Shadow Dancer

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Shadow Dancer

Subtitled ‘The Secret of Shinobi,’ this is actually a do-over of the arcade game of the same name.

It’s not quite classic enough in my opinion to be classed a proper Shinobi successor, but it’s still a damn fine game in its own right.

shadow dancer

You play as a ninja, who can jump, throw shruikens and summon a fire attack. You can also strike foes with a blade if you get close enough. There’s also a white dog that follows you, but I don’t think it does anything of note.

You scroll to the right, basically shooting down foes with your shruikens, and avoiding their attacks/bullets. And it’s pretty damn important that you avoid their attacks, as one hit and it’s back to the start.

shadow dancer

This makes the game a lot more difficult than it would have been otherwise. Ducking usually allows you to avoid the bullets that come flying at you, but with no room for error, one mis-step can send you right back to the beginning of a stage.

Fortunately levels are quite short, and can be rattled through fairly quickly if you know what you’re doing. I believe you have to save a set amount of hostages held throughout the levels to progress, but they’re usually found along the path you’re going down anyway.

shadow dancer

There’s a decent range of ideas in the levels as well, such as one being ripped apart by an earthquake, and another allowing you to jump into both the fore and back ground.

The graphics are clear and detailed, and the animation is as fluid as you’d expect from a title with a Shinobi connections.

shadow dancer

Bosses are fairly simple, but are made a real challenge due to the ever present ‘one hit = death’ element.

It all adds up to a game that’s a challenge, but one you’ll end up relishing rather than rejecting. Although a genuine cart of the game will cost you a fair bit, it can be found in a few of those Blaze Mega Drive collections – which is nice.

Alien 3

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Irritatingly Alien 3 has many hallmarks of a top title – but I can’t help but feel some of the design choices have been made purely for masochists. ~Simon Reed

Alien 3

In yesterday’s Lucky Dime Caper entry I rambled on about how I preemptively expect most old school 2D platformer style games to be infuriatingly tough. Alien 3 is a prime example of exactly why I have those expectations. Irritatingly it has many hallmarks of a top title – but I can’t help but feel some of the design choices have been made purely for masochists. The first thing that strikes you as you’re thrown into the game is how clear the design of it all is. Rather than the overly dark and grimy recesses of the film, there’s a pleasing crispness to the game.

Alien 3 - Sega Genesis

You play as Ripley, with your first mission to save a set amount of fellow humanoids who have been trapped by the aliens. To complicate matters you have to escape using a specific door, as well as reach it before the clock at the top of the screen reaches zero. You’re also never told that this is what you need to do, but fortunately it’s a fairly straightforward mission. Still, some instructions would have been nice.

Alien 3 - Sega Genesis

One other notable feature is your large arsenal you have at your disposal. A missile launcher and a machine gun are two of the finest from the selection available to you. These weapons aren’t enough to stop the aliens regularly handing you your ass on a plate though. Instead of going down the slow, tension addled route the game throws aliens at you like they’re going out of fashion. They leap at you so quickly that they can be nigh on impossible to avoid completely. Worst of all Ripley takes far too long to get up once hit – not a good thing when you’re up against the clock.

Alien 3 - Sega Genesis

It doesn’t help that your control of Ripley can feel a little stiff. You feel slower and far more useless than the aliens – this concept works well in the films, but in a game it’s a potent recipe for frustration. The game may be a good looking and reasonably varied in its design – but the difficulty kills it.

The Top 5 Sega Genesis Accessories

The Sega MegaDrive - The First Genesis

The Sega MegaDrive – The First Genesis

The rise and rule of the Genesis system led to some nifty accessories.  Here’s five of the coolest accessories that gamers could add to their Sega Genesis:

EA Sports 4-Way Play

EA Sports 4-Way Play

4-Way Play
EA Sports have been making sports-related games for decades, and back in the day Sega Genesis titles were where you went to get your Madden or NHL fix.  But many sports are team games, so Electronic Arts developed the 4-Way Play accessory. This handy little device allowed up to 4 players to play their favourite EA Sports games, so you could have a gamer Super Bowl party, complete with a little pre-game Genesis warm-up!

The Genesis Game Genie by Galoob

The Genesis Game Genie by Galoob

Game Genie
Some Genesis games were hard to beat.  Really hard.  (And some ridiculously easy, but I digress.)  Game Genie by Camerica/Galoob to the rescue!  All you had to do is pop the Genie into the Genesis and insert your game cartridge into it, enter the right code for whatever cheat you wanted, and the game suddenly became a lot easier!  (And you could use the Genie as a country converter cartridge for most games, too – but not officially…)

 

The Sega Channel by General Instrument

The Sega Channel by General Instrument

Sega Channel
Long before Internet online games, Sega came up with the idea to offer games by download.  This little box attached to the Genesis and to the cablevision line.  Players paid a monthly service fee to get access to unlimited access to 50 or so games, plus limited previews of new releases, as well as special versions of fan favorites.  The service is long gone, but still remembered fondly!

 

The Sega Power Base Converter

The Sega Power Base Converter

Power Base Converter
Before the Sega Genesis was a hit, there was the Sega Master System.  Although it never reached the market share dominance that the Genesis did, there were quite a few games and consoles sold.  Rather than tossing out the old games (like Phantasy Star!) gamers could pick up the Power Base Converter, which attached to the Genesis and allowed those SMS games to be played on their new Genesis.  8-bit gaming goodness on their new 16-bit gamer powerhouse!  Gamergasm!

Sega CD Accessory - Top and Side Mounts

 

Sega CD Accessory – Top and Side Mounts

Sega CD
If you had the cash, the Sega CD was a must-have accessory.  It came in two designs, a CD-player style for the older Genesis systems, which stacked on top of each other, and a top-loading style for the new Genesis systems, which acted as a base and the Genesis inserted into its side.  (The Nomad would be released later.) Some of the best games for the Genesis were released on CD-format, including Lunar: The Silver Star, Sonic the Hedgehog CD, The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, and Earthworm Jim.  Now that’s quality retro gaming!

My Favorite Games: Part 8

My Favorite Games

Saturn Bomberman – Saturn (1997)

Sega Saturn - Bomberman

The Bomberman series is unquestionably one of my favourite series’ of all-time and it’s almost unanimous that this Saturn-exclusive version is the best. Unlike many who view the Bomberman games exclusively as multi-player games, I personally really enjoy the single player modes on most of them too. The simple pleasure of trapping enemies and blowing them up, gradually powering-up our White Bomber hero, and progressing through the stages is one that I enjoy a lot, and the stages in this release are the most inventive and feature-laden yet. However, no one can question the frenetic fun of a multi-player Bomberman session and this is another area in which SB excels – it’s possible to have up to ten players simultaneously battling away here and it’s among the most fun that can be had in any game!

Hydro Thunder – Dreamcast (1999)

Hydro Thunder - Sega Dreamcast

For some reason water-based racing games are few and far between to begin with, but good ones are unfortunately even rarer. For this reason, I thought Midway’s Hydro Thunder may be a special treat even before I first gripped the steering wheel, but a few short, heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed minutes later I knew for sure! There’s no fancy options screens or championship modes to mess around with here – simply choose from the selection of ‘space boats’ and blast away! The courses are fantastically themed and designed, and are full of features, shortcuts, huge jumps, and other racers to jostle for position with. The water physics here aren’t as convincing as something like Wave Race but that’s not really the point – this is a fast-paced arcade racer through and through, and what a rush!

Robocod – MegaDrive (1991)

Robocod - Sega MegaDrive

Released by EA before they sucked, this sequel to the entertaining underwater adventure, James Pond, bore little resemblance to its forebear aside from the inclusion of the main character himself, and even he is barely recognisable! To enable our hero to engage in non-water-based tomfoolery, he has been equipped with a robotic exoskeleton, but the Robocop puns end there as he embarks on a bizarre platform-based quest across many large, strangely-themed levels to save Christmas from Dr Maybe! As well as being a superbly designed game, Special Agent Bond’s second mission is a treat for the eyes and ears too. It may not have as many background colours as the Amiga version but it’s superior in pretty much every other way, and provides a long and entertaining challenge with a surprise around every corner.

John Madden Football – 3DO (1995)

John Maddon Football - 3DO

Given my well-known intense dislike of EA, some may be surprised to see this here, but I didn’t always hate them. In the MegaDrive days in particular, EA were awesome and one of their best games was John Madden Football. This was the first version of the series to appear on a 32-bit system and, as great as the MD games were, it made a big difference. Bigger sprites, great commentary from Madden, video clips, countless game options and stats, more plays than ever, a floating camera that follows the action closely, and the ability to play as legendary teams from the past made this the definitive US Football game to have ever been seen at that time, and it’s still my favourite to play. Some games are great fun but too arcadey, some are too intricate and take too long to learn. This was just right. Plus, it’s the only game where I’ve actually managed to win the SuperBowl!

Chuckie Egg – Dragon 32 (1983)

Chuckie Egg - Dragon 32

Few platformers were as popular as this one in their day. Every version that I’ve played is at least good, but the rather garishly-coloured Dragon 32 version is the one I’ve spent by far the most amount of time playing. My good friend Luke had a Dragon around the time I first met him and we would spend many hours trying to play through this. The game apparently cycles through the eight single-screen stages five times but I’ve had the skill to prove this. Luke was always better at Chuckie Egg than me but even he couldn’t get that far! Still, despite its hideous background (which seemed perfectly normal at the time), this is a great version of the egg-collecting classic, and the only version Luke and I have played which enabled you to perform a few little tricks which greatly helped our progress!

 

The Super Fighter Team Interview

Super Fighter Team 1
Super Fighter Team has an absolutely brilliant name. And it possibly is the only indie developer for retro platforms that has managed to impress the mainstream gaming media; after all, shiny new cartridges for the Sega MegaDrive / Genesis and the Atari Lynx aren’t a common sight. Here are Brandon Cobb (president, Super Fighter Team; Zaku producer) and Osman Celimli (president, PenguiNet; Zaku designer / developer) to discuss both SFT and its latest release: Zaku. Mind you, this is only part of a rather extensive interview filled with exclusive bits of info. The rest of it (including more of said juicy exclusive bits) will be published in issue 4 of the excellent (and very free) Retroaction retro-loving magazine.

 

Care to introduce us to Super Fighter Team and its members? 

Brandon: Super Fighter Team is the future of classic gaming. We partner with top game companies across the world as well as gifted independent developers, and in between it all we also find time to churn out our own original titles. Our goal is to always deliver the highest quality product at the most convenient price – or, in some cases, as freeware.

I founded the company in May of 2004. I wear a plethora of hats, ranging from directing and delegating to designing and lead testing, in addition to countless others. I’m also the company’s official snack eater, which as you can imagine is a highly sou ght after position.

Though we employ a different sized team for each individual game project, some of our core members include: Derrick Sobodash, Yu-Chen Shih, Kim Biu Wong and Guoqing Xie.

Beggar Prince and Legend of Wukong were two absolutely excellent Sega 16-bit games. Are you proud of them?

Brandon: Beggar Prince was our first commercial project, and a huge undertaking, considering. The original Chinese version of the game was rife with bugs and we had no contact with its programmer. Just when our guys had finished with all the reprogramming, we split from our publisher and went it alone. Every hurdle you can think of was thrown in front of us, but we vaulted over them all to land squarely on the finish line. The sleepless nights, the aggravation, the wondering when and if we’d ever finish… I could write a book about it all. But the game shipped. It shipped, and it shipped on time – just like all of our games have. And the world reacted in a way never before seen from the release of a new game for a classic machine.

Legend of Wukong gave me an exciting opportunity to dig into the framework of a role playing game and build it up into something stronger. Instead of spending time directing programmers to bugs and suggesting ways to fix them, I was able to spend more time designing neat little features and enhancements. I got in there pretty deep, building up my drive as we built up the game. It may never enjoy the amount of success that Beggar Prince has, but it will always have a special place in my heart.

Super Fighter Team 1

What are you looking for when releasing a new game or updating / translating / finishing an unknown classic?

Brandon: One word: perfection.

By the way, I do think it’s wise to focus on the games’ packaging. Would you mind telling us how you make it? Oh, and why would be nice too.

Osman: Heh, that was Brandon’s domain. I actually got to sit back and watch, for once.

Brandon: It’s not overly complicated: you’ve just got to be able to find a print house that’s crazy enough to churn out custom cardstock boxes for you, in miniscule numbers, for a low price. You find one of those, you’re set. *smirk*

We take the packaging design as seriously as we take the development of the game. They’re all equally important parts of the same whole. You can’t just take a brilliant Lynx game and stuff it uncomfortably in an odd-shaped, orange case made of dull plastic. You’ve got to add some panache while keeping the original spirit alive. Hold a copy of Zaku up next to any game that Atari produced for the Lynx, and you’ll see what I mean. In fact, some of our customers have even commented that they feel our packaging is superior to Atari’s.

Could you name some of your collective favourite game systems?

Brandon: The Genesis and Lynx are both high on the chart, but that goes without saying. Aside from those two, I’ve had a deep love for the original black and white Gameboy for longer than I can remember. The newer incarnations of the machine were never able to deliver the same kind of magic, where software was concerned. I’m interested in the 32X, at least from a hardware perspective. Oh yes – and the Super A’can makes for a nifty doorstop.

Super Fighter Team 1

So, why chose the Atari Lynx as a platform to develop for?

Osman: I originally was interested in developing something for the GameBoy, since it was, and still is my favorite console. But I couldn’t find any simple tutorials to get acquainted with how the machine works. Later on, I came into possession of a Lynx after discovering that “Chip’s Challenge” was originally developed for the machine, a game I had very fond memories of on the PC. For whatever reason, I decided to try working with the Lynx hardware, and picked it up very quickly with help from Björn Spruck and Karri Kaksonen. So there really wasn’t any incentive in terms of Lynx nostalgia on my part, I just grew to enjoy working with the machine.

Brandon: I’ve always wanted to have some hand in the creation and release of a new game for the Lynx, ever since I first set eyes on the machine.


How would you describe Zaku? What would you say are its most important features?

Brandon: Zaku is a 4-megabit game card packed to the brim with challenges, humor and best of all, fun. It complements every strength of the Lynx hardware, running smoothly the entire time. You’ll quickly and easily become charmed by and helplessly addicted to this game.

Osman: A game that just tries to be a game, I think that is what’s most important.

Super Fighter Team 1

Care to tell us the story behind the development of the game?

Osman: I started Zaku when I was 14, and the game shipped when I was 20. That’s six years of development when you’re going to be changing as a person. In reality, Zaku started out as “Let’s just try and replicate Air Zonk on the Lynx,” then “Well this is kind of working out, so let’s put some placeholder characters in there,” and eventually “We have something here, let’s try to finish it and add as much originality as we can to the concept.” By far, the most difficult thing for me was to continue working on the game while I was coming up with ideas which, frankly, I felt were far superior to and much more original than Zaku. But I said the game would get finished, and it did, so that’s satisfying in itself. I enjoy the process of designing and developing games, and continue to do so because of that.

On a more technical note, we used a combination of Epyx’s original development kit on the Amiga, Bastian Schick’s BLL, and some of our own tools. Pixels were laid out in Microsoft Paint, and the code was written in Microsoft Notepad. The notable thing is that while nearly all of the engine and libraries were new, and written by us, we decided to use Epyx’s HSPL sound engine. This is the same audio system used in the Lynx’s early titles such as Chip’s Challenge or California Games, which I think is something. I spent many hours hand-converting the MIDI’s my brother sent me into Epyx’s SPL scripting language, since their conversion program wasn’t very effective. There was a constant effort to give good results for the player, even if it meant more work for us.

The overall development process wasn’t particularly special. I tried to keep things organized, particularly when we brought on additional background artists. We’d set deadlines and work towards them effectively. It’s a project you do in your spare time, and life has to come first, so organizing things is particularly important. But Zaku shipped, and things worked out in the end.

What were the goals you set to achieve?

Osman: I think it’s important to focus on simple fun as a first project. Zaku was by no means a small undertaking, but I’m glad we focused on making the game enjoyable rather than exclusively focusing on a technical achievement or story. So for me, the real drive was not only what Brandon mentioned, but to try and make the game simple and not come off as overly prestigious to players. Something it seems many small team games seem to have issues with. I think we succeeded in that regard. If you want to get into game development in the long run, which I’d like to do, the best way is to make games. That’s why Zaku exists, to make sure I can control this stuff, since that isn’t easy. Now that the game is out, I can look over what people enjoy and get bothered by, and use that to improve what I work on next.

Super Fighter Team 1
We must admit it is a technical masterpiece with excellent graphics. Any idea as to how this was possible on the now-humble Atari handheld?

Brandon: The Lynx is capable of stunning results. A developer just needs to have and exhibit some drive in order to showcase them. We’re not wizards; we simply love the machine and we weren’t about to settle for an amateur result when we knew we could make the system truly shine. Had Atari followed the same approach, perhaps their machine would have enjoyed more commercial success.

Osman: You have to put in the effort, since players will notice it if you don’t. I’m not an amazing programmer, and Zaku isn’t a perfect game, but there was a constant attempt to add “one more layer” of polish or creative use of the hardware if we could make the game play better by doing so. Things like the gradient background and camera panning during Emp’s battle. They may have added a week or two to development, but it’s worth it to learn how to do the effects, and let the player enjoy them. But I have to credit the Lynx designers here too, it really was a great machine to work with.
And -really- how did you manage to come up with an authentic Lynx cartridge?

Osman: Hah, that was another one of those things I just got to watch.

Brandon: Had ’em made up from scratch, of course. No one’s going to have the plastic mold for a Lynx game card lying around, not even Atari. Those molds are expensive, but hey, you only live twice! Gotta go for the gusto, otherwise there’s no point in even considering it at all. I mean what’s the alternative — shipping the game as a naked PCB? That would just be silly.
Are there any plans for a sequel? For another Lynx game perhaps?

Brandon: I’d love to have another go at the Lynx. We’ve been kicking some ideas around, but there’s no definite plans as of yet.

Osman: I really enjoyed working on Zaku, and with the Lynx platform. It’s great fun to design things for Zaku’s world, since you really can do whatever you want. But at this point, I’d like to try something more original. Although if we did go through with a sequel to Zaku, Lynx or not, I think there’s lots to tweak to make the mechanics more fun. Right now though, I’d like to take a break. After all, it’s been six years.

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

Tomas Danko at studio
Tomas Danko Studio

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

What do you do for your job, where do you work, and what do you like the most about it?

My official title is VO Producer and I work in-house at Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) in Stockholm where we do the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises. I am part of the audio team (which makes us all Sound Designers according to the EA matrix), and my primary focus is everything that has to do with dialogue (VO means Voice Over).

Among other things I work with writers and game designers to develop a script/story, cast actors, record and direct dialogue, post edit and design/sound effect all dialogue not to mention all the work needed to implement it in the game (i.e. scripting, logic triggers, mixing and more).

I like almost all of it, although working for a week trying to beat a 500,000 cell Excel sheet into submission is not the most fun I can think of, even though it has to be done at times. I figure I love my job because it makes me do totally different things every month or so. Some examples: One week I record and direct actors in a studio in London, or outdoors in Stockholm. The next week I edit wave files. Third week I design radio filter effects, and then I create Boolean logic tree structures to do automatic triggering of sounds in the game. It never gets boring.

What was your first computer and how did you get it?

My first computer was a Casio PB-100. I used it to program a lot of small games and demos with it, and my math teacher in school had her son (he studied computers at the University) provide me with code problems to solve. My second computer was the Commodore Vic 20, and I guess the rest is history since it steered me onto the glorious path of Commodore computing.

What was the first video game you played?

My memory eludes me, but probably Pong if you exclude all the games I programmed myself on the PB-100 and Vic 20.

What is your favorite video game platform of all time?

It has to be the Commodore 64, of course!

What’s your favorite video game?

There were too many games taking too much time out of my youth to pick just one. However, I spent an awful lot of time playing Paradroid, Pirates, Kickstart, Bruce Lee, Exploding Fist and Rally Speedway among other games.

What’s your favorite story of the computer or video game industry? (could be yours or somebody else’s)

It has to be the little bug in Kickstart on the Commodore 64 where the head of the motor cycle driver sometimes flickered one line or two into the upper border if you managed to jump high enough. Someone (1001 Crew, IIRC) took a deeper look into it and the rest is demo scene history (fully opening the borders).

What do you prefer, the present or past, considering the state of the computer scene?

The past, obviously, as far as the scene. It will never be the same again. The present and future when it comes to making computer games. It is a lot more fun nowadays as opposed to when I did games on the Sega Megadrive and Sony Playstation.

What’s the most influential video game you have ever played, that changed your life?

Tomas Danko playing tabletop games.
Tomas Danko Dice

Kung-Fu Master.

When you were younger, who were the people you considered to be legends in the computer and video game field?

There are too many to mention them all. I’ll just say Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway and call it a day.

What is your favorite old school gaming studio/developer?

It probably needs to be Andrew Braybrook (Hewson Consultants Ltd, Renegade Software).

What music inspired you to follow your career?

Jean-Michel Jarre besides all the ancient heroes making music on the Commodore 64. On the whole, I figure computer music had a more profound impression on my aural aesthetics than anything else.

What do you think the future for gaming will be?

It seems to take a couple of parrallel paths at the moment.
More platforms are moving towards as well as further developing movement based gaming such as the precursor Wii console.
A lot of gamers want to be entertained in a dumbed down way, halfway point and click and get through the experiences of a game without having to work too hard or think too much about it. Hence a lot of “shooting gallery” single player campaigns where everything runs in a linear and tubular fashion.

Finally, and this is the nice part as far as I’m concerned, some people are working hard to push the narrative aspects of gaming further in order to get on par with the Hollywood movie industry in regards to telling a story and giving the player an emotional experience as well. Merging the knowledge and methodologies created and perfected by Hollywood with the non-linear and interactive core mechanics found in games, to give the player a brand new experience in the future. This is where the frontier lies in gaming, as far as I’m concerned.

Do you prefer games that are personalized single player experience or games with a lot of interaction with other people?

I like both, to be honest. From a developer’s point of view, I find the single player campaign to be the most fun and challenging to work on. But some of the most rewarding gaming moments in recent time for me tend to be the in-house multi play tests when working on various Battlefield titles.

What projects are you involved with that you are willing to share with us? (not top secret ones!)

We just released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and I did some VO and sound design on it. At the moment I’m working as VO Producer on the multi player component of Medal of Honor, other than that I’m working on another Battlefield franchise title and that’s all I can share at the moment.

What advice do you have for somebody that wants to be involved in the video game industry?

Start working with some friends on a small game and release it for free or work with making mods for Unreal engine games. Look into the iPhone platform and business model, and make your own career. Try and get an intern position at a studio.

***

I thank Tomas for taking the time to answer us and help us get to know better his gaming and computing past, as well as his contribution to the computer and gaming industry.