• Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine

    “Tully, You’re a Worthless Weenie!”

    “A strong but fair competitor and the best damn trucker in the system.”
    (North American PC box art)

    By all accounts, the shortcomings of the full-motion video fad in early 90s game design should have been apparent from the very beginning. With the trade-off made in presenting visuals that were “as good as real life” being crippling limitations placed on gameplay, it’s astounding just how many developers still went and staked their futures on going all-in on the format. And with the dawn of true 3D graphics just on the horizon, the idea of a studio debuting in as late as 1994 to make that very same gamble should sound like the most disastrous business plan imaginable. Clearly, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure all this out… And yet, if you were to take this particular studio’s name at face value, you might figure we’re looking at a whole team of supposed aerospace engineers, here!

    The story of Rocket Science Games might be that of one of the all-time biggest blunders in the history of the games industry. Lasting only four years and managing to release just five games before folding, the tale told by their brief existence should serve as something like a parable for the dangers of trying to meet impossible expectations. Or, maybe it’s more of a treaty on the downfalls of hubris? Hell, there are some who might just come away with the conclusion that they were simply a studio in the wrong place at the wrong time. The truth of their demise is probably a combination of all three of those factors, plus maybe a hundred more too nuanced to mention here. What’s certain though is this much: Their failure as a games developer was as inevitable as it was absolute.

    In centering this article around the release of Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine for the Sega CD [and it’s subsequent DOS conversion], I won’t deny that I’m anchoring a larger examination of the studio behind it to one of their “least-acclaimed” titles. That said, there’s certainly plenty to be said of the game itself, and I’ll most definitely be taking the time to do so. In many ways, the design of Loadstar is emblematic of Rocket Science Games’ approach to game design as a whole, and makes for as good as case study as any into why they were doomed to fail. I also feel I’d be remiss not to spend a fair chunk of time covering the actual game in question, considering that it’s another title in our series of Patreon-requested articles (courtesy of @BillyMaysR1P). And so, with all that being said, I reckon it’s time for me to recount this whole sorry legend.

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    Top Five: Games That Are Inadvertently Impossible to Beat

    There’s this rough statistic that’s floated around since 2011, which claims that 90% of players who start a video game won’t actually see it through to completion. Admittedly, the data backing this particular percentage appears to never have been made transparent, and I reckon it’s high time someone took a fresh look at more recent numbers. All that being said – and regardless of exact accuracy – the takeaway here is still clear: Most games go unbeaten by the bulk of their players. Between the necessary time investments, overwhelming number of constant new releases, and general public fickle; it’s honestly a wonder that there’s anyone left who can still find the time to finish video game campaigns.

    It’s not as if developers can just use that as an excuse to not bother including endings to their games, though. The expectation when a player begins a narrative-driven [or otherwise “end goal” motivated] game should naturally be that there’s some goal they’re working towards, or a finish line they’re intended to cross. And if a player should find themselves so compelled by the story or engaged by the gameplay, they should be treated to some sort of conclusion or congratulation for their commitment to it. I’m realizing now that I’m over-explaining what is a pretty basic design concept here, in that “players should be able to get to the end of a game.” But wouldn’t you know it: Some developers occasionally forget to double-check their work before release!

    In this list, we’re looking at a selection of titles that are unintentionally impossible to beat; whether thanks to programming errors, poor design, or other manner of perfunctory oversights. While there are a handful of game releases out there in the world which have actually been confirmed to have been developed with deliberately impassible points – whether to hide unfinished work or to simply spite players – I’m gonna call that a list for another day. And so, we’re running under the assumption here that these titles were simply not sufficiently playtested, rather than their intentionally being made impossible to finish. Or maybe one day, it’ll come out that one of the games on this list actually was purposefully sabotaged as part of some cruel joke on players, and I’ll have to eat crow? Only time will tell.

    Obviously, we’re discounting arcade-style games that aren’t meant to end / be “beaten” in the traditional sense, here.

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    Elf Bowling 1&2

    “An Internet Christmas Story.”

    “C’mon, rack your fat brain!”
    Festive doodling by yours truly.

    Christmas-themed video games suck. I should honestly just induct every one of them ever made to the Bad Game Hall of Fame all at once, and save myself the chore of having to write about any of them individually. But I reckon that’s not really in the spirit of the site here, is it? No, it feels like my duty is to take on the worst of them one-by-one on an annual basis, until such time as the abolition of all December holidays or the heat death of the universe. Well, as long as we’re in it for the long haul here, I may as well get what is largely considered to be “the worst of the worst” out of the way nice and early.

    Elf Bowling 1&2 was launched concurrently on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance and DS on November 28th, 2005, to what can only be described as a overwhelmingly negative critical response. I may as well mention right upfront that they are almost identically the same game, with only minimal differences in terms of presentation between them. I should also mention that these retail products serve as conversions of a pair of freeware PC games, which were nearly six years long in the tooth prior to their consolization treatment. Oh, and to top it all off; the current owner to the Elf Bowling trademark once waged a Wikipedia edit war to condemn the “unauthorized” releases of these games — a trademark he only owns because his company bought the rights second-hand for themselves, right out from under the original creators’ noses.

    Well, to hell with my plans for the holidays, I guess! It looks like I’m gonna have to put in the hours getting down to the bottom of this incredibly stupid mystery. You know, I really thought I was just picking out an easy little game for myself this month at first? I seriously had no idea what I was getting myself into. But now that I know what I know, I feel obligated to share it with the rest of the world. So, here we go folks: It’s time to thoroughly examine the circumstances and history behind a novelty Flash game from the late 90s, and to dissect its cheap cash-in of a cartridge conversion. Let the festivities begin!

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    X-COM: Enforcer

    “Crop Circle Surprise.”

    “Aliens, prepare to be enforced.”
    (North American PC box art)

    The return of X-COM in 2012 was certainly one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It had been something like an uncertain decade for the property leading up to the release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown; with rights to the franchise stuck in limbo for a time, the announcement of a first-person shooter side project being met with much skepticism, and a struggled development cycle that dragged on over the course of nearly nine years. None of this is even to mention the tumultuous times for the property leading up to its initial hiatus period — stuck under a publisher facing financial turmoil, struggling to establish a new identity for itself, and seeing the cancellation of several of its intended entries. And so, the comeback story that saw the franchise return to its tactical, turn-based, alien-stomping roots rates as a truly compelling tale.

    I could probably sit here and gush for a hundred pages about how great the recent run of Firaxis-developed titles have been, but we’re not really in the business of writing at length about “critical darlings” on this website. And besides; I don’t think the developers really need me stepping up to bat for them at this stage, seeing as they’re already plenty successful and well-loved enough as is. That being said, I reckon there are a pair of X-COM titles that feel better suited for my style of examination. We’ll get to the other in due time, but the subject of today’s article feels like the perfect starting point, seeing as it was the game credited as nearly killing the X-COM brand entirely. Oh, and the fact that it’s another one of our Patreon “pledger requests” is a pretty major motivator as well. (Thanks ruderubik!)

    2001’s X-COM: Enforcer represented MicroProse’s last-ditch effort at making the X-COM brand appeal to a broader audience. With Enforcer’s failure marked the end of an era for the franchise, and the beginning of that aforementioned decade-long slumber. It has come to be seen as a game that nobody asked for, eschewing the time-tested traditions that had come to define the series, the likes of which had built up and brought in its audience to begin with. Behind the scenes, it was a project born of utter desperation, cobbled together from the pieces of projects previously cancelled. But having said all that, the questions still remain: Is it really all that bad a game, and was it wholly to blame for the franchise falling off the face of the earth? That’s what this document aims to declassify.

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    Season’s Spookings

    Apologies for the lack of new articles this month. My favorite month of the year, no less! Believe me when I say I had plans for a handful of long-winded rundowns and reviews I wanted to get done for y’all, but my head just hasn’t been in the right space for writing.

    For one, I attended Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and planned to do a write-up of my three days spent there. I may still get to it, but of course, the longer I take to get it written the less relevant / the more foggy my recollection becomes. I definitely have some thoughts on the experience that I wanna share, and some neat photos I believe are worth displaying on here.

    Secondly, I’ve been frustratedly slow on delivering on a Patreon request, and bringing an article on X-COM: Enforcer to fruition. Again, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say about the game: I just haven’t been in a mindset to properly type them out. Making the promise to pledgers that I can write articles on games of their choosing is one I take very seriously, and I’m disappointed in myself for taking so long with this one.

    Another point I’m bummed out about is missing my self-imposed Halloween deadline to get an article done for 2009’s Ju-on: The Grudge on the Nintendo Wii, which I had planned as the site’s sort of “celebration” for the holiday. Instead, all I can offer is the archive of a livestream of me playing through the game (as seen at the top of the article), as recorded on the Bad Game Hall of Fame Twitch channel. Watching it may spoil the prospect of a potential future article on the game, but I want to be able to provide some sort of content for you guys on this most spooky of days.

    Regrettably, that’s really I’ve got to show for myself right now. I’ll be back to work on writing as soon as I’m able. Thank you all for your patience and your understanding.

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