Sunday, November 27, 2016

Discussing Product Placement

I'll have you know that I went through several versions of this blog post before finally settling on what I really wanted. First, I had this page to discuss urban games, and why they tended to have brown-filtered color palettes (it was inspired by an actual drive through Houston, with there being an overcast and a distinct yet rare "pollution" smell), then it became why urban games are so gritty, and then realized that while I was doing it hard to finish the review because I actually own no open-world games at all as of this writing.

I actually do like exploration yet I'll know that a recreation of "reality" in a video game is impossible because part of what makes it really special is the branding I'll see along the way. I'm currently working on my new US-290 website which replaces an older page on my blog, and recreating a drive through to inner Houston would be great if there was a game that represented it, but I know it will never happen. Part of the fun is all the great things to see along the way. Unfortunately, seeing as most of them are copyrighted brands, that will never happen.

Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s (remember, the Dreamcast had a pretty short life), there was a Dreamcast demo of Crazy Taxi at the local Target. One of the reasons why Crazy Taxi made a bit of impression on me was not necessarily because I relished the idea of driving like an idiot (my driver's license was years away, and there was no way I was able to buy a Dreamcast either), it was that it was the fact that there were "real" brands in there, like KFC, which made it seem more "real" even though it was clearly in a fictional world.

The later rereleases omitted these brands but their distinctive building shapes still remain.

Just like in real life. You realize I have a whole section of my real website dedicated to this, right?

Here's the thing about Crazy Taxi, though, it was not bankrolled by Yum! Brands (or Tricon Global as it was known as back then), they actually had to get permission from the company. At the time, product placement like that was pretty rare. Short of whole games starring corporate mascots (like Cool Spot or M.C. Kids) or other oddities (the Pepsi can in Maniac Mansion), paid advertisements were almost unheard of. A notable exception is the PAL release of Biker Mice from Mars where the whole game turned into a Snickers advertisement.

Of course, we all know what product placement is and it is almost always jarring, because they actually have to show it or talk about it. Filming, however, is fair game. You can clearly see a Chevron sign in the last part of "Comfortably Numb" in The Wall, and I'm sure it was probably unintentional. If you're reconstructing things in a video game, you can't just model the same stuff, otherwise you'll risk a visit from lawyers, which is why developers might choose to make knockoffs instead, and often swap out certain words for others, like "Eastern Union" or something.

Somewhere along the lines, though (looks like early as 2002, though by 2006 it was hitting fever pitch), corporations started to actually pay to get into games by paying them. This I have mixed feelings about.

The first big problem is that it has to be contextually appropriate. Billboards are an easy one and anything in an urban environment is fair game. Yoot Tower, which I will cover at my website in due time (soon, I hope) features billboards for GameWorks, which you could also place as an actual item inside your megastructure. Where it is not appropriate is inappropriate settings, most notably Battlefield 2142, an FPS set in the far future (bonus points for the fact that within a few years of its release, Pepsi radically altered its logo).

Video games are for getting away from politics. If they pulled this during the ugly 2016 election and the two "pick the lesser of two evils" candidates, then this would've been trashed.

The Sims series was another series that used product placement quite well, frankly. I like SimCity, but I never really played the full The Sims games. I did tool around with the vanilla version of the first The Sims game, but I tired quickly of it and got to the point where I eventually grew tired and frustrated of my rapidly deteriorating family unit and put them in a tiny room with almost nothing until they starved. (It may seem cruel and to some extent it is, but don't deny it, everyone who played The Sims did that sooner or later. I suppose expansion packs and downloadable content could've stretched that out (and The Sims did have plenty of that) but if the vanilla game is that bad, then there's little DLC can do besides just wasting time and money.

However, The Sims was a runaway hit for Maxis and EA and work began on an online version. This time, companies like McDonald's and Intel actually paid to be in it, a far cry from the "pay or permission" style of games even just a few years prior.

Unfortunately, The Sims Online was not a success, partly because the environment was so different from what players were accustomed to in single player (rather than a family with a growing income, a single Sim that must grind for money), and there was nothing Maxis could do to fix it. A single glitch in 2005 that created more money than it should've (I'd like to cite it but the only reference is the Wikipedia article itself) destroyed the economy and in 2007, to breath more life into the game (with its subscriber levels in the toilet) and fix the broken economy, EA allowed user-made content into the game, and like Second Life just became a wasteland of whorehouses before shutting down a year later.

...and EA never learned their lesson in terms of "Online Sim games that no one asked for" [image source]

Still, The Sims did well offline and greenlit a sequel. At this point, the series was a cash cow for EA and not only did EA release EIGHT expansion packs, they also released cheaper "Stuff Packs", which were sold in stores, and after five of these, released a branded version, the H&M Fashion Stuff Pack, which included clothing items and H&M-related items (perhaps for use with the "Open for Business" expansion pack).

Problem is, as some snarky reviewers noted, you're buying an advertisement, and unless you really, really love the brand, there's probably just as good mods that do the same thing. This is the sort of thing that should make a good promotional thing, a digital download to be found in stores, coupons, mail-in rebates, and all that. There was also an IKEA stuff pack released a year later.

"Look, sweetie, I know you think it's very comfortable, but we need to go home soon. The sink and oven don't work, and people are staring at us." [img source: Softpedia]

The second big problem is even when you've got a context-appropriate game, you run the chance of ruining realism. If you've got your urban game (or whatever) and strike a deal with McDonald's (or whatever, but we'll use McDonald's for this purpose), it's unlikely anyone else is joining the party. In a "real" environment, there will be plenty of McDonald's restaurants, but there will also be things like Burger King, Wendy's, Whataburger, In-N-Out Burger, Carl's Jr. (or Hardee's), Sonic, and Jack in the Box. It's unlikely but possible all of those exist in your town, but even two of those appearing in a game would be unheard of.

Even if you could scrounge up sponsorships/permissions for everything you could want, the result would look like you completely sold your soul to advertising.

Remember, this exists.

On top of all that, product placement usually requires specific rules on what you can do with it. Going back to the "sandbox" and the Battlefield 2142 example, product placement will do anything to make their product look good. The Gran Turismo series mentioned in that same article will not let you damage cars, despite running into things. Any brands will always use their most recent logo, prototype, and products, so you won't find a "red roof" Pizza Hut if they were to sponsor a game today. It's probably why product placement isn't found in things in most urban sandbox games.

The general idea in all of them is that you're either a criminal or a cop, living in a world of crime. You can play with those moral choices a bit. Playing as a criminal could mean you're as evil as they come or an anti-villain who just was thrown into the wrong circumstances. A player character who is a police officer (usually in a "clear my name" plot) can either fairly uphold the law and harm no one, or is the type that would put a bullet in the neck of a petty thief who just robbed a convenience store. No corporation would want something where you could walk in and damage or steal things. They wouldn't want you to essentially recreate the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald's massacre or rob a 7-Eleven.

But, what if there's another choice? If you really wanted to explore a virtual world where you wanted to see real world brands, why not add it yourself? In my SimCity 4 review, you could see that there's a Days Inn, and that was not sponsored, endorsed, or associated with Cendant Corporation (which owned the Days Inn brand at the time).

Yes, I suppose you could. Since game mods make no money according to EULAs anyway and I can't remember any company actually going after a modder, it seems that this is the more "acceptable" choice. You could try to improve open-world games with real brands but all you'll end up with is just texture swaps and you'll be lucky if half of them are contextually correct and properly scaled, but sometimes it can be done right only if most of the assets were originally intact, which they were.

But even so, the demand for games that actually can use product placement for a betterment of the product is diminishingly small. So far we've identified that only simulation and sandbox/driving games can really use it effectively (and even that is fairly dubious), everything else is just an annoyance that needs to be purged.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Nintendo Switch to Steam Power?

Some years ago I watched the Nintendo E3 event and saw them unveil the Wii U for the first time, and I wrote about it in the blog. Although the writing seems amateurish today, I was not impressed. The Nintendo Switch, which promises to meld the console and handheld experience, is at least a cool idea but to me it still misses the point of why Nintendo became good in the first place before its fall from grace.

The reason why the NES did very well in the marketplace is that it had brilliant games no one else had, and not necessarily because of its exclusivity contract. Better graphics, better game play. In NES games at least compared to the Atari 2600 and its contemporaries, a higher level didn't mean the "the same but more" or "the same but faster", but a whole new experience. New layouts. New bosses. New music. The Sega Master System was more expensive, arrived after the NES had hit the stores, and did not even have a solid line-up of first-party titles. Ask anyone to name some "solid SMS exclusives" and you'll probably get Alex Kidd or Phantasy Star.

And you thought the U.S. box art for the first Mega Man was terrible.

The Super NES fought off stronger competition with once again a superior system with superior games. Their decision to push better games instead of finicky add-ons cemented their place in history. The excellent book Console Wars makes note of the day that, although it isn't explicitly stated in the book, the functional end of Sega as a serious competitor: November 21, 1994. On that day, Sega released the Sega 32X, and Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country. To borrow from a less-successful console from that time period's marketing, "do the math".

It was the Nintendo 64 where Nintendo started to lose track of the industry, by focusing on what they wanted to do and not where the market was going, and that cost them dearly, even if the games would still be good in that period. Fast forward twenty years from 1996 to 2016, and the big problem is that Nintendo's still trying to play by its own rules while the games department is running on fumes. When was the last good Mario, Metroid, or Zelda game made? About a video game generation ago, that's when (at least).

I should point out that Nintendo started doing backwards compatibility for its products only when things started to go wrong. I don't think the Wii would've done nearly as well if did not accept GameCube discs, and the problem with the Nintendo Switch is it won't seem to do Nintendo 3DS games or Wii U games at least out of the box, and given the state of both third parties and first parties these days that's a slim chance that it could do well, and even if it was officially announced, would you drop a high amount of money to play a remastered version of Skyrim? And with the output of Mario's games lately, what will another game look like after Nintendo has hooked up Mario to the milking machine again?

However, Nintendo has stated that it won't replace the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS and will be a new thing, either as insurance policy (like the Nintendo 3DS) or if they really want to be a third column thing (invoking Virtual Boy). And if it carries neither of those products, it will only cut into sales and shelf space of their other products and really harm the company as a whole.

BUT, rather than viewing it as a failure in the making (I'm sure that they'll be a small but vocal segment who will buy it and extol it), what if it totally is different? Watching the video shows it to be a quite large screen compared to the Nintendo 3DS and its contemporaries. I am sure that if this was the case, it would cause more disruption than an Election Day result, but probably also announced by now...if it was compatible with Steam.

While it may sound like wishful fanboy thinking, and to be honest it is, I think some of it does make sense.

1. Why would Bethesda not confirm Skyrim for the Switch but for everyone else? The first explanation would be still waffling if the Nintendo Switch would be a failure or not, which bodes poorly for the system, but the second is if the Switch isn't exactly a stand-alone console, it's a Nintendo-branded PC.

2. Nintendo's willingness to try mobile games may be a prelude to them actually doing a full PC launch. Pokémon Go was a huge hit, making $250 million in a few weeks, while the Wii U loses money on every unit sold and its software sales aren't a whole lot better. It's the 3DS that really carries the company, and even sales for that are slowing down.

3. People have complained for years as to why Nintendo does not make games on the PC, especially as digital distribution makes it easier than ever. Recently, I posted that SMACH Z was doomed for failure because it was hardware based had no software inherent to itself. If it was Nintendo making it, they could pair Steam re-releases with the console, as well as adding exclusives via physical media that may or may not eventually make it to digital distribution later. A well-timed launch will make a massive impact, as it would let people who wanted a handheld Steam device get one, PC gamers pick up "official" copies of games that doesn't involve mucking around with Ice and adding non-Steam games (think about how relatively successful Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VI releases on Steam were), and add incentives for non-Nintendo diehards to purchase one. It would be perfect for everybody.

Buying Super Mario Bros. again may be a tough sell. Maybe if it had extra features somehow...

4. The controller snap-ons. If you had a dedicated home controller for playing at home to just pick up (which it seems to have have and not the derpy snap-together controller that looks like a dog, you don't need to detach the controller pieces every time if you're coming to play back home. The idea would be different snap-on designs for different types of games. Imagine one more designed for FPS use while one designed with a solid NES-style D-pad. The controllers could be the ones that make money.

5. The final reason is that Nintendo has so much to lose if it fails. The system itself is going to incompatible with the 3DS and Wii U without additional hardware (and hardware add-ons have never really worked in market saturation) and there is absolutely no other hardware (announced or rumored) in the pipeline, and neither Pokémon Go nor Super Mario Run will save Nintendo. The only thing that kept Sega running was a $692 million infusion of cash from the late Isao Okawa's personal fortune shortly before the company was acquired in 2004 by Sammy Corporation. If the Nintendo Switch is a success, Nintendo can keep making hardware even if it plays others' software, and still maintain an exclusive group of IPs, keeping the brand alive and in good standing in hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers, as well as continuing to be a promising hardware manufacturer, even after Miyamoto dies someday. If the Nintendo Switch is a failure, that's it. The Game Boy/Nintendo DS line will die with the 3DS, and while they might license out their IPs or make new games, they're finished. I wouldn't bet on them making third party titles unless they have the resources to even do it. Keeping with the Sega example above, the Dreamcast still sold 9.2 million units in its lifetime. That's less than the Wii U's numbers, but they sold 9.2M units in about eighteen months, while it took Wii U two years to reach that number, and that was only because they got a third Christmas, something the Dreamcast never saw.

Even if those reasons made sense on some level to you, the bigger reason still stands. If this was some sort of thing involving Steam, why didn't they say so to begin with? I think the answer is simple--they wanted to focus on the hardware. If they immediately focused on Steam, they would've faced more criticism for the design as well as immediately raising the white flag in terms of the company's console making presence. Here they can trot out the console with no games just to get people intrigued and used to the idea, and they can do a second reveal that will really build excitement for the console. After all, I'm sure that the Nintendo Switch will be able to access Netflix and such, and they didn't show any TV shows of that sort of thing.

If the Nintendo Switch is just an intriguing idea but little to back it up beyond the usual suspects (Zelda, Mario, Pokémon, and the newer version of Splatoon teased), then there's little reason to pick it up, just like the Wii U. But if, if it does have Steam, then it will sell well. After all, Steam functionality would be the "killer feature" the Switch needs, it would provide to a huge audience, and most importantly, it will win back the crowd.

I would buy it.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Buying Retro Games? You're Getting Shafted

I run Windows 7. I'm trying to build up my Steam collection with not the latest and greatest (those are EXPENSIVE and often comes with nasty DLC) but good games or at least the ones that made press for the time (I'm not going to reinstall Façade ever again but I do have five minutes logged on the first Five Nights at Freddy's, which I did buy for cheap). You know what I'll perhaps never be able to put in my Steam library with a clear conscious? SimCity 2000. Yes, I am aware that it's on GOG. But that's not the right version. It's the DOS version, which is the first version of SimCity 2000 made. For what it's worth, it looks pretty sharp and plays okay (hardly the worst port of SC2K out there). It has awful music, but that can be mitigated with some sort of sound card plug-in for your DOSBox/DOSBox fork configuration, because the music is supposed to sound closer to this and not the wheezy, tinny sound that the AdLib makes. The Mac version was ported over from the DOS version (looks almost identical) but it has a higher resolution (the window now can be as big as you like, so that's for you people that have super-high resolution monitors) and a patch was made to fix all of the bugs that the DOS version had plus giving the Launch Arcologies the ability to launch. Having played the DOS version, I can attest how helpful the "bulldozer reversion" fix is.

But the DOS version got this patch, their 1.1 version was to fix a crash on a certain type of processor and allegedly never touched it again because they admitted the DOS code was a "mess", but the Mac OS port was elegant enough to even receive a 1.2 patch that gave it a new 4th speed level, "African Swallow", which was my first exposure to such a bird name (for some reason, I didn't actually see Monty Python & The Holy Grail until I was in college).

"Oh, yeah, an African swallow maybe, but not a European swallow, that's my point."

So rather than attempt to patch the Windows version which also has a 4th zoom level to compensate for higher resolutions but admittedly has a slightly different and duller UI (link, the newspaper seems to have suffered the most) they pass off the crap DOS version for modern Windows, Linux, and macOS users. That is unacceptable. If you want a real playable SimCity 2000 experience, use an emulator like SheepShaver or Basilisk II and find a copy yourself. However, since there's no sort of classic Mac OS "WINE" equivalent (which would be awesome), it would at best sit inside of an emulator and hardly integrate with the rest of your collection. You could, in theory, hack together said emulator with AppleScript to shut down the emulated computer once the application is closed but that would just make a bloated mess and not the elegant solution for mini vMac that could fit on a few floppies.

I recently bought a Sierra pack from Humble Bundle and was disappointed to find that the games that utilize FMV, like Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh have low-resolution videos with scan lines. The original Windows discs originally had quite the video quality, at least equal to a VHS tape of the day, whereas the DOS version resembles something more like the Sega PC. Compare the DOS version here with the Windows version here. Note the dithering artifacts.

The good news is a lot of the classic adventure games (LucasArts, Sierra) have been ported to ScummVM, where you can enjoy the "best" version, regardless of the port it was originally made on, like the NES version of Maniac Mansion, which has music that the early Apple II/DOS versions don't have.

Even the prototype of Maniac Mansion for NES suffers from some censorship, like "THRILL KILL" changed to "TUNA DIVER". I don't think there's any version out there that has the first attempted change, "MUFF DIVER".

But regardless, the prevailing theme of most any retro game is going to be a DOSBox based system. That's not what we should be paying for. It's the future, we all have powerful computers that should in theory emulate whatever the "best" system was, we should not be getting the DOSBox version unless DOS was the only system it came on. The second "retro no-no" is the Flash port, which is what the port of Déjà Vu: MacVenture Series seems to be. If you were going to port such a thing, try actually porting the engine instead of re-doing it in Flash. I don't have proof that they're doing it in Flash but I don't want to give them money to see if my theory is correct. At least they are actually trying to emulate the Mac and IIGS versions instead of pawning the DOS version on people, which is at least something.

So, what can we do to stop this? Well, we need to demand that if you re-releasing retro games, do it right. Make sure that if it is originally DOS, optimize it to run the best instead of requiring that we tweak it to prevent it from being some blurry, out of focus mess. If it can be run in a modern engine re-creation, use that engine, like SCUMM or Doomsday. If it was originally released on DOS but with a better Windows port, patch it to run on XP, 7, and above. (It is a shame that Mac games are not afforded the same freedom DOS games get, and there's no "official" way to run anything, as Apple will try to make all of its products obsolete as soon as possible but won't entertain the idea of a licensed, stripped-down System 6 or 7 for older games.)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How I Got Classic Mac Games into Steam (And You Can Too!)

So I was reading a fan blog for Steam, where someone had tried to run SteamOS on a computer designed to be a dedicated living room console. I perked up when I read about attempting to run Shufflepuck Cafe on Steam. Shufflepuck Cafe, the classic Brøderbund Software title had somehow gotten a Steam release? Turns out it wasn't even a reboot by Ubisoft, it was the knockoff Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe, a port of a free-to-play iOS game. Well, that's no fun.

But then I thought about it, and I realized that Shufflepuck Cafe, the original, the classic, could re-join Steam. Well, I suppose I could've settled with a port, as grabbing the Famicom port and using it with Ice or creating a DOSbox package with the DOS version would've been easy enough. But the Mac version, with its crisp black and white graphics would remain otherwise out of reach.

Have to admit, the Amiga port does look better and includes this awesome title music. [source]

Unfortunately, due to the classic Mac's way of storing files, it's pretty hard to install System 6 from scratch on an emulated Mac (namely, Mini vMac) from a modern Windows system (at one time, an application called HFVExplorer helped out, but I've found it to be unreliable). If you want something easier to jump into, check out a pre-installed build like this but take out all the crap that was also installed, like the eyes in the menu bar that follow your mouse around.

Anyway, thanks to the miracle of Startup Application and a handy utility known as AutoQuit, I was able to create a self-contained Shufflepuck Cafe item using this walkthrough (the actual game from here). Now the fun part was adding to it to Steam, where I just had selected the "Add a Non-Steam Game", and it appeared in the list. To add a banner for it, I just took a screenshot of the title and cropped it to the proper Steam banner size, and there I had it, my very own classic Mac game into Steam.

The particular version is the "cheat" version but not the "hack" version (which also has the cheat menu installed). The "hack" version actually seems like it should be the "official" version, as '80s computer games were known for those sort of stunts and the official release looks like it was censored. I'm just saying.

As of now, I can't provide the finished product because of problems regarding my website (access mostly, though I hope to restart it soon) and hosting.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The inherent failure of SMACH Z

I love the PC that I play my games on these days. I haven't had a game that has had a major problem with it that didn't have problems of its own, and it is both the successor to my Wii and my MacBook in terms of computing power. But it's also quite noisy and not at all portable. While a gaming laptop would be pretty sweet, I really want a handheld that can bring me the same joy as a Game Boy Advance SP or a Nintendo DS. However, I can't bring myself to trust Nintendo to bring me handheld systems (or consoles for that matter).

Tell me about the great games you used to make, grandpa.

Like with their console systems, Nintendo and I had a falling out with their handhelds. Now, I love having a handheld system WITH BUTTONS, but with Nintendo and their current 3DS I can't find a real reason to buy it.

Nintendo: Look, we have an upgraded version of everyone's favorite, Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask!
Me: That depends, but I just finished playing Ocarina of Time on my Wii's Virtual Console. Does it have the features promised in Ura Zelda*? Seems like it would be a natural fit...
Nintendo: It sure does have the Master Quest dungeons!
Me (not amused): Well, what else DO you have that's a first party game and not a direct sequel of one of your beloved classics?
Nintendo: Well, we have a new Mario game.
Me: I think I'll pass.
Nintendo: Oh, also, Pokémon!
Me: Pass again. Say, can I transfer my SNES and NES Virtual Console games over to it from the Wii?
Nintendo: No, you'll have to buy them again.
Me: Speaking of which, did you ever release the 'Ambassador' Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games, given that you can't play Game Boy Advance games on the 3DS?
Nintendo: No, those are still exclusive to Ambassadors. Should've bought a 3DS when they cost two hundred fifty bucks...

* See here
I don't even know the future of the 3DS given it was released over 5 years ago, and the even more so disappointing Wii U isn't convincing me. From the murky details emerged out of patent filings, the Nintendo NX looks to be some sort of tablet device, but as long as Nintendo's software output is in sharp decline and if they keep a lock down on their systems, the Nintendo NX will probably flop harder than the Virtual Boy (though they say that about every console, not a terrible prediction given that Nintendo's consoles and market share have been more or less on a perpetual decline).

For handheld consoles these days besides the output from the Big N, you have the PlayStation Vita, which has been dead in the water for years due to a near-total lack of games and a similar locked down atmosphere, which was only cracked a few months ago, and the iPhone.

The iPhone as a gaming device has been touted by many, but it's not designed for games with buttons, and a lot of controller snap-on accessories don't universally work since Apple often changes the size and shape of everything, and even that did all work fine (and they don't, as some quick research reveals the iOS port of Mega Man II is not compatible, a game that sorely needs physical buttons), the games library on the iPhone is heavily casual-based or stripped-down versions of other games, and the classic games that are there seem too pricey. An unmoddable DOOM for $7? No thanks. Although the price is now $5, it still seems too high for a game of its age and a lack of controls.

The Logitech PowerShell definitely looks awesome, but it held a high initial price ($99) and was trashed in reviews for its terrible D-pad and now bargain-binned on Amazon for less than $10.

So when the SMACH Z concept came around the first time and offered the opportunity to play Steam games on a handheld console, I was intrigued. I don't have a ton of Steam games owing to the fact that I jumped on the train fairly late (and factoring in my spotty ability to play said games, and that I can't afford to buy games I'll never play, but I like the idea of how much I can play instead of investing in a whole new console, whether it be indie side-scrollers like Braid or VVVVVV, FPS games like Half-Life 2, or because it has a touch-screen, things like Plants vs. Zombies (these seem pathetic but my library has some non-Steam games too). Even if SMACH Z is a generation or two behind like the Nintendo products usually are, that's still a huge amount of things to play and things that I can play.

But an existing library as a selling point was how Nintendo was able to stay on top of the handheld wars and roll over anyone that dared to try their hand (Game Gear,, N-Gage), and it wasn't just Pokémon (although that did make sales go to astronomical new heights). When the Game Boy Advance was released, the launch lineup had a reasonable quantity but less of quality. Sure, you had some platformers of dubious quality (the Earthworm Jim port was rather sub-par, sadly setting an unfortunate precedent for SNES ports), with the launch Mario title being a port of Super Mario Bros. 2 with voice samples. However, even if any of those failed to excite, the Game Boy Advance played all the existing Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, too while you built up a library of games that looked, sounded, and often played better.

Over time, Nintendo has held to that philosophy, dropping what it viewed as "obsolete" libraries when the time came, such as Nintendo DS and the classic 8-bit games, or Nintendo 3DS and Game Boy Advance. Of course, I have been burned by expectations like that, as my excitement for SMACH Z and existing back libraries brings back memories of my expectations of the Nintendo DS in May 2004 after E3.

To me, it appeared to be in the Game Boy lineage, but with N64-level graphics (which at the time was not a dated concept as today). Things didn't work out that held up the DS as a purchase for a few years. The first thing was that it did not play Game Boy (Color) games, meaning that I couldn't leapfrog past the Game Boy Advance, and that the games that I loved and played on the GBC, things like The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Pokémon Gold, wouldn't be able to make it to this generation, despite the fact that they were only a few years old at the time, and Nintendo had been 100% backwards compatible in regards to its handhelds up to that point.

Pictured: the false prophet.

The second thing was that Super Mario 64 x4, as it was originally called at E3, was not what I had thought it to be (and wanted), an enhanced port of Super Mario 64 that added multiplayer and other cool things while fixing some of the inherent problems of the game. Instead what Super Mario 64 DS turned out to be was a significantly "remixed" version of the game that featured Yoshi going through the first level and having four characters try to go through the game to save Princess Peach. It would not be until the Wii and the Virtual Console that I got to play SM64 how I wanted to play it, and it wasn't until almost another two years when I got a Nintendo DS, but the often heavily gimmick-based play (the neutered Zelda games come to mind) ensured that I wasn't going to move on to a 3DS and its weak library.

But what if I wasn't disappointed with the SMACH Z, and it wasn't overpriced junk that felt like it would break in my hands, and I could get through a reliable seller instead of dubious with a niche audience, even if the allure of retro games and emulators is true.

So even if all goes well, the SMACH Z is released, it's not a piece of overpriced junk, it sells enough to make a dent in the market, the problem is making money. Remember the Phantom?

It caught a lot of flack when it was demoed back in 2003 as basically a plug and play computer system with downloadable games (no optical drive either), but it was unfeasible as a system partly because the console manufacturers back then and today make almost no money (if not outright losing money) on every console sold, so they have to make it up in games, which probably explains why they consoles tend to be so antagonistic about things like backwards compatibility or (if they could get away with it) pre-owned games.

If the SMACH Z operates through Steam and unless Steam has a system that makes "Steam Machines" independently financially viable and not just a fancy name that already self-sustaining companies like Alienware pay the license for, then SMACH Z will have to make it through hardware, which means that the price of the system WON'T be subsidized through software.

If you're reading this on a computer, another potential problem would be that many games are just not designed for tiny screens. I can barely read how much the seeds "cost".

What this means is that the price of making the system to make money will change, either they'll overprice it and its viability as a system goes out the window, or they'll throttle it and it will be weaker than everyone imagines, probably on par with 2008-era graphics. But is that a bad thing?

Typically, the Game Boy line has been roughly two generations behind, like when the N64 was out, the Game Boy Color had 8-bit games, including ports of Super Mario Bros., Crystalis, and Déjà Vu. The GBA had ports of some of the finest of the SNES library, often unfortunately muddled with inferior sound quality and those darned voice samples, but they were there for the most part, whether it be The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, or Final Fantasy VI, and of course, the DS had Super Mario 64 DS, though since then, the Nintendo handhelds have slid three generations behind at least in terms of remakes (Chrono Trigger on the did I miss that?) or the aforementioned Zelda re-releases on the 3DS.

- pseudo3d

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The New Carbon-izer

When I shut down my old blog, Two Way Roads, it was because I didn't know what to do with it. Envisioned in 2007 as a smarter take on the late "X-Entertainment" website with topics (including what I dubbed as "cool thoughts", look, I was younger, okay?) very similar to the current Carbon-izer type layout (in fact, the current website is probably more to the vision of what I originally had back then for TWR), it eventually became a mess of various topics that never gained a following with the exception of a few well-researched articles on topics like the Houston Auchan or the defunct The Learning Company, as well as being one of the first websites that really talked about Yoot Tower in detail. In 2010, I formed Carbon-izer (initially Carbonizer), designed as a less ambitious project to document my college career.
Perhaps I didn't know what I was doing, and Carbon-izer fell flat and I wondered if killing TWR was the best of plans. Most of the new posts just seemed to be more of the same as TWR, and to make matters more interesting, X-E, one of the major inspirations for Two Way Roads to begin with years ago, shut down due to basically the same reasons TWR did. Go figure.
Even the "more mature" take on the blog didn't work, so a lot of the archives (now being purged) consist of things like this:
...So I was in line at a gas station, just pulled behind a car. Apparently the car had just gotten there because a college-aged girl (about my age, maybe slightly younger) got out and began to use the pump. Used her card, punched buttons (credit or debit? our "engine-enhancing" additive? receipt?), and began fueling. So, after sticking it in her car, she walked back into her car. I thought she was just sitting there, maybe even going so far as to record her gas refueling (yeah right). But then I noticed that there was exhaust coming from the car. That's right: she turned on her engine (possibly for A/C) WHILE HER CAR WAS REFUELING, one of those they tell you explicitly NOT TO DO.

So I drove over to the opposite end of the fuel island (with no cars ahead of me) to fuel up MY car, which in addition to having no one in it (it was rush hour, after all), in the event that her car blows up due to her incompetence, I could have an escape route to flee before the entire station went kaboom. Fortunately, no explosion occurred, which was good because I feared more for the other people fueling their cars than for her. And luckily for her she's probably at home right now instead of being a crispy skeleton.

And this was the same trip that on the WAY to college, someone almost ran into me, I swerved, and I accidentally bit my tongue, which hurts still, but at least my car's intact.

It's cringe-worthy stuff like this why my brother pretty much wiped the contents of his blog after academia. Writing personal crap is either boring or potentially harmful. The more you leave stuff around on the Internet for people to find, the more they can use to attack you. This is just generally good practice. For most of us, the fear is potential employers. It's unlikely employers are going to reject you if you use a screen name and keep your Facebook hidden, but for more "unique" individuals, this is the sort of thing that builds dossiers on darker corners of the Internet (Encyclopedia Dramatica, Kiwi Farms, or certain Reddit subs), and they're never going to give up their hold on that.

I tried doing other stuff with Carbon-izer but never managed to really get into it. I even promised that Carbon-izer would be a home for new content while the main site was being updated. That didn't work either.

The new site will be a partial reconstruction of older concepts. It will be mostly about video games, but not exclusively. Sometimes little bits of other stuff will pop up as well, and that's just fine. Happens for every blog., a defunct (as of 2013) blog run by the same guy who ran |tsr's nes archive, once had a picture of Waco for a podcast picture. When I left a comment to no response, and that's just as well. Sometimes a bit of randomness and mystery is needed for these things. Besides, I'll take it as is (nearly everything in that picture is demolished or significantly altered).

While I reconstruct the site to fit this new purpose, I'd like to say that as of this writing, I am almost done with the new version of Carbon-izer.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back to the Future: The Game: The Review: Part II

Hi. I write game reviews (among other things) on, my website. Most of them are one page. I initially didn't plan on continuing the Back to the Future: The Game review, but I ended up teasing it on the last update of the site (or shortly thereafter) with the screengrab of "To Be Continued", and decided to make it a trilogy. I had written most of the review and had a number of screenshots throughout to make the page just not being text (my notes from playing were quite extensive, and only a small part of that I actually transcribed). Unfortunately, due to me not preserving the right files during a Steam re-installation, not only was BTTF:TG's status in Steam lost (it was from GOG) but all the screenshots I took. Also, yes, this contains spoilers.

Pictured: my reaction when I figured out what happened.

For one thing, when playing it a bit more, I did find a few of my questions answered, like some hand-waving for Clara's absence (apparently Jules and Verne, Doc's kids, are now getting close to college ages, so he's at least in his mid-80s at the minimum...though a visit to the "rejuvenation clinic" in the early 21st century (as explained in Part II) means that he's more like more in mid-40s in terms of functional age), and in a somewhat less believable hand wave, the DeLorean's reappearance was created as an exact duplicate when the DeLorean was struck by lightning in 1955 at the end of Part II. Let's face it...the DeLorean as it appeared during II was a lot cooler than it was in III as by that time, the DeLorean had to be repaired with a bunch of 1955 components because it was abandoned in a mine for 70 years. But it also introduces another problem as the flying circuits were fried with the lightning strike. If they hadn't, then Marty would never have had to go out in the middle of nowhere in III to get to 1885, the fuel line would not have been compromised by an arrow, and the plot to save Doc before his untimely death via "lead poisoning" would be far simpler.

The gameplay is still pretty weak as far as puzzles go, but I'd rather have the puzzles be simple and the game move along rather than obtuse puzzles shoehorned in without intuitive answers, though sometimes it fails at both. The music is also great, with a variation of the theme in the early 1930s. It reminded me of those times back in 2003 (see the original review, or the gas station post below) and why I really liked Back to the Future to begin with (talk about traveling to the past).

Like in the second film, in the second episode, Marty dons a ridiculous and rather unconvincing disguise. (YouTube)
As previously mentioned, I took a great deal of extensive notes, and in that revealed some more problems and paradoxes, which made my head spin. The end of the second chapter has Marty start to disappear because of problems with Arthur's "chance that he'll live another year", saves him, finds out that he left town and didn't testify against Arthur, creating a situation in 1985 where Kid Tannen runs the town as a mob boss (big fish in a small pond, apparently), and because of attempting to fix THAT problem, jeopardizes Jennifer's existence due to having one Officer Parker (what are the odds, right?) see the DeLorean and be disgraced by everyone (including his fiancée) thinking he's a lunatic.

"Officer Sadsack" as he appears in official art.

Once again, that messes up things through a grandfather paradox. If she never existed, then she wouldn't have written her number down on the clock tower flyer, and Marty wouldn't have kept the flyer (or at least not remembered it) to help him go back to the future. Like I mentioned in the first part of this review, the game shifts between obeying movie canon, acknowledging movie canon, and ignoring movie canon. Marty and Doc's meddling seem to fix everything, but a pivotal moment where young Emmett Brown was supposed to see Frankenstein and instead falls for the young Edna Strickland, a moralistic reporter who was hot on the case of finding the real "speakeasy arsonist" which Doc (the Doc from 1985) was accused of. It also introduces Trixie Trotter, Kid's squeaky-voiced girlfriend (who really has the hots for Arthur) and nightclub singer.
Anyway, the disregard of movie rules comes apparent in the third chapter of the game, where due to Edna and Doc hooking up somehow creates a cult/fascist "gated community" dystopia, Doc is now "Citizen Brown". When Marty meets up with Citizen Brown and tries to talk some sense into him, Citizen Brown digs up a picture he had from the 1930s, with Marty and Doc Brown in the background, and then Marty gives Citizen Brown Doc's notebook to fix the DeLorean (apparently, they forgot the whole "disappearing photo/paper" mechanic that the movies held dear). In the films, the DeLorean stayed intact for the return visit to 1985-A in the film but so did Doc, who had been committed in this timeline.

In addition to the Citizen Brown chapter being glitchy (you can walk around the town square in 1931 freely but there's invisible walls in the Citizen Brown), the other problem is to find out really what's going on is by talking extensively to everyone, including the alternate version of Jennifer (now looking like like a stereotypical 1980s punk rocker), but she is voiced by the ORIGINAL Jennifer (Claudia Wells) so that counts for something, I guess.

It was also in this chapter that the game is cleaner than the film...there's no mentions of "ass" or "shit" (it does use "damn" and "crap", though I think there is a "bullshit" in Episode 5), even though the game (or at least the episode where I noticed it) is rated T. The original Back to the Future was rated PG in a pre-PG-13 world meaning it could get away with a whole lot more (the first two Indiana Jones films, Airplane!, and the 1984 Dune come to mind), but it didn't.

The fourth episode, Double Visions, was a letdown, and basically bridged the gap of rescuing Citizen Brown (now having fixed the DeLorean and referring himself as "Doc" though it's not the "real" Doc), but it ends with C.B. feeling sorry for young Edna after Marty sabotages her and young Emmett's relationship, causing the start of C.B. ultimately betraying Marty for Edna (even though Marty reminds him that Old Edna was literally torturing him), to the point where Marty has to nearly suffocate C.B. by stepping on an airhose to expose the man in the diving suit not as the Jacques Cousteau stand-in but as Citizen Brown (long story). There was another scene that I screencapped literally a dozen times where a character's teeth were green. I honestly thought this was a bug, but it turned out not to be if you went through the conversation tree long enough.

Anyway, the game has a reasonable number of turns and twists to make it interesting enough to stay toward the end though the foreshadowing is clumsy. Edna is actually the arsonist? Trixie Trotter is actually George's future wife? GASP! SHOCK AND AWE! Just kidding...if you were older than 6, than you saw all of it coming several episodes before the twist is revealed.

This is not the twist, this is just a scriptwriter's asspull. More on this scene later.

The penultimate scene in the game has Marty come across the DeLorean after 50-odd years and it's completely stripped down, with no time-traveling circuitry or Flux Capacitor, sitting in Edna's yard. Unfortunately, it conflicts with the theory of the DeLorean being underground and mostly fine after 70 years (just bad tires and other minor components that could be acquired from an automotive parts supplier), and Edna has lived alone and has scared off anyone that dares to venture closely.

So either she must have taken out the parts herself and they could theoretically be salvageable/found, or they're trying to tell me that being outside for decades has trashed the interior of the DeLorean by that alone...and if the latter is true, then the BTTF-verse shouldn't have problems with trash.

Ultimately, the day is saved, and Marty and Doc (a different Doc, who returned from 1986 after remembering the catastrophe Marty caused in 1931 with no memory of his time from the first two episodes) return home to find some odd but harmless (and perhaps better) changes in 1986. Guess you'll find that out later...