Looking back at the Obra Dinn [spoiler free]

In Lucas Pope’s newest game, “Return of the Obra Dinn“, you play an insurance adjuster who travels to an abandoned ship to learn what happened to it’s crew. It’s an insurance themed murder-mystery game at sea.

Christine and I just finished the game and loved the experience. The story is fantastic, but what really hooked us was the highly stylized graphics. Lucas wanted to recreate an old school look similar to what you’d find in older Sierra Online games. To recreate this look, Lucas takes a 3D environment, adds wireframe lines (to give 3D objects a 2D look), converts it to grayscale, then uses a dynamic noise effect to break the shading into a dithering effect.

I remember a year back when he was sharing some of his early experiments and some of the challenges that dithering created when used in a 3D environment:

A more detailed explanation of Lucas’s dithering technique can be found on this tigsource thread.

The Return of the Obra Dinn can be bought on Steam here.


A Collection of Every Akira Video Game Ever Made

This year is the 30th anniversary of Akira, the 1988 anime classic based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic “Neo-Tokyo” in 2019 and coincidentally predicts Japan’s hosting the 2020 OlympicsI recently “live-gif’d” a walkthrough of Akira on an NES emulator and got to wondering how many other Akira games were out there.

Akira was one of my favorite films as a teen and I remember hearing rumors of a video game version, but I could never find it. Eventually, I just filed it away as a myth, like the supposed Akira live action film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s to not only learn the games are real, but to even be able to play them thanks to ROM archivists.

Since playing the NES version, I’ve since learned of at least 4 other ports, so I thought I’d round them up here. I won’t provide any links to the ROMs, but a little Googling should get you to them quickly.

Akira for NES/Famicom (1998 by Taito)

Akira was originally released as a Famicom game that was later translated by a team of volunteers and released on a gaming forum. It’s the only Akira game I’ve played entirely and I really recommend checking out my GIF collection of it’s stylish cut-screens instead of downloading the ROM yourself.

The game sucks. It’s simply awful! It’s not the translator’s fault, it’s just a garbage game. The graphics and music are fantastic, but just getting through the game’s decision trees is such a  frustrating experience that I’m glad I never had the chance to buy it as a kid. The only way to enjoy this game is by using a walkthrough. Otherwise, you’ll easily die on levels that require seemingly random orders of selections and actions. For example:

  • Look > Gang: Look at various members of your gang. If you take too long, the interrogator will demand you return your attention him. Keep looking at your gang, particularly Kaneda (center) and the two members to the left of him until the interrogator is convinced that you’re not with the Terrorists.
  • Peek > List: Try to look at the list, but the interrogator will insist that you stop.
  • Peek > List: Do it again anyway, and you’ll discover that it’s a list of suspected Terrorists, including a girl who Kaneda thinks is cute.
  • Inquire: Kaneda will ask what the girl’s name is, but the interrogator just tells you to shut up.
  • Inquire: Next Kaneda will ask where the girl lives, with the same response.
  • Inquire: Kaneda begs for the girl’s phone number, and the interrogator will insist they don’t have it. The lackey will conclude that the gang has no connections to the Terrorists, and you will be told to wait outside of the room.

This is how I felt while playing this game

Akira for Amiga CD32 (1994 by ICE Software)

This British made Akira game is a sidescroller consisting of 2 motorcycle levels and 5 platforming levels. In the motorcycle levels, you basically steer up or down (as Kaneda) collecting power ups while trying to avoid obstacles and police while heading to the military base. Once you reach it, you play as either Kaneda (with a pistol) or Tetsuo (with fireballs?) and try to kill every single person on the level in order to advance. You can tell the game designers sort of watched the movie by the surreal enemies in Tetsuo’s level, including: fire breathing toy cars, deadly bunny rabbits, and fighting teddy bears.

Though many different companies tried making an Akira game, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. With the exception of the Game Boy version (and the pinball version), most of these other games look just like the Amiga CD32 version.

Akira for Game Boy (by THQ?)

This unreleased Game Boy version was recently discovered by Patrick Scott Patterson and demonstrated on his Youtube channel. It has all of the same elements as the Amiga CD32 version, but I think gets away a little more since it has that 8bit Game Boy charm. Otherwise, it looks so similar to ICE Software’s version, that I wonder if they shared the same development team?
THQ was said to be working on Akira ports for Game Boy, SNES, Sega CD, Sega Genesis, Game Gear and others, so I’m assuming this prototype was one of theirs.

Akira for Sega Genesis (unreleased by THQ)

There has never been a good Akira game made, but I think this 16-bit Sega Genesis game could have been decent. At the very least, it could have been the best of the worst. Since it was never released, we’ll never know, but at least we have this showroom floor footage from the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show.

Again, it looks totally not-terrible. Like the Amiga CD32 game, this version starts of with Kaneda on his bike, but from a 3rd person perspective. The kicking and punching other cyclists definitely seems inspired by EA’s Road Rash series.  Once we get to the military base, we actually get a DOOM-ish first person mini-game of Tetsuo escaping from his hospital bed. His trembling hand blocking his face as he tries to avoid the nurses. Then we return to a very similar side-scrolling experience where Kaneda jumps around with a gun. Surprisingly, THQ’s version still adds more game styles to their Akira game including a hoverbike level (with some 3D graphics intertwined with pixel art), a 3/4 view street brawl, and a Street Fighter-style final boss battle between Tetsuo and Kaneda.

Even though this was only a working prototype, I’m still shocked out how much nicer the sides-crolling graphics were compared to the Amiga CD32’s final version. Like I said with the Game Boy version, I believe the old school 16-bit graphics really work well with this game.

Akira for SNES (unreleased by THQ)

Though the levels in this version look almost identical to it’s Sega Genesis cousin, it’s said that both games were developed by two different teams. The SNES version had the bike fights, side-scrolling, and 2.5D hover-bike levels, but was also going to include more material unique from the manga (not just the movie version). There are no videos of the SNES version, so all we have are some magazine scans from a 1993 issue of Game Zone.

images via Hardcore Gaming

Akira Psycho Ball for Playstation 2 (2002 by Bandai)

Akira Psycho Ball is a Playstation 2 game that was scheduled to release around the same time as the remastered Bluray edition of Akira. The only thing I dislike more than pinball is pinball inspired video games, but I don’t think anyone was asking for a pinball version of Akira. I’d rather just replay the original Famicom version. At least wasn’t just scenes taken from the original movie with some pinball levels thrown between them.

So why hasn’t anyone ever made a good Akira game?

First off, have you seen Akira? How the fuck would you turn that into a game? These publishers all did a decent job at trying (except for you, Bandai… go back to your room!), but it’s also important to think about the limitations of the gaming systems of the time. As Jim Gregory, one of THQ’s developers on the SNES adaptation, tells it:

“One of the greatest challenges of game design, when it is for a license, is meeting the demands of the licensee. They often do not understand the trade offs that are needed to accommodate the capacity and limitations of the target device, and they expect it to look like an animated feature film. Those days [around 1993 – ed] were very much on the cusp between the old 8-bit systems with limited graphics, and the 16-bit systems with limited graphics. Many of the emerging consoles were ‘walled garden’ development systems and the manufacturers all wanted exclusive titles rather than me-too ones. It was hard or impossible even to get the data to develop on their machines unless they approved you.”


Best of 2017

2017 is dead. Long live 2017! I wanted to take a moment to spotlight some of my favorite new things. So here’s my “Best of 2017” list… in sets of twos!

Music (albums):

Shredder’s “Dangerous Jumps”- Fantastic new hip hop project the Doomtree collective. If you dig Run The Jewels and midwestern hip-hop, you’ll love this. The album is good, but I might like the ep even better.

Dirty Projector’s “Dirty Projectors”- The best breakup record of all time?

Board Games:

Best of 2017
Five Minute Dungeon- A fantastic collaborative card game for 2-4 players. The mechanic is really simple and each level only takes 5 minutes to play.

One Deck Dungeon- While each dungeon takes considerably longer than 5 minutes (1-2 hours) this game is really replayable. We got hooked on the original last year, and this year the Forest of Shadows expansion came out. Can’t wait to play all the new levels, but we already love the new characters.


The Big Sick– A strong debut from Kumail Nanjiani. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Get Out– Another strong film debut. Jordan Peele knocked it out of the park with this psychological thriller/horror thing.


The New Radicals- How has this not been released on a big scale yet?! We saw this documentary at Sundance and loved it. The movie focuses on techno-anarachists, Cody Wilson, and the 3D printed gun. Really interesting topics well told. Time will tell how this subjects will age, but I’m glad the crew was there to document this interesting period.

Icarus- How did this even happen?! The movie starts off with a bicyclist who wants to prove how easy and common doping is in sports by using himself as an example. Things quickly derail, and the real story emerges. It’s so bizarre and intriguing that it feels like a one in a million odds that something like this will ever get captured on film again.


Fencing– Christine and I have been taking fencing classes at Halbertstadt Fencing Club and loving it. If you live in SF, I highly recommend their month long intro to fencing class.

PC Gaming– I wrote a while back about how Christine and I finally set up a Windows machine to work our way through my huge collection of Steam (and Humble Bundle) games. We’ve been playing Superhot, Ronin, Untold Stories, and many more great games.


Best of 2017
Kaijumax (season one and season two)- This comic series is inspired by Kaiju shows (live action Japanese shows like Godzilla and Ultraman) and classic prison films. It’s easy to see strong political statements about race and the problems with the prison-industrial complex, but this book is really just about telling a strong story with unusual characters.

Tetris: The Games People Play– This documentary-style comic explores the creation of Tetris as well as the rise of gaming in the 80s. Rather than a straight-forward approach, it really takes advantage of the visual medium to create something unique. Another similar docu-comic is Rise of the Dungeon Master which tells the story of Dungeons & Dragons. Both of those books are must haves.

Best Shows/Events:

The Jesus Lizard– It only took 25 years, but I finally got to see The Jesus Lizard live at the Independent. It was every bit as good as I heard it would be.

You’ve Got My Eyes- A dork-punk science fair organized by my friend Mark Krawczuk.


Best of 2017

The Notus by YoYoEmpire- A fun delrin yo-yo with a classic feel. It’s got that nice rounded shape that makes it feel good in the hand, plus modern features like fingerspin areas.

The Master Galaxy by C3 Yo-Yo Design– I hate big yo-yos. Or at least I thought I hated big yo-yos, then I played with the Master Galaxy and realized what I’ve been missing. It may not be the yo-yo I carry in my pocket, but anytime I’m working on a hard new trick, I usually pull this thing out.


Making yo-yo string- I finally learned how to make my own yo-yo string. It’s terribly addicting.

Cooking nuts- Honestly, I just wanted to have two things for each section. Yeah, I’m taking walnuts and pecans, covering them in honey and butter, then roasting them for delicious snacks, but is that really a skill?

New discoveries of older things

Superhot: Hi [friend_name_here], you have to check out this game. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

Avatar: I always assumed this show was pretty lame, but after hearing this Imaginary Worlds episode, I felt compelled to check it out. My jaw dropped as I discovered each episode was better than the other. It’s incredible! In every way, how did they ever make this on Nickelodeon? And the sequel, featuring Kora, is just as good!


Humble Bundle’s Fall Sale: The 20 games you need to buy!

A few days ago, Humble Bundle launched their massive Humble Store Fall Sale with huge discounts on thousands of games. There are some great deals there so I wanted to put together my list of 20 games that you need to buy this week.

Two notes before I get started though: We love the “console gaming” experience. So this list is only geared towards games that look great on a big screen tv and play great with a controller. If you have a PC around, I highly recommend getting an X-Box style controller like this (or the wireless version here) and an HDMI cable and just leaving Steam in “Big Picture” mode.

Second, since I’m a Humble Bundle monthly subscriber, I have a link I can share that should generate an additional 10% off of any games on this list. Try it out and let me know if it works. There’s no membership needed to redeem it, so might as well try it out. Now, onto the games:

Crawl $14.99 $6.74

Easily our favorite game of the year. Crawl is a roguelike party game that starts off with a set of desperate adventures killing each other in order to survive an adventure gone wrong. A winner emerges and continues their quest through the caves, but is haunted by the ghosts of the other players. The art is fantastic, the game is ADDICTIVE, and the humor is spot on. It’s even fun in single player mode. Top of my list… buy it buy it buy it!

Superhot $24.99 $13.49
This game is even better than I thought it would be, which is crazy because I thought it was going to be GREAT. It’s a first person shooter where time only moves where you do. Basically, it makes you feel like Neo in the Matrix… or Braid meets Halo. The end result feels like more of a strategy/puzzle solving game than a typical shoot ’em up.

Rogue Legacy $14.99 $2.69

Another roguelike that’s incredibly addictive. If you aren’t familiar, roguelikes are games that auto-generate unique levels that no-one else will ever encounter again. Roguelikes are usually top down, but as the definition has broadened, we’ve started to see more and more roguelike platformers. Spelunky is probably the most popular of which, but Rogue Legacy is more my cup of tea. Every time you die, a new and unique hero is created. Don’t get too attached though, because the levels can be pretty crazy.

Inside $19.99 $8.99

A puzzle solving platformer from the creators of Limbo. Nuff said.
Haven’t played Limbo yet? You should probably fix that too.

The Stanley Parable $13.99 $3.36

Trust me.

Tooth And Tail $19.99 $12.59

I’m already a fan of rodent themed real time strategy games, but Tooth and Tail is so much more than that. It’s strategic, but with a more casual feel (compared to Starcraft). As I said before, all the games on this list are intended to work well with a controller, but it’s rare to find an RTS that works well with a controller.

Undertale $9.99 $4.49

We’ve been waiting a long time for this game to go on sale. It’s one of those games that all of your friends will say “You have to get it”, but you never do… until now because it’s on sale. It’s worth it.

Conarium $19.99 $10.79

One of the few “Lovecraftian” games that actually gets it right. It’s extremely beautiful and well researched game based on At the Mountains of Madness. Takes about a weekend to play, which is just perfect for me.

Sproggiwood $14.99 $2.69

Another roguelike game, but one that plays great with a controller. I saw the creators of this game give a talk at Roguelike Celebration in SF last weekend. Imagine my surprise when I went to go buy it and discovered it was on sale for 80% off! I’ve been playing it non-stop ever since.

Hollow Knight $14.99 $8.90

Gorgeous and fun. Get it while it’s on sale.

Rain World $19.99 $7.19

I backed this game on Kickstarter a few years ago and have no regrets. It’s a pixel art game with an eye for detail and characters that seem to come alive in front of you. There are so many small little animations and quirks that really make this game feel like a living creature.

Nidhogg $9.99 $6.29

This is one of those games that everybody needs to own. The basic premise is that it’s a fencing game, filled with strategy and timing. It’s weird and addictive and I just want to master it. I need to master it.

Everything $14.99 $7.41

Imagine a game where you could play as everything. The dog, the car, the beetle, the galaxy, a bacterium. Everything is a game unlike anything else you’ve ever played. In fact, I wouldn’t even describe it as a game. Our favorite way to play Everything is to set a couple simple rules, then sit back and watch as the game explores itself. It’s hard to explain, but a real work of art. In fact, I wish I could have a digital picture frame that just has Everything running on it all the time, so I could just walk by and see some new perspective at any given time. Designed by David O’Reilly and distribute by Double Fine.

Crypt of the Necrodancer $14.99 $3.36

A roguelike dungeon explorer with a really cool rhythm mechanic added to it. Plays great with a controller and fun in single player or multiplayer mode.

Literally everything by Double Fine

Some great deals here. Psychonauts, Costume Quest 2, Stacking, Massive Chalice, Headlander, Iron Brigade, Brutal Legend. Just buy them all.

Let me know if I missed any good deals, but if it doesn’t have full controller support, I don’t want to hear about. Full controller or it isn’t worth mentioning.

Don’t forget, use this link before you buy your games for an additional 10% off. I don’t get a referral or anything, I’m just sharing it because why not.

One more thing, Steam is also doing their own sale this weekend and there are some great games there. I especially recommend picking up Ronin, a fantastic platformer that switches into a turn based strategy game when in combat. I had my doubts, but this system works fantastic and I highly recommend this game and any others by Devolver Digital.