Minus World Reading List – November 2016

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Nintendo offered us some engaging conversation last month in an interview with long-time developer Yoshio Sakamoto, translated as part of a short interview series celebrating release of the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System. This particular instalment, which focuses on Balloon Fight, features humorous anecdotes such as Satoru Iwata‘s first encounter with veteran Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi and a fascinating closer look at the challenges and experimentation involved in the game’s development. One noteworthy aspect of this piece is the way in which writer Akinori Sao opens his foreword, with the expression “FamiConnichiwa”. Let’s hope this catches on as a greeting soon.

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Also released last month was the free Welcome Amiibo expansion for 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf, introducing significant amount of new content to give Nintendo’s staple life sim a surprisingly appealing new lease of life. Producers Katsuya Eguchi and Hisashi Nogami sat down to give their opinion on a number of vital questions about the series. Topics include their favourite furniture sets, preference for catching bugs or fish and naturally, the toughest debate of all – who has the best singing voice, Kapp’n or K.K.? This one is not to be missed.

Fan-made 2D fighters from virtually unknown creators make up some of the genre’s undiscovered finest. With this in mind, I was ecstatic to see Attract Mode feature Arm Joe, the doujin fighting game based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables that was developed entirely by one guy who blamed his lack of friends for the massive undertaking. I’d truly love to know what Victor Hugo would make of ‘RoboJean’, should he still be alive today.

Our friends over at Source Gaming had the chance to sit down with Jeff Manning, the voice actor known for his role as the announcer in the original Super Smash Bros., amongst other noteworthy credits in both English and Japanese. With this, the Source Gaming team have interviewed every announcer from the Smash Bros. series to date (Melee‘s Dean HarringtonBrawl‘s Pat Cashman and for Wii U/Nintendo 3DS‘s Xander Mobus) and it’s particularly interesting to hear the story behind how each actor acquired the role, as well as the direction they underwent during the development process.

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The Minus World 2016 Christmas Gift Guide

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Regardless of who you believe delivers your Christmas presents every year, it seems to be a universally accepted fact that they’re a pretty busy guy/gal. The likelihood is they’re not going to have it easy when it comes to accommodating your niche taste in quality gaming goods, but don’t worry, we’ve got you well and truly covered in our new and improved gift guide for the holiday season.

Whether you’ll be the one doing the gift-giving, or if you’re looking to offer up a festive nudge to the people who care enough to spend their hard earned income on you, this guide offers a delectable selection of must-have games and items that are sure to succeed in spreading some end-of-year cheer – you might even come out after something you didn’t even know you wanted.

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Pokémon – It means more than Pocket Monsters

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Pokémon recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, so perhaps this is an ideal time to go over what the series might represent. Even with some of the darker content alluded to in the games, it’s an overall upbeat experience. Wholesome, you might say. Pretty much every person who has experienced it has an opinion about it, and with twenty years of content to work from, there’s a broad range of stuff we could discuss here. That said, there are some things that remain consistent across the games. You are a young boy or girl, leaving home for the first time, with the aim of becoming the Pokémon league champion. On the side, you are tasked with filling out an encyclopaedia of Pokémon who are native to the region. You invariably cross paths with a rival of some kind, good or bad in nature, depending on the game, and also have to deal with a nefarious team of miscreants who wish to misuse Pokémon in some form or another.

With some differences dotted throughout the series, that is the formula that the series has stuck to for twenty years now. Whether you started on the first generation and remained involved for the following six, dipped in every so often, or are a newcomer, the description above is likely something you can relate to. That said, with a twenty year history, it goes without saying that people will have different experiences, and undoubtedly have different favourite Pokémon.

There is, of course, more to the series than what I have mentioned above. The original tagline, which has presumably been dropped due to the sheer number of Pokémon in the most recent games, was “Gotta Catch ‘em All!”. With a little over 700 to catch and more on the way, it’s perhaps just as well that this is no longer the imperative; it was enough of an achievement in the original generation with a mere 150 available to catch. Now, with multiple games required and with exclusive Pokémon in each version of the game, it is more akin to an investment.

It is interesting to note that while that particular tagline (and in turn, the lofty goal it tasks you with) has taken a backseat in recent times, the series has hardly shied away from introducing new things to sink your time into. Behind the scenes, there is an almost overwhelmingly complex system that determines how your Pokémon will develop, which sequentially can have an effect on their offspring, should you choose to start breeding them. Should this more mathematical aspect of the games fail to interest you, you can explore the Pokémon world’s more creative side, enter your Pokémon into beauty pageants, or even play a variety of games together to tighten your bond. If that’s not enough, in some of the games you have the option of building and designing your own base, or travelling around to different boutiques and changing the look of your own character. This is only scraping the surface, and I can hold my hands up and say that there is still a lot I have yet to personally experience. Yet, it seems important that so many of those things are not necessary to complete the game, they are simply additions that help you develop an attachment to the in-game world and of course, your Pokémon. Indeed, in an interview in 1999 with Time magazine, series creator Satoshi Tajiri stated that to him, what is important in the series is the human aspect. With this in mind, what does Pokémon mean to you?

For me, Pokémon is a game where the real charm comes from living in the moment. Yes, the aim of the game is to become the champion, but what about everything that leads to that point? There are endless quotes to be found about how you should enjoy the journey and not just focus on your destination – in some ways, Pokémon is the embodiment of that concept. With certain challenges to deal with, you will most likely have to put your progress on hold at one point or another to strengthen your chosen team. Each time I reached a roadblock of sorts, usually through having too weak a team to progress along the game’s main path, it inspired me to return to areas I had already visited and explore in greater detail, occasionally encountering new Pokémon who ended up playing an important role in allowing me to move forward. The idea that taking your time and approaching a challenge in many different ways is always a good one – an idea contained in the very ethos of Pokémon – is certainly a style of progress that can be applied to many aspects of life.

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Resting Warriors, HuCard Economics and Family Computers Great & Small – Culture Collection #14

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You might have noticed Minus World has been pretty quiet recently. Apologies for the radio silence, things have been crazily busy, but you’ll be pleased to know that the world of games culture never sleeps – here’s your latest look at a handful of its most creative and interesting offerings over the last month and a bit.

To start with something topically relevant, the Famicom Mini just released! As a matter of fact, at the time of writing it’s apparently sold out in Japan, and Instagram and Twitter alike are filled with pics of users re-living the good old days in miniature form. This shot by Mio9744 in particular caught my eye because it just looks plain nice, adding some ribbons into the equation.

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This reminds me that you’ve only got a few days (two, as of the time of writing) to get your hands on this limited run MOUNTAIN GRAPHICS x Attract Mode shirt, which opts to turn the Famicom into a giant robot as opposed to making it smaller. Not much more to add really, it’s cool and you should buy one!

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The instance I spotted this giant Famicom being assembled by Kaj2nd, I knew that whatever it turned out to be, it was going to end up on Culture Collection…

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… but little did I know, however, that it was actually part of a genius three-man (or in this case, one man and two sons) Halloween costume. Nor did I know that the rest of the internet were going to beat me to sharing it! No matter, I’m sharing it with you now because it’s fully deserving of your attention, even if the season has passed.

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Twitter user _RKNK_‘s box full of Famicom carts was posted quite a bit earlier in October, but looking back on it, it gives me the idea of handing out old games rather than sweets on Halloween. It’s definitely better for your teeth, but I’m not sure how well the idea would go down in a natively Famicom-less part of the world.

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Alternatively, as kotobuki_man demonstrates here, you could use your Famicom carts as some kind of offering to Hudson mascot Takahashi Meijin (AKA Adventure Island‘s Master Higgins). This striking yellow sofubi vinyl figure of Meijin was released earlier this year, an essential collectors piece for die-hard fans of the late Hudson’s brilliant Famicom output. They’re not easy to get your hands on, but probably not as hard as beating Adventure Island.

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Programmable Series – This Is Just A Tribute

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If you have even a passing knowledge of video games, there’s no doubt you are familiar with more than a few iconic characters, whether they be a speedy blue hedgehog or a pair of moustachioed plumbers. Maybe you’ve thought about producing your own game with those iconic characters in a different genre, or perhaps even a crossover game with multitude of characters from different fictional universes. You wouldn’t be the only one who has thought about doing this, and a quick web search may even queue up what you’re looking for. However, if you’ve been keeping up with gaming news you’ll notice that many fan games are being pulled down- particularly, games that use Nintendo’s intellectual properties have been on the chopping block more frequently than ever. We’re going to dive into some of the legality of making fan games as well as what you can do to make your fan game its own unique idea.

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Copyright and trademark laws vary based on where you are in the world, as do the related penalties for breaking these laws. Copyright laws are very strict in North America and most of Europe, but much less severe in countries like China. In addition to that, the owners of any copyrights or trademarks may have different approaches to the way they allow others to use their properties. In the United States, Nintendo representatives filed a take-down request with Game Jolt, a website that hosts a wide variety of indie and fan games, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This resulted in the removal of 562 games from the website, many of which directly used Nintendo characters, music or other protected resources. Meanwhile, the site still hosts over 9,000 fan games based on the popular PC horror series Five Nights At Freddy’s. This year, Nintendo also had their hand in the removal of two high-profile games long in development – Another Metroid 2 Remake and Pokemon Uranium. There are many ways to view these situations, and Nintendo is well within their right to defend their properties, but it casts a negative image of the company amongst many of the fans. This is especially true when compared to how other large companies handle fan games.

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Life & Death, Diskun Love and Piles of Stuff – Culture Collection #13

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Let’s open this new-style Culture Collection with some great fan-made stuff – although admittedly, Itumo Sobani‘s MOTHER-themed works could easily pass for official merchandise. A whole host of design items and accessories have been created by the self-described coterie, which you can admire for yourself on their online store, but today I want to draw attention to these particularly photogenic Mr. Saturn badges, which come in an assortment cute styles. The MOTHER fanbase have proved continually that, if anything, they are a very creative bunch.

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Shoot-’em-up fans will be particularly impressed by KazutoSakairi‘s ongoing project to immortalise all 101 of R-Type Final‘s playable ships in Lego. Something about these well-designed builds reminds me of the sought-after Shooting Game Historica collection of capsule toys. Perhaps if you can’t get hold of something, building your own is the solution.

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Some neat key-rings and accessories designed by Chihiro Tanaka for his store [den]. The most recent additions are the ‘After Image’ or ‘Zanzou’ designs, which feature that afterimage effect you get in fighting games. I’ve admired Tanaka’s work for a while now, although regrettably know little about the origins of the [den] store. I am still a little sour that there’s no international shipping though, because there’s some nice apparel on offer.

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Birthday celebrations with syrup_frog. 2D Mario serves for a pretty solid way to celebrate another year, and having a cool Super Famicom setup to play it on makes things all the sweeter. Digging that three-eyed Dragon Quest Slime hiding in the back there.

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The last picture proved that the Super Famicom is clearly ideal for celebrating, but all good things must come to an end, apparently. I sure hope there’s a good explanation for this picture, shared by applesorce, because it’s making me feel weak at the knees…

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Not all game-filled piles are bad though, like this one shared by redretr0. That D-Direct exclusive camouflage print Dreamcast controller is particularly enviable.

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Dreamcast controllers of any type seem to look good under a mysterious blue light, as discovered by kageryu. Maybe it’s just the neon colours, but I can’t help but find there’s something a little Blade Runner-like about this one.

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More than 30 years late to the party, an untouched Famicom gets its chance to shine

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Our second treasure trove of the day, and this time one that’s been doing the rounds, is courtesy of Nintendo themselves (and spotted over on Attract Mode). A recent series on Nintendo’s Japanese website celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda has led to the showing-off brand new Famicom and Famicom Disk System consoles that appear to have been tucked away at the back of a company warehouse for over 30 years. Even better, they work!

On the one hand, you could say that this find is a complete-in-box collector’s dream come true – original untouched hardware straight from the source. The fact that Nintendo themselves were quick to tear away the plastic wrapping, pull out a fittingly dated CRT and hook the thing up likely wouldn’t sit so well, but these games were made for playing; just because these Famicom units showed up to the party over 30 years too late, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their day in the sun, and what better a game to break them in than the Famicom Disk System version of Zelda. Nintendo even produced a swanky video showing them turning the console on to prove it works.

Die-hard Famicom nuts will likely be excited to know that a Famicom Disk Writer kiosk, which we’ve gone on about a few times in the past, was also discovered amongst the collection. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to these items now that they’ve been unveiled to the public – perhaps they’ll simply be tucked away again, ready to be rediscovered in another 30 years time…

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Unique fashion and a cultural treasure trove, hidden on the third floor of an unassuming Nakano building

The latest instalment of Toco Toco features KAE, a Tokyo-based accessory designer and founder of fashion brand High-Me, showcasing her retro-inspired acrylic work. At a glance, it may seem bizarre to see something like this crop up on a games culture-focused site. However, I thought it was more than worthy of sharing, both as a continuing fan of Toco Toco’s content, as well as thanks to the close look it offers at Nazo no mise, the flagship store of design label THUNDERBOX which, despite being quietly tucked away on the third floor of a Nakano building, doubles as a treasure trove of 80s and 90s nostalgia.

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Amidst a wide selection of clothing items, which have previously included bespoke, one-off pieces, the walls and shelves of Nazo no mise are adorned with an impressive collection of authentic vintage items from all areas of 80s and 90s pop culture, both Japanese and with some western touches here and there. You might think this sounds cliche, but a well-selected assortment of goods combined with a unique fashion style work together to create a brilliant-looking aesthetic that you should check out for yourself – in the video linked above, or over on the shop’s Instagram page.

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You can have a browse of Toco Toco’s library of fascinating Japanese culture videos on their official YouTube channel and get regular updates about new videos on Twitter. Nazo no mise can also be found on Twitter, as well as on the THUNDERBOX website which features an online store – see if any of their threads take your fancy.

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Minus World Reading List – September 2016

Despite a relatively quiet September here on Minus World, our fifth reading list this year is our busiest yet. In no particular order, we’ve got another selection of must-see articles and videos that are definitely worth your attention.

First up, Mathew Kumar of Every Game I’ve Finished and exp. zine fame was featured on Tiny Cartridge towards the end of the month, with a unique perspective on a game held in something similar to notoriety amongst fans of Nintendo’s 3DS eShop. A significant quantity of titles offered as ‘Volumes’, as well as a divisive level of quantity – one which has a tendency to lean towards ‘poor’ amongst popular opinion – has allowed the Japanese Rail Sim 3D series to stand out amongst other downloadable 3DS offerings for more than just its pricing. Kumar takes a look at the Journey to Kyoto instalment in particular, able to offer some insight into the game beyond its reputation having actually taken the featured train line himself. It’s not every day a title as niche as this will allow you to simulate an experience from your own life, so Kumar’s personal take on what the game has to offer, as well as the quality of the title itself, certainly make for an interesting read.

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Continuing the theme of personal experiences, it is often anecdotes that make for the most interesting gaming-related reads. Rebekah Saltsman, indie dev and CEO of two-person studio Finji, offered a particularly relatable one in an article for The Guardian, which eloquently touches on feelings of youth, escapism and that age-old struggle against older siblings for a turn that games continue to provide. The distinct focus on role-playing games, especially those on the SNES, is one that many who grew up with Nintendo’s 16-bit system in their household will have no trouble associating with.

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Jeffrey L. Wilson offered a touching anecdote of his own that many will be sure to relate with, but in a completely different manner to the aforementioned examples. Wilson’s very personal story about how Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty helped him to cope in the aftermath of 9/11 not only reflects on the chilling synchronicity between the events of the game and those that took place in 2001, but the way in which the game’s alternate take on reality offered a sense of comfort amidst a troubling time. It’s difficult to summarise an article invested with such great personal meaning, so be sure to read it for yourself.

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We’ve previously taken a look at the work of Stuart Brett (formerly known by the moniker SuperFamicomGuy), namely his book release from earlier this year, Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection. Following a successful release that compiled the best box artwork from his impressive Super Famicom collection, Brett has now turned his attention to arcade games, the focus of his new project titled Ghost Arcade. Showcasing some of the finest games that arcade hardware has to offer, as well as the culture and nostalgia surrounding them, Ghost Arcade features write-ups and interviews presented in a classy format. One particular article that caught our attention was a look at Cannon Dancer Osman, something of a spiritual successor to Strider created by ex-Capcom designer Kouichi ‘Isuke’ Yotsui. A unique beat-’em-up with gorgeous presentation, Brett does well to showcase the highs and lows of Osman with short video clips that capture a bizarrely haunting authentic arcade feel. You’d be wise to follow Brett on Instagram, where he posts some awe-inspiring shots of select pieces from his collection.

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Now for something that’s simply bizarre. It’s no secret that  Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro is a purveyor of the unexpected, with unique games such as Deadly Premonition and D4 touching on surreal motifs that have quickly garnered a strong cult following. Swery’s latest escapade is perhaps his most curious to date, however, and it has nothing to do with games – he has become a fully certified Buddhist priest. As discussed in an interview with IGN, Swery grew up in a Buddhist temple, something he believes has fuelled his desire to give a ‘human’ quality to his games, and during a period of recovery from illness in which he has stepped away from game development, this has offered him a chance to return to his spiritual roots. It’s interesting to hear more about the origins of one of gaming’s most ambitious figures, something which we have touched on previously when we covered his appearance on Toco Toco – with this video in mind, it remains to be seen if Swery’s new role will accommodate his love of what he refers to as ‘drinKING‘…

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Programmable Series – On The Level

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Level design is one of the most significant aspects of the game design process – its impact on a game extends beyond simply the look and feel of the environment. However, its importance is often overlooked when considered alongside other game mechanics. As you work on how your characters will jump, shoot and run through the environment it’s important that the motions of the characters feel natural in relation to the locations they are placed in. This is where level design can greatly help a game to stand out. A good layout can enhance the overall experience of your players, while a poor layout can feel tedious or even obstructive when moving forward. The structure of each level is critical to any game’s overall design.

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The key issue with level design is that it is both subjective and relative to the style of game. Some would argue that straight paths and linear corridors make for bad levels, but consider your experience when playing an arcade beat-em-up such as Double Dragon. Within the context of that particular title and genre, linear stages are incredibly helpful in asserting the game’s progression and pacing. It all depends on what is the most organic way of achieving a sense of flow of progression.

Anyone who has played a Sonic the Hedgehog game can attest to the frustrations of speeding through a level – something the game claims to champion – only to lose momentum or hit a dead end and then have to backtrack in order to progress. As you design levels for any type of game, you’ll want to keep in mind where the players can go and what potential road blocks they will encounter. It’s not a bad thing to implement boundaries or to keep players on track – at the same time your game doesn’t need to be completely open either. If you find that there are going to be dead ends or complete halts to progression in your game, you can still make these areas interesting by occupying them with an interactive element such as a power-up item or collectible. By using this approach, when a player encounters a stop in momentum they will still feel like they are making progress by finding something, even if they have to do a little backtracking to get back on course.

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