My name is Scott. I've been playing video games since my hands were big enough to hold a joystick. I started with the Atari 2600, and graduated to the Atari 800 computer where I taught myself how to program in BASIC. I eventually got a NES, and later a Game Boy. The first summer I ever worked, I was a CIT at the day camp I attended. I worked all summer long to save up enough money to buy the SNES the very day it came out.
I attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. I was introduced to the internet my freshman year in 1993, and I fast became a console pirate, purchasing a copier and downloading ROMs off of IRC channels. Good times. In my senior year, I purchased the N64 as soon as the street date was broken, and skipped classes for the next three days to play Mario 64. I also bought a used PSX the same year.
After I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and a degree in Psychology, I was accepted to Digipen. I was part of the very last class that attended the school in Vancouver, before they moved the campus to Nintendo of America's HQ in Redmond Washington (across the street from Microsoft). After completing the program, I got my very first job as a programmer at Ubisoft.
I lucked out with Ubisoft because they were actually opening a studio near my hometown in NYC, so I actually landed my dream job and got to live on the east coast near my family. I worked on Batman: Vengence. I met a number of cool people, but the only one I still keep in touch with happens to be a buddy of mine who was the lead designer on "Army of Two." He is without a doubt, the greatest game designer I have ever had the privilege of working with.
The studio in NYC didn't pan out for Ubisoft, and they decided to fold the team up to Montreal. After living in Vancouver for a year and a half, I decided I had enough of Canada, so I stayed in the NYC office, which transformed into GameLoft. I stayed there until me and the buddy I mentioned landed a job at 3DO. We both moved out to Redwood City and started working there.
3DO wasn't a great company, but it wasn't terrible, and I met a crew of people who became some of the greatest friends that I have ever had. I worked on Dragon Rage, which was being led by Kudo Tsunoda. He told the execs that it was going to be an Army Men game with an art asset swap, and it would take 6 months to complete. The truth was we were building a new engine from scratch, and it would really take a year to get it done right. When the six months were up, the execs asked for the game, and we weren't even close to finished, so we had to do 12 hours days, 6 days a week until the game was finished. 3 months later, nobody cared about it anymore, and it went straight to the budget bin.
3DO closed down very shortly after. While I was at 3DO, I got to know two people who amazed me: Howard Scott Warshaw and Tod Frye, two of the original Atari 2600 programmers. Getting to meet them and talk with them about "the good old days" at Atari was an amazing thing to me. (I totally recommend visiting Howard's site, Once Upon Atari and ordering his DVD about what those days were like.) I still run in to Howard infrequently at retrogaming conventions and it's always a delight.
After 3DO, I worked for a THQ studio that used to be called (oddly enough) Pacific Coast Power & Light. It's known as Locomotive games today. I was put on the WWE Crush Hour game, the game that was designed to mix the WWE up with Twisted Metal. I created the game's shell and character selection screen. It was actually a pretty cool game, but THQ's love for WWE had cooled down when the game was close to finishing (right after WWF became WWE, the ratings started to tank), so they rushed it and laid off the whole team.
Wishing to return to the east coast, I applied for jobs that I could find there, and actually lucked out with a job opening at Firaxis Games in Hunt Valley, Maryland, home to Sid Meier. When I got there, they were toying with the idea of remaking Pirates, and were prototyping a lot. The results were mixed, and Sid decided to get involved with the development personally. They knew they wanted to make a console version, and they put me on the small team responsible for porting the game to the Xbox. I had doubts about the game, and I wasn't enjoying the tasks I was being given (such as working on the in-game glossary), and things didn't work out. I made a lot of good friends there who I miss working with.
By this time, I had been with four companies in six years, and my girlfriend at the time was in the middle of going to school to get her degree, so I did something drastic: I grew up. I ended up looking for any available programming job, and accepted a position with a UPS owned software company as an algorithm designer. I've been there since 2005, I get paid more money, and work fewer hours than I ever did as a game programmer. But I really miss the creative environment and working with people that I have a lot in common with, i.e. a love and passion for video games.
I am currently own and operate StrategyWiki, which strives to become the best online source of video game guides and walkthroughs anywhere in the world. I am now living in northern Maryland. Welcome to my blog.
So it's about 9:30pm for me, and I'm sitting here staring at my not-so-meager collection of games that I have. Between the Wii and the 360, I have about 20, not counting downloaded games. Make that around 50 if you count GameCube and Xbox games, and chalk that up to a crapload if you want to count PS2 games. And I'm just trying to figure out...
WTF do I play?
I'm in one of those "no particular game" moods, where I'm not really deeply into any one game at the moment, and I'm finding it hard to figure out what direction to lean in.
Now, to be fair, part of the problem is I'm 32, and I just don't have the same amount of time and energy that I used to have, say, 10 years ago. So the thought of plopping down on the couch and diving into an RPG or playing more GTA4 for hours is not as appealing. It's not the playing of the games themselves that's not as appealing. It's the idea of staying up late, going to bed at some retarded hour, and getting up early for work the next morning that's the problem. And I don't even have kids! (yet...)
So it's hard to pick a game that I know I won't be able to tear myself away from in less than 2 hours. So that still leaves a bunch of choices. How about a fighter? Soul Calibur IV is coming soon, I could bust out SC3 for shits and giggles... but nah, I didn't have too much fun with that. I might as well stick with SC2 and play as Link. Or how about Beautiful Katamari on the 360? Well... I already did the biggest level in the game and rolled up the whole earth. What else? Oh, I started playing through Boom Blox, why don't I pop that back in... no wait, my arm is still killing me. I know, I could play Guitar Hero III, but there's the one song I can't play on Expert and it pisses me off...
See, this isn't something I normally go through, it just strikes me every now and then when I'm exceptionally bored. Normally, I fill this time working on StrategyWiki, but I'm just not in the mood right now. I think I'll just turn on Cartoon Network and watch Adult Swim...
Yeah, you read right. Old school Procyon is going to rave about an old school character in a serious attempt to shed light on why I think Pac-Man is one of the greatest video game characters ever created, as opposed to a humorous attempts to get some laughs.
When you think about all the mascots that there's ever been... Mario, Sonic, Bonk, Megaman, Simon, Crash, even Ratchet... they've all been venerable and memorable characters, but as icons, they've only ever come to represent the development houses that created them, respectively; Nintendo, Sega, NEC, Capcom, Konami, Sony (early), and Sony (later). None of these characters (with the possible exception of Mario in the early days) have ever been strong enough the represent the entire video game industry. Sure, Pac-Man could be equally labeled as being nothing more than a Namco trademark, but it's actually surprisingly hard to find an average person who realizes that Namco created Pac-Man, and not Atari like I frequently hear from people. About the only other character who seems to be able to universally represent video games is a Space Invader (and the middle guy of all choices.)
But it goes deeper than that. Every video game pits a player in a theoretical battle of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, team A vs. team B, and while some let you blur the lines a little bit, most of them shoe-horn an ethical model into the game to provide a motivation. Why do you destroy Space Invaders?: to save the earth. Why does Mario fight Donkey Kong: to save Pauline. Why does Donkey Kong Jr. fight Mario: to save Donkey Kong (deep, right?) But why does Pac-Man battle against the ghosts to eat all of the dots? Because that's what he does. There's no moral and ethical implication there, it's simply his nature to eat, and he does what he's good at. He will even eat the ghosts if he can, but most of the time, the ghosts present a danger to him.
In this sense Pac-Man becomes a blank palette upon which you may prescribe any number of aspects to, according to your whims and desires. Does Pac-Man eat dots in order to save his family; his home town; the world? Are the ghosts evil for trying to stop Pac-Man, or are they merely protecting the dot farm that they worked so hard to grow, and now they need to stop this maniacal eating machine from devouring their winter stores? It's entirely up to you. You get to decide whether Pac-Man is noble or delinquent, wise or insentient, worthy of respect or completely corrupt.
Unless someone has specific cause to see him as a problem-maker instead of a problem solver, I think most people tend to portray Pac-Man in their own minds as a simple fellow who simply does what must be done for the good of those around him. He sacrifices without complaint. He performs his duty for as long as he is physically able to, and does not quit until he has no more chances left to try. In this respect, he may appear analogous to an idealized Japanese employee, one who works tirelessly for the benefit of his company asking for nothing more than the chance to return to work and do it again.
Speaking for myself personally, I have always seen Pac-Man as a noble soul. He may not necessarily be a natural born leader, as he typically operates on his own, but he is willing to step up and settle a score as an individual than to drag someone else with him into his fight. He may not be the wisest or smartest character, but he always does what he believes in his heart to be the most good, and never intentionally causes any harm. He doesn't see a problem with eating ghosts, because they can't die, they merely go back to their base and regenerate. Nor does he blame the ghosts for trying to stop him, because that is their job; that is what they do. And if my perceptions about Pac-Man are correct, then the world would be a much better place if there were a little Pac-Man in all of us.
I don't know how many members of the community care about MAME or emulation. I imagine many people kind of figure that MAME is a little passé. But that's exactly why I decided to write this blog, because if you take a look at one of the latest "whatsnew.txt" files (Check it here), you will see a tremendous amount of effort being put in to fixing bugs in games as old as Qix, Joust, and Choplifter.
These days, MAME really isn't considered the phenomenon it was just a couple of years ago. We live in an age when, whether you like it or not, emulation is a fact of video game life. It's not just an underground hobby anymore, it's also a commercial product. Between compilation discs put out by Capcom, Namco, and SNK, and the entire Wii Virtual Console library, emulation is a mainstay.
When I looked at the update to unofficial build v0.1257, I was astounded to see so much work being put into a project that is well over 10 years old. Thoughts about the legality of ROMs aside, MAME is, far and away, the only way that many people in a much younger generation than my own will ever have to experience the roots of video game history. Sure you can encounter the not-so-rare Pac-Man/Galaga combo at a few arcades, but you don't rarely see anymore Dig Dug or Donkey Kong cabinets. Centipede has been included in a number of console compilations, and is even on XBLA, but if you're not playing with a trackball, you're not really playing Centipede. That control method is as integral to the play experience as the graphics and sound.
It's too bad that once video games are released to the market, the underlying code used to produce them can't get the same TLC that MAME does, and as frequently. If it did, we wouldn't see so many bugs that linger on in the 1s and 0s burned on to the disc years after they were published vanish with patches. We'd live in this near flawless land of perfectly running code, and we'd even engine upgrades long after a game was published. And maybe that sort of thing is possible as the market shifts from retail shelf space to digital downloads. I'm not saying this prediction is realistic, it would just be kind of cool.
Early on in 1986, Taito took the basic gameplay made famous by Atari's Breakout, and gave it nice facelift. They released a game that, while not legendary in everyone's book, was certainly a genre defining game; Arkanoid. Arkanoid was more than a paddle and ball game, you could gain power-ups by breaking certain bricks and catching the capsules that fell out, and players generally enjoyed it. So it seemed only natural that this successful game would make it's way to the popular Famicom platform, and it did... but not before someone else beat them to the punch.
Someone at Konami must have liked Arkanoid very much, because they decided to make a very similar game and release it on Nintendo's Famicom Disk System platform. They called it Nazo no Kabe: Block Kuzushi, or "The Riddle of the Wall: Block Destroyer." The irony here is that they completed the game and got it to the market almost two weeks before Taito released Arkanoid for the Famicom. It would take several years before Nazo no Kabe saw the light of day outside of Japan, but localization company Palcom saw fit to release the game in Europe. A prototype was designed for the American market, but was never released. The new name of Nazo no Kabe in Europe? Crackout. (Catch the guide right here.)
The odd choice in names aside (an obvious play on the more familiar name of Breakout), this game is actually pretty sweet. It differs from Arkanoid in quite a few ways. While Arkanoid plows through a set of stages, Crackout breaks the game into four sections of 11 stages each. In Arkanoid, you get power-up capsules from the bricks you break, but in Crackout, you can only get them from the enemies that you hit. One of the power-ups includes a rocket that you can launch up at the screen, and then press the button once more to bomb a section of the wall. This is needed to clear bricks that are trapped inside unbreakable silver bricks.
Probably the wackiest departure from Arkanoid is the dancing lizards. Throughout a number of stages, you will encounter these dancing lizards that must be defeated in order to advance to the next stage. Functionally, they are a lot like the large Doh enemy at the end of Arkanoid, but they occur much more frequently, and have a tendancy to move around as well. They must be hit several times, and they change colors as they get closer to being defeated.
I know paddle ball video games are pretty passe these days, but they're always good for a little laugh every now and then. I think this would actually make a fairly good candidate for a Wii Virtual Console game, but then again, it's so easy to outdo with a better WiiWare game (and there already is one, kind of.) Nevertheless, it was on my list of games to cover, and cover it I did. Coming up next will be that unusual Square text adventure Suishou no Dragon (or Crystal Dragon).
When I sat down to start writing a guide for Doraemon (which you will find right here), I originally thought this was going to fall under the "Retro Pain" category. No such luck, I actually started to enjoy the game somewhat once I figured out what the hell I was doing.
Doraemon is a bit of a quirky game. The game has three worlds, and each world was handled by a different lead designer. So while you have to complete all of the worlds linearly to progress through the game, each world essentially belongs to it's own little game genre. The first world is a four-direction scrolling action game where you roam through a city, the second world is a shmup with secret pathways, and the final world is a room-by-room underwater exploration adventure. If it sounds wacky, that's because it is. Ordinarily, I wouldn't think that it would work, but it really fits Doraemon's style of presentation (read: one that is suitable for Attention Deficit Disorder-like children.)
The first world just kind of drops you off in the corner of some industrial complex in the middle of a city. There are manholes which lead down to the sewer. In these sewers is where you find most of the good stuff like weapons and health upgrades. The problem, most of the really useful manholes are hidden, so you have to fire randomly throughout the world in hopes of noticing that your shots happened to hit something invisible, and then blast away at it until it materializes. Once you find the hidden door that can advance you to the final portion of the city, you take another sewer tunnel to a completely new part of town; an unappealing brown region complete with a cemetery and a large factory where the boss of the level resides. I assure you, I'm not creative enough to make this stuff up.
When you beat the boss, you'll move on to the next world which is a side-scrolling shooter. But at times, the path bends and you find yourself scrolling vertically as well. As the terrain scrolls by, you may notice gaps in the floor or ceiling, and if you're curious enough to investigate them, you may find that you have accessed a secret pathway. These pathways are the only places where you can acquire assistants in the form of Doraemon's owner's friends. They tend to fall away if Doraemon takes too much damage, but if you hold on to them, you can get really good items that will help you stay alive long. The stage is broken up into three sections, each with it's own boss. The final boss, shown below, is the face of a bull dog, and is actually one of the easier bosses in the game.
The last world is more like a giant Zelda dungeon, only underwater, where you have to swim from room to room to find and unlock three treasure chests that contain Doraemon's friends. The problem is that in order to do that, you need to make use of a couple of items, but you can only hold one item at a time. One item in particular, a bag, lets you cart two other items around with you to make things easier, but a ghost has a habit of appearing and stealing one of your items away so that you have to relocate it. It's not too hard to accomplish, but it does take a bit of thinking and wit to solve the puzzle in a timely fashion.
All in all, it's not a game that I would recommend anyone rush out and find or play, but if you've got some time to kill, and the only thing that you have access to is a NES emulator (and doesn't that happen all the time?), you could pick worse games to play than Doraemon.
I was contemplating this question as I worked on the my latest NES/Famicom guide for StrategyWiki, a Famicom Disk System vertical shooter called Gall Force - Eternal Story (Click here for the guide). Some old-school anime fan may recognize this as the title of a mid-80s series about a crew of seven female space pilots. The game uses the same cast and overall concept, but rewrites the story for the sake of the shooter game play.
To be honest, at first I was going to dismiss this game and just stub an article for someone else to write about if anyone ever felt like it. But I dug into the game a little more, and found a few aspects of it enjoyable enough to write about, so I wrote a one-page guide. Most of the guides on StrategyWiki encompass several pages, so that it's easier for readers to isolate the information that they're looking for. However. when a game simply does not have a lot of depth, you can usually write all that you can about it on one page, and not inundate the reader with too much info.
This turns out to be the case with most shmups, including two other recent guides that I posted for Tiger-Heli and Terra Cresta. I find that writing a play-by-play of shooter experiences to be somewhat useless. With RPGs, Adventure games, or even Action games, you can sometime find yourself in a position where you wonder, "What do I do next?" You rarely ever ask yourself that in a shooter. You just... shoot. And survive. I don't think anyone is every going to pause the game to find out what's going to come next, because you pretty much know in a shooter: more enemies or a boss.
So I find that the only really useful thing to do is write about the system, especially the power-up system, if one exists. Granted, some shooters deserve more coverage, so I went into a lot more depth about the different stages in Gradius, and Zanac was especially worth expanding, since a lot of events and encounters are scripted, despite having a random assembly of smaller enemies.
But I don't know, when you all play a shmup, do you ever find yourself wishing for a walkthrough? I just don't see that as being something very useful to most players (especially shmup fans).