Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Weird Sports Games 1 - RUNNING HIGH (Playstation, 1997)



Running High (1997 System Sacom)


I love weird sports games; particularly weird racing games, because the rules are so much simpler and more, let's say, malleable than your baseballs and footballs. Also, without being constrained to a specific setting like a regulation style playing field, racing games can throw all kinds of oddball ideas around. For this reason I like fantasy golf games a lot too!

Sure the settings are mostly window dressing, but sometimes the window dressing is so goofy it can make a relatively shitty game compelling. Case in point: Running High for the Sony Playstation.

...but the lows are very, very low

Here is the plot synopsis, from what I can gather by the (extremely difficult to read) text on the Options menu:

• In the year 2000 humans developed ALTAMET, a system that allowed the human brain to directly interface with machines.

• This led to the creation of robotic power suits known as Component Muscle. However, use of Component Muscle was deemed too dangerous to be used by just anyone due to the potential for criminal activity.

•Thus, Component Muscle was restricted to military use and in the ultimate Future Sport: RUNNING HIGH.

•None of this will come into play once the game starts.

The stages are few but look quite cool

So, a racing game! Actually, if you've played other foot-racers like Sega's Sonic R you already have a decent picture of how Running High plays. Like conventional racing games you move via an accelerate and brake button, rather than simply pressing up to go forward. However, because turning sharp corners at 300 MPH is hard even for cyborgs, you can initiate a power slide move by tapping accelerate again while leaning into a turn. 95% of the time this will lead to your runner slamming into a wall and pinwheeling their arms comically while your opponents fly by.

Futuristic

The power slide maneuver demonstrated by Mary, a purse-swinging secret character

In addition to the powerslide, players can press L1 or R1 to throw a haymaker to either side when an opponent gets too close. You can get away with ignoring this move, but it can help to slow other racers down to avoid an attack from behind. You also get a nice turbo boost that appears to charge up as you tackle corners during the race.


The most important move in any Runner's repertoire is the jump attack. Get close behind an enemy and a crosshair will appear over them. Press L1 or R1 at this time to vault over them, slowing them down severely and giving you a good boost ahead. This is a super satisfying move to pull off on a foolish CPU opponent.

If I were to tell you one of these guys was named Woody Winger, who would you assume it was?

These super tiny illustrations in the manual add some character to the game


Unfortunately, also like Sonic R, the controls in Running High are not very good. Moving feels weirdly stiff and the heavy speed loss when bumping into walls or getting hit by enemies is frustrating--placing higher than 5th requires some practice, and if you want to take 1st you'll need a measured touch to nail the jankiness of the power slide maneuver. The way you have to let off the run button to initiate the power slide is surprisingly fun though, and adds a welcome touch of depth to the game.

You'll also need some luck; your fellow racers are a bunch of complete assholes who do not hesitate to rubber-band up to you even if you're playing perfectly, and will use the Jump move to handspring right over your head while tossing off a rude comment for good measure. Making proper use of your turbo and jumping over your opponents too is absolutely essential.

WOODY WINGER


Here's a cool trick that videogames use even today: when a character is far enough away from the camera, they become simplified (whether it be losing their textures, becoming low-poly, etc) to save on processor power. Running High does this too, but it kicks in when the other characters are still quite close! I think it looks cute.

The other big issue I have with this game: it's one-player only. Chances are low that you'd be able to find another person willing to play it with you anyway, but the option is always nice in a racing game. There are only three tracks by default (and one unlockable one on  a cool asteroid station) but a decently hefty number of playable characters with their own stats, color scheme and physique. ALSO A BABY

BECOME AS GODS

BECOME AS GODS

BECOME AS GODS

Did you notice that the character select screen for Baby looks different than the Woody Winger screen? If you put in a code on the title screen (DOWN DOWN UP UP LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT) you go straight to what looks like an alternate (possibly beta?) character select menu with several new runners. Wonder why they left that in?
 


I love this game. The controls are bad, the graphics are goofy, your opponents cheat (and are just plain rude, one of them called me grandma) and it's single player only. However, the soundtrack is great and something about it just stuck with me--it's a weird as hell kusoge and surprisingly fun once you get the hang of the controls.

Oh, and Avex made a fully fucking produced rap song about the game which sometimes plays during races and you need to check it out directly:



If you can find it cheap (you will) give Running High a try! Maybe on emulator first.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Obscure 16-bit character: Grind McRoo (Sega Mega Drive, 1992)

How long has it been since I did a fake game cartridge? How long has it been since I posted regularly on this blog at all? Yikes.

Honestly, I've never considered myself much of a writer and though I do still make content here and there, most of it is consigned to my Twitter. My Twitter is excellent and you should be reading it. Follow my Twitter you cowards.

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A n y w a y, your boy is back again with GRIND McROO: SKATE NO BOUKEN! An excellent artist who goes by Grind3h on Twitter posted an adorable drawing of an old character of hers named Grind McRoo:

credit: twitter.com/grind3h, www.grind3h.com

A rollerblading dragon kangaroo? The first thought that came to mind was "forgotten 16-bit mascot game that never made it out of Japan" so I got down to business.




So we've got a couple issues here, the cartridge is obviously a western Genesis cart instead of a Japanese Mega Drive one. I was also not feeling nearly energetic enough to pixel any mockup screenshots for it (might try one later, though).

Overall though I really like how it turned out, and it was fun and rewarding to do a Japanese style package without the constraints of all the various logos and borders and other things that mess up their western box art!


Check out Allie's work at Grind3h.com and thanks for looking, as always. The theme of my next few posts will be "Weird Racing Games" (real games this time)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to make a lightbox for small photography (for about 9 bucks!)



Because I do most of my blog photography at night, my lighting rig usually consists of a couple of table lamps, a dark room and a sheet. You can certainly get some nice dramatic lighting this way, but sometimes you just need even all-over illumination without all the bullshit. Enter: my super cheap and bright light box!

YOU WILL NEED:


A copper wire LED light unit. (this one is battery powered, but I went with a plug-in one for my light box) You can either spend $15 on a 10-foot strand at the store, or you can go on ebay and find them as cheap as 6 bucks! I got this one--it's 30 feet long, has an included AC adaptor, and cost me 9 dollars with free shipping.  I went with bright white instead of soft white, to avoid any unwanted yellow cast on your subject.

Waaaahh, I'm'a in a giant nightmare carpet world



-A box. This one was free from the post office!
-Tape
-White paper/cardstock/whatever
-One larger piece of white paper for the bottom/curved backdrop (posterboard would work well, but I had some big printer paper)


First, tape your white paper on the sides, back and top of your box interior. This has two functions:

-The white will reflect light onto your subject better

-You won't get an orange cast from the plain brown messing up the colors in your photo. Reflected light is a killer sometimes! I've got a room with green walls, and anything I photo in there comes out green.


Now, tape your longer sheet of paper to the back wall of the box and let it curve down and out of the box. You now have a nice white void for your subject to sit in!


Here's the obnoxious part. Tape the LED light strand all about on the side walls and ceiling of your box. As you can see here I went with a series of spirals, snaking any remaining wire out of the box. Let's give it a try!


It may be ugly, but it's bright.


Here's Wario straight out of the camera and onto my computer. I didn't set my white balance to compensate for the lightbox! Do a search for how to do this if you don't know how to--otherwise you'll likely get green or blue tones in your photo. But look at the perfectly featureless background and even lighting!


Here he is with some touchups. My photoshop game is pretty weak though. Make sure to adjust your white balance for the lights you're working with!


Ruh-roh, I've found a problem with my plan. Shiny things get a hellacious glare, but the fix is simple! Just take some tissue, paper towel square, even another sheet of white paper and tape it up over the LEDs on each wall. Instant light diffusion--check it out.

I didn't do a very thorough job putting up the tissue but you get the idea, right?


Why stop there, though? Cut off the bottom of the box and put a piece of black glass (or whatever you want) underneath it and you've got a new setup! Use some non-reflective black fabric or colored paper for a new backdrop if you want, too. Easy to customize.

If you don't have any pro equipment I hope this helps you with your own blogging!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Setting the Stage: My Favorite "File Select" Themes

Outside of the title screen, nothing sets the mood for the player's upcoming adventure/fight for survival/round of tetris than a game's file select (or password) theme. Let's talk about them!

This will be a small selection of some of my all time favorites. Of course I love em because they're excellent, so chances are good that you love them too--don't expect too many deep cuts here. If you see one of your favorites though, why not give it a listen and take a trip down memory road with me?

I'm terrible at putting things in a specific TOP TEN order, so let's just say: these are the ones I like.



Klonoa - Inquisitive Waltz
What a great song to get you ready to play! The waltz timing and carefree tune is evocative of a fair or circus, and does an excellent job of tricking you into thinking that this is a totally lighthearted game that didn't make me cry at the age of 14.


Dragon Warrior (et al.) - Intermezzo
This one is totally iconic, and I respect Enix for sticking to their guns and making this the file select theme for EVERY game in the decades-old franchise (barring the first two entries, which had different music).

I won't say it completely fits the theme of a fantasy adventure, but it's a jaunty kind of tune that I guess would fit a tavern or some shit. The composition was done better in later games of course, but as it was my first real RPG, Dragon Warrior/Quest IV will always be my personal favorite.


Castlevania Bloodlines - Password Screen
Yikes--this one is at the top of the admittedly un-crowded list of "creepiest password themes".

I was tempted to put Symphony of the Night's operatic file select music here, but as I prefer "Creepy and Kooky" Castlevania over "Extravagant and Gothic" Castlevania style, this one gets the nod.


The Legend of Zelda - A Link To The Past (et al.) File Select
Does this one have a real name besides File Select?

Another tune that spans the entire franchise (again, aside from the first two!), this is a wonderfully memorable song in a series full of iconic music. It's brilliantly picturesque in a way; the gentle, hesitant piano melody combined with the simple harp accompaniment bring to mind the theme of eternal heroes and love that lasts throughout time. Very romantic. I don't think they could've done better than this one.

The theme has been iterated on many many times but the clean MIDI sound of the SNES version has always been my favorite!


Sonic The Hedgehog 3 - File Select
Switching gears to something completely different, here's Sonic 3. "File select" doesn't really come to mind when you think Sonic, does it...?

Sonic 3 takes place on Floating Island and the music is appropriately tropical in theme--I love that 16 bit marimba. Actually, there's not really anything else like this in the rest of the soundtrack, is there? Maybe that's why I've always liked it. It's unusually laid back for a Sonic game and kind of feels like the "waiting room" before you get down to business.



Faxanadu - Mantra
If I were a better writer I'd go on at length about how big an impression Faxanadu left on six year old me. A game that begins with the world already in ruin and a race of people facing extinction, full of monsters that are often alien (and sometimes straight up incomprehensible) and THIS MUSIC!!! I don't know if Faxanadu was even appropriate for me to even play. Maybe I'm overstating things since it was so traumatic to me back then? Look up the boss theme if you don't believe me--that shit was too much for a child to handle.

The mournful "Mantra" theme kind of makes you feel like you've lost before you've even begun the game. I have a vivid memory of burning the hell out of my tongue on Hamburger Helper while playing this game. It was "lasagna" flavor, but it didn't even taste like tomato, let alone lasagna. Wonder if they still make that flavor? It sucked



 Phantasy Star 2 - Step Up
Damn it I love this song. The bouncy Retro Anime Future aesthetic can be hard to pin down but Tokuhiko Uwabo's work on Phantasy Star II nailed it! Peak 80's Sega if I ever heard it.

I've always described the original Phantasy Star series as something that makes me nostalgic for a future that will never happen. Maybe there's a word for that in another language.


Got any favorite file select menu themes you like? Let me know.