When Madden Made Montana

John Madden Football (Sega Genesis)
I’m very excited for football season to be in full swing, despite the injuries to Darrelle Revis and Ray Lewis. I thought I’d revisit a story I wrote for the sport section in GMR Magazine, Athletic Support. It was a sidebar to my Madden Retrospective. I’m pretty sure it’s still not widely known, even with Madden Football being as popular as ever. Big thanks to Rannie Yoo for her invaluable help with the story.

Madden = Montana?
Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins is a shrewd businessman, but he may have pulled the most amazing feat in the gaming industry in 1990. While working on the first Madden for the Sega Genesis, Sega came to Hawkins with a problem. They too were working on a football title, Joe Montana Football, but things weren’t going as well as they had hoped. What they wanted from Trip was to abandon Madden, and use all his work for the Joe Montana title.

Rather than scrapping Madden in favor of Sega’s Montana, Hawkins had a proposal: He and his team would use Madden’s technology, tweak it a bunch, and make it into a different enough game that Sega could sell as Joe Montana. All the while, EA would still put out Madden. Sega agreed.

In actuality, much of what made Madden great was scaled down for Montana, though Sega still got a pretty good game out of the deal. Both titles were in the top 5 of sales for that year, and few gamers ever knew they were basically developed by the same people.

My fave game of 2012, on sale

A big reason why I loved reviewing video games was to share my joy for awesome titles that may have been passed by. Games like Disgaea and Guitar Hero 1 were some favorites that I was able to sing the praises of in print or online. This year, the best game I’ve played is Dark Souls. Now, I know it released in 2011, but I didn’t buy/play it until 2012, so it’s a game of 2012 to me. And actually, the PC version was released in 2012. And that’s the version this post is dedicated to, because it’s currently only $20 on Amazon.

This is a great Halloween game. Unlike killing zombies or having dogs jump out at you, Dark Souls’s scares come in the form of crushing difficulty. But if you persevere, the rewards are much higher than the lows are low (does that make sense? I’m high on endorphins right now). Its level design brilliantly straddles open-world and dedicated stages. The offensive options let you play your own way. No battle is boring, because for at least the first 2/3 any enemy is capable of making you die — thus robbing you of any souls (currency) you’ve picked up, as well as sending you back to the bonfire where you last saved. There is no loading up saves; heck, there’s no pause! It’s awesome.

Incidentally, telling you about games I already own (and have completed) which are on sale is a whole lot easier than trumpeting sales for games I want but do not own.

Going Indie

Indie games are really thriving in this industry. You had your Braid, your LiMBO, your Journey. They’re a stark departure from the Maddens, Call of Duties, or even Marios that dominate the sales charts. But we need that variance, that uniqueness.

If something is quirky or artistic, I tend to seek it out. I couldn’t have loved Katamari Damacy more, with its crazy ball-of-crap-rolling-over-everything gameplay and awesomely Japanese music. I played and completed all 3 indie games listed above. So it with heavy heart that I see The Unfinished Swan released on PlayStation Network this week. Its art style alone is worth the $15 or whatever they’re charging. I hear it’s short, but so is your favorite movie (unless you get down with that long-yet-unsatisfying LoTR trilogy). I really want it. But I will have to wait a year or so.

So instead, I played another indie game. The Binding of Isaac isn’t quite the artistic feat, nor does it blow you away with its unique gameplay. What it does have, however, is quirk as far as the eye can see. It plays like the dungeons in the first Legend of Zelda, but with a more Robotron shooting scheme. Instead of bullets or blades, you use the tears of a naked, freaked-out child as your weapon. You’re fighting your way out of a dungeon where you were cast by your uber-religious mother. Fucked up, right? Also, awesome. It was done by one of the Super Meat Boy guys, as a slapdash, make-a-buck proposition. He had no idea it would become such a cult hit. This is only my second time playing it, after getting it in one of the numerous indie game bundles that litter the internet.

Also, I just beat the hell out of Dungeon Village, a game that I’ve been plugging away at on my iPhone for months. It’s by Kairosoft, who made the beloved Game Dev Story. Including GDS, I’ve completed 4 Kairosoft games – including Mega Mall Story and GP Story. Dungeon Village has a bit more gameplay, as you send adventurers on quests and outfit them with armor and weapons. I ended my “15-year” cycle long ago, but ended up maxing out everyone’s level with the most advanced character class. Now I can put it away, and probably play more Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones.

XCOM? Fire Emblem!

I’m glad Dishonored was my final game purchase for the next year. I was able to get in several hours with it this weekend. I’ve given up attempting to just KO or avoid enemies. I like exploring too much, which means contending with more bad guys. But now that I have a special power where assassinated people turn to ash, at least I don’t have to worry about hiding bodies.

With the XCOM hype, I find myself wanting some tactical strategy goodness. Enter Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I reviewed this for X-Play back in the day – which is apparently no longer on their site – and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the Ambassador games on 3DS, which means I don’t even have to dig it out of the big box o’ GBA games to play! And playing this gets me off of my iPad and Angry Birds Space HD, which I’d developed a not-too-healthy obsession with as of late.

Fire Emblem is a rather traditional turn-based tactical RPG. Its main gimmick is that once someone dies, they’re gone for good. This adds weight to every loss. For example, I met up with a former knight, long retired to raise his son. The son talks him into having them join us. Two battles later, the kid gets hacked in half by an enemy. Oops. Maybe Dad was right after all…

Now, technically, I could probably close out the game, and restart the chapter. But battles are pretty darn long. Instead, I just… uh, avenge his death. Yeah, that’s it. And there’s usually enough characters that you’re leaving a few in the tent before you fight. At least so far.

Now, Best Buy has a great deal for those of you who aren’t on a game-buying ban: Buy 2 games, get 1 free! This means if you buy XCOM and NBA 2K13, for example, you can get Max Payne 3 for free! Those are all games I don’t own, which are on my wishlist Excel. You all keep an Excel spreadsheet of your games wishlist, right? With priority rankings and a desired price for each one? Of course you do!

Haaaail No, Halo 4!

I am anti-piracy, to Vanilla Ice levels (aka “to the X-treme”). I made a living off an industry that suffers from it, and I have good friends who are crazy talented who are victims of it. So when someone steals stuff, I get angry.

A Kotaku article got me to new levels of rage. In it, writer Evan Narcisse reaches out to people who have the balls to sell their pirated copies of Halo 4 on Craigslist. Some actually respond, and attempt to pass on their bullshit justification that helps them sleep at night.

I won’t waste our time addressing their crap, because it’ll just get me angry again. Suffice to say: Developers don’t make a lot of money, and selling stolen property is a very punishable crime (ask a former game journalist, busted for distributing stolen game code).

Not every game is worth $60, sure. But Halo games give you a ton of enjoyment in their packages. Halo’s Archives and Halo 2’s ending notwithstanding, I tend to really dig the single-player campaign. They throw a lot at you, and give you a “big battle” feel. And it’s probably the only game series where I’ve spent more time in multiplayer than single-player. The stats it tracks are amazing, and online is such a smooth experience. If I wasn’t currently in the throes of a game-buying ban, I’d gladly drop $60 (minus $10 credit) to pick up Halo 4.

Masser Effect 3

First off, let me say I will try to be as spoiler-free as possible.

One of my favorite video-game series is Mass Effect. It showed Bioware didn’t need the Star Wars universe to craft an epic role-playing game. And in the last couple of generations, I’ve tended to lean more toward Western RPGs like Fallout 3 and Skyrim – Dark Souls notwithstanding.

As many know, Mass Effect 3 had an ending that disappointing many people. After finishing it, I couldn’t help but side with them. It seemed like a hasty way to wrap up a series that was all about choice and branching narrative. Comparatively, look how Metal Gear Solid 4 expertly tied all loose ends for what was widely considered the most convoluted franchise in entertainment.

It was announced Bioware was going to make things right with a free DLC expansion of Mass Effect 3’s ending. It released about a month and a half after I beat the game the first time. As I was knee-deep in the above-mentioned Dark Souls, I was in no hurry to revisit the Citadel or the Banshee-filled last hour of ME3.

It’s worth mentioning that I have the Mass Effect Datapad app for iPad. With it, you can boost your galactic readiness by assigning ships to missions that would gain you a percentage after a certain time limit. I’m really not sure even having 100% readiness does more than net you an Achievement, but I wanted to ensure I didn’t miss a single cutscene. So, before diving back in, I needed to Datapad it up. Problem is, the server is very finicky. For every 4 times I tried to access it, I got no-connection errors 3 of them. Since inaction led to your percentages dropping, I often lost all my progress and had to start over. Frustrating, to say the least.

But last night the stars were aligned: I had some free time and I had 100% galactic readiness. After dying a few times on those damn indoctrinated Asari banshees, I made it to the ending.

For better or worse, my choices were almost identical to the previous time – sorry, Illusive Man! But that also meant I could somewhat gauge what had changed. Despite the many months between beatings, I have a pretty good memory. Not an insignificant amount of content was added. Had this been the original ending, I would have left satisfied. It doesn’t do an update on all the surviving characters like, say, Final Fantasy VI; but it did the job.

I haven’t really checked the word on the street on the new ending(s); the chalk words have probably faded from the cement as it’s been a little while. Maybe people have unrealistic expectations since this was an unheard-of action by Bioware. To me, it made a great game that much better. Let’s just hope Bioware’s next game is not a damn MMO.

Sega! Sales!

Do you like decently-received, relatively new Sega-published games? Me too! Of course, I can’t buy them… but you can! NewEgg.com – which is really being aggressive with game prices lately – has Yakuza: Dead Souls (PS3) and Binary Domain (360 or PS3) on sale for $14.99 each with free shipping.

Dead Souls is the first Yakuza game I haven’t bought. However, I only beat Yakuza 1, and played a few hours of 3. Binary Domain is apparently a Gears/Terminator hybrid with a decent story.

And I’ll toss one plug in here, since I’m working on it instead of playing games. I wrote an action/scifi novel, Still Man Fight, that I put on Kindle. You can check it out here. I’m in the process of reading through a proof of the paperback version, which I hope to also have for sale up on Amazon soon. I may plug that again when the paperback is available.