Monday, June 13, 2011

Changing Gears

Greetings to the faithful few who keep up with what's going on around here. I have a number of things to tell you so this post may get a bit long. Sorry about that...

To start with I haven't been around for about three weeks. That's because I took a semi-vacation. It was supposed to be a week of real vacation, but what often happens with me happened again this time. The fertilizer hit the fan covering my relaxation with a number of interesting smells. It seems I have a gift. Last summer my car bent a rod and I decided to fix it myself, for those of you who don't remember when that happened.

So, what happened this year? I don't even want to go into it. For one thing I can't remember it all. I think it's my brain's way of shielding me. I know that me and Jonathan, the next in line for the CC throne, spent a number of hours/days moving his sister from about two hours down the road back to town. Also, I had to work on my car.... big surprise. A number of computer problems also cropped up mysteriously as soon as I decided that I needed a rest.

Now, I have also started playing new game and that ate up a lot of my time. I say it's new, I should say it's new to me. It's Dwarf Fortress and you have to be a serious man to play it... I decided to take a second crack at it while I was off because I failed to play it once before. The “Getting Started” tutorial takes several hours to play through. The game doesn't have a learning curve, it's move of a learning cliff that most people throw themselves off of before they learn to play. Once you can play it though it's amazing. If any of you play it e-mail me. I want to virtually pat you on the back...

In other news I'm writing a book. I know I mentioned it once before, but now I'm working on it in earnest. Gaming is one of my loves, storytelling is another. You might say I'm an aspiring author. At the moment a lot of my time is being eaten up by the book. I'm trying to get it ready to send to an agent before the end of August. (I really hope to have it ready by the beginning of that month...)

Part of the reason I am doing this is to try and raise some more money I can stick into CC. Things are going well around here, but not well enough to hire the new hands we need. We have got to get an influx of cash and, so far, all the new things we've worked on haven't brought in a great deal of new traffic. General MacArthur said that you shouldn't land where the enemy was, but where he wasn't. I am trying to step out on new ground rather than fighting the same old battle we've been entrenched in for years.

On top of all this I have got to get a lot of meat and potatoes work done around here. So, for the next little while you're only going to be hearing from me now and then. If any of you want to know what's going on come by the forums or shoot me an e-mail. Once I get some of this stuff under hand I should have time to get back on videos and blogging and the whole deal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Back To The Point

Eventually I do plan to get back to the point and start doing “elements” posts again. Today however, I'm just not up to it. I'm working on a book (Shhhh, that's not exactly public knowledge.) and I feel written out in a lot of ways. It's one thing to get on here and blabber about whatever I'm thinking as I think it. It's another to lay out a philosophical position point by point underlining some running theme. So, for a second Sunday in a row I fall down on the job.

In truth I have got to give myself a vacation soon. It probably looks like I'm not doing anything from you guys point of view, but there's always a lot going on in the background. This video thing really eats up a lot of time, but it really is working. Honestly we've only touched the surface with it as well. We plan to do more even soon. It is like I don't have enough hours in the day though. I get up at six, even on weekends, and before I know it it's time to head to bed. I was waiting to take a week off when SWTOR came out, but it doesn't look like it's going too this spring. If it's not out in June I am taking a week off anyways.... I am worn down, lol.

This week I really hope to get another video or two up. We have the funny one we are working on and if Daggerdale comes out this week we hope to get it up as well. There's more going on than that, but I am going to cut it here. I just started playing Dwarf Fortress this weekend. It is CRAZY and it's calling to me. I'm sure you all understand what I mean, lol.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Congratulations Guys!

Well, Tim and b5a0ed44-6ada-11e0-ae5e-000bcdcb2996 (if that is your real name...) both of you have won a copy of Star Raiders. Shoot an e-mail to me here: and I'll send you your keys.

I do wish we had had a few more entries, but I guess it worked out for you guys. I think we may have to up our prize packages to bring a little more attention to all this, lol.

Either way, once you guys have played the game a bit post your thoughts here if you don't mind. I'd like to know what you think of the game.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You Know, Just Hanging Out

In truth I've been doing a lot more than that although you guys can't really see what's going on in the background. That's why I decided to take the time to do a full blog post about it. The number one thing eating my time right now is playing games. Yep, that's right. I have spent countless hours playing a number of games getting ready for overview videos and something else we're planing.

In fact I've decided to tell you faithful few about the other project. I wanted to call it “To Hack With It”, but that got booed down, so now it's “The Video Project Without A Title”.... Anyways, one of the things I do for fun (when I ever have the time) is hack games that I've played in the past to add some interesting element or facet to the game. For instance what I've started with is Dragon Warrior. You all may remember how the game goes on FOREVER and how you start with nothing, not even clothes. Well, it struck me as funny when I was playing it for the overview. You are the decedent of Erdrick, who was the greatest warrior in the world. Apparently your family blew all his money on cheap wine because you start with nothing. So, I hacked the game and with the change of one byte I went from starting with nothing to starting with Erdrick's Armor, Erdrick's Sword and the Silver Shield. Believe it or not even starting with that it still takes HOURS to top out your character.

Anyways, the point is that I want to make funny videos where I hack some game to add something cool to it. Like starting Final Fantasy with the grown up versions of your characters. What do you guys think? Can anyone think of a title better than “Fun Time With Aaron”? Post a comment and let me know something...

In other news Atari has already told me that I can get a copy of Daggerdale to review when it comes out, so that's cool. The new game reviews seem to be bringing in more traffic than anything else. I honestly think we need to start trying to do one new game review a week, but I'm not sure we can fit it into the current time table. Plus I really want to continue to tie things into the whole “classic” theme around here. Of course with Daggerdale I feel like it's a D&D game and that probably appeals to a lot of our fans anyway. How many D&D games do we have on the site? A lot...

I also need to get those games moved into the new boxes. So far I haven't gotten one game moved... I need more time or more help or if I can get it both... Either way, I'll try to let you guys know when when I make measurable progress on any of this stuff.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Win A Copy Of Star Raiders

Once more Atari has been generous enough to throw a couple of copies of their newest release our way. Star Raiders is a reinvention of the original classic. It's a space combat simulator with a couple of new twists. We've actually already done a review of the game for our YouTube channel. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to check it out.

In spite of my controller rant it's still an interesting game. We've got two copies of the Xbox 360 version to give away. So, how can you win a copy? Just comment on this post with the first space combat game you ever played. For example, the first one I ever played was the Star Wars arcade game. (If you can remember that far back.)

The first person to respond will get a copy, plus we're going to pick a random winner from the other replies Friday morning. Go ahead and let us know how you cut your teeth in space combat. Good luck everyone!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting Back On It

I plan to get back on it starting tomorrow. It's been a busy week for me and I don't feel up to an elements post today. I just thought I would do a quick post to let you know what's up. I'm still working on video stuff in the background. I should be able to get to a real post in the morning. It's just been very busy and I am basically too tired to think right now... So, that's about the state of things at the moment, lol.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bogged Down

Guys this is just a quick post to let you know that I haven't forgotten to post, I've just been busy. We were working on the Star Raiders review until 8PM last night. (The sound ended up having some problems after we were done as well. We have got to do something about our sound setup and QA, lol) Anyways, you can check out the video below. I plan to do a regular post on Sunday. I have got some non-CC work I have to handle Saturday and for the rest of today I plan to be making more game video.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You know... Keeping Myself Busy

So, as usual there is a load going on this week. It's only Tuesday and I'm already tired, lol. To start with I'm going to be recording hours of video each week for the for next few months at least. Now, I am sure that playing twenty to thirty hours a week sounds like a dream job, but there's a catch to it. I have to try to keep up with all the other things I'm working on around here as well. Plus, of course, we want to take on some more interesting and entertaining video projects. For instance we'd like to start doing video blogs once in a while. They would save some time and that's a big factor around here. We really need a better camera (or at least mic) before we can start doing that. Either way it's something we're looking at for the future.

I'm supposed to get the site skin stuff from Atari for the up and coming Star Raiders. Our contact has been out of the office for close to a week so we haven't been sent the stuff yet. Which means it will probably come in this afternoon and I'll need to get it ready for tomorrow morning. (At least that's what they're telling me.) We are planning to do a review of Star Raiders like we did with Yar's Revenge. That review has already had over a thousand views and it's still climbing. Plus, of course, we've just started the whole YouTube thing really. As time goes by we should get more and more subscribers making massive views easier to get.

That's another thing that is really going to eat time this week. Believe it or not the last review took close to ten hours to do. We have to capture the footage we are going to use, write a load of notes about the game and compile them into a logical voice over and then edit the video so you can literally see what we're talking about from one moment to the next. It's a lot of work, but I think it's worth it. I'm honestly considering trying to start doing one new game a week. As new games come out that the retro-gamer may be interested in we need to weigh in with our opinion.

In addition to all this we really need to work on updating the inventory soon. I'm sure you guys have seen the Domino video by now. Well, part of the reason behind that was that we want to move the games from cheap plastic bins into the nice wooden ones. The first batch of wooden crates have arrived and, in theory, we should be moving the games from one place to another, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen this week...

Anyways, the point is that things are moving along. We hope to have at least one new video up this week if not more. We keep working away, there's just a lot to do. I plan to post again near the end of the week and you let you know how things are going.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Story

Here again I may seem to be touching on something that is rather optional in gaming. After all, where is the story in Tetris? OK, OK... Yes, there is no story in Tetris and Teris is a great game. However, what I'm talking about is the starting chords, the fundamental palette, the base elements if you will of gaming. Not every game uses every element. I know I've basically said that before, but I wanted to underline it after I had strayed out as far as optional supporting characters in my last post. Story really is one of the basic building blocks of gaming and most games make use of some kind of back story.

To start with I want to look at a game where the story was there but had very little to do with gameplay and was never really filled out. Space Invaders is a perfect example. After all you're not playing a little dot trying to hit other little dots with a third little dot. You play someone guarding the Earth from evil invading aliens with a weapon that can blast them out of the sky. That is certainly story! However, that's as far as it went. The developers never built on the idea and, since the story went no where so did the game. Now, I know some of you may be hoping up and down screaming at me through the screen right now “Space Invaders is a timeless classic!!!!” OK, I agree, but let's look at a couple of screenshots. Take a look at the Atari 2600 Version and the new PSP version. See any similarities?

The game hasn't changed, it hasn't evolved. Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but Space Invaders just doesn't have the following that it once did. Arcade games have moved on and it's a throw back to the past. At first it may not seem like the kind of game where story could have added much to it, but I don't agree. Games like Fire Emblem have deep story lines that have nothing to do with how the game plays. The characters in the story, although well developed, don't necessarily pass from one game in the series to the next, but the story continues on. What is the result? A long running series that keeps growing and changing while still remaining true to it's original form. The story is used as a motivator to keep the player playing and it works.

We can even look at arcade games like Mortal Kombat and see that story does matter. A new MK game just came out and, of course, it has a story mode. Why? Because the story pulls you through and keeps you playing. The series started with a story and it has grown and changed and although the game has evolved to some extent it is still basically what it was when it started with more bells and whistles. The makers of Mortal Kombat gave people a reason to keep on fighting and they do. Now, some could claim that the story isn't important and that it would have been a smash series without it, but I don't believe that. I can't think of a series that has had such a prolonged arcade life, but that doesn't have such a compelling story. (If you can think of one let me know.)

If I seem to be missing the obvious story driven genre that is RPG games, be assured, I didn't overlook it. For the most part RPGs ARE stories, so there seemed to be no reason to mention it here. In time I intend to take a look at each genre and will talk about my thoughts on RPG stories, the good, the bad and the ugly, but now's not the time for it. My point here wasn't that some games are story based, but that most games can get a little something extra out of story. What would have happened to Tetris as a series if there was some compelling story based reason to line up those little blocks? The world may never know....

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Console Classix Videos – Take 1

So, this week has been loaded with video. I don't know how many hours of gameplay I've recorded this week, but it's been a lot. We're working on getting more overviews up and we're also doing a little recording for an idea I got the other day while playing Dragon Warrior for hours and hours.

That actually brings a point to mind. It's been suggested that my overviews need background music. Now, I generally agree with that. My voice isn't unmelodious, lol, but when I am reading an overview and trying to keep the time reasonable I do have a rather quick and to-the-point dialect. So, all in all, background music would be great. Enter the problem: We can't rip music out of the gameplay footage and use it as background music!

Why? I'm glad you asked! As is usually the case when we can't do something we want around here the answer is copyright law. Why can't we translate games from Japanese into English? Copyright Law. Why can't we show a picture of Link playing Console Classix on the home page? Copyright Law. Why can't we sell bootleg DVDs out of the trunk of our car up at the mall? Copyright Law! Wait... strike that last one, I would never want to do that anyway. Now, I want to say that I agree with the limitations of copyright and I'm not really complaining that we can't do those things. (Well, not being able to translate a game is stupid and the law should allow that, but that's another subject.)

Anyways, back to background music. You see, when we record video of a game it's not the game itself. The video is it's own artistic work that is, in fact, copyrighted by Console Classix. Now, we could almost certainly leave the background music playing in the video without any problems as long as we didn't modify it. (Imagine how chopped up it would be in the our Dragon Warrior video...) However, if we pull the music out separately and use it, say as background music for a video we are making, that would be a copyright infringement. You understand? We can show video of a copyrighted game, but we can't just take and play copyrighted music wherever we want.

So, the questions are: Where can we get background music? Should we use background music? Can we find a range of music to work with different games? Should I do the voice overs with an Australian accent?

There is a lot to think about there. In any event, we are going to be working on video for the next few weeks at least. If you guys have ideas or suggestions let us know. We're listening!

Oh, and thirteen followers! Hooray!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So, What's Up?

A lot really. That's why I decided to do this blog post. The last couple of weeks have been a little crazy and I'm running short on hours this week. You may have noticed that we didn't do a contest Monday. Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. One, we don't want to beat it to death even though I enjoy them. Two, time, time, time. There just isn't enough of it.

Last week we spent close to twenty hours all told pulling out the inventory, laying out that giant domino pattern, filming the great fall and then cleaning everything up. On top of that we put up another video review and, for the most part, kept up with the blogging, forums, facebook, etc. There are only so many things I can work on personally at a time. So, I have to be very careful about how I choose to spend the time that I've got.

Right now I am working on Console Classix number one problem. No one has ever heard of us. Now, I know you have, but look to your right. Now up just a tad. You see that number of blog subscribers? It's eleven guys. You can feel as if I'm talking to you all personally, because I DO talk to you all personally. The truth is that as AWESOME as our product is for the most part we are unknown. The thing is that we have got to fix that. How can we?

Well, I'll start by telling you what doesn't work:
Adding more games! Believe me, we've tried. The difference between offering 1,000 games and over 3,500 really matters to people who already know. However, It doesn't do anything for people that have never heard of us.
Adding more systems! For the longest time I thought this was going to be the fix. We have added system after system and everybody around here loves it. Here again, however, it doesn't do anything for people that haven't heard of us.
Adding more features! No seriously guys... It just doesn't work. I still think that it will in the long run, but it doesn't now. Why? Well, because we offer so much for $5.99 that very few people are saying to themselves “I'd signup if they offered _______”. Most people who are going to be interested ARE as soon as they find us. The problem is that very few people manage to find us.

So, what does work? Well, we're working on that. You may have noticed that we've started to take an interest in videos. Why? Well, because they are a very viral way of sharing information. The dominoes video really has nothing to do with what Console Classix does, but it gets our name out there. So far it is working. Believe it or not our number of “Likes” on the homepage has started going up a lot faster since we started regularly posting videos. It's a way for us to get word of mouth advertising.

Anyways, the point of all that rambling is that I am spending a lot of my time doing video editing. Now we get to the ways you can help:

First, tell everyone you know about what we're doing.
Second, share our videos all over.
Third, if you like us “Like” us.
Forth, feel free to click the subscribe button on this blog if you haven't already. It encourages me, lol.

What Console Classix really needs is more traffic. We are working hard to get it. Once we have it we will be able to add more games, more systems and more features. It's all tied together guys!

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Atmosphere – Supporting Characters–Part 2

OK, I have to admit that in this post I am stepping way beyond the basic elements of gaming. If I was laying out a artist's palette I would have started these posts with basic blue and red and I with this post I have moved on to teal or mauve. So, why have I strayed so far from my original concept. Well, to be honest, I've just kind of meandered over to this point. In my next post I intend to get back on track with “A Study in Yellow” if you will. However, I want to finish my look at supporting characters first. So, with your permission, I'll continue.

What I am considering today is the way that supporting characters really fill out RPG games. In the first place there are simple NPC characters that the player has no direct influence on. They can be considered as much a part of the atmosphere as the artwork or the music. However, they can be used to inspire the emotions and get the player really involved in the story. Here I have to mention Champions of Krynn once again because I feel it has one of the best examples of this I've ever played through. As the game unfolds you get to know an honorable knight name Sir Karl. He dies a little over half way through the game. By that point you really feel like you know him. To play up the drama the woman he loves is with you when you find him dying in a pool of his own blood. (Of course, you could have just healed him if the game would have let you, which does let some of the air out of the drama balloon. Still, sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief.) You instinctively feel sorry for the woman and her lost love and it drives you on through the rest of the game. In the sequel the story continues as Sir Karl is brought back as evil undead. You have to kill him to give him rest. It's all very deep and it makes the entire game memorable. NPC back stories that grow as you play pull you in and make the world feel more real.

Supporting characters are also used to fill out the “party” in RPG games. This particular aspect has changed a great deal over the years. When we look at games like Bard's Tales and Final Fantasy we see the party represented as nothing more than a combat group. When anyone talks to the party they are talking to you, the player. They don't talk to party member A and then party member B, they just talk to the entire party. The part has only one personality and, for all intents and purposes, might as well be one person with four to six bodies. Even this unarguably added something to the atmosphere, however. You ended up with fighters and wizards and thieves that each had their own skills even if they didn't have their own voices. In many games you could customize the look of these characters and at least make believe that your party had more than one person. In fact, we used to play Final Fantasy as a multi-player game. We would each pick a character and then announce what we wanted “our guy” to do in combat. It certainly added a great deal to the game.

As time went by this idea expanded. We began to see games with a single main character who would gather a party of actual NPCs with them as they traveled along. Here I can't help but mention Bio-Ware. One of the first games I ever played with this kind of main character/NPC party members formula was Baldur's Gate. As soon as think of that game I think “Go for the eyes, Boo!” The party members had personalities, they had goals, they were full fledged characters. There were even side quests related to what was going on in these character's fictional lives. You could help them out as if you were helping a friend. This idea was expanded on with games like Knights of the Old Republic where you had a real influence on your party as the game played out. Wherever they started from they were going to end up more like you were by the end of the game. Were you going to be a hero and inspire them to be people of moral courage or were you going to be the villain and teach them all to look out for number one? (This choice between good and evil is actually another element in RPG games, but we'll touch on that when we get fully into RPGs.) Filling out the NPCs in this way made them feel more like real people and, as a result, made the game world feel more deep and real. For RPG games at least, these supporting characters added a great deal to the atmosphere.

I've run long again... In the next post I'm going to try to get back to the roots of the thing and take a look at something that applies to all games. This tangent just sort of popped up.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

You Made Me Laugh!

Once again it's Friday and once again it's time to hand out a prize! Now, all the entries were funny and I don't want you to think I didn't give them all a good consideration before picking a winner. However, in all true contests there has to be one winner. Someone that for one reason or another came in first. In this case the winner is:


Backdoor childbirth got the best belly laugh. Admittedly it has to do with kids/birth which I have a lot of experience with. My wife went natural on a couple of our kids and we know a few people who have delivered at home and one who did it in a car. So, it instantly struck a chord with me, lol. Somehow the idea of tying them up for there own safety struck me as funny.

Again, thank you all for your comments. We'll have another contest soon and give you guys another crack at the prize.

Ocg1984, don't forget to send an e-mail to with all your mailing info.

Taylor.... you still haven't done that yet. Your prize is aging like wine man...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Triumphant Video

Maybe we can get Eddie Van Halen on guitar soon! For those of you who don't know yet, we just put together a rather interesting video for YouTube. We've always wanted to show you guys our game inventory, but we were never sure how to go about it with sufficient “Cool Points”. We were given an idea a few years ago, but it was so epic that we felt we didn't have the time. We finally decided that we needed to make time and the result is our truly triumphant video. The idea was simple and beautiful, just take thousands of games, line them up like dominoes and then knock them over. So that's what we did yesterday. It took ten hours on setting games on edge and a few more to get everything in place and finish the video. It's all done now and I have to say that I think it's worth watching and telling your friends about. So, take a look, share it with your friends, leave a comment, lol.

The Triumphant Video

Monday, April 25, 2011

Make Us Laugh And Get a Gift Card

We've decided to run another little contest this week in order to wrap April up on a winning note. Once again it's “Caption the Screenshot” bum, bum, bummmmm! The rules are simple enough, post a caption for the screenshot below as a comment. We, the staff of Console Classix, will pick the one we think is funniest and award them the prize for exemplary humor. What is the prize? A $25 Amazon gift card! Now, you may be saying to yourself “Wasn't that the same prize they offered a couple of weeks ago?” Well, yea, it is. So, what? You gotta problem with Amazon? Alright then! Caption the screenshot!

As usual, we're going to wrap the contest up on Friday. So make sure you post your caption before Friday morning!

Without further adieu here is the screenshot:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Atmosphere – Supporting Characters–Part 1

In my last “elements” post we took a look at the different kinds of main characters that we often find in gaming. (Those being static and dynamic characters.) In this post I want to look at another optional layer to this already optional element and that is supporting characters. Mario has his Luigi, Sonic has his Tails, Han his Chewy and Simon had Garfunkel. Now, I know that supporting characters cover more than just the atmosphere of a game. They certainly do add atmosphere, but they can also change game play and cross right into game mechanics. However, supporting characters have to go somewhere and so I am sticking them in here just because we've already run into them.

There are several roles that these supporting characters fill. The first and most simple is to give a multi -player aspect to a game. When we look at the original Super Mario Brothers we see Luigi represented as the “green Mario”. The play styles between the two characters is exactly the same. Their great in-game difference is nothing more than the color of their cloths. This is also true of Contra, Ikari Warriors and loads of other games. The addition of multi-player gaming certainly added something to the game, but that was the extent of these supporting characters' roles. (Multi-player gaming is actually another optional element, but it's going to have to wait for another time) However, even though the main and supporting characters are exactly the same except for wardrobe, the developers still understood that it was important to represent these characters as separate individuals. The second player in SMB isn't green Mario he is, in fact, Luigi. Just look in the manual!

Now, with Ikari Warriors and Contra the difference in the characters never got much further than clothing and they remained where they started as simple multi-player options. However, with Mario and Luigi the different characters began to take on different play styles along with their different cloths and back stories. In Super Mario Bros. 2 Mario was still the well rounded guy he had always been, but Luigi became a fantastic jumper even though he wasn't quiet as strong as his brother. In games like Sonic the Hedgehog the supporting characters were introduced with different play styles already intact. As each of these series developed, more and more characters were added to the list and more and more play styles became available. (Again, options in play style is another optional element, but now we're looking at supporting characters.) Each of these supporting characters also had story based reasons why they had their skills or powers. This helped immerse the player in the game. The philosophical gulf between deciding to play “high jumping Mario” and Luigi is very great even if it wouldn't have effected game play. These characters added not only more playing options, but presented a more rounded and real world to the player. They added something to the atmosphere of the game.

Villains are another aspect of supporting characters. One of the things that made the original Star Wars trilogy great (you remember, the real Star Wars movies) was that you could really hate Darth Vader. From the moment he broke that young soldier's neck he was somebody you wanted to see “get his”. Bowser represents a generally more humorous woman stealing villain that everybody can want to defeat. Mother brain represents a menace that has to be stopped. Dracula is a undead blood drinking a-moral killing machine that just needs to finally die! All these villains provide fuel for the imagination as do their poor victims. In the first LOZ princess Zelda was nothing more than the poor girl kidnapped by Ganon. However, as simple as her role was it certainly supported the feel of the entire game. Imagine what you would have felt like if you had finally defeated Ganon only to find out that “Princess Zelda” was a prize winning poodle that a well off north-eastern family of elite dog breeders wanted back... Legend of Zelda would have had a whole new meaning.

These are only a few ways in which supporting characters add to the atmosphere of a game. Their influences are much deeper in RPG games. In fact I plan to cover than in my next post. I don't want to make these posts book length, so I'm breaking them up.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Anguna – Homebrew Classic

Some of you may not have heard of Anguna yet.Well, that's exactly why I'm doing this post. I also plan to do a complete review of the game for our gameinfo page on it next week. So, what is Anguna? It is a truly remarkable Zelda like homebrew game for the GBA. I could go down it's list of features praising it, but I won't right now. That's going to wait until my review is complete. This post is just to let you know that my review is on it's way. Well, that and I also did a quick interview with Nathan Tolbert the author of Anguna. Nathan did the coding and Chris Hildenbrand provided the truly beautiful artwork. I wanted to let you all take a look at the interview before I did the review. So, here it is:

1. How old are you and how long have you been programming?
32. I started programming at about 6 yrs old when my parents bought us a TI-99/4a computer, that came with a book called "Beginner's Basic". I was immediately hooked, and spent the rest of my childhood trying to figure out how to make cheesy games in basic.

2. What do you do professionally?
I write software at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

3. How did you get into programming and how long had you been coding before you wrote Anguna?
I guess I already answered this :)

4. How long did it take you to code the game from start to finish?
About 3 years. Since it was just a hobby project, I wasn't able to sink a lot of devoted time into it, and I worked on it off and on during that time. I guess only about half or 2/3 of that time was actual game coding, the rest was level/game design, asset preparation, throwaway code for learning the GBA platform, etc.

5. What were your influences for the play style?
Zelda, of course :) Really, I've always enjoyed old-school action-adventure games (older zeldas, metroid, blaster master, etc) and all my life have wanted to make a high quality console adventure game. With Anguna, I sat down and said, "what would I like to play?" and tried to make that (I only half succeeded, I think). Some of the design decisions (no real plot, lack of clear direction of where to go, etc) were very purposeful based on what I enjoy in video games (And don't really appear often in modern games). I like wandering around not knowing where I'm supposed to go ;-)

6. How much were you involved with the art development.
Early demos of Anguna had HORRIBLE graphics that my friends I and made, combined with some nice graphics from Reiner's tilesets that were pretty but didn't fit well with what I was going for. (see )
Then I lucked out, and had an amazing artist (Chris Hildenbrand) contact me about reworking the graphics for the game. He had quite a few ideas about changing the game engine to support things that it didn't originally support (foreground tiles, enemy portraits, etc), but his art was amazing, so I overhauled the engine to support his suggestions. It was then a back and forth process -- I'd give him a list of sprites and tiles that I was interested in using, he'd give me back art that partially matched what I asked for, and also included other ideas. I'd then work what he had given me into the game.

7. The AI for the game is fairly impressive. Was coding it difficult or is it easier than it looks?
The AI was actually relatively easy and fun to work on. Each enemy had it's own script that ran every frame to determine what to do next. Most have very simple patterns, but a few (the toadies and sentries for example) took a good bit of testing and debugging to get right.

8. What influenced your decisions about level and enemy design? How did you go about developing a list of enemies? How did you lay out your dungeons?
Enemy design had 2 parts: first, what the enemy is (the picture), 2nd what it did (the ai). For what the enemies were, I mostly used fairly standard fantasy game enemies, combined with whatever Chris came up with in the graphics department. For what they did, that took more thought. One of the fun things about zelda, (and in contrast, what made some other top-down action adventures like Final Fantasy Adventure for GB weak) was learning each enemy, how they move, their patterns, which were all different, and fighting accordingly. So I did my best to come up with predictable but challenging patterns.
Level design was a bit harder. I'm pretty bad at it, I feel like. Trying to make maps that were not completely linear, but not just a mess of random rooms was hard. I'd generally sketch it all out on graph paper, then sit down at the map editor and flush out the details. Trying to get the difficulty right (not just of the enemies, but of the maze, secret passages, etc) was tricky. I still don't really know for sure if the difficulty level is quite right (since I made it, I know where the secrets are).

9. Did any enemies get marked off the list before they got in game? If so why?
I originally had a wolf and some undead critters (for the graveyard scene) planned, but never got suitable graphics for them, so they got chopped. And I originally wanted a few more types enemies for the 4th dungeon, but at that point I was getting impatient with finishing, so I just did some palette swaps (thus the red toady) and went with it.
Also the toadys were originally ogres, but Chris had that neat toady graphic, so I replaced the ogres with them.
10. When you can't see enemies on screen are they still running around with their AI or do they cease to exist?
Yeah, offscreen enemies that are in the same room as you are still running around offscreen. I debated a few different design methods for that, but finally thought it would be easiest if I broke everything into discrete rooms, and everything in the room is still processed every frame.

11. What was the single hardest challenge you had to overcome?
Heh, my own tendency to get bored and not finish hobby projects :)
Probably the hardest technical challenge was getting all the final glitchy bugs out of the game. I had a few places where the game would intermittently lock up after a few minutes of play. That was really hard to debug. And my background scrolling code was never rock solid -- I kept running into scrolling glitches right until the end. Developing for a small handheld made debugging a lot of those issues a lot harder than it is on a pc.

12. Will there be a sequel?
Probably not. I like the idea of doing one, but I'd really rather make a different game instead.
I do get people asking if they can port it to a different platform, (the answer is yes) but nobody has ever followed through with it. I've ported it to the Nintendo DS, and started on an iPhone port, but that got stalled out (making the same game 3 times starts to get old, and I'm not a fan of Apple's tight control over development on their devices)

13. Do you have any plans to develop other games in the future?
No definite plans, but I'd like to. The trick is finding a good niche. The GBA was perfect -- it was relatively easy to develop for, and had a such good homebrew community that I knew if I made a decent game, it would get played. I keep throwing around ideas to make an unofficial Blaster Master sequel for GBA and DS, but haven't gotten motivated to do so yet. I also keep thinking about trying to write an atari 2600 game, just to see if I can.
I'd also like to eventually make some games for android devices, but that will have to wait until my hobby budget can afford an android device!

14. Do you have anything you would like to add?
Not that I can think of. Thanks for the interest in the game! I did find a company that supposedly still sells GBA flash carts, I ordered some and am waiting to see if they actually will get delivered, so maybe I'll have physical carts to start selling again soon!


I found Nathan's responses very interesting and am certainly going to pull from them in my review. I may even touch a few of the points he mentioned in another post. If you haven't tried Anguna yet go play it. No, go play it now. As it's in the homebrew section of Console Classix it's free for everyone. Go click the play now button and play it. It's amazing to see what a couple of determined guys can do. Also, keep an eye out for my review. I hope to have it done early next week.

And The Winner Is....

So, out of all our contestants, who I want to thank for entering, one of you got picked as the lucky winner, who I want to personally congratulate, of a copy of Atari's new game Yar's Revenge for the Xbox 360 which is a great prize that I wouldn't want to delay the giving away of with a single long, confusing run-on sentence.

So... Amber won!

Yet again the random number generator has picked the winner with it's deep insight into human nature.

Amber, I need you to shoot an e-mail to so that I can shoot you your key.

Now, if you like you can also post a comment and let us know what you think of the game. It's a way to share the wealth, lol.

Once again, congratulations Amber!

Also, thanks everyone for sharing your memories with us. I intend to have another little contest soon, so keep an eye out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lines of Communication

As all of you almost certainly know by now Atari released Yar's Revenge last week. It was a very new take on a very old favorite. Atari was generous enough to give us a copy of the game to review, which we did. All in all the game is well designed and fun to play and it's certainly worth what they are charging for it. HOWEVER, it could have been even better had they gotten a little more feedback before they released the game.

Those of you who have watched my review may think I'm just picking on the game's weak points and being overly critical, but I'm not. I wanted to lay out my complaints here so that everyone could see a couple of things. First, these issues are very minor. Second, they would have been a piece of cake to fix. I'm not going to step out into what I would have liked to see in the game in the form of additions. That's not what I'm on about right now. I am only going to touch on things I consider border-line bugs that no one could argue are features.

First Point: The dialog for the in-game story was only offered in the form of sub-titles. These moved by so fast only a speed reader could follow it all. Now, on day one a decision should have been made. Either the story matters or it doesn't. If it doesn't don't bother to put it in. However, if the story does matter make sure that it's at least readable when the player encounters it. There was so little dialog in the game that I think they could have also sprung for voice actors. Two good voice actors could have done it all. During gameplay this would have been especially useful. Well, there is spoken dialog during gameplay. Sadly it's bug talk, which is cool, but unintelligible. So, you have to dodge around the screen killing legions of bad guys while speed reading tiny text in the lower left hand corner. I can't help but feel that this made it through testing because the testers either knew or were ignoring the story. All this could have been fixed with a few voice actors and pausing the sub-titles until the player pressed a button.

Second Point: The controls are basically un-customizable. You do have the option to switch ONE Y-Axis, but not both. (This was murder for me. My brain has basically been hard-coded by years of flight simulators. Up IS Down man!) Honestly in most cases it doesn't matter what the controls are you get used to them. However, this would have been so easy to add that it was worth putting in. I would certainly have inverted both my Y-Axis for instance. There may be some almost universal rails-shooter controller configuration that they were using, but in all the WOW clones I've ever played I could change the default setup if I wanted to. Again, I think this shows a lack of depth in their play testing pool. Within about thirty seconds I had gone to change my control setup only to find that it was basically hard coded.

Third Point: The dialog and menus were hard to read. This is a truly minor point because you can basically use all the items to find out what they do. However, it's still annoying. Why go to the extra trouble to make things hard to read? Go back to the shallow testing pool. The guys who were testing this game didn't need to read the menus, they knew what they said. They seemed to only be concerned with whether or not they looked cool. I admit they did, but that wasn't the main reason for their existence!

As I said before the sum total of the game was still good, it just could have been better. All this is my way of saying that Atari needs to add more testers to it's play pool. I don't think anyone is going to argue that unreadable dialog, hard coded controls and hard to read menus added a lot to the game. All these issues could have been addressed before this game rolled out the door. I also see room for more features, but I'm not going into that right now.

If you are asking yourself why I am bothering to complain about this, it's because I want it to change in the future. Atari has two more up and coming titles in the pipe right now.

Star Raiders has gotten a remake:

Star Raiders Trailer

Centipede: Infestation is due to come out this fall:

Centipede: Infestation Trailer

In my opinion Atari needs to call in more testers and ask for more feedback from the community they are trying to sell to. They are aiming at the retro-gaming community. They need to ask more questions and listen carefully to our answers.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Win A Copy Of Yar's Revenge

Atari has generously given us a copy of Yar's Revenge to give out to their adoring public! The copy we have for the Xbox 360 and we're going to give it away this Friday. We're doing this as a contest, but since we only have one copy we are just going to select the winner randomly from the correct responses. So:

How to enter?

Just reply to this post with the first Atari 2600 game you ever played or your favorite Atari 2600 memory.

For instance: My favorite Atari 2600 memory was playing Adventure when I was six of seven years old. I would go down to my Aunt and Uncles and play Atari for hours with my cousin.

I was going to also say that the first Atari game I played was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but it couldn't have been. That game wasn't released for the 2600. I was four years old and my memory is sketchy that far back. I'm going to have to go through all the 2600 games released before 1981 and figure out what game I was actually playing....

Anyways, not the point. Just reply with a game or a memory. We'll random up a winner Friday morning and e-mail the code out as soon as we have the winner's email address. (You may want to put your CC username in the reply.)

Speaking of which... Taylor, we still owe you a gift card. I am waiting on your address. The card is just sitting there in my drawer man...

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Atmosphere – Characters

Whereas all games have some sort of atmosphere and some kind of setting (even pong was supposed to be table tennis.), not all have characters. However, just because they're not universal doesn't mean they're not one of the solid building blocks of gaming. Not every painting has purple in it, but purple is still a color in spite of that fact. Now, some would point out that purple is, in fact, blue and red. A combination of two more basic colors. I know, that's the reason I picked it. Characters may not be one of the most basic elements, but they are still very near the foundation.

There are at least two kinds of character development in gaming and I want to touch on both. The first, and mot common, is the static character type. This ranges from the hero of Shining in the Darkness to Sonic the Hedgehog. In spite of the fact that these two games are very different, one being an RPG and the other a classic platformer, the static nature of the main characters is very much the same. In both of these examples the main characters is a hero. He is fighting for truth and justice against some evil that is trying to take over the world. At first it may seem that character development is very different for these two games. However, that is not the case. The story telling method is very different, but the character development itself is not. First we'll consider the differences and then look at the similarities.

In Shining in the Darkness we have a complete in-game story. In the standard RPG fashion the game opens with short overview of what is going wrong in the world and what it is the hero is going to have to do to put a stop to it. Throughout the game more and more of the story is revealed as our champion get's closer and closer to his final destiny of defeating the great evil. We are told the sad stories of individuals wronged by the villain and given a number of story based motivations to drive us on to victory.

In Sonic the Hedgehog we also get a great back story. The hero is in fact saving cute little animals from being imprisoned in robot bodies under the control of the villain. However, this story isn't presented in-game, but is rather found in the manual. Some might say that this makes the characters development in the game unimportant. I disagree and it's obvious that Sega felt that developing Sonic as a character was very important. In each new game we have a continuing story and new characters with their own back stories.

Consider two of the most recognizable characters in video gaming Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario. Both of these characters were introduced in games that had no in game story. In both cases the game developers took the trouble to fill out both the background story and the characters. Each of these characters has since stared in his own RPG, not to mention TV show. These characters were woven into the imagination of the public. In spite of the fact that their back story had nothing to do with the game play of the games they were in, those stories still made the games more enjoyable. There is a long list of characters in this category. Samus, Simon Belmont and Mega Man are just a few examples. All these characters started out in games where their story was all in-manual.

Having considered the differences, now let's consider the similarities. In both SITD and STH the hero starts out and ends in the same place as a character. He was a hero at the beginning and he is a hero at the end. His path was set and it wasn't up to the player to change it. The player's only option was to go from point A to point B or not to play. Both these heroes are perfect examples of static characters.

The dynamic type character, to my knowledge, is found almost exclusively in RPGs (I can think of very few non-RPG examples). Even in that genre is it fairly rare. There are also two types of dynamic character to consider. The first is what you might call the “Literary Dynamic”. The character is dynamic in as much as they start out a villain and become a hero or, much more rarely, start out a hero and become a villain. However, here again the player has no control. So, whereas the character is dynamic from a storyline point of view they are still static from the aspect of game play. Truly dynamic characters are those that the player has storyline control over. The player can choose, not only what the character does, but also why he does it. We have seen this type of character in a number of titles. Fable, Oblivion and Knights of the Old Republic are certainly familiar to most of us.

These characters draw players in, not only with their rich compelling stories, but with the connection formed by the player by being in complete control. It is the philosophical difference between an on-rails shooter and a flight simulator. On-rail shooters can be beautifully crafted, the player guided through stunning scenes and the enemies put just where they should be just when they need to be. With an open flight simulator the developer doesn't have near as much control over what a player sees or does, but the freedom the player has to go where he wants and do what he wants makes up for it. This is really the same difference we have between games like Legend of Zelda and Oblivion. With LOZ you see what you're supposed to see while you're doing what you're supposed to do In Oblivion you see what you want to while you're doing what you want to. Both styles have their strengths and weaknesses.

Personally I am more drawn to the dynamic type characters. However, both types are fundamental building blocks and both have their own charm. There are also a number of ways to present supporting characters that add depth to a game. We can touch on those another time.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yar's Revenge Review

We got the review done Thursday night. You can watch it on YouTube if you like.

Yar's Revenge Review

I hope to do another “Elements” post today, but I may not have time. I've started it, but it's probably going to be a bit lengthy.

In any event, I'll do what I can.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Time For Vengeance

I know that everyone around here probably already knows that the new Yar's Revenge game is coming out today, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Console Classix has gotten into the spirit of things and put up a site skin to honor the occasion. Later today I am supposed to get my hands on a copy so that I can take it for a test drive and let you guys know what I think of it. It's certainly a good step for us to start paying more attention to what is new and exciting in retro/classic gaming. I also feel that it's a very positive step for Atari to be reaching out to companies like Console Classix for support and feedback.

It is my fond wish that Atari, along with all the other companies that are putting their toe into retro waters, will really listen to what the community has to say about it's current and up and coming products. The classic gaming community is large and constantly growing. What many of us want isn't just a re-release of an old title (although we do love to see that, it's not the only thing we want.) We, just like any other group of gamers, want things that are new and exciting. However, unlike many other demographics retro gamers are generally a bit more picky about what it is they want.

This isn't always true and there are those classic game fans who only love what they loved when they were children. Retro games are merely a nostalgic connection to their past. However, that isn't true of most of us. We don't just play games that were released thirty years ago, we play the best games that were released thirty years ago. It's a game's quality, not it's age that gives it value. This is important to keep in mind when releasing a new title aimed at the retro/classic gamer. I am hoping to find Yar's Revenge the spiritual squeal to it's predecessor, not just a attempt to use an established name to bolster sales of a new game.

Now, what makes a classic game great is a matter of opinion and it varies from gamer to gamer. (Keep in mind that guy who likes the NES game Hillsfar. I forget his name, but he just loves it. Console Classix has no evidence of such a person. He is, to the best of our knowledge, a figment of the President's imagination.) However, there are a large number of games that are generally considered true classics by most of the community. What makes these games great is quantifiable, understandable and repeatable. I feel that if companies want to be successful in re-releasing classic titles, as well as expanding those titles with new games they need to listen to what the fans have to say about them.

Whatever the new Yar's Revenge turns out to be like we should be willing to offer our honest and open opinions to Atari. We should let them know what we feel they did well and what could have been improved or left out. It's also good to keep in mind that we vote with our money. If we like something and want to see it progress and grow we have to invest in it. It is my hope that this new title is worth investing in. I should be able to weigh in with a more informed opinion soon. I plan to do a review shortly after getting my hands on the game. I'll let you know what I think as soon as I can.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Atmosphere – Setting

In exploring what gives a game great atmosphere we have to look at several different factors. The first of these elements I am going to talk about is the setting. Now, you may be thinking “Setting, Atmosphere, what's the difference?” OK, good question. What I am talking about is the backdrop of the world itself devoid of any “living” element. The scenery, the lights, the sounds, etc. I know that atmosphere and setting have very much the same definition in this context, but I'm drawing a philosophical line here. For the purposes of this study “Atmosphere” includes all the things in a video game that set the mood. The “Setting” only concerns the artistic style of the virtual world in question. “Do the trees look real?” is a “setting” question whereas “Would that character actually do that?” is an “Atmosphere” question. (OK, really it's a “Characters” question and “Characters” is another sub-set of “Atmosphere”, but I'll get to that later.)

In my last post I mentioned examples of where the setting was really done right and really done wrong. I want to start with the positive and look at some examples of well done settings. To begin with I am going to go where I often go in any “well done games” discussion, strait to the Legend of Zelda. (I know I talk about it a lot, but give me a break, it's LOZ man!) I have noticed that there are very few men my age that can't be brought to a screeching halt (no matter what they are doing) by the first few notes of the opening theme of LOZ. The same “Hey, isn't that...” invariably falls from their lips immediately. It is amazing that a simple video game could etch itself on the minds of an entire generation of young men (at least in the US).

How did it do this? Well, in part with the setting. In the land of Hyrule we found lush garden spots and burning desert sands. Monster filled mountains and lakes teaming with our enemies. The colors, the sounds, the music and the flashing lights all played their part in transporting us from Earth to Hyrule. When we entered a dungeon the appropriate setting was maintained. The music changed, the scene was darker, more sinister. You could tell something was down there, something bad. I remember how nervous I was when I first walked down into the first dungeon. I just knew I was going to get Link killed. (Needless to say, I did. I don't know anyone who beat it on their first try.) The mood was seamless. LOZ was a window to another world. We, the players, were looking through that window and helping guide a young hero to his ultimate destiny: saving the princess Zelda from a terrible fate.

For another great example I am going to turn to PC gaming. Many avid gamers no doubt know the name Sierra. At it's height it was one of the great PC gaming companies and helped to develop the “adventure” genre more than perhaps any other company. One of the anchors of Sierra's game design was setting. The games led players from one beautifully crafted scene to another. They presented us with forest glens and dark wizards laboratories. What they excelled at was presenting the player with a fantasized version of the real world. Scenes of beauty were drawn out like gardens. Everything was were it should be. A crystal lake, a flowing stream, a giant rock and a bird flying by at just the right moment to set the scene. We were also presented with dark dungeons and undead monsters. All things dark and terrifying. All these elements combined to offer something that seemed better than real life. What we found in Sierra games was a world of enchantment, a magical land that we wanted to be a part of.

Both of these examples pulled us into the games. The settings made us feel as if we were part of the worlds presented to us. A lot of work was put into them and they were very well done. However, not every setting ever presented has had such an effect. For my bad example I once again turn to PC gaming. If you have never played Champions of Kyrnn you have missed a truly beautiful and compelling game. It's difficult to play by today's standards, but I feel it is still worth the effort. This game was followed up by Death Knights of Krynn which was another masterpiece. The artwork was exquisite and the storyline amazing.

If anything it was better than Champions. However, the next release was Dark Queen of Krynn. I suppose you could call it a joke, but nobody laughed. Why was this? Improper setting. That's not to say that the graphics were unappealing or that the sound or music was harsh. It was beautifully done, both from a graphical and musical point of view. So what was wrong with it? It was ALL wrong.

Now, unless you know a little bit about Dungeons and Dragons and the two settings, Dragon Lance and Forgotten Realms, you might not fully understand what I'm about to say, but believe me either way. (I do know a good deal about them.) These two settings are very different from an artistic point of view. There are also key gaming elements that vary from one setting to the other. What does all this have to do with Dark Queen of Krynn? Well, the Krynn series was set in the Dragon Lance universe. The first two games were developed by SSI on a custom engine that was designed around Dragon Lance, just as they should have been. However, Dark Queen of Krynn was developed after SSI released Unlimited Adventures. This title was an excellent piece of software that allowed players to make their own D&D video games in the Forgotten Realms setting. It came with a large art package and it was truly possible to design your own SSI style D&D game in the Forgotten Realms setting.

Now, we hit the point of SSI's horrible, mind numbing mistake. They took their own Unlimited Adventures engine and altered it to try to squeeze a Dragon Lance game into it. How do I know that? I owned both! I had spent hours playing around with Unlimited Adventures and I recognized the engine! Could I have been wrong? Well, no, they used their own default graphics package!! Yes, that's right, playing through Dark Queen of Krynn you would run into the same still (and slightly animated) artwork that was found in the Unlimited Adventures tool set.

(Some of you may think these picture are identical, but look closely! You see those three moons just below the girl's portrait on the left. Well, those three moons are from Krynn. Now you feel yourself in another world don't you?!?!?)

That in and of itself might not have been a horrible problem (although the two settings have such completely different art styles), but they actually made STORY DESCISIONS based on what graphics they had on hand. For instance they had an awesome image of an elf changing into a dolphin. So, in Dark Queen of Krynn our heroes ride across the ocean on the backs of elves that have changed into dolphins. That doesn't fit the epic emotionally deep story you expect to find in a Dragon Lance game. The end result was that you felt like you were in the world of Forgotten Realms and someone was telling you a story about Dragon Lance. It was truly sad and the series ended there. SSI had pushed players out of a world they already knew and loved with a mangled setting.

The same thing can be done by making characters behave unrealistically or by presenting the player with a story that makes no sense, but we can touch on those things later. I've run on long enough for the moment.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Retro Remakes

How many of us have longed to see some of the great old games of the past pulled out, dusted off and reborn for the modern age? I'm sure most of us have one or two games (at least) that we would love to see remade with graphics and sound up to today's standards. Well, as you may have noticed recently, there has been progress on that front. (At least in theory.)

Few can argue that the retro-gaming community is getting bigger and bigger with every passing year. More and more companies are offering their games for play on the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360 and even the Playstation 3. Part of the reason for this is the ease of distribution and the fact that the games already have a following so, in many cases, it's an easy sell. Couple that with the fact that these games paid for themselves years ago and you come up with a product that is going to hit profit days after launch.

However, for the most part, this retro movement is confined to classic games being reworked to run on newer systems without any changes, additions or improvements. Now, I of all people love keeping things just as they were when they were first released. I like to play the Legend Of Zelda just like it was when I first plugged the cart into my NES. I love the nostalgic feeling I get when I hear the first few notes of that 8-Bit music crank up. The entire game, just as it was when it first came out, is a true classic in every sense of the word and should be preserved exactly as it was originally.

All that having been said, I also feel that for retro games to truly be reborn, new features, play styles and even complete games have to be added to the original. Again, look at the Legend of Zelda. As truly magnificent as the first game was would we have been satisfied with a simple remake for the SNES? Gamers wanted more. They wanted the feel of LOZ, they wanted the world of Hyrule, but they also wanted new challenges and a new storyline. Link to the Past is the perfect example of a classic game being moved into the future just like it should be. (Many would prefer to skip Zelda II and so I will do so for the moment.) It was the perfect second step in what has become a long road of classic games.

I do feel that Nintendo missed an opportunity, however. For a long time I've wanted to play the original LOZ storyline with the bells and whistles from the SNES (or N64, or Wii, take your pick). I love the additions to the series, but the original has only been maintained in it's original form which, even as the masterpiece it is, is somewhat limited. I feel like there is room for maintaining the original format, remaking it to the latest standards and branching off in new directions that maintain the original theme. This is something that is very rarely, if ever, done. I hope that as retro gaming grows this is going to change.

What puts all this in mind? Atari's up and coming Yar's Revenge. It is certainly a re-visualisation of the game and not just a remake of the original. What I am wondering is how true it is going to be to the elegant simplicity of the original title. Is it going to be the arcade wonder that the original was? Is going to breath new life into old lore and lay a new foundation for a series of games? Is it truly going to add anything to the legacy of Yar's Revenge?

I hope to get answers to my questions next week. I plan to do a review of the game shortly after it's release. I am hoping that Atari has put together another classic hit. I want this to succeed, both for the Yar's Revenge legacy and for other titles that may well see remakes if this game is something special. Next week should show us what we need to know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game – Atmosphere

“You awake to find yourself in a sunlit garden. Bees are buzzing in the trees as butterflies flutter about in the still, warm air. Beside you is a cool clear pool. As you study your reflection in it you notice the image of a beautiful young girl standing behind you, looking down on you. You turn, but no one is there....”

“The air is damp and musky. It smells of standing water and rotting flesh. There is nothing but darkness all around you. In the distance you think you hear something scratching inch by inch closer to you. The creak of a door fills the air with sound as a line of light slowly widens before you. There in the dim light you can hardly believe what you see...”

The atmosphere is the first paint applied to the canvas of gaming and indeed any storytelling. It is what pulls us in and makes us relate to what is going on about us. It sets a scene in which we can plant ourselves so that the story isn't just happening, it's happening to us. Although this is certainly important in movies and books it is of paramount importance in video games. Why? The answer is simple.

We watch movies and we read books; we are only observers no matter how involved in the story we are. However, in video games we help decide the outcome of the story. Is the hero victorious or does he die a horrible death?

“Now, would you go right or left?”
“I don't know, which way would you go?”
“Me? I wouldn't go either way.”

In a game you're not just silently watching on as the hero decides what path to take. You choose and your decision affects the outcome of the story. Atmosphere helps make the story personal and compelling. The more you can relate to the hero's situation the more you actually feel good when he finds himself in some beautiful garden and the more concerned you are when he is lost in some bottomless dungeon.

Although atmosphere isn't a universal component in gaming, it is almost universal in video gaming. If you look as far back as early Atari 2600 games you see digitized tanks, pixelated woman-stealing apes and square blocks that everyone knows are actually knights in full armor. Due to the limitations of the system we found the scene set in the manuals and box art. The label on Adventure made it very clear who you were and what you were doing even if the graphics couldn't.

Would asteroids have been as much fun if it was merely a math game where a circle broke big square blocks into smaller square blocks? Atmosphere was what pulled us in and made us want to rescue Princess Zelda, stop the evil Dr. Robotnic, and defeat those pesky Space Invaders. I think very few people would argue that atmosphere isn't extremely important, but what are its elements? How can it be done well and how can it be totally messed up?

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The Quick And The Lucky - Part 2

So, our official submissions were:

Botticelli - Nathan Tolbert
Ghiberti - ppd2
Masaccio - Coolsonh
Vincent (Van Gogh) - dayallencrey25
Venus de Milo - Zerothis
Machiavelli – taylor

Now Brian Farmer pointed out on our forums:

“1) Just about everyone's missing the fact that Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello were the first names of those renaissance artists, not the last names or nicknames, as are being suggested.

2) All of these four were just as famous--and in some cases, more so--for other forms of art than painting. Donatello and Michelangelo are best known for sculpture, and Raphael was a master architect, as well.

3) The idea of fitting in the "Americanization" of the names is a good idea, too.

Based on the above, it surprises me that no one's suggested "Benvenuto" (Cellini). He was a leading goldsmith and sculptor, an author, and a composer. Plus, Benvenuto shortens and "Americanizes" to "Ben" quite easily. “

and he makes some good points. However, I'm not so picky. For instance Machiavelli may not have been a painter, but he was certainly Italian and involved in the renaissance. I also don't believe anyone can question the fact that the Venus de Milo was involved in the art scene (besides, the turtles need a woman.)

As as result of my rather liberal views on riddle solving and naming conventions I declare that all the entries are valid. Now for the results!

Nathan Tolbert was unquestionably the “Quick” in our little contest. He answered correctly roughly twenty minutes after I posted.

As for the “Lucky,” that plum goes to taylor's submission of the dark turtle “Machiavelli”. His number quite literally came up. (Does that say something about the balance of the light and dark sides?)

I enjoyed this a great deal and I plan to kick off another contest soon. I won't give you the exact date, but I will say I plan on doing it in April, so that should give you some idea.

Nathan and taylor I need your address info. Please send an e-mail to so I can get your prizes sent out.

Once again thanks for you participation and congratulations to the Quick and the Lucky!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Busy Bee

This week has already been a busy one for me. (I know I say that a lot, but honestly it's true.) I'm still working on the Linux library I talked about a couple of posts ago. I hope to do another post about the elements of a great game, but I have to get the time. Lord willing I will get a NES emulator working on Linux today. If I manage that I should be able to get my next element post up soon.

I know not many people are going to be using the Linux client at first, but it opens a few doors. It was also my first foray into cross-platform development. I would like the next one to be Mac. We have a lot of Mac users out there who have asked us about a version for them, but we haven't been able to do it yet. This Linux project has given me a bit more insight into the whole cross-platform scene. Given time I think we could get something working for Mac users.

I also want to do a series of videos on all the different settings options the emulators we use have. You can actually do a great deal with them if you know how. The thing is most people don't know how. That's why a series of videos would be a useful thing for us to put together. Like so many things it's a matter of finding time.

I'm supposed to update all the emulators that have new versions out this month, but it may have to wait. We also have to do an inventory and that is going to eat some time. I want to move all the carts into better containers and while we are doing that I figure we might as well do a complete inventory. There are over 7500 carts, so it's a bit of a chore. I plan to make a video of us doing it so that you guys can see our entire inventory. It's kind of cool if you're into that kind of thing. (and most of us are, obviously)

Either way I'll keep you guys posted. If you haven't entered the contest from my last post go do it now. You could win a gift card man! I'll announce the winners this Friday.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Quick And The Lucky

So, I've decided to have another little contest here on my blog. Why? Why not?! Everybody likes a good contest. It's a chance to show off your quick wit or mad luck skills.

Let's start with the rules: No cheating! How you would cheat in this particular contest I have no idea, but if you find a way you're on your honor not to do it! None of the CC family can participate (sorry guys). The first person to chime in with a correct response (there are a number of possible correct responses) wins a prize. At the end of the contest we are also going to randomly select one of the other correct responses and give a prize to the person who posted it. You can only post one response, if you post more than one only the first one will count and other people can take any additional responses you posted.

What are the prizes? Both the the first correct poster and the randomly selected correct poster are going to get a $25 Amazon gift card. (Don't tell me there isn't something you want from Amazon, they offer almost everything.)

When is it? Right now! You have from the time I post this, Monday April 4th 2011, until this Friday April 8th 2011, to enter the contest.

What is the contest? I'm glad you asked that, so I am. You just have to post a name in response to this post. What name you ask? Ahhh, that's the contest. Let me explain:

The four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are named with a running theme. You have to come up with a name for a fifth turtle whose name is related to the other four in the same way that they are related to each other. Find the common threat and expound on it, as it were. Now, some of you may think this is too easy. For those of you who want to make it more challenging you can force yourself to post only using a cell-phone with internet access while standing on your head in some public area (a state park for instance.) The rest of you can just post your submission here as a comment.

So, have fun and good luck!

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