Pokémon Sun and Moon

Pokemon SunPokemon Moon

With the sixth generation of Pokémon, the main series had, at last, broken into the third dimension. The series’ signature gameplay remained familiar to veterans, albeit with some significant tweaks, and Pokémon X and Y were immense successes, soon becoming some of the bestselling titles for the Nintendo 3DS.

When it came time to develop games to signify the seventh generation, the team decided to go in a new direction with the series. Shigeru Ohmori, who had been with the series since Ruby and Sapphire as the premier game and map designer, now found himself in the director’s chair. Continuing with the precedent X and Y set, these games would not be named after colors, but rather another symbolic dyad. To this end, the team looked to the sky, and chose the classic pairing of the sun and the moon, inspired by the celestial bodies’ representation of human relationships. As for the setting, the Pokémon franchise would, for the second time in the main series, go to the United States for inspiration. However, in contrast to the industrialized New York City, these new set of games were to take place in a land heavily inspired by the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii was so chosen for its clear nights and plentiful sunshine thereby allowing its central themes to shine through.

Development began immediately after the release of the third-generation remakes Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Despite wanting to retain the series’ gameplay, these entries, Pokémon Sun and Moon, were made from scratch. The idea was to celebrate the series’ upcoming twenty-year anniversary by applying greater changes than what the sixth generation brought to the table.

Pokémon Sun and Moon took around three years to develop with a team consisting of 120 people before seeing their worldwide release in November of 2016. Like X and Y, Sun and Moon met with critical acclaim. Coupled with the success of the mobile game Pokémon Go, the series was back in the mainstream limelight for the first time since 1998. Several critics praised the story of Sun and Moon alongside the new mechanics, which Alex Olney writing for Nintendo Life considered the most engaging to date. Were Sun and Moon able to provide an experience worthy of celebrating the series’ twenty-year anniversary?

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March 2022 in Summary: Slap Happy

CODA - Family

Other considerations for this update’s title were “What Did the Five Fingers Say to the Face?”, “Will Smith is the New Moe”, and “My Parents Are Deeeaaaaad!!”, but I ultimately decided to instead pay homage to the German/English avant-pop band Slapp Happy that did two albums with Henry Cow (Desperate Straights and In Praise of Learning). Check those out if you like experimental, jazz-flavored progressive rock.

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The 94th Academy Awards’ “Best Picture” Nominees Ranked from Worst to Best

Academy Awards 2022

Well, 2021 wasn’t the return to normalcy I think we were all hoping it would be, but it still managed to be a step in the right direction if for no other reason than because vaccines allowed some form of agency. But, of course, some traditions carry on as scheduled, and like the years before it, I made a vow to see every single Oscar-nominated film so I can keep my ten-year winning streak alive (eleven-year by the end of this day). I apologize in advance, but unlike the last two years, however, I simply don’t have the time to review all of them, so we’re jumping into the “Worst to Best” list straight away.

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February 2022 in Summary: Oscar Scramble

Portopia - Ring

Because the nominees for “Best Picture” have been announced, my goal for this month is to see all ten films before the awards ceremony. Now, as a full disclosure, unlike last year, I simply don’t have the time to review all ten films, but I will still write my annual “Worst to Best” list. As such, I’ll save my thoughts for them when I release that list.

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The Portopia Serial Murder Case

The Portopia Serial Murder Case

The release of Colossal Cave Adventure in 1976 cemented the concept of the text adventure game. Themselves inspired by the works spawned in the wake of Colossal Cave Adventure, a writer named Roberta Williams, along with her husband, Ken Williams, created a game in 1980 entitled Mystery House. Taking cues from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the Winchester Mystery House situated in San Jose, California, Ms. Williams’s work broke ground by featuring visual graphics in a time when most computer games did not. Slowly yet surely, the solely text-based titles made way for the graphical adventure game, although the Williams couldn’t possibly have known the influence of Mystery House would extend across the Pacific Ocean.

One year later in Japan, 27-year-old Yuji Horii read a PC magazine article detailing the rise of these adventure games. He was intrigued by their concept, but couldn’t help but wonder why the market of his native homeland lacked such games. Realizing the potential in this genre, he sought to introduce it to his peers by creating an adventure game of his own. Using his knowledge of the BASIC programming language, Mr. Horii began his project.

He started off wanting to create “a program in which the story would develop through entering a command and by receiving an answer to it”. It would be a game that progressed through a conversation between a human and a computer. He attempted to craft an artificial intelligence language algorithm, but realized it simply wasn’t possible with the technology afforded to him at the time. Instead, to make his game stand out from his inspirations, he experimented in non-linear storytelling wherein the main scenario composed 20% of the experience and the remaining 80% was to be allotted to responses to the player’s actions. Memory limitations made this extraordinarily difficult, causing him to scale back to several scenarios with short branches, though he still found it more interesting than programming one long linear path.

This game, entitled The Portopia Serial Murder Case was completed in 1983 and saw its debut on NEC’s PC-6001 home computer. It was eventually ported to other platforms, including Konami’s MSX computer and Nintendo’s Famicom console. It was notably the first adventure title to see a release on the latter platform, and its unique gameplay quickly caught on with the consumers, selling 700,000 copies. Critics were receptive to Mr. Horii’s work as well, enjoying its good storytelling and dynamic gameplay. The game notably resonated with future artists as well. Hideo Kojima, who would make his own impact on the industry a few years later with the stealth-action title Metal Gear, considered it one of the three most influential games he ever played. It was also one of the first games a man named Eiji Aonuma ever played; he would later go on to direct many installments in Nintendo’s venerable The Legend of Zelda series. Although its lack of a Western release ensured it remained unknown outside of its native homeland, its influence cannot be overstated. How was a single game able to leave this much of an impact on the medium?

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Donkey Kong 64

Donkey Kong 64

With the last installment seeing its release in 1996, Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy served as both the pinnacle of 2D platforming and its swansong. During that time, Super Mario 64 was released as a launch title for the Nintendo 64. As the first successful fully three-dimensional platformer, it changed the direction of AAA gaming forever. While it is speculated that Nintendo’s landmark title may have resulted in Donkey Kong Country 3 enjoying less critical favor than its two predecessors, it was a success in its own right. Even so, Super Mario 64 made it clear that 3D was in, and it only made sense to adapt Donkey Kong Country to the new rubric. Gregg Mayles, who had served as the lead designer for Donkey Kong Country and its first sequel, led the effort to turn this possibility into a reality.

Development of this game began in 1997. It was originally slated to be released on Nintendo’s proposed 64DD (DD being short for “Disk Drive” or “Dynamic Drive”). The 64DD was intended to be a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 capable of reading magnetic disks and acting as an enabling technology platform for the development of new applications. It even boasted dialup connectivity in an age when the idea of connecting home consoles to the internet was in its infancy. However, development moved to the base console when the 64DD was delayed numerous times before being cancelled outright for international markets.

In the meantime, Mr. Mayles had acted as the lead designer and co-director of Banjo-Kazooie, which would become Rare’s first 3D platformer. Following the trail Super Mario 64 blazed, that game demonstrated Rare’s aptitude in platforming after dabbling in other genres with Blast Corps, Goldeneye 007, and Diddy Kong Racing – not a mean feat given the sheer number of developers who failed to adapt to these uncharted waters. Demonstrating they were every bit Nintendo’s equals in terms of 3D platforming, fans eagerly awaited a new Donkey Kong game more than ever – and that is exactly what Mr. Mayles and his team intended to give them.

With many developers transitioning from the Banjo-Kazooie team, they were determined to bring Donkey Kong into the third dimension. In fact, the game was so ambitious that the team allegedly ran into memory problems while programming it.

Expansion Pak

According to programmer Chris Marlow, a bug which caused the game to freeze after playing it for a significant length of time arose during development. It couldn’t be resolved without using the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak – an upgrade that provided an extra four megabytes of RAM (random-access memory). However, his story was disputed by artist Mark Stevenson. While such a bug did exist, according to Mr. Stevenson, the Expansion Pak wasn’t the solution to that problem. Regardless, Rare, at a great expense, made the decision to bundle each copy of the game with the memory upgrade.

Despite this setback, development of the game proceeded smoothly, and the project was completed in 1999. Keeping in line with the Nintendo 64 branding, the game was named Donkey Kong 64. Like Banjo-Kazooie, the game was met with a warm critical reception, being considered the single most ambitious title on the Nintendo 64 at the time. Review outlet IGN took note of the sheer amount of content and dubbed Donkey Kong 64 Rare’s War and Peace. With these sentiments having been expressed just one year after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, can Donkey Kong 64 truly be considered one of the platform’s all-time greats?

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December 2021 in Summary: The Iceman Cometh

Donkey Kong Country 3 - Christmas

Happy New Year! So, 2021 has come to an end. I know a lot of people were disappointed in how it wasn’t the deliverance from 2020 they hoped it would be, but with the presence of vaccines and an absence of a potent COVID-19 variant that can completely dodge them, it was still better than 2020.

Well, if nothing else, 2021, like 2020, was a remarkably great year for music. Seriously, those artists have been firing on all cylinders lately. I was a bit skeptical about the whole vinyl revival, and while I do get the appeal, one undeniably positive impact it had on music is that it got artists to begin thinking about how to put their work in an album format. I find one’s body of work tends to be stronger and more cohesive if you can translate one’s talent to the album format.

I also apologize for the lack of reviews, but, I will have a review of Donkey Kong 64 ready to go for next week.

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Mega Man 7

Mega Man 7

Having ended its run with a severe case of creative burnout, the Mega Man series received a new lease on life when Mega Man X debuted in December of 1993. A distant sequel to the original set of games, Mega Man X had a noticeably darker tone than any entry in what enthusiasts would retroactively dub the classic series. Combined with fast-paced, exploratory gameplay and a plethora of new mechanics, Capcom had yet another hit on their hands. With the release of its own sequel, Mega Man X2, the following year, an entire new series for Capcom’s signature franchise was confirmed.

Although Mega Man X was well received, fans of the classic series were a little worried. It was clear Capcom had struck gold with Mega Man X, so a sequel seemed inevitable. This caused fans of the NES games to worry if the classic series was effectively over. These worries were eventually assuaged when Capcom announced the development of Mega Man 7. Yes, for those put off by the dark tone of Mega Man X, this game would be a compromise, ignoring the new direction while still letting it develop and finding a way to revisit the series’ roots at the same time. In fact, such was the zeal for a continuation of the classic series that when Capcom revealed they did not intend to release Mega Man 7 despite having finished an English translation, the overwhelmingly negative reaction made them rethink their plans.

Timing and scheduling conflicts ensured a fairly difficult development cycle. Despite bringing the series to a new platform, the team had only three months to complete the game. Despite these setbacks both primary artist Keiji Inafune and Director Yoshihisa Tsuda felt the experience to be a lot of fun. The latter compared it to being part of a sports team camp, although he wished he and his team had another month or so to work on it. Regardless, the game was completed and eventually released domestically in March of 1995 under the name Rockman 7: Showdown of Destiny! Thanks to the efforts of Western fans, the game saw a release in North America and Europe later that year, renamed Mega Man 7 – the subtitle removed once again. In the wake of Mega Man X, what does the continuation of the classic series have to offer?

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Let’s Blog Award from AK

letsblogaward

Alright, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these tags. The responsible party, once again, is AK of Everything Is Bad for You, although the tag is slightly different this time around. It’s the Let’s Blog Award, and the rules are as follows:

  1. Answer the 10 questions sent by the nominator.
  2. Write your 10 questions for the nominees.
  3. Answer your own questions.
  4. Nominate as many bloggers you want for this award and notify them that they got nominated.
  5. Tag the post #Let’s Blog Award.

It’s quite a lot of work, but I think I’ll manage, so here we go.

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