On the Golden Age of Gaming

This blog has touched a lot on the cultural and historical phenomena regarding video games and their design throughout the years. For some these have been posts of interest, while others seem to regard the late 1990’s as the pinnacle of video games, despite the same has already been said about the mid-2000’s and early 2010’s. Arguments fly about and you, my dear reader, probably have a take on the subject that might support one but not the other. Maybe you even consider the late 1980’s the pinnacle of electronic games, but that’s how it is. We all deep down know that the Golden Age of video games was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when computer, video and arcade games begun taking their modern shape.

The Golden Age of Arcades is established to be around the years 1978 and 1979, based on the release years of Space Invaders and Asteroids, which works just fine for them. The overall Golden Age of Games can be expanded from the the mid-1970’s to the 1983’s video game crash, as this was the period of rapid expansion consumer bases, genres, technology and popular cultural phenomena. This is contrasting the electronic gaming history to that of comic books’, where the Golden Age of Comic books, where most, if not all, classical archetypes and heroes were created, and the medium became a significant power in publishing.

The reason this contrast is made is due to the cultural phenomena usually work. These periods are of making the media into something that is able to stand on its own, establishing itself through various creators and enjoyed wide public attention, which naturally leads into impacting the culture in major ways. The very reason you still hear certain kind of sound effects in films and television when it comes to video games being depicted is because those bleeps and bloops are culturally associated with gaming as established by the Golden of Electronic Games. Be it the sound Atari games or the PC speakers made, certain sound is still associated with gaming by being handed down by the surrounding pop-culture. This era would fit the first two Console generations just fine, and majority of the early PC gaming as well, when people were turning their Dungeons and Dragons sessions into text adventures for their universities mainframes.

As a side note, you can pin point certain era of Famicom just by listening to the sound effects, as vast majority, if not all, developers used the same effects library in the early years.

But that side note throws a wrench into the whole Age discussion, as we must remember that all events weren’t global at that point in time. The 1983 crash had little to no effect outside the United States, as Europe was tightly grasping local micros at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s when console gaming had its breakthrough in Europe. This and IBM standard effectively killed multiple computer platforms, and Windows 95 cleaned the slate. Now we effectively have only three standards, four if we count Android, instead of each manufacturer having their own. The story’s completely different in Japan for many reasons, as Japanese computer history is a different beast altogether from its European and American cousins. If you’ve ever wondered why European developed games for the third and fourth generations felt so different and bit off, it’s because they were developed under a cultural paradigm that favoured platforms like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga 1000. These games look and play in a particular fashion, something we might get to few years down the line.

How can we say that this specific era is this or that when it only touches certain parts of the globe? The answer is; because of history.

We can’t say what era we are living in currently. World War I was originally named as The Great War, the war to end all wars, but then Germany decided to slap Poland around a bit. As such, we have to look at what sort of massive expansion gaming overall had during that time in the US and Japan with arcades and how little they impacted Europe at the same time. It wouldn’t take but few years until European arcades would see the same titles, but the impact rarely was in the same ballpark. Culturally speaking, Europe didn’t produce much content that would impact the global gaming sub-culture, but if you lived during that in France and UK, you probably remember few regional names that pop into your head right away. Now, how many of those are as well remembered in the cultural background as Pac-Man and Space Invaders?

To follow the Ages of Comic Books, we naturally are lead into the Silver Age of Electronic Games that encompasses the fourth and fifth generations. The reason again is comparative to comics, where old heroes were rekindled into new forms. Best example of this would be Mario, where we go from single-screen titles like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. into fully-scrolling Super Mario Bros., re-imagining the games’ world as Mushroom Kingdom with kidnapped princesses and turtle kings.

While Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, the starting point of the Silver Age must be set to 1985 with the American release. This is also a turning point in Japanese software development, where the quality of the titles began to ramp up. New competitors would establish themselves on the console market across the world, some spinning themselves off from the arcades like Sega (who already had a presence in Japan with their 1984 SG-1000) and Hudson hitting the market with NEC backing them up with the original PC-Engine in 1987. Atari still tried with the 7800, but couldn’t find a niche against the juggernaut that was the NES.

Despite all the above, what if I argued that the Golden Age would be from late 1970’s and up until the release of PlayStation in 1994? Despite the Crash of ’83, the third and fourth generations saw further expansion and cultural impact. The Super Mario Bros. and Sonic cartoons, comics, food stuff, everything that went into making electronic gaming into a global force didn’t happen just on few years. Modern electronic games are still a young medium, despite some having lived with them throughout their lives, they’re still younger than television, cinema, theater or literature. Maybe in a hundred years or so people will have enough perspective to view the changes in the game culture properly. Currently we are too close to these events with heavy bias to go by properly, and so much of it extremely well recorded. It would be extremely easy to dissect history into extremely small blocks, because we can do so. Those in the know would understand and acknowledge all those minute changes that had a ripple effect down the line.

Instead, maybe we should call the era from mid-1970’s to mid-1990’s the Classic Age of Gaming, where expansion was largely constant, new companies and hardware would pop up and die during the contest all the while others would grow strong and established. From there, we are now living through the Modern Age of Gaming, where we have seen the cross-pollination taking hold over the industry and the establishment of the Big Three with no real competition offered in the console market. Further mixing of genres and new impacting titles have been introduced, like Halo and Devil May Cry.

Even this might be somewhat arbitrary, but as mentioned, we’re too close in time to take back and see events as they are. How culture and industries move in the grander scale is hard if not almost impossible to surmise at they are going on, and perhaps the first mistake a young medium as comparing itself too much to other media and let those dictate too much what it should be.

How to break consumer trust in 47 DMCAs

Consumer trust is something that should be worth more than gold to a goods provider, be it a company or an individual level. They’re the ultimate lifeblood of the market, while your workers are its veins. Losing that trust is like halting the flow of that blood, or cutting yourself open to bleed trust out for whatever reason. Stop babbling and get to the point.

Battlestate Games decided to abuse the DMCA system to take down 47 videos of the Youtuber and Streamer Eroktic. The reason wasn’t copyright issues, but that Battlestate Games does not want to associate themselves with the Youtuber. One has to wonder why they didn’t file a Defamation claim or something of that nature if they regard themselves being defamed, rather than claim the ‘tuber used their content in their videos against copyright law.

I’m not going to discuss the event much itself, SidAlpha has a video up on how things started and how it went down, and One Angry Gamer has an article up on the whole thing. Battlestate Games’ own Facebook page has a statement on the why they DMCA’d Eroktic, but considering their statements are contradicting and offer no reason for why DMCA was abused outside that they didn’t like his content.

However, there is one bit in their statement that they should’ve considered more than once in the statement;

The relations between developer and players are always based on mutual trust and respect. We want to state our position once again – we will always have zero tolerance to lie, provocations, hacking, destructive behavior, etc.
We want to ask you not to give in to provocative actions of various persons, not to trust everything that they write unsubstantially.

The relationship between a developer and the players can’t be mutual trust and respect. This is a nice thing to think and have PR firm to establish, but the consumer can only trust a corporation so far, as your main intention is to drive profits and positive PR. Otherwise Battlestate Games would not have abused the DMCA system. The sheer lack of respect towards a consumer’s content, regardless whether or not the content was to their liking, tells more about the company’s drive to suppress content that could impact them negatively. Battlestate Games is not the authority to decide who has the freedom to criticise or express their views and opinions on their products. No, EULA doesn’t work the way they seem to think.

Their zero tolerance on lying, provocation and destructive behaviour is in direct opposition to what they’ve themselves are doing. This isn’t unusual, companies do tend to allow themselves to practice things that they don’t want the consumer to do. Not sure if they’d hack their own game, but that’s more or less how they want to come across; cheating is bad. God I miss using an Action Replay.

As much as their statement pleads not to trust various persons, in the same breath you should never trust a corporation. This isn’t a plead, this is just common sense. A corporation has to look after its own interests over the interests of the consumer, as the two rarely meet in the middle. No amount of PR speech should cloud the consumer judgement, and a corporation has to tread the fine line between trying to keep their own interest at the top all the while still serving the consumer demands.

How much trust can consumer give a corporation now that they’ve shown to be untrustworthy and abusing systems? It’s an uphill battle for Battlestate Games now. They’ve lost consumers, with some demanding a refund at this time, and this has given them more publicity, for better or worse. They have their fans who will regard their action a justified one, but even there we see lots of people being dissatisfied with DMCA being used.

Reading around the subject on Battlestate Games’ own Facebook, on videos in Youtube and some forums, it would seem that this isn’t the first time the company has been practicing curbing down negative press and criticism. One has to wonder how much trust can be put on Battlestate Games overall, considering they have been found to infringe arms manufacturer’s copyrights, like Spikes Tactical noted. Apparently Glock is being used without licensing as well alongside numerous other equipment. These are companies who are relatively draconian on protecting their trademarks and intellectual properties.

You could say they shot themselves in the leg. If trust is mutual, Battlestate Games are surprisingly untrustworthy behind their bells and whistles words.

Modifying Panzer Dragoon to attract modern players, they say

So Sega and Forever Entertainment are doing Panzer Dragoon: Remake. No, I haven’t heard of this Polish developer either, but apparently they’ve made some Teddy Floppy Ear games and that’s pretty great. Teddy’s pretty good children’s franchise. As usual, doesn’t really matter who makes what as long as the end result is fine and dandy, but reading the official announcement for the remake, I’m not entirely convinced. Their claim that The entire Panzer Dragoon series has been repeatedly remade and released on many platforms is dubious at best and completely incorrect at worst. The original Panzer Dragoon has been released and remade few times around, mostly based on its PC port, because Sega has lost all Saturn source codes. No, not just theirs, all of them. They wanted to house all of them and then lost them all when their company was moving offices, meaning no Saturn game can ever get a port without reverse engineering the machine and getting the data out from the published discs. This means all Saturn games’ ports that are around, like Princess Crown‘s PSP port, is running on emulation, and considering emulating the Saturn accurately is one helluva task that’s still a far cry form the original, they’re pretty bad ports. Xbox One being backwards compatible with Panzer Dragoon Orta is not it being re-released or should be considered as a franchise relaunch either. When your initial announcement for a remake is incorrect about the nature of the series like this, it makes you question whether or not they’re familiar with the series, or whether or not they have their priorities right. I asked Forever Entertainment about that lil’ detail just to see what they’d respond, but seeing I’m just a gnatshit small blogger among an ocean of others, I doubt I’ll get a response. [edit] They did respond, replying that they meant the series overall is available on multiple platforms with remakes because the first game has ports and that Sega Ages version. I always forget that single entry in a series makes the whole series available on a platform when it comes to things like this, rather than a single entry.

The new version of the game will be characterized by a completely new graphics compatible with today’s standards and several modifications of the game, making it more attractive to modern players, while remaining faithful to the original in terms of story. This is more than expected. As said, the original Saturn sourcecode are lost, so the PlayStation 2 Sega Ages release is most likely based on the PC version, with Orta having the PC version as one of its unlockables. Any sensible company would just do a straight up remake rather than try to being reverse engineering the original games, but this is where we hit the snag with that sentence, making it more attractive to modern players, while remaining faithful to the original in terms of story. Forever aren’t elaborating what modifications they’re making to the core gameplay. Considering Panzer Dragoon as a series stands on its own in regards of gameplay, the only true modification needed to make would be polishing the first game’s mechanics to match that of Zwei’s and Orta‘s. Panzer Dragoon games have an arcade heart at their core, which is a major factor in their charm and success. Certainly, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a role playing game, but it was devised as one from the get go rather than modifying an existing title. It’s useless to try and guess what this means at this point, but seeing most remakes of this kind and with this sentencing don’t have the best track record out there, it does raise some worries.

Especially when their main concern seems to be staying true to the story. Sure, Panzer Dragoon‘s post-apocalyptic setting with dragons as biological weapons and lost-world technology is pretty neat in all, but saying you want to stay true to the story is is like buying chocolate for wrapper rather than for the taste. Just like Virtual-On, the story’s incidental at best, an overall framing device for the great gameplay which still stands today. Staying true to the story is easy, but staying true to the gameplay and mechanics, especially considering the first one is sparser compared to Zwei and Orta, is far more challenging. With the lack of sourcecode the results can become very much a different beast, as we saw with the Crash Bandicoot remake collection, where applying the third game’s physics across the board made the first two games very different kind of games to play thanks to the stage geometry still being accurate to the originals. Jumps you used to be able to make easily now are now more challenging due to this, and can lead into easy deaths. Not that making extra lives in the game is hard or anything, but shows how little concern the developers ultimately had this these little things that majorly affect the games’ play.

All fans of the series, and long time players alike, are  probably asking the same thing in their heads; please stay true to the game’s play. The concern of remakes mangling and dumbing down the games’ play for modern players is relevant. It shows the lack of trust towards the customers, especially towards their ‘modern’ audience. Consumer born in this millennium were born and raised during a retro game boom and are far more than capable at handling games of their nature. Hell, despite so many of us who have been playing games for three decades or more, we’re still part of that modern player group. What is even the division between a modern and older player? Age certainly does not define it. This is a start of poor customer service experience I tell you.

Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. The announcement naturally can’t expand on anything because they’ve got jackshit to showcase. The announcement is standard PR speech aiming to appease different sections, but it seems wholly amateurish. These are the same concerns everyone has towards every remake that has been coming out, and truth to be told, remakes overall don’t tend to have all that great track record, especially when there are explicit changes to the game’s play. Granted, we don’t know what modifications there are going to be in Panzer Dragoon: Remake, but all we can hope is that they amount polishing the originals further without much additions or removals. A better name for the remake compilation would be nice as well, but I’m sure the current one is just a placeholder and they’ll come up something far more impressive that suits the series’ nature.

All we really can do is sit tight and wait for proper information to come forth. No use to speculate too much on nothing.

ALESTE; a short series introduction

If there’s one genre of games that defines the arcades, it has to be the the shooting games. Be it space or otherwise, the genre has been there since Computer Space and kept evolving from title to title under different developers and publishers. The simple perfection of Space Invaders is a far cry from the modern bullet hells. Before the genre essentially became just all about the bullet patterns it seems to be now, the growing period of the 80’s was more pure to the form. Hudson’s Shooting Caravan games like Star Soldier and Starship Hector even had nationwide tournaments in Hudson All-Japan Caravan Festival, and had special versions of the games produced. Later on, Hudson would include Caravan mode in their games just for these events and as legacy after the boom was over. In retrospect, you could even call Hudsons Caravan events as one of the earliest form of eSports. After all, shooting games are all about scoring, mostly.

One of the series that competed in this highly saturated genre of time was Aleste. With the 30th anniversary of the series (and an upcoming revival) I’ve decided to take a moment and have a short coverage of the series.

Aleste‘s, by all intentions, is a sequel to 1986’s Zanac, a game that was famous for its adaptive AI, fast paced action and dynamic music that matched the pace of the game. This still keeps Zanac as one of the more interesting and unique shooting games out there, as the AI doesn’t just adapt to player’s weapons, but also to how well they are doing. Certain enemies and waves are triggered how much the player is shooting, moving, scoring and such. Considering how the game can be relenting, the AI ultimately encourages methodical approach and situation-by-situation basis gameplay that can, and often will, result in a completely different kind of playthrough each time. Bosses were also timed, and failing to defeat them would throw the player back into the stage with the penalty of higher number of enemy waves. Considering the original Zanac ran on the MSX, a machine known to have sprite and scrolling issues, it’s a game that shows that Compile was a company that knew how to code. I’d even go as far to say that at one point Compile was a company that made one of the best coded games around.

While longplays are terrible way to showcase a game as they’re often played with perfection, they are also a good way to showcase the whole game and get an idea of their overall length. The games just look easier than what they really are.

All this carried in 1988’s Aleste. To make it stand out from Zanac, parts of its weapon system was changed, but the core of AI being the player’s main opponent, both in gameplay and story, remained. The first Aleste is more or less forgotten in favour of Zanac because of this, but also because both Sega Master System and MSX versions suffer from massive amounts of flicker and slowdowns for whatever reason. Power Strike, the English title for the US and European SMS release might be something some readers might be more familiar with.

Compile set in stone how their weapon system overall works, reworking nine standard weapon types from Zanac. These include standard multi-directional shot, missiles and lasers. However, some more tactical weapons have been introduced. A Charge-shot weapon that functions as a shield directly in front of the ship before shot ranks among one of the best, which is further emphasized in a weapon that creates rolling balls around your ship. A controllable wave beam allows a more creative use of the weapon pool, and each of the eight weapons the game offers have their own use, but are all powered-up by grabbing floating P capsules. Be wary though, since the AI decides if you’ve been having an too easy time with your current set-up.

As a sidenote, Aleste is pronounced as Alesta [アレスタ] , because Japanese and English mix like crude oil and water sometimes.

Between Aleste and Aleste 2, Compile released some of their most famous titles of the time; Guardic Gaiden and Gunhed, known as The Guardian Legend on the NES and Blazing Lazers on the Turbografx-16 in the West.

Considering the shooting game genre is more or less about constant evolution of some kind with each entry (though we see how things degrade with others), 1989’s Aleste 2 is essentially what Aleste should have been. It might be more of the same, just better. Spanning three disks, Aleste 2 is probably the best vertically scrolling shooting game on MSX, having extremely smooth scrolling for the system, a pressing soundtrack and the return of Compile’s dynamic AI system. The difficulty’s been ramped up few notches as well, with Oni and God difficulties being absolutely maddeningly impossible.

The two first Aleste games tell more or less a complete story, both justifying the AI system in-universe. Aleste sees biological computer DIA 51 rebelling against mankind and extends its tendrils across the planet in plans to destroy all life. Ray Wizn is tasked to fly in and destroy DIA 51, something he is very much determined to do after DIA 51’s rampage sends his girlfriend Yuri into hospital. It’s not Shakespeare, but gets the job done. Aleste 2 takes place twenty years later, with appearance of Vagant, an alien species intending to destroy humanity. Ray, now a ranking officer, loses his life in the initial barrage. His daughter, Ellinor steps up to opposite Vagant’s techno-biological rampage on Earth, and sees herself being transported to sub-space dimension during her fight to destroy what seems like the final boss. With a revelation of this being a trap, she breaks out back to Earth, with three months having passed there due to time dilation. After the final assault and freeing Earth, Rosa, one of Vagant generals, recognises her leader’s mistakes and thus makes peace with Earth.

 

Aleste Gaiden was released two months after Aleste 2, and as the name implies, is a side-story. Released in Disc Station Special magazine, this minigame sees the return of Ray in a cybernetic ninja armour, aiming to defeat DIA 51 in a post-apocalyptic setting. The game’s intention was to create the vertical shooting game with the character walking on ground. Obstacles must be walk around and crevices need to be jumped over.

The title’s shorter, easily beaten in half the time the two previous games, and simpler in terms of weaponry and overall design, limiting the weapon options stage count. It’s more a curiosity, if we’re completely honest, probably the weakest entry in the series. However, it’s take on the visual design and robotic armours was the launch point of Compile’s most famous Aleste title aftewards, as well as for a whole series of games using the said robots over fighters.

 

 

Toaplan published Compile’s Musha Aleste in 1990 for the Sega Mega Drive and it has been considered a system classic and as one of the best shooting games to date, especially if you believe Classic Game Room. Musha Aleste started out as a project to port Aleste 2 to the MD, but at some point during the development they went into a completely new direction, meaning classic Aleste was more or less abandoned. Taking place in an alternative timeline in Tenryaku 91, the game’s setting is Ellinor jumping into her giant robot to take down the super computer Dire 51. We see her squad being taken down in the first seconds of the game, leaving her as the only one to tackle the enemy. Much like with Aleste Gaiden, Musha Aleste drops the standard formula with Compile’s weapons and opts for three sub-weapons of bombs, lasers and rotating balls. Emphasize on supplementary firepower from options named Arms is given, as as the player can change how they function on the fly. They can rotate the player, fix them into a position or fly around the screen with auto-shot enabled.

While much smaller game in scale compared to previous full-fledged Aleste titles, Musha Aleste comps this by being extremely fast paced and having overall great design. It’s not balls to the walls punishing in difficulty either, being optimised for a more relax play session. This makes Musha Aleste a title that’s easy to get into and have a blast with.

 

Galvanic Gunner Aleste hit the Game Gear in 1991, and takes the series back to its fighter roots. Between this Compile had done another semi-fantasy shooting game with NAXAT, Seireisenshi Spriggan, for the PC-Engine, which was essentially Musha Aleste 2 in design and play. Ellinor has become the series’ main character by this point, whichever kind of setting the game happens to take in. The standard weapon set returns with a vengeance GG Aleste and the game doesn’t stray too far from the comfortable framing the series is known for. However, it is somewhat hampered by the small screen, though this is made up for by the fact that the Game Gear’s screen is in colour. While I’d like to give some sort of idea what’s the game about, I’ve yet to see manual scans about, and the game itself mostly throws Ellinor against the enemy, only to showcase her coming out in a busted hip and almost gone in the end credits.

 

Super Aleste is the series’ only entry on the SNES, as Compile seemed to be comfortable with Mega Drive after Puyo Puyo became their greatest hit and Sega opted to publish load of their games. Known as Space Megaforce in the West, Super Aleste is removed from the other games in setting. A gigantic spaceship named Sphere attacks Earth. Earth’s only and last hope are Raz, the pilot of the fighter, and Thi, Sphere’s mysterious ex-prisoner with psychic powers. The manual goes deeper how all ships, including Aleste, were shot down. Raz however survives (hence the cover) and frees Thi, who uses her powers to repair and enhance the ship. Not that you’d know much about this, the Western release cut all of the scenes out with some extra stuff from the Options menu as well. It is very de-Japanised. The Cutting Room Floor has an entry on the game. If you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the AI for some time, that’s because Compile more or less dropped it and concentrated on designing the enemy waves in a traditional way. Nevertheless, there’s something sombre and relaxing about the game, especially for a 1992 title, which allows the player to zone in in a relaxed manner, even during the more hectic moments.

This design shows itself in the game, as it is pretty much the opposite of Musha Aleste. It’s slower, more methodical but in no way just has you sit doing nothing. Weapon options have been increased and all weapons have more than one fire mode, making tackling the stages more interesting with each playthrough. It is also much longer game, taking about an hour to beat, but there’s a Short Mode that is only four stages long. There are multiple difficulty levels, each with their own endings. The SNES was never the go-to machine for shooting games, but Super Aleste should sate that craving more than the more famous titles like Axelay.

If you ever wanted to play as one of Nobunaga’s ninjas, Dennin Aleste has you covered. Hitting the Mega-CD the same year Super Aleste hit SNES, Dennin Aleste follows in the same steps as Musha Aleste and Spriggan, effectively solidifying Compile thematic split between historical fantasy with robots and futuristic shooting games when it came to the series. As usual, the game was renamed as Robo Aleste in the West. The player character Kagerou pilots the titular Electric Ninja Aleste in order to defeat Astaroth, the mysterious shadow figure controlling the rest of the warlords warring against Nobunaga.

The overall system is lifted from Musha Aleste, with an additional weapon thrown in. A charging mechanic was introduced to the game, though how useful that ended up being is up to question due to the raised difficulty ceiling. The game is also fast, but lacks polish compared to the previous entries. It’s also slower compared to Musha, and as usual for Mega-CD titles, has large amounts of cutscenes to tell the story. A sequel was planned, but ultimately abandoned due to the declining sales.

And here we are, 1993. GG Aleste II was the last song of the series. The title’s very much by the beats at this point, concentrating on a new protagonist fighting against an overwhelming enemy, now with 3D stages akin to Space Harrier. At this point, there’s not much that can be said that isn’t repetition from previous Aleste titles.

It pains not being able to say much about it, outside that it is the best shooting game on Game Gear, and the aftermarket prices are about as high as you’d expect.

 

 

 

 

While Aleste started out as a game series with fast paced and dynamic gameplay thanks to the AI, the series ultimately dropped that element and concentrated more on the setting and story. Compile pretty much ceased developing shooting games in 1993, with part of the staff still wanting to develop shooting games moved to Raizing. Puyo Puyo had the spotlight to no end, but ultimately the constant fall of sales and changes in the market that they couldn’t keep up, Compile’s last game was on the PlayStation in 2001, Zanac X Zanac, a direct sequel to the franchise that kicked Aleste off.

Zanac X Zanac consists of two games; the port of the original and Zanac Neo, which starts with the last stage of the original and directly kicks off from there. Neo has all the then-modern takes on the genre while staying true to the core; multiple ships to choose from, expansive arsenal of 32 weapons and extremely well polished gameplay and visuals, and a combo scoring system. However, the genre was done by that point, and bullet hells had taken over as the genre-defining standard. The story takes place right after the fist game, where the AI Zanac foresaw its destruction and moved itself to a new core, forcing the player to venture forth again to fight against it. It is much of the same as original Zanac, just more polished.

 

Compile folded in 2002, and saw the rest of their staff moving elsewhere, some putting up their own companies like Compile Heart and Milestone, while others joined Raizing, while others simply quit the industry. I hope that the upcoming revival will not be a remake, but a proper, full-fledged release with effort and resources behind it. Hopes for a Zanac X Zanac type release that would compile previous entries in the series into one, complete package alongside with Aleste 3 are far-fetched at best, but we can only sit tight on our asses and wait for Summer 2019 for the news.

Review: Mega Man 11

It’s been about eight years since we got a proper Mega Man game, though I’d go further back to pin point a true “new” title in the series. This isn’t the first time the franchise has been revived either, with the 8-bit throwbacks essentially serving the role and Battle Network being a kind of total reboot that essentially allowed a new generation to enjoy a Mega Man branded product. However, Mega Man 11 might be closer to the throwbacks, but thematically and in intention it leans more towards reintroducing the franchise to the field. As such, there’s three takes I could use to review the game; developer intention, as a Mega Man game and as a standalone title. However, splitting or choosing just one felt awkward. So rather than overthinking how to make this one stand out or be something special, I’ll just go in without much worries and say this straight out of the gate; Mega Man 11 is a good Mega Man game, but ultimately runs short compared in this modern era of games.

If you’ve played any of the NES Mega Man games, you know what you’re getting into, and MM11 is best argument against MM9 and 10 in that you don’t need to use throwback bit-graphics in order to make a “true” Mega Man game. The controls are tight, responsive and work exactly as you’d expect. The amount of control over Mega Man is perfect and pretty much everything can be put on the player in damage and death department. The PS4 version has the most control lag, with Steam and Xbox versions coming at top, which can only be blamed on Sony wanting to add too much post-processing on their games on PS4 Pro. Switch is somewhere between, closer to Xbox’s and that’s fine. Unless you’re crazy over NES-CRT level responsiveness, you’re more or less boned and should go for the Steam version. That’s probably the only significant difference between the versions, outside Switch’s Amiibo support that gives you items mid-game. It’s a nice idea, but really sucks when you realise how haphazardly it’s been implemented, much like in every other game out there.

For those who haven’t played a Mega Man game, the formulae is simple and solid. You’ve got eight stages, each with a Boss you have to defeat in order to advance to the final stages. You gain each Boss’ weapon and they have rock-paper-scissors mechanic going on, one being weak to another. Back when games were more or less strict on the progress, Mega Man was a breeze of fresh air, and modern stage-selecting was more or less inspired by the franchise. The franchise is famed for being difficult, but this has always been hyperbole at best. The six NES titles are easy enough for a five-years old to beat. The right word would be challenge, where the game offers some obstacles you to tackle, but with some try and experience, you’ll beat them in no time. The stages are overall designed to have a combination of environmental hazards combined with stage enemies, sometimes moving and sometimes stationary, which also gives all the stages their own little gimmick to work with.

The stages, of course, are the main meat themselves. Sadly, the game’s design did not escape the usual fire-water-grass thematic that has been overused in the series far too often. This time we’re getting both spikes-in-water and an ice stage, which shows that despite the series having almost a decade long hiatus and thirty years of history to learn from, the new dev team ultimately had to resort to recycling some old ideas. We’ve seen pretty much everything at this point in the franchise, from water purifying facilities to cityscapes, from forests to ancient stone temples and even space stations, thematically Mega Man is all spent. It doesn’t really offer anything new, and veterans feel it. Each stage offers their own challenges, like the aforementioned spikes-in-water stage that emphasizes on careful control. Each of their gimmicks should drive the player skills higher in order to beat the final fortress levels, but ultimately these stages don’t take all the advantages the eight main stages offer. The difficulty and challenge doesn’t exactly ramp up drastically, especially now that there is a total lack of Capcom gauntlet. A Capcom gauntlet is an old term for stages that come at a later stage in a game, where the player is unable to return or retreat to recover items, having to resort with whatever limited resources is found during the gauntlet. Boss Rush has always been part of this, with an additional twist or two in the mix. Mega Man games excelled in this by the natural design. However, Mega Man 11 allows the player to access the previous stages and create items between each of the fortress stages, making the gauntlet completely neutered. The ramping up element is now gone.

This of course begs the mention of the game’s gimmick, the Double Gear system. The stages have been designed so that there is no need to use use either Speed or Power function to beat them. Speed is naturally the more useful of the two, as its slow-down effect makes everything much more easier. The Power in itself is largely useless outside few situations, and is mostly used to use the powered up versions of the Special Weapons. However, because of all this the system works more or less as a build-in cheat, which can be further powered up with purchasable items. The game meanders between trying to appease people who want a more pure Mega Man experience and people who go all out, and ultimately doesn’t exactly fulfill the necessities to use the Gears. Even the speediest or smartest sections of the game are easy without the use of Speed Gear, and Power Gear makes some of the Special Weapons just absolutely bonkers, being able to wipe the screen of enemies, shield or not.  That said, the weapons themselves are pretty well designed and balanced, again fitting pre-existing moulds in the series e.g. utility weapon, movement option attack, full-screen weapon, a barrier and so on. Their powered-up versions, as mentioned, are overkill in most places, and make mid-stage bosses a laughing stock.

This means the game ends up being very easy to beat through the use of cost items rather than skill, but perhaps this is more or less about personal challenge than anything else. Mega Man games have always been welcoming, though the game does seem too accommodating rather than trusting the player to build enough skill to beat it. Resources are readily available for anyone to buy if the game puts a wall against you. The stages have some elements designed around some of the Special Weapons use, but their limited scope and length don’t make much use of them. The fortress levels even less so, and you can rely on Tundra Storm to wipe enemies off from distance.

Visually speaking, the game looks very much for the part. Colours are well used and detail can be found everywhere. There is a definitive Mega Man flavour to things, just aptly cartoony with clear and defined lines. It may not be the cutting edge of graphics technology, but it doesn’t need to be. The game stays true to the NES era’s designwork almost to a flaw, where certain amount of detail is lost on the designs. Backgrounds get the most detail overall, with some referencing past games. There is a definitive charm to everything, the same charm Mega Man used to carry. This carries to the Robot Master designs as well, with the Gallery mode expanding on their characters more than the game can properly convey on-screen. While pre-battle quotes have been around for a time now, the Gallery entries really make them shine even more. Mega Man & Bass’ CD Database gave a nice insight to all of the characters, but not to this extent.

The music, however, is t he game’s weakest point by far. It goes all techno on the soundtrack, with synth bweaaaing being the main instrument. It all ends in almost a cacophony, most stages ending up sounding the same and unmemorable. This is a far cry from previous’ games’ soundtracks, which made the songs stood out, either due to the more limited sound samples or simply because the songs were that superior. The pre-order downloadable soundtrack is not much better, opting the techno for nondescript jazz that sounds worse. Acid Man comes out the best in this, mostly due to the instruments working better with his theme, but overall you’d be better just muting the BGM and putting something better on. Rock and rocking kind of instruments have always sit the series much better, more so in the X-series. That said, sound effects are pretty much spot on and have an oomph to them, though Mega Man no longer makes a noise when he lands. In the NES games, there was a small te-det sound, which is absent here, but it’s something that isn’t all essential.

This review reads like a ramble, because trying to say anything definitive how it is fails to a point. The Mega Man 11 doesn’t innovate on the formula of the series and is a step back in terms of length and game design. However, on the other hand it is well made and intentionally open for everybody, concentrating on the core building blocks what makes a Mega Man game. However, that’s all it really is. We’ve seen this before. While there is a need for smaller games like this one the market now, retreading things once more like this works only once. Just as with Mega Man 9. If there is going to be a Mega Man 12, it must innovate, expand and push the envelope on Classic Mega Man as much as possible. As a standalone title, the game doesn’t exactly stand well against the swamp of other 2D action titles, but its sheer polish and execution ultimately lifts it just enough above the surface.

Blizzard against their core audience

A lot has been said about the events in recent Blizzcon at this point. I do recommend watching a version of Diablo Immortal‘s reveal, like this one with Youtube chat enabled at the side.

The instant reaction of the fans can be summed as negative, if we’re diplomatic about it. After few applauds, some of which are always warranted or given by the staff around the group, there is no cheering. The sound of disapproval is silent, and Wyatt Cheng, the presenter, feels the pressure. He didn’t expect things to go this badly.

Blizzard’s core audience is PC gamers. Mobile may be  branch of PC gaming, but the core audience is fundamentally different due to the user interface and culture around them. A person playing a high-end PC game is not exactly interested in shoving thousands of dollars into Fate/Grand Order. By making their big announcement a mobile game to an audience that doesn’t want to play their favourite franchise on a mobile phone. This sort of announcement should have been a supplementary one alongside something more important, not the main dish itself.

The Diablo Immortal QA is a travesty, full of non-answers. Around the mid-point, a fan asks if there are plans to bring this to PC. There are no plans to bring it to PC at this point, which nets booing from the audience. Rather than taking this professionally and simply not react to this, the presenters directly counter the audience by asking if they don’t have a mobile phone or a tablet. This is the very moment Blizzard loses the audience and their fans. Their stance, attitude and reservations are on the edge thanks to the very silent reception of cinematic trailer. Simple business presentation rule in events like this is never to attack the consumer, especially when they are your core audience. You want to keep them happy, you want to tell tales that would put you in their favour. By asking if they don’t have phones to play the game with is the exact opposite what you should be doing.

Even if the audience had phones to play with, how many of them have a phone that can run modern mobile titles? Mines only few years old and some of the new ones just crap on it. Some don’t own a smartphone at all, instead opting for a standard mobile phone. Tablets had a big boom at one point, but not all people own a tablet, opting for a laptop or just not having a need for one.

No, it’s not an off-season joke, but this is a downhill road they can’t recover easily.

Following Capcom IR relations post, the reader should have a grasp why Blizzard wanted to do a mobile game. The possible revenues from that market are larger than the ones on PC or consoles. However, just like with Capcom, Blizzard has to fight a battle against money-making trains that sink pretty much everything around them. The aforementioned F/GO prints money every single day. It’s easy to see Blizzard thinking they can grab the market with a well-known IP, and by having a company that has a history of doing mobile games they most likely consider themselves to have money in the bank. NetEase is rather infamous developer in that they push micro-transactions in their games harder than most other companies to the point of being exploitative. Even the Chinese Diablo fans seem to be livid about this.

However, just as Capcom recognizes they lack the skill and know-how with mobile games, the situation seems to be the exact same with Blizzard. They will gain some whales to gain money from, but whether or not the game will turn out a title to rival big name mobile games is something only time will tell. Blizzard can only hope that it will.

The mobile market is already seen loads of Diablo-like games, and it would appear NetEase has opted to basically reskin an existing game of theirs,  Crusaders of Light, to serve as Diablo Immortal. While Blizzard tried to response to the audience in regards of this in an interview with IGN, they don’t dismiss this, but effectively dance around the issue. What’s one more game into the fray going to do, even with a recognizable IP?

Diablo Immortal‘s cinematic trailer on Youtube is one of their most disliked trailer, sitting at 17k likes against 437k dislikes. The number is skewed, as Blizzard has opted to moderate comments and the like/dislike ratio, which you can check via Socialblade. People have also been archiving the page. This isn’t anything new, the same thing happened with the Ghostbusters trailer.

Considering this sort of aggressive moderation is being done, Blizzard is not aware of their position as a product provider. The lifeline they have is their consumers. Blizzard doesn’t consider its core consumers’ wishes or wants, but they will monitor you if you play Overwatch and ban you if you misbehave in social media. Does Blizzard even care that they have a PR disaster in their hands? Probably not. As with many other things on the Internet, this one will probably be a blip and nothing more. Fans who disavow Blizzard will probably be back if Diablo 4 gets officially announced. A rumour is going around that they pulled Diablo 4‘s announcement because the development has been a mess. They missed their chance for a one-two punch.

Ultimately, this is both target audience and service failure. The target demographic of Diablo Immortal is not the same as with Diablo 3 or other long-running Blizzard franchise. By opting not to announce Diablo 4, even if was in a state where they could not show anything outside some concept trailers or such, it would have served better for Blizzcon, the place where the core audience came to. Their core audience response at the event leaves little room for guessing.

A response like this howls

Of course, this being being the biggest thing in games news for the week, there have been people who defend a million dollar corporation from fans hurting their feelings. After all, this is their IP, they can do whatever they want with it. Just like consumers can decide what to do with their money. This has gone from one extreme to another, but calling dissatisfied consumers as Nazis is few steps too far. This is business about entertainment, and consumers have all the rights to decide whether or not they want to purchase or boo when they get slapped in the face.

 

 

Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller review Part 2; New Parts

Be sure to check the first part of the review here.

I’ll just assume you’ve red the previous part or overall know the issues that Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller had. Mostly, it was the left shoulder button issue, where rocking the stick to the top left would lift it and make it move. don’t expect major revisions on any other department.

Let’s spend any time on the front for now, let’s jump willy nilly into the insides of it and see what changes were made to the mould to fix issues.

Whoops, forgot to take off that Turbo Button from the old shell

First of all, their solution was the expected one; retooling. Retooling is to change mould just enough to use it further for with minimum costs. This in itself is nothing to scoff at, as it usually saves time and money from the consumers’ pockets. At first, the differences in the shell are apparent, mainly that the extrusions for the build-in vibrators have been removed. They added to nothing else but teeny tiny weight, but it would have been nice to have build-in rumbling that could have been toggled on or off via a switch. No unnecessary expansion pack uses. This really would have added to the value of the controller.

The second change is in the shoulder buttons, which actually use leaf-switch mechanic to spring back up. If you look at the bottom of the L-Button, the one at the top right corner of the photo, you can see that it has no hook on it. The R-Button has it and so does the old mould. This is part of the solution in order to fix the problem I mentioned in the first paragraph. Now that the button is not restricted to stay in its slot, it can freely move about. This of course raises the question if the button can raise itself from its resting place, and it can. You’d need to deliberately lift it off though, but accidents happen. This is a solution, but without a doubt not the most optimal one. This shows signs of hurry and stress, something all designers can relate to, but this solution, despite fixing the problem itself, does degrade from its overall value. It’s a hatchet job at best.

Let’s take a look at the back half of the shell then.

For better or worse, they are clearly labelled 1 and 2 for our pleasure. Similar to the front half, there are no brackets for a vibrator motor. More importantly, the extremely lacklustre expansion lock has been upgraded and fixed. On the original, on the right, you can see the lock mechanism being in an angle, making inserting and pulling expansion packs out rather tiresome and at best infuriating. Now that the lock sits straight, the whole ordeal is as smooth as you’d expect it to be. This is a definitive plus.

The main difference between the new and old halves seems to be that the controller’s front half seems to be slightly raised in order to keep the stick from bumping into the L-Button. This has necessitated to include new A, B and C Buttons. I first expected the A and B to stand more raised from the surface, but this was not the case. However, quality often showcases itself with the smallest details, and the C-Button’s new moulds were not up to standard.

The C-Buttons are completely uncleaned. All that junk, both at the base and on the notches that guide them into their proper place, had to be cleaned with a knife. While this wasn’t a major deal, backers who opted to change their shells themselves might’ve found themselves slightly puzzled why their C-Buttons were jamming. Granted, Retro Fighers did post a Youtube video how to change the parts, but a customer shouldn’t have to shave plastic off from their spanking new buttons they just received three weeks later than everyone else in the world. I build models, so this wasn’t a problem, but knowing people already asked about this tells you how backers weren’t happy with this.

When put together, the controller doesn’t look any different from the old one, outside a different sticker on the back, so I’ll just recycle a picture from the first part here.

With the new parts installed, there are no buttons or stick interacting with each other and remind you that you overpaid for the controller. Yes, considering Retro Fighters had to put out new parts to fix something like this and didn’t deliver on the promise of full N64 support due to something they never explicitly stated, the controller remains as second option at best despite being better than the stock N64 controller in almost every way. The stock N64’s controller might be a bit awkward even after all these years and its stick is pretty janky piece, but its construction and build quality leave no room for guesswork. The same can be said of some other peripheral controllers released for the N64, some of which I’d like to get for the sake of comparisons, though putting money into a system I don’t play on a regular basis would be unwise.

However, I must admit that despite all the issues it has, it does make a good backup or secondary controller. If you can find it on sale, change the Not Recommended status into Worth Considering and hope that Retro Fighters have put more second versions out there than the first ones, and that they’re willing to change parts if you end up with the first version somehow. Otherwise, I can’t recommend this controller, it’s just not up to par standards-wise.