, the character’s name is Special Task Force Director Cool. SegaGaga most likely uses him as a reference to Sega of America’s former president, Tom Kalinske.
Let’s look at some history first. At the start of the 16-bit console generation, Sega’s CEO (Nakayama) hired Kalinske to turn around the American market in Sega’s favor. Kalinske reviewed Sega’s situation, went to Japan, and told the board of directors how he thought they could remove themselves from beneath Nintendo’s foot. The board of directors hated all of Kalinske’s ideas, but Nakayama gave his approval. With this freedom, Kalinske built a legacy that rests in the memories of anyone who grew up as a gamer during the 16-bit console generation.
Material success strikes Americans as its own justification, at least in business. Sega of Japan’s board of directors hardly regarded Kalinske’s success in America as virtuous. Yes, he put money in their bank accounts, but he brought a lower branch of Sega greater success than the head could hope to achieve. To describe the corporate power relationships in feudal terms, Kalinske was a chief retainer who had brazenly proven himself more valorous than his lord.
The Japanese corporate world has been known to punish insolence without terminating the person’s career. So Sega of Japan seemingly punished Kalinske. They manipulated the company’s structure to strip him of any real authority, and they left him with all the direct power of England’s royal family. Kalinske became fed up with the whole affair, left Sega, and boosted LeapFrog, Inc., to tremendous success.
Of course, Sega began to stumble toward their present state shortly afterwards. In effect, they razed themselves by exposing Kalinske to passive Japanese corporate discipline and driving him away. Tom Kalinske’s entrance into and exit from Sega might mark the most dramatic part of the company’s history. SegaGaga, as a reflection upon the company’s history as well as the industry in general, addresses these events as a matter of course.
According to everything we’ve translated so far, however, SegaGaga renders Kalinske a villain to the point that he opposes and nearly snuffs the plan intended to save Sega along with the rest of the videogames industry. Both Kalinske and Special Task Force Director Cool are American, and both drastically increased Sega’s hold over the American market. The game’s characters–all Japanese, of course–regard him as “shrewd,” an attitude that contrasts with the other characters’ confidence in the genius of a fun-loving wunderkind. Cool intrudes upon Project SegaGaga with the CEO’s authority, just as the Japanese executives perhaps viewed Kalinske’s presence as unfairly forced upon them by Nakayama. All of this, of course, casts Kalinske (by association with Cool) and a generalized idea of “the American approach to game development” in a bad light.
The full text, including quotes from the game's script and an exploration of what they mean in the grand scheme of SegaGaga's plot, can be found here.
NeoGAF has a habit of taking gaming news way more seriously than most other places would, and half the fun of an event like E3 is observing all of the arguments and meltdowns that follow as the big three run through their press conferences. Thus, when arguments quickly sparked in to flamewars about how powerful Nintendo's new console is (or isn't), how many jaggies were in that HD Zelda screenshot, or how they're forsaking the Wii's "blue ocean" strategy in favor of begging hardcore gamers to come back, I figured that it was just GAF being GAF - these are the same people who, for example, will over-hype themselves for a game like GTA4, which inevitably develops in to a huge backlash against that game when it doesn't live up to their unrealistic expectations, which then in itself evolves in to a backlash against the previous backlash. Yeah, GAF's a weird place.
Yesterday, Nintendo announced... well, they announced something. Similar to when they brought out the Nintendo 3DS, Reggie and Iwata blew through a highlight reel of factoids about what they're calling the " WiiU" without really touching too much on concrete details. Much like the 3DS, information beyond vague promises is being slowly coaxed out of the third parties that are working with Nintendo to produce software for the device. What we do know, though, is that the console has HD capabilities, a touch screen embedded in the controller, and pledged support from a number of developers working on highly anticipated 360/PS3/PC games. Nintendo is acknowledging which demographics they've been neglecting with the Wii, and are taking steps to, essentially, "please everybody" - hardcore gamers who want traditional controls, and casual gamers who just want to poke at stuff to hear funny noises.
And yet, as I'm sure Nintendo is quickly rediscovering, those hardcore gamers are incredibly fickle. The amount of lukewarm sentiment I'm seeing - not just from places like NeoGAF, but the entire internet - is shocking to me. Part of that is Nintendo's confusing way of unveiling the device - there's a lot of people out there who still aren't clear as to whether or not this is a peripheral for the existing Wii, or if there's even a console attached to it at all. Nintendo did an amazingly poor job of outlining what the "WiiU" is, and the awkward naming scheme does not help. And even among those who seem to "get it", the WiiU has failed to excite. My question is: Why?
When you break it down, the WiiU is like the polished result of every weird experiment Nintendo's been doing since 2005. It incorporates touch, multiple screens, and motion controls, on top of a traditional controller interface, with dual analog sticks, triggers, bumpers, and face buttons. It is, theoretically, a Nintendo DS, Wii, and Playstation 3 all in one console. No longer do you have to worry about buying a Wii for a couple of novelties while the rest of system is flooded with cut-down versions of big budget HD console releases. There's little danger in traditional gaming experiences being spoiled by the Wii's lack of buttons or analog sticks. And the new controller opens the door to a wealth of unique gaming possibilities: Playing a multiplayer game? Everybody with a controller in their hands has a mic. Everybody. Remember some of the weird stuff games like Burnout Paradise were doing with the Playstation Eye and 360 Vision? Now everybody has a camera, too. Don't want to show the world your neckbeard? Touchscreen keyboard for text chat. And with the screen embedded in the controller, you can push the chat window off your TV to keep the interface unobstructed. Heck, imagine being able to browse the Xbox Guide without exiting, pausing, or even overlaying your main game screen. The potential here is incredible.
"But we've already heard about potential with the Wii!" I hear you cry. "The number of Wii games that successfully implemented motion controls can almost be counted on one hand! Most of the DS stuff was equally underwhelming! We're not falling for this again!" And you're right. But that was in part due to the fact that you had to make games specifically for the Wii or the DS and nothing else. A Wii game that successfully implemented motion control was difficult to translate upwards to the 360 or PS3. Similarly, titles like Red Faction Guerrilla and Assassin's Creed were difficult to replicate on the considerably weaker tech. Interchangeability was not really worth the time, money, or effort it would take to make it work. This was a problem that was twofold, because it meant many publishers, to make those "specifically built for the Wii and nothing else" titles, had to assemble teams of developers who would exclusively create games for that platform. These teams were often made up of low-budgets and B-tier developers, while the company's best and brightest focused their attention elsewhere, on larger budget and higher profile Xbox, Playstation, and PC games.
Assuming the WiiU has the horsepower third party developers are implying it does, that allows guys like Cliff Bleszinski, Yves Guillemot, John Carmack, Ken Levine, Dan Houser and everybody at Valve Software to look at the console and parlay their existing strengths in to creating a new experience without having to break off and create a Wii-specific team, with Wii-specific programmers, and Wii-specific designers, who are compressing their idea to fit within the Wii-specific limitations. This works to eliminate the prevailing thought of "My ideas are impossible on the Wii, so I'm not even going to consider it" among a lot of high-profile developers. Sure, you can argue that Sony and Microsoft have been providing those options to developers for at least a year already - and you're not wrong. But attach rates on Playstation Move and to a lesser extent Kinect have not exactly been 1:1. There are a lot of Xbox 360s out there without Kinects, and even more Playstation 3s out there with no Move controllers. Trying to sell to somebody who has to own two individual gadgets together is a small market compared to a console that launches with all of these features packed in every box ever sold with the console for its entire lifespan. This leaves the door open for developers to play with the WiiU's more unique capabilities, knowing that the console's entire install base can experience the full suite of control options available. The fruits of this are already starting to appear - Gearbox Software has mentioned the possibility of displaying the iconic Aliens motion tracker on the controller's screen, providing Colonial Marines with a slightly more authentic experience.
The "achilles heel" in all of this is an issue of time: All of Nintendo's hard work setting the WiiU up to be an apology for neglecting "hardcore gamers" could be undone with two simple words: "Next Generation". Despite Sony and Microsoft looking for longer tails out of their console hardware, if either of them announced new console hardware at E3 2012, that would give Nintendo mere months of parity before being dumped back down to the exact same hardware disadvantage they spent the majority of the Wii's lifecycle in. Microsoft has already been spotted hiring engineers for the next Xbox, and while Sony once constantly reminded us that the Playstation 3 was on a "ten-year cycle", there's no way they're going to lag behind their biggest competitor when it comes time to pull the curtain back on the Playstation 4. I'm sure this is a fact that already weighs heavy in many third-party developers minds, given companies like Epic Games teasing the next generation of Unreal Engine.
"Samaritan" is currently impossible on consumer-grade graphics hardware - but it won't take long for that to change.
Perhaps the impending next generation explains the malaise towards the WiiU: Nintendo is banking on Microsoft and Sony keeping true to their word and riding their consoles out for at least another two years. In actuality, it would not be a surprise to find out that either Microsoft, or Sony, or both are probably having meetings right now discussing ways to snipe Nintendo's play at catch-up as soon as financially possible. E3 2012 is when the boys are separated from the men.
But until that other shoe drops, The WiiU is an exciting prospect and I'm interested in seeing how it all shakes out.
There may be grumpy old men who hate April Fools day for all of the attempted trickery that goes around. But honestly, as far as the internet is concerned recent April Fools Days have started to resemble something similar to Halloween - everybody figuratively dons their own silly masks to both entertain and occasionally frighten (but never for very long). The only truly mean part of April Fools Day anymore is when somebody goes the extra mile for their joke and creates something so awesome that you wish it was actually real (A Total War game with Dinosaurs? Yes please).
It may come as a surprise to you, but given how much I enjoy Halloween, I equally enjoy April Fools Day. Indeed, I actually have quite a lengthy history of being involved with hoaxes. I've never been entirely sure why; creating a hoax is almost like making a puzzle and watching to see how somebody solves it. Once solved, it's back to the drawing board to create a new and improved puzzle, all heading towards the ultimate goal of creating a puzzle so good that everybody wants to play it but nobody can solve it. April Fools Day has always been, to a certain extent, a day of reflection for me. I often go back and re-visit older hoaxes I've made. Given that this makes for a good blog subject, I'm inviting you all to join me as I take a trip down April Fools Memory Lane...
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Genocide City Probably the first real "hoax" I ever tried to pass off as the real deal, this was a mock-up of an old magazine scan to showcase the lost Sonic 2 Beta level named "Genocide City". Back when I made this hoax (sometime around 2000-2001, I wager), there was literally no information about Genocide City Zone save for some probably-also-hoaxed descriptions of what the level looked like. I used these descriptions as a basis for my hoax, most notably the smokestack in the background belching fire. In actuality, this screenshot is a combination of elements from VectorMan 2, Sonic 2's Metropolis Zone, and Sonic 3's Launch Base Zone. I would've gotten away with it, too - at least initially, if not for the fact somebody pointed out that E3 didn't actually start until 1993 or 1994 - after Sonic 2 had come out. If a beta version of Sonic 2 was to be shown anywhere, it would have been at the Consumer Electronics Show. D'oh!
Sonic Advance 2 - Underground Zone I had to take things to the next level. Sonic Advance 1 had dropped in Japan in 2001, and hit the United States in early 2002. Knowing that they were probably working on a sequel, I sprung in to action. Rather than create a single screenshot, I went so far as to program a (very basic) game consisting of a single level, which I proceeded to then record myself playing. Then, I turned out all the lights in the room, played the video back, and took pictures of the screen with my digital camera. Once I had enough images of the game, I registered for an Angelfire account (under a different name, of course) and threw the pictures up there, claiming I had an "insider source" that had gotten an exclusive first-peek at Sonic Advance 2. I even deliberately tried to write in a different "style", as to not blow my cover. To make sure the page was noticed, I dropped the link in a few well-known chat rooms and let it spread from there. It was a ridiculously complicated setup, but ended up being tons of fun to do. I ended up grabbing a few people, until somebody noted that the sprite for Metal Sonic was ripped from one of the Game Gear games.
Halo for the Gameboy Advance Probably my most well-known hoax, for reasons we'll get to in a moment. It was sort of a crazy time - apparently Microsoft and Nintendo had entered in to an agreement to bring select Xbox titles to the Gameboy Advance, starting with a horrifically poor port of Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. Rumors began to fly that we may see Halo on a Gameboy Advance, to which Bungie repeatedly refuted. Following in the footsteps of my 2002 Sonic Advance hoax, I took it upon myself to create a simplistic "Halo" game running at Gameboy Advance resolution and proceeded to record a video of myself playing it. Where I changed things up was how I portrayed it - with the advent of Gameboy Advance emulation, the "game" I created was patterned after a popular GBA emulator. The video showcased me opening the emulator and loading a "Halo Advance.GBA" ROM. After playing the game for a minute or two, it would then "crash" and the video would end there. Creating the Halo game was fun - I went a little overboard and gave the enemies special A.I. routines that would allow them to run away from Master Chief if they were wounded, and implemented little touches like sticky grenades actually sticking to enemies. I also searched for some Halo MIDIs - running them through FruityLoops with chiptune instruments and Super Nintendo sound fonts to really capture that Gameboy Advance "sound". Rather than alert everybody to the videos existence, however, I decided to instead "lay a trap" by quietly posting it to Google Video and telling nobody I had done so. Eventually, somebody searching for Halo related videos would stumble upon my creation and the trap would be sprung.
The wait was excruciating. Every few months, I would check and see how many views the video had gotten. Surely, if somebody had happened upon it and posted it to a major gaming outlet, it would be getting hundreds, if not thousands of views per day. Instead, the video sat. And I waited. And it sat, and I waited. A year passed. Then two. Then, out of the blue, IGN's Matt Cassamassina dropped a bombshell: he had played Halo on a Nintendo DS. Interest in a portable version of Halo was renewed, and not long after, I found a fish tugging on my hook. And not just any fish, but a fish named Kotaku. Somebody had ripped my video from Google and posted it on Gametrailers, which is where it was picked up. Unable to contain myself, I admitted to the hoax in their comments section. Though other Kotaku posters patted me on the back for my accomplishment, I think I upset the notoriously high-strung Brian Ashcraft, because a month later, I found myself permanently banned from the site for life after making a catty comment regarding a story he posted. Harsh!
Super Mario 128 A lot of rumors flew after Nintendo's Gamecube tech demo called Mario 128. Even though Super Mario Sunshine was technically the successor to Super Mario 64, Nintendo maintained that no, that was not Mario 128. Thus, it became customary around E3 time to try and hoax together something for Mario 128. This is one of the many attempts I actually saved. Obviously Mario himself is from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but the environment he's in marks my first foray in to trying to create a hoax in 3D. If you can believe it, the bricks and the pipe are actually a Doom map - I never bothered to learn how to do 3D geometry, but I knew how to do a Doom map, so I used that to create some basic shapes using textures from Super Mario World. A "direct feed" version of that screenshot is here, before I made the HUD smaller. I forget what was originally on that screen, too.
Sonic Advance 3 I felt I had to follow up my Sonic Advance 2 hoax with one for Sonic Advance 3. This time, I tried to play off the " Sonic & Knuckles" idea for "Sonic & Shadow". This time I decided to try and mimick the style of a Japanese magazine like Famitsu or something. Which... basically meant I ran english text through Google Translate and hoped for the best. Honestly, this is probably the most lazy hoax I ever made. I mean, just look at those screenshots - it's amateur hour. And that logo? It looks like I made it in Flash (I didn't). Nobody believed it for a second. I do kind of wish the real Sonic Advance 3 would've incorporated Sonic-CD-esque time travel, though. It's kind of mysterious that they've never tried to revisit that specific concept, despite Sonic CD's popularity.
Sonic Rush 2 There was a period of time where nobody was sure if a sequel to Sonic Rush would ever get made. Sega (the publisher) and Dimps (the developer) apparently had a falling out at some point over Dimps' King-of-Fighters-esque fighting game, The Rumble Fish. They eventually patched things up, but there was a good two or three years between the first and second Sonic Rush games, leaving an opening for somebody like me to swoop in and do something stupid. As if you hadn't already guessed by the horrible level art in my other Sonic hoaxes, making tiles for this stuff is a lot harder than it looks. Still, anything's better than that abysmal Sonic Advance 3 hoax. Not that anybody believed this one, either, though. I still like the cloud graphic I made in the far background, though. Outside of the Egg Pawn and the rings, I made all of the stuff in this screenshot. Well, I guess I didn't make Sonic - I think his model was from the PC version of Sonic Adventure DX.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 After so many limp-wristed hoaxes, I was starting to lose interest in creating something for April Fools. I couldn't get any ideas together, nor could I successfully execute on them properly. 3D hoaxes were becoming increasingly hard for me to pull off, and I was beginning to doubt my ability to replicate 2D artwork. I practically forced myself to do this one, and in all honesty it turned out better than I expected. The main idea I was going for was to echo Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA), what with the doors, shy guy, and the plants rooted in the floor. I actually had a whole series of screenshots planned, too; the Mario model used in this screenshot was actually from Mario Kart Double Dash, and I had models for Princess Peach, Luigi, and Toad posed and ready, in addition to sprites for Ninji and a few other level locales half-finished. If it wasn't for the dopey shy guy sprite in this screenshot, this might've actually been pretty nice to look at. At this point I was done trying to fool people, however, and was just doing this sort of stuff for fun.
Shadow the Hedgehog 2: Redemption Shadow the Hedgehog was such a bad game. There aren't too many things that could be worse, save for a sequel. I actually patterned this layout after an issue of EGM I saw. I think it came out really, really nicely; it looks like it really was clipped from a magazine scan. There was even the unintentional side-effect of me trying to do an "E3" background behind the text that ended up looking like the other side of the page fading through - something that frequently happens when you scan the cheap, incredibly thin paper that magazines are printed on. I wish I still had the source file for this - I had originally written an entire paragraph and a half on this game, about planned features and whatever, but it seems I've lost them to the sands of time. When I posted this, I was actually shocked how quickly people recognized where all the individual parts were from: the city street you see there is from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (despite me trying my hardest to pick a non-descript area). The Shadow the Hedgehog model is from Sonic Heroes, and the solders are from The Specialists (a Half-Life 1 mod patterned after The Matrix). Just goes to show you, no matter how good you think you are, you're still not good enough!
Telltale's "The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" And that brings us to this year, the first real hoax I've sat down and finished in years. I was going for a similar style like the old Lucasarts SCUMM Adventure Games ( Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, etc.). The idea was that Sega and Telltale would partner, and Telltale would "cash in" on the psuedo-retro fad started by Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 by doing an Adventure Game about Sonic in SCUMM, complete with low-fidelity graphics. I had a lot of fun doing this; it was kind of awesome working in so few colors. I think I'm actually starting to figure out how to do sprite art. Sonic's a little weird looking, but part of me blames that on my scanner, which seems to scan my artwork at crooked angles (either that or I draw crookedly). And before you ask, yes - I drew Sonic's sprite by hand. The Swatbot I cheesed a little bit and just pulled off of Google Image Search. The backdrop is more traditional sprite work. Special thanks to a friend of mine for giving me the idea about the character interaction menu, there.
And that's it! There's a couple of hoaxes I did that I didn't put on this list, generally because they were too lame or weren't ever actually finished. Stay tuned to see if I actually end up doing another hoax next year. ;)
I knew I was in for a particularly craptastic treat when I saw a game based on Battle: Los Angeles had gone up on Xbox Live this morning. When a licensed videogame isn't even high enough quality to see a disc-based retail release, it's a good idea to avoid it at all costs. I, on the other hand, having a morbid fascination with train wrecks, immediately set upon downloading the game and giving it a spin. Surprise: it's not very good. It's not very good at all. It was so not good that I had to share it with the world through the magic technologic wizardry of live streaming.
Battle: Los Angeles is so bad that it somehow slingshots back around and actually becomes sort of entertaining again, strictly by virtue of being fantastically inept in nearly every department. Somehow, somebody was paid to make this "game". Let's run down a list of offenses I myself encountered in my time spent with the demo:
The game opens with a "motion comic" style cutscene (that features shockingly little motion) that is both completely out of place and blatantly traced from actual promotional photos for the movie. It vaguely tries to set up the plot of the film but mainly repeats movie taglines like "NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME" over and over again.
As a side note, the font used to display subtitles for these cutscenes is COMIC-SANS. IN A GAME WHERE YOU PLAY AS ONE GUY FROM A MILITARY PLATOON AS HE TRIES TO STOP ALIENS FROM DESTROYING ALL OF MANKIND. COMIC. SANS.
For whatever reason, most of the dialog spoken by the soldiers (both in cutscenes and during levels themselves) sound like they were recorded in somebody's basement using a $2 PC mic. There's a weird echo to everything they say.
In general, the game's sound design is mediocre at best. Aliens sound like animal growls run through a generic "alien" flange filter (there's a preset in Goldwave that sounds nearly identical). Guns lack aural punch and were licensed from some of the most budget sound packs available - keep your ears open and you can hear sfx from Doom 2 and Quake 1 peppered around in the game's ambient sounds.
The actual shooting will put you to sleep. Aliens don't do anything interesting and act like boilerplate enemy human soldiers. There is no way to tell when you're actually hitting an alien with anything because they do not react to being shot.
You are lead by the nose from identical encounter to identical encounter. At any time you are free to just wander away from the current shoot out and none of your squad mates will bat an eyelash. None of them can apparently die and it's rare that they actually manage to land shots on the aliens.
The only potentially impressive bit is the implementation of "Havok Destruction" physics, but after the Bad Company games, that's not really very special. I'm serious: you probably shouldn't buy this. It was good for a laugh because of how truly abysmal it is, but I hope nobody actually thinks of wasting $10 on it.
You may be asking yourself, "Why did you make a Sonic fangame based off of the worst Sonic game ever made?" - and that's a good question, one that is answered in the aformentioned readme.html:
Essentially, the marketing materials from Sega were telling me what I wanted to hear and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. They were promising a High-Def, Next-Generation return to the good parts of the original Sonic Adventure. I really liked the original Sonic Adventure, but it has aged rather poorly in the decade since its release. An "updated Sonic Adventure" sounded like a really good idea, and the addition of the game being positioned to celebrate the Sonic franchise's 15th Anniversary gave me the unreasonable expectation that they weren't going to let the game be as terrible as previous entries. The next generation hardware also gave them an opportunity to start fresh, and on the right foot. It seemed as if everything was in place for a great game. Instead, we received a serious contender for the worst Sonic game ever made for any platform. It would have been the single worst game of 2006 if not for " Bomberman: Act Zero" also seeing release that same year. I started this project long before I knew how terrible Sonic 2006 really was, though, and it seemed like a bad idea to let all that hard work go to waste.
I've talked about SurveySavvy before. I guess there's a lot of services like this out there now, but to my knowledge, SurveySavvy was one of the first - basically, you sign up to do consumer opinion surveys and they reward you with cash. You fill out a bunch of information when you sign up - your likes, dislikes, income, age, so on and so forth, and they use that profile to send you what basically amounts to focus testing. Questions like, "Have you bought one of these recently? Have you heard of this thing? What do you think about our proposed marketing campaign? Are you more or less interested in buying our product?" And it's about all kinds of stuff, too. I've done surveys on everything from EA's marketing campaign for the original Dead Space to, like, refridgerators and home appliances.
Depending on where the survey is coming from, you earn anywhere from $1 to as much as $20 per successfully completed survey. Obviously, the higher priced Surveys are a bit harder to get in to, but eventually, you build up a stock pile of cash - real money - and can request a payment. Since signing up to SurveySavvy, I finally found myself with about $30 banked in my account and decided to see if they would actually send me real money or if I had been part of some kind of awful pyramid scheme scam. I requested my check back in early December, and though it took basically two months to get here..
I'm not exactly rolling in dough from this check, but yes, it would appear that SurveySavvy is legit. So if you'll permit me to shill a bit, you should totally sign up. And use my link, too, because I apparently get a dollar for every Survey a referral completes. Seems like a great way to save up some "Rainy Day" money - assuming you don't mind waiting FOREVER to get your check.
Now to go buy that new pair of headphones I've been needing.
You may remember that back in June, I was contacted about winning one of those Xbox "Download & Win" Sweepstakes. You know the type - you see it on the dashboard from time to time, where an advertising something wants you to download a set of gamerpics with their branding and that counts as your entry. I won "a lifetime supply" of Xbox Live Gold and 32,000 Microsoft points, which came out to be roughly $1,900 worth of stuff. It arrived in August, to the tune of a bunch of cards in individual blister packs. Given that I didn't really need all of what they gave me, and the rules said nothing about being forced to keep my prize, I sold the bulk of it. Selling it was a slow, painful process, as the only place I could actually make sales was Ebay. Just before Christmas, a friend came to me and offered me an alternative place to sell the cards, but even that was sluggish, as by then, Holiday discounts had kicked in and nobody was interested at the prices I was asking. A couple weeks ago, that finally changed, and I ended up selling pretty much all of my remaining stock in around 48 hours. That meant I was sitting on nearly $600 - which was spent on the bounty you see above. It was almost like a second Christmas. (as an aside, I had actually shot a bunch of video of me opening these boxes, but they were incredibly dark and the microphone on my camera is absolutely trash - nevermind the intense guilt I felt actually recording something like that; ignore the fact that I'm now doing it in text form).
I haven't gotten around to putting my new processor or graphics card in (I need to back up some files first since I am pretty sure I will have to re-install Windows), but one thing I can talk about is my newly acquired Wii. Believe it or not, I had not ever really sat down and had a go with a Wii, not until I played it over at Ashuku's house a little bit before Christmas. It was there I finally had a go at Wii Sports Resort, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Sonic Colors and saw about an hour's worth of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The takeaway was that yes, I still do need a Wii - and despite the fact that I still consider myself a Sonic fan, it was actually Silent Hill that captivated me the most.
So here we are. I've had my Wii for a solid week as of today, and though the bulk of that week has been spent setting up various gray-area aspects of it (it's now a more robust media player than my Xbox 360), I've spent a lot of time with three specific games: Sonic Colors, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Sonic Colors is, well, Sonic Colors - perhaps one of the most thoughtfully-designed 3D Sonic games ever produced. When people describe a game as "Going through the motions", what they're actually describing is a lack of being taught anything. Whether you're aware of it or not, all good videogames are constantly teaching you how to do something. They are teaching you how the controls work, how the enemies work, how to manipulate the world, and testing you on what you know with increasingly complex "lessons", for lack of a better term. When that learning experience is absent, you get the sensation that there's something "missing". Even if the level designs themselves are challenging, if you aren't learning something new from the experience, you can feel that lack of cerebral stimulation. On a long list of other problems, this is something that had effected Sonic games for a long time - and any time those games would teach you something new, it was done in a very dry, text/dialog-heavy manner by simply explaining the solution to every "lesson", even before you knew there was a "lesson" to begin with. This began to change a little bit in Sonic Unleashed, where you could genuinely see the game occasionally making efforts to teach you specific gameplay lessons and testing you on that knowledge. Sonic Colors on the Wii finally takes the plunge and goes full-tilt in that direction, as every level is chocked full of lessons and tests - almost as if it was competently designed by people who actually understand how a videogame is supposed to function! Unfortunately, there's something else wrong with Sonic Colors - something I can't quite put my finger on just yet. Sonic Unleashed's levels were incredible, remarkably intense thrill rides that blew past at speeds that almost felt too fast.
"Arid Sands", one of the last and fastest levels in the HD version of Sonic Unleashed.
Sonic Colors definitely feels more neutered in this department. The game is definitely fast - but it's missing a certain element of spectacle that Sonic Unleashed nailed. That feeling of being on the edge of losing control. That's the biggest problem with the game, but there's definitely other stuff - other stuff I think I'll save in case I feel like following through with that video review I plan on doing. It's a good game, though, make no mistake. I do not hesitate to say it is the single most solid 3D Sonic game ever produced. It doesn't even need the qualifier of, "It's good for a Sonic game". It's just good, period. But after the adrenaline overdose that was Sonic Unleashed, Colors definitely feels... "slow".
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a surprisingly retro game. That's not some pun on the fact that it was developed by Retro Studios, or anything. I mean that, for better or worse, they don't make games like this anymore. Now, I haven't made it very deep in to Super Meat Boy, so maybe I'm lacking "teh skillz", but DKCR does not play around. This is the kind of game that is, right out of the gate, immediately challenging, and it only ramps up from there. By the end of the first world I was kind of surprised how frequently I was dying, and by the middle of World 3 I've found myself actually shouting "OH COME ON! SERIOUSLY?" at the TV screen. There is a shockingly large amount of trial-and-error to certain elements of these levels, where things can and will damage you (or even kill you!) without really warning until it's already too late. On top of that, many of these levels are incredibly long - take a look at this speedrun video for a level that made me want to throw my controller at the screen called "Itty Bitty Biters". Despite zooming through the level as quickly as possible, it still takes the guy almost four and a half minutes:
This level involved A LOT of trial and error for me.
You may also notice the fact that "Itty Bitty Biters" there, despite being as long as it is, only had one or two checkpoints. This is the case with most DKCR levels as far as I can tell - your first time through a stage like Itty Bitty Biters can take well over 10 or 15 minutes, with most of the time soaked up replaying the same 2-3 minute chunks over and over and over again. I was planning on happily unveiling DKCR to my Mother, because she loved DKC1. Unfortunately, she was never good enough to pass the first world in that - and considering I can 101% DKC1 with my eyes closed, she'll probably start the first level of DKCR and end up breaking in to tears before even making it to the first checkpoint, or something.
And that brings us to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I was extremely disappointed with the Nintendo DS verison of NSMB; in comparison to the other 2D Marios like Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3, NSMBDS took little effort to beat. Not only did it suffer from the whole "going through the motions" syndrome, but the game practically refused to be difficult, not even a little bit. I sleep-walked through the game and came away underwhelmed. NSMBW seems to dial up the challenge a little bit and introduces more new elements to spice things up, but I can't get over how heavy Mario feels. This is something I noticed while playing DKCR, too. It just so happened that around the time I was playing these games I also happened to play bits of Super Mario Bros 3 and Donkey Kong Country 2, and this ended up giving me a very solid basis to compare the old entries in these franchises directly to the new entries.
The conclusion is that NSMBW, DKCR, and to a certain degree even Sonic Colors favor momentum far more than their forefathers did. Momentum is an important part of any game - without it, controls feel stiff and over-responsive. Momentum lends a degree of smooth movement to characters, and, especially in Donkey Kong Country and Sonic the Hedgehog, momentum and flow was a big component of how levels in those games were laid out. But while DKC2 and SMB3 had momentum that lent the games a tight, snappy feel, in NSMBW and DKCR, our characters feel big, lumbering, and heavy. While that may fit the description of Donkey Kong, it actually makes controlling Mario feel almost like a chore. Once Mario gets moving fast enough, it's hard to get him to slow down, and though I consider myself a person who mastered the old Mario games, I'm finding myself missing jumps in New Super Mario Bros. Wii with alarming frequency, either by overshooting them by a huge distance or not going fast enough and falling short. It actually makes me not want to play NSMBW, because the game feels genuinely difficult to control. It's almost like playing a Sonic game, in a way, except without the high-flying, rollercoaster style antics that typically surround a blue-hedgehog adventure. Instead, you just get a platformer with sluggish, and dare I say downright unresponsive control - something I never thought I'd say about a Mario game officially developed and published by Nintendo.