Two Tales: Conker 64

That title isn't a typo. It refers to the two different versions of Conker's Bad Fur Day that made it out of Rare's door before they turned into the Microsoft Kinect Sports whores that they have become. Conker's Bad Fur Day is one of my favourite N64 games, not just because it looks great and has some really clever adult humour...but because it's fun to play and well, it's a Rare game of old.

It has all the quality hallmarks of Perfect Dark, Mickey's Speedway, Diddy Kong Racing and Banjo-Kazooie before it. I actually really like Conker as a character too - he's almost an anti-hero with his foul mouth, wise-cracks to camera and alcoholic tendencies.

The main point of this post though, is a quick look at the differences between the original N64 release and the later Xbox port, Conker: Live & Reloaded. It's pretty much the same game, although there are points throughout where the developers have made subtle changes (and reference them too, which is cool). The most notable difference is the complete graphical overhaul Live & Reloaded received, and owing to the obvious technological leap the Xbox was over the N64, it is very noticeable. Even Conker himself looks very different; his fur looks more realistic and he's found some shorts but lost his gloves. I intend to do a game play comparison video too, but for now here's a little look at the graphical differences in the opening (Clockwork Orange) section. I tried to match the sound as best I could, but there are a few minor cock-ups. I'm sure Conker would have something to say, but seeing as I quite like the guy I'd just offer to buy him a pint as recompense.

LodgeNet

I'm a big advocate of the mantra 'you learn something every day.' Obviously, I don't take it literally - there are some days when my life is so dull and I am surrounded by such a large number of morons that I have to slap myself across the face with a sponge soaked in piss just to check that I've not slipped into a coma. However, today is one of those educational days. Why? Well, I just learnt about a thing called LodgeNet. I actually discovered this unintentionally (it was hidden in plain sight to be honest) when I clicked on the wrong link to a Wikipedia page and ended up looking at a page about the N64 controller instead of an eBay auction for a Controller Pak. I scrolled down the page just out of habit and I came across a section about something called LodgeNet.

The premise is quite simple - basically LodgeNet was a pay-per-play system devised by Nintendo for implementation in hotels in the US, where the dedicated set top box would be connected to the LodgeNet service and the player could play games and watch programme content. The thing is, the TV was controlled with a device that looks exactly like an N64 controller, but is not compatible with the N64 in any way:


As you can see, it also has other control buttons for the TV services too (the D-Pad can be used to change channels, for example) and also Menu and Order buttons, which I would imagine are for ordering new content to watch or play. It's a pretty neat idea, and something I was totally unaware of. I'm sure many people across the United States have seen this system, but being from the UK, I had never even heard of such a service. One of the most interesting things about the LodgeNet controller is that even though it has the look of an N64 pad, it has an analogue stick which is closer to the Gamecube's analogue nub (it's more of a ball than a stick). Furthermore, the port where the Controller Pak would go is filled in, and the end of the cable apparently has a connector which is more like a phone socket connector.



I'm aware of similar systems from SEGA, such as the Mega Jet which was only available on airlines but I'd never even heard of the LodgeNet. You can buy the now defunct controllers and boxes on eBay for next to nothing, and most of the auctions do stress that the pad is not compatible with the N64 system due to it not really being an N64 pad...and to be honest it looks like a nice little curio or collectable. Maybe when I've got more disposable cash I'll investigate further - it'd certainly be a nice piece to show people and explain the whole LodgeNet story.

As a final note, it appears that the LodgeNet service went on to incorporate the Gamecube too, so there is a later version which does what the previous one did...but with a Gamecube controller and games.

Perfect Puddles

If you've read any of my previous posts here at Expansion Pak Detected, you'll be aware of my fondness for both of Rare's N64 first person shooters. GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark are rightly regarded as two of the best games on Nintendo's system, but I'd go as far as saying that they're also two of the finest examples of gaming anywhere - and that they proved to the world that first person shooters could be done expertly on a console. Sure, with hindsight the N64 controller is nowhere near as good as a keyboard and mouse set up, but back in the late 1990s I couldn't afford a fast PC so (like many others, no doubt), I had to settle for the three pronged controller/analogue stick combo...and in my naivete I was as happy as a pig in shit. Still am, to be honest. But this post isn't meant to be about the pros and cons of the N64 controller (and the pros outweigh the cons anyway...but we won't go there). No, this post is about something much more puzzling - something I like to refer to simply as 'the puddles.'

I was talking about Rare's seminal shooters earlier in this post for a reason - the puddles are a somewhat insignificant curiosity that I discovered some time ago, but have only really thought about recently. I'll explain. In Perfect Dark on the N64, there is a sort of 'hub' level called the Carrington Institute. Missions from the main campaign can be accessed through a pause menu, but you can also wander around this hub level and try your hand at various training mini-games that are located in the many offices and labs of the Carrington Institute. The Institute itself does feature (spoiler alert!) in a mission later in the main game, but as a hub level it is void of any enemy characters or any mission objectives and you can simply wander around looking at stuff - and this is exactly how I came across the puddles. If you access the lower levels of the Carrington Institute, you will eventually find yourself in the garages, and these garages are linked by a series of corridors that appear to be hewn out of the rock beneath the main building. In several locations in these nondescript brown-walled corridors you will find these:







Yep, puddles of water. Nothing interesting about that, right? I'm not so sure. Firstly, why are these puddles here? Take a good look at them. The texture used is a true reflection of the wall and ceiling above...which apart from being quite technically impressive, is a graphical technique that is not used anywhere else in the game. Even in the mission set onboard the Pelagic II deep sea research ship - a level which should be perfect for featuring pools of reflective water everywhere - there is no sign of the puddle effect employed in those dank corridors beneath the Carrington Institute.

I have a theory about these mysterious puddles, and it goes like this: maybe the puddle was a test piece to see if the engine could cope with true mirrors. I know that in other Rare games such as Banjo Kazooie, the engine couldn't do real reflections so in order to create a mirror effect the game just drew 'reflected' items as full models within the mirror space (there's a glitch where you can get the camera to go 'inside' the mirror and you can see the fully polygonal models), and maybe the developers were just experimenting with the idea and left the texture in place as an homage. I fully realise that there are 'pseudo' reflections in lots of locations throughout the game - the Carrington Institute has a highly polished marble floor and other levels feature similar effects...but there is nothing as perfectly mirror-like as those identically shaped puddles.

Carrington Institute's cleaners were paid well.

I'm sure I'm making too much of a big deal about this tiny, insignificant part of Perfect Dark, but it was something that really caught my attention. I have considered emailing Rare and asking them why it's there...but I'm pretty sure there's nobody at still working there that worked on Perfect Dark, and I'm also pretty sure they'd just ignore my insane ramblings.

I guess I'll never know the true meaning behind the puddles, and some might say it's better that way. It might be that the puddles are infact a portal to a Lovecraftian dimension filled with dark beings of unspeakable horror, and that any man who looks deep enough into them will be confronted with a vision of Hell itself. But then, it might just be a cool effect that the devs couldn't implement elsewhere due to time or cart space restraints.

Probably the latter rather than the former.

Edit: It appears there are other reflective puddles elsewhere in the game afterall. The rainswept mission Chicago: Stealth also features a few of them...


But rather than kill my theory, this just throws up more questions. Such as: why isn't the effect used in mirrors in bathrooms etc? Maybe the environment reflections are a totally different kettle of fish to character model reflections or something. Regardless, the subject is still an interesting feature of one of my favourite games.

N64 Controller Review

I started doing some joypad/controller reviews on Youtube for different consoles, and the second one was the N64 pad. It's a truly brilliant pad, and I love the analogue stick on it. Here's the video:

Perfect Dark: N64 Vs XBOX 360

I know what you're thinking: "not another Perfect Dark video...!" Well stop your groaning, dear reader! This is even cooler that the previous vids I've uploaded. Ever played the XBLA (that's Xbox Live Arcade, for the uninitiated) remake of Perfect Dark for the 360? No? Didn't even know it existed? Well, then. To be honest, I'm sure most people will be aware of the 2010 HD remake, but in case you weren't, here's a cool comparison. Most things are the same, save for the visuals...but even those are really only super hi-res recreations of the original graphics. One of the biggest graphical changes is Joanna Dark herself - she's no longer a slightly frumpy looking woman, but has somehow transformed into a fairly attractive female lead. You can't really tell from the video, but trust me - she looks a lot better in the remake. And that isn't sexist. Other character models have also been updated and the background cityscape details in the first mission have been given a massive overhaul, among other things. Have a gander, see what you think:

Wip3out Vs WipEout 64

So, I waxed lyrical about WipEout 64 a few months back, and I still have the same opinions even after playing WipEout 2048 and HD Fury to death on my PS Vita - WipEout 64 is my favourite entry in the series. I love the sense of speed, even in the lowest racing class, and the music is perfection. Sure, it looks a bit ropey by today's HD standards...but I don't care. It feels excellent and sounds amazing - that'll do for me. To that end, I thought I'd create another comparison video, this time showcasing how well WipEout 64 stands up against the PlayStation's Wip3out. You could argue that a comparison with WipEout 2097 would be more appropriate looking at the similarities between the two, but I thought it best to show these two games as there was a shorter length of time between their releases (WipEout 2097 - 1996, WipEout 64 - 1998, Wip3out - 1999).

Wip3out is a stunning game, the graphics really show what the PS1 was capable of, and the tracks are all very interesting and have a good range of settings (although they do seem a little bit clean and 'utopian' for my liking!). It's also full of little details like engine reflections off wet tarmac and flocks of seagulls that scatter off the track as you approach at 300 mph. I have to admit that I'm not the greatest WipEout player (you'll be able to tell that from the clip), but this wasn't really about showcasing my own skills with a joypad. I wanted to show off the N64's ability to produce blisteringly fast, detailed graphics. The N64 footage does have a bit of interlacing and I think it's something to do with the actual video output from the console...but it's good enough. Enjoy:

Perfect DOOM

I love Perfect Dark. I also love DOOM. Here, I've combined the two to create Perfect DOOM! Enjoy.



In case anyone wondered, the music is ripped from the 3DO port of DOOM. It's a crummy version plagued with a bad frame rate and tiny play window, but the reworked music is freaking awesome - that ain't no MIDI - it's a full blown rock and roll symphony! The sound effects I got from OldDoom and then I inserted them individually in Final Cut Pro and lined them up with the video in the appropriate place. Took a while, but it was worth it, even if it was just for my own amusement! I think I missed a reload sound effect just after the repeatedly opening and closing door section, but hey...what can I say? It was late and The Invention of Lying was on the TV in the background. The appallingly unfunny nature of that film alone was enough to distract me from my work.