Category: Publishers

Super Runabout San Francisco Edition – Bits and Blow it up

You can play as a bunch of white trash bums or the police, which adds some variety to game progression though the essential game play is the same. The game is broken down into missions where you have to get from A to B while crashing insanely through C, D, E etc sometimes picking up or destroying X, Y and Z causing total mayhem in the process. One of the more bonkers early tasks actually involves you in a madcap mission to gather the finest hot dog ingredients to remedy a catering oversight at a posh VIP party. Any damage to property and vehicles on the way gains you a damage bonus. Your car will eventually break though so there is a certain amount of thinking and avoiding things to be done. It’s all just a bit silly. We like silly.

Everything here is totally OTT. The driving is so arcade-style you can almost hear the other machines in the background and everything is exaggerated for comic effect. San Francisco’s famous stepped slopes provide the scene of some totally unfeasible jumps and the way you can collide with a bus or a streetcar and send it flying into the air is a little daft. Realism can take a running jump though; this is fun. Vehicles available range from a moped (we kid you not) through trucks and sports cars to a tank (yes it’s got guns). A certain amount of sense goes into vehicle selection, as the nippier motors are a bit fragile and better suited to collection runs while the more destructive missions require sturdier wheels. All handle quite differently, if unrealistically, are quite fun to drive and can be tweaked in the garage if you’d prefer stiffer suspension with a minimum of fuss. The map is littered with alternative routes and it’s left mostly to you to decide how to tackle your task; there’s definitely more than one way to skin a cat (or at least run it over) here.

Graphically it’s a mixed bag. There’s enough traffic to give you something to aim at or get under your feet without getting excessive or causing too much slowdown. The obligatory yet strangely nimble pedestrians are there but it’s pointless trying to squish them (yes we know you’ll try). Everything at the roadside can be interacted with – all right smashed up – apart from a few more solid things you’ll learn to avoid. Chain link fences are sturdier than you’d expect though while larger containers are begging to be smashed. All this busyness in the foreground comes at a price, alas, and scenery popup is pretty awful with whole tower blocks snapping into view. Occasionally this can affect game play as what looked like a tunnel turns out to be a wall too late to brake. That said it doesn’t happen often enough to kill the game like Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle. Collision detection is also a bit suspect in places with considerable clipping. There are also odd times when your car is brought up short despite colliding with nothing at all! The frame rate is acceptable though not as good as say M-SR or Sega GT. That aside everything is bright, cheery and clear with good modelling of cars and the city is accurate as can be. There really is a lot going on around you, and the illusion of a living, breathing city is good. There’s even a subway with working trains ferchrissakes.

So what of the smashing and bashing? Sadly it’s a mixed bag. You’ll find yourself stuck to buildings with no hope of just grinding your way off frustratingly often. When you hit a lamppost you’ll stick momentarily before sliding through it like on Rentaghost. It’s a shame as apart from that the feeling is quite good and the sense of mayhem is intense and gratifying. You bash things like cars around and they behave like real physical objects while other items tend to disintegrate in arcadey fashion then fade, spewing debris all over the shop. Your car also can take 70-foot drops in its stride. If you can accept these distinctly virtual world leanings in the spirit of fun that’s intended there’s little here to stop you buying this game. It doesn’t get tedious before it’s over and just driving round on a free run smashing things up is disturbingly rewarding. Beating your high score in true arcade style is always there as an option so there is some replay value. Having said that, you’ll have completed most missions in a weekend so you’d better like trying to up your score as your incentive to play on.

We doubt this game will still be being played in a year’s time but the time you take fooling around in it will be fun time. Nothing is to be taken seriously at all and it’s just total, escapist fun. The rawk music and surfer-dude guffaws might get on your nerves a bit after a while but you can turn stuff on and off. If you’re looking for a car-based smashathon you could do a lot worse but hardcore racing enthusiasts wanting to tear up the streets of San Francisco know where to go instead by now.

Minijam MP3 Player add-on Review

Every once in a while, when he’s not busy giving us plagues or earthquakes, the Lord does us a good turn by giving us groovy tech like the MP3 music format. Now we can have digital-clear audio on just about anything that can hold an electrical charge. Innogear has helped the world along by releasing an MP3 player that plugs into the expansion slot of the Handspring Visor. It’s a handy tool that can hold two separate 64MB flash RAM cards, comes with simple software and sounds pretty good. However, both the hardware and software interfaces are still a little clunky, and the built-in photo viewer and e-book reader aren’t very useful either. Nonetheless, for Handspring owners who want to groove to some tunes on the plane or in a taxi, the Minijam will work just fine.

The installation for the Minijam is simple and intuitive. Just install the CD, plug the 64MB RAM card into one of the two slots — the other has to be bought separately — and slide the Minijam into your Handspring. Once the software has been installed to your desktop and transferred to your Handspring’s OS, moving MP3s back and forth is a simple matter of just clicking “add” or “subtract” in the Fileloader interface. The transfer rates through the USB cradle were excellent, and the pack-in ram card comes equipped with an eclectic mix of songs ready to go. It also comes with a spiffy new pair of ear buds and a padded carrying case.

While moving MP3s back and forth from the palm to the desktop is fairly simple, the actual software and hardware interface still need some work. The Minijam itself, which comes in both “Ice” and “Graphite,” has seven buttons on the top. The “previous,” “play” and “next” buttons can also be used to pause and stop the music, and there are two tiny buttons for adjusting the volume — if you can spot them. There are two equally small buttons that can be used to cycle through the Minijam’s sound presets, which simply change the levels of bass and treble. Finally, a headphone jack and an AC adapter input round out what is a nice-looking but not remarkably attractive piece of hardware.

The software input features, among other things, a standard interface with three different “skins,” a play list editor, the file manager and a sound setup program that lets users select various bass and treble presets or simply create their own. Two of the various skins had buttons on them that were so small they demanded a stylus if we wanted to switch tracks or suddenly mute the sound. But the ability to import new skins in the future should resolve this problem.

But more important than the interface is the actual sound of the Minijam. And considering that this is the first MP3 player for the Handspring, it sounds pretty good. We tried it out with everything from “Dream On” by Aerosmith and “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim to a spoken-word piece with John Cleese and the Cowboy Junkies’ cover of “Sweet Jane.” Gaming has been part of this new age. One game that are being played mostly by this generation is Clash Royale. It is an online strategy game that has captivated a lot of gamers. There is a surprising amount of volume from the little unit, but adjusting the bass and treble doesn’t really bring much of a dynamic range. For dedicated audiophiles, a pricier and more flexible MP3 player is in order, but for regular Handspring owners who just want to groove to some private tunes while at their desks, it will work just fine.

However, there are two important drawbacks Visor owners should consider. The unit only comes with one 64MB flash card. So, depending on the recording quality of the MP3s, that card could hold anywhere from 30 to 70 minutes’ worth of music. Buying an additional 64MB card for the other slot in the Minijam obviously doubles the playtime but adds considerably to the cost, as those little buggers aren’t cheap. And moving between the cards can only be done from the software interface, not from the unit itself.

Also, despite the Innogear’s warnings that the Minijam is a drain on the battery, we could practically hear our AAAs scream in agony inside their little plastic cribs. The manual says we could expect five to six hours of playback while not using the Handspring, but our experience was closer to four to five, even with fresh batteries. Naturally, playing a game of chess while listening to the music will drain the batteries even more quickly. The music software, however, does turn off the Handspring’s Visor automatically if untouched for a minute or two, which is certainly a welcome feature.

Less welcome features include the Minijam’s photo/slide shower viewer and e-book reader. The Handspring’s limited, monochromatic resolution is simply not the best vehicle for the a photo viewer, and the e-book reader has always struck us as compromise no matter what PDA we’re using it on. It’s nice of Innogear to include such functions, but after a brief investigation, we didn’t really touch them again.

Both MP3 players and personal digital assistants are going through a massive puberty right now, with growth spurts coming every six months. So it should not be surprising that early versions of both PDAs and these sorts of players still have some design and storage issues to work out. But early adopters of new technology have always been willing to pay a high price — both in cash and convenience — for the new gadgets.

Alterna-Dreamcasting

A friend came over to my place the other day, took one look at my Dreamcast and asked, “What’s this?” It took my brain a full minute to comprehend that he was asking a serious question. When I told him it was the latest and greatest of the videogame systems, he just scoffed at me. I sat him down, turned on the Dreamcast and popped in a few games. He seemed impressed with some of the graphics and even liked some of the games, but overall was still rather unimpressed.

“You already have a PlayStation and a Nintendo 64. Why get this one too?” he asked.

“I just showed you. The Dreamcast is better.”

“It’s a system like any other,” he stated. “It plays videogames.”

“No,” I protested. “It’s a lot more than that.”

“Please. What else is it good for? Give me one other thing it can do beside play videogames.”

“I’ll do better than that,” I heard myself say without thinking. “I’ll give you 23 other uses!”

I had to do some quick thinking, but I managed to come up with a list of uses the Dreamcast has besides playing videogames. I thought I’d pass that list on to all of you just in case someone challenges you with the question, “What else is the Dreamcast good for?”

A place to rest your soda can
A wobbly table fixer
A place to hide your secret stash of thumbnail nudie pics you printed out after downloading them from the Internet
Another instrument of torture to use on your younger siblings
Proof that you actually did earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 at one point in your life
A really heavy frisbee
A cool Christmas decoration
A video surveillance system (a slight upgrade might be needed for this one)
A home vision exam kit
A good excuse to go to your room
A small red flashlight
A reason for the electric company to exist
Proof that man is evolving
A foot rest
A place to put all those cool rub-on tattoos you’re embarrassed to put anywhere else
A hammer
A fingernail/toenail filer (gotta get that CD thing spinning really fast for this)
A new and improved mousetrap
A self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
A spare shoe
Something to bury in a time capsule
A spare tire
A funky grilled cheese sandwich maker

Now a lot of people will read this list and think all these reasons are stupid. They might even go over the list with a fine-toothed comb (notice that isn’t one of the Dreamcast uses) and say that only a few of these uses are plausible. But then it will be I who scoff at them. I have tried out each and every one of the uses and the Dreamcast has proven to be quite a versatile instrument. So I highly recommend going out and picking up a Dreamcast, even if you don’t want to use it for videogames.

If any of you out there have tried the Dreamcast out for any other uses that aren’t on my list, please feel free to send them to me.

Mike Fasolo keeps one eye close to the crumb.

An Interview with SimCity Buildit Developers

Gamers are being invited into a rich world of fantasy and strategy with SimCity Buildit,  courtesy of EA Games. Boasting a range of twelve worlds and well over a hundred maps in its grimoires, SimCity Buildit should keep strategists immersed in its world for some time. The game invites a player to choose a city and use it to build the best out of it. All of the usual suspects from simulation games are present in the highly detailed environments — buildings, sims, and environment will all be cropping up in the towns and villages which players can explore, conquer, and design.

Of obvious interest to those of us who played out our fantasies with pen and paper RPGs, SimCity Buildit boasts a simultaneous gameplay mode. With 12 players each taking the role of one of the available cities to action. Although it’s not strictly real-time, it’s as close as anyone has come with a game as immersive as this. Is this the missing link that will conjoin the two similar but disparate genres of real-time and turn-based strategy?

SimCity Buildit is fully complete with the new hack system found. Basically we were just tweaking the artificial intelligence and the game balance to the end. We got a lot of good feedback from the demo that we released and from our own internal testers, and we’re quite happy with the final product we’ll release.

Simultaneous player mode. We really feel we got the feature to work in the game, and it provides a multiplayer experience we feel was somewhat lacking in other turn-based games on the market.

Primarily we designed it still as a turn-based game. So although it’s more similar to RTS, we still see it as a turn-based game that has something extra. Anything on top of the turn-based game is an extra. We have the standard turn-based crowd, and anyone we can snatch from the RTS crowd is cool. There is very fierce competition — a lot of people think that the RTS genre is pretty saturated, and maybe something like SimCity Buildit is something different to change that. It’s not an RTS game, but maybe some people who are sick of the cloning that is going on in that genre will appreciate something like this that offers more depth. We’ll have to see what happens.

There’s a few things. For example, I’d love to have made a random scenario generator. That is an important feature for hard-core players. We’d maybe like to release these as extras in the future, but not just yet. That might be looking a bit too far away. We’ll see what happens. Being honest it all comes down to how many game units have been sold. Plus, we’ve been working on this for so long, if anyone came up and asked us to do more it’d be like ‘No more!’

In terms of turn-based games, there are a few competitors that fall into the same category but the gameplay is different. Mainly I suppose there’s the add-on pack that will be out the same time. Plus, we’ll get competition from games like Cities XXL, but there is always this competition around the season.

Mainly the sheer size of the project. There’s so much customization, and although it’s very complex we’ve also added a tutorial to guide people in. We also really tried to get, in the sense of novels, this epic storyline feel. Console play would be very hard, so probably not. Even RTS games like Command and Conquer don’t translate extremely well to consoles. The mouse is not standard for those games. Also, SimCity Buildit will run in a very high resolution, which is very nice to see. On console all the little details would be lost. It’s not likely — I’m not saying no, but I’d certainly say it’s not likely.