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  • Age of Stupid

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving No comments

    Age of Conan survives one year, gains unspecified growth

    090518-conan

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Bikkuriman World

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 3 comments

    0360Bikkuriman World
    (ビックリマンワールド)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.76 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “An action game with RPG elements. The object is to defeat Black Zeus, the personification of evil waiting in the final level. A port of the arcade game Monster Land. The characters have been changed, but the content is largely the same.”

    Largely, a port of Wonder Boy in Monster Land with characters from the Bikkuriman series of anime, tradable stickers, and other bits of 80s merchandise shoehorned in. The retail price is the same as Shanghai, although that game’s half the ROM size.

    03640363

    This is a remarkably faithful port of Westone’s original arcade game. Almost. There’s a trick in the arcade game where, if you flicked the joystick left and right on top of a point where money appeared, you’d sometimes be awarded with 68 gold, which made your shopping a remarkable deal easier. Apparently this was a bug, not a feature, ‘cos it’s removed here — and what’s more, the game seems to be stingier with money overall, so you’re pretty much always short unless you reconsider your shopping pattern fully.

    Other than that (and some cut-out animation and an extremely simplified ending), it’s a perfect port and not a terrible showcase piece for the PCE at the very beginning. A kind of obscure showpiece, but…

    US gamers, if they were introduced to Wonder Boy in Monster Land at all, got their intro through the Sega Master System port released in 1987. That version (along the computer ports Activision released in Europe) actually lacked a lot of the arcade game’s soundtrack, which is a shame ‘cos there’s a lot of good stuff in there. My favorite tune in Bikkuriman is the desert theme — one that got used in about half of the SMS port’s levels, but is far rarer in the original.


    Part 2

    Here’s a guy beating Bikkuriman World without dying or even using the life potion you start out with. Things start to get hairy starting midway through. I forgot that the game doesn’t even give you the chance to buy armor until Round 3.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] PC Engine FAN

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 64 comments

    pcenginefanxI’ll be mentioning this magazine at least once in nearly every I ♥ The PC Engine entry, so I should probably go into depth on it a little more.

    PC Engine FAN was the longest-lasting magazine in Japan exclusively dedicated to NEC systems, beating out rival mags Gekkan PC Engine (Shogakukan) and Marukatsu PC Engine (Kadokawa Shoten) to the market by a month in late 1988. Published by Tokuma Shoten, the mag started out as a separate department of Family Computer Magazine, Tokuma’s flagship console publication; the “FAN” name was also used by sister titles MSX FAN and Mega Drive FAN.

    Most of PC Engine FAN’s covers were either drawn or designed by Akemi Takada, an artist and illustrator who’s best known overseas for her contributions to the Patlabor anime series. Takada began her run by drawing original compositions based on whatever hot game was being discussed inside, but after 1993 the magazine created Mana, a sort of anime-girl mascot, and made her the main subject of most covers. Near the end of the mag’s run, Tokuma released a CD-ROM that had hi-res versions of all the covers that featured Mana, along with a few audio tracks of her singing. (That’s her up there, dressed as Chun Li, in mid-’93.)

    Gekkan and Marukatsu folded with their respective January 1994 issues, making FAN and Dengeki PC Engine the entirety of the PCE-specific marketplace. Dengeki renamed itself to Dengeki G’s Engine (currently Dengeki G’s Magazine) in 1996 and became a multiplatform mag devoted to “girl games,” but FAN couldn’t do this since Tokuma already had a gal-game mag, Virtual IDOL, in its lineup. In the end, both PC Engine FAN and MSX FAN became targeted primarily toward amateur software developers for their final years, although that trend didn’t last long — PC Engine FAN closed up with its October 1996 issue, with two specials released late on in ’97.

    A lot of the PCE’s history in Japan is intertwined with PCE FAN. Kazuhiro Ochi drew a Cosmic Fantasy manga in it for a year or so. The magazine sold a second pressing of Magical Chase via mail-order after the original publisher went bankrupt almost immediately after releasing the shooter classic. And so on.

    A PCE game’s “PC Engine FAN Score” in my entries is the average score for the game as rated by readers who sent in scores to the magazine. The score’s out of 30 and divided into six fields, from character design to “addictiveness” (netchuudo) and value for money. I have these average scores for most, but not all, of the PCE library, and while PCE FAN’s readers had a tendency to rate gal-games high and the more obscure, obtuse releases lower, it’s still a reasonably accurate guide to what’s good and crap in the PCE library. Generally speaking, if a game’s PCE FAN score is over 20.00 then it’s very solid; if it’s over 25.00 then it’s a vital part of any PCE owner’s collection.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Shanghai

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    3090

    Shanghai (上海)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (1 Mbit)
    Genre: Puzzle
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.13 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A puzzle game where you must remove identical pairs of mahjong tiles from the edge of a multi-layered pile until none remain. There are extra conveniences in this game, like a Help function that tells you which tiles are available for taking.”

    This and Bikkuriman World are the two launch titles for the PC Engine in Japan. Despite this, Bikkuriman World is marked “Vol. 2” in Hudson’s PCE titling and Shanghai is “Vol. 4.” Hmm.

    3093

    “Shanghai” is the world trademark for the mahjong-solitaire computer game created by Brodie Lockard in 1981 and marketed commercially by Activision beginning in 1986. All told, about ten million copies of Shanghai games have been sold worldwide. In Japan, System Soft released Shanghai on the local PC platforms in 1987 and Sunsoft released it in arcades and on the Famicom late that year, but Hudson seems to have worked out their own rights in order to make the PCE version. (I originally thought Hudson sublicensed the rights from Sunsoft, but there’s no copyright text to back that up and Sun’s arcade game actually doesn’t have much in common with this implementation.)

    The question of Shanghai’s origins is actually a really hot topic, or was back in the mid-90s when there were dozens of shareware clones filling up bargain-bin CD-ROMs in every computer store in America. The very short version of the tale:

    • Brad Fregger, producer on the original Mac Shanghai, wrote in 1998 that Brodie told him the game was based on an old Chinese mahjong variant called “The Turtle.”
    • There is Chinese-language book of mahjong history, written in 1984, that describes a very Shanghai-like solitaire game “played by children” too young to follow all the intricacies of full-on mahjong. This seems to back up Brodie’s statement.
    • However, Brodie himself later denied saying anything like that to Fregger, implying that he came up with the idea independently instead.
    • It was important for Brodie to maintain this, because otherwise Activision didn’t have a leg to stand on in pursuing Shanghai clonemakers. (They didn’t chase every single freeware programmer, of course, but they did slap C&Ds down on anyone foolhardy enough to use the word “Shanghai” in the title of their clone.)

    There is a very long history page that outlines this little piece of drama as it unfolded on Usenet’s rec.games.mahjong in 1998. If you have a lot of free time, use Google Groups to poke around that era. (Way before 4chan or Something Awful were even conceived, Usenet posters had trolling down to a science.)

    Anyway, this particular port is Shanghai at its dead simplest. Only one table configuration, and the game doesn’t expressly tell you when there are no legal moves left (you have to use the Hint function to find out). I’m not sure why Hudson needed 128KB to program this. …At least the music is good. I like “Melody 2” the best, but the ending jingle is refreshing, too. Below is a YouTube vid of someone successfully completing a game, just in case you really want to see the dragon at the end. The sound falls out of sync halfway through, but I give the uploader credit for recording off a real machine.

  • Not really understanding the issue

    Posted on May 13th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    090513-nintendo

    I think Nintendo was using NeoGAF for business guidance until 2004, when they decided to do the opposite of what people post on there instead. It explains a great deal.

  • “The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 2

    Posted on May 13th, 2009 keving No comments

    090513-akihabara1

    Looking back, I was amazed I holed myself up in there, ten hours or so at a time, open to close, despite how unhealthy it all was. Odd how it didn’t bother me at all. I was knee-deep in that realm on a daily basis. But the hours spent playing filled me. The feeling I got with every cheer that leapt from the audience when I landed an extended combo, with every complimentary wry smile I shared with my opponent regardless of who won or lost, was indescribable.

    Here is chapter two of The Phantom of Akihabara: GAME OVER, a serial novel written by Yoshitaka Ohsawa that takes retro games and uses them to weave a tale of suspense and post-apocalyptic sullenness. In a collapsed Japan where all the “poison” has been removed from mass media, the otaku culture of the past finds a way to survive in the wreckage. Ryohei Takamizawa’s job is to find rare and out-of-print games for his nostalgia-happy clients. What’s he up to this chapter?

    Happy readin’.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Runark / Growl

    Posted on May 12th, 2009 keving No comments


    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click that “…” word balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    Runark (Growl outside of Japan) is the most ridiculous Double Dragon clone ever. It has a great deal of good ideas — throwing tons of enemies (probably over a thousand) at you, putting you in a variety of ever-changing situations, exhibiting a few neat subtle graphical touches.

    It’s all overshadowed by the fact that it’s the early 20th century and you’re an extremely unbalanced animal-rights activist who uses grenades and rocket launches to kill hundreds and hundreds of poachers (mainly newsies and girls in miniskirts), saving your beloved animals from their assault. Except for bats, because screw those bastards. The enemy also has clown-car-like tanks that can hold nine people at once. And so on. (Taito actually censored the dismemberment in the 2005 rerelease included with Taito Memories 1 on the PS2.)

    Game Area 51 is a group on Nico that posts videos of arcade games played really well. Not TASed, just really well. The above video shows them beating Runark in about 15 minutes without taking a single hit. It turns out the whip is the most powerful weapon in the game, the only one that lets you attack (a bit unnaturally) in two directions. Simon Belmont is super jealous.

  • ShenMue 3

    Posted on May 11th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    Sega Vintage Collection 2 Brings Gunstar Heroes to XBLA, PSN

    090511-sega

    I was going to make a joke about how Croteam would be a great dev for Kotaku comment user “Ero-Sennin’s” mind-bending dream because they havent updated their website in three years and could probably use the work, but — whoa — they went and updated it today. Darn.

  • 3D Deathchase

    Posted on May 11th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    crash010008

    This is page 8 of issue one (February ’84) of Crash, the first really “modern” video game magazine, and it happens to be the very first review they ever printed. Naturally, it’s for 3D Deathchase, a late-’83 game that ZX Spectrum fans hold in such high regard that Your Sinclair called it the “best Speccy game ever” in a 1992 feature. I can sorta dig it. Certainly it’s the best game reviewed in this issue, and it’s a classic example of the pre-Atari-shock “play forever” action genre — gradually increasing challenge, simple rules, just enough visual splendor to keep your attention, a just-one-more-game addiction level (98%, if this review’s to be believed) that’s out of sight. Yes, even today. It’s particularly amazing because it’s only 16K long; if you were too cheap for a 48K Speccy model in ’83, no worries.

    Apparently 3D Deathchase is set in the year 2501. North America is lookin’ pretty good, huh?

    This review pretty well exemplifies how Crash handled reviews for the first few years — description of the game, then two or three paragraphs with criticism from different reviewers. At this point, Roger Kean, Oliver Frey, and Matthew Uffindell were the entire editorial team. I don’t know how they did it.

    You can also see how the review gives you a very quick outline of how to control the game. They never said this outright (and I think denied it when called out on it in a letter several months after), but I’m sure this was meant to be a service for readers who got their Speccy games exclusively from copied C-60 tapes passed around during lunch break.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Multitap

    Posted on May 11th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    Multitap (マルチタップ)

    Maker: NEC Home Electronics (NEC-HE)
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price: 2480 yen

    Up to 5 Players at Once?!

    mtap

    From the moment the PC Engine was conceived, “multiplayer” was the serious watchword. Multiplayer was possible on the Famicom and other game systems at the time, of course (Mario Bros. was the FC equivalent to Halo 3 in terms of multiplayer addictiveness, once you threw out that “co-op” BS and played by the Marquess of Queensbury rules instead), but it was strictly one-on-one. How about some party games where everyone in the room could get in the action? That question was on Hudson’s mind from the very beginning stages of the PC Engine’s design.

    Having the question in mind is all well and good, but the hardware needs to support it before it can become a reality. As a result, the hardware support for multiplayer was implemented, and the PCE went on sale, while the software to take advantage of it was still in development or the concept stage. Instead of throwing two controllers on the unit Famicom-style, the PCE wound up having a single removable controller port, requiring the Multitap for games with multiple players.

    Supporting up to five players at once on the PC Engine is an interesting example of “more is more,” something you don’t see very often in Japanese consumer engineering like this. They wanted to have as many controllers snaking out of this thing as possible, no doubt. Interestingly, the Multitap’s design remained unchanged (even in color) for the entire life of the PCE.

    There was just one problem: games that support five players at once had a tendency to not come out very much. One-on-one or co-op games really only needed two controller ports, which made the five on the Multitap seem like too much of a good thing. The hardware manufacturers of the age must have thought the same thing, as the PCE saw later third-party multitap peripherals like the Joytap 3 (Hudson, 3 ports), the X-HE2 (Dempa Shinbunsha, 2 ports), the Battle Tap (Big Club/Nihon Soft, 4 ports), and much later on, the Twin Tap (Sur de Wave, 2 ports).

    The first PC Engine game that supported the Multitap was Hudson’s YuuYuu Jinsei (1988). Even that, though, was simply a video version of The Game of Life, something that could be played just fine by passing the controller around the players with each turn, so it wasn’t much of a showcase for the accessory. The thing didn’t become practically useful until Namco’s Pro Tennis World Court (1988), which allowed for four-player doubles matches. Dungeon Explorer, an action RPG released the following year, was the first PCE game to support up to five players at once.

    PCE multiplayer didn’t really take off until Hudson tackled it in depth, releasing games like Super Momotaro Dentetsu (1989) and Bomberman (1990). These two titles became the standard party games on the PCE, getting ported to all manner of other consoles and staying in circulation as viable franchises to this day. Good things come to those who wait, apparently, because early PCE adopters had to wait a whopping three years for the Multitap to seem like a smart purchase.