Posts from April, May, and June 2004.

June 29, 2004...  The Latest Advance

Check this out... I've actually written something for the site!  Hard to believe, I know, but you'll find three short reviews in Advance Theory.  When you're done reading those, head on over to the On-File web site... you'll be blown away by the snazzy new look.  Er, how about pleasantly surprised, instead?  I'll settle for pleasantly surprised.

June 28, 2004...  Before They Were Stars: Guardian Legend

I'm continually amazed at how much of video game history dates back to the MSX.  This budget priced computer didn't do much business here in the United States, but it was really popular in Japan.  So popular, in fact, that it helped influential game designers like Hudson Soft and Compile establish themselves in the industry.  Compile in particular made a lot of games for the MSX, including the premiere of the Zanac series and the prequel to Guardian Legend.  Yeah, that great NES game only you seemed to notice was actually part of a series called Guardic.  The first Guardic doesn't fuse action and adventure together as well as its spin-off on the NES... it's a simplistic shooter that's constantly interrupted by journeys through empty corridors and prompts for power-up selections.  Still, it's always fun to discover the roots of one of your favorite games.  Too bad Guardian Legend never inspired any sequels of its own...

June 25, 2004...  Ain't Gmail Grand?

We're changing E-mails, folks.  From now on, you'll be able to reach The Gameroom Blitz from a brand new address... a Gmail address.  I just opened a handful of Gmail accounts, and I'm itching to try them out, so from now on, if you have questions or comments about the site, you'll want to send them here.  I'm sure some of you out there aren't going to like this, but if you've got privacy issues with Gmail, you do have alternatives.  You can either send your comments to the previously listed E-mail address (now reserved for personal correspondence), or you can post 'em on the forum... where everyone will see your comments anyway.  Hey, at least you've got alternatives.

June 22, 2004...  Livin' in the (Outside) Projects

I know, I've been neglecting this site lately, but right now, I've got higher priorities.  The first of these is the redesign of On-File... I've been spending the lion's share of my free time changing the layout, scanning cover artwork, and typing in articles from classic gaming fanzines like, well, Fantazine.  I'm really proud of its new look, and I think you'll agree that it's a big improvement over On-File's original design.

I'll also need the rest of the week to write an instruction manual for Eduardo Mello's next ColecoVision release, a translation of Konami's computer game Magical Tree.  He'll need me to finish this project as soon as possible, and I'd rather not have the Blitz get in the way of this important work.

Finally, there's a rental copy of Eternal Darkness which I've barely touched... it's due back at the store in another day and I want to squeeze the most out of the game before I return it.  I rented the game for a week, and I've only played it for a couple of hours tops... how sad is that?

Anyway, all of this means that I'll be putting The Gameroom Blitz on hold for a while.  I'll tell you what, though... since you've been so patient and understanding, I'll let you have this as a reward.  It's the review of Joysticks that I had written as a premium for paying readers and contributors, but it's so old now that I may as well let everyone see it.

June 16, 2004...  Ben's Game

On a recent installment of G4's news show Pulse, there was a feature on a game currently in development at LucasArts. That's really nothing out of the ordinary, until you consider that it WASN'T designed to promote the Star Wars films. On top of that, the game in question- Ben's Game, named after the child who inspired it- was commissioned by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help make cancer a less bitter pill to swallow for terminally ill children.

It's tough for me to criticize a game made with such good intentions, but the truth is that Ben's Game could stand to be improved.  The stark Tron-inspired graphics are pretty slick, and the play mechanics (which combine Robotron's swarms of enemies with the constant momentum of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater) do hold promise, but there are a handful of flaws that keep the game from being as engaging as it could be. 

First of all, the camera is positioned a little too close to the main character, reducing visibility and forcing the player to manually adjust their view to track down the clusters of cancerous blood cells.  Frankly, a shooter like this would work best in two dimensions, but since it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see another 2D game from LucasArts again, I'd settle for a zoomed out, bird's eye view of the action, allowing players to see more of the playfield.

Secondly, Ben's Game just doesn't have much impact.  The hero talks in high-pitched squeaks, the cancerous cells simply vanish after they've been shot, and the bosses shrink into nothingness after being blasted just a few times.  There are three difficulty settings, but the hard setting just seems to make the cells more resistant to damage, making each stage much longer and more tedious.  The player never feels like they're in any immediate danger.  This is due in part to the insistance by Ben Duskin's mother that the main character never dies, and I can certainly understand her point of view.  Nevertheless, the game should instill some sort of urgency in the player... they need to fight hard for their victories, just like a real cancer patient would, and those victories should leave them with the same sense of relief and accomplishment.

I don't know... maybe I'm just overanalyzing a coping mechanism for kids suffering from a disease that's too cruel for many adults to handle.  Still, when I play Ben's Game, I can't help but think that it could evolve past a mere novelty and blossom into something which holds great significance to everyone, rather than just to cancer patients and their families.

June 14, 2004...  Windy City

Dagnabbit, I completely forgot what I was going to review for the featured game this week!  I've been playing so much Zelda: Wind Waker that I haven't had much time for anything else.  That game is just too engrossing for its, and MY, own good.

I did manage to find just enough time to put this together, however.  It's an early outline for an episode of Icons about SNK, one of the few companies they haven't yet covered on the show.  I still dream about becoming a video game journalist... other hobbyist writers like Chris Kohler and Jeremy Parish have been able to make the leap to professional writing, and I feel I deserve that same opportunity.  Since video game magazines have historically kept me at arm's length, I might as well forget about them entirely and break into the brave new world of televised game reporting. 

June 9, 2004...  Face the Music

Ah, Tommy Tallarico, we meet again.  It was ten years ago when we first clashed, over an interview in the fanzine In Between The Lines.  You were rude, conceited, and obnoxious, and I called you on it in a critical assessment of the interview, published in my own fanzine Project: Ignition.  Then you called ME on the phone to complain, and I nearly shit my pants.

Now you're back, and you've gone nationwide.  A decade ago, a small handful of gaming enthusiasts were exposed to your crass behavior, but now, you're seen by millions on a widely distributed cable network.  And somehow, you've found a way to become even more irritating than you were in that interview.  You use your penis as a yardstick to measure the quality of video games, rating them on such important factors as the number of times you can look up the dresses of the characters.  You bash games for the unforgivable crime of having (gasp!) 2D graphics.  And you do whatever you can to steal the spotlight from more reasonable game reviewers.

The battle has begun anew.  And this time, I've packed a fresh pair of underwear. 

June 7, 2004...  Meeting of the Minds

My computer's back up, and it's working better than ever.  Special thanks go out to Portnoyd of the Retrogaming Roundtable for supplying me with a video card to replace my worn out old one, and to Chris Larson of Fatman Games for all his support while my system was out of commission.

That reminds me... Chris, his wife, and myself went down to Ann Arbor to attend a fun gathering coordinated by members of both Digital Press and rival site Atari Age.  It was great to get out of the house for a while and meet some fellow old-school gamers.  After hanging out at the arcade (where I dazzled the crowd with my mad Dan Hibiki skillz!), we visited the local Japanese food store... where I embarassed myself with my less impressive Ramune bottle opening skillz.  Hey, don't laugh!  That stupid little marble that acts as the drink's bottlecap puts up one hell of a fight.

After that, we stopped for a meal (Chris and I went to Panchero's, while nearly everyone else had pizza at a place down the street), then headed down to the basement of a parking garage to trade some games.  There was a lot of spiffy merchandise available, including a huge box of NES games, some oddball computer peripherals, and a complete ColecoVision system which Chris took home for himself.  Let me tell you, that thing was in fantastic shape... you couldn't have gotten a ColecoVision in better condition if you somehow went back in time twenty years and bought one from a Toys 'R Us.

At this point, it was getting late, so we loaded ourselves and our newly acquired booty into Chris' car and went back home.  Chris gave me a copy of his old newsletter Codename: Megazine, and I let him leaf through all my back issues of The Gameroom Blitz (I would have given him copies, but I didn't have any on hand).

I'd like to thank Chris Larson again for letting me tag along with him to Ann Arbor... the trip was just what I needed to help me deal with the stress resulting from months of servicing stubborn computers.

May 18, 2004...  Like Moths to the Flame

Well, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is over for another year.  Since I wasn't able to attend, I've only seen a little of what was available at the show.  However, two things really surprised me about this year's E3.  The first is that I was actually (dare I say it?) impressed with what Midway had to offer... Mortal Kombat VI looks a lot more exciting than Deadly Alliance, with faster gameplay, tounge-in-cheek mini-games, and levels that are nearly as dangerous as your opponents.  After watching footage of the characters being thrown through glass ceilings and into crushing stone presses, I've got to say that this is the first time in a long time I've been excited, rather than bored, by over the top video game violence.  As for Midway Arcade Treasures 2, what can you say about a collection of excellent games that could have been- and were!- released on their own as early as a decade ago?  I'd say "bring it on, baby!"

The other shocker was the number of handheld game systems that were announced at the show... all by companies which should really know better.  One E3 attendee compared the half-dozen handhelds introduced at the show to a swarm of cicadas, and I think the analogy is a perfect fit.  It seems like these consoles pour out of the woodwork every five years, only to meet certain death at the jaws of a hungry predator.  That predator is Nintendo, and there's not enough Gizmondos, N-Gages, and Eves in the world to satisfy its appetite.

May 14, 2004...  The Upper Hand (Nintendo DS and PSP news)

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is currently underway, and this year, it's all about the shorties.  I'm talking specifically about the handheld systems currently in development at Nintendo and Sony.  

First, there's the Nintendo DS.  This unusual handheld received more than its share of criticism when it was first announced, but now that they've seen it firsthand, gamers are viewing the twin screens of the Nintendo DS in a whole new light.  What's changing peoples' minds about the system?  Well, first of all, it looks really cool, perhaps even more so than the previously released Game Boy Advance SP.  Just check out this picture!  It's like the system was intended as an homage to the company's first handheld, the Game & Watch... and we all remember how cool that was.

Wait, it gets better.  The system isn't just a rehashed Game Boy Advance with twice the screens.  The Nintendo DS is packed with even more power than the Nintendo 64, resulting in the kind of impressive 3D that its predecessor just couldn't handle.  If you're still longing for the good old days, you'll be relieved to know that the Nintendo DS is backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance.

There's one other thing the DS has up its sleeve.  Remember the game.com?  Er, no, you probably don't, do you?  Well, uh, my point was that the Nintendo DS's bottom screen is touch sensitive, giving you more precise and intuitive control than a directional pad alone.  Tiger had the right idea when they added this feature to the game.com, but I'm certain that Nintendo will put it to better use.

Competing with the Nintendo DS is... eh, some other crap.  All right, all right, you beat it out of me.  It's Sony's first handheld system, the PSP.  The second P stands for "portable", but that's being generous when you consider the system's limitations.  First of all, the battery life is appallingly low, clocking in at about three hours.  That may have been acceptable for color portables in the early 90's, but dude, this is the 21st century.  Three hours just doesn't cut it, especially when you've got handhelds out there that can run for forty hours on a pair of ordinary AA batteries.

Poor battery life isn't the PSP's only inconvenience.  It's also larger than other recently released handhelds, and uses a proprietary DVD format which raises its price through the roof and makes both the games and the base unit easily damaged.  I'll give Sony credit for planning some great launch titles for the PSP, but even that may not be enough to justify its high price and flawed design.  Call me biased (that's fine, because it's true), but this may prove to be Sony's first failure in the video game industry.

Well, now you know what's new at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.  What's new on The Gameroom Blitz?  I've whipped up an improved Saturn reference guide with a little help from my friends... fellow Digital Press contributor Greg Wilcox and Chris Millar, the editor of MillarTime.com (the name may make you thirsty, but it has nothing to do with beer).  I think you'll like it... it looks sharper than the first guide, and the information is more complete, with fewer rating omissions.  If you're still collecting Japanese games for your Saturn, this guide is sure to come in handy.

May 12, 2004...  Goodwill Hunting (no Ben Affleck, though)

While visiting a nearby Goodwill store over the weekend, I happened across a handful of computer games and peripherals.  Oddly, many of the games I found were adventure titles, in the same vein of the recently cancelled sequel to Sam and Max.  Since I was (as usual) dreadfully low on cash, I could only afford two games, so I picked the ones I felt I would enjoy the most... Sierra's King's Quest VII and LucasArts' Grim Fandango.

I can't say I was happy with King's Quest VII, mostly because the game refused to work on my system.  That strikes me as a little odd, as my computer not only meets the minimum requirements stated on the package, but exceeds them... ten times over. 

That was a minor letdown, but Grim Fandango easily made up for it.  After playing this, I can understand why people were so angry about the Sam and Max cancellation.  It's like the waiting room scene from Beetlejuice (complete with all the humor!), with a little Latin culture thrown in for spice.  I'm amazed that LucasArts didn't release this one for the Playstation... Grim Fandango's simple polygonal characters and colorful rendered backgrounds make it look like it was MADE for that system.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot!  I picked up NEC's Multiport adapter as well.  It's the personal computer's answer to the multi-tap, a peripheral which is fast approaching obsolecence thanks to the increasing popularity of online gameplay and consoles with multiple controller ports.  I'm not sure when this device was designed... there wasn't a copyright date printed on it, but I did notice that the peripheral had some really unexpected features.

The first peculiarity is that the MultiPort has support for two controller types.  You can plug two standard PC joypads into the right side of the device, but the right offers support for up to four D-shell controllers... you know, like an Atari 2600 joystick, or a Sega Genesis gamepad. 

Stranger still is that the MultiPort has its own controller, the GrIP-Pad, which plugs into the left hand side of the unit.  This raises a lot of questions... would the GrIP-Pad work on an Atari 2600?  Could you just as easily replace it with something more responsive, like the six button arcade pad designed for the Sega Genesis?  And why the heck does it look almost exactly like one of the later model Saturn controllers?

Most unusual of all is that the MultiPort was created in part by NEC, the same folks who tortured us some time back with those ridiculous Johnny Turbo comics.  Was this the company's timid first step back into the world of interactive entertainment?  Maybe... I'm just glad that the flabby superhero wasn't invited back to the company to help promote their comeback.

May 6, 2004...  Listen Closely.  SEGA WILL NEVER MAKE HARDWARE AGAIN.

Sega claims that it's got something big planned for this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.  Some especially hopeful fans of the company have already convinced themselves that Sega will jump back into the system wars with a brand new console.  They've made a lot of dumb business decisions in the past, but I can't imagine even Sega being so naive as to think that they'd be welcome as a console manufacturer.  They've already burned their bridges with the 32X... then threw the remaining pieces of the bridge into a wood chipper with the Saturn.  Then dropped the chipper into the ocean with the Dreamcast.  (How about that for an extended analogy?)

It's a lot more likely that Sega will join forces with another big industry player, like... Capcom?  No, not bloody likely.  Electronic Arts?  Nope, that ain't happening, either.  I was thinking maybe Nintendo, or perhaps Microsoft.  Sega won't go as far merging with either of these companies, but I suspect that they'll will sign some kind of exclusivity deal, or perhaps whip up a crossover game.  After years of rumors and annoying hoaxes, it's about time Mario and Sonic teamed up... this time for real.

May 3, 2004...  #!*&?!

The 150cc races in Super Mario Kart. M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 Turbo.  Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat 3.  As frustrating and unfair as they may be, they pale in comparison to the disgusting cheapness of the computer opponents in the Saturn version of Culdcept.  I'm ready to strangle that little brat Sebastion and the stupid furry sidekick that he stole from The Black Cauldron after losing to them in CLEARLY slanted matches for the past three hours.  It makes me long for the days when I was addicted to the exceptional Card Fighter's Clash.  Maybe I'm looking back at this game with rose-colored glasses, but I'm pretty sure it never conveniently pulled incredibly powerful cards out of its ass just when it needed them most.  I know for a fact that it didn't handicap you with constant lousy dice rolls... mostly because there WEREN'T any dice in Card Fighter's Clash, but also because the game never resorted to cheating like a miserable, scumsucking son of a bitch.

People may complain about cheat devices like the Action Replay and Game Shark, but it's games like Culdcept that make me grateful for their existance.  Let's face it, people.  Some games just don't fight fair.  Anyone who's ever been humiliated by Gill in Street Fighter III: Third Strike will attest to this.  I'm glad there are peripherals which help level the playfield, and I have no qualms about using them when I feel it's necessary.  Frankly, I can't think of a time when it's been MORE necessary than when I'm playing Culdcept.  Let's see you stomp all over me when I've got infinite manna, you little prick!

April 29, 2004...  Olson Twin Powers, Activate!

Here's something you haven't seen on The Gameroom Blitz for a while... a Zoo Logic comic!  You might want to go through the archives at Toastyfrog before you read this strip... otherwise, it's going to make absolutely no sense.

So, what's been going on in the world of video games?  Well, it looks like Acclaim's made even more enemies... this time, it's the Olsen Twins, that grating, self-absorbed pair of orangutangs who first appeared in the miserable sitcom Full House.  It seems that Mary-Kate and Ashley have built up quite a fortune since leaving that show, and they're convinced that the video game division of their media empire isn't pulling its weight.  The million dollar babies are demanding lost royalties from Acclaim, claiming that the company hasn't done all it could with the Mary-Kate and Ashley license.

Hey, I hate Acclaim as much as the next guy, but the simple fact is that there's really not much it CAN do with the bratty baboons.  Mary-Kate and Ashley just isn't a license that lends itself well to video games (not that this has ever stopped Acclaim before, but I digress).  The simple fact is that Olsen Twins games aren't going to sell well, regardless of who's making them.

April 26, 2004...  Write or Wrong

Recently, someone on a forum I occasionally visit made an unsavory accusation about The Gameroom Blitz, claiming that I'd stolen one of my Mega Man X7 rants from a random LiveJournal.  He never bothered to offer an address for this LiveJournal, or tell me when this journal entry was posted... I guess he thought it would be a lot more fun to call my journalistic integrity into question without offering a shred of evidence to back up his claims.

Why would anyone think that I'd resort to stealing content from random LiveJournals when I could just as easily write it myself?  I'm not sure, but I don't take accusations of plagarism lightly, and I intend to do whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of this one.

April 20, 2004...  At Least SOMEONE Is Supporting the E-Reader

After putting up with over a year of poor support, fans of Nintendo's e-card reader have discovered a way to print their own cards for the peripheral.  It's not just for piracy, either... one hobbyist has even written his own game, a clone of Microsoft's famous time-waster Minesweeper, for the e-reader.  I'm hoping that it won't be the last.

Anyway, it's a little late, but I've finally written the Full Spectrum content for this month.  Last month was a look at all the games in Hudson's Bloody Roar series.  This month?  Well, you'll have to divy up the dough to find out.  Regular contributors get to check out the column for free, but, uh... what happened to my contributors, anyway?  If you're out there, gang, I'd really appreciate your support.

April 15, 2004...  C-c-c-counter Breaker!

Several days ago on my LiveJournal, I contemplated putting The Gameroom Blitz into retirement.  I just haven't been having much fun editing the site lately, and my interest in video games (or more accurately, the video game industry in its current state) has greatly diminished.  This has changed updating the Blitz from a fun diversion to an annoying chore, and the articles on this site have become increasingly bitter as a result.

This led me to consider ending the eight year run of this site.  However, after discussing the situation with an online friend, I've come to the realization that there's nothing wrong with The Gameroom Blitz... it's my priorities that are seriously out of whack.  I spent so much time desperately trying to draw in readers that I've lost touch with why I started publishing the site in the first place.

That's why I've removed the hit counter from the site's navigation bar.  For far too long, I've worried about finding the elusive formula for Internet success.  The Gameroom Blitz has been online for nearly a decade now, and the daily hit count has never risen above a hundred, except in the rare instances when much more popular sites have directed their traffic here. 

The simple fact is the the Blitz will never be as widely recognized as Homestar Runner or Ain't It Cool News.  That's not its destiny, but at the same time, that isn't its purpose.  The Gameroom Blitz isn't fueled by the number of people who visit it, but by the quality and diversity of its content.  If just one person visits The Gameroom Blitz and discovers important information about a game that they couldn't find anywhere else, then it has proven its worth.

All that remains is for me to better understand why I started editing the site in the first place.  Out of the thousands of hobbies I could have adopted, why video games?  What is it that I found so fascinating about them?  What drove me to write about them, and why did I enjoy it so much?  When I discover the answer to these questions, The Gameroom Blitz will once again be a whole lot of fun for both my readers and myself.

Until then, updates will be small, infrequent, and devoted largely to site maintenance.  There's eight years' worth of content on the site... that should be more than enough to keep you entertained while I'm out dotting the t's and crossing the i's in each of the articles.  Or was that the other way around?  Well, you get the picture.

April 12, 2004...  This Really Must Have Been Worth the Wait...

Sorry about the lack of recent updates... I needed a week off from the site. 

April 2, 2004...  April Fool's Reflections

I came down pretty hard on April Fool's jokes in my last update, but I have to admit that the one on the Digital Press message board was absolute brilliance.  Moderator Joe Santulli rolled back the clock over twenty years, starting dozens of discussions set in 1983.  Of course, if it actually WERE 1983, nobody could read any of his posts, but despite this logical flaw, the idea worked beautifully.  I swear, I haven't had so much fun on the Internet in a long, long time.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I considered doing an April Fool's joke of my own.  First, I was going to make a Cho Aniki tribute page, but decided against it as the flamboyant alter ego I planned to adopt would probably have been considered homophobic.  Frankly, I get enough hate mail as it is without tweaking the gay community in the nose.  My next idea was to create a page of Zoo Logic outtakes.  This plan never came to fruition because, well... all right, I have no excuses.  I was feeling lazy and didn't want to spent five hours on a page full of comics that probably would have ended up looking like crap anyway.  Such is the life of a self-doubting artist.

Ultimately, I went with the pictures from the Saturn game Keio Yugekitai, because I wanted to find a place to use them SOMEWHERE.  It's a complete bitch trying to unlock all the artwork in the game, so I figured I'd save my readers the trouble and just post it all on the site.  Since it was too late to do anything else for April Fool's Day, I just uploaded the pictures to the site and left it at that.  By the way, in case you're interested, you can still access these pictures from this page.

After all is said and done, perhaps the more humble April Fool's update was for the best.  I did some surfing around and noticed that there were a lot of folks on the Internet who refused to participate, and who expressed a strong resentment toward the holiday.  One person even referred to April Fool's Day as "National Worthless Internet Day", since the sites he visited most replaced their content with dumb jokes about losing their domain names or going out of business.  So my April Fool's Day update may have been a cop-out, but at the very least, I offered my readers something useful, rather than yet another predictable prank.