Australian Gaming Database and magazine cover scans at RGA

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[Source: Australian Gaming Database]

Just wanted to give props to Retro Gaming Australia’s latest additions – they’ve just release an excellent wiki-based database relating to the gaming sector in Australia (including some excellent coverage of Hyper, Sega Megazone and The Zone, three of my favourite slices of Australian gaming media), as well as an archive covering magazine cover scans.

These both join their excellent/extensive Google docs-based Australian game magazine score review archive, TV ad archives and video game magazine ads.

In a perfect world of course, we would be able to grab all the back issues of Hyper and Sega Megazone in a PDF-like format to capture the history of gaming magazines in this country perfectly, but that’s unlikely to happen unfortunately. I for one would love to see some conversions of the old print masters into PDF to peruse on my PC or iOS device, but the return on the investment would probably not be sufficient given the time needed to do this.

Now if only I hadn’t sold off all my video game magazines when I got to Uni! I had piles of delightful magazines in there – C+VG’s from 1992-1993 and several issues of MEGA, Megatech, Sega Zone, Sega Force, Mean Machines Sega and the Official Sega Saturn Magazine from the UK (I owned Sega consoles if you couldn’t tell ;) ), [Sega] Megazone 20-55 (the final issue), smatterings of Hyper from 1993 and 1994, then every issue from December 1995 to mid/late-1998… would make for some great reading going back and checking all of those out now :D

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Response to Hyper’s Complete History of Racing Games

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I want to pre-empt this post with a foreword.

I continue to admire Hyper’s presence in the Australian market – it’s amazing that it continues to hit shelves each month with plenty of great content and coverage of the gaming sector and flies in the face of the downturn being experienced locally and overseas. Even in the wake of US stalwarts, our amazing piece of home-grown gaming journo goodness still comes out each month. Amazing stuff. So this post isn’t meant in any way to take a jab at the magazine, because I have a huge amount of respect and nostalgia-infused love for the publication.

I finished going through the Complete History of Racing Games special in the February 2012 issue (#220) this morning and wanted to write my thoughts on the piece. On the whole, it’s a very nice read – there was great attention paid to the early development of the genre in the arcade and at home, and I really liked the attention given to the home computers of the 80s (especially the C64!). My issues come with a lack of coverage and a bit of bias once things heat up and we hit the mid-90s.

On the arcade side, Virtua Racing was given it’s due, but Daytona was given less attention than Ridge Racer. While the latter’s important as a response to Daytona, the impact Daytona made was enormous as it arguably became the peak of racing games in the arcades, with no title that followed proving as successful. In fact, the success of Daytona was a huge boost to the Model 2 arcade platform Sega used in the mid-90s and saw it become one of the most successful arcade platforms ever, easily putting it in the same realm as the MVS and the Naomi. Namco still did well with Ridge Racer and the System 22 platform, but it is no way comparable to the magic of AM2′s accessible creation.

Another area of contention was the complete disregard to the Saturn. Multiple paragraphs are dedicated to the PSone, and that’s fine – the machine played host to some amazing output from Psygnosis, Polyphony Digital and Namco. But the only mention of the Saturn is comparing Daytona USA to Ridge Racer at launch; while the comparison is apt that the Daytona port looked several shades of rubbish, the game actually plays really well, surprisingly so (especially when played at 60hz). The Saturn also played host to an amazing port of Sega Rally, but going beyond that is a bit of an arguable stretch. Sega Touring Car had a lot of promise, but CSK ruined it with the frame rate issues, and Tantalus’ port of Manx TT didn’t do the machine any favours (though it’s still really cool that an Australian developer got the opportunity to do the port – they also handled the House of the Dead, Wipeout and Wipeout 2097 ports). Daytona USA CCE was highly anticipated, but ultimately failed to deliver in the gameplay stakes (though technically, it looked really nice).

I guess there’s nothing wrong with the amount of space dedicated to the PSone, but it does show things to be a little one-sided. Even Mario Kart 64 rated barely a mention, which I thought was a little odd.

The last issue I wanted to point out was the lack of time dedicated to the Dreamcast or Sega’s arcade movements post-Sega Rally. Model 3-based games such as Daytona USA 2, Scud Racer and Sega Rally 2 were part of the final wave of arcade games where the arcade visuals were unable to be matched at home. While Crazy Taxi earned a mention, it was distinctly offhand – Criterion’s Burnout series arguably owes more than a little inspiration to Crazy Taxi, so it’s a little disappointing when the latter gets a lengthy (and deserved) amount of attention despite the former’s influence and success in the arcade and at home. Also on the DC worthy of discussion are Daytona USA 2001, as it was the first game to almost nail improving on the arcade original’s visuals with almost getting the handling perfect (Daytona HD wins the prize for getting everything perfect) and Le Mans 24 Hours for bringing 24-hour racing in real-time for the DC (plus it was developed by Melbourne House and also looked very pretty). In addition, Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham Racing is given acknowledgement, but the spiritual predecessor, Metropolis Street Racer on the DC, is given none.

Beyond this though, there’s no mention of OutRun 2/SP/2006, which brought the OutRun franchise back to life in the arcades (powered by the Chihiro board, which closely resembled the Xbox architecture) and also came to home consoles.

Now that I’ve written this little whinge out and have looking it, two things are apparent.

Number one, where I’ve decried Playstation bias in the original article, it’s clearly obvious I’m being just as bad (if not worse) with my bias towards Sega. Thus, my arguments above can be taken as tentative at best if my grand vision for the article was to have the space dedicated to the PSone retracted for Sega ramblings.

Number two, most of the above, when not defending the Saturn, has focused on arcade gaming, which in the late-90s was in serious decline; Napieralski rightly gives the reader a literary cue that discussion was naturally going to start focusing on home platforms instead of covering the last desperate sighs of the arcade sector, so the lack of coverage is definitely acceptable (and to his credit, the Initial D and Maximum Tune series’ were given mention to cap off the discussion).

So, I’ve effectively gone around in circles and have espoused in areas that probably didn’t need to be expanded in the original article. Except for maybe MSR ;)

But then again, this is the internet, where passionate discussion on unnecessarily niche topics are allowed to flourish. Thus, it’s better to look at this as purely a response rather than a criticism of the article (hence the title of the post). Accordingly, with this in mind, props to Napieralski and Hyper for giving some dedicated space covering the history of the genre, as it made for an otherwise great read :)

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Seasonal gaming habits – spring?

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So, it’s hitting spring around here (remember, this is the southern hemisphere ;) ). This means it’s no longer cold (“cold” by Australian standards anyway), the garden comes alive (with new weeds and the lawn needs more frequent mowing), it’s brighter for longer and Christmas isn’t too far away (scary). Last year I wrote on how games are associated with my memories of different seasons. It’s completely irrational, but for me different seasons have tangible memories of gaming associated with them. So when the seasons change, it makes me think of different games. As opposed to something more logical/socially acceptable, like music, movies or first loves. Popular culture informs me these associations are acceptable. They’re probably right.

In my original rant, I mentioned Road Avenger (Mega CD), Sonic CD (Mega CD), Thunderhawk (Mega CD), Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Sega Saturn), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive) and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition (Mega Drive). While I haven’t done much gaming over the last couple of months, I seem to be going through a Mega Drive phase, having finished Wonderboy in Monster World back in July, buying a 32X in September and am currently contemplating playing through Phantasy Star 2. Well, I’m contemplating the latter via Sega Ages 2500 vol. 32: Phantasy Star Collection on the PS2, as you can set it to Very Easy/Easy to make the game less grindy compared to the cart. I do have Phantasy Star 2 in all its glory on the Mega Drive (including the map and the hint book!) from back in the day and even managed to finish it when I was a kid, but these days I don’t have the free time to grind-grind-grind my way through the game, so the M2-emulated compilation on the PS2 is my easy way out :)

So, looking at the list above I thought I’d focus on the Mega CD games, because I have unusually vivid memories of the Mega CD.

According to the Australian Video Game Magazine Score Archive at Retro Gaming Australia, Sonic CD was reviewed by Hyper in January 1994; this puts local availability anywhere from December 1993 to March 1994. The date is relevant because the first time I ever saw a Mega CD, in the flesh, was in my local favourite (and now sadly defunct) game store. Sitting on the front counter at the end of the two ailes full of Mega Drive and SNES games for rent that made up the small store (along with some Gameboy, Master System, NES and 3DO games to mix things up) was a Model 1 Mega Drive/Model 1 Mega CD combo with the opening splash screen/intro movie for Sonic CD running on a continuous loop. It was earth-shatteringly mindblowing in a way that you couldn’t imagine unless you were 12 years old and it was 1994. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily a case for quality, as back in 1994 East 17 was popular amongst 12 year olds and digitised graphics/Mark Hamil was the future of gaming.

So, enthused by the promise of CD-ROM technology and low-resolution video in 64 colours, I pooled enough money to be able to rent a Mega CD from said local independent for a weekend with Thunderhawk and Sonic CD to test the machine out. This happened to be in September, and I can still recall hooking up that extra power brick to the series of double adapters behind the laminate-woodgrain TV in the lounge room to experience the future.

It was, in a word, amazing.

Sonic CD proved a great platformer in its own right, but the combination of CD audio (being a PAL version we had the original Japanese soundtrack, which is still my preference to this day) and 3D special stages elevated it to something else. Even if they could probably be done on a SNES with an overlcocked SuperFX2.

Then came Core Design’s technical wonder of a game, Thunderhawk. Having spent many hours enjoying the glorious glory that was LHX Attack Chopper on our mighty 386DX40 PC (which became an even better game when I worked out you could copy the disk’s contents to the 40mb [!] HDD for faster loading), loading up Thunderhawk was all types of awesome. Great scrolling, amazing audio, and more detail compared to my previous flat-shaded shoot-shoot-helicopter experience with the former (not surprising given it was made in… 1990, compared to Thunderhawk, which was released in 1993). Thunderhawk would mark the start of a great relationship between Core Design and Sega that culminated with Tomb Raider launching first on the Saturn, whereupon Core sold out since Sony paid them a lot of money to go exclusive. Since Sega had very little money in 1996 and created a convoluted (but loveable) mess of hardware, this arrangement is not terribly surprising.

But I digress – back to the story.

To be honest, I thought that was going to be the end of my Mega CD experience as the add-on was expensive, so there wasn’t much possibility of being able to pick one up on pocket money and money gifting on birthdays or Christmas. Fast-forward a little over 12 months though, and things changed. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation in 1995, the upcoming Nintendo 64 (though I think we were still calling it the Ultra 64 at that stage), the tanking of the Mega CD and 32X and with the 16-bit era on its last legs (nobody told Nintendo, so we got Donky Kong Country, Secret of Evermore and in the US, Chrono Trigger to keep us entertained for a little longer), in 1995 the impossible became altogether possible. I’m not sure how I got the funds together, but I joined the Mega CD club in spring ’95. I probably have the receipt somewhere that’ll give the exact date too.

Mum was kind enough to pick up the console and a game (Sonic CD) while I was at school, but it was a modern day/1995 tragedy – I was behind on a geography assignment that was due the next day (a Friday if I recall correctly), so instead of unboxing my shiny new console I stole quick glances at it between burying my head in atlases and encyclopedias whilst trying to write something coherent.

Roll on the next day though, and after school it was Mega CD time. It was warm (so I’m guessing it was late-October or November), so the fan was buzzing away at the lowest speed, and the Mega Drive + Mega CD 2 combo was hooked up via RF to the recently-acquired 34cm TV (in fashionable late-80s matte black, a hand-me-down from my older brother who replaced the TV [and accompanying C64] with a 14″ SVGA monitor and the 386DX40). Packed in was Road Avenger, which received a cursory play, but the real meat was Sonic CD. I can’t tell you how many hours I sunk into that game in the months following, but it was a lot. I remember unlocking everything on that game, it was amazing. I even started playing Road Avenger after a while, and began to genuinely enjoy it. This last point is not surprising in the context of 1995/1996, as my burgeoning anime interest was about to ramp up following easier access to videos thanks to Siren/Manga Video and SBS kicking off things with Ninja Scroll on Des Mangan’s Cult Movie sessions on Saturday nights a few months later.

So – spring, Mega CD and a few classic titles. Unusual? Probably :)

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