There appear to only be two games of note this week. One is from a beloved children’s property written by a person who is well known for their anti-trans views and the other is about a radish who is a dad. Which one am I getting this week? The one about the radish of course.
Hogwarts Legacy (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Feb. 10th
Developed by: Avalanche Software
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Sigh, well, here we are. If, like me, you’re exhausted by all of the discourse around J.K. Rowling and her personal views on the transgender community then this week is going to be a long one. We will, once again, have to have a discussion about separating the art from the artist, a tired but increasingly more common predicament (Morrissey, Kanye West, R. Kelly, Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., John Cleese and on, and on, and on, and on…). We’ll also have to discuss the fact that there are likely hundreds of people who worked on this video game that AREN’T J.K. Rowling, so which is morally wrong, playing the game even though it’s based on the works of a TERF or denying the actual people who made this game the credit for all their hard work? Once again, sigh. Look, I can’t tell you one way or another what to do when it comes to Hogwarts Legacy. I really like the Harry Potter franchise, I love those books dearly and I love those movies even more but, god damn, J.K. Rowling hasn’t made it easy. Play it, don’t play it, just try to live your life the best that you can. Be inclusive, be accepting, and be kind, please, just be kind. Please also donate some cash to the National Center for Transgender Equality. The only way we’re going to make progress is if we stand up for those that don’t feel they have an equal voice and educate anyone who doesn’t understand. Love to you all, I wish I could reach through this screen and give each of you a big ol’ hug.
Daily Dadish (PC/Switch) – Releases Feb. 8th
Developed by: CatCup Games
Published by: CatCup Games
Fuck, dude, I’m so FUCKING excited for Daily Dadish.
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Aliens: Colonial Marines (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Feb. 12th, 2013: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Identity Thief – Starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Foals – Holy Fire
*Click here to listen to the album*
With a six year development cycle, you would think that Aliens: Colonial Marines would be in tip top shape because the developers obviously had time to test it and make sure everything worked properly; you would think. However, that six year development time was actually spent doing just about anything BUT making Aliens: Colonial Marines. Shortly after the release of their critically acclaimed first person shooter Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 in 2005, Gearbox Software was looking to start on their next title, one that they had hoped could feature a licensed property. They had entertained ideas for games based on the films Blade Runner and Heat but, after a chance encounter with director Ridley Scott, it was suggested that the team pursue the Alien franchise rights. Gearbox reached out to 20th Century Fox about the possibility of making a game based on the James Cameron film Aliens and learned that Sega held the video game rights to the franchise. In 2007, Gearbox contacted Sega, hoping they’d be receptive to what the studio had to offer.
Seeing as they had experience in the first person genre with both Brothers In Arms and their work on console ports of Half-Life, the team at Gearbox decided to keep that style for their new Aliens game, setting the game directly after the events of Alien 3, with players controlling a squad of marines as they explored various areas from the second film, Aliens, including the Sulaco spaceship and Hadley’s Hope colony. Sega was very receptive to Gearbox’s pitch and let the company have full creative control over its development, sort of (we’ll get to that later). With cash in hand, Gearbox got to work on preproduction, coming up with the setting, story, and characters. However, despite getting the greenlight to start on Aliens, Gearbox was also hard at work on another game, a new property called Borderlands. In order to keep things on track, Gearbox contracted another company, Demiurge Studios, to work up a prototype of the game. This was the first of many delays and outside developers that would be a part of this doomed project.
After the release of Borderlands in 2009, Gearbox found themselves with a massive hit and they were keen to capitalize on their own success, immediately starting production on Borderlands 2. This, in turn, meant that they’d have to pull even more people off of Aliens in order to give their own IP the company’s full attention. This is when another developer, TimeGate Studios, was brought on board, though they were also deep in development on their own IP, a sequel to Section 8 called Prejudice. It took TimeGate nearly a year to begin full development on Aliens and, much to their surprise, had found that almost nothing had been done on the game. They reached out to Gearbox for help but they were, once again, busy with another game, Duke Nukem Forever, and couldn’t be bothered with Aliens.
TimeGate would spend the next two years developing Aliens, coming up with level designs and concepts, however they would need to get constant approval from Gearbox and Sega. Despite Gearbox having, supposedly, been working on the game’s story for nearly five years, they were actually still writing it just one year before release, causing massive headaches at TimeGate as they would need to scrap entire sections of the game they had already built because it did not fit with the story Gearbox had written. To make things worse, Sega would continually insist that Aliens play more like a Call of Duty game, featuring more human antagonists and less Xenomorphs which is certainly a choice when making a video game based on Aliens. This did, however, lead to Gearbox scrapping the squad based gameplay in favor of a simpler single player experience. Oh, and all this time there was a fourth developer working on the game’s multiplayer portion, Nerve Software. What’s that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen?
Initially, Gearbox had wanted to only make Aliens for PC, however, they were becoming more and more impressed with the power behind the Xbox 360 and PS3 that they decided partway through development to port the game to those platforms. TimeGate, however, had been mainly developing the game for PC, so when Gearbox finally took back control of development they were shocked (SHOCKED) when the game barely performed up to standard on the 360 and just flat out refused to work on PS3. Having already delayed the game numerous times, and getting on Sega’s bad side when it was revealed that Gearbox hadn’t really been working on the game, yet still took Sega’s money, there was no more pushing of the date, Aliens: Colonial Marines would need to come out in February of 2013.
Whenever Gearbox showed the game off to press and the public they would display the game on incredibly high end machines that made the game look absolutely stunning. Back at the studio, though, the team was finding that in order to get the game to run on moderately powered PC’s, as well as the 360 and PS3, they would have to drastically scale back on graphical fidelity, decreasing the game’s shader and particle fidelity, while also reducing the size of textures…and the game still ran like shit on consoles. Despite the heavy hype surrounding the release, when critics and players finally got a chance to play Aliens: Colonial Marines they found a buggy mess of a game that felt unfinished and haphazardly slapped together because, well, it was.
Critics were appalled by the state of Aliens: Colonial Marines. The game looked almost nothing like the demo footage they had seen and was bland, uninspired, and full of hokey jump scares, failing to live up to both its own hype and Cameron’s masterpiece film. Apart from being somewhat of a disgrace to the film’s tone, Aliens: Colonial Marines failed to grasp the subtext of Cameron’s film in which male machismo and bravado fails in the face of catastrophe and does not work when confronted with the fact that everything around you is falling apart. Instead, Gearbox wrote a story that celebrated the male machismo attitude, rewarding players for being badasses and played up the heroics of being a “man’s man”. Still, despite the critical beat down, Aliens: Colonial Marines was a financial success, duping over on million players who had bought into the hype.
After release, critics and players began to question just what had happened with the development of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Reports began to surface that there had been several developers working on the game and that, at one point, Sega fired Gearbox for pulling people off the project and putting them on other games while still collecting Sega’s money. At first, Sega denied it all, claiming that Gearbox was the sole developer and that they had never fired them. However, sources soon started coming out of the woodwork to refute those claims and, in the process, found that Sega had rushed the game through redesigns, certifications, production, and shipping, despite knowing full well that the game was largely unfinished and looked nothing like what they had been promoting to players.
In April of 2013, two players filed a class action lawsuit against Gearbox and Sega, accusing the two companies of falsely advertising the game at trade shows and demos, despite knowing that the final product wouldn’t match those demos. Sega suggested that the two companies settle and agreed that they would pay over $1 million in damages. Gearbox, on the other hand, had no intention of paying anything and placed all of the blame squarely on Sega, claiming that, as developer, they had no control over the game’s promotion and marketing. Gearbox also claimed that they had supplemented development out of their own pockets and had received no royalties from sales of the game. By 2015 the lawsuit was dismissed and Gearbox successfully had their name removed from the suit. Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford claimed he had lost somewhere between $10 and $15 million dollars of his own personal fortune developing Aliens: Colonial Marines, and claimed that none of the problems the game faced were because of anything their development team did. In 2017, a typo was found in the game’s source code that caused the enemy AI to not function properly (one of the game’s main complaints).
In the aftermath of Aliens: Colonial Marines, Gearbox would falter a bit with their online shooter Battleborn but rebound with Borderlands 3. Sega wouldn’t take much of a hit, though the critical failure of the game likely further solidified their decision to focus less on making games for a Western audience. DemiUrge, the initial prototype developers, would be purchased by Sega in 2015 who turned them into a mobile games studio. Multiplayer developer Nerv Software continues to work in the industry, having most recently done work for Gearbox on the 20th anniversary release of Duke Nukem 3D. The one casualty in all of this was TimeGate Studios who would, in a similar situation as Gearbox, fail to receive any royalty payments for their game Section 8: Prejudice from publisher Southpeak Games. This, coupled with the failure of Aliens, caused the company to file for bankruptcy and shut down in May of 2013. For anyone who is interested in playing what some call one of the worst video games of all time, you can pick up the complete edition on Steam for $39.99 but I strongly advise against it. It’s mostly bad…mostly.
.hack//Infection (PS2) – Released Feb. 11th, 2003: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Shanghai Knights – Starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Michael Bublé – Michael Bublé
*Click here to listen to the album*
Development on 2002/2003’s .Hack//Infection began in early 2000. The game’s developer, CyberConnect 2, wanted to create an RPG that was distinctive from all the others on the market and hoped that they could shock and surprise players with its unique content. Initial ideas for the game included being a dragon slayer or a thief in London but, ultimately, the team decided to create a game that mimicked playing an MMORPG. CyberConnect 2’s president Hiroshi Matsuyama was heavily involved in the creation of the game and was very receptive to the idea of making a faux MMORPG, stating that it was an easy way for young children not allowed to use the internet, or those with very poor internet connections, to have the MMO experience.
In developing this new game, called .Hack, the team looked at the most popular MMO’s in Japan at the time, including Phantasy Star Online, Ultima Online, and Final Fantasy XI, studying the gameplay and watching how players interacted with one another. For influences on the game’s story, the developers took some not so subtl inspiration from the previous works that two of their creative team members had worked on; Neon Genesis Evangelion from artist Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, and Ghost in the Shell from writer Kazunori Ito. With the MMO setting for the game, CyberConnect 2 hoped that this would act as a way to draw players further into the game’s plot, heightening the sense that these events were happening to them in real time.
.Hack was immediately conceived as an interconnected, four part series, similar to how a manga will typically contain a four volume story arc. The first game in the series is titled Infection and tells the story of a new player to the MMORPG The World. Players control a character named Kite who is met by his friend, and veteran player of The World, Orca. While exploring an area designed for beginners, Kite and Orca witness a woman dressed in white being chased by a strange creature. They lose the girl but encounter the monster, which is several levels higher than the enemies in the area. Orca tries to fight the monster but is easily defeated, crashing the game in the process. Kite tries to call his friend in the real world but gets no answer. He then learns that Orca has suffered some kind of medical episode and is in a coma. Kite returns to The World, looking for answers and encounters the creature again. This time the girl in white, named Aura, gives Kite “the Book of Twilight” a book that allows Kite to rewrite the game’s code, allowing another veteran player, Balmung, to defeat the powerful monster. Balmung assumes Kite is a cheater, becoming wary of him, and storms off. From there, Kite and a group of friends he meets along the way, work together to destroy the virus that has infected The World and is causing players in the real world to lapse into comas.
.Hack//Infection was very popular in Japan when it released and by the time all four games had released in 2004, the franchise had sold nearly two million copies. In North America, the series did well enough for a JRPG series and while critics praised the game’s unique environments and setting, they heavily criticized how shallow the whole thing felt, calling the gameplay bland, nothing that it was incredibly short and very easy. While the game’s mind-bending story impressed some critics, others were quick to note that Kingdom Hearts had already done a similar story and it was much, much better. By the time the fourth game rolled around, critics felt like they’d had enough of this nonsense and pretty much turned on the franchise as a while. Still, this didn’t matter much to players who happily gobbled it up.
On top of the games, there was also a .Hack anime series and manga, re-telling the events of the game from other players perspectives and giving more background on some of the things that led up to .Hack//Infection. Playing the game today is not easy, as CyberConnect 2 has not re-released these games for any modern consoles, making emulation your only real means of playing it. The series would receive a sequel story arc, told over three games, called .Hack//G.U.. While it too would release on PS2 it would also get the remaster treatment, coming out for modern consoles, with the most recent port being released on Switch in 2022. I didn’t get to play a lot of this game, only getting through maybe the first 2 to 3 hours of it, but I can see the charm. Do I want to go back in and give it a go…eh, maybe? Should you try it out? Sure, it’s better than Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Star Wars: X-Wing (PC) – Released Feb. 1993: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey – Starring Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox, and Sally Field
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Mick Jagger – Wandering Spirit
*Click here to listen to album*
When LucasArts first launched in the early 1980’s, you would have thought that they’d be making Star Wars games non-stop, well, that wasn’t the case. Lucasfilm had already made deals with other publishers to develop and license video games based on Star Wars. For the PC, that company was Broderbund who appeared to get the license around 1982/1983 and, from what I can tell, only used it once to develop and publish a port of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game to PC. For the next ten years there were no Star Wars games on PC (except for one Japanese only title called Attack on the Death Star). When Broderbund’s license expired in 1993, LucasArts was ready to release their first Star Wars game on PC, the flight simulator X-Wing.
The choice to make a flight simulator seemed like a no brainer. Not only was George Lucas inspired by WWII dogfight films when making Star Wars, LucasArts had already made several WWII based flight simulator games, most notably with their Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe series. Taking what they learned from those previous games, developer Totally Games got to work on making the best Star Wars flight sim that had ever been on the market. With the advent of 3D polygon graphics, Totally Games was able to use 3D models for all of the aircraft, one of the first flight simulators to do so, as all previous games had used 2D bitmap sprites for enemy ships.
For this new flight sim, Star Wars: X-Wing, the team decided to set the game during the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, with players being part of the rebel alliance, going on missions just before and during the climactic final battle in that film. Players take on the role of an unnamed protagonist who they can use to pilot three different rebel alliance ships; A-Wing, Y-Wing and, of course, X-Wing. Players have three options when choosing what to play; Training Missions, Historical Battles, and Tour of Duty, which is the game’s “story mode”. Historical Battles take place outside of the established timeline of the game and let players engage in battles that they otherwise couldn’t, while also serving as a way to replay missions completed in the Tour of Duty.
All missions, from Training to Tour of Duty take place in space, there are no battles on planet surfaces. While playing, players have a squadron of wingmen to assist them that will follow the player’s orders. In the original floppy disc version of the game, players could create pilots and import them as their own wingmen. A typical mission in X-Wing includes dog fighting, escorting & protecting rebellion cargo ships, as well as attacking enemy convoys & capital ships.
When X-Wing released in February of 1993 it was an immediate hit, with the initial 100k print run selling out in less than a week. By the end of 1993 X-Wing had moved over 500k units, making it one of the best selling video games of the year. Critics were also impressed by the game, calling it one of the best flight simulators on the market. Some criticism was given to the game’s rigid win conditions, but this was easily overlooked due to the superb graphics and gameplay. At the end of they year X-Wing would be honored by multiple PC gaming outlets, receiving several awards for Simulation Game of the Year and Best Overall Game of the Year.
Today, X-Wing is easily available from either GOG or Steam, with your purchase containing all of the various iterations of the game from its early floppy disc release all the way up to it’s final 1998 remaster. X-Wing would spawn an entire franchise of games, with the next entry, Star Wars: Tie Fighter, being an even bigger critical and commercial success. I personally found the game to be a bit on the slow side, really sticking closely to that “simulation” feel and being less of an arcade shooter. Still, in terms of video game history, X-Wing is an all-time classic and deserves to be on your radar.
Sinistar (Arcade) – Released Feb. 1983: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Let’s Spend the Night Together – Starring The Rolling Stones
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Social Distortion – Mommy’s Little Monster
*Click here to listen to album*
When we talk about video games that fill you with dread I’m sure a few titles come to mind; Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Until Dawn, Fatal Frame, Dead Space, and the like, but those are all fairly modern titles that contain sound design and graphics that are able to really evoke a feeling of terror in you. 40 years ago, that was a bit harder to do, especially if you were playing a game in an arcade, someplace not really known for it’s quiet, intimate atmosphere. However, a group of programmers over at Williams Electronics tried their best to really scare the hell out of its players with the space combat game Sinistar.
The premise of Sinistar is pretty simple. Players pilot a space ship around a large area of space, shooting enemies and planetoids that fly around the screen. As players destroy the planetoids they will accumulate crystals which are converted into “Sinibombs” (oddly not the name of a children’s breakfast cereal), which are then used to destroy the boss of the stage, the evil Sinistar. Now, Sinistar is not immediately part of the game, worker drones also destroy the planetoids and use the crystals to build Sinistar. This is where the sense of terror and dread comes in because once Sinistar is completed he will shout at the player, “Beware! I LIVE!!“, and will immediately begin hunting for the player in order to kill them.
By 1983, not many games had digitized speech, with probably 1980’s Berzerk being the most popular. By the time Sinistar came out the digitized voice technology had improved and Williams was able to have clearer sound as well as multiple phrases for Sinistar to speak, including, “Run, coward!”, “Run! Run! Run!“, “I hunger!” and “Beware, coward!“, really driving home his almost dickish attitude. For a space demon, he sure isn’t very nice. Sinistar has no weapons and can only kill players by running into them, which is pretty easy to do since he’s fairly massive.
Sinistar wasn’t quite the major hit that its contemporaries were, but it gained a strong cult following. Being one of the first games to give voice to a character, Sinistar himself is probably far more well known than the actual game Sinistar. The character has been referenced many time throughout the years, typically in connection with video game related television programs and podcasts, but was also prominently featured in the music video for Sheena Easton’s song “Almost Over You” in which she stands in front of a Sinistar cabinet that she keeps in her elegant piano room, as we all do. Playing Sinistar today is easy if you own an Xbox console as it is part of the Midway Arcade Origins collection. Aside from that, emulation is your only bet. Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to RUN, COWARDS!
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