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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

Times like this, I wish we had a woman on the PopMatters Multimedia staff (and hey, any who wish to apply only have to click here and follow the directions).


It being the case that we don’t, I decided to go ahead and check out this past Sunday’s Best Buy “Wii for Women” event myself.  In case you hadn’t heard of the event, either through Best Buy itself or the countless blogs that went ahead and did some of Best Buy’s advertising for them, here’s the flyer:


Right from the outset, it looks a little bit suspect—I mean, we have a flyer that’s attempting to lure women to a video game based event by making a point of offering non-video game stuff.  Granted, it’s Best Buy, so the GPS sort of makes sense, but raffling off spa visits?  Do we even have spas in Buffalo?


(Oh, stop that.  Of course we do.  Somewhere.)


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Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008
Nobody seems to mention it anymore, but Gyruss was one of the best shmups of the NES era.

For a good portion of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a major (major!) part of developing for the home console market was wrapped up in translations of arcade games.  This is an art that has slowly dwindled over the course of the last decade, as arcades have slowly but surely dwindled in popularity.


For an arcade port to succeed, it must do at least one of two things: It can either be incredibly faithful to the original, à la the console translations of Street Fighter II, which may not have been quite as powerfully in a graphical sense as their arcade counterparts, but actually managed to retain the spirit, the tight control, and the full set of characters and moves from the coin-op.  To a point, the Mortal Kombat ports were the same way (at least, the ones that retained the blood), and if you go back to the Atari 2600, Asteroids, Defender, and even Pong were games that were faithfully reproduced to varying extents, but it was truly their similarity to their arcade counterparts that led to their high amounts of commercial success.


In certain cases, however, a strict port of the arcade experience just won’t cut it—Gyruss, one of the more underappreciated NES experiences, is one of those cases.  For one thing, the arcade version of Gyruss had been around for a solid five years before the Nintendo version was released.  A port had even been released for the 2600 some four years before the NES version.  The fact that it was even a candidate for a port is a testament to just how popular the Famicom/NES was at that point in its life, as publishers scrounged up just about any property they had lying around to put out on the uberpopular system.  Given its already well established history, then, it made sense that a new version, five years late to the party, would have to be souped up a bit to appeal to an audience that may well already have tried three versions of the thing.


For those who have never seen it or heard of it, Gyruss is a “tube shooter”—think Tempest, or Space Giraffe if you’re a Jeff Minter fan.  Basically, you have a 360-degree range of motion, as you fly around in strict circles shooting at whatever shows up.  The enemies in Gyruss appear in Galaga-like patterns, swirling onto the screen before taking their spots in the distant center.  The point of a tube shooter like Gyruss is that it’s a way to give the player a three-dimensional combat experience using sprites; theoretically, objects closer to the outer circumference of the screen are “closer” to the player, while those in the center are further away.  It’s a play mechanic that takes some getting used to as you acquaint yourself to the perspective.


Still, once you do that, the thing’s a blast.  HRdK0rE shmup players won’t have too much trouble with it, as it’s probably one of the easiest shooters the NES has to offer, but those just looking for a good time blasting away some spaceships will find much to enjoy.


Thanks to the arcade version’s re-release via the Xbox Live Arcade, I was able to see just how much of the game had changed from the original arcade version.  Perhaps most notable are the boss fights—the Nintendo version has bosses that must be tackled before reaching each of the planets of the solar system, bosses that range from stupefyingly easy to oddly random and frustrating.  Thankfully, there’s another new addition to the NES Gyruss arsenal, that being the use of super shot bomb things that do a heck of a lot more damage than your typical pea-shooter.  There are a few other subtle changes like the order of the stages and the types of sprites used, but mostly, it’s the bosses that set this game apart.


It doesn’t seem like much of a change, really, but it actually does enhance the sense of accomplishment one gets from beating these levels and making it to the various planets.  Being able to modify the control scheme is nice, too, and even a little bit ahead of its time.


The NES Gyruss, sadly, has not yet made its way to the Wii’s Virtual Console service, and it’s a shame, as there’s certainly an audience for this sort of game; heck, non-popularity hasn’t stopped them from putting out a metric ton of Turbografx-16 shmups.  As such, hidden treasures like Gyruss are why God invented Ebay, and why any connoiseur of retro games needs an actual console in their living room.  Gyruss will never get your heart pounding with snazzy graphics or anything approximating true innovation (even for its time), but as far as don’t-blink arcade-style shooter experiences go, it’s one of the best the old-school has to offer.


Tagged as: gyruss, konami, nes, ports, shmups
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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
In this week's edition of Banana Pepper Martinis, L.B. Jeffries takes a look at the use of academia in the discussion of video games.


A growing trend in game criticism is to shoehorn academic disciplines like Marxism or Freudianism into video game analysis. A good example would be the blatant mother figure tones from Cortana in Halo and the fact that Master Chief seems dead set on winning her affections. Another would be going on about the mis-en-scene of Bioshock, which is just a fancy way of saying the game makes you feel claustrophobic. Typical reactions to these kinds of exchanges vary from “It’s a fucking game” to “Dude…seriously, it’s a game.” Which is fair enough, but how exactly are we supposed to talk about video games with people beyond “I luv teh gamez”? There is only one logical conversation after that: the experience itself. This is actually what academia really is when it applies to a game, varying ways to explain and analyze with great depth and magnitude the precise nature of that game’s experience.


This wouldn’t be a proper defense of academia without some game analysis though, so I’m going to take this through a very gentle, easy going run down of Starcraft (after the jump).


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-03-31...

Wow.  When the DS only has two releases for the week, you know things are slowing down.


Somehow, March was a tremendous release month, with a whole pile of huge names and little sleepers to keep things lively throughout the month.  April, on the other hand, looks to be one long wait for Grand Theft Auto IV.


Still, that’s not to say (entirely) that there’s nothing of note coming out this week.  Anyone who still hasn’t tried Call of Duty 4 is officially out of excuses.  Look—I know it was a hugely popular game, but I also know that the WWII-Shooter subgenre is utterly uninteresting to a large segment of people.  Generally, I am one of those people.  As such, I don’t know if it’s the removal of the brand from WWII or whether the drama and execution of the game is just that good, but…I had two days with Call of Duty 4 before I sent it out for review, and I swear to you, I could not stop talking about it for a solid week, until I actually picked it up.  It’s an incredible game, even if the genre is not one that you care to dabble in on a regular basis.


Even so, a few new maps does not a Game of the Week make, and thus, I must bestow the honor on Overclocked: A History of Violence for the PC.  A few of us here in PopMatters Multimedia drool like idiots whenever a point-and-click adventure game comes along, and Overclocked is just such an adventure.  Not only that, but it’s an adventure that may actually appeal to the survival horror crowd as well.


Here’s an excerpt from the press release:


...step into the world of Overclocked as former army psychiatrist, David McNamara. You are called to the Staten Island Forensic Hospital in New York City to consult on a case that requires your expertise in forensic psychiatry. Tasked with exploring the minds of five young men and women who were found scared, screaming, and without memory, you make alarming discoveries as you begin to cautiously probe the psyches of your young patients…


Sounds interesting, right?  If the game can pull off the dread and moodiness that the description inspires, it’ll be fantastic.  Of course, that’s a big if. 


Are you looking forward to any of this week’s releases?  Check ‘em out after the jump.



The only Overclocked trailer we could find



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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008
Yesterday, Rockstar Games announced the Rockstar Social Club, which sounds like a good idea despite the fact that there's nothing "social", really, about it.

Shh…did you feel that?  That little tremor, underneath your feet, did you feel it?


That was the hype train, embarking on its latest journey through mass media city, blog village, and all points in between.  Its passenger for the next month will be Grand Theft Auto IV, set to claim the title of most hotly hyped release of 2008 now that the buildup to Super Smash Bros. Brawl has passed us by.  GTA4‘s seat is likely saved until at least mid-May, when it will likely have to step aside for the adventures of Geriatric Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4.


The sparkplug that’s starting the train’s journey to April 29th, then, is the announcement of this:


That’s right, folks, the Rockstar Social Club will be opening on the same day as GTAIV‘s release, complete with all of the seedy connotations and orange neon you can handle. 


Before you start thinking that Rockstar’s games are going to turn into a dark, irreverent version of Second Life, one thing should be clear: There is nothing, at least according to the press release that showed up in my e-mailbox yesterday, “social” about the Rockstar Social Club.  It is an online leaderboard with a fancy name, which requires only a PlayStation Network ID or an Xbox Live Gamertag as admission to enter.  Offer up one or both of those things, and you get to measure yourself against the legion of other Grand Theft Auto junkies out there in a number of different ways.


That said, as far as leaderboards go, the Rockstar Social Club sounds pretty snazzy.  It’ll be keeping track of the race to get to 100%, and the first 10 insomniacs to do so will get an extra-special trinket of some sort that they will undoubtedly be able to Ebay for big bucks.  It’ll have a map keeping track of every recorded crime committed in Liberty City.  The bit that sticks out most, however, is the following:


The Liberty City Marathon—A ranking of special physical milestones achieved in the game - from the amount of miles walked, driven, or swam - to the number of bullets fired and stunt-jumps jumped.  There will be additional special marathon-based competitions in the future from this area as well.


I’m a huge fan of the achievement system, given that achievements can serve as suggestions, prompting ways to play games that one might never have tried had Gamerscore points not been attached, thus extending the life of a game beyond its immediate goals.  Still, there’s something more than a little humorous about the idea of keeping track of, say, who swam the most in a game called Grand Theft Auto.  You just know that there are going to be a few poor souls whose ultimate goal is to top the distance-swam leaderboard, and watching that race as it happens is going to be a little bit hilarious in a sad sort of way.  Still, kudos to Rockstar for finding ways, more than a month before the game is even released, to extend the play experience of a game destined to eat hundreds of hours of our time anyway. 


The full press release is after the jump, and the latest trailer is sitting below.  Looking forward to GTAIV?  Couldn’t care less?  Let us know in the comments, and enjoy your weekend.



Grand Theft Auto IV Trailer: “Good Lord, What Are You Doing?”



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