Daily Linksplosion: Thursday, October 28, 2010

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Hello, Homebrew: Halo 2600

With the release of Halo Reach, Bungie—the studio that created and developed the series—has officially washed its hands of the Halo franchise for the foreseeable future. Now the baton has been passed to other developers, which has resulted in real anxiety from some circles in terms of the game series’s fate.

Not that this worry is anything new: Halo Wars was, in fact, developed by an outsider—Ensemble Studios—and is generally considered to be a top-notch RTS game. I Love Bees, the ARG by 4orty2wo Entertainment, is so highly regarded that it is arguably better, and certainly more inventive, than the game it was meant to promote. At the 2010 Classic Gaming Expo, however, another non-Bungie Halo game made its debut: Halo 2600.

Halo 2600 was an unexpected product from the people at AtariAge, who had previously promised a surprise homebrew release at what would be the first CGE convention since 2007. Developed by Ed Fries, former vice president of Microsoft’s game publishing wing, the game was borne out of an interest he had taken in programming for the Atari 2600 after reading Nick Monfort and Ian Bogost’s book, Racing the Beam.

“I wasn’t sure what to write, so I created a little Master Chief from Halo and made him run around the screen. Then I created an Elite for him to shoot at,” Fries explains in a post on AtariAge. “At this point it wasn’t my intention to make a full game. I was just screwing around.”

After getting tacit approval from Bungie and Microsoft to go ahead, Fries put together a game quite similar to the seminal Atari title Adventure, and on the first day of CGE, the game was announced, sold, and the ROM, dumped. And perhaps most impressively, the game is also one of the best homebrews to come along for the system!

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The core basics of Bit.trip Core

I really liked Bit.trip: Beat. The combination of retro gaming style, excellent music, underlying narrative, and addictive gameplay put it up among my favorite Wii titles. So imagine my surprise last Monday (editor’s note: Jenn sucks) when I noticed that a sequel, Bit.trip: Core had been released on WiiWare for 600 points!

As its predecessor had done for Breakout-style games, Bit.trip: Core takes the notion of classic, single-screen shooters and spins it off into a new, equally rhythmic direction. Whereas in the first game you were a paddle bouncing pellets to create musical notes, here you are an icon in the center of the screen capable of aiming and firing a beam in four directions, albeit only one at a time. Pellets will appear from all corners of the screen, and you must shoot them before they escape. It sounds deceptively simple, but the game is difficult. Ample reflexes, pattern recognition, and spatial skills –- which block will enter your range of fire first?—are important, but as with Bit.trip: Beat, to truly excel at the game you must lose yourself in it and the music. It’s a zen gaming experience.

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Cactus and VilleK team up for ‘Air Pirates’

Cactus (who, together with Ville Krumlinde, comprises Lo-Fi Minds) just took to his Twitter account with a trailer for Air Pirates, Lo-Fi’s latest collaboration.

It looks heart-palpitatingly awesome:

Air Pirates will debut next month at e4.com.

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Purho’s latest still shrouded in mysteriousness

Two days ago, and without any further explanation, Crayon Physics creator Petri Purho tweet-leaked a screen from his newest project.

Of the screenshot, Offworld’s eagle-eyed proprietor Brandon Boyer noted, ”[Purho’s] ‘creatures’ are all being procedurally generated from a common set of facial and bodily elements.”

As if in confirmation, Petri writes,
otherpetritweet

creaturetest

...followed by…

nextcreaturetest

Now to find out what it is!

Update: Curious, writer Demian Linn did the reasonable thing and emailed Petri with questions about the work-in-progress. Petri didn’t relinquish much, but he did say the game was “probably going to be a SHMUP.”

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New Cactus game!

I know the title is kind of misleading, as there’s always a new Cactus game. Cactus—AKA Jonatan Söderström—is an especially prolific young game designer who demands your attention.

Here’s a sneak peek at his latest:

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Synesthesia in early gaming, NES style

To say the NES’s musical capabilities are famous is an understatement. With tunes like the Super Mario theme and the soundtracks to Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Contra, and dozens of other games, the system’s little sound chip can pump out some incredible music. The NES is practically a founding member of the chiptune musical genre, alongside such luminaries as the Commodore 64 and the Atari 800. Thus when I heard about an oddball, Famicom Disk System-only ‘musical shooter’ entitled Otocky my interest was piqued.

Otocky is the brainchild of Toshio Iwai, known more recently as the developer for Nintendo’s Electroplankton, and was released in 1987 by the ASCII Corporation. You play a weird little orange thing with cartoony eyes, arms, and legs that flies through inconsequential backgrounds populated with even stranger enemies. Your objective is to collect musical notes to fill a meter at the bottom of the screen, at which point the stage will end and you will face off with a giant, foe-spewing musical note. You must then fire off your collected musical notes at the holes in the boss until you’ve used them all. You can collect a bomb power-up, and your normal, boomeranging shot can be tweaked by collecting certain items.

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Games I’ve never played: Shiny naked men in space

Footage from Cho Aniki: Kyuukyoku Muteki Ginga Saikyou Otoko for Sega Saturn

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So.

According to JC at Tiny Cartridge, that game just arrived to the Japanese PlayStation Network as a downloadable.

Now I’m off to buy Cho Aniki (colon Bakuretsu Rantouden) for Super Famicom. For some reason, it’s a 2D fighter instead of a 2D space shmup. Which is fine!

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Digital Download Korner: 10 games for your MacBook

Look, I realize that Mac gaming is, on the whole, an oxymoron, like ‘jumbo shrimp,’ ‘diet cake,’ and ‘libertarian.’ And if you want to play on your Apple laptop, why, you’re even worse off—seemingly relegated to ports, casuals, freebies, and castoffs. Until recently, even Apple admitted you were better off dual-booting into XP.

But you bought a MacBook Pro anyway, knowing full well what you were signing onto. “It’ll be a dedicated workstation,” you told yourself. “I’ll only do work on it; I’ll be careful with disk space and RAM; I’ll spend all the rest of my days trying not to covet PC gaming.” But one morning you woke up and you realized iMovie wasn’t cutting it anymore. I need to download ten games that are totally ideal for my MacBook Pro. That’s what you said. That’s what you sound like.

Fortunately, I was sitting at my word processor when I distinctly heard your cry of despair. And your cry of despair coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Mac, erm, two weeks ago.

What luck, then, that I’ve made this list of ten games! Each one is downloadable, every one, ideal for MacBook gaming. Enjoy!

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Spacewar: It’s just a trick of Velocity

Something I’ve noticed in a few puzzle games that came out last year, such as Strange Attractors 2 and Orbient, is the focus on gravity and velocity. In both games you are completely at the mercy of these two forces of nature, and you can only indirectly interact with objects around you.

Spacewar! In a sense these games, as well as a few other examples, owe a great deal to arguably the first major game, Spacewar. Spacewar was initially released in 1962 by a group of computer hackers at MIT who, upon getting access to the university’s fancy new PDP-1 computer, proceeded to pool their efforts and write one awesome head-to-head game. The premise is simple enough—each player controls a ship and tries to blow up the other guy while utilizing a limited supply of fuel and ammunition.

What makes the game interesting is the role of gravity. The ships are circling a star, and crashing into it will destroy you. The star’s gravity will pull you in or fling you out, depending on how well you can utilize it. Though you do have direct control over your ship, your thruster isn’t good for much more than maneuvering. Firing the rocket long enough to actually move independently of the star will drain your fuel in about 28 seconds. The winner is the person who can keep gravity from becoming an enemy.

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Lead: synesthesia homebrew for the 2600

I cannot wait for Lead to come out.

Granted, it’s already out. You can download the ROM (edit: no, no, download this one) and play it right now in a 2600 emulator like Stella. A warning: it’s tough.

Lead is a music shmup from programmer Simone Serra, designed for the Atari 2600. It boasts unforgiving gameplay and a catchy ‘glitch’ soundtrack.

As for the game’s music mechanics, freelancer/archivist/programming hobbyist Jess Ragan says, “Simone [Serra] has done what Tetsuya Mizuguchi could not: create a ‘synesthetic’ shooter that is not entirely dependent on pretty graphics and a pretentious art direction.” His review of an earlier build of Lead, below:

A little over a week ago, AtariAge announced the winner of the Lead Label Contest. The game will ship—with pretty labels on real Atari carts, as God intended!—this December.

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2D games benefit from HD more than you think

Here’s an interesting aside from Stephen Totilo over at MTV Multiplayer. Totilo writes that he’s taken some flack for having never hopped on the HDTV train—as a matter of fact, he still reviews games in standard def, thank you very much.

So of all the games coming out to the 360 and PS3, which titles are making him rethink his position on HD? Why, the 2D ones, of course.

Specifically, Totilo says, while 3D games still look very nice, 2D offerings like PixelJunk Eden are frustratingly fuzzy, as are the maps in another PSN release, The Last Guy.

Totilo’s point—that it’s the 2D games that suffer most when presented in standard definition—isn’t just interesting, but more pointedly, apt.

I was very recently shocked to see how pretty Grand Theft Auto IV is on a cruddy old monitor. The game itself was crisp and clear, even crystalline. You see, I’d loaned an old computer monitor from 2002 to a friend whose HD CRT is in the repair shop (something inside had melted or exploded, I guess). So he bought some sort of adapter and connected the old monitor to his 360, and at the time I couldn’t help but think GTA4 somehow benefited from the smaller, duller screen. Strange, indeed.

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25 fairly important Famicom games. And a muxtape!

A hearty congratulations to Ray Barnholt, who just completed his latest opus, 25 Sorta Significant Famicom Games.

All told, the series took about a month to write—pretty good, considering Ray put it together in his scant free time. I’ve been following his blogs closely.

Midway through, I asked Ray whether he were going to create an index page for the finished product. “Eventually,” he said. And true to his word, here’s the index of all 25 Famicom write-ups.

Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti banner art

“As a final gift for all of you who kept up,” Ray writes at his official personal work blog, “I put up a Muxtape of Famicom remixes and arrangements, picked from my own collection.”

Orchestral arrangements of NES-era compositions get me a little weepy (and electronica covers get me jazzercising!), so if you ask me, Ray’s Muxtape is the best part of the whole deal. My favorite track is the ukulele cover of the Kid Icarus theme.

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