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Crackout - It's not what you think.

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).
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About Procyonone of us since 10:16 AM on 12.08.2006

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.
Xbox LIVE:ProcyonSJJ


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