Tag Archives: nes

Dentist Acquires Treasure Trove Of Rare Retro Games For $1.02 Million

A dentist named Eric Naierman sunk a cool $1.02 million on some first-edition, sticker-sealed games in September, the Washington Post reported today. It was one of the biggest-money sales in gaming history.

Naierman picked up about 40 factory-sealed Nintendo games in the million-dollar haul, all of which were assembled by three collectors who took 52 combined years to amass them. In addition to the large size of the purchase, many of the games are believed to be the only copies in existence, or one of a few copies. The games included 1986’s Mario Bros. arcade version and the only known copies of 1985’s Golf, 1986’s Balloon Fight and 1986’s Gumshoe. According to the Post, “some experts consider it to be one of the foremost collections in the world, both in terms of overall value and rarity.”

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Naierman used to collect baseball cards, writes the Post, which added, “It took far too much money, he said, to buy a single card, and he was looking to form a collection that could rank as one of the best in the world.” Naierman made the purchase with the help of a collector group that, in a creative twist, calls themselves the Video Game Club.

Kotaku has previously reported on how deep-pocketed collectors are fueling a retro games gold rush. You can read the full Washington Post story here. Meanwhile, I’m going to be pretty skeptical the next time my dentist says it’s time for some pricey procedure…

[Update—1:45 ET]: Kotaku has updated the story to reflect that the sellers took a combined 52 years to collect the items.

[Correction—2:24 ET]: The Washington Post writer reached out to clarify that the three collectors were not from Denver, as we previously stated. Rather, Naierman went to Denver to see the games graded by a Denver-based company. We’ve updated the article accordingly.

Source: Kotaku.com

Incredibly Rare 1980s Konami Game Found, Uploaded

Total RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.  

Of all the games ever made for the Famicom/NES, few are as rare as those produced for Konami’s QTa adapter, a special accessory that allowed Nintendo’s consoles to play cartridges made as part of a partnership between the publisher and Japanese media giant NHK.

Only a handful of games were made, including an educational series made for schoolkids, and another was for employees of an oil company. The idea was that learning could be dressed up as fun by creating a very elaborate video game setting.

The QTa games are rare because you need both a game and an adaptor to use them, and both (the adaptor especially) are pretty hard to come by, seeing as they were never made commercially available to the public.

These games were so rare that last week you could see almost nothing about them online. No videos, no walkthroughs, not even scans of their manuals. Now, though, we’ve got not just all of that, but playable copies of many of the games as well, thanks to the efforts of Russian Geek, who with help from his Patreon subscribers was able to purchase and import both an adapter for the games and one the cartridges—an entry in the Space School series—itself.

He details his discovery (and the process involved in getting it playable on emulators) in this video below, while also giving us a look at the game in action (it’s in Russian, but you can enable proper English subtitles).

What’s especially cool is that Russian Geek’s purchase of an adapter allowed some other entries in the Space School series which had been previously dumped but were never playable to now be compatible with emulators as well.

If you just want to see video footage of Space School in action—along with its very good soundtrack—here’s a video Frank Cifaldi put together:

Source: Kotaku.com

Deep-Pocketed Collectors Are Fueling A Retro Game Gold Rush

Joshua Entin holds high-grade copies of the NES games Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and Metroid.
Photo: Courtesy Joshua Entin

Danielle Smith has spent half a million dollars on rare video games, most of it in the last nine months. And she’s just getting started.

“I really just want the best of the best,” said Smith, 35.

That half a million bucks has only bought her around 200 games. Last week, she spent $2,650 on a sealed copy of Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo. Smith, a comic dealer from Florida, is just one of many deep-pocketed collectors who have only recently started splashing out in earnest on games.

“Comic book people and art people are coming in, and we want rare games that are hard to find,” she said.

Even longtime video game collectors like myself have been stunned at the news as of late. Games that just a few years ago might have only sold for a few thousand dollars are quickly exploding into five- and six-figure valuations. First, there was the sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. that sold on eBay for $30,000. This year, an earlier print of the game sold for $100,150. And it’s not just the first Super Mario that’s powered up in price. By now you’ve probably heard the story of the sealed copy of the NES classic Kid Icarus that sold for over $9,000. Sales of sealed games are shattering records left and right—and if you want to know why, just follow the money.

Numerous sources speaking to Kotaku for this story have all said the same thing: The past two years have seen an influx of new money coming in to the classic game collecting scene, primarily high-end collecting experts from other areas of interest like comic books, Magic cards, and coins. They see video games as the next big thing. Like a mint-condition Action Comics issue 1 might be the ultimate trophy of nostalgia for the superhero age of the mid-20th century, so too might a sealed Mario be the perfect bottling of the pop-culture moment of the 1980s.

And these new collectors are ready to spend to get their hands on the best, rarest, mintiest copies, because they’ve seen what happened in their own collecting fields when prices started to rise.

“I truly believe that we are on the brink of something really epic and incredible happening,” said Smith, who says she’s recently been selling off rare comics to fund more video game buys.

Thus far, the world of classic video game collecting has been mostly driven by avid gamers seeking complete sets of games for a certain platform. That’s what caused Stadium Events, an unremarkable and largely forgotten exercise game from the 1980s, to become for a time the most desired, rarest Nintendo Entertainment System game. You couldn’t complete your set without it, so up went the price, even though by itself it held almost no nostalgic appeal.

“You show Stadium Events to someone on the street, they’re not going to know what the hell you’re talking about. But you show anyone Mario and immediately they can sing you the jingle from the first level,” says Deniz Kahn, the president of Wata Games, a company that authenticates and assesses collectible video games.

That’s what Danielle Smith, and others like her, want. They want something that matches their comic collections: a small batch of games representing key moments in gaming, in the best condition possible. A “sticker-sealed” early copy of Super Mario, a sealed Metroid, a first-print Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Although she’s been collecting comics for 15 years, Smith’s personal collection only numbers around 90 books that, even encased in their protective plastic slabs, fit into three small boxes. But those boxes contain an Action Comics issue 1, the first appearance of Superman, that Smith estimates to be worth about $750,000. She’s also got a Detective Comics 27, the first appearance of Batman.

These books are extremely rare and valuable in any condition. But Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and Punch-Out are some of the most common NES games out there. In this case, the condition drives the value. A loose copy of Metroid with no box is a five-dollar game. But a mint, sealed, first-print copy is so difficult to find that its price would be more like five figures.

“Someone said, you know, there’s a lot of copies of that game, so you don’t want to buy more than one copy,” Smith said a collector told her at one point about Punch-Out. “And they’re like, there’s 50 sealed copies. And my mind was kind of like, what the hell? Like, that’s Action 1 rarity.”

Danielle Smith with her collection of Action Comics, including the first appearance of Superman..
Photo: Nerdy Girl Comics

Joshua Entin, 43, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, is another longtime Golden Age comic collector who’s jumped into the deep end of the pool with video game collecting over the last two years. He got the collecting bug from his dad, who would take Josh along as he scoured stores for old issues of EC Comics back in the pre-eBay days. Today, the younger Entin’s comic collection includes many books valued in the five-figure range, and in the last two years he’s spent about $75,000 buying up about 200 NES games: a sealed Zelda, a sealed Mario, etc.

Entin first saw the appeal of collecting games when he saw a game that had been authenticated and graded by Deniz Kahn’s company Wata Games, which is to the video game world what the Certified Guaranty Company, better known by its acronym CGC, is for comics. Its panel of experts assesses collectible games, assigns them a numerical condition rating, and seals them in an attractive plastic display case.

“I did see one of their games in a prototype case and I was blown away by it,” Entin said. “It was sealed, it was nostalgic, I thought it presented incredibly well.” That’s when Entin knew he wanted some of these games on his shelf. “A switch went off, and I said to myself, I have to get into this, this is awesome.”

The high-profile emergence of Wata Games onto the scene last year seems to have been the inflection point that caused many comic collectors to get interested in games. A similar service called Video Game Authority has been operating for over a decade, but Wata seems to be attracting new collectors in a way that VGA has not. Wata also shrewdly aligned itself with Heritage Auctions, the massive auction house that specializes in pop culture memorabilia. Heritage began putting Wata-certified games into its listings and thus created more awareness of the trend.

“They’ve made it easier for comic people because they use a similar grading scale,” said Smith. “It makes the crossover easier. Because a 9.4 is a 9.4, a 9.2 is a 9.2, and it’s easier for us to correlate that.”

NES games graded by Wata.
Photo: Courtesy Joshua Entin

This was all by design, said Kahn. “The closest parallel between video games and any other collectible industry that’s matured is, without a doubt, comics,” he said.

“Comics transcend just the books into the Marvel Universe, and the same thing with video games today,” he said. “In all three major Universal parks, we’re going to have a Nintendo-themed park. We’re now starting to see, between the Pikachu and the Sonic movie, that they’re making their foray into movies. It’s just something that’s recognizable, whether it’s the characters or the medium itself.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised that the next big thing [is] something like a Metroid movie or a Zelda movie,” said Entin, in the way that the Superman or Batman films raised the cultural awareness of the original comics. “Once that happens I think it’s going to take a lot of these to another level.”

Kahn sees the 8-bit NES era of the mid-1980s as the parallel to the “Golden Age” of comics, the days of Superman and Batman, characters that have survived for nearly a century. There were comic books before Superman, and those early “Platinum Age” books are much rarer than even Action Comics issue 1—but practically nobody’s interested in them.

So too does video games have its “Platinum Age”—the era of Atari. “Extremely rare, but not necessarily very desirable,” Kahn said. “Some of the rarest games don’t even command close to the same premium as NES.”

“I can certainly tell you I’m not alone in this newfound endeavor,” said Entin. “I’m certainly nowhere near as invested financially as many comic book colleagues of mine, and hobbyists that have come into this in the last year. There are some that I know have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of games” in the last year, he said. He gets offers from other collectors looking to buy his games from him “every day.”

Since they got into collecting, Entin and Smith have both discovered a passion for all the little details, the variations of the games that let you tell if a particular copy of Super Mario Bros. is a highly-valued first edition, or a comparatively less desirable later version. On Mario, you’re looking for the top flap of the cardboard box to be sealed with a small round sticker with the Nintendo logo on it, and that sticker should have a matte finish, not glossy. For Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, you need to look at the bullet-pointed list of features on the front cover. If the bullets are colored white, that’s a first print.

Most longtime game collectors aren’t so obsessive about these details. In general, once a collector got a Kid Icarus, any Kid Icarus, the gap in their set was complete and they’d move on to the next, more obscure, game. When the first stories about the Kid Icarus began to hit the news, before the auction went live, many posts in game collecting forums outright scoffed at the idea that the game could reach a price of $10,000.

There were always a few veteran collectors who had long obsessed over print runs and variations, but they mostly shared their knowledge with each other, buried in pages on pages of scattershot forum posts on enthusiast message boards.

The “Bros.” appears to Mario’s left, overlapping his hand, on a first edition Super Mario Bros. 3.
Photo: Wata Games

“There wasn’t a lot of education available for video games,” Danielle Smith said. She attended a recent classic gaming convention, Too Many Games, in Philadelphia earlier this year, and it was like she was speaking a different language. “I was surprised at how little knowledge some dealers, that have been doing this for—and I don’t want to say this in a negative way, so please don’t think I am—but they had no idea that, like, a ‘Left Bro’ Super Mario 3 was a first print.” (The first run of boxes for Super Mario Bros. 3 put the “Bros.” in the logo to Mario’s left side, which was changed by the second printing.)

“I was a little mind-blown by that because I’m like, this is your job,” she said. “I think that’s also why they’ve been so undervalued for so long.”

Smith, under the name Nerdy Girl Comics, is one of those few remaining comic vendors that still sets up shop at San Diego Comic-Con. As you might imagine, she doesn’t exactly vend boxes full of half-priced graphic novels. She’s got a glass case full of extremely rare books, all CGC-graded and encased in plastic. This year, she topped off the case with some Wata-graded games.

“I put prices on them, but they weren’t really for sale,” she said of the games. “It was more to draw attention and just have conversations. At first it was astounding to me, how many people came to my booth and were more excited about video games than comic books.” Even at the “not really for sale” very high prices that Smith put on her games, she actually sold one. “A longtime comic book buyer of mine ended up buying a Punch-Out from me,” she said. “He remembered playing that game when he was younger, and he was a boxer.”

“That’s what’s going to happen more and more,” she said. “They come into their mid-30s and maybe early 40s, and they have established careers, and this becomes a grail for them.”

Rare video games share the space with rare comics at Danielle Smith’s San Diego Comic-Con booth.
Photo: Nerdy Girl Comics

Kahn agrees. “For every speculator that comes in from comics, I think there’s at least two guys from comics that are coming in simply because they play these games too. They love it. They’re collectors at heart. And they see something new and exciting that they want to get involved with.”

That doesn’t mean the field is free of blatant speculation. “One thing that a lot of the people that are coming in from comics are doing, that I don’t do,” said Joshua Entin, is “buying every copy of, like, every…sealed Super Mario Bros. 11th or 12th print, whatever it is, that they can get their hands on.” Kahn, too, said he’s seen people buying up multiple copies of games with popular characters.

As the prices rise on first-print games, even some veteran collectors might find that, unbeknownst to them, they have a $10,000 game sitting on their shelf stuck in among their finds from the dollar bin. Some of them might decide it’s time to cash out. If this is all a temporary bubble, they’re right to get paid while the getting is good. But what if it’s not?

“The exact same thing happened in every mature collectible industry,” Kahn said. “Coins, comics, baseball cards. People for decades were like, the prices are crazy, I’m selling out, I can’t handle this anymore. And fast-forward 20 years and they’re like, what the hell was I thinking?”

“That’s why I think a lot of these guys coming over from comics and coins are seeing this and willing to buy when these guys are selling, even if it’s ‘over market,’” he said. “I think ultimately the market’s going in an upward trajectory, but you’re going to have your dips here and there because there is a lot of speculation.”

It’s anyone’s guess whether this moment in classic video game collecting will be looked back on as a flash-in-the-pan speculation bubble or the moment when everything changed for good. But it’s no small thing that many seasoned collectors are betting serious money on the upward trend continuing.

“I compare this to the honeymoon phase in a new relationship,” said Smith. “Everything is still brand new and exciting.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Speedrunner Beats His Punch-Out!! World Record With New King Hippo Trick

Screenshot: Joseph Harris (YouTube)

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the NES hasn’t had a new speedrunning world record in over a year. The last one recorded was set in April 2018 by Summoningsalt with a time of 15 minutes and 10.5 seconds. But over the weekend, Summoningsalt returned, shaving a fraction of a second off his previous record. He was able to do that thanks to a new strategy for manipulating the fight against King Hippo in order to expose his weakness as early as possible.

King Hippo is impervious to every attack except when he opens his mouth, at which point he grabs his shorts to keep them from falling down and leaves his himself defenseless. However, there’s generally no pattern for when he’ll do so. He might open his mouth early in the round or continue to throw jabs, an outcome that can sink even the most expeditious speedrun attempts. On top of that, he needs to do it at least three times for players to KO him. But thanks to new insight into the game’s internal workings, it’s now possible to greatly increase the likelihood of King Hippo opening his mouth on all three of his first punches.

In a Google document released on July 7, Punch-Out!! speedrunner Lucandor158 and his brother, Zoxsox, detailed their research into how the game’s internal memory affects when King Hippo will open his mouth. “RNG in MTPO is based off the memory address 0018 in RAM,” they wrote, referring to how the game mathematically decides which move an opponent will use. “This value changes every frame based on 2 other memory locations: 0019 and 001E.”

The value in 0019 is determined by players’ cumulative controller inputs during a playthrough, looping every time that value surpasses 255. 001E simply keeps count of the number of frames that have occurred. As a result, it’s possible to influence the values that appear in 0018, and thus whether King Hippo opens his mouth when the fight starts.

“When hippo decides whether or not to open his mouth, he looks at the 3 rightmost bits of 0018. If these bits are 001, 011, or 110, he will open his mouth,” wrote the brothers. “Any other combination will result in no open.” While the math going on behind the scenes can get a bit complicated, the strategy itself is more straightforward in practice.

“First punch involves starting the fight in the correct 8-frame window, which isn’t too hard to do—I probably get this part correctly 90-95 percent of the time,” Summoningsalt told Kotaku in an email. “In order to get the third punch to always be an open, the frames you hit the first two punches on must add up to either 3 or 4.” He added that it’s still hard since there are no visual cues to help with counting frames, but after practicing, he’s been able to create the conditions for King Hippo to open his mouth a third time consecutively about 75 percent of the time.

That’s what happened during his attempt over the weekend, with the King Hippo fight taking almost two seconds less time to complete than normal. When combined with some other short time losses earlier in the run, he was able to secure his new world record of 15 minutes and 10.11 seconds.

Lucandor158 and Zoxsox speculate that this is only the beginning of a new era in Punch-Out!! speedrunning. In the past, world records like Summoningsalt’s have leaned heavily on skill and experience, but the brothers believe the same RNG manipulation could potentially be applied to other fights. It’s even conceivable that the entire game could be reverse engineered in this way to reveal the perfect route through it, with every bob, weave, and punch planned out ahead of time. Not bad for a 35-year-old NES game.

Source: Kotaku.com

Fan Makes NES John Wick Game And It’s Really Hard

Keanu Reeves’ “John Wick” character appeared in Fortnite earlier this year, and has a strategy game called John Wick Hex coming sometime in the future. But if you don’t feel like waiting, there’s now a short NES homage to the would-be-retired hitman you can play for free.

Spotted by PC Gamer, the short game, titled simply John Wick, was created by developer MuriloDev and uploaded to itch.io. It recreates the most recent film in the series as the sort of licensed tie-in game we might have seen during the 8-bit era. It controls like an 80s side-scrolling shooter and mercilessly channels the difficulty of games from that era.

As Wick, you can jump, shoot, and duck, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, guys with guns and swords run at you while snipers take aim from afar. Your health is limited to a small bar reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden, and once it’s depleted, it’s game over. No extra lives. No continues. And certainly no miraculously stumbling back to life after getting shot up and beat-the-shit-out-of like in the movies.

But while it is incredibly hard, the game’s not impossible. Each time I died, I learned a little bit more about the starting level and had eventually memorized enough to get to the end of it, if not actually beat it. Brute-forcing my way through games isn’t my preferred way to play, but it did make me feel slightly more like the battered and bruised hero from the movies.

John Wick is only a few stages long, but it’s as good a case as any for other popular action movies to get their own NES-inspired adaptations. Its music and art are particularly on the mark, and their original creator, Danilo Dias, made the assets free for others to use as well in case they want to go ahead and make the complete game we all deserve.

Correction: an earlier version of this article wrongly attributed the creation of the game’s assets to MuriloDev. They were actually originally created by Danilo Dias.

Source: Kotaku.com

Switch’s NES Games Get A Rewind Feature This Month

Nintendo’s growing collection of 8-bit NES games available through its Switch Online service are going to get a popular feature that’s been seen in other retro collections: Rewind.

Screw up in Super Mario Bros. and die on the first Goomba? Redemption is just a button press away. Hold down the ZL and ZR buttons and you’ll be able to scroll back through a timeline of snapshots of your gameplay and pick where you want to resume from. Now you don’t have to save-scum your way through StarTropics any more. Lucky you.

Rewind will be added to the Switch Online NES app on July 17, the same day that two more games will be added: Donkey Kong 3 and Wrecking Crew. These are also the only two games Japan is getting this month. Still no word on the thing we actually want, which is Super NES games. Sorry.

Source: Kotaku.com

Here’s What The Unreleased Terminator NES Game Looked Like

In 1989, Japanese developer/publisher Sunsoft revealed The Terminator, an NES game based on the hit 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger film. One year later, after Sunsoft lost the movie rights, the game was modified and released as generic sci-fi platformer Journey to Silius. Video game history and preservation site Gaming Alexandria has unearthed Sunsoft’s 30-year-old promo reel featuring the only surviving footage of the originally planned game.

Back in 1989, when The Terminator made its debut at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were no USB sticks to fill with screenshots and trailers. Members of the press couldn’t log into a website to download information, as there were no websites. Many publishers made VHS tapes of their promo videos, which I imagine were really fun to lug home after trade shows.

Gaming Alexandria writer Stefan Gancer was sent a tape containing Sunsoft’s promos from WCES 1989, with The Terminator front and center. It’s a mixture of footage from the then five-year-old film and what looks like cutscenes from the game. The announcer calls it “the very first home video game to feature movie footage and interactive graphics technology” and “the most amazingly lifelike home video game you’ve ever seen.” By today’s standards it might not look like much, but 30 years ago what little of the game is shown is pretty impressive.

According to Creative Licensing Corporation founder Rand Marlis, speaking to Gaming Alexandria about The Terminator, the game didn’t lose its license for quality reasons, but because it didn’t follow the plot of the film. Instead of taking place in the “modern day” and showcasing Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor’s fight against a mechanical assassin sent from the future, the game was set in the future, with artificial intelligence Skynet having taken over the world with its army of robots.

Stuck with a nearly finished video game for a movie it had no license for, Sunsoft retooled The Terminator into a generic sci-fi platformer. Journey to Silus, known as Rough World in Japan, is a basic run-and-gun platformer with an outstanding soundtrack from Japanese composer Naoki Kodaka.

Via World of Longplays

The Terminator eventually got an NES game, a forgettable 1992 platformer developed by Radical Entertainment. It has punishingly bad controls, horrible music, and confusing level design. But hey, it did follow the plot of the film, if loosely.

Hit up Gaming Alexandria for more background and promotional material on the NES Terminator game that should have been, including one of the greatest video game concept sketches I have ever seen.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Classic JRPG About Two Scientists Saving The World

A mix of The Legend of Zelda and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Crystalis was an incredible action RPG for the NES whose surprisingly complex story helped elevate it above many of its peers. It’s also one of the games I most fondly recall from my childhood, so re-playing it on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection brought back lots of good memories.

One Hope

Crystalis is probably one of the most brightly colored postapocalyptic games ever made. The sprites teem with a vibrancy reflective of a society that has tried to rebuild after destroying itself in a great nuclear war. Your main character, Simea, is woken from a cryogenic sleep to fight against a brewing evil, the Draygonian Empire.

I love that the main character is a scientist that harnesses the elemental powers to fight against superstition and war. He travels the world to try and protect its people against Draygon, the emperor wants to use the powers of a superweaponized tower to subjugate everyone. There’s an eclectic cast of NPCs you meet along the way that range from eccentric to downright selfish, and are memorable for their honesty. “Wise men… who cares. Let’s party!” one indifferent NPC suggests despite the calamity around them. While another annoyed NPC barks after you wake him, “A person like you should be eaten by zombies.”

The gameplay is an evolution of the original Zelda, especially when it comes to the movement of the main hero. Simea can move in all eight directions and he’s also faster and more agile than Link was in the original Zelda. Equipping the rabbit boots lets Simea jump all over and a suite of spells adds a new dimension of complexity to the combat. Simea has a max of sixteen levels he can gain, but there are enemies that can’t be hurt until you reach a minimum level threshold. This threw me off when I played it as a kid and couldn’t defeat one of the the Draygonian Empire’s“Finest Four,” Mado, because I wasn’t at the minimum level required to damage him. “Just level up your characters,” the friend I borrowed Crystalis from informed me.

Simea can wield four unique swords that can be powered up based on the element from which they derive their power. Different enemies are vulnerable to different elemental powers, which is a concept that’s cool in theory. Unfortunately, it’s a bit cumbersome in practice because it forces you to switch into the menu each time you need to swap the weapons to beat an enemy that is impervious to the elemental sword you’re currently carrying. Still, the combination of spells, attacks, jumping, and even basic platforming made the action feel fast paced and exhilarating. Simea could use paralysis on a foe and go in for an attack, or unleash a level 3 lightning attack from the thunder sword to wipe out most enemies on screen.

Going hand in hand with the combat is some of the best music on the Nintendo. The overworld theme is one of my favorites and I’d argue it’s even better than the Zelda overworld theme.

Tower In The Sky

Crystalis draws thematic influence from the works of Hayao Miyazaki, especially Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The giant insect boss in the Poison Forest looks similar to the Ohmu in Nausicaa, and of course the big tower at the heart of Crystalis is reminiscent of Laputa. But the story diverges into a darker direction, as signified by the original Japanese title, God Slayer.

Leaf is your standard JRPG opening town, providing the hero with a sword, money, and initial objectives. But further into the game, you learn that everyone there has been taken prisoner by the Draygonian Empire. Once you track the townspeople down, they’ve been enslaved to mine for a special metal. It was a cruel shock to see them locked up and soldiers making comments like, “Are those worthless villagers working well?” and “of course it’s difficult to complain when you’re not allowed… We must make them work harder.” The ironic part is that even after Simea rescues them, some of the NPCs are cheeky, stating, “So you saved us, big deal.”

Later on, you find the central resistance village, Shyron, that is training people to fight against the Draygonian Empire. They’re led by the four wise sages, Zebu, Tornel, Asina, and Kensu. But while Simea is away, the Draygonian army attacks using the special armor built from the metal the people of Leaf had mined. Simea rushes back to town, only to see almost everyone is dead, including Stom, who was the pupil of one of the wisemen. As Stom dies, he tells you, “Everyone killed… watch out for Mado… He is more treacherous than the other three.”

There’s a touching moment later where you can transform into Stom and meet his bunny friend, Deo. Deo mistakes the main character for his old friend. When Mesia informs the bunny of Stom’s fate, he gets outraged and yells, “That’s a lie! He couldn’t be dead.” But he comes to terms with it and demands rabbit vengeance.

Little story touches like that made me feel real anger at the Draygonian Empire. I beat Mado in my first encounter, but it’s the second encounter that thwarted me as a kid thanks to the level limitation I mentioned earlier. It was only many years later when I was able to beat Mado properly. I felt so much satisfaction that I was finally able to fulfill the bunny’s request for vengeance.

There’s so many other memorable moments in Crystalis, like tracking down the real queen in the water kingdom of Portoa who’s masquerading as a fortune teller; finding a wounded dolphin, healing him, then riding him in the Angry Sea; and finally defeating the Finest Four. The telepathy spell acts almost like a codec, where you can chat with four of the characters from the game, get story hints, and even irritated replies brushing you off. With the teleport spell, you could return to older towns and NPCs would update their dialogue based on actions that had taken place during your adventure. My favorite spell of all allowed Simea to fly and made platforming in levels much easier since you could just soar past the pits with moving blocks.

Even after the defeat of the Draygonian Empire, Simea and his partner, Messia, have to climb the Flying Tower. There you learn the truth about Crystalis. The hero, along with his partner, Messina, are arbiters acting as a judge on humanity: “You both were part of a team of scientists who created this tower. As the most critical link, you were preserved to witness our future race; to judge if there’s hope for humanity… When the tower began operating, your life systems were engaged and you both were awakened.” As for Azteca, the leader of the four sages, “He was an android created by us, and programmed to lead the people in a positive direction. We can only hope will succeed. We used all of our resources to create him. If he fails then it will be up to you to decide their fate.”

Unfortunately, as evidenced by the rise of the Draygonian Empire, Azteca failed, and death and destruction are present almost every step of their journey

In the end, the DYNA system controlling the Tower has to be stopped since it has the power to destroy humanity. It’s not a difficult fight by any means with the Crystalis equipped. The ultimate judgment, which leads to the destruction of the air castle, is an unfortunate indictment of humanity. People can’t be trusted with this kind of power. Even their artificially supplied guidance through the use of an android was futile. As long as the tower exists, more people will rise up to try to exploit its power for their gain. The two scientists work together to destroy their weapon and rescue humanity again.

Crystalis has flaws, but makes up for it with bold strides in its narrative and gameplay. It’s not so much about slaying gods, though, as it is dealing with humanity and its evils. The android they created helped build the sword needed to destroy the tower, and knowledge, together with some fancy swordplay, paved the way to salvation. At least, that’s the hope…

Source: Kotaku.com

Hoth in Video Games: A Thirty-Year Battle

Let’s take a look at video games’ favorite scene from the Star Wars series: the battle of Hoth. Developers have been trying for over 30 years to get it right.

Which is your favorite?

(This post was originally published in May 2010. We’re bumping it today in celebration of Star Wars Day.)

1982: The Atari 2600 presents The Empire Strikes Back with the abstract-painting level of technology gamers were stuck with back then.


1985: Atari’s follow-up to the 1983 Star Wars Arcade Game, The Empire Strikes Back, used vector graphics to recreate the epic battle.


1992: The Empire Strikes Back for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Hoth’s looking good here. Impressive snow-speeder turning radius


1993: What a difference a year makes. Let’s take it to the Super Nintendo for some Super Empire Strikes Back. This is, I believe, the least-authentic Hoth level we’ve seen in a game. Or were there actually floating hearts in the movie and I missed them? (Warning: NSFW language in this clip.)


1993: This year also saw the release of Star Wars: Rebel Assault for the PC, Sega CD, Mac, and 3DO, the first CD-only game published by LucasArts, with one of the best looking on-rails Hoth battles to date.


1996: Here we see Snow Speeders battling AT-ATs in one of the first Nintendo 64 games, Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire. Note the verrry simple radar. But I remember this level blowing my mind. It was like I was playing the movie!


1997: And then there was Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi, a fighting game that featured a Hoth stage.


1998: Sega’s Star Wars Trilogy Arcade marks Hoth’s return to the arcade, keeping the action on rails but filling in the wire frames.


1999: Back to the Nintendo 64, three years later. This is Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. The AT-ATs look better. The radar is way better. And we’ve got some voice acting.


2000: Luxoflux of Vigilante 8 fame developed Star Wars: Demolition, a vehicular combat game that featured the Hoth battle as a backdrop to fights between “vehicles” like Boba Fett and the Rancor.


2001: New console. Nintendo GameCube. But same development studio as the previous one, the now-defunct Factor 5. This is video game Hoth and this is a leap up.


2001: And who can forget the real-time strategy take on Hoth from Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds?


2003: Factor 5 does Hoth again, and does it with Luke on foot and on Tauntaun. Madness.


2004: First Star Wars Battlefront. Hoth on foot. On Xbox, PS2, PC


2006: But what if Hoth was a Lego playland? What if the battle there was just a tad more cheerful? Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy answers those questions.


2006: In the same year, we had Star Wars Battlefront II doing Hoth on foot.


2008: The Battle of Echo Base went massively multiplayer as an instance in Sony Online Entertainment’s Star Wars Galaxies.


2009: The Hoth expansion for Star Wars: Force Unleashed takes the battle to a more personal level.


2015: Disney Infinity’s Battle of Hoth surprisingly features one of the better control methods yet seen for keeping your speeder steady while flying around a walker’s legs.


2015: EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront brings us the most “realistic” version of Hoth yet.

Source: Kotaku.com

Speedrunner Smashes A Computer-Assisted Super Mario Bros. Record By A Single Frame

Screenshot: Maru (YouTube)

A tool-assisted Super Mario Bros. speedrun category that had seen no significant improvements for years may be getting a second wind after a single-frame improvement submitted by runner Maru370.

Super Mario Bros. speedrunning is a highly popular activity, and today has hit a point where every significant improvement made is down to a matter of milliseconds. The current record for an RTA, or “real-time attack” speedrun performed by an actual human, is 4 minutes, 55 seconds, and the first- and second-place runners are separated by only a couple hundred milliseconds.

If it’s that tight for runs done with human hands, you can see how a single frame could make a difference in a TAS, or tool-assisted speedrun, in which a sequence of programmed inputs is used to get extremely precise results, allowing for tricks that might be too fast, precise, or otherwise not worth the risk of failing for a human runner.

Maru370 has submitted a new record for the “tool-assisted speedrun with real-time-attack rules.” That means that the speedrunner can’t use anything in the run that a human wouldn’t theoretically be able to do on an NES controller. In the case of Super Mario Bros., the run can’t use a trick in which the left and right inputs are pressed at the same time to increase Mario’s movement speed. Since the run uses these rules, one could consider it a theoretical best time for regular RTA runs, meaning the potential best time in the category has improved by just that much. Of course, that doesn’t make it any more likely that a player will perform the run perfectly enough to reach that time.

What keeps these strictly timed runs close is a mixture of years of optimization and what’s known as the “21-frame rule.” There are essentially set intervals which affect the loading time upon completing a level. As the TASVideos website explains it, “every time the screen blacks out (entering a new level), the game delays for a varying amount of time. The delay is actually calculated so that the current playing progress will be rounded up to [the] next 21-frame boundary.”

In other words, any time you finish a Super Mario Bros. level and move on to the next one, there’s a sort of frame timer that must run out the rest of the way before the next level begins. Therefore, it won’t help to shave off one or two frames on most levels, since those frames will just be added in to the screen blackout time before you start the next one. The only exception is the final level of the game, Bowser’s castle, since the speedrun timer stops at the precise moment that Mario touches the axe at the end of the level.

Therefore it was that final level, World 8-4, that Maru focused on. Specifically, he found an improvement in what is known as the “turnaround room,” a section of the level in which Mario needs to double back on his path and go down a pipe that he already passed to continue. “The improvement comes from the turnaround room in 8-4 and stopping on the floor one frame earlier while still being able to scroll the screen far enough for the wrong warp to work,” Maru explained on the game’s Speedrun.com forum. As a result, the theoretical best possible time for these runs has improved by exactly one frame, or 20 milliseconds according to RTA timing. The previous record, held by runner HappyLee, had been in place for at least a few years.

According to Maru, there are also unoptimized frames in other levels, like 1-2 and 4-2. These were left as-is in Maru’s run because they wouldn’t have actually affected the frame rules and therefore wouldn’t have affected the overall timing of the run. It’ll be interesting to see if the new discovery bolsters interest in the category, which still garners plenty of interest and gets a number of new run submissions.

Source: Kotaku.com