Category Archives: Video Games

100 Video Game Challenge (Plus a Mini-Challenge)

Recently I stumbled upon a little challenge that has been gaining some popularity on the internet: the 100 Video Game Challenge. There different iterations of the challenge where you play 100 games in 100 days or play 100 games as fast as possible or play 100 games within the next year. Regardless, there is one constant: 100 video games.

I said what the heck? This could be fun and potentially help build my Twitch following. Plus it will give me a chance to play through games that I missed out on or have been in my library for quite a while. So, I’m building a list of 100 games to play. I don’t think I can get it all done within 100 days but I also don’t think it will take me a whole year. I will, though, play through the list as quickly as I possibly can. No cheats. No warps. Well, maybe the exception will be Contra and the 50 life code.

Here’s the one problem: I am finding it hard to think of 100 games to play.  That means I need your help. If you have any requests or suggestions for games to play go to the Google Docs Spreadsheet I’ve created and add a game(s) to the list: My 100 Game Challenge. Access will be closed at 11:59:59 pm EST Saturday night.

As a part of the 100 Game Challenge, I plan on adding a twist, or a mini-challenge if you will. I turn the big 3-0 on June 4 (oh god!). To commemorate the big day I will play 30 games in 30 days starting Sunday May 4th.

You can watch all of this silliness on my Twitch channel or just go to the Twitch channel page here on my blog.

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MLB 14 The Show: Baseball Simulation at its Best?

This is my favorite time of the year.

Spring is in the air. Or maybe that’s the pollen here in Atlanta?

Regardless, it is still my favorite time of the year because baseball is in full swing once again. There is something spiritual, ethereal even, about opening day. As we joyfully crawl out of winter’s bitterness and life is born anew under the sun’s warmth,  so goes the beginning of the baseball season.  For those that love baseball, the crisp and joyous feeling of Spring air is synonymous with the nation’s pastime.  For those who played or continue to play baseball, that feeling is amplified.

I am in this latter group. Before I could read, before I picked up a video game controller, before I did anything else, I played and love baseball. And I played until there were no longer any options.

When that feeling in the air arrived… when Spring was just rolling out of bed and shaking the sleep off, a switch would flip in me. I would start to get antsy, antsy to find my way on a baseball field. Without even thinking I’d dig my equipment out of my closet and start breaking in my glove and cleats. I’d begin working the kinks out of my swing and let my hands get acclimated to the bat again. When I finally was able to get my hand on a baseball again, it felt as though that which was missing for months was always there.

As March fades into April, I still get these feelings. I still find myself feeling antsy, the desire to swing a bat all but consumes me. Sadly, those days are behind me.  I can’t just grab the equipment and play a pick up game. Plus, I came to the stark reality as a teenager that I wasn’t going to be the starting first baseman for the Chicago Cubs.

I wouldn’t bring a World Series victory to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. My number would never be retired and looked upon in reverence by future Cubs fans. My name would never be spoken within the pantheon of baseball greats.

Well… not in real life that is. Hence my love for the MLB: The Show series from San Diego Studios.  Hell, that’s why I love baseball games in general.

I have played baseball games for over two decades. From Bases Loaded and RBI Baseball for NES to Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball for SNES and Triple Play Baseball for Sega Genesis to the more recent MVP Baseball by EA Sports and the HORRIBLE MLB 2k series.

Some games were hits. Some were huge misses. At some point between Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball for N64 and MVP Baseball 2005 (a truly marvelous baseball game by EA) I came across the early incarnations of the MLB series by 989 Sports (San Diego Studio’s predecessor). I was never a fan of these games. Player models were blocky and graphics were subpar even into the early stages of the PS3. Even the algorithm to calculate stats throughout a simulated season was poorly designed. A season would end where a created player with fairly good skill ratings would hit something like 38 home runs, but only 40 RBIs which meant the player was the king of the solo shot. The game just was not realistic. After about two incarnations I gave up on the series and vowed to never play another 989 Sports baseball game.

Even with the series moving over to San Diego Studios (early 00’s I believe) and adding the”The Show” component, the series fell off of my radar.  With 2k Sports gaining full ownership of the MLB license, I suffered through several years of mediocre–at best–games. The fact that I had access to only a Xbox 360 did not help.

Then I moved in with my current roommate (who owned a PS3) and I was converted over to the Sony side. That was about the same time MLB: The Show entered my life again. I was perusing the nearby Best Buy and MLB 12: The Show’s demo was set up. The game made me stop in my tracks and I played several innings.  I have been hooked on this series ever since. Not only is it one of my favorite sports games, it is one of my favorite games of all time.

San Diego Studios’ attention to detail is astonishing and the atmosphere of the ballpark is spot on. Best of all, the Road to the Show mode allowed me to live out my baseball dreams through a video game.  Even more impressive has been San Diego Studios’ ability to improve upon the previous year’s incarnation; unlike a certain other sports series.

So when the PS4 was announced my mind immediately jumped to the possibilities of how amazing the next-gen version of MLB: The Show could be. All I could do was think about what the game would be like with the power of the PS4.

When early screenshots were released earlier this year, I was definitely impressed.

Now we have gameplay footage.

Such was my response:

neildegrassetysonmindblown

Go ahead. Take the time to watch the videos and marvel in the beauty that is MLB 14: The Show on PS4.

The first video, seen below, simply shows off the stadiums in the PS4 version.

 

The most noticeable change is the immense detail in stadiums. With more horsepower at their hands, SDS were able to add and refine even the smallest things in stadiums. Much like other developers pay attention to the smallest details of a character’s face (SDS does this with player models also), the studio took just as much care with the stadiums.

Ballparks are just as important to baseball as the players on the field. Calling them cathedrals would not be hyperbolic in the least. Walking out to your seat and into the warm embrace of a ballpark can strike the same awe-inspiring feeling one gets when walking into the Notre Dame de Paris or the Haga Sophia or the Winchester Cathedral. Beauty and joy envelope you as the past, present, and future all converge on one magical moment.

San Diego Studios understands this. It is as though they too have experienced that magical moment, and seek to convey their own experience through designing the game’s ballparks. The studio already had this down pact as the ballparks improved with each incarnation over the last few years, but the PS4 takes it to a new level. Surfaces and objects that were flat and one-dimensional pop more than ever. Structures have more depth to them.  You can even see some of the wear and tear in older stadiums. Suffice it to say, I was rather satisfied.

Then, as if my excitement wasn’t already at full tilt, a second video (an interview conducted by PS Nation) was released:

The above video demonstrates why I am so excited about this game.

Some may watch the video and not understand what excites me, but there are details that make it nearly impossible for me to patiently wait for the game’s release.  Admittedly they are small details–details that most may overlook or find inconsequential–but they excite me nonetheless.

The lighting, in particular, is stunning. Watch the short bit of a night game starting at about the 4 min 30 sec mark. Do you see what I’m talking about?

Oh. You don’t? Okay. Watch it again. See that dull glow? The dull glow that comes only from ballpark lights? That’s it! That is what has me excited. Why am I so excited about a mundane lighting effect? Because it is not so mundane to me. That dull glow from the lights, that feeling that comes from playing under the lights can only be experienced or understood by those that have actually played under the lights.

It is an unexplainable feeling; an ethereal experience if you will.  One that stirs up joy and excitement. For a game, just from a simple lighting effect, to incite fond memories of night games and to even make me feel like I am under the lights again, is simply phenomenal. A game studio’s ability to do just this illustrates the power and appeal of a brilliantly made simulation.

*Sigh* May 6th can’t come soon enough.

***Update 4/14/2014*** Playstation and San Diego Studios has just released the below video to show off the change in fielding fly balls. The ball marker is actually influenced by the player’s fielding rating. This may take some getting used to.

 

***Update 4/17/2014*** Playstation and San Diego Studios just released the below video this morning, showing off more gameplay footage. Check out the small things like individual blades off grass being torn up by a diving player. Look again at the details in the stadiums.  Even look at the details of hairstyles, beards, and even the equipment. This game is beautiful.

Video Game Music I Love (Part 1)

The dulcet bleeps and bloops of the wood-paneled Intellivision were my introduction into the world of video games back in 1984. Even as my exposure to the medium took an errant path from system to system, I’ve always had fond memories and a strong appreciation for the music that to this day have stuck with me. Music is something that moves us, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and there is no more obvious case than with video games. Think of the first seven notes of the overworld theme of the original Super Mario Brothers. The rest come flowing forth, like Cartman being exposed to the first few lyrics of Come Sail Away.

I’d like to take a few moments to share with you all the music from games that have moved me and stayed in my mind these past decades.


 

sorYuzo Koshiro
Streets of Rage 2 (1992 – GEN)

There is a phenomenon with many Genesis titles, where the sound and music tend to fall on opposite ends of the quality spectrum. This was because the Yamaha YM2612 FM chip had a lackluster core toolset, but was receptive to highly customized engines. Yuzo Koshiro did things with the Genesis sound hardware that few could even dream of because he programmed his own sound engines. The result was a quintessential dance soundtrack for the Streets of Rage series. These were games I would sometimes put in for the sole purpose of going into the BGM selector in the Options menu and letting those tracks play ad infinitum. Streets of Rage 2 in particular is so chock to the brim with amazing Rave, House, Techno, and Hardcore tunes, that it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Dreamer was selected here because it’s a feel-good and heavy-hitting house track with some amazing melodies.


 

Stha
Motoi Sakuraba
Shining the Holy Ark (1996 – SAT)

Motoi Sakuraba is one of those composers that have been in gaming for a long, long time. Before that, however, he was involved in the Japanese prog rock music scene in the 80s. Once game systems finally had the power to push out more complex arrangements, and pull data from CDs, he let that rock beast out and with a force. On their own, the in-game soundtracks for the Saturn titles Shining Force III and Shining the Holy Ark had a very ‘live performance’ flair to it, his roots showing through with flowing synths and full drum sets. The arranged soundtracks, however, bend into full on amazing prog rock sessions, complete with organ and keyboard solos, repeated attacking rhythms, and some amazing percussion. The selected track Prelude/Lure from the Eclipse was selected because it’s a fantastic example of transition from tradition to freewheeling rock. (Also because Sega recently went on a Youtube claim rampage and nuked most of the other posted songs…)


 valis3
Michiko Naruke, Minoru Yuasa, Takaharu Umezu
Valis III (1991 – GEN/PCE-CD)

 Valis III was one of my most rented games from the Blockbuster Video right outside of Killeen Mall when I lived in Harker Heights, Texas back in 6th grade. One of its strongest points is its outstanding soundtrack. There’s a very 90s anime quality to the way it drives you, which is fitting, given the style of the game itself. Each of the stages had a radically different sound to the music, but for me, all of it was memorable. Personally, I played (and still love) the Genesis version of the game. They released a version for the PC Engine (aka TurboGrafix) CD system that had a fully arranged soundtrack, greatly improving on the Genesis versions. Valis Sword! is the theme for the second stage (Dream World) and hands down my favorite from the game.


 

Sonic3
Brad Buxer, Cirocco Jones, Michael Jackson, Sachio Ogawa, Masaru Setsumaru, Yoshiaki Kashima, Tatsuyuki Maeda, Tomonori Sawada, Masayuki Nagao, Jun Senoue, Miyoko Takaoka, Masanori Hikichi
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994 – GEN)

Going from Sonic 2 to Sonic 3, you could immediately tell there was something far more daring about the music. How from act to act, the music would change, remixing and reprising the themes. There was a more pronounced swagger and soul to it all, sourced from something that was only revealed but many years thereafter. The songs exuded the hipness of the early 90s. Tracks carried the more modern stylings of New Jack Swing R&B and bass-heavy hip hop, busting out with synthesized voice samples, the sound of glass breaking, and wild percussion hits. When it was revealed that Michael Jackson and his sound team had indeed worked on the music for Sonic 3, it only made sense, and it was all the better for that experience. The selected track, Hydrocity Zone Act 2, I feel captures the very essence of MJ’s style.


Grandia
Noriyuki Iwadare
Grandia (1997 – SAT/PSX)

It’s difficult to talk about Grandia’s soundtrack without conjuring up some vivid memories of playing the Saturn import while I was living in Germany back in 1998. The soundtrack as a whole is a symphony of music fitting an adventure of Grandia’s scope. From the larger than life fanfares, to the ethnic winds and percussions of the village themes, to the driving guitar chords and lines in the combat themes. The music complimented the game so well, it’s hard to really put into words. When one does play it, and I’d urge everyone to do so if possible, it becomes clear as day. In any case, Iwadare is something of a renaissance man when it comes to composition, as he’s been involved in games, television, films, and theater in Japan, and his music exudes his myriad experience. The selection from this soundtrack is Mullen, an expertly made military march that just might have the best ending and stinger in the business.


Drakengard
Takayuki Aihara, Nobuyoshi Sano
Drakengard (2003 – PS2)

The soundtrack to Drag-On Dragoon (aka Drakengard, outside of Japan) is one of the most unique and unbelievably experimental I’ve ever heard. It is also very fitting, given the game’s stark-raving mad atmosphere and story. Aihara and Sano somehow capture discordant chaos and sheer noise, and mesh it into music. Formed mostly from brief samples from dozens of classical pieces and layered with original orchestrations to bring it all together, they create a mad landscape of grandiose orchestral sound, looped furiously, and somehow succeed with flying colors. Seriously, this is one of those collections of songs that have to be heard to be believed. I’ve selected Fifth Chapter (In the Sky) to preview here, because it’s one of the most powerful of the soundtrack, and has a progression to it grounded in classical composition. Some of the other songs on this are just…out there. In a good way, mind you, but if you do want to explore this soundtrack more, try to keep an open mind.


pds
Saori Kobayashi, Mariko Nanba
Panzer Dragoon Saga (1998 – SAT)

I love the Panzer Dragoon games, if for any reason, for the fact that it’s strikingly unique visual style and memorable music paint and elaborate and alien picture. One of small desert villages, odd creatures, and earth-tones zeppelins and airships. Panzer Dragoon Saga took what was a pretty well known rail shooter, and turned it into an amazing full-scale RPG. Everything meshed together in an unforgettable experience that many still hold in high regard today (Buying the English version of the game will run you least $200 on ebay). The music in this game has a primarily ethnic soul to it, representing the rural and lonely landscapes in the game, with lots of asian and middle eastern wind and percussion instrumentation. As a complement to this, you have the empire and it’s expansive military, charged musically with fast snares and a more classical wind and string arrangements. The two collide throughout the soundtrack, and create a mystical setting. The selected track here that really defines that amalgamation is the theme of the Imperial Air Force.


I encourage you all to give these a listen and expand your video game music horizons. Hopefully I’ve given you a look into my personal music tastes. I’ll be back next week to round this list out.

Until next time.
平和。

My Favorite Video Games of All Time, Part One

I have been a gamer for as long as I can remember. In fact, I recall the moment I became a gamer like it was yesterday.

It was Christmas of 1989. I was 5 1/2 years old. Of course I kept track of the half years. It was easy since my birthday is in June. Plus I think I began showing my small OCD quirks then also. Oh well.

I clearly remember desiring a NES like nothing I had ever desired before. This was the quintessential gift. It was my Red Ryder BB Gun (and yes I am reading that in Ralphie’s voice). My life was incomplete, imperfect, pointless without it. If I could somehow acquire the NES my life would be a never-ending, joyous cacophony of bleeps, bloops, and 8-bit music in all of its glory.

When my parents told me there was no way I would get one, I was understandably heartbroken. I was distraught.

Then to my surprise (which about killed me because of the sheer level of unabashed joy I felt) we woke up Christmas morning with the NES set up on the living room television.

Years later I found out that my father had stayed up playing it Christmas Eve while we were asleep.

Fast forward twenty-five years and eleven consoles later, I am still hooked. While I’ve never struggled with an addiction to video games like some do, they have still been a part of my life. They have been cathartic in ways.

So it was only natural that I’d eventually post my list of favorite video games of all time.

My list is just that, my list. I understand that some of you will disagree with some of my selections. Some of you may be upset over some games that I leave out. But once again, this is my list. I didn’t get to play some games that others played. I missed the RPGs that were big in the last 25 years. My choices reflect my experience as a gamer.

Since I did not want the post to be incredibly long, I have broken my list up into parts. Do keep in mind that the games are in no particular order.

Duck Hunt (NES)

Duck Hunt2

Why did Duck Hunt make it onto my list? It was the very FIRST video game I ever played. If nothing else the game is here for pure nostalgia, and that is pretty much the only reason.

Sports Talk Baseball

SportsTalkBaseball

I know. This is an obscure game. Many of you probably haven’t even heard of it. It was part of a series along with Sports Talk Football, and other sports. The reason for the game being on the list can be found in its name. The “Sports Talk” series was the first to introduce recorded play-by-play commentary in a sports game. My brother and I, who had played baseball games since the original Bases Loaded and RBI Baseball games, were used to playing nine innings in silence; except for the RBI baseball pop fly sound effect.

To now have commentary, albeit simple commentary, completely blew our minds. You mean that there is someone giving commentary on what we just did? Holy. Crap.

Commentary is obviously commonplace in modern games. Commentary has even become a point of contention with certain games. At the time of Sports Talk Baseball’s release, though, it was a new and amazing thing.

 

The Simpsons Arcade Game

TheSimpsonsArcade

I can’t tell you the countless amount of quarters I spent on this game. Not only was this cabinet at the local arcade, it was also at the local movie theater. Double the chances to play! In what I believe to be the golden era of side-scrolling, beat ’em up video games, this was one of the best. Simple yet great button smashing attacks combined with the Simpsons’ slapstick humor provides endless fun that sticks with a young child for years after.

Even at a young age I understood the concept of a hit box and ranged weapons, and I became very skilled with Marge. The Simpsons Arcade helped me learn how to use these aspects of video games to my advantage. In fact,  the knowledge I gained playing the game still benefits me to this day.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (Arcade Version)

TMNT-TheArcadeGame

TMNT: The Arcade Game (not the NES version) is in the same vein as The Simpsons Arcade Game.  In fact, this cabinet was right next to The Simpsons cabinet at the local theater. Whatever quarters did not go to The Simpsons went to TMNT. I was obsessed with TMNT. Add that to my growing obsession with video games and endless fun was had.

Beyond the pure enjoyment of the game, TMNT was paramount to the evolution of the arcade game in the early 1990s. For one, TMNT: The Arcade Game was a pioneer during which large, licensed machines began to improve in quality.  Unlike harder side-scrolling beat ’em up games such as Double Dragon, TMNT: The Arcade Game was much more widely accessible. It was a fair game where enemies and bosses (especially the bosses) were not impossible to defeat. This, with the widespread popularity of the cartoon and action figures, made the game widely accessible.

The game’s aesthetics didn’t hurt either. Colors just popped off the screen. Characters looked great. The game just looked amazing.

TMNT: The Arcade Game will forever remain one of my favorites.

WinBack (N64)

OperationWinBackN64

I would never have played WinBack had I not stumbled upon it at Blockbuster. I don’t remember the game(s) I wanted to rent. Either way, the games I desired were rented out (which was usually my luck) and I didn’t want to leave empty handed. Then this cover got my eye. I had just started to get into third-person shooters after recently playing Mission: Impossible, and this seemed similar. Nothing could have prepared for me for the gem I had found.

From beginning to end, WinBack was an action-packed, exciting game. It truly was my entry into third-person shooters and solidified my love for the genre. More importantly, my love for WinBack is directly connected to its pioneering role in the evolution of third-person shooters.

WinBack was the first game to introduce the modern cover system as we know it. Prior to the game’s release in 1999, there were types of cover systems, but they were simple cover systems. Other than 1998’s Metal Gear Solid for Playstation, most games utilizing a cover system were just run and gun shooters. Cover was just scattered debris to hide behind. Or like in Metal Gear Solid, the cover system was just a function to peek around walls to look for enemies. It served little to no combat function and was done by just shifting Solid snake from wall to wall.

For the first time in a third-person shooter, the player is forced out of the run and gun approach and into a more strategic approach. Now there was finally a single button devoted to cover. The player had to use this system intelligently by stopping and hiding behind a crate, etc, and then popping out to shoot. This forever changed my approach to third-person shooters and, I would argue, the genre as a whole. Although subsequent cover systems were more developed, WinBack’s undoubtedly served as the catalyst for the cover system we know today

Here’s a great example of the gameplay in WinBack:

 

WCW vs NWO Series (N64)

Yes. I was a fan of wrestling as a child, and I love wrestling video games just as much. From the earliest games for NES (WWF Wrestlemania and WCW Wrestling) to Sega Genesis and SNES versions (WWF Raw, WWF Royal Rumble, WCW SuperBrawl), the 90s saw a plethora of great wrestling games. Wrestling games changed drastically with THQ’s WCW video games in the late 90s.

The genre took its first large leap forward with the release of WCW vs NWO: World Tour in 1997. Great graphics (re: at the time), an extensive roster, and a terrific wrestling simulation made for a near perfect game. So how did this game change the genre?

A grappling system. WCW vs NWO: World Tour brought wrestling games back to the heart of wrestling itself: grappling. Combat in previous wrestling games was more like fighting games. Either you could smash buttons to perform strong and/or weak attacks, or punch in a string of buttons to perform a certain move. In World Tour all moves flowed out of the grapple, and the type of moves were by determined by the type of grapple (strong or weak). In the end, AKI’s grappling system served as the foundation for every subsequent wrestling game.

 

1998’s WCW/NWO: Revenge built on the foundation established by the first game. The already revolutionary grapple system from the previous year’s game was improved adding more moves to choose from when grappling and even a combo system.

In this sequel, THQ’s desire to make the experience even more like the real thing was explicit. Actual arenas such as Monday Night Nitro, Bash at the Beach, Starcade, etc. were added. WCW’s championship titles were added and players could compete for them with a wrestler of their choice.  The roster grew much larger. They even added each wrestler’s ring entrances. For the first time a wrestling game felt like an actual event one could see on television.

In my opinion, these two games set the precedent for wrestling games. From the grappling system to create-a-wrestler, modern games have a lot to thank THQ for as every wrestling game since has built upon the WCW/NWO series’ foundation.

Why I No Longer Play Online

During the craze that came with Xbox Live’s inception, I used to play online a lot. I was NEVER any good at the popular FPS games, and I don’t mind admitting that. FPS games are just not my thing.

After a while I grew weary of online multi-player and have not participated in years. I’ll still play the occasional MMORPG, but that is about it. The reason for my not playing is because of the players and the culture of online gaming.

It wasn’t because they were better than me. I went in knowing that. I just wanted to give it a try. It was because of the way people acted. A few profane words here and there won’t bother me. I am a Martin Scorsese fan after all. The bigoted and racist nature of players became the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So to stumble across an article on Kotaku bringing light to the nature of online gaming culture made me happy. To then find out a player is putting it upon himself to do this work made me even happier.

To read more about go to: http://kotaku.com/meet-the-guy-looking-to-expose-online-gamings-worst-je-1543059597.

You can also watch videos at the gamer’s YouTube channel: The Bigot Gamer.

Please feel free to discuss your experiences, or whether the gamer’s approach is the right way to deal with this problem.

Shaq is Back for Some More Fu-n

I’ll probably get some slack for this, but I was always a fan of Shaq Fu (SNES and Sega).

I mean I still think it’s among the worst games ever made, but that does not make it any less of a guilty pleasure for me.

Maybe it was because I didn’t take it seriously or because the game didn’t seem to take itself seriously. Or maybe it was because I was just a little better at the game than Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter.

Shhh. No comments from the peanut gallery. I redeemed myself by getting good at Killer Instinct.

Well it appears that not only is Shaq returning to the video game universe, he’s dusting off the old kung fu…. er…. Shaq fu moves.

According to Kotaku, Shaq and his team have announced plans for a sequel to Shaq Fu entitled Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn. 

Take a quick look at the teaser:

 

Admittedly, I am a little excited for this. From what we can see in the teaser, the game appears to be true to Shaq’s sense of humor and personality.

At the moment, Shaq has an Indiegogo campaign going with a goal of $450,000.

Personally, I think this could be a fun game. But that’s just me.