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:

ocg1984



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 webamster@consoleclassix.com 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 http://reinerstileset.4players.de/ that were pretty but didn't fit well with what I was going for. (see http://www.gbadev.org/demos.php?showinfo=698 )
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!

Thanks!
Nathan


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 webmaster@consoleclassix.com 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.

video

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 webmaster@consoleclassix.com 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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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Getting Cross

As so many weeks are at Console Classix, last week was a busy one. We got a number of things underway. One of the tings I'm really excited about is the fact that we started building a cross-platform version of the CC Library. Now, that may be complete gibberish to some of you so I'm going to explain what it is and then why it matters.

To begin with, the Console Classix Library is a piece of software that allows a program to connect to the CC server and play a game. (It also handles a number of other little things, but we'll skip that for now.) It's what we use to enable emulators to access our services. It makes the entire process neat and clean.

Now, when a piece of software is “cross-platform” that means that it will run on more than one platform (duh...) So, for instance, it might run on Windows and Linux. In fact, that is exactly what we intend the CC Library to do. In point of fact the software runs on both of them now. We just need to pack it all up as a library and start using it.

Here we come to why this matters. First, it will allow us to offer CC on the Linux platform natively. Up until now Linux users could only play CC from within a Windows emulator. (That is a bit of a performance limitation.) As soon as we are done they will be able to run it directly under Linux just as our Windows users do. As I've mentioned before, the more people we have playing the better it is for everyone. This is going to open another small door for our fans to come through.

But wait! There's more! For a long time we have wanted to put together some plans for a CC home console that you can hook to your TV and wireless network. One of the limitations was that Windows would tack $100 onto the cost and make it unreasonable. Linux is a completely free operating system so we could put it on a home console without adding anything to the cost. We're still a long way from this, but the cross-platform library is a very real step in that direction.

Once it's done we may start trying to put together a prototype with a single board PC. Adding CC support for the Linux emulators we would need should only take a couple of days (Lord willing.) Then we'll just need to make a cross-platform version of the CC Browser. In some ways that may be easier than doing the library in the first place. All things considered it will certainly be worth our trying to build a prototype. If we do we could post a video of our building and testing it for you guys to see.

On top of all this I want to build a CC arcade cabinet. I would prefer to run Linux on it, which is one of the reasons I haven't done it yet. Once this is wrapped up I'll finally be able to do that.

All in all this cross-platform library is another good step. I'll let you know more when there's more to know.

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