Previous month:
October 2011
Next month:
December 2011

November 2011

Workboy Wanted To Change Everything

WorkboyWhile Nintendo's beloved Game Boy redefined handheld gaming, other companies looked to turn Nintendo's entertainment device into a productivity gizmo.  InfoGenius had a line of organizer, spell check, travel guide, and other assorted game paks for the system that turned it into a semi-inconvenient pre-PDA, but it was Fabtek that wanted to go the extra mile and turn the Game Boy into a proper mobile workstation.  Behold the Workboy!  This never-released peripheral added a keyboard and stand to the Game Boy experience in order to allow users to enjoy functions such as a clock, day planner, temperature converter, a calendar, and a currency converter all for a cost of about $80!  How's that for amazement circa 1990?  Here's a scan from Nintendo Power that lauded the upcoming-yet-unrealized product.

AssemblerGames has an additional article that details an even-more-unreleased Workboy 2 that would have included a word processor tool.  Mindboggling!  As intriguing as the idea may be, I can't imagine the Workboy becoming a stellar success.  Despite a breakthrough across age brackets with Tetris, the Game Boy was largely seen as a childrens' toy during the Work Boy's envisioned heyday.  Most kids don't have a need for a currency converter or a day planner.  In a way though, it's kind of a shame.  Workboy was truly ahead of its time considering the ubiquitousness of today's smartphones with their many productivity apps.

GamePro Closing Up Shop

GameProIt's always sad when a familiar brand is taken out back and shot.  Long-standing video gaming magazine and website GamePro is shutting down in a few days following a sudden announcement.

Thank you for your loyalty, support, and participation in the community. At noon on December 5, 2011, the U.S. version of GamePro online will shut down as an independent site. GamePro will become part of offering gaming news, reviews, and how-tos from the PCWorld team. Thank you to the entire GamePro staff for their hard work and dedication.

I'm surprised by the announcement, but can't say I'm totally shocked.  While GamePro has/had some solid talent working for it (at least one former Kombo staffer transitioned there), the site never quite found its unique identity in the gaming community.  Even back when it was a strange magazine reeking of the 1980s, it never quite knew what it wanted to be (even last year's relaunch wasn't quite the shot in the arm the brand needed).  Their coverage was always dependable and well-written, however.  Here's hoping that the GamePro staff will land elsewhere with better horizons ahead.  Surely someone will hire Scary Larry.

Sony Prepping Its Own Smash Bros. Title

Title FightEveryone loves a good crossover.  Nintendo struck gold with its Super Smash Bros. franchise in which the company's biggest and most favorite characters appeared together to pound each other into the ground in the name of fan service and good fun.  Now there's a rumor spinning that Sony is looking to get in on the Smash action with its own character crossover fighting extravaganza that would bring the likes of Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth, Sly Cooper, and a variety of other PlayStation characters together under the working name of Title FightHere's GamesRadar with the story.

Sony may be close to announcing a Super Smash Bros-esque ensemble fighter for PS3, according to reports culled from inside sources and wayward tweets. The game, codenamed Title Fight, is rumored be in development by SuperBot Entertainment and star the likes of Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth, God of War's Kratos, Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Sly Cooper, and Jak and Daxter.

Early details of the unconfirmed game first popped up on the Paul Gale Network site at the beginning of November. According to Gale's contacts, the fighter will play much like Nintendo's Super Smash Bros series in that it will pit a collection of Sony's most famous mascots against each other amidst interactive environments inspired by each character's home franchise, such as the 'Sandover Village' from Jak & Daxter. Other PS3 celebrities rumored to be making an appearance are Parappa the Rappa, Fat Princess, and Killzone's Colonel Mael Radec.

I'm surprised that Sony hasn't pursued this before now, but good things are worth the wait.  I'd love to see what comes of this project if it goes all the way.  Let's see Ratchet & Clank characters such as the title stars, Captain Qwark, and Dr. Nefarious in there somewhere along with LittleBigPlanet's Sackboy, inFamous's Cole MacGrath and Zeke, Sly Cooper's Bentley, Murray, & Inspector Fox, and the ModNation Racers driver.  Add some fun music remixes, stages based on familiar locations, and crazy items & weapons for the full experience.  Yes, I think there's definitely something worth pursuing here.

Weekly Poll: The Next Creed

Weekly Poll for 11-21-2011Is there not a lot of love for the Uncharted franchise out there?  Most of you have no opinion on which game is the better experience, but those of you who do chose Uncharted 2 for top honors.  I tend to agree.  While I enjoyed Uncharted 3's story and some of its magnificent set pieces, it seemed to be going through the motions at times and felt like more of a refinement of the previous adventure without the care and excitement baked into it.  Uncharted 2 improved on its predecessor thanks to its increased action, fun character moments, and intriguing narrative.  Not to say that Uncharted 3 isn't worth the time (it is, particularly now that the strange aiming issue has been fixed), but Uncharted 2 was a joy from start to finish.  The new sequel felt a little like homework at times.

Speaking of modern video game franchises with big set pieces spread across multiple sequels, Kotaku has word that there's a survey floating around out there attempting to gauge interest in potential settings for the next installment of Assassin's Creed.  Is it a real survey commissioned by Ubisoft?  Can't say.  However, with Assassin's Creed III in deep development by now, I'd hope that the story is already in place.  It's still fun to play the speculation game though, so let's just take the potential list of settings (which includes places such as the American Revolution, Egypt during the Pharaoh's reign, etc.) as worth debating and let me ask you which of the times and places on the list you'd like to see the series hit next.  Let's hear your thoughts.

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games Includes Fun Music Remixes

Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic GamesAfter the shock and curiosity of the notion of old-time rivals Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog appearing in the same video game wore off after the release of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games back in 2008, most of us moved on from the casual sports minigame franchise that saw the duo (and their friends) competing in every Olympics since.  However, while the game content may be a bit shallow, the soundtrack is worth some exploration.  The last Wii installment in the Nintendo/Sega co-production, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, hit stores recently and includes some interesting takes on classic Mario and Sonic tunes.  Consider these three remixes, for instance: new versions of the overworld themes from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World as well as the athletic theme from New Super Mario Bros.

Strangely enough, while I like these reworked songs when I start to listen to them, they quickly wear out their welcome.  There's something about them that, to me, makes them grating when replayed.  I'm really not quite sure why that happens.  Still, any project that at least takes a worthwhile stab at remixing fun music from two of gaming's biggest franchises is alright by me.  Hey, Nintendo and Sega, when are we going to see an actual action platforming crossover title for these properties?

Bone Mario And Other Rejected Power-Ups

MarioskeletonEveryone has their own ideas for ways that Nintendo's famous Mario should power-up into new forms, but for every Bee Mario and Tanooki Mario there are all kinds of rejected ideas.  For instance, there was an idea for a skeletal power-up that would transform everyone's favorite plumber into Bone Mario.  Kotaku has comments from Nintendo developer Koichi Hayashida regarding the process by which new ideas are pitched to Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and which concepts failed to make the cut.  Where do all of these ideas come from?  Here's Yoshiaki Koizumi, producer of Super Mario 3D Land, discussing the origin of the Bee Suit:

"We start thinking about power-ups in terms of functionality, and then we add the visual attributes. We introduced the Bee Suit and Boo Suit to add some variation to the feel and tempo of ordinary play so that players wouldn't get bored. In both cases, we wanted to add the ability to temporarily escape from the law of gravity through floatation. Since the power-ups were unique, we wanted to make the visuals also have a lasting impression. Mr. Miyamoto had an inscrutable expression when we showed him the designs; he isn't a big fan of making Mario cute."

There have been other rejected power-ups, of course.  One dumped idea from the Super Mario Bros. 3 days was for a centaur power-up.  As explained in the January/February 1990 issue of Nintendo Power:

In each of the previous SMB games, Mario gained new power-ups.  So in SMB 3, Mr. Miyamoto and the other designers wanted to invent yet another new, interesting way for Mario to power-up.  Their initial ideas tended toward having Mario turn into some sort of creature.  A concept that was rejected was having Mario power-up as a centaur (half man, half horse).  The idea they finally settled on was to give Mario a tail and the ability of flight.  Their first tail concept, that of a raccoon tail, was the one that finally stuck.  "I'm sorry to say there isn't a funny story behind why we chose the raccoon tail," Miyamoto remarked.  "We thought the raccoon tail worked best from a practical point of view and it fit right in with Mario's style.  It also created some great new gameplay possibilities."

Mario as a raccoon or a frog or a ghost makes perfect sense, but as a centaur?  That's completely ridiculous!  Given the chance to decide about making Mario part horse, I'd vote nay.  I wonder what other potential power-ups have been tossed aside over the years...

(image via Game Informer)

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 47: Phil Kollar and Dave Rudden Join Us

Power Button Presents Kombo BreakerAnd now for something completely different.  Brad Hilderbrand, Joey Davidson, and I are taking the week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we can't let you go unentertained in our absence.  There isn't a new episode of Power Button this week, but instead we have an episode of our previous podcast series, Kombo Breaker, for you to enjoy.  This installment from the archive is Episode 47 which originally aired at the now-defunct on October 18, 2009.  This installment features Joey Davidson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I along with our former host Dan Johnson having a chat with Philip Kollar and Dave Rudden who, at the time, were very excited about digging into their respective jobs at Game Informer and GamePro.  Phil is still with Game Informer as the associate editor, while Dave has since moved on to the Official Xbox Magazine.  Despite the two-year lag time, it's an interesting look into how both publications were on the verge of reinventing themselves as we discuss how print and online media differ and where the future of gaming journalism is/was headed.  Perhaps we'll run more of these old Kombo Breaker shows in the future during weeks off.  They sound a little rough compared to our modern efforts (you can hear Skype beeps in the background at times, for instance, and our recording equipment wasn't as proficient then), but we certainly had fun making them.  The show has been missing from the Internet since Kombo folded, and while I have some of them archived in my own collection, some episodes appear to be lost forever thanks to a server crash back in the old days combined with a total lack of backups.  Say, if you happen to have old episodes of Kombo Breaker stashed away somewhere, let us know.  We'd like to complete our collections.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 47: Phil Kollar and Dave Rudden Join Us

OverClocked Remix Releases Zelda Anniversary Tribute

Front (Legend) [Lisa Coffman]Nintendo isn't the only organization celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Legend of Zelda with a new release this year.  OverClocked Remix has produced yet another of its free fantastic rearrangement albums, this time focusing on the Zelda series.  25YEARLEGEND brings together composers from across the indie gaming scene such as Laura Shigihara, Joshua Morse, Jeff Ball, Daniel Rosenfeld, and Jimmy Hinson in a collection of eighteen tracks marking memorable music from most every one of Link's adventures.

25YEARLEGEND was started by Rekcahdam as a small indie session, but quickly grew into a massive project with the help of all the indie artists involved. Each featured composer has worked on a notable project in the indie game community while being influenced by the music of Zelda some time in their lives. Hopefully this project will make the 25th anniversary of Zelda that much more enjoyable.

The album is available for download from the project's site.  As usual when it comes to OCRemix, there's some great work here that deserves some attention.  A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time make up most of the arrangements as you'd probably assume, but there's also some love given to Oracle of Seasons, Majora's Mask, Link's Awakening, Twilight Princess, Adventure of Link, Wind Waker, and the recently released Skyward Sword.  Definitely give this one a listen.  Here's the condensed preview from OCRemix for your sampling pleasure (which, honestly, doesn't do the album justice), but I'd rather share one of my favorite complete tracks from the album rather than just the preview video.  Combining themes from Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time, here's HyperDuck Soundworks with "Hoy, Small Fry!".

HyperDuck Soundworks - "Hoy, Small Fry!"

Uncharted 3 Aiming Issues Will Be Corrected

Uncharted 3Ever since the release of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception for the Sony PlayStation 3, many players have noticed that there's something off about the aiming functions when it comes to pointing weapons at enemies.  There's something about it that just feels wrong compared to the last game in the series, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.  Basically, the recoil rate has been cranked up, enemies move differently in response to incoming fire, and the targeting has changed.  If you have a finely honed set of Uncharted 2 skills, then you may be at a disadvantage when it comes to playing Uncharted 3.  The fans spoke out, and now developer Naughty Dog is going to fix the problem.  Here's Giant Bomb to explain how:

Both Naughty Dog and Naughty Dog’s fans were banging their heads against the wall at this point. Meyer threw out the idea of bringing some fans into the actual studio to better articulate the issue, but the idea came and went.“  Justin came by later and said ‘Well, can you do that?’ And I’m like ‘sure.’” he said. “So, I posted on the NeoGAF forum where people were going through it in a very eloquent fashion, really explaining their gripes very clearly, and I said ‘Well, is anyone local that can come in and explain it to us?’”

Two users showed up, each bringing with them another person also versed in Uncharted, and all four were members of NeoGAF. Everyone sat down with Richmond and McIntosh, and plead their case regarding the issues within Uncharted 3 with the very same people responsible for making them.

In order to make sure Naughty Dog was getting the right feedback, the team employed a variation of the Pepsi Challenge.  “We showed them a before and after without telling them which one was changed to see how they liked these alternate settings that our programmer had come up with,” said Meyer. “As part of that process, we iterated on what the feedback was and we were making changes on the fly, and changing different things from what we originally changed to get the right feel for the aiming.”

There's an Uncharted 3 patch in the works that will add a new "Uncharted 2 aiming mode" option for those who want to fall back on the way things used to be.  We talked about this aiming issue on Episode 69 of Power Button, and for many people, the new way of doing things was a complete put-off to the point that some are not even finishing the game and are walking away in frustration.  Here's hoping that the to-be-dated patch fixes the problem and encourages people to come back and give the game another chance.  I had issues with it as well, but I did finish it and found the story to be worth the trouble.  Those final three chapters are some of the best moments that the Uncharted series has to offer.  Kudos to Naughty Dog for listening to the community and not just brushing off the complaints as the usual angry Internet negativity.

Wario Land 4 Subverts Everything

Wario Land 4Far too many popular video game franchises and hardware are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year, but let us not overlook the tenth anniversary of Nintendo's Wario Land 4 for the Game Boy Advance.  Released quietly in 2001 and overshadowed by the likes of Super Mario Advance and other bigger titles with larger audiences, the fifth Wario Land adventure (the Virtual Boy installment was conveniently swept down the memory hole) broke most of the conventions found in 2D side-scrolling platformers in ways that still puzzle those looking in from the outside. has a look back at ten ways that Wario Land 4 is downright awesome.

Despite the fact that Wario is obsessed with wealth and that the emphasis of Wario Land 4 is firmly on gathering as many gems and coins as possible to fatten the fatty anti-hero's wallet, you never quite shake the impression that the developers weren't taking the concept of acquisition entirely seriously. Yeah, you can trade currency for goods that level the field against tricky bosses, and there's certainly a thrill of satisfaction in snagging one of the rare, valuable, giant gem stones, but for the most part you simply collect for collection's sake and it doesn't matter one way or another how comprehensive you are outside of a small medal displayed next to each completed stage. You're ultimately graded on how quickly you defeat a boss, not how much crap you pick up. Meanwhile, the sole collectible good besides money and keys -- CDs used to unlock sound test items -- are basically an elaborate troll. You'd think the sound test would unlock a jukebox for the game's great music, right? Nope. Wario Land 4's jukebox is full of weird sound effects and Game Boy Camera photos of developers making faces at you.

Ah, so that explains why I could never find the sound test tunes in the game itself.  The article goes on to detail how this game went on to spawn the WarioWare microgame series, something for which I have trouble forgiving it.  I understand that Nintendo's development teams are always moving on to the next thing and not eager to repeat past projects, but the Wario Land series was one of my favorites back in the 1990s and to see its platforming perfection give way to a compilation of attention deficit disorder busy work always disappointed me.  Wario passed through other development teams outside of Nintendo proper for 2003's Wario World, 2007's Wario: Master of Disguise and 2008's Wario Land: Shake It!!, but the series has never managed to recapture the subversive feel of the original Game Boy installments.  Here's hoping that we see Wario Land 4 again as a free release for Nintendo 3DS Ambassadors.  More people need to experience it.