Tag Archive: Sega


T’other day, I was reading on TVTropes the comments/page relating to the Sega/Nintendo wars of the early 90s. Of course we in the UK missed out on a lot of it – except perhaps in the pages of the computer media where Sega and Nintendo fan boys (and girls too) would just trash each other, chiefly to no other avail than to prove Freud correct. Did it ultimately matter though in the development of 4th Generation consoles? On paper, it was no-contest. The Megadrive (or Genesis to the rest of the world) was a lousy console compared with the SNES; weaker processes, lousy RAM, poor colour palette and yet it was more than able to hold its own against Nintendo’s offering. Of course, Sega’s winning strategy was superior marketing, particularly in North America. They didn’t so much promote themselves so much as reassure existing owners that their product was the superior one. Nintendo appeared to use the power of momentum to help their cause and when Streetfighter 2 was released…no contest. But those days feel wholly removed from today’s “Console Wars” are more than about the machine and the games but what multimedia experiences are on offer.

It’s still fun to speculate what would have happened had Commodore not run out of money for the CD32 or had the judge in the case not barred the console from being shipped to North America over allegations of infringements. Perhaps it’s more partisan of me but I think it would have kept up with the Playstation as games such as GTA would have had a simultaneous release and Commodore was still backed by many developers – or at least those who hadn’t been gobbled up by Sony (like Psygnosis). Would a three-way war with Sega have helped the Saturn? Not impossible I guess. More competition means more opportunity for software houses. Would it have also kept Commodore in the PC market? Say an “Amiga 10K” powered by Intel or AMD? Who can say?I finally reached the now infamous torture scene in GTA V and having played through it, I admit I was left thoroughly uncomfortable by it all. I should acknowledge the creativity and design of Rockstar for making this scene so realistic and awkward – it’s difficult to invest emotion into a video game character, particularly an NPC. But conversely, it was OTT, even for the world of GTA which is an exercise in hyperbole. All in all, I was pleased when the victim of the torture was helped to escape in a cut scene and I hope that if there is a GTA VI, we learn his character has a better time of it outside of Los Santos.

Dr Do(o)m and I played a game of Eldritch Horror on Saturday, chiefly as I wanted to relearn the rules ahead of Thursday. I was Chun-Li and he was the Shaman (as opposed to Ebenezeer Goode’s Shamen). We lasted one hour and a giant spider consumed the world. So sorry folks. Still, I think the nuances are sorted out so bring on the challenge. It’s been what – four months but I finally broke out the Talisman Woodlands expansion pack with Dr Do(o)m and Brendan and we just didn’t finish the game. It plays a little differently compared with the other three board-adding expansion packs as the use of fate has been overhauled whilst the new characters have special abilities involving the use of tokens (I was the ancient oak and I could get stronger as the game progressed). Also, as one progressed through the woodlands, there were game-changing effects in play with a different goal for each player. That said, progress seemed to be slow and measured. It’s not a region in Talisman you can just blindly enter and expect to progress through like the Highlands or the Dungeon for example but you need to build up a little before wandering around blithely. I also feel that this expansion needs to be played with one of the other boards – no other reason than a gut instinct. Using the card-only expansions wasn’t enough.

I also downloaded a copy of Picross 6 for the 3DS, I think the first major purchase (major???) for that console in six months. I was also pleased at the number of free puzzles unlocked as I own titles 1-5 (they give freebies). It’ll keep me busy for a while at least. My oft-repeated rant to Nintendo still stands however – release more damn games through the Virtual Console Service! I don’t care about independent titles being squeezed out third party developers, I want to play the games of yesteryear either for the first time or on a nostalgia trip. And if they can put some Master System games on there too…perfect.

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It’s difficult to determine whether I will actually have the heart/guts/wherewithal to scribe up what happened in Berlin with Andy S on 20th to 23rd April 2013. But one thing I would like to mention, for the record and for whatever sense of posterity I have is the Computer Game Museum.

Now it was completely by accident that I came across the museum; we decided to walk along Frankfurterallee all the way to Alex. The right hand side of the road looked more interesting than the left hand side and so we strolled on down. About two thirds of the way down, next to the Frankfurter Tor we saw a couple of bits of video game merchandise in a shop window and immediately this gets my attention. A three second look and we find out it’s actually a museum. Suddenly we have a Sunday activity!

About twenty-four hours later and there we are, at the museum. It cost me €8 and Andy a little less as he had a student card. As one might expect, there’d were loads of noisy (well, not _that_ noisy) exhibits and a great deal that was interactive. Immediately to our left were a trio of Amiga 500s, one of which was playing the original Lemmings. On the right was a wall mounted display of every single video game console there’s been since time immemorial.

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I’m sorry about the images – I don’t have the software on my devices that knits photos together for a panorama shot otherwise I would have done so. But as you can see, computers from the 1970s right the way through to today’s consoles. There are even some earlier devices from the 1950s and 1960s as free standing devices elsewhere in the museum but I didn’t snap them.

Anyhoo, the museum isn’t all that big – say 300 square metres of space dedicated to the history of video games (including arcade games), the music, the graphics, the peripherals, the growth around the world, the German contributions (especially the magnificent Rainbow Arts & Manfred Trenz) and there was a special on Lara Croft.

Tucked away in the corner of the museum was a little penny arcade where there were some of the classic Arcade game cabinets, lovingly restored. There was Donkey Kong (pictured), Pac Man, Galaga, Space Invaders et al.
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The peripheral section was interesting, showing some of the devices used to play games over the years. Not surprisingly folks, there was an abundance of Nintendo devices though other system formats were supported/displayed. My favourite was the exercise bike used to play some PS3 car game; the faster you rode the bike, the quicker the car went.

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And next to that was an Atari 2600 with…well…this attached.

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I have no idea why the joystick was that big but it was functional. The idea was to climb it and try and play Pac-Man.

The Lara Croft special exhibit was a corner dedicated to her role in video games, presumably because there was a new game just out and not just to please the fan boys who drool over the size of her chest. All of her games were on machines and were playable:

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There was also a device in the corner (not pictured) which was in effect a Milgram Experiment but with the other person present and instead of simulated pain, this was all too real. It wasn’t switched on but the sign above said if you ask staff nicely, they’ll do it for you. The idea of the machine is that you hold onto a grip which emits electric shocks, you get whipped by a wire and the first one to let go loses. *hunts*

Ah – it’s a Painstation or rather thanks to the arseholes good people at Sony, the Machine formerly known as a Painstation. Perhaps not for me.

The obligatory shop was cute but they didn’t have items I haven’t already seen in Forbidden Planet other than the t-shirts (ironically not in XL) and the books were all in German so couldn’t maybe try one of them. I dumped all my loose change (several Euros worth) into the donation box and left a very satisfied customer. So if you’re in Berlin and stuck at a loose end, why not pop along to the east and try the Computer Game Museum: and as the German character Turrican says:

CD32

There aren’t many threads I pay attention to on www.alternatehistory.net these days, mainly as the whole site has turned into a massive circle-jerk or people are spewing forth the same damned topics over and over again.  But there are some I do like to read up on which combine two of my interests – video game & home computing alternative histories.                                         

The most commonly asked questions are “What if the Great Video Game Crash Never Happened”, “What if Sega won the Sega/Nintendo Wars”, “What if the Sony/Nintendo tie-up went through” and “What if the Dreamcast was a success?”  There are other, more minor questions that are asked but the one I find the most compelling is “What if Commodore didn’t run out of money?” 

So to treat you/bore you, I’m going to publish my take.  First comes the history lesson. 

The background – Commodore Business Machines (CBM) was the brainchild of Jack Tramiel and the dominant force in the home computer market during the 1980s thanks to canny sales technique and some shrewd tactics in closing out other competitors.  I don’t know anyone (under the age of 30) who has never heard of a Commodore 64 or a Commodore Amiga.  The Great Video Game Crash shifted a lot of focus from game consoles to home computers after 1983 (at least in North America and Europe) as they were more versatile and could be branded as educational as well as entertaining.  CBMs vision was to put a Commodore in every household by bringing down the overall cost of home computing (running at a loss per unit if need be) just to establish a presence.  Licensing would eventually recoup costs anyway given the low unit costs of cassettes and floppy disks to produce. 

As the 80s became the 90s, the 8-Bit market gave way to the 16-Bit market and games consoles (SNES/Super Famicom & Megadrive/Genesis) overtook the their slower (yet multi-purposeful) rivals.  There had been attempts in the computer industry to introduce CD-ROM technology but the development costs were prohibitive and few units ended up being sold – the Phillips CDI, the Commodore CDTV for example.  The future, at least for the next decade was going to be cartridges.  Commodore launched the ill-fated C64GS – a console based on the Commodore 64 which used cartridges rather than tapes/disks.  The added advantage to this was that the C64 had a cartridge slot so the games would continue to be accessible to the computer owners.   

Few developers took CBM up on their new machine and most of the games that were released were already on the market so there wasn’t anything to lure in gamers.  Despite an original mark up of about £100 per machine in the UK (cheaper than Nintendo’s NES but not cheaper than the Sega Master System/MS2), the value of the console quickly dropped to £60 to stimulate demand and retailers like Dixons dropped it to £15 in order to divest themselves of their stock.  Similarly weak sales figures were reported elsewhere the console was sold. 

Fortunately the Amiga market remained buoyant, at least for the time being particularly with the release of the Amiga 600 (a slimline Amiga 500+) and the less popular but more powerful Amiga 1200 (comparable to a first generation Pentium Computer).  It was around this time that Sony and Nintendo began to make noises about a CD ROM add on for the Super Nintendo; Sega had the Mega CD and the 32X which although weren’t successes, nonetheless pointed towards an inexorable march to optical disc technology. 

So Commodore began to rework their CDTV based on the technical specification of the Amiga 1200 and produced the CD32, what was heralded as “the first 32-Bit Console”.  The console was released worldwide and sold respectably in Europe but sales in the USA never materialised as there was a query over a patent (who said Apple/Google/Samsung’s current woes were anything new?) and the console was blocked.  Commodore had bet the farm on sales of the CD32 and ran out of cash despite money coming in from European and Japanese sales of the console.  Eventually they declared bankruptcy which finished off the firm and knocked one of the biggest players in the industry out of the market at the time when it was going to see its biggest expansion period. 

So – what if Commodore didn’t run out of cash?  Well, let’s remove the C64GS from history.  The money they saved in its development, marketing etc could easily help cover Commodore’s legal bills until the US legal system resolved the patent issue.  Or we could press for swifter closure on the whole patent topic.  Whatever – based on international sales, the CD32 will be a success with many Amiga titles being ported over and there’ll be all different franchises to enjoy (Sensible Soccer, Zool, Cannon Fodder, Dizzy etc).  I don’t think it’d be a roaring success as the main rival at this point would be the Atari Jaguar though that suffered problems from day one but a CD32 might give that a bit more life just for something different. 

How will the CD32 stack up against the big boys?  Well at the time there was the Sega Saturn and the Playstation.  The Nintendo 64 was still two years away and there was a lot of life left in the SNES but that had the younger market sewn up.  CD32 has a year on its rivals and could establish a strong presence.  In our timeline, the Sega Saturn failed because of its ridiculously high price and the lack of available consoles in North America and Europe.  Meanwhile Sony were new to the video game industry and benefitted from strong distribution links through the rest of their electronics business which also helped them drive down the costs of their console but they still would have been more expensive than the CD32.  Furthermore, the early days of the Playstation were mired in controversy – reports of overheating units, poor optical readers and most crucially, a crap range of games.  Sony couldn’t produce shite in those early days which led them to snap up several software houses such as Psygnosis in order to gain the necessary talent for their own software range. 

Sony’s other major benefit came from chipped consoles – they made a healthy profit on the console, less so on the games so who cares if their games are easy to copy?  Piracy was a major role in the early growth of the Playstation irrespective of what the official line might be and considering Sega were a tougher nut to crack given their copy protection (and Nintendo were still using cartridges) – it’s little wonder gamers went to Sony. 

Insert the CD32 into the equation and suddenly you have a cheap console with cheap games already – much of which are shovelware but the console is capable of keeping pace with the bigger boys and there’s every likelihood Commodore would release an updated version of the console in a couple of years to either N64 standards or somewhere between 32-Bit and 64-Bit.  Sony’s OTL advantage would be negated and I can see the Playstation heading the way of the Neo-Geo, the 3DO or the Atari Jaguar.  Sega might benefit from a weaker playstation but like Commodore, they’d be betting the farm with the release of the Dreamcast around the time of the launch of the Nintendo 64.   

What would a “CD64” (who could resist the sales potential of that name) be like?  Commodore would have to completely redesign the CD32 to account for polygon graphics rather than the traditional rendering which served so well in the 32 Bit era.  Commodore would need a machine capable of playing the main games of the era – first person shooters and 3D sport sims which will rely on better technology and rather than rely on Motorola chipsets, they might look to link up with IBM, their erstwhile rivals in the home computer market. 

In terms of software, with the demise of Sony and a continued Sega presence (in the mid term), there would be more independent publishers on the scene which the big boys such as Activision, EA et al would have a harder time competing with rather than steam-rolling over.  This might lead to defunct franchises continuing and franchises we take for granted today like Grand Theft Auto being more “flash in the pan” given how closely tied they were to the success of the Playstation.   

I think Nintendo would do well irrespective of how things would turn out as their fan base was completely different and they benefitted from a strong internal series of game franchises which will always sustain them.  Another butterfly of this scenario is the 64-DD – does this get released outside of Japan and if so, how would that do?  It’d drive the cost of games down thus making Nintendo act in a differing direction from how they behaved in our reality.   

The CD32 wouldn’t usher in Commodore’s second Golden Age but it would keep them a major player in the market and give the world a non-Japanese console in the marketplace – European software designers like Gremlin, Rare et al might be tempted to work with Commodore given their shared histories than with the Japanese producers.  What comes after the CD32 would really be the stuff of speculation and would it be able to fill the void of the PS2 or would Nintendo and Sega capture some of that market which means Sega games do NOT end up on other consoles?

Wii U – Post Announcements

For those of us in the UK, we’re going to be stung for £250 for the basic Wii U model and £299 for the premium model.  Substitute the £ for $ which is what the Americans will be paying and once again you’ll be wondering why we’re being shafted.                  

Is that going to set the tone of the post?  We’ll see… 

As anticipated, the basic Wii U model will have an 8GB hard drive (contrast with the current Wii which is a pathetic 512MB of flash memory) whilst the advanced version will be 32GB – comparable to a mid-level iPhone or iPad.  Whether this will get clogged up with software and game saves or not is yet to be determined.  The premium model also comes with other odds and sods but the media has been quite inconsistent thus far about what these odds and sods might well consist of. 

We’ve known for a while that the Wii U won’t be compatible with Gamecube software but some will be available to purchase through  the Virtual Console.  I maintain that this is a mistake; the Gamecube for the first year of the Wii’s existence was seen as the “budget library” and many of us continued to enjoy playing our GC games.  Given the length between VC releases, this doesn’t bode well.  However, whilst the Wii’s VC abilities were locked down, the Wii U promises the ability to transfer VC titles and channels to the new machine which if successfully implemented, will be great news. 

I was further disheartened to have confirmed that only the Wiimote Plus controllers would be compatible with the Wii U – I have two of those but two of the regular model but hopefully if I were to buy the new console, my compliment would be up to four with the tablet and the new Xbox-like controller.  Can’t say I’m too fussed about compatibility with the Wii Balance Board et al. 

Also under the category “I’m not fussed” is the launch line up.  Now here’s the thing.  As one could make a strong argument that the Wii U isn’t in fact the first of the 8th Generation consoles but more 7.1 or 7½ generation as it doesn’t particularly augment what has come before, there could be a flood of ports from the Xbox and Playstation catalogues, especially if the opening sales are abundant.  The Wii, the 3DS, the DS and even the Gamecube were crippled by the lack of new titles for the machine in the early stages of existence which allowed competitors to shore up their defences.  The fact that the console is out the month before Xmas surely portents a string of titles that gamers will be rushing to snap up but given Nintendo’s recent(ish) history, one cannot bank on them doing the sensible thing. 

The big question of course is – will the 3DS/3DS XL be compatible as a controller?  There have long since been rumours of this possibility, especially as the Tablet controllers will be retailing for approximately £105 (and who’ll be throwing them at the wall at that sort of price?).  Many buyers of the console are likely to have Nintendo’s latest handheld and it would be a tremendous coup if one could be used as a controller.  AFAIK, there hasn’t been anything substantive on this point but I’m not as glued onto gaming media as I used to be and could be talking out of my arse. 

Inside the console isn’t much to get excited about; though the lack of top-rate hardware has driven down costs.  The RAM is only 2GB (my last PC had 2GB RAM which was pitiful) though there isn’t the resource guzzling operating system behind it.  Also the console doesn’t appear to be DVD or Blu-Ray compatible which is perhaps not the best move.  At least there are 4 USB ports which point to multiple use functionality and Nintendo might well have something up their sleeves there.  

I can see why shareholders have gotten nervous about the latest Nintendo offering; as I said earlier, this is NOT an 8th Generation console but an update of an existing model – quite the update but an update nonetheless.  Console fanboys and fangirls will play the machine but will they spend money on obtaining one?  Or will Nintendo continue to appeal to their new “casual gaming audience” thus galvanising them in the position of being the “junior video game manufacturers”? 

Would I get one?  I have to confess that I just don’t know.  In the past three months, I’ve played Wii Games on perhaps three days – I have a host of titles I’ve never played or barely played because the overall satisfaction of these games has been lacklustre.  Casual games don’t suck you in the way that intense games do and my fears are that I’d be saddled with a console investment which represents a poor return for my money.  Sufficed to say, I’ll keep an open mind for now and see what developments the rest of September brings before rushing down…somewhere with a deposit.  I think Nintendo need to learn from their competitors – have in-game achievements because even the casual gamers can have targets with which to aim for an competitive people will glue themselves to their screens in an attempt to earn badges/records.  And then develop the online Nintendo presence rather than the bare-bones operation there is – use those bloody Miis more except in Nintendo-only software and develop more of a social networking experience.  Otherwise you’ll get another Sega – great games let down by the hardware.

Mastertronic Memories

 

Mastertronic was a wonderful video game publisher – budget games (before the concept of budget games was really conceived) which had a wide distribution network and although not all the titles were of premium quality, there were enough jewels amongst the dross to really differentiate the label.  And of course they were brave enough to launch in the same year as the Great Video Game Crash of 1983. 

 

Although Mastertronic published their games on a wide range of formats, I only played their C64 games despite owning or having access to other systems.  The boxes were vaguely reminiscent of Max Hedroom – blue or green fractals on a black background whilst the tapes were always grey with a black/white label – one of the first software houses to create their own distinctive brand image.   

 

Whilst many other software houses at the time looked towards one or two styles of game, Mastertronic did have a broader game range which encouraged other fledgling companies to take their lead such as Ocean Software, Gremlin Graphics etc.  As far as I’m aware, the company were also one of the first to sell game packs of two, three our four games in the same box – I remember getting my hands on Rasterscan, Colony, 180 (and a fourth – Zub??) that way. 

 

Of course the real reason for the success of the company was the fact that their distribution network was so wide and diverse.  You could pop into your local newsagent and there’d be a tiny shelf upon which were sold any number of Mastertronic titles and as the games were so cheap, they were just about within pocket money range.  Retailers of all types from Woolworths to WH Smiths to Spar would. 

 

The games were cheap n cheerful, simple affairs which weren’t pretentious and really did what they said on the tin, often developed by a single programmer or two rather than a team.  Of course they didn’t necessarily have a high replayability factor but when you’re talking £1.99 a game (even at 1985 type prices), that didn’t really matter.  As the company was British, a number of British programmers got their big break making games for Mastertronic.  Rob Hubbard’s music often featured in these games. 

 

On the overall Commodore 64 landscape, the influence of the company cannot be understated.  Many of us will know the theme tune for “One Man & His Droid” as it was reused by other companies for “Beat the Loader”. Most us Commodore owners will have owned at least one of their titles – Spooks, Hollywood or Bust, 1985, Double Dragon 2, Bionic Granny etc.   

 

Of course the company couldn’t stay out of sight of the big boys and old Beardy himself purchased a large stake renaming it Virgin Mastertronic continuing to release titles for more and more systems including a lucrative tie-up with Sega to sell Master System games.  Alas the company’s individual identity was subsumed within Sega and ceased to trade in the 1990s but Sold Out Software purchased the name and saw budget PC titles released including gems such as Grand Theft Auto, Theme Hospital and Worms. 

 

 

Memories for me? 

Playing Colony and not really understanding what the hell was going on – probably because I lost the instructions that came with the game.  Eventually I worked out how to gather the mushrooms (using the left arrow button was discovered by pure chance) but the issue of why I could never recharge the beacon remained a complete mystery until I twigged (many years later) that the solar panels needed to be replaced as the insects chewed through the mushrooms.  

 

 

Hollywood or Bust – just going through wave after wave of Policemen on the street defeating them with Custard Pies.  Never mind the main game trying to locate the five hidden Oscars, the sub-game was the best part. 

 

Spooks – Bloody random maps made it much more difficult to get through the game!  Completed it once and once only twenty years after buying it. 

 

1985 – Being impressed a C64 game could load within 54 Revs. 

 

Zub – Seeing the end of game screen and being oh-so utterly disappointed. 

 

One Man & His Droid – somehow getting right the way to level 9 without a password and then never quite reaching those dizzy heights again. 

 

Quest for the Holy Grail – Always forgetting to drop the Wedge and being killed by the three-headed night and giving the pink shrubbery to the Knights who say Nic.  Dropping the nuclear powered lantern and destroying the entire solar system (except Pluto).  Weird game. 

 

They were good games, nothing you’d invest a great deal of time in (except perhaps Holy Grail being a text adventure) but light relief between the more intense games.  I’m not sure many of them would stand up to a conversion process to something more contemporary, not without a radical rethink of the game.  That’s probably for the best however, sometimes you just shouldn’t mess with the classics.

Super Monkey Ball 3D – Fail.

I was wishing I had an iPhone 4S so I could have dictated this blog entry in bed last night because it became emblazoned on my brain and as I’d had a Costa Massimo Crème Brulee Latte earlier that evening, sleep was not forthcoming.

The subject of today’s bitching is Super Monkey Ball 3D on the 3DS and specifically, the Monkey Race segment of the game. I had the first Super Monkey Ball game on the Gamecube, then the DS version, the Wii version and finally the 3DS version and if I’m completely honest (and I am), the overall quality and “freshness” of the franchise has slowly declined with each iteration. That’s not to say they’re completely unplayable but one does find oneself spending less and less time with the games.

Now, one of the potential selling points of the console is the Monkey Race segment which is a Mario Kart clone which was released months before Mario Kart 7. I’ve just completed the latter and so was looking for a similar challenge but it’s clear that I’ve been spoiled because I just cannot get on with this dreadful game’s racer. First of all, the position you finish in is totally random and way, way more dependent on chance rather than skill. Whilst the cars handle smoothly, they are lousy at taking corners and you’re very likely to go smashing into barriers if not coming off the track.

All in all, it’s a poorly executed game which offered or could have offered so much to the 3DS gamer who purchased the console in the early days of its existence but delivered a bad experience. One wonders how long Sega will continue to support the flagging franchise before smothering it though they haven’t had the greatest amount of luck with longer-running franchises.

Right, that’s what I wanted to whine about last night. As for this morning…the only thing worth grousing about was the tube ride in and having to shove some prick out the day so I could get off. He was completely blocking the aisle and I was in no mood to be polite – talk about zero peripheral vision. Plus there was another prat desperate to jump into my recently vacated seat but again, there was no way he could get there without MOVING OUT OF THE WAY. I swear Londoners are getting dumber.

Coffee with Mr J and la Ralston last night in Costa. Unfortunately the location was chosen by the theatre-goers desperate for a coffee and a sammich before curtain up and was somewhat packed. There was a lot of table sharing going on though we managed to keep the masses at bay by being quasi-obnoxious; not out right vulgar but distasteful. Coffee was good, cake was good but I resisted entreaties of a sammich, preferring to go home and pick through my leftovers though in the end, the ratatouille/garlic combo was selected as the meal du jour.

Otherwise…I think that’s your lot for today. Quiz finale tonight.