AuthorTopic: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand  (Read 34490 times)

Offline EyeCraft

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Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

on: March 12, 2010, 07:44:32 am
Attention Pixellers! Muster your collective thinking caps and nestle them upon your noodles: it's time for some thought with Natsume's Shatterhand.

Game: Shatterhand
Platform: NES
Developer: Natsume
Publisher: Jaleco

Shatterhand is an action game for the NES that has great graphics, gameplay and a pretty amusing premise: punch everything.

I grabbed some screens this afternoon and found myself exclaiming "woah!" numerous times as I reached new areas and was smacked with some real eye candy:











The game is playable with NES emulation, or you could resign yourself to watching videos of it.  ;)

The purpose of this activity is to analyse the game's graphics, working out techniques that are effective and ones that could have been better. Once your dissection and meditation is complete, jump over to the activity thread and try your hand at some new graphics for the game!

Feel free to add more screenshots to the discussion. I think I need to play a little more before I can get some of the later areas.

Let's get cracking! :yay:
« Last Edit: March 14, 2010, 11:18:37 am by EyeCraft »

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #1 on: March 12, 2010, 09:24:42 am
Some initial thoughts:

Shatterhand is a very late addition to the NES (1991 I think), the Genesis had been out for a couple of years (1988 actually), the SNES for one, though popularized in the next two. It fits around the same space as Vice: Project Doom and Zen Intergalactic Ninja. What does this mean? It means two things:

These games are informed by 16 bit games, especially in the tilework. The poor NES can't do much about its spritework, but the tiles are certainly trying to look like more than the NES is known for. The earlier patent for this sort of thing is the NES Batman game by Sunsoft and deeper in, the early Ninja Gaidens.

The other thing this means is that this game comes on a big-ass cart. Although it plays on any NES, what's inside the cart is different than what's inside a first generation NES game like Super Mario. The cart (probably Konami-designed) has modifications to increase memory size to fit in more sprite and tile data. Effectively this means that this game couldn't have come out as an NES launch title or anything of the type. Keep this in mind if you think 'huh the NES came a long way since super mario and other simple looking arcade ports to this'. The artists came a long way but also, the cart configurations changed. I'm sure we have some actual NES cartridge wizards in the forum that could more assuredly talk about their specs.

So, Shatterhand is trying to be a 16-bit looking game on an 8-bit system. How is it doing that with the NES limitations?

It's all about color usage and tile busyness I think. It takes a page from the Batman game, the black color is the universal color here that ties almost every tile together and frees up the other two colors per tile to be whatever else since black can dither into anything for an extra darker shade and unifies. Think of earlier NES games that were more like arcade games and looked more colorful. They traded visual detail to be colorful, usually the elements were very simple in those games. So Shatterhand (much like Batman) trades in being bright and colorful for detail work with the black shade. After the Megadrive came out (which did the 'black as bottom color and dithering with black' thing a lot too) it seems like the NES got a lot of 'grizzly' black-tinted platformers like this. Cross-pollination, I theorize.

So in your mockups for the challenge, try to use black as the bottom shade, don't be afraid to dither.

Don't be afraid of complicated tile configurations either, you have (imaginary) cartridge space.

Then as far as the colors go you'll notice every tile goes from black to - dark color - -middle color - specular highlight color. Very rarely will there be surfaces with matte colors without any specs. Often middle value is minimized so there's a sea of darkness with sharp glints on top. Most of the time the designs are oily or mechanic to accommodate for this lack of middle value. This makes the game (like Batman again) look very grizzly and unfriendly but also shiny and sleek, it's an interesting combo for sure. Note also how the specular highlight color is very rarely a straight ramp to the dark color, usually there's some hue shifting going on. This is due to the increasing sophistication of the artists working on these games, they're trying to squeeze as much variety out of the NES as possible, unlike earlier simpler arcade ports where stuff was really straight-ramped.

For your mockups, try to make those palette entries for the tiles count, avoid straight ramps in the foreground (background has more two-tone abstractions where tinting wouldn't work as easily).

Also since this is trying to be 16-bit the backgrounds look like they would be made to parallax scroll, like the genesis would do them. Probably more useful to look good on screenshots in mags since of course the NES can't parallax scroll. But keep that in mind for when you build your mockups.

On the aesthetic level this is close to the apex of early 90's sense of 'cool'. Robots, bionic arms, cool dudes with shades that look like Arnold who probably impressed the Japanese circa the release of Conan or Terminator to be burned forever into their collective subconscious as the default image of overdone masculinity (seen constantly in video games and manga since). There's probably more to be said about that really but perhaps later on. These are some initial thoughts. Get talkin' :)
« Last Edit: March 12, 2010, 09:28:43 am by Helm »

Offline ptoing

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #2 on: March 14, 2010, 01:55:10 am
The other thing this means is that this game comes on a big-ass cart.

Actually no. It's around the same size as Batman with 260ish kb. There are MANY games which are way bigger. Just saying. I don't think this has a special chip either.

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline EyeCraft

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #3 on: March 14, 2010, 01:40:01 pm
Just a quick post before bed, will add more later  ;D

This is something that I had a look at initially and it has been a good guide for me as I have worked on my mockup:



My guess-timations of how much of each colour is present in each tile (size of blob represents population of corresponding colour). I was really interested to see how they use the same 4-colour palette across all the roles of the tileset; background, platforms and foreground detail. It's clear to see how the use of colours favours darks for background, using dithering to act as a kind of new 4th dark "colour" (as Helm noted) instead the of the bright specular, which isn't used at all.

Then as we move to the foreground, the colour dominance shifts along to midtones, with touches of the brightest colour. The brightest is use to show the top of the platform, a nice bright readable line against the dark backgrounds. This seems to be done in the vast majority of the platform tiles.

It's pretty obvious that this is how it would be approached, but I found keeping these facts clear in my mind while I worked made things very easy to keep readable.

Also the single-pixel dither on lines (such as the highlights on the bricks in FG1) is a very useful trick for doing some neat things. It lets you recede lines into darker tones, which is great for implying curves (note its use on the tank in BG). It can also be used for implying a dirty or dented edge on metal surfaces, especially if you repeat it periodically. I think they've used it on the bricks there because otherwise they would probably have to extend the highlight line all the way to the edge of the brick, which would create a lot more contrast with the black lines and end up making the tile really noisy. So I guess you can use it to fade a line if you want to keep the contrast down.

That's all I have for now.  :)

Offline ptoing

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #4 on: March 14, 2010, 02:08:06 pm
Good stuff EyeCraft :)

[...]since of course the NES can't parallax scroll.

That depends how you define parallax scrolling. The NES only has one background layer and thus can not have real parallax, but it can have screensplit parallax, and Shatterhand actually does do this quite a bit.

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline Gil

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #5 on: March 14, 2010, 03:11:35 pm
The splitscreen parallax:

I assume they scroll the screen during scanline interrupts?

Is it possible to scroll one part to the left, the other to the right?

Sprites are always layered afterwards?

Offline ptoing

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #6 on: March 14, 2010, 04:08:05 pm
I reckon it would be possible to scroll in different directions, yes.

I am not sure if sprites are always on top, but I don't think so. I am pretty sure that tiles can be assigned to be in front or behind sprites and even this can be changed really quick (think of Mario dropping behind the playfield in the first world of SMB3 when you push down on the white blocks.)

Anyway, I was a bit bored and thusly made a rip of the first level (and then found out there is one on VGMAPS, but whatever)
Mine is here

Then I took the tiles apart in Promotion to see how many tiles are actually used.
The result:



this is 151 or so 8x8 tiles, and then some things like the powerup platforms and fires in the background have animation. All in all still less than 256 tiles, so nothing out of the ordinary at all. There is no loading tiles at runtime and no changing palettes either, apart from the bossroom. All we have here is extremely good use of the resources given. I will have a look at the other levels as well sometime next week and do tilesets for those too. I am sure they will be similarly sparse.

The enemies I am sure fit into a very small set as well, seeing as there are not many enemies in the game at all, or at least not in the first level (again I doubt this is different in the other levels)
Also when you look at the sprites there is very little animation going on and I am sure that the NES has hardware sprite flipping, so no need for sprite doubling for left/right facing stuff and things like the enemy dispenser can be halved since it is mirrored.

Another note to what Helm wrote: 1991 is not VERY late at all. There are quite a few NES games which came out in 1992 (Gargoyles Quest II) and 1993 (Kirby's Adventure). I think there even were some games as late as 1994. So late perhaps, very late, no.

As far as gfx go this game does NOTHING that would not be possible in a way earlier title, at the end all comes down to very effective usage and application of tiles. Good stuff.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2010, 04:45:33 pm by ptoing »

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline junkboy

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #7 on: March 14, 2010, 05:54:45 pm
Thought I'd flex my nerd muscles by mentioning that "Shatterhand" is a westernized port of a Japanese game called "Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain", which in turn is based on a TV Show about robot cops or something. Most of the graphics are kept the same, most obvious change is the main character (which looks better in "Shatterhand" IMO) and some stages, like the submarine stage being an amusement park in the Japanese original.

 
« Last Edit: March 14, 2010, 06:10:13 pm by junkboy »

Offline EyeCraft

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #8 on: March 16, 2010, 01:06:25 am
God, I can't believe how few tiles they've used there  :o

That changes my thinking a fair bit for the challenge. I was just adding tiles like crazy, but now I think it's better to concentrate on a few highly useful pieces that can be combined together in numerous ways.

@junkboy: wow... I'm glad they took that level out for the other versions  :huh: Those background colours are punishing to the eyes.

Looks like they used the background palette for the powerups in that level, too? Is that right? Seems really odd to mix background and power up tones like that.

Offline huZba

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #9 on: March 16, 2010, 11:37:05 am
What struck me was how much enemies rely on vertical and diagonal movements instead of horizontal, probably to avoid flickering? On the first level there's these robots that are really tall, most projectiles are diagonal. Then if there's an enemy that does fire a projectile horizontally, it's usually just one. There's some slowdown now and then from what I guess is from maxing out the onscreen sprite number.

@eyecraft
If memory serves, the tiles are stored without palette data and the tiles get their colors on the fly when the palette is applied. In junkboy's picture the first palette available has been assigned for the whole tileset.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2010, 02:49:38 pm by huZba »

Offline alspal

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #10 on: March 17, 2010, 01:34:36 am
Thought I'd flex my nerd muscles by mentioning that "Shatterhand" is a westernized port of a Japanese game called "Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain", which in turn is based on a TV Show about robot cops or something.

Incorrect.

Quote from: JoshF
I used the site Game Kommander for that information, which is far more reliable that Wikipedia.

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/hzk/kommander/rvsrs.html

From what I can tell it calls Shatterhand the original, and says Bandai made them update it to include one of their licenses for the Japanese release.
http://forum.insomnia.ac/viewtopic.php?t=3096

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #11 on: March 17, 2010, 01:15:47 pm
That's a stunning reversal of form with that japanese liscencing!

And I am really stunned this is just 220kb. More respect for the artist(s)!

Offline ptoing

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #12 on: March 17, 2010, 02:22:09 pm
More respect for the artist(s)!

And coder(s) and musician(s) :)

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline Kasumi

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #13 on: March 21, 2010, 01:36:17 pm
I hope a more technical post will be appreciated. If not, I'll head back into lurk mode. The NES stuff always pulls me out.  :-X I also apologize if I compared to other games too much, but I thought it might help understanding.

Just a few corrections here to start:

The cart (probably Konami-designed) has modifications to increase memory size to fit in more sprite and tile data. Effectively this means that this game couldn't have come out as an NES launch title or anything of the type. Keep this in mind if you think 'huh the NES came a long way since super mario and other simple looking arcade ports to this'. The artists came a long way but also, the cart configurations changed. I'm sure we have some actual NES cartridge wizards in the forum that could more assuredly talk about their specs.

Well, I can try. Shatterhand is an MMC3 game. MMC3 and the other MMC series were Nintendo developed as far as I know. This means Shatterhand doesn't have any more of a complicated cart than 1988's Super Mario Bros. 3, and in fact uses less space for code/data/levels, probably to save money since ROM was expensive. (Both games use 128 KB for graphics, but SMB3 uses 256 KB for code/data where Shatterhand only uses 128KB for that. But... I suppose that's not useful info for this discussion) Therefore you can chalk a lot of Shatterhand's graphical victories to its artists, rather than its cart.

It's all about color usage and tile busyness I think. It takes a page from the Batman game, the black color is the universal color here that ties almost every tile together and frees up the other two colors per tile to be whatever else since black can dither into anything for an extra darker shade and unifies.

Three. If black is the universal color in all background tiles, then each tile palette still has three other colors to choose from. There are four background palettes that have: black, and three other colors. It's sprites that only get three colors since the universal color used for all sprite palettes just becomes transparent instead when the sprite is drawn.

Don't be afraid of complicated tile configurations either, you have (imaginary) cartridge space.

In fact, this game could have used twice as much space as it did for tile/sprite data. It just would have been more expensive to produce.

On the whole "parallax scroll debate"

The splitscreen parallax:

I assume they scroll the screen during scanline interrupts?

Is it possible to scroll one part to the left, the other to the right?

Sprites are always layered afterwards?

Yes!

Yes! See Megaman 3 (another MMC3 game.) Press start on the title screen and watch the top and bottom parts of the screen scroll in from the left, and the middle scroll in from the right to make up the robot master select screen.

Not necessarily. ptoing went over the basics of that.

The best "parallax scrolling" I've seen is in Battletoads. (Note: Battletoads is NOT MMC3 but...) One of the features MMC3 adds is a scanline counter. This allows different vertical portions of the screen to have different horizontal scroll values. (Split screen scrolling as described in Megaman 3 above) On the title screen of Shatterhand don't press start. Eventually you'll see an enemy shooting, and a guy will pan in from the right blocking the bullets with his arm. That's an example of this. It's not exactly as wonderful as parallax scrolling with different background layers though.

But actually split screen scrolling can be used in carts with no special configuration. See Super Mario Bros. where the level scrolls but the HUD (score, world etc) doesn't. MMC3 just made that kinda thing MUCH easier since you didn't have to wait in idle loops to change the scroll value mid screen. You could rely on an interrupts. I can't even guarentee at this point if that scene is done the MMC3 way or the SMB way without looking at how it's running through a debugger, but "easy" split screen is a fun feature of MMC3.

I might make a more detailed post regarding what this game does with its graphics codewise during gameplay, as well.

Edit: Or not. A quick run through shows it barely does anything neat. Doh. Ptoing covered that.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2010, 02:06:36 pm by Kasumi »
I program NES games. Thus, I'm the unofficial forum dealer of too much information about the NES.

Offline Green_Hell

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #14 on: March 21, 2010, 10:46:20 pm
Feel free to add more screenshots to the discussion. I think I need to play a little more before I can get some of the later areas.

Let's get cracking! :yay:

This might be usefull:
http://www.vgmaps.com/Atlas/NES/index.htm#S
http://www.retrogamezone.co.uk/shatteredhand.html

Hope it did not ruin the fun of cracking. I cheated my emulator (mednafen) and then remembered about these sites with sprites and maps.

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #15 on: March 22, 2010, 08:34:55 pm
Kasumi thank you very much for the informative technical post :)

Offline pmprog

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #16 on: March 26, 2010, 12:10:07 pm
Several C64 games supply parallax scrolling beyond scanlines (Creatures, Mayhem in Monsterland, Turrican).

Basically, as the background is made up from the character set, which have custom "font", this can be done by having several characters with "scrolled" versions of the same character (if there's enough free characters), or, the other option is to edit the character set data during the game.

A prime example of the latter is Barbarian, whilst not used for parallax scrolling, the characters are "drawn" into the background using this method. I'm not sure why they didn't use hardware sprites for Barbarian, but still plays well
« Last Edit: March 26, 2010, 12:11:57 pm by pmprog »

Offline Kasumi

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #17 on: March 26, 2010, 03:17:53 pm
Kasumi thank you very much for the informative technical post :)
You're welcome.

Since I finally got around to really playing this, I've got one more.

This game has a "parallax scrolling" thing too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN6r2MPdNmw

It's fine for a beat'em up like Battletoads because those games progress horizontally, without a lot of vertical scrolling.
I don't think it works on this style of game, though, because it prohibits the part of the level you can interact with from being any higher than the highest point of the level with a "normal" scroll. Vertical scrolling with it is also pretty out of the question without headaches, so they opted out.
Also interesting to me, is how this game really likes (liked?) to avoid scrolling horizontally and vertically at the same time. I almost get the feeling they didn't have a way to do it when they started the game, and only added areas like this when they updated the engine.

Play the first level again. It seems pretty carefully designed so that it's never possible to scroll in both directions. You go horizontally. You reach a vertical drop. You can't go back to the horizontal area once you drop down. When you get the end of the drop to scroll horizontally again, you can't scroll back up. Without being really techinical, scrolling in two directions at once is difficult on NES because it doesn't have an offscreen buffer to draw tiles to in each direction. On the chance if it has to scroll both in the same frame it becomes a real problem. Metroid switched the type of scrolling every time you went through a door. (That's why the map is horizontal rooms next to vertical hubs) Megaman switched it when needed. Kirby's Adventure tried scrolling both ways during the level select hubs, but never during an actual level (that I know of). But that's likely getting off topic. I think I'll try the challenge, since I need the practice for my own game. I talk a big talk, but I'm really not so great at (NES) tiling.  :crazy:

Several C64 games supply parallax scrolling beyond scanlines (Creatures, Mayhem in Monsterland, Turrican).

Basically, as the background is made up from the character set, which have custom "font", this can be done by having several characters with "scrolled" versions of the same character (if there's enough free characters), or, the other option is to edit the character set data during the game.

A prime example of the latter is Barbarian, whilst not used for parallax scrolling, the characters are "drawn" into the background using this method. I'm not sure why they didn't use hardware sprites for Barbarian, but still plays well

You can mess with the characterset on NES as well, if you use CHR RAM, instead of CHR ROM. (which Shatterhand uses). I'm always amazed by the tricks these games used to get what they could from bad specs.
I program NES games. Thus, I'm the unofficial forum dealer of too much information about the NES.

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #18 on: March 30, 2010, 03:58:57 pm
Again, really informative post!

I kinda like how Shatterhand doesn't allow you to scroll in both directions at once, somehow it makes the game feel more... tight. I don't know if anyone else feels likewise.

Offline robotwo

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #19 on: April 26, 2010, 05:11:31 pm
Still have my ex of "Shatterhand" complete in the box  :)
One of my all-time favourites next to "Journey to Silius" and "PowerBlade"  ;D

Offline RushJet1

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #20 on: August 03, 2010, 01:41:44 pm
The best "parallax scrolling" I've seen is in Battletoads. (Note: Battletoads is NOT MMC3 but...) One of the features MMC3 adds is a scanline counter. This allows different vertical portions of the screen to have different horizontal scroll values. (Split screen scrolling as described in Megaman 3 above) On the title screen of Shatterhand don't press start. Eventually you'll see an enemy shooting, and a guy will pan in from the right blocking the bullets with his arm. That's an example of this. It's not exactly as wonderful as parallax scrolling with different background layers though.

You might want to see Metal Storm then.  It has actual parallax, and sometimes even double parallax (level 3-2--go play the game if you want; it's a lot of fun).

Offline QuickSilva

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #21 on: August 06, 2010, 05:05:28 pm
Metal Storm is just mimicking the look of parallax scrolling by cleverly using animated tiles if I am not mistaken. Games designers used to use these sort of tricks in the good old days. When your character moves the tiles animate. Simple but effective.

Jason.  

Offline Kasumi

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #22 on: August 08, 2010, 01:29:57 am
You might want to see Metal Storm then.  It has actual parallax, and sometimes even double parallax (level 3-2--go play the game if you want; it's a lot of fun).

Thanks for sharing! This is now the best parallax scrolling I've seen on NES! And it uses the same mapper setup as Shatterhand! AND it'd work with vertical scrolling! (and does in Metal Storm) My previous post was incorrect! Sorry.  :-[

QuickSilva is right. It's swapping out banks of graphics data to do this as the player moves. Exactly the same thing Shatterhand does to animate its backgrounds, except Shatterhand does it at fixed intervals instead of when the player moves. Really clever, Metal Storm devs!  :) Sorry for misleading people.
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Offline ptoing

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #23 on: August 08, 2010, 02:56:10 am
It's not proper animation even, it is just shifting a part of the tileset and since it is a small part which tiles it wraps. This kinda stuff has been done in some games on the C64 as well, for example Mayhem in Monsterland.

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline RushJet1

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #24 on: August 17, 2010, 06:34:48 pm
more games that did parallax that appears to go behind objects (not just the scan line stuff that quite a few games did):

Mega Man 5

probably the most impressive, Mitsume ga Tooru

Offline Mathias

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #25 on: September 08, 2010, 11:41:49 pm
probably the most impressive, Mitsume ga Tooru

Whoa, you linked to a certain spot in the video, how'd you do that!?

Offline Sly

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #26 on: September 09, 2010, 02:59:35 am
You add "#t=02m57s" or whatever time you want at the end of the url. =D

No zombies here.

Offline meodai

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shatterhand

Reply #27 on: May 02, 2011, 10:00:49 am
use to love this game! It inspired me to do some coin animation once: