Monday, February 27, 2012

Plasma Pong

I didn't think that much can be done with the premise of "Pong", just some slight refinements here and there via a few games.  Boy, was I proven wrong!  "Plasma Pong" was an indie game, done by one person, that was released a few years ago (2007, I believe).  It is free to download for PC. 

Plasma Pong is basically Pong, with paddles, ball, and black screen.  But there is one key factor that influences the gameplay significantly, and makes it into almost a completely different game.  The field between your paddle and your opponent's is a field of plasma, that can be molded and manipulated via your paddle.  Your paddle (and your opponent's) can be used to shoot plasma, which influences the direction of the ball.  This causes the ball to go into wildly divergent patterns, and there are often times when the ball will fly into the plasma made by your opponent, causing the ball you just shot to come flying right back at you.  You can also use the plasma to suck the ball into your paddle and release a shockwave that will send the ball speeding towards your opponent.

The game is not a best of 10 or 11 set as in regular Pong, but every time you get the ball past your opponent, you advance to the next level, where the plasma becomes even more plentiful on the field and it becomes harder to determine the path of the ball.  You get 10 lives, and lose one when a ball slips by you. 

The graphics are pretty amazing.  The plasma that is shot quickly turns the black screen into a cavalcade of vibrant colors.  Potheads could really appreciate this game.  During gameplay, pressing 1-9 can alter various graphical elements of the game, including 3D, plasma shading and temperature, creating even more graphic variations.  The music is an orchestral/dance hybrid of some kind, and you can hear its tempo speed up every time you go to the next level.

There is also another mode called Sandbox that lets you tamper with the graphical effects of the game without having to play it.  This is good if you just want to sit back and treat yourself to a light show. 

The only issue that I have with the game is that I wish it had gamepad support.  It only supports the mouse, and I found that using it tightened the control up more than it should have been.  Maybe a trackball mouse would work better with this game.  Other than that, I have to wholeheartedly recommend it, especially since it's free to download. 

(Note:  The developer, Stephen Taylor, closed the website promoting the game [} due to its infringing on the Pong trademark.  There is a note on the website promising an update of the game, along with another new game from Mr. Taylor, but neither seems to have materialized; the notice was published in 2008.  It's a shame, because it is a very good game.)


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Battle Flip Shot/Bang Bead

As part of my overview of Pong, I also planned to look at some of the few variations over the years on the game.  I guess there's only so much you can do with the core theme.  I came upon a couple of games from the Neo-Geo era called Battle Flip Shot and Bang Bead (Bang Bead came out a couple of years after Battle Flip Shot and was from the same company).  As far as I know, these games were only released in Japan.  One disclaimer I should give before proceeding is that I always do single-player in these games.  I do feel that these types of games would probably be a lot of fun with two people, and my impressions of these games are solely based on the single-player experience.  Let's look at BFS first.

Battle Flip Shot tries to integrate Pong with Street Fighter II.  The first thing you do after inserting the coin is choose from 5 different characters.  Then you go to an arena-type field, equipped with a shield, which you use to hit the ball back.  Your goal is to hit the targets behind the opponent.  When the last target is hit, you win the round and move on to the next (each level is 2 out of 3 rounds, just like any fighting game).  Of course, you must protect your targets as well.

This game is very fast.  Unlike Pong, you can also move forward and backward, in addition to left and right.  The A button gives you a more powerful shot, and the B button lets you slide.  To be honest, I really didn't see much of a difference in using these buttons, and feel the game can usually be played by just moving the pad to hit the ball.  Obviously, for a late 90's title, the graphics are much better than Pong, but certainly not revolutionary.  If anything, I found the graphics a little behind the curve, and they could have been pulled off on a Super Nintendo without too much difficulty.  The music isn't anything outstanding, but will make you feel right at home if you're used to playing Neo Geo/arcade games.

The only caveat I have with this game is that it can be very difficult.  The ball moves really fast, and you must always be on your toes if you hope to win.  The AI also has some quirks.  For most of the game, it's relatively easy to bash its targets, but when you're down to the last one, the AI suddenly becomes very stubborn and will protect that last target like its child.  A lot of times, I'd have 3 or 4 targets to the computer's one, and I'd end up losing out of the computer's fierce defense in protecting that last target.  For that reason, the game would probably be preferable with two people.

Bang Bead is pretty much the same as Battle Flip Shot, with a few differences.  The graphics are slightly better.  There are more characters (7 characters, along with two hidden ones).  There is more variety in the backgrounds.  The only gameplay difference I noticed was that after hitting the targets (9 stars), the round isn't won, but the force field behind the targets will break, which means that placing a shot behind your opponent will lead to a win.  There is also a super attack that can be filled up via a gauge.  Hitting the A button for attack seemed to make a difference in the gameplay, unlike BFS.  Like BFS, the gameplay is very fast, and I found the AI slightly easier this time around.  Again, I'd imagine that this is a gameplay experience that would be superior with two people.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pong: The Next Level

There is only one official update that was made of Pong (unless you count the numerous spinoffs of the original arcade game, which are pretty much the same anyway), and that was a version released in 1999 by Hasbro.  During this time, modern updates of several classics such as Missile Command, Q-Bert, Asteroids, etc. were put out for the Playstation One and several other consoles.  I recently bought that version of Pong and tried it out, for this blog. 

My initial impressions were very good.  I really enjoyed the presentation; the audio in particular really takes you back to the day.  It just has a very old-school flavor, and I liked some of the updates that were made, such as the paddles having a personality.  Then I played the game.  The first few stages were pretty good, and I liked how you could advance through different stages (such as a arctic ice cap, a soccer field, and so forth) with different goals in each stage.  However, a few kinks soon became apparent to me. 

The first is the control.  I don't know if I agree with the Classic Game Room's Youtube review that a paddle was needed to play the game (although it would have been preferable), but the controls certainly could have been tightened.  There were many times I'd only slightly move the analog stick on my PS3 to minutely move my paddle to hit the ball, but the paddle would veer beyond that and I'd lose the ball, and a point would be gained for my opponent. 

However, my biggest problem with the game is that I felt the developer was too ambitious for the game's own good.  By the soccer stage, I was already struggling with the concept of moving two paddles (one for the kicker, other for the goalie), and by the time I got to the clown stage, I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do.  Granted, I am not the best gamer in the world, not by a long shot, and I'm sure there are others who played the game who had no trouble.  But I think the game would have benefited with a "less is more" approach.

I came away with a favorable opinion of the way that "Pong" was presented in the Atari Evolved game for the PSP, because not only did it come with the original game, but also with several "evolved" updates, such as Air Hockey and Pinball.  These updates retained the same gameplay of the original, but updated the graphics and sound to make it more appealing to the present-day gamer.  I think that approach would have been more beneficial to this game.  Rather, the developers came up with a lot of different stages where there was a lot going on and where I came away confused.  That, combined with the loose controls, led me to make this a hard one to recommend.  To me, classic gaming (and Pong certainly symbolizes that) is all about simplicity, and this game fell short in that regard.

If you still want to play it, you can get the game for dirt cheap; to my chagrin, I found out that it was on the Playstation Network (I could have downloaded it to my PSP rather than buying the CD).  But I don't think being able to play it on a handheld would have led me to change my impression of the game.  I will probably keep at this game out of sheer stubborness, but I doubt my feelings on it will change. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Ahhh, Pong, the 2nd game in the book.  There is no denying the influence that Pong had on gaming; while it isn't the first video game, it was the first game to really enter the mainstream.  The success of Pong led to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario, etc.  A case can be made that if it were not for Pong, video gaming as we know it today might not exist. 

Most people have probably played Pong, even if only once in their lives for a few minutes.  And honestly, that's all the time you need.  For while Pong is no doubt an iconic video game, the first successful commercially released video game, it is very simple to a fault and one can get bored with it very quickly.  Peter Molyneux, the guy who's designed such games as Populous, Syndicate, Black & White, and many more games, wrote the preface to the book.  In it, he says that he bought a Pong console back in the 70's (yes, some of the first gaming consoles that were sold only had one game, such as Pong, and you could not buy other game cartridges).  He took it home and became bored within a half hour. 

Pong has been released in several video game compilations over the years, including Atari Anthology and the Atari Flashback 2 console, which comes pre-installed with many 2600 games.  I own these, but I have revisited Pong via my PSP and the Atari Classics Evolved game. 

This is a cool little compilation.  You get 11 classic Atari arcade games (in addition to Pong, also Battlezone, Centipede, Tempest, etc.) and also what are called "evolved" versions.  These versions have updated graphics and sound.  I started with the original Pong.  I forgot how hard it can be, because the paddles are so small.  In addition, it's almost required to use the standard directional buttons, as the analog "nub" on the PSP is awful.  And games in those days used paddle controllers, so a decent analog control could have made all the difference.  I ended up getting my ass kicked by the computer in pretty much every game I played, to be honest.  And it's Pong, so the graphics and sound are very minimal, but it's a game that's worth spending a few minutes with now and again. 

But what are really cool are the "evolved" modes of the game.  Pong has four.  The first is Ping Pong mode, with a nice-looking overhead view of a tennis table (the pong paddles are now rackets) and tennis sounds as the ball is hit.  The second is pinball mode, which looks kind of like a pinball table.  The third, and my personal favorite is Air Hockey.  This changes things up a bit, by switching the perspective to a vertical one (and you have to adjust your PSP and play it that way).  I love air hockey, and the graphics and sound make it almost feel like the real thing; my only gripe is that you can't move up and down like in real air hockey, only left-right, but I guess they wanted to keep it in the spirit of Pong.  The final mode is Neoclassic mode, which is basically regular Pong only with a grey background (rather than the black of the original), slightly bigger yellow paddles, a glowing yellow ball, and some additional sound effects.   

I think that if you want to play Pong, and happen to have a PSP, Atari Classics Evolved is probably the way to go.  Not only do you get an emulated version of the original Pong, you get these very cool modes of the game that I found far more appealing to play than the actual Pong. 

Sorry for not being more frequent when it comes to playing these games, my schedule's been a bit messed up lately.  My next post will talk about an updated sequel to Pong that was made in the late 90's for the Playstation, which I'm playing now.  Also, I've never really uploaded videos, but I can't seem to find any videos on Youtube for the evolved modes of Pong, so I'll look into getting some kind of camera eventually, so I can post the videos here. 


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sorry, Next Game On Its Way

Sorry, I'd been meaning to post about Pong, the 2nd game on the list.  I've played it, obviously, and will give my thoughts on it tomorrow, along with a sequel that was released 10 or so years ago that I'm currently playing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Oregon Trail

The very first game in the book, The Oregon Trail is an "edutainment" game that was originally released in 1971 ("edutainment" is a subgenre of gaming that combines education, along with entertainment elements of video games).  In the game, you assume the role of a wagon leader who guides his party from Missouri to Oregon, via the Oregon Trail, in the mid-19th century.  As you travel, you must manage your resources carefully, and make the right decisions at key moments.

I remember playing this game when I was in school.  I can't remember what system it was on; it was either on an Apple II or an old IBM PC, as it had color graphics and was not quite as archaic   As much as I appreciate its role in video games, I always looked at it more as a way to kill time while I was in school.  I never really became excited as I was playing it.  An "edutainment" game that, IMO, was more deserving of being on the list, and yet wasn't, was one of the "Carmen Sandiego" games that were developed for computers in the 1980s and 90s.  I remember spending many hours playing those games ("Where in the World" and "Where in Time" were favorites) for my Commodore 64, when I was at home.  It was similar in some ways to "Oregon Trail", but I also remember it as being more nonlinear.  You had to use an almanac that provided clues in catching Carmen's cohorts, and eventually, Carmen herself.  This required travelling to different locations throughout the world, and learning different things about the country you were in (I remember particularly, learning the currency of each country through these games).  I remember having a lot of fun.    

I know this is the first game on the list, but I am going to forgo revisiting Oregon Trail, at least for now.  I'm timid on replaying a game that I have lukewarm memories of.  There are many different versions of the game, including ones for Facebook and Nintendo's new portable, the 3DS (which I have).  Maybe a more modern take on it will make me enjoy it more.  But I promise, I will return to this game, in time, to give my thoughts on it.

1,001 (And More) Video Games I Want to Play Before I Die

Hi, I'm Jeff.  I am a lifelong gamer, and had recently discovered a book called "1,001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die".  I was very impressed that such a book had been written and published; each game is given a brief write-up and often includes a picture.  Needless to say, the book is pretty large, and is one in a series (along with 1,001 Albums, 1,001 Songs, and so on).

While many such lists have been created online, the fact that one came out in book form made quite an impression on me.  It is very professionally done, with many of the games being iconic, if not timeless classics.  And I am a devoted gamer, I try to play as many games as I can, regardless of what time or system they were developed for.  But I realized, upon glancing through the pages of this book, that I had been spending too much time on the newer systems, and had been missing out on revisiting these classics that I haven't played for some time, or the games that I had gotten around to.  There are many in the book that I had played, but also many that I had not.

I hope to play each game, in depth, in order that is listed in the book.  But not only that.  I also want to try some of a particular game's variants, sequels or remakes.  I know that it's ridculously thorough, but I've always been that kind of person.  It also brings me a great deal of enjoyment, to stumble onto something that very few people have tried.

I will post on each game frequently, along with my experiences with each game, and its variants and/or sequels or remakes, provided that there are any.