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bagman

base destruction ordered

So it recently came to my attention that there's a relatively new game out which is basically an arena shooter (which is what I call games like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV and I have no idea if that's the actual accepted-and-understood name of the genre or something I just picked up somewhere) with a coat of paint borrowed from the old Atari Centipede franchise—because that's a thing, now, taking familiar bits of old, ostensibly fondly-remembered video games and/or game franchises and strapping them onto/into basically new games, and it's about a hit-or-miss practice as you might imagine, but evidently it's appealing enough to crusty old bastards like myself to be financially viable—called Centipede Infestation. I like the Centipede games and I like arena shooters, so I made a point of remembering to check it out. More about that much later.

The basic concept—old franchise made somewhat new and suffixed with the word "infestation"—must have appealed to me more deeply than I realized, because my brain, bless its squishy little heart, cooked up for me a follow-up to one of my all-time favorite arcade games and called it Xenophobe: Infestation. It's a natural enough hop to make, creatively, since the old game actually used the word "infested" at the beginning of every level:



This was in a dream, of course: one of those dependable old "go to a non-existent arcade" dreams I have probably once or twice a month. The dream wasn't actually all that much about the Xenophobe update; I spent most of the time in the basement of the place, trying to get tokens for the machines, a needlessly complicated (because my dreams are bound and determined to provide me with experiences that are, somehow, even more frustrating than real life) process that involved, for reasons way too complicated and ultimately boring to explain, me taking off my shirt. The best thing about this part of the dream was that there was an arcade machine based on the (presently non-existent) sequel to The Simpsons Movie, which I want to talk about for just a second—

—I remembered having seen this sequel and it having been actually pretty good, is the thing: it was basically The Simpsons doing a feature-length riff on The Cannonball Run, which if you think about it is a pretty goddamn perfect fit for the sprawling galaxy of Simpsons characters and settings and etc etc. Anyway, the game was a two-person side-by-side sit-down racing game that reminded me of nothing so much as the Namco-developed Speed Racer arcade game:



I actually very much would have liked to play this game, but there was the problem of getting tokens, getting my now-somehow-too-small shirt back on, and the organized-crime types that were monopolizing the machine, so once the first two problems were essentially resolved, I went back upstairs and that, my darlings, is where I found Xenophobe: Infestation.

I didn't even know it was an updated version, at first: it looked just like a regular Xenophobe cabinet (the only immediately apparent difference was in the title screen, which I just assumed meant that I was seeing a heretofore-undiscovered bootleg version of the ROM) and the fact that it only had one joystick instead of three (which is just the sort of penny-conscious corner-cutting one would expect from old-school arcade bootleggers).



Anyway. I started up a game and was immediately delighted by the fact that there were, for some reason, way more characters to choose from. One of my favorite things about Xenophobe—which extends to pretty much all the Midway-developed games of and around that era—is the art and character design. Xenophobe had some peculiar-lookin' dudes to choose from—



—and the updated version in my dreams took that peculiarity and ran with it: I ended up choosing to play as a fellow wrapped head-to-toe in bandages who rolled around on a hospital gurney.

The reason for the one-player-ness became eventually apparent. In the original, the screen is divided up into three horizontal slices, and each player occupies a slice, and players can encounter each other as they explore:



In this version, the screen was still divided into those three slices but the player could move freely between them: it was more of an Elevator Action-type thing, if that makes any sense.

The enemies in the original were, as was the case in so many video games of the 80s and 90s, essentially the xenomorphs from Alien/s. They had the whole egg-crawler-adult lifecycle in miniature, the same awful insect fecundity, etc. The half-goofy feeling of Xenophobe makes their presence feel almost like an affectionate parody—at least, I guess I perceive it as such on some level, consciously or otherwise, because the Infestation version had parody-versions of aliens from all sorts of sources. The only thing I really remember from playing the game was a large alien like Lady Cassandra from Doctor Who dispatching a bunch of the little pink slugs from the original arcade version of Alien Syndrome to swarm and overwhelm me.



The context command to get them off of me was "UNSEAT CRITTERS", which I thought was funny.

It was very disappointing to wake up and remember this and realize that it would never be real.

Oh yeah, about Centipede Infestation: I played it and it's good enough—which is pretty much what I expected since it was developed by WayForward—but damned if this isn't one of the only times that I have turned the dialogue volume completely off and skipped past every cutscene. That is really unlike me, but I'll let two things Nicole said while watching me play explain why this is:
1. "Is this Ben 10?"
2. "Whoever did the character design for this game has a DeviantArt account."
I honestly cannot understand why you'd use the Centipede franchise—a set of audiovisuals and contexts which is pretty much meaningless and valueless to anyone beneath a certain age—and then bolt on character design and voice acting that would not be out of place shilling sugar water to tweenage skateboard-owners.

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I honestly cannot understand why you'd use the Centipede franchise—a set of audiovisuals and contexts which is pretty much meaningless and valueless to anyone beneath a certain age—and then bolt on character design and voice acting that would not be out of place shilling sugar water to tweenage skateboard-owners.

I wonder about this, myself. Do marketing types really assume that prospective buyers think "Hey, I've vaguely heard of this property, so even though I have no particular attachment to it, I will give more consideration to spending money on it"? Are they right?
Here is basically how I am imagining the thinking goes: let's say you've got yourself the rights to an old video game that holds about the same spot in people's minds / video game history that Centipede does: it did what it did successfully and in a unique enough way, in both design and execution, that everyone knows exactly what you mean when you say "Centipede". I mean, even people who haven't played Tetris (I have recently had it confirmed that they exist) can picture it in their heads: it's been copied and anthologized so often that even if I wanted to make a good-faith effort to track down every instance, I couldn't.

So you've got this property and you think, OK, there's no way I can just sell it today as-is. And you can't, really: that's something people forget about old-school arcade games, is that they're basically what we call "mini-games" these days, which is to say you do one tight and specific set of things and those things become harder and harder to do and there may or may not be an "ending" but that's ancillary to the joy of the exercise itself, and that joy may or may not (but usually is) correlate with "points". So you can either make another "arcade classics" compilation—assuming you've got the rights to enough so-called classics and assuming, too, that you can and are willing to cobble together a good-enough emulator and/or functionally identical version of these so-called classics for platforms X, Y, and Z, to say nothing of including various "extras" to make the thing competitive with MAME, which is itself cross-platform like whoa—or you can make a brand new game in the spirit of and in the style of that property.

The thinking is—this is one of those "I know that you know that I know that you know" things—that the consumer understands that the property is valuable to whoever holds it, and that they will not intentionally devalue it by letting something subpar go to market under the aegis of that property. The consumer is meant to think, OK, they had an arena shooter and they evidently think it's strong enough to put the Centipede coat of paint on it. I mean, there's nothing inherently unique about shooting wave after wave of bugs, and the "storyline" of Centipede Infestation has, as best I can tell, nothing to do with whatever story was either present or implicit in the originals. There's no reason, then, that this game couldn't have been called Bugocalypse (which is dumb, but then, so is the main character—I'm talking Poochie-level annoying, here).

So why even make it a "Centipede" game at all? Because there are people like you and I who remember and like Centipede and we have a certain set of expectations regarding Centipede (e.g. shoot lots of different kinds of differently-behaving bugs, fast action, mushrooms) and we might very well be more interested in looking into something that promises to (a) meet not only those expectations but (b) meet the expectation outlined above, i.e. that this will not be crap because Atari is (theoretically) savvy enough not to let a turd out the door wearing a valuable and unique hat and coat. When promises (a) and (b) are fulfilled—even if only in a theoretical sense—curiosity is piqued where there might not have been similar curiosity for Bugocalypse. Then we read a few reviews or rent or (ideally for the publisher et al) impulse buy the thing.

I mean, I didn't check it out because it had the Centipede logo on it; I checked it out because a developer I like made a game in a genre I like. The Centipede coat of paint granted a familiarity bonus which might have manifested itself in more of a psychic nudge to act on my curiosity.

There's more to it than this: I'm basically thinking aloud.
Seems reasonable enough to me! Meanwhile, your speaking of arena shooters and bugs has somehow caused me to remember Atari's Black Widow, which I have not thought about in ages, and man do I want to play it now.

GRUBSTEAKS.