Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Blast from the Past

  It has been a while, as many things have changed recently, and I’ve felt my passion pretty much dry up.  This has made it quite difficult to blog, certainly to be interesting.  I’ve tried catching up with a few old chums, my word for bloggers who’ve inspired me and probably don’t know that I exist.  C’est la vie!  Turns out, the inspiration that I needed came not from the community, but from YouTube. 

  Today, I’d like to talk about video games and the expression “Blast from the Past.”  The origin of the expression lies in radio communications, as radio DJs would announce an old favorite song with this as its epitaph.  It heralds something familiar, and something can potentially transport you back to t-hat distant time and place.  It’s by convention a positive experience.

  Retrogaming is a subculture of the larger gaming community, focused on older games from the way things were in the bygone ages, typically arcade games, but I contend the same applies if, like myself, you background is a little more “four shades of grey” (that’s an epitaph that references the Nintendo Gameboy, by the way).

  And as to what brought about this emotional surge today?  I was searching online for victory music from recent games that I have cleared, reviewing my “score,” if you will, when I figured I would search for a YouTube video of Kirby’s 20th Anniversary.  The video itself is nothing special, Kirby walking a victory lap with series regulars, all from Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, flying in the background.  Backgrounds change, implying movement.  New instrumental arrangements of the first victory song play continuously.  The credits roll, in this version, all in Japanese.  Then some small things change, and I’m floored, defenceless.

  The song remains the same, but the arrangement is unmistakably Gameboy.  Give the video a watch if you fancy.

  When this happens, I am floored, tearing just a bit but unable to look away at the smiling, goofy faces of Kirby’s cast of friends (or are they breakfast?) waving goodbye.  No, wait.  Until we meet again.  This is a 20 year old franchise, you understand.  And I’ve been with them, and they with me, for all of that time.  And this scene sets such a warmth in the heart as cannot be measured, a cheer that cannot be described.  And for a moment, the mind clears, and all is well with the world.

  And then there is the coming down, the sense that I must be really messed up.  This is a blog about the hobby of video gaming, and a post that is all about feeling so good about hearing a 20 year old victory theme.  And then there is the lonely thought; no DJ will announce this on any radio, as only my fellow gen NES gamers would get the reference.  This is our song: okay fine, Nintendo’s song and Koji Kondo’s composition, but we get to borrow if as long as we don’t infringe on profitable copyright, blah, blah, it lives in the hearts of Kirby fanatics.  And how does it feel to be a fanatic of a fictional pink cream puff?  Kind of weird, actually.

  Ironically, the song is supposed to be a kind of pledge from Nintendo.  It is a way of saying “Thanks for 20 years,” and “Stay with us! We’ll be back!”  It’s a way of saying that Kirby is special to them too.  Grown men drawing their joy from a fictional universe where everything is smiling, colorful.  Happy.  One could say that I’ve experienced pressure to engage more in the real world, while the gaming worlds beckon home, to where I’ve always been happy.

  It’s been a great 20 years Kirby! 

The Phrase Finder, Gary Martin, 1996-2013, available online at

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Classic Arcade (attempts) in Wario Ware DIY

I’m ever remise to have let you guys down again.  Uncle Jack’s funeral was lovely, btw.
So projects completed.

The first project I decided to undertake was Missile Command, abbreviated MissiCommand because of the short character strings for titles in Wario Ware DIY.  The choice turned out to be a very bad one, as all kinds of compromises suddenly became necessary; I couldn’t find any sort of stand in for tracers, and several efforts to give the user the ability to aim the interceptors failed.  I can’t find anyway for the player to input coordinates at all!  I knew that the scope of the project, the available sprites and resources, would sharply limit my options, but I plowed ahead and delivered the best version that I could.  I ended up creating three.

The first version has the missiles track in on one city from all directions with random starting places and random drop times.  It did a fair job of replicating the “attack from all sides” sense of the arcade game.  I got around aiming by giving the player as many interceptors as incoming missiles; the challenge to the player is to simply tap to fire all of the interceptors before any missile reaches the city.  This is easy enough at normal speed, and a dreaded challenge at high speed, so it kept the complexity down and kept the focus on the shallow Wario Ware experience.  It did not sufficiently replicate Missile Command, though, so I went back in to try again.

Version two was a linear increase in complexity.  It added four invading missiles and challenged the player to tap the interceptors spread around the screen.  It added nothing to the depth, and so I didn’t like it.

Version three added a second city and collected the four interceptors together, making the user interface streamlined.  No need to tap around looking for the interceptor bases with 6 seconds or less to react – they were all together.  With two cities, the tracking missiles concept had dried up; players only needed one city to survive, and had a decent chance to save both.  Missiles still dropped from random start locations at random times, but now they simply dropped (moved downwards). I tried once more to give the player the ability to input coordinates, even trying to create a cross-hair object to move around and have the interceptors track it.  I gave up when I realized that there simply was not the time to move it and aim anyway!  Interceptors tracked missiles, and that was the only way this was going to fly.  I’d fallen pretty far from the source inspiration, but it was time to move on.

The next project was Space Invaders, but initially the marching in space formation that is so iconic of the game escaped me.  I programmed a roaming action for the few space invaders that WWDIY’s object limits would give me, and programmed a tank with a reloading upwards mounted gun.  Perhaps the most damning result was the difficulty: this game approaches impossible for the six seconds Wario Ware allows.  The second was a bug that still now is unsolvable – it’s almost as if Wario Ware loses the switch information for the bullet – it randomly fails to reload, and when that happens, the game is over fast for the player.

Though inauthentic, the game captures much of the difficulty of space invaders, and punishes players who do not carefully watch the enemy for their next attack.  I found tapping the shields to move the tank cute, but oddly less intuitive than including those awful iOS buttons attached to the tank.

Wishing to try this again, I recreated most of the game for Centipedes.  The fast game gives the players three passes in front of their guns to kill the Centipedes.  I wasn’t satisfied with the random wandering of the Space Invaders, so I tried to use hidden objects to direct the centipede on its course.  This almost didn’t come together, as DIY only gives five possible scripts, all of which need to be used for collisions with the direction objects or the player and bullets. Then inspiration struck: why not use the timing function to move the directions to another spot?  I’d need scripts on the direction objects, but I had them to spare there.  This eleventh hour work-around saved the project, and gave a game that closely replicated Centipede.  Players still only had six seconds to act, but those six seconds could now be focused on aiming and timing a shot.  This is the best work yet, for what it means.

So there is my hard work.  I hope I didn’t get anyones’ hopes up for this.  These are, in the end, just my own unskilled and often flailing efforts to build a game to a certain design within the Wario Ware DIY rules.  Be sure to let me know in the comments if you can think of a good design challenge that helps learners like myself.  Until next time.

Monday, 14 January 2013

What’s old is new again

  So the New Year drags on, as it does for me in this full time job.  I’ve managed to steal an odd moment or two to dig back into gaming, and I’ve become quite surprised at the odd choice for my hobby.

  I’ve dug up Wario Ware DIY, a game not too far old, but one I became angry with because of its limitations, and started “coding” a collection of the old arcade classics.  I’m going to use today’s blog to ramble a bit about what made these old games so good, what Wario Ware can do to realize them, and how I’ve struggled, and I think even grown, trying to recreate them.

  First a bit about Wario Ware DIY.  I put “coding” in quotes because all of the coding is done for you.  WWDIY is a masterwork in limiting the communication line to something pretty close to ‘just what I want to say’ in machine language.  This lets the user focus on the assets, typically the art and animation of a game, the music, and the design, or putting it all together.  I’ve tried coding before and you’ll hear much of my hesitation to try it again.

  There are strict limits though.  Specifically, WWDIY can only make the six second microgames that fit Wario Ware, a harsh enough limit, but one that keeps the user from attempting any projects that are too big.  It also, much more maddeningly, limits the game designs to one and only one input, tap.  Want to use the DS buttons?  How about the microphone?  Want to drag and draw on the touch screen?  You cannot program any of that in game.  This restriction feels the most discomforting of all.  Further, I keep finding labor saving actions that I should be able to do, like copy code in many instances, or change the size of artwork.  When Nintendo/Intelligent Systems set out to define everything for you, they clearly missed some ideas, and doing without hurts the experience.   

  Honestly, a truly painful part of the software is the hard cap: each object can have only five events (for things like the die event, the create event, the “at the specified time” event).  This wouldn’t be so bad if you had only a full set of Boolean operators, otherwise known as the “AND” and “OR” keywords.  They let you mix operations; for instance “AND” is included and its event only triggers if all of the noted conditions are true.  There is no “OR,” so each event has to be included individually.  This makes collision events impossible; you could make a hero and three enemies, but the hero may not have the three events to spare to die at the hands of each of them.

  Shoot, that’s already 500 words.  I’ve only been describing the limits I’ve had to work within!  I think I’ll make the post for tomorrow all about showing off.  Rest assured, you’re only missing out if you like to laugh at hilarious failure.  Until then!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A New Year to Remember!

  It has been a while.  Work has kept me busy, and even time off has felt full.  Still, I’ve taken quite of bit of time re-evaluating the blog.  The audience goes in unison: “Oh no, not this again.”

  The blog’s main topic is gamer culture, and despite a lot of recent stories on this subject, just off the top of my head, women’s issues in game, yet another sleazeball stalking women in online games just to drive them out of “his” territory, the new flare up of public “inquiry” regarding violence in media, including the destruction of the offending material, and the corresponding call to arms of video gamers determined to protect our beloved games, and every story on the net you could think of on the evils of gamers of every sort.

  (update: Southington Conn has since cancelled their game burning plans, claiming that they already have created a big enough scene.  I’m inclined to agree).
  I’ve tried several times to sew up a blog article about these events that would add something to the discussions at hand, but they always came out bland, like I had nothing to contribute.  And then, it hit me.  None of this stuff is what I want to blog about.  Most of it isn’t even tangentially about the gaming I love, mostly dealing with online or shoot’em up games, and the general culture that is lining them up for a take-down.  I’m going to come off as a old fogey for saying it, but the type of gaming I most enjoy is partisan to Nintendo, which shares some of these problems, but is usually thought of last in these challenges. 

  So, here’s the only blog post I can write, and I’m going to blow off my supposed responsibilities to other types of gamers on the Internet to write a feel good newsie, a report on all of the good things recent and on the horizon.

  The biggest recent news is the launch of the WiiU, which I have yet to purchase.  (Critics: How can you be a hardcore Nintendo fan without a WiiU?)  I’ve been busy, much too much so for a new console, and the 3DS has been a great 30 minute time waster.  It’s also been great for ducking into and out of the fictional worlds it builds swiftly and cleanly, a godsend for stress relief.  But I haven’t sworn off buying a WiiU; Pikmin 3 and Lego City Undercover both look like must haves!

  As a 3DS owner, the best news was revealed just the other day: new Pokémon games are confirmed October, Pokémon X and Y respectively.  I’ve fallen behind again; I played and loved Blue and Red for the Gameboy Color, then rented, but never bought Gold.  I never did follow up on Pokémon until White, just three years back.  It was another classic, and well worth the time investment, which coincidentally, was about 160 hours, greater than Monster Hunter Tri and Wii Fit Plus (separately, not both together).  Despite craving Pokémon White or Black 2 and Pokémon Conquest, I just never found the time for such a large scale RPG.  I wonder if I can change that for next October?

  Nintendo Power ended its long, long run just this New Years.  December was its last issue.  The end of the era prompted a lot of emotional farewells.  I once subscribed, but only for a year; I didn’t have much money when younger, and soon wondered at the wisdom of spending money to read about video games that could otherwise have been spent on buying and playing video games. 

  Still, not all of the news is sad, as the full might (or so it seems) of Nintendo press agents in North America have come out to support a new publication, called Nintendo Force.  So far it looks a bit like rushing into the fire zone.  Nintendo Power didn’t just morph into an e-mag.  It dried up, suggesting word from higher up on its closure.  While I certainly appreciate the passion Nintendo Force brings to the table, can they really fill the breach?   And pay the bills?  Is this gamble just crazy?  Nintendo Force’s debut issue is due out in just a few days.  Should I support this, which appears to be a true community effort (just what I was looking for, incidentally) themed on Nintendo (bonus)? 

  My money happens to be spoken for this month, for as of January 25th, 2013, the formal translation of the Hyrule Historia goes on sale.  This hardcover tome features developer stories and memories creating the many games of the Legend of Zelda, and developer concept art.  There is a timeline effort from Nintendo besides, but I consider the effort to be wasted.  Don’t insult us Nintendo; we know that there is no timeline connecting the LoZ games together, and there never was.  We know this, we appreciate how that lets you focus on telling better stories, and we appreciate it.  Still, having an unwanted feature won’t stop me from enjoying the rest of the book!

  And that’s just about all of the Nintendo news I know of for January.  It’s a full month, even without the baggage coming from outside.  Still, it’s also a little exciting.  This is time Nintendo seems the most alive, and the fan base is reciprocating. 

Harassment of women to chase them out of online gaming.

Southington SOS, as reported on by Polygon.

Southington cancels game burning.

The phrase Call to Arms here references the majority of what I’m finding on the net anymore.  Joe Biden, VP to Barack Obama, called all parties to participate in a dialog on the violence.  Here is Kris Graft of Gamasutra suggesting that should Game representatives even attend or send an attendant, it would compromise gaming’s place as would an admission of guilt.  And here is one articulate gamer, Kamicasey, responding that failing to speak up for gaming is the equivalent of letting freaks like the NRA blame gaming, the makers of games and people who play them, effectively defining what gaming is all about.  Kamicasey and Kris Graft between them make a good point, though divided on the Joe Bidden invitation: We need to stand up for this medium, and not let outsiders, especially those with an agenda, define gaming.  Video gaming may have its own learning curve to go through, and Casey Lynch at IGN does a nice job framing that work.

Audrey Drake’s Everything we know about Pokémon X and Y.

The Game Overthinker was instrumental in collecting all of these links.  Props!