Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Death's Cold Embracer

If you were wondering why it suddenly just got harder to access your PSN account from a Vita or a Playstation 3, there's a reason for that. Take it away, Mr. Mario.

I'll give you the Cliff Notes for the sake of expediency. Thanks to a recent system update, your normal PSN password will no longer work on legacy consoles. Now you'll have to access your PSN account from a computer, click your avatar on the top right of the page, click Security from the options that appear, and get a special temporary password. You'll then need to turn on your PS3 or Vita, go to the PSN log-in screen, and enter your user name and the previously procured password to access your account from those systems. Got all that? I sure as hell didn't, which is why I'm grateful Endless Gaming Horizons offered an explanation of this overly complicated workaround on his YouTube page.

All kinds of funny business has happened to Sony's older consoles thanks to this vexing update. If you liked using your Playstation 3 as back up storage for all the games that wouldn't fit on a miniscule PS Vita memory card, you can forget about doing that now, because 4.89 chops through that functionality like Bruce Lee through a stack of cinder blocks, or Bruce Lee's estate through a suspiciously similar fighting game character. (I was going to report on this earlier, but the report from Nintendo Life seemed to be the end result of fruitless speculation, if this more recent report from ShackNews is any indication.)

If you haven't already done so, now's the time to jailbreak your PS3 and Vita and explore gray market sources for your games. It's not going to get any easier to use these systems legally, so hike up those pantaloons, fold down that eyepatch, and sail the pira-seas with either PKGj or CDRomance. Sony doesn't seem to give a damn anymore... why should you?

BREAKING NEWS! You may be able to access the games you've purchased! A recent post on the Playstation Blog suggests that you'll be able to play some of the legacy games you've previously bought on the Playstation 4 and 5. It's not an ideal solution, but it's better than cutting players off from their games entirely. Thanks to Reddit for this surprising revelation.

P.S. Oh yes, there's one other thing worth mentioning. In a puzzling move, Square-Enix recently pitched the rights to most of its Western intellectual properties overboard, with the mysterious "Embracer Group" scooping them up in a fisherman's net. (Why the sudden swerve toward nautical nonsense in this post? I dunno, I mentioned piracy and decided to run with it.) 

Embracer devours ALL!
(image from Reddit)

What you should probably know is that Embracer is the entity that owns T*HQ-Nordic, among dozens of other mid-sized developers. In fact, they're so big that they eclipse all other major game publishers in acquisitions, including Microsoft, which is currently wrapping its jaws around the frighteningly massive Activision. The fact that a company so shrouded in secrecy owns so much of the video game industry... concerns me a little. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Skirmishes and Sojourns of a Stellar Variety

You know I'm not down with this phony, made-up holiday, but I will say something in defense of Star Wars. It lends itself incredibly well to the video game treatment, and pretty much always has, dating back to the arcade trench runs of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those were followed up with the Atari Star Wars arcade game, then the Sega Star Wars arcade game released in the early 2000s, leading up to Factor 5's Rogue Squadron II for the GameCube. This was a game that not only faithfully follows the events of the first three movies, but looks damn good doing it. You look like you're actually playing the movie, or at least the sprawling action sequences.

By contrast, my preferred science-fiction franchise, Star Trek, took a while to get a proper video game adaptation, because it just didn't translate that well to a hands-on experience. You had the home computer simulations of the late 1970s, which involved a lot of dry ASCII maps and tedious resource management. It was a faithful experience, in its own abstract way, but not an urgent or approachable one. 

The perspective used in this box
art always struck me as weird.
The villains are in the foreground,
peering down at your ship as they
blast it with phasers. It's like they're
watching it from the top of a fish bowl.
(image from Moby Games)

A Star Trek game arrived in arcades courtesy of Sega (conveniently owned by Paramount Pictures at the time), and while that had more to offer adrenaline junkies, it lacked the dazzle of Atari's Star Wars, boiling down to a plodding overhead shooter with elements from the series. You just dragged yourself through space at a fixed altitude... there was no sense of dimension, no ships that artfully danced around your gun sights, and no scenery streaking past you at blistering speeds. With an arcade game, first impressions are everything, and there just wasn't enough impact to Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulation to make it exciting for anyone other than fans. I was on board, but even as a Trekkie I'll acknowledge that Star Wars was a more exciting, immersive experience.

Later Star Trek games would follow, with a rough approximation of the galactic exploration of the television show, but a lot of dull, impenetrable menu-based gameplay. Set up a communications channel with alien beings, find their locations on a star chart, stop by engineering to make sure the ship is in fighting condition, warp to the distressed planet, assemble an away team and... I'm falling asleep already. A proposed 3DO game based on Star Trek: The Next Generation had promise in early screenshots, offering a more immersive experience, but alas, it never got past an early prototype.

Michael Dorn does happen to star in Mass Effect 2
as a member of the Krogan; a sharky, froggy,
snakey race considered among the strongest
beings in the game. It's like if Worf tried to take
his ship past warp ten instead of the cast
of Star Trek: Voyager.
(Image from Mass Effect Fandom)

There were other games too, ranging in quality from "oh boy, why did they even bother" (Deep Space Nine: Crossroads of Time for the Sega Genesis) to "okay, now we're getting somewhere" (Deep Space Nine: The Fallen for PCs), but the only game that really captured the Star Trek experience for me was, ironically, not even part of the franchise. Mass Effect 2 reproduced the vastness of space and the cultures of different alien species better than anything I had played up to that point, then added an action element that, while not original, was more thrilling than anything you were likely to find in a Star Trek game. Dialog can be a dreadful chore in other games, but in Mass Effect 2, you actively hunted it down, engaging in lengthy conversations with your fellow officers just to get to know them- and the universe in which they live- better. I declared that Mass Effect 2 was a ten out of ten in my old web site, and I stand by that rating... nothing before or since has scratched that itch to explore strange new worlds better. (Not even, regrettably, the two sequels which came later.)

Darth Vader sold separately, by purchasing
the same game for another system.
(image from Fighter's Generation)

Okay, okay, back to Star Wars if you're going to twist my arm. I recently acquired a copy of Soul Calibur IV at a thrift store, and had to fire up my dusty old Xbox 360 to play it. When I was finished (an hour and a half later) I gained a new appreciation for both the system and that game. Here's a secret nobody wants to tell you... seventeen years after its launch, Xbox 360 games still look really, really good. Not so much the launch titles like Perfect Dark Zero, but Soul Calibur IV came out in the first half of the system's lifespan and it looks gorgeous, a pumped up version of Broken Destiny on the PSP with many of the same stages. The gameplay is great too, with a lot more to do than its PSP cousin. The only fly in the ointment is a punishing arcade mode, with a procession of increasingly cheap opponents capped off by the utterly infuriating Starkiller. You will quickly grow to hate John Williams' aggressively loud and pompous soundtrack as you continually fall to this character, on loan from the recently resurrected Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

You can play as Yoda, too. Or "as Yoda too, you can play." Whatever works for you on the fourth of Nerd-ly. The geriatric green Muppet is obscenely tiny, he moves awkwardly around the playfield, and he jumps three feet in the air before every swing of his light saber, just to gain the height to stick it in his opponent's face. He doesn't add much to the experience beyond a quite respectable character model (count the individual gray hairs on his head and just try to tell me Xbox 360 games look primitive), but you've got plenty of other characters available once you've unlocked them all with in-game currency. 

People typically put Soul Calibur IV far down on their list of favorite games in the series, often right next to its sequel, but I've got to say that I enjoyed it more than the recent game released for the Xbox One. The backgrounds are more eye-catching, the three segmented armor system challenges you to strike at different parts of your enemy to wear down their defenses, and oh yeah, the load times are far more reasonable. Look, I might want to play as Yoda, but I don't want to become as old as Yoda waiting for the next stage to start.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Just You Wait!

Costly little SOB. I think I'll have to
get re-acquainted with my old friend
instant ramen for the rest of the month.
(image from Revive-It)

I guess I'm gonna have to, because I have almost, but not quite, enough equipment to build my very often budget-conscious gaming PC. I've got the cheapskate-approved Dell Optiplex 7020 with 16 gigs of RAM, a spacious two terabyte hard drive, and an i7 processor (translated to non-nerd: this thing was awesome six years ago), but it's the GPU that's holding me back. Someone was kind enough to give me a GTX 970, which was also awesome six years ago, but at the moment this PC doesn't have a power supply with the wattage to bring it to life. Complicating matters is the fact that this system also has an oddball 8 pin power connector, forcing me to buy an adapter before it recognizes anything but the barebones power supply Dell shipped with it.

What I do have in there currently is a Radeon 7 250, which to be honest probably wasn't awesome at any time in recorded history. Heck, it's not even as powerful as the GTX 750 OC I've got stashed in the Acer I bought at a yard sale way back in 2014. I've got this Dell running Windows and Steam, but thanks to the GPU bottleneck, it's not quite ready to tackle the relatively humble WipeOut clone Antigraviator. I mean, it plays. I just get the sneaking suspicion that it could play a lot better. I won't know for sure until I have the money to buy those missing components, and that won't happen for another month. Woe is bored, hopelessly nerdy me.

Speaking of things that will hopefully be worth the wait, I'm cooking up some Nintendo Switch reviews, in the same style as the brief game summaries I used to write for the PSP back when I was obsessed with that system. Ah... good times, good times!

(By the way, in case you were interested, I did manage to fix that PSP-2000. It was an improvised, chewed bubble gum and crossed fingers kind of job thanks to one of the bails breaking, but any crash you can walk away from, right?)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Technical Difficulties

Well, this kind of bites. I recently bought a PSP-2000 for a reasonable price, on the understanding that the screen was slightly buggered up and needed to be replaced. The problem is, while I did manage to remove the screen, I also managed to remove the tiny latch that holds the backlight cable in place. When I mean tiny, I mean it's literally a square that's a couple of millimeters high and wide. So when that replacement screen (finally) arrives, I'll have to make like MacGyver and glue the backlight cable, also rather small, in place so it doesn't jostle around after the system is reassembled. Cue groan of frustration.

Let me just state for the record that I kind of hate hardware mods. Software mods, those aren't a problem... I rarely screw these up, because it's just a matter of having the right equipment and following instructions. Hardware mods, though, that's a different story. They require the sight of a hawk and the dexterity of a neurosurgeon, and I have neither. With electronics being as small as they are in 2022 (and in the case of that PSP, well before that), you start to feel like Godzilla, trying his damnedest to not step on anyone or break any buildings as he wades through the streets of Tokyo. There's a reason he's had more luck as a force of nature than a hero.

What the radioactive dinosaur said.
(image from The Oatmeal, a web site which you
should already know about by now)

It's really a shame, too, because there are all kinds of situations where modding a game system at the microscopic level would be a handy skill. Take, for instance, my late model GameCube, which could have a digital out port grafted onto it if I had the skill. (I likely don't.) Or the MC2SIO, which lets the Playstation 2 run games straight from an SD card if I had the steady hands to do the wiring. (See previous parantheses.) There's a wealth of exciting possibilities, all well beyond my clumsy grasp.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Act 4: He Files for Divorce

It seems the honeymoon, and indeed, the whole marriage, is over between Pac-Man and his wife. Because AtGames currently holds some of the rights to the Ms. Pac-Man character, and because Namco was never really thrilled with her existence in the first place, they're purging her from other Pac-Man games, including the recently released Switch version of Pac-Land. Now, you'll find Pac-Mom at the end of every level, who looks like something Namco pulled out of their butts at the last minute. 

"Hi honey, I'm- who the hell are you people?!" 
(image from Ars Technica)

Namco did promise retribution after AtGames snuck off with the rights to Ms. Pac-Man, claiming that they would make the purchase useless. It seems this hasty Pac-ectomy is the first step toward keeping that promise, and with Pac-Man Museum Plus coming out in a couple of months, it's likely there will be more historical revisionism in the future.

By the way, Pac-Man's had another family on the side in Japan for years. This includes not only Pac-Mom, but Pac-Marie, Pac-Girl, and Pac Little as well. Pac Little isn't much different from Jr. Pac-Man, but Pac-Marie... well, just look at her. 

image from the Pac-Man Wiki

She lacks the glamour and maturity of Ms. Pac-Man, looking instead like the sweet, na├»ve girl next door type. Namco implied that she actually was Ms. Pac-Man in the past, but considering the current situation, they're probably going to backpedal on those suggestions in a hurry.

More importantly, what will happen to the Ms. Pac-Man game? For the moment, you can still buy it on the Xbox Marketplace, but until Namco and AtGames come to an agreement (and Namco doesn't seem in an agreeable mood at the moment), you probably won't be finding it on any future game systems. That's unfortunate, as it's widely regarded to be better than the original Pac-Man, with brighter colors, more variety, and those bedeviled bouncing fruits which always seem just out of reach. 

With the exception of Pac-Man Arrangement, none of the other Pac-Man sequels and spin-offs could hold a candle to Ms. Pac-Man, whether they were Midway's legally dubious extensions of the franchise (Jr. Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man) or Namco's official creations (Super Pac-Man, Pac and Pal, Pac-Mania). With this in mind, one hopes that Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man's separation will not be a permanent one. Somehow I doubt gamers are going to be satisfied with Exciting New! Pac-Man Plus as a substitute.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Switching Sides

Seems City Connection isn't done with its shiny new Zebra Engine just yet. The proprietary Sega Saturn emulator for the Switch, previously used in three obscure games by Success, will be making its encore in the upcoming S-Tribute line, featuring a handful of 1990s arcade titles by Taito. 

The games offered in S-Tribute include Puzzle Bobble 2x and 3, Cleopatra Fortune, Metal Black, Layer Section, and most tantalizing of all, Elevator Action Returns. Not many people have played this one, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who has and didn't enjoy it... even the irascible Angry Video Game Nerd heaped on the praise for this sleek action title in his review of the two Taito Legends collections for Xbox and Playstation 2.

There are just two problems. The first is that the Zebra Engine brought significant lag to the first three games that used it. Luckily, that seems to have been smoothed out in Layer Section, if early YouTube reviews of the Japanese demo are any indication. The second issue is that these games aren't scheduled for release in America, and may never officially arrive on these shores. You can always circumvent this with a Japanese Switch account, but a native release in English would be a lot more convenient.

Whatever happens, it's fantastic that the Switch library is bursting at the seams with arcade hits, with more coming this late in the system's life. Like the GameBoy and 3DS before it, it looks like the Switch will be sticking around for a while, to my wallet's great relief.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Putting the EEE! in Enix

I was looking up something or other on Google Images, and this abstract figure presumed to be Enix's first mascot appeared. Is it a crudely drawn robot brought to life in a shareware paint program? A discarded drawing from Hungarian animation studio Klasky-Csupo? A random background character in a Dire Straights video? I'm still not sure, but since I had to see it, now so do you.

image from Giant Bomb

I asked around on the Talking Time forums, and one member insisted that it was part of a promotion to encourage hobbyist programmers to submit their games to Enix. Another guessed that it was a digital man inside your computer who handles all the calculations; a sort of number-crunching ghost in the machine which makes your games come to life. Finally, someone observed that whatever it was, it looked like it was caught in the middle of a bowel movement. Come to think of it, it does look like it's squatting, and that circle it's clutching in its spindly pixel arm could be an extra large roll of toilet paper...

Whatever this thing is or happens to be doing, Enix's corporate successor Square-Enix isn't eager to discuss it. Actually, there's a lot of stuff Enix did back in the 1980s that Square-Enix would like to pretend never happened, including the computer game Lolita Syndrome. I'll let the Wikipedia entry explain that one for me, but whatever you're already thinking, it's worse than that.