Rare Comments About NES Castlevania Developer Explain So Much

CastlevaniaToday it's common for video game developers to speak up about their work either in unofficial forums such as social media or in proper interviews in publications, but thirty years ago nobody in a position of journalism power cared much about what a developer had to say.  We've gnawed modern games like Super Mario Odyssey to the bone, but so many older games never had a chance to shine in a development context.  One of those large voids in gaming history is the original Castlevania trilogy for the Nintendo Entertainment System as Konami isn't exactly known for keeping up with their own history until very recently, but thankfully for us there's a translated series of tweets at Shmuplations discussing the original creator of Castlevania, Hitoshi Akamatsu, that covers so much about how the game was conceived, balanced, and expanded upon in sequels.

Akamatsu’s sense of game design was very deep. In Castlevania, the knife appears first so the player can get used to the subweapons. He made the stopwatch so you could get used to enemy attacks. Then the strongest items are the Cross and the Holy Water. And that was how he determined the order in which the items would appear to the player.

I once asked him about the fight with Death, and how insanely hard it was. He told me, “The game design idea there was to get players to understand how to use the cross and axe subweapons. If you can defeat him with only the whip, that means you’re really good.” I can’t defeat him with the whip alone. But if you read the movements of the sickles, I understand it is possible (albeit very difficult) to beat him with just the whip. Apparently the test players were able to do it.

I'm reminded of how World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. is designed in such a way with power-up and enemy placement to teach players what the game expects of them.  There's so much more in this article that reveals that those original NES games operated at a deeper level than many of us ever expected such as foreshadowing in the first Castlevania that leads into the sequel Simon's Quest, what Dracula's true form really means, and how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nearly hobbled the series.  Settle in and prepare to have all those little questions that you never knew you had answered.  While you're doing that, I think I'll go and play Castlevania yet again.


Begging For Street Fighter II Bosses

Street Fighter II: The World WarriorI know it's hard to believe now in an age where Street Fighter fans have been able to play as M. Bison and Balrog for decades, but there was once a time when the four Shadaloo bosses were restricted to CPU control only.  They were fruits you must not taste in the original release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in the arcades and that limitation carried over to the Super NES home version.  Still, that didn't stop eager players from being absolutely sure that there had to be some hidden code that would unlock Vega, Sagat, and the rest as playable characters.  Electronic Gaming Monthly used its reader mail column back in 1993 to try and convince players that there was no secret boss code no matter how many kids in the schoolyard said otherwise.  They did find Game Genie codes that could brute force access to the bosses, but that's not quite the same thing, and the "Champion Edition" mirror match Down R Up L Y B code certainly didn't get the job done either.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

I remember playing Street Fighter II for the Super NES the summer it came out with a neighborhood friend and we spent too many afternoons just trying to get to the bosses at all, let alone trying to control them.  The challenge with the bosses was that unlike the regular World Warriors, we couldn't practice their moves to understand their strategies in a controlled two-player environment.  When Vega leaped up onto his fence and flipped down on us, we had no idea what was coming or what to do about it.  Sagat's endless "TIGER!  TIGER!  TIGER UPPERCUT!"?  Forget about it.  We were strangers in a strange land and no amount of jamming on the punch buttons to electrify Blanka could save us.

(via Reddit)


Power Button - Episode 288: Everybody Announces Everything

Power ButtonIt's been quite a week for video game news as it feels like everyone had something to announce.  Sony teased us with the first peek at the concept for the PlayStation 5, Microsoft introduced a new Xbox One S variant that lacks a disc drive, Nintendo dropped version 3.0 of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate featuring Joker from Persona 5, and Capcom baffled everyone with their confusing arcade stick home console box.  Join us for an hour as we discuss all of these stories and 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. 


PlayStation 5 Development Well Underway

InterocitorSony gave us all a peek behind the curtain this week in an article at Wired in which the company's lead PlayStation hardware architect, Mark Cerny, explained the direction that the upcoming PlayStation 5 is headed.  There's a lot of technical talk in the article, but the bottom line is that Cerny is aiming big with talk of solid state drives, 8K graphics, ray tracing, backward compatibility with the PS4 and existing PSVR, and much more.  Here's a piece:

To demonstrate, Cerny fires up a PS4 Pro playing Spider-Man, a 2018 PS4 exclusive that he worked on alongside Insomniac Games. (He’s not just an systems architect; Cerny created arcade classic Marble Madness when he was all of 19 and was heavily involved with PlayStation and PS2 franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and Ratchet and Clank.) On the TV, Spidey stands in a small plaza. Cerny presses a button on the controller, initiating a fast-travel interstitial screen. When Spidey reappears in a totally different spot in Manhattan, 15 seconds have elapsed. Then Cerny does the same thing on a next-gen devkit connected to a different TV. (The devkit, an early “low-speed” version, is concealed in a big silver tower, with no visible componentry.) What took 15 seconds now takes less than one: 0.8 seconds, to be exact.

But without loading time, when will I have a chance to quickly check Twitter while waiting for the progress bar to inch along?  But seriously, Cerny is saying all of the right things about the PS5 and I am there for it.  It really sounds like he is trying to balance Sony's needs with the needs of video game developers and players.  I'm still using my launch day PS4 and it's hanging in there, but sometimes I think about upgrading to a PS4 Pro just to futureproof my PS4 library similarly to how I retired my launch day Nintendo 3DS in favor of a New Nintendo 3DS.  Knowing that the PS5 will support my PS4 games and PSVR keeps me satisfied that I can just wait for the next generation, and honestly I'm not in any great hurry to get there.  I still have a small stack of PS4 games that I need to explore.  Community chatter predicts a late 2020 launch for the PS5 which should give me plenty of time to finish my PS4 library and save up some preorder money.  All of that fancy technology won't come cheap.


Explore Nintendo's Virtual Boy From Start To Finish

Virtual BoyWith virtual reality making a resurgence in the past few years with companies like Sony, Oculus, and HTC leading the modern wave of headsets, it's only natural to take a look back to the 1990s when VR first tried to break out in a major way.  While Nintendo's failed Virtual Boy wasn't exactly true VR, it did gain a reputation for being something unique, special, and painful on the eyes.  In this vintage article from Benj Edwards we can explore the genesis of the hardware from a little company aiming to create private PC displays all the way to Nintendo's big gamble.  Fun fact: Sega checked out the prototype hardware and passed on it for safety and marketing reasons.

“A big issue was kids got sick, threw up, or fell over when using this,” remembers Tom Kalinske, the former president of Sega of America, which encountered the Private Eye while reviewing potential VR technology in the early 1990s. “We couldn’t take that chance.” But that wasn’t the only downside Sega saw. “As I recall, our problem with it was it was just one color,” says Kalinske. “We were already promoting Game Gear in all colors.”

Nintendo later faced similar safety issues and was afraid of kids playing Virtual Boy in the backseat of cars getting into wrecks which would shove all of the hardware's plastic and glass into a child's face at point blank range.  That's a reasonable fear!  Design limitations and compromises continued to chip away at what Virtual Boy could have been until eventually it became the product that we know and love.  At least, I love mine.  I bought a used VB off of eBay in 2003 before the big retro push drove up the prices on all things related to the system as well as a decent library of games.  I keep it stored safely in a large wooden Super Mario trunk and take it out sometimes to bewilder friends and family with it.  People who weren't paying attention to Virtual Boy in 1995 are always surprised when I set it up and tell them to stick their face into the viewing area.  Whether that's a good kind of surprise or a bad kind of surprise is left to your imagination.


Power Button - Episode 287: Matt's Top PSVR Picks

Power ButtonBack in Episode 278, I bought a PlayStation VR headset without really having a game plan for what to play, so Blake Grundman helped me out with some tips and suggestions on VR games I needed to try.  Now that I've spent several months playing in virtual worlds, I'm ready to offer my own top picks for some of the best that the PSVR has to offer.  Join us for an hour as we discuss VR experiences in Borderlands 2 VR, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Catlateral Damage, Batman VR, 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 286: Writing Future History With Blake J. Harris

Power ButtonFriend of the podcast Blake J. Harris is back on the show this week to discuss his recently released book The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality and chronicle the work that went into writing it. Join us for an hour and a half of conversation about the genesis of the project, how he was able to get in-depth access to Oculus, what happened with Facebook cut off that access, and whether or not Palmer Luckey ever got his trophies back from the Facebook campus. Plus we have some virtual reality stories for you that weren't in the book, information on what is coming in the second edition, and when we may just see History of the Future: The Movie coming to screens near you.   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. 


History Of The Future Author Blake J. Harris To Answer Your Questions On Upcoming Power Button Podcast

The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality Our friend Blake J. Harris, author of The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality, is coming back to the Power Button podcast soon to talk about the new book and answer all of our questions, and we want to give you the opportunity to have all of your questions about the book answered too.  Post your questions and comments for Blake below as a comment before 8:00pm ET on March 30, 2019 and we will discuss them during the recording of the show.  Then join us the following week to hear the complete interview and learn everything else there is to know about the re-rise of virtual reality, Facebook's role in Oculus, and Palmer Luckey.  If you want to catch up on Blake's past appearances on the Power Button podcast, dive into the archive and listen to Episode 134 and Episode 160.


Power Button - Episode 285: We Must Prepare For The Coming Of Bowser

Power ButtonThere's been a lot of Nintendo news in the last few weeks from Reggie Fils-Aime announcing his retirement to the reveal of Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, so it's only natural for us to spend this week's podcast episode catching up on the happenings.  Join us for an hour of discussion.   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. 


Xbox Live Coming To iOS And Android

Xbox LiveMicrosoft is showing just how dedicated it is to bringing its services to what have been historically considered rival platforms with the announcement that Xbox Live is coming to iOS and Android.  While you won't be playing Xbox One games on your mobile device just yet, soon you'll find mobile games using the XBL services that run underneath apps to make the magic work.  Here's Tom Warren at The Verge to explain:

Microsoft is bringing its Xbox Live network to iOS and Android devices. The software giant is launching a new cross-platform mobile software development kit (SDK) for game developers to bring Xbox Live functionality to games that run on iOS and Android. Xbox Live features like achievements, Gamerscore, hero stats, friend lists, clubs, and even some family settings will all be available on iOS and Android.

It’s all part of a bigger push from Microsoft to make its Xbox games and services available across multiple platforms. Game developers will be able to pick and choose parts of Xbox Live to integrate into their games, and it will all be enabled through a single sign-in to a Microsoft Account. Microsoft is using its identity network to support login, privacy, online safety, and child accounts.

I'm reminded of Apple's now-moribund Game Center initiative that basically sat on top of certain iOS games for a while, awarding achievements and tracking leaderboard scores that were quickly gamed and that nobody cared about when all was said and done.  Now, however, considering that Xbox Live has some cachet in the industry and a proven record of providing a variety of useful services, this could be just the kick that mobile gaming needs to take things to the next level.  A wide variety of XBL-like services for mobile games have come and gone over the years, most of them startups jumping on the next big thing and wiping out spectacularly.  Microsoft has the staying power to make this work provided that they actually stick with it.