What is happening with the Solid State Gamer?

Hello everyone. This is Jon Rivera from the Solid State Gamer with an update on what has been going on with the website. I could simply say not much and leave it at that. However, that would not be particularly honest and it would be unjust if I didn’t fully explain why the site has been at a standstill. It deeply pains me to see my dream of my own gaming coverage site repeat history for the third time.

 

SSG’s Birth
During the latter half of my high school career (2006) I began to grow more and more fascinated with the world of gaming and the industry via magazines like EGM and websites like Gamespot. With Gamespot in particular, the notion of a close-knit team of individuals driven by their passion for the medium of interactivity coming together to deliver news and offer analysis was a very attractive to me. This site had a cool community feature that allowed members to create their own sub-communities or unions. It was around this time when I create the League of Cartridge Gamers or LCG for short. The focus of the group was self explanatory, but the goal was more than just talking about retro games. It was about diving into the details of that games’ history and analyzing their accomplishments in technical design. This was the initial seed that would eventually grow into product of my mind that is the Solid State Gamer.

Another important event that led me to create the SSG into its own thing was the firing of Jeff Gerstmann from Gamespot and the ensuing exodus of the site’s veteran members back in 2007. During that transitional time between Gamespot and Giant Bomb, Gerstmann started his own blog using WordPress to keep up with the industry. That really inspired me to try my hand at creating my own space where I could write about the video game intellectually. Shortly after Jeff put out his review of Burnout: paradise the Solid State Gamer was born.

 

Red Light, Green Light
Unfortunately, the Solid State Gamer’s history is rife with being put on hiatus for nondescript amounts of time. The site is currently dealing with this problem right now. The sad thing is that the issues leading up to these pauses has always been the same. That cause is the lack of a substantial dedicated team of like-minded folks who believe in what they are doing and are willing to put in the work to turn a humble game coverage site into something great.

During the first leg of life, the SSG only had three writers working on it. This included myself, William Figueroa and an old co-worker of mine. That co-worker was not able to contribute much for personal reasons and it was too much to expect only two people to add meaningful well written content. I had put the website on hiatus for a time because of this and time I had to invest in my college education.

I ended up taking on freelance writing jobs and started out with small sites. In 2011 I wrote for a little publication called The Unsung Heroes, which was a comic book coverage site with an interest in covering the games industry. It was an interesting learning experience as was my time at Buy Poe and Default Prime as a news a features writer. Afterwards, I tried for a time to go it alone and resurrected the site in 2012. I then ran into the same issue and could not publish reviews, news and other features at the speed that other larger publications could do. After putting the site on hold again, I vowed to never bring the site back unless I had a team of folks who were willing to commit and put in the hard work required to make a successful game coverage site happen. It was understandable in some ways and heartbreaking in others. Regardless, I am proud of the work that I had done when the site was in its infancy.

 

This Current Solid State Gamer
I had pretty much dropped the notion that I could make a comprehensive gaming site a reality by the time 2014 rolled around. It was at this time that one of my old friends from college Matt White proposed doing a video game focused podcast or something along those lines. It sounded like a fun idea, but I was leery about a couple potential issues. The first thing that worried me was I previously tried the whole gaming website thing and it didn’t pan out because of not having a solid team able to bring in a big way. The other issue is that you cannot simply have a gaming podcast and expect to create a big entity around one production.

I suggested to Matt that, in order for us to create something successful in the gaming world, the podcast would have to be a provision of a bigger thing – a game coverage publication. Matt seemed to be all gung ho about doing it, but I  caution concerning it. Running and working on a gaming site requires a lot of work and dedication even when it does not yield any financial livelihood or profit. Matt still insisted that we start up something and he wanted to record a podcast anyway.

The idea was not to initially resurrect the Solid State Gamer and it was to be an original name and brand. Matt suggested some names for the site and audio production and they were all sort of crappy. None of the names suggested any semblance of professionalism and that really bothered me. I wasn’t out to be like so many folks on YouTube who make funny videos where the video games were just a backdrop for sophomoric humor. I wanted to do proper games journalism. I then suggested that we bring back my old name and publication along with its ideals. It was agreed upon that this was going to be the plan. We then started on the plan to bring back the Solid State Gamer with Matt White and his friend Richard Hunt – it is a decision that I now regret.

 

Working with Matt White

I stressed to Matt that it was important to publish as much solid written content as possible, as this would create awareness and give us topics to talk about on our podcast. Things started out slow mostly because we were just figuring things out and I was still working my old job at Bellini’s. I was working a sous chef job their and was being worked like a slave, so I didn’t really have time to do full time coverage going in. I eventually left and started posting new content and porting older features that I wrote for previous publications onto the site.

Matt started out okay and posted a two articles weeks apart on retro console hardware. Unfortunately, that’s where he hit a wall when it came to work output after only a couple of months. This was a constant issue for the whole time he worked for the site. To be fair, Richard was worse in this area, only producing one article during his short time on the site. It was not that great of an article either. Richard only lasted a few months before he was ejected from the team. He and Matt had a falling out over a situation that is between the two of them, so I will respectfully not go into detail about what exactly happened.

The site’s podcast, called The Solid State Romcast, started out being fairly low tech and was not the quality that I wanted. I suggested investing in the audio equipment necessary to create a high quality audio production and the tech could also be used for video production. He agreed, but nothing ever came of this exchange. I refused to do another podcast without the proper gear, so I purchased it with my own money. Not once did I demand anyone else on the team to give money to buy equipment; I merely suggested what things needed to be bought to produce quality audio and video content. This course of events transpired every time we needed to get something for the site. It was always suggested and Matt would always say, “we really need to get this or that,” but nothing would happen, so I would end up buying it myself.

With the podcast, there were issues. For the time, there were no news articles being published on the site proper, so we looked at news features on other sites. This was not a practice I liked, and insisted after a while that we would only cover news topics that related to content published on the site. Even with this rule in place, Matt would want to resort to other sites talking topics. This was mostly because wasn’t really writing much for the site. Every recording day he would come over with a six-pack of beer and then ask, “So, what are we gonna talk about today?” It even got to the point where he wouldn’t even park his car and come to my home to record. He would drive into the driveway and text me to come out and join him for a ‘beer run.’ He wasted a lot of time and insisted that we spend almost an entire day on one podcast when there was much more to be done for the website.

 

Matt Trying to be The Boss

I didn’t mind if we took a break or even had fun in between segments, but Matt never knew when to stop goofing around and get back to work on the task at hand. I tolerated these antics for a time and I even indulged myself in having a beer occasionally, but it just kept getting worse and worse. I started to put my foot down against goofing around all the time and spoke out against the unprofessional and unproductive antics that simply wasted time. Matt didn’t care and kept on and didn’t see any issue with his conduct.

This stuff was a problem on its own, but this was compounded by the fact that he would not write anything weeks or months on end. He would barely contribute work, but he had no problem coming in to record and frequently check the site stats and comment on it. He also had the tendency to text me about gaming news, but he wouldn’t write an article on it. I have no idea why he constantly did that. He would also delegate a lot. It was almost as if he thought that he was my boss and the Solid State Gamer was under his ownership. Whenever he said ‘we’, he meant myself. This applied to what needed to be done to get more hits and improve the site’s success. Whenever he said ‘I’, he meant himself alone. Matt White had a tendency to take partial credit for the contributions of others, but would turn around and take full credit for one thing he published.

If you listen to all the episodes of the podcast, you can hear him doing this on countless occasions. For a while I let go unchallenged, but I began to call him out on that sort of nonsense toward the end of his tenure. On top of these problems it was like pulling teeth to get him to pull his wait and actually work on anything. Whenever he would bring the site’s stats or the subject of money (he brought this up often), I would turn around and address that fact that he hasn’t done any work for this publication in weeks. He would make an excuse and I would end the exchange saying that he needed to do his fair share of work. We had this conversation several times.

During December of last year, we had brought on one of our friend Nathan VanDyke as a news writer. His work was solid and he would post news stories on his own, which pleasantly surprised me. After a few months he quickly overtook Matt in work output. This made his lack of effort stick out even more.

 

The Final Straw

The whole situation came to a head when Matt decided that he wanted to make a video. Now, that alone isn’t an issue in and of itself. The problem comes from the fact that I was the one who owned all the equipment for making videos and recording audio. He wanted to shoot a hardware teardown video of one of my retro video game consoles – essentially without my consent. This made me angry, but I compromised, saying that he could only work on systems that I had a double of. He then wanted to work on it on one of my free days. The issue was that he had no plan for how the video would be structured. There was no script, no structure and he didn’t even have a name for the video series. I then told him that I was not about to waste my time working on something without a plan. For some reason, he wasn’t happy me saying that.

I told him we would record as soon as I see a document detailing how the video feature would be named, structured, shot and edited. This is not an unreasonable request. Being true to form and surprising no one, he never created such a document. Roughly a week after this situation, Matt and Nate came over to record another podcast. Before we got to it, Matt put me on the spot with Nate as his defense in order to accuse me of holding the website and the equipment hostage. He also tried to defend is lack of work output and used site stats to justify that he didn’t have to do anymore work for the site. I then told him the same thing I had said to him in previous discussions. The issue was nothing to do with me being some evil dictator, rather the problem was Matt not pulling his weight. At this point, I got very stern with him and told him like it is. The meeting ended with everyone stating they had no more questions, but I could tell that Matt wasn’t happy about how it went.

A week later, on a day we were supposed to record the podcast, I had to call Matt because he never showed up. In the working world, that is referred to as a “No call, no show.” I asked him what was going on and he told that he was quitting that moment. The reason was that he wasn’t having any fun anymore. He said that we would still be cool and that our out-of-work friendship wouldn’t change. Though I wasn’t okay with how he quit (one of the most unprofessional ways to quit), I was glad that he was at least honest with me… or so I thought

 

An Apology That is Long Overdue
After Matt quit, I could no longer do the podcast. Nate was still working for the site, but he works a lot and doesn’t have a lot of time to record. Recently, he hasn’t any time to write for the site. He was always honest with me and I will always appreciate the work he did for the website while he was able. He gave and honest effort. The last proper article is the Final Fantasy VII remake news piece and that’s where things have sadly ceased.

For a while I tried to find others in Lexington to join the site and write for it, but there seems to be little interest in game journalism in my town. For some reason, I ended up calling a semi regular guest who would join the podcast. Leo is a fellow who has been professionally covering games for nearly half a decade and was a lot of fun to talk to. I suppose I missed talking to him about games and how we would bounce information off each other. I got a hold of him over Skype and the two of us had the most interesting conversation. The exchange was a bit awkward in the beginning for reasons I didn’t know at the time.

After telling him that just wanted to know how he’s been, he then explained that he was initially worried I called him in anger. I was confused until he spoke of Matt. After telling Leo about the SSG site situation and my dealings with Matt, he then told about his woes while working with Matt. He joined up with Leo almost right after he quit the SSG. Apparently, Matt told Leo that I didn’t do any work and that it was Matt that did most of what you see on this space currently. Also he said that I didn’t give Matt the same right as an owner – he never did the work that warranted having access to administrative tools. That’s for someone who actually administrates and works.

In that conversation I basically found out that Matt is a liar and lied to me and stabbed me in the back. The worst thing is that he could have ruined another person’s website plans. It was bad enough that he quit in the way he did, but learning of his lies and deceit has hurt me on both a professional and personal level. Mathew White owes me an apology for wronging me as both a friend and as a colleague.

 

The End?

Well, this is the end, beautiful friends. After a year and a half of honest effort on my part, I am announcing that I will be ceasing work on the Solid State Gamer as a core game coverage publication. Perhaps I will convert it into a personal gamer blog where I speak more personally about my life with video games. As for my professional work, I now work for Leo M. on his new game coverage publication called Gaming Instincts. If you want to see my work as well as that of my colleagues, you are more than welcome to join us there. I want to personally thank everyone who supported our little gaming website that could. We would never gotten this far without you. This been a very interesting learning experience for me for better or worse. Again, it is understandable in some ways yet painful in others. This could be the end of the Solid State Gamer, but this isn’t the end for me and my passion for the medium of interactivity… bang.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Will Be Episodic And Feature A Dynamic ATB Combat System

ffvii remake logo

During the Sony PSX 2015 event a new trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake was revealed, creating quite the stir in the process. In this new footage there was quite a bit of information to digest. The members of Avalanche (Barret, Biggs, Wedge and Jesse) and Cloud Strife speak during the  trailer, giving a glimpse into the current state of the voice acting and how these characters will sound. The graphical fidelity of the footage definitely matches what was seen in the announcement trailer for this work in progress title. Some of the video shows the player as Cloud running through the streets and Mako reactor facilities of Midgar. However, the bigger reveal shows some of the battle sequences, which looks feature a real-time combat system accompanied with a small window of options and character status window. This display of action RPG game play has provoked many reactions from fans of the Final Fantasy franchise, with some embracing this new system and others longing for the familiar Active Time Battle system. Despite first perceptions, this trailer technically does feature the ATB system, but it is presented in a more dynamic way and does not telegraph itself particularly well.

ffvii trailer 1

Cloud Strife takes a swing at one of the Shinra troops.

The characters have received a heavy graphical overhaul and some have been heavily redesigned. Barret specifically has seen many revisions in terms of his build and his outfit. It is nice to also see more attention given to Biggs, Wedge and Jesse of Avalanche. The environmental design of the Mako reactor and the streets of Midgar have seen some design changes, but still maintain a similar unsaturated steampunk aesthetic like its original counterpart.

ffvii trailer 2

Cloud and Barret traversing the innards of the Shinra Mako reactor.

There are a few other interesting aspects of the trailer, but the visuals action oriented nature of the overall game play is what caught the most attention during its PSX presentation. After the presentation, Square-Enix issued a press release announcing that Final Fantasy VII Remake will not be presented as one game. It will be released in an episodic format and there were no details explaining how this would affect the game’s release and/or development initially. This revelation has worried critics and fans alike with speculation germinating from this known distribution method.

ffvii trailer 3

Cloud crouches to squeeze through a hole in the wall.

In an interview with Dengeki Online, Square-Enix’s Yoshinori Kitase (Producer) and director Tetsuya Nomura (Director) both addressed the reason for breaking  up the remake into multiple parts. They stated that the scope of the game is ambitious and is more densely packed, which cannot be done with just one release.

The idea that a remake of Final Fantasy VII would not fit into a single release was there from the very beginning. We still can’t share more information about its multiple parts, but please look forward to future announcements…

…As you can see in the trailer, we showed Sector 1 and Sector 8, but in those areas alone, I think you can see a lot of density. When you’re remaking the entirety of the original version in that quality, it’s not possible to fit it all in one release.  ~Yoshinori Kitase (Producer, Square-Enix)

ffvii trailer 4

Cloud looking forward after jumping off of the train at the reactor.

If we dedicated our time to a single release, parts of it would become condensed. We’d have to cut some parts, and additional parts would come in few, so rather than remake the game as a full volume, we decided to do multiple parts.  ~Tetsuya Nomura (Director, Square-Enix)

Even with this explanation, this announcement has been met with a mixed and heavily polarizing reception. It is far too soon to tell how this will affect the final release of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Nonetheless, many are concerned that this design choice may bode ill for this highly anticipated game.

 

For those who have yet to see the latest Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4) game play trailer, here it is:

 

Thoughts From Rivera:

So far, I think the game looks impressive with the character redesigns offering some familiarity while making aesthetic improvements. It is also really interesting to see Cloud interacting with obstacles in the environment when trying to traverse it. The thing that has me the most intrigued is the combat system because of how fast paced it appears. It is hard to tell how much of it is action and how much of it is strategic – you can only discern so much from a few seconds of combat over which you have absolutely no agency. The whole episodic nature of the game’s eventual distribution is the only aspect of Final Fantasy VII Remake that sounds troubling to me. How is this game going be handled in a physical retail capacity? Will it simply be an digital download only release? There is still a bit of ambiguity surrounding this title and I hope that it becomes more clear in the coming months.

 

 

What do you think of these new FFVII Remake details? Let us know!

Game Review: Splatoon (Wii U)

splatoon-cover

Splatoon North American box art.

Title: Splatoon
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 (Yusuke Amano and Tsubasa Sakaguchi)
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Third-Person Single/Multiplayer Team-Based Shooter
Release Date: May 29, 2015

 

(Editor’s Note: The following review is of the vanilla version of Splatoon using a North American copy of Splatoon for the Wii U, both of which are owned by the reviewer.)

 

To say that Nintendo has forged some incredible original works in the world of gaming is definitely an understatement. This has been proven time and time again with the likes of the Mario, Metroid, and Zelda series and other such original properties. However, it has been quite a long time since this storied developer has created something new, as opposed to renovating preexisting franchises. With the Wii U having a rocky start in the eighth generation, it has been in desperate need of solid first-party and third-party support that truly stands out. Luckily, Nintendo has broken this cycle with the creation of Splatoon. This game is actually something new that not only attempts something different from the Nintendo status quot, but is also a refreshing twist on the third person shooter formula. There is a solid amalgamation of game play styles and concepts that are married together with a balance and polish that is synonymous with the developer’s pedigree of concocting quality games. This, along with the 1990s styled aesthetic, graffiti motif and a catchy soundtrack to match culminates into a delightfully charming and quirky exclusive for the system. Unfortunately, there are some arbitrary design choices with the implementations of control input, Amiibo usage and lack of voice communication that hold this entry back from being a masterpiece across the board. Despite these shortcomings that persistently rear their ugly heads, Splatoon manages to rise above them and emerges as a pleasantly unique and profoundly entertaining third-person shooter platformer in its own right.

The setting of Splatoon is based around the booming city of Inkopolis, where the humanoid squid people called Inklings live. The Inklings partake in battles over territory and other competitive matches of combat in order to amp up their reputation. However, all is not well in Inkopolis. Unbeknownst to the masses, the evil Octarians have stolen the Zapfish that supply power to the city and the Inkling’s fresh lifestyle. It is up to the player, who assumes the role of Agent No. 3, to recapture the precious Zapfish from Octo Valley and save his or her home. As serious as this premise sounds, it is conveyed and handled in such a silly way where you cannot take it seriously. It simply serves as a backdrop for this this journey, which merely exists to teach the player how to utilize the wide array of game play mechanics and how they work in tandem. This is perfectly fine, as this main story line is presented as just a fun and quirky adventure that works well within the conceit of the game’s world.

The overall presentation of Splatoon is very fascinating because it is a great centralized experience. On top of being the core setting of the game’s universe, Inkopolis also serves as the main hub area and menu for the player. After some expository character creation and control customization, the player goes through a short tutorial and is then tossed into the main town. Here, the player can access the single player campaign in Octo Valley, regular and ranked online multiplayer matches at the Lobby, new gear for purchase at the Booyah Base stores and head-to-head skirmishes at the Battle Dojo. Other diversions include playing minigames at the arcade cabinet, ordering special coveted gear through Spyke, posting messages and sketches to the Miiverse and uploading special exclusive content via select Amiibos. All of this is contained within the confines of Inkopolis and is easily within the player’s reach or visibility.

If you do not want to be bothered by running over to certain locations, you can simply access these areas through the map menu shown on the tablet controller screen. On the same display you can customize your controls once more, check and equip your gear for online matches and even try the layout in a test map. With all of these elements conveniently attached to the Inkopolis hub, there is nothing overly tedious or boring about menu navigation or simply getting into the action. The city of Inkopolis feels vibrant and persistent because of how everything revolves around it, with real world players meandering about accompanied by the electronic beats plus the hustle and bustle of the town. Something that also adds to the charm of this world is that each play session begins with an installment of Inkopolis News – a Television program, hosted by the ever-so-fresh Callie and Marie, that reveals new game updates on top of the latest multiplayer maps in the current rotation. There is something to be said for a title in which the act of just starting the game and accessing various modes is appealing in its own regard.

The control agency is another interesting and unique aspect of Splatoon that sets it apart from other third-person shooters. The game allows for a twin stick layout for moving around the environment and rotating the third-person camera. However, the default layout makes use of the tablet controller’s gyroscopic sensor to allow camera rotation for free looking and aiming. While it feels awkward at first, getting accustomed to this scheme makes for more precision than using a thumb stick for the same thing. To aid any disorientation of the gyro sensor, pressing the Y button resets the camera.

Pressing the right trigger will fire the player’s equipped primary weapon and pressing the right bumper will use the paired secondary weapon. Using the left trigger will make the on-screen Inkling morph into its squid form for as long as long as said trigger is held down. This transformation mechanic plays an important part in the game play. The rest of the controls allow the player to jump about the level, use his or her special weapon and alternate between explosive types. Bear in mind that some of these auxiliary controls are exclusive to certain game modes. The default control scheme is very intuitive, as it is easy to master and eventually becomes second nature across both the single player and multiplayer sections.

In terms of the game play, Splatoon has a great deal of complexity with each core element tying into one another to form a symbiotic relationship. This game is just as much a platformer as it is a third-person shooter. As opposed to other entries in the genre, the Inklings aptly shoot brightly colored ink instead of bullets. This ink is used to kill enemies, but also dynamically paints any horizontal or vertical solid surfaces that it lands on within the environment. This will deplete the player’s ammunition reserve, which is represented visually on the Inkling’s ink tank worn on his or her back instead of having a numeric HUD element on-screen (this becomes a HUD element when submerged). Explosive weapons, which yield an area-of-effect attack and pigment coverage, use up considerable amounts of ink at one time.

When it comes to reloading and acquiring more ammo, Splatoon also deviates from the standard formula. When weapons are not in use, the character’s ink tank will slowly fill up. However, refilling ammo quickly ties back into the transformation mechanic. Morphing into squid form, while on inked surfaces of the player character’s respective color, will make him or her submerge in the ink. While submerged, the player’s tank refills at a rapid pace. This is such a great feature because it presents unique solution to a problem seen in plenty of modern shooter titles. Having to stop everything to hunt for more ammunition or scrounging for discarded guns can sometimes be a bummer, especially while embroiled in a heated firefight. This reload mechanic negates the issue of having to break away from the flow of combat and environmental traversal.

Taking damage and regaining health works a lot like reloading. Players will take damage from getting shot or by walking on differently colored ink, poisoning the Inkling. The player can neither swim in bad ink nor run across it. Taking too much damage will eventually result in death. Falling off of level environment yields the same result. Thankfully, health is slowly regained by avoiding fire and poisonous ink, which can be expedited by dipping down into the player’s ink. Just like the reload feature, quickly regaining life can be done without disrupting the flow of the hybrid game play.

However, this is not the only important use of the squid form while dipping into puddles of good ink. This ability ties into the finer points of movement and platforming as well. Players can use this form to swim through ink covered areas at a faster speed than simply running on foot. The player even climb up covered walls in order access higher platforms when in this form. Being a squid also makes the Inkling take a semi-liquid form that can slip through perforated floors and walls. These abilities add an innovative twist to both the shooting and platform game play ensemble that works surprising well when put into practice.

There is a neat stealth element that comes into play when submerged. In the single player campaign the player can dip down to confuse the Octarian enemies and swim behind them to score an easy kill. This also can work in a multiplayer capacity, provided that the opponent does not shoot its color ink in the player’s location. It is amazing how all of these various elements are brilliantly woven together to offer both a breadth and depth to the game that allows for so many different play styles, which can be utilized on the fly at any given moment.

As mentioned before, the single player campaign revolves around the region known as Octo Valley. The player must venture through five regions, accessing new levels along the way, in order to reclaim all of the Zapfish to restore full power to Inkopolis. The player cannot use special gear from the multiplayer component in this area. Instead, the player has access to a basic gun and alternative explosive weapon from the outset. Throughout these action stages the player can collect Power Orbs the can be used to unlock upgrades to the gun, acquiring new explosive items and other such enhancements.

The single player missions are well designed with the inclusion cool little gimmicks that make traversing the landscape lots of fun. To begin with, the levels are designed with structural elements that borrow from the layout of skateboard parks with ramps, bowls and other related formations. These formations that are littered throughout the stages along with ink propelled lifts, zip lines and super jump pads make use of the core game play mechanics in a meaningful and appealing way. Every region of the valley is punctuated by a boss battle stage where the player must exploit its weak points to overpower and destroy it in order to progress to the next region.

There are a couple of diversions in Octo Valley put in place to entice the player to complete the campaign. Each level has a scroll in a hidden location that reveals more information on the history of the Inklings and their dealings with the Octarians. The other reward for completing regions consists of blueprints that that can be taken to the Booyah Base weapon shop to unlock new arms for purchase in the multiplayer component. These cool knickknacks, though interesting to a certain extant, come off as attempts to pad out the length of the single player mode. The campaign is extremely polished and fun as it is, but having some more regions to visit would have been welcome. The thin amount of content is also seen in the local and online competetive multiplayer sections.

The multiplayer component of Splatoon splits into two different realms. With these modes, the player can use the blueprints found in the single player mode and buy various accouterments. This gear can be bought with in-game currency (accrued through playing online matches) at the Booyah Base – Inkopololis’ premier chain of bodegas that includes Ammo Knights (weapons store), Shrimp Kicks (shoe store), Jelly Fresh (clothing store) and Cooler Heads (headgear store). Again, the 90s style artistic representation along with the vernacular shines through quite well with how the shops are presented and how the shopkeepers interact with your character in Skater Boy jive.

The first mode is a local multplayer mode at the Battle Dojo that sadly supports only two players at one time. In this mode both players must engage in a competition to see who can pop the most balloons before the timer runs out. It is a fun mode that looks fantastic, has solid music and does take advantage of the well wrought game mechanics. One problem is that this game variant is the only one for local multplayer, which is pretty thin in the ways of content. The main downfall is that there are serious issues with this mode’s implementation. Because of the fact that you cannot connect two tablet controllers to the Wii U to play Battle Dojo, the game has a workaround for this issue that only exasperates the problem.

Player two can either use the Wii Remote in conjunction with the nunchaku or the Classic controller. These control options barley give the same allowance in agency as found in using the tablet pad. The most optimal solution is to use the Wii U Pro controller. However, this controller does not have a built-in gyroscopic sensor that the tablet controller uses for its unique camera control feature. This can be solved by augmenting the Pro pad with the Motion Plus add-on for the Wii. Not only is the controller input situation a mess, but it is a potentially expensive one depending on whether or not one already has all of these peripherals.

These issues also affect the display situation for playing local multiplayer. In order to circumvent the issue of a player looking at another player’s screen, the first player’s game play is displayed on the tablet controller screen and the second player’s game is shown in the television screen. This is one of the most baffling design choices, as playing with the gyroscopic aiming while having to manipulate the actual object also containing the game display constantly warps the first player’s sense of spacial relation and depth. If it was not for these issues, the local multiplayer Battle Dojo feature would be very accessible on top of being as entertaining and long lasting as the other modes. In the end, the local head-to-head play in Splatoon is a mixed bag.

Luckily, this is not an issue in the online multiplayer and this particular mode is truly what takes the center stage of the entire game. Vanilla Splatoon’s online competition section is broken up into three areas consisting of matches with friends on the Nintendo Network, non-ranked territory claiming skirmishes and ranked death matches using randomization for forming two teams of four inklings. This is where character progression differs greatly from the single player.

This mode features an experience focused persistence system mixed with buying and upgrading equipment that both combine to enhance the properties of the player’s online Inkling avatar. Competitors can gain experience points and in-game cash by participating in ranked and non-ranked matches to eventually turn their squid kid warriors into tough and well-outfitted forces to be reckoned with. Experience points will help to upgrade the character’s overall level, but also contributes toward unlocking new perks for weapons and other bits of equipped gear. Various pieces of gear have certain perks that can improve weapon effectiveness, movement in combat and defensive advantages. Winning matches will award the player a hearty helping of experience and money, but the game is forgiving enough to even grant the losers of battles with a meager amount of both.

When it comes to the offensive tools Splatoon offers quite the wide array of weapon types that have their own methods of attack, range and tactical usage depending on the architectural layout of certain combat environments. Fully automatic paint blasters that operate like assault rifles abound along with long range ink rifles, melee oriented paint rollers and short ranged shotgun equivalent paint brushes that project large spatters of ink at a short range. All of these families of arms are quirky and odd, but they manage to pave the way for a multitude of specific play styles while fitting in well in this colorful and wacky universe.

Just like the aforementioned single player component the wonderfully designed symbiotic circle of core game play mechanics works incredibly well when put through its paces while competing against thinking human opponents. This rings especially true for the platforming and stealth elements. This makes for a very chaotic and unpredictable when paired with the combination of the currently selected map and mode variant.

The game variants at launch are composed of two types called Turf War and Splat Fest. Turf War matches are won by covering majority of the horizontal surface area of the arena in a time constraint and Splat Fest is the typical death match mode where getting the most kills earns victory. The matches online last roughly six minutes each and feature some of the most energetic fast-paced action to be seen since the likes Quake III: Arena and the original Unreal Tournament. Even when losing matches at first, you always feel as if you have gained something in the form of cash, experience and a better understanding of how different player implement their own play styles.

Another cool thing about Splatoon’s online play is that it is an open and randomized system. You will never know who will be your adversaries or allies, making for more unpredictability. This honestly prevents the online space from getting boring and lends itself to a global community that surrounds the game. If living in the United States and playing Splatoon during the wee hours of the morning, one can fully expect to be playing against players from the other side of the globe. This perfectly segues into one of the amazing yet possibly unforeseen high notes of this title.

Splatoon has to have the most pleasant, courteous and amicable community out of any online competitive shooter. Do not misinterpret this as an admission that the Splatoon community is weak. To the contrary, the game’s community is just a competitive, fervent and outspoken as that of any other game in the current landscape. For some reason, this player base can be rowdy and dish out the trash talk without crossing the line and still manages to be group comprised of good sportsmen whether in victory or defeat; something that is truly respectable. While the multiplayer provide an unbridled and virtually unlimited amount of fun, it is not without its issues.

Map selection is not a choice for players to make, as the game itself usages a stage rotation system that showcases two playable maps for each game variant that rotates every four hours. This seems like an interesting approach to keeping this realm of play fresh, but it suffers from the same issue that hampers the single player and local multiplayer. There is simply not a lot content with this mode and it will not take that much time to experience the modes and content available herein. This is not the only issue with multiplayer Splatoon that stands out. The two most damning design choices have to do with in-game communication (or lack there of) and the implementation of Amiibo support. Voice communication while waiting in lobbies and during matches is simply not a supported feature in Splatoon.

This is absolutely baffling because it is impossible to coordinate any sort of strategy and/or alert allies to sudden hazards. Only by looking at movement patterns and the limited body language can players attempt to forge some semblance strategic planning, which amounts to nothing in most cases. It is quite obvious that, in an attempt to avoid the deluge of gamers who spout hateful and ignorant nonsense, Nintendo omitted this standard feature that could be feasibly done with the tablet controller’s microphone and headphone jack. The goodhearted intentions behind this decision are understandable, but the non-existence of this feature will mostly be a phantom pain felt by anyone who is accustomed to having voice chat in any multiplayer shooter both third-person or first-person.

The usage of Amiibos in Splatoon is truly a disgusting inclusion. There are only three Amiibos that are usable in the game and take the form of an Inkling squid, boy and girl characters. Each one unlocks extra content in the form of exclusive gear and levels to play through in single player. This is content that cannot procured in any other way and these Amiibos, like so many others that Nintendo habitually makes scant production runs of, are already out of print and have since become grossly overpriced collectibles. The fact that the content provided by these toy are intentionally exclusive the inclusion is blatantly anti-consumer and shameless. This feature is simply not needed in a game where the balance is a part of the game’s overall design. The Amiibo content most certainly puts a moderate damper on the experience.

It is unfortunate that these issues exist in Splatoon because they do nothing but hold this charming and inventive title back from being undeniably stellar. Though the few problems seen herein are substantial, they are not enough to destroy the indomitable spirit of the aesthetic, aural and mechanical accomplishments housed within the game’s world. The game is too cool and actually ends up overshadowing these problems in most cases.

The upbeat and totally radical vibes that ooze from every corner in the world of Splatoon shine through every aspect. It is such a lively place with its day glow colors and playfully edgy attitude. This is clearly a setting where all is wicked cool all of the time and hot summer fun reigns supreme. All of the Inklings look like character’s from 90s cartoons like Rocket Power with their skateboarder inspired threads and accompanying lingo. When ink lands on the grounds and on walls it dynamically spreads and cascades depending on the physics involved, which is a cool visual effect. For anyone who grew up during the 1990s it is sort of a fond trip down memory lane, but is still bound to be appealing to those who welcome a diversion from the muddy and dismally gray shooters that constantly spring up like pesky weeds. The solid visuals are further solidified by the game’s soundtrack and sound design.

Sounds are organic and appropriate, delivering a sense of impact and texture that compliment the inclusions of the weapon’s ballistic qualities as well as the footsteps Inklings make while running on wet sticking surfaces. The score of Splatoon tries to marry the synthetic tones of electronica along with the percussive beats and shredding guitar of punk rock to create something that truly complements the fun fresh style that title crafts in the art department. It is quite easy to unknowingly nod your head to these rocking tracks while the game is firing on all cylinders during the thick of the action. In the ways of presentation, Splatoon just feels right.

Nintendo has certainly taken a bold step in a new direction by attempting a third-person shooter, but has handled it a way that gives it a unique character and attitude that is very much its own. By fusing shooter game play with unique environmental traversal and timeless platforming, the game feels natural with its joyous fluidity. The single player, though short, is enjoyable for what it is and the online multiplayer is absolutely addicting. This title is not without its problems, as the controller input debacle and Amiibo implementation plus the lack of voice communication are obvious blemishes that prevent this excursion from being a masterpiece from all vantage points. However, these problems are the result of a development team experimenting with something outside of its comfort zone. A harmonious amalgamation of the 90s inspired aesthetics make it difficult to stay upset with these issues for long and the fun spirited charm is very refreshing. Splatoon is an awesome new take on the shooter formula that is more than worth checking out for anyone who wants that familiar action with a twist and is not afraid of a little color.

 

 

 

Rating IV-V

Quick Look JPN: Deep Fear [SAT]

Jon dives into the dark depths of the unknown as he explores the Sega Saturn exclusive survival horror game called Deep Fear. This was essentially Sega’s answer to Resident Evil 2, it has many improvements made to the formula. It features many similarities with the RE franchise, campy dialogue included.

 

 

As always, thanks for watching! If you enjoyed our video, please rate and subscribe for more video features. Check out our main site for videos, podcasts, written features and more! Look us up at:

https://www.thesolidstategamer.wordpress.com

If you have and comments, suggestions or criticisms be sure to drop us a line at:

https://www.solidstateromcast@gmail.com

Solid State Romcast: The 9-5-15 Show

This week’s Romcast starts off with Jon, Matt and Nate speculating on who the next four combatants will be in Mortal Kombat X’s upcoming DLC pack. Matt really wants John Cena to be one of them, while Jon thinks two of these mystery men could be Wolverine (X-Men) and Dead Pool. After that nonsense, the crew talks about Harmonix’s next yet-to-be-titled new game and its affiliation with the new exclusive video game funding platform Fig. What role will Alex Rigopulos (Harmonix Music Systems), Tim Schafer (Double Fine Productions), Brian Fargo (In-Exile Entertainment) and the other chairmen play in this new organization? Lastly, the guys talk about video game reproductions and the selling of them with other used games on the internet. Are reproduction cartridges fairly priced and/or ethical? What dictates the pricing of games? How do you discern the true value of a used game?

 

Solid State Romcast: 9-5-15 Show

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:
Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host
Matt “Off” White – Cohost
Nathan VanDyke – Lead News Writer

 

Music Credit:
Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children
Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???
Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???
Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW
Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX by Electric Children

Quick Look JPN: Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story III [SAT]

Jon finishes of his quick look coverage of the Blue Destiny trilogy with the Japan-only Sega Saturn exclusive Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story III. Like the first two installments, this title is an in-the-cockpit mecha combat simulation that is very fast-paced and frenetic. Hope you enjoy!

As always, thanks for watching! If you enjoyed our video, please rate and subscribe for more video features. Check out our main site for videos, podcasts, written features and more! Look us up at:

https://www.thesolidstategamer.wordpress.com

If you have and comments, suggestions or criticisms be sure to drop us a line at:

https://www.solidstateromcast@gmail.com

Quick Look JPN: Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story II [SAT]

Jon joins the battle once again and pilots the Blue GM in the Japan-only Sega Saturn exclusive Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story II. This mecha combat simulation title marks the midway point in the Blue Destiny saga. This title supports the Sega Saturn Twin Stick controller.

As always, thanks for watching! If you enjoyed our video, please rate and subscribe for more video features. Check out our main site for videos, podcasts, written features and more! Look us up at:

https://www.thesolidstategamer.wordpress.com

If you have and comments, suggestions or criticisms be sure to drop us a line at:

https://www.solidstateromcast@gmail.com

Hands-On: Drift Stage Early Alpha Demo [PC]

 

Solid State Gamer’s Jon Rivera gives a guided tour of Super Systems Softworks’ upcoming retro 90s arcade style racing game Drift Stage. This is a delightfully antiquated title that has a feel that is in the mechanical spirit of the 90s and the artistic spirit of the 80s. This hands-on preview is of the Early Alpha Demo of Drift Stage for PC.

 

 

As always, thanks for watching! If you enjoyed our video, please rate and subscribe for more video features. Check out our main site for videos, podcasts, written features and more! Look us up at:

https://www.thesolidstategamer.wordpress.com

If you have and comments, suggestions or criticisms be sure to drop us a line at:

https://www.solidstateromcast@gmail.com

If you want to try this early alpha demo for yourself, be sure to check out:

http://www.driftstagegame.com/

Game Review: Virtual Hydlide (SAT)

Virtual_Hydlide_Box_Art

Virtual Hydlide North American box art.

 

Title: Virtual Hydlide
Developer: T&E Soft
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Sega Saturn
Genre: Third-Person Action Role Playing
Release Date: April 28, 1995

 

(Editor’s Note: This game was covered playing a North American copy of Virtual Hydlide for the Sega Saturn, both owned by the reviewer.)

 

Virtual Hydlide is a game that falls into the action role-playing genre which boasts the ability to procedural generate worlds. This title tries very hard to be a definitive action oriented emergent game play experience exclusively for the Sega Saturn. However, this game falls very short from the bar of quality despite being able to create unique overworld maps. Aside from the procedural generation and a surprisingly great musical score this game is brought down by linear game progression, redundant game play, borderline unresponsive controls, technical issues, a dysfunctional camera, muddy visuals and uninspired aesthetics. There are a few redeeming qualities to this game, but it will likely take more time than what most people have patience for in order to find them. Virtual Hydlide can be easily described as being a game that is far less than the sum of its parts.

The story of Virtual Hydlide is practically identical to that of its forbearer originally released on home computers as well as the Nintendo Entertainment system over fifteen years before. The game is set in the world of Fairyland and all is not well. The princess of this land has been transformed into three fairies by an evil sorcerer and it is up to a nameless adventurer to break this spell and bring both the princess and peace back to Fairyland. The story is basic to say the least and the fact that it is told through poorly made cheesy full motion video sequences does not help the story either. This premise for an adventure or role-playing game would have been good if this game had been an 8-Bit era game. However, the standards storytelling and progression have changed and grown since the days of the first Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Dragon Warrior, and Legend of Zelda games. Thus, Virtual Hydlide’s story is essentially non-existent and looks as if it was simply shoehorned into the game. It is pretty much a cut-and-paste job that simply uses the first Hydlide’s story without further fleshing it out.

Before starting a new game the player has the option to select the difficulty and decide whether to randomly create a new world. The difficulty only changes aspects like having a completely viewable map from the outset and the aid of a compass that dynamically points in the direction of the next dungeon. Playing on harder difficulties is not recommended because it does not actually make the game any harder in terms of combat or strategy; it only requires more time to uncover the entire over world map which more tedious and time-consuming as opposed to being actually difficult. One of the few areas in which this game shines is how it is able to randomly generate the over world. When selected the game will produce a code consisting of various characters which somehow dictate features like plains, forests, rivers, mountains, plateaus, and where each dungeon is located. While this is a neat aspect of the game, all the dungeons the player needs to visit must be beaten in a particular order. This order is the same no matter how many time one generates a random map. This is because certain items that make beating the next dungeon possible are always located in the same respective dungeons. While the world generation feature is a nice idea and is decently implemented it is unfortunately squandered by how strictly structured the game progression is.

From a graphical standpoint, Virtual Hydlide is unbelievably ugly. The game is a haphazard blend of three-dimensional environments peppered with entities that are two-dimensional sprites. The perspective is of the third person in which the camera is slightly behind the back. The visuals are uninspired, look generic, and have so few frames and colors making it difficult fully express what certain things are or what is happening when turning and running making for considerable disorientation. All the textures and sprites have such a muddy look about them and the issue that all the creatures, objects, and even the player’s adventurous avatar looks pitifully mundane is apparent throughout the experience. With this pseudo 3D graphical style one would think that, with only 3D rendered terrains and environments, there would not be a significant performance hit. However, Virtual Hydlide constantly bouts with frame rate issues that cripple the game’s performance and the responsiveness. This is such a horrendous problem that rears its ugly head at the worst of times when combating multiple enemies while the frame rate is caught in the single digits. It is such a hinderence that, if you wanted to do an action, it will take almost two whole seconds for that button press to register. That is completely unacceptable by any game’s standards. The only thing that can compensate for this barely playable game is the musical score consisting mostly of symphonic music. These tracks capture the sense of grand adventure in way that the other aspects of the game cannot measure up to.

Game play in Virtual Hydlide is a subject that can lead one to suggest that this is a game with an identity crisis. The combat is fairly simple as it consists mostly of swordplay and blocking. Bladed weapons have two forms of attacks as where blunt weapons like clubs and war hammers have only one attack. Blocking is only useful in boss battles where the given enemy has a set pattern of movements and attacks. However, when fighting mundane enemies the use of a shield block is not even necessary because they often flinch thus provoking an attack of opportunity. Standing still can regenerate health and is necessary because of the lack of healing items in the game. In terms of combat Virtual Hydlide is not much more than a button masher. Another design issue with this is that, with the 2.5D graphics, it can hard to judge distances between the character and enemy monsters. Sometimes enemies can clip through your character and attack you from behind. This can often leave you defenseless when turning around takes precious time to do.

The RPG elements in this title are there, but are also very contrived and unnecessarily  minimalistic. Unlike most other role-playing games that use an experience based leveling system for character growth Virtual Hydlide has it so that you do not level up until you have collected special items and artifacts. Instead of leveling through combat killing enemies and collecting gold only adds points to your score located above the health meter. In a RPG the last thing one should think about is score; score is for arcade style games. Gold should be useful for buying and trading loot gained from exploring dungeons. However, there are no towns or shops in this game. This is unfortunate because having such things would have added to the exploratory possibilities, so this is another case where Virtual Hydlide drops the ball. It is important to note that Virtual Hydlide’s menus and control mapping are well done and intuitive. It is a shame that these two aspects are buried by entire slew of issues.

There some titles out there that have some easily seen redeeming qualities to them, but Virtual Hydlide is not one of those games. This is a game that will most likely make one wonder how those few redeeming factors even made it into this game. The technical problems with frame rate, the lack of good story, watered down RPG elements, and many other issues render this title borderline unplayable. Virtual Hydlide is a mess of a bad game that can only be recommended to anyone who may be intrigued by its great soundtrack or its procedural world creation or even the fact that this is a Sega Saturn exclusive. Otherwise, it is in your best interest to steer clear from this piece of software.

 

 

Rating II-V

Solid State Romcast: The 8-30-15 Show

On this latest Romcast, Jon and Matt welcome back our resident news  writer Nathan VanDyke (a.k.a. Audible Chocolate himself) as they get into the current layoff of 200+ staff members at the Angry Birds’ development studio Rovio. Will the Angry Birds movie save this struggling company and just what does Transformers have to with Angry Birds? Jon washes his hands of that business soon enough and goes into the newest update on the 90s era/arcade style racing title Drift Stage by Super Systems Softworks. When will SSS make the test build available? To finish the Romcast off the three trade stories of their personal best moments in gaming.

 


Solid State Romcast: 8-30-15 Show

 

Solid State Romcast Crew:
Jon “San Juan” Rivera – Host
Matt “Off” White – Cohost
Nathan VanDyke – Lead News Writer

 

Music Credit:
Introduction Theme – Car Jack [2011 version] by Electric Children
Interlude No. 1 – Unknown Track A by ???
Interlude No. 2 – Unknown Track B by ???
Roundtable Theme – Pumped by RoccoW
Resolution Theme – Skip Sandwich DX By Electric Children