Retro/Classic Feed

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 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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First Look At "CD Sonic" Was Impressive

CD SonicBack before the Internet turned video game news into a daily content-generating operation, fans had to get the latest information once a month through the magazines of the day.  In the early 1990s I was a subscriber to three of the big publications: Nintendo Power for my Nintendo needs, GamePro for strategy tips, and Electronic Gaming Monthly for glimpses of what was going on overseas.  EGM was very much a fan of Sega's 1991 Genesis release Sonic the Hedgehog, so much so that it felt as if every little Sonic tidbit that leaked out of Japan was worth at least one page of information.  All sorts of Sonic projects that never saw the light of day were mentioned in the magazine, but one that did make it out the door was Sonic CD for the Sega CD add-on.  The March 1993 issue of EGM showcased a first look at the game (known as CD Sonic at the time) with early screenshots and preliminary buzz about what to expect.  The Sonic the Hedgeblog Twitter account recently dug up that article and, let me tell you, it brought back a blast of memories. 

Seeing this coverage at the age of twelve made me feel for the first time that I might be missing out on something by owning only Nintendo consoles.  While I've never owned the Sega CD version of Sonic CD, I spent years trying to play the game on other platforms to mixed results.  I bought the Windows PC version of the game in 1996, but it was finicky and often crashed.  Emulating the Sega CD version on my PC all came down to the capability of the emulator and the horsepower of my computer.  The Nintendo GameCube version included in Sonic Gems Collection played decently enough, but it wasn't until the 2011 reworking of the game for iOS and the Sony PlayStation 3 that I finally felt like I could dig into the game the way it was meant to be played... and that wasn't even the original version of the game that the developers meant for us to play!  The online Sonic fan community has long since parsed through articles like these to discover the original source of the screenshots from early demo versions of the game. It's like getting closure on the rest of the story all these years later.


Go Under Metal Sonic's Hood

Sonic CDSega's Sonic CD is remembered today for many things including its divisive soundtracks and the time travel mechanic that turned every stage into three stages, but I would say that the most memorable addition to Sonic's world is the creation of Metal Sonic.  Sonic's robotic rival gave him someone he could evenly spar against with speed versus speed.  The character is designed to look menacing and just plain painful to touch with his sharp edges and glowing red eyes.  What went into designing Metal Sonic?  Over at Shmuplations there are translated interviews with Metal Sonic's creator.  No, not Dr. Robotnik, but Designer Kazuyuki Hoshino as originally presented in the liner notes to the game's soundtrack album.

When I first heard the words “Sonic’s Arch-rival” and “Sonic’s Doppelganger” in the design notes, an image for that character’s design immediately came to me, in almost complete form. Metal naturally fit into our key visual concept for Sonic CD as well, and from the first moment that I imagined his red iris set against the darkness of his black eyes, I knew he would become a character with real, lasting appeal.

This was something I thought about later when I designed Shadow the Hedgehog, too, but seeing as Metal Sonic was a rival character to Sonic, I knew the best way to show that off would be with an in-game scene where Sonic and Metal Sonic directly compete with each other—and I designed Metal Sonic with that scene in mind.

The race through Stardust Speedway Zone 3's bad future area is the most memorable moment in Sonic CD, so much so that it's recurs several more times over the course of the franchise including in games like Sonic Generations, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, and Sonic Mania.  Metal Sonic is my favorite of the Sonic villains because he's singular in purpose, doesn't care to perform long angsty monologues, and is driven to exceed his limitations while simultaneously holding himself to Sonic's example.  He wants to match Sonic, but also surpass him.  It's an interesting duality. 


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. 


Power Button - Episode 300: 30 Years Of Super Mario Bros. 3

Power ButtonOn this landmark 300th episode of the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I explore the impact of Super Mario Bros. 3 on its thirtieth anniversary launching in North America, and while that's all well and good, we start off with a sidequest into a long-awaited event that I'm excited to share with all of 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. 


Mini-Review: SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sega has taken an active hand in the past decade in keeping its popular Genesis titles available for increasingly modern platforms, both as part of multi-game disc collections and à la carte downloads.  The latest game to make a return appearance is 1992's Sonic the Hedgehog 2, one of the best titles in the franchise and in which Sonic joins with his new pal Tails to take down Dr. Robotnik's plans of world domination using his Death Egg weapon.  While originally meant to spur sales of its 16-bit console, now that Sega is platform agnostic, anyone with a game system can take a crack at it.  And I mean anyone!  Without even especially trying to do it, I already own Sonic 2 for the Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, iPhone, iPad, Amazon Fire TV, and Sega Genesis Mini.  That's a lot of Death Egg!  Chance are that, in some format, you already own it too.  Now that Sega has brought it back again for the Nintendo Switch as part of its Sega Ages revival series, it's simultaneously an easy impulse buy and seemingly unnecessary if you already own it in another format.  Yet, as I played through the game one more time and explored some of the new additions to the package, I found that this may be my favorite of the re-releases yet.

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Della Duck Rewrites NES DuckTales History

DuckTalesROM hacks of classic retro games have come a long way in the past two decades as fans have reworked old favorites into new creations.  Capcom's 1989 hit DuckTales for the Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the console's classics, and while it was given a modern upgrade in 2013 for DuckTales Remastered on then-modern platforms, it remains based on the original game which in turn is based on the 1987 animated series.  Now that the 2017 DuckTales reboot is solving its own mysteries, it's only fair that someone would rewrite Capcom history by replacing the game's protagonist, Scrooge McDuck, with the new show's lead female protagonist, Della Duck.  Thanks to Garrett Gilchrist, Della can take on the Moon stage's challenges in the original DuckTales game with a clever graphics replacement hack meant for use in the Mesen emulator.  Garrett says:

It wasn't that hard to redraw the graphics for use in Mesen, but I'd drawn Della in slightly different positions than Scrooge, mainly her head positions, which got me in trouble later. The NES programming reuses graphics tiles constantly, and any inconsistency was immediately obvious, requiring some tweaking. I would recommend that anyone redrawing NES graphics for Mesen keep their characters either identically positioned to the original sprite or changed consistently on every frame ... just in case!

Trapped on the moon for years, the series features her return to Earth as a running storyline.  The writers even found a clever way to integrate the Capcom game's Moon stage theme into the show's narrative as not just background music, but an in-story lullabye.  It's fun to see her here where she technically doesn't belong, zipping around the NES game decades before her inclusion in any televised DuckTales production.  She's using Scrooge's pogo cane since this is just a graphics update, but imagine a further iteration of this idea that includes Della in a new proper DuckTales video game as a playable character alongside Scrooge, Donald Duck, and the rest of the crew.  I'm certainly interested!

(via @KenPlume)