Nintendo Summer Fan

Last year, I reluctantly signed up for Club Nintendo, expecting it to work like any point system.  For example, at my local game shop, every time you spend 1,000 yen, you get 1 stamp; after you’ve dropped 30,000 yen and produced said card at every purchase, you get 500 yen off.  That’s  barely more than a 1% reward.  Every place I shop has a point card, and for the most part, I refuse them.  They are a bulky waste of time.

And so, somehow I decided to sign up anyway.  At least the points are tallied via cell phone, limiting the ways to loose or forget about them.  Then I came to realize you can actually trade the points for really cool stuff!  Amazingly cool stuff!  Delivered to your house for free!

I got a mail describing a new summer item last spring and immediately ordered it.  In late July, it arrived.  All I can say is, Club Nintendo really does help gamers feel more pleasure.

Bad Medicine

A few years ago, when Square-Enix decided to launch a “exlixer” style beverage to commemorate the release of the FF7 movie, it came in a magical, faceted blue plastic and glass container.  Of course, the container was held in a box, which concealed which type of bottle it contained (collect at 6!), but nonetheless it was magical.  A mere glance was sufficient to conclude that it infused with some ethereal mana of life, that would instantly give you full MP and HP for the coming boss battle.  Which totally made up for the way it tasted like absolute crap.

The newer version of said elixer looks anything but magical.  It looks like a cheap soda can.  Considering that Japan prevalently packages alcoholic beverages in aluminum cans, it contains even more disappointment and less magic than usual.  But somehow, looking at the white box, batsu fell into a time slip and impulsively purchased one of the newer FF13 potions. Upon opening the box, she realized this error.

R0010750

R0010755

R0010757

Blast and damnation!  Who cares what figure that is – what a rip!

It sat in the fridge for a week or so – remembering the vile serum contained within the aforementioned truly magical elixers.  But then one day, I realized that I needed a boost to finish a project for work.  Expecting the worst, it surprisingly had a pleasant lychee-like aloe taste.  Something definitely worth drinking again, if it only appeared to be magical.

all hallows’ evening invitational

a couple weeks prior to halloween, batsu and maru were invited to a private gaming and dinner evening.  the theme for the evening was hp lovecraft – more specifically, the cthulhu mythos, set in the roaring 20s.

after some debate about the menu, the host and i decided that indian food would allow us the range of color necessary to envoke the proper pallete without appearing discusting.  the menu included:

the maw of cthulhu (palak paneer surrounded by tentacle naan)

yog soggoth (vegetable kofta in tomato curry)

shrub niggerath (curried green beans in carved gourds)

blood of the foresaken (brillant red cucumber pickle)

sign of the elder gods (chocolate sketched on kheer, splattered in raspberry sauce)

the lighting was rather ambient, making photography difficult, so i’ve included a test photo from when the “tentacle naan” was still in development.

the gaming session which followed our feast started with Arkam Horror, using the Innsmouth expansion.  in short, the game tries to recreate a scenario of the ancient ones reawakening on earth – in which the participants generally become mad and lose to the alien gods.  winning is possible, but chances are slim.  the experience is apparently more about trying to imagine the horrors than actually arising victorious (as explained by one of the hosts).

the second, and last, game we played was the Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  admittedly, we didn’t have enough time to play properly – though the game is a dark comedy lampooning the world of academia, through turns of collective storytelling.

Tokyo Game Show 2009 – Less Meat, More Substance

The first time Batsu went to TGS in 2005, her senses were completely overwhelmed.  So many people, so many games, so much swag…  the drowning sea of flash that swallowed every booth babe.  Whoa – booth babes!?  Real cosplayers.  The taste of money in the air.  Sony unveiled the PS3 (though it wasn’t available for another year), Microsoft was about to release the Xbox 360, and Nintendo hinted at the Revolution (now Wii).  There were so many game demos that smaller titles had virtually no line.  Batsu had reached gamers’ nirvana.

Maybe.

The subsequent two years saw more and more development of the same titles unveiled in 2005.  Re-releases of older titles for new platforms, and so on.  The dead space was filled with girls.  And then more girls.  Stage shows of the girls – such as this cabaret-style performance to promote Ninja Gaiden (immortalized by shaky hand camera).  A swimsuit show for DOAX2 (at least they couldn’t replicate the scary gelatinous-animal breasts as seen in-game).  Girls held like show ponies on display to cater to the overly ambitious amateur photographer (the shot is bad, but there are around 10 girls lined up).  Just, ah… girls, girls, girls.  (Excuse the sub-par camera work – what a breathtaking lack of enthusiasm.)  The games were all but forgotten.

I mean, hey, I certainly advocate girls, but the G in TGS allegedly stands for Games.  My in-event pastime (d)evolved into photographing the guys that swarmed the booth babes, lenses flaring, which had more or less become the focus of this spectacle event.  Come 2008, well there were no intentions of attending.  Being chosen for the Little Big Planet test demo, coincidentally at the same time, was just icing on the cake.

And now in 2009, it seems as if the crashing global economy has strangely made all my wishes come true.  Though these gentlemen do quite a fine expose, it would have been even finer two, three, or four years ago.

A non-gamer acquaintance complained that all of the “booth babes” this year (admitting reluctance to call them babes, as they failed to meet the standard model-esque physique) were wearing basic clothes you could pick-up at Uniclo.  Thus, having nothing to photograph.  So I guess he could have played some of the demos on the relatively wide-open press day.  Or, then again, perhaps I forgot to mention he was a non-gamer at TGS.  On a press day.

All due respect to the girls who are paid so you can photograph their boobs.  Indeed, I like them, too…  Up until I have photographers physically pushing me out of the way, and preventing me from entering booths.

This brought similar complaints (from similar long attending acquaintances) that TGS is turning into E3, due largely in part to this the lack of flesh.  Interestingly, no on-line reviews are noting this vast difference.  Not to mention that E3 is an industry only event. (?)  Suffice to say, 2009 was one of the better in TGS history… of events I’ve been to… in the last 5 years.

In addition to the exciting line-up of new games, with tangible release dates, an elaborate Warring States period display, tied into the event’s “History of Gaming” theme, featured armor and other artifacts of more prominent warlords.  Awesome!  Significantly fewer companies showed their faces, which provided a decent amount of elbow room, and not too many titles I could really care less about, leaving everything to the big guns (and knives).

In pictures:

Beginners’ Luck – Game Market 2009

About six months ago, close friend Sankaku-san invited batsu to a game event, and batsu obliged last weekend at the 2009 Game Market.

Game Market is an annual event centered around board games, including but not limited to table-top RGPs, featuring new, classic, and original games.  The first day was dedicated to actual gaming, and the second for buying and selling.  Not really sure what I was getting into, I agreed to tag-along Sunday to see what a Game Market was all about.

Held in a convention hall with the all the austere ambiance of an abandoned warehouse, Game Market had… well, games.  A lot of them; stacked up on folding tables with price tags.  Admittedly, most of this had no meaning to me but it was still pretty awesome to see people excited, toting around impossibly full bags of board game boxes.  There were a few people in fancy costumes – of note, a potentially cross-dressing willowy Victorian maid – but for the most part just back-pack toting types.  In another area, a group of old men in happi were educating con-goes about a mostly forgotten Edo-era game consisting of hand symbols.  This was particularly appropriate given the stone’s throw proximity to Sensoji Temple.  And even more appropriate given the aforementioned maid’s dedicated study with one of the old guys.

I walked into the con with absolutely no expectations, but somehow from a distance spotted a board covered in tarot shaped cards.  The details were fuzzy, but rounded lines and a predominance of black and white indicated cute maids graced some of the cards.  A closer look only confirmed suspicions.  Of course, I bought it immediately without thinking.

The cards turned out to be DEARS Tsundere Tarot, scheduled for release June 12.  It has cool art, but otherwise a bit more contrivance in history than I care to recognize.  There were two varieties, and choosing the more “moe” of the two, I inevitable ended up with the “guys” version.  Which is fine.  It has better character design and none of the “fujoushi” connotations.

Tsundere means something like “prickly,” and is used to describe a character that inappropriately enacts intent – for example expressing affection in an antagonistic manner.  The tsundere in this instance is hopefully not the cards nor the fortune teller, but rather the enclosed CD voiced by the “Queen of Tsundere,” so styled because of her predominance of tsundere type voice acting roles.  Looking at the art style, tsundere seems only a projected gimmic to appeal to a larger audience.

Small Words for Little Big Planet

Perhaps one of the most anticipated titles for the PS3, Little Big Planet has had both gamers and critics alike raving for the past year. Making use of the “user generated content” buzz, Little Big Planet allows for players to essentially develop their own platform style level making use of a library of tools, objects, and images, which are then shared with the world via the PS3 network. Announced at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show, and scheduled for release October 21, some players were granted the privilege of beta testing from Sept. 29 – Oct. 12.

Little Big Planet begins with you, or rather your poppet, “Sack Boy,” running through a world of tutorials. In the English version, Stephen Fry provides the narration, though the Japanese version I’d like to say was narrated with equal hilarity if not wisdom. It is through these lessons that you begin to grasp at first how to maneuver your poppet, moving along into how to create your own game.

In addition to basic platforming functions, such as running, jumping, and grabbing items, the sackmen are also equipped to emote – be it intentionally or otherwise. Holding the L1 or R1 buttons allows the player to control the character’s arm movement using the analog sticks, while the d-pad controls facial expression. Based on the positioning of the six-axis controller, your sackman can hold its head in a variety of poses. This was particularly useful for head-banging in the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” musical level someone created, and rolling your head wildly with tongue a-mast to entertain players you just met on the online network. The hilarious downside to controlling head positioning via the six-axis is that your poppet will incidentally reflect your gaming posture – in this player’s case, the poppet often looked downward and dejected.

Multi player in LBP can be incredibly fun when making use of these puppeteering functions. In addition to looking foolish, you can attempt to dance, smack other players across the screen, or bawl when you don’t get first place in the race to the finish. You can bawl when you get first place, too; why not. Sleeping gamers can be thrown into hazardous obstacles, or if none exist, simply dragged along for the ride. A variety of “stickers” can also be collected and used to decorate the scenery (and each other) as you wait for team members to catch up.

Level creation is fairly easy to grasp, and the tools themselves are incredibly vast. Musical levels, racing levels, puzzles, and classic platforming were some of the styles people created during the beta. Though in theory anyone could make a fun if not functional level, the serious downside to creation is time investment. Attempting to make a Lewis Carrol inspired game level, I chunked at least a full working day into the can, creating only 15 seconds of mildly entertaining play, albeit littered with original objects and art. However, inspiration seemed to be the primary theme, as most players made “Little Big” versions of Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, Metal Gear, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, and Shadow of the Colossus to name only a few. The cute rough-sewn and craft-like edge to many of the creation tools were also quite forgiving, softening need for perfection.

Overall, LBP seems like a decent game, surprisingly released in a timely manner. On this point, the developers deserve some credit, as unlike other PS3 titles, it will be released only just over a year since its initial announcement, and will look as cool as the demos promise. The product seems finished, and incorporates some moments of fun.

However, the cynic in me says that this is just the next step following You Tube, Myspace, 2ch, and Nico Nico Douga. User generated content, or UGC, has until this point been relatively limited to the hard old-fashioned internets. Taking the tools of the times and importing them into a platform gaming system, LBP is just opening the next can of worms. The propensity for beautiful creation is certainly out there, but the propensity for degenerate creation is even greater. If even in its beta stage, some creators plastered their levels with ads, just imagine when real advertisers start creating levels. Not to speak prematurely, but if you’ve ever wanted to play a panty-dance, LBP might be your big chance. Though I didn’t encounter any personally, there are already LB penis videos available, if that’s your thing.

Then again, perhaps I’m too pessimistic about the community.  During the many hours of play, I may have encountered some sub-par creations, but only a few that were in bad taste.  And levels that the player finds unsatisfactory can be left at any time.

To borrow some words from JD Salinger, “You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think that there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody will sneak up and write ‘Fuck you’ right under your nose.” With fun and friendly as the catch words in LBP’s marketing scheme, there is some sense of childhood bliss that the creators are attempting to tap, but these memories are embellished. This would be fine if I were playing the game for free, like most other UGC systems, but personally, throwing 6,000 yen into pool I think people are going to pee in seems like a waste of my time.

Indeed, I’m going to hope that my predictions are wrong and that the goodness of humankind will police itself in seemingly lawless lands. Perhaps one day, LPB will show me the light and I will repent. Perhaps one day, Sack Boy himself will guide me to deliverance. But perhaps for now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the show, and put my savings toward another title.  It will be a title where I’m paying the developers to make a game, and not paying to be a developer myself.

TGS Terror Alert – Expect to Wait

With the world’s most anticipated annual gaming event soon upon us, organizers recently announced that all attendees admitted to TGS on days open to the general public will be subject full baggage search. The move follows a similar decision by Comiket organizers last summer to ensure public safety amidst threats posted via BBS and internet rumors. In the wake of the Akiba Massacre, in which perpetrator Tomohiro Kato used internet forums to inform the world of his criminal intent before killing 7 people and injuring many others, organizers have been taking extra precautions to tighten security at otaku related events.

There will be a total of four baggage checks at TGS, all stationed at points of entry to the event. Despite (or perhaps due to) the one day extension implemented last year, making the event open to the public for a total of two days, attendance was sky high at approximately 120,000 people. Though this pales in comparison to the near 500,000 who attended Comiket, attendees should expect long lines and come early, familiarizing themselves with forbidden articles.

Though the list has not yet been made available in English, these articles include:

- Anything longer than 50cm (including cosplay accessories).

- Anything that can be used as or resembles a weapon over 6cm in length, such as guns, model guns, knives, scissors, and needles.

- Drugs, poisons, and other potentially lethal substances.

- Combustibles, explosives, fireworks, excessive amounts of matches or lighters, and other materials deemed highly flammable.

- Hammers, screwdrivers, and other tools.

- Alcohol.

- Anything dangerous to use in a confined space, such as bicycles, roller skates, skate boards, yo-yos, and balls.

- Anything else deemed potentially dangerous by the staff.

Source: Ota-suke

46th Amusement Machine Show – Are you amused?

The Amusement Machine Show is primarily an industry event held quietly behind closed doors. For two days, bigwigs discuss the mechanics of good gaming with specially selected “invitation only” guests. Judging by some of the less popular exhibits on the one public day, colorful gaming buttons and pristine gaming cabinets were some of the items in hot debate. Of course, at the end of these long days (presumably) being served by nervous booth babes in training, they all decide that the best way to get more gaming patrons is to offer a full day of free gaming for a 1,000 yen cover charge, rigging all of the UFO catchers to ensure one-time wins.

By far, this was the most obvious reason for the huge turnout. Many patrons carried multiple bags of prizes, greedily waiting in line again for yet another Hello Kitty, Disney, or Gloomy Bear win. This theory was backed by the express delivery service Kuro Neko Yamato conspicuously stationed at the exits. And though lines were likely shorter in the morning, as more and more patrons came to realize this scheme, waits quickly soared to hours and huge lines engulfed the complex. Overhearing a Nitele network reporter interview three middle aged women, each with three large tote bags overflowing with prizes, it became evident that some style of prize racketeering was definitely underway.

However, there were also a variety of other games – both new and old – available to any hand willing to wait. One of the UFO catcher style games that didn’t have a collectors’ edge was the Triple Catcher Ice by Atlus. Featuring a -25 degree Celsius inner cavity filled with small, individually packaged ice cream treats, and a three pronged claw to ensure a more fulfilling catch, this new innovation in crane game technology is sure to be a big hit this chilly winter. Deceptively mimicking a chimp research experiment in many ways, it will no doubt prove the ape’s capacity to forage for vital resources, drawn by pink metallic sheen and colorful buttons, in the coming months.

Another crane game oddity combined KRB1 miniature hobby robots with the prize hunting experience. Called Robocatcher, it actually debuted at the 45th Amusement Machine Show, winning first prize in the Popularity Category. The play mechanism involves a prize catching robot which walks around a flat arena littered with goods via a set of simple controls. Once the player has successfully used the robot to grasp a prize, they must then walk it over to the chute and drop it down to win. Though the game play is fast paced and invigorating, it has yet to make a big break into the amusement scene.

However, Robocatcher wasn’t the only older game to show its face. Banpresto’s amazing Senjou no Kizuna, originally released in 2005, made yet another appearance. Often dubbed the “Gundam Pod Game,” players are given the experience of piloting a Gundam from an actual cockpit. Using hands and feet to maneuver about a playing field with other human pilots, the objective is to damage the opponents’ army and overtake their base in 4 vs 4 battles which can include players from all over the country. Movements can be coordinated via headset microphones, and friends can play together so long as they start at the same time in the same arcade. In return, players are awarded points which can be used for upgrading and obtaining new Gundam for future battles. At this particular display, female assistants were wearing appropriately themed costumes, which added to the ambiance despite the disturbing array of pods.

One notable new release from Atlus combined shooting games with live ammunition. In Vulcan Wars, the player uses a simulated machine gun, which fires a series of yellow BB’s onto a projection screen. These are in turn rendered into environmental damage, affecting surrounding targets, vehicles, buildings, or dirt as the case may be.

Another new game that didn’t get much play was Street Fighter 4. Though the game is only testing at certain select arcades for the moment, one cabinet manufacturer used it as a display. Since the area wasn’t equipped to handle long lines, it allowed certain bold individuals to sit and play as long as they liked, to the disgust of others. On the other hand, 2-D fighting game Blazblue from Arc System Works, considered to be the spiritual successor of Guilty Gear, showed a lot of potential.

Of course, a good portion of the venue was dedicated to future toys and prizes, almost all of which were not available for photograph. Suffice to say, Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, Evangelion, Haruhi, Disney, and Sanrio all had extensive product lines. However, some of the more surprising comebacks were Cutie Honey, modeled after the 1990 design, and the classic Galaxy Express 999. From the latter series, in addition to character and train models, a life-scale replica of Emeraldas’s gravity saber is scheduled for release early next year. Also incredibly cute were a new line of stuffed Hello Kitties designed to resemble chocolate treats for a certain holiday coming this February. It was difficult not to try one.

It was in this area that we first encountered the product showcase girls getting in on the action, and enjoying whatever fruits there were to be had. However, they surprisingly walked freely throughout the venue on their breaks. Of note, this is in sharp contrast to other industry events. Indeed, it was precisely because of this that quite a few onlookers were able to witness the jewel of the crown: two sega booth girls playing punch-out despite high heels to relieve the stress of another long day’s hard work.

Jubeat for You

In promotion of the newest title in Konami’s Bemani series, 50 select game centers around Japan will be having public demonstration events for Jubeat (pronounced you-beat).

Released July 24 of this year, Jubeat joins the ranks of Dance Dance Revolution, Pop n’ Music, Beatmania, and other titles in the Bemani series. The series focuses on a musically integrated game experience, incorporating elements of dance and music creation. Jubeat features a series of 16 small LCD display screens arranged in 4×4 fashion. These screens dual as buttons which the player presses during game play in rhythm with the music as they illuminate. Unlike other Bemani titles, in which the player reads a screen and interprets musical notation through a peripheral instrument, the screen is essentially the instrument itself, prompting some players to compare game play to arcade classic “whack-a-mole.”

Public demonstrations in promotion of the game began August 16, and will last until mid October. Though no demonstration is planned for Akihabara, the closest event will be held near Shinkoiwa Station, about 15 min from Akihabara on the JR Sobu line, at Adores Game Center. The event will be held during operation hours September 20 and 21.

For more information please visit Adores Shinkoiwa, and the Official Jubeat Site.

For an online trial-play of Jubeat follow this link and click on the green button in the lower right corner.