Friday, August 29, 2014

Gaming Memories 8: My Baseball Game

Gaming Memories 8: My Baseball Game

Three big things coincided with my life in the early 90's.  First, the Atlanta Braves became one of the best teams in history(with what might be the best pitching rotation in history).  Second, I began playing little league ball(I sucked), and 3rd, I finally found the baseball game that I enjoyed playing the most.

I had been through all the baseball games I could rent, and since baseball was huge in the south, there was a lot of options because they brought in money to the rental stores.  There was Backyard Baseball, Tony Larussa Baseball, Tommy Lasorda Baseball, RBI Baseball.  My favorite that I felt got batting, pitching, and field play all "right" was Super Bases Loaded on the SNES by Jaleco.  Most games got pitching or batting good, but hardly ever both, and almost all exclusively had real shitty field control.  With Super Bases Loaded behind the pitcher view, it allowed both the pitcher and the batter to have unobstructed views of what was going on.  Sure, later the games like Sega's World Series Baseball would do it even better, but that was several years away.

The defining feature about this game that keeps it staying in my memories to this day was that they never got the license to use Major League Baseball teams or members.  Yep, all the teams and all the players were made up.  Notice Ryne Sanberg's non-logo cap on the front cover! Usually I would hate this.  I was a stickler for "realism" when it came to my baseball games.  It could be a fun game(as Backyard Baseball was), but because it was cartoonic, I did not stick with it.  So why did I still vote Super Bases Loaded as my favorite of all time?  Create-a-Team.

I never got to play baseball at a higher level, I pretty much sucked so bad I gave up even dreaming of doing it well.  But for a few days in the early 90's, my little league team got to play in giant stadiums and throw 90+ miles per hour pitches and hit 400+ foot line drive home runs.  I'm really thinking of opening my box of little league memorabilia and seeing if I still have a roster list of all the players, maybe its time for the team to come out of retirement.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Experience Points 03: OUTWest 90-93

Experience Points 03: Once Upon a Time in the West

The RPG scene in the West in the 1980's was transcendental.  The start of JRPG's is rooted firmly in Ultima and Wizardry, influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, and fed by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The Western RPG scene of the early 90's has largely been... forgotten.  In Japan, the descendants of Ultima's overhead movement style were reigning supreme with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest(Warrior) adopting this style.  In the West, at this time, it was Wizardry's first person dungeon experience that took hold.

By this era, we are getting into the 2nd and 3rd generation of the Wizardry descendants.  Earlier titles practically required you to have a sheet of graph paper and a notebook to write down important information and map data while you played.  Popular releases in the Might and Magic series were released in this time, but Eye of the Beholder is one of the standout titles of this era that was ported to other systems such as the SNES.  Many consider it the pinnacle of the style in its era.  It used the multiple window view to have first person, tactical, and cutscene presentation.  It also used the Dungeons and Dragons license to base its gameplay on.  The Nintendo Entertrainment System also got a pretty popular title in this genre with the release of Swords and Serpents, a very scaled down version of this type of gameplay.

That is not to say that non-First person RPG's did not have some big releases.  Ultima 6 is arguably one of the biggest overhauls to PC RPG's outside of transitioning to 3D.  Its detailed overhead graphics caused many of its competitors to look dated and go back to the drawing board.  With Ultima 6, Ultima would once again redefine a genre as its lineage would lead to Isometric games such as Diablo and Baldur's Gate in the years to come.  The "Gold Box" set of games were in full swing as well.  They began in 1988 with Pool of Radiance, but in this era that were more than 8 titles using the game engine to create adventures with the Dungeons and Dragon licenses and various worlds including Forgotten Realms, DragonLance, and Dark Sun.  They took their influence from the Ultima line of RPG's.  Arguably the most important title in the series was what many consider the first full featured, graphic MMORPG: Neverwinter.  A game that began in 1991, and allowed online users of America Online to play and communicate together in a shared world.

Adventure games were entering their hey day near the end of this era.  Adventure games relied on puzzle and mouse manipulation, combined many times with animation or illustration, to achieve its narrative.  Some of them started adding statistics giving it more of an RPG feel.  Quest for Glory was perhaps the most successful of this combination.  Some consider the King's Quest series of adventures to also be an RPG, and had a couple of sequels in this time as well.  King's Quest VI was considered a watershed and makes the lists of "greatest games of all time" for many critics.

Ultimately in the end, it was the popularity of JRPG's in the West that lead to the downfall of the Wizardry line of RPG's being popular here.  Even with new additions like mapping systems and semi-action based combat, the first person dungeon crawl would diminish and become archaic.  Some say that the First Person Shooter contributed their own to the demise, making the clunky Wizardry based movement look very old and dated as well.  If you were a fan of this era of game you should check out what was heralded as the "revival" of the style titled "Grimrock".

The turn based Ultima based series soon came to a similar end, as the poularity of Ultima 6 lead to overhead progeny, and yet again turn based combat seemed old and clunky as PC's got fast enough for real time combat styles.  The PC RPG area just became outpaced by technology and the popularity of newer styles of gameplay lead to the RPG's of this era to be put by the wayside, and their un-user friendly gameplay limited by earlier technology does not make them easy to pick up and play today by newer generations.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Experience Points: 02 Japan 90-93

Experience Points: 02 Meanwhile in Japan 1990-1993
(Experience Points: Prime 90-93 post here)

One of the things you have to realize when we talk about RPG's from Japan is that their release schedules are extremely fast in their homeland.  While we have to have translations and deals made with publishers and sometimes marketing and store shelf negotiations, Japan is still making the games.  During these years, a new Final Fantasy was a once in a 3-4 year event, something that was celebrated by the gaming community as a milestone.  In Japan, they were getting them almost yearly.  In this era, a few new big franchises would get their start, but we would not see them for a decade, and in some cases 2.

Speaking of Final Fantasy games, Japan had 3 titles get released during this time.  I already talked about Final Fantasy IV(2) in the American section, but Japan also got Final Fantasy 3 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and before the era was over they also got Final Fantasy 5.  These games were actually sort of similar.  In the pre-7 days, the odd Final Fantasy games were their own sort of sub-genre, using classes changes and the ability to customize your parties.  Final Fantasy 1, 3 and 5 all follow this trend of having a small cast that you keep through most of the game, and allowing you to choose how the cast fights by changing or choosing their "class".  Final Fantasy 2, 4, and 6 all had a very large cast of characters, and their abilities were set so that to change how your party fought, you changed the characters that made up your group.  There are a couple of reasons we never did not get a quick translation and import of the games here in the West.  First, the class change systems were thought too complex for our little Western minds, second, Final Fantasy 3 in particular was seen as a ripoff of Dragon Warrior 3, and Final Fantasy 5 was not seen as a large enough "leap" in style and content; they assumed we would be bored of the "same old same old".

Other JRPG's of the era include those in the Megami Tensei franchise.  This series is known for its multiple releases and spinoffs a year.  Many times the spinoffs propel the franchise to even greater fame, one of the few franchises that actually thrives off spinoffs.   The original, Digtial Devil Story: Megami Tensei, got its sequel in this era.  The spinoff Shin Megami Tensei started its run, and grew more popular than the original series.  On the Gameboy, Megami Tensei: Last Bible parts 1 AND 2 were released.  Dragon Quest became a culture phenom in Japan with part 3, but that ended a trilogy.  So the new trilogy got started with Dragon Warrior 4 AND 5 getting releases in this span of 3 years.  While we got 4, we never got 5 till WAY later, which is a shame because many consider it the best.  As you can tell by the box art, the beloved of Japan Akira Toriyama, and animator of Dragon Ball Z, did the art for the series.

On the strategy RPG side of things, Langrisser was very popular, as you could read in the "Prime" post earlier.  Shining Force got parts 1, 2 and its game gear versions released well before we got them here.  Albert Odyssey was released, which we would only see a Saturn installment, but never the first 2 from the SNES.  Two notable Tactical RPG's that would take a while for the West to get were Fire Emblem and Super Robot Wars.  Fire Emblem became a Nintendo hallmark series in Japan, but it would take over half a dozen titles before we would get one.  It is sort of a Langrisser-lite, being a bit less complex.  Like Shining Force though, they focused on party members having personality and inter-personal drama as well as the political intrigue of other tactical games.  Super Robot Wars was the start of a franchise that pitted popular mecha anime from television and movies in tactical battles.  The copyright concerns in North America are the reason we would never see any of these original titles, it would not be until they made completely original games for the Gameboy Advance that we would get any of the titles.  The series received one title per Nintendo Console in these 3 years; one for gameboy, one for the NES, and one for the SNES.

This is not even the tip of the iceberg for RPG's in Japan.  These are just the ones that are more relevant to Western audiences.  There are dozens whose franchises we still have never seen; and even a Record of Lodoss War series of games.  Some say we did not miss out on much, as the word "churned" is used to describe the glut of average and non-quality RPG's left in Japan in this era, still, there is a lot there that is still stuck that would be worth having.  With Megami Tensei replacing Final Fantasy as the "can't wait for the great sequel", it would serve to have the series' "missing" parts brought to us.

Next up for Experience points we take a look at the kind of RPG's that were popular and made by Western developers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gaming Memories 07: Dragon Pack-ins

Gaming Memories 07: Dragon Pack-ins

I have a soft spot for physical editions of games, especially ones that have a ton of pack-ins with them.  I think the first time I felt fully immersed in a game was with Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  I had played it at my cousin's house at a time when I had not yet gotten into Dungeons or Dragons, or even after 2nd Grade when my love of knowing things really started.  So I spent a while trying to figure out how this "chain mail" worked, and how I could send it to other towns in the game.  I decided it was probably a bad luck thing, like a chain letter, and gave up trying.

Anyway, probably a year or so later, my best friend from school got a Nintendo Power subscription, which came with a copy of Dragon Warrior.  This promotion was actually responsible for a lot of my peer's introduction into RPG's.  Well, he sold his copy to me before he even got it, and made back his magazine subscription money.

So this edition of Dragon Warrior came with all sorts of pack ins and goodies to it that really changed my perception of the game.  First off, a picture of chainmail was right there in the booklet, it was armor, duh.  But there was also great pictures of shields, swords and in game items.  There were posters of these things and also grand maps of the world, and maps of the dungeons.  I actually memorized the dungeons by directions in the dark lol  It was "hold down until you bump a wall, then go right till you bump a wall, now head down until you bump a wall again, and stairs".  Made total sense to me as a kid, and saved torches lol

I still have all this stuff, though the maps are not in good condition, as I once had it taped to my wall like a poster.  For long times I would imagine myself with Erdrick's sword, and artbooks of various games are something I enjoy looking at(especially the WoW artbook and FF9's artbook).  It would not be till Final Fantasy 12 that I would earn Erdrick's sword again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Experience Points: 01 Prime 90-93

Experience Points: 01 Prime 90-93

Dawn of the 16 Bit

At the dawn of the 16-bit era the RPG was still a very niche market.  If you had asked anyone I knew what RPG games there were at the time, they'd look at you blankly as the term was more used in PC-gaming circles.  When looking at this early 16 bit era, we see Final Fantasy IV(2 US) get released and set the tone for the entire generation of RPG's.  Its hard to overstate its importance in this era, and can easily be compared to Final Fantasy 7 in opening the doors wider to more releases.  The majority of the RPG's to come in this era only come to NA/Euro after the success of Final Fantasy IV.  These include:
-the interesting, yet flawed 7th Saga
-the overshadowed late NES game Dragon Warrior 4
-the cult hit Lufia & The Fortress of Doom
-the anime inspired and much beloved Lunar Silver Star Story

(pictured: 7th Saga's "mode 7" graphics during battle were impressive in its day)

Another huge influence was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  While its debatable if its an RPG, you can not deny that it was the Zelda series that sparked the Adventure RPG sub-genre.  By adding statistics, experience and levels to Zelda the "modern" adventure RPG was made.  Due to Zelda's popularity we got several games we might not have otherwise gotten;
-the rarely mentioned Lagoon
-Euro-stuck Soul Blazer
-the mega popular Secret of Mana.

(The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past)

Tactical RPG's took root in Japan before the 1990's, but we barely got any of them over here.  Technically some of the Koei strategy games were tactical, but they lacked on the story side of things.  In this 90-93 era, there was a new try at getting the US hooked on tactical games.  We got both Warsong and Shining Force given to us.  Warsong was not yet quite as popular, though perhaps more influential in Japan than here.  Warsong was a part of the Langrisser series in Japan, a series that would inspire the creation of Fire Emblem and Shining Force itself.  Its influence would feed directly into Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and its legacy is continued still today in Japan as the Growlanser series is the Langrisser creator's ongoing spiritual successor series.  It would be past the decade that we would get Fire Emblem, but we did get Shining Force.  Shining Force won this era in tactical RPG's with its anime based graphics and focus on character stories.  Shining Force also added more of the typical JRPG console mechanics, like being able to walk around and speak in towns.  In later tactical RPG's, it would surprise me that it was normal to just have a town photo and explore it through menus.  (Pictured below: Shining Force's battle cutscenes are still beautiful artwork today)

So by and large, that's the RPG exprience that we got over here from Japan.  I will save my experiences and my final thoughts on it for the 4th and final post for this era.  That means we have 2 more posts before the end of the era.  Coming later will be the American RPG scene of this era(there's a dominant sub-genre), and then the stuff that stayed in Japan.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RPG Experience Project: Prologue

Watching all the movies is a hard prospect, there's just so many.  No matter how well versed you are in film, there are those movies you have not gotten around to seeing.  As a person who loves to discuss movies, there is always the "OMG YOU HAVEN"T WATCH THIS?" that happens every time.  Unless your job is to review movies, you've had this said to you.  Anyways, as much of a film buff as I am, it is JRPG's that are my true media fascination.

I have a rather large list of JRPG's I have beaten.  Not only have I beaten them, I can generally walk someone through them and discuss the game on many different levels.  My mind can remember details about these games really well, its a part of my brain that didn't rot in my 20's.  Still, I have gaps, just like everyone, and I want to identify what I need to play to feel "satisfied".  After the millennium, I have hit many of the high notes of the genre, but nowhere near as many as the decade before.  I do not even have playing experience with many of the RPG's that are renowned of the last generation because most of them are on handhelds, or at least that's how it feels.  That's one of the points of this.

I'm not bragging or showing my credentials.  I'm going through and discussing things and expressing my opinion and finding what I have missed and what I want to work on.  Much of this is already in note form, I wanted to get a "big picture" of my experience over the weekend, and so over the course of a few nights I made a list and figured out how I'd split up "eras" and what exactly I would include.  For the most part, with the exception of the earlier time periods, I have split time up into a period of 2 years.  Some of you might think "well that's not a lot of RPG's in just 2 years" and I have to say you are vastly mistaken.  While in the past 5 or so it has slowed down, the amount in the 90's was staggering.

What will you get out of this?  I have no idea.  Maybe its a good time waster to help you wake up in the mornings, or something to read on your coffee breaks.  If you are an RPG fan, you'll learn some history, and maybe find some games you did not know about.  Maybe there is a game you do know about, but do not realize its importance.  I am sticking with mainly the big "3" of any period(Sega, Sony, Nintendo), but will make deviations for particularly important Western developed RPG's.  I plan to talk about action and tactical RPG's, and those that defy classification.  Mainly though, I focus on the "classic" JRPG style.  I'll also keep some "in Japan" posts of the time, because a lot of stuff got started well before we got exposed to it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gaming Memories 06: Metroid School-mate

Gaming Memories 06: Metroid School-mate

So now we have the internet, and a little before that we had video game magazines.  In the late 80's, my relatives had none of that.  They had a Nintendo, they had a Metroid cart, and they had a lot of time on their hands to do goofy shit.  You see, back in the early days of the NES, they had no battery backup chips built in to the cartridges.  You could not save your game, you got a numerical code you had to write down in a notebook.  Then when you wanted to continue you had to sit down and input these sometimes ridiculously long sequences of numbers into the game.

Now, spoilers, but when you finished Metroid in a small amount of time, you would get to see the main character, Samas, without armor.  The big twist was that you were playing a girl the entire time.  Even though I did not see this game beaten till over a decade later, I knew Samas was female because of a coincidence that no one will believe.

While at my cousin's house, they were getting ready to play some Metroid.  I was all intent to watch, I was probably around 5 years old at the time and so all I ever got to do was watch them play.  They were getting ready to put the code in to continue their game when they started goofing around, seeing if they could change things and have the game accept them.  Now, I swear this is TRUTH, this is REAL.  My cousin's friend was there that day, and his name was Justin Bailey.  I KNOW!  People that know about this are already calling "BULLSHIT!", but go ahead with your disbelief.  When you enter JUSTIN BAILY and blank out the lower lines, you get a special Samus to play.

Believe me or not, it makes no difference to me, but its a cool memory to me.

Gaming Memories 05: Breaking Vega

Gaming Memories 05: Breaking Vega

That man is a monster.  The name of the monster(outside of Japan) is Vega and he's one of the original sub-bosses in Street Fighter II.  In the original Street Fighter II you had to defeat the 7 opponents and then there were 4 bosses to the game.  My cousins and my sister's boyfriend were able to get through the first 7 pretty easily.  The boxer, named Balrog, was tough, but not impossible.  He was very weak against projectiles and Ryu was my main character at the time.  But then we all hit the wall that was Vega, which is kind of ironic, seeing as a Wall had a lot to do with it.

You see, on Vega's stage had a cage wall.   At first you might not think anything of it.  Vega is super fast, and extraordinarily strong for his speed.  This is overcome by a good defensive play style, blocking and taking your time to whittle away at his life bar.  This works... until he starts using his wall.  It was TOTALLY unfair.  No one else could interact with this wall, and no other stage had anything like this, it was full on unfair and I thought really cheap by the developers(but memorable).  Vega would climb on this wall and be completely immune to attacks for while he is on it.  Then, he would jump from the wall, grab you and slam you against the ground for an incredible amount of damage... then many times he would jump right back on the wall and do it again!  For a long while this was our block for finishing the game.  Could we have lowered the difficulty?  Hell no, not an option.
Finally I came up with a plan.  I put Ryu on the bench and I switched to playing Guile.  Guile had a special ability that only he and Chun Li shared, and I was no good with Chun Li.  I played a long time, learning Guile's moves, overcoming his painfully slow sweep kicks, and got good enough to finally meet Vega with Guile.  After a few games I was able to get Vega down in life enough to start his wall climbing bullshit.  I waited and waited, and as soon as he jumped toward me, I would jump back and press the grab buttons and catch him in the air to perform a back breaker.  It worked!  Vega was not able to reliably grab me, and eventually I was able to defeat him.  Yep, the first ending many of the people I know had ever saw was Guile, not Ryu.  Eventually we were able to get good enough to beat Vega other ways, but for a while we would switch to Guile, beat Vega, then lose against Sagat and change to the person we wanted to see the ending of.  We saw all the endings and we owed it all to Guile.

Arcade Project 12: Tally

Arcade Project 09: Tally

Ok.  So here we are.  I started this blog series about an arcade because of the people getting press for making $30,000+ arcade rooms in their apartments, and my lack of being impressed by them.  I thought I could do comparable with much less money.  Note: I did not say "Better" as these rooms are a personal experience for their owners, so there is no "better" because that's changes from person to person.  Was I surprised at how expensive things did get?  Yea, I would say I underestimated by about $2000, which means if I built the room I probably would be underestimating by $3000.  Arcade games are becoming a speculation market, and like the baseball and comic book of the 80's, we're approaching a fevered high end for very popular items.

So for the room itself, I did not factor in a lot of labor costs, as for the most part I feel like this is a DIY project.  Painting a room is not very hard work, and applying trim just requires you to have good measuring and leveling tools.  The carpet though, I'm a stickler for good carpet installation, so I'm going to go with full on padding, removal and installation fees.  For the carpet I chose it came out fairly expensive for the room, but it is really great quality carpet that will last a very long time and stand up to food, stains, moving of heavy items, and the casters I want on the Sit-Down arcade.  For moulding, paint, tools and materials I have an estimate of $300.  This is for a not-so-fancy moulding for the ceiling, floor and chair-rail area.  The paint is a real high quality primer, which I believe in and most people skip, and a solid stain resistant paint coat.  Probably twice what someone really going for economy stuff would pay.  Then the carpet installation services run $850 with advertised prices, which means you can get that lower in a number of ways.

Total to this point $1150

As for the accessories we have $1502 without factoring in shipping costs.  This is for a 4 set of gumball machines custom made to require no money to work, and painted in red, with 2 different size configurations.  A two column sticker machine that will match the gumball machines.  A high quality, spring loaded booth seat complete with custom table.  Two ottoman "storage" seats for gaming and extra seating.  A matching counter top for placing things like snacks and the popcorn machine.  A 4oz popcorn machine to give the room a nostalgic smell and also for a nice cheap snack.  Assorted utensils, and stuff like pizza serving trays.

Total to this point: 2653

Now we have the machines.  The racing game: Pole Position.  A Neo-Geo 2 slot MVS machine.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Konami.  Included also is a "catch all" MAME arcade cabinet with a high quality monitor and a decent sound set up with sub-woofer, also X-arcade controls.  Next to that is a Sit-down arcade mainly for fighting games, powered by a PS3, and a couple of X-arcade single sticks, with a $500 flat screen budget.  An addition to this set up is a highly rated racing wheel and a decent joystick for games like Afterburner.   All of these are prices calculated at the time of this writing, and will vary over time and with work the arcades could probably be gotten a little cheaper(its all luck with those).  With all that in mind, we come at a whopping

Total to this point: $8977

However, if I was budgeting things, I would add 10% to this rough total for leeway(even though I've added 10% to most budgets for the room already, I'm just extra cautious)

$9872 for a 10x12 arcade room.  Well under the $30,000 in a recent article.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gaming Memories 04: Advertisements 01

Video Game magazines were big back in the 1990's.  There was a lot of competition between them.  There were those that loved Nintendo Power, but I never really read them because of course all the Nintendo games were going to have great reviews, right?  I did not realize till way later that the quality of the magazine was why people liked it.  Anyway, I was much more an EGM and Next Gen fan, and at one time I had Gamepro and Sega Vision subscriptions.  Somewhere along the line, advertisements started going with "what can we get away with".  Magazines really needed the money, and so a lot of stuff got through that was crazy.  Here's a couple from my personal memory list:

I really really thought this add was funny as hell when I was... let's see, 12? 11?  Well anyways this is probably my favorite of the "shocking" advertisements of the era.  It did not have to be gross, it did not have to have a ton of naked women on the advertisement, it was just a simple phrase for a game named Ballz.  The game is unplayably horrible by today's standards, but back then it was a way to get the 3-D fighter experience on 16-bit consoles.  I played several versions back in the day(rented), and the main memorable thing was a winning song I still get stuck in my head today that just simply goes "boink... yea,    boink yay, ba ba ba boink yea".

This has to go down as one of the worst ideas ever.  Earthbound frankly sold for shit here in the USA, one of the reasons its worth so much now is because it only got popular afterward and everyone decided they needed the game.  Unlike Chronotrigger, its price is actually due to rarity of the cart.  Never forget that Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 sold millions and millions.  Earthbound probably never got past 100,000.  Anyway, the advertisement campaign was abysmal and it was EVERYWHERE in magazines.  It consisted of a stinky scratch and sniff card that did not really need to be scratched to be sniffed.  For like 3 months everyone's magazines smelled like horrible spicy incense.