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3:27 PM on 09.15.2009

The state of Music games - Where we're at and where we're going

We are about 9 months into 2009 and a lot has happened this year in the rhythm gaming genre here in the US and over in Japan. We have seen the release of several Guitar Hero games and the excellent Beatles Rock Band along with a boatload of downloadable content released for both games (Rock Band and Guitar Hero). The portable systems even got some games such as Rhythm Heaven, Rock Band Unplugged, and DJ Max Fever.

In Japan, Konami has done their annual updates for Beatmania IIDX, Pop'n Music, Guitar Freaks, Drummania, and even Dance Dance Revolution got a new AC release a couple months ago. Besides updating their current franchises, they introduced Ubeat, a new game that uses a set 16 buttons in a 4x4 grid with tiny screens in them with gameplay similar to Elite Beat Agents.

The biggest news this year has been the release of DJ Max Technika outside of South Korea. PM studios has made waves in the arcade industry by releasing this game around the world and embracing the world market rather than shunning it like Konami has done for the past decade.

So with all that has happened so far, what's coming up for the remainder of the year and beyond?

In October, the US will see Pop'n Music make it's debut in the US with the 5 button Wii version on the 20th. After that, DJ hero and it's turntable peripherial come out on the 27th. In November, Lego Rock Band comes out sometime later in the month and Scratch: The Ultimate DJ was pushed back to Q1 2010.

In Japan, they will get a new PS2 release of Beatmania IIDX 16 Empress on October 15th. This apparently will be the last PS2 release and they are making it as amazing as possible with 180 songs spread out across 2 discs. See the full list here.

While the console selection is slim, the arcade releases will be abundant later this year with Beatmania IIDX 17 Sirius coming out at the end of the year and Pop'n Music 18 Sengoku Retsuden currently testing along with Drummania XG and Guitar Freaks XG and will probably see a release date sometime in 2010

While some may say 2009 is the year of the fighter, I believe that this year belongs to the rhythm games since there were so many high quality releases in the genre in this year alone in both the US and in Japan across multiple platforms. With that in mind, let's keep on rockin' until 2010 rolls around.   read

8:36 PM on 04.09.2009

For those about to die: Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde

A familiar sound rings out of an old arcade machine. It is the sound of Pac Man kicking ass and taking names. It is such a very sweet sound to those who have been playing Pac-Man for the last 28 years. It is a sound that brings joy to those who have been playing Pac-Man competitively, whether it is over Xbox Live on Pac-Man Championship Edition or at your local arcade where the top score will reign supreme over all of the other players on that Ms.Pac-Man machine with that junky 4-way joystick. We constantly crush these four ghosts who oppose Pac-Man and his never ending quest to devour every single dot in his small and encompassing world.

So what purpose do these ghosts serve besides contributing to a player's high score? They are the ones who make Pac-Man who he is. Without them, Pac-Man's world would just be a boring romp through a pointless maze, fulfilling his need to eat everything in his path. Who are the enemies that haunt the halls of Pac-Man's maze? Let us take a quick look at the cast.

Blinky the chasing red colored ghost
This guy is notorious for constantly chasing Pac-Man so much that his nickname in the Japanese version is Chaser. His pattern is pretty much to follow Pac-Man as closely as possible and get him to run into one of his other buddies such as Pinky.

Pinky the ambushing pink colored ghost
Pinky has probably been the number one cause of all ruined high score attempts in Pac-Man. His tactic is to speed around corners and surprise Pac-Man while he is being chased by everyone else in the maze. So if you see three different ghosts chasing you, be on the lookout for an attempt at an ambush at the next corner.

Inky, the capricious cyan colored ghost
If there is a ghost that seems like it will randomly follow Pac-Man to the ends of the maze and then suddenly lose all interest the next minute, chances are that you have met Inky and his fickle, and unpredictable ways.

Clyde, the stupid orange colored ghost
Every group has a slow guy in it. In Pac-Man, that guy is Clyde, While not completely oblivious to Pac-Man's existence on the map, sometimes his actions don't make any sense to the rest of the gang such as letting Pac-Man chase him without a power pill.

With all of these characters that have clashing personalities, you have to wonder how they all work together so well. Like any other team based activity, if everyone does their part, the act of achieving a goal, such as catching Pac-Man and scaring him to death, is totally possible. With that in mind, you can see how important the ghosts in Pac-Man are. They are more than just a score multiplier; they are the characters that have shaped the game that we still play 28 years later and without them, there would be nothing.   read

8:13 PM on 03.05.2009

Rise from your grave! Mad Catz Fightstick revisited

A couple of weeks ago, you might have remembered my post about how much fail and lose the Mad Catz Fightstick was and my general displeasure with the product that stopped working after about a weeks worth of usage. So that is when I took things into my own hands and dismantled the entire thing, nothing was spared from my wrath; everything from the JLF mounting plate on the stock stick to the knock-off Sanwa buttons and switches have been put off to the side. Though, to my surprise, Mad Catz actually did put a single Sanwa OBSF-30 into my stick which I will eventually drop into my Hori Fighting Stick EX.

Enter Project Black ★ Rock Shooter

This stick was put together with a single thought that I could put together a better set of parts for more or less what Mad Catz pays for in their tournament edition sticks. With that thought in mind, I needed something a little different than the Sanwa JLF stick that was a little too loose for my tastes. I needed something with a shorter throw and tighter control and that is where the Seimitsu LS-32-01 comes in. It feels so much more solid than the Sanwa JLF on the BlazBlue cab at SVGL which results in more accurate motions and less miss commands in execution heavy games like VF5, SFIV, and STHD. But it also makes playing shmups and other types of games that much better. I still have not beaten my hi-score on Pac-Man CE but I feel that I can do it now with this joystick. Some installation notes about this stick is that you have to rotate the mounting plate 90 degrees to match the original position of the stock stick so you won't get your directions messed up when you put it in.

The buttons were also something that I thought needed improvement so I went along and got some Seimitsu PS-15 buttons to go along with my LS-32. These buttons feel a lot more heavier, but that is something that I prefer since most of the buttons that are used in US arcades require a lot more actuation to trigger and these buttons fill that old school feeling perfectly.

As for the art, I have no idea who the original artist is for this image (if anyone knows, could someone comment on it) but I found it on which I then resized to fit the template found at Afterwards, I took the clean image to Kinko's and printed out a high quality Lami-label on a CYMK laser printer. This caused some problems with the finished product as the image was not as vibrant as it could have been because I did not convert the image to CYMK as I left it in RGB format. Oh well, it's something that I know not to do next time when I mod my Hori FIghting Stick EX2. And since I'm not too good with a thin exacto knife, I got some help from Aiya on cutting out the holes.

So to sum it all up, this stick has:
Seimitsu LS-32-01 joystick
Seimitsu PS-15 Buttons
Seimitsu AM-30 Button Plugs
Custom Lami-Label artwork
Awesome Mad Catz base

All of the parts were ordered from Akihabara Shop and they took 2 weeks to process and ship my order. Not bad considering that everyone is crazy for joysticks and joystick parts at the moment. Also, their customer support is the best, Per, who runs the shop keeps everyone updated on the status of their orders and provides a picture of it before he sends it out. All I got to say is that he does a damn good job at running the place. I would recommend them over Lizard Lick anyday of the week.

So if you happen to get the $80 fightstick and decide to mod it with Sanwa or Seimitsu parts, this is a good base to use as it is all ready to just drop in the parts and the mounting bracket has spots for both the Sanwa JLF-TP-8YT or the Seimitsu LS-32-01 and everything is solderless quick disconnects. The only caveat is to only use snap in buttons because the one closest to the stick will have problems mounting if you are using screw ins.

I think I'll call this project a complete success and play some STHD and start planning my Hori Fighting Stick EX2 Mod.   read

4:04 PM on 02.21.2009

Buyer beware! Mad Catz Standard edition fight stick

Last Saturday, I went to Fry's Electronics and I saw the Street Fighter IV standard edition fightstick on the shelf. As you know, this joystick is pretty much what I was waiting for and to see it on the shelf 4 days before the actual release date was a real treat. The thing that pushed me to pick it up was the fact that it was the very last one there.

When I got home, I fired up Super Turbo HD and played several online matches for about an hour or two. As I kept playing with the stick, I realized that the actuator on the stick was getting stuck everytime I went for a fireball motion or a shoryuken motion. I made note of how often it would get stuck, but to my mistake, I kept thinking to myself, "eh, I probably got a random bum stick, and it wouldn't effect my level of play of I just shake it back into position when it gets stuck."

So when I went and did a little research on NeoGAF and and found out that my problem was more widespread than I originally thought it was.

Fast forward a week later and this happens to me.
I open it up and take apart the stick to find why all input on the left has died on me. It turns out that an errant washer that moves around when you use the stick scratches up the PCB and causes the traces to just disappear. How could such a thing happen in just a weeks worth of time? Was it because of poor planning on Mad Catz's part or was this just a manufacturing error at some random Chinese production plant?

Maybe it was a little bit from column A and column B, at least from what I can see based on what they were trying to do. I guess they didn't want 2 pieces of plastic rubbing against each other, so they dropped a metal washer in between the plastic to prevent erosion of the plastic parts. What they forgot to do is glue the washer to the actuator, which results in the washer moving around and scratching the PCB.

So the point of all of this is that I wanted to warn anyone that is interested in purchasing this stick that they should wait to see if they fix this problem in the next batch that is coming out around April. If you like tinkering with joysticks and want a good base to drop some Sanwa or Seimitsu parts, I would definitely recommend this stick to you. But if you don't like opening up stuff to perform small fixes (like removing the stick and taking it apart to glue the washer onto the actuator by yourself) then I would advise you get a Hori Fighting Stick EX2 (MSRP: $60) or a Hori Real Arcade Pro EX (MSRP: $120). Just don't get gouged on the price for either of these sticks because Street Fighter IV has really jacked up the market for joysticks and joystick parts.   read

8:16 PM on 12.23.2008

DJ MAX Technika Location Test Impressions

Pentavision Entertainment announced location tests for DJ Max Technika a couple of weeks ago, hoping to achieve success by bringing one of Korea's best rhythm games to America.

DJ MAX Technika has finally arrived at Sunnyvale Golfland and I got a chance to check it out earlier today.

The first thing that you will notice when you step up to the machine is that there are 2 screens, a 32" HD monitor above the player for spectators waiting for their turn on the machine and a smaller 22" HD multi touch screen for the player. These screens provide both the player and spectators a nice and vibrant view of all the action onscreen. The second thing you will notice is that the cab has a subwoofer platform like Beatmania IIDX, except this one is a bit smaller, but it provides just the right amount of bass for the player to feel the beat of the music. And with all rhythm game cabinets, this one has plenty of flashing lights to go with all of the sounds.

The presentation of the game nothing short of amazing. The interface looks just about the same as the other DJ Max games with a disc representing the songs on the music select screen. Touching the screen on either the left or the right side of the screen will scroll through the tracks, allowing for simple touch based navigation of the menu.

When you get into the game, You'll notice that it plays kind of like Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS, except there is a line that will scroll through the top half and the bottom half of the screen and that line shows when you need to hit the notes on screen instead of OTO's closing ring system. Besides the standard notes, there are also notes that you have to follow by tracing them, notes that require you to tap on a single spot on the screen, and notes that require you to hold the spot.

Here's some gameplay that shows all of the different notes:

Now, as awesome as this game is, there are a couple of slight problems that I had with it.
First is the location of the lifebar. When you're playing this game for the first time, you'll lose track of that lifebar because the player will mostly be looking at or near the center of the screen and not the edges. It's a small design flaw that could be easily fixed by placing the lifebar in the center so the player is constantly aware of their status while focusing on the upcoming notes on either the top half or the bottom half of the playfield.
The second thing is that this game's difficulty is pretty brutal. Miss a couple of notes and there goes a good chunk of your lifebar. For all of you IIDX players, think of it as a hard type lifebar where a single miss causes you to lose 10%.
The last thing that I had some problems with while playing Technika was that some of the songs had some odd timing issues. The one issue just about everyone was aware of was the first note of Clazziquai's Freedom has to be hit a bit earlier than the start of the song in order to get the max rating on it instead of a cool or a good on it.

All in all, DJ Max Technika is a solid entry to the EZ2DJ / DJ Max series. The touchscreen is something that isn't too innovative in the arcades (I think the megatouch machines have been around for awhile now) but the fact that they have successfully pulled it off on something as timing specific as a rhythm game, I believe that they have gone somewhere with the rhythm genre and have taken it to a place where Konami has yet to succeed with any of their titles.   read

11:35 PM on 10.08.2008

Beat'n Groovy, more like Beat 'n FAIL

For those of you who did not know, Konami's Beat'n Groovy hit XBLA today, which is the American localization of the japanese rhythm game, Pop'n Music made by the same company. I have spent some time with it and I can easily say that this is the worst thing that Konami has ever put out here in the US (though I do have low expectations of that Castlevania fighting game that IGA and co. are developing on the wii).

You must be wondering, "what the hell did they do to make this game suck so much". Well, I'll fill you in with a nice list of things that I personally found.

First thing you will notice when you boot up the game is the game's "unique" artwork style. Kinda reminds me of something like a cross between those "Homies" and "Bratz" dolls, just freaking ridiculous looking character designs.

The second thing that every Pop'n Music player will notice is the omission of 9-key mode and multiple song difficulties for each song(normal, hyper, and ex). I do understand that gaming is going through this "casual" thing right now, but I personally don't think anyone who enjoys wii sports or Rock Band will enjoy this game at all. By omitting certain options that make the game enjoyable such as customizable controls, unlockable songs, or only having a bare-bones multiplayer option, you not only spit in the face of those that want to support you, but the casual will only frown upon this game as an inferior clone to what is currently available.

The third thing that stands out is this game has only 9 songs. Yes, you read that right, only NINE songs in the full version. I think Boom Boom Rocket has at least 15 songs, but those songs are long compared to anything in Beat'n Groovy. With the download weighing in at about 124mb, you'd think that there would be at least 15 in the default package. Maybe Konami will support this game via DLC song packs, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

The final thing that everyone should notice is the current state that the game is in. It feels like a bad beta product with the game constantly kicking you back to the main menu after every song you finish in the arcade mode or even the small things that really bug me such as the lack of note explosion when you hit a note perfectly, you just see it coast on by as if you never even hit the thing. Besides those things, I think they forgot a judgment level because when you miss a note, you don't see anything saying you missed it. Nothing saying bad or poor, just a blank blue column sometimes.

Anyways, the point that I'm trying to make here is that I believe that Konami can definitely do better than this (I just played Pop'n Music Party at my local arcade last week and it is definitely my favorite one so far). I just hope this isn't their only chance to show America what Bemani is all about since they auto-failed with Beatmania US and Rock Revolution isn't looking all that hot either. I just hope that my 10 dollars worth of Microsoft fun bucks can give Konami that extra chance to bring a disc based Pop'n Music to the Xbox360 in America sooner than later.   read

2:51 PM on 09.19.2008

Vanillaware's new game: Kumatanchi


Vanillaware, developers of such games as Odin's Sphere and the upcoming Demon Blade for the Wii has a new DS game coming out this month called Kumatanchi. The premise of this game is that Kumatan and her friends put on shows at a zoo and your job is to train her and take care of her before and after these gigs. The main appeal of this game, besides the awesome sauce animation is the character designs are created by Shigatake, who is know for creating the Habanero-tan character. Anyways, I cannot wait for this game to come out, it will be filled with win and 萌え!   read

5:48 PM on 08.18.2008

Can 2D games become more than a niche genre?

There was a time when the 2D platformer genre was more than just a subtle entry in the gaming industry like it is now, but rather, it was one of the main genres for many systems such as the NES, Genesis, SNES, and TG-16. But with the major changes in modern hardware, people wanted more things out of their gaming consoles such as more immersive graphics, realistic sound effect, and fully orchestrated soundtracks.

Fast-forward to the state of gaming today. We have consoles that resemble high-end PCs as opposed to the gaming consoles that we used to play on. They are armed with exceptional graphics and sound processing for the best experience that anyone can have with a current generation console. But with these major leaps in technology, people have adjusted to games that almost resemble movies, complete with cinematic sequences and voice acting. So with all of this neat technology and multi-million dollar budgets, why is it that 2D gaming has become a small niche in the gaming world?

The main reason that most companies will not release a 2D style game is money. People will just look at it and push it off to the side because it lacks the graphical pull of the new games that offer better graphics. Sure, some companies will fund and release a nice 2D platformer once in awhile (for a handheld system see: Dracula X PSP and the Metroidvania games on the DS), but it is really hard to find a good game for these new consoles that don't resemble a first person shooter in a grey and brown post-apocalyptic future, but those are few and far between all of the other stuff that gets released.

So what about the retro remakes and their possible resurgence on the modern consoles? My guess is about as good as anyone else's but I believe that if all the buzz around Mega Man 9 is any indication, then we may actually see some new 2D games this generation if it is successful. Publishers will realize that there is an audience for these kinds of old-school styled games and will actually fund them. Just thinking about a new Castlevania in the vein of Symphony of the Night, but in HD and completely new level designs just makes me hope that developers and publishers alike will see that the future of gaming isn't just a shade of brown viewed through the eyes of a marine, but rather, a colorful world where all you need is a jump button (or in the case of Bionic Commando ReArmed, a bionic claw arm) and a crazy arsenal of weapons to save the world.   read

5:59 PM on 07.09.2008

This is how I fly - My Shmup Gaming Setup

It seems like most people's 1st cblog post is always a gaming setup, but unlike every other post that I've seen on Dtoid, my setup contains multiple "tate-d" monitors.

On the left is my 360 running Ikaruga @ 1280x1024 with a Hori Fighting Stick EX connected to it. Works way better than the standard 360 d-pad.

The middle is my PC (Athlon XP 2000+ with a whopping 512mb of RAM and a GeForce 6600) running DoDonPachi on MAME with a Hori Tekken stick / Elecom USB adaptor connected to it.

Last, is the Dreamcast on the right side running Shikigami no Shiro II with the standard Dreamcast pad connected to it. I'm still looking to upgrade to a Agetec stick since all of those awesome shmups are on that system. (My favorites include: Under Defeat, Rajirugi, Bangai-O, Giga Wing 1&2 and Gunbird 2)

I'm planning to add some sort of table so I can have a place to hook up my PS2 and run ESPGaluda or Ibara on it or something.

Anyways, this is just one of the few features I hope to have on my blog since my setup changes a lot. Be sure to look out for my articles about peripheral reviews (I have a lot of controllers) and my impressions and thoughts about the local arcades around the area.   read

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