Sundry Gaming

I’m going to close out July by talking about a few games I’ve been playing lately and some new gear I picked up. This was a light posting month for me but I’ll be returning to the daily format in the near future, especially as we get closer to the Phantom Pain’s drop date.

Gameplay Recording

I purchased a Live Gamer Portable, produced by AverMedia, in the hopes that it could remedy some of my longstanding problems with recording gameplay videos. I’m happy to say that after two tests the unit seems to be functioning quite well. After I’ve had time to play around with it a little more, I’ll post up a more thorough review. I’ve used a Hauppauge HD PVR recorder in the past; with the shoddy software and a propensity for crashing after about 10 minutes of capture the thing was essentially worthless to me. With the LGP, after minimal set up I recorded two videos from the Wii U and the PS3, about 25 minutes in length each. The software suite had to be downloaded separately but it’s been working quite well. The TS to mp4 conversion took seconds, which I was impressed by, and there were no audio sync issues. So far I’m very happy with this purchase. And that brings me to the next topic.

Back Catalog Update

With the LGP I can move forward with the original goal of this project which was to record small videos about the games in the catalog. Granted this was a more timely idea in 2008 than 2015, but hey, better late than never. I’ll post up the results of my experimenting in the near future.

Windows 10 Xbox Streaming

I updated to Windows 10 on the morning of July 29. I’m not much of an OS geek these days so I don’t have much of an opinion about the changes made from 8.1 – I care more if the thing works and allows me to do what I did previously. So far I’ve gotten the most mileage out of Xbox One streaming, which mysteriously started working the next day. I’ve finally logged a few hours in the Halo Collector’s Edition and Guacamelee. It’s a great feature if you want to play your Xbox at your desk rather than in front of the TV. I’ll give more of the social features a whirl in the coming days .

PS Vita

Believe it or not I actually blew the dust off the Sony hand held and put a lot of time into Geometry Wars 3. It was part of the Playstation Plus freebie month, along with Mousecraft and Entwined. I’ve got  my eye on The Swindle as well.  Geometry Wars 3 brings me back to 2005 on the Xbox 360 launch night, when after a “meh” couple of hours of Perfect Dark Zero, my buddy fired up the casual game, Retro Evolved. We ended up playing that until well past 4 AM. I like many of the changes to the game, which remains difficult but addicting as always.

Metal Gear playthrough

You knew this was coming, right? Look for more in the coming weeks.

The Films of Metal Gear Solid

I’m fascinated by the creative influences and inspirations for some of my favorite designers. It’s well known that Hideo Kojima is an avid movie fan, and if you’ve looked at his Twitter timeline recently he shares his love of the medium (seems to be obsessed with the latest Mad Max). In one of the Metal Gear groups I follow, somebody shared a tweet from him in which explained that the inspiration for the bosses and sequences in Metal Gear were influenced by El Topo. I was unfamiliar with this film so I looked it up. From the synopsis that I read it seems like a very bizarre but worthwhile movie, if you’re into that kind of thing. I filed it away for future use and of course couldn’t remember the name today. After googling around and looking on Kojima’s timeline, I uncovered something bigger: a translated article and list of his favorite films.

From the list, here are the movies that influenced Metal Gear Solid (and presumably Metal Gear Solid 2, since the piece was written in 2003):

  • The Great Escape, Dir. John Sturges – US (1963)
  • The Guns of Navarone, Dir. J. Lee Thompson – US (1961)
  • Escape from New York, Dir. John Carpenter – US (1981)
  • North by Northwest, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock – US (1959)
  • Planet of the Apes, Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner – US (1968)
  • Dawn of the Dead, Dir. George A. Romero – US (1978)
  • The James Bond films

There’s an extensive list and commentary on 30 additional films below this list. Unfortunately on the IGN forums I can’t see any bolded titles (if they were bolded at all) so I can’t see which films also had an influence on the series. Again, for those who don’t want to parse the IGN post, here are the movies that he mentions had an influence:

  • Kanal
  • The Pink Panther films
  • El Topo
  • Papillon
  • The Towering Inferno
  • Bad Taste

I know there are several other movies that he has said influenced him over the years that aren’t on this list ( Terminator, Deer Hunter, etc) but then again, the article is about his favorite movies, not necessarily the movies that influenced the game series.

Adding to the Back Catalog Project

From PC Gamer, a new list: the Best Cyberpunk games on PC.

By Release Year:

  1. Beneath a Steel Sky (1994)
  2. Syndicate Wars (1996)
  3. Blade Runner (1997)
  4. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
  5. System Shock 2 (1999)
  6. Deus Ex (2000)
  7. Anachronox (2001)
  8. Uplink: Hacker Elite (2001)
  9. Deus Ex Human Revolution (2011)
  10. Gemini Rue (2011)
  11. Binary Domain (2013)
  12. Shadowrun Returns (2013)
  13. Remember Me (2013)
  14. Transistor (2014)
  15. Technobabylon (2015)
  16. Neon Struct (2015)

I actually own many of these games, and some of them have served as inspiration for my own game development projects in recent years. In the Back Catalog Project I made the policy of not including PC games, because I felt it would be overwhelming to add my Steam (and later GOG) accounts to the fold. But I may have had a change of heart, seeing as how the console-only list is already overwhelming as it is.  I am still maintaining my rule regarding no 90s games since that would probably double my back catalog.  So I guess I would have to start with Anachronox (I’ve beaten Deus Ex many times…).

Like most people at the time I had heard very little about the Ion Storm game, which would turn out to be the last one released before the infamously troubled studio shuttered its doors for good. From what I’ve heard it’s something akin to a Chronotrigger for PCs, which from a storytelling and design standpoint would have been a remarkable achievement. I’ll add it to my 2001 list and give it a whirl after I knock off a few more titles.

Paper Mario first impressions

I started playing Paper Mario today after a very long hiatus. I forgot how remarkably charming the game is, even 14 years after the game came out on the Nintendo 64. Completing this game is the first notch on my Back Catalog project I talked about, and so far it’s been a nice change from my romps through the post-modernist Metal Gear Solid 2 ad nauseam. I will attempt video capture from the WiiU at some point, but for now a shaky screenshot or two will have to suffice. I elected to use what remained of my Club Nintendo points (and a discount from the previous Wii virtual console purchase) to get the upgraded VC version. I was worried about the upscaling and control porting, but playing on the gamepad has been surprisingly nice.

I could probably say “charming” about Paper Mario about a million times. Suffice it to say that it comes through from the opening cut scenes and doesn’t go away. The story begins and shortly thereafter a koopa minion is “taped” into the storybook, to the chagrin of the narrator. Bowser comes onto the scene and takes the Star Rod, an object that allows wishes to come true. He defeats Mario (finally) and tosses him into the wilderness. The star spirits restore our hero, who now must travel from the outskirts of Toadville to the Star Summit (good place for dates, we’re told by one of the NPCs). And that all happens in the first hour or so.

The most pleasing aspect is how much Paper Mario plays like a Mario platformer. The controls are tight as you might expect and navigating the field is pleasing. The turn based combat and the RPG mechanics are very simplified, which is appropriate. I’ll cover the design in greater detail when I finish the game.

RIP Satoru Iwata

I was shocked to learn that Satoru Iwata, President and Chairman of Nintendo, passed away today at the age of 55. The outpouring of sympathy and grief from the whole video game community is a testament to his influence. He got his start as a programmer at HAL Laboratory and steadily worked his way up until he succeeded Hiroshi Yamachi as president of Nintendo in 2002.

Since then he has led Nintendo back to prominence with the Nintendo DS and the Wii, and opened the traditional Japanese company up in ways as never before.

He will be missed.

Star Citizen: cautionary tale in the making

Over at Vox Popoli, Vox Day provides some commentary on the massive Star Citizen game and the troubles it is currently facing. I’ve read the linked article by Derek Smart, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but I wanted to call attention to Vox’s observation here:

But the potential problem, as I see it, is that RSI (Roberts Space Industries) got distracted by the unexpected level of success of their fund-raising efforts, and like many a charity before them, lost sight of their primary objective due to that success.

Vox is absolutely correct. Nothing succeeds quite like success, and even small successes can have an intoxicating effect on a person or an organization that can encourage them to try to go for the whole hog, even when they just needed a morsel. Star Citizen was originally imagined as something of an updated mash up of Wing Commander and Privateer, but with the massive success of the Kickstarter, the game has grown so far out of scope that is probably impossible to deliver.

Read the article Why Star Citizen is Likely Going to be a Complete Disaster for an overview from the man who knows a little bit about overhyped promises and undelivered products. And I say that without any disrespect for the guy – look up Battlecruiser 3000AD if you’re not familiar with his work.  It’s quite long and filled with some technical details, but the gist of it for those who don’t have the time:

The scope of Star Citizen now far surpasses its budget and the technical capability of the project, which means there is virtually no chance of the deliverable game meeting its goals.

The implication for the entire industry, as far as Derek Smart sees it, is that Star Citizen may well be the indie game equivalent of the Titantic hitting an iceberg. Crowdfunding is already coming under increased scrutiny from regulators as backers are tired of being burned time and again by projects that fail to deliver by deadline (or at all). I’ve back a few indie games projects, and only 3 have managed to be delivered so far; and only one of them actually provided the product in the time promised. I discovered Star Citizen about a week after the initial Kickstarter had been completed and signed up for notifications from the website, but to be honest I’ve found the release schedule and business model to be confusing at best. Lack of a straightforward path to the game (Star Citizen, Squadron 42, etc) will only make things worse if none of the core modules can hit the mark they’re aiming for.

Of course, I’m bordering on concern trolling here, so I’ll end by saying this: I very much want Star Citizen to succeed. Wing Commander was one of my favorite games in the early 90s and was a large part of the reason why I’ve stayed involved with the medium and hobby for as long as I have. Chris Roberts should be respected for all of his accomplishments in the industry, but I fear that if Star Citizen goes bust, he and his company may get skewered for the failure, much 38 Studios was in 2012.

The Nintendo Play Station – SNES CD

Previously I wrote a little bit about the Secret of Mana, which was originally planned to be one of the titles available on the planned SNES CD that never materialized. By happy chance, while I was on vacation, apparently a prototype SNES CD unit has been discovered by a relative of one of the major players in that business deal. It’s a fascinating story in its own right and you can learn about some of the history in Game Over [affiliate link]. I also managed to find a few of my very old issues of EGM that covered the SNES CD, so when I have some time I’ll add scans of that coverage to this post. Besides the obvious “What if” scenarios that come to mind had Nintendo continued its relationship with Sony (imagine for a moment, no PlayStation brand as it exists today), from the perspective of the 16 Bit wars it was also a pivotal moment. Sega, of course, was wiping the floor with the SNES in the North American market, and the SEGA CD was itself a hyped piece of equipment that just didn’t pan out for the company, and arguably set the company toward exiting the console business in 2001. But Nintendo would pay a price for pulling out of SNES CD project at the last minute.

It’s been a while since I read Game Over, but if I remember correctly much of the disagreement between the two companies had to do with the complex licensing agreements that would have to exist for the software. The upshot is that those agreements favored Sony considerably in the long run, and this is ultimately why Nintendo chose to abruptly exit the partnership with Sony in dramatic fashion before a CES event. At that event they surprised everyone when they announced they had partnered with Sony’s rival, Phillips, to produce a SNES CD attachment. It was a stinging blow to Sony – a slap in the face – but they had gotten a taste of the business, to speak, and with so much investment made in the original system, so rather than punting the whole thing, they decided to enter the console business alone. I wonder how much they learned from their partnership with Nintendo, because they aggressively pursued both the developer channel and the retailer channel.

The rest is history. PlayStation, released in 1994, became the dominant force of the 90s, and the PlayStation 2, released in 2000, is still the best selling console of all time. As for Nintendo, they would continue to release consoles with the tantalizing “EXT” panel on the bottom of the system, suggesting that future add-ons would be made available. But except for the n64DD (only in Japan) and the GameBoy Advance Player for the GameCube, there would be no further modular developments for any of Nintendo’s systems. After a fashion it became almost a punchline for the games press; one has to wonder, why even bother designing the system with an external port if it was never going to be leveraged? I suspect that Nintendo always had a very good feel for its home market but has always been one step behind in what the rest of the world wanted: no disc-based medium for the Nintendo 64, when it was clear everybody wanted bigger storage for games; no broadband for the GameCube, when it was obvious gaming was going online; low resolution graphics for the Wii; and the WiiU…

Eh, let’s discuss the WiiU catastrophe in a separate post.

Still, it’s fun to speculate what would have come to pass if Sony and Nintendo had released the Play Station in 1993.

Where did two months go?

This is not a gaming related post; rather a state of the blog report after two months. I’ll be taking a short holiday so for the remainder of the week there will be no daily posts. Daily blogging has proven to be more difficult that I originally had anticipated, especially for a narrow topic such as gaming.  That said, when I return on July 6, I will be recharged enough to continue the daily post trend.

In terms of raw data, there have been about 300 unique visitors to the site since April 29, though I suspect that many of them are probably bot traffic from Referral Site spam that seems endemic these days. The most popular search terms have been “Grand Strategy” and OODA Loop, which just goes to show you how hard it is to generate relevant traffic in this sector (if you’re trying to blog about gaming, that is). People like reading the blog at 2AM EST on Sundays.  As this is a personal website I’m not too stressed out about the low traffic. In fact I’d be more worried if I had some kind of spike in traffic: my shared hosting couldn’t handle the load!

Following that line of thinking, I’ve had a few people suggest that I optimize my SEO. SEO is largely an inexact science at best. This has been my opinion on the topic since around 2006 when I was making websites both personally and professionally. To sum up SEO:  make lists, write 1500 words, use headers with keywords, hit an outbound link or two, and everything else is whatever is in fashion as guessed at by the SEO gurus. As you may have noticed I don’t actually follow many of those suggestions too often. I find them to be somewhat stifling.

Two months ultimately adds up to a very small sample size. I’ll provide a quarterly review when there is more data, but if you’re a blogger or webmaster who’s interested in the behind-the-scenes metrics, I’m happy to discuss the numbers privately. In general, the traffic is trending upward, albeit at a slow pace. Thank you to those of you who have visited so far. I hope this site has proven to be entertaining and informative.