Game Center CX is an interesting Japanese TV show that started back in 2003. It stars middle-aged Japanese man Shinya Arino, one half of comedy duo Yoiko and tasks him with playing old video games and trying to clear them. The catch is..he’s quite bad at them. He’s forgetful and awful at pattern recognition, both important skills for older, unforgiving games, but his upbeat attitude turns that into fun and more often than not he eventually meets his goal. The series got a small cult following in the west, largely thanks to the efforts of a subtitling translation team based on the Something Awful forums.
It doesn’t take much thinking to come to the conclusion that a tie-in game based on a show about games would be a good idea, but there was an issue – the games that Arino plays all belong to the license holders. They couldn’t well put out a compilation of games from different publishing entities. Instead, a creative route was taken.
Aside from games with wild peripherals, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) genre might well be the most difficult to preserve due to the way they work. Being online only games, when the company running the game decides it’s time to end it, due to financial reasons or introducing a new product, that game becomes unplayable. There are of course, exceptions, though rarely. Some games, such as Star Wars Galaxies and Phantasy Star Online have third-party private servers, where the server-side backend has either been reverse-engineered or leaked and is run by fans, often with some difference such as higher experience and item drop rates. Generally speaking though, they are gone for good. Most MMORPGs simple cease to exist when the time comes, but sometimes there are special “end of world” events, or the reason for end of service is very notable. A quick few of these follows.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go and tour the Game Masters exhibit at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. The exhibit, put together by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, is a look at the work of influential game designers such as Warren Spector (System Shock, Deus Ex, Ultima Underworld), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear, Snatcher, Zone of the Enders), Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims, Spore), Yu Suzuki (Hang On, Outrun, Shenmue) and many more. The exhibition started in Melbourne, but has since travelled to the Museum of New Zealand and now Sydney.
“This is Motavia, a beautiful, beckoning jewel – gripped by madness.”
Platform: Sega Mega Drive
Phantasy Star was a success for Sega. The game sold well enough for a sequel to be made quite quickly, and while one would be forgiven for expecting it to be a direct sequel again starring Alis, it turned out to be something else entirely and just as important to the growth of Japanese Role-Playing Games.
During the late 1980’s, every game company wanted a game as big and great as Super Mario Bros. With good reason – it sold millions, kids loved it, merchandise was flying off the shelf and it help push the Nintendo Entertainment System into the homes of many families. While most developers and publishers would be content just to make their own thing and hope for the best, one in particular decided to outright clone Super Mario Bros., for better or worse.
The time: Space Century 324.
The place: The Algol Star System.
Platform: Sega Master System
Phantasy Star has an odd legacy. The series is generally remembered for its (admittedly amazing) online outings. The original games Phantasy Star Online was spun-off from, however, are secretly very important to the evolution of Japanese Role-Playing Games as they are today – for better or worse.
Total Object Interactivity™
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Platform: Sega Mega Drive, Sega Mega CD, Commodore Amiga
Traveller’s Tales have an interesting history in that though they’ve been around since the early 90’s and have developed a lot of great selling games (i.e., the Lego series of games), they’ve never actually had their own intellectual property – they’ve always done work for other people. They started off working with Psygnosis (now known as Studio Liverpool and sadly made defunct by Sony Computer Entertainment) on Leander, an Amiga game similar to Shadow of the Beast and a game based on the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo (other console versions were handled by Probe Entertainment or an internal Psygnosis team). Their third game, Puggsy, is something special.
2012 was bit of an interim year, as far as these sorts of things go, despite seeing the launch of two consoles – the PlayStation Vita and Wii U. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a swathe of great games released, however.
A fan-translated ROM of Super Robot Wars J running in the VBA-M Gameboy Advance emulator.
There’s an inherent issue with being interested in video games from an earlier time. There’s not always an easy or legal way to play the game you want to. Take for example Ever17. The original publisher, Hirameki International, have been gone from the industry since 2008 (though their parent company came back in 2010 to sell console accessories in Japan). At the time of writing, there were no English PC copies on eBay. There was one copy of Amazon – for USD$400. None of the console (PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360) releases of the game were translated to English. At that point, what do you do? What choice do you have? Do you just go without? Or do you turn to the ‘dark side’ and download images of the game’s discs and play it that way?
This was not called execution. It was called retirement.
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Blade Runner was one of the most influential films of the 80’s. Its influence on design, atmosphere and storytelling can still be felt in movies to this day. Like just about any movie, good or bad, it had a video game tie-in, right? Well sort of.