Retro/Classic Feed

Soak Up The Little Details Of Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the NightKonami's classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night originally for the Sony PlayStation is packed with all kind of small details and nice touches that are very easy to miss if you're blasting through the game at top speed.  Take some time to explore the haunted castle and really soak in the atmosphere.  VGJUNK has a list of little moments and quirky additions in Symphony that you may have missed if you weren't paying attention.  For instance, are you familiar with the list of field notes for each monster you'll find in the castle?

As is customary amongst lords of the night, Dracula's castle is packed with a menagerie of monstrous creatures including, but not limited to: bats, larger bats, skeletons, larger skeletons, ninja skeletons, demonic puppets from Hell, Great Old Ones, angry tables and, in the Sega Saturn version, something called the Human Face Tree, which is even creepier than it sounds. Once you've killed a monster, its information is added to the game's bestiary for you to peruse at your leisure, and I suggest that you do so because Symphony of the Night's monster list is an absolute joy to read.

Just take a moment to bask in the glorious phrase "specially trained war-goose." Not one of your regular war geese, oh no, it's one that been specially trained. Nothing but the best for Dracula's castle. It makes sense that a goose would be chosen for this military role, because geese are the most naturally aggressive and remorseless birds on the Earth.

Symphony and its sequels are full of these kinds of things, although you can tell that this game was especially crafted with love, creativity, and care.  This is a game where a vampire flicks peanuts into his mouth to restore health, where skeletons run away in delight when you slay their slavedriver master, and there's an optional shoe item that makes Alucard one pixel taller as its sole function.  Keep an eye out when you're stabbing demons and jumping across platforms.  You just might be entertained in the middle of all of that entertainment.  It's an absolute creative crime that Konami no longer makes games like this one.


3DO Port Of Doom Lived Up To Its Name

3dodId Software's revolutionary Doom was ported to many platforms during its initial run and even now ends up on all kinds of out of the way platforms, but the story of the 3DO version of the iconic shooter is truly a special one. Typically people in the video game business have some idea of what they are doing, but the leadership at the now-defunct Art Data Interactive was in over its head from the start when it licensed the rights to bring Doom to the platform in 1996. Rebecca Heineman was brought in to pick up the pieces. This is her story (the Doom part begins about halfway down the page).

There was a company called Art Data Interactive. The CEO was a guy who was just a member of a church somewhere in Southern California. Somehow he was able to convince his friends at the church and other friends that 3DO is the wave of the future and that he needs their money to go ahead and form a game company. "Get in on this."

He raises $100,000. He then starts making this game. A Battle Chess ripoff.

And he feels the way he wants to do it is he wants to film all the people dressed up as chess pieces and that's what he's going to put on the game board.

The guy has no clue at all of game development. Nothing.

I'm especially amused that a church paid to produce a version of the violent Doom considering that churches were hotbeds of anti-video game sentiment in the 1990s.  Heineman goes on to share my favorite part of this misadventure in which the CEO believed that adding new weapons to a video game was as simple as importing a drawing of the weapons into some magic development tool that cranks out finished video games.

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A Brief Tour Of Sega Hardware History

Sega DreamcastSega may be best known for its home consoles Genesis and Dreamcast, but there's much more to the company's hardware history.  From its earliest creations to its unrealized post-Dreamcast plans, the passionate engineers at Sega in its heyday were driven to create the best.  Over at Shmuplations you'll find a translated interview from 1998 with Hideki Sato in which he outlines Sega hardware from the SG-1000 and its upgrades to the “INTELLIGENT TERMINAL HIGH GRADE MULTIPURPOSE USE” of the Genesis to the unrealized Sega Jupiter console and beyond.  It's interesting stuff and a unique look behind the curtain.  Here's a bit of Sato discussing Sega's 16-bit Mega Modem add-on:

The Mega Modem was our response to the recent developments in networking technology. At the time, PC networking was just starting to gather popularity. The baud rate then was 1200 bps. We used that rate for competitive baseball, mahjong, and similar games, but the level of technology made it rough. Moreover, we made very little money off the Mega Modem, so even at Sega, hardly anyone understood it. But from that experience we learned that networking capabilities had a lot of potential, and we resolved to include them in our next console. Sega was an “arcade game culture” company, you see, so we were always quick to get back on our feet. (laughs) In the arcade industry, just sitting back and waiting for the technology to ripen was never an option.

It's bittersweet to see Sato looking ahead to Sega's plans for beyond the Dreamcast that were never realized such as faster modems and wireless controllers.  Engineering the Dreamcast's dial-up modem as an upgradable component drove up the cost of the console, but the machine didn't last long enough in the market to see the benefit of that design decision.  For better or for worse, the future of the gaming business was tied up in the sleek image that the Sony PlayStation 2 was set to deliver.  While the PS2 would eventually support networking capabilities and modern consoles include built-in Wi-Fi, the Dreamcast's modular modem was ahead of its time in a way that, at the time, just didn't matter to the marketplace.


Power Button - Episode 201: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Power ButtonIt's always a terrible shame when a video game development studio goes under, and while companies such as Lionhead and Sega Technical Institute may be gone, they are not forgotten.  On this episode of the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I remember some of our favorite shuttered studios and pay tribute to some of the industry's best, worst, or most memorable releases from studios that are no longer with us.  We have an hour of fond remembrances for 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.


Nintendo Hoax Pokes Folks

Senator VreenakBe it for attention or kicks, some people love to create fake imagery of supposed video gaming products and "leak" them online as if they were real upcoming items destined for imminent legitimate announcement.  The most recent of these hoaxes involves an alleged buttonless controller for Nintendo's secret NX console.  It's far from the first fake product that someone has cooked up in their spare time.  Peter Paltridge at Platypus Comix takes a look back at three notable Nintendo-related hoaxes including that NX controller and, in the process, sums up the changing nature of these fakes.

You might notice that this hoax had a different tone than the one from eleven years prior -- instead of faking something the audience wanted, they faked something the audience didn't. Reaction from those who believed the controllers were real was overwhelmingly negative. They wanted buttons; they wanted to feel the correct finger placement. No doubt, the fakers preferred that as well. So if they were making up something, why not something they wanted?

The reason is because they were playing to the current expectation. Instead of being hopeful for Nintendo's future, fans are now afraid of what they'll come up with next. They fear that, in a renewed effort to get back the phone-game audience, Nintendo will embrace the gamer-unfriendly business practices of that market, and fall into ruin as a result. The football controller is a representation of that fear. Where people once were seduced by visions of magic head-shaped VR devices that displayed 512,000,000 castles at once, now they're just hoping Mario doesn't crap the bed.

I'm not a fan of hoaxes.  The gaming community is so hungry for information and news outlets are so desperate for traffic that fake images are held up right away to spawn discussion as if the item or game depicted is solid undisputed truth.  These hoaxes waste everyone's time and energy, producing passionate arguments over what ends up being nonsense.  Stop encouraging these things.  Save that enthusiasm to discuss the real news once it's announced.  If the Internet should have taught us anything by now, it's to be skeptical (especially in advance of the upcoming April Fool's Day annual festival of nonsense).


Mega Man 4 Soundtrack Gets Equipped With An Upgrade

Mega Man 4The Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many classic 8-bit soundtracks, but it was Konami's special VRC6 expansion chip that really made the melodies sing.  While never used in games outside of Japan, the custom mapper has found a following in the twenty-first century with fans who are eager to take their favorite NES compositions and rework them to use the VRC6.  Consider RushJet1 and his upgraded soundtracks for Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3, for instance.  Released over the past few years, I've mentioned them both on PTB before and, at the last release, wished that he'd take on Mega Man 4 as his next project.  Good news, everyone: he has!  A custom VRC6 version of Mega Man 4 music is now available over at Bandcamp as Mega Man 4 Remade.  Get equipped with your favorite headset and give it a listen.  There's some great things happening here and if the Mega Man soundtracks are the songs of your people like they are for me, you won't want to miss this.

(via Protodude's Rockman Corner)


Meeting Of The Mindlinks

MindlinkWhen you think about Atari hardware, you probably think of the iconic Atari 2600 joystick with its little red button.  You likely do not think of the Atari Mindlink which was the company's unreleased attempt at directly controlling video games with the awesome power of your brain.  How could such a thing be possible in 1984?  Gizmodo explains as part of a feature on unreleased gadgets.

Have you ever tried to control a video game... with your mind? That was the idea behind Atari’s Mindlink controller, which was on display at CES in 1984. Atari claimed that the device could pick up electrical impulses from your head. Supposedly all you needed to do was tighten and relax the muscles in your forehead to influence the action on the screen.

Needless to say, mind control controllers weren’t quite ready for primetime in the early 1980s. And despite claims that the Mindlink would be in stores by Fall of 1985, the product was scrapped.

The Mindlink was intended to work with the Atari 2600, 7800, and the company's home computer line, so I have to praise them for planning a peripheral with a wide-reaching audience.  Consider today's add-ons that work with one console alone such as Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR headset exclusively for the PlayStation 4 or Microsoft's various models of Kinect for its Xbox line which are not interchangeable across console models.  At least Nintendo has spanned generations with its GameCube controllers (for GameCube and Wii) and Wii remote (Wii and Wii U).

As for Mindlink's functionality, it was rather limited.  Pong and Breakout were used for demos, although few people were able to get their hands heads on the prototypes.  The initial test units could only control up-down and left-right controls (for which Pong and Breakout are perfect), but lab tests on other games were promising.  Maybe we should be glad that this idea faded away and didn't evolve with gaming hardware over the years.  If basic controls were a challenge, imagine how involved today's version of Minklink technology would be with all of the buttons and control sticks present on a modern controller.  I get a headache just thinking about it.

For a deep dive on the Mindlink, check out the history of the peripheral at The Atari Museum.  They have a fascinating look at how the technology developed, how it overpromised and underdelivered, how it nearly found a second life with the Special Olympics, and why it ended up in the dustbin of history.

 


Lost Levels Coming To Super Mario Advance 4 For Wii U

Super Mario Advance 4I honestly didn't expect it to happen, but Nintendo is preparing to release Super Mario Advance 4 (the Game Boy Advance version of the Super NES Super Mario All-Stars port of Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Nintendo Entertainment System) for the Wii U with the lost e-Reader levels intact and included.  As you may recall, SMA4 featured support for the failed peripheral that added new levels to the game which included features from past Super Mario games such as Super Mario World's cape and Super Mario Bros. 2's pluckable vegetables.  These levels have been hard to find for years (and weren't exactly easy to play when they were new thanks to the convoluted setup required to scan e-Reader cards into SMA4), but soon you'll be able to experience them for yourself with ease for the reasonable entry fee of a Virtual Console download.  It's coming to Japan for sure, but will other territories see it?  USgamer explains what this means:

But will Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3 come to North America with all that e-Reader goodness intact? It seems like a sure bet. Nintendo hasn't failed to release any of the Super Mario Advance games to English-speaking audiences yet, and picking through the North American release specifically to remove e-Reader stuff seems like a costly and effort-filled way to cheese off a fanbase for no discernable reason.

I didn't expect Nintendo to do the legwork required to add this content to the game, and while I'd have passed on buying the basic version of SMA4, I will absolutely buy the expanded version with e-Reader content included.  Fans have already recreated this material in Super Mario Maker, but here's a chance to play it as it was meant to be experienced.  Provided, of course, that it comes west.  While it may seem like a slam dunk for Nintendo of America to launch it, David Oxford at Poison Mushroom points out how the company isn't afraid to release lesser versions of games when better versions exist in the vault:

I’m worried that while we may get Super Mario Advance 4 here, we may only end up seeing that third of the total content included. It wouldn’t be the first time Nintendo has held back on such things — the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, for instance, only features the colorless non-Super Game Boy version of Donkey Kong. And Balloon Kid was only released here in its colorless Game Boy iteration, while Japan was able to enjoy the Game Boy Color version from the previous Japan-only release of Balloon Fight GB. If they won’t release a game about balloons of all things in color, I don’t know what to tell you.

Here's hoping we get the good stuff soon.  I'll keep rebuying these old games provided that they get better and better.


Power Button - Episode 192: The Games Of Star Wars

Power ButtonAs Star Wars: The Force Awakens prepares to launch into theaters this week, we're joined by guest Ryan Olsen to discuss our favorite games from the Star Wars universe.  Super Star Wars, Shadows of the Empire, The Force Unleashed, and Battlefront take the stage among others.  I have a good feeling about this.  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.


Rock Out With Dr. Wily

Capcom's classic series of Mega Man titles has inspired plenty of musicians over the years, but we always hear the same songs from the games remixed over and over.  Yes, the first Dr. Wily stage theme from Mega Man 2 is great stuff, but there's lots of other tracks that deserve some attention.  Consider this medley of Dr. Wily boss themes spanning Mega Man 3, Mega Man 4, and Mega Man 6 from the Rockman 25th Anniversary Rock Arrange Version album.  The word "epic" is thrown around so much on the Internet that it's meaning has been diluted by overuse, but this remix qualifies for a legitimate use of the word.  Featuring an ominous choir, rocking electric guitar, and a hard driving bass line, this track is better than I ever imagined its source material to be.  Crank it up, charge your Mega Buster, and blast some robot chassis!