Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some News for You

My goodness! Has it really been this long since I've updated this blog? My apologies.

If you're wondering what's currently on the plate for Dr.  Sparkle, I'm currently waist-deep in Chronturbo Episode Five, covering July through September 1989. Compared to last episode, which featured Valis II, Blazing Lazers and the ambitious CD-ROM RPG Tengai Makyou: Ziria, Episode Five is kind of lame. We've got a handful of arcade ports, the usual golf and baseball games, one adventure game, and some random junk.

One rather bizarre PC Engine release is NEC's port of Altered Beast, or more properly, Juuouki, since this version didn't come out stateside.  There were a few Sega games ported to the PC Engine (and the Famicom!) but Altered Beast has been released not that long ago on the Mega Drive, and was considered of sufficient quality to become the pack-in title for the Genesis. I don't know exactly what Sega's reasoning was for licensing the game to NEC. Perhaps the popularity of the PC Engine meant it would sell more copies than it would on the Mega Drive.

Even stranger though, was the way Altered Beast was released. It is the only PC Engine game I know of (off the top of my head) that received  near-simultaneous releases on the HuCard and CD-ROM. On September 22, 1989 the CD-ROM version hit the shelves; then the card version came out a week later. The differences between the two are minimal. The CD version has an brief narrated intro that is accessible from the main menu. Unlike Valis II, this is not an animated style intro, but rather ugly looking still images with narration and music.  In addition, the CD version has speech samples which are missing from the HuCard version. Aside from that, the game itself is identical.

Scene from the CD-ROM intro.

I'm not really sure why NEC released this on CD-ROM, other than to give early adaptors another game to justify their purchase of the peripheral. The CD-ROM² was launched 9 months prior, and only 8 games had been released for it. A bunch of CD-ROM games started coming out around February and March of 1990, so there were clearly a lot of titles in the works. Still, everything about the CD-ROM Altered Beast screams "desperate cash-in." The disc itself if only 94 megabytes, making it the smallest PC Engine disc game I know of.

PCE Altered Beast looks considerable worse than the Genesis version.

Two other CD-ROM games will be covered this episode, one of which is Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair. This is the "other" Wonder Boy III: a port of the arcade game, not to be confused with The Dragon's Trap. It's a simple little platformer/shoot-em-up hybrid which has some slammin' music. The other game is Super Albatross, which has an intriguing name but turns out to be merely a golf game. Kusoge fans will be pleased to know there are two pretty terrible HuCard games this episode as well.

Rock On. This game is bullshit.


Also, I'll mention this stupid thing I'm doing during my spare time (ie: while I'm on the clock at work), the Day by Day blog. For the innocent among you, Day By Day is an extremely ugly, paranoid, sorta white supremacist, MRA comic. It began life 13 years ago and a Republican-leaning Doonesbury clone. It even had limited syndication for a while.  The creator's brain kind of snapped when Obama was elected and it just devolved into the awful mess it is today. This blog of mine is a look at Day by Day through the years, watching it turn into horrifying crap.

The current Chrontendo schedule is as follows: Chronturbo 5 is partway done. I've had very little time to work on this stuff for the last few weeks, but hope to pick up the pace soon. Also, Video Nasties Ep. 2 will be out soon (it's actually more or less been sitting in the can for a little while.) There will be a short Video Nasties Ep 2 Part 2 video soon afterwards. Sort of a one-off follow up video.




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Micro Update!

For those who want/prefer a downloadable/non YouTube-processed version of The Video Nasties Episode 1, 1080p and 720p versions are available on Archive, here:.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Enter: The Video Nasties

As promised earlier, I've started a new channel, Dr Sparkle After Dark, for uploading non-gaming related content. The first (non-pilot) episode of the Video Nasties series has just been uploaded, and is available for your viewing enjoyment. I suspect an age restriction will end up being placed on this series at some point.



Just as with Chrontendo, episodes will also be posted to Archive.org. In the event that a Nasties video gets pulled from Youtube, it will still be available to view on Archive.

I provide some background information on the video nasties phenomenon in this video's intro, but here's a quick summary: The UK has historically been one of the most censorious  nations in the western industrial word, with film censorship being handled by an organization called the BBFC. The BBFC rates films much like the MPAA does in the US, though failure to obtain a BBFC rating usually prohibits a film from being distributed in a normal theatrical setting. When home video formats such as the VHS tape became available in the late 70s/early 80s, there was no sort of regulation or censorship placed on them. A number of foreign sex and horror movies were released in the UK on video, causing an uproar in the tabloids. UK tabloids are notoriously sensationalistic, and labeled such films "video nasties," though the term was first used in The Sunday Times. The theory was that viewing such films would corrupt the unsullied minds of Britain's youth, thus turning them into a generation of degenerates, murderers and criminals.

Typical anti-nastiies headline.

The authorities stepped in and began seizing tapes from video stores, on the grounds that they were legally 'obscene.' Obscenity was illegal in the UK, but had previously been used only to ban things for sexual content such as hardcore pornography.  Now, horror movies on video were being ruled as obscene in the British courts.  After a couple years of chaos, Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act in 1984, which put video tape releases under the control of the BBFC. From this point onward, VHS  movies not passed by the BBFC were effectively banned in the UK. Most of the films considered to be 'nasties' had no chance of getting passed by the BBFC, or at the very least would require sizable cuts. The original "pre-cert" video tape releases of the nasties films became highly collectible in the UK: in particular, the "DPP 39," a group of 39 movies successfully prosecuted as obscene prior to the VRA.

In addition to those 39 films, there are an additional 33 that the DPP considered obscene but were not successfully prosecuted as such. Also, there were 82 films which were seized and destroyed under civic forfeiture hearings, rather than a criminal trial. We'll cover films from all three categories in this series. As time passed and the BBFC became more lenient, many of the nasties films finally got official DVD/Blu-Ray releases in the UK, though some remain banned in uncut form.

A natural place to start would be Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, a 1979 low-budget horror film about a guy that (not surprisingly) kills people with a power drill. It's much closer to a gorier, grittier version of Roman Polanski's Repulsion than a typical slasher movie. The Driller Killer was one of the movies that ignited the original nasties firestorm, but this was more due to the VHS box cover than the film itself. Though the use of a drill as murder weapon was also contentious, since it would easy for people to get their hands on one and re-enact the film's murders.


This cover virtually started the who nasties scare.
As for my opinions on Driller Killer, you can watch the video and find out for yourself. In short, I'll say that I liked it. Now, I'm certainly not the first guy on the internet to tackle the nasties. The nasties are in the UK, much like the Famicom library in Japan: everyone's taken a swipe at them. One of the main video reviewers is Glenn Criddle, who has reviewed all of them (I think) under the Youtube handle Lampyman.  Here's his take on The Driller Killer:




If anything, Criddle is even more low-key and subdued that I am. He has a pretty different interpretation of it than I do, overlaying a sort of  Freudian/Oedipal theme onto the film. I see it more as an economic horror movie, and quite frankly, don't understand why anyone in the 21th century would be engaging in Freudian analysis of movies. Also, while Driller Killer is a gritty little film, I think Criddle overstates the awfulness of the NYC setting in which the protagonist, Reno, lives. The words "squalor" and "slum" pop up in his review, when in fact, NYC in the 70s was a virtual paradise for artistic bohemian types. Reno's Union Square apartment/loft is rather spacious. And while Ferrara plays up NYC's crime and transient population, this ain't exactly Gangs of New York era Five Points.

Here's another Nasty reviewer, doing mini-reviews of Killer and a few others. He's more breezy and animated than Criddle or me, though he doesn't care for the movie much.



Due to the pretty short production time required for these things, (a fraction of the time it takes to make a complete episode of Chrontendo) you might see episodes pretty frequently. And I have other stuff planned for the Dr. Sparkle After Dark channel as well.

Next time will be a much prettier movie, yet still quite gory.


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Genesis Arrives

OK folks, cool your heels. The new episode of Chronsega is available for your viewing pleasure. Youtube now offers 60 fps options, you can watch a pretty darn good streaming version there. Or you can download that same file directly from Archive.org. (It's the 1.4 gig MP4 file.)  More file sizes/formats will be available there soon.

Chronsega Episode 9 covers July through October 1989 for the Mega Drive/Genesis and "Fall 1989" for those increasingly rare and mysterious Master System games. One very important thing of note this episode is that the Sega Genesis was released in the US on August 14, supposedly only in NYC and Los Angeles at first. Sega of America was in an interesting position at this time.  They had only recently retaken over the Master System's distribution and marketing from Tonka. From what I understand, Bruce Lowry, formerly of Nintendo before becoming President of Sega of America in 1986, had quit Sega and gone back to Nintendo in mid-1988, thus leaving SOA headless for a year. Shortly after the Genesis' launch, former Coleco/Atari/Epyx executive Michael Katz stepped in to take charge of Sega's US branch. Katz developed much of what we think about  the Genesis when we consider its pre-Sonic era: The focus on celebrity sports figures. The emphasis on the Genesis' superior graphics.  The "Genesis Does What Nintendon't" ad campaign.

Katz was replaced after two years by Tom Kalinske. There are two schools of thought re: Katz vs. Kalinske. One is that Katz simply failed to make the Genesis succeed in the US; it was up to Kalinske to turn things around, and that Kalinske's tactics were directly responsible for the Sega's brief US dominance over Nintendo. The other perspective is that many of the seeds of the Genesis' success had already been planted during Katz's reign (for example, Sonic.) Those seeds just happened to bloom after Kalinske took over, thus Kalinske unjustly got all the credit. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between those two positions.

Sega of America did manage to get quite a few games on the market very quickly. The Genesis launched with five titles, then released another batch in September, then presumably kept new releases coming throughout the rest of the year. It's hard to say for sure what came out when, but this is the second Genesis ad to appear in Game Pro magazine:

This issue must have been on the shelves in Fall 1989, perhaps in November. The same issue mentions Katz' September appointment as Head of Sega of America as breaking news. This at least gives us some idea which titles were available shortly after launch.  It gives me the impression that a few titles, such as Golden Axe, Zoom and Revenge of Shinobi were released in the US before Japan.



Soon, Sega would launch it's own Nintendo Power style magazine called Sega Visions, release the Mega Drive in Europe, and eventually find massive success in the US, Europe, Australia an Brazil.  For the moment though, we'll look at the second batch of ten games released in Summer and
Fall of 1989. Three games stand out: a port of Sega's arcade hit Golden Axe, a Sega-published port of Capcom's Ghouls 'N Ghosts, and a console original, Revenge of Shinobi.



Golden Axe and Ghouls 'N Ghosts proved once again the system was capable very accurate ports of recent arcade hits, something that was out of the question for the aging NES. Revenge of Shinobi demonstrated what console action platformers could look like in the 16-bit generation. Other new titles this episode aren't as successful. Rambo III is a poor man's Mercs clone, padded with long, maze-like levels to stretch it to console game length. Forgotten Worlds is another Capcom port which isn't nearly as good as Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Super Hang-On is a much improved version of a game that was a launch title for the Master System, with a new career mode added on.



Other titles include Super Hydlide, a port of the computer game Hydlide 3, whose Famicom version we glossed over a few episodes ago. Super Hydlide has some interesting ideas, but its butt-ugly graphics, grindy nature and overall lack of personality will turn off most folks. The music on the Genesis version is fantastic, however. Hokuto no Ken/Last Battle is yet another dull Fist of the North Star beat-em-up, which somehow ended up being a launch title in the US.  We've also got a soccer and golf game.

With this episode, we've covered the first 20 Mega Drive/Genesis games released.  Here's the breakdown:

7 arcade ports
4 computer ports
9 original games, of which:
     3 were action platformers
     3 were sports games
     1 was a beat-em-up
     1 was a top down run-and-gun
     1 was an RPG

An interesting and varied assortment of games. As of yet we've only seen two third party publishers, and neither were big names in the videogame market. All this will change in 1990, as the likes of Namco, Taito and EA lend their support to the console.

Until then, head on over to Youtube or Archive and check out Chronsega Episode 9.