You take games too seriously.

Speaking a Common Language

If you’re not reading Auntie Pixelante, Anna Anthropy’s pithy and intelligent round-up of the indie games scene, you’re missing out on one of the most unique and well-developed voices to be found in the gaming community. Like her fantastic journal, The Gamer’s Quarter, she exposes us to things we most likely would never see, with an insightful and intellectual approach that is rare at best.

In a recent post, she said of a recent Super Mario Bros. hack that:

it’s a fascinating exercise. in the same way that poets and playwrights repurpose older, widely-known stories and themes in order to create a kind of intertextuality, romhackers and game developers continuously return to super mario bros.: a known story with known mechanics, thematically resonant and wholly incorporated into the contemporary vocabulary of videogames. everyone who is making a platformer is having a dialogue with super mario bros.

Anna gets straight to the heart of what I was talking about in It Fit When I Was a Kid – and also adds a rub that I find interesting. More after the jump.

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Filed under: Commentary, Links, Retro Today, , , ,

Early to the Party: Space Invaders Extreme

Awesome down to its Turkish-rug box art.

There are few things nerdier than importing a game. It’s either to buy something before everyone else, relying on GameFAQs for rough translations of the Japanese and puzzling through the non-localized weirdness, or to buy something you can’t get in the US, because you just can’t get a good Witch-fondling game at your local GameStop.

Sometimes, though, it’s totally worth it. Sometimes there’s that game out there that you need, no matter the cost, no matter the absurdity of paying twice as much to get it a month or two early. For me, that game is the stellar Space Invaders Extreme. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, jump to it.

Like Pac-Man: Championship Edition, its spiritual predecessor (and a game I’d shortlist for Best Game Ever), this isn’t just a port of the game for a new system. Because there have already been four or five of those for Space Invaders on the DS alone. This is a refinement, a reimagining, taking the spirit and the core mechanics of the original and expanding them with an inventiveness that borders on sacrilege.

For Space Invaders Extreme, that means jettisoning the one thing that most identifies Space Invaders’ gameplay – the defensive shields that line the bottom of the screen. With those gone, the game switches over into fast-paced, powerup-heavy shooting with a sole emphasis on moving back and forth and shooting things. In fact, if it weren’t for the sprite art (those iconic pixelated bad aliens – including, far more frequently than in the arcade, the bonus UFO), it would be easy to mistake for Galaga.

That’s what I love about Pac-Man: CE and Space Invaders Extreme – they take thrilling mechanics from the next-gen and the retro games, marry them with style, sound, and a shocking variance of play modes, and create something instantly familiar but infinitely challenging. 

Pac-Man will be fun forever, which is more than I could really say for Space Invaders – a game that has been improved upon, specialized upon both by railed, top-down space shooters and the back-and-forth action of a thousand casual internet games. Which is why it’s a stunning accomplishment that Space Invaders Extreme is so damn good.

Walk, don’t run, as soon as the game drops. Or, join me in importing, for the gimmicky (don’t count on the people who say it’s essential – those people are the worst kind of game importers) paddle controller – infinitely important if you love throwing your money away on gimmicky controllers.

Wait, why exactly isn’t Taito bringing the paddle controller to the US?

 – Sam Ryan

Filed under: Commentary, Portable Media, Retro Today, Reviews, , , , , ,

Escape Velocity: An Indie Appreciation

How can you not love a title screen like this?

When I was a kid, we didn’t have videogames in our house. No NES, no Sega, no Game Boy. It wasn’t until late in the SNES cycle that I weeded enough yards to pick up an SNES, and the world finally opened up in front of me. I rented Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III, racked up massive late charges, and the rest is history.

But what we did have was a Apple Performa 6116CD – perhaps the worst gaming machine on the planet, excluding the Apple Pippin. The 60mhz PowerPC 601 and 8 MB of RAM could barely power a QuickTime movie, let alone Marathon. But there were people out there who knew exactly what this biege, Gil Amelio-era monstrosity was capable of.

If you had a Mac in the ’90s, you know what I’m headed for. While the PC side had id and Epic to keep them company, those of us who cruised around on Performas and LCIIIs know the real masterminds of ’90s shareware: Mac publisher extraordinaire Ambrosia Software. Ambrosia’s still around today, and making absolutely necessary utilities (and a game, here and there) for Mac OS X and the iPhone. They’re certainly one of the longest-running and most successful shareware publishers, even in this era of swapped serial numbers and open source. 

But in the ’90s, they were first and foremost a game publisher. Apieron, Maelstrom, Avara, Barrack, Swoop – just a few of the names that will bring a smile to the face of anyone who played Mac games back in the day. Ambrosia staked their claim on arcade-y games, based on familiar game mechanics with unique and charming twists, and an undeniable and charming sense of humor. Their house style was immaculate, and nothing came out until it was immaculately polished – think of their supposed Quake-killer, Manse, a survival horror FPS that lived screenshot to screenshot for years until it was finally canned, looking better than the vast majority of shovelware on the PC side.

Escape Velocity, though, was a masterpiece, a piece of intelligent and complicated gameplay with a depth completely unheard of in the shareware world. 

How Escape Velocity and its sequels shaped my appreciation of gaming, and what I think modern games have to learn from it, after the jump.

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Filed under: Commentary, Retro Today, Reviews, , , , , ,

It Fit When I Was A Kid

Super Smashed Brothers, by TatsuSoft

Like indie movies, indie games rely on their low production values as part of their aesthetic. But because of the even-lower financial stakes and the inherent anti-commercial bent of someone coding a Flash game on their MacBook, indie games tend much more towards a referentiality that relies entirely on fair use and parody.

When you think about the games that have made their trip through the blogs recently, whether they’re the smart variety like Passage or You Have To Burn The Rope or the humorous (and occasionally very smart) variety of ROM Check Fail or Super Smashed Brothers, one thing seems to stick out – the use of early-gen assets and/or design as either a form of criticism or a design choice.

Think about Fez, a game that has won awards and spawned endless blog talkback. It uses designs inspired by the 8-bit era, and then flips them (twists them? rotates them?) to elucidate its new and exciting mechanic. 

But why are these among the most discussed indie games out there? Do indie games, which appeal to a small subset of hyper-literate, hyper-connected gamers actually just reach out to our inner children and say “Remember this? Remember how much you liked your NES? Well, guess what. It’s back, and it’s smart, just like you?”

How Passage, ROM Check, and I deal with this, after the jump.

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Filed under: Commentary, Retro Today, , , , ,

Retro Today: The Static Screen


Sadly, this isn’t an E.T. entry, as the image implies. Instead, I want to discuss a technique ET and most Atari products used: the static screen.

Many recent games have been variations on the retro gaming experience. Everyday Shooter, Alien Hominid, and anything PixelJunk resemble NES games with sexy paint jobs. Though these games have elaborate control schemes and features that might scare away an 8-bit gamer, their core mechanics are nothing new. Why have these games developed such popularity?

This blog focuses on a new problem amongst gamers: as former hardcore players, how do we find time for elaborate, 40 hour games in our 20 something lives? If the market hopes to continue its growth, game designers must answer this question, and find ways to win this tightly-scheduled audience. Sam might argue the iPhone answers this problem, a perfect mesh of the Xbox and Blackberry generations. Maybe he’s right.

With that considered, I offer two theories why the retro format has found recent popularity.

More of this relatively dry, but curious entry after the jump… Or click here to be ‘Rick-Rolled.’

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Filed under: Commentary, Retro Today, , , ,

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