Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super Nintendo Expression Engine

I’ve been wanting to post this a few months ago, but have not gotten around to it. I made this in the wake of Schwarzenegger v. EMA, but did not send it in due to its size. Not the best mod ever, but still looks kinda sick.

40146_1672670022824_1419610922_31779213_2518912_n 44883_1672670222829_1419610922_31779215_1655729_n 65907_1672669702816_1419610922_31779211_6700759_n 65935_1672670302831_1419610922_31779216_3828171_n 67426_1672669862820_1419610922_31779212_7778826_n 69095_1672670142827_1419610922_31779214_3396820_n

What about you? What other sweet console-mods have you seen?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword Review

The following review is a reblog of the very first review I did for The Radical Reviewers. Celebrating the inception of the new Nintendo 3DS, it is natural to welcome it with a classic for the original DS. 

After losing popularity in the fifth console generation, beat-em-up action games grew rare, almost to extinction. However, Capcom revitalized the genre by releasing Devil May Cry on the Playstation 2. Since then, several new beat-em-up series have sprung up, including God of War and Bayonetta. In addition, the resurgence of popularity in beat-em-ups was responsible for the revival of one of the hardest action-adventure series of the 8-bit era: Ninja Gaiden. 256px-Dragon_Sword
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a stylish beat-em-up action game for the Nintendo DS. Like its console based cousins, fast-paced, intense combat is the name of the game, and Dragon Sword delivers such combat. Stringing massive, hundred-hit combos together is an effortless task here. The action is visceral and intense, made possible by a perfect, entirely touch-screen based control scheme.

Like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, movement and combat is controlled through the DS’s touch screen. Touching a point on the map will cause your character to run to that point, sliding the stylus up makes him jump and slashing with the stylus will cause him to slash with his sword. Lightly tapping a point will cause your character to throw projectiles in that direction. Special moves and magical attacks are handled with specific directional stylus combinations. For example, slashing down, then up, then up again will make your character throw an enemy into the air, then jump after it to perform a brutal pile-driver attack. Pressing any button will cause your character to block incoming attacks. Tapping point while blocking will bring about an evasive roll. The entire control scheme is precise and easy to pick up. Without a doubt, gamers with little experience can pick up this game and start banging out lengthy combos.

Despite the accessibility of the combat, this is no mere button-masher. Enemies are numerous and susceptible or resistant to certain attacks. Predicting the movement and attack patterns of enemies is a must on the difficult later levels, giving combat a tactical edge to round off its fast-paced intensity. Nonetheless, the intense combat grows repetitive quickly. Dragon Sword’s thirteen levels boil down to sets of connected arenas for enemies to respawn and fights to take place. Variety is unsuccessfully forced in through simple environmental puzzles and gorgeous boss fights. The attempts at variety are uninteresting compared to the intense, but repetitive combat. 938848_20080606_790screen003
Graphically, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword blows nearly every other 3-D game on the Nintendo DS out of the water, often coming up to a near PSX level of quality. The 2-D cutscenes are fantastically drawn in a manga-style. In normal combat areas, 3D models are used on a prerendered 2-D backdrop in a Final Fantasy VII/Resident Evil fashion. The backdrops are impressively drawn and detailed, effectively disguising the fact that the levels are almost all the same. The 3-D characters are all fantastically animated, moving fluidly at 60 frames-per-second, action is made satisfying and visceral through amazing sword slashes.

Easily the most impressive parts of the game are the full 3-D boss battles. Where the engine is pushed to render large arenas with textured models and animated characters. Each special move is made even more intense in 3D and combat is absolutely beautiful. It is a shame however, that the entire game couldn’t be rendered in this fashion.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is also a treat for the ears. Sound effects are well-done, with violent sword slashes and shuriken plunges being precisely synthesized. Characters are voice-acted, roars, grunts and screams are made as they do battle. The music is also very good. Traditional Japanese-styled music is used for the central hub areas and adds atmosphere to the environments. Ethereal environments are accompanied by echoes and wind and boss battles are made intense with anachronistically contemporary techno-metal.

There is a story buried within Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, but that story fails as a motive for progression through the game. Even the beautiful cutscenes fail to tell an already uninteresting story. The plot is forgettable and best left ignored
Overall, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is a fantastic game for those seeking a portable action game. Nearly technical aspect of the game shines, from its unsurpassed visuals, tight controls and fun and fast fights. However, repetitive combat, recycled level design and forgettable story weaken this game, preventing Dragon Sword from entering the upper echelon of DS classics.  3.5/5

The Good
  • Best Graphics on the DS
  • Intense action
  • Controls well
The Bad
  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Weak story
  • Short at six hours
  • Average replay value

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Sites 76

Playing Red Dead Redemption right now. Considering doing review on it. Just finished David Kushner’s Masters of Doom, also considering that. A NES 8-bit styled platformer based off the Great Gatsby. If only they had one for Death of a Salesman Anyone considering going down this path should consider this   ..haw..

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Team Fortress 2 Review

Shooters suck.

Consistently repetitive and frustrating, multiplayer shooters have come less about cooperation and more about individually unlocking new equipment and gaining levels. Subjugating their players to long stretches of annoying level-grinding amidst irritating players and tactics, these games become most enjoyable at the expense of other players. If one is having fun playing a game like Call of Duty, someone else is being frustrated because of it. A fundamental lack of balance makes it so that players that have invested the most time into playing will dominate the competition, not because they have developed the most skill, but because they have unlocked superior equipment. Thus, player development is relegated to the unethical realm of rewarding players for completing repetitive and annoying tasks. 1600-1200-27141
Shooters suck. Or so I thought until I came across a game so consistently enthralling, so cooperatively challenging, so comically lighthearted, accessible and rewarding, that it not only changed my mind but restored my faith in the viability of multiplayer shooters entirely.

Team Fortress 2 is the finest multiplayer shooter I have played since the original Call of Duty. A tactical game, matches revolve around one team attempting to complete an objective, i.e. pushing a cart to a goal, attacking a base or dominating the map, while the other team attempts to prevent that goal from being accomplished.
At the core of the action are nine character classes. Each with its own unique role in the battlefield and its own strengths and weaknesses, none are useless and each play as if it were from a different game.

The three offensive classes are respectively the Scout, Soldier and Pyro. The Scout moves far faster than any other class, can double jump and can capture points twice as fast as any other class. Able to substitute his pistol for ability-enhancing sodas, he can speed through stalemates quickly into unguarded capture points, instantly turning a game around. The Soldier is equipped with a rocket launcher and can use it to launch himself high into the air. His shotgun can be swapped for a trumpet, which can give allies offensive and defensive bonuses when he takes enough damage. The Pyro is a close-range class and is most dangerous when hiding behind corners. Armed with a flamethrower and a shotgun, upgradable to a long-range flare-gun, his attacks deal fire-damage, sapping away health quickly.

Defensive classes include the Demoman, Heavy and Engineer. The Demoman is armed with a powerful grenade launcher and a remote-detonated stickybomb launcher. His grenade launcher can be used to hold back advances and kill advancing enemies and destroy buildings and the stickybombs can create dangerous traps. The Heavy, Team Fortress 2’s mascot, can instantly fortify any position with a low-recoil, rapid-fire minigun and boost his health with a variety of “sandviches”. Engineers are critical to any successful strategy and play an important support role. Capable of erecting sentry guns, ammo and health dispenser and teleporters, Engineers reinforce defensive perimeters, resupply offensive pushes and allow for the rapid and constant reinforcement of new troops.

Support roles take a gamut of classes that do not fall into any particular position. The Sniper, an Australian man, is armed with a long-range sniper rifle that charges up its power when zoomed in. The sniper rifle is swappable for a “Huntsman” bow, which sacrifices the scope in exchange for faster charge-time. The Medic is armed with a healing gun which restores health to allies in addition to a syringe gun. The only class with regenerating health, Medics play an important offensive and defensive role by building up “Ubercharges” by healing enough damage in one life. Ubercharges grant ten-seconds of invincibility and ammo regeneration to the deploying Medic and any ally. An Ubercharged Heavy can instantly break through any stalemate and destroy any fortification, turning the tide of the game in seconds. The Spy is armed with only a revolver but has the important ability of disguising himself as a member of the opposing team. A stealth-class at heart, the Spy must adapt his behavior to match that of the player that he is disguised as. While in enemy bases, a Spy can sabotage defenses by destroying Engineer buildings and backstabbing Heavies. By destroying teleporters and sentries behind enemy lines, a single Spy can turn an entire game around.

Team Fortress 2’s fundamental class design places less emphasis on combat and marksmanship and focuses primarily on role-playing instead. Points are rewarded not only for kills, but for healing, teleporting, building destruction, kill-assisting and back-stabbing. Success in Team Fortress 2 comes not out of killing everything in sight and maximizing one’s score, but playing one’s role well, and in turn, bringing success to the team. There are no “jack-of-all trades” classes, each player must rely on the support and help of others. The fundamental design of each class makes the roles come naturally, and as a result, Team Fortress 2 is not only one of the most strategically deep tactical shooters out there, but one of the most accessible.
Team Fortress 2’s class system procures a tangible sense of camaraderie. Performing actions that turn around the course of a match are a regular occurrence for many of the classes, be it singlehandedly capturing the final point as a Scout, destroying a critical sentry as a Spy or stopping an assault as a Heavy. The careful interplay of class abilities makes for extremely well-balanced games as well as many thrilling abilities. No class can succeed without another and likewise, each class has the ability to serve the team in countless ways.

Graphics, Art and Audio
A major complaint against modern shooters is that characters are "generic" and pallete "grey, black and red". Fortunately for Team Fortress 2's sake, "gritty and intense" art is eschewed for "bright and cartoony". Utilizing the most recent version of the Source engine, the game has a distinct, semi-cell-shaded Pixar-esque art style. Characters are easily distinguished from the environment due to the color distinction between their surroundings and classes are easily distinguished by their unique silhouettes. This makes playing far easier and the lack of a radar insignificant.

Further simplifying navigation and combat is the fundamental art-direction of the environments. Each side of the map looks entirely different. The RED team's side resembles a red barn with dirt floors and industrial equipment and the BLU team's side resembles a lab with blue-tinted walls and white floors. The maps are linear, not wide open, and thus facilitate objective-based gameplay very well. The more esoteric maps, like the Halloween-themed Mann Manor, offer a nice change of pace and look fantastic.
By a large margin, Team Fortress 2's character design distinguishes it from its competitors. The distinct silhouettes, humorous voice-acting and expressive faces lend each class a vibrant personality practically unfound in any military shooter in recent memory. Wonderful character animation solidifies the personality of the characters. Each class walks with a different gait and fires his respective weapon with a real sense of power. Character taunts, which freeze the player in place to preform a short animation, are preformed by tapping the "G" key and showcase some of the finest humor and serve well to characterize each class. From the Heavy's hug of his minigun, the Demoman's mocking "flash" and the Scout's dance, the taunts are animated beautifully and serve well to make the battlefield a much more lively and dynamic environment than it otherwise would be.

Sound design in Team Fortress 2, while not groundbreaking like the game's animation, remains very well done. Weapons sound powerful and distinct, each class and weapon can be distinguished by the sounds they make. Voice acting is phenomenal in Team Fortress 2 and furthers the humor of the game, regional accents by the Australian Sniper, the Russian Heavy and the British Spy lend the characters a Street Fighter-esque humor and serve to brighten the mood of the otherwise somber genre.

As an online shooter, music is rather insignificant in Team Fortress 2. What music there is remains fun, catchy and memorable. Appearing only in the game’s main menu, the game’s funky main theme remains a true standout.

Conclusion and Support
Perhaps the best aspect of Team Fortress 2’s design is the constant support that Valve provides for it. Released with only six maps and two game-modes, Team Fortress 2 has expanded greatly since its inception, a perpetual stream of new game modes, maps and items are added through Valve’s Steam. As a result, Team Fortress 2 retains longevity and addictiveness. The addition of a microtransaction system for purchasing special items remains delicately balanced and non-intrusive on one’s full enjoyment of the game (a business model that, in other games, has served to destroy their longevity).

The most striking aspect of Valve’s neverending support for the game is that new content is provided totally free of charge. Team Fortress 2’s additional content, if it adhered to a traditional business model, would have cost the price of multiple DLC packs. The fact that the new maps and modes are provided entirely gratis distinguishes the game from its console brethren.
In all honesty, there is little to criticize about Team Fortress 2. The unique and innovative artistic direction, diverse characters, neverending support and addictive, strategic gameplay are the finest I have ever encountered. Restoring my faith in the shooter entirely, I am proud to honor Team Fortress 2 with My Back Pages' second-ever 5/5

EDIT: Team Fortress 2 has gone free-to-play, you have NO excuse not to download this. (runs fine on old computers) 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday Sites 75

Let’s talk about music My good friend Jack Taylor’s album can be downloaded here. CTRL+F for “Droid Song” and pick up the Southland Explosion album while you’re at it. 8-bit music in San Francisco. On Thursday, April 7, a concert featuring an awesome lineup of Peelander-Z, Anamanaguchi and The Glowing Stars will be featured at the DNA Lounge. Five awesome heavy metal video game covers, featuring songs by Ryashon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Super Mario 64 Review

It is 1997.

You are three years old, your experience of video games is limited to the numerous edutainment programs your parents bought for you. Reader Rabbit, Treasure Mathstorm and Math Blaster all served up some appealing point-and-click adventures. After some time watching your parents play Mario Kart occasionally, your parents drop by the Toys ‘R’ Us to buy a second game for the Nintendo 64, a game of such great historical significance that it would be immortalized in the annals of history as one of the most important ever.That game: Super Mario 64.

To a three year old with neigh experience of the world of console gaming that came before, Mario 64 was truly different and revelatory. Worlds beyond existed behind the glass of the television screen, worlds inviting in their color and begging to be played in. The daunting vastness of Jolly Roger Bay belied the terrifying maw of Unagi the Eel. The stony guards of Whomp’s Fortress intimidating enough, did nothing to prepare you for the awe you felt as you tremored in sight of the Whomp King. Super Mario 64, for you, was beautiful in its scope, terrifying in its scale and changed the way you thought about computers forever.

History and Impact

For the rest of the gaming world, Super Mario 64 represented a paradigm shift in everything a game could be. 3D graphics, still in infancy, were known only through the Mode-7 view of StarFox, the pixelated 2D sprites of Doom and the isometric perspective of Tactics Ogre. Super Mario 64 created a new standard for 3D games using innovative technologies and techniques unheard of at the time.

Design-wise, the game was formerly intended to be an isometric linear platform game to be released on the SNES after creative genius Shigeru Miyamoto completed StarFox. The SNES could not handle even isometric environments of such complexity. The project was scrapped and moved to the Nintendo 64, a console powerful enough to support far more ambitious projects.

The first innovation that Mario 64 brought to the world was in its control. Prior to its release, the primary methods of controlling game characters were either through an 8-direction D-Pad or an arcade stick. 3D environments had to be navigated by clumsily maneuvering a character’s direction faced, a la Resident Evil, all without control over movement speed. By using a miniature analog joystick that provided for nuanced control of Mario’s speed and direction simultaneously, players could maneuver through the game’s worlds with an ease never before seen in any game. This lack of control over speed was especially problematic in Metal Gear Solid, a stealth game where the lack of this kind of nuance led to many frustrating deaths.

The second innovation that Mario 64 begot was the analog 3D camera. Prior to its release, 3D games took place from either a first-person perspective or had their camera positions fixed so that the player always saw what the designers wanted them to see. This prevented precise control from coming to fruition, and in a genre as based on precision as the platformer, lacking this kind of control was disastrous. By giving camera maneuverability to the player, this problem was resolved. A dynamic 360-degree range of motion was possible for the camera. As a result, Mario 64 pioneered a vital technology to all subsequent 3D games.

Graphically, Super Mario 64 was the first console game to use truly polygonal 3D graphics. Previously, 3D models were used only for characters on a highly detailed 2D backdrop i.e. Resident Evil. On other cases, 2D sprites were used in 3D environments, such in the case of Doom. By making the transition to a true 3D environment where nearly everything was modeled and textured, 2D sprites were used only for certain elements of the world, such as trees. This allowed for extremely vast worlds to be rendered flawlessly, with draw distance and pop-in becoming the new graphical hitches to be dealt with.

Super Mario 64 was hailed from its 1996 release as a revolutionary achievement in game design. Elements from its creation are ubiquitous in practically every game to be released to this day. The use of analog character control would be the reason why Sony released a new series of controllers featuring control sticks called DualShock. Dynamic camera control quickly became essential to games of the era, and would be perfected with the release of dual-analog controllers in the 2000s. Exploration-based open worlds would manifest in Grand Theft Auto III, polygonal worlds in GoldenEye, dynamic camera control in Prince of Persia. Mario 64’s lasting impact was unparalleled among the industry.

The reason that Super Mario 64 may seem bland and unappealing to the youth of today is because so many elements of its design have been copied to subsequent games. Mario 64 serves as the quintessential 3D game in terms of control and interaction, and, while it may not be as compelling to today’s audiences as Super Mario Galaxy 2, 64 shows how little 3D platformers have progressed in the last decade. Dire_Dire_Docks
Not content to replicate the 2D-obstacle course aesthetic of Mario’s previous adventures, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced massive open worlds with multiple objectives into Mario 64. Completing each objective nets the player a Star, collecting all 120 of these stars completes the game. There are 15 worlds to explore, accessed through a central hub in Peach’s Castle (which in itself serves as its own world with its own objectives.) Goals are varied, fun and exciting, ranging from defeating a boss, racing an opponent, reaching a hidden part of the world, solving puzzles and gathering coins. Gathering more stars unlocks more parts of the hub-world, granting access to new worlds.

Like previous games, unlockable power-ups augment Mario’s powers. The Wing Cap grants him flight, the Metal Cap renders him invincible and the Vanish Cap gives him the ability to walk through certain walls. By creating a new aesthetic, elements of Mario’s 2D adventures, such as time-limits, 1-hit deaths and classic power-ups, are lost. Other elements are redesigned with aplomb, and omnipresent within the game is the sense of childlike wonder and discovery that made Mario’s very first games so compelling. Hidden areas and secrets are everywhere, and thus, Mario 64’s design is as playful and wondrous as games were meant to be.
Finally, as a platformer, fun in Super Mario 64 is derived primarily from the joy of fast movement within the game’s worlds. Mario’s abilities in a 3D environment are more diverse than any prior game created before. While in 1991’s Super Mario World, Mario could only jump and access new abilities through power-ups, Mario in his 64-bit iteration had access to somersaults, long-jumps, wall-kicks, triple-jumps and aerial cartwheels. This allowed for him to interact with an unparalleled variety of worlds, from fortified fortresses to deep oceans to castles in the sky. Basic movement was fun in itself, moving through levels and completing objectives with Mario’s moveset was a true joy.

Graphics, Art and Audio
Super Mario 64 was a revolutionary masterwork from a technical, creative and aesthetic perspective that still holds up today. From a graphical perspective, things have changed. While beautiful at its time, Mario 64 has aged noticeably, albeit with much grace. Artistically, the game remains timeless, its environments and characters cartoonish and imaginative without ever becoming saccharine. Textures and models retain the low-resolutions and low-polygon levels of 1996. Not all assets are rendered with 3D models, with certain elements like trees and cannonballs manifesting as 2D sprites, fundamentally clashing with the world around it. This is to be expected of Nintendo 64 games, and despite its shortcomings, Mario 64 still looks better than the vast majority of other games on the platform, even besting Rare’s classic shooter GoldenEye.
Top 10 Tracks from Mario 64
Koji Kondo scored the soundtrack to the vast majority of Nintendo games. His work on Super Mario 64 remains one of his finest works yet. The jazzy Bob-omb Battlefield theme is colorful in comparison to the sitar-heavy lava-stage theme and the ambient oceanic theme.  Varied in inspiration and perpetually colorful and happy, Mario 64’s soundtrack has the tendency of ingraining itself forever in the minds of its players. The sound effects and voice acting, led by series veteran Charles Martinet, remain solid and memorable to this day.

Super Mario 64, was, for lack of a better term, a revolutionary achievement in every conceivable way, comparable to the advent of sound in film. The game’s impact remains nearly unparalleled to this day, rivaled only by its’ original predecessor which revived the industry entirely in 1985. While perhaps generic and insignificant today in light of 3D games that borrowed heavily from its design, Mario 64 seems that way due to the very impact that it had. Needless to say, the electronic paradigm shift that was Super Mario 64 remains to this day the quintessential 3D-platformer and is mandatory playing for anyone with even a remote interest in the history of gaming. 5/5

Resources for the Response to the Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami

Google has put together a response site for victims and family of those involved in the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It can be accessed at There, you’ll find donation links for the Red Cross, message boards, warning center reports, shelter information, a person finder and live news feeds.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Platformertown Developers Diary #3

Video game development is an intense task and demands the full attention, emotional investment, creativity and time of anyone involved in its process. It is with great regret that I announce that I will be going on indefinite hiatus from Studio C5’s platformertown project. With a full schedule of school, sports and college admissions work, I cannot fully commit myself to working on the project.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy my time on the project. Having contributed minorly to spriting in Tactile Cave, I learned much about  the nuances of character creation, finding it to be a truly challenging pursuit demanding every creative faculty and every problem-solving skill available to the artist. When limited to 40x40 pixels, one is challenged to minimalisticaly maximize the personality and distinctness of a given character using every pixel available meaningfully. It’s tough work, but very meaningful and satisfying work.

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I plan to return to future projects with Studio C5 in the future. Already I have multiple documents filled with ideas for games. (Many of which I find should be published to this blog) Until then, you will find in the following weeks a updated version of Tactile Cave. This subsequent version will add the fantastic CC-licensed music of of Ozzed as well as actual graphics.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sunday Sites 73

I just completed Insomniac’s Resistance 2, while a fun game with interesting ideas for weapons and varied and challenging enemy design, its ending can be summed in one, beautiful picture.

double-facepalm Chronicle of Higher Education, the Shadow Scholar, the guy who writes your student’s papers. A manifesto of sorts berating lazy students and the  educational system. An interesting read. Speaking of Resistance, the first game drew a bit of controversy over one if its levels. More appalling is how poorly the first game’s graphics have aged. HAPPY 25TH LINK! Interesting read, albeit, not the most original or compelling NEStalgia, the first interesting MMORPG The Supreme Court rules for the protection of hate speech. Intriguing. Doesn't make the WBC any less of total douches though. Proof that Japan, and Square Enix, is still relevant in Western Gaming, and that they still have much to work on USC ranked number 1 game development school. All of a sudden, I find myself considering going here. A lecture on Games and Morality at the GDC.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Hey readers,

The Game Developer’s Conference 2011 is underway and a lot of great new content is coming out and lectures by some of the industry’s most interesting people are being given. As usual, is giving excellent live coverage on the convention’s events.

Also, while on the topic of game development, Jonathan Blow’s Braid, the puzzle-platformer that received high praise for its innovative mechanics and artistic aspirations, is on sale for $2.99 until Thursday. Get it while it lasts.

Finally, you can help this site out in great ways by becoming a fan on Facebook.