Monday, November 29, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Alex Kidd in Miracle World

Retro Game of the Day! Alex Kidd in Miracle World

Alex Kidd in Miracle World by Sega for their Master System released in 1986 in Japan (a year later domestically).

Yes, the (somewhat) famous Alex Kidd, Sega's answer to Mario several years before Sonic the Hedgehog entered the picture. This is where it all began, as the underdog challenged Nintendo's dominance. Most folks who were there still swear by Alex Kidd's initial outing, claiming it is vastly superior to Nintendo's mainstay Super Mario Bros. Let's crack open this can of works and get right to it!

Right off the bat, Alex Kidd's presentation took Mario's first adventure to task. The SMS had a beefier engine, and therefore the dull, drab aesthetic of the older Mario game contrasted with Alex Kidd's sharper, much-more-colorful Miracle World. The Master System just looked and sounded better right out of the box, that much was apparent. Unfortunately for Sega, the designs of everything (characters, elements, even the music) couldn't hold a candle to what was going on in the Mushroom Kingdom. Even though Alex "had more power," everything in Mario's game just looked much more appealing, even if it didn't pop as much.

The second strike here was the control setup. Mario's designers nailed it - "B" for run/attack, "A" for jump. For whatever reason, this order was flipped in Alex, and to the uninitiated it just feels.. wrong. Yes, you can get used to the switch, but why should you have to, especially so many years after this convention has been established and followed-through? I have seen some emulators/romhacks which auto-flip the controls for this game, to make it "feel correct." A lesser offense is that to access the inventory screen, one must hit the "pause" button on the physical control unit itself. There were no Select & Start buttons on the 8-Bit Sega control pads (an issue echoed somewhat in the original Japanese Nintendo console's design, to a lesser degree - the 2P controller has no Select & Start buttons either, and both controllers are hardwired into the unit).

Enough of the mudslinging - this is just the beginning of the reasons why Alex was never as popular as Mario. What did this game have, and why is it still held in such reverence all these years later? The truth is, the game is quite a departure from Mario in many ways. There is vertical and horizontally scrolling action, there are different vehicles (motorcycle and prop-copter, both very cool), there are stores with a multitude of power-ups you can buy for cash, and there are of course very different worlds for you to traverse. Each level is laid out with interesting and challenging design as well, and the whole game just feels happy and sunny. Miracle World felt like a great place to get lost in.

The designers obviously were going for novelty here, and the game played very differently than any Mario game. Instead of standard boss-fights, there were rock-paper-scissors matches (love them or hate them - and no one loved them!) Alex Kidd was a rich, diverse, and happening game which unfortunately lacked a lot of the cross-cultural appeal enjoyed by Mario, but many old-school Master System fans will still swear by it and proclaim their love for it to this day. Alex Kidd still holds up as a very fun example of an early action-adventure title. It's not without its warts, but it deserves to be remembered as one of Sega's strongest console efforts from the early days.

We are attempting to reach for the stars with reddit! Help us out and "vote up" our cause as we promote our iPhone game '180' (it's going FREE temporarily, shortly!) Support great games and the people who love to make them, register on Reddit and hit that up-arrow!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge

Retro Game of the Day! Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge by Konami for the GameBoy, released in 1991.

Say whatever you like about Konami. "They've had their day... Metal Gear House... Dance Dance Whatever..." I don't care. For the classic gaming crowd, this was one developer who didn't care what platform they were developing on, whatever effort they put forth was always going to be top-notch. CV2 on GameBoy was the perfect example of this.
The first Castlevania Gameboy outing was excellent for it's time, if a little rushed and experimental. As it was a very early title, many tricks had yet to be discovered that would eventually make gaming on the system less of a chore and more of a pleasure. As a result, the game handled quite clumsily, with a character who dragged across the screen at a snail's pace. This didn't make for optimal gaming, however being able to play any incarnation of Castlevania on the go was quite a treat and so it was forgivable.

By the time the second title was announced, those of us who trod through the first episode were a bit wary "oh, more of the same?" The game was approached with caution, and upon investigation, the game was revealed to be a true gem; certainly one of the top games the system would ever offer! While much of the slow, meandering gameplay was still present (the Gameboy had a passive-matrix display - in layman's terms, "whenever the screen moved, everything smeeeeaarrred" and therefore keeping things slow kept them legible!), the game was much more well-designed to compensate for this fact. The design ranks up there with some of the best console outings of the genre, in fact.

The game took a cue from Mega Man-style games by presenting the player with a stage select at start, and opening up further stages once they'd been dispatched. The usual assortment of expected power-ups and bosses were present, and a decent password system to tie it all together. The real clincher here was the presentation; like the first game, CV2 looked and sounded excellent, and the superior level design (enhanced with multiple paths) made the whole thing a joy to journey through.

Selling a modern audience on an old-school black-and-white game is no easy proposition these days, but any GameBoy enthusiast worth his salt must play through this game if they want to see some of the best that generation had to offer - Castlevania 2 on GameBoy is a timeless classic, and it is still a blast to play through today!

We are attempting to reach for the stars with reddit! Help us out and "vote up" our cause as we promote our iPhone game (it's going FREE temporarily, shortly!) Support great games and the people who love to make them, register and hit that up-arrow!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Warbirds

Retro Game of the Day! Warbirds

Warbirds for the Atari Lynx (Program & Design by Robert Zdybel), released 1991 by Atari.

Now here was a crazy game. 19 years later this may not look like much, but when I picked it up brand-new it was nothing short of revolutionary. 3D flying games were nothing new on the lynx (Blue Lightning set a remarkable precedent, at the system's launch) but where that game was cut from the cloth of arcade games like After Burner, Warbirds was much more closely patterned after a flight simulator (and a period piece, at that).

So what was so great about this game, then? The immersion! Running a flight sim on anything other than a powerful PC was pretty unheard of in 1991 (and seldom seen on consoles, either). This game plopped you in a "fly-anywhere" 3D environment, fighting a dogfight with your evenly-matched old-tech enemies. No missiles, no radars, no turbo - you had machine guns strapped to your cockpit, and you had your own eyeballs to line up your shots with. Likewise, you could duck into cloud cover to lose your foe, or attempt a barn landing if your ammo was depleted.

The presentation was simple, but everything moved around smoothly and "felt" appropriate. The game was sim-heavy, and therefore the handling of the biplane was clumsy and awkward to say the least - however this augmented the experience, it felt as if the designer really wanted to capture a sense of the feeling of what it was like to careen these woden hulks through the heavens.

Warbirds was remarkable as a 1-player experience, but plugging in a cable to a friend's system was sublime. PVP in this fashion was still unheard of in those days, and dogfighting with a buddy in Warbirds was some of the most fun to be had on the Atari Lynx. An excellent game I will never forget!

We are attempting to reach for the stars with reddit! Help us out and "vote up" our cause! If you want to support good games and the people who love to make them, register and hit that up-arrow!

Friday, November 26, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #41

iPhone App Game Development Blog #41

You like how this works? All is quiet for a few weeks and then *blammo* you get slammed with TWO dev updates in just a few days! Hold on tight..

Yup we are jumping on the reddit bandwagon! It's worked for a few others, so we are gonna throw our hat into the ring as well and see how much we can juice this thing. Click here to read all about our big plan! Most importantly - if you don't know what reddit is, think of it as digg 2.0. The thing is, register (easy) and hit the little "up" arrow beside the subject line, comment as well if you like. And oy vey, there are promocodes in there, might be one or two left :)

Of course this is all to promote our game 180 which we have mentioned a few hundred thousand times in this blog. Some (more) big news regarding the app - it's been making the rounds in New & Noteworthy on iTunes, this is pretty big news for us! Finally the Powers That Be are noticing there's something to our little game - it's been recognized in the Puzzle and Arcade subcategories in USA, Canada, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, and Belgium. A big step for sure, but to get some real movement we need to get a level higher (N&N on the front of iTunes!) In light of this, we've dropped the price from $2.99 down to $0.99, so hopefully that will stimulate some more buzz for us.

What else can you do to help? We need ratings and reviews on iTunes! I say it a lot, but it can never be said enough (it is very hard to get people to write these.. understandably :) Grab v1.1 and write a review on iTunes and that will be very very awesome :)

So what next? There's been a lot of activity for us bubbling in the background leading up to all of this, and there's a lot of loose ends I need to tie up to prepare for whatever might happen next week. Stay tuned - and thanks for your help! And BTW I just nailed the #3 spot on Endless, I don't knowwww if I can get any better than that! It gets too crazy...

More to come - enjoy your long weekend folks!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Baby Pac-Man

Retro Game of the Day! Baby Pac-Man

Baby Pac-Man by Bally/Midway, released in 1982.

In case you were asleep at the wheel, there's a bit of hubbub around All Things Pac right now with the recent downloadable release of Pac-Man CE DX Hyper Mega Ultrachomp Liberace (....) Let's take advantage of the moment with a look back at one of the more notorious entrants into the franchise's lineage - the hybrid videogame/pinball machine unit known as Baby Pac-Man.

A beast of a thing, I first gazed upon this Frankensteinian contraption at my local arcade when I was all of 7 or 8 years old. What deviltry was this? A pinball machine attached to a Pac-Man arcade cabinet, some unholy union, this... blasphemy? Apparently the original Japanese Pac-Man creator (and copyright holder) Namco felt this way, as this (and other "dilutions" of the brand by domestic distributor Bally/Midway, such as Jr. Pac-Man) led to bitter relations between the two. And yet here you had it, the two game worlds merged together in a Freak of Nature.

The typical Pac-Man rules were in play here, at the base - navigate through a maze, eat dots, bonus fruits, pass through warp tunnels, avoid ghosts. You could chomp down on Power Pellets to briefly get the upper hand on your pursuers, but you needed to "earn" the powerups by unlocking them on the physical pinball playfield below. Likewise you could enhance other elements of the game (increase your tunnel travel speed, and level up your bonus fruit). To access the pinball table, you must guide Baby Pac through vertical warp tunnels located at the bottom of the playfield. You get one entry per turn, and then they'll lock you out (unlock if you clear a board, or lose a life).
All of this, coupled with (even for Pac-Man) enhanced unpredictable ghost behavior, made an already challenging game that much more difficult. I think I burned my quarter inside of a minute "what just happened?" Baby Pac-Man has indeed taken a lot of flack from the Pac-loving community, for several reasons; but to me it stands out as a true departure and a bold experiment, and absolutely an item to collect if you are into novelty amusement machines. The game is a rough ride, but the combination actually does make for quite a fun experience overall. Ignore the derision of the namby-pamby critics, Baby Pac-Man is a true gem out of the vaults of classic gaming history and should never be forgotten! Here is a well-made video to see how the whole setup handles!

Monday, November 22, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #40

iPhone App Game Development Blog #40

It's been a little while, folkerinos! Without further adieu, let's jump right into it!


Okay friends, it's time for us to ask a favor of our audience. As some of you may know, our long-time-in-coming update to our iPhone game 180 has finally released on the appstore very recently. I've not been too mysterious about the fact that there'll be a final promotional push happening sometime after that occasion. As that phase creeps ever closer, we need to make sure to get a healthy level of reviews in place for the game. This will make the game a lot easier to promote! Even if you have already rated/reviewed the previous version of the game, the new one has "wiped the slate clean" and all who grab the update are free to give a new review in iTunes (LINK) I ask that you do us a solid and write one, say whatever you like of course (be honest!) but please write something in there. This is a huge help to us, everyone counts, I cannot stress it enough. If you've got friends who have the game as well, please encourage them to do the same, ASAP.

180 Notes - the update is out at last, the new icon is being well-received, and the little changes to the code make for a nicer end-product. What next for 180? Well, the game has been out for a very long time now, and it's time to move onto something else. The programmer is still adding a couple of follow-up features to the game (save state/resume, a new casual play mode) and I suspect those might release sometime early into 2011. Adding a visual upgrade as well as Game Center support are other thoughts, although they are low on the totem pole for the time being. As the final promotion comes, we'll necessarily use the outcome of that to determine what (if anything) else will be done with the game. I'd love to make a full-on sequel, as mentioned several times in this journal, but that's still merely a glint in my eye for many reasons.

Bizdev - 2010 has been a long and interesting year for Headcase Games and the overall iPhone app development scene in general. I will write a cohesive round-up of all things micro and macro in the coming month.. suffice it to say some things went well (our game released!) and others, not so much (no other games got made!) All the while, I am still doing plenty of behind-the-scenes work, trying to drum up business opportunities where I can, and when they make sense. There's always a couple of interesting things brewing here and there. I have my hand in several things that are at various stages of development, although it doesn't look like anything will be bearing fruit anytime in the near future. An interesting exception to this is that we've started to look into Windows Phone 7 development here at Headcase, and it's a very interesting time for that platform/market. We are trying some very different things in that area, it's way too early to know where things will go but right now we are already coding and developing assets, with eyes toward releasing something (small) shortly. As for how that all affects the future of everything, well.. stay tuned!

What Else is Going On - hmm, Thanksgiving is merely days away, usually that's a really happy time (probably my favorite holiday) but this season it's just exhausting and stressful! I am trying to balance many things professionally right now in a way that will make sense (for the record, this is what any game developer will tell you, no matter what is up!) and it is a lot of wear-and-tear on the ol' Central Nervous System. What used to be my happiest time of the year for gaming has become my most crowded time of the year for business! Looking out at the bigger picture (trends in mobile gaming and console gaming), it becomes more and more clear that a huge shake-up is looming in the distance, and everything will undergo some serious changes, in good ways and bad. I have been doing my best to lay down some establishment these last couple of years in preparation for that, as several of the smaller guys will have a chance to surf that wave into something bigger and better! In the meantime, the Game Industry as a whole hobbles along, spitting out a lot of garbage, a strong showing of decent-to-excellent work, a lot of exhaustion and heartache on the production side, and a general sense of wariness about "who is gonna catch that wave."

Thanks for reading, and supporting us! Again, it's very important to get iTunes reviews for 180, so take one minute of your day to pitch in! And watch this space in the coming weeks, as things heat up around here :)

Retro Game of the Day! Stack-Up

Retro Game of the Day! Stack-Up

Stack-Up by Nintendo for the NES, released in 1985.

Many old fogies remember R.O.B., the accessory that was designed to make the NES look like a toy rather than a videogame console. The deluxe NES set was packed with a R.O.B. and a Zapper lightgun, and a game that took advantage of each accessory. Gyromite (the R.O.B.) game was interesting in concept but ultimately unsatisfying in execution, and it was with some curiosity (and apprehension) that I sought out "the other R.O.B. game."

I did pick up a copy of Stack-Up at Toys R Us, only to return it the same day when I realized I had purchased a previously used game, and that it was missing some of the necessary pieces. The box was bundled with several little holsters to plug into the robot's base, and round colored blocks to stack on the holsters. Missing any parts would render the game unplayable, and since they didn't have any other copies in stock, I returned the game decided to pick up Popeye instead (a strange choice, since I already owned this game for my Atari 400).

So then, what was Stack-Up all about exactly? A very different experience than Gyromite certainly, the game consisted of 3 "minigames" involving lifting and moving the blocks to different holsters, often in short sequence (or preventing blocks from all being to one side of the robot). The game was just another follow-through supportive of the robot gimmick, and like it's predecessor does not seem that it was particularly enthralling after the novelty wore off.

Still, for collectors Stack-Up is one of the rarer "must have's" in the NES collection for many reasons. Even now, the image of R.O.B. with the different setups is striking and nostalgic, reminding us of a time when home video gaming was becoming new and different once more.

Do you enjoy our iPhone game 180? Please help us out and download the recent update, and rate & review the game on iTunes (LINK). Even if you've rated the original version, please be sure to do so for the new update as this helps us out very much; we've got a very big promotion coming up shortly, and we need your support! Thanks!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Wacko

Retro Game of the Day! Wacko

Wacko by Steve Meyer, published by Bally/Midway for the arcade in 1983.

This game was sort of an unusual take on Robotron in some ways, although the two games were decidedly very different. Whereas Roboton was a moment-to-moment killfest the likes of which had never been seen before (nearly everything constantly blasted you from all sides of the screen), Wacko was a lot less hectic in some ways (you really just had to dodge enemies). However, there were more complex rules in place as the game stretched on. Enemies must be defeated in pairs, mismatched pairs created "mutants" which would need to be "unmatched" in order to be killed, larger creatures must be killed before smaller ones, etc.

The game was outfitted in an unusual cabinet housing, with a sloped marquee and panel, giving it a very unique appearance (and driving home the point that "this was indeed a zany game"). The goofy in-game graphics, though extremely garish by modern standards, were very impressive - they looked very detailed and colorful in its day.

Also of note was the control setup. Robotron used a dual-stick moving-and-firing system, and Wacko implemented a setup somewhat inspired by this. Movement of the player was controlled with a trackball, and two sticks were presented for 8-way firing (supporting either left- or right-handed players).

Wacko was an interesting, somewhat novel game. Of course it's legacy has not lasted anywhere as long as it's competition, but back in the day this was certainly an attention-grabbing game that provided a high level of challenge which would make even the most skillful players sweat!