Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

Introduction

Video game designer Michael Berlyn got his start in the industry as an implementer working for Polarware. The first game of note he worked on was a piece of interactive fiction entitled Oo-Topos. Released in 1981, it was well-received among PC gamers, and he would continue his work on other adventure titles with Polarware before joining Infocom in 1983. Around this time, a company named Accolade was founded in San Jose, California by Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. They saw their revenues increase with each passing year after releasing several acclaimed games for Amiga, Apple II, and the PC, including Test Drive, HardBall!, Law of the West, and Psi-5 Trading Company. Mr. Berlyn would join this company by 1990, and the first game he designed for them was Altered Destiny. However, it received a fairly lukewarm response, generally passed over in favor of Sierra’s output.

Shortly after this project saw completion, he became burned out on the adventure game genre and wanted to try something new. The answer came in the form of a game Sega had released in June of 1991 in order to compete with Nintendo: Sonic the Hedgehog. With Nintendo having dominated the console gaming industry for the entire third generation, Sega proved a formidable opponent. Sonic the Hedgehog was the embodiment of the era’s zeitgeist. He had a hip attitude and his gameplay was lightning fast compared to the slow, ostensibly out-of-touch Mario. Mr. Berlyn was so impressed with Sega’s game that he ended up playing it fourteen hours a day for a whole week. Already, he was figuring out how he could implement his own take on this game. Within the next few years, Accolade had created the lead character for Mr. Berlyn’s vision: a bobcat named Bubsy.

The game, named Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, was to be released for both the Sega Genesis and Super NES in 1993. Accolade stopped at nothing to extensively promote their game. Director John Skeel sought to create a game as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, yet as deep as Super Mario Bros. It would be easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. He was even intended to be voiced in the game proper. His catchphrase “What could possibly go wrong?” was derived from a quip courtesy of the development team. They even commissioned a pilot for an animated series that aired later in the year, though the show was never picked up for any further episodes.

Nonetheless, as a result of Accolade’s marketing campaign, anticipation for Bubsy reached a fever pitch. The character even won a “Most Hype for a Character of 1993” award in the publication Electronic Gaming Monthly. When Bubsy was released, it received positive reviews from nearly every review outlet at the time. Though not as popular as Sonic the Hedgehog, critics enjoyed the level design, graphics, and the sheer amount of personality possessed by the title character. It was especially enjoyed by those who had a Super NES, as for it would be the closest they could get to playing Sonic the Hedgehog themselves without a Sega Genesis. In an era that saw no shortage of quality 2D platformers, does Bubsy stand to this day as a pinnacle of the genre?

Continue reading

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Introduction

With Ancient Ys Vanished and its sequel, Nihon Falcom had a franchise that eclipsed Dragon Slayer in terms of popularity. Though Dragon Slayer helped codify the action RPG, the Ys duology was what helped it truly soar in popularity. Despite the second title being dubbed The Final Chapter, the team began work on a sequel in response to its immense popularity. This new installment, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, was released on the PC-8801 and MSX2 in 1989. Within the next few years, it would see additional ports on the prominent fourth generation consoles, including the TurboGrafx-CD, Super NES, and Sega Genesis. The TurboGrafx-CD port was particularly timely, being released in North America two years after the international debut of Ys Book I & II, a remake that combined the series’ first installments. Because of this, many versions of Ys III were translated into English despite the series’ obscurity abroad. Those who have played Ys III consider it an overlooked gem in the fourth-generation library. With a pair of impactful predecessors, how does Ys III hold up?

Continue reading

Ballz

Introduction

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior took the world by storm when it debuted in arcades in February of 1991. The competitive fighting game had existed since the mid-eighties, but Street Fighter II codified the genre. Countless enthusiasts formed long lines around the arcade cabinets, which eventually collected over two-billion USD in gross revenue within the next four years, meaning roughly nine-billion quarters were spent to play this game. Not surprisingly, when Capcom created ports for the prominent platforms of the fourth console generation, they became instant bestsellers.

In the wake of this overwhelming success, many developers saw potential in the exciting, new genre. One such developer was the San Francisco-based PF Magic. Their game was to be released on the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and 3DO. Tapping into the often sophomoric zeitgeist of the nineties, they titled their fighting game Ballz. Just to hit home that subtlety was off the table, the opening of the game stated “To be the champion, you gotta have Ballz!” Predictably, Nintendo wasn’t pleased and demanded the wording be changed for the SNES port. This version states “You gotta play Ballz!” The Genesis version was originally going to have online multiplayer support, which would have been made possible with the Edge 16, a planned modem adapter for the console. The plans for peripheral were scrapped by the time Ballz saw its release in 1994. Despite this setback, Ballz was released to a fairly warm reception. Famicom Tsūshin awarded it twenty-eight points out of a possible forty, Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Genesis version a 6.2 out of 10, and GamePro wrote a positive review, praising its balanced gameplay and humorous sound effects. How does Ballz fare when compared to the countless other classic fighting games released around this time?

Continue reading

BioShock Infinite

Introduction

BioShock was released to a universally positive reception in 2007. Those who had been extolling the medium’s storytelling potential for years were particularly enthralled to see it move millions of units. It sold a many people on the idea that a game could have a cerebral plot rather than something akin to a mindless action film. There was only one logical thing for Irrational Games to do in the face of this commercial and critical success: keep the momentum going. However, director Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games opted against the idea of working on a direct sequel, leaving the development of BioShock 2 in the hands of Jordan Thomas, one of the original’s primary level designers, and 2K Marin. Mr. Levine, on the other hand wanted to set his sights higher by creating a BioShock game with a different setting. Thankfully for them, Take-Two Interactive allowed them complete freedom in this project.

The development of BioShock 2 was made known in 2008 before seeing its release in 2010. Unbeknownst to the public, Mr. Levine and many of the people behind the original began working on a sequel of their own, dubbed “Project Icarus”, starting in February of 2008. Only six months after the release of BioShock was the concept for this new game formed. In the cycle’s earliest stages, the team considered many different settings. Some wanted to reuse Rapture while others suggested setting it during the Renaissance period. In the end, they decided on a city named Columbia. In a stark contrast to Rapture, which rested on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, Columbia was to float in the skies above. The primary inspiration behind this setting came from The Devil in the White City, a non-fiction book written by Erik Larson in 2003. The book prominently featured the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was set in Chicago in 1893. The staff became interested in setting their game around the turn of the twentieth century and the historical events surrounding the exposition helped inspire the idea of a city in the sky.

With a setting and time period in mind, all Mr. Levine and his team now needed a theme. Rapture, the setting of BioShock and its sequel, sought to deconstruct the ideals of objectivism. They wanted to demonstrate why a society based on those principles would burn itself out quickly. Meanwhile, the World’s Columbian Exposition was considered to symbolize the concept of American exceptionalism – that is to say, the belief the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Additionally inspired by classic films such as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the team now had a goal and would stop at nothing to see it through.

The development of this game proved to be something of an arduous process. The original game utilized a modified Unreal Engine 2.x, which was quickly deemed inadequate to support the ideas for Project Icarus. The team decided to work with Unreal Engine 3, and as a result, every single asset had to be made from scratch. As a likely consequence of this, the game ended up taking roughly five years to complete. Its official announcement in March of 2012 finally gave this project a name: BioShock Infinite. It was also given a slated release date of October 16 of that year. However, in May, the release date was pushed back to February 26, 2013. Nearing the end of the year, it was delayed again – this time to the following March – to allow the team to polish the mechanics further. After much speculation from the press and varied reactions to the promotional material, Mr. Levine proudly announced the game had gone Gold in February of 2013. It had been approved by Sony, Microsoft, and PC makers, allowing it to exist on all three platforms simultaneously. As promised, BioShock Infinite was released on March 26, 2013.

As highly regarded as BioShock was, the critical reception to BioShock Infinite achieved the impossible by surpassing it in some circles. The publications that gave it less than nine points on a ten-point scale could likely have been counted on one hand – and this hypothetical person would likely still have fingers remaining. BioShock Infinite proceeded to win the highly desired “Game of the Year” award from forty-two separate publications, including the Associated Press, CNN, and Forbes. Much like the original, critics praised its scenario, paying special attention to its striking visual design. It wasn’t just critics who were singing praises of this game, for it sold 3.7 million retail copies within two months of its release, eventually moving 11 million units overall.

With the success of BioShock Infinite, one would expect the sky to be the limit for Irrational Games. System Shock 2 flopped and was one of the causes of Looking Glass Studios’ bankruptcy only for Irrational Games to rise from the ashes and became a juggernaut among critics and fans alike. Unfortunately, such was not their fate. As a coda to this game’s success, Mr. Levine announced the dissolution of Irrational Games in February of 2014. The average AAA title of the 2010s had a budget that necessitated the company selling tens of millions of units just to break even. As a consequence, games from that era and scene rarely had a powerful, auteur voice, for any kind of experimental title could bankrupt a company instantaneously if it didn’t sell. Not only that, but because they had been working on the game for five years, the cycle took its toll on the staff. Mr. Levine himself would state in a 2016 interview that the stress of managing the development of BioShock Infinite adversely affected both his health and his personal relationships, causing him to opt out of directing an even larger sequel.  In its seventeen-year life, Irrational Games was only responsible for the development of a handful of projects. Was BioShock Infinite a particularly triumphant swansong for Irrational Games?

Continue reading

BioShock 2

Introduction

Ken Levine’s BioShock was a critical success upon its 2007 release. In an era when console games weren’t expected to have plots more advanced than what one would find in a B-movie, a mainstream release that regularly touched upon erudite themes stood out in the best way possible. Contrary to what a wary person not in tune with the medium would believe, Mr. Levine’s willingness to take his audience seriously paid off from a commercial standpoint as well. Fans and critics alike instantly recognized BioShock as a significant step forward for video game storytelling. This was a far cry from the reception System Shock 2 received wherein it wallowed in obscurity until it received recognition in various retrospectives several years after the fact. With a hit on their hands, the 2K Marin staff did what any developer would do under the circumstances: set out to make a sequel.

Helming this project was Jordan Thomas while series creator Ken Levine occasionally provided creative input. Given that the potential endings of BioShock provided airtight conclusions, the first concern Mr. Thomas found himself facing was the question of where they could possibly go from there.

“How do you bring people back to an experience and terrify them and shock them in a way that they’re not expecting, but also fulfill the many expectations they’re projecting onto it?”

Nonetheless, he decided that his game couldn’t truly be considered a sequel to BioShock unless he set it in the city of Rapture. Luckily for him, Mr. Levine had created a setting teeming with many unseen locations and untold stories that making a sequel would be viable. 2K Marin thus set out with a team of eight to create a new game, adding seventy-eight additional personnel during the peak phases of development.

Like Ken Levine before him, Jordan Thomas took a decidedly unusual approach to level design. Teams consisting of an environmental artist and a level designer worked together to design each area of the game. This was a stark contrast to the standard approach wherein developers would design the level first and hand their work over to the art teams so they could add further details. Level designer Steve Gaynor recalled in interviews that with their approach, they could ensure the environments felt like places once inhabited by people.

The public’s first exposure to this project’s existence came in the form of a teaser trailer included with the PlayStation 3 version, which was originally made available in 2008. Initial media reports suggested the title of this game would bear the subtitle Sea of Dreams. It was eventually clarified that “Sea of Dreams” only referred to the trailer and not the game itself. As the team quickly revealed, the game was to be simply titled BioShock 2. The first substantial details were revealed in the April 2009 edition of Game Informer magazine. Around this time, the marketing department launched the site “There’s Something in the Sea” as a means to virally spread word of BioShock 2. Demo footage debuted on the Spike TV show GameTrailers TV with Geoff Keighley, showcasing many features such as the ability to walk underwater.

Though BioShock was well received, certain circles criticized it for its lack of multiplayer. The first-person shooter scene had built part of its identity on multiplayer deathmatches. Quake was the game that could be said to have popularized them while Halo brought them to the console market. As a response to this criticism, 2K Marin contracted designers from Digital Extremes to produce a multiplayer component complete with its own scenario.

After much speculation, BioShock 2 was at last released worldwide in February of 2010. Like its predecessor, BioShock 2 received largely positive reviews. Mainstream outlets praised the game for ironing out the unpolished aspects of the original. At the same time, they lauded the story for building upon the foundation of its predecessor. Despite receiving universal praise, a particularly vocal subset originating from the independent circuit was a bit more skeptical. One prominent critic accused the game of being a cheap cash-in while another expressed that the multiplayer component cheapened the series’ strong narrative. Regardless, the game was a commercial success, moving three million units across all platforms by March of 2010. Despite this, Take-Two Interactive’s Chief Financial Officer noted that the game’s sales were lower than expected and also took a relatively short amount of time to slow down. Prior to its release, a Take-Two chairman stated that he expected the game to sell five million units. From this, it could be inferred that the overall reception to BioShock 2 was more mixed than an analysis of the scores it received across numerous publications would lead one to believe. Is BioShock 2 a worthy sequel or is it a transparent attempt to capitalize on its predecessor’s success?

Continue reading

Sonic Heroes

Introduction

Following the Dreamcast’s discontinuation in 2001, Sega’s future seemed uncertain. Fans were particularly concerned over the fate of their expansive Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Their fears were ultimately assuaged when a port for the latest game, Sonic Adventure 2, was announced for the Nintendo GameCube. It is nearly impossible to overstate how many shockwaves this development sent through the gaming sphere. An entire generation of enthusiasts had grown up knowing of the fierce rivalry between Nintendo and Sega. By the end of the year Sega pulled out of the console race, Sonic Team found themselves porting their latest work to their former rival’s console.

Because of this, for enthusiasts who had grown up with Nintendo consoles, Sonic Adventure 2 wound up being their gateway entry. As if to prove this wasn’t an elaborate joke, an original 2D platforming game by the name of Sonic Advance emerged for Nintendo’s newest Game Boy model. Both games were well received by these new fans. Over the next few years, this was followed up by a GameCube port of the original Sonic Adventure dubbed Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut, a sequel to Sonic Advance, and Sonic Mega Collection – the last of which being a compilation new fans could use to play the series’ generation-defining Genesis installments. Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog then breathed a sigh of relief as the future of the franchise seemed secure.

During all of this, they began to speculate on what the next Sonic console installment would look like. Their answer came in the form of a project dubbed Sonic Heroes. It was being developed by the San Francisco-based Sonic Team USA – a crew consisting of nineteen members – to commemorate the series’ twelfth anniversary. The first few screenshots showed several returning characters from the Sonic franchise – including some such as Big the Cat, who had only appeared in one installment by that point. The project was led by mainstay producer Yuji Naka and director Takashi Iizuka. Mr. Iizuka stated in interviews that he didn’t want Sonic Heroes to be a sequel to Sonic Adventure 2. He was worried only fans of the series would buy the game and he wanted it to draw in a new audience. To this end, he desired to return to a gameplay style similar to that of the Genesis installments.

Furthermore, to reach as many people as possible, Sonic Heroes was to be the series’ first cross-platform installment, slated to see a release on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. In order for this to be possible, Sonic Team opted against using tools built by Sega, instead partnering with Criterion Software. The RenderWare engine would allow the game to be programmed and ported to each platform with ease. They were able to use some textures and models from the two Sonic Adventure installments, but most of the game ended up being built from scratch. The biggest problem that plagued development stemmed from having to work with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, consoles with which they had little experience. Mr. Iizuka and Mr. Naka briefly considered including content exclusive to certain versions, but ultimately decided it would be for the best for everyone to have the same experience.

Twenty months after they started, the game was released domestically in December of 2003 before emerging in North America in January of 2004 and PAL regions the following February. Though fans by and large enjoyed the Sonic Adventure installments, the reception to Sonic Heroes was decidedly mixed. Particularly unimpressed were those who purchased the PlayStation 2 version, as technical difficulties forced Sonic Team to make the game run at thirty frames per second. By contrast, it ran at sixty frames per second in the other two versions. Discounting this particular issue, critics felt that the game, while lacking the issues of the Sonic Adventure titles, were still well below the quality of the universally beloved Genesis installments. However, criticism toward Sonic Heroes lessened over the years, and it is now considered a decent effort. Being the first Sonic the Hedgehog console game to be conceived by Sega as a third-party developer, exactly how well has it held up? Did they manage to put their best foot forward after a tumultuous period?

Continue reading

BioShock

Introduction

With many alumni from Looking Glass Studios, game designer Ken Levine founded Irrational Games in 1997. Their first game was System Shock 2. Released in 1999, it was a sequel to System Shock, a first-person shooter released five years prior. Despite gaining a following, it fell by the wayside in favor of the more popular Doom. This seemed to foreshadow the fate of System Shock 2, as it had been released in the wake of Half-Life, causing it to disappear from the public consciousness rather quickly. Mr. Levine attempted to pitch a sequel to System Shock 2 to the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, but they were ultimately rejected due to its poor sales performance. The subsequent dissolution of Looking Glass Studios in 2000 all but ensured the series’ abrupt end as the rights were acquired by Electronic Arts.

Irrational Games would go on to develop other titles such as Freedom Force, Tribes: Vengeance, and SWAT 4. Though these titles were modest successes, Mr. Levine desired to create another game similar to that of System Shock 2 – one with a free form and a strong narrative. In 2002, his team came up with a gameplay mechanic centered on three factions: drones, protectors, and harvesters. Guarded by protectors, drones would carry a desirable resource while harvesters attempted take it away from them. With a rough outline of what this hypothetical game entailed, all they needed was a setting.

The team unveiled a demonstration in 2002 built on the second Unreal Engine for the Xbox. This demo was set on a space station overtaken by genetically altered monsters. The protagonist was named Carlos Cuello, who worked as a cult deprogrammer – that is, someone charged with rescuing people from a cult, readjusting them to a normal life. They could be hired for much more nefarious purposes as well. As an example Mr. Levine gave, parents could use their services to deprogram their daughter who was in a lesbian relationship. The narrative was also intended to be political in nature with the main character having been hired by a senator. Unfortunately, the team ran into a twofold problem with this concept. They collectively agreed it was not what they set out to make and were having difficulties finding a publisher. They considered scrapping the project, but once their efforts to make a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 began appearing in various gaming publications, they decided to go forward and fully revamp the concept.

In a stroke of good fortune, 2K Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, offered to publish the game based on the core drone/protector/harvester concept in 2004. Even better, the team was allowed freedom to develop both the story and the setting. Both had changed considerably since the project’s inception. By the time Mr. Levine and his team found a willing publisher, they contemplated setting the game in an abandoned World War II-era Nazi laboratory unearthed by twenty-first century scientists. The experiments then formed the ecosystem centered on the three aforementioned factions. Many elements from System Shock 2 found their way into this project including psychic powers, a character relaying important information to the protagonist over a radio, and story elements delivered through scattered audio recordings.

Internal strife and communication problems brought about due to the team expanding from six to sixty people wound up making for a somewhat troubled production. To make matters worse, the environments they came up with were considered bland. Fortunately, these issues were resolved when the team’s artists realized the true importance of coming up with visions to meet the goals of the level designers.

This wasn’t the end of the team’s production woes, however. According to level designer Jean Paul LeBreton, Mr. Levine was distrustful of the more egotistical new hires. He often got into arguments with them to enforce his vision. Moreover, the executives of 2K Games were concerned with the project’s growing budget. As the mid-2000s saw an increase in popularity for the first-person shooter genre thanks to Halo and Call of Duty, they requested that Mr. Levine market the game in a way so as to compete directly with those franchises. This meant having to shift away from the first-person shooter/role-playing hybrid they set out to create in favor of placing more of an emphasis on the former half of that equation. As the targeted release date drew near, Mr. Levine ordered the team into round-the-clock development, only exacerbating the strife among themselves. Thankfully, 2K Games granted Mr. Levine’s team an extra three months, allowing them to fix programming errors that were otherwise difficult to catch.

January of 2007 marked a crucial moment for playtesting. Damningly, the feedback they received from players was mostly negative, as they believed the game to be too dark to see, causing them to get lost. They couldn’t even trust the man on the other side of the protagonist’s radio feed, describing him as a “lecherous Colonel Sanders”. Taking these criticisms to heart, the team addressed the problems. In a second late-stage playtesting session with the game being described as being ninety-nine percent complete, the feedback was still negative with the audience feeling no connection to the protagonist. The next day, Mr. Levine and his team decided to add an introductory cutscene to the game. He originally opted not to include any cutscenes, feeling ideologically opposed to them, but he and his team felt it was a good, quick way to respond to the criticism.

At long last, the game was released in August of 2007 under the name BioShock. While System Shock and its sequel wallowed away in obscurity for the longest time before receiving retroactive vindication, BioShock was a commercial success upon release. The Xbox 360 version sold nearly 500,000 copies. Meanwhile, critics adored the game, believing it to be a significant step forward in storytelling for the medium. On the subject of the best years in gaming, 2007 is popular choice with the release of BioShock being a common reason to cite for holding such a belief. Despite all of this, the game’s hellish production cycle ended up causing many members of the team to leave Irrational Games to pursue other projects once it was finished. Whenever one wished to extol the medium’s artistic qualities, BioShock was quick to be mentioned. Does it stand to this day as one of the medium’s greatest story-driven experiences?

Continue reading

Bokosuka Wars

Introduction

In 1977, businessman and personal computer pioneer Kazuhiko Nishi along with Keiichiro Tsukamoto founded a company they named ASCII. It started off as a publisher of a magazine with the same name before Mr. Nishi found an incredible opportunity: getting to speak with Bill Gates, who had co-founded Microsoft in 1975. These talks led to the creation of Microsoft’s first overseas sales office dubbed ASCII Microsoft in 1979. It was thanks to these valuable business propositions and Mr. Nishi’s role in marketing Microsoft Japan’s highly popular MSX home computer that his company became very successful.

In 1983, ASCII Entertainment held a “Software Contest” wherein other PC enthusiasts could enter their creations. A man named Kōji Sumii won the contest, and the name of his submission was Bokosuka Wars. Originally released for the X1, a home computer manufactured by Sharp Corporation, this title proved to be extremely popular in Japan. Such was the extent of the success of Bokosuka Wars that ASCII ported it to almost every home computer platform and gaming console available at the time. Despite its popularity, it never saw a release outside of its native homeland. As a result, many Western fans had no way of knowing that many masterpieces in the years to come owed at least part of their success to this game. With its silent legacy having been fully released by this point, how well has it stood the test of time?

Continue reading

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Introduction

Despite major the personnel change following the release of Modern Warfare 2, few franchises could claim to have moved the sheer number of units as Call of Duty by the end of the seventh console generation. Modern Warfare 3 and the two Black Ops installments in particular stand as some of the greatest selling games of all time, with sales figures exceeding thirty-million each. As each entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy eclipsed the last in terms of sales, Activision requested the creation of a new game on an annual basis. By 2013, the seventh console generation was nearing its end. This year in particular proved to be a something of a tumultuous time for the industry. Though titles such as BioShock Infinite and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds were good swansongs, companies – publishers in particular – seemed to become less scrupulous with their marketing tactics. One of the worst cases of this occurred in February of 2013 when, in a move that wouldn’t seem out of place in the eighties or nineties, a review embargo was effected in order to sell one-million units of the terrible Aliens: Colonial Marines.

In November of 2013, the annual release of the latest Call of Duty installment, Call of Duty: Ghosts, installment came to pass. As per usual, the marketing campaign was extensive, ensuring that even those who don’t play games knew of its existence. Taking the reviews at face value, one could get the impression that what Infinity Ward, Neversoft, and Raven Software created was a decent game.

The fan response was a different story. Immediately after the game’s release, a faction of enthusiasts took to the aggregate review site Metacritic to write immensely negative pieces in protest. By 2013, the gaming sphere as a whole had a notorious reputation for being reactionary with their backlash to the positive reception of Gone Home earlier in the year being a particularly egregious example. However, there was one piece of evidence to suggest that these weren’t the actions of an unduly negative, yet vocal minority. While the installments leading up to Call of Duty: Ghosts broke sales records, this one didn’t fare quite as well. Activision blamed the slump of demand on the uncertainty caused by the impending start of the eighth console generation. The mid-2010s was a time when the opinions of critics and those of fans often clashed with each other. Was Call of Duty: Ghosts a decent game unfairly lambasted or the disaster those fans made it out to be?

Continue reading

Ride to Hell: Retribution

Introduction

At the age of fourteen, Brain Jobling created games for the Atari 800, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 personal computers. With the money he made from these projects, he founded Zeppelin Games in 1987 at the age of seventeen. From here, he and his company based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England developed games for various contemporary computer and console platforms, including Jocky Wilson’s Darts Challenge, Universal Warrior, and Sink or Swim. One of their most notable ventures came about from working with the famous U.K.-based publisher Codemasters to produce two titles based on the Micro Machines franchise and a tennis game bearing Pete Sampras’s name. In 1994, the company was acquired by Merit Studios, Inc., an American developer. They continued to develop their own games and were in charge of distributing Merit’s output in Europe.

The directors then managed to buy the company back from Merit Studios with help from the French publisher Infogrames in 1996. They were able to accomplish this when the gained developer and publisher status for the Sony PlayStation, renaming themselves Eutechnyx once the process was finished. This started a three-year agreement with Infogrames on the PlayStation and PC platforms, meaning that by 2000, Eutechnyx would become a fully independent developer once more. Since reacquiring the company in 1996, Eutechnyx focused primarily on racing titles, including a 2006 adaptation of The Fast and the Furious.

In 2008, Eutechnyx announced an entirely new project with the tentative title Ride to Hell. It was conceived as an ambitious open-world game similar to Rockstar’s bestselling Grand Theft Auto franchise. The game would be set in the deserts and small towns of California in the late sixties with characters representing the era’s biker counterculture. Collaborating with a company named Deep Silver Vienna, they intended use a film-style production model for development, employing motion capture and extensive voice acting. However, various outlets such as IGN reported that the project was canceled, and Deep Silver removed the game from its website. This turned out to be untrue, as Eutechnyx continued working the project, heavily revising its original concept. In early 2013, the Australia Classification Board assigned the game an R18+ rating, signifying its impending release. In April, the game resurfaced along with two other installments sharing the same branding. The three proposed games were: Ride to Hell: Retribution, Ride to Hell: Route 666, and Ride to Hell: Beatdown. The first game would be a biker themed brawler handled by Eutechnyx. The second was intended to be focus on road combat with development helmed by Black Forest Games. Finally, the creators sought to release the final title on mobile platforms.

Unfortunately for Eutechnyx, only the first of these games, Ride to Hell: Retribution, would see an official release in June of 2013. The dismal sales killed the series before either of the other two games had a chance to be made. Despite this setback, Ride to Hell: Retribution quickly became Eutechnyx’s most well-known product with many prominent gaming critics extoling its qualities. Does it live up to its immense reputation?

Continue reading