This is JT IceFire, and you're reading my blog under my previous name. I switched it up when I couldn't stand having a number for an ID anymore. To get to the new stuff, head on over to http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/jt+icefire.
Let's start right offwith the 500-pound Nu in the room: the untimely cancellation of Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes. Crimson Echoes was a five-year fan project written to fill in the storyline gap between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, in an entirely new adventure using CT’s Super Nintendo engine. About two weeks before its release, Square Enix sent a C&D to Chrono Compendium, the makers of the fangame, to demand an immediate halt to the project and the destruction of all copies and materials related to the game. Though the game was 98% finished, Compendium was forced to comply.
If you’re frustrated or angry, you’re completely justified- and for those who aren't, allow me to attempt to explain why.
This was a new Chrono Trigger game.
A NEW CHRONO TRIGGER GAME.
Really, that should be enough. Square has done nothing with one of its most beloved franchises since 2000, addressing a neglected fanbase with nothing more than half-hearted rereleases on the Playstation and DS. They've shown no interest in actually revisiting Crono's world, in spite of the many questions left unanswered by the two games, and the terrific characters we've been longing to connect again since the mid-90's.
But, that's not what really hurts. What really hurts is that a handful of people took it upon themselves to construct a deep, elaborate love letter to a narrative that Square had long since left for dead. For five years, they toiled away at their tribute to Chrono Trigger.
Then, two weeks before their wishes and ours are realized, Square Enix released the hounds.
That they issued a C&D order on this project through their legal team at the time they did smacks less of a legitimate defense of profit than it does pure spite. Not only will Square not give us a single drop of new Chrono Trigger among their flood of Final Fantasy releases- they're going to make goddamn sure that nobody else can give it to us, either.
In his “Levels of Losing” scale, sports writer Bill Simmons would call this “The Stomach Punch”. It came from out of nowhere, at the worst possible time, and shredded the hopes of thousands to pieces- like Jordan's last- minute jump shot in Utah, or the sudden ending of Half-Life 2.
So, yes. I'm angry. At times, unbearably so. Now, every time I'm even reminded of the original game, I'm only going to be able to think of what might have been. This thing was going to be great. Really great. A culmination of thirteen years of fanhood. Now, even the original Chrono Trigger has turned sour for me- and like Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange, there are some works that simply should never invoke that kind of frustration.
That's why I'm angry. Why many of us are angry. Square has punished Chrono Compendium, punished us all, for enjoying their masterpiece just a little too much.
I realize, however, that on a stage as modest as mine, there is no direct recourse. Internet petitions aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on. Email and phone-in campaigns are as useful as prank calls. Even a boycott would be miniscule, scattershot, and utterly demolished when Final Fantasy 13 comes out. Even though this is an epic dick move on behalf of Square-Enix, there is no way that I, or any one of us can return this action in kind.
But, if you want to something, anything at all to take from this, something that may prove even the slightest bit useful as we Chrono Trigger fans attempt to move on from this grave disappointment, then simply keep this in mind:
Square-Enix has, for the second time now, treated its most dedicated fans like criminals.
A company is only as good as its reputation- and this is a black mark that shouldn't soon be forgotten. Maybe they'll make it right by putting out a new CT game themselves, or maybe the one other thing we've been aching for all these years- a current-gen Final Fantasy 7 remake. Or, this could be the beginning of a greater legal war on the fandom. Who can say? Whatever happens from here, though, will be done in light of Square Enix as a fan-unfriendly company.
I'd also like to take the time to point out that, in the Destructoid story, I commented that I would “pirate every game Square made, if they'd released anything worthwhile in the past decade”. I posted that out of pure anger and frustration, and I humbly ask to take that back. At the time, I was only thinking about the Final Fantasy series, in which I haven't found a game that piqued my interest since FF9. I wasn't thinking of Kingdom Hearts, or The World Ends With You, or even the Dragon Quest games, all of which have been on my to-play list for quite some time. Moreover, while my feelings on copyright violation are mixed, there's no way to justify doing it out of pure spite, with products I can easily pick up off a Gamestop shelf or borrow from a friend. That's exactly the kind of behavior that engenders these problems in the first place.
So, what’s the lesson here for fangame makers? If you’re working on a Square-Enix hack, do yourself and everyone else a favor: clam up. Take down your website. Post no videos. Keep the project as insular as you possibly can until it’s complete. Give those jerks no rope to hang you with. In keeping with that spirit, I’m not going to post any information- or even acknowledge the existence- of any Square-Enix mods on this column or any other public forum until their final release is already slathered across the internet.
I can’t blame the Chrono Compendium team for their actions, they’re facing a $150,000 fine for all of their hard work. With nowhere near that kind of money to burn on what's effectively a hobby, they had to shut down, and there’s not a single person outside the project who can take them to task for doing just that. For what they accomplished, they did a terrific job, and here’s hoping they can all put their efforts toward a new, less lawsuit-prone project. You, sirs, are the noblest of all of us who yearn for one more trip to the end of time.
With that having been said, let’s have a look at a few projects that Square-Enix hasn’t found a way to shut down yet.
Super Mario 64: The Missing Stars
Just released to the public this week, this is the very first top-to-bottom mod of Super Mario 64. Featuring 38 stars dotted around an entirely new open-world setting, The Missing Stars is a fully-realized challenge, and a wicked one at that.
Like the Lost Levels, the level design in The Missing Stars is designed to be fiendish, with platforms placed tantalizingly out of reach, and goals that require just that extra bit of effort and precision to pull off. You'll be giving every one of Mario's (and Luigi's!) acrobatic tricks a workout in this game.
However, as also with the Lost Levels, the layout lacks a certain charm. The landscape is haphazard and utilitarian, designed to provide a challenge rather than immerse you in its world. In short, it feels more like an obstacle course than a playground.
But, this is admittedly an unfair criticism- Mario 64's level design is tremendous, and that The Missing Stars even invokes it is success enough. The use of classic music from the Mario games (and even a few imports from Zelda, Kirby and Star Fox) bring an added charm to the gameplay. Nintendo could wrap this package up, call it “Mario 64: The Lost Levels”, and roll in the cash.
Have a look at the gameplay- if you think you're up to a new 3D Mario challenge, you can find the ROM patch right here.
Breath of Fire 2 Re-Translation
Speaking of RPGs done wrong, take Breath of Fire 2. One of the more underrated RPGs of the 16-bit era, BoF2 is also one of the most notoriously garbled games in history, with a translation that likely had Ted Woolsley saying “Come on, I'm RIGHT HERE!!”
While working on a German translation, modder Ryusui decided that, while the code was open, it'd be a service to rewrite the English script as well.
The difference? Well, just have a look for yourself. Here's a comparison from the very, very beginning of the game.
The original text is bland, lifeless, and cramped- and doesn't get any better through the course of the game. In rewriting the script, Ryusui removed the biggest obstacle preventing BoF2 from joining the pantheon of great SNES RPGs, and allows it to shine as it was originally intended. I last played Breath of Fire 2 in '96, and while I enjoyed the gameplay, the storyline was simply too garbled and incoherent for me to progress more than halfway. I'm sincerely looking forward now to reliving this story the way it was meant to be told.
Want the retranslation patch for yourself? It's a tricky workaround, but you can get all the files and information you'll need right here.
Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Update
Demo version 0.3 hit the interwebs last month, and it's a doozy: fifteen playable levels, and seven new characters: joining Mario, Luigi, Sonic, Tails, and Arthur on the roster are Wario, Roll, Link, Classic (8-bit) Mario, and Vile (from Mega Man X), as well as work-in-progress versions of Simon Belmont and Ryu Hayabusa. Point your browser over here to download the standalone package, and check out this latest batch of wicked gameplay videos.
Mario vs. Contra
Roll vs. Contra
Wario vs. Doom
Ryu Hayabusa kills Goombas
That's it for this month's Fan Game Watchlist. Tune in this June, when I have a look at a turn-based strategy game that never hit American shores, a couple of ongoing Metroid projects, a few of the better Mario fangames, and as we can always hope, no legal proceedings to speak of. I leave you now with the current list of quality completed fangames and mods, one that will surely be growing in the months to come.
The articles here- and others like them- sometimes point out those comments, or trot out an "expert" to put up a token defense, but any sense of impartiality is undermined by the headlines and lead paragraphs. The message that gets across: "Facebook is bad for you."
I point out this senseless media fluff only to highlight a point I think needs to be made.
I've spent my entire life to this point studying and consuming mainstream media- television, radio, magazines and newspapers. The common thread is that direct, simple explanations sell better than anything else. Make obvious connections. Wrap up complex details into easily-digestible statements. Provide simple explanations for the way the world works and ask your audience to make sweeping generalizations. Whatever the media distorts- and it's a lot- isn't done in the name of promoting a political, social, or corporate agenda. It's all for the sake of entertainment, of creating a world where things somehow make sense, to keep you tuned in and thinking the people who produce your news have any idea what they're actually talking about. Facebook makes you dumber. Lawyers are irredeemable scumbags. Fat people should just put down the Big Mac and get to the gym.
I'm not telling the majority of the Destructoid community anything new. Most people who find their way to this community already see through these kinds of stories better than I do, and Destructoid posts plenty of articles about the media dumbness that ensues every time some study or another remotely links video games to violence or antisocial behavior or OMG TEH TRENCHCOAT MAFIA. But there's someone on this webpage right now who really does need to hear this.
Never believe a news story based on a lone study. Studies are, by nature and purpose, singular data points, not conclusive pieces of evidence, and are only relevant in the long, patient process of peer review. Simplicity and timeliness are the lifeblood of modern media. The people we trust to bring us the world do so entirely in Cliff's Notes.
(This lesson is a good one to keep in mind when all the "Columbine: 10 years later" stories hit the airwaves. Stay tuned.)
- Remember Card Sagas Wars, the ultimate crossover fighting game Dtoid first broke last year? After nine months, the site has finally updated again in March, with a few more videos for our Pavlovian salivation.
Fifth epic trailer
Crono vs. Etna
Cloud vs. Soma
There’s no timetable for release, and the creators are just now working on their second set of characters, including Link and Mega Man X, so don’t expect anything playable for a while yet. Still, there’s enough classic awesomeness here to make it worth the wait.
- The KOTOR 2 Sith Lords restoration project trudges on to its latest beta, 1.0b11, inching ever closer to its tantalizing final release. Check out the game’s final trailer, full of both awesomeness and disappointment:
The real release date? When it’s done.
- Metroid SR:388, the fan project we all hope will fill the 2D-Metroid-shaped hole in our lives, still has no demo, but at least there's an updated trailer. Dig this:
- There’s absolutely no shortage of the ambitious mega-project Mushroom Kingdom Fusion floating around online, but now you can find them all in one place: the developers have opened a unified YouTube channel. Here are a few recent highlights:
Vile wrecks Las Vegas
Wario in the War Zone
8-Bit Mario in the dried-up ruins of the original World 2
The most recent beta, released back in November, is now online, find it here.
- In case you haven’t played them yet, check out these completed mods:
SCORPION: Mike Haggar. I'm going to make this simple for you. I have a plan. I'm here to destroy you, and I've planned that destruction down to every last detail. Everybody has something inside them that can be manipulated. Even you, mighty mayor. I will take everything that's dear to you. I will humble you in front of the entire world. And then, as you're crippled on the mat, at your lowest point ever, I will rip out the darkest parts of your soul for everybody to see. I don't plan on being here long, Mike. My plan is just that good. So come back soon, Mike Haggar. Fight me, like you always have. Return and let the very divinity of Hell itself destroy you. There's only one way this will play out, Mike. My way. Whether you like it or not. - SMWA Monday Night Massacre, 2/15/1999
The year was 1998. On the backs of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the nWo, professional wrestling was skyrocketing to a level of popularity even higher than the Hulkamania era. The WWF and WCW clashed for TV supremacy every week in the height of the Monday Night Wars, and ECW rose to national prominence with its new pay-per-views.
This surge in popularity naturally led to a new generation of kids scouring the internet for a place to argue about their new passion. They found a community waiting for them at rec.sport.pro-wrestling, and a number of dirt-sheet and commentary websites to fuel their passion. Such was the birth of the internet wrestling community of today.
And as with every community, it was filled with people who thought they could do it better.
Fantasy booking ran rampant. Even more prevalent were e-federations, were people would sign up as real or original characters, and win or lose matches based on the strength of their “roleplays”- written clips, speeches and promos. The stronger your creativity and writing skills, the better your wrestlers performed in general. I myself founded or participated in a dozen of these leagues during the late 90's. But, this isn't about that.
There were people still who wanted to apply their vision of a better wrestling ring to the whole of a business, not just one wrestler. For these people, there was the TNM wrestling simulator.
The brainchild of German programmer Oliver Copp, TNM was in a class by itself for fantasy wrestling, in a day well before the elaborate create-a-wrestler-his-finisher-his-entrance-and-his-everything-else standard in today's wrestling games. This DOS-based, all-text sim was our own Micro League Baseball, with fully customizeable wrestlers, movesets, weapons, matches, managers- anything one could possibly need to bring his own sports opera to life. But this isn't quite about that, either.
In this fertile ground of squared-circle creativity, a Canadian named Kirk McCullough created something awesome.
While other TNM feds used real wrestlers, or a mix of those and some bland original creations, Kirk made something that stood tall above the rest- and he did it with something long-forgotten by wrestling fans and video gamers alike.
Enter the Slam Masters Wrestling Association.
Kirk adapted the ten characters from the obscure Capcom wrestling/fighting hybrid game Saturday Night Slam Masters- including Final Fight star Mike Haggar- surrounded them with a nuanced cast of original creations, and turned them loose on one another. Other Capcom characters came along for the ride as well- Final Fight's Cody and Zangief from Street Fighter were also SMWA mainstays.
He made some twists, of course- replacing fictional locales such as Metro City and- ugh- “Slam City”- with places like New York City and Portland, Oregon, and giving some of them less embarrassing names (“Titanic Tim”, for example, became “Titan” Tim Redbury)
The result was magic.
In a time where most armchair McMahons would simply be content to post card results and the occasional promo, Kirk used his TNM logs to build full, descriptive recaps of every event, every match, every promo. With this, he took the cardboard cutouts of the original Slam Masters, and made them three-dimensional characters, all with their own goals, influences, personalities, and epic battles.
Did you know Biff Slamkovich and Gunloc were once best friends, until the latter came under the influence of a furious xenophobe named Chad Hillsman?
Did you know that Oni lost a bitter feud, and became a being of light to get back at the Japanese mystics who had bested him?
Did you know Alexander “The Grater” has been kicked out of every stable he's ever been a part of?
Did you know The Scorpion held an entire wrestling organization hostage just to get his revenge on Mike Haggar?
These were but a few of the myriad storyline threads woven through McCullough's wrestling world by the time it folded in 1999.
It sounds like fanfiction- and generally, all fantasy booking is- but McCullough did something much greater than your average Cloud/Sephiroth slash fest. He took characters with no definition and defined them. He took a background, and made it a world. It was the cream of the crop in the old TNM community, and everyone knew it. I'm happy to have been a part of it.