2016 Game Collecting Goals

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RIP 2015. You were only around for a little while and now you’re dead. And we’re going to bury you and move on to a much younger year full of potential and possibly lots of butt-touching.

Last year was my first “full time” year collecting vidjas. And it was a much more fruitful year than I had anticipated. I had made a goals list, but by about June I had blown past most of my goals (for instance, I wanted to hit 400 games. I’m currently halfway past 800…). This year I don’t intend on being AS ambitious, as I have other things I need to focus on around it. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start up a new 2016 goals list for game collecting.

Console Collecting

As of the start of the year, I own 15 different consoles and 8 different handhelds. My intention is to add at least 3 more consoles and 2 more handhelds. While there are still plenty of them to choose from (some obscure, some obvious ones I have yet to get), here is a list of some of the most-likely (seeing as I actually own games for some of these consoles) and most-wanted that I still have yet to add.

Consoles

  • NES 
  • Turbografx-16
  • Sega Master System
  • Xbox 360 
  • Colecovision
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari Jaguar
  • 3D0
  • PS4

Handhelds

  • PSP
  • PS Vita
  • New Nintendo 3DS
  • Atari Lynx
  • Sega Nomad
  • Wonderswan Crystal (Technically, my color plays all the same games, just want to upgrade)
  • Game.com (Not kidding… it’s a piece of crap, but I want one again…)

Repairs

Sadly, two of my consoles are not in 100% working order and I would like to fix both of them or replace them this year. My Odyssey 2 was broken during an attempt to mod it (oops) and my Intellivision seems to have a controller that doesn’t quite work. This may require replacing both of them, but I’m hoping to look into saving them.

I also need to add a new save battery to my Saturn since I found out it can’t internally save anymore. And I really want to play more of Shining Wisdom since it cost me like 90 bucks…

Build The “Okami Shrine”

I finally threw down the price for the Okami snowglobe that came with the retail HD version in Japan. It cost me a pretty penny, but for my favorite game why wouldn’t I? That said, I want to start collecting Okami stuff and build an entire shelf dedicated to my favorite game.

Seems like every time I check on Ebay, there is new Okami stuff I’ve never seen before. A lot of it comes with a high price tag, so it’ll be a slow process, but I’d like to add several new things to the shelf and find a place for it. I’m looking to own physical copies of the game on every console, including all the Japanese releases (I have a Japanese copy of the original on PS2).

Game Room Updates

The amount of space I have left for games equals… well, zero. I have had to shove stuff in weird places to get by and build shelves out of boxes. So, basically, I need to revamp the room aspect of the game room. I need shelving, as well as a better tv stand and storage for consoles.

I’d also like to add some kind of upscaling device for my older consoles so I can play Genesis games in glorious upscaled mastery.

Build Individual Libraries

While my PS2 library is easily my biggest (with PS1 and Xbox creeping up on it pretty quickly), I’d like to work on building up some of my smaller libraries, as well as expand some of my decent ones with games I really want for them.

I’ve been focusing a lot on boxed N64 stuff lately, and would like to add plenty more to that. I’d also like to finally start building up a better handheld library, since my handheld game collection is relatively small. Dreamcast and Gamecube are also ones that, while expensive, I want to work on building up.

I’ll set some preliminary goals for where I’d like to be at the end of the year for each console. This won’t include EVERYTHING I have, just ones I’d like to focus the most on. My goals will be in blue and my current count will be in red.

  • Dreamcast: 40 (26)
  • Game Boy/Color: 50 (23)
  • Game Boy Advance: 50 (46)
  • Game Cube: 30 (27)
  • Genesis: 50 (39)
  • 3DS: 20 (15)
  • DS: 25 (23)
  • Neo Geo Pocket: 15 (5)
  • PS1: 200 (164)
  • PS2: 250 (245)
  • PS3: 75 (92)
  • NES: 50 (67)
  • SNES: 30 (18)
  • Saturn: 15 (3)
  • Wii: 75 (77)
  • Wii U: 15 (10)
  • Wonderswan/Color: 10 (2)
  • Xbox: 125 (96)
  • Xbox 360: 75 (65)

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Game Study: Crash Twinsanity – Twinsanely Broken

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When Deviant Art Shipping Becomes Game Cover Art...

When Deviant Art Shipping Becomes Game Cover Art…

Crash Bandicoot.

At some point in the late 90s, Sony entered the video game fray with the Playstation 1. And we were still in a time when it was considered common for a console manufacture, and most companies in general, to have a “mascot”. A figurehead that could sit next to the Mario’s and Sonic’s as the “Face Of Video Games”.

For Sony, their first success with this came with Crash Bandicoot. A quirky series of platformers (and eventually spin-offs following the Mario spin-off pattern) started up then unknown developer Naughty Dog. Naughty Dog would go on to make the Jak games, and of course, Uncharted. Flagship exclusives for Sony consoles, and generally well-received and very polished video games.

But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, Naughty Dog parted ways with Crash and the franchise fell into other hands, even going so far as to no longer be an exclusive Sony property.

And the first of those hands? Belonging to Travellers’s Tales. A British developer that’s been around since the early 90s. Often making games for Psygnosis, Traveller’s Tales has now become known as “that company that makes all those popular LEGO movie games”.

They DO Have A Pretty Cool Logo...

They DO Have A Pretty Cool Logo…

Their first Crash game, Wrath of Cortex wasn’t too well received, but it didn’t stop them from making more. Twinsanity was the second of the TT headed Crash 3D platformers, and one that I recently stumbled upon for a few bucks at a thrift store.

In my tween years, I played a lot of the Crash trilogy on PS1, and still to this day find them to be great games. But I’d never ventured out of the Naughty Dog Crash games before, aside from a few levels of the admittedly kinda fun GBA Crash series.

And man, I wish I’d stayed ignorant to this…

What IS Crash Twinsanity?

Crash Twinsanity mixes classic Crash-style platforming with a slightly more PS2-era open world approach. I use the term “open world” very reluctantly, for reasons you’ll see later.

Twinsanity puts Crash and his nemesis Neo Cortex as a team against an alien invasion. It’s a simple storyline that cleverly lends itself to gameplay mechanics. Having the hero and villain of the franchise team up isn’t anything new (Mario + Bowser for example), but having it be a very brutal partnership is something rather funny and refreshing. Watching Crash swing Cortex like a hammer or having one of their attacks literally be them beating each other up in a cartoon dust-cloud style ball rolling around is a great idea. And it would have worked too if it wasn’t for the fact that the game is a complete mess in ways I’d never before experienced.

First, The Good

I want to stress this right away: this game isn’t AWFUL. It has some really great ideas, and given a few more months of work, it could have actually been a pretty excellent 3D platformer and a pleasant addition to the Crash franchise.

Visually, the game is actually quite lovely, for the most part. Fans of the franchise will love the call-backs to the ridiculous (albeit somewhat racist…) tribal islanders from the original Crash. As well as a bunch of familiar faces returning in cameos, such as N. Gin and Dingodile.

I Laughed Out Loud At The Polar Bear Cub With The Bat. (Screenshot Compliments of Gamestop)

I Laughed Out Loud At The Polar Bear Cub With The Bat. (Image From Gamestop)

The game is also quite charming in the sense that it’s well-written. The cutscenes are generally amusing, and there are moments where the game twists conventions for hilarious results. For instance, at one point a NPC is asking Crash and Cortex to help him clear his garden. As a reward, one of the Crystal Fragments. Without hesitation, Cortex pulls out his laser and shoots the guy, stealing the crystal, ending with a “What did you expect? I’m a bad guy” wink to the camera. This works to great effect, and plays to the “teaming with the antagonist” mechanic perfectly.

It’s moments like this where the game genuinely shines. There are so many great ideas at play here, making for a varied and interesting platformer.

The trouble comes in the execution.

Where It Falls Apart

Crash Decides To Quit Adventuring And Become One With Nature. (Excuse The Cellphone Screenshot)

Crash Decides To Quit Adventuring And Become One With Nature. (Excuse The Cellphone Screenshot)

That screenshot is Crash clipping through a tree. Oddly enough, it’s the only tree in the game this happens in. Not really a problem, just a silly random collision issue that happened five minutes into the game. This is the LEAST of the game’s issues…

For those of you that have played the old Crash PS1 games, you know the games can be hair-pulling difficult. With tough jumps and levels stuffed full of traps. But the game gave you the tools for success. You could learn and improve.

Crash Twinsanity acts like a Crash game in it’s design, but throws out most of what made the difficulty less frustrating to overcome. For instance, jumping from tiny platforms in the early Crash games could be less threatening thanks to the utilization of Crash’s shadow, and very tight jumping controls.

Twinsanity does not have this. For some reason, when you jump, the camera pans upwards (especially when you double-jump), which ends up actually cutting off the area below Crash’s feet. This makes it INCREDIBLY hard to position jumps onto single crates or tiny moving platforms. This is made twice as annoying by Crash’s shadow simply not showing up on certain platforms. It’s there on solid ground, but half the time it doesn’t seem to show up on small platforms or crates, giving you almost no indication where you’re actually going to land. And given how many tiny crate-jumping sections there are, this proves to be tremendously frustrating, leading to many pointless insta-death falls. Add in a few deaths I lost to hitting a ceiling during jumps, or not even being able to see pits ’cause of them being almost the same color as cave floors and you have a lot of insta-deaths sending you back to where you last checked in.

It LOOKS Like A Crash Game... (Image from Moby Games)

It LOOKS Like A Crash Game… (Image from Moby Games)

This wouldn’t be TOO awful, it if wasn’t for the game’s atrocious checkpoint system. Checkpoints in an open-world game feel out of place. When you run from one side of a small chunk of island to the other, attempt a platforming piece to get a gem, and die, you often get sent way back to the other side of the level. This means you have to trudge through a lot of empty space just to get back to the mini-challenge you attempted. This happens often.

In fact, the game loves to send you back large chunks just for exploring or attempting a challenge for a side quest or pick up. It’s got open-world aspects, but almost always punishes you for actually exploring or digging for secrets. Eventually, I just gave up exploring and looking for secrets, and instead ran straight to each objective, rendering the open-world aspects completely moot.

Being sent back wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the game pulling out the much-maligned Gaming Sin of the unskippable cutscene. The little scenes in the game are pretty entertaining… the FIRST time you see them. But when you’re forced to watch a 30 second clip ten times in a row ’cause of insta-death and cheap game design, it starts to irritate to no end. And believe me, you will rewatch a lot of scenes, a lot of times. It’s inevitable, especially in more trial-and-error sections of the game.

Want more moments of “wtf” design? For a chunk of the game, I was fighting those islander tribals, little spear-equipped guys. Aside from bad collision detection, they were usually easily gotten rid of. At one point, I’m dropped down in front of two of them and the chief. He sends them after me, and the game gives me back control. Of course I think “let’s kill them”. I try to attack them and am instead killed.

The game wanted me to run. This was one of those Crash staples, the “run towards the screen” segments. Usually it’s a boulder or a dinosaur or something huge and intimidating chasing you, but this time, it was just AVERAGE ENEMIES. Ones I’d killed dozens of earlier in the game. And the game gave me no indication I was supposed to run towards the screen. That’s punishing the player for not thinking the game suddenly introduced a new mechanic to it. Dick move, TT.

Now, these may sound like simple design issues, and they are, but believe me… it gets worse. Oh so much worse…

And Then This Happens…

Here we go… time to dig into the personal experiences that I reluctantly write knowing some of you may not even believe me. These are just that bad. Things that forced me to stop and stare at my tv and go “…nope. NO WAY did that just happen.”.

First, a minor dick move that I was shocked to stumble into.

After battling my way through a handful of “levels” (the game plays out in one continued stretch of gameplay), I finally reached one of the game’s first bosses. As is customary with first bosses, he wasn’t much of a challenge, and after I beat him another cutscene played telling me where my next destination was. I was then left in the middle of the boss arena with the corpse of the giant totem guy I just beat. Now that I had camera control (well, PS2-era platformer camera control…) back, I wanted to look around the boss arena. Nothing there, but the boss himself looked like I could climb on him. So I jumped onto the fallen statue’s hand.

And was hurt. And died.

That’s right. I got killed by a boss I already killed. Just by touching his dead, stone hand. I died.

A Douche Even From Beyond The Grave...

A Douche Even From Beyond The Grave…

And when the game reloaded, I was BEFORE THE BOSS FIGHT! I had to watch a cutscene, beat the boss, and watch the second cutscene AGAIN. Because I dared to go “I wonder if I can climb the boss’ body!”. I was punished for exploring and trying to have fun for a second.

That’s pretty bad. But then it got worse.

Remember that sequence I mentioned earlier, about Cortex killing the NPC instead of playing his minigame? Well, right after that sequence, you’re given a chance to explore again. This game has hidden collectibles in different sections of the game, but no level-select to go back and look for them. It fixes this by giving you a few paths back to old sections. At this point, there was a cliff I could jump down to get back to a previous area. I decided to explore a bit before I went on with the game.

Until I found out I couldn’t get back up the cliff. Great. Now I have to trudge through some platforming to get back to where I was.

As I went along the path I’d tread before, I suddenly triggered a cutscene.

That I had already watched. THIRTY MINUTES AGO.

That’s right: the game RESET ITSELF! By backtracking to an old area, I somehow erased my progress! I re-triggered the event sequences and had to replay sections of the game that should have been done, over. I sequence-broke the game IN REVERSE. I traveled back in time and witnessed the same events, the same cutscenes, the same action sequences I’d already played, finished, and moved past!

The game not only punished me for exploring it’s open world, backtracking in what looked like a path planned for just that, but it did it in a way that reset all my progress somehow. Of course, I went to reload the game… only to find I accidentally hit one of the auto-save points.

Yes, the game auto-saved over my progress with my reverse progress. I essentially deleted my save just by playing the game by it’s rules.

Jaw. Floor.

I’ve never come across a game that has event flags that can be REtriggered simply by exploring it’s open world, let alone ones that allow those retriggered event flags to reset the progress in the game. This is one of the most baffling glitches I’ve ever seen in a game, and speaks volumes about how badly the game handles it’s faux-open world design.

That was the moment I realized I was playing a bad game. A bad, bad, bad, shitty bad game.

Twinsanity could have been good. Hell, it has enough going for it that it could have been GREAT. The creative concepts and charm ooze out of every pore of this thing. It has all the makings of a classic PS2-era platformer. But it’s so unpolished and messes up things previous games in the franchise nailed, that it ruins any chance of being anything more than a frustrating mess. Add in some mind-melting breaks, and it’s a truly painful experience.

Should you play it? Only if you want to experience the decent ideas and can deal with a constant stream of frustration from poor design and breaks. For a few bucks from a thrift store, it’s worth a look, but be prepared for major issues. This is not a good game.

By the way, all of this? Only happened in the first hour of the game. I’ve only played it for an hour.

I’ll let that sit in.

Now… I suppose I should keep at it… if only because I want to see if the game comes up with more incredible ways of breaking itself…

Video Game Cover Up – Underground Pool/Hardcore Pool

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Video Game Cover Up returns with a look at the greatest illusion every pulled by any video game cover artist ever. This time, I look at a random shovelware pool game on the Nintendo DS and it’s rather questionable variants…

Warning: May Be 2Spooky4U

Read The New Cover Up Here

Conception II: Children Of The Seven Stars – Hello, I’m Chris Hanson…

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I don’t spend entirely too much time on my 3DS. I spend even less time poking around the eShop. But, on a whim this morning, I decided to go there and check out the latest demos. I downloaded one for a JRPG that came out yesterday called Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars.

And now I feel dirty…

Conception II is a sequel to a game we didn’t get here in the states. Maybe because back then we had standards or something? It’s by Spike Chunsoft, the developers behind recent hits like the Zero Escape series and Danganronpa, and published by the “we’ll support anything, regardless of if it’s creepy” ever-popular people at Atlus.

It’s a dungeon crawler JRPG that doesn’t do a ton to mix up the formula. To be honest, I quite enjoyed the battle system though. It had enough unique aspects to be engaging and make combat a bit strategic while still being streamlined enough to not have to stare at the screen in bewilderment. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the better JRPG battle systems I’ve seen since the decline of JRPGs.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough to undo the damage of the rest of the game…

You see, Conception’s title is to be taken very, very literally. The game is actually about making children to fight monsters. Outside of battle, the game plays like a slightly lesser version of the Persona games, as you go around talking to random girls and developing a stronger bond with them. You do this through awkwardly localized social events. This whole “Japanese teenager social” thing that a lot of games like this do always feels a little awkward to me when it comes over to the US, even when it’s done decently like in Persona 4. But here, it’s just plain awful.

The dialogue is atrocious, playing more like a poorly fan-translated version of a Japanese visual novel. For a team that has popular narrative games like 999 in them, it felt poorly written, with unnerving dialogue playing out just barely above Japanese dating simulators.

The girls you can woo run the gambit of traditional Japanese schoolgirl tropes. So as to give you, the player, a range of options in what your ideal teenage fuckbuddy would be. And then we get to the sex.

Ok ok, let me make one thing clear: it’s not ACTUALLY sex. But its totally sex… You “Classmate” (oh god) with these girls in a ritual that produces a Star Child. While the Classmating itself is actually just a flashy naked hand-holding session (which yes, they show you. Because Japan), it’s still incredibly creepy. Especially given the dialogue my girl character said to me prior to, and after, our little tryst.

Blush-faced and sheepish, she told me about how even though it was her first time, it felt right. And that her palm was very warm. And…

You know what, I’m not gonna keep going on that, you already get the idea.

Putting it bluntly: the game was creepy as hell. I’ve played JRPGs for many years, and I’ve watched various anime series’, so I’m no stranger to the rather awkward sexualization of teenage girls that is rather prominent in Japanese entertainment. But this takes the cake. This is, without a doubt, the most gross and uncomfortable JRPG I’ve ever played. I’ve even played RPGs with similar concepts, like Ar Tonelico which has a bonding simulation aspect to it. This, however, was as close to actually having sex with teenage schoolgirls as a JRPG has ever brought me. And the fetishism in how it’s handled is so awkward and perverted that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

The battle system was interesting, and could have made for a solid handheld JRPG, but the one-step-below-hentai social system was just too much for me. I’m genuinely surprised this made it onto the 3DS, what with the recent alterations of the characters in Bravely Default to make it less creepy.

To sum it up: don’t get this game. Avoid this game like the plague. Unless you’re a pervert who wants to pretend they’re not really a pervert by hiding behind an RPG battle system. In which case, please don’t talk to me…

Oh, I forgot to add something. The cherry on the top of this sexist, gross sundae. The ability that your character has that lets them woo these girls and make Star Children with? It’s called “God’s Gift”. Yup. I’m just gonna let that little bit of information linger there. If you’re still reading this, I imagine you’ve somehow found a way to make your palm transparent…

Failure In Empathy Games – A New Design Potential

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It started with a question on Twitter.

question 1That’s Minority Media, the developers behind Papo & Yo and the upcoming Silent Enemy. Over the last couple years, I’ve become a big fan of them as people and as game producers. I even talked about their games in my article about empathy games.

The tweet was referencing an article about the appeal of failure in video games. And the question, of how this could be placed into the framework of an empathy game, was one that managed to give me pause. It’s an interesting question: what role COULD failure play in an empathy game?

My initial thought was the belief that we can “fail” at difficult decisions in our lives. We’ve all had those moments of retrospective “well, I could have handled that better” hindsight. This is an obvious area of empathy and understanding that is near universal among us. They responded with another interesting question.

question 2

As my mind continued to twist itself around the idea, I started thinking about the concept of “learning” from “mistakes”. I put them in quotations there because I think they’re limiting terms, but they give the general sense of what I mean.

We don’t have a reset button. A save state from a previous point, prior to difficult decisions or tough moments in life. We have to live with our choices and hopefully develop from them. And this is where I think there is design potential.

Games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead push living with your mistakes as a narrative device. No matter what choices you make, the story continues. Let’s try applying this mindset to decision making in empathy games.

Let’s picture a game where your character is faced with a difficult life decision. You’re given multiple ways to rectify the situation, and regardless of the outcome, you continue. Depending on how you handle it, you learn new “skills”. This can differ depending on your choices in these situations. A life-skills RPG skill tree of sorts. If we wanted to take it a step further, these moments could even shape the personality of your character. If they handle the situation with aggression, maybe the start to have moments of anger and frustration more easily.

We’ve all had those moments where a particularly stressful day has made us snappy or unintentionally mean. Perhaps later in the game, the character’s current mood can cause us to lose the ability to communicate clearly to NPCs. The gameplay comes from us trying to overcome the stress and hurt and work through it to develop relationships and solve future conflicts. It’s something that, if done right, I think could easily be understood by anyone that’s been there in their real life.

To answer their question, on how we can make it understandable and relatable, we have to make the character’s reaction to failure shape them as individuals. Every failure and success in our own lives shape us, so we must reflect that in characters in situations that reflect real-life situations.

Going back to the article they posted, about the appeal of failure, we can look at why we like that in games. The satisfaction of overcoming a difficult trial. I think that’s where we ultimately find how to design that into an empathy game. The satisfaction that your character can strive on the other side of a difficult life decision, a blockade overcome. That they continue on, as we can. We have to allow the player a way to “heal”. Instead of HP or hearts, we have them heal their emotional state. Perhaps they can, after a trying experience, access something they enjoy. A game, a book, etc. and this “heals” their mind by giving them ease of mind. The more we make the gameplay mechanics reflect how we react to difficult situations in real life, the more we can make it resonate. And the more we can make “failure” into something more accessible and less fatalistic.

These are just general thoughts on how this could be approached, avenues this could open. I think it’s a really fascinating concept that could lead to amazing games.