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Archive for July 22nd, 2010


The Graphics of Vanquish

In his latest blog, Shinji Mikami discusses the visuals behind Vanquish, including some enemy design choices:

Vanquish was originally an open battlefield type of game, where the goal was to move around crushing enemy positions; however, once we got started with development, we quickly made the decision to change to a more linear structure. We abandoned the open battlefield and focused on making each stage as visually dense as possible. As a result, I think the graphics in Vanquish are really quite wonderful. It is one of the main points of Vanquish I want to recommend to people. (The only regret is that our decision decreased the amount of times the player uses boosting.)

Of course, arriving there was a struggle. Upping the visual density, increasing the contrast, making the special effects especially eye-catching, throwing tons of enemies on the screen… In an environment where we were doing whatever we pleased, it became pretty obvious that there was no good way of keeping your eye on the prize – the enemies you are targeting. I felt like I was being pin-pricked by the staff talking about how hard it was to see the enemies. Moreover, the enemy character that you see most often, a robot we call a Gorgie, was predominantly white. We had primarily gray backgrounds with white enemies. When you think about it from a realism standpoint, camouflage exists to make things difficult to see, so in that way things make sense, but from a game standpoint, it was not the best idea. I really liked the white enemies, so it took me a long time to come around to the idea of making them red. We also had to limit the number that we could put on screen at once due to hardware limitations. (This had the effect of limiting the huge amount of information we were throwing at the player, so I’m sort of on-board with this one.)

I’ve written quite a bit about it, but our art lead, Naoki Katakai and programmer Ryoichi tend to do whatever they please, and what they came up with was great, and I think our visuals are quite spectacular as a result. Thanks to all the staff that worked so hard on them.


This is the initial conceptual design for the enemy known as a Gorgie. At first, they had white bodies…


But they are red in the final design!


Once we made them red, they became much easier to identify in-game.


Space Harrier II and Ecco the Dolphin – Now on the iPhone

I am always in favor of more Genesis games appearing on more platforms (just see my blog from earlier today about the collection releasing on the PC) — and today brings us yet more 16-bit era goodies, with Space Harrier II and Ecco the Dolphin now available on the iPhone.

Here’s links directly to the items at the iTunes store:

Space Harrier II
Ecco the Dolphin

I have nothing but fond memories and grand things to say about both these games, and the fact that they’re available for very low prices — $2.99 for Ecco the Dolphin (a surprisngly long & in-depth game), and just $0.99 for Space Harrier II.


Space Harrier II is a lovely action game, challenging and psychedelic and perfectly designed to play in short bursts of laser blasting action when you’re on the go with your iPhone wherever it is you go when you’re on the go — that is to say, it brings the satisfaction of blowing up giant floating alien heads in one of Sega’s most classic arcade-style experiences to anywhere you’d like it to be.


Ecco, meanwhile, I will always have a kind of special place in my heart for. For a game about a dolphin trying to find his lost podmates, it is a genuinely dark game, with a kind of haunting, sinister tone throughout. This is more than helped by the game’s incredible music, not to mention a plot which, again, is surprising for a game about a dolphin finding his lost friends — it involves everything from time travel to an alien known as The Vortex which wants to destroy all life. It also involves Ecco being attacked by a Pteranodon. Really:


Even minor aspects like the way the oceans in the game darken as you go down further, and the snippets of dialogue that Ecco gets when using his sonar to communicate with others (“…suddenly winds of water…”) contribute to the haunting atmosphere.

Needless to say, I approve of toting this game around on the iPhone. Check out Ecco — and Space Harrier II — today!

And one more time for those links:

Space Harrier II
Ecco the Dolphin


SEGA Genesis Classics Release for PC!

Available now on the PC — a new batch of SEGA Genesis Classics! I’m always in favor of finding new ways to release Genesis stalwarts, and this is a particularly compelling pack since these games have not all seen wide release (especially on the PC). The following are now available through GamersGate:

-Ecco, Jr.
-Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
-Bonanza Brothers
-Super Thunder Blade
-Fatal Labyrinth
-Dr. Robotnick’s Mean Bean Machine
-Kid Chameleon
-Sonic Spinball
-Galaxy Force 2
-Eternal Champions

Sonic Spinball_3
Eternal Champions_3

You can purchase them all individually, or snag all of them in one seductively old-school package:

A single snazzy interface combines all the Genesis Classics games together for easy accessibility. The games work nicely with most controllers as well (including the Genesis-esque Play SEGA controller!), meaning you don’t have to fumble with the keyboard for fighting games like Eternal Champions. Also present: the ability to save your game at any time, which is, of course, exceedingly welcome.

Ecco Jr_3

Here’s some highlights from the releases, as chosen by, well, me:



Carving out its niche in the category of ‘insanely addictive puzzle games’, Columns aligns itself with your heart vertically: arrange falling columns of 3 gems to line up colors; matching colors cause the matched gems to disappear from the screen. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines of 3 or more matching colors qualify, so this puzzle game differentiates itself from Tetris by inducing something like precognitive powers in the user. Thinking you’ve doomed yourself to a full screen of gems only to see a series of blocks fall that you must have planned without realizing it is the kind of visceral pleasure that anyone who’s ever delayed homework with “just one more game” knows only too well. Also, the music for Columns is terrific.

Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Of course, to mention Columns without mentioning Mean Bean Machine is to speak of the Beatles but never the Rolling Stones … or something like that. Mean Bean Machine is an exceedingly odd game, very much in the same puzzle category as Columns, but with little google-eyed globules (the beans) that gum together and fall all over the puzzle space. You also play “against” Dr. Robotnik, who periodically drops rock-hard beans into your puzzles space, halting your careful progress and causing you to go insane and break your controller. Highly recommended.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle_2

While Alex Kidd is very much a proto-Sonic the Hedgehog, his games very much deserve mention as what they were: insanely enjoyable hallmarks of the Master System / Genesis era of platforming, whose hyper cartoon-style belied insidiously difficult gameplay. While you can kick and punch pretty much anything in the game, you can’t touch it (or jump on it), which gives the game an odd edge. You can also play roshambo in the game, where losing means you die. The game features powerups like motorcycles and pogo sticks — to be honest, understanding the unique charm & appeal of the Alex Kidd games is central to understanding what ‘old school’ meant, and its the same sort of thinking which lead to one of the strangest games ever.

Super Thunder Blade

Super Thunder Blade_2

…is really difficult. Don’t mistake this game for being of After Burner’s lineage (though of course After Burner is difficult in its own right); Super Thunder Blade is closer in pedigree to the bullet curtain style of shooters, where placement is everything and learning a precise pattern of movement makes you a champion — think an evolved version of Space Harrier, with combat helicopters.

Kid Chameleon and Ristar

I’m doing these together — they’re very different games but they’re both experimental platformers and very much proto-Sonic action games. Kid Chameleon oozes ’90s cool (dig the leather jacket and sunglasses) and has the hook of taking place in a virtual reality arcade where you get to take on all kinds of different guises, each with their own unique power. Ristar, meanwhile, is simply an incredibly charming platformer that happened to have some of the best & most colorful graphics to show up on the Genesis, as well as excellent sound. An excellent platform experience, it is completed by the title character’s “grabbing” mechanism for swinging around and disposing of enemies, which works something like the arm from Bionic Commando.

Bonanza Bros.

Bonanza Bros_2

An odd & unique game, Bonanza Bros. is an action/shooter where you infiltrate a variety of buildings to sneak and shoot your way past cops in order to recover loot. A fun note about this game: in the original Japanese release, you play thieves working to steal the loot from these buildings (although the shots fired are always non-lethal); in the Western release you are “security experts” helping various buildings to test their security by coming after their loot . . . although if you loose, the “game over” screen still shows the player being sent to prison. The games compelling sense of strategy comes from the fact that you don’t “destroy” your enemies, you just temporarily disable them, meaning you have to plan carefully to sneak & shoot your way around the building, as guards will invariably alert other guards to your presence.

Fatal Labyrinth

Fatal Labyrinth_3

I’ve saved my favorite game of this collection for last. Fatal Labyrinth appeals to something primal in me — it recalls my geek ancestry, gaming nerds from prehistoric times (namely, the 1970s) playing invented Dungeons & Dragons games in garages and rec room basements. Fatal Labyrinth has a strong connection to the early, early days of computer dungeon crawlers, rife with mystery and possibility: the game features randomized dungeons, items, and monsters, and of course gold — but the only value gold has in the game is to buy you a better funeral when you die (and like all hardcore dungeon crawlers of yore, when you die in Fatal Labyrinth, you stay dead). It also pulls the wicked old-school trick of making the effects of the various scrolls, rings, and potions you pick up “unknown” — they may help or hinder, but the only way to find out is to use them. I realize this game may not be for everyone — it’s difficult and has none of the trappings of more mass-market RPGs of the modern era, but it also has an indelible charm: the elemental appeal of crawling through dungeons, equipping weapons & armor, slaying monsters, and trying to stay alive.


100 Team Needlemouse Crew Shirts up for Grab at Comic-con

The ultra exclusive and super special Comic Con Team Needlemouse Shirt!

Are you at Comic-con? Do you want this awesome Team Needlemouse shirt? Remember the face of the man holding the shirt in our photo, his name is Ken Balough, and he’s holding 100 of our extremely rare crew shirts for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. Ken will be on the show floor handing the shirts out and Comic-con is the ONLY place to pick up one of these awesome shirts.

Keep an eye on our blog for info on how to pick up the shirts on Friday – more info is coming soon!


The God of Thunder Strikes! Thor: The Video Game Coming 2011

Surtur Forge

SAN FRANCISCO & LONDON – July 20, 2010 – “By Odin’s beard!” SEGA® Europe Ltd. and SEGA® of America, Inc. today announced they will bring Marvel’s hall-of-fame franchise Thor™ to video game systems for an epic third-person adventure: Thor: The Video Game, scheduled for release on all five major video game platforms in 2011 including the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system, PSP® (PlayStation® Portable) system, Wii™ and Nintendo DS™.

“We are proud to be bringing Marvel’s Thor to his first solo video game adventure,” commented Gary Knight, Senior Vice President of Marketing at SEGA Europe and SEGA America. “Thor: The Video Game will finally bring the immense power of this iconic hero to lifelong fans, and introduce the God of Thunder to a whole new audience as a true Marvel Super Hero.”

Thor: The Video Game will take players through a spectacular, epic-scale original third-person adventure for which Matt Fraction, the Eisner Award-winning writer and lead Thor comic book author served as story consultant. In the game, Thor battles through the numerous worlds of Norse mythology that span realms ranging from primal worlds of fire and ice to extraordinary planets inhabited by Frost Giants and Trolls to save Asgard, the capital city of the Norse Gods. Thor must overcome monstrous foes lifted from the pages of the comics including Ulik, Ymir, and Surtur, as well as other monstrous denizens. Players will wield the iconic Mjölnir, Thor’s legendary hammer, to fight enemies on an immense scale while controlling the elemental storm powers of lightning, thunder, and wind to vanquish enemies. As Thor earns Valor points through his exploits, players can acquire new abilities, powers, and weapon upgrades.

River Dock

Each version of the game will be uniquely suited for its platform, with the PlayStation 3 system and Xbox 360 versions featuring cinematic, third-person action gameplay with melee combos, ranged hammer throws, tide-turning elemental powers, and an upgrade system to bolster Thor’s powers as gamers progress. Players will take on enemies up to four times as large as Thor, with multiple grappling points and a variety of strategies for taking them down: go toe-to-toe with a 25 foot tall, 12 ton Ice Trolls for a truly heart-pumping experience.

The Wii game will feature the same overarching storyline as the next-gen consoles, but will also present a different gaming experience by utilizing the Wii Remote™ and Nunchuk™ controllers to battle enemies and deliver Thor’s elemental powers. Thor for the Wii version will also be presented with a uniquely styled comic book look that it will share with the PSP system version, along with different cinematics, story elements, dialog, locations, and dedicated flight levels. Nintendo DS players will experience a 2D side-scrolling adventure with narrative and gameplay unique to the platform.

Brought to the Marvel Universe by the legendary Stan Lee and his brother Larry Lieber and penciled by noted artist Jack Kirby, Thor first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1962. Based on Norse mythology, the Marvel character of Thor became a comic book Super Hero both in his own right and as a member of the Avengers alongside comic book icons The Hulk™, Iron Man™, and Captain America™. Thor: The Video Game marks the character’s progression from mythology to comics to TV and film, and now to interactive entertainment in his first standalone appearance in a game.