Friday, July 20, 2012

On Internet Comedians and Internet Irony

(Author's preface. I originally intended this post to be a short space holder that presented a couple links to internet videos. However, the first half went off on a tangent and grew to unwieldy lengths. So I'll just stick the link to qaylIS' Godzilla video series up here instead of burying it at the bottom. Die Geschichte von Godzilla is a rather impressive looking series chronicling the Godzilla films, and is entirely in German. So folks who are not good at understanding spoken German, such as myself, will be pretty lost here. If you do speak German, check it out. Anyway, on with the rest of the post...)

As Dr. Sparkle, I tend to stay clear of all those social media time-wasters. I have enough on my plate without trying to tend to a Chrontendo Facebook account (though I have, God help me, considered opening a Twitter.) Anyway, I haven't added any subscriptions or contacts or anything like that on the Chrontendo Youtube channel. Perhaps someday I will, but there is a lot of good videogame related content out there and I don't want to pick and choose among them.  However, I do have a soft spot in my heart for internet drama - as proven by my references to Christian Chandler on this blog - so I decided to point out my love for Mysterious Man's funny and intriguing Youtube videos.

He's often accused of being a troll, though I would classify him more as an "Internet Performance Artist." His shtick is recording awful video reviews in the persona of a Nintendo-hating, XBox/PS3 loving, hardcore gamer dude. Classic retro games such as Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time are given quick, dismissive reviews almost always resulting in a zero out of ten rating. Nintendo fans are described as infantile, brainwashed, etc. All of this is done with an overweening sense of confidence and an almost infuriating Jimmy Stewart-esque drawl. His videos tend to hit-and-miss, but when everything clicks, it works wonderfully. Here, for example, where his disgust at the "Lego world" of Earthbound contrasts with a sort of a hushed awe at Call of Duty Black Ops:

I'll be completely honest and admit that the Chron CD-i video was partially inspired by this guy.

The interesting thing is this: his videos generate a surprising level of anger among the viewers, with a huge number of dislikes and lot of very nasty comments. A few people have even gone so far to create counter-reviews and even point-by-point refutations to his anti-Nintendo rants. I'm not sure if these are folks are playing along with the Mysterious Man character, or if they are sincerely enraged by his videos. I find the latter option extremely difficult to believe, since the parodic nature of the character is soooo transparent. Aside from being obviously very familiar with the old school games he claims to detest (knowing where hidden items are, for example) in one video he clearly shows a Mario-themed piece of artwork on his wall.

We know then, that Mysterious Man is inviting his viewers to see right through him. But it must be very tempting for the viewer who "gets" the joke to also engage in a bit of internet play-acting by posting furious comments on his videos, etc. This allows the viewer to feel they are on the inside of the joke, not the outside; i.e. they are aligned with the perpetrator of the joke rather than the target. Then, of course, some viewers will get the joke, and recognize that others also get the joke, and can then feel a sense of superiority those commentators who do not get that others get the joke. (You and I, dear readers, fall into this second set of viewers.)  At this point, I'm not sure how more levels of meta-knowledge we can add to this.

In contemporary American mass culture, the dominant mode of discourse is irony. As Americans, it is often not clear whether we like something, or merely "like" it. So much so that an actual aesthetic movement called the "New Sincerity," purporting to be non-ironic, emerged in the 90s, though it turned out to be mostly just a bit of sincerity with a layer of irony slathered on top. Anything that might be really and truly sincere is suspect; witness the widespread animosity directed towards Emo music in the early 2000s. All those crying teenagers drove us apeshit. Mysterious Man's videos drip with irony, and I can't help being reminded of David Foster Wallace's classic essay, "E. Unibus Pluram" and its discussion, via Mark Crispin Miller, of this successful 1986 Pepsi ad.

The gag here is that the ad takes a blatantly cynical, self-aware look at advertising itself.  It foregrounds the manipulation of the sheep-like masses through advertising, in an ironic contrast to Pepsi's slogan, "The Choice of a New Generation." The semi-astute viewer will note this irony, realize that Pepsi is winking at him, and then enter into a sort of collusion with Pepsi. Wallace calls this Pepsi's "unctuous flattery" of the semi-astute viewer. The second layer of irony here is that vast numbers of viewers will be drawn into this same collusion, thus becoming the sheep-like masses they laugh at while watching the ad. All of this was quite ingenious in 1986. Now, most TV ads work on this principal, as far as I can tell. (It's also interesting to note that this ad is so closely associated with DFW, that 3 of the 8 YT comments mention him.)

Going back to Mysterious Man, I wonder who he's really making fun of. While he assumes the role of a smug yet clueless Call of Duty fanatic, that's clearly not who he is trying to provoke with his reviews. Instead he seems to be taking aim at the humorless, thin-skinned retro game enthusiast. But he is so obvious and ridiculousness with his provocation that I can't take that seriously either. And what are we to make of the various "answer" videos like this? Or this? (A response to an MM video that was later deleted by Youtube.) Are these serious or ironic? Why would someone craft a well-reasoned response to an accusation as silly as 'liking Nintendo makes you gay'? Is MM engaging in a form of unctuous flattery that not everyone can perceive?

Whatever the true motives of the person behind the Mysterious Man videos, I find the layers of irony and ambiguity fascinating. That's why I rank MM a step above the usual assortment of internet goof balls and trolls.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

That's Octogon, Not Otakon

Now that Chronturbo 3 is safely in the can, we can turn our attention to the new Chrontendo. I'm hard at work on it now. The highlight will probably be a mini-history of Tetris, and the horrible mix-ups that occurred over the rights to that game. If you don't know the full story, you will hopefully find it to be fascinating stuff.

I have no videogame related content for you today, but I will encourage you to test your knowledge of literary iconoclasts and hip-hop eccentrics with the quiz below. This is actually quite brilliant, since you would not necessarily notice the similarities between James Joyce and Kool Keith. Maybe some day I'll share the New Wave/Punk cover art quiz I created some years ago.

Click here to take the quiz. I scored 9 out 10, by the way. Hudson Hongo is also known as the fellow behind Literally Unbelievable. If you ever want to lose all faith in mankind's capacity for critical thinking, check out Literally Unbelievable.

Also, I don't normally post silly videos I that I find online, much less things posted on However, I've been playing the NES TMNT game, which naturally brought to mind a certain terrible early 90s rap song, and this Corey Feldman song is in a very similar vein. I don't know what exactly is going on in this video, but I can tell one thing: Mr. Feldman's dance moves are incredibly sick.

Seriously, those moves are SICK as HELL! I think I now have even more respect for Corey Feldman.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

1989: Year of the Tigers

(Update: So the 60 FPS versions are up, but I have reports that the MP4 version does not sync the sound and video correctly when played in Quicktime. I have no idea why this is or how to fix it.)

After much blood, sweat, tears, screaming, crying and general unpleasantness, Chronturbo Episode 3 is finally here. This is the first "new look" episode in the Chrontendo family: the first step in an overall makeover for the series. Any changes will be (at least initially) limited to superficial things. Eventually, we see some updates to Chrontendo and Chronsega, as well.

As always, the connoisseur may download impeccable 60 frames/second h.264 versions on, or stream the 30 frames/second version on Youtube. Naturally, various flicker effects are lost in the 30 fps version.

So what's changed in Chronturbo Episode 3? There are new opening and closing sequences, for one. The little introductory sequences for each game are also redone, though they remain relatively unchanged.  I've added new graphics when a caption appears onscreen. Also, there is the aforementioned auto-ducking. Well, it's not literally auto-ducking, but I am adjusting the game sounds to be louder when I'm not talking, so the music can be better heard.  A number of games this episode have some pretty decent music, so its best that we should be able to hear it.

Chronturbo 3 is the first "full" episode of Chronturbo, with 16 games released from January through March 1989. As I mentioned earlier, the pace of releases for the PC Engine starts to pick up dramatically in 1989. Furthermore, NEC was able to do what Sega could not with its Master System: induce third party publishers to release game for the system. This episode features a mere four games from console creators NEC and Hudson. The rest are from outside companies, include seven publishers releasing their first game for the console: Irem, Data East, Sunsoft, Pack-in-Video, Face, Aicom, and Taito.

Still, the two best games end up being from Hudson.

This raises interesting questions about the food supply in underground dungeons.
Dungeon Explorer remains one of the best remembered games on the system. Developed by Atlus, it's an odd mash up of an RPG and a Gauntlet clone. Essentially, Dungeon Explorer is Gauntlet with some RPG elements thrown in. Just like Atari's arcade classic, the game is designed for simultaneous multiplayer, and most of the action involves wandering around top-down dungeons, killing endless hordes of monsters which spawn from portals. These portals must be destroyed to stop the monsters from constantly re-spawning. Unlike Gauntlet, Dungeon Explorer scatters its dungeons around on an overworld, then tosses in some NPCs and a rudimentary plot. Your characters permanently increase their power after defeating each dungeon's boss, so Dungeon Explorer has a simple leveling system.

It's a cool hack and slash game, and feels like a distant ancestor to Diablo. The music, in particular, stands out as catchy and memorable. DE is probably the first really good game from Atlus to be released in the West. What a shame that the US version had such amateurish looking cover art.

Why, NEC? Why!?!?
Military Madness

By early 1989,  military tactics games were quite common on the Famicom. We've already seen one such game, Gaia no Monshou, in Chronturbo Episode 2. Much better is Hudson's take on the genre, Nectaris/Military Madness. It closely resembles Daisenryaku and Famicom Wars in its conception. On top of the basic "move your units around kill stuff" gameplay, Hudson threw in a plot about a radical group on the moon threatening to nuke Earth, as well as an in-game manual.

Why did I feel a sudden twinge of solitary sadness creep over me?
As you may know from previous episodes of Chrontendo, Military Madness is the standard to which I hold all other early console military simulation games. I stand by my position today; it is by far the best such game we've seen in terms of execution.

Other Good Games:

It's not great, but it's miles better than Tiger Heli.
I've already mentioned that Chronturbo 3 features three shoot-em-ups. The best of these is probably Kyūkyoku Tiger, a Japan-only port of the arcade game we call Twin Cobra in the US. This is one of many shooters Toaplan was cranking out in the late '80s (Zero Wing, their most retroactively famous game, hit arcades in 1989).  There's nothing too terribly original or awesome to found in Kyūkyoku Tiger. It's just a reasonably engaging game in which you fly around a helicopter, blowing up tons of enemy aircraft, tanks and gun turrets. The PC Engine's hardware meant there could be quite a few projectiles on screen at once, though this version is still less hectic that the arcade original.

Hanii takes a bit of inspiration from R-Type here.
Another quite good, though very different shoot-em-up was Face's Hanii in the Sky.  Steeped in Shinto lore, Hanii features a heavily armed haniwa figure blasting its way though a variety of bizarre enemies. The main gimmick is your rotating cannon. This allows you to attack in all directions. While not the slickest or prettiest shoot-em-up on the system, Hanii is unusual enough to make it worth a look.

SonSon II

We have a lot of aggressive tigers this episode.

The first Capcom-developed game on the PC Engine,  SonSon II is a cute little action platformer in the Wonder Boy in Monster Land mode. I've already discussed it in some detail.

Space Adventure Cobra: Kokuryuuou no Densetsu

The most modestly clad woman in the whole game.
The only CD Rom Rom game this episode -- this Hudson produced title is based on a sci-fi manga/anime from Buichi Terasawa. The production values are pretty high; the art and music are great, and professional voice actors were used.  Space Adventure Cobra is also a harbinger of the future of NEC's consoles: it's an adventure game that features "mature" content. In this case, that means lots of women in skimpy outfits.


This screen shot depicts the mental image most people got when they thought of NYC back in the '80s.
1988's R-Type and R-Type II were published by Hudson. This makes Vigilante the first Irem published game for the PC Engine. I know Vigilante isn't exactly the best beat-em-up of the era, but this is a very accurate port of the 1987 arcade game. Some of the weird, suggestive signs in the first level have been cut off, however.

The Bad Games:

F-1 Pilot

The cars in F-1 Pilot feature hilariously over-sized side mirrors.
The very first thing this game does wrong is the title. Why is it called "F-1 Pilot" when this is a racing game, not a flying game? The second thing is the subtitle: "You're King of Kings." Even if you were the best F-1 racer in the world, calling yourself the King of Kings is pretty pretentious. The final mistake this game makes is being one of the worst racing games we've seen so far.

Deep Blue

Only five games from Chronturbo 3 were given US releases. Due to what must have been a serious clerical error, one of those games ended up being Deep Blue. I'm sure this game has its defenders due to its unusual play mechanics. It plays unlike most other games in the genre. Deep Blue overwhelms you with enemies but gives you a rechargeable health bar. In theory this sounds very intriguing, but actual game is so boring and repetitive that it approaches kusoge levels of badness.

Ganbare! Golf Boys

The main advantage PC Engine golf games have over Famicom golf games is the extra shades of green.
Absolutely no relation to Konami's Ganbare Goemon series, this turd from KLON and NCS is the second golf game released for the PC Engine.

The Rest:

Winning Shot

The first PC Engine golf game is a bit better than Ganbare! Golf Boys. It also happens to be the system debut from Data East. There's nothing here we haven't already seen on countless Famicom golf games, but at least the music is pretty nice.

Shiryou Sensen/War of the Dead

Another game where the cover art makes it look 1000% cooler than it really is.
A Zelda-ish action RPG that originated on the MSX2, War of the Dead is sometimes called the first survival horror game. Of course, identifying the first survival horror game is sort of like identifying the first rock 'n' roll song: for any nominee, someone will always point out an earlier example. Anyway, if the above description makes you want to try out War of the Dead, be prepared for an experience that is somewhat archaic and unpleasant. Still, this is an interesting game, in theory.

Moto Roader

Before you judge, please remember that graphics aren't everything.
A top down racing game for up to five players. In order to always have all five cars on the screen at once, the game employees some crazy rubber banding. Slow cars are forcibly dragged across the screen to prevent them from getting too far behind.  If nothing else, Moto Racer provides a nice counter example to the rule that Japan also gets the cooler box art.

Out Live

The entire game looks exactly like this screen shot.
Sunsoft's first PC Engine game is a first person RPG. Imagine a sci-fi themed Deep Dungeon in which you cruise around in a mech suit. Out Live is a very basic dungeon crawler, but the graphics make it look a lot cooler than the similar games we've seen on the Famicom.

Kaizou Chounin Shubibinman

Hey kid! Behind you!
A tokusatsu inspired side-scrolling action game. With its tiny sprites and extremely flat, linear levels, Shubibinman is basically a Famicom game with brighter colors.  Aside from that, it's noteworthy for its extremely generous hit detection.

P-47: The Freedom Fighter

A port of a Jaleco arcade game, released by Pack-in-Video on the PC Engine. P-47 is about the most uninspired, generic shoot-em-up you could imagine.

What's next on the schedule?  Let's see... oh, yes! It's Chrontendo 45. And then, we will probably move on to Chronsega 8, which will see some major changes to that series.

Until then, don't forget to check out Chronturbo 3 at Archive or Youtube!