Fortress of Fear: Wizards & Warriors X

Wizards & Warriors X is one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ pieces of media. There’s all kinds of little details about the game that tickle me in just the right way. All I can do while playing is smile and marvel at how many ideas were shoved into this game and then be sad at how many of them fail. Just watch the first minute of this Longplay to get the gist of the game’s tone.

That’s a nice opening theme! An exciting melody opens it up; a catchy drum and bass line get you in the mood for some wicked awesome dark fantasy at the Fortress of Fear! Then the screen drops down and kind of bounces when it hits the bottom while a spooky jingle plays… and then…

Oh… oh that loud music it… it’s painful to listen to!

Gone is the melodic layered tracks from the intro screen. As soon as the game gives you control you’re assaulted by someone pounding away at the keys on their harpsichord.

Maybe the music is bad but the graphics, they’re kind of cool! Everything looks animated and cartoony. The sprites are big and detailed and the hero looks like he has a lot of animations. But who is that? On the box it showed us an angry barbarian type. Look at him! So majestic… This ain’t no Simon Belmont. No, this here’s a Fabio or Arnold caliber Barbarian! But uh… in the game we’re a knight. A knight whose feet kind of flop around when he jumps and lands. Like all he’s wearing are socks.

The enemies are pretty cool though! We got bats! We got giant snakes! We got… other guys who walk around and are maybe monsters! When you strike ’em down little “POW” and “ZAP”s appear. He’s got an electric sword obviously.

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These ‘visual sound effects’ are crazy detailed too! The enemy explodes into a comic style sound bubble and then that disintegrates with a shimmer effect. That’s like 4 frames of completely different animation just to provide a death effect.

Developed by Rare, Wizards and Warriors naturally has a British feel to it. I don’t think they were going for a humorous tone, but it almost comes across that way. Things just feel off, but in that way that British humor is known for. The cartoon style drives it all home. Everything from the music to the visuals to the designs of the characters are flashy and kind of jolting.

Comedy comes from proper timing. If Wizards and Warriors isn’t meant to be funny then it’s accidentally hitting a lot of great timing cues. The way the opening music is so nice and moody is juxtaposed against the horrible plinky music that plays instantly as you’re given control. The monsters make whining nasally sounds as you hit them multiple times only to end in a flash-bang of comic-style sound effects that fizzle away in a tiny fireworks show. Jumps are floaty and huge. If you fall from too high you literally crumple onto the ground in a detailed animation. It’s not a death animation, it’s just there because.

Rare’s previous entries in the series have nothing close to this game’s tone. I can’t make any critical assessments about what the heck is going on with this game, but my hunch is the tone is just a happy accident that keeps me smiling through an otherwise pretty shoddy platformer.

Metal Gear Acid

The exclamation mark carries quite a bit of symbolism in the metal gear series. It’s got an entire wikia entry! But then, what doesn’t in video games these days.

The menu page of the PSP entry, Metal Gear Ac!d, uses the exclamation point as a cursor, but not like how you’d imagine by that description. The period in the mark acts as the cursor itself, and as you move down the points in the menu it pulls down a long black block above it. When moved to the bottom of the menu, you have what appears to be an exclamation mark.

Aside from the imagery they’re pulling from, it’s an eye-catching way to communicate to the user such a simple element of UI design. I hate when menus have only two selections, and the way they denote which option you’re selecting is just a change of color – move from one selection from the other too many times and you’re bound to forget which color is your selector!

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The exclamation point cursor also quickly draws your eyes to exactly where you are. You know you aren’t selecting anywhere near the large black bar, and empty space isn’t meant to catch or draw your eyes. I wonder how many milliseconds faster (or slower if I’m wrong) a human’s eyes are able to find what they’re selecting because of the extra help.

Even if it isn’t slightly more drawing or helpful than a regular cursor, it’s certainly a thoughtful piece of design and a fun nod to the Metal Gear exclamation point.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Game Boy is capable of displaying only four colors at once, and they can hardly be called colors; they’re more like shades. In my last post on The Legend of Zelda 1, I looked at how the designers used a handful of colors to create a vibrant setting – though with great reliance on the players imagination. Here, again, in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Nintendo wields an even smaller tool-set to create settings alive and analogous to our reality.

Using only four shades of gray, Link’s Awakening creates a couple neat lighting effects. It usually boils down to what color they make the floor! It makes sense – Zelda games being a top down experience, the ground takes up most of the screen, so the background is actually the ground. In the world outside, the ground is mostly white, with small patches of grass throughout. But the moment you walk into a forest, the ground becomes the lightest shade of gray, dimming the atmosphere and creating the effect that there are trees overhead.

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Similarly, inside dungeons, dark to dim lighting occurs when a candle in the room is put out. Even cooler, some rooms will have two candles that, when not lit, will make the entire room almost black; lighting just one candle with cause the room to look dim with light gray ground, and lighting the second candle will restore the dungeon to it’s fully lit state, as portrayed by white ground.

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Interestingly, caves in the game don’t become dim like the forest. Which is odd because caves in Zelda 1 were pure black underfoot, and in A Link to the Past the caves are definitely darker.

All these neat lighting tricks don’t create the same feeling of presence, temperature and setting that I described in the Legend of Zelda 1, but to do all this with just four colors – it’s pretty impressive to think how much can be done with so little.

Remember the classic snake game?

he classic game known only as “snake” was first released way back in the 1970’s and soon was available in all the gaming arcades across Japan, coming to America soon after. It received lots of praise (and money) and became a classic video game for the masses, although never reached the same heights as games like Pacman, Tetris, or Space Invaders. This is understandable, as its a very simple game which needed to be expanded upon and improved.

Snake was a Pioneer

Lets keep in mind snake was somewhat of a pioneer in the gamers industry, because If you look back to that era, there really weren’t many games available to play. Tetris and Pacman both came years later, and snake was out there even before pong. The game has made its comeback after becoming the standard game on Nokia phones just before the year 2000. Because cell phone games are casual and never too complicated, it was the perfect candidate. Something for people to stay entertained while using their cell, as its clearly better then ringtones.

How to Play Snake

You control this little creature who looks like a very simple snake, basically he is a line, and he roams around gathering food. Each time you eat, the snake becomes a little bigger. If you hit the walls surrounding him (or other obstacles) its game over. This is the challenge, because as you progress further and further in this classic game, it becomes harder to stay alive and continue playing.. You cannot stop the snake from moving, even for a second. Its that factor which makes it so wild and unpredictable. In my mind, the creation of 3d snake has taken it many steps further, and we’ll take a look at that game briefly.

One question I get asked alot is, so “who made the snake game?” You may not know this, but It was originally titled worm, and was programmed by named Mr Trefonas, using very simple technology. There was nobody dedicated to graphics and sound, he created it solo. You’ll notice throughout history anytime somebody creates something catchy enough, It tends to catch on, snake was picked up and many developers started developing their own versions of the snake games for the arcades, hoping kids would play, be entertained, and buy the game. Slither.io is the new ‘snake game’ that conquered the internet and the world. Continue reading about Slither.io hack and news.

Here’s what  ArcadeGo.com did

The Legend of Zelda

When Dark Souls II came out in early 2014 there was a big kerfuffle over the lighting system being significantly different at release than what was shown in demonstrations months before. To many, it was a devastating change and a detriment to the final product. The change was necessary to make the game run smoothly – a necessity in Dark Souls, and most people understood and appreciate that – but still, there was disappointment to be felt by some who really enjoy games that can create a life-like and immersive world to play in.

Old systems don’t have ‘lighting systems’, or anything beyond displaying arranged colors. The NES was only able to display up to 25 colors on screen at a time out of a selection of 64 – give or take. There were lots of tricks and bypasses to pushing the NES’s limits, and the details of those are little too complicated for me to easily understand. The original Game Boy only had 4 shades of grey scale to work with. All this is to say, with such small tool sets at their disposal, how did the early games create such strong pulls of immersion?

Early games had to use game play itself to create the kinds of tension, tone and emotion they wanted to convey in their product. It was the player themselves who dictated all those elements by how they felt playing the game. And among the best games to utilize these principles were the Legend of Zelda.

As I said before, the NES had a very limited color palate to work with. And even that just shows what they were allowed to use, not how they were allowed to use it. The original Legend of Zelda created a strong sense of environment, at least between the overworld and dungeons.

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The overworld is really bright and colorful. The ground underfoot is kind of a clay color – it looks sun baked. The shading under the trees or bushes is centered underneath, making it seem like the sun is at noon positioning where everything is at it’s brightest. They tried their best to make the water sparkle with little dots all over it.

An effect they establish early on in the game is going up and down stairs. Entering a cave is one of the first things you do, and you see link kind of sink down into the black hole in the side of the rock face. It really let’s you know that there is a world above and a world below. And that world below is quite different than what’s on top.

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The dungeons in Zelda 1 are mostly comprised of just a single color spectrum – greens, blues whites etc. The tiles in the dungeons look cold and there really aren’t any shadows. And down here there’s danger and risk unlike what you find in the overworld. Your goal is to go deeper into the dungeon, and dying along the way kicks you back and makes you start over. Stress builds when you know you’re really deep in and you don’t want struggle to do it all again. Finally getting to the end of the dungeon has you obtaining a piece of the triforce, your prize. After you get the triforce the screen shutters to black and then opens up immediately to Link walking up the stairs at the dungeon entrance  into the overworld. You go from a stressful, cold, underground space to rising up into the warm sun-kissed world above.

The game play created the feelings of stress, and triumph; but the colors and visual style created the presence. They took simple concepts like cold, enclosed spaces to equate with danger, and warm open vistas to signal victory.

Since the beginning of the words ‘graphics’, game designers and players have equated ‘more advanced’ with more immersive. And maybe for some, that’s the case. But sometimes a little imagination can go a long way.

Mega Man 1 – 6

Ever summer I play through some of my favorite games. Mega Man games always make it in the mix. Six Mega Man games came out for the NES in a seven year span. A formula was set with the second game and from there the main focus became level design. Instead of analyzing each game and how they stack up against each other or which ones were phoned in or when people think they started becoming stale, all I want to look at is some light history on the NES set that I think can be inferred from or backup by the pause menu’s in each game.

Mega Man one through three are often referred to as a trilogy. At the very least two and three are more connected than any of the others because three actually has all the bosses from two make an appearance. One laid the ground work for the series while two was the perfect sequel, directly addressing the first game by iterating on it in every possible way. There’s a year’s gap between two and three’s launch that makes three seem like this big important build up. It makes it seem like Capcom was really putting a lot of effort into three to make it this super amazing finale to the trilogy. Three does what most good final entries in a series do. It realizes that two already established  the proper formula, and it polishes that and then adds more content.

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The first three games have similar menus style. They use a small window that only takes up part of the screen. The borders of the menu are made up of same small grey tiles. Three’s looks different in that it rises up from the bottom when you press pause, and the bordering grey squares are way smaller, but actually still the same tile. The blue background in Mega Man one is that same offensive primary blue color that Window’s error screen uses; Capcom learns after this to use more appealing and softer colors for their interface. The font for the weapon labeling is established in two, and gets used in every game after. The first Mega Man’s menu establishes it as the rough draft of the entire series. Two is already setting precedence for the entire series, even in the tiniest aspects. And three elevates it by taking everything two set up, and making it more appealing, more polished and flashier.

If three is the final in a trilogy, what does that make four, five and six? Who knows… it’s a topic that gets talked about to death. If I’m going to make any kind of critical judgment, I’ll say that four feels the most formulaic and represents where the NES series became just about polish. The menu’s in the later three are all pretty similar. They all adopted a gradient bar border around the menu. There are a lot more power ups and extra items in the later games, so the entire screen gets used up instead of a small window on top of the action. Maybe these menus do represent where the NES Mega Man games became cash ins… maybe they do show a lack of innovation or boundary pushing or creativity. Or maybe they just represent more Mega Man. And for big Mega Man fans… is that really such a bad thing?

Hopeless Caverns Guide

Hopeless Caverns is a fresh semi-never-ending sliding game for the Android and iOS platforms. Read on for some tips as well as tricks for Hopeless Caverns!

The more that you pat on the display, the higher that your stone bound. It is going to leap for an extremely brief amount of time should you pat on the display. But should you press it hard and hold your finger back on the display, then you definitely will do a a lot more extreme hop for a longer space.

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One of doing a short hop of the small bonuses is you could pat when you are in midair to do a double hop. This really is particularly helpful if you are in spaces, with spikes on brief series, that you must do an occupation that is very dexterous to do compared to the large passageways.

Each time that you just select to jump instead of finishing the round, your score will not reset.

Each time the skip button is hit, an ad video plays. Nevertheless, there are times when when you’re offline, you may prefer to play. If so, you can hit the skip button and no advertising videos will pop up. You are going to bypass the period as you did.

Your score is restricted, though, by what your score was in the preceding caverns that you jumped. It is suggested that you start all over again at the initial cavern, in case you would like a high score.

Yumi’s Odd Odyssey

Or ‘Sayonara Umihara Kawase’, as it’s more interestingly named in Japan, is a master level platformer in terms of game design. In terms of interface and general polish, well let’s just say the game looks janky and it’s not much a of a wonder it’s not going to sell well in the States. Which is unfortunate, because the reasoning behind it’s butt-ugly presentation is interesting and at least understandable.

First off, Yumi’s Odd Odyssey is an independent production born from the mind of Kiyoshi Sakai. As the programmer, designer and visionary for all the aspects of the game, Kiyoshi Sakai did much of the work on his own. He’s stated that Umihara Kawase was created to test the skill of gamers. The systems and level design are so tight and creative that it certainly deserves a place next to the greatest of platformers.

It’s easy to look at the level design and the intricate ‘wire action’ system to understand his vision for creating a complex and deep platformer. But there are other aspects that clue us in to understanding just what kind of game this is.

Things like the level select screens are bare bones and frankly really ugly. Drag and drop web 2.0 shiny buttons and borderless fuzzy screen shots are used to display information about the level you are selecting. All the elements are at least in line and framed fine, but it’s obvious these are elements purley for conveying information, and no polish was applied to them to make it appealing.

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After trying for some time to think about what happened here, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it didn’t matter. After reading Mr. Jeremy Parish’s interview with Sakai, he seems fully satisfied with what his game is and always has been. There’s no hiding the fact that this is an incredibly obscure and niche title, or that this most likely final sequel isn’t going to sell very well. Sakai is quoted saying “I’m not sure if there’s a future for Umihara Kawase. I don’t have any regrets about the series. I’ve done everything I wanted to do with it.” The Umihara Kawase series isn’t a product to be polished and marketed, it’s a game that a programmer and designer really wanted to make, and because it’s good… really good… it’s able to be picked up and sold to the masses.

Looking at the display settings reinforces this idea that Sakai has made a game for the skilled gamer. The settings menu looks like a debug screen. There are settings to display things like your clear timer, and even the direction you are currently pressing on the d-pad. There’s an option to replay footage from any of your attempts at a stage, and then the option to save that as your replay data for others to see online.

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This is a speed running game with the basic tools for such built right in. The game looks like a bare bones beta version because those wanting to play this type of game will make good use of those tools! This is a game for the hardest of hardcore gamers. It just happens to be wrapped up in an art style made to reflect the abstract day dreams of a young girl whose hobby is fishing.

Cubetractor

Pixel graphics are usually equated with old video games. And that’s not really wrong since most games up until the mid 90’s used pixel graphics. The problem people cant seem to get out of their heads is that Pixels don’t automatically equate to old. Pixel graphics are a medium just like paintings can be made with different things like oil or watercolor and on different types on canvas. Unfortunately, game designers seem to want to use pixel art as a style rather than a medium with which to create something unique.

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Cubetractor is one of the good guys though. Using pixel art to enhance the game play, and adding plenty of modern touches to the visuals makes Cubetractor look anything but old. Things like high frame rates, smooth menus and nicely laid out interfaces all in line with modern expectations make Cubetractor stand out against any other games trying to use pixel art as a selling point. It’s a joy just navigating through the menus and watching screens transition and listening to all the little sound effects and chimes they use to create better game feel before the game even starts.