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July 2005

Choosing The Next Censorship Target

BirdoNow that those who sought to censor Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have won their battle, it's time for them to choose a new target on which to focus their efforts and venom.  It's been a good month for Hillary Clinton, Jack Thompson, and their friends as not only did they get the ESRB to revoke San Andreas's rating, but cop-killing game 25 To Life has been delayed into the next financial quarter.  So, who's next on the chopping block?  Here's a few games that could use the stern loving hand of government censorship.

  • Sonic the Hedgehog titles advocate stealing shiny gems and golden rings.
  • Super Mario Bros. titles encourage stomping on turtles, a very serious charge of animal abuse.
  • Resident Evil 4 allows players to engage in religious persecution.
  • The games of the Kirby series inspire children to overeat, leading to our nation's epidemic of obese youth.
  • Metroid games involve the forced eradication of an entire species.  Finish the game quickly to see heroine Samus Aran clad only in her lingerie.
  • F-Zero GX conditions teenagers to drive recklessly fast through futuristic environments.
  • Birdo of Super Mario Bros. 2 fame is a transsexual and "her" boyfriend Yoshi is always naked.
  • Speaking of Yoshi, the Fuzzies of Yoshi's Island cause whomever touches them to go on an LSD-like trip, thus making illegal drugs seem enticing.
  • After Microsoft acquired Rare the developer only released one game for the Xbox in three years: Grabbed By The Ghoulies.  This isn't a moral outrage, but I figure that if the government wants to investigate video games, they should at least investigate something that, in the end, could benefit gamers.

Box Art Evolution

CastlevaniaboxFollowing up on yesterday's list of best and worst video game box art, here is a guide to the evolution of video game box art from the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  The article is divided by publisher so one can follow the progression of artwork over the years.  Capcom's art is divided into two periods, for instance: the time before the company hired professional artists and the time after the company hired professional artists.  On the other hand, Konami's boxes remained basically the same throughout the NES's lifespan.

Konami had ... a very simple formula, but really easily recognizable. The boxes had silver borders around the top and both sides, framing a drawn or painted representation of what the game was about. The game title appears at the top of this picture. Some interesting details are the fact that universally at least one element escapes the borders and goes all over the place, like Simon Belmont's whip in Castlevania. Also of note are the vertical silver lines that kind of "blend" from the side borders into the picture.

It's especially interesting to see how Hudson Soft's art style evolved over the years, moving from a letterbox-style image compressed between two plain color bars to large, detailed scenes to grace the front of game boxes.  The evil witch doctor is prominently displayed on Adventure Island's small graphic, but by the time of Adventure Island 3 it was Master Higgins himself who appeared in the foreground.  There are also a lot of graphical patterns that I had never noticed until I read through this guide.  Interesting stuff!

ESRB Balks, Sets Bad Precedent

GtaaoLast call for a cup of Hot Coffee.  The ESRB has revoked the "M" rating for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in the aftermath of the hidden sex mini-game debacle.  Popular consensus is that this is clearly a move to bow to political pressure as Hillary Clinton and her cadre of supporters gear up to censor video games back to the Atari 2600 days.  OK, that's a bit of exaggeration, but the fact remains that the ESRB is quite clearly, if you'll pardon the pun, screwed.

Continue reading "ESRB Balks, Sets Bad Precedent" »

Resident Evil 5 Announced; Anti-Nintendo Fans Boast

Leon S. KennedyWord has come forward that Capcom is working on the next sequel in the Resident Evil series for next generation consoles.  1-UP has word that the game is confirmed for the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360.  The game's presence on Nintendo Revolution is not mentioned at all; no confirmations or denials.  Surf around to the Internet's discussion gaming forums and you'll find gamers who, for some reason, live to see Nintendo fail and boasting that the Revolution will not play host to Resident Evil 5.

It's not often that I respond to the irrational anti-fanboys out there, but I invite them to consider this: has any third-party developer or publisher announced solid Revolution plans?  Titles, release dates, prices?  No.  Moreover, with the exception of Electronic Arts, no company has announced plans to ignore the Revolution in the next generation.  The rumor is that Nintendo has asked third-parties to keep quiet about their plans until the company is ready to reveal the Revolution's big secret to the general public.  Capcom's silence on the Revolution in this instance does not mean that they are ignoring the console.  While the exclusion does raise question marks on Resident Evil 5's Nintendo-related status, it's far too early to write off Capcom's overall Revolution involvement.

Personally I think we're just hearing the sour grapes of anti-Nintendo fans who are still upset that the GameCube does a damn fine job with Resident Evil 4 before the PlayStation 2 gets a crack at it.  I'm a newcomer to the Resident Evil series and I love what Capcom has produced with the latest installment.  Wherever part five lands, I'll be sure to check it out.

The Best And Worst Box Art

TommylasordaGameSpy ran two features last year that rate the top ten best and worst video game box arts of all time.  Well, in their eyes, at least.  A lot of what you'd expect to find in such an article is there (The Legend of Zelda is one of the best, while Mega Man is listed as the worst), but I still found both features lacking.  Here are a few of my picks for best and worst box art of all time... or, at least, in recent memory of games I've bought over the years.  Anyone can point to pictures online and say "That sucks!" but it takes guts to have purchased some of these godawful boxes.

Continue reading "The Best And Worst Box Art" »

The Art And Advertising Of Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem: The Sacred StonesAlthough Nintendo's Fire Emblem series dates back to the days of the Famicom, it only arrived in North America during this generation of game consoles.  As such, Nintendo has spent a lot of time and money promoting it now that it has escaped Japan.  The latest installment, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the Game Boy Advance, has also had a thrust of advertising to help it excel in the market.  GameDAILY reports that when building the advertising campaign for the game, the company chose to emphasize the artwork created for the game instead of traditional screenshots.

The Sacred Stones holds its own graphically (compared to other GBA titles), but Nintendo smartly decided to display this incredible character art very prominently in every piece of the game's marketing, instead of pushing screenshots. These pieces of art, often filling half a page or more, were used to best effect in a removable two-page comic book-style insert that appeared in some enthusiast magazines.

Nintendo has been producing fantastic game-related artwork for years now and it's about time that somebody noticed.  Every game they produce has a signature style, be it cel shading, crayon scribbles, rendered perfection, or retro 8-bit blockiness.  Focusing the campaign for Sacred Stones around this artwork provides a double bonus, for not only is the artwork prominently on display, but everybody knows what a Game Boy Advances game looks like by now.  Screenshots of a GBA game just don't have the "wow factor" effect that they once did.  Put the artwork in the spotlight and ignite the audience's imagination.  Does the artwork sell games?  I guess we'll find out when Nintendo begins to market the next Fire Emblem title, Path of Radiance, later this year.

Why UMDs Offer Less For More

GhostbustersOne of the primary criticisms against Sony's auspicious idea for offering movies on UMD format for the PlayStation Portable is that the little discs are often compared to DVDs, but they cost more than the DVD version of a movie and offer less content, often skipping any special bonus features.  For instance, over at $15 will get you Ghostbusters on UMD, but for $14 you can get both Ghostbusters films and the special features for the first film on DVD.  So just why does the UMD market work this way? announced the UMD release of the pilot episode of TV's Lost today (which, oddly enough, does include a few bonus features) and sneaked in the answer to that very question.  It would seem that the primary reason is that creating menus for UMDs is challenging.  Yes, that sounds like a lame excuse to me too.

Adding bonus content means dealing with additional menus, and so studios are hanging back right now and prefer not to include the extras which complicate the project by having to find room on the disc, take the time and expense to author the menus, and make it take longer to bring the release to market.

Also cited are the lack of UMD authoring facilities, time spent with Sony's UMD authoring process, and other such reasons.  Some say that prices will drop as UMD authoring becomes more mainstream, but they said the same thing about the price of music CDs when they first debuted and it took years and a class action lawsuit before that happened.  I still say it's a pure case of greed.  If people will pay more money for less content, why shouldn't the companies overcharge?

Perfect Dark Face Mapping Reborn

Perfect DarkOnce upon a time (2000) in a far away land (England) there was a little game in development for the Nintendo 64 called Perfect Dark.  An unofficial followup to Goldeneye 007, Rareware's new shooter action game revolved around the adventures of Joanna Dark of the Carrington Institute.  Aside from a stellar single-player mode, Perfect Dark included an extensive multiplayer section.  Players were free to choose different playable characters, weapons, and battle scenarios.  Also included was the ability to connect the Game Boy Camera to the Nintendo 64 via the Transfer Pak in order to copy one's own pictures into Perfect Dark.  These pictures of players and their friends could then be mapped to the game's character models, allowing players to put themselves into the game.

Alas and alack, in the aftermath of the Columbine High School incident the specter of video game violence reared its ugly head and suddenly allowing children to put their faces into a shooter wasn't the best idea (nevermind that the game was rated "M", of course).  Rare removed the feature (citing "technical issues")  before the game shipped and that's pretty much the end of the tale.  Now, years later, the same group of Rareware fans that discovered the secrets of Banjo-Kazooie have come up with a way to replace face and costume textures in Perfect DarkThe Rare Witch Project has created a little program to swap these textures with other graphic files in the original game, bringing the dead feature back to life (albeit in a different form and topped off with emulation).  Legality issues aside, it's always good to see classic games scrutinized and expanded upon years after their initial release.

Stupid Annoyance #4712

UMDMore and more movie studios are jumping on the Sony PlayStation Portable bandwagon and releasing their films on UMD as well as DVD.  Even the television commercials these days include the tagline "Coming to DVD and PSP!".  Here's what annoys me: DVD is the disc format, while PSP is the movie player.  They're promoting apples and oranges here.

Technically the commercials should say "Coming to DVD and UMD!" except that casual consumers are just starting to get their brains wrapped around what a "PSP" is, let alone "UMD".  Back in the days of video cassettes and video cassette recorders commercials didn't proclaim "Coming to VCR!", they said "Coming to VHS!" which is the name of the cassette format.

Every time I hear "Coming to DVD and PSP!" the mistake wears on me just a little.  It's just another of life's stupid little insignificant annoyances that doesn't mean a thing in the long run, and yet I just can't let it go. 

Journey Deeper Into The Heart Of Castlevania

Castlevania II: Simon's QuestLast week I commented on a Castlevania fan site that chronicles the history of the classic horror Konami series.  After my comments were posted on Slashdot it was brought to my attention that there is a "better" Castlevania site out there.

Whether or not it's better is up to you to judge, but it's certainly worth exploring just for the lengthy guide to the Castlevania mythos.  The Realm of Castlevania has been around for six years, but if you're like me you haven't come across it until just now.  As the marketing jingle says, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!".