Video 16
Notes

Jul 29,
2014
Posted 11 hours ago

Pulstar is a bittersweet title to cover. Although it’s a fine game (better than fine, actually), it may be the last true R-Type style game to appear in arcades; we’ll find out if I’m wrong as I move on, but I was surprised when I first played Pulstar a ways back to find out that such arcade games were still being made as late as 1995. The very nature of the R-Type style is to lack the dazzling speed and visuals of then-modern shoot-em-ups, so one would expect a dwindling audience for such a release.

But even while Pulstar didn’t have the flash of a Cave or Psikyo shoot-em-up, it did have something going for it that traditional R-Type games lacked: pre-rendered 3D sprites and backgrounds. The folks at Aicom couldn’t very well unleash Bullet Hell and still remain true to their design goal, but they could change the feel of the graphics from the old hand-drawn sprites to something decidedly mid-90s: CGI style enemies and designs, much like the earlier game Viewpoint. It makes for a very distinctive looking game, even though I’m still a bigger fan of the older Irem style. The soundtrack, which relies heavily on synth strings and echo-hall effects instead of heavy rock, likewise sets it apart from any of its shoot-em-up peers—but like ambient mood music from a movie, it generally doesn’t make for much enjoyable listening outside the confines of the game.

Playing the game is everything you would hope for from an R-Type homage. You have your pod, an array of weapons to fire from it, and you’ll use them heavily in some of the toughest stages you’re going to face anywhere. Just like its inspiration, this game moves slowly, and that may convince you to let your guard down, but you will quickly learn the error of your ways. By the fourth of the game’s eight (long) stages, I was feeling my years, and by the sixth I was genuinely stressing about survival. (I did not complete the game without continuing. A few times.) Enemies come from all angles and shower you with bullets that move with infuriatingly slowness, leaving you to only feel upset at yourself when you miscalculate the proper safe way to navigate them. You’re also taunted with the option of sacrificing your pod for a super-powerful attack against everyone on the screen. This is the true definition of a desperation move: without the pod to block most incoming fire safely, you’re living on borrowed time trying desperately to find a replacement.

Pulstar is a satisfying, well-designed game. It looks good, sounds good, is longer than R-Type games tend to be, tough as nails, and never goes for unfair deaths. When you lose, it’s your fault, and when you win, you are the king (well, queen considering the game’s pilot is female) of the galaxy.

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  TAGS:  Pulstar   Aicom   Neo Geo   1990s games  
Audio 8
Notes

Jul 28,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

And last, but not least, one of the games of legend—Mega Man II—and one of the most well-constructed themes to go with it, the first section of Dr. Wily’s Castle. Those who have played this stage are surely aware of the justification for my praise. There’s so much on display here. The music is fast, dramatic and motivating, but it also makes so many effective uses of the NES voices. There’s plenty of alternation between bright overlayed square waves and then contrasting the two voices between each other as they follow different melodies. All the while the drum (noise channel) and bass (triangle channel) work tirelessly in the background. It even wisely ramps up the octaves of the bass at key moments to provide the illusion (although a fairly transparent one) of a third lead.

Of all the pieces of music in the storied history of Mega Man—and there are many—this one is my favorite, and a great way to end off today’s selections. (Bonus trivia: this is the ringtone that pops up when I call my wife on the phone.)

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  TAGS:  Mega Man II   Capcom   NES   1980s games   Video Game Music   Rockman II  
Audio 22
Notes

Jul 28,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

Another one of the all-time classics. Blaster Master, possibly Sunsoft’s greatest triumph. Eight diverse stages, each with their own theme and soundtrack. Amazingly, though the music is spectacular for this game, it’s actually overshadowed by the graphics and world exploration. This piece has always been my favorite, not only because the stage it’s attached to is one of the most impressive, but because it conveys the electromechanical mood of its parent stage so well without resorting to obvious musical tropes like the “zzt” of electrical currents. The most you get is a slightly metallicized voice through the square wave overlays. The overall melody isn’t as complex as you might expect a great piece of game music to be, but it’s proof positive that with the right construction, simplicity can win the day.

(Note: The art for this piece comes from the Japanese version of the game, Cho Wakusei Senki Metafight, since all art in the American version was just screenshots from the game.)

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  TAGS:  Blaster Master   Sunsoft   NES   1980s games   Video Game Music  
Audio 6
Notes

Jul 28,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

Ah, The Guardian Legend. I’ve often times mentioned it as one of the finest games of all time. How could I not make an inclusion here? Sadly, most tracks in The Guardian Legend are on the short side, clocking in at 40 seconds or so per loop. They fit the nature of their stages wonderfully, but they don’t make for great casual listening. The opening theme, however, is not only a little bit longer (especially with its prelude), but shows off a beautiful layering effect with the NES channels. You get a majestic feeling of openness and space as you watch the game’s story scroll by and listen to this play, setting a perfect mood for the open world nature of the game itself.

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  TAGS:  Guardian Legend   Broderbund   NES   1980s games   Video Game Music  
Audio 5
Notes

Jul 28,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

I’m starting off today with Power Blade, the game most listeners are probably least likely to know. This was an action platformer developed by Natsume that revolved around a hero who used a boomerang as a weapon (although if you were good you could permanently divest yourself of that rather Australian notion after a couple minutes and use the eponymous Power Blade for the rest of the game.) The gameplay was average and the graphics were laughably jerky and stilted, but the music was impressive considering the rest of the package. No surprise there, since the composer, Kinuyo Yamashita, also composed the first Castlevania game. There’s a wide breadth of styles on display in the game, but this track is best suited for today’s showcase, since it juggles various instrumentations and demonstrates good use of the dual square wave layering effect. Also, it shows you can have a slightly slower “action” piece that still works.

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  TAGS:  Power Blade   Taito   NES   1980s games   Video Game Music  
Text 6
Notes

Jul 28,
2014
Posted 1 day ago

Game Music Spotlight: The NES

This is a post which is long overdue and, like my post on the C-64’s SID chip, there will eventually be more posts on this particular topic. But for today, we have this. Like all consoles released prior to the DVD era, the NES has a unique sound configuration, but in this case perhaps more different than any other. The NES has no dedicated sound chip; all of its sound processing is handled by its onboard microprocessor, the Ricoh 2A03. Because computer instructions alone are what is needed to generate the NES sound (in most cases), it’s easier to generate near-perfect NES music through emulation than with many other consoles.

The abilities of the Ricoh 2A03 were both stronger and weaker than that of its closest chronological game music competitor, the SID chip. The SID could generate three simultaneous channels of varying wavetypes with a lot of “tricks” for programmers to work with due to the quirky nature of its very construction. The NES could generate five channels of music, but these were fixed-types: two square channels (typically smooth sound), one triangle channel (deeper, fuzzier sound), a white noise channel and a limited instrument sampling channel. The Famicom Disk System release supported a sixth very fuzzy channel which gives a distinctive, almost primitive sound to its games even though they’re technically more “advanced” in music presentation.

Undoubtedly, the defining sound of NES games is its jaunty, bright lead lines, generated by the two square waves, which both sport the usual synthesizer-style options of attack, decay, etc. Although it’s just generated by computer and could have been replicated in any succeeding console, there’s not another one out there that captures this sound (although the original Gameboy, which also uses processor generation, comes close.) Composers were able to mix these channels for interesting effects. It was easy to make simple chords but overlaying the channels with the same note also allowed for everything from transcendant echo effects to metallic sounds and the creation of musical elements that, frankly, shouldn’t have been available to a home console released in 1983.

Unfortunately, many games are plagued with short-looping tracks which, while beautiful, may last less than 40 seconds in a single loop, which can make for poor listening—this is something I’ve become especially aware of in preparing to launch my radio station. Today’s tracks cover some of the more well-known releases of their time (and several games still legendary today); future installments will feature some of the less-known but still remarkable audio feats of 1980s composers. Enjoy.

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TAGS: NES Nintendo Entertainment System   Video Game Music  
Answer 4
Notes

Jul 27,
2014
Posted 2 days ago
I remember you gushing about a roguelike indie PC game that had a code system so you could revisit levels, I think? Ring a bell? I meant to check it out but I forgot the name. Hope I have the right blog, at least. Thanks in advance! Love yr blog.
oneheadtoanother asked

Thanks for the kind words! That game is One Way Heroics (which I discussed in this post for anyone else interested.) It’s available on Steam, but I recommend buying the game through Playism at this link. It’s cheaper there (only $2), and you get a Steam key in addition to the DRM-free version. 

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  TAGS:  One Way Heroics   oneheadtoanother  
Text 4
Notes

Jul 26,
2014
Posted 3 days ago

Relaxing over lunch by dredging old .NSF files for NES music to place on the new radio station (when it gets up and running.) I smell a Game Music Spotlight on the NES pretty soon.

I tried Nestopia, FCE Ultra and even Audio Overload, but Ironically, with my modern PC and new, lovely sounding speakers, the most accurate and convenient method I could find to record simulated NES music was to install my archived version of WinAmp 2.91 from 2003 and use a 2006 plugin (NotSoFatso) to play the files.

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Photo 17
Notes

Jul 26,
2014
Posted 3 days ago

Just another example of the sort of thing my wife is digging up down in Louisiana—a Galeon punch-puppet toy from the Playstation 1 release of Lunar: Silver Star Story. I bought that and Lunar: Eternal Blue when they were released, sweet Working Designs deluxe boxes and all. I can’t remember the details behind this, but I’m going to assume it was some sort of pre-order or store exclusive bonus—back when such things were physical goods and not sections of the gameplay otherwise excised prior to release…

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 TAGS:  Lunar Silver Star Story   Galeon   Working Designs   I never did get their Arc the Lad Collection though   Bah  
Video 9
Notes

Jul 24,
2014
Posted 5 days ago

Posts are slim this week. My wife is away in Louisiana helping her mother prepare to move to our area, having just recently retired. You might think that an empty house after a long day of work would make a fertile environment to wax nostalgic over classic gaming. You would be wrong. However, I have this weekend and some time next week off, so that should make things much better.

And there’s great news for me personally on the horizon! I have lots of old gaming stuff that we had to leave behind when we made the move to Oregon. Boxes, manuals, disks, tons of 1990s collectible trading card games and, of course, my baby, the Commodore 128D pictured above (taken from my wife’s phone all the way across the country—oh, technology!), complete with 1764 Ram Expansion Unit and the champion of old home displays, the 1084S monitor which is, as far as I’m concerned, the way to play old Commodore, NES and SNES games if you’re going for the authentic experience. Final Fantasy VI never looked finer on any screen…

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Answer 5
Notes

Jul 24,
2014
Posted 5 days ago
There's a ton of classic gaming questions I want to ask you, but the most prevalent one on my mind is: what do you know of Guilty Gear X for Arcade and Dreamcast that came out in 2000? I heard rumors that they put some hidden goodies on the disc (one of them anyway) that had extra stuff like wallpapers or desktop themes. It's been so long I hardly remember, but I do know ARC System Works likes hiding goodies.
gear-project asked

Feel free to ask any and all questions, and I will gladly answer what I can! My knowledge of Guilty Gear is, sadly, limited. I know it’s a very beautiful series, a great example of pixel art in the fighting genre, and I know, first-hand, that it (the series) has kick-butt soundtracks:
image

Indeed, “Love Letter From…”, the ending credits music of the original Guilty Gear, is one of my favorite musical tracks of all time.

But in terms of secrets and stuff on disc, I am woefully deficient. This is not one of the titles I picked up for the Dreamcast or played much. We got very few fighting games for the Dreamcast and the most memorable of those was Soul Calibur. Moreover, the last time I made a serious attempt to try and get goodies from my Dreamcast discs, consumer DVDs weren’t even an option for computers (it was a while ago) and the Dreamcast’s reverse-direction GD-ROM format precluded me from reading the discs directly. Now that we’re in a modern era of Blu-Ray discs and vastly improved emulation, I’ll have to try those old discs again sometime and see if it’s more feasible to find some juicy treasures—but Guilty Gear won’t be one of them, sorry.

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  TAGS:  Guilty Gear   gear-project   Arc Systems Works   Dreamcast  
Text 2
Notes

Jul 24,
2014
Posted 5 days ago

Free Sims 2 Ultimate Collection at Origin.

Nope, it’s not an arcade or console game. It’s not even, in my opinion, old enough to be considered classic. But The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection is free right now, and that makes up a lot for those shortcomings. I haven’t been a big fan of the Sims games (I stopped doing much with Maxis titles after SimCity 2000 and SimAnt), but I like what people have managed to make out of them and my wife, as well as many others, have enjoyed the series. Sims 2 was, from what I gather, a good game (albeit technologically outdated now), so this is a nice offer from EA on a title that was, frankly, probably not generating any sales.

You can read from EA directly on how to get the game for free. Origin is required. The offer is good until July 31st, so don’t delay.

One of the cardinal sins of the Sims series, even amongst diehard fans, is the tendency to release so many items as paid DLC that the base game feels bare on its own. That’s not a problem here. The Ultimate Collection comes with the Pets, Seasons, Nightlife, University, Apartment Life, Open for Business, Free Time, and Bon Voyage Expansions, as well as a whole bunch of item “stuff” packs. Your game will be anything but empty.

Those suspicious about motives here have every reason to be. The Sims 4 is set to release in just a few months and EA has faced some heavy pushback for the fact that the new game takes out several features (including swimming pools, open world, terrain editing and Create-a-Style) that became standard in the earlier games. Offering this for free might be an attempt to get fresh blood into the series just a bit before releasing the next big game that they might all bite at. But regardless of the reason behind it, free is free and a good game for free is, well, a good game for free.

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TAGS: The Sims   Electronic Arts   Origin   The Sims 2  
Video 12
Notes

Jul 23,
2014
Posted 6 days ago

Images from the attract modes of Goketsuji Legends, the third of Atlus’s installments in the Power Instinct series (with this game the series forever drops “Power Instinct” from the name of any of its future titles.)

Although the overall personality of the game is the same as the two earlier entries, the gameplay changes significantly here. There’s now a tag-team system reminiscent of King of Fighters (albeit with only two people on a team) and there are even more technical fighting options available at your disposal. Super attacks from the last game are now joined by super blocks, and there are dashing attacks that can immediately knock you down. It’s flexible, but a little too flexible for me.

Overall, I didn’t get along with this game that well—the general nature of its fighting mechanics is strong, but doesn’t fit what I myself look for in the genre; I’m a down-to-earth basics fighting kind of guy who would never cut it in any sort of official tournament. All that said, the game is still quite good and I have, as the younger crowd has been known to say, mad respect for Atlus just for making this. In a time of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and King of Fighters, they had the guts and talent to field this misfit band of characters in their fighting games for a third time and somehow make it work. It’s no wonder they would go on to be known as a developer and publisher of quality unusual titles like the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games.

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  TAGS:  Power Instinct Legends   Atlus   arcade   1990s games   Art in Video Games   Goketsuji Legends  
Photo 6
Notes

Jul 22,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Come on, you know your day isn’t complete without the image of a majestic steed charging dramatically through a shower of Othello chips. Thankfully that’s exactly what Sunwise’s Othello Derby from 1995 offers, and you don’t even have to go any further than the attract mode!

This unusual title has you playing Othello against an opponent, and your performance in the game affects how your horse, who is racing on the lower part of the screen, places. Does it sound convoluted? Sure, but better that than the usual alternative of forcing the loser to undress.

What happens when the horse wins? Does that then allow you some advantage in a third form of competition, like getting an extra discard in poker? I don’t know. I never won because I am not that good at the game. The catchphrase of Othello, at least when I was first exposed to it at the tender age of four or so, was “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Unfortunately, not long after learning Othello, I had decided my lifetime would be spent trying to master video games instead.

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 TAGS:  Othello Derby   Sunwise   arcade   1990s games   Art in Video Games  
Video 44
Notes

Jul 21,
2014
Posted 1 week ago

Scenes from the attract mode intro for Darkstalkers 2: The Night Warriors (titled Vampire Hunter in Japan, based on the Darkstalkers series being known as Vampire there.) The second game is very much like the first, with the addition of two new characters, Donovan (with disturbed orphan-child Anita in tow) and Hsien-Ko (also with an accompanying character—this time her sister in the form of the paper talisman on her hat.) The two bosses from the first Darkstalkers game, Huitzil and Pyron are now playable. Pyron is still the final boss, even if you choose to play with Pyron, and he has his own ending.

The fighting style for Night Warriors is a bit more technical than the previous game, with deeper fighting options that, for someone like me, who tends to go more bare-bones in fighting style, can be a bit much. But it’s still a good game and one of the best options around for getting your classic horror monster fighting on.

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  TAGS:  Night Warriors   Capcom   arcade   1990s games   Art in Video Games   Darkstalkers 2   Vampire Hunter