Thursday, December 17, 2009

You know. Like a sword

I've been tooling around with Double Edged, a nice-looking, simple flash game over on Nitrome. It's pretty much just head right and slash at the baddies, very reminiscent of the old 8-bit games. I can help but wonder, though, what would this game have been like if it were released for the NES?

No Way, No How, No Saving

After sliding the big gray plastic Double Edged cartridge into the NES, the lucky player would have been given three lives and quite possibly a limited number of what us classic gamers remember as "continues". If you wanted to beat this badboy, you better have slated a whole afternoon and better not ever make a mistake. Or maybe you would get some unintelligible passcode which your brother would write down for you. You know, the kid whose "A"s and "E"s look exactly the same.

Oh yeah. This shouldn't be problem at all.

Now, Double Edged has twelve levels, or more correctly three levels and twelve save points. Short, I grant you. Just remember that Castlevania had six.

The graphics would be much closer to awful

Is this the face that launched a thousand titles?

Pixel art has come a long way since Kid Icarus. Just playing as a character made out of more than nine little squares was a life-altering event. And shading? Utterly jaw-dropping.

Here in Double Edged, not only do we enjoy well-crafted sprites and scenery, but we even get to enjoy multiple levels of moving background! And the characters have shadows!

The mountains move! Devilry!

You'll take 2 axes, and you'll like it

How'd you get up there?

Whoa, wait. You want to press up and move FARTHER AWAY? You are blowing my mind.

In NES land, you will go left, right, or nowhere at all. Better find a way to jump that box, because there's no going around it.

"Well, I'm stumped. You win, Joker."

A Few Points

For reasons that make little sense, the already-limited screen would have a points counter on it, hovering above you, as untouchable and judgmental as St. Peter. You know, so you could take a polaroid of your highest score and show it to your buddy Jay next time he came over. At least now you can shoot for an online leaderboard.

Yep, it just keeps ticking away up there. Kinda creeps me out.

That music will be stuck in your head for a very, very long time.

Red X, you are beauty.

So, somewhere along the line somebody figured out that not everybody likes chiptune? Being able to shut the damn music off is one of the better game developments in recent history. Sure, I like synthetic stylings as much as the next guy, but hearing the same eight bars on a loop as you repeatedly get killed by the same boss is just rubbing 8-bit salt in the wounds.

Now how much would you pay?

Minimum wage in the eighties was $3.35. NES games were fifty bucks. is free. It's a wonderful time to be alive.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The First Party Polo

Ever give a gift to someone out of the blue? The sentence "hey, man, I got this for you" when uttered some time other than the Designated Gift-giving Holidays elicits a strange response from the recipient, a bitter cocktail of shame and terror. Fortunately, we have the holiday season, a socially-acceptable chance to act on those altruistic urges.

Buying for a gamer can be... let's just say "frustrating". The Geek Nation is known for having oddly specific tastes, and trying to pick up a game, accessory, or other such notion is fraught with the sort of Christmas peril usually reserved for Eastern European folklore. So, what to do? Our friends at Penny Arcade have a solution.

Some four years ago a posted an open letter to the suburban-trend-machine Hot Topic, asking, nay insisting they reconsider their marketing strategy as relates to gamers. A series of brilliant points were made about the fact that gamers aren't all kids and that many want something more subtle, but their nascent genius died on the inter-vine, apparently.

From the open letter:
Here is what I would like to see from you: a series of unassuming polo shirts with corporate logos embroidered on the right breast, but the logos are from the evil corporations from various videogames. For starters, whip a few for Shinra Incorporated, Datadyne, and the Umbrella Corporation.
Too subtle, perhaps, but the concept holds. Stop giving us puerile junk. What is needed is some sort of gamer polo shirt. You know, for grown-ups.

Enter the First Party v1.0 Launch Polo. Nice sharp shirt. Understated gamer logo.

At last! We can wear our colors with pride, not gaudy ostentation. A shirt for that day when your office holiday party and buddy Jonesy's LAN party are scheduled back-to-back.

You see polos with tennis rackets, golf clubs, skis, sports franchise logos, heck, even an actual polo player from time to time. And finally now we see something for the more sophisticated lover of the virtual lifestyle.

Now, the in-one's-face style of gamer swag has its place, certainly. In fact, it can be rather rad. But it is nice to have an option. Sports fans have enjoyed this luxury for some time, and I can only hope the First Party shirts are a harbinger of better days.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Better than Nothing - Cognitive Surplus and Gaming

We've got time. So much free time. For the last fifty years, we've spent it watching sit-coms, but not we've started to do something else. We're making Wikipedia and Lolcats. And we're playing Warcraft.

You should read this article, the main thrust of which is that we are starting to figure out what to do with the vast amount of free time we as a society have, and that the people who craft the future will be the ones who do just that. The issue of gaming comes up briefly:

In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: "Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves."

At least they're doing something.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

Are here we come to a main difference between Our People and non-gamers -- interactivity. We don't want to yell at the running back, we want to control his movements. Seeing who ends up being The Biggest Loser is not for us; we want to train our own characters to succeed.

And as everything people see and touch becomes more and more interactive, we recognize that the world is finally starting to catch up.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Turn to the left

Geeks don't really know much about fashion; aside from T-shirts and glasses, we're pretty much lost. You've seen the guys who work in IT -- you know it to be true. But do the fashionable know about video games?

Enter Charlotte Ronson. No, I didn't know who she was either.

Ms. Ronson, a fashion desiger, is collaborating with Nintendo on Style Savvy, an upcoming DS game slated fora November release.

From Nintendo's website:
Style Savvy combines creativity and fashion with a collection of trendy clothes, chic accessories and stylish shoes. As the owner of a clothing boutique, you must purchase inventory, monitor the store’s funds and try to please a constant stream of customers who look to you for the best fashions.
What's the game going to be like? Don't care. What I do care about is pictures like these:



A VG device used as a fashion accessory? Nails painted Noble Blue to match? I thought gamers were all supposed to be mouth-breathing weirdos. Aren't I supposed to be embarrassed to own a DSi?

Something called "Fashion Week", which I assume is some form of festival related to clothing and cigarettes, took place recently, and Ronson held an after-party featuring several DSes and a preview of the Style Savvy game.

From here:
Charlotte Ronson knows how to put together a good show on and off the runway. Following an edgy SS 2010 collection, the designer threw a party where celebs drank Svedka cocktails and previewed a new fashion boutique game called Style Savvy from Nintendo DS and DSi. (The yet-to-be released game will launch later this year so you won’t have to wait long!) Erin Lucas, Tinesley Mortimer, Kirsten Dunst, and Avril Lavigne were all glued to their Style Savvy shopping and styling outfits. It’s only a matter of time until we see this cute little game in every fashionista’s hands as they frolic in the park, travel on the subway, and sip their lattes at Starbucks.

I'm assuming we aren't going to see hand-helds incorporated into any challenges on Project Runway any time soon, but any press is good press when it comes to normal adults gaming. No, games aren't just for children. No, gamers don't all talk funny/smell funny. Yes, videogames are cool. Even the people who decide what 'cool' means think so.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Super Star Trek -- Neolithic Gaming

“Retro-gaming” is a highly-mutable term. Pulling out the tangle of cords that is your old Atari 2600? Retro-gaming, certainly. Blistering your fingers on that old NES controller? Sure. But how about the PS one? The Gamecube, even?

Semantics aside, there can be no doubt that logging some time with Super Star Trek counts as retro-gaming.

Yes, that’s an actual screenshot. A far cry from this, yes?

I first heard about SST when I was a young kid and my dad would tell tales of playing it on some massive old rig at work. (“During breaks”, of course.) Various incarnations of this game could be found on various boxes and home computers throughout the seventies. It was distributed for home use the old-fashioned way – by publishing the complete BASIC code in a magazine. A few hours of careful transcription and you were ready for… what exactly?

What on earth would motivate a modern gamer to keep playing this thing after a few curious moments? Sure, download a new version, tool around a bit, have a laugh. But to actually play? What could this code-snippet possibly have to offer?

It comes down to three aspects, few of which remain in today’s games.:

#1 – Turn-based play. Sure, it’s still out there, even on consoles, but there’s not much of it around. Spending some time with a game that allows you to leave it alone for a few hours while you consider whether or not you want to use your last photon torpedo on that distant klingon warbird (represented by a capital “K”) has a completely different feel. SST combines tactical turn-based play with the map size and freedom of a larger-scale strategy game.

#2 – Randomness. As you direct the Enterprise (that’s the “E”) around the charted galaxy, just about everything can go wrong. You are quite often yanked across the board by a “tractor beam” and placed in the middle of a firefight – not good if you’re on your way to a starbase (“B”) to reload. Sometimes the transporter will just flat out fail without warning, and the last sound your away team will hear is Scotty wailing that he’s losing them. A star (“*”) in your sector can go nova and toss you across the map like an empty can of Tab. Etc. And when I say “etc”, I mean it; much of the strategy in this game is focused on how to prepare for the worst that merciless random-number-generation can deal out.

#3 – The promotion system. Every lasting game needs a rewards system, and in SST it comes as a notification that you have been promoted to the next difficulty level. Sure, you could start at the hardest setting or keep on riddling away at the easiest, but getting the word that you have saved the Federation and are ready for harder trials makes the challenge all the more fun. When the player reaches the Expert level and scores well enough, the program will print a plaque. That’s right – something you can hang on your cube wall to show the world how awesome you are at Super Star Trek. Smitty over in networking will never live it down.

A large part of my personal enjoyment of this game comes from the hard-core, early-days-of-computing, Soul of a New Machine feel. After few rounds of typing in your commands (“pho 3 2 1 5 4 8 7”, for example) and squinting at the box of numbers and periods that serves as the starchart, you’ll feel your sideburns growing and your shirt sleeves shortening. There’s a romance to that green-texted era, the first time in history that true geekiness could be used for something other than HAM radio and Monty Python references. This is the time of legends, when Our People began. Which is why I can’t help but feel a flush of embarrassed pride over this:

Download it here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The New Play (pending)

What the heck will my next play be about?

For the purposes of my own writerly development, I want it to have few characters, possibly all female. I know who they are, and I know what their problems are with each other -- I just don't know where to put them.

My tendency is to go nerdy. Magic. Swordfights. Etc. Trouble is, while fairies and witches were all cool for Shakespeare, they come across as a little D&D nowadays.

So, am I actually going to find myself writing a modern family drama? If the set calls for a couch or kitchen table, please slap me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yes it is he.

Last night's RLTP discussion included a reference to one of my favorite games -- Prince of Persia. Not the fancy new wall-running version (though I enjoy that, too),

but the original DOS game. I reacted predictably.

The part in question was what I'll refer to as the Dark Prince. He shows up a little bit into the game when you are forced to jump through a mirror. This shadowy version of yourself runs off without any sense of what his deal is.

The next time you encounter him, you fall to what seems will be your death. As you stand on the precipice, he could help you. He doesn't. Or does he just react too late?

Before you face the evil vizier, you must face the Dark Prince. He's at a fairly unassuming place -- no big arena or dark cellar. He's just there in a hallway.

Try as you might, you cannot defeat him. Each time your sword reaches past his parrys, you are hurt. The only way to pass him is to sheath your weapon.

What a great nugget of narrative, especially considering the source. Aside from the don't-fight-puzzle near the end (very Arabian Nights), the Dark Prince doesn't add much to the game-play, but he certainly prompts an emotion. What is the developer saying with the Dark Prince? More importantly, what interpretations can the audience bring? You must face and accept the darkness within yourself, since fighting it will not work? Is he evil? Fear? Your opposite, or a part of you?

Here's a speed-run of the whole game. The screenies above are from (3.08), (3.49), and (8.27).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Oh, wordle. Where have you been? Allowing anyone to make art out of text? Awesome. How can I resist?

Beginner's Luck -- the new space play.

Alpha Geek -- last year's play

B A Start

My Twitter account

I'll tell you one thing -0 I say 'just' a lot.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stuff Only Alex Cares About

Thing the first.

I'm pretty sure I remember someone in the DVD documentaries for the special edition of Fellowship of the Ring saying that Tolkien invented the word "wraith". Imagine my surprise, then, when I read a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald using the word. Fortunately, someone is handling this for me.

Thing the Second.

Nice try, Mountain dew with this commercial.

Doesn't hold a candle to this:

Thing the third.

After reading this post, I really am disappointed that my brother didn't propose to his fiancee on Warcraft, though I am wondering if there will be a ceremony in-game. For the record, I am a priest.

Thing the last.

The Rock Band forums have a post dedicated to the analyzation [sic] of the Beatles cinematic. A few good catches in there.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band Cinematic -- Annotated

If you haven't seen the opening cinematic of the upcoming The Beatles: Rock Band, you really ought to. Here's my attempt at annotation. This is mostly from memory, so please feel free to contribute.

update -- contributions have been labeled with initials.
latest update 6-7-09

We start off in Liverpool, with the Fab Four playing at The Cavern Club, the bar in which more or less had their beginnings. As we pan down, we get a lingering glimpse of posters featuring the names of several songs and lyrics.

Hard Days Night (title)
Come Together (title)
Benefit of Mr. Kite (title)
Rocky Raccoon (title)
Maggie mae (title)
The Revolution (title -- Revolution #1 and #9)
Carry That Weight (title)
Mr. Moonlight (title)

St. Peter's Parish Church is where Paul met John. (TRB)

Dizzy Miss Lizzy (title)
Twenty Flight Rock (Eddie Cochran song Paul later covered)
The Blackbirds (title)
Blue Jay Way (title)
Maggie Mae and the Word (titles)
The Diamond Buyers (if it makes you feel all right) (lyric, Can't Buy Me Love)
Jeremy and the ? (character from Yellow Submarine)

Rock & Roll Music (title)

The Meanie Blues (reference to the Blue Meanies from the Yellow Submarine movie)
My favorite reference here is "The Semoline Pilchards" (lyric, I Am the Walrus).

Out on to the street in avoidance of throngs of screaming teens (which, if I remember correctly, was the plot of Hard Day's Night). And, wouldn't you know it, there's an Old Brown Shoe (title) in the alley.

The dash includes this shot:

Based on this photo:

Next up, a road featuring Maxwell's Silver Sundries (song title, Maxwell's Silver Hammer) and a fireman, who I assume likes to keep his fire engine clean (lyric, Penny Lane). Maxwell Edison was majoring in medicine (lyric), and perhaps thus the Surgery sign. Also look for the lizard outside the window (lyric, "lizard on a window pane", Happiness is a Warm Gun)

I believe there's a stack of pennies on the lane (or sidewalk) underneath the fireman. I'm willing to bet the WANTED poster is Bungalow Bill (notice the pith helmet). (TRB)

And poking his head out of the hole in the ground in which he sleeps is Mean Mr. Mustard (title, lyric). (TRB)

Duck into a restaurant, whose menu is surely all references. "Fish and Finger Pies" is from Penny Lane, and Hippy Hippy Shake is a title -- tough to read much else, but there's clearly more. The restaurant lists mostly items from "Savoy Truffle," but also includes "Honey Pie." (TRB) "One and One is Two" is a title, as is "Mean Mister Mustard" (above the door). The Grapes was one of the Beatles hangouts.

An Abbey Road (album cover). Where's Paul cigarette? On the left in the back, the horse with the H blanket is Henry the Horse from "Mr. Kite" (TRB) I think the mailbox on Abbey Road is actually a newspaper vending machine for the paper "What Goes On" (title) (TRB)

And who's that in the background as they get in the car? It could only be Lovely Rita, meter maid. (title) Without the bag across her shoulder she doesn't look very much like a military man, but she can give us a wink anytime.

And a gift basket from Strawberry Fields Farm (title) in the car. How nice!

It even includes a green apple, which is the logo for Apple Records. (MG)

Next up, the arrival in the States. Also, a yellow submarine (title, movie) can be seen in the river. (MG)

I'm fairly certain the sound of the plane as it lands is from Back in the USSR.

Note the accurate clothing.

On to the Ed Sullivan show.

and some other venue. (Anyone?) The typewriter's got to be a Paperback Writer reference, right?
Next up, Shea Stadium.

Shea Stadium signs...
P.S. I Love You (title)
Paul, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (title)

And then things get... a little weird. Sgt. Pepper uniforms appear on our favorite moptops.

Note the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (title) on the left. Can we safely say those are eggmen on the right? (lyric, I Am the Walrus)

Here's a fellow whose stomach says Goodbye and Hello (title). Is the "stupid bloody Tuesday man"? (lyric, I Am the Walrus)

The piano on the left of this shot is from the promo video from Strawberry Fields Forever. "I think the audio equipment in the English Garden is from the outdoor recording sequence in Help! as well as the silver teapot (Buckingham Palace scene?)." (TRB) Needs verification

Is this a newspaper taxi? (lyric, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds)

There's a very brief glimpse of the top of the giant drums, which shows they are the drum from the Sgt. Pepper album cover, (JK)

The costumes from I Am the Walrus.

A quick shot of a Blue Meanie (from the Yellow Submarine movie). Are these elementary penguins? (lyric, I Am the Walrus -- TRB)

And this last shot of them... so familiar but I'm not sure from what. Anyone?

Perhaps the pose at least comes from this. The order of the boys and color of their pants are correct. (TRB)

The Beatles are riding the elephant god Ganesha: Lord of Success at the end. (TRB)

Fairly certain the last note heard is the second to last note from "Day in the Life".

Also of note: The game drops on September 9, 2009. Is that a shout out to Revolution 9? ("Number 9... number 9... number 9...") (MG)

Thanks to Todd, Garv, and Johnny K for excellent contributions.