The 10th Art

Thanks to all those whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve mailed me since the launch of 10th Art. I love reading your mails and I hope thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s more to come, both in agreement and disagreement! As soon as I have enough Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll do a mailbox and answer some of your questions more specifically.

They say that we shouldnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t go through life with any regrets. I understand the sentiment, and in part I agree. Nonetheless, I do harbour a couple of regrets from my past. Possibly the largest regret I have is selling my Sega Saturn. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not so much the machine â┚¬” after all, they are easy to replace. In fact, I bought myself another a few months ago. What really bugs me is the huge collection of games that I let go; Burning Rangers, Sonic R, Panzer Dragoon Saga! Bah â┚¬” it pains me just thinking about it. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll never recapture that collection, the same way that Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll never completely recapture my SNES of Genesis collection. Not that Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m not trying. In this past week Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve received delivery of Nights Into Dreams (Saturn), Detana Twinbee (Saturn), Silpheed (Mega CD â┚¬” or the 32X or Sega CD or whatever it was called Stateside) and Axelay (SNES).

Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m one of those really sad people that own loads of consoles, 13 in fact. For the record, I own the following: PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, Dreamcast, Playstation, N64, Megadrive (Genesis), Mega CD, Saturn, SNES, Virtual Boy, GBA and Neo Geo Pocket Colour. A lot of you might be thinking that many of them sit there unused, acting as little more than expensive furniture, but youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d be wrong. OK, my N64 is a little neglected and my SNES hasnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t seen that much activity as of late, but they all get their fair share of usage and each has a special place in my heart. A few of my mates simply donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t understand it. â┚¬Å”Why would you want to play all those crappy 2D games when you can be playing PS2?â┚¬Â they ask. All I do is laugh, for it is them who simply donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t understand.

Last month I visited a fantastic event in South West London called the Classic Gaming Expo. Amazingly, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d never really been to an event like this in the past but Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll certainly be visiting them in the future. It was fantastic. I saw and played loads of games and sytems that previously Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d only read about. There was Alien Vs Predator on the Atari Jaguar, an original Defender cabinet, a Neo Geo AS, even a Virtual Boy. In fact, so taken was I with the latter machine that it is in fact sitting beside me as I write this, along with the other ÃÆ'”šÃ‚£350 worth of stuff that I blew my overdraft on. In many ways I often feel like a bit of a social leaper here in London. My mates all like to go out and get hammered at the weekend whereas I look forward to getting some serious Day of Defeat going or perhaps a massive Metal Slug binge (which in fact is exactly what I did last night). However, at CGE I was suddenly surrounded by likeminded folk. Hell, many of them were even geekier than me! The truth though is that whilst gaming is now mainstream to a certain extent, in many ways it is still seen as a bizarre hobby by some.

You see, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s fine to walk down the high street with a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Doom 3 under your arm. Walk about however with Keio Flying Squad for the Mega CD or Thunder Force IV on the Megadrive and you can expect some puzzled glances. Playing Timesplitters 2 after the pub on a Friday night is seen as normal; playing a Bangai-O all day on a Wednesday is not. I canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t say Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m really a person whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s too fussed about what the accepted norms are â┚¬” I do what I want when I want, and if the mindless rude boys (I canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t think what the equivalent would be in the US â┚¬” perhaps a 14 year old wannabe gangster?) that populate my part of London donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t approve then that suits me. Still, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d be lying if I said that there were never moments when I lay awake in bed wondering why so few people seem to like the same things as me.

What frustrates me more is when I take a gander (cockney slang for â┚¬Ëœlookâ┚¬â”žÂ¢) at the gaming charts and see little that actually interests me. Yes, we all know about the popularity of the license and the brand but I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t want to go into that here. What Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m talking about is the type of game thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s popular at the moment. 3rd person shooters? Donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t interest me. 1st person shooters? Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll give them a go but they wonâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t keep me up until the middle of the night. The RPG is a genre that does fascinate me however. Now, I can play a game like Final Fantasy VII or Morrowind and appreciate the talent that went into them and the fact that they are brilliantly crafted games. However, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m a busy bloke. I have a job, I write these columns and reviews, I must also find time to eat, sleep and even wash on a good day! What I can never find time for is an 80+ hour RPG, no matter how much I want to.

I understand though that many folk are in a different position to me. If youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re in school and on crap pocket money then you canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t afford that many games. Therefore, an RPG that offers over 100 hours of play is a sound investment. I however buy several games every week (which is why Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m broke all of the time!). Therefore, I have piles of games sitting in my flat that either havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t been touched or have been forgotten about after the first couple of levels. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m beginning to think that maybe thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s why Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m starting to value my retro gaming more and more. For instance, you can pick up a game like Metal Slug 3, play it for an hour, complete it (if youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re very skilled) and emerge extremely satisfied. Not many modern games allow you to do this and when I look back at some of the games Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve enjoyed the most on current consoles, many of them are distinctly tainted with the retro brush â┚¬” Parappa the Rapper 2, Katamari Damashii, ESPgaluda. All simple, short, yet amazingly crafted.

But as we all know retro gaming is very much out of fashion. Did you know that it was only less than a month ago that SNK got a publishing agreement with a publisher called Ignition to release SNKâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s 2D titles in the European market? Previously Metal Slug 3 had failed to pass Sony Europeâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s quality control tests and had been denied release rights. Can you believe that? Utter dross like Catwoman and Cy Girls flood our shelves whilst quality titles like Metal Slug 3 and King of Fighters are not granted release. Recent weeks have seen Driv3r released, a hugely disappointing and untidy title thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s sold millions. I, however, have to import 2D shooters like ESPgaluda and Shikigami No Shiro II because some corporate tool who knows nothing about games has decided that 2D titles no longer have an acceptable market value.

I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t want to come across as someone who hates modern 3D gaming. Absolutely not. I still play my PS2 more than any other console. Many genres have benefited from the transition to 3 dimensions â┚¬” racing, first person shooters, simulators, free-roaming titles. However, you canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t deny that many developers use 3D simply because itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s more marketable, not because itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s more appropriate. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m still yet to play a 3D platformer that improves upon the 2D glory of Super Mario World. What Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m saying is that both new and old genres should be able to exist together. Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s room in the market for all types of games covering a broad assortment of interests. Look at a company like Treasure, for instance. Gradius V is soon to be released in the UK. It uses brilliantly vibrant current generation graphics and applies them to a 2D gaming world, whilst remaining true to the gaming roots of the genre. The result? A fantastic title every bit as polished and playable as GTA or Madden 2005. Will it even dent the UK charts though? I really hope so, but I certainly ainâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t holding my breath.

Am I a jaded gamer stuck in the ways of the past, unwilling to accept advances because Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m under the delusion that â┚¬Å”things were always better when I was a littleâ┚¬â”žÂ¢unâ┚¬Â. I bloody hope not â┚¬” Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m only 25! I think my voice has as much right to be heard as those screaming for the next Def Jam Vendetta or NBA Street. After all, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s the likes of me who bought into the 8-bit and 16-bit 2D generations that have made gaming what it is today. Does the industry not owe something to us?