Aven Colony – review

In a forward-thinking act of organisation that’s made my wife suspicious I’ve been replaced by a Pod Person, I’ve made a To-Do list for my week off work. Because nothing says ‘I value my free time’ like a To-Do list.

It ranges from the fairly important personal projects (‘write a pilot script’) to actual scheduled slacking off (‘knock off my Netflix queue’). I must confess that I’ve made the list partly to avoid the inevitable; checking out the No Man’s Sky update on PS4. You’d be amazed how long I’ve spent on this game since it launched without deciding whether it’s actually been worth my while, so probably best not to waste more time trying to find out.

So, to get my sci-fi gaming fix I’ve been playing Aven Colony, a modest city-building sim from Team 17. Early impressions give me a vibe that’s very much Tropico-in-space, so it’s fair to say I’m intrigued.

aven1

Aven Colony gameplay

Aven Colony takes place on what’s presumably a planet called Aven, a planet of varying climates and conditions. You play the leader of the colonising forces, as you rise through the ranks to oversee ever more difficult settlement situations.

Starting with the lander module, an outpost or two and some basic utilities, you’re tasked with expanding your colony to support a larger population, which starts to be shipped in once you’ve met some of the basic targets.

It’s pretty easy to get going, and runs just like your typical city-builder, as you adjust staffing levels, mine for resources and turn them into nanites – the currency which is used to have your construction drones 3D-print your base’s next addition.

Meet your colonists’ needs for things like Air Quality and Morale, with the appropriate installation of air vents and bars, and make sure their daily commute is easy with enough interlocking tunnels between their home and their work. (This is ridiculously important to them – but if you lived in a hermetically-sealed series of tubes on some alien planet you’d probably feel the same way too; a win for realism if not game mechanics.)

aven2

The planet has a few of its own natural defences which add some intrigue; time is divided into seasonal periods, including winters which freeze the ground and make your farms less efficient. If the food quality and quantity drops, so does colonists’ morale. On top of that there’s lightning storms, toxic gas emissions and even the odd space-plague to contend with.

And then there’s the Referendums – the 50% approval rate which you must exceed in order to stay on as the colony chief.

Step up your colony’s survival stats and you’ll grow enough to explore the rest of the planet – with ancient ruins to be uncovered and new colonists to rescue from their planetary problems.

Replay value

It’s all quite good fun and fairly immersive, but the main issue I’m having with Aven Colony is just how arbitrary it all is. Tropico 5’s far more complex system – one which still has me going back to tinker with the roads and distribution routes every now and then – offers high replay value. Here on Aven you’re presented with a set of overlays to denote happiness, air quality and commute times across the colony. Sad face? Add a park. Air quality alert? Build an air filter nearby. And that’s about it – random catastrophes aside, but even those are fixable provided you’ve got enough nanites to spare and some space to build in an affected area.

aven3

Having the resources to fix these issues as they crop up does admittedly take some degree of careful planning – to build on the colony you need nanite generators, and to open mines for which to fuel their generation. If there’s not enough workers and enough housing evenly spread across the complex then they stay closed. Conversely, you’ll be all out of nanites if you get too construction-happy, and that leads to various power outages, random blowouts and steep drops in morale. And so to that end, there’s a fair bit of juggling required before you can start shipping in new colonists.

However, if you’re at all familiar with the city builder you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, and disappointingly, as the story beats take their time to play out. The dreaded Referendum mechanic didn’t actually worry me at all (on Normal difficulty setting) – at this point of the game I’ve had no fear of dropping under even 70% just because I haven’t neglected any of the urgent pop-ups which…pop up to tell me there’s a problem with housing or air quality.

There’s little variety to proceedings – while the main construction objective is a staple of the city building simulation, be it a Space Program or in this case, usually an Expedition Centre, there’s usually more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. But here it’s a frustratingly endless extension of long-running tunnels, interrupted by the odd housing block and a workplace.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses – there’s alien secrets to be uncovered and some potential sabotage/espionage going on from within. And given the lo-fi indie value of the game I’m always impressed when a non-AAA title provides so much good stuff. Aven Colony provides some good game time, but it’s far from the best city builder I’ve played.

Five For Friday: Strange Video Game Product Placements

Five For Friday continues with a look at some of video gaming’s most corporate moments. Ever wondered why Lara Croft only drinks Lucozade? Well, that’s probably not true but she got paid to pretend otherwise in the late 90s.

five for friday video games product placement

As you read these words I’ll be staring at paintings in Le Louvre. Or maybe fretting at the price of the lift up the Eiffel Tower. Or maybe my legs hurt from too much walking and I’m watching TV in my hotel room. Any way you slice it, I’ll be in Paris, so enjoy this brand spanking new Five For Friday while I’m gone.

Video games: for so many people an escapist dream. A chance to live vicariously through space marines, archaeologists and…erm, skateboarders. Probably the last thing you want to see when booting up a game is to be bombarded by advertising, but product placement has been an issue for decades now. Whether it’s the chance to add some brand realism to proceedings, or just a company trying to make up the shortfall of whatever budgetary black hole their game production has climbed into, we see it happening all the time.

While in some games, the ads make some semblance of sense, in others they’re out of place and altogether weird. Here are five games which went firmly latterways.

Pushover (1992)

This didn’t happen if you played it on the SNES, but us Amiga players were treated to a weird enough prelude to this classic domino puzzler; a cartoon crisps mascot known as Colin Curly dropping his treasured packet of Quavers down into an ant hill, and enlisting the help of the game’s main character to help him out.

pushover quavers video game

There he is, the clumsy fool. Fortunately this bizarre intro doesn’t have too much bearing on the rest of the game, as presumably it would’ve been too difficult to remove for the SNES port. Pushover was actually a fiendishly difficult but fun game – and to be fair, I still bloody love Quavers, always have.

Cool Spot (1993)

When your soft drink starts losing ground on its competitors, what do you do? Make it taste nicer? No, just bin off the humanistic mascot and replace him with a red dot with arms and legs. Poor Fido Dido, and poor us for being subjected to a Mega Drive platformer starring a red dot as the mascot for an inferior lemon/lime drink.

Long before the days when junk food was banned during children’s TV ad breaks, they were able to create video games to promote their brand! Cool Spot was first released on the Mega Drive, which leads me to believe that they weren’t always pushing for that mature audience which Mortal Kombat would deliver them.

McDonaldLand (1992)

For beleaguered parents and their fast food-craving kids, this for me was pretty much a low.

“As a licensed product for the McDonald’s fast food franchise, the game occasionally features the various logos and characters from McDonald’s restaurant signage and television advertisements, for the purposes of plot advancement and power-ups.”

mcdonaldland video game product placement

I’m unsure if we actually owned a copy of this atrocity on our Amiga during the 1990s, but I definitely played enough of it to know that…they should’ve stuck to the burgers. I’m fairly outraged that they could even get away with this stuff, but as long as it’s all happy happy nicey nicey EAT MCDONALDS jolly jolly, then nobody will have been too concerned. Why is it that the moral majority was so up in arms about violent video games being illegally sold to underage customers, but nobody bats an eyelid about selling this shit?

Zool (1992)

As another blatant product placement, Zool is fairly indefensible, with very, VERY prominent signs for Chupa Chups lollies clogging up every single screen in the game. However, at the tender age of eight I was prepared to overlook this because it was bloody fun to play.

zool chupa chups product placement

Despite this, The Ninja From The nth Dimension was a very tough game to play. Looking back now, it appears that 1992 had a lot to answer for with three of the four games listed so far responsible for polluting my tiny mind with in-game advertising. Hell, I feel silly enough now just pressing to watch the ads on AdVenture Capitalist to gain a 2x bonus, let alone expose my much more vulnerable seven-year old mind with this filth.

Enter The Matrix (2003)

This is the only one off the list I haven’t actually played, and with good reason: you’ve seen those last two Matrix films, right? Nuff said.

But the choice of tie-in product is especially strange for the video game adaptation of the Most Unwatchable 66% Of A Trilogy Ever. When you’ve had a hard day running through virtual world and trying to stay alive against virulent agents, what do you do?

the matrix video game powerade product placement

…drink Powerade? Really??? This kind of thing works much better inside the cartoonish worlds of Pushover and Zool; hell, even McDonaldLand is a feel good fun time in spirit, but this particular endorsement in this particular tone of game really just brings you out of it, doesn’t it?

My hatred for the Hatred video game trailer

Destructive Creations creates something destructive…to my attention span.

“My genocide crusade begins here…” says the lead character of upcoming PC game Hatred, as he gears up with guns, grenades and a knife before opening his front door and unloading clips into his enemies.

Hatred video game Destructive Creations

That’s a fine way to kick off a game – your hero, surrounded, realises that the only way out is to blast his way out against the armed forces outside to complete his holy mission – but the armed forces aren’t armed. They’re not even forces. They’re innocent passers-by.

And that is just the beginning of a needlessly violent gameplay trailer which also appears to be the full extent of your objectives: kill and maim unarmed, innocent humans who do nothing but run from your (unnamed, not mysterious) character.

(WARNING: The trailer below contains loads and loads of senseless violence, including some up-close uses of knives and shotguns.)

 

Is it good? I can’t deny there’s a certain appeal to how it looks. I never watched much WCW but if these graphics were a wrestler, they’d be 1997 Sting with a baseball bat.

Is it art? Fuck, no – but a lot of games don’t get flattered with that label either and I still see them as valid and satisfying modes of storytelling, diversion and various other chin-stroking criteria.

So far, so offensive and completely tasteless; but according to Hatred developer Jarosław Zieliński from Destructive Creations, video games “used to be considered a rebellious medium”. In stating this, we hark back to the likes of Doom and Postal: two games which certainly got a lot of mainstream media attention for their content which was both heavily violent and all too vivid thanks to developing technology.

Games: a rebellious medium

While I would definitely consider games a rebellious medium due to the ways they got various governments all up in arms during the 1990s – I’m loath to mention that the Columbine killers were incidentally big fans and accomplished Doom level builders – the idea that Hatred is trying to jolt us out of some cutesy-cutesy groove that we’re supposedly all into these days is ridiculous, as Zieliński says games are “losing that [rebellious] factor and just trying to fit in the nice and sweet pop-culture.”

To go with that train of thought for a second. If Hatred was an industrial album recorded by Al Jourgensen, produced by Trent Reznor and played live by Pitchshifter, then it absolutely would prove a striking contrast to all that twee folksy crap we’re being subjected to in adverts lately. And while it would prove to be a hell of an album in itself, I don’t think it would have the same mass appeal that girls singing ukulele-led Joy Division covers seems to have lately.

And, much like the creative and commercial peak of industrial music – despite the level of talent on offer – a game this needlessly violent and nihilistically bleak really does belong back in the mid-1990s.

For a start, we’ve seen worse things at the cinema in the past ten years! The first Saw and Hostel films proved to me that there was a market for the bleak torture-porn genre – these were both released almost a decade ago now. A hundred million sequels, rip-offs and clones later and it’s only now that we’re seeing it start to bore off. The perpetrators of the horrible acts in those films were, for the most part, sick sadistic souls with narrative motive.

Even villains need a motive

And speaking of motives, we’ve also had much more valid demonstrations within video gaming itself, as well as some equally invalid. While I admit I’ve had fun needlessly shooting up the citizens of Liberty City during the Grand Theft Auto series, this only happened whenever I’d failed a mission, got bored or – very rarely – booted it up just to do it for fun and burn off some frustration, all safely within the confines of a self-reflexive, detached and tip-of-a-wink in-game environment.

(And while I admit I cannot possibly defend ‘No Russian’ in Call of Duty, nor do I want to – that game is morally near-bankrupt as it is without the senseless civilian violence mission.)

Zieliński and his fellow developers may well be bored of the ‘nice and sweet pop-culture’ that we’re currently in the midst of creating and being sold, but I would argue that the reason it’s going on in the first place is that we’ve already had enough of what he’s trying to sell us in spades since the mid-90s – and all carried off much more effectively too.

What he claims is his own reaction to the cutesy stuff of late I would argue is their actually missing the boat in the first place – when realistic, non-fantastic guts and gore were even more commonplace in the mainstream than what we’re trying to live through now.

Earlier this week in a post for Geekocracy I feared that I’ve become desensitised in my late twenties – but a big yawn to the controversy this game’s creators are trying to whip up surely proves it.

Hatred hates itself. It hates people. It hates you. Don’t fall for it.

My Influential 15 Video Games

In which I make a list of 15 lifelong gaming inspirations. Only 15.

I was taking a stroll along the interwebs earlier this week when I discovered The Influential 15 listed by Isey at ihaspc, and decided to try and formulate my own list of the 15 video games which had the most impact on my life. One of the few rules specifically states that I can’t take too long figuring it out.

But think about it: only 15 games?

Sadly, I broke that rule by a good hour or so as I tried to jog my memory by googling and youtubing various sources. Although I was happy with my original 15, a cursory bit of research blew almost half of them out of the water so I am glad I took the time, really. I wanted more entries from the ZX Spectrum and Amiga; the two platforms on which I played my earliest games, as well as to take out stuff from the current generation; the Mass Effect trilogy and Fallout 3 are some of my all-time favourites but I think I only have that appreciation in the first place because of my current tastes.

This list is much more important than current taste. So here it is – in chronological order of release and not necessarily when I played them.

 

Chuckie Egg 2

ZX Spectrum

1985

Chuckie Egg 2 ZX Spectrum

Although the prequel is more fondly remembered, I have some fond memories of my own with this game. Released in 1985, I associate it closely with Saturday afternoons when the football scores were being announced on TV.

 

Postman Pat

ZX Spectrum

1988

Postman Pat ZX Spectrum

An obvious spiritual predecessor to the Grand Theft Auto series, the game of the children’s TV classic had you racing against the clock to make postal deliveries to the good folk of Greendale.

 

Treasure Island Dizzy

ZX Spectrum

1988

Treasure Island Dizzy ZX Spectrum

The second in the series of adventure games starring the heroic egg. This particular one was absolutely impossible to solve which is why it sticks so well in my memory.

 

Tetris

Game Boy

1989

Tetris Game Boy

Because, Tetris! And also for all the reasons given in my Tetris post over at Literally Geeky.

 

Super Mario Bros 3

NES

1991

Super Mario Bros 3

Try all you like, but in a list like this you’re only going to name either the plumber or the hedgehog, not both. I’m calling it: I’m a Mario guy. This is the first game I really remember having to struggle to beat, and I still don’t think I ever have. Better go bust out my SNES when I’ve finished here.

 

Flashback

Amiga

1992

Flashback Amiga

The first real mystery of a game that I remember playing; with alien intrigue and some evil cyborgs, plus a unique graphic style and plenty of combat rolls.

 

Sensible Soccer International Edition

Amiga

1993

Sensible World Of Soccer 96-97

A football game that didn’t take itself seriously, and therefore absolutely the most fun one of all time, it’s actually been added to a list of All-Time Important Video Games by a panel of boffins from American universities. SWOS is still rock bloody solid though.

 

Frontier: Elite II

Amiga

1993

Frontier Elite II Amiga

My dad read a lot of sci-fi books, and all those covers of exotic alien planets and cool spaceships are a fond memory. This was the first game I ever played that opened up those doors to a universe full of possibilities. Especially when I learned how to land a ship safely.

 

Super Mario Kart

SNES

1993

Super Mario Kart SNES

It was between this and Road Rash for an ultimate racing game, but the fact that I still play updates of Mario Kart and the sheer amount of fun I had with the original makes this the clear choice.

 

Quake

PC

1996

Quake PC 1996

The first time I got a really good look at what was out there on home computers was Quake, and it was quite a jump for my 11-year old mind to make!  I much preferred its sequel when released, but this and Duke Nukem 3D really did a number on me in terms of ambitious first-person shooters.

 

Tekken 3

Playstation

1998

Tekken 3 Beach Ball Mode

While Street Fighter 2 was obviously the beat-em-up benchmark a few years previously, I think that Tekken 3 is a little more accessible and fun thanks to its superior hardware on the Playstation, plus the characters were just cooler.

 

Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding

Playstation

1999

Tony Hawk's Skateboarding PS1

We’ve covered this recently; this game was the precursor to my whole mid-teens in terms of music, culture and clothing. If it weren’t for this game and MTV’s Jackass, I wouldn’t still have a bump on my right foot that, ever so occasionally, cracks and puts me in agony for days.

 

The Sims

PC

2000

The Sims PC 2000

I can’t have been the only one with an addiction to this game at the turn of the millennium; but that was the beauty of such an ordinary-sounding game. Wish fulfilment was a big deal for players of a certain age; and having already had the chance to shake up theme parks and entire cities, the shift to attaining domestic bliss was a natural progression. I may revisit this game in the near future on the blog.

 

WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role

Playstation

2000

WWF Smackdown 2 Know Your Role

I’d played a lot of wrestling games before this one, but Smackdown 2 offered a new depth of customisation that the others were lacking. I loved being able to create a wrestler and run through an entire year’s worth of storylines and Pay-Per-View stipulation matches as the same guy; even if some of the storylines began to repeat themselves before we’d even hit Summerslam.

 

Grand Theft Auto 3

Playstation 2

2001

Grand Theft Auto 3 GTA3

One of the most notable early examples of what you could do with a sandbox game; I found the first two games somewhat lacking but this was an amazing example of reinvention that turned the franchise into what it is today. Also, Fernando is one of my personal heroes.

There you have it; 15 games that I like to think had a fair old impact on my life. I’d be interested to know how many of these are in your own top 15!

Happy 20th Birthday, Doom!

I can’t remember what I’d asked Santa to give me for Christmas when I was eight – although if I have the year right, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Powerloader and Corporal Hicks action figure from Aliens were involved – but if I’d known then what I knew now, I’d certainly have been a well-behaved boy if I’d asked for Doom instead.

Doom video game

The classic first-person shooter was first released on the 10th December 1993, and solidified its creators, id Software, as the innovators of video game design. They’d already caused a bit of a stir with their previous effort Wolfenstein 3D but their next full release was the first to realise the vision which is still celebrated 20 years on through popular FPS games like the blockbusting Call of Duty and Halo franchises.

Looking back on the game now, it’s clearly showing its age when put up against just about anything we’re seeing on the XBox and Sony consoles, but for its time it was something pretty special; the Shareware boom allowed fringe game creators cursed by a lack of decent storage media and no hard copy distribution deals to release their games by mail order in episodic instalments, much like we see now from the likes of TellTale Games – only these days it’s by choice. A neat idea picked up by Apogee’s Scott Miller among others, the first taste was free – and as gamer reaction to the opening levels to Doom would testify, it spread like wildfire. Awestruck by the 3D elements and otherworldly chilling sound effects, players across the world did their best Phillip J. Fry impression as they overwhelmed the BBS network to which the original demo had been uploaded, urging id founders John Carmack and John Romero to shut up and take their money for the remaining episodes.

If you need any more clues as to just how popular Doom was in the big wide world of 90s computing, well, here’s Bill to tell you more in a video screened exclusively at the Windows 95 launch party to talk about how his new system can handle video games.

(I know it’s blurry, but that really is Bill Gates.)

There’s a great interview on Wired today with original lead programmer and former id boss, John Carmack, who left the company he founded last month to take up a position with Oculus. Never one to rest on his laurels, Carmack is now heading up what many are calling the next big thing in hardware.

And if you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly recommend Masters of Doom by David Kushner – a brilliant insight into 90s geek culture as seen through the eyes of the major players at id Software.

So there you have it. Guts, gore, and graphics which for their time were revolutionary. Happy 20th Birthday, Doom!

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri – beautiful retro gaming at its tyrannical finest.

Sorry for the lack of posts after what turned out to be a chock-full week last week here at Alpha Signal Five.

See, I’ve started playing this game and it’s kicking my arse in the best way. Did you ever have that thing where you go to bed and stare at the ceiling, but all you can see is Angry Birds, or Tetris blocks, or spreadsheets for those particularly unlucky buggers who work in office jobs?

smac1

Well since I bought this game on Saturday, I’ve been seeing Formers, and Missile Penetrators, and yes – I’ve been seeing the unruly face of Colonel Santiago; mocking me with her cavalier attitude towards diplomacy.

I bought Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri for like, a pound, on gog.com, and ever since then it’s been tough going. Yesterday I went on a training course for work to help me with my time management skills, and while the nice lady talked about Time Robbers, and drawing a Prioritisation Chart, I had to really concentrate as hard as I could so that my mind wouldn’t wander off to the planet called Planet.

My word, is this an addictive game. Start off by choosing which of the seven (eventually) warring factions you wish to take charge of as they land on this new world, the last of Humankind wishing to accomplish their planetary goals – from the Despot to the Survivalist, the Academic to the Earth Mother. I went with Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang (Human Hive) – partly because his name was cool but partly so that I could get some sweet tech built faster.

Send out scout troops and land formers to create surroundings in which to build your first colonies. Then, as your forces develop and learn new skills, put them to use by pursuing your goals – be they academic, economical or…er, blowy-uppy.

As you begin to build (or destroy) relationships with the other factions, the whole thing turns into a big long game of chess which I can’t get enough of. Despite the fact that it’s rather an old game – released in 1999! – I’m surprised how much I love the gameplay and simple graphics.

I don’t know how I missed this game in the past, but now that it’s here, and for the good of my career, I think I need to control myself; show some self-restraint.

 

Sod it. I’m gonna play it right now. Obviously.

A Tune For Tuesday: from Deus Ex

When the original composer of a game teams up with the talented people at OCRemix, you know you’re in for something special. And that’s what happened when, according to the YouTube page, “Eidos Montreal Studios teamed up with OverClocked ReMix and the composer of the original Deus Ex, Alexander Brandon, to release 8 remixed tracks from the game.”

Here then, inspired by the original Deus Ex music, is The Search For Ambrosia by Zircon & Jillian Aversa:

ESRB to release new awareness campaign

“So tell your folks: ‘buy me Bonestorm or GO TO HELL!”

Bonestorm_FIN

This is exactly the kind of sick twisted evil that the new campaign from ESRB is aiming to end. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has this week announced a series of TV, radio and online ads targeting the parents of young precocious gamers to try and make them a bit more discerning when it comes to buying a new game.

Senator John Thune said “[t]he video game industry makes games for people of all ages, but that doesn’t mean all games are appropriate for everyone.” It’s a message that, unfortunately, some people still don’t seem to grasp.

Over here in good old Blighty, I’m unaffected by the ESRB but instead, all ads for games on TV are now prefaced by a weird voice proclaiming “PEGI 18” (18 being the rating for the new Tomb Raider game for example). I couldn’t even tell you what PEGI stands for. Except that it stands for ruining the fun of teenagers everywhere.

According to an IGN article, 30% of parents surveyed in the States do not ensure that the game they’re allowing their kids to play is appropriate for their age; it’s actually a pretty shocking statistic if you think about it.

Having just read that book about id Software, I can see why developers struggle against these ratings; but the fact is that initial post-Columbine investigations, not satisfied with pointing the finger squarely at Romero, Cormack and probably Marilyn Manson or somebody, asked that the games industry regulated itself for shocking content or else they’d face government regulations.

Whatever the new ads end up being, I hope they’re a hell of a lot more useful than this one:

 

“Aww mooooom, I wanna fight ninjas and shit!”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.

Shenmue 3 could be on the way

Two words: Shenmue 3.

ShenmueDCbox

Amazingly brill news for you retro-types this week, as a tweet from a Canal+ reporter says that iconic games creator Yu Suzuki is thinking of releasing a new chapter in the Shenmue saga. (I assume it does anyway, as other news sites ran with such a story; I don’t speak French and there’s quite a telling spelling mistake in there so, for all I know, that tweet might say “Yu Suzuki declares he’s thinking about having a crown to wear produced through Kickstarter, instead of Shenmue 3.

Everyone I know that played the first Shenmue game for the Sega Dreamcast fell in love with it. And I truly mean everyone. Never have I heard the word ‘meh’ or worse when discussing the 1999 JRPG which regularly appears in many publications’ all-time Top 100 lists.

(A wave of DC memories comes flooding back to me at this point; the scoreboard on Virtua Striker being too small to say “Golden Goal” in full after a drawn game so shortening to “G-Goal” as extra time began; that bloody VMU which you could remove from the controller and do…well, close to absolutely nothing with on its own; the near-obsession of a school-friend of mine who would physically challenge anyone who had something bad to say about the console. Good times.)

At its heart, Shenmue was an adventure game following Ryo as he tried to find those responsible for and avenge his father’s death while seeking out a legendary…erm, mirror. What really made the game was its open-world exploration; a clear forerunner to GTA3 and the like, Shenmue was a beautifully-made game which, like the Dreamcast it played so nicely on, was years ahead of its time.

Unfortunately, being years ahead doesn’t automatically attract an audience. The already-struggling Dreamcast couldn’t capitalise on Shenmue’s disheartening sales and, according to this interview with Suzuki, the game cost about $70 million to make (although he has since lowered the estimate to about $47 million, still nothing to sneeze at) – with no chance of recouping the losses, SEGA still went ahead and published a sequel, which was even less commercially successful and now rather rare.

So the current deal is: Suzuki owns a studio and works as a special advisor for SEGA, although he hasn’t updated the studio site in ages and SEGA is little more than a t-shirt printer at the moment. His last attempt to visit Shenmue in 2010 resulted in a very unsuccessful social networking game. He still wants to make a third chapter in the story, which would then be rounded out with an anime or manga, and could look to Kickstarter to get the project off the ground.

As long as he doesn’t end up asking for another $50 million, I have high hopes that we’ll see the return of Ryo – once all that messy rights ownership stuff gets sorted out.

Violent arcade games removed from Mass. service stations

The knee-jerk reaction kicked into overdrive earlier this month – and I can’t believe I missed this story because I do love getting all knee-jerky to these things myself. First something happens, then you get the overly unnecessary outcry, then you get my outcry to the outcry. I’m like the Inception of public decency.

We’re back to the children, and the people not thinking of them, as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has removed nine arcade games from four service stations near to Newtown, the town which suffered those completely reprehensible murders at its primary school in December – including “Time Crisis, Beach Head 2000, and an unnamed shooting game.” The Boston Globe reports that a local family wrote to MDoT to raise their objections to these games being played at public rest stops where anyone could see them and become upset.

“People have the freedom to have whatever video games in their own homes that they want,” Mr Andrew Hyams told the Globe. “We were struck by walking into a…rest stop within an hour’s drive of Newtown and seeing and hearing a life-sized, mounted machine gun on a video game.”

That’s absolutely understandable and, again in light of what happened, it could very well cause distress to someone that was personally affected by the tragedy, but like one passing customer thinks, isn’t it a bit much?

“I think it’s just a little over the top,” said one local. “I do sympathize, with all the stuff that’s going on.”

Beach_Head_2000_box_art

Fair do’s, you walk into a rest stop and see this image, clearly this could be upsetting – but it’s not the game itself is it? It’s the promotional image plastered down the side of the machine which is glorifying the violence. (Incidentally, the game itself looks like shit. You might get a violent reaction from a kid playing it, but it would only be him or her kicking the crap out of the arcade machine because the game is so terrible.)

One local wasn’t so keen to pin the blame anywhere, although he did say in passing according to that article, that “he does not want his daughter playing video games of any sort when she gets older.”

I feel like we’ve all been over this way too many times before, but video games can do good things for people, too. Just think about all the things you’ve learned about the real world from playing video games – this column on Dorkly illustrates examples of it week after week for goodness’ sake. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs it creates  – video games are now more popular and more profitable than films! Let’s just all stop and take a moment before we go off wagging the finger elsewhere, okay?