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 Land III

Donkey Kong Land III

Donkey Kong Country 3 was released in November of 1996. Although it received positive reviews, its sales figures were noticeably less than those of its direct predecessor. This is largely because it had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of Super Mario 64 and the 3D revolution it kickstarted. Regardless, as Rare had much success in the Game Boy market with their Donkey Kong Land series, it only made sense for them to make an equivalent game for the concluding Donkey Kong Country trilogy installment as well. This game, entitled Donkey Kong Land III was released in October of 1997 in both North America and Europe. Japanese enthusiasts would receive a color update for this game in 2000, which utilized the abilities of the then-newest Game Boy model. Donkey Kong Land III was widely praised with some calling it the best game in the Donkey Kong Land trilogy. Was the game the power move its Super NES counterpart managed to be?

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Donkey Kong Land

Donkey Kong Land

In the year 1994, the Twycross, England-based developer Rare put the finishing touches on Donkey Kong Country. Their game saw its release that autumn, and it quickly became one of the SNES’s bestselling titles. While the company had success developing games for the NES, Donkey Kong County was what put them on the map for many an enthusiast thanks in part to their close collaboration with Nintendo and the eye-catching presentation courtesy of the then-state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics workstations they employed.

However, as Rare co-founders Tim and Chris Stamper helmed the development of Donkey Kong Country, a second team formed to create another game starring the title ape. Nintendo’s Game Boy was released in 1989 and had become the single most successful handheld console to date. Realizing the potential of the handheld device, this second team sought to create a game for that platform. Created with the same Silicon Graphics workstations and Advanced Computer Modeling technique they utilized to develop Donkey Kong Country, this game was completed in the summer of 1995.

Named Donkey Kong Land, the game received fairly positive reviews with many critics praising its graphical presentation. It was eventually awarded the title of “Best Game Boy Game of 1995” by both Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro. Having moved more than three-million units, Donkey Kong Land ensured that Rare had a bestselling game in both the home console and handheld markets. With a high standard to live up to, how does Donkey Kong Land compare to its 16-bit counterpart?

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Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter!

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter

In the same month the Goodbye, Galaxy duology saw its release, so too did the standalone sixth official episode of id Software’s Commander Keen series: Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter. Although the second episode of Goodbye, Galaxy, The Armageddon Machine, teased at a new set of games entitled The Universe is Toast!, this sixth episode would be the series’ finale. Was it able to give id’s first triumph a proper sendoff?

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Commander Keen in Goodbye, Galaxy – Episode Four: Secret of the Oracle

Although Keen Dreams wasn’t the breakaway success for John Carmack and the rest of id Software the original trilogy of Commander Keen games managed to be, they did wind up crafting a superior engine in the process of developing it. With Keen Dreams having been completed by June of 1991, id began work on a new trilogy of Commander Keen episodes to be named Goodbye, Galaxy. The team intended for the episodes to be published in the same manner as the original trilogy. Players could order the episodes individually or all three with a lump sum totaling less.

The following August, Mr. Carmack and his team had completed a beta version of the series’ fourth official episode: Secret of the Oracle. Fellow programmer John Romero sent it to Mark Rein, a fan that he had met from Canada who offered to playtest the game. Mr. Romero was then surprised when Mr. Rein sent back a large list of bugs he compiled. Coupled with his impressive business acumen, Mr. Romero proposed hiring him as a probationary president in an attempt to expand their business. Within weeks, Mr. Rein made a deal to get id into the commercial market, but there was a catch. The sixth episode was to be made a standalone game, published as a retail title through the company FormGen as opposed to id’s signature shareware model. The fledgling company signed the deal, although Scott Miller, an employee from publisher Apogee was dismayed, believing reducing Goodbye, Galaxy to a duology would hurt sales.

In the same month, the team moved from Shreveport, Louisiana to Designer Tom Hall’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Working out of a three-bedroom apartment, they worked on the Goodbye, Galaxy duology, any remaining Softdisk projects, and the now-standalone sixth Commander Keen installment. One software catalog listed the release date in September of 1991, but the project ended up being delayed. The sixth episode, being a standalone effort, was developed after the fourth, but before the fifth. The fifth itself would be created in less than one month.

All three games would see their release in December of 1991. As Mr. Miller predicted, the sales figures of Goodbye, Galaxy were roughly one-third those of the original trilogy, which had made $20,000 in its first two weeks and $60,000 a month by June of 1991. Mr. Hall himself would also blame the falling sales on the lack of a third episode, which undercut their shareware model. Nonetheless, the games still fared well overall, becoming one of the top shareware sellers of 1992. Like the original trilogy, the two games that formed the Goodbye, Galaxy duology, Secret of the Oracle and The Armageddon Machine, were well-received. As the first installment of this duology, does Secret of the Oracle mark a significant improvement over its four predecessors?

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The Final Fantasy Legend

In 1987, a struggling game developer named Square released Final Fantasy. It was so named because the team wished for a name that could be shortened to FF. That way, it could be abbreviated in the Latin script and pronounced in four syllables in Japanese. It is also speculated that the name came about due to series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi being in dire straits at the time. Had the game failed, he would have quit the industry entirely and gone back to university. Mr. Sakaguchi himself later stated that these theories, despite having a ring of truth to them, were overblown and any two words beginning with the letter “F” would have worked. In either case, the game proceeded to ship 520,000 copies in Japan. When the company decided to localize the game for North American markets, the company managed to move an additional 700,000 copies. Suddenly, the company that had been struggling to find its voice could now stand tall with the artists from which they drew inspiration.

Two years after the release of Final Fantasy, Nintendo launched the Game Boy console. As it was considered a monochromatic, portable Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), units began flying off of the shelves. Square president Masafumi Miyamoto, seeing a prime opportunity to expand into another section of the market, requested his developers to turn their attention to the Game Boy. Employee Nobuyuki Hoshino came up with the central concepts for this hypothetical game while Akitoshi Kawazu was handed the reins. The success of Tetris and Super Mario Land demonstrated that there was an audience for the portable market, and Mr. Kawazu alongside Koichi Ishii sought to provide the platform with something a little more advanced: a role-playing game.

The project was completed in 1989, seeing its domestic release in December. The game was named Makai Toushi SaGa – or Warrior of the Spirit World Tower: SaGa. It was highly acclaimed by Japanese critics, and it became Square’s first game to sell over one-million copies. The following year would see Final Fantasy becoming a sleeper hit in North America, so to bank off its popularity, SaGa was renamed The Final Fantasy Legend. Although it wasn’t as acclaimed abroad as Final Fantasy, The Final Fantasy Legend did find an audience, and even today, it is considered one of the Game Boy’s hallmarks. As the first role-playing experience for a popular, portable console, how was The Final Fantasy Legend able to craft an identity distinct from that of Final Fantasy?

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Mega Man 6

Mega Man 5 continued the success of Capcom’s best-selling franchise despite having been released two years after the release of the Super Famicom (SNES). Shortly thereafter, Capcom announced a sequel, which would be developed concurrently with a highly anticipated SNES entry. The game saw its domestic release in late 1993 under the name Rockman 6: The Greatest Battle in History!!

However, as the game came out when the fourth console generation was in full swing, the Famicom (NES) began to show its age, and Capcom decided against exporting it. This was a problem, as the monthly publication Nintendo Power had held a contest for its readers to design a new set of Robot Masters. While this had been standard practice since Mega Man 2, Mega Man 6 would include two Robot Masters designed by North American fans – Daniel Vallée and Michael Leader. To have North American fans participate in the contest for a game they wouldn’t get to play was unacceptable, so Nintendo stepped in and published it abroad. The game was released in North America in 1994 simply titled Mega Man 6. Due to the NES having far less presence in Europe, fans from that region wouldn’t see an official release for another nineteen years when it debuted on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2013. Mega Man 6 would be the final game in the series to debut on the aging NES. Was the game able to end its run on its debut platform on a high note?

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was released in November of 2016, the sales figures fell short of publisher Activision’s expectations. The critical scores, while leaning positive, were ultimately mixed. By this point in history, various developers handled the Call of Duty franchise in a three-year development cycle. Infinity Ward, the developer credited with having created in the series in the first place, was behind Infinite Warfare, putting them in a bad way. One year later, Sledgehammer Games found success in bringing the series back to its World War II roots in the form of Call of Duty: WWII. Infinity Ward wound up following suit.

Taking inspiration from contemporary acclaimed works such as Homeland, American Sniper, and Sicario, campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff wanted the medium to explore taboo subjects. These sentiments were echoed by studio art director Joel Emslie, who promised his game’s narrative would be “much more grown-up [and] mature”. While Infinite Warfare cast the series into the future and WWII set its sights to the past, this new game would take place in the modern day. As a callback to the game that established the series as one of the most profitable in the history of the medium, it was named Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Although it didn’t quite achieve the overwhelming praise as the original Modern Warfare, the 2019 reboot was released to fairly high acclaim. Does this game truly advance the medium as Mr. Minkoff or Mr. Emslie intended?

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New Super Mario Bros. 2

Nintendo’s successor to the Game Boy Advance, the DS, proved to be a tremendous hit when it launched in 2004. It revolutionized the medium by introducing touch controls. Nintendo’s effort was not without precedent, but they were arguably the first to implement them competently. By the end of its lifespan, the DS sold more than 150-million units worldwide. Even with Sony, which had dominated the console market after launching their PlayStation product line, Nintendo continued to rule the handheld scene. As the decade came to a close, people began to speculate as to how Nintendo could follow up the DS. The press wouldn’t have to wait long before Nintendo officially announced their newest handheld system: the 3DS. This console would be capable of displaying stereoscopic three-dimensional effects without the need for special glasses or any other accessory.

Naturally, as Nintendo had created some of the longest-running, beloved franchises in the medium’s history, fans eagerly anticipated new entries to debut on the console. The release of Super Mario 64 in 1996 caused a minor divide among fans. While highly regarded, certain fans longed for Nintendo to create another side-scrolling installment. For those who wanted the series to revisit its roots had their wishes granted in the form of New Super Mario Bros., which was released on the DS. Those who hoped for these kinds of games to return to consoles were similarly delighted in 2009 when New Super Mario Bros. Wii was released for the eponymous console.

With the release of the 3DS, both factions were pleased when Shigeru Miyamoto revealed two Mario games in development for the 3DS. One, taking advantage of the new technology, would be in three dimensions while the other was to retain the sidescrolling gameplay of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries. The former saw its release in 2011 – the same year as the 3DS’s launch – under the name Super Mario 3D Land. Shortly thereafter, the president of Nintendo at the time, Satoru Iwata, formally announced this sidescrolling installment’s name: New Super Mario Bros. 2. The game was released worldwide in the summer of 2012 whereupon it became the first retail 3DS title to make itself available as a digital download. The game was fairly well-received, though it didn’t seem to generate as much enthusiasm as its two predecessors. As the third game in the subseries, does New Super Mario Bros. 2 bring anything new to the table?

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty: Ghosts proved to be a success when it was released in 2013. However, particularly bad word-of-mouth ensured it was met with a poor fan response. Independent critics disliked it for the campaign’s litany of unfortunate implications whereas fans were unimpressed with its multiplayer capabilities – or lack thereof. Despite selling over nineteen-million copies, Call of Duty: Ghosts was considered by its creators to be a failure, thwarting any immediate attempts at creating a sequel. In order for the series to win back its wary fans, the creators realized they needed to shift gears.

Sledgehammer Games had co-developed the third and final entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy with Infinity Ward after much of the latter company’s key personnel was fired for what Activision CEO Bobby Kotick considered acts of insubordination. However, even before then, Sledgehammer had been working on an installment of their own entitled Call of Duty: Fog of War. Announced before the release of Modern Warfare 3, this game was to be set during the events of the Vietnam War. It would defy the series’ conventions by being an action-adventure game presented from a third-person perspective. The plans for this game were put on hold when Sledgehammer dedicated all of their efforts to seeing Modern Warfare 3 to completion.

Fog of War was then silently canceled when Sledgehammer began working on an entirely different project upon completing Modern Warfare 3. According to its director, Michael Condrey, the game’s engine had been built from scratch. On top of that, the game was to boast an advanced facial animation system using the same technology James Cameron sought to employ in his then-upcoming film Avatar 2. Even with a technological advancement other developers could only dream of possessing, Sledgehammer wasn’t done. In an attempt to capture the Hollywood sensibilities the AAA industry had been pursuing for some time, they recruited actor Kevin Spacey to portray a central character. With these enhancements, it seemed only natural that they would entitle the game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. All of the steps Activision and Sledgehammer took in order to get people talking about their game paid off when it received fairly positive reviews upon its 2014 release. Many critics called it the breath of fresh air the series desperately needed after the annual releases rendered it stale. With no shortage of hype surrounding this installment, was Advanced Warfare able to maintain the Call of Duty franchise’s relevance going into the eighth console generation?

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