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My name is Robin, and this is my website about computer games. Here you can find essays about old games, industry commentary, free games I've made for fun, and funny songs.

 
Metroid Prime 4: Fantasy Pitch
Posted at 23:14 on 20th August 2018 - permalink

We now know that Metroid Prime 4 is coming at some point in the lifetime of the Nintendo Switch. The as-yet-unannounced developers have big shoes to fill: the interval between Metroid Prime 3 and 4 will be longer even than the one between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime.

While the Switch is a substantially more powerful platform than the Gamecube or Wii, it’s hard to imagine the new game having the same epoch-shattering impact Metroid Prime did in 2002. Now players are spoiled for choice for sprawling, rich fantasy worlds to explore, what can still be done to surprise them?

Even before the announcement, I’d thought a lot over the years about how the Prime series could be revisited in the light of subsequent developments in technology and design trends. While I wait for the call from Shigeru Miyamoto, I’ve jotted some ideas down here.

What works

First off, I don’t think the Prime series needs to dramatically pivot in the way games like Breath of the Wild or Resident Evil 4 called a reset on their respective franchises. The view should still be first person, the world should still be relatively small and dense, and the player character should still be Samus Aran, alone in a remote alien environment with the minimum of friendly NPC encounters.

There are some established expectations of what a Metroid game should be, both thematically and mechanically. Quite a lot of the appeal of the series is that it’s such an out-of-character thing for Nintendo to make. The series’s aesthetic takes cues from Alien as well as pulpy horror comics, and it was successfully marketed to seem timeless and exotic.

From my first glancing encounter with the series (when a school friend bought Super Metroid), I got the impression of being privy to something momentous – the oversized box, and the ponderous (subtitled!) intro sequence, and the promise of a sprawling world all diverging from the console game norms we’d understood up to that point.

When Metroid Prime came along it used the change in viewpoint to really thoroughly explore the feeling of being a foreign entity intruding into a lethally hostile ecosystem with only a thin shell of metal and glass protecting you. (This theme is referenced right away in the electron microscope images on the title screen, and Retro only get more confident from there.)

It went to great pains to not break immersion (only leaving the first person view for brief establishing cutscenes) and constantly used small animations and effects to remind the player that Samus is physically present in the world (from reflections and condensation on the visor, to displaced leaves and pollen, to idle animations such as Samus holding out her palm to feel raindrops).

But we can’t just remake Metroid Prime (although if Nintendo did, I’d definitely buy it). If we’re keeping what works, we need to give Samus a new interesting challenge to face, and new themes to explore.

Themes

Retro Studios already covered a lot of the stock adventure game clichés in their trilogy – ice and lava worlds, light and dark worlds, giving the hero an evil twin and a life-sapping (but ability-granting) curse. But we don’t have to resort to Nintendo’s favoured tactic of coming up with hyper-specific themes (e.g. coffee, emotions, wool, hats) for late entries in a series just yet.

There was a minor enemy in Metroid Prime 2 (the rezbit – used perhaps only once or twice in the whole game) that could attack Samus by crashing her cybernetic suit’s computer, requiring the player to ‘reboot’ it to be able to see again.

A cute throwaway Robocop-esque gimmick, but it made me think that this could be the key to doing something new with Metroid Prime’s situation: have Samus face off against an alien species that can ‘ghost hack’ her suit’s systems. Samus’s suit has always been a dependable constant in the series – having to be wary of it being breached (perhaps having to actively maintain its integrity?) would add a new level of tension.

The player could then use the tools at their disposal (visors, beams and environment traversal) to reveal misleading sensory data, both to find secrets and to advance the game. As the game progresses there would be an escalating arms race in Samus’s puzzle solving ability and the level of cunning used by the enemy to cover their tracks. (This would also provide an excuse if needed to take the adventure to more abstract locations, if the enemy eventually resorts to creating wholly illusory environments – plundering Samus’s memories perhaps?)

It would require some care to stop the unreliable inputs from being frustrating and confusing for the player – perhaps these sequences would be used sparingly and signposted for players paying attention. When designing the puzzles it should also be kept in mind that this isn’t intended to be a ‘sanity’ mechanic as seen in some survival horror games.

(Another somewhat meta idea – which I don’t think Nintendo would allow, sadly – would be for the game to detect when the player is taking screenshots of puzzle solutions etc. and doctoring the screenshot output.)

Beams

It would also be nice to see the game take a more simulation-based approach in the light of Breath of the Wild’s success at giving the player multiple routes to beat many of its puzzles and battles by exploiting the physical properties of objects in the world. A voxel- and material-based environment would open up a huge possibility space for new puzzles and situations. (And because individual rooms tend to be relatively small, a manageable CPU – and QA testing – overhead.)

Using the Switch’s gyro aiming we could finally deliver on the promise of motion controls (which seemed to start to be going somewhere with Half Life 2’s Gravity Gun, and then various Wii and Playstation Move experiments, but of late seems to be confined to VR games like Media Molecule’s Dreams).

The first person view would give us more fine-grained control than the rather clumsy end effectors of the Slate powers in BOTW. Prime 3’s motion control implementation never really got the attention it deserved at the time – early on in the game it tended to be gimmicky but later it allowed for some brilliantly immersive sequences, and would be a good foundation to build upon.

The beams collected over the course of the adventure could open up new systemic ways to manipulate the world, rather than being a red key for red doors.

We could for example have a filament beam that cuts through soft materials but wraps around dense materials, which could be used to build temporary ‘spiderweb’ walkways and barriers, or charge up mechanisms like a whip and top. Coupled with Samus’s locking on and strafing around enemies this could lead to lots of variations on ‘snow speeder vs. AT-AT’ tactics.

Or perhaps a microwave beam that passes through certain materials but heats up or excites (or disintegrates) others? Or a concrete extrusion beam that lets the player fill negative space with expanding foam (a bit like the terrain manipulator in No Man’s Sky), allowing the construction of dams, bridges, keys, traps or other oversized tools by using parts of the environment as moulds. You could even use the other beams to carve up the sculpting material.

The only limitation Metroid Prime’s conventions place on these ideas is that each beam needs to be effective as a weapon as well as a special purpose tool, but this is hardly an insurmountable problem.

Dreams

It would also be important (particularly after such a long hiatus) for the opening stretch of the game to be memorable. Like, Naughty Dog, ‘throwing bushels of money at the screen’ memorable.

Retro Studios stunned naysayers with the extended prologue sequence in Prime 1, and I hardly need to explain the impact of the Super Metroid’s opening, echoed consciously or not in the intros of dozens of indie passion projects two decades later.

It’s probably wildly overindulgent, but the opening I’d pitch for the new game would be to drop straight (cold open) into a hyper-bombastic, over the top ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ action sequence, with a Smash Bros. styled Samus (over the course of a few minutes) crash landing on a weird jungle planet, fighting through a Space Pirate facility/ancient temple, stealing a ludicrously overpowered MacGuffin and escaping as everything collapses and explodes.

Then just as we’ve seemingly confirmed that Nintendo don’t know what to do with Metroid and are making it into a sugary Uncharted-esque action game, we pull back and reveal that everything up to this point has been kid Samus playing at being a bounty hunter.

(I’ve thought of an elegant way to frame this reveal, that would melt a hundred Twitch streamers’ faces off, but this post is getting long enough already.)

In this way the player would be wrong-footed and introduced to the overarching theme of whether they can trust their perceptions. Such a ‘twist’ would of course be spoiled all over the internet within minutes, but collective efforts not to spoil films until they’ve been out for a while, plus the fact that the massive divergence of the modern games audience means even ‘tentpole’ Nintendo releases don’t dominate the conversation for weeks in the way e.g. Halo, Half Life and Quake did, give me some hope that at least some players would want to try to go into the game blind.

The second half of the prologue could then show (through time shifted jump cuts, still under the player’s control) Samus’s origin story more or less as told in the official manga – Space Pirates (led by Ridley) destroy the mining colony where Samus grew up, and she alone is saved by the Chozo and trained and augmented to be a bounty hunter. This could be told with minimal dialogue, and emphasis on the young Samus’s lack of agency being the motivation for hunting the Space Pirates in adulthood. (Yeah, Samus is basically Space Batman.)

The above is perhaps a lot to wade through before we get to the story (and actual peril) ‘proper’, but seeing as the Metroid Prime games have gotten away with the motivation of ‘respond to this distress call’ or similar it could perhaps work. The prologue would be a success if players play through it again after knowing the ‘twist’ to spot details they missed the first time.

The main game world would presumably once again take the ‘Crystal Maze’ approach of a handful of discrete themed zones (with lots of backtracking), and the bump in technology gives us endless possibilities of new things to try here:

1. A zero-G orbital space station that can be reconfigured (perhaps by making improvised hacks using the beam tools) – with lots of morph ball/spider ball exploration.

2. A boss that you have to capture alive, setting up traps and constructions in the surrounding area to lead it to a containment pit.

3. More and richer organic environments in general. Even with the rudimentary technology of the time these were by far the most visually interesting parts of the original trilogy. Let’s see jungles, coral reefs and cave networks.

So that would be my approach, or at least the equipment I’d pack and the bearings I’d set off to follow: a more simulation-based (and probably less relentlessly combat focused – easing off on the Chozo ghosts and boss bottlenecks at least), reality-bending 2019 retooling of the Prime trilogy.

It would also be vitally important (and here I hope the real Metroid Prime 4 devs agree) to have distinctive art direction, from someone of the calibre of Andrew Jones or Kenneth Scott. The Switch hardware may preclude the game from being as technically mindblowing as the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, but the art style should at least be immediately recognisable even from screenshots.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, I hope we’re not going to be seeing a return of the voiced NPCs / cowering scientists / comic relief rival bounty hunters from Prime 3. I skimmed some Let’s Plays to refresh my memory when writing this and I’d forgotten just how horrendously they shatter the mysterious tone of the series up to that point.


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“Kiss From A Rose”
Posted at 17:14 on 12th August 2018 - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke songlist – first performed by Beck Michalak on 10/08/2018.

The version live on the system has a couple of line edits to better fit the tricky timing of the verses. Altered Beast is a bad game.

“Altered Beast”
– after “Kiss From A Rose” by Seal

They may have said in Sega Power it’s not very deep
You’d complain, but why when you got it for free
Ugly game, we’d shrug but they’re buying it still
And yeah we know, uh that it blows
Those sprites were so large of a size that we had rarely seen

Sega! You transformed me to a beast when I rose from the grave
Ooh, the more I play of you the stranger it feels, yeah
Now that you rose from your tomb
“Welcome to your doom” I will say

There are so many things you can turn into, the longer you play
You became a tiger, a dragon, a bear
Hades has cursed me with a strange affliction so I’ll never die
Won’t you drop a glowing health for me?
With one of those, yeah then I’ll grow
My thighs become large and I’ll piledrive you right off the screen

Sega! You transformed me to a beast when I rose from the grave
Ooh, the more I play of you the stranger it feels, yeah (yeah)
Now that you rose from your tomb
“Welcome to your doom” I will say

[BREAK]

Altered Beast when you rose from your grave
Altered Beast when you rose from your grave
And if I should fall please insert coin to play
Altered Beast when you rose from your grave

The Mega Drive should be remembered for much better games
You can play my Harrier, my Hedgehog, my Rage
To me the sequel to Shinobi, even, was a better buy
At least then you can be stealthy baby
But to dethrone Mario
This guy’s their best chance until Sonic arrives on the scene

Sega! You transformed me to a beast when I rose from the grave
Ooh, the more I play of you the stranger it feels, yeah
Now that you rose from your tomb
“Welcome to your doom” I will say

Sega! You transformed me to a beast when I rose from the grave
Ooh, the more I play of you the stranger it feels, yeah
Now that you rose from your tomb
“Welcome to your doom” I will say

Now that you rose from your tomb
“Welcome to your doom” I will say

More Marioke songs


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“If I Could Turn Back Time”
Posted at 18:06 on 14th July 2018 - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke songlist – first performed by Viv Schwarz on 13/07/2018.

“If I Could Turn Back Time”
– after “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Diane Warren) as recorded by Cher

If I could turn back time
If I could climb that way
Then your platforming nerves would desert you
And you’d play

I don’t know where they’ve got the princess hid
I don’t know why the Vizier wants me dead
I’ve got this knife that can make time rewind
Guards have got weapons, they wound sometimes

I just pressed X instead of circle
Rewind and have another go
I know with one more try, oh baby

If I could turn back time
If I could climb that way
Then your platforming nerves would desert you
And you’d play

If I could swing from bars
Ledge grab and wall jump too
Then you’d load me, load me, on your PS2
(If I could turn back time)

My bones were shattered I was torn apart
But I’ve a magic knife and now I’m
Back at the start
Ubi made three more, got bored and then didn’t care
Now they just put Assassin’s Creed everywhere

Nobody else used this mechanic
At least until Braid came along
Reboot me one more time, and darling

If I could turn back time
If I could climb that way
Then your platforming nerves would desert you
And you’d play

My movie needs a star
Jake Gyllenhall will do
Earned back money, money, don’t read the reviews

If I could turn back time (If I could turn back time)
If I could turn back time (If I could turn back time)
IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME! OH! BABY!

We know that you made Karateka
The Last Express was good, I know
We want the Persian guy (but oh)

If I could turn back time
If I could climb that way
Then your platforming nerves would desert you

If I could reach those bars
And not fall to my doom
Then you’d love me, love me, like on Apple ][

If I could turn back time (turn back time)
If I could climb that way (climb that way)
Then maybe maybe maybe you’d play

More Marioke songs


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Are Valve the baddies?
Posted at 23:27 on 9th June 2018 - permalink

Valve have made an announcement about their review policy for the Steam store.

This has resulted in several extremely angry editorials from the games press, who have (perhaps reasonably) interpreted this to mean that Valve intend to take an almost completely hands-off approach to moderating their platform, in the style of leading internet hellholes Reddit or YouTube.

Some developers have tabled the contrasting view that censorship inherently chills creative expression – it shouldn’t have ever been Walmart’s job to be the morality police when it comes to stocking games and the same principle applies here. (For the benefit of the terrifying number of journos who’ve seemingly never questioned this: The present situation where a narrow band of subject matter is seen as safe for mainstream titles isn’t simply down to developers being unimaginative, or the whims of the free market, so much as to the 1990s US industry collectively deciding to shut any remotely challenging ‘adult’ content out of retail stores to avoid statutory regulation. The Comics Code, basically.)

This is a complicated topic. I think that Steam should exist as a pipeline – a thin layer of technology facilitating billing and distribution that can be freely used by anyone within the bounds of the law and societal norms. I don’t think the Steam store (versus local library management tools etc.) should exist in a weird proprietary client, and the front page of the store should be massively deprioritised as an entry point / bottleneck into their catalogue. As such, removing any part of the system that’s geared towards Steam acting as a gatekeeper or destination in its own right is a positive step.

On the other hand, we have to weigh up the reality that Steam is a monopoly, and as such shoulders a social responsibility beyond that which might apply for a smaller service provider in a truly competitive market. Its every action (or inaction) can have unforeseen and serious repercussions. Shrugging and pointing out that technically they’re not to blame when kids are exposed to bigotry through their store is a weak excuse. (YouTube could do well to learn this lesson also.)

The maddeningly ill-defined rejection criteria of anything “illegal or straight up trolling” should cover a lot of the indefensible stuff that certain journalists have assumed Valve must now endorse (and early indications are positive).

Valve’s best course of action would be to acknowledge the negative reaction to their announcement and publish a revised and clearer policy. I don’t think (mostly) recusing themselves from the content review process is going to cause their store to descend into chaos overnight, and changes to how content is organised and filtered should be in place well before that. It would be foolish to believe a company automatically endorses the message of every product they sell in their store.

Bonus miscellaneous observations:

Valve are really bad at communicating.

It would be hard to imagine Microsoft, Google, Apple or any other billion dollar tech company making such an important announcement in such vague, informal language.

Making an equivalence between the harm caused by hate speech being targeted at a vulnerable group and the ‘harm’ (mild petulant annoyance) experienced by a bored kid on seeing “shovelware” sullying the shelves of ‘their’ store is astoundingly tone deaf. The latter concern doesn’t warrant serious attention and should have been left out of this blog post.

Valve as an organisation seem to have never developed the skills at dealing with the disparate needs of their player community. They will always advocate an engineering solution first (here hinting at a keyword tagging system to automate content filtering) rather than taking the scarier, messier approach of reaching out to their users and trying to intelligently determine what would make the most positive difference. Harm being caused in society at large by hateful material being normalised won’t show up on a sales chart.

Some people have a really weird idea of what getting a game onto Steam should mean.

Steam has been around a long time, but Valve ran it as a distribution platform – to put this, uh, diplomatically – very very very suboptimally for most of its life to date, leading to the widespread misconception that having a game grace their store shelves should be some kind of exceptional value judgement, rather than something that happened infrequently because their process was terrible.

Steam is a shop, like Amazon. It has unlimited shelf space. A creator having their work accepted onto it should be the norm, not the exception. The situation where any game that was added to its catalogue was given a period of exposure (free marketing) by dint of how slowly new content was ingested by Valve was a temporary quirk, not a right every game released was entitled to forevermore.

As with the iOS App Store (or Amazon, or the PC ecosystem in general), a rising tide of low quality / uninteresting content will never overwhelm the attention available for good quality content. Distrust anyone who tries to make you angry about this imaginary boogeyman. Making and selling games is being democratised and not everything has to appeal to every player or gauge its success by the same criteria any more.

Valve’s monopoly is the problem, not how they choose to govern it.

The games press and community have a feudal mindset, quickly and eagerly pledging fealty to any corporate overlord who offers them even a scrap of comfort and convenience. Many gamers still view Nintendo’s grossly anticompetitive 1980s business practices as a noble effort to fend off the spectre of a Second Video Game Crash. Xbox Live is regarded as a bold innovation, rather than as a vendor lock in strategy that has resulted in console online services still not interoperating nearly two decades later. So of course because Steam is convenient and ubiquitous, it must be benevolent and there’s no reason to question its market dominance.

We should be asking why one company is getting to decide what gets to be commercially viable on the PC rather than petitioning them to build taller walls around their garden. Applying the ultra-strict App Store / Google Play / XBL / PSN etc. review policies to the PC would be unworkable in any case – the PC is a much too broad and adaptable a platform for a one-size-fits-all policy.

While Steam has no serious competition, Valve will be slow to fix the (many) things wrong with it. I don’t think anything is going to directly usurp Steam any time soon, but it would be nice to see other stores become established with a more narrow focus, much as Netflix, BBC, HBO etc. offer different kinds of experiences. Buy more games on itch.io, Kartridge, etc. and politely ask your favourite PC developers that only sell through Steam to offer their games elsewhere too.


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“Another Day In Paradise”
Posted at 21:24 on - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke songlist – first performed 08/06/2018.

We didn’t have enough (or possibly any?) songs specifically about Shinji Mikami’s masterpiece, so this was an attempt to correct that oversight.

“Villagers with Parasites”
– after “Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins

They call out to Leon Kennedy
Señor, can you help me?
We’re told the intruder we seek
Has blonde hair and looks healthy

A bell gongs, stops their attack
He can sense that he’s near her
There’s a castle at the end of the street
They perhaps took Ashley there?

Oh, shoot twice, cause it’s the only way to neutralise the parasites
Oh, shoot twice, headshots alone will not subdue
Villagers with parasites

He’s not a zombie

He calls out to Leon Kennedy
On whom he has been spying
He’s got ballistics in the folds of his sleeves
He asks what are ya buying?

Oh, click buy, you’ve saved up all your loot to get that Broken Butterfly
Go through twice, Chicago Typewriter cuts through
Villagers with parasites

Now that’s a weapon

Oh lord
Where on Earth is everyone going? Bingo?
O-o-oh lord
They’ve got me fighting El Gigante

You can tell from the spines in his face
He’s a regenerator
Running out of room in your attache case
Cause you’ll need these guns later

Oh, shoot twice, cause it’s the only way to neutralise the parasites
Oh, shoot twice, headshots alone will not subdue
Villagers with parasites

Mm – hmm

Un forastero

Cause it’s the only way, to neutralise, the parasites
Cause it’s the only way, to neutralise, the parasites
(Para, parasites)
Parasites!

[REPEAT AND FADE]

More Marioke songs


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“Stand By Your Man”
Posted at 18:26 on 11th March 2018 - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke songlist – first performed by Aubrey Hesselgren and myself 09/03/2018.

One that’s been hanging around in my partially completed songs folder for years now.

“Samus Aran”
– after “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette & Billy Sherrill

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
With an arm cannon and just one hand
You’ll hunt reptiles
That hurl projectiles
Tryin’ to upset this hunter’s plans

But while the Mother Brain’s still living
You still have your orders from command
Metroids may leech you, but we beseech you
They’ve got weak points, if you’d just scan

Samus Aran
Your spider ball will cling to
The cavern walls you bomb through
To get to Meta Ridley

Samus Aran
Have you been sequence breaking?
You’re not supposed to but you can
Samus Aran

Samus Aran
Till you removed your helmet
Gamers assumed you were a man
Samus Aran

More Marioke songs


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Season’s Greetings 2017
Posted at 16:52 on 24th December 2017 - permalink

For the second year running, Marioke have made a Christmas charity video, this year in support of GamesAid. You might spot me in a few places in the video, among lots of games industry folks who contributed.

Please share the video and donate if you like. Merry Christmas!


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“Lose Yourself”
Posted at 21:16 on 12th November 2017 - permalink

The second of two new Marioke video game karaoke songs of mine to debut this month – first performed 10/11/2017.

Context:

“The David Perry Incident”
– after “Lose Yourself” by Eminem

Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip?
Yo
His palms are sweaty,
knees weak, arms are heavy
Has Dominik upset him already?
David Perry
is nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
to grab coins, but he keeps on forgetting
the controls now, to bowl down, Cool Cool Mount’n
He tries to turn ’round, but his plumber’s freaking out
He’s chokin’, wow, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
That’s Project Reality, yo
There’s no parity no
he’s not played Mario
now he’s mad that he won’t
take back that trophy so
he won’t have it he knows
that backstage he’s a joke
he’s not rattled he’s stoked
and that pad wasn’t broke
the Games Animal? nope
just some sap as he moans and goes actually
“N64 won’t be out till past January”
Keep going back to this moment
Why won’t we move past it?

You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo
You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo
You’d better …

His reputation, lord of all British gaming
Games World was yours for the taking
Kirk Ewing
falls off toward the second corner
Performance is appalling,
but Perry’s tantrum throws the host’s boredom
Knows he’ll cause drama, knows that he’s gotta
Before the show’s over, uphold his old patter
Expose the show’s flaws, they know he’s no importer
Most KOs, battles he flows and knows that he’ll wipe floors with E Honda
He’s known to blow those high scores with one quarter
But let’s-a-go ’cause here goes the cold water
He moans he’s no journo no mo’ he sells product
The true Dave Perry who rotoscopes nematodes and that’s not ‘im
Now that GamesMaster, is old and not shown, but he still provokes laughter,
Not the Shiny one, the one with the bandana

You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo
You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo
You’d better …

No more games on my TV since the old days
Scotsman spouting innuendo while two kids played
It was never about the winning, just being on stage
On a real channel it went out, not viewed on Dave
Thursday tea time we’d set aside to get hyped for
Dean Gaffney being pulverized at Street Fighter
Andy Crane on the other side beside Violet
Hoping perhaps that we would catch sight of
Fly games that weren’t yet out on this side of
Akibahara oh man cause God damn I am still on dialup
Most of our news came from Digitiser
This was our life and these games are so hard
and they’re getting even harder, trying to one-credit Silpheed plus
beat Dishonored, Catch-’em-all, avenge your father, rescue Sarah Connor
Cooking Mama, Amidar – you know it’s too much
For me to even play or keep up, give a damn or not,
If I’ve gotta be Goro or unlock Noob Saibot
So Patrick tell you what, I’ve been playing a lot
Progress the only entertaining option, failure’s not
Son we’re sorry every game cannot be Souls, ’cause at 8 years old that was all we got
So here we go it’s your shot
Dean fail me not
This may be the only Cuphead video that I watch

You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo
You better fool yourself with excuses, the truth is,
you’re useless, the web’ll never let it go
You only had one shot, you flopped, missed your chance at gold
Mid afternoon TV comes once in a lifetime, yo

More Marioke songs


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“The Riddle”
Posted at 21:16 on - permalink

The first of two new Marioke video game karaoke songs of mine to debut this month – first performed by @MazHem_ 10/11/2017.

Thimbleweed Park is a neo-retro graphic adventure game by the creators of Maniac Mansion. If you liked Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games you’ll definitely get a kick out of it. As with the SCUMM games, Thimbleweed was made by a tiny team with the minimum of external interference, and is a very personal, precisely crafted work as a result. The mid-1980s setting begged the choice of song.

“Thimbleweed Park”
– after “The Riddle” by Nik Kershaw

Back at LucasArts
Maniac Mansion and
Monkey Island one and two
Were his, so we’ll kickstart
Ron Gilbert’s new adventure game
Now let’s play

A body by a river
Near the old Thimble town
Where two FBI agents
and a nerd and a clown
Hope to find out the reason
By the end of the night
But adventure game puzzles
Can take long to get right
And we’ll never use a guide for a clue

We’ll break into the
Old pillow factory
Send Reyes ahead of me
I keep on finding specks of dust
Those signals are strong tonight
Where to find a vacuum tube?

Though reluctantly
Ransome the Insult Clown
Will help Dolores out
So they can solve the mystery
Meanwhile old Franklin is a ghost
Why? Who knows

A body by a river
Near the old Thimble town
Where two FBI agents
and a nerd and a clown
Hope to find out the reason
By the end of the night
But adventure game puzzles
Can take long to get right
And we’ll never use a guide for a clue

It’s got tentacles
Sprites from the Commodore
Creator cameos
The hot dogs there will make you ill
Find me a thimbleberry pie
How we’ve tried

[BREAK]

A body by a river
Near the old Thimble town
Where two FBI agents
and a nerd and a clown
Hope to find out the reason
By the end of the night
But adventure game puzzles
Can take long to get right
And we’ll never use a guide –

WALK TO Tree
LOOK AT River
PICK UP corpse from the ground
We’re not sure all these puzzles
Are quite logically sound
As we hunt for a pixel
Use everything in sight
Tweet out to @GrumpyGamer
Hope that he’ll set us right
Cause we’ll never use a guide for a clue

No we’ll never use a guide for a clue

More Marioke songs


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“I’m Not Okay”
Posted at 20:16 on 14th October 2017 - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke canon – first performed by James Scott and myself 13/10/2017.

This is something of a tribute song to Digital Foundry. DF get a lot of stick from some people who see them as joyless and pedantic, but it’s hard to deny that we’ve benefited from games being put under more (legitimate) technical scrutiny. It wasn’t that long ago that reviews didn’t make any distinction between platform versions and console makers could expect their technobabble to be taken at face value.

“I’m Not 4K”
– after “I’m Not Okay” by My Chemical Romance

Well if you want Ultra HD, please try another game
I know that I have let you down, I haven’t got more pixels in each frame
My video output
The framerate graphs that DF took
Regretting that you were mistook my resolution isn’t more

I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K
At TV Out

When they zoomed in to show you all my jagged vertex seams (I’m not 4K)
Denied it time and time again
– but couldn’t fool the bloke from Mean Machines
The review quotes you put
“The graphic style is off the hook”
My GPU begins to cook, is this realtime?
Take a good hard look

I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K
At TV Out

[BREAK]

Forget about my last gen looks
Performance graphs and benchmark hooks
But if you’ll take another look, my renderer’s had an upgrade

I’m 4K
I’m 4K
I’m 4K, now
(I’m 4K, now)

But you really need to listen to me
Because I’m telling you the truth
I mean this
I’m 4K (trust me)

I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K
Well, I’m not 4K
I’m not 4-fucking-K
I’m not 4K
I’m not 4K (4K)

More Marioke songs


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Sega Forever
Posted at 21:48 on 1st October 2017 - permalink

A few months ago, Sega formally launched their “Amazing Sega” initiative in Japan, a company-wide effort to make better use of their massive back catalogue and heritage.

Sega of America’s contribution to this has been “Sega Forever”, a plan to bring Sega’s back catalogue re-releases under one unified brand, encompassing games made for any of Sega’s platforms, to be presented with a consistent feature set across all target platforms (although they’re limiting releases to iOS and Android for now, other digital stores are expected to fall under this banner in time).

Sega have previously done justice to segments of their back catalogue (the Sega Ages series on PS2, the 3D Classics series on 3DS, and Christian Whitehead’s ongoing work on 2D Sonic games culminating in the recent smash success of Sonic Mania), but the scope of these efforts has always been limited and local.

In theory Sega Forever is a really great idea. It gives Sega a way to make lots of their old games available legally, and to market them as something relevant to new audiences as well as people who remember them fondly from the last four decades. So it’s frustrating to see that, so far at least, they seem to be fumbling the execution quite badly.

The core problem with Sega Forever is a lack of conviction. It’s long been assumed that their old games have little value or relevance today beyond brand recognition, so any proposal that would have involved more than doing the bare minimum to exploit this brand value would have been a tough sell.

There seems to be a company dogma at Sega of America that the reason for their success in the 1990s was down to their marketing genius alone, with the quality or otherwise of the games being of little consequence. Any reference they make to their old games is accompanied by ‘ironic’ callbacks to their awful tone-deaf 1990s advertising. They’re gaming’s Peter Kaye. This trend reached its nadir with the meme-obsessed Sonic The Hedgehog Twitter account, which (one assumes) might refrain from pissing all over Yuji Naka’s legacy for a bit now that Sonic Mania has turned out to be actually good.

These misplaced priorities have affected Sega Forever in two major ways:

1. Their Mega Drive emulator is junk. The details of why have been covered at length elsewhere, but in a nutshell, they cheaped out because they believed that enough people would pay on the strength of nostalgia even if the product was substandard.

Contrary to recent press coverage, subsequent updates haven’t made the emulator “good enough”. All but the least technically demanding games run at sludgy framerates with inaccurate audio. Sega have tried to dodge the issue by blaming “device fragmentation“, which is nonsense. The emulator runs poorly on Apple and Samsung’s flagship devices that millions of people own. In fact it performs worse than the emulator they offered years ago when they first they started re-released Mega Drive games on iOS, when the hardware was orders of magnitude less powerful than today.

I think their best course of action would be to bite the bullet and license a decent emulator before it creates too much of a negative perception for the brand.

2. Their selection of titles is either being massively constrained by external factors or is just plain lazy. They keep teasing arcade games which then turn out to be the Mega Drive ports (because again, brand recognition is all that matters). If that wasn’t cheesy enough, they’ve also repackaged pre-existing iOS games (new, mobile-centric games using old IP, e.g. Virtua Tennis) which is a bit like subbing in the Tim Burton Wonka film for the Gene Wilder one in a retrospective of the latter’s work and hoping nobody notices.

Compare this to how Nintendo manage their re-releases. While the question “which of our game titles do people still remember?” was obviously asked, that wasn’t the end of the conversation. Nintendo have worked out deals with third parties, tidied up contemporary bugs and wonky translations, and even released games for the first time outside of specific territories (or in the case of StarFox 2, for the first time anywhere) to maximise the value of what they’re offering. Some games that are still well known seem to have been quietly retired by Nintendo because they’ve aged too badly.

Sega have just gone straight to the list of games that they know they own outright (e.g. Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone, Altered Beast) and market-tested brand names (Sonic, Golden Axe, Space Harrier, Phantasy Star, and again, crappy old Altered Beast) and chucked in the first things they found.

I understand that there are probably people involved in this project who are as frustrated about all this as I am. They’ve probably not set out to do a bad job, but have had to contend with a perception that this kind of project has limited commercial prospects and has been resourced accordingly. All I can urge them to do is to argue their case harder!

Sega Forever has a ton of potential to go beyond just milking a few pennies out of a handful of old Mega Drive ROMs.

Sega’s back catalogue is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures spread over a plethora of platforms, genres and target audiences. It may not be easy to untangle, but it would absolutely be worth the effort.

Starting with the most obvious thing they could be offering: direct coin-op ports. Letting mobile players watch video ads for credits seems like a no brainer, and using motion controls (or other non-standard methods) to replicate the controls of their custom arcade cabinets could work well.

They could be finding a way to offer the really strong second-party games from the Mega Drive era, the real meat of that platform’s library: Treasure, Sonic, Tecnosoft, Compile, WestOne, Novotrade, etc. A lot of these games made it to Virtual Console and other re-release compilations, so figuring out licensing must be at least possible.

They could be exploring specific periods of their history: the weird licensed games from the early days of the Mega Drive, the evolution of 3D arcade hardware, the Saturn/Dreamcast franchises that didn’t make the jump to subsequent generations. Coin-ops and home consoles aside, there are hundreds of Sega games for handhelds (from the Game Gear through to the 3DS) that have only ever been released on their original platforms.

And why not offer complete collections of platform-spanning franchises (Wonder Boy, Fantasy Zone, Shining Force, OutRun, Sakura Wars, Phantasy Star, Alex Kidd, Shinobi, etc. etc.)?

They could go down the multimedia route, and make video documentaries explaining the context of how some of their key games came about and the influence they had on later creators. Most of the key people are still around and (you’d hope) still have enough good will toward Sega to agree to get involved.

In terms of infrastructure, if they can make something that works for their own back catalogue, they could probably license it to other publishers/rights holders sitting on piles of old third party console games.

These are just some of the most obvious things that Sega could be doing to make better use of their IP hoard. I hope they’ll continue to expand and improve upon Sega Forever, but in the meantime there’s no shortage of indie studios stepping in to cater for the underserved demand with games like Racing Apex, Raging Justice and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap.


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“Where The Streets Have No Name”
Posted at 16:54 on 17th September 2017 - permalink

My latest contribution to the Marioke video game karaoke canon – first performed 15/09/2017.

My self-imposed writing brief this month was to find songs by artists that have so far been absent from the Marioke songlist, and to favour the stupidest jokes possible.

“Where The Streets Are Of Rage”
– after “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2

I want to punch
I want to slide
I want to throw down and brawl
And keep walking right
The cops’ll help out
Just once per stage
Where the streets are of rage

Ah ah ah yeah

I wanna kick
Bikers in the face
I’ll put Donovan and Galsia
Back in their place
We’ll beat up a wrestler*
In the pouring rain
Where the streets are of rage

Ho-hum

Where the streets are of rage
Where the streets are of rage
We’re still stinging from your Grand Upper
Your Grand Upper
And when I go there
I go there with you
As your Player 2

The city’s corrupt
The streets filled with punks
We’ll beat them with blows to the chin
And knees to the junk
Eat chickens from bins
Roasted and stuffed with sage
Yeah
Where the streets are of rage

Ah huh

Where the streets are of rage
Where the streets are of rage
We’re still stinging from your Grand Upper
Your Grand Upper
Yuzo Koshiro
Has wrote us some tunes
All of the tunes

The streets filled with punks

We’ll beat them with blows to the chin
Blows to the chin

Oh yes you know
See the streets filled with punks

I will beat them with blows to the chin
Blows to the chin

Oh when I go there
I go there with you
It’s Bare Knuckle 2

*Yes I know it’s actually a barman that you fight in the rain in SoR2, but wrestler fits the line better.

More Marioke songs


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“The Bad Touch”
Posted at 21:07 on 20th June 2017 - permalink

The second of two new songs I’ve added this month to the Marioke video game karaoke canon – first performed 16/06/2017.

“Switch” – after “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang

I’d appreciate your input

Switch, baby, Switch, baby, can’t take an Xbox out
-side of the house to play the games that even Edge will rave about
Gameboy Advance, but enhanced, yes you could say some such
Yes there’s Squid Kids, yes there’s Tingle
Yes there’s racing Mushroom Cup
The Wii U wasn’t up to much
Nintendo had to put it down
Had to recover with another
Turn their sales curve upside down
They codenamed it the NX, shifted all their projects
Nintendo Direct is on it’s time
We know we can adopt it early cause it’s getting Metroid Prime

(Do it now)
Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
But now we do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Do it again now)
Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Gettin’ horny now)

[BREAK]

Love…. to see a list of games that’s growing daily
From Pokken Tournament to Thumper
Splatoon 2 to Yooka-Laylee
Lineup’s t’riffic, but to be specific I wanna be playing Rocket League
when I’m on the toilet without spoiling my enjoyment
which I can’t on the PC
If I’m on wifi, when I fly, any time, worldwide
This function is legit, and I can cut you down to size
when we are playing SnipperClips
So you bring yours and I’ll bring mine
We’ll play four player local style
Unless our batteries are fried
From too much Breath of the Wild

Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Do it again now)
Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Gettin’ horny now)

[BREAK]

Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Do it again now)
Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel

Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So let’s do it on a unit that can go where we travel
(Do it again now)
Move and Wii baby ain’t nothing but waggle
So grab hold of that JoyCon like you’re choking a Fraggle
(Gettin’ horny now)

More Marioke songs


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“Just”
Posted at 21:07 on - permalink

The first of two new songs I’ve added this month to the Marioke video game karaoke canon – first performed 16/06/2017 by Marioke’s resident Radiohead-head, @James_SWilson.

“Your Druid Needs More Health” – after “Just” by Radiohead

Elf needs food badly
You’ve been running round a maze
Dressed like a hobbit
Dungeoneering with your friends

Edged weapons not for you
Cause after all you took a holy vow

Your druid needs more health, they do
To fight the beasts that lurk
Your druid needs more health, it’s true
Druid who’s an elf
Your druid needs more health
Your druid needs more health

The stones are slippery, on the dungeon’s fifteenth floor
Evaded orcs and slimes
Till you reached a talking door
If you can get some herbs
He’ll teach you how to make a curing spell

Your druid needs more health, they do
To quest beneath the earth
Your druid needs more health, it’s true
Druid who’s an elf
Your druid needs more health
Your druid needs more health

[GUITAR SOLO]

Your druid needs more health, they do
To fight the beasts that lurk
Your druid needs more health, it’s true
Druid who’s an elf
Your druid needs more health
Your druid needs more health, whoa!

Elf

Your druid needs more health, your druid needs more health
Yeah, yeah, your druid needs more health, yes, yes, you
Druid needs more health!

More Marioke songs


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GameCamp 2017 (#gamecamp9)
Posted at 18:13 on 29th May 2017 - permalink

As previously noted, the ninth GameCamp event took place earlier this month at LSBU in South London.

I was invited onto the GameCamp committee this year, so for the first time got to see the whole process of how the event is organised. I’m massively grateful to all the organisers for the time and effort they volunteer to make the event go smoothly.

Around 200 people attended, and there was a good variety of talks / discussions and playtests going on throughout the day.

Every year attendees are given a ‘free gift’, usually accompanied by rules for a suggested game. For the first time this year, the freebie was an original game designed for the show – ‘Coaster Clash’, a set of five unique beermats depicting five characters that could face off in rock-paper-scissors-Spock-lizard fashion. (There are quite a few of these left over, so look out for them turning up in the Loading Bar and similar venues in the coming weeks.)

Here’s a rundown of the talks I attended – I was rushing around a bit more than usual this year and managed to drop in on a few others as well.

1010ish – Traditional opening address by James Wallis, explaining just what the hell is going on.

1030 – A discussion on adventure game conversation mechanics – I didn’t catch who ran this, but it was a great way to start the event, and encouraged lots of people to participate.

1100 – How you’d go about build Westworld in real life / How games can approach comedy (two separate discussions)

1130 – Pyrodactyl indie developer company post mortem

1200 – Telling stories in card games / There was also a discussion of working with different platforms to get a game published in this timeslot which I’m told was also very good.

1230 – Lunch. LSBU still require the event to use their in-house catering, to the dissatisfaction of everybody involved. And such large portions.

1330 – “Starting a game company” – I don’t know who was running this, but the bit I sat in on was more “how to pitch to investors”. Seemed to go well though.

1400 – A highly informative, quite technical talk on tools (Lua, React Native, Elm, Swift, etc.) that let you develop and deploy games very quickly by James Porter

1430 – Dr. David King led a discussion on dexterity in board (and card games), which it turns out is quite a tricky thing to implement, with various skill and accessibility considerations.

1500 – A joint Q&A / interview between Alan Hazelden (Cosmic Express et al) and Claire “Minkette” Bateman (Oubliette Room Escape et al)

1530 – I gave a rambling ‘travelogue’-ish talk about No Man’s Sky, on the basis that a lot of people who dropped out after the initial launch last year (or were put off by the negative press) were unaware of all the cool stuff that Hello Games have added to the game in the subsequent Foundation and Path Finder updates. I think I managed to persuade some people to have another look, and in turn I learned that the way the deformable terrain works means that the game is unlikely to ever support realtime multiplayer.

1600 – A beta version of Ste Curran‘s latest talk, given this year at Nordic Game. The contents are top secret.

As ever the day concluded in The Ship pub down the road, which we found has some uniquely terrible charity shop board games.

Thanks to everyone who came – until next year!


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