Archive for the 'Video games' Category

31
Oct
13

Porting ‘Premier Manager 64’

SDC12335Porting football management games to consoles can be tricky.

After all, it is a mammoth task to squeeze as many statistics and leagues as possible in one Sony PlayStation disc.

And, over the years, the genre has technologically progressed.

For example, Codemasters, the makers of ‘LMA Manager 2006’, launched a downloadable patch in early 2006 that updated squads and statistics in line with the latest transfer window. The aforementioned PlayStation 2 game was the first of its kind to offer this feature.

But imagine trying to fit the latest leagues, players and options in just one cartridge.

Gremlin Interactive attempted this in 1999, when they released ‘Premier Manager 64’ for the Nintendo 64, and they came mighty close to making it work.

Enter the PlayStation

SDC12413For starters, and perhaps most importantly, the gameplay is more than adequate.

While its Career mode, where you can manage one of ten Division Three teams, is not as addictive as Sports Interactive’s ‘Football Manager’ series, it is a game that merits repeated plays.

And taking an underdog to the Super League – essentially, the UEFA Champions League – is very rewarding.

The game’s difficulty level, however, is arbitrary, meaning that winning the Premier League with Charlton Athletic is just as likely as being involved in a relegation scrap with Tottenham Hotspur.

But the flaws of ‘Premier Manager 64’ are all too evident when it is compared to its PlayStation counterpart, ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’.

A number of the latter’s features – including profile pictures of footballers, two Italian leagues (Serie A and Serie B), and the ability to change the screen position – were excluded from the Nintendo 64 version.

The TV-style match highlights were kept, though, but many of its selling points were sacrificed. Replays, goal details (such as speed and distance) and name bars were all ditched and, unlike the PlayStation version, Barry Davies’ commentary lacked variation.

The highlights on both versions were graphically undeveloped by 1999’s standards, but the Nintendo 64 version looked a bit like a low-budget conversion.

To a certain extent, this is understandable. The capacity of the ‘Premier Manager 64’ cartridge is 128 Megabits – twice the size of the typical Nintendo 64 cartridge and equal to 16 Megabytes.

In contrast, a bog-standard PlayStation CD comfortably contains over 600 Megabytes. This meant that the Nintendo 64 was not suited to stand-alone features and options, such as pre-rendered music and film, hence why so many various presentational enhancements had to be scrapped from ‘Premier Manager 64’.

Konami’s ‘Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’ was another example of this problem, as it needed a 16 Megabyte cartridge just to fit two short, but delightfully eccentric, songs (‘I Am Impact!‘ and the opening theme). This led to a £60 price tag and disappointing sales.

64-bit graphical enhancements

The Nintendo 64, however, was still a powerful machine, and capable of other pre-rendered elements that were not imaginable on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

And, thanks to its Reality Immersion system, it had the main components of a £10,000 Silicon Graphics machine.

According to N64 Magazine, this meant that – in games such as ‘Super Mario 64’ and ‘Pilotwings 64’ – it was possible to create massive 3D worlds “just by specifying a few polygon co-ordinates”.

Games could also be anti-aliased – which meant that jagged lines were minimised – while frame rates were maintained without resorting to fog.

The console’s other advantages, such as texture mapping and detailing, led to the critical acclaim of Major A’s ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’.

It was the Konami subsidiary’s first attempt at using motion capture and programming with polygons, and the game ran around 100 times faster than its Super NES counterparts.

Yasuo Okuda, who directed and co-programmed the game, told N64 Magazine that although the game could be converted to the PlayStation or Saturn, “we’d [Major A] have to delete quite a bit from it because of memory size restrictions”.

Katsuya Nagae, who was in charge of Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka’s research and development department, also added:

“The N64 is definitely the best machine to write a soccer game for, because it uses cartridges rather than CDs. Other machines have a limited memory to store information read from the CD, but the N64 can get information from the cart at any time. The PlayStation, on the other hand, has to load everything in and store it in its memory.” (April 1997, p.82-83.)

This meant that ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’ was able to master the Nintendo 64 in the same way as Nintendo’s two launch games – by using its 3D powers to produce real-time graphics.

But ‘Premier Manager 64’ was graphically basic, meaning that the concept of creating 3D worlds was irrelevant for such a statistically and text-heavy game.

Even though its processing time – which was regarded, for example, as the main fault of ‘LMA Manager 2003’ on the PlayStation 2 – was much faster than many 128-bit console football management games, Gremlin’s mastery of the Nintendo 64 was always going to be lower than Major A’s capabilities.

16-bit depth

SDC12407But what remains puzzling is the fact that the Sega Mega Drive version of ‘Premier Manager’ – released in 1995, with only 32 Megabits – has more detailed options than the Nintendo 64 AND PlayStation versions.

In ‘Premier Manager 64’ and ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’, for example, players could only choose between three sponsors.

In the Mega Drive version, however, players could decorate their ground with a variety of, mainly Sega-themed, advertising hoardings.

Floodlights, scoreboards, covered areas, under soil heating, car parks and a supporters’ club could also be developed, as could the stadium’s capacity and safety rating.

The 32 and 64-bit versions, though, only had two options: improving stadium facilities and increasing its capacity.

The Mega Drive version also allowed players to buy players via a transfer auction – which made for a refreshing change – with options to develop a youth team, and appoint coaches and physios.

Overdrafts could be extended, details about referees were provided, and a fictional fax machine displayed the latest results and transfers.

But none of these features were available on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation versions, while the original console version of ‘Premier Manager’ offered a wider range of tactical options.

It’s still enjoyable

SDC12627Although the limited number of features and options are frustrating, ‘Premier Manager 64’ remains one of the best football management games on a home console.

‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’ on the PlayStation, for example, has a couple of minor bugs, and ‘Premier Manager’ on the Mega Drive has a learning curve that is too steep for novice gamers and thus lacks immediacy.

And, even in the 128-bit era, simplistic options were still a niggling issue. For example, Ben Richardson’s review of ‘LMA Manager 2006’ in Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine included the following passage:

“Selecting tactics is pretty painless as well, although a main ‘summary’ page would have been a nice addition, as the constant switching between windows can cause confusion as you try to figure out what you’ve actually changed. Mid-match options are a little restrictive, too. You can assign only four tactics to trigger during a game, and you’re unable to use them together – for instance, like setting up Counter Attack and Wing Play at the same time, which makes complete sense to us.” (December 2005, p.108.)

‘Premier Manager 64’ has all the makings of a brilliant game: it is easy to play and navigate, while having enough challenge to ensure that it has an excellent lifespan.

Despite its noticeable problems, it’s still an enjoyable game. But it will leave the more cynical player feeling short changed.

If only Gremlin could have produced a console-based game that had the accessibility of ‘Premier Manager 64’ and the depth of earlier versions. It certainly would have made for a different conclusion.

18
Jul
13

Ten of the most successful video game-related singles

You might think that singles based on video games are likely to become one-hit wonders, but that is not entirely true.

In fact, a number of these records were released by some unlikely names with good track records.

And some musicians have a close relationship with video games. For example, in 1992, the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield told the New Musical Express:

“Spiderman [for the Sega Mega Drive] is the perfect metaphor for my life, much more than any records of the past five years.” (1 February 1992, p.20-21, 41.)

Plenty of video game singles have also charted in Europe. Rayman Contre Les Lapins Encore and Crétins’ 2007 single, ‘Making Fun (Of Everyday Life)’, attained a chart peak of Number 49 in France and spent 16 weeks in the Top 100.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ by 50 Grind and Pokémon All Stars, and Pokémon’s ‘Pokédance (Remix)’ and ‘Un Monde Pokémon’ were also French Top 50 hits in 2000 and 2001.

Pokédance (Remix)’ was particularly successful, peaking at Number 21, while ‘Pokémon Welt’ by Noel Pix reached the Top 50 in Austria and Switzerland.

There were ten other singles, though, that charted in the UK Singles Chart.

1. ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ by Yellow Magic Orchestra (1980)

The majority of video game-related songs from the late 1970s and 1980s were included on albums, such as ‘Space Invader’ by The Pretenders (although it was also the b-side to ‘Brass In Pocket’ in Canada, Japan and the USA) and ‘Ivan Meets GI Joe’ by The Clash.

One notable exception, however, was Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’, which sampled arcade sounds.

David Toop’s book, ‘Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes In A Real World’, said that it “factored the technological ‘folk art’ of arcade game soundtracks into the history of electronic music”.

But, given their long association with video games, this wasn’t much of a surprise.

Principal member Ryuichi Sakamoto, for example, composed the start-up sound for the Sega Dreamcast, and their 1979 track, ‘Rydeen’, was sampled in four games: ‘Super Locomotive’, ‘Trooper Truck’, ‘Ocean Loader’ and ‘Stryker’s Run’.

Although the Japanese group’s export sales were limited, ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ became their only hit in the UK Singles Chart when it peaked at Number 17 in July 1980.

The single – which was originally released as an album track in 1978 – also had good chart longevity, as it spent 11 weeks in the Top 75. Furthermore, eight of those weeks were spent in the Top 40.

2. ‘Pac-Man’ by Powerpill (1992)

A number of dance singles were based on retro children’s television programmes in the early 1990s – such as Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treet’, Urban Hype’s ‘A Trip To Trumpton’ and Shaft’s ‘Roobarb And Custard’ – and many of them became Top 10 hits.

Unsurprisingly, due to the success of the Sega Mega Drive and Super NES, dance records were also based on video games.

But the big surprise is that Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, was the man behind Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’.

James was no stranger to the UK Singles Chart as ‘Digeridoo’ became his first hit single when it reached Number 55 in May 1992.

Four weeks later, ‘Pac-Man’ went one better with a chart peak of Number 43.

In fact, it was James’ highest chart placing until ‘On’ made a Top 40 breakthrough in November 1993.

3. ‘Pacman’ by Ed Rush & Optical (2002)

Ed Rush & Optical have released five albums, but ‘Pacman’ remains their only single to have charted in the UK.

It reached the dizzy heights of Number 61 in May 2002.

Unlike Powerpill’s happy hardcore style, this is a much more sinister version that only sporadically samples Namco’s classic game.

4. ‘Tetris’ by Doctor Spin (1992)

The Really Useful Group are associated with the likes of Jason Donovan’s ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and Marti Webb’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, but it was also responsible for Doctor Spin’s ‘Tetris’.

The single – which was released by Polydor and Carpet Records in September 1992 – was co-arranged and executive produced by Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber, and peaked at Number 6 within its first month in the charts.

It is a mildly catchy slice of Eurodance, and the involvement of Lloyd Webber remains strangely appealing, but its real success was down to some strategic market positioning.

For example, in the early 1990s, the core age groups in the UK singles market were nine to 12-year-olds and young teenagers, while nearly 40% of all UK Top 75 hits were dance singles in the first quarter of 1992.

While the ninth edition of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles claimed that video games were outselling singles by a 5:3 ratio, Virgin Games’ General Manager, Nick Garnell, stated that British children bought music AND video games. He also said that game centres were a “parallel development to music stores for Virgin”.

When you consider the popularity of video games and singles among children – and the fact that the Eurodance stylings of ‘Tetris’ would be more accessible to a pop audience than Powerpill’s ‘Pac-Man’ – it is easy to see why it was such a big hit.

Inevitably, more recent versions of the game’s soundtrack by the likes of DJ Joystick and Doctor P have failed to replicate Doctor Spin’s success.

5. ‘Playing With The Boy’ by Technician II (1992)

Inane is the best word to describe Technician II’s ‘Playing With The Boy’, which was used in a series of Nintendo Game Boy adverts in 1992.

The sound effects are plonky at best, and its breakbeat style sounds contrived, but it defied the odds by making a minor dent in the UK Singles Chart.

It spent one week at Number 70 in November 1992, which was more than it deserved.

Technician II member Ben Keen attained modest solo chart success as BK, though, with six Top 75 entries between 2000 and 2003.

High Score Warrior’s ‘Will You Ever Reach The End?’, meanwhile, was given a European release in 1993, after being used in a Super NES advert.

Although it was a more tuneful effort, it never charted.

6. ‘SuperMarioLand’ by Ambassadors of Funk featuring MC Mario (1992)

Ambassadors of Funk weren’t the first act to release a Mario-related single, as Turntable Hype’s ‘The Mario Brothers’ was released in 1991, but it was the first to reach the UK Singles Chart.

And, just like Doctor Spin, they had a big hit on their hands, as ‘SuperMarioLand’ reached Number 8 in November 1992. In fact, it entered the Top 10 just as ‘Tetris’ fell out of it.

The charming thing about ‘SuperMarioLand’ is that it was faithful to the game.

The song referenced Princess Daisy – who, rather than Princess Peach, was the hostage in Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario Land’ – and killer bees, who also featured in the game.

It was clear that it was a song made by video game fans for video games fans.

And the video’s setting was Chessington World of Adventures. Which is awesome.

An album, ‘Super Mario Compact Disc’, failed to chart in the UK, but Simon Harris and rapper Einstein were not one-hit wonders.

They had previously collaborated when their single, ‘Another Monsterjam’, reached Number 65 in November 1989.

Einstein featured in two other singles: ‘Turn It Up’ by Technotronic [featuring Melissa and Einstein] and Snap!’s ‘The Power ’96’. Both of them charted at Number 42 in December 1990 and August 1996, respectively.

Harris, meanwhile, released four further records between 1988 and 1990, which included two Top 40 singles: ‘Bass (How Low Can You Go)’ and ‘Here Comes That Sound’.

He also founded the Music of Life label, whose rooster of hip-hop starlets included chart acts MC Duke and She Rockers.

7. ‘Street Fighter II’ by The World Warrior (1994)

Believe it or not, ‘SuperMarioLand’ was not the only video game-related collaboration between Harris and Einstein.

They teamed up again in April 1994 to release their take on the ‘Street Fighter’ franchise.

Once again, it was faithful to the series, but the cheese of ‘SuperMarioLand’ was replaced with a dollop of slickness.

Harris and Einstein’s attention to detail remains admirable, and it’s hard not to get affectionate about it.

‘Street Fighter II’ struggled to break into the charts, unfortunately, and could only manage a chart peak of Number 70.

Additionally, another beat-em-up spawned a single in the form of The Immortals’ ‘Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)’ in 1993.

It failed to chart in the UK but, nonetheless, they released ‘Mortal Kombat: The Album’ a year later.

8. ‘Lemmings’ by SFX (1993)

Can you imagine recording a song about the video game, ‘Lemmings’?

I thought not and, despite their enthusiasm and energy, SFX didn’t quite make the grade with this single.

This was a shame, as it was co-written and produced by Ian Richardson and Nick Coler.

Both of them were secondary members of The KLF, and Coler was also a member of Xenomania.

It might have worked if it had been an instrumental but, seeing that ‘Lemmings 2: The Tribes’ always had a wafer-thin storyline, lyrics were always going to be an implausible addition. Even if the Lemming puppets in the video are adorable.

The public’s reaction was very predictable, though, as it failed to peak beyond Number 51 in May 1993.

As far as British strategy simulators go, though, it fared better than DuBerry featuring Elaine Vassel’s ‘Mega-Lo-Mania (Goin’ All The Way)’, which flopped.

Steve DuBerry, the song’s writer and producer, was also a member of Definitive Two.

They were best known for releasing ‘I’m Stronger Now’, which was used as the theme music to Channel 4’s ‘Gazzetta Football Italia’.

9. ‘Supersonic’ by H.W.A. featuring Sonic The Hedgehog (1992)

This single, rather disappointingly, didn’t feature Sonic The Hedgehog, but H.W.A. were another act with chart pedigree.

Jeremy Healy – a former member of Haysi Fantayzee, who attained four Top 75 singles in the early 1980 – co-produced the track.

And, after teaming up with Amos in the mid-1990s, Healy achieved two further Top 30 hits with ‘Stamp!’ and ‘Argentina’.

However, the techno production and vocoder samples of ‘Supersonic’ were rather uninspired. Unlike ‘SuperMarioLand’, the love of video games was not apparent and it sounded soulless.

In fairness, though, all of Sega’s proceeds from the single were donated to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre.

The track, despite its failings, still performed fairly well in the UK Singles Chart, as it reached Number 33 in December 1992 and spent an impressive five weeks in the Top 40.

Interestingly, a number of Sonic The Hedgehog singles were released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the 1990s such as ‘Super Sonic Dance Attack’ by Inter Galactica Dance Club, ‘The Better One Wins’ by T.I.C. featuring Michelangelo and ‘King Of The Ring’ by Sonic.

10. ‘Wonderman’ by Right Said Fred (1994)

Right Said Fred’s ‘Wonderman’ is unusual in that it wasn’t originally influenced by a video game. Hence why Hydrocity Zone was inexplicably portrayed as an abandoned warehouse in the video.

Prior to its release in March 1994, it had already been included on their second album, ‘Sex And Travel’, in November 1993.

‘Wonderman’, however, was rearranged so that it could promote the release of ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 3’ on the Sega Mega Drive.

For instance, “[h]e’s number one, he’s double cream/[h]e’s the naked truth in magazines” was rewritten as “[h]e’s number one, he’s el supremo/[a]ttitude and power sneakers”.

Although ‘Wonderman’ was featured in a television advert for the game, it stuttered at Number 55 in the UK Singles Chart.

However, it was a faint improvement on their previous single, ‘Hands Up (4 Lovers)’, which flopped at Number 60 in December 1993.

Along with various clips from ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 3’, Steven O’Donnell, best known for starring in ‘Bottom’ and several Sega adverts from the early 1990s, also appeared in the video.

Amusingly, his ‘Bottom’ co-star, Rik Mayall, fronted a number of Nintendo adverts during the same period. It’s a small world, isn’t it?




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