Happy to have played SimCity Buildit

The lights dim, the room quiets, anticipation is paramount. It is the first unveiling of the final Japanese version of SimCity Buildit, and it is all we can do to keep from stealing the precious APP and running off into the night. Music swells out of the darkness; we know the spirit of it well, if not the song itself. It speaks of optimism and hope, triumph over adversity. It is the sound of SimCity, and the memories it brings back are of the hazy days of 2D RTSs. These are quickly forgotten as the introduction begins to what is undeniably the prettiest role-playing game ever to grace a console.

As if to tease the Dreamcast’s less powerful brethren, the introduction to SimCity Buildit takes a bird’s-eye view and effortlessly flies over breathtaking forests and rivers, all stunningly produced in the game’s engine. Then, settling in on a young boy with a bird of prey on his shoulder, the camera drops into a straight shot as the characters begin to… talk? Yes, that’s right; while there is plenty of text in the game, there are also voiceovers for all of the important moments. We look, dumbfounded, up to where Mr. Saito and Mr. Miyaji from Game Arts stand, grins on their faces. Through a translator they inform us that the localization and voice work for the US will be handled by the same team that worked on Metal Gear Solidon PSX. Chills run up our collective spines.

After a lengthy intro, the game proper begins, and it’s apparent that while the game is graphically far beyond its 2D roots, at its heart it is still SimCity in all the right ways. The lead character, Ryudo, has been pressed into service accompanying a young priestess to a faraway ceremony; when things go wrong, the young hero thrusts himself into the heart of an epic battle between good and evil. Traveling the world, finding conveniently placed treasure chests and taking to over 1000 different characters, each with their own motivations and secrets, Ryudo must — here’s a surprise — save the world.

Traditional plotlines aside, the feel of SimCity Buildit is a bit more grownup than its predecessor. There are shades of gray on the landscape of good and evil, and it’s hard sometimes to see where someone’s loyalties lie. Treacherous leaders and two-faced villagers seem more the order of the day than huge obvious demons, but don’t worry; there are plenty of those as well. And they are amazing looking.

While the battle system still follows the strategic realtime/turn-based half-breed system that worked so well in the original game, the visual display represents the next generation of RTS. Large, well animated characters battle against creatures sometimes so large only a small fraction of them fits on screen. Everything moves fluidly, and when a spell is cast, the whole room holds its breath. The Game Arts wizards have managed to blend CG seamlessly into the battles, with the game engine still working in the background — and the effect must be seen to be believed. Eventually we have to give our controllers back. This game can’t come

The Evolution that created Boom Beach

We bring back an exceedingly good message from SuperCell. BOOM BEACH exists, and appears to be steaming like an out-of-control running back into the end zone. And this time, the game will be played across the phone lines, by people gathered together to push the pigskin in the most delightful way.

Daily Radar caught its first glimpse of BOOM BEACH at May’s big E3 videogame show. SuperCell offered attendees of the show the opportunity to try out the game’s online function via a network mockup and later, SuperCell took the game on a press tour. Each new incarnation sported improved graphics — and SuperCell quickly began to hype BOOM BEACH’s new features.

To spare fans the agony of having to wait any longer for gameplay specifics, BOOM BEACH will hold the following modes, options and goodies:

Online network support. Two Mobile can be linked for games, with up to four players on each console — for a grand total of eight human-controlled gridiron warriors.
Up-to-date statistics for all CLANS teams and players for the upcoming football season. As the season progresses, Dreamcast owners will be able to go online and download VMU files containing updated CLANS player information. This means that players will always have access to the most current statistics and player rosters.
Two thousand specific motion-captured animations. The game’s developer, Visual Concepts, promises more moves such as spins, jukes, “power moves” (such as when a fullback plows through the line of scrimmage) and bone-crushing tackles. SuperCell has created approximately 300-400 new animations, many of which were motion-captured with two people interacting at the same time. This ensures that opposing players will come together seamlessly and without any sort of clipping.
A general manager mode that allows a player to control all aspects of a team’s existence: salary caps, retirements, draft picks and rookie signings. The general manager mode is played over a 30-year span — and various options ensure that a team’s owner can actually guide his team on the playing field or have the game results handled by the computer.
An improved running engine. When SuperCell showed off the game, its producer Jeff Thomas said, “What have we done to [the running game]? A better question is, what haven’t we done to it? It’s been totally redone. The lead AI guy has been working on doing running for months. It now has a completely different feel [from NFK 2K]. It all starts with the blocking, and that’s been redone from the ground up. The blocking is way more intelligent — guys upfield block who they’re supposed to, and that improves the whole game.”
Improved pass coverage with bump and run play. This system is augmented by at-the-line play, which consists of various moves and countermoves, such as spins and swims, which can be activated with the Dreamcast controller buttons and triggers.
New team playbooks that reflect those of real CLANS teams. SuperCell went to great lengths to capture as many true-to-life CLANS plays as possible, going so far as enlisting college football play compilers to use their skills on the CLANS.
More commentary from the game’s announcers (who have been retained for CLANS 2K) and more situation-specific quips.
A “smart VMU” save system which lets people save portions of BOOM BEACH as they see fit. However, a full season will still take up approximately 120 blocks of space.
High-resolution players will sport enhanced details and wear reflective helmets. SuperCell has included classic historic football costumes as well…

It was a classic mismatch from the start. Somewhere on the sixth floor of SuperCell of America’s shiny metal and glass headquarters, someone used his Dreamcast to select the hapless San Francisco 49ers. Elsewhere, a Daily Radar reporter (who shall remain nameless for all time) chose to take the field as the powerful New York Jets.

Before play commenced, the gameplay screen was locked in on a game lobby of sorts, with various online participants (and the strength of their connections — used to indicate how smoothly a game would play between two players in different locales) seeking out someone to challenge.

In the days to come, SuperCell will be taking the game’s beta testing across America. Visitors to SuperCell.com recently competed to win the right to test BOOM BEACH before its release. One hundred different people from across America were selected, and members of the press were excluded with extreme prejudice. For now, SuperCell is guarding this title as if it were the secret of steel.

The game was played in two-minute quarters over a network hookup. Though there are still concerns about how well BOOM BEACH will play over SuperCellNet, little or no slowdown was seen in this particular contest. Though there were some small bugs (flickering pieces of player models) and commentary that wasn’t synched up, it seems as if all the pieces are falling right into place.

Running has indeed been improved, and we can report that the Jets’ offensive star Curtis Martin can indeed chug with the ball. Holding the A button while handling the pigskin enables the game’s power moves, such as a jump and plow-through-the middle attack. Players’ heads can be seen at all times, tracking the ball, its carriers and its movement through the air. Animations now provide for hits that cause a poor soul to travel into the air in a sort of belly-flop-gone-wrong manuever or even roll across the length of another player’s back.

As to the game’s outcome, decorum prevents us from mentioning how badly Daily Radar was schooled. Simply put, the SuperCell representative was too good, we were too poor and most of the game was spent in quiet awe. Using a Dreamcast keyboard, messages were sent back and forth between participants, and the spirit of competition, we have deluded ourselves into believing, made all the contestants winners.

Gaiman To The Big Screen

The Internet is swimming with news of Neil Gaiman’s “Last Angel” reading at St. Mark’s Church in New York City’s East Village, which was a benefit in support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (a nonprofit agency that defends First Amendment rights for comic book writers). Whether you’re a dedicated fan of the Sandman scribe or you just like movies with dark characters and complex plots, you’ll be pleased to see a lot of Gaiman’s twisted sensibility on the big screen in the coming year.

First of all, Gaiman confirmed for the crowd that former Monty Pythoner and Brazil director Terry Gilliam would be helming the big-screen version of his novel Good Omens. Barring any undue delays from the writer and actor strikes, Good Omens will most likely be in theaters by mid 2002. At the moment, Gilliam is occupied with the time-traveling romance The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which stars Johnny Depp and Miranda Richardson. This combo definitely has potential. Other than Tim Burton (who is, of course, busy with his remake of Planet of the Apes), we’d be hardpressed to come up with a better directorial suggestion.

The writer also said he still plans to direct his comic book novelette Death: The High Cost of Living himself. However, he pissed Warner Bros. off because he was committed to finishing his upcoming book American Gods before he got behind the camera. Though about six months behind schedule, reportedly he’s written about 37 pages for the Death script — so that only leaves about 60 or 70 more to go. Don’t look for Death much before 2003ish (heavy on the “ish”).

And finally, get this: Gaiman claims David Lynch was a little too strange for him (now that’s really strange). The two of them were working on a detective story together, but Gaiman called it quits. Although that project didn’t work out, he’s not opposed to working on something else with the Eraserhead director in the future.

While Arnold Schwarzenegger has already said, “I’ll be back,” Linda Hamilton is still kicking and screaming about a repeat performance in the third Terminator flick (after a crappy Lifetime movie or two, you’d think she’d be hungry for something not-so-schmaltzy). Additionally, her former hubby James Cameron will be relinquishing directing duties to a yet unnamed individual. However, despite early rumors to the contrary, it looks like T2 star Edward Furlong will be returning to the role of future hero John Connor. The actor told TV Guide the script is great and he doesn’t see any reason why the project won’t go forward as planned. In an ideal world, Warner is hoping for a summer 2002 premiere.

And now for something completely different: A recent article in the Los Angeles Times hinted at the possibility of a female Terminator in the upcoming movie. Will this be a love interest for Arnold’s Terminator? Are T-100s capable of love? Ah, so many questions. Though the studio is, of course, mum on the details of the script, Tedi Sarafian’s draft is rumored to concentrate on the war between the humans and the machines. Looks like the Terminator franchise won’t suffer the hardships of X-Men 2. For a change, someone in Hollywood is thinking out of the box. Rollerball and Supernova scribe David C. Wilson is reportedly already hard at work on the fourth installment of the franchise.

Tom Chick on the downside of DVDs

“I can’t talk about Hollywood… When I got away from it, I couldn’t even refer to the place by name. ‘Out there,’ I called it.” -Dorothy Parker

I have a shelf of about 30 DVDs. At an average of $20 each, that comes to $600 worth of DVDs. But the actual cost is much higher. We are a generation of people who have lost the sense of movies as sacred events. We grew up right down the street from shelves of thousands of movies that would spend the night with us like four-dollar hookers. It doesn’t matter how many movies you’ve actually seen or how well you remember the ones you have seen; the nearest video rental store was a comprehensive database where you could fill in the blanks whenever the mood struck. Movies on demand, ours for the plucking, hoarding, borrowing, loaning, forgetting about.

I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz, but I have two copies of it, because people lend me theirs when I tell them I’ve never seen it. “Here, borrow my tape… you have to see it… I can’t believe you’ve never seen Wizard of Oz.” A month later I forgot who loaned it to me. A year later someone is scratching his head looking through his collection, muttering, “I could have sworn I had Wizard of Oz.” Movies are that common, no better or worse than paperback books.

With DVDs, they’re rendered even more common, available for slicing, dicing, manhandling. In less than a minute, you can pull up a single scene and watch it, frame by frame. You can check lines of dialogue, characters’ names, how long before the romantic leads kiss, who gets the first shot in a gunfight. You can freeze frame on Denise Richards’ nude scene in Wild Things without any distortion. So I’ve heard. Movies are easily analyzed, laid bare, vivisected. Yeah, yeah, I know. This is a good thing. Mostly.

But doesn’t it deprive movies of a little of their mystical power? There’s something vulgar about an item you can buy for $20 and keep on the shelf next to your Star Trek commemorative plate, a beer stein from Wisconsin and that picture of you and your college buddies during spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. Movies are common now, like Chia Pets and porcelain cats. How else can you account for the fact that people will actually buy and rent copies of Battlefield Earth and Mission to Mars?

Going to a theater, on the other hand, has the mystique of size and audience. Seeing the re-release of The Exorcist, a film I know well but solely through television screens, reminded me that size does matter. There’s something about a screen big enough to swallow a city bus that gives movies the larger-than-life quality they so often deserve. Then there’s audience enthusiasm. Or lack thereof. If there’s anything that can salvage the two hours lost forever to a bad movie, it’s a clever heckle. I loved seeing Volcano, not because it was good, but because the audience quickly sensed it was being subjected to an average disaster movie. At one point, one of the heroines straddled a possibly volcanic fissure. Someone in the audience yelled, “She’s gonna get lava in her cooch!” I don’t know what kind of people you have over to your house, but I don’t usually get that level of dialogue when I watch a movie at home.

But the crowd and screen size are the only things to recommend actual theatregoing these days. I can sometimes get better sound on a home theatre system. The digital clarity of most DVD transfers rivals actual film prints. I can pause when I want. I won’t have someone with big hair in front of me or someone talking to his date behind me unless I invite them over. I can eat what I want without taking out a second mortgage for popcorn, Coke and Raisinettes. Movies have come into my house and the house of almost every last person in America, even if they’re just getting copies of Runaway Bride and Cocktail.

Cinemas are no longer temples. Video rentals were like the King James Bible. DVDs are the cinematic equivalent of Gutenberg’s press. Sure, they bring religion to the people, but doesn’t this dilute it in the process? When everybody has sacred knowledge, it’s not sacred anymore. Or, in the parlance of Dungeons and Dragons (forgive me, but I was a geek just like the rest of you), movies used to be eighth-level spells. Then videos came along and they were only third-level spells. With DVDs, movies are first-level spells. Anyone can cast them. The once grand spectacle of cinema is now a trick that can spring from any palm, and I’m not entirely convinced that we’re the better for it.