Retro Arcade Gaming

  • by Gitabushi

This weekend, I took my kid back to college in Huntsville, Alabama.  While there, we stumbled across the Rocket City Arcade, where they offer a host of classic arcade games that you can play all day for just $10.

It had been a long day of driving, and so we only played for about an hour. But it felt like even that hour was well worth the money spent.

One precondition was they had to have Joust, and they did.

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It took me a little time to get the game skills back, but by the fourth game, I got 64k points and set the high score for the game. I’m really not sure why no one plays it, because 64k points wasn’t that tough to get.  I think in my heyday I must have broken 100k points, because 64k points included making it past just one survival wave and one egg wave, and I think i can remember making it to at least 3 egg waves previously.

The thing I love about Joust is there are no patterns to learn at all. No way to memorize a method or route that lets you beat the AI, or even puts you in a good position, like you can with games like Pac Man or Super Mario Brothers.  Your flapping works against gravity based on your rate of taps, and it is impossible to hold a perfectly rock-steady altitude.  Left and right are possible, but it often takes some finesse to zero out your lateral motion.

There are some places where you can hang out that make it more likely to kill the bad guys, but holding position there is tough, and if you camp there, they’ll get you.

Great game. Highly recommended.  Probably my favorite game of all time, although Karate Champ is also very good.

The arcade also had a great old Star Wars game, where you shot tie fighters before making a trench run. As the game got tougher and faster, with more defending fire directed at you, the trick was to use your blasters to hit the defending fire and stay alive; shooting the enemy was only a secondary goal.

I got to try Donkey Kong, and made it to the 3rd level pretty easily. Got to do a few driving games, which are always fun.  One game I loved, but only saw once, was a stunt driving game.  You did jumps, loops, etc., and the game had some feedback that helped you feel you were actually driving the car doing the stunts. I’d pay good money for an original game in good condition to have the chance to play that and get good at it, but that is apparently not my fate.  It might have been Atari’s “Hard Drivin'”, now that I’ve taken a moment to search.  I thought I remembered green vector graphics, rather than the CRT graphics of “Hard Drivin'”…but the description of showing a replay of your crash sounds familiar, and the gameplay sure seems familiar, too.  Memory is a funny thing.

But that wasn’t one of the games they had.  They did have, however, The Simpsons, and Crystal Castles (boring) and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Several shooting games, but those weren’t as fun.  I usually died in seconds, and only got anywhere by hitting “continue”.  My kid and I had some bonding/fun on one of those for about 10 minutes.

They had a modern update to Rampage, which sucked. Different versions of Street Fighter, which was always best in the original Street Fighter 2 edition, before all the special moves just got stupidly complex and powerful. They had some Galaga types. They had Commando, and I died too quickly to want to try to get back any of that game’s muscle memory skills.

All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for my kid to understand what gaming used to be like.

Doing a quick search, I’m seeing that several places combine retro games with bars. I didn’t look deeply enough to see if you still have to pay for the games. If you pay bar/pub prices for drinks, plus a quarter per game, it doesn’t seem worth it to me.  There’s one in the DC area; I might try it.

But playing the game has convinced me that I will probably will purchase an Arcade1UP Rampage machine, as it includes Joust and Gauntlet. Rampage is okay. Gauntlet is actually kind of fun.  I’ve played a pretty good Gauntlet emulation with my kid on the PS2, and the ability to just hit “continue”, with the loss of limitation of needing to drop a quarter in, makes the game much less fun.  “Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly” is a sentence that sends chills down your spine if you have already given the machine your last quarter.

The system also has Defender, which is perhaps the most masochistic game Williams ever invented.  But that is a game that might be enhanced by eliminating the necessity of quarters: it might actually now be feasible to practice to the point of actually getting good at it.

What classic arcade game was your favorite? Which do you miss? If you missed out on the era, which do you wish you’d gotten to try?

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Game mechanics: elemental and environmental interactions

I never got that far into Divine Divinity: Original Sin, but the thing that really impressed me and kept me playing as long as I did was its combat. More specifically, the level of interaction between spells, elemental effects, and the environment was fresh and engaging.

Electricity doing stupid damage to characters or enemies with the misfortune of standing in water has been done many times in video games, but Divinity: OS took it much further.

For example, setting a poison gas cloud or a pool of poison or oil on fire would go BOOM. Sometimes, like if you chucked fire at a vent continuously spewing gas, this would yield some glitchy and/or funny results.

Electrifying wet characters or surfaces could produce a stun effect. Characters moving over ice had a chance to stumble and fall prone.

All these interactions provided a great range of tactical possibilities and made combat quite exciting.

Likewise, Has-Been Heroes implements a number of elemental combinations.

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Water spells can soak enemies and cause puddles to form. Electricity arcs between targets and deals double damage to anything that’s soaked.

Poisoned enemies, when set ablaze, take a burst of damage (which expends the poison). Puddles exposed to poison become poison puddles. Poison puddles exposed to fire have a chance to turn into lava.

Soaked enemies, when frozen, stay frozen longer. Soaked enemies exposed to wind become frozen.

I’m sure I’ve left some combinations out, but you get the idea.

I was just thinking – I don’t remember any kind of elemental synergies or interactions in D&D (3.5, at least), aside from maybe using magical fire to light up some oil or something of that nature. Maybe they wouldn’t work or would be difficult to balance. Still, they could add for some cool gameplay.

All I know is I’ve really enjoyed the elemental mechanics employed by these two video games and am hoping more games get similarly creative in the future.

-Bushi

bushi

Switch: Has-Been Heroes

 

My PlayStation 4 lies fallow, and my gaming PC gathers dust. But this was foreseen and expected. Someday I will lay down my plow and once again take up the sword. For now, though, this whole rearing a little person thing doesn’t allow me much room.

I do sometimes get to play a bit at night or in the small hours of the morning – times reserved for sleep or frivolity. For the first several weeks of my son’s life, I vacillated between my 3DS and my Switch (which I resisted for quite some time, but has grown on me). Nowadays the Switch is my go-to. When you need to be able to run to the kitchen for your spouse or pop a pacifier in your infant’s mouth with all due haste, the ability to pause your gaming on the fly is a necessity. The ability to play the same game in bed or in a lounging position on any couch or other mostly flat surface is also highly desirable.

I’ve been playing Has-Been Heroes. There are other games on my radar, but right now I’ve got to stretch what I’ve got, and it isn’t really that much of a challenge (putting aside my compulsion to hoard and stockpile both books and games to consume “eventually”).

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This game starts off simple. “Oh, you just move these guys between lanes and cast spells when they’re off cooldown. This may get old fast.” Then you begin to discover the way the different elements interact. Water + fire creates steam, which slows enemies. Wet enemies buffeted with wind spells will freeze. And this is just scratching the surface.

Then you start to unlock new characters, items, spells, map nodes, enemies. And there are tons of these unlockables.

Suffice it to say this game’s got a lot of potential mileage, if you’ve got the stomach for it. I can’t accurately approximate the importance of luck vs skill, but both are necessary to complete runs as the game progresses. Sometimes you just get shit spells or can’t find enough battles to fill your coffers. Other times may be described as “serendipitous.” The worst is when you squeeze a treasure goblin or two and are sitting on 1,000 gold right before dying to some bullshit. Ah, what could have been!

I often need to put the Switch down for a while at the end of a run owing to my “this is bullshit!” reflex, but before long I crave another potato chip and I’ve started it up again.

If you are curious what this game is about, here’s some low-context nonsense:

Fucking guy. Can’t even say he got lucky – that combination of spells looks absolutely mediocre to me. Maybe I just need to git more gud.

And yeah, that’s a luchador.

-Bushi

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Culdcept and more Dune sciency stuff

Life flows onward. Care for the larva takes precedence.

I recently picked up a cheap 3DS game that looked interesting. It’s called Culdcept Revolt. Apparently the Culdcept series has been around for a while, though I’d never heard of it.

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Gameplay-wise, it’s something of an ill-begotten spawn. Think Monopoly meets Yugioh meets Magic: The Gathering. In effect it sometimes feels like Mario Party – skill and strategy matter, but the result of a 30-minute match can ultimately depend upon the favor or curse of the Random Number God. But I guess Magic was always subject to that. “Whoops, you drew 10 lands in a row? Learn to shuffle better, scrub.”

But it’s got card collecting and deck building, so it scratches an itch. Don’t get me started on the writing, though. It’s seriously bad.

Ah well, at least it’s turn-based. When you need to be able to respond to the wail of your progeny at a moment’s notice, turns are required. Or at least pausing. Maybe both.

Meanwhile Dune continues to stimulate as I read in bits and squeaks. Back in college, I took a class in sociology and our professor had us read Dune. Herbert is more often recognized for the ecological hardness of his seminal work, but there’s a lot of soft science going on, too. Man, that was a cool class.

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I’m told Herbert really knew ecology. I think it shows. But honestly, I’m not the kind of guy who’s incredibly difficult to convince with this stuff. Throw in the names of some scientific processes, maybe a plausibly-named theory…hey man, sounds sciency to me. “Hard” and “soft” scifi are relative terms, I guess.

Also, is “chromoplastic” a thing? Maybe…? A related element that’s impressed me is the range of invention Herbert utilizes here. He may not have coined all or even most of these gizmos and scifi doodads, but he seems to have picked some good ones that either never reached wide-scale use or else hit critical mass after he threw them in the mix.

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This kind of thing is important, you know? Sure, you can have a good story with blasters and laser swords and plasteel armor and space marines. But that’s all been done. A lot. Don’t underestimate the power of novelty.

Oh, look – “cone of silence.” This thing was popularized by the old 60’s Get Smart TV show, of course, but it was apparently kicking around for at least a decade before that. Herbert himself used the term in a 1955 short story, so Wiki tells meDune was published in 1965, as a reference point.

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I love this stuff, but dang I’ll be glad when I can muster up the wherewithal to dive into something new. Witch World looms.

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-Bushi

bushi

Simplification and Nostalgia/Materialism

  • by Gitabushi

So we had a pipe burst in the basement. Nothing was lost, but they have to replace the floor and repair/repaint the walls.

Moving all my books from the bookcase, I was struck again by how many guitar books/resources I’ve rarely and/or never even opened. If I just went through and played through a new song in the AC/DC book each day, then back through, and again, by the end of the month, I’d have so many new guitar tricks, songs to play, etc.

…but for what?

Same thing with all my fingerstyle books and magazines. I was actually a decent fingerstylist at one point. But then I got into electrics, and it consumed all my time.

I should sell the drums. I should just stick to guitar. It’s not like I’m actually going to join a band.

But I know if I sell them, I’m *really* going to regret it.

Also on the shelves were all my books. I’ve converted over to e-books. It is so much easier to take stuff with me on my kindle. I don’t have to worry about books falling apart on me as I read them, either. So I think I’m going to dump a bunch of books soon.

Just watch: there’ll be a civilization apocalypse right after I get rid of all my books, and I wont’t be able to get power to keep my Kindle charged.

Anyway, also on the shelves were my Avalon Hill games.

I bought a buttload of them back in the early 00s, part of nostalgia for my youth. I planned to teach my son. 15 years later, he’s out of the house and we’ve only played a handful. Hey, at least we played that handful. About 10 of them are solitaire games…I’ve never played one of them. The rest are solitaire-possible. I have the entire Advanced Squad Leader series. If I played every day, it would probably still take me 5 years to play through all of the scenarios, since I have to work.

And to be honest, computer games like Jagged Alliance really do seem to fill that need for turn-based strategy against a smart opponent.

So I’m thinking about selling them all.

But here’s the deal: I’m 6 to 10 years from retirement.  One of my plans was in retirement I’d have time to play all these games.  But the plan is also to be active enough to still enjoy life. When I think about it, I don’t want to spend my retirement indoors, hunched over a gaming table by myself.  Not to mention, we’re planning on spending 4-6 months every year out traveling in an RV.

Can’t take Avalon Hill strategy board games out in an RV. Can’t take an electric drumset out in an RV. Heck, even taking an electric guitar is problematic…although I might be able to do it with the iPad and the BIAS app suite. The current plan is to take only the acoustic guitar along and work through fingerstyle stuff.

I guess I’m at the age where I’m fighting twin urges for simplification and nostalgia.

Any thoughts?

Make yourself useful, mage!

Yesterday Cirsova shared some thoughts on Twitter about a recent post over at Walker’s Retreat (which was in turn a reaction to a post at Dyvers blog).

This led to an interesting thread, if you’re of the sort who delights in this kind of raw nerdom.

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A frequent criticism of D&D 3.5e, which is probably a middling version of the game in many senses (and yet like ice cream, each person has a favorite flavor), is that it’s too easy to get bogged down in rules and mechanics. Still, I think it gives a judicious and experienced DM the tools for a rather rich and dynamic game. A handyman may have a 50-piece ratchet/socket set in his toolbox; doesn’t mean he’s got to use it!

I must confess, I’ve never played a magic user. The only game I ever played in as a player gave me a taste of the charisma rogue, which I very much enjoyed.

The comparisons I can draw here are limited. A magic user may be standing in the doorway with his hands in his, uh, robe pockets as his party desperately fights off the goblin raiding party until he’s saved their bacon by expending a precious lightning bolt spell on the ogre boss that’s just rolled up on the exhausted heroes. As a silver-tongued rogue type, at least you’ve still got backstab, and hopefully enough HP and dexterity to help out on the front line for a round or two without getting insta-killed. You may not be a power-hitter, but you can at least do something useful most turns, whether it be culling a damaged bogie or firing off an arrow or two. Hey, at least I got you a flanking bonus!!

Anyway, when we consult our handy actuarial table of action types, we see that a magic user can…actually not really do much at all! My references above to aiding another or intimidating were actually useless advice in this context as they require melee range!

Unfortunately, without magical items or scrolls or maybe potions of some sort, a magic user’s not really got any recourse. Especially if he’s trying to sincerely roleplay his character.

What is one to do?

One branch of the conversation, which kind of circles back to Dyvers’ original post:

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And I think that really may be the best solution – sprinkle in some magical goodies for your magic users to hold on to. But it’s up to the DM to anticipate and implement. If you return to some D&D’s source material, namely Dying Earth, you’ve got all manner of magical items for magic users to play around with between casting spells. Remember that in Vance’s stories, most wizards could only memorize a handful of incantations. While spells certainly accounted for an important portion of their overall power, perhaps equally important were the relics and magical artifacts that they were able to accumulate.

These gadgets can range in power, from extremely powerful to amusingly benign – think of Cugel’s “tube of blue concentrate,” which due to its mysterious nature elicited some degree of fear despite maybe just being a can of blue spray paint. These kinds of curios can be a real boon for a DM who doesn’t want to wantonly dish out wands of magic missile or other damage-dealing items, as they provide players with a great chance to get creative and do some quality roleplaying.

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It’s also a thought for you fantasy writers. Instead of going with a vanilla wizard character who chants spells and draws runes, why not a codger with a bag full of doodads and magical junk?

-Bushi

bushi

Suikodens

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Suikoden, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a JRPG series inspired by one of China’s “Four Great Classical Novels,” Water Margin. From what I know of it, Water Margin tells the tale of 108 outlaw-heroes who form an army to fight against an oppressive government.

Suikoden, likewise, tells the tale of 108 “Stars of Destiny.” In the first installment (PS1), these heroes band together to rebel against a corrupt government and bring about a peaceful new order. As far as JRPGs go, it’s quite a standout. All of these 108 stars can be recruited. Some of them join you automatically as the story advances, but many of them have to be sought out and found, either by completing some task, satisfying some condition, or simply by virtue of having found them in a strange or hidden place. These characters then populate your base. Many of them can join your party and participate in regular battles, some of them will open shops or provide other services, and some will also take part in “army battles.” More on that later.

I’ve played through Suikoden several times, but I had never gotten the “good” ending. That is, there’s a tragedy that occurs at one point in the story, and it can only be rectified by collecting all 108 Stars of Destiny by a certain part of the game. If you miss any recruits, you miss this “good” ending. In addition, the Suikoden series allows you to carry over data from previous games to influence the proceeding installments. Yes, games were doing this before Bioware! If you get the good ending, so much the better for your playthrough of the next game.

Suikoden 2 (PS1, available through the PSN shop) has been sitting on my PS3’s hard drive for a while now, and so a few months ago I decided the time had finally come. I am a big fan of the original, and I’ve read that many people consider 2 to be the peak of the series.

So I played through the first Suikoden again, to get the good ending this time. I’ve actually gotten pretty quick at getting through it. I think I beat it in about a week, and I finally got the optimal outcome (following a recruitment guide very carefully, of course). It’s interesting how successive playthroughs can be fun in different ways. Now that I was very familiar with the story and characters, I found myself swapping more minor characters into my party to try them out in battle. And man – the main character + Kai is a sick combo! They’ve got a team attack that lets them damage all enemies!

Suikoden 2 was next. I beat it a few weeks ago. How did it hold up? I must say, my impressions were mixed. Let me try to break things down a bit.

 

Graphics

Ok, Suikoden 2 wins handily here. We’ve still got late SNES/Playstation era sprites going on (which is actually a draw to some of us, but not beloved by everyone), and the CGI cutscenes are pretty terrible. But the character animations are a lot better than Suikoden’s.

Music

I actually thought the original Suikoden’s soundtrack was a lot better than its sequel. This could be because I’ve played it so many times, for sure, but not only do its songs stick in my head, but I always enjoyed listening to them. There’s a good variety of music, and individual tracks fit a variety of moods as needed for any given scene.

Interestingly, some of Suikoden’s tracks struck me as kinda Eastern European-sounding. Not that this is an inherently good or bad thing, just kind of unusual and attractive to me.

Suikoden 2 reuses music from Suikoden, but its arrangements didn’t really impress me. Frankly I just didn’t find its soundtrack as catchy or stirring.

Plot

Both games are decent on story, setting up and exploiting conflicts and relationships fairly early on. In Suikoden, there are many smaller stories going on, but the main relational focus is on Tir McDohl (the protagonist) and his father, who is a general for the emperor. Tir’s friendships with the other members (servants? hirelings?) of his household also feature prominently. In Suikoden 2, the focus is on Riou’s relationships with his sister, Nanami, and his best friend, Jowy.

Let’s be honest, neither one of these games is Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. There is political intrigue, betrayal, and the like (not much romance, though, for what that’s worth). The stories move and engage. They are pretty good by JRPG standards, but there are weaknesses for sure. On plot, I favor Suikoden. The story just felt like it flowed better and more naturally. In Suikoden II, I had trouble understanding the motivations of some characters (including the ultimate antagonist). A lot of it seemed to boil down to stupidity, simplicity, or just being evil (which can be okay, but usually evil has some ultimate selfish motive such as power or wealth).

Combat

Both games feature three distinct battle systems. In normal fights, you’ve got your party of up to 6 characters. They can attack, use items, use runes to cast magic or employ special attacks, and perform team attacks. In duels, you basically play a rock-paper-scissors in which you can predict the enemy’s attacks based upon what he says between each round. Then there are army battles, which make use of your characters on a grander scale.

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I must say I have a clear preference for Suikoden’s army battles. The graphics, music, and system itself (which is basically another rock-paper-scissors but with special units that can be employed to spice things up) were much more enjoyable than the tactics-style army battles of Suikoden II. Suikoden II’s system was close to being fun, but most of the battles don’t even matter – they’re prescripted and your decisions have little impact over whether you win or lose. The battles also drag on longer and feel less satisfying.

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Characters

Again I prefer Suikoden here, but this isn’t by a huge margin. Both games have some fun characters (I’m sure favorites will vary from person to person). In Suikoden, Mathiu, Pahn, Viktor, Gremio, Valeria, Kasumi, and Krin are among my most liked (some of them are quite minor, but still). In Suikoden II, I was a fan of Eilie and Rina, Shu (who’s basically just Mathiu II), Nanami, Flik and Viktor, and Miklotov. Minus points for Freed – he sucks.

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Ah Rina…
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Fuck you Freed!

One of the strong points about both games is that of all the recruitable characters that can be placed in your immediate party, there are many viable choices. Sure, as you get toward the end you pick up a few OP individuals who are super strong, but there are plenty of solid choices if you have other preferences. Also the way experience works, it’s a pretty simple/quick matter to catch up characters who are severely under-leveled, if you haven’t used them in a while or ever but want to try them out or use them in a boss fight or something.

Overall

I don’t want to say Suikoden is flat-out better than its successor, but I do like it better in most ways. Another thing, neither here nor there, but worth pointing out, is that like many games from Japan, they’ve both got localization issues. And like many games from anywhere, they’ve got glitches. I’ve run into all this stuff. One thing that got to me in Suikoden II wasn’t a glitch but a design flaw. If you import Tir from Suikoden, you can use him, but he isn’t a recruitable Star of Destiny. This means that any time there’s a party shuffle (which is quite often), you lose him and have to go pick him up again. If you could teleport straight to Gregminster this wouldn’t be a big deal, but you have to trek through a long dungeon first. Pain in the ass!

Anyway, I’ve avoided spoilers in the hope that anyone who hasn’t played these games may decide to give them a shot. Suikoden shows its age, but if you’re a fan of SNES and early Playstation RPGs, chances are you’ll really enjoy it. There’s a lot of really cool stuff, like a magical rune that transforms itself into a sentient, vampire-killing sword!

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If you do give it a play, feel free to drop a comment to let me know what you think!

-Bushi

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