Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer's End

Things were slow around the Sparkle household today. I had the day off work so I'm cooked a big pot of chili (this is, Dr. Sparkle's patented signature super-hot chili.)  The stuff is basically a recipe for cardiac arrest, considering how much horrible, fattening stuff it has it in - like chorizo and beer - so I only cook it every once in a great while. It's also takes a few hours to cook, so its virtually an all-day project.

I'm also doing a bit of work on Chronsega 8. There will be some changes to the Chronsega series starting this episode. Just like Chronturbo, there will be a new animated introductory section. Things start getting tricky for the Master System at this point, since Sega pulled the plug on it in Japan in early 1989. Thus, every SMS game from here on out is either a US, European or Brazilian release.  The actual release dates for these things are completely unknown. Old videogame magazines provide clues, but sometimes the only hint is the copyright date on the title screen or box.  Heck, even determining the exact release date of Super Mario Bros. in the US is pretty difficult. So at times, Chronsega is going to be more like Randomsega.  Also, more older Chrontendo's will be uploaded to Youtube. I'm aiming to get a playlist for the 1987 episodes up next.

Coming soon, I think.

One last thing, before I sign off, I'd like to share with you the single greatest thing on the internet at this particular point in human history. Webcomics, as you know, are mostly terrible. There are a few exceptions; I love Whomp!, for example, but the majority of webcomics are pure crap, especially the videogame related ones. Tails Gets Trolled is a rare case of something that manages to be terrible, brilliant and baffling, all at the same time. It's an extremely elaborate piece of Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction, but it also functions as an example of 21th century art brut. The most obvious comparison might be to Christian Chandler's Sonichu comics, or even closer, the Sonichu parody, Asperchu. The art is often amateurish, and filled with spelling and grammatical errors, while retaining a certain level of self-awareness. Yet, over time, TGT has becoming compelling reading, with its storyline gradually expanding into a sweeping epic as more characters and subplots are folded in.

TGT began life on the author's Deviant Art account, then was discovered by the Something Awful forums. Confused at first, the SA community quickly warmed up to the series, resulting in fan art, musical tributes and video adaptations.  Much of the appeal is due to TGT's liberal use of videogame and cartoon characters, and giving them very non-canonical back stories and personalities. For example, Mario is a driven, Machiavellian schemer bent on revenge; Knuckles is a constantly-stoned idiot; Kermit the Frog and Hello Kitty are dedicated troll-fighters. The plot moves in completely unexpected directions, and there are many genuine surprises and edge-of-your-seat moments. As several SA posters have pointed out, it's far better than the recent official, canonical Sonic the Hedghog stories from Sega.

There's a few ways you can experience Tails Gets Trolled: you can watch the story unfold gradually on the Something Awful post that made TGT famous.  Or can you view every strip on the fan-curated Wordpress site.  Or you can watch the fan-made videos (with professional quality voice acting.) Prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

PC Updates

Hey folks,

I spent part of the weekend up in Lake Tahoe, so I'm just now getting a chance to turn my attention towards Chrontendo. Lake Tahoe is, of course, a beautiful place, but there are a few places along the drive that make me nervous. I've never been fond of those roads where your tires are only a few feet away from the edge of a road overlooking a precipitous drop, and accidentally moving the car a little bit to the right would equal 100% guaranteed death.  This does actually happen. Someone I know once told me a relative of theirs dropped into the ocean while driving too fast along Highway 1.

Also, last night, while browsing at a local record store, I saw they had a couple recent issues of Ugly Things, a magazine I once read religiously before the book store that used to carry it shut down. I haven't any copies on the shelves anywhere else since then. A new UT is a huge time sink, which each issue being the size of a short novel. They publish only around one issue a year, so a new one is a momentous occasion. Plowing through these things is, once again, going to take away Chrontendo time.

For those wanting to know how the computer situation is coming along: everything is more or less up and running. I had narrowed it down to either the SSD or the Windows installation.  I tried resintalling Windows on my SSD, and immediately began having the same problems. At this point, it seemed I might just have a bad SSD, though checking around on the Crucial forums, I noticed many other users were experiencing the exact same issue. It's definitely not related to the "sleep" mode issue, which I had turned off.  I installed the most recent firware for the SSD, and this did fix the freezing issue.

However, there is still a noticeable drop in performance since the reinstall. Windows takes longer to load and there are sometimes slight delays is accessing data from the SSD.  The odd thing is this: according to my BIOS, the drive is in AHCI mode. Yet when I check the device profile in Windows, it states the SSD is in IDE. I've gone into the registry, and the settings are correct for AHCI. So it's a mystery why it's stuck in IDE.

I've actually considered just getting a larger SSD. Prices have gone down considerably, and I hear the Vertex drives are really good. By the time you install Windows 7, a few programs, video editing software and a modern game or two, your SSD space is pretty much eaten up. I haven't yet done too much work on returning my drive to its original condition. Quite frankly, reinstalling an OS is a good opportunity to get your hard drives organized the way the originally wanted, but neglected to for some reason.

Also, it seems the UK is finally learning to love ninjas again!

I'll be posting some Chronsega related updates soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Episode 45

So here is the "official" post announcing Chrontendo Episode 45. As detailed earlier, my computer is having issues, but I was able to successfully render and upload Ep. 45 on Youtube.  The fancy 60 fps h264 version is now available on Archive.  In a day or so, I'll put up an MKV version for those of you into the kinky stuff.

I was working on my PC today and at this point, I've narrowed it down to the hard drive or the Windows install. I had Windows 7 installed on an SSD.  I'm not sure how stable SSDs are at this point. Mine is from Crucial, whom I thought was pretty reliable, but if I need to replace it, I might go with something else. For the time being, I popped in a different hard drive using the same SATA cable as the old drive and made sure everything was working normally. Then I installed the video card drivers to rule that out as an issue. At this point, everything is running smoothly.  Tomorrow, I do a fresh Windows install on the old drive, which will determine whether its the problem is in the drive itself. I'm glad there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the motherboard, since that would be the most work to replace. On the other hand, if the graphics card was the problem, that would have been a really good excuse to get a better card. Maybe I'll replace it "just in case." Skyrim at 80 fps, here I come!*

Thanks to everyone how offered advice, help, etc. I must say that I'm always amazed at the fine caliber of people who read this blog. Sometimes, after reading comments on Chrontendo, I force myself to read comments on Yahoo News, just remind myself how truly awful humanity is.

The big bonus feature this episode is a look at the tangled history of Tetris, leading up to the release of Tengen's Tetris for the NES. In case you don't know the story, Tengen, the division of Atari Games responsible for releasing NES carts, published a port of Tetris in mid 1989. They were taken to court by Nintendo, who also claimed the US rights for Tetris on the NES. The result was Tengen's version being pulled from the shelves almost immediately after it was released, and Nintendo publishing their own NES Tetris later in the year. Tetris was just one of several legal battles between Atari and Nintendo in the 80s/90s, but the results were quite devastating for Atari.

I declare Tengen's Tetris to be Episode 45's MVP game. I like it quite a bit better than Bullet Proof's Famicom Tetris (covered in episode 40), which had a weird control scheme. The Tetris cart released by NOA later in 1989 was pretty decent, but lacked some of the features of the Tengen version, such as two-player head-to-head. The Tengen game is generally regarded as the best of the three.

The other 'big' game (though not necessarily a great game) is Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Gekikame Ninja Den in Japan, or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, in Europe. Europe generally dislikes ninjas for some reason. This game is not based on Konami's famous arcade beat-em-up with the same title. Instead it's a side-scrolling action platformer, with bits of top-down action thrown in. It resembles Konami's earlier Getsufuu Ma Den in some ways. Konami was probably in a bit of a rush to develop this thing, and as a result, the game isn't up to the same standards set by other huge Konami hits like Contra or Castlevania. Naturally, TMNT sold like hotcakes, though it now lives in the shadow of its much better sequels.

Also in Ep. 45, we get a decent baseball game from SNK. Baseball Stars/Baseball Stars - Mezase Sankanou!! is a realistic style simulation game, in which you create teams, leagues, earn money from games, hire and fire players. There are tons of baseball games for the Famicom/NES, and I'm getting quite tired of them, but Baseball Stars is pretty impressive. A few years later it would get a sequel on the Neo-Geo.

Even Capcom is cannot resist the popularity of RPGs on the Famicom. Earlier, we saw a Japanese style adventure game from Capcom, Samurai Sword. Now we have the Dragon Quest inspired Tenchi o Kurau/Destiny of an Emperor. Instead of the typical fantasy setting, Capcom has licensed the rights to a manga based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The most unusual thing about Destiny is the amazing number of recruitable party members - around 100!  Most of them are quite worthless, and there is no attempt to give any of them any sort of back story or personality (unless you are familiar with the source material.) I can't quite call Destiny a complete success, the fact that there is really only one type of enemy (soldier dudes) makes random battles a bit dull, but it is otherwise an ambitious and forward thinking game.

Another game that I couldn't like as much as I wanted to is Culture Brain's Little Ninja Bros. The Japanese little, Super Chinese 2, reveals its status as a sequel. The first game, an arcade port known as Kung Fu Heroes in the US, was covered in Chrontendo Episode 9. The sequel takes the first game and uses it as the basis for the random battles, while building an RPG around it. Just like Culture Brain's earlier Magic of Scheherazade, Little Ninja Bros features lots of colorful characters. funny dialog and great artwork. It also has a really great musical post-credits sequence.

Quinty/Mendel Palace, or "Mendel's Palace" as I call in this episode, is notable for the being the first game developed by Game Freak, future creators of Pokemon. It's a very good action/puzzle game. The Japanese release was by Namco; over here, it was published by Hudson. Neither the Japanese nor the US name makes any sense.

The Bad:

There is really nothing too terrible in Episode 45. Or maybe I'm just feeling more generous as I get older. A few games should be singled out for being really ugly.

Meitantei Holmes: M-Kara no Chousenjou

Almost immediately after A Week of Garfield, we are treated to another Towachiki game. This is the third Sherlock Holmes from Towachiki, and the second to fit snugly into the Portopia clone genre. It's a little better looking than its predecessor, but this is still falls near the bottom of the Japanese murder mystery adventure game pile.

La Salle Ishii no Child's Quest

Released only a couple days before Quinty, this is a wacky Namco-published RPG based around a Japanese media/TV personality named La Salle Ishii. Also called Lasa-R Ishii or Rasaaru Ishii, in this game he manages a one boy, two girl pop band. In order to make it big, the band travels around a Dragon Quest style overworld and engages in random battles with innocent civilians and police officers. Well, you don't literally fight these people, but rather try to win them over to your cause. Maybe you should just check out the Quinty/Child's Quest trailer.

Other games:

Datsugoku/P.O.W.: Prisoners of War

I really wanted to like this game, a beat-em-up from SNK.  It could be described as Rush'n Attack crossed with Double Dragon.  I was not able to get past the impossible second boss, so I'm withholding judgement on this game.

Famicom Tantei Club Part II - Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo

Nintendo is just about the only major publisher still releasing FDS games at this point. Even so, they are now only using the FDS for their adventure games.  This is a prequel to the first Famicom Tantei Club and was popular enough to get a Super Famicom remake years later. It was produced by Gunpei Yokoi and was co-developed by Tose.

Kabushiki Doujou

Speaking of Tose, they did the artwork for this stock market simulation game from Hect. At least Hect has a sense of humor about the subject: your stock market master is a white bearded old guy who looks more appropriate for a Karate doujou than a stock market doujou.

Big Challenge! Go! Go! Bowling

The fourth and final entry in Jaleco's ill-fated "Big Challenge" series of FDS games. The first three were sort of lame as well: we had a Sumo game, a very simple shoot-em-up, and a wild west themed horizontal run-and-gun. This one is a passable bowling game.

Kaettekita! Gunjin Shogi: Nanya Sore!?

Another game with excessive punctuation in the title. "Gunjin" shogi is a variant of shogi played with the tiles upside down. It pops up in video game form in Japan from time to time. As an astute commentor pointed out, its clearly related to the game known in the west as Stratego and in China as Dou Shou Qi. Among your opponents will be a gangster wolf and a beret-wearing Hitler.

SD Gundam World: Gachapon Senshi 2 - Capsule Senki

Earlier in 1989 we saw a fake sequel to SD Gundam World, the "Map Collection" for the FDS. We finally have a real sequel, but its more of less the same game. One improvement is that its now on a cartridge and thus missing the long loading times. For those with short memories, the SD Gundam Gachapon games are irritating military tactics games.

Murder Club

We barely cover this murder mystery adventure game, since it received a fancy port to the PC Engine a little later. That version even came out in the US as JB Harold Murder Club. I will point out the game was designed by one Rika Suzuki. She's still around today, making games for Cing like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Trace Memory.

What's up next, you ask? Chronsega episode 7, which will see a major change to the Chronsega series. 

*Just kidding. There's no way I'll ever have time to play Skyrim.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

'Tis Here

Update #3: The fixed version of Chrontendo 45 is now up. Somehow the last 30 minutes got repeated on the original upload.

 The fancy 60 FPS versions will follow eventually. I'll be looking into the computer issues over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bad News, Always Bad News

If things had been going smoothly, you would be watching a new Chrontendo right now. If I had my way, you'd be watching Chrontendo 45 while sitting on a throne made of the bones of your enemies while their women lie at your feet, offering you up a flagon of mead. Sadly, this is not to be.

Chrontendo Episode 45 is completely recorded and edited, but starting a couple days ago, my computer was struck with mysterious symptoms. All of a sudden, I'm experiencing repeated crashes. Well, not technically crashes, but rather freezes. These generally happen when I'm performing an action such as opening a new window in Firefox, saving a file, etc. My mouse will still move but any open programs freeze, and no new programs can be opened; Ctrl-Alt-Del does not function, and I have to hard reboot using the power button on the PC. Generally, I can use my computer normally for around 5-10 minutes before this happens. (For example: everything froze while writing this post, when I hit the "save" button in Blogger.)

I've run virus checks, popped in the Windows repair disk (which finds no problems), and did a system restore - but no luck. I do notice that Windows is starting taking a little while longer to load up now. Monitoring the CPU doesn't show any unusual activity or temperatures.  At this poing, I have no idea whether the Windows install is damaged in some way, or if it is due to a hardware issue. I was wondering if the problem might lie with the memory or the hard drive (though I haven't found any data on the hard drive that can't be accessed.)  If it's not one of those things, how do I narrow it down further? If it were the CPU or motherboard, how could I tell?

I was planning on duplicating my hard drive and seeing if things work normally from a new drive. In the meantime, I'm still trying to render the video. I'll hopefully have Episode 45 up tomorrow on Youtube. The Archive version will be a secondary priority.