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  • Out Run (Sega, September 1986)

    Posted on March 30th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    What red-blooded ’80s boy, no matter which side of the ocean he lived near, didn’t have a poster of the Ferrari Testarossa in his bedroom? One that always depicted the supercar of all supercars framed around a matte-black background, maybe with a few white clouds of smoke around the sides for effect? Anyone who didn’t was a dweeb, a dork, a Sega Master System owner, and no doubt they’re the ones busing your table at the Steakountry Buffet this evening. Make sure to give them a decent tip, because c’mon, man, they had a hard life, they’re driving beige Camrys, they don’t know no better.

    Since few of us have actually sat inside a Testarossa, it’s not well-known that the Italian speedster can operate at its top spec speed of 294 km/h on literally any type of road surface — tarmac, sand, grass, the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the Ferrari Testarossa is fully submersible. Italy, you know, it’s a very high-water-table country. Flash floods kind of creep up on you. It’s a safety feature.

    Yu Suzuki, being a man of refined automobile tastes, naturally knew that. That’s why, if you carefully shift gears in a high-low-high pattern on the edge of the road, you can run over any sort of terrain you like in Out Run for up to seven seconds without any speed penalty while the game tries to figure out where you’re going. It’s a feature (I wouldn’t dare call it a bug, for doing so would suggest that the Testarossa is not the divine vehicle for the soul which it is) that became household knowlege in Japan after Gamest and other mags brought it up in their strategy guides in 1987.

    Unfortunately, the timing behind this move can be pretty tricky, and most gamers flailed away at the arcade cabinet’s gearshift like a hummingbird trying to search for just the right technique. This led to a lot of broken gearshifts and signs in Japanese arcades threatening to kick punters out of the establishment for gia-gacha (gear-rattling) play. MAME, and automatic rapid-fire, make it a lot easier these days.

    The same trick can also be pulled off in Turbo Out Run, but in no other Out Run game after that — an homage to the original Testarossa model getting phased out of production in 1991, no doubt. Right? Right?

  • Being banned from XBL is “unconstitutional or something”

    Posted on March 27th, 2010 keving 3 comments

  • Rich or poor, white or black, young or old, whether we want to or not, we’re all gonna have to go to our place in the sky and accept Officer Jim Walls (Ret.)’s final judgment upon our souls

    Posted on March 26th, 2010 keving 5 comments

  • You’ve spent 2300 hours in World of Warcraft. Is it more than a game?

    Posted on March 26th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    “Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, WoW isn’t just escapist fantasy. It’s posing alternatives to the world we actually have today. It raises questions about environmentalism and colonialism; it asks how people are going to be respectful of each other in a world in which there aren’t enough resources.


    One of my daughters gave it to me for a present. We had played games as my two girls were growing up and this one really clicked for me. When you look at it, it really is the fulfilment of a cultural tradition in science fiction and fantasy. WoW acknowledges debts to Dungeons & Dragons and I link that back to the 1920s novel The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I was 12, I made a version of that which was a chess-like game. So, in that sense, it goes all the way back with me in a very personal way.”

    Sir, if you’re addicted to WOW, just admit you’re addicted to WOW! Many otherwise very proud people are! You don’t have to justify it!

  • Final Fantasy Legend II (Square, 1990)

    Posted on March 25th, 2010 keving No comments

    MAGI… The symbol of great power. The legacy of the ancient gods who made this world. Many fought for the mighty power. Some won and some failed. Now…another legend of bravery is about to begin…and end before the washing machine’s done running…

    SaGa 2 (aka Final Fantasy Legend 2) is a far more complex and involved than than its predecessor, which (as we all know) can be completed in just under two minutes. You’ve got to travel across multiple worlds, unlock the secret behind the mysterious MAGI, and figure out where your father went — that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders. We’re gonna need a lot more time for this. Like, half an hour.

    Most of this two-part video is the TASser working the game’s assorted random-number seeds (whose memory locations are monitored on the upper-right) in order to trigger the bugs he needs to skip vast tracts of the story. In part one above, the climax of all these arrangements takes place at 8:22, when the following situation takes place:

    – There is a total of 16 participants in a battle between your party and the enemy
    – An ally or enemy dies of poison damage
    – Your final action in a turn is something that doesn’t require a target (such as using a shield to defend yourself)

    This, for some reason, triggers a bug that causes the most significant bit of assorted inconvenient memory locations to be set to 0. This alters your party’s race, HP, stats, and inventory, and any empty slot in your item list is suddenly transformed into a Katana, which deals ridiculous damage if the wielder’s high in agility — which you are now, thanks to that bug. Consuming the bugged-out meat that the bugged-out battle gives you also transforms your hero into a BlackCat, a monster far, far more powerful than what you’re supposed to be able to access this early in the game.

    Part 2 chiefly depicts our hero switching between monsters depending on whether he needs to teleport around the world or set off some other bug. At 8:57, the TASser exploits a famous SaGa 2 bug that was fixed for FFL2 — the game erroneously treats “Counter” (an ability skill that some monsters have) as an item that can be unequipped. “Counter” just happens to sell for 272,823 GP in the shops, enabling your party to obtain all the weaponry they need for the final battle without much fuss.

    In 9:48 you can see the fairly famous trashcan bug in action, one that wasn’t fixed for FFL2 despite being pretty obvious. In Saga 2, double-clicking the trash can when you have 29 MAGI suddenly ups your MAGI total to 255, letting you skip about 85% of the game and open any dang door you like in the celestial world. Finally, at 11:29, we see the party rent a mount for the dragon races in Race Town, only to teleport right on out after the race starts, granting them a blazing bugged-out ride that can clip through walls.

    Straight to the final boss we go, and from there, onward to an ending filled with fabricated memories and people we swear we’ve never seen before in our lives. Whew.

  • Vasectomy (Automata, 1982)

    Posted on March 24th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    “A useful operation. Unfortunately you, the surgeon, have got myopic vision, and are blind drunk anyway. You are finding great difficulty in getting the target of your operation into focus. After ‘RUN’ and ‘NEWLINE’ it shifts around the operating table alarmingly. You might be able to control your palsied fingers with their snipping scissors, by using your ‘5’, ‘6’, ‘7’ & ‘8’ cursor controls, and you must snip at exactly the right moment, when your scissors are closed, and also at exactly the right place, which is from behind between the organ & the lower appendages. The result of your efforts will be printed out. Inkey ‘NEWLINE’ to commence operating on another victim.”

    Vasectomy is just one of the amazing experiences to be found on Can of Worms, a cassette tape of BASIC games “for the over 18’s” meant for the unexpanded Sinclair ZX81 computer. It holds the honor of being the first commercial software ever released by Automata UK, a developer that achieved some success releasing ZX Spectrum games like the weirdly pioneering Deus Ex Machina, which I’m sure I’ll cover sooner or later.

    If you’re feeling adventurous, you can play the other games on this pioneering (?) tape online to your heart’s content. Check out some of the other 1K winners here — Acne, where you must squeeze at the poor sod’s exploding forehead with all your might, and the ripped-from-today’s-headlines Reagan, where you must prevent our dear leader’s hair from turning gray and robbing him of his youthful appearance.

    Sadly, fellow early Automata releases The Bible and Love and Death appear to be lost to time, even though all three were advertised together in the first issue of Sinclair User (right).

  • Cross Review number crunch

    Posted on March 24th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    It’s Official: PS3 Has The Best Library Ever (1UP)

    I wrote that article mainly so I could use that wonderful picture of Mr. Kutaragi just one more time and get paid for it, but here’s some more review-score trivia if you’re interested.

    In its 24-year-long history, Weekly Famitsu has cross-reviewed a grand total of 14,288 games. (By “cross review” I mean the familiar four-person scoring system, which didn’t kick off in Famitsu until the 9th issue in October 1986.) As you can tell from the graph, the PlayStation has the biggest library among any console in Japan, but the PS2 has more games that earned a Gold award (32/40 points) or higher — just over three times as many, in fact. A lot of this is due to the score inflation that began in earnest with the PS2 era, but it also reflects, I think, just how bloated and dross-laden the PS’s library really was in Japan.

    The first game to achieve “gold” status in Famitsu, although they didn’t have the system in place back then, was Castlevania in the above-mentioned October 1986 issue. It scored 8/8/9/9. “In a way this is an un-Konami-like title,” one reviewer rather ironically wrote back then, “but as a game, it’s a remarkably complete product. It’ll probably be a big hit. I’m a little dubious of all the hidden objects that give you nothing but points, though, even though this isn’t a game where you’re competing for points.”

    Modern-day Famitsu gives out Platinum awards to games that score more than 35/40, which has happened a lot — 398 times as of this writing, in fact, starting with Zelda II (8/10/9/9) in early 1987 and ending with God of War III (10/9/9/10) last week.

    The Game Gear has the honor of having nothing earn a Gold title in its entire 205-game library — a fate shared by the Neo Geo Pocket and Lynx, although both of those systems have a much smaller selection of software. The WonderSwan has one Gold game — Gunpey, of course — out of 208 releases.

    You can see pretty plainly from the stats, by the way, that Famitsu began inflating their scores in the PS2 era, a trend that rages unabated today. How else to explain why the Xbox 360 enjoys 104 Gold-rated titles to the PS1’s 130, despite having a library not even a tenth the size?

  • Kotoba no Puzzle: Mojipittan (Namco, December 2001)

    Posted on March 18th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    Mojipittan, released first to arcades in 2001 and still going strong on the Wii, PSP and DS today, is a unique word game that takes advantage of the Japanese language’s complex writing system. Each level in the game consists of a tile grid, a row of kana tiles on the left, and a given goal — make 20 words, fill in all the squares with valid words, make the word “I love you” eight times on a board shaped like a giant heart, etc. — to complete before time runs out. Since many Japanese words can be made with as few as one or two kana, the game has a nice, easy learning curve, allowing Japanese students of nearly any level to complete at least a smattering of puzzles.

    I bring this up because there was some commentary on Japanese blogs yesterday over the recent departure of Takashi Nakamura from Namco Bandai Games. He’s the most well-known among the 168 NBGI employees who accepted severance packages this month from the company, which is trying to shed 10 percent of its workforce following major losses.

    Nakamura’s main contribution to game-dom was producing the Mojipittan series, but he didn’t design it — that honor goes to Hiroyuki Gotō, a rather odd guy who broke the Guinness world record for reciting digits of pi by memory in early 1995:

    “The Hanshin earthquake happened in January 1995, but I was holed up in my house right up to the day I had my second try [at the record]; I didn’t allow myself any kind of outside stimulation, so I had no idea such a huge earthquake had taken place. I didn’t have any sort of diversion during that time; all I did was concentrate on memorizing numbers. I wound up having to extend college another year because I couldn’t go to class for most of that time. I got an academic award from my college after I broke the record, though. Usually they’d give those out for some kind of serious academic achievement, but they kind of made a special exception for me.”

    It takes a man with that sort of — let’s go right out and say it — OCD-ness to write a game like Mojipittan, which includes a massive dictionary of Japanese words with meanings. “I spent every night at the office staring at these huge dictionaries,” he said in the above interview, “so seeing the game get released was all the more special for me.”

    Even if you know zero Japanese, you gotta like the cutesy paint job Namco’s artists did with the game, eh?

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Battle Pad

    Posted on March 17th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    Battle Pad

    Maker: Nihon Soft Hanbai
    Release Date: 4/28/89
    Price: 2600 yen

    The Battle Pad, released by NSH/Bigclub simultaneously with the Battle Tap, is one of the few licensed PC Engine joypads released by someone besides NEC Avenue in Japan. The only other official one is Sur de Wave’s PC Blaster in 1992. (Hori released a few, but never became an official NEC licensee.)

    As you can tell from the photo, the Battle Pad’s got something of a unique design, from its long, thin, boomerang-ish shape to its white-and-blue color scheme. Both the control pad and the I/II buttons are concave, molded to fit right below your fingertip, assuming your fingers are a lot smaller than mine. The pad itself also has fully rounded corners, avoiding the blunt edges seen on the official Famicom and PCE pads.

    You could call this a well thought-out design — or, at least, one that shows a bit more originality than NEC’s pad, which more or less apes Nintendo’s. The extra ergonomics make this pad a bit kinder to your fingers, a fact backed up by how NEC Avenue’s Fighting Pad 6 (1994) and the standard PC-FX controller both use essentially the same design concept. (The chief difference between the Fighting Pad and Battle Pad: The grip ridges on the bottom, which are absent on NSH’s controller.)

    Despite the curvy design, the Battle Pad feels tacky, its plastic body noticeably thin and flexible and its response a fair bit mushier than the basic PCE pad.

    I’m not exactly sure how many Battle Pads are out there, whether by itself or packed with NSH’s tap in the 4680-yen Battle Set, but it can’t be that high a number. (The cheap plastic also gets discolored over time by the oil on your fingers, making pristine examples of this pad a bit tough to find.)

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Battle Tap

    Posted on March 16th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    Battle Tap

    Maker: Nihon Soft Hanbai
    Release Date: 4/28/89
    Price: 2400 yen

    The PC Engine, as you might know by now, had only one controller port. If playing with yourself got boring, you could buy a multitap and let the entire neighborhood block get into the game at once, making the PCE the first Japanese system to support more than two controllers. In the very beginning this meant purchasing NEC-HE’s official  five-port Multitap, but since having five people play any PCE game at once was a pretty uncommon sight, later peripherals (like the three-port Joy Tap and the two-port X-HE2) cut down the number of ports for convenience.

    Within this oddly crowded market, the Battle Tap is unique — it’s got four ports, baby.

    This tap was released by an outfit called Nihon Soft Hanbai, which also put out two PC Engine games in 1989 under the Bigclub banner: Jimmu Denshō YAKSA and the world-famous Rock On, renowned for its erudite and moving opening sequence across all of Internet-dom. After that, the company promptly went out of business, its final game (a port of Nichibutsu’s arcade title Armed F) getting released by Pack-In-Video in March 1990. All three titles were shooters, and none of them were anything besides pretty crap. It no longer being 1986, Bigclub sadly missed the era where publishers could release any old game and expect to make their investment back — and throwing money at the peripheral market probably didn’t help their bottom line much, either.

    In addition to selling the Battle Tap by itself, Nihon Soft Hanbai release a package called the “Battle Set” that combined the tap with their Battle Pad controller. No doubt they were trying to capitalize on the multiplayer-compatible releases (like Motoroader and Dungeon Explorer) which were finally beginning to drip out here ‘n there by mid-1989. It’s a shame, then, that the company didn’t make it to Bomberman’s launch in 1990.

    I kind of like the design on this sucker better than on NEC’s multitap. It’s all, you know, futuristic with those simulated LCD numbers.