(insert ocean sounds here)

About ten years ago, when the world was still young, I discovered an amazing, beautiful, and elegant little flash game called Levers. Poking around Vectorpark, the homepage of Levers, revealed numerous amazing little Flash gizmos, toys, and almost-games, many of which completely confounded me when I started learning Flash myself and tried to figure out how they’d been done. I’ve checked back in at Vectorpark from time to time, and I’ve made sure to always keep Levers in my browser bookmarks so I could come back to it over the years.

Today I learned two things:

  1. Although I’d presumed for a long time that Vectorpark was a team of wizards living in some far-off land, it’s actually just one guy in Brooklyn
  2. He’s made another flash game, called Windosill

Windosill stops halfway through and asks you for $3 for the rest. Since I’ve been enjoying this guy’s work for 10 years, I’m more than happy to give him $3, and indirectly support Dan Cook’s ludicrously optimistic notion that Flash games can make money. You’re welcome to decide for yourself whether or not to pay for the whole game, although I have to say that I’m certainly all for people being conditioned to not think twice about paying $3 for a clever little game.

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Light Up the Night

The Protomen LogoI always feel a little weird jonesing for The Protomen, since I can’t help but shake the feeling that I’m the last person to know about them in the first place. I somehow managed to not get the memo about them for like three years after their eponymous first album was released, and in spite of chatter that I know I heard, I was first introduced to them through an AMV linked I-don’t-even-remember-where. This post is full of shame!

Now that those unpleasant admissions are behind me, I should get to the real point: The Protomen are a band who, in 2005, released a rock opera based on the Megaman games. They’ve actually produced something far more original and high-quality than you’d expect from that brief descriptor; their first album took the characters of the early NES Megaman games, mixed them with the darker, post-apocalyptic tone of the later Mega Man X games, and turned them into an Orwellian story about Megaman’s quest to liberate the world from Dr. Wily and his army of robots. Though bleak in tone, it’s got a far wider stylistic range than you’d see from most bands; it’s a catchy, solid album. After this, the Protomen were relatively quiet for several years as a sequence of Code: Not This Shit Again countdowns appeared on their website- but finally, earlier this month, they released their second album- Act II: The Father of Death.

Act II, unexpectedly, is actually a prequel to The Protomen, expanding on the background of Doctors Light and Wily. It’s interesting but unsurprising that The Protomen seem to be moving away from major copyrighted characters- while Dr. Light is the main character of Act II, it also devotes a lot of time to Dr. Light’s wife Emily and the prototype robot Joe. The Protomen seem to assign different styles to different characters- Dr. Light’s blues-y sound or Joe’s so-very-80s rock. There are a couple subtle callbacks to their first album as well- it’s a nice touch.

There are a couple issues with Act 2- the ‘story’, such as it is, feels a little garbled at points. Breakin’ Out is a good song, but I’m not entirely sure where it fits in with the big picture- I’m not sure who’s singing, but there’s no character for whom it makes sense. As with The Protomen, the story is ultimately rather bleak, even if it does have some notable high points. These are minor complaints, though- it’s absolutely worth listening to, though, and a solid followup to The Protomen.

Both The Protomen and Act 2 are available on iTunes- they’re definitely worth checking out.

– HC

On buried treasures and Game Boy shooters

ZAS It surprises me at times how many buried treasures there are out there. I suppose it really shouldn’t; there are a lot of video games released on a yearly basis, and there have been for a great many years. It’s still kind of amazing to me how many excellent games there are that nobody’s really aware of, languishing in the godforsaken backwaters of a ROM site’s list-by-name index, waiting to be discovered.

This brings me to Chikyuu Kaihou Gun ZAS, a game first brought to my attention by ShellShock over on the Hardcore Gaming 101 forums, which- as far as I know- he first discovered while researching an exhaustive article on Game Boy shooters for his site, Blame The Control Pad. Simply put, it’s one of the most technically impressive Game Boy games I’ve ever played and is a solid, fun, well-designed shooter as well. It doesn’t deserve the obscurity it exists in.

ZAS is a vertically-scrolling shooter; it has both the wide-open stages which are typical of vertical shooters and also more claustrophobic stages with walls and obstacles, similar to those in most horizontally-scrolling shooters, or the vertical sections of Life Force. The game alternates between the two until the fifth and final level- the first and third stages are ‘open’ stages, while the second, fourth, and final stages follow the Life Force model. Your ship’s only real gimmick is that it has two small, option-like ships which hover beside it- these can either be retracted for a narrow, powerful shot or extended for a wider attack. Beyond that, there really isn’t a whole lot to it- there are ‘shield’ pickups and straightforward weapon pickups, but your the gameplay is fairly straightforward beyond that.

Level design is where ZAS shines. Many shooters, particularly from the NES era, have a certain pervasive sameyness- stages all feel the same, and enemies are either repeated or reskinned versions of the same ones you’ve seen previously. This is not the case in ZAS- each stage features unique enemies and a unique ‘feel’. The stages themselves are fairly standard shooter material, but they’re solid and fun to play through.

Graphically speaking, ZAS is very impressive for a game boy game- although everything’s reduced to the typical creamed-spinach-color sprites of the original Game Boy’s palette, ZAS’ sprites are pretty impressive. Through a bit of a clever technique, ZAS’ designers have actually created a parallax-scrolling background on the Game Boy. They have accomplished this feat by actually using a pair of backgrounds and flipping back and forth between them- which, given the low refresh rate of the game boy’s screen, actually looks pretty good on the hardware it was intended for.

ZAS is a surprisingly good game- it’s a technically impressive project that deserves much more attention than it’s gotten, particularly in the obscure-game-hunting circles.

– HC