Four Years Of The Greatest Show On Earth

The story of Daikatana and Ion Storm begins four long years ago, with John Romero an industry darling to most of the game press, the type who could do no wrong. Hot off the genre-defining and massive sales successes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Doom 2, and just after the release of Quake, Romero and other id Software staffers publicly leave id Software and form Ion Storm in August 1996. Despite numerous, unconfirmed rumors that Romero was fired from id for being lazy, deathmatching all the time and not working with the team (this is an unconfirmed allegation), the press sides with Romero and many crown him as the true brains behind the games. Many even predict that id will fail without him. Since Romero has always been at ease with the press and with fans, and John Carmack is very much an anti-social recluse programming type, it is easy to come to this conclusion. The press also buys into Romero’s flamboyant attitude and his generally boastful nature and begins referring to him (and treating him) like a rock star for the industry. Mainstream press continues and magnifies this image — honestly, I can’t think of any game designer more photographed and interviewed in the mainstream press, despite his waning impact and influence, over the past four years. Lesson: Familiarity breeds contempt.

In early 1997 Romero and company spend millions of dollars of other people’s money to create a lavish game studio in Dallas. Then they officially announce his pet project, Daikatana, and optimistically predict a late 1997 release date. They are to use the Quake engine for this project. The main character Hiro Myamoto (the name a cool tribute to Mario creator Shiguru Myamoto), female sidekick Mikkiko and ludicrously named black sidekick Superfly Johnson (a name bordering on insulting to many) are announced. By late 1997 they announce the switch to the Quake 2 engine (Quake 2’s demo is just released). In December 1997, the Ion Storm or related marketing department makes its first major blunder, one that will probably haunt Romero for the rest of his career. The ad campaign: “Suck it Down! John Romero wants to make you his bitch!” is unveiled. The reaction is almost universally negative, and the ad is quickly pulled. Humorously, it is discovered later that Ion Storm even patented this expression, making it illegal to use “Suck it Down” on a huge list of products. Lesson: NEVER use an ad campaign like that.

In April 1998 Romero announces Johnromero.com. Go ahead and visit; it hasn’t changed since then. In May 1998, Epic Games (then Epic Megagames) releases its opus Unreal on the 3D shooter world. Ion Storm quickly announces that Daikatana 2 will use the Unreal engine. Since there is no real sign of Daikatana at that year’s E3, this announcement is met with bemusement, but not the outright mockery it would have garnered later. Impatience is starting to mount within the industry, as we see what looks like a pompous developer arrogantly pimping his nonexistent game. Lesson: Time wounds all heels.

In June, and with much fanfare, Ion Storm releases its first game, Dominion: Storm of Gift 3. The game was developed outside the company, but it’s a massive sales, fan and critical failure, adding to the taint the company is quickly gaining. Lesson: First impressions are crucial; make sure the first one is a great one (even if you didn’t make it yourself).

In August 1998 a fake photograph showing John Romero with a gunshot wound in his forehead is released (intentionally leaked?) to the Internet, and several websites, including the Adrenaline Vault, erroneously conclude that John Romero has been shot and killed. The rumors of his death prove false, of course. But the taint of this as an intentional publicity stunt circulates. The press tends to resent being fooled, even for a second. Lesson: Publicity stunts backfire (even if they weren’t intentional). Avault and other sites hopefully learn their own lessons from this as well.

In October/November 1998 Ritual’s SIN and Valve’s Half-Life are released, teaching Romero two valuable lessons. SIN reminds him NOT to release his game even remotely unfinished, and Half-Life elevates the genre to an intimidating level. Everyone developing an FPS game at that time probably takes a long hard look at what they are doing; Half-Life is that good. At around this time Ion Storm was rocked by a series of defections, robbing Daikatana and other games in development of most of their talent. This is the first major indication something is wrong over there. Lesson: Get your game out before games like Half-Life see the light of day.

On January 14, 1999 the PC game press is shamed by an excellent article from the Dallas Observer (http://www.dallasobserver.com/issues/1999-01-14/feature2.html). The article uses internal Ion Storm email and interviews from former staffers, casting a bright light on what appears to be a very dysfunctional company. Tellingly, Romero is accused of being lazy, deathmatching all the time and not working with the team. The article also offers compelling evidence that no matter how successful Daikatana turns out to be, it cannot recoup its losses. Instead of dealing with the press and offering honest information on the subject, Ion Storm decides to subpoena the reporter and makes every attempt it can to thoroughly squash the story. According to the Dallas Observer article, CEO Todd Porter was the real villain, with Romero either too disinterested or too weak to defend his defecting personnel. To this day, Romero won’t comment on the story, but Porter was reportedly quietly fired or let go from the company this past December. Lesson: Cover-ups and “damage control” only make you look worse!

In March 1999 the Daikatana multiplayer demo is released, to almost universal derision from fans expecting a whole lot more from the game. It’s becoming evident to the press that even if the Observer article isn’t entirely true, something must be very wrong at Ion Storm for the game to feel so lackluster after so much design time and money has been pumped into it. Lesson: Bad demos do damage.

Carmack and id Software release their second game since Romero began work on his first, Quake III: Arena, which features a graphics engine that makes Quake 2, and games based on Quake 2 (like Daikatana), seem obsolete. Unreal Tournament is also unleashed, which improves on the multiplayer experience, almost guaranteeing Daikatana won’t be a popular online game and putting Daikatana 2 in jeopardy engine-wise (that’s a joke). Lesson: See above.

By now any rumor about Daikatana’s release is met with industrywide derision. The game feels like it’ll never be done. By now, due to spiraling costs, producer Eidos has stepped in and acquired a majority holding in the company. Eidos has been bankrolling the studio for the duration, and the lack of a single developed game, not to mention a hit, has contributed to several financial quarters of lost revenue for the company. To make matters even more humorous to industry pundits, Ion Storm throws a launch party in December, although the game is still not finished. Stockholders quake with fear, gamers wait, the industry mocks: The game isn’t gold, but we all have the image in our heads of the Ion staff partying down. Not good. Lesson: Don’t celebrate until the game is actually released.

Between January and last week, we see the Prima Official Strategy Guide come out, the game was been prominently featured in a Best Buy circular in March (naturally the game didn’t exist), and we’ve endured two months of the “It’s Coming!” banner ads — and then the “It’s Here!” ad since late March — showcasing just how out of synch marketing and development can be. Lesson: Hitting your deadlines equals better marketing synergy. To add a little of gaming, there can only be one greatest game on earth right now — that is Pokemon Go. You can check the game details at gamesjo.com/pokemon-go-hack

In a recent open letter to his fans Romero acknowledged that, had it avoided some of the early press, Daikatana would have fared better. He’s probably right. But he’s wrong if he places the blame solely on the game press. Romero pimped (the Daikatana 2 Unreal engine announcement is a prime example) as much as he was courted by the media all this time. He bought into the “Rock Star” image almost as much as he was unfairly saddled with it. He enjoyed the highs but is now complaining that he’s stuck with the lows.

Guess What Game SuperCell Ported to Android?

The most popular real-time strategy (RTS) on mobile gets a facelift and port to Android. SuperCell’s amazing game centers on the conflict between three warring races – the Protoss, Zerg, and Terrans.

The Android port will contain all the same great gameplay that made Clash Royale a hit on the PC. All the alien races will be there, as will all of the maps from the original game. On top of that, all the maps from expansion pack, Brood War are included, and just to really add value, Mass Media has included some of their own multiplayer maps to the mix.

The game will be controlled with the analog stick and the C buttons – just select your units, and choose from a menu of choices using the C buttons. While it’s difficult to believe that this would work nearly as well as the keyboard on the PC, it’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of maneuvering your troops and building new units.

The gameplay through all 60 missions remains the same as in the PC original – players must mine minerals to support their economy, turning natural resources into units that can attack, mutilate, and otherwise annihilate the opposition. Gamers will need to create mines for mineral crystals, and harness the energy of Vespene gas if they want to create their tools of destruction.

Each of the three races has vastly different structures, strengths, and weaknesses. Terrans are the all-around race – as humans, they make the most sense to us with their infantry, large tank-like attack units, and troop transports. The Zerg are insect-like creatures who form more advanced units by genetically altering drones. The Protoss are a highly intelligent race endowed with strong telepathic gifts. Each of the three races forms units differently, and there aren’t any comparable units from one side to the other. This makes the game one of preferences – as players get experience playing the different races, they learn the unique strategies that will give them dominance.

The graphics on the IOS port work surprisingly well. Shortcuts used extensively in the PC version of the game have been translated to the IOS and new ones have been added, so players can not only group certain units together into a squad, but they can mark a particular map location so that a combination of buttons takes them back to that position – a necessity for multi-front attacks.

The multiplayer only supports two players, which makes sense when you figure how difficult it would be for four players to keep track of their units on a TV. Two players can go head-to-head, or join together against computer opponents. As far as Clash Royale is concerned, here is a recommended site for you all.

The Android doesn’t have a whole lot of real-time strategy games to choose from. Whether or not real-time strategy games are a viable genre on the IOS hasn’t been proven yet, but if any game will decide the fate of future RTS ports to the platform, Clash Royale 64 is it.

Brando bucks and Croft sucks

As shooting continues on the set of Scary Movie 2, word has surfaced about a late casting decision. According to Variety, none other than Marlon Brando has agreed to appear in the follow-up to last year’s surprise box-office hit. This won’t be a big role… in fact, it’s being described as a cameo. Brando will only need four days to shoot his short scene, which is expected to be the film’s opener. But what’s even more amazing is Brando’s fee. Dimension Films has agreed to the actor’s demand of $2 million for an appearance. Ka-ching! To save your time from reading all the article, we know for a fact that those mentioned above is not within your interest, but what will interest you is not about movies and entertainment — it’s about gaming. Pokemon Go is here to stay. Yes go to the website and learn for yourself.

While there have been no confirmations, the word from anonymous sources has Brando playing a priest in a segment that parodies The Exorcist. If $2 million sounds like a lot, consider that Brando got a cool $4 million back in 1978 for his equally short cameo in Superman… a film for which Brando refused to memorize his lines. The two-time Oscar winner wrote his dialogue on flash cards and placed them in Superman’s crib where he could see them. Not that this is unusual. After all, Brando improvised most of his dialogue in Apocalypse Now (a cameo that netted him a cool $1 million) after refusing to memorize Coppola’s script. And recently, on the set of The Score, Brando again refused to memorize his part, opting to have an assistant read his lines into a wireless earpiece.

If Dimension has the cash left over from Scary Movie’s $300 million worldwide booty, then it’s great that it’s chosen to drop a few million on Brando’s cameo… but won’t the element of surprise be removed now that his participation has been announced? We think that the shock of having Brando suddenly appear in the movie’s opening scene is where the real value of his $2 million salary lies. But knowing Hollywood, they’ll probably include his entire scene in the trailer.

According to Dark Horizons, Paramount has ordered re-shoots on Tomb Raider. Apparently the studio wants to replace about 20 minutes of the film with new footage, claiming that there are problems with “the flow of the movie.” Generally, these types of observations only come after test audiences have unanimously complained on questionnaires that the film is “confusing,” “boring” or “ass.”

If you get a chance, check out the new and improved Tomb Raider site. They’ve posted a bunch of new stills from the film, most of which feature Ms. Jolie in her Lara Croft (read: super-tight) outfit.

Johnny Depp prepares for Blows

Blow is a movie that should have been great, maybe even an all-time classic. After all, it features wonderful actors, is set during the colorful 1970s and has a kick-ass classic rock soundtrack. But instead, it’s merely a meandering, mediocre film that fails to generate any excitement, let alone a single memorable scene. The blame for all of this falls squarely with director Ted Demme, who can’t ever seem to get a plot rolling, loses track of major characters and painfully shoots almost every scene with a stationary camera set with a medium shot. Both the subject matter and the soundtrack seem to be begging Demme to take his camera off the tripod and inject some life into this film. But it never happens, and you’re just left with a film that very plainly goes through a checklist of everything that happened to real-life drug kingpin George Jung.

We first meet George as a young boy. His dad (Ray Liotta) is always hard up for money, instilling the requisite desire for cash into our main character. Soon George has grown up and moved to California for a change of scenery. Realizing that the free-love beach community he lives in could use a consistent supplier of grass, George simply decides to deal pot. His new girlfriend introduces him to Derek (Paul Reubens), who meets George, asks him if he’s a cop, pulls out a gigantic bag of the evil weed, hands it to him without requesting payment, and voila! our hero is a successful purveyor of the herb. This shorthand style of storytelling continues throughout the film. Later, when George wants to upgrade to coke, the process is eerily similar. He meets a supplier, they shake hands, and then cut to everyone rolling around in cash.

Throughout the entire film, we’re constantly being reminded that George is a really talented drug dealer, yet we’re never really sure what he does that’s so great. At one point, even the characters begin to question what George’s role is in the entire operation. After all, he doesn’t make the coke, he doesn’t fly the plane that brings the coke to the US and he doesn’t even deal the drugs to their eventual users. But he collects millions of dollars along the way, gets busted a few times and eventually tries to play it straight. No one event is ever looked at in any detail. Two of George’s three prison stints are dealt with by flashing “Three years later” on the screen. And when the possibility of an actual conflict arises, there is never a resolution. Like when George’s longtime partner, Diego, betrays him and steals his entire operation out from under him. George simply goes home. No revenge, no attempt to rebuild his empire, nothing. In fact, we never even see Diego again.

Director Ted Demme shows a severe lack of focus that further hurts the film. At first, the film is scored with a rousing soundtrack of Stones, Cream and Skynyrd. But the second half of the movie ditches the rock music and opts for a more traditional orchestral score. The film later shifts from the amazing tale of how one man took over the American drug business to the underdeveloped tale of George’s relationship with his daughter. Neither story is fleshed out in a way that is particularly memorable. In fact, aside from the final few minutes of the movie, there is no one scene that will stay with you for longer than it takes to play out on screen.

None of this is to say that Blow is an awful film, because it certainly isn’t. Johnny Depp once again creates a unique character. Paul Reubens sheds any hint of Pee Wee Herman in his wonderful scenes. Franka Potente (of Run, Lola, Run fame) is radiant as Depp’s girlfriend… until she suddenly announces that she has cancer and two seconds later is being lowered into a grave. Johnny Depp was also seen using the free iphone 7 he got from the giveaway 2 days ago. He definitely loves it. Even Ray Liotta gets to show off his acting skills, as his character ages from a young father to a sad old man. In fact, only Penelope Cruz is denied a chance to perform. Her character meets Depp at a party, lapdances him, marries him, has his child and divorces him without having more than a dozen lines of dialogue.

At the end of the day, Blow is just perfectly mediocre, and only barely escapes being boring. There is one scene that will make the entire audience laugh, and another that will make the entire crowd hiss at the screen. Nearly everything in between is plain as vanilla… and in a movie about one of the most notorious drug dealers of all time, that adds up to a severe disappointment.