Encore Extra Stage #02

Hello once again. This is Alex Williams, and this is going to be the BEST EES EVAR!!!1!!!1

Why? It’s the first one with 100% original content. Duh.

A quick leadoff, considering today’s content. Today, we’re going to start with a commentary that’s based on a true story. A commentary that, when shown to the right people, will make me a lot of friends, and a lot of enemies. Then we’ll get in to some other stuff. So, let’s begin with a little something I like to call…


I’LL GIVE YOU A COOKIE…

One week ago today, I sent cookies to the offices of Konami Digital Entertainment America.

No, really. I bought some cookies, packed them up, and shipped them to their offices in Redwood City, California. Priority Mail, too.

Wait, before you give me some dirty looks, wondering how crazy I am for sending COOKIES to a game company, let me explain the method to my madness.

This particular story takes place on the wild and wacky DDRFreak forums. In recent weeks, members of both Konami Digital Entertainment America (KDEA) and Konami Computer Entertainment Hawaii (KCEH) appeared in order help promote and add to the hype of the new US Dance Dance Revolution titles being released this year. Information has slowly been leaking out on both the PS2’s Dance Dance Revolution Extreme, and the XBox’ Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 2. What happens is that the Konami representatives give out riddles, we try to solve them like the monkeys we are, and if they are guessed correctly, we return to the babbling idiots we make ourselves out to be until the next clue arrives. (You wouldn’t BELIEVE some of the arguments the members of this forum get into on a daily basis.)

In any case, let us shift to the date of August 11th. The Konami reps gave out the first official “hint” for a song appearing in DDR Ultramix 2. After a few guesses from the message board patrons, we managed to figure out that “Night In Motion” by Cubic 22 had been licensed for the game. As it turns out, “Night In Motion” was my favorite licensed song from the Japanese game DDR 4th Mix, and I had never expected it to appear on a US game.

After the song was revealed, I made a post on the board (I go by “El Mullet” there. Don’t ask.) saying that I was impressed, and I was thankful. I also made the following comment as an aside:

“All I need now is Moonlight Shadow, and I’ll be set for life. (PLEASE? PLEASE? I’ll give you a cookie!)”

Asking for songs on future incarnations of U.S. DDR is a common practice on the DDRFreak boards. When you browse the threads discussing these yet-to-be-released games, you can find at least one post a page, either hoping, praying, or demanding that a certain song be available to play, or a certain game feature to be implemented. Nine times out of ten, the requests come from the highly popular Japanese releases. The posters speak as they know exactly what they are talking about, mentioning how U.S. games are making HUGE mistakes by not including what they deem worthy. Hell, they even pronounce the “death” of DDR when new, U.S. exclusive material is announced instead of older, Japanese material.

It all ends up being hot air, though. These complainers only seek to play a rousing game of “ME WANTY!”, where they believe their own needs come before everyone else’s. “ME WANTY JAPANESE LICENSES! ME WANTY PS2 ONLINE PLAY! ME WANTY CANDY! ME WANTY MAX. [PERIOD]! ME WANTY ARCADE TIMING! ME WANTY EVERYTHING FROM THE JAPANESE GAMES, EVEN THOUGH ME ALREADY IMPORTED THEM!!!!”

Okay, back to the story. As it was, my little song request (ME WANTY MOONLIGHT SHADOW!) was mostly a joke. I never expected the Konami reps to confirm that particular song. Sure, it’s my favorite licensed track from DDR 5th Mix, if not my all-time favorite, but even if the song DIDN’T appear, I could always play it on my import copy of DDR Party Collection. So really, there was no reason at all to get myself all worked up over one song, unlike some people do.

However, the unthinkable occurred the next day. I checked back in the thread about mid afternoon, and the second hint had already been posted and guessed correctly. What was the answer? None other than my favorite DDR song of all time, “Moonlight Shadow (New Vocal Version)” by Missing Heart.

To say that I was happy was a complete understatement.

I responded to this revelation with a mostly incoherent post, complete with pointless ass kissing and the licking of Konami’s boots. (I really try NOT to stoop to this level, however, I consider this case one of those “exceptions” to the rule. We’re all allowed one or two, right?) Anyway, at the end of the post, I offered to send Konami ACTUAL cookies pending I received an address first.

And then I actually got one. Talk about the stuff you only half-expect, huh? So, on Friday morning, I bought six packages of Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies, and sent them Priority Mail to Konami.

Now, again, you must be wondering why in the blue hell I would send Konami cookies for simply including one song that happened to be my favorite in that particular version of a game where you stomp on arrows in time to the music. Doesn’t that sound, well, wasteful and stupid? Not to mention INSANE?!?

Well, I agree with you. It IS stupid and insane. Or I WOULD be agreeing…if that was the ONLY thing I sent…

Included in the six packages of the chocolate-chip goodness was a two-page letter I wrote to all who were involved on the Ultramix 2 project. Within it, I said I was looking forward VERY MUCH to the game’s new songs, new features, and any and all improvements made to the game’s engine. (Even at this early stage, Ultramix 2 looks to be leaps and bounds over the first game.) I also added thanks to the whole US division for expanding on the traditional formulas found in the Japanese titles, and also slipped a few kind words to Konami as a whole for DDR’s inception, and allowing me to enjoy it for the last four years.

In other words, I finally had the chance to give a good and honest “thank you” to Konami for producing the games that I love so much. In some small way, I was able to convey my happiness and joy. In fact, this is probably a LOT more than most people would do. Most don’t seem even close to being thankful.

As you might have been able to tell earlier, we online DDR fans are a fickle bunch indeed. Much of our time is spent on arguing over how the series in the U.S. is being handled. We complain about song selection, feature placement, and other trivial matters so much that it really makes me wonder if the series is appreciated in America at all. The complainers focus on every single imperfection a US game might have, including “fabricated” imperfections that are based on opinion. The whiners constantly bleat on about what they want on a mix to be, not caring that the game needs to appeal to the many in order for it to sell. The “arcade purists” condemn every home version made due to lost items in the arcade-to-home translation, as well as timing leniency to make up for the fact Konami does not sell durable, metal home platforms. And the “Japanese purists” condemn every American home version for not being “Japanese” enough. Not enough “Japanese” songs, not enough “Japanese” gameplay modes, not enough “Japanese” language characters in an American game, etc, etc, etc. They don’t even TRY to look for the good in these games. All these people call themselves “fans,” yet they never seem to be truly enjoying themselves, do they?

You readers probably have these jokers, or similar variants, hanging around your favorite place to talk about games. Bring up ANY franchise as a subject, they’ll show up sooner or later. These are the people that NEVER seem happy with what they are given. They constantly come up with “revolutionary” ideas to change the face of the particular franchise, and then wonder why they are not on the company payroll. If ANY changes are made to the game, they are the first to pipe in with complaints and misgivings, usually without experiencing the changes first hand. They are the whiners. They are the complainers. They say they are fans, but sometimes you wonder. And I’m positive that the game companies wonder the same thing.

These people simply do not take the time to look past the game’s whole, and look deeper to see the individual parts. (And everyone is guilty of this at one time or another. Myself included.) They’ll see a game title, or a specific game mode, or something that makes them uneasy, and then end up casting the entire game aside as bad or horrible. And really, how do you think a game developer feels after their game receives horrible ratings after a whopping five minutes of game time? Or even without it being played?

People just don’t realize that these games take hundreds, if not thousands, of man-hours to be produced. In the case if the DDR franchise, I’m sure many meetings are convened before coming up with decent, varied song list that will appeal to as many as possible. It takes the work of MANY beta-testers to strike the fine balance in game difficulty (ten different ratings, spaced across four or five different levels). And there are those people who will ignore this effort simply because ONE song was NOT included, for one reason or another, to be on that particular game.

As for me, I see this balance within every game. I manage to take just a few moments to look deep at all the many, many parts of the game. I manage to see, even if its just a glimmer, the massive amount of effort poured into months and months of developing each DDR game. And it’s because of this that Konami, and its subdivisions, have earned my respect and trust.

I respect Konami’s decisions to put in certain songs to round out a song list, or include certain game play elements to add to the experience. I may not agree with EVERY decision (it’s not often that one does), but I know that I can have fun with the items I AM looking forward to.

I trust that Konami will include enough material to please as many as possible, and that enough of that material will please me. And with every mix, they’ve delivered that material. Without this optimistic look on the games, I probably would fall pray to all the negative aspects DDR fans love to point out.

It’s with the help of respect and trust that allowed me to enjoy these games for as long as I have. And this is why I felt I needed to pay Konami back for all these years of enjoyment. Even if I was simply mailing them a bunch of store-bought cookies.

So, I ask you, how many game companies have earned YOUR respect?

How many game companies have earned YOUR trust?

And perhaps most importantly…

How many game companies have earned YOUR cookies?


FOUR MORE USELESS NINTENDO GAMES

Here’s something I wasn’t planning to touch on this week, due to what you’ve read above, but I hated this two months ago, and I hate it now…

Recently, Nintendo announced that they’d be releasing four new games in their Classic NES Series. Now, the first eight titles were nearly a complete waste of money. Half of them you could buy already on e-Cards, for crying out loud! The only one worth its weight was Super Mario Brothers, and that’s ONLY because it hadn’t been released on the GBA yet in any way, shape or form. I could probably stretch it and include The Legend of Zelda on that list, but that’s a BIG stretch considering that had already been included on the Zelda Collectors Disc. The other games were NOT worth $20 a piece. I’d pay ten dollars, possibly fifteen if the game was popular enough. But not $20.

And apparently, Nintendo hasn’t listened to our tales of woe in this regard. We are now getting four more games tacked on to the Classic NES Series line; two of them useless re-releases, one you can already play provided you own WarioWare: Mega Microgame$, and one that’s looks pretty decent, but STILL not worth the $20. I’ll give you a quick run-down:

Metroid: Worthless. Completely worthless re-release. Don’t get me wrong, though. Metroid is an awesome game, and should be played as many times as need be, but NOT for twenty stinkin’ bucks. ESPECIALLY since I can play it TWO OTHER WAYS for free. I played it on the GC’s Metroid Prime as a free, unlockable bonus. I played it on my GBA ALREADY thanks to Metroid: Zero Mission as a free, unlockable bonus. I beat it then, too. What makes Nintendo think that I would want to pay $20 to play it a THIRD TIME? And no, the fact that it has its own little gray cartridge doesn’t impress me. Next…

Zelda II: Adventures of Link: Another great title, and timeless classic…that I already played and beat on the Zelda Collector’s Disc. I, like many other GC owners, spent my time on this game, beat the Shadow Link, and walked away happy. Now Nintendo wants to put a big roadblock on that path, forcing me to play again. However, I will concede that like its prequel, this will be the only way to take Zelda II with you. But if you beat the game thoroughly, as I have, you really don’t want this game hanging around your library being unused.

Dr. Mario: At first glance, you might think this is a good idea, considering a new version of Dr. Mario hasn’t been released since Dr. Mario 64 way back in the day. But wait! Why do you get the feeling that you’ve already played this game over and over again? Think back to when you purchased WarioWare: Mega Microgame$ for your GBA. Remember that one unlockable game you found there? Dr. WARIO?!?!? Yessiree, it was Dr. Mario, but only in a different skin. The same levels, with the same dropping of the pills on the multi-colored viruses. Nice try, Nintendo, but I’m ONTO YOU!!! You can’t make me pay $20 for something I already have THAT easily!!!

Castlevania: This is perhaps the ONLY game that I see making any kind of sense here at all. The original NES Castlevania hasn’t seen a re-release in…hmmm, lets see, carry the two…come to think of it, I don’t think the original NES Castlevania was EVER re-released. Sure, there was that PS1 game, but that was based on another system entirely. And its the only game in this four-game set that follows Nintendo’s self-made formula: You remember playing Castlevania, you haven’t played it in a long time, and you buy it. The other three games don’t follow this formula, as you’ve probably played them in some fashion within the last year. So I was seriously considering purchasing this one, but one look at the $20 price tag and I immediately thought better of myself. The game was memorable, yes, but not $20 memorable.

How Nintendo wants us to believe that the re-releases of games that were re-released three months ago are “new”, I’ll never know. But the fact remains that if you want to get “retro” with Nintendo, you’ll have to pay the price.

Still, I’ll cut Nintendo a deal: If you release Punch-Out and Super Mario Brothers 2 (or The Lost Levels for us Americans) in the third batch, I’ll take back everything I said and never speak ill of the Classic NES Series again. Oh crud, here I go again. ME WANTY PUNCH-OUT! ME WANTY LOST LEVELS! ME INCONSOLABLE!


I GOT MAIL?!?

In an incredible twist of fate, people actually WROTE to me for last week’s column! Hooray for me!

Jason Thibeault responds to my “Je ne sais quoi” mistake…

Well. “Je ne sais pas” literally translates to “I don’t know”, but it’s more associated with ignorance of a matter of fact, rather than a lack of ability to describe an object. The phrase you’re looking for is “je ne sais quoi”, which means “I don’t know what”, but is generally more loosely used in English as an expression of wordlessness over a situation. (e.g. “This wine has a certain… je ne sais quoi.”)

So, Astalavista was right in its literal translation, but you were right in your use of the expression.

You can trust me. I’m a Canadian. I’m required by law to know these things. Just ask Hyatte, he knows everything about us wacky Canucks.

Thank you kindly for the clarification. I KNEW I wasn’t going out of my mind when I used the expression.

And for the record, when he answers the questions regarding things like “drunk [CANADIANS],” should pay attention? Just checking.

The following two letters responded directly to my reissued “Nude Code” commentary:

Not entirely true. I agree with alot of your points on the nude code stuff, but there is more stuff like that in existance. For one: gamesharks. With gamesharks you can create nude codes. An example would be WWF no mercy 64. I used to “hack” gameshark codes for it and there was a very accurate nude code. Another would be another wrestling game, WWE Raw 2 for the xbox. There is a nude code GLITCH. You can get bottomless women or something like that. I don’t remember it right now but it’s a glitch you can do. If you want to know it, I can find it. Just thought I’d point these things out.

Casey Clegg

For Max Payne 2 on the PC, there was a way to get the playable female character, Mona, naked. Then, you could play the entire game without any of her clothes, even thought the game was rated Mature. A video game show called “X-Play” revealed the code not only on their website, but on their tv show as well, and showed Mona in her bare glory. But, I guess the PC is different, since some people can reprogram games if they know how to hack. It depends if the PC matters to you.

Malfunkshon

(1) I purposely did not include “Game Sharks”, or any other external cheating peripherals in my analysis of the nude codes. Cheat devices merely alter the game code of various games in order to produce desired results that cannot be obtained in the regular game. Of course you can “hack” a naked body into WWF No Mercy, but the developers never intended us to create naked bodies, did they? If they did, we wouldn’t need the cheat device at ALL.

And glitches are simply that: glitches. The game developers never intended for you be able to obtain bottomless women in WWE Raw 2, however, mistakes and bugs apparently allowed this to happen. It’s not a CODE, as in the Konami code that’s consciously enabled in the game, but a bug that was never supposed to be. In this case, it’s merely a developer’s mistake that shows egg on their faces.

(2) The Max Payne 2 cheat is an interesting revelation, so I went to look up more information about it. Basically, what one does is alter a certain run file in a manner that allows the player to choose from over 20 different in-game character models to play as, as they can’t be accessed normally. One of those models happens to be one of a nude Mona, whom you can already see in a shower scene. (Probably obscured by something, of course.) I’d file this under “hacking” as well, considering you have to alter an executable to obtain this, rather than input an actual code in the game with either computer keys or joystick buttons.

Besides, I highly doubt you can see any defining features of Mona’s anatomy, other than probably her backside. Do you see any nipples on her breasts? Do you see a painted-on vagina? If not, than the developers have nothing to worry about, as they did not design an anatomically correct naked female. Unless you have picture proof of this, of course. You know, for RESEARCH purposes! Yeah, that’s the ticket…

No, really, that’s the ticket. PERVERTS!


PLUGS AND SHILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS

And now, we come to the first plug section in Encore Extr…oh…oh, no…I have to plug HOW MANY COLUMNS?!? Geez, they all just sprang out of NOWHERE!

Which is cool, because we are all awesome. Anyway, onto the plugs…

The 10th ArtBen Parfitt
My first official plug goes to someone I’ve never seen before. He’s another UK gamer, who really does appreciate the artistic side of video games. He also brings up the common sense argument in regards to video game censorship, talking about Manhunt in this instance. Trust me, as long as there are politicians who think video games kill people, we’re going to have to bring up this defense over and over again.

From A Gamer’s BasementA.J. Angeloni
One of our resident reviewers finally gets his own patch of web to speak his peace. And he brings up a subject that not many of us touch on: game companies think we’re made of money. I really have to agree with him here. Games and systems are incredibly high-priced, yet game companies expect us to buy ALL of them, or else. I know that I probably have around $450 tied up in reserved products alone at the moment. That’s just not right!

The Daily PulseAlex Lucard
Our resident PokÃÆ’Æ‘ÃÆ'”šÃ‚©mon obsessed, Atlus obsessed, SNK obsessed, HBK clone is BACK to column writing! He may cover the entire site, rather than just us, but its okay. He rocked before, he rocks now. Plus, we share the same first name. THAT’S AWESOME!

Gamer’s HangoverCory Laflin
Cory goes in-depth in comparing the two major football titles this year: Madden and ESPN. The only disagreement I have with him is on the in-game commentary. I feel only Madden is atrocious, as John never comments on the game, but rather drones one-liners at you that were old four years ago when they were recorded. At least the commentary in ESPN focuses on the actual game. Both get repetitive, sure, but ESPN gives you the better feel as if you were in a real game.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video GamesMisha
IP’s favorite Brit with a split-personality is back this week, and he touches on the fact that EA paid a TON of money to Catwoman’s developer to create the game in three months. Well, at least its better than writing the Catwoman movie script over a weekend where you were stoned 80% of the time.

Mid-Week Mid-BossLee Baxley
It’s LEE! LEE! LEELEELEELEELEELEELEELEE! Baxley’s back for me to plug! Happiness is mine to feel once more! Seriously, Baxley previews some games, gives us release dates, and comments on an animÃÆ’Æ‘ÃÆ'”šÃ‚© fansub involving hamsters that ISN’T Hamtaro. He also gets plugs Eric S., and expects a plug back. Why can’t I get plugged by Eric S?!?!?!?!?!?!?…which is what I’d be asking if I REALLY cared about it…

The Angry GamerLiquidcross
Our resident angry gamer talks about H.P. Lovecraft influences in games. Maybe if I knew who H.P. Lovecraft WAS, I’d comment a little more about this…

The Pulse CannonMichael O’Reilly
Another reviewer turned columnist. Here, he talks about Star Wars: KOTOR, Doom 3, and Madden 2005. I own the first one, and it’s awesome. I don’t own the last two, and their overrated. Does that mean I don’t own overrated games? Not really. I owned Halo, after all…for about a week…

Rapid FireBryan Berg
Ah, Bryan Berg. Perhaps the BEST out of all our columnists. (Don’t worry, guys! I love you all as well! In a plutonic sense! PERVERTS!) Berg answers mail, and responds to several of the staff with add-ons to their topics. And then, he goes off on an independent study on gaming. I tell you, if you’ve never paid attention to Berg’s columns…START. He is worth your time, every time.

Whew…NINE columns. Our awesomeness doth improved considerably, eh?


PARTING THOUGHTS

And Friday comes to a close once more, shutting the door on another Encore Extra Stage. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. For this week, I enjoyed it VERY much.

So keep those disgruntled flames down to a minimum, and I’ll see you next week. You know where to find me.

Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete