Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rick Carter's Nibbler High Score Record Revisited

Recently I posted a piece on Rick Carter's new world-record on the arcade game Nibbler - and even more recently I noticed that a few pieces of it were quoted in the forum over at Classic Arcade Gaming (dot com). CAG is a website all about classic arcade gaming (guess that could have gone without saying) which for some reason I have yet to really explore, an odd oversight on my part given my love for classic arcade gaming. In fact I am about to rectify that oversight if I can get this work finished up - damn real-life syndrome!

Anyway, there were a couple of posts over there about the feat and Rick Carter himself (the record-breaker) chimed in with some insider's thoughts on his effort.  I thought it was interesting as it reminded me that not only does playing a game for 49-50 hours straight take a lot of skill and stamina, it also takes quite a physical toll on your body.  Here is what Rick Carter had to say about the day:

"thx for all of the above and all the congrats all over guys!

It was surreal. I think any marathoner that gets up into the 48+ hour range it gets surreal. I had to reach down within my gaming soul to hit the billion. I experienced in the last 50 million something I never have felt in gaming...taking myself well beyond the "wall", resisting everything my body was telling me and mentally persevering. I was told I was so focused on the game I was standing about the last 10-12 hours of gameplay. I had no idea. I also was barely drinking anything...definitely wasn't eating anything. My body still is paying me back for that now! I am slowly getting my hands back...but my dexterity still is compromised.

At 900 million, I still was playing very well and had 90-100+ men. I was very tempted to take a 40-death break(about 10 minutes) before the final push to 1 billion. I did not take this break though thinking I no longer would be able to build the men back up or even maintain them. I could tell my hand was about shot.

At 950-960 million I was at 50 men and saying I could no longer hold the joystick. It was too painful. I then started holding it in a semi-palmed manner. The ball in my palm and last few fingers semi-wrapped around the side for leverage. However, it took some adjustment for this where I was losing lives but I did manage to get pretty proficient at clearing specific waves with this new hold...but some moves I just could not do well with this new hold.

I started the billion point game at 10:28 pm Thursday. I had arrived ready to play at 12:10 pm that day. I also had played about a 4 hour game to 83 million when something happened to the board where the game had to be reset and boards swapped out. Richie Knucklez fortunately had 3-4 sets of boards so was able to find another one that worked. Props to Richie for all the time he spent getting the game ready and fresh components for the controller installed just before the event.

After the first 83 million game, Richie told me to go to hotel and reset the next day. I would have except I had to work I did not really have the option of starting Friday and playing into Sunday. I would not be able to go back with less than 1 day of rest after a Nibbler marathon.

It took far more out of me than my previous Q*bert marathon of 61+ hours in December 2010.

Some asked me what my next marathon would be....I am considering Q*Bert again...perhaps Richie can get a second system (even if just a loaner) and George and I can go head-2-head...starting exactly same time!

You guys could go stat crazy...have the 2 screens shown side by side for the broadcast... # deaths by each shown...etc. would be interesting and think motivate both of us to keep the gameplay at a high level with increased chance of reaching the 67+ hour time record...and perhaps even break the 33+ million Q*bert score!"

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Long Hard Look at - Bank Panic

Featuring another arcade game today - a really nice one that I discovered quite some time ago on MAME and then actually got to play in person for the first time when I went to Funspot last year - Bank Panic!

Bank Panic! was developed by Sanritsu Denki in 1984 and manufactured/distributed by Sega/Bally-Midway. You've probably heard of the other arcade game that Sanritsu developed that same year - Appoooh.  Stop lying, you've never heard of Appoooh.

Bank Panic! is simple to pick up but quite fun and gets challenging quickly. Gets the blood pumping after a while like a good game of Robotron or Chicken Shift. Tastes like a video game version of hot hands (anyone?), the gameplay is similar to Hogan's Alley but more sophisticated and a far superior control scheme. Hogan's Alley apparently came out the same year but I assume production on Bank Panic! predated it. Anyway, I would say it's a bit like the love child of Hogan's Alley and Tapper if you will. Or don't. It's entirely up to you really.

You are the town deputy and you are stationed inside a huge, apparently circular, bank where it is your job to protect the good townsfolk and their hard-earned money from the no-good scallywags who approach the teller windows with pistols drawn and the intention of absconding with the bank's loot.  The fiends!  The bank has 12 doors leading to the outside and you are looking directly at 3 of them at all times. You can change which doors you are facing by pushing the joystick left or right to position yourself accordingly.

Every so often a bank door will open and most of the time it will either be a customer with money who will make a deposit or a no-good bank robber that you must fill with lead by hitting whichever of the 3 buttons - left, middle, or right - corresponds with the doorway in which the robber is standing. But you have to be sure to shoot him before he shoots you or, quite obviously, you are dead. You can shoot the baddies on sight, but that is considered "unfair" so you get extra points for waiting until they draw to shoot. But don't be too trigger happy because you don't want to accidentally shoot one of the kind patrons who sometimes, Lord knows why, like to dress and act a little like one of the robbers when they open the door to apparently see if they can fool you into blowing them away by accident - but oh do they let you have it if you do! AND you lose a life to boot. When you lose 3 lives the game is over.

At the top of the screen there is a status line/HUD that shows all the doors, which 3 doors you are facing, which doors have already taken in money, and how close the next customer (or robber) outside is to approaching each door so you can quickly position yourself to meet them if you like. Once you take in money from every door at least once the level is completed and you go to the next level which is the same except faster.

They do mix in other stuff too to trip you up - some robbers hide behind a customer and shove them out of the way to shoot you, some bob and weave to make it harder to shoot them, some robbers takes 2 shots to kill instead of 1 so you have to make sure they go down after the first shot or else they can still plug ya, sometimes a kid (or little person?) shows up with a bunch of hats on his head and you rapid-fire shoot all of them off for bonus points, sometimes customers are tied up and you have to shoot the ropes to release them, and sometimes the evil-doers set a bomb on a door and you have to get over to and shoot the fuse off before it blows up. All variations on the same theme really but they add a nice variety to the play. A few other tidbits here and there too like if a robber gets to the door and you don't get there to shoot him they can sometimes steal back money that has previously been deposited, but if you get there in time and shoot him he'll drop it and you get it right back.

I like the unique but simplistic shooting controls and the twitch gameplay. The only real drawback is the music which is a simplified arcade version of Dixie that just drones on and on - that gets a little annoying after a while. Oh yeah, another thing that annoyed me a bit - when you are playing two player they don't display your opponent's score while it is your turn so you don't know exactly how many points you need to beat them until your turn is over - that seems like a stupid oversight.

My high score on MAME is 161,900 if anyone cares to challenge it, but if you're not a MAMER-type Bank Panic was ported to the Sega SG-1000, MSX and the Sega Master System. I tried the Master System version and it is an excellent conversion. I've never owned a Master System but I must say that when I try an emulated game on it I'm almost always impressed with the quality.

There were also a few clones made such as Silver Gun for the ZX Spectrum (Spanish) and Bang Bank for the Atari XL/XE (in Poland).

But the more well-known clone was West Bank.

West Bank was released for the MSX, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC. Since my personal preferences of those 4 systems generally runs to the CBM side of the street I tried the C64 version and it was indeed a very nice clone.

It played more or less like the original with a few exceptions - notably it didn't have the little radar for each door showing when customers/baddies were approaching outside and it added a nice little bonus round where after every bank level you are called out by a trio of banditos that you must face down in a gunfight. The timer at the top of the screen counts down from 5 to 0 then the 3 baddies will draw their guns on you in random order and try to plug you. You have to wait for them to draw (fair play and all that) and then you gun them down. Has some nice animations too and provided a few new colorful characters - here are a few from the instructions screen:

"Jack Vicios, the sponging swindler of the West. Don't hesitate - shoot whenever you see his face.

Julius, the dandy. He is a box of surprises; he may give you a bag of gold or he might shoot you. Take things very careful with this one.

Bowie, the dwarf. He is a constant practical joker. Make holes in his hats, but take care that the bottom hat doesn't conceal a bomb or you will lose a life."

I even came across a magazine advertisement in the February 1986 issue of Crash where Gremlin Graphics was running a contest to see who could invent a new baddie. Winners received a free West Bank sweatshirt!

My only real complaint with West Bank is an area that I usually enjoy on the C64 - the soundtrack. The whiny old west music really started burrowing into my skull.

And clones are still being made today apparently - there is an updated version called Westbang that has been released for the iphone. I've never played and probably won't but it looks nice.

But updated graphics or no, standing in front of the original cabinet banging away at the 3 buttons is the way to go. Unfortunately I haven't seen one outside of New Hampshire so you might have to make do with one of the ports or West Bank which is OK because are all solid games for a bit of quick-hit old west fun with the same flavor. I still enjoy coming back to the game on the MAME cab from time to time. I give it a 7.6.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Marvel Ultimate Alliance - Weak!, Cool!, ...OK

Several new games I'm interested in are going to be released in the next couple of months, but in the meantime lately I've been playing through a few other current-gen games that have been sitting on my shelf for a while.  Yesterday I finally made my way around to trying Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the Xbox 360, which I bought quite a long time ago packaged with Forza Motorsports 2 for like $8 - I used to be a big fan of superhero comic books and I figured hey 2 games for $8 you can't really beat that.

Ultimate Alliance is an action RPG where you control a team of 4 superheroes - interchangeable with like 10 backups - and are trying to beat, kick, and zap your way through a colorful variety of Marvel Universe backdrops and ton of bad guys to get to Dr. Doom who is trying to take over the world - or something to that effect. I elected to jot down my thoughts immediately as I played it and it turned out to be a bit of a roller coaster ride of pleased versus displeased for me.  Below are my unaltered trains of thought after 1 hour, 4 hours, and 6 hours of play. Well, unaltered save for a bit of editing to shorten - I do tend to get rather wordy sometimes - maximum verbosity and all that.  Yes believe it or not it was longer before I chopped it. And yes, I realize that it is still way too long to expect anyone to read it but there's no turning back now so here it is.

Hour 1 (Weak):
Well the graphics look decidedly PS2/XBox-gen which is a little discouraging for a current-gen game even one that is several years old. The speech acting isn't too bad but the dialogue is SO pathetically juvenile that even the best voice over wouldn't be able to get much out of it. When the NPCs talk to you in non-cut scenes it shows a little DOS-style picture of the face of whoever is talking next to a transcript of what they are saying with a little 'push A to respond with this canned response" continue mechanic - wow - that doesn't even taste like last-gen that is more NES/GBA.

OK there's an obstacle that we have to navigate around, well no problem Iron Man can fly, so easy enough to... hmm - his jet boots seem to have an altitude ceiling of about 8 feet off the ground - well that doesn't make sense. The camerawork is rather clunky - lets you pan from left to right halfway decently but you get nothing out of up and down. And a couple of time the camera didn't switch to the proper angle so you see your guys disappear around a corner and then you are staring at a wall hearing the sounds of battle in the next room.

And why the hell do all these characters keep writhing around so much when they are standing in place telling me things? Radioactive Man is practically giving me a table dance. And I don't find him sexy at all. Way too muscly.  Oh - and as with a lot of these kinds of team-oriented games where your AI teammates get all up in your space I find myself playing a lot of a game I like to call "get the hell out of my way". I've also already played one brief round of "I'm stuck in the fucking corner".

One nice thing I noticed is that if I decide to start smashing a random piece of conduit or machinery out of nowhere, my team is understandably puzzled for a moment but then starts beating the hell out of it too in support. I like that kind of loyalty - don't ask me why - just hit it!

The story? Virtually nonexistent. I don't have to have a good story to enjoy a game, but don't pretend to sell me a story and then just sew together a bunch of mediocre-to-boring gameplay missions because that ain't gonna cut it.  BUT all that being said it isn't like it's unplayable and I have always been a comic book fan (and more of a Marvel guy over DC) so I really want to like this game.  So even though so far it almost seems like a beta I'm going to hang in there with it. It definitely seems to be more tailored toward kids as opposed to adult gamers though.

My beginning rating = 6.2.

Hours 2-4 (Cool): 
[MadPlanet really wandered off the path into a lot of comic book jibber jabber here - Editor]
OK I decided to go a bit more hipster and switch out some of the Marvel Universe flag-bearers on the team for some of the lesser known B-siders off the bench.

Right off the bat I pick Moon Knight because I used to collect his title back in the day. He doesn't even have any powers he is just a strong but slightly mentally unstable man who has learned many fighting styles with which to kick ass and since he is fortunate enough to be rich he can also afford all kinds of expensive gadgets, vehicles, and weapons - OK he's basically Marvel's version of Batman. Moon Knight does have a pretty cool back-story though - he is a former mercenary who was left for dead out in the desert after one of his mercenary gigs went south.  He finds his way into an ancient tomb where he collapses at the foot of a statue of Konshu the God of the Moon (is that a real Egyptian god?  note to self - Google later) and dies.  Then, a bit later, he is resurrected by Konshu to fight injustice - or maybe he's just nuts - either way he slips into a costume styled on the moon-crested hoodie look that Konshu pioneered and now kicks criminal ass - mostly the lesser grade hoods - not Galactus or anything.

Scrolling through the bench warmers I see... Elektra - meh she's fairly obscure and hot but I was never a big Daredevil fan. Iceman?  Yeah maybe back in the day before the X-Men movies and all the cartoons - now everybody knows that guy. Colossus - yeah - I always liked Colossus and he only has a bit part in one the X-Men movies so he's still relatively obscure - OK added Colossus to the team.

Hey they have Luke Cage!  Or his full name as I used to know it - Luke Cage, Power Man!  He looks a little different now - more normal-looking clothing, but obviously still one bad mother fucker. Luke Cage was the only dude bad enough to be able pull off the look he sported back when I collected Power Man and Iron Fist in the late '70s - early '80s. How many guys can walk around in a bright yellow silk puffy shirt unbuttoned to the navel with blue skinny jeans, a chain-link belt, and a sterling silver tiara headband and still look ready, willing and able to really fuck you up if you even think about saying anything.

That, gentlemen, is self-confidence. My hat's off to Mr. Cage - I never even had the nerve to wear my bolo-tie that I bought back when I was in my country music phase in the early 80's. I think I may have worn it to a Dwight Yoakam concert once (hey didn't you get one too FallGuy or am I imagining that?). So anyway YES Luke Cage you are on the squad. Dude you just keep on dressing like you want to dress and to hell with society's so-called rules!

Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for the Power Man and Iron Fist movie.  It is the tried-and-true odd couple formula spiced up with a good dose of 70's pop culture and a liberal sprinkling of ethnic/cultural stereotypes.  Felix and Oscar, Starskey and Hutch, Tango and Cash - Power Man and Iron Fist. Both New Yorkers - one is a bullet-proof bad-ass street-smart take no shit black dude from Harlem with a heart of gold but who has no problem notching your skull with his chain link belt if you eyeball him on the street. The other is a quiet contemplative overly-docile wealthy white pacifist who when pushed far enough will be happy to demonstrate to you in fashionable green and yellow spandex with ribbon accents that not only is he an expert in the martial arts, but he can also literally make his fist as hard as freaking iron so when he chops your ass with it there can be no doubt that it is going to fucking hurt in the morning. Oh the hijinx they got into. Hell I bet Quentin Tarantino already has it on his short-list of projects.

But I digress - back to the game. Still need one more - OK Ms. Marvel you're up. Moving on.

So right away I'm fighting a guy as Moon Knight.  The game plays some heavy fight music when you go into battle and at first it seemed goofy, but now that I've put myself more in the right frame of mind I kinda like it. After Moon Knight beats this nameless goon he yells out "another victory for you Konshu!". OK more terrible dialogue but it resonated with my comic past and now this stuff has almost morphed into a "so bad it's kinda good" type of deal...

Hmmm - I see the characters all have various XP and stats and gear that you can equip and level up etc - so it's an RPG too eh? (I didn't realize that at the time)  OK, a little deeper than I first thought - might be cool.  Oh shit I just saw an unlockable hidden option in Luke Cage's outfit - I bet it's that classic puffy shirt/jean ensamble. Hell that's almost enough right there to keep me going. OK switching to Luke Cage.

"You lose small-fry!" - Luke Cage after chain-slapping one dude unconscious.
"Next time - run away!" - Luke Cage after smashing one guy's face repeatedly into the ground.
"Guess that means... I win!" - L.C. after... well you get the picture.

Luke Cage does excellent work.

My mid-way rating = 7.8

Hours 5-6 (OK):
Well I have thoroughly enjoyed holding guys off the ground and punching them as Luke Cage and hey Ms. Marvel can kick some ass too, but the the initial shine of the comic book connection is beginning to dull a bit for me. Although I still find the game to be pretty decent and could very well come back to it to finish, the gameplay is getting a little old so I might not. The RPG elements seem to be a little tacked on and you really don't need to even pay attention to them at all to play the game so despite the extra details and options it is really just more of an action game. It basically feels like a Diablo-skinned version of the old 2D X-Men arcade game which is fine but I've never been a huge fan of the beat 'em up brawler.  My favorite part was actually reminiscing about Power Man - so maybe I'll just go dig a few comics out of the closet.

I will say that this another of those games that I feel like would be better if you played multiplayer with some friends, but as is often the case I don't know anyone that has it and am not into playing with random strangers online - so I can only base my opinion on the single-player game experience I had. Either way though I got about 6 hours of pretty good fun out of it for $4 so I feel like I got my money's worth.

My final rating = 7.3

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