Tag Archives: sony

Sooo, who won that whole E3 thing?

Now that all the big media briefings are over, the flurry of all things news from that Electronic Entertainment Expo thing has started to wind down — today’s the last full day of it, and there’s just not all that much to say. There might be the odd conference in some closed off room, but on the floor people are just about getting ready to pack their stuff and leave. So, how best to sum up this year’s events, at least from a Retro perspective? Let’s sum up some of the main points of the week and see just who won E3.

Nintendo

If you’re interested in the old stuff, then yep — Nintendo undoubtedly had you covered in many different ways. Short of the more obvious stuff like more info on Super Mario Odyssey, there was the return of Samus — both in the form of a brand new Metroid Prime game and a 3DS remake of the classic Metroid II. M’colleague Kishi gave you all the details on that, and you can view them here. Also, Shigsy Miyamoto made a surprise appearance at Ubisoft’s briefing in order to introduce Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a strange turn-based strategy crossover that wasn’t exactly in the hearts of many before E3, but when it came to the show looking like some strange take on XCOM? People were sold.

Ubisoft

Speaking of Ubisoft, they also managed to give us more info on a long, long awaited sequel — Beyond Good & Evil 2 got itself a full trailer. We still have no idea when the game’s coming out, but seeing as there has been almost no news on the sequel since 2009 and a lot of people probably thought it was cancelled until word started to spread late last year that it was in the works again, it’s certainly an improvement…it’s still probably a long time until we actually see it, mind you. Fans of the original cult classic will wait though. They’ll wait forever.

Bethesda

While the consensus was that Ubisoft overachieved with their briefing, most people thought that Bethesda didn’t have all that much to show for a proper main event conference, and generally they were right. Still, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was one of the offerings of the expo — of that there’s no doubt. It got itself a big trailer, it was playable on the floor, and it’ll be out in October of this year. You can find more details in my article here, but…well, some games just ride on top of the zeitgiest — and having bored of the practice a few years ago, people are quite clearly interested in shooting Nazis again. This will likely be a hit.

Sony

As far as old stuff goes…yeah, Sony are looking more towards the future. Except for that one thing — the remake of Shadow of the Colossus that’s coming to the PS4 next year. Seeing as an HD version of the original is already available on PS3, some would call it a “re-remake”, and our noble editor would call it a good way to recoup all that money spent on The Last Guardian — still, you can’t deny that this game generates tons of interest. In other news, the highly popular retro-tinged RPG Undertale is coming to the PlayStation Vita. In other other news, the PlayStation Vita is still going.

Microsoft

Um…well, you’ll be able to play original Xbox titles like Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, amongst others, on your Xbox One soon — which is nice. You’ll also be able to do it using a specially remade Xbox Duke Controller from Hyperkin that’ll be compatible with your Xbox One. So yay! In all seriousness, Microsoft’s continued pushing of backwards compatibility is nice considering that it’s long been an afterthought for Sony — although it’s not exactly going to reverse the machine’s fortunes. That’s up to ol’ Hank Scorpio.

EA

Electronic Arts shocked everybody by announcing that their long-running franchises, Madden and FIFA, would be returning again this year for entries #30 and #25 respectively. Both were shown through story-driven trailers detailing the journeys of Devin Wade and Alex Hunter, two young and fictional footballers only separated by different sports with the same name. Alex Hunter is 18 years old, meaning that he was born in 1999. He likely grew up with the PlayStation 2 as his first console, and every now and then he gets a hankering to play Jak II: Renegade. He doesn’t know exactly what his favourite old FIFA is, but it’s the one where you could slide tackle the goalkeeper and break their legs.

(Unsurprisingly, there was nothing of any retro interest whatsoever in EA’s media briefing.)

The rest

In other company news, Square Enix released a trailer for the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III — it’ll probably be out next year. One of the big announcements of the PC Gaming Show was a revival of the original and much-loved RTS Age of Empires. Outside of E3, Atari — yes, Atari — announced a brand new console, the Ataribox. Details on it are very scarce, but the reveal shows that there’s plenty of wood involved! This new machine didn’t make an appearance at the Expo, but the speculation is that we can expect to see it when Blade Runner 2049 comes out as like the original film, it will feature the Atari logo quite prominently. In the end, it’s probably fair to say that Nintendo won E3 from a retro perspective — you can’t exactly knock back the return of Metroid, after all. At last, we’ll have the chance to knock the bad taste of Other M out of our mouths — and if we can do that, then on the whole it’s probably been a fairly good week.

1 Comment

Filed under Retrogaming News, Retronauts

E3 Round-Up: Shadow of the Colossus to get a big old PS4 remake

Yep, that’s about as retro as Sony got in their E3 conference, really — announcing that Fumito Ueda’s legendary Shadow of the Colossus, originally released in 2005, is to get a full remake for the PS4 in 2018 courtesy of Bluepoint Games (previously responsible for HD remasters of Metal Gear Solid, God of War, and…oh – Shadow of the Colossus, all of which appeared on PS3). Looking back, the fact that Shadow of the Colossus ever managed to make it on to the PlayStation 2 is kind of amazing even if it did mostly run at around 20 frames per second — it’s a game that was certainly far ahead of its time when it was originally released, and this remake won’t have too much difficulty making SOTC feel modern and relevant. And hey, as you can see from the trailer below, it looks beautiful.

Still, Sony’s conference showed that, for now, they’re more interested in looking forward — compared to some of the reveals of years past such as Shenmue 3 and the Final Fantasy VII remake, Sony almost completely concentrated on brand new IP’s. Sure, Kratos did get a chance to strut his stuff once again and he’s got a son now, and we’ll be seeing another undoubtedly polarising game from the now positively grizzled David Cage of Fahrenheit and Beyond: Two Souls fame, but…well, yes – from a retro perspective, there’s not a whole lot to say about Sony’s conference. It was all about virtual reality and such. Conversely, Hyperkin have just announced that the arrival of Original Xbox games on the Xbox One will be met with a remake of their own — that of the Xbox’s legendary “Duke” controller, which as far as remakes go is probably not the first thing that anyone tipped to come back. And yes, it will actually be compatible with the XB1 to boot.

Those alien bastards are gonna pay for…ah, wrong Duke. Surprisingly, this picture isn’t to scale! Because the controller’s BIG, get it?

There are of course, some other more major retro tidbits of interest that have happened at E3 this year — Bethesda’s conference saw everyone getting excited about a new Colossus! Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, to be precise — another promising new entry in one of the oldest series going that has, recently, broken new grounds through retro values and design, as it did with the excellent New Order. And Ubisoft brought out Michel Ancel and finally delivered the trailer that people have requested of them for years, that being a certain Beyond Good and Evil 2 — news that will certainly excite fans of the original. Both of these tidbits are certainly worthy of a more in-depth look that goes over more of the respective series histories, which should hopefully come soon. In the meantime, Nintendo and Square Enix’s E3 programmes start today, so perhaps there’ll be some more tidbits to look at tomorrow! Or even, y’know, something meatier.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News

Let’s all go off to an orphanage in FFVIII

It’s Monday, which means that it’s time for another Kim Justice video to come roaring down the pipe — more specifically, the 2nd part of my somewhat lengthy Final Fantasy VIII review. It’s 45 minutes long so not quite as lengthy as the last, but still a pretty decent chunk of video to fit into your day. The part covers *most* of Disc 2 story-wise, right up to one of the game’s biggest and most infamous plot twists. I’m sure that said twist will be heavily spoiled in the comments section, but for the benefits of those like me who are/were largely blind with regards to the game’s story and had no idea what was going to happen when they were playing, I won’t do it in the article.

It’s not exactly a liked twist, mind you — which makes me contemplate how much of an effect it’s had on people’s opinions of the game. Since releasing the first part of my FFVIII video series last Monday, the debate has been white hot — I knew the game was a divisive one and even said so in the video but my word, the clashes that this game can inspire…you simply have to mention the name “FFVIII!” in some quarters, and its an immediate pagga starter. A lot of the debate’s been fun! A good twist can inspire lots of debate as well, of course — but a bad one can be the big thing that sticks out in people’s minds, convincing them not to take anything else in the game seriously. My stance on FFVIII’s big twist is kind of mixed, although for the sake of moving the plot forward most of the analysis of where it seriously goes wrong is coming in the 3rd video.

There’s a lot more to the video than just a twist, however — there’s a run through the plot of the 2nd disc, more quality flashback time with Laguna, a look at the best character in the whole game who isn’t named Squall — as well as a more thorough look at our main protag — and some thoughts on the quality of Final Fantasy VIII’s dungeons and gameplay as we get to the game’s halfway point. Hopefully the video will continue to inspire pages of chat about this really quite strange little RPG — and if you ever think at any point that the game’s events are getting a little bit over the top? Chances are you probably haven’t seen anything yet.

6 Comments

Filed under Retronauts, Video

“It’s out there…” 22 years since the American launch of the Sega Saturn

The Sega Saturn, or the definition of something unloved then but rightly cherished now.

Yes, it’s May 11th! The anniversary of one of the most shocking console launches in the history of video games. On this day in 1995, at the very first Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske announced that 30,000 Sega Saturns were already in stores across America, complete with a copy of Virtua Fighter, for the cost of $399 — a surprise release that came four months before the proposed release date of September 2nd (or “Saturnday” as it was known). It’s something of an infamous event, one that’s almost seen as the height of video game drama — especially when, during Sony’s conference on the very same day, head of development Steve Race interrupted a purposefully dreary presentation by Olaf Olafsson (remember him from yesterday?) to say the number “$299”, thus changing the course of gaming history forever and leaving ol’ Mr. Kalinske with a mouth as agape as The Mask’s.

The history is well documented, and we know the fallout from this day well — the Saturn’s surprise launch annoyed retailers such as Best Buy and Walmart who did not receive any of the 30,000 Saturns, there were only a handful of launch titles available for the system for some months afterwards, and ultimately the move gave Sega barely any advantage over Sony in the new 32-bit console war — indeed, once the PlayStation arrived on 9th September, it soon picked the Saturn apart and built up a huge lead from which Sega had little hope of ever recovering. One thing that’s less talked about, perhaps, is how the Saturn’s launch went over in Europe — something all the more frustrating considering just how similar the European history of the Saturn is to the American history.

An example of the Saturn’s UK advertising, featuring the popular mascot “woman with rings around her head”. Why didn’t it sell?

Much like in America, the Saturn launched early here as well — arriving on July 8th, 1995, albeit this time with a mere two month advantage over the PlayStation. Not that this advantage was anything that helped — unfortunately for Sega, a lot of people made the decision to wait two months for Sony’s machine to come out. This is perhaps quite the surprise considering where Sega stood in Europe — by and large they were the leading console brand in Europe with key areas such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany belonging to Sega, meaning that the Mega Drive had overall beaten the Super Nintendo in terms of sales over there. They had control, and yet they lost it in mere months.

On paper, the games that the Saturn launched with don’t look all that bad — the European lineup was, much like the North American one, led by Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA, with Clockwork Knight and Worldwide Soccer filling out the list. Unlike America, Panzer Dragoon’s release was separated from this quartet and allowed to stand on its own — possibly wise considering that there was little else scheduled between the July launch and September. Panzer Dragoon may well have been the most impressive early Saturn title of them all both from a technical and a gameplay perspective, but as an entirely new franchise it would have been quite the ask for it to battle with PlayStation launch titles like Tekken and Ridge Racer — both of which were more recognised in Europe than Virtua Fighter and Daytona were. One also wonders how much of Sega’s failings in the region boiled down to a simple yet significant lack of Sonic.

Was it all a question of marketing? Perhaps there was a sense of complacency hanging around Sega’s status in Europe, with only a few million dollars assigned to Sega’s marketing budget for the region. Sony, meanwhile, set $20 million aside for the console’s European launch, which included famed adverts such as SAPS (the Society Against PlayStation), which in the coming years would evolve into a highly reactive, trend-setting and often controversial marketing drive that appealed to the young adult market in a way that Sega wanted to do, but were never able to emulate — Sega weren’t ever ones for things like sticking their machines in night clubs, commissioning posters with a spaced out Sara Cox bleeding from the nose, or passing around perforated cards that could be turned into roaches for your joint at Glastonbury festival.

Wipeout is like cocaine, yeah? Sound! Funnily enough you would also get a nosebleed if you tried to watch Sara Cox’s The Girlie Show.

In the end, the story of the Saturn’s launch and its battle with the PlayStation in Europe is, if anything, an even more decisive victory than the more famed American story, even if it lacks those dramatic events. Sega got it, they had it, and then they lost it — it is estimated that the Sega Saturn sold an estimated one million units in Europe, a rather shocking number compared to the 10.4 million sales that the Mega Drive had generated in the continent, and a drop in the ocean compared to the 40.12 million consoles that Sony shipped over here. Over the years the Saturn has developed a reputation as a very fine console indeed, especially when it comes to 2D games, and the system’s cache as a retro games machine is surely much higher than it ever was now as opposed to the status it had when it was actually released — and as the rules of retro start to apply to the 2D and 3D games of the 32-bit generation, that’s only going to increase. Still, knowing what we know about the system now only makes it more surprising to look back on just how quickly Sega managed to lose the status that it had back in 1995 — they tried to draw Sony out, but before they knew it their house started crumbling around them as if someone had just tippex-ed “Sony” over their name. Such are the fickle ways of video game marketing.

Fancy a bit more info on the launch of the Saturn and how badly things went for Sega in ’95?  Well, not to be a total self-promoting arsehole or anything but I do have a video on the subject. It’s called Sega in 1995: What the F**k is Going On?

4 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News, Retronauts, UK/European Retro

The Nintendo PlayStation is fully working at last

The Nintendo PlayStation, much like Rob Van Dam, is one of a kind.

For those of you who have been following the story of the Nintendo PlayStation prototype since it first surfaced in 2015, you now finally have something of an end to the whole saga — after a long period of tinkering, hammering, sodduh-ing and lord knows what else, popular YouTube console modder and electronics bod Ben Heck (of The Ben Heck Show) has finally managed to get the machine fully working to the point where it can run games from the “Super CD ROM” portion of the system.

The prototype, the only one that is known to exist, was originally found by Terry Diebold when his employers, Advanta Corporation, went bust in 2009. A man named Olaf Olafsson was the president of the company — previously he was CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment back when Nintendo and Sony formed a short-lived partnership, during which time Sony announced the SNES/PSX system and Nintendo announced they were working with Philips on the hybrid console at the very same CES show in 1991, the ultimate fruit of which was those godawful Mario and Zelda games on the CD-i. It appears as though Olaf took the prototype to Advanta as a personal belonging but never got around to picking it up as the company closed down, meaning that the system itself was part of a boxed lot that Terry won in an auction at the close of Advanta for a mere $75, only finding out what was inside after the fact. It wasn’t until 2015 when his son Daniel made an innocuous Reddit post about a Nintendo PlayStation sitting up in his father’s attic that people — obviously disbelieving at first — slowly realised what the Diebolds had once pictures of the machine were released.

The system itself has always been able to play Super Nintendo games just fine, but trying to load up a CD has always resulted in nought but a BIOS screen. Ben Heck, a man who can also be found making portable Xbox Ones, N64’s and ZX Spectrums on the Internet, met up with the Diebolds at the Midwest Gaming Classic Expo in 2016, and he’s been working on the prototype ever since — documenting the labours of himself and his team over the course of several videos and livestreams until finally, a few days ago, the news that everyone’s been waiting for was announced in video form; that the Nintendo PlayStation prototype is now able to successfully run CD-ROM’s filled with game data. While no games were ever actually programmed for the system — it is somewhat different from the Sony PlayStation we eventually got meaning you can’t just run Gran Turismo on it, and the game that Heck shows off in the video was created using an emulator — it is now, at last, fully functional.

Ben Heck, YouTube tinkerer extraordinaire.

Of course, it is not for me to spoil the processes that Mr. Heck undertook on the system in order to get it working — he is a very capable person when it comes to presenting electronics on the Internet and he’s clearly done a great job on this project, whereas whenever I turn an old system on part of me unreasonably worries that it will blow up; which is coincidentally the reason why the Diebolds never once turned the prototype on in all the time that they had it sitting in the house, fearing that they would go down in infamy as the people who somehow managed to fry this one-of-a-kind historically significant item. But if you’re interested in the workings of consoles, modifications and a unique piece of video game history finally strutting its stuff after 26 years? Ben Heck’s video is more than worth a watch — even for those of us whose understanding of how to fix a computer problem boils down to little more than “turn it off and on again”.

7 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News, Retronauts

Alundra is 20 danged years old

Yesterday, a classic action RPG designed by Sony and Matrix turned 20 — interestingly, just two days ahead of the 25th anniversary of the U.S. release of the game it shamelessly imitated. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past debuted 25 years ago tomorrow in America (April 13, 1992), and its greatest and most fascinating clone appeared in Japan just shy of five years later (April 11, 1997): Alundra.

I love Alundra, though I admittedly haven’t played it since it was a first-run feature. Who knows, maybe my opinion would change with two decades of hindsight. But at the time, it played like the follow-up to A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening that I dearly wanted but no one else was making. I was as excited as anyone for Ocarina of Time, but even then it was clear that game would play pretty differently from the 2D Zelda games. Alundra fell into the same category for me as Symphony of the Night: The kind of experience the entire industry was eager to move away from, but which I still wanted to exist. Technical progress doesn’t mean having to slash and burn everything that’s come before, and I hated the frustrating universal media consensus at the time which demanded all games had to abandon any visual vestige of the past in order to be acceptable.

It wasn’t just a media consensus, come to that. Sony, who by mid-1997 had already taken a strong lead in the console race, had an infamous policy of disallowing 2D games on PlayStation. It wasn’t absolute law, but certainly bitmap-based graphics were frowned upon and expected to take a seat at the kids’ table. Alundra, being a Sony-published game in Japan, seemed doomed to face the same unhappy fate as other first-party “relics” like Arc the Lad. That is to say, denied a visa into the U.S. I distinctly recall reading a massive import preview blowout on Alundra in (I think) GameFan magazine which made it clear that this game was a rad adventure in the style of Zelda, and also doomed never to come to America. For the moment, this restriction didn’t burn too badly, because I was in the midst of experiencing my very first import game (the aforementioned Symphony of the Night), but still the thought that such a fantastic-looking entry in an underserved genre I deeply loved would be dangled beyond my reach… it chafed.

As it turned out, Alundra really did suffer the same fate as Arc the Lad: It was picked up for U.S. release by Working Designs. The company did a solid job with the localization — aside from the spacey surfer dude Bonaire, who felt increasingly out of place and inappropriate as the game’s plot grew darker and darker, it largely eschewed Working Designs’s trademark approach to localization (e.g. throw out most of the original text and cram in a ton of jokes). You can probably attribute that to the fact that Alundra simply wasn’t as slight as most of the RPGs WD tended to localize; it came wrapped in a pretty intense storyline. The eponymous hero had the ability to enter people’s dreams, but even as he did so an evil force was also stealing into those dreams and murdering the dreamer. By the end of the game, a whole lot of people are dead or emotionally devastated. There’s not a lot of room for levity.

Working Designs also didn’t apply their usual dramatic rebalancing to the game’s difficulty, either. While they made a few tweaks, they felt smart and welcome. For example, they made the final boss hit harder while reducing the amount of damage he could withstanding, which resulted in a shorter, more intense fight. Alundra has a reputation for being a seriously difficult game, with some tough battles and brain-bending puzzles, but that wasn’t my experience. It’s one of those games that simply clicked with me for whatever reason, and I sailed through it… even the notoriously complicated sliding-block puzzles in the ice palace.

Funnily enough, I didn’t actually buy the game at launch despite my enthusiasm for it. I somehow won a copy from IGN in a contest they had right before the game shipped… and then, months later, I still hadn’t received my copy. (Now that I’ve worked in the press, I can definitely see how that happened; no hard feelings.) I wrote one of the editors an email, and he promptly called me, apologized, and promised to get the game sent out ASAP. He was true to his word! Within a week, I had the game and the PlayStation console that was also part of the contest, along with a few random trinkets and (inexplicably) a military grade beef stew meal-ready-to-eat. So whenever I think about Alundra, I think about… army rations.

You know, 20 years later, there still aren’t very many people making high-grade 2D Zelda clones. I should probably revisit Alundra.

Images courtesy of VG Museum

12 Comments

Filed under Game Analysis

A chance to reconsider Crash, maybe

Yesterday Activision announced that their HD remaster of the PlayStation Crash Bandicoot trilogy — newly dubbed the N. Sane Trilogy, because without a name what kind of gravitas could a trilogy possibly have? — will arrive June 30, almost exactly a year after its announcement at last year’s Sony E3 press conference. Now that I’m over the cognitive dissonance of Activision publishing Crash (when I was a lad, that was a Sony franchise, thank you very much), I find myself looking forward to the N. Sane Trilogy.

I am not, to be honest, a fan of Crash… which is precisely why I’m eager to try the new HD reissue. I don’t feel I really gave the Crash games a fair shake back in the day. The original game was part of the late 1996 wave of first-party publishers attempting to take platform action games into 3D, along with Super Mario 64 from Nintendo and NiGHTs: Into Dreams from SEGA. I was on the outs with Nintendo consoles at the time and starting to develop an appreciation for the PlayStation vision, so I should have been the target audience for Naughty Dog’s platformers… but they didn’t do it for me at all. Super Mario 64 was so grand, so impressive, that the other publishers’ respective forays into that space left me cold.

I don’t think that’s unreasonable, in the context of the times. Super Mario 64 felt like the future, a fully open 3D platform game that not only pulled the genre into a new dimension, quite literally, but also did it with style and refinement. Yeah, there would be better 3D platformers, but Nintendo got so much right with Mario 64. By comparison, Crash’s linear into-the-screen design felt like playing, say, S.T.U.N. Runner compared to Mario 64‘s DOOM.

At the time, there was also a suffocating sense within the media and the tiny little online gaming community that existed in 1996 that game design was a one-way journey: Progress or nothing. If a game didn’t shatter the bounds of technology and design, it wasn’t worth your time. S.T.U.N. Runner ceased to be fun once DOOM came into being, and Super Mario 64 mooted any game that restricted action to a mere two axes. This, of course, is nonsense, but it would be a few years before I became dislodged from that way of thinking and found a happy medium between that mindset and its “hardcore” USENET opposite, which posited that the value of a given game was directly proportionate to its age.

Now that I’m older and wise enough to recognize that a game can be great without pushing any particular envelopes, I want to go back and reconsider Crash. Maybe I was wrong about it, and there’s something great there despite being relatively less ambitious than Super Mario 64. Then again, maybe not — big first-party games cause a certain degree of blindness among the first-party faithful (hence the popularity of Smash Bros.…), so maybe Crash‘s adulating fans are simply suffering from an overdose of Kool-Aid. Either way, I’m eager to see for myself.

4 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News

Episode 44: Remembering PlayStation’s launch, and Satoru Iwata

A slightly unconventional episode this week. You can read about the specifics in our USgamer post, but the short version is that we had initially planned to publish this PlayStation anniversary tribute on the 20th anniversary of the system’s launch in September. However, Nintendo issued its press release announcing the death of its president, Satoru Iwata, in the middle of this episode. All things considered, it made more sense to run the episode now (skipping the Patreon paywall).

As we discuss in this episode, Sony and Nintendo’s console game businesses have always shared a close link. But after the experience of hosting this episode, the two will always be inextricably connected for me.

Download Links

Libsyn (1:38:02 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud )

Episode Description

Retronauts vet and Sony enthusiast/employee Shane Bettenhausen joins us to discuss the 20th anniversary of the PS1 launch in America. (This episode is running before its intended September time slot due to the tragic news that breaks midway through.)

Music in this week’s episode mostly comes from Exact’s Jumping Flash! The episode ends with Hip Tanaka’s “Balloon Trip” remix he created in tribute to Iwata.

Bob and I plan to reconvene next month to record more episodes, one of which will definitely focus on HAL and Iwata’s contributions to gaming. Also, yeah, I goofed on the SNES sound processor specifics — Yamaha worked on the Genesis sound processor. You don’t need to send corrections!

20 Comments

Filed under Retronauts