Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.
Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back
Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.
However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.
The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.
To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.
Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.
No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.
Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.
The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.
The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.
I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.
Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.
In the wake of good news from the good ol’s Sega, they seems to be intending to further promote Yakuza in the US by doing a reprint run of the first four games. Reruns are good and bad news to collectors. Those who misses the original run can pick up these sort of games and enjoy them good as new. Then there are those who would hoard them for future sales who buy them amass. Scalpers, if you were to use the bad tongue.
The game aftermarket is bloody battle, and certain fields are largely controlled by a group of individuals. There are those who collect games in mint condition to use in the future as the basis for higher priced sales. It’s not an unknown tactic to buy the market empty of loose cartridges to eliminate competition, thus causing a shortage of supply to already supply diminished market.
Not that there isn’t anything wrong in that in itself. It’s the buyer who is stupid enough to pay extraordinary prices.
I picked up Battle Mania Daiginjou for some 200€ some years ago, and that was a stupidly high price. A reprint of the game would in place, but a reprint to a dead console like this is less than likely. But Aalt, why would you repress PS2 games then? Because pressing DVD is so much cheaper than mass producing plastic shells and PCBs to run a cartridge based games. As a side note, we’ll get back to this series on a later date in form of a review, and I’ll be revising Daiginjou‘s old review.
Some people were guessing that digital redistribution of games would bring down old games’ prices. Either it had no effect on the aftermarket or raised prices further. In principle, there are more games available now than ever before in digital format for consumers. However, the core collectors who want the real deal, so to speak, are more or less willing to dish out the dosh for whatever. That’s pretty unhealthy, but such is the nature of a collector.
This is one of the reasons I don’t personally believe that physical distribution will die out any time soon, if you allow me to step outside my own rules here. As long as their collectors and people who wish to gain control over what they put money into, or value an item enough to wish to have total control over it. Not all people are comfortable with the idea of allowing another to have total control over their purchased goods. However, it is undeniable that digital distribution does cut down multiple factors in inconvenience, through the pricing overall is still overt, often meeting with physical releases’ prices. I’ve been told I’m wrong when it comes digital distribution for good decade now, and I’ve yet to see digital distribution killing the physical goods market. Diminishing it perhaps and taking its slot in there, but not killing the market overall. Of course, not all games have seen official digital redistribution, something that is extremely unfortunate. However, it is something we have to live with, especially with so many titles having their source code missing.
To get back on the subject, reprinting Yakuza is a rather clear sign from Sega what consumer market group they are targeting. It’s not the general public, but the collectors, red ocean gamers and Japanophiles. Let’s not forget the people who got into the series during PS3 games, who never managed to get their hands and play the first titles. The Yakuza games weren’t exactly hot sellers and ended up warming the shelves long enough to cut the price at least 80% in rather short time. The supply was rather large in comparison to the demand, but it seems that part of them were moved away from the circulation. In Japan the series is far more popular than in the West, and banking current fans and niche audiences is Sega’s best bet to have the series be successful.
Furthermore, the Yakuza series has not been through the best of localisations. Whatever you think of the first game’s dub, it was a fair attempt at making the game more open for the general public. The second game wasn’t tampered with, but pretty much all the rest of the games saw removal of minigames and missions to some degree, up until the latest titles. Whether or not we believe Sega’s statements why content was cut from the games, they didn’t really give them any positive press and seemed to affect the sales to some extent, considering these same niche audience that are their main target audience currently tends to prefer their games in more untouched form, head petting games intact and all. I can’t fault them, I share their sentiments for my own reasons.
The question that rises from here whether or not it would be worth to run reprints on more games, even when the price might be higher. It’s not exactly an easy question from the consumer point of view. On one hand we do have collectors and retro collectors that would gladly purchase a new print of some high-calibre NES game like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania III, both games that tend to run at a higher price. The price would need to be gauged beforehand and probably be handled through a sort of pre-order similar to Kickstarter to meet up the costs of running a new production run. That is if we assume that we would replicate the original NES carts. As we’ve seen with 8bi Music Power and Kira Kira Star Night DX, there are more cost-effective alternatives. However, if we assume SMB3 would get this sort of reprint through modern technology, there would be split between the consumers; those who would like to have the “original” release and those would be “satisfied” with the reprint. In reality, both would be Nintendo produced official version of the game on NES. The semantic of what’s original and what’s not is strong with collectors, and these tend to drive up sales. NES is a prime example of a system to which people want to collect, and its partially because of its large library of games.
The retro game market may be skewered to hell and back, but that seems to be natural progression of valued old products market. It’ll take few decades before video games would be appreciated as proper antiques.
Sega never really recovered after Nintendo beat them with Super Nintendo. No matter how much we want to discuss how good 2D machine the Saturn was or how accurate ports the Dreamcast got, the truth is both consoles were mismanaged to hell and back. Sega’s consoles weren’t the only thing they mismanaged, but their Western front as a whole saw a dump. Franchises that went strong and could’ve continued strongly were dropped dead as Sega of Japan wanted to concentrate their side of the business. As with Xbox, the hardcore Japanese media doesn’t really find all that great success here in the West outside the niche audience. Streets of Rage, for example, is inherently Western in its styling as was Eternal Champions. Neither survived the paradigm shift Sega went through in the mid-1990’s.
However, with the Mega Drive Sega pushed the idea of them being the more mature console over its contemporaries. It worked for a time, and things like allowing blood in Mortal Kombat showed that they’ll be willing to give more exploitative products room to breathe. It really worked, giving the Mega Drive (or Genesis in Ameriland) that games-for-adults fame. Sports games helped by the boatloads, never underestimate sports games even if you don’t like them. PlayStation would inherit Mega Drive’s status. Not Sony themselves, but the brand itself. Sony’s fame has gone poof in the last few decades, and nobody really knows what the hell they’re up to now. Their movies suck and don’t make money, their electronics aren’t top-notch any more and the only thing that they seem to make a buck on is games.
The Sega we used to know is long gone. Not just because I should be talking about Sega Sammy all this time, but because of the changes the company went through. They went from one of the top arcade game manufacturers to top-notch console and game corporation, and then just failed miserably only to step down and become a rather lousy third-party publisher. I’m willing to argue that Japan didn’t really get why they were popular in the West. After they went third-party, it’s like they don’t care any more.
This is reflected in their Flash report. This consolidated financial statement from the last nine months of 2016 show a rather nice result for Sega, putting them squarely in the black and getting some extra while they were at it.
The games that special mentions come in set of three; Football Manager 2017, Ryu Ga Gotoku 6 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Outside Football Manager 2017, the two other titles are inherently related to how Sega sees their model; Japan first, the rest of the world later. Neither Ryu ga Gotoku 6 or PSO2 are available in the west, and while the western release of Ryu ga Gotoku 6 will be out under its Western title Yakuza 6 next year, PSO2 is still officially Japanese-only despite being released originally in 2012. Whether or not PSO2 would be a success in the West is an open question, but it would be a venture worth considering for Sega. Phantasy Star name is one of the few franchises that Sega kept alive ever since the Master System days, and still calls up some positive reactions from the high-end gaming consumers.
Yakuza has always had a limited audience in the West, and probably will continue to have. However, it’s perhaps a core example of Sega willing to go all out to put the money down into a game development they truly believe in. Another is that Yakuza series is outright maybe the most mature franchise in under their belt, and it’s easy to see why they would like tone down some of the elements in these. Luckily, they’ve manned up and begun listening to their core consumers on the matter. However, it is highly understandable why they never localised the two samurai spin-offs. Not because of themes like child prostitution, but because samurai games don’t sell in the West.
Soccer manager games will keep selling, there’s a good market place for them that seems to be relatively healthy and not too saturated with low-end releases to jumble the market up.
But as said, Sega doesn’t really care how things go in the West. Their Kantai Collection arcade game seems to rake in the dough just fine, something a similar product wouldn’t make its localisation money back. Yes, I’m talking shit about your waifu battle ship. Similarly, their smart device sales indicate a thing that most consumers don’t seem to realize; in order for a smart phone game to keep you with it, it requires constant content updates and events, at least in Japan. Once you miss something or start game later than others, you’ve already missed a chunk of its contents. This works Japan rather well, as their keitai culture grew to this in many ways (there’s a post up about Japan’s keitai somewhere on this blog, look it up) but for a Westerner who wants more wholesome package in one go it doesn’t really do the trick. A niche audience would keep it up for sure.
Their non-game related products seem to have done rather well and their plans for future releases seem to be solid and revolve around Japan mainly. Valkyrie: Azure Revolution most likely will hit Western shores at some point, whereas Initial D Arcade Stage most likely won’t due to the series being pretty much forgotten outside its meme status.
Talking about Sega is really dry and boring, because the company is like that. There’s no sazz or sparkle with them any more. It’s business as usual and that’s all there really is to them nowadays, but that’s not exactly a bad thing either. Them making some dough does warm up my shattered heart a big, because it also means once-loved company could possibly try to up itself at some point. (No they won’t.) The difference between Nintendo and Sega was always very pronounced, but how they work nowadays is like night and day. Still, I’m happy I managed to shove in a positive entry about Sega for once.
This really turned into a Monthly Three, but this one will be shorter than the two previous. By continuing the theme, who were the ones talking about casual games before it entered the consumer lexicon? The industry, and a bit later, the press. Gaming press never had the best reputation out there and by each year it went from bad to worse and still struggles to be a creditable field. Back in 2015 Reuters had a laughable result when it came to finding journalists with integrity in video game press. While I wouldn’t use Tumblr as any sort of valid source, this one was supported by the recent consumer movement.
This isn’t a discussion about either of those really. Nintendo Power was seen as Number Uno source for Nintendo news, and it really was. It was sponsored by Nintendo and was an excellent tool for them to advertise their products. The same applied to television and other stuff like cereals, the usual stuff. Nintendo’s death has been prophesied each generation since the NES hit the shelves, but Nintendo hitting the lower markets with wider consumer base and building up from there has always been a disrupting model. PCs at the time saw the advent of a new console generation and berated them for their backwards technology, but PC in the end you started to see console-like games on PC because of their success.
During the third generation you saw Nintendo making the market place as we know it nowadays, and when competition pushed their harder edged console aiming for the high-end users with the Mega Drive and PC-Engine, Nintendo pushed out slew of games that again hit the lower market and build their library towards the higher end market throughout the years. However, Nintendo did not repeat this cycle of disrupting the market with the N64 or GameCube. It would be Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2 that would gain the favour of the lower market due to its insanely large library.
The industry hates when Nintendo is successful, because it pleases the low-end market. Their low-end products usually end up being on the same level, in cases if not better, than the higher end market’s. Either the competing companies fight or flee the marketplace, and usually when you see companies fighting Nintendo they fail because they have some of their low-end team working on a visual copy of a Nintendo game, but not the heart of function. Sonic the Hedgehog was a competition done right when it first came out and kicked Nintendo into fighting mode.
If the industry doesn’t like when Nintendo goes against their wishes, so does the press more often than not. The modern casual-hardcore division is most likely because of Nintendo’s success in disrupting the market over and over again. However, Nintendo doesn’t seem like their history because disruption requires work and effort. It seems whenever they decide to forego disrupting the market, they end up with turkey of a system in their hands.
The current state of gaming is nothing new. PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio are just another round of Atari 5200 against newcoming titans IntelliVision, ColecoVision and Odyssey 2. However, the differences between Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles are rather miniscule and their library are largely the same. The only competition between the two platforms really is about brand loyalty and the few handful of exclusive games. They have the possibility to make them stand apart, but seeing how MS is absorbing Xbox as a brand back to PC and Sony’s pretty much at a loss what how to proceed in the future, it would seem that Nintendo’s NX will stand as a unique piece. If Nintendo aims to disrupt the market, expect the same old songs to be heard, just tweaked for the modern audience.
In the end, gaming is all about consumers’ choices. Kevin Cook put it well in Playboy’s January issue in 1983: The choice you finally make from among all of these games will depend largely on your personality and on what gets you off. Some of that decision will boil down to whether or not you want action or good looks – every former high school boy can identify with that.
The gaming press will tell us what the industry wants us to hear. After all, they are dependant on each other. The other brings them news, while the other is essentially their PR outlet. It’s not the normies or casuals that want to take your games away, that’s what hypersensitive parents and puritanical movements or such are for. Practising common sense and training your media literacy with an industry like this is a must, and that should be applied to elsewhere as well, like on this blog.
There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.
Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.
Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.
Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.
The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.
Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.
The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.
Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.
The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.
Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.
If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.
With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.
A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm
NES – 16.5mm
MD – 17mm
SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point
US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections
N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out
Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.
The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.
The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.
They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.
I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.
Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.
Looking at the home consoles we have now, there is little variety to them. Wii U doesn’t really have anything big to demand a purchase and most games on PS4 and Xbone are crossplatform titles. An argument that often stems from this is that this serves the consumer the best as he now has complete freedom to choose whatever platforms and get all the games he wants. While a valid argument, the selection nowadays seems to be more limited, more homogeneous than what it was in previous generations.
The competition between SEGA’s Mega Drive and Nintendo’s Super Nintendo illustrates well the difference two consoles can have in their library. When you add PC-Engine/ Turbografix-16 to the mix, you have consoles that have a distinctly different library to them. Games that crossed platforms at the time were relatively scarce. Some franchises did cross platforms from back and forth, like Castlevania. Mega Drive exclusive Vampire Killer/Bloodlines/New Generation does follow the usual classic Castlevania fare, yet a unique entry in the series. Similarly Rondo of Blood on PC-Engine had its own and Super Nintendo had the comparative Super Castlevania IV. This is a good example how three games in a same series offer similar experience, but are able to stand on their own. Not only all three are good games, but expanded the series as well.
Another way to bring similar yet totally unique games on a system was to create similar games. The Story of Thor/Beyond the Oasis on the Mega Drive is often compared to the 2D The Legend of Zelda games, thou the influences can be tracked to Hydlide and Ultima. Never underestimate the impact Ultima had on the game culture and industry alongside Wizardry. Anyway, nobody in their right mind would call The Story of Thor a simple Zelda clone. Sure, it offers top-down Action RPG gameplay, but that’s nothing too uncommon, especially for its era.
Nowadays you will not see companies making different games for different platforms like this. This is simply because the development for current generation of machines is expensive and time consuming. According to Masari Ijuin, it takes eight to ten times more work to develop for the current generation. Higher power also means higher needs for time, money and other resources. This is directly mirrored in game prices, which are on the rise.
To use Castlevania as a continuing example, developing both Lords of Shadow 1 and 2 took a lot of time and money. Mirror of Fate is a piece with smaller development budget simply because it was originally developed for a console that does not demand that insane development cycles modern Triple A games seem to automatically get. Mirror of Fate got ported to other platforms later down the line. The argument I’ve seen most thrown around is that pushing the same game on different platforms maximises the profit the company can gain from a game. While I do get called a corporate bitch from time to time, this isn’t something I would support, because that means we’ve lost variety. We don’t have three different Castlevanias on different platforms, we’re having the one and the same Castlevania.
To use Mega Drive and Super Nintendo as an example again, there was a reason to choose between the two, thou if you wanted to get Shooting games, you got the PC-Engine/Turbografix-16. Both consoles had their own variety of games to offer. When a company did one sort of game on one platform, you could be sure you would see a strike back on the other. The reason why Super Nintendo was named as the kiddy console was because it lacked the serious sports titles. The NES was filled with sports titles, and so was the Mega Drive. It gathered a different audience, and the games reflected it. There are so many legendary games on developed during the time when multiplatform titles were a universal standard. Even thou we are having more games developed than ever before, there is a distinct lack of that spark that made the best ones unique jewels.
I question if having an access to almost every game on one platform trumps over having variety in the library of games we are offered in the same manner I question the need for the higher power hardware for home gaming, especially during a harsh economic depression. It would be great if companies saw a game that becomes a huge hit on a system, and then proceed to aim to beat that game’s success on another. It’s true that the competition between developers is harsh, especially considering there are companies giving their games out for free and allowing Valve to devalue their products in Steam. Game industry has gotten too big for its own good, and games have become a common commodity with too little variety.
I’m far from being a person who enjoys racing games from the bottom of hits heart. On the contrary, I tend to stay away from racing games. All the ones I’ve enjoyed in the genre without any reservations and continue to return to them time after time can be count with one hand. These games are F-Zero GX, OutRun, Super Hang-On! Burnout 3 and Star Wars Episode I Racer.
While I was intending to do a review on Holy Diver on the Famicom, I decided to push it back due to the Star Wars The Force Awakens teaser (where the hell is the moniker Episode VII?) and review Episode I Racer now that I managed to fix my Dreamcast on its 16th anniversary. That, and I need to spend some more quality time with Holy Diver.
First of all, for transparency I will say that playing Episode I Racer has been somewhat nostalgic experience, despite my first try at it being on the N64. It was a snowy day in sometime very early 2000’s, and I was visiting some family friends with my mother, and they had a spanking new N64, which of course we played. They didn’t have much on the game department, but I can vividly remember the sense of speed it gave me.
Forward some years later to mid-2000’s, and I found Star Wars Racer Arcade machine in an amusement park. The controls were rather insane, but something I would love to play again and again; you had two levers of control, just like from the movie and by moving them back and forth you controlled the craft on-screen. The one I played the game on was a single player cabinet with part of Skywalker’s pod as the seat, the Deluxe model. The game both looked, sounded and played extremely well, but alas I only the chance to play it for one whole day. Playing arcade games like this have certain excitement in there, a feeling and experience no home game could ever wish to replicate without special controls. My memories of it are rather strong. Later on I would learn that Racer Arcade was no a version of Episode I Racer, but a separate arcade game developed by SEGA with the Star Wars license.
Having experienced what was essentially the original version and the SEGA’s pumped arcade version, I initially went into the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer in somewhat high hopes. See, I never played the Dreamcast version and for some form of mis/luck I completely had missed any sort of info on it.
So yes, I hate to admit it, but the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer disappointed me. I had no real expectations for it, but somehow the game feels a bit hollow in the end.
Well, let’s get to the controls.
For all intents and purposes, the controls do their job just fine. A accelerates and X brakes, no surprises here. However, I can but shake the feeling that the Dremcast controller’s triggers could’ve been utilised in this a bit better, but that’s a moot point now. I automatically tend to use the triggers as I would in F-Zero GX due to muscle memory, but only the R Trigger is used to make the pod skid. B and Y are used to flip the repulsorlift engine upwards from either side, a thing barely has any use outside few key moments. However, while you’re skidding without acceleration, I do like how the pod just continues with its direction and how satisfying it is to feel the pull from the engines when you begin to accelerate again. It’s not an instant change where the pod is heading, but fast enough to make it feel more alive. This may be dependent on the pod’s acceleration, and if it is, then its implemented pretty damn well.
The game likes to abuse the thumb stick, as Boost Mode is entered by pressing it forwards, until the speed-o-meter hits max speed, which after releasing and quickly re-pressing the accelerator engages the mode. In this mode, the temperature of the engines keeps rising and the mode needs to be disengaged before they explode. Even without entering the Boost Mode, keeping the thumb stick forwards allows you to reach a bit higher max speed. Pressing the thumb stick back allows you to turn easier.
This is pretty involved method of controls, to be honest. It requires the player to think through where he wants to relinquish better steering in order to enter Boost Mode. However, despite this the Boost Mode is not the most intuitive method of super acceleration. Certainly its different from other games that often give you a button to do it, but being all too different is not necessarily a better option. There could have been a good compromise between more friendlier way of control and the risk/reward of keeping the thumb stick forwards in order to enter the mode. The thumb stick sees a lot of back and forth moving action in this game, and I’m afraid I may need to buy a separate, dedicated controller for this game just to be safe. I may be a bit paranoid, but you never know.
The pods don’t have too much difference in how they act and control, to a large extent. Their largest differences come from their repulorsolift engine sizes and different max speeds. Some of the pods in the game have incredibly high maximum speed compared e.g. Skywalker’s own junkyard built machine and I’m afraid sometimes that simply unbalances the game quite a bit. Then again, racing games and balance have rarely joined together in harmony.
The game does have an edge over the N64 in that I greatly prefer the Dreamcast controller over the N64’s spaceship one. It’s a subjective thing, and I simply find better comfort in control of the thumb stick on Dreamcast than I do on N64. This is in comparison to F-Zero X, mind you. Whether or not I will get N64 version for comparisons sake sometime in the future is an open question. Copies are cheap, especially the US ones.
From controls we get to track design, which more or less divides opinions. Generally speaking, they’re decent. Some are extremely good and have an excellent flow to it, rewarding both highly technical and bold racing, while others just are sort of bullshit turns that will make you crash unless you just learn the track first. I should say that I value flowing tracks in a racing game, and by that I mean the elements the track has have a some sort of logic behind them that allows a smooth, non-stop speed. Of course, after knowing any track by heart in any game will allow the player to have a constant flow in any of the racing games, but I digress.
The AI is decent, so to say. Episode I Racer doesn’t seem to be a rubberband AI, as you can go far in front of the pack or be left behind by the leader. However, the AI seems to be know the best possible lanes and will abuse them. This is balanced somewhat that the AI doesn’t use the Boost Mode all that often, or not that the player would see. Later races it’s not too uncommon to see you going in front of the pack, and with one slight loss of speed with some sort of collision, you AI will catch you outright and often pass you. Then it’s a fight to get to the pole position again, as the sizes of the vehicles can fill the whole track at times. At times it also feels like the AI knows which engine has gone to red and rams it to explode it. If so, then the computer is a cheating bastard. The player has no way of knowing at what level the computers’ engines are. Ramming in the game is awkward, awful and seems to only damage the player, thus not worth it at all. AI is also generic in that sense that no other pod racer is no more aggressive than the other, thou you’d expect Sebulba to use his flamethrowers and fellow racers as much as possible.
The tracks allow some variety of paths taken and I welcome this sort of additions every time. These changes may not be speedier in most cases, but it keeps the same track from becoming all too boring and sometimes they have elements that other players find more suitable to their play style than what the other route could’ve been. There’s some somewhat interesting bits thrown in there as well, like Oovo IV’s Vengeance, where a part of the track is done in zero G, but avoiding huge lumps of rocks floating in there is absolutely horrible. Some of the tracks are remixed in later races, and while this is just using the existing map with some routes locked and unlocked, it still makes it feel fresh.
There is a problem with the rehashed tracks that the multiple paths can’t really help, and that’s when the tracks are just lousy in the visual department. Malastare 100 comes right to my mind as a failure in terms of visuals with its bland as hell visuals, especially where there’s supposed to be something like a bog with green vapours rising from it. Nothing really stands out in a positive way, even thou the intent they had was somewhat nice. However, far too many planets suffers from having industrials as part of their theme somehow in form of vehicles or machines. It’s Star Wars racing, and you could create far more illustrious worlds with the same hardware than this.
That’s the crux in this game; it is painfully obvious how the Dreamcast version is a direct, fast port of the N64 version. There’s nothing to take use of the more powerful hardware, as the game is rather ugly even by 2000 Dreamcast standards. Every asset has been ported from the N64 version, which means textures and polygons are rather ugly in comparison other Dreamcast game of the time. The HUD simply looks awful. The PC version seems to have the edge over the Dreamcast version by a mile in this regard, as the games has vector graphics over whatever piece of garbage they ported from the N64 assets.
Now, despite all that, the game looks sharp via VGA, which I tend to use as a standard with my Dreamcast. As such, the game does look sharp and every positive and negative tidbit on the screen gets a boost. Comparing to PC version via Youtube, there’s not much difference between the two outside PC version having far sharper HUD and slight touches here and there. Music quality may be better, but you really want to put something more fitting in the background. It can be argued whether or not it’s good to make this game look sharp on either PC or Dreamcast, as it mainly shows the flaws one couldn’t really see on N64.
The sounds department suffers from the exact same problem as the visuals, so the same applies here. Everything sounds exactly like you’d expect the N64 sound like. It doesn’t help there’s no really any fitting music. Sure, it’s Star Wars and you have to have that John Williams styled orchestral score in there, but reusing essentially one and the same song in each race is jarring the moment you leave the training course on Tatooine. The yelling the characters have in the game add absolutely nothing of worth, and I’m afraid most of them just sound badly acted. Doing this would keep you from hearing the beeping of the engines, which would force you to keep an eye on the speed-o-meter due to the lack of audio cues.
In the end, because the Dreamcast version of Episode I Racer is a lazy port of the N64 game, there’s no really a reason to call it bad. Sure, the GD format adds standard lenght loading times in there, but a lazy port doesn’t mean this one is a bad port. On the contrary, the game does run well and I have met not a single problem while playing through the game during. If soundless Youtube comparison is to be believed, the Dreamcast versions seems to run smoother, but that should be of not surprise.
That’s from the hollow feeling comes from. It’s a game that’s by all means a good one, perhaps even great, and by license game standards even stellar, but knowing this is a port of a game released earlier on both N64, Windows PC and on the damn Macintosh and then finally released on the Dreamcast without any considerations of the better hardware, it just feels like the game is neglected. I assume the Windows, N64 and Mac versions were developed around the same time and Dreamcast was mostly an afterthought, but I’m not too eager to find this out.
If we were to take the Racer Arcade into notion, I can’t help but with that SEGA had the rights to port their own game to Dreamcast. From all of the versions that used Episode I as its basis, SEGA’s Racer Arcade is without a doubt the best one. This may be because SEGA has a long history as an arcade game provider, or because they just know how to handle racing games that well. I am in the crowd who regards F-Zero GX as the best in the series. Nevertheless, I implore you to give Racer Arcade a try. As it is an arcade only game, you may never be able to play it, and even if MAME would be able to perfectly emulate the Hikaru hardware, you would never have the true way of playing the game with the levers.
Oh the memories! I wish we had one of those still around here. And no, that’s not me.
In short, Episode I Racer is a fun game that is held back on the Dreamcast due to its roots on N64. It could have been so much more than its earlier versions.