All posts by junkergunstar81

Sign of the Dragon: Double Dragon Retrospective Review

In the case of this retrospective, the focus will be on the original arcade version due to the plethora of ports released in the years following.

During the mid-80’s, video games began to ripen with several developers experimenting and  understanding the essentials in delivering a successful title. From Sega’s Outrun, Taito’s Darius, and Konami’s Salamander, these had been risky games, yet returning with financial and critical success. Additionally, inspiring others to improve and expand upon these titles. Namely, there was one small company establishing this within the Beat em’ up genre, Technos Japan, a company formed by members of Data East (Burger Time, Crude Buster, and Magical Drop series).

After the completion of Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun in Japan), demand for a follow-up began. Rather than create a direct sequel, series producer Yoshihisa Kishimoto inspired by his love for the films Mad Max, Enter the Dragon, and the anime/manga series Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star) decided to produce a co-op beat em’ up with a more cinematic approach, Double Dragon.

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Double Dragon, developed by Technos Japan and published by Taito was released on Arcades in Summer of 1987. The game follows 2 brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee on a quest to save Billy’s girlfriend Marian from the Black Warriors. The Lee Brothers traverse through 4 levels fighting their way among the toughest of the Black Warriors members, including Williams, Linda, Willy, and Abobo. Personally, the enemies seem inspired by The Warriors though it might be myself thinking this comparison. Likewise, there’s an Easter egg from another game appearing in the first level, the car used in Road Blaster, another title Kishmoto worked on. However, there is a twist in the end of the

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The Black Warriors taken from the Famicom manual

 

game when playing with a friend…

Graphically, there is a fantastic display of colors used to display the detailed sprites. Notably, the backgrounds throughout the game. Particularly, no two backgrounds are the same in comparison to other games. I applaud the efforts Tecnhos placed inside the game.  The rich colorful graphics are a testament to why Double Dragon stands above the rest.

However, I met the gameplay with mixed results. Notably, serving as a technological and spiritual successor to Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun), Double Dragon inherited the former’s button layout, 4-way joystick and simplicity. Furthermore, there are hidden attacks initiated when combining the jump button with either kick or punch button. Additionally, the Lee Brothers move at a quick pace, giving players a rapid advantage in deciding attack moves. Nonetheless, the AI is cruel and merciless. Equally, there is a significant amount of slowdown present throughout the game resulting from the multiple 8-bit microprocessors inside the hardware.

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Alex from the Kunio-Kun Series which serves as the spiritual predecessor to DD.

Despite the mixed gameplay, the unfavorable portion of the game stems from the music. To begin with, I agree that the music is memorable, yet during the playthrough I felt as though there was something off about the composition and unbearable for my ears at moments. Yet, there is an arranged soundtrack, which in my opinion is a superior arrangement, with its 80s production, which I grew loving after listening to the tracks repeatedly.


Overall, Double Dragon launched the Golden Age of Beat em’ ups influencing such classics such as Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight.  Improving on Renegade, Double Dragon’s enduring legacy is the game’s ability to cooperatively play together.

Additionally, various sequels and spin-offs were released varying with quality from the great Double Dragon II and the ill-fated Double Dragon V.

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“various sequels and spin-offs were released varying with quality from the great Double Dragon II..”

Recently, a sequel, Double Dragon IV (Based of the NES chronology), which I found personally to be an insult to the Double Dragon fanbase despite several original members including Kishmoto working on the title. The game serves as a disgraceful example of companies cashing in on people’s nostalgia.

But in the end, even with the multiple issues I may have with the franchise, there is no denying its legacy as a classic. All in all, Double Dragon resides as the one of the greatest beat em’ ups created.

 

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“…influencing such classics such as Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight. “

Sony PVM 8042-Q: Is it Truly Worth it?

For the past few years, it seems that several in the retro gaming community have begun looking for the best ways to maximize their gaming experience. In an age where modern TVs no longer are retro friendly. Instead, several individuals have begun to look into the past, discovering that maybe those giant CRT TVs have some use after all these years.

For numerous people, it would only seem that the RCA or S-video was the best way to play your classic games since those were the ones plenty grew up with. However, the past few years have proven its time to move onto a format that will require several to rethink about how retro games should be intended to appear, RGB. In general, RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue and considered by several to be the best format to display your retro systems on. Yet, the issue arises from how to enable this display into your TVs.  There are several manners to achieve RGB but the most common path is to have it displayed from a SCART cable which was only exclusive to Europe. Unfortunately for several Americans, there is no way to plug a scart cable in our TV sets without the use of a converter. For several people, getting all this equipment to optimized for RGB is not something that a multitude of people can afford. In addition, there are some systems that need to be optimized for RGB using soldering skills or having someone do it for you. But for those who can, it’s something that will blow your mind away!

Next, since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you understand that you’re either interesting in knowing more displaying RGB on a TV or curious to observe what it can offer. There are several options for displaying RGB Scart to your TV. An affordable way to display it is by buying an RGB to HDMI or Component/YPBPR converter which may introduce some lag depending on if you plug it into an HD TV or CRT TV that accepts component inputs. Previously, I owned an RGB to Component converter for 2 years and I enjoyed it and it introduced me to RGB’s offerings. Another option is to invest in an XRGB Framemeister or OSSC to display RGB onto your modern television that accept HDMI/Component/VGA signals but these are pricey and recommended with those who have more spending money than others. Finally, the (subjectively speaking) superior way to display is to convert the SCART into BNC towards a professional CRT monitor like a Sony PVM.

After several years of research with additional mass hours of tedious work, I finally decided to sell my SCART to component converter and invest in a Sony PVM 8042Q, part of a line of professional video monitors which several retro gamers consider to be the holy grail of CRT TVs. With its 250 resolution lines, several outputs, including BNC, S-Video, and Composite, and 16:9 option, the 8042Q is a great way to enter the world of the RGB Monitors. At the time, I bought mine for about 80 dollars and one of the best purchases I’ve made.

Following suit, after testing the PVM with my Famicom, Genesis/Mega Drive, Saturn, SNES, PlayStation 1, N64, and Dreamcast I could not complain about the quality of the picture being displayed. There are some issues like it not being able fit the entire image for those 5th generation and Dreamcast due to the screen size limitation and its inability to display 480p which may be in part of when it release time instead of not being able to implement it due to the fact that I would love to play the rest of the 6th Generation in a miniature monitor. Another issue is the fact that it has only mono sound which means that you would need to convert the stereo sound into a mono via an adapter which is not that expensive but still it may annoy some audiophiles.

Overall, my conclusion is that for the price and size, it’s a great entry-level RGB monitor for those interested in entering the world of CRTs. Though prices for RGB monitors have begun to rise over the past few years, there are still chances for fantastic deals online and in person depending on your search for and there are several guides online to help with this journey which I’ll post below.

http://pastebin.com/H9H9L2LQ
http://pastebin.com/pQX4N6gZ

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Earth and Sea: The Review of Shenmue

Shenmue, Sega’s most ambitious game and Yu Suzuki’s magnum opus series. A game with a strong cult following in the years following its released and one of the killer apps on Sega’s swan song, the Dreamcast. The game meant to save Sega from impending doom eventually credited on the factors that would eventually make Sega bow out of the console market with its $47 million budget. Furthermore, Shenmue is one of those games that people either love or hate, as a result of how detailed the world inside the game is and mesmerized the player with the world. Often regarded as the pioneer of modern games like Resident Evil 4, Grand Theft Auto, and Sleeping Dogs, noted that Shenmue is accredited to the progress in making open world games the norm with its luscious world, NPCs that interact with you, and night and day systems.

Development of Shenmue

Development of Shenmue started back in 1993. As Yu Suzuki traveled to China in order to research into Virtua Fighter 2, fascinated by the Chinese culture. As a result, it’s due to this curiosity that it inspired to keep those items that interested him aside. After the release of Virtua Fighter 2, Suzuki decided to embark on his biggest project.

Even more, he states that the purpose of an arcade title is to grab the player’s attention for 3 minutes, but Suzuki wanted to see if he can develop a console game that would grab the player’s attention for a longer length of time. With this in mind, frustrated with the flaws he noticed with the JRPG genre and combined with his research in China he began playing 80s adventure games and early 90s JRPGs to steer him in the right direction.

As a result, set with what he wanted to do with his next title, a JRPG. So much that, he decided that the platform that would suit his needs would be the Sega Saturn where it did great in Japan but disappointing in the US and Europe. Above all, he needed to test out what the capabilities of the Saturn in full 3D something that several developers struggled to accomplish on the Saturn. In the end, he named this prototype, The Old Man and the Peach Tree.

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Set in 1950s China, Taro asks an old man if he knows a Master Ryu. The Old man tells me if Taro can give him a peach, he will tell him where Master Ryu’s location is. In the end, after the trials that Taro goes through he realizes that the old man might possibly be Master Ryu himself.

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Eventually, Suzuki confident with all the research in The Old Man and the Peach Tree decided to fully embark with his vision. For this reason, a proposal for a full 3D RPG based on the Virtua Fighter series using the game’s engine with the objective of having fully-voiced cut scenes, the ability to fight multiple opponents, and have a cinematic approach the game titled, Virtua Fighter RPG: Akira Story.

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The overall goals of Virtua Fighter RPG

With this intention, Suzuki began working on the plot and approach different ways to develop his masterpieces, he created a 4-step process. For a start, Suzuki divided the general theme of each plot in 4 different acts. Next, he wrote a 4-orchestral suite in order to suit the game’s overall mood and brought in composer to critique his work. Afterwards, instead of bringing in game developers which he believes would make the game too literal, he instead brought in screenwrights, film directors, playwrights, and others for something he titled, Bordered Development. Eventually, the game’s general direction arranged by both the developers and additional resources Suzuki brought in and concluded to illustrate the 4 general plots in 11 chapters and illustrate each of them.

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The concept art of the 11 chapters of Virtua Fighter RPG

Incidentally, the footage released of the Saturn Virtua Fighter RPG is amazing! The prototype displays what could have been the true capabilities of the Saturn in full 3D in real time. Yes, the Saturn whose full 3D capabilities developers underutilized. Indeed, the game is great and indeed to be the Saturn’s killer app which would have spanned across 8 discs for the first chapter.

Unfortunately, due to the low sales of the Saturn outside of Japan, the other branches of Sega discontinued support for the system in the late 90s and this caused Suzuki to switch his game towards Sega’s next console, the Dreamcast. On another note, seeing that the next console met the requirements of Suzuki’s next game, he demanded that Yamaha, the makers of the sound chip for Sega’s new console upgraded from 32 to 64 channels and he contributed to the development of the Dreamcast and its arcade counterpart the Naomi. In the end, this brought along Guppy.

Overall, Guppy’s goal to offer 45 hours of gameplay is a combination of cut scenes both cinematic and real-time, exploration, and combat. Realizing that this might have been too ambitious for the player at the time, Suzuki forced to cut back on his goal and decided that each of the 11 chapters of the game split into individual games. Therefore, in order to make this game the killer app for the Sega Dreamcast, deciding to switch the premise of Virtua Fighter RPG into a new IP, Project Berkley aka Shenmue ~Chapter 1: Yokosuka~.

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The Ship in the end of the game is called Genpuumaru, a tribute to Guppy.

With this in mind, in order to show off the capabilities of Sega’s new console at its unveiling, Suzuki sent 5 of his team members to make a tech demo for the event.  As a result, the stunning audiences amazed to see the tech demo produced by AM2, The Tower of Babel, which used 1 million polygons running at 60 fps.

Afterwards, The Dreamcast launched in Japan in 1998 with Virtua Fighter 3tb being one of the launch titles. Not to sway off topic, but this wasn’t a true port as AM2 did not work on this, but left audiences with a surprise, a bonus disc that included a preview of Project Berkley.

During this time, AM2 working on getting the final touches into the game. Additionally, there were several delays to the game due to several critical flaws in the game, including several NPCs stuck inside a building at one time in the game since several of them are programmed to follow a real schedule like people would in real life. Additionally, the animals suddenly become bipedal and that should be a sign that maybe a there needs to be more debugging.  In the end, after the long wait, Shenmue stepped into the ring to show off the Dreamcast’s capabilities.

The Main Review

Shenmue was released in Japan on December 29, 1999, the US in November of 2000 and a month later in Europe. Shenmue is an open-world game where players take control of Ryo Hazuki in his quest to enact his revenge on Lan Di for the death of his father. The game takes place in 1986 Yokosuka, Japan, where players explore the city throughout the day and night looking for clues on Lan Di. During his quest Ryo, can partake in numerous activities including exploring Yokosuka, playing games in the arcade, perfect his martial arts, beat some thugs up, engage in quick time events, and spend his money on gambling and cute figurines.

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Concept art of Ryo, the main protagonist

In terms of content, Suzuki emphasized that Shenmue is not an RPG but FREE. Yes, FREE which stands for full reactive eyes entertainment. But the game seems similar to a noir PC point and click adventure game that transited into 3D that featuring elements of beat em up, quick time events, and racing into the mix. The game is highly revolutionary for the time for its highly-detailed world and how it lets players engage so well in this world which gave non-Japanese players an insight of how life in Japan during the mid-80s. Still to this day, the game blows my mind away at how much detail put into 3 GD-Roms!

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An example of the detailed world of Shenmue

As mentioned before, Ryo’s main goal is to search for his father’s killer, Lan Di. But there are several subplots that occur throughout the game. First of all, he needs to find any info about the car Lan Di drove and if anyone received any information regarding it, searching for any of the residents knows Chinese, earn some money to go to Hong Kong, stop some thugs that are terrorizing the harbors, and what is behind those Dragon mirrors.

In terms of gameplay, its simple the overall premise is to look for clues by doing certain tasks, talking to certain people, and looking around the city all this being written inside Ryo’s journal as a reference guide throughout the game. The fighting engine in this game is top notch and feels similar to those who have played Virtua Fighter. The forklift racing and motorcycle segments are straight out of  Virtua Racing and Hang-On. Finally, the quick time events credited towards a non-AM2 game, Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade.

There are several great segments in the game that often show off the best of what Suzuki intended during the game’s lengthy development, including how much emphasis placed into the player by letting them explore even the smallest of details. The driving forklifts whether it be for racing or for working were also among the memorable parts of the game. Wasting time playing Space Harrier, Hang on, Darts, and QTE boxing. Even how Ryo can interact with the NPCs even though they can be quite rude, but Suzuki states he wanted to have the players experience each NPC differently, “What I did not want players to experience while having a conversation with an NPC is repetition. Getting the same answer to your question over and over is boring. And that is what happens in some games. In Shenmue, the conversation system is adjusted accordingly,” he concludes. Finally, the best portion of the game is the fighting segments, including the 70-man battle near the finale of the game.

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Easily one of the best parts of the game, 70 man battle

In contrast, there are multiple parts of the game that might turn off several players including myself who at one point convinced not to finishing the game. In spite of all the praise Shenmue deserves, it features several flaws that outright making this unplayable for some. Particularly in the beginning portion of the game features mundane task that Ryo needs to accomplish that might turn off players so it’s recommended to find a guide to finish the beginning part of the game quickly. Asking people if they know Chinese or if they’ve seen sailors? These would of worked in 2D point and click adventure games, but not in this type of game. Not only that, but the world might be too realistic for others, though this is a subjective complaint since a fraction of people might enjoy this sense of realism.

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One of the cringy part of the game

Graphically, the game looks amazing, especially in VGA mode where it shines as one of the Dreamcast’s finest gems. The models in the game still look great and I cannot complain at this point. The buildings, environments, and people might look sharp around the edges, but it’s no concern of mine.

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Then, the controls are great overall though, at the moment it seems awkward when trying to turn around as it seems slow. They are amazing when it comes to the fighting scenes where they’ll feel akin to the Virtua Fighter series. The controls in the driving portion of the game are also a great feeling akin to Hang-On and Virtua Racing especially with the analog stick.

Finally, the music is atmospheric but it suits the game very well! Being composed by a plethora of composers, including Sega legends Takenobu Mitsuyoshi and Yuzo Koshiro. When composing the music, Mitsuyoshi mentioned this, “What I tried to achieve for Shenmue was not “Takenobu Mitsuyoshi’s music.” Rather, I tried to find the melody that lies in the sound effects themselves, something that used sound effects for melody and rhythm… With Shenmue, I’m creating the total opposite. It’s music that you do not notice, but if it wasn’t there, the scene would feel barren. It’s very nuanced, detailed work, and very challenging in many ways. But in part of the large scale of this project, it did afford me several of opportunities to experiment. As a composer, I feel like I leveled up in a way.” Indeed, it does feel that way transiting from Arcade music to console gaming since the overall soundtrack to Shenmue is fantastic. Koshiro on the other hand felt very honored to be among the presence of Suzuki and Mitsyoshi as he noted, “I had met Koshiro once before when we shared the stage at a Roland event. After that Suzuki asked me, “Do you want to try working with Koshiro?” And of course, I did! I’ve long admired Koshiro and thought he was cool. I’ve followed his work closely for the last 10 years.” Even the symphonic arrangements of the tracks are beautiful. They truly convey the feeling that players should be feeling at that moment and very dramatic for a soundtrack of its time.

The game does not stop there as there were a plethora of content released prior and attached to the game. Prior to the release of Shenmue, Sega released What’s Shenmue? This serves as an additional demo of the game. The plot begins with Ryo looking for Mr. Yukawa, Senior Managing Director of Sega at the time where he saves him from thugs who wanted a disk from him. Only in the end, to realize that Mr. Yukawa, dreaming the whole time needed to ship all these Dreamcast units for the sake of Shenmue. Additionally, the game came with a Passport disc, which includes an assortment of goodies, including a sound test to listen to your favorite tracks, an insight look at all the people that you’ll interact with in the game named after random employees at Sega. Eigo Kasahara, Planner for Shenmue added this, “With the Shenmue Passport players can learn about the details and connections that we couldn’t show in the game. There’s a great deal of hidden relationships, for example.” Going to show how far the development team wanted to go with the game and how the players interacted with the each of the NPCs.

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One of the things one could of done in the Passport Disc

 

Shenmue’s Connection with Suzuki’s previous work

As mentioned in a previous article, Shenmue is a melting pot of numerous Suzuki’s titles. This comes into play when considered countless gameplay mechanics seen throughout the game. First, the Virtua Fighter series playing a significant role in terms of the characters and fighting mechanics since this began as a Virtua Fighter spin-off. Following suit, Virtua Racing plays a role in contributing to the racing portion of the game specifically the forklift races. Then, Hang-On plays a role when Ryo uses the motorcycle to rescue Nozomi near the end of the game and appearing as one of the games you can play in the arcade. This next one will be a bit peculiar to understand at first, but trust me it works, Swords of Vermillion plays a role in possibly influencing the multigenre aspect of the game as both games try to deviate themselves from the typical RPG norms. Finally, Die Hard Arcade, the only non AM2 game, plays a major role in QTE as during certain portions of that game, there were QTE that the player did.

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There are still elements of Virtua Fighter still present in Shenmue

The Legacy of Shenmue

Lastly, Shenmue contributed to multiple norms still seen in today’s gaming. In theory, it’s the game that brought together aspect of the retro gaming and began filling in the molds of modern gaming that were slowly being set at the time. Notably, the magic weather system unlocked after beating the game which used actual weather data from Yokosuka during 1986. Let alone, its responsible for making QTE more acceptable in gaming as we’ve seen in titles like Resident Evil 4, Asura’s wrath, and Heavy Rain owe they’re thanks to Shenmue. Moreover, the game is responsible for making an open world/Sandbox games become the norm when games like GTA 3, Just Cause, and Batman Arkham series feature an open world for the players to explore every crook and cranny.  To say nothing about having fully dialogue NPCs would not give Shenmue credit it deserves. On the other hand, it has additionally earns the honor of making sure developers know what sells and what does not as the game is infamous for being the utmost expensive game of its time utilizing over $47 million budget, which might have put the final nail on Sega’s coffin back in the early 2000s despite it selling 1.2 million copies.

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Shenmue quickly popularized QTEs

 

Conclusion

Altogether, Shenmue is an experience that requires several hours of patience. For those willing to stay until the end, their patience rewarded in realizing the effort put by Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2.  The game is an absolute masterpiece and a marvel of its time. As a result of the tremendous effort put forth by a multitude of people throughout its development, inspiring a new generation of gamers and developers to follow in Shenmue’s footsteps and do something as ambitious that will pull a player away for a bit to seek a story filled with adventure, emotions, and excitement that several people look for.

Shortly after, Shenmue II released on the Dreamcast in 2001 only in Japan and Europe, which fixes several flaws of this game. The game also uses the player’s save file from Shenmue I that benefits the player throughout the title. Sadly, U.S Shenmue fans there was no US version thanks in part of the unexpected discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001. Hence, several people importing copies from Europe. But, not until 2002 when released on the Original Xbox that US Shenmue fans felt a bit rejoiceful. On another note, after a long delay, on July 2015 Shenmue returns with the third game being developed thanks to the vocal fanbase that kept pushing for the return of Ryo and finish the story.

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The legend continues with the Third part of the game being funded by fans and setting the world record for the quickest Kickstarter

The game itself is still affordable but in the aftermath of the announcement of Shenmue III, the prices of the first game rose but stabilized after the hype calmed down a bit. Currently, it goes for around 25-40 dollars online as of the time of this review. In essence, it’s worth purchasing if you’re the type of person interest in Kung fu movies, history, retro gaming, and Sega’s attention to ambition. In the end, Shenmue is a game that will leave a lasting impression for those with strong patience. Hypothetically speaking, it’s an inspiration for those willing to go above and beyond the norms and willing to go forth with their dreams.

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Sources (Shoutout to the Shenmue Dojo for it’s dedicated contribution to the history of this game being archived online)

https://flemzytwopence.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/the-troubled-history-of-shenmue/
http://shenmuedojo.net/new/history/shenmuesaturn.html
http://shenmuedojo.net/new/history/timeline.html

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Shenmue / Project Berkley [Saturn – Cancelled]

Shenmue / Project Berkley [DC – Beta / Tech Demo]

Yu Suzuki’s GDC 2014 Postmortem

 

 

The Prelude to Shenmue: How Yu Suzuki’s history help shape Shenmue

For hardcore Shenmue fans, the day is rapidly approaching where the events of Shenmue occurred. Personally, for me to discuss about Shenmue, it’s important to discuss about Yu Suzuki’s history in game development prior to Shenmue. Because if it weren’t for certain games, Shenmue might not of conceived. After all, Shenmue is a melting pot of all his prior experiences put into one enormous game.  Taking bits and pieces of those games and combing it into one conglomerate.

Yu Suzuki, the man highly regarded as Sega’s Shigeru Miyamoto is responsible for many Sega classics, including Outrun, Virtua Fighter, and Shenmue. In the first place, Yu Suzuki started off at Sega AM2 as a programmer back in 1983. During his first year, he programmed Champion Boxing released in Arcades and SG 1000 the same year.

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Champion Boxing, Yu Suzuki’s first game at Sega in 1983

The Super Scaler Days

But it wasn’t until 1985 when his career began to kick off. His interest in Motorcycles would pay off in the development of his first arcade hit, Hang-On. Suzuki, a man who combines both a business and creative perspective to games by making them appeal to both the casual and hardcore audiences, by developing a cabinet that would emulate the experience of riding a motorcycle. The game would be the beginning of AM-2’s success. The game also debuted the Super Scaler series, which displayed pseudo-3D graphics which were 2D sprites being scaled. So, it would seem but Yu Suzuki clarifies his intentions on how the Super Scaler games worked, “My designs were always 3D from the beginning. All the calculations in the system were 3D, even from Hang-On. I calculated the position, scale, and zoom rate in 3D and converted it backwards to 2D. So I was always thinking in 3D.” This would foreshadow the trends that were to come.

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Following suit, Yu Suzuki returns to the drawing board shifting of reality and taking a sci-fi approach for his next game, Space Harrier. However, the game’s original direction was to use Jump jets, a concept used in a future game. The game takes inspiration from The Neverending Story, Space Cobra, and the artwork of Roger Dean. In addition to be a Super Scaler game, this also introduced the first time that an analog flight stick used for movement which became big in PC gaming.

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Next, Outrun, the first driving game debuted almost a year and a half after Space Harrier. To clarify, Outrun was the accumulation of Cannonball Run using Europe as the main inspiration and a Ferrari Testarossa. The object of the game was simple, driving around 6 gorgeous tracks before time runs out. The game was unique for not only being a super scaler title, but additionally offering a radio station prior to starting the game which was unheard of at the time and its cabinet based off a Testarossa. The game’s legacy is still being seen today as it’s influenced many racing gaming including Gran Turismo, Forza, and Daytona USA.

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Then in 1987, After Burner II debuted worldwide. Why talk about the second game rather than the first? Because the first saw release only in japan and the latter worldwide. One way to summarize the game is Top Gun the video game. This game debuts the Sega Board X succeeding in many ways that Hang-On and Outrun Boards could not. A technical milestone debuting in After Burner was the sprite rotation. The game’s premise was to survive 18 stages of enemy fighters and landscape obstacles using your wits, machine guns, or lock-on missiles on your F-14. The game influenced many titles, including Star Fox, Panzer Dragoon, and Rez.

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Afterwards, deciding to take a break from flight simulators he returned to driving games with Power Drift in 1988. This kart racing game that predates Mario Kart has players driving on tracks with many hills and bridges, the camera rotates with the player as they turn corners. This is one of Yu Suzuki’s underrated titles as this don’t not see as many ports in the US but immensely popular in Japan and Europe.

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Trending New Nerritories

However, before developing his next arcade hit, he decided to make a short turn into the console gaming scene for a multi genre RPG, Swords of Vermillion on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. In this case, Yu Suzuki was the producer of the game and took a different approach than use the traditional RPG formula, foreshadowing one of his future games. There are several different modes in the game, Town mode where the player roams around in your typical RPG fashion, dungeon mode akin to Phantasy Star, Battle View where the player engages in free combat against enemies, and boss mode where the player fights the boss in a side scrolling perspective. The game being a big player in the early days of the Genesis used in the Genesis does what Nintendon’t campaign.

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Once Sword of Vermillion finished, Suzuki returned to the arcade scene with G-LOC in the start of the 1990s. In general G-LOC, refers to G-force induced Loss of Consciousness, can be the spiritual sequel to After Burner, using the premise of destroying enemy fighters with a Harrier, the game is famous for using pre-rendered 3D graphics and heavy sprite rotation similar to its spiritual predecessor. The game also featured a cabinet that rotated 360 degrees known as the G-LOC 360.

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The Beginning of 3D

In light of Suzuki’s experience in game development, he was also a great hardware engineer. Wanting to enter the realms of 3D, Sega began researching the capabilities of 3D gaming with Namco and Atari already setting foot. Yu Suzuki and AM2 began developing for their own 3D capable arcade of their own. Under those circumstances, teaming up with Fujitsu using their TGP MB86233 DSP developed the Sega Model 1.

Furthermore, with the development of the Model 1 needed some games to coincide with it. In 1992, Virtua Racing debuted to arcades on the Model 1 setting a milestone in 3D gaming for its constant 60 fps, amazing 3D graphics, offer multi-cabinet support to play against others, and multiple camera angles. As Suzuki describes it, it’s a classic F1 racing game which also serves as a predecessor to future racing games to come.

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Suddenly, a year has passed and Yu Suzuki has generated another technical marvel, Virtua Fighter. In retrospect, Suzuki wanted to create a fighting game that would beat Street Fighter II. Rather than using traditional 2D sprites, AM2 decided to go for a 3D approach using several techniques they learned with the Model 1 already, “3D graphics in games were very primitive. You could only make models from triangles, which didn’t even have textures. … There wasn’t the opportunity to make graphics that were really beautiful, and because of that I decided to spend all my efforts to make character movements correct and realistic.” For the most part, Virtua Fighter was the grandfather of 3D fighters due to its almost lifelike movements and building the mold for future 3D fighters including Tekken and Dead or Alive. The game also the inspiration for Sony to move forward with 3D graphics on the PlayStation.

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Virtua Fighter is considered to be the pioneer of 3D Fighters and what helped inspire Shenmue

 The Model 2 days

Regardless of the success that Sega was having with the Model 1, time was limited before someone could produce a Virtua Fighter/Racing killer and take over the 3D market. Already having some of the ingredients for their next arcade board, Suzuki teamed up with Lockheed Martin, a company that’s known for making military equipment for space and aerial technology decided to buy to the chips to see how they would come into play in video games. Originally set for the Model 1, adding in the technology from Lockheed cut short but eventually added on to what now be the Sega Model 2. One of Sega’s most popular arcade boards introduced texture mapping, filtering, and anti-aliasing. This was undeniably a powerful graphics card on the market being equivalent to a PC graphics card in 1998.

Correspondingly, there needed to be games to display the capabilities of the Model 2. Though Daytona USA paved the way for what the Model 2 was capable of, Suzuki’s debut game would not be until 1994 with Virtua Cop. In fact, it was one of the first 3D light gun games released at the time, which advertised as the “world’s first texture mapped, polygon action game.” The game revolutionized the genre with headshots and positioned body targets influencing not only Light games, but First person shooters, particularly Rare’s Goldeneye.

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Virtua Cop is what influenced Goldeneye during development as many figures in Rare have stated.

Shortly after Virtua Cop, Suzuki and his team concurrently developed the sequel to their arcade hit, Virtua Fighter for their new arcade board. Virtua Fighter 2 not only improved the mechanics of the game, but as well as the technical aspects of the game, including 60 fps and motion capturing which prior to its release, used primarily in the health care industry.  The game was a massive success with ports released on the Saturn, Genesis, and PC that could not even match the graphical capabilities of the arcade version.

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Virtua Fighter 2 still looks great today.

Striving Ahead of the Game

Immediately, Sega returned to the drawing boards and preparing for its next arcade. Once more, teaming up with Lockheed and Mitsubishi to create the best 3D graphics on any gaming platform, the Sega Model 3. Despite many delays during development, this was the most powerful gaming system out there! The board was a huge success and releasing more Sega influential arcade hit.

As an Illustration, Virtua Fighter 3 was one of the games that debuted with the Model 3 back in 1996. The game introduces multi-level areas (like DOA 2) and a dodge button, but graphically is where the game shines! The game’s praise focused on graphics that compared to the CGI graphics used at the time.

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Virtua Fighter 3 was a massive leap in terms of graphics and better than any other video game at the time

Where does AM2 go from here?

All things considered, it’s because of the games and hardware that Yu Suzuki worked with is where he could combine all those efforts into one giant masterpiece.  Not only that, but because of how capable Suzuki and his team were it was only right to keep pushing the limits of what was possible in the realm of video games. Though AM2 would finally see the true challenge in making video games right after making Virtua Fighter 3 when they returned to the console gaming market to make one of the most ambitious and influential video games yet.

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Sources:

http://segaretro.org/Sega_Model_1
http://segaretro.org/Sega_Model_2
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter_3
http://segaretro.org/Hang_On
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter_2
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter
http://segaretro.org/Space_Harrier
http://segaretro.org/Outrun
http://segaretro.org/After_Burner
http://segaretro.org/Model_3
http://segaretro.org/Sword_of_Vermillion
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Racing
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Cop
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=712
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=713
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=698
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=717

How Virtua Fighter Saved PlayStation’s Bacon

What is G-LOC?

Magical Sound Shower: Outrun Retrospective

Cars, one of man’s greatest creation. Some prefer something affordable, accommodate families, or show off stating, “Hey, I received a  load of money or just borrowed an unconsidered amount to buy this and now acquired massive debt.” Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never dreamed of owning a luxurious sports car? But have to push that dream aside simply because being an adult means you have a great amount of responsibility in your shoulders.

Can you imagine it, The dream car, your best friend in the passenger seat, and not a single worry in the world? Driving around the world from the comfort of your car. The American pastime seemingly long forgotten.

Luckily, there’s a game that helps remedy this certain itch! 30 years ago, Sega made this dream into a reality. A game that not only inspired people to take a glimpse into the sweet life while raising the standards of driving games. Whether consumers wanted to pass some breezes, splash some waves, or enjoy the magical sound of rain showers. There’s only one way to remove this bothersome itch, Outrun.16032101

Released in 1986 by Sega by the extraordinary talent that is Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2. Previously responsible for Hang-On and Space Harrier a year before. The 3rd game in Super Scaler series, Outrun revolutionized the racing genre since it’s début back in 1986.

History

Inspired by the film The Cannonball Run, where individuals compete in a cross-country race across the US. Planning to unofficially adapt the film into a game,Suzuki met some unfortunate setbacks as someone ruined  the fun and mentioned that the scenery in the USA was dull, which is a clearly deceptive on their part. As a result, focusing his attention to the scenery of Europe. Driving across Europe and recording the scenery during his drive. Thus, serving as inspiration for the world of Outrun. “I started out from Frankfurt, where I hired a rent a car, and I installed a video camera on the car. Driving around Monaco and Monte Carlo, along the mountain roads of Switzerland, stopping in hotels in Milan, Venice, and Rome, collecting data for a fortnight.” Suzuki, a sports car fan, caught glimpse of something over at Monaco, a Ferrari Testarossa. The latest model of the luxury Italian automobiles from Ferrari.

Astonished by this discovery, Yu Suzuki returned to Japan to test the vehicle out himself. According to certain sources, members of AM2 squeezed to a privately owned Testarossa to record and take notes programming every bit of data into the game.

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Ferrari Testarossa

One of Outrun’s attractions was the game’s fantastic soundtrack. Composed by the legend Hiroshi Kawaguchi, the game offered players with 3 different radio stations which was unheard at the time. “Passing Breeze”, the fusion influenced song that’s the overall mood inspires a laid back ride across the world. “Splash Wave”, the popular rock influenced song for those who enjoy extreme speed and a sense of adventure! Finally, “Magical Sound Shower”, the Latin based song for those who want something a little refreshing while driving around.

 

 

 

In addition, Yu Suzuki emphasizes that Outrun is not a racing game, rather a driving game where players simulate experiencing driving a sports car across luscious tracks. Likewise, it’s understandable to refer to it as such. The objective is to drive across 5 different stages before the clock runs out. Yet, the challenge derives from the player’s driving abilities. At the end of each level, the player can turn left or right at the fork. The left side being easier to complete and the latter poses a grander challenge. There are 5 endings to the game depending on where the player travels too. Punishing players that drive recklessly with a quick game over.

Coinciding with other arcade titles, Outrun’s captivation relies on simplistic gameplay. Yet, mastering will take time and money (well back then).  Hence, requiring a sheer amount of memorization in order to finish the stages as quickly as possible. Making sure players avoid other drivers along the road and efficiently turning to avoid hitting obstacles.

Alongside other Super Scaler titles, Outrun offered multiple cabinets to differentiate the player’s experience. From the deluxe cabinet based off a Testarossa, moving alongside the player turns. But good luck finding a working one these days! Next, the standard cabinet offers a Ferrari without wheels, and the upright cabinet features a mere steering wheel and shift stick which is possibly what’s left of the working cabinets. I won’t lie, I simply love the time and effort Sega put into designing their cabinets. Further indicating  that Sega genuinely cared about the player’s experience making sure they’d return for more.

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Deluxe Cabinet

Home Versions

After all, the game’s success caused Sega to release many home versions. Depending on what the consumer owned, they were either blessed or received some poor excuse of a port. Starting off with some honorable mentions before moving into the highly regarded translations.

First off is the Master System port, a suitable place to start for those looking for an excellent racing game on the Master System. The roads in the game are choppy due to the weaker hardware in comparison to the System 16. Additionally, offering players with an FM-based soundtrack requiring modifications to the Master System.

Next, the PC Engine port is an impressive port considering being on a non-Sega system. Also quite possibly the best 8-bit port out there (16-bit/8-bit who cares it’s personal preference on what the PC engine was) having the full features of the arcade faithfully ported over. One minor issue I have is a humming noise from the engine while driving undoubtedly irritating, but thankfully turning it off remedies this complaint.

Following is the Genesis/Mega Drive version, which for the time was a regarded port. This version offers a new music track exclusive to this version “Step on the Beat”. There are some major issues in this port, including the decision to use a dark color palette, making it seem like the developers did not understand the Genesis/Mega Drive’s architecture or were instead careless enough not to improve this. Besides this also based off the Japanese version, ironically though, the PC engine port features the Overseas layout. How exactly did that happen? Thankfully the color issue improved thanks to Pyron, releasing a patch making the colors brighter hence, bringing this closer to the arcade original. Releasing this to a plethora of platforms, including the Sega Smash Pack for PC, Wii Virtual Console, and Steam.

Moreover,moving into the 128-bit generation, there is a satisfying version included in Shenmue 2, Yu Suzuki Game Works, and Outrun 2. At first glance, setting itself off as an excellent translation of the game.Unfortunately, this is not the case as the audio is off due to issues with the emulation. Even more, the Ferrari logo changed into a generic logo due to legal reasons. Other than that, I think this version of the game plays fine. However, if you happen to come across this version go ahead and give this a try if the sound and the minor graphical changes does not bother you.

Finally, the ports released on the Saturn and 3DS among the best, if not, the definitive options to experience Outrun at home or on the go. Beginning with the Saturn version developed by Rutubo Games under the SEGA Ages collection is the definitive home version. Not only is this arcade perfect, the developers went out of their way to make this a fulfilling experience featuring the option to choose between the Japanese and Overseas layout, a wonderfully arranged soundtrack, and smooth 60 fps mode. Yes, 60 frames per second! Enabling this is pure eye candy. However, the U.S version does not include the arranged soundtrack  being packed along with Space Harrier and After Burner II into a single disc.

All things considered, the Saturn port is stunning, at the same time the 3DS version is on par if not, surpassing the Saturn version. Developed by M2 under the 3D Sega Ages collection. Obviously, M2 were not intending to release a cheap port as member regarded this as “the climax of the series”. M2 included a great amount of time and quality into reintroducing Sega’s classics for a new and returning fans alike. Giving players a multitude of options to experience the game in different formats including: 16:9 widescreen, original 4:3, or emulating the deluxe cabinet, rotating screen, noise, and etc. Additionally, the game has a garage mode where players can customize their vehicle to their liking and choosing from the Japanese or Overseas layout like the Saturn port. Returning from the Saturn version is the ability to choose between the original 30 fps or 60 fps. Finally, a highly regarded addition to this version are two NEW songs. “Cruising Line” composed by  Manabu Namiki (Battle Garegga, Castlevania Rebirth, and DoDonpachi Daioujou) is my favorite of the new tracks feeling like a follow-up to Passing Breeze and feeling like a scrapped idea from the original release. “Camino a Mi Amor” the other track having Latin influenced setting  also sounding reminiscent of other mid-80’s Sega arcade titles including Turbo Outrun, Shinobi, and Thunder Blade. Unfortunately for purists, the Ferrari Testarossa is no longer there since Sega no longer has the license to use Ferrari vehicles at this time.

Equally as important is an unofficial version for the PC, Cannonball, a modest homage to the movie inspiring the game’s conception is essentially an emulator that fixes the bugs from the arcade ROM. Enabling certain features like faster frame rate, scanlines, and Japanese/overseas layout. Though the sound emulation is a little off, a fine choice for those craving to experience Outrun on the PC. By the way, did I mention this is free?

Aftermath

All in All, 30 years later, Outrun is one of the utmost influential racing games of all time. There’s something about its simple yet diverse mechanics. Profound than nearly a majority of the competition at the time. Letting the mind wander off and play pretend. Becoming one of Sega’s more well-known IPs, receiving many spin-offs and sequels throughout the past 30 years, some in particular including Outrunners, Turbo Outrun¸ and Outrun 2. Yet there hasn’t been a new entry in the series in well over a decade. Indeed, a punishable crime for neglecting fans of such an incredible IP! To Yu Suzuki and the wonderful folks over at SEGA AM2, thank you for creating such a wonderful game that has inspired countless memories over the past 30 years.

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Outrun 2, the official sequel released nearly 20 years after the original.

Sources:
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/05/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-1/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/06/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-2/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/09/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-3/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/10/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-4/

http://www.nowgamer.com/the-making-of-outrun/
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-03-22-out-ran-meeting-yu-suzuki
http://segaretro.org/OutRun
http://www.retrocollect.com/News/cannonball-an-enhanced-engine-for-the-classic-arcade-racer-outrun.html

Fatal Fury 25th Anniversary Review

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The lone wolf, Terry Bogard

HEY C’MON! C’MON!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter II, but also another franchise serving as a spiritual sequel and  former rival to Street Fighter, SNK’s Fatal Fury. Developing during the same time as Street Fighter II by former Capcom employees, Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto, who produced and directed the original Street Fighter back in 1987.

The Fatal Fury series was one of SNK’s biggest franchise on the Neo Geo which starred the Bogard brothers, Terry and Andy with their friend Joe Higashi on their quest for revenge against Geese Howard, responsible for the death of their adopted father a decade prior. The trio fights their way through the King of Fighters tournament against many opponents, including Duck King, Raiden, Tung Fu Rae, and Billy Kane (a tournament and cast of characters later appearing in SNK’s biggest IP).

 

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The USA flyer

Important to realize that releasing this after Street Fighter II it was not well-received. With this in mind, it was attack for being an inferior clone of SF II. When in fact, Fatal Fury is the spiritual successor to Street Fighter incorporating ideas cut from Street Fighter to Fatal Fury. While Street Fighter II, empathized a faster-pace and combo-based fighting system, Fatal Fury was more about timing of special moves.

For instance, one of Fatal Fury’s  strengths relies in the storytelling. While SF II did not connect the events of the original. Fatal Fury’s storytelling made players empathized with Terry and Andy’s quest for revenge and connecting audiences to the world of Fatal Fury by releasing a variety of media providing back stories and other details surrounding the game’s lore. By the same token, using cut scenes in-between matches helps narrate the plot.

Furthermore, the game utilizing extensive use of the Neo Geo, the game incorporated lane switching to attract customers. Regardless, the issues stem from crudely implementing this feature. Finally, the game emphasizes playing cooperatively with a friend instead of fighting them one-on-one something Street Fighter would not  return to until the Street Fighter Alpha series.

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Fatal Fury encouraged 2 player co-op rather than fighting against them

Whereas graphically, the game still holds up well, it’s no Real Bout Special nor Garou but the graphics are average for a 1991 Neo Geo game.Offering a variety of colors, making the game seem lively.

As a matter of fact, refining the controls than the spiritual prequel. The specials are simple to perform yet, improve in future titles.Requiring accurate timing to perform these.

However, the music is a clear victor! As a matter of fact, SNK is noted for fantastic music in their games. Lead composer Toshikazu Tanaka, the man responsible for several tracks mentions, “the game has an impact that sets it apart from other games, creating sounds that will stick in the player’s memory. So with Fatal Fury, I wasn’t aiming merely to surpass Street Fighter II, making sure the quality was a step or two above the competition.” For instance,  “Geese ni Kissu/ A Kiss for Geese”, used when fighting the boss Geese Howard is embedded in the SNK lore, rearranging and covering it in future titles Geese Howard appears in.

Of course, Street Fighter II raises the bar for fighting games and improving from the prequel. Hence, giving people the opportunity to show off one’s skill in the game with fast gameplay and a memorable cast of fighters.

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Street Fighter II got more attention since it came out first and created a new formula from its predecessor.

A point often overlooked, Fatal Fury is the forgotten step-brother to Street Fighter. Additionally, several elements of each game parallel one another. For instance, Terry and Andy Bogard are improvements of Ryu and Ken. In a general sense, Terry is more fleshed out version of Ryu, whom felt dry with his goal to become a skilled fighter. On the other hand, Terry is just a man who wanted revenge on his adopted father’s killer yet, has a human side that Ryu lacks. As an illustration, Terry is able to bring hope to the people of Southtown, making new friends and rivals, and eventually, a father figure. 

Notably, Andy is a detailed Ken Masters. For instance, Andy sees his older brother as his rival and desires to become the stronger of the two. Later on, gaining his own student. To clarify, Andy does not play like a copy of Terry, gaining his own fighting style. Thus, proving his own against the Main character syndrome.

In short, Fatal Fury is still worth a play through. The game not only improves from the original Street Fighter but adds content that shoves the former aside. While Capcom released minor revisions of SF II, SNK would create true sequels that not improved the original, but also changed the formula keeping it relevant in the competitive fighting game market of the 90s. At the same time, SNK paid tribute to the game that started their rise in the industry as Terry returns in King of Fighters XIV featuring an homage to original attire.

 Requiring a strong tolerance for early 90’s fighters, but in the end coming with a great reward.

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Terry returns to the ring in KOF XIV featuring his original attire from Fatal Fury.

Sources:

http://www.1up.com/features/the-man-who-created-street-fighter

http://www.vgmonline.net/toshikazutanakainterview/precisely

Panzer Dragoon Orta Review

With the unexpected discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001, Sega fans were wondering how Sega would go through their plans on operating as a  third-party and what would be of all their IPs. Thankfully, Sega blessed the Xbox as the unofficial spiritual successor to the Dreamcast. For Sega fans, the Xbox was the console of choice. While the PS2 received the popular Sega IPs and Nintendo stuck with the IPs appealing towards kids. Not to mention, several titles in development for the Dreamcast including Halo, Fable, Ninja Gaiden, and Jet Set Radio Future. Although due to the short lifespan of the Dreamcast they eventually move to the Xbox. Releasing a tremendous amount of titles on the Xbox in their early days of being a third-party developer. However, none stood out than the final installment of the Panzer Dragoon series and possibly the best game on the original Xbox, Panzer Dragoon Orta.

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The fourth and final installment of the Panzer Dragoon series, Panzer Dragoon Orta released on the Xbox in December 19, 2002 in Japan and January 14, 2003 on North America and developed by Smilebit whose name should be familiar with on Sega titles for Xbox. With this mind, they developed several outstanding titles  during the Xbox days, including Jet Set Radio Future and Gunvalkyrie. Though Team Andromeda, the team originally responsible for Panzer Dragoon disbanded after the release of Saga, plenty of staff returned.

A fair warning to those interested in playing the game, to truly appreciate and understand the events that unfold during the game, I highly recommend playing Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Saga

Plot

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Orta against the final boss which is possibly one of my favorite moments of the game.

The story takes place decades after the events of Panzer Dragoon Saga. The protagonist Orta is a half-drone half-human imprisoned  by the Seekers. Suddenly, the Empire attacks the Seeker’s village with their state-of-the-art weapon, dragonmares, genetically modified dragon-like creatures which is possibly the strongest weapon they’ve created. All of a sudden, a dragon appears to Orta and chooses her as its rider. Along the way, Orta meets with a drone, Abagg who appearance plays a significant role at another time, and Mobo, a wormrider whom Orta befriends. With this in  mind, it’s up to Orta to save the world from the clutches of the Empire.

Gameplay

In the first place, Orta ditches the RPG adventure formula Saga debuted, and returns to the classic on-rail shooter that began with Panzer Dragoon and continued with Zwei. For veteran players, the weapon system has return shooting down enemies with a  gun or lock-on to enemies with the dragon’s laser. Additionally,  a berserk attack returning from Zwei, unleashing a fury of lasers to enemies . Returning from Saga, is the option to transform Orta’s dragon into different forms: Attack and Speed forms, and also the ability to fly to different areas during boss battles and observing what is safe. Furthermore, throughout the game, players can level up their dragon by finding power stones that giving the dragon experience points, collect a certain amount and the dragon levels up. Another mainstay is the ability to look forward, behind, left, and right since enemies can appear from anywhere.

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Orta returns back to the on-rail shooter that the series was famous for.

Unlike the original or Zwei, the game has 10 levels instead of the 6 thanks to the capabilities of the Xbox. A majority being  flying-based levels, yet fans of Zwei will appreciate the one ground-based level to spice the game up. Even though the game has 10 level, it’s a short game, on the other hand beating it is another story. The game’s core problem is how difficult it is even on Normal,even on easy, I struggled at times. Though the game is short, that’s not the purpose of it, instead beating it multiple times for reasons I will state later.

Development

According to an interview with Akihiko Mukaiyama, director of the game for the website, The Next Level, the first goal in mind was to revive the series, next deciding on what genre the title would be. In another interview with Japanese video game magazine Famitsu, he mentions their plans to bring it on the Dreamcast yet, it did not meet the team’s technical specifications. The team had a multitude of ideas on the game. Whether it returns to an RPG, a simulation game, or return to the classic 3D shooter known throughout the series. Though, Mukaiyama mentioned that he did plan on producing another RPG. In the end, voting to return to the classic on-rail formula. Explicitly, key artist Takashi Iwade and Kentaro Yoshida envisioned Orta as a combination of the three. Also, the leap from 32-bit to 128-bit also gave developers further challenges to work with. One feature that they could finally implement was the ability to switch dragon forms in real-time, which was not possible and inspired by Magic Knight Rayearth.

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Having a female protagonist represented a change in the series from the traditional male hero giving a unique experience.

The idea of making a female protagonist came from the fact that it represents an innovation in a series. the fact of having one is special in terms of the story. The word “Orta” has different meanings, in Panzerese (language spoken within the series), it means rebirth and dawn, while in German, it also refers to “the tip of the sword” according to Mukaiyama.

Graphics

Graphically, it’s an incredibly gorgeous game I’ve seen on the Xbox, correction, the entire 6th generation, unlike Shadow of the Colossus, Orta can run 480p, 16:9 Widescreen, and 60 fps with no slowdown (sorry, no disrespect to Team Ico, except let’s face it, the PS2 is an under powered machine yet you and Polyphony Digital were a few developers to TRULY harness the console’s power). The game’s speed is fluid and never feels out of place making it feel like the best roller coaster ride experience. Yes, several games on the Xbox that output at 720p and 1080i resolution aside from, paling in comparison to Orta. Everything in the game is rich, detailed, and emphasizing quality over quantity with everything polygon making a difference. Whether it be the appearances of past enemies or the light show that happens when the dragon performs its berserk attack. The leap from the Saturn proved wonders,astonishing players. Playing the game with component cables and watch how staggering it’ll be.

Even the FMV scenes remain breathtaking. Smilebit truly pushed the limits of the Xbox! Seeing this game in motion proves my point.

Don’t believe me, IGN’s Hilary Goldstein backs me up on this, “If I could give this game an 11 in graphics, I would. Actually, forget the number you see below. Consider it an 11. This game is unbelievably gorgeous and the screenshots don’t do it justice. If this is the tip of the iceberg for Xbox, I pray I never go blind.” Even today, the game still shines as one of the greatest games of the 6th generation and I highly doubt people will complain about the graphics.

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“…Screenshots don’t do it justice.” – Hilary Goldstien

Music

The music is also another addition to the game thanks to returning composer Saori Kobayashi and new composer Yutaka Minobe. The game has the atmospheric mood which fits the game’s world perfectly, having tribal influence mixed with electronic music and orchestrated music similar to the first game. No track seems out-of-place and feeling intense throughout. The ending song is absolutely stunning! The best of all is listening to this on Dolby Digital 5.1.


                                      Extra Features

As mentioned before, the game is short, except not the cake walk many were expecting. In fact, that’s the fundamental point of the game, to replay the game multiple times, why? Because

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As you progress in the main story, you unlock Iva’s story, a tragic tale surronding a Boy from the Empire.

another returning feature from Zwei is Pandora’s Box. But unlike Zwei’s Pandora’s Box, this one is deeper than its predecessor, it features cut scenes from the previous games which unfortunately still in their original format and let’s not forget that the Saturn’s stock video encoder is not necessarily the best. Additionally, there is concept art from the series to unlock, bonus levels featuring Iva’s story, a boy from the imperial city, bonus games involving Orta and Mobo, and an encyclopedia offering heaps of information regarding die welt von Panzer Dragoon. But Pandora’s Box has it mainstay features returning from Zwei, which works similarly to a debug

 

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Beating the game unlocks the original story dealing with a boy and his dragon.

mode with features including playing with the blue dragon, playing with Azel from Saga, and having infinite health to name a few. Finally, completing the game once on either difficulty, unlocking an enhanced port of Panzer Dragoon.

 

For those also interested in collecting there is a white Panzer Dragoon Orta Xbox released exclusively in Japan that comes included with the game, HD AV Pack, component cables, Orta’s soundtrack, and a dragon necklace. In essence, a prototype Xbox 360 with its all-white design. Releasing 999 units of this console and selling around 800-1000 dollars online.

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The limited edition Panzer Dragoon Orta Xbox consoles only released in Japan. Appears to be a prototype 360 doesn’t it?

Final Thoughts

Overall, the game is an absolute must for the 6th generation, it not only showed what Sega’s potential during their post Dreamcast years. One of the final entries Sega made before they finally died (to us the fans) when they merged with Sammy in 2004. With this in mind, Smilebit mentions in countless interviews that they’re proud of all their persistent work done with the game and how thrilled they were to revive the series even if the market was in their favor due to the raise of FPS and GTA clones.

The game truly pushes the limits of the Xbox and The game itself is still affordable though, it’s slowly rising in price as of the time I’m writing this, it goes for around 8-20 dollars online. This is also compatible with the Xbox 360 though the PAL version has minor issues that, thankfully an issue that many can work around.

Above all, I was overjoyed finally able to play this.Even though it’s a shame seeing that this is the last game in the franchise as Sega stated that they do not recognize a market for a future titles and that’s unfortunately true.

There is a spiritual successor titled Crimson Dragon which was a launch title for the Xbox One developed by the original creator of the series Yukio Futatsugi, who also worked on Phantom Dust, with other members of Team Andromeda, although it did ok to say the least with critics and there was a spin-off for Windows Phone still assuming Sega noticed how this did and decided to stay away from Panzer Dragoon.

This is a type of game intended for the player to dive deep into, to understand the Panzer Dragoon lore, for us to truly appreciate what Smilebit was trying to accomplish. Thank you much Smilebit and Sega for bringing to fans what fans wanted and went against the norm of a changing market continuing to bring quality entertainment for a loyal fan base.panzer-dragoon-orta-prerelease-screenshot-56

Sources:

http://www.the-nextlevel.com/features/interviews/orta-interview.shtml
Brookes, Jason. “Chasing the Dragon.” Xbox Nation 24 June 2002: 34-41. Web.
Goldstein, Hilary. “Panzer Dragoon Orta – IGN.” IGN. J2 Global, 10 Jan. 2003. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
Translated Famitsu interview with Mukiyama and Kawagoe
Brooks, Jason. “Worldbuilders.” Xbox Nation 15 Feb. 2003: 98-101. Web.