My first post — A blast from the past

I’m moving my old blog posts over from 1UP.com, since that site sadly is no more, and the servers may be turned off soon. So I’m starting my new blog with stuff from my old one, if that makes any sense.  I hope you find them entertaining — some of them go awhile back, to tha launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Oh, and I still have that subscription to Gametap. 😛

 

“I’ve been playing with the Xbox 360 today. I picked up 3 titles: Perfect Dark Zero, Project Gotham Racing, and Kameo. PDZ was the only loser of the bunch – it was rushed, and it shows. It’s going back to the store tomorrow.

Of the other two, PGR3 is excellent, as expected, and so is Kameo, which is a puzzler of sorts, not the usual Rare collect-a-thon platformer ala Donkey Kong 64 or the Banjo Kazooie games. I liked it, and recommend it without hesitation.”

“‘ve been reading news on the net throughout the day about crashing and overheating Xbox 360 consoles. Let’s face it, every console launch has its share of hardware problems. Dreamcast had the badly pressed GD-ROMs that would not play on the system (Sega promptly exchanged the games free of charge). The slimline PStwo had the burning power cords, the original Xbox had the bad DVD drive.

However, some of the bug reports seem dubious (except for the guy who took pictures of his PGR3 crash). I was wondering if some of this claims could even be disinformation from rival Sony. Think I sound paranoid? After all, gaming is a cuthroat business.

Anyway, my 360 system has performed flawlessly to date, and I have been playing it rather intensely, so those of you put off by these reports, please feel free to disregard them. Come on in — the water’s fine. :)”

“I picked up several additional Xbox 360 games, including Condemned: Criminal Origins, Call of Duty 2, King Kong, Ridge Racer 6 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Of these, Call of Duty 2 and King Kong are absolute gems – both are completely immersive experience, and I’m not even playing them on an HDTV. Ridge Racer 6 is just… Ridge Racer. It’s not remarkable or bad, just average arcade racing. Need For Speed is fun, though! Running from the cops in the single player game is intense! I though I would hate this one, given that it features the return of that bane of good gaming, full motion video actors (which I only ever liked in Wing Commander games – but that’s a topic for another day.) Recommended!”

“The various news media have been insistently reporting this week that Sony may delay the PS3 until 2007. While Sony is still crazily insisting on a Spring 2006 launch date (which by now we all know is impossible) here are my thoughts on the matter:

First, the cost of Blueray technology makes it imposible for Sony to launch now. If they did, they would have to eat a $400 loss on each PS3 sold, just because of the new drives. Sony doesn’t have that kind of cash – they just lost over $1 Billion on the CD Rootkit fiasco. Besides, the Blueray standard is not even defined yet – media companies are still ironing out the copy protection details and such. Developers have stated their final PS3 kits don’t have Blueray drives, an are doing their games with 10X DVD drives in mind.

Second, the software isn’t there yet. People at EA have stated that the earliest they can have some of their PS3 titles is September. And don’t forget, there are still plenty of triple A PS2 titles coming this year (Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts 2 come to mind.)

Third, Sony needs a counter to Xbox Live. They have no experience in this field, and anyone who’s ever used a piece of Sony designed software can tell you software development is not their strongsuit (SonicStage, anyone?).

Finlly, to me Sony seems to be a company at war with itself. Their current CEO is a clueless media-type who just doesn’t get technical issues (look at the Rootkit fiasco.) There’s a public feud between him and Ken Kutaragi, the father of the Playstation, who many inside Sony believed would be the next CEO. So you have the media guys, the suits and the tech guys all at war with each other, trying to stake their territory. Meanwhile, Microsoft (and even Apple with MP3 and media players)has them grabbed by the balls…”

“I’ve been playing aroud with my 3DO M2 Development System every once in a while, enough so it’s starting to produce results. The M2 hardware is installed in an ancient Nubus-based Mac running some flavor of MacOS 7. So far I’ve managed to flash the M2 Bios unto the development card’s EEPROM, which means I finally got it to boot and produce a welcome screen, check it out – this is actual M2 hardware running:

Check out the message from the 3DO M2 Hardware Team to gamers everywhere! Grin

I also managed to flash a ROM demo, probably meant for store displays – the problem is that it asks to press X on the controller button, which means I would have to unpack the M2 Drive Box, hook up a 3DO controller to it and hook the whole mess to the dev board in the Mac. I’m just not willing to do this right now. Besides, the drive box (which looks like what would have been the final game system unit) is a true collector’s item, and is obscenely expensive – I’m not willing to risk it until I’m more profficient with the system.

I’ll keep tinkering with the machine and posting any interesting discoveries. I will let you in on a little known fact: there are games out there for this thing. However, they’re even rarer than the machines themselves (collectors keep them hidden and refuse to talk about them.) However, I’m trying to get some games to show you guys, and have an active lead I’m following up on. Stay tuned…”

3DOM2 3DOM2a 3DOM2b 3DOM2c 3DOM2d 3DOM2eI’ve always been fascinated by 3DO hardware. After all, its lineage can be traced all the way back to the legenday Atari 8-bit computers, as well as the Commodore Amiga machines and the Atari Lynx handheld console. The 3DO is one of the last, great mysteries of gaming, so I’m always on the lookout for new information.

Anyway, yesterday I was stuck at this boring seminar at a local hotel. After lunch I wandered the hotel to explore a bit, and found the hotel arcade, filled with ancient games like Hydro Thunder and such. An lo and behold, stuck in a corner, a hidden jewel – a mint-condition Konami “Total Vice” game, one of a few based on 3do M2 hardware. I had my trusty Treo 650 with me (best cellphone/PDA there ever was/is) and took some pictures and videos. The games is pretty fun for a circa 1996 title, and let me tell you, the graphics were about Nintendo 64 quality, maybe with better textures due to the extra storage the CD provided, and the extra 4 MB RAM the M2 was supposed to have. The sound was good, but then again 3DO sound was always great. After seeing this, I think Matsushita decided against releasing this because it was not as good as 3DO led them to believe – I mean, it was a bit better than PSX-level visuals (it had bilinear filtering, the blurry effect the N64 had to mask the low-res nature of the textures) and perspective correction, and hardware MPEG1 decoding, and that’s it. People who have posted the M2 had Dreamcast or PS2-quality viseuals have no idea what they’re talking about.

Anyway, look at the pictures, and enjoy!”

“So it’s finally over, and I feel the winds of change blowin’…As most of you already read/seen in the show’s coverage, it seems Sony has stumbled with the PS3. I could have told you this would happen 2 years ago, when the company had that internal power struggle, and the suits won. Ken Kutaragi, father of the Playstation and next in line for the Sony CEO post was demoted, and clueless Brit Sir Howard Stringer was appointed instead. I always though that guy would run the company into the ground, and now it’s happening for all to see.

I have been a video game player and collector for about 30 years. I have seen a lot in this industry, and I can tell you this: $600 is too much money for a game console. Every console launched at or near this pricepoint has been a colossal failure (even my beloved 3DO, as well as SNK’s Neo-Geo). The games inductry is littered with the corpses of overpriced game consoles, and I think the PS3 is next.

The Nintendo Wii was the surprise hit of the show – the huge lines will attest to that. If it hits at $200, Nintendo will steal Christmas right out from under Sony’s noses. I think the real competition will be between the Xbox 360 and the Wii. And the funny thing is, until E3 the Wii had no third party support. This week orders for development kits have soared. Only Sega and Ubisoft are in a position to capitalize on the Wii’s launch, but developers are scrambling to support the console. Motion control is the future, my friends.

As to Ubisoft, they are posed to become the premiere next-gen developers. They must have a crystal ball or something. They own the Xbox 360 market right now, their Wii title “Red Steel” looks to be a breakout hit at launch, too. These guys went nextgen early, and it has paid off handsomely.

More later.”

“Hmmm, so the PS3 is showing signs of life all of a sudden… still, its gaming library has no killer apps yet (though I’ll admit, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots” will absolutely rock, but it’s not due out until June.) I guess it all has to do with the fact that Sony won the HD video format war (goodbye HD-DVD!). At least you can watch those neat BlueRay movies until MGS4 and Final Fantasy XIII come out later in the year.) PC gaming pretty much equals MMORPGs right now, since the FPS crownd has migrated to consoles (who’d have though?) However, I really, really love Gametap — $10 a month, with all those great games for old foggies like me. Seriously recommended, folks.”
“So Final Fantasy XIII has me completely under its spell — and that’s a good thing.  iPhone/iTouch games are consuming more of my gaming time lately, and I expect this will continue, especially if I wind up getting an iPad (a device which might spell the end of portable game consoles, but that’s a topic for another day.”
“Last year I discovered the Sakura Wars series of games.  Discovered is not the right word I guess.  I knew about the games for a long time, but had never played them, since they were never released in the West.

First developed for the Sega Saturn by Sega Overworks and Red Entertainment, in 1997, Sakura Wars tells the story of an alternate 1920s, in which technology has advanced faster than in our world thanks to the development of steam devices – they have steam-based cars, computers, radios and TVs, etc.  The player assumes the role of Imperial Naval Academy graduate Engign Ichiro Ohgami, who is assigned as Captain of the Imperial Flower Assault Force (“Teikoku Kagekidan”), or “Flower Division”.  Ohgami has no idea what he’s in for, as the Flower Division is composed of young, beautiful girls who use their special spiritual powers, as well as steam-powered mechs, to fight demons intent on destroying the World.  The game featured an addictive combination of strategy-RPG battles and dating-simulation RPG, complemented by a terrific soundtrack and beutiful songs by the game’s voice actresses, all of which that would lead it to become extremely popular in its homeland of Japan.  At one point, the franchise included video games, a motion picture, several OVAs and a TV series, as well as Manga.  In Japan the game’s voice-actresses do live performances/shows, which are later released on DVD, and, until recently, there was a Sakura Wars-themed cafe at Sega’s HQ in Japan.

There have been a total of five (5) main Sakura Wars games, not counting side-story games on the Gameboy Color and Nintendo DS.  Of those, only Sakura Wars 5 has been translated into English and released in the West. But that is a topic for another blog entry.  Today we’re talking about Sakura Wars 4.

Released in 2003 for the already-discontinued Sega Dreamcast system, Sakura Wars 4 told the story of Ichiro Ohgami as he returned to Japan from his mission in Paris (a story told in Sakura Wars 3, the third OVA, and Sakura Wars: The Movie.)  Once again reunited with his original Flower Division team, Ohgami faces a new threat to peace.

A lot of criticism was directed at Sakura Wars 4 when it was released and throughout the years.  Some people said it was too short.  Traditionally, Sakura Wars games took 20-30 hours to complete.  Sakura Wars 4 could be finished in 8 hours.  There was only one new song … the grephics and engine were recycled from Sakura Wars 3, which is understandable, since the game was rush-developed in about a year.   Other said that the game did no justice to the games’ wonderful characters, the girls of the Tokyo and Paris Flower Divisions (yes, at one point, the team from paris comes to Ohgami’s aid in a very Julles Verne way.:)

My take is that gamers loved the series, and simply wanted more Sakura Wars.  The true reason for the criticism heaped on the game is that it ends the story, and gamers wanted the story to go on.  You see, no matter what you do or the decisions you take in the game, when you reach the end you see the end of ichiro Ohgami’s story.  This leads into the reason I happen to like the game so much:  unlike other games, it reflects the passage of time.  Ichiro constantly reflects on his life throughout the game, as do other characters.  General Yoneda retires, and passes on his sword, and command, to Ohgami while sharing some sake at the end of the game.  He feels he’s too old, Ohgami is seasoned enough, and it’s time for him to step aside.  Sakura tells Ohgami about how she has had to have her kimonos fitted throughout the years, because her body has “changed”. (Yeah, that was a fun conversation, LoL!:) Sumire is looking to retire from the Flower Division and become a film star.  The Kaze-gumi (Wind Division) girls leave the team to further their careers elsewhere.  The rest of the girls are talking marriage, family and the future.  And at the end of the game, Ohgami says to Genral Yoneda, unequivocably, that he wishes to spend his life with his true love (who is selected by the player’s actions thoughout the series – yea, the games import saved games from the previous ones, for one continuous, fun story!)  The game then has a separate ending for each possible romance choice in the three previous games – thirteen (13) in total.

And why is this relevant today?  Well, there was this big brouhaha over the ending of another beloved RPG series recently — Mass Effect.  A lot has been said about the ending of Mass Effect 3… some people say it brought no closure, that your decision didn’t matter in the end, and so, and so.  The truth is, I think people just loved the game, the story and the characters, and didn’t want it to end, period.  but, like Sakura Wars 4 teaches us, everything has an ending, battles, wars, stories and even people.  So enjoy the fun while it lasts, my friends, because that’s the whole point.”

Comments on this post are below:

Someday….

Posted: May 01, 2012 12:00AM PST by  San_Andreas

…I would like to play this game.

Sakura Wars V is one of my favorite asmes ever, and I also have the Saturn version of Sakura Wars 2.”

“I remember thinking that Sakura Wars was related to Sakura from Street Fighter Alpha and Rival Schools.  Oh, how wrong I was.”

I bought Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

Posted: May 01, 2012 12:00AM PST by  jgusw

last year and I still hadn’t played it yet.  I thought it looked neat.  I don’t know a thing about the series.

As for Mass Effect, I don’t think people had I problem with it ending.  I know I was ready for it to end.  I played through the games more times than I want to admit.  The ending just sucked and it didn’t make any sense.  It was completely out of place from the rest of the series.  That’s the real problem.  ”

I like happy endings.

Posted: May 02, 2012 12:00AM PST by  jgusw

I don’t know who thinks it’s a good idea to do all that hard, but fun, work for a bad ending?  Happy is good. Cool

Some fans of the series didn’t like it, because it features a new player character, Shinjiro Taiga, and not Ichiro Ohgami.  Like I wrote in the blog, that’s because Ichiro’s story ended in Sakura Wars 4.  He does have a small but fun cameo at the beginning of the game, as does Sakura.  🙂

As to Mass Effect… I’ll give you this much: the one difference between Sakura Wars 4 and Mass Effect 3 is that the former gave the player absolute closure.  You know what happens to every character, and to your character, and, of course, it’s a bright, happy ending.”

I loved Sakura Wars V as well… in fact, I loved all of the games.  You owe it to yourself to play through the entire series.  You don’t even need to know Japanese to do so.  Seek out Kayama’s translations for Sakura Wars 1-4.  You can find them at Gamefaqs. Be advised that he never finished the translation for IV, but it’s still very playable, as long as you choose Sakura as your girl. 🙂

As for the games themselves, hit Ebay.  You can get Sakura Wars Collection for the PC, but that was released awhile back, and Sakura Wars I does not run on Windows Vista or 7.  If you own a Sega Dreamcast, you can do what I did, and play though Sakura Wars I through IV, importing your saved games as you move from game to game.  Doing so preserves your relationship with your girl from the previous game, and unlocks fun options, scenes and art.”

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