Crystal Castles

I usually praise developers for bringing me something unique, and this game can be categorized as such…or maybe “odd”…”weird”.

Crystal Castles - Gameplay screenshot

A 1983 Atari product, Crystal Castles is a game that stands out. From its crazy-detailed cabinet art to its glow-in-the-dark trackball, you wouldn’t be able to miss this in any arcade. But, how does it play? The “Crystal Castles” are 40 isometric levels given a 3D look. You play as a goofy-looking bear wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Throughout the pathways of the castles are scores of gems and jewels. Your mission is to collect them (for points) as quickly as possible. The trackball moves you around and there is a jump button, as well. To reach the different levels of the screen, you’ll use ramps, stairs, elevators, and secret passageways.

Crystal Castles - Gameplay screenshot

To stop you in your mission are a multitude of creatures: There are wormy things that eat the gems, taking points from you. You can avoid them or (only while they’re eating) run into them, which kills them. There are killer trees (that chase you?!?), which if jumped over will freeze them for a short time. Also, skeletons and ghosts, which should be avoided. One of the bonus items you may capture for points is a pot of honey, but you’ll have to watch for the swarm of bees protecting it. Lastly, every so-many levels is an ugly Witch (I think these are her castles from which I’m stealing), who you can avoid, but will probably need to kill because she’s hanging around gems you’ll need to complete the level and move on. So….there’s this silly little hat that you can find and put on, making you invulnerable for a short time…and the only way to kill her.

Crystal Castles - Gameplay screenshot

As you can see, this game is a little f’ed-up, but it has quick, intense gameplay. The levels will be more difficult as you progress (as usual), but there are “cheats” in form of level-warps, if you choose to use them. A couple of neat additions to the game: Whenever you get killed, a word balloon pops over the bear’s head, usually a comic-book curse word (#$^!). Also, the importance of being careful on each level, but still having to maneuver quickly. As you delay, your gems are being eaten, costing you points…and there are bonus points for who/whatever grabs the last gem. If a creature gets it, you’ll go to the next level, but lost out on the bonus.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoUJYWJ6KQ4[/youtube]

I do find it odd that the bear’s motivations are stealing money, and the honey is a bit of an afterthought….and why does he need to wear clothes on his feet and head? It’s hard to tell, but he may actually be wearing a thong. Also, why would the Witch ever want to stay at her castles when they’re clearly overrun by ghosts and goblins? There is also an actual ending to the game, which I’ll never be good enough to see (lack of continues). But, if someone knows what it is, please let me know. This was truly a lot of fun, and will always get my recommendation if someone is looking for a “different” kind of retro game.

Overall 9/10

Nintendo Rube Goldberg Animation

Nintendo Rube Goldberg Animation
The greatest artists have mostly been inspired by the grand and perpetual human drama. Be it personal or social, Art has always been about us. Not digital Italian plumbers, or peculiar Far Eastern brand names. Apparently times have changed. A simple, but admittedly quite inspired, YouTube video can prove it:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_4VZOjKRxA[/youtube]

Street Fighter X Tekken: Teaser Trailer

Street Fighter X Tekken
Street Fighter X Tekken

If you love crossover fighting games then next year is going to be grand. Not only do we have Capcom versus Marvel 3 to look forward to, but a Street Fighter crossover with Tekken. This game was first announced at Comic-Con and will involve both the Capcom and Namco staff.

Now for those of you use to the 3D environments of Tekken you will have to adjust to the 2D mechanics that will be used in this game. Fighting will be more Street Fighter like than Tekken with moves like Ryu’s hadouken being available. In addition you will be able to team up with fighter from both series in tag play and you will have the ability to pull of super combos that combine power attacks of your team members.

As for this video you only get a bit of animation and nothing else, but we can tell you that a few playable characters have been named including Ryu, Chun Li and Akuma from Street Fighter and Kazuya, Nina and Devil from Tekken.

Currently there is no direct release date, but the game will be available for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles.

Nikolaus Gebhardt: Ambiera

Ambiera Software Development logo
Ambiera Software Development logo

Name: Nikolaus Gebhardt

Company: Ambiera

Profession: Software Engineer

Favorite Classig Game: Wolfenstein

Quote: Back then, Wolfenstein was one of the first games with ‘real’ 3D graphics, although today this is only considered 2D. I was amazed by that technology, and played though the game countless of nights. When I finished it, I started creating levels and modifications for it, which maybe lead me to working in the game industry.


Exploring Expo Expectations

The E3 Expo is a lot like a roller-coaster. There’s the anticipation of that first hill (the build-up to the show with hints of what’s coming), the sudden drop into the exciting parts (the actual announcements and reveals) and the slowing down as the ride comes into the station (wading through discarded goodie bags and leaflets to the exit).

But the worrying thing is that the industry as a whole seems to be on rails, heading in one direction and with very little opportunity for change or an unexpected twist in the layout. You know what you are going to get, because you can look ahead and see what’s coming. There’s another first-person shooter, another open-world driving game with online challenges, and another action game with button-bashing combos and QTE’s. Is that what we really want?

There were three major trends at the show – motion control, 3D and artistic style.

Nintendo had arguably the best showing, thanks in no small part to the new 3DS with its display that does not require special glasses and long list of familiar franchises for launch day. There are many fans that argue that Nintendo is not doing anything innovative by relying on Zelda, Starfox and Mario, but dig deeper and there are some interesting ideas in there. Skyward Sword on Wii relies on MotionPlus, Pilotwings is making a welcome return after a long absence and the same with Starfox. Of course, the Wii already has motion gaming, but the much-vaunted Vitality Sensor seemed to make little or no impression. But Kirby’s Epic Yarn did on me – a clever combination of how the game looks (everything is made of fabric) and taking that a step further to change how the game plays (with areas hidden by zips that can be opened, or gaps that can be crossed by pulling a thread to “gather” the background up).

Microsoft concentrated on Kinect and its take on motion gaming, the previous name of Natal falling by the wayside. As commentators continue to dissect whether the interface works with a seated player, the actual line-up seems a little underwhelming. A virtual pet game, sports, dancing… nothing grabs the attention as much as the Milo demo from last year. Gears of War 3 and Halo Reach will be big sellers, but do they really add much that is new?

Sony tried to set up a smokescreen around its Move controllers, quoting prices from a low level to make it sound cheaper than Kinect… which it will be if you already own a Playstation Eye camera. If you don’t then that will be an extra expense, along with the Sony nunchuck equivalent. Killzone 3 had one major gimmick to offer, one of the first console games to be playable in 3D – but as Nintendo pointed out, it does require the player to wear special glasses and possess a 3D ready TV. How many people will be in the same boat as early HD adopters, unaware that they cannot get 3D pictures without an appropriate 3D source? This is something the PS3 can do thanks to a firmware update, but it’s down to how it is used. One disappointment for Sony was the lack of further detail on The Last Guardian, from the team behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

But for me, there were some interesting games that intrigued me with their art. As well as the aforementioned Kirby, thegamecompany’s Journey and the XBLA game Limbo (with its silhouettes) looked very different. Gruesome scrolling beat ‘em up Shank has a good pedigree, but the one I really took to was Rock of Ages. A strange combination of art history, Katamari Damacy and real time strategy, this is one I will be following in the coming months.

Christmas sales will be all about Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, Rock Band 3 and familiar names, plus people in the UK scrambling to beat the VAT hike. Like last year there will be titles slipping into the first quarter of 2011 – for example, id Software’s Rage – to avoid the heavy hitters, and they could be overshadowed even then. And of course the countdown to another E3 will begin.

I Want This Motherf#$^in’ 3D Out of My Motherf%$@in’ Games!

3D Blood Gaming
3D Blood Gaming

I’m one of those guys that can look at a piece of technology and already label its longevity either positively or negatively. For example, I don’t see Tablet PCs going anywhere for real household use. It plays a useful role in business for IT professionals but I don’t see Little Annie and her brother Marcus finding any pivotal use in one three years from now. The practicality of tablets being used every day is nil, in my opinion. My disgust for tablets and their strong marketing push is dwarfed, however, by the tsunami of shit encompassing visual media in the form of 3D. Never have I seen such a strong push in new media as I have for 3D. As a matter of fact, I think aside from the use of motion sensor technology, E3’s main hailstorm of shit pellets came from the boisterous and unrelenting gimmick of 3D in games. I know a lot of people are now looking forward to wearing fake sunglasses indoors so they can feel like a member of the Cure while playing Gran Turismo in their sweaty Ed Hardy shirts. Good job! You’re still a douche.

When I saw Avatar was being marketed as a 3D movie I was fine with that because it said from the get-go that it was slating to be a 3D movie. It was specifically made to enhance this experience and there wasn’t enough 3D in movies around that time. Then this “Fern Gully” rip off got huge and popular and now every movie that was made for 2D is quickly adding a 3D experience. I admit though, I am a bit of a hypocrite and have seen plenty of movies in 3D since then. Alice in Wonderland had to have been the worst use of the technology thus far next to Toy Story 3 (was there even anything popping out in this movie?). I constantly vow to myself to never buy a 3D movie ticket, a 3D television, and now a 3D video game.

Do they really need to push 3D into household use? Isn’t it bad enough it already strains your eyes in the theater. If I wanted shit to come flying at me I’d go outside and have someone throw a rock at my face. There’s no need for the Blades of Athena to swirl and twirl by the nape of my nose while Kratos dismembers a God. A grenade shooting shrapnel near my eye in Call of Duty won’t enhance my experience. The last thing I want in a video game is to pause the game and drool at the beauty of the objects hovering around me (in certain viewing angles only please!). One cannot even begin to fathom the strain put onto a gamer’s eyes after a 4-5 hour Halo binge. 3D does not increase the experience of anything. It isn’t stimulating whatsoever and doesn’t need to be put into interactive media. It is a gimmick of smoke and mirrors. It’s like showing your friend what happens when you put a Mentos in Diet Coke. Sure it’s cool the first 4 bottles then you realize things get pricey and it isn’t as cool past the third bottle. I hope this addition to gaming ends as swiftly as the Virtual Game Boy.