|i·ro·ny (r-n, r-)|
n. pl. i·ro·nies
This morning I awoke to discover that the icicle lights hanging from my house had icicles hanging off of them.
It occurs to me that I never explained SNK and it's been done plenty before so I'll just keep it brief. Essentially, SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku, roughly "New Japanese Product") was a company that formed in 1978 to make Pachinko machines (a game somewhat like pinball). They moved on to video games in the early 1980's, hitting inital paydirt with Ikari Warriors. They chugged along like any good Japanese video game company, but it wasn't until 1989 when they made the move which at the very least insured their spot in immortality, if not their future.
They devised a game paradigm known as "Neo Geo" - a system based on a 32-bit processor (advanced at the time, seeing as how 16-bit consoles were just hitting the market). The original idea was to make Neo Geo arcade cabinets housing a "Neo Geo MVS" system. One of the things which tended to plague arcade owners was the need to constantly buy new arcade machines every time they wanted to change games. A consequence of this was the arcade owners would often just buy the most popular game and just leave it there forever (there's a reason they still have that Ms. Pac-Man machine at the Dairy Queen). A company called Deco looked to cut ROM chip costs and distributed the game Burger Time and others to load off of cassette tapes, a pleasant side effect of which was their ease in changing games. SNK marketed their Neo Geo MVS cabinets with the notion that the same cabinet could be used for multiple games. The cabinet was the generic red "NEO GEO" variety and the marquees and games could be changed by the operators themselves. For extra added fun they made versions of the cabinets which could hold two or four games, selectable by the player. This idea caught on, especially with owners of places which could only hold a few games (like bowling alleys or pizza parlors).
Years later SNK fancied a go at the home market. However they had experienced quite a bit of freedom with their format. Cartridge ROM is expensive (which is what drove Deco to use cassettes) but the prices they could charge arcade owners (who would go on to make more money off of game plays and save money buy buying cartridges instead of cabinets) covered this cost, allowing for huge games with lots of large characters and colors. However, the average consumer didn't want to pay a lot of money for their home games, so either the games would be expensive or they would have to be scaled down. For that matter, the hardware itself wasn't too cheap either. SNK unveiled the Neo Geo Home System in 1991. It contained hardware identical to the arcade system and played games roughly identical to the arcade game, though with a different form factor to keep those markets separate. The cartridges even used the same ROM image - SNK just programmed the games to figure out if they were on a console or on an arcade board. The cost for the system? Around $600. The cost for the games? $250+ each. At these huge prices, whoever could buy them? Well, SNK ruled out the "passive consumer" as their target demographic. Their Neo Geo Home System was aimed squarely at the rental market (remember, Blockbuster pays ~$80-$100 for video titles not sold to the public for $20) and the hardcore hobbyist.
In 1993 SNK decided there might in fact be a market for an affordable version of their system, so they unveiled the Neo Geo CD system, which cost $350 (the hardware had gotten cheaper, but CD-ROM drives were still expensive) and games on CD for $50. This was at the dawn of the CD gaming "revolution", so there were only minute additions to the games and the main usage of space was the redbook audio CDDA tracks. I recently found a site with ISO's of these games and some of them had DVD-like extras (such as an art gallery) but for the most part the lone reason they were on a CD was due to cost. If the Neo Geo CD was supposed to take off big, it never did.
SNK of course was the main developer for their own systems. They had a habit of suffering from "version of" syndrome, but their "version of" the reigning king Street Fighter 2, King of Fighters developed it's own cultlike niche, and the game was released yearly (King of Fighters '94,King of Fighters '95, etc.) until SNK's close in 2000. SNK was extremely effective in belting out fighting games and some other franchises went over as well, but in 1998 they unveiled Metal Slug and it was instantly hailed as one of the best Neo Geo games, and certianly the most original title SNK ever came up with (even though it was developed under a 2nd party, Nazca). Three more Slugs (2, X and 3) were released over the years and all did well, sales-wise.
SNK dabbled with handheld gaming, taking on the 800 lb. Game Boy Gorilla with their Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Owing nothing to the father hardware other than name, it had 16-bit graphics, SNK franchises (including two Metal Slug titles) and Capcom and Sega as developers. However it had a difficult time penetrating retail markets in the U.S. in it and pulled it, a first sign of trouble.
SNK apparently liked to bite off more than it could chew. Apparently a part of its operating startegy was to do whatever it wanted to, regardless of risks, and if they went broke they declared bankruptcy until they could get their affairs in order. They declared that form of bankruptcy which allows you to go on operating until your operation goes totally broke or gets its act in gear. Apparently this last time the magic ran out.
SNK closed at the end of October. There's still legions of fans and people clamoring for Neo Geo titles and hardware and there's still some new titles (like Metal Slug 4 and King of Fighters 2001) under the wings of different developers for the original MVS hardware, but the company with more developer talent than business sense is gone.
In the meantime I'm gonna get my Metal Slug 3 on.
Years ago there was this movie called The Piano. It was the one where Holly Hunter was a mute woman with an abusive husband in a Victorian era who can only communicate by playing a piano which washed upon the shore one day. I guess the best category for it would be "artsy fartsy". It was up against Schindler's List in the Oscars and mostly lost. However, while all the critics loved it and most said it should have won best picture, no one I've ever talked to who watched it has ever had anything good to say about it. My mother watched it and said it was horrible. So if it was so bad, why did the critics like it? I believe there is a phenomenon in the movie industry where critics are "supposed to like" certain films. Was The Piano any good? From what I've heard, no. So why do the critics like it? Because they're supposed to. Is Woody Allen a great film maker? No. So why do the critics love his films? Because they're supposed to.
So a Dreamcast game was released Christmas of last year called Shenmue. It had been in development for close to four years. It had a budget in the millions. It had even originally been conceived for another platform, the Sega Saturn. It came out and instantly most critics proclaimed it the best game ever. Daily Radar did (right after saying the same thing about Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2). Next Generation gave it the 5-star treatment. dreamcast.ign.com gave it a 9.7, and the Official Dreamcast Magazine gave it a perfect 10 (though they did give that one out a lot). OK, so I'll bite - I got the game.
So I fire up this game. It's got a cool into and it sets a nice initial mood. Then I go exploring my house in the game. One of the really big deals about this game supposedly is how realistic it is. Every room in your house can be explored. Every room in your house has something with drawers. Every drawer can be opened. Every drawer has something different in it. Every character you run into you can talk to. Every character has something different to say. Every character has a different voice. Every location in the game is detailed this way. Suffice it to say this was an ambitious project. There's a vending machine you can buy drinks from and drink them. There's people to buy stuff from. There's a cute kitten to save. And the coolest - there's an arcade where you can play emulated old Yu Suzuki games (the creator of Shenmue as well).
But this is where it breaks down. Everything I've done in the game (so far) has been of the "go here and talk to this guy and ask him this" variety. Problem #1 - the world is huge. Problem #2 - the characters don't stay put and they are only at certain places in certain times of the day and only when you've already talked to someone else. Problem #3 - every sign on every house and street is in Japanese. You can of course go up to them and look at them closely and the English translation pops up, but this is tedious and it's hard to remember where the hell anything (the streets tend to look the same).
And there's other problems as well, mainly with the voice acting. It sucks. The original Japanese game was in, well, Japanese. They went back and forth on whether or not to put this one out with subtitles or redubs of the voice. They went with dubs but since all the characters in the game are Japanese it made sense to have Japanese people who speak English as a second language do the voices. However the low sampling rate means that the words tend to slur a little bit, so add to that the natural slur of the Japanese accent and it's hard to make anything out. Finally, combine all of this with the fact that the actors they picked were just awful and they sound like they were instructed to yell into the microphone as loudly as possible, and you see why many people wish they would have just subtitled the game.
But the big problem is the amount of stuff to do. Sure, it makes the game more realistic, but it makes it boring, or at least as far as I got into it. I can wander around aimlessly anywhere. It's been a year now since I touched the game and I've always meant to get back to it, but why? Well first off is the fact that I actually thing there's a good game to be had, if I can find it. But ultimately I think that this is one of those games where you're just "supposed" to like it. I want to play and like this game because I'm "supposed" to. And all the critics address the fact that this is an unconventional game and that's great and all, but it's not any good - that doesn't make up for being unconventional.
And to make things worse, many people were turned off by the pseudo-episodic nature of it. The basic premise is that the main character, Ryo, witnesses his father's murder at the hands of a gang and goes on a quest to solve the murder and why it happened. But here's the rub - at the end of the game you still won't know why. The reason is because Shenmue isn't finished - it was envisioned as an episodic RPG of sorts with 16 chapters (16 games). That has since been scaled back a bit, the first game covers two chapters and the second game, Shenmue II, covers four, so there's ten chapters to go. Shemnue III has been greenlighted but will not hit the Dreamcast for obvious reasons.
And even worse - Sega released Shenmue II in Japan and made a big hubbub about the game's release in the U.S. Namely, in the efforts of cost effectiveness and timeliness they decided to do the subtitle bit for the sequel. However then they turned around and announced they weren't going to release it in the U.S. after all but instead put it on the XBox in Fall 2002. However in the U.K., where two consoles weren't just launched, they decided to go ahead and release it, so now everyone who wants to play this game on the system they already have has to import it (the game plays in NTSC as well). Insane.
And yet after I write this and go home for the day, I think I'll fire up Shenmue and give it one more try...
First off, I wrote 90% of the 20th's post and never published it, so when you're finished reading this post go ahead and read the one right under it.
With that out of the way, I watched the Harry Potter movie over the weekend. Workable stuff. Having read the book right before I saw it, it's interesting - it follows the book pretty closely, which means most of the suspense and crap was ruined for me. Yet I'm glad I read the book first, it's a good feeling walking out of the theater thinking to yourself all the things they left out of the movie that were in the book (not that many, but you know). Lord of the Rings is next.
Thank GOD all the freaking consoles are out. No more hype. No more speculation. No more pages of my favorite Imagine magazines wasted on promoting that XBox magazine. People I know love to ask me which one I'm getting and they always seem shocked to discover I'm buying neither this season. Instead whatever exteraneous funding I recieve this Christmas is going towards PC upgrades. A GeForce 3 200 Titanium (the budget power video card) and WinXP. Probably a game or two as well. I did the "bust your ass to get the console ASAP" thing with the PS2 and in the past year I've bought ONE game. Not worth it to buy two more consoles when most of the console games I could want fit snugly on the PS2 anyway.
When I played Return to Castle Wolfenstein at QuakeCon I was disappointed to see that the logo of the Nazi's wasn't a swastika, but this sort of phoenix/double eagle thing. It's no fun blasting Nazis if you can't see the right logo when you're plugging away at them. As an example this weekend I was able to convince my parents to buy a Dell system and have it delivered to their house. As an example, when my dad asked what all the system could do I detailed some of it but I told him it probably couldn't run many games. He asked me "well can we blow away the Nazis?", referring the old Wolfenstein 3-D game. However this morning I discovered that it's only the multiplayer game which bars the swastikas, the single-player component keeps them. What's happened here is that the game contains only the "double eagle phoenix" in Germany (where if it had the swastika it couldn't be sold, something they learned with the original game), so the multiplayer component in all games has the swastika removed from the muliplayer game so that everyone is playing the same game online. Clever, but I betcha the game still gets banned in Germany - it's not too flattering to that country.