EDITOR’S COLUMN Prankster101 Productions 39 Dahomey Rd London, SW16 6NB Email: email@example.com
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Azfar ‘Prankster101’ Shah ART EDITOR Khaled Saifullah CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Mark Morris, Ian Collen, Tom Massey, Jonathan Melton, Travis Fahs, Moz Peachey, Matt Robinson, Jaysen Ramasamy, Simon Lee, Christopher Asiama, Alan Martin ARTWORK Arturo Pahua Mora, Uribaani ADVERTISING
Welcome to the first ever edition of RE-PLAY, and can I just say that it is an honour and a privilege to have gotten this far. The amount of effort which has gone into this project is overwhelming, and what you are now holding is the culmination of a number of years worth of hard work, networking and backstabbing. Indeed, the initial blueprint for this project was originally pitched to (and rejected by) CEX a few years ago, with the resultant decision leaving me no choice but to release this magazine through other avenues and through my own limited means. It hasn't been easy, partly because the market has seen the internet gain greater prominence in securing distribution of niche ideas, and also because the recession has increased its ever-tightening grip on consumer purse-strings. As a result, it was only last month that we had to sadly say goodbye to London Paper - a minor revolution in publishing circles, and a stark reminder of how tough the economic climate is for media publishing companies everywhere. "Why a videogames magazine", I hear you ask. The answer couldn't be more simpler. I have always been into videogames. Videogames have always been the one enduring passion that have remained constant (and faithful) in my life. And whilst it is safe to say that videogames are now seeing a level of popularity not seen since the glory days of the old Atari in the 1980's, it is also interesting to note that videogames are now appealing to a larger demographic of older citizens and women in greater numbers and with increasing frequency. This can only be a good thing, as it is only through greater exposure that we can come to understand and better appreciate videogames if we are to accept them as a legitimate medium worthy of serious analysis. With this in mind, one of the principle aims of this prjoject is to highlight the more evasive and less celebrated aspects of videogames and its culture. To this extent, and as a homage to classic titles such as Super Play and Mean Machines, I hope that this magazine brings you the same level of unadulterated fun and enjoyment that I used to have whilst reading those titles, and also hope that it provides you with a level of intellectual depth and sophistication so as to better enable you to understand and appreciate the medium of videogames. Welcome, and enjoy the ride. For the future is (almost) here.
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DISCLAIMER RE-PLAY does not accept responsibility for the opinions expressed herein. Opinions are those of the respective authors.
All contents of RE-PLAY are copyrighted © by Prankster101 Productions Ltd and are protected by all applicable laws. Nothing contained herein may be reprinted, copied or redistributed in any form without the expressed written consent of the publisher.
Mark Morris talks about... Introversion Software
Ian Collen talks about the pressures of being a Magazine Editor
SUBMISSIONS Please send in any games, records, books, and DVDs for review. No reviews are guaranteed, but all materials received will be equally considered. RE-PLAY is also open to all submissions of articles, reviews, artwork and photographs for publication. Unsolicited materials for consideration of publication become the property of RE-PLAY and RE-PLAY will not be responsible to return them. SUBSCRIPTIONS AND DISTRIBUTION Available directly from Prankster101 Productions Ltd, and from all good stockists. If you are a distributor or store and would like to stock RE-PLAY (minimum order 200 copies), then please email email@example.com Printed by Harmsworth Quays Printing Limited, Surrey Quays Road, London, SE16 7ND
An audience with... Mike Montgomery
ABA Games’ Kenta Cho explains why he insists on working alone
Halo 3: ODST | FIFA 10 | Dead Space: Extraction | Mini Ninjas | Raiden IV | Blood Bowl | Wet | The Beatles: Rock Band | King of Fighters XII
Little Big Adventure | Radiant Silvergun
by: Jonathan Melton
Microsoft and Sony make a move towards motion controls September 24th to 27th played host to the Tokyo Game Show, the birthplace of Japan’s answer to E3 - a video game expo where everyone shows off their latest games and hardware. The big thing everyone was talking about this year was motion controls. Since Nintendo introduced it with the Wii, Sony and Microsoft have been trying to outdo it. Both concepts have been shown before, but at TGS consumers and the press got a chance to try out some actual games. Microsoft’s effort is codenamed Natal, and is easily the impressive of the motion controls. Requiring only a ‘media bar’ with built in camera which sits atop the television much like the Wii Bar and picks up on movement, speech and objects. Traditional controllers are made entirely obsolete. Because of this, it requires more movement than any other motion technology, with your whole body getting involved in controlling the games. The games shown at TGS included Ricochet, a block busting type of game only with your body hitting balls back rather than a paddle, and Space Invaders Extreme, an update of the original classic. To control it, you have to move your entire body about
from left to right in front of the screen and raise your arms in the air to fire. Early reports say that the technology is as impressive and responsive as it looks, but no one can quite see it taking the place of the traditional controller quite yet. Currently twelve major thirdparty developers are creating games for Natal, including Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, Capcom, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Konami, MTV Games, Namco Bandai, Sega, Square Enix, THQ, and Ubisoft. Don Mattrick, senior vice president for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, made the announcement at TGS, saying “the support of these creative partners testifies to the excitement that ‘Project Natal’ is generating among the most innovative minds in the industry.” Sony’s entry into the motion controller fits somewhere in between Natal and the Wii. Like Microsoft’s technology, it involves the use the lifespan of the console was a little over a year, Sega’s white box continues to be beloved by classic gamers. To celebrate the landmark, Sega picked the date to announce Project Needlemouse, a brand new 2D outing for their mascot, Sonic The Hedgehog. Sonic, who was last seen in 2D running from left to right on the Megadrive’s 1994 title Sonic and Knuckles, has spent the intervening years starring in progressively worse 3D titles, and fans hope that this will go someway towards his atonement. It’s currently unknown whether the game is being worked on by Sonic Team or not.
Dreamcast anniversary marks release of brand new 2D Sonic title September 9th marked the tenth anniversary of the release of Sega’s last foray into the console market, the Dreamcast. Although
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Sega weren’t the only ones marking the calendar for the Dreamcast’s anniversary. European developers Redspot Games chose the date to announce the release of a brand new Dreamcast title, to be released worldwide this month. Rush Rush Rally Racing is a decidedly old school, arcade style racing game. “Forget about sponsored cars and realistic environments”, the developers say, “this is just plain old fun”. The Micro-Machines style racer features four player multiplayer, nineteen race-tracks, an online high score and rumble pack compatibility. Anyone who still owns a working Dreamcast can get their hands on a copy from www.redspotgames.com.
of a camera pointed at the player, but like Nintendo’s, it requires that the player holds on to something, in this case a ‘wand’, allowing the play to come over all Harry Potter. Lights on the wand are picked up by a PSEye attached to the console. Because it’s tracked by a camera, a much higher level of precision than the Wii is guaranteed. Games already announced for the Playstation Motion Controller include Resident Evil 5, which will work in the same way Resident Evil 4 works on the Wii, and Ape Escape PS3, a sequel to the game which was first used to show off the potential of the original Playstation’s Duel Shock controller. Currently only known as the Wand Controller, Sony are still deciding on names. “There are several candidates for the name of the controller,” said Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida. “The SIXAXIS and the DualShock 3, while great product names, are based on the actual tech. The name we pick for the Wand Controller maybe won’t be so techy”.
Nintendo to give away games Nintendo have decided to make their entire back-catalogue of games from the NES, the SNES and the N64 available for free, providing you can get enough friends online. Called the ‘Connection Ambassador Promotion’, the scheme rewards people for recommending others take their Wii online. For every person you recommend, you and the friend both receive 500 Wii points to spend on Virtual Console games. If you can get ten friends online, you are given the title of ‘Connection Master Gold’, and with it the reward of all first party NES titles downloadable for free. Manage a further ten, and you’re upgraded to ‘Connection Master Platinum’. With this fancy new title, you can download every single game available for the NES, the SNES and the N64, including ones not made by Nintendo, without spending a single penny. There is an absolutely treasure trove of games available on the service, including many never officially released in the UK, such as the SNES’ Mario RPG and the much loved Sin and Punishment on the N64, so it’s well worth getting involved. The scheme is due to be launched this month. 4
Batman: Arkham Asylum before its release found that certain controls were disabled, meaning that it was impossible to navigate some sections of the game. After getting stuck in the game, one player posted this on the Edios forum (all spelling mistakes poster’s own): “I’ve got a problem when it’s time to use Batman’s glide in the game. When I hold “,” like it’s said to jump from one platform to another, Batman tries to open his wings again and again instead of gliding. So he fels down in a poisoning gas. If somebody could tel me, what should I do there”. The innovative copy protection was revealed by forum administrator Keir, who responded: “The problem you have encountered is a hook in the copy protection, to catch out people who try and download cracked versions of the game for free. It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code”.
Batman beats his latest foe: Piracy With an increasing amount of people turning to illegal downloads, Edios have hit upon an interesting way to combat piracy. Players downloading last month’s
It’s not currently known whether the glide function is the only command disabled, or how exactly the copy protection works, but for now it seems that games developers have a rare edge over the pirates.
Playstation Portable Becomes Even More Portable
This month Sony brought out their redesigned handheld console, the PSPgo. With this smaller, more compact and completely disc free design, Sony is hoping to capture the growing market for downloadable gaming. Although essentially the same console as the previous PSP3000, the Go has had a massive redesign, becoming 43% lighter and 56% smaller, roughly the same size as Apple’s iPhone. The controls, which previously sat either side of the screen, are now hidden underneath via a sliding mechanism, giving the whole console a much neater, less cluttered feel. The screen itself has also been improved, coming across as much sharper and clearer.
Fans of both puzzle games and RPGs are in for a rare treat, as the developers of the ever popular Final Fantasy series, Square Enix, are teaming up with PopCap games, the creators of the massive selling Bejewelled, to create a new Puzzle RPG. Gyromancer will be released on the Xbox Live Arcade and Steam platforms. “Gyromancer is a cool puzzle/RPG hybrid that uses Bejeweled Twist’s game mechanic at the heart of its battle system”, said Jason Kapalka, Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of PopCap. “We’ve worked with Square Enix as a distribution partner in Japan for several years, and it was fun to collaborate with them in a more creative way on Gyromancer”. “We’ve always enjoyed a strong partnership with PopCap Games and Gyromancer represents our goal of developing unique gaming experiences”, said John Yamamoto, president and chief executive officer of Square Enix, Inc. “We believe that Gyromancer will appeal not only to core gamers, but will further introduce the RPG genre to casual gamers as well.” With Bejewelled having sold more than 25 million units, this new iteration could be a great way for casual gamers to dip their toes into the daunting world of role playing games.
Another new feature of the Go is Bluetooth connectivity. Using this, players will be able to connect to their PS3 to play PSP games on their television with the DuelShock 3 controller. In addition, compatibility with other Bluetooth devices such as headsets and mobile phones will be enabled. The battery life has also been improved. However, the most interesting, and potentially game changing, feature of the PSPgo is the lack of input for any physical media, such as the UMDs of the previous models. Instead, all games will be downloaded from the PlayStation store, in much the same way as Apple’s application store. Sony aren’t discontinuing production of the PSP3000, and new games will be released as both psychical UMDs and as downloads. They’re also working on porting existing PSP games into the download format, as well as many original Playstation games. The downloads will be available straight from the PSP, or from a PS3 or PC, which can then be transferred via Bluetooth. If other consoles follow Sony’s lead and phase out physical media, it will completely change the culture of gaming. No longer
will we be able to trade old games for new ones, now we’ll just have to delete them. Similarly, we won’t be able to pick up a bargain from a second hand games shop or eBay, we’ll have to pay whatever price Sony have set. Gamers won’t be able to trade or borrow games, and the rental market will disappear. Of course, in an increasingly digital world this tidal shift seems inevitable, and in many ways we should be applauding Sony for being the first to make the jump. In addition to full priced games, Sony are introducing ‘PSP Minis’, micro sized and budgeted games, again similar to the kind you’d find on an Apple product. The launch games include such all time classics as Tetris. At the moment Sony aren’t allowing games to be released for free, but it’s hoped that this will change at some point in the near future. The Minis platform could potentially be a great launching pad for small and amateur developers looking to make a name for themselves by delivering varied and innovative content. The PSPgo is currently priced at £199.99, a significant price increase of the original PSP, which has an RRP of £129.99. This price makes it more expensive than both the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. It’s also less than only £50 the price of a PS3, which of course comes equipped with a blu-ray player. Current PSP owners shouldn’t worry about their console being made obsolete, as new games will continue to be released on UMDs, and the downloadable full and Minis games will still work on the older models. Gamers without a PSP may very well consider purchasing one of Sony’s sleek new models and embracing the future of cartridge-less and disc-less gaming.
Microsoft poised to take over EA? Microsoft are rumoured to be looking at the possibility of taking over Electronic Arts, best know for their EA Sports series, including FIFA. Rumours amongst traders of the takeover have driven up the stock of both companies. Sales for videogames have been steadily dropping, leaving EA
primed for such a takeover. If the deal takes place, it would mean no more EA titles on any other consoles. Of course, it’s possible that the whole thing is a completely unsubstantiated rumour, but if it happens it could potentially have huge ramifications across the industry.
New Xbox bundle for Modern Warfare 2 Anyone excited about the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but with nothing to play it on, will be thrilled with the announcement of an Xbox 360 bundle. The box contains a copy of the game, two wireless controllers and a specially designed 360. Most intriguingly, the console comes equipped with a 250GB hard-drive, which has over double the storage space of the Elite version of the console. Speaking at the Infinity Ward press conference, senior director of global marketing for Xbox 360 Albert Penello said “Fans deserve the biggest Xbox 360 console ever, and we’re delivering with more storage space than ever before and freedom to enjoy their favorite games and downloadable Game Add-ons, including the first two Modern Warfare 2 maps that will be available first on Xbox LIVE”. The special edition console will be released worldwide on November 10th, tying in with the release of the game.
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Introversion Software we believe in doings things in our own A tunique way. Whether it be game design, development or business, we don’t conform to the normal way of going about them. This is one of the reasons why we have been dubbed “The Sex Pistols of the games industry”. We have released some the most interesting game concepts in the industry, including Uplink, best described as ‘High tech computer crime and industrial espionage on the Internet’, and the infamous DEFCON which consists of strategic Global Thermonuclear War. What we have learned over the years is that whilst you can run a video games business independently, you also place a lot of strain on your resources. You can opt to work with an established publisher with financial backing, but in the process you lose independence, and have to take on board decisions that are made via committee.
To preserve our independence and sense of identity therefore, we have always sought to sell our games independently from the very beginning. From boxed units in markets to online download stores today, we still sell our games on our own online store. We have also created our very own online community through solid, original game concepts, and have fostered its growth over the years. The advice we would therefore impart to any new development company is that you should be confident in your product and design ideas, and not let anyone in the industry dictate as to how your game is created. Introversion Software started out as an experiment with a bunch of us straight out of university, but over the years we have built up a viable business. Our Creative Director takes a lot of his inspiration from the video games and films that he grew up with and you can really see the influence of classic movies like ‘Tron’ and ‘War Games’ shining through our games. The secret to Introversion’s development success is therefore attributed to our high level of quality output in development, and we take great pride in knowing this. The only drawback with high quality games are that they take longer to finish, as more time is needed to make sure the final product is well polished. However, whilst the added development time will increase your overall project costs, this will pay dividends for you in the long run as your game will go on to gain a good reputation and sell well. On the back of this, you will be able to create a community that will flourish and that will go on to create
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its own cool value-added content. It is our firm belief therefore that the best way to keep a community interested is to create exciting new downloadable extras and be open in your business dealings. People want to know what you’re about as large corporate video games houses can be very cold and impersonal, and big developers sometimes overlook their community as they don’t see the value that their audience can bring to their games longevity and success.
true creativity is priceless and can be accomplished successfully with even the smallest of budgets Whilst there are a lot of publishers in the world, most aren’t equipped to handle independent games due to the nature of the business. In order to identify which companies are best suited to accept independent titles, Introversion has developed a dedicated business team which includes sales and marketing and over the years we have learned a lot about working with other companies. Because of the level of risk involved, commercial games with large marketing budgets are more appealing to publishers and these games are often taken on as a safe bet as part of their portfolio. Independent games however, are pushed through word of mouth by early adopters or ‘cool hunters’, and are usually discovered through reviews on third party websites. The more unique your game is, the more difficult it will be for publishers to sell it as they like to predict the success of a game by comparing it with what has gone on before. If you can’t say your game is like ‘X’ (but with these differences) then publishers generally won’t be interested. That said, we have worked with some of the more adventurous publishers both online and offline, and our most successful partner has been Valve. Their digital download service ‘Steam” has millions of subscribers and by offering their customers great prices and an extensive range of titles, they really have ascended to the number one spot for PC. What we can say is that if you are an independent development company, you need to seriously consider as to who you work with
as some deals may cost you more than they’re worth, and also less is more, which is the opposite for most commercial game releases that tend to push their games through as many channels as possible. You want quality and relevant publishers who can push your game to the right demographic and target the correct audiences. It’s a difficult balance to get right as we have ended a number of deals with publishers that were not worthwhile keeping. What a lot of publishers don’t understand is that true creativity is priceless and can be accomplished successfully with even the smallest of budgets. We therefore hope to prove to the games industry that an original independent game can be just as successful as a commercial high budget title. To this end, we hope to make a difference and to go on to influence and inspire the rest of the games industry. At the moment we are working closely with Microsoft as we prepare our next release and first venture on their console and Xbox Live Arcade service. Darwinia+ is a fantastic bundle combining the award-winning classic hit Darwinia with the action-packed multiplayer follow-up, Multiwinia. With a highly unique blend of stunning retro-arcade visuals and explosive real-time strategy gameplay, Darwinia+ is a lovingly put together homage to the halcyon days of gaming that has gained cult status across the games industry. Microsoft actually approached us a while back and they were really interested in working with us, so we agreed. Many people in the industry complain about Microsoft, but we have found them to be really helpful. They have really high standards and we have struggled sometimes to meet their quality bar, but they have always given us lots of support and encouragement and we have ended up with a game that we are really proud of.
Mark Morris is one of the founding members of Introversion Software. To find out more about how Introversion Software releases games on XBLA, please visit www.darwiniaplus.com
a common assumption that being an editor of a videogame I t’smagazine must be something of a dream job. That all we do is
sit around playing games all day in between glamorous press trips and general back-slapping from the gaming community. I’d like to say that this is true, and admittedly one of the hardest parts of the job is trying to compare bad days with friends who feel trapped in a nine-to-five office job they hate, but unfortunately it’s not all just fun and games. The truth is that the day-to-day life of a games magazine editor (and presumably this is true of most other similar media) is largely made up of e-mails, phone calls, general administration and subbing other people’s work – either the incoming text or checking pages from design. It’s about routine, repetition, organisation and more than a little discipline and motivation. It’s very rarely as glamorous as some people seem to expect – although I won’t deny that some good can be had. It can be an especially tough process if you’re not one of the leading figures in the industry because, as much as there’s little talk of it, there’s a clear hierarchy within videogames that sees some people pandered to like a favourite toy, whilst the rest of us have to fight for every scrap of coverage we can get. It’s an understandable process and I can’t really have too many complaints as it makes complete sense for publishers and developers to gain the best possible coverage for their titles. A four-page feature in one of our magazines still can’t compete with a couple of paragraphs in the national press or consumer magazines that can draw in hundreds of thousands of readers – and then of course you’ve got the “official” gaming magazines and other specialist publishers to contend with. It’s not favouritism and I certainly don’t feel as if we’re being treated like second class citizens, it’s simply a matter of priorities. We all have them and it’s obviously not fun knowing you’re not number one and that your requests may be some way down a PR’s “to do” list. However, it does make putting out magazines that can match and even surpass our competition in terms of content and sales all the more satisfying knowing that we weren’t spoon fed every page. Regardless, there’s still something both terrifying and enthralling about staring at a blank flatplan. A thousand questions and a multitude of voices bounce around my head, each one screaming the
virtues of one game over another. Indeed, with three key audiences to keep happy, simply filling the magazine with high-quality content is a challenge in itself. Your readership is obviously your number one priority, but in all honesty without regular market research it can be hard to figure out exactly what your actual demographic is. We have a target market in mind but we have to accept that there are gamers of all ages and tastes and try to balance the content accordingly rather than just focusing on the hardcore gamers. However, as well as your readership there are also two other audiences that we’re obliged to consider: the publishers and, of course, our sales figures. As much as we’d like to think differently, the magazine is there to make money and so it’s understandable that there’s an interest in what goes into the magazine that is motivated by sales. What you have to consider is that a brilliant game could come along that impresses all within the games media and seems sure to score highly and even change gaming as we know it – but unless the hype and marketability is there, in magazines terms, it’s unlikely to outsell another routine GTA or Modern Warfare cover. This means that whilst a cracking cover offer may come in with a nice trip somewhere, cool interviews and some quality coverage – we always have to balance that out with whether or not it would sell favourably compared to something more generic on what could best be described as a “safe bet”. It’s not always ideal and I’ve seen some great opportunities slip away because of it, but in the current financial climate anything that sees sales drop by 10 or 20 percent is simply not good business. Then there are the publishers themselves, who will be doing their utmost to convince you that every one of their upcoming titles is that very title that is going to change gaming as we know it. It’s easy to make snap judgements and assumptions but we have to at least try to stay balanced until we’ve actually seen or played the game, so every time an ageing franchise gets a makeover or a new IP gets announced, there’s an obligation to offer due coverage. Sometimes this plays against the other two audiences, because you’re looking at games that the readers will know little about and subsequently there’s a risk to sales if you stick it on the cover or devote a large chunk of the magazine to a relatively unknown title. However,
sometimes it pays to take a chance and offer something a little different from the norm. Maybe not with the cover, but if a game has a lot to say then we’re quite happy to give it the space to talk. After all, how can a game gain the necessary hype if it doesn’t get the coverage - and there’s some kind of tabloid smugness to be found in saying “you read it here first folks”! There are equally a few secondary audiences to consider. These can include ourselves, as gamers, and what we’d want to read and write about, and then obviously there’s the competition from other magazines and websites. Do you react when someone else puts a game on the cover you had big plans for? The short answer is no, but it may still change the way you approach your coverage even if we do commonly deal with the same resources. The most common reaction to seeing things printed elsewhere that we don’t have is to think “nice artwork, where can I get it”? But then if I was to be totally honest, there are times when none of these factors apply. Both ‘360 Gamer’ and ‘Play Gamer’ are threeweekly titles and when you’re looking to fill 100+ pages with text that has to be subbed, designed, proofed and then shipped to the printers within 15 working days, there’s not always the time to be too choosy. Pretty much all new content is there to be considered and timing plays its part as much as finance and politics. So whilst I’d like to say creating a magazine is always a carefully considered and well orchestrated machine, a large part of the process - from our point of view at least – is done on instinct and impulse. We just hope we’ve been doing this long enough for those instincts to be right more often than not.
Ian Collen is the former deputy editor of 360 Gamer and currently Editor of Play Gamer, a new PS3 magazine from Uncooked Media launching on the 5th of November.
Modern Warfare 2 Gran Turismo 5 Uncharted 2 DJ Hero
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MIKE MONTGOMERY by: AZ
Whenever gamers reminisce over the glory days of the Commodore Amiga, a recurring name always seems to feature amongst gaming discussions – that of the Bitmap Brothers. The Bitmap Brothers were once lauded as being synonymous with high quality action arcade titles and managed to successfully ride the wave that not only saw the 16bit Amiga 500 rise to the top of the gaming hierarchy during the early ‘90’s, but also saw them being crowned as premier rock-star developers and bona fide superstars during a time when the games medium was still evolving and investigating new and fresh ideas.
reached its twilight era in order to make way for the nextgeneration wave of machines from Sony, Nintendo and Sega.
Bursting onto the games scene in 1988, the Bitmap Brothers were responsible for a string of high quality commercial and critical hits that saw them win numerous plaudits and awards. Gamers everywhere would often rush out to buy their latest games, and acclaimed titles like Speedball 2 and Magic Pockets did little to dampen the rampant enthusiasm that people held for their products. Indeed, many young gamers often aspired to be the Bitmap Brothers, and often talked about working for them as part of their lifetime goals. And whilst the Bitmap Brothers were the coolest games company to name-check during the early ‘90’s, somehow things went terribly wrong for the developer once the 16bit generation
The Bitmap Brothers, through the use of cutting edge graphics and sound, played host to some truly remarkable games that were well ahead of their time. Comparisons to present day developers is a moot point, as the Bitmap Brothers were true originals. Marching the to beat of their own drum, the Bitmap Brothers fashioned titles like Gods, Cadaver, Xenon, Speedball and Z that would not only go on to raise the benchmark for games overall, but would also help define the genre they were released on. In fact, it is debatable as to whether advances in modern technology have enabled other companies to offer alternative products that can compete with the sheer simplicity and unbridled enjoyment of early
But before that, and long before developers were championing DIY ideals, self-distribution systems and self-publishing as being viable indie business models, the Bitmap Brothers were doing it first. First with their very own publishing house – Renegade Sotware – which they set up in conjunction with Rhythm King records, and first in pioneering a game development approach that would be studied and copied to this very day.
Hello, and what have you been upto over the last couple of years? What are you doing here at Lightening Fish Games?
Eventually after a couple of products, we did it on the Amiga and ported to the ST.
I’m a shareholder and Development Director here at Lightening Fish Games. It was about four years ago that I shut the Bitmap Brothers down as an office. Although I still own all the IP, the Bitmap Brothers have effectively closed down now. After that, I went into mobile games with Tower Studies and did a couple of years there. We did Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder... about five or six games before the mobile market became unsustainable. We couldn’t really make any money so we decided to stop doing them. I then spent about two and a half years doing freelance programming at home whilst I was selling off my licenses, such as Speedball 2 for the Live Arcade - which has now been taken off because Empire have gone bust and any publisher that goes bust results in Microsoft taking it off their servers. I also licensed Speedball for the PC to a company called Frogster Interactive and they’ve also gone bust (laughs).
So you preferred the Amiga more than the ST?
I’m still looking at stuff for the Bitmap Brothers now. We’re looking at Z and a few other things for the iPhone. What do you think of the iPhone in comparison to other traditional handhelds such as Sony’s PSP or the Nintendo DS? I think it’s a very different market. It appeals to people who are more into phones than into consoles. It’s good, but I think the iPhone market is very flooded. It’s hard to make money from it. It’s a completely open market, but that just shows how it floods in. If you have too many products on one machine, you are going to get minute sales, apart from the top ten titles. But that never stopped you during the 16bit heyday of the Amiga... But I think it was very different back then during the heyday of the Amiga. We started on the ST really, and ported to the Amiga.
re-play | November 09
Yes, because it had better graphics and better sound. One of the things I really loved about the early Bitmap Brother games was your choice of music (eg Gods with its ‘Into the Wonderful’ soundtrack). What factors spurred you to have distinctive soundtracks to your games? It’s all about the game actually. The game isn’t just graphics, it isn’t just programming, and it isn’t just sound. It’s the whole package put together. What do you think makes a good game? A good game has to be good at everything. The whole package has to be good. There’s no point putting rough sound and music in a game that was really good before because it just dilutes the quality. We also used bands like Bomb The Bass, Nation XII and Betty Boo as we had a relationship with Rhythm King records.
Bitmap Brothers games such as Speedball 2 – a sequel that gamers were clamouring to have re-released on Microsoft’s XBLA service in 2007. Whilst Sony may have made some headway in championing the use of sound and promoting in-game music in order to gain credibility from young people and clubbing audiences in the late ‘90’s (via titles like their WipEout series), the Bitmap Brothers were doing it first (again). Bands like Nation XII and Bomb the Bass were at the very forefront of music licensed software, and many of the Bitmap’s premier titles were complimented by soundtracks you couldn’t help but admire. Composers such as Richard Joseph were spearheading innovative in-game music production, and his talent was universally recognised. Although the Bitmap Brothers are sadly no longer around anymore – unfortunately, rising market pressures and industry costs contributed towards their demise earlier on this decade their spirit still lives on however. And to celebrate, RE-PLAY was able to sit down with Mike Montgomery and interview the leading visionary on his role as Managing Director of Bitmap Brothers, and also to find out as to what he is doing at his new company - Lightening Fish games. marriage. I still talk to Steve Kelly a little bit. But Eric? Not at all. I don’t think there are any hard feelings. We’ve just moved on. Do you think the market somehow compounded your problems? I know that money is a big factor when it comes to relationships... It certainly did. When we did Xenon, the first game, we had an advance of £25,000 and we made a profit. That’s not even a week’s turnover here at
When we started the publisher (Renegade), it was a joint venture between the directors of the two companies – Rhythm King records and Bitmap Brothers... Which I assume would have been you as you were the Managing Director of the Bitmap Brothers? Yeah, and my two partners - Eric Matthews and Steve Kelly. Are you still associated with them? No, not at all. Splitting up a partnership is like splitting up a 8
Lightening Fish Games. You must also remember that the Bitmap Brothers, up until the point when we stopped producing games in 2004, were still independent. It was still my money. There weren’t any big publishers backing it, and whilst the banks were helping, the finance was all mine. But eventually you get to a point where you just can’t compete with the big boys anymore...
Have you thought about any new Intellectual Properties that gamers might appreciate?
Was Renegade (the publisher) still around in 2004?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. When I started the Bitmap Brothers with my two partners, I wasn’t the creative person, although I’ve done some design stuff since. I’ve got some ideas, but it’s a personal thing. I’ve been kicked in the teeth quite a lot by publishers not wanting original IP.
No, we sold Renegade to Time Warner in 1995.
What new games are you looking forward to this year?
By reading fan websites such as The Chaos Regime (www. gods-country.de) and The ZZone (www.zzone.lewe.com), I know that there is considerable demand for an update to Z, because people are so passionate about the series. And as you have already mentioned, Z is coming out on the iPhone...
The NewU Fitness First for the Wii, which is ours (laughs). Apart from that, there’s nothing really that’s caught my eye. I tend not to read games magazines. I think that what’s important is that, when you only have a small amount of time to actually play games, it’s better to have a game that is actually recommended to you through word of mouth marketing. I’ve sometimes bought games based on reviews in the past and have been disappointed.
Z is going to be a port of the original. I’ve been looking into different things as to how to do Z again, but sometimes it’s one of those things that’s best left buried because the expectations are just too great. To be fair, we did Z and then we did Steel Soldiers (which was effectively Z2). But markets change. Peoples’ perspectives change. If we go back years after we finished, everyone wanted first-person perspective games. I think this is where the iPhone comes in, the Wii comes in, and to an extent where Microsoft’s XBLA service comes in. We’re starting to see games that publishers wouldn’t have touched eight years ago. They’re great games. Great games that are very simple, that have great gameplay, and yet aren’t first-person perspective.
Did you always want to be a programmer when you were younger? No, this is my second career. I was a retail manager for Woolworths originally. It’s an old story, but I literally fell into it. The story goes that I was a Floor Manager and I got bored. Computers came along and told me how to align my store, and I thought “What’s a computer? No idea!” So I bought a Spectrum ZX81. I didn’t know anyone who owned a computer. I didn’t sleep for a year, and just taught myself how to program and how to hack. I’m totally self-taught. In any job, there are people that are natural at doing things and then there are people that just learn it. And they can both be good. I’m dyslexic, so programming was easy for me as opposed to English as I enjoy solving problems. Being a manager in retail involved solving problems, and programming is a type of continuation as it’s problem solving. Has your involvement with Tower Studios ended? Yes. We stopped writing mobile games two or three years ago. I can’t work for a publisher that says you are going to work for nothing and you are going to get royalties, and you never get any royalties. Everyone has to make a living. And that’s where the mobile market went, and I actually believe that’s where the iPhone market will go. It’s overly saturated. And with a title like Z... well, it’s last on the list because virtually all of the software on the iPhone is arranged in alphabetical order.
re-play | November 09
We’ve just done a fitness game. Fitness First have done all the fitness programs. There are no avatars. It’s all real people footage on a blue screen, so you can therefore decide to play on a beach or in other locations. It’s different and a departure from doing a traditional game. But we’re still using games ideas. It’s serious but fun, and we’ve done all the filming ourselves. How much investment has gone into your studio? Our investment is more in the staff that we’ve got and the quality of the staff that we’ve got. We’re employing people from within the industry as well as those who are able to utilise transferable skills such as film-makers etc. I’m learning about film, about lighting etc. We’ve done everything in HD. We’re filming backgrounds around the world... It’s nice to learn something new. How do you find and retain talented personnel within the industry?
What would you say is your favourite Bitmap Brothers game or series? Personally, I really enjoyed working on Cadaver. It was probably the most enjoyable bit of programming I’ve ever done for the Bitmap Brothers. I also really enjoyed Steel Soldiers as well because I did a lot of the design and programming on that. For Z, I was Lead Programmer on the game and I found the experience enjoyable but frustrating.
makes the Nintendo Wii good is the Wii remote and the Balance Board. What the games industry has always wanted to do is to introduce games to women, and now all of a sudden we have a console that women can use because it is more friendly. As a consequence, Nintendo have opened up a whole new market that the industry needs to get to, and a higher percentage of women are now buying the Wii...
What do you think are the main differences between Japanese games developers, and Western European games developers?
Lots of interviews. Using agents, and people applying. I don’t actually think that finding talented people is that hard., but keeping them is harder. At the Bitmap Brothers, most of our staff were long-term. It’s just treating them right. I think it’s also important to be open to their creative ideas. Right now, we’re doing fitness products. We’re employing people who have done games, but they love it. We’re not just trying to make a fitness game, we’re trying to make it different. We’re trying to make it the best, and it’s far better than Wii Fit!
You know, I think it is a real shame that we don’t see more games from Korea. There are some lovely Korean games that I have seen in the past. But as for Japanese games, I think the cultures are very different. The graphics are very different. And although I have played games like Final Fantasy, Zelda, and Mario Brothers in the past, I feel that those games tend to be more American and westernised as they have universal appeal.
With NewU Fitness First, we are aiming at a totally different market to Wii Fit. NewU Fitness First is a pure fitness program that doesn’t use childish graphics and is aimed at the 30-35 female market. Fitness First are involved, and they have done the exercises in it and everything. There are a lot of people out there who are intimidated about going to the gym, but now people can do exercises at home using the Wii Board, and I think that’s why Fitness First are licensing their expertise to us.
Do you think popular 16bit Japanese titles such as Mario Brothers and Sonic had any degree of influence on your own platform games such as Gods or Magic Pockets?
Obviously these are games that are associated with the casual market. Have you thought about delving back into your hardcore roots at some point?
No, not at all.
Although it is our intention to do so eventually, right now we are doing the NewU Fitness First franchise for the next two to three years. We’re doing something that we are good at until we have some money before we can do something else. A new company like ours, whilst its doing pretty well, still needs a solid backbone.
What influenced the design of Magic Pockets and Gods? Magic Pockets was a strange one. I suppose Japanese games did have an influence, but the idea was to make it fun and to have humour in it. The Bitmap Kid had these magic pockets, and the pockets got deeper and deeper. And Betty Boo’s ‘Doin’ the Doo’ was a fun song. So I think they went well together. Eric Matthews was the designer of Gods, and out of all of my intellectual properties, Gods is actually the one game that I would like to do something with. Which reminds me of one of my favourite games - God of War. I would like to do Gods 2 along a similar line to God of War, but make it slightly different. The games are slightly different in historical eras anyway where God of War is Greek and Gods is Roman... What games are you developing at the moment? We’re dealing with fitness games for the Nintendo Wii. What
How do you feel about outsourcing, and how much of an impact did the outsourcing of programming duties have on Xenon 2 when you used Assembly Line? I think there is a difference between outsourcing and actually using freelance people. Assembly Line were freelance. The difference with freelancing, and we do that here, is that you have direct control. With outsourcing it tends to be “You do this. We take it and then we’ll check it. And then we tell you it’s not that good and then we’ll send it back”. I’ve tried outsourcing a couple of times and have had some very bad experiences. I’m not saying that all outsourcing is the same, but once you lose that control, you tend to lose that quality and the personality of a product suffers.
Why have you decided to call your latest venture Lightening Fish Games, as opposed to the Bitmap Brothers? The Bitmap Brothers is personally owned by me. It’s my IP, and I will carry that name on at a later stage... Is Jon Hare (your ex-partner at Tower Studios and Sensible Software founder) still associated with you? No, but we’re still friends. We had the same philosophy as what we have here at Lightening Fish Games which is that we want to make the best games. But the mobile market just wasn’t for us. With Team17 reviving its Alien Breed franchise for the XBLA, do you think Chaos Engine will be receiving an update as the design behind those games is pretty similar? I actually pitched Microsoft with a brand new Chaos Engine a few years ago, with the game looking particularly good, but they weren’t interested. What about a Xenon update, bearing in mind that Microsoft love Treasure games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga? Again, it’s a similar situation. Considering that Bitmap Brothers were the original “rock star” developers, what do you think were the reasons behind your success? I just think we had the balls to do it. The first set of photographs we did were to promote ourselves. The pictures were so good that
every magazine printed them. To get on in this world, you have to take the bull by the horns, and we were determined to be famous. The programmers are the stars, and not the publishers. You don’t buy an Apple record, you buy a Beatles record. It’s a real shame that, although some developers do have their names published on boxes, the vast majority of them are owned by publishers. Whilst you do have independent developers like Rebellion, Team17 and a few others, most of the games are now from Sony LA, Sony Liverpool, THQ and the like. The film industry wouldn’t stand for this. When we won awards, we went to the awards and we picked up those awards ourselves. The publisher didn’t do it. We wouldn’t let them because those awards were ours. What was the inspiration for the metallic sheen and the distinctive graphical look that early Bitmap Brothers games used to have?
Have you ever thought about producing film licensed games, like Ocean did in the ‘90’s and how companies like EA are doing now? The Bitmap Brothers did have a few publishers who pitched for film licenses. We spent a lot of time and money pitching for licenses but never got any. We did a lot research into the films but it just never happened. After Z and World War 2: Frontline Command, a publisher approached us about the possibility of doing a real time strategy game on Troy. We did a lot of research into Troy and Greek mythology, and concluded that the game won’t succeed as an RTS and also won’t portray the film in an accurate manner. In the end, we produced a 120 page design document after which the publisher came back to us and said “No, this is not what we want”.
We wanted clear, concise, sharp graphics. Something that stood out. The metallic look came from Mark Coleman and Daniel Malone (our two artists at the time). They stylised a lot of that under our direction. It was about making the graphics look cool and sharp.
Out of all the machines that you have released games for, which do you consider to be your format of choice and why?
What motivated you to produce games of such outstanding quality?
Finally, are you a fan of big teams or small teams?
The main motivation for writing outstanding games, the best games in the world as it were, was that we wrote games that we wanted to play. We enjoyed playing them and we thought that everyone else would as well. And I think we were right.
The Amiga because of the graphics processor as I really enjoyed programming for it.
I’m a fan of small teams. You need good core people. A philosophy of some of the bigger companies is that they have 20 artists who are all split up into small groups, where they are all tasked with doing the same thing, and where the company picks the best. That’s a waste of money. I have the best!
BITMAP BROTHERS TOP 3 GAMES Gods
The daddy. A superlative achievement and a masterpiece in design and execution. Games don’t come bigger than this. Whilst the rest of the games industry was being enamoured by Mario and Alex Kid’s latest exploits, the game’s principle exponent and chief architect – Hercules – was carving out a new niche for himself by simply being the most bad-assed mortal to step into the City of Legends.
Featuring stellar graphics and fiendishly designed levels for their day, coupled with a soundtrack by Nation XII that really was ‘Into the Wonderful’, Gods was a master-class study in how to develop a native platforming game for a machine that didn’t have access to any of Japan’s greatest 2D heroes. And whilst recent titles like God of War may finally have eclipsed Gods as ranking in the pantheon of all-time action games, Gods is an awe-inspiring benchmark and a crowning achievement for the Bitmap Brothers who, at one point, were leading the charge and who were at the very forefront of the games industry. Gods truly does deserve its place here as the best game by the Bitmap Brothers. Its imaginative scale, combined with its ability to implement the best aspects of adventure games in an arcade action game environment, helped secure it a legion of fans – many of whom would go on to become ardent Bitmap supporters. With the God of War series carrying the torch for historically epic games today, it’s a shame that unlike many of the Bitmap Brother’s other games, a sequel was never announced. As it stands however, Gods lives up to its name and manages to secure itself a seat reserved for the greats. A throne reserved for the gods. And isn’t that a fitting place indeed.
“Kick Off with fists” was how journalists used to describe this futuristic street-sports game. A somewhat dramatic opener which upon closer inspection, lulled you into a false sense of security before promising to kick your teeth in.
Starting off with the Simon Rogers (aka: Nation XII) themed intro, Speedball 2 was the sum of all of the Bitmap’s grand ambitions for the Amiga, crystallised and distilled so as to emerge as one of the best games for the humble platform. Through blood, sweat and tears, your goal was simple: take the worst team in the game – Brutal Deluxe – and see them ascend to the top of the league and be crowned champions. Along the way, you had to stave off stiff opposition from the likes of Super Nashwan, Lethal Formula and Fatal Justice. Together with the developer’s trademark production values, Speedball 2 was able to cement the Bitmap Brother’s reputation when it was released in 1990. Featuring a great two player mode, a stats-driven campaign which saw you managing player assets, and oodles of gameplay. This pugilistic sports game had plenty of fouls and loads of injuries to be had during its 180 second matches, and whenever someone had to be stretchered off mid-game, you could bet that someone would shout out “Ice cream, Ice cream”. It was this, plus a myriad other subtle touches which helped distinguish the game from all other competitors on the market. A true classic, Speedball 2 helped usher in a new golden age which would see the Amiga being crowned format of choice by gaming connoisseurs everywhere.
Something has gone terribly wrong in Great Britain. The Chaos Engine is out of control and is wreaking havoc and mayhem with the space-time continuum. Your job, should you and your elite group of hired mercenaries choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the great land and bring an end to these nightmarish sequence of events which have seen the world descend into chaos, anarchy and economic turmoil.
So far, so cliché. But who cares when you had a game that was this much fun. Taking the established template as defined by seminal titles like Mercs, Chaos Engine was a top-down, run-and-gun arcade game which melded exploration with balls-out shooting action. In it, you and a team-mate had to venture into the heart of Chaos Engine territory in order to defeat its minions and shut the dreaded machine down. Along the way you collected keys, power-ups and gold so as to enable you to solve the puzzles and ease your passage within the game. You also had to work as part of a team, and this added a much needed strategic element to proceedings. For many, Chaos Engine represented the last truly great game from the Bitmap Brothers stable, and whilst the Bitmaps would go on to develop more good games (such as Z), their impact wasn’t as keenly felt, nor as greatly appreciated as this enduring arcade classic. A sequel to Chaos Engine was also released three years later in 1996, but unequivocally speaking, was considered a commercial and creative failure. One would guess that this was probably due to changing market conditions, as the Amiga was losing ground to make way for Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s unstoppable Playstation. And like the Amiga itself, the Bitmap Brothers were largely considered a spent force once the 32bit era had gathered steam.
re-play | November 09
The future is now www.re-play.me
Lone Wolf: Catching up with one of Japanese gaming’s greatest solo artists
by: Travis Fahs the dawn of the ‘80s, games were the product of true auteurs. A tAtari’s designers holed up in their office drawing sprites,
sorting out lines of code, and composing the various beeps and bloops that passed for audio. The torch was carried by the bedroom coders of the microcomputer boom that gave birth to the UK’s development scene and brought Japan into new world of gaming, far more diverse than the arcades could sustain. It was never meant to last. By the ‘80s, gaming’s solo artists had dwindled to a tiny fraction of the community, and today they are an endangered species. Even amid the recent indie boom, one-man devs have been forced to group up to stay ahead. Introversion Software has grown to more than a dozen people, and even Jeff Minter’s Llamasoft has gained a second member. But there are those still devoted to the ways of old. Kenta Cho (ABA Games) has emerged as an iconoclast of Japan’s doujin (selfpublished) shooter scene. In fact, he isn’t truly a doujin developer at all, since he steadfastly refuses to charge a dime for any of his work, and all of his games have been open source. With more than 20 games, he has a portfolio of cult classics that manage to blend the “bullet hell” sensibilities of modern shmups with the inventiveness of the classic arcade era that the genre has lost along the way. It’s no surprise that the designer drew his inspiration from the noisy arcades of the early ‘80s. “I was 8 years old when I first played arcade games such as Missile Command, Deep Scan and Circus,” he reminisces. “I was very excited with this new kind of entertainment, and I wanted to create games in the future, but at that time… I thought that would mean I would have to manufacture arcade cabinets”. The epiphany came not long after, during Japan’s “my computer” boom that brought affordable programmable PCs into the homes of millions at an affordable price. Kenta Cho, at only 10 years old, got a copy of ‘My Computer Primer’, a textbook accompanying a TV show of the same name. The pieces were falling into place. “The first computer I had used was a SHARP PC-1500”, he remembers, “a pocket computer with 3.5K memory and a BASIC interpreter”. The budding developer tried his best to create games on the single line display, but before long, he moved on to greener pastures. The NEC PC-6001 was the Spectrum of Japanese market; a cheap Z80 PC that brought computing within reach of a new market of millions. It was only a matter of time before the young developer graduated from BASIC to machine language. Despite finding his inspiration at a young age, Kenta Cho didn’t publish his experiments, and eventually his dreams of a career as
Gunroar a professional game designer faded away. He landed a good job working for Toshiba’s R&D department and diverted his creative energy toward making games as a hobby, not a career. Despite the long hours Japanese workers are known to keep, he dedicates much of his weekends to crafting experiments in shooter design. ABA Games, as he calls his label, first emerged against the backdrop of the shooter renaissance of early 2000s. Capcom had been teaming up with nearly every great shoot ‘em up dev in the arcade business, and their last push was a side-scroller by Cave called Progear no Arashi. Its lush, dense danmaku (lit. “curtain fire”) patterns are the stuff of legend, and Kenta Cho decided to see if he could dissect them in a way that would be easy to understand.
re-play | November 09
But it wasn’t until Parsec 47 that Cho began to really find his voice. He remembered back before the current bullet hell craze and looked at what we’d lost along the way. Sure, these games were intense, but they weren’t as compact and distinct as the games he played as a kid. For Parsec 47, he paired the sensibilities of an 8-bit shooter with the fury and chaos of a modern arcade shmup. From then on, he would make sure that all of his games had a unique twist.
Inspired by XML, he created BulletML, a modeling language to describe the kinds of intricate firing patterns seen in the manic shmups of the day like Progear. Before long, the simple BulletML foundation was being used to power web browser bullet galleries with loving recreations of patterns from games like Ikaruga and Psyvariar. The idea of a full game seemed a bit out of reach for the developer, who has a fairly limited grasp of the audiovisual arts. In 2000, he created a game with jumpy stick-figure graphics a la Vib Ribbon, but this seemed limited. In late 2001, Sega made Rez, and the final components fell into place. Using abstract, minimalist graphics and synthetic sounds, he could create a game with an understated style and a focus on gameplay.
Cho was poised to be the poster child of Japan’s freeware scene.
His early efforts like Noiz (and its better known update Noiz2sa) and rRootage were still little more than showcases of BulletML firing patterns built around a simple shooter engine, but this didn’t stop them from being downloaded by countless fans all over the world. With interest in shooters surging at least temporarily, Kenta
Noiz2sa Experimental design is harder work than some of us appreciate, and it’s one of the reasons Cho chooses to work alone. “Sometimes I create 10 prototypes and trash nine of them,” he admits. “I’d hesitate to entangle another person into such a terrible process.” His next game, TUMIKI Fighters, showed just how ambitious these ideas got. A side-scrolling shooter in a land of toy blocks, TUMIKI allowed players to grab any and all defeated fighters until 12
Parsec 47 the “ship” is a hulking mass of toyland scrap pouring firepower on anything unfortunate enough to be to the right side of the screen. We’d love to see how wild the ideas that didn’t work were. Some of Kenta Cho’s fondest gaming memories are of AX-5 OLION, a 3D shooter modeled on some of America’s early rail shooters like Hadron, as well as vector classics like Star Wars that lent much to the aesthetic of Cho’s games. It’s fitting, then, that he would eventually remember the third dimension. Torus Trooper abandoned the chaotic curtains of bullets for more subdued enemies, but it moved the action to a 3D pipe, and added a speed element that encouraged players to whiz through hazards at breakneck speeds. With shades of Web Warp and Internal Section, the inventive game is now remembered as one of ABA’s very best. Although he works alone, Kenta Cho is not isolated from the rest of the game development world. In fact, he’s keenly aware of other independent developers, and has a great deal of respect for his peers, especially those with a similar love for the abstract. “I like the immersive graphics of Jeff Minter’s games such as Space Giraffe and Gridrunner”, he says of his Welsh counterpart. When asked about his fellow Nihonjin, he overlooks the doujin scene’s favourite sons like Team Shanghai Alice, showing his reverence for experimentation. “OMEGA [creator of Every Extend] is one of my favourites and sometimes we discuss game design”, he says. “It is important for me to talk with friends about how to create a good game”. In 2003, Geometry Wars landed on Xbox as part of Project Gotham Racing 2, and proved to be the little game that could. It’s hard to understate the influence this little game had on independent developers, with its abstract visuals and chaotic exaggeration of ‘80s arcade design. In many ways it was an affirmation of the
Titanion work Kenta Cho had been doing, and it makes sense that the accomplished designer took a liking to it and searched for ways to accommodate its influence in his own games. Gunroar was ABA Games’ first experiment with dual-analog control. The design paired a simple nautical-themed vertical scroller with the controls of Geometry Wars and an acceleration gimmick not unlike the one in Torus Trooper. The experiment worked, but the result wasn’t as unique as some of his other games. His second attempt would prove far more fruitful. Mu-cade once again borrowed the control scheme from Geometry Wars, but proved to be one of the most wildly original games to diverge from the shooter genre in years. The influences are still apparent, but they take an all new form. The player controls an ever-lengthening worm, as in countless classic snake-games, but instead of avoiding collisions, Mu-cade is a fast-paced game of sumo wrestling, as the player and swarms of foes battle to push each other out of the “ring” with a drifty physics engine. The longer the tail grows, the more chaotic the struggle becomes to keep it from falling off and pulling the whole worm with it. It was a polished title that preserved the old-school sensibilities Cho
values and completely modern gameplay that could never have been done 20 years earlier. He followed up with Titanion, his most retro shooter yet. Harking back to the days of Galaga and Phoenix, it preserved his usual ‘Tron’-like aesthetic and lighting fast bullets, but it was still in many ways true to the Golden Age shooting games of long ago. Simple and addictive, Titanion foreshadowed a trend of throwbacks that would follow not long after, including Space Invaders Extreme and Galaga Legions. In 2008, Kenta’s games reached a whole new audience when Budcat Creations released their own heavily modified version of TUMIKI Fighters for Wii entitled Blast Works. This release tweaked the gameplay and brought the graphics away from the abstract. More importantly, it offered deep customization, right down to the tweaking of bullet patterns – a feature made possible by its BulletML heritage. In addition to the centerpiece title, it also packed faithful ports of several other Kenta Cho creations. Even with the low production values, the gameplay shone through and Blast Works was met warmly by critics. Kenta Cho was not paid a dime for Blast Works. Since all of his game are open source and public license, publishing, selling, and modifying them is perfectly legal. Some developers would be bothered to see others profiting from their work, but for Kenta, money is not the issue. “I was very happy when I heard the commercial version of my game was released,” the optimistic dev crows. “Collaborations are always welcome. I hope people use my code, ideas, and all the resources of my games freely if they think they will be helpful to create a commercial game”. Recently, Cho has moved on to the XNA platform, creating games that work on both the PC and Xbox 360. Mazer Mayhem – a chaotic arena shooter with a rotating view – was his first attempt. Not long after, he followed up with the even stronger GearToyGear. This tunnel shooter repeats the acceleration gimmick that worked so well in Torus Trooper, but with rapid dodging of scenery that harkens back to the later levels of Space Harrier. The interest in Xbox 360 might hint to some that ABA Games could be finally going commercial thanks to Xbox Live. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For Kenta Cho, keeping things free and open is a matter of principle. “I want to distribute my XNA games free on Xbox Live Indie Games,” he laments, “but right now we have to charge for a game distributed on Xbox 360. I look forward to the day I can distribute my own free game on Xbox Live”.
Gear Toy Gear
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Cho is a true, committed independent, the likes of which are few and far between. Most independent artists, be they game developers, filmmakers, or musicians, usually only stay independent until they get a better offer. Kenta Cho has all the opportunity in the world and the respect of peers all over the globe, but for him, he’s more effective working this way. “I prefer to create small games in a short time I think it is better to create all things by myself”, he says bluntly. It’s certainly hard to argue with his results. 13
ABA Games may be one of the most prolific and respected one-man developers in Japan, but he is by no means the only one. Some are coders that rely on abstract graphics like Kenta Cho, while others are talented artists that lean on authoring software like Clickteam’s Multimedia Fusion in the absence of real coding skills. Both have produced more than their share of worthy software that shouldn’t be ignored.
CAVE STORY (DOUKUTSU MONOGATARI) Author: Pixel Homepage: http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA022293/
Arguably the most influential independent game of the last five years came from a then-unknown homebrew developer, going by the name Pixel. The product of nearly five years of development, the sprawling adventure-platformer was always meant as the developer’s magnum opus. A true renaissance man, Pixel has no aversion to getting his hands dirty drawing pixel art, designing characters, writing story, composing music and programming his engine from scratch. The result is a charming, atmospheric game that harkens back to the days of Wonder Boy in Monster World, but with a style all its own. Cave Story is the little game that could, and it’s hard to overstate its influence on the indie game scene. At the time Cave Story was released, the boom we’re experiencing now was still simmering beneath the surface, and Pixel’s creation was propped up as a poster child for the movement; a truly polished piece of neo-retro that showed what one man can do. Now, an enhanced Nintendo Wii version is getting ready to bring the now-classic title to a new audience, hopefully by the end of this month.
Author: Crostar Mirror URL: http://pc.hrej.cz/plne-hry/akce/arkada/rhacp/ Snake games are one of the oldest genres of the microprocessor era, and at times it feels like there’s nowhere left to go with them. Crostar’s rhacp somehow defies expectation with some subtle tweaks to an old formula that manage to create something new and addictive. The game is stripped of its grid and given a rotating camera and free-roaming movement. Dots are placed as a residual of your own movement, leaving players perpetually chasing their tails. The visuals are the same kind of stylish-but abstract art that has become increasingly trendy since Kenta Cho’s success. Not much is known about Crostar, and in fact he disappeared from the development scene not long after rhacp was released. It seems unlikely we’ll ever see a follow-up, but it’s still a game worth revisiting.
Author: OMEGA Homepage: http://nagoya.cool.ne.jp/o_mega/index.html As a university student, OMEGA created what would become his masterpiece very early in his career. Every Extend was an exercise in shmup as a point of departure. Using the familiar vocabulary of a shooting game – a tiny ship and a screen full of angry enemies spewing bullets – and turned it on its head by removing its defining element: the ability to shoot. Instead all the player can do is move and selfdestruct. Self destructing also destroys nearby enemies, which in turn destroy enemies near them. With judicious timing, each suicide can rack up enough points to earn an extra life, hence Every Extend. It wasn’t hard to see the potential in this simple premise. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Rez, and his developer Q Entertainment, developed an enhanced version of the game called Every Extend Extra, featuring more elaborate visuals, and the developer’s trademark integration of sights, sounds, and music. OMEGA has not used the opportunity to move on to the big leagues, and happily continues his work as an independent, preferring creative control to the glamour of a studio project.
Author: Buster Homepage: http://tokyo.cool.ne.jp/itako-rider/game.html In the Japanese homebrew scene, imitators of Cave are a dime a dozen, but disciples of Treasure are far more rare, and none have been able to pull it off with the credibility of Buster. Lacking real programming skills, the young dev has pushed Enterbrain’s Shooter Maker in ways few others have, and come up with a game that doesn’t steal from Treasure’s 16-bit classics, but clearly understands the ethic behind them. Iwanaga is a sort of run-and-gun shooter vaguely reminiscent of Nam 1975, but all the flair, depth, and complexity of Alien Soldier. With an expansive move set involving two shooting modes, two weapon types, dashes, double jumps, and a bullet canceling sword, it can feel a bit overwhelming at first, and with a relentless parade of bosses (including many unique to each difficulty level), Iwanaga never lets up. What Buster lacks in programming ability, he makes up for with incredibly rich, professional sprite work, atmospheric folk-tinged music, and inventive, highly polished gameplay design.
Author: Krobon Station Homepage: http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA036419/ Krobon Station suffers from a similar lack of coding ability, but Multimedia Fusion has opened up many doors here. Krobon made a charming side-scrolling shooter with the original Mogura, and even a serviceable 3D Mario Tennis clone called Mogura Tennis (Krobon’s only commercial release). But it’s Mogura 2 that remains their most memorable output. The simple, brightly colored shmup packs a level of graphical polish rarely afforded such small productions. Channeling the spirit of Parodius, it has a sense of humor and a grasp of solid shooter design without relying on clouds of twisty bullet patterns. The highlight of the game comes in the form of its screen-filling bosses that ooze with personality. Krobon Station remains active, and have announced Mogura 3 as their next project, but like so many devs working in their spare time, it’s hard to say when we’ll finally see it.
re-play | November 09
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It traces over the landscape, highlighting the city in a neon outline, pinpointing enemies in glowing red. While Halo 2 took a novel approach to the first-person shooter by switching between two central characters, ODST is comprised as a series of flashbacks. The rookie’s lonely search for his team acting as a hub, the game doesn’t really get underway until you locate the first beacon at which point you’re whisked back several hours to when the sun was still high and the divided ODST team were still getting their bearings.
: OUT NOW
PUBLISHER : MICROSOFT GAME STUDIOS
a theocratic T healienCovenant, race, have deployed
a giant mother ship over the African city of New Mombasa.
DEVELOPER : BUNGIE
From the stark reaches of space by: Tom Massey a UNSC military cruiser looks down on Earth. In its darkened control room a rookie soldier sits in full combat gear, listening to his mission de-brief.
The inbound pods are blown wildly off course. The rookie watches helplessly as the slicked city streets race toward him, condensation streaking across the window. A moment later, all the lights go out. Halo 3: Orbital Drop Shock Trooper takes place during the events of Halo 2. Playing as a rookie in the ODST unit, you wake six hours after a crash landing knowing only that something has gone very wrong. Wandering alone in the dead of night, attempting to re-trace the steps of your missing team, it’s not long before you find the Covenant have left behind a number of enemy patrols. ODST plays almost identically to previous Halo titles, Bungie retaining the series hallmark fluidity and traditional controller layout. Unlike Master Chief (Halo’s common hero) the Trooper suit doesn’t have a shield and doesn’t regenerate as quickly after taking fire. This shift makes stealth and strategy paramount when engaging Covenant forces. Wading in is a risky approach; it only takes a little enemy fire before the image blurs over and the sound of heavy breathing indicates that you need to take cover. This relative fragility keeps the Halo lore consistent, Master Chief and the Troopers’ strength given clear distinction.
Nerves are high as the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers - nicknamed ‘Helljumpers’ - board their HEV pods. Through the narrow window the rookie stares down at the calm, pink -hued cloud blanketing the planet. The pod releases, shaking violently as it rockets toward its destination, burning through the atmosphere. Over the radio, the crew holler as the cloud clears. Below, the giant Covenant mother ship hovers above the glittering metropolis of New Mombasa. Then, to the surprise of the Troopers, the chief officer orders a last minute change of trajectory, switching the destination of the pods from the Covenant ship to Earth’s surface. Spotting the assault, the Covenant suddenly retreat via a slipspace jump, creating a massive shockwave that wrecks the besieged city.
It’s a bit like Halo meets ‘Quantum Leap’, the player uncovering what happened to the soldiers by playing out their individual fates. Each has a specific story; some tasked with blowing up bridges, others having to charge their way inside the city walls from the coastline. Subtle, creative sub-narratives, including collectable audio transmissions and clever visual punctuations, really enrich the experience. Early on, a giant structure can be seen burning against the skyline, its dramatic fate only revealed after a couple of hours play. Although the rookie sections are subdued compared to the action-packed flashbacks, this is still dynamic storytelling at its best. Visually, it’s Halo 3 in new clothes. No bad thing of course; the graphics are excellent all round, with the opening orbital pod drop being quite stunning. It’s more a subtle re-working than any kind of overhaul, but still packs quite a punch. While there are a few bugs, like vehicles getting stuck in trees and, owing to the free flowing nature of the action, gung-ho attempts falling flat the first time but working perfectly well the next, there’s still nothing quite like a Halo fracas. It could be the superb, carefully devised stage design, decorated with toys and gun turrets, or the warm sense of camaraderie that makes ODST the pinnacle of the series all-important combat element. Either way, when you’re stocked with heavy weaponry, loaded with grenades and plunged into a real tight situation, there’s little to touch it.
Although it pays to be a little more calculating in your approach, the weaker armour certainly doesn’t affect combat negatively; rather it encourages a greater level of tactical thinking. Kicking off as the rookie, you’re tasked with hunting down beacons in the eerie night-city. Wreckage litters the streets and magnificent skyscrapers claw against dusty skies. It’s quiet save for robotic booths spewing advertising slogans and the occasional traffic bollard rising from the ground when it senses your approach. It’s unnerving and tense, and very nicely done. Dealing with Covenant patrols is lesson number one: knowing when to approach, when to keep your distance, and when to sneak up and break skulls. A new feature of the Trooper’s suit is a night vision mode – totally indispensable when you traverse New Mombasa in the darkness.
The only drawback is that, while a polished and beautifully orchestrated production, it’s criminally short; a criticism now commonplace with Halo titles. The set pieces, driving musical score and fantastic combat are utterly enthralling, but at just over six hours you can’t help but want for more. Once the campaign mode has been well and truly dusted, it’s achievements scoured, there’s still Firefight, pitting up to four online players against increasingly fierce waves of enemies. It’s a terrific diversion and a big improvement on Gears of War 2’s ‘Horde’- its most obvious inspiration. With Covenant ships spewing troops left right and centre, the constant pressure, heavy vehicles and superb terrain make it a real blast. It’s not quite on par with Halo 3’s straight up death matches though, which is why it’s just as well that ODST comes bundled with all twenty-four Multiplayer maps from Halo 3 on a second disc. Perhaps not too special if you already have them, but an end to your immediate social life if you don’t. What’s significant about ODST is that it feels fresh. It doesn’t stray too far from what makes Halo great, but it does take risks. There’s a big pay off in humanising the Troopers, especially as the game is carefully devised around their shortcomings. The result is a taut, tactical adventure, and while it’s still a breeze on regular difficulty, playing on legendary certainly gets the blood pumping. It may be too short for its own good, but the shifting timelines and interweaving stories are carried out with such panache you’ll hardly care. ODST shines as one of Bungie’s most accomplished works, proof that there’s life beyond Master Chief in the Halo model. ODST is combat evolving, and it wears its stripes with pride.
re-play | November 09
FIFA 10 FORMAT
: PS3/PC/360 version reviewed
: OUT NOW
movement must have E very its leaders. And yet, every
movement is always divided by an internal struggle, a PUBLISHER : EA SPORTS conflict that occurs to establish DEVELOPER : EA CANADA a standard. It’s the fostering by: Jaysen Ramasamy of these divisions that help the movement’s leaders strive for excellence, but it is also these divisions that help render the leaders utterly useless and impotent towards the end. The 8bit console war had Sega and Nintendo duking it out, with each company yielding newer technologies and ever more brilliant games so as to give it an edge over its age-old rival. And with both companies having exhausted their ammunitions during the Saturn and N64 era, to the extent that both companies had to change tact if they were to survive, their savage rivalry gave way to a new breed of competition when Microsoft and Sony entered the fray. Each electronic superpower hellbent on achieving dominance and snatching victory so as to set a precedent and standard in the home living room.
These legendary bouts have also extended to game genres, and for many years, that age old question of “Fifa or Pro Evo, Fifa or Pro Evo, Fifa or Pro Evo?” has often been the subject of intense debate on every football-gamer’s lips. For many years, Pro Evo, going along with the analogy, proved to be that very Nintendo - always at the forefront with tried and tested franchises that often yielded brilliantly realised gameplay concepts. However, with last year’s exceptional Fifa 09 release, and Pro Evo 2009’s lazy lacklustre offering, it seemed the roles had reversed, with Pro Evo caught offguard and on the back foot. And indeed they had as the response from both critics and gamers saw both sets of audiences switch their allegiance towards EA’s formidable offering. A year on, and we have new instalments of both franchises getting ready to do battle, with Fifa 10 the first to strike. So with all that said, is Fifa 10 any good then? Well, yes. It’s good, and so much more. In fact, this could well be the best yet in the series, revealing just how far EA have gone in improving their formula. The gameplay of Fifa 10 hasn’t really been altered from Fifa 09, but where Fifa 09 failed, this year’s offering positively excels, offering probably the most complete football-gaming package to date. And as you’d expect with licensed sports titles of this calibre, all your favourite teams and leagues are available, as well as international tournaments and iconic stadiums. But the realism is now more accurate than ever with even better character-animation and better AI – the physique of each player, whether tall or small, thin or large, really does lend weight to the way players perform and respond. A problem last time round was the poor goalkeeping, but this has been greatly enhanced, as well as the set-pieces, which you can now customise to your liking. And with subtle improvements like the
re-play | November 09
Dead Space: Extraction FORMAT
: OUT NOW
a Wii gamer you felt I fleftas out of the sci-fi horror
zombie killing action when Dead Space was released for DEVELOPER : VISCERAL GAMES PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 last year, fret no more. Dead Space by: Matt Robinson Extraction is a Wii exclusive game acting as a prequel to the Visceral Games title released last year. It may be based around the same story, but the gameplay is vastly different from the original. Extraction is essentially a rail shooter, although Visceral are quite keen to call it a ‘guided first person experience’ due to the various choices and interaction offered along the way.
PUBLISHER : EA
ability to take quick free-kicks, or how the ball sometimes hits the referee during play, there’s a certain magic to the game that is really missing from other football-sims. The newest feature however is the inclusion of 360-degree player control, which really does offer a new level of fluidity and movement. The level of smoothness is unbelievable and never has it felt so naturally lifelike to move on the pitch in a computer game, to the extent that at times you really do feel as if you are there! In every sense of the word, this is the greatest level of authenticity that a football game has ever managed to achieve. And with its realistic crowd noise and decent commentary, you could well be fooled into believing that you’re watching the very thing! One of the niggling problems Fifa 09 had was its unsatisfactory Manager Mode. Well, Fifa 10 has revamped this as EA have given it a serious overhaul, and now it’s far more accessible, with much more depth. Like the Football Manager games, there’s a lot of detail to player-development, transfers, scouting, and the general running of a football club. And it’s more rewarding than ever thanks to its management-style, real-life approach, especially with regards to its transfer-market system and how the players act like their realworld counterparts – so for example, you won’t be seeing Lionel Messi joining Tottenham! In fact, so many features and options are available in this mode, like throughout most of the game, that it can be a bit confusing to find exactly what you are looking for. A better menu screen would have made things much more easier.
The story takes place on the Aegis VII mining colony and later the interstellar mining ship Ishimura, where the original Dead Space game takes place. On the mining colony, everything has been plunged into chaos after a virus turns the locals into raving lunatics who start killing each other. Soon after this they turn into freakish monsters known as ‘Necromorphs’.
As expected, the Wiimote is used to aim and fire any weapons in your arsenal - which range from a rivet gun to my personal favourite, the plasma rifle. As with the original Dead Space game, Necromorphs must be killed by the removal of limbs, which is made very easy with Extraction’s excellent aiming system and with no movement to worry about.
‘Be a Pro’ also makes a return, albeit this time round as ‘Virtual Pro’. Your created player can now be placed in any team and be made available through any of the playable modes – a nice addition indeed. You can also upload a photo of yourself and place it onto your created player’s face, giving you the opportunity of being able to fulfil your age-old dream of playing alongside your heroes as part of your favourite team. What more could you possibly ask for? EA have certainly taken the time out to listen to their fans and have really pulled their socks up for this one. The game performs brilliantly and it’s hard to fault Fifa 10. Offering everything football fanatics would want, plus more, it’s nothing short of pure brilliance. Many seasoned Pro Evo stalwarts, like myself, would have no choice but to tip their hats off to EA, and I’m sure that many fans would also wish to salute EA for taking the brave steps that they have with their football game. For now though, it will certainly be interesting to see as to how Konami can counter this with their own flagship series. Pro Evo has a lot of ground to cover if the series is to eclipse this year’s Fifa offering, and without doubt, at this moment in time, the Fifa franchise is sitting at the top. For all Fifa 10’s efforts and the valiant gains that EA have made with it, as the beautiful game, so it should be.
To distance the game from other rail shooters, the environment can be interacted with. This can involve picking up items, searching lockers/crates for anything of use, and clearing debris blocking your path. However, in many instances you’re given so little time as to collect items that it’s easy to miss out on a few. Overall the graphics are excellent and represent quite possibly some of the best yet seen on the Wii. These are at their best during the fantastic zero gravity sequences. There’s a lot to like about Extraction. Combat is hugely enjoyable and a significant amount of deranged joy can be had from dismembering hordes of Necromorphs in the myriad of ways made possible, and the immersion into the intense, cinematic story is very successfully achieved. However, it does sometimes feel as if you’re watching a film as the obtrusive pauses in action results in you watching your character move during large segments of the game. The shooting sequences, whilst one of the best features of the game, also seem flawed. Whilst standing motionless and shooting at things is what you do in rail games, Extraction feels like it should be more sophisticated than this. Dead Space: Extraction is a bit of a mixed bag, and maybe not quite be what Wii owners had hoped for, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. 17
Mini Ninjas FORMAT
: 360/PS3/WII version reviewed /PC/DS
RELEASE : OUT NOW
a video game, Mini AsNinjas is a huge tangent
for its developer, IO Interactive, to go on. The PUBLISHER : EIDOS INTERACTIVE firm’s previous games include DEVELOPER : IO INTERACTIVE brutal titles such as Kane and by: Matt Robinson Lynch: Dead Men, and the Hitman series. A world away from these games however, Mini Ninjas portrays the exploits of Hiro, an endearing, small ninja sent on a quest to defeat the Evil Samurai Warlord who is turning animals into samurai warriors to do his evil bidding, mostly unoriginal things like terrorising all the villagers in the land and so on.
From the beginning of the game, two ninjas are available to be played, Hiro and the larger Futo. As the game progresses, four more ninjas are unlocked, and can be switched to at any time to exploit each of their different abilities. With combat moves being fairly limited, as Hiro you can choose between swiping with your sword, jumping and swiping from above, or performing a ‘Power attack’. This involves jumping into a freeze-frame of Hiro in mid-air, allowing you to target a number of opponents and attack at will. It’s a bit of a ‘Matrix’ imitation pastiche, but good fun nonetheless. Because the evil samurai warriors are actually animals, when they are defeated; they harmlessly change back into cute critters in a puff of smoke. This is not only amusing but also makes the game much more suitable for younger audiences.
: ARCADE/360 version reviewed
IV is the latest R aiden game in a long running
RELEASE : OUT NOW (US, JPN), TBC (UK) scrolling shooter series to be PUBLISHER : UFO INTERACTIVE GAMES released on the Xbox 360. The core mechanics have remained DEVELOPER : MOSS the same and the game is very by: Christopher Asiama simple to pick up and play. Any gamer who has played Ikaruga or 1942 will instantly find themselves in familiar territory as you command a small ship so as to engage hordes of enemy ships in combat. You will have to dodge hundreds of bullets, grab power ups to boost your skills and fight enemy bosses. There are three main offensive power ups you can acquire including a spread machine gun, focused laser and a purple homing laser. The homing laser is great as it locks onto enemy ships and can also bend and contort around the screen taking out other enemy ships in its path. As is common with these type of games, the fun always usually starts when the game offers you the chance to rack up high scores and overcome insurmountable odds. Raiden IV is no different in this respect, and the game offers several challenges and modes to appease the shooter fan. One of these challenges tasks the player to make it through the game without losing a life and you will engage in some truly intense battles if you take on this challenge. Doing this will also earn you achievement points and a place on the ranking list. In order to survive the odds you will have to try to memorise the numerous enemy attack patterns. This is another fun tactic to use but it is definitely not for beginners as it takes some time to master. Whilst UFO Interactive should be commended for bringing such a niche experience to mainstream audiences, Raiden IV’s key strengths can’t help disguise the title’s overall shortcomings. Although the game is fun, the lack of significant content means that it’s over all to quickly. The game is incredibly short as there are only seven unique levels to play and these stages then repeat themselves so as to give a total of 14 levels with a boss fight at the end. There also isn’t an online multiplayer option which limits Raiden IV’s replayability considerably.
In addition to swordplay, the Hiro character can also practice ‘Kuji Magic’ in order to defeat his enemies and help him on his quest in other ways. What is disappointing is the lack of Wii motion-sensing capability utilization. The player movements and actions that can be controlled using motion sensing are fairly limited, and do little to enhance any feeling of involvement. The level designs are varied and work well with the Wii’s more humble graphics. The majority of the game is played in a fairly linear fashion, with many levels tending to be along pathways that can rarely be strayed from. The campaign is fairly lengthy and the level variety certainly helps to keep it interesting. Mini Ninjas is a thoroughly rounded title, and manages to be challenging when it needs to be, without being too irritating. The gameplay, whilst mostly quite simple is very satisfying and enjoyable. The Wii control’s lack of motion-sensing utilization is a shame, as is the limited replay value of the linear campaign. Mini Ninjas isn’t exactly ground breaking, doing little that is new, but makes for a fun family game that is definitely worth considering.
re-play | November 09
Whilst extra content is available, such as co-op play, two extra stages to the Xbox 360 game, score attack and boss rush modes, as well as downloadable extras (such as two new extra ships to play with), there just isn’t enough here to justify spending money on a full-priced title when cheaper and more wholesome alternatives are available on Xbox 360’s Live Arcade service. To this extent therefore, Raiden IV represents something of a missed opportunity and should only really be considered if the title is available for rent, or if you are a serious fan of the shoot-em-up genre as a whole.
Blood Bowl FORMAT
: PSP/PC version reviewed /DS/360
RELEASE : OUT NOW
seems most boys I tencounter Warhammer
at some point in their life. PUBLISHER : FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE Whether they embrace it, ridicule it or hide in the DEVELOPER : CYANIDE darkness of their bedroom for by: Simon Lee hours painting it depends on the individual. But it seems Warhammer has now been brought to the real world and it might have been made even more geekier…
Bloodbowl is a simple concept. Take American Football, add a lot of spikes, more injuries and significantly more deaths and there you have it. Originally it was played on a board marked out by squares using dice and actually resulted in a game that involved a fair bit of thought and a lot more luck. But now the video game version is out and to be honest, it has barely deviated from the original concept. The game can be played in one of two ways: in the traditional turn-based way, or in real time. Both are good, although because of the nature of the game, the real-time means you have to think very quickly, otherwise several of your players are likely to end up standing around doing very little. The turn-based mode however is where the game really comes into its own. Although some would argue that taking the original game and just converting it into a computer game is the height of laziness, others would claim however that “if something aint broke, don’t fix it”.
The transfer from board game to video game is flawless and Bloodbowl is as tactically deep and as strategy-laced as the original. Whilst previous knowledge of the game is advantageous, there is a tutorial to get new players started. Despite this however, Bloodbowl isn’t something that can just be picked up as each move requires just as much thought as a game of chess. Whilst newcomers may struggle against this initially as the computer beats them every time, repeat plays will eventually enable the player to glean some satisfaction from their wins. Indeed, enduring perseverance should allow the player to discover that the ecstasy of winning surpasses that of any other game in the genre. Bloodbowl runs smoothly and although it might not be the best looking game available, it’s solid enough and has plenty of play modes, campaigns and teams to keep anyone interested. Whilst obviously targeted towards fans of the original board game, those who can look past the title’s origins will find a game that, despite its shortcomings, is absolutely brilliant entertainment. 18
RELEASE : OUT NOW
when O nce-upon-a-time, ‘The Matrix’ was
awesome and Max Payne was one of the better games DEVELOPER : ARTIFICIAL MIND around, bullet-time was cool. AND MOVEMENT And then people decided it by: Simon Lee was so last year and decided that people should move at normal speeds and be prone to dying easily. And this is why I like Wet already. Wet has basically turned around to the world, raised a singular finger and said, “You know what? Bullet-time IS cool! We’ll show you”! PUBLISHER : BETHESDA
Wet is Max Payne but with it’s tongue firmly lodged in it’s cheek. Our hero, a young lady who goes by the name of Rubi, can run along walls, run up walls, leap through the air and slide along the ground. Every time she performs one of these crazy acrobatic actions and pulls the trigger on her unlimited-ammo pistols, time slows to a crawl. To make it even easier, as you aim with the gun in Rubi’s right hand, the one in her left seems to develop a mind all of its own and aims at any other henchmen hanging around.
The Beatles: Rock band King of Fighters XII version reviewed
: OUT NOW
the moment the F rom blissed out intro sequence
starts you know that Harmonix have pulled out all the stops DEVELOPER : HARMONIX MUSIC SYSTEMS and have done their research this game’s going to take you by: MozPeachey on a Magical Mystery Tour of the Beatles, so grab your instrument and get ready for a great psychedelic journey. PUBLISHER : MTV GAMES
The main element of the game is Story mode, this is set out in a similar way to Rock Band’s solo player mode. However, this time the songs aren’t in order of difficulty but instead are in chronological order, taking you through key moments in the Beatles career from the Cavern right through to their final gig on Apple Corps rooftop. This works really well if you’ve played Rock Band before but could be off-putting for newcomers as some of the early songs are as difficult as the final track! But do not fear, there is Quick Play mode which has all the tracks available from the start so you can practice on easier tracks before going into Story mode. Talking of difficulty, even on Expert you’re never truly pushed to the limits – not surprising considering that the Beatles weren’t exactly known for their finger blistering guitar solos. This is up for debate however, as the game does present some taxing and complex rhythms requiring plenty of practice to hit those high scores. You also get the chance to sing the harmonies, giving you three vocal lines to sing, and allowing yourself to be immersed in delivering the full band experience and the challenge of singing and playing at the same time. As you play through Story mode you unlock photos, and in turn for collecting a number of photos, you unlock videos. For each chapter you complete you also get a challenge mode where you play through every track from the chapter without stopping, unlocking another photo for “5 star-ing” every track.
Wet is the sort of game that would make Quentin Tarantino proud and with a decent cast (Buffy’s Eliza Dushku, Heroes’ Alan McDowell and a certain Alan Cumming) it’s one of those games that feels so much more like a film. A very bloody and over-the-top film. And it’s just brilliant.
re-play | November 09
: OUT NOW (US, JPN), TBC (UK)
PUBLISHER : SNK PLAYMORE DEVELOPER : IGNITION ENTERTAINMENT
by: Tom Massey
the nineties, realistically I nchallenging Capcom’s
landmark Street Fighter 2 was a prospect entertained by many, attempted by some, and achieved by very few.
For SNK, a company fuelled with Yakuza money, it was the fighting game that defined their ambitions. Although their early titles lacked the fluidity of Capcom’s money-spinner, it wasn’t long before the flagship yearly fist-festival, King of Fighters, matured into Street Fighter’s most formidable rival.
Fifteen years down the line, this twelfth instalment - a composition of multimedia technologies, dazzling pyrotechnics and giant, screen-filling characters - is a serious overhaul. The series signature play mechanics have been retained, but SNK Playmore have stripped out a number of established moves - a bold concession that makes KOF XII appealing to veterans and newcomers alike. The three-on-three team setup remains, with old favourites Iori, Kyo and Terry Bogard returning as part of the twenty-two strong character roster. Somewhat surprisingly, one of KOF XII’s most striking characteristics is that it simply doesn’t feel finished. Bar a thin time-trial premise, it’s totally absent of plot. Worse still, with only six battles and no boss character, the lack of frills is disappointing. The music too, is mostly poor - some simply awful – and the front-end menu lacks warmth. The switching of Athena’s ethnicity from Chinese into generic Japanese schoolgirl is also a puzzling twist. If however, you can look past these superficial elements, KOF XII still does what KOF does best, its core playability and frenetic speed surviving intact. The blows are mallet-to-mortar solid and the combos wonderfully satisfying. The dynamic camera scales around the action and everything has a great sense of pace.
Whilst the game is somewhat conventional, it’s made original by the sheer madness of it all. And failing that, not only can Rubi run up walls, she can also run up henchmen... And she has a sword! This all makes Wet sound like a pretty easy game, but it’s actually fast-paced and frantic. The first few levels are fairly straight forward, with Rubi placed in a locked room with no way of escaping until every goon is dead. Once the room is cleared, you then have to navigate Rubi as she makes her way over the rooftops to the next area so as to repeat the process. But in a moment of crazed brilliance, after Rubi bursts through a door so as to shoot the guard in the face, we see the entire game turn into a massive ‘Reservoir Dogs’ style poster (all black, white and red) as Ruby goes on a massive killing spree. Music setting the mood as it seemingly plays out of ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ whilst the player realises that this is just one of the many moments that they’d happily relive again and again.
The guard break returns - now in an unlimited form rather than requiring super stock – and, even if its overuse can become tedious, adds rhythm to the fight.
A lot of thought has gone into the set design starting with some key concerts from the start of the Beatles career before moving into the Abbey road recording studio. However instead of just watching the Beatles sat at a recording studio, you get taken to suitably psychedelic dream worlds that act as visual auditoriums for the song which you are playing - though sometimes they are so bright that picking out the notes from the background can be tricky. All in all The Beatles: Rock Band is an incredibly polished and well thought out homage to the Beatles, and a must for Rock Band and Beatles fans alike.
As well as the staple super combo, there are ‘deadlock’ moves that repel players in a simultaneous strike, and an exciting new ‘critical counter’, an opportunity to let loose with a string of unblockable attacks. It’s true that the size of the sprites and widescreen aspect has slightly deformed the natural range of things, but there’s no doubt that this makeover has breathed new life into the series. It may be a baby step – and one that has a few teething troubles - but it’s still far superior to most. While future entries will inevitably add refinement and depth (and if we’re lucky, the lovely Mai Shiranui), for the time being this grand training ground welcomes all-comers to a new generation of KOF. And damn, in what style. 19
asked to list my W hen favourite games of all
time, it’s a familiar list of modern classics (Left 4 Dead, Fahrenheit) timeless genre DEVELOPER : ADELINE breakers (Deus Ex, Vampire The by: Alan Martin Masquerade: Bloodlines) and retro gems (Super Mario World, Sensible Soccer), but there’s one title in particular that doesn’t comfortably fit into any of these categories: Little Big Adventure. It’s a gem that many of today’s players will never have heard of, and yet it still has a dedicated cult following online, making sure it works on modern systems, designing prequels and reminiscing about it. It’s a unusual title that creates such feelings of nostalgia 15 years after its release, but this real time adventure was a breath of fresh air back then, despite the lukewarm reviews it received at the time. PUBLISHER : EA
The game was the work of Adeline. The team that eventually made Little Big Adventure and its sequel had previously crafted Alone in the Dark for Infogrames, but allegedly left after a disagreement over sequels. It was quite hyped at the time being designed initially for CD ROM in an era when floppy disks were still the preferred format, with full voice acting and a non-midi musical score. Not only this, but the game offered a deep plot for an action adventure – an intriguing tale of an oppressive government trying to suppress insurgents and deny freedom of thought, told through an admittedly cutesy world populated with talking animals. Your protagonist – Twinsen (confusingly a citizen of the Planet Twinson) – starts the game imprisoned for having a dream, and your first act is to escape prison and slip through the town without being recaptured. Nobody – not even old friends – can be trusted, and it’s this that makes the first section so enthralling. You can fight to a degree (in fact you can murder fellow citizens for no reason way before Grand Theft Auto made it fashionable), but there are some genetically engineered enemies who will simply knock you out in a single hit, making it impossible for you to become some kind of cutesy Rambo. A deft combination of sneaking and legging it is therefore required to get past the guards, and from then on it’s a case of sneaking around the world undercover to try and find more about the rumoured resistance. The graphics were pretty nice for their day as well – an isometric adventure with little details like furniture, cupboards, bins and trees appearing for the first time in an era when 3d was more typically associated with the futuristic corridors of Doom. Although it’s not a particularly good comparison (given it’s neither a first person
shooter, nor blessed with particularly good combat), it had one other advantage over Doom and its ilk – the AI was very advanced. While in other games, enemies would shoot on sight, the opposition in LBA behave in a very different way, often shouting for help, cowardly running away, and sometimes heading straight for the alarm as soon as they see you. On top of this the game had a wonderful cheeky sense of humour – I still remember being made an honorary Elf (you’d have to have played it) only to be presented with a membership card embossed with the number #000000003. So why was the game only offered average reviews when it was first released in 1994? Possibly because reviewers were expecting the tense horror of Alone in the Dark, and what they found instead was a cartoony world populated with talking rabbits, elephants and spheres with legs. It had an atmosphere, but a completely different one to that found in the grandfather of survival horror. It also had a number of flaws that make the game frustratingly unplayable today, unless you’re buoyed by the nostalgia of having beaten it over 15 years ago. Let’s start of with the main issue: its difficulty. It’s not actually a hard game, but certain design choices go out of their way to make it appear so. Take the first scene for example – if you’re caught escaping, it’s back to the very start again with no hint as to what you did wrong. It turns out there is a prison guard’s uniform hidden in the lockers that will fool some of the guards, but not others – you won’t know which until you reach them, by which time they’ll often have hit the alarm to call in the “one-shot-kills” guards with their homing-bullets. If this happens, you’ll be back to the start no matter how quickly you react. To its credit, the game usually just sends you to a prison, rather than making you restart or reload, but it’s this kind of trial and error frustration that becomes a staple of the game. Another example: each section of the map is a square of isometric land that loads when you step off screen – but if you’re hit by a bullet while standing near the edge of the screen you’ll be knocked back into the previous square. This wouldn’t be too annoying, except the enemies re-spawn, so when
re-play | November 09
you step back in you’ll find that any enemies you’ve managed to get rid of have simply come back in the few seconds you’ve been away. Then you had the controls to contend with. On top of the standard arrow keys, you had to manually switch Twinsen from standard mode (walking, talking, interacting) to athletic (sprinting, jumping) to aggressive (punching and kicking) to sneaking (an elaborate tip-toe movement). Having to change mood quickly when a brawl kicks off is a mess of accidentally pushing the wrong button, and dealing with Twinsen’s elaborate reaction animation before getting to respond. Often if you missed the first punch, that was it. On top of this, you could drown in anything as shallow as a puddle, and the much-vaunted voice acting was weak, to put it charitably. And yet I still look on it with immense nostalgia – it had a charming and unique atmosphere yet to be replicated, not even by its sequel which completely abandoned the dark storyline of the first and replaced it with a clichéd narrative about alien invasion. Despite dealing with a lot of the problems the first game had (most notably the square game map, which became a fully 3d environment), I can’t bring myself to look on the sequel as fondly. There was rumoured to be a third game in development for the Dreamcast after the studio was bought by Sega, but when the console was abandoned in 2001, so was any hope of a third game. I’m sure its had its influences on modern games – probably in what not to do as much as what should be done. It’s quite telling that the game’s creative director, Frederick Raynal, was one of the first three game personalities to be knighted in his native France, becoming a Knight of Art and Literature alongside Shigeru Miyamoto and Michel Ancel in 2006. Since then Raynal has worked as a consultant on the wonderful DS title Soul Bubbles, so the touch still seems to be there. Will we ever see a Little Big Adventure 3? Only if his current studio can get the rights back off Delphine Software International, according to recent sources. Until then, LBA with one of the fanmade work-arounds for current PCs is as good as we’ve got. 20
Co. Ltd debuted T reasure in 1992 with the
formidable 16bit adventure Gunstar Heroes. It would be six years before they DEVELOPER : TREASURE would produce what is now considered their defining by: Tom Massey work, Radiant Silvergun. The title would mark Treasure’s first foray into the shooting game genre, and the only time they would self-publish for the arcade scene. Running on Sega’s ST-V hardware, the game didn’t find an audience until the Sega Saturn port in 1998. PUBLISHER : ESP
Making it their business to boycott sensible business practices, Treasure’s volatile mixture of non-conformity and allegiance to dying consoles was a risky strategy - but one that has seen them evolve into one of Japan’s most revered developers. For non-Japanese speakers, Radiant Silvergun’s fairly derivative philosophical plot is near incomprehensible. Spanning decades, it leaps into the future and flashbacks into the past, recounting a tale of confrontation with Earth’s guardian, misunderstood for its attempts to rid the planet of a warring human race. Even though Director Hiroshi Iuchi cited Irem’s 1988 Image Fight as the inspiration behind the game, many consider Silvergun’s wild disregard for normal shooting game conventions to almost divorce it from the genre. At nearly one-and-a-half hours, it feels protracted, especially when taking into account the extended level layout of the Saturn mode. With no power-ups to collect, your six standard weapons increase in strength through use, a system made viable by the unorthodox length of the game. Knowing which to use at each new juncture is half the battle, especially in a game riddled with lengthy boss encounters. Beyond the fixed arsenal, a wand that circles the craft can be used to absorb pink bullets. This fills a charge meter which can be used to release a screen clearing attack. The game begins with the player craft, a little four-pronged machine of fury, soaring through the skies above a great iron platform. A dramatic Wagner-esque march rings out as you punch through the first wave of popcorn enemies to face a giant, cannon wielding warship. As it falls in flame, a vast, brooding sci-fi landscape is revealed beneath the cloud, spinning magnificently as you descend toward it. In terms of artistry, Silvergun exists as one of the most accomplished works in the industry, Treasure’s ability to overcome muddled console architecture never having been so pronounced. It’s a seamless, effect laden gala, comprised of ribbed copper gangways and circuit board imprints. It merges 2D layers with dwarfing 3D industrial estates, all imbued with a luminous palette of light and colour. Far beyond Ikaruga, the stylistically bland spiritual sequel, Silvergun’s rich, dense forests, starry orbits, and incandescent cities are a shooting game spectacle yet to be bettered. The 32bit era played host to a number of milestones, but few titles can claim the technical expertise rendered in Silvergun’s
re-play | November 09
dynamic world. Xiga, the final boss, is awe-inspiring. As he descends in a ring of burning light, a giant, androgynous figure two screens tall, the advice is well remembered: “Be Praying”. A haunting choir the musical backdrop, facing up to his rapid bullet onslaught is pure, adrenaline-fuelled euphoria. Each stage is an evolving, kaleidoscopic journey. You speed past buildings, rocket out of Death Star style trenches, and in a particularly memorable confrontation, take on an enemy assault in evocative retro wire-frame. The structure of the game is equally diverse – incredibly so - and a primary example of Treasure’s reckless ambition to overachieve. As well as a rigid scoring system that involves chaining enemies by colour, it drastically re-invents itself at every turn, progressing through bullet fields and laser arrays, speeding chicanes and precarious mazes. Notably, Silvergun’s scale is without peer. It’s the Ben-Hur of the genre, an undeniable master class in the colossal. Where modern games seek to bamboozle with join-the-dots action, in 1998 Treasure sought to drop jaws on entirely their own terms. Aurally, composer Hitoshi Sakamoto iced the cake with an absolute belter of a soundtrack. As if charged with scoring a feature film, his grand orchestral accompaniment is the perfect marriage to Iuchi’s ambitious vision. It ebbs and flows through inspiring synth arrangements into climatic, bell filled crescendos. Military drum beats and driving theatrical themes footnote key encounters and atmospheric vistas with a clarity rarely seen in the medium. Within all of this grandeur, however, are issues of debate that seem to exist inherently in certain Treasure projects. While there’s no problem attempting to raise the bar, there is a problem if you lose sight of it. For some, it’s perhaps layered a little too thickly, and although it endures as one of gaming’s most desirable titles, there is a huge gulf in opinion regarding its merit. In truth, Iuchi’s labour of love is fairly impractical. A work of stupefying excess, it’s perhaps too overwrought to appeal to the shooting game contingent en-masse. The hard-line approach and devilish difficulty will mean even the initiated may struggle to find footing in Silvergun’s experimental amalgamation of bullet puzzles and curious design ideas. Still, clarifying the game’s place in the genre is inconsequential compared to its actual worth. It remains, despite its uncompromising nature, legendary - and deservedly so. While it might wear its hardcore credentials on its sleeve, its depth in both technical and artistic terms is astonishing. In actuality, the real conflict lies with the gamer rather than the game; the sensibilities of the individual being the deciding factor in whether it will ever be properly tackled. To fall back on a hackneyed phrase, you get out what you put in. Treasure’s appetite for the abstract hasn’t stunted the game’s playability. On the contrary, it’s a finely tuned and masterfully executed concept. Every major stand-off, every section of stage design – however small - has been carefully engineered and tested, giving the player the ability to use their weapon library creatively. Learning new paths and patterns, stripping bosses of
artillery, and besting the challenge through study and skill is as stimulating as it is rewarding. It stands as a game that has transcended not only the genre but the medium to some degree. Regardless of its difficulty - and in that difficulty, its lack of immediate appeal - those who learn to fell the game proper can say they truly lived Radiant Silvergun. That’s an experience worth fighting for.
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