Thursday, March 30, 2017

8-bit Fridays: The Diaries - March 24, 2017

Well here we are, after several weeks I’m finally getting the chance to write another 8-bit Friday’s entry. It’s been a tough one since the weekends have been hectic for a number of reasons. Here we are though with a proper weekend and a few games played through, even though a new backlog is building all over again. Also, in case you didn’t know this series of articles will be lending their name to my new website. With any luck perhaps it will be up with that in a few weeks.

This Weekends Buys:

Break Out (PS1) - In the past I covered Missile Command, Asteroids, and Galaga: Destination Earth, and in upcoming weeks I will be covering Pong, Frogger, and Space Invaders all of which are Atari reboots for the PS1 following Hasbro Interactive's purchase of Atari in 1998. I’m not sure how many old Atari classics where rebooted for the PS1, but so far the six I have listed plus this week's buy, Break Out seem to be it, if I’m wrong please correct me. I don’t know why I started picking these up, but I just thought it would be interesting to see what they were all like as a point of comparison in game development.

Final Fantasy (NES) - This is the game that started it all. I’ve been trying to hunt this one down CIB for a few years now and have always been bid out of getting it in auctions. So after checking to make sure it wasn’t on the 3DS or Wii U virtual consoles, I finally decided to suck it up and just buy the loose cart.

Carrier Command (PC-DOS) - Carrier Command, much like Warhawk on the Playstations and the recently reviewed Silpheed, is a game with an interesting lineage. I bought this particular version since I have it’s semi-obscure reboot/sequel on XBox 360 Carrier Command: Gaea Mission. If you haven’t heard of either game be sure to look it up it’s a pretty interesting and different gameplay premise.

This Weekends Plays:    

Stinger (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Stinger reminds me a lot of the Fantasy Zone games. It has that same cartooney happy go lucky, yet still a SHMUP feel to it. Basically like in Fantasy Zone you fly an odd looking little spaceship, fight what appears to be food and you get your power ups from acorns of the ground, as well as oranges that enemies drop. It's an odd but imaginative little game. It controls well, and is fairly quick to learn, so no real surprises here. The animation is also extremely cute especially the spaceship getting a halo and going to heaven when you get killed.

Street Fighter II (SNES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - If there is one thing that's pretty clear it's that there are a million Street Fighter games out there on many platforms. This one is pretty par for the course, it looks good, controls well, and it's entertaining.

Silk Worm (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 - A few months back I covered an SNES game called Firepower 2000 a unique and somewhat obscure SHMUP on the SNES. At that time I mentioned it was an OK game, and that it had an NES predecessor Silk Worm. After a few months of looking I finally picked Silk Worm up on eBay for a very good price. Playing it today I can say I'm very impressed, and that it's a far better game than is SNES successor. Silk Worm allows you to play as a Jeep or Heli and transverse the horizontally scrolling SHMUP in the air or on the ground. In the air via the “heli” it reminds me of the old arcade and Vectrex game Scramble, and on the ground in the “Jeep” it reminds me a bit of Moon Patrol. To say the least it's a fantastic game on the NES, and a joy to play.

Destination Earthstar (NES) ⭐️⭐️1/2 - This is one of those NES games I would run into everywhere. So I finally decided to just go ahead and buy it and see what it was all about. To say the least it's a game that requires a bit of patience, since (without instructions) it's a little unclear what you're doing. I found myself traveling slowly between sectors and eventually doing combat with Imperial Shuttle rip offs from Star Wars (Star Wars ripped off in a video game how unusual). Per a few play throughs I watched after playing this it looks like you eventually get to a H-scrolling level, but to be honest I just kind of felt like putting it down in the space screen. Anyway graphics wise this game has the look of a ZX-Spectrum game mixed with NES, it's an odd combination of color pallets graphically. Originality wise I can give it props for combining a space game with an H-scrolling SHMUP, but each of those two elements on their own are too similar to other games like Star Raiders and a lessor R-Type. Control wise it has a lot of weakness in the space portions that makes combat hard.

Front Mission (DS) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 - This one came pretty highly recommended, both in its DS and standard console forms (usually PS). Anyway it's not bad for a Turn-Based game, although you know I prefer RTS’s. Anyway this is a mech franchise from Square-Enix so it's neck deep in dialog and plot, so get use to being annoyed between play with dialog. Overall though it's fun to play, fast to pick up, looks pretty good on the DS, and controls well even occasionally sneaking away from the stylus.

Army Men: RTS (PC-GoG) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️- I have this one on PS2, but as I’ve mentioned before RTS’s and consoles just don’t feel right together. So when a GoG ad for Army Men: RTS caught my eye I was all in. It may not be Command & Conquer, but it is true to the quirky nature of the Army Men franchise, the only thing missing is the plastic army men with it in the box. This one is pretty easy to pick up, and is pretty intuitive to any RTS player control wise. Visually it stays on par with the rest of the Army Men games, and blends with the franchise well although to the newcomer they may look a little dated.     

Special Mentions:

Although I haven’t been able to breeze through a huge portion of games the past few weeks I’ve been able to dedicate some blocks of time to individual games.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The weekend of 3/17 - I have had an on again, off again relationship with the franchise. I bought FF8 on PS1 last year and only played it for a little bit, later I invested into the iOS version of FF7 but found it hard to play on my iPad. When FF15 hit stores back in November of 2016 it had me intrigued,  but considering I had just picked up Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and COD: Infinite Warfare the game got back burnered to my Christmas wishlist but never bought. After getting my PS4 last month I decided to pick this one up, since FF has always been a franchise more closely associated with PlayStation. To say the least although never really getting into Final Fantasy games before, I really liked this one. It also partially guided my decision to buy FF1 on NES this week. I’m not going to get into detail on this or review it since I want to play it a bit more and come back to talking about it. But to say the least it has my attention so far and I look forward to sharing more about it.

Here is a brief play-through I have up on YouTube

No Mans Sky (PS4) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 The Weekend of 3/3 - No Mans Sky has been patiently sitting on my backlog list since the end of September 2016, waiting for me to get a PS4. So when the PS4 arrived and I was able to set it up it’s no surprise NMS made its appearance very quickly. Now I’ve commented on NMS before, and having read about it and watched playthroughs I had a pretty good idea what the game was about. So when playing it the isolation didn’t shock me too much. I will admit that it’s a hard game to form an opinion about since there are a lot of things to like and dislike about the game, however no one can argue that it lacks uniqueness. I think NMS might be another game I review more in depth later.

Unchartered 4: A Thief's End (PS4) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Weekend of 3/3 - This is a underrated but much beloved game on the PS4, and came as the pack-in with my PS4. Of all the games I have on the PS4 it’s the one I have spent the least amount of time on, but that in no way is a reflection on the game itself, since in the limited time I was allowed to play it I was pretty impressed. Again I may touch on this one later.

Hopefully, in upcoming weeks my website will go live, and I will push through my backlog of games. Until next weekend everyone.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

System Saturdays: Am I Joining the Darkside and becoming PC Gamer?

If you were to set the current gaming world against the Star Wars universe console gamers would see themselves as the rebels and Jedi, against the PC gamers Sith and Imperials (as for the arcade game purist I could only suggest another sci-fi franchise, Dune perhaps, “Tell me about the environmental cabinets of your homeworld Maud’Dib!”). After all modern PC gamers do see themselves as a little superior with better systems and graphical capabilities than console gamers. Console gamers on the other hand see themselves the direct descendants of true home gaming, and as those who experience games as they should be played. Of course there is no real clash of light sabers here, since console gamers would rather argue over XBox vs Playstation than go head to head with PC gamers, but none the less the rivalry exist. Over the past few years the phrase “PC Master Race” was jokingly tossed out by console gamers, and the world of PC gamers have adopted the phrase as an endearment by their console brethren.   

So it’s official, on Monday afternoon of last week the large box containing my gaming PC arrived. It was the culmination of several weeks of research on modern systems, and something that had been in household discussions since last summer. The last time I’d looked into gaming systems had to have been around 2002 when I had to buy a simple laptop for grad school and drooled over Alienware’s latest gaming laptops. In those days 100 GB hard drives were considered massive, and having a microprocessor putting out nearly 2 Ghz was extremely high speed. Over the past 15 years the game has changed a little, but many of the old rules remain. There’s a wider variety of microprocessors than ever, although they are still made by the same two manufacturers AMD, and Intel. Graphics cards have also become an absolute must and there’s a huge variety of them as well, yet like microprocessors they’re only manufactured by two makers, AMD again, and NVIDIA. Lastly, as always the more RAM and hard drive space the better. The only differences between now and how it was back in the day, is the use of SSD’s (Solid State Drives) in gaming, and the technique’s of water cooling, and/or overclocking.

If you’ve read my blog before you may remember I mentioned that in the 90’s while the “Console Wars” raged on I was a PC gamer, above and removed from Nintendo’s and Sega’s (and also as I mentioned a few weeks back Atari’s) petty console arguments. Of course I didn’t start out with anything as grandiose as a gaming type computer back then, but rather a low to medium powered student special meant to help me write reports for school, and occasionally play games on. For the most part that old Packard-Bell Legend 126 held it’s own, and I got to experience many great games on it. With that said though games like Strike Commander and Subwar 2050 however, did vex me and made me wish I had something a little more powerful to play them on. Once I turned 16 and got a job I eventually added a sound card and CD-Rom drive, and opened up my systems potential a lot more. Although the RAM and hard drive space would elude me for a bit longer, until I turned 18 and was able to work a little more a get a credit card to help me finally build up the system. From there on I began to have software issues.

After a few years of hardware and software issues I will admit that I missed the simplicity of console play. Being able to plug a game in and just play without booting up, messing with memory allocation, and the other joys of PC gaming in that era, seemed like a more enjoyable way to play games even if the games at that time weren’t as complex and fulfilling. By 1999 I would return to console gaming thanks to the PS1 and a little game called Gran Turismo, but I didn’t completely convert back to console gaming. Thanks to a new PC, and a laptop I would experience The Sims, Command & Conquer: Tiberium Sun, and many other great PC games of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  

When the PS2, and it’s generational little brother the original XBox would arrive on the scene momentum would shift to console games representing the best gaming had to offer. Since then the descendants of the PS2 and XBox have had almost as much power and gameplay capability as PC’s of the same era’s, and many so called AAA titles (i.e. the hottest new titles) appear on all three platforms. In the past few years though PC gaming has began to make an unanticipated revival. Services like Steam, GoG, and Origin have given PC gamers access to game play opportunities that console gamers don’t. In addition to this PC’s are beginning to once again prove to be more powerful than console systems, and upgrading systems is proving to be more user friendly than ever.

For PC gamers though the main argument that PC’s are making a resurgence is in the area of performance. One of the key terms in this debate is FPS, or Frames Per Second, which tends to be higher for PC games, and delivers a smoother and more movie quality like form of game play. Although a lot of console gamers seem to have doubts over the validity of this argument, side by side comparisons do tend to show PC gamers might just be correct. As the combination of multi-core microprocessors, and graphics cards grow ever more powerful the frame rates grow larger and game play smoother and even more real looking.

On top of that PC gamers also point out the upgrade difference of PC’s versus consoles. Their argument is, and rightfully so, that consoles such as an XBox One or PS4 can’t really be easily upgraded and/or modified later on down the road. Modern console users have the options of either getting modifications done professionally and a great cost and risk to the base system, or waiting to buy an upgraded system like the PS4 Pro or the XBox One Scorpio. As to where video cards, RAM chips, hard drives, and microprocessors can be switched out throughout the life of the gaming PC, with relative ease.   

So why did I decide to buy a gaming PC? Although I game more heavily on consoles nowadays, the new and wider variety of game types on PC now is fantastic, as is the access to classic game types such as RTS’s and space flight combat sims. Some of these games do have console versions available, but having been originally designed for PC they can sometimes be limited in game control and features. Game’s like Minecraft for instance have huge features and mods only accessible on the PC. My late Fall time thief Star Trek Online, also has many features available on PC play that couldn’t be ported over to the XBox One and PS4 counterparts. Although I loved STO on the XBox One, watching PC gamers play the same levels with better gameplay features and options did make me a bit jealous. Admittedly though, one of the reasons I wanted a gaming computer was to get Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak which is the newest entry in the 3D RTS Homeworld franchise, and prequel to the first Homeworld game. It’s also a game that requires a fairly powerful PC to operate correctly, and smoothly.

Of course many of my reasons for getting the gaming computer aren't totally self motivated. Last summer when the idea of a gaming PC entered household discussion, it was as a possible birthday present for my eldest son, who wanted a slightly more powerful system to play Minecraft and Space Engineers on. Space Engineers, Minecraft as well as the still fairly new Kerbel Space Program are all great programs for kids of a certain age, and often help bring kids more fully into the STEM and STEAM programs offered by schools to advance science, mathematics, and technology skills. Since first playing Space Engineers last year on my slower office computer, my son has learned a lot about space and physics, and I know on a proper system he can learn so much more from it.

So will getting a gaming PC change me as a gamer? I honestly have to say, No! Perhaps I will see the graphical virtues of the gaming PC in action, and what PC gamers have been talking about this entire time. When it comes to games though there is one thing writing this blog and collecting have taught me and that is that when it comes to gaming every system and game-play method has something to contribute that makes gaming a little better as whole. I've seen console games derived from old PC games, and vise versa. Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2 despite being tremendous hits on the Xbox 360 and One consoles have roots in RTS’s that started out and still mostly inhabit the world of PC gaming. On the other hand many PC gamers can thank consoles for helping to flush out and build up many of the shared AAA franchise titles, especially since the PS2 era. Shared XBox, PlayStation, and PC titles have gotten to be the major productions they are now days thanks  to the massive amount of funding studios have coming in for these titles from all three sources, and that money has been poured into better production quality and game-play. Windows 10 PC’s can also that their XBox cousins for access to the XBox’s controllers which allow many gamers to experience a hybrid of console and PC gaming for better overall game-play.

I will admit that there is a bit of a culture shock with the lighted gaming monster on my desk, and the sudden ability to return to hardcore PC games after years of being away, but I’m ready.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

System Saturdays: Welcome to Generation 9 - An Outsiders View of the Nintendo Switch

Yesterday March 3rd, 2017 Nintendo launched the Switch, a next generation version of its WiiU, but with the portability of a 3DS. I wasnt' lucky enough to get into the pre-order for this system, and feel ever so slightly left out. It’s not a complete downer though, since I heard a podcaster make a good point yesterday that it may be best to just wait and let the early system overcome it’s growing pains. In a way I can see the logic in that since the WiiU had a lot of battery issues with its display system after coming out. At the same time though I can’t but hope to run into a Neon Switch this weekend.

Anyway, as I posted on Twitter a little while ago this weekend, while everyone else is opening a Switch, I’m opening a PS4. And while everyone else is playing Breath of the Wild I’m playing Halo Wars 2. Please keep your smart ass comments to yourself about “just getting a Gen 8 system now” or “how a XBox One game won't work on a PS4”, I’ve had a XBox One going on two years now, and a WiiU a few months longer than that.

With that said the question that needs to be asked is if the Nintendo Switch is the first entry in the ninth generation of home consoles? The Wii and WiiU for instance heralded the start of their respective gaming generations, even though in both instances Microsoft and Sony would put out superior systems within a year or so of the launches of the respective Nintendo systems. So are we expecting the same out of Microsoft and Sony within the next year or two now? It’s hard to say but I have a feeling we will get a hint of things to come for both manufactures at the 2017 G4, and/or CES. Considering that Sony launched it’s VR add-on for the PS4, and Microsoft it’s XBox One S in the last half of 2016 one has to question if either is ready to move into the next generation yet. Microsoft's Project Scorpio, which has a projected launch near the end of 2017, may provide us with clues as to when we will see the rise of Gen 9. So far the Scorpio is just said to be a highly powerful full 4k XBox One, but could the success or failure of the Switch change the course of the Scorpio before it’s released? By that I mean to say would a modicum of success on the part of gen 9’s first system, the Nintendo Switch, cause Microsoft to turn the Scorpio into it’s ninth generation entry. So far the Scorpio only promises to be an overpowered XBox One, which in a way seems almost pointless and begs for next generation gameplay.

As long as I’m talking about power, there is something else I’m a bit curious about. Before the Switch was formally announced, and before it’s true nature was leaked to the general game playing public Nintendo hit us with something different called the NX. I don’t know if you remember this or not but the NX was suppose to be Nintendo’s, XBox One, and PS4 slayer. Like Ford with its F1 “Ferrari Slayer”, Nintendo was going to return to its powerhouse SNES days and give languishing Nintendo fans a serious system to shut down Microsoft and Sony fans with. When I first heard the stories on the NX I too was excited to see what Nintendo would do, since Nintendo hasn’t really been taken seriously by hard core gamers since the SNES. So when the NX project turned out to be the Switch it was a bit of a let down, since the Switch just turned out to be a minor evolution of the WiiU.  

Of course I still wouldn’t mind getting a Nintendo Switch with all that said, and the more I read and watch about the Switch the more intriguing I find the thinking behind its development. I myself believe the Switch is the vanguard of ninth generation consoles, however I don’t expect Sony or Microsoft to take any lead from it since they haven’t with regards to past systems.

If you got a Switch yesterday or today, I hope your having fun with it, and I also hope you provide the rest of us with your honest opinions on the system.