Wednesday 15 January 2014

We Remember - A Game Art Genius - Greg Martin

GamesYouLoved remember Greg Martin as great contributor 80’s and 90’s graphic design and gaming.

In gaming’s infancy the cover was usually the only thing we had to go on to get any insight into what a videogame was about. Many a game would be bought on the merit of some brilliantly detailed fantasy or sci-fi box-art and well designed logo title, and often it would be infinitely better graphically than the very game it was promoting.

Back in my early days of gaming I would often pop down to my local games store to browse the various games available for both the system I owned (Amiga) and other platforms of the time. I spent a great deal of time as a teen, mooching about in the classic games outlets, vying for a go on an imported Super Famicon (And rarely did I get a go!). I consequently spent a lot of time looking at the box-art for games and this imagery has stuck with me.

As with most media, be it album covers, film posters, or video cassettes, much of the best early video game art was hand-drawn, painted or airbrushed. In this was pre-Photoshop era eye-catching design was crucial if you were to try and stand out in the crowd (or the on the shelf). One key artist whose art did stand out from the crowd was Greg martin.

Unfortunately, Greg Martin has recently passed away. He was the man behind box and promo art for countless classic titles for Sega, Hudson, Capcom and Namco for many 8bit and 16bit platforms. His art has been used for covers for games for such famous franchises as Sonic, Pac-Man, the Adventure Island series and cartoon licensed games from Disney and Hanna Barbera.

Early on Martin had worked for Hanna Barbera's studios, learning the the form and characterisations for their most famous characters from Flintstones to Yogi Bear, even working in the same office as a young Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame.

Influenced by other illustration greats such as Frank Frazetta, he would produce beautiful 24 to 30 inch airbrushed paintings that took nearly a week to complete, often working through the night to meet the tight deadlines demanded by the distributors. This didn’t seem to compromise the quality of his work.

I feel that we often took the boxart for granted, overlooking the skill and craft involved in producing something so integral in selling the product. The graphic artists behind such imagery are the unsung heroes of retro gaming, giving many of our favourite retro titles their character and identity; and this is what we remember the most.

Greg Martin was certainly one such craftsman. His art, although often regarded as ‘just pop-art’, is important for us older gamers. His beautifully detailed art is stamped on my mind reminding me of those days of ‘mooching’, and such reminiscing makes me smile. 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

A Life of Gaming - Mike Rouse - Lift London

A Life of Gaming
by Mike Rouse - Studio Director at Lift London - Microsoft

1982, the first CD is sold in Japan, the first colour pictures of Venus are sent back from Vanera 13 and Time Magazine name THE COMPUTER as the man of the year. Gadgets and gizmos are starting to become common place, VHS players, Walkman, IBM PC, tape recorders, big CRT colour TVs and the video gaming revolution is in full flow. My dad has quit his job at IBM in the UK as a programmer and has moved to South Africa to work for AngloAmerica. He’s in his late 20’s and is the original gadget collector. He’s also a casual gamer, playing ASCII pinball on his IBM and an old console that had a PING PONG (Magnavox Odyssey). 

I’m five and although I play on both the IBM and Odyssey from time to time I’m not really into games,  I live in a warm country so I’m out and about on my BMX and playing with my younger brother and my friends. But its 1982, the year EA, Ultimate Play the Game (Rare) and MicroProse are formed. This is the year when Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong Jr. is released, Q*Bert, Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Utopia (the first sim game), Joust, Robotron: 2084, Tron Arcade (released before the film), Pole Position, Zaxxon, Xevious and the fabled E.T the Extra-Terrestrial (one of the biggest failures in the history of video games) are released to gaming audiences at home and in the arcades. It’s also the year when one of the biggest film licenses in the world has its first game release, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on the Intellivision and Atari 2600.

This was a must have game for my dad, so not long after the games release my dad brought home a brand new Intellivision and a copy of Star Wars. This console and game changed everything for me. The graphics were amazing and so was the sound, the console was so easy and convenient to use and it was cartridge based. Over the next five years our game collection grew, and I played as often as I was allowed to. I loved playing B-17 Bomber with the Intellivoice, Night Stalker and Lock ‘N Chase as well as a host of other games. The Intellivision formed the majority of my gaming experiences, until sometime in 1987 when our local shopping store got in 2 arcade machines. One I think was Pac-Man the other was Double Dragon. I can remember going every day after school to the store to play Double Dragon. I was hooked, consoles no longer held any appeal, I started to hang-out at the arcades and spent all my pocket money on arcade machines. I played a ton of games in the arcades and have so many favorites, allot from the 90s. One that kept me in the arcade for hours was Street Fighter II it was also the game that brought me back to consoles.

I moved back to the UK when I was 12 in 1989, still getting the majority of my gaming from the arcades. I had the NES and Master System by this point, both had great games but there was still nothing like what I could get in the arcades. Then in early 1994 I got a copy of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition for my Megadrive. Here was a game that was able to replicate my arcade experiences with the added convenience of it being in my house. I had fallen in love with consoles again. As I started to replace visits to the arcades with more hours on consoles I began looking for new and better experiences across multiple platforms and this was the beginning of my games collection.

I have a modest collection which could have been quite alot bigger if I did not sell a large portion of it in 1999 to pay for food and maybe a little drink while at University. I always kick myself as I think back to the games and consoles I sold during that period. Snatcher, Suikoden, Panasonic 3DO and all the games, original Game Boy, 100+ boxed SNES games and the list goes on. It used to be that trying to buy back these lost treasures was restricted to Ebay and a very few online retailers, but there seems to be a renaissance in classic and retro gaming. Similar to vinyl records which have seen their highest sales this year since 1997, the popularity and the distribution channels for classic and retro gaming are growing. A small number of boutique stores have sprung up and dedicated online specialists have started to appear. I love browsing through a store’s inventory of old SNES games and online specialist offer the choice and subject expertise that Ebay can’t. The revival of these bricks & mortor and online specialists have become a great source for my gaming collection.

My collection currently consists of 784 complete boxed games, 310 digital games on PSN, Live, and Steam, iOS, Nintendo eShop and Windows. I have a custom built MAME cab with coin-op, custom art work, Sanwa Bat top sticks, Ultralux lit buttons, 2.1 speakers and custom lit marquee. There’s probably a couple of thousand games on there, allot them obscure Japanese beat ‘em ups. I also have 44 consoles, everything from a 2600 to a Vectrex to a Mega CD mk1 (my favourite console) and nearly every major console released from 1990 to the very latest next gen. I have a ton of peripherals and special edition peripherals like the JogCon which came with the Ridge Racer Type 4. And I have allot gaming paraphernalia and merchandise. The collection is steadily growing, every week I get something new. Just this week I bought Rings of Power for the Megadrive. This game was Naughty Dogs first console game. My passion for gaming goes beyond my collection and my hobby, it is also my Job. I’ve been creating games for 14 years now starting off as a junior 3D artist and now as a studio director. I’ve worked for both Sony and Microsoft. Working in the games industry has allowed me build a truly unique games collection.

My collection does have the same games as most other game collections, some rarer than others but I also have truly unique games and paraphernalia. Working in games has allowed me to meet and work with my heroes. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and demo my game to
Shigeru Miyamoto who has signed my 1st run copy of The legend of Zelda for the NES. I’ve worked with and discussed the finer points of games design with Keiji Inafune co-creator of Rockman (Megaman in the west). Inafune-san was also kind enough to sign a custom piece of artwork from one of his games. I have a ton of signed games from colleagues that have worked on some classic games. Friends have donated games that were never released, some are sequels or spin offs from some of the biggest franchises in gaming history. There are the games I’ve made, TIF, The Getaway, Black Monday, Singstar, Dancestar, Wonderbook all signed by the teams and a ton of promotional and unique merchandise to go along with them. There are gold and platinum plaques for those that sold millions of copies. I co-created PlayStation Home and on the launch of the social gaming service we commissioned a special artwork plaque created by Michael Place. Michael is one of my favorite artists, I became a fan after seeing his artwork in the original WipEout on PlayStation. There are limited edition press packs, toys and figures that will never be released. I’ve not only collected but have been part of gaming history. In 2007 at E3 Sony hosted for the first time ever their conference in a virtual world, PlayStation Home. I was behind the stage with 9 massive PS3 dev kits controlling and directing the virtual show live. It was also fantastic seeing the PlayStation trophy system go live on every PS3 in the world, having created the high level direction. And now my studio is about to make gaming history again, with an original and new universe of characters and stories.

There are people I know that don’t share and don’t understand my love for games. These people won’t know the great nostalgic feeling you get from playing classic and retro games, the complete immersion of new worlds and stories games give us. Our game collections contain some of the most compelling stories every written, the most emotional music ever composed, the most thought provoking artwork ever created and amazing universes for us to visit and play in. 

As we study our anthropology there is no doubt in my mind that gaming is now a part of this. It is ingrained in popular modern culture and as it goes in popularity so will those that want to capture its past.  

A Guest Blog Review by Mike Rouse
Studio Director - Lift London

Sunday 12 January 2014

Retro Domination. A World of Gaming in Australia and beyond

GamesYouLoved go in the World of Retro Domination in Australia and speak to the team who tell us about their huge passion in life. Retro Games.

Retro Domination Team at PAX AUS 2013
So Pete - for those who don't know you - tell us about why you started Retro Domination?

Pete The idea came about 2 years prior to starting the site, having worked within the gaming industry for close to 6 years at the time running Console Domination I had always had a strong desire to expand the site out to cover retro gaming as well.

It wasn’t until late 2011 that I came across a YouTuber called RetroGamerTim which sparked an idea on how I could expand out the brand which has been created. Originally Retro Domination was to be a small feature on the current generation gaming site Console Domination. That was short lived as I was introduced to a fantastic and dedicated team that have a genuine passion for pop culture and of course retro gaming. 

As the saying goes from there the rest is history and Retro Domination is now a standalone site and part of the Console Domination Gaming Network.

Tim's MVS Cabinet
How did you get involved with Retro Domination?

Tim: Well prior to RD starting I was doing a few videos on YouTube on my RetrogamerTim Channel, as id watched a lot of retro gamers through the years and wanted to give something back to the community.

Oddly Peter found my videos interesting enough to have them feature on his gaming site, Console Domination. So for a few months, I’d be tucked away in the lower left corner of the site with my own little section of Retro Gaming vids.

I was also invited along to their podcast, and being that I enjoyed gaming podcasts, relished the opportunity. From that point, we lured in Mark, Daz and Matt and we drummed the idea of doing a Retro Podcast. Would it work? Would anyone listen? Will it be a great way for friends to catch up and have a good old yarn about classic gaming?
Yes, yes and yes.

Daz's Game Room
Darren: Doing the odd article and helping out with media events for Console Domination, Peter asked if Tim and I were interested in doing a Retro Podcast seeing Tim’s YouTube retro videos were doing well. After the first Podcast was recorded I knew this was I wanted to do.

Mark: Daz and I have been friends since we were but wee lads and we had known Tim for a couple of years before RD was started. Prior to starting with the team, I had basically muscled my way on to an episode of the original Console Domination podcast (via Tim) and was introduced to Pete. I guess he liked what he heard, because I was then asked back to help out with a Nintendo E3 special. Fast forward a few months, Pete asked me if I'd be interested in joining the RD team permanently and the rest is history!

Matt: It was a combination of my love of retro video games and my friendship with Darren Borg. Darren introduced me to the owner, Peter Biu and the rest was Retro history.

Matt's Game Room
What are some your highlights of running the Retro Domination brand?

Darren: Where do I start? Being the Media contact for the site, I get to speak to many people in the scene. Some of the main highlights include speaking with Ben Daglish, Jeroen Tel, Andrew Hewson and Ryuichi  Nishizawa (Wonderboy Creator).Hosting the Classic Console Area at PAX AUS 2013. But the biggest highlight for me is the support and encouraging words from our fan base. They make it all worth it.

Tim: I could say chatting to “industry legends” or “YouTube heroes”, but honestly, the thing that’s kept me here, is the friendships I’ve made with the guys on the team. Chatting at length about the Sega Master System or the Neo Geo, and seeing the passion that all these guys have is amazing. I mean, we have a fantastic fan base on Facebook and our podcasts get a lot of hits… but at the end of the day, the best part is my friends.

Mark's Cabinet
Why did you start a podcast and what type of things do you cover?

Darren: Due to the popularity of retro gaming, Pete thought it would be a great idea to form a team. We needed a couple more people to join, Mark and Matt were childhood friends of mine and I knew they would fit in perfectly. We cover everything from retro gaming, movies, toys, memories as kids and heaps more. We also have guests on the show consisting of Youtubers and game industry people.

Tim: It’s a medium I’ve always enjoyed, I loved listening to guys like Radical Rascals or the Operation Killscreen podcasts, and felt it was a fantastic way to convey our love for classic gaming.

What do we cover? Well there are currently forty odd episodes so…a lot!

What’s the Retro Gaming scene like in Australia for those outside the country - give us a flavour and insight?

Mark:  One word: Expensive. Take a game that will sell for $5 in the US and you'll be lucky to get it for under $20 here. I also find that there is definitely more loyalty to Sega over Nintendo here (although Nintendo still gets its fair share of love!) as opposed to the US and there is definitely a ton of love for the vintage computer scene here too. We seem to mirror Europe more than we do the US.

Tim: It was good back in the day, but in the advent of “YouTube game hunting pick up frenzy”, it’s made it really costly here.  Considering we are a PAL region also, this makes the prices even higher.

So lately all of my purchases have been off shore, either from Japan (as I am a bit of a Sega Mark 3 fiend), the UK or America.  So any retro collectors expecting to come here for a holiday expecting bargains…trust me, they’re cheaper where you are!

Darren: It’s a double edged sword, first you have serious collectors who are happy to chat about all things retro, but the worst part are the prices and what resellers are charging for retro gear is ridiculous. I do purchase my gear from the UK and USA as it’s still cheaper for me even with shipping on top.

Mick Gordon and Pete
Any exciting plans for 2014?

Pete: Last year we co-hosted “The Classic Console Area” at PAX in Melbourne. This year we are working on bringing fans of the golden era something much bigger. With planning already under away for the show that will take place again in Melbourne in late October our aim to showcase the most impressive display of playing Consoles and more. I can’t go into too much detail but let’s just say it will feel like you have travelled back to the 80’s that’s for sure.

Tell us about some of the interesting people you have met on social media?

Matt: We have been fortunate to meet some really great people: Gregg Hansen from Arcade Impossible, who came to Australia for PAX 2013! Johnny Millennium (Happy Console Gamer), Rob Man, Billy & Jay aka The Game Chasers, Bajo and Hex from the Australian ABC TV show ‘Good Game’, Jon Hare,  the founder of Sensible Software, Andrew Hewson from Hewson Consultants, and Walter Day from Twin Galaxies!

Darren: Where do I start? My C64 heroes Ben Daglish, Jeroen Tel and Andrew Hewson. Walter Day was a huge honor to have on the show! Meeting Tim Schafer,  Bajo from ABC’s TV Show Good Game and Mick Gordon (Killer Instinct music creator (Xbox One). I’ve also become very good friends with fellow retro gamers like Alex from Aus Retro gamer and Aleks Serblander from Weird and Retro.

Tim: Most notably, Walter Day the founder of Twin Galaxies. He was certainly a character and one of the few interviewees I was in awe of!
Aside from Mr. Day, amazing industry guys like Mark “TDK” Knight and the very generous and very humble Ryuichi Nishizawa (Sega/Westone).

YouTube guys like Johnny Millennium, Rob Man and Gamester 81 were also fun to chat to, always interesting to hear how someone else was brought up through the early days of classic Gaming.

Who’s on my wish list? Yu Suzuki.

Tell us about some of the events you guys have attended in Australia and even overseas?

Matt: Darren & I were able to attend the Game Masters exhibition 
Which was held in Melbourne. It was a celebration of Arcade and gaming through the years and the keynote speaker was none other than Lucas Arts great Tim Schafer, responsible for some of the best Adventure games of all time. Of course the highlight light for 2013 was helping to run the Classic Console gaming area at PAX Australia. Darren & Tim were also able to attend some media events for THQ and other publishers on behalf of Console Domination, and team were also able to attend Shadowloo Showdown, an Australian fighting game tournament that attracts some of the best players in the world!

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to attend any events overseas, but hopefully 2014 will change that!

The Retro Domination Team
Who do you guys follow in the retro scene - any shout outs?

Darren: Big fan and dear friend Gregg Hansen of Arcade Impossible, Johnny Millennium, Luke Morse, Ausretrogamer , Weird and Retro and GameSack

Matt: I particularly enjoy watching AVGN (aka James Rolfe), Arcade Impossible with our good friend Gregg Hansen, and I also listen to the Radical Rascals podcast.  

Mark: Locally, our good friend Alex from Aus Retro Gamer, our boys over at Retrospekt and those cool dudes from Weird & Retro. Otherwise, I'm a big fan of Luke Morse. His repair videos and game play videos are great and informative, but I particularly love his Japanese cultural videos too. Of course, the Johnny & Rob Man from the Happy Console Gamer channel get a big shout out. Johnny Millennium’s enthusiasm is just too damn infectious! Last, but certainly not least is the ever so handsome Green Hansen from Arcade Impossible!

What are some of your favorite games of all time and why?
Tim: Yu Suzuki’s’ Shenmue. It was a game that I loved. You were drawn into this amazing world with a sense of freedom to explore in gorgeous 3D. Where you could walk in to a shop and look and pick up every item for sale. It just was, and still is an absolute treasure of a game, and genre defining too.
Aside from that, I hold the very early Neo Geo titles close to my heart. I was always impressed by the graphics, beautiful sprites and larger than life characters. Games such as Magician Lord, Samurai Showdown, Fatal Fury really blew me away back in the early 90s.  They just seemed a step above the average Capcom or Konami brawler.

Darren: Of all time, it’s definitely Wonderboy in Monsterland (I own signed copies of the cart and have a dedicated arcade board) and I’m a big fan of the Street Fighter series. Many C64 games like Myth, Mayhem in Monsterland, Creatures 2, Hammerfist and the Last Ninja Series. Shinobi series, Midnight Resistance, Heavy Barrel, Karnov, Silent Hill, Castlevania  Symphony of the Night and anything Neo Geo, I could go on.  Atari 2600,C64 and Sega Mega Drive are my fav platforms of gaming. C64 and 2600 because I grew up playing them and Sega Mega Drive for the fact it was my next big jump in gaming and that it felt like I had an arcade in my home.

Mark: The Street Fighter series is number one. The impact  that it has had on my life is really hard to put into words, but I love fighters in general (both 2D & 3D). Prior to Street Fighter II, i was a huge fan of Final Fight and Double Dragon. Guess I'm just a fan of animated violence! I’m also very much into World of Warcraft and have spent countless hours questing, raiding, etc. Finally, I also have a soft spot for shmups, despite being really lousy at them!

Matt: Wow, hard question! I have always enjoyed adventure games, specifically from Sierra and LucasArts. Sierra being the pioneers of the text based adventure game and creating some of the best games of its kind, such as Kings Quest, Police Quest and the Leisure Suit Larry Series. I also really enjoyed Maniac Mansion, Loom and the Monkey Island Series. I liken these games to the “Choose your own Adventure” books, being able to mould the ending based on your decisions. Even though there was only one ending with these games, it still felt personalised.

Thanks guys - keep up the great work! 'GamesYouLoved Team'