Friday, October 29, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Ghostbusters (Genesis)

Retro Game of the Day! Ghostbusters (Genesis)

Ghostbusters for the Sega Genesis, released in 1990 by Sega.

Here is a game I was very skeptical about piking up. After being very excited for (and then disappointed by) the flawed NES title of the same name 2 years earlier, I had my guard up somewhat. However, Ghostbusters for the Genesis had a couple of very good things working in its favor; it was released quite early into the lifecycle of the system (there weren't too many character-action titles released by that point) and the screenshots made the game look like it could be quite fun (and it definitely didn't look anything at all like the Nintendo title). Starving for some new excitement on my Genesis, I rushed down to Toys R Us and scooped the game up.

Happily, I was surprised. Ghostbusters was not only decent, but quite good for it's time. The subject matter lent itself quite well to videogaming, and was done complete justice in this game (even if it wasn't quite 1:1 faithful to the actual license - but that didn't really matter, so long as the gameplay was solid!) The game is basically a run, jump and shoot action/adventure title, where you explore differently-themed buildings (the typical "worlds" of the day.. fire level, ice level, etc). Different minibosses must be sought out and defeated, and then the stronger level boss would have to be taken down as well.

It was a very early Genesis title, and so the screens look rather drab now; but at the time, this was a graphically very clean, impressive-looking game to witness. Creatures were well-designed and animated, the main characters were somewhat of the super-deformed style (which was still novel, and therefore looked rather strange). Bouncy, sometimes haunting music accompanied the action, and there were plenty of cool weapons/pickups and associated effects. It was a very nice package, and bode well for what was to come on the system.

Gameplay-wise, Ghostbusters had a little bit of a Mega Man vibe to it, between the way the game was laid out and the control of the character. It was also rather a difficult game, especially in the later levels: in this game you needed to be patient and skilled to take down your rivals. Perhaps worst of all was the lack of a save for password, in true old-school style you had to make it through the whole game in a solid sitting.

Ghostbusters by Sega was a nice surprise, almost an apology for the NES version and really a precursor for what to expect in other character action games (such as the excellent Castle of Illusion). Most importantly, the game still holds up nicely today, even if it is a little old-looking. A very acceptable use of a prominent license.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #39

iPhone App Game Development Blog #39

Time to spit out another one of these! I feel like I just wrote one, but I guess it has been nearly a week and a half. So then, let's get into it, shall we?

I am going to break from the usual format, for a change, and just sort of spout about what's been on my mind. I like keeping things structured, but the way things have been progressing lately, the usual structure is not so pertinent anymore. And as this is just a blog at the end of the day, sometimes it makes sense to just have a brain-dump.

Things have been awfully interesting on the iPhone development scene lately, in many ways; quiet in several others. Surprisingly, following a tremendous lead-in the first part of the year (GTA, SFIV, lots and lots of high-profile releases) things have really cooled off with the major players dipping their toes into the scene in a manner which has kind of surprised me. They have the manpower, the money, and the wits to take over, and instead it's sort of been sloughing off, and I can't figure out exactly why. I guess there is some disinterest on the part of the heavy hitters now that the novely has worn off, and that's strange; the money is still there (and coming fast and furiously), the user base keeps growing exponentially, and the platform in general is just getting trendier than ever. A good bit of that seems to be rubbing off on the competitors as well (Android) and of course no one seems to care, but now the Windows Phone is available as well.

So what gives? Where is everyone? Why the malaise?

As an independent, I say it is fine, as it gives us a lot more room to have any kind of a profound effect in some fashion or other, and that's been happening to degrees. But it really does feel like this Sword of Damocles situation in a way, there will be this huge throwdown whenever those bigger, established studios decide to stop pussy-footing around, come in and "take over." I have a pretty decent finger on the pulse of this industry, and the only real excuse I can think of it short-sightedness/politics/lethargy. Whatever. The longer they are absent, the better off the rest of us players will be.

For indies, we struck a powerful blow when Matt Rix's Trainyard app suddenly rocketed far up the charts, enjoyed a moment at #2 on All Paid before settling into the lower end of the Top Ten for the longer haul. That was huge, I can't help but wonder if Cut The Rope hadn't yet surfaced if he could have grabbed that top spot, as he'd unseated even the reigning champ Angry Birds! Here's this one guy who made the game all by himself, his singular app released so many months ago (near the time our last one released), and he took over the world for a few minutes there (and obviously is still raking it in). I hope to see his app sitting up there in Top Ten-land for a long time to come :)

Also of note, our buddies at Retro Dreamer have released their new app Linkoidz this past week. Of course I was eager to get my paws on this title, as it is very inspired by a time-honored favorite Magical Drop (which does already exist on the iPhone, albeit in poorly executed form). Linkoidz makes short work of that title and is enjoying a lot of attention right now, I wholeheartedly recommend a pickup if you are a fan of quality action-puzzlers. Simple interface, splendid execution, and quite addictive.

Last bit of scene news will be to mention that Chillingo got bought up by none other than EA, which was a surprise to some and not much to others. For whatever reason, I had them pegged as Activision-bound (I am sure they were talking to everyone, hell everyone is always talking to everyone else) but I guess this was the one that bit. ATVI will get theirs soon enough I am sure. Even more interesting is the fallout from this, as none of Chill's games are coming with.. just their stupendous network. Angry Birds, the crown jewel, has since seen a chart-topping Chillingo-less update (Halloween edition) which has the layman's head scratching "didn't Chillingo make the previous game?" being that it was pretty heavily branded as such.. anyway, everyone from all camps are making out like gangbusters from these deals, so at the end of the day it's hard to feel bad for anyone.

BIZDEV - and what's up on the homefront, you may wonder? A fellow emailed me recently "so, is Headcase still making games?" It's an awfully good question, and while there's the most general of blanket answers available ("yes!") the honest reality which shouldn't be a surprise is, that things are moving so slowly in development that they might as well not be going anywhere. Anyone who is familiar with the ins and outs of any kind of smalltime development knows how this goes, all too well - unless you have a dedicated base, it's nigh-impossible to see something as complex as a full project through to appropriate completion. Even for seemingly small projects, lack of production really is a death knell. This is not trivial! In this operation, it's my job not only to do much of the brainstorming, raw asset creation and management, but also the connection to the outside world (which I've often related is quite a sizable and laborious job in itself). But at the end of the day, shepherding a brand is utterly useless when there's no new product to put out there.

It's very difficult. There's few things I enjoy more, in this world, then being on a development staff (large or small) and making something that's awesome, that makes people happy, that is alive. It's a charge unlike any other that I have experienced in my 35 years. But the big lesson is, it's just not that simple. There's politics to contend with. Personalities, money, hopes and dreams and plans. Until that flow comes in, things sound rad on paper but unless you are that true "do-everything-machine," you are just a half-realized concept. It pains me to see my game out in the world, but know that it's hobbled in certain ways. Products released 6 months, a year ago, and further out are already on such a different playing field than what is coming out now or with the next wave (and the generations pass quickly!)

I don't know what will happen. I have purposefully kept quiet about the deeper, stressful nature of this stuff ("will I get to continue as I'd like to in this capacity?") Bottom line - I am confident in my abilities. I have a head full of great ideas for the future. For the time being, I am doing all that I can to keep myself active in this industry, and work better towards that goal. Thanks for reading and supporting :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Stormlord

Retro Game of the Day! Stormlord

Stormlord by Hewson, released in 1989 for several computer platforms such as the Speccy and Amiga. Published for the Sega Genesis in the States by Razor Soft in 1990.

Once again, it is time to turn the pages back to the early days of the Sega Genesis. Back when Nintendo had a stranglehold on nearly all 3rd-party licensing, the hardware manufacturer had to look elsewhere to bring in new titles for its powerful 16-bit behemoth which weren't developed in-house. A scant few arrangements were made with some companies, and soon magazines started running advertisements for the "first wave" of Genesis games following the initial all-Sega-produced launch lineup. This was when Stormlord first came into the picture.

Flipping through the back pages of a GamePro magazine, the initial ads for Stormlord looked quite promising. The boxart was impressive and conjured imagery of power and adventure. The name sounded extremely cool. The screenshots were small and dark, but detailed; the text promised a worthy successor to the style of play recently made famous in the king of the recent launch, Ghouls 'n Ghosts. Stormlord was going to be one to keep an eye on, for sure.

And it did finally arrive, but the hesitant were proven to be justified. This game was nothing like the aforemention Capcom classic, it was a totally different style of play. Hope around, avoid obstacles, rescue fairies. Not a bad game, but certainly not of the pace, style, or character of it's predecessor. The character lumbered around slowly and weakly, the animations were devoid of spark, and the questing was quite boring compared to what was being put forth in Japanese-styled action games at the time. This was considered a successful title in it's home territory, but the port more players saw wasn't received well at all.

The most notorious thing about Stormlord was that some of the background graphics were considered to be too risque for a general audience (naked fairy statues climbing out of jars). For the conversion, they were given bathing suits; one wonders how many people bought the game for this reason alone!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

iPhone App Development Vlog #5

Headcase Games iPhone App Development Vlog #5

transcript at
"Born into this" written by Charles Bukowski

FreeAppTracker - developer submit

Thanks for supporting Headcase Games!

Want to win ANY Free App of your choice for your iPhone, care of Headcase Games (LINK)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Retro Game of the Day! Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse by Konami, released in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (a year earlier in Japan, a couple years later in Europe).

It's pretty late into October, which is generally regarded in videogameland as "Castlevania month" for some decades now, and I am just getting to reviewing this hugely classic game now, shame on me!

CV3 was touted as a return to form for one of the best of the earliest 8-bit franchises on the console, the original Castlevania had quite a legacy to live up to as one of the strongest action-platformers on the NES. The first sequel, Simon's Quest was a decent game in its own right, but it failed to properly capture what was so enjoyable about the preceding game.

As a modern gamer, it was a little hard to get very excited about a new Castlevania iteration; 16-bit was in full swing and the shots being shown of CV3 looked extremely dated compared to what was blasting out of the TurboGrafx-16 and Sega Genesis. The game honestly looked a lot like a rework of the 1987 original, which was decent-looking at the time but even leading up to it's release, many NES carts were of a higher graphical standard than this grandaddy engine.

In spite of all of this (and the disappointment of part 2), the magazines fully sold CV3. A huge game, diverging paths, different playable characters (defeat bosses like in Mega Man, and "acquire their powers"). It felt like it was arriving a little late, but I picked the game up and enjoyed it. This was what a proper sequel to Castlevania should play like! The game wasn't perfect, but it was much better than expected and so enjoyable to play through. In many ways, it was the final iteration of the first genesis of the series; aside from the differently-designed GameBoy "side story" titles, the next step was 16-bit which took the gameplay, design, and aesthetic in very different directions. I suppose we didn't really need another 8-bit sequel following this, but they did a very good job of providing just what was needed.

Castlevania III is an excellent and, strangely, often overlooked entry into the series. The design has it's detractors, but overall it's an excellent complement to the first game and a title which still holds up quite well. In some ways it seems like a good candidate for a 16-bit re-style, but honestly I like how it looks and feels just fine. Any fan of the series must play through this game!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Junction

Retro Game of the Day! Junction

Junction by Micronet, released in 1990 for the Sega Genesis (and later for the Sega Game Gear)

In the early days of the Sega Genesis, there was a nice slew of software released at launch and a small trickle followed afterward. Unfortunately, any head of steam built up was quickly worn down as there was just not much to enjoy once you tired of beating Ghouls 'n Ghosts or clearing Altered Beast for the umpteenth time. Nintendo still maintained a strangehold on the console licensee market and not many third parties were eager to upset the giant and jump into development just yet for the rival consoles; less well-known companies got their chance to step up in the meantime and take center stage with their goods.

Seeing a game like Junction advertised in the magazines at the time was not unusual, then. Just by virtue of its being a 16-bit game, it automatically generated interest (even if it was not a known franchise, and in spite of the fact that it looked like some kind of board game). In face this was quite unusual, as video board games on consoles were generally few and far between. All of these things being the case (and because it made me think of Zoom!), I didn't bother with Junction (though I was always curious about it!)

The game simply puts you in command of a table with a ball rolling over it. Much like those old plastic sliding puzzles which many remember from their childhood, this requires that you manipulate the pieces such that the ball will roll over several special long white pieces in order to clear a board. Mess it up and you lose a turn! The ball rolls of its own accord, although you can speed it up if you like. Several obstacles are in place to help (or hinder) your progress.

In hindsight, the game is really not bad and it is fairly novel and well-presented for what it is. It's easy to see why it flopped on the Genesis (see the reasons mentioned earlier!) but that is a shame as the game was not only different, but well-thought-out and fairly packed with content. It's a game which holds up now and wouldn't seem out of place on a mobile device (I am sure there's "grandchildren" versions of this available). These types of puzzlers have their fans, and it is recommend it based on that merit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Shadow of the Beast

Retro Game of the Day! Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast by Reflections/Psygnosis, originally released in 1989.

At the tail end of the 1980s, I was so unbelievably jazzed to get my hands on a Sega Genesis. Finally, gorgeous arcade graphics at home, could this be for real - and could it get any better than this? Sure enough, cracking open the game magazines of the day, it could. If you wanted to have the real deal, you needed to own an Amiga, because only than could you play Shadow of the Beast.

Computer games were often more exotic looking than their console counterparts, but this was too much. A huge color palette, enormous sprites, elaborately detailed backgrounds with multiple layers of scrolling parallax, it seemed like this was a game from the future!

However, Beast did have a knock against it - the game was notoriously hard, even back in the day. It was one of those titles where you needed to traverse large levels in search of every nook and cranny, for if you forgot to pick up a needed implement, you'd be doomed later on in the game with no way to go back and fix your error. To top it off, this was no Mario game (you didn't exactly have a lot of health/lives available!)

Eventually, Beast did find a console release on the Genesis, and it was a decent port, nothing more. It has problems (game speed, hit detection, loss of some graphical fidelity, horrible music) but the game is intact enough to relate to its source material. The game may not have aged too wonderfully, but for a time this was one of the standards by which many other titles were judged!

iPhone App Game Development Blog #38

iPhone App Game Development Blog #38

Well hi there!! Yes, it's true, I don't get to stick my head in here and say hello as often as I like. Things are extraordinarily busy lately (they're never dull) and it's been murder on getting to things like community discourse. I have been spending a ton of time trying to find some manner of gig or other to pay the bills since I need to pay my rent, between that and keeping the lights on at Headcase it gets really tight at times. But I am still here :)

180 for iPhone - We've been working hard to get our update out the door. As usual I must stress that the game is not going to be a huge departure from the already-existing version, we had some tech issues to address and it's likely that the only really noticeable change for most folks will be the new icon. A new binary just got submitted this past evening, so with some luck it will turn around and we can breathe a sigh of relief! Following the update there will be a huge amount of activity on my end, as there is quite a bit of promoting to do. Our game is not new anymore, but I need to "act like it is" for the last time. It's hard to know what to expect for the fallout from this coming promotion, the details of which will be revealed soon, so I am going to be optimistic - either way I am happy, because following this period I can move on with things and concentrate on something different!

This final 180 promotion will be a big deal for us and I am seeking to recruit help from any interested parties. I need to finish assembling the plan, and will announce it in here shortly (this week?) Any help from anyone is welcome - whether you've got resources that are amazing or merely modest, I can find stuff for you to do :) Details to come.

Bizdev - As noted in the intro, I have been spending a ton of time seeking out some paid work, and my other iPhone development has been sort of crawling along as a result. I have got some time in for the project code-named "3," and I've recently recruited a buddy to help move that along. That project needs to get wrapped up and moved into the promotion & release phase asap so that whatever's next can get underway. I am sitting on a lot of great ideas for projects, but they all stay in the Deep Freeze until their time comes. - Our new website is chugging along. I think it's been live for about a month now.. this is taking a good bit of work to maintain as well, but I am happy so far. If you enjoy the site, please mention it to your friends - and if you are a dev with a free app to plug, hook up with us and we can feature it for you (for free) and help you to promote! With the coming 180 promotion I am expecting to get an increase in traffic for this site, so it is something to keep in mind. At some point we will feature ads for other (paid) apps by fellow indie devs, but if you're eager to get on with that then contact me.

What Else is Going On - Ohhh boy, the world's all crazy right now. Lots going on in game news, we've got Cut The Rope finally knocking Angry Birds out of 1st place in the app store. Very interesting, and I wonder how long it will sit there? Supposedly they made $1 Million off this 0.99cent app in a little over a week. This is crazy. Also, fellow indie developer Matt Rix made huge waves when his app Trainyard got some serious steam out of nowhere and blasted all the way up to number 2, where it exhaled for a moment, before getting in comfy at number 3 where it seems to be sticking around for awhile. This is a huge deal for all us little guys with apps that have been sitting out there for awhile, it just goes to show that a well-made production can be discovered and change the world. Of course, there are so many instances out there, that it's hard to expect a similar chain of events could be possible to repeat any time soon.

This brings me to a point I want to bring up, the notion that the app store is such a crazy place right now. It really is, we've all shuffled into this weird new world and everyone wants a piece of it, and most folks aren't gonna even snatch a morsel. We've reached a point where competition is so tense, and systems feel like they are getting pretty figured-out; most little guys will not have much hope of gaining any real ground unless drastic (and expensive) measures are taken. You can not just have a good game to sell anymore. You need to go out on a limb and do lots of other things to promote, and it's becoming more work to do that than merely putting together a nice game. If you've been a moderately successful dev (with a decent body of work and some amount of fandom) then you are probably a bit hooked up and plugged in by now, and you can just keep churning things out and getting some return. But if you are brand new and hoping to strike it rich, and have never dealt with any kind of marketing or networking, then it's going to be a nightmare. It's probably been at this stage for over a year now, realistically.

I think we'll see a lot of the bigger companies finally start to make some real movement in dominating the app space following the holidays, and indie devs will fight for increasingly smaller mindshare. Indie is not going away, but it will become much harder to get noticed as this happens. This will help glaze over some of the usual garbage apps that usually fill up the store, but it will probably also force smaller devs to embark on bigger and more ambitious projects before they are ready (if you've worked in the mainstream game industry, this might start to sound very familiar!) The app store scene has been wonderful, ultimately, as it has fostered this wonderful potential for creator-owned (and controlled) content, and I fear that the days might wind down before they've really been given a chance to shine. We will see what happens!

On that note, Angry Birds released on Android the other day. 1 MILLION DOWNLOADS in a day. Madness.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Electrocop

Retro Game of the Day! Electrocop

Electrocop by Epyx, for the Atari Lynx. Released in 1989.

Here was a game which really polarized players (well, the ones who actually saw it!) This was among the first titles released for the Atari Lynx (semi)16-bit handheld system, which launched in the same period as Nintendo's 8-bit GameBoy. While GB was sporting titles like Mario Land and Alleyway at its launch, Lynx was showing off extremely complicated-looking (and visually arresting) titles such as the After Burner-esque Blue Lightning and this. Aesthetically, there was no comparison - the GameBoy games looked absolutely prehistoric compared to the powerful Lynx titles. Of course, history has proven that it takes more than good looks to win a system war..

Electrocop was a riff on the extremely-popular late-80s Robocop theme, and it worked well. This game was dripping with mood, style, and coolness. Your character felt like he was really navigating in real-time through a mazelike hi-tech complex. The scaling graphics, the immersion feeling, it was all very breathtaking (and that much more so on a portable device!)

Sadly, what the game rocked in cool it lacked in substance. The game was not bad, it was a bit of fun - but it wore thin after a few plays. Your character could pick up some neat weaponry, but he felt rather underpowered most of the time. Moving through the world was amazing, but it often became disorienting and difficult to track. The enemies were plentiful, but they were not particularly engaging or even very fun to battle. The worst problem was the coded doorlocks - a player would have to set up hacks to discover a "secret code," and then pass the time while the hack worked through it's process. This was a cardinal sin, no game should expect you to wait around and keep busy while a timer counts away!

Fortunately, there were several little neat minigames (something unheard-of at the time) which you could keep busy with while waiting for the hacks. Breakout, Asteroids, and others; but really one couldn't shake the feeling that rather than wait and play watered-down versions of real games-within-a-game, they should be enjoying the "real" game world!

Electrocop was an excellent idea followed up with some dynamite aesthetic and ultimately misguided execution. It was an experimental game released during a critical time, and though it was very impressive - and an incredible showcase for the new system it was one - it was ultimately a reminder that a game needs some very solid planning and forethought to be considered enjoyable in the long-term, rather than just relying on gimmicks.

This indie game "Trainyard" is currently tearing up the iPhone charts! An excellent production by some friends of ours, be sure to support and pick it up now!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Volfied

Retro Game of the Day! Volfied

Volfied (or "Ultimate Qix," but really, which name would you prefer?) by Taito, arcade release in 1989 and ported shortly after to Sega Genesis, PC-Engine, and other platforms.

A game nearly lost to time, Qix was part of a very old generation of videogames where graphics were as simplistic as could be, and gameplay was the only leg to stand on. With it's unique "fill the entire screen by line-drawing boxes," Qix stood quite apart from the rest and enjoyed some popularity for it.
The game is still as enjoyable now as it was when it first appeared, but its looks never made it an easy one to sell. With its' legacy, a bevy of sequels followed (some official, most softcore-porn-themed knockoffs) although Volfied was the only "true" follow-up.

Volfied expanded on the original by sticking to what worked, and not trying to complicate things. The super-simple source material was given an appropriate sci-fi facelift, and gameplay was augmented with extra challenge. The game was interesting in that it improved on the original, and yet the two are able to coexist (it wouldn't be fair to say that Volfied is "better" than Qix...)