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Lost Chrono Trigger Subplot Deemed Too Depressing

Chrono TriggerSquare's Chrono Trigger stands out as one of the best RPGs from the Super NES era of gaming and would later go on to spawn a semi-sequel in Radical Dreamers, an actual sequel for the Sony PlayStation, and enhanced remakes for both the PS1 and the Nintendo DS as well as mobile platforms.  The story of how a band of unlikely heroes band together via time travel to destroy an ancient space parasite eager to devour the planet is one of gaming's most detailed, most surprising tales, and while the game offers plenty to do and many sidequests to explore, one subplot was dropped from the game during development because it was deemed too depressing.  In a game where time and fate regularly screw with the protagonists, how depressing did a story element have to be in order to be scrapped?

Before answering that, let's recap.  Late in Chrono Trigger, the main protagonist, Crono, is blasted into atoms by the aforementioned space parasite, Lavos.  The other heroes escape the carnage, but Crono is truly dead and it's possible to finish the game without him.  Thanks to time travel, however, it's also possible to go back to the moment of his death and swap him out for a lifeless Crono clone.  The clone is obliterated instead, Crono goes back to the future with his friends, and everyone can resume fighting the good fight as if the whole thing never happened.  As the game's story planner Masato Katō revealed in an interview translated by The Chrono Compendium, the original plan for this plot was far darker and provided an even greater example of time acting as a judgmental force.

There was also a time during a meeting when the idea of the main character dying came up, and the whole room suddenly burst into laughter. I seemed to be the only one who thought “That was a serious suggestion, what’s so funny?” and sat looking blank. (laughs) Although at that point Mr Horī did say “Hey, that might be pretty interesting.” Incidentally, the idea that I had at that time was for Crono to really die, and the others would have to go back in time and enlist a version of Crono from the night before the Fair. Then after the final battle they would have to return him to that point in time and bid him farewell. But that idea was rejected (laughs). They said it had to be a happy ending, so we eventually settled on the story with the clone as it is today.

Chrono TriggerThe protagonists would have access to a spare Crono through time travel, but would have to return him to the moment he left his relative present in order to avoid corrupting the timeline.  It's a very Back to the Future idea reminiscent of the film's subplot involving Marty McFly struggling to tell Doc Brown that furious terrorists would gun him down in the future.  How would the party have explained to the Crono from the past that they needed his help without divulging information about his own future?  While I'd hate to have seen Crono die permanently, it would have been interesting to explore this subplot as an optional quest.  The choice would be yours: do you fight to save Crono by replacing him with a clone at the moment of his death or do you take the easy way out and recruit a younger Crono knowing that he'll still die later once you're done with him?  Perhaps the gaming world wasn't ready for that kind of thing in 1995, but as games have grown deeper and grittier, I think today's audiences could handle the choice and its consequences.  For death to matter in fiction, it has to stick.  Just ask Aeris.


Power Button - Episode 147: The Highest Of Definitions

Power ButtonIt's become a popular and profitable practice for publishers to re-release their video games from previous generations of hardware for current consoles and handhelds.  Games such as God of War, Halo, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and many more have returned under the guise of remastered editions.  Last generation's high definition remake lives on under new terminology.  On this episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I discuss whether or not all of his rehashed content is ultimately worthwhile for the industry, compare notes on what it takes for each of us to buy a game all over again, and take a sidequest into the world of SimCity and SimTower.  It's a delightful ninety minutes of conversation.  Hurry and listen before we re-release this episode as a remastered edition!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Microsoft Buys Minecraft, Mojang

MinecraftAfter years of being pitched on its potential and popularity, I have to admit that I still don't understand the fuss behind Minecraft.  I remember back in 2010 when Robert Alsbrook and I were still hosting the short-lived Press The Buttons show for Internet television where in between shooting segments, he'd try to sell me on the game and how I needed to be involved with it.  I didn't see the point; it's just digital LEGO bricks, right?  Where's the story?  Where's the gameplay?  Not my thing.  Not everything is.  Microsoft sees the value in Minecraft though, as the company has announced that it's bought Minecraft and its developer Mojang for a rumored $2.5 billion dollars.  That's a lot of digital building blocks.  Polygon has the story.

Microsoft's Phil Spencer said that the relationship with the studio began when the two companies started talking about bringing Minecraft to the console.

"Minecraft quickly became the top online game on Xbox Live, with over two billion hours played on Xbox 360 in the last two years. That working relationship set the ground work for other opportunities. We've long seen the incredible potential of Minecraft," he said. "At Microsoft, we believe in the power of content to unite people. Minecraft adds diversity to our game portfolio and helps us reach new gamers across multiple platforms. Gaming is the top activity across devices and we see great potential to continue to grow the Minecraft community and nurture the franchise. That is why we plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms - including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC."

I especially like the line "We've long seen the incredible potential of Minecraft."  Translation: "Someone was making a lot of money and it wasn't us."  Microsoft pledges to keep the Minecraft community spirit alive and won't clamp down on the property.  Minecraft will continue to exist on competing ecosystems like the Sony PlayStation and mobile platforms.  The Minecraft convention Minecon will go on.  Beyond that, I'm curious to see what changes the new management makes in the popular game especially since Mojang's current leadership is departing.  You don't spend billions of dollars on a property just to sit back and do nothing.  Like Minecraft players, Microsoft will surely want to play with its new toy.


EA Is Interested In Games For Apple Watch

Apple WatchNow that Apple has announced its upcoming Apple Watch wearable computing product that ties in to the iPhone for complete connectivity, video game publishers are interested in exploring how their products can work with the device.  Electronic Arts is just one of the major third-party publishers investigating how to bring new ways to play to the Apple Watch and devices like it.  CVG explains:

"Now with Apple's big announcement with the watch, there's a trend here where wearables are going to increase in performance, capability and unique functions over time that we believe will enable gaming experiences.

"In fact," [Executive vice president of EA Mobile Frank] Gibeau added, "we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone.

"Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home.

I'm curious about the Apple Watch and would definitely find ways to use it if I owned one, but I'm not rushing out to buy one on the first day it's for sale.  As for gaming, while the obvious first step is to try to bring popular app games to it, I'd like to see console games integrated with it.  It could be a much more useful second screen experience.  Imagine if an important key statistic or two was displayed on the watch such as remaining hit points or ammo left in a weapon.  You'd have to turn the watch around on your wrist so it faced you while holding the controller, but it'd be easier to juggle that holding a tablet or PS Vita in your lap while playing.  There's definitely potential here, but like with all new ways of interacting with technology and information, it'll take time and testing to fully understand what works and what does not.  Still, I'd like to believe that there are more useful and compelling ways to use the watch for gaming than just crushing candy.


Yuji Naka Goes To The Hidden Palace Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2's Hidden Palace ZoneOne of the greatest stories in the genre of Sega Genesis lore involves the theft of an early unfinished version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from a toy fair in 1992.  That stolen cartridge went on to be illegally distributed in Asia as the finished version of the game featuring fragments of levels that did not make the cut for the final product such as the Wood Zone and the mysterious Hidden Palace Zone.  The latter zone was hyped in the gaming magazines of the day, leaving many fans confused when the finished Sonic 2 did not include it.  Jump ahead several years and you'll find this version of the game circulating the Internet in smokey backrooms where devoted Sonic fans dig through its code like archaeologists excavating a tomb.  Heidi Kemps wondered if Yuji Naka (formerly of Sonic Team) had any idea that all of this was happening, so she went straight to the source to find out.  Did Naka know that fans were digging through his team's old work and exploring unfinished, cut content?

The Hidden Palace Zone was well-known among the Sonic faithful, but did Naka know the extent of what fans had already dug up?

“Actually,” I replied, “that ROM’s data is out there. Online.”

Naka seemed pleasantly surprised. “What? You're kidding! Tell me more. I had no idea.”

Was this really happening? 

“I have it here with me,” I continued. “On my laptop.”

“Do you, now?” He smiled again. “Somehow, I’m not surprised. You’re truly quite the fan.”

I turned on my laptop, booted up my Genesis emulator, and clicked on the file. It didn’t occur to me at first that I would be showing a top Sega executive my copy of an illegally duplicated development ROM on my PC. The thought didn’t even cross my mind until the title screen, the one different from what we all saw in 1992, appeared.

“Ahhhhh, yes,” said Naka, recognizing the early image.

How wonderful to reunite Naka with his older work in this manner.  I wonder if other developers would be so gracious.  As for the Hidden Palace Zone itself, after becoming a curiosity and a conversation topic amongst the Sega faithful, it finally showed up in the iOS and Android remakes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as a proper, completed level.  Even the company itself is in on propagating the legend.  I absolutely love stories like this one.  I've watched this story unfold over the past twenty years, following it from those original mock-up screenshots in Electronic Gaming Monthly to the online dissemination of the unfinished ROM all the way to the end.  I feel like I have closure at last.


Zen Studios Readies Pinball Table Based On Deadpool

DeadpoolHere's a [pineapple] surprise for you.  Zen Studios has been quietly hard at work on a new pinball table for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX2 based on Marvel's twisted Deadpool.  Releasing next week, the Deadpool table features all the fourth wall busting antics you can stand and the voice talents of Nolan North as the man himself.  Here's how Bobby Loertscher describes the experience at the PlayStation Blog:

Zen Studios is extremely excited to be working with the fine folks at Marvel to bring Deadpool fans a pinball experience that is as true to the character as you can get. Featuring the supreme voice talents of the one and only Nolan North as Deadpool, this table will capture the acerbic, fourth wall-crushing attitude of the character, as well as other supporting characters from the Deadpool universe, including Blind Al, Weasel, Lil’ Deadpool, and more. Deadpool’s pinball debut will feature a dynamic table that will switch at his whim, quick-time events, a “Blind Mode” courtesy of Blind Al in which only the ball, flippers and target lanes are visible, and even a mode where the player can help Deadpool take down some of his most nefarious enemies: raging comic book fans!

Deadpool seems like a natural choice to become a pinball superstar.  His sense of humor is all over the map which guarantees that just about anything can happen on this pinball table.  The only rule seems to be to expect unpredictable things.  There's a trailer in circulation that shows off some of Deadpool's tricks.  Like Zen's other pinball offerings, this one looks like great fun.  The last time we spoke to Zen's Mel Kirk on the Power Button podcast, he hinted that more Marvel tables were on the way, but I'd never have guessed Deadpool would be one of them.  It's nice to be surprised.


The Walking Dead Coming To Zen Pinball 2, Pinball Fx2

The pinball wizards at Zen Studios have done wonderful things with licensed tables based on the Marvel and Star Wars universes, but now the company is tackling a new franchise.  Later this summer we'll see the release of a new table for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball Fx2 based on The Walking Dead game from Telltale Games.  This is a pinball table based on a video game based on a television show based on a comic book.  This rabbit hole goes very deep.

The Walking Dead pinball table features choice-driven gameplay across each of Season One’s five episodes, along with original story dialogue from the award-winning cast.  Scenarios include choosing who to save and who to leave behind in a walker attack, solving problems and raising morale within the group, searching for food and supplies, acquiring important tools, and navigating through the herd amidst an oncoming walker breach. Check out the trailer below to see the new table in action!

I'm not a fan of the Walking Dead franchise, but I do love Zen's products, so I'm going to have to play this table even though I'll have no idea what's going on at first.  It'll be available across Zen's pinball platforms on consoles, PC, and mobile devices, so there'll be plenty of ways to try it.  I can hear my podcast co-host and pinball competitor Blake Grundman salivating from here.


Power Button - Episode 128: Laughing It Up With Mel Kirk About Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within

Power ButtonZen Studios has recently released the Heroes Within add-on pack for its Star Wars Pinball game across thirteen different platforms, so that means we had to invite the company's Mel Kirk to come back and discuss the four new pinball tables.  Learn the secrets and inside stories behind the development of the Han Solo, Droids, Masters of the Force, and Episode IV: A New Hope tables; hear about tables left on the cutting room floor; consider the ongoing business relationships between Zen, Disney, Marvel, and LucasFilm; find out what projects the company has in the pipeline (with a big announcement coming soon); and enjoy some good old fashioned high score comparison trash talk.  May the Force and May the Fourth be with you!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 110: Zen Studios And The Art Of Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force Featuring Super League Football

Power ButtonBack in November 2013, Blake Grundman and I talked with Mel Kirk of Zen Studios about the company's latest batch of Star Wars Pinball tables on Episode 110 of the Power Button podcast.  What you didn't hear was our lengthy conversation about another of Zen's pinball tables.  We had the first interview with Mel about the new Super League Football expansion for Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX 2, but due to development delays we were forced to cut that segment from the show since it was due to air before the project was even publicly announced.  Now that the pinball table is available today for the Sony PlayStation 3, PS4, and PS Vita, the time has come to share this lost interview.  Join us for the special Director's Cut of Episode 110 to hear all about the new table and get a recap on the Balance of the Force expansion for Star Wars Pinball.  The lost segment begins around the 25:00 mark. If you haven't heard it, it's new to you!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 119: The Best That 2013 Had To Offer

Power ButtonWith another year behind us it's time for the Power Button crew to take its annual look back at the best games released in the previous 365 days.  I have my selections for the Game Of The Year honors, Blake Grundman appears with his list of favorites, and special guest podcast veteran Brad Hilderbrand returns to share his top picks from 2013.  Spanning a variety of platforms and genres, we take you through the highlights of our gaming year with looks at titles such as Saints Row IV, MLB 13 The Show, Grand Theft Auto V, Tearaway, DuckTales: Remastered, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Gone Home, and many more.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.