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10:03 AM on 08.06.2010

River City Retro: River City ... Ransom!



So how's it going? Hanging around Destructoid? Reading the Cblogs? Are we having fun yet? I don't know about you but you bet I am! I've been replaying my copy of River City Ransom for the NES. Not only is that an absolutely awesome game that you should go and play right now, it's actually one of the most interesting games in the NES library. That's why this issue of River City Retro is dedicated entirely to one game that has a title so catchy, I have named my whole blog after it.

In case you were one of the poor souls that failed to find this game in the Double Dragon II maelstrom around its release, let me give you a quick rundown. River City Ransom was originally developed by the now defunct Technos company. They're most famous for the 1987 arcade hit Double Dragon, a game where you walked around city streets, beating up gang members that'd had the nerve to kidnap your girlfriend. River City Ransom mostly recycles this plot and general gameplay.

Unlike Double Dragon, which was rather serious in tone, River City Ransom has a much more humourous side to it. Double Dragon's street gangs have been replaced by teenage delinquents divided into several amusingly named gangs, and characters often talk to each other during fights which has resulted in some rather famous quotes. In addition to this, the game also sports a bunch of RPG features.



Both the player and the NPCs carry several stats that define their effectiveness in battle. Fallen enemies leave behind coins that can then be spent in shopping streets to level up your characters. On the higher difficulty level, you're actually quite likely to spend a lot of time grinding in order to beat the next boss. Don't worry though. It's a lot of fun just browsing through all the shops and watching the goofy eating animations. I did mention before that this is one of the more interesting titles on the NES. Why is that? Well, to answer that question we're going to trace its history back all the way to the Japanese game centers.

I told you before how Double Dragon was Techmo's first international success. On the islands of Japan however, the company made its impact one year earlier with a game called Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun or Hot Blooded Tough Guy Kunio in English. It was a story of highschool bullying. Every level started with a poor boy named Hiroshi being beaten by the school gates. His delinquent friend Kunio then chases after the attackers and gives them a taste of their own medicine. It played much like Double Dragon although it missed some core features like smooth scrolling.

So what does this game have to do with River City Ransom other than sharing the same developer? The thing is, River City Ransom is no less than a direct sequel to this game. In fact it was already the third installment in what had become the Kunio-kun franchise in Japan. Now before you start shaking your fist in anger because of all the games we missed, we actually did get several of them. The main problem with Kunio-kun was an abundance of Japanese schoolyard culture. Western audiences just wouldn't recognize that as much.



This led to some dramatic changes in the overseas releases. Nekketsu Kouha saw an Arcade release and NES port under the title Renegade and replaced the school bullying by your standard damsel-in-distress plot and the students by gang members loosely inspired by The Warriors. Then came a Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball Bu. A Kunio dodgeball spin-off that made it overseas with all Japanese scenery replaced by American counterparts and simply retitled Super Dodgeball. It was a great game btw. Then a year after our River City Ransom, Nekketsu highschool organized another sports tournament.

This time we were playing soccer and actually, if you had a NES, you're very likely to have played this game. This one is no other than the widely popular Nintendo World Cup. Of course, rather than thirteen different countries to play as, the original competitors were different highschools in a Japanese national tournament. The fact that fouls aren't punished in this game, makes a lot more sense when you know it was actually Kunio.

Another one worth noting is Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun: Bangai Rantou Hen. Just rolls off your tongue, doesn't it? This was another side scrolling beat 'em up much like our beloved RCR, but without any of the RPG elements. Back here, we know it as Double Dragon II. Not THE Double Dragon II for the NES and arcades though, this was a completely different game for the Nintendo Game Boy. If anything, it feels like a rushed attempt to cash in on the Double Dragon name.



The artwork is a shameless ripoff of the NES' Double Dragon III and none of the trademark enemies like Chin or Abobo are in it. A shame really. I don't really mind them releasing Kunio-kun as Double Dragon but they could have at least put some effort into it. I mean, there's even a big fat guy among the bosses. Why couldn't that have been Abobo? I bet the bald headed giant must have been crying in a corner when he first saw this game.

Localization aside, another lesser known part of River City Ransom's legacy are the system's it's been released on. It didn't get an Arcade version like Double Dragon but it did get released on a couple of Japanese computers you've likely never heard about.

Sharp X68000

[embed]180760:32026[/embed]

The Sharp X68000 was such a computer. Just like SNK's Neo Geo, this was an arcade gaming powerhouse. Even more so. This was Capcom's CPS arcade development machine. What does that mean? It means that legendary games like Street Fighter II were developed on this very machine! Needless to say, there were more than a few arcade perfect ports to be found here. Amongst all of this obscure gaming beauty, there was also a version of River City Ransom far superior to its NES counterpart. The game world was much bigger than the 8-bit original with access to several different highschools, each with their own boss battles.

For me, one of the greatest appeals of a game has always been the sound it makes. River City Ransom for the NES did pretty well but have a listen to the X68000 version in the video above and try to tell me this isn't just pure poetry seeping into your ears. That's right, I said poetry. How else would you describe a fully voiced "BARF"?

TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine

[embed]180760:32019[/embed]

The TurboGrafx-16 or rather PC Engine version in Japan. This one is technologically the most advanced by far. There are tons of new animations and the scenery is more colourful than ever. Unfortunately though, the new areas introduced in the X68000 version are nowhere to be seen. As far as audio is concerned, I'm a bit unsure of which version I prefer. Taking full advantage of the PC Engine's hardware, this version sports nothing less than a CD quality soundtrack but somehow, its sound effects just don't sound as nice as the X68000.

Even where the music's concerned, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Sure the PC Engine is far superior in general sound quality but I happen to own a pair of 1337 headphones. With them I can easily distinguish any underlying tracks in a song and I have to say, those digitized tunes on the X68000 have some SWEET percussion on them. Especially the boss theme sounds so much more badass. Skip ahead to about seven minutes into the PC Engine video and that's some equally badass drums right there though! Pretty fun to watch the player struggle with a few crates too. :)

Gameboy Advance

[embed]180760:32020[/embed]

Finally there is River City Ransom Ex for the Gameboy Advance. This one did make it over to the west and this time around, they didn't even bother to edit out the Japanese school uniforms. A shitload of additions have been made to the game this time around so this one is more of a remake than a port. The RPG elemens are more more visible as this time around, the amount of damage you deal actually appears on the screen.

There are loads of new animations and moves, your character now has a reputation stat that determines whether or not you'll be able to hire new allies and even more new locations are added. Several new techniques made it in and even special boss techniques can be used by the player characters. Another funny thing is how in the opening dialogue, Alex and Ryan don't seem to be the good buddies that they were in the NES original. Again there's an explanation here. Kunio and Riki from the Japanese version weren't friends to begin with. They are rivals. In fact Riki even appears as one of the other bullies that pick on Kunio's friend, Hiroshi in the first game.

With all these enhancements and its solid gameplay, I would love to call this the definitive version of River City Ransom but there is one thing holding me back. There's no freaking multiplayer! Can you believe that?! I mean, an AI controlled Riki even tags along the whole game. Would it have been so hard to enable another player to control him? Have you ever heard of any classic beat 'em up that didn't include co-op?! Well... I guess we did have that one notorious perpetrator on the Super Nintendo but let's not go there. This game should have had multiplayer!

So we've looked at the original series and a few ports, but what about any direct sequels? Of course the Kunio-kun series just kept rolling on in Japan. The Super Nintendo had its share of games including a sequel to Dodgeball Bu, a Baseball spin-off and a puzzle game. Let's skip all those though and get to the games you want to hear about.

Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun

[embed]180760:32021[/embed]

This one was released quite early in the SNES' lifespan from what I've gathered. Kunio's school goes on a field trip to Osaka. Of course it isn't long before the Kansai bullies show up and Kunio's in for the fight of his life once more. This one actually takes the RPG elements even further than River City Ransom did. There's a strong emphasis on story this time around with lots of cutscenes. You also gain experience and use items much more like the traditional RPG elements. I haven't played this game myself yet but from what I can tell, it looks like a great continuation of the series.

Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio Tachi no Banka

[embed]180760:32022[/embed]

This is the second full featured entry into the SNES' library. This time around Kunio and Riki are thrown into jail for a crime they didn't commit. Again I haven't played this game myself but I've heard that it doesn't have any RPG elements this time around. Still ... even without those, it looks like a very solid beat 'em up in the video above. I absolutely dig the presentation and the mystery at the beginning. I'm kinda dying right now to find out why Kunio and Riki have ended up in jail and who framed them. Maybe I'll check this game out for myself when I find a whole in my schedule. Both these SNES titles were originally released in Japanese only but thanks to the efforts of several dedicated fans, it's now possible to play them fully translated in English. Thank you guys so much!

River City Ransom 2

As far as direct sequels go, one more little trinket lies around in the RCR history. That one's actually an American made, or rather about to me made sequel by Atari QA tester Armen Casarjian. It's a funny story actually. While the Kunio series was busy pumping out new games on the islands of Japan, nobody had paid any attention to the copyrighted title of River City Ransom. Just on a whim, this guy applied for the expired copyright and what do you know ... He got it!

Although he didn't have access to any of the game's content, he did own the title. Thus he gathered a couple of friends and started working on a Game Boy Advance game under the title River City Ransom 2. The plot was going to be a rehash of the first game but he had some ambitious features in mind like four player simultaneous co-op on a single cartridge and an easy-to-pick-up, hard-to-master fighting engine in the vein of Super Smash Brothers. So what eventually became of this game? Casarjian attended E3 2003 and saw the announcement of River City Ransom Ex for the Game Boy Advance. Out of respect for the original developers, he pulled the plug on his own project and let them use "his" title without being an ass. Thumbs up to him for being such a good sport and frankly, I'd place my thrust in the original Kunio developers over a fairly unexperienced although ambitious developer any day.

And that's that. River City Ransom. A true cult classic from the eighties that seemed to disappear from the face of the earth but actually had a whole series behind it lurking in the shadows. Actually I've always felt a bit of a personal connection to the Kunio-kun games and that's probably because I've been bullied myself in highschool. It's a very serious thing and has had a big impact on my confidence during my teen years. Fortunately in my case, most of the damage has been repaired by three great years of college and several more of traveling around the world.



Both of these things give me a feeling of power over my old bullies. I'm pretty sure most of them are living a generic life in the same town where our school was and here I am living in all these exotic places they've likely never seen before. It's also possible that they are perfectly happy with their current lives and you know what? That's ok. I have my way of coping with what happened back then and it doesn't matter how good or bad they are doing in their own lives.

Still it hurts me when I see it happen to other people. Just yesterday I was walking through one of Tokyo's train stations and saw one kid being pushed in a corner by three others. Every now and then they kicked him in the leg. Not hard enough for him to go down but he had this forced smile on his face and commented something like "it does hurt quite a bit". I felt really sorry for this guy. Back in my day it never got that far and without a doubt, that's because I never let it get that far. They never assaulted me physically because they knew I'd hit back. Even by words alone they have some times pushed me over the limit and in an explosion of nerd rage, I've beaten their faces in with a freaking trash can.

Even though I had these brief moments of revenge though, the bullying didn't stop. That's just how it works. I could have interfered and helped this guy out, but just like Hiroshi gets beaten up again and again no matter how many times Kunio saves him, these guys would have had their revenge ten times over as soon as I was gone. It's kind of harsh but if you don't want to be bullied, the only way is to man up and get confident about yourself. I'm not telling anyone to resort to violence but even without that, you have to radiate that you feel good about yourself and aren't willing to be trampled upon. I know it's much easier said than done though. Especially if you fail to introduce yourself into the group this way. Once the pestering has taken off, it gets exponentially harder to call it to a halt. Very sad ... but true. Still ... I have been able to overcome it and that means that it is possible.

This has been Metallion. Thanks for reading my little rant. :)

[embed]180760:32023[/embed]   read


10:40 AM on 07.30.2010

River City Retro: Guilty Gear's Metal Meltdown

I've always been a huge fan of heavy metal music. In fact I entered this speech contest just earlier today. We were given a few minutes up on stage to talk in Japanese about pretty much anything we wanted. My subject was metal and in particular the contradiction between its scary evil presentation and the friendly atmosphere among its fans. I ended up winning the bloody thing too. Check out this cool certificate I got for it.

Of course, I'm not writing this blog just to gloat. We've got some games to talk about. There's one game in particular that has been stealing my heart both as a metal fan and as a gamer. I'm not talking about Brutal Legend though. Long before that game even appeared in its mother's womb, there was Guilty Gear XX. Not only is it an absolute beaut of a fighting game, it's also a veritable love letter to the better kind of guitar violence. Just for kicks, I've decided to sum up a bunch of the musical references that I've managed to spot around the game. Enjoy your read as I present you River City Retro's heavy metal meltdown of the Guilty Gear series.

Character names

Ky Kiske
Reference to: Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske



Both Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske stood at the dawn of a band named Helloween. They were one of the pioneers of a metal genre that would eventually be called Power Metal. What is power metal you ask? I guess you could define it as long haired tattooed nerds playing epic songs about fantasy tales that they've either thought up themselves, or read about in books. It's definitely the most cheesy kind of metal out there but hey ... cheese tastes good. ^_^

Hansen and Kiske have long since left the band but they are doomed to be forever associated with it. A bit like Sepultura and the Cavalera brothers but that's another story.

Testament
Reference to: Testament



Thrash metal. One of the more brutal kinds in the movement. Its most famous band is definitely Metallica who were sick of all the glam rock bands dominating the scene in the eighties. Taking a 180 turn of all of that, they decided to play full-on in-your-face metal. As the genre popularized, four bands stood out and eventually got labeled the big four of Thrash. Those were Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax.

Where does Testament fit into all of this? Well, they're an all-around awesome thrash band and it's been more than once claimed that they deserve to be seen as the fifth member of the big four. Whether or not they really do belong in there, Testament is a great band and I'd go see them live no matter what group they're shoved into.

Slayer
Reference to: Slayer



Now these guys simply are part of the big four. No discussion here. They're easily recognizable with their graphic anti-christian album covers, titles like God Hates Us All and the coolest looking guitarist in the business. I actually love how singer Tom Araya is a convinced catholic despite all of these blasphemous songs. When asked about that in an interview he laughed and simply replied: "God doesn't hate you ... It's just a fucking cool title!" That's the spirit, Tom!

They've also got the most controversial metal song ever in their catalog. Angel of Death with lyrics that describe scenes from the holocaust.

[i]Auschwitz, the meaning of pain
The way that I want you to die
Slow death, immense decay
Showers that cleanse you of your life[/i]

Axl Low
Reference to: Axl Rose



A clear reference to Axl Rose, both in name and appearance. Rose is one of rock's most distinct personalities. Frontman to one the most charismatic bands out there and all around asshole. Guns 'n Roses concerts would often end with him jumping out to pick a fight with somebody in the audience or him just walking off stage because of whatever lit his short fuse. Nowadays he's still going on with his band while all the other members have long since left.

No matter how much of an asshole this guy is though, you just can't deny how awesome Guns 'n Roses used to be and still is whenever you put Appetite for Destruction in your cd player. You're in the jungle baby! You're gonna die!

Dizzy
Reference to: Dizzy Reed



Staying with the Guns 'n Roses theme, we've got Dizzy Reed next. This keyboard player has been up to some other stuff including a tour with Alice Cooper at some point unfortunately for him, that's not what he will be remembered for. He is currently, desides Axl, the only active Guns 'n Roses member from before the bands unfriendly brake-up.

Venom
Reference to: Venom



Back when Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were barely done reviving the scene, Venom came along and made little kids shit their pants. Their music was way more extreme than anything we had seen before and even to this day, many of the more extreme bands cite Venom as their main influence. It's often speculated that their 1982 album Black Metal inspired the sub-genre of the same name.

A.B.A
Reference to: ABBA



Let's take a break from metal but at least stay in a country famous for its metal scene. I assume everyone here has heard of ABBA. This band from Stockholm, Sweden has gone on to become a leading pop act around the world. I'm sure being referenced by an awkward girl in bloody bandages holding a talking key was what they always wanted back when they formed in 1972.

Eddie
Reference to: Iron Maiden's mascott



Eddie. The most recognizable face of heavy metal music. Who has never seen a kid walking around in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and stop to wonder what the hell that horrifying image is? In fact I'm wearing one of those t-shirts right now. Bought it last weekend for about 5€ in Hong Kong no less. As fake as it gets but hey, it's got Eddie and Eddie is freaking awesome! Did you know he has his own rail shooter?

Zappa
Reference to: Frank Zappa



Simpe rule. If you don't know Frank Zappa then you suck. I think Rolling Stone magazine wrote it best back in 2004.

Frank Zappa dabbled in virtually all kinds of music—and, whether guised as a satirical rocker, jazz-rock fusionist, guitar virtuoso, electronics wizard, or orchestral innovator, his eccentric genius was undeniable.

Moves

Ky Kiske's Ride the Lightning
Reference to: Metallica



I already told you who Metallica is so no need to go there again. Besides, you probably knew without me telling you anyway. Chances are you know Ride the Lighting too. It's the bands sophomore album, following right after 1983's Kill 'em All. This album enriched the world with classics like For Whom The Bell Tolls, Creeping Death and The Call of Ktulu.

Millia Rage's Iron Maiden
Reference to: Iron Maiden



Oh yeah, now we're talking. Iron fucking Maiden! They are my all time favourite band. While other bands like Metallica have contributed their part to the metal scene and stopped making impressive new material long ago, Maiden is still going strong. Heck, Dance of Death from 2003 is one of my all time favourite Maiden records. A Matter of Life and Death wasn't quite as good but still not bad and I can't wait for The New Frontier to be released in August! Up the irons! \m/

Slayer's attacks
Reference to: Queen



His name might be pure thrash metal but his moves take us back much further in the history of rock. I'm sure queen fans will easily recognize the following attacks of his.

* It's Late
* Under Pressure
* Dead on Time
* Spread Your Wings
* All Dead

Bridget's Kickstart My Heart
Reference to: Mötley Crüe



Metallica might have started their heavy sound in disgust of 80's glam rock but I don't share their opinion. Glam is something I couldn't listen to for a whole day but putting on a Crüe record every once and a while is great! These guys have definitely played their part in the notority surrounding heavy metal music too. If it wasn't for their book titled The Dirt, a million interviewers wouldn't be asking Ozzy Osbourne if he really snorted a line of ants when on tour with these guys. Just for the record, Ozzy always replies that he just doesn't know. He was too wasted to remember the Mötley Crüe tour. :)

Dizzy's Gamma Ray
Reference to: Gamma Ray



Remember Kai Hansen from the beginning of this blog? When he finally quite Helloween, this is what he did. The reasons as to why he left Helloween still aren't really that clear but I don't think it matters too much. He formed Gamma Ray which has given us a lot more great power metal alongside Helloween. Relations between the bands aren't a problem either. In fact I saw them tour together a couple of years ago. Funny to see Hansen singing clearly with a sigarette sticking from the side of his mouth and it was epic to see all members of both bands join together on stage for the more famous songs.

Potemkin's Hammer Fall
Reference to: Hammerfall



Hammerfall's another power metal band that drew a lot of inspiration from Helloween. It's popularity is probably at least as great is not greater than Helloween's. Musically though, I think they're quite a few notches below them actually. I used to be really into them and especially their debut album, Glory to the Brave. After about half a year though, I got a bit tired of them and especially when I discovered amazing melodic singers like Jorn Lande, Hammerfall started feeling quite stale to me. Don't get me wrong though. Hammerfall is a very good power metal band with some killer guitar solo's and very catchy songs but at the end of the day, I think there's better stuff out there. Fun game related fact: Blizzard Entertainment's very own art director actually took care of several album covers for these guys.

Robo-Ky's Aegis High
reference to: Iron Maiden -- Aces High



One of Iron Maiden's iconic songs. I swear! When I heard this for the first time on my disc-man, suddenly my hair grew ten inches longer. Actually it's the song that introduced me to heavy metal along with a three others. It was back when I first got my copy of Carmageddon 2. One evening while doing my homework, I decided to put the game in my CD player and see what happens. Little did I know that I was about to introduced to my favourite band of all time. Stainless Games, thank you so much for licensing Iron Maiden as the sound track for this game! You guys are my heroes.

Testament's Master of Puppets
Reference to: Metallica -- Master of Puppets



Ky Kiske brought us Ride the Lighting, now Testament brings us Master of Puppets. Metallica's third album and widely recognized to be one of the most influential metal recordings ever. With songs like Master of Puppets, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) and Orion, this disc is a true masterpiece. I actually own a bootleg copy of their 20th anniversary show at Rock Am Ring where they played this album in its entirety. It's one of the very best metal shows I have ever seen and if you're a metal fan, you owe it to yourself to see it. Even if you don't like Metallica all that much, you still should see it. I mean it! It's on google video. Go watch it now! Stop reading!

Venom's Dim Bomber
Reference to: Dimmu Borgir



Back to Venom for our final reference. His name comes from the original extreme metal band and this move is named after one of today's most popular extreme muscisians. Was that intentional or am I reading into it too much? Either way, we've got a genuine reference to Dimmu Borgir here. These guys are part of the Norwegian black metal movement which is notorious for worshipping the devil and burning churches all over Norway.

This scene is a real phenomena within metal's culture. I don't really fully understand it myself. On one side, these bands' theatrics are extremely silly and remind me more of that recent Japanese movie Detroid Metal City than anything else, but then on the other side, they do these horrible things like the church burnings. It's something one could write a whole blog about or even a book.

And there you have it. These are the references that I clearly noticed. As big as this list is though, I'm absolutely sure it's barely scratching the surface of all the musical goodness within this title. Heck, some people are even going as far as to say that Sol Badguy's blocking stance bears a striking resemblance to Freddy Mercury holding his microphone. I don't know if we should take it that far but on the other hand, his profile does say he likes listening to queen AND he's got "rock you" carved on his forehead armor. The point is there are bound to be loads more pokes and winks in here just waiting to be found. Have you noticed any I didn't? How about some references in other games? Let's hear all about in the comments.

This has been Metallion, and thank you for reading River City Retro.   read


7:25 AM on 07.19.2010

A Gamer's Diet: It's my birthday!



Well actually it isn't my birthday. It was a little over one month ago. I had fully intended to publish this blog back then but as you can see, that didn't happen. I'm guess I'm still getting used to my new daily life since I moved to Tokyo earlier this year. I'm a lot busier than I used to be and my self-imposed blogging schedule suffers from it. At this moment, I've pretty much just decided to blog whenever I feel like it and be at peace with that. Some times I might post three articles a week and some times I might not post anything for over a month.

So now that we've got that out of the way, it was my birthday recently. My good South Korean friends Kim Kiss, Park Son Min, Kang in Geol and Ja Mi Gyong took me and my girlfriend out to dinner in Tokyo's Korean neighbourhood. After lots of bbq meat, even more beer and some surprise birthday pastries, we ended up in this other place. Kiss and Son Min spoke some gibberish to the waiters and they came back with a load of Soju bottles. The next day ... I was mostly recovering from a hangover but the day after that I finally made my own birthday cake and that's what I'm here to talk about.

This apple pie was actually created by my grandmother and has pretty much been a family tradition of sorts. My uncle made it, my mother made it, my sister made it and now I make it. It's really simple to do and so incredibly tasty! The hardest part is actually peeling and cutting up the apples which can take some time. In my family, whenever it's somebody's birthday, we either make this one of a cream cheese cake that my mother invented. I actually made that one later last month when it was my girlfriend's birthday.



Apple Pie

Time to make: About 1 hour and a half

What you need

For the filling:

12 table spoons of flour
10 table spoons of white sugar
1 package of vanilla sugar
8 table spoons of milk
6 table spoons of molten butter
2 eggs
About a handful raisins
Bread powder
Between 6 and 8 apples depending on their size
Cinnamon

For the little sauce on top:

7 table spoons of white sugar
1 table spoon of molten butter
1 egg

How to do it

The filling:

* Peal the apples and cut them in pieces of roughly 1 cm².

* Mix the flour, milk, butter sugar and eggs together in a bowl.

* Add the apples to the bowl.

* Flavour this with some cinnamon and add the raisins.

* Grease a pie dish.

* Sprinkle some bread powder on the dish and shake it so the bottom and all the edges are covered in it. This way the pie can easily be removed afterwards.

* Now poor the filling in there and push the raisins down under the surface so they don't burn.

* Put it in the oven at 180 °C for about 35 minutes.

The sauce:

* Mix the egg, the sugar and the last spoon of butter in a bowl.

* After the filling has baked for 35 minutes, take it out and poor this sauce over it. This makes the surface nice and shiny ~_^

* Now put it back in the oven at the same temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.



Enjoy! ^_^   read


12:20 PM on 07.18.2010

River City Retro: Time Slaughter



You know, when I was a little kid, I just couldn't get enough of Mortal Kombat. I didn't have a SNES until the Playstation was already out so until then, I could only play the game in a shop or at a friend's house. Whenever I wasn't in either of these, I was in my room creating my own bloody fighting games. The Power Rangers, G.I. Joe, the Ninja Turtles, any other actioned figure I owned, they'd all duke it out atop my desk. Mortal Kombat and its violence might have made for the coolest game in existence but surely I could do better. As I played with my dolls, the best game ever unfolded in my imagination.

The warriors' bodies would get covered with scratches and bruises as the battles raged on. Blood splatters on the floor would never disappear and as special moves were executed, naked women in the background held up signs saying cheesy lines like "Brutal!" or "Bloody!". At the end of each bout, losing fighters were kicked down from whatever furniture they were on and fell to their deaths in my bag of toy cars or onto my yellow tiled floor which was of course a pit of boiling lava. Good thing nobody ever put me in charge of a development team.

Time Slaughter for MS-DOS has a lot of things in common with my childhood imaginary game. There's (unfortunately?) no nudity but blood splatter stays on the floor, characters gradually degrade into bloody pulps and the casts looks just about as silly as my set of action figures did. Our story at hand deals with a mad scientist that has created a time machine. Some demons don't like him playing with time so they come over and graphically mutilate him. Missing both of his arms, the poor guy still manages to turn on the machine with his nose, effectively sending the demons back where they came from. As a convenient little side effect, the machine mangles up the strands of time, allowing for warriors from throughout the ages to tear each other to pieces. Our hero then replaces his lost limbs with machinery and takes up his role as the game's final boss. Time Slaughter's gameplay is as awful as its story but what really sets it aside, is it that it was programmed from the ground up by two 16 year olds and not just any 16 year olds.



Bloodlust software was a conjoined effort by two high school students intended to ridicule all the US' video game violence debates going on in the early nineties. In addition to Time Slaughter and several other over the top violent games, they are responsible for a little app called Nesticle. Their games might not have been all that good but without Nesticle, the Emulation scene would not have been what it is today. Both of the authors have since gone on to work in major gaming companies like EA and Ubisoft.

With all this talk of gaming's Citizen Kane going on recently, I actually think it's a great time to bring up Time Slaughter. Which game deserves to be our Kane is probably going to be debated for quite a bit more but I'm pretty sure Time Slaughter is our Braindead. For the unknowing, this was an extreme over-the-top gore flick that included landmower on zombie action, laughable special effects and lots of overacting. It's one of those popcorn munchers that you can only enjoy with a dark sense of humour and a strong stomach.

Time Slaughter is exactly that. It's clunky, it's silly and it doesn't take itself seriously. Just have a look at its highly inappropriate midget raping intro and try not to snicker. Be warned though. As you should have been able to figure out on your own, this intro is extremely graphic and probably not suited for work. Anyway, let's have a look at a few of the characters.

Asylum



Mortal Kombat clones really seem to have a thing for these metal patient type of characters. Asylum is your generic madman in a straitjacket that fights because he's insane. He never takes the jacket off, fighting with his shoulders, head and legs. His victory taunts do show that he could easily shed it like a second skin if he wanted to though. Speaking of shedding skins, by the way ... He does that too. Claims to have over 500 personalities as well.

Pierre



A French painter with a generic name. His reason for fighting? People look so much more colourful when they're all bumped and bruised. ^_^

Chi



Chi. Your generic stereotypical Chinese warrior. Very boring character if it wasn't for his backstory. Let's quote the developer's website for a moment.

Chi was the victim of a cruel practical joke. His master told him to guard a bridge when he was a mere child until the "flying monkeys" came. Chi never stopped guarding it. Now he's 45 and he can't speak any language, but he has tought himself many unique skills (he's had plenty of time to meditate). His reason for fighting - after 30 years everyone looks like a flying monkey.

Brilliant.

Vlad



Vlad Dracul, the impaler from Wallachia. He never drinks wine.

Turns out the game was actually headed for a sequel. It was going to contain even crazier characters like the shitman who can mold shit into anything he wants and even make other people defaecate on demand. I personally am not really waiting for it to come out though. With the developers' latest update saying that they're aiming for a 2007 release, I think nobody else should either. Quite a bit of artwork for it can be found on Ringmasterbent's deviant art page though. It does look a bit more polished than the first game but I doubt it would have played much better.

As awful as the game is, I do wonder ... Was it really a failure? If we were to place it next to a Mortal Kombat II cabinet, I'm pretty sure it would start collecting dust very soon but perhaps it doesn't belong there anyway. Its sole purpose was to ridicule video game violence and with this level of satire, I say it belongs with the likes of the Postal series more than anywhere else. Within that scope, I'd say it was at least a moderate success.

This has been Metallion. Thank you for reading.   read


8:59 AM on 05.23.2010

A gamer's diet: Ratatouille



Let me start off by excessively thanking everyone that supported A Gamer's Diet two weeks ago. I really didn't know what to expect at first. With double digit faps and loads of encouraging comments, including two from the Destructoid staff, the support has been overwhelming. Thank you all very much! I intended to post my second recipe last Sunday but kept getting distracted by BlazBlue Continuum Shift arcade cabinets calling my name, friends inviting me for drinks and my school having me design a poster for their upcoming sports event. You can check that out here if you're wondering how it turned out.

Anyways, today I've got a bit of a romantic story for you guys to accompany the recipe with. A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend was going crasy about the Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille, where a little rat turns out to have the blood of a true gourmet chef in him. Though she's usually not into movies all that much, she loved this one so much that she actually wanted to own the DVD. Rather than simply buying hit for her, I decided to actually cook up a plate of Ratatouille and then have the movie "magically" be there on the table when she sits down. It was actually my first time making the French dish but I'm rather satisfied with the result.



Ratatouille

Servings: 4
Time to make: About 40 minutes

What you need

olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large onion, sliced
1 small eggplant, cut up into small pieces
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 cans of diced tomatoes
3 to 4 small zucchini, sliced
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons parsley

How to do it

* Get yourself a big pot, grease it with some olive oil and put it on medium heat.

* Fry the onions in here for about seven minutes while spicing them up with the garlic. They should be nice and soft afterwards. Make sure to stir often so they don't burn.

* Now add the eggplant and stir until they're mostly oiled up.

* Put in the bell peppers immediately afterwards.

* Now put a lit on it and cook the vegetable mixture for ten more minutes. Open it up to sir every now and then.

* Finally add the zucchini, tomatoes and all the spices. Mix it up well and then cook it 15 minutes more on lower heat.

* Before serving, taste the eggplant to make sure that it's nice and tender. If this is the case, all the other ingredients should be fine too.

* If you want to, you can make it look a little nicer by cutting up a bit more fresh parsley and sprinkling that over when it's done.



The meat alongside it in this picture is actually a Belgian thing called bird's nest. It's something that I'm still learning and experimenting with a lot. My girlfriend has been steadily enjoying my previous attempts but personally, I'm not quite that satisfied with them yet. We'll get to those once I've matured them a bit.   read


8:50 AM on 05.09.2010

A gamer's diet: Spaghetti Bolognaise



This is a new series I intend on doing. Other than gaming, a thing I really love is eating and drinking. For a while now I have been wanting to blog about the things I make and bake. Feeling like this doesn't belong on a gaming site such as Destructoid, I set off to find a cooking community. Though I did come across several very nice websites, non of them seemed to provide the blogging tools that I wanted.

So ... you know what? I say in the end it doesn't matter whether you're into gaming, flower arrangements or gay porn. No matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there're still some things that make us all the same and the fact that we all eat and drink is one of those. That's why I've decided to post some of my recipes here for all the gamers who feel like putting down their controllers and picking up a frying pan some time. In case you all do feel like this doesn't belong here, please let me know and I'll take my pots and pans elsewhere.

For starters let's do something from Mario and Luigi's homeland. Spaghetti Bolognaise is one of those classics that everyone can make but nobody does in the exact same way. I always used to buy this ready made sauce and then just add some vegetables myself. Since I moved to Japan, I've had troubled finding a sauce like this and so I have decided to experiment with some spices myself and finally succeeded in making something that both me and my girlfriend enjoyed a lot. Let's get to it.



Spaghetti Bolognaise

Servings: 3
Time to make: About 1 hour

What you need

2 jars of tomato sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes
200g mixed pork/beef minced meat
1 clove of garlic
1 large onion halved and sliced
1 green bell pepper cut in small pieces
200g mushrooms
half a teaspoon of thyme
half a teaspoon of oregano
pepper and salt
half a teaspoon of Mccormic Italian Seasoning... If you can't find this, herbes the provence will do just fine.
A small bush of parsley, chopped.

How to do it

I've divided this into three parts that can pretty much be done simultaneously.

Part 1:

* Put some olive oil in a pan and fry the onion for about 3 to 5 minutes.

* Put the meat in with the onion and use a wooden spoon to softly chop it in smaller pieces while it fries. Spice it up with some salt and pepper.

* Also add the oregano, thyme and Italian seasoning. (or herbes de provence)

* Fry until the meat is nice and brown. Lower the heat if necessary.

Part 2:

* Put some olive oil in a big pot and fry the bell peppers on medium heat for about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir often so they don't burn.

* Add the mushrooms and fry until they are starting to get a little soft but not completely squishy.

* Now add the sauce and diced tomatoes to the bell peppers and bring to a boil.

* Crush the garlic and add it to the sauce.

* Add the onions and meat you have just fried. and boil for a few minutes.

* Finally add the parsley and have the whole thing boil a little more until the bell peppers are soft enough to suit your taste.

* If you wish, you can put in some spicy peppers too.

Part 3:

* All done. Now just boil some pasta and just pour the sauce on it. I personally love to serve this with a shitload of grated cheese on top.

  read


9:39 AM on 05.07.2010

River City Retro Alien Wars 4: How to make a proper X-COM Sequel



Good morning, Destructoid! Two weeks ago I rounded up all of the silly spin-offs and horrible design choices that took the once great X-COM series to its grave. Just as I was finishing up that article, 2k announced yet another X-COM spin-off as if god was laughing in my face. Whether or not that first person shooter is going to be worth it remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, it's not going to be the tactical wonderland that me and a lot of fellow X-COM fans are craving.

In this final installment of Alien Wars, I am going to provide a guide to which titles we can turn to for our global strategy and small squad tactics fixes. Surprisingly, some of the finest examples come from where I'd least expect them to: open source software.

UFO: Alien Invasion

[embed]172986:29620[/embed]

I'm going to start by talking about the one that I personally enjoyed most. UFO: Alien Invasion is a project that's doing a lot of things right. First of all I like the developers' attitude. They've got a strong grasp of what made the first X-COM so great but at the same time, they're not trying to be the first X-COM. Instead their goal is to expand upon it's formula and try to surpass what it did. Sounds familiar? Yes, it does. It sounds exactly like a proper sequel and even though they're explicitly denying this on their about page, they're not fooling anyone. Alien Invasion is a true spiritual sequel to Enemy Unknown.

It's got nearly everything that Enemy Unknown had. You've got both the strategic geoscape with all of its base building, researching and UFO intercepting intact and then there's the fully turn-based tactical battlescape. Graphics are handled by a heavily modified Quake 2 engine. This might sound terribly dated but don't turn your back on it just yet. After all this engine was originally made for a first person shooter and this isn't one. For an overhead view with tiny characters, it does just fine. Things aren't looking like Starcraft 2 but they're in no way ugly.

It's a really awesome game but I've got one small gripe. Why did they have to call the organization Phalanx? X-COM had such a catchy sound to it. If I think X-COM, I think some hardcore party poopers. You show up at their party and they will shoot you in the face if you're an alien. When I think Phalanx I just think kind of ... meh.

I know they can't use the name X-COM without getting their balls sued through their asses but why not allow the player to choose the name of the organization? Three guesses what I'd call it. :p Anyway if you're a fan of the first X-COM games, you owe it to yourself to give this a try. After all it's 100% free and legal to download. The game is still in development but it's already fully playable.

Project Xenocide

[embed]172986:29621[/embed]

Project Xenocide is a bit like Alien Invasion's little brother. It's another Open Source project trying to fill the shoes of UFO Enemy Unknown. Unlike Alien Invasion though, it's goal is simply to recreate the Enemy Unknown's with modern graphics and coding technologies.

Unfortunately Xenoside doesn't seem to offer anything that Invasion doesn't and it's nowhere near its state of completion either. While I'd normally absolutely respect a project like this, I can't help but feel that it's unnecessary and the developers' efforts would be better spent contributing to Alien Invasion.

UFO 2000



Here's a little open source project that teen Metallion would have gone apeshit over, had it been available back in the day. After hours and hours of playing both Enemy Unknown and Terror From The Deep, me and my friends were craving for one thing: multiplayer! It would be so awesome to take our battlescape matches on LAN and duke it out together. Although there was an official play-by-mail multiplayer spin-off, I never figured out how to use it when I was a teen and frankly, it doesn't look interesting enough for me to bother figuring it out now.

UFO 2000 however is everything I used to want. A full-featured and balanced multiplayer X-COM battlescape. I also like how this game is not trying to be anything it's not. It's a multiplayer battlescape and that's it. No single player and no geoscape.

Just like the previous two titles, you can download this 100% for free and legally. By default it comes with a fan created set of graphics but if you own Enemy Unknown, it's possible to import its content and graphics into UFO 2000 for the most faithful multiplayer experience you'll ever see.

UFO: The Two Sides



This is the final Open Source project I will discuss in this blog. This one in turn, is a more ambitious version of UFO 2000. As they say themselves on their website: "Although numerous other attempts have been made to recreate X-COM [UFO] defense, there is no (known to us) multiplayer game that lets you play full campaigns (that is both geoscape and battlescape)."

Although a playable demo is available, the game has only been in development for a little over one year and is not completed yet but so far, things are looking promising. Right now the game still uses graphics from the original X-COM and thus can't be downloaded stand-alone legally. The team is working hard on redoing all those graphics though and the results are exquisite.

If there's anything I can really say about this game, it's that it looks like it will be UFO: Enemy Unknown HD Remix. I love what Alien Invasion's trying to do in terms of surpassing the original but if these guys can make the original X-COM look this beautiful, I can't wait for it to finish! After all, if the Street Fighter series has taught us anything, it's that a true sequel and a HD remake can perfectly co-exist!

Now that we've covered some open source efforts, let's take a look at the commercial offspring that our series has had over the years. I had originally planned to provide a deeper look at these but unfortunately, I just don't have the time to play them all at this moment. On the other hand, reviews of these are already widely available. While I am going to provide overviews for the different titles you could be checking out, I suggest you look up some of the larger game websites out there for full-scale reviews.

The UFO trilogy

[embed]172986:29623[/embed]

When people think about a semi-modern-day take on the X-COM series, a game called UFO: Aftermath and it's two sequels, Aftershock and Afterlight are usually the first works to show up. This is not without reason as the project that would eventually become Aftermath, was started by none other than lead Enemy Unknown/Apocalypse designer Julian Gollop. After losing the X-COM rights to Hasbro Interactive, he and his team got started on an unofficial remake titled The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge. Failing to find a publisher for it however, both the game and its developing studio went out of business.

After the intellectual property had been tossed around a bit, it eventually settled in the hands of Altar Interactive. Development was restarted and in 2003, the release of UFO: Aftermath was a fact although the developers admitted that very little of Gollop's original work remained. I've seen this game take flack for all kinds of stuff but I have to say I kind of like the direction that the story is taking.

Rather than the all open alien assault we've seen in X-COM, the aliens now deposit a kind of spores in earth's atmosphere that eventually rain down on the surface and kill everyone that wasn't lucky enough to be in the basement fetching mom a carton of milk. From what I've read, you actually start off by gathering whatever survivors you can find and then head on to figure out the aliens' motives and defend what's left of earth.

While I do applaud this game for trying to deviate from the original X-COM games and find its own identity, it seems to take some wrong turns. For instance the strategic part of the game is overly simplified and core elements like base building seem to be completely absent. Another one that I leave in the middle is the pause based real-time system that lets you fight battles much like you would do in the old Baldur's Gate series. You had the option to do this in Apocalypse as well and it usually meant my team would die real quickly but I'm still willing to give the UFO trilogy's system a chance.

The next two games in the series did bring back several strategic parts missing from Aftermath but reviewers kept calling them "E for effort" titles at best. I'm still looking forward to play them myself though. Spoiler warning! I heard it has some devilish plot twists where the aliens make you an offer to surrender earth and leave most of its inhabitants to die in exchange for the guaranteed survival of humanity on deep space colonies.

Rebelstar: Tactical Command



Rebelstar is actually a somewhat forgotten turn-based series that Julian Gollop worked on before X-COM. Along with a few other works of his like Chaos and Laser Squad, this is really the ancestor of Enemy Unknown. Although it has never had any research trees or strategic world maps, most of the battlescape mechanics were already there including snap/aimed shots and reaction fire. The latest installment or revival of the series rather, takes place on the Game Boy Advance and frankly, looks more like X-COM than any of the official X-COM games in my previous blog did.

Once again earth has been taken over by aliens and all people get a mind-reading chip planted into their brains at birth. When they reach age thirty, all humans are dragged off by the aliens and never heard of again. You take the role of a lad named Jorel whose high psionic strength enabled him to reject the chip. He joins a group of rebels trying to fight off their alien captors and from here on, the game is basically a bunch of X-COM battlescapes stringed together with some cut scenes here and there to further the story. There might not be a geoscape but hey ... The original developer worked on this one from start to finish. It's probably the closest we'll ever get to a true sequel since Apocalypse.

UFO: Extraterrestrials



Despite the title, this one has no relation to the UFO Trilogy. If anything, it's a much closer remake of Enemy Unknown or at least, it's trying to be. It comes with everything you'd expect. There's a strategic geoscape, a fleshed out research tree, a tactical turn-based battlescape and fully destructible terrain. Plus it adds a very well done artificial intelligence for the aliens. At first sight, it looks like this is the perfect re-imagining of Enemy Unknown. Unfortunately there just had to be a different side to the coin again. The game has got some fundamental flaws.

For instance most of the strategic management systems like recruitment and rearming are done automatically for you regardless of the amount of cash you have. A thing that can really get on your nerves when times are tough, according to multiple reviewers. This is still nothing compared to another design choice they made in the battlescape: Your soldier simply never die! Even if they're hit right in the face with a high explosive, your men will just fall unconscious, spend a couple of weeks in the hospital and be good to go again. I really wonder how they came up with this stuff. "So we're remaking a game that relies heavily on the suspense of micromanaging your hand picked team in extreme situations where they could be killed by a single shot. How can we improve upon this concept?" "Oh I know! Let's make the soldiers invincible! Yeah this is genius!"

Don't throw the game away just yet though as there appears to be a cure for this. Bman's Ease of Use Mod is a compilation of several other mods that is supposed to iron out all these flaws and make the game feel much more like the original X-COM games. As I haven't played it yet myself, I can't offer my opinion but thanks to Wikipedia, I can offer you Finnish game journalist, Niko Nirvi's: "UFO Extraterrestrials with Bman's mod is the true successor of UFO: Enemy Unknown that genuinely achieves some of its predecessor's magic." After a line like that ... If I had a shady lady with a crystal ball sitting on the other side of my table, an image of this game is what she would see.

This concludes the Alien Wars mini series. As much as I enjoyed writing about X-COM, I'm kind of relieved that it's done so I can focus on other stuff for River City Retro again. Thank you very much for reading and hope to see you again next time.   read


11:37 AM on 04.23.2010

E for Effort: Becoming a World Warrior



I remember seeing Street Fighter II in a Club Nintendo magazine for the first time. Even to this day I can't quite put my finger on it but Street Fighter II just had something to it that made me absolutely crave the game. The only problem is that I was about nine years old and had barely gotten a NES. No way my parents were letting me buy that big 16-bit monster that was the SNES. From here on my life was like a quest to play Street Fighter II.

Every time my mom took me to the super marked, I'd rush ahead and glue my face to that arcade cabinet by the entrance. I tried my very best and probably a little more but no matter how much of a puppy face I put up, mom would not give me a coin. Despite my ongoing failures to wrap my hands around that oh so shiny joystick I watched hours worth of gameplay and you can bet that on the school playground, there was one little boy constantly throwing makeshift hadoukens at his friends.

Then one faithful day, I was at a friend's house browsing through his Game Boy carts and there it was. A beautiful square cartridge with that otherworldly Street Fighter II artwork on it. It just laid there, smiling at me, practically begging me to pop it into the Game Boy. Let's try recreate my reaction a bit. "What?! You have Street Fighter II? Can I play this? Really? Can I?!" The screen was tiny, the sprites were rough and I had only two buttons but hell if I cared. I was freaking playing Street Fighter II! Although by the time i did get a SNES, my love for Capcom's little gem had calmed down a bit and was replaced by other franchises like Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct, one thing was for sure. i was a natural born fighting game freak!

If i go over the games I collected during the PS2's lifetime, I find about ninety percent fighting games. Tekken, Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear, Capcom Vs. Snk, you name it. I've got them all. It is also in this era that I started feeling like there was a vital missing part in my life. That was an opponent. I could easily beat the hardest difficulty setting of any game I owned and while I've been going at it in the versus mode from time to time, nobody I knew was into fighting games as much as I was. Except for a tiny number of people that I could only play with once every few months, I always wiped the floor with everybody with two hands tied behind my back. There was no fun in this. I needed real human opponents of my own level to play with.



When I took my first trip to Japan, this was one of the major things I was looking forward to. I had heard tales of the this country and its game centers which were supposed to house the very best players in the world. I wanted to go there! I wanted to test my skills and see how far I would get. Little did I know I was in for a big surprise. I know what you must be thinking but that surprise wasn't the skill level I encountered. It were the controls!

With a severe lack of arcades in my home country, I had always been playing with a pad. I didn't have the slightest clue how to perform a hadouken on a fightstick and man ... was that frustrating. I hit a mental bottom. There I was in the country that invented my beloved genre and this stupid control barrier stood right in my way, preventing me from joining the action myself.

As I stood there, crying on the inside and just watching the Japanese gamers tearing away at all of my favourite games, I came to a second conclusion. Sitting there, wrecking my thumb in my solitary game room might have enabled me to beat Guilty Gear XX on the most difficult setting but I had no idea how to properly use a roman cancel.

I walked over to the Tekken cabinets. My playing style had always relied on heavy side-stepping and dealing single heavy blows whenever I found an opening. While this was quite satisfying to beat down the CPU and often awed my lesser skilled friends as I dodged all of their moves without retaliating, I realized how my style wouldn't lay a finger on these combo juggling Asians.

I remembered all the clan wars I had played in Counter-Strike and how I eventually joined one of my country's very best clans. If I was able to reach that level in an FPS, why wasn't I in a fighter? The answer is simple. Environment. Back in the CS days, I was frequenting cyber cafés and practicing online with some of the best players in my country. I could observe and play with better players than me while analyzing their strategies. In short: I had people to learn from.



Despite these setbacks, my desire to play on a high level is still going strong. Since I have been dating a Japanese woman for several years already, I was visiting the country frequently. I've often been looking in awe at those BlazBlue cabinets. This game looked so amazingly awesome but not knowing how to play any character yet combined with my control barrier and insanely skilled opponents, putting in a coin wasn't going to do much for me.

Still I wanted to somehow learn the controls and get better at these games. I decided to buy myself a copy of BlazBlue and play it on my friend's PS3 back home. I still didn't have a fight stick but I decided to do that part later. First I'd choose one single character to get good at and then when I'd finally be living in Japan indefinitely, I'd learn how to use a stick.

To fill the gap of having no people to learn from, I started watching several tournament videos on YouTube. Since I had chosen Litchi as my main, I got especially interested in this player named Manakan. I've spent hours on end in practice mode trying copy his combos.

Since almost a month now, I am living in Japan and the other week I was on my way home when I decided to stop by my favourite arcade and get some practice. As I walked through the doors, I noticed how two BlazBlue cabinets were empty even though a group of over twenty people were crowding up around them. Going in for a closer look, I saw they were both set to event mode. "Oh cool", I thought, "a tournament. Let's stay and watch for a while." Then suddenly the announcer shouted: "Player 2: Manakan!"

I couldn't believe my ears. Was I high or something? I quickly checked the list of entries and his name was right there in the first bracket. A young man separated himself from the crowd and my gaze followed as he sat himself down and moved the character selection cursor towards Litchi Faye Ling. "Goddamn it", I shouted in thoughts. The guy I had always been practicing with was sitting right there before me. Of course I couldn't pass up this chance so as soon as his match was finished I ran over and introduced myself.

He was absolutely astonished to have a European fan and as I told him about my struggle with the controls, he pointed to an empty cabinet and told me to sit down while he'd do some coaching. I couldn't believe this. Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting on my friend's couch, trying to copy his videos and now here I was, taking lessons from the man himself. We've been chatting it up for a few hours and hit it off so well that he agreed to have an interview with me for this very post.



My fellow dtoiders, it is my pleasure to present you an interview with a top level Japanese tournament player. Enjoy!

Metallion: Please introduce yourself a bit and how you got into fighting games.

Manakan: Thank you. My name is Manakan. I guess I started playing fighting games when I was just a kid and saw my brother play Street Fighter II. I got completely absorbed in learning single basic moves. Roughly, the games I have played until now are the Street Fighter II series, the Fatal Fury series, the Art of Fighting series, X-MEN Children of the Atom, Darkstalkers, the King of Fighters series up until 2000, the Guilty Gear series and now BlazBlue. There are a few more but these are the most important ones.

Metallion: Are there any among those that you are particularly fond of?

Manakan: That would be the Guilty Gear series. It's packed with awesome systems like Dust Attack and Roman Cancel. The tournaments were also really fun!

Metallion: I see. So even though BlazBlue is Guilty Gear's spiritual successor, you still prefer Guilty Gear?

Manakan: Hmmmm, If you really want to compare them, I guess I do like BlazBlue better.

Metallion: Could you give us a bit of an overview of what the fighting game scene is like in Japan?

Manakan: What do you mean by that?

Metallion: Yeah, I guess this might be a bit of a tough one...

Manakan: (interrupts) Oh, I think I understand. Before the year 2000 there were loads of people playing fighting games. Since then it has been dwindling over the years. The waiting times to play used to be immense but lately it's been getting less and less. I don't know about other people but personally, it makes me feel a bit lonely.

[embed]171816:29324[/embed]

Metallion: The other day I was playing BlazBlue and another guy was waiting behind me. When I was done, he started playing on my machine and I soon noticed how he was much better than me. He could have easily whooped my ass and take my place but instead, he kindly waited for me to finish. Is this kind of courtesy common in Japanese arcades?

Manakan: I think that depends on the people, really. There are people who wait, there are people who give advice and there are people who will challenge you.

Metallion: I see. So it's not like there is some unwritten rule to let newbies practice or anything like that.

Manakan: Yep.

Metallion: Why did you choose BlazBlue and not another game? Why Litchi as your character?

Manakan: I was playing other tournament fighters too but as time progressed, more and more people were abandoning them. Also the lack of any sequel prospects in the Guilty Gear series was a major factor. As far as Litchi is concerned, she's got pretty long reach and I like all the tricky little moves she can do with her bou. Of course the fact that she's an awesome female doctor also helped. (laughs)

Metallion: Amen to that! I heard you're a Fate Unlimited Codes player too.

Manakan: That's right. I see you've done your homework.

Metallion: You use Dark Sakura, right?

Manakan: Yep

Metallion: Isn't it hard to keep up with two games at the same time on this level?

Manakan: Once you get used to it, it's not so bad.

Metallion: I see. How long does it generally take to get used to?

Manakan: I've actually been playing Fate since before I started playing BlazBlue but I guess it takes me about three months to get used to a new game.

[embed]171816:29322[/embed]

Metallion: That fast? That's pretty amazing.

Manakan: I guess I can do that mostly because I've stacked up so much fighting game experience over the years.

Metallion: Yeah I guess that's right. I also get used to new games quickly as long as there isn't a fightstick involved. How many hours do you generally practice per day?

Manakan: Right now I haven't got so much time due to my job so I can't play every day any more. I guess it's usually between thirty minutes and an hour. When there's a tournament coming up, I make that two hours.

Metallion: Oh really? So you can keep up this level of play even with such little practice? Did you know the Korean professional Starcraft players practice about fourteen hours per day?

Manakan: (shocked) Fourteen hours? Isn't that like half a day?!

Metallion: Yep, that's right.

Manakan: So there are people who take it that far. I'm a bit surprised.

Metallion: Yeah but they're different. Gaming actually is their day to day job. It's pretty much the same as professional sports.

Manakan: Come to think of it, you mentioned something about these Korean pro gamers when we met right?

Metallion: Yeah, I did. Their matches are shown live on TV as well.

Manakan: So those people are practicing that much? Wow, that's amazing!

Metallion: I agree. Anyways, about how much do you earn in tournament prizes?

Manakan: I get pretty huge and colourful audiences at tournaments. When it's an official tournament, you usually get a trophy or some kind of prize for first place. As far as money goes, I think that's limited to a kind of tournament we call "tougeki". I can't enter those because of my job. (disappointed)

Metallion: So you're doing it mostly for fun?

Manakan: It might turn out that way.

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Metallion: How is the competition level? Are there a lot of great players out there or are there a few winning everything?

Manakan: I play with people of all skill levels. Some times I fight stronger opponents, some times they're a bit below me and some times I just play with my family and friends. All in all the level of play really depends on the place you go.

Metallion: I see. Can you name a few places that have particularly strong or weak players?

Manakan: Weaker places I can't really say but as for a place with lots of good players, there's this place called Tachikawa Oslo. I haven't been there myself yet actually. I do feel like checking it out.

Metallion: Oslo? Is that an arcade?

Manakan: Yeah.

Metallion: Which city is that in?

Manakan: Tokyo.

Metallion: I see. I should find a lower level place before I can consider going there though. What do you believe is key to being a successful tournament player?

Manakan: I guess that's pretty much effort. You just have to work hard and do your best.

Metallion: So it's all a matter of practice? I wonder if I'll be able to do it one day. Right now it all seems like a different planet to me.

Manakan: I believe you can do it. Practice hard!

Metallion: Thank you. I'll do my best. Where do you see yourself after BlazBlue? Do you have any other games in mind yet?

Manakan: Hmmm, I haven't really decided what I'll play yet. Maybe I'll just keep playing BlazBlue forever. (laughs)

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Metallion: (laughs) Then what will you do when the tournament scene disappears?

Manakan: I'll keep playing anyway for Dr. Litchi's sake! (laughs)

Metallion: (laughs) Yeah I guess she must be lonely after all the other players have left.

Manakan: You bet.

Metallion: Then for my final question, do you have any tips for aspiring players like myself?

Manakan: Basically to practice the basic input commands to death and get a firm grasp of the buttons. Also don't rush and play as calmly as you can. Learn one tiny piece, then another tiny piece and then another. It's best to take baby steps while you make your progress.

Metallion: Too true. I was thinking just that lately. I've gotten myself done in so many times by getting too excited.

Manakan: Yeah, I used to be like that too actually.

Metallion: Really? Hearing that you've come from the same place does up my confidence a bit. Manakan, thank you very much for this interview!

Manakan: You're welcome.

Special thanks to the following people:

My fellow fighting game fan Emillll and Starcraft commentators Moletrap, Diggity and Husky for helping me come up with the questions.

My good friend Yuko for correcting the questions in Japanese.

My girlfriend for helping me translate the final few bits and pieces that I couldn't do on my own.

Destructoid for encouraging lowly bloggers like myself so much.

Manakan for having this interview with me.

And of course, you for reading it!   read


9:42 AM on 04.21.2010

River City Retro Alien Wars 3: How the X-COM series fell from grace



It's been a while but I've finally been able to write the next chapter in my RCR Alien Wars series. I'm sorry about the delays but I've recently moved to Tokyo where I'll be living for a while so I've been busy recovering from jet lag and playing my ass off at the arcades. With my current daily life, it looks like I won't be able to keep up with the self-imposed one-blog-a-week schedule i had going. For the few of you that haven't forgotten me yet, don't worry. I might be a bit slower but I'm going to keep blogging. In case you haven't been keeping up with these posts, let me give you a quick run-down.

There's this little series called X-COM. It's quite unknown among the vast masses of gamers but at the same time, several people who did play it regard the first installment as the best PC game ever made and that includes IGN.com. It's truly a hidden treasure. If you're a pirate and you've just dug up a pixelated chest at the spot marked with an X, you're most likely going to find a copy of X-COM inside. With this series of blogs, I'm trying to provide the map and I hope that at least some dtoiders will put on their eye patches and dig it up.

Up to this point I've covered Enemy Unknown which started it all, its cheap knockoff called Terror From The Deep that I refuse to hate and Apocalypse, the more than worthy sequel. At this point in time things were looking bright for the X-COM series. It didn't quite have the following that Dune or Command & Conquer had but its brilliant combination of strategy and tactics were still without equal. It had every bit of potential to flourish as a franchise.

What was: Spin-offs!



This was exactly what a certain man named Dave Ellis was thinking too. Having been a MicroProse employee since the beginning and having written strategy guides for both Enemy Unknown and Terror From The Deep, (damn that title sounds cool!) he knew the games better than anyone. He loved them even more than I do and was constantly pushing for MicroProse to do more with the series but ironically, his undying love might have been exactly what caused their downfall.

When he finally pushed MicroProse far enough to put him up there as the head designer for everything X-COM, he started to wonder where the series should go next. He started looking at different franchises and especially the Star Wars games. As we all know, Star Wars is an incredibly potent universe. First person shooters, role playing games, real-time strategy, you name it. Everything Star Wars can work as long as it's executed well. Mr. Ellis believed this to be true for X-COM as well and imagined all kinds of spin-off series' being developed alongside the standard strategy titles.

I believe this is where he went way out of his league. I'll be the first one to commend X-COM's quality but what makes these Star Wars games work is that they not only have quality, but also a huge following ready to eat up every new piece of media as long as it's within reasonable quality. X-COM on the other hand, was still very much a cult game even at this stage. No matter how good previous titles might have been, they still hadn't earned their name.

Anyways, one thing he and his team thought about was the idea of being in the cockpit of an interceptor from Enemy Unknown. This inspired the obviously named spin-off, X-COM Interceptor. Although it was originally intended to be a retelling of the Enemy Unknown, Dave let himself get inspired by Star Wars once again in addition to the Wing Commander series which was itself inspired by those legendary movies. The battlescape of the previous three games was replaced by an arcade space shooter with neither the quality of Wing Commander nor the engrossing story of Star Wars. Any quick look by a previous X-COM fan would suggest to quickly brush this game aside and wait for the real beef but let's not be too hasty here.



After all, Enemy Unknown was a genial combination of strategy and tactics. All that the arcade shooter replaces is the tactical part. The strategy part of the game is completely intact and it is exquisite! Taking place inbetween Terror From The Deep and Apocalypse, Interceptor is located among deep space mining colonies that are trying to make up for earth's depleted resources. Replacing the globe from the first two games and the city from the third, you have control over a collection of star systems in which you build bases and deal with the same alien species that were attacking earth back in 1999. Just like before, you bring back equipment from interception missions and research it to improve your own.

What's really cool about this game is that the aliens play by exactly the same rules as you do. They have star systems which they mine for resources and use that to build their equipment. The more you destroy their stuff, the more you impede their economy. All in all Interceptor isn't a bad game. Was it a worthy follower to X-COM Apocalypse? No. Was it a good direction for the series to take? No. Was it the start of X-COM's downfall? Probably. Did I beat it twice? Yes. Did I enjoy it both times? Yes. What could have made it better? Either a deeper dogfighting system or not being a spin-off as a whole!

Dave Ellis went out of his way to make a somewhat mediocre arcade experience combined with a good strategic system. I really believe he should have calmed down and focused on what he really needed to do: stop strategy fans from talking about Command & Conquer and get them to talk about X-COM instead. Unfortunately he set off on a path into obscurity with Interceptor while Blizzard took away Command & Conquer's spotlight for him with the jewel that we all know as Starcraft.

What wasn't: More spin-offs!



Around the same time that Interceptor came out, I was going crazy for another X-COM title. I remember running over to my friend's house with the latest issue of PC Gameplay magazine in my hand. "Hey look at this. This is going to be so awesome!", I shouted. The game I was talking about was X-COM Alliance. This was going to be a full fledged first person shooter. It was going to have it all. The squad based tactics, the overwhelming technology research, a beautiful Unreal engine. We were going to play Enemy Unknown from the view of a single soldier and man, was it going to rock!

Look, I know all this excitement is pretty contradictive to what I just said one paragraph earlier but this is exactly how little Metallion reacted when first hearing about Alliance. After a significant number of years have been added to both mine and the game's age, I'm taking a calmer, more sober stance. Would this game really have been so great? What did Dave Ellis say in an interview one time again? "The guys who did Terror From The Deep had begun working on alliance."



Let's see... Terror From The Deep? How was that game again? If I recall correctly, it wasn't anywhere near finished when it came out. Even the latest versions still have game-breaking bugs in the research tree. Then what about the development cycle? Alliance was first started by a team in the UK, then encountered a lot of financial troubles and studio takeovers. The game moved to a completely different team in the United States that had barely worked on it at all. Finally in a huge restructuring of the company, most of the gaming department was closed down and with it went the Alliance team.

Little Metallion is crying inside of me as I write this but perhaps Alliance's cancellation was for the best. After all, this series didn't need any spin-offs. Besides, the guys working on this FPS weren't exactly id Software or Epic Games either. Would they have been able to create a powerful FPS game? It's a question that will never be answered but with all those earthquakes in its development cycle, I kind of doubt it. I hope Alliance can rest in piece while the little child inside of me fondly thinks back of the excitement he felt when the project was first announced.

What should have been: Genesis!



As I mentioned in the Interceptor section, all of these spin-offs were meant to be developed alongside the main Strategy series but that's unfortunately not exactly how it went. A game called X-COM Genesis was in development all along but met the exact same fate as Alliance. It's a shame really because this looks like it would have been both the real sequel to Apocalypse and felt like a 3D remake of the first game all at the same time. As shows in both Interceptor and Enforcer, which we'll get to in a second, the team wanted to walk away from Apocalypse's new aliens and return to the roots. This game was scheduled to start with the destruction of Mega-Primus and give us back both the Geoscape and the oldschool outdoor Battlescape. The only thing that does make me raise an eyebrow is the plan to replace the turn-based system with a real-time one not unlike the optional one in Apocalypse.

You could call me a purist and perhaps you'd be right but still. I think texture designer Bob Kathman said it best: "Your hand-picked squad would be all healthy and then they’d just start getting hammered in one turn. You were helpless to do anything until the chaos ended and then you’re sitting there in shock, gawking at all of the carnage and ... OK, your turn!" Now that's what freaking X-COM is like!


What shouldn't have been: Another spin-off!



Sigh. That's basically what I've got to say in this section. One big sigh! Here's the deal. What used to be MicroProse was sitting on the mediocre sales of Interceptor and the cancellations of Alliance and Genesis. With all this time and money going down the drain, they took out the plunger and frantically tried to suck at least a portion of it back in. The result is a battered and withered piece of software covered in drainage water and brown stains. This, my friends, is X-COM Enforcer.

Let's have a look at the story. In the previous games, earth's governments decided to form a multinational military organization, employing the worlds most elite combatants and scientists. This re-imagining isn't having any of that bullshit. The only way to defeat an alien threat like this is to have one mad scientist build a killer robot all alone in the middle of the desert. Didn't you guys read any comic books as a kid?

Thats ok, right? Running around exploring and blasting aliens is fun right? Yeah, usually it is but this game just reeks of a rushed and uninspired cash-in. Except for course, there wasn't so much to cash in on the X-COM name anyway. This is just your simple mediocre arcade shooter. You blast aliens, are told where to go next and then blast more aliens. When this is perfectly executed, you can have a great game on your hands but all this piece managed to achieve was being the final nail in X-COM's coffin ... until recently anyways. I was going to end this blog on that sentence but now I feel like a change is in order.

2K, what the freaking hell are you doing?!

I am going to keep this short but all I can really hope is that this new X-COM first person shooter is going to be the X-COM Alliance that my younger self used to wish for. I am not going to lose any sleep at night waiting for this game though. Anyways, this series of blogs is almost over. From now on I will tell you about how even though the official games had stopped appearing, their spirit simply refused to die.   read


12:03 PM on 03.17.2010

River City Retro Alien Wars 2: They Came Back For More



A fine day to everyone out there and welcome to part two of the River City Retro Alien Wars. As I said last time, UFO: Enemy Unknown was a true masterpiece. It kickstarted an incredible formula of global strategy and small squad based tactics. Unfortunately the series was damned to a slow death in the pits of oblivion. Just like how a candle flickers wildly before it goes out, the series had one last moment of glory before inevitably going down. Or did it? Today we're going to have a look at its first two sequels that stayed true to the their roots and proudly carried the flag onwards. The first one was the dreaded X-COM: Terror From The Deep.

The first thing you'll notice is how vastly similar it is to its predecessor. The geoscape, the battlescape and all of the game's mechanics are pretty much exactly the same. Let me quickly explain why this is. The first X-COM was actually developed by Mythos Games but published by MicroProse. MicroProse asked Mythos to shit out a rushed an uninteresting follow-up but they refused and started to work on the much more ambitious X-COM: Apocalypse. Since Mythos didn't take the dump requested of them, the good people at MicroProse sat their own asses down on the toilet and put their bowels to work. The result is a horribly constructed bugfest that hardly brought anything new to the X-COM experience.

Ok, I'll admit that that might have been a little too harsh. Terror From The Deep does have a few things going for it. For starters it has a pretty damn cool name! Just try saying it out loud. "Terror From The Deep!" Yeah, that's bad-ass! Also I like the theme it's got going. The music, the environment, the alien life-forms, it's all so dark and horrifying. It's like the game is telling you that you might have beaten Enemy Unknown but this time we're not fucking around. If you're going to play this game, you're going to cry and wish you were as dead as your soldiers soon will be! And cry you're going to. Early versions of Enemy Unknown suffered from a bug that defaulted the difficulty level to the easiest while Terror From The Deep's easiest mode is said to be harder than the hardest one in the original. Heck, there's even an alien race that is immune to nearly all of the available weaponry at the time you first encounter it, forcing you to either take it down with meelee stun weapons or run back to the submarine and haul your ass out of there.



Still, it's basically a reskin of the original with a deep sea setting. Instead of building your base on land, you have it submerged in one of the earth's oceans and most battles are fought out on the seabed. With the exception of a few newcomers like meelee weapons, every leaf in the tech tree has a perfect equivalent in Enemy Unknown. Something that didn't have an equivalent though, is a bug that renders the game unbeatable in case you research some stuff in the wrong order. I've also seen it happen that aliens just disappear from the battlescape only to magically reappear on their own turn and kill all my guys.

As bugged and uninspired as Terror From The Deep is, I'm having a hard time trying to hate it. After all, the fact that is it so vastly similar to the original means that it's got the good sides too. Due to its higher difficulty, I spend even more time micromanaging my squad and I grow just as attached to them as I did before. It's such a shame they wiped their ass on this game so much. It had the potential to be what The Japanese Mario 2 was to the original Mario.

For me, it didn't even need to be as true of a sequel as Mario 2 was. If they had just taken more time to properly finish and debug this game, it could have made a fine stand-alone expansion pack. Damn it, who am I kidding? I love this game! I love it like I would love a handicapped child. Just if you're looking to get into the X-COM series ... don't start with this one. In fact don't even play this unless you really enjoyed Enemy Unknown and are looking for a challenge. Keeping a guide with you to avoid the bugs wouldn't hurt either.



So while Microprose fed us their cripple underwater slugfest, Mythos Games was working on the real sequel to Enemy Unknown. That is what eventually hit the market as X-COM: Apocalypse. First thing you'll notice when you boot up this game is the lack of a geoscape. If you turn to the manual and read the backstory, you'll find out that it's not just the geoscape either. It's a lack of the whole world! That's right. This game is called apocalypse for a reason. At the end of Terror From The Deep, the alien underwater city of T'Leth rises to the surface and explodes, releasing toxic gasses that slowly poison earth's atmosphere.

Most of humanity has since fled the planet and colonised new worlds. Back on earth however, self-contained self-sufficient cities have started to appear. These are kept in delicate balance by several corporations. Each of these deliver essential parts of the city's survival, save for the crime syndicates. These cities seem like tiny utopias. Even though the world outside is more reminiscent of the Fallout series than anything else, life within its walls is safe and people enjoy more comfort than ever before. No matter how awesome it is to live in a little dome like that, the city's social structure gradually starts to collapse and at the base of it all lies an inter-dimensional alien attack. Who would have guessed?

In X-COM: apocalypse you are charged with the defence of the city Mega-Primus and the missing geoscape is appropriately replaced by the cityscape. You get an isometric perspective of the city which is rendered in a way that strongly reminds of me of games like Sim City and Rollercoaster Tycoon. At first I was sad about losing the global scope but if you look closely, the game has actually gotten much more complex.

Everyone in the city is dependant on the efforts of private corporations and X-COM is no different. You buy weapons from the Megapol police force and the Marsec private security company while you receive funding from the government and use the Transtellar transportation services. This makes diplomatic efforts much more complicated. In the previous two games, all you had to do what intercept UFO activity in a certain area to gain their favour. This time around, all corporations have their own relations. They will do business or fight among themselves entirely independent of you.



Each company has a certain disposition towards X-COM. Having corporations friendly to you, will offer you certain benefits that range from being able to recruit from their staff to them actually aiding you in battles. Hostile corporations however, will refuse their services entirely. You can improve relationships through bribes or destroy them by attacking their real estate.

The latter will often result in them demanding financial compensation from you afterwards which you can decide to either pay or not pay. If the organisation is actually naturally hostile to you like the cult of sirius or the aliens, don't worry about paying those bills and just blow up whatever you want. Yep, you just read that right. The aliens are actually considered an organisation or rather, they can become one. In the previous games, the aliens would already sign non-aggression pacts with certain countries but this time they're going one step further. If you fail to defend a company properly, chances are that the aliens will eventually infest its CEO, rendering it permanently hostile to X-COM.

Attacking their buildings isn't just limited to the cityscape either. Excessive use of explosives or incendiary ammo in the battlescape will damage their buildings and lower both their esteem of you and their financial capabilities. If you really mess up, they might even start to consider the aliens as a better alternative and refuse your bribes no matter how big they are.

Speaking of the battlescape, it has had its own set of refinements. First of all you are given a choice between the classic turn-based system or a brand new real-time option. For me personally, turn-based is the way X-COM games should always be. When bullets are constantly flying by your ears, you'll be clicking all over the place with little time to get to know your soldiers. Keeping them alive gets a lot harder too since it's nearly impossible to fire at enemies without getting a rocket or grenade straight to the face at the same time. I know other players might have other preferences but for me, playing real-time is equal to my soldiers dying.

Even in turn-based mode though, I've got some mixed feelings about the battlescape. Your soldiers have enough time units to run halfway down the hall, get up on a table, dance the samba and and then come home in time for dinner. Where nearly every shot was lethal in the first two games, here you start out heavily armoured and the real dangerous weapons don't arrive until mid- to late game. This does take away from the suspense in the original two. On the other hand, there have been some improvements too. For instance the music now changes depending on what happens during the battle They really add to the atmosphere and especially the action scenes are great. Just wrap your ears around that. It's bad-ass!



You've got much more control over your units too. You can make them either run, walk or crawl which all have their respective effects on speed and accuracy. Even their behaviour during the enemy's turn can be controlled through three settings that determine how likely they are to run for cover or stand their ground and fight. In case you're playing in real-time mode, this translates to how the AI behaves when you're not micromanaging your units for a moment. Most battles now take place indoors as aliens attack Mega-Primus' buildings one by one and that's actually pretty cool. You get a much more personal view of the city and its differences in social standing as you fight in schools, slums, food processing plants and even cultist temples.

The environments were already completely destructible in the past two games but a rooftop would just keep floating even if all of the supports beneath it were blown up. X-COM: Apocalypse fixes this. If an alien is shooting at you from atop a sniper tower, just shoot out the supporting pillars and watch E.T. crash to his death. Just be a bit careful what you do with other people's property as they might bill you for the damage later.

So now that we've taken a look at both sequels, is Apocalypse a worthy follow-up to Enemy Unknown? Absolutely! It loses some stuff, gains some others and essentially does perfectly what every sequel tries to do: it's new enough to be refreshing and old enough to be familiar. Is it a better game than Enemy Unknown? No it isn't. Apocalypse expands upon its formula very well but there's one detail missing here: involvement. When I play X-COM: Apocalypse, I just don't feel as attached to my soldiers as much as I did back in Enemy Unknown. Is that going to stop me from playing the living crap out of this game? Hell no and it shouldn't stop you either!

At this point the X-COM series has had a bit of a hick-up but it's moving entirely in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is also the last time it did or at least under its official title. Join me again next week when I'll tell you all about how this wonderful series sank deeper than the pits of hell itself.

I'm still a random dude named Metallion and thank you for reading River City Retro!   read


5:14 PM on 03.13.2010

Four years of Destructoid, four months of Metallion



As we all know, Destructoid is turning four next week. Jordan has already written his collection of wacky memories and now Hamza is encouraging the community members to do the same. I have only been here for a few months so I'm not really the best person for the job. Even so, I am starting to feel more and more attached to this place as both time and blogs go by. Even though I haven't got a big set of memories yet, I'd still like to take a little time to write about how Destructoid has stolen my heart.

For me the story begins in January 2009, long before I ever set foot in this geek haven. I had this really boring job at a company that you should all hate. The management was too retarded to get us any customers and as a result, there was absolutely zero work to do. All I ever did there was sit on my ass and feel my brain shrink.

My laptop and the constant streams of binary numbers pouring into it, were the only things preserving my sanity. I wandered through the interwebs like a bozo with no purpose and read a bunch of gaming sites, watched videos of the kind James Rolfe makes and eventually discovered the joys of professional gaming. My rusted brain cried out to me as I began looking up to these people and how well they relayed their passions into creative works.

I wanted to be like them. I started by e-mailing this non-English gaming website that I had been reading for about ten years. I knew it was mostly maintained by volunteers so I tried my luck and asked them to take me in. Take me in they did and for a while, I had a blast writing articles for them. Eventually though, there were some disagreements concerning the kind of articles I should write. We negotiated for a while but in the end, we couldn't reach a compromise that both parties were satisfied with and so we parted ways as friends. Wondering where I could go from there, I tried starting my own blog but their blogging culture was very small and nobody really read it until my first blog died a silent death.

A few more months after that, I quit my shitty job and started making arrangements to move to Japan and live there for some time. I had been planning to do that for a while already. I have several close friends in those parts and I speak the language quite well too. Even though my life was already becoming much more stimulating, the urge to do something creative with my love for gaming remained. One day I was chatting about it with a friend when he finally asked me if I had ever tried Destructoid. "What the hell is a destructoid?" I thought to myself. I ran over to Google and there it was.

One of the first things I noticed was some news about Spore with a giant penis monster as the header image. One of the second things I noticed was Jim's piece on how much hotter Bayonetta is than my girlfriend. I laughed my ass off reading that! This place was brilliant. I could get all the gaming news I wanted and be entertained at the same time. I noticed some of the promoted blogs and it blew my mind. Were these guys seriously posting their community's writings on the front page? Then followed the musings. These were even better. Give people a relatively vague topic, let them interpret it however they want and reward them by ensuring a stampede of readers. Creative heaven! This was exactly the kind of place I had been looking for! I settled in and started writing.

Before I knew it, I had coined my own series that I was making graphics for and I even uploaded several videos to YouTube. Although I've been here for so little time, I already feel like I've made a great set of memories. I remember my first musing being frontpaged, staff member Matthew Razak complimenting one of my posts, the start of my own series and the first cblog recap that actually referred to it by name. It's a great feeling to see how the writings of some generic dude like myself are welcomed and acknowledged here.



Writing my own stuff might have been the main reason why I joined this place but gradually, I'm starting to get to know the community. Let me take some time to highlight some of the colourful characters I've run into. For starters there is Elsa. What can I say really? She's a 47 year old lady gaming happily with her husband. When I reach that age, I want to be just like her. Then there's SWE3tMadness. A classically trained pianist that pwned my ass all the way to the moon and back with some of her deep writings about gaming soundtracks. TheDustinThomas, a badass professional wrestler on the outside but true gaming geek on the inside. We've got Wry Guy who's a freaking walking King of Fighters encyclopaedia! I read about Nilcam and the pink piece of greatness that is the customised fightstick he's building. I learned about an ex-marine that has had more than a few hardships in life but found solace in gaming and talks about masturbation under the catchy name of ZLC. Also Tubatic deserves an honourable mention. He's a fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and that automatically makes one awesome.

One fine bunch we have here! I'm absolutely sure it must have been an amazing four years for you all and it has been an exquisite four months for me. There are a a lot people on this site that I haven't mentioned in the above paragraph which means that there is still so much left for me to discover. Until then I am going to keep doing my thing and I sincerely hope all of you will keep doing yours. Special thanks go out to the staff for creating and maintaining such a great site, the community for being awesome in general and Pedro The Hutt for telling me it all existed. I'm well aware that this place isn't perfect and I don't enjoy every write-up as much as the next one but still... I am some random dude named Metallion and I raise my glass to the great community that we call Destructoid!

Cheers!   read


6:05 PM on 03.11.2010

River City Retro Alien Wars 1: UFO Done Properly



A very good day and welcome back to River City Retro. Around this time last month, I discussed a little DOS game called UFO: Enemy Unknown or X-COM: UFO Defence depending on your region. I tried out this gimmick where I explained the game and its mechanics in the shape of a story. It turned out to be a bad idea. Even though I covered the backstory in detail and nudged heavily at how the game is played, these things would only be noticed by people that had actually played the game before. If this was any other game, I would have just left it at that and moved on but for a masterpiece like X-COM, I just can't. I have to bow my head and apologise for the poor coverage I gave it last month.

Starting with this post, I am going to do a mini series in which I will discuss the game properly followed by a look at its legacy which is way larger than anyone would expect at first sight. I am going to tell you all about these games and why I cherish such a perverted love relationship with them. For the first instalment, I'll be discussing the game that started it all: UFO: Enemy Unknown.

This game is a diamond and probably a masterfully polished one at that. Despite its firm cult status and relatively small fandom, it has appeared in the top five of several media outlets' best-game-ever lists on multiple occasions. I really want to call this the best DOS game ever made but I have to admit that there's still a shred of doubt in my mind when I consider titans like Doom or Duke Nukem 3D. One thing I can say for sure though. This is my personal number one favourite strategy game of all time and in that regard, hasn't been topped ever in the history of EVER.

To tell the truth, the reason why I went for such a cheesy story in the first place, is because I find it hard to do this game justice through a blog post. You tend to get attached to your soldiers as you play with the same squad over and over again. You really start to know what each individual unit is and isn't good at. It's really thrilling to navigate your soldiers through cover spots with the constant danger of them being one-shotted by an alien hostile but I found it hard to pour these feelings into a well flowing article. Nevertheless I am going to try my best to illustrate the deep gameplay. Despite the game's age, it has some impressive features like true line of sight, destructible terrain and aliens that will adjust their strategy depending on your actions.



Since I covered the storyline in detail last month, I will keep it brief this time. The X-COM universe starts in the year 1997, exactly 50 years after the Roswell incident. Reports of UFO sightings grow more abundant with each passing day and though it is initially thought to be a silly celebration of the Roswell anniversary, sceptics are soon proven otherwise. As the aliens grow more aggressive and start abducting people and mutilating cows, the governments of major countries take measures. Japan pioneers with their Kiryu-Kai anti-alien force but months and months pass without a single successful UFO interception and the organisation goes bankrupt. As major world leaders realise this isn't a threat they can handle alone, the united nations security counsel gathers in secret. They all agree to form a covert anti-alien organisation. This is the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit or X-COM for short.

One thing that makes this series so great, is its perfect balance of strategy and tactics. In the past, there has been a bit of a debate about how certain games that label themselves as strategy were in fact tactical instead. I looked up where the difference lies and according to Wikipedia, the difference is this: "military strategy refers to the use of a broad arsenal of weapons including diplomatic, informational, military, and economic resources, whereas military tactics is more concerned with short-term goals such as winning an individual battle." These two terms describe exactly how the X-COM games are played.

The strategic section is played from a world map known as the geoscape. The first thing you will do after booting up the game and selecting your difficulty level, is choosing where you'll build your first base of operations. The base is equipped with a small radar system by default which will allow you to detect and intercept UFO activity. Even though you can construct a more powerful radar system, the vision coverage will still be limited to one continent at best. This is where the diplomacy part comes in.



Of course you're not talking directly to the aliens but through the course of the game, it is very important to keep up good relations which each of earth's nations. After all X-COM is an economical organisation just like any other and its funding depends on what individual countries are willing to pay for it. If you respond well to alien activity in a certain territory, the countries there will be inclined to increase your budget while others that you haven't visited so much, are very likely to be displeased and will decrease your funding. If you mess up, some countries will even sign a pact with the aliens that allows them to carry out their will unhindered in exchange for access to their advanced technology. Therefore it is in your best interests to expand and build new bases as soon as you can afford it.

This covers the diplomatic part but what about information and military? The first one is handled through the X-COM research division. Although there are a few initial research options, the real research can't start until your military force has been able to bring back some alien equipment. Whenever you detect a UFO, you can either decide to send fighter aircrafts to gun it down or play it more risky and wait until the alien ship lands. Either way you will eventually be sending a transporter airplane carrying a combat squad to recover the UFO. If you've waited for it to land, you'll be able to recover the alien aircraft completely undamaged but there's a significant risk that it will escape your detection before touching down. In the end, it's a much safer strategy to shoot it down and then recover what's left of it. Once you have brought back some alien artifacts or corpses, it is time to put your scientists to work.



Your base as you originally get it, will be equipped with ten scientists and laboratory space for fifty of them. These are an essential part of the game. The alien weaponry is vastly superior to your own and having scientists research it, will not only allow you to use these yourself but also let you construct brand new weapons based on them. Research of alien corpses will give you insight into their strengths and weaknesses while parts of the UFO will allow you to construct armour or even develop whole new aircrafts. Eventually you'll even be capturing and researching live aliens to uncover their origins.

Finally there's the economic part of military strategy. First of all there's the salary for soldiers, scientists and engineers. Then there's the ammo for both your fighter aircrafts and your foot soldiers. You will constantly be building new bases or expanding current ones with extra living space, more laboratories or even a containment facility for live aliens captured on field missions. All of which require their fair share of funding.

I mentioned how each of earth's nations will contribute to X-COM's budget but in the end, this is never enough. The real way to earn money in this game is to go out onto the black market and sell alien technology to the highest bidder. This part is beautifully illustrated by a shady figure in a trench coat holding open a briefcase full of cash. Several players even use commercial manufacturing where they have their engineers construct advanced equipment just to sell it afterwards.

X-COM's other main gameplay mode is the battlescape. This is the tactical aspect of the game where each battle is fought out. X-COM uses a turn-based system not unlike the original Fallout series. Each soldier has a certain amount of time units that will deplete with every action taken, be it walking, firing, picking up weapons or anything else. Once every soldier's time units are depleted, you can end your turn and the aliens are up next. Even on your own turn though, you are not completely safe. Any unit that didn't use up his full time units in the previous turn, might still fire a shot if you walk into his field of vision. Whether or not he will, depends on a roll of the dice involving yours and your enemy's time units and both of your respective skills in reactions.

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The game was quite ahead of its time with a true line of sight. When you arrive and the doors of the aircraft open, most of the map will be pitch black. As you take your first steps out, only the tiles of terrain exactly in your units' field of vision will be revealed and the same goes for spotted enemies. In case you lose sight of an alien, he will disappear from the battlefield at the end of the turn until somebody looks his way again. Battles can either take place during the day or at night, when vision will be limited. Vision is a very important aspect of X-COM. One direct hit is usually lethal so you'll want to keep your squad hidden from the enemy at all times. At night you can throw thermal flares to light up areas where you expect the aliens to be and on the other side of the spectrum, you can use smoke bombs to cover your own position.

Now for another aspect why I still raise X-COM up so high above many other games. It's a common thing in strategy games to spend money on combat units and micro them in battles. X-COM is no different here but when a unit dies, in most games you can immediately pop out another completely identical one. X-COM is different. Here you actually get the feeling that you are handling human lives rather than simple chess pieces. Each soldier has his or her own name (that you can change to whatever you want) and a wide array of skills that range from firing accuracy to bravery and even psionic strength. I'll explain more about that last one later. The level-up system is a bit reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls series as there isn't really an experience counter, but soldiers will simply get better at the skills they use a lot.

Even in the late game where you have access to powerful armoured suits, a single shot from any conventional weapon is still very likely to be lethal. Of course it is a horrible feeling to lose an experienced soldier with high stats but that's not all. As I mentioned, every soldier has a certain amount of bravery. This goes coupled with a morale meter that starts out at 100% on every mission but will deplete whenever an ally dies. If the morale meter drops below 50%, there is a chance for your soldier to either panic or go berserk. Panicked soldiers will drop their weapons and run out into the open where they're basically cannon fodder. Berserk units on the other hand, shoot at anything that moves and some thing that don't, including their allies.

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Depending on the size of your army, certain soldiers will get promotions after a mission. Having high ranking officers like a colonel or a commander with you, will be a great boost to morale. It's a bit of a double edged blade though. If this officer dies, the shock to your remaining soldiers will be immense. You'll generally always want to keep your commander somewhat behind the rest of your troops or even leave him in the aircraft altogether. He can still be of help to your team through psionic warfare which I'll get to in a second.

psionic warfare is a skill unique to certain alien species. They actually have the ability to attack your soldiers' minds. They can either attack a soldier's morale by filling his mind with horrifying images or they can even take control of the victim's mind. In case of the latter, they'll get full control over your soldier for one turn. Since they will most likely be traveling in small squads, this is extremely dangerous. The mind controlled unit will be standing right next to the others and is able to take point blank shots.

In the beginning of the game, this is a feat that only higher ranking alien leaders are capable of but eventually, you will encounter the deadly ethereal species of which even the generic foot soldiers are capable of mind control. Once you manage to capture such an alien alive and have your scientists examine it, you will be able to build special psionic laboratories where you can train your own psionic squad. This is easier said than done though, as a standard psionic training takes a whole month and each soldier that dies while in training, cannot be replaced by another one.

In case you haven't noticed yet, in this game, each soldier's life is precious and as a result, the battlescape is a thrilling experience. You will have your soldiers scouring the sides of buildings and peek around the corners, trying to spot aliens. You will often surround the outer door of a UFO or any other building, ready to reaction-fire any aliens that come out and then storm inside at the next turn. Of course this is a DOS game with limited graphics, but with a little imagination you can just see the squad clench their guns as one of them counts down with his fingers before they kick down the door and rush in. Or you could avoid the door altogether and go for a surprise attack by shooting out the back wall and entering through there. Nearly all of the terrain is destructible and even fires will spread as long as they have burnable stuff next to them. The game does show its age a bit here as shooting down supports doesn't make buildings collapse yet.

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Even if a soldier is shot but doesn't die, you're not quite out of the water yet. In addition to severe penalties to accuracy and morale, he's very likely to have suffered one or more fatal wounds. These will detract health with every turn until he finally does kick the bucket. If the wound is severe enough, your unit might actually lose consciousness altogether. Other units can carry med-kits to heal these wounds but it's a time consuming process and you'll often find yourself picking up wounded allies to carry them out of hot zones so they can be treated. This again is one of these things that really make me fall in love with X-COM. Even though it's such an ancient game, the battle system is so intense and complex.

Back at the geoscape, it becomes apparent that the aliens comprise multiple species, each with their own characteristics. Lots of these are caricatures of popular sightings like the standard bug eyed grey men. A lot of real-life people have also claimed to have seen floating silhouettes around UFO sightings. As a little parody of this, X-COM has an alien species that have had their asses surgically replaced by hovering devices. They fly all kinds of different UFOs which are all built for a specific purpose too. You can learn more about these by capturing and researching live alien engineers or navigators.

In the beginning of the game, most alien missions are simple things like cattle mutilation and human abduction but later as they become more aware of the X-COM organisation, they grow more bold. The first sign of this will be the terror sites where aliens attack populated cities with the sole purpose of getting the government angry at X-COM. These are much tougher than other missions because they usually have special alien terror species which are much stronger than anything you've encountered before and at the same time, you have to watch out for civilians being caught in the crossfire.

Other alien missions include the construction of their own bases on earth, diplomacy with earth's many governments to establish those pacts I mentioned earlier and if you really manage to get on their nerves, they'll even try to retaliate by locating your base and attacking it directly. Just like in many other games, you can build missile turrets to defend against this but even so, some UFOs are very likely to make it trough and then your soldiers will be your last line of defence as you switch to the battlescape.

In order to finally beat the game, you will have to uncover both where in space the aliens are located and the technology for you to get there. Once this is done, it's an all or nothing mission that will either show you an ending sequence or a game-over screen at the end. Technically you have an infinite amount of time to get to this point but if you keep messing up all the time, it's still possible to lose the game.

I hope I have been able to showcase the feel of this game a bit. Its fanbase might be small when compared to some other games but seriously, I have yet to meet a person who has played this game and didn't totally adore it. This claim is further backed up by a huge amount of projects out there that have attempted or are attempting to revive the game in some form or shape. No matter how much it ages, the fans just won't forget about it. It's exactly this legacy that the remainder of the Alien Wars series will be about. I hope to see you again next time when I'll be discussing the true official sequels.

As always, this has been Metallion and thank you for reading River City Retro!   read





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