Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Xmas Haul, 2013.

Since I was too slow on the draw to get my other Christmas-related game ad up before, well, Christmas, I decided to shelve it for relevance next Winter and instead I've fallen down the post category I have a vague memory of explicitly rejecting in previous years: the What I Got For Christmas post. (This isn't everything -- it's the Sub-Category: Video Game Stuff spotlight.)

So let's go around the clock here. At noon there we have a baggie of "Cut the Rope" candies. Though I instantly placed them as game-related, they were in all truth simply bought as candies, as I am known to have soft spot for gummies. I see this as a great sign of the rebounding recovery games have made in the pop culture, since I imagine probably 1982 was the most recent time that you could go to the store to buy some [generic product] and end up accidentally buying a bag of [product] proudly emblazoned with a video game mascot without having any idea that it was related in any way to a game. "Aw, mom, not Frogger-ghetti again! We've had it every night for two weeks!" "Sit down and eat your dinner! It was marked down 75% at the market so I bought the whole case lot. I don't know what's wrong with it!" The only problem here is that while the candy fiend in me wants to tear it open and enjoy the sweet, sweet contents, the game paraphernalia collector in me wants to preserve it in pristine condition, to take place of pride next to the Angry Birds Hallowe'en candies on my game-stuff shelf. Probably the rest of the candy will be eaten first, and then we'll consider conducting a little deeper investigation into this museum exhibit.

1 o' clock: "So, your partner collects game stuff? This is a game, he'll enjoy it!" This has been my first year with credit and consequently my first year of the Steam Winter Sale, 'nuff said. So it comes as a surprise to be reminded that Valve also had its products published in boxes on store shelves... by Sierra of all publishers! One of the reasons I am a retro-gamer is that I am not a big fan of the "shoot your opponent in the face" genre that has dominated the industry since the advent of DooM, hearkening back to a kinder, gentler time when other kinds of games were made. So the appeal of deathmatches and military themes generally misses the mark with me. I must confess, I probably will not be slipping this disc into my optical drive. (And what's this "Team Fortress 1" they mention on the back of the box? You mean TF2 didn't just spontaneously emerge, fully-formed?)

3 o'clock: I am pleased to announce that my CoLeCoVision cartridge collection has now doubled with the acquisition of Gorf, Carnival and Lady Bug. Now all I need is a console to run them on. (A friend has one, but no working cables. We killed some time trying without success to bring it to life at my latest retro gaming party, but no dice yet. Maybe by upping the ante with additional carts we can motivate a more rigorous attempt to revive the machine.)

3:30: Also: I am pretty sure that is a Game Gear cart, but I didn't know that the GG ever suffered from pirate multicart syndrome! I will have to round up some batteries and test it. "Super 82 in 1" is a quantity that also appears on GB and Famicom knock-off carts, but Google can't seem to turn up anything on this one. I may be the first to cover it! Too bad MobyGames won't allow me to document it there...

5 o'clock: It's hard to believe that as of this latest console generation, there are still people who will pay money for a physical object filled with cheat codes when they can be found in great abundance for free online. (I suppose having them handy like this saves people from having to print them out or, ack, write them down accurately and then be plagued with little pieces of paper covered in arcane formulae around the gaming area.) This volume is a 2-in-1: one side of he book is for the last generation's consoles and the other side covers its handheld machines. The Nintendo DS is the only handheld from that generation that I own and so that's where I will derive any use and value, if any, from this book. I suspect the days are numbered for BradyGames, unless they can figure out some other industry to branch out into. (Books of cheat codes for casual mobile games?)

5:25: There's a thrift shop in Burnaby that for months featured a substantial, redundant pile of N-Gage games in its "auction" shelf, the idea being that people bid on those lots and the winning bid gets the item. I was always a bit curious to see what an N-Gage game looked like (SPOILER: also with a well over 10-to-1 empty-box-to-game ratio, like a Nintendo DS flash cart, but much more disappointing), but lacking the hardware and trying to maintain a modicum of financial responsibility (and also: trying to keep a lid on the collection monster in the basement) I've been trying to avoid collecting games for machines I don't own. Eventually the lot was broken up into pieces and put on the shelves as, I suppose, no one else owned an N-Gage either and no one placed any bids on the lot. Still I held firm, instead making regular trips to the ice cream parlour across the street. (I know, that's an edge case of "holding firm", but I take what I can get.) Then, eventually, this turned up in my stocking. I guess Santa also patronizes that thrift store.

5:35: OK, so I own Battlefront II for the PS2, but having cut my teeth on my ex-roommate's Xbox version of the game, the one I had dissuaded me with its protracted loading sequences. (I imagine the Xbox's on-board hard drive has something to do with it.) So when we ended up with $20 in-store credit after returning some Christmas used trousers that didn't quite fit, I tossed this in the shopping cart to help us reach the magic number. It really is quite an effective title.

5:40: We bought our PlayStation 2 after the PS3 had been announced, and the conventional wisdom holds true that the end of its life cycle can be a great time to get on board with a new console -- because the games are cheaper, the programmers have figured out how to play to the strengths of the hardware, and the used-game resale market is wider. For a brief moment, I owned a console that I could walk into stores and buy games for. Not many -- Shadow of the Colossus, Secret Agent Clank... OK, that was about it. Then the window closed and the grey resale market again became my only option. But since acquiring a DS at a garage sale, once again I'm in that situation of being able to wander down the games aisle in a department store and go "hey, if I wanted to, I could actually buy that and make it run on a machine I own!" True, the last time I did so was with Nintendogs for my partner when the Virgin Megastore downtown shut down, but it's nice to have the little hypothetical possibility remain viable in the back of one's head. In time I suppose the 3DS will take over completely, but until then... my partner can play tit for tat and get me new games while picking up bulk potato chips for Christmas parties! The games in question appear unremarkable: the end of Lego's vaunted gender-neutrality writ large, and a title from the other side of the coin. What is a Squinkie? I have no idea. But I still dig outsider titles like that from the game historian perspective, as with such un-sexy subjects to document and archive, I'm virtually guaranteed to have a topic that no one else has bothered covering.

11 o'clock: How on earth has this Street Fighter 2 SNES box remained in such excellent condition since 1992? The artwork is amazingly amazing, an excellent summation of the gameplay inside (well no, it doesn't depict Ken and Ryu taking turns throwing boring fireballs at each other). We played a lot of this one at my first bachelor house, 5 dudes who wanted to see all the warriors' endings (Zangief's was my favorite, pure over-the-top stereotype in a game that had nothing to work with but stereotypes.)

And here at midnight, we have the Ms. Pac-Man candy dispenser. It doesn't seem to have been cleaned since 1982, and I'm contemplating how to achieve that without compromising its retro authenticity. (Sadly, the Cut the Rope candies are too big to pass through its mechanical guts.) The 3/4 profile is a new look for Ms. Pac-Man, with a full two eyes, lips and two blushing cheeks where usually we see only one eye, lips, one cheek and a beauty mark. It's almost Picasso-cubist. Almost.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you find as many great deals in the Steam Winter Sale as I did 8)

Edit: gee whiz gang, next time I forget to put in my linebreak tags, how about one of you tip me off?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The MobyGames Problem: fixed?

You may recall that just over three months ago the MobyGames database of computer and video game information, in whose service this very blog was established (so as to have a source to point to verifying game ad blurb submissions) had its site-breaking "new design" inflicted on it by the benignly neglectful owners at GameFly they'd languished beneath for three years.

For three months the users banged their head against the wall, tried to reach someone in charge to fix some of the glaring, show-stopping problems (but though the lights were on, no one was home), and actually en masse boycotted the site, which ground to a halt. The bulk of the once-active users changed their nicknames and avatar pictures to shame the owners, and on a given site visit it wasn't unusual to see the frontpage basically hitting itself in the face by randomly coming up with one of these "featured users'" profiles scolding the site owners. We had pretty much determined that the party was over and that it was time to leave.

Good news! Yesterday a team led by Reed Lakefield and Simon Carless, with projects like Gamasutra, the GDC, and GameTab behind them, announced that they had taken on ownership of the site, and would be rolling back the reviled changes, effective immediately. In a 24-hour period, we have not only seen the site's stint on death row repealed, we have seen an eagerness, nay, an appetite, to implement changes and streamline snags that has been unknown for at least three years (since GameFly bought MobyGames in order to, as best as we can tell, assign its one programmer to other projects and help themselves to our box cover art scans.) It's truly a Christmas miracle. I've been wondering what to do with these ad scans now that I had nowhere to submit their text, and now the gates have been opened again! (Just as well, I have a pile of exciting updates from the land of computer gamebooks to put in their database, including a great new title from Choice of Games launching tomorrow, "Choice of the Deathless"... a supernatural legal thriller!) Many users have been unironically describing this new development as a Christmas miracle. If Mr. Archive Team is satisfied, we're satisfied. Site founder Trixter is also in high spirits over this new development, though still stinging from recent acrimony regarding his handover to the previous deadbeat administration. Giddy on optimism, during my coffee break last night I came up with another one of my ugly MobyGames collages, with the letters in the name sourced from box artwork from diverse and sundry games. Can you figure out where they came from?
(Update: alas, the ravages of time have stolen the image from my free hosting. Hilariously, it took a single MG user just over a half-hour, most of which was them getting around to reading the message I'm sure, to nail all the letter-sources. Specialists! They have a deep trove of specialized knowledge and expertise!)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas 1998 from Squaresoft!

Happy holidays from Square and the folks here at "Shilling Epilepsy to Mouth-Breathers"! Writing time has been tight since our October spree of terror, but the current work schedule is looking as though there may be more regular activity in our medium-term future. (All the same, since I've been sitting on it for just such an occasion for quite some time, I wanted to be absolutely sure I got this ad posted before Christmas. So here we go, enjoy!)
you better watch out...
you better not fry...

The creators of Final Fantasy VII have the hottest lineup of holiday titles, including the spectacular new science-fiction masterpiece, Parasite Eve.
From the blazing fighting action in Bushido Blade 2 to the smoldering battlefields of Final Fantasy Tactics, these games might be too hot to handle.

PE parasite eve The cinematic RPG
Xenogears Role-Playing with giant robots
BUSHIDO BLADE 2 Honorable swordplay
Final Fantasy Tactics A strategic new world
Saya Frontier Seven journeys become one
EINHÄNDER A fully-loaded 3D shooter
This ad was always somewhat of a head-scratcher to me. OK, so you've mangled the lyrics to "Santa Claus is Coming To Town", but how does it logically follow that I should purchase your products? Perhaps if I'd played more Square games (Chrono Trigger was special and exceptional, but most of my other Square experience have actively repeled me) I would recognize the women in the ad artwork, and understand why one is setting fire to a Christmas decoration featuring the other. (And still, that's burning, not frying... In short, this ad screams that they couldn't find a common element for their bill of goods. If you only have one idea for an ad, that must de facto be the best idea you have, right?)

The ad shows that the company had a real momentum going after Square jumped ship from the Nintendo platforms that incubated it to Playstation 1 platform-exclusivity and a deft touch with its often-abhorrent early 3D. How many game companies in their bumper years had seven different titles brought to the Christmas market? Some of these games rated ads of their own; perhaps others did not. I like how they all have stylish and distinct logos, with an interesting frequent focus on brush-painted calligraphic styles. Square is if nothing else a consummately Japanese company unafraid to relish, wallow even, in Japanese concerns that may never have been of any interest to Western markets; when they caught our attention, it was as the result of a happy accident. (Or do they actively cultivate an orientalist otherness for exotic appeal to Western otaku and nippophiles?)

The company's family tree is somewhat tangled; here they appear to have been working with EA as a Western distributor, before they picked up Eidos (itself the ruins of Domark -- perhaps the last of the big game companies named as a portmanteau of its founders?) and were themselves bailed out by acquisition by old rivals Enix (whose Dragon Warrior series may have been the only suitable rival for Square's Final Fantasy franchise) following the ruinous release of the expensively hair-obsessed Final Fantasy movie. But don't take my word for it, that's just my construction of what I've been able to observe and conjecture.

In conclusion: winter is cold, but Square's lineup is hot; Bushido Blade 2's fighting action is blazing and FF Tactics' battlefields are smoldering, resulting in games that "might be too hot to handle". I don't believe that the PS1 suffered from overheating, but if it did that might have been a good way for these marketers to turn a liability into a seeming asset.

As a thanks for reading and a reward for your patience, here's a totally unrelated (well, Christmas-themed, yes; made by Square, no) game I whiled away a couple of idle hours with the other evening: Merry Clickmas!