Sunday, December 20, 2009

Moses at the Movies: HOUSE

The credits had rolled. The lights had come up. We left the theater, turned to each other, and said roughly the same thing in chorus: "Holy fucking shit."

House, the 1977 film debut of Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, defies every possible expectation. It spits in the face of rational thought and eschews easy categorization. It left my friends and I (who had attended a screening of the film at the Starz FilmCenter) in a stupor, and probably changed our lives forever.

The plot of the movie is simple enough-- a group of high-school girls and their professor visit a house in the countryside, which happens to be haunted/possessed by a ghostly aunt and the Cat From Hell.

Thing is, from the first scene of this movie on, you know Obayashi is using a different playbook. The cadre of girls have names like "Gorgeous," "Fantasy," "Kung Fu," (she knows kung fu) "Mac," (she's fat) and "Professor" (yup). The absurdly up-beat soundtrack-- by the legendary GODIEGO-- drowns out the character dialogue. Gorgeous slams a door to the sound of a nuclear explosion. Screen wipes I've never seen before. Cartoonish, pastel backgrounds. Sudden shifts to stop-motion. And this eventually becomes a horror film!

Maybe. Again, different playbook. Things just keep escalating. You think your mind can't be blown any more, and then the next scene hits. By the end, I was practically desensitized, numbed to the sheer madness on the screen. House is hilarious, yes. But it's also filled with bizarre, nightmarish imagery that you can't unsee. The tonal shift between the first two thirds and the last can only be fully internalized afterwards. Actually, probably not. Did they put tabs of acid on the ticket stubs? Am I going to just wake up the next day and say "Nahhh, that movie didn't happen"? Why was there that bear in the fucking truck with the ramen? All questions we found ourselves asking each other long after leaving the theater.

House has long been unavailable in the West in an easily-obtainable form, but it's getting a DVD release from Criterion sometime next year. I am buying this shit, and you owe it to yourself to at least check it out from Netflix or something. Show it to your friends. They'll thank you for it. Or write something like this, I dunno. Either way.

The arguably unrepresentative trailer:

Something I keep forgetting to mention that the trailer reminded me of is that Obayashi was mostly a director of TV commercials prior to making House. What kind of commercials? Shit like this:

Yes, I think that should just about do it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip 'n Dales! M.M.O.R.P.G.

After a slightly spur of the moment decision, I decided to ask some friends of mine to contribute to this blog. First up is Jamaal Graves, whose anecdote of forgotten viral videos spiraled out of control, taking him on a journey into the heart of madness itself. Enjoy!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip 'n Dales! With Extreme PvP!

You might be wondering why I'm quoting an old as hell flash movie. And if you're not, well... you should be! That video is why I'm writing this blog post. It's why I spent a day seeking adventure, seeing new worlds and new things with my buddy Tim, who accompanied me on this epic quest.

It all started yesterday (Friday) night when I remembered the old flash video "Chip 'n Dales M.M.O.R.P.G." Wanting to re-live the amusement of the song and video, I Google'd it up. Of course, it was my first find. The same one uploaded on AlbinoBlackSheep. Old School.

But what's this site Google searched up right below the flash video? No... you have to be kidding me!

"Chip and Dales" is one thing that can be taken the wrong way if found in your search history.


I admit, my curiosity spilled over like a boiling pot of soup. I had to see what this was about. I couldn't ASK questions, I just had to jump right in! But I knew I couldn't do this alone. I had to have someone with me, someone to experience what I experienced, so that others would believe what we saw.

My buddy Tim happened to be on, and therefore, I invited him to join me for some Chip 'n Dale chipmunk-y fun. The date was set: Saturday morning.

We register, select our characters (which actually spans over many characters, not just the chipmunk duo), and log in. There's no client to download; only a flash to load. Who knew what to expect at this point besides platforming madness? We go through the, deceptively, easygoing Tutorial. At least it doesn't seem too shabby... for a Flash game, at least.

Tim and I meet up outside the tutorial. I'm Dale, but only because you gotta unlock Chip. =/ Furthermore, the names between Chip and Dale are reversed in this game.  Great editing fellas! Tim picks Kirby, one of his all-time favorite characters. There seems to be no difference in the characters' abilities, only the sprites themselves, with Dale getting his sprite from the NES C'nD game, and Kirby getting the one from Kirby Super Star. All right. On the first screen, we are given about, literally, 12 different options as to where to go, at least according to the arrows.

With no direct suggestion from the game itself at all, outside of a sign we both fail to read, we decide to go left.

We get a jet pack in the form of giant demon wings and we're off to fly across this ledge... kinda. My wings fail me at first flap as I launch myself off the cliff, expecting to fly like an eagle. Instead, I plummet at the horrible frame rate this game runs at, and I die instantly by pitfall. Tim gets a pretty good laugh as I try again, successfully making it across.

We find a portal and activate it. After a 5 second countdown we're teleported to the Jungle.... which is apparently World 12?

We go right, and we're given a choice between holes to fall in. My gamer instinct kicks in and I know it's the hole that's farther away. I'm sure Tim knew too, but he missed the jump and landed in the first hole, dying, and now giving me a good laugh. On the next screen, we are now in a pool of what seems to be LCL.

What if that's NOT LCL?

We continue right, now in some "random shapes" zone, for lack of better way of explaining it. Each of the (seemingly randomly picked) yellow shapes, which look like they were made by some kid in MSPaint, is a spring. You jump on them, they make the "BOING" noise from Super Mario World, used mostly by the football enemies, and you go bouncing up... I wish I could say I was kidding.

Assuming down means death, like in most platformers, we clumsily bounce our way up to the top of the screen where the crates are. These crates are power-ups; weapons to use against enemies. I figure we'll need them, meaning there must be enemies going forward. With trying to go down seeming like a bad option, we just make a wild jump to the left. This leads to Purgatory.

There're no enemies, no platforms, no nothing. All you got is yourself, massive DI and nowhere to go while you fall for about 10 seconds. Doesn't matter if you go left or right with that super DI. There's nothing there but wait until you eventually die. The game returns you back to your last save point after death: in this case, the little tree hut at the beginning of the jungle.

Well fuck going right, we're gonna go left! We're greeted with four platforms. One higher than the next, going left. Well we can totally make that. I mean, seriously, look at the maximum jumping height, and the height of the platform!

I can totally make that, right?


Tim also jumps, but no such luck. Also, the game announces to, what I assume is, the whole playerbase when someone dies. At the very least, everyone in the same world gets to see you fail constantly.

At this point, we're just Mexican Jumping Beans, popping up as much as we possibly can, but accomplishing nothing but minimal heights, spamming ourselves with "Ryyudo has died!" and "Timotee has died!"

Tim makes it to the first platform and waits for me. I falter and fail many a time. Tim then goes for the third, and fourth, making it just fine (screw you Tim). He mentions that a running start somehow gives you a few pixels more height of jump, or something. So I get some running start, and these jumps are still out of my reach.

I finally make it to the second platform, only to die while trying to get up to the 3rd. Fuck! After about a good 5 minutes of error after error, I make it up to the last platform, and the next area.

I died this much AFTER getting a knack for the game and going back to take pictures for this entry.

There's a tractor beam heading upward, and some arbitrary enemies below the platform we're on. I jump and get beamed up. Tim, on the other hand, decides to pass it up, or maybe missed his jump since the game doesn't track other players' movement very well. Either way, Tim heads downward. He then dies trying to get back up on top (I assume), since I only see the message from where I'm at. Tim has to go back to before the crazy high jumps.  So I wait for him in the most dismal place so far.  Ganondarf's Castle.

Ganondarf is probably a pretty nice guy.

I assume it was an intentional typo... right? Tim makes it to the entrance of Ganondarf's Castle. We save in the house save point and begin to make our way up the tower by heading left.

The jumps on the first screen are pretty easy, and we climb up the tower with ease. But we get to the second screen, and the 3rd jump on the screen is out of reach. No matter how much of a running start we get (or anything else, for that matter) we can't make this jump!

Actually, after I took this picture, I somehow managed to clip my guy up there for a split second.

Then I get an idea! Tim had killed me earlier by lifting me up and throwing me into a pit (fucker) and I figured, if I lift Tim up, I can throw him up top to the platform. Now we're thinking with portals!

Tim gets on that platform. From there he's able to make the next two jumps, then jumps up to the next map and dies almost instantly to a monster up there. We do this a few more times before Tim tosses me up to let me try. I then get another weird idea: I try to grab Tim while he jumps on top of the 2nd platform, which works! Now we're both up on these platforms!

At this point, some other guy in the game (and from what it seemed, the only other guy in the game, at the time.) Started talking to us, though he's in a different world. He seems like he's 13 or 14, speaking with extreme emotes @_@ <_< r_r (I dunno what that last one is supposed to be, but he used it) and "cutesy" words, like 'bish' and 'plz.'

He asks us to invite him to where we are. We do, and he makes it up to where we are with extreme ease. He's some kind of Pokemon (my Poke-knowledge is rusty,) and has like 10 jumps or something. Tim and I semi-ignore him and continue ascending the tower at our own pace, and I finally make it up top next. Then this guy jumps up, kidnaps me, and throws me into a monster. Obviously, I die. His goal becomes all too apparent: To sabotage and grief us as annoyingly (and as much) as possible.

So without any sort of sarcasm, bias, or anything, we can officially say that 1/3rd of the game's population are DICKS.

This guy flies/jumps away, types '*grabs sword*' and flies back to the screen Tim and I are still struggling with. The sword swings around his Pokemon like he was Mewtwo from Super Smash Bros. Melee, circling about him in some kind of unwieldy manner, stunning us every time we get hit with it (although while stunned, you can STILL pick up other players.) We're barely able to progress as this kid sits on top of the topmost platform saying "bring it on bish <_<"

Tim and I decide via Google Talk that we need to go to a different world. We warp away using a "/home" command that brings you back to the beginning of the game. The kid, on the other hand, still taunting us to come up "if we dare..." I say something to along the lines of "Do it!", although it's directed at Tim. The kid apparently takes that as a challenge, as his taunts continued. Hoo hoo hoo!

This time around, we go right from the very first screen. We pass the first screen with ease and reach the second screen, where there's a random boss by the name of Gargantio.

Tim gracefully jumps over the boss, whereas I gracefully put my furry nuts on the boss's face and die because of it. Tim jumps up to the top, and then jumps left onto of the logs, grabs the crate of acorns (what?) jumps back down, and defeats the boss like a complete badass. I grab the trophy the boss drops, which was rightfully Tim's, and we make our way right to the next screen. Another teleporter, another 5 second countdown, and we're in some sort of beach land. World 11 now...

We jump over Bomberman (he's an enemy for whatever reason,) and make our way through random stuff, jumping over some more Bombermans and finally arriving at another save point that's UNDER THA' SEA! Although the way I made it there was through a weird glitch where I fell into the water while standing on a piece of dry land. There was a random save point where I landed, even though it didn't seem like I was supposed to be there...

I was able to get back down there. Honestly, all the land-pillars weren't down here earlier today. They completely revamped this world, for the better, throughout the day. Also, it seems OTHER people are playing this game.  Seriously?

Tim and I meet up at the next save point, and continue right. The next part was... a strange test of physics and patience. Mostly patience as there seemed to be little physics to be found.

Earlier today, the grey blocks weren't there. They were just randomly floating yellow balls.

I could not,  for the fucking life of me, figure out the physics (assuming there's any) behind these yellow bouncers. And neither could Tim. We bounced and bounced but the 4th one always fucked us over. We couldn't get enough height on a consistent basis to turn and make it to the 5th circle. I made it once. ONCE! And died from a random enemy when I reached the top and headed into the next screen.

Finally, Tim messages me on Gtalk:

Tim:no, this game sucks

Jamaal: Hilariously bad

Tim:I'm not gonna pretend it doesn't anymore

Bless Tim for his strength of mind. We stopped soon after, our mentalities unable to take any more abuse at the hands of this pre-alpha test game. The game has constant advertisements telling you to join the discussion on the board, and to add this game to your favorites if you enjoy it. Tim and I both agreed:

There is NOTHING to enjoy here.

We'll just stick to the Flash Video, thanks. A minute long, and 20 times the entertainment.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Konami Sure Seems To Hate You, Pop'n Music Fans

Being a fan of Konami's music games outside of Japanese arcades means engaging in a bipolar relationship with a monstrous corporation that probably hates you (this is ignoring the act of playing the games themselves, which is perhaps just as devastating). Ain't no better example of what I'm talking about than the plight Pop'n Music fans have had to endure over the past few years.

Yes, Pop'n Music. Think of it as Beatmania IIDX's slightly less hateful, significantly more colorful sibling, with a broader taste in music and a learning curve that assumes you haven't already been playing the game for 10 years (note: you might want to read that article I wrote about IIDX a year ago; the terminology in there gets reused a lot). There's a guy on youtube who uploads autoplay videos of easy songs, too? Well, there you go. Here's a video of one of the hardest songs in the game, just to even things out.

The big difference between Pop'n Music and IIDX is, as you've probably guessed, the method of input. IIDX is played with that bizarre turntable-piano-monster thing, while Pop'n has an array of 9 gigantic UFO-catcher giga buttons, each capable of generating a sound louder than a violently convulsing washing machine. There's no way to adjust the scroll speed of the notes on a per-pixel basis like in IIDX, and there are far more excruciating mindfuck songs with insane speed changes, so folks tend to play at even faster Hi-Speeds than in IIDX. S-Random is a lot more popular than Random for whatever reason, and it's here that you actually end up having to use your arms and elbows to hit certain crazy note combinations that only show up when everything gets thrown in the blender.

There are also ojama (literal translation: annoying bullshit) which range from scoring goals to bizarre, Mario Kart-style disruptions of gameplay where your notes fall at the wrong speed, spin violently, or become blocked out completely by god knows what. These are all optional, and can be turned on before any song at your discretion. The harder/more insane the ojama, the more "challenge points" you earn. More challenge points means a greater chance of getting the extra stage in the arcades. Really, though, most people just turn 'em on for fun.

Obviously, I could write an article about this game all day. I shouldn't, though. This is supposed to be about how Konami keeps screwing over Pop'n Music's console audience. So let's talk about that!

Exhibit A: Konami has released 17 mainline arcade installments of the game, with the most recent being Pop'n Music 17 THE MOVIE (like IIDX, the "theme" of each game has almost zero bearing on the actual music in the game, outside of one or two songs). The latest version of the game on console? Pop'n Music 14 FEVER. Initially, folks just assumed Konami was biding their time before releasing the best console port ever, but after nearly 3 years it's all but assumed that Konami's never doing another one of these games on the PS2. This was already a pretty big slap in the face to people who had shelled out crazy money for an arcade-style pop'n controller. It gets worse, though!

Exhibit B: Beat'n Groovy. Oh my god. What do I even say about this thing? It stems from the same proud tradition that brought us the North American release of beatmania and Rock Revolution. It's an Xbox Live Arcade game, which means that in addition to the embarrassing graphic design and busted play mechanics, there are also only nine songs in the game. Based on the online leaderboards, about 7,000 people bought the game. I can never figure out why Konami keeps making stuff like this, but everyone involved should probably be ashamed. Thankfully, it doesn't really get worse from here. Sorta.

Exhibit C: Pop'n Music Wii. A standalone "reboot" of the franchise which replaces the game's original extremely satisfying visceral button-smashing controls with awful wiimote gestures. It bombed in Japan. In North America, it just got a stealthy release with no fanfare. We're talkin' so stealthy that not even bemanistyle knew it was coming out. When your obsessed, hardcore target audience doesn't even know your game is out, something is wrong.

Clearly, Konami doesn't really seem to give a shit. Unfortunately, they recently announced Exhibit D, Pop'n Music Portable, in which they reveal, horrifyingly, that they kinda do. Here, at last, is the port of Pop'n Music Adventure that fans were clamoring for, but it's on the PSP. The control scheme looks unplayable: you can play Pop'n on a dualshock, sure, but that thing's got four shoulder buttons to the PSP's two. Who are they making this game for? It looks like they put some effort into it. Why not just release a PS2 version? Has that ship sailed? Gosh, it all feels so inexplicable!

In conclusion: yeah, hey, whatever you want Konami. We'll see when it comes out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Name Was Originally Going to Be "Masturbearding"

Occasionally terrifying but often interesting video game forum selectbutton now has a podcast! Every episode is edited by a professional audio engineer, so it sounds pretty decent for a show conducted via Ventrilo, of all things.

I was in episode 2, which covered fighting games in a less-accessible way than I would have liked (there is some irony in there, I'm sure), and episode 3, which was marred by technical difficulties and a questionable choice of topic.

Episode 4 (subject: the treatment of video games in other media) features the guy who made the smmooooothest Let's Play video ever made as host, along with a really well-researched and coherent discussion from all the guests. Good place to start listenin', I'd say.

The show's also on itunes, and I'll be sure to make a post or two here when I show up in future episodes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Boy, Nintendo never cared about Virtual Console, huh

I've been retranslating the credits for Super Robot Wars J this past evening (one of the side effects of having a Brazilian non-native English/Japanese speaker translate a game: he gets lots of things wrong that you have to correct later. The credits are just one element of many - and yeah I plan on writing more about the game at some point, sit tight). As a result, I've been stumblin' onto all sorts 'o wacky web pages for subcontractors involved in the game's development at some level or another.

Qwintet, for example. Who are these guys? I thought they were Quintet at first. They were apparently responsible for SRWJ's loathsome sound design.

And Ancient! I don't pay much attention to what those guys are up to these days, but they've got a link to Streets of Rage 2 on their page, at least. That's reassuring. The link is actually to Sega's Japanese Virtual Console page, which is pretty dang remarkable. Every game has its own video, along with detailed information, character artwork and so on. I'm a little blown away at how nice this site is, actually.

Point is, the videos they made for these games are really something compared to the equivalent videos on Nintendo of America's Virtual Console page. Check out the one for Shinobi III! Shit, that is some classy video editing. Sync's up with the music from the intro, and it shows off everything cool about the game in about a minute or two.

Compare that to Nintendo of America's version. I think it speaks for itself. NOA clearly never gave a shit and whoever's handling Sega's Japanese VC page clearly does, but yeah, this is all pretty obvious. I mostly just wanted an excuse to link to Sega's classy virtual console page, maybe inspire somebody to go out there and play some awesome Genesis games. With that in mind, some favorites:
  • Alien Soldier's video smartly doubles as a tutorial on how to beat the game's towering, gently pulsating mountain of gross boss monsters. That is to say: make sure you're at full health, and then do that awesome zero dash thing that does like a million damage. You're a pro already! It also has a clip of the game's most important moment. See if you can spot it. I played through this game recently with some friends just to see it, so you're saving some time here (HINT: it might remind you a little of Altered Beast).
  • Shadow Dancer is apparently still not available for purchase from the US virtual console. I want to say that it's because of the twin towers on the title screen, but Vigilante has those too, so I'm gonna shrug my shoulders on this one. Shadow Dancer has really chunky, heavy music that goes down like a big bowl of soup, ninjas jumping down from scaffolding on the Statue of Liberty, a dog you can sic on enemies, one-hit deaths, and a bonus stage where you jump off a building because that's what ninjas do and throw shuriken at dudes on the way down. It's the Genesis' Ninja Spirit equivalent, and you should ninja get it.
  • This is going to put me in the unfortunate company of the slightly insane Dave Halverson, but I fucking love Dynamite Headdy. Like, a lot. The backgrounds alone, man! Headdy's driving concept is that it takes place in a puppet theatre, which means that everything's a prop, and the whole place is barely holding together under the workmanship of a very hardworking and tired group of (entirely unseen) human beings. You're never explicitly told any of this by the game, but the game pulls off its aesthetic vision with such confidence that you can't not figure it out. The game slingshots from one idea to the next with Treasure's usual ebullience, enough to almost make you not care about what a giant punch in the face the final boss is.
  • I've written about Toe Jam & Earl before, but it bears repeating.
  • Musha Aleste (known in the west as M.U.S.H.A.) sums up Compile's design ethos in one game. 8-minute long stages. Power-ups that render you as a god. Enemies barely capable of firing at you. On default settings, Musha Aleste has a breezy quality to it that folks weened on modern arcade shooting games might find quaint or hilarious. That's just the way console shooting games were back then! Hudson Soft was king of the pack, and shooting things without fear of reprisal under the stern guidance of Master Takahashi's violently vibrating index finger was the de facto design standard. And of course: the noisy FM metal soundtrack and steampunk-meets-sengoku era setting. Can't forget those.
Well, that's another entry that got away from me. Until next time!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Moses at the Movies: Streets of Fire

Streets of Fire is a rad movie. Oh it's got problems, baby. Problems like you wouldn't believe. But that doesn't stop it from being rad, oh no.

Directed by Walter Hill back in 1984 (shortly after writing 48 Hrs. and The Warriors), Streets of Fire seeks to combine Cool Things from the '50s with Cool Things from the '80s, and I must carefully dance around the fact that I probably don't have enough cachet in '50s pop culture to properly analyze this movie. That's okay! Analysis is not what Streets of Fire is all about.

What it is about is pretty cut and dry. Willem Dafoe, who wears inconsistently ridiculous-looking clothes throughout the movie and runs a biker gang, decides to kidnap the lead singer of the coolest band on the block: "Ellen Aim and The Attackers" Much like the rest of the movie, they look '50s but sound '80s. Big time. They consist primarily of members from new wave group Face to Face. That explains it.

Shortly after his hazy, smoke-filled reveal, Willem Dafoe grabs poor ol' Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and runs off on a motorcycle. One can only assume that she was dizzy, the result of flailing around at the end of the above musical number. Her manager, played by Rick Moranis, gets punched off the stage almost immediately. The twist is that he is also a money-grubbing jerk, I guess!

After that, we get introduced to ex-soldier Tom Cody, played by the fairly career-dead Michael Paré. He's back in town at the request of his sister, who runs a diner. We also find out that he is ripped in a decidedly old-school, pre-steroids way, and capable of beating up entire gangs by throwing them through windows. About a minute after that, he runs into McCoy (Amy Madigan), a tomboyish ex-soldier who "ran out of wars" and wants to help him stick it to Willem Dafoe on his own turf. Oh yeah, Tom Cody used to be Ellen Aim's girlfriend, and begrudgingly agrees to bring Rick Moranis along for the Big Showdown down in The Battery.

Streets of Fire being what it is, the Big Showdown happens twenty minutes into the film. Tom Cody rescues Ellen Aim, blows up a lot of motorcycles, and exchanges deadpan one-liners with Willem Dafoe on a flaming street. Then everybody hightails it outta there, and the movie forgets what it's doing for about 45 minutes. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the whole shebang nearly falls apart on itself by the halfway mark.

Thankfully, the last 15 minutes of this movie manage to right the vessel in time for a climactic showdown with an important lesson to impart on the viewer: Don't bring guns to a sledgehammer fight. Yes, you have to watch this for yourself, I'm afraid. It'll do you good.

The dialogue in this film is incredible: It wouldn't surprise me to find out the screenplay was written entirely without the use of commas. Ebert's review sums it up nicely:
"The language is strange, too: It's tough, but not with 1984 toughness. It sounds like the way really mean guys would have talked in the late 1950s, only with a few words different, as if this world evolved a slightly different language."
There's an enthusiastic messiness to the proceedings that reminds me a lot of charming '80s OAVs, which this movie may or may not have inspired. Characters do nonsensical shit on a regular basis just because it's awesome. More than half the named cast in the movie is worthless and seem to exist by accident, as if Hill and Larry Gross forgot to hastily whiteout their lines from the screenplay and just kinda rolled with it. And the style in this movie! Every damn street in the city seems to exist beneath L Train tracks. There are two cops policing the entire city, both corrupt. And the music - of course - which is so prominent as to almost dominate the proceedings entirely. Tonight is what it means to be young, and you better not forget it.

The original DVD release that I watched has a smearily awful sub-VHS transfer, but the first thing I looked up after the credits rolled was the HD DVD release: it may be a dead format, but it looks like it's the only way to watch this movie the way it was intended. That's... oddly fitting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Poignant Realization

(from a presentation Erik Svedang gave at the recent Assembly '09, entitled "The Creation of Blueberry Garden – how to get away with bad design choices (sort of)" - The above image is one of the more insightful moments from the talk, in which Svedang talks about the intentional "bad" design choices he made when designing Blueberry Garden. I think he sells himself and his game a little short, myself. You can download the presentation from this link, watch a video of Blueberry Garden here, or purchase the game itself on Steam.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BeatBlox: The game I keep forgetting to talk about

BeatBlox is an Xbox Live Indie Game from former IIDX forum moderator and all-around nice guy Aaron Ramsey, which attempts to mix Tetris Attack-ish tile matching with rhythm game elements. The two ingredients don't blend together too well, but it's totally playable, only costs a dollar, and oh my gosh guys check out this song I contributed to it:
Pretty simple premise, really. There's a big ol' randomly generated grid of colored tiles, which you can slide around with the face buttons on your xbox controller. Every once in a while, these grey "Beat Blocks" (now mysteriously spelled correctly) will drop onto the grid in time with the music. Beat Blocks count down and eventually explode, destroying all the tiles connected to it.

There's also this lifebar thing, which constantly drains away to nothing; the only way to stay alive is to constantly make huge explosions. The problem is that the bar is always draining, while the Beat Blocks only explode occasionally. This results in a lot of extremely frustrating situations where the lifebar is near death, a Beat Block is about to explode and refill the lifebar, but... the bar drains before the block explodes, and now you're just dead. It's a pretty unfortunate situation to put the player in, and it happens a lot.

Still, it's better than most of the other games I've played on the service. Crescendo Symphony, for example. Don't buy that game, okay? I've seen too many people make that mistake already.

Monday, August 10, 2009

YOU WA SHOCK ALL OVER AGAIN: Fist of the North Star is now on Hulu.

Well holy shit. Fist of the North Star is, in fact, on Hulu. You ain't got no excuses for not checkin' this show out now! Well, okay, you probably do, but whatever. Besides watching the first episode, I can also vouch for episode 18 ("Life or Death!? Beyond the Wasteland Lies the First Avenue of Hell!"), since it's a filler episode where Kenshiro punches a tank so much it explodes.
Okay, I guess he kicks it a bunch, too. Point stands.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SEMI-BREAKING NEWS: Guitar Freaks and Drummania GET WIT' IT

You may be vaguely aware of Guitar Freaks/Drummania, Konami's extremely long-running arcade music game franchise (hereby referred to as GFDM), which has historically never really gotten a domestic release outside of Japan. Specifically, you may know that they've hilariously fucked up every opportunity to bring the games to America, only getting more hilarious when Guitar Hero and Rock Band exploded a couple of years back. Thankfully, the following news doesn't have anything to do with that. In fact, it sounds pretty awesome.
This past weekend, Konami had a location test for the newest installment of the franchise, entitled "Guitar Freaks/Drummania XG," and it looks like they're finally seriously renovating a pair of games that have desperately needed it for a while now. Guitar Freaks is easily the most laughable music game that Konami still releases new versions of on a regular basis. The controller only has 3 fret buttons, which means that most songs tend to look something like this:
Goddamn, Guitar Freaks is retarded. Every solo in every song tends to look something like what you see in the above video. Harmonix had the good sense to try to transfer some semblence of actual guitar technique into Guitar Hero's play mechanics in the form of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and note charts that at least look like something other than utterly random conflagrations of notes thrown into a spreadsheet at the last minute. How Guitar Freaks lasted sixteen iterations is beyond me.

The only rational explanation is that sessioning with Drummania (read: Guitar Freaks and Drummania machine gets hooked together, allowing players to form a "full band") kept the game afloat despite its inherent awfulness. That's the only rational explanation because Drummania is rad as hell, and does a lot of things better than Rock Band's drum mode, I think. You don't get penalized if you freestyle and insert notes that aren't actually part of the song, and you have far more options for adjusting the scrolling speed of the notes on the screen, just like every other music game Konami makes these days. Little things that I really wish Harmonix would implement into Rock Band, y'know? It also has a more realistic setup, with actual electronic drum cymbal pads and the like; if you buy the PS2 versions of GFDM, you can just plug a retail electronic drum kit into your PS2 and bam! You're playing with effectively the same hardware as the arcade. It's all pretty dang great.

...Whoever's overseeing development of GFDM must've felt like something was up, though, because Guitar Freaks/Drummania GX is a total overhaul of both games. Not only do both games have gorgeous new cabinets with widescreen displays and the like, but they're also upgrading the input. Guitar Freaks finally gets 5 fret buttons and sustain/long notes, while Drummania goes out of control and gets a hi-hat pedal, another cymbal, and a floor tom. The original DM setup already had a hi-hat, cymbal, snare, two toms and a kick pedal, which was enough to accommodate hundreds of songs worth of unique note patterns. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do with the expanded design space they've afforded themselves.

These location tests are usually incredibly anal about folks recording video of their unfinished game, but some undercover gentlemen managed to snag video of the game and put it on Nico Nico Douga. Check it out if you've got an account. I'm a little concerned about the readability of 9 note lanes in Drummania (I had a hard enough time parsing the kick pedal lane in the original DM), but that's a sacrifice you gotta make, I guess.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Those muffins...

...turned out pretty good, I think. A little inconsistent in terms of size, though. Gotta work on that. The recipe called for the following:
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons backing powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
The recipe said I would end up with 12 muffins, but closer to 18 resulted. I am not complaining! Thanks to Bob Bakes for inspiring me in the first place.
ADDENDUM: I brought these over to a good friend's house last night, had a lot of people eat them. Response was delightfully positive; this morning I received a phone message from Daniel Hood stating that "That muffin was fiiiiiine" - Mission accomplished, baby.
Yup. This blog has officially turned a corner. In the words of Samuel L. Jackson circa 1993... "Hold on to your butts."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Following Up

A number of readers have mentioned to me that the previous post is confusing. My mistake! I intended to flesh it out a little more at the time. Things got away, as they often do, so let's go ahead and fix that.

The screenshot you see in the previous post is from the 1984 TV broadcast of Fist of the North Star, one of the most iconic and gloriously schlocky manga and anime series of all time. You can stream it for free (all 109 episodes!) over at Funimation's video site, along with a variety of other shows. I recommend checking out Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 while you have the chance; neither show has been officially released within the US before, and are enormously influential and important examples of Leiji Matsumoto kickin' ass.

Lemme reign myself in. If you've never heard of Fist of the North Star, or if you're familiar with the concept but have never seen the original, you might as well go watch the first episode. You should know pretty quickly if you love it or hate it, I think, and from there it should be easy to judge whether or not you want to continue. At the very least, you should have some other options if you decide to peruse the rest of Funimation's streaming site.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go bake some Banana Muffins. Pictures forthcoming.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Return to Bloggin' - SRWJ

Well, hello again! It's been a while, so lemme tell you what I've been up to over the past six months or so, vidja-game wise.

Mostly, I've been working on editing (read: rewriting) the script for an English-language romhack of Super Robot Wars Judgment for the Game Boy Advance, a ridiculously awesome game about robots punching other robots in half, as demonstrated by the following screenshot:
Super Robot Wars is a really, really long-running franchise of strategical role-playin'-game-a-ma-phones that smush the characters and plotlines of a whole bunch of different robot anime together. This means hundreds of characters, most of the plotlines from their respective shows, and a lot of dialogue.

In the case of this romhack, said dialogue was translated by a non-native English speaker, and needed a lot of rewriting. I saw the project page for the game over at back in January, shot the project lead a PM asking if he needed any editing help, and got sent the dialogue for the game's first scenario. I spent a couple of hours polishing the thing up, sent it back to the project lead, and got a whole bunch of new scenario scripts in return. And so it went for about 5 months. Working on this thing was, I found, a lot of fun. I ended up skipping on Persona 4 in favor of rewriting goofy Super Robot Wars dialogue. Plus, y'know, last semester in college. Priorities (sorta).

For the record, I'm not a member of any kind of fan community devoted to these games, and I'd never even seen half of the shows featured in the game prior to starting work on the project. The franchise in its modern form is consistently breezy, silly fun that generally treats the player's time with respect, and I really dug working on it. When the translation patch gets released in a few months, I suspect you'll dig it too.

Still, I'm not quite done yet. The massive script has been edited, sure, but I still need to go back and see everything in context, proofread, find stuff I missed, and rewrite some more. I was originally thinking about turning this into a kind of "Let's Play" thing, akin to David Cabrera's old blog playthrough of the Super Robot Wars 2 remake from a few years ago, but decided against it at the last second. People are waiting for this dang translation patch, y'know? If I started talking about this game you can't play every day for a month or two, I would eventually start feeling like a pretty legit asshole, as opposed to a guy who was merely accused of being one by crazy robot fans.

So instead, I'm changing this thing from a vidja-game blog to an all-purpose one. I've been meaning to do it for a while, but this time it's fo' real. Consider this fair warning.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: Arcade Mania!

Arcade Mania! is a new book from Kotaku editor Brian Ashcraft about Japanese arcades, the games inside and the people who play them. That might sound like a fairly narrow focus, but Ashcraft smartly chooses to center not just on traditional joystick-based video games (played primarily by dudes with rich parents for 6 hours a day), but on UFO Catchers, sticker machines, and the amazingly sophisticated network-based Mahjongg and card-based arcade games that are both insanely popular and also nearly totally unknown in the West.

He's also made an interesting structural choice - the chapters of the book are organized the same way that the average Japanese game center is, with UFO Catchers up front, followed by music/fighting/shooting games, dedicated cabinet games, and so on.

Each chapter is a snapshot of the history of arcade games. Yu Suzuki and Hang-On are the lynchpin of the dedicated cabinet chapter, but it's not just about the 80s and 90s - the chapter also gives us a glimpse into the history of the non-video amusement games that eventually inspired Suzuki and others to put plastic motorcycles and Ferraris in game centers. The shooting game chapter covers the Space Invaders boom and Xevious, leading us right up to the present. There's even an interview with Minoru Ikeda, the guy who runs superplay DVD publisher INH, including an attempt to explain why he thought "Insanity Naked Hunter" would be a good name for a DVD publisher.

There's more fun reading in here - the fighting game section has interviews with Daigo Umehara, of course, but it also has chit-chat with Arc System's Daisuke Ishiwatari, SNK producer Shinya Kimoto (choice advice to future game designers: "Punching is important. That, and the sound effects of smacking someone."), and Virtua Fighter 5 director Daichi Katagiri. There's nothing earth-shattering in here for people who have been paying attention to these games for a while (You wa Shock from SNK exec Soichiro Hosoya: "We have to release our fighting games in arcades. If we didn't, no one would buy the console versions."), but Jean Snow's page layouts are clean and Ashcraft's newspapery-prose is consistently engaging and informative.

Even for people who already think they know everything about Japanese arcade games, though, the chapters on mahjong and card-based arcade games are pretty dang interesting. If you've used MAME at all in the past few years, chances are that you've noticed the enormous back-archive of utterly bewildering strip-mahjong games, and have since written off the concept of arcade mahjong as pandering bullshit devoid of any value whatsoever. Arcade Mania! is here to prove you wrong, son. Specifically: man, Sega's Network Taisen Mahjong and Konami's Mahjong Fight Club series are ridiculously sophisticated networked, touch-screen affairs with IP-card tracking and everything. Hell, Sega and Konami even have their own competing rosters of real-life pro mahjong players who are basically paid to play their respective arcade games all the time - the chance for regular players to run into pros is a big draw.

The one sorta-weak link in the book is the chapter on Retro Games, which consists primarily of an interview with Goichi Suda in which he talks about "maybe opening a retro game center" across the street from Grasshopper Manufacture, and some quotes from Toshiyuki Kanbayashi, the owner of Shibuya Kaikan Monaco, a fairly popular retro game center. It feels weirdly under-researched, and Suda is practically the only source quoted in the entire chapter. Oh, and the other weak link: Ashcraft fucks up during the music game chapter when describing DDR's double mode, which is expressly designed for one person to play with what appears to be two players' worth of inputs - he makes the rookie mistake of thinking that his interview subject is rad enough to be playing the normal game, designed for one player, on both the one and two-player side... actually, considering how confusing that last sentence is, his mistake was totally understandable.

Besides that, though? I dug the hell out of this book, and I bet you will too. It's about $15 or so over at amazon, and comes in the adorably-compact-by-western-standards A4 size. People walking by your bookshelf will be practically magnetized to the damn thing. Oh baby.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grab bag update #2

In lieu of providing new content, here are a couple of links that deserve your attention:

First up
is a Gamasutra interview with Arc System Works, the awesome men and woman behind the Guilty Gear series, the thoroughly under-appreciated Battle Fantasia, and a slew of other 2D fighting games, including the recently released BlazBlue. There's a lot of interesting information in here, most of which has handily been digested by David Cabrera (protip: if you don't read his blog on a regular basis, you totally should be), but I was most amused by BlazBlue director Toshimichi Mori's issue with the way Capcom has been presenting Street Fighter IV:
Toshimichi Mori: I'm not trying to pick a fight with Capcom or anything, but with Street Fighter IV, they made a big deal about how the game was designed to be accessible to people new to the genre.

I remember when I first read that in an interview, I was like, "What? How can they say that?!" I thought maybe I was seeing things. I think they need to take a second look at the list of moves for that game before they make a claim like that.

Sure, people like us who work with games, or fans of fighting games can do a hadouken or a shoryuken without thinking much about it, but for somebody just getting started? Those moves are pretty tough! You can't expect new players to just whip those moves out every time.

To fill your game with moves like that and then emphasize how simple it was for beginners to pick up seemed irresponsible to me. Street Fighter IV is not a game geared toward people who've never played fighters before. If they were really interested in making a beginner-friendly game, they should've made included a few impressive moves a player could do with the press of a button.

That is some curly-mustache-grade irony, right there.

Second - while 1up is sorta dead, their Retronauts blog, which boasts the talents of Jeremy Parish and Ray Barnholt, among others, is rockin' harder than ever.

Case in point: their recent interview with Famicom-era Konami musician Hidenori Maezawa. This guy is one of the mystery heroes behind the memorable music of many Konami games. Best part is by far this factoid on the Parodius soundtrack:
Maegawa: "When I was working on Parodius, we had a very short time with the game, so I wasn't able to compose a new soundtrack for it. But you know, classical music is public domain -- once the composer has died, 50 years later we're free to use it however we wish and the music belongs to the public....that's why we used classical music for the game. We only had one month to create the Parodius' soundtrack!"
There's lots of other cool stuff on the Retronauts blog besides this interview, anyway. I recommend checking it out.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Semi-Capsule Review: Ketsui Death Label (DS)

Ketsui Death Label is a DS port of the arcade shooting game from which this blog's title is uneasily derived. The original game (developed by the genre-defnining Cave) has practically taken on the status of myth among shooting game fans - it's never been ported to a home console, you can't emulate it, and the arcade board itself sells for something like a thousand bucks last time I checked. It's also purportedly really good, with a scoring system that rewards getting up close to the enemies. Plus, there are lots of mesmerizing, colorful bullet patterns and excellent music courtesy of Manabu Namiki. And helicopters. Awww yeah.
Death Label, developed by those Tetris Grand Masters over at Arika, is the most glorified boss rush ever made. Instead of a set number of stages like in the arcade game, the DS version consists of different courses, each one sending you up against different bosses from the arcade version of the game in a row. The play mechanics have been reappropriated a little bit for the small screens, but the end result still requires you to stay as close to the boss as long as you can without getting killed.

Interestingly, you also get a ton of points for carefully using up all of your bombs at each boss encounter, turning all of the bullets onscreen into big multiplier point items with each use. That's a scoring mechanic that doesn't show up very much in these kinds of games, which usually reward you for bombing as little as possible. Unfortunately, it also means that in a lot of cases you end up spending most of your time shooting the boss until near-dead, then waiting around until a particularly big bullet pattern comes out, bombing, and then waiting around some more.

Besides the steadily harder set of courses, the game also has an Extra Mode which replicates the fifth stage of the arcade game on the DS with a pretty absurd level of difficulty. There's also Doom Mode, in which you fight the true last boss of the arcade game over and over, with the difficulty ramping up each time.

The game has an art gallery that unlocks as you complete the equivalent of achievements ("destroy this boss," "destroy that boss," "don't bomb," etc.), which in turn unlocks a bizarre little side mode called "Oshiete IKD-san!" in which Cave head-honcho Tsuneki Ikeda instructs various characters from Ketsui itself on the game's play mechanics. There are also mini-superplay videos and assorted meta-weirdness from the development staff of the DS game. Most of it is beyond my rudimentary Japanese ability, but it, along with the included superplay DVD of the arcade version, show that Arika wasn't willing to just push this thing out the door. Sorta. It feels apologetic, like "hey, sorry we couldn't make a real game for the DS. Here's a bunch of unnecessary stuff for you to peruse as compensation." That's the kind of vibe I get, anyway.

Second opinion: here's a video review of the game by shmups forum member Rob, who lives in the great state of Alaska. You may find that he is pretty picky about these kinds of games (and maybe a little insane), but he is an important voice, nonetheless.