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Thumb Scar's blog

9:55 PM on 08.13.2015

So, a guy was fired at the Treehouse

His name is Chris Pranger, I don't know him. What media exposure I've had of him, he seemed pretty cool. He was fired because he went off script and appeared on a podcast, dropped a few truth bombs along the way too. Why does this bug me so much? Because it's so damn heavy handed.

On earlier this August, The Part-Time Gamers podcast posted episode 76. It's contents started circulating and it became a larger story than I bet anyone involved suspected. It's good stuff, go download it and listen to it. There are some fantastic anecdotes. Fast forward a week and a half, the larger narrative the media has picked up has been splashed around a couple dozen games and news sites. "CP of NoA was fired for his comments..." "CP Fired from Nintendo after Localization comment" "Nintendo Fires Employee For Speaking On Podcast." The story is around, not hard to find. What is a little harder to find is Chris Prangers facebook post (since taken down) where he pours his fracking heart out his personal sliver of facebook. Read if it pleases you.


Hello friends and family. As many of you have probably seen, I am no longer at Nintendo. I was terminated this week due to a podcast appearance I made last Monday. It was a stupid judgment call on my part and ultimately it cost me far more than I could have imagined.

I’ve lost the only job I really knew or ever intended to know. Since leaving high school, I’ve had a singular goal in terms of a career. It got me through college and pushed me through the difficult time immediately after college where I learned just how crippling it was to have an English degree in the job market. I applied for 6 years straight for my job. Even before that, I’d made my entire identity around my hope to one day have this perfect job. I was mocked here and there as “Nintendo Boy” from maybe middle school on, but I thought that if I succeeded, it’d all be worth it.

And now it’s gone and I honestly don’t know how to handle myself. A central part of my personality revolves around Nintendo. Anything that I’ve decorated with around my house has a very clear Nintendo theme. My shirts and jackets overwhelmingly show that as well. Being able to finally feel at home at a job is a feeling I can’t easily quantify. I was the guy who’d see a hastily-discarded paper towel in the men’s room and pick it up, saying to myself, “This is my home, and I will keep it clean.”

If we’re being honest, I’m scared. Very scared. I haven’t been without a job for over 4 years, and even then it was during the weird “just exiting college” part of life that everyone goes through. And back then, I was still down in Oregon near family. Living in Washington has struggled to feel normal, but I was grounded in my job. It was where I happily spent my time and saw all of my friends. With that unstuck, Washington suddenly feels alien and empty all over again.

I look around my house and see images of my son and feel such intense shame and crippling sadness. How do I share this part of my life with him? How do I cope knowing that I’ve failed him? Even before this I’d been struggling to want to provide better for him and my wife, knowing that due to my student loans, I wouldn’t be entirely debt-free until I turned 40. That’s not a hyperbole either. I’m just now barely under $100,000 in student debt and my last payment is scheduled for the same year that I turn 40. “That student debt is intimidating, but it’s worth it for the end result.” I’ve undone my end result.

I spent the last week in a miserable place once the podcast began getting coverage. I was instantly scared when a coworker poked me and said, “Hey, you’re on GoNintendo.” Suddenly article after article began appearing in game sites of all languages. Comments sections painted me as an idiot and the like. My Twitter started giving me hourly reminders from people meaning well and otherwise. It seemed unthinkable that I’d be let go for a single moment of poor judgment and my own misunderstandings, but here we are.

Obviously, as I’m writing this at 4 am, I don’t think I have a clear goal. All I can think of is that there’s so much I’ve put at risk. I know that if I can’t find a job at least as good as this one, I won’t be able to provide for my family. I’ve lost them their health coverage and their security. I also know that I’ve probably lost a good deal of my friends, just because I know how hard it can be to stay in touch with someone when the convenience of proximity is lost.

I’m so sorry to everyone. I’ve failed you. You believed in me and supported me and trusted me and I’ve failed you. I’ve failed me.


I hope this guy lands on his feet. They sound like trite words, they probably are. But my heart goes out to this guy, a guy I've never met, because he didn't do so terrible a thing. Did he do something wrong? Yes. Did he straight fuck up? Yes. Should he be reprimanded? Sure, as would be according to his contract with NoA and the severity of the incident. From a purely business standpoint, he absolutely should have to account for going native without a PR handler, I'd be shocked if that wasn't in his contract. But in 2015, in an industry that sometimes sways to the song of social media, when the ease of self published expression is so attainable, further discussions so viral, and when the online fan participants are so much louder than the rest of the consumer base? Does he deserve to be fired for a single incident of this magnitude? No. What he deserves is to have had a middle management boss at NoA go to bat for him and give him an opportunity to not fuck up again.

Interviews like this are like a super rare ingredients in an MMO. They never come around, unless you pay attention for long enough. The damn shame is that this dude didn't have to get fired. He could have been reprimanded, NoA wouldn't have to be dealing with all this news press, and they STILL could have gone back to their usual constrictor grip on their company message. No big deal, enthusiasts and game historians then would have just had something they could quote to build interpretations around or impress their friends with. But no, this guy's got to get shit on too.  *sigh Alright, bitching over.


Was this decision unreasonable? Is this just how the world works, period? Should more industry people be able to speak at all without a PR rep?


8:49 AM on 05.28.2014

Destructiod Community Assignment: Ten Things

1. Old enough to not have the internet growing up, young enough that I've always been around games.
That's pretty much explains it. I was born just before the Nintendo launched the NES in the US, and grew up with that generation. Thankfully I had two awesome older brothers who also loved games. Between the three of us, our parents stood no chance of getting away from gaming. I still have most of those old games, and every time I open them up to find sheets of graph paper filled with tips and tricks alongside beat up manuals, I'm reminded of gaming before the internet. I don't mean to suggest that it was better back in the day, just a little more D.I.Y.

2. I love academics
By the time I became a teenager, I fell in love with history and literature. Initially, it was more of a hobby. I wanted to read good stories, so I thought, "why not explore the thousands of years worth of stories that already exist? It'll be a 'greatest hits' tour." A simple enough idea, but one that spun into two university degrees, a handful of years of teaching history, and continued pursuit of higher education. I love the stuff, questions are my lifeblood and learning never leaves me bored. It doesn't really matter if the learning is about historical eras, philosophy, sociology, museum studies, international relations, literary criticism, game theory, or level design.

3. I didn't use to
Most of the inspiration and drive for learning came when I was in the latter part of high school and then college. Interestingly enough, from pre-school to grad school, my grades over my life tended to follow a standard supply/demand graph. My crappiest grades were in elementary school, the best were in grad school. I had no motivation. But that's the cool thing about growing up, for me. The older I get the more motivation I have to do the things I love.

4. Books
I love science fiction and fantasy novels. Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea-cycle and Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" books hooked me early on. I became obsessed with Ed Greenwood's character Elminster (he's still my favorite wizard) and R.A. Salvatore's Champions of the Hall (the dwarf king Bruenor and his adopted daughter Cattie-Brie, the barbarian turned adventurer Wulfgar, the ever relaxing halfling Regis and, of course, the loner and moral beacon, Drizzt Do'Urden). I read Asimov, Orson Scott Card and a smattering of Terry Pratchett. Currently, I'm all about some Patrick Rothfuss and Braden Sanderson.

5. Comics
Like any kid whose formative years were in the 1990's, I knew comics were inherently cool. X-Force and Spawn were my entry points. But this was an interest primarily fueled by my older brother. When he stopped buying monthly issues, I stopped reading along with him. That was until I was in undergrad, and I discovered Trade paperbacks were what got me back into comics. I should be more specific, buying trades written by Geoff Johns got me back into comics. This was a singular author that convinced me that there are no such things as bad characters in comics, only bad writing. Do you think I expected The Elongated Man to become one of my favorite heroes after reading Identity Crisis? Do you think I wanted that? Now I hand pick storylines that I'm interested in: a Blackest Night here, an Amazing X-Men there, maybe a little Long Halloween, and possibly a Superman Red Son or Marvel 1602. But the real surprise was Brian Wood. Demo, Channel Zero and DMZ changed the way I read comics. Enough said. Currently reading: Age of Apocalypse Omnibus.

6. Tabletop games and board games
I'm currently engaged to a woman who's crazy about tabletop games, so I don't think this hobby is going anywhere. But Dungeons & Dragons, when I think about it, was probably the catalyst that started it all. I was four or five the first time I played, and I can still remember that gorgeously corny AD&D 2nd edition Players Handbook. It was an adventure played with some neighborhood friends, Dungeon Mastered by my best friends older brother. This is the group that formed the "Stand By Me" of my childhood. But keep in mind, this was long enough ago that being a nerd meant getting your ass kicked at school. As excruciating as it was at the time, those hours spent with friends after school were priceless. We made D&D characters, and sometimes never played them, painted Warhammer figurines, came up with imaginary side stories for Hero Quest and raced each other to see who could finish the new Final Fantasy first. All the while, mostly keeping that side of myself from my parents who thought a role-playing-game meant satanic worship. Good times. Anyway, enjoy this Doubleclicks video, they're super awesome.

7. The games that got me into games
Primarily JRPGs, platformers and adventure games for the NES. All those games that you found out a decade later were actually Japanese, and it blew your mind. A particular point of pride was that my motivation to learn how to read was because my brother told me I couldn't play Final Fantasy 1 unless I could. I got a Super Nintendo and an N64, but by that time I had discovered PC gaming. Command and Conquer, Baldur's Gate, Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, Monkey Island and Tex Murphy were my jam. By the time the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox were released, I started retroactively collecting a PS1 library. This is where I started collecting games that were a generation or two behind the current tech. I remember realizing that, despite technology getting better, newer games weren't inherently better games. Just like plays, books, standup comedy, movies, or board games weren't necessarily better because they were recent. This meant there were a lot of potentially good games out there that I'd never played. This was also the gaming generation that got me into handheld games. Before the Gameboy Advance, I thought of handheld gaming as decidedly lesser experiences than console or PC gaming. But once I had a SNES in my hands, I was hooked. When I was in college, most of what I played was the DS and PSP, that was where the games I loved were.

8. I'm a Smasher
... But not in a competitive way anymore. I bought the first Smash on the N64 the day it was released. From that point until the summer of 2004, my best friend and I played tournaments every weekend over pizza and insults. Every... week... no exceptions. My heyday in local tournaments was the late Smash 64 days and the early Melee days. I've been playing Project M recently, and couldn't be happier with it. But I'm still going to play the new one with item turned on.

9. I'm a Pokemon Trainer
All I will say about this is that I've played every generation, as they were released. My save time total between all the games, from all generations, is just under 1700 hours. *Considers the possibility that an alien mind controlling force has been coercing me into playing Pokemon much like Twitch Plays Pokemon*

10. I'm a Virginia boy
I was born, and have lived in every major city, in Virginia. Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are all very different places, and that's pretty cool. Camping, fishing, rock climbing, spelunking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Kayaking down the Rappahannock, swimming in the James, and hiking along the York (or Pamunkey River, depending on who you are talking to). You are never more than two and a half hours away from anything. And the food's awesome.

Keep Gaming!


8:31 AM on 05.23.2014

Casing Games and the Journey It Took Me On

Not a week goes by without seeing a comment or an article online about the Physical vs. Digital games debate. And for a while, I thought I had found my answer. I was perfectly happy buying the consoles that I was personally interested in, a couple of years after they initially released, and pick up a small, focused collection of games for it. I would just as often go back to play an old game that I never got around to as much as I played new titles. But then I noticed a build up, of sorts. All these used and traded games from various systems were piling up. Cartridge after cartridge being found in random drawers and moving bins. PS1 discs crammed in with CDs inside shoe boxes. I could play my Super Nintendo, but tracking down the right cords and connectors was a nightmare. My organization was crippling my ability to play all of my games. I've always considered myself a gamer, as an aspect of identity, for as long as I've had working memory. These games, these artifacts, these memories didn't deserve this. I knew I needed to change something. Inspiration came from, a group of people dedicated to the collection, archiving and formatting of video game box art. All this for the purpose of re-casing your old games and presenting them in a manner consistent with an earlier part of their lives. There are tons of youtube videos describing this process: what the challenges are, and how to pull it off. Before I decided to do this, I told myself that I would do the research first and know what I was getting into. I thought I was prepared, and I wasn't. This is how a games project grew into something bigger.

HOW I STARTED. The first thing that I had to determine was the scope of the project. I ultimately decided on casing my Gameboy Advance, loose DS, NES, SNES and N64 carts. This meant that I was dealing with two different types of cases, one of which would need modification. 

Nintendo DS cases to store GBA and DS. Unless you would like to pay someone $8 -$10 bucks per case, you need to go to Nintendo's Online Store. You can buy grey Nintendo DS cases individually, or in packs of 5 or 10. Red cases can only be bought individually or in a pack of 5. Ten cases will cost you $7, five cases will cost you $4, one case will cost you $1. Shipping was fast, and usually arrived ahead of schedule. This is by far the best deal on these cases, but it is only while supplies last. A few months ago, from the time of this posting, Nintendo was selling DS game cases that still had the GBA slot, but no more.

Casing my NES, SNES and N64 games was much more of a challenge. After researching several options, which include specialty made NES cases, it became apparent to me that the only financially feasible way to do this was to do it myself. This led me to MediaShelving's Universal Slim game cases. But here's the rub, you can only buy them in packs of 100, so ask yourself if you have that many games you can case. The price has also been steadily rising each month. You can find videos that say they are $42 for a pack of 100, then $52, and currently, $59 per pack. Another hurtle: if you want to purchase these, you have to submit the order, they will email you back with a quote that includes your shipping cost (for me, it was $20), and then you have to message back to confirm the order and give your payment information. It's a laborious task compared with most other online purchases. All things considered, it took me about two and a half week from the initial inquiry to receive my game cases. The cases are very high quality, but can't do everything you want them to do without some modifications.

THE COST AND CHALLENGES. There were expected costs, and then there were numerous unexpected costs. Expected costs: price of games cases from Nintendo and MediaShelving, legal sized paper for printing box art, ink. Unexpected costs: the volume of ink, non-availability of game box art, the tools I would need to do modifications, physical injury, discovering that games are missing, tracking down and re-purchasing those games, and the time it would take to modify the cases, print and compile everything. I was attempting to print art for about 75 games in the Universal Cases, and about 25 DS cases, so depending on your ink cartridge capacity, expect to have to buy four to six sets of ink. The cases and ink alone will cost you over $100 if you are casing 50 to 75 games. Some videos suggested that you get an omni-tool, or a dremel, to cut off extra pieces of the Universal Games cases; I used a sharpened wire cutter and did it by hand. That was a huge mistake. Not only did I blister my hand in several places, the whole process took significantly longer. Longer because I needed to give my hand time to rest. My advice, buy a tool to do your cutting for you. 

The last major stumbling point was discovering that games I thought I owned were missing. Racking my brain to remember who borrowed what, where I lost something, how it could have been lost and how I was going to replace it was horrible. And I'm still missing a good number of games. This list includes New Super Mario Bros, Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Castlevania Order of Ecclesia, Final Fantasy IV DS, Metroid Zero Mission, Final Fantasy IV Advance, Breath of Fire II GBA, Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Cruisin' USA, Harvest Moon 64, Mario RPG, Blackthorne, Contra III, Mega Man X, Street Fighter 2 The New Challengers, Faxanadu, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Ninja Gaiden 1-3, Dragon Warrior II, and Bad Dudes. A couple of these individually would have depressed me, all of them together was a shock which caused me to begin searching my state for used game shops, flea markets and yard sales to correct that which was terribly wrong.

CHANGE THAT HAPPENS OVER TIME. Going out and searching for these games did something. Somewhere between talking with collectors on forums, looking at articles about quality CRT-TV's, and going to off-the-road establishments to haggle prices, something happened. I began to think of these games as something different. The game became more than what appeared on the screen or how intuitively I controlled it. I began thinking of video games as something larger than code, visuals, or interaction. Two things dawned on me; video games are composite sociological expressions and the nature of what a specific game is changes over time. 

What I mean by composite sociological expressions is that the "video game" only comes into being when several systems are being used at the same time to produce something no combination of fewer pieces can duplicate. There are the creators of the game (stuck in a particular time and place, producing a singular product), the player who is the true engine of the game (provides agency which creates an interactive experience), and the set of devices you are using to experience a designed product (controller, screen, native output, original or modified hardware, emulation). All of these variables working together makes the game to a person, but this also means that "what a game is" changes from person to person, and over time. 

My second point is that a game, as an interpreted cultural expression, or as a physical artifact, has a lifespan. There are points in this lifespan: development, marketing, release, market reaction, contemporary market presence, resale, clearance, junk, retro, collectable, artifact. Or something like that. The point is, our perception and our memory of a game changes over that lifespan. When I was 6, Super Mario Bros 3 was the game I had to own, the game my friends all had, the game that would give me endless enjoyment, the game that was right down the road at Toys R Us or the rental store. It is none of those things to me now. It's a seminal Nintendo title, a game that partially defined a console, fond memories, a joyfully nostalgic play through, a game I will keep for sentimental and collector value, the game that I lost track of, the game that I discovered was missing, the game that makes me think about my own complacency, the game I own in two other digital formats, the game that I haven't physically seen in years. But there is more surrounding video games than console, game, TV and controller. The instruction manual, the articles and review in magazines, the lovingly written tips and tricks scribed on graph paper are all part of the game for that individual and part of a composite cultural memory of that game. Then there is the question of how you experience games that are now retro; "best" possible quality given modern tech or most "authentic" experience using old equipment. Every game is a dozen different things to millions different people in an infinite amount of moments. And it's always changing. It's amazing, and it's worth remembering, worth preserving.

That urge, preservation, came with a shock all its own. If a video games is a thing to preserve, it's because it's in danger of ruin. The days when you would go to a store and buy a game, and the product you bought was software wrapped inside specialty hardware, are over. In a lot of cases today, the game disc is just an obsolete method of transportation to the consumer. So I started doing research, trying to understand how people today are trying to collect, preserve, remember and showcase these old video games: these expressions of our culture. There are a few good books out there, but I will recommend one. "Game After," by Raiford Guins is an amazing archeological and anthropological look at video games. But it doesn't consider a game a static objects with singular meaning, it looks at what games mean to us. What are we saying when we put a video game in a museum? What is the Smithsonian saying about emulation when it connects all its retro consoles to modern flat screens in its "The Art of Video Games" exhibit? What does it say about the industry that an ever growing group of people are spending more time exploring older games? When does the games container, become content itself? How does that change the value or perception of the game? It is a fascinating book that, as its title suggests, looks at games in their continued lives after they leave the current media spotlight.

From wanting to organize my games, to anthropological studies on gaming: that's quite a rabbit hole, isn't it?

THE RESULTS AND REFLECTION. I am happy to say, that I have cased my still growing collection and all I've been doing is enjoying the fruits of my labor. I've tested every game, and they all worked! There's not a dead battery among them. 

Every day since completing this project, I wake up early in the morning and make sure to play a game or three for a half hour or so. I think about them differently, I reflect on their meaning as entertainment and on their meaning to me, both equally valid. I ponder what they mean to other people, and it inspires me to find out. More and more I find myself leaving my apartment to explore this hobby instead of relying on my internet connection. I meet people, swap stories, share anecdotes and every time that happens, gaming grows a little bit, develops a little bit. Staring at my gaming shelves and consoles, I can't help but feel like I'm reclaiming a little bit of myself too. Organizing and understanding myself just as much as these technical curios sitting on my shelf.

Keep Gaming!   read

10:13 AM on 05.16.2014

Brick and Mortar 5-16-2014

About a month ago, I stumbled upon The Cover Project, an online initiative of fans and enthusiasts to collect scans of video game box art. These scans are usually customized to be easily printed and slid into CD/DS/DVD/Universal game cases. For hours I scoured the web to find any youtube video, blog or article that described this D.I.Y. process in detail. I was not disappointed. Examples abound. I was drawn into the rabbit hole. Since then, I have devoted much of my free time and budgeted cash to recollect, organize and then case my old games collection. 

Despite my research, I really didn't know what I was getting into. Once I have finished the project, I intend to post a blog describing the investment, the challenges and some self-reflecting thoughts on the subject. One of those unexpected challenges was the urge to fill out each console library that I was organizing. I still owned a lot of my favorite classic games, but it was horrifying to realize that certain treasures, particular jewels, were missing. So I started looking. I've done this once before, in college, but that centered around PS1, PS2 and PSP. This time it's NES, SNES, N64 and GBA. For now, these are the games that I found.

Zelda II, Legend of Kage, Wizards & Warriors, Slalom, and 1943 were all found at local retro gaming stores. The only one that I already own is Zelda II, but only as part of the Gamecube Zelda Collection. I loved the game when I was younger, but revisiting it with a Wavebird controller didn't pan out well. I want to give it another shot. Legend of Kage and 1943 are games that I am really excited to explore, one for laughs and the other because of how often it comes up in retro gaming podcasts. Shadow of the Ninja and Vice Project Doom are games that I had only heard about in hushed tones back in the day, and finally decided to track them down online after MANY youtube collectors suggested it. Just remember, don't buy the first copy you see... it's likely cheaper elsewhere.

DKC 2: Diddy's Kongs Quest. Need I say more? This is a game I only ever rented. Once It got pulled from the Wii Shop Channel (along with its predecessor and sequel), I knew that owning the cart would be the only way to consistently, authentically, play the game. Super Smash TV, is badass, but holds a special place in my heart: a game that is a fond reminder of time spent with my older brother. DKC 2 and Super Smash TV were games that I found at a flea market (affectionately referred to as a Dirt Mall), and were super cheap. I can't recommend enough tracking down your local venue(s) and spending a few hours on a weekend or two.

Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon is a game that I irrationally, fanatically love. I can't pin down exactly why, but I do know that every time I played this game I was hysterically laughing throughout. I only ever rented it, I'm thrilled to finally own it. Mischief Makers, for me, was the game that my good friend in middle school had that I could never found myself. Apparently, all I had to do was wait 15 years. Both of these games were found at retro gaming shops. Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie and Blast Corps (notice the pattern? *coughrarecough*) were games I owned and lost over the course of 10 years and 8 moves. Banjo-Kazooie was by far, the most expensive. But Perfect Dark and Blast Corp were surprisingly cheap. Both Pod Racer and Rogue Squadron were online purchases and yet another example of how waiting can turn up great deals. They were almost half the cost of other sellers, I suspect this was a person who just wanted to get rid of it. The carts are in great shape, with the boxes (albeit a little beat up), manuals and ads included. Special Note: becoming a regular at your friendly local retro gaming shop is a great way to have good conversation, and occasionally get discounts on games :)

Fire Emblem and Mega Man & Bass are two great examples why, if you want to collect old games, you should love yard sales. Spring is on us, people are cleaning their houses, their storage units... and getting rid of all that "junk" on their own. I got these games dirt cheap, but honestly, would have paid out the nose for them if grandma knew what they were worth. Fire Emblem especially, I lent that game and Sacred Stone to a friend/acquaintance in high school, and of course never got them back. Concerning Turtles, guilty pleasure all over the place. I love me some Ninja Turtles, almost to a fault. On the NES and SNES, they were usually great brawlers, and I've heard good things about this one. This is the only one that I picked up at a Gamestop. A terrible place for old games, but there are still a few that have small collections of GBA games. It might be worth your time to call some stores and ask if they have any, my guess is that they'll all be gone in a year or two.

Have any cool games that you just picked up or wish you could find? Recommendations? Thanks for reading!

Keep gaming!   read

9:48 PM on 04.26.2014

Reboot Connection: Boss Monster

Gaming as a cultural expression is growing. It is important to remember that videogames did not bloom out of nothingness, just as film and movies did not develop without the context of theater and narrative driven literature. Early videogames were sometimes attempts to replicate the systems and dynamics of tabletop games. Today, many game mechanics from tabletop RPGs and Euro-style boardgames have integrated into the design sensibilities of videogames. We can see it in the behind-the-scenes A.I. accuracy/damage number crunching in Mass Effect. We can see it in how we manage resources in Civilization. We can see it in the grid-based combat of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. And we can see it in our Pavlovian reactions to loot drops and leveling up. One informed the other and changed the way we consume and access entertainment. Reboot Connection is a blog series, an attempt to discuss and recommend a tabletop game that speaks to a videogamer's sensibilities, because we should all play more games.

I introduce, Boss Monster!

Type of Game: Dungeon Building Card Game
Developer: Brotherwise Games, LLC
Number of Players: 2 -4
Time to Play: 15 - 30 minutes
MSRP: $24.99
Expansion: Tools of Hero Kind, $9.99

The Connection
Boss Monster is a card game that devotes itself to a loving homage of 8-bit games. The packaging looks like an NES Black Box case, and even the expansion looks like a Gameboy case! All of the art is drawn and designed to remind you of the good games of yore: Mega Man, Mario, Castlevania, Double Dragon, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Zelda. But if you look closely, you'll even catch references to The Song of Ice and Fire, Brandon Sanderson novels, the Nolen Batman movies, and other wonderful geek culture. The game is about heroes going on dungeon runs, but here is the twist, you are the Boss Monster. Machinima did a great job with this video which tells you what to expect, if you decide to join the monstrous ranks of Legion!

This game's theme is at its best when it walks that precarious tight-rope of trademark infringement. Examples of the bosses you can play as are: The Sultan of the Sewers King Croak (King Koopa), Gorgona (Medusa), Father Brain Cerebellus (Mother Brain), The Angry Golem Robobo (Abobo) or The Progenitor Lich Xyzax (Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax).

The Heroes that will come tromping into your dungeon, attempting to wound you and steal your loot, are easily recognizable. Baden the Pantless just might be related to Arthur (Ghouls n' Ghosts). Johnny of the Evening Watch, whose band o' brothers is sworn to forsake family, take the gray, and clear dungeons (You still know nothing, Johnny Snow). The Elf Pyromancer, proof that some elves just want to watch the world burn (Why so serious?). The Angel of Light, who's not a rip off of Pit from Kid Icarus. Hya, the Legendary Shinobi, who collects dark swords of chaos and travels on ghost ships of doom. Wallbanger Basketweaver, the hobbit, burglar extraordinaire. And Antonius the Rune Knight, not to be confused with Adolin Kholin, who dons rune charged armor and duels his way through dungeons (The Stormlight Archives).

The Rooms and Traps you will build to guard against the Heroes are inspired by cult classic movie jokes, retro games and references to modern media obsessions. Brain Sucker Hive (Metroid). Liger Den (Napoleon Dynamite). The Crushinator (Super Mario World, NSMB Wii/Wii U). Dragon Hatchery (Daenerys Targarians three baby dragons). Mimic Vault (Final Fantasy Mimics). Torture Chamber (The Princess Bride). Golem Factory (Double Dragon 2). Neanderthal Cave (Kunio-kun).

But in order to prevent competing Boss Monsters from attracting and killing all the Heroes, you will cast devious Spells on each other. The Assassin spell give a Hero in another dungeon three more hit points, the equivalent of mainlining the Animus. Counterspell (Expelliarmus!) will cancel another Boss Monsters Spell. And Giant Sized, which will... holy crap that Toad looks pissed!

The Mechanics
Brotherwise Games has provided a good overview of the game setup, rules and goals. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in the nitty-gritty of gameplay. The Basics: kills Heroes to get Souls, fail to do so and get Wounds. 10 Souls and you win, 5 Wounds and you lose.

Gamers who are familiar with ideas like resource management, agro and mobbing will immediately recognize what this game expects you to do. The resources that you manage are the quality and quantity of your treasure (the person with the most rooms that provide Fighter treasures, attracts the Fighters... the person with the most rooms that provide Wizard treasures, attract the Wizards... and so on). You'd better be attracting Heroes, because you need their souls to win. But you need to be competitive in what treasure types you have, so you can stall the Heroes in town, and prevent your rival from getting the chance to slay a do-good-er. And what kind of despicable, vile, disgusting villain would you be if you didn't backstab your rivals when they get too close to winning! Expect to be hexed, cursed, and ensorcelled by your compatriots in evil. The expansion, Tools of Hero-Kind, adds Magic Items that the Heroes can equip rush your dungeon more easily. If you kill the equipped Hero, you win the Magic Item as well as his Soul. It's truly a blast when a trademark sensitive version of Link comes into Father Brains dungeon with the Holy Hand Grenade, only to be stopped by a trap room that shares a striking resemblance to the giant plunging castle spikes from Super Mario World.

The Verdict
The game is fun, fast, and simple once you learn how to read the icons. The balancing act that I have to do between making my dungeon strong enough to protect me, while attracting heroes to or blocking heroes from different dungeons, is a lot of fun. It plays almost as quickly with 2 players as it does with 4 players, since all players complete most of the round phases simultaneously. Set-up time, break down time, and teachability are all simple and streamlined. Boss Monster is not quite pocket sized, but it's still very portable compared to other tabletop games. Even the worthwhile expansion will fit in the base box. The mechanics of the game combine basic card play with modern design concepts (like agro), and presents it in a nostalgic, playfully reverent way. This game is very good, but not great. Sometimes you will want to play another game because almost all the cards you drew in a 20 minute game, were crap (not that I'm still bitter about that).

If you happen to be a person who remembers 8-bit and 16-bit games fondly, but aren't all that into card and boardgames, there is a very good chance you will like this game. If you are looking for complexity, similar to Dominion or Magic The Gathering, it isn't here. But the theme is strong and well executed. It keeps luring me back with its hilarious, nostalgic pixel graphics. After a dozen plays, I still laugh at small details in the art that I missed, or didn't get at the time. It's a simple game that invites in all who want to play.

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10:54 AM on 04.16.2014

A Developing Legal Assault on Podcasts. Fight for what you love!

     The internet is still an infant. A long and complex development lies ahead as this social/digital creation matures. But right now, we have some excruciating growing pains to go through.  Digital bullies and extortionists are going after our ability to communicate with each other in a long-form, meaningful way: podcasts. This has been developing for the last two years, but the first major milestone will happen in October 2014. This is a look at Patent Trolls: who they are, what this means, what the challenge is and how we can fight back.

The Issue:
     A Patent Troll is, in essence,  a business that specializes in acquiring software patents (the more broad the language, the better) with the intention to sue content producers. The purpose of the lawsuit isn't to take the little guy (or the corporation) to court, just to intimidate them into settling out of court. It's a shakedown fueled by legal intimidation and the threat of huge financial burdens if you try to defend yourself. In the case of corporations, they tend to settle out of court because they have the means to do so. In the case of individuals and small businesses, it's often enough to cripple the business through licensing fees. This issue has become big enough that it is actually having an impact on national economies. In the summer of 2012, the BBC reported that patent trolls in the United States cost businesses 29 billion dollars.

     "Patent Troll" may seem like a new tactic, but it isn't the first time a similar tactic has been used by leeching middlemen. In the United States, when the 1836 Patent Act was passed, it gave the federal government the ability to examine existing and new patents to ensure there was minimal overlap, essentially. This created a new sort of lawyer, and was the beginning of the Patent Shark. They would purchase patents on the design of things like barbed wire, canisters, railroad breakers and other tools which were vital to the US and its citizens ability to spread out west, set up homesteads, or build shipping/transportation infrastructure. Most of the patent sharks targets were smaller railroad businesses and farmers that didn't have access to legal defense, let alone the funds to hire said defense. This lasted until the 1890's and largely fizzled out because farmers began organizing politically (Populist Movement), and the government began to enter a period where they would take on more initiative in the lives of everyday people and businesses (Progressive Movement); both of which discouraged and challenged these shady practices. A more in depth narrative of this can be found here. But these were patents on physical machines and mechanical designs. Software can also be patented, but because it is digital, it opens up new opportunities for patent trolls.

     NPR did a very good interview with the founder of Personal Audio, Jim Logan, in May 2013. Here, he makes the argument that he created and patented the intellectual idea of the podcast. What he did was found a company which intended to record voice readings of magazines on cassette tapes, and then mail them to the consumer. It isn't his fault that the technology didn't exist at the time, but he came up with the idea and now every podcast on the internet owes him money. Also, forget about the fact that he is on a podcast, which will be distributed digitally, and will not pay him licensing fees.

The Context:
     Then in February, 2013, Personal Audio subpoenaed podcast creators Adam Carolla, and HowStuffWorks with a patent on "System for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." Translation: we own playlists and podcasts, give us money. An abstract for the patent and the full patent itself can be found here. This is nothing short of a threat to all people who create or enjoy podcasts. This would limit our ability to express ourselves online, this would strangle vibrant aspects of enthusiast communities. The Patent Trolls are going after the big podcasts first, but the effect is meant to trickle down. This could force other business who employ podcasters to charge for their content to pay off licensing fees, potentially crippling the medium. In an interview with Rich Eisen, Carolla jokingly said, "... if they are sueing me and Google, pretty much everyone else falls in between there." Check out The Podcast Legal Defense, they do a great job discussing related topics, reviewing and outlining the issue.

"The Rise of the Patent Troll" is another great production that discusses the dynamics of this situation. Also, be sure to check out Kirby Ferguson's TED Talk about this same issue.

The Challenge:

     Most people will say that the way to beat a patent troll is to call them out, be vocal, be public and challenge them. Chances are, they don't want to pursue litigation because of the costs. Personal Audio, however, seems to be doubling down. In February 2014, they filed a subpoena against the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) who are supporting the conflict against patent trolls, which states:

"All fundraising activities in connection with the proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office specifically Concerning the '504 patent, including but not limited to the Identification of the names of all Persons who donated or contributed and Identification of the amounts contributed by each Person, as well as the Identification of any promised contributions which have not been received yet as well as the Persons who promised such contributions and the amount thereof."

     This only applies to the fundraising project that the EFF is associated with, not any of the other crowdfunding initiatives associated with Personal Audios patent trolling. However, it does show us how these kinds of businesses treat the legal system as a means to an end, or a tool to coerce. Adam Carolla's court date has already been set in October of 2014, and he is not going to settle. He is going to fight it. Recently, he has been a guest several other podcasts in an attempt to get the word out. On April 3rd, 2014, Adam was on the Rich Eisen Podcast and spoke pretty frankly about how the issue makes him feel. They begin talking about the issue around an hour into the show. Below is a quote from that segment.

"It's sort of the opposite of American.  Ya know what I mean?  It's very American go out and build your stuff up, and build yourself a small business and have your own employees, and this is THE MAN. Ya know, coming in and doing it a way that's very cyber-y, and twenty-first centur-y and Buck Rogers-y. But this is a, essentially, going to be illegal in 5 years. [There is no way they are going to win this in court] But to me it's like finding the cure to your particular cancer three years after your in the ground. That's nice, but I gotta beat it now."

     Most legal speculation suggests that Personal Audios claim will fall flat, but it will still cost Adam 1 to 1.5 million dollars to go to court and get that decision. More than that, Adams case will set the precedent for future litigation. That is why this is important. He's taking one for the team and doing what must be done so this issue doesn't get any worst. Because of that, I think this is worth supporting.

The Love:
     Of course, you can donate to Adams war-chest of legal funds here. But I don't want to suggest that this is the only, or even the best way for everyone to lend their support. It isn't feasible for everyone to use their hard earned cash as their means of support, but this isn't only about money. This is about all of us and the way we communicate with each other. Even if all you do is write a blog post, even if all you do is tweet an fyi, getting the word out about this is the most important contribution any of us can make. Better yet, talk about it on a podcast! The more visible this is, the higher it trends, the more people feel a need to talk about it, the better we can all put pressure on patent trolls. Make them wish they never dared.

     What are the podcasts that you love? Why? The people, the discussion, the community? What was the podcast that got you into listening? For me it was Retonauts back in the 1up days.

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1:26 PM on 04.15.2014

Nintendo's Marketing Swing: The New Fiscal Year and an April surge.

     March 31st, 2014, was the last day in the fiscal year for Nintendo. The previous year had not been particularly kind to the Big N in terms of profits and perception: low Wii U sales, the emergence of the next-gen competitors, a fiscal forecast that plummeted almost 750 million which resulted in a bottom-line loss, Iwata cutting his own pay, and speculation of his resignation continues to agitate. All of this is precisely why the last two weeks have been so unique. Since the beginning of April, 2014 (the new fiscal year), Nintendo has been nothing short of aggressive in its pursuit to capture our attention. They are doing this by augmenting their most recent marketing plans (Nintendo Directs, controlled media output of game features, disclosure of release dates) through transparency and depth of future content.

     Let's do the quick list. 

The Joke: April 1st, Nintendo partners with Google to bring gamers one truly impressive April Fool's Joke. Yes, the video pitch was misleading, but the distraction of searching your GoogleMaps app for Pokemon, cleverly hidden, around the world was a joy. This is likely the product of Nintendo's stated initiative in late January to foster partnerships with other companies, allowing them to use Nintendo licensed characters. Other examples of this could be Nintendo's partnership with Pennzoil at South West Interactive last March, or Nintendo's agreement with Tecmo Koei to develop Hyrule Warriors.

The Turbo-Boost: A few days later, games media sites around the internet exploded with Mario Kart 8 information, sparking numerous discussions on forums, podcasts, videos and blogs the internet over. This is more of a traditional move by Nintendo, but it does remind us of a few things. Nintendo needs this games to sell, and hopefully that means they will make this game a feature-complete home run release.

The Nostalgia-glasses: Almost within 24 hours, we're told that Gameboy Advance games were arriving on the Wii U eShop in April, and given a list of ALL of the months GBA releases. This is unique in a few different ways. We nearly never get a formal heads-up from Nintendo about what VC games are coming out, let alone the beginning of a new VC platform. It's strange that GBA isn't on 3DS (outside of Ambassador games), but I have slowly grown to the idea of playing GBA games on my new Super Deluxe GBA XXL..... I mean, the Wii U Gamepad.

     North America and Europe
     April 3 - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Metroid Fusion, Advance Wars
     April 10 - WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgames, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
     April 17 - Golden Sun, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
     April 24 - Yoshi's Island (Super Mario World 2): Super Mario Advance 3

The (Falcon) PUNCH: Another hundred hours later, we're getting information bombs from Sakurai about Super Smash Bros 3DS/Wii U. In terms of Nintendo's marketing, presenting information through a Direct isn't unusual. The depth of the coverage was. 40 minutes of Smash, with details catered for the all parts of the Smash community. Not to mention to 200 photo info drop that snuck onto the internet afterwards. For Fun! For Glory!

The Fever Dream: But we didn't get just one Direct, we got two of them within forty-eight hours. Tomodachi Life (not to be confused with Tamagachi) is, in essence, Nintendo's 2DS/3DS crack at a Sims-like-game which you populate by importing Mii's. Frankly, I don't care about this. But it's hilarious and bizarre appeal doesn't escape me either. Imagine the wildfire of gossip in Middle School hallways when different cliques of pre-teen girls hear about who is marrying who in-game. If nothing else, just watch this eleven minute Nintendo Direct on Tomodachi Life; it's truly ridiculous. How many Nintendo execs want to date Samus? Will Reggie and Iwata ever stop wrestling over that bar of gold? Will Bill Trinen ever stop hallucinating? My Body is Ready!

     All of this within ten days. This is unusual. This is a noticeable change. Good change. But is this a change that will continue? Currently, we are seeing Nintendo participate in marketing awareness with new fervor, but it's short term release calendar gives us something to be anxious about. Firm dates are only really set for games that are being released this month (with the exception of May 30ths Mario Kart 8 release). For the month of April, the Wii U will release: the aforementioned GBA titles, Lego: The Hobbit, NES Remix 2, and Child of Light. After that, we simply don't know. Reports suggest that Shovel Knight is on the horizon, but what about the rest of May and Summer 2014? Smash Bros 3DS will probably sell great, but I doubt it can shoulder that load by itself. Hopefully we will get more information soon, and avoid another Wii U drought.

     Nintendo and Google did a good job together, but will Nintendo regret associating with Pennzoil? Will their character licensing plan fail, making a joke out of Hyrule Warriors? Will the GBA continue to be supported or will it ultimately be a pathetic smattering of games (I'm looking at you N64 VC)? And will Nintendo be able to deliver with Kart 8 and Smash Bros, achieving the sales that they need, or will it be good-not-great 3D World/Tropical Freeze level of sales? Was it a mistake for Nintendo skip having a formal presence at PAX-East? What do you think?

Keep Gaming!   read

8:26 AM on 04.02.2014

Nintendo's April 1st update. Not a prank, but it feels like it.

On April 1st, 2014, Nintendo released an update for the Wii U. Reportedly, all it does is, "Improvements to system stability and usability: Further improvements to overall system stability and other minor adjustments have been made to enhance the user experience." But there is something else hidden in your Wii U's internet browser bookmarks.

Surprisingly not a prank, this service enables you to post screenshots of your games on a few of the larger social media sites.

"The Wii U Image Share is a Web service that enables you to post screenshots from software during gameplay to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr social networking services (SNS). By using this service, you can add comments to gameplay images, use a hashtag to share them with friends or family, and even post images simultaneously on multiple SNS. (When using Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, you'll need to register an account for each service.)"

But, the process is still at risk of being too cumbersome. You have to exit your game, open the internet browser, go to your bookmarked link, sign-in, then post the pic with a comment. Even if you think that it's not that bad, it still isn't as intuitive an interface as other devices. I'm excited to be able to capture my own screenshots, but we should recognize this is an early first step outside of Miiverse for Nintendo. Lastly, If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, when visiting via the Wii U or 3DS, you can find a list of Nintendo's recommended hashtags under "Tools."

Unfortunately, the 3DS version of this software only applies to Animal Crossing: New Leaf. We can only assume that Nintendo is still testing out the full implementation of screen-capturing on the 3DS. Seriously though, why can't 3DS owners post screenshots to social media sites, or easily post screenshots to Miiverse through the 3DS. 21st century, basic stuff.

A step in the right direction Nintendo, but still plagued by two critical issues: this is coming too slowly, and you're still doing a crap job advertizing the development you make.

Wii U Image Share Official Site
3DS Image Share Site

What do you think?

Keep gaming!   read

6:30 AM on 03.20.2014

Keiji Inafune at GDC and a community update for Mighty No. 9

     The indie games movement and Kickstarter has had an impact on the games industry, but more interesting than that is how each country seems to handle the challenges differently. In Japan, it seems to be functioning as a kind of creative pressure valve. Some of the veteran Japanese artist/design community are finding that satisfying demand for their I.P's (with establish company oversight, data driven decisions, and limited creative flexibility) is becoming harder and harder. Some, like Inafune, struggled to continue a franchise that his company began neglecting. Some, like Igarashi, were sidelined from the franchise that forever intertwined with his fame and passion. These are just two examples, but it's happening. Independent games studios are growing in Japan, ones that are tied to and informed by the classic games they made in the past. Let's take a look at the latest show of game development transparency: "Meanwhile, In Japan." GDC panel where Jeremy Parish fields questions to the talented people involved in Mighty No. 9, and a community update from Comcept concerning the project!

But before any of that, video from Mighty No. 9's alpha v.2 and Mighty Boss roll-call (below)

(Below) Here, Comcept's Keiji Inafune is joined by Mark MacDonald (of 8-4) to discuss the context in which Mighty No 9 is being developed. There is a special focus on the Japanese games industry as compared to the rest of the world as well as asides on gaming culture.

The full, hour long panel can be found here

And lastly, the community update from Comcept. This one came a little earlier than expected, but surprises are always welcome. Here is some of the highlighted fan art!

(above) Mega Mighty No. 9 24x18 acrylic on stretched canvas by Chris EightBit Olian 

(above) Takobot is one of those awesome backers who has been redesigning Mighty No.'s for other people, cool stuff.

(above) Mighty No. Guild (one of a series) by Enlus

(above) A beautiful Mighty No. 7! Well done Droidling, well done.

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10:41 AM on 03.18.2014

Parsing the Threads Between Games. Part 1: Mega Man X

     With the upcoming release of Mighty No. 9 and Azure Striker Gunvolt, we can look back at the work of the creative people at Inti Creates and Comcept to get a sense of how their older games of this style are used to inform their newer releases. This has also been the consistent thread that has run throughout the Mega Man franchise from the beginning. Each title creates an experience based on a few core play mechanics (run, jump, shoot), and explores mild variations (boss powers, upgrades, mobility). But every so often, they make a major breakthrough in the gameplay and feel of the franchise. With this in mind, I look back at the Mega Man X series on the SNES and Playstation/2, emphasizing the first two.

     I'm not going to go into each game and discuss their component parts, like a review. I'm going to look at the games holistically and focus on changes in the gameplay experience. It may be subjective, but hopefully the approach is general enough to highlight specific advances over a series.

     Mega Man X was released on the SNES in 1993, the same year that Mega Man 6 was released on the NES. This is a clear transition point, no more Mega Man games would be natively released for an 8-bit system. Even Mega Man 7 and 8 (released in 1995 and 1996) were 16-bit games. But the X series was king of the Super Nintendo. It lasted until 2004, X8, progressing through the 32-bit era to have its final releases on the Playstation 2. This umbrella of Mega Man X covers series developments like the Mega Man Xtreme games, Mega Man X Command Mission, the Mega Man Legends games, all but one of the Mega Man Battle Network games, and even overlapping the first two Mega Man Zero GBA games. For a long time, Mega Man was a key supporting pillar of Capcom's portfolio.

     I begin with Mega Man X because it was the first time in this series that its older mechanics were applied, and expanded, in ways that demanded a rethinking of the games design approach. The original Mega Man series on the NES generally stuck with the basic concept that Mega Man would grow by acquiring Dr. Wily's Boss Robots powers, and occasional use unique powers (remember Rush the Dog?). You choose the order you take on the stages, and you strategize about how the Robot Boss powers fit into a rock/paper/scissors pattern. Mega Man himself improved over the course of the series, he would eventually get a slide and the ability to charge his bullets: the Buster Shot. But only with each new title. In contrast, Mega Man X has the opportunity to not only rob the bosses of their powers, but he can improve himself within the context of a single game. Your abilities as X, standard abilities, at the beginning of the game cannot compare to your capabilities by the end of the game. The biggest reason for this, and the reason that Mega Man X significantly develops the franchise, is mobility and momentum.

This is a speed run by a world ranking player, the actual run starts at 4:38. Take notice of how much the game speeds up, and how much more the player is able to do once he gets the dash upgrade (starts at 8:15)

     X's implementation of the dash mechanic changed the speed of the Mega Man franchise. It was present in older Mega Man titles, but being able to use your momentum to speed up and extend your jump required the levels to be designed differently. Gradual ramps are in most levels to allow you to use this ability to charge through the stages in a way that you weren't able to do in the original series. You can also wall jump, which liberates you from the need to rely on flat platforms to ascend into a level, now all you need is a vertical surface. These two thing combined, the momentum of the dash and the wall jump, meant that the X series has stages that focused on speedy, focused vertical and horizontal design. And early on, it's done brilliantly. Like the old Mega Man games, mini bosses sometimes punctuate the stages; but this time they aren't always simply large enemies, but unique and thematic enemies that more closely resemble the boss battles.

     Mega Man X and Mega Man X2 are both wonderfully executed games, if you have not played either of them, you should. Mega Man X2 is my preference, but I recognize that it's because it was the game that I owned as a child. My friend had Mega Man X, so I played it a little, but X2 was the game that I slammed against my head for years. Looking at the whole franchise, Mega Man X is clearly the more influential and more significant release. Mega Man X2 was based on the same foundational mechanics, with slight variation to story development and unique upgrades. It was, at best, developmental. At worst, iterative.

     Mega Man X2 is more difficult than its predecessor. This is for three reasons, two of which are why X2 is important... it shows a trend in the franchise. First, X's armor upgrade. Simply put, in the original X game, it halves all damage, making most of the early and mid game a functional "easy" mode. You get no such boon in X2: your armor periodically charges, based on hits taken, to release a massive explosion. The second and third reasons are the things that make X2 important to tracking the franchise. X2 assumes that you've played the previous game and it changes the way the story unfold through mini-bosses and cinematics appropriate to the hardware. 

     My major reason that I think X2 assumes you've played X; because you have the dash from the beginning, and not earned through an upgrade, all of the eight Boss Maverick stages are designed under that assumption of X's mobility. The other reason I believe X2 is more difficult is the potential for the X-Hunter encounters. 

     Zero's three major parts get stolen by the antagonists, and you have the option to choose a stage that they are in, find their secret room, and duel them for Zero's parts. Then you still have to complete the level. Not only does this require you to fight another boss, but likely means you are going to have to use valuable energy tanks. If you don't get his parts, it means an additional mini boss in the last stage. You can stop and farm energy to refill your tanks, but this displays an exploit that is to the detriment of X2's gameplay. And for me, why I think Mega Man X is, as objectively as I can be, the better designed game. More significantly, it continues with the old Mega Man trend of slowly augmenting the play mechanics, but it also shows other important trends. It assumes you've played the previous games and it gradually focuses more on story.

     The later Mega Man X games deserve a nod as well. X3 was the last entry on the Super Nintendo, and continued the two major trends of X2. But this time around, some of the mini-optional-bosses require certain attacks to completely defeat them. You can earn the Z-Sabre, but only if you use Zero to beat a certain boss, and let him be sacrificed (as always happens if he dies while selected). While this can lead to more interesting, and dynamic story moments... it expects the player to have a deep knowledge of the game, ostensibly through repetition and experiment. Mega Man X3 is a good game and worth your time, but it is not a step forward for Mega Man X, it's a step sideways. Mega Man X4 was the first X game designed for a disc based system (Saturn and Playstation). But more importantly, it let you use Zero in a way that would become a gameplay staple in the franchises future: you can play the game as Zero but you primarily use his sword for combat, not a projectile. This is a shift that continues to develop in the X sequels, but then fundamentally alters the design of the Mega Man Zero series and heavily influences the ZX games. Mega Man X4 is also notable because it attempts to shift its focus more towards storytelling (through terrible cutscenes). X4 is still arguably a good game, replayable today, but the series continued to go downhill from there. Why it went downhill is another topic entirely. A last notable feature is Axel as a character in X7. He's significant because he transforms, completely, into the defeated enemy. That's an element we will see later games. Besides that, all I will say is this about Mega Man X5 through X8; I burned through them in a few hours, for perspective, and I wish I had those hours back.

youtube media from: Carls493, ermacownedyou, Tiki G, Silent Len, and SpeedDemosArchiveSDA

Next Time: Mega Man Zero!

Keep Gaming!   read

7:10 AM on 03.14.2014

Brick and Mortar 3-12-2014

     Every so often, I find that it is worth my time to visit the local gaming store chains and large retailers. I like to see how gaming is being presented to a commercial mass market. Sometimes I make some awesome finds, but the experience is always unexpected. This is my most recent outing: complete with deals, buys and the absurd.

     I was headed over to the local Target and Best Buy to do some errands. I decided to check out the gaming sections to see if there were any sales and what selection was there. Both had a moderately good selection of recently released/best seller PS3 and Xbox360 games. And of course, each had a almost a full aisle devoted to the XboxOne and PS4. They must have just gotten shipments, because several were around. I almost missed the Vita section completely in both stores, no more than a few rows of games and the console tucked under the shelf. The Wii U and 3DS section put together were slightly bigger than the Vita's section. But the Skylanders and Disney Infinity displays towered over them all (save the HD twins). I found both stores gaming sections were pretty much deserted of employees and customers, with one major exception.

     As I was looking through the old and used Wii games section at Best Buy (full of must-have titles like Monkey King, Red Steel, Cooking Mama: Cook Off, James Bond: Quantum of Solace, and Sin & Punishment Star Successor for full MSRB) and overheard a family talking. Husband, wife, two girls around 8 - 12 years old. The girls wanted a Wii U, they said they like Mario and they liked the controller. The dad was about to pick it up to get it, when the wife sees the Wii Mini. "Wait a minute," she says, "This Wii is $99, and it comes with Mario Kart. We could all play that together! That Wii is $300 bucks, and we can't all play that Mario game. We should just get the cheaper one." The kids protest, the dad isn't sure, but seemed to still be favoring the Wii U. The mom lays out her argument again, and they end up leaving without either system. It bums me out to think of how typical that could be... but then again, at least they didn't buy the Wii Mini. Considering it doesn't have internet functionality, no Gamecube support and no Component/HDMI support. 

     Next were the two local GameStops. Usually I just check in to see if they have any older game from the last generation or two. When Gamestop wants to make more shelf space for newer games, many older games plummet in price. I've recently been looking more at Nintendo DS games and PSP games because I think they'll be hard to find, outside of the internet, in a few years. I brought in Assassin's Creed III to give back to them (something I do rarely, and got $5 for it), and begun to shift through their old handheld sections. I ended up getting Mega Man ZX Advent, Sonic Colors, Okami-den and Final Fantasy: Dissidia for a grand total of, $21. Not too bad, for an impulse purchase. 

     The stores were clean, and wall space was covered from floor, almost to the ceiling. Each store only had one person on staff at the time (about 12:30). At one store, all I heard the clerk talk about was preorders, I know that sounds like a joke, but I'm serious. She was memorizing them out loud, and trying to get customers to quiz her. Very peculiar. The other clerk was nice and knowledgeable gal. She definitely did her job in terms of subscription offers and pre-order advice, but she was also genuinely interested in saying hi and having a short conversation with you. At check out, we shortly talked about how so many JRPGs have flocked to handhelds and the difficulties of finding older games. She also rattled off a quick list of her favorite PS1 RPGs, cool stuff. However, I must admit that I heard a lot more "fuck" and "bitch" among customers group conversations there then the previous two stores. C'est la vie.

     What were your recent game hunts like? Pick up anything interesting lately? When was the last time you found something and felt like this?

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9:53 AM on 03.13.2014

Mighty No. 9 and Azure Striker Gunvolt: A rose by any other name...

...would still smell as sweet.

On Oct 1st, 2013, Comcepts new project, Mighty No 9 was successfully funded through their Kickstarter campaign. From the beginning, it was billed as an opportunity for Mega Man creator, Keiji Inafune, to continue his child/franchise away from Capcom. But this was only the tip of the iceberg. Game development companies and artists that have worked on previous Mega Man titles were brought on to work with Inafune and Comcept to bring this passion project to fruition. This is important to remember, the good folks at Comcept have been working with the development team Inti Creates for some time. Currently, early March 2014, Inti Creates announced that they are working with Keiji Inafune to release Azure Striker: Gunvolt on the 3DS in the summer of 2014. It is not all together incorrect to think of these as Mega Man and Mega Man Zero for a new generation of gaming. For both of these games, the personal relationships these two companies share go back to much of the Mega Man era at Capcom. Some of the more significant collaborative runs were during the Mega Man X series, Mega Man Zero series, Mega Man ZX series and the downloadable-retro titles. My point: these two companies have been highly informed by one another, and there is no reason to think that these two games won't share a foundation. They are varied expressions, by financially distinct companies, sharing the same inspiration. 

Yoshihisa Tsuda (Game Director), Yoshitaka Hatakeyama (art team), Takuya Aizu (Producer), have all worked with Inafune in the past to create some of the most fondly remembered, and demanding, Mega Man titles. Yoshihisa Tsuda started with Capcom in the early 1990's, but by the early 2000's he was a supervisor or game designer on Mega Man Zero (1-4) and Mega Man 9 and 10. Yoshitaka Hatakeyama began work as an artist for Capcom in the mid 2000's. You can find his work in Mega Man ZX, Mega Man ZX Advent, Mega Man 9, and currently, Azure Striker Gunvolt. Takuya Aizu was the Producer for Mega Man Zero (1-4), Mega Man ZX (and Advent), and Mega Man 9 and 10. These are all people who have been heavily influenced by their successful relationship with Inafune and their work on the Mega Man franchise. They are a team, they work well together... but it also means that there are patterns in their game development.

In an attempt to guess at what Mighty No. 9 and Azure Striker Gunvolt may be like; I think we can look back at the work of these creative people and get a sense of how their older games inform their newer releases. The Mega Man series has always been an iterative one. It is based on a few core mechanics, which explore variations in powers and gameplay gradually over time. This can be said about any of the serialized branches of the Mega Man franchise. Success can vary wildly, make no mistake, all Mega Man games aren't "created equal." Some are as terrible as others are brilliant. The NES Mega Mans, the Mega Man X series, Mega Man Battle Network, the Zero series... there was even the intention to make Mega Man Legends a series with several installments, but they were all modified iterations of a gameplay mechanic spun-off from earlier titles. Some more than others, but each entry in a Mega Man series always looks back to previous titles, and modestly builds in more game mechanics. Some focus on speed, some on weapons and missions, some even try to present an open world to explore.

It is with this in mind that I will research and play through select entries in the Mega Man franchise in an attempt to gauge the changes over time that have been implemented into the game mechanics. 

Beginning with  Mega Man X and X2, because this is the first instance where the Mega Man series seriously reinvented itself for a new era of gaming. It built on the standard Mega Man progression formula, but was fast, beautiful and most importantly, an inspiration for what followed. Mega Man X2 is where Inafune began working with some of the people he would collaborate with in the years to come on handheld Mega Man titles. Another important reason to include this is how it X2 presents itself to the player; it assumes that you've played Mega Man X. It shows a baseline trend that the new people brought on to these projects would be looking backwards, and try to prioritize consistency while developing game concepts in small ways.

I will then move onto the Mega Man Zero series. These are Inti Creates first big pushes into developing the Mega Man franchise with Capcom. This is where they really cut their teeth and made a name for themselves with this series. Lastly I will play through Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX Advent. These were the most recent, independent, Mega Man games from Inti Creates. They weren't using old protagonists and made an earnest attempt at mixing up the typical game progression that Mega Man offers. These are the games that I have identified because they seem to fulfill two criteria. 1) Their foundation and inspiration comes from Mega Man X... 2) They all tried to develop the game experience while holding onto the basic mechanics that all Mega Man games share.

Early indications of what the developers are concerned with are the basic play commands and movement. In a recent update on Mighty No. 9s Kickstarter page, it states that,

One recent session centered around a build featuring some new moves: a downward Dash, Backwards-Jump, and refinements to the shooting mechanic. Inafune-san took his time meticulously testing each move in turn, both on its own and seeing how each move integrated with the existing motions already in place.

Imaeda: I’d like to say that Inafune did nothing but shower Beck’s new moves with praise, but he did have some constructive criticism, like...

Inafune: “The dash is a fundamental mechanic in Mighty No. 9, but it still isn’t fun to do on its own. Also, we should make the backward jump look more like a distinct, deliberate action -- the current animation doesn’t really make that clear to the player.” 

Inafune (sitting) discusses the game with Aizu (left) and Ikegami (right) while Kimo Kimo snaps a pic (far left)

Considering statements like these here and in other interviews, I will be focusing on how these games handle the players on-screen speed, stage design, upgrades and using boss-powers. This is what I will be looking for when evaluating change over time. Where did some of those ideas start and how have they developed. I will also look at stage progression throughout this series, but we do not currently have any comments from either team on specifics for their new titles.

What are you looking forward to in Mighty No. 9  or Azure Striker Gunvolt? What titles do you think I've missed? What game dynamic do you think is important to take notice of in this series? Thanks for reading!

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