Pacing the Cage

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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Bad camera! Go to your room!

Posted by ptcgaming on April 30, 2009

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level?

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level? (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

I recently purchased and downloaded  a copy of “Super Mario 64” to my Nintendo Wii. I remembered playing the original on an actual Nintendo 64 console, and I even own the updated DS version, which isn’t as fun without an analog stick for control. So I almost immediately booted the game up and began playing, and less than five minutes into it I was reminded of a harsh reality.

The camera on this game is really bad.

That’s right, I’m looking at you, Lakitu Cam. You shifty, unpredictable little turtle, you. While this game originally received high marks overall, this quirky camera style was the one thing many reviewers were critical of. It moves, shifts, zooms and rotates on whim while you’re moving, and there’s no telling what it’s going to do next.

Seriously. I ran up the same ramp 10 times once, and the camera angle was different almost every time. This is great when you’re trying to move across a narrow bridge, jump over an opening or complete one of those linear levels scattered throughout the game. And switching to the first-person “Mario” camera angle doesn’t help either, because even though it stays directly behind you, it zooms in close to, well, Mario’s behind.

Fortunately the camera issue was fixed by the time “Super Mario Galaxy” was released on the Wii.

Now don’t think I’m just picking on “Mario 64,” because this is truly a great game. I don’t know how good or bad the other console versions are, but the camera on the GameCube version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is even worse. In some places where Harry is shimmying across a ledge against a wall, if you recenter the camera for a better view all you see is the back of the wall. And in some places the camera can’t even keep up with Harry, kind of like in those old “Sonic the Hedgehog” games where Sonic would either run or jump out of the screen because he was too fast.

It is true that a bad camera can ruin a game. The Lakitu Cam tends to give me a headache after a while, and it frustrates me when a bad camera angle causes me to fall in a hole or miss a jump. Fortunately, Nintendo seems to have seen the error of its ways and fixed the problem.

Thanks, guys. You saved me from a recurring headache.

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Wanted: New ideas

Posted by ptcgaming on November 4, 2008

Here at Pacing the Cage, our staff of one is reaching out to you, the gaming community, for ideas on some new things we can feature in this blog. While we try offer a well-rounded lesson on the history of video games of the past, chances are we’re forgetting something. That’s where you come in! Feel free to offer up any suggestions you might have on either 1) Ideas for new features or 2) Ways to improve what’s already being offered. Don’t be shy, as every idea will be taken into consideration! Thanks in advance for your opinions!

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Mega Man 9: A perfect marriage

Posted by ptcgaming on October 13, 2008

Mega Man 9 returns retro gamers to the style they’ve always loved. (Screenshot from WiiWare World)

It appears video game developers are starting to get it: Many gamers didn’t have their first gaming experience via PlayStation, where many times graphics trumped gameplay and fun. That’s why Capcom’s release Mega Man 9 might seem quite out-of-place for gamers who never picked up an original NES control pad. But for those of us who did, this new release brings back fond memories of the first few Mega Man games released back in the ’80s (while also reminding us of the bad cover art in North America). And actually, this game was said to be designed on the mechanics of Mega Man 2. Early side-scrolling Mega Man titles were punishingly difficult but fun, and early info on this one says it’s more of the same. So in honor of Capcom bringing a little 1989 into 2008, I’m going to break down Mega Man 9, wedding style!
Something old: It’s Mega Man in all its 8-bit glory. That big-headed robo-dude makes a triumphant return with side-scrolling 2D levels. Capcom even intentionally added screen flicker and other imperfections to really drive home that old-school feel.
Something new: A new group of robot masters stands in the way of Mega Man’s quest (There’s even a female robot master this time around). The game also has some challenges you can earn rewards by completing over the course of the game.
Something borrowed: Mega Man 9 is built along the lines of Mega Man 2, which changed a little bit from the original Mega Man. You can run, jump and shoot, and when you defeat a robot master you earn their weapon, just like always.
Something blue: It’s Mega Man – He’s supposed to be blue! (At least at the beginning, anyway) Since I really don’t have any other “blue” points to make, I’ll leave you with this little nugget: In Japan, Mega Man is called “Rockman” and has been featured in TV programs. There are also comics and collectibles that bear his name.

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Dream up your own games – and build them, too!

Posted by ptcgaming on September 29, 2008

Ever wanted to create to your own video game? Well now you can, thanks to the folks at YoYo Games! By logging on to http://www.yoyogames.com/gamemaker, you can download YoYo’s Game Maker software and make your gaming dreams come true. And the best part… It’s FREE! Well, unless you want to unlock some additional functions, then you have to pay to register. But the free version has everything you need to develop a fully-working video game.

Now I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to put Electronic Arts out of business with anything you create, but you can share and even sell your games! The Game Maker Web site has numerous games created by people using the software. And tutorials are available online to help you get started.

So, you ask, why aren’t there any screenshots of a game I created? Well, that answer has two parts: One, between working full-time and taking care of things at home, I haven’t had a lot of time to tinker with the program, and two, since I haven’t had time to make it all the way through the first tutorial yet, there’s no way I have the know-how to create my own game yet (Okay, maybe that’s pretty much the same reason).

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Playing video games = better brain

Posted by ptcgaming on September 8, 2008

Ah, Oregon Trail… where famine, learning and video games meet.

I remember reading several years ago a magazine article that talked about how children who play video games were better off up top. Gamers were said to be better at problem solving and had better hand-eye coordination compared to those who didn’t play video games. And while I hadn’t seen any articles on the subject since the original Super Mario Bros. ruled the gaming world, a recent piece in USA Today brought the topic back to life.

A recent article in USA Today says today’s gamer could end up being one of the world’s next great surgeons.

See, this news has been divided by a wall. Somewhere in the middle, it seems stories on how video games benefit children were replaced with stories on how video games corrupt children and make them more prone to violence. Stories on how Super Mario Bros. made us better students was replaced by how Grand Theft Auto made us shoot up our school. It’s your classic case of the negative getting more attention than the positive.
Remember back when there were video games actually developed primarily for learning? I don’t mean getting smarter by jumping on Koopas or Goombas, I mean a game that was meant to teach you something. The best one that comes to mind is Oregon Trail, a computer game where you led a stagecoach out west to Oregon. The idea of the game was simple: Don’t let all your people and animals die. But the fact you had to hunt and earn your way down the trail while making decisions critical to your survival made it a learning experience. And the game was so much fun you never realized you were actually learning something in the process.
Thanks to the folks at Nintendo, the availability of learning games still exists. Games like Brain Age, Big Brain Academy and Flash Focus help stimulate your brain cells. And just like 20 years ago, many video games today force you to use critical-thinking skills. So it’s not that video games stopped making us smarter, the fact they do just got lost in the mix for a while.

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No patches required

Posted by ptcgaming on August 29, 2008

Early Super Mario Bros. games may have had their little quirks, but we didn’t dare ask for a way to fix them.

Patches. Patches. More patches. Why does it seem almost every day we’re hearing about some kind of glitch (sometimes even a fatal one) that one of the latest, greatest (?) consoles or one of their games is having. Example: Just this morning, I saw a story about how Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360 has sold more than a million copies, touting Microsoft and Tecmo for reaching this milestone. Still, the forum associated with the story managed to creep into the direction of – surprise! – patches. I don’t own the game or a 360, but apparently one guy knew of a patch that messed the game up, while another suggested the game needed patching to fix some of its quirks.
Now I don’t know how long these people have been playing video games, but when I was growing up in the era of Atari and NES consoles, glitches were cool. They were those little tricks we actually tried to make the game do – Like how on Excitebike you could make your bike jump out the top of the screen and come out the bottom. Or how on Super Mario Bros., you could jump on that Koopa shell like a thousand times and get a ton of extra lives. We lived for those things.
Today, games have to be too perfect. And when they’re not, people want a fix for it. While I enjoyed the little quirks of video games of old, I can understand the pro-patch player’s argument. If I spent more than 300 bucks on a console and 60 more on a game for it, I’d want nothing short of perfection as well. But at 8 or even 16 bits, perfection was quite difficult to come by.
Any search engine will lead you to pages upon pages of glitches and cheats for video games, both old and new. But in 1985, there wasn’t any way to download a software patch for a console game. What you got was what you got. With today’s online access via console, fixing the little snafus developers don’t see right away is a simple task. Me, well, I needed Justin Bailey’s help and the Mega Man “pause” trick, too.

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Mouth or moustache? The mystery deepens

Posted by ptcgaming on August 20, 2008

This guy’s face has been a center of controversy for more than 20 years.

Believe it or not, fighting games did exist prior to Street Fighter II. In fact, the original Street Fighter, though beautiful to look at when it debuted, was mechanically terrible.

One of the more popular early fighting games was Karate Champ, born at the arcade and later ported to the NES. Hand-to-hand combat was simple, choppy and not all that great, but there wasn’t anything better, really. You had two identical guys fighting each other, one clad in white and the other in red (I’ve read Ken and Ryu were based on these guys). But despite the game’s simplicity, one complex dilemma remains: What is that on the sensei/referee’s face?

If he’s frowning, he’s a Richard Marx wannabe; if it’s a moustache, he’s Gene Shalat. Either way, I’m not sure anyone knows what’s going on with this guy.
The argument for it being a frown: It would look pretty funny to have a guy looking face-on to the camera with huge eyebrows, eyes and no nose. I mean, it worked for The Blank in Dick Tracy, why not this guy? And while we’re at it, why is this guy doing the peepee dance?

The moustache argument: Take a look at the two fighters. They both have abnormally huge noses and no mouths. So what makes this guy so special he gets a mouth? (Note the Ken and Ryu resemblance between them) Also, if his frown is that big, then he has a humongous mouth! I mean this guy can swallow cantaloupes without having to bite them. Joey Chestnut would be proud.
So what is the deal with this guy? Does anyone really know what that is on his face? I mean, big hair and a huge moustache may have been all the rage in the 1980s, and maybe perhaps the video game gods were just going with the times.

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Funny-acting lights = TROUBLE

Posted by ptcgaming on August 4, 2008

The culprits: XBOX360’s “Ring of Fire” and the NES‘ blinking power light

With the recent news of Microsoft’s hardware failure in its XBOX360 console, I am reminded of one of the other infamous illuminations to come out of video game consoles: That dreaded blinking light on the “toaster” NES console. So, I decided to match the two lights head-to-head in a deathmatch, or at least lightmatch, to see which represents a better, or worse, issue.

Round 1: What it does
NES:
The power light on the NES console blinks on and off when the power is turned on.
360: The ring on the power button turns a pretty red color when turned on.
Round goes to – 360: A ring beats out a square any day.

Round 2: Why is it doing that?
NES:
The contacts on the cartridge aren’t making full contact with the 72-pin adapter inside the console. Or, the contacts on each end may be corroded.
360: HARDWARE FAILURE!!!!! These problems range anywhere from general hardware failure to overheating to the console scratching that disk you just shelled out 60 bucks for and so on and so on. It could actually be any one of these things… really.
Round goes to – 360: Keep in mind that other than mice, keyboards and other small peripherals, Microsoft is a software company, which means building complex hardware hasn’t exactly been its forte for the past 30 years.

Round 3: Annoyance factor
NES: Fairly low. See why in later rounds.
360: Mind-numbingly high. See why in later rounds.
Round goes to – 360: See why in later rounds.

Round 4: Percentage of consoles affected
NES: Every single one of them. Due to the toaster NES‘ “zero force” loading design, all consoles face this fate at one point or another.
360: 3 to 5 percent. Of course, this is Microsoft’s estimate. Others have reported the percentage as much, much higher.
Round goes to – NES: Because all is more than 3 to 5 percent.

Round 5: Number of games affected
NES:
Most, if not all, especially if the problem is on the console’s end.
360: Every single one if the hardware dies or overheats. Can’t play games on a console that won’t power up now, can you.
Round goes to – 360: At least if the NES problem affects all games, it doesn’t affect them 100 percent of the time.

Round 6: How do I fix it?
NES:
Contrary to mythological belief, blowing on your games won’t do anything. Actually, it can make the problem worse. What does help, though, is cleaning the contacts on your carts and console. If cleaning the 72-pin connector doesn’t fix the problem, you can buy another one online for less than $15 and change it out yourself. There’s no soldering required!
360: Kiss your console goodbye! At least temporarily. After calling 1-800-4MYXBOX, you’ll have to mail your console in, and they’ll fix it. They say you should have it back within a couple weeks. Meanwhile, you have to sit and watch while your buddies play Final Fantasy on their working NES consoles.
Round goes to – 360: Having to send off your console to be fixed sucks, which makes it great the NES has minimal parts inside, all of which can be switched out without having to be a master electrician.

And the title of “Light That Symbolizes the Most Gut-wrenching Problem with a Video Game Console” is… the XBOX360, by a 5-1 margin! When you fork out that kind of cash for a console you expect it to work for a long time. Look at the original NES: It carried a $250 price tag when it was introduced, but at least they still work!

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