A SHMUP brush up

With the release of Sin & Punishment: Star Successor for the Wii and Deathsmiles (impressions for both coming soon) for the Xbox 360, I figured I’d give a brief overview of the shoot ‘em up (shmup) genre and point out some of my favorites. The genre itself is about as old as gaming, and it’s one that has managed to survive despite their very distinct and niche attributes. I think the genre survives because it really boils down gaming into its most basic elements: shoot, dodge, advance, repeat to perfection.

As a subgenre of the shooter genre, the shoot ‘em up name applies to many types of experiences. There are fixed shooters, scrolling shooters, multi-directional shooters, on-rails shooters, manic shooters, run and gun, and a few oddball types. Let’s take a look at each one and point out some notable games.

Fixed Shooters

Fixed shooters are one  of the earliest variations on the shmup genre. Games like Space Invaders, Galaxian, or Galaga have the player at a fixed point on the Y-axis at the bottom of the screen and the player must move along the X-axis to attack enemies that move across both axes. The screen doesn’t scroll, but there might be multiple levels where variations of enemy types or objects on the screen appear. There aren’t a lot of these shooters being released today, but they do still make appearances from time to time, such as Space Invaders Extreme.

Some fixed shooters allow the player to move along the X-axis or even on both axes, but the screen doesn’t scroll nor does the player shoot in more than one direction (always shoots up or across the screen). Games like Yars’ Revenge allow for both Y and X axis movement, but the player is only able to shoot horizontally.

A Few Notable Fixed Shooter Franchises: Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga, Pleaids, Phoenix, Centipede, Demon Attack, Pooyan, Atlantis

Scrolling Shooters

Scrolling shooters are the type of shoot ‘em ups that are most familiar to the average gamer. They come in a few variations, including vertical, horizontal, and isometric. The scrolling shooter is nearly 3o years old, and Defender is credited with ushering in this style back in 1981. In this type of shooter, the screen will scroll either automatically (forced) or by advancing forward or backward through the level. Some of the biggest franchises in the shmup genre fall within this type of shooter. Many shooter fans consider the scrolling shooters to be the most “pure” style of shooters.

This and multi-directional shooters are the most popular forms of the genre left a live today. There is some overlap between the styles, but for the most part they’re easily differentiated.

A Few Notable Scrolling Shooter Franchises: Defender, Gradius, R-Type, 1942, Blazing Star, Mars Matrix, Legendary Wings, Scramble, DoDonPachi, Star Soldier, Espgaluda, Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun, Guwange, Gunbird 2, Spy Hunter, and many, many, many more.

Multi-Directional Shooters

Multi-directional shooters are still quite popular today, and they are actually the oldest sub-genre in the shoot ‘em up family and as old as video games themselves. Spacewar! kicked off the genre back in 1962. It featured two ships that flew around a fixed screen and attempted to shoot at each other. This style is called multi-directional because you can travel and shoot in any direction rather than on fixed angles. Games like Asteroids and Smash TV really propelled the multi-directional shooter genre forward and they were a massive hit in arcades. This style of shooter really took off again recently with the re-emergence of twin stick and touch screen controls. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have several games available that fit into this sub-genre.

A Few Notable Multi-Directional Shooter Franchises: Asteroids, Computer Space, Smash TV, Geometry Wars, Bangai-O, Berzerk, Super Stardust, Star Control, Time Pilot, Sinistar, Robotron: 2084

On-Rails Shooters

On-rail shooters are similar to scrolling shooters, but the player movement is limited to a pre-defined path through the environment, and in many cases so is the camera viewing angle. Many on-rails shooters give the illusion of a larger world, but the player is guided down a fairly specific tunnel. Space Harrier and After Burner are a couple of on-rails shooters that really gave the genre its start. Enemies in this style of shooter tend to be larger, take more damage to defeat, and will often remain on screen for longer amounts of time.

A Few Notable On-Rails Shooter Franchises: Space Harrier, After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, Star Fox, Rez, Sin & Punishment, and several Star Wars titles.

Manic Shooters

Manic shooters, or bullet hell shooters, really are just scrolling shooters, but they have a distinct look and feel to them that many people classify them differently. Above I mentioned several manic shooters in the notable scrolling shooter list, as I tend to prefer to conflate the types under one umbrella. But in all fairness, manic shooters do offer a different experience. The biggest difference between a manic shooter and a more traditional scrolling shooter is the sheer number of projectiles that are thrown at the player. Rather than reasonable levels of enemies coming at you, manic shooters flood the screen with both enemies and bullets. The player’s ship (or character) usually has a fairly small hit box, allowing the player to dodge and weave through the non-stop onslaught of bullets. Memorizing attack patterns is essential to surviving bullet hell games.

This style of shmup is definitely the most challenging, and as a result, it’s also the most niche. Gamers that prefer this style of shooter thrive on the constant edge of your seat gameplay and the extreme concentration it takes to survive. Many of these games will offer alternate endings, bonus levels, or other hidden gems for completing the game under certain circumstances, such as no deaths or not using any special weapons. Cave is the current king and by most accounts the pioneer of manic shooter developers; but many will argue that Treasure has a better touch for the genre.

A Few Notable Manic Shooter Franchises: Ikaruga, DonPachi, Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Guwange, Mars Matrix, Strikers 1945, Castle of Shikigami, Espgaluda, Touhou

Run and Gun Shooters

Run and Gun shooters can also fit within some of the other categories, depending on their execution, but the one characteristic that sets these apart from the rest is that they’re typically games where the player controls a character or vehicle that is on the ground. These shooters can incorporate on-rails gameplay, vertical or horizontal scrolling, multi-directional controls, and even elements of bullet hell gameplay. The run and gun style of shooter is also one that’s been around for a long time. The games may have small bits of platforming mixed in with the shooting, but it’s the shooting that is the main focus in these games, by far. Arcades and home consoles in the 8-bit and 16-bit era saw practically endless releases of run and gun shooters. Today there are still releases in this style of shooter, but they’re nowhere near as common as they used to be.

A Few Notable Run and Gun Shooter Franchises: Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug, PN.03, Alien Soldier, Rush’n Attack, Gun.Smoke

Oddball Shooters – The rest of the genre

There are so many sub-genres within the shooter genre that it would take many pages of text to cover them all, so I’ll just lump what’s left under “oddball shooters”. It’s not that these are particularly weird, it’s just that they’re not as prominent as the other types. In addition to the types mentioned above, you also have Tube Shooters, such as Tempest. Tube shooters are rarely seen, but they offer some nice action. Cute ‘em Up shooters are even more niche, and are typically a style of manic shooters; with the main difference being in the style and aesthetic. Cute ‘em Ups are generally extremely colorful, incorporate a heavy amount of cutesy art and sound, and will often times be full of innuendo. It’s rare to see a game of this nature come to the West, but they’re widely available on PC for imports for those interested. There are even more types than these, but they’re quite niche or outright experimental.

Shoot ‘em ups are not nearly as prominent as they were back in the ’80s and ’90s, but they’re still all part of a relevant genre in gaming. It’s not very likely that a shmup is going to be topping the NPD charts or sweeping the game of the year awards any time soon, but many of the games that do owe their existence to many of the roots laid down by the shoot ‘em up genre. Early first person perspective games like Atari’s Star Wars were the first logical step that eventually lead to games such as Wolfenstein 3D, a pioneer in first person shooters. Games like Robotron: 2084 were inspiration for not only modern day twin stick shooters, but also other frantic experiences such as Dead Rising.

If you’re interested in getting your feet we with shoot ‘em ups, it’s usually best to start with the old classics and work your way up to the more current offerings. Games like 1942, R-Type, Gradius, Robotron:2084, and Contra are all amazing games to see how likely you are to enjoy the genre.

PlayStation 2 now $99

Pretty much everybody has a PS2 by now, but in case you passed on it last generation and you don’t have a backwards compatible PS3, it’s time to pick a PS2 and see what the fuss is/was all about. There are countless games worth playing on the PS2, including some all-time classics that shouldn’t be missed by serious gamers. Yes, the PS2 is serious stuff.

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Honestly, it’s probably worth buying a system at this price just to play Shadow of the Colossus, if nothing else.

NPD sales results for September 2008

Here we go, let’s start off with hardware and then move to the software top ten.

Hardware

  1. Nintendo Wii – 687,000
  2. Nintendo DS – 536,800
  3. Xbox 360 – 347,200
  4. Sony PSP – 238,100
  5. Sony PlayStation 3 – 232,400
  6. Sony PlayStation 2 – 173,500

Software

  1. 360 – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – 610,000
  2. Wii – Wii Fit w/ Balance Board – 518,000
  3. 360 – Rock Band 2 – 363,000
  4. Wii – Mario Kart Wii – 353,000
  5. PS3 – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – 325,000
  6. 360 – Mercenaries 2: World in Flames – 297,000
  7. Wii – Wii Play w/ Remote – 243,000
  8. 360 – Madden 2009 – 224,000
  9. Wii – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – 223,000
  10. PS2 – Madden 2009 – 158,000

360 4/10 – Wii 4/10 – PS3 1/10 PS2 1/10

So on the hardware side the Xbox 360 was able to reclaim its lead over the PS3, thanks to a price drop, but Nintendo still holds the top two spots with the Wii and DS. On the software side of things, Nintendo and Microsoft are basically just mopping up the charts, but only one of the Wii titles on the list is from a 3rd party. The coming months will be very interesting as all the big guns will be rolling out from both the 3rd parties and each company’s 1st and 2nd party developers. Fanboys, commence fighting…NOW!

Time Magazine awards Halo 3 Game of the Year

Time did a top ten games of the year, and they ultimately gave Halo 3 the nod as the overall pick. The top 10 are as follows:

1.Halo 3
2.The Orange Box
3.Rock Band
4.Super Mario Galaxy
5.BioShock
6.Call of Duty 4
7.Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
8.Mass Effect
9.Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation
10.God of War 2

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I agree with the top 10 (for the most part), but I think there needs to be a shift in the ordering. I think I’d swap Super Mario Galaxy and Halo 3, and bump BioShock to 3 and drop Rock Band down a bit. Oh, and I guess Ace Combat 6 should be taken out entirely.

I’ve got my own list coming up soon which is guaranteed to be better. If you don’t think it’s better, well, then you’re wrong…not me. Anyway, Congrats to Halo 3!

Amazon’s top ten games of the year

Amazon.com released their top ten list today for games, and here is how it breaks down. Sorry if the formatting is a little funny, but I tried pulling this straight in from Amazon to try something out.

1. Super Mario Galaxy by Nintendo
Amazon Game Room says:
“Our one word review for the new Mario: Wow! The new standard in platformers, the best game on the Wii hands down, and maybe the best Nintendo game of all time. If you don’t own a Wii yet, this is the reason to buy one.”
 

2. The Orange Box by Electronic Arts
Amazon Game Room says:
“The Orange Box is loaded with phenomenal games – Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, Portal – and each game by itself is amazing. Portal itself is one of the most innovative games in years.”


3. BioShock by 2K Games
Amazon Game Room says:
“A tremendous first person shooter experience with a great storyline, amazing graphics, creepy little girls, and one of the best baddies – “Big Daddy” – in years.”


4. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass by Nintendo
Amazon Game Room says:
“The best game to date on the Nintendo DS, Phantom Hourglass makes great use of the stylus, has a terrific storyline, and provides action/adventure everyone should enjoy.”
 


5. Rock Band Special Edition by MTV Games
Amazon Game Room says:
“The comparisons to Guitar Hero are natural, but the guitar and game play have a smoother feel in Rock Band. Plus, the song list is extra strong thanks to MTV’s involvement. But most of all: DRUMS!”
 


6. God of War 2 by Sony Computer Entertainment
Amazon Game Room says:
“2007 was a year of many great games and lots of focus on next generation consoles. Somehow along the way, GOW2 got a bit overlooked. It’s an amazing game that builds upon and goes beyond the original. A must for gamers who can tolerate heavy violence, it’s one of best PS2 games of all time.”
 


7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare by Activision
Amazon Game Room says:
“The fourth installment of COD is simply amazing and by far the best game of the series. The graphics are stunning and the gameplay is near-perfect for a first person shooter.”
 

8. Crysis by Electronic Arts
Amazon Game Room says:
“This game is a powerhouse. Graphically, this is simply the best game on earth. A great game for those who have the PC power to run it.”
 


9. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction by Sony Computer Entertainment
Amazon Game Room says:
“It’s like playing through a Pixar movie. The graphics are amazing and the game play is a blast. For PS3 owners this is a must own game.”

10. Halo 3 by Microsoft
Amazon Game Room says:
“Certainly no game received more press during the year…and deservedly so. The third installment continues the Halo tradition of providing gamers a great first person shooter experience. If you’re an online junkie, Halo 3 is a no brainer buy.”

Knievel’s Guitar Hero “Arcade” Cabinet

For those that have been sucked into the Guitar Hero phenomenon, they know that louder is better. Brad, of Knievel Kustoms has created his latest masterpiece in a long line of inspirational projects and has shown them off at the BYOAC forums. Take a look at what he’s built as an homage to one of gaming’s hottest franchises. More details follow the pics.

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In his own words, Knievel describes the make up of this Marshall stack inspired bit of awesomeness:

The cabinet is actually 3 cabinets that can be separated for transporting, if there’s a better party somewhere.

The 3 are..

The Bottom -houses the heavy-hittin’ Logitech Z2300 Sub and my PS2 with all the Guitar Hero titles loaded on the HD


The Center -is the 27″ flat-screen Toshiba CRT TV


The Head -has the Logitech L/R speakers and a backlit GH marquee

Most of the parts used are actual Marshall pieces purchased from an online Amp Parts store.

Now if you’ll excuse me.. I’ve got some shreddin’ to do.

You can see a couple of additional photos and his announcement on the BYOAC forums here: http://forum.arcadecontrols.com/index.php?topic=72311.0

God of War 2 Price Drop Coming This Week

Drop by your game store and check out the price on God of War 2. Starting tomorrow it should run you $10 cheaper. While some stores might be slower to reflect the price drop, specialty stores should have it ready to go.

I still haven’t picked up God of War 2 and I never completed God of War. With the summer slump coming to an end I might pick the two titles up soon and try to finish them both off before the heavy hitters release. With both games being a tad bit on the short side, I shouldn’t have trouble accomplishing just that.

EDIT: I nixed the pic because it was causing the blog to freak out for some reason.

David Jaffe’s New Studio Announced

Here’s a recent press release issued by SCEA that gives the full details:

FOSTER CITY, Calif., July 27 — Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. (SCEA) today announced an exclusive game development deal with Eat, Sleep, Play(TM), a new software development company formed by legendary game creators David Jaffe and Scott Campbell. Under the agreement, Eat, Sleep, Play is signed on for a multi-year, multi-title deal to create titles for the PlayStation family of products, with the first slated for release in 2008.

Based in Utah, Eat, Sleep, Play is a newly formed company founded by David Jaffe, a former creative director for SCEA’s Santa Monica Studios; and Scott Campbell, the founder of Incognito Entertainment, a dedicated development studio also under the SCEA Santa Monica Studios banner. Jaffe is perhaps best known as the co-creator and game director behind the multi-million PlayStation(R) platform franchises Twisted Metal(R) on PS one(R) & PlayStation(R)2 and God of War(R) on PlayStation 2. Campbell, a long-time collaborator with Jaffe and co-creator of the Twisted Metal titles, is currently receiving industry praise for Incognito’s PLAYSTATION(R)3 (PS3(TM))-exclusive online air and ground combat game Warhawk(TM). Additionally, Jaffe and Campbell recently collaborated efforts on Calling All Cars(TM), a popular exclusive downloadable title for PLAYSTATION(R)Network.

In addition to the multi-year, multi-title deal to create titles for the PlayStation family of products, the company will also be creating Twisted Metal(R): Head On for PlayStation 2, which is scheduled to be released this winter. Twisted Metal: Head On will feature lost levels from the never released Twisted Metal: Black(R) Part II and a documentary on the series.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with David and Scott and supporting them in their new endeavor,” said Shuhei Yoshida, senior vice president, product development, SCEA. “Through hit after hit, they have established themselves as two of the most talented individuals this industry has ever seen, and I look forward to seeing what kind of further gaming innovation they can bring to the PlayStation brand through our new development deal.”

In conjunction with today’s news, SCEA confirmed that the core members of the Incognito team responsible for Warhawk will remain within the SCEA Santa Monica Studios fold, headed up by Dylan Jobe, and will continue to produce content for this highly-anticipated title. Jobe, game director for Warhawk, is known for his work on the popular hit titles War of the Monsters(TM) and Twisted Metal: Black(R) for PlayStation 2. 

The PR definitely makes the story sound all nice and cheery, but I know from some inside sources that the move is giving many Incog formers the axe. In recent months a lot of Incog team could see this coming and have bailed to join up with other studios in the area. The new studio, however, is going to be great. I think you’ll see titles coming from the new team that are very near to what Incognito has been known for over the years. I don’t have details on how many members from Incog will be staying on, but based on what former employees have told me, it’s not a lot.

Sony’s E3 2007 Press Conference: You Want Games?

Sony came out strong this year at E3 showing, by far, the most software. While much of it overlapped with Microsoft’s lineup, the PS3 is starting to justify its place in the console race. Sony’s executives were stiff as cardboard on stage, but there were enough big “ooh” and “ahh” moments to keep the old eyelids from closing. Highlights include:

  • Games, games, games. Sony showed tons of games in back-to-back trailers
  • Echochrome could be a sleeper hit, or at least the next LocoRoco type of game for Sony
  • Slimmer PSP announced – coming in September
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 still exclusive (for now) – another great trailer shown with the claim for an “early 2008″ release
  • Unreal Tournament 3 gets timed exclusive
  • Grand Turismo 5: Prologue coming to PSN
  • PlayStation Home features showcased (yawn)
  • Heavenly Sword is still one of the best looking games on the way
  • Killzone 2 trailer looked great graphically, gameplay actually looks kinda stale
  • Uncharted from Naughty Dog seems to be doing great
  • Haze is PS3 exclusive
  • Ratchet and Clank on the PS3 trailer unveiled more of the story, graphically the game is very solid

Sony’s conference was great for those that wanted to see games, but I fear that it wasn’t really enough to differentiate themselves from Microsoft. That $100 price difference, which will grow as soon as MS drops the 360 price, will probably continue to hurt Sony due to the similarity in libraries with the 360. It doesn’t help that the EA Sports line is running at twice the framerate on the 360. EA has always been critical for Sony. Still, instead of doom and gloom for Sony, PS3 fans should be singing praises. It finally looks like Sony is ready to enjoy some good times, even if they are going to need to get that PS3 price down a bit more before they can catch up to Microsoft.

Tim’s Custom Console Arcade Sticks

Every once in a while gamers have to take things into their own hands if they want to get the most out of their hobby. Timoe, of the BYOAC forums, is creating custom made arcade sticks for consoles, using only the highest quality authentic arcade hardware. In addition to quality components, Tim sports some solid construction and amazing style in his builds. You honestly aren’t going to find a better arcade stick out there.

You’ll have to contact Tim directly for a pricing quote as things are handled on a project by project basis. If you order more than one stick, I’m sure he’ll be willing to work out special pricing as well.

So far Tim has created sticks for the PC, PS2, Xbox, and Xbox 360. I personally am thinking of getting an Xbox 360 one built so I can finally stop screaming at my d-pad during Pac-Man: CE rounds. Also, a 360 compatible stick could be used on the PC via USB. See the pictures below for a look at his work:

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To contact Tim, register at the BYOAC forums (http://arcadecontrols.com) and shoot him a PM. He’s pretty quick at responding, and he’s easy to work with. I’ve worked with him in the past when building arcade control panels.