Sunday, April 24, 2011

Game On: Let's Play 2.06 - Sonic Adventure [Tails]

Game: Sonic Adventure [Tails]
System: Sega Dreamcast
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Players: Mark Greenfeld

Game Overview [As seen on GOLP 2.03]

In order to introduce this game, one must venture back to Sega’s previous console, the Sega Saturn. During a time without a major sonic title, Sega published Traveler’s Tales racing game Sonic R and Sonic 3D Blast onto the console, and Yuji Naka, the lead programmer of the original Sonic games, was disappointed with the direction Sonic was taking. During the Saturn years, Naka was working on non-Sonic titles such as Burning Rangers and NiGHTS, but with the Dreamcast, he returned to direct the Sonic franchise. After going into full development early-1997, the game would be the Sega Dreamcast’s flagship launch title in late 1999. The game marks the first major Sonic title in which current Sonic Team Producer Takashi Iizuka was director, although he was Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ Senior Game Designer prior.

Sonic Adventure stars Sonic and friends in the crew’s first major 3D adventure. Sonic and Tails discover that Doctor Robotnik (Or Eggman, as Sonic calls him) is planning on collecting the seven Chaos Emeralds in order to bring Chaos, the God of Destruction, to full power in order to rule the world. Sonic and Tails’ quest is not exclusive to themselves, however; Sonic Adventure introduces multiple characters whose plots intertwine with each other in order to create a full picture on what is happening and why. Knuckles the Echidna is pulled into adventure after Chaos appears and destroys the Master Emerald, causing Angel Island to crash into the ocean. Amy Rose, the self-proclaimed girlfriend to the blue hedgehog, finds herself in a precarious situation involving the protection of a young bird from a nefarious E-Series Robot’s clutches. Big the Cat runs (or wobbles, really) toward action in order to find his friend Froggy who, for some reason, has become increasingly agitated and rambunctious. Finally, E-102 Gamma, one of Eggman’s E-Series robots, follows his master’s orders until he encounters Amy and the little bird, with interesting results. Once each adventure is completed, a final adventure opens to bring Sonic and the new nemesis together for a final showdown.

Each character has his or her unique game style and cutscenes, although some do appear similar when characters interact. Sonic’s stages are the longest and most straight forward: get to the end of each level. Tails has shorter stages, all of which involve races to the finish. Knuckles’ mission is to collect three pieces of the Master Emerald in each open stage. Amy has to get to the end of each level, all while running from Zero. Big’s levels are actually fishing mini-games more than stages, and E-102 Gamma’s areas are shooter-focused. Besides the action stages themselves, there are multiple Adventure areas where the characters must explore to find power-ups and new levels. Bosses fill the remainder of the game time, whether the battles are against other characters, Eggman, or Chaos.

Sonic Adventure had been seen with great acclaim, lauding its retention of Sonic’s platforming and fast-paced speed from the original series and bringing it into 3D, albeit with a number of glitches and a finicky camera system. It is seen as the biggest game for the Sega Dreamcast, and it is the highest-selling game for it, too, at 2.5 million sold.

Since then… [As of April 2011]

Sonic has grown and shrunken in prominence since his debut into 3D. Despite the game’s praises, it was not capable of keeping Sega in the black during the Dreamcast’s existence, and just as the much-anticipated sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, was about to release, Sega announced that it had stopped producing consoles and would reduce its focus to solely software. Just half a year after Sonic Adventure 2’s release, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was released to the Nintendo GameCube, the first Sonic game on a Nintendo console. Sonic Adventure would never return as a franchise after 2, but Sonic Unleashed, released years later for all current consoles, would be called Sonic World Adventure in Japan, perhaps denoting its existence as a game fitting of the Adventure series title.

To list all Sonic games since Sonic Adventure would be tiring, but major Sonic titles since the Dreamcast include Sonic Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and Sonic Unleashed. Another team within Sonic Team created Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, and Sonic Colors, all for the Wii. Most recently, Sonic has been coming back to 2D with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (developed by DIMPS) alongside the release of Sonic Colors for Wii and DS. The HD development team behind Sonic Unleashed is now working on Sonic Generations for Xbox 360 and PS3, a game in which modern and classic Sonic meet and venture through the three generations of Sonic, using both styles of Sonic games. It is expected for a late 2011 release.

Meanwhile, producer Yuji Naka would work on a number of new franchises on Dreamcast, including ChuChu Rocket, Samba de Amigo, and Phantasy Star Online while Sonic Team USA worked on Sonic Adventure 2. Years later, he would leave Sega to form Prope, creating such games as Let’s Tap and Ivy the Kiwi?. His latest project is Rodea the Sky Soldier, a flight-based action title heading to 3DS and Wii thanks to Kadokawa Games; a release outside of Japan has not been officially been announced.

Sonic Adventure itself has seen a number of rereleases since its Dreamcast debut. In 2004, Sonic Team and some members of NOW Production brought Sonic Adventure onto GameCube and Windows as Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut. This edition includes slightly improved visuals, improving the lighting and models of each character, but the game’s glitches were not fixed. Included with the main adventures are 60 missions which are available for players to complete in both adventure and action stages, and if all Emblems are collected, players can play as Metal Sonic. Furthermore, as players earn emblems they unlock the ability to play from a collection of twelve Sonic Game Gear titles. This year, Sonic Team Shanghai brought Sonic Adventure to Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. This version is the DX version of the game sans the extra game content, and the mission content is available as DLC. Players can also experience Sonic Adventure through the Dreamcast Collection for Xbox 360 and PC, which contains three other Dreamcast-gone-XBLA titles in one retail disc.

The Let’s Play

Mark Greenfeld was all too eager to jump into Sonic Adventure, especially with the idea to have the game played by three people and span several episodes. He decided to take second dibs on whom to play, and Tails was easily chosen as his primary choice. Being a hardcore Sega fan, he was sure to do well, and with luck he was capable of getting through Tails in one whole episode.

Tails is among the longer segments in the game, but he is pretty straight forward. Mark moves through his story and, barring a few glitches here and there, he completes the whole story in one sitting. No need to wait for a second part for this one! He also dabbles a little with the Chao segments of the game, although he was pressured to move onward rather than stick with raising a Silver Chao.


Even though we had lost our other player for the day, we took the opportunity to make the commentary as lively as possible, and by that I mean we bothered Mark continually throughout his playthrough. Whether it was singing Tails’ theme song or mimicking the bad voiceovers, we ensured to keep his anger high and our gameplay as active as possible.

It had been a long while since Mark had played Sonic Adventure, and as such he had a rocky start to his adventure. Sometimes he found himself unable to find his way around the Adventure maps, but he was good at venturing through the actual stages, sans a few incidents. Meanwhile, he took it upon himself to try out some Chao raising, despite the nearby audience’s disinterest. This ultimately led to increased banter between the three people. By the second half, the insanity began to grow, which lead to a funnier outcome.

The recording was alright, although the room was perhaps more acoustic than we would have preferred. The result is the occasional moment when our voices on the sidelines become hard to judge amid the loud game soundtrack. Furthermore, the recording devices began to create a heavy buzzing sound, which can be heard within the recording, much to our dismay. And we had commentary during the credits…but the audio was nearly impossible to hear, so years later I removed the commentary for the sake of our ears.

As for continuing the Sonic Adventure playthrough, we were unable to do so. Ivan was always too busy with other projects, and while we attempted to complete Knuckles later on, a glitch prevented progress beyond a battle against Chaos. We never ventured into the secondary threesome, and considering what else we recorded I am somewhat thankful for it. For now. Perhaps Third Rate Game Play might finish the game as it stands, but for now, Sonic Adventure is done for us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Third Rate Game Play 2: TimeSplitters

Game: TimeSplitters

System: Playstation 2

Developer: Free Radical Design

Publisher: Eidos

Player: Tony Wanschura

Experience: Played Sequels

TimeSplitters was Free Radical Design’s debut game, and it being a first-person shooter was not too surprising considering where the developer originated. Free Radical Design was formed in April 1999 by a number of Rare employees who specialized on the Nintendo 64’s major first-person shooter titles, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. During Perfect Dark’s early development, a number of employees, including David Doak, Steve Ellis, Karl Hilton, Graeme Norgate, and Lee Ray left to form their own independent studio. The result was Free Radical Design. With a team of eighteen and a short time before the Playstation 2’s launch, the group worked together to create the first game in what would be the company’s main franchise.

Eidos, the game’s publisher, was formed in 1990 with a specialization toward video compression and non-linear editing systems (specifically for Acorn Archimedes computers). It was not until the company began a series of acquisitions that it would enter the gaming market. These acquisitions included Domark Group Limited, Simis and Big Red Software in 1995 as well as CenterGold (whose most prominent asset was Core Design, developer of the Tomb Raider series) in 1996. Over time, Eidos developed a large number of popular franchises, and with the release of the Playstation 2 on the horizon, the publisher turned to UK-developer Free Radical Design to bring out TimeSplitters as a launch title.

The TimeSplitters are an evil race dwelling outside of time and space. Roused from an ancient sleep, they cross the threshold from their shadowy dimension, ripping through the fabric of time itself to make humanity history. Can we unite against a common enemy? Or will we be condemned forever to a realm ruled under the shadow of the TimeSplitters. In the 1-player game you travel from time to time to collect different artifacts before the Timesplitters can. The multiplayer game is 4-player Deathmatch with the option of adding several bots.
In multiplayer games running on a single console you have to strike a good balance between looks and cost. The single-player game has to look different and original and has to show off the power of a next generation console. At the same time you have to build in an allowance for the fact that everything the game is doing will be four times as expensive in four-player, which is a significant load on any console. The graphics are designed to look great and to run at a consistently high frame rate.
– Karl Hilton on the splitscreen capabilities of the game, IGN Interview

TimeSplitters is a first-person shooter in which players travel around the world and through time in order to stop an evil race of monsters known as the TimeSplitters from removing humanity from time. The game is the first Playstation 2 game which allows for 4-players on one console, and it was the first first-person shooter for it, as well.

The basic concept for the main game is to retrieve a relic specific for the time period and return it to the starting point of each level. The game starts with three particular levels, and after all three are completed, another set of three are unlocked, and so forth. Once every “Story” level is completed, the game opens up a Challenge Mode in which more specific missions are introduced, such as killing enough of an enemy or preventing enemies from taking a relic back. These modes can be played by up to four players simultaneously.

The purpose behind the multiple difficulty levels and modes outside of multiplayer is to unlock a myriad of playable characters for multiplayer matches. The main focus of the game sits on a number of Capture-the-Flag-esque modes alongside the usual DeathMatch modes for first-person shooters. The most unique element of the game is the inclusion of an in-game MapMaker, in which players can very closely replicate levels developed by the original team or create even more intricate levels for multiplayer and single-player experiences.

The history of Free Radical Design goes far from here, seeing as this game was its first game created, so bear with us (no pun related to the banner above). After receiving great success from the launch title, Free Radical went on to produce a multi-console release with its sequel, TimeSplitters 2. With more time, the game itself could have cutscenes and a heavily-enhanced single-player campaign, using elements from the objective-based first-person shooters the team had worked on before. TimeSplitters 2 was claimed by many as the spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, ultimately becoming the highest-rated and highest-selling of the franchise.

TimeSplitters 2’s great success would hasten the development of a third title, called TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. Unfortunately, the game was not taken by Eidos, which had undergone some changes in management since TimeSplitters 2, but Electronic Arts was willing to publish the game on all platforms. The gameplay retained some of the GoldenEye-based objective concepts, but character movement and longer missions related more toward the most-recent hit in first-person shooters, Halo: Combat Evolved. The game underperformed, however, and EA would later reject the publishing possibilities for future iterations. TimeSplitters as a series did not continue after Future Perfect’s 2005 release, as a result of Free Radical Design’s later projects.

Free Radical would work on two other franchises outside of the TimeSplitters IP. The first game was a third-person shooter with an emphasis on psychic powers: Second Sight. Despite TimeSplitters’ success, Eidos did not pick up the game for publishing, so Free Radical turned to Codemasters, another UK publisher, to release the game. Second Sight received fairly-positive reviews, but considering its quiet marketing, Second Sight most likely had a muted reception, sales-wise.

The second non-TimeSplitters game would be the company’s last. In an attempt to join the fight amid big first-person shooters on HD consoles, Free Radical Design developed Haze, a shooter focused on the conflict between a multinational war corporation and a set of rebel fighters surrounding around a unique sensory-enhancing substance known as Nectar. The game was originally planned for Xbox 360, PC, and Playstation 3, but the game was later pushed out as a Playstation 3 exclusive. Published by Ubisoft after months of delay, the game was poorly-received and sold just as badly. Because so much effort was put on the project, the company was put into financial limbo.

The deathblow for Free Radical Design was not just Haze’s poor reception, but the indirect results of its failure. The company had been working alongside LucasArts to bring Star Wars: Battlefront III out onto all consoles, but following the shake-up of Haze’s sales, LucasArts stepped back and canceled the project, cutting off any revenue source for the developer. Free Radical Design had been working on a TimeSplitters 4 at the same time, but without a secured publisher to fund the project, the company went into administration on December 18th, 2008, thus ending FRD as a developer in the industry.

The following February, it was discovered that Free Radical Design, headed by Karl Hilton, would be purchased by German developer Crytek, renaming the developer into Crytek UK. Since then, over forty of the original Free Radical Design developers have been rehired, and Crytek UK is now currently working on a number of projects. Its first major effort for Crytek was the development of Crysis 2’s multiplayer component.

Meanwhile, founders Dave Doak and Steve Ellis left Free Radical with some employees to found Pumpkin Beach, which vanished quietly some time later. Upon further inspection, it appears as though Pumpkin Beach was a flash MMO game akin to Club Penguin, based on a single screenshot released by the game’s 2D HUD artist. Doak and Ellis were later given funding to form ZinkyZonk, a Facebook game developer. The company’s only release to date is Gangsta Zombies, although it is reported that ZinkyZonk was given funding to develop Gangsta Pets.

Eidos has also changed a number of times since TimeSplitters released. In March 2005, the company received a takeover bid by Elevation Partners, but one day later it received another takeover bid by SCi Entertainment, the publisher most famous for the Carmageddon series. SCi would fully merge with Eidos that May. A few years later, the company had revealed that it was taking major losses, threatening the company’s existence. In 2009, however, Square Enix offered to purchase Eidos in February for £84.3 million, and its offer went through late April. While Square Enix stated that it would not change the company in any way, Eidos was recently renamed to Square Enix Europe, thereby ending the name of Eidos since its creation in 1990.

Currently, Crytek UK is starting work on at least one new game, rumored to be TimeSplitters 4. Eidos, now Square Enix Europe, is working heavily on Deus Ex: Human Revolution among other major Western-focused games.

Playing the game for the first time, Tony starts off the game right for the Story mode, hoping for something akin to the Story modes from its successors. It was quickly discovered that the Story mode took multiple players, so the first level was played with two-player cooperation. However, thinking a part of the story had been removed due to the cooperative element, the rest of the Story mode was played by Tony himself.

Following the completion of the first three levels on Easy, the second set of three was attempted. Once this was completed, a cooperative game of Multiplayer was demonstrated along with a swift attempt at the game’s MapMaker, with entertaining results.

It became swiftly obvious to us why the game did not get released onto other consoles. It was a swiftly-made game which clearly showed its roughness many years later. In our case, it only became worse considering we had played the much better games in the series beforehand.

TimeSplitters did not have a story, or at least it had a very hidden story. Furthermore, each of the game's missions consisted entirely of “get item and return,” essentially a Capture the Bag game for single player. What we did not know of was the Challenge mode with extra missions, but we could not get any further than the second set of levels, where the difficulty hiked up to the point where we would be incapable of progress within our playtime. The multiplayer was also less content-heavy than the other games, but the MapMaker seemed pretty close to the MapMaker in its future installments, clearly with less polish and themes to use.

It was not as humorous as, say, the Eternal Ring episode, but there are glitters of moments with plenty of laughter throughout. While disappointing in its delivery, the game's less-than-stellar presentation made our experience more interesting in hindsight.

3RM Says: Those monsters should be more careful. Splitting time is a serious matter.
Though time is separate from matter...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Game On: Let's Play 2.05 - Raiden Trad

Game: Raiden Trad
System: Super Nintendo
Developer: Micronics
Publisher: Electro Brain
Players: Edward Bauman
Alex Wanschura

Game Overview

Arcades used to be the go-to places for everyone’s gaming fix, ranging from small games of Pac-Man to finger-blistering battles in Street Fighter. Over time, these mainstays in the gaming industry became a complimentary part of every gamer’s life, allowing them to socialize with other gamers and experience gaming outside of home. Regardless of how prominent arcades were for gamers, arcade companies wanted to ensure that they received some money from gamers, whether they were at home or in the arcades. As such, several arcade ports and spin-offs have graced every console and handheld in existence, even if the quality has varied greatly from game to game.

One of the more recognized developers of Japanese arcade titles back in the day was Seibu Denshi, formed in the early 1980’s and best known for creating the Raiden shooter franchise. Raiden is a series of vertical shooters in which the World Alliance Military fights off the Cranassians, an alien race bent on invading Earth. In order to defeat the aliens, the WAM creates the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter, a super-powered jet created from a crashed alien vessel, to stop the oncoming forces and save humanity. This episode’s game, Raiden Trad, would be a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis port of the action-packed arcade shooter. Of course, Seibu Denshi had worked on console games beforehand, specifically three rail-gun shooters: Dynamite Duke, Empire City: 1931, and Dead Angle. Bringing the arcade hit Raiden to consoles was no problem for the developer, but with the focus strictly toward a Genesis port, the company outsourced the SNES’s version to another developer.

Enter Micronics, the true developer of Raiden Trad’s Super Nintendo iteration. Formed in 1985, this Japanese developer was headed by Masahiko Tsukada and Kazuo Yagi and was a contract developer for the NES and, for one time, the Sega Master System. A post on 2Ch claims that the president of the company was a college student who had wanted to join the gaming industry and ended up doing ports without the desire to clean up bugs and other issues formed during game development; whether this is true has not been confirmed. While some games the developer produced did not mention its name and required deep investigation for authentication, Raiden Trad happens to sport the developer’s name right on the title screen. Perhaps the game was good enough that the developer decided to put its name on the game, or perhaps Seibu Denshi wanted to ensure gamers that it had no major part in Trad’s development.

The publisher of Raiden Trad in the US was Electro Brain Corporation. Not much is known about the company other than the unique lineup of games it published up to that point. Titles released before Raiden Trad included Ghoul School and Supercars for the NES.

Raiden Trad’s SNES edition features many differences from the original arcade classic, most of which result in the game’s poor quality. Some of the abilities do not become as powerful as they would in the arcade game, and a few of the bosses are stationary or are already in their second attack formation so as to cut corners. Bombs, which originally only destroyed ships which collided with the explosion, eliminate everything on screen in Trad. After beating a boss, players pull themselves toward the center of the screen, possibly colliding with an enemy bullet on the way. A reduced framerate and duller colors combine into something which only harms the overall package of the otherwise lackluster port. At least the game is content complete, for the most part.

Since its Release…

Raiden as a series would go on for several iterations in the Arcades, but after Raiden DX, released in 1994, the series remained alive mostly through a number of spin-offs. The Raiden Fighters series continued the franchise as a spin-off, introducing a number of unique fighter planes and cooperative game quirks unused in the original Raiden series. All three games of the Raiden Fighters series would be released in an Xbox 360 collection, Raiden Fighters Aces, developed by Gulti and published by Success Corporation and Valcon Games. The main Raiden series would not see a return until Raiden III and Raiden IV were developed for Xbox 360 in 2005 and 2007; the latter of those games was brought to America as a retail-only game via UFO Interactive. The series has remained quiet ever since, although since reappearing after a decade of silence, who knows whether the series is finally over or not.

As for ports of Raiden Trad, only the Genesis and Super Nintendo iterations were made, although Raiden itself was ported several times under various other names. To quote Wikipedia: “Raiden was ported to the FM Towns Marty, PC Engine,…Atari Jaguar, PlayStation as The Raiden Project, Atari Lynx, [Atari Falcon], Amiga, MS-DOS, and mobile phones.” The original arcade game is also available on PSN.

Raiden series developer Seibu Denshi continued to produce games well into the 1990’s, just as the arcade scene in America dwindled and shifted toward at-home gaming. The Raiden Fighters games were the last major titles the company produced, with the last of those games seeing release in 1998. Since then, the company’s only games of merit have been licensed out: Raiden III and Raiden IV, in fact. The company’s website states that it has produced a number of small mobile games as late as 2006, but its lack of content makes it hard to note what the games are. The company’s last listed release is BINKANリップスぷらす, whatever that means. It should be noted that most of the Raiden team from Seibu Denshi left the company to form MOSS, which is the developer of Raiden III and IV. Its most recent release was King of Fighters: Sky Stage for XBLA, which saw its US release September 2010.

Micronics became infamous for its poor products, and it ultimately disappeared in 1993. However, according to the Game Developers Research Institute, it seems that the company renamed itself to Khaos so as to avoid the negative publicity it had created over the years. Under this name, the developer produced a multitude of ports to the Super Nintendo and other consoles. While there is no explicit mention of the name change, GDRI found that code and sound effects matched for the two developers, and neither company coexisted at the same time. Regardless, the company did not last long, and it ceased to exist by the release of the first 3D game console.

US Publisher Electro Brain remained in existence for quite a while, despite publishing obscure titles over the course of its existence. In particular, the company acted as a publisher for some of Hudson Soft’s unclaimed titles during the late 1990s, including Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth for Nintendo 64 and Bomberman Quest for Gameboy Color. Even though Electro Brain did not have any releases for years, it remained in existence until 2008 (according to sources), when it filed for bankruptcy. Sony took the company’s employees and assets following the company’s closure.

The Let’s Play

After failing to complete Jaws in a timely manner, Ed decided to go take a whack at another game in his limited library. Being one interested in trying different rather than popular games at the time, Alex decided to have him try out Raiden Trad, which would be a short and unique experience.

While Tony and Mark went to get food, Alex and Ed would play cooperatively and begin their journey to the end of the otherwise basic SNES port of the arcade classic. Starting with no changes to the options, how would the duo fair together?


Not well. The two died within a ten-minute span, but after a couple tweaks here and there, the game became much easier, perhaps too easy. That was the big problem, in the end: Raiden Trad was too easy when it was set to being easy. With many extra lives and plenty of weaponry, the game became a pushover, and once enough powerups were given to the two, they simply mowed down oncoming enemy forces.

The game unfortunately becomes fairly boring in the latter half, particularly because of the aforementioned underpowered enemy troops. Commentary remained humorous but ultimately sparser as the episode continued.

Note that the music suffers from a capture card issue, resulting in skipping audio. This could not be fixed completely, and as a result, the game is fairly quiet in this episode. Furthermore, the audio itself was not balanced as well as expected, so it might be harder to hear than usual.

Following this playthough, Ed had to depart, but Mark would stay for what would be the final episode of the season…

Thursday, April 14, 2011

3RM Plays 3DS

Well, after a little longer than initially expected, we have finally filmed and compiled a series of videos in which we take part in examining the newly-released Nintendo 3DS. You can watch all of the videos here, or click this link to be sent to the playlist on Youtube.

What we cover:
1. The 3DS Packaging and contents
2. The 3DS Hardware itself
3. The 3DS HOME Menu
4. Nintendo 3DS Camera
5. StreetPass Mii Plaza
6. Mii Maker
7. Nintendo 3DS Sound
8. Miscellaneous Applications (Health Info, Download Play, Settings, Activity Log)
9. Face Raiders
10. AR Games

We will provide more videos in future, including our impressions on the device after a few weeks of play. Meanwhile, expect new reviews and accompanied videos in the near-ish future. And more Third Rate Game Play. And more Game On: Let's Play stuff. And lost footage of Game On from 2010.

The minions are going to be busy!