lunedì 23 agosto 2010

Game Over sequence: on

Well, ok.
A small note: my english is awful. Forgive me for the eventual mistakes. I'll try to fix em :P

Then: It's clear that I'll stick with Psygnosis stuff for a while.
I will post a Psygnosis game AND a game from another Software House to help this blog developing a wider vision on games, but hey, have a look at my bookshelf.

I have to.

Long story short: Shadow of the Beast trilogy on the Amiga IS a masterpiece of art.

It IS one of the best sounding/looking 16 bit thing ever made, with a visual concept that has no equals but many shallow imitations.

It depicts the only fantasy world that rivals hybrid Traditional/SciFi Japanese setups or classic Tolkien inspired ones. The same world will be shared with other masterpieces from Psygnosis.

It develops a gameplay that evolves from brutal to mental as the main character does.

Beast was received in a VERY weird way. Most of it's appeal was never understood properly.
For two reasons.

First reason is the same that damages most of pure art like Beast is.
You must see it with your own eyes on a crt monitor. You must get in control. Nobody really gets WHY beast is SO awesome reading or seeing a youtube video (well I know you so here are the best ones: intro and longplay).
Why everything in that game is so damned beautiful and peculiar.

The size ratio of the main character with the whole screen is something that still remains unprecedented. It's detail, those red spots, the metal details everything seems carved directly into the cathodic tube.
Please enjoy this details from a real amiga on a commodore monitor to get the difference from a video memory screen grab of an emulated version screenshot took on google. You usually find these on the internet and understand that THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU SEE PLAYING: emulated screens have a reason to exist only for didactic purposes, as they let you see exactly the work from the graphic artist, having super crisp definition. But the reason those pixel are there is the final effect, thru a PAL/NTSC cathode ray tube.


Here is a screen grab (look at the foliage dithering of those trees):

and here is the real thing:

The way the Beast kicks in the air is something you just have to accept into your life. The burst of air of every punch sounds so clean that you never have enough of punching.
A symphony of art, music (well to be honest music it's absolutely far from perfect IMHO) and coding that puts into shame every other attempt to actually give life to a synthetic world.

All of this beauty just happens and the problems is: you can't explain why.

Telling another guy why beast is so perfect is a problem. At least is a problem if you want to REALLY explain why it's so mind boggling. Of course you can highlight the 32 parallax levels, or the hundred of original monsters packed inside the game but hey: it's not a matter of benchmarking. It's like saying that Caravaggio did 423765 brush strokes to paint his Goliath. Benchmarking is the death of videogames and Beast suffered this.
"It's Kung Fu Master meets Roger Dean made by a super picky programmer". People saying this kind of bullshit should really play Beast and let the creature destroy everything.

Shadow of the Beast is Shadow of the Beast.
Finish it or please shut up.

Second problem is more of a specific matter and will determine an horrible situation I will get into later:
Shadow of the Beast has a curse, nobody shall try to port it to another machine (from the past or from the future), or the magic is broken. And it's a curse that many Amiga games have.

I know it can be hard to respect a machine that has almost no arcade perfect conversions nor true native arcade mainstream games (almost, i said). At least compared with a Megadrive or a Super Famicom, but many already faced the awful effects of the curse.

Ported with ugly result on every other computer (including Spectrum, poor Speccy!)
Electronic arts DID try to port it on Genesis/Megadrive, Hudson helped with a Pc Engine version, even am Atari Lynx card was put together, wasted thousands of cds on FM Towns.

So non amiga players were asking: why the hell everybody was trying to sell an ugly game to the rest of the world? The answer is simple. The game DO suck on every other platform (PLEASE NOTE: EVERY PLATFORM EVER MADE), but on the Amiga (the cream gray dull computer from commodore that barely manages overscan on most of the games) is a masterpiece.

That said:

Beast II.

A masterpiece that improved with the second chapter (with a second iteration of the Beast Curse).
Again. Only Amiga could manage the wrath of Martin Edmonson Paul Howarth and Cormac Batstone. Martin Edmonson did a tremendous work here. While the game did not feature that gigantic super wide parallactic wilderness he absolutely compensated with a use of a color palette that do still stand out nowadays, freezed a whole world in an eternal sunset, choosing the right material for everything, ranging from flat black silhouettes, super saturated colors to neutral and sensible depiction of nature using every tool in his power: ordered dithering merge perfectly with more pictorial skills boasting more information with 32 indexed colours and no blending option than any other fantasy painter did with an unlimited analog palette.

We are speaking of true genius, something that nobody really can't match anymore.
Pixels lost their approximation, becoming the perfect medium for the eye and mind of a beautiful english creature.

Martin Edmonson was my Frazetta. Was my Simon Bisley. Damn, he IS the best artist to ever grace a fantasy videogame along with the Team ICO guys (that cited Martin work everywhere) and Vanillaware (his true 2010 legacy).

Martin did the impossible AND so did Tim Wright.
He was in charge for the second game, with a very bad situation to manage: David Whittaker, the god amongst game musicians, did the first Beast OST. Beast II was one hell of a title and comparisons would come sooner or later: Tim Wright was still a perfect stranger to most players. Well, know what? Tim Wright composed a soundtrack that still amazes me like the first day I played Beast II. He made my messy kid bedroom become an historiated cathedral. He did invent those weird steel drum usage, that phasing pads that gave the game colossal spaces perception.
The opening theme? Vangelis for Blade Runner doesn't hold a match.

The infamous Miami Vice gameover sequence, pure genius:

Tim Wright is the very first 16bit module composer out there and said hello to everybody with such sample mangling masterwork.

5 things you have to experience in Karamoon to enhance your poor life:

1) Asking ten pints
2) Escaping from an underground lair cheating with wine and cavemen
3) Travel to a different dimension on a giant slug
4) That laser cage, my god that laser cage!
5) Experience the dynamic music changes as the story unfolds when you specific actions. (the goblin outpost is the perfection)

I still dream on what it's hidden in that Karamoon inn, that door was shown open in many game magazines (I remember something on CU Amiga), never managed to go thru it, was probably a dev version of the game.

But where is Maletoth?

Maletoth is well sealed in a pure work of gaming art, Shadow of the Beast 3.

And there it remains: the best of the whole trilogy paid for the Beast Curse infringment of the first 2 chapters.
Nobody would ever try to port it. That's the horrible situation I mentioned before.
Best game ever on a dying game platform that nobody in Japan will ever own.
Doing aftermath we can say it is a big plus. You have to play it the way it was meant to be played.
Beast III is the promising talent that reaches perfection.
An arcade adventure where you do so many different things using ONE button, from the annihilation of all fish species thru darwinian inscriptions and giant stone machines to an epic escape from Fort Dourmoor using it's own inhabitants and mechanic devices.

Character design for this game is so weird that the artistic twist is finally complete.
That hat! The future Martin Edmonson did every bad mistake possible on psx (destruction derby and driver are from the same genius, yep, it's possible) but honestly on beast III he's already done with the world. He did it. He won.

Stylish 1 colour shurikens rotate smoothly at 50 fps as a testament to the player: this game is ULTRA enjoyable, you are out of the Beast nightmare, you are playing the final chapter. Aarbron is finally back in control of his own actions.

A first attempt to an open structure with a free map selection menu was also very interesting.

Surprisingly this game has a bad intro animation and box artwork.
Look. The intro has a completely out of track color palette and sports an early core design looking rendering ("frenetic", do you remember it? awful).

Also surprising: no free tshirt inside, only a pin.

Not surprisingly it has a beautiful soundtrack, Tim Wright strikes again with his most cinematic soundtrack to date.
So weird, huge and catchy you have to listen. Four channels 8bit 11khz samples never sounded so good.

Bottom Line.
If you REALLY love games do yourself a favour: spend 80€ buy an amiga 500, a crt monitor, connect everything to a good pair of speakers and play the whole serie.
You usually spend the same amount of money (while wasting 32 hours of your life) to play with another shitty car stealing ugly sandbox, so why not?
I bet that one day you will thank me, Beast series is going to be quite expensive sooner than later.

Beast is a state of mind, it's a true shining diamond amongst the mega games.
It's pure artistic will and power roaming free in a bunch of disks.
Martin, Cormac and Paul: thank you all for letting me into this beautiful world.
(and thanks to Andrew Bond for the compressor).

domenica 15 agosto 2010

The Brataccas Asteroid, where it all begun.

Welcome to my blog.
It's the first time I write about videogames.
On the right you'll find the topics for this blog.
It's not an all rounded gaming blog at all.
So you are warned: starting speaking of great games with Brataccas will define the rules of this small blog for sure.
I'm in charge. I decide. Read, approve or leave now.

Brataccas is the first "Mega Game" ever produced.

Imagine software, Liverpool 1983-1984, was a super hyper dream team of game makers. They did earn lots of money producing several blockbusters in a row. They were in a such positive trend that everybody was taliking about'em.
So how did they manage to fail and go bankrupt?

Many people call it bad management, or bad design.
I call it a true, brave artistic need.
The guys at Imagine called it Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.

Here is a beautiful insight by BBC, 1984

As you can see in the video Bandersnatch was a true vaporware, and it did manage to kill imagine, the best of the best of software houses.
Looking at it from a rational standpoint it really doesn't make any sense, it was a mistake. Fullstop.
To me looks more or less like a dream, that the guys at imagine wanted desperately to make come true.
A game that went beyond spectrum limitations, using proprietary hardware to tailor the machine on their needs. A game that was different from any other game around. Even if you could call it the VERY first action rpg sandbox ever made, you must be aware that nobody at Imagine was thinking of it from a game critic's standpoint. They were doing it for their artistic sake and for the players. Game Design was clearly a tool to build the devices they needed to unfold the whole experience.
They wanted to bring you on their world, they were excited by the idea you could meet it's inhabitants.
It's (proudly) no GTAIV (Yep, Dave Jones from Psygnosis/DMA did start it all I know).

Most people thinks Imagine died by a bad stab in the back from it's own fathers.
My opinion is that a seed can't give you anything if it doesn't die.

They actually risked their own company, everything they earned to make it done.
They failed, but such bravery generated one of the most sought after software houses ever.

Bandersnatch and Imagine died, Psygnosis and Psyclapse (a budget game label) were born.

Psygnosis is something very strange in the game producers scenario.

Most expensive games out there. Psygnosis games went for about 5x the standard prices.
More or less it was like paying 200€ for a Playstation game.

Best software house from an artistic stand point ever, starting from their peculiar and distinctive luxury corporate ID and coordinate graphic style of their game boxes and manuals.

Roger Dean, Garvan Corbett, Martin Edmondson, the guys at Traveller Tales, Cormack Batstone, Franck Sauer, Tim & Lee Wright, David Whittaker just to cite the first ones that come to my mind.
Just think of it like a bunch of great geniuses that failed once and will never fail again.
There you have it: the best software house we had outside of Japan.

Speaking of their first game, Brataccas is a very complex task.
First of all, Brataccas was the official commercial release for Bandersnatch.
THAT Bandersnatch.

That out of this world concept.

Well, from a technical stand point Brataccas is weird as it's a strange way between a Spectrum game and an Amiga one.
It suffers the platform transplant for sure, we are speaking of very different beasts, severe 8bit versus opulent 16bit.
It had to solve a controller problem: mouse and keyboard were the only guaranteed peripheral on all the machine it had to run on (Amiga, Atari ST, Mac), Joysticks were not so common (1985, remember) and they decided for a mouse driven control system (that makes most of the first games by Psygnosis very hard to play, just think about Barbarian and Obliterator).
But at the same time it has a TRUE art direction (strong color palette, well defined cartoon flat shade look, outstanding character design), a very specific game vision: merging the boring world of text adventure games to the colorful cinematic arcade ones to get the holy grail of gaming, the first true outstanding arcade/adventure game.

So there you have it: a super large coherent world map, people that actually speak to you and each other, you can fight them, you have a visual inventory, objects that can be taken on and off your character by an on character menu that works more or less like the ultra modern and acclaimed Princess Crown/Odin Sphere one.
A HUD free game like only Another World managed to do (we'll speak of it very soon in another post).
All this devices and efforts were so innovative that nobody could understand they were tasting not only the future of entertainment, but a true pionieristic masterwork of art.

Brataccas was heavily criticized for it's bad interface design, because it suffered from a huge amount of bugs (a video about this can be found HERE), and graphics were more or less hi def spectrum standard.

My opinion is that Brataccas was one of the first game to put the player on top, trying to bring him in the most deep and powerful environment possible to express a vision, destroying any rational reason to stick to older gaming models not for the sake of mere originality: Brataccas is a place you have to go to and see. Brataccas is a full fledged world, with it's peculiar aesthetics. Every technical problem falls apart when it comes to artistic vision. And I'm not speaking about "graphics". I'm speaking about experience.

Come to Brataccas and see what I'm talking about.