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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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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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 2

Donkey Kong Land 2

Donkey Kong Country 2 was released in November of 1995. Much like its predecessor, it was a critical and commercial success. It became the sixth bestselling game on its platform, the Super NES. In fact, it was the single bestselling game on that console to not be packaged with the system. Meanwhile, developers at Rare had another success on their hands in the form of Donkey Kong Land, a Game Boy counterpart to the original Donkey Kong Country. As Donkey Kong Land sold over three-million copies, a sequel was inevitable. The game was finished and subsequently launched in North America in September of 1996 before seeing a broader release in Japan and Europe the following November. With Donkey Kong Country 2 being a massive improvement over its direct predecessor, how does its Game Boy counterpart fare?

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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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Kalimba

Kalimba

In the year 2006, a video game development studio named Press Play was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark by Ole Teglbjærg, Rune Dittmer, and Mikkel Thorsted. Two years after the release of their 2010 inaugural title, Max & the Magic Marker, the company was acquired by Microsoft Studios where they joined the same family of studios that included 343 Industries, Rare, and Lionhead Studios.

In 2014, Press Play announced “Project Totem”, which would see the creation of a new title slated for release on the Xbox One. Later in the same year, it was officially titled Kalimba. It saw its original release on Microsoft’s platform in December of 2014 before debuting on Steam the following April. Kalimba was released to a fairly positive reception with critics praising the concept, but finding the graphics and sounds forgettable. Selling itself as a puzzle-platformer, what does Kalimba bring to the table?

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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 Five: The Armageddon Machine

Commander Keen in Goodbye, Galaxy – Episode Five - The Armageddon Machine

Programmed in but a single month, the fifth official episode in the Commander Keen series, The Armageddon Machine, was released on the same day as its immediate predecessor as part of the Goodbye, Galaxy duology. Does this installment allow the duology to end on a high note?

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