Saturday, 21 May 2016

Big Pixels Seven postmortem

Before I deliver the party report (itself rated as higher priority than finally getting around to putting away the systems we used, tangling us up in piles in our spare room), here's some fun stuff I stumbled across while reminding my friends to come over and play. I'm a sucker for those superstar ensemble pieces. I'm not talking "Nighthawks" with Humpfrey Bogart serving coffee to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (oh huh, there it is) but rather group portrayals of video game characters from across different companies, systems and eras. I try to find them to promote my vintage gaming parties and this time, I found a humdinger!
It's a collection of game hero / protagonists, including: Bomberman, Sackboy / Samus, Bob, Black Mage, Snake, Duck Hunt Dog, Cloud, Bub, Master Chief / Megaman, Chun-Li, Mario, Dragon Quest Slime and Kirby, Link, Ulala, Sonic / Katamari Prince, and Pikachu.

What made this one so interesting (besides its being well-drawn and not just a pasted collection of sprites) is that hours after I posted it, my old school friend Jason (aka my old modem colleague Nitnatsnoc, SysOp of The Screaming Tomato BBS) took a moment out of his busy schedule to check in and say "hi, cool beans, did you know that picture you just posted was drawn by my sister?" It's true, she was commissioned to create the artwork by a local used video game emporium, and the characters gaming on the sofa were even chosen by the staff!

It's funny that Jason was my teenaged re-entry point into comic books (sure, as a little kid I had a small collection of Richie Rich, Donald Duck and Star Wars comics, plus troubling appearances by Moondog and the "Anatomy Lesson" issue of Swamp Thing), not only getting me back on track by loaning me Kingdom Come and Mike Allred's Madman but also introducing me to small press indie comics such as 86'd by Ian Boothby (now of Bongo Comics writing fame.) (Oh yeah, and the ANSI art scene we both jumped into was a crash course in the then-current garbagey Image Comics revolution.) And... I never ended that sentence. It's funny that he led me back into the comics fold, and then it wasn't HIM, but his sister, Nina Matsumoto, who ended up becoming a bona fide comic art professional.

Down the line she did a sequel to that ensemble piece, which is also outstanding, this time, with the video game villains taking a turn on the gaming sofa:

I had to look a couple of these ones up: Bowser, A Servbot from Mega Man Legends, Inky, Clyde and Blinky / Sub Zero, M. Bison, Scorpion, Ganondorf, a Zombie from Zombies vs. Plants (could it be the casual game whose proceeds were singlehandedly responsible for the establishment of the Storm Crow Tavern?) / Dr. Wiley, a Silent Hill Nurse, Wario, Tom Nook from Animal Crossing (an inspired choice for villains, the capitalist landlord!), Tron Bonne, Sephiroth (or as my notes have it: goth?), Dr. Robotnik / Portal sentry turret, Meowth, a Metroid, and Meta Knight from Kirby.

Phew. I had that much fun just talking up the promotion for the party (the level of detail, down to the specifics of the controllers being held, omg!), did I have any fun actually playing games at the actual party? Well yes, we found several very interesting games. "Woody, how did you get that far into Bubble Bobble playing on your own? Don't you realise you can't get a true ending without bringing your friend?"

(I know, "interesting" != "fun", but I'm always more interested in an interesting failure than a boring success. Hence my near-trolling attempts to trick someone into playing Killer7.) Odama is a very special piece of work, king of its genre, that being the feudal-Japan-pinball-with-voice-control genre. The surreal cover art is actually pretty much dead on! There was a time when, immediately after the garage sales were done, I would scurry in to sample the fresh wares and play every game, even if just for five minutes, to establish that it worked and single out titles for later closer scrutiny. (Also: and to fill up my save game memory slots at a blistering rate.) When I picked this thing up second-hand bundled with a microphone, I knew it would be something quite exceptional, but at this thinly-spread moment in my life, figured that my next game party would be as good a time to try it out for the first time as any.

The pinball ain't great. (I was delighted, however, to find that you can bump the entire landscape... hopefully not to result in TILT.) The military strategy isn't the easiest to pull off. But everything works much as it is supposed to, and there is truly else nothing like it. It's not a multiplayer game, but my chiefest observation of the gameplay -- I don't have enough hands to maneuver multiple areas on this Gamecube controller AND deal with a microphone -- might be neatly solved by giving it a 2P. (Tucking the mic behind my ear as a makeshift headset just didn't cut it, because you need to press the button on the mic to accept input from it!) Apparently an early version of the game accepted additional morale-boosting input from taiko pounding on the DK Bongo peripheral, but now you need a whole team leading your army!

I did not realize that I was previously familiar with any of the auteur's work, but Yoot Saito is not only renowned for SimTower, but he is also the offbeat mind behind the Dreamcast's dark horse, Seaman. Funnily enough, we had made a few Seaman jokes (what's long, torpedo-shaped and full of seamen? A submarine!) over the course of the night because of the (surprisingly!) dark cyberpunk tone of the following title...

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future for Sega Dreamcast. My friend Bruce comes from a slightly older cohort as many of us game-loving manboys, so he surprised us by asking if we had "Ecco the Dolphin" on tap. Sadly my Genesis collection is quite limited (whatever else is tried, it always ends up with Columns, Aladdin and Battletoads in rotation); I do have a version of one of those games on Game Gear, but my GG is seemingly in need of a good deep clean and will not currently boot cartridges when powered on. So it came as a big surprise when this disc was thrown on the Dreamcast and Bruce exclaimed that this here was the game he'd been asking about! But he'd never played a Dreamcast before... he must have caught the Playstation 2 version, probably quite a bit closer to its release in the year 2000. It starts predictably enough, but as Bruce began looking up plot synopsis paragraphs from later on in the game he began blowing our little minds, and finally we restarted the game to activate a cheat mode and activate some of the rarefied strangeness in the later levels. "It is generally regarded as an alternate universe. ... The Man's Nightmare levels were based around human technology, with heavily polluted water. ... The dolphins did not know that humans were extinct. Some of them thought they had been left to test their loyalty, and spoke of a great Engine of Salvation that the Chosen One would activate with the Labor Harness. After uniting the three sects of dolphins, Ecco managed to put on the Labor Harness which allowed him to control human machines by singing at them. Ecco headed off to activate the Engine of Salvation while looking for the globes that contained the Noble Traits. ... History changed. Dolphins became aggressive creatures and forced humans from the seas, never to return. They built their own independent society under the waves, and some above them." Who WROTE this stuff? ... oh:
OK, I guess if anyone's qualified, David "Uplift" Brin is. Do you think he applied for the position or did they come crawling to him? We also were given a live demo of "Viper League", a multiplayer "snake" arena game for web browsers, which occupied us in clusters of four around a single keyboard for quite some time. I don't believe it's launched yet, so I'm not authorized to point you to a build to try out for yourself, but do keep your eyes open for it, because it was a slice. Of. Multiplayer. Fun.

Hits and misses in brief: the blackout curtains make playing using the projector as a display viable before nightfall, which is awesome! But they do block window airflow, which makes for a room full of hot electronics and sweaty humans. A friend brought an extension cord for backyard projecting-on-the-side-of-our-house play, but we never followed through on it. (Hopefully to be addressed later this summer at a smaller, one-system event.) My N64 is growing increasingly unreliable; I couldn't get a single game to launch on it this time. My TV antenna transformer adaptor has come loose from a soldered joint, so until I can lean on someone to repair or replace it, my Atari 2600 is out of commission. Though I play Gamecube games on my Wii, I kept a Gamecube on retainer for the sole purpose of being able to play Pac-Man Vs., but the Game Boy Advance SP (which connects to it) whose battery ran down cannot simply have its battery replaced with a stock supermarket variety; instead, I need a special charging cord it did not come with, second-hand -- a hassle. (But Pac-Man Vs. is worth it!) The Neo-Geo X delivers exactly what it promises and no more: the joysticks are sturdy and feel solid in the hand, just the thing for its fighting games (King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown) but SNK's Neo-Geo games themselves are somewhat unbalanced due to their arcade origins. (My kaijiu-wrestling favorite -- ask me sometime about the giant monster combat pen and paper game I designed in elementary school -- King of the Monsters delivered a surprising result: the players were not able to inflict enough damage quickly enough for anyone to win a round before the time limit ran down. And finally: begin your setup with the machines that are easy to set up and get working, so when guests arrive you'll have at least something for them to play. Troubleshooting problem units means the first hour of your party can just scale up to four people scratching their chins and speculating rather than just one.

I can't wait to do another one and, y'know, even get around to playing some games between the six-month-interval parties, so I can make recommendations rather than falling back on my guests stumbling across hidden gold in the stacks. Somewhere down the line, this will become easier. You'll hear about it here first! Cheers and game on!