By request of asandoval2

I don’t really do this sort of “dream casting” very often because, well, the video game movies we invent in our minds are always better than the ones Hollywood makes. Except Scott Pilgrim, that was pretty boss. But here’s a request, and so here we go. I went strictly with Metal Gear Solid here because (spoilers) it’s the only Metal Gear game that could actually translate into a competent, watchable film.

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Solid Snake: Andrew Lincoln

This one was pretty tough, because obviously Snake is the linchpin of the entire film. So he needs to be a capable actor, but you don’t want someone whose body of work overshadows the character. Lazy picks like Daniel Craig are right out. But Andrew Lincoln fits the bill; perhaps not the greatest actor of our age, but on The Walking Dead he does a pretty good job of mixing that weariness and determination that define Snake. He’s about the right age, too. And — here’s the real clincher — he looks right at home in a mullet.

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Liquid Snake/Master Miller: Leonardo Dicaprio

I know the twin Snakes are supposed to be identical clones of one another, but they don’t look that much alike in the game art, nor do they sound alike. So, eh, screw it. Dicaprio would be great here because he can be very likable, but he’s long since given up his Titanic dreamboat status to play more nuanced (and frequently detestable) antiheroes. I don’t know that I want to see him walking around shirtless in a trenchcoat, but otherwise he’d make an excellent delusional, idealistic, manipulative villain.

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Otacon: Jonah Hill

Let’s be honest, Otacon as he’s written in the games would be laughed out of the theatre. No one would take him (or his movie) seriously. Instead, I see the movie Hal Emmerich as a hybrid of Otacon and Jimmy from Ghost Babel, still pathetic, but with a surlier edge. Jonah Hill’s turn in The Wolf of Wall Street proved he has what it takes to be simultaneously a spineless loser yet completely toxic in his aggressiveness.

Taken 2 Red Carpet Premiere - 38th Deauville American Film Festival

Revolver Ocelot: Liam Neeson

Ocelot is the cheesiest villain in the game, and Liam Neeson is the cheesiest action star I can think of (see: Darkman, Taken, Star Wars). Plus he makes a nice, hammy, comic book villain (a la Batman Begins).

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Kenneth Baker/Decoy Octopus: Dean Norris

Stocky older bald guy. Lots to choose from! But Dean Norris has the range to add enough nuance to the role that anyone who knows the truth about “Kenneth Baker” would see the appropriate extra meaning in his behavior.

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Donald Anderson: Keith David

He’s the right age, the right race, and has an awesome voice, which is a home run for what amounts to a cameo.

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Roy Campbell: Terry O’Quinn

O’Quinn was the best thing about Lost, capable of believably pulling off a character who was by turns a beaten-down sad sack and a zealot driven by a voice only he could hear. He could absolutely sell Campbell, a former warrior living in secret disgrace and manipulating the hero for his own miserable personal ends. Yeah, pretty sure this is the best match-up on this entire list.

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Meryl Silverburg: Mackenzie Davis

Mackenzie Davis has been the highlight of the wildly uneven Halt & Catch Fire, and she’d be perfect as Meryl. She’s the right age, has the same slim and slightly masculine physique, can juggle punk confidence with flashes of vulnerability, and would bring a welcome “what are you, stupid?” frankness to the character.

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Sniper Wolf: Mía Maestro

Admittedly more Mediterranean or Latin in appearance than Kurdish (I think she’s from South America, actually), Maestro can definitely play a cold-eyed action character (see: Alias) and looks suitably “exotic” (read: not blonde) to be good enough for Hollywood’s casting directors.

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Psycho Mantis: Matthew McConaughey

He’s weird and he’s not afraid to drop a ton of weight for a part. Alright, alright, Snake, compared to you I ain’t so bad.

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Vulcan Raven: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Yes, I know. Totally wrong race. But can you name any hulking Innuit actors? I’m at a loss. Handwave him as being of mixed parentage or something, I don’t care. Akinnuoye-Agbaje basically was Vulcan Raven as Mr. Eko on Lost — a massive slab of muscle and mysticism and cryptic remarks. And he proved he can tote a belt-fed mini gun in that stupid G.I. Joe movie.

Linda PARK

Mei Ling: Linda Park

Enterprise‘s Hoshi Sato was cut from the same cloth as Mei Ling (that is, the post-Twin Snakes revamp version, after the voice directors realized oh hey maybe someone born in California shouldn’t talk with such a heavy Chinese accent): A capable and highly intelligent communications officer, but also a bit green from inexperience. And like (post-revamp) Mei Ling, Hoshi was of Asian descent, but that wasn’t her defining character trait.

This Is 40

Naomi Hunter: Leslie Mann

Mann might be slightly too old to play Naomi (who was evidently meant to be younger than she came off as in the game), but she has the right look and the right ability to slip into sardonic derision as the occasion requires. While more of a comedic actress, I feel like she could probably pull off the requisite heel turn. And if the film were to go with something close to Kojima’s original Metal Gear Solid script, her comedic timing would go a long way toward salvaging its more ludicrous moments.

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Grey Fox: Ray Park

Well, I mean, come on. Who else are you going to turn to for an athletic dude in a masked costume? Unless you go with Andy Serkis mo-cap, but seriously, those are your only options here.

Please note that Ray Park is not, to my knowledge, related to Linda Park.

By request of patrickrichardkarr

The fact that we even need to have a conversation about game preservation is just, like, the most pathetic thing ever. In a good world, it would be a no-brainer proposition. Of course the history of video games, and specifically the games involved, should be enshrined and preserved and presented in a clear and sensible fashion. Of course. And yet, here we are.

The problem, or rather the biggest problem, is that the companies that hold the rights to gaming’s short but volatile heritage don’t care about the medium as a whole or helping fans to understand the classics. Because despite what some facets of the political spectrum would have us believe, corporations aren’t people. They don’t care about things. Game publishers are interested in their back catalogs only so far as they can dredge up a handful of notable releases with minimal effort and sell them again. Otherwise it’s not worth their time, by which I mean it won’t make money for the shareholders to whom the company heads are accountable.

This is why corporations exist: They make money. It’s the same in games as in any other entertainment medium. Random House and Universal Pictures aren’t reissuing their old books and films for the good feelings. Gaming’s problem really comes from its lack of standardization. Even though every video game breaks down to binary code, there’s no universal standard to reinterpret that data. In the nearly 40 years in which home gaming has existed, we’ve seen god knows how many different game systems — literally hundreds of different devices that play games in their own unique (and in all but a pittance of cases, not cross-compatible) way. Whereas books are self-contained “devices,” and ample resources exist to convert music and film from their raw or older formats to modern digital media with little trouble, video games require you either maintain all those various hardware formats or develop some sort of emulator that has to be specially adapted to each piece of hardware and in many cases fine-tuned for each individual piece of software. It’s a mess.

As such, the concept of video game preservation exists as an almost entirely grassroots movement, often skating at the edge of the law. That sounds so dramatic and important, which is silly; it’s just a matter of keeping old creations from vanishing into obscurity, which is really the furthest thing from going rogue. It shouldn’t have to be like that. And yet, here we are.

Game preservation essentially boils down to two different approaches: Material and digital. The former simply gathers up as many actual working examples of game releases and hardware as possible to create a legitimate library. I can’t imagine that there will ever be a truly complete video game library, if only because the physical space required to warehouse an example of every console, computer, and arcade cabinet ever to see production and distribution is second only to the cost of gathering them in terms of “utter improbability.” Still, I admire every organization that’s making the effort — the Strong Museum of Play and Berlin’s Computerspielemuseum, for example — even if their resources and possibilities (and thus their mission objectives) are ultimately finite.

Digital preservation is far more plausible, given that the pursuit has been a crowdsourced effort going on 20 years now. Although the vast majority of people treat hardware emulation as a means to play video games for free, at its heart exists a desire to document and reproduce as extensive a selection of game systems as humanly possible. The big fish in this particular pond is definitely MAME, which has taken on the grim task of trying to virtually duplicate the innards of every arcade machine ever created. Sure, that’s a finite selection of works, one to which only a few new entries are added each year as the concept of coin-op video games recedes into obsolescence, but we’re also talking about a vast array of unique boards and hardware arrangements. Many of the earliest video games used a fair amount of analog technology, and some arcade uprights have become essentially impossible to find. There are matters like copy protection and idiosyncratic technology to deal with as well — for example, no matter how carefully you mimic the experience of a vector-based machine, it’s still not the real thing. And that doesn’t even get into all the curious, specific interfaces that arcade games have adopted over the years.

Emulators can only really duplicate the software itself, not the original experience. They’re also deeply limited in terms of the supplemental materials they offer; MAME allows you to spruce up the frontend with marquee art and screen borders, but I’ve never seen console game ROMs bundled with complete scans of their manuals or boxes, for example. Sure, packaging doesn’t matter anymore — PS4 games don’t even ship with a warranty or copyright notice slip — but it did once upon a time. And the only way to properly experience that is to buy the original games, which can be ludicrously pricey.

And then there’s the third category of preservation, the unearthing and publication of content that never even saw the light of day. I tip my hat to everyone at groups like The Lost Levels and Unseen 64, because theirs is a mad pursuit. A great pursuit! But still… the effort, money, networking, and perseverance required to find code for a game that never made it past the unreleased sample stage is extraordinary. And that doesn’t even factor in the constant struggle to gain access to unreleased code that’s fallen into the hands of jealous collectors who are more concerned with being able to lord their possession of something truly unique over the rest of the collecting community than they are with making sure those one-of-a-kind rarities aren’t lost to time, magnetism, or bit rot… and so, here we are.

In the end, the best we can hope for is an imperfect sampling of gaming through the years, and to work together to make it as good and complete as we possibly can. Meanwhile, corporate rights holders will continue to provide a dribble of their back catalogs while fulfilling their legal obligation to quash the free distribution of games they’ll never bother to reissue. Consider all the companies that entities like Electronic Arts and Square Enix have absorbed through the years, and the consider how many compilations of those acquisitions we’ve seen in the past decade (the answer is “approximately zero”).

On the plus side, the paucity of proper first-party archiving keeps people like me in business. There’s no way I could produce a video like this if Nintendo’s ability to tell its own history weren’t tied down by legalities and disinterest:

I suppose that’s something. I wish I could do more, but that requires time and money beyond my current means. Taking photographs of old Game Boy boxes is the best I can do for now, and even then that’s only through the good grace of interested readers.

Thankfully plenty of other people in the world more capable than myself have taken up the cause of game preservation. There’s no single unified effort behind the endeavor, so my advice is to pick whichever organization you find to be most in-line with your own philosophy on the matter and support them. Whether it’s a museum, a website, a forum, or an individual, get involved. Spread the word, donate games or supplies, offer words of encouragement. This is hardly the most important thing in the world, I realize, but if you’re reading this site I think it’s safe to say it matters to people like us.

Relevant links:

P.S. I hope I interpreted this blog topic request correctly. Apologies if it was meant to be about taxidermy.

We’re reaching the end of the second month in which Game Boy World/Anatomy of Games (and Metroidvania, if I ever really get that going) are being buoyed by Patreon, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their support. Game Boy World in particular would probably have died a slow, frustrated death. If nothing else, this video likely would have been the end of it:

While it may not seem like much, that video represents probably 20 hours of research, writing, video capture, recording, editing, sourcing supplemental content, and more. That time investment will obviously decrease for future videos as I slowly learn the tricks and techniques of Adobe Premiere, but the point remains that I sank many hours into creating a video that will be lucky to net 1,000 views over the course of its life. If I made a similarly massive time investment with such meager dividends at work, on the clock, I’d get sacked. And rightly so!

Frankly, it wouldn’t go too well at home, either, except I can point to the fact that a small community of readers and viewers is interested enough in this kind of work to help fund it. In any case, it sure beats bringing in a little extra cash by working at the coffee shop downstairs.

In truth, though, everything that’s come in so far (and then some) has gone right back into the site. My hope for Game Boy World was always to make it as definitive a resource as I could manage. While it still has a little way to go to reach its potential, it’s getting close. I’ve been able to track down several complete, boxed games to photograph. Those clean, medium-resolution images are available in the Gallery section of each game’s page. I’ll probably have to beg and plead and trade body parts to borrow materials from hardcore collectors when it comes to the more insanely expensive rarities like Amazing Tater and Trip World, but I’ll make this as complete a resource as reasonably possible.

I haven’t watermarked the images, because watermarks are for jerks. Game Boy reference images are pretty hard to come by online for all but big-name games, and like I said, I hope to turn this into a resource everyone can use. Ideally with credit, because that’s the polite approach. This is by no means a great or noble effort I’m making here, but it’s important to me personally, and I’m endlessly grateful to everyone who is helping to make it possible. So thanks!

By request of chu10

You don’t often see genuine passion for a creation when you start dealing with corporate video game publishers. Indie studios? Sure. They’re doing what they believe in, and sometimes they’re rewarded for the sincerity of their convictions with excellent sales. When you start to bring structured businesses into the picture, though, the original spark of passion that fueled the initial inspiration can become lost in a haze of projections and business-speak.

Little Tail Bronx is a rare exception — a tiny franchise that somehow has managed to cling to life in the depths of a fairly prolific development studio despite being almost completely unsalable. Maybe it’s just nostalgic that keeps it going; CyberConnect2 got its start with the first game in the series, Tail Concerto. And in the 15 years since that game debuted, Tail Concerto has seen exactly one follow-up in the form of the quickly forgotten Solatorobo: Red the Hunter for DS. It’s less a series than an occasional glitch in the system.

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And yet. It carries on, and every few years someone at CyberConnect2 will tease the possibility of a new chapter in the series making its way into the world. Someone there really cares about this weird little world of mutant talking animals who live on floating islands on the far side of some grim apocalypse. They keep hope alive… and they keep paying Nobuteru Yuuki to draw gorgeous cartoon art of the characters.

Little Tail Bronx has always felt like a curious mirror universe twin to the Mega Man Legends series. Tail Concerto borrowed its overall feel and many of its mechanics from Mega Man’s first 3D outing, and at the same time it seemed to demonstrate a curious convergence as well: Released at roughly the same time as The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Tail Concerto touched on many of the same themes, plot elements, and other ideas as Misadventures: An ancient technologic behemoth rampaging through the clouds, a conniving businessman in over his head, cute little indestructible childlike minions (robots in one case, kittens in the other) at the beck and call of the fiery, rogue villainness with the secret forbidden hots for the protagonist. It was uncanny, to be honest.

Mega Man Legends suffered an ignoble fate as Capcom teased the possibility of continuing it, explored the possibility of continuing it, then smothered the dangling sequel and, one assumes, the series in a single swift motion. Perhaps the series’ creators overreached. Whatever the case, the numbers didn’t line up, and it had to die. Little Tail Bronx, though, seems different somehow. I honestly do suspect that, at some point down the road — maybe a few years from now, maybe in 2025 — we’ll see another entry in the franchise.

Maybe it won’t be a video game. The third piece of the Little Tail Bronx world came several years before Solatorobo began to take shape in the form of Mamoru-kun. Far from being a video game, Mamoru-kun was a piece safety instruction media developed for the government of Fukuoka, of all things. Yet rather than simply churning out something quick and easy for the project, CyberConnect2 tied it to Tail Concerto and built an extensive back story for the thing. For a safety video!

Crazy, right? No. Just passionate.

That passion works against Little Tail Bronx at times, though. I couldn’t actually finish Solatorobo, much as I loved it scrumptious visual style and detailed world. The game was absolutely smothering in its insistence on blathering at me at every turn. The creators had seemingly become so enamored of their creation that rather than simply letting it unfold naturally they felt compelled to give you a detailed tour at every turn. It was like watching an obsessive fan’s favorite movie, the kind of fan who insists on explaining what’s so great about every single scene rather than letting you discover and love it for yourself.

Despite that severe misstep, I want the flame of Little Tail Bronx to continue burning in its creators’ hearts. I want them to kick around ideas for new entries in the series, to develop stories that never see the light of day, to create supplementary works in bizarre and inaccessible media. I want the urge to explore the series further to bubble beneath the surface at CyberConnect2 until someone green lights a game that has us controlling a dog in a robot suit putting a stop to kitty criminals by trapping them in bubbles… or something like that. Little Tail Bronx is weird, and it’s wonderful, and it’s a work of pure passion that shines all the more brightly for its rarity in the games industry.

By request of lothis

Boktai may be the world’s most optimistic game. Turn on your Game Boy Advance while sitting in sunlight and at the title screen you’ll hear your faithful companion Otenko exclaim, “Today is a great Boktai day!”

But then, there’s a lot that was unique about Boktai. Too unique, perhaps. It offered a rare intersection between game and technology in a truly meaningful way, revolving around a fascinating metagame that lent a brilliant twist to the already tired (back in 2003!) themes of zombies and vampires. A special sensor built into the cartridge itself could detect sunlight — not light, sunlight — and the presence of solar illumination in the real world translated into purifying solar power in the game world. Play at night and the game would become vastly more difficult; play outdoors and you’d never lack for strategic options.

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Boktai was Hideo Kojima doing what he does best, minus all the things that sometimes make Hideo Kojima games kind of gross. There was no weird, misogynistic sexuality to Boktai, no tortured cinematic cutscenes that strained patience and suspension of disbelief. It stripped the idea of stealth action to its essence, then added a clever technological element that also had a practical real-world application. Development on Boktai began before the Game Boy Advance SP launched, back when you practically did need to step out into the sun if you wanted to see what you were playing. So why not embrace the GBA’s glaring limitation and build game mechanics around them?

The action of Boktai sprawled across a strange, post-apocalyptic world ruled by vampires who had figured out how to enshroud the planet and make sunlight a rare commodity. The setting blended science fiction, spaghetti westerns (the protagonist was named Django, because Kojima loves his movies), and Norse mythology into a fascinatingly unique whole. Django toted a solar-powered pistol, its ammunition limited not by what you could scavenge from arsenal rooms but rather from the actual sun, holding your system aloft.

Boktai could only have existed on a portable system; who could take a console outdoors? It could only have existed on a system that worked off cartridges. In fact, in hindsight it reads like a love letter to the possibilities inherent in physical media. Digital distribution is cheap and convenient, but you can’t download a solar sensor attachment from the eShop. Auxiliary integrated chipsets fell out of fashion after the Super NES era, so Boktai (and, later, WarioWare Twisted! and Drill Dozer) gave us a small, brief window back to that halcyon era when games could exceed the finite boundaries of their host hardware.

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Look, we all know the sunlight mechanic wasn’t perfect. For those of us who worked during the daytime and reserved our playtime for the evening — basically anyone beyond college age — Boktai posed a nearly impossible dilemma: How do you complete a game that requires you to be in daylight if you can only play at night? (Unless you have a black light, but let’s not distract ourselves with meaningless digressions.) For those who live in the Arctic Circle, when the sun barely rises above the horizon for many days out of the year, the required resource doesn’t even exist. And who wants to go sit outside to play a video game in the Arctic Circle anyway?

Yet Boktai‘s ambition trumped its logistical frustrations. The sun sensor transformed a great adventure into a a great, unique adventure. How you played, and when, became nearly as important as what you did when you played. You needed to consider the timing of your boss encounters, since Boktai‘s bosses couldn’t be fully defeated in absence of sunlight. Not only that, but if you quit the game after using Django to drag a boss’ coffin (no, seriously, Kojima loves movies) to the point where Otenko had erected the solar-powered weapon capable of completely destroying that foe then returned the next day, the boss’ boxed-up corpse will have dragged itself back toward its lair in the interim. So it was better to plan boss lair expeditions during daylight hours, when you’d be properly armed to finish that target off once and for all.

An unreasonable expectation? Consider this: MMO fanatics don’t have any trouble scheduling raids. FPS nuts are cool with timing their matches with their clanmates’ availability. Sure, Boktai lacks the social multiplayer component involved with those genres, but the concept of making an effort to play a game at a particular time isn’t that alien.

And it’s worth making that effort. The Boktai games were the last true expression of Hideo Kojima’s original concept of stealth action, more refined and sophisticated than the 2D Metal Gear games yet lacking the excess and complexity that characterize his contemporary work. Boktai was the last of a dying breed in many ways, and it’s worth experiencing even now. If I could justify making this one of our USgamer Club selections without inciting a riot, I totally would. As it is, the simple act of writing this post prompted me to unpack my Game Boy Advance library and plug the Boktai cart into my DS Lite. Just in case the mood strikes me to wander over to the park across the street sometime. Tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a great Boktai day.

By request of grokyou

For many people, the 16-bit Final Fantasy games — that is, Final Fantasies IV, V, and VI — represent the definitive essence of what role-playing games should be. And why not? Though not a trilogy in the narrative sense of the word, the series’ Super NES chapters stand apart as a cohesive whole. They work together as a set in a way that you rarely see in games; unmistakably cut from the same cloth, yet each progressing and innovating in its own way.

Squaresoft managed to walk a fine line with these games. Though unified stylistically and mechanically, the trilogy demonstrated a willingness to embrace change… but only where needed. Considering what a revolution Final Fantasy IV represented, it would have been all too easy for Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshinori Kitase, et al. to either wipe their hands at the creation of the Active-Time Battle System and say “good enough” or else continue pursuing design innovation. But thankfully, they understood where divergence would be valuable and where it would be detrimental. Final Fantasy V improved on the ATB system and made combat the centerpiece of the adventure while VI dialed back on the complexity and challenge in order to build a larger, more elaborate world and story around the polished mechanics.

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I think it’s possible to overstate how much Final Fantasy IV changed console RPGs, but you’d really have to work at it. Look at all it did: It introduced the ATB concept that added a time-based component to turn-based mechanics, creating the sensation of a real-time battle system despite the fact that actions and turns were still technically turn-based. The idea of staggering individual turns for characters rather than executing turns by party wasn’t totally new, and it evolved out of the way most turn-based RPGs already worked by 1991. Agility and speed helped determine combat order in most RPGs once commands were queued up for all characters; all FFIV did was change the input process so that instead of issuing commands for every party member in a single go, you directed each party member when his or her turn came up according to that character’s speed stat.

A simple concept, but a brilliant one. Not only did it do away with that hoary old frustration in which multiple warriors would target the same enemy only for the first to kill it and the second to waste a turn attacking empty air, it also made abstract menu-driven combat feel tense and lively. Timing became a key factor in combat, as did knowing the possibilities of your party and the optimal action. Enemies would continue taking turns while you decided on a course of battle, so you needed to think ahead and be ready to change your tactics at a moment’s notice.

And you needed to concentrate in order to keep a mental index of your current skills handy, because — and this was FFIV‘s other big innovation — the game’s plot caused the player’s party to exist in a constant state of flux. Only the protagonist, Cecil Harvey, stood in as a permanent party member… and even then he undertook significant changes himself, completely switching out his skill set and resetting his experience to level 1 midway through the quest. Again, the concept of an RPG whose plot shaped its mechanics wasn’t entirely new, but previous notable examples of the form (Dragon Quest IV, Phantasy Star) didn’t take the idea nearly as far as FFIV.

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On the other hand, Final Fantasy V had the thinnest trifle of a plot, and (barring a single notable yet materially insignificant swap late in the game) its party roster remained consistent throughout the entire adventure. Instead, it revisited the Final Fantasy III Job system in a greatly expanded form, allowing you to reinvent your team on the fly.

Of course, FFIV‘s party had represented an alternate interpretation of the Job system; each of its party members stood in for a different Job. Cecil the Dark Knight, Kain the Dragon Knight, Rosa the White Mage, Rydia the Evoker (later full Summoner), Tellah the Sage, etc., etc. By assigning names and personalities to those class roles, FFIV created a torrid drama. FFV put its characters in the service of the bare-bones plot, resulting a game whose overall feel was more akin to that of a playground for messing around with character builds and combat tactics. Occasionally the game would railroad you into playing one way or another — notably Fork Tower, where the party had to split into two groups and one side could use no magic while the other team could only use magic. Mostly, though, you could slug your way through however you wanted, whether that entailed capturing monsters to unleash on their peers, breaking rods to cast high-level magic, throwing money at bad guys, turning the very elements against the foe, or learning monster spells to cast at will.

In order to put the utter flexibility of the game mechanics to the test, the designers threw in the series’ first proper super-bosses. Don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy had seen its share of ultra-powerful optional foes before; the Lunar Subterrane of Final Fantasy IV included a couple of nasty extra monsters, and the fight against the top-level summoned beasts could be a strain. But the finite limitations of FFIV‘s party builds in turn limited exactly how over-the-top its battles could go. Not so with FFV, which threw in two insanely difficult fights (Omega and Shinryuu) to put players’ understanding of the play mechanics to the test.

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And finally, Final Fantasy VI.

Quite simply, FFVI tried to combine the best elements of both FFIV and FFV. Like the former, it featured a huge, revolving cast of characters with specific class traits. Like the latter, it gave every character equal access to a massive array of spells and allowed considerable customization. Like the former, its first half took the form of a linear, character-specific adventure; like the latter, the second half was more of a free-form journey undertaken according to the player’s whims.

FFVI wasn’t entirely perfect, but you can’t fault its scope, or its flexibility, or its visual punch, or its killer soundtrack. Though nowhere near as innovative as FFIV or FFV, it was stunningly polished (glitches caused by ROM size constraints notwithstanding). It was kind of easy, too, but even there Squaresoft did it right: FFVI managed to hit a sweet spot between populist appeal (an epic tale with cool graphics that wasn’t unapproachably difficult) and genuine substance.

Square tried, perhaps unintentionally, to mirror the style and evolution of the Super NES Final Fantasy games with their PlayStation sequels. But with considerably less success, it should be said. There’s just something about this trilogy that worked. I am definitely looking forward to getting to these bad boys over on Anatomy of Games.

By request of droewyn

The best and worst children in video games? Bah, that’s an easy one.

The best? My kid from Tomodachi Life.

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Even though she broke our hearts when she moved out the instant she got her drivers license. The kids in Tomodachi Life work so well because they skip the whole “cutesy rugrat” stage — they start as caterwauling infants, become fussy toddlers, and then they’re out of the house. Video games, like most media, are just awful at depicting convincing children, but Tomodachi Life is no-holds-barred realism about the harrowing hell that is being a new parent. And then at the end your baby ditches you, only coming back home long enough to crash and grab a free meal.

The worst? I’m gonna have to go with Cooke and Mack from Lost Odyssey.

I don’t know that there have ever been two other characters in the history of video games who have made me cringe harder the instant they appear on-screen than these creepy little Palom and Porom wannabes. They’re everything bad about children in media — overly precocious, shrill-voiced, and thanks to the goofy pantomime motion capture of this particular game they’re deeply and intensely creepy with every move they make.

Maybe I’m forgetting someone even more irritating, but I doubt it.

By request of mjbuckley1

Of all the blog requests I’ve received, this one ranks among the trickiest to handle, because while it’s a general topic about which I know a fair few things (Mega Man), I’ve never paid much attention to his toy variants. Mega Man has seen quite a few toys over the years! And I’ve ignored them. That’s because the early ones were entirely too lousy to bother with, and the more recent ones are entirely too expensive for their own good. Alas!

For much of Mega Man’s history, the toys have been licensed to Bandai for design and production. This hasn’t been a universal truth, mind you, but by and large they’ve been the most prominent licensee. One assumes this gave Bandai the “in” for producing the absolutely terrible Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha for WonderSwan, which only goes to prove that these toys are a scourge upon our race.

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Image from Toy Archive

Bandai’s first foray into the world of plastic Mega Men was, tragically, based on the Ruby-Spears cartoon. The result was a real double-whammy — early ’90s toy technology combined with the vomitous aesthetic choices of that terrible, terrible animated series.

I do have to give the designers and manufacturers credit, though: These things are spot on. They’re a perfect interpretation of the cartoon designs. But this was maybe one of those times when perfection wasn’t entirely necessary. I sure don’t need to see Mega Man’s six-pack, that’s for sure.

Anyway, they produced about a dozen of these guys, along with a few vehicles. Meanwhile, you can be sure that Keiji Inafune was sitting somewhere in an office in Kyoto watching samples come in and wondering, “What the hell is wrong with Americans?”

ntwarrior

Image from Wikia

A decade later, Mega Man made an aggressive foray into toy marketing on the strength of the Battle Network/NT Warrior series. This actually made perfect sense: Not only was the series a hit with the kids, it also offered plenty of opportunities for mirroring in play patterns. Since protagonist Lan carried around a pre-tablet networked device called a P.E.T. for battling his virtual Mega Man avatar with friends and enemies like, it easily opened the door for “real” P.E.T.s that “real” kids could use to have “real” battles. They even came with battle chips, the same as in the games, that players could plug in and use in their battles. I don’t actually know how this thing worked, but I assume it was a fairly simple Barcode Battler-type thing with a splash of Tamagotchi.

In Japan, there was a different P.E.T.-style toy released called the Battle Chip Gate which actually interfaced with the Game Boy Advance and allowed kids to augment their game with special battle data by purchasing specific chips. This was basically a more expensive take on the eReader, and it only tied in with a single reissued version of Mega Man Battle Network 4 (Rockman EXE 4.5 Real Operation). I feel like it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the series’ sales and popularity began to slide around this time. Even kids know when they’re being bilked.

d-arts

Ironically, the best Mega Man toys didn’t make it to market until right around the time Capcom started going around to all the different Mega Man games it had announced and putting a pillow over their faces as they slept. Bandai’s D-Arts and Figuarts series fall into the upmarket non-scale figure category forged by Figma and Revoltech, and honestly they may be the best of the entire bunch — though it helps that the exaggerated designs of the Mega Man characters being depicted lend themselves to figuration. Those massive feet and forearms really help obscure the joints, which tends to be a shortcoming for more realistically proportioned figures.

The problem? These suckers are expensive. They start at $40 and go up from there. And most of the figures they’ve released have been different stupid armor variants of Mega Man X and Zero; no Mavericks or Robot Masters or even Roll or Dr. Wily. There’s a Sigma “figure” coming, but because Sigma’s so huge they just made him into a statue. Boo on that.

 kotobukiya

Around the same time Bandai started churning out dozens of X armor variants, Kotobukiya took a similar premium tack by producing a small selection of Mega Man snap-together models. They’re kind of figures, kind of not. You made them yourself, and could interchange parts pretty easily, but being snap-together models they were terribly fragile. I bought three of them myself — Mega Man, Roll, and Protoman — and interestingly Roll was the most detailed of the bunch. She very nearly included sufficient parts for two full models, one in the “classic” sundress character style, another in the more detailed Mega Man 8 look. Ultimately, though, the figures’ insistence on falling to pieces (which wasn’t helped by the fact that I had them displayed on my desk at the IGN offices and they were like some kind of weird magnet for people to mess with) prompted me to pawn them off to get them out of my life. It was just too sad to come to work and see Mega Man standing there with his gun arm laying a few inches away.

And so I currently own no Mega Man toys. But I suppose such things can’t last forever, since I’m planning to get this guy when he comes out…

zero

Bandai’s Mega Man Zero version of Zero. I figure there’s probably no harm in one. And I guess I could buy a classic Zero and pretend it’s the Zero/Omega battle that MMZ‘s spriters were too lazy to properly depict. But that’s where I call it a day.

Now, if they start releasing Mega Man Legends figures, all bets are off. But something tells me we don’t have to worry about that.

I’ve fallen somewhat out of the habit of posting to this blog of late, which I blame solely on my newfound interest in video content. First it was the radio star, now it’s the blog nitwit. I’m getting a better handle on the processes and discipline involved in creating video, so hopefully it won’t be consuming so much of my time in the future and I can continue with my usual word vomit here. My word-making time has been somewhat constrained, and my obligations to the day job come first. That’s adulthood for you.

For the moment, here’s what I’ve been doing lately instead of, you know, writing.

I’ve put together a few USgamer pieces, for which I write the script and record the voice over and, when possible, capture game footage. Someone else edits these, because my god I only have so many hours in the day. And I gotta write the accompanying feature, you know?

Comfort Food Games: Marathon 2

In case you want to read about a shooter that isn’t Destiny this weekend.

The Greatest Games for Atari Lynx

Real talk: This was a dry run for the Lynx section of Game Boy World.

10 Essential NES Games, 1985-87

Because “best of” NES lists are always about later games and tend to give the early days short shrift.

And on the personal side of things….

Game Boy World: Boxxle

Because everybody loves shoving boxes.

The Metroidvania Mission Statement

If nothing else, I’m proud of the theme music.

And while it’s not video (yet), I’ve just wrapped up The Anatomy of Mega Man 2. Patreon backers will be receiving the digital version of The Anatomy of Mega Man Vol. 1 sometime next month and the printed version in either September or October, depending on my travel schedule. It looks like I’m going to be taking a three-week trip to San Francisco, Tokyo, and London for basically three weeks out of September, so that will probably affect my ability to put things in the mail. I know. Excuses, excuses.

By request of amontillado586

Pink Floyd’s Animals is a strange album, but at the same time it also feels like perhaps the purest example of their musicianship. Maybe that’s what makes it so weird.

A 17-minute track called “Dogs” comprises very nearly the entirety of the album’s first side, and “Dogs” basically embodies the unconventional style of Animals in its totality. It’s not the longest song in the Pink Floyd oeuvre — even if you don’t count things like the “Shine on Crazy Diamond” suite as a single track, there’s still “Echoes.” However, it might be their most challenging composition — not so much in terms of musicianship as in its themes and content.

To properly understand “Dogs,” though, you really need to understand when the song happened. By 1977, the more artful musical excesses of the ’60s and early ’70s had become deeply unpopular. The world’s growing disaffection and anger had found a voice in the punk movement, and one of punk’s favorite punching bags was Pink Floyd. The band’s measured, genteel, and studio-driven approach to music couldn’t have been more different from the raw, live, and furious sound of punk, and one of the seminal moments of the movement came when Johnny Rotten sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the screed “I HATE PINK FLOYD.”

But really, the punk movement’s resentment of Pink Floyd probably had less to do with the band’s sound and more to do with the UK’s social classes, which had weakened significantly since the age of Downton Abbey but nevertheless had measurable grip on the country even in the ’70s and reflected strongly in the media. Punk was music for the working class, the kind of thing that spoke to the masses. Pink Floyd was a darling of the elite, the sort of thing that upper crust media and critics could feel good about listening to because of the way it took influences like rock, blues, and psychedelia and made them feel intellectual and safe and blessedly white. John Lydon has gone on the record saying he doesn’t actually hate Pink Floyd, but he certainly won hearts and minds by sneering at them.

In that sense, 1977′s Animals feels like a response to punk’s dismissal of the band. “Dogs,” comprising nearly half the album on its own, carries much of that mission on its own. It’s a very different kind of production for the band, largely eschewing studio gimmicks and extensive overdubs and sound clips in favor of a lean, stripped down style. While the piece still rang as a studio production — no way could guitarist Dave Gilmour perform all those overlapping parts at once — it lacked the lush textures and meticulous multipart construction of the bands’ past few albums.

Yet it’s still distinctly a Pink Floyd piece. Like “Echoes,” much of the middle section consists of slow, drawn-out chords for atmosphere and mood, lots of synthesizer and guitar noodling kept on track strictly on the strength of Nick Mason’s dutiful percussion and the pervasive acoustic guitar that keeps time for much of the piece. In keeping with the name of the song, the middle portion features overdubs of dogs barking and howling.

Between the acoustic strumming and hounds wailing, “Dogs” would seem almost to be a reference to “Seamus,” but the two works couldn’t be more different. “Seamus” was a goofy bit of blues-flavored fluff about an actual dog, whereas “Dogs” is tense, almost oppressive in its quality, and uses dogs as a metaphor for soulless, driven businessmen, laying down the basis for Animals as a musical take on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. And it makes striking use of those canine yaps; the song’s one significant use of advanced studio tech involves the dog audio loops slowly feeding into a Vocoder, rending the barks and calls into alien, robotic sounds that pulse rhythmically over the slow-tempo breakdown before mutating back into organic animal noises again.

It’s ultimately this theme that makes “Dogs” seem simpatico with the punk movement. Here the band put together as vicious and pointed a declamation against corporatism as any proper adherent to the punk scene, depicting upper-class suits as feral beasts out for blood behind the appearance of propriety with their social clubs and groomed manners. And yet, like members of a wolf pack, they’re torn apart in turn by their lessers when they grow too old to keep their fighting edge — perhaps dying of a heart attack borne of rich living, or simply living out their silver days alone and unloved after alienating everyone close to them. The Vocoded dogs offers an audible statement of that culture’s soullessness without being too heavy-handed about it, demonstrating the group’s collective ability to interpret Roger Waters’ vituperative viewpoint with a light, artful touch.

The instrumental/overdub break also brings a change of vocalists; Gilmour’s richer singing is replaced in the second half of the song by Waters’ more strained, nasal performance. It’s an effective change, making the song feel even harsher and more hostile as the narrative follows its subject to his desperate, unhinged doom.

It’s hard not to see “Dogs” as a tirade against the same parasitic business managers the band excoriated in “Have a Cigar.” But while that was a broad, comical piss-take, “Dogs” is pointed and cutting. If “Have a Cigar” was The Wolf of Wall Street, “Dogs” is just plain ol’ Wall Street. It sounds like nothing else in the band’s catalog, and is honestly the last time the band worked as a creative, collaborative unit rather than just as Roger Waters’ backing band. Even more remarkably, it might be the only time a 17-minute track at the heart of a concept album ever felt truly punk.

By request of dtsund

Well, now, that’s a heck of a question. I have played a lot of games to completion — a lot — and a lot of them have been lousy. But the worst? The absolute crappiest of them all? Whew. I’ve been racking my brains over this question for almost a year and I’m still not sure.

Here’s a thought: Let’s vote. I’ll list some nominees. You make the final call.

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Killzone: Shadowfall

The crazy thing about this game is that I hated it most of the way through, but the final level? The final level is so good. It’s so different from the rest of the game, so not-loud, not-stupid, not-arbitrary — a tense stealth mission filled with quiet purpose.

Good thing I don’t have the memory of a goldfish, huh?

Shadowfall is an infuriating game, because it can’t decide what kind of shooter it wants to be from one mission to the next. Seriously, every single level has a different feel to it. Here’s one like Far Cry! Here’s one like Halo! Here’s one like Half-Life 2! Here’s one like the endless mob swarms of Call of Duty! There are signs of competence all over the game. It could have been really good, but Shadowfall never takes the time to let a concept ripen. It never explores a mechanic, spastically jumping to the next instead. And half the time those new gimmicks are so ill-conceived or amateurishly executed that they bring the game grinding to a halt.

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Battletoads

Actually, Battletoads is infuriating in the same way as Shadowfall. Rare just couldn’t settle on making a consistent game and instead treat Battletoads like a stage mechanic fun-pack. And the gimmicks aren’t executed universally well or even somewhat consistently. Anything resembling platforming is just the worst thanks to the floppy animations and enormous appendages of the stupid toads — those hit boxes and edge detection, oh geez. It’s arbitrary, it’s difficult, it often requires precision memorization yet offers extremely limited continues… Man. Battletoads is just not good. Great pause theme, though.

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Karnov

Unlike the other games, which are extremely polished and simply full of inept design choices, Karnov for NES was one of the least polished games I’ve ever played. And yet I slogged through to the end, much to the amazement of the friend I’d borrowed it from. He’d owned it for ages and couldn’t make progress beyond the second stage or so. My feat didn’t earn his respect or anything. He just thought I was some sort of freak.

I have a hard time remembering exactly what made Karnov so terrible besides unclear level goals, inconsistent mechanics, a weird item selection system that kind of worked in real-time and made picking inventory items needlessly difficult, sloppy collision detection, terrible graphics and music, crummy level design, opaque rules, um… yeah.

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Xenogears

No, I’m just kidding. Calm down.

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Haunted Castle

I guess this one doesn’t quite count because I didn’t actually beat the game. I got to the very end and ran out of virtual “quarters,” game over. But it’s really kind of impressive how terrible a game based on Castlevania can be! It does the same things Castlevania did, except it does them more ineptly and with less respect for the player. Stiff controls, cheap level designs and enemy placements, totally weird sequences that radically change the game out of nowhere… Truly a disgrace of an arcade machine.

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Sprung

According to Metacritic, the lowest score I’ve ever given any video game has been a 30/100. You see, I have a tendency to abuse my position of authority to avoid having to play the utter stinkers. But Sprung happened when I was newly formed in this world of games journalism… and also the only one at 1UP willing to give Nintendo DS the time of day in that dark pre-kite era. But it’s not that Sprung was forced upon me; I willingly offered to play it. What a mistake.

So, the idea behind Sprung, I guess, was to pray that DS would appeal to an older, more mature audience than the Game Boy family. Which it did… eventually. Not at first. Not when Sprung was a fresh wound gaping in our souls. So it was a dating sim without an audience. Cloying written, with a cast of deeply unlikeable characters and proto-bro personalities.

Not to mention unintuitive writing! Well I still remember entering into a conversation with the game’s token Asian women and being prompted to buy her a drink. It turns out I was supposed to buy her a mint julep, because she was from the South… except there hadn’t been enough dialogue spoken for her to offer any tells for her accent. This feels especially ironic now that I actually do live in the South, close to my wife’s Vietnamese cousins, who grew up in Wilmington and have the thickest Southern accents I’ve ever heard in my life. Basically I’m saying Sprung is a miserable imitation of life and should go drown in a tub of mint juleps.

TBD

I’m going to be playing a lot of Game Boy games in the near future. I bet some of them are going to be absolutely hideous.

Well, there we have it. Those are the picks that come to mind. Now, you tell me: What is the worst game I’ve ever played to completion?

Since USgamer launched last summer, I’ve been trying to build a library of console retrospectives that are, if not comprehensive, at least as comprehensive as I can reasonably create within the context of a mainstream-oriented flagship video games website that doesn’t really function as an encyclopedia of the medium’s history. I’ve been pretty happy with these pieces, especially compared to older system retrospectives I wrote at 1UP. I’ve made a determined effort over the past few years to broaden my horizons and get a fuller sense of the various factors that have shaped the medium. I’m far from an expert, but I definitely think I’ve managed to assemble some worthwhile pieces.

lynx-spot4

The latest is a lengthy retrospective on the Atari Lynx, a system I’ve come to develop a better appreciation for of late. I decided to add Lynx games to Game Boy World, at which point I really started to study the system and learn more about it. The thing was an impressive piece of work. Yeah, it’s easy to excoriate it for its obvious failings, but I think it deserves more appreciation for its successes. Hopefully I’ve managed to present it in a fair and positive light despite not having any personal fandom or affection for it.

And, if you’re bored this weekend and haven’t read them already, may I recommend killing an hour or two with my previous retrospectives?

And more to come, don’t you doubt it.