Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Time Pilot '84

Retro Game of the Day! Time Pilot '84

Time Pilot '84 by Konami, released to arcades in (guess?) 1984.

Ah yes! Definitely one of the "good ol' boys" of the arcade series of yesteryear, 1982's Time Pilot found itself reincarnated a couple of years later. Let's have a look-see what it was all about.

The original Time Pilot was a fairly wonderful game when it released. Still quite fun as a matter of fact; you had an incredible sense of control and firing range with your little ship, and there was a constant stream of things to shoot/avoid/capture. It was a wonderful recipe.

This sequel follows in those footsteps fairly well, though enough is changed in the basic outline of the game that it feels like a completely standalone entity, and that's a good thing. '84 sticks with the futuristic motif, which works well with its' style, and now you have lock-on missiles to play with (and plenty more targets to shoot/avoid). It's a shooter-fans paradise!

I used to work at a game studio where they had one of these machines in their lobby; even though it was already over 15 years old, people would still put in hours on this thing blasting away trying to outdo one-anothers' highscores (we'd scrawl them on post-it notes and stick it to the marquee, since they'd get erased every night when they powered the machine off). That's the type of game is was;; stylish, brutish, simple, and just plain fun. I want to go play it now! Don't let the primitive, crude graphics turn you away, this is absolutely a must-play if you like chasing and shooting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #24

iPhone App Game Development Blog #24

Game Dev Blog.. where do I begin?

As usual, with 180 Development - what's up with our flagship title, you wonder? Well, it's slightly closer to being wrapped up than it was last time I have spoke of it (several weeks ago). We had hoped, and tried our damnedest, to get the Full + Lite versions through submission in time for the PAX East game convention in Boston, so we could do our big launch at the show. I started hyping the thing through my networks, I went out and printed up new business cards, and also crafted some very nice looking postcard handouts to promote the game. Our promo girl was also at the show (for various reasons) and she talked up our game. I attended the show and met with a few people to discuss (and show-off) the project.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to submission in time and we missed the opportunity to take advantage of the convention. It's a shame, but I am thankful of the people I got to talk to and the new connections I have made (some very valuable!) as it will help smooth things over in the future. Demonstration-wise, the game performed very well and I stopped several convention-goers and asked them to give it a spin. Each random person "got it" and wanted to purchase it, so I know I made the right decision to try and do a show launch.

As for thee current state of things - obviously, when the game enters (and successfully passes) submission then I will trumpet pretty loud and far about it, in here if nowhere else. As things stand we have a very close candidate, a few bugs are being squashed and the openFeint integration is getting wrapped up (it's become quite difficult dealing with the different OS configurations.. this is forgivable as the system is still quite new). Still, the longer we wait to submit, the harder it will be to sell this product; iPad launches just days from now and the entire focus of this arm of the media will be on that product. As our game is not iPad-specific (and hardly even relevant, honestly) I know we'll hardly have the benefit of launching during a "slow news period." To further complicate things, our Lite version still has a bit of work to be done and I absolutely feel it is critical to launch both versions at the same time. In reality, I think a best case scenario will see us submitting a week from now, and available for sale the week following that. With some seriously heavy-handed luck, we will be able to shave a week off of that schedule; but at this point, so long as it comes out in the next few weeks, I will be satisfied.

Bizdev - Understandably, things are extremely quiet outside of the impending release of the game. I am helping another developer wrap-up his own project, and following that I'd like to rush headfirst into development on a new title with him. It's another 2-man crew project, and I'd expect that it should go a lot more smoothly than the past few projects I have worked on due to a number of reasons, but you never can tell! Anyway, of everything in my life right now, I am eager to get moving with "what's next" following the current game's launch and wrap-up, and so this tops the list of things that I am excited about. It is too early to tell if this project will fall under the Headcase Games banner or something different.

What Else is Going On - what do you mean "what else!" There's not much room for what else, we're just trying to neatly wrap things up over here and move forward with as little distraction as possible. PAX East has been an interesting experience for me, as the only game convention I have ever been to has been E3 in Los Angeles (several times) PAX has been quite unusual for me. I was disappointed not to attend many of the panels, as several of them seemed quite interesting, but I am here for work, not pleasure! This does bode well for the future of PAX and I'd love to be involved again, we'll see how things go. In that vein, I was excited to meet many prospective fans, as well as other people I'd love to partner with in some manner or other. business-wise. Being an independent operative can be very interesting as it's often all about "how far do you wish to go with things?"

The game industry chugs merrily along in the meantime, I have not been so laser-focused on it lately as my mind has been elsewhere. The new Nintendo 3DS announcement has caught my eye, so to speak, and I am very interested to see what they have to show for it. I have such respect for that company, in that they always zig while everyone else zags; always a step ahead, even if their tech is often more gimmick-laden than everyone else's. They manage to cover their backend with an admittedly short list of quality software, which is often more than good-enough for their audience. As for this 3D idea, I can't quite conceive how it is going to work yet, but I expect it will be a lot more satisfying than their last go-round (Virtual Boy). Personally 3D gaming is extremely intriguing to me (it's something I have thought about a lot recently, prior to this announcement) and I think Nintendo is the perfect company to step into this arena.

What Have I Been Playing?

Naturally, I was pretty excited to see a unique puzzle game making the rounds on the iPhone "hip scene" lately. Not sure how far this one's got, but it has made some headway (featured on Toucharcade, made the New and Noteworthy list). A simple game, quite easy to learn to play and it's got a little bit of technique to it as well. I have to admit I got myself a good bit addicted to this game for a while! I want to place in the top ten on the global boards (last I checked I was
ranked #11, I am sure I've dropped quite far by now!) It takes a little getting used to, but this game is absolutely worth investigation if you are looking for a new take on the action-puzzle genre. No lite version here, but spend the buck and you will agree!

I just downloaded the lite version of this game recently, and it's quite fun. Essentially a Magical Drop clone, I can't say how much since I am not too heavy into that game, but that seems to be the case. Very nice presentation, really clean, I admire their work. The style is a little odd (the blank zombified stares of the pieces don't do much to keep me coming back for more!) but the game is fun and I can see myself playing it a bit more. I only bought the lite and saw no reason to buy the full, I wonder if there is more to it?

The new entry by HcG buddies Race2theMoon! A "Canabalt"-style game, you must tap the screen in order to make your little Blue Block jump over pits and avoid obstacles. Sounds easy, but the design is devilish! This game has my kudos as the designer used a special tool ("Gamesalad") to do all the programming himself - and he's not a programmer! I look forward to see what he's got up his sleeve next, and I am very inspired to try this route as well. I am watching..

A new fan-favorite making the rounds, TTL is a unique game who's premise is described in the title. Simply move your iPhone to keep your protagonist out of harm's way, dodging the unspeakably evil Red Dots. Pick up temporary powerups to turn the tables. A very smooth, nicely presented experience that will keep you coming back for a few extra plays.

A neat little idea, Ikaruga-style. Tap the screen and "good becomes bad" and vice-versa. You always want to touch the positive color (yellow) but avoid the negative color (red). Tap the screen and all colors will reverse. How many can you snag/avoid? It's a great idea, unfortunately the execution leaves a bit to be desired. If it sounds intriguing, I would say it is worth the price.

Here's a weird little game. I picked up the lite version, and for that I am happy - this is not worth a purchase! It's not a bad game, it just reeks of "we can take a so-so idea and wrap it in wonderful presentation and make a lot of money!" Yeah, the presentation here is A+ for real, but unfortunately the half-baked puzzle gameplay leaves me cold. Download it if you wanna see some nice visuals, but delete it after to free up some space on your phone for something fun.

Retro Game of the Day! Arch Rivals

Retro Game of the Day! Arch Rivals

Arch Rivals by Midway, arcade release in 1989.

Yes, hard to believe it, but there was a time when sports games didn't necessarily need to take themselves uber-seriously in videogameland. In fact, it was unusual that they would - most people remember the landmark title NBA Jam, which was somewhat tongue-in-cheek arcade basketball; but how may remember its' predecessor, Arch Rivals?

This was an interesting little game put together by the pros at Midway, back in the day they had quite a notable style on everything they touched (in a good way!) Tapper, Rampage, and so forth, they all had a very distnictive "Midway Look" to them...

Anyway, a pretty simple if reduced version of the B-Ball sport was here. Basically, this was basketball with 2-man teams, and the name of the game was violence. Not over the top violence (no blood 'n guts to be found here), but certainly enough to be unsportsmanlike - but that was the gimmick of this game. Merely steal the ball, or smash your opponents job, whatever it would take to sink one before the buzzer was all that mattered.

For me, I never really gave this game a fair shake (it was hard to look at any other basketball during the 8-Bit days when Double Dribble was cleaning house) and something about the stark black backgrounds felt rather uninviting; but for a time, lots of people were having a good time punching lights out in Arch Rivals.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Bionic Commando

Retro Game of the Day! Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando by Capcom, released on the NES in 1988.

How to define a classic? We've all played so many games over the years - shooters, princess-rescuing quests, dragon-slaying episodes, mutant-frog seeking journeys. And one shining star stands out from the rest; a tale of a man with a mechanical arm, on a quest to destroy Hitler.

No two ways about it; the genesis of Bionic Commando is absolutely a strange one. Dispatched onto the gaming scene at a time when Capcom was putting out some absolutely original and creative products, BC was a sequel to a (very different) earlier top-down run'n'gun style game. Actually an arcade version of BC preceded this console episode, and thankfully this game was only loosely based on that (though at the time, I was disappointed).

So here's the deal - side-scroller, you have a gun (and collect other weaponry). You cannot jump, instead you swing Tarzan-style with your bionic arm. Shoot it out like a grappling-hook, and then you can cling to things and throw yourself around. A little tricky to learn, but quite fun and rewarding once you get the hang of it (bad pun, sorry...) The graphics, sounds, and gameplay feel of this one all added up to quite a memorable experience.

Bionic Commando was absolutely one of the stranger turns during the NES' history, yet absolutely one of its' most enjoyable. A difficult game to begin with, but ultimately very satisfying with a unique story and wonderful execution. A must-see.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Pengo

Retro Game of the Day! Pengo

Pengo by Sega, originally released in the arcade in 1982.

Developed by a company called Coreland, Sega published this colorful badboy way back in the day. Unlike his buddy Frogger, poor Mr. Pengo hasn't been remembered much since..

So, Pengo is a strange and difficult game. For me, it was cool because I liked the aesthetics; I thought the name sounded cool and I liked the marquee art. The gameplay itself (and onscreen graphics, and theme) were never really doing much for me. Maybe it's the time this game came out, maybe it wasn't terribly approachable. I am not talking trash on Pengo, it's not a bad game. But it's not too difficult to see why it's stayed buried in the past.

You control a little penguin who is being pursued by Sno-Bees (awesome name!) You can push ice blocks into them to crush them (combo this for big points!); alternatively, push special diamond blocks together for (bigger) points, or likewise to clear the round.

As mentioned, Pengo's not a bad game (and it really set the stage, ultimately, for Kickle Cubicle, one of my loved games from back in the day). It's a little difficult and not terribly easy to grasp at the outset, which counts against it - but it's got something going for it which makes me come back. Also, there was a much more advanced 16-Bit Megadrive version released several years later that expands on the theme and gameplay greatly, it looks great and I will have to review it down the road.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! The Super Spy

Retro Game of the Day! The Super Spy

The Super Spy by SNK for Neo Geo, 1990 release.

Here we have something to look at. Step right up and check out The Super Spy! An early effot by SNK to show off the incredibly masculine dominance of their superturbomega-actionreplaykillerfest NEO GEO 100 MILLION MEGA SHOCK DESTROY YOUR FAMILY.

If you don't understand sarcasm, SNK's early ad campaigns were trying to make every other console out there look weak and pathetically underpowered. Their new monster system, though expensive, could do things that just couldn't be done outside of an arcade. So they promoted early games like this one which were specifically designed to show off the capabilities of the system. That meant huge, colorful sprites, and lots of fancy hardware scaling and such.

As for the game itself, it was an interesting first-person view endeavor created when first-person gaming was seldom seen. Moreover, it was Japanese, so completely outside of the world influenced by Wolfenstein and the like. They took their own approach and ran with it. The results are definitely kind of odd - very simplistic-arcadey, but it's a fun little game considering its age. Basically, you are in a Die Hard kind of situation and you must engage terrorists as you move through a huge complex. Use your knife, your fists, your pistol, and your feet (kicking is rad!) and duck out of the way of attack Punch-Out!!-style.

Overall, kinda shallow, pretty simplistic. This is an old game from a different time, but it is interesting to look at and some fun can be had if you're a certain type of gamer. Interesting to look at for the history, just don' expect to spend too much time geeking out with it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Super Mario Bros. 3

Retro Game of the Day! Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 by Nintendo, released for the NES in 1990 (2 years earlier in Japan) and a whole year later in Europe.

Super Mario 3! Most folks will tell you that this is their absolute favorite game on the Nintendo. Most, if not all. Me? I will always prefer the original SMB, but it's hard not to love this iteration. There's so much to do, and so many turtles to kill!

Mario 3 was a huge breath of fresh air and it came out at such a perfect time during the 8-Bit Nintendo's dominance. There was already an avalanche of excellent software for the system, and Mario 3 was the new king. So much thought, care, and love was put into the design of this experience. Everything looked, sounded, and played great. Also, the game was long, it was challenging, and it was very addictive - you just kept coming back for more. The only place they really dropped the ball was that there was no save-feature, you had to play all the way through from the word GO.

Mario 3 introduced so many elements to the Mario platforming genre. Power-up suits, P-Switch blocks (switching coins to blocks and vice-versa), power-up suits with unique powers (hammer suit, raccoon suit, frog suit, Tanuki Suit.. Riot,) a giant world map with very fleshed-out world themes, boss battleships.. Things like dungeons, bonus-life minigames, hidden secret shortcuts and boss battles were also extrapolated on. It was a very tight package.

Mario 3 has enjoyed a stellar legacy possibly more than most of its' brethren (I'll still argue that it can't touch the longer-reaching influence of the first SMB). It's also a game so well-designed that it absolutely holds up to play even today. Definitely a classic.

It's trite to mention it, but games like this and it's ilk (Mega Man 2, Metroid, Castlevania) were absolutely what kept Nintendo head and shoulders above its' competition in the 8-Bit days. These titles really blew away the higher-tech arcade machines as well, despite their simpler looks they were just much more deeply playable. It was a Golden Age of Gaming the likes of which we will never experience again (of course, it helps that I was still early in my teens..)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Air Buster

Retro Game of the Day! Air Buster

Air Buster by Kaneko, original arcade release in 1990.

So then! Back in the day, as longtime readers of Retro Game of the Day might be able to tell you, I was quite the shmup fan. Games where you controlled a little ship and the screen scrolled continuously, with oodles of little alien enemies were constantly trying to blow you to smithereens, those were absolutely my bag. I especially was partial to these horizontal ones, or horzies as the true geeks call 'em. Air Buster was another one which I had a keen eye on.

Sadly, AB took it's time in finding a release date; a game I was quite interested in for awhile, by the time it did actually see the light of day I wasn't so keep on picking it up. Nevertheless, I gave it a rental. I found what was certainly a nice colorful shooter, lots of parallax (always a treat!), lots of well-animated cyber-baddies trying to blow you out of the sky.

A nice touch for this game was that it started out right over the ocean and then a futuristic city, something that was unusual for shooters in the day (most of them were set against your standard asteroid belt or some such typical space setting). Not bad, those just got boring after awhile, so this was a nice change of pace. To top it off,the whole city gets completely leveled partway through the first stage.. unsettling, but awesome! Getting into the game, you notice that there's these big.. ugly.. flying garbage canisters which must be shot to deploy a whole payload of poweruppy goodness. The canisters looked stupid and were sort of a turnoff.. but the giant explosion of POWs was welcome for certain.

At the end of the day, AB is just another shooter with a couple of nice things going for it; very unique to this game was that it's on a short list of 2-Player side-scrolling shooters, and that alone makes it worth investigation. Also unusual is its' load screen (in a cartridge, wha?) and the fact that a version released for the TurboGrafx-16 as well, under the name Aero Blasters (with somewhat better graphics, I do recall). Also.. man, that boxart is hideous. Still, if shooters are your thing, and especially if you've got a buddy handy, you guys might wanna give Air Buster the once-over.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Hang-On

Retro Game of the Day! Hang-On

Hang-On by Sega, original arcade release in 1985.

Do you remember the first time you saw this beast? Do you? I sure do. Although I suspect many people were actually rather flabbergasted when they first laid their eyes on a Hang-On "ride-controller" arcade, I was of those who just had no idea it was something that could be done, and when I gave it a try, I really didn't have any idea what to make of it.

Having never before ridden an actual motorcycle, my 10-year-old (or so) self was kind of cautious about mounting the thing (falling off, etc) But in hindsight this was a CRAZY device. If you couldn't tell by now, the deluxe version of this arcade machine required you to get on top like an actual motorcycle and lean to control your bike. Awesome stuff.. even if it was new, now.

The software wasn't too shabby either. This was Sega's heyday, and they were busy making quite a formidable name for themselves in the arcade markets with their beauutifully-rendered pseudo-3D racing games, with very flashy and colorful scalar sprite technology. It was way ahead of everyone else at the time. This was stellar equipment.

Of course there was no comparison to with the home console port, and so the Sega Master System 8-Bit conversion looked pretty low-grade by comparison, but that's how it was back in those days. Being a Nintendo boy myself, I had to pick up Mach Rider and make do with that, but I would have been all over Hang-On had it (or a more appropriate game) been available. This stuff was just too cool.

To sum up, Hang-On - truly remarkable and trend-setting game. Yu Suzuki, legendary designer. I wish I could find a Hang-On unit right now (if anyone knows where there's one in SoCal, gimme a ring!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Q*Bert

Retro Game of the Day! Q*Bert

Q*Bert by Gottlieb, developed by Warren Davis and Jeff Lee. Arcade release in 1982.

I love development stories like this. To paraphrase.. "so, we decided to make some 3D-looking cubes on the screen. Then, someone suggested that a ball should be bouncing down the cubes. Neat! We decided to put eyes and feet on the ball.." Viola! And folks, that's how games get designed (seriously!)

And that was really the crux of Q*Bert. They had the genius idea of "jump on each cube to change it's color," clearing a board when then all of the cubes change. To take a cue from Pac-Man, two escape discs are provided which temporarily let you turn the tables on your enemies (time it right and they will chase you off a platform, plummeting to their death!)

Overall Q*Bert was just a very bizarre game. Its' concept was simple, but its' execution was very peculiar. For example, they messed with the fundamentals (the usual "up down left right" joystick was reoriented 45 degrees, and the entire game was played at an angle). Also, they played with the perspective a bit and some of your foes would travel along a different side of the cube (though your collision would still mean death).

Overall a very cool game, very early 1980s. For a time Q*Bert was right up there with Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man as one of the big recognizable characters in the videogame world - for some reason, he was never particularly exploited very much and while his brethren went on to big fame, he sort of stayed jumping on his weird cube pyramids. Maybe that's why we like him. Still fun to this day, and it gets quite challenging. If you can get past the odd control setup, you might find yourself getting quite sucked into this forgotten gem.