In Between Posts, June 24, 2012

Last week saw the completion of my first 5K – The Color Run! It’s not a competitive event per se, but that didn’t stop my mom, sister, and I from jogging the majority of it. Since it’s not a competition, The Color Run is based around a gimmick. Every kilometer is represented by a color and kilometer marker has a color section where volunteers hurl chalky colored powder at passerbys – a white shirt was mandatory attire. The goal, other than to have fun, is to end up with as much color as possible. Each runner is also given a package of chalky colored powder that they can throw whenever, but it was recommended to save for the post-race festivities.

The event was massive (it sold out) with 10,000 runners clogging midtown Tulsa. My family and I started in the final wave of runners, but we were able to weave around others and wound up around the middle of the pack. I’m surprised I did so well since I haven’t been stringent in my training. Being able to jog the majority of the event (4 kilometers I believe) was rewarding in itself. This summer has in fact turned out to be one of my most active, just like I hoped.

The event travels throughout the U.S. so if you have a few friends or family willing to do it, I’d recommend doing so. Admission was $50 but it also nets a t-shirt and headband, but the experience itself was priceless.

I barely got color on me, with the exception of my legs which unfortunately aren’t in the photo. Some people were completely covered. Check the website for videos.
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Jetpack Joyride – Review

Those scientists better watch out…

My iPod has been host to more of my gaming time recently and one of the reasons is Jetpack Joyride. This free game was developed by Halfbrick Studios and released last year. But before discussing the game, I want to address the Australian studio’s dramatic rise to prominence.

Founded in 2001, they spent eight years as a contract developer, mostly focusing on Nickelodeon properties. In 2009 they released their first original game and the following year they released Fruit Ninja. This was unbeknownst to me. It’s hard to believe that the studio responsible for one of the most popular games in recent years spent nearly a decade toiling on handheld versions of children’s properties. They’re the video game equivalent of a long-time musician who never “made it” writing a song that becomes a hit.

What is this? An encyclopedia entry for a game developer or a review of a video game? Sheesh…

… because the jetpack has a machine gun attached to it.

Okay, onto Jetpack Joyride. Each game begins with Barry Steakfries busting through a laboratory wall with a pilfered jetpack. If there was a goal to the game, it’s simply to fly as far as you can and beat your personal high score. What keeps me coming back and not wanting to put it down though is the multitude of short-term objectives.

Players always have three missions that they’re working on. When completed, they’re rewarded with level ups and money. The missions weren’t tough; they mostly required dedication. This made them especially alluring because I’d often think I could complete at least one before doing something else. Earned money could be spent on gadgets, costumes, and a mix of other items and the store itself is tiered so better items are unavailable until a specific number of lower tier items have been bought.

There were a few other vehicles, including the Crazy Freakin’ Teleporter.

As was the case with Thomas Screiber’s Slayin’, I feel that Halfbrick Studios was able to infuse a lot of character into a small package. The art direction and the in-game text were great, but the best part about Jetpack Joyride was its short-term reward system. I always had something to focus on, be it a new high score, completing a mission, or trying to unlock an item from the store and this system of short-term gratification kept me playing and playing and playing.

A Recommendation: Pixel Licker Games

The PSP/XBLA game Half-Minute Hero seems like a spot-on comparison.

While perusing the internet, I stumbled upon the website of Pixel Licker Games. Under this name, Thomas Screiber releases the games he makes in his spare time. He is an artist who started off in the industry working for Capcom in 2000. Since then, he’s worked for various companies and on a half-dozen video games including the Maximo series and My Sims, among others. He has a fondness for pixel art and this fondness is readily apparent in the three games he has made available on the website.

The only one I’ve played thus far is Slayin’. It’s a simple 2D game that tasks players with walking their knight, mage, or knave to the left or right, running into enemies to kill them. Characters can level up, spend their found money, and build a combo to get a high score. It isn’t complicated, but it does require skill, luckily it controls fantastically and is fun to play. The most awe-inspiring aspect of Slayin’ is its art though. Screiber’s talent is on display in this game that looks like it came out the 16-bit era. Scratch that, it looks better than most games of that era! You’d think that pixel art is a limiting medium, yet he’s fit a ton of personality into this, and from the looks of it, his other games. Of course, it’s with this and other types of restraints that were present in earlier video game development that forced developers to craft songs that were instantly catchy or design characters that were definitive, despite being made of pixels.

Hopefully more people will discover Thomas Screiber’s works, because he has a ton of talent.

Pixel Licker Games

Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony – Review

This isn’t the Jamestown we learned about in school.

I’m relatively inexperienced with the PC scene, but thanks to the Humble Indie Bundles, I’ve been dipping my toes the water more often. With the fourth and fifth HIBs in my possession, I recently decided to jump into Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony. Developed and published by Final Form Games (a studio consisting primarily of just three dudes!) and released last year, it’s an homage to the shoot ‘em ups of the 16-bit era wrapped around an alternate-historical story.

It’s the early 1600s and thanks to unmentioned advancements in technology, the British have colonized Mars instead of North America. Unfortunately, a combined force of Spanish and Martian soldiers is causing trouble for the British settlers and it’s against this backdrop that a personal story is told involving many real life figures. The game is brief so there isn’t much in the way of narrative, but the interesting setting and alternate-historical story is a neat addition to a smooth game.

The bosses that capped off each stage were impressive.

As I mentioned, the developers of Jamestown must have some reverence for the shoot ‘em ups of the 16-bit era. The graphics appear as if they’re straight out of an arcade cabinet circa the early 1990s. Also, it was around this time that bullet bell shooters were beginning to arrive on the scene and Jamestown clearly fits into this subgenre.

Jamestown starts off simply but eventually cranks up the difficulty when hundreds of bullets are on the screen at any given moment. These types of shooters generally require catlike reflexes and lots of pattern memorization but thankfully, Jamestown isn’t too gnarly. I found it to be paced very well, subtly cranking up the difficulty as stages progressed until the final encounter which tested my skills in different ways.

The gameplay “hook” for Jamestown is a move called the Vaunt. After filling a gauge, I could Vaunt, at which point a shield would temporarily eradicate any nearby bullets. As long as I could keep the gauge full by collecting coins, I’d also have increased damage and a 2x points multiplier.

Although the game proper is brief (easily completed in one sitting), there are plenty of incentives to keep playing. With the story finished, it can be replayed in Farce Mode which exchanges the serious text in the cutscenes to something more whimsical. There’s also a second mode of challenges that have super specific goals. But my two most favorite aspects about Jamestown were the ability to play it using an Xbox 360 controller and the local multiplayer for up to four people.

Shit.

With an Xbox 360 controller in my hand and my laptop hooked up to my TV via HDMI, I was in hog heaven. Jamestown is a finely-tuned shoot ‘em up; blasting enemies, dodging bullets, and collecting coins were all intrinsically satisfying experiences and its lax difficulty (or tough depending on how hard you want it) meant that I could get involved in the game, without pulling my hair out. Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony is a fantastic game – kudos to Final Form Games.

In Between Posts, June 17, 2012

I capped off my week in a fine way yesterday by attending the 2012 Oklahoma Video Game Expo. Held in Bixby, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, the convention featured many retailers and vendors hawking all sorts of classic video games. Seeing harder-to-find games and systems was sweet, but the best part was that tons were hooked up and available for anyone to play! I attended last year and not much has changed, but this time I spent most of my time actually playing games.

The moment I walked in I began playing Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar. The game is a remake of the classic arcade game but what’s most notable is designer Jeff Minter’s trademark psychedelic neon graphics and techno soundtrack. Afterwards I dabbled a bit with various home console games before finishing off along the wall of arcades and pinball machines. My friend and I had competitive matches in Street Fighter II: Champion Edition and a SNK vs. Capcom fighting game. We also competed in Pengo (a Sega game from 1982), Donkey Kong Junior, and a few others. I felt like I was among like-minded people and there was a super positive energy throughout.

Cliffhanger [Sega CD] – First Impressions

Stallone’s outfit seems a little bare for the Rockies.

When the failed heist of a treasury plane leaves John Lithgow and his group of robbers abandoned in the Rocky Mountains, they force rescuer/mountain climber Sylvester Stallone to locate the lost suitcases of money and get them out alive. This introduction is what one gleams after watching the ten or so minutes of low-quality, grainy footage that sets the stage for the first level of the Sega CD video game based off of the 1993 film, Cliffhanger. Developed by Malibu Interactive and published by Sony Imagesoft, Cliffhanger features awful beat ‘em gameplay interspersed with fast-paced 3D snowboarding and dire video clips.

Fighting the dozens of enemies was unpleasant thanks to Stallone’s slow movement, limited selection of attacks, and poor hit detection, among other deterrents.

After locating one of the lost suitcases, Stallone is on his own as he proceeds to traverse and scale peaks that contain way more enemies than one was lead to believe was with Lithgow. The beat ‘em up gameplay that ensues is awful. The stages are full of banal action that manages to be infuriatingly cheap. Stallone moves like a child with a dozer load in his diaper and after every hit he takes, he collapses onto his batch of brownies. This Stallone is not the Rocky who can take the hits, and deal them out with more determination and intensity than his foes. Thankfully, the enemies also can’t take a beating and are out cold after two or three hits. But when it comes to scaling cliffs, don’t even bother. Resting on perches are snipers who can’t be touched, so don’t worry, Stallone’s just going to have to man up and take a few bullets. The lives will be lost and continues will be used – thankfully the game doles out a combined twenty-one chances to outwit Lithgow, but you’re gonna blow through them on the snowboarding sections.

When he’s not killing thugs with his bare hands (or wussing out by using a knife or gun), he’s hitting the slopes and getting his daredevil thrills by outrunning avalanches. How Stallone can go from falling on his ass to outrunning avalanches is a weird disparity in pacing. These stages of the game are quasi-3D with Stallone shredding into the screen while dodging boulders and bushes. Speaking of infuriatingly cheap, it was one of these stages that I rage quit and decided I could spend my time better. Still, the fast-paced gameplay of the snowboarding sections was the complete opposite of the worthless beat ‘em sections and for that, I almost enjoyed it.

This game was released for other systems back in the day (Genesis, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Gear) but this was the only version to feature snowboarding sections.

Cliffhanger’s beat ‘em up gameplay pales in comparison to the titans of the genre and its snowboarding sections are a thrill, but too long for their own good. The soundtrack was ridiculously clear, but I don’t care. The best part of Cliffhanger was the twenty minutes of malodorous video, and that’s saying something.

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm – First Impressions

Rocket Science Games, the developer, was founded by a prolific entrepreneur and a workaholic game designer in 1993 and later received a $12M investment, in part from Sega.

At first glance, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is very interesting. This Sega CD/PC video game is based off of the Xenozoic Tales comic books/TV show and it features graphics and cutscenes that stay true to this heritage. Another way the game sticks to its foundation is through the inclusion of the zany post-apocalyptic story. I perceive the developer’s as having a passion for translating this intellectual property into a video game, and yet, my first impressions of The Second Cataclysm are negative. Repeatedly playing the first level of the on-rails shooter deflated my morale until I eventually threw in the towel.

Through a brief comic book in the manual and an introductory cutscene, I was enlightened on the setting and plot points of The Second Cataclysm. Many hundreds of years in the future, Earth was ravaged by unnatural disasters and the remaining humans survived and thrived underground. When they returned to the surface, the planet was overrun with the remains of their civilizations and confusingly, dinosaurs. They’ve learned to follow the “machinatio vitae” which calls for a balance between nature and machinery and when a race of highly developed ground dwellers sense an upset in this balance, they seek out all around good guy Jack Tenrec to prevent another cataclysm like the one that devastated Earth hundreds of years before.

The game looked good (considering the terrible grainy picture), but the gameplay was bland and difficult.

With his trusty accomplice Hannah Dundee and his 1953 Cadillac, Jack sets out to stop Wilhelmina Scharnhorst’s megalomaniacal ambitions. His road to success is littered with obstacles however, first and foremost that there isn’t one!

As I cruised through the jungle in Jack’s hot ride, I’d try my best to avoid rocks, logs, and dinosaurs and if I couldn’t, I’d have Hannah blast them with her gun. I had to keep an eye on the path ahead though because the road to success wasn’t straight. I’d have to make split-second decisions when I came to forks in the road and I’m not quite sure if this holds true in the earlier stages, but the manual leads me to believe that I could go in circles. Keeping the “machinatio vitae” in mind, I’d try my best not to blast dinosaurs because when I did, my time limit to reach Scharnhorst decreased.

Hannah was shocked to hear that the game’s cutscenes involved little to no animation.

Looking back, I probably was going in circles. Still, I would stick it out for as long as I could until the Cadillac was too beat up from obstacles or I ran into a dinosaur preventing me from completing the first stage. I’m not all that interested in trying to best myself and complete the first stage to, reportedly, do the same thing in the same environment six more times until the game alters its stage design before capping off Jack and Hannah’s journey. An ambitious game with tepid gameplay – Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is a game that can remain extinct.