Monthly Archives: October 2011

Super Mario Bros (Koji Kondo)

Oh well :) Please tell me you don’t know that tune? C’est impossible! It’s one most popular games and thus music tunes ever. It has been remixed, rearranged, redesigned, rerecorded and whatnot gazillions of times and flavors. So when we talk about video game music, this one cannot be omitted.

The game is a “simple” platformer we call “right-scroller”, because you constantly move in that direction, beating stage after stage. You go as Mario (or his equally skilled brother, Luigi), a plumber who has to save his princess. He does that by surprisingly high amount of head bumps into bricks, jumping over bad stuff and shooting. Nothing fancy, you’d say, but this game hipnotized millions of people. It has this one most important thing – playability, gameplay, fun factor – tuned to perfection and to this day serves as a great example of game that you want to play.

For over 20 years, Super Mario Bros. was the best-selling video game of all time and has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. It also made consoles popular. Now, you don’t have to have computer to rock. You just buy this shiny box you attach to your TV. That changed the way we thought of games nowadays. There’s also a nice “carbon copy” with a twist on C64 called “The Great Giana Sisters” – we’ll get to that.

There’s a lot of myths and memes revolving around the game. For instance, the phrase “your princess is in another castle” made into common speech, meaning “you tried, but you’ve failed, try harder” or “the girl you’re looking for is not here”.

There’s a video flowing on youtube, in which a guy asks porno stars about their favourite games. Guess who was erm… on top? Why, of course, our hot plumber guy!

More about Super Mario Bros –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Mario_Bros.

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Guild Wars (Jeremy Soule)

Another game-legend. Suprisingly, the bigger cornerstone, the less I have to say about it. Straight to the facts maybe, then. Guild Wars is an competetive online RPG game. You play in a beautifully crafted world of Tyria, Elona and Cantha. You learn skills of several interesting classes : Ranger, Monk, Warrior, Necromancer, Mesmer, Elementalist, Assasin, Ritualist, Dervish, Paragon. Each of these maintains its own very unique graphic and animation style, all the spells and abilities are greatly animated and it all feels very epic.

GW builds on the online RPG genre, but goes another way by establishing few very fresh concepts. The first, for instance, was to drop the monthly subscription price – GW, once you buy it, is completely free to play online. That alone is very uncommon for games of this scale. The other thing was to drop standard class-role binding, but instead allow players to mix two class professions. You can only use 8 skills in one journey, but you can arrange your skill pad from more than 500 skills – its kinda similar to building a card deck in Magic:the Gathering. This variety makes Guild Wars very hard to master, but also insanely interesting, because of endless combinations giving you many gameplay styles.

While GW offered some single-player story campaign content, it was mostly perceived as Player vs Player game (well, hence the name!). So once you’ve established a guild, you are into guild battles. Here’s where the game really spreads its wings. Not only you have to position and comander your team perfectly, but you also have to rely on a strategy you’ve picked for the battle, that drives your skill choice. There are thousands of sets published on the internet, and again like with MtG, every combination has it’s counterstrategy and its up to your wits to determine a sane middleground or take the big risk. I only have finished one full campaign of GW and never really played that much, but I admire the game as a whole and it really stands out – and this is almost impossible in market suffocated by presence of World of Warcraft.

Guild Wars had few expansion sets, each introducing new features, new content, new lands but also new loading screen with new intro music fitting current theme. Here I present the music from Guild Wars : Factions, with a certain Asian feeling to it – I like this one most, but others are also very decent.

More about Guild Wars –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guild_Wars


Secret of Monkey Island (Michael Land)

One of my first games on PC. Secret of Monkey Island is a Lucasfilm adventure game by Ron Gilbert. It’s a typical point’n’ click game, where you visit many locations, pick up objects, combine them, talk to people and use objects. That kind of interface, named SCUMM, was a cornerstonefor future games of that kind and stayed in that genre for long time, to be later dropped in favour of less complex, more intuitive ad-hoc ui. But what gamers will remember about Monkey Island is its awesome humor and pirate setting. Play it once, and you will refresh all your child memories to be a pirate with a black hat, one-eye patch and hook, arr! Play it twice, and you will yearn for lyrical-thrash-talk-sword battles, you will use the “look, a three-headed monkey” excuse on your friends and learn to use “yikes” a lot. The story is about Guybrush Threepwood (do you remember what I’ve told you about lucasfilm funny names?), a young pal who intends to become a pirate and conquer seven seas, get a shiny treasue and find the eternal love. But evens will unfold not exactly as planned, and Guybrush will end chasing evil ghost-pirate LeChuck in order to resuce local governor Elaine. He will meet a strange hermit Herman Toothrot, an ocd salesman Stan and… oh well. You’ll see. It’s going to be hillarious, I promise.

Monkey Island as an adventure game was quite hard at that tine. It would stand as unpassable nowadays, as world moved into more intuitive riddles than combining a wrench with gopher repelent, or whatnot. But it’s totally worth it. It’s a crazy game, where the story is more twisted than a brazillian soap opera. The game evolved into series of few games and I think all of them did not disappoint. Adventure game classic that you simply must see and know, if you call yourself a gamer.

Back then I was quite small and never really got what “Uh-oh” in text transcript means. Only recently I’ve just said it out loud to simply discover that’s this kind of “oh, crap” sound you make, when you find yourself in trouble.

The music theme here is from the extended edition, released not so long ago, I find it even more cheerful and nice than the original.

More about Secret of Monkey Island –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_Island_(series)


Need for Speed (Petey Pablo)

Something to chill out this time. I like this song, it’s something that works well when you drive fast and when you wake up in the morning, just that energetic piece.

Need for Speed is a series of racing games. Probably most famous one. NFS games never intend to transfer the whole “total reality” steering thing onto computer game, but it’s also not total arcade, 0 gravity and homing missiles racer. It always balances somewhere in between, giving you a lot of fun in controlled environment. The initial series boasted very detailed car models of actual rides, with great introductory movies. It’s all about speed in the game, and you feel it, just pure speed, wind, and you. Later games introduced some additional game modes, like drifting or chases, but in the very essence, it remains the same – go, go, go, shift gear, nitro boost, go more.

I think I remember best the NFS2 and the Underground games (there were two, I think). Good times.

More about Need for Speed –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need_for_Speed


Quake – Main theme (Trent Reznor)

Ahh, two very big names here. Do I have to explain who is Trent Reznor? The guy behind Nine Inch Nails, musical one man army, insanely productive, creative and sick son of a gun. NIN music revolves around industrial rock/electro and it feels like the ideal music for a legend that Quake is.

Quake is a First Person Perspective shooter from a legendary company called id Software. John Carmack, John Romero – there are guys who basically invented the genre. First, there was Wolfenstein 3D, then the widely-recognized Doom, and finally there was full 3D Quake, which totally destroyed every game there was. Seriously, I was there, when Quake landed. The game was so dark, so intense and detailed, the atmosphere was just stomping you into ground. The world of games changed that day. Not only it gained a remarkably well designed and developed game, but also the multiplayer mode was truly born – from now on, the essence of gaming was to play with others via network. Tons of people spent plethora of time chasing each other in dark, depressing corridors with bazooka in their “hands”. Nowadays, the genre feels so exploited, we have hundreds of similar games, which we push away from young people, because it all feels so wrong, so violent and shallow. But it wasn’t like that back then, it was really an art. It all meant something, was for something, combined together made perfect sense. Not much can be said about Quake, it’s also a game that won’t conquer your heart today – you either remember it from back then or not. But you may still taste its heritage in online version of QuakeLive.

Ironically, the music to Quake is not so popular. Some people will be surprised that there actually was any music. There was. It was recorded as audio tracks on Quake CD, not as music embedded into game. Since the game was ripped and pirated all over the place, the audio tracks were not part of it, and to majority of players, the game was just about sound effects, there was no music. But the music is really brilliant and fits Quake well. Hard, drilling, overwhelming. A very good work of Mr. Reznor here. A fun fact is that all the nailgun ammo packs bear the NIN logo – product placement! :) I remember reading somewhere that Trent was a devoted Quake player – he was so much into it, that almost ruined his session recordings for some other album (don’t remember). Talk about enjoying your work.

More about Quake –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quake_(video_game)


Montezuma’s Revenge (Robert Jaeger?)

An instant classic. This game is widely recognized among 8bit fans. Who haven’t played the “skulls and keys” game and doesn’t remember the characteristic “La Cucaracha” sound when picking an item?

You dig down into a mysterious piramid, as “Pedro” (or Panama Joe in certain versions). Pedro has a characteristic hat, and generally is an bigtime adventurer. He climbs ropes and ladders, jumps over deadly skulls and spiders, collects keys to doors and swords to fight back the evil stuff. That’s it, but it was all wrapped in quite entertaining package. There were many screens and while they’ve eventually repeated themselves somehow, they still presented a nice challenge. Montezuma’s level of difficulty was really a sweet spot – it was not easy, but not that hard, once you’ve mastered your way. This was a commonn problem of 8bit games and Robert Jaeger nailed it very well – if you were good, you actually wanted to play more. Montezuma was a prime example of labirynth arcade games – genre that’s long gone now.

The Atari version of the game was leaked to public before it was finished. Therefore the game could never be completed, even if you’ve reached the final screen with big Montezuma, who could stomp you to death – there was simply nothing to do. Back then, however, noone knew that, and many legends were born about how to complete Montezuma’s Revenge, including even such bizarre stories as touching the joystick’s port with wet finger. Additionally, there was another version of the game, called Preliminary Monty (“A-not-yet-finished-Montezuma”), which was smaller and fitted only 16k back then (full Montezuma was 48k), because that was the size of a game cartridge.

Thus, the game entered the canon as true aztec mystery. Probably very few know the fact that “Montezuma’s Revenge” is a funny word play, because it’s also a common name for stomach virus that tourists catch in Mexico, when they drink too much of local water.

More about Montezuma’s Revenge –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montezuma’s_Revenge_(video_game)


Alley Cat (Bill Williams?)

This game I remember very well. Alley Cat from Synapse Software, again a one-man army production. The game is as old as I am, which is kinda unbelievable. The game is about – you guessed it – a cat. An alley cat, to be precise, but no, no Top Cat. The game was incredibly complex given the time it was born. It started with the view of an alley, where you should jump onto barrels and then higher onto laundry ropes to get into opening window. If you’d stayed at the ground for too long, an angry dog would go after you, when too long on barrels, other cats would knock you down, only being on the ropes was a relative peace, because you still had to avoid things flying out of the window. Once you’re in, you would find yourself in one of several rooms. There was always some kind of a task to get done, catch mice in big cheese, jump into fish bowl and eat all fishes, drink all the dogs’ milk, break the bird’s cage and catch etc. These were very fun. Most of the time, there was this broom wandering through the room. Whenever you walk on the floor, you would make it dirty, so you could just play with it and make carpets really dirty so that the broom was occupied cleaning it. Once it was done, broom was just chasing you and interfering with your vicious plan of getting that bird. You could even face that angry dog again. After finishing few tasks, you would find a lovely cat-girl in the window. If you were quick enough to jump in, you would face a standard cliche “get a present and get to your love despite all the bad things” level, even with cupids being not on your side. But if you managed to get to your cat love, there was a lovely kiss, even more touching wedding and … whole thing started again. Cat has nine lives, eh? The overall pace of the game and the nature of everything happening on screen was always producing this big “wtf”. Whenever you had bad luck, there were this big flashy messages like “ouch”, “alas” or “!$#@”… i mean, it was all pretty crazy.

The game music was very interesting, something like 8bit jam session blues. When things went crazy, the music changed into more hasty and disturbing. Within game, it was more lively and keeping you vigilant. The intro theme presented here, was however very calm and soothing.

These weird notes during the music (0:14, 0:23, 0:37) are Atari synthesizer attempts at producing cat’s meow :)

More about Alley Cat –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alley_Cat_(video_game)