Wednesday, October 22, 2008

8Bit Killer

This weekend I played an FPS that really renewed my faith in the genre. That game? 8Bit Killer. If you haven't already guessed from the screenshots, title, and general nature of the games reviewed here, it's an 8-Bit Game. It plays like Doom or Wolfenstein and is actually a 2-D game. You can't aim up or down, and never need to. It was made by an indie game developer who goes by "Locomalito." My Spanish isn't the best in the world, but I think it translates to something like "Crazy Badass." You can check out his official site (and download 8Bit Killer, along with other games) here. The site has both Spanish and English versions (but is easily navigable).

The game tells a story of a group of marines defending Earth from an alien invasion. You are hopelessly outnumbered. Most of the aliens look like medieval torture specialists. The story is interesting, and extremely appropriate. And... well, I guess I should go ahead and confess: I try to only review games that I've beaten. This doesn't always happen, and I've broken the rule several times already, but at least I'm upfront. I've gotten to (what I suspect) is second to last level, and I loved every minute of it. I had a lot of free time over the weekend and spent a good 4-8 hours (who knows?) getting to the second to last level and successfully dying.

Things start out simple enough. The first level is strictly linear, one room after the other, no sidepaths. The second level is reminiscent of Doom, and is an exploring level where you have to find keycards, secrets, weapons, backtrack, solve puzzles, blow shit up, etc. Third level is a boss fight. When vanquished, you proceed to the next chapter. The first 3 chapters stick to this pattern, but the linear level is replaced by another free-roaming level in the (suspected) final chapter.

The design is fucking great. Brilliant. Even the linear levels are fun because they conjure memories of simpler times, when game design was bare-bones, but well thought out and interesting. You feel like you are playing an FPS incarnation of the original Contra at times. Other times you'll be reminded of Bionic Commando, Doom, Wolfenstein, Quake, but you'll be completely aware that you are playing 8Bit Killer, because the game oozes originality in an interesting way. If the NES had a First Person Shooter, this would be it (though I believe it is too complex for my buddy the NES). None of the concepts are new (except maybe that all enemy bullets can be seen, and dodged!) but the game makes them its own. It is not exploiting other works, but collaborating with them as part of a video game tradition. It converses with other games and carves its own identity, differentiating itself from the pack with its graphics and music.

Graphically, the game uses 32x32 pixel textures, but runs in a much higher resolution (maybe 1024x768?). The texture resolution is lower than even Wolfenstein, I believe. This method forces design creativity, and the color palette brings the game to life. The colors are rich, complementary, perfectly varied, and set the mood for each level wonderfully. The sprites are detailed and display master craftsmanship as far as pixel art goes. 8-Bit aficionados will be drooling, and if you're like me you'll wonder why a game like this wasn't made in the '90s. In fact, 8Bit Killer was released in June 2008, so it's still fairly new. It's proof that the graphics race is coming to a close, or, more appropriately, that gamers are gaining a deeper understand of what is meant by a game's "graphics." For a while, that meant realistic, (and I know I'm not the first to say this) but lately simpler graphics have a very big fan base. Mega Man 9 is proof of that, as well. Hopefully we can shed the term graphics when reviewing games, and use "art direction" as a more descriptive nomenclature.

Finally the music. 8-Bit chiptunes composed and programmed by RushJet1. You can access his website here. It's some of the best I've ever heard. As good as the best of Mega Man 2 or 9's music, maybe better. The game comes with 10 tracks, which is reason enough to download the game, even if you don't want to play it (but why wouldn't you?). The music quotes a few NES games, Bionic Commando, Mega Man, and possibly a few others, but it's never more than quotation. The songs, above all else, are catchy. They have an infectious quality and lodge themselves in your brain. It's unavoidable and completely welcome.

8Bit Killer has a few small problems, if you want to pick it apart (and why not!). One problem I noticed with the game was performance-related. It had a tendency to slow down at times, but the music never changes tempo, so it's not a huge deal. The game is easier to play when it slows down, but less fun, BUT at least it won't cause a cheap death. The second is the lack of options. Any options. It uses standard FPS controls (WASD + Mouse + Alt + Space + Esc) and I think you can opt out of the mouse. Another problem is that hitting ESC quits the game. Instantly... a simple Y/N screen would have been nice. I'm hoping for an updated version in the future that at least adds this small feature.

If you're still reading, you'll love the game. Go download it now, now! This game is so fucking awesome and it's so fucking free that there is no excuse. I hadn't played an FPS in a while before this weekend, and I've always had a bit of trouble navigating game. My usual strategy is just to bumble around killing monsters (or soldiers) until I find the exit. Not the best strategy, but serviceable. The levels can look similar at a first glance, but after a few playthroughs you'll have the layout memorized.

There are plenty of health and ammo powerups, including some that increase your max health and ammo, which is great because you will grow in strength as the game progresses.

You'll kill hordes of monsters, my first kill count was over 600 when I Game Overed. Which happens after 3 deaths. No saving. No continuing after that, it's back to Level 1-1. Brutal, but you (and I) shouldn't be dying anyway.

After all, you're Earth's last chance. Don't fuck it up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pixel Art: Another Skeleton King

Another skeleton king.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pixel Art: Skeleton Kings

This is some pixel art from an 8-Bit game I am currently developing. These badasses are Skeleton Kings. Game is about a robot in a maze full of skeletons.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fake Man: Mega Man 9 DLC Round 2 Boss Revealed

The new Mega Man 9 DLC was announced yesterday! For anyone not wanting the surprise spoiled, too late it's Fake Man! The new boss is the Police Robot that arrested Dr. Light at the beginning of the game.

The internet has been awash with rumors of the new boss. Gamers suspected Bass would be making his appearance as the boss, and other suggested "Overdrive Man" based on the OST (the song for Fake Man's level is entitled "Overdrive Scramble"). Others even suspected Dr. Eggman would appear, as a cross over to support the upcoming Capcom vs. Sega. And, as per usual, Mega Man X fans naturally hoped for Zero... and in a brilliant plot twist Capcom pulls Fake Man out of left field. But it was so obvious! He's already in the game, and featured far too prominently to just be a throwaway character. We all should have seen this coming, but I heard not one single rumor of Fake Man or the Police Bot. He's a sneaky fucking bastard... hiding right in plain site!

You can read the full interview with Hironobu Takeshita, the Mega Man 9 producer. He also goes into extensive detail about the design process of the 8 (9) Robot Masters. This is definitely a don't-miss interview for Mega Man 9 fans.

Still no word on the difficulties, but Monday should shed some light on the situation. I'm excited about scrapping the bastard who helped frame Dr. Light. Also, notice how the timer in the first picture reads 7 minutes... hopefully the new stage will be both difficult and lengthy. We can deduce his weapon (at least part of it) from the screenshot. He will shoot Mega Man-style bullets, though they appear slightly bigger than Mega Man's. It's possible he could have a secondary power, similar to Flash Man.

Finally, just a theory: Capcom hasn't announced any more DLC for MM9, but there are 2 good indicators that more will be appearing in the future. First, we probably won't be getting Fake Man's weapon, which still leaves a weapon spot open on the menu. Second, Bass appears on Wily's computer at the end... yet doesn't make an actual appearance in the game. I suspect we'll be seeing more of Bass, for a price, in the future. I emailed Capcom, asking if they would be releasing more DLC, but, in typical PR fashion, they responded with a "nothing has been announced at this time." Oh well, it was worth a try.

Only one question remains about Fake Man: will he appear in the Endless Stage if you have both downloaded? Probably not, but that would be a nice touch on Capcom's part. You hear that Capcom? No? Oh.

Update, a few hours later...

It's come to my attention, after re-reading the interview... that the special boss will, in fact, be Bass. Observe:

"GS: Are there any robot masters that didn't make the cut that you can share with us?

HT: I don't mean to evade your question, but there is one boss we'd love to introduce to the fans in this occasion. His name is Fake Man. He appears on the special stage available in downloadable content. He also makes a small appearance in the main content. This is a big hint! Some of you might have already gotten it by just telling you this. The special stage will be very challenging for most of you, and you may not be able to see him often. Don't be discouraged. He is waiting for you, to battle you!"

Notice he says, "a big hint" which makes no sense if it's Fake Man... he's just announced him a few sentences ago, the mystery is solved. But obviously there is more to Fake Man. Bass is the only character that makes a small appearance in the game who could possibly be an enemy. Wily had the schematics for Bass on his computer because he was altering Bass's appearance. Why would Bass comply, you ask? To lure Mega Man into a final duel, of course! Notice the shots that Fake Man fired, and I mentioned... who else uses a buster? Bass.

All the signs now point to Bass, but most people will probably be fooled because of the interview. A great double-cross, and a brilliant scheme by Capcom... and Wily.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Legend of Video Games

I was driving home, thinking about something Miyamoto said about Zelda. He said that his goal was to create a garden that people could keep in their dresser drawer. That resonated, because I saw Zelda from a different perspective, and it applied very well.

There are trees in the game, to be sure, but most of the local fauna are perfectly trimmed shrubs. The rocks are all neatly aligned. The lakes and rivers have been squared off... obviously because the programmers made it so. But is that no less a garden? It has all of the characteristics, except it is a digital construction.

Part of the world's interest in video games stems from the digital nature of video games. The ability to completely define rules to a smaller universe. It is life simulation in some cases, but in others it is purely abstract. They are the natural evolution from games played outside, or games played on a wooden board. The contradiction is understanding video games, and really understanding why they interest us so much. Some of the gaming universes are bigger than others, and it's weird to think that all of the place exist, in so many different consoles and computers, at different times.

This train of though has been completely derailed. I played Mega Man: Powered Up tonight (after dying on Proto Man's castle in Mega Man 5, what the fuck is up with the first boss, his strategy is to literally stand on top of you, and he moves about as fast, if not faster, than Mega Man) and it was pretty amazing. Along with Crisis Core, Dracula X, Valkyrie Profile, Lumines, Ghost and Goblins, Gradius... why don't I have a PSP? I'll always love climbing Elecman's tower and kicking his ass. One of the hardest stages in Mega Man, but oh so satisfying. Waltzing up this crazy Electric Wizard's tower and exploding him, and the best part is the music. But I didn't realize that MM:PU has two games, the original, and a remix. The remixed Elecman's stage was a mild letdown. To much horizontal, not enough vertical. I beat Elecman with the buster, and thus spared his life.

I noticed you could then fight Mega Man if you stared an Elecman game, but I didn't get a chance to see who the real boss was (the game displays his name as "Mega Man?")... Proto Man? Quint? a Doc Robot? Bass? Who knows? Not me.

On a final note, I've been playing Proto Man game in MM9, and it was great fun... up until Wily 4. I'll get it eventually, but let me say: fuck. Proto Man is not for the faint of heart or weak-willed warriors. Ironic that I'm having trouble both playing as and against Proto Man.

I managed to beat my Endless Level score as well... 137, which is pretty terrible considering the 3000+ score on the Wii leaderboard. I'll be satisfied if I can break 1000.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quick Update: Mega Man 9 DLC

Last night I wrote a review(ish) of Mega Man 9, you should read it below, but the first part of the DLC launched today, and in case anyone was curious, I thought I'd review it.

First of all: go buy the Endless Level, for 3 dollars it's the best deal video games have ever seen. There are an unspecified number of pre-set stages, some of them remakes from Mega Man 1 and 2, some original. Every 30 screens (about the length of a regular stage) you fight a boss. It's truly amazing to behold. Every time you play, the level will be different. There are reports of stages altering the enemies slightly as well. I've seen remakes of Heat Man's stage, Dr. Wily Stage 1 (Mega Man 1), Bubble Man's stage, and Stone Man, among others. Eventually a comprehensive list will be compiled, and I suspect that there will be around 200 unique stages... more platforming than you'll find in the 12 standard levels of Mega Man 9.

Second we have Proto Man, for 2 dollars. He can charge his attack, slide, and deflect bullets while jumping. His downsides include: taking double damage, getting knocked back twice as far (FUCK!), and only having two shots (as opposed to Mega Man's 3) on the screen at the same time. Additionally, he can't unlock challenges, do time trials, or play the Endless Level. He's fun to play as, but he feels disjointed and awkward. I think the double knock-back is a bit much, considering he takes double damage. Also, one has to question why he can't pull out his shield while standing? Still, nothing says style like Proto Man, so skip on those 2 double cheeseburgers and download this guy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mega Man 9

For the past two weeks I've been playing Mega Man 9 almost none-stop. I take breaks to play Mega Man, the 8-Bit version of Mega Man 7 (here's the link if your interested, well this is the blog post I originally found it on anyway), Mega Man 2, 3, 4, etc. Twilight Princess is going to have to wait, because I really enjoy playing games when they first come out, especially epic event like Mega Man 9.

Before I go any further, I have to announce: Cave Story coming to the Wii (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). It's official. Here's the official site. At the time of this article, the site only shows Quote running and says the site will launch Monday Oct 6. Well, it's 12:20 a.m. here, I guess they mean when they get out of bed. Moving on...

It's epic because it's an 8-Bit masterpiece, without a doubt the best Mega Man game ever made. It's the best priced at ten dollars, and delivers everything you wanted in a Mega Man game. Excellent level design, excellent graphics, kickass graphics... and it does this by going back to the basics.

It feels historic. Capcom really outdid themselves. I have no complaints. In fact, I want to thank Capcom, IntiCreates, and Inafune for making such a great game. I want to look at criticisms of Mega Man 9, and prove them wrong. Look around the internet and you'll find 3 forms of Mega Man 9 criticism. The first, will criticize the graphics. These idiots can continue to screaeaaeem about HD and component cables, but completely miss the point. It's like criticizing a Jazz musician for not playing Pop-Rock. Second, some folks think the game is difficult. IGN, 11 year olds, and seniors have certainly been having a tough time getting through the swings in Jewel Man's stage. Little children are also easily distracted by the elephant's in Conrete Man's stage, in fact the flashing colors and pretty lights are almost too much for young children, causing them to slam their faces on their keyboard all over the internet. Those not looking for a challenge need not apply, but abandon not hope, the force is with you, thou has slain the Hornet Man, and thou has learned a new spell.

Ultimately, Capcom gave the world something I thought we'd never have: a new 8-Bit game. Mega Man 9 (and Cave Story) prove that 8-Bit (and this site by extension) is still relevant. And its evolving, as our understanding of video games matures, programmers and designers are free to go back to 8-Bit, 4-Bit, 16-Bit, to pick the form that works best for the subject matter. Mega Man 8 doesn't have a single polygon in the entire game, and manages to be more fun than 99.9% of all games released this year (and certainly has a chance at being the best downloadable game this year, something that only Cave Story could change.)

Finally, there are the DLC criticisms. For those that don't know: Mega Man 9 costs $10 for the basic package; Tomorrow Proto Man will be released for $2 and the endless level will be released for $3, a brilliant marketing scheme by Capcom; In 2 weeks they will release two additional difficulty modes for $1 a piece and a new Time Trial stage for $1. These are valid criticisms. One should pay one price for a video game, but perhaps that isn't the best model for anyone. If the game was more expensive, Capcom would have less consumers, and would release the game for $20 bucks (or more!) to offset that balance. They wouldn't be able to make an 8-Bit game if it weren't cheap. Corporate Executives are, on average, very fat and stupid, and require large graphics with convincing pie pieces to approve creative and intelligent ideas. What I'm trying to say is: it's 18 bucks for the entire package, and that's a bargain.

Up until now Capcom has been very tight-lipped on the downloadable content, releasing information on Proto Man, but not much else. Always a fan favorite, I predict that he is a distraction from the real excitement: the endless level. I'm actually listening to the music right now... And I wonder, what could this level be like? If it's a randomly-generated Mega Man platformer, with as much polish as the normal levels, it may very well be the best 2-D video game.

It remains to be seen. I've beaten Mega Man 9 5 times, and am working on various challenges. I can't wait for the new DLC, it's like Mega Man 9 launching all over again, and there is still ANOTHER release date to anticipate. I'll be reviewing each set of downloadable content as its released.

Fight, Mega Man! For everlasting peace!