Category Archives: Sega

Pirates or Preservationists?

There is some good in the ruthless drive of technology, pushing gaming forward into easily defined generations of hardware, in that it’s allowed phenomenal progress in only a few decades. The downside to such rapid development, though, is that the past gets left behind, and without efforts to preserve it, it’s lost.

I can watch any almost any movie from any decade on some form of disc or streaming service nowadays, even if they were produced decades before digital video, the Internet and even televisions existed, and it’s essentially the same experience as anyone who saw it on day one. I can walk into any of a range of high street shops and find popular films from the 30s and 40s, brand new and easily accessible.

Contrast that with games. Try finding a particular game from outside the top 40 new, or anything but the most popular games from last generation. Try finding anything from the generation before that. There are, of course, services like Good Old Games, which are certainly good things, but what happens to games from long-dead developers or ones that aren’t deemed commercially viable? What route is there to play, say, Spectrum games? PC Engine? Almost any system has at least a couple of gems, but it’s impossible to play them without getting lucky on the used market or resorting to piracy, both of which we keep hearing are as bad as each other from the publishers’ perspective.

Some classic publishers like Nintendo and SNK are still going concerns in one form or another and so can offer their older games, and that’s fantastic. I’ll happily support those offerings, especially those that allow me to pick and choose reasonably priced and well-emulated individual games. But for plenty of older material, that’s not an option – it’s not like you can download some C64 games onto Commodore’s latest machine.

It’s when you start looking into community-led preservation efforts that you realise how much better they are than their official equivalents. Perhaps the best example is World of Spectrum, which not only functions as a massive database of information on Speccy games but also offers the majority of them to download or to play in a Java-based emulator directly on the site. Scans of covers, cross-referenced articles from the magazines of the time, meticulous attempts to preserve every version of every game, and all with the admirable ambition of being a comprehensive, free museum for an important period in gaming history. It’s not done for profit, and when actual games are offered to download, it’s done with the permission of the original developers and publishers.

Even for classic hardware without the following to sustain a site of such size – or, perhaps less defensibly, those from a couple of generations ago that are still the subject of poorly emulated and overpriced compilations – chances are a glance at certain more seedy websites will unearth a torrent with every game and an emulator, tied up in one handy download. Illegal or not, until this industry takes a step back and realises how inaccessible its past really is, I’m crediting the pirates there with providing a valuable service.

New games are increasingly encumbered with DRM, sometimes to the extent that the game will become unplayable if the studio and its authentication servers ever go offline. That’s all well and good now, but the experience of the last few years and the fact that it only takes a glance at the big developers of the SNES generation to see how few of today’s will still be around in another decade suggests that the only hope for the future playability of those games is either to hope that studios in their death throes have the wherewithal to produce a patch to nuke the DRM or to let pirates do it. Only one of those options is anywhere close to being a sure thing.

It’s important to note that I’m not going to support those who are pirating current games because they want them without paying, even if it’s those people’s work that ultimately allows the mass archival that I’m championing. The best examples of these projects are done on long dead platforms that aren’t going to cost anybody any money, and taking revenue from the industry – and, arguments over exactly how much aside, it does cost publishers money – will only affect what is left to preserve in the future.

Ten Years of Shenmue

In amongst the endless [something] of the decade features doing the rounds at the moment, one snippet that almost slipped my mind is that just over ten years ago, on 29 December 1999, Shenmue was released in Japan. That means that somewhere around this time ten years ago I was in the Video Game Centre, failing to disguise my enthusiasm for the imminent arrival of my import copy.

Dobuita

It had already sent me on a wild adventure of learning HTML and using it to create the imaginatively named Shenmue Fan Site, and my first couple of trial-and-error playthroughs – I didn’t speak Japanese, and no one else had yet written a guide, which made simple tasks like ‘speak to Yamagishi-san’ very difficult – were followed by my first FAQ, which directly led to freelance work with the precursor to the company where I now work. I’ve wanted to write about games for a living for a long time, but no single game had as much direct influence on my future career path as Shenmue, and that’s a big part of why I still hold it in such high esteem.

To be honest, if I was trying to choose my game of the last ten years, this would probably be it. It was highly influential – not many games had real-time weather and day/night cycles in 1999, and it’s largely responsible, for better or worse, for the continuing popularity of the QTE – and far ahead of its time. Its cult following is formidable and still rapacious, devouring every snippet of ‘news’ that comes out of Sega regarding the future (or not) of the series. My bet is that the inclusion of Ryo will be directly responsible for at least half of the sales of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Hell, that’s why I’m going to buy it.

Sakuragaoka

Playing it now, parts of it are of its time, and it may have been pushing the Dreamcast hardware further than was wise, but it still has so much atmosphere, even when playing the impenetrable Japanese version, and that’s a big part of why I love it. Yokosuka feels real – I know it is real, but you know what I mean – and, way back when, I had a place where I’d like to live, a favourite Chinese restaurant, the works. How many games do that now? Bethesda’s stuff, maybe.

The lack of Shenmue III is an empty space in gaming to me and is, sadly, likely to remain so. But, until then, we’ll always have Sakuragaoka…

Best News Ever

How could I forget to make a post about this? It’s not exactly Shenmue III, but the confirmation that Ryo Hazuki will be making an appearance in the upcoming Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, his first in-game appearance since Shenmue II on the Xbox in 2002, is the next best thing.

Ryo Hazuki in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

What’s weird is that back when the game was first unveiled I was going around making jokes about this, suggesting that Ryo and his forklift – as well as the currently unconfirmed New Yokosuka Harbor race track – would be a perfect little acknowledgement of the Shenmue series’ not inconsiderable cult following. This would have the dual benefit of also raising the profile of the series again and forcing Sega to update the Ryo Hazuki character model for the current generation, which is surely half the work of Shenmue III done.

And that’s only what’s gone and happened. The people behind it are obviously savvy enough to know that this game has a significant following, as your average character wouldn’t command such fanfare and such a self-referential announcement – “He shall appear from a far eastern land across the sea, a young man who has yet to know his potential… And he’ll be driving a badass motorcycle” – but baby steps, right?

But yeah, it’s not quite what we’re looking for, but I’m almost ashamed to admit that it’s enough to make this a probable purchase on day one, if only to complete the collection.

Ten Years Ago Today…

Well… ten years ago in a few days, I was stood in the Video Game Centre, waiting for some of the first Dreamcast units to arrive in the country from Japan to be brought down from the supplier in London, hoping to catch a glimpse of what would surely be the future of gaming.

It wasn’t to be, of course, either that day with the disappointing Japanese launch games, or indeed ever, but I couldn’t let the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest systems ever made pass without a mention. Virtua Fighter 3tb, Godzilla Generations, and Pen Pen TriIcelon might not have done it for me, but at that point we were only six months from the Japanese release of Soul Calibur, which would be the one to break my resistance and buy the little white machine that would outlast the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in enjoying a dedicated spot among my currently active consoles.

Dreamcast

I really think it goes without saying that the Dreamcast is pretty much unparalleled for a library of innovative, technically impressive – for the time, obviously – games. It had a network connection as standard three years before the Xbox and four years before Xbox Live, and used it – some of the time with voice chat, no less – in games like Quake III, Alien Front Online, Unreal Tournament, and, of course, Phantasy Star Online: a game so good that Sega still can’t repeat its magic formula. And with 480p VGA and 60Hz PAL games as standard – how long did it take for all major PS2 games to be full-screen/full-speed over here again? – it’s one of the few retro consoles that will actually look good on an HDTV. Continue reading Ten Years Ago Today…

What’s Happened to Japanese Gaming?

It really wasn’t that long ago that almost every classic game would come out of Japan. I’m looking at my PS2 collection now and I see Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Katamari Damacy, Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill, Street Fighter, Shin Megami Tensei, and so on. Look further back at the PS1 and it was the same, and the Dreamcast was arguably even more weighted towards Japan.

This generation couldn’t have been more different, though. Look at the big new IPs that have been hits, the big games for this Christmas, and even the successful games of generations past that have received next-gen makeovers: almost all Western games.

Lost Planet and Dead Rising hit early on and boded well, but where are their sequels, let alone the second volley from Japan? Devil May Cry 4 and Metal Gear Solid 4 have done well, but DMC4 was still a disappointment by many accounts – including mine – due to its recycled environments and conservative design, and who was it that helped in redesigning many elements of the Metal Gear formula, including its increasingly cumbersome controls? Ryan Payton, its American producer, who has spoken about the Western influence that he fought to bring into the new game. Even the mighty Ninja Gaiden disappointed me on its next-gen debut.

The RPG genre, which has traditionally been dominated by Japan, in very much in transition at the moment as well. Where are the big-budget next-gen JRPGs? With the exception of Lost Odyssey, I’ve found all of them so far to be extremely disappointing; Final Fantasy XIII is at least another year away and Dragon Quest IX is a DS game; the latest MegaTen game, Persona 4, is on the PS2. Meanwhile we have Western devs mixing RPG conventions with their favoured genres, bringing us stuff like Mass Effect. Hell, someone even spilt their RPG in my Call of Duty 4. Continue reading What’s Happened to Japanese Gaming?

Mario & Sonic at the Wii Flat

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

I think I’m with most gamers when I say that my biggest question regarding this unusual collaboration is what exactly Mario is doping to enable him to match Sonic in a foot race. After having spent an afternoon with the game at the Wii Flat in London, I’m even more confused. Mario was pretty brisk if you held the run button, but when Bowser, Wario, and Eggman can keep up…well…it’s madness!

Once I was over my apoplectic fit and could put aside my inner fanboy, however, I couldn’t stay angry with it. I was too exhausted to…

Continue reading Mario & Sonic at the Wii Flat