Category Archives: N64

Glover

glover6This is a 3D platforming game from the late-nineties about an anthropomorphic glove, and its ball. They don’t get any more abstract than this. Considering, though, that two of the best and most popular 3D platforming main characters were a plumber with various magical caps, and a bear with a red bird in its backpack, the outlandishness of Glover‘s protagonist is, strangely, neither here nor there.

Glover is such a different game from your standard late-nineties 3D platformer because its fundamental game-play concept revolves around coordinating yourself with, and balancing yourself against your only tool–a ball–which is both indispensably useful for your cause, but incredibly dangerous. The player, as Glover, must bounce, throw, and roll this ball in order to manipulate the game environment and solve puzzles. What makes performing these actions so innovative is that the physics of this undertaking in Glover is so realistic. When the player stands on top of the ball, the controls become inverted. When Glover’s ball is thrown or bounced against a surface, it bounces away from it along a realistic trajectory. At the touch of a button, you’re able to transform the quality of your sphere, which can make it lighter or heavier, more or less elastic and so on. After coming to master these basic ideas around which Glover was based, the player should start to feel like they’re not so much struggling to master and dominate an inanimate object, but beginning to enter into a partnership with a silent and uncommunicative, but nonetheless willingly cooperative second character.

Glover (E) (M3)The unusual nature of working with a ball to explore and interact with a 3D platformer might place the player on a steep learning curve at first, but it manages to open up a strange and interesting new perspective through which to view what might have become a stale and boring game genre. The player is sure to have never seriously thought about just how complex it really is to transport themselves up some stairs, or about coordinating themselves up and around a series of simple slopes. The added difficulty is definitely palpable, but with Glover, a large, varied, and endlessly useful move-set is at one’s disposal. Glover’s ball is a means for such things as reaching distant items and straddling high perches, destroying walls, floating on water, defeating enemies, and providing a speedy escape to tight situations. The incredible number of things that Glover‘s developer has managed to enable the player to do with this ball is pretty damn clever.

glover2While glimpses of this kind of game-play can be seen in games such as Super Mario Galaxy, the nature of Glover as a 3D platformer takes on a completely different character to other games in its genre due to its total reliance on bouncing, rolling and throwing. Getting coordinated with Glover‘s ball-based mechanics can at first be difficult, but mastering it will lead to very satisfying game-play.

Game-play aside, the game’s visuals are colourful and appealing, and it seldom suffers from any frame-rate slowdown or texture clipping. The game’s textures themselves are simple, but they work together harmoniously to show off a well-constructed atmosphere. Glover‘s worlds are incredibly abstract, but satisfyingly coherent, and never shallow. Levels are frequently large, and the N64’s draw-distance (Z-buffer) limitations are ‘concealed’ with copious amounts of fog. This is a bit disappointing because you might find yourself wanting to look beyond the immediate puzzle at hand and give yourself some bearing–and being unable to do so. Other than that, Glover manages to exploit the features of the N64 reasonably well.

glover5 If you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t given Glover a spin. If you have, and think Glover‘s not really worth anyone’s time, then you haven’t really been responding to what it’s asking you to do. In many places it will be challenging your hard-wired platforming sensibilities very aggressively.

With so much to offer at dirt cheap prices on eBay, you don’t have anything to lose–and so much to gain!–by picking up a copy of Glover.

 

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More Unbridled Praise for Lobotomy Software/Ezra Dreisbach

It’s worth re-mentioning the virtues of putting effort into good game design in connection with the Sega Saturn once more before it gets old.

In this interview (with, again, Ezra Dreisbach) about the Saturn port of Quake, the reader can find more evidence of Lobotomy Software’s attention to detail in their game design. For quick reference, compare the quality of the level design between the Saturn and the N64 in these two screenshots:

N64

quake n64

Saturn

quake saturn

Needless to say, the N64 might have featured better hardware, but Saturn owners were rewarded with a better game. Of particular note is Dreisbach’s repeated attention to dynamic lighting.

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S-Video for your N64

svideo_for_pal_n64

If you’re not one to emulate, and you want to get the most out of your N64, you might want to look into acquiring a cheap S-Video AV cable for your console from eBay.

S-Video is the best method of maximising the video quality from your N64 without having to full-on mod it: it splits up the colour (chroma) and brightness (luma) information into two separate channels, which are usually combined when being delivered to your TV through a (yellow) composite cable. The result is that S-Video retains and preserves video data better than both RF-modulated and composite encoded video.

Crawl

Dot crawl: you’ve definitely seen this before!

S-Video is a particularly practical way of improving picture quality in older consoles because many issues with such consoles’ video can be attributed to the way chroma and luma are encoded. Interference between colour and brightness information is frequently the culprit for bad picture quality, and not an outright lack or loss of picture definition (many older consoles being designed for the purpose of interfacing directly with an analogue TV, its circuitry being timed to its scan lines). A classic example of chroma-luma interference in games due to imperfect (and unavoidable) composite video encoding is dot crawl.

before-mega drive s-video

Mega Drive Composite Video Output http://www.davidhowland.com/mod/

The trouble with many of these N64 S-Video cables is that they produce an image on your TV that is too bright. There is a fix for this, and it is pretty simple. The diagram above illustrates resistors placed between ground and every video channel of an AV cable, but all that is sufficient is that a single resistor be placed between luma and ground. Using a 1K-ohm trimmer pot is a fairly convenient resistor to use because it allows one to adjust the picture brightness very carefully. Although it takes some fairly patient soldering, the results are definitely worthwhile. Being able to play Banjo Tooie, Perfect Dark or Rogue Squadron in S-Video in 640 x 480 is a fairly rewarding experience. What I found pretty damn gratifying was being able to properly resolve a couple of my favourite Jet Force Gemini levels!

after mega drive s-video

After S-Video modding a Mega Drive http://www.davidhowland.com/mod/

On the left you’ll find some before-and-after images from an S-Video hardware mod undertaken on davidhowland.com. While the difference in video quality is partly exaggerated by camera focus, you can see how the brightness and colour information have interfered with one-another.

Nintendo 64 Analogue Stick Replacement

Worn out thumbstick piecesEDIT: Jump’nshoot 9000 has moved to a dot-com domain! Find us here: jumpnshoot9000.com

This forum thread post (full thread here) contains a really useful comparison of the various third-party N64 controller-stick replacements that are currently being developed. While the N64’s controller assembly was prone to wearing out after long-term use, in terms of the history of video gaming, it stands out as important for innovating the way the players could interact with the games of the first generation of 3D gaming. The N64 controller was particularly deftly designed (compare the threshold-angles of the various controller-sticks under the heading Sensitivity), and it allowed for the revolutionising of video game concepts by facilitating a precise level of control–think Super Mario 64.

One particular analogue stick replacement that shows a lot of promise uses an assembly not dissimilar from that used in GameCube controllers. This replacement has the long-desired feature of long-term durability, but it isn’t as accurate (in terms of step analogue step-skipping, response-time, and being far too sensitive relative to the controller’s dead-zone–see the data produced from the poster’s fantastic trials) as the official OEM N64 controller-stick.

Partially worn N64 Analog Thumbstick Assembly

Despite the fact that none of these replacement analogue sticks are perfect, the amount of money you would spend giving them a trial shouldn’t really exceed the risk of them not meeting a satisfactory standard.

Glover 2 Prototype

Just to postpone the article on Gex 64 and ports, this surfaced on NESworld last year: a prototype cartridge of Glover 2. Glover itself suffered from a terrible port to the PlayStation in 1999, so this post may bear some oblique relevance to porting in general.

Aside from its porting history, Glover was another one of those overlooked late-90s puzzle platformers that didn’t deserve its descent into obscurity. Admittedly, it was the product of Hasbro Interactive’s then high-flying video game corporatism — and not the result of a more altruistic artistic initiative — but, in itself, it is a pretty solid game.

The major difference that the cancelled sequel seems to harbour over its original is that it focuses more on NPC interaction and direction, rather than stripped-back abstract puzzle environments. It also appears to demonstrate environments that are more approachable and dynamic in terms of design — also a turn away from the abstractness of the original. To my mind this is a watering down of a game that had some fairly strong conceptual coherence into something more approachable to the general public (read: child audience).

Really, what we have with Glover is another example of how games are (evidently, sometimes unsuccessfully) ported and turned into franchises through sequels.

Rare Fan Database

Where are the team that built Banjo Kazooie now?

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Unseen 64

You should check this site out!

Some links that might interest the reader include Ocarina of Time beta and prototype builds, and some early N64 tech demos.

There’s more trivia and obscure information about other consoles, too.

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Dinosaur Planet

The part of the content of the Rare game that was turned into the much maligned Star Fox Adventures has just been exposed!

 

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Space Station Silicon Valley

The first thing that needs to be noted about this game is that it makes it seem like Mario 64 has aged well. While it does feel unpolished, and definitely doesn’t handle the N64’s texture cache limitations very well, SSSV is definitely worth your time.

The first outstanding thing about the game is its concept. You play as the sole-remaining micro-chip of a robot whose mission, along with your aging companion, Danger Dan, is to explain the disappearance of a Professor on a planet-like space station.

You have the ability to attach yourself to the cybernetically-ev0lved fauna of the space station, and control their minds. In this way you can exploit the many and varied special abilities of these cyborg animals.

There sheep that can float, which you can use to achieve impossible jumps. Rats that lay explosive turds, dogs with rocket-launchers, mice that can achieve Formula One-like speeds… There’s a lot of imagination in this game.