RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Mar 1st 2011 at 08:41:33 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take

The Demise of the Video Game Manual

 


The other evening I opened up NBA 2K11 and was presented with the following on page 1 of the miniscule documentation (4 pages in total):

Download the COMPLETE NBA 2K11 manual at
http://www.2kgames.com/manual/NBA2K11


Reading those dreaded words officially ended my naive hopes that my gaming partner would recover from the years of cropping and truncating.  Though I was aware that the end was nearing (Ubisoft), my old friend known as the Video Game Manual was at long last on its final legs.   

 
Back in the day, tearing open a new video game was pure exhilaration.  Not only did I finally acquire that cherished title, but I couldn't wait to check out its mandatory sidekick - the Video Game Manual.  As much as the software itself, I was stoked to check out those glossy, colorful pages that would detail the various ins and outs for my upcoming gaming adventure.  What surprises lay in store for me?  Would it give me some secret tips in addition to that somewhat-mandatory "Notes" page to scrawl my cheat codes. high scores and the like?

For those old-timers out there, this anticipation was akin to slipping the jacket out of a new vinyl purchase.  You did so in a very slow, calculated manner in hopes that this meticulous action would somehow ensure the ultimate payoff - song lyrics imprinted upon the album sleeve.  Ripping into a new video game purchase was much the same.  For my hard earned cash, I was eagerly expecting to be rewarded in some manner in addition to the game itself.  For the most part, the publisher did not disappoint.  They took great pride in the production and content of their game manuals. Screenshots were showcased in addition to providing 'survival tips', background story, team rosters and sometimes even a game map. You never knew what might be encompassed within, or accompany, the instructions.  It was like opening up a box of Cracker Jacks as a kid.

Sadly, those magical moments are nearing its end.


Final Fantasy III really gave gamers a bang for their buck!!

For the most part, budgetary and environmental initiatives have basically castrated the Video Game Manual. Don't get me wrong - I want to save a tree as much as the next guy.  I am all for utilizing technology to reduce manufacturing expense and the overall ecological footprint of production.  That being said, the instruction booklet is an integral part of the overall experience for this old school gamer and should not be the sacrificial lamb.  The joy of simply reading through that gaming goodness prepared me for the upcoming experience.  I can't quite put it into words, but I could feel myself getting completely immersed in the game after studying a well produced manual prior to actually playing it.

Yes, I grant you that I may just be feeling nostalgic at the moment.  I miss the days of finding those hidden gems within that game packaging.  I find myself being pleasantly surprised less and less as the years go by.  Of course, this is a sign of old age coupled with dawn of the digital era. Still, I will miss my cherished compadre. The glory days of the Video Game Manual have unfortunately come to an end.

Unless, of course, you decide to purchase the Limited Edition version.
   

Do you miss the Video Game Manual?
Which ones were among your favorites?




Posted on Feb 21st 2011 at 06:37:46 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, General Gaming

Most Hated Gaming Missions

This weekend I was blessed with the unthinkable - an absolutely blank calendar.

For the first time in nearly two months, the madness known as 'social obligations' had thankfully subsided for a couple of days.   My internal battery had been running on fumes for quite a while, so this break was more than welcomed.   I was not about to waste this momentary reprieve.   What better way to recharge than to bust out a new video game!

With my freedom firmly secured, I ripped open Two Worlds II with a passion that would rival even the best TV evangelist.  Within minutes, my Hero was once again dispatching the dark minions that foolishly chose to take up residence in the mythical world of Antaloor.  My melee warrior grew more powerful by the hour as he decimated the parasites that stood in his path.  Similar to his experience meter, I could actually feel myself being reenergized as my gaming night progressed; sort of like my soul 'leveling up'.  Life was once again in balance for me, or so it would seem until a ridiculous mission reared its ugly mug before my virtual GI - a stealth assignment!

Two Worlds II screenshot

This wasn't the part that stumped me in TW II, but it is completely applicable to my anguish.

Are you kidding me?  I had carefully crafted my Hero to be the super tank for all ages, but now he was obligated to complete some seemingly random, clandestine operation for the story to progress.  What's up with that nonsense?  The bliss enjoyed merely moments ago quickly vanished.  Necessitating this unnatural tactic upon my champion was the equivalent to a swift kick to my spiritual grill.  I love a good challenge and all, but sometimes jamming a square peg into a round hole just doesn't cut it.  

Frustrated to no end, I quickly hit the Save button and ended my gaming session.  I sat there thinking to myself how much I truly despised this type of Alter-Ego adventure.  If I were top dog overseeing this game project, after several failed attempts I would have allowed an "Annihilate All" gamer option of dealing with the problem at hand.  Sure, the rewards would not be as great as accomplishing the goal as originally instructed, but at least the player could proceed and continue to get their game on.

The following are other types of missions that truly tend to spike my blood pressure, and not in a good way.

Timed Missions
 
GTA III screenshot

The GTA series is known for their timed missions, and I respect that.  Too bad I suck at them.

Being a more casual gamer, I prefer to enjoy the gaming experience at a steady pace rather than always being in 5th gear. Timed Missions are my antithesis. Initially, I love the adrenaline flow that immediately occurs when that ticking clock unexpectedly pops up in the right hand corner of your display. But once the countdown begins in full earnest, I am singing a completely different tune - one of panic and stress. Don't get me wrong, I do like the pressure that accompanies missions of this sort. That being said, I don't want to put through the agony of attempting to complete a timed objective 30 consecutive times just to continue the story (I am looking at you GTA). Yeah, I know, this type may be targeted by me due to my gaming futility. But regardless if I stink, it wouldn't kill the developers to throw me a few outs, or workarounds, at the very least.

Bad Vehicle Missions
   
Mass Effect screenshot

Driving that Mako in the original Mass Effect was anything but enjoyable.

I love driving a rad car/boat/ship/etc. as much as the next guy, but it needs to be properly executed. There are very few things worse than sticking it to the man with a crappily controlled mode of transportation. It is frustrating as hell to maneuver a poorly engineered (programmed) POS, but on top of that to expect us to achieve any sort of objective is ludicrous. I don't care if it is a horse, hover craft, whatever, please triple the time you spend on QA testing in this area prior to incorporating into any game. Like my parents preached to me as an adolescent, just because you can do something son doesn't necessarily mean you should (a lesson Mass Effect 2 thankfully took to heart).

Escort Missions


Resident Evil 4 screenshot

Zombie killing machine one moment, protecting an innocent the next.  Shame on you RE 4.

You know the drill.  Deliver some random, computer controlled being/convoy from Point A to Point B, hoping they don't get massacred along the way.  I think developers want us to feel some type of emotional attachment to these NPC idiots.  First off, I really don’t give a rat's ass if they get butchered - I am just doing this quest for the loot and experience points.  Secondly, if you are going to burden me with this dolt, at least program them properly.  It's bad enough that I have to protect someone who only has a sliver of HP/protection to begin with compared to our foes, but then you saddle them with programming afflictions as well.  All of them are either slow of foot, unfocused, confused or too brave for their own good.  Give them (and me) a fighting chance for goodness sake! 

I realize that I may be somewhat venting due to the cruel twist of fate that befell my gaming session this weekend.  Regardless, every gamer out there has certain types of missions that they absolutely hate.  I'd love to hear about yours, but I just found out that my lady friend scheduled a dinner party for this evening (without my knowledge) and I have to run.  I guess the internal recharging for this INTJ is coming to an end.

In all honesty, that 'stealth assignment' for my Two Worlds II warrior is looking pretty good to me right about now.  Smiley

What Gaming Missions Do You Completely Hate?




Posted on Oct 27th 2010 at 07:27:40 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, MGs Gaming Take, PC Gaming

Gaming Flashback
Vintage PC Gaming & Memory Management

 
After enduring countless badgering sessions from my lady friend, I finally relented this past weekend and agreed to clean up her computer.  Mind you I am not a selfish person, but she is rather "download" happy and I was relatively sure this stint was not going to be a quick enema of the Startup menu.  Sad to say, I was not disappointed.

After adjusting her desk chair for normal human use (she is only 5' tall), I proceeded to fire up her PC and was greeted (after 5 minutes of boot time) with a plethora of system tray icons - 18 in total!  Her system was so crippled and memory starved that ToolTips displayed after a 20 second delay.  Needless to say I was disgusted by this mess, but at the same time rather invigorated by the challenge of freeing up precious RAM for this abused Compaq Presario.  The task at hand reminded me of the old days when memory management and PC gaming went hand-in-hand.
 

 
I bought my first personal computer back in 1989, an IBM PC compatible Packard Bell 386. This set me back $1,689 and truly had me living on white bread and generic peanut butter for the entire 12 month financing period. I didn't care - PC Gaming (at that time) blew away anything that was available on the consoles. I assumed that software for this new device would be basically like their console counterparts (plug-n-play), just with vastly superior graphics and game play.  I dove into this technological pool head first with eager anticipation.  My exuberance quickly changed to one of confusion after installing my first game, Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Upon typing in the executable command (there were no menus back then), I was greeted with the DOS text message: "Insufficient memory to perform requested operation", quickly followed by:

Just like a blank Word document is to an author with writer's block, this flashing prompt was intimidating to say the least.  To this computing nubile, this was the modern day equivalent of the Windows Blue Screen of Death.  I had no idea how to respond to that relentless blinking cursor.  A lesson was quickly learned while I blankly stared at the monochrome display: a certain proficiency in the abstruse DOS language would be required if I wanted to partake in PC Gaming.

You have to remember that Windows (or Mac/Linux/etc.) was not a standard in 1989 - it was basically DOS. There were no memory optimization programs at the time. You were left to your own devices to configure the allocation of this precious resource known as RAM.  There was but one method available to monitor this critical component - the beloved MEM command (sample shown below).

The key for early PC Gaming was to free as much Conventional Memory as possible, while ensuring that you still loaded your various device drivers (mouse, CD drive, sound card, etc.).  This was accomplished by the editing of two critical system files - Autoexec.bat and Config.sys.  Let me tell you, this was not an easy task and was basically a trial and error procedure.  I won't bore you with the details, but for nostalgic purposes and as a tribute to us old farts here is a sample screen shot.

Basically it became a game of Tetris while you juggled various commands/drivers into the High Memory Area to relieve the strain on the core resources of the system for applications.  This "Quest for Memory" became almost an obsession during the era of vintage PC gaming.  I vividly remember the first time I was able to get my Conventional Memory above the magical 600KB threshold - man was I stoked!!

Though it is true that managing RAM is just as important in today's modern age of PC Gaming, I can't really say that I received the same level of satisfaction once I got done lobotomizing my lady friend's computer.  Sure, I was happy with the end result but it did not resonate the pure joy that accompanied like accomplishments back in the day.

After this past weekend, I am glad that this mundane task is not as arduous as it once was.  That being said, the pure adrenaline rush that I experienced in finally being able to fire up Quest for Glory will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Thanks for taking a trip down the PC Gaming memory lane with me.


 
 

What are your fond memories of vintage PC Gaming?





Posted on Jul 14th 2010 at 06:59:49 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take

The True Holy Grails
of Video Game Hardware

"The Majors"

 
We have already established that the term Holy Grail is a highly subjective adjective in the first part of this series, along with identifying systems 11-20 of those that 98PaceCar and I deem worthy of this lofty title.  We now move on to the Top 10 - those systems that truly are the center pieces in any hardware collection.

As in the past article, we limited ourselves to considering the standard release of a console (no crazy development units, clones, protos or LE/SE editions).

As in any collecting field, the more obscure and rare and item is directly impacts its price.  We did not list any suggested prices for any of these systems, but some descriptors will give you a pretty good idea of their value in terms of cold hard cash (along with availability).

Most of the following consoles are unknown to the standard gamer.  These are systems that basically should be targeted by only the most serious  hardware collector and require substantial investment.  Finding these at all will take considerable effort (for the most part).

OK, let's get to it - the Top 10 Holy Grails for the hardware collector.

The True Holy Grails of Video Game Hardware - The Majors.
 

    

 

10.  Bandai Pippin @WORLD

 
In 1995, Apple Computer Inc. joined the console foray by finishing the development of a system based on a scaled down version of their System 7 OS. Named the Pippin, Apple followed the 3DO Company's lead by licensing this technology to an outside manufacturer - Bandai Digital Entertainment.  The Bandai Pippin @WORLD is the North American release of this console.  It is estimated that only 5,000 of these were sold during its limited lifespan.
 

 

09.  Funtech Super A'Can

 
In 1995, Funtech Entertainment Corporation released the first original gaming system in Taiwan - the Super A'Can. Produced and sold exclusively in its native country, the console and controllers feel very fragile, constructed of thin plastics that belies its strong, dark grey outwardly appearance and extremely high price tag.  Very few of these systems were sold, and it has been reported that Funtech Entertainment Corporation lost $6 million USD in this venture. This is a hard one to acquire since it does have a pretty strong cult following due to the obscurity of this system.
  

 

08.  APF Imagination Machine

 
In late 1978, a company by the name of APF Technologies released a simple cartridge based system similar to other consoles on the market named the APF M1000.  The console itself could then be "docked" to the MPA-10 to create a hybrid computer. The combined unit became the APF Imagination Machine and provided the BASIC program language, keyboard, 9K of RAM and could be expanded to 17K RAM, color graphics and a built in cassette recorder.  Finding a complete system is extremely difficult due to the fact that these are cherished by collectors from the era (both video game and computer enthusiasts).
 

 

07.  Entex Adventure Vision

 
Released in 1982 to a lukewarm reception, the Adventure Vision had only about a year lifespan on the market before it was pulled. The consoles that were sold were fragile and troublesome, so few have survived to today. This makes it difficult to find a working example and nearly impossible to find one for a low price. It's estimated that only 10,000 of the consoles were made.  Few other consoles have the star power of the Adventure Vision. It's a well known grail item that any true collector will have at least heard of. The only downside to hunting for one is that you will often find yourself bidding against hand held collectors as well as console collectors, making the interested audience that much bigger. If you want to add an Adventure Vision to your collection, you had better be ready to break out the checkbook.
 

 

06.  Casio PV-1000

 
Casio of Japan, known for their line of calculators, decided to cash in on the console videogame craze. In 1983 Casio produced the PV-1000 console.  This Japanese exclusive was below average compared to the competition (Sega SG-1000 and the Nintendo Famicom) when it debuted and met its demise quickly. This is an extremely rare item and only recommended for the ultra-serious console collector.  This console lacks the fanfare of the some earlier entries, but is actually more difficult to find due to its limited run.
 

 

05.  Capcom CPS Changer

 
In 1994, Capcom decided to follow SNK's lead in the Neo Geo AES and released the CPS Changer.   Based entirely upon existing arcade hits, this system produced excellent quality and game play.  This system is a new addition to a very lucky member of the VGCL team - 98PaceCar.  Both of us have been hunting for this system for quite a long time and have only seen it available on Yahoo-Japan once or twice.  Only 11 titles were released for this Japanese system.  This system is extremely pricey - expect to be competing with arcade collectors as well when trying to acquire this treasure.
 

 

04.  Bandai SuperVision 8000

 
Notable game developer Bandai was very involved in hardware development and manufacturing beginning in 1977 with its popular line of TV-Jack pong based consoles (six total releases within two years). Building on their mild success in this arena, the Bandai Super Vision 8000 debuted in 1979 and was the very first programmable game cartridge system released in Japan (before Sega and Nintendo). This system is one of the least known amongst collectors, but its place in history is unquestioned and is truly a milestone in any collection.
 

 

03.  Daewoo Zemmix Turbo CPG-120

 
Korean based Daewoo produced the Zemmix CPG-120 console (Zemmix in Korean means "It's Fun") that was the pinnacle of its line of MSX based systems.  This console was basically a MSX computer in a console casing. It was an NTSC based machine capable of playing MSX cartridge games.  All Zemmix systems are expensive and rare, but this 'UFO' anomaly is a true grail for the hardware enthusiast.  Be prepared to dig out and sell any gold fillings you may have - this console is a serious investment.
 

 

02.  Katz Media Player KMP 2000

 
The Katz Media Player is the European release of the Bandai Pippin ATMARK (itself a rather obscure system).  98PaceCar and I have never seen one of these for sale in all of our combined years of collecting hardware.  This may be a questionable entry to this list since there is some speculation if this system was actually sold for retail.  I can not even guess what it would take to acquire one of these beasts.  If you were married to Jessica Biel, expect to pimp her for a good two years straight to pay for this peach. 
 

 

01.  RDI Halcyon

 
For the console collector, there are no systems that will match the rarity of the RDI Halcyon. If you are fortunate enough to locate one, it will be the centerpiece of any collection.  Little is known about the true production of the system and it is a non-confirmed rumor that the system was even available at retail. Current information tells us that no more than 10 units were built for the investors of the company, all of them by hand.  It doesn't get any better than this folks - welcome to the true holy grail of video game hardware!!
 

 
 Did We Miss Any Consoles from our Two Part Series?
 

   Happy Hunting!! 





Posted on Jun 21st 2010 at 08:27:53 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, MGs Gaming Take

No Soup For You!!!

 
As I grow more experienced in life (a.k.a. get old), I find myself becoming less patient and accommodating for daily idiocies that I once blew off without a moment's thought. I'm a pretty easy going guy, but there are quite a few things that are truly beginning to torque me off.

   o Clueless dolts talking on their cell phone in the check-out line at CVS
   o The Fire Sauce Gestapo at the Taco Bell drive through window
   o Two foot long receipt for my $0.99 Tic-Tacs purchase
   o Idiots taking up three spots because they don't know how to parallel park
   o My lady friend for making me sit through the Housewives of New York City

When it comes to video gaming, there is one specific pet peeve of mine that is really starting to get my BP fluctuating as of late - the "No Soup For You!!" attitude of game developers. Let me explain.
 

 
Like most gamers, I follow certain series and can't wait for the next release. I'd like to think of myself as an investor in these franchises - without forking down my hard-earned coin for their games there would never be any sequel.  So what do I get in return for my loyalty, financial backing and continued support? You guessed it - usually NOTTA.

There are some exceptions to the rule, but for the most part very few titles in the post 16-bit era allow you to import data from your previous adventure/season/etc. I am not necessarily looking to start off a new gaming venture with my super-human character from a last installment - that would basically ruin the new game experience/fun. But I admit I do want a little "sumthin-sumthin". Give me some bad-ass sword, first pick in the draft, a special mission, whatever. Recognize that I am a loyal follower of your series (as well as a suido-shareholder).

I am happy to see new game releases like Mass Effect 2 that will actually take notice and compensate me for beefing up my Shephard in ME1.  In my humble opinion, the employment of this "thanks for your loyalty" programming strategy should be the rule rather than the exception.

There is no excuse why developers can't show us some love for our continued patronage of their respective gaming series. With today's technology and expanded media formats, they can surely squeeze in a few 0's and 1's to at least recognize our past efforts. It's bad enough that my wallet is getting brutalized like a contestant on Hell's Kitchen for DLC and the like. Throw me a bone (extra lives, cool outfit, a retro car, etc.) - I have earned it!!!

Give me my soup!!


The Quest For Glory series allowed me to import and grow Gabriel, my Paladin who dished out more pain than a 24 hour dentist.


Suikoden II did it the best (regarding importing data), rewarding players by being able to welcome back old friends.
 

Is my point of view coming from left field?  What are your thoughts?




Posted on Feb 16th 2010 at 09:05:25 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, MGs Gaming Take


The Online Gaming Leveler
 
The Answer To Being Competitive in Today's Virtual World
 

 
My little brother (age 35) has been pestering me for months to get with the times and pick up a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I was extremely hesitant - getting beat on like a piñata by a group of 'any' year olds is not my idea of a fun time. He promised that I could ease into it with the help of his online posse (team CoDa). I reluctantly agreed and picked up a copy this past weekend.

Picture courtesy of GameSpy

Once logging in and becoming acquainted with my new 'squad', I have to admit that I was feeling rather stoked! "I love the smell of napalm in the morning...  Smells like...  victory" kept playing over and over in my head. With my newly found confidence, I marched proudly alongside my Band of Brothers onto the virtual battlefield. The action was furious, explosions were breathtaking and the adrenaline rush I experienced was one of the best I have had in quite some time. The end result:

Marriott_Guy --> 0 Kills, 1 Assist, 19 Deaths

Of course I knew the upcoming verbal assault I was about to endure would dwarf the shellacking that ‘earned’ me those numbers. They did not disappoint – the comments were fired out at a rate to rival the M240 machine gun. My personal favorite: "Dude, no offense, but are you 'special' or something?". After taking my medicine like a man (much like the round after round of head shots I recently absorbed), I quietly exited the PS3 playground to console myself. I am no match at all for today's gamers.
 

 
Being an older gamer (43), I fully accept and understand that I will not be able to master any of the newer titles due to my limited time resources. However, I would like to think that I could at least be somewhat competitive and not be viewed as 'dead money' every time I enter the virtual arena. There has to be a way to level the playing field for the old guard.

I am extremely analytical and attempted to statistically dissect this (a.k.a. my own futility). Here are the results:


 

Statistical Sample Size = 1 (me)

As is clearly evident from the above, I just can not keep up with the ever increasing number of Controller Action Buttons (and associated combos). This button escalation mirrors the expansion of the general obligations and responsibilities in my life. The net result of these two corresponding phenomenon equates to less time for gaming for us old farts. I don't know about you, but being the glutton of punishment every time I venture into an online gaming session is not my Cup o' Joe. Fear not grey beards, a solution does exist - the Online Gaming Leveler (OGL). Here is how it works:

(

Total Hours Gaming Per Week

)

=

OGL

(Age) X (# of Controller Buttons)

The OGL is a percentage that is used as a multiplier against the maximum level for a certain game statistic (i.e. Health Points).  Basically, this provides a handicap for the less experienced player (blue hairs and casual gamers).  The following table will demonstrate this in action:

Sample OGL Demonstration

Game Information

Game Name

Name of your game

Platform \ System

Microsoft Xbox 360

# of Controller Buttons

10

Player Information

Name

Marriott
Guy

Young
Buck
Little
Brother
Da' Old
Man

Age

43

16

35

62

Hours Gaming Per Week

10

30

15

2

OGL

2.33%

18.75%

4.29%

0.32%

Leveling the Field  - The OGL Modified Statistic

Max Health Points

1,000

1,000

1,000

1,000

Less OGL

23

188

43

3

Net Health Points

977

813

957

997


I arbitrarily chose 1,000 as the being the Maximum Health Points for the example in the table above.  I used a variety of ages to compare the control group (me) to show how the OGL formula works.  I am sure you will agree that the advantage of having 16.42% more Health Points than the Young Buck would have at least assisted me in being more competitive.  On the other hand, I should give a bit to Da' Old Man since he doesn't play that often and he truly is older than dirt.

This same OGL modifier can be applied to a variety of game statistics to further even the playing field:

  • +/- Amount of Gold achieved from victories (Action RPGs)

  • +/- Experience gained per kill (RPGs)

  • +/- Number of bullets in your standard ammo clip (FPS)

  • +/- Rate of speed of incoming objects (all genres)

  • +/- Number of Ships\Lives (Shmups)

  • +/- Time to make a play call (sports)

Here is what the sample game screenshot would look like with OGL being implemented:


Yes, this article is somewhat of parody and just my way of venting a bit after the trouncing I recently endured.  But then again, go ahead and try out the formula - it does work with most scenarios.  Click Here for the worksheet for you to play around with. 

I am a normal guy.  I don't kid myself thinking I am the sharpest pair of skates on the ice, but on the other hand I know that I am not a dullard (contrary to the comments made after my CoD MF 2 debacle).  I have responsibilities and the like that severely deters the time I can invest in my passion (gaming).  If the OGL system were in place, I might have been a playa this past weekend instead of the beaten farm animal.

But in all honestly, I think my lady friend hit the nail on the head after she read this article prior to being published.  She said that OGL was not really an abbreviation for the Online Gaming Leveler.  It was really just my way of coping with middle age - Old Guy Logic.

I always knew there was something I didn't like about her.
   


Let's have some fun with this (albeit at my expense).

What do my fellow grey beards think of this idea?
What other game statistics would you have modified if the OGL System were in place??
Is this really just Old Guy Logic??


 




Posted on Oct 15th 2009 at 09:33:01 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take

  Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

 

 
I have always been intrigued by video gaming systems, beginning with my first experience with my Uncle Glenn's Atari PONG system at the tender age of 7.  I was a gaming panhandler during my early years until my father told me in 1979 that he had decided to take the plunge.  I remember my heart racing with excitement! 

Would he choose the Atari 2600 that seemed to catapult my buddy P-Man into demigod status overnight once he got one?  Or maybe the Magnavox Odyssey 2 that was the showstopper at my cousins house the Christmas prior?  Either way, I knew I couldn't lose. 

The day finally arrived when my pops entered our humble abode with the fruits of his efforts - the Texas Instrument TI-99/4A!

Wait a second.... a TI-what???  What was he thinking??? More importantly, what was this thing that looked like an electric typewriter???
 

 
The TI-99/4A was a personal computer hybrid that was released in 1979 (as the TI-99/4) by electronics heavyweight Texas Instruments.  This is widely considered to be the first 16-bit personal computer to be available to the general public in this genre and was very advanced for the time period.  This hardware debuted at a retail price of $1,200 - and that was a lot of pesos back then (and now for that matter).  The glorified, shiny silver casing sports an odd 'ramp' leading up to the recessed cartridge slot.  I used the term 'hybrid' earlier since the TI-99/4A primarily utilizes propriety cartridges for its software (around 300 total titles).  An optional joystick was available, but do yourself a favor and stick to the keyboard for navigation - the TI version is squirrelly as hell and more sensitive than a rug burn on your kneecap. Better yet, splurge for the Atari 2600 controller adaptor and really live large ($5).

A very nice thing about this beast is that it connects directly to your TV and doesn't require an external monitor.  Another interesting fact is that there was an optional Voice Synthesis module for use with games - and you could teach the system how to talk!  It also supported a plethora of add-ons including a thermal printer, cassette deck (for recording/saving/playing programs) amongst others.  Check out a fully loaded TI-99/4A below:

I won't be detailing the specific hardware information in this article - Wikipedia and dedicated fan sites can provide that much better than I.  I will say that Texas Instruments introduced many innovations with this model, some which are common to this very day and will be summarized in the conclusion of this writing.  My intent in this writing is to share the gaming experience, so let's get to it!

When firing up this hardware, you are presented with a Texas Instruments home screen.  After pressing any key, a text driven menu is displayed to allow your choice of entering into BASIC mode (yes, this baby was programmable) or starting the inserted game cartridge.  Let the games begin....
 

Football
Developer: Texas Instruments, 1979
Alpiner
Developer: Texas Instruments, 1981
  

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

This was the first game that accompanied our TI-99/4 back in the day.  It is rough by all standards to be honest.  You had a selection of 4 plays for offense/defense and you had to be sneaky quick to rifle through them quickly and set your formation so your opponent wouldn't catch you locking 'in'.  After your virtual gridirons (football helmets) are aligned, there is nothing really else to do but to click a button and watch the play unfold - you had no control of your warriors.  This was still a blast with my buddy Drago and we still reminisce at times about him uttering "The Bomb" when I was set in my "Goal Line" defense in a 3rd and 2 situation.  You can guess the outcome of that scenario - Drago 7, Marriott_Guy 0.
 

 

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

I hated this game to be honest, but I would be remiss not to include it since everyone that has owned or experienced the TI-99/4A has been subjected to this sick form of torture know as Alpiner.  First off, what is even remotely fun about climbing a virtual mountain and dodging a deluge of rockslides that look like ginormous piles of horse dung?  Nothing, in my humble opinion.  Secondly, my 'hero' flickers so bad that after playing for more than a few minutes I start to feel like some of those afflicted souls in the movie The Happening - I just want to take a running start and take a dive off of a tall building.  Thinking about it now, that would be a more pleasant outcome to be honest than playing this pig for any extended period of time.
 

TI Invaders
Developer: Texas Instruments, 1981

Parsec
Developer: Texas Instruments, 1982

 

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

This was not a bad clone at all of Space Invaders.  Game play was flicker free and fast.  The sound effects were much better than the Atari 2600 version.  This game had to be displayed in this article to give you a comparison for the era.

 

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

This is a classic must-have for any TI owner.  It is basically a Scrambler clone, but it is well done and features great voice synthesis work during game play.  Sound effects in general are excellent, but most importantly this game is a BLAST!
 

Miner 2049
Developer: TigerVision, 1983
Defender
Developer: Atari, 1983
 

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

Another classic TI game, this time by a third party developer, TigerVision.  I am not a huge fan of this game, but this game does demonstrate the advancement in game technology due to TI's loosening their stance on external software development and embracing willing partners rather than attempting to have a virtual monopoly on all software development for the TI-99/4A.
 

 

Video courtesy of keghaywood.

This big hitter from Atari is a great translation.  The smooth play, deep sound affects set this apart during the day from its rival systems.

The opening sound effect to begin a level still rocks to this day.

Ms. Pac-Man
Developer: Atari, 1983
Donkey Kong
Developer: Nintendo, 1983
 

Video courtesy of PlayingWithHistory.

 

 

Video courtesy of PlayingWithHistory.

 

 
The two videos above are provided in this article to demonstrate how far the development had gone towards the end of this system's life.  Both are excellent translations and truly display the possibilities of the TI-99/4A.
 
 

 
Though initially disappointed with my father's purchase at the time, I quickly grew to really respect and enjoy this system immensely, even to this day.  You can now score one of these systems on the cheap - say around $20 or so.  I recommend giving one of these a shot - this retro 'hybrid' is a low capital investment with a high rate of 'fun' return.
  

 




Posted on Jul 15th 2009 at 05:38:52 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take

The Way
of the Future


I am the first one to admit that I was wrong about my initial impressions on handheld systems - they are not just jealous little rug rats of their technically superior big brother consoles. They do have their unique appeal and I have found that this attraction was not limited to the specific 'handheld fan-boy' target audience. I have learned that console gamers of all ages typically have a portable system or two in their back pocket and enjoy the gaming experience on the small screen just as much as they do with a title being displayed in Hi-Def on their 56" LCD. The drivers of this cross-over enjoyment tend to focus on three main areas - portability, convenience and unique software releases. I admit that these items were also the primary reasons for me changing my tune regarding these 'mighty-mites' (I finally 'get it'!). But this personal admission/discovery is not the point of this article.  Having the best of both worlds is my focus along with my hardware solution.
 


While hanging out at the Memphis International Airport during a layover, I found myself pondering a very simple question - why had I been so reluctant to test out a handheld system in all my years of gaming? Being a console hardware fanatic, I initially thought the technical limitations of the portable machine would be the primary culprit behind my former 'handheld racism' beliefs. In reality, a much more intimate 'friend' turned out to be the nemesis - my OCD condition, or 'tendencies', as I prefer to phrase it.

I am not the type of player that has 18 games going at one time with a slew of carts/CD cases strewn all over the floor in front of my Toshiba DLP. I am definitely a 'focused' gamer - I like to get very involved with one game and primarily play it in its entirety. This personal fact, coupled with my preference for the superior graphical capabilities that a console system provides, is the crux of my anguish. I spend 95% of my game time with console releases, due to their (usually) heightened content and superior visual/audio output. If I am going to get engaged in a title, I want my time to be invested in the best technology has to offer (for the time/console period). I realize that the fun factor and not the bells and whistles are what make a software title truly successful (no need for that sermon playa's - you would be preaching to the choir). Sure, there are console/TV adaptors that will deliver my handheld output to the big screen, but I want it all - the technologically advanced console experience with the ability to take it on the road (along with my game saves) to continue my adventure. I can't do that with today's Next-Gen systems.

There have been systems that have allowed this in the past, most notably the NEC Turbo Express and the Sega Nomad / MegaJet. These were released after their parents (NEC Turbo Grafx 16 and the Sega Genesis) and were the byproduct of enhanced electronic engineering/development - same software/media format, same system, just squeezed into a smaller box. The problem is that newer technology was arriving on the scene as both of these were released. With all of the strides that the video gaming industry has made in this technical area, why can't they do that today right out of the box when it is released? This is my idea, and the point of this writing. Develop one system that provides the advanced offerings of the console and includes a portable, compatible gaming device to continue your gaming experience on the road or out on your back patio.
 


Let's take a look at the design/workings of this fictional machine, which I will refer to as the SX2. Now bear with me since I am not a graphic designer at all - the referenced picture I threw together using MS Publisher and is only meant to point out a few features. Also please note that I am not an electrical engineer and do not get into any detail in this arena (though all are plausible). Also, cost is not a factor in this exercise (but will be addressed later).  The following picture shows the layout of the front face of the SX2.  This would be angled at a slight 10 degree angle to allow gravity to assist with the docking of the Portable Gaming Device (PGD) unit.  The face of the PGD would be proudly displayed.  The rest of the console in this design is as basic as you can get.  The point I want to focus on is the PGD Docking Station.

The Docking Station serves two purposes - to recharge the batteries of the PGD and to interface directly with the main hardware.  The PGD would have a pretty big hard drive (say 10 gigs or so) along with built-in Wi-Fi and the standard multimedia capabilities (MP3, etc.).  The size would be a little big larger than the Sony PSP.  There would be no media input slot for this unit, with the exception of a memory card slot.  Everything would be downloaded to the PGD through the Docking Station from the SX2 main system, including software.  Here is where it gets tricky.

The standard media format for the SX2 would be the Blu-ray disc (storage capacity of 50 GBs).  A software title would in essence have two versions: High-Def (for main system playing) and Low-Res (for use on the PGD).  The two systems would have the same core programming architecture/OS so much of the game coding could be utilized in both versions contained on the disc.  The big difference in the two editions would obviously be graphical resolution and audio performance.  I have a little background in programming as a hobbyist but I am the first to admit almost complete ignorance in this technical area.  That being said, some of the following might not be at all possible. 

Game development would obviously be focused on the High-Def version for the main system.  Once this has been done, the Developer's Conversion Tool (DCT - I made this title up) for the SX2 could then be used to lower the resolution of all, or select, existing graphic files, thus creating them for use in play on the PGD.  I guess the best example I can give for this idea is 'crunching' a picture file - it retains the same file association and technical uses but loses some of the originals sharpness, depth, etc.  The DCT would be developed and provided by the manufacturer to incent game developers and lower their cost. 

Another integral part of the DCT would be the management of disc space allocation - what must be ported to the handheld device to ensure the same gaming experience delivered by its 'big brother'.  The file size for downloaded games to the PGD would be a maximum of 2 GBs.  This would allow 5 full titles to be stored on its internal hard drive.  The DCT would manage this process for the game developers and guide them in making decisions on what might need to be left on the editing room floor for the Low-Res / PGD version (like some FMVs or other non-critical item). 

As to the actual gaming experience, saved game data would be consistent and shared between the main system and the handheld via the Docking Station.  This would be a two way interface, with a check for which saved game data file is most recent.  Since both versions use a compatible data format in this area, your game would pick up at the same point on either platform - you would have all of your warrior's stats, gear, etc. and be placed at the same location in the actual game world.

The controllers would have to be somewhat similar - this programming item is critical and the button mapping requires a great deal of code at times.  I do see this as one of the drawbacks and have no answer for this.

I guess we would have to discuss costs for this beast.  I have no idea what the R&D would be for a project like this, but I would have to think that for an existing manufacturer that most of it would be invested in my fictional DCT application.  Just looking at the hardware and using absolutely no scientific formulas, I would estimate it retailing for $500 or thereabouts.  This automatically would put it out of the price range of many consumers.

Yes, there are many flaws to this brainstorm of mine including, but not limited to, technical obstacles, programming nightmares and lest not forget a company's desire to be profitable.  I do think this could be successful on many levels though.  Handheld and console systems have for all intensive purposes lived in separate realms.  Why does it have to be that way?  I am sure the think-tanks at Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have considered this in the past and have decided not to 'muck' the waters by developing a product like this.  I am the first to admit that this system would dilute their respective target audience for the hardware they currently manufacture. 

The same thing occurred in the early 1990s when there was the craze for developing all-in-one multimedia devices.  Systems like the Philips CD-i, Panasonic 3DO, Memorex VIS and the Bandai Pippin (amongst others) all met rather tragic deaths due to trying to be 'everything to everyone'.  It is interesting that what failed in the 1990s is a basic standard in what we enjoy today in the Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii.  Timing is everything which is evident.  Perhaps this idea will catch on down the road in some facet and become "The Way of The Future".
 


I know this writing completely exposes myself to being picked apart and beat on like a farm animal.  I don't profess to be an expert in any area that was touched upon - it is only my intent to share an idea and hear your thoughts on this matter, which are always welcomed as you know.

Thanks all!
 





Posted on Jul 4th 2009 at 10:56:07 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take


Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Reviewed on the Microsoft 360

Work has been a bit brutal as of late, so I scheduled a three day weekend for myself to recharge the internal battery a bit. What better way to do this? Pick up a new game, score some beverages and a big handful of those monster-sized Slim Jims and dig in for some gaming. Being a big RPG fan, I checked the new release calendar and Sacred 2: Fallen Angel for the Microsoft Xbox 360 jumped out at me. The decision had been made. Armed with my rations and new software title, draperies were closed, gaming chair/table positioned and I was ready to do battle. With all of this preparation, I was desperately hoping not to be disappointed since the title received good but not great reviews thus far from some of the big gaming websites. Quite to the contrary, I have been pleasantly surprised thus far.
 


Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
is an open-ended, action/adventure RPG set in a typical fantasy medieval world called Ancaria.  You have a few different gaming options, including two separate offerings for the primary single player mode - a Light and Dark campaign.  Online multi-player mode is also available.  You are presented with a choice of six (6) character classes in which to customize your Hero (or Villain), none of which really stands out on their own but I have seen much worse.  Let's take a deeper look at this truly epic game.
 


Character building is an integral part of any RPG.  While Sacred 2 does not introduce anything fresh to the genre, it does incorporate tried and true past practices quite well.  There is an exception in this area - Skill Allotment.  This is tricky to say the least and is essential to get it right to ensure your warrior does not end up with a grave marker above their head.  I won't get into great detail here, but ensuring that both the selection of and investment into the correct Skills is critical.  My tip - invest heavily into the Enhanced Perception skill early and often.  More on this later.

The storyline is pure vanilla ice cream - the standard thoroughfare of Good vs. Evil (or vice-versa).  In all honesty, it does not even merit further text.  Usually the backbone of any good RPG, Sacred 2 is still successful without this core ingredient.  The actual game world of Ancaria is the complete opposite - it is well developed and incredibly HUGE.  Think Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and multiply that by 10 and that will give you some idea.  There are literally over 1,000 locations to visit spread across nine (9) different lands with 600 quests to take on.  Each of these 'continents' are unique and expertly detailed to deliver the appropriate atmosphere.  The huge expanse coupled with open-ended game play may be daunting to some.  The map system is good and quest indicators are provided.  The world itself is 'unveiled' as you discover it - portions of the map are revealed during your exploration (ala Two Worlds).  It will take you around 30 hours to complete the main story - over 100 to complete all of the side quests.

The game itself is played from an isometric viewpoint and the controls are tight and easy to learn/master.  Often times you are attacked by hoards of creatures/monsters/foes.  There is some button mashing required to repel these assaults but all in all I have not found this to be tiring in the least.  Enemies will randomly re-spawn (both in type/location) and there is never any shortage of heathens to slay.  Your farming efforts will net you plenty of coin, experience and the best part of Sacred 2 - the spoils of war.

This game is all about 'da loot', plain and simple.  You will amass countless items including armor, weapons, potion ingredients, books, etc.  I admit that I am a junkie for games like this - Balder's Gate, Diablo 2, Champions of Norath, etc.  None of those comes close to fulfilling my primeval hunter/gatherer instincts quite the way that Sacred 2 does.  You can stockpile sets of armor that provide additional stat bonuses, legendary weapons and unique items.  Dealing out mass destruction and the ensuing leftover carnage definitely pays dividends – more importantly it is a BLAST!  As mentioned earlier in this article, investing into the Enhanced Perception skill will result in better drops from the miserable minions you put to their deserved death.  Managing the acquired conquests of battle is another matter.

The inventory management system in Sacred 2 is brutal. It is rather clunky and does not have any type of 'sort' feature, which is a colossal omission in this area considering the focus of this game.  Most items are automatically categorized according to their respective type (i.e. Helmet) but there is no other option to sort them further - like by strength.  There is an 'auto-equip' function to clothe your fighter with the best armor you have in your inventory.  This works pretty well, but does not take into account any of the attribute enhancements most pieces offer (which most often will outweigh the standard armor rating). 

Game graphics are very good, though not spectacular.  There are instances where items will be drawn before your very eyes in the more intricate environments (usually occurring during map teleportation).  A few times you will receive the 'Loading' icon while in certain towns - once again this is due to the complexity of the city.  These I found to be a minor annoyance compared to my overall experience.  In general, I have been very pleased with the graphical performance of Sacred 2

Audio performance is also somewhat average.  NPCs do chatter a bit in the background and your Hero does have their fair share of sayings.  Like most games, these tend to become rather repetitive but does not deter from the overall gaming experience.  I will admit that I have been pleasantly surprised at times by the dry humor that is liberally used during character dialog.  Sound effects are generally very good but nothing to write home about.   

I started writing this article over a month ago.  Needless to say, I have had to repeatedly restock my gaming beverages and munchies many times while enjoying this truly epic game.  Yes - the story is rather bland and the game itself does have some minor flaws, but the pure enjoyment of this title is excellent.  Isn't that what it is all about anyway?

Overall I highly recommend Sacred 2: Fallen Angel to anyone who is a fan of the following games:

   o Two Worlds (Xbox 360)
   o Diablo 2
(PC)
   o Champions of Norath
(PS2)
   o Balder's Gate
(various platforms)

As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.  Thanks!
 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 





Posted on Feb 13th 2009 at 06:12:04 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, Handheld Systems

With my console collection pretty much fleshed out I have decided to take the plunge into collecting handheld systems. This is an area within the video gaming field that I have totally neglected, almost to the point of refusing to recognize their existence.  I have never understood the attraction to this method of gaming.  Some of my peers might even say that I am a bit of a snob and view these as 'half-breeds', kid toys or worse.  Upon reflection, I guess I am rather arrogant when comparing 'true' consoles to these half-pint counterparts (yes - the pun was intentional).  Well, after repeated urging (beatings) from others and hearing from them that "I just don't get it", I took the initiative to learn more about these little guys.

After doing a little investigation and with the help of my friends at RF Generation, I was able to compile a list of handheld systems to 'target' for my collection.  It was now time to do some self-education prior to making any purchases so that I do not repeat the same mistakes that I made early on when I started collecting consoles.  This task was right up my power alley.

To my pleasant surprise I discovered that the great diversity that I know to be fact in my experience with collecting consoles is equally true with these handheld units - technology, functionality, package variations, etc.  Once again - a home run in my interests as a collector.  What struck me were the wide use of face plating and  or various colors of the actual handheld hardware chassis. 

Most of the handheld manufacturers utilized this strategy, regardless of the era their respective handheld system was released - the majority of console developers did not (Nintendo 64 & the Nintendo Game Cube among the few exceptions).  My only guess for this difference is that handhelds are designed  marketed to also be a personal expression of the respective owner.  The target audience seems to be rather diverse compared to perspective console owners.  However, I still can not apprehend this pseudo-emotional attachment to a gaming device that companies try to sell to the consumer.  I fully admit that I am an old school gamer and that may be the reason "I just don't get it".

Backward compatibility seems to be a pretty consistent offering in handheld units as a whole - much more so than in consoles.  Improvements in providing additional multimedia functions and networking capabilities usually appear within a year or so after their initial debut in 'big brothers' hardware.  Certain handheld systems have even been at the forefront of technology by including text messaging, PDA, MP3 playback and other applications.  If I didn't have a cell phone or computer, I would have to admit this is pretty impressive.  That leaves us to the core purpose of any hardware - the gaming experience.

There is no comparison in this area - console games blow away the handheld's by a mile.  There is no reason why they shouldn't with the space available for technology in a standard hardware chassis.  I fully agree that the portable system offers many conveniences.  But why would I want to play a sub standard game on a tiny screen (as the default) when I can kick back in my lounge chair and experience much better on my big screen from my console?  This is another area that "I just don't get it".

Overall, my initial investigation into this area leads me to believe that I really haven't been missing out on much in this handheld area.  Obviously this is my personal opinion and is based upon my needs  likes as a gamer and my limited experience with the nine (9) handheld systems I have acquired.  Sure, I think the manufacturers' ability to squeeze in the massive amount of technology into that tiny package is extraordinary.  And yes, as admitted before, I am an old gamer who prefers to use other devices (like a cell phone) to perform some of the extra networkingmultimedia functions that are pretty standard in today's handheld units.  I like my games displayed on my big screen TV (my eye doctor did warn me that bifocals are close to being a required reality for me).  Maybe I am over the hill - who knows.  What I do know is that even after researching this field and playing games on these mighty-mites....

"I still don't get it."




Posted on Jul 19th 2008 at 07:39:09 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, Elder Scrolls, Oblivion, RPG, Bethesda Softworks

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Being a hardcore RPG gamer and a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I have to admit I was a bit reluctant to make this purchase after being disappointed in the previous downloadable content offered by Bethesda. Sure, The Knights of the Nine did satiate my Oblivion appetite for a little while, but by no means did it satisfy my craving as completely as did the expansion packs Tribunal and Bloodmoon for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I am glad to report that the extra investment you will have to fork over for the Shivering Isles expansion will be money well spent.
 
Your quest begins on an island in the Niben Bay, which can be accessed at any time, by any character - there is no prerequisite for entering the domain of the Shivering Isles (there are leveled items in this new world, so level up a bit in Cyrodil if you want to add the really good items to your inventory). In this new realm, you will be greeted by fresh environments across the land and the dungeons/towns that you will frequent. The isles are comprised of two main political factions and their respective lands are portrayed well by the appropriate use of colors, textures, and wild life. The ruler is a fellow named Sheogoreth, who many of us know as the Daedric Prince of Madness. The world has an almost surreal feel to it, which accurately reflects the deranged minds of its inhabitants. Though presented beautifully, this new realm can never be mistaken for the almost 'Sound of Music' atmosphere that the general landscape of Cyrodil screams of.
 




Without giving away any spoilers, your main quest is to protect this demented paradise from, of course, an invasion from an evil force. You must rise through the ranks of this land through both factions, save the country, and become its ruler. New enemies will thwart your efforts, including the Knights of the Order, various hell hounds and the Grumnites, a race that is somewhat similar to the Orcs, though more organized. There are plenty of side quests apart from your main objective that are also available. These include the standard 'fetch item' missions to the more obscure (one nut wants 100 calipers to build a fantasy air ship that only resides in his mind).

The basic gameplay is the same as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - there have been no changes to any commands, menus, or the like. That being said, I will not review the general mechanics of the Shivering Isles since this has already been done in various reviews on Oblivion. I will say that certain graphical elements have improved over the already great performance of its parent - frame rate is more consistent, water reflections are improved, general AI of the new fiends you will encounter is better.

Many new types of armor, weapons, and magic are available for your discovery/purchase. Depending on your level, these may not replace any of your current inventory, but are nice additions. There are also two weapon shops that will create new items for you if you collect the respective ore that they request - this is very similar to the quest in the Bloodmoon expansion - not great items, but kind of cool. There are no houses or horses to buy as there are in Cyrodil, but you can acquire a new traveling companion, if completing a certain quest, that will aid you in your efforts against the minions.

You do receive 250 additional achievement points for completing all of the missions, but, curiously, your fame/infamy points are not affected at all for your deeds/actions. I think that this is a severe oversight on Bethesda's part - this is a stat I monitor frequently. Total additional game play will put you around 40 hours or so, more if you spend time exploring the vast isles.

Having the Xbox 360 version of ES IV, I downloaded the new content via Xbox Marketplace. The total download is a little under 1 gig, so make sure that you have the space available on your storage device. I have a relatively slow cable/DSL connection and it took around 40 minutes to download it.

Overall, I was very pleased with The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles and would highly recommend it. The download is pricey, but the content is varied, interesting, and most important, plentiful. Be prepared to let your loved ones know that, once again, you are a non-factor in real life and instead are going to take another journey into the world of Oblivion: Shivering Isles.



Posted on Jul 16th 2008 at 11:15:41 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, Kings Field II, ASCII, From Software

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Obviously, I am a big fan of this series.  Let's take a look at arguably the best release in this rather obscure FP RPG saga.


The second U.S. release in this series, King's Field II for the Sony PlayStation, published by ASCII Entertainment and developed by From Software, perfected the FP RPG genre set in its predecessor. True to form, you are free to undertake this extensive adventure as you deem fit. This may seem somewhat daunting to gamers who prefer a more linear approach to their gaming experience.

With the kingdom of Verdite once again in peril and the King having gone insane, this lengthy quest pits our hero (Lyle, son of the cursed King) in search of the source of terrible evil that has blighted his homeland. Once again, you are in search of the infamous Moonlight Sword and the magical power that is contained within.

Fans of the first release will feel right at home when playing King's Field II. The tried and true format of discovery and exploration are not only intact, but have been improved upon greatly. Many more weapons, armor, magic, and ancient artifacts are to be found in the vast country of Verdite. The main difference gamers will appreciate is the much improved environments that you will explore. The vastness of the outdoors are richly detailed and in complete 3D, full polygonal graphics. Earth tones are still the dominant color of choice, but have been put on steroids and communicate effectively the grim nature of the danger at hand.



This time around, interaction with various NPCs (non-playable characters) is required to complete certain facets of the game. Do not worry though - they still sport the same ghastly, undefined faces as in the original. This may be a disappointment for some, but it does add to the dreamlike tone of the game. Significant differences now include the ability to review past conversations you have had with these individuals. This does assist when trying to complete certain side quests for that special set of armor that you have been searching for.

Another welcomed addition is the 'Pixie' map that you can acquire rather early on in the game. This is extremely helpful in navigating the various areas, and saves a great deal of time in unnecessary back-tracking. Monster AI has been improved upon as well, but employing 'strike-back up-move forward-strike again' tactics are again effective. Enemies will utilize different strategies against you, but the main advantage (or disadvantage) is the level of hit points they have compared to yours.

The FP game play rate hovers around 15-30 FPS, depending upon the amount of activity at any given time. The World is seamless and huge - there are no loading times between various sections of the country. As in the original King's Field, an almost surreal atmosphere prevails during game play. Levelssections of the homeland are varied and unique, with a strong sound theme accompanying each. Again, sound samplings for the creatures and actions are perfect and well utilized, both in the time used and comparative sound level to other ambient musiceffects.
 
The control is excellent, using the D-Pad to navigatemovelook at this richly detailed world. Executing attacks and other actions are intuitive and easy to perform. Your progress through the various sections is impeded by the level of the fiends that you encounter, right from the beginning of this saga.

Overall, King's Field II is an excellent sequel. Most arguably the best in the series, King's Field II is still not for everyone. The game play is still rather slow, even being compared to the standards utilized when it was released in 1996. However, the solid game play and overall presentation rate this game high amongst its contemporaries. Arm yourself with patience and diligence - this is an epic journey. This is a definite must-have for any fan of the RPG genre.



Posted on Jul 13th 2008 at 05:20:14 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, Kings Field, ASCII, From Software

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One of the initial releases for the Sony PlayStation, King's Field, published by ASCII Entertainment and developed by From Software, was a truly next-gen game for its time. This game was the first FP RPG, set in a massive environment where you alone dictate the game's action and events. The primary antagonist (Alexander/you) is left completely free to choose their own path to discover the vast island you are shipwrecked upon. This may seem somewhat daunting to gamers who prefer a more linear approach to their gaming experience.
 
This lengthy adventure pits our hero in search of the Moonlight Sword, which is required to save his home kingdom of Verdite. You are left on your own to recover this great artifact, given no direction at all. Your adventure thus begins.

Armed with your trusty sword, you venture into this unknown world in your quest. Many upgraded swords, weapons, armor, and magic are at your disposal - but first you must find them. Some are rather obvious, but most are hidden behind secret walls and openings you must first uncover. This is a great part of the King's Field experience - you never know what you will find and must be very explorative as you progress through the various parts of this island.
 
The FP game play rate hovers around 15-30 FPS, depending upon the amount of activity at any given time. The World is seamless and huge - there are no loading times between various sections of the island, which is detailed in full polygonal graphics with dark, almost gritty texture mapping. The feel of this island is almost surreal and is completely grim, which adds significantly to the overall appeal of this adventure.
 
The background music is appropriate for the varied environments that you traverse. However, the sound samplings for the creatures and actions are perfect. Though rather unspectacular on their own, the sound of a monster cackling around the corner or your sword striking a deserving foe are top-notch and performed at just the right time, and volume, to further enhance your experience.
 
King's Field is a difficult game. Your progress through the various sections is impeded by the level of the fiends that you encounter, right from the beginning of this saga. Enemy AI is not that great, but at times this is compensated for by the sheer numbers that you will encounter.

The control is excellent, using the D-Pad to navigate/move/look at this richly detailed world. Executing attacks and other actions are intuitive and easy to perform. The minimal numbers of NPCs that you will encounter interact with you slightly, and are pretty much useless, though their ghostly, undefined faces are somewhat appropriate for this journey.
 
Overall, King's Field is not for everyone. The graphics and sound are average, though collectively are entirely effective. The game play is rather slow and requires time to navigate the island. For those that are more akin to pure action-adventure type games, this will probably put you to sleep. On the other hand, if exploration and having the freedom to discover and create your own experience is your cup of tea, don't miss this hidden gem.



Posted on Nov 3rd 2007 at 08:05:35 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, Classic Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Wii, EA Sports, Tiger Woods, Golf

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 - Xbox 360
PGA Tour Golf - Genesis
Tiger Woods 2008, released on multiple platforms this past September by EA Sports, has endured a beating normally reserved for rent-a-cars on most forums. Most of the complaints revolve around game freezes, instable EA online servers, lack of character clothing options and most importantly the hair-trigger analog controls. To the delight of old-school gamers, and possibly a welcomed addition to frustrated analog video golfers, EA (Electronic Arts) has brought back an old friend, the 3-Click swing meter. This article is not necessarily a full review of Tiger Woods 2008, but more of reflection on the reintroduction of this swing meter interface.

I admit I am an older gamer, and have been a fan of video golf games for some 30 years. I started out playing Computer Golf for the Odyssey II at home and Birdie King at the arcades. I was thrilled with the evolution of the golf game genre on all platforms including Big Event Golf (arcade), the PGA Tour series on the Sega Genesis, and the Links series for the PC. My virtual golf life ended with the release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2001. The new analog stick swing interface replaced my tried and trusted ways. This was devastating for me. I did not have the time (due to work), to master this new video swing technology. I became frustrated since my drives off the tee went only 167 yards and usually in the trees or the muck bordering the fairway (on a good day, it being my fairway). Sure, there was Swing Away Golf for the PS2 that was the one game that still employed the 3-Click swing meter for the next generation systems (at that time) . It was just not the same game as my beloved PGA Tour series.

I first downloaded on the Xbox 360 the demo of Tiger Woods 2008 once I read that the 3-Click swing meter was brought back from the dead. Obviously I was very happy to be reacquainted with an old friend. I could once again compete off/on-line with a certain degree of competency right away. Naysayers will argue that the 3-Click swing meter makes things too easy and does not truly test the video golfers skill. I can not say that I completely disagree with this. However, EA did reopen up a market to all of the people that grew up playing and loving the original PGA Tour series.

Most of the complaints on this game have been addressed through two (2) game updates. Remaining issues mostly revolve around computer player AI and online play/server performance.

Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying Tiger Woods 2008 (Xbox 360 version). Though there are some problems with it, the reintroduction of the 3-Click swing meter has made me a born-again follower of the series.

Life on the links has been revived for us old-school video golf gamers!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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