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Why Did I Play This? Episode 7

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Due to delays episode 7 was unable to make it out before its originally scheduled Halloween release. But here it is, ready for everybody to take in and digest. Today I pull out an old classic, Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A Twitch in Time. So now we only have a couple questions to ask ourselves.

Was this worth my time?
Why did I play this?

Psycho’s Gaming History: Top 10 Important Games from my Childhood 10-6

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Four off white walls surround me, a mattress just resting on the floor ghetto style, a television turned on with white noise on the screen. I sit in front of the TV with a Nintendo Entertainment System between us, my small finger pushes the button, and before I know it I’m running and jumping as Mario in 1-1. I was at my uncle’s house, my cousins being much older than me. I was a small child left behind and I discovered this wonder on my own accord.

This is one of my earliest completely vivid memories, and my first experience playing a video game. No surprise, it was Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and I was 3 or 4 at the time. I remember the events as they happened, usually not the exact time they happened, my memory has always been that way.

Now I would be personally gameless until I was 5, this is one case I remember the exact time as well as the events. Its hard to forget what is perhaps the most important Christmas gift I have ever received and most likely will ever receive. On Christmas of 1994 I unwrapped a Super Nintendo with Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart as the pack in games. My game life wouldn’t really spiral out of control until the PS2 was out in force, so for now let’s just take a look at the most important games I ran into growing up. But, real quick before we start, I am not saying these games are inherently good or not, they were just important for me, opening a door to a new genre or series. Thanks Crabmaster2000 for mentioning this idea you had done before on the Collectorcast, I’m stealing it.

Number 10: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

I was a fairly ignorant young gamer back in the SNES days. I didn’t read many magazines or publications to get a really good idea of what the system really had to offer, and still didn’t know until years later with easy internet access and a constant barrage of fan reviews, my own adding into that mix. What makes this game special was because it was a major victory against the parents. I knew about this game primarily because I had the first one, and seeing that a sequel was on shelves gave me shivers and pure joy up and down my spine. I begged and begged every time I went with my parents to the store for anything and there were games there. Finally they bought it brand new back when SNES and Genesis games were $60-70 new most commonly. Yoshi’s Island remains one of my favorite games on the Super Nintendo, I was a bit disappointed after playing the DS sequel but that does not take away any amount of importance the first game had on me.

Number 9: Grand Theft Auto 2

Back in my day (the mid-late 1990’s) we used to go to stores, not vending machines, that would allow you to rent video games and movies for a few days. This is the game I rented the most, to tell the truth if I could remember exactly how many times I rented GTA2 for PS1 it would probably tell me that it would have made much more sense to buy the damn game. But instead I found myself renting it when nothing new caught my eye on the shelves. This game is just simple, mindless fun. Not only do you have the ability to steal cars, but those bastards in the red shirts would steal YOUR stolen car. The green shirted dicksnots would sneak up behind you and try to rob your ass blind. Don’t stand for that shit, kill everyone, but most importantly, Taxi Drivers Must Die.

Number 8: Deus Ex: Invisible War

I have a feeling I know what you’re all thinking, “Why is a forgettable sequel to one of the greatest games of all time on this list?” So to answer it I guess I just have to tell the story. I upgraded my family’s video card back in the day and this game came with it, without my experience with it I never would have played the first game, nor really cared too much about Human Revolution until I would have probably bought it cheap on Steam and tried it for like a couple hours before forgetting I even own it. All I could think about while playing this game for the first time was, “Its not bad as everybody’s making it out to be,” and truth be told, its not. Its not a bad game, the mechanics and graphics for its day were quite incredible, this public sentiment is more of a testament to how much better of an experience the first game was than its sequel. This one gets double points for not only introducing me to one of my favorite series, but being one of the gateways to more modern PC gaming in general for me because of that blazingly fast and powerful 128MB ATI Radeon 9250 PCI card.

Number 7: Tomba!

Before Tomba!, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Klonoa came around there was a severe shortage of 2D platformers on the PS1. A lot of studios were going 3D just prior to and in the wake of Super Mario 64. Out of the three I listed the only one I had as a kid was Tomba! I would not own this game today if it were not for my sister, who bought this game for me as a birthday present. Given its current online price I think she did good spending $40 or less. Tomba! is about as childish of a platformer as you can get, but with its mixed in quest system (called Events), circular world exploration, tight controls and gameplay, and humor it is easy to see this game’s current status as an uncommon, in high demand cult classic.

Number 6: Final Fantasy VIII

I really don’t want to put this game on this list. I really really don’t. As a kid I enjoyed this game, why? It was my first RPG. Ever. Final Fantasy VIII being a first RPG feels like losing your virginity to a toothless, peg legged, one eyed, graying hooker and being really happy you didn’t catch anything. As a kid I enjoyed this game, somewhat, most likely because I had never played anything remotely like FF8 and being a young, naive, and ignorant gamer I wasn’t able to immediately see the countless ways there are to completely break the game, nor did I understand literary analysis and how much FF8’s storyline blows Taco Bell out of its ass.

Next week we’ll be counting down 5-1. Stay tuned! While you wait why not check out the previously mentioned RFGeneration Collectorcast on Youtube?

PC RPG Renaissance Part 5: Rise of the Mods

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The year 2000 did not slow down this new machine, the Renaissance had barely begun and there would soon be a flood of games from newer studios, and overall quality across the board seemed to have the highest average in over a decade. What better way to begin the new millenium and raise the middle finger to the Y2K scare than go back to Baldur’s Gate in a sequel straight from Bioware.

Bioware continued its string of gold plated releases with Neverwinter Nights in 2002, developing the game for Atari. While the single player story was nothing to write home about, the new 3D Aurora engine was a huge step forward for video game technology. What kept this game selling for so long after its release could very easily be attributed to the Aurora toolset and Bioware’s support of fan made content. Anybody could essentially use the toolset to make an entire D&D campaign and could hook up with friends online to play through it with your own characters.

Edit the zombies!

 

By now it was apparent that Bioware could be trusted with virtually any license and expertly craft a game in that universe based on d20 rules. So in 2003 Bioware did just that with one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises in existence. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) released on PC and Microsoft’s Xbox to immediate critical and commercial acclaim. Bioware’s use of the Star Wars license to create a completely unique story set thousands of years before the first trilogy let them have incredible creative freedom and it shows. The cinematic angles in dialogue scenes would lead to a revolution in storytelling that still resonates this day. This is many longtime Bioware fans’ favorite release from them, and it is incredibly easy to see why with my own personal experience and playing this game near release.

This type of cinematic view changed everything.

Black Isle finally joined Bioware in the Forgotten Realms in more than just a publishing role, bringing a more action oriented adventure to the fold much further to the north in Icewind Dale. The game however is not connected to R. A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy of novels. Quite sad, but that let Black Isle have the same creative freedom as Bioware for KOTOR.

A bit of turmoil had temporarily shaken up the blooming Black Isle while they were working on Fallout 2. A few key members left and founded Troika Games, which finally showed their first signs of their short life. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura came in 2001. Temple of Elemental Evil in 2003. Finally the studio released Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines in 2004 before finally folding in 2005. Every one of Troika’s games was critically praised for their stories, but criticized for the huge amoung of bugs present and spotty post release support.

Bleeding out like Troika’s bank account.

Bethesda had helped to continue the evolution of first person RPGs during the down years between the Golden Age and the Renaissance, but had been silent since then. Being a small developer they found it more difficult to secure funding and investors after a couple of failed games set in their own Elder Scrolls universe. 1997’s An Elder Scroll’s Legend: Battlespire was a very buggy action RPG that was not well received. A year later The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard was a slow paced action RPG that received similar treatment on release, and with graphics that were heavily lacking even on release it was no surprise that Redguard floundered.

A small, core team of developers stayed around and kept planning during the down years between 1999 and 2002 for Bethesda. The third true installment of the Elder Scrolls would make or break the company, in a story a bit different, yet still similar to console RPG favorite Squaresoft’s rise to the mainstream. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind released in 2002, and would show the first signs of a coming trend, consolization. Morrowind released for PC and Microsoft’s Xbox to critical praise and commercial success, and saved Bethesda from its financial turmoil and helped to allow them to become a force to be reckoned with.

Or will you believe M’aiq and his silly hat?

Not all companies would escape their financial woes, and beginning a trend does not always mean you will see it to the end, or perhaps it could be a sign of the end? The end of a book? The end of a chapter? Interplay, crushed under the weight of all the studios they financially supported, dwindling sales, and whoring out their successful franchises all were desperate efforts to stay afloat. Fallout received a horrific tactical strategy game Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel in 2001. And, just to confuse gamers even more, released Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel onto the PS2 and Xbox in 2004, leaving me to ask the question ‘Why would you essentially name a game the exact same as a game you released a few years ago that everybody said was terrible?’ That certainly didn’t help Interplay sell copies of the game, but it could be argued that the 2004 Brotherhood of Steel is not completely terrible.

Black Isle would naturally participate in this brand whoring as well, working on dungeon crawling spinoffs to the main Baldur’s Gate series. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance released in 2001 and its sequel in 2004, the last game bearing the Black Isle logo before Interplay ‘folded’.

So that covers the American and Canadian developers, but what of the Europeans? Well, a German developer did throw their hat into the ring by introducing the Gothic series in 2001. Gothic showed the gaming world how to build a persistent world right, each NPC had a daily schedule, sleep at night, work during the day, gossip from time to time, drink and smoke hookah at night. Every location has NPCs on different schedules, so traveling back and forth ends up giving the player an illusion of change. Despite control problems and a messy inventory, Gothic and its sequel Gothic 2 showed a different way to execute an open world experience.

What’s a Paladin?

While the days would brighten for Bethesda, the sun would set for Interplay, but rise new studios from those ashes. The day of Troika was short but memorable, and Piranha Bytes would keep creating deep worlds despite drama from the people above them.

Why Did I Play This? Classic Edition 3: Final Fantasy II

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The third edition of Why Did I Play This is a look back at one game from a major series that is instantly recognizable. Back in the day I was a massive young Square fanboy, huge into Final Fantasy, and anxious to see the release of every new game, whether it was the major releases on PS1 or the remakes and re-releases the company did as well. The PS1 with its loading times was my first experience with such classics like Final Fantasy, FF4, FF5, FF6, and Chrono Trigger. Notice how one specific game is missing from this list that only comes from 3 different double releases from Square on the PS1.

Final Fantasy II

Oh man. Black sheep of classic RPG gaming franchises, you got your Phantasy Star III, the grand ocean faring Suikoden IV, *cough* Dragon Warrior VII, umm Ultima II, and not last nor least, Final Fantasy II. Now I’m not talking about the American FF2, or as we should all know, really FF4, oh no that’s a good game. I’m talking about the Japanese Famicom FF2, or rather the first release it got in America.

Oww, even the original logo hurts.

Now at one point in my life I was a Final Fantasy FREAK. I had gotten hold of my second gaming system ever after much parental persuasion, the Sony Playstation. And back when going to Blockbuster to rent movies and games were cool, I tried out many recommendations from friends that also had the system, of which a shortage did not exist. I rented Final Fantasy VIII, yes I was a bit late, but still to this day I’ve never bought a system at launch, and actually loved it for the time. Looking back I could actually be typing up an entire blog post about FF8 myself, but I chose the earlier entry as I could not stomach it back then, and still cannot now.

Time to get owned.

So we all know that Squaresoft was on its last legs when Hironobu (The Gooch) Sakaguchi saved the company with a little game called Final Fantasy for the Famicom and NES when it came stateside. But they opted out of releasing the second and third entry of that series in the USA. So my first introduction with this game came with the Final Fantasy Origins pack for the PS, as I was at that age where I ate up all of those FF games. I went back to buy FF7 and was blown away like many youngsters were, buying my own copy of FF8, then looked forward to FF9 (which is still my favorite in the series.) Then my first real game hunt began as Final Fantasy Anthology was nowhere to be seen in my locality until we got a couple used games stores open up in the area. I bought the first copy I could find, then waited anxiously for the release of Final Fantasy Chronicles, then Origins.

Amano = Awesome

Imagine my surprise, when after I beat Final Fantasy in the Origins pack and go to fire up the second game for the first time and start my epic quest following Firion, Guy, Maria, and Leon… and get my backside beat up and down the first battle screen. Then I get saved by a random badass Princess Hilda, minus Leon, the only decent character out of the four! The Emperor is actually quite the sinister villain, even poisoning an entire city’s water supply. This act was so awesome, so intense that it was in fact copied by fan favorite villain Kefka!

So you just run around, fighting the oppression of the evil Empire of Palamecia, going dungeon to dungeon with a random plot based fourth character, some you wanted to keep but were not allowed to, you had to get Leon back in your fighting group. Finally you reunite with Leon after the party and him meet at the Palamecian castle and watch the Emperor turn into El Diablo himself and summon a new home up from the pits of Hades to help him devour this world! Quickly stop him!

El Diablo noooooooo!

For the time this was actually a well thought out, very well executed storyline given the technological limitations of the NES. The game was prettied up for re-release after re-release starting with Origins so it was quite easy to look at with pretty, well detailed sprites that barely made the PS even try to think very hard. But this game suffers from such crippling gameplay flaws that I could not even force myself to sit through the story, I kept hitting a brick wall because of something so important to an RPG being completely broken and random half the time!

Yes that’s right, leveling is completely broken in this game. In the 8-10 hours I managed to torture myself by playing this game I had no idea how to level up stats, then it finally hit me, you level what you use! But how do you use HP, which all my characters seemed to never have leveling up? You take damage, a lot of damage. I ended up having half the party get killed off during random battles because their HP was so low they would get one shot! The only two worth anything in the game were Firion and Guy because of their high strength to do massive melee damage. Maria literally went half my playtime without once getting an HP boost. What the hell? I think I got as far as the Dreadnought because I kept getting owned and no amount of grinding was helping me. No matter how high your healer’s magic score is it does not matter when she literally has 40 HP and gets hit for 60. Even if Guy and Firion are overpowered they will eventually get overwhelmed after I run out of items trying to escape the dungeon.

Much prettier, but I’ll still die.

The broken leveling was such a deal breaker and let down for me that I have yet to pick up FF2 since I put it down, as my PS2 days came along I went for trying almost any RPG experience I could get my hands on, and I wish I still had them all but hey it gives me future goals of rediscovery. Anyway in conclusion FF2 suffered the problem that many second entries were infected with during the NES days, too much experimentation, cool ideas that could only be poorly executed, all while keeping the overall feel of the original source material. It featured a great story that was bogged down with literally endless grinding as you hoped that you took that extra point of damage or did that extra damage to get your individual stat boost. The most important feature of the game was royally messed up during the experiment of Final Fantasy II, and no amount of nostalgia can save the game as there is literally none for the NES young ones, or even those like me who had a horrible gaming experience on the PS Origins release during the younger years of existence.

Until next time. I might even go back to a game I’ve long forgotten sometime on this blog and remember how awesome it is.

Spooky Plays: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

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I would have loved to play some more survival horror games this year, especially with the relevant holiday this month! Driven by time constraints I decided to pick my halloween game based on the ability to pick up and play, so a good childhood classic came up as the forerunner.

You can smell the cheese through the monitor!

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a tongue-in-cheek top down maze like action game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (just called Zombies for the MD players out there) that released in 1993. The game is meant to be a spoof of old drive-in monster movies, putting the player in charge of a boy wearing 3D glasses, or a girl with a pony tail and baseball hat. Armed with only your trusty squirt gun you must go around and save all the civilians in each level while staying alive and avoiding all the monsters, or killing them for points.

No teens were harmed in this game.

Zombies is packed so full of levels it is ready to burst, boasting 49 on a regular playthrough, but 55 counting all bonus levels! That is a long haul for even some of the most dedicated gamers, thankfully the game has a password system that works. All you need to do is write down the 4 letter password you get after completing every few levels. 4 letters. Its glorious. All of these levels are built from many different tilesets which are smartly spread out through the entire game, no 5 hedgemazes in a row here.

Cliches are this game’s best friend, the team at Lucasarts really showed their love for all of those old cheesy monster movies by putting nearly all of them in the game. Secret areas are where many large nods are placed, the first one having a big Frankenstein’s monster guarding an extra life in the lab. Of course every game has its own first enemy, and in this one the choice is as clear as day, the name is in the title! It will not take long to encounter more difficult and annoying enemies though, like all the Evil Dolls, werewolves, chainsaw maniacs, mummies, and martians among others.

Others like gigantic babies for like, no reason.

In order to deal with all these enemies the developers gave you a ton of weapons to use, but first you have to find them strewn about or hidden in the various levels. One should never run out of ammo for their squirt gun, soda cans are used as grenades, popsicles can be thrown, paths can be blown open with the rocket launcher, forks and plates can be thrown, footballs can kill zombies. There is so much hidden around to find that the fun might never end! On top of weapons there are several secondary items to find, such as first-aid kits, keys, potions, shoes, and lazy clowns to name a few.

The game’s controls are smooth and responsive, the only real problem comes with the perspective. Since it is top down and some of the weapons require precision then sometimes you’ll shoot something and it will just barely miss. Think of beat’em-ups and how you have to be perfectly lined up with your opponent to hit them. The music and sound effects in this game are amazing, perfectly fitting given the game’s background and goal.

Now so far I’ve just been laying down my thoughts and a review of the SNES release of ZAMN but as of this writing I do not own the Genesis version, so can’t reliably comment on it. The Super Nintendo version is a must play, whether it is around Halloween or just at some random time. It is easy to pick up and play and get into, it doesn’t matter if you start from the beginning or use an old password, there is plenty of variety and challenge here to keep anybody busy until the dead return to their eternal slumber. Go play this classic right now if you have it for SNES, Genesis/MD, or Virtual Console!

PC RPG Renaissance Part 4: Rebirth

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To begin the Renaissance we must finally look at what is perhaps our oldest friend in the business, and the only company to receive a mention in every single part of this series so far, Origin Systems. Many longtime fans would agree that they had their last gas in 1997 before completely falling victim to EA’s business practices. Ultima Online would release just one week before Fallout to critical and commercial success, instantly becoming the largest MMORPG to date, before being dethroned by Everquest and Lineage near the turn of the century. The last two single player experiences in the Ultima franchise, 1994’s Ultima VIII and 1999’s Ultima IX were viewed as rushed, low quality, and highly messy, so Richard Garriott left the company he founded to pursue new interests for the new millenium.

Interplay would release Fallout and bring back the glory days of single player RPG experiences, using the ideas that the company itself pioneered in the mid 80’s with Wasteland. Along with Ultima Online and Diablo, Fallout would popularize the top down detailed 2D isometric perspective that would be the staple for years to come, and set a new benchmark for expectations of a single player world. Open world exploration was back with a vengeance, not in its purest form like the old Ultima games or the newer Elder Scrolls series, but with a map where the player can choose where to go and explore the wasteland to find where locations are. The turn based combat system would also come back with a fury. Originally Fallout was designed and based on Steve Jackson’s GURPS tabletop rules system, but due to licensing disputes as the game was about to release, the team at Interplay created the now iconic SPECIAL system of character building that defines the Fallout series. The team that created Fallout would soon change their name to Black Isle Studios, and they would bear the torch that Origin once held firmly when it comes to innovation in storytelling.

Fallout 2 was released the following year, the first game to bear the Black Isle logo as developer. Fallout 2 would continue the unique feel of its predecessor, the writing based around Cold War hysteria, Mad Max, and propaganda, making heavy use of dark comedy to build up the setting and characters. But while the first game could be seen as a hopeful revival of pre-war culture with a large helping of grittiness, Fallout 2 would be built to be more like a true wild west post nuclear adventure where nothing is safe. The series takes a much darker tone than the first game, and fans loved it, claiming Fallout 2 as one of, if not the greatest, RPG experience to date nearly as soon as it released, an honor it holds to this day.

While Black Isle did incredible work on the first two Fallout games they would produce what is in my, and many other gamers’, opinion their Magnum Opus in 1999. Interplay had gotten hold of the D&D license and were already making heavy use of it, but Black Isle took a lesser known campaign setting, Planescape, and built an instant classic around it. Planescape: Torment is the definition of a cult classic, the game was critically lauded on release, but with little to no marketing from Interplay, which was now showing sizable cracks in its armor as a company, lead the game to rest in the minds of a small amount of gamers until modern digital re-releases came about and word of mouth spread like wildfire.

Black Isle’s goal with Torment was specifically to break every conceivable trope and cliche that the RPG genre had found itself wrapped around since its inception, and with the meteoric rise of Japanese console RPGs that were dominant at this time, the team had plenty to work with outside of its own largely Western PC based community.

Torment puts the player in charge of a nameless character, there are reasons behind the lack of a name, it is learned fairly quickly that The Nameless One is immortal. He can ‘die’ but all that does is lead to him going unconscious for awhile before waking up later, albeit with his memories erased. So he does not remember his name, how long he’s been alive, or what he’s done and who he’s met through his many years. Because of his long life he is gnarled, heavily scarred, and ugly, which is in stark contrast to console RPGs at the time usually starring a young, charismatic, bright eyed young pretty boy. The Nameless One is supported by an equally unique cast of characters including a floating skull, celibate succubus, a man who is cursed to constantly be on fire, a malfunctioning android, and a possessed suit of justice dealing armor among others.

For the first time since Ultima IV the entire focus on a game was given to self discovery. Torment is built around the phisosophy surrounding immortality (more as a curse than the typical belief of it being a blessing). Because of The Nameless One’s loss of memories it instantly gives the player an incredible amount of questions to ask. Who is TNO really? What has he done? How long has he lived? What impact has he had on the city of Sigil and the planes which surround it? What relationship does he have with his current team? How did he become immortal in the first place? Most of these questions and others are given some form of elaboration, but the expert writing of the game does not explicitly answer all of them. Sadly, the gameplay was not as polished as the story and could have been the major reason for its status as a cult classic.

While Black Isle was Interplay’s internal studio they found a new talent of external developers that would help to firmly plant Interplay as the new leader of PC RPGs. Bioware. I’m sure we all know the name and have played at least one of their games. The second game Bioware ever made was set in the Forgotten Realms D&D setting, and centered around the city of Baldur’s Gate, pretty easy to figure out just by looking at the title, Baldur’s Gate. It was released in 1998 and instantly received critical and commercial success. While Black Isle was initially focused on the world surrounding the player, Bioware was focused on the party members surrounding the player. This writing choice would even influence Black Isle with its own games, most notably Fallout 2 and Torment.

While the main story of Baldur’s Gate was nothing new and largely cliched and predictable to long time players it came out at a time where RPGs in general were attracting newer, younger gamers in the direct wake of Final Fantasy VII’s immense success. So for many, Fallout and Baldur’s Gate became the de facto benchmark for PC RPGs, which is a well deserved title to be honest given the differences between the two developers.

One of a Kind Video Game Pops up on Auction Site

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One of a Kind Video Game Pops up on Auction Site

In 2010 a boxed copy of Air Raid for the Atari 2600 appeared on ebay. The game is considered the rarest for its system and one of the rarest video games period due to so few being known about. As a result this first report of a boxed copy sold for $31,600 and shocked the seller.

A current auction on GameGavel.com has the only known copy of Air Raid to include the manual with the box, making it a ‘Complete in box’ item and truly one of a kind. The accompanying article talks about this current seller’s history and how that initial auction led to them finding an old copy they’ve had in storage for years, likely never even played once, and it looks the part.

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