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Phil Fogg and I are both big fans of the Bithell Games podcast. It's essential listening for anyone with a casual interested in videogame development, as it regularly goes into detail about the unglamorous bits of being a world famous indie game developer, and sometimes even reflects on Mike Bithell's years in Triple A, and Alexander Sliwinski's years in the press.

But this episode is of particular interest to Game Under fans—I wrote in, and Mike and Alexander were kind enough to spend half an hour answering my question! It was very illuminating for me, and I'm sure it will be for you if you've ever wondered why videogame developers and publishers are so reluctant to speak openly about their jobs. 

Please to enjoy.

- Tom Towers

Namco Negcon

On a recent podcast Tom gave his review of a game that was designed for Namco's NeGcon controller (essentially "Twist" in Japanese according to Wikipedia) released for use for the original PlayStation in 1995. 

This highly comfortable controller is large by 1995 standards, but comparable to a modern day PS4 controller.

It has single trigger buttons (both analogue), what would be described today as R1 and L1 buttons. In place of the PlayStation symbol buttons it has a A, B, I and II button and a work-around of the then trademarked Nintendo directional cross pad.

Note that the maroon (I and II buttons) have a very high vertical profile, more than I've seen in any controller for a button (as opposed to triggers).

Note that the maroon (I and II buttons) have a very high vertical profile, more than I've seen in any controller for a button (as opposed to triggers).

The I and II buttons are analogue as well and have a deep "throw", perfectly suited to the driving mechanics that the Namco controller was no-doubt based around.

This image demonstrates the ability of the two sides of the NeGcon to twist and turn.

This image demonstrates the ability of the two sides of the NeGcon to twist and turn.

In feel the controller is a masterpiece. Even out-of-game it is a pleasure to test and turn and feels entirely comfortable to hold. It's novel without being a gimmick and like the Dvorak keyboard a work of function, passionately expressed.

Interior of the first generation NeGcon. Image sourced from Wikipedia. I was surprised not to find rubber bands, as the tension in the control felt as though it was being restricted by direct force.

Interior of the first generation NeGcon. Image sourced from Wikipedia. I was surprised not to find rubber bands, as the tension in the control felt as though it was being restricted by direct force.

The hardware is sound, in fact impressive, but how does it play? I chose to try a Namco game first, Rage Racer, the third entry in the Ridge Racer series.  The Rage Racer name is confusing, as it is emblazoned on the side and front of the game case, but the disc and title screen emphasize Ridge Racer directly over the top of the Rage Racer title, all but completely obfuscating the formal name.

The PlayStation automatically detects the NeGcon allowing games to immediately switch in alternate control layout images.

The PlayStation automatically detects the NeGcon allowing games to immediately switch in alternate control layout images.

I first tried to ascertain if the deep I and II buttons were truly analogue. Rage Racer uses I to accelerate and II to brake, and indeed the 7 mm buttons do have significant "throw". A deep push accelerated more sharply and similarly the brakes were responsive to the amount of force applied to the buttons.

With the NeGcon you don't steer at all with the directional pad, that is reserved for gear shifting, all steering is done with by twisting the control in your hand, which has a precision of the highest end driving wheels.

The first race certainly took some adjusting to, but by the second game I was sold on the NeGcon and it's tactility. It replicates the feeling of driving a vehicle with sensitive controls, much like a V8 with 20 inch rims.

Wipeout is a fair description of the NeGcon's performance with this game. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Wipeout is a fair description of the NeGcon's performance with this game. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

The second game I tried with the NeGcon was Psygnosis' classic zero gravity racer, Wipeout. Wipeout is by far one of my favourite zero gravity racers (see my impressions of Kinetica). But after playing Rage Racer, Wipeout felt surprising slow, floaty and unresponsive. The use of the NeGcon, which again was automatically detected by the PlayStation, felt entirely misunderstood by the developer. Responding to only the most extreme twisting  of the controller, the enjoyment of the game was depleted immediately.

Based on these experiences, if you enjoy the Ridge Racer or Ace Combat series the NeGcon is a must-buy that adds extra enjoyment to already good franchises.

The Goonies II

After we talked about The Goonies in the last episode of the podcast I looked through the library to pull out my copy of The Goonies II, the game for which there is no eponymous movie.

It's in great shape, wish I had the box.

It's in great shape, wish I had the box.

I was pleased to find it in very good shape. The cartridge looks like the day it was made with no aging whatsoever.  The manual is also pristine, but for a code that is written on it.  So what is the game about?  Let's go to the manual:

They're back! Kookie old Ma Fratelli and her slime-ball sons have returned to wreak havoc in your neighbourhood. And this time they've not only kidnapped your Goonie buddies, but your good friend, Annie the Mermaid, as well. What a bunch of low lifes, this Fratelli Gang.
Now it's up to you, the last Goonie left, to save the day. But it won't be easy. You'll have to be a quick thinker and a fast tracker to pull off this mission -- you'll have to be a regular Super Goonie to succeed! So good luck, and good riddance to Ma, her boys, and all the scuzzy cohorts awaiting your adventure into the Fratelli zone.

So Tom, there is your answer to the plot of Goonies II.  I guess I have no choice but to play this game now and see if I am a Super Goonie.

- Phil Fogg

Game Under Podcast Episode 97

In this episode we discus Rage Racer, Ridge Racer Type 4, the NegCon, the JogCon, Titanfall 2, Titan Souls, Zelda: Breathof the Wild, Transformers: Destruction, Yakuza Zero, Goonies, Uncharted 4 and the Retron 77.  Phil also goes over his personal list of the top 100 RPG's of all time. We settle the debate on what is worse for the world, automobiles or cinema.

Phil also has a hot take on baby corn.

Phil also has a hot take on baby corn.

Please look forward to listening to episode 97.

Retron 77 an Atari 2600 with HDMI

At E3 this year Hyperkin, manufacturer of the Retron 5 as well as many other retro emulators and peripherals, showed the Retron 77 (R77).  The R77 plays original Atari cartridges and outputs via HDMI, solving one of the greatest first-world challenges of our time.

The Hyperkin Retron 77. All images courtesy of cnet.com, please visit their hands-on with the Retron 77.

The Hyperkin Retron 77. All images courtesy of cnet.com, please visit their hands-on with the Retron 77.

When I recently re-configured my gaming rig, one of the biggest problems was how to accommodate consoles made in the radio frequency (RF) days. The best solution, short of modding, is to run them through a VCR, all of which still have RF inputs, but output in composite.  These days, even finding a TV with composite inputs is difficult, but there are adapters that are readily available.

Note the similar shell case. More of a nod to their internal aesthetic, then re-using molds.

Note the similar shell case. More of a nod to their internal aesthetic, then re-using molds.

What the Retron 77 will allow is plugging your old carts into the unit, plugging the unit into your HDMI TV and then riding the Activision rainbow all night long.

A fine package. Image courtesy of CNET.

A fine package. Image courtesy of CNET.

I suspect the US price will be $77, and on E-bay through re-sellers here in Australia about $139 to $159, a fairly low price -- given the high barrier to entry being the small market limited to owners of original Atari games.

So the question is, for that price, are there enough good Atari 2600 games worth playing?  Well, if this was an all out Atari Retron 3, covering Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800, I'd say that for anyone this is a no-brainer. But, since it is covering 2600, only you'd only want to pick one up if you had direct prior experience.

For me, it's worth it. For games such as River Raid, Chopper Command, Pac-Mac, Fishing Derby, Freeway, Space Invaders, Pinball and Ice Hockey alone I'd gladly invest in the 77.

- Phil Fogg

DOOM - Update 6.66: All DLCs Unlocked + Revamped Multiplayer

Bethseda have released update 6.66 for their 2016 demon splat-fest DOOM. In their words 'there’s never been a better time to go to Hell.'

Update 6.66 retires the season pass and unlocks all of the multiplayer DLC content for all players. This includes nine new maps, three new guns, three new demons, new equipment and more. It also completely revamps the multiplayer, making the progression less random and more focused on specific level requirements and challenges for equipment and weapon unlocks. 

And if you don't have the game yet you can try it during the upcoming free weekend starting July 20th for the Xbox One and PC, with the PS4 free weekend starting later on July 27th. During this weekend the game will be offered at the discount price of $14.99 (US) / £11.99 (UK) / $17.99 (AUS) across all platforms. 

Having just finished DOOM's single player, I can't recommend the game enough. It's definitely my favourite FPS game of the last 5 years. Do yourself a favour and check it out. 

- Aaron Mullan

Hardware Review: SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player

There has been no shortage of ways to re-play games from the SEGA Mega Drive/ Genesis over the years with SEGA releasing and re-releasing their most popular games from the 16-bit generation on any and every platform.  Without particularly trying I think I have about 10-12 copies of the Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now there is at least one more way to replay 39 of those classics, the SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player, (hereafter referred to as "GUP") from the Dichroic Cat Electronic Company (AtGames Digital Media).

As for the name, I think most will agree that SEGA's own Nomad hand-held remains the ultimate portable game player. The Nomad enabled you to take your cartridge out of your home system and place it directly into the portable system for playing on the go, much as Nintendo's Switch facilitates in the 21st century.

The Real Ultimate SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player.

The Real Ultimate SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player.

But back to the future for a moment, the GUP does have the advantage of a back-lit screen, long battery life (through use of a USB rechargeable battery) and having 39 games from the original system packed in (without having to lug around a bunch of cartridges.

You can find the SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player on Ebay for about $80 AUD.

You can find the SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player on Ebay for about $80 AUD.

The system is approximately the same size as a PlayStation Portable, with a slightly smaller screen and also significantly lighter, (while not so light as to feel cheap). The build is not up to Sony and Nintendo standards, but at the same time is ergonomically comfortable and mechanically well put together.

In the box you get the system itself, a USB charging cable and detailed manual which gives great descriptions of each game.

In the box you get the system itself, a USB charging cable and detailed manual which gives great descriptions of each game.

Pre-loaded onto the GUP are 39 Mega Drive games with standouts like Alex Kidd, Bonanza Bros., Comix Zone and Decap Attack joining the usual suspects like Sonic, Altered Beast and Columns.  A complete list of games will be at the end of this review.  There are an additional 41 "arcade games" which in actuality are free-ware quality clones that are usually shovelled onto off-brand counterfeit consoles you find sold in questionable parts of town.  Such gems as Yawning Triceratops, Mr. Balls and Jack's Pea will keep you occupied for seconds at a time.

The well written and verbose descriptions of these generic games in the manual may have taken longer to craft than the games themselves.

The GUP has an audio out, SD Card slot, A/V out, USB Charging input, on/off button and a volume control dial.

The GUP has an audio out, SD Card slot, A/V out, USB Charging input, on/off button and a volume control dial.

This image gives a sense of the size of the GUP. Dimensions (cm, approx): 15.5 x 6.5 x 2 (L x W x D).

This image gives a sense of the size of the GUP. Dimensions (cm, approx): 15.5 x 6.5 x 2 (L x W x D).

As for the SEGA games themselves, they play and display just as you would hope on a screen that is vivid, bright and highly detailed. While the audio has a lot of treble, through the one small speaker, when using headphones the quality greatly improves.  Some have questioned the fidelity of the audio compared to the original system, but keeping in mind this is a portable system, and extremely small compared to the original this is a quibble that can be overlooked by most.

The menus are straight forward.

The menus are straight forward.

If you own some cartridges from the original system and want to make a legal back-up of them, or help doing so, there are many sites on the web that will enable you to do so. You can then transfer these back-ups onto an SD card and place it into the GUP, making the GUP a great way to access your full library of Mega Drive games legally, and on the go. (Supports .bin, .gen and .smd files).  If you wanted to make back-ups of your other console games and try to play them on the GUP, you are out of luck. Remember this only the SEGA Genesis Ultimate Portable Game Player.

Nice clear 3.2 inch LCD screen and no complaints on the buttons or cross-pad.

Nice clear 3.2 inch LCD screen and no complaints on the buttons or cross-pad.

The buttons have suitable "clack" and the cross-pad is equally sufficient, something that a lot of these retro remakes get wrong.

Unfortunately, the modern conveniences of save states are not a feature of the GUP, which undercuts every positive aspect of the system.  With no easy way to save as you play, a standard on most modern retro remake consoles, it makes the GUP a system not worth owning. Especially for a portable system, where in everyday use you may expect to be interrupted while playing.

The selection of games is almost perfect, the hardware competent and the expansion port via SD to unlock a larger library of SEGA games is commendable, thoughtful and well executed. If you can forgive the lack of easy saves then this is a great way to play Mega Drive Games on the go.

- Phil Fogg

7/10

Full list of Mega Drive games that come on the system:

Alex Kidd (Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle)
Alien Storm
Altered Beast
Arrow Flash
Bonanza Bros.
Chakan
Columns
Columns 3
Comix Zone
Crack Down
Decap Attack
ESWAT
Eternal Champions
Fatal Labyrinth
Flicky
Gain Ground
Golden Axe
Golden Axe 2
Golden Axe 3
Jewel Master
Kid Cameleon
Mean Bean Machine
Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3
Phantasy Star 2
Phantasy Star 3
Ristar
Shadow Dancer
Shinobi III
Sonic 3D Blast
Sonic and Knuckles
Sonic Spinball
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sword of Vermillion
The Ooze
Vectorman
Vectorman 2

Vanquish (PC) - First Impressions

Amid the E3 announcements that Skyrim is coming to every past, present and future system I’ve decided to write a little update on the PC port of Vanquish. If you don’t know what Vanquish is, well, think Gears of War with the focus on chain-smoking and insane mobility rather than muscle-flexing and cover-shooting.

The great news is that Vanquish runs buttery smooth with a fully unlocked framerate, looks extremely crisp in up to 4k resolutions and boots up insanely quick. So quick, in fact, that you barely have any time to read any hints. And in the most surprising twist of all the keyboard and mouse controls actually feel better in general than the controller controls. It really shouldn’t surprise me that they’re more precise, but both mouse acceleration and input lag are all too common in ports like these.

The bad news is that the game is pretty buggy. Some users report crashes, random FPS drops and, in my case, there’s an annoying ‘write error’ bug that pops up every time it autosaves. It saves, but it doesn’t think it does. The developers are working relentlessly to patch the game, even through a bank holiday to fix the widely reported FPS damage bug. I have no doubts that these kinks will be ironed out sooner rather than later, with my full review to follow.

 - Aaron Mullan

Vanquish Coming to Steam May 25th

In a slightly shocking twist Sega has announced that Vanquish is coming to Steam May 25th for $19.99/£14.99

Like the Bayonetta port, Vanquish supports up to 4k resolution and features a fully unlocked framerate. And a special bonus, Vanquish is 25% off for all owners of Bayonetta. 

Sega concluded the announcement saying that "there's more to come from Sega in this space, so stay tuned for further announcements."

The Platinum fanboy in me hopes this means more Platinum ports, but only time will tell. 

- Aaron Mullan