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July 09, 2007
by Jim Miles
One big difference about the game demonstrations event this time around is that now I’m Events Officer for the society. In practice, it’s not a big difference at all, but it’s nice to point it out and look all important.
This was really a 3 in 1 VGDSoc event, combining three things that have been promised for a while: another game demonstrations session, a video games quiz, and a barbecue. It took place at Bob Merrison’s awesome house again, in Kenilworth.
Bryan and TEAM PIRATE (Jon, Ricky, Dunk, and me) turned up at Bob’s house first and had a solid hour or so to mess about with the Xbox 360 (including our game Pirate Sea Battle) before Steve, Ali, Nic, Sam, Andrew, Jenny and Kieren arrived.
We started out with round one of the quiz that I made, which you can download here, then it was Ali up first to show off a game, none other than the awesome NiGHTs into Dreams (1996) on the Sega Saturn.
The title screen
The plot of NiGHTs concerns two children who have nightmares which hold them back from achieving their goals (one wants to be a basketball player and the other a singer) but each night they go into a dreamworld where Mr NiGHTs (the purple, Twi’lek-like chap) collects stars and pearls, and flies through rings. It’s a beautiful, unique gameworld which is graphically 3D but has 2D gameplay, weaving around the themed levels. We saw one of the first levels set in a standard Green Hill Zone-like grass and hill area but then later Ali showed us an impressive snow level. The bosses we saw were the iconic “Puffy” – a round ball-like female who must be grabbed and launched through walls – and “Clawz” – a cat who lives in a strange circular structure with fireworks which must be flown into before he can be beaten. NiGHTs is an interesting game because it came out at a time when many titles were still following the conventions of the 16-bit and PC 3D era, but was itself entirely original, with a completely new style of plot and gameplay. This is some of the best linking, score attack gaming ever produced.
I want to get away; I want to flyyyyy away.
Next was the music round of the quiz, which I was particularly pleased with. You can check out the music below – there are ten excerpts of game soundtracks in there, to be identified:NOW, WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?
It was me to show a game after that: the excellent, difficult, and highly-collectable Radiant Silvergun (1998). Radiant Silvergun is a scrolling shoot ‘em up from high quality game developer Treasure. It came out three years before Ikaruga and is much more complicated than that game, as well as being much more difficult. While Ikaruga was being developed it was known as the sequel to Radiant Silvergun, which is about right. At the event I described Radiant Silvergun as the Tristram Shandy of scrolling shoot ‘em ups for its sophistication and awareness of the genre it belongs to, to the extent of gross parody of its peers. In Radiant Silvergun there are bosses which serve as both fun challenges but also are, in themselves, whole references to other iconic scrolling shooters. For example, the boss pictured here has weapons mirroring the three main weapon types available in R-Type.
Me being well skilful
A delightful touch is that with each boss there are three pieces of advice under the heading “BE ATTITUDE FOR GAINS”. These three bits of advice are cryptic at best, incomprehensible at worst. In the pictured boss the three attitudes for gains are:
Anxious for return
Another boss later in the game has the following attitudes for gains:
Brave for enter bosom
Placate to animal
It’s crazy. You can read more of the attitudes for gains on the FAQ here. There are far too many details and subtleties in Radiant Silvergun to go into detail here (and anyway, I feel like, having made the Ikaruga comparison, I’ve already done my job) but one thing I would just like to mention is that there are several little dogs hidden about the levels which you uncover with a particular weapon, locked on specific pieces of scenery. These dogs give a little “woof woof” and reward the player with points. Very nice.
After Radiant Silvergun it was time was the third round of the quiz (see here): more questions. Each set of questions was divided into about equal amounts of easy, medium and hard, with one true or false Miyamoto question in each medium set and one Final Fantasy question in each hard set, just for a bit of a fun pattern.
Bob Merrison ponders a question of pen-suck-worthy difficulty.
BRYAN GALE was next, showing We Love Katamari (2005) on the Playstation 2. A game where you roll a ball around, attaching objects and making the ball larger and larger (and able to pick up larger objects), Katamari is a unique title with a beautiful art style that is knowingly cartoon-like. The game attracted a lot of attention and oohing and ahhing from those assembled, as the ball grew to laughably absurd sizes.
The levels are requests from fans of the original game, such as this blue elephant.
Katamari is often cited by developers as an example of a truly original game, and its creator Keita Takahashi has got a reputation as the game designer’s game designer, a darling of the industry, outspoken in his criticisms of the current direction of the medium. The attention is warranted, as Katamari has an interestingly environmental approach to gameplay, with amusing little incongruences such as the way that the people in the game seem to be relatively unbothered by their world being neatly cleaned up by this huge rolling ball – Katamari may seem silly, but it makes you THINK. More pretentious writers than me (they do exist) have even gushed about how the game permits an eco-friendly interpretation.
Roll the bally ball ball roll.
After Bryan’s fun demonstration of Katamari we had the fourth round of the quiz (the second special round), which I had been really excited about, and talking up for at least a week. Probably the best way to explain this round is to post a picture first:
“Woah man, where’s Parappa’s ears?”
On a forum I post on, we had a couple of weeks where we would do our own MS Paint interpretations of game screenshots then post them up for people to guess. This round in the quiz was a collection of 35 or so of these screenshot interpretations which I had printed out for people to pass around and try to guess.
I really loved that round of the quiz, and I think other people did too – especially the screenshot from Dizzy.
I was the next person to show a game after this, because the Playstation 2 was already set up, and my second game to show was Frequency (2002), a Playstation 2 game. I wanted to show this because it was the first rhythm action game made by Harmonix, long before Guitar Hero. As we play Guitar Hero a lot at socials, it seemed like a good idea to show people what the company started out with, as it’s an interesting insight into how Guitar Hero crystallised.
In Frequency you use the shoulder buttons to make sounds, as symbols approach the foreground, just like the notes on frets in Guitar Hero. However, the sounds are incredibly varied, with drum beats, synths, guitars, and even vocal lines mapped onto lines of on-screen symbols. What is so elegant about Frequency is how a channel of a track “sticks” after you have played two bars perfectly, and you can move onto another channel, building up the song gradually from the component parts (a range of drums, vocals, guitars, etc.). The game really opened my ears to how music is constructed, and I found it changed how I listened to music, picking out the individual instruments more meaningfully than I had before.
You can play spot the difference with this and the Radiant Silvergun picture above (clue: look at the table)
And here’s a bonus, an interpretive screenshot of the game.
We had the final round of the quiz (here), then Ali showed the independently produced PC shmup Platypus (2005). This demonstration was special because of the sheer amount that Ali knows about the production of the game. One classic anecdote concerned the creator’s house burning down and him having to build huge parts of the game from scratch. Now, it’s irritating having to build parts of a game from nothing at the best of times, but when your game is Platypus, where every object is painstakingly constructed from plasticine, captured on film, and animated into the game, the experience must be impossibly painful. To the creator’s credit, he turned out a brilliant shmup, which uses the mouse control in a sensitive way, breaking out of the 8 way directional control standard of traditional shmups and giving a new sense of bullet dodging finesse. If you want to know more about this game, I suggest you discuss it with Ali over a pint – his enthusiasm for Platypus is unbounded, and he’ll do a much better job of explaining it than I could here.
Clockwise from bottom left: Bryan, Ricky, Steve (sneezing?), Dunk (why the clenched fists?), Nic, Bob (the only one looking at the camera), me (“that’s not the right answer, lol”), Ali (must. concentrate. on. game.).
You can see what the game looks like in the mirror above Bob’s head.
Platypus was the last game demonstration, but there was still one more thing… The quiz answers! People wanted to know how they’d done, and everyone seemed particularly keen on finding out what the tracks were in the music round. We went through it together with each team (of two) marking another team’s answers. You can see the answers here, if you’ve been playing along at home.
And the winners were… Bryan and Sam. So well done.
The demonstrations session was over, the quiz was over, we’d had delicious barbecued food throughout, and Jenny had brought some yummy home-baked cakes, but there was one last thing which no meet since the 8th December would be complete without…
I’m a little teapot, etc.
You can read about the first Game Demonstrations event here.