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The Rise And Fall Of Perfect Dark

Perfect DarkWhen you develop a first-person shooter for a console that isn't expected to sell many copies but then becomes a colossal hit and redefines how the genre is treated on consoles, what do you do for an encore?  That's the question asked of Rare's developers in the late 1990s after the company's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 became one of the best games on the console and one that is still remembered and revered today for its multiplayer mode.  The easy answer is to follow it up with a direct sequel and make Tomorrow Never Dies, but the better answer is to drop the James Bond license to create something original, refine the ideas that came about too late in the process to benefit GoldenEye, and push the limits of the console so hard that a hardware upgrade is required to make the most of the experience.  Over at Nintendo Life, James Batchelor has the story behind Rare's Perfect Dark on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

The team didn’t want to abandon everything it had accomplished with GoldenEye 007, of course. For most of them, the James Bond shooter was the first game they had ever made. They had developed a brand new engine, so it made sense to build upon that and create a new title in the same vein, with similar gameplay and the same “weapon centricity,” as Hollis put it.

From the very beginning, Perfect Dark was planned as a spiritual successor to GoldenEye, with the aim to have the game finished within just one year. In theory, the main effort would go into building new levels that ran on the previous game’s tech. But the team’s ambition expanded throughout the course of the project, and many of GoldenEye’s systems were improved and overhauled.

Perfect Dark was like the semi-sequel to GoldenEye, and it’s always difficult making a sequel,” recalls Mark Edmonds, who led development by the end. “Can you make it better than the first one? That should be easy, but generally, it isn’t. So everyone was in the mindset of ‘What can we do to make this better than GoldenEye?’ There were a lot of ideas for new features and everyone had thoughts about what could have gone into that game but didn’t.”

There's lots to unpack here including the creation of the game's protagonist, Joanna Dark, and how she fits into the storyline that aimed to surprise players with AI briefcases and an alien invasion.  All of the action required the N64 Expansion Pak add-on to play anything besides the basic multiplayer mode.  N64 development kits were equipped with more memory than retail N64 console, so it was very easy for the development team to pack in too many things that worked fine on the development kit but wouldn't work on a home console.  The Expansion Pak solved that problem.

The issue, Edmonds says, was the N64 developer kits had more memory than the home models, which made it all too easy to add in more features. The challenge of bringing the game’s size down to something that would fit in a single cartridge and run on a standard console became impossible, so he was relieved to see both the Donkey Kong and Zelda teams using the expansion. “It happened to be around the same sort of time we found we didn’t have enough memory either,” he recalls. “So we were lucky because if they weren’t doing that, we would have been stuck.”

Chesluk adds: “We did a load of work trying to get it down, spent a few months on it, but the best we could manage was the version you got without the Expansion Pak, where it’s a bit of multiplayer but it’s more of a taster. There was talk of bundling with the Expansion Pak at one point, but Donkey Kong 64 had already done that – although I’m not sure how much demographic crossover there was between people buying both Donkey Kong and Perfect Dark.”

I was a GoldenEye fan, although I'd only rented it a few times throughout my high school years, and by 2000 I was in college and was drifting away from video games for a while.  I had Donkey Kong 64 which came packed with the Expansion Pak, so I had everything I needed to play the game, and although I rented it a time or two, I never felt the need to buy it.  GoldenEye felt revolutionary in 1997, but Perfect Dark in 2000 felt outdated even with that Expansion Pak boost.  I figured I'd pass on this first installment and try again with the inevitable GameCube sequel, and we all know how that went instead.  I should revisit Perfect Dark sometime and give it a fair shake on its own merits.  It's one of those games that I may not have liked, but I definitely respect.


Piano Pro-Am

R.C. Pro-AmTimes are tough lately and we can all use a pick-me-up.  Start your week out with some peppy energy thanks to musician Rob "88bit" Kovacs and his piano rendition of one of the Nintendo Entertainment System's best racers, R.C. Pro-Am.  Composed by Rare soundtrack master David Wise, these songs make some interesting use of the NES's limited sound channels.  Rob explains:

The opening title screen theme is one of the more unique NES themes in that it is saturated with triads, something you don’t hear too often due to the 3-voice limitation of the NES soundchip. Composer, David Wise, gets around this by using all three channels to perform the melody and the harmony and then squeezing the bass notes in between the melody notes. The result is a really thick and packed sound.

Rare's sound team always did amazing work when given limited tools, and Rob does a fantastic job of translating the Pro-Am soundtrack for piano.  Check it out and listen to his other recordings on his YouTube channel.


Power Button - Episode 306: Leak Sneaks

Power ButtonMajor gaming leaks in the past few weeks have shown us the past and the future as Nintendo suffered a system breach that resulted in all kinds of trade secrets and information from the late 1990s through the 2000s posted online and Naughty Dog and Sony had to deal with fallout from spoiler-laden videos from the upcoming The Last of Us Part II were posted online.  All of this talk of leaks and stolen data had us thinking of all of the most memorable gaming leaks that have happened over the years, so this week's podcast topic explores focuses on that discussion.  Blake Grundman and I revisit some old favorites from Half-Life 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Destiny, Assassin's Creed Unity, Star Fox 2, EarthBound Beginnings, and plenty more. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Power Button - Episode 305: 100 Hours

Power ButtonThanks to the pandemic lockdown I've recently clocked one hundred hours spent in Assassin's Creed Odyssey and still have lots more to do, so that's a natural jumping point into this week's podcast topic in which we discuss games we're spent more than one hundred hours exploring and enjoying.  You'll find some expecting titles here such as Destiny, Borderlands, and Red Dead Redemption along with some unexpected entries including Crosswords Plus for Nintendo 3DS. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Train Your Amiibo Right With Figure Fight

Amiibo

Now you too can learn the secrets of the great amiibo fighting champions of the world and become a renowned figurine coach as you train your plastic buddies for ultimate domination in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate!  Or, at least, you'll learn what makes an amiibo fighter tick and discover the most efficient ways to turn them into little smashers.  Yes, I'm talking about John Harris's new book Figure Fight which is currently available as part of the latest Story Bundle.  You'll learn what amiibo are doing when they're training to fight and what happens to them when they go on a journey across the Internet to battle against other amiibo.  How do they learn?  Can you influence that learning?  How can you smooth over any bad habits they pick up along the way?  There's plenty to explore and learn here.

Buried in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a curious little subgame where you can take AIs housed in amiibo toys and bring them forth to great and violent life within its fighting game universe, with you put in the role of their trainer. What's more, you can take these uppity little trinkets online and pit them against the belligerent knickknacks of other players. The author has been obsessed with this bizarre yet entertaining mode for months. Smash Ultimate's amiibo support still holds many mysteries, but here he reveals to you what strategy and secrets he could suss out of this thoroughly ridiculous mode.

I had the privilege to read an advance copy of the book and was impressed with the attention to detail and Harris's persistence in tracing what amiibo are really doing behind Nintendo's glitzy presentation on screen.  There's such a tiny amount of writable data space in each amiibo that it's outrageous to me how it's used to contain so much information used for Smash Bros.  This book taught me things about how Smash uses amiibo under the hood that I had absolutely no idea was happening. If you want to raise a top tier amiibo, this must be your first read.  And yes, those are my amiibo on display on my gaming room wall in the photo above.


Power Button - Episode 304: Tribute To The 1988 Nintendo Buyer's Guide

Power ButtonI recently fell down the rabbit hole of Retromags.com, the Internet's premiere archive of video gaming magazines from days gone by.  I was inspired to look up the first gaming magazines I ever read, Game Player's August 1988 Nintendo Buyer's Guide and Game Player's August 1988 Nintendo Strategy Guide, which inspired this hour of discussion about what constituted a video game magazine over thirty years ago.  We're essentially ripping on a dated publication that I'm sure was doing the best that they could with the resources they had, but this magazine has not aged gracefully.  It's a time capsule of hype for Nintendo Entertainment System games like Amagon, Bubble Bobble, Zanac, Metal Gear, Flying Dragon, Ghostbusters, and many more.  Download these two issues and follow along with us as we have some laughs.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 

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Power Button - Episode 303: The Many Games Of Nintendo Direct Mini

Power ButtonNintendo has come to save the day during lockdown with a surprise Nintendo Direct Mini which announced a variety of new games coming to the Switch.  Borderlands Legendary Collection, Burnout Paradise Remastered, a new fighter from ARMS for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and many more titles of interest were featured in the broadcast, and on this episode of the podcast we take an hour to discuss which announcements we are more interested in.  Plus there's also a rumor floating around that Nintendo is remaking/remastered a whole slew of 3D Super Mario titles, and we take that topic on as well to talk about our hopes for such a project if it turns out to be real.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Power Button - Episode 302: Guilty Displeasures

Power ButtonHave you ever seen lots of people talking about a video game series that they absolutely love but you just can't see the appeal?  On this week's podcast we're discussing games that everyone else adores but just aren't for us.  From Animal Crossing to LittleBigPlanet to Borderlands to Persona, nothing is safe.  Remember that we're not overly negative or angry people, so we fully understand that these games just aren't for us, and we're alright with that.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Borderlands Coming To Nintendo Switch

BorderlandsThe Borderlands series has done very well for itself in the past decade, but surprisingly it hasn't come to a Nintendo platform until today's announcement of the Borderlands Legendary Collection which bundles the modern console remasters of Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel with all included expansions (minus Commander Lilith and the Fight For Sanctuary) and new optional motion controls. The physical game card version of the set will require a hefty download, too.  It's coming in May 2020 for $49.99 along with a bunch of other Switch releases of existing 2K Games titles including BioShock and XCOM, but my fiancee and I are all about the Borderlands.

It's a shame that it took this long for the series to arrive on a Nintendo platform.  I can imagine under difference circumstances that there would have been a Borderlands spin-off game for the Nintendo 3DS that reworked the action into a 2D action sidescroller with 3D rendered visuals like just about every other platformer on that system.  The worlds would have been smaller, the storyline created as an "also this happened" tale that spins around the stories from the other games in the series (and in the end it may not even really be canon), and so forth.  Following on from the precedents set by these kinds of games, it practically designs itself.  Of course, on Switch the Borderlands franchise is free to be portable for the first time in a way that really matters.  We don't talk about Borderlands 2 for the PlayStation Vita, no...


Power Button - Episode 301: Remain Indoors

Power ButtonAs the world takes a lockdown pause to deal with COVID-19, this week on the podcast we're talking about self-isolating and spending that extra time on playing video games such as Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.  This week has been such a long month.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.