Everybody loves game journalism

I wrote and rewrote the following post pretty much daily over the course of the past few weeks in response to the ugliness happening around video games and women in video games. I finally gave up toward the end of this past week, because I could never find a way to discuss all of this that didn’t seem like it was all about me me me when it all had absolutely nothing to do with me. When Jenn Frank, of all damn people, probably the most heartbreakingly honest writer in the gaming press, was hounded and harassed for supposed corruption of all damn things, I lost the stomach to write about this at all. Or, frankly, to write about the games industry. When I told my wife what had happened to Jenn (whom she knew from the time a few years back when we had over to our place to take part in a disastrous-but-fun 1UP-centric dinner party), she simply started sending me job listings for “less toxic” lines of work. I found her response depressing, but honestly gave it some consideration for a day or two. (I got over it.)

With Zöe Quinn’s Batman-like — or rather, Oracle-like, in a DC universe where Barbara Gordon is forever allowed to define her identity on her own terms than as a sub-franchise of a male hero — exposé of the culprits behind all this crap, the conversation has shifted so radically I’d need to completely rewrite this to make the still-relevant parts feel relevant. Frankly, I’m tired of looking at this wall of text, so I’m just posting the most recent revision (from Wednesday) behind the jump cut in its entirety: A chunk of text vomited from the what-ifs of the Internet. You can pick out the parts that remain relevant, if you like, or you can just ignore it.

(Cliff’s Notes version: That would be the parts about the folly of painting the general gaming audience with too broad a brush because of the actions of a few, and the ethics of crowd-funding.)

Oh, also, I started supporting Quinn on Patreon after she came under attack by anonymous abusers out of sympathy. Now I’m supporting her on Patreon because she basically blew up the Death Star right as the technician in the glossy underbite helmet activated the final turbo laser lever. In any case, I’ve still never met her, still never written about her (outside of this post), and still never will.

Also of note: Since penning the text below, I’ve written about Mighty No. 9, which I helped crowd-fund, with the basic premise of the piece being, “I Kickstarted this game and I’m liking the way it’s shaping up.” I’ve also just backed Tetropolis, a game I wrote about at PAX East and would very much like to play, though sadly it doesn’t look likely to make its goals. If that constitutes corruption, friends, this whole species is going to Hell.

Continue reading

Posted in Blog.

Addendum

Super-cool reader Jason Williams informs me that the coupon code PRINT33 will shave, like, 20% off the price of Blurb books through the end of September, so if you were interested in picking up The Anatomy of Mega Man (or any other print book) but didn’t want to spend a month’s salary on it, now you can pick up The Anatomy of Mega Man and only spend 80% of a month’s salary on it. I will try and get the budget-priced paperback up there before the end of the month so anyone who is interested can take advantage of the sale!

Also, the PDF version of the book is now available on Gumroad, so that’s lovely.

Back to non-shilling pursuits here soon, honest.

Posted in Blog.

A confluence of events

There’s been a weirdly huge amount of Mega Man and related stuff happening in my life lately. Some of it’s a coincidence, some of it not.

Not a coincidence: Comcept coordinated a heck of a campaign bringing us Azure Striker Gunvolt (which I’ve reviewed), Mighty Gunvolt (which, also, I’ve reviewed), and Mighty No. 9 (which I previewed and interviewed Keiji Inafune about). All of this in turn inspired a video production as well:

The coincidental part is that The Anatomy of Mega Man Vol. I went into print as well this week. I mentioned it on Anatomy of Games, but not here. Oops! It’s available as a hardback and a paperback. PDF version coming soon. The cover is the first watercolor illustration I’ve done in ages… so it’s a little rough, but I’m still pretty happy with it.

On a related note, the super rad Games Story Bundle 4.0 is running for a few more days. Even if you already have the books I contributed to the mix, you should check out all the other great productions in the bundle. Some excellent stuff there.

Posted in Blog, Games. Tagged with , , .

Remember me?

This post ©2013 Capcom

I was out traveling all of last week and didn’t have time to do any blogging — well, that’s not quite true. I wrote a pretty lengthy piece on the current ugliness in games that’s been going on, but I don’t really have the stomach to get involved in all that awfulness. Instead, please enjoy the video above, wherein I praise a 25-year-old pinball game. Hard-hitting games journalism, that’s what I’m all about.

OK, OK; despite my self-effacement, I had a bunch of great developer interviews at PAX this weekend to cap off my trip: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hajime Tabata, the Dragon Quest guys, Keiji Inafune… hopefully I’ll have time to transcribe them this week. Please look forward to it.

Also, last week, Jaz Rignall spearheaded a pretty much amazing comprehensive history of video games for USgamer that you really ought to read. We’re moving into fall release season and won’t be dwelling much on history for the coming months, so please enjoy this last hoorah for the past.

Posted in Blog.

(A tiny window into) the history of RPGs

saga-header

I really enjoyed the brief time in which I was able to produce the Daily Classics series for USgamer this past spring, but they tend to be fairly time-consuming and once I switched roles to editor-in-chief I ceased to have that particular luxury — time, I mean. And self-indulgence. But I decided to bring the series back for one final engagement — OK, maybe not final, but the last for a while. The fall release season is about to kick off, so we’re going to have lots to write about that isn’t old.

This time around, I decided to tackle the role-playing genre. As ever, the premise of Daily Classics is to look at games celebrating an anniversary in the multiples of five this year and try linking them together in some way. In this case, that meant touching on 1984’s The Black Onyx, a game by a Dutch designer based on a Canadian RPG made specifically for Japan, then following up by jumping ahead five years to see how Western and Japanese RPG designs had diverged. Though as always, I do try not to force the connection.

Anyway, they turned out pretty well and I hope you’ll read them and stuff. The end.

Posted in Blog, Games. Tagged with , .

If you only read one thing today…

…it should not be this post. Agh! What are you doing!? You’re blowing your quota!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo, it should be this week’s USgamer cover story, wherein Jaz and I spent an hour chatting with Dave Lebling on the creation of Zork. It was a pretty phenomenal experience, and I think the story that came out of it is equally spectacular. If I could somehow make my job into nothing but hanging out with game designers and talking about the philosophy and iteration behind their work… eh, I’d probably be assassinated for having a job that’s unacceptably rad. Probably just as well, then.

If you read carefully here, you can spot where I was sneaking in a question or two for the upcoming Zork article at Metroidvania.

P.S., this box art is still the best. The goblin’s all like, “Ohhh crap, Dabney Coleman looks super pissed!”

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Hey Mom, I’m in a Bundle

The latest video games StoryBundle has gone live, and among the books you can pick up as part of this name-your-own-price word buffet you’ll find The Anatomy of Super Mario Bros. Vol. 1. It’s pretty amazing to have been selected to take part in this collection; my project is sitting alongside some genuine heavy-hitters. I mean, I’m in the same tier as Mega Man 2 composer Manami Matsumae and Akira Yamaoka. That’s just mind-blowing.

As always, the mere prospect of promoting myself and encouraging people to spend money on something I’ve created gives me a nauseating cross between intense guilt and a throat-closing panic attack, so… please support all the other really talented authors whose work is on offer here. I won’t take it personally if you don’t hit the $12 bonus threshold at which my book gets bundled into the package.

Video game books! They’re cool, they’re cheap. Support the people who make them.

Posted in Blog.

Mighty (Gunvolt) fine

IntiCreates and Comcept just announced the most self-referential thing I could ever imagine: A 3DS downloadable game called Mighty Gunvolt, which combines the protagonists of the as-yet-unreleased Mighty No. 9 and the soon-to-be-released Azure Strike Gunvolt in a retro-NES mode that riffs on IntiCreates’ Mega Man 9 and the Mega Man Alpha mode of Mega Man ZX Advent.

What really gets me about this thing is that it does a better job of presenting NES-like graphics than Nintendo’s own 3DS console. In this screenshot….

mighty-gunvolt

…the yellow border (which I added; it’s not part of the actual game) perfectly defines the NES’s 256×224 resolution. Then, padding the extra vertical space on the upper 3DS screen (which has a resolution of 400×240), you have a score, a health bar, a score multiplier, and a life count.

Meanwhile, Virtual Console NES games on 3DS stretch the graphics the 6% or so difference between 224 and 240 pixels, destroying the integrity of the graphics with no means of forcing true resolution. I can’t decide if I’m happier that IntiCreates gets it than I am more annoyed that Nintendo doesn’t. For gods sake, just give all your VC emulation duties to M2 already, Nintendo.

Posted in 2D Gaming, Games. Tagged with , , , .

A new Anatomy project appears

This won’t come as any real surprise to anyone who pays attention to dumb things like my Twitter and Tumblr avatars, but I’ve decided on my next Anatomy of Games project: The Anatomy of Bionic Commando.

I was going to take a little time before jumping (or rather, swinging) into my next Anatomy project, but I had so much fun playing through the game for last week’s video that I wanted to get things rolling while the whole experience was still fresh in my mind. Not that I would complain about having to play again, of course.

Speaking of Anatomy, the next book — which encompasses Mega Man and Mega Man 2 — is just about wrapped up. That’ll be going out in various forms (PDF or physical) to existing Patreon supporters next month as well as going up for sale by the usual venues (Blurb and Gumroad). I’m pretty much done with the layouts, but I’m trying to create some original artwork for the book. Unfortunately I can’t find my graphics tablet stylus, so I guess I need to buy a replacement.

For now, though, please enjoy the adventures of Captain Rad Spencer.

Posted in Blog.

A farewell to Astoria

Today, we reach the end of the anatomy of The Goonies II. I can finally change my Twitter avatar.

140815-annie

I’ve really enjoyed writing this series, although as tends to be the case with thoroughly niche games, very few people have been interested in reading. At the moment I’m trying to decide whether to forge on ahead with Super Mario Bros. 2, tackle Bionic Commando (which I’ve just recently replayed for a video feature)…

…. or make a swerve into left field for something even fewer people will want to read about. Decisions, decisions.

Posted in Anatomy of a Game, Games. Tagged with , , , , , .

By request: The Mac gamer

By request of jjrademan

This blog post is like an episode of Seinfeld: It’s about nothing.

mac

Well, not quite. Macintosh computers (actually, when was the last time Apple called them “Macintoshes”? I think they just became “Macs” around the time the PowerPC chip showed up) do have video games, sometimes — though rarely — exclusively. Speaking as someone who has owned Macs as his sole computing format for more than 20 years, and who likes video games, my life has occasionally intersected with that of the so-called Mac gamer, but I don’t pretend to speak for any of these mythic creatures.

Mac games were actually pretty weird and unique in the olden days, and I actually could see someone being a Macintosh-exclusive gamer in the ’80s. The platform offered (1) mouse-based controls and (2) no color, or at least no guarantee of color support until they stopped selling the Mac SE and pre-PPC PowerBook lines in the mid-’90s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mac games felt a little different from console and DOS counterparts. Another factor there came from the fact that Macintosh had system-level support for graphics, it using a visual interface and all, whereas other computers kind of needed to be tricked in various degrees before they’d display images.

Perhaps naturally, the Macintosh lent itself to slower, more thoughtful games than I was used to on other platforms. Puzzle games, card games, point-and-click adventures like Scarab of Ra and 3 in Three. You’d also find software that would have felt more at home as a free iOS app, like StuntCopter, which consisted entirely of dropping a dude from a helicopter onto a moving cart of hay.

stuntcopter

Maybe it was the stick-man graphics, but I always kind of envisioned this as what the guy from Lode Runner did on his days off.

Even as Macs became more and more of a niche concern moving into the ’90s, the game output for the platform remained surprisingly vibrant. The big graphical adventure releases made their way over from Windows, probably because Myst had proven the Mac a perfectly viable platform for multimedia release, so everything from The Journeyman Project to The Daedalus Encounter showed up on Macs, along with everything from LucasArts both good and bad. Meanwhile, the system had enough interesting exclusive releases (such as Bungie’s oeuvre and pro to-indie games — we called ‘em “shareware” back then) to compensate for the occasional major DOS title that didn’t make it to Mac.

Actually, as I think back on it, Mac gamers enjoyed effective parity with PCs until Doom, which iD didn’t convert to Macs and didn’t get picked up by third parties until after Doom II had already showed up on Mac. Most early “2.5D” first-person shooters made their way over to Mac, but once the genre went full 3D with Quake and left behind the appellation “Doom clone” once and for all, that was all she wrote.

There were probably a few different factors at play here; the Mac had become a vanishing niche as Windows adoption rates increased and Mac rates… didn’t. Hardware acceleration allowed PC owners remarkable choice and power for 3D graphic processing, while Macs came with whatever GPUs Apple deigned to install at the factory. And, frankly, the Mac operating system was a disaster, and Apple’s plans to replace it with something more modern had constantly failed to materialize (look up terms like “Pink,” “Taligent,” and “Copland” sometime for some real tear-jerker reading). It didn’t really make sense to bring hot, cutting-edge games to a system that would struggle to support them both technically and financially.

Even as amazing games like Half-Life and Tribes failed to show up on Apple and faithful Bungie sold its body, and Mac-first action game Halo, to Microsoft, Mac fans clung to what little they could. Blizzard continued to be loyal to the platform, releasing all its games on hybrid discs that included both Windows and Mac installations (which came in handy for finding copies of World of Warcraft at launch — the game sold out everywhere except the Apple Store, because what Windows gamer would bother to shop at the Apple Store?). Stalwart little Spiderweb Software continued to hone its RPG craft for Mac gamers. Even Halo made its way back to Mac, eventually.

The biggest challenge for Mac gamers between 1994 and about 2006 proved to be fundamental compatibility. 1994 saw the move from Motorola’s 68000 chips to the RISC-based PowerPC platform; PPC had backward compatibility with 68K instruction sets, but not in any elegant way (non-native software absolutely crawled). Then in 2001, Apple began to phase out the “classic” OS in favor of the faster, more stable, more versatile OS X — a great move, but once again all pre-OS X software had to run in emulation mode, and that emulation wouldn’t support pre-PPC apps. A few years after that, Apple made the jump from the stagnating PowerPC line to Intel chips… and while Intel systems supported 68K code via emulation, once again it was kind of sluggish and completely locked out pre-OS X software. Basically, there have been four eras of Mac software (Classic, PowerPC Classic, PowerPC OS X, Intel OS X), and everything predating OS X simply doesn’t work on modern systems. Actually, I’m not sure if the system even supports pre-Intel software at all anymore. I think that may have been abandoned with OS X 10.9.

But there’s a happy ending to this sad tale. By bringing its hardware and software architecture more in line with mainstream computers, Apple ultimately opened the door to greater cross-compatibility with Windows games. Like in the old days, they may not show up day and date, but they show up eventually. Steam games frequently arrive with Mac versions in tow, and cool people like GOG.com have slowly added Mac versions of older games that never came to Mac once upon a time (like, yes, Planescape: Torment. You can stop telling me about it now).

I have no idea how this speaks to the universal Mac gamer experience, but from where I’ve sat Mac gaming has been a sad, challenging journey of neglect and public contempt, but those who have stuck it out now enjoy a wealth of options for interesting contemporary and classic games. That being said, I miss the unique character of classic Mac games, both from the old black-and-white ’80s and the defiant screw-you-I’m-gonna-use-a-Mac-anyway ’90s.

Posted in Games. Tagged with .

Thank you, Mikey, you’re the hero of Hyrule!

 heroofhyrule

No, wait, I think I messed that up. Oh well! Anyway, the penultimate chapter of The Anatomy of The Goonies II is up, and you can read it, if you like. I think you should.

Posted in Games. Tagged with , .