Thursday, October 26, 2006

Just Bloody Great

Just my luck. I finally get a comment posted to the games blog, and it turns out to be massive spam. Just bloody great.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The New Wii Display at the Local EB

I see that the local EB store is setting up thier Wii display. A couple of the Wii boxes were on the floor, so I picked it up and took a good look. It's a nice packaging, very similar to the DS Lite box.

I also noticed that the "Wii Sports Included" label wasn't on the box. I'm assuming these stickers are pasted on, and this pretty much confirms my theory that Nintendo will eventually offer a "core" system without any pack-in game.

I don't have any idea when such a move will be made, but it's a safe bet that Christmas 2006 is out of the question. Nintendo is likely holding this card for the inevitable Microsoft or Sony price drops in 2007. There's too much pressure for both of them to sell units and get the prices down. Sony especially.

This leaves Nintendo in a perfect position to either drop the price of the Wii hardware, or sell the core system at a lower price. Remember that the DS dropped from $150 to $120 within its first year. We'll see a $200 Wii before too long, if not lower.

As always, it's probably wiser to wait a little while, until new consoles have established themselves a bit. Early adotpers get the bragging rights, but they always have to pay for it.

New AW Map - #18 Combat or Tank

The third and final new AW custom map for today is map #18: Combat or Tank.

This is another classic game tribute, to Atari's Combat for the 260 VCS. It was also named Tank for the Sears version, even though it was the same game. Hmm. I've never understood why Sears decided to manufacture its own VCS console, and change the names on all the games. Thankfully, it's never done anymore.

Combat of Tank is a two-player map, with a lot of roads, some forests for defense, and a lot of wide, open spaces. Each player begins with 3 bases, 2 tanks, and 2 APC units. This is a large map for only two players, so adding in some transport units is essential.

Also, I'm pretty much required to throw in some tanks at the beginning. You can choose whether to hunt down and destroy, or stake out a perimeter and play defense. There are ample bases and cities to capture, so you'll want to establish a defensive zone, and then capture the territory behind.

The secret bonus area makes its third appearance on my maps, this time with 16 rockets. They can only be accessed by infantry or mech units, which promises that the supply won't be drained too quickly. Unless, of course, you have amassed a team of infantry, and choose to launch several rockets at once. Since this territory is easy to defend, you can afford to launch rockets at your leisure.

Choices, kids, choices. Give your players choices in where to go, how to balance offense and defense, and what risks to take. These are essential elements of game design, and they're key to creating great multiplayer maps.

If you're ever in doubt, go back to the multiplayer classics: Warlords, MULE, NES Ice Hockey, Chu Chu Rocket, SF Rush 2094 Battle Mode, Super Bomberman 2, Herzog Zwei. If you like videogames, you should know these like the back of your hand.

Again, I'll add Map Pack #6, which contains these three maps, as soon as I can. I have six more maps to fine-tune, and they'll be ready to play soon. Enjoy!

New AW Map - #17 Pac-Man

Here is the second of nine new maps I recently created for Advance Wars. I'm sure you'll recognize this character pretty easily: Pac-Man.

Pac-Man is a two-player map, in which each player starts on small islands - the dots - and then battles it out on Pac-Man Island. You begin with 3 bases, 1 seaport, 1 lander, 2 APC's, and 1 Recon truck. As is often the case, I prefer to give you the tools to start playing immediately, instead of slowly building up your forces. It's a tricky balance to pull off, and this map is a textbook example of the importance of playtesting.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Playtest, playtest, playtest! A map design the looks clever on the Map Editor is one thing, but it's only when the action starts that you notice the flaws. Use of terrain, the forests, mountains, and roads, determines the game's tempo, and the proper starting units (or no starting units) will enable a proper pace.

This is a very fun map, a very thrilling map, one that allows many options for offense and defense. Both players have a fair chance for victory.

Notice, also, that in order to win, you must invade your opponent's home island. Controlling Pac-Man Island is crucial, but cannot guarantee victory by itself. Be careful not to leave your home island completely vulnerable, lest your friend sneak over with a couple landers loaded with heavy armor.

Oh, finally, note the signature on the top left corner, my own little "easter egg." My first criteria for a good map is that is has to look good. Everything else is build upon that. Don't be afraid to add little flourishes like this to your own maps. You'll thank me if you want to become a game designer someday.

Again, I'm not able to offer downloads for Map Pack #6 just yet, but I'll update as soon as I can.

New AW Map - #16 Warlords

Recently, I've been busy creating new custom maps for Advance Wars. How many? Nine! These maps are created on the AWDS Map Editor, and then transported onto my Advance Wars 2 save files for use with the game. As of now, the first three maps have been translated and are finished.

Here's the first one - Warlords.

Warlords is a tribute to the classic Atari multiplayer game, one of my favorite Atari 2600 titles. This design is similar to another map I created, Twin City War, in that there are two playfields. There is the main battlefield, in center, and there is an outer perimeter.

For this map, four players square off in close combat with one air transport and one anti-air gun. You have one factory base and one airport. Because of the small spaces, you'll have to quickly think about defending your territory, or attacking an opponent, if you so choose.

The key lies in that outer perimeter. Like Super Mario Bros, this is where all the goodies lie. Each player has a four-island chain, containing five cities, one airport, and three rockets. If you want to gain the upper hand, you're going to need to capture those territories. You'll also be able to frustrate your friends, and stop them from taking anything.

A great map gives you the freedom to choose your own strategy, instead of forcing you to play in a certain fashion. This is a prime weakness with most of AW's built-in War Room maps. Intelligent Systems still hasn't discovered how essential multiplayer is to Advance Wars. Either that, or they just don't know how to design good maps.

I'm not able to update my main website right now, due to server difficulties, so I can't offer downloads for the latest map pack. I'll try to change that soon. Happy gaming!

Videogame Classics - Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

Which game has been monopolizing all my time on Nintendo DS? For the last couple weeks, it's been Rocket Slime. Or, to use the full title, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Whew, what a long name. Let's just stick with Rocket Slime.

There's been a bit of attention paid to this little gem of a game around its time of release, but all mention of it has disappeared since. I'm assuming this has more to do with the hype-heavy nature of videogame sites and weblogs, a curse that I wish could somehow be overcome. When will you children learn to stop drooling around like dogs, jumping at the endlesss hype HYPE, HYPE!! of everything? You're always obsessing about the toys that are still in the future, forgetting about what's already available today. Sigh. You're being played for suckers by corporations.

Anyway, the whole point of my little rant is to remind you that there's a great DS title called Rocket Slime that deserves your attention. Essentially, there are two facets to this game. The first part is an overhead action-adventure, similar in style to Zelda, as your hero, the little blue slime from the Dragon Quest series, searches about for his missing friends. He also can capture enemies roaming about, and collect numerous items from fruit to bombs to giant, 1,000-ton anvils.

There's a point to all this endless collecting, and that's the game's second part - tank battles. This is really the hook to the game, and it's a terrific idea. At one point in the game, you uncover a lost slime tank, which looks like a castle on treads. You'll encounter numerous foes to battle against, with some pretty freaky tank designs and endlessly cheesy puns like "Carrot Top," "Fort Night," and "Chrono Twigger."

In each tank, there are two or three main rooms: the bridge, which contains two cannons, and the lower levels, which spits out weapons at a steady pace. You have to grab those weapons, and then throw them into one of the two cannons - one aimed straight, one aimed at an angle. Both tanks try to weaken the other, eventually eliminating all its hit points. After that happens, you invade their tank, and destroy their heart-shaped engine.

Now, this all sounds pretty simple, and it may seem tough to understand a tank battle with only two guns can be compelling. Well, it comes back to all that collecting in the walking stages. Those items can be used as ammo, and have their own quirks and uses. Later on, you free a talking pot which allows you to mix and match items for more powerful ones, via recipe cards (yes, another DS game with recipes).

Also, while you begin your first tank battles flying solo (which makes for some hectic fighting, scrambling to get weapons and fire them before being hit yourself), you can sign up a crew of four, and assign them various duties. My current team, which works perfectly for me, is to have a big slime for loading one cannon, another slime for sabotage and espionage (stealing the other guy's items), and a walking baby statue for loading the second cannon. Once things get heated up, I sneak over to the other tank, break down the main door (you can also fire yourself out of a cannon, but most likely you'll be hit in midair and sent packing) and start destroying all the enemies' computers. Eventually, their weapons chutes are destroyed, the damage starts raining down (since they can't knock my shots out of the sky anymore), and I make a quick run to their heart.

Again, this becomes fairly easy once you get the hang of it, and that's my only real complaint with Rocket Slime. It's a collosal cakewalk. In fact, I'll promise you that it's physically impossible to ever die in this game. In the main walking portion of the game, you take such small damage, and build your hearts up so quickly, that nothing ever really stops you, or even slows you down. The tank battles, also, great fun, but so extrordinarily easy that you could phone them in. You could probably train your pets to win at this game. They could forget everything you taught them, and still come away with hardly a scratch.

That's just rediculous. It seems to me that Rocket Slime is packaged as a kiddie game, with the heavy collecting a tribute to the whole Pokemon fad. But there's so much about the game to like, from the brilliantly animated slimes (100 in total), the large and varied locations, and those terrific tank battles, that it's hard to ever feel rough about anything. It's just the latest in the long steak of quirky, slightly weird, fun games for DS.

According to my save file, I've currently rescued 95 out of the 100 total slimes, and spend 20 hours playing the game. By the time I've completed it, played through all the extras, collected enough enemy animals to obtain gold statues for all, and obtained all the recipes, I'll probably have racked up another 10 hours of game-time. That's not a bad achievement for a handheld game.

This last month, I picked up five DS titles - Cooking Mama, Nintendogs, Lost in Blue, Trace Memory, and Rocket Slime. Aside from the occasional bout with Cooking Mama, Rocket Slime has been permanently lodged in the machine. Heck, I finally found a copy of the rare Trauma Center, but what would be the point of buying it now? When would I find the time to even bother with it? Just give me my Rocket Slime and my Terrence McKenna podcasts, thank you very much.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mii Characters #4

Uh, yeah. I think this is the punk rock version of those trolls. Or maybe the alien character from M.U.L.E.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the crazy, mutated Mii characters pop up once Nintendo's Wii launches. This really is more fun than it deserves to be, and I'm confident that it will catch on. Who wouldn't love this little guy?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More Fun with Mii Characters

Here are a couple more Mii characters I came up with while listening to Randi Rhodes today (and screaming obscenities at morally bankrupt Republicans, but that's another story). I'm hopeful that Nintendo's actual Mii creator will be as impressive as this. If anything, I'd like even more control over how my characters will look.

Obviously, Nintendo wouldn't want things like uploading photos or jpegs to add to your Mii, since there's the risk of snarky kids posting something offensive.

One additional feature I would like - and this is really just dreaming, so don't take it as anything remotely newsworthy - would be the ability to record a short voice sample for your Mii character. I'd just like to have this guy with the big head shout out, "Froyn-layvin!!"

I suspect this little feature - almost a throwaway, really - will prove very popular with people. It's going to add to the Wii's immediate social appeal. Also, if you didn't know, Nintendo intends for your characters to mingle around, into others' waiting rooms on their consoles, and in the games themselves. The table tennis game on Wii Play is an excellent example of this. Ideally, user interfaces on the internet will evolve into something more iconic and intuitive, as we move away from keyboards, mice, and joypads, and into the immersive age of holodecks and "Minority Report."

It's kinda weird when you contemplate the Holographic Paradigm, which suggests that the entire world (and the whole universe) is really a giant hologram. Cue the Twilight Zone music!

If this feature really does become popular, expect Nintendo to introduce new features and more customization options over their Wii Connect feature.

Create Your Own Mii Character

The folks at Joystiq have posted this super-fun Flash version of Nintendo's Mii channel. The Mii channel enables you to create your own avatar which will be used in games like Wii Sports and Wii Play. This flash version was created by the same guy who makes Joystiq's t-shirts, so we're always glad for his generosity.

As you can see, I played around a little with Flash Mii and came up with this great little mutant creation. Isn't this really the whole point to create-a-character? You should have seen the basketball players I created for NBA 2K. Oh, please, please, let me create my own Joker on the real Wii.

Give this little program a try for yourselves and see what you think. It's as accurate a copy of the original as currently possible.

Flash Mii Character Creator

Monday, October 02, 2006

Classic Videogame Illustrations #3

Seriously, how can you not dig a game like this? This is Square-Enix's new Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for Nintendo DS. It has jellybean tank battles. What more do you want?

Seriously, you should check out Rocket Slime. It's a great little game, just weird enough to fit in with all the other weird DS titles.