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FGC #572 Night Trap

It's a trapThe sooner you internalize this simple fact, the happier you will be: Nobody knows what they are doing.

Let’s talk about the game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything. Let’s talk about Night Trap.

It is reasonable to assume you have heard of Night Trap. But do you know what the game actually is? It is interactive fiction! It is a playable movie! It is a game that ostensibly tries to be a “videogame” (as opposed to, like, one of those “games” you can play with a DVD remote), but features real, human actors. Night Trap has “graphics” on par with your average Marvel movie, which was practically unheard of at the time. In fact, “practically” nothing, Night Trap was approved for production in 1986, and filmed (with the intention of being released shortly) in 1987.

1987! That was the same year as Castlevania: Simon’s Quest, R-Type (1), and Final Fantasy (1)! Can you imagine a videogame having such amazing fidelity in 1987! And it isn’t Dragon’s Lair! This could have revolutionized gaming as we know it!

Heavy emphasis on the “could have” there, though. Years before the release of Night Trap, a murderer’s row of people that were ostensibly successful in the western videogame development world of the 80’s (Nolan Bushnell! Even my beloved videogame-shunning wife knows that name!), gathered together to create what would be this infamous title. Within this group, Tom Zito produced a device by the name of the NEMO. NEMO (considered so valuable, its acronym literally stood for Never Ever Mention Outside) could use VHS technology to create “movie-based” gaming through playing four video tracks. This technology was used to sculpt a proof-of-concept prototype, Scene of the Crime, which clearly displayed how one could enjoy a “murder mystery” type game. Clue was a fruitful property, right? Well, someone at Hasbro agreed, and NEMO was on its way to powering Night Trap.

What else is on?It is probably worth noting at this point that the brilliant minds that had previously been responsible for videogames as we know them maybe did not have a great idea of what people wanted from videogames. I have written about this phenomenon before, but the first twenty years of gaming were practically defined by people realizing that something would be a cool idea for a videogame (detective work!) and then just completely blowing it with an execution that was about as fun as watching an adorable puppy choking on your math homework (passively watching monitors for maybe something to happen!). The same generation of genius programmers that brought us the likes of Asteroids and Pitfall settled on the “gameplay” of Scene of the Crime being little more than meticulously watching a movie. Nobody wants to hold a controller in their hands and quietly wait for something to maybe happen. But Scene of the Crime, excellent tech demo or not, is just that, and Night Trap would not be much better. You may have been responsible for the whole of gaming in the 80’s, guys, but that didn’t mean you had a damn clue what would make a fun videogame.

And speaking of people that did not know what would work, let’s get back to Hasbro. Hasbro was ready to fund the production of Night Trap (one of the first videogames to include live actors, “movie” directors, and a director of photography that would go on to shoot Forrest Gump), but there were a few notes. Unfortunately, Hasbro was a toy company, so they were downright afraid of any lawsuits that may arise from violence that could be copied by an impressionable child. So the “vampires” intended to be Night Trap’s antagonists weren’t allowed to actually draw blood, and they had to use some manner of grabby-arm trash collector to ensnare their victims. This meant everything slid precipitously into the “goofy” category. Additionally, Hasbro eventually learned of the cost of producing the NEMO system game console that would actually play Night Trap (MSRP in 2021 dollars? About $630), and decided that, grabby vampires or not, Night Trap was literally not worth it. Hasbro purchased and funded the NEMO and its attendant games, but dropped ‘em like a hot potato(head).

Kind of a small dungeonAnd Hasbro in the 80’s really did know toys! They produced Jem (of the Holograms, natch) who once outsold Barbie. They won a lawsuit that allowed them to sell Transformers, or Go-Bots, or something that was a robot that could turn into probably not a robot. They purchased a children’s furniture company, and improved its profitability from millions to billions. And Hasbro was right on the cusp of being responsible for Barney the Dinosaur of Infinite Love/Money. This was a Hasbro that was hugely successful and poised to become the number one toy company in the known universe.

Yet, they could not foresee that new technology would be costly. Nor could they foresee that vampires using zoo-equipment might have unanticipated legal consequence. Brilliant toy company, stupid videogame producer.

But, like a vampire hobbling through the suburbs, Night Trap would not die. Rob Fulop, one of Night Trap’s designers, would call it a day at this point, and go on to be responsible for Petz. But Tom Zito purchased the rights to the NEMO games, and eventually founded his own company in an effort to make an appeal to Sony and its forthcoming Super NES CD-ROM system. That was a dead end and a half, so Zito migrated over to the only decent CD-based platform in town, Sega and its Sega CD.

So, six years after being conceived and five years after being filmed, Night Trap was finally released for the Sega CD in 1992. And, at this point in time, it was only a spectacular failure.

Get 'emHasbro may have been divorced from the project, but their changes remained. A game that was once supposed to feature ninja gradually morphed into something that included vampires, and now neutered vampires were scampering about. But it would be disingenuous to simply blame Hasbro for this debacle. Those ninja were replaced with vampires in the first place because it was determined that too much darkness would play poorly on modern television screens. So a game that was initially designed to be cloaked in shadow had to step out into the harsh light of poor illumination. What’s more, the one interactive bit of Night Trap, that the player could activate traps that would eject or otherwise harm the villains of the piece, necessitated some extremely awkward behavior from the stuntmen playing these malcontents. So our Draculas had to be reduced to “henchmen” that skulked along like Renfields that had been forsaking the blood for far too much hooch. And, as one might expect, those “real live actors” involved in the filming of Night Trap had no real idea what they were doing. To be clear, they were likely consummate professionals, but this was a new medium, and its not like a director can direct when they do not even have a full picture of what the final product is going to be. In short, Night Trap was a mess, and practically every corner of it exuded b-movie shlock.

And, oh yeah, the gameplay was frustrating, obtuse, and demanded a lot more dedication than Night Trap should have ever required. Do you know what color code is required at Minute 4 in the bedroom? No? Well get ready to watch someone die, stupid!

Actually, watching someone die repeatedly might make an impact on an impressionable player… Huh, I wonder if anyone else noticed that? Anyone like, you know, the entire United States Senate.

NERDS!Night Trap saw release in 1992, and it is cited as one of the chief reasons we had the 1993 Congressional Hearings on Videogames. Night Trap and its tremendously more popular cousin, Mortal Kombat, were cited as the primary motivating factors in this series of hearings, but, make no mistake, videogames had been a popular scapegoat for years. In 1982, Surgeon General Koop claimed that videogames could be affecting children’s health, as apparently Pac-Mania had infected the general populace. And, as Hasbro was well aware, this was the era when “won’t someone please think of the children” escalated to the point that you could barely have a dude in furry underwear bully a skeleton without someone shouting about kids hitting each other with homemade nunchucks. And, as we all know, once you involve the welfare of children, you know there are predators that are perfectly happy to profit off that fear, whether that be through actual profits or an eternal campaign bullet point.

In the fullness of time? These congressional hearings did have a good outcome: the creation of a ratings system for videogames. Considering the same had existed for movies for years, this was an excellent innovation for a medium that was still in its fledgling stages. But beyond that? This whole hearing was nonsense from top to bottom. The likes of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl were obviously punching down on a medium that did not yet have the clout to resist such a slanderous public hearing, and certain companies took the occasion to hurl accusations at their most prominent competitors. Howard Lincoln says Sega hurts kids that Nintendon’t. Yes, there were probably some genuinely concerned people involved in these hearings that frequently showcased clips of “videogame violence”, but it seems like the biggest names in gaming and politics were mostly just there to advance their own agendas (and Captain Kangaroo, too, who had reasons known only to him).

She's basically dancingAnd this was and continues to be terrible. Ever hear about Seduction of the Innocent? It was a book published by a psychologist in 1954, and it eventually led to Congress launching an inquiry that neutered the comics industry for decades. In short, Fredric Wertham called Batman gay (not an exaggeration, true believers), and that snowballed into the giants of the comics industry corralling guidelines into a path that incidentally promoted the very comics that those industry giants were selling. And if you weren’t one of those giants? If you were publishing horror and/or horny material? Sorry, you are out of business. Literally! And this meant that the Western comic book medium became regarded as the domain of children for (apparently) the rest of time. Want to see what an American “manga market” could look like? Too bad! We had Seduction of the Innocent and a bunch of gold-diggers pushing their own superheroes forward, and now all we get is Iron Man, Iron Man: Civil War, and Iron Man: First Sip.

And it could have happened to videogames, too! Actually, it absolutely did. Thanks to ESRB regulations and conservative retailers, videogames were not sold in many brick and mortar stores if they ranked as an “Adults Only” title. And considering that physical stores were all that existed for a long time, we didn’t see anything that could even prod at that AO rating until three console generations later. And while no one is exactly lamenting a lack of Senran Kagura on the Super Nintendo, it is hard to say if something like the entire Suda51 or Yoko Taro oeuvre would have been allowed in the wake of 1990s videogame panic. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gaming needs more voices in its chorus, and we would be missing out on some very distinct tones if we universally outlawed android butts.

But that was the sad reality of videogames for decades. All thanks to a pack of opportunistic senators. All thanks to some very imprudent videogame directing. All thanks to very fearful toy manufacturers. All thanks to some ill-advised hardware consideration. Going back years, damage was done to the videogame medium for decades, all thanks to a series of ostensible pillars in their respective fields making the wrong choices.

Love this guyAnd what can we learn from this? Well, at every step in the process no one really did anything objectively wrong. Wanting to drop brutal ninja for fantastic vampires is not wrong. Wanting to protect children from the horrors of violence is not wrong. Wanting to revolutionize gaming in new and exciting ways is not wrong. But the end result? Night Trap scarred gaming for decades, but it was the men (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was mostly men here) in charge that made the repeated decisions to somehow make this product and its legacy worse and worse. No one did anything wrong, but they made the wrongest decisions possible. And, as a result, Night Trap became a game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything in its wake.

Kind of makes you wonder what would happen if these people were in charge of something actually important

FGC #572 Night Trap

  • System: Despite objections from 1990s Nintendo, Night Trap is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Amazing! It is also available for the Sega CD, Sega CD/32X (long story), 3DO (such a cursed system), and, eventually, the Playstation 4/Vita (also significantly cursed).
  • Number of players: No way you could play this with anyone else. Ever.
  • Port-o-Call: The Sega CD is a bit of a… let’s say the graphics took a hit. Not all recordings are created equal. Or at a resolution above 10 x 10 pixels. But the 32X version is a significant improvement. And the modern versions actually look like the game is supposed to look. That said, it’s all the same terrible game, so don’t get too excited.
  • What us even happening?Let’s talk about the plot: A lot can be said for how the gameplay is terrible, and the acting is horrendous. But one thing that is often overlooked is that, whether it’s because the writing has to account for multiple characters that may or may not be kidnapped, or simply because no one knew what they were doing, the ostensible protagonists are wholly forgettable. You are supposed to be saving lives here! And the only character that even seems worthy of having a name is the secret vampire ham-man! Everybody else is just horrible, and that is likely a contributing factor in Night Trap being about as fondly remembered as polio.
  • So, did you beat it? Naw. Went ahead and watched a “full” run through on youtube, but there is no way I am going to take the time to carefully map out exactly where “I” have to be when. The whole thing is just exhausting for the payoff of having watched a complete movie.
  • For the Sequel: Everything about Night Trap/Scene of the Crime would eventually “work” in other games. Scene of the Crime’s concept of detective work would eventually be adapted into the hugely entertaining Phoenix Wright franchise by finding the right level of interface for solving a murder, and the basic gameplay of Night Trap would later work as the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. So, in other words, what the NEMO needed was more whacky lawyers/animatronics.
  • Did you know? The other game that was supposed to launch with the Hasbro NEMO? Sewer Shark. Now there’s a system seller for the ages!
  • Would I play again: Not for all the wannabe vampires in Castlevania. This game is a bear in every conceivable way. And not a cuddly bear! One of those bears that leaves you generally dissatisfied with your current organ count.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bowser’s Fury! Or Furry! It’s one of those! Please look forward to it!

It's out of control
Any version that doesn’t include a Genesis controller is not real.

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

Transform!When I got married this past Fall, my (moments later) wife noted as part of her wedding vows that she would never understand the difference between Voltron and a Transformer. This is obviously an absurd issue that speaks to the fact that my beloved may have some manner of brain damage (I love you, honey, but if you can’t tell the difference between a robot lion that transforms into the leg of a giant man, and a robot lion that transforms into a regular-sized man, I really don’t know what to tell you) , but it is also a fine illustration of my love of Transformers. I’ve been collecting the little weirdos since I was a child literally praying to assemble all of the Predaking pieces, and, to this day, I am allowed one stupid Transformer purchase a year (because if I bought them as often as my impulsiveness demands, I would be literally drowning in the suckers)(and “drowning in useless media” is reserved for videogames in this house, natch). So big surprise here: I love Transformers.

And my favorite Transformers? Well, that would be the Beast Wars generation, a group of Transformers that have rarely been seen since the late mid-to-late 90’s. And despite my love for the characters, I have had a rough time over the years determining the exact origin of that affection. Was it a matter of timing with my childhood? No, I was the right age to be imprint on Grimlock, not Dinobot. Was it a love for 3-D animation? No, I kind of hated the brown, blocky aesthetic of Beast Wars. Was it an overabundance of affection for Waspinator, and everyone else just got to soak up the residuals? That… might be it. And in thinking about the simple fact that I really do enjoy the antics of the mechanical bug man, I came to one unavoidable conclusion:

I like Beast Wars because its stars are broken.

WeeeeLet’s not mince words here: this should not be a surprise. The essence of drama is conflict, and you are inevitably going to get more conflict when your protagonists and antagonists all equally need therapy. The old, “kiddy” Transformers of the 80’s were predominantly robotic gods that occasionally deigned to interface with humans out of some misplaced feelings for all sentient lifeforms, and, as a result, the majority of them came off as flawless/boring. It is no wonder that the dysfunctional Decepticons, like Soundwave and Starscream, had more of an influence on future generations than the likes of Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod. But that generation features the iconic Transformers that “everybody knows”, so they have been recycled and reformatted hundreds of times over the course of a million reboots. And has that made them any more human as time has passed? Yes, but not nearly to the degree as we saw with a cast of misfits that can occasionally transform into a rat or two.

Speaking of rodents, let us look at Rattrap, one of the stars of Beast Wars. Want to know Rattrap’s deal? He’s a jackass. That is pretty much his entire his personality. He is good at making gadgets and traps (oh, I just got that), but other than that, his main asset seems to be being available to make the occasional cynical remark. Apparently he was envisioned as a sort of “jaded combat veteran” character amongst his more youthful compatriots, but, given his propensity toward some childish antics with Cheetor, he comes off like a skeptical teenager more often than not. And how does that fit in with the rest of the Maximal crew? Well, Optimus Primal is obviously everyone’s barely-holding-it-together dad, Rhinox is the wise old grandpa that talks about the good ol’ days and nature a little too often, and recent adoptee Dinobot is just straight up Vegeta, puttering around talking about how he’s going to be the world’s strongest one of these days when he finally finds his good eye lasers. Then you’ll all see… Then you’ll all see…

And if you missed Beast Wars, please be aware that I just described the good guys. The bad guys are just plain bad guys.

DOOM!Beast Wars started with the rare conceit that the clearly-defined “bad guys” were starting this whole fight from a position of weakness. The heroic crew of the Axalon crash landed with a crew of potentially dozens of sleeping protoforms (Transformer fetuses…. Oh man this is a weird show), while the bad bots over on the Darksyde had an extremely limited crew of six. By the end of the pilot, one of those crew members had already defected. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that at least two of the remaining Predacons were dumb as a bag of hammers, while two other Preds were scheming and plotting against their own commander seemingly for no greater reason than it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. This meant that the Predacons had roughly the same teamwork aptitude as a box filled with rabid weasels hopped up on pixie stix. The Predacons had firepower, but they would have to stop fighting each other long enough to actually use said firepower.

And, yes, at least two of ‘em would wind up taking a mortal volcano bath before they ever pulled that off. Please let us know if lava is wet, Scorponok and Terrorsaur.

But this brings us nicely to the “extra”, later additions to the Beast Wars continuity. Remember those previously mentioned protoforms? Well, anytime the writers wanted to introduce a new character to either faction, a protoform would crash to Earth, and it would be time to learn about all the features of the latest toy. And fun fact? It appears the writers had one question when it came to introducing new characters: how is this guy broken? Literally! Pretty much every character that was introduced after the launch of Beast Wars was physically or mentally damaged in some unique way. Tigatron bumped his head, so felt more at home with mundane, organic cats than his fighting robot buddies. Inferno took it a step further, and was vaguely convinced he was a giant ant, and Megatron was his queen (this was correct, of course, but not in the way Inferno imagined). The rest is darknessBlackarachnia wound up trapped in a spider’s web from day one, and the fuzor twins could not stick to a single beast mode. And one of them had a southern accent! On prehistoric Earth! That had to be the result of a glitch or two. Airazor seemed like the most stable of the newbies, but the writers evidently forgot she existed every other week, so she was suffering through some manner of divine impediment. And we are not even going to acknowledge Depth Charge and Rampage, two Transformers that were (unusual for the series) “born” and fighting before the start of the Beast Wars. One is a rampaging, murderous psychopath that cares only for seeing the destruction of his enemies, and the other one can turn into a tank-crab. They are both about as emotionally stable as your average Stephen King antagonist, so please do not trust either with selling your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. It will not end well.

But, ultimately, that is the appeal of Beast Wars to this humble blogger. I would not want the cast of Beast Wars, Maximals or Predacons, to be responsible for anything in my life. They are supposed to be saving the Earth? No, that does not sound like a good plan for anybody. But I am very entertained by their antics. As the overarching plot of Beast Wars amps up from “monkey fight dinosaur” to “Megatron has traveled back in time and shot a sleeping Optimus Prime in the face and now you have to deal with that”, you never lose the feeling that the “heroic” Maximals are all about seven seconds from clocking out on this overly-long shift they somehow have been stuck on for overtime they know they’re going to have to fight human resources to even get. The heroes often come off as defeated even before their well-laid plans are disrupted by the villains, but the villains can barely hold it together for longer than seven seconds to actually disturb the ostensible protagonists.

The rest is darkness, againThe cast of Beast Wars? They are a bunch of losers that wound up in the middle of a Transformers war. And I can get behind a bunch of entertaining dunderheads. I like the Beast Wars era of Transformers the most because its stars are all living, breathing (?), mistakes.

Oh, but their Playstation 1 game was a bigger mistake. I don’t like that.

…. Dammit, article is already overly long as is. Guess I don’t have time to talk about the featured game! Clocking out for the day. Sorry!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

  • System: Playstation (1) and PC. There’s actually a funny story about that PC version…
  • Number of players: The Playstation version is single player, but the PC version had an 8-player “battle royale” mode. Apparently there were more than a few people that actually liked this mode, and kept online servers going for a while. Or maybe they just liked it ironically? Whatever, who doesn’t want to be Cheetor?
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, this is awful. It is a primitive 3rd person shooter with just the worst camera anyone can imagine. Someone went ahead and added some “lock-on” targeting so the experience isn’t wholly impossible… but it’s otherwise pretty impossible. I really can’t convey with mere words just how wrong doing practically anything in this game feels, even if you are allowed to choose between playing as either faction. Controlling a giant scorpion should not be this janky!
  • ANTS!Transform!: Oh yeah, most egregious error? You cannot attack in any way while transformed. In fact, the only reason to transform at all is to manage your “Energon Meter”. This makes a certain amount of sense for, like, Rattrap, but doesn’t really feel right for more offensive animals like Rhinox (note for those unaware: he is a rhino). And there are two separate characters that can transform into freakin’ dinosaurs, and all they can do is putter around like the spiders. Do you understand how hard you have to try to make a videogame about occasionally being a robot dinosaur boring!?
  • On the subject of having plans: You have to unlock Rattrap or Blackarachnia, and Airazor/Terrorsaur are only available in “rescue” minigames, but the whole of the stable Season 1 cast is otherwise represented here (Tigatron has never been reliable). Oh, wait, except for one major omission: Waspinator is not present in any way, shape, or form. That poor buzz boy gets no respect.
  • What’s in a name: They spelled Scorponok with an “I” in some of the game materials. I’m not going to say that’s exactly why the poor dummy died at the end of Season 1, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t a factor, either.
  • What’s in a voice: Oh yeah, the voice acting for this game is totally six guys trapped in an elevator recording lines at four in the morning. The original voice cast was apparently not available (or weren’t contractually obligated to participate in an awful PS1 game), so this Beast Wars adventure was voiced by some people that just weren’t into it. Or maybe I’m just focusing on Rhinox here, as he has the timber of a man that doesn’t really want to survive this adventure… or even the next few seconds.
  • Best Transformer Ever: It’s Optimal Optimus, who does not appear in this game. Primal Prime will also do in a pinch.
  • What is even happening?Did you know? There was an episode of Beast Wars that was scrapped because it was too damn depressing. The whole concept was Rattrap was going to attempt to revive Dinobot by forcing his undead spark into an (evil) Dinobot II, but the ultimate moral was to be that Dinobot is 100% dead and never coming back, get over it. … Also, in typing that out, maybe Beast Wars did have a byzantine, maudlin overarching plot…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. I want to rewatch Beast Wars, though, so maybe this toy promotion worked out.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rockin’ Kats for the NES! Let’s rock out with our tails out! Please look forward to it!

Don't pay attention

Wild Arms 2 Part 31: Sleeping Volcano, Hidden Dragon

Previously on Wild Arms: Ashley turned into a raging monster, but Marina talked him down, so now he’s just a regular monster. Also, Kanon totally flaked, which I believe officially makes every member of ARMS a complete failure.

But we did destroy a nuclear dragon, so our approval ratings are soaring.

“Sitting here watching while a gang of five or six people saved the world.”

Gosh, isn’t that an interesting way of looking at things.

Something someone said strike your fancy, Irving?

Have you seen half the monsters on this planet? There are giant, mutant rats living right outside your castle.

This was mentioned in a random book earlier, but, yes, most of the mechanical weaponry in this Filgaia comes directly from dragon fossils.

Ha ha, Irving. Don’t you think people would notice if there were dragons running around. I mean…