Developed by Radical Entertainment and released for a number of sixth-generation consoles, The Simpsons: Road Rage is a driving game similar to Crazy Taxi; so similar in the fact that Sega ended up bringing a lawsuit to Fox Entertainment, which was settled before it went to court. The home console version received mixed reviews upon release, which the Game Boy Advance port was universally panned. I would put it in the category of it being a mixed bag as opposed to it being an overall negative experience; the game, while flawed, does have some redeeming quality to it and is a relatively enjoyable title to play.
Graphics – 7/10
The game is set across various locations throughout the town of Springfield, the Downtown district, and the Nuclear Power Plant to name but a few. The visuals were one aspect at the time that was heavily criticized upon release of this game, but I’ve never understood why other reviewers had such a gripe with them. They’re technically sound as they look just as well as any other early sixth generation game, and it’s among the first games to have cel-shaded visuals, which helped to make it stand out at the time. The graphics are also conceptually sound, as it has exactly what a player would expect playing a game based on The Simpsons; cartoonish graphics that aren’t necessarily cutting-edge. What’s more is that all the original voice actors are present, which again, only adds to the feel of what was to be expected.
Gameplay – 7/10
A driving game by genre, whilst it does borrow heavily from Crazy Taxi, there are also a number of distinct gameplay features as well, such as bonuses given for either careful or reckless driving, a cast of familiar Simpsons characters, and vehicles to unlock and a story mode. The similarities to Crazy Taxi never bothered me as much as it bothered other players. The way I see it, It’s a lot like comparing Mario Kart 64 to Diddy Kong Racing; Diddy Kong Racing had more distinct features to it that provided a lot more entertainment than Mario Kart 64 in my opinion, making it the better game. Likewise, I actually prefer The Simpsons: Road Rage to Crazy Taxi.
Controls – 8/10
The controls were another aspect that critics had problems with as well, and in this respect, I can empathize with their concerns to a certain extent. It can be very easy to unintentionally crash into things due to very sensitive collision mechanics and it can cause some issues that can’t necessarily be put down to how reckless players are driving at the time. There are shortcuts around each track to make for smoother driving, but I think the game would’ve benefitted from there being more of them to add to the game’s fluidity. That being said, cars are a lot easier to handle than what they are in many other racing games, so there are issues that other critics had with this game that I still disagree with in terms of controls.
Lifespan – 8/10
Thanks to the inclusion of a story mode and a high score system, the game can take an unprecedented amount of time to finish, which impressed me greatly. 20 hours is the average lifespan of this game; this is the time it takes to unlock every course, unlock every character, surpass all the high scores, and get through the story mode. I can’t help but think that if there were more of an incentive to collect as much money as possible as opposed to simply the high score, then there would be a little bit more to play for, but still, I was taken aback by just how long it took to beat this game when I beat it at the time it came out.
Storyline – 5/10
The story of the game involves the Simpsons, as well as several other familiar characters in the series, setting up their own taxi services in order to compete with, and eventually drive out, a dangerous radioactive bus service set up by Mr. Burns. There are a couple of jokes thrown into cutscenes that are somewhat reminiscent of the golden age of the Simpsons throughout the 90s, but depending on which character the player selects, there’s not the level of comedy you would expect from a Simpsons game. The best characters to pick for that are simply the funnier characters that exist within the show, like Homer, Moe, and Krusty the Clown.
Originality – 6/10
There’s no denying that Crazy Taxi was a major influence behind this game. However, as I stated earlier, this game was one of the first to make use of cel-shaded visuals, which would go on to be used in games of major franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda and Borderlands. Jet Set Radio was the very first, but it’s because of elements like that, as well as what gameplay differences there are compared to Crazy Taxi, which makes this game stand out more than what people may realize.
Overall, The Simpsons: Road Rage, whilst not being the game had the potential to be, is by no means a completely disappointing experience. It has plenty to do, great visuals, the quirky cast of Simpsons fan favorites, and all the best things about Crazy Taxi intact, which makes for the better game out of the two in my opinion.
Disclaimer: This interview contains some strong language. Anyone who is offended by such content is advised against reading this interview.
The fifth generation of gaming is one of the most beloved periods in the medium, with consoles such as the Nintendo 64, the original PlayStation, and the Sega Dreamcast going on to become among the most popular and well-received platforms in the history of video games. However, come the end of the fifth generation, as the transition to the sixth was being made, among the last games published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 was Conker’s Bad Fur Day; a game which garnished critical acclaim upon release and has since gone on to become a favorite among fans of the console. I was lucky enough to have an interview this week with the lead programmer of the game; Chris Seavor. Chris joined Rare back in 1994, where he was tasked with developing for the Killer Instinct series initially; he then went on to not only work on many Rare games on the programming side of things, but also voice many characters created by Rare, such as Spinal from Killer Instinct, Gruntilda of Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, and of course several characters in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, including Conker himself.
After having left Rare in 2011, he most recently established Gory Details Ltd with former Rare collaborator Shawn Pile, and together have developed both Parashoot Stan and a dark adventure game named The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, and as of this writing, there is also a new game in development from Gory Details, said to be a twin-stick dungeon-bash title. I had a lot of questions for Chris concerning his early life, his time at Rare, the development of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as well as the ultimately canceled sequel, and of course, his work at Gory Details Ltd and what gamers can expect from their new project. Here’s our in-depth interview: The Twelve Tales of Chris Seavor:
Where did your passion for video games originate from?
Playing them as a kid… That and board games…. A friend had been bought Dungeons and Dragons for Christmas (the pink edition which I still have) and he couldn’t understand it so he gave it to me… It was a revelation. This is where my love of ‘game mechanics’ came from which then evolved into video games when I had access to a BBC Micro and eventually the eponymous Spectrum 48K.
What games would you play as a child and how would they go on to influence you as a developer?
Ironically the first game I ever bought was Knightlore. I got it from a mate for half price. 5 quid I think. My favorite game from childhood though is RebelStar Raiders which was a turn-based squad game where you had to infiltrate a base on the Moon. Still holds up. Obviously, Ultimate games were in there, but also John Ritman’s variants on the genre like Head Over Heals, which brilliantly introduced a second character to add a cooperative element to the puzzle solving. Quite groundbreaking. The list is huge though; Elite, Paradroid, Out of the Shadows, The Hobbit, Lords of Midnight, Bards Tale, Chuckie Egg, Monty Mole, etc. Oddly though, I never really liked Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy as I found them too difficult. What a scrub eh?
What consoles did you own early on?
None. I was at college when the NES and SNES and Mega Drive came out, so had little money and was too busy drinking and dossing around on the beach (I was at college in Cornwall for 4 years, then Bournemouth for 1). Games kinda left my life for a long time…… Next device I bought after my C64 was a SNES whilst working at Rare just to play Zelda and DKC, so yeah!
What is your earliest memory of game design?
I would design whole RPG systems for tabletop gaming. My 2 favorite systems were MERPS and Warhammer Fantasy RPG. MERPS for its crazy crit tables (and the lore) and WHRPG for the gothic world-building. Loved em to bits. I stole from both. I also wrote a Fighting Fantasy novel, but only got as far as about 100 entries before losing track. Those things are hecka-complex to write.
Were there any development companies you aspired to work with before you went to work with Rare?
Psygnosis. I didn’t know who Rare were, to be honest… Psygnosis were in Liverpool as well, so I could stay with the parents and save some cash. Lazy fucker I was. I had an interview with a few; EA, Psygnosis, and Rare included. Not sure what happened with Pysg, but EA offered a job eventually but I’d already started at Rare and liked it. Mainly because I’d made some friends and to be honest, that’s always the most stressful part of starting out somewhere new: being alone. The job turned out okay too 😉
Where there any other careers you attempted to pursue before going into games design and game voice-over work?
Not attempted, but I’d always planned to go into the film industry. My actual skill set was 3D graphics (a career path very much in its infancy in ‘93, unlike now) so film / TV seemed a natural fit. Games I never considered and in the end just sort of fell into it with a chance conversation with a long time friend Ady Smith (Rare, Eidos). Ironically Ady is teaching game stuff down at my old college in Cornwall now.
What was your upbringing like? Did your parents have any positive or negative reaction to your enjoyment of games, or was there even an element of that during your childhood?
I’d have to say it was pretty negative when I was 13 -15. I always like to remind my Mum of a comment she made once after I spent a whole day playing The Hobbit on the big TV.. ‘You’ll never make any money playing games all day…. It’s not a proper job’. She’s right about one thing though… It’s not a ‘proper job’, thank the maker!
Did any facet of your childhood go on to influence you as a developer, similar to how traveling through the forests of Kyoto inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to create The Legend of Zelda?
Not directly. I’ve always loved the cinema experience and would watch every movie I could… I guess that helped in later life. I read a lot of Horror and SciFi, not so much fantasies apart from Prof T the bulk of it back then was, to be blunt: Shit. I read a lot of Fantasy today though, the grim, dark stuff. It’s so much better nowadays.
What was it like for you to experience the medium of gaming taking off back in the 70s and 80s?
It just was… You don’t really know you’re IN something when it’s happening around you… Like DKC or the N64 period at Rare. It was just a job, and you were hoping your game would sell more than the other Barns did. Only now looking back do you realize the fondness people have for that time, and the games we’d made as a company… It’s kinda weird as I don’t think of it in those terms.
Was the aspiration to become an actor or voice-over artist from an early age as well, or was that something that manifested later on?
Nope. I’m not a voice actor, I’m a 3d Artist / Game Designer. The voice work was a time saver and for practical issues. It seems to be its own thing now in games, with big names getting involved… Fair enough I suppose, but I think it’s a waste of money. Keanu Reeves is a great guy by all accounts but he can’t act for shit. Spend the money on some unknowns who need the break instead… To be honest, I think the influx of big Hollywood names into the games industry is largely down to the egos of the Production Managers, Execs, and Bosses… It’s the only chance these people will ever get to hang out with the Stars!! Also, BAFTA can try and inject their dull game awards ceremony with a bit of glitz and glamour… Game development has little glitz, even less glamour. And then of course there are Mr. Keighley’s Game Awards… I mean, really? I rest my case, your honor. Here’s the proof it’s a bullshit waste of money .. Name me one person who bought Cyberpunk 2077 because Keanu Reeves was in it? You found one?? They’re a fucking liar.
Who were your inspirations where your voice acting was concerned?
Again, no one really. I just did some silly voices based on accents and the range of my voice. Conker’s voice came pretty easily, in fact, I think I just did it instinctively the first time Robin and I were in the studio.
Were there any teachers you had at school who would have a lasting impression on you where your career was concerned?
Absolutely not, Fuck those idiots.
My teachers tried to tell me that the best years of my life would be my school years, but I disagree with them; my best years have been everything that came afterward. But did you enjoy school when you were a kid?
Absolutely not. Fuck those idiots even more… School was shit. Sadists and morons. I fucking hated it with a vengeance. Imagine trying to encourage 14-year-old lads to enjoy reading then dumping Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park in their lap. WTF!? Stephen King, Tolkien, Sven Hassel first… THEN Jane Austin, in later life, when you have enough life experience to relish in its satire.
What was the best piece of advice you were given as a child?
That kind of thing only happens in YA fiction… I never much paid any attention to adults as a kid. I think I became aware of how flawed they all were at a very young age. The one bit of advice I do remember was from my Nan: ‘Christ lad, don’t get old…’
Rare had been renowned for their sense of humor with hidden jokes and Easter eggs in their games and Conker was no different. But where did your sense of humor stem from early on?
I wasn’t particularly funny as a kid. In fact, I was and still am almost terminally shy. I still find it stressful to group up with people in games and be expected to have a conversation, even in chat. (except when I’m shouting abuse 😉 I think my humor stems from looking at life’s absurdity and just laughing at it all. People can be so fucking dumb, so finding comedy gold in the actions and words of others is a never-ending resource. I’m a pessimist and a cynic. That’s where my humor comes from I think….. Plus I’m a bit weird and apparently lacking intact (although I am usually told this after the fact…)
How did the opportunity to work for Rare first come about?
Shared petrol money and a day out from Uni. I just turned up and they offered me a job. That’s it really.
What was your first day at Rare like and what were you tasked with working on initially?
It was fine… I was pretty nervous but that went very quickly…. I shared a room with Kev Bayliss, and we got on fine. Still do (which is amazing for me 😉 ) My first job was to sketch out and start building the environment for Sabrewulf in Killer Instinct.
In terms of working on the Killer Instinct series, what are you most proud of?
Killer Gold I reckon… Just because it was my first experience with actual polygons in a game, rather than pre-rendered. A whole other kettle of fish. I had to convert my original Nurbs Models from KI2 to work in the new engine. First game out from Rare with actual live 3D models… Quite proud of that. And they look okay I reckon, particularly Spinal’s Slave Galley…. (Early nods to Sea of Thieves there ;)) joke.
Did you ever come up with any ideas for any additional characters for Killer Instinct or Diddy Kong Racing?
I did a couple of characters for Killer Instinct 2 (arcade) which were not used. Fully modeled one of them, a Vampire Prince with long white hair. Even did a set of animations. I wish I still had the frames but nope… All gone.
How rewarding was it seeing your work come to fruition with the release of a game at Rare?
Best thing ever… Really, everyone should try it.
Are there any interesting stories about how the voice of Spinal first came about?
Same as Grunty really.. Scream and Cackle. I’m a one-note pony when it comes to baddies.
The concept for Gruntilda’s voice, I’d imagine, would’ve been one of the most straightforward ones to have had to come up with, but was that the case? Was there another different approach taken where she was concerned?
I just screamed and cackled… That’s what witches do right? 😉
How exhilarating was it knowing you had just voiced a major Nintendo villain at the time?
It was 10 minutes of work, and the tight arses didn’t even give me a free copy of the game… To this day I have never owned a copy of Banjo. Not sure but think it’s probably the same sample they use in the new Smash?? Maybe?
Who was your favorite character to have voiced before Conker?
The ones that didn’t have me coughing my guts up and no voice for 2 days. Conker. it has to be him really… Death, Conkula, Frankie, any with interesting dialogue and motivations.
Which additional character in Diddy Kong Racing (with the exception of Conker) do you feel would’ve been worthy of a spin-off series?
I don’t care enough about Diddy Kong Racing to be honest. Wasn’t there a Tiger? The Tiger then.
What were the Stamper brothers like to work for?
They were great, very hands-on when needed, very hands-off when we were getting on with it. I mean, things could from time to time get fractious but it was usually just clashing egos (mine mainly) Tim’s passion for games when I first joined Rare was in his very being. All he cared about was the game/games. Chris, I saw less of because he tended to be the business side of things, and was a software guy anyway. They had a certain dynamic as brothers, sort of like a video game boss ironically. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts… (hmm, sounds like shade, but I don’t mean it in that way)
Were there any Rare games that you would’ve liked to work on, but never got the opportunity to?
From a purely mercenary cash standpoint? Oh DK 64 and DK Racer. They made fucking TONS of cash for the teams. But creatively? Nah, I’m happy the way things were. But what about Goldeneye, You say!? Cashwise? Nah… old deal. Creatively?? I think I would have done things to stop it from being the game it is now. Not good things… I was still in a DOOM 2 mindset at the time.
Were you scheduled to work in some capacity on Rare’s canceled game Project Dream before it later became Banjo-Kazooie?
Nope. Definitely nope…
If you could’ve voiced any other Nintendo character (or Rare character) at the time, who would it have been and what approach would you have taken to do it?
Never really thought of it. The only character I would love to have voiced which Rare (almost) got to do was Harry Potter. It would have meant I’d have been the first person to perform that character in media. A good one for the CV. Plus I think I’d have made a decent enough game out of the books (only 3 were out at the time) as I was already a big fan, had I been asked… Nevermind.
Who were the funniest people in the Rare office to work with?
That’s a tough one. Everyone pretty much made me laugh, sometimes unintentionally… Grant Kirkhope has ‘funny bones’ just because of his outlook on life and his rock ‘n’ roll stories. Robin’s funny as well, particularly when he’s drunk……. Martin Hollis has a very dry sense of humor and Noz always made me laugh at his various woes over the years…Doaky though, he’s just sick that man.
What was your reaction when you first heard about Microsoft buying out Rare?
Yay!! EA and Activision were the 2 other main contenders. Whatever criticisms people have for MS, I have no doubts whatsoever Rare as a studio would not exist now if they’d succeeded. Nintendo though? They made a great off by all accounts, and already owned nearly half the company… I don’t even want to think about that.
What made you come to the decision to leave Rare back in 2011?
I didn’t. I was happy to stay but things were, shall we say, engineered to make sure I didn’t….. Long story, not a pleasant experience, and some of the people involved, one in particular can go fuck themselves. They know who they are; not that things didn’t turn out well in the end… I got a nice fat cheque to send me on my way and here we are.
What is your opinion on the current state of Rare?
At the time I left it was not very good, what with a combination of Don Mattrick and his cronies not to mention that Kinect abomination. I was 90% sure we would be shut down within a few years… Since then though, along came Sea of Thieves .. Amazing what can happen when you just let a team get on with things and stop fucking them about. I think they’re in a very strong position now, although they really do need to mine that IP goldmine a bit more … Baffles me that they don’t.
What was the developmental process like early on during when the game was supposed to be either Twelve Tales or Conker 64?
I was only doing art at that point, and the direction the game was taking design-wise was not something I could influence. We were essentially trying to make a Mario 64 type platformer. It was…. Fractious.
How did you initially feel after being moved up to the project’s leader by the Stampers?
They knew it was what I wanted so they gave me a chance. Seemed to work out, although I think I was expected to fail.
What was it like working with Robin Beanland?
Yeah, okay. We don’t really get along 😉 Nah, he’s always been a talented bastard, unlike me who’s been winging it for years…. I think we get on workwise because we understand what we both want versus the limitations of the medium. It’s important to temper your expectations and ambitions with what’s actually possible. Plus we both like lager and vindaloos. Although age has finally caught up with me on both counts there.
What was the feeling across the team following the game’s showcasing at E3 1998?
Was that the BFD first showing? I remember the TT one being a fucking disaster. The BFD one was as good as it got. Great stand by Nintendo, free beer, most of the team was there too so it was a decent crowd. And no interview pools, which I really hate… There’s nothing like a bunch of bored games journos asking tedious questions for 12 hours straight to break your soul.
What was the revised pitch to Nintendo like when the intention changed to make the more mature game it turned out to be?
I don’t know. I pitched it to Tim and Chris, not Nintendo. I didn’t work for Nintendo; I worked for Rare, but I’m sure some discussions were had. To be honest, if T+C were happy with what we were doing then Nintendo would have been too. Rare was the golden goose at that point don’t forget, and it gave us a good deal of leverage.
What was the feeling across the development team when the project was finally finished after the long development cycle the game had?
We went home for some sleep. Then I went to Edinburgh for the New Year and got completely smashed. I also bought a sword which I then had to carry around all night. There’s a great restaurant on the Royal Mile called The Witchery, it’s basically like something out of Harry Potter. The maitre’de rather than scowl at me and my sword she kindly took it and hung it in the coatroom citing an old rule of no swords in the dining area. (I think she might have been joshing me )
How rewarding was it to see the game garnish as much critical acclaim as it did?
Validation. And relief. I wish we’d have launched in Japan too… I think they’d have liked a pissing, drunk, cute squirrel.
How did the voice for Conker come about?
It was the first voice I did. No process, just came out fully formed on day one…. One of those things I guess, The lisp was to add a curtness that belied the character but apart from that it was spontaneous.
Where there any other references to popular culture that were planned to be included in the game, but never made it, apart from the Pokemon reference?
There were a few levels that got cut, but that was for the sake of time rather than censorship. Pokemon is the only really notable one. There are a few easter eggs though… more than a few. Oh, wait there were two scenes cut from L&R for, reasons. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
What was the feeling about experiencing the game’s ending for the first time, as it provides such a stark contrast to the comedy perpetuated throughout most of the rest of the game?
I had that ending in mind right from the very start. If we were going to subvert the genre then let’s go for it. I don’t think I agree with the premise of the game being a comedy in a light sense. The game is DARK all the way through, and the laughs tend to stem from the misery and bad luck of others and the unintentional actions of the protagonist. I make it clear right in the very first shot of his eyes on the throne that this won’t end well for Conker.
What would you change about the game if you had the opportunity?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe pare things back a bit to get a lower rating (which actually wouldn’t be as much as you think) or maybe not… It is what it is. I do regret not doing the fake outtakes after the credits, I had that planned quite early on when we’d started experimenting with 4th wall breaking stuff in the game. Just not enough time, sadly.
How satisfying an experience has it been seeing Conker’s Bad Fur Day being updated for new audiences in the form of both Live and Reloaded and Rare Replay?
Yeah, it gave me a chance to make a PVP combat game which is a difficult thing to get right.. I also added a narrative thread through it as an experiment to a further idea (Getting’ Medievil). I think it worked quite well… They shut the servers ages ago though….. Rare Replay I had nothing to do with… It’s a thing I guess. Sold well, so says a lot about there being plenty of old-school Rare fans still out there spending money.
As it’s one of the most outlandish stories I’ve heard in all of gaming I have to ask; whose idea was it to come up with the Conker’s Bad Fur Day condoms campaign?
Not me. It’s a bit tacky, literally 😉
What new Gameplay elements were planned for inclusion in Conker’s Other Bad Fur Day?
More of the same really…. Who can say? That’s the kind of detail you get to when at the coal face and we didn’t get that far.
Early concept art has since been released on the Internet of the Conker sequel, but what other new types of locations and characters were planned to be included?
About half the game was completely new areas and the other half was updated and evolved areas from the original. The structure was pretty much the same, hub world, then smaller story worlds…. Familiar, extended with a fine blend of old and new.
Have you further developed the idea of a sequel since leaving Rare?
Nah of course not. No point.
If Rare ever called you back to develop the sequel to Conker, would you do it?
Depends on what I’m asked to do. If it’s just to read someone else’s lines then nope. If they want me to write and direct it, then maybe, but it would be a lot of work and cost a lot of money for something so niche. Who can say.. MS have got deep pockets. Risk wise it makes a lot more sense to make BK3 and they haven’t done that either, so go figure.
How did the idea come about for you and Shawn Pile to establish Gory Detail?
Boredom, plus I knew if I didn’t do something with all the time I suddenly had then I’d go insane. Shawn was the same I think, but you’d have to ask him. We’d actually talked about it long before mainly as a creative outlet, never really thinking it would happen. Then circumstance changed and here we are.
What were the influences behind Parashoot Stan and Rusty Pup?
Stan is a cliché, which was the point of the character. The kid pretending to be the hero but actually IS the hero. Rusty Pup is forged from a similar fire influence wise but is a lot more subtle. It’s actually set in the same world as Stan if you look closely but is a lot more tragic. No one has decoded Rusty Pup yet, which I’m fine with but it isn’t some vague metaphor or opaque fable. It’s a series of events, in order, which really happens. The clues are all there.
What were the most exciting aspects of developing the games?
‘Exciting’ is not a word I’d use to describe game development. A bunch of execs off to some launch party or awards ceremony to get drunk might disagree but that’s not development.
What were the most challenging aspects of developing the games?
Getting past pre-production and into full production. Until your that factory, churning out assets and regular versions there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of your mind this might be canceled any second. Pre-production is nice creatively and full production is a grind, but the security of the product is a huge weight off your mind. (hey, that rhymed!!)
How satisfying had it been seeing both these games garnish what commercial and critical acclaim they have?
Commercially? Yeah right, we’re millionaires now Rodders. Critical, well I think they’re great little games (Rusty not so little) Labour of love, both of ’em. I wish more of the mainstream media had bothered to review Rusty. We sent out a ton of codes. They claim they support indies etc, but they don’t really… Not really. I actually had one outlet say they weren’t interested unless I gave them an interview about our next game which I’d pitched as a Conker Spiritual Successor. It was kind of a publicity stunt (though true in essence). Needless to say, we said no. If I was in the games biz to make lots of money I’d have crawled my way up the corporate ladder, squeezed the right prostates, and jumped ship every time I fucked up. I’d rather be poor. I’m fine though but no more Porsche’s. Not this week anyway.
Were there any ideas planned for inclusion in either game that were later scrapped or reworked?
Yeah, loads. Rusty had a whole crafting system and twice as many mechanics including mind control baddies, loads more platform types, and a whole extra world… it was just too much, and the crafting would have made testing all the possibilities pretty much impossible. Stan was going to have 2D side-scrolling mini-bosses where he landed on a large Zeppelin and would run through with guns blazing. We just didn’t have the time and I also felt it was a bit jarring with the rest of the mechanics.
Is there any DLC planned for Rusty Pup in the future?
I did some stuff, even made some assets. It was an extra chapter, a deeper area with shorter, very difficult one-shot puzzles. A haunted house theme. But it would have taken 6 months to make, largely down to me and was and also totally free. Time is precious, so I decided it was best spent on developing the new IP.
What can you tell us about Gory Detail’s third project?
It’s coming on okay. I spent the bulk of last year preparing assets and I’m pretty happy with the tone and look of the game. It’s a typical twin-stick dungeon bash game but with a twist… Fast-paced, silly characters voiced by me and lots and lots of bad language, blood, and guts. COVID didn’t help though. At some point you need to sit with people and point and talk… I’ve not seen Shawn for a year now. Still, we’re not slaves to publishers and huge wage bills so it’s not a problem. You really only want the stress of making the game, which is more than enough.
Would you still like to see Urchin be brought to life under Gory Detail?
Yes… But we can’t call it that. Anyway, games aren’t the only medium in which to explore interesting narratives. 😉
Have any of the former Rare alumni at Playtonic Games had any advice to share with you and Shawn or has there been any general conversation between you all?
Yeah, we’ve chatted a few times… Gavin has been really helpful and made some gracious offers of help with production but the studio environment isn’t something I find appealing… It’s just me. I’m an old fart. In the future though, who can say? They’ll certainly have first dibs on the next game we do if they want it.
What are your opinions of the indie development scene today?
Business-wise, it’s very healthy for a lucky few, but for most I suspect it’s a struggle in a saturated market. Getting eyes on your work is increasingly difficult, and for the very small indies such as Gory, it’s almost impossible. From a gamer’s point of view, it couldn’t be any better. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and with the big boys taking fewer and fewer risks with their products, ironically people are turning away from their games as they tend to be over-produced and under-developed.
What genre of game have you and Shawn never undertaken before that you would like to do one day?
I have folders full of stuff. I think the next game though will be our last probably, as its core game is just the beginning. It’s designed around mini self-contained storylines, like the chapters in Conker. So if it’s a success I’ll be happy to just keep making and selling new Chapters as DLC so long as people still keep buying them. That’s the plan anyway.
Which pre-existing video game character would you like to see make a cameo in either Parashoot Stan or Rusty Pup?
They’re not that type of game, particularly Rusty. The next one though… I have plans for lots of cameos, although not very complimentary ones. 😉
Do you and Shawn find that having creative freedom is one of the best things about developing games for yourselves?
It is. It’s the price you pay for having to fund everything yourself. We’re not averse to having a publisher, just not during development. Finish the game first, then see if anyone fancies tackling all that marketing, support stuff I fucking hate doing.
Have Rare since reached out to you following the establishment of Gory Detail or the release of the two games?
Only for Conker stuff. I’m happy to do it although I suspect it was a last resort. I was sent some recordings of a guy they’d hired to mimic Conker and it wasn’t very good. Point is, they tried to do it with someone else and must have realized the fans would not accept a fake Conker. Heh! I also offered to do other voices, for the Young Conker app, but they already had someone for them. Just Conker for me…
What have you been most proud of throughout your career?
Rusty Pup… So far. I filled that game with my very soul.
Is there any advice you would be able to offer any aspiring developers who may be reading this?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.. …. It might be true, but the best way to find out isn’t by shrugging, but by trying to make it work and then finding out they were wrong.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Chris for agreeing to answer my questions, and for sharing so much about his storied career and what we can expect to see from him and Gory Details Ltd in the future. If you’re interested in what Gory Details has to offer, you can view their steam page via the link below:
You can also keep up with Chris’s posts on Twitter via his Twitter handle:
A full review of The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup can be accessed via the hyperlink, but in the meantime, I’d also like to wish Chris, Shawn Pile, and Gory Details the best of luck with their current games as well as their new upcoming project… MARVELLOUS!!
Released in 2007 as the second-to-last game developed by Rare specifically for a Nintendo console (the last being Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise), Diddy Kong Racing DS was a remake of the original Nintendo 64 classic aimed at providing a new experience for fans of the first game as well as one for newcomers to the series, boasting new gameplay features in place of old ones, new characters, and updated visuals. However, having played through it, and being a huge fan of the Nintendo 64 version, I wasn’t impressed, to say the least; the DS port seems much more like a demake than a remake for several reasons.
Graphics – 5/10
First of all, as it was developed for a handheld system with limited capability in terms of technical graphical quality compared to that of even a fourth-generation home console, the graphical quality doesn’t seem updated at all; it actually seems worse with this game than on the Nintendo 64. Aside from that, the game also suffers in terms of conceptual design compared to the original Diddy Kong Racing; additional scenery was added to certain tracks, but they don’t ostensibly add anything to what was already great; in fact, if you’re a fan of the first game, it can even create confusion as to where the player needs to go on certain tracks like Whale Bay.
The first Wizpig race is also considerably less atmospheric as it takes place on a sunny day in stark contrast to the Nintendo 64 version, which takes place on a stormy night. The game’s soundtrack also sounds considerably worse where both old and new songs are concerned. The recycled songs sound nowhere near as vibrant as they did on the Nintendo 64 and as for the new songs, it wouldn’t particularly surprise me to learn if they were old ideas that David Wise came up with whilst development of the original game was taking place and that they were just shoehorned into the remake because that’s what it feels like to me.
Gameplay – 5/10
The gameplay, for the most part, is identical to that of the original Nintendo 64 title, but there were some drastic changes made. Firstly, Banjo and Conker were removed from the game and replaced with Tiny Kong and Dixie Kong, most likely due to copyright issues with Rare, Wizpig and Taj became playable and the Taj races in the hub world were considerably meddled with in negative ways. In addition, the silver coin challenge was replaced with a mode whereby players have to pop balloons strewn across each track in the first-person, which to me, presented next to no challenge, unlike the silver coin challenge. In terms of gameplay overall, this remake is an example of when developers try to add more to the original experience but inadvertently take away what was great about a beloved classic and giving players an all-around inferior experience.
Controls – 5/10
One of the bigger gripes I have with this game, however, is with its control scheme. Playing out nowhere near as fluently as the original Diddy Kong Racing, players have to do pretty arbitrary things to get the initial speed boost at the start of a race depending on what vehicle the player is in at the time, such as rotating the plane propeller with the stylus and blowing into the microphone for the hovercraft boost. It annoyed me something fierce when I was playing through it, making me think just how unnecessary it was to have been put in the game.
There are a lot of DS games I had problems with because of the need to use the stylus during gameplay, whereby if the feature wasn’t implemented, the games would’ve been just fine; examples include The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Star Fox Command. But Diddy Kong Racing DS is no exception to this rule either, and again just gave testament to how much the developers took away at the cost of what they were trying to add.
Lifespan – 7/10
For anyone who can forgive some or all of the above issues, it can be made to last there around the same amount of time as the original Diddy Kong Racing, as it also includes the Adventure Two mode. But to me, it only lasted about an hour, due to everything about it that I couldn’t bring myself to forego. The remake is certainly not worth investing as much time in as the original game in any case.
Storyline – 6/10
The story simply retells the events of the original game of Wizpig invading the land and Diddy Kong and company having to race against him to drive him back. However, in the remake, it’s told in a much less exciting way, with the absence of many of the cutscenes from the original game that added so much meaning to it. The quality of the voice acting in the remake is also infinitely inferior to that of the original game, which only makes matters even worse. The voicing talent of the likes of Kevin Bayliss and Chris Seavor is sorely missing from the remake.
Originality – 5/10
Ironically, in trying to add so much to this game and taking away almost everything that was great about the original, the developers made it stand out, but for all the wrong reasons. Normally, I would be able to appreciate the fact that the developers at least tried new things, but as all those new things made this game seem like much more of a negative departure from the Nintendo 64 version than what it should’ve been, I can’t bring myself to appreciate much about it in general.
Overall, Diddy Kong Racing DS is a massive disappointment, and in many respects, a middle finger to the fans of the original game. It destroyed everything that was great about the original game and gave players a severely downgraded experience. I can’t recommend the first Diddy Kong Racing game for the Nintendo 64 enough, as to me, it’s a cherished classic, and a game that I return to time and time again, but I’d advise players to avoid the DS remake.
Publisher(s) – Disney Interactive, Sega, Nintendo Australia, Capcom & Black Pearl Software
Producer(s) – Craig Annis & Steve Riding
Designer(s) – John burton & Andy Ingram
ELSPA – All Ages
Released to coincide with the hit Disney film of the same name, Toy Story was developed for several different systems and was released to critical and commercial success despite having been at the back end of the fourth generation with the transition into the fifth generation looming around the corner. To me, this game is another one of the more impressive licensed titles released before they were further popularized during the seventh generation and still holds up as one of the most varied 2D side scrollers of the era.
Graphics – 8/10
The graphical style is extremely similar to that of Donkey Kong Country, implementing 2.5 graphical sprites provided to Traveller’s Tales by Disney themselves (albeit Traveller’s Tales has their own sprites on standby in the event of time constraints), portraying all the central characters in the film, as well as several minor ones, and featuring a massively varied range of level designs; some of which add to locations found in the original movie. The game’s soundtrack also features a collection of pretty catchy soundtracks that sound like they would’ve fit flawlessly if they were again included in the film as well. As far as fourth-generation games go, this is one of the best-looking titles of that era in my opinion; the visuals are both colorfully vibrant and wonderfully dark wherever needed, and the character sprites are wonderfully animated in addition.
Gameplay – 8/10
For what is primarily a 2D side scroller, the gameplay in Toy Story is surprisingly varied for a game from this era. Not only does it feature side-scrolling sequences, but it also features light puzzle elements, car driving sequences, and even a first-person sequence very similar to Doom. But to experience all of these different styles of play, I would recommend playing the Mega Drive/Genesis version; as this version was dubbed the lead version by Disney, it is the only port to feature all 18 levels created for it; the Super NES version is missing the first RC sequence towards the end and the PC version only has 10 of the original 18 levels. The game also features situations that are unique to the franchise and that don’t appear in the actual film, such as Woody navigating his way through the interior of the claw machine, whereas in the film, he and Buzz simply slip in among the toy aliens instantly. The designers of this game made something very unique to the original film, and it really shows in every respect.
Controls – 10/10
Regardless of having cramped in a huge amount of different play styles, I was amazed to find that there were no problems with the controls after replaying Toy Story. I had to go over it again, as although I’d spent a great deal of time playing this when I was a kid, I realized that I’d forgotten just how good a game this was going into it again with a much more subjective viewpoint. The only minor issue I have with the controls is that during the first-person sequence inside the claw machine, turning can be a bit wooden, but that’s just semantics, as it’s only for one level. It may have posed more of a problem if there were more sequences like it, but besides which, there are no other issues with the controls at all.
Lifespan – 6/10
To complete the game will take about the average lifespan for a game of this kind, which is around an hour. I found myself not being able to give the game too much flack in this respect because it was after all perpetuating the source material of an 80-minute film; in fact, if the player explores enough, they can potentially make the game last slightly longer than the film. My initial thought was that if the game could incorporate so many different play styles that the developers may have been able to make it last a lot longer than what it does, but there are too many different factors to consider for me to criticize it too much in this respect, such as the time frame they would have needed to work to in order to get it out at the same period as the film. Regardless, for a game of its generation, it lasts a fair amount of time.
Storyline – 7/10
The game is simply a retelling of the events of the film; two anthropomorphic action figures, the cowboy Woody and space ranger Buzz Lightyear, become separated from their owner Andy and must find a way back before the family is due to move house. The game does well enough to portray these events in its own way without much of the classic dialogue of the film and the soundtrack does particularly well to add to the game’s atmosphere further aiding in the portrayal of the story; especially in unique sequences not present in the original film.
Originality – 7/10
Especially as 2D side-scrolling was the most prevalent genre within the industry at the game, this game does extremely well to stand out among a vast majority of others with the sheer amount of different play styles it incorporates throughout. It was rare for a game of this genre within the fourth generation to offer so much variety in gameplay and especially for a licensed game, which back then was much more of a niche interested among gamers than what it is now, is particularly impressive indeed.
Overall, Toy Story, to me, frankly remains one of the better 2D side scrollers of the fourth generation of gaming; certainly among the best of early Disney games. It offers players an unprecedented amount of variety for the time that it lasts and portrays the film in a very satisfying way, not only using the license but celebrating it in an appropriate manner.
Released back in 2005 and seemingly taking a majority of influence from Destruction Derby, Ultimate Demolition Derby is a racing game featuring four distinct game modes and a cast of different characters to choose from. However, especially compared to most other racing games that had been and gone since before this title was released, it falls way below par of what I was expecting. I was perhaps anticipating to play a game made in the same vein as Destruction Derby, but with an interesting twist from what I’d read of it prior, but what it offers is an extremely limited and seemingly rushed gaming experience that fails in every aspect.
Graphics – 2/10
To begin with, the game’s visuals fail both on a technical and conceptual level. There are four tracks in the game, which whilst come with their own distinct features and art directions, still feel particularly empty and unimaginative; especially compared to the likes of some of the best in the genre including Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, and ModNation Racers. Ostensibly, it doesn’t even hold up against the original two Destruction Derby games in terms of conceptual design. The game’s only remotely commendable feature is the small variety in car design, as each driver has a distinct car and theme to it; like Twisted Metal but nowhere near as wonderfully varied. On certain levels, the frame rate also drops dramatically in courses where there isn’t even a great number of things included to seemingly eat up the game’s memory, which really made me wonder how that was possible whilst running on Windows XP.
Gameplay – 1/10
As mentioned, there are four game modes to choose from in Ultimate Demolition Derby ranging from simple round-the-track races to battle mode, but the premise remains the same for all four game modes; the player must eliminate all the other opposing cars to have the best chance of winning. There are also weapons and items to be used in the game to maintain an advantage similar to Mario Kart. but although so far I have loosely compared this game to the likes of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, this game couldn’t hold a candle to either of them, and where this is most evident it is in the game’s play. Offering no purpose or incentive for winning whatsoever, there is no satisfaction to be had whilst playing, which is all the more unforgivable since this game came out in 2005 and by that time, the likes of Mario Kart: Double Dash and Gran Turismo 3 had come and gone and both those games, as well as many many other racing games that came before, had had insanely more to offer players than what they’re given with this sad excuse of a game.
Controls – 4/10
The controls in the game are also a complete mess as the poor turning mechanics can force players to make one unintentional error after the other. It’s especially annoying since every course in the game has at least two ramps to drive over and the turning mechanics really cause a massive problem when the player is in mid-air. It also doesn’t help that it takes a very little amount of damage for the car to explode. With these two faults combined, it almost makes the game unplayable; not that it is actually worth playing in the first place, of course.
Originality – 0/10
As I mentioned before, the game’s only saving grace in terms of any aspect is the amount of variety in character design, but again, comparing it to the many racers that had come and gone by this time, it falls way too short of what any genuinely dedicated development team should strive to deliver to players. The courses have next to no originality about them either. Some of the original development team would later go on to contribute to later and better games, such as Lords of the Fallen, but this is definitely a dark stain on their CVs. San Francisco Rush makes this game look good.
Overall, Ultimate Demolition Derby is one of the worst racing games I’ve ever played; if not the worst. It’s a lackluster game that fails to deliver in every single aspect and it deserves to be as thoroughly obscure as it is today.
The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.
The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.
Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.
Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:
Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.
Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.
The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.
One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.
WWE 2K17: First Impressions
The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.
The Tomb Raider Panel
In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.
The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.
Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.
Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions
As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.
Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.
In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Released early on in the shelf life of the original PlayStation, and developed with the likes of both Super Mario Kart and F-Zero in mind, the original Wipeout was a world apart from most games that Psygnosis had developed prior, such as Barbarian and Bloodwych, and offered exactly the kind of gaming experience that Sony needed at the time. Aside from 3D platformers and RPGs, which were gaining mainstream popularity at the time, racing games remained fairly popular, although the genre would be saturated with a number of licensed games (some of which developed by Psygnosis themselves), but Wipeout took elements from both the kart racing genre and the anti-gravity racing genre and combined them to make something very different and fascinating indeed.
Graphics – 8/10
Wipeout takes place in a futuristic imagining of our own world, with the game set in places like Canada, Germany, and Japan, and includes a lot of varied and wonderfully designed courses and intricate track designs. Not only did this game do an exceptional job of showing off what the original PlayStation was capable of in its early years, but I think the graphics also still hold up to this day, despite one or two glitches that can found in most of the tracks namely Canada. Ship designs would go on to become more diverse in future games, but I think they made a decent impression with even the few ships players have at their disposal to start the game off with.
Gameplay – 7/10
As the perfect marriage between two Nintendo classics, Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout is as enjoyable as it is both challenging and exhilarating. I think one reason why it can be viewed as more of a challenge than Mario Kart games is that the player always has to climb from last place to first to win each race, unlike Mario Kart, whereby if the player starts from whichever position they finished in. It’s also a lot more of a challenge to hit opponents with certain projectiles I find since Mario Kart 64 was very forgiving of how much time players had to hit someone even with a green shell at close range.
Controls – 7/10
Since this was the first game in the series, it was always going to be a question of trial and error in terms of controls; especially since the PlayStation controller, it lacked the analog stick at this point. Its initial absence didn’t cause as much of a problem in this game as it did in many early 3D platformers available early on in the PlayStation’s shelf life, such as Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and Bubsy 3D, but making certain turns can be seen as an unnecessary hassle at times, and it would take a few installments for the developers eventually got it fully perfected.
Originality – 10/10
Although this game took influence from not only numerous Nintendo games, from many other different things, such as the culture and music which was most popular during the mid-90s, the game also went on to boost the popularity of its respective influences, such as underground techno music, and as I said before, offered an experience unique to the PlayStation console that may not have been conceived otherwise. Crash Team Racing did eventually come along as a challenger to the popularity of Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, but Wipeout would go on to evolve in different ways to the aforementioned examples, even across the lifespan of the original PlayStation alone.
To summarize, Wipeout is a must-have for anyone with either a PlayStation or PlayStation 3 and is a classic experience that still holds up to this day. Players may encounter issues with the game’s physics and control scheme, but by no means do these factors make the game unplayable.
Originally released as an arcade game back in 1996, San Francisco Rush was a generic racing game similar to the likes of Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer, that especially at the time, could never measure up to the quality of the many kart racing games that had already been released. Although I do have to say as a prerequisite that I spent a fair bit of time playing this game when I was growing up, I look back at it now and think that it scarcely hold up.
Graphics – 5/10
The best thing I can say about the game’s visuals is that they were pretty advanced for the time, and a lot of the textural details that were incorporated were very well handled. The problem is that because it is part of a genre that has borne witness to many shovelware titles, even since the days of the Atari, it is never going to stand out among the others to any kind of extent; not to mention that there are glitches galore. It may be pretty advanced for the time, but for the most part, extremely unpolished.
Gameplay – 3/10
The game consists of eight selectable vehicles and four selectable tracks depending on a selected difficulty, and simply race across for either the best time or first position. Otherwise, there isn’t much else to it. Since it was originally designed as a pay-to-play arcade cabinet, there is a very limited amount of options in terms of variety, and consequently, it turns out to be even worse on consoles. Disappointingly, the only other option available to players is the facility to change their car’s color.
Controls – 4/10
The main issue I have with the game’s control scheme is that turning corners, no matter how sharp or straight they may be, can feel like a chore for the most part. To make matters worse, certain turns were added to certain tracks that are almost impossible to try to traverse without crashing and having to reset the player’s own position.
Originality – 0/10
Not only does this game not stand out in terms of visuals, as I pointed out earlier, but there is actually considerably less variety in this game than there was even in other games of its kind around at the time. Later on, games such as Gran Turismo would be released, which would blow games like this out of the water, but for the time being, it was either Mario Kart, which was infinitely more fun, or a generic racer. To me, nothing has really changed since then, since I care very little for modern generic racers that are released even today, such as Forza or Driver, but for me, this game definitely began my distaste for the genre.
To summarize, the biggest redeeming quality of San Francisco Rush is not in its gameplay or visuals, but in the pretty funny music that plays whilst players register their high score. It’s the only element present, which works to differentiate it from other generic racing games, and in all honesty, it was most probably the only thing keeping me at the table like a bad gambler when I was a kid.
First appearing as a Kickstarter project, and having a budget of merely $20,000 attached to it, Race the sun is an endless runner game with a strong element of the Star Fox series attached to it, but like it, providing gamers with infinite replayability and a decent amount of challenge. Though I did find a couple of faults with the title, I did also find it to be pretty entertaining, and I would recommend it to any fan of the series looking for a new test.
Graphics – 7/10
For the small budget that this game had attached to it, the visuals were fairly well handled, and the limited textural detail allows for it to run pretty smoothly on consoles, with a sharp 60 fps frame rate. The best-looking element in the game is the sunset in the distance throughout each run of the game. It’s vibrant and captivating as well as pretty realistic. The biggest complaint I have is that not much more time seems to have spent by the developers thinking a little bit more about the conceptual design of the game since the surrounding scenery is largely bland for the most part.
Gameplay – 8/10
Though the main objective is to simply last as long in each run as possible, whilst collecting power-ups on the way to keep the sun from setting, along with items collected to increase the high score and maximum points multiplier, each run is kept fresh by giving players side missions, involving the fulfillment of certain criteria, which in turn, unlocks upgrades for the player’s ship, such as increased magnetic attraction to items or sharper turning. Despite the repetition, the game has the ability to keep players entertained for an extraordinarily long time and become extremely satisfying once the player has mastered the game’s basic mechanics.
Controls – 10/10
At first, I did think that the turning mechanics were far too stiff and that such a drawback was largely unnecessary. But once I acquired the turn upgrade, and when I realized that it was all part of the challenge, I quickly changed my perception o the game overall. There are no other issues with the controls to address and this is a huge part of why it can become so incredibly satisfying to play.
Originality – 6/10
The worst aspect of the game is how little it is able to stand out among even games of its own genre. With Star Fox, for example, there are quite a lot of cultural references in its conceptual design, which were inspired largely by Japanese mythology. But with Race the Sun, the only cultural references that can be found are in the various different taglines that appear before the start of each run; one of which being “do a barrel roll”, referencing Star Fox itself. The gameplay does have a little bit of originality about it, but it’s easy to put this down to the developer’s limited budget, and they wanted to concentrate mostly on gameplay, which I am in favor of, so I don’t think it should lose out on too many points in this category.
Overall, despite its lack of conceptual design, Race the Sun is a pretty fun and addictive game to play. To me, it is a fairly good example of how a developer’s imagination can play a bigger role in a video game than however much it may have cost to make it.
Released in 2002, and heavily based on the same mechanics as the earlier games in the franchise for the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive, Micro Machines went on to receive mostly negative reviews from critics; most notably IGN, who gave it a mere 4.0. That was one of the very few reviews I found on this game since it has gone on to become fairly obscure since its release. However, speaking as a fan of the classic fourth generation games based on the license, I didn’t find a great deal wrong with this installment, and I would recommend it to any fan of the isometric racing genre, as well as the art racing genre for several reasons.
Graphics – 7/10
Firstly, the visuals are pretty impressive for an early PlayStation 2 game. I struggled to find very many glitches, and the conceptual design is fairly diverse, as well as being very reminiscent of the classic games. Taking place across a wide array of different kinds of tracks to fit in with what vehicles the player may be using at that time, be that an off-road truck, a speedboat, or a sports car, to me, it doesn’t fail to impress in this respect. The character roster is also as quirky and as interesting in this game as in any other game in the series. While some of the characters may be loosely based on past racers in the game franchise, for the most part, things are kept very fresh.
Gameplay – 6.5/10
Like in previous installments, the gameplay is also fairly varied, containing multiple different modes, such as championship mode, practice mode, time trial mode, and an exhibition mode. There is about as much substance in this title as an early Mario Kart game but would have inevitably had a hard time competing against competition back in the day since there were many other kart games around at that time to overshadow it. I think it could have done with a little more substance in order to make it stand out more than what it did, but still, there is enough to do in it to keep players entertained for a fair bit of time.
Controls – 9/10
As some who played the classic games, and has grown accustomed to the isometric racing formula, it didn’t personally take me a great deal of time to get into it; however, there will inevitably be a camp of people who may be wanting to try this game out that may not be so patient with it, since there hasn’t been a lot of isometric racing games released since, and there wasn’t even that many released in the interim between this game and the Micro Machines games released before it on the original PlayStation. Another grip I had with the controls was the fact that the camera angle can change from the third person to isometric depending on which mode the player is playing through, which perpetuates a level of inconsistency on the developer’s part. Otherwise, however, I found the game’s control scheme to offer more of a legitimate challenge than an unnecessary annoyance.
Originality – 7/10
Although the isometric racing formula was nothing new to the industry at the time of this game’s release, few developers have implemented it in racing games, with the majority of them favoring the more commercially acceptable third-person view instead. I think that whilst that is totally understandable, I can’t of a reason why this formula wouldn’t be built upon more than what it has been done since it still provides a fair level of both challenge and entertainment. As long as players were to have patience enough, I think they would get just as much enjoyment out of a game like this as I did, and perhaps it wouldn’t be so easily overlooked in the future.
Overall, Micro Machines is a very well-developed game that is most definitely worthy of more attention than what it was given both at that time, and what it is given today. It plays out just as well as the classic fourth generation games in the series and the problems that it does have aren’t enough to make this as bad a gaming experience as many other critics have seen fit to label it as in my opinion.