Imports Only Vol. 3 - Coming Soon to Pachislots (Konami Games)

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Welcome to Imports Only - from anime to aspirators, it’s your encyclopedic cataloging and authoritative ranking of import racing games that never graced US shores.

Volume 3

I have got to come up with a more consistent schedule for doing these. This is the third entry in a span of about two weeks, but I’ve spaced them out so poorly that it probably seems as if I’ve fallen well behind a weekly rate. In the future, I guess I’ll just need to have more restraint and not post two back to back if I manage to write more than one entry in a single weekend.

Today’s Theme: Konami

Remember Konami? They were this company that made video games. Not ringing any bells?

It took them a few years to get into gaming, they started out in 1969 as a jukebox rental and repair company, but this is a company that for over 40 years was one of the biggest forces in video games. Looking back at their history, it’s just so incredibly frustrating to see their shift in focus to pachinko and fitness clubs. A lot of people have gone on and on about their downfall in the past couple of years, so I’m not going to belabor the point too much - I’ll just let this list of some of their once great properties that are now languishing speak for itself:

Expert tier Pooyan action.
Expert tier Pooyan action.

That’s just a sampling, but I think it’s enough to drive home how significant and relevant they were for decades. You could also give them a little credit for some companies like Treasure that formed from employees leaving Konami.

When it comes to racing games, they made quite a few during their prolific run, but few of them ever found much of an audience. Today we’re looking at three that never came to the US, and it’s a shame that they never did, because I think a couple of them could’ve actually helped raise Konami’s profile as a racing game developer earlier on in their time.

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Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher was overflowing with cyberpunk flair, and Speed King was lucky enough to catch a bit of that style runoff. Set in Snatcher’s own Neo Kobe City, the great presentation and nods to other Konami properties is by far the best thing about this futuristic racing game.

Doesn't it just feel like this should be the title screen for an amazing game?
Doesn't it just feel like this should be the title screen for an amazing game?

The title screen alone just looks so cool, with its dark city skyline under a bold NEO KOBE 2045 heading and the game’s title in a sleek font vaguely reminiscent of the one later seen in Metal Gear Solid. A pre-rendered opening cutscene with some fast-paced editing and operatic singing leading into the game’s brand of industrial techno also really helps drive home the game’s best qualities. Hell, even the attract screen demo is pretty awesome and is framed in a way that conceals a lot of the shortcomings in the gameplay.

There’s a substantial number of selectable vehicles with varying stats and a sleek futuristic design that comes through even with PlayStation era models and textures. With names like F-Logger, Gyruss, and Solid-Snake, nearly all of the vehicles make at least a passing reference to another Konami release. Vic Viper, TwinBee, the Snatcher TurboCycle, and that guy on a paper airplane from Parodius are also unlockable.

With all of that cool stuff going for it, it’s a shame that the gameplay itself is kinda broken. The ambition here far exceeds the technical capabilities, and poor design choices further exacerbate the technical and mechanical issues. The game runs at a sluggish and inconsistent framerate which kills the sense of speed and responsiveness, but it’s the extremely short draw distance that’s an even bigger problem. Being able to see so little of the course ahead of you means that you really need to memorize the layout or have incredible twitch skills to have success, but regardless of your reaction times, the handling even on the most nimble ships is just not good enough.

Yep, even a Jungler reference.
Yep, even a Jungler reference.

It’s this immensely slow and unresponsive turning that is unquestionably the biggest downfall, but what makes it worse is exceedingly challenging course design that would likely be difficult to handle even if the technical limitations and control issues were addressed. The first and by far easiest track actually feels ok - the track is wide and the turns are spaced out enough that making it through without slamming into a wall is very doable. The other three tracks however are just immensely frustrating and not at all built with the handling and technical deficiencies of the game in mind. They’re exceptionally narrow making it very unforgiving and the turns are often so close together that they seem beyond what’s possible with the controls. One track even features a section that takes control away from you and is automatically driven, further suggesting to me that there was some sort of design breakdown here.

Even time trials on these courses can be tough, but it makes the AI in standard races and the head-to-head mode just feel unbeatable. The game has three difficulty levels, Jack, Queen, and King, but even on the lowest it can feel like the margin for error is extremely low. Your only chance of unlocking those cool ships from other games would probably be to use an emulator and abuse save states, saving after every clean turn.

As a contemporary to Wipeout XL, Speed King barely even deserves a mention. Wipeout XL is just a far better experience in nearly every way. The style and connection to Snatcher make me desperately wish this game was good, but aside from one pretty good track, it’s bordering on being broken. I still played quite a lot of it, but the challenge brought on by the technical issues and design flaws feel unfair throughout.

The Speed King arcade setup looks like a wild ride.
The Speed King arcade setup looks like a wild ride.

It is worth noting that the PlayStation version is a home port, and the original arcade release is reportedly far better. I’ll probably never be able to check out that claim myself, but it’s apparent even from the tiny amount of info that I’ve found that it was certainly a spectacle to behold and play with its big rotating cockpit.

This game did receive a European release with the title Road Rage, so a discussion of language barrier is largely unnecessary here. Even the Japanese release which I played features almost entirely English menus.

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Originally I was planning on including Road Fighter for the NES in this entry until I noticed that the arcade version did actually get a US release through the now shuttered Game Room - Jeff even reviewed it as part of his crazy initiative to review everything in the launch day game packs. It’s a very good game in my opinion, and I think I may even like it a touch more than Jeff - it honestly had a shot at being the new best import racer in my spreadsheet if I’d gone through with including it.

For real though, you should just watch Midnight Run.
For real though, you should just watch Midnight Run.

After I got past the disappointment of bumping Road Fighter from this entry, I moved on to its sequel, Midnight Run, which is unfortunately not a game based on the 1988 film starring Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro. This game is referred to as Road Fighter 2 in Japan, but I really don’t know why they’d call it that when ten years earlier there was Konami GT, another Game Room banger, which seems to clearly be a Road Fighter sequel - the Japanese version was even called Konami RF2.

This game was originally released in arcades in 1995, but by the time it made its way to PlayStation in late 1997 (early 1998 in Europe), this was probably starting to feel more than a little behind the times in addition to just feeling a bit uninspired and generic.

With just four cars, all with identical stats, three tracks, and a single game mode, the first issue apparent here is just that it’s a bit content light. It’s not all that surprising considering its arcade origins, but the standard for home console releases had risen a bit by 1998. That being said, the amount of content would be easy to forgive if the gameplay were solid, but it’s just not that good.

The handling is incredibly tight and yet feels a bit unresponsive due to a short ramp up time as you start turning - I’d assume a misguided attempt to compensate for the unfortunate lack of analog input support. I resorted to just trying to hit the brake and slow down to take sharper turns - I think the game intends for you to drift, but I could never manage to do it consistently or reliably. Compounding the poor handling is some very questionable collision detection that leads to you hitting a lot of pedestrian cars that you thought you were going to pass without issue.

There are two camera angles available, one behind the dashboard and a traditional behind the car chase camera, but the behind the car view is not at all a viable option at times due to it not being able to handle you travelling up or down hills. It more or less just doesn’t follow you up or down, and so you can end up in situations where you’re on a higher section of the track and your car is in the top half of the screen and you just can’t see anything ahead of you.

This isn't even as bad as the camera can get.
This isn't even as bad as the camera can get.

Graphically, Midnight Run is a bit dated and uninspired, but I wouldn’t call it particularly bad. The audio is in the same camp, my main note would be that it needed multiple higher quality collision sound samples considering how often you’re likely to hit something. This game also does the Virtua Racing thing of playing a short 5-10 second clip of shredding rock when you clear a checkpoint, which I’ll admit kind puts a smile on my face when I encounter it even if it’s probably preferable for a game to have an actual soundtrack.

This game also got a European release, so a language barrier discussion is again null and void, but as was the case with Speed King, I’m sure the Japanese release of Midnight Run would also pose no challenge.

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The MSX and its library of games stayed almost entirely out of the US market, and few companies supported the platform anywhere near as much as Konami. Hyper Rally, released in 1985, is one such game that never managed to make it to the US. Released just a few years after Pole Position, this is a pretty competent pseudo-3D racer that puts you in a multi stage race where the challenge is to complete it before you run out of fuel while also making sure you pass enough cars to meet the minimum rank required to move on to the next stage.

Fuel here essentially just serves as a timer, constantly depleting at a steady rate regardless of your actions. Your vehicle has a higher gear you can and need to shift into and stay in if you want to have a chance of progressing, only occasionally popping out of it if necessary to avoid another car or make a turn.

The opposing drivers in general are fine and serve their purpose of being obstacles in your path, but the way they change lanes just doesn’t sit well with me. Plenty of similar games, even the original Pole Position, have opposing drivers that change lanes, but it just doesn’t look right here and can feel a tad unfair. They always change lanes just as you’re approaching and getting ready to pass them, and the movement looks very programmed and unnatural, like the car is on a rail that crosses lanes and you’re controlling its motion along that rail by getting closer or farther away - it’s tough to describe but I think it’s apparent if you play or watch the game for any length of time.

The handling here gets pretty tough to deal with.
The handling here gets pretty tough to deal with.

The handling for the most part feels fine and totally fair until you reach the snow stage where the game tries to simulate an icy track by considerably reducing your maneuverability. Suddenly, you’re stuck with a car that’s extremely difficult to change direction in, and that can lead to a lot of frustration and make it pretty tough to progress. The other minor thing the game does to add variation is dark night/tunnel stages where there’s no visible edge to the track, but I don’t think that’s much of a challenge to contend with if you’ve spent any time with pseudo-3D racers like this one.

It’s unfortunate this game didn’t get a Famicom/NES port, as it’s a solid game that I think it could’ve helped establish Konami in the racing game genre, especially if Road Fighter’s NES port released the same year could’ve also managed to make it to the US. While certain aspects of it do feel dated even for 1985, it still could’ve had a chance since that was still a year or two prior to games like OutRun and Rad Racer kicking the pseudo-3D racer trend into high gear.

For the record, I did play the version of this game that’s included on Konami Antiques MSX Collection released on the PlayStation. It was actually retitled there as just Konami Rally, I suspect due to a trademark conflict with another PlayStation game titled Hyper Rally released around the same time. Konami did reveal a Sega Rally reminiscent sequel to this game for the PlayStation at E3 1999 that was also titled Konami Rally, but it was unfortunately cancelled.

Of course, no language barrier here even in the Japanese release - it’s a one button game with English UI test.

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For as much as I slammed Speed King’s gameplay, I actually played quite a bit of it due to the amount of style it exudes. Winning in that game is a seemingly impossible challenge most of the time, but I just kept plugging away at it because you can see the seed there of a much better game. On the overall list, I’m still putting it under The Tousou Highway because I don’t think style alone is enough to edge out a mostly better designed game that’s biggest issue was taking too long to finish.

Hyper Rally, the first pseudo-3D racer on the list, is in the middle of the pack exactly where it belongs. A year or two earlier and with a broader release, I think this game could’ve been the start of something, but at this point, it’s hard to look at it as anything more than just a serviceable racing game - nothing especially good or bad.

Midnight Run comes in at the bottom of the heap for this entry. The handling and camera are just plain bad and a lot of the other aspects are dated even by 1998 racing game standards. Viewing it through the frame of it being a 1995 arcade game makes aspects of it easier to forgive, but it still doesn’t make it play well. That said, if we’re talking about games being dated for their time, Kamen Rider: The Bike Race was a 2001 release - that’s the same year Gran Turismo 3 was released. Even though the Kamen Rider game is a slightly beefier package with more of everything, I have to go back to the total lack of challenge as a big knock against it, and so I’m putting Midnight Run ahead of it.

As always, the full rankings can be found right here.

So Long For Now

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That’s it for this volume of Import Only. Looking ahead to the next, it’s probably only going to be two game, but they tie into something popular in Japan that I think is worth exploring.

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Imports Only Vol. 2 - Henshin A Go-Go, Baby! (Kamen Rider Games)

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Welcome to Imports Only - from anime to aspirators, it’s your encyclopedic cataloging and authoritative ranking of import racing games that never graced US shores.

Volume 2

Two entries into this series, and I’ve already realized that I made a significant omission in the rules and directives that I stated up front. One of the game’s selected for this entry forced me to question whether or not it truly was a racing game. Multiple websites that I consulted gave it that designation, but the internet is occasionally often wrong. So, I think it would serve us well to establish some sort of generic definition for what constitutes a “racing game” in the most basic sense.

For most people, the racing genre is going to immediately bring to mind games like Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer, and Forza that focus on traditional motorsport competition, but clearly it’s far more broad than that. It’s not defined by cars or any other particular vehicle, but more than that, I’d argue that it doesn’t have to be about transportation at all. I don’t think that we need to restrict ourselves just to games about moving from a starting point to an end point. So, with that in mind, here’s what I’m proposing as a working classification:

Racing Game - Any game where the primary objective is expeditious completion of a task prior to a timer expiring or prior to one or more opponents attempting the same task.

I think this is sufficiently inclusive enough that it will encapsulate all of the obvious cases while also allowing us to rule out any borderline cases such as games where a timer is incidental or games mistakenly assumed to be a racing game just because the screenshots all showed people in cars. It still leaves room for debate since it’s not an exhaustive and detailed definition, but all I actually need it to do is provide context for thinking about how to categorize a game.

Let it be stated though, for the record, that I will serve as the final arbiter of what is and what is not a racing game for the purposes of this series. I’m willing to hear arguments if you’ve got them, but by the time you see a game here, the decision has been made and is probably final.

With all of that in mind, there’s one game in today’s set that I’ve decided to disqualify from receiving a rank, but I’m still going to talk about it since I think it’s a cool game worth checking out. I’ll say more about why I don’t think it counts as a racing game when we get to it.

Today’s Theme: Kamen Rider

For a lot of us in the US, awareness of Japanese tokusatsu (live-action sci-fi/fantasy with special effects) begins (and for maybe also ends) with Godzilla and Power Rangers. The former is what began to popularize the format in the 1950s, but in the 1970s, the format started to drift towards a focus on henshin (“transforming”) heroes. This movement was kicked off by Kamen Rider in 1971 but several similar shows followed such as Super Sentai, the series that Saban uses as source material for Power Rangers.

While the details differ with every iteration, each hero to take up the Kamen Rider mantle is typically bestowed with their power by way of some sudden tragic event, and then they reluctantly use those powers to fight some evil organization bent on world domination. In a twist of fate, it’s often these bumbling evil organizations themselves that are responsible for giving the Kamen Rider their powers, through cybernetic enhancements, magic, or some other means, but the hero escapes before they can be brainwashed into becoming an agent of evil.

Every Kamen Rider also has a unique custom motorcycle they refer to as a “Rider Machine”. During the 70s and 80s, these were primarily produced for the show by Suzuki, but in the following years many manufacturers have been called upon including Honda, Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, and Ducati.

Kamen Rider ZO on the Z-Bringer (a custom Suzuki GSX-R400)
Kamen Rider ZO on the Z-Bringer (a custom Suzuki GSX-R400)

Kamen Rider is currently in its 26th iteration, typically rebooting itself annually. The show was not on TV throughout the 90s, but even then, there were things like movies and manga that maintained interest in the property. In fact, two of the games looked at in this post are based on Kamen Rider SD (“super-deformed”), an animated short and manga that brings together several previous Kamen Riders to defend the planet.

As cool as certain aspects of Kamen Rider look, I really dig the style of Kamen Rider Black in particular, it’s been a show targeted primarily at kids throughout its entire run, so it would probably be hard for any adults to get into except maybe by way of nostalgia for things like Power Rangers/Super Sentai (which similarly is also still in production and very popular).

As far as Kamen Rider video games go, while some of them do focus on the actual motorcycle riding like those I’m about to discuss, the majority of them are actually fighting games and brawlers that have the Kamen Riders fighting on foot.

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In case you thought we were done with Simple series games after last week, here’s another one with even more still on deck for the future. In fact, Kamen Rider: The Bike Race is largely just a reskin of an earlier Simple 1500 game called simply The Bike Race.

This is a licensed budget title, and like the Combat Mecha Xabungle game we looked at previously, it’s stripped down and bare-bones. The biggest selling point for fans of Kamen Rider is easily the inclusion of a full roster of every iteration of the hero up to this game’s release on PlayStation in 2001. They don’t look particularly great and don’t seem to have any stat differences, but they are all in there.

The racing itself is typical circuit racing with a few minor wrinkles. There are boost items to collect on the track, but they’re not incredibly useful since you can also boost almost constantly on straight sections by spamming down on the d-pad to do wheelies. While each race is head-to-head against one other Kamen Rider, the fodder henchmen from the show appear as random riders on the track and will try to kick you if you get too close. You can kick back at them to knock them down, but I found it better to just try to avoid them since I could rarely manage to knock them down without sustaining damage. Whenever you get banged up enough from kicks or running into the walls to fill your damage meter, you’ll spin out and fall off the bike for a bit while the meter resets.

The racing takes place on three fairly simple tracks, the first two of which are easy enough to get through with the simple and responsive bike handling, but the third can really only be completed by pinballing your way through the corners that are far too tight for the Kamen Riders’ cornering capabilities. Unless you slow down down to a complete stop, it’s just not possible to smoothly get through a corner on this final track. Luckily, the AI will probably have an even harder time handling it than you will, so you can still easily win.

Aside from standard grand prix, time trial, and splitscreen multiplayer, there is another mode that challenges you to knock down as many of the henchmen riders as you can before a timer expires, but it seems completely broken to me. The time bonuses from completing a lap and knocking down henchmen were enough that I was able to keep going seemingly forever. I stopped after 30 laps because there didn’t seem to be an end in sight.

The menus are all in Japanese, but they don’t go that deep and are easy enough to find your way through without being able to read any of it.

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Kamen Rider SD: Hashire! Mighty Riders for the Game Boy, like the SNES game discussed below, are both based on the Kamen Rider SD manga and animated short and feature their chibi super-deformed art style and a collection of the Kamen Riders from before this game’s release in 1993. While the art style doesn’t come through all that well in the actual top-down racer gameplay, the art of each Kamen Rider you get for completing a level felt like an actual reward to me, which is good since playing the game isn’t all that rewarding.

The game has two main modes, the first of which has you selecting one of three groups of Kamen Riders consisting of three riders apiece, and then one by one guiding each rider through their own unique level that plays a bit like a bad version of Spy Hunter or Road Fighter.

The main goal in each level is to reach the top of the screen as quickly as possible without getting blown up by depleting your fuel gauge, which will only occur by taking damage through hitting walls or exploding barrels. Enemy riders and obstacles won’t do direct damage but can cause you to spin out into walls effectively still hurting you. The enemies aren’t all that much of a problem since your kick attack can deal with them pretty easily, but the obstacles can be a pretty big pain to get past. A lot of the obstacles in this game require you to do either hit a jump, use a boost pad, or collect a powerup such as a shield in order to progress without damage. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss these since your top-down view is extremely zoomed in, not allowing you much time to prepare for things appearing ahead of you. This can turn a few of the levels into a bit of a trial and error affair with you needing to fail once or twice just to get a feel for the level, and even then you might still accidentally mess up and end up just barely scraping past the finish line.

In spite of my complaints about the narrow view, I was still able to quickly complete all three sets of level and see all of the art. Now that I have screenshots of all of them, I don’t see much reason to ever play through the main mode of this again. With so much focus on just surviving each level, I doubt many people will be interested in reducing their times.

Sure. No point centering stuff on a screen nobody will ever see.
Sure. No point centering stuff on a screen nobody will ever see.

The other primary mode is a grand prix where you select one rider and then race against a field of five other racers, comprised of a random assortment of enemy henchman and other Kamen Riders along with one nigh unbeatable and seemingly invincible boss character. This mode takes you through all nine of the courses you see in the other mode, and in order to progress from one race to the next you must achieve the nearly impossible task of somehow coming in first place ahead of the boss character. Seriously, you do not even try this without the aid of emulator enabled cheats or something similar because coming in first place nine times in a row against these evil GranShocker bastards will take nothing short of a literal miracle bestowed upon you by the highest order of archangel. If you do manage to achieve this feat, you get a screen that says congratulations, followed by a screen with your selected Kamen Rider and some text that I can’t read but I’m just going to assume is the secret to immortality, which will unfortunately seem like a cruel joke as you read it from your death bed after spending your entire life staring at a Game Boy.

As far as language barrier issues go, there is a lot of flavor text from the Riders and silly bits from Tōbei Tachibana, the mentor and racing coach that directs the SD squad of Kamen Riders. Aside from that however, there’s no significant barrier to playing the game.

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Now finally we arrive at the game that drove me to need for a working definition of “racing game”. A lot of websites list Kamen Rider SD: Shutsugeki!! Rider Machine for the SNES as a racing game, and I can see why you might think that if you just looked at a few screenshots. There are motorcycles. There’s a speedometer. There’s a time limit. These are telltale signs of a racing game, but as soon as you try playing the game, you immediately realize that those people got it wrong. This is very much a beat ‘em up in the tradition of games like Streets of Rage or Final Fight (for the record, @mento got it right when he added data for this game to the GB wiki).

So, with it established that this is a beat ‘em up, I just wanted to point out that it’s a good one of those. The main thing that drew me into it was the cute super-deformed art style - I have to admit that I can be a bit of a sucker for it. Looks aside, I found it fun to play too, although maybe a bit overly simplistic and repetitive, especially since this game takes nearly two hours to play through and has to be done in one sitting since it lacks any saves or passwords.

My cute little sword boy
My cute little sword boy

Like the two previously discussed games, you’re able to kick from your bike, but this time it’s the focus of the game since it’s required to defeat all of the enemies on every screen to proceed. You can accelerate and decelerate your bike to help shift the enemies left or right on the screen, but you’re always barreling forward aside from some brief mid-level pit stops where you get to select a limited use special weapon - the majority being some sort of projectile that either spins around you or is projected in front of you. The sub weapons are particularly helpful when dispatching the end level bosses, several of which can be a bit frustrating with the sort of cheap difficult to avoid attacks you’ve come to expect from beat ‘em up bosses over the years.

There’s also a throwaway two-player versus mode where you kick at each other and try to empty each other’s health bars. Nothing else to say about it...it barely deserves a mention.

Not knowing Japanese, you are going to miss out on whatever plot development is happening in the radio messages you receive between levels, but the game is completely playable start to finish without issue.

Where Do They Rank?

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As alluded to at the top of this post, I’ve decided to disqualify Kamen Rider SD: Shutsugeki!! Rider Machine from consideration since it’s not a racing game. Very unfortunate since it was absolutely the game I liked the most out of this bunch, and purely in terms of my personal enjoyment, I’d say it trumps Edit Racing, currently the best import racer of all time.

Looking to the other two games in consideration here, in relation to each other, I’m going to reluctantly give the nod to Kamen Rider: The Bike Race since it’s far less frustrating to actually play through. However, it’s a very slight edge because I really do like that Kamen Rider SD art style.

Placing them into the overall rankings, I’m going to squeeze them both in between The Tousou Highway, which I’m still giving substantial credit to for a solid concept in spite of the mistakes in the execution, and Sentou Mecha Xabungle, a game which I expect see anchoring the bottom of this list for quite a while to come.

So, as of today, Kamen Rider: The Bike Race is the third best import racer of all time and Kamen Rider SD: Hashire! Mighty Riders is fourth, and remember that you can keep track of the official standings at any time by checking the official spreadsheet.

So Long For Now

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That’s going to do it for this entry. This post is about 500 words shorter than last time, but I think I could still do with cutting it down even more. I feel like I might be getting a bit more reaccustomed to blog writing, but it may take a while yet for it to get to where I want it. Luckily we still have a long way to go, so I’m going to have plenty of time to improve before we’re done.

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Imports Only Vol.1 - Keep It Simple 2000, Stupid

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Welcome to the first entry of Imports Only - your encyclopedic cataloging and authoritative ranking of import racing games that never graced US shores. From anime to aspirators, we’re going to hit them all and rank them.

Volume 1

In the previous blog post where I discussed my plans for this series, I mentioned that I was assembling a complete list of games that would qualify for discussion. With only five platforms listed so far, I already have a list of 334 games for consideration. It’s an intimidating number, and it made the task of selecting games for this first blog post a tough one.

I initially considered leaving things entirely to chance by doing a random selection, but I think a more curated approach will probably make for a better experience for both you the reader and me. It also seems more in line with the structured and scientific approach that we need to take with this if the ranking is going to be truly authoritative.

Eventually I arrived at the idea of selecting a group of games based on some sort of thematic element. My hope is that this will allow for blog posts that cover varied and interesting grouping of games that do still have some element tying them together - ideally one that might tie back to a page in the Giant Bomb wiki such as a franchise, object, or concept.

Today’s Theme: The Simple 2000 Series

The incredible design work on the box art was another staple of the Simple Series.
The incredible design work on the box art was another staple of the Simple Series.

A lot has been said on Giant Bomb about the lost “B-Tier” or “AA” budget game, including as recently as this Quick Look of The Technomancer. While there’s certainly a lot of room for debate about whether those sorts of games still exist, there was no denying the prevalence of the direct-to-bargain-bin release during the PS1/PS2 era and few publishers were doing as much work in that space as D3 Publisher.

D3 Publisher was largely unknown in North America until 2007 when they started to dip their toe into the western market with the acquisition of Chapel Hill, North Carolina based Vicious Cycle Software and their success with Puzzle Quest. However, for decades prior to that, D3 had been operating in Japan as an extremely prolific publisher, most well known for their budget titles. Chief among these budget titles were the games released under the Simple Series banner.

The Simple Series started out on the PlayStation with Simple 1500, a set of games priced at around ¥1500 (~$15 USD) each that would eventually grow to be 100+ in number. With the PlayStation 2, D3 followed it up with Simple 2000. By this point, what had initially been a series focused solely on simple and bare-bones implementations of generic concepts like chess or pachinko had expanded into games with unique concepts and larger scopes.

Most of the games in the Simple 2000 series never made it out of Japan, but 505 Games did bring a few of them to Europe, often with dubious rebranding intended to conceal the Japanese origins and hopefully make the game an easier impulse buy for people that judge the game based solely on box art and price.

The Simple Series eventually died out after a sparse selection of titles on Wii and PS3, but its legacy does live on through a few descendents like the bikini-clad Onechanbara and Jason Oestreicher approved Earth Defense Force which both started out as entries in Simple 2000. There are also some genuine hidden treasures and interesting ideas from the PS1 and PS2 era that do bear going back to and checking out for those of us that were oblivious to their existence during their original release.

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Anime. We’re not going to be able to avoid it in this blog series, so we might as well dive in head first with a mecha foot race.

This is a weird one.

Let’s start with the source material. Combat Mecha Xabungle was an anime that ran for 50 episodes in the early 80s. I don’t really know what it was about, but it seems like it’s something to do with gangs of mech thieves fighting for survival on a harsh desert planet. Jump ahead 20 years and suddenly this property is licensed for an extremely late era PS1 game released in 2002 that seems to be completely disconnected from the plot of the source material. Why would anyone care? How did this get greenlit? Were they just giving this license away and already had something ready to slap it on?

Ignoring the mysteries of why this exists, the license can be credited with delivering the best part of the experience - an intro FMV when you turn on the game. It’s all downhill once you press start.

The gameplay itself is something I can’t recall seeing before. If you just glance at this game, it looks like a relatively standard 2D shooter or platformer like a Contra or Turrican with mecha, but it is in fact a racing game with a group of six mecha sprinting from left to right until they hit a point where they turn around and race back to the starting point.

The eight courses are almost entirely uninteresting, just random hills and plains for you to run across and jump over with your jump jets. There is one kinda neat course where there’s a big ship moving in the background that has platforms you can jump on top of, but that’s the one and only significant variation.

Gratuitous transformation animation.
Gratuitous transformation animation.

There are about a dozen mecha of pretty varied shapes and sizes - some of them kinda unique and interesting but most of them pretty cliche. The titular Xabungle has by far the best overall stats though, so it’s the obvious choice and I was able to fairly easily win all of the races in the story mode with it.

Each mecha is equipped with one or two weapons that are mostly just irritating. By far the most useful weapon you have is your punch which you can use to instantly knock over someone as you’re running past them or they’re trying to run past you. The weapons can occasionally lead to a Mario Kart scenario where being in first place can almost be a disadvantage since everyone behind you is constantly shooting at you, but it only led to me losing a few times during the course of the eight race story mode.

The sprinting itself feels really bad due to the bumpy and uneven terrain. You’re constantly stepping into potholes or falling down small hills causing you to instantly lose almost all of your momentum. Occasionally I did get into a flow of running and using the jump jets, but it happened only a handful of times and was pure luck that I didn’t hit a bump on the ground.

Thankfully, the game’s story mode is short and easy. I played through it all the way to the end in well under an hour. You don’t save any data in this game, so I guess it has to be something you can complete in one sitting.

There’s no language barrier at all with regards to playing through the game, but you are missing out on the plot entirely - although I doubt the loose justification for a death race adds much to the experience.

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When a member of Japan’s Parliament begins to suspect a fellow politician is involved in criminal activity, she calls on hardboiled detective Oogawara to help her out. Just as he’s closing in on the truth, his client is framed for a crime she didn’t commit and the evidence that could acquit her is stolen by police in league with the corrupt politician. Now the detective has just four hours to reclaim the evidence and make the journey to the courthouse in Tokyo before his client is thrown in jail and the truth is lost forever.

It’s a pretty decent setup for a race against time. This game has a lot going for it both in terms of the overall concept and some of its mechanics, but there is a critical flaw that severely limits its appeal.

That massive problem is time and the fact that the developers at Tamsoft felt compelled to make the time limit four hours and have the game last roughly that long without having enough to actually fill that time and make it interesting. This game is essentially Desert Bus but with some actual gameplay. Google Maps tells me that the estimated travel time from Nagoya to Tokyo, the beginning and end points of the game, is actually four hours twelve minutes. It took me around three hours to do the journey in the game, which I guess is probably in line with the actual amount of time it would take if you were driving well above the speed limit and only stopping to pick up briefcases or jump into another car. It seems legitimately like the same design philosophy as Desert Bus, and that’s not a good thing.

Too. Damn. Far.
Too. Damn. Far.

The incredibly misleading box art and rebranding 505 Games applied to this game.
The incredibly misleading box art and rebranding 505 Games applied to this game.

For the entirety of the three hours it took me to complete the game, there was damn near no variation. The first minute of this game looks and plays almost exactly like the last minute. The environment changes so little that I found myself actually celebrating when I’d occasionally see a building, go through a tunnel, or drive over a bridge. The game boasts 58 cars, but from a practical perspective, there’s not that much actual variation. The majority of the cars look and feel very similar to others and the larger trucks and buses are just obstacles in your path since there’s no benefit to driving them. There is one particular car type that is far faster and occasionally has a manual transmission (the only manual in the game) that was very cool to come across, but even that was predictably parked in the same position near off ramps and started to blend into the monotony by the end.

The only significant gameplay changes that are introduced are weather effects - fog that reduces how far you can see and the late game addition of rain that makes the already squirrelly cars even harder to wrangle. Typically cars so prone to oversteer would seem like a major issue, but I get the impression that the loose steering was a deliberate design choice to make the cars more prone to crashing so that the player is forced to leapfrog from one to another as they become unfit to drive. As far as control issues go, the slow and inverted camera controls on foot were the only real issue.

The cops in this game were also generally ineffectual and never mixed up their tactics. I occasionally got caught due to jank like getting stuck in a mess of cars while trying to bust through a roadblock, but it never felt like any of my failures were due to intentional efforts.

It being a budget title, I can sympathize with having limited resources to create art assets and develop mechanics, but arbitrarily deciding that your game is going to be 3-4 hours long when you don’t have enough to fill that time is much harder to understand or overlook. This game could be far better if it was 50-60% shorter.

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Yuke’s is known almost exclusively for WWE games these days, but back in 2002, D3 employed them to develop Edit Racing, one of the earlier entries in the Simple 2000 series.

In a lot of ways, this game does present itself as an incredibly generic racing game, but one of its unique features is a track editor as is hinted at by the title. The game includes 24 pre-created tracks spread out across eight tilesets ranging from cities and closed race tracks (sponsored by Suzuki) to jungles and deserts, but if that isn’t enough, you can create your own in any of those same tilesets.

Some dynamic track elements unfortunately don't work in created tracks.
Some dynamic track elements unfortunately don't work in created tracks.

Track editors were a bit of a rarity back then and are perhaps even rarer now, and I think the track editor here illustrates why you don’t see them all that often. The track editor is certainly neat, but it’s a bit clunky and not particularly powerful - you just pick one of a handful of tile types and a direction until you bump up against the fairly limited memory restriction. If you don’t want to piece together a track on your own though, you also have the Monster Rancher inspired option of generating tracks based on other CDs or DVDs you insert. The results are a bit of a mixed bag, often solid but just as frequently a weird and barely navigable mess. Back then, it may have been interesting to share your results with other people so that they could generate the same track by using the same disc, but if you’re just on your own messing around, you’re just as well off using the random generation option.

Outside of the track editor, one of the other defining aspects of the game is the set of selectable drivers. There’s not a ton of obvious overlap between wrestling and racing, but Yuke’s did manage to bring at least one facet of wrestling to Edit Racing in the form of its host of characters based on potentially offensive stereotypes. I’m not going to take the time to go through all of them, but I think it’s worth the detour to take a look at a few.

Aside from being almost painfully generic in his jeans and Converse, Martin is probably the safest play here. The dude does like “drive”, so it seems like he’s in the right place.
Aside from being almost painfully generic in his jeans and Converse, Martin is probably the safest play here. The dude does like “drive”, so it seems like he’s in the right place.
Dragonball Z’s Master Roshi joins the fray from the country of Hawaii. It also seems unsafe for someone with a passion for napping to be involved in motorsports.
Dragonball Z’s Master Roshi joins the fray from the country of Hawaii. It also seems unsafe for someone with a passion for napping to be involved in motorsports.

Obviously my first thought upon seeing Wesley Johnson was Tom from Shenmue. The early 2000s were a great time to be a Jamaican stereotype in Japan.
Obviously my first thought upon seeing Wesley Johnson was Tom from Shenmue. The early 2000s were a great time to be a Jamaican stereotype in Japan.

It straight up just says he’s a glutton. They’re not even trying to disguise the insults.
It straight up just says he’s a glutton. They’re not even trying to disguise the insults.
Avril Lavigne released her first studio album several months after this game was on shelves, but somebody at Yuke’s was clearly already tapped into Canadian youth culture because the sk8er girl is here.
Avril Lavigne released her first studio album several months after this game was on shelves, but somebody at Yuke’s was clearly already tapped into Canadian youth culture because the sk8er girl is here.
I don’t know what is going on with Mary here. Do the people at Yuke’s think Native Americans are still dressing like Pocahontas on a daily basis? Assuming she is supposed to be a Native American, how did she end up with the incredibly European name of Mary Mason?
I don’t know what is going on with Mary here. Do the people at Yuke’s think Native Americans are still dressing like Pocahontas on a daily basis? Assuming she is supposed to be a Native American, how did she end up with the incredibly European name of Mary Mason?

Now that we’ve gone through all of that, it’s worth noting that the driver you pick has zero impact on anything. You’d think they might affect the speed or handling in some way, but there aren’t any listed stats on the driver select and no differences I could feel. In the career mode, your selected driver does show ratings for power, guts, and technique, but there’s no apparent way to raise them from their base level of one out of five.

All of that said, I know I went in on them hard, but I do in fact like the flavor that the drivers add to the game. A lot of the games in the Simple series can come off as totally devoid of personality, so it’s nice that Yuke’s made an effort to inject some.

Pit stops - one of several odd features that add nothing to the game.
Pit stops - one of several odd features that add nothing to the game.

Looking at the actual racing, the host of competitive modes on offer check all of the boxes. Standard quick race and time attack in addition to split screen head-to-head races. One questionable inclusion is a head-to-head battle mode that gives each player a bazooka to fire at the other player while driving around an open arena. It’s entirely out of place and doesn’t work very well - I suppose it’s fine that it’s included but it seems like it should’ve been cut early on in the design process.

The included career mode is surprisingly solid. You pick a driver and then lead them through a series of four race grand prix, earning money to buy new cars and upgrades along the way. You also get emails from other drivers that will challenge you to head-to-head races for credits or pinks. It feels far more fleshed out and full featured than you'd expect for something in a budget title.

The language barrier on this game is about as low as it gets. The menus are almost entirely in English, and there’s no plot or lore to miss out on. As much as I want to know what Wesley says when I press the taunt button, the voice acting communicates enough of the intent that I don’t need the details - if anything, I’m probably better off not knowing what these characters are saying since it’s probably all racist.

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As of this writing, Edit Racing is the greatest import racer of all time, primarily due to being competent and mostly inoffensive (aside from the racism). The career mode in particular is pretty solid, and I’d like to go back and finish it at some point.

Unfortunately, following that triumphant announcement, I also have to announce that anime has disappointed us all once again and delivered the new worst import racer of all time - The Racing Action: Sentou Mecha Xabungle.

Right in the middle of the pack at number two is The Tousou Highway Nagoya-Tokyo, a great concept and some solid mechanics that suffer due to being artificially padded out.

Happy Trails!

Damn that was way more than I intended to write. I’ll try to cut it down a bit for next time. In addition to still figuring out the details of this series, I’m admittedly a bit rusty with this form of writing, so I’ll gladly accept any constructive feedback you may have.

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Imports Only #0 - Planning a Ranking of Racers

The port is open for business.

For the past couple of years, I’ve found myself assembling a bit of a collection of random racing games that were never released here in the United States. It wasn’t intentional, but this was a rabbit hole that I found hard to climb out of once I was in it.

Touge Max 2 - one of the games that sparked my interest in import racing games.
Touge Max 2 - one of the games that sparked my interest in import racing games.

I’ve always enjoyed racing games, but there’s also never really been a shortage of them available in North America. Any video game enthusiast is well aware of the fact that there are games that don’t reach their own region, but rarely do many pay much attention outside of the strongest niche communities. I certainly never had much cause to keep tabs on all of the games that weren’t reaching our shores. That changed though when I actually started trying a few of these old buried racing games and realized that some were in fact treasure and not all total trash as I’d assume. Immediately I started frustratingly cursing the names of video game publishers for not delivering these games to me earlier, but that line of thought quickly gave way to me wondering how I could make up for their mistakes by tracking down more of these games.

Soon the wiki searches were going and my browser tabs were filled with eBay pages where I was trying to track down these games as cheaply and easily as possible. As sure as I was that many of these games would be bad, I really wanted to see for myself. I needed to know.

Now, after a couple of years of randomly looking at games here and there when they came to my attention, I find myself wanting to formalize this process a bit. It’s time to stop messing around here and start applying some damn science.

Enter “Imports Only” - a blog series where I plan to thoroughly document all of these foreign racing games. We’re going to find the good ones and grit our teeth through the bad ones. Before that though, I want to establish a few rules and procedures for this process.

The Rules and Directives

  1. Any racing game that was not released in North America on a home platform shall be documented and ranked. This means that games that were released in North American arcades but did not have their home ports released in North America will be ranked. For example, Initial D Special Stage for PlayStation 2 will be ranked even though the arcade game it’s based on was released here. It will also follow from this that games that were only in arcades in Japan or Europe and never had a home port do not need to ranked - however they may optionally be ranked.
  2. If a racing game was released in both Japan and Europe, documenting and ranking only one release is sufficient. For instance, Tokyo Road Race in Europe is the same as Battle Gear 2 in Japan, so it would be sufficient to just play one or the other.
  3. A game that was released in North America but was significantly different in another region may optionally be ranked. One sample case of this is the Sega Saturn game known as Highway 2000 in the US and Europe. Since it was significantly changed from its release as Wangan Dead Heat in Japan (including the unforgivable crime of removing FMV), it may be documented and ranked but it’s not required.
  4. Any Europe only release may be ignored if it is deemed sufficiently trite. I just don’t know if I can be bothered to play all of these random F1 and WRC games that somehow didn’t get a North American release. I’ll at least play a sampling of them, but I may not play all of them.
  5. Games do not need to be played to completion. Games should be played thoroughly enough to evaluate the depth, breadth, and overall quality but do not need to be played completely. This rule should particularly be taken into consideration in cases where the language barrier makes a game especially difficult to penetrate or enjoy - it’s ok to throw in the towel in these situations as long as a significant effort is made and the issue is documented.
  6. These rules may be amended or modified as is necessary to maintain the sanity of the researcher. Obviously I want to stay true to the spirit of the rules, but there may be some unforeseeable issues that need to be addressed later.
It's time...for SCIENCE!!
It's time...for SCIENCE!!

Preparations

In addition to gathering some of the games I’ll need to play to accomplish this feat of blogging, I’ve been using a database of racing games assembled by the users of the RollingStart racing game enthusiast forum to start preparing some spreadsheets and lists of all the games that will need to documented and ranked.

Since ordered lists on Giant Bomb are limited to 100 entries and I should eventually go over that limit, I’m planning on using the Google Docs spreadsheet linked here for game rankings.

Let’s Go Racing

Now that I’ve written this all out, I guess there’s no going back. There are anime kart racers and downhill touge driving games that need to documented and ranked, and while I may not be the most qualified person to do it, I’m still going to roll up the sleeves on this lab coat and apply some damn science.

I'm still trying to decide which games I want to start off with - don't want to kick things off with anything too good or too bad - but I’ll be back very soon with episode number one!

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Anatomy of a Drift: “Drift Stage” Greenlight Hoondown

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As a bright-eyed new indie developer, reading the horror stories of solid games from experienced devs getting bogged down in Greenlight hell makes the entire process seem quite daunting. So, needless to say, when I nervously clicked the ‘Publish’ button last Saturday afternoon on Drift Stage’s Greenlight page, I didn’t expect that little more than two days later we’d already be Greenlit.

While I’m not sure how much wisdom I can really impart based on our short campaign, I feel obligated to get our experience and some of my personal thoughts out there just in case it might help someone better prepare and execute their own Greenlight. At the very least, I think our experience demonstrates just how much Valve’s own approach to Greenlight has drastically shifted in the past year (or maybe even in just the past few months).

The Approach

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  • Work hard at making an exciting game.
  • Build a following by showing your work to people early and often.
  • Get invovled in the indie dev community.
  • Be nice.

By far the most critical component of our success on Greenlight was everything we did before clicking ‘Publish’. I know this sounds obvious and obnoxious to say, but it has to be said - make something awesome, show it to people, and build a community around it.

The reality of Drift Stage is that it’s just about the farthest thing from an overnight success as you can get. It’s a snowball that has slowly been growing for years. Yes, years. Charles (artist) has been wanting to make a racing game for a long time, and his earliest ideas and iterations have been floating around places like Tumblr and the Polycount forums for a long time. The attention and following garnered by his early art provided a huge initial surge to build upon once myself (code), followed soon after by Myrone (music), came on board to start building what is now known as Drift Stage.

That strong foundation beget more press as our early prototypes quickly got a lot of attention (far more than anticipated) from places like Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, and The Verge as well as car and motorsport outlets like Autoblog, Road & Track, and Car Throttle. Taking a page out of Rami Ismail's PromoterApp playbook, I’ve found it very helpful and interesting to keep track of our press coverage along with our bigger media releases just to see what generates heat for us - very helpful when you’re doing something like this and trying to piece together how you got to where you are now. Also, if you don’t already have Google Analytics set up on everything possible, you absolutely should do that right now.

Another massively helpful thing to do is to start interacting with the indie developer community early and often too. The indie dev community is by and large very welcoming. Get in there and just start listening to what people with some experience under their belt have to say. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but you should also be willing to help others when you can. Make games and get involved in game jams. Just in general, get involved and start making some gaming friends. Don’t wait until you’re trying to release a game to dive into it. The support and knowledge shared by people like David Galindo (Cook, Serve, Delicious - also check out his Gamasutra blogs) and Jordan Hemenway (Distance) has meant a ton to me and has greatly increased my confidence throughout this entire process.

The last thing I’ll say is for Pete’s sake please try to be nice to people. There’s a ton of heat and animosity being thrown around on social media and forums these days, and while this isn’t the time or place for a statement on the merits of that discussion, the bottom line is that you should be nice regardless of what your opinions are on the state of anything video games. If someone asks a question, be nice. If someone complains about something, be nice. If someone is relentlessly trolling you, go ahead and block them but BE NICE. Nobody wants to be in your corner if they think you’re a jerk.

The Entrance

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  • Cool GIF for your main Greenlight image.
  • Attention grabbing trailer, gameplay footage, screenshots.
  • Clearly defined list of key features and facts.
  • Show some press pullquotes from recognizable outlets.
  • Confident and clear social media blast.

Most of what I’ll say here is pretty evident in the bullet points. A lot of your Greenlight votes and visits are going to come directly through Steam, so you need to be able to grab people’s attention when they see your game in Steam’s recent Greenlight submissions or come across it in their queue. A cool GIF will help your game stand out in the crowd on the recent submissions page, and a quickly paced trailer will grab the attention of anyone that makes it to your page. People aren’t going to want to read a whole scribe about what your plans are, so try to make sure you summarize your big points in a concise bulleted list. If you have any press coverage, you probably want to show that off too in some short representative pullquotes.

Once you have your Greenlight page assembled and ready to go, blast your stuff out on social media. Put a cool screenshot with it, present your call to action clearly and confidently, and don’t mess up the link. You’ll also want to make sure you update your site with a Greenlight widget. We also updated the description on our YouTube videos with a link to the Greenlight, but I don’t think that actually made much of an impact. In general, just spread the link around to every place you can sensibly share it, but try to resist the urge to spam it in places that you’ve never before interacted or participated - it’s only going to make you look like a mindless spammer, and it might actually end up being detrimental to your overall reputation.

One neat tip with regards to links that I found helpful (credit to Black Annex’s Lance McDonald - here’s his /r/gamedev post about it) is that you can actually create a link that will open your Greenlight page in the Steam client rather than the web browser. You’ll want to only offer this as an alternative though - offering it as the only option will just confuse and frustrate some people. Since most browsers and services won’t recognize it as a hyperlink, you will need to make a separate page on your website that uses something like PHP or JavaScript to open the link (here’s a link to the page I made to see it in action - just view-source to see how easy it is).

The Apex

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  • Maintain your momentum. Keep people aware without getting spammy.
  • Stay engaged. Reply to comments, questions, mentions, etc.

I can’t really offer much here since Drift Stage’s Greenlight campaign only ran for about 54 hours in total, but a lot of it seems to me to just be continuing to do the things you (hopefully) did prior to launching your campaign. Answer questions, show appreciation for positive feedback, and thank people when they mention your Greenlight. You’ll want to continue to periodically drop reminders in social media, and you might even go directly to specific people to see if they noticed. However, just remember to show some restraint and avoid looking like just “that annoying spammer guy”.

We launched on a Saturday, so we had little to no press promotion of our Greenlight, but if we had continued well into the week, we had planned to go down that path of reaching out to press contacts with new material.

The Exit

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  • Try not to die of a heart attack when you see the e-mail from Steam.
  • Dance! Dance! Dance! It’s a celebration.
  • Stay humble and voice your appreciation. Share your experience.

Monday night, little more than two days after starting our Greenlight run and much to my surprise, I received an e-mail from Steam informing us that Drift Stage had been Greenlit. After catching my breath and basking in the green glow momentarily with Myrone and Charles, we went ahead and did yet another social media blast informing everyone of the success and showing our immense gratitude for all of the support.

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How did we get through so quickly? I’m not really sure. In general, Valve has been much quicker on letting games through lately. Whereas a year or longer ago, you may have needed tens of thousands of ‘Yes’ votes to get Greenlit, you now only need several thousand. They seem to have gotten even less stringent since they moved away from doing big batches in August. As you can see on the graphic, we got through at 2,357 votes which was about 50% of the way to being in the Top 100 rankings.

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I can only speculate on what exactly Valve’s criteria is for Greenlighting games, but they seem to put a lot more weight on your Greenlight campaigns momentum (how quickly you’re accumulating ‘Yes’ votes) and reaching the Top 100 rankings (many games seem to get Greenlit almost immediately after hitting or getting near this threshold - which is typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 ‘Yes’ votes). Also, I’m only guessing here, but it seems like Valve must be leaning a lot more on just using their own discretion as it’s much harder to piece together any strict statistical requirements for what they approve and what they don’t. For instance, a certain game which shall go unnamed just recently got about 13,000 ‘Yes’ votes and shot up to #7 in the rankings in the span of just a few hours but is still sitting in Greenlight, and if that game was at #7, that means there are other games with even more votes ranked higher that haven’t been Greenlit.

As far as traffic sources go, since our campaign ran largely just during the weekend and had little to no press, we got by almost entirely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) and direct Steam traffic. I’m again just speculating here, but that direct Steam traffic may have been bolstered by the current Winter auction and Winter in general just putting more people in front of their computer on the weekend rather than being out and about.

The Follow-through

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  • Keep your head down and focus on making a great game.
  • Keep your followers engaged and interested.

We’re just entering in to this phase, but I can tell you that my primary plan here is to just keep focusing on trying to make the best game I can make and to continue keeping people informed about what we’re doing. If we’re lucky, maybe everything will continue to go even just half as smoothly and painlessly as Steam Greenlight.

Thanks for giving this blog post a look. Hopefully it might be of some help to some of you out there. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me on Twitter or via e-mail, and I hope you’ll follow along with the continued development of Drift Stage on Twitter, Tumblr, andFacebook as well.

NOTE: This is cross-posted from Tumblr and is highly self-promotional. That's why it's NOT posted on the GB forums and only to my personal blog.

10 Comments

Rival Bombs: Another GB Bomberman Clone

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Yeah, that's right. You've probably already seen BomberDuder from @fobwashed, but there's another Bomberman clone in this town. Admittedly, this idea spawned from the head of @fobwashed with the primary goal of producing a functional Bomberman clone to play while waiting in PAX lines.

Box City!
Box City!

Brad in all his plaid glory. Basic movement spritesheet.
Brad in all his plaid glory. Basic movement spritesheet.

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While I did start working on this prior to @fobwashed starting his, I actually haven't made quite as much progress on the mechanics at this point. I've only got very basic movement and bomb mechanics at the moment, but now that I have a bit more free time I should be progressing at a decent clip and will hopefully catch up to him soon with kicking and throwing and what not.

I have a long list of features I'd like to implement (using the best Bomberman - Saturn Bomberman - as the blueprint), but for the time being, it's basically just a race to make something vaguely functional and fun within the next 1.5 weeks. Whether or not I continue to work on it after that is up in the air.

I'm working in Haxe/OpenFL with the HaxeFlixel framework. I plan on compiling Windows, Mac, and Flash builds - I'll probably out of convenience only be doing Flash and/or Windows builds of the initial demos that I post here. I'll also eventually open up my GitHub repository for anyone that wants to dive into my code for whatever reason.

I'll keep this blog post updated as I progress and make some demo builds available along the way.

Latest Build - 04/10/2014

34 Comments

Game Jam Roundup - Mini-LD 44 aka #7dRTS

Intro

Yep, I'm back with yet another look at a bunch of games from a recent game jam. This time looking at games from Mini-Ludum Dare #44.

If you aren't familiar with Ludum Dare, it's one of the longest running and most respected game jams out there with the likes of indie game pioneers like Notch gracing it with his presence (even before he was Notch). The Mini-LD isn't quite the same as a full on Ludum Dare game jam: a host is selected which picks a theme they want and the rule set and ratings are relaxed. The participation is generally much lower in these events that fill the gaps between proper Ludum Dare events that occur once every four months, but you still often see some interesting things coming out of the event.

Mini-LD 44 offered up a pretty straight forward theme - Seven Day RTS (7dRTS). As the name implies, the goal was to make an Real-Time Strategy game over the course of a week. Of course, this theme comes with the typical encouragement to experiment and push the boundaries and with this being a Mini-LD there's even less pressure to stick to what's expected.

As with the previous game jam roundups that I've done, the standard disclaimers apply. I haven't played everything, and inclusion or exclusion from this list doesn't necessarily imply anything about quality. These are just a sampling of games that I've played that I found to be worth telling people about. I encourage you peruse the entire list of 99 entries if you get a chance.

The Highlights

The Great Story of DOTS

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This is my favorite game of the bunch. It simplifies RTS base building and unit movements down to just drawing lines and geometric shapes. It's entire presentation is polished and nice looking, too. Everything about this package just comes together perfectly, and I'm really hoping that the developers take the time to expand this into a full fledged game, ideally on iPad since I think this control scheme would work extremely well on a touch screen device.

Lode Storm

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Lode Storm is possibly the most atmospheric game that I've played. The audio does an excellent job of establishing a tense mood, and the Command & Conquer style radio chatter just sounds flat out cool. The gameplay is stripped down to just controlling a few individual units in a battle for control points, and it has a very slow and deliberate movement speed to it that feels pretty unique in comparison to today's more twitchy RTS games.

Icarus

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Icarus is another entry that does a pretty good job of using audio to set the tone. This game puts you in charge of rescuing people in a galaxy with an ever expanding sun that is swallowing up entire planets, but the overall tone of the game is simply one of impending doom which lets you know that not everyone is coming out of this alive.

FrogForce

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Dungeon crawlers and Real-Time Strategy aren't two genres often seen together, but FrogForce does an admirable job of combining them into one lighthearted package. It puts you in direct control of a hero unit along with a set of three compatriots controlled through fairly conventional RTS controls. It even features a pretty healthy upgrade system which goes a long way toward making this feel like a deep full-fledged game.

Chess

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If you've ever found chess to be slow and boring, this might be the game for your. Essentially, this is just chess, but with the twist that there is no turn taking, it's all in real time. Chess pieces still follow their standard movement rules, but now rather than having to wait your turn, you're only limited by a small cooldown placed on pieces after they've been moved. The bottom line on this one is just that it's good hectic fun. Try it out.

Love Squad

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When a developer with a hacker alias like DogShitEmpire puts out a game, you pretty much know it's going to be something crazy. Love Squad doesn't disappoint. This game puts you in control of the "Lovenecks", the 7th Battalion of the eponymous Love Squad. Your goal is to spread love and fight the Hateitis pandemic. Honestly, what else can I say other than that. It's a bit incomplete and buggy, but just go try it out anyway.

Oh, and I also made a game. I guess you can check it out if you want to.

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Goodbye, Ryan! Thanks for Everything!

I'm still really struggling to come to terms with this whole thing.

In the past five years, I've really come to count on GB as a point of stability in my life. There's always been something immensely comforting to me knowing that Ryan, the rest of the crew, and this amazing community were always just a click away regardless of what I had going on.

I know that a lot of people out there probably do raise an eyebrow when they see someone with a personal connection to a website and the community and personalities that inhabit it, but that's just because they don't have the same set of experiences that we do. I'll be honest with you guys, I've always struggled a bit to fit in socially (I'm sure I'm not the only one here that feels that way). I wouldn't call myself socially awkward exactly. I'm capable of being cordial and carrying on casual conversation, but it's extremely rare that I'm able to connect with people on a meaningful level and form rewarding long term relationships. However, connecting with GB's staff and community has always felt pretty natural to me.

We might be on opposites sides of a screen, but it's always felt like we're all kindred spirits here. I never met Ryan in person, and I lament that now I never will, but it already felt like we were buds. That was really the magic of Ryan, and it's a testament to just how special this little experiment called Giant Bomb really is. GB isn't just yet another assembly line for trailers, rumors, and reviews. It's a platform for real people to put their life, passion, and assorted eccentricities on display for all to see, and Ryan thrived in that environment. Not because he was good at his job (even though he was pretty damn good at it), but simply because he was an amazing human being with the sort of larger than life personality that can fill a room. His booming laughter will forever echo in our hearts and minds, and his stories and life will live on in GB lore.

Thanks for everything, Ryan! And because I know you'd probably groan if you ever saw us being so serious about this whole thing, here's this:

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The Reluctant Death of a "M$ Shill" - A Defense of the Old Xbox One Policies

I'm burning my hat and briefcase! The door to door defense campaign is at an end. Where's my money, Microsoft?
I'm burning my hat and briefcase! The door to door defense campaign is at an end. Where's my money, Microsoft?

With today's news of Microsoft dropping their originally proposed digital purchase policies from the Xbox One, I thought it fitting to sum up my feelings in a blog post on why I think this might not be the best direction for console gaming.

He's not a bad kid. He's just misunderstood.
He's not a bad kid. He's just misunderstood.

Personally, I stand by my defense of a lot of Microsoft's policies. While it was certainly marred by horrific PR messaging on an unprecedented scale, I think that the all digital future that Microsoft was pushing for the Xbox One had a lot of potential benefits both for users and the industry.

There certainly would've been backlash from some regardless of the way MS delivered the news, but the inconsistent and muddled messaging added a lot of fuel to the fire. Personally, I think if people calmed down and were a bit more rational about things, most of them would see this as just the reality of the modern video game landscape and a necessary step, if maybe a premature one, in the path that games have already been headed down for the past few years. I also think that those policies really would've only negatively impacted a small portion of those that were screaming. However calmer heads and rationale never really had a chance in the face of today's internet hivemind culture and what I personally view as an increasingly overwrought sense of gamer entitlement that is running amok.

I'll admit that I think MS should have provided a bit more flexibility. There are several proposed methods out there that I think could have kept digital purchases secured while making things easier for people with limited or no internet connectivity available. However, this half step that Sony, and now Microsoft as well, are making toward digital doesn't seem like enough to me. Sure, I'll appreciate the convenience of making day one digital purchases when the clock strikes midnight, but the firm foothold that the Xbox One and PS4 will continue to have in the physical media and retail space is going to continue to be an anchor.

I know his attitude can be a little abrasive at times, but the dude made Jazz MOTHERFUCKIN' Jackrabbit. Clearly he knows a thing or two about video games.
I know his attitude can be a little abrasive at times, but the dude made Jazz MOTHERFUCKIN' Jackrabbit. Clearly he knows a thing or two about video games.

There's a reason that guys like David Jaffe, Cliff Bleszinski, and Mikey Neumann were out there supporting these efforts. They've seen the numbers and are highly aware of the harsh realities of modern game development. A lot of publishers and developers are really struggling out there right now. If we want video games to be a healthy industry, something has to be done.

Purely digital storefronts ala Steam, unencumbered by discs, shelf space, and traditional retailer pressure, are able to provide more flexible pricing models and remove sources of potential lost revenue such as used game purchases and rentals. However, by sticking with the status quo, developers and publishers of games on the PS4 and Xbox One are going to have to stick with the same practices that gamers have been complaining about for the past several years. The "keep the disc in the tray" mentality. Things like tacked on multiplayer, microtransactions, preorder bonuses, online passes, and unfriendly DLC practices are all here to stay.

Over the course of this generation, I'm sure that digital purchases will continually gain ground in the marketplace, and at some point probably supplant the vast majority of disc purchases. Whether you like it or not, games are going to continue to become increasingly social, connected, and more representative of services rather than property. At a certain point, a once per day authorization might even seem trivial because more and more games will be relying on persistant worlds and other "cloud" features as core parts of their experience.

It remains to be seen if games like The Division can deliver on the promise of the oft-misunderstood
It remains to be seen if games like The Division can deliver on the promise of the oft-misunderstood "cloud", but I'm really hoping that they can.

My fear is just that in the near term this reliance on the "tried and true" has the potential to be a real burden and could do more harm than good. Winning over the hearts and minds of users and selling hardware preorders might not matter all that much if developers are hamstrung by the same old song and dance they have to do to keep their doors open for business. For the time being though, I'm willing to concede to the popular opinion while hoping that digital distribution gains momentum and can come to prominence in a slightly less forced manner when more people are ready for it.

</rant>

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Ludum Dare 26 "Minimalism" Roundup - A Quick Look at What I've Played

Source: http://www.icoderogue.com/2013/05/all-ld26-games-on-one-mosaic.html
Source: http://www.icoderogue.com/2013/05/all-ld26-games-on-one-mosaic.html

Intro

This past weekend marked the 26th official running of the long-standing Ludum Dare game jam competition. For those unfamiliar with the event, it's a 48 hour solo competition that challenges game developers to create a game centered around a core theme that is selected through a series of community votes. A few years ago, in order to encourage more participants, a "relaxed" 72 hour jam that allowed for team entries started running in parallel with the traditional solo competition. If you ask me, producing a solid game even in 72-hours with a team is still pretty damn stressful, but it does certainly seem to have served it's purpose of drawing in a larger crowd with a wider range of skill levels.

This time out the community selected theme was "Minimailism", and in spite of some initial moans and groans about the selection, the turnout was massive! With a bit over 2300 entries (~1600 in the 48 hour compo and ~700 in the 72 hour jam), the community has a hell of a lot of game playing to pack in over a three week period in order to give all of the entries a fair assessment.

Over the past few days, I've started digging through some of the games, and what I've brought here is a sampling of some of the games that have stood out to me. This is by no means a definitive list of everything worth playing though. With so many games to try out, a single person can really only give so many of them a fair look. That's why I strongly encourage you to go take a look at the full list in addition to what I've called out below. Do a bit of digging, try out some random games, and give some encouraging and constructive feedback to some people. Making a game in 48 hours isn't easy, and everyone that managed to complete something deserves some major props, so go give them some.

The following list is in no particular order, and I'm sure that there are plenty of awesome games that I missed, so feel free to tell me about them.

Highlights of What I've Played That I Have Time to Write About

Drop by Notch

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While Notch may have elected to not actually submit this game he made last weekend to the Ludum Dare competition, it certainly deserves to be listed alongside them. Drop is something of a minimalist action game tribute to Mavis Beacon. As someone that genuinely has a fondness for some of those old "learn to type" edutainment titles, it's always interesting to see that extended to something resembling more of an actual game. While it certainly isn't as outlandish as Typing of the Dead, this game is definitely worth a look.

The Road by George Broussard

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Hail to the king, baby. Yup, the father of Duke Nukem decided to drop an LD entry. The Road really embraces the minimalism theme by keeping things simple: go as far right as you can without hitting a spike. It sounds simple, but it's deceptively challenging. Luckily, as a consolation for dying over and over again, you get a humorous randomly selected message about the obstacle in your life that ended it. Maybe it'll be "laughing too hard at a Louis CK joke" or maybe "waiting too long for Firefly to come back". Regardless, I had a pretty enjoyable time throwing myself against spikes for a while, and it's satisfying to see that somewhere buried deep inside of George Broussard, he still knows how to make good games.

Lumiere by Orihaus

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Lumiere is by far the most visually and technically impressive game that I've seen coming out of this LD crop. The game sets the player free to explore a procedurally generated sprawling mass of metal, glass, and light adrift in space. It's a downright beautiful vista to float through, and it's something of a showpiece for what can be done in a very short timespan with the Unity engine. The one knock against it would be that its touted "no enemies, no puzzles, no obstacles" certainly fits with the theme of "minimalism", but it makes for an experience that's pretty slim on gameplay.

The Sentient Cube by Taro Omiya

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The developer of this game describes it as combining "Katamari Damacy and Crazy Taxi" which is a pretty accurate comparison. The Sentient Cube puts you in control of the eponymous polygon and challenges you to roll up other objects in an increasingly larger mound and get your ball of junk into a goal within a time limit. The physics based gameplay and the camera control can at times spiral out of control to a point where it goes from entertaining to hair-pulling frustration, but I still managed to reach the ending without failing a level.

100% Safe Download by 3.14

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While initially this game seems like simply a maze crawl collectathon, things get pretty interesting after you pass over a check point and hear the laughter of an evil Russian hacker echoing through your speakers. While the look and feel of this game certainly embrace the minimalism of old-school Adventure, the extra atmosphere that the voice-over brings certainly makes this something a bit grander.

REVOLVENGARDE by Andrio

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This game feels like a place where Bit.Trip hero Commander Video would feel right at home. Players rotate a set of paddles around an orb in the center of the screen to deflect color-coded blocks (and potatoes...don't ask...). It captures that simple satisfaction of classic block-bounding gameplay of things like Breakout and Warlords with a slightly modern feeling twist. A banging track in the background also helps to keep pulling you back in for just one more round.

(Follow the) Line by Chman

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It doesn't get much more minimalist than this. All you have to do is just press one button to make a line turn so that it stays on a predefined path...and yet, somehow something so simple is a massive challenge. In much the same way that games like Super Meat Boy have you trying over and over again to make one jump, this game will have you trying over and over again to just make that one turn. While it could use a little work to make the controls more responsive, overall this is a very polished experience.

Katana Senpou by Studio Miniboss

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What's more minimalist that Rock, Paper, Scissors? This game puts you in the middle of a Ninja Gaiden title sequence style duel between two ninjas where you each must simply select rocku/papperu/scizoru and attack when signalled. While you can play this solo, it really shines as a multiplayer game. Since each player can see which option the other player has selected, there's very much a mind game element of deciding whether or not to throw in a last milisecond change or just shoot for having the fastest response to the signal which could save you if your opponent picked a stronger option. Slick and stylized visuals also help this game really standout.

Cube Cube Cube by rezoner

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Hey, remember Tetrishpere? Well, this game isn't actually all that much like it (maybe a little), but I just wanted to know if people remember Tetrisphere. On the subject of the game we're actually looking at here, Cube Cube Cube, it's a match three puzzle game where you rotate a circle to stack blocks of different colors. It's a competent and fun little puzzle game with some pretty graphics, but the real highlight here is the soundtrack. With every 100 points you get, another layer is added to the music which really keeps propelling the game forward as the speed also ratchets up and the block stacking becomes more frenzied.

Broke Down by saguaro

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One of my favorite indie gaming experiences so far this year has been Even Cowgirls Bleed, a quick but very cleverly written and delivered visual novel experience authored by Christine Love. Broke Down managed to scratch a similar itch by delivering a well-written and shockingly non-traditional story (emphasis on shocking, this is some highly NSFW reading material here) with an interesting visual novel format. If you're still looking for more fun with branching stories, also give Nod a quick look.

Toom by Mike Kasprzak and Derek Laufman

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Out of the LD games that I've seen, this single room point-and-click adventure is certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing, with a beautiful art style that seems to pull both from Lucasarts classics and modern art house hit Sworcery. Some of the leaps in logic in the item combinations didn't really make sense to me, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Gods Will Be Watching by GreyShock

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Gods Will Be Watching puts you in charge of a small crew that have become stranded on a distant planet. In order to survive, you have to manage your food, medicine, and sanity in order to repair your radio and survive 40 days until you can be rescued. Like Toom, this game also offers single screen point-and-click adventure style action in a visually appealing package. However, what I think makes this a better overall gameplay experience is that the stakes are higher and there's much more logic in the way you approach how you manage your crew and supplies. The juggling act of making sure everything gets done that needs to get done makes this feel a bit like a puzzle or sim management game. Highly recommended!

SPACE TEST 48 by Lazy Brain Games

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Looking like something straight out of Llamasoft, SPACE TEST 48 is a unique and genuinely fun action game with some major acid-trip visuals. The mechanics are simple yet refined and challenging. For the sake of not ruining the game's invitation that "YOU FIGURE OUT RULES, IS PART OF SPACE TEST", I won't go into details about how the game works, but just know that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of making my way through the nine levels of the space test.

i need to lie down by Andy Sum

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If you have any issues with asthma or hypertension, maybe you shouldn't play this game. I have a pretty healthy heart and set of lungs and this game still made me feel like I was going to hyperventalate or have a heart attack. In this game you take control of a little blue scribble trying to stay away from a mass of black scribbles that is constantly increasing in size. As that black scribble increases in size, it's gravitational pull also becomes stronger making it increasingly more difficult to stay away from it. It's a stressful gameplay experience that is perfectly underscored and heightened with an impressive set of audio and visual stressers. This game really expertly demonstrates that even with very minimal sound and graphics, you can evoke a very real physical and emotional response from a player.

Games That Are Very Good But Can Be Difficult to Play If You're Color Blind

A Few Other Games I Tried Out That Are Worth a Look

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