Friday, August 28, 2009

FYI - CoreGamers Blog Structure

While I agree it could have been possible to cram all my work into one single space, I enjoy having several blogs as each one of them provides me a new impetus to keep on writing and creating these contents. Each one expresses a different part of my videogame researcher persona, possibly the reason why I ended up creating different pages where to accomodate my thoughts. In case you take any pleasure from reading my texts, please bear in mind that there is always something new and hopefully of interest in the other blogs, placed at the mere distance of a click. Thank you all for visiting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chronicles of a cosmophobic sleuth

It's been 15 years - yes, that long. In my case 13 full years. It has been that long, in fact, little more than a decade since I first read about POLICENAUTS on JapanMania, namely the 1996 re-release of the game for the Playstation and Saturn consoles, an improved version of an already redesigned port from the old PC-9821 to the CD-Rom age and the impressive hardware of 3D0. And yet the first glance at that newly translated start menu - whose theme will sound vaguely intriguing, at least, for those more familiar with the original METAL GEAR SOLID - was enough to make me feel like I finally had gotten there: now I can once and for all put away the Japanese dictionary, close the Kanji translating applications because of Marc Laidlaw and Artemio Urbina, to whom I shall be eternally grateful.

And what is the appeal of a game such as POLICENAUTS in mid-2009? Upon hearing about the newly released English translation patch for the Playstation version I feared that the appeal of the age-old game had somehow worn-off, vanished as did the interest for so many games wane with the passage of time. Yet not for POLICENAUTS. A few minutes in that redolent, messy dim-lit office were more than sufficient to remind me of how pleasurable this unique adventure classic was and still is. Without any control over my emotions I found myself invaded with strong returning memories of anime-style cyber city landscapes and rare depictions of Kindred Dick noire futures - truly rejoicing for having lived this long to see the day when they translated Policenauts.

There is also a strange appeal to this particular translation, emanating from its will to single-handedly reunite East with West. Having learned a little more about Kojima's unique mindset in the meantime, it seems rather natural to me, if not relieving, that such conversion appears after so many announces and failed attempts. His games, for reasons that may defy rational explanation, have always seemed to belong to the universe of that particular dialect: contrary to what can be verified in so many other distinguished titles from Japan, they conform and excel in it.

Additionally, I've come to believe that Kojima stands quite possibly as the one Japanese game author whose close references to the Hollywood imaginary of action and science fiction films seem to require the employment of English names and terms beyond the already frequent Japanese neologisms. And how beautifully captured is this lone gumshoe’s soliloquy, blended imperceptibly into the game with such an allusive roman alphabetic font type. At last - officially or not, the devil may care -, POLICENAUTS was released on this our side of the world.

Mr. Ingram, Mr. Brown: we’ve been expecting you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PlayStation Store Presents: Game Diggin'

Game Diggin is a new Playstation Network video feature that is freely downloadable from the Japanese Playstation Store, apparently in an effort to generate more interest for the Playstation classics, as well as to boost up the sales of that catalogue. The hilarious show is hosted by none other than Teppei, a famous personality in Japan, along with the director of Famitsu PS3+PSP, Araji Yatsuka. In every show, a new guest is invited to demonstrate or simply play the selected game. In this first episode the show revisits, with the help of a gamer under the nickname Bunbunmaru, the first episode of the legendary AZITO series: a highly popular strategy game designed by Astec 21 and published by Hamster (before the sequels were given out by Banpresto). The game consists of an underground terrain where the player must create a solid shelter in order to protect people from the attacks of the vicious demons - given the programme's title, no other game could have been a better choice for its dazzling premiere.

Due to the great popularity of the re-release of FINAL FANTASY VII, Teppei and Araji, along with Eri Kawai, revisit the first moments of the game and discuss why Cloud was considered the top character of this Squaresoft mega-hit, according to a fondly-remembered Famitsu article from the time. Araji also mentions the Phantom Train from FINAL FANTASY VI as a possible inspiration for the use of trains in the seventh episode. Apart from this section, certainly inspired by another very famous videogame-related TV show, there is a weekly top 5 of the best sold and most popular PSX downloads on the store.

The second part of the first episode follows exactly the same approach. The well-known Taito shooter RAYSTORM is played in the company of guest Saji Kikuo in a two player match. The highlight of this episode (and of the whole show so far, in my opinion) was the choice of TAIL OF THE SUN for the next section, to which the author of the game Kazutoshi Iida was invited. Showing some of the game's most amazing and hidden features, Iida, whom I mentioned recently in an EasternMind article about his upcoming WiiWare game, provides a few minutes of sheer laughter in his own unique style.

A new episode has already been released, highlighting titles such as build your own arcade strategy game DEKIRU! GAME CENTER, the branded FIRE PRO WRESTLING, the single Playstation episode of the famous fishing RPG KAWA NO NUSHI TSURI series (RIVER KING) and finally, coinciding with the first four PC Engine re-releases on the PS3, Hudson's hit platformer ADVENTURE ISLAND (video uploads via PSPTeam on Viddler).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - Interview with Joseph Olson (Fuelcell Games) and Michel Gagné

INSANELY TWISTED SHADOW PLANET is an independent Fuelcell Games project being produced with the collaboration of the renowned cartoonist and animator Michel Gagné. In spite of his previous work in the field, this is the first venture where the Canadian artist is actively participating in the process of game design. The Seattle based studio is working on a very peculiar adaptation his series of interstitials entitled Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets, consisting of brief, dark-humored segments of high-quality digital animation.

ITSP presents an incredibly smooth vector graphics environment - as seen in the recent HD trailer - where the player controls a vintage 1950’s flying saucer in the battle against an oppressive force of bizarre creatures inhabiting the obscure planet. Both Michel Gagné and Joe Olson, from Fuelcell studios, were kind enough to answer some of my questions for a brief interview regarding the production of this highly original reinvention of the old shoot'em up game genre.

CoreGaming | Mr. Gagné, given your wide experience in the fields of cartoons, comics, concept art, animation, cinema and television, it was rather surprising to learn that you had never participated directly in the creation of a videogame: how did the idea to adapt one of your animated features to this new format originate?

Michel GAGNÉ | About three years ago, I met Joe Olson at an FX workshop I was giving in Seattle. Shortly after, Joe emailed me and said that he’d love to do a videogame project with me. We met for lunch and started brainstorming about some ideas. I told him I had virtually no experience working in games, and to my surprise, he replied that it was a good thing. His thought was that the game industry was in need of fresh ideas and an industry outsider who has a strong artistic style could bring something unique to the table. I didn’t know much about the game process so it became a new challenge that I embraced with great enthusiasm.

Joe mentioned to me that we should do a game based on the design of a series of interstitials called Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets I created in 2005. That was the starting point.

Joseph Olson at the Fuelcell studio space.

CoreGaming | Judging by the video presentations, ITSP seems to be a very ambitious project. Could you tell me more about the production team and the sort of technologies you're currently using?

Joseph OLSON | We started with Torque Game Builder, mainly because it was geared towards 2D game creation, allowed us to mix 3D assets in with the 2D in a convincing way, and most importantly it is fairly cheap for a source code license. Over the course of preproduction we’ve made various improvements and alterations in order to increase productivity and get the desired results.

The team here at Fuelcell is comprised of a handful of industry veterans - myself being in the industry for about 12 years now. Basically a bunch of guys in the Seattle area I've worked with over the years, as well as some newer folks brought in especially for this project. A good portion of us come from the special FX side of things, which is why creating a game with Michel made so much sense. Like most small independent studios these days we have taken on a lot of contract work for other games to keep the money flowing and the team together.

CoreGaming | I've read that the game is planned for release in multiple platforms: how is it like negotiating the game with different manufacturers?

Joseph OLSON | As we're still in negotiations, it's tough to answer this question. We're talking with a lot of different publishers right now and they all have slightly different visions for which platforms our game would appear on. We do wish to put this on as many platforms as makes sense, with the HD platforms (360 and PS3) being the main focus.

CoreGaming | Independent games abound at present. Everyday we witness the release of yet another independent title: some of them based on uprecedented concepts, whereas others are essentially modern-day homages to classic videogame titles. What do you think are the most innovative and interesting features in ITSP and to what audience are you aiming at?

Joseph OLSON | While the biggest feature is obviously Michel’s style and fluid feature quality animation at HD resolution, we’re very excited about our zoom technology, which allows us to zoom in or out in a given environment while keeping the resolution sharp. We first used it in our splash screen menu but have since started experimenting with using it in gameplay. One example I can give at this time is a viral attack game. Your UFO is attacked by a cloud of viral entities, at which point the camera zooms incredibly far in on the surface of your hull, where you then take control of a white blood cell type craft and have to frantically sweep up the virals before they infect your UFO. The transitions to and from this nano game and realtime are really quite impressive.

We're lucky to have a wide ranging audience for this game. Michel's stark art style appeals across age groups, casual and core gamers, as well as internationally. It's not often a western artist is so well received in the east, so we're fortunate in that respect. The development team grew up playing classic arcade and console games, so the gameplay is heavily influenced by games like MEGA MAN, R-TYPE, and the like.

CoreGaming | Is there a release date in your mind at the moment?

Joseph OLSON | No release date as of yet, stay tuned to the official blog for more news on that front in the coming months!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

NES Revival: Rendezvous with Zeus

Long before TITAN QUEST or GOD OF WAR, Greek Mythology already bore a substantial appeal to the videogame playing audience. Infinity's THE BATTLE OF OLYMPUS was without a doubt one of the most impressive titles in its time, more so than its thematic predecessor HERAKLES NO EIKOU: TOUJIN MAKYOU, also released for the Famicom. In the role of Orpheus, the player must travel across the Greek peninsula and islands in order to save his beloved Eurydice from the underworld of Hades - the original Japanese title refers to the game as LEGEND OF LOVE. In order to reach the final enemy, the player must meet with the gods, earn new powers while recollecting items, weapons and the crucial fragments of love that will enable Orpheus to travel to Tartarus.

I learned about this NES title long before I got the chance to try it in a French version of Super Power, the Official Nintendo Magazine. In that particular issue there was a guide with several pictures showing the different locations of the game that captivated me deeply. In spite of how similar it looked to LEGEND OF ZELDA II: LINK'S ADVENTURE, I've always recognized this game's merit in the portrayal of Greek mythos - a task in which the game was quite exceptional bearing its context in mind. As a post-METROID production, it came to include a non-linear exploration of the maps that provided, perhaps for the first time in the history of videogames, a small but authentic taste of a virtual Hellas: an alluring invitation to enter another world where the legendary cities, temples, divinities and monsters have come to life once more after centuries of slumber.

I sat down a few days ago not only to renew my acquaintance with the NES, but also to play this game more extensively. As expected from a 1988 title, the level of skill required to play it is very demandind from the get-go. The experience itself, nevertheless, is as charming and beguiling as it ever was.