Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Sega The Pioneer
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Innovators are almost never the market leaders and often times are unable to capitalize on their own innovations at all. This happens in every industry, ideas and concepts are introduced by one party then iterated on by almost everyone else until naturally one or two market leaders rise. It's a natural occurrence in a capitalist market and a direct result of competition but very rarely does lightning strike twice. Sega was a titan when it came to innovation in the hardware space, foreseeing the forthcoming of the connected video game experience and the lucrative subscription service model; but just like most other innovators Sega was to much to soon and despite their ingenuity were forced out of the hardware market entirely.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Don’t forget to check out everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week we'll be discussing two separate times that Sega introduced something that can easily be called a game changer to the video game industry before it was ready. Lets talk about Sega Channel and Seganet.
For almost two decades internet connectivity has been an integral part of almost every single video game to come to market. Whether those be multiplayer games in which players use the internet to connect to other players and play together or single player games where developers can patch out bugs and deliver new content an internet connection has become an absolute must for owning a console in 2019. PC players were connected to the internet and using these features long before console players but that was in a time when the two markets were so separated that people still widely referred to console games as video games and PC games as computer games. Sega saw the two markets converging and becoming much more competitive platforms before most people did and as a result with the introduction of the Dreamcast in 1999 they sought to bring the connected nature of a PC to the console market.
Seganet was Sega's online service that connected Dreamcast players to one another over the internet. Through an optional modem add on for the Dreamcast players had the capability to connect to Seganet and play games head to head or cooperatively online. Popular games like NFL 2K, Jet Set Radio, and Phantasy Star Online are fondly remembered as the pinnacle of Seganet. In the years since its demise and Sega's exiting the hardware space the Dreamcast has become somewhat of a cult classic console with many people still swearing by it as the best console of all time, even today. And in a sense those people are right. Despite being discontinued in March of 2001 the Dreamcast was extremely forward thinking and later that year Microsoft would enter the market with the original Xbox sporting a built in modem for internet connectivity.
A connected console is something that is so commonplace in today's market that the vast majority of the consumer base doesn’t even think of it as a feature its become something that's simply expected. When pressed to tell you who started the connected console movement that vast majority of consumers would probably respond with Microsoft for their Xbox live service that launched in 2002, or maybe they're one of the two dozen or so people that played Socom online and they would tell you the PS2 was the first connected console. While both Sony and Microsoft have gone on to refine the idea and benefits of a connected console it was Sega that paved the way for their success. Sega brought an internet service for console gaming to market in the mid 90's on the Saturn and made it much more widely accessible in 1999 with the Dreamcast but even then it was still just ahead of it's time and while Sega was preparing for and building the console of the future the consumers were more interested in the console of right now and both the Saturn and Dreamcast lacked games and major third party support when compared to Sony and Nintendo.
While the connected console is something Sega saw coming a couple years ahead of the rest of the market there was something else that we have all hailed as a monumental achievement in pushing the delivery of video games to new heights that Sega predicted not only years but decades before it would take the world by storm.
Sega Channel was a very strange concept that starting in 1994 allowed users to order the capability to download as many games as they wanted from the list of games included with the service and play those games for as long as they wanted. The service was delivered through cable TV providers who would send a tech to customers houses with a specialized Genesis cartridge that sported a coaxial input to connect to the cable provider. Sega Channel was operational from 1994 to 1998 for $13 per month and when adjusted for inflation that comes out to about $22 per month in 2019. A bit more than two times $9.99…
The potential of unlimited access to games from a set list for a flat monthly fee has been a holy grail of sorts that the industry has been chasing for decades now and it all started with Sega Channel. The idea has ben attempted by many others including third parties that aren't in the video game industry but the retail industry. The closest any company has ever gotten to realizing that vision prior to 2017 for me personally was actually Blockbuster. In 2003 Blockbuster, rest in peace, introduced in what is undoubtedly the worst bit of branding of all time the Unlimited Game Rental Freedom Pass for $14.99 per month or $20.87 per month in 2019 dollars. The freedom pass allowed subscribers to hold one game out for as long as they wanted and swap it out for any other game as many times as they liked, effectively making the only limiting factor be what blockbuster happened to have in stock at the time. In 2017 Microsoft announced their new program called Gamepass, at the start of the eighth generation of consoles Sony acquired Gaikai for their streaming technology and now offer PSnow, EA offers EA access, and Ubisoft just announced Uplay+. Starting in 2017 a whole 23 years after Sega Channel the idea of an all you can play subscription buffet is a wildly popular one, another part of the gaming industry pioneered by Sega.
When most people (myself included prior to writing this) look back on Sega's time as a hardware developer they picture the glory days of the Genesis and the tailspin that was the Saturn. But Sega is almost never remembered for the incredible innovations they brought to market before the market was ready for said innovations. In a very strange way without Sega we definitely would have gotten to the connected console world and the subscription service model we have today but it could have potentially taken much longer than it did. Sega opened the door on two of the biggest most revolutionary concepts in video game history and while they're still out there publishing software like Alien Isolation (great game) and Sonic Forces (a less than great game) I think we should all take a moment to pour one out for their hardware division.
What are some of the major game changers that you think changed the industry either for better or for worse? Let me know in the comments down below. And if you had any experience with either Seganet or Sega Channel please let me know about it while you're down there!
If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for new videos and two new podcasts every week. Just one more reminder that you can see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I will be back next week talking about Gears 3 so until then just go play some games.
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
There was something magical about the Gameboy Advance. Of the many handhelds that I've owned over the years it's the one with which I've spent by far the least amount of time and yet it's one that nears the top of my list when it comes to naming my all time favorites. Links Awakening was originally a Gameboy game that was later enhanced on the Gameboy color and then laid dormant for nearly 21 years. But now Link's Awakening has been remade for Switch and released alongside the new miniaturized Switch Lite and despite having never been officially made for the GBA the combination of Link's Awakening and the Switch Lite has ripped me back to my days of angling my GBA just right in the third row of my parent's Land Cruiser to be able to see those nearly Super Nintendo graphics on that terrible screen. Conceptually I adore Links Awakening, its unique deviation from the Zelda formula and obviously catered for handheld design language combined with the nostalgic form factor of the Switch Lite makes for the best Gameboy experience I've ever had and it's not even on a Gameboy.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the game that I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I've been playing a new to me Zelda adventure over the past couple weeks so lets talk about that.
The Zelda series started as a top down 2D adventure game in 1987 and for the first four entries it would remain that way. In 1998 Zelda broke into the third dimension with Ocarina of Time to massive critical acclaim, but just three years later the franchise would go back to its 2D roots and contrary to traditional thinking Nintendo has kept Zelda alive in both the second and third dimensions as distinctly different but equally good variations of the same series. With well over a dozen entries behind them Nintendo has continued to iterate and improve upon the gameplay featured in both the 2D and 3D Zelda's. And after playing though Link's Awakening on Switch It is easy to say that this is as good as 2D Zelda has ever been.
Movement across Koholint Island is pleasant and intricate with puzzles and item gates along the way that lead to portions of the island being blocked off for the majority of the game. There are secrets to be discovered almost everywhere and in many cases even secrets within secrets offering even more to explore. Combat is responsive and has finally overcome that silly feeling of having to offset Link from his attackers in order to ensure contact with the swing of the sword in all but the most extreme scenarios. The items that Link uses are enjoyable and satisfying but a bit limited in number and scope. Where the hookshot is often used as an option for stunning most enemies in other games it feels extremely contextual in Link's Awakening offering the same functionality the Zelda audience has come to expect but in a much more limited capacity. The Bow and Arrow is really only utilized in a combat scenario in the ancient ruins and a puzzle scenario in the face shrine whereas in other entries it’s a staple for players to lean on heavily in ranged combat situations. The actual combat and movement are an all time high for the 2D games but the game having been designed originally for a two button interface feels as though it was designed to not utilize items to nearly the same extent as A Link to the Past before it and almost all subsequent games.
Overall the design of the game is excellent. The overworld is charming and enthralling, while the dungeons feel well plotted and for the most part logical. Koholint Island isnt the biggest overworld of any Zelda game ever and in fact it's almost certainly one of the smallest but where Koholint shines is in its density and complexity. The developers used a winding path and varying levels of verticality to make the world feel much larger than it actually is. Through clever map design the player can both see where they need to go and be a three to four minute journey from that point as they have to wind their way around the labyrinth that is Koholint island to reach their destination. The island itself is a gigantic puzzle that continues to leave the player wondering until after hours of play time it can be completely mastered. From a design standpoint alone Koholint Island is one of the biggest assets the game has to offer. Dungeon designs are a bit less satisfying. Early on the dungeons are fine but as the game progresses and the difficulty curve ramps up the developers leaned more and more heavily on frustratingly unintuitive design choices to create an illusion of difficulty.
Some particularly frustrating points in the game occurred when the player is left not knowing what to do with almost no hint pushing them in the right direction. As the game continues this becomes increasingly common and left me with little choice than to look up where to go just to be able to continue. Typically I try to not use a guide as I think it makes for a fundamentally different experience than figuring it out for yourself, not worse or any less valid just different. But I'm also not willing to beat my head against a wall trying to figure something out that I may have just missed or may be a result of a simple lapse in cohesive game design so I am willing to turn to a guide when necessary. I've played plenty of Zelda games and am well versed in their puzzle mechanics but as I got further into the game I found myself having to refer to a guide more frequently and when seeing the next step was left wondering how I was supposed to know that. Essentially it feels as though for the sake of longevity the devs created something that began to feel artificially long and not fully realized; into the later dungeons and overworld exploration Link's Awakening starts to feel distinctly like a Gameboy game in a bad way.
But while it may not be the best designed Zelda game in the the last 30 plus years it is definitely one of the best Zelda stories. As the player is forced to repeatedly back track across the world and speak with all the inhabitants of the world learning about them personally and seeing them in their own home environments they cant help but fall in love with not only the people but their environment. Koholint island is shockingly alive feeling compared to other Gameboy games and even home console games of the era. There are constantly things happening across the island that have nothing to do with the main story which contributes to the feeling of this being a world that exists and raises the stakes of the main quest. From the outset of the game Link and the player alike aren't given much context as to why they're doing what they're doing but they press forward regardless.
Early in the game there are different things hinting at the twist ending but towards the end the dungeon bosses blatantly tell both Link and the player that this is all just a dream and if Link wakes the Wind Fish it will all be over. Having known the ending of the game prior to playing this version every time one of the bosses warned me about this it was a bit more heart breaking. Here I was moving throughout these dungeons as though this was any other Zelda game but for the first time in the series Link's actions have significant negative consequences. Operating under the assumption that we are doing the right thing without taking the time to look around at what we are doing can lead to grave mistakes and that’s what Link's Awakening seemed to be and should have been all about. Link and the player are the villain of this story and it just goes to show that even an ignorant villain is still a villain regardless. Where I felt the story went off the rails a bit was in trying to vilify the nightmares at the end. That story beat wasn’t earned and just devalued the masterful story telling the game had setup previously at the last minute in a feeble attempt to present Link as the hero.
Conceptually I love Link's Awakening. It’s a great 2D Zelda and the remake continues to shine an already excellent gameplay experience. For better of worse it is undeniably and unapologetically a remake of a Gameboy game from more than 20 years ago and that shows. But despite its flaws the Switch version of this game offers up a complete and enjoyable Zelda experience. Link's Awakening's deviation from the typical Zelda story arc helps it stand out in my opinion as the second best Zelda story with just a minor hiccup that is easily ignored at the end. It's not my favorite Zelda in fact I'm not sure where it lands on the spectrum of Zelda games for me but I can definitely see a case being made for it being in the top five.
What are your thoughts on this new old Zelda and which old Zelda would you like to see be new next? Let me know in the comments down below. Also shout out to Bounty Hunter 115 thanks for your support I'd be glad to have you on the podcast sometime.
Don’t forget to check out everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. Ill be back next week talking about something else…maybe sega but maybe something Gears of War related I'm not sure yet so until then just go play some games!
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Every now and then a game comes along that completely obliterates all expectations, something that fires on all cylinders from start to finish and leaves its audience both extremely satisfied but ravenous for more. Control is one of those games. Remedy's latest sci-fi/thriller offering absolutely nails down the fundamentals of what make a great narrative based single player experience by executing to perfection its story, characters, setting, gameplay, and atmosphere to make for an unforgettable experience. From start to finish Control offers a thrill ride that punches way above its weight in almost every way, the game left me in complete disbelief and will not only be a big focus in game of the year consideration but could also hold its own in any game of the generation conversation.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games ive been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. You can see everything we do including both of your podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week we got to kick off what is looking to be a packed fall video game season with an absolute banger, this week we will be talking about Control so lets get to it!
Creating an atmosphere that contributes to the overall tone or message of a game is something that can be a make or break element. Not to sound reductionist but anyone can create a three dimensional space with the tools available today; what turns that three dimensional environment into a living breathing world to function as a complimentary setting for a story to occur in is atmosphere. For Control, Remedy has crafted a completely fantastical setting that I never once found to be even the least bit unbelievable and that level of believability was achieved through an incredible and incredibly consistent atmosphere. The Federal Bureau of Control feels like an office space where people work, and have recently stopped working in a hurry. Desks are left untidy, papers have been strewn about, and office supplies are left tipped over as though whoever was here before left with a considerable amount of haste. The space is able to feel organic and lived in while at the same feeling just a bit to perfect giving the player a sense of discomfort like this isn't a normal office building.
Everything about the FBC is consistent. The architecture, furniture, uniform, and technology are what gives the player their best idea as to when the game takes place. A midcentury modern aesthetic throughout the game gives the player the sense that they are the alien here not any of the characters that inhabit the FBC which inherently allows the player to connect on a deeper level with Jesse by giving them something in common; both the player and Jesse are the ones that don’t belong. The sounds heard throughout the game, the low ambient music that when actually listened to is somewhat neutral but still somehow instills a feeling of dread when listened to passively, the bright whites and deep reds, and the obvious immaculate state the entire building was in just hours prior to Jesse's arrival, and the stunning usage of lighting all contribute to building a cohesive sense of space and make the FBC not just a 3D space but a real setting for the player to explore.
But it's not all perfect, the unbelievable visuals of such a perfectly crafted setting put a massive strain on the PS4 version of the game. Constant performance issues plague the game from a noticeable stutter for about five seconds after every time the game is paused, to not loading in the actual image of the map just the location names, to the visuals completely freezing for 15-30 seconds after the completion of nearly every mission Control struggles to maintain a steady 30 frames per second at 1080P even on the PS4 pro. And to make matters worse in the late game when combat really ramps up everything slows down mid fight from time to time no doubt due to the particle effects, harsh lighting, and insane number of enemies having to be rendered on screen all at once mega man style. I absolutely adored this game and early on was willing to completely overlook the technical issues of the port (which from what I hear is exclusive to the PS4 version of the game) and justify it by saying that it’s a smaller more double A type game not coming from one of the major triple A publishers but as the game progressed so did the technical issues. Not that these technical issues are at all a reason to not play the game but just a word of warning if you have the ability to play on either an Xbox One X or a PC you would probably be better off on those platforms.
In discussing Control with a friend he called it the "Death Stranding that nobody is talking about" in the sense that it is a very mysterious sci-fi story that seems to have been put together extremely well and has revealed almost no major story beats throughout its marketing campaign. And thank god it didn’t! The story of Control is a completely absurd engagement that had me on the edge of my seat from the moment I met the Ahti the janitor. Early on the developers establish an understanding that the player isn't going to be able to guess what happens because literally anything happen. And while this is without a doubt personal preference I love stories where I am intentionally kept in the dark chasing anything that looks even remotely like a shadow. The most obvious comparison for me as I played was to liken it to the Phillip K Dick short stories I read in high school, more of a sci-fi thriller than a sci-fi fantasy.
Jesse's personal connection and motivation throughout the story remain at the forefront of her mind just as she arrived at the FBC with a personal goal in mind. Her relentless seventeen year long search for her brother is mentioned in the opening minutes and hooks the audience in a really fun way similar to a really good episode from the early seasons of the X-Files. And that theme of consistent and understandable motivation applies to all the characters, they all have their reasons for doing what they do and even the minor characters in the side quest type activities demonstrate a remarkably human reaction to their circumstances, a welcome attention to detail not often seen in big budget games these days. Some parts of Control are truly scary and almost all of Control is eerie or off-putting and the player isn't the only one that feels that way.
At the outset of the game the employees of the FBC have scattered. Some lucky ones have made it into the lockdown shelters placed strategically throughout the building, some were able to hunker down and keep quiet, and the rest were taken by the Hiss the hostile other dimensional entity attempting to invade our world. Initially I resented the supporting cast of characters for adding an unwelcome sense of comfort breaking the tension that builds with each new room the player enters into. But at the conclusion of the game the characters are all utilized well and never become to common or intrusive allowing some time to regroup and add narrative and exposition to the story as well as make both Jesse and the player uncomfortable with their immediate respect and understanding of Jesse's new position as director. Trench, Ahti, Emily, Marshall, and Dylan all make up an excellent cast of characters that I was hesistant to trust all the way up to the very end but none of those were the most interesting relationship dynamic the game has to offer.
Throughout the opening hour of the game Jesse's internal monologue kept referring to herself as "I" or "me" then would quickly correct herself and say "we." After hearing this a handful of times it dawned on me that this wasn’t just Jesse's inner monologue that I'm listening into, this was Jesse having a conversation with me. A fourth wall break that added to the story in such a profoundly unique way that anytime Jesse addressed me was the time I was most invested in what was going on. Eventually Jesse names the player Polaris and begins to understand and embrace her relationship with the player more openly. The player acting as Polaris and Jesse working together makes for an astounding pair of main characters to experience the story and feels genuinely innovative and compelling in a medium that has been more plagued with stagnation than any other before it.
Control is nothing short of pure excellence. From start to finish the game gives off a sense of being something truly magical and haunting and easily stands out amongst the ever growing crowd of science fiction. 2019 has been a slow year up until the last few weeks and looks as though all the heavy hitters will come in the last quarter, but when it comes time to discuss game of the year I personally will absolutely not be forgetting about Control.
Did you play control? What did you think of it and are you like me going to go back and play Alan Wake now? Let me know in the comments down below.
Sorry it's been so long since ive made a video I've had a lot going on and this is something that regrettably fell onto a back burner. But if you stuck around and youre still with me thank you, im going to get back to releasing videos once per week and don’t forget you can see everything we do all in one spot over at coldnorthpro.com. Ill be back next week talking about Links Awakening so until then just go play some games.
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)