Shooting Straight: Don’t Call It A Comeback (Yet)

 

If you missed my E3 2015 wrap-up piece from last week, I hope that you’ll check it out. It was a fun piece to write and, honestly, it was the result of a rekindled interest in modern console gaming… something that I haven’t felt in awhile.

In fact, I’ve given some thought to getting back into writing about modern console video games again, perhaps as part of a website. E3 week really made me stop and reflect on some things, most notably whether walking away from gaming press back in 2013 was really the best move. When I look back on why I walked away, a lot of it had to do with putting pressure on myself to try and make a career out of what I was doing… and when I found out that it wasn’t going to happen, I decided to move on. I recall being told by several people when I made up my mind that I’d probably regret it… but when I didn’t feel it after the first year of my “retirement”, I never expected to feel the way that I’ve felt over the past week or so.

I feel engaged. Invested. Interested. Excited.

My attitude about writing is a bit different now; I’m interested in coming back because I honestly had fun doing what I had done for all of those years. My writing improved over time, I fulfilled long-standing dreams by getting to go to E3 for three years, and I learned a ton about video games in general. I enjoyed writing reviews, which is something that I’ve done since I first dabbled in writing online back in the late 1990s. I really enjoyed writing sales analysis pieces, even though frustrations crept in as time went on and data was scarce. I thought that I held my own pretty well, but gave in for the wrong reasons.

I don’t know what the next step will be at this point, but I will say that the change in perspective and motivation has been pretty inspiring. As with this website, my videos, and my collaboration projects… money/career isn’t really my main goal. It’s hoping that my work gets read or seen, and hoping that people will enjoy or learn something from my work. My career path lies elsewhere, and I’m okay with that. I can focus on the aspect of just having fun and enjoying writing about something that I have a fair amount of knowledge and passion about.

I guess that the E3 wrap-up piece was an indirect audition, to see for myself if I still might have what it takes… and whether I really can go home again.

In the meantime, this week’s video will be a little bit later than usual. I’m recovering from a fairly serious health scare which had me bedridden for much of Father’s Day weekend, so I’m continuing to take it easy for another couple of days. I’m also hoping that the severe thunderstorm outbreak expected here in Southern New England today doesn’t cause too much damage or extended power/Internet outages. In any event, I won’t be doing much of anything productive until Thursday or Friday this week and using the time to recover and get my strength back.

I can’t wrap this up with bad news, though… so let me share this photo:

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I picked these games up for $10 total at a local Salvation Army recently. It was a timely find as I’ve been gradually building my library of original PlayStation games, and it was also a bonus to find these games all complete with discs and manuals in excellent shape. The copy of Resident Evil 3 even has the Dino Crisis demo disc, which is awesome. Finally, it was an amazing deal, in comparison to market value. PriceCharting has a combined value for these five games at $45, so I saved $35 thanks to this find. Obviously, Resident Evil 3 is the jewel in this set, commanding nearly $20 alone. I guess this means that I need to seek out the first two Resident Evil games and give them another try, huh?

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading, and I’m hoping to have the new video up by week’s end.

 

Consoleation E3 2015: The Petey Awards

June 19, 2015 1 comment

It’s been quite the crazy week in video games. E3 2015 will go down as one of the more memorable events in the show’s history for me. There were huge announcements, press event gaffes, controversies, and plenty of games to talk about.

I summed up some thoughts on the early press events (Bethesda, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Sony) in the video above… but I thought it would be more fun to create some completely made up and personal awards to give, which will summarize what I took away from E3. The Peteys are the only-important-in-my-mind awards, and thus, they’re based on my own thoughts and impressions. You might agree, you might not… but that’s okay.

Let’s get started:

The Biggest Surprise Award: The Petey goes to… Microsoft’s announcement of (limited) Xbox 360 backwards compatibility for the Xbox One: Lots of big announcements were leaked or pointed to well before the show. Yu Suzuki’s cryptic photo of a forklift and his “coincidental” arrival in Los Angeles certainly seemed like it was foreshadowing Shenmue III to me. Various websites had talked about the Final Fantasy VII remake being a thing and the return of The Last Guardian. Conversely, I was pleasantly blindsided by Microsoft’s backwards compatibility announcement. To me, it’s kind of a big deal. With a vast library of digital 360 games and about 50 or so disc-based games, the possibility of carrying over some of these to the Xbox One could mean an upgrade in the future. I had never given the Xbox One a second thought before the announcement. Of course, it remains to be seen exactly how many titles will become backwards compatible and just how long Microsoft pursues publishers to greenlight their games for the feature… but I choose to be cautiously optimistic.

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The Biggest Waste of Time Award: The Petey goes to… Electronic Arts: I get that having Pele on stage for a press event is a big deal, as long as there are soccer/football fans in the audience. Unfortunately for EA, this wasn’t the audience for such a segment, and it wound up wasting the time of many who attended and even more watching at home. The segment was too long, Pele was difficult to understand, and there was no flow at all. Pele basically rambled and the EA Sports rep on-stage was too carried away with being in Pele’s presence to keep the thing moving. Know your audience, EA. This was a huge waste of time.

The Coolest Transformation Award: The Petey goes to… Satoru Iwata, Reggie Fils-Aime, and Shigeru Miyamoto, representing Nintendo: Boy, this year’s Nintendo Digital Event sure started out promising enough. Star Fox Zero was a great opener. Even better was the path taken to get audiences to that first gameplay reveal. Creating adorable puppets for Iwata, Fils-Aime, and Miyamoto and gradually transforming them into the Star Fox team was really cool to watch. The transformation theme carried over nicely to the footage of Star Fox Zero that we saw, and Fils-Aime referenced transformation a few times during the presentation. That said… the Landmaster still sucks.

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The “Well, THAT Was Awkward” Award: The Petey goes toJason Derulo, representing Ubisoft: Oh. Oh, man. I have to admit that a very small piece of me felt bad for Jason Derulo and his rough performance during the Ubisoft press event. He sounded awful. He was winded. People in the crowd and across social media were asking, “Who is this guy?” Still, like the professional he is, Derulo attempted to make the best of a tough situation. He took his performance into the stunned crowd and went out to the event’s host, Aisha Tyler… who promptly rebuffed his attempt to take her hand and get her to dance. Whew. That was awkward. (Note: Derulo was also runner-up for the Biggest Waste of Time Award.)

The Best Reaction Award: The Petey goes tothe GameTrailers crew, reacting live to the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter reveal trailer: Yeah, I’m sure you’ve seen this video by now. You can’t top this. It’s genuine emotion, and I love it. We can say what we want about some gaming press personalities maybe getting a bit too cynical, but this? This is amazing. I maintain that plenty of people within the gaming press ranks do care very much about video games themselves, with or without the industry side of things. And, damn it, I admit that I jumped out of my chair while watching the Sony event from Retro Central and cheered as well. I think a lot of fans and even a fair number of industry observers who have no personal connection with Shenmue 3 shared a really special moment during that Monday evening– wherever they were.

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The Nytol Award: The Petey goes toyawwwwnthe Square-Enix press event: On the plus side, the Square-Enix press event showed off some high-impact games. There was Just Cause 3, a NieR sequel announcement (more on that in a moment), proof that Kingdom Hearts 3 is really still a thing, info on Star Ocean 5, and more. On the vocal anesthetic side, there was everything else. My goodness, the presenters were one step away from being zombies. No passion, no presence on-stage, no emotion, no nothing. Just talking. Droning. Consciousness-sapping speech after consciousness-inducing speech, including the narration in a couple of the otherwise-promising trailers. Honestly, the event is much better if you (re-)watch it and mute the sound. C’mon, Square-Enix. Show a little life, next time. Just a little. Please?

The “WTF?” Award: The Petey goes toYoko Taro, NieR game director, representing Square-Enix: I understood after the event why Taro chose this way to make his appearance, but without that context, the following photo had me asking out loud, to nobody in particular… “What the f***?”

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The Keepin’ It Retro Award: The Petey goes toRARE Replay for the Xbox One, revealed during the Microsoft press event: Along with the news that the Xbox One is going to have at least some backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games, the reveal of RARE Replay had me really itching to get Microsoft’s current console. 30 games for $30, with titles originally on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 (among other platforms) included, all with Achievements and Gamerscore? That’s awesome. I’d love to see more publishers go back to the compilation disc route, packing it full of games and goodies for us to replay and recapture those memories from years passed. For now, though, Microsoft and RARE earn this award from this retrogaming fan.

The Momentum Killer Award: The Petey goes toNintendo and its Digital Event: I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the WiiU is dead. I don’t believe that for a second. What I am going to tell you is that Nintendo failed to provide me with enough compelling reasons to consider buying a WiiU, and that’s after last year’s show had delivered much more promise. After Star Fox Zero, there was nothing shown for the WiiU that even remotely interested me. Super Mario Maker came off as an answer to LittleBigPlanet, which I never cared for and only played when I got it for free. Yoshi’s Woolly World wasn’t my thing, either. Animal Crossing looked promising… until it was revealed as a free-t0-play board game vehicle for amiibo. Mario Tennis has, to me, always been the weaker of Camelot’s Mario sports series, so my interest level isn’t what Mario Golf might have been. Worse yet for Nintendo, the reveal of Hyrule Warriors coming to 3DS removed one of the 3-4 games that I was considering buying a WiiU for from my list. Not having to spend hundreds of dollars to play it is something that I’m definitely happy about as a consumer, but it hurts Nintendo in that it further decreases my interest in buying new hardware. Add these factors to increasing rumbles about the NX, which is looking more and more like the WiiU’s successor, and I’m convinced to sit out the WiiU at least until it’s sub-$200 (if not discontinued) and wait to see what the NX is about. I won’t get much into the Metroid Prime Federation Force reveal, which enraged many fans and spawned a Change.org petition to kill the game altogether, except to say that it’s unfortunate to see.

The Edge of my Seat Award: It’s a tie! The Peteys go tothe Rise of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted 4 on-stage demos, during the Microsoft and Sony press events respectively: I’m a sucker for setpiece-driven adventure games, and that’s what Tomb Raider and Uncharted are for me. Watching the Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer during Microsoft’s event was intense stuff. Lara could have fallen to her doom many times, and yet somehow (thanks to the demo player) managed to cheat death and wow me in the process. The Uncharted 4 demo during the Sony event overcame its early tech miscues to present a pulse-pounding car chase after the usual Nathan Drake fisticuffs and gunplay. I really enjoyed both of these demos, and am looking forward to the release of both games.

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The Should Have Stayed Retired Award: The Petey goes toJoe Montana Football: This game was talked about as a possible competitor for the football throne that Madden NFL currently sits upon, but E3 revealed a rather toothless truth about what Joe Montana Football really is. It’s a mobile game– at least for awhile– and won’t be presenting any competition to Madden or EA Sports at all. I do get that unlicensed sports games in this day and age are tough sells, and today’s consumer should accept some of the blame for not having many choices for certain sports (like football and hockey)… but if a publisher doesn’t at least try to put a quality competing product out there, even without licenses, the status quo will never change. I encourage you to check out what my colleagues over at Hit The Pass had to say about Joe Montana Football; it’s quite the saga.

And now, the final award… The Best Show Award: The final and most distinguished of the Petey Awards goes toSony, for its press event: Microsoft set a strong tone earlier in the day, but Sony simply outgunned the company. I get the arguments about The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake, and Shenmue 3 as being future games, with no release dates in sight for the latter two. I also noticed that release dates were avoided during the show like Superman avoiding Kryptonite. These arguments aside, it’s really hard to deny how impactful that segments about the trio of eagerly anticipated games were. When they’re coming wasn’t as important to many as the fact that “Holy crap, they’re real!” Even looking past the high impact games, we saw a promising new game from Guerrilla in Horizon: Zero Dawn that had social media buzzing and the very important news that Sony had gained a valuable ally in Call of Duty timed exclusivity for DLC. There was a bit more on No Man’s Sky, Media Molecule unveiled its next project, and… oh yeah… Uncharted 4 is shaping up to be a fantastic end to an enjoyable series. My grading of the Sony and Microsoft events was close, with Sony edging out MS, A- to B+. Most importantly to me, I came away from watching the Sony event with confidence that my PlayStation 4 is going to be home to a lot of great games in the coming months and years.

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I hope you enjoyed this little awards ceremony. There are no prizes for the winners mentioned, except their mentions here. The real winners of this year’s E3, which has been said a lot on social media, are definitely video game fans. There are some exciting times coming up… and if someone like me, who is known to have his issues with modern console gaming, can be excited… then anyone can.

New Consoleation Video: Reflecting on Midway

Post-Production Thoughts:

This week’s video is about Midway Games, and just some of the arcade games of the 1990s that resonated with me.

I do believe that the 1990s were a “best of both worlds” period for video game fans. On one hand, home consoles were gradually closing the gap with arcades and enjoying arcade-like experiences (with reasonable compromises) from the comfort of your own home was fantastic. On the other hand, there were enough new coin-op experiences to keep players coming back to arcades… and Midway was at the center of many of these experiences.

For me, NBA Jam continues to be the most impactful of these games. Even as a non-fan of basketball, the over-the-top nature of Jam pulled me in… and once I played for the first time (and won against a human opponent via a full-court three-pointer at the buzzer), I was hooked. I spent dozens and dozens of quarters or tokens on this cabinet, wherever I could find it. Breaking the backboard in the fourth quarter became as important as winning the game. Big Head Mode was always activated. My ultimate goal was to get my initials on those leaderboards, for all to see. From the original Jam onward, I’ve bought and played them all– NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, NBA HangTime, NBA Showtime… and yes, even NBA Hoopz. (UGH.)

NHL Open Ice and NFL Blitz are also still a ton of fun to play; in fact, once I finished shooting the video, I spent time with both games while waiting for the upload process to finish. I blew through five games of Open Ice (5-0, of course) and a couple of games of Blitz, and my afternoon was pretty much spent. It was great being re-introduced to some of the details that we took for granted with Open Ice; for example, it’s possible for a shot to be so hard that it hits the goaltender’s mask and pushes the puck and the goalie into the net for a score. Hearing Pat Foley exclaim that I had scored so many hat tricks that I needed a hat rack was no less amazing than the first time I heard it. As for NFL Blitz, well… let’s just say that the rubber-band AI keeping the games close led to some exciting conclusions, and a lot of fist-pumping from me.

I could have mentioned even more games in the video, if it hadn’t been going so long already. I didn’t even mention WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, even though that’s what was on the GxTV next to me. I forgot to bring up the Cruis’n series, too. I decided to leave out Super High Impact and Total Carnage, despite having the SNES carts to show for the video; Super High Impact will be talked about on a later date for a new venture that I’m a part of.

This week’s video was inspired by this project, which I’m hoping will get enough support to be completed. The person who is putting the project together is very familiar with Midway in the 1990s and has secured some interviews with the big guns from the time… including Eugene Jarvis and Mark Turmell. There is no better way to learn about video game history, in my opinion, than hearing it from the people who made it happen. Further details on the project will be forthcoming, and I’ll definitely be sharing those details here when they become available.

Behind The Scenes:

— I know that there’s background noise in the video; unfortunately, a family member was in the middle of a phone call while the video was being shot… and, honestly, I’m surprised the iPad microphone picked it up. I do try to shoot when there aren’t any audio distractions, but given the weather outlook for the rest of the week as being 90+ and demanding running the air conditioners… I had to shoot the video when I did in order to get it done for this week.

— I’m still working on camera placement. It looks as though I need to set up a little farther back, so the top of my head doesn’t get cut out. Filming with the iPad is still a work in progress, to be sure, but I believe that the improved picture quality and acceptable sound quality makes the extra effort worthwhile. I hope that you’ll bear with me while I continue to learn how to be a better self-filming cameraman.

— I’m having a blast using the white board to show fun messages above me while I’m on camera, and that ensures that my current filming location will be the spot I use for the time being.

As always, thanks so much for checking out my work.

Consoleation Status Report: June 2015

Hello, friends! It’s been a little while since the last status report, but now is a good time to catch up on what’s been happening and what to expect for content in the coming weeks.

Videos:

I’ve been meeting my goal of shooting one new video per week for the last couple of months, with 11 new videos posted since March 30th. I managed the end-of-semester crunch well enough to keep putting videos together, and I’ve managed to find windows of time to shoot without air conditioning when the weather has been uncomfortably warm. The real challenge will arise when summer shows up in earnest, but for now, things are right on schedule.

I do realize that the running time for the videos continues to be rather long for most viewers. It’s a lot to ask to sit through more than 10 minutes of me talking about various topics, especially when there’s no gameplay going on or any accompanying music to create a better setting. While I do think about running time in the back of my mind when I shoot, my goal is to complete my thoughts on that episode’s topic without rushing or leaving too much out. These videos are as much about recounting personal history and significant life moments as they are about video games. I do understand that long videos often lead to viewers exiting early or to a loss of subscribers… but channel growth isn’t my main concern. These videos are, to me, a part of my legacy. When my mind goes south and I can’t remember things as clearly as I can now, it’ll be nice to watch these again and rekindle those memories that older age will inevitably steal from me. Getting views and subscribers are meaningful things, but they are not the most important things to me nor are they the driving factors behind what I do… as bad as that probably is to admit.

Moving forward, my plan is to alternate new Consoleation and Summer of PlayStation episodes from now through September. I still have PlayStation-related stuff to talk about, but I don’t wish to expend all of it before the September 9th anniversary date. I also acknowledge that some viewers just aren’t into PlayStation all that much, so some topic variety is never a bad idea. In addition, E3 week will hopefully see a bonus video release, with my reactions to the “big three” press events (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo). I can’t 100% promise that video, but it’s something that I definitely want to do.

Writing:

First, I am honored to share that I was brought on as a contributor to Hit The Pass, a new sports video game-related website that was founded by Rich Grisham and Bryan Wiedey. Rich and Bryan have been prominent in sports video game reporting and conversation for a long time, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a very special team of talented people there. As you might expect, I’ll be focusing a lot on sports video games for older consoles, ranging from the NES to the PlayStation 2. My first piece, for example, shares a bit about how video games led me to appreciate sports more… despite my lack of athletic ability. The site isn’t really about reviews or news, but rather about personal reactions and more original works. While I’m hoping that you’ll check out my work there, the site is a great mix of content and the entire body of work is worth looking into when time allows.

My Retroware column for June will hopefully be submitted by week’s end (June 12th). It will be an extension of my Summer of PlayStation video that shared how I went about preordering and paying for the PlayStation, once I knew that I wanted one. I’m also looking into submitting a written game review per month, which would increase my output there to two monthly pieces instead of one. It’s a matter of picking a game to play, snapping some photos to include, and getting the piece written. Adding content to Retroware will hopefully draw even more visitors to the site, to go along with the stream of staff and community-contributed content that is showcased there.

Finally, this website is getting an average of one new piece per week. While the recent Space Invaders piece didn’t draw much interest, my recent thoughts on pinball definitely did. I’m considering doing pinball reviews here, looking at each table that I own for Zen Pinball 2 and for Pinball Arcade… similar to what I did for 1 More Castle back in 2013. I may also do other game reviews here, but my thinking right now is to prioritize those for Retroware.

Recent Game Additions:

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made a pair of trips down to Retro Games Plus in Newington, CT. While there, I made some trades of games that I wasn’t playing and wound up coming away with a bunch of stuff (seen above). A lot of the new acquisitions are for Hit The Pass research and for my Summer of PlayStation project, but there are some non-PlayStation/non-sports titles in there, too. Finding Hook and Sol-Feace for the SEGA CD was nice, adding the first two Dragon Ball Z Budokai games to my PS2 library completes that trilogy, and owning Blood Omen again after nearly 20 years is pretty sweet. Look for my thoughts on the Retro Games Plus store next week here on the site, via a new Retail Review.

Unfortunately, I had to replace the PSone that I got in April, as the laser stopped reading certain discs. Getting an original PlayStation had been my intent all along, though… and it thankfully didn’t cost too much in store credit. I had been planning on using that money towards a Wii system, but having the PlayStation was vital to my work on the Summer of PlayStation project. Replacing failed consoles is something you have to do, especially when you have a library of 250+ games for them.

When the GxTV inevitably dies, this is waiting in the wings.

When the GxTV inevitably dies, this is waiting in the wings.

One last thing of note is a tube television (that my mom gave to me. I’ve been extremely fortunate with my GxTV over the last 18 years, but it’s been showing signs lately that the end is not too far off… so this set will come in handy when the GxTV does fail. It’s got a much larger screen than the GxTV, and it’s got S-Video and component cable inputs! The only downside is the size; the GxTV’s smaller size allows for my Genesis/SEGA CD combo to sit next to it on the entertainment center that I’m using, but I’m guessing that the extra room I have now will be gone when I start using the new TV. It’s not a big deal, but it will be an adjustment.

There likely won’t be too many (if any) more pickups for the month of June. As of now, my Retro Library stands at more than 1,520 games. If I do add any more games, though, you can see them on my Instagram feed before next month’s update.

As always, thanks so much for reading and/or watching my work. Look for another update in mid-July. Until then, if you have suggestions, comments, or other feedback… feel free to leave them in the comments section (which now works, by the way) or drop me a line via my pete@consoleation.com e-mail address.

Because Nobody Asked: Space Invaders Got Robbed!

June 5, 2015 2 comments

The inaugural class of games to be inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame has been announced, and one snub out of the finalists in particular who didn’t make the cut is very difficult to excuse.

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Space Invaders failed to make the cut, and that’s flat out criminal.

I get why games like World of Warcraft and Doom got their nods, along with the expected enshrinement of PONG, Pac-Man, Tetris, and Super Mario Bros. World of Warcraft is considered by many to be the most important MMORPG of all time. Doom was the quintessential first-person shooter for many years. I don’t deny that World of Warcraft and Doom ultimately belong in the Hall of Fame; however, passing over one of the most popular coin-ops of its era in order to get one or both of these more modern games enshrined is a poor decision.

The overwhelming success of Space Invaders cannot be denied. The game was immensely popular in Japan and in the United States, drawing the equivalent of $600 million in Japan alone by the end of 1978. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the modern-day equivalent of nearly $2.2 billion. By the middle of 1981, it’s estimated that more than 4 billion quarters had been dropped into Space Invaders coin-ops. So many coins had been dropped into these coin-ops that tales of coin shortages began to circulate. When Atari licensed Space Invaders for its Video Computer System (or 2600) and released it in 1980, sales of the console soared. More than two million cartridges were sold, easily setting new records for the time. The popularity of Space Invaders had preceded the launch of Pac-Man by nearly two years and helped to jump start the coin-op market. In fact, Japanese video game players initially remained more interested in Space Invaders than in Pac-Man.

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The success of Space Invaders served to spawn imitators as well as new games. Coin-op clones of Space Invaders included Space Attack (SEGA, 1979) and Super Space Stranger (Yachiyo, 1978). Namco’s Galaxian— and its more popular sequel, Galaga— both owe their existence to Space Invaders. Galaxian is quite similar to Space Invaders, at least at first blush. Shooting enemies at the top of the screen in a block formation is a carryover from Taito’s game. The differences, like no shield support at the bottom of the screen and dive-bombing enemies from the formation at the top of the screen, make Galaxian stand on its own… but the inspiration that it draws from Space Invaders is clear. Galaga further evolved the Space Invaders idea by having enemies fly in from off-screen and gradually build their familiar formation, while gameplay additions including ship capture, mutating enemies, and challenging (bonus) stages served as an evolution from Galaxian. GORF, released by Bally/Midway in 1981, had stages that were playable levels from Space Invaders and Galaxian.

Space Invaders will inevitably take its rightful place in the World Video Game Hall of Fame. I know that it’s only a matter of time. Having said that, it’s still extremely disappointing to see a game of such importance be left out of this inaugural class of inductees. I don’t understand limiting this first class to only six inductees, honestly; I think that strong cases could have also been made for Pokemon, Minecraft (which has taken the world by storm), and yes– Angry Birds (as the game that really helped to ignite the mobile gaming sector). That would have been a round number of ten to start, with future annual classes to be culled down to six.

Unfortunately, there can only be one inaugural class… and, shamefully, Space Invaders was robbed of the honor to be part of it.

Zen Studios and FarSight Studios: Two Sides of the Same Token

May 28, 2015 1 comment

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about pinball… far too long, in fact.

I’ve been streaming some of my gameplay efforts on Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball Arcade via my PlayStation 4 every so often, and I can honestly say that it’s a great time to be a pinball fan. On one side of the aisle, there’s the allure of playing pinball tables that I grew up with. On the other side, there’s creativity with original tables based on some great licenses. You can’t go wrong with either platform, and, honestly… both deserve your time and money. While they’re both pinball simulations, each has its own unique approach and set of advantages.

The Zen Pinball platform, also known as Pinball FX on some devices, has grown by leaps and bounds since I first started playing some of its tables on the Xbox 360 back in 2009. The tables started out as mostly original designs and themes, but really started to mature and branch out with the release of the Pinball FX2 platform and its initial suite of tables. The ball physics were vastly improved, the table layouts were more varied and challenging (Secrets of the Deep had me hooked– no pun intended), and players got the sense that these tables could be legitimate machines. The next phase of evolution came about when Zen Studios got the opportunity to develop original tables based on popular licenses, including Marvel characters and films and the Star Wars universe. The production values skyrocketed as table and art designers paid homage to the source material while continuing to challenge players with various multiball modes and mission challenges. Perhaps the coolest use of a license yet can be found via the Portal table, which is purposely rife with missions and light puzzle features that not only make fans of the source material feel at home… but also requires multiple playthroughs to understand all that the table has to offer.

The Portal table is perhaps Zen Studios' most challenging table yet.

The Portal table is perhaps Zen Studios’ most challenging table yet.

While Zen Studios has relied on original table designs and has gained popularity through great use of popular licenses for its Zen Pinball platform, Pinball Arcade is all about authenticity. FarSight Studios, who previously put together two Pinball Hall of Fame compilations and delivered excellent simulations of familiar pinball machines, does the same– and more– with the Pinball Arcade platform. In addition to re-releasing tables from the Pinball Hall of Fame compilations, FarSight has also released many tables that had not been released in simulation form before. High Speed, Attack From Mars, Dr. Dude, Theatre of Magic, Earthshaker, and many others have been brought to life once again for players of all ages. As someone who spent many hours in arcades growing up, seeing all of these tables that I used to pump tokens and quarters into available to play at will has been amazing. Thanks to successful Kickstarter campaigns, the Twilight Zone, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and The Addams Family tables have also been released… and these are arguably some of the best pinball tables ever made.

That's a lot of numbers.

That’s a lot of numbers.

Zen Pinball and Pinball Arcade are vastly different experiences. Zen Pinball focuses more on player skill than luck. The tables are designed to reward players for learning the key shots and objectives, while the table layout and ball physics model is more forgiving. Zen Pinball does not really revolve around quick ball drains and low scores; it invites players to play for extended periods, learning the table layouts and earning high scores. What’s more, Zen Studios has crafted a tightly-knit community of players, who fill leaderboards with impressive scores and (via the Zen Studios website) offer advice to newcomers and novices on how to improve.

Pinball Arcade, as mentioned previously, revolves around authenticity. Since the tables that are in play in Pinball Arcade are simulations of real pinball machines, the table design and ball physics are purposely more challenging… and even punishing for novices at times. It’s fair to remember that these pinball tables were designed to generate revenue by getting players to keep popping in quarters or tokens; if the tables were generally easy and each game went on for long periods (or awarded too many free games), less money would be earned. Designing these tables was a challenge in that there had to be a balance between skill and luck. If a table was too hard, players wouldn’t come back to try again… but again, if it was too easy, the machine wouldn’t earn enough money to be successful.

I can’t recommend one over the other in this case, because both Zen Pinball and Pinball Arcade excel at what they do as similar and yet different experiences. Zen Studios delivers the originality and FarSight Studios delivers the nostalgia. Zen Pinball encourages you to improve while Pinball Arcade throws down the gauntlet and challenges you to improve with no apologies. Zen Studios and FarSight Studios occupy the two sides of the same token, and it’s a token that I consider myself fortunate to have.

Consoleation Summer of PlayStation (VIDEO): $olving the Puzzle

May 27, 2015 1 comment

This is the second video in the Summer of PlayStation series. In the video, I talk about how I faced the challenges of being able to afford to buy the PlayStation; coming up with $450 in the summer of 1995– even over a 12-week span– was no small task for me at the time. I spend some time talking about how trading in games and consoles was a key to being able to overcome the money gap, as well.

It’s a good time for me to talk a bit about why I consider trade-ins and selling games or systems to not be as evil as many believe them to be. I see a consistently negative attitude when it comes to trades in response to videos, articles, and testimonials from other game players or collectors… and this attitude is unfortunate.

I do admit to trading or selling many games and several consoles since I began my journey into console gaming back in 1990. It’s a means to an end; when money is tight– or even nonexistent, as has happened during periods of unemployment or during my current return to college to pursue my teaching degree– it’s okay to trade or sell goods to afford something that you want. For example, I traded away a few SNES RPGs in my library, along with my SEGA CD add-on, to get a good deal on a 3DO in 1994. I couldn’t have afforded the 3DO without making the trades… but I would’ve missed out on some games that I might not have played otherwise. I also talk in the video about trading away my TurboGrafx-16 towards a new copy of Secret of Mana, along with a few other SNES games… since I had just been laid off from my phone company job and didn’t have any money coming in, it wasn’t going to be possible (at least for a year) to buy the game outright.

I’m not saying that trading games or system away or selling them doesn’t generate regret down the road. While you might not think about playing a game or console that you have at the time, there does come a time when you have the urge to play and no longer can. In retrospect, I made a bad decision with the TurboGrafx-16… but, at the time, trading it in was the only way to afford the game that I really wanted.

What I am saying is that it’s not fair to judge the practice of trade-ins and selling of games and consoles as all bad. If you don’t wish to engage in the practice, that’s fantastic… but try to understand why others may choose to do so, and respect their ability to make that choice.

Next week’s video will be about one of my favorite years in console gaming history, with a look as some of the games that made it so special. Until then… thanks for watching!

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