At least I got to play this on HD thanks to my beautiful new Analogue NT? If I never play this game again it will be too soon… but it’s an interesting historical footnote, so WATCH THE VIDEO. This project was like jumping in front of a bullet that was aimed at no one… but I am happy with the end result!
Like Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, Eye of the Beholder was one of those games I just couldn’t wrap my brain around as a young kid. Released in 1991 for DOS PCs and the Commodore Amiga, EOTB was an early first-person dungeon crawler which iterated ever-so-slightly on the the formula established by FTL Games’ Dungeon Master. What, precisely, does that mean, you ask? Well, let me spell it out for you.
In EOTB, you control a squad of up to six heroes on a quest to save the city of Waterdeep from the evil machinations of a beholder named Xanathar. A beholder is kind of like a Madball with a whole bunch of antennae-eyes. As sinister eyeball monsters are wont to do, Xanathar has set up shop in a secret lair deep within the city’s sewers, which, coincidentally, are inhabited by a slew of spider-worshiping purple elves, malevolent bird people and sinister toad men. Kill them all, find your way out, end of story.
While EOTB utilizes a first-person perspective, movement is restricted to a tile-based grid. Don’t expect any fancy modern conveniences like “scrolling” here – Wolfenstein 3D was about a year and a half off. You move and turn your party of heroes by clicking on set of directional icons on the game’s HUD. If you’re used to contemporary first-person camera controls, this can be more than a little jarring, as the sudden perspective changes make it very easy to become disoriented. Back in in 1991, though, getting disoriented was what they called a “feature.” You just sort of assumed you’d have to make a map when you played an RPG, so it was a forgivable offense.
Despite its tile-based movement, the action in EOTB plays out in something resembling real time. This means you’ve got to keep your party moving, reacting and attacking at a decent clip, lest they be ripped to shreds; playing the game effectively requires you to nimbly navigate a series of dense (though not unintuitive) menus in the middle of tense situations. Additionally, as its trappings suggest, EOTB is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons licensed product. This means it reaps the benefits (and occasionally suffers from the quirks of) a well-defined tabletop RPG rule set. Characters can only act a certain number of times in any given “round” of combat, they can only attack with melee weapons if they’re in your front ranks, and spells must be re-memorized after every use.
You can even die of hunger. Seriously – you could quite legitimately argue that “Create Food” is the most powerful spell in the game. In short, EOTB is kind of like playing an actual game of AD&D with a DM who just won’t chill out and wait for you to respond before giving into his thinly veiled god-complex, because GOD DAMMIT DAVE, I JUST NEEDED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO LET THAT TROLL KILL MY CLERIC. CHRIST.
*Ahem.* Sorry about that. Anyway, if that description even comes close to tickling your fancy, I’d give EOTB a shot. And, if you have access to a Mega Mouse (or some questionable gray market alternative), I’d strongly suggest you do what I did, and play the 1994 Sega CD port. The gameplay is all but identical, and graphically, it’s at least on par with its PC and Amiga counterparts. Hell, the addition of cinema sequences may actually give it a leg up.
But screw the graphics, man. The Sega CD port of EOTB has one thing its source material was sorely lacking: a soundtrack. A glorious, redbook audio soundtrack from legendary game music composer Yuzo Koshiro. While EOTB is not one of Koshiro’s more well-known soundtracks, I’d put it right up there with his work on the Streets of Rage series and ActRaiser. Despite the fact that Koshiro’s EDM-inspired style seems wholly ill-matched to the AD&D license, it somehow manages to be a perfect fit for the haunting isolation of EOTB’s labyrinths. It’s not unlike that time your party’s thief got really into electronic music and demanded that you STOP LISTENING TO POWER METAL FOR FIVE GOD DAMN MINUTES OR ELSE HE WAS TAKING HIS MINIATURES BACK UP THE STREET.
Uh, anyway… here it is in its entirety:
Like Gain Ground SX, EOTB for the Sega CD is noteworthy in that it’s a port that, in many ways, outshines its source material. Regardless, I feel the need to qualify my praise by again noting that you shouldn’t bother playing this game without a Mega Mouse. Simply put, it’s far too much of a chore to navigating the game’s multi-tiered menus with a gamepad is far too cumbersome. you’d be better off playing the PC original.
Should you decide to give EOTB a shot, I hope you’ll accept the following images of the in-game dungeon maps as a parting gift. While EOTB does require you to actually find its maps before you you can access them, they take an annoyingly long time to load on the Sega CD’s single speed disc drive; an external image is an extremely useful convenience. Use them in good health, but try not to deprive yourself of the joy of getting lost – finding your way is half the fun.
For optimal enjoyment, we here at Subspace Briefcase recommend that you play Eye of the Beholder in a dark basement after several dateless weeks. It increases the authenticity of the experience.
It has been FAR too long – I hope you’ll find that this video retrospective on Gain Ground SX for the PC Engine CD was worth the wait!
Gain Ground SX is an obscure port of an obscure game for an obscure system. Nevertheless, I would HIGHLY recommend it to any TurboGrafx, PC Engine or Sega enthusiast. If you’d rather go the Genesis route, you can grab that port on Steam for about $2.99.
As noted in the video, the music is absolutely spectacular – but don’t take my word for it. Have a listen!
I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t give a quick shoutout to to the the team over at Hardcore Gaming 101. I wouldn’t have even known about the existence of this port if it weren’t for their wonderful book, Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 1. It’s a superb book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in Sega.
Super Nintendo, 1993
Developer: Software Creations
A friend asked that I review Plok. I agreed, despite having never played Plok. I did not care much for Plok, but I am a man of my word. Thus, I give you our newest feature – ONE IMAGE REVIEWS. BEHOLD! Uh, also, click to enlarge.
I enjoyed this exercise. Expect more in the future.
EDIT! Now with charmingly amateurish grammatical fixes!
EDIT 2! Now with MORE grammatical fixes! Sheesh. What good is my literature degree anyway?
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar for the NES is quite possibly one of the most complex RPGs of its era. I tried to beat it when I was in fourth grade and failed miserably. Figuring that I had gotten just a LITTLE bit smarter since then, I thought I’d pop it into my Analogue NT and give it a shot. I found it to be a far more rewarding (and confusing) experience than I thought it could be. For my money, this is the best NES RPG out there – right up there with the Final Fantasy series and Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior. While its PC/Apple II roots probably prevented it from finding any appreciable mainstream acceptance, its sheer depth really makes it stand out from its contemporaries.
Its the ideal game for a retrogaming enthusiast – far too challenging for a child, but more than beatable for an adult. Give it a shot!
3/22/2015: Updated! Screens!
Subspace Brief Facts is back from its brief hiatus! I just picked up a 3DO, and decided to break it in by doing an episode on Way of the Warrior. Way of the Warrior is the kind of “bad” that can’t really sustain 10 minutes of content, so I decided to turn the project into brief history of Naughty Dog’s early years. I found this to be an enjoyable exercise – hope you like the end result!
You may note that this is the series’ first foray into 1080p. Probably would have been better to start with something better than 480i over an s-video cable, am I right? Yuk, yuk.
As a bonus, here’s some cast photos and screencaps of Naughty Dog’s old website, which I refer to frequently in the video.
On a totally unrelated note, here’s the introduction to Quarantine, another 3DO game. I won’t be covering this game, as it is absolutely putrid, but hey, the introduction sure makes me miss the ’90s. No. Wait. It doesn’t.
The 3DO. This thing cost $700.
In recent months, women’s wrestling has undergone a bit of a renaissance, with female performers taking on a more prominent role in WWE storylines. Ever the opportunist, I thought I’d get in the spirit of the so-called “Divas Revolution” by recreating some of the WWE’s newer female wrestlers in an old wrestling game. If nothing else, I figured this would provide a few yuks, and somehow show just how much the portrayal of women in wrestling games has improved over the years. I figured wrong, but dammit, this took up a lot of my free time, so we’re going to see it through to the end.
As such, I fired up Acclaim’s WWF Attitude for the PlayStation. Released at the height of the “attitude era,” WWF Attitude is a fantastic snapshot of late ’90s WWF in all its crass, violent, sexist, and strangely compelling glory. While the game boasts a roster of 41 wrestlers, only three of its combatants are women: Sable, Jacqueline, and Chyna. Not even enough for a tag match! Fortunately, the game boasts a relatively robust (for the time, at least) creation suite, which allows the creation of female wrestlers.
Unfortunately, like the rest of the WWF Attitude, this create-a-wrestler feature is very much a reflection of the era in which it was created. All of the model templates have ridiculously large fake hooters (which I suppose was accurate for the era), and the overwhelming majority of women’s attire takes the form of bondage gear, sexy bartender outfits, frilly lingerie, and other getups not really suited for athletic competition.
With these limitations firmly in mind, I got to work. Using the attire in this video as a reference, I set about trying to create Sasha Banks, who may very well be the hottest ticket in women’s wrestling today:
It was here that I first encountered what would prove to be a persistent problem throughout this little endeavor: the attire that the female wrestlers of today wear is far more varied and complex than what a late-’90s wrestling game has to offer. I could get the general color and look of Sasha’s relatively simple attire down, but the specifics were a bit out of reach. Specifically, I couldn’t nail the straps, which only go over one of her shoulders. For all the dominatrix gear and swimwear WWF Attitude offers, it doesn’t have any women’s clothing of the single strap variety. The solution?
Put a bandoleer on her and color it baby blue. Lemonade from lemons, I suppose.
Another frequent obstacle was the game’s hairstyles, which were all designed with shirtless dudes in mind. As such, any clothing you place on a wrestler’s torso just goes right over their hair (which appears to be a flat texture applied to the model’s “skin”):
I decided just to live with it. It was either that or give everyone a Wilma Flintstone cut.
As for the lower half of the attire, everything the game had to offer was just too short. This is amazing, when you really think about it, because what the women wear these days is pretty damned short.
As such, I generally opted to use men’s pants on all my creations, and just shorten the legs.
Not perfect, but hey, this isn’t an exact science.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about the face creation process. That’s because all of the facial features in WWF Attitude are gender neutral, and no matter what you do, everybody winds up looking like a psychotic clown.
So, in short, the best I could do with my wrestlers was to create rough caricatures, which, to be fair, is about all you can reasonably expect from a game of this vintage.
Sasha was, by far, the easiest of the bunch, though. Here’s the reference shot I used for Sasha’s rival, the current NXT Women’s Champion, Bayley:
You’d think that her relatively uncomplicated attire and appearance would be a layup – but you’d be wrong. Any NXT fan will tell you that the two most integral parts of Bayley’s appearance are her hairband (she gives them out to little kids before a match) and her trademark side-ponytail. The game only features one headband…
…and it was completely out of the question. As for the hair, despite the storied tradition of wrestlers pulling back their flowing locks, the game only has one hairstyle remotely resembling a ponytail…
…which I’m pretty sure is just a variant of Triple H’s hair from his fancy lad days. I just colored it black and called it a day.
I could go on for hours, but much like the creation process itself, that would be neither entertaining nor informative. Instead, I’ll give you a few highlights.
Here’s Charlotte, the current WWE champ:
…and here’s how she wound up in WWF Attitude:
In an effort to approximate the complicated network of shoulder straps she wears, you will note that I had to drop a peace sign medallion on her neck and color it red.
And rounding out the “Four Horsewomen,” I also took a stab at Becky Lynch, the steampunky dark horse of the women’s division:
She didn’t turn out so hot.
When watching the videos below, the astute viewer will note that I actually had to stick her in the trunks of attitude era luminary “Mr. Ass.”
And so, in the grand Subspace Briefcase tradition, after wasting hours of my life creating these extremely rough approximations, I decided to throw all of my doppelgangers in a free-for-all fatal four way to determine just who, in fact, was the greatest female wrestler in the world. There was just one problem: the game’s AI was actually too stupid (too good?) to beat itself in a four way match, and I kept winding up with time limit draws. While the game declares a winner based on who did the most damage, that’s not a result befitting this site’s proud legacy of producing high quality fake fights for its 15 consistent readers.
So instead, wrestling fans, I offer you a DOUBLE BILL of DEVASTATING, DEADLY, and DEBAUCHEROUS WOMEN’S WRASSLIN’!
Sasha vs. Bayley:
Charlotte v. Becky:
So what did this experiment prove?
- WWF Attitude has aged very poorly.
- If the Divas Revolution had occurred in 1998, it would have been much bloodier.
Until next time, wrestling fans! I hope you had more fun watching this than I did making it! That wouldn’t be tough.
Good morning, class. Let’s start today’s lecture off with a little history lesson.
In 1996, Squaresoft released Radical Dreamers, a text-heavy visual novel that served as a pseudo-sequel to the massively popular Chrono Trigger. It never saw an official western release.
Among other reasons, this is because Radical Dreamers was released exclusively for the Super Famicom’s Satellaview add-on. A somewhat peculiar contraption, the Satellaview connected to a Super Famicom console and allowed it to receive downloadable content via satellite radio. It’s a pretty interesting piece of hardware, and if you’ve got the time, I would recommend that you read this article about it. However, for purposes of this discussion, you can think of it as Nintendo’s Japan-only version of the Sega Channel.
The Satellaview never made it out of Japan; a release would have been fruitless, as satellite radio wasn’t widely available in the rest of the world at that time. Accordingly, Radical Dreamers never saw an official translation from Squaresoft, and it went largely unplayed by western audiences. As untranslated ROMs gradually made their way onto the Internet, though, Chrono fans knew it was out there, flickering like a frozen flame in the darkness, just waiting to be played.
In 2000, after the US release of Chrono Cross – the official, canonical sequel to Chrono Trigger – fan demand for a translated Radical Dreamers was at an all-time high. While Squaresoft never officially answered the call, in 2003, ROM hacking group Demiforce released an unofficial translation patch, which is what you see in action here:
For whatever reason, despite being an avowed Chrono fan, I never got around to playing the Demiforce translation at the time of its release. As such, Radical Dreamers had been on my to-do list for a little over a decade when I saw this at Too Many Games last June:
What you are looking at right there is what folks these days call a “repro” – a reproduction cartridge. In so many words, reproduction cartridges are ROM data flashed to an existing cartridge for play on a legacy system. To quote John Learned’s excellent piece on the subject over at USGamer:
“In laymen’s terms, it works like this: several years ago, talented programmers concocted emulators, which essentially found a way to trick a computer, phone, or other device into thinking it was an NES, Genesis, or even an Apple IIe computer. Actual software that runs on these emulators are roms, which are the image of a game or other computer program run through the emulator to work. By themselves, they’re a wonder of computer engineering in that they can help preserve the winding (and largely unkempt) history of the video game medium. Repro cartridges basically reverse engineer what was already reverse engineered so these altered roms can play on an original piece of hardware.”
To grossly oversimplify, repros are basically gray (if not outright black) market reproductions of old console games, and an affordable way to play rare releases the way God intended – on original hardware. Personally, I’d never really understood the appeal of repros, but I had always been curious to try one out. And, hey, who doesn’t like the idea of getting a BRAND NEW cartridge? In 2015!
I bit the bullet and plunked down the cash for Radical Dreamers –about $30 if memory serves me correctly. If nothing else, I thought it would look neat sitting next to Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross in my collection.
The final verdict? It wasn’t worth it. Far from it.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Radical Dreamers as a game; quite the opposite, in fact. While mileage may vary, I imagine that any fan of the Chrono series would find some way to enjoy their time with Radical Dreamers. It’s got an evocative score by Yasunori Mitsuda, decent (if not sparse) visuals, and in its story lays the thematic and conceptual groundwork for what would become Chrono Cross. Additionally, the Demiforce translation is positively top notch – borderline professional. In short, I loved it.
So what was the problem?
Well, for starters, I couldn’t save. Delving into a 2004 FAQ reveals that this has always been a problem for certain versions of the Radical Dreamers translation: the original game is designed to save to the Satellaview’s memory, which, when utilizing a repro, simply doesn’t exist. While Radical Dreamers is short enough to be completed in about 2 to 3 hours, it’s a game that’s designed to be played through multiple times. Like the other entrants in the Chrono series, it has branching paths and multiple endings – 7 in total. However, in order to access 6 of those scenarios, the player must first complete the game’s primary scenario. Like in Chrono Trigger, the extra content can only be accessed through a “New Game+.”
So, in essence, in order to expeditiously access all of the content contained within Radical Dreamers when playing on this repro cart, one would have to reserve quite a few hours of free time. The only other alternative would be to restart the game and replay the primary scenario each time, which would be more than a little inconvenient.
Now had I played Radical Dreamers on an emulator, I would have been able to record my progress through the use of save states, exploring the game over a series of days, as its designers had intended, rather than a few hours. In seeking a more “authentic” experience by playing a repro, I’d sacrificed some of the game’s core functionality and playability. This is particularly ironic when one considers that Radical Dreamers was never even released on a cartridge, let-alone in English, to begin with.
But it gets worse. You may have noticed that I noted that the inability to save is only an issue for some versions of the Radical Dreamers translation. That’s because in 2005, approximately 10 years before I purchased my repro, Demiforce released an updated translation patch which actually rewrote portions of the game’s code to enable save functionality.
In short, the individuals who made this cart didn’t even have the courtesy to download the latest version of the translation. The least they could have done was slap a “no saving” disclaimer on the cartridge. Would the in-game saves have worked on any old reproduction cart? I don’t know. But after my time with the repro, I loaded the 2005 translation onto my Everdrive, and the save functionality worked just fine.
Undoubtedly, some of this is on me. I should have done my homework. Nevertheless, the whole process left me feeling swindled, and more than a bit angry. My money had gone to the wrong person: a lot of time and effort went into making Radical Dreamers playable in English, but none of it was expended by the individuals who made this quick, cash-in repro. They simply took the work of Demiforce (outdated and incomplete work, at that) and slapped it on an old cartridge for pecuniary gain. If any members of the translation team are out there reading this, I owe you $30.00. If the people who sold me this repro are out there reading this, go pound sand.
So let this be a lesson to you, retro gamers. When it comes to repro carts, caveat emptor is the golden rule. You never know what’s inside these things until you actually play them. Could you imagine buying an RPG, only to find the cart has no battery inside? Above all, make sure you’re buying from someone you trust, as it’s pretty hard to return what basically amounts to pirated merchandise – it’d be like trying to get a refund for a defective crack vial. Further, if you happen to be purchasing an unofficial translation, give some thought to the fact that you’re essentially allowing an opportunistic retailer to profit from someone else’s hard work.
I’m sure there are good repros out there, but this experience has likely soured me on the concept for good.
Sega 32X CD, 1994
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Digital Pictures
We round the halfway point on the 32X CD library with Corpse Killer, an interesting, if flawed, light gun/FMV adventure hybrid from Digital Pictures.
If you’ve got a hankering to play Corpse Killer after watching this video, I’d stick to the 3DO or Sega Saturn versions, if you’ve got the means to play them. The Sega CD/32X simply didn’t have the horsepower to make the digitized zombie sprites look like anything more than a blurry mess – which is pretty amazing when you consider that said sprites have less frames than your average animated gif. My, how far we’ve come!
This one really felt like a long road to a small house. We’ll be taking a brief break from 32X CD games for a bit. For as positive as I try to remain about these games, playing them end-to-end really makes you appreciate the wonders of modern console gaming. Don’t worry though, I hope to continue in a month or two with either Night Trap or Surgical Strike.
While I had hoped to have a nice little piece on Christmas Nights up by the 25th, work and other non-festive things conspired against me. Instead, I offer you this – a hastily thrown together video of the hidden Christmas message from Enemy Zero:
I first discovered this back in 1997, shortly after finding this cult classic-to-be under the Christmas tree. It was the last time I would smile while playing this game. It’s hard to smile after you’ve soiled yourself in fear.
Here’s a static image, in case all that action was too much for you:
I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to everybody who has read or watched anything I’ve put out over the last year. Happy Holidays to you and yours!