In Between Posts, July 29, 2012

Exerting a lot of effort into doing something and having that project pay off is so rewarding. I finished up my business ethics course last week and over the duration of eight weeks, I did a lot of research and writing and came away with a greater awareness of the foundations of ethical philosophies and they can be applied to the business world. I’m sad to say that it was the final course my professor would be teaching at my school. She motivated me to give more than what was required this semester and in general, I enjoyed her personality.

With that course done, I have a few weeks of downtime before the fall semester begins. With the Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics underway, I have plenty to do with that extra time. My friend and I played through about a dozen more NES games since last week and the competition has remained super close; I believe he leads by two wins.

Outside of those two activities, last week for me was comprised mainly of work. I’m in a new position, helping out in the accounting department of the grocery store I work for and I’ve been training to take it over next week when the current accountant is going on vacation. I oversee a lot – dealing with a little bit of everything for six stores – and it’s a lot to do, but I’ll manage.

I did enjoy my Saturday though having attended the drag races with my dad. That’s been his lifelong hobby and growing up around drag cars and car culture has been so cool. It’s been years since I’ve been to a drag strip but the sounds and smells are something you’ll never forget.

My dad’s ride for the night, an AMC Hornet from the early 70s.

Asteroids [Atari 2600] – Review

There are 66 variations of the standard game, each featuring a unique combination of settings.

When I devised the competition between my friend and I where we play every video game we collectively own, I knew witnessing the growth of the medium firsthand would be a plus. Now that we’ve played through my collection of Atari 2600 games, I’ll flood the internet with my thoughts on selected titles. I’ll begin with Asteroids.

Asteroids is a classic. Originally released as an arcade game in 1979, it’s heralded as one of the most popular and influential video games of all time. It was released for the 2600 in 1981 and while it differs from the arcade version, it’s a fun version of the game nonetheless.

Asteroids for the Atari 2600 looks much simpler in comparison to the arcade version (pictured below) but it seems to replicate the gameplay very well.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the game, although this session something “clicked” and I got it. The thing that I’d been missing in all of my previous experiences with Asteroids was competition. Without another person to compete against, the game is unfulfilling, unless you’re a person who is adamant about besting a personal score.

Learning to effectively steer and thrust the spaceship is the first key to success. The spaceship’s tendency is to remain still. If I’m not pushing the thrust button, it’s not moving. So when I press it, the spaceship only moves for as long as I press it before coasting to a standstill again. Piloting this spaceship wouldn’t be of much concern were it not for the unbridled asteroids whizzing through space.

The single screen that Asteroids takes place in is chock full of the game’s namesake as well as the occasional UFO. Lucky for me, I was piloting a spaceship that was prepared for the unknown, kind of. As the spaceship is traveling in a potentially dangerous screen of space, it’s naturally equipped with weaponry. However, like modern-day NASA, I imagine the makers of this spaceship were also suffering from a reduced budget because its weaponry doesn’t outright destroy large asteroids but breaks them into smaller ones. Managing them was the second key to success. If I began haphazardly shooting, I’d rack up points quickly, but piloting around the leftover chunks of asteroids would prove to be overwhelming.

A screenshot from the arcade version of Asteroids.

Playing a lot of simpler games has made me think deeply about video games. At their most basic level, they’re puzzles tasking us to understand their unique set of rules, adapt, and conquer them. Asteroids is so fun because of that formula. Controlling the spaceship and managing the destruction of asteroids are the two major aspects of the game, that’s really it, and with someone to compete against, it’s out of this world.

Monsters Ate My Condo [iOS] – Review

It’s another match-three puzzle game!

Relying on a sense of absurdity that’s in line with the bulk of their releases regardless of medium, Adult Swim Games’ Monsters Ate My Condo is a fast-paced puzzle game that’s worth a look. The game was developed by PikPok, a developer of smartphone and tablet games, and originally released onto Apple’s App Store in 2011. It was just recently released for Android devices.

What the finger says.

As they fell from the heavens, I had to match three or more of the same colored condos to remove them from the growing, ever toppling tower of condos. I had to manage the increasing amount of condos and prevent the tower from falling over while appeasing the monsters on either side of it. If need be, I could swipe condos to monsters to make room and try to get a combo, but if I fed a monster too many condos of an opposing color, I ran the risk of upsetting the monster too much, at which point it’d break and destroy the tower, ending the game.

Besides just appeasing the monsters, I could utilize their special abilities in an effort to increase my score. Along with the special abilities of the monsters, I could try and create chains of combos to reach for a high score. When I created a chain, special blocks of bronze, silver, gold, and eventually diamond constructions remained, that when matched, produced big points. Although my management of the tower and the monsters was my focus, scoring big points was the name of the game.

In both the endless mode and the time attack mode, scoring as many points as possible was the goal. My management of the tower and the monsters became tougher the longer a session would go on. As my high score climbed, so too did the tower; it’d be able to hold more condos and the condos began coming in more colors and types. The longer a gameplay session lasted, the more ridiculous it became. The screen was full of nonsense in line with the Japanese monster movie vibe along with point totals and multipliers that were constantly flying around.

Again, what the finger says.

Monsters Ate My Condo is a visually striking game that was quick to captivate and worth every bit of the dollar it costs.

In Between Posts, July 22, 2012

My friend and I have competed in about a dozen NES games thus far in the Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics. The NES round has been front-loaded with a large amount of sports games. Last time we competed we played one golf game, three baseball games, and one hockey game. We played Baseball – a stinker, Bases Loaded – an improvement over Baseball with solid gameplay, and Bases Loaded 3 – a further improvement over Bases Loaded, mainly in the graphics and soundtrack; we we wound up mixed on which was the best baseball game, split between Bases Loaded and Bases Loaded 3.

I’m excited to get back to the games but this is my final week of my online class and I’m afraid my time will be consumed by it for the first half of this week. I did make time for fun last week though. I completed Red Dead Redemption and was stunned! It is so very good. I also attended the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Likewise, it was very good and I was stunned!

In Between Posts – July 15, 2012

I got a promotion this past week and I’m pretty happy about it. I’ve begun assisting the head honchos at the grocery store I work at with accounting and clerical work. The company is expanding pretty quickly and their workload is increasing. I’ll get a raise, but it’s a far cry from what I could earn with my accounting degree. Although, thanks to help from my parents, I’ve been able to remain free of school debt so I can afford to be less ambitious right out of the gate when I graduate in the fall. I figure I’ll stay on for at least a year or two in the hopes of working my way into corporate, and then I’ll see what happens around then. Regardless, I’ll be getting crucial experience that will be a boon going forward.

My summer class is still going on although it’s more than halfway done. I have a few more weeks of my business and ethics course and then I’ll have a week or two break before my fall semester begins.

And on the video game front, I managed to get a little progress done in Red Dead Redemption, and my friend and I have made an important step forward in our Olympic Games. I previously thought my Mattel Intellivision would remain unplayable for this event thanks to its outdated TV output – a coaxial cable or sorts. However, I always thought the TV output on my Atari 2600 looked strange and it turns out this is because it had an adapter on it that transformed its coaxial output into an RF output – something I can make work. Sure enough, I was able to remove it from the 2600, hook it up to the INTV, and voila! It was the first time I’ve ever played the INTV and we only got a couple of games to work. Still, it was a hell of moment when Burgertime popped up on the TV.

Have a good week!

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu [GameCube] – First Impressions

Where’s Gotham City’s ethics?

The most notable aspect of Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is that it marked a first for the Batman franchise: the first time a major character was debuted in a video game. It has been nine years since the game’s release though, and I’m not aware of the villain Sin Tzu gaining much traction; I mean, I’ve only ever heard of him in the context of this video game, albeit, I’m not especially well versed in the Batman universe. Debuting in a mediocre beat ‘em up probably didn’t help his chances at stardom though.

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is an Ubisoft Montreal developed, Ubisoft published beat ‘em up from 2003. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and while I only played the GameCube version, I’m sure the PS2 and Xbox versions are identical. My friend and I played through what I believe constitutes the first quarter of the game, and I speak for both us when I say Rise of Sin Tzu was underwhelming.

The game revolves around on the eponymous hero defending Gotham City from the eponymous villain. Sin Tzu has formed an alliance with Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane and they’re wreaking havoc. With the assistance of Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing, Batman sets out to defend Gotham City from these baddies. Although there are four heroes, the game only supports co-operative play for two, a glaring omission. On the bright side, those two extra players won’t be subjected to the tepid gameplay.

This screenshot is cognizant of the game’s quality.


Each hero had slightly different stats and had a wealth of combos to execute, yet I was content to just mash the punch or kick button. The combos were differentiated by timed button presses, although they weren’t starkly different. Special moves could be unlocked using earned points which could also be spent on bonus features like toys or comic book covers. My friend and I played through the first quarter of the game, toppling Scarecrow, and besides the lame combat, the bland level design and poor camera left us unfulfilled.

Stages lasted about ten minutes and tasked us with fighting through groups of Scarecrow’s henchmen. Opposition was light early on but they eventually began using Scarecrow’s gas on us. It affected the camera, making it very wavy, but not problematic like the occasional event of the camera getting hung up on a corner. Still the biggest detriment to our enjoyment was the bland level design. We’d plod down unchanging Gotham City streets, encountering groups of henchmen, but no real excitement. This was compounded by the weak combat and the drab graphics.

Challenges attempted to keep gameplay fresh, although they weren’t too varied and the gameplay was lackluster in the first place.

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a mediocre beat ‘em up that will likely only be remembered for debuting a character into the franchise.

Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics – Round 1 – Atari 2600

To coincide with the London 2012 Olympics and to give my friend and I a proper reason to play through massive amounts of video games, all the while competing, I devised the Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics. We’ll attempt to play through every video game in our combined collections, as long as there’s a fairly easy way of competing. Competitive multiplayer games are a no-brainer, as are video games including scores. I’m including every video game in the results, even though we may not play them. It’ll be a convenient way of cataloging my collection.

The first round revolved around the Atari 2600. One of the pioneers of the video game industry, it brought video games into homes in a big, big way. I have 21 games for the system and perhaps because of their simplicity, they were either good or bad. I’ll probably discuss them in further detail soon, but standouts were Asteroids, Combat, Dragster, Galaxian, Vanguard, Video Pinball, and Yars’ Revenge.

Of the 21 games for the Atari 2600, 15 of them were applicable to the event. I lead the medal count with 8 compared to my friend’s 7, while he leads the high score count with 8 compared to my 7. Essentially, the first round was a wash. up next is the Intellivision, if I can figure out a way to get it working.

If anyone has any ideas for games to include or possible prizes, lemme know. This event will take a very long time, but it’ll be a fun way to experience the evolution of the industry, game design, and advances in technology and thinking. Plus, it’ll just be fun.

Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics

In Between Posts, July 8, 2012

Well it seems I’m feeling better. My fatigue left me towards the end of last week and I got back into the groove of things proper by working my tail off in the produce department, completing research and homework, and playing video games. I’m seeing The Amazing Spider-Man later tonight so I’ve got something to look forward to. Afterwards, I’ll be neck deep in homework relating to business ethics and the environment. I tell you what, nothing will make you think the phrase “business ethics is an oxymoron” like reading in-depth about business practices and how they relate to the environment. On the bright side, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Red Dead Redemption has eluded me the past couple of weeks thanks to my increased focus on school. Still, the few hours I play it here and there keep me wanting more and continue to enlighten me of the impressive talent housed at Rockstar Games. When talking about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda Game Studios was given massive praise and rightfully so. One comment that stuck out to me (and it could’ve originated internally) was that the worlds they created were done so well, they were essentially the main character. Indeed, Skyrim was an impressive area in it’s totality. Playing Red Dead Redemption, I can see a glimmer of the same awesomeness in the massive environment they’ve created, but truly, Rockstar Games’ skills lie in the narrative – specifically the characters. They’re multidimensional personas that are not simply out to kill someone. The journeys I go on with them, where I’m giving a heaping helping of dialogue, fills me in on their motivations, goals, and personalities to such a degree that it’s almost pathetic comparing other games to Red Dead Redemption. Needless to say, it’s engrossing.

Also, I must give enormous congratulations to my best friend and his wife for their newborn daughter. They’re two of my favorite people and I wish all three the best.

Phantasy Star Online 2 – Open Beta Impressions

Hopefully it’ll get translated.

Watching Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II’s attract mode and listening to its main theme is haunting as it reminds me just how much of an impact the game has had on me. When I began playing the GameCube rerelease of the classic Dreamcast game, I was just developing a burgeoning appreciation for video games. It was a form of escapism – it transported me into a spectacular science-fiction setting where I’d spend hours searching for better gear, rare loot, and just taking in the sights. Its action-based combat and role-playing foundations were not only appealing to me, but what I still consider to be one of the pinnacle’s of video game design. I’ll routinely return to it and I can easily get sucked back in for hours. PSO’s story was light, but I felt as though I truly was a pioneer uncovering the mysteries of a brave new world.

Sega has made plenty of sequels to PSO since its original Japanese release of late 2000, but none of them properly advanced, or even recaptured what made PSO so great. The most notable among them, 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe introduced an honest-to-goodness attempt at a narrative which, in my eyes, fell flat thanks to my low tolerance for the adolescent anime that inspired it. Yet the most incriminating blow against PSU was its decreased emphasis on dungeon-crawling and looting. However, it seems Sega’s losing streak is about to end with the release of Phantasy Star Online 2.

After entering open beta on June 21, 2012, I jumped at the chance to check out PSO2 for myself. Unfortunately for me, the beta is hard to understand because it’s completely in Japanese. Luckily, there are plenty of English-speakers who are rallying together to translate the beta and enjoy it. I have to give massive thanks to for assembling many great guides ranging from how to download the beta to complex menu navigation.

A party taking on a big baddie.

Although my time with PSO2 has been brief and I’m usually in a state of confusion, I’ve been able to gleam many things about it thanks to my experience with PSO. Firstly, the game looks amazing. Character designs retain the non-flamboyant sci-fi anime style from PSO while, unfortunately, still housing some over-the-top designs in the vein of those from PSU. The first playable stage, the forest environment (the only I’ve played in) harkens back to PSO’s first stages while marking massive technologic advances since 2000. PSO2 looks phenomenal and it seems like it scales well, accommodating laptops up to high-end gaming PCs.

Combat is still based around rhythmically forming combos. Attacks are sequenced together by timing button presses, generally up to three times. Previously, animation preferences made combat less than fluid, although now it seems sets of three-hit combos can be started much quicker after one ends giving combat a better flow. Enemies can be locked onto ensuring accuracy with specific weapons like guns, but a new camera angle presents the game more like a third-person shooter which may be more appealing to some folks. Also brand new is a jump button which can be used to navigate environments better and reach weak spots on enemies. Loot is indeed present but I can’t provide any detail thanks to the language barrier.

The third-person shooter mode actually makes sense in this series.

Players still pick from one of three classes; a decision revolving mostly around swords, guns, or magic. However, characters are no longer locked to a class, they can be changed whenever but the character has three levels – one for each class. Character customization is accounted for and it’s as deep as it has ever been.

Spaceships representing servers are the characters’ residences and here humankind thrives. Other players wander about as though they were in a virtual mall, which they are – shops are abound. Of course communication is a major aspect and plenty of players have mastered the art of picture chat. Alone or with a posse, missions can be tackled that, with an understanding of the language, would unravel the mysteries of the game, but as is just provide another obstacle to enjoying the game.

Phantasy Star Online 2 seems very promising to me. As someone who loved PSO, but not much else past that game, I appreciate that the developer’s have that game in their mind. I hope PSO2 is as eminently replayable as PSO was – complete with multiple difficulties, loads of loot, weapon grinding, and character progression. As of now, I can’t fully experience the open beta and understand all of the changes, but the fact that they aren’t straying too far from the original formula is satisfying enough to me. After all, I spent three hundred plus hours with PSO without ever going online.

In Between Posts, July 1, 2012

Well, I didn’t get anything published last week, although I have two articles pending. I was sick for the entirety of last week and contracted poison ivy during a game of disc golf. Despite these ailments, I met my work and school responsibilities.

I was, by definition, sick for the first days of the week, but after sleeping my sickness off, I’ve been in a familiar post-sickness haze. It’s as though I’m operating on autopilot. Even though I wasn’t up to snuff, I still worked thirty hours and finished my homework for the week. I even got promoted this week! I should be assisting the accountant soon, perhaps even taking over! It’ll be experience at the very least! Unfortunately, my yearly case of poison ivy has popped up to make sure I can’t fully enjoy my summer, but whatever.

Red Dead Redemption has enthralled me in the past few weeks, but because I’ve been out of it, I haven’t devoted much time to it. I also partook in the open beta for Phantasy Star Online 2 which is very promising. “Real” articles coming in the future!