A Look Back at Flashback (Super NES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Flashback: The Quest for Identity and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

We live in an age in which software exclusivity defines not only the relevance of game consoles but also nature of the entire video game industry right down to the many varied communities of very avid fans (and fanboys).

While the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) and Sega Genesis each had their own exclusive games back in the 1990s, there was one particular game that was made for and released on not just one, not two but rather on more than fifteen different platforms – both consoles and computers – starting with Amiga way back in 1992. That game is none other than Flashback: The Quest for Identity which I first played on our Super NES back in 1994.

The cover of the game box.

For the newcomers reading this, Flashback was a 2D side-scrolling adventure game in the form of a cinematic platformer (note: similar to Prince of Persia and Out of This World) with a strong flavor of science fiction. It was cinematic in the sense that all the in-game animation were rotoscoped resulting unique smoothness combined with hand-drawn backgrounds and the computer-generated cutscenes were used in key parts of the game as the story progressed. Flashback on SNES in America even came with a Marvel Comics-published Flashback comic book and on the rear of the SNES game box were the words “The first CD-ROM game in a cartridge!”

A Flashback remake was released in 2013, followed by a port of the original game released on Sega Dreamcast in 2017, and a remastered version got released for varied platforms in 2018.

I got to play that game at a time when I have not even started playing Final Fantasy II (AKA Final Fantasy IV), Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) and other great role-playing games (RPGs) of the Super NES. I also remember that Flashback was a nice change of pace for me after playing Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at Flashback: The Quest for Identity, released on Super NES in 1993 by U.S. Gold and developed by Delphine Software International.

The start and options screen.

Early story

The story begins with Conrad running away from two armed persons chasing him. He flies away riding a solo vehicle but those chasing him (riding a huge vehicle) managed to get close and blast his vehicle causing to crash into the forest.

Sometime later, he wakes up and accidentally pushes a mechanical cube to fall down. He climbs down to reach it and activates it. The cube displays a holographic video of himself telling him that he recorded it without remembering it. As Conrad watches, he learns that he must contact a friend named Ian who can explain important things to him.

After viewing the message, Conrad sets off to find his way out of the jungle and somehow get to Ian in New Washington…

Game design and quality

You have to pay close attention to what’s going on, what items do you have and what the in-game prompts tell you.

This game is not your typical fast-paced, action-oriented 2D side-scrolling adventure in which you move from left to right to progress. As it is a cinematic platform game by design complete with very specific controls, players will have to be patient, adaptive and strategic in order to learn how exactly you can control your character, what moves will be executed (and when to execute). For one thing, the very fluid 24 frames-per-second animation on your character limits you in terms of control as timing is required.

To do things properly, you have to execute specific controls. To ascend on a lift, you press Up and the Y button. To do a small jump, have your character stand still and then press Up and Y button. To go down on level (on foot, no lift), stand by the edge of a level then press Down and Y button. To run and hang on to a higher floor automatically, have your character stand still, press Right and Y button, press Y button (once your character moves) and watch him pull it off. With controls like these, the usual 2D platforming approach is out of the question. In my experience, these controls are indeed challenging but never impossible to learn and eventually I got proficient with the controls as I played more.

The in-game animation for the characters are very good and there is also a sensation of weight with your character. Falling straight down from a very high place is a big no-no.

Apart from character controls, you don’t just move Conrad from one screen to the next…you also should do key objectives along the way apart from engaging in action scenes (read: shooting). That being said, you must watch out for icons that appear on screen when your character steps on a particular spot that requires interaction. For example, if you stop by a terminal, an icon will appear serving as a prompt to start the interaction. Another example is when your character steps on the same spot as an item located at which you can pick up once prompted.

More on the action on the screen, you will encounter armed enemies as well as high-tech machines (including floating drones). To overcome them, doing straightforward shooting is not recommended as you have to be strategic before firing a shot. You have to learn how each enemy or machine moves, how much physical space is available right there and how you can maximize your limited time and space to overcome them. In fact, you will also be compelled to take advantage of whatever seconds you have while the enemies’ animation (between moves) take place. There will also be times when you need to have your character armed with the gun before jumping to a lower level where an armed enemy is located and on the lookout. Coming down armed gives you an advantage to shoot first at the enemy who

Considering the 24 frames-per-second animation, you will have to time your moves carefully, especially during moments when you face an armed enemy.

Apart from shooting, you can also use grenades which requires opening your inventory to select a grenade and then do your timing and calculation of the distance in order to pull of a successful throw and explosion. You can also throw stones to distract enemies or to apply weight on key platforms in order to open mechanical doors.

With regards to the quality of gameplay, Flashback is enjoyable but only if you get over its rather high learning curve with regards to the controls which themselves serve as the game’s advantage and even as a disadvantage. In addition to being patient and strategic, you will really have to pace yourself, think more and get used to the rather slow pace of the game in relation to its cinematic platformer design. I should state that as you keep progressing, there will be places, or new obstacles or new enemies that will compel you to change your tactics in order to overcome them. Anyone who is used to playing 2D side-scrolling games the fast and easy way might find the high learning curve and pacing of Flashback a turnoff but if they are willing to learn, adjust and pace themselves, only then can this game’s gameplay be really enjoyed.

Cut scenes like this move at a sluggish pace which shows the limitations of the SNES and cartridge technology.

As for the visuals, the obvious highlight here is the 24 FPS animation which is the result of rotoscoping and careful visualizing (note: observe those alien humanoids who morph into moving blobs). The rotoscoped animation, however, would not have been that effective had the quality of the art used for the backgrounds been made of lower quality. I can say that the background artworks here look pretty good even by today’s standards. The standout among them were the background artworks of Morph’s home planet which really looked very alien and creepy at the same time. What hurts this particular version of Flashback is the lackluster (read: choppy) frame rate whenever the computer-generated cinematic cutscenes (obviously they were meant for more powerful PCs) play which, in my experience, took me out of the story. There were also bouts of slowdown during the gameplay, especially when you encounter enough enemies that were animated sophistically.

With regards to narrative, Conrad is literally your avatar to learn, discover and interact with the many elements of the universe he is part of. There is obvious influence that the game makers took from the movie Total Recall as they crafted Conrad to be someone who lost his memory, moves on to regain it and do a lot of things as he realizes his true purpose and what is really at stake. Unlike Total Recall’s protagonist, Conrad himself is not too interesting mainly due to the way the in-game story was structured. Just play as Conrad and do what needs to be done to complete the game.

When it comes to understanding the narrative, you will have to do lots of reading. You will spot and read the short description of the prompts that appear. You’ll also have to read the on-screen text whenever your character talks with someone during the levels of the game. And there are the captions shown during the slow animated cutscenes.

Conclusion

The background artworks during the late stage of the game are great and truly creative with science fiction in mind.

I can clearly say that Flashback: The Quest for Identity on Super NESis fun and engaging mainly to those who are willing to adjust themselves to it. If you don’t have patience, if you are not willing to think while playing, if you cannot pace yourself and if you are not willing to learn all the specific controls of the game, then you should not be playing Flashback. It is a cinematic platformer and that should tell you that you will need to adjust to enjoy it.

Overall, Flashback: The Quest for Identity on SNES is recommended.

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Top Gear (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Top Gear and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Remember back in the early 1990s how impressive the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) was when it comes to fulfilling your early expectations of the enhanced gaming experience aided by new technology?

Super Mario World was astounding the first time I got to play it on our Super NES. The same experience too I had with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

And then there was our first Super NES racing game titled Top Gear (not to be confused with the popular motoring media franchise) developed by Gremlin Graphics and published by Kemco.

The game cover.

Concept and Game Design

Top Gear is a car-focused racing game that had over thirty tracks and creatively emphasized the global locations in it. The very meat of the game is its global tournament in which you need to finish at least in 5th place in order to qualify to join the next race.

Creatively, each race has courses that vary in distance, the sharpness of turns (as far as 2D graphics allowed), number of laps and, strangely enough, have certain obstacles that can distract or even surprise such as stones, iron plates and even trees.

Before choosing a car, you must pay attention to the maximum speed, acceleration, tire grip and fuel consumption.

On the player’s side, there are cars offered and they vary in terms of maximum speed, acceleration, tire grip and fuel consumption. Cars also have nitro which come in limited amounts and can be used to give you a boost

For its visual presentation, Top Gear is strictly a split-screen game even during times you play only single-player. In my experience, split-screen is more lively to watch when playing against a fellow human player.

Quality

I can say clearly that Top Gear was highly enjoyable to play, and it was more fun 2-player sessions. On the very gameplay itself, I enjoyed the high-speed challenges that include overtaking other cars on the road while trying to climb up the rankings enroute to the finish line. Speaking of challenges, the aspect of managing your fuel supply while dealing with speeding and overtaking others is memorable and there were times when my car ran out of gas and stopped because I was not able to make a pit stop during the race.

The pit stop itself can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on situations. If you are low on fuel and you still have a long way to go, you need to refuel at the pit stop. However, the more time you spend on the pit stop, the more your opponents traveled catching up with you or increasing their lead over you. There were also memorable times when I had sufficient fuel and my opponent had to refuel at the pit stop. While opponent was refueling, I just kept driving and used the nitro to increase my speed and keep on moving forward.

Split-screen all the time, even when you play single.

Going back to the fuel management aspect, there were times when my car ran out of gas and stopped. Suddenly, an AI-controlled car from behind hit my car and gave me some forward movement. There were a few, unexpected times that my gas-empty car got pushed enough to cross the finish line.

Visually, race courses are limited in the sense that the game only shows split-screen views. You always have a road to travel on which can suddenly turn left or right depending on the race course. What adds visual variety are the surroundings specifically the elements on the sides of the road (examples: the desert environment Las Vegas, the snow of Sweden, the rain forest trees of Brazil) and background art (example: the metropolitan view of Tokyo). Sprite scaling is limited but that is understandable given the limits of the Super NES. Even so, the feeling and look of 3D is sufficient.

Night driving in 2D.

While the sound effects of cars bumping, tires screeching and engines are satisfying, what really stood out is the soundtrack which, for the most part, is energetic and even encouraging enough to keep me and my friends playing. Barry Leitch produced the music and due to the lack of time provided to him, he had to literally recycle and arrange his other musical works from Lotus games.

Conclusion

One car still racing on the road with low fuel, the other car is in the pit stop refueling.

Top Gear was truly a well-made game and it succeeded not only in delivering a true console generation upgrade over our NES for console racing but also created lots of bouts of fun for me and my friends. In my experience, this Kemco-published game was the first true gem of multiplayer on the Super NES. Even by today’s standards, Top Gear remains unique and still is very enjoyable for anyone who loves 16-bit, 2-dimensional console racing.

Overall, Top Gear is highly recommended!

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Secret of the Stars (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Secret of the Stars and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Welcome back, video game enthusiasts, fans of Japanese role-playing games (RPGs), 1990s arts and culture enthusiasts, fellow geeks and video game collectors!

If you were already a gamer who enjoyed playing games at home with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) back in 1995, chances are you heard about the buzz about the hot RPGs that were released for the console at the time. Square released Chrono Trigger (which is now a classic) and Secret of Evermore while Capcom released Breath of Fire II.

That same year, Tecmo (the company best known for Dead or Alive video games) tried to score well with RPG enthusiasts and other SNES-owning gamers of North America by releasing Secret of the Stars which itself turned out to be the English-language version of the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) Aqutallion.

This RPG caught my attention when I read about it in gaming magazines. After completing Final Fantasy II (actual title Final Fantasy IV) and Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) on the SNES in 1994, there was a period several months when I was not able to play another RPG and had to settle with other types of games (note: I had a lot of fun with Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). In the 4th quarter of 1995, I finally obtained a copy of the Tecmo-published RPG.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at Secret of the Stars (or Tecmo Secret of the Stars as presented on the game cover).

The cover of the game.

Early story

The story begins with a young lad named Ray who gets oriented with some people at the house of Mrs. Sonya. By merely asking a question, she reminds him about his personal search for a crest which once belonged to his father. Sonya also revealed that their island has been hit by several earthquakes which caused many wild animals to arrive.

Ray travels to the nearby town talking with the locals who gradually update him about what has been happening. Someone reveals to him that a journeyman arrived and talks about something called Kustera and Aquatallion.

Ray meets with the journeyman named David who is a native of Kustera. After reminding Ray that his father was the great Aqutallion, he emphasized that an evil being called Homncruse is a major threat to everyone and must be stopped. He tells Ray that he must seek out the crest of the stars to become an Aqutallion warrior and be able to defeat Homncruse.

Ray gets urged to go to the mountain to find the crest…

Quality

Imagine yourself arriving in this town for the first time. Which place should you visit?

To put things straight, Secret of the Stars has the basic elements of turn-based role-playing that involves the heavy use of menus for item management, fighting, defense, item use and others. The most unique game design feature here is the ability to switch between parties as the game goes on but what is clear is that the party involving Ray is the default party.

On the creative side of things, the concept about Ray being the chosen one to protect his people, lead a group composed of individuals to not only fight evil beings or monsters and achieve goals on quests (read: this includes going through personal trials at different sites in order to receive additional powers) and take on Homncruse and his evil agents has always been generic and the overall game design reflects that as well. Being the protagonist, Ray is clearly the most developed character but the same cannot be said about Tina, Cody, Leona and Dan who are all uninteresting.

Red slime? More like purple!

The production values of this game are clearly sub-par and the weak Japanese-to-English translation is only the tip of the iceberg. With the exception of the monster and enemy designs, Secret of the Stars looks like an 8-bit game and really stood out among 16-bit RPGs of its time when it comes to field of inferiority and primitiveness. The level designs lack creativity and the location background art lacked variety. When it comes to the story, its concept was interesting at first but there really is not much depth to it nor are the characters worth caring about.

What really defined this game is its slow-pacing in terms of interactivity. Adding even more to the sluggishness of the game are the slow movements of your character (representing your party) on-screen and the rather high rate of random battles. There is also a lot of grinding (defeat enemies in lots of repetitive battles to gain experience points to level up) required and the sad thing is the level-up is not very rewarding especially when you take into consideration the many enemies or monsters who are often strong with high hit points each.

The sluggishness and tedium are so bad, Secret of the Stars really turned out to be more of a chore than an actual fun game to play. It is so bad, the game’s unique feature of allowing players to control the 2nd party (Kusterans) became even more tedious and pointless to do. It is so bad, you will care less about the story of Ray, and you will prefer to ignore the other characters even more. It’s so bad, you won’t care anymore about Ray’s quest and the danger Homncruse has on the people.

Conclusion

Do you know someone named or codenamed Badbad?

Secret of the Stars was a bad RPG for its time and clearly it was a waste of money. On my experience, I ended up being very disappointed not only because of the game’s quality but also because of an absence of fun and the fact that my time playing it became a big waste. For me personally, this JRPG was definitely the worse SNES experience of 1995. It seems like the game developers made this game to literally torture gamers.

Overall, Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars should be avoided!

+++++

Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

Xbox-Bethesda Games Showcase delivered the great stuff!

I can start by saying the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase was indeed worth the wait and even though it was not perfect (a few games shown that were not too interesting and a certain 1st party exclusive game had an excessive amount of time of the showcase), Team Xbox, Bethesda and their strategic partners in gaming succeeded in delivering the great stuff. There were so many games, including very promising Xbox-exclusive games and many new additions into Xbox Game Pass (XGP), the people who hated Xbox became silent during the showcase and some time after!

To put things in perspective, those of you who missed out on the livestream – plus the Xbox haters whether they saw it or not – I encourage you to watch the Xbox-Bethesda Games Showcase YouTube video below. Take your time.

So you must be wondering what I think about the showcase.

Other than the fact that it was efficiently organized, nicely paced and the Xbox and Bethesda executives/producers had a nice physical stage that gave the online event a more impressive viewing atmosphere, the amount of games – from the big budget productions to the smaller, indie productions – was incredible! Then again, that should not be a surprise at all! Not only did Phil Spencer and the Xbox core team learned from last year’s standalone games showcase, the integration of Bethesda and its games being mixed with the others (from the 3rd party game makers and other Xbox game developers) resulted a powerful lineup for the whole world of gamers to see! Not only that, there is a huge load of games to be added into Xbox Game Pass which I am confident will attract even more gamers to join in and subscribe!

As for the games and key moments that I found engaging, I should say that starting the showcase with Starfield (with Todd Howard as presenter) in the form of a teaser trailer (which used real-time graphics powered by the Creation 2 engine) was very surprising as I anticipated it to be shown somewhere in the middle of the event. Regardless, I enjoyed it a lot and, in a way, it was like Team Xbox and Bethesda decided to confirm the release date and the Xbox-exclusivity of the game once and for all.

Todd Howard presenting Starfield early in the showcase.

The trailer looked great and it shows what kind of environment and visual style Bethesda is aiming for. It also shows that Howard and his team are aiming for something unique and fresh apart from what they did with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. The moment I saw the 11-11-22 appear as the trailer played, I quickly realized that, in light of this pandemic, Starfield will be released on November 11, 2022 and I immediately understood that it’s not yet time for them to show gameplay footage. More importantly, Starfield is indeed an Xbox-exclusive title coming to Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Windows PC! That’s right! The Xbox fans who want Starfield but are still stuck with the aging Xbox One, they still have time to upgrade by acquiring an Xbox Series console (which is still hampered by supply constraints) or having a Windows PC that is capable of running the game.

What Microsoft owns, Sony and Nintendo cannot touch! Starfield is exclusive to Xbox!

Given its late 2022 release date, I believe that next year’s edition of the Xbox-Bethesda showcase will show Starfield with gameplay footage! As written in Xbox.com: Starfield is the first new universe in 25 years from Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. In this next generation role-playing game set amongst the stars, create any character you want and explore with unparalleled freedom as you embark on an epic journey to answer humanity’s greatest mystery.

Next is Halo Infinite!

After the stage presentation by Bonnie Ross and Halo franchise veteran Joseph Staten, Halo Infinite was shown with real-time (in-engine) graphics emphasizing more of the in-game environment of the Halo ring and, more notably, the story concept was emphasized more with the iconic Master Chief floating through space (he even took a moment to look at one of his fellow soldiers who died) and meeting a new female AI who eerily resembles Cortana (who was the villainess in Halo 5: Guardians). Then they showed a real-time preview of the multiplayer of the game which was impressive.

Unlike last year, Halo Infinite looks so much better and it was clear that serious adjustments were made to achieve the next-generation look. The signature look of the Halo franchise has been maintained but with much more striking visual details and a really smooth frame rate.

While the multiplayer is very impressive, I find it baffling that they did not show any single-player gameplay footage as I hoped to see them improve over last year’s disappointment. While it is clear they have yet to complete the game in time for the 2021 holiday season (even an Xbox One version has been confirmed) and probably were not prepared to show single-player gameplay footage in the showcase, I speculate that Team Xbox and 343 Industries could be preparing another presentation of Halo Infinite at this year’s Tokyo Game Show (TGS 2021) which will be an online event.

As for the minimal showing of the story concept of Halo Infinite, I am satisfied with that right now and I prefer that 343 Industries and the Xbox marketing team should refrain from spoiling the plot (which is too common in Hollywood blockbusters) and save it for gamers to find out. I am confident right now that this new game has what it takes to exceed Halo 5: Guardians. What Team Xbox needs to do announce a final release date.

When it comes to the smaller, indie productions, the Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes & Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising really surprised me! I never expected these spiritual successors to Suikoden to be part of the showcase at all!

As written in Xbox.com: 505 Games, Rabbit & Bear, and Microsoft are teaming up to bring the next incredible JRPG adventure by legendary game storyteller Yoshitaka Murayama to Xbox! We’re also thrilled to present the first official Eiyuden Chronicle franchise trailer for you today.

Studio Lead Yoshitaka Murayama (Suikoden I & II) and Director Osamu Komuta are joining forces once again to bring us an unforgettable journey through the world of Allraan.

Anyone who played the first two Suikoden games will notice the similarity of aesthetics in this upcoming game.

Wow! Not one but TWO Eiyuden Chronicle games are coming to Xbox consoles and Xbox Game Pass with one in 2022 and the other in 2023! Having been a Suikoden fan as well as having played Japanese RPGs on consoles long ago (note: I was a PlayStation fan along the way), I am very delighted about this latest announcement. The Eiyuden Chronicle games add even more to the build-up of Xbox becoming the premier destination and ecosystem for gamers who love playing role-playing games (RPGs)!

For more on the Eiyuden Chronicle franchise of games, I encourage you to visit them at FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

More on RPGs, I recently expressed I wanted more science fiction RPGs (sci-fi RPGs) from Team Xbox. As Starfield has been confirmed as Xbox-exclusive for 2022 from Bethesda, RPG specialist Obsidian Entertainment made my wish come true with the announcement of The Outer Worlds 2! That was easily one of the highlights of the showcase for me personally as I love Western RPGs and I replayed The Outer Worlds many times! Watch this CGI trailer!

There is so much to love in the 2019 multi-platform RPG The Outer Worlds and in recent times its full vision and concepts – both of which were limited by time and budget – were finalized with the release of the two DLC packs. Now that The Outer Worlds franchise is under the full control of Team Xbox, it is inevitable that Obsidian Entertainment will have tremendously more resources and access to better technologies (note: imagine certain game engines made by Bethesda being utilized by Obsidian) to make their grander concepts and new gameplay features come true in The Outer Worlds 2! This is another Xbox-exclusive RPG to look forward to after Avowed which Obsidian is focusing on right now.

Next that interested me is The Ascent.

Having seen the game a year ago, The Ascent has very nice visuals, a solid art style, a nice presentation of future technologies and most notably a lot of action that are so good to look at. It’s coming out on July 29, 2021 already and I am confident it will be a hit with Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Microsoft made the smart move on approaching the game makers. The Ascent will launch exclusively on Xbox game consoles (including Xbox One) and Windows PC.  

Psychonauts 2 also caught my attention.

Even though I never got to play the original Psychonauts from a long time ago, the sequel still impressed me and sparked my interest with regards to platform action, adventuring and the visual concepts from the mind of Tim Schafer. It should be noted that Microsoft acquired Double Fine and purchased the publishing rights from the previous owner. Psychonauts 2 is set for an August 25, 2021 release. 

Contraband is a future project exclusive to Xbox Series consoles and PC.

The CGI trailer was pretty cryptic and at best only showed visual concepts that should be realized in the form of gameplay in the future. Very clearly, this is an Xbox Game Studios project in partnership with Avalanche Studios (Mad Max, Just Cause games). As written in Xbox.com: Contraband is a co-op smuggler’s paradise set in the fictional world of 1970s Bayan, and our most ambitious and spectacular game to date. We’re taking everything that we’ve learned from 18 years of being at the forefront of creating beautiful, vast open game worlds filled with stunning vistas and incredible emergent gameplay moments.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl was really eye-catching.

I can confidently say that this game is very atmospheric, gritty and even horrifying. It’s a first-person shooter designed to grab the player and pull him/her deeply into its ravaged in-game setting. I can speculate that this game could push players to come up with the courage to not only endure its challenge but also overcome the horror elements along the way. This one’s heading to Xbox Series consoles and PC on April 28, 2022.

As for Team Xbox’s newest exclusive racing game, Forza Horizon 5 turned out to be real and the same goes with its Mexico setting. This one’s coming to all Xbox consoles and Windows PC on November 9, 2021!

Forza Horizon 5 is a stunner on Xbox Series X! The photo-realism is so high (from the specific parts of the car right up to the many elements comprising the vast open world) this new game made by Playground Games could easily convince people they were looking at real-life, physical objects and places.

As written on Xbox.com: Forza Horizon 5 showcases powerful, all-new graphical features. Experience sweeping vistas and scan the distance to see the adventure that lies ahead. Encounter the smallest of details throughout the world which is rendered with striking realism, down to the smallest details like the light that glows through each needle on a Cholla cactus. Our Mexican HDR sky captures illuminate the world to the point that you will feel as if you are right there. And thanks to Xbox Series X|S, ray tracing is utilized in Forzavista to make the cars look even more true to real life.

I am looking forward to playing Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X!

To my surprise, Xbox chief Phil Spencer appeared near the end of the Xbox-Bethesda showcase and gave the remarks. He did say that they had one new thing to show and it’s another exclusive thanks to Bethesda’s developer Arkane Austin…Redfall! Watch this CGI trailer and just imagine how they turn its visual concepts into actual gameplay in the near future. I find this intriguing and unique.

As written in Xbox.com: Redfall is coming exclusively to Xbox X|S and PC in Summer 2022 and will be available with Game Pass on day one.

Conclusion

The Xbox-Bethesda showcase is not only great…it also shows that with the full-backing of Microsoft, the integration with Bethesda, the 23 active Xbox game studios, and strong business relationships with game makers/publishers going on, Team Xbox is stronger than ever and Phil Spencer’s leadership is something worth emulating. They have what it takes to make video gaming more exciting and more enjoyable than even the Xbox 360 console generation. 30 games showcased (with a great majority of them heading to Xbox Game Pass) and with many Xbox-exclusives among them, the years-old belief that Xbox has no games is dead and those who keep on moving with that belief are just wasting their lives and spreading their poisonous thoughts through social media.

As for Xbox fans and all others who love video games, the Xbox-Bethesda showcase is more than just a grand presentation of gaming…it is a celebration of the love and enjoyment of video games as well as the benefits capitalism makes for consumers! As seen in the showcase, there is definitely something for most gamers and their tastes. Now is a good time for newcomers in gaming to join the Xbox community and ecosystem.

Gaming on Xbox is more exciting and more promising than ever! In due time, gamers from around the world will be able to enjoy games on Xbox consoles and Windows PC!

Let me end this piece by asking you readers: Did the Xbox-Bethesda games showcase live up to your expectations? On a scale 1 to 10 (lowest to highest), how would you rate the showcase? What was the biggest surprise among the major games and the small, indie games? Was the inclusion of the Eiyuden Chronicle games in the showcase surprising to you?

What do you think about Forza Horizon 5 and its Mexico setting? Does the announcement of The Outer Worlds 2 make you excited about playing RPGs only on Xbox consoles and Windows PC? Was the confirmation of the Xbox-exclusivity of Starfield surprising to you? Do you look forward to playing Redfall and/or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl in 2022?

You may answer in the comments below. If you prefer to answer privately, you may do so by sending me a direct message online.

In closing this article, posted below are Xbox-related videos for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

What could happen with regards to rumored event related to Xbox-Bethesda deal

Things have been quiet for the past months following the megaton announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Bethesda (through parent company ZeniMax Media) for a staggering $7.5 billion. Since then, Team Xbox has gotten stronger as the deal means pushing their number of 1st party game studios to almost 25.

In recent times, Microsoft created a brand new subsidiary called Vault (a nod to the Fallout franchise) which will serve as a new and temporary home for ZeniMax. The acquisition of ZeniMax and all of Bethesda is up for review by the regulators of the European Union (EU).

In relation to this, Jeff Grub of GamesBeat said in a podcast that an event will be held in which Microsoft will share details about their plans for the future regarding Bethesda. It was stated that such an event might happen in the middle of March 2021. By that time, the EU’s decision on the Xbox-Bethesda deal should be known.

Here’s an excerpt from GamingBolt’s report…

Grubb says it might not be a dedicated Direct-style event, but fans should expect to hear about plenty of new information either way.

“Once the deal closes, they will talk about it in a big way,” Grubb said. “I don’t know if it will be a full Direct-style event, but they will make note of it, and they will talk about it extensively, and they will explain what it means to everybody… kind of talk about the immediate future for both companies becoming one in the future.”

Personally, I can imagine an Xbox-Bethesda event that will done in video format and shown online to many fans and gamers around the world. However, I imagine it to be totally different from the Xbox Games Showcase of July 2020. I don’t expect it to be a lengthy video but still it will be long enough and serve as a makeshift celebration of Microsoft acquiring a major game publisher in Bethesda which itself is a rare event in the business world of video games and computer gaming.

The way I see it, the Xbox-Bethesda event could happen with the following possibilities:

  1. Xbox head Phil Spencer will welcome viewers and confirm that the acquisition of Bethesda has finally been done and the planned projects will push through and ensure lots of fun stuff for Xbox fans, fans of Bethesda’s many game franchises and people who love to play games via Xbox consoles, Windows 10 PCs and laptops, and mobile devices.
  2. Microsoft and Bethesda’s extensive business relationship will be mentioned, if not highlighted.
  3. Starfield will be announced yet again but will be presented by Todd Howard and a video showing the first-ever gameplay footage. Howard or the video itself could announce Starfield as an Xbox-exclusive game with late 2021 release window.
  4. Bethesda games released on previous generations consoles (Xbox 360 and Xbox One most likely) will be confirmed enhanced with FPS Boost when played on Xbox Series S or Xbox Series X.
  5. More Bethesda games of the past and the future will be made available via Xbox Game Pass (XGP).
  6. Ghostwire: Tokyo Deathloop, the temporary exclusives on Sony’s PlayStation 5 (PS5) console, will come to Xbox Series consoles and Windows 10 PC with exclusive enhancements and features some time in late 2022 or early 2023. Xbox Game Pass listing will be confirmed.
  7. Other Xbox game studios such as Obsidian Entertainment, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, The Coalition and others could make an appearance and some of their upcoming games for Xbox Series consoles and PC may be previewed. If this happens, it will symbolize the unity of the teams under Xbox Game Studios.
  8. Most, if not all, new games of Bethesda will be announced as exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem which includes Xbox Series consoles (note: Xbox One could still be supported), Windows 10 PC, mobile devices and Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Meanwhile, old Bethesda games that were released on multiple platforms will still be made available.

I believe that it is inevitable that the new Bethesda games, including those that were in development before Microsoft even started negotiating with ZeniMax, will be made Xbox-exclusive for it is very clear that Team Xbox wants to make Xbox Game Pass attract many more millions of subscribers from around the world much like how the streaming services Netflix and Disney+ attracted so many millions of subscribers globally. XGP alone added a lot to Microsoft’s revenue as its base of subscribers reached 18 million. Making Bethesda’s new games exclusive will add tremendous value to XGP and Xbox LIVE as a whole. That being said, think about the exclusive content that helped Netflix and Disney+ attract so many millions of subscribers.

Making Bethesda Xbox-exclusive also means making the Xbox brand (and its game studios) even stronger than those on PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft knows that millions of gamers love playing single-player role-playing games (RPGs) and having Bethesda’s blockbuster RPG franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls ensures big game sales through Xbox consoles and Windows 10 computers. Don’t forget that Team Xbox also has Obsidian Entertainment (which made the popular Fallout New Vegas for Bethesda) to provide such RPGs. Speaking of exclusives, whatever Japanese RPGs Sony could snatch as PS5 exclusives from Square Enix (Final Fantasy XVI for one), Team Xbox can literally fight back with exclusive Bethesda RPGs which are more than enough to make Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S more attractive consoles for anyone who loves role-playing the console way. I should state that Bethesda RPGs have a huge collective following among PC gamers.

As I noticed on social media over the past few months, a lot of PlayStation fanboys, haters of Xbox and some Nintendo fanboys are still feeling uneasy over the possibility of Bethesda games becoming Xbox-exclusive. They are afraid of getting locked out…meaning that none of the new Bethesda games will be released on their PS4, PS5 and Switch consoles.

More on exclusivity, Xbox chief Phil Spencer made things clear in an interview with Kotaku and below is an excerpt for you all…

“Is it possible to recoup a $7.5 billion investment if you don’t sell Elder Scrolls VI on the PlayStation?” I asked.

“Yes,” Spencer quickly replied.

Then he paused.

“I don’t want to be flip about that,” he added. “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games. But I’ll also say in the model—I’m just answering directly the question that you had—when I think about where people are going to be playing and the number of devices that we had, and we have xCloud and PC and Game Pass and our console base, I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.”

No matter how the haters and opposing fanboys see it – including the Nintendo and PlayStation fanboys working as journalists – what Microsoft owns, Nintendo and Sony cannot touch nor steal. If they really want the new Bethesda games, they will need an Xbox Series console or a capable Windows 10 computer to buy those games and/or sign up for Xbox Game Pass (if they want to save money on new games).

As for those who insist that all new Bethesda games should be released on multiple platforms, they should slow down and look at PS5’s camp. Why is Final Fantasy XVI a PS5-exclusive? Is Square Enix better off releasing their new games only on Sony’s platform while you oppose Bethesda releasing games as Xbox-exclusive? Also, why would a Microsoft-owned Bethesda be obligated or be forced to release games on competing game consoles from Sony and Nintendo after all the $7.5 billion spent on the acquisition?

As for Minecraft remaining a multi-platform franchise, the case of Microsoft’s acquisition of its developer (Mojang) simply cannot be applied to the Xbox-Bethesda deal. Bethesda is a major publisher with almost ten game studios and a wide bunch of games from established game franchises.

The existing market of Xbox console owners combined with Windows 10 users is large enough to sell Bethesda games to. To say that Xbox-exclusivity of new games such as Starfield and sequels or spin-offs to Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Doom, Dishonored and other franchises won’t benefit paying consumers is nonsense.  

From this point on, we can only wait and see what happens next. Will the EU approve the acquisition of ZeniMax/Bethesda? Will the rumored Xbox-Bethesda event actually push through weeks from now? Tell me what you think.

In closing these, here are some relevant videos for your enjoyment and learning…

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

My Observations: Future Bethesda games being exclusive on the Xbox ecosystem lock out competitors

For so long have many people criticized Team Xbox of Microsoft for being too weak with their 1st party games and for having not enough exclusive games. Such criticism does not matter anymore because Microsoft made the heavy investments in expanding their Xbox Game Studios member developers through acquisitions and such developments further escalated with Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media and have game publisher Bethesda integrated with Team Xbox.

Think about it. Bethesda game developers moved Xbox Game Studios teams from 15 to a whopping 23! This also means that Microsoft effectively owns the established Bethesda intellectual properties and game franchises of Dishonored, Doom, Prey, Wolfenstein and the best-selling franchises Fallout and The Elder Scrolls! Very clearly Microsoft spent $7.5 billion very strategically and as a result, the Xbox 1st party lineup of developers and franchises easily overwhelmed those of PlayStation.

Future games of these established video game franchises – plus the upcoming game Starfield – will be available only through the Xbox ecosystem. What Microsoft owns, Sony and Nintendo cannout touch.

This bring me to my next point – the Xbox ecosystem exclusivity of Bethesda’s future games and franchises! This is the one topic that made PlayStation fanboys disappointed and very uneasy, and I spotted a lot of them on Twitter. Why? For starters, the Xbox ecosystem is composed of the Xbox consoles (Xbox One and its variants, plus the upcoming next-generation Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X), Windows 10 PC plus the many millions of smartphones that will be able to play games via streaming (with Project xCloud).

More on the exclusivity of Bethesda’s future games for Xbox, here is an excerpt from Yahoo! Finance’s interview with Xbox division head Phil Spencer.

Spencer confirmed that ZeniMax games will appear on Microsoft’s xCloud the same day they are released in retail, making the service even more worthwhile for dedicated gamers.

But it also leaves the question as to whether Microsoft will bring ZeniMax games to competing consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. Making games exclusive to a single console can be incredibly lucrative, as it forces gamers to buy certain systems to access their favorite games.

Microsoft, however, has also shown that it’s willing to share such properties with rivals as evidenced by its decision to put “Minecraft” on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, as well as Android and iOS.

“In terms of where games will show up, our commitment is that our games will show up in Game Pass, PC, and on console and be available on xCloud,” Spencer said. “In terms of other platforms, I think we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis.”

As seen at the end of the above excerpt, Phil Spencer’s “our games” quote refers clearly to what games Microsoft owns and that already includes Bethesda’s games. He went on to confirm his company’s games will be released for the Xbox console users and Windows 10 users through the fast-growing Xbox Game Pass subscription service and Project xCloud. There definitely is no PlayStation console included. Even though Spencer did not mention the word “exclusive”, he confirmed the exclusivity when he referred to their games and the Xbox ecosystem. If PlayStation gamers really want future games of Wolfenstein, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls on PlayStation 5 (PS5), they can shout all they want but Sony cannot make it happen for them because it is Microsoft who has the final word to make that happen. Hence the “case-by-case basis” words of Spencer.

Of course, Microsoft did not spend $7.5 billion only to make Bethesda games and franchises available on non-Xbox platforms. They already invested so much on Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud, now is the time for them to fill it with exclusive content and gamers who want the Bethesda games will need a Windows 10 PC and/or an Xbox console (note: the next-generation Xbox Series consoles are recommended since Xbox One is on its way out). For Microsoft making Bethesda games available on PS5, Nintendo’s Switch (and its successor) is a self-defeating move.

As for Yahoo! Finance’s mentioning of Minecraft being a multiplatform release, they did not mention the fact that the said game was already available on other platforms BEFORE Microsoft acquired Mojang in 2014. Clearly this is not the same with the Xbox-Bethesda deal, and Microsoft will use Bethesda properties as leverage against Sony and Nintendo when it comes to exclusive content for the Xbox ecosystem.

The next-generation console competition is only heating up and Team Xbox has the advantages! Nintendo and Sony cannot do anything to compel Microsoft to have Bethesda release The Elder Scrolls VI, Starfield and Fallout 5 on their respective consoles. Those two do not own Bethesda and Sony’s exclusive games deals with Bethesda is only temporary at best. After that deal ends with no renewal, there will be no more new Bethesda games for PlayStation gamers and they will only have to settle with old ones like The Elder Scrolls Online, Skyrim, Fallout 4.

In the near future, this upcoming fantasy RPG will be available only on Xbox Series consoles and Windows 10 PC through Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud.

For the role-playing game (RPG) genre, Team Xbox already has the very talented inXile Entertainment (Wasteland 3) and Obsidian Entertainment (The Outer Worlds) making even new exclusive RPGs for the Xbox ecosystem. Add Bethesda’s Starfield, The Elder Scroll VI and the unannounced Fallout sequel, then it is very clear that the Xbox ecosystem will be the best destination for gamers who love compelling, fun and enduring RPGs. Meanwhile, Sony itself does not have the talents nor the resources to make their own high-quality RPGs which is why they desperately signed a timed-exclusive deal with Square Enix to have Final Fantasy XVI first on PS5.

Again, all of these details and developments show that the $7.5 billion Xbox-Bethesda deal is for the long-term and Microsoft now has the means to build up the Xbox ecosystem in terms of content, features and the global userbase. It should be noted that the franchises of Doom, Fallout, Dishonored, Wolfenstein and Elder Scrolls have many millions of dedicated fans and to continue enjoying future games they will definitely be flocking into the Xbox ecosystem (goodbye Sony and Nintendo gamer communities). It truly is a megaton, video game industry shaking business deal that really caught Sony and Nintendo off-guard. I should state that the promise of future Bethesda releases alone will convince gamers (the Bethesda franchise fans, the casual gamers and hardcore gamers) to buy Xbox Series S or Xbox Series X even though the forming lineup of launch games does not look too hot. It will be in the 2nd year of the next-generation Xbox Series consoles that the real blockbuster exclusive games will come out and attract gamers who want the best gaming experiences that can only be found in the Xbox ecosystem. Lastly, the Xbox-Bethesda deal ensures that Team Xbox will not suffer from any lack of exclusive games in the years to come. We will see if Nintendo and Sony can keep up with Team Xbox’s pace, only this time without new games of Doom, Fallout, Elder Scrolls.  

In ending this, watch these Xbox-Bethesda videos from Colteastwood and Rand al Thor 19. Watch and listen very closely. 

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at SOS (SNES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing the video game and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

Back in the 1990s when cable TV was not yet popular in the local community I lived in here in the Philippines, I got to watch on free TV a late night showing of the old movie The Poseidon Adventure. That movie, which included Gene Hackman and other stars, was about a huge passenger ship that got capsized as a result of a huge wave that hit it so hard. The survivors in that film had no choice but to band together and find their way out through countless obstacles.

That creative concept was reused by game developer Human Entertainment for a video game I played on the Super NES (SNES) a few years later…SOS (titled in Japan as Septentrion).

Released for the SNES in 1994 by Vic Tokai, SOS was an adventure game that had players take on the role of one of four characters (each with a different story plus different endings) who must escape the ship within sixty minutes in real-time. Along the way, the player must avoid obstacles, get to the hard-to-reach places and escape the ship before time runs out.

How good or bad the game is, you can find out in this look back at SOS.

The misadventure begins on the Lady Crithania with the disaster.

Early story

The story begins in the luxury passenger ship called Lady Crithania. Depending on which character you choose, Capris is an architect who has a sick sister; Luke is a crew member of the ship whose superiors don’t take his warnings about harsh sea conditions seriously; Jeffrey is a doctor who is traveling with his wife and Redwin is a counselor who is traveling with a family.

A cut scene emphasizing the story of one of the characters.
This is what the ship looks like after the disaster. At this point, the struggle for survival truly begins.

Regardless of which character was selected, a massive wave hits the Lady Crithania so hard it got capsized. The interiors suddenly turned upside down causing lots of damage and deaths. The protagonist is challenged with the chaotic interiors, obstacles, interacting with some survivors and reach the boiler room to survive.

Gameplay and Quality

As it is a 2-dimensional (2D) game, SOS is a side-scrolling adventure with some platform gaming elements mixed in. You can have your character move and jump most of the time with the occasional action of helping passengers (by means of reaching) travel with you (with some commands to communicate with them). While the design made sense, playing SOS always turned out to be a tiring chore and a test of patience due to the lack of precision when it comes to control response.

Adding further to challenge is the occasional shift of the capsized shift which changes the angles of the interiors which instantly alters the difficulty on moving around and jumping to the essential platforms (to progress to the next place). The shifting was visually done using the SNES’ Mode 7 feature. For the newcomers reading this, Mode 7 is the graphics mode unique to the SNES which enables scaling and rotating of the background image. While the sprites and 2D art in this game lacked punch, it is the Mode 7 feature that really added some quality to SOS’ visuals temporarily.

The more survivors you help and take with you to the very end, the better the ending will be.
You can also swim through flood sections.

More on the difficulty, the artificial intelligence (AI) programmed for the survivors that you can choose to rescue is pretty low which leads to a lack of response whenever your character calls them to follow you to get to the next level and survive. Not only were there times the other characters did not respond, some got even stuck in tight places.

As this game has 1-hour countdown in real time, making a mistake is costly. For example, you jump but fail to reach a crucial platform and fall down into the abyss and die will lead to your character respawning but with a noticeable amount of time reduced. Considering the lack of precision on controls and other factors, this made SOS challenging and frustrating to play.

If only the other survivors were more responsive to your calls…

And then there is the challenge to get the best possible ending you could by means of rescuing as many other survivors as you could and reach the very end with them. To put it this way, if you decide to be completely self-centered, disregard all the other survivors and make your way to the end without them, will result a really bad ending. You rescue more and make it alive with them, then the ending will get better.

Conclusion

If you fall and die, your character will respawn but with an amount of time reduced.

SOS has a very nice concept of adventuring that focuses mainly on survival and involves no combat and certainly no clear enemies to encounter. It is just too bad that the flaws of this game made it more frustrating to play and very few people will actually get to enjoy it.

If you own a working SNES and you are thinking about buying an existing copy of SOS, I do not recommend buying it with your precious money. Better rent it instead.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com