Monday, February 28, 2011

Note to self: Insane deadline month, week 1

Today I will give you some advise: learn how to devide your time to reach your ultimate goal. Know what your ultimate goal will be and don't rush it. If you do rush it, you will get in the situation I am in now.

Putting it mildly: this guy probably feels better than I do.
It started off quite innocent: I wanted to do something with gaming, videogames or anything in that vicinity in my future life. I found the study and people who want to work with me on it and overall I've received more support than drawbacks. Then came the point where I didn't want to wait anymore and just pulled everything my way that might just slightly help me. I study at an university and I rigged my study program to be only about development, preferrably game development. I set aside everything that would draw me back, picked up guest subjects at another university and found an internship at a company that would let me develop software similar to a game.

This was a good move. But then came the point where I unintendedly sabotaged my future plans. All deadlines for everything that should take 2 or 3 months in total, is now due one month after this writing is posted. At best, I'll have to study and work 6 and a half working days a week to keep up. I am not the best worker and stress out quite fast. This won't be pretty, but I am gonna take it like a man. A man, with flimsy muscles,  and a slightly stronger-than-average reaction to caffeine, alcohol, asperine, camilla and practically everything that could rig my mood, forcing me to handle this month sober from EVERYTHING.

I write this down for the few readers I have. My absence will probably go past unnoticed. If I'll ever get 1K readers, it'll be much. For the sake of posterity, I will update here every sunday this month when I'll try to emerge as a future game designer or crush my dreams horribly. The obscure games will continue after the deadlines, in the mean time, have fun with the now freshly included splash image at the top of this page.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pax Corpus

I'm a little late this time, sorry for that. I use this forum to present obscure games which are mostly worth playing. Today's game is worth playing, although not for the right reasons. It is obscure, though, very obscure for the right reasons.

Front cover of the game
Pax Corpus, created in 1997 by Cryo interactive entertainment, was meant as the first game adaptation of the Aeon Flux franchise. For reasons I haven't researched, it didn't have the Aeon flux name on it and therefore became just some mimic. The main selling point of the game were the ladies in the game, which all wear way too few clothes. It's all over the box art and for as far as I played the game, they haven't even put a male character in it. It's just too bad that the creators forgot 2 things:
1 - In 1997 Lara Croft was the best 3D rendered female character in western adventure games
2 - It's a game, not a dry hump porn movie

Something went terribly wrong with the game. The creators put as many scantily clad women in the game as they could, only to find out that the hardware wasn't powerful enough to render female curves. There was that and the creators were, quite frankly, terrible at drawing women. It's like the artist only knew the concept of 'women' as if they only read about it in a book the other day. All models look like robots with no female features. Even if they were robots, they would be robots with no cognitive vision (read: stupid) and a spine that is locked in one shape and one shape only: a straight plank. The breasts of the protagonist look worse than Lara Croft's first pyramid-shaped chest and her bottom barely passes the sexy test, but only because of some shades in the texture

You pass the sexy test... almost.
I haven't played this game much. At first I got killed by the first door of the first level. This was fun the first time, annoying at the second and a complete waste of time at the third attempt. It was only recently that I started it up again to show a friend what I thought was one of the worst games of all time. This time I got past the lethal door, only to find myself killed by a boss-person a couple of doors later. I really had no idea how to get past this 'boss', since she had a box to shelter behind and I didn't. Maybe in a couple of months I try again ;).

I might be flaming this game for being utterly bad, but I still suggest you play it, especially if you are not a native English speaker and even more if you're Dutch. Cryo made sure that everywhere it was released, it would be translated, including the voice-overs, by some (cheap) company while not giving the user the option to switch to English. Here in the Netherlands we only make new voice-overs for kids-movies, while everything above the 12 year recommendation just gets subtitles. This means that in the Netherlands Pax Corpus, recommended for ages 15 and up, got a voice over by people who are primarily experienced in kids cartoons.

You might get a partner later on, but I haven't
reached that point (yet).
Together with the fact that this 'action' game has clunky controls and choppy animations at best, the result is a game where a disabled lady in leather fights stupid robots while sounding like an 8 year old. There is a story behind it, but I gave up on that story already at 1 minute into the intro movie. The whole game is an experience that will make you question what the creators were thinking. They did it wrong in such a way, however, that it makes you curious to what will go wrong next. If you have the possibility to play it with a friend and you'll need a laugh, take up Pax Corpus, you won't regret it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dating Sims

No, I am not going to write about dating someone who talks in gibberish and has a diamond floating over his head, but I reckon you already expected that ;). In my gaming 'career' I have played some Japanese dating-sims and I had the luck to be able to understand the Japanese language. I didn't have fun, though. I did it all for science! No, really. I was writing my bachelor thesis about narratology and character relations in Japanese videogames and dating-sims do have a distinct aspect in this. If people ask me if I enjoy dating-sims, I always tell them that if I have to choose between playing dating-sims or poking my eyes out with a blunt screwdriver, I'll choose the dating-sims, because they don't inflict physical damage. There's no other reason, it's just because of the physical damage.

Good day to you, madam. And yes, holding your
arms like that shows off your female-ness.
Dating-sims are games, mostly from Japan, in which you meet a couple of people and your goal is to end up in a relationship with one of them. The interface is usually ordered with a picture on top with text accompanying the picture at the bottom and an optional background. There are dating-sims in all different kinds, but mostly it's about a boy trying to get a girl or sometimes vice versa. Not that I have tried, but I haven't registered any homosexual equivalent of the standard dating-sim lay-out. If you, dear reader, do know a homosexual oriented dating-sim, please let me know in the comments. Science will be pleased. I, however, will not.

Although it has been 4 years ago, I still feel a bit awkward about playing dating-sims for my bachelor thesis. When I started, I wanted to know the full scope of Japanese game genres and when I was in Japan I found dating-sims were almost everywhere. At first I was amused by how it all seemed to be designed for pussies. While we in the west see conquering women as a very muscle-masculine task, the Japanese dating-sim player has to find his feminine side. The graphics are usually drawn in pastel colours and the music is all high pitched, happy bouncy as if a horde of clown bunnies are going to declare world peace. I am NOT exaggerating. If you were to show a dating-sim to a unknowing western person and ask what s/he thinks is the gender of the target audience, s/he'd probably estimate it would be for girls.

Just like a dating-sim, initially this picture looks innocent
After the initial phase of laughter came the phase where I wondered if really all dating-sims were like this. Then came the phase of the horrible realisation that, yes, all dating-sims are like this. This phase was followed by the phase where I didn't want to be beaten by a stupid, pussy game like this. Thank goodness I never got to the moment where I'd actually conquer a girl. No, before that moment comes the phase where the aforementioned screwdriver suddenly seems VERY appealing.

The problem with dating-sims is that they are psychologically downright stupid in the way that characters are portrayed and how the developer imagines what the player thinks. Most of the time you do nothing but reading what is happening. Maybe you walk around a bit in the world, but I was mostly translating the text while in the mean time being ear-raped by the music that had long lost its comical aspect. If you are to strike up a conversation with one of the characters, the conversation will just roll out and you are mostly left with just 3 choices: engaging, neutral or repelling. When I interviewed Japanese people about their opinion on dating-sims, the lack of choice was one of the main complaints.

Taking a (sort of) girl to a flowergarden
Worst of all: there is no such thing as reverse psychology or anything. This was most apparent when I was playing Tokimeki memorial (your mental health forbids you to click that link) and I took the sporty/flower girl to a tropical flower garden. The conversation rolled out and I got my three choices:
1) Flowers are beautiful, aren't they?
2) You're not the flower type, are you?
3) Are those edible?

And, yes, the only right answer was number 1, the most soulless, easy-going, slime-ball answer of all. The other two just made the girl angry. I got curious and polled my female friends on their opinion on these lines. They unanimously told me their reaction would be the exact opposite, as number 2 would just be teasing and number 3 is plain hilarious at such a moment.

I admit I don't dislike all dating-sims, some are even fun to play, like the Sakura Taisen series. Sakura Taisen has quite well developed characters and besides dating girls, you fight monsters in a giant, steam-punk battle mecha. The good part is that Sakura Taisen isn't the only dating-sim with variance and depth. The bad part is that Sakura Taisen isn't the only dating-sim featuring the very under-age girl. The very under-age girl seems to be one of those standard characters that just HAVE to be in the girl line-up. Anime fans might also know such characters from Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina.

The kid from Sakura Taisen 3. To you she might
look cute. To me she's fuel for nightmares.
For me, the presence of these minor characters can get very disturbing, because my Japanese isn't that good and to suave the toddler you have to go with the choice that is incidentally the easiest to read. I just can't break the heart of a little girl and thus in Sakura Taisen 3 the top-rated girl was suddenly the kid, because she wanted to rescue a person with giant mecha and I agreed by saying "Let's go save Mr With-the-beard!". I got my mecha battle and she thanked me by creeping me out with the words "your voice gives me strength" every time she sliced a monster. If anyone wants to say Japan is wrong in tightening the rules for sexual images of minors, THINK AGAIN! Thank goodness again that I have never been able to finish a dating-sim with any of the characters by my side. I can't imagine how I am going to explain anyone why I might look like a pedophile in the game. It was all accidental? Yeah, right.

Although they might be horrible, I do understand the presence of dating-sims in the Japanese culture. It's not there because the Japanese would be a bit loopy, it is there for the same reason we have candlelight/harlequin pockets and girly magazines. The target audience, in our case 15 year old boys, has an insecurity or need for 'warmth' and dating-sims can provide it. It's not weird for boys to want to try girls in a controlled environment, practically every boy has been there. It does become weird, however, if one goes about taking these games seriously. I've only given a few examples, but the cheesiness and effed-up-ness that is portrayed as normal can get much worse than I described. If you ever find yourself playing a dating-sim, realise that most Japanese find these games revolting too. Furthermore, make sure there are no pointy objects lying close by, especially blunt screwdrivers.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

GT racing 97

When I was a kid, I used to look through my parents's computer magazines for anything interesting. Most of the stuff was modems, connectors and all kinds of things I didn't care about until I started studying computer sciences. The thing I sought were the advertisements for game and game hardware dealers. For hours I would look for the best joystick and a game that would go with it. One of the games that always returned in every advertisement was GT racing '97. I didn't care about it and thus I never got to play it until a couple of weeks ago.

Just a man, his car and the somewhat open road...
GT racing '97 is a racing game created and published by Atari in 1996 in that period when they were called Infogrames. Where I live it was later re-released by Dice computergames as a budget-title. The game let you race a car that looked not unlike the hottest racecars from the 90's, with the difference that they couldn't licence the name. So, they let you drive an existing sportscar with a slightly warped name (like calling a Lamborghini Diablo 'the Devil') as if you are driving a cheap Chinese knock-off. They introduced a 3 point damage system which let you damage your tires when you drifted, your chassis when you crashed and your engine when you... did... stuff... 'kay I don't know how I could damage the engine, because it kept up the whole tournament without having to fix it. As expected, you could race tournaments where you had to fix your car in-between races as if you were participating in a rally all over the world. The tracks varied from everything in Europe to some tracks on the American continents. It's all nice varied and to be honest fun enough for me to play it.

I didn't play this game when I was a kid, so as an experienced adult I had no hard time getting through the game. I finished it with the difficulty to easy and didn't bother for another tournament afterwards. The game gives you a chuckle when you crash and explode, but that's the most fun you can get from it. When you get the car up to speed, which is after 2 seconds, the engine will stay in this one tone which will penetrate your ears for the coming 3 minutes it takes you to finish the track. The racing is monotone and mostly awkward to play. I quickly got the idea why I saw this game in so much advertisements back then: they couldn't sell it to anyone and were left with heaps of surplus discs.

Just one of those days in Stunts... You're off to
work and then suddenly: loopings!
The reason I chose this game to write about on this blog is because in its essence it is the embodiment of the transition games were going through in the late nineties. In plain English: This game failed for a very good reason. In the nineties, games were shifting from 2D to 3D, which had its greatest impact on racing games. The biggest hurdle for the player in racing games is taking corners. In 2D racing games it was a matter of speed if you could take a corner, but your car would always point with its nose in the way of the curve. This was because it was very hard to draw a car turning on a track when looking from behind. There were top-down racing games where you could turn, but these had the problem that you couldn't always see what was coming.

Lotus at its best: Multiplayer!
When 3D came along everything (turning and seeing what was coming towards you) suddenly was possible at the same time. There were already succesfull 3D racing games as early as 1990 like the popular stunts, but the 3D usually included a kind of graphics that were not particularly easy on the eye. As seen in another popular racing title, Lotus from 1992, other designers still preferred the 2D engines.

As a comparison, the layout does look like a 2D
racing game
The peculiar thing about GT racing '97 is that, although it is 3D, it has the layout of a 2D racer. You can't really spin your car (although you can turn and drive back), drifting has only use for damaging your tires and scenery tends to just pop up and repeat itself. It makes itself even more classicly oriented by adding a lives system to the mix and by giving the cars funny names. By 1997 Need for Speed 2 already came out, which was way more realistic than GT racing '97. GT gave us a nice laugh about an age gone by, but NFS2 already heralded what was to come. To be honest, even though its publisher has become evil, I prefer the latter approach.