Text Adventures: The Story of Visual Novels in America

Hey, sorry about the dry spell! I was neck deep in my latest feature for the fine folks at USGamer.net. It’s called Text Adventures: The Story of Visual Novels in America, and it’s a look at the history of the genre, what it’s like bringing one to our shores, and what the future holds.

It gave me a chance to speak with Ben Bateman (999, Sweet Fuse), Mike Engler (Xblaze Code: Embryo), Phoenix Spaulding (Danganronpa 1 & 2), and Tom Lipschultz (Corpse Party). I think you’ll enjoy it!

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It’s Azure Thing (Azure Striker Gunvolt – 3DS – Review)

It’s incredible to have your expectations destroyed, to think you know what’s coming only to face something entirely different. I thought I knew what to expect from an action game like Azure Striker Gunvolt. While Inti Creates work on the Mega Man series spanned across several unique franchises, the gameplay remained largely the same. What we have with Gunvolt is a studio showing what they can build from the ground up. While expectations led me to believe I was receiving another take on Mega Man, Gunvolt is instead the start of something completely new.

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The strategy on display here is what makes the strongest impression. Gunvolts handgun is useless as a weapon, but it isn’t window dressing either. Instead its function is to tag enemies, effectively locking-on to the enemies and setting them up for the real damage. With your targets set, Gunvolt unleashes the Flashfield, a circle of electricity that acts as a barrier and a method to attack enemies from afar. Lighting shoots out from the Flashfield, connecting with enemies and draining their health bars. The attack lasts for as long as the associated energy bar lasts. For as creative as this is, the foes you face are what makes Gunvolt so special.

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Grin & Bare It: An Akiba’s Trip Post-Mortem With XSEED Games’ Tom Lipschultz and Ken Berry

It’s fitting that a brawler like Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed has to fight for your attention. Unfortunately, the concept of stripping vampires naked can give off the wrong impression, which means the folks at XSEED Games have their work cut out for them. While reviews like my own tell of  game that’s far more than its window dressing, the fact is those hurdles remain. I spoke with XSEED Games’ Tom Lipschultz (Localization Specialist) and Ken Berry (Executive VP) about the process of bringing Akiba’s Trip to North America, the difficulties in breaking through perceptions, and what the future holds for the series. Enjoy!

What makes Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed a perfect fit for XSEED Games?

Tom Lipschultz (TL): Well, we pride ourselves on having carved a distinct niche for ourselves over the years, and Akiba’s Trip is a game that seems custom-tailored to that niche. It’s a game for those who are deeply entrenched in Japanese design tropes — for people who know JRPGs and anime like the backs of their hands, and love them dearly, but are fully aware that like everything else in the world, the thing they love is not without its unique faults and its disturbing underbelly. And yet, even that disturbing underbelly has a certain charm all its own.

With a game like Akiba’s Trip, the people localizing it need to be just as much “in on the joke” as the people playing it. And fortunately for players, we’re pretty hardcore nerds here, so we know a thing or two about otaku culture, and we’re not afraid to “let our freak flags fly,” so to speak.

So in a way, I guess you could say Akiba’s Trip is a game about otaku, for otaku, developed by otaku and — ultimately — published by otaku. It’s the perfect storm of nerdery!

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The game’s premise deals with otaku culture and its eccentricities. For those less familiar, is the idea of an “otaku” easily comparable to that of a nerd (a term I use without negativity)? Are there aspects of otaku culture you feel a player should know before starting the game to experience Akiba’s Trip in the way it was envisioned?

TL: An otaku is indeed a nerd (no negativity implied in the term on this end either!), more or less, though otaku are generally thought of as being either more devoted or more obsessed with their chosen fandoms than traditional nerds (depending on your point of view). Stereotypical Otaku are the types of nerds who claim they prefer 2D people to 3D people, or declare their favorite anime character to be their “waifu” (wife), etc. You may recall a news story from a few years back about a man in Japan who legally married his virtual girlfriend, for example — and that’s
pretty much the height of otakudom, right there. Some might call him the ultimate otaku… the “perfect ideal,” of sorts.

We’d like to think most people can pick up and play the game without knowing any of this, though, as Akiba’s Trip does a really good job of explaining what it means to be an otaku and providing countless examples within its diverse cast of characters. All you need to do is go into it with an open mind and an appreciation for the quirky, and you’ll likely find the game’s mixture of satire and reverence (or irreverence) to be both amusing and engaging.

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You were a strong voice in one of the game’s NeoGAF threads, detailing some of the decisions behind the game’s localization. At one point you promised an evaluation of a term the team had come up with (“brotag”) after some criticism from the community. At times like that, how do you decide between a vocal minority and what’s best for the game?

TL: That’s a really good question. No matter what decisions you make during any localization, there will always be those who strongly disagree with them. So if you make your approach known in advance and people start crying foul, it is sometimes tough to decide whether or not to take their opinions to heart or stick to your guns.

In those situations, the best thing to do is to look at the specific reasoning behind those fan objections, and see if they make a good case. And that’s exactly what we did here.

For those unfamiliar with what the question is referring to, the little sister character in Akiba’s Trip regularly calls your main character “Niinii” in the Japanese, which is a variant on the word for “big brother” that directly translates as something like “Brobro.” We decided early on during localization that going with “Brobro” or any other variation on that wouldn’t quite have the same tone in English as it does in Japanese — it would sound a little too saccharine for the character, who’s far more of a “weird/awkward” character than she is “cutesy.”

Our original solution was to use something that, while still cute, was also a little tongue-in-cheek and indicative of her unique brand of strangeness, so we settled on having her call you “Brotag”– short for “brotagonist.”

When I mentioned this on NeoGAF, however, a lot of people were really unhappy with the idea, bringing up that “Brotag” is a nickname often used for the Persona 4 protagonist, or that it calls to mind images of a “bro” character — as in, a frat boy-style heavy-drinking sports nut or something, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what was intended.

And when we discussed this internally, we all pretty much agreed that… yeah, the NeoGAF fans made some very, very good points.

So after discussing the matter further, both on the forums and internally, we settled on the (fan-suggested) “rotating bros” solution — the little sister would use a different “bro” nickname every time “Niinii” came up in the script, ranging from “Brotato” to “Brosen One” to “Brokedown” to — of course — “Brotagonist.” Not only would this fit her quirky personality, but it would also allow for context-appropriate nicknaming, which adds an extra level of quirk to an already quirky character.

So, that’s what we did, and I think the end result pretty much speaks for itself. It really worked well in-game, and gave a lot of extra flavor to the character of Nana, bringing her ever closer to the goofy weirdness conveyed by the original Japanese. Much love to the fans for helping to bring about this change!

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Ghost in the Machine (Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds – Vita – Review)

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While derided for its poor translation, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds’ description on the PSN Store does illustrate two important points.

Smooth animation of retro 8-bitGraphic is highly evaluated, and player is increasing even now. Moreover, it has attractive game system of (Maximum)four on-line and off-line simultaneous co-op game play.

First, we can see a publisher experiencing growing pains, as admitted here on their FaceBook page. But, no matter the hiccups, 5pb pushed through to develop and publish a game they believed in. The other fact on display is how difficult a time Phantom Breaker has in explaining itself, hindered by odd choices and buried explanations.

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Surge Protector! (Azure Striker Gunvolt & Mighty Gunvolt – 3DS – Preview)

Azure Striker Gunvolt isn’t the run and gun shooter I expected. As I discovered how much more meticulous it was, it dawned on me how appropriate a response Gunvolt is to the race of filling Mega Man‘s shoes. Inti Creates’ own Mighty No.9 is fulfilling that need, so why put out more of the same?
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The difference is clear upon the discovery of just how weak your pistol is. Instead of a weapon, the true purpose of Gunvolt’s handgun is as a marker. By shooting an enemy, a reticule is placed upon them and they’ve now been set as a target. Our pony-tailed protagonist’s true strength takes advantage of the situation, as Gunvolt is able to attack these targets using his Flashfield. As a circle of electricity surrounds him, bolts shoot out independently to destroy the enemies. While I’ve only played for an hour or so, in these early moments I’ve already seen some creative enemy designs that required me to make careful use of this power.

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These Are The Daves I Know: An Interview With Jason Cirillo About Woah Dave!

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Woah Dave! is one hell of a name. Hailing from MiniVisions, the game is quick to earn your attention with its puzzling title. Naturally, the thing to do considering the circumstances is find out just what Woah Dave! is. From speaking with the game’s creator, Jason Cirillo, it sounds like your curiosity will pay off.

Cirillo runs MiniVisions, a branch of Choice Provisions (of Bit.Trip fame), that specializes in smaller scale affairs. But despite its size, Woah Dave! aims to be as addictive and enjoyable as the industry’s best.

The game, coming soon for the 3DS and Vita, charges players with racking up a high score in the most hostile environment possible. Controlling the titular Dave, players grab hold of the eggs that fall from the sky, and use them to clear the single screen arena. Their defeat yields coins, which are collected to increase your score (high scores of $1.50 take the place of those in the hundreds of millions, a preferable approach in my eyes). What initially seems simple quickly becomes chaos as the eggs that once served to aid you crack open to birth the enemies inside. The landscape is littered with foes, but if you’re quick enough the beasts before you may pave the way to fame and fortune.

I was lucky to have the chance to pick Jason Cirillo’s brain on the matter of Whoa Dave!. Enjoy!

I’d like to start off with the significance of a studio’s name, but in your case, maybe I can learn of two. What’s the origin and meaning of both Robotube and MiniVisions?

Jason Cirillo: Robotube was something I came up with in 1999 when times were quite different. There were few online games, there wasn’t even YouTube. I started this weird little website that had games on it I had developed, and wanted to come up with a strange, unique URL. The internet, being so different and still in its infancy, was this thing I saw as a new sort of smart television. So I called it Robotube. Like a robot television. MiniVisions is the new name, and is born from the “visions” part of Choice Provisions. Since our little division makes the smaller games that come from our quirkiest of ideas, the name MiniVisions seemed to fit.

At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a game developer?

JC: I think when I was probably about 7 or 8 I really started going to arcades, and had just gotten a ColecoVision. I still have notebooks that have sketches of games that I thought up around that time, as well as drawings of games I saw in arcades to help me catalog the games I had seen. My grandparents got a Commodore 64 around then, too, and I learned BASIC and made some weird little games with that. I think I’ve probably wanted to make video games nearly most of my life. I’ve always just enjoyed making things.

How did Whoa Dave! come to be? Is it one of those old game ideas you had written about in one of your arcade notebooks?

JC: Actually, my son got a 3DS not long ago, and I downloaded a few old NES games on there to give him a little intro to the origins of Mario. He got really into the original Mario Bros., and we would play together. I realized the simple joys of these little single-screen platformers and wondered how I might design something a game like that, but make it super bonkers and crazy. I think I started working on Dave shortly after that.

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